Wednesday, June 24, 2009

So Many Colors, So Little Time

This is Deb, in her usual research position, surrounded by color swatches. Since she has the better feel for color, she gets to decide what colors to paint our rehab house. The boys have been scraping old paint for the last four weeks and are nearly done. They even spent time on it today, in 90+ degree heat. It's kind of a miserable job, but it has to be done.

David told me he would rather stand on a scaffold and scrape than paint. Now that the scraping is nearly done ... it's time to paint.

Me, I get the really fun stuff, like cutting holes in walls to fix plumbing leaks, figuring out why plugs in the kitchen don't work, and reglazing windows.

Somehow, the plumbing always sneaks in there somewhere.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Adoption Alfresco Dining

Our church's adoption/orphan/foster care ministry team blessed us with a delectable dinner tonight. Since it's been six months since we brought Abigail home, they decided it was time for us to celebrate and be doted on. Nancy came and set a beautiful table for us with fresh flowers, linens and dishes. Jamie prepared an absolutely delectable meal. Usually when you have a fine meal at a restaurant, it might be good, but it seems like there's never enough. Such was not the case tonight. It was delicious and we had plenty to eat. We loved the toasted pecans in the salad and the fresh asparagus spears. The parmesan chicken smothered with garlic butter sauce was delightful.

Yes, they were as yummy as they look!

And Abigail had the last strawberry. She enjoyed it immensely.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Precious Moments

"Abigial," I said, "wo ai ni."

"Whaa," she said, her usual response to something she doesn't understand.

"Wo ai ni," I repeated.

She looked puzzled. This lasted for about five seconds, then her face lit up and she grinned broadly.

"I love you," she exclaimed.

The change in her expression when it dawned on her was priceless. My Chinese may not have been good, but she figured it out.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Deconstruction - The Cherry on Top

One more little detail for those of you who have read my "Deconstruction" post: This house sits in a historic district, so there are strict rules for what can be done to the exterior of the building. I would have to obtain approval from the Powers That Be to stick a piece of plastic pipe through the roof and it would probably be denied because it would change the nature and character of the building. So the little cherry on top of the nice new PVC plastic plumbing stack is a two-foot section of the original iron pipe, joined in the attic and sticking through the roof in its original location, just like it has for the last 130 years or so. From the outside, it hasn't changed a bit.

Now the Powers That Be are happy, I am happy, everyone is happy.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Past Tense

Now that Abigail can speak the language adequately enough to hold a conversation, we're starting to discover things about her past. She told us last night that she had two meals a day.

In the orphanage, her hair was always kept short. We have pictures of her with a buzz cut. She said she didn't like the short hair and she wants it down to the middle of her back. So we're letting it grow out, but keeping the bangs in check. This concept of longer hair is unique and fun for her. I trimmed her bangs last night to keep them out of her eyes. After I had wet her hair, she shook her head like a dog shakes itself off and flung water all over the kitchen. She thought that was uproariously funny. This is what she looked like after the big shakeout:

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Why would I want to take a second-floor bathroom that looks like this...

...and allow my boys in with hammers and wrecking bars... make it look like this...

...then like this...

...then like this?

Because I can?


Because I want to?

No. Y'all know I hate plumbing and bathrooms are usually full of plumbing.

It's because it desperately needed it, for the following reasons:

The claw-foot bathtub had to go. Some prior owner framed it in by building a wall around it, making it look like some sort of bath-nook. His framing job was bad and his tile job was even worse. The grout was falling out and what was left was mildewed. The tub was also propped up on one end so it would drain properly. The house has settled significantly over the past 130 years or so, and the bathroom has a decided lean to it.

The floor was spongy. The prior owner covered up a problem by putting laminate floor over it. That just made the laminate floor look like it had a problem also.

The house and the plumbing have settled at different rates. The result is that the main waste stack is now at least three inches higher than it used to be relative to the rest of the house. This made the toilet lean forward at a rather precarious angle. The floor around the throne was built up slightly in an attempt to compensate for the plumbing. While that hid the pipes from showing through, it didn't do anything for the slope of the floor, or the obvious lean of the toilet.

This is one of those jobs that works like an onion. On the surface it doesn't look too bad. Peeling away one layer makes you cry and reveals another layer. Peeling away that layer makes you cry again and reveals another layer. And so on, ad infinitum.

So, let the extreme makeover begin.

It has to get worse before it gets better. Here are the steps to making it worse.

1. Remove the toilet and the sink.
2. Remove all the tile and the false wall around the claw-foot tub. This creates an enormous amount of dust and debris. The entire tub is now full of broken tile, dirt, plaster chunks, nails, and cement backer board.
3. Remove the laminate floor.
4. Observe all the moisture problems under the laminate floor.
5. Remove the rotten hardwood floor. I'm sure it was beautiful at one time. It's not beautiful now.
6. Remove portions of the subfloor to expose the plumbing. Actually, most of it was already exposed, having pushed itself through the subfloor.
7. Clean the tub out and remove the tub. I had the boys wrestle it down the stairs. They are younger and stronger than I am and need these colorful experiences. The tub was extremely heavy and the stairs extremely narrow. They are now much better for having experienced this.
8. Look at the plumbing and scratch my head. I'm either going to have to lower the plumbing or raise the floor. I vote for lowering the plumbing. Unfortunately this has other implications and eventually led to removing the entire waste stack, from the basement all the way through the roof. This affects the first floor bathroom also (not to mention every other plumbing fixture in the house). Now the first floor bathroom has large holes in the wall.
9. Rebuild the waste stack using PVC plastic pipe. It looks a lot better now. And it doesn't leak. Several of the sections of old iron pipe were split and leaking, and one broke completely in half as I was attempting to remove it. I think I made the right decision.
10. Observe how the prior owner fixed plumbing problems by joining pipe without glue. In one instance, he accounted for the difference in size between two fittings by stuffing the gaps with a plastic shopping bag. I'm sure Meijer would be interested that their bag was recycled in this manner.
11. Remove all the lath and plaster. It was in rough shape anyway. We'll start fresh with drywall.

I think I'm nearly at the point where I can start making it better. It can't get much worse than this. There's practically nothing left.

Now I just have to compensate for the slant of the house, install a new subfloor, install new plumbing for the bathtub and shower, insulate the outer wall, fix the window, modify the heating ducts, install new drywall, install new fixtures, including new tub and surround, install new finish flooring, and finally finish it off with paint.

Once this is all done, I get to do most of this over again in the bathroom downstairs.

Wanna help?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Six Months

Six months ago, we stepped off the plane as a family of five. Our newest family member, 9-year-old Abigail, joined us in Xi'an, China and then accompanied us for the next two weeks as we traveled across China to complete the adoption paperwork.

The immersion began the next day.

We communicated using some basic words of English that Abigail had learned from us in China, a few words of Chinese, and lots of pantomime. I'm sure that someone who didn't know the situation would think we were some sort of nutty family, speaking unintelligibly and gestulating wildly to each other. A few times while trying to communicate something, Abigail motioned for a piece of paper, and then wrote out what she was trying to say. She then pointed at the neatly written Chinese characters and looked at me expectantly. Had it not been so frustrating, I probably would have burst out laughing. I don't read Chinese any more than I speak it.

It's small wonder that she clocked in over 12 hours of sleep per night and ate more than my teenage boys. Learning a new language, culture, family, friends and strange foods takes a tremendous amount of energy.

Over the last six months she has lived a lifetime of changes and new experiences. It took a while to get her used to the novel idea of home schooling, and we are still working on how that all works, but she is making good progress in several subjects. She tends to soak up all available time and it's good that we have other children who can work rather independently.

I have noticed a big decline on available leftovers for my lunch, as Abigail will usually eat them for breakfast. As long as it's hot, she wants it. So she will have anything from pizza to lasagna to soup to pasta salad to start the day. When there isn't any "left stuff", as she calls leftovers, then she will have instant noodles. For a family that has cold cereal and muffins for breakfast, this took a little getting used to.

Abigail is fitting herself into our family and blossoming in many ways. She has acquired quite a bit of language now, and likes nothing better than to talk with people. When we put her to bed, she stalls as long as possible by asking questions and talking about nearly anything. She also is establishing herself as the family sheep dog. "Scoot!", she told Deb when it was time to leave for church. She will round up the boys when it is time to go home with a singsong "Time to go!"

She loves music, and loves to have someone read to her, especially from her Bible story book. She is the first to remind us at the end of the day if we haven't read her a Bible story yet.

We are seeing more personality come to light with each passing day. Abigail is a curious, happy and energetic little girl who loves to be around people. Our Friend family reunion in May was one of the highlights of the last several weeks for her as she was able to meet the rest of her cousins.

Our family life has actually settled into some form of chaotic routine, and we are grateful to God for bringing us this far. We may not know what the future holds, but He does, and we are content to live life the way we have been living it for the last six months: One day at a time.