Damage Report

From the first moments of racing through the house to make the water stop overflowing, to the heart-dropping-to-the-pit-of-your-stomach call with the insurance company, to the search for a remediation company that could come over right away to start drying things out, to updating a husband on his way home from an appointment, the discovery and reporting of potential damage to the house felt like a continuous loop.

The two weeks following the event did little to dispel that sense. As we closed the doors behind the cleanup crew that left our house in the very early hours of the next morning, we began a first step in recovery: dry out. This meant regular visits to measure moisture in the walls, move around dehumidifiers and vents, and surgically remove more parts of the house to facilitate a faster drying process. We also had a couple visits from our insurance representative, who helped outline what would need to happen to bring us back to roughly 7:30 a.m. on August 22.

Before those details, a quick blessings count: what wasn’t damaged.

On the first floor the living room, dining room, first floor bathroom, front foyer and much of the hallway were unharmed. On the second floor the bedrooms, master bath, hallway and hall closet were dry. More of the house was livable than not. We were extremely fortunate that we could continue inhabiting our home. The thought of relocating to a temporary place while keeping pace with life as usual and pushing recovery and restoration along was overwhelming to say the least.

Damaged areas, though, would still shift around life for a little while.

Laundry room: our ground zero, the floor was removed down to subfloor. Baseboard was taken up and much of the movable contents were relocated to the upstairs hallway. The washer and dryer, while technically still operable, would be discarded for newer models. #trustissues

The bathroom that shares a wall with the laundry room showed no visible damage. The remediation team did remove baseboards and punched a few holes along the base of the wall to promote airflow and faster drying. Repairs would be needed.

The rear foyer was a goner. There was little left of the original space. Miraculously, the closet where off-season coats, light bulbs, grilling supplies, bike helmets, etc. were stored stayed dry. Much of the personal items that got wet were built to get wet – rain boots, wind breakers, sun glasses. They could dry out.

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You can still see the outline of the old flooring’s herringbone pattern in the subfloor.

In the hallway leading from the rear foyer to the rest of the house, carpeting was soaked for about a foot and a half into the hallway. No wet ceiling, no wet walls that we could immediately see, but measurements showed lingering dampness between walls so portions were removed to help speed drying.

From this tiny corner spread some of the most significant to-dos. The wallpaper in the hallway runs continuously from the first floor, up the open stairway to the second floor, and up again to the attic door. “Holy crap,” is what our insurance representative uttered as he followed the wallpaper up…and up…and up. It would all have to go. The 2 square feet of soaked carpet was part of a larger piece that ran continuously through the hallway and living room. All to be replaced.

The kitchen was more like the walking wounded. Wet in some spots, dry in others, the remediation team took a much more conservative approach to removals. The ceiling, part of the wall, those were the first opened up. After a couple more days, when moisture levels in the wall cavities were still too high, a bank of cabinetry and pantry units were removed. Putting everything back together as it was is the order here – but complicated a bit by some damages to a pantry face frame that will need to be repaired or replaced.

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The kitchen ceiling opened up answers to some longstanding questions…such as why we couldn’t fasten the lighting track under that old steel beam we never knew was there.

The next challenge was finding a contractor we could not only entrust with this work, but could also start before the new year began.

Prologue

“Mommy, it’s raining in the house!”

Six words, delivered with a mixture of “that’s not normal around here,” and “is this really cool or really scary? I can’t tell just yet,” perfectly framed what would become the next months of home life.

Swinging the door open that summery Monday afternoon first revealed a wet floor in the rear foyer.

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Looking up to try and discern how the floor got wet revealed the light fixture, overflowing with water and creating a steady sprinkle over the room.

It was coming from upstairs. The laundry room is upstairs. Darting through the raindrops to dash through the house, my mind registered the fact that the kitchen looked unusually wet, too.

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The sound from the washing machine compelled me to keep running, up to find an overflowing machine that hadn’t stopped calling for water to wash two princess costumes. For 9 hours.

1,300 gallons is a lot of water.

Enough to make splashable puddles in the middle of your kitchen’s work triangle.

Enough to forget all about the CSA box you half-dropped, half-threw into the living room because things didn’t look like they were wet in there.

Enough to make you grab the tiny hand of the astute observer who pointed out all that rain to begin with and suggest we go outside to enjoy the beautiful weather while mommy makes a few calls.

The next 12 hours were a bleary-eyed blur of phone calls. Takeout meals. Pushing bedtime back to minimize the chances a child would wake up frightened by the noise of the industrial blowers and dehumidifiers beginning what would become a two-week effort to dry out the three levels of water damage wrought on that day.

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In the first week a collection of walls, ceilings and floors were carefully cut and carried out of the house. Cabinets were removed and set aside. Baseboards, window trim stacked neatly in a corner. There was the constant din of fans that could be arranged so that a certain writer could stand in the middle and look a lot like one of Beyonce’s backup dancers flirting with her wind machines.

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Those fans warmed the house and the breaker box, creating a carefully-choreographed light and power dance to use a coffee maker or turn on the lights. We shrank our domestic footprint, moving essential appliances out of the kitchen to create a makeshift food prep area in the dining room, pulling out the stockpiled paper plates and plastic flatware.

The front and rear foyers merged to create a mountain range of coats and grocery totes that seemed to float everywhere.

We visited the local laundromat, a place our son came to identify as “peaceful.” Seriously. He even told his teacher one day how he got a ton of reading done at the Laundromat the night before.

The litterbox was moved into the master bath, as the cat refused to leave the only really quiet and dry room in the house. That, right there, was perhaps the greatest hardship of the first two weeks. Until you share a bathroom with a cat, you will not understand.

After two weeks the plastic drape was torn away, fans and dehumidifiers loaded into the van, and a final sense of “next” settled in with the newfound silence.

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Some silence was grief. No words that could accurately describe the dread, relief, anguish, self-blame, anticipation of some suspicious dripping sound that could start the whole damn thing over again. Some silence was just quiet.

Quiet it was, for a few more weeks, until contractors made their visits, wrote estimates, and offered up their bids. Then the noise started: an internal noise that grew louder and louder as we struggled to feel sure of what to do next; how to trust a situation that was a completely new experience, with seemingly zero margin for error.

Much like a person plunged into sudden darkness, afraid to misstep in the suffocating black, our eyes have adjusted. Our minds have cleared. And now, our way forward is beginning.

Good manners: gifts for your care team

Upfront, let me just say that this is in no way a “must do.” Everyone has different care experiences, and some believe this is going too far. This is intended to share what I did without turning it into a “should” for you, dear reader. Unless you think it doesn’t go far enough. I’m not even talking to you if that’s what you think.

The first time I was preparing to welcome a baby into the world, I heard murmurs and whispers about doing “a little something” for the staff who would care for you at the hospital.

This was news to me – and so I polled, quizzed and queried my way into understanding this practice. I learned that some mom-friends of mine showed up at their place of birthin’ with a cookie tray they had ordered from their nearby bakery, or had a plan in place for their partners to dash out and buy bagels (or pizzas, depending on the time of day) for the nurses’ station once their baby was born and all were well. Other sources I read showed that some people believed it would be offensive to the care team, that the services rendered were just part of the job, and giving them treats doesn’t buy you any favors.

That made me pause.

Whether paid or not, all of us work. All of us have jobs that we’re just supposed to do. Does that mean we don’t want to be recognized or thanked for doing that job?

No. And as our firstborn’s due date came and went, and an induction date was scheduled, I had the luxury of cleaning the hell out of my house one last time, preordering an arrangement of flowers to be delivered to my OBGYN after the baby was born and pulling together some treats to bring with us and share with the hospital staff. I ruthlessly took advantage of the fact that some members of my family are healthcare professionals, and asked for their feedback on what would be most appreciated/useful/desired in a treat basket. Here’s what I learned:

  • Portability is key. Many of the hospital staff are on their feet and on the go for the bulk of their shifts – in some cases skipping breaks and cutting meals short to do what needs doing. Tempting as it may be, if the item isn’t something that can be grabbed and tucked away in a pocket or eaten while walking down the hall, it may just be passed over.
  • Balance the sinful with the healthful. Treats are nice, but depending on either the time of the year or a staff member’s personal health goals, there’s a real risk of sugar overload. Consider adding fresh produce in with the treats and offer a choice.
  • No refrigeration required. This should be a no-brainer, but any treat will most likely be sitting out on a counter in a break room, so make sure whatever is brought in can tolerate at least a single shift out in fluorescent lighting with nowhere to hide.

Using that information all those years ago, I arrived with a basket brimming with oranges, apples, grapes…and some chocolate oat bars, cut and individually wrapped. The one glitch I encountered was when my labor stalled, an emergency c-section was called for, and as the on-call anesthesiology team was congratulating us on our healthy baby boy, I offered up the information that we brought some bars. “No one told us there were treats!” was the outcry. And in the blink of an eye, the surgical suite was emptied, save for myself and the recovery nurse.

For our latest baby, I intended to do it all again – flowers for the OBGYN, and treats for the hospital staff. But, being older and wiser, I also took the minute-and-a-half needed to inquire with my doctor on what staffing numbers typically run at our Women’s Center, as well as the size of the anesthesiology team. To make sure whatever I prepared and brought in would cover at least a shift.

Considering the autumnal air, I then took time to plan out some goodies that felt seasonally appropriate — honeycrisp apples for the healthy, some Lawry’s seasoned popcorn , and for the real treat: brown butter salted caramel snickerdoodles. The day before our scheduled caesarean was spent cooking and packaging.

IMG_3836IMG_3837IMG_3838IMG_3839Some craft paper labels and a trip to Dollar Tree gave me all I needed to dress up the tray and add the personal touch we wanted. But the cookie recipe is what really stole the show. Here’s the recipe, which I found at another blog:

Brown Butter Salted Caramel Snickerdoodles

(from Two Peas and Their Pod)

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2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, sliced
1 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt
1 cup caramel squares, cut into 1/4’s

For Rolling the Cookies:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Sea salt, for sprinkling on top of cookies

Directions

IMG_3828In a medium bowl, Whisk together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

IMG_3827To brown the butter, heat a thick-bottomed skillet on medium heat. Add the sliced butter, whisking frequently. Continue to cook the butter until melted. The butter will start to foam and browned specks will begin to form at the bottom of the pan. The butter should have a nutty aroma. Watch the butter carefully because it can go from brown to burnt quickly. Remove butter from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

IMG_3830In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the brown butter and sugars. Mix until blended and smooth. Beat in the egg, yolk, vanilla, and yogurt and mix until combined. Slowly add in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Form the dough in a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. You can chill the dough overnight.

IMG_3829(While the dough chilled, I took time to quarter the caramels.)

IMG_3831When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Measure about 2 tablespoons of dough and roll into balls.

IMG_3832Flatten the ball with the palm of your hand and place a piece of caramel in the center of the dough. Wrap the cookie dough around the caramel, making sure the caramel is completely covered with dough.

IMG_3833 In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon and sugar. Roll the balls in the cinnamon-sugar mixture.

IMG_3834Place dough balls on a large baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Make sure the cookies are about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle the cookie tops with sea salt.

IMG_3835Bake the cookies 8-10 minutes or until the edges of the cookies begin to turn golden brown. The centers will still be soft. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes, or until set. Transfer cookies to a wire cooling rack and cool completely.

Moving on from Square One

You know something? That baby’s room won’t be so empty again for a long, long time. And that’s why, before we filled it up with stuff, we wanted to do a little something that we tried out in the Big Boy Room. Crown moulding:

Walking into the room, here's what you see.

Don’t tell Fred the Moose, but the moulding was the true crowning touch in this room.

We liked the finished product so much, we went right across the hallway and put some in our own bedroom.

Then I took a pregnancy test and the list of home improvement priorities shifted dramatically…

Now, back when we were preparing for our firstborn, I did that typical first-time-parent overboard thing when it came to getting a bedroom ready. Scaffolding was involved, and the pregnant person was the one hopping up on the scaffolding. So, the fact that there was just a small platform ladder and a little spackle involved this time around felt really restrained.

Looking side-by-side, the difference is noticeable:

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It’s a small finishing touch, and not absolutely necessary to any infant gestating in my belly, but as noted at the start, this is the least occupied the room will be for quite a few years. And not having to shuffle around furniture and keep expletives at a kid-friendly level was kind of nice.

So, where was all of the stuff that had been sitting in the room? Loitering out in the hallway:

IMG_3467And, there were a few boxes of baby things waiting in the attic to be put to good use. We brought those back in, too:

IMG_3506It was one of those times when I was secretly glad that I obsessed enough to make little labels for each box of baby things we stashed.

IMG_3507We were ready to settle this room for our newest family member.

Square One

Back when we prepared for the arrival of our firstborn, we didn’t know if we were having a boy or girl until the baby was out, screaming to be put back in, and the doctor was shouting “it’s a boy!”

We heard plenty from people who thought that would make decorating a baby’s room next to impossible. It is nice to know that — if you really want to know — the technology exists to tell you. Our reasoning, though, was that centuries of parents were able to bring babies into the world without that key bit of information…so we had half a chance of not screwing up.

Then we had our baby. And were glad we didn’t try, based solely on gender, to decorate a room. There’s no way we would have known our son loved the color purple. Or that the outdoors would be so fascinating. Or trains. Or bridges.

You get the idea.

With a spare room just waiting to be put to use, that’s where our firstborn’s first expression of his taste and style was made earlier this year. And a lot of the stuff that just “lands” in a spare room was transferred to the former baby’s room. With a little less than a month to go until a baby takes that room over again, let’s take a little time to study our progress back to square one in this space:

IMG_3355No new paint colors. The carpet was still in decent shape.

IMG_3354No new window treatments, either. Just hung up the old set that I had made half a decade ago.

IMG_3356The closet was hiding a bunch of “not ready for the attic” stuff that would need to be relocated.

IMG_3357A few nail holes to be filled and painted over, a few scuffs and wear and tear to be washed off. That’s all that we needed to do to the walls.

Reaching this empty space still took some work. On the to-do list was:

  1. Clean out closet, deciding what items should stay for the new baby, and what needed to move to other closets or storage areas in the house.
  2. Move furniture out; go through drawers to make sure they’re empty and find new homes for any items not for a baby.
  3. Relocate “big kid” furniture to the attic. Set aside all other furniture to be used again in the room in temporary spaces.
  4. Wash spare room bedding and store on top closet shelf.
  5. Remove piles of old magazines and move to alternate storage.
  6. Go through leftover stuffed animals with our firstborn, have him decide if there are any he wants to give to the baby.
  7. Sort through framed art; decide what to use in the room, and what will need to be stored elsewhere.
  8. Decide which books from the bookshelf should stay in the room, and which books should move to other bookshelves in the house.

And there we were: square one. Before we brought in all the baby things we had stowed away, though, there was one small project we decided to tackle first.

 

Curtains!

Well, not “curtains” for this project – but curtains for the windows!

Now, if you go way back to when I was struggling with finding the right curtain design for the living room windows, you’ll remember how the lovely trim posed a design dilemma: wanting to let in as much light as possible and wanting to show off the size and detail of the windows.

Oh, and the woodworking guy in the family was quite clear: we weren’t putting any holes in the wood trim. Like, at all. And I support his position, just to be clear. In fact, if you look below, you can see the little brackets from the old window treatments that the former owners hung there.

In its' barest form.

In its’ barest form.

As part of my subversive mission to “man up” the purple a little bit – as well as introduce other colors to the room, I found some inspiration in a classic blanket design:

Hudson's Bay Trading Blankets. Some people know them as "Pendleton blankets." Credit: Pendleton

Hudson’s Bay Trading Blankets. Some people know them as “Pendleton blankets.” Credit: Pendleton

Looking online, these blankets are still made – and excellent-condition vintage models can command quite a price. I knew that a wool weave would feel way too heavy on these windows, and would need to be cut down for the shorter window. So the concept of using real blankets was out before even a thread of fringe made its’ way in. But I thought of a way to replicate the design using some solid cotton fabric.

But before we fire up the sewing machine, one important step had to happen.

Hang the curtain rods!

Hang the curtain rods!

I centered the height of the curtain rods in the wall space between the top of the window trim and the bottom of the crown moulding, and extended the ends of the rods three inches either side of the window. I also added a few of the rings with clips that the panels would hang from. That gave me the measurements to build the curtains from.

Calculating the length: measure from the clips hanging on the rings to the point where you want the panels to hang. For the larger window I wanted to go all the way to the floor. On the smaller window, I wanted the panels to skim just below the windowsill. To these numbers, add 12 inches; this gives you enough for a 4-inch double hem on the bottom, and a 2-inch pocket sleeve on the top.

Now, here’s where we get a little tricky to make the Hudson’s Bay stripes. I built the stripe inserts first. Grabbing the rotary cutter and my cutting mat/straight edge, I trimmed 3-inch strips of each color, plus the off-white  fields in between the stripes. I sewed these together in order:

Green, White, Yellow, White, Red, White, Blue.

Green, Off-White, Yellow, Off-White, Red, Off-White, Blue.

Once they were sewn together, I pressed out the seams and trimmed the rough ends.

Not all the colors came in the same length. It was more important to get the color right than get them from the same manufacturer.

Not all the colors came in the same length. It was more important to get the color right than get them from the same manufacturer.

When that stage was done, it was a matter of sizing up where they would be placed along the rest of the curtain panel.

Ready to move on.

Ready to move on.

I studied a few images of the full blanket online to get an idea of how to place the stripes that would closely mimic the blanket’s design. The striped fields would measure 14 inches finished, so I decided to split the number and have a 7-inch field of off-white at the bottom and tops of the curtains.

(Except for the short window; these would have stripes only along the bottom of the panels, due to size considerations.)

For the short panels, it was a simple process of hemming the bottom off-white panel, sewing it to the stripe panel, and adding the top off-white panel.

For the tall panels, I sewed on the top and bottom hemmed pieces before double-checking my measurements and cutting the “middle” lengths before sewing them all together.

I knew that I wanted to add a lining to the panels to give a polished edge, and hide the seams on the side of the curtain panels that would potentially be seen through the window. Once those were sewn up, it was a final pass with the iron before hanging the finished panels.

Walking into the room, here's what you see.

Walking into the room, here’s what you see.

The curtain rods were brought over from the other room; I had picked them out a few years ago, knowing then that our little guy loved the outdoors, and thought the oak leaves could be a fun touch in whatever his big boy room would become. I wasn’t wrong.

IMG_0860Looking at each window individually, they really pop and help neutralize the purple just a bit. Without sacrificing the purpliness that the room’s occupant loves. (I just made up a word!)

IMG_0855Part of me wishes I went ahead and made the panels around the short window full-length, but with the bed’s placement, and how our kiddo loves walking in that little space between the bed and wall to crawl into bed at night, I kept thinking he would get tangled in the long panels while getting into and out of bed. Shorter was the way to go.

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It was just what the room needed. A balance of color, and a look that won’t be outgrown for quite some time.

Things are coming along very nicely. There’s a few little touches left, but what’s great is that our little guy is still loving his room and not even missing his “baby room.” He was ready for the change.

He Couldn’t Wait Any More.

You know how it is when you see progress on a big project, and you’re excited to jump to the happy ending, right?

That was the pickle our son presented to us after the curtain rods were hung and the carpet had been cleaned: as soon as the carpet was dry enough for furniture, he wanted to move in.

He didn’t care that the curtains weren’t done yet. Or a new light fixture installed. Or that the closets were not swapped. It was more that he was ready and waiting. Waiting!

That’s sometimes a very challenging thing for a 4-year-old.

So it was on a frosty morning that we began the process of moving the furniture in. (After we watched a few morning cartoons and put together the moose trophy, that is.) In pretty short order, the room had a bed all made-up, a dresser dusted and ready for clothing, a desk set up for studying, and – perhaps most importantly – the train table that rolls under his bed and still cleared the slightly lower “new” bed also moved over. Here’s a quick peek:

Looking from the doorway into the bedroom now looks like this.

Looking from the doorway into the bedroom now looks like this.

Remember when it looked like this?

Remember when it looked like this?

Here's where the bed now lives - in the opposite corner of where it originally stood.

Here’s where the bed now lives – in the opposite corner of where it originally stood. (Fun fact: the moose’s name is Fred. The bedroom set’s original owner was named Fred.)

The study nook. For now.

The study nook. For now.

He asked that his growth chart come over with him into his Big Boy Room.

He asked that his growth chart come over with him into his Big Boy Room. Fred’s wearing a hard hat since construction in the room is not yet done. And that train table? It rolls under the bed at night.

There are roller shades on the window, so privacy/morning light concerns weren’t really there. But it did amplify two to-dos on the list: swap out that ceiling light, and make the darn curtains. We’re getting there!