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2014: The Year I Came To Love My Sledgehammer

2014 started like every other year, but by April we found ourselves thrust into the universe of DIY home improvement and lived to tell the tale.
2014: The Year I Came To Love My Sledgehammer

2014 began as just another year for us. Not much in the way of job prospects for the husband, one kid working and another one in school, and always lots of wingnuttery to track down and write about.

April-May, 2014: Cosmetics are In!

In April, that all changed. It began innocently enough, when I decided to stop gluing myself to the computer and paint my kitchen. Which I did, along with refurbishing a 35-year old Harvest Gold -- yes, Harvest Gold -- GE double oven.

One thing inevitably leads to another, so the next thing you know, I'm painting the adjacent dining room too. And cleaning cabinets. In the process, I resolved to do something with my six-foot high, 22-inch deep, 13-inch wide useless cabinet, so I bought some IKEA drawers, built a frame, and put them in there. Voila! Six shiny new pullout cabinet drawers.

We were feeling pretty self-satisfied at that point, like we'd actually gotten something done worth doing. So I attended to details around the house, contemplated digging out the dirt strip we called a patio, which we ultimately did. But then we discovered a problem.

June-October, 2014: The Great Bathroom Remodel

Our house is a 35-year old townhouse built next to a man-made lake. We have visits from shore birds and hawks on a daily basis, and lots of trees. Also? Lots of termites. I learned this when I pulled back the floor in our second bathroom and discovered a hole in the floor large enough to see the garage below.

As you all know, we had hoped to refinance our house and actually pay someone to remodel that bathroom, but it was not to be. So we had resigned ourselves to living with the ugly in it and just limping along.

The hole changed all that. It was time to bite the bullet and do it ourselves. Demolition is my job, and I'm pretty good at it.

But there was a problem. What were we going to do about the 350-lb cast-iron bathtub? While Ukraine and Russia were saber-rattling and Republicans were raising their legal sledgehammer against the Affordable Care Act, I was taking my friendly sledgehammer to that tub.


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I would have crushed it, but my drummer son had enough of the noise and finished it off for me in about 15 minutes.

All that was left was taking the shards away for recycling, which was hilarious in itself. There we are, in our little Prius sagging in the back under the weight of the cast iron, at the only recycling place in the whole county that takes iron, surrounded by huge semi-trucks full of twisted metal and other assorted recyclables.

Then the rebuilding began. First we had to have the house treated for termites, which were responsible for the hollow studs leading up to the attic. Dry rot had eaten through the floor and the plate holding up the framing, so the first order of things was cutting out the bad wood and replacing it with new.

We ended up having to replace most of the subfloor, cutting and bracing it like a jigsaw puzzle.

Then we bought a new, lighter, acrylic bathtub. The only thing we brought a pro in for: installing the tub and moving the fixtures.

Finally, time for walls! Holy crap, people. Walls are the biggest pain in the ass there is. It took forever to get those walls shimmed and straight. Of everything we had to do, the walls about drove me to drink.

I spent my August birthday in the attic wiring a new light and exhaust fan. Happy birthday to me. :)

We tiled the shower (including the ceiling) after we put a waterproof seal everywhere water could possibly go. The floor was also sealed, and finally in October, we put in the shower door and called it a day.

November-December, 2014: The addiction continues

Having conquered the bathroom, we felt ready to tackle whatever might be thrown at us. At this point, reconstruction feels easier than minimizing clutter. And it certainly feels easier than dealing with the insanity in our politics these days.

I pulled out Sister Sledge again in December, demolishing the ugly tile hearth in our newly-painted living room. All that was left was the concrete underneath and the wall-to-wall carpet that was well past its prime. No, that's not accurate. The carpet was so far past its expiration date that it screamed for us to shoot it and put it out of its misery. It had survived 20 years of kids and a pug running through the house.

Because we're insane, we decided to replace the floor two weeks before Christmas. Once again, my demolition skills came into play as I ripped out the carpet and scraped the concrete clean of all glue and collected pug hair.

Then we got busy, installing a nice warm wood laminate floor where ugly carpet once was. The pug helped.

On December 23rd, it was finished and the furniture back in place. That's the finished photo at the top.

That was our 2014. I learned to love my sledgehammer and my reciprocating saw, and lost my fear of power tools. I'm still not skilled with cutting, but my spouse happens to be really good at it, so we complement each other.

As we worked on all of this, I began to see a metaphor emerge for our political landscape and the reconstruction work we've been doing. There was nothing easy about anything we did, and the bathroom was particularly difficult. We couldn't rebuild until we cut out the diseased areas and patched them up, but we were able to shore up and anticipate potential weaknesses when we did reconstruct. That area is stronger and less vulnerable now, but it was a painful process, not unlike the toxic elements of our politics today.

Our addiction isn't behind us. 2015 will bring a long-overdue counter update to the kitchen, and a master bedroom makeover, including more floor replacement and some closet organization. But I can think of no better way to exorcise the demons of Republican idiocy than to take my sledgehammer to something with the goal of rebuilding it better, stronger, and completely waterproof.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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