23 August 2013

We Call This Fun

It looks so peaceful and serene. 
Before we go any further, there's just a couple things you should know about me.

1. I have an unfathomable fear of zombies - a burst into tears, freeze up, have nightmares for a month because someone mentioned 'zombie' kind of fear.

2. The only shape I'm in is a rough equivalent to the Pillsbury Doughboy's Sister. I will occasionally go for a 3-4k jog/walk with the dogs, but it's more rare than it is common. The only weights I lift have to do with moving remodeling equipment around the kitchen and laundry.

Ok, so we're clear on those two points? Because those two points are very important to this story.

Saturday morning, Jeff and I got up at the wee hours and got ready to make the three hour trek up to Batavia, NY to do the Run For Your Lives Zombie 5k. It was my first 5k ever, Jeff's second and his second obstacle course race (first being the Tough Mudder, Philly 2013 this past June).

I am not in the best physical shape I could be. I am soft, squishy, and generally value my time sleeping rather than dragging myself out of bed for a much needed run/walk/jog. I have my own issues with how I look and feel. It's not just self image; I had a health scare earlier this summer that knocked my perceptions of myself around pretty hard. I decided to do better for myself. And honestly, after spectating for Jeff at the Tough Mudder, I realized that I would much rather be in the thick of it than standing on the sidelines.

But zombies? Jeff swears up, down, and sideways that a 5k running into zombie hordes was my idea and I swear that I have no recollection of this event and I had obviously taken leave of my senses. I am fairly certain I said something to that effect when we climbed the 4' wall and were met with the first zombie throng.

From the view of the spectators, it was like watching Mutual of Omaha Nature Programme, just with humans playing gazelles (some more gracefully than others I'll grant you) and zombies playing the lions.

Zombies were FAST. NOT FUN. 

To be completely truthful? I sucked. First two hills wiped me out. The dust was intense and thick in my mouth, I had the wrong sneakers for the course, and as soon as Jeff tried to be encouraging with getting me to hustle on with the group I turned into my own version of a half human snarl fest (bless him). I sent him and our other friend joining on the madness on ahead and told them not to worry about me.

This was the point that I realized there was actually someone who had fallen behind even myself and wasn't looking good. The woman - we'll call her M - looked like she was actually in decent shape. She told me she's run other 5k's and hadn't had a problem, but this time she didn't bring her inhaler with her. Road Dust + Run + Asthma = Bad. So rather than run on ahead when I got my wind back, I stuck with her to make sure she didn't die (literally in this case) in between aid points.

We renamed our team Stragglers, especially after we caught up with two other females who lagged behind and had some issues with the messiness of the obstacles (Did I mention the mud? 12"+ in some sections) and just took everything as it came: zombies who ran faster than we did, smoke houses, low crawls, poison ivy. All of it.
It really was *that* disgusting. 

The zombies were pretty awesome. Some were actually quite terrifying. At the point that they became terrifying I had already lost all my flags so there was no point in getting overly stressed. We danced to thriller in one of the sections as a distraction to the zombies, and everyone had a really good time. The obstacles were pretty awesome, although the voltage low crawl and electric shock to my tookus was ... ahem. Rude. (it did put pep in my step, I'll grant everyone that)
The FX team really did an awesome job.... creeeeeeeeeeepy! 

At the end of the race, Jeff and our friend Kory waited for me near one of the obstacles and we ended together -- all of us infected as we had no flags, exhausted, muddy beyond anything, and chomping at the bit for the next race.
Chivalry is not dead. We are of course. 

Despite the poison ivy, mud in places that ought to never have mud, and my lagging-butt time, I'm thrilled I did the event and really looking forward to the next one.

If you decide to take up the Obstacle Course Running as a hobby, here's a few things to keep in mind:

1. Registration is always cheaper further out from the event. These events can be pricy (but worth it, really!), so be sure to get on the email list for your event of choice so that you can pay when it's the cheapest. A lot of places will also discount your race if you volunteer at the race itself. If you're looking to meet people, this is a really awesome way to do it.

2. The Right Shoes Are VERY Important. I was an idiot and took my urban trainers which had NO tread on them. It's a miracle I didn't snap my already banged up ankle. Train in trail settings with trail shoes for these things.

3. Bring a change of clothing. And a towel. And be prepared to have mud in places later that night when you get home.

4. Bring spectators. They are awesomely helpful to have around with picture taking and watching stuff. A lot of sites will have a bag check, but most places charge for it. Bring friends who aren't entirely convinced of how awesome an idea these things are and they will - nine times out of ten - want to join in on the next one.

5. If you are not in the best shape of your life and are using this as an excuse to not do something like this, do it anyway. Have fun with it and use it as motivation. No kidding. I felt a hundred times better about myself at the end of the race despite being 'infected' and despite having to walk. I completed it. I want to get better. I can actually see it happening now.

And most importantly, really, have fun.
Tired, filthy, and ready to go again. 

19 August 2013

New to the Neighborhood

A few months ago we discovered that our neighbors directly behind our house would be putting their house on the market. These lovely folks had lived in their home for 30+ years and in the year since we've been there they had been nothing but friendly and encouraging watching Jeff and I work on our poor house. Frank and Pat were the epitome of casually neighborly: friendly without being overbearing. Frank would get up in the wee hours of the morning in the winter and by the time I was bundled up to go and shovel, my sidewalk would be completely clear leaving me only the path in the back yard and the steps to clear off.

Seeing them getting their house tidied up for market was definitely sad. Our neighborhood is generally very friendly. While we haven't met everyone yet, the folks we have met are cheerful and well... neighborly. My accountant lives at the other end of the street and when I said we were looking at buying our house, he regaled me with how it's just a very sweet, 1950's aesthetic in the hop over and borrow a cup of sugar kind of way. Since being here I can confidently agree with this assessment.

The house went on the market right around the same time some friends of ours got serious about buying their first house and a couple months later we have new neighbors!

Because our friends are first time homeowners, we opted for a home maintenance organizer and a "how your home works" book that explains the nitty gritty for the everyday things that folks renting don't think about as housewarming gifts. I polled other friends on what it was they received or *wished* they had received when they moved to their new home and most people agreed that home baked goods should top the list. Alas, my oven is currently taking up space in my dining room, so that was right out.

I'm grateful that the house didn't sit empty for long and that we know our new neighbors are good people. I've never experienced the feeling of uncertainty being a homeowner and watching an empty house sit there, waiting for its new owners and not knowing what kind of people they'll be. And while our neighborhood is lovely, it's not all that far away from the lesser-loved parts.

In other news, I hate spackle.

Hibiscus in full bloom at the neighbors house! I'll be adding this to our garden in a few weeks for next years blooms. 

09 August 2013

Care & Feeding of Your DIY Volunteers

Here we are two weeks into the biggest project we've undertaken together and so far, so good. We've had some minor setbacks; apparently my mental timeline for how this was all going to unfold didn't really take into account that running brand new electrical is a huge pain in the tookus.

On the upside we're doing really well now that the dimmers have been sorted out. Mainly - and I cannot stress this enough - we are where we are right now thanks to the very determined help of friends and family. I figured since they were instrumental in our getting this far, it might be time to take a Miss Manners look at the whole DIY Volunteering from the perspective of the Helped and the Helper as Jeff and I have been on both sides of the hammer.
Don't feed after midnight, Don't give him a pneumatic staple gun...

To begin, one of the best DIY phrases I've ever heard is that there are three ways to do any project: Cheaply, Fast, or Well -- and you can pick any two of those three. I've watched that play out time and time again in our own home and can say that this is absolute gospel in our experience. 

When you're the helped, it's really important to remember that the people helping are (normally) not experts, not mind readers, and this isn't their project. They are volunteering out of some kind of love for the people they are helping. Generally they aren't obligated to spend any part of their free time helping you with your project.* 

We have found that when we have an abundance of offers to help the best thing is to divide up the day into at least two parts. This helps when personalities don't get along (you may not want persons A and D swinging hammers near one another) and it also keeps everyone helping as fresh as possible. Seriously, those buckets of plaster were not light at all. Who wants to do that for 10 hours? I sure as heck didn't and it's my bloody plaster!

Breaks. Take breaks. Do not scowl when people take breaks. Pile out into the yard, or the porch, or wherever and take fifteen minutes to smoke, drink a lot of water, and laugh. Do not forget to laugh. Breaks and laughter should happen frequently enough that people aren't trudging and infrequently enough that work is being accomplished. Remember, these folks are volunteering parts of their weekends and evening for nothing more than some food and hopefully help later on. 

Food should always be provided by the host. Always. It is the least one can do and it helps everyone trudge through demo and rebuild. I am very lucky that I've been able to ask/beg/plead with my parents to bring over hot food when it's been cold and cold cuts when it's been hot. Water - it should go without saying - but really. Water. A lot of water. It doesn't matter if it's hot or cold, when there is heavy lifting water is vital. That isn't to say food and drink brought by others isn't wanted or appreciated, it is! But the hosts should have something on hand for the people throwing their backs into (and out) the work at hand. It doesn't matter if it is an epic project or a small one, providing food shows that you thought about the comfort of the people helping. 

Tools. This last demo has brought up the point that sometimes we don't have enough tools to go around and we're looking into remedying that. Also, proper safety equipment. I was on everyone about using the masks during our last round of demo because I dislike getting sick. At the same time if you're volunteering: if you have tools, bring them and make sure they're marked with your name. Safety glasses! Gloves! While some things should be provided, it is always a boon if you have your own to bring it (and take it with you at the end of the project).

A plan. The worst thing to happen in a volunteer situation is to have a ton of things to do and no idea what is going on. Don't ask for help and then spend an hour or more having everyone stand around watching you figure out where you want to begin. Don't waste their time, or yours. It is also important to give notice to the people you're hoping to rope into the project. In our case, we had things fall into place for the kitchen rather quickly so there wasn't a ton of notice given. Volunteers: know what you are getting into so you can come prepared in the right kind of tools and equipment. And shoes.

When you're helping it's really important to remember that normally, the people you're helping aren't experts and they're trying to figure out the best way to do all the things they have to do. Try to be patient with them. 

Know your limits in all senses of limits - emotionally, physically, monetarily. If you can't physically lift 50 lbs of crap but you still want to help, ask how else you can be useful. Seriously, some of the best help we had was when folks brought food or beer over and that stopping by forced us to take a needed break. Along those same lines do not overextend your help to the point it hurts you -- if you're spending a ton of gas money to even get to the place to volunteer and it's wiping you out? Be accountable for that and know your limit. Limits don't make us bad people, they make us useful when we know them and don't force ourselves into a dangerous situation. 

Be gentle. Demo is a great time to put holes in walls, but ... well. Make sure they're the right walls. No favors are done when the people being helped end up spending more to have a 'whoops' moment fixed. 

Be clear about the plan. Ask questions

If you say you're going to be there, be there. The people you're helping have taken your help into account. If you can't be there after you've said you'd be there, call them. text them. send smoke signals, whatever, so they know you're not dead in a ditch. 

If you ask for help and you receive help, you are in debt to the helpers.* Flat out, no amount of pizza and beer actually clears that slate. What does? Helping them. Help each other. Time is a gift we are all given and that time can't be won back through any other means. Whether we like it or not absences are noticed most especially when help is not reciprocated in kind. And on the flip side, I've also had to remove myself from volunteering from projects that went well beyond my comfort zone and into abuse, or have had to put my foot down and say I'm sorry, but I am not available because there just wasn't reciprocity over a long period of time. It goes back to knowing all one's limits. 

There is always something to do. No seriously -- even if it is (as I have discovered) taking my lunch break and going home and pulling nails (three billion down, four trillion to go), there are always tons of little things that people may not being thinking about that need to get done. Not all  Most DIY isn't glamorous. There is a long, messy pause between the beginning and the shiney end. Not everyone can rock the sledge. Sometimes just sweeping the floor fifteen thousand times is the help that is needed. 

We are incredibly blessed with friends who work hard and play hard. We are incredibly blessed with family who has been around their fair share and then some of home projects and can pass on that knowledge to us. DIY projects can be a source of laughter, mirth, and awesome memories when the projects are handled well and with good spirits. When handled poorly, they can destroy relationships and bank accounts. Gratitude goes a long way on both sides of the hammer.

* This is the tricky part about obligation - if you recieve help you should give it in kind. Obviously we are all different and expect different things so your mileage may vary.

02 August 2013

Harvesting Nails and Other Bits.

It is the first harvest of the fall cycle and we are busy, busy people. With an abundance of gratitude for the friends who came by and lent their strength and time helping gut the kitchen, we have the shell beginning to take shape. 

I am both relieved and bummed that we're in the process of doing this. We are a far cry from where I had hoped to be - I wanted to be canning pickles and making blueberry pie filling to stuff the larder with - but when one hasn't a stove, well. Priorities, people. Priorities. I am bemused that my grand plans for the garden and storage of food completely fell apart this year and instead I am neck deep in dust and chaos. 

But it's good chaos. Next year then for a massive can-a-thon. The farmers market vendors will fear my coming as they will hear Flight of the Valkyries playing when I peel into the parking lot with a mad look on my face muttering something about bread & butter pickles and fondling all the peaches. 

One small portion of the mess. 

In the meantime, I am spending my evenings trying to help with the little things like pulling penny nails out of the studs, or running errands (new cabinets are in! now I just need to go and pick them up!), or trying to catch up on laundry and ignore my filthy house.

My dad has a story about the first job he ever had, working with his step dad in the shop. Along with sweeping the floor he had to take the nails that were pulled from various jobs and straighten them out to be reused. As I am pulling hundreds of nails out of the wall that we missed on our first pass through while ripping out the lathe, I am reminded of a small boy with a hammer, dutifully tapping on each nail.

It has been hard filling a 20 yard dumpster with wood, plaster, and virtually new sheet rock. I know where it is going and it always breaks my heart when I realize that I am part of a cycle of waste. The lathe might have been reused for something - we aren't entirely sure what at the moment - but the plaster was not reusable for anything other than fill. The sheet rock, new when we moved in, was only in place due to the constraints of our loan. Even then we knew we would be ripping it out as soon as we started the kitchen. It bothered us both but the point was getting the house, not fighting with the loan company about the waste we'd be creating.

I learned so much about waste and recycling, really re-using materials when I lived in Ireland and a lot of the time I feel like I am doing a huge disservice to that experience. It's a matter of cost and output here. I could spend the time pulling the nails out of the lathe, finding something for the lathe, storing it until we found a way to reuse it, but it is wholly inconvenient and it is exactly that inconvenience that drives our culture. The cast iron sink that was apparently the second kitchen sink to be used in the house is being reused in our basement primarily because I forbade Jeff from getting rid of it. Other than cosmetic issues, it is a perfectly serviceable sink and as we are finding throughout the house, materials are not made like this anymore. When our house was built in 1902, that plaster and lathe was meant to be there for the entirety of the life of the house. They didn't consider needing to do rewiring or the like.

We have also discovered more work that needs to be done sooner rather than later which is normally how these things go in old houses. The old chimney that is no longer in use sits in one corner of the kitchen. Our plan is to eventually take it down once we get to the roof in a few years but between now and then we'll need to clean it up so it's not a complete eyesore or crumbling out which means I get to read up and make a grand mess of re-pointing and acid washing. Should be a fascinating learning experience.

We are making a point to purchase reasonably quality goods. The cabinets are not the solid wood that we had originally priced out, but they are very sturdy and will last us our life with the house and beyond. The counter tops we are looking at are quartz, durable and long lasting without the same problems of granite. I'm choosing classic fixtures and colors - black and white tile for the galley, marble back splash - because as much as I know they'll go out of style, they will return again. At least, these are the stories I tell myself in the hopes that in thirty years or more, the new owners won't need to rent their own 20 yard dumpster to repeat the process. This might just be wishful thinking though.

While I harvest nails and Jeff harvests little shocks from rewiring the electrical, I am focusing on being grateful for the abundance of help and excellent know-how from family and friends, the luck that has gotten us this far with our home, and the love that is going into making each inch of space count. It's not pickles and blueberries, but it means a great deal regardless.