"We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have". - Frederick Koenig

Thursday, February 17, 2011

PhotoHunt 252: Education (Or, Learning to Polish a Turd)

It's PhotoHunt time again!  I'm a little late with it again this week, but better late than never (like last week), right?  This week's theme being education, I couldn't resist posting a photo of some of the most tangible education I've ever received - my first house, on good 'ole Grayland Avenue.  That's her ... right there looming above.  She actually looks strikingly pulled together in that photo compared to what I remember her looking like most of the time, so much so that I almost don't remember her looking like THIS (cue psycho shower scene music, hold your nose, make sure that all young children are out of the room, etc) ...

... or maybe I have just managed to block that part out at this point.

At any rate, you can probably see why this might have been a learning experience for a young, single female on a limited budget, who's only handyman experience was watching home improvement shows and depending on someone else to 'fix it'.  You also probably see why everyone that looked at that house with me before buying, with the exception of my Dad, told me I must have been smoking crack in order to want to buy that.  In full disclosure, there was not one wall that I remember that didn't have peeling paint (probably lead) on the cracking plaster walls; the bathrooms were not usable, had old astroturf on the floor, and smelled of urine (which was on the walls and I'm certain was on the astroturf as well); the kitchen appliance (there was only one) was playing host to an array of smelly decaying rodents and bugs; and there was a rotting dead squirrel in the 2nd floor hallway that had apparently fallen into the house through the huge gaping hole in the ceiling of the master bedroom (also smelling of pee) which, not being able to get back out the same way, had gnawed on the majority of the wooden window sashes in the house until the panes were hardly secure, in a futile effort to escape.  Why did I think this was the house for me?  Well, my Dad was quite impressed with the sturdy foundation and steel I beam that ran through the basement.  But obviously, for me it was because it was within walking distance of my social nightlife circle, and of course, because 'it showed character'  - that's right, I might as well have been smoking crack.  

Thanks to the support I received from my Dad (who obviously thought I needed this type of education) I bought myself a house and felt all proud and adult-like about the turd I had purchased.  At first, I was a bit gung-ho about the idea of polishing it up and making a nice home.  I had the help of friends and family, and I was excited.  I had outwardly taken on the appearance that I was a wall of confidence that was strong enough and determined enough to manage the task at hand of putting that house back together.  I had no idea that in order to put a house like this back together, you most times have to take it apart first.  As my friends and family went back to their own daily lives, and I was left to manage my new project, those walls of confidence came down (sometimes literally) as I ran into more and more issues that I didn't even know could have existed within a house.  Sometimes I had no idea what the actual problem was, much less how I was supposed to handle it myself.  My house turned out to be VERY good at taking itself apart in order to expose even further issues, and I then became also VERY good at promptly freaking out; so began the cycle of extremes.  

Often times, while I was desperately trying to hold it together during the challenging process of living in the house myself, I think I could relate all too well with the peril that dead hallway squirrel must have felt  trapped in something that was so much bigger than him, but still fighting to get out.  After fighting for so long though, and allowing myself to crumble right along with the house, I finally came to the realization that you can't expect to turn a turd into a diamond, but you certainly can do your best to polish it up (see MythBusters on this if you don't believe me).   Once I acknowledged the house for what she really was, and realized that the one who needed to change the most was me, things got easier.  She and I still had our share of issues and she was normally the one in charge, but at least I was in control of the way I handled the situations and what I expected the outcome to be.  Oh, and here was the final inside result ... 

... not too shabby, huh?  I think both of us turned out pretty nicely after coming back up from the bottom together.  It really did get better once I realized I had to work with what I had and not try to make it into something else.  I suppose on some level my Dad must have known that my own 'sturdy foundation' and 'steel I beam' were enough of a match to stand up to, and prosper from the type of education I got from my very first house on Grayland Avenue.  I learned a lot about hands on home repair.  I learned that watching home improvement shows does not even come close having to do the work yourself, and learning how to do it yourself.  I learned a lot about myself and how I deal with things.  I learned that sometimes in life, what your given (or in this case, what you've purchased) isn't going to change, so the only thing you can do if you don't want it to take you down with it, is to learn to polish it and embrace the change it might bring about in you.  And maybe most importantly, I learned that I will never again do anything like that without having the money to hire contractors to do it for me.



  1. That is so amazing! What a transformation! I bet that felt good (standing next to the Sold sign). Love it, Beth!

  2. Ah, memories! I miss grayland, and that horrible horrible first floor bathroom.

  3. Ahhhhhh! I've sufficiently healed from all the manual labor to get that place livable that the nervous twitch is almost gone. But my daughter is now suitably educated that she will not drive some guy crazy after getting a pot-load of good ideas from the Home and Garden Network. Hope that fella appreciates my sacrifice. Try turning your little girl loose in a challenging neighborhood and supporting her with comforting words like "it's got potential" knowing that you live 3 hours away. However, I got a great picture of her in gloves and beaming about learning how to caulk windows.

  4. Incredible transformation! I'm so impressed! It kind-of feeling guilty about Jeff and my complaining about our "first home woes." :)

  5. Hmmm, not quite sure where to start. Again: "Beth - I think this is the type house I would buy. But, are you sure this is the type house YOU would buy."

    "Beth, I can only do construction work and plaster repair until I start graduate school in the fall."

    "Beth, The buildings and grounds crew from work is going to figure out that we're not dating. I'm not sure how many times I can bring them to Richmond to work on the house."

    Wow, I had forgotten just how bad the kitchen was. Rough around the edges, but Grayland was a great house. Glad you learned a lot along the way. There's nothing like an I beam! I have so many great memories from this era. Such as, walking around on scaffolding after waaaaay too many beers, plastering ceilings till 1 AM and listening to R&B music and strange alternative mixes to keep me going. As much as I learned and enjoyed parts of grad school there were plenty nights that I would have rather been doing more plaster work! Glad we got to share some of these times together!

  6. Why did Donald say "pot-load" of good ideas? Anything we should know about?

  7. Oh, 'hoochjw', I am laughing my ass off right now in true crazy person fashion.