Saturday, June 30, 2012

Among My Own

(Grand Bazaar, Istanbul)


It was an odd match that perhaps shouldn't have been.

Still I was going along with it. Sharing has never been easy for me, but I did the best I could, all the while trying to ignore how my unconventional life must have sounded in your ears, and how uncomfortable it was for me.

In the ninety-nine point nine percent mate-for-life world of people from “our culture”, I had to belong to the zero point one percent.

It was soon clear to me that your life might look conventional from the outside, it was really “anything but” on the inside.

Your partner, regardless of being a decade your senior, behaved childishly. He ridiculed and complained about you often. He picked fights with you over the daily mundane. Instead of sharing a life together, he hid his assets from you. In fact, you revealed to me that he mentioned the D word often enough for you to ask for referrals of lawyers.

I scouted out the names and numbers of several family lawyers per your request, but I didn’t pass that information to you.

Instead, I talked to you about the realities of being a divorced woman in “our culture.” The culture from our mutual hometown, to be exact, still looks at a woman without a husband with contempt and despise.

You will be excluded from all social events for couples. That means you will lose the majority of your friends.

Eating out will be spotty, unless you are very comfortable eating alone in restaurants.

You will be looked at as a damaged good, regardless how much you struggled to raise your children in a foreign country.

Loneliness will be your constant companion.

You will lose the purchasing power of a dual income. You will have to say NO to things you used to take for granted. You will get used to shopping at places such as the flea market or the secondary market stores.

My first apartment was furnished with a table, four chairs, and a tiny black-and-white TV--all were hand me downs. We used three chairs for eating and studying, and the fourth one as the TV stand in the livingroom. We spread the sheets on the carpet in the bedroom in the evening, and that would be our beds.

Moving was significantly easier in those days.

The blank space on the information form where it says “Emergency Contact” I had to fill out each time I enrolled the children to a new school, would make me cry every time. “Loneliness” was too weak a word to describe how I felt.

If you have young children, these will be more severe on you and them, and last much longer.
Good thing is you don’t.

There are rewarding gains to be had, of course. I wasn’t trying to scare you away from getting a divorce. After all, the decision might not be solely yours to make. But I did want you to see clearly before you jump.

I wish someone had done the same for me. But it all was a big life’s lesson I desperately needed. I can see it now--now that the tears had long been dried.

When you called to complain about your home life, I listened with sympathetic ears. When you mentioned life has no purpose for you to continue, I tried to pump you up.

When you made the comment about how hard it would be to rid your newly acquired wardrobe, I knew divorce would not be in your near future.

That was fine, though. Plunging into the unknown is not only scary, it is also a move you have to make on your own. Nobody should make you learn the lesson before you are ready to learn it.

Then I had to go away. It was the trip of a lifetime--literally. I have saved over decades for this, and it is unlikely I will be able to do it again anytime soon. I savoured every moment of it, soaking in every little detail.

I did not forget you. Over the crepe-de-chine deep blue Mediterranean Sea, I thought of you. Before falling asleep with the gentle sway of the giant ship, I secretly wished you peace and strength.

It was easy to adjust the time change on the trip, when daily excursion exhausted me thoroughly. Coming home was quite a different story.

I called as soon as I felt mostly myself again, hoping you would enjoy the Turkish Delight and all the amazing sites, of which I took sixteen hundred plus photos, I visited during the trip.

You never returned my call.

I’m not quite sure what I had done to have angered you. I know you are alive and well from your online posting, so I don’t have to worry that you had taken your own life.

After doing all I could to support you, it is proven that it wasn’t enough. I am truly sorry for that. I hope you will eventually find the happiness you longed for.

Our friendship may have served its purpose, and now you are ready to move on. Maybe you needed to cut me off in order to forget the dark period of your life. That would require a complete reversal of your relationship with your husband, which is all but impossible.

It hurts to think that you behaved just like the rest of “our society,” which would be equally unforgiving should you choose to be a single woman realizing happiness does not necessarily require a man.

Why was I surprised? I shouldn't be.

Your silence speaks loudly how futile my efforts were, but I will get over it like yesterday’s headache--painful when it happened, yet will be forgotten soon.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

O Pardal do Sul

A walk in the park everyday prescribed by the doctor has gradually become a tantra among nature. He enjoys the early summer for its irreproachable weather. Everywhere he looks there are greens fighting fiercely for his attention. Flowers flaunt shamelessly with their seductive gestures, as if they knew their beauty is but a fleeting affair.

He has lived in this vast tropical land for so long that he hardly remembers his old hometown. it ’s at the tail end of the winter where he came from four decades ago. As he remembers his childhood friends, their laughter still haunts him like yesterday.

“Your father is crazy. He’s a mad man!” They chanted and smirked. Often one would push hm after the chant, adding to the provocation. He ran home as fast as his small stature allowed, into his mother’s arms with hot tears and torn sleeves. She wiped off his anger with soothing words, and mended his battle scar with meager treats she could find. A laundry woman’s pocket change never felt so warm and abundant.

He didn’t understand why his father was in the mad man’s house, as the kids called it. He did know that that was why they were as poor as the four bare walls around them. A silhouette kneading on a washboard by a tub of water with a pile of clothes next to it was what his mother toiled all day to sustain her and four children. They learned not to envy other children’s shiny new shoes futilely, but be comforted by the fact they still had as complete a family as it could be.

One day his father came home, thin in physique and vacant in the eyes. He felt the chills when his mother described how they used “electricity” on him. The far away land beckoned with a letter from their uncle, whose offer of sponsorship couldn’t be more appreciated as their way of escaping the constricting island, which pushed his father to the brink of insanity in the first place. His mind never fully recovered from the revolutionists’ persecution that forced them to flee to the island, which in his father’s eyes was a perfect death trap.

New landscape breathed new life to his father’s spirit, but the new continent extended the old struggle to the family. He did poorly at school, having to learn a new language and culture with people who, although did not chant, but teased nonetheless. He volunteered to give up school and learn to be a chef, a proposition met with reluctance. He told himself this would help his family. Deep inside he unwillingly admitted that school was not an attraction to him.

Regret? It is a useless emotion--he tells himself. He might have been doing something easier, or he might not. Who could tell? His sister hated his drinking, smoking and gambling he learned from fellow kitchen workers; but she couldn’t stop him, and the parents would never interfere. He has some regrets, but quitting school ranks low on the list.

He feels a little out of breath, and sits down on a bench nearby. Two bypass surgeries finally caught his attention to his way of living. The smoking and drinking days are behind him now. Mahjong is his only ungodly pleasure. Is it numbness on his arm, or is he imagining it? He couldn’t tell.

The fallout between his sister and him may be one of the regrets. He could’ve helped her when she asked. He had the means and ability. She took care of him and his brother growing up, as their parents were constantly laboring. Why didn’t he, he couldn’t say. Neither did his brother. From their parents they inherited the idea of “daughters are outsiders,” therefore money preceded affection without either one of them feeling any uneasiness.

He wishes he knew how to be a better husband to Rosa. His Rosa--the mother of their three children--could be his biggest regret. Their lives stopped after the accident. She couldn’t be consoled, and he didn’t have the patience for her sadness. Their youngest of three children was taken by the will of the gods. There was nothing he could do--he was grieving himself. Now he knew he wasn’t what Rosa wanted, but he didn’t know it then. He didn’t understand why Rosa had to go, and to a continent so far away no less; but his rage was somewhat lessened by the fact she left the kids behind. He heard she was happy now. He pretended he didn’t care.

His older son--his pride overflows when he thinks about it--is in medical school. He wishes his childhood schoolmates could see him now. The little poor kid they teased has a son who will be a doctor. The younger daughter is in college as well. It is a shame his father didn’t live to see this. He may be the second son, but his accomplishment is no less than the first born.

A familiar pain slows him down on his trek. They had a wonderful few years after the gemstone business took flight. If he knew how much he was hurting his health with too abundant of food, drinks, and everything else of the enjoyment of the flesh, would he do it differently? Hard to say, he shakes his head with a faint smile. Being a boy and growing up poor prevented him from self discipline and appetite control. He traveled with his brother to all around the world for business and pleasure. They feasted as if life was invincible in every sense. Were they just too naive? Life was too good to care about something seemingly distant and irrelevant. The land on the southern half of the globe has been good to them.

He has to crouch down for the pain is getting severe. Please...he thought...he just had a new daughter-in-law, he hasn’t seen the first grandson yet, he doesn’t want to leave his life that’s beginning to feel too precious to give up. Hsing--he calls out to his son, who lives hundreds of miles away--I wish you were here.

The two children smile to him in his mind’s eye, as he slowly falls onto the path he hasn’t finished, and slips into an eternal blackness.




(Sparrow of the South, in Portugese, to a life lost too early)






Saturday, August 6, 2011

Tango

You glide down the freeway with all your senses acutely altered. Everything looks the same, yet everything feels different.

She says I’m not sure, but to you she means it’s not promising, and it sounds like a bomb exploded somewhere inside of you, only blood does not flow and nobody could see the hole the blast has made. You are certain if a doctor says she’s not sure, it means the odds are good that you are doomed.

You argue with _______ (God, Buddha, Allah, …) that it is not fair after telling yourself this isn’t true, this couldn’t be true and finally accepting that it is true. You do everything consciously right. You eat right. You keep your weight on the right side of obese line. You hate smokers and you drink sparingly. You even walk your dog everyday, five times a week whenever time and mood allow it. There is nothing you could have done to make yourself healthier, and if there is, you are convinced they haven’t been invented yet.

How in vain it all is. There was certainly an inarguable reason for each of the knick knack, paper, souvenir, furniture, clothes, jewelry, key chain, and all of the “just in cases” that you have to keep, but you can no longer remember why. How you fumed over the neighbor’s dog doing its mud pie business on your lawn, but now you know there may be a chance you won’t be here to enjoy your lawn much longer. And the reason why you stopped talking to ________? You search high and low in your head, but a valid “why” could not be found anywhere. There was a plausible reason you went on trips with friends and thought your life was wonderful and somehow would stay wonderful. God has a different plan for you. It was just not the right time to reveal it to you yet. The noisy neighbor’s dog barking non-stop drove you crazy, but can no longer make you angry, only sad, because you may not have to suffer it much longer. The trees in the backyard will probably be here long after you are gone, and that day could be sooner than you know.

Maybe you did something punishable in God’s eye and now is the time to repent. You fight back tears and make resolutions. You will be more patient with your mom, who has the patience of a dictator. You will forgive your friend’s little faults here and there, because you are certainly not perfect yourself. You will let your loved ones know, despite the difficulty, how much you love them, and do it often. But you will do these only if God lets you live and the result turns out negative. You are not going to do any business in a cost ineffective way.

All these are going through your mind three hundred times a day, regardless what you do to distract, encourage, or mentally slapping yourself in the face to make it disappear. Some days you are at the bottom of the ride and every minute is a torture to endure. Some days you pick yourself up and tell yourself “I can fight it. So many people fought and won. So can I.” But a little voice at the back of your head says, at the same time, “Yeah, but so many people fought and lost, too!” So the cycle repeats like the big wheels in a carnival. Days lost meaning and loved ones stopped talking to you because you are acting weird. Be that way, you say to yourself, you guys are going to regret it when you find out I have a terminal disease! But it gives you little comfort, if any.

And the call comes when you least expect it--inside of a grocery store. She does not come straight out and say it. Instead, she asks how you feel, is everything okay, is the incision healing fine, etc, etc. You warn yourself “This can't be good. She is easing me into the bad news. Don’t cry. Don’t fall apart now.” while looking frantically around for something to hold on or sit down, but there isn’t any in the bacon and sausage section. You push the cart to the side and hide your face in front of the cold freezer, so nobody can see your devastated expression. After a hundred years of unbearable chitchat and pleasantries, she finally tells you the biopsy turns out to be benign, and she will see you in a year. At this point your stress level is at the highest, and, like an overstretched rubber band all of a sudden let loose, you just want to scream “This should be the first sentence you say, dumb ass!” -- already forgetting the “be more patient” promise you made earlier.

Looking back at the dark valley you just traversed, you still seem to be able to see the intertwined shadow of God and Lucifer. Not only they are constantly tangoing together, they are exceedingly more intimate than you had ever realized.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wholesome Land

"We get free parking at the hotel. We just need to tip the valet." Jesse reminded me.
Tip? Somehow the word triggered a wild thought, "Are they wearing G-strings?"
"Absolutely not!" Jesse used the tone that left me no wiggle room, but I couldn't stop. I went on, "Where am I going to stuff all those dollar bills then?"
"Do not talk like that when we're there. I will be so embarrassed." She rolled her eyes and shook her head at the same time. Since when she's the good girl?
"And no F word, no goddammit, no cussing while down there. Remember: we are going to the Bible Belt." She added.

I'm already not liking this pending trip much--not that I cuss often. I just don't want to walk on ice all the time while there. Sometimes my mouth has its own idea of what to blurt out aloud. Plus, it's 95 degrees there with 69% humidity, and this is only the beginning of June.

She also suggested a show we should see with the word "shepherd" in the title. I told her I wasn't going to travel two thousand miles to see a show of gospel music. The phrase "wholesome fun" sounds alarmingly unfun to me.

I gave another serious consideration to the dress I'm going to wear for the event: collarless, sleeveless summer dress with big flower-and-leaf design all over, and a neckline that doesn't really say "I'm a nice Catholic girl" either. I don't want to cause any heart attacks with it--one memorial is already too much. I could hear them whisper to each other now: Look at that woman from California! And look they all will, because I will have to sit up front to "man" the laptop and TV for the video showing.

Let them gasp, I decided. I'm doing this for Jesse, who told everyone to dress colorfully for the occasion since Wes, Missouri born and raised, loved color. The idea didn't go well with folks back in his hometown, who had a hard time understanding the concept of "celebration of life" in Jesse's email. They solemnly reminded her that this was a memorial, not a celebration.

We were going home when the G-string conversation occurred, after spending an afternoon at Monterey, where Wes' ashes were scattered. She took a panorama view with her video camera of the bench on which they often used to sit, the ocean waves crashing on the rocks, and the golf course; but the sun wasn't cooperating and not a single ray was beaming down when we got there. It was normal for Monterey, where it's always grey, cold and overcast, but we were hoping Wes would pull some strings up there and perform a small miracle.

To my relief, and sadness that followed, I didn't see any ashes among the ice plants by the bench. I always hear stories of wandering spirits that couldn't rest until their earthly remains are properly buried. What about spirits of cremated remains that are scattered about? How are they going to find peace? Do we imagine the unsettling souls because our own spirits need to be comforted after a loved one departed? I will make this the number one question to ask of the good folks at the Bible Belt.

Better get ready, Branson--California girls coming your way in two weeks. It's hard to predict which party will be more surprised.

                                                       *     *     *

You know you're not in California anymore when you see this sign at the entrance of the lady's room at Denver airport:
I shall hate to imagine what will be flying about in the event of a tornado attack.

But I do like the Gulliver's Travels inspired, cereal-bowl-and-donut shaped, mysterious airport construction:

Our hotel room overlooks the river that meanders around the city:
And I would enjoy the serene view even more if it wasn't 95 to 100 degrees outside everyday.

This bridge hides a dark history: Two black families moved into the city in the 50s. One of the men of the families was found hanging from the bridge one day. The other family moved out soon after. It hurts me in the chest every time I think about it. I'd like to think we have progressed admirably, if not quickly, since that time.

BBQ in Missouri style: Five different types of sauce and a whole roll of paper towels:

If a gun hanging in a holster won't make you work your hardest in the office, I don't know what will:
It was actually in someone's office.

Shoji Tabuchi's theater looks great at night outside:

But it's practically shabby comparing to it's restrooms inside:
You can literally entertain your most distinguished guests here.

Baldnobbers was the first show in Branson and the hillbillies were truly hilarious:
But if you ask anybody in Branson you will be told that they are Arkansans.

I found out later Wes's brothers were planning on putting on bucktooth and overalls to welcome us at the airport, simply because I had asked Jesse "Are they all hillbillies in Branson?" Too bad they didn't go with the plan, but the visual stayed.

In my opinion, this is Branson's most beautiful attraction--rocky landscape:
It's everywhere and it's free, thanks to the Ozark Mountains.

I'm glad to have a chance to meet Wes' family and friends, all cordial, funny and nice people. This is the house in which the brothers grew up:

Every one felt as if he/she knew Wes much better after the stories being told at the memorial. I will never forget the tales of his tenacity and excellence for sports, his rowdy teenage years (repeatedly wrecking his father's car, beer cans falling out of the car every time he opened the car door, etc.) his deep belly laughs, his Vietnam War enlistment, his love for animals (my dog would jump onto his lap from my arms if he was near) We all laughed and cried. Jesse said Wes was there with us, and I believed her. 
  
We squeezed four shows, a boat ride, and an amusement park outing in addition to the preparation leading up to the memorial in the six-day travel. Jesse handled the grieving widow role fairly well despite breaking down during her turn of the speech.

  Aside from a few stares, most people looked at me as if I were a normal human being. They are doing the best they can to be a diverse community and here's a great example:
You can get your Hispanic and Asian fix in one sitting.

The hotel valet asked me if he could go to California with me, not that I had some secret rendezvous with him (or anybody), but he couldn't stand the heat. He had my sympathy; and in case you're wondering--no, I didn't take him with me. It would've been scandalous for them.

After enduring Jesse's neurotic breakdowns, over-packed luggage, losing and finding stuff all over the place all of the time, irritability and constant threats to cry over the minutest affairs, I think we'll stick to short day-trip for now until I'm recovered from this one.

You will be proud to know that not once did I say the F or G or S word while in Branson. Not when anybody could hear me anyway.

(RIP, Wes.) 







Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Remember me



He turned the engine off and exhaled quietly. The day has been painfully long. He closed his eyes but couldn't get the faces out of his mind, some of them tearful. He rubbed his temples in futile attempt to ease the tension he felt all day.

They worked there just as long as, if not longer than, he did. Some asked him, "What am I going to do? This is the only income we have, and we have a house, the kids are still in school..." He lowered his head and said he was very sorry. They understood he was only performing his duty. The company wasn't profitable and this was the necessary next step. The despair in their eyes will haunt him for a very long time. It's hard to choose which side of the desk he'd rather be sitting.

But the day wasn't finished, and he wasn't sure if he was ready to go in and face a despair of his own.

He heard music, not the sound of TV, when he walked into the house. Is she back in the fog land, or did she just want something different tonight? He wasn't sure. He couldn't tell after the illness--not like before.

"Hi honey." He checked her face before kissing her. Was the short hesitation a sign of the onset of regression, or was it merely his imagination?

"Hi, how was your day?" She smiled her angelic smile and asked. He wondered if she remembered what he did for a living. 

"It was unbelievably horrific. The layoff finally happened, and all day I had to tell people they didn't have a job anymore. You shoud've seen their faces." He poured a glass of Jack Daniel. Something stronger than wine was needed tonight.

"Layoff? Why?" She asked and immediately looked guilty bouncing back her glance at him. How could she recall? It has been two weeks since he told her about the state of the company and what could happen, but it might as well be a hundred years for her. It wasn't her fault, he wanted to tell her. It was the cursed bacteria that destroyed her brain a year ago. He didn't blame her, but he couldn't deal with it either. Not after a day like today. It's time.

He put the glass down and held her shoulders gently.

"Honey, I'm tired and I can't do this anymore. I tried, but I have my limits. And I hate to be the source of your unhappiness, or guilt. They eat me up inside. I think I need to spend the night at my parents'."

Her lips trembled, but not a word came out. How she begged heaven and earth to reverse the damages, but they both knew it was impossible. She couldn't blame him for leaving, and couldn't ask him if he would ever come back. She could see the weight on his back as he ascended the stairs, and feel the pain as deep as her own. The sad part is, by tomorrow, or day after that, she will be happy as can be. None of these will remain with her for long.

Her eternal bliss came with the price of his never ending Ground Hog Day.

The duffel bag sat on the bed and he next to it. He imagined this moment a few times before, when things became too happy and all so temporary, when he had to repeat things to her that he shouldn't have to--his favorite brand of cereal, TV show, or restaurant. At first it felt like a new romance that was fresh and exciting. It soon got old and tiresome. He held on for the love for her. He will forever love and remember her. He's not sure, though, how long she will remember him.

Remember him? He stood up suddenly. The doctor said she would have no short-term memory. Things and people that have been in her life for long period of time, such as since childhood, should be fine. So how could she still know who he was? Theirs was not a long-term love affair, and yet, she never forgot him, however doubtful he was at times. Did his effort finally pay off? Could it be that her love for him had found a way? He had taken it for granted that she would remember him, and she did. Maybe it's not his charm, but her love for him was stronger than he had realized.

The duffel bag went back to the closet, items emptied out. It won't be easy, he knew, but he loves her and she loves him. That's more than enough for him. If love can find its way to stay, so can he.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Are we there yet?

Not unlike many inexperienced but imaginative people among us, my romance has come to an untimely end with much hard work, excitement, exhaustion, and finally, disappointment. My romance toward renovation, that is.

I was hoping for something that would stand out in a crowd, but resulted in something quite different. Here's what I meant:

Before the renovation I had high spirit and energy. I wanted something that's either a farmhouse despite the fact that my Yorkie was the only animal I owned, or a Cape Cod although I really have little idea what that looked like. My vision was roughly based on this:

or this:


The general idea was white cabinets and dark floor. I even picked out a beautiful granite countertop with swirl and movements that would make you go "Ahhh" when you walk into the room:


I soon found out those white cabinets I loved so much were out of my price range, unless I painted them myself. So was the granite. In the good name of conserving resources, this is what I ended up with: (Before)

and

and this is now:


and this:

The baseboards and trims are yet to be completed. Due to Easter Sunday the free helpers all of a sudden decided to be religious and refuse to work. The audacity of some people.

So instead of "Ahhh" now the granite just greets you with a "Blah," but I can live with that. From the five slaps of granite they cut to fit this kitchen, I probably saved a thousand dollars by downgrading the granite. I even sealed it myself.

Next project is to address the moisture problem that caused us much headache while installing Pergo. The side yard has accumulated years of dead leaves. While sweeping them up I pulled a number of interesting items from beneath, the most unusual one being a lawn chair.
 

I swept one-third of it and the waste bin was full. Two more weeks the leaves should be all gone.

Cape Cod-dians will probably be caught dead to have this remodeled style, which is not a style at all. But when you have to make compromises, you have to let go of style--a concept I've rediscovered accutely. As a reward to myself, maybe I will visit Cape Cod after all is done. I hope that will heal me from this hopeless renovation romance, which will be my first and last one.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Renovation is...still fun?

My free laborers worked hard to remove the old cabinets. That saved me about $400.00 from the contractor's bill:


After hours of trying to remove the two layers of linoleum floor in the kitchen to no avail, our contractor told us it's best if we remove the particle board under it as well. Except for the entry way and the master bedroom, the whole house will have two layers of plywood basefloor. Just when we thought NOW the Pergo can go on it...not so fast. The moisture has caused the foundation to shift, and it's more severe than the home inspector had told me. 


The real contractors had to come in and level the floor with shims:


and more shims:


Naturally, I had to ask for tiled bathroom floor. The baseboard underneath the linoleum is even worse than the kitchen:


A fan is working hard to dry the floor before the contractor can install the tiles. I don't think it's effective when I checked yesterday. We may have to pull the basefloor up and install a new one. You know what that means...$$$!

The cabinets arrived yesterday and was I surprised! The top cabinets are much larger than what the contractor told me. I hope the corners will agree with my forehead in the days to come:



Before the cabinets can be installed, the drain has to be moved to inside of the wall:


They told me that was the correct way. I wonder how the repair can be done should there be a leak in the future. After all, every drain in the house is leaking right now.

In the meanwhile, I'm travelling between the two cities almost everyday. The view is lovely on the hilly freeway:


and the delivery of my first-ever brand new refrigerator was exciting:


as much as when the first plank of floor was installed:



but the sadness is getting stronger each day with the project progressing along.

I will be relieved when I don't have to drive so much and have to make choices I've never done before on a daily basis, such as what color of cabinets go with what granite countertop, what's a flush mount and is it compatible with the current mount, should I get a single-hole faucet or a multi-hole, or simply forgo all the choices so far and go with a more affordable version, (It seems "compromise" is the word for me nowadays.) the endless tiresome hours spent wondering up and down the isles of HomeDepot and such, will hopefully soon be over, and my fingernails will be restored to their normal state when I stop biting them, or the knots in my stomach from all the anxiety of not knowing what I'm doing, will finally go away. 

I will have one thing to worry then: my mother not liking any of the improvements I've made so far. That will be tomorrow's chore. I have to go and meet the workers there now.

   

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Renovation is fun

I'm a little exhausted, but just in case you're wondering: the house renovation is underway and so far I've had plenty of headaches.

I had my heart set on laminate floor, as I was told they last forever. Something dark like this would be nice:



Pretty, right? Naturally, it's on the very top of the price range and I just can't talk myself into it. To HomeDepot I will go tomorrow. They have a lot of choices in the $2.99 per square foot range, and I'm sure they will have something close to this one.

In the process of removing the old linoleum floor, we found this:


Under the not-so-great design of the lighter color, there is an ugly yellow old floor that they didn't bother to remove when putting in the new one. Must be a 70's original. Can you say BARF?

The base floor is a jungle of staples, and they have to be removed before the new floor can go in. I did it a while with bare hand and pliers. Not a good idea by the way:


The lighting is done, but now I'm wondering if I should move the sink to the other side of the room so the kitchen is open to the family room, thus the flow will look much nicer. In other words: flip the "L" shape horizontally. Good idea, but very bad for my wallet:


I may have to leave it as is and just have new cabinets, new counter top, and walk a few extra steps from the kitchen to the family room. We can all use some exercise, after all.

Lesson learned: Don't talk to the contractor on the kitchen layout. Had I talked to the designer at the cabinet store first I could have saved some money if I decided to move the sink. 

The biggest headache is the cabinets. I know I like dark color floor, but I have absolutely no idea what kind of cabinets to get. My first love was off white (I was aiming for an old farmhouse look), and for some reason that's the most expensive cabinets I could get. Back to square one.

I may have to settle for something Lowe's. Sigh... (no offense to Lowe's employees)

Special thanks to my little helpers who worked for free--all in the name of trying to save a few dollars. See? No low-hanging jeans here:



I foresee a sleepless night with the indecision of cabinets coming. Ideas welcome!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

REO for the Faint of Heart



I was neither thrilled nor scared when the offer was accepted by the bank. The house needed a lot of work. The refrigerator was missing and the toilets didn’t work, among a long list of other things.



People tend to yank things they can haul away or break the ones they can’t when the bank tells them, shockingly, they have to go because they haven’t been paying the mortgage.


It was the thing we had to do, for the stairs will be impossible for mom to negotiate in the years to come, and all the half-way decent houses were out of our price range. I, on the other hand, had to suppress my tears whenever I thought about leaving the house and the city that have been my home for the past thirteen years.


I realized just now that I had lived like a gypsy until I moved to this city near the bay, and soon found out it was less expensive to buy this little house than to rent an apartment.


Things changed much downwardly after I read the inspection report. I called the agent and said I didn’t think I wanted the house anymore. It wasn’t painful to say it, because I didn’t fall in love.


Adding to the long list of repairs, the foundation was uneven from the moisture in the soil. The inspector said the problem was common--every house in that area had this problem and it was not anything serious.


Foundation lifting? Not serious?? I wasn’t going to buy into that. I wanted my deposit back.


He immediately came up with a great idea, which made me wonder why he didn’t say so earlier. I had my theory, or course. Anyway, his idea was to get repair quotes from two companies and submit an addendum to the bank. They might agree to credit the repair fee after the sale.


The bank was more than generous--they agreed to lower the selling price in the amount comparable to the foundation repair. That squashed my hope for skipping the deal and staying put for now.


With the same price I could buy two houses in Sacramento area. I can rent one out and, combined with the rent from the house I’m in right now, the income could be a big help for us. Mom said she could live in a townhouse with stairs, so we could afford one in this low-crime high-class area nearby and preserve my back from not having to maintain a house. Numerous scenarios ran through my mind during the ten-day “weasel” period I almost went mad. In the end though, I had to nip these ideas one by one.


Mom was thinking only the present. Her health will make climbing the stairs feel like conquerring Mt. Everest soon. The suburb of Sacramento is not suited for someone like her at all. The whole town probably has one Chinese restaurant. If you don’t like it, well, you just have to learn to love it. I’m not sure if I’m ready to listen to her constant complaint, giving that she likes to eat out so much.


So, with much dread and a trembling hand, I signed and released the contingency on the tenth day. Reluctantly, I will be moving to a strange city and living among strangers soon. The only relief is the tiring process of house hunting, that includes driving all over the places, the letdown after looking at the houses and their prices, the realtor who didn’t show up at the property because he simply forgot (and was promptly fired by me), or we couldn’t get in because the key didn’t work, or the renter changed the locks and refused to open the door so all the time and effort were wasted, or the strange remodeling work done to the house that made me think "WTH were they thinking," or the previous owner’s wife died in the house so I walked through the house with a repeated silent prayer, is behind me.


Now the new chapter begins--remodeling. I’ve heard that dealing with contractors is a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to it.

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