Here we are, entering into our third year of country living. And to think we expected our shack to shelter us for only 6 months!
When we first moved into this no-toilet, no-shower, no-running-hot-water-in-the-bathroom, one-functional-sink, bug-infested old country house, we renovated it to make it livable. The kitchen was the center of major renovations. We laid plyboards on the soft squishy floor to prevent a Rumpelstilskin-like disaster. We painted everything — the walls, the ceiling, and the floors — white. I love our kitchen. It’s spacious (particularly for Japanese standards), bright, and cheery. The windows look out into the street and I holler a hello every now and then to passers-by. The family congregates here a lot while I whip up meals and treats. It is, literally and figuratively, the heart of our home.
After three years, the renovations we made deteriorated. The paint in the ceiling bubbled in some places and peeled off completely in others. The previously immaculate white floors were now filthy with grime, impossible to wipe off even with specialized cleaners. We covered the floor with an assortment of rugs.
“You know what would be great for the kitchen floor?” I said to my husband, my arms aching from wiping hard at a particularly grungy spot near the garbage bin. “Linoleum! It’s the stuff of floors in the Philippines.” Once-in-two-months, our favorite home center (Super Viva Home Plus, which by the way, sells real live owls for $2,000-$5,000 each) has a storewide sale. At the next sale, we bought black and white checked linoleum and sky print wallpaper.
The first Monday that my husband and I had free, we worked on our renovation project. We were optimistic that we would finish before we had to get the kids from school. Maybe we could even get a 5K run in.
First we had to clear the kitchen of everything. That took an hour of moving things, discovering things (Didn’t know we still had a functioning old style calculator! What are these crayons doing in the kitchen?), and cleaning the dust off things. Then we cleaned the ceiling of paint that bubbled up or chipped off, and covered up the nail heads that were rusting through. That took another hour. While we worked, I played CDs of sappy love songs from when I was still single and we laughed at how ridiculous they sound after being married. Then on to the exciting part. We unfurled a portion of our sky print wallpaper and discussed our strategy: My husband would glue the wallpaper section by section as I held up the rest of the roll. Soon enough, gravity ridiculed our plan. Our arms got tired working the paper smooth and holding the entire roll up. Scrap that. We decided to cut pieces of wallpaper and glue them one at a time. This still didn’t work. The glue was the sort that took a long time to hold fast, which is probably a good thing when working with wallpaper on walls (you can still lift it off and reapply) but impossible to work with upside down on the ceiling.
It was noon and I thought we would have finished the ceiling by then. The only way we could decently put up the sky print paper on the ceiling was to glue the wallpaper onto cardboard and then staple gun the cardboard to the ceiling. Now where to find enough large sized flat cardboard to cover up the ceiling? My husband said, “Let’s let Wild Woman give us an inspiration on where to get material.” Which meant: “I am giving up on this project for the day so let’s just chill out and relax.” We live next to an organic importing center and I discovered they had exactly what we needed: large sheets of cardboard lined the pallets onto which food was stacked. We laughed again about my husband’s foiled plans at an afternoon of freedom and relaxation.
It was much more tedious than we expected. First, we had to measure out wallpaper that would fit onto the cardboard (we got varying sizes of cardboard), glue the paper onto the cardboard, cut out the cardboard to size, then staple-gun the ensemble onto the ceiling (all the while telling jokes about papering a baby room for a baby my husband was not aware of, and of women holding up half the sky). As we worked, we improved our technique. We discovered that a paint roller applied the glue more evenly and eliminated lumps. The first pieces looked clumsy and the later pieces looked increasingly better. “Should we take down our first pieces and redo them?” I asked. “Nah. let’s just leave them. Shows the evolution of our work,” he said. “And our marriage!” In many ways, building a home was similar to building a marriage and a life together. You make mistakes and bumble about but you get better as you go along. While we could have gotten more professional results contracting the job to a third party, we wouldn’t have learned how to solve problems ourselves and work through difficulties together. How we renovated our home revealed a lot about how we approached our marriage. We choose to laugh and have fun instead of crabbing and blaming each other.
The time to pick up the kids rolled around and we were not done with the ceiling. We got the kids then went back home to continue the ceiling. It was 8 in the evening when we finished and got around to tackling the floor. Thankfully, the floor project was many times easier than the ceiling project, with gravity on our side. My husband was pleasantly surprised to learn about my secret degree in linoleum cutting. By 10 in the evening, we finished the floor and moved the stuff back. I love what we have done to our kitchen. The sky ceiling and checked floor add the same playfulness we bring to our marriage and our home life. And my husband and I feel closer to each other.
“Building or remodeling a home can be about the most stressful activity a married couple can engage in,” says marriage counselor Dr. Don Gilbert. We discovered instead that it was one of the most rewarding ways to be closer to each other.