Chap 5: Learning What Matters Most

The first couple of weeks in August 2000, we were still delusional enough to think that we really could have the house in livable condition before the end of the month when The Starving Students Movers would come to our apartment, load up all our belongings, and drive them up to our “new” house 35 miles away. We really did think that was still possible. We were so naïve.

As I steamed wallpaper and stripped paint while my brother tore the bathroom walls down to the studs, Hubby was locating an electrical contractor and a plumbing contractor to do the work that none of us were qualified to do. He had a former acquaintance that took the electrical job which entailed making sure that the old Frankenstein-like electrical system was updated so it was safe. The first plumbing contractor we hired (also an old acquaintance of Hubby’s) flaked within the first week, so our electrical guy gave us a reference to another plumbing contractor that was able to come in and complete the major job of replacing the hot and cold water supply lines to the kitchen, laundry, and downstairs bathroom as well as replace the main waste drain system from the downstairs bathroom, kitchen and laundry.

Above: The old hot and cold water supply and drain lines going into the bathroom under the water damaged sections of the hallway floor

The job was made easier by the fact that Josh had torn out most of the bathroom floor. For a couple of weeks, we had guys crawling all over the place in the 3-foot space under our house.

The miniscule water heater in a sliver of a hall closet also had to be replaced. We found the largest water heater we could fit into the tiny space and then waited for the plumbing contractor to come and install it. By this time, the flaky first plumber (and other setbacks with the electrical and plumbing work) had dashed our naïve hopes of having the house anywhere close to being livable by the end of the month. So when the water heater installation got delayed again and again, we were so jaded we had just come to expect it. What I didn’t expect was when the plumber finally did show up to install the water heater. Despite his lame attempt to cover it up by wearing dark sunglasses, he was so intoxicated that I could smell the alcohol fumes as soon as I opened the front door. No matter how desperate we were to have our water heater in and running, I was not about to let a plumber do it in a drunken cloud. That install waited until another day. And fortunately, that was the last phase of the plumbing work that needed to be completed by that contractor.

With our original timeline blown to pieces, we came to the conclusion that although our stuff could move in to the house at the end of the month, we couldn’t. We didn’t have a shower or a tub. We only had an upstairs toilet. And we had no kitchen facilities. No, humans couldn’t move in yet. We had to come up with some sort of living situation in the interim.

Fortunately, my sister and her husband came to the rescue. They were renting the bigger home of a couple while the couple was serving a church mission. My sister informed me there was an extra bedroom upstairs we could take up residence in as long as we needed. I don’t know how we would have managed without that huge burden being relieved for us. So when our stuff moved into our house at the end of August, we moved into a spare bedroom at my sister’s and continued to make the 35 mile commute every day to work on our house until 11 pm or midnight and then head the 35 miles back to where our bed was at my sister’s.

This circumstance of being 35 miles away from a hot shower and soft bed taught me another valuable life lesson. I learned not to care what I looked like in public. My “uniform” eventually consisted of painter’s overalls over a t-shirt with work boots. My hair was always pulled back in a ponytail or braid. I never wore makeup on workdays. There wasn’t any point. When we had to head over to the local home improvement store (practically a daily occurrence), I fit right in with all the rest of the contractors milling about the aisles. It was easy going there dressed like that.

What was harder was when Hubby, Josh, and I would finally need to get some dinner. There’s only so much fast food one can stand. We finally got to the point where we would dust ourselves off from all the debris and demolition dust, pile into our vehicles, and go to a sit-down place like Spaghetti Factory wearing our construction overalls. We were tired and hungry and that trumps really caring what others think. And do you know what I learned? Other people really don’t pay that much attention to what YOU look like! They really don’t. I learned that valuable life lesson firsthand, and I never would have otherwise.

Over the course of the remainder of the month of August and then the month of September, we were able to move forward and check off major milestones along the way.

Milestone 1
With the plumbing under the house completed, Josh was able to begin the process of rebuilding the bathroom. The water damaged subfloor planks had been removed in the entire bathroom. The water damage had extended out into the hallway too. In the hallway, we carefully removed all the remaining vintage red oak flooring so we could put it back later. Josh then proceeded to put in brand new subfloor panels in the bath and hallway.

Above left: New sub floor in the hallway outside the bathroom
Above right: New sub floor from the hallway into the bathroom

Above: The new sub floor planks where the toilet would be installed

I distinctly remember the feeling I had when Josh presented me with a completed subfloor. It was the first indication that we were indeed going to succeed at this crazy venture—that all the demolishing efforts would eventually turn into rebuilding efforts and we would have a house with a solid floor. To this day, I am grateful for the oft-overlooked blessing of having a floor under my feet that is solid and without drafts (yet another important life lesson learned).

Josh showing off his work

Milestone 2
The sheet rock was able to go up on the walls once the sub floor was in. Fortunately, my mother had a great deal of experience hanging sheet rock when I was young and my parents had decided to build a house in the mountains of Colorado. I have vivid memories of watching her cut and hang sheet rock, mud and tape seams, and texture. At six years old, she had put a putty knife in my hand and taught me how to fill nail holes with joint compound. I had watched her for hours as a child—fascinated by the entire process. My mother’s first visit to our house was the day that she graciously offered to come and help us hang sheet rock in our bathroom. So I got to watch her at work again. Except this time I was an adult, and all my childhood memories were coming back to me as I worked on my own house while my mom gave me a refresher course in the art of sheet rocking.

My mom giving me a refresher on the art of hanging sheet rock

Milestone 3
The new subfloor also facilitated the installation of a new tub! With all our sore muscles from the daily work, we had gravitated toward finding a jetted tub that would fit in the 5-foot long space. We were fortunate to find one that was VERY budget-friendly and bought it.

After consulting the installation instructions for the tub, Hubby and Josh took on the tricky task of setting the bathtub in mortar encased between sheets of plastic membrane. The instructions said that it was imperative that heavy weights be placed in the tub once it was set on the mortar pad and that the weights needed to remain there until the mortar set. Although unconventional (and certainly not what the bathtub manufacturers had envisioned), we found that the heaviest thing in our possession was the trashcan full of plaster demolition debris. Josh and Hubby hefted it up and over the side and set it down in the bathtub and that’s what served as the weight to set the tub.

To outsiders, our milestones probably seemed small and insignificant. But to us few that were in the trenches everyday, they were huge. Through this process, I was learning what really matters most in life.

And more importantly, each dilapidated piece of the house that I tore out with my own hands was symbolically a piece of my broken childhood being torn out. My healing process had begun. With a hammer and crowbar in my hands I was acting out the process that I had going on inside of me. And I knew then, as I know now, that a loving Heavenly Father was orchestrating this whole circumstance so I could learn, grow, and heal.

As Rosehaven Cottage was being torn down in order to be rebuilt, so was I.

To be continued…

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  1. So true, Cindy! No one cares what you look like, only what you think they look like. I enjoy a similar, albeit smaller, experience when I go to the grocery store to pick something up after my day at the barn. I'm not sure, but I think I may carry the scent of eau d'equine with me, as well. :o)) It's oddly liberating.

    I'm thrilled that you saw and are seeing the healing process that you were undergoing at the time. And, just look at all help you were being offered along the way (drunken plumbers not withstanding). You were and are surrounded by love.


  2. Thats wonderful! God was obviously up to some big things! You mom is pretty cool! I wish my mom knew how to do that stuff!

  3. Did you even notice how family and friends rally around you in times of crisis? At least good family and friends like ours. I LOVE that! It makes me feel super loved and blessed to ba a part of a group of people so giving and kind.

  4. Cindy,
    I was so excited to see that I had the next installment of Rosehaven waiting for me! I love this part of the story. I appreciate how symbolic the demolition and rebuilding process is/was for you.
    I love you so much,

  5. Tearing down things can be so therapeutic, don't you think. And then when it's replaced by something clean and new just makes the hwole process feel that mu ch better.

  6. Oh I bet that was such a relief when you got the plumbing sorted. It's one thing just working with friends and family, but when you have contractors in, it is far more tense.

    I felt like cheering when you got the bath in on a real floor fit to support it's weight. I may cheer again when the toilet goes in. LOL

  7. Wow, Cindy! What a job, in so many ways. I have never heard the story of Rosehaven Cottage and am enjoying it very much now. Remodeling, repairing, repenting . . what parallels!
    Love ya, Auntie

  8. It's amazing how our families can come together to help each other! I'm looking forward to the next chapter!

  9. On the contrary, your milestones look very huge to me as I have been without a bathroom, kitchen, floors and ceilings myself when we were renovating our new home. And yes, before you can rebuilt, a lot needs to be torn down, not everybody realises that. ;-)

  10. We know how big those milestones were to you, Cindy. Having had builders in our last many bad memories, but one of the few good ones was when we got hot water and the bathtub fitted. Although it wasn't done by ourselves, it was still a huge milestone, especially since it was the middle of winter! From living in that house, we also learned many lessons. It is a hard process to go through but if anything, it makes you a stronger person.

    I'm loving the story, Cindy! Hugs from Meg and cats xxx

  11. Cindy this is in fact great record for your Rosehaven Cottage, I don't know how you are able to remember so much, lol. Anna :)


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