Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Home Improvement!

Despite having one of THOSE days (the kind where I officially don't feel well and spend most of the day on the couch, sipping at liquids), I am ridiculously excited to share a couple changes we recently made around the house.

About two months ago, I got the brilliant idea to freshen up our bathrooms. As a real estate agent, I know that outdated baths and kitchens are often the first reason for undervalued home sales. And while I don't know for sure that the work we're doing will still be good-looking or in mode by the time we do decide to sell our home, at least it's prettier to look at and live in in the meantime.

Not to mention, hey, I like it.

My idea started out simple enough: paint the upper half of the walls and add wainscoting and chair rail molding to the lower half.

This was easily something WH and I could accomplish ourselves, and I have to admit to being super-psyched to start. I went and picked out paint colors. I bought the wainscoting and painted it. I picked out the molding.

And then logic started to set in. For instance: adding wainscoting meant taking out the toilet and vanity. That was messing with plumbing, which was not something either of us were comfortable doing on our own just yet. But some research online showed that it really wouldn't be that scary, so it was worth it to try.

Once we conquered the plumbing, I got another brilliant idea. Since we already had the toilet and vanity out, why not re-do the floors? When I suggested this, I didn't actually think WH would agree to it. But he did. And so somehow I wound up tiling my first-ever floor. Luckily it was a small one to start with!

The whole experience took way, way longer than we thought-- and we have only finished the smaller of the two baths. But at least it's done (except for one or two minor details) and ready to go!

So, without further ado, I present to you:

The Before:

The After:

(Click to embiggen)

If one of our wedding photos wasn't at the top of that picture I'm not sure I'd believe this bathroom is actually in our house!

A better picture of the floor that I tiled. (Can you tell I'm excited that I did this? I love working with my hands and discovering new skills, even things as mundane as tiling a floor. And I only screwed up a little!)

The awesome part is that the toilet and the vanity are both the old ones. We just got a new faucet, seat, and handle, and they cleaned up pretty spiffy! Our hall bath still has the glorious 80's/90's vanity from several owners ago, so we'll be replacing that one... but we won't start that bath for a couple weeks at least.

WH did such an amazing job with everything. There were several weekends where he practically did nothing but work on the bathroom, cutting the wainscoting and molding and measuring and re-cutting and filling holes in the drywall and fixing the toilet and etc. So thank you, to my amazing and awesome and wonderful husband for indulging my crazy project, which started out with him ideally just "helping" and wound up with him doing most of the work!

One more thing while I've got you here-- can't resist showing off our new dining room set!

As if you needed more evidence of his craftiness, WH built the banquette benches in the back by modifying cupboards from Ikea. Here's a slightly better view with bonus cat picture:

So yay home improvement! You have no idea how long I've been dying to show you guys these pictures. Can't wait to share the hall bath once we get that one done!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Elegance of Post-Modernism Storytelling; or, HOLY CRAP I'M ACTUALLY LEARNING THIS SEMESTER

Last night, WH and I sat down, turned off our mutual internets and watched INCEPTION. This was a big deal for us. Normally, no matter WHAT we're watching, we're both clicking away, him in a game and me on Twitter. But we had both heard so much about INCEPTION, and we were in a snuggly mood thanks to the rainy weather, so we decided to devote our full attention to a movie for once. And I'm so glad we did.

In my English class this semester, we just started learning about Post-Modernism, and I have to admit that at first I wasn't interested in learning about it. In case you're not familiar, the Modernist movement was what most of us are familiar with when we think of story-telling: neat tales that wrap up in tidy little packages, and follow a steady plot line. Post-Modernism is sort of the opposite; where Modernism is neat and tidy, Post-Modernism is chaos.

But the more my professor explained the differences between the two, the more I began to feel like donning a beret and some suspenders, and maybe even sipping an espresso with my pinkie up.

Don't get me wrong-- I'm a HUGE fan of Modernist story-telling. I love me some neat plot-lines and happy-ever-afters. But there's something so . . . appealing about Post-Modernism, too. Something raw. Something animal, that invites us think for ourselves. Normally, I don't like it when the neat lines aren't drawn for me. I don't like having to work out if something did or did not happen within the context of a story that I did not write. But my appreciation has been piqued by our in-class viewing of THE THIN BLUE LINE, a documentary that was filmed by accident and literally saved a man's life, and ever since then I've been finding Post-Modernist tidbits everywhere.

Perhaps this is just like the week I discovered that people in Britain pronounce "aluminum" differently, and therefore started hearing people with British accents saying "al-you-min-ee-um" all the time. Or perhaps it's just my mind expanding with learning. The world may never know. But my appreciation remains. And I find it fascinating that I discovered I've actually been a fan all along: Christopher Nolan, who wrote and directed INCEPTION, also directed THE PRESTIGE, which is one of my absolute all-time favorite movies (of all time), as well as MEMENTO.

There goes my neat and tidy story. But real life isn't neat and tidy, and I think that's what I appreciate about it so much.

I've come to realize that I wholeheartedly love this method of storytelling because the story winds up being so powerful. So what if there's too much detail? Who cares if the plot is hard to follow at times? The overall emotional connection you have with the story is there, and it grabs you.

It grabs me.

Someday, whether linear or chaotic, I hope to write a novel as brilliantly, darkly twisted and beautiful as those movies. One that brings readers to their emotional knees and stays with them long after they close the cover on the last page.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Snapshots #1-- The Call Center

*Warning* Writing ahoy!

The call center I worked in during the spring of 2007 was a sparsely-populated cube farm devoted entirely to the wasteland of making sales. I only worked there for four months, but it seemed like an eternity.

My boss was a super-charismatic guy, dressed to the nines every day and with a twisted sense of humor. When he'd hired me, he told me that I was really young and didn't have the right experience, but he'd decided I was going to be his "experiment".

When I got to my first day of work, it turned out that not only was I the youngest, I was the only girl.

Still, the men I worked with were nice. I trained with five others, and we sat in an office easily built for fifty, making calls over and over. The bosses would regularly listen in on the phone lines, and as the youngest-- and only girl-- I got a bit more attention than the others. "Don't laugh so much." "Stop being so nice." "Don't let them hold you on the line for so long."

The very first call I made, the lady who answered the phone yelled at me for interrupting her dinner, called me a bitch, and hung up on me. I cried.

It was hard for me to twist my mind around "making sales". I'd never been the type of person to be pushy, or demanding, or rude, and I especially detested see-through sales tactics, which were all we were taught, along with a script we weren't allowed to deviate from. It also didn't help that we were peddling mortgages-- and I'd auspiciously started the job right when the first big banks started falling like dominoes. It was an uphill, losing battle, and I hated it. I went home everyday feeling stressed and slimy. At least I wasn't working on commission-- I'd found one of the rare salaried sales jobs.

And then there was one family in Tennessee. They sounded so relieved when I called. The man who answered the phone couldn't give me his info fast enough. And I felt like I was truly doing something more noble than sales when I called to give him a pre-approval, and he choked up and told me I was going to save his house.

Three days later, I had to call him back and tell him I had lied. Our underwriter had been unable to get approval after all.

That, more than anything, broke me. More than the rude people. More than the not-entirely-unexpected announcement that due to our inability to actually make any sales, we were now working on commission only. More than the lonely old men who kept me on the phone for hours at a time, completely not intending to buy anything, just to have someone to talk to. More than the creepy guy who told me I had a great phone voice and he might have an opportunity for me if I would give him a call when I wasn't working. (Part of me still wonders what that opportunity was, exactly, but the other part is pretty sure I don't want to know).

No, hearing that man from Tennessee choke up with tears of joy and then break down a week later, and feeling completely powerless to help him, is what made me hate that job. I stuck it out for a few more weeks before deciding that some things just aren't worth the doing.

My bosses and everyone I worked with were really, really nice, but the people in the office weren't important compared to the people out in the world, the ones whose throats I was supposed to be jamming mortgages down.

I think we all learn harsh lessons in our youth. This was one of mine.