Posts Tagged 'learning curve'

The Rat Who Came to Dinner

newfloor2I promised I’d tell the story of how we got beautiful new flooring in the dining room, and it’s a doozy. I didn’t share it back in July, because I couldn’t find the pictures I’d taken of the aftermath. Now I’ve got them, so it’s time to share about our little visitor last summer! 😉

If you’ve read the posts about my adventures in tiling over laminate, then you know it was a start-and-stop process due to my failure to buy enough mastic and then getting the wrong color grout when I ran out. I ended up having to stop in the middle of the grouting process and come back later to finish. The Saturday I quit, I cleaned up and left everything in readiness for the Wednesday following, which was supposed to be three days before our actual move (I know, I know; insanity runs in my family — as Cary Grant once said in a movie, “It practically gallops!”).

When I walked into the trailer Wednesday afternoon, I crossed the kitchen floor to discover this sight in the living room/dining room area:

aftertherat

Yes, that’s a huge empty area in the carpet with little “pills” of carpet pulled out by their roots lying all around. I gasped in horror, realizing that this was the job of a determined nest-maker–probably a rat. I ran through the other rooms and found little bits of carpet chewed up here and there, but nothing compared to the giant patch of “yuck” in the dining room. And now I must back up and give you a little story of the first visit we had from this little creature.

Back when I laid the sticky-tile in the kitchen, I had taken off all the floor vents so I could tile around the holes neatly and accurately. You may recall that I didn’t finish the tiling job on the first go, saving all the precise cutting for the end. But I left the floor vents off (there goes that insanity again), planning to come in a couple of days later, finish, and screw the vents back down. My husband decided we’d all just come out with our air matresses and a change of clothes and spend the night so we could get a lot more done. By the time we reached the trailer, it was already dark and time to put the children to bed. So I walked in with sheets and blankets while my husband pulled out the port-a-cribs and such from the van. I strolled into the kitchen, sizing up what was left to do on the sticky-tile, and saw the vent covers waiting to be screwed back down. At that moment, I remembered that our landlord had said he’d be replacing the ductwork beneath the house, so sections might be off. My eyes widened as I realized I should have put the vent covers back on, and I mentally congratulated myself that the house was not full of cockroaches. I knelt down, vent cover in hand, ready to screw the first one back in place…just in case any nocturnal visitors should get ideas. That’s when I heard the blood-curdling scream from one of the back bedrooms.

rattyMy heart leapt into my throat, and I looked up to see a black furball hurtling toward me across the living room floor, headed straight for the vent I was bending over. I shrieked  and jumped up, dropping the vent cover with a clatter. Seeing me blocking his exit, the rat screeched to a halt, turned tail and ran into the hall bathroom. My second-born son had by then fled to stand tiptoe on the hearth, so the rest  joined him, looking anxiously toward the hall. I stopped to put the cover back on the vent before hopping up on the hearth. At this point, my husband walked through the front door and burst out laughing. All of us started talking at once and gesticulating toward the bathroom. The girls breathlessly got out, “It’s a rat, Daddy! A rat is in our house! In the bathroom!” So our fearless leader grabbed the broom and headed in to do battle with the intruder. “There’s nothing in here,” he announced, at which point my oldest son said, “It went up the shower curtain, Daddy! I was standing in the bedroom and saw it run up!” So with all of us cowering on the hearth, hubby pushed against the shower curtain with the broom.

Mr. Rat decided his hiding place wasn’t all that great and came streaking out of the bathroom, through my husband’s feet, headed straight to the kitchen again. Finding the vent cover back in place, he veered left and scooted behind the stove. Ugh. By the time my husband made it in there, there was no sign of the rat. He called our landlord, who came over, and they both moved the stove. No rat. That fat creature had squeezed into a half-inch gap behind the cabinets and gone out through a tiny hole around the sink pipes! Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well that night, wondering if our little visitor might come back in the way he left!

I finished up the kitchen floor the next day and made sure all the vents were securely fastened back down. My husband and our landlord didn’t think the rat would be back, since he knew there were people in the house now, and the hole he’d used to leave was so small it must have been a painful exit. So we locked up and left, and on my subsequent visits to tile and grout, I didn’t encounter Mr. Rat. So we were sure he was gone for good. Until the Carpet Incident of 2008, that is.

As I stood over the messy pile of carpet fibers, I knew the rat had, indeed, come back through his exit and made himself at home once again. I looked around more carefully and noticed that my clean-up rags were all missing, too. I stepped back into the kitchen and glanced at the stove. In the space between the stove and the cabinet was a pile of rags and some scattered carpet fibers. I’d found the nest. I called our landlady, who sent over her oldest son with the shop vac. He very sweetly cleaned up all the rat’s “gifts” while I poked around to make sure our visitor was no longer in residence. When the landlord arrived home that afternoon, he came over to inspect the carpet, fuming over the damage the rat had done. “Oh, well,” he said, “this carpet really needed to be replaced eventually anyway.” I nodded, then reminded him that we planned to move in three days. His eyes popped wide, and I knew there was no way he could replace the damaged flooring in that short window of time. Thankfully, we’d given ourselves an extra week for our move in case of an unexpected emergency. Word to the wise: always plan a cushion around any move or big project! This was a life-saver for all of us.

So this brings us to the main point of this post: how ratty events can bring about unexpected bonuses in life. I would never have asked a rat in to share my home and chew up the carpet, but what was done was done. No use crying about it. We’d just clean up (thoroughly!) and move on. And our wonderful landlord put in beautiful hardwood laminate flooring instead of new carpet! So now we had a dining room with a floor we wouldn’t have to worry about at mealtimes. Talk about a wonderful providence! Here’s the beautiful result:

newdrfloor

So, while I certainly won’t be inviting any more rats to dinner (and I’ve plugged their entrances!), I am rather thankful for what resulted from Mr. Rat deciding to pull up the carpet and make himself at home! Just goes to show you that there really can be a silver lining in the blackest (furriest) cloud!

fromkitchentodr

Post Script: Our landlord did leave a cage trap in the kitchen after this episode, and Mr. Rat obligingly stepped into it. He was then sent packing and will not be visiting again. 😉

In which I remember how much I’ve forgotten…

After our return home from the annual Thanksgiving visit with our relatives to the South, my oldest son announced that only cold water was coming out of the kitchen faucet. I blithely assured him that he just needed to let the water run, as it was freezing outside, and all the cold water needed to run through the pipes before the hot could come out. Then I went on bustling about, attending to unpacking, sorting mail, and keeping toddlers out of trouble. Five minutes later, I passed through the kitchen on my way to the laundry room and saw my oldest son still standing at the sink with one finger in the running water. He gave me a glum look. “Mom, there’s NO hot water in these pipes!”

redswitchHmmm…. Now my brain kicked into gear. “Did you check to see if anyone flipped the switch, sweetie?” (Our trailer has a glowing red switch to turn off the water heater when we’re away — conveniently located in plain sight at toddler-height on the wall of the laundry room.) Son #1 shook his head, and I took a few steps toward the laundry room. He was right. The switch was on. I stepped into the utility closet and squeezed into the back corner behind the winter coats to get to the water heater. It felt cool to the touch. Oh, dear. The manual lay on top of the heater, so I flipped through it to see if there was some kind of reset button I could push. Next to a diagram of the innards of the water heater was a paragraph that read something like this:

ALWAYS SHUT OFF POWER SUPPLY TO HEATER BEFORE ATTEMPTING ANY REPAIRS. With power supply disconnected, use Phillips head screwdriver to remove cover from access panel on side of heater, TAKING CARE NOT TO TOUCH ANY METAL PORTIONS OF THE INTERIOR PANEL WITH THE SCREWDRIVER. [Side note: Umm… the entire heater is metal, thank you very much.] With cover removed, locate white, red, and yellow wiring AND DO NOT TOUCH UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. Locate recessed red reset toggle switch behind wiring and use narrow wooden dowel to depress switch, TAKING CARE NOT TO TOUCH THE SWITCH WITH ANY METAL OBJECT OR FINGERS. After depressing switch, replace panel cover, MAKING SURE YOU DO NOT DISTURB ANY WIRING IN THE PROCESS. Restore power supply to heater WITH CAUTION, then step back and wait until you hear the element turn on to begin the heating process. If element does not turn on, call a repairman, and DO NOT ATTEMPT ANY REPAIRS YOURSELF.

waterheaterOkay, so that’s my paranoid rendition of what the instructions sounded like — but it’s pretty close. There was no way I was going into what sounded like Bomb Disarmament for Dummies, so I skipped to the last step and called our handy-dandy landlord, who seems to be able to fix anything just by looking at it quizzically.  He took one look at the cold tank and announced, “It’s dead. Sorry. It’s ten years old. It was time for it to go.”

Well, that was that. There’d be no hot water that night or most of the next day. We piled all the dirty dishes into the sink and filled it with cold, soapy water. There’s nothing quite so icky as the feeling of slimy dinner dishes in cold water. But it couldn’t be helped, so we just piled ’em in both sides and left ’em to soak. The children were absolutely thrilled to skip their bath that night–not one of our children likes taking a bath in the wintertime– and I was actually delighted to skip the wrestling match and let them climb into clean pajamas and snuggle into their beds. I felt so bad for our landlord, who would have to take a day off his own work to get our hot water supply back. I washed my face with cold water (brrrrr!) and went to bed hoping the new water heater installation would be quick, easy, and painless.

Some dreams don’t come true. After removing the decrepit old water heater, our landlord discovered that it had been leaking into the surrounding flooring. A light bulb came on in my head as I recalled having to move three cardboard boxes of books that we’d found wet in the utility closet. At the time, we thought a child had spilled water in the closet and just didn’t want to ‘fess up. But, nope, the culprit was the old water heater. In fact, not only had it eaten up our boxes (and several books), but it had destroyed part of the linoleum and begun to eat away at the plywood subfloor beneath. Oh, it wasn’t pretty. It was one of those “simple” jobs that keeps getting more complicated as you go on…and on, and on…

newheaterDid I mention that the water had to be turned off all day? We ate off paper plates for breakfast and lunch and reminded little people not to flush. Our sweet landlady invited us all to supper, and we ended up staying and visiting until about 9:30 that night. By the time we got home, our landlord was still in the utility closet with his helper, replacing the subflooring. But it wasn’t long before everything was back in place, and–bonus of bonuses–he’d installed a larger hot water heater! This would mean we could run two baths and do the dishes at night! He warned me not to run the hot water until the glue had dried on the pipe fittings, so I shut my eyes and walked past the sink pile yet again. I looked forward to loading the dishwasher in the morning — and putting filthy children into hot baths the next evening!

The first thing my oldest son did in the morning was turn on the hot water in the kitchen. “It’s really hot, Mom!” he grinned as steam began rising from the slimy sink pile. Ahh… simple pleasures. We gleefully opened the dishwasher to prepare for loading, and I flipped on our countertop tea kettle to boil some water for my morning cup of tea. And that’s when the second lightbulb went on in my head.

teaspotI suddenly recalled all the Little House on the Prairie stories and all my grandma’s stories about doing dishes and laundry during the Great Depression. I smacked my forehead, staring into the sinkful of dirty dishes. My son looked startled and asked me what was the matter. I pointed at the kettle and said, “We could have done all the dishes!” He looked puzzled. I explained that we’d had hot water at our fingertips the entire time — I just couldn’t see it for looking. He shot up an eyebrow and shook his head, wondering if his mother’s sanity had indeed finally departed. I started giggling and pulled out both sink drains, watching the chilly, slimy water gurgle down the drain. Then I showed him how simple it would have been to boil a kettle of water and pour it into the sink, adding some cold water to prevent scalding, then wash the dishes by hand with dish soap. His mouth formed a large “O” as his light bulb went on, too. “Mom! That’s how Laura Ingalls and her family took baths, too! Remember? They boiled water on the wood stove, then put it into a wooden tub!” Now we were running on all burners. It was great.

So I started looking at everything around the house differently. What if I had to do without_____? (Fill in the blank — electricity, central heat and air, an outdoor garbage can). Then I began remembering how much I’ve forgotten — or have taken for granted in recent years. Like having an outdoor burn pile for the paper trash and other combustibles. Like using vinegar and water to clean windows and cut grease (instead of buying that fancy degreaser stuff). Like putting table scraps in a compost pile instead of chucking them in the trash. And I’m realizing that it’s all too easy to forget things when we are comfortable and “rich.” Yet how much we lose when we let go of these do-it-yourself skills. I’m reminded of the old Depression Era adage:

Use it up, wear it out,
Make it do, or do without.

I really want to start applying this good advice on a daily basis as we look for more ways to save, be frugal, make do with what we have, and get rid of what we don’t need. It is so freeing to stop depending on “convenience” — but it does mean we need to relearn some old skills that we’ve lost or forgotten.  It’s fun to start looking around with new eyes!

newfloor3And the first thing I thought of was the leftover sticky tile I had after I’d finished the children’s bathroom. I’ve still got about 40 square feet left. Since our landlord had to rip out the ruined linoleum, my utility room floor is screaming for sticky tile! When I’m feeling very motivated (and when I have a couple of hours free), I’m going to pull out all the storage boxes and the dresser and “tile” the closet floor. I’d never planned to bother with it, as it’s not a floor you’d normally see, but I’m so glad now that I bought more than enough vinyl tile for the kitchen and bath. Providential!

And this isn’t the first time that a flooring crisis has resulted in an unexpected blessing. Next time I’ll share the thrilling adventures of Mr. Rat and the Nighttime Visit! Until then, I’ll be enjoying my dishwasher and feeling thankful for hot showers. 😉


About the Queen…

Amanda Livenwell is the pen name of a stay-at-home mom who shares the adventure of living large on one income in, yes, a double-wide trailer! Join our family as we say goodbye to suburbia, trim down, and start saving to build our own home. We're going to talk about doing it yourself, living beautifully on less, making do or doing without, and counting it all joy in the process. We'll cover prep-work and painting, refacing kitchen cabinets, flooring on the cheap, tiling over laminate, upholstering furniture, and just rolling up our sleeves in general. If you love home improvement, this is the place for you. Let's get cracking!

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"She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands. She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms. She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle. She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness." ~ Proverbs 31:13, 17-19, 27

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