Friday, July 22, 2016

Celebrating One Year of Life

Today marks one year of David being released from the hospital after his appendicitis ordeal.

When I think back to July of last year, I think about the desperation of wanting David to feel better. To see a loved one in pain and not be able to help is terrible. To see David continue to get sicker and sicker when he should have been improving felt like being stuck in a dark hole that continued to get deeper and deeper. We tried to remain optimistic that soon enough this would all be a distant memory. Each night David I would listen to the doctor and make big decisions that could have big effects.  Each day we would wait patiently to see if we would get more answers. While our world was at a standstill everything else was moving on. Such is life.

It’s easy to forget the obstacles we faced and return to normal life. But I am trying to remember how difficult of a time it was so that I can appreciate the happy times. We left the hospital with a new zest for life wanting to cherish all of the little things. But as we had hoped, the hospital stay eventually did become a distant memory. It’s easy to get consumed by life and forget to be grateful. I write this as a little reminder to myself to take the time everyday to be grateful. Grateful for my life, grateful for my husband’s life and grateful for my family. I like to believe that this was the lesson I needed to be taught.

Celebrating life with an adventure in Harper's Ferry which included
a stop for ice cream which David wasn't able to eat for four weeks
last year. An ice cream this time last year could have killed him. 

David also didn't want to forget, so he documented his experience. Here's the Handyman Hubby making his guest debut on my blog to detail his diagnosis.

Written on July 5, 2016.

At this time exactly one year ago I was slipping into unconsciousness in an operating room at GBMC. I was a nervous as they rolled me in to the OR. I tried to steel my nerves. I had been through this before. I remember some of the rooms and the faded curtains in the maze that is the operating room at this hospital. I had been there for minor knee surgery 4 years before and I thought that just like then, this would be quick and I would be done with it and back to normal life. The previous time I ate a big burrito just a few hours after surgery. Why would I think this surgery would be any different? Yes, it was an emergency procedure but I had seen other people leave the hospital the next day after surgery and at that point, the drugs had me feeling fine. I was worried about missing a soccer game on TV that evening. I was mentally over this process before it even began.

My surgery was as routine as it gets for surgeons and their staff. A technician called it a “lap appy” when I was first diagnosed. It’s laparoscopic surgery to remove the appendix, the unnecessary part of your digestive system that hangs right by the small and large intestines that sometimes gets infected, mostly in your late twenties, especially if you are male. I happen to be a male in my late twenties. Typically, surgery lasts less than an hour and you are home the next evening and so I was bummed to miss the woman’s final but I figure I would just watch it in my hospital bed with my family. I did not foresee for a second the jolt of prolonged reality of pain and suffering I would face when I woke up. I never thought about how uncomfortable hospital beds could be or that a human could go so long without any food or the prospect of losing your freedom.

Why try to remember the pain? I have thought about this a lot. Why should I write about such a terrible time in my life? I have been trying to teach myself to forget the bad things in life for such a long time! Just a few days ago I saw a documentary about centenarians. The common theme to a question on how to live a fulfilling life was to be an amnesiac when it comes to the bad. But – when I do let my my mind wander to the almost three weeks I spent on the fourth floor of the recovery wing of the hospital I can’t help but feel the real love and compassion that I was shown by my friends, family and especially my wife. With a lump in my throat I ask myself “how can I ever repay them for what they did for me?” Maybe reflecting on my time there can help remind me to be a better husband, brother, son, friend, in-law and owner to my pup.

It all started with stomach pain, above the belly button on the morning of July 3rd. I hobbled over to the pharmacy to get stomach medicine. That didn’t help.  I decided that maybe doing house work would help. That week, I had ripped out our old fence and laid the foundation for a brick pillar for a new fence. I needed to get the new fence up as soon as possible so that the neighborhood kids would stop stealing our flowers! Working got my mind off of the pain a bit but after a little while, it came back. We went to a friend’s pool and I remember thinking to myself that I really did not feel like myself. I couldn’t think straight and my usual hilarious jokes were not rolling in. We stopped by my in-laws to talk to my mother in law Ms. Sharon about my symptoms. She is a nurse with many years of experience who had just retired a few weeks before. Who knew I would be bringing her out of retirement so soon! We could not figure out what was wrong with me.

The next day, Independence Day, I went to the doctor who dismissed it as acid reflux and sent me away with more medicine but no real tests. That should have been a red flag! The doctor’s medicine was not helping either.

That night, I went to see fireworks in College Park with my family but the entire time I was in serious discomfort. At one point, my sister in law wanted to get closer to the fireworks but I let her know that I could not physically walk more than 10 feet. This was more than acid reflux. That day, I had not been able to eat anything, which was a shame because my sister had made a feast to celebrate the 4th of July and to watch a Copa America game. Everything had been set for a fantastic weekend but at that point I could not enjoy two of my most favorite things; food and soccer!

That weekend was supposed to be the kick-start to a slightly dull summer for my wife Erin and I. I had told her earlier that week that we needed to get out in the sun more because the summer would be over before we knew it. On the 5th we were scheduled to have friends over to watch the women’s world cup final! A great end to an extended Independence day weekend! On that day, summer was already over for me.


Back in Baltimore that night, Erin and I decided that the pain had gone on for too long and we made our way down through the city to the clinic. “Why are there so many people out?” I asked. “Oh it is a Saturday night.” My insurance recommended I go to their clinic before going to the hospital. Why? Profit margins. At the clinic I was immediately put through the wringer. Test after test after test. The IV went into my arm… and stayed in. I learned what Contrast liquid is, hopefully you never have to. I went in for perhaps 5 x-rays and a CAT scan. We would have to spend the night and there was no where for Erin to sleep, not that we would sleep much anyways. She crept in to my tiny bed for a little bit and maybe drifted into a twilight when the doctor finally walked in to give me my diagnosis: acute appendicitis.

When I was diagnosed with appendicitis I was shocked but I was familiar with the disease. The appendix gets infected, swells and you have to have it removed as soon as possible or it could burst which can lead to other organs going into septic shock, which can kill you. I know that because my mother’s appendix burst when I was a child. She survived but she has the scar to remind her of the hazard of an infected appendix. Most people are out the very next day and some go to work the day after. I thought to myself “hey I will get a day off for this and I will be back to work on Tuesday, just in time to turn in that project that is due on Wednesday.” Looking back, I would only work 6 days in July. In my next post I will talk about my surgery, and then my hospital stay.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Cashing in on a Christmas Present

I really wanted some sconces in our dining room to add some elegance. As a Christmas present, David said I could pick some out and he would install them for me.

We ordered antiques ones we both liked on eBay but unfortunately the package was stolen off of our porch. I wonder what the thief did with those sconces, probably pitched them :/

We were disappointed because we really liked those sconces and it's not like we could just order the same ones again. We went to several antique stores but never seemed to find any electric ones. Finally we decided on another pair of brass antiques sconces from eBay. We didn't like these ones as much, but they were the best we could find in our price range. David says they are Tudor style from the 1920s.

2nd sconces from eBay.

One sconce was broken so David super-glued it back together.

Broken sconce.

David had to rewire the sconces since the wiring was disintegrating. Luckily he has had a lot of practice from all of our other antique lights.

Old wiring.

We planned to place the sconces on the sides of the mirror above our fire place. David cut holes in the wall and ran electrical wire from an electrical box at the bottom of the wall. He inserted circular electrical boxes in the holes so that the lights are up to code. It took him a long time to fish for the wire because he didn't want to add too many holes in the wall. After the wire was set up he hooked up the electricity. It always scares me a bit when David is working with electricity, but he's got his handy tester that lets him confirm that the power is shut off.

The electrical boxes installed. 

Wiring takes a lot of problem solving skills especially in an old house that was built before electricity was invented. You have to figure out where the connection will go and make sure it is safe all while dealing with some wires from the 30s, some from the 70s and some from present day. It took David about 8 hours to install and hook up the sconces. It's pretty cool to be able to turn the switch and have the light turn on and know David made that happen.

We have light!

Sconces installed.

We added some new sleeves to the candle part since the old pieces were falling apart as well as some candle bulbs. The brass has rusted and has actually turned green and pink in parts. We are not crazy about the color and have contemplated spray painting them, but for now we have left them as is.

Brass is starting to change color.

The sconces help give the dining room a more formal and old feel. What a wonderful Christmas present!

Lights on.

The sconces tie in nicely with the mirror.

Monday, May 9, 2016

New Fence

Ah the fence, the dreaded fence. Like most projects, David had been wanting to change the fence for a long time. And so one day last summer he took the leap and ripped out the plastic white picket fence that was there when he bought the house. First he dug some holes and filled them with cement to create a foundation for the posts.

White picket fence.

He had planned to use July 4th weekend to gather bricks from his dad's house and build some posts that the fence could attach to. This turned out to be terrible timing because David ended up in the hospital and so the project was put on hold for a few months. I know a lot of neighbors were wondering what our plans were since we were left without a fence and mysterious cement foundations. Unfortunately our open yard was an invitation for neighborhood kids to come into our yard and pick our flowers, but in the grand scheme of things this didn't matter.

After David finally recovered and built up enough strength he was able to complete the project. We retrieved about 120 some bricks that his dad had leftover from various projects (something David would not have been able to do during his ordeal.) David wanted to build two brick posts to frame the entrance and then attach the metal railings to the posts to create a fence around our yard. Originally, we wanted an old school iron fence. Turns out these are still expensive even at places like Second Chance, so David decided he would just re-purpose the railing we used to have on our porch and use that as a fence.

Railings that used to be on the porch.

Open yard

This was David's first masonry job and it turned out pretty well! He layered the bricks to create posts and topped them with cement slabs.

Making a plan.

Laying the bricks.

First post almost done.

Here is a time lapse of the posts being built.

Both posts done.

David also dug down and installed two wood posts to hold up the other ends of the fence. He painted the white plastic posts black from the old fence and placed these over the wood posts to blend it in. David cut the railing down to size and attached them to the plastic post on one end and the brick post on the other. The railing had a foot on it so David was happy to get a chance to use his grinder to remove this (check out the slow-mo video at the end of the time lapse).

Fence attached to the old white posts before the foot was cut off.

The only piece I helped out with was sanding down that railings. When we removed the railing from our porch a few years ago, we had them sitting outside in the elements, so they had rusted a bit. Once the railings were sanded, David gave them a fresh coat of paint. And voila! David finished the fence about two and half months after he started.

Painting the fence.

I really love the brick and metal look together. I think it definitely steps up our yard a notch! Also it matches the brick posts that frame our porch. Now we just have to decide whether to put lions or something fancy on top of the posts!

Fence completed.

We have a fence.
Eventually we would like to add a gate to deter random people from coming in the yard, but that piece is still in the works. I know David was very relived to finish this project (or at least phase one) because it meant he was back to his normal self.

The Handyman Hubby posing with his masterpiece.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Refinishing the Buffet

David and I bought an old wood dresser off of craigslist. It has curved front drawers giving it a vintage look. The dresser also came with a mirror. We put the dresser to use as a buffet in our dining room to store extra dishes and kitchen items.

Craigslist dresser.

I didn't mind the color of the wood, but it didn't match with the other furniture in the dinning room. We have a very dark wood dining table and secretary desk and a white fire place.

Dining room furniture.

David wanted to paint the dresser so that it would blend better, but we weren't sure what color. He decided to paint the drawers white and stain the top a dark color to tie it in with the rest of the furniture.

We had this project on our list for a long time, and we decided to tackle it right before it got too cold outside to work on it. We wanted to work outside because we were using paint stripper which has a strong odor.

Preparing the furniture.

First we brushed paint stripper on the dresser and all of the drawers. After giving the paint stripper time to do its work, we used a putty knife to peel off the shellac. This process took a long time because we had to strip it down completely to the wood. After we got a lot of layers off, the next step was to use sandpaper to get all of stickiness off. David decided it was best to do this by hand rather than with an electric sander so that we could get into all of the grooves. At this point it was dark outside, so we had to put the project on hold for another day.

Giving the paint stripper time to work.

Paint stripper on the drawers.

The paint stripper and the sandpaper did not get all of the sheen off so we had to resort to using steel wool to get the final layers off. Finally after a lot of hardwork we had stripped everything off.

Using steel wool to remove the rest of the shellac.

Drawers almost ready for paint.

David painted the side of the dresser and the drawers. He used a cloth and rubbed stain on the top. It took a lot of coats of stain to get it to the right color.

Painting the drawers.

Staining the top.

This project like most, ended up taking much longer than anticipated. I probably put 4 hours of work into it and David put in around 10 hours. But we ended up with vintage dresser with a modern touch that looks a lot more expensive than it was.

All painted.

Finished dresser.

Stained wood top.

Dresser with stained mirror.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


It has been a (little over a) year since I began my blog! Although I haven’t updated as much as I wanted to because well, life happens; I am happy that I’ve stuck with it this long. David bought the house almost four years ago and has been working on it ever since, so there are still many projects that I need to catch up on and blog about. I am glad that I will be able to look back on this blog and remember all of the changes that we made to the house. It's very easy to forget, but I have the documentation and can see the transformation.

On another note, I was happy to see that Redfin named Hampden as one of the 2016 hottest neighborhoods in the U.S. It really is a wonderful town to live in with lots of charm, great places within walking distance and a nice community feel. I can see Hampden changing and growing before my eyes, so I hope it doesn’t get too congested like other neighborhoods in Bmore, but I think we will be here for a while. Which means I'll have plenty of material for my Historic Hampden Rowhouse blog. 

Thanks for letting us share our home renovation journey with you!