Monday, September 11, 2017

We Will Never Forget

While visiting with my grandparents one summer, I asked them what it was like living through World War II. Their voices softened and their demeanors changed as they described the events of December 7, 1941, the day not only Pearl Harbor was attacked, but every American was attacked.

All of the pain, worry, and trauma they experienced was carried with them, even though it had been over 30 years since the attack. As they described hearing the voice on the radio announcing Pearl Harbor was under attack, they paused as their voices cracked and their eyes became misty.

As a youth, I wondered how that level of pain could still be so fresh in their hearts 30+ years after the war ended. On September 11, 2001, within a small span of time, I understood all of their emotions. From their fear of not knowing the fate of family and friends, to the immediate overwhelming flood of emotions that assailed my senses upon hearing the television newscaster say "America is under attack".

For the first time, I got it. And it tore a hole in my heart I knew would never heal, no matter how much time passed.

I fully grasped the generations of my parents and grandparents sense of strength, faith, love, unity, and pride in their country, and in themselves. Everyone jumped into action. First Responders made the ultimate sacrifice to save others, and Americans signed up to go to war to protect our freedoms.

We ARE a nation of strength, faith, love, unity, and pride...... and always will be.

16 years later, we remember. We will always remember. 

December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001 are days which will forever be burned into our hearts and minds. They are two of the most difficult days in American history. They are also two days which brought this country together in full and complete unity like no other. May we never forget those who were lost, and may we always rise up to bring this nation together. God bless America.

Written by Christie Bielss

Monday, July 3, 2017

The BIG! Kitchen Renovation Reveal!!

The first time we toured the house with our realtor, we knew the house was going to be a huge renovation project. The previous homeowner's taste and ours were on opposite ends of the spectrum. Deeply opposite ends of the spectrum. It took us walking through the home multiple times before we could get past the cosmetic aspects which made the home appear very dark and depressing, and focus on the floor plan.

The popcorn ceilings in the home were painted a depressing shade of grey, while the walls were a dark golden color. The cabinets and trim work throughout the house had a shade of brown/green slopped all over them, with paint drips and globs of paint everywhere. The walls had a hand-troweled DIY texture applied, which was thick and stuck out so far from the wall, I sliced open my arm when I got too close to it as I rounded a corner.

As we walked through the home, we noticed the cabinet paint was peeling, revealing a blood red underlying color. We opened up the kitchen cabinet doors and jumped back as the blood red painted interior assaulted our vision. The brownish color paint on the outside and the blood red on the inside, made it appear as though you were looking at the inside of an animal that had been slaughtered.
kitchen renovation, remodel, design, ideas
The camera flash makes the kitchen appear brighter than it was in person

Yes, even with the lights turned on, the house was very dark

That red jumps out and grabs you

Say hello to the slaughterhouse red!

You can see the paint brush swirls and the peeling paint

With a budget of $2,500 - including appliances - my husband and I (after months of design disagreements) decided on a design. The ceilings were professionally scraped of the popcorn gray and redone with a knock-down texture and painted a bright ceiling white. 

We kept the existing cabinets because we didn't have the budget to replace them. The cabinets were stripped, and stripped, and stripped some more of the red paint (which never fully released from the wood), and then sanded, primed, and painted in a cheerful shade of white. We added an extension to the top of the cabinets, due to the kitchen's 9' high ceilings making the upper cabinets look short and squatty. Satin nickel cabinet hardware replaced what few pieces of cabinet hardware had been left on the cabinets.

A new neighbor was remodeling their home and gave us a section of upper cabinets (which matched ours) to hang above the long bar area. Because the cabinets our neighbors gifted us with were actually for an angled wall and we were going to be installing them on a long straight wall, my husband had to cut the cabinets in half. This allowed him to trim the angles from the cabinets so they could hang in a straight line. 

The kitchen walls were scraped of the odd DIY texture until our hands bled, and then re-textured with a softer appearing hand-troweled texture to smooth over the harsh lines of the previous wall texture. It took 23 paint samples before we found just the right shade of a grey-beige for the wall color.

The brick countertops were sledgehammered out, and granite tile countertops with a tumbled marble backsplash replaced them. A new deep heavy-gauge stainless steel sink and kitchen faucet replaced the worn out and leaking old one.

The utilitarian light over the sink was replaced with a fixture that was a bit modern and pleasing to the eye. A breakfast room chandelier was purchased and installed as well, since the previous homeowner took it with them. The photos below are the renovation as it unfolded.

The first pieces of brick are removed

My husband and I raced to see who could pull the brick off the backsplash first. I won.

This countertop was incredibly difficult to remove

We discovered our son loves demolition 

All of the brick is being ripped out, slowly but surely

Goodbye brick countertops

There comes a point when you just say to heck with it and rip the drywall out
That red paint....EEK!

Free child labor

The primer is on

I laid every single one of the granite tiles

In the midst of the renovation, I discovered the pantry space wasn't going to cut it with 2 growing kids. "We" (meaning me) decided to tear out the 3 stacked cabinets which served as the pantry, and I coerced my husband into extending the wall by another 2 feet. This created enough room for a walk-in pantry.

Say hello to my new pantry

The support strips are in place!

Oh shelving, how I love thee!
Time to fill it up!

After several years of back-breaking work and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (and a few design arguments thrown in there), here is the light and bright finished kitchen. The brick floors and the oven and microwave will be replaced somewhere down the road. 

We expanded the doorway to the formal dining room after we discover the refrigerator door couldn't open properly

The upper cabinets on the right are the ones we were gifted with by our new neighbor
Sooooo much brighter and cheerful!

The extension we added to the upper cabinets to give them the appearance of more height

I am in LOVE with my kitchen hardware

We are so happy the dark depressing colors, gray popcorn ceilings, oddly textured walls, and slaughterhouse cabinet paint scheme are all a thing of the past. It's time to move on to the next project in this house........ scraping more poorly hand-troweled texture off the walls. I should probably stock up on some band-aids first though.

Christie Bielss

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Why isn't shopping considered a sport?

I don't think shopping gets the respect it deserves. Instead of being considered an errand or chore, I think it should be considered a sport. It sounds more appropriate to say you are going to an iron man cart-a-thon, than to say you are going grocery shopping. Or, for those who are exercise enthusiasts, maybe they would prefer to say they are going to acquisition calisthenics?

Just as football, basketball, soccer, and many other sports activities are very physically demanding, shopping requires the shopper to not only be a quick decision maker and agile, but strong as well. I know, you're probably rolling your eyes and scoffing in disdain at the mere thought of grouping something as simple as shopping together with world class athletes, but hear me out.

Have you ever tried lifting the last 35 pack of 16.9 oz bottles of water from the back of the grocery store rack, without bouncing your head off the store's steel racking, while simultaneously trying to place the giant case pack on the bottom of a grocery store shopping cart?  This is weight lifting and wrestling combined.

The really hard part of this task is trying to set the case pack on the shopping cart without having the cart scoot away from you. It's as though the water has some kind of reverse magnetic field which pushes the cart a few inches away from you every time you get close enough to load it onto the shopping cart.

Ever encountered an elderly person when they are on an electric shopping cart? As soon as a store attendant unplugs the cart from the charging station, you'd better step lively as the elderly person takes off at full throttle. Watching these silver foxes traverse the store aisles is akin to the running of the bulls in Spain as patrons flee in panic or try to climb to higher ground on store shelving to avoid being gored in the Achilles tendon or flattened in the meat department.

How about Black Friday shopping in the electronics department? You had better be able to throw a block as well as a Super Bowl defensive lineman if you want to get your hands on an electronic item at a rock bottom price.

Have you ever been to a 50% off women's shoe sale at a department store? If you haven't, before heading out you might consider donning a helmet and shoulder pads. Shopping at one of these sales is like being in a Roller Derby match, complete with body slams and take downs for that pair of killer Christian Louboutin pumps.

The threat of ice or snow in the South sends people in droves to the grocery store to quickly stock up on milk, bread, and batteries. When the stores' supplies start to run low, customers channel their inner Rocky Balboa and will box 12 rounds for a loaf of Mrs. Baird's bread.

Once the shopping trip is complete and all of the shopping bags have been loaded into the car, the sport of shopping doesn't end. It's now time to drive home. Shoppers revving their car engines in the parking lot sound akin to NASCAR drivers preparing to speed off at the first wave of the starting flags. And, if you've ever been in a parking lot crosswalk when one of these speed racers is bent on breaking the land-speed record, you would probably agree they are ready for their race car driving debut.

As you can see, shopping isn't for the faint of heart. It requires the shopper to be physically and mentally prepared for any obstacle they may incur. It also requires them to have a game plan, so their victory can be celebrated when the shopping list is complete.

The only difference between sports and shopping is in the awards ceremony. In sports, a metal trophy symbolizing the sport is awarded to the top finisher. In shopping, a glass of wine in a crystal goblet and a few bites of chocolate are the coveted award. 

Yes, shopping is indeed a sport.

Monday, February 6, 2017

When my search for perfection hindered growth

This past weekend my husband griped at me for not writing on the blog lately, or anywhere else for that matter. I slinked down in the couch where I was sitting when he gave me the "you're being lazy and not using the gifts you've been given" speech. I haven't really looked at writing as a "gift" so much as a release of the build up of stuff that runs through my head. I definitely would not say I'm "gifted" with the written word in any way, shape, or form. I just like to talk...... a lot.

I have always believed writing is something people with talent do. People like Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Jane Austen, and Maya Angelou are writers. Not me. Writers are people who know grammar and have a gift for making words become movies in our heads. I wish I had that gift, and because I realized I didn't have that gift, I let that stop me from writing.

My perspective towards my writing has been that I just spew whatever is in my head onto the computer, cross my fingers, and hope it makes sense to people who read it. When looking at writing from this perspective, all I could do was fail, so why continue? 
It wasn't until I was talking to my Dad about some other hobbies I enjoy, and that I thoroughly stink at, that I realized lots of people do things for fun with no expectation of perfection. Can you believe people just do stuff for fun and however it turns out, is how it turns out? It was pretty heavy stuff realizing people are happy with their efforts because it was their outlet and they enjoyed their journey toward reaching completion, no matter the finished product.

It was then I realized: writing is my release. Some people play golf, work on cars, garden, participate in marathons, and lots of other things. For me, I write. Not eloquently, or even with proper grammar, but it is something I do which I can actually complete.

When the internet started exploding in 2000, writing emails to family and friends gave me a way to "talk" to them from another state, without incurring an exorbitant phone bill (that was back when telephone companies charged for long-distance phone calls by the minute). Writing emails gave me a way of relating my day-to-day experiences in a new state with all of the differences in culture.

On Sunday after I still had my fanny firmly planted on the sofa, my husband set his foot down and told me to get in my office to start writing or there would be no Super Bowl snacks for me. And he meant it. What?! No layered bean dip for me?! Well, that threat finally got me up off the sofa!

There I sat at my computer, wondering: Why bother? Is anyone really going to read this? 

It was then that it dawned on me: Why does it matter if anyone reads it or not? This is my release, my outlet. If I write for other people, I will never please anyone - least of all myself. I also realized if I don't write for me, I will continue to be firmly entrenched on the sofa, feeling overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

So, 2017 will be the year which will see me making a few changes within myself. I've spent the past 2 years taking care of major medical issues with my family, which I gladly did, however, it is time for me to take care of myself as well. You can't give to, or care for, others if you're using everything up within you, and not nourishing and replenishing your soul. Writing is my soul food and it is time to nourish me.

Happy 2017! The redhead is back! It may be a wild and bumpy ride with a few sharp curves, but it's time. As a matter of fact, it's beyond time. Let's do this! 

PS - I started the new me by changing up the color of the blog. I like blue. It's calming and peaceful. What do you think?

Christie Bielss

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Fish That Got Away

When I was growing up, my parents and grandparents spun many a yarn about their lives. One of my all-time favorites was from a time when my maternal grandparents went deep sea fishing. Living near the coast, they would go fishing as often as they could.

fisherman, fishing, fish
My maternal grandparents

One day back in the 1950's, they decided to make their fishing trip a little more interesting by turning it into a friendly competition. The competition rules were: whoever "boated" the biggest fish that day, won. To "boat" the fish meant neither could help the other reel in, or bring on board, their catch. They had to do it all by themselves.

My grandfather stood about 6'1" tall, while my grandmother was a petite 5'4" tall. My grandfather's size gave him a bit of confidence with his ability to cast further, and reel fish in faster, than my grandmother.

The prize for this competition? Bragging rights. 

Little did they know how far, or for how many years, the bragging rights from this friendly competition would continue.

The fishing competition commenced with each of them using a cane fishing pole to catch bait fish. A cane pole is a piece of bamboo which was fashioned into a fishing pole. Once they caught a small fish on the cane pole, they would transfer that fish to their "good" fishing poles, in hopes of catching bigger fish.

All was going well when my grandmother's cane pole began to dance around. Thrilled she had caught a bait fish, my grandmother quickly grabbed the cane pole and began to bring it in.

The harder she pulled on that cane pole, the harder the fish fought back. Within minutes, she realized she had something larger than just a bait fish and started hollering for my grandfather.

"Help! Help me!" she cried.

When my grandfather turned toward my grandmother, he was greeted with a view of just her elbows and fanny, and both wiggling around frantically. The rest of her body was bent over the side of boat fighting against whatever was on the other end of her fishing pole.

A second later, she stood upright, causing her cane pole to bend nearly in half. The weight and fight of the fish on the other end of the pole pulled my grandmother so she was bent over the side of the boat. 

Back and forth she went as she fought to gain the upper-hand. Just as she would stand upright, the fish would fight back and cause her to be bent in half again.

Again she cried out "Help! Help me!".

Being that this was a friendly fishing competition between the two, and my grandmother was holding her own in this battle of fish vs. human, my grandfather took a moment and asked "Is this fish going to count?". 

"Yes!", she exclaimed.

He chuckled as he replied "Well, then no ma'am I won't help. You have to boat that fish yourself, if you want it to count.".

Her reply was lost as she was, yet again, bent in half when the big fish fought against being a trophy. My grandmother may have been petite, but she came from a lineage of strong women and was every bit as feisty as the ancestors before her. She dug in her heels and pulled, and tugged, and pulled some more. 

Back and forth she went with this fish for a good bit of time. Finally gaining the advantage, she pulled the fish in close to the boat and yelled for my grandfather to grab the fishing net to lift her prize into the boat.

Eagerly, my grandfather moved close to my grandmother as she brought the fish to the surface, ready to see what size fish had caused such an epic battle. Just as he leaned down, the fish surfaced, only it wasn't just any old fish. 

shark, fishing
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia Public Commons

It was a shark! 

Ok, so it wasn't the 20 foot great white shark pictured above, but when you're the one hanging over the side of a boat with their hands in the path of a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth, it probably looked like Jaws. It was, however, a good four to five foot very displeased shark, to be more exact.

My grandfather shrieked and jumped back. After making sure all of his digits were still intact, he declared my grandmother the winner of their contest and made the wise decision she did not need to boat her catch. Grabbing a tool from his tackle box, he carefully cut the fishing line and set the shark free.

You may wonder what happened to the cane pole that stood strong throughout this competition. It was permanently bent in an arc from that legendary battle of wills and would be brought out of the storage closet whenever anyone asked to hear the story of how my grandmother caught a shark.

My grandparents had planned on keeping that fishing pole indefinitely, unfortunately, their home was burglarized a number of years later and the burglars made off with all of their fishing equipment, including the bent cane pole.

So, if you ever come across someone with a bent cane pole from ca. 1950's, it could very well be from an epic battle where my grandmother caught a fish "this big"......... but it got away.

Written by Christie Bielss

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Winningest Loser

As the clock strikes midnight at the start of a new year, I usually make a list of things I want to accomplish in the new year. Rarely does anything from that list come to fruition because I either: a) lose interest; b) am not committed enough; or c) I am too chicken.

This year I made a pact with myself that I was going to do at least one thing outside of my comfort zone. One thing which would not only make me cringe at the mere thought of doing it, but quite possibly make shake in my boots too.

Just after I made that pact, the gurus who select what you see on Facebook plopped an advertisement for a writing contest into my newsfeed. I clicked on the link and began reading the entry requirements....... and the butterflies started fluttering around in my tummy and the self-doubts crept in. 

The competition was for the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition. The doubts of "who am I to be writing anything for a competition named after one of the greatest humor writers of all time" and "Ha! You don't even know the difference between an adjective and a participle!".

With some encouragement from family and friends, I stuck to my plan and wrote an essay for the contest....... and even submitted it. Knowing that I never win anything, my expectations to win were pretty much non-existent, but, by having submitted the essay, I had already won. I had conquered one battle over my fear.

The results were announced a couple of weeks ago and, as usual, I won no awards or accolades for my essay; however, I feel like I won an Academy Award for having the gumption to have actually submitted it.

As part of the rest of that pact I made with myself, I am posting the essay I wrote. So here it is in all of its "must be less than 450 words" winningest loser glory: 

The Lawn Mower Man

It begins with a few wispy clouds scattered across a beautiful blue sky.  Within minutes, the sky is covered in dark, ominous storm clouds.  The bright flash of lightning and sharp crack of thunder permeate the stillness of the afternoon.

The sound of an approaching storm causes normal people to seek shelter, but my husband is not like “normal people”.  When thunder starts rolling, he steps outside, sniffing the wind like any good bloodhound trying to catch the scent of its target.  At the first whiff of dust settling in the air, he transforms into a superhero. His work clothes go sailing through the air as he dons his superhero costume. With a wife-beater tank top, cut-off shorts, and a towel as his cape, he becomes “The Lawnmower Man”!

Faster than a speeding bullet, he runs and grabs the weedeater out of the garage.  As the storm gets closer and the thunder grows louder, he deftly edges around the yard and levels the grass next to the flowerbed.  With lightning flying around like fireworks on Independence Day, The Lawnmower Man realizes the time is perfect to unleash “The Turfinator”.

The roar of the lawn mower challenges the god of thunder for supremacy.  Zeus hurls lightning bolts while our superhero raises his fist in defiance.  Other men may duck and run for cover, but The Lawnmower Man just snorts and continues to mow as though he’s on a leisurely stroll through a botanic garden.  Lightning blinds the average man, but The Lawnmower Man is able guide his mower through the blazing brightness in perfectly straight lines within his predetermined directional mowing plan.

As rain begins to fall, he summons the next weapon in his arsenal, the fertilizer spreader.  Sprinting back and forth across the yard faster than an Olympic gold medalist, he rushes to get the grass fed in the rain.  In a torrential downpour, The Lawnmower Man will wrap the top opening of the spreader with kitchen plastic wrap, like a prized Thanksgiving dinner leftover, to prevent the fertilizer from dissolving before he is able to spread it across the lawn.

If he finishes spreading the fertilizer before the thunderstorm ends, he steps up on the porch as though it were an Olympic platform, to receive the gold medal before an imagined stadium packed with cheering fans.  If the thunderstorm dies off before he finishes, he hangs his head and repeats the defeated athlete’s pledge to be in better shape and better prepared for the next match-up. As the storm clouds clear, The Lawnmower Man realizes the neighbors are watching closely, wondering if they should record his heroism ………or dial 911.

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Escalator Escapade

One day while shopping at the mall, I observed a very attractive and well dressed woman step onto the grooved platform of the store escalator. She carried herself with a regalness rarely seen outside of Buckingham Palace. As I made my store purchase, I watched as the escalator carried her up to the next floor.

She stood on the conveyor step and surveyed the harried shoppers much as a queen looks down upon the peasants in her kingdom.  As she neared the crest of the escalator mountain, she prepared to disembark. In the process of shifting her position on the steps, one of her expensive high heeled pumps became lodged in the grooves of the people moving contraption. This well coiffed and fashionably dressed woman tried, to no avail, to daintily wiggle her foot in order to dislodge the stuck shoe. 

She was lifted ever closer to the peak when the sound of the stair steps collapsing into the metallic jaws of death caused the fashionista to panic.  Abandoning all sense of propriety, she grabbed her shoe with both hands in an effort to pry it loose from the vise-like grip the escalator had on it.

My jaw fell open as I watched the drama unfold. The words in my mind must have spilled out of my mouth, causing the sales associate I was working with to turn and view the spectacle. Before the sales associate could react, a young male sales associate jumped into action. He quickly pressed a button, stopping the escalator's movement while rushing to assist her.

When the escalator finally stopped, the heel of the costly shoe was wedged into the metal teeth of the landing platform. The young man wiggled the shoe back and forth as he tried to free the stiletto heel. Putting a little more muscle into his efforts, the shoe finally popped free........... minus the stiletto heel. Horrified, he reached down and plucked the heel from between the step's grooves. 

As the young man handed the mangled shoe and heel to the beautiful woman, she looked sadly upon the damage which had been wrought and began to laugh. She thanked the associate profusely for his chivalry. After plopping the detached heel into her handbag, she put the mauled shoe upon her foot and attempted to walk away.

The three inch height disparity between the two shoes made walking with any semblance of dignity utterly impossible. With unmatched confidence and majesty, she kicked off both shoes, flung them over her shoulder like a pair of flip flops, and walked through the store barefoot, as though she were a queen walking on a private beach.

As the sales associate and I watched the woman disappear into the racks of clothing, the sales associate leaned over and said "I would much rather walk up ten flights of stairs than trust my good shoes to a contraption that is similar to what the recycling plant uses to crush beer cans.". And with that comment, I realized all of the grace and majesty had left the building and just us commoners remained.