Funny thing about tunnels. When you enter a long one, you know there is an exit, but sometimes you can't see it. Often, you can't even see light at the end, only darkness.
If it is a really long tunnel, you continue in darkness so long that you begin to wonder if there really is an opening to the outside at the other end. We feel as though we have been in one of those tunnels the past three weeks. We were moving forward, but it was all dark and uncertain. We are now beginning to see light coming from the other end and we are encouraged to keep moving forward.
It has been an emotional journey, but the most prevalent emotion has been thankfulness. Thankfulness is really more of an attitude, but it has been accompanied by emotions, so we'll label it as such here. There are so many things to be thankful for that we have lost count, but we will name a few. First, we are thankful it wasn't worse. We reminded ourselves frequently of this fact. Everything that was done to the house was fixable or replaceable. That is a good thing. We are also thankful for the help we received. Many gracious friends sacrificed time and energy to offer help in many areas. Because of this, we were able to finish much more quickly than we originally thought and it brought us encouragement along the way. From cleaning up messes, to painting walls, to whacking down the jungle, friends helped us chip away at seemingly monumental tasks. Each and every one is truly are a most precious gift from God.
Another emotion we dealt with was anger. This was a tough one because while we wanted to not focus on the harm that was done, we had to face it every single day. Each time we scraped paint carelessly spilled on floors and cabinets, each time we removed mold from appliances, each time we had to machete our way through one portion of the yard just to gain access to another part, each bag of garbage we hauled off, reminded us of how one person's selfishness caused all of these consequences for us. It was difficult to keep anger from ruling our days. Mostly we were able to capture our thoughts and think on better things, but there were times when it was a constant mental and emotional struggle to keep that horribly destructive root of bitterness from taking hold. Quite honestly we still struggle with it - especially when we are tired. And we are often tired. Our best line of defense has been prayer and replacement. We try to talk to God at all times, acknowledge when are weak and think on His word to replace the non-edifying thoughts with proper thoughts. Sometimes it is by counting our blessings, sometimes it is by thinking over scripture we have learned, sometimes it is praying for others who are truly hurting in the world. It is a daily struggle, but one that we are working on.
Ephesians 4:31-32 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
There were many times we just had to wonder. Several door frames were dislodged from the wall; most walls behind doors had holes or dents from the door knobs, and we had to replace or repair almost every door knob in the house. What went on here? They took the time to paint the entire house, but didn't tape anything: dark blue paint on white door frames, orange paint all long the floors, yellow paint left on the kitchen counter and cabinets... Where is the sense in any of that. Our freezer had blue paint dripped and splattered on the bottom inside of the door, but not on the top or anywhere else. How did that happen? He pretty much took the things he wanted from the house and left a bunch of other junk inside. I think we moved more stuff than he did. We hauled several loads of stuff to the donation center.
I guess the thing most folks want are the before and after pictures. We must admit, we are pretty excited about those too! Seeing the changes made in process is pretty cool. When we arrived at the house, we were so overwhelmed by what we saw that we didn't take many pictures with our own camera, so most of the before shots are from what our friend sent us when we were still in Colorado. We will do our best to match some of those shots with the shots we have taken as we have worked. Please understand that we are still in the clean up process, so at least one more round of cleaning/finishing is yet to come. You can skip the explanations and just look at the pretty pictures if you like. The writing was more for therapy than for sharing anyway.
We will begin with the yard. We have few shots of the yard, but it was overgrown with vines, bushes, and weeds pretty much everywhere. We will not have the yard in the shape we would like by the time we rent the house, but it will be much better than it was. The driveway had two truckloads of garbage left in it. This trash sat in the driveway during all the rain that flooded the area in May so you can imagine how difficult these waterlogged bags were to remove. It was a mess! (Note: we call this trash, but it was bags of their stuff they never took. By the time it rained for weeks on end, it was all trash.)
Yard Before - this was after the a friend temporarily repaired the garage door before we got back to Texas. Before he fixed it, it was left open for weeks and our things were stolen: W/D, lawn mover, and weed-eater.]
Yard After - there are still things we need to do, but the lawn equipment was stolen, so progress on this has been slow.
Trees needed to be trimmed and bushes had grown up way beyond acceptable levels. The mailbox was almost totally obscured by overgrowth. With a lot of assistance from some dear friends, we pretty much leveled everything we could. It is still a mess, but much better than it was.
Side Yard Before
Side Yard After - This is what a single machete did to all the vines. clean up is still needed.
Inside the house, we focused on trying to save appliances. We wanted to do everything we could do get them back in working order and fit for use. The refrigerator was a mess. It took the better part of three days just to get it back in working order. Day 1 called for thick gloves and careful, purposeful cleaning. By Day 2 gloves were cast aside so that more quick and practical cleaning could be performed and dead bugs were being scraped off with fingernails. Three rounds of cleaning and two rounds of sanitation got the refrigerator back to acceptable cleanliness. (Acceptable cleanliness means something we would willingly use for our own food.)
Fridge Before - We thought we might have to replace it.
Fridge After - Took almost three full days to clean all the parts. Fancy refrigerators are nice, but once they get messed up, they are very difficult to clean.
Cleaning the oven began with the shop-vac. Yes, it was that bad. The inside cleaned up pretty quickly after that. The stove top required multiple efforts before the burnt on food could be completely removed (detailed explanation below). We are pretty satisfied with the results. We are not sure it was this clean when we lived here!
Stovetop before - no oven pics, sorry. Just imagine black gunk all inside.
Stovetop After - I would have bet against this ever getting clean again. Kudos to Easy-Off!
The microwave and dishwasher also needed cleaning and sanitation. They took several hours each. Once those were acceptable, we realized the dishwasher needed professional help so we have a repairman coming next week.
The bathrooms took some time. These rooms caused much of that anger flare-up mentioned before. It is one thing to clean up someone's mess in the kitchen, but in the bathroom? It was not pretty. First we created a clean zone so that we could use the facilities while we worked. That was the master bath toilet and sink. Next we worked on the hall bath. We mopped the floor four times and the grout was still blackish-yellow and the unpleasant odor was still strong. After that we decided that only scrubbing on hands and knees would make a difference. And what a difference! We weren't sure we could get the grout back to the original color, but it finally is!
Master Shower Before
Master Shower After
Hall Bath Before - seriously, how do people live like this?
Hall Bath Shower
Hall Bath After (floor is still a bit wet in this pic)
Painting the house was one of the biggest tasks we had to do. We pretty much figured it would take us at least a week, maybe longer, to get it all done. Well, 95% of the work was completed in less than three days: walls painted, corners cut in, and trim finished. We have some pretty amazing friends who came by at various times over these three days and helped us get this all done. A job that seemed enormous for two people, was done in quick time by many hands. See what we mean about being thankful? It is much more difficult to dwell on bad when so much good is being shown to you. The paint job looks awesome and the house now looks very clean because of that. However, we wish we had done a better job of choosing colors. With the lighting in the house, the walls look a bit more yellow than sand: kinda like a Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla color, so it isn't all bad.
Just some of the paint choices we covered up
All walls the same color, all trim a bit darker color. Boring.
The spa needed work too. The water in it was dark green. It was a bit scary because we didn't know if there were living things in there - besides the baby mosquitoes. We drained it, scrubbed it, and re-filled it. Not quite so green, but still green. We purged it to clean out the pipes and walls. The bottle said, "some foaming may occur." We finally realized that the blower was on turning the spa in to a bubble machine. OOPS!
It was fun for a while, but we turned the blower off and the bubbles diminished a little. To make the spa acceptably clean (meaning clean enough for us), we decided to do another purge process before we sanitized it. No blower this time and fewer bubbles. In our cleaning process, we learned that the spa had significant cracks on the top. They do not extend to the waterline, but could still be a problem in the future. These were cause by the sun hitting the spa constantly. We had a special cover, but it was nowhere to be found. We ordered a new one before the cleaning process began. We hope it doesn't get worse.
There were many other things we fixed or replaced, but we figure we have shown enough. The most dramatic pictures are posted here, the rest are boring in comparison. We hope you enjoyed the tour.
Cleaning discoveries: We've never had to clean a mess like we encountered here. There was a slight learning curve as we went though the process. We tried to clean with Dawn, vinegar, backing soda, and diluted bleach (occasionally using some Totally Awesome for really tough jobs). These are the products we use at home for our daily cleaning. They did a pretty good job, but there were times we needed industrial strength. Here is what we found that worked well.
For the toilets, Lysol toilet bowl cleaner in the black bottle got the bowls clean on the first try but we did two more rounds with this stuff just to make sure. It was pretty awesome stuff! (toilet lids were placed in file 13 and replaced with new ones)
For the oven and stove top, Easy-off did the trick. We had never used this product before, so we followed the instructions for the oven (after using the shop-vac) and it did a good job. We weren't sure how to clean the other parts, so we put the oven racks and stove grates in a 3 mil garbage bag and thoroughly sprayed the inside with that same Easy-off. Then closed the bag and left it outside for about 24 hours. The next day we went outside with a green scrubber and got most of the baked-on mess off. A second treatment took care of the stuff that didn't come off the first time. We were pretty sure the stove top burners were damaged beyond repair and when the daily cleaning methods didn't work, we tried an experiment. We completely taped off the gas burner portion like you would if you were painting the stove top, We then sprayed Easy-off on the burned areas, covered it with a sheet of plastic let it sit for a day. Most of the burned area came off when scraped gently with a razor blade. A second treatment pretty much removed the rest of the burned on mess. We couldn't believe our eyes!
Tilex bathroom cleaner was the go-to sanitizer. It was the last step to almost everything we cleaned. It was also used to clean the grout on the bathroom floor. It smells horrible (strong) and I would't want to use it every day, but it certainly got the job done.
Cleaning drains: We tried vinegar and baking soda with some good results, but it wasn't really working fast enough. At home, we have a hair stick we use to snake the drains and remove hair and clogs. It is a pretty gross process on your own gunk, we weren't going to try that at this house - yuck! We tried heavy duty Draino with limited results. It made the drains flow a bit better than with the vinegar and backing soda treatment, but not significantly better. We were not impressed with that product.
Floors: we were also not impressed with the sponge mop we bought and broke the second day we used it. It would seem that getting down on your hands and knees is still the best way to clean a floor. Sigh.
Living in an RV we avoid harsh chemicals to protect our tanks, but we also realize that some jobs call for stronger stuff. That has certainly been true this week. It will be nice to go back to our regular cleaning products once we finish at the house.
After driving two full days from central Colorado to Texas, we have worked at the house 8-12 hours each day for 22 days straight. We are both pretty tired. Tomorrow we take a day off to celebrate Fathers Day with Trey's family. We hope to finish everything by Tuesday.
Not sure we will post any more about this cleaning process because we are both ready to be done with it. We are learning some great lessons through this process, but are ready to put it behind us and move forward. Thank you for your encouragement and prayers. We have needed both!