Archives for posts with tag: Lessons

I ran the Hoosier Half-Marathon on Saturday, April 9th. It was hard. It was wonderful. Here’s what I learned from that experience. (Pictures at the end!)

  1. Runners are walkers too. I had it in my head that “runners” run. Period. That anybody who could claim the distinguished title of “runner” didn’t waste their time with pedestrian pursuits such as walking. Or chatting. Or full-out stopping. And I was determined to run my first half-marathon. Run The whole thing. Every single inch. Somehow I had convinced myself that only ceaseless, constant, unalterable running would qualify me as a runner. At least, that’s what I thought while I ran alone. Then, I started running with other runners. Runners who stopped to adjust their shoes or braces. Runners who paused to thank the volunteers handing out Powerade. Runners who waved goodbye to their friends as they stopped to visit the porta-potties along the route. Runners who walked. People who I never once doubted were “real” runners. People who were much faster than me. Much more prepared. Wearing much nicer gear than I was. And there they were, not running. Seeing these runners take their time, recognize when they needed to recover, stop when their bodies were telling them to, it finally lifted the terrifying weight of my own expectations off of my shoulders. At mile 4, I stopped on the side of the road to tighten the straps on my knee brace. At mile 9, I walked up a difficult hill. I walked about half of mile 12, saving my strength for the hard push to the finish line. I’m still a little embarrassed to admit all of the times I had to rest—and for my next race, I’m going to try to work on my endurance—but I finally see that I can still think of myself as a runner. Even when I’m walking.
  2. If the race officials say the course is “challenging” they mean it! Bloomington’s Hoosier Half is a hilly course. It is 13.1 miles of hills. And not tiny hills, either. Now, honestly, the hills weren’t all bad. I actually rather enjoy running on hills, and prefer them to flat terrain. I like how rolling hills slingshot me along in my runs, and I even find myself gleefully chanting “challenge” on the uphills and “recover” on the downhills as I pop along my usual running routes. But I do wish I would have focused specifically on the hills more. I’ve had multiple friends make comments about how strong my thighs have become throughout my training, and I always credit my hilly runs. But the course turned out to be more challenging and hillier than I anticipated. So, next time, I’ll have to talk myself into tempo and hill workouts more often than I talk myself out of them!
  3. I will never have trained “enough.” Runners are typically self-motivated perfectionists, and overly critical. Though, as a first-time racer, I was technically only training for and working towards a distance goal (“Just finish, just finish, just finish”), I couldn’t help harboring secret pace goals as well (“I can certainly manage a sub-2:30 half. But maybe a sub-2:15? Oh! What if I could do a two-hour half?? That would be amazing!”). As I trained, my absolute fastest and best times had me fantasizing about a 2:11 half-marathon. 131 minutes. A solid ten-minute/mile pace. Middle of the pack. Respectable. The day of the race, I started out just behind the pacer holding the “2:15” sign. “You’re mine,” I thought to myself. “I’m staying on you.” I even entertained visions of pacing with her, then blasting past in the last mile. I kept up with her for the first five miles. Then, she slowly pulled away. I tried to push my legs to move faster. But eventually she turned a corner, and I didn’t see her for the rest of the race. I could feel myself slowing in the last three miles. I kept pushing, terrified that the “2:30” pacer was just behind me, ready to overtake me and ruin even my outside, “safety” goal. I finished in 2:18. I’m happy with that time. I really am. But I also can’t help thinking that if I had trained just a little bit harder, I could have run a sub-2:15 half. Or even a 2:11. If I had added just a few more cross training sessions. Or a few more hill workouts. Or not slept in on those particularly cold, dark winter mornings. . . But I also know that there will always be a faster time, a longer distance. I did it. And in a good time. That should be enough for now. Right? Besides, there’s always next time.
  4. I’m already thinking about next time. Do I want to wait a whole year to do it all again? Or should I try to train for one of the fall races? Maybe I should focus on a shorter distance to work on my pacing and speed? I definitely don’t have any desire to try a full marathon right now (with two small children, I barely had the time to fit in my long runs for the half!). But I’m sure I could do better next time. There’s another race coming up in November. That’s right near my birthday! Maybe . . . ?
  5. Never, ever, ever wear perfume while running a long race. Seriously, are you trying to kill us all?? Notice how everyone kept trying to pass you? It’s because we were trying to get out of the downwind! You stink. Stop it.
  6. Once you get out of the pack, you find your people. Dear Hispanic Lady in the Purple Jacket: You were awesome. I lost you in mile 10 after Heartbreak Hill (you recovered much faster than I did), but you made that run so worthwhile. We were unofficial running buddies for the first ¾ of the race. We exchanged knowing eye-rolls whenever we had to deal with the “perfume twins” in front of us. We both thanked all of the police officers who controlled traffic so we could safely pass through Bloomington’s busy streets (and nodded every time we noticed that the perfume twins didn’t. Kids, right?). You were funny. And we gasped, panted, swore, and muttered small words of encouragement that were half to ourselves, half to each other. You got me through it. You really did. I’ll never forget you. Even if I only ever saw the right side of your face. Much love, Rachel.
  7. The feeling immediately after is similar to a hangover. It’s all such a blur. And I really have to poop. Also, why am I so sore in these unexpected places (my core felt like I had just done about 100 sit ups. For no apparent reason). Oh, god, my head. I really should drink water. Like, a lot of water. But I’m pretty certain that a beer would make me feel even better. I kind of have to puke. But I also kind of really want a fried egg. What did I just do? Did I just do that? Seriously, how did I even get home after that?
  8. Showers are magical. My husband is lucky that our hot water heater is broken, because if that shower had lasted any longer, I would have left him for it.
  9. Imodium, Poise Pads, Ibuprofen, Water Proof Band-Aids. But the greatest of these is Imodium.
  10. I ran 13.1 miles just for the final 11 seconds. Because in the last 11 seconds, I saw them. My husband. My oldest daughter. My friend and her daughter. They were holding signs. They were cheering. They were standing outside in 28° wind chill. And they were saying my name. I crossed that finish line. Someone handed me a medal. Someone else handed me a bottle of water. I turned around to see my daughter, bundled up in “Big Puffy,” her purple winter coat, and I burst into tears. I wept. I cried on my husband’s leather jacket as he hugged me and left a wet streak across his chest. I immediately hung my medal around my daughter’s neck. I looked down at her and said, “You know, I did this for you. All while I was running, I just kept thinking, I have to get to Sophie and Maddie. Sophie and Maddie are waiting for me. I have to get to Sophie and Maddie. You’re the reason I did this.”

A while back, a friend of mine asked me if I was running this race “for” my girls. It’s a hard question to answer, and I stumbled over my response at the time. Because, as a mother, as a woman, as someone with ambitions and dreams and hopes, just about everything that I do is some combination of mine and theirs. I needed to be away from my girls while I trained for this race. I needed to rely on family, friends, and my community to help me while I left them, to be by myself, and work on something that was just for me. I left my girls with friends, and literally ran away from them. But my hope has always been that they don’t just see my back getting smaller as I run away. I hope that they see what I’m trying to run towards. Health. Fitness. Self-confidence. Courage. Strength. Motivation. Satisfaction. Sacrifice. Reward.

My mother grew up in a pre-Title IX America. She was always interested in dance and gymnastics, but her public high school discouraged her participation in the more challenging aspects of their physical education courses. She never felt welcomed in the sports, so she never participated. When she eventually had two daughters of her own, she became one of the most supportive and active “dance moms” around. She sewed countless ribbons onto ballet shoes. Pinned skirts to leotards. Bought extra nights at the studio. Drove us five hours to dance competitions every weekend. When I was sixteen and cried to her in frustration that I was living in my sister’s shadow, my mother looked over at me and said, “Rachel, you can quit. That’s your choice. But I think you’re going to regret it. I think it’s a mistake. You want people to notice you, you have to work harder.”

“But I do work hard!”

She just looked at me. “Work harder.”

I kept going. Hearing her use the word “quit” scared me. I’d never heard her say it before. I worked. Then I worked harder. (Eventually, I was placed in a higher level dance class, though I feel no shame at all in saying that I was never anywhere near my sister in both technique and beauty. Enthusiasm was my saving grace. Not natural ability.)

My sister went on to become a professional dancer in Chicago. I was a ballet minor in college, and played softball (very badly!) in high school. My big brother plays ultimate frisbee. None of us are involved in what could be considered traditional sports, but we all have found our niches.

After the race on Saturday, I called my mom. I told her about seeing Sophie at the finish line, and only looking at her as I crossed.

Mom got excited, “Oh, wouldn’t it just be something if this inspired your girls to run? I mean, you could really get them into running! You could get them started right now! Really early!”

She was giggling, she was so happy.

It’s true, my daughters already tell me that they need space in order to do their “exercises.” They practice their ballet. They do jumping jacks, and run in place, and stretch their arms and legs out as far as they can.

And I guess that’s why I did this.

So I could see my girls, smiling and giggling, as they stretch themselves out as far, and wide, and big as they can.

Because they saw mommy do it first.

Pacing is clearly my Achilles heel.

Pacing is clearly my Achilles heel.

 

Before the race foolin'.

Before the race foolin’.

 

My husband took this as I approached the finish line. I'm waving a bending down towards my daughter.

My husband took this as I approached the finish line. I’m waving a bending down towards my daughter.

 

I started crying immediately after crossing the finish line.

I started crying immediately after crossing the finish line.

 

There are no words.

There are no words.

 

My friend and her daughter made me signs! Once again, my community is what kept me going.

My friend and her daughter made me signs! Once again, my community is what kept me going.

 

Afterwards: On the couch, drinking a beer, holding my youngest daughter, still wearing my medal. I wore it all day.

Afterwards: On the couch, drinking a beer, holding my youngest daughter, still wearing my medal. I wore it all day.

Oh, and I’m already planning on running the Indianapolis Monumental (Half) Marathon the first week of November. Anybody want to be training buddies?

Advertisements

It’s March 9th. On April 9th, I will run my very first half marathon. That is, I hope I will run my very first half marathon. I know that (Good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise) I will cross the Start Line, and I know I will cross the Finish Line. What happens in between is anyone’s guess.

It’s been two months since I began training for this race. In that time, I’ve learned many things, and I’m struggling with many more. At this critical juncture, I think it’s time to record a few of those lessons here.

  1. The Stats Don’t Really Matter. In many ways, training for this half marathon has reminded me of writing my dissertation for my PhD. One of the things you learn pretty quickly, is that the end result is not actually as critical as the process itself. My committee barely glanced at my finished dissertation (and I certainly never gave it a second thought once it was completed). They didn’t judge my readiness for my PhD through the finished 264 pages. They determined my abilities based on the four years prior. The conferences I attended. The countless drafts I submitted. The many (many!) rabbit holes I pursued to no real avail. I’m slowly coming to understand that this half marathon will be the same way. How fast I’m able to finish. Whether or not I’ll have to walk a few miles. Where I place in the pack. How well I’m able to pace myself. Only other runners will be interested in those details. I will be interested in those details. Everybody else will just care that I finish. My dissertation is not worthy of publication. But that doesn’t matter. I have my PhD. That’s the accomplishment. Everything else is just statistics. (You think anyone cared when this guy finished the Boston Marathon dead last, and in 20 hours? Hell no! He finished the Boston Marathon. End of story.)
  2. I’m Constantly Disappointing Myself. Running is an almost entirely self-motivated sport. There’s no team. No coach. No fans in the bleachers. It’s you. It’s your head. Your thoughts. Maybe some music. A road. The air. Therefore, it’s not surprising that runners are considered something of a psychological mystery. Because of the release of endorphins that comes with any physical activity, running eventually feels good, but the good feelings—the high—are very temporary and only last a short time. Getting your brain to release that dopamine is a long process. And a painful one. And it’s all on you. The runner has to be willing to undergo hours of self-inflicted torture for twenty minutes of satisfaction. And research has shown that runners often self-identify as intelligent, motivated, excited by challenges and risks, and highly critical (Who has two thumbs and fits all those personality traits to a T? This girl!). The majority of my training these last few months, therefore, has involved me analyzing, assessing, and finding fault with every aspect of my running. I slept in and missed my cross training session. I had to walk after that last hill. I couldn’t make the distance I wanted to. I didn’t eat right before a run, and was stymied by horrible cramps. My running is all on me, so when something goes wrong (and it frequently does) I have no one else to blame. So I blame me. A lot.
  3. I’m Constantly Impressed with Myself. All that being said, my training is truly paying off. I’m improving. Quite a lot. Every day when I go out for a run, I can feel how much stronger I’ve become in just two months. How my stride has changed. How my breathing has slowed. How my pace has increased. That’s perhaps the best and most surprising part of this process: the improvement in my pace. I didn’t even care about pace when I began training. I wanted the distance. I wanted to be able to say that I can run—run!!—13 whole miles. I never thought I would get faster in the meantime, but I have. When I first started back into running after a nearly 4-year hiatus, I was thrilled when I completed my first outside mile in 11:57, three seconds faster than I could run on the treadmill. Today, a 12-minute mile would feel like crawling for me. The last three times I’ve run my routine “maintenance” miles, I’ve completed them in an average of 9:30 per mile (some splits faster, some slower, but pretty consistent for a newbie). I regularly can now look down at my watch, and amaze myself with a PR that I never seem to be anticipating. I realized just last week that I’ll likely run this race as a “middle of the pack” runner. That makes me proud. I’m only 4’11”. I have 25” inseam. I’m pear shaped. But I’m moving. I’m not breaking any records, but I’m taking a body that falls solidly on the left side of the bell curve and pushing its capabilities right into the center. That’s kind of awesome. Kind of really awesome.
  4. I’m Not Doing this Alone. Running is solitary. Being a runner isn’t. Being a runner who is also a stay-at-home-parent of two small children with a spouse who works 70 hours a week requires a community. Though I try to get my runs finished in the mornings before my husband leaves for work, often, that plan fails. Training through all of January and February, there were plenty of mornings where roads were slick, sidewalks weren’t cleared off, visibility was minimal. For me, safety always comes first. Even if that means sacrificing a run. If conditions are bad, or in any way dangerous I just won’t go out. (I hate running in the dark. Even though I live in a quiet neighborhood, I am required to run on several streets without sidewalks, and I don’t want to be running on the same street as a sleepy sanitation worker who might be reaching for his coffee instead of looking for short moms in reflective tights.) Plans don’t always work out. So I’ve needed other people. A lot. On the weekends, my husband goes into work an hour and a half late, so I can get in a long run after sunrise. During the week, my mother-in-law watches my girls for a few hours so I can slip out to the YMCA (when the weather is cold) or down to my favorite trail, and still have time for a shower. My neighbor and I exchange babysitting. I’ll watch her boys when she has a doctor’s appointment, and she gets my girls when I need to wait until the afternoon for a run. Friends have emailed me, texted me, and told me that I’m doing a great job. I’ve asked for (and received!) Facebook messages of encouragement from both runners and non-runners. People have actually walked up to me, and told me that following my updates on my running has inspired them to try running. To try walking. To try Zumba. To try. I’ve even had neighbors roll down their windows and wave and cheer as they drive past me. All of this has made my training possible. I couldn’t have made the progress I’ve made without all of you. My community.
  5. I’m Still Totally, Completely, Unbelievably, Shaking-Down-to-My-Boots Terrified. I mean, seriously. 13.1 miles?? What the hell was I thinking? What am I thinking? And it hurts. (I’m starting to have IT pain in my left knee. That shit is uncomfortable as hell!) And it’s hard. Really hard. Why am I doing this thing that’s really, really, really, ridiculously hard? For a medal? For the bragging rights? I mean, really, Rachel, why?

The truth is, I have no idea why I’m doing this. It all just seems like an extended experiment in pain tolerance most of the time. But I do know what my mantra has been (what it’s been ever since I started my PhD, actually). John F. Kennedy, when he announced to the world that America would send a man to the Moon within a decade, gave one of the most inspiring speeches in the history of American politics. And I think about that speech every time I run. Every time I realize that it’s hard. Every time I want to quit. JFK talked about the whys too. Why go to the Moon? Why explore beyond our atmosphere? Why spend the money, and risk the lives, and tap the brain power? His response:

 “We . . . do . . . [these] things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

We do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

Because they are hard.

I want to do hard things. (That’s what she said.) I’d rather fail doing something difficult, something challenging, something impossible, then float along on a cloud of a million easy successes. I want to reach, and stretch, and pull all less-than-five-feet of me to the farthest distances I can, both figurative and literal. I want to do this.

And right now, at this moment, I think that I can.

Recently, I’ve been complaining that I never received my “Adult Memo.” You know what I’m talking about. That magical publication that was supposed to arrive sometime in our mid-20s and describe in glorious detail how, exactly, to function as an adult. Finally and definitively. Clearly. Laid out like a Vegas buffet, just waiting for me to dive in and gorge myself on responsibility, reliability, and cocktail shrimp. I’m 32. I’ve been waiting a good decade for that thing to arrive. I was complaining about this to my mother this past weekend, and she just said, “Hey, management is dealing with some serious backlog right now. You’ve gotta figure it out for yourself.”

Touche, mommy.

So, without further delay, and in absence of the real thing, here is my version of the Adult Memo: Your Definitive Guide to Adulting.

1. Wash all of your sheets, your pillow cases, your towels, and even your bathmats at least once a week. Dust is something like 95% sloughed off human skin. Your body is covered in billions of microscopic bugs (most of them good, so don’t freak out). Your lose an average of 200 hairs a day. Your skin maintains its elasticity and coloring by producing buckets of oil and grease a year. You are a gross, disgusting animal (if you doubt me, just take a look at your pillow underneath the pillow case). Wash it all. Regularly.

2. Clean out your hairbrush. Once, I was in a friend’s bathroom, and noticed that her hairbrush was packed full of hair. “Don’t you ever clean this out??” She shrugged, “Why? I’m the only one who sees it, and I don’t care. It still works.” Well, here’s why: Because you should care. Because you are worth a clean hairbrush. Because self care isn’t just about getting out the tangles. It’s also about making sure that while you’re making yourself beautiful you’re not leaving any ugly behind. Because there’s something satisfying about cleaning up after yourself. Finally, clean your hairbrush because just ewww, man.

image

"That's disgusting."

3. Finish what you start. Especially if it’s hard.

4. Know when to quit. Especially if it’s toxic.

5. Don’t put fabric softener in a load of laundry that includes towels. It reduces their absorption properties.

6. This is how you fold a fitted sheet. You’re welcome. (And special thanks to Brandon, who taught the entire wing of the Honor’s Dorm at Ohio Northern University how to fold one during our first week of college.)

7. Remember to rinse off your chicken after you take it out of the package. Pat it dry with paper towels before slicing, seasoning, and cooking it. And don’t thaw it on the counter. I know, I know, it’s faster, but salmonella in your kitchen doesn’t exactly bring all the boys to the yard. Addendum: It came to my attention that rinsing your chicken actually serves to spread more bacteria, which, coincidentally, will definitely not be bringing all the boys to the sink. Instead, just remember to cook it thoroughly and to the proper temperature, and deal with slimy feeling chicken beforehand.

8. Try to find a good news source and let it keep you regulalry informed. I don’t care which one you choose. But think about it. Try all of them. Really. Try them. And don’t be afraid to think carefully about why you like the one you picked. It’s okay to like Fox News because you feel as though you agree with them more often than not. Recognizing our personal preferences and our personal biases (and how those preferences and biases shape our decisions) will let all of us realize the individuality of choice, the idea that what is meaningful to me is not necessarily meaningful to you. And that’s okay. Just make sure that you do listen to the news, that you do know a little bit of what’s going on.

9. Let it go. All of it. Learn from it. But let it go.

image

I get chills every time she pulls her hair down. Every. Time.

10. Learn how to drive a stick. And how to change your own oil. Just once, get grease packed so deeply underneath your fingernails that you can’t wash it out.

11. Your office/home/place of employ can and will survive without you. So stop acting as though the entire operation will shut down without you there. Being valuable. Making things better. Increasing efficiency. That’s just called “being a good employee.” It means that you are in a vocation that is suitable for you. It does not mean that you are a precious lynchpin of awesome, made of diamond-encrusted unobtainium. You are a cog made of number 6 plastic. Without you, the machine won’t work as well, it’s true. It’ll need a few adjustments. Maybe a rebuild. But, ultimately, the engines will all fire accordingly, and the whole thing will puff on. Feel useful. Feel important. But every now and then, realize that you ARE, in fact, a cog. It’s not a terrible thing. Cogs get to take vacations.

12. Take a class. Piano. Drawing. Defensive driving. Hungarian folk dancing. Take a class.

13. Remember that 99.99% of people are good. Or, at least, that 99.99% of people are trying to be good, as they have defined those terms. Don’t be afraid to trust people.

14. Quit worrying about your image and just buy a minivan already. They’re fucking amazing.

15. My engineer of a husband once told me a valuable lesson about limits. He said that many mathematical equations (things that most people consider finite, clear, unimpeachable, and definitive) are not “pure” equations. Rather, they only work within certain limitations. You go too far on either extreme, and the math just stops working. It’s the same with life. “Normal” is a surprisingly large range. Nobody feels “normal” because we all have a tendency to think it’s much narrower than it really is. We’re all weird. We’re all outsiders. We’re all non-conformists. We all fit within the equation, more or less. So, go ahead, play with your limits. Figure out where you feel the best, where all the numbers add up. But, remember, at some point even math stops working. Just be aware of that. Be weird. Weird is fantastic. But if you go too far, the very equations of society stop working. That’s why we have laws. That’s why we have cohesion. Community. To keep the math working.

Sometimes, limits aren’t a bad thing.

And with that, the most adult sentence anyone has ever written in the history of ever, I conclude my Adult Memo. Now all I have to do is figure out how to follow the damn thing…

What would you add to your own Adult Memo?

Addendum #2: One more point.

16. Call your mother. She is your inspiration after all, even if you don’t realize it. Love you, ma.

Are we over budget?

Oh, hell yes.

Do I really mind?

Well, it depends, honestly.

We have spent quite a bit more on this kitchen remodel than we were intending. Our initial budget was $6,000: $5,000 allocated for the kitchen cabinets and lighting, and another $1,000 for the floors. My parents gave us a very generous gift card to Lowe’s for Christmas, and we received a few smaller gift cards from other relatives who heard about the upcoming project, bringing us up to right around $6,750.  The initial budget that we had created was a very rough estimate for what it would cost to purchase all of the big ticket items only, not counting incidentals. The five grand we had set aside was for cabinetry, our new farmhouse sink (a real steal at $312. A comparable porcelain, 36” wide double sink with attached drip rail was literally in the thousands. Believe me. I looked.), the new range hood (another incredible Ikea deal. $429 for a stainless and curved glass hood. We were debating between the one with the glass detail, and the all-stainless one, but decided to spend the extra $50 to get the one with the glass detail that matched the curves on all of our appliances), and all of the hardware (We had purchased new hardware for our existing kitchen already, but soon discovered that our modern style pulls with the old-fashioned cabinet doors just looked wrong. Besides, the number of cabinet pulls we needed to complete the new kitchen was different than what we had originally tallied. So now we can use the pulls we already purchased for the bathrooms and closets in the rest of the house. It was another expense we weren’t really anticipating, but I think it will be worth it in the end. And now we have a few extra pulls for some other projects around the house. Like a desk I want to repaint and update.).  With the wonderful Ikea kitchen sale (it happens annually, right around March and April in the States), we managed to score a 20% discount, bringing the total for our entire kitchen down to $4,200. $4,214.06 to be exact.

NOTE: You can ONLY get the discount if you spend over $5,000 at once in the kitchen section. I bought a corkscrew as well, and that $1.99 was considered part of “Food and Dining” and did not count towards our discount. It wasn’t a big deal because we had plenty of other stuff that did count, but if you plan on doing this at some point, keep those distinctions in mind. It caused a chuckle at check-out, because the girl ringing up our order had to ring up all of the kitchen stuff separately from the rest, and the thing that got flagged in this ENORMOUS shopping list was a two-dollar corkscrew. God forbid we get forty cents off of that!

Being a scant $785.94 away from our “max” just after buying the barebones needed to make a kitchen, Honest Husband and I knew that things were going to get much pricier than what we had initially believed. And that’s a painful truth to come to.

But, like any pain, we winced, got up, stretched, and moved on. We are still very aware of our budget (exactly how much did we go over? That’s for another post!), but I think that we’re wiser now because of it. So, here I’d like to dispel a few Myths and discuss a few lessons that we learned with budgeting our DIY kitchen remodel.

Myth #1: Going Over Budget Means You are Terrible with Money and/or Horrible Irresponsible as a Person in General

You may feel a slight sting. That’s pride fucking with you.

Honest Husband is an engineer.

I’m (almost) a PhD in Literature.

We’re smart.

Like, for real.

I have a spreadsheet that has all of our expenses for this kitchen listed on it.

We don’t pay our bills late.

We save for retirement and our girls’ colleges.

We have investments.

We pay down debt.

We’re good with money.

But it’s still really, really, really, really embarrassing to admit that we’re over budget. Because we thought we wouldn’t be the ones over budget. Oops.

Everybody thinks that they’ll stick to the budget. That they’ll be the ones who figure it all out ahead of time. That they’re smarter than everybody else. At least, that’s what we thought.

But we’re not smarter than everyone else.

We’re not special, unique little snowflakes.

We’re just clunky ole ice cubes.

Myth #2: “Plan” for “Surprises”

This myth always drives me nuts on a semantic level. Because, seriously. The nature of a surprise is that it is unexpected. It is therefore impossible to “plan” for. Now, having a contingency in place is not a bad idea.  Understanding that your initial estimates will almost always and completely be blown to smithereens at some point?  That’s pretty useful. But it’s a myth that you can “plan” for “surprises.” Because they’re (spoiler alert!) surprising.

Of course, what this common myth is saying is to expect the unexpected. Be on alert. Have some extra money stashed under your mattress in case, say, you discover black mould behind your sink cabinet (we did, by the way. Not enough to panic over, but enough to make us say, “Ewwww!”). But what this kind of thinking conveys to homeowners and DIYers is that we needed to be emotionally “prepared” when bombs that we thought had been diffused end up blowing up all over the place.  It places the emotional burden on us. We needed to have “planned” for the unexpected costs. We should have “expected” these things. Which implies that we have no right to feel mad, or frustrated, or embarrassed, or fed up. Because we should have been prepared.

Take our example.  Though we weren’t planning on putting down flooring just yet, I found some wonderful, beautiful groutable vinyl tile at Home Depot for $1.79 a square foot. It was only available for a limited time, so we decided to pull the trigger. The entire kitchen and laundry room retiled for only $500?? Score! We were such budget masters.

When we finally decided to pull up the old Formica tiles and the vinyl sheet flooring underneath it, we were pleased and relieved to find a solid, dry, somewhat-outdated-but-still-very-useable luan. Huge sigh of relief. All that needed to be done was to scrape off the old adhesive from the original vinyl flooring, pour some leveling compound on it, and place our new vinyl stick flooring down. A few hours of gruesome, hard work, and we’d be set! Cheap floors that looked like ceramic, but without the coldness of real tile, and with a more forgiving bounce and flex.

Two hours into scraping off the old glue (a horrible job. My hands were sore for days after!), I decided that I needed some “inspiration.” I went into the garage, grabbed a few of the new tiles, and set them on the underlayment to see what the results of all of this hard work would look like. Ahh, new floor!

Wait. What?

Why is there that huge lip between the oak hallway and the kitchen? A full half inch. Doesn’t sound like much in theory, but it’s a mountain in flooring terms. (As little as a quarter inch of difference from one section to the next is enough to make people trip regularly, especially in houses where we all naturally anticipate even, level flooring)

Honest Husband stood in disbelief, the putty knife still in his hand, “We pulled up two layers of flooring. The entire kitchen is a quarter inch too low. The entire kitchen is sunk down now.”

In situations like this, I turn into a character that I like to call The Constant Questioner: “What? No way. Do you think it’s noticeable? Can we just put a transition strip across? Do you think we’d get used to it? Maybe we’d get used to it?  Would people trip on it? I don’t want people to trip on it.”

The elation of the morning. The jokes we had told while getting covered in 25-year-old adhesive dust. The feeling of accomplishment as we scraped and cleaned off entire plywood sheets. It all came crashing down. There was no way to get around it. In order to make it right, in order to make it complete, we needed to add a layer of underlayment.

Luckily, we have access to things like pneumatic tools, so we didn’t have to spend money renting or even buying an air compressor, but at the end of the day, we spent a good $300 that we hadn’t expected just on birch plywood underlayment, 5,000 inch-long staples, and a giant bucket of wood filler.

It ended up being the best decision. Whereas the old underlayment appeared to be in good shape, and was useable, the new underlayment is truly great product. We spent the extra money to get a high end, solid plywood to completely cover the old luan. Because of its stability, even our not-entirely-level kitchen floor (there’s a dip in one corner of the room. You mostly only notice it in the dining room, or, say, when you’re on all fours, trying to chip away old adhesive with a 3” putty knife) now feels solid, doesn’t squeak or bounce, and having this good product underneath our groutable vinyl tiles ensures that the grout will remain solid and won’t crack with age and use. And it brought the kitchen floor up level with the rest of the flooring in the house.

But even with the clarity and calmness of hindsight, that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a terrible afternoon in the Honest house. It sounds weird to say this, but we needed to progress through the stages of grief when we encountered this surprise. Denial, anger, depression, bargaining. We went through it all. Fully and completely. We were caught off guard and felt helpless. Our great, money-saving ideas were destroyed. Again. It was terrible.

But, we kept working, and we reached Acceptance. Even, dare I say, Joy.  It cost more money, but it was done correctly. It was going to be all the better for the bomb.

Though we knew that things were going to cost more than we had initially believed, once the surprise hits you, there’s no “planning” for it. So instead of trying to “plan” (and drive yourself crazy thinking of every possible worst case scenario), try to allow yourself to feel that disappointment. Go through your grief. This is your home. Your work. Your sweat. The thing that you do to make your family smile. You’re emotionally invested, and you deserve to take the time to have a meltdown, or freak out. Walk away for awhile (Honest Husband and I took a long lunch break and watched old sitcoms on Netflix for an hour or two). But, once that’s done, keep working and move on. It’s only money.

Myth #3: It’s Only Money

Money’s important. Money’s life-changing. Money’s not everything, but it’s a lot of things. Again, don’t feel shallow if you happen to have a healthy dose of anger, fear, or sadness as you see your budget fly out the window. When people shrug, “Hey, it’s only money,” they are speaking from a place of privilege that not everyone enjoys.

(And, remember, what they’re really saying is, “Hey, it’s only your money.”)

Myth #4: Look for Deals!

Yes, look for deals on some things.  But think very carefully about what can and cannot be made more cheaply.

For us, we decided to save money on the cabinet boxes, choosing less visually appealing and cheaper melamine boxes, as well as cabinet doors and cover panels made with a combination of solid woods and veneers.  We could have spent money on solid wood cabinet boxes, but it seemed like an unnecessary expense for us. You really only see the interior of the cabinets when you open it up, and how often are you standing there, examining the cabinet box as opposed to what’s inside of it? We also saved on the countertop and the flooring. The countertop is going to be laminate, and the floors vinyl. We decided to use these less expensive options for several reasons. Firstly, if you have attitude about these products, you really need to check out what’s available right now. Advancements in the technology to make and design these products have been taking off. It’s not your grandmother’s vinyl kitchen floor! Our goal is that both the countertop and the flooring will be virtually indistinguishable from solid-surface products until people actually walk up and touch them. My cousin recently remodeled her kitchen, and she put in groutable vinyl tiles throughout her kitchen, breakfast nook, and entryway. It wasn’t until the third day staying at her house that I realized the floor wasn’t travertine. And I had to be told.  These things look amazing now.

Secondly, the budget was a major consideration. Do I want a lovely, interesting granite with heavy figuring and bold colors? Of course! Do I want to spent $100 a square foot to get it? Not unless it comes with a happy ending! We’ll have about $500 in countertops, and around $1,000 in floors all told.

Thirdly, durability. I drop stuff. All the time. And I spill red wine. Basically any time I open a bottle (and I like to open bottles). And my daughters like to bang pots on the floor. And I let them. And life’s too short to spend it worrying about scratching my four thousand dollar counters.

One place where we didn’t try to be frugal? The kitchen faucet. In our last house, we bought a cheaper faucet (right around $100—you can barely find a kitchen faucet for less anymore), and I hated it. This is a piece of equipment that I use constantly. I needed consistency in flow. I wanted metal valves, not plastic. I wanted solid feeling buttons when I changed the spray settings. I wanted it to look nice. I wanted it to operate organically (those faucets with the on-off pulls on the side instead of the top? They never feel natural to me. Pull down for on? Forward for hot? Or cold? Or which? They’re also just another example of the tyranny of right-handedness in America today. Almost all of them are designed to be installed so the handle is on the right side of the faucet. Fascist. I was determined to find a faucet that turned on from a lever on the top. No exceptions). Just today I ordered a new kitchen faucet. I spent almost $300, but I’m confident in the brand. It’s made in America. It has a lifetime warranty. I love it. I loved it the second I saw it. I wanted something nice, and, dag-nabbit, I went for it!

Figuring out where you need and want to spend some extra money is just as important to budgeting as figuring out where and how to save.

Myth #5: Go for Classics

Honest Husband is like a fine hardwood floor: he needs a little time to adapt (which is why I needed to spend so long convincing him that Ikea was the way to go).  I’m like a giant block of granite: hard, decisive, and not necessarily for everyone. We’re a really good design combo.

He’s the rock, and I’m the kite. He keeps me from disappearing into dark sky, and I yank him up from the ground.

So he reels me back in when I get too extreme with my design ideas. And I get him to take chances.

And we both have concluded that the ultimate test of whether or not something is going to be permitted to bust our budget is love. Do we love it? Does it make us smile? Does it make us happy? Do we think about it, even after we walk away? Then we’re doing it.

Who cares if, in twenty years, our kitchen is going to look “so 2014”?

We are designing for nobody’s happiness but our own. For nobody’s aesthetic but our own.

Do people question our choices? Constantly. <<Check out this link. It’s a GIF of the light that we bought for our breakfast nook. We LOVE this light! Is it “timeless”? Hells no! Is it all kinds of awesome? Hell yeah!

Do people warn us about “getting tired” of things? Sometimes.

But do we love it? Oh yeah.

Budget. Busted.