It was August of 2017. After completing a ten-month major renovation on our latest fixer-upper, Hurricane Harvey flooded Kody, Drew, Rain, and me out of our home. When Houston fire fighters showed up with a city dump truck, I grabbed what I could stuff into an over-the-shoulder water proof bag and climbed aboard with my family and neighbors and their dogs. They dumped us a few miles away in a dry parking garage. It was just another one of those times that I realized I can’t control everything.
After a mile-or-so slosh on foot to the nearest pet-friendly hotel, I dug my orange journal out of my bag, the journal with embossed letters that spelled Gratitude, and this is what I wrote:
Aug. 27, 2017
Today Kody, Drew, Rain, and I were rescued by HFD on an emergency truck with sixteen people including our neighbors and first responders and seven dogs. Water shin deep flooded our house when we left. Our yard was submerged to my knees. I’m thankful for being able to communicate via cell phone and Facebook. I’m thankful for those who have prayed and continue to pray for us. I’m thankful for the La Quinta and breakfast and a room, actually a suite and space for Drew, and for a shower and dry clothes and for our next-door neighbors Boaz and Megan (also sheltered here) who brought us water and snacks and for the restaurant at the Hilton across the street that had wine!!
I suppose in that moment I realized I needed faith and gratitude. Somehow I felt a peace that transcends understanding and a glimmer of hope.
Not only had I saved my gratitude journal but also my laptop, and over the next ten months of rebuilding home and living at the La Quinta, my laptop saved me. In September 2017, I typed the story of our evacuation and sent my first words into the blogosphere. I typed other stories, too, and again and again, I tapped the blue button in the upper right corner, the one that says Publish. Ninety-four posts later, I see growth, and more often than not—faith and gratitude, peace and hope.
And today, I’m grateful for you, dear reader. Thanks so much for spending time with me at my first ever A-Z blogging challenge. As I hover at home this April, I’ll be seeking the good in every day, and I count you as good.
Overall, a downsized home has worked for us. Upon relocation to Houston, Kody and I purchased a fixer upper. We opened the kitchen to the dining and living spaces by knocking down four walls, efficiently adding space for storage and food prep and entertaining. Our newly acquired ability to watch the big screen TV while cooking was amazing…for about four months…until Hurricane Harvey came along and literally rained on our parade. The bathrooms had remained on our makeover list, and let me tell you—it’s so much more fun to say goodbye to the old and hello to the new rather than blowing money on more new to replace the damaged-beyond-repair new.
The master bathroom, true to the 1960’s, was scarcely larger than a postage stamp. Notice the past tense. Behind the original shower wall stood a hallway closet. Past tense once more. We robbed Peter (our closet) to pay Paul (our shower), and voila, our 30” x 30” shower grew to 42” x 6 ½‘ with a built-in bench. Our vanity space grew a couple of feet as well. In our last few homes, we’ve kept future home owners in mind. We don’t plan to live here forever, but we’ll fix it and love it, and the TLC will show when we eventually sell. No doubt a future owner will appreciate the maximized space, the modernized amenities, and the minimized commute.
As a collector of inspiration and ideas, my favorite hunting grounds for design include restaurants and their restrooms, perfect since I’ve been kitchen-less for more almost eight months, not to mention another six for the original kitchen remodel.
Did you know that subway tile dominates the entire world? Seriously, look around. Echoing the style of brick, it’s a safe aesthetic bet, inexpensive, too. When I need more specific designs, I search the Googler and Houzz and Pinterest. With ideas in my head and phone, I drive to Floor and Décor, stroll leisurely, and keep my eyes peeled.
I like a flow from kitchen to bathroom. A little matchy. Not too much matchy. For the kitchen, we chose gray shaker style cabinets, black for the island, with a white 4” x 10” subway tile backsplash and white and gray marble-look, quartzite countertops. We warmed the space with oak floors and open maple shelves to match the structural ceiling beam. Then that pesky Harvey flooded our floors and lower cabinets beyond repair, and then the walls came tumbling down. However, eight months later, walls and cabinets, floors and baseboards, doors and casings are re-appearing, not completely installed or painted, but I see them waiting patiently (which is more than I can say for myself). The soon-to-be-completed house is looking like home again. I often hear, “How soon will you be able to move back in?”
Good question—one that I’ve been answering wrong for a couple of months now. “Hopefully, by the end of March…hopefully, by the end of April…hopefully two more weeks…surely sometime in May.” The hallway bath gray shaker vanity is on backorder (unless my contractor ordered it right after I asked him about the status yesterday). Once installed, the marble-look quartzite will top the vanity with a backsplash to compliment the tub, which is finished (minus the fixtures).
One day while on a Floor and Décor expedition, a new tile spoke to me—an 8” x 20” vintage mint green subway tile with a wavy texture, priced at $1.89 per square foot. This tile evokes the days of my childhood at my grandmother’s 1950’s home—her hallway bathroom, vintage mint green. Kody accompanied me that day. I picked up one tile, cradling it like a baby, remembering my youth, forging forward in search of an accent for a niche and coordinating tile for the shower floor. For the niche, we found a sparkly, diamond-shaped glass mosaic with silvers and baby blues and beiges. For the shower floor, we found a river flat pebble stone mosaic with muted tones of green and grays, off-whites and beiges. I had a vision in my head, inspiration in my phone, and Kody liked it. We agreed. Done deal. You see what we did there? Larger-sized subway, different color, definite flow.
I can’t say that we never gave the vintage green a second thought. At Floor and Décor and with future buyers in mind, the hue felt a little risky. At home and on the shower walls, the current Byers feel proud of the choice. Postage stamp turned spa. Reflective of the 1960’s. Color and glitter? Yes, please. If only it were grouted, fixtures and shower door installed, ready to go, and me—living there. I remind myself to be grateful and not to wish my life away. The house will be completed in time. I need to start using that line when someone asks, “How soon will you be able to move back in?”
“The house will be completed in time.” See, I’m practicing.
For now, I dream—of living at home once more, new from top to bottom, of starting each day in my favorite shower ever, a fresh and clean beginning in so many ways. Until then, life goes on. Postage stamp, spa, or La Quinta, I’ll still be fresh and clean, and I can choose my attitude wherever I go or wherever I may be.
Not long ago while in Oklahoma City for a family visit, my parents, siblings, and I dropped into a downtown pizza parlor for a bite to eat after walking a couple of miles for a cure to end Alzheimer’s. In our matching shirts, we devoured the pizza as a mini-bus dropped off the University of Oklahoma women’s basketball team. With open eyes, I watched and admired the athletic, self-assured young women from my esteemed alma mater, first finding the ladies room and then a table next to ours. I observed their comradery from the corner of my eye, watching but making a conscious effort not to stare. During one moment I considered snapping a sneaky selfie with the team in the background, and in another moment, I contemplated just asking for a photo. Except with no more pizza on our table and the bill paid, my family, who all attended OSU, stood and headed toward the exit. My excitement outmatched theirs, but I followed my people and left my team, my thoughts, and my opportunity behind.
Then and there at the front door stood Sherri Coale, OU icon and head coach since 1996. Her record and growth of the women’s basketball program speak for itself and have landed her a spot in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. As if an aura surrounded her, the rays of sunshine from the western sky framed her silhouette in the doorway. She stepped back and out of my family’s way, held the door for us to pass, and noticed our matching purple shirts with stark white lettering of the emblazoned message, TOGETHER, WE CAN WALK TO END ALZHEIMER’S. Coach Coale looked me in the eyes, gestured to my shirt, and said, “Thank you for doing that. That’s awesome.”
Somewhat star-struck and at a loss for words, I smiled and nodded and took a few reluctant steps down the sidewalk before I grabbed my brother Scott’s arm and said, “I have to go back for a picture.” Then I told the family, “I’ll catch up,” and Scott followed me back inside the pizzeria.
I found Coach Coale sitting with her team and perusing the menu. Not wanting to interrupt, I found a chair nearby and sat nonchalantly as if I weren’t a stalker. When she looked up from the menu, I stood and asked, “Would you mind taking a photo with me?”
“Of course, not,” she said with a smile, and I handed off my phone to Scott for the shot.
Another coach stood and said to my brother, ”I can take it, and you can be in the picture, too.”
Scott, also known as Pistol Pete during his days at Oklahoma State, politely declined, exchanged inside-joke-eyes and an ironic smirk with me, and stood firm in his role as official photographer.
Coach Coale and I squeezed together linked by more than our arms. The University of Oklahoma, feminine strength, our professions, and a calling for mentoring young people to be their best selves linked me to Sherri Coale that day. That’s how I felt, anyway. I said to Scott, “Do you have the team in the background?
Still huddled on the sidelines in our side hug, Coach Coale turned to me and said, “Oh, you want the team?” With my nod, her head swiveled to the team and said, “Lean in ladies.”
Scott snapped the shot. I looked back at Coach Coale and said, “Thank you so much. This means more than you know.” I gave the team a little wave and walked away with a really great photo. Look at them–all smiling. In retrospect, I wish I would’ve added another sentence or two to my brief encounter with Coach Coale, something along the line of, I just drove in from Houston, where I’ve been living in a hotel since Hurricane Harvey, and I’m so grateful for moments of kindness like this. You inspire me, and I love OU Women’s Basketball. Or maybe something like this, I teach high school English, and I love seeing how your team treats each other like family. I know that doesn’t happen overnight.
For the past ten years, I’ve worked on my relationship with God while practicing faith and gratitude. In the gospel of Matthew 7:7, Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” So I seek and find inspiration through my relationships with God and family and friends, and through the stories in books and music, art and the internet. I work to let go of the crappy moments and choose to ask God for peace. He says, “It will be given,” and I feel that peace beyond understanding when I need it most. I seek positivity and inspiration, and over and over that’s what I find in my life. And even though I’m working on asking and knocking, I’m finding many doors opening for me. I believe the best is yet to come.
Looking for inspiration? Let me recommend a book or five: