I love Christmas! What’s not to love? The lights, the music, the decorations, the liturgy, the mass readings, and especially the reason for the season. The God of all creation entered into the human condition by becoming a little baby born in the most humble of circumstances. It’s all so amazing.
Another part of Christmas that I love is that a few years ago, the Food Bank started giving us the entire stretch between Christmas and New Year’s as a company-wide vacation. By taking a few extra days off, I can take two full weeks off to spend with my family. It’s glorious.
But calling it a vacation this year might be a bit of a stretch. I had work to do.
Adding a little bit of color.
In the days following Veronica’s birth, I told Mary that she needed to get serious about picking the colors for the various rooms. She has a real knack for beauty in the home, and to be honest, I’d probably be comfortable living in a cave underground. I appreciate beautiful decorations but don’t really think about them at all. I’ve been in my new office at the food bank for nearly a year and still haven’t hung any pictures.
While I installed the baseboards, little blooms of color started to appear on the walls. Mary firmly believes that you have to see a color on the wall in order to make a decision. Makes sense to me. It’s amazing how the light in the room changes the colors. She spent hours and hours looking at paint websites and paint chips and paint wheels, trying to find colors that would bring the addition to life.
In the meantime, I talked to our friend, Mary Kate Muller, who spent a number of her youthful years as a painter. She told me that I needed to sand and wash the primed walls, and then do two coats of paint with a light sanding and washing in between. If you think that sounds like a lot of work, you’re right.
And why sand the walls? Well, it turns out that when you sand drywall to make it beautiful and smooth, the sandpaper catches the fibers in the paper and pulls them out. The sprayer coats all these little fibers with paint, which get hard and stiff when they dry. The walls become downright abrasive, and perhaps worse, will start to collect dust. So I had no choice but to sand it all.
Calling all painters.
The Saturday after I went back to work, I started by painting the ceilings. I used the same flat white paint that I’d used for priming because ceilings don’t typically get color. My friends Nick Almeter and Shanna Molitor came over to help. They cut in on the edges with paint brushes while I rolled the wide-open spaces.
Shanna is hilarious. Blunt. After watching me roll for a few minutes, she said something along the lines of, “You have no idea what you’re doing, do you? That looks terrible.” When she pointed out the big lines of paint that I left all over what should have been a perfectly smooth surface, I was forced to agree.
Thankfully, she’s actually quite a good painter, so she fixed my error by rolling over the lines with a dry roller and gave me a lesson on how to do it correctly. By the end of the day, I’d given the ceilings a second coat of paint and the addition looked… exactly the same as it did when I started. Just with thicker paint.
Shanna also put my kids and a number of the other neighborhood kids to work. She gave them sanding blocks and sent them into the smaller bedrooms to sand the walls. They did the lower half of the walls and she did the upper. I commented to her that my kids jumped into work for her when it was like pulling teeth for me to get them to do something. Shanna laughed and said that its the same way for her kids.
Preparing for Christmas.
Christmas was just two weeks away by this point, so I took the family to get a Christmas tree on Sunday. We have a now long-standing tradition of going to Gay’s Christmas Tree Farm in Hepzibah to get our Christmas tree. It’s quite delightfully old-fashioned. They have a little concessions area where they give away free hot chocolate and popcorn. An old tractor pulls a big trailer with haybale seats on a looping tour of the farm’s grounds. And we get to pick and cut down our own tree.
My heart fills with joy when I see my kids running through those rows of Christmas trees. They LOVE Christmas and buying the Christmas tree means that they are just that much closer to digging into their presents. They run back and forth through the trees shouting, “Hey, what about this one?” or “I like this one!” or “We don’t want this one.” Joseph always finds the saddest little shrub in the field and says, “Hey Dad, how about this one?” with a huge guffaw.
When we finally settled on the “right one”, I went to get a cart and saw so we could cut it down. As you can see from the picture, even that is something fun for the kids.
My beloved wife is the real hero of Christmas. At some point in November, I told her that I had absolutely zero mental bandwidth for thinking about or buying presents. Building a house and buying all the necessary things absorbed my attention entirely. She patted me on the shoulder and told me that I’m working on the best Christmas present that she’s ever gotten and she would take care of everything, even presents for herself. She enjoyed the prospect of getting exactly what she wanted for Christmas and wandered off to find a gardening catalog.
The next week, I started to get serious. I had to prime the door jambs because they were bare wood. I could paint the closets because planned to use the same flat white paint for the walls that I used for the ceilings. Flat paint is great because you can just slap more paint over blemishes and it just disappears into the existing paint.
Mary picked out a lovely pink for the girls’ room, and Larry came over one night to give me a lesson on how to paint. He told me about the stern German painter who taught him how to paint beautifully many years ago. He also showed me that there’s a bit of an art to using a roller to get a perfectly smooth coat of paint. First, you generously apply the paint, then you slowly go over it again. Every stroke goes in the same direction, from the bottom of the wall to the top. And you barely press down so that you don’t leave any lines in the paint. If you do leave a line, you back up and go over the line until it disappears.
The interesting thing about painting this way is that it is actually pretty quick. But in order to speed up, you have to slow down. It’s the darndest thing. The faster I would try to roll, the more lines I would leave in the paint. That would force me to go over the paint more times. If I slowed down, the paint would go down more evenly and the surface would be smoother.
By the end of the night’s work, we had one pink room. It looked great and I was greatly encouraged for the project to come.
A working man’s vacation.
Saturday came and with it the beginning of Christmas vacation. Praise be to God, I had a little more than two weeks off, from December 17th to January 4th. I knew by this point that I was not going to finish before Christmas. That knowledge actually gave me a lot of peace. I was able to work steadily without racing against an impossible deadline.
By this point, Mary had picked out all the colors. The boys’ room would be a nice blue, the master bedroom and hallway a pleasant yellow, and the bathrooms white. I had purchased the paint that I thought I needed, but it turned out that I would end up needing to buy more to finish the project. That’s just the way these things go.
Sanding and washing the walls took a couple of hours. I was using foam sanding blocks, and I didn’t notice until too late that the abrasive fibers on the wall were sanding me right back. When I washed my hands after sanding, I noticed that my right pinky finger burned. I turned my hand over and discovered that it was bright red and on the verge of bleeding. While sanding, I let my pinky rest on the wall, and the abrasiveness of the wall filed my skin away. Wow.
The Sunday before Christmas was very special. We baptized my little Veronica Rose. I love baptisms. Through water and the spirit, the Light of Christ filled my child’s soul and made her a child of God. It transformed her forever. I was struck by the fact that many of the scriptures that refer to baptism use construction metaphors.
St. Peter says in his first letter, “Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:4-5
In the moment of baptism, God built a dwelling place for Himself in the center of my child’s being and moved in. If you stop to think about it, it’s just amazing.
Painting was a huge job, and I don’t think it would have gotten done without a bunch of help. My friend Holly Almeter came over to help, and when she saw how sloppy my cutting in was, she said, “You’re not allowed to do that anymore.” She, her nurse Britney Coyle, our friend Jennifer Ott, and Shanna Molitor came over several times during my first week of Christmas vacation. They picked up paintbrushes and went to work. Since I”d been fired from using a paintbrush, I mostly rolled and wrangled the paint.
By the end of the week, my team and I had painted, sanded, washed, and repainted the whole addition, including all of the baseboards. One project that I tackled in the midst of it was painting all the shoe molding. Shoe molding is the small piece of wood that you attach to the baseboard to cover the seam with the floor. I painted it before I installed it so I wouldn’t have to try to paint it right next to my new floor.
I wanted to take Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to just rest and be with the family. I finished painting on Friday, so I was able to do just that. The night before Christmas, Mary and I put the kids to bed and had a fun and peaceful time loading up the Christmas tree with presents.
Christmas morning started at about 6:30 when Catherine woke up and came out to the living room. I was already awake, having a little time of prayer. She laughed when she saw all the presents and ran to the bedroom shouting, “It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas!” Her brothers leaped out of bed and ran to my room to rouse their mother. We gathered around the Christmas tree, sang a song, said a prayer, and then started opening the presents.
Christmas is so fun in a big family. We take turns opening presents to draw out the process and give everyone time to see and appreciate one another’s presents. This year, it was so peaceful, so joyful. What a blessing!
Mary blew me away with my big present. One of the things I’ve talked about for a long time with the addition is getting a king-sized bed. We cosleep with our babies for at least a year, which means that I get about 18 inches on the edge of our queen-sized bed to myself. I’m used to it by now, but I built a much bigger room so it could fit a much bigger bed.
The problem is that king-sized beds are expensive. I’d pretty well resigned myself to having to wait until the resources were available. But Mary found a way. Back when we first realized that we were out of funding, a bunch of her friends did a little secret collection to bless her and give her some resources to decorate and beautify our new addition. They surprised her one morning by putting a fat stack of bills into her hand. Well, Mary saved almost all of that money and used it to get the king-sized bed. I was blown away.
The Christmas Octave.
As Catholics, we celebrate Christmas for 8 full days, called an octave. It’s like a Sunday that lasts for a week. What a great idea. On the second day of Christmas, I got back to work. The painting was done, so it was time to move on to the next phase, which is electrical and flooring. I found out from Larry that I needed to have air conditioning up and running before I could lay the floor. Vinyl flooring contracts in the cold, so if you lay it when it’s 40 degrees, it will expand and start to buckle when it gets to 70 degrees.
That meant that we had to get the electrical switched on in the addition. I had been talking with Joe Almeter, my friendly neighborhood electrician for the previous two weeks to talk about what needed to be done in order to get the power switched on. It turned out to be a bit of a production.
Before the power could get turned on, we had to install the ceiling lights, hook up the AC unit, and get the inspector to take a look at it. Then the power company would cut off the main power and we could pull the big main wire from the temporary power meter and conduit outside and run it under the house to the permanent power meter. Then the inspector would come again, give us the thumbs up, and the power company would reconnect us. All in one day. It sounds like a lot, and it was.
My friend Nick and his son Lawrence came over to install ceiling fans while I cleaned up from painting. Nick is Joe’s son, so he learned electrical work as his father’s assistant many years ago. Joe came the next day and worked with me to install the LED wafer lights throughout. The day after that, Ross connected the AC compressor to power and the minisplit heads inside.
I don’t know if you remember pictures of Ross from earlier posts, but he cut off all his hair and his beard. When he came over the first time after he did this, Jonathan, my two-year-old, saw him and said, “That’s not Ross.” He got that reaction a lot.
By Thursday morning, we were ready to switch the power over. Jefferson Electric sent over one of their trucks and disconnected my house from power at about 8AM. Joe used a sawzall to cut the big wire that connected our house to the temporary pole. Then Max Molitor and I climbed under the house and pulled it out of the long piece of conduit that protected it from the elements. Joe climbed under the house and pushed it through the piece of conduit that we buried under the foundation. Then he connected the wires to the new meter base. All finished.
By the mid-afternoon, the inspector came by and gave his approval. A couple hours later, the guys from the electric company hooked us back up. It was fun to watch. It was even more fun to go inside and turn on the lights.
The ground beneath my feet.
The day before we got the electrical turned on, the floor got delivered. I wanted to start on laying the floor right away, but Larry told me that I had to have the air conditioning running for 48 hours before I put the floor down. It has something to do with the temperature of the concrete and the expansion of the vinyl. If you put the floor down when it’s 40 degrees, it will expand and buckle when the temperature gets up to 70 degrees. I also had to restack the boxes so that the planks in the middle would get to the same temperature as the ones on the outside.
While waiting for the floor to warm up, I did little things like install shower heads and plates around the switches and outlets. Also, I did lots of sweeping and vacuuming. The last thing I wanted under the floor was little chunks of debris that would keep it from laying flat.
I still had two days off after New Years, and my hope was to at least get my bedroom done. On Monday morning, my friend and neighbor Ben Suer came over to give me a lesson on laying vinyl plank flooring. He’s a master floor guy and owns Diamond Wood Floors, so he knows what he’s doing.
The hardest part about vinyl flooring is going through doorways. Even that is not terribly difficult. The planks cut with a tile knife and break over the knee or with a pair of pliers. Ben showed me how to use the floor itself to measure the pieces that I was going to install, so I didn’t even have to sling a tape measure around that much.
He left after a couple of hours and his son Leo and Peter Molitor showed up to help. It took me a little while to show them how to do it, but by the afternoon we were working together smoothly. It really helps to have an extra set of hands to bring the next piece of flooring.
By the end of the day, I’d finished my new bedroom, bathroom and closet. I was getting excited. On Tuesday, instead of finishing out the flooring through the addition, I decided to install the shoe molding and curtain rods in the master suite. It took me most of the day, but by the end of my labors, the bedroom was ready for my wife and I to move in. We even had our first piece of furniture!
I still have a ways to go before being completely finished with the addition, but Christmas break allowed me to hit a major milestone… livable space. Lights, air conditioning, floors. In the following weeks, Mary and I started to move in to take advantage of the much needed breathing room. It’s amazing. Sleeping in my new room feels like I’m in a fancy hotel. But it’s better than a hotel, because I have the satisfaction that I built it myself with the help of an army of friends.
Everyone’s generosity during this process has blown me away. The following people have helped to make this project a reality. I couldn’t have gotten this far without them: Mary Krupa, Larry Harris, David Jude Krupa, Joseph Krupa, Catherine Krupa, Jonathan Krupa, Jerry Germann, Joe Almeter, Nick Almeter, Lawrence Almeter, Michael Almeter (his son), Michael Almeter (his cousin), Tag Bussey, Leo Suer, Ben Suer, Matthew Suer, Pat Molitor, Tom Molitor, Hannes Molitor, Pat Muller, Nick Wingate, David Johnson, Jordan Goodman, David McGee, Glen and the guys at Maner, David Germann, Tom Krupa, Laura Krupa, Joseph Krupa, Joseph Muller, Philip Hatfield, Miguel Melendez, Maddox, Jared Miller, Fr. Jacob Almeter, Anthony Almeter, Bob Visintainer, Ross Ott, Jennifer Ott, Noah Ott, Max Molitor, Peter Molitor, Shanna Molitor, Mike Hayes, Gabriel Hays, Kolbe Almeter, Luke Almeter, Charlie Almeter, Eric Sterett, Gabriel Hayes, Wayne Johnson, Danny Johnson, Wes Swenson, Cohen Insulation, Britney Coyle, and Frank Leogrande.
If you don’t have time or tools to donate, but would like to help make the House of Krupa a reality, a financial gift would be a great blessing. This is kind of like a do-it-yourself GoFundMe. DIY is my style.
If you want to read more of my adventures building the House of Krupa, check out the archive!
Jesus snatched me out of the darkness and saved me from complete madness. If you want to hear more of that story, check out Demoniac, now available on Amazon.