Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Billy Ray, I'm Breakin'

I have no idea when anyone is reading this because I am typing it in Sheridan* where we have no wifi.  However, if my forced “vacation” continues much longer, my temptation to connect to the world may become more pronounced.  Especially if I feel the need to search for a new recipe for bread or cookies or cake.  In the meantime, I am content with the natural connection nature has provided me by the unexpected visitors I see through the big picture window at the back of our house.   I wonder how long it will be until the owners discover their own connections to the natural world are missing.

Even without a television, Netflix, internet or powerful steeds, I’ve managed to occupy myself during the days we’ve been up here.  Slaughtering box elder bugs takes much more time than you could ever imagine.  

Last year I was the only one driven to crazed distraction by masses of disgusting red and brown beetles covering the front of the house and flying into my hair or down my neck when I tried to walk through the front door.  This year it’s been a different story.  Dean and I have become an army of two on the battlefield of creepy-crawlies.  We are armed with killing powder, fly swatters and a pump sprayer.  Every swat, soapy water drenching or sprinkle of Borax is completed with precision as we work toward utter annihilation.  It doesn’t seem that those skin-crawling husks of vile legs and antennae infuriate or disgust Dean the way they do me.  I think he just enjoys the battle.  But that’s okay because every battle we win brings us closer to the end of the war.  Sadly, every battle we lose brings me closer to the end of my sanity because it turns out this time of year, box elder bugs factor into just about everything I try to do – like acid stain a concrete floor for example.

Have any of you attempted to acid-stain your concrete floor?  Raise your hands.  No, wait.  Leave me a comment and let me know how many box elder bugs were permanently affixed to your floor when you were finished.  What?  The only thing you had to grab was that one fleeting puff of fur released when your dog shook himself?  You didn’t have to factor in the time of day, the air temperature, the percent of cloud cover or the angle of the sun?  You didn’t have to calculate the length of time needed to complete your project in order to avoid the peak hours of warmth when prospective smears would squeeze through the miniscule cracks in your old-leaky-yet-to-be-replaced windows and crawl across the floor?  Huh.  Imagine that.  You must not live along a creek in Sheridan.

Before I embarked on this acid-staining project I had intended to lay laminate flooring in my basement sewing room and when our friends, Larry and Heidi, came for a visit in September, I already had 17 samples of flooring lying against the wall.  When Heidi heard the anguish in my voice as I talked about the difficulty deciding which to choose, listened to me as I stressed about my ability to lay it, nodded in sympathy as I debated about the pros and cons of laminate versus tile versus vinyl versus carpet, and anguished over the expense, she needed to shut me up took pity on me and suggested I consider staining the concrete instead.    It would be less expensive and if I didn’t like it I could still consider an alternate floor covering.

The thought of using an acid based etching concoction and gearing up like I was going to make meth was scary and daunting.  Not that I know how to make meth.  Or even what it looks like.  Okay, I know the good stuff is a really pretty blue but that’s all I know.  I have no idea how to make it.  Really.  I barely passed chemistry.  It’s just that Mr. White was really safe and he wore all that gear and acid-staining my floor made me think of protective clothing which made me think of meth and …. oh, never mind.  Anyway, mostly I was scared I wouldn’t be able to do it.  That I would accidentally etch my walls or my legs or I would etch too much concrete or not enough.  I was scared it would be a failure. 

So I did a lot of research.   And even though the many You-Tube videos I watched didn’t say anything about not mixing box elder bug parts into the etching solution, and the can of stain didn’t mention anything about how to camouflage box elder legs when they become stuck in the stain, and the Valspar can didn’t tell me how to remove box elder shells from under the dried wet-look sealer, I decided to throw caution to the wind and go ahead with Heidi’s suggestion and stain the concrete floor in my future sewing room.  And I did.

Before I became a hunchback
As with every project, the preparation takes longer, is more arduous and offers absolutely no reward other than the hope of a happy ending – kind of like pregnancy.  First I had to scrape up all the paint stains and bits of leftover foam from past carpet and then scrub the floor on my hands and knees with a bristle brush.  The hardest part of all was slowly and agonizingly unfolding and raising my contorted body from a cold, hard concrete floor to an upright position. That’s when I wished I’d been more careful when I was painting the walls and ceilings…..and that I was younger. 
After I became a hunchback

Then I had to cover the walls with paper.  Here’s a tip for anybody who wants attempt their own acid staining project.  The best way to attach your paper is to position it about ¼ inch from the bottom of the wall and then tape the paper on the top and the bottom from the outside.  And if you are using heavy paper, like I did, use a LOT of tape.  Otherwise I suggest you begin developing a inspired list of swear words and put together some creative phrases so you will be able to draw upon them quickly when the top edge of the paper falls off as you’re trying to attach the bottom edge. 

 Once all the preparations were completed I donned my meth gear, gritted my teeth, crossed my gloved fingers, sprinkled the etching mixture on the floor, got down on my hands and knees, and scrubbed the mixture into the concrete.  I didn’t worry about any stray insects because I was happy to etch their little guts to death.  Here’s another tip.  Use a plastic sprinkling can that actually scatters an even spray of solution.  Not one that splashes big puddles. 

Spray with mist of water before slopping on the etching solution with defective sprinkling can.

Brush til the foam disappears or your body breaks--whichever comes first.
I thought the worst was over when I was able to finally shuffle my hunched body out of the room, but I was so wrong.  Removing the etching solution using Dean’s dinosaur of a shop vac almost broke me.  Since the recommended method of hosing the floor with a pressure nozzle didn’t seem to be a viable option, I resorted to sprinkling it down with the pump sprayer, scrubbing with a brush (yes, on my hands and knees again!) and vacuuming it up.  Easy peasey.  Until I realized the shop vac would not maintain its suction unless I was bent over with my nose nearly on the floor so I could hold it at the precise angle it required to maintain the seal.  I repeated that process three times.  It almost took me as long to become vertical again as it took to clean the floor.  I seriously considered calling out for Dean to help uncurl me but I knew he wouldn’t be able to hear me over his swatting.

Finally, I was ready to stain.  I began early in the morning, before the box elders had warmed up enough to mount their attack.  It was a race against time.  As I sprayed I began to hear the whap .. whap .. whap .. whapwhapwhap .. of Dean’s fly swatter.  I stained as fast as I could because I was afraid a bug would slip through Dean’s defenses and become mired in the stain before it had time to dry.  Here's another tip.  Use the circular spray nozzle.  Do not use the fan-shaped “designed to kill box elder bugs” spray nozzle on your pump sprayer.  Do not.  If you do, you’re going to be unhappy with the result and feel obligated to take your husband's suggestion to try hand brushing on another coat of stain to see if it helps, which means getting down on your hands and knees again holding a little paintbrush in your already swollen and aching hand, and layering on another coat.  Not only that, you will be forced to grit your teeth and admit he was right.  As if that wasn't bad enough you will then decide it needs just one more coat and you will get down on your hands and knees and hand brush the whole room again. On the other hand, when you find out later your husband thought he had the recommended circular nozzle (if only he knew where it was.....) you will be able to use those creative phrases once again.  That being said, if you like the leather look of your floor after the wrong nozzle layered the stain on so thick that it took ten hours to completely dry, go for it.

After the first spraying of stain but before a creative usage of words.

After two joint-swelling hand-brushed coats of stain.
The final step was to seal the floor and I got lucky because it was cold and cloudy so the vile bugs were moving as slowly as I was by that point. 

I almost had a panic attack when it rolled on white.  I thought I had accidentally opened a can of primer.  I had to double check the can to be sure I was using sealer.   Even bug parts would have been better primer!
In the end I managed to best the enemy forces and accomplish my goal of a warm and inviting floor without incorporating one box elder leg, shell, antenna or squirt of guts.

All it needs now is baseboards, curtains, and a sewing project!

The look of leather.  It's not just for furniture.

*Obviously I’m connected again.  Wouldn’t you know, just as I’m back on a blogging roll I might be going back to work……..or not.



Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Well your floor looks amazing:) glad you were able to do it. Hard work for sure but great results and money saved.

Abby said...


I was obviously unconnected as well since I just finally got back to my blog feeder and noticed I had 197 unread items.

Anonymous said...

Cath- So glad you tried this method before I embark on it. I don't have the patience you do. It looks fabulous! Who's suggestion was that anyway? Is this why we haven't heard from you in months?