Floors fume dilemma

Who gets one coat into having three coats of polyurethane on their floors and has serious second thoughts?  We do!

Here’s the thing — we did a LOT of research, and we never intended to use a polyurethane finish in the first place.  One of the first flooring guys who gave us an estimate suggested we look at Rubio Monocoat, which is a hardwax oil, and I quite liked the idea of a no- or very low-VOC finish that could be touched up easily.

I found a great resource on hardwax oil finishes in the Tadas Wood Flooring blog.  They tested and reviewed four brands of hardwax oil, including Rubio, and another product, Pallmann’s Magic Oil.  It seems like the tide is slowly turning away from the standard polyurethane finishes to these healthier, more environmentally friendly options.

In the end, they declared a tie between the Rubio product and the Pallmann product.  After reading through all of their results, I decided that the Pallmann’s Magic Oil might be a little more forgiving on our imperfect floors.

A bit more on our floors — while all the floors in the house are oak, our flooring guy said we essentially have FOUR different floors because of what floors in different rooms have had on them in the past:

  1. Bedrooms: at some point these likely had some kind of polyurethane finish.  Most recently, they were carpeted.  The wood in both bedrooms has fairly extensive urine stains.
  2. Hallways: had vinyl flooring adhered to the wood with a water-based adhesive; water staining from one of the closets being turned into a main floor laundry.
  3. Kitchen: had linoleum adhered to the wood with an oil-based adhesive (tar paper — yuck!).  Once all of the gunk was scraped and sanded off, this floor looked the best of all of them.
  4. Living room: Not sure if this had ever been finished — maybe some kind of wax or oil finish at some point? Most recently had carpet.  Some staining in this room as well (likely urine), but not nearly as bad as the bedrooms.

Anyhow, the guy we chose to do the floors had used Pallmann’s Magic Oil before, but was concerned that our wood floors would not be good candidates, based on all of the issues outlined above.  He was concerned that the oil would not penetrate well and/or would have weird chemical reactions with previous compounds that had penetrated the wood (i.e., urine, adhesives, etc.), but he said he would try to bleach the urine stains (he did) and that he was willing to do a test patch of the Pallmann’s Magic Oil (he didn’t).

So last week, his crew had an unexpected opening, and they came in and sanded the floors and worked on bleaching the stains.  In order to best hide what remained of the stains, he suggested we use a stain that was darker than what we planned.  He had a test patch of this darker flooring stain (“chestnut”) for us to look at.

When I went over to check the color, I was a bit taken aback.  I wasn’t comfortable making this relatively big decision for our future home without Matthew seeing it in person as well, especially since he was more hesitant to go dark than I was.

But in the end, the color wasn’t the biggest issue.  Once our floor guy saw the sanded floors and the results of the bleaching, he did a one-eighty on the Pallmann’s Magic Oil, basically saying our floors were not a good candidate for that finish, and we’d be unhappy with the results unless we went with a standard oil-based polyurethane.  He also pushed us to make a “decision” quickly, as he didn’t want to leave the floors with nothing on them in the high humidity.

And so we okayed both the darker stain and the standard 3-coat oil-based polyurethane finish.  I should add that this is the finish that we’ve lived with in both of our apartments for the last eight years.  It looks shiny and pretty and is fairly durable.  But with an oil-based poly, you’re essentially walking around on a plastic floor, not a wood floor.

On Thursday night, the day after the first coat of poly was applied, we got a sneak peek at the result.  The floors look really great (we’re both happy with the color) . . .


. . . but after just a few minutes inside, my eyes and throat were burning.  The fumes were horrible!

Now I’m having serious regrets about going with the poly.  The thing is, other than vaguely knowing that oil-based polys are bad in the VOC / indoor air quality realm, we didn’t do all that much specific research, because we weren’t planning to use a poly finish!  I feel like the flooring guy railroaded us into it, without ever even testing the Pallmann’s Magic Oil (we were too overwhelmed to really process that at the time).

So here we are, one coat into a three coat process with the poly.  Realistically, the worst (or at least most obvious) of the fumes will have off-gassed by the time we move in in mid-June.  And we’ve been living with poly floors for the past eight years (I believe the floors in both apartments were refinished not too long before we moved in, but I don’t really remember detecting a smell in either).

But I’m feeling kind of sick about this, especially with a little one in the equation (children are usually more sensitive to respiratory irritants because of higher respiration rates, and there’s just so much still developing in their little bodies — I would prefer G not be inhaling high levels of formaldehyde, benzene, etc.).  I feel like we were talked into perfect-looking floors at the expense of a healthy finish, and really, I would prefer the latter.  We’re not in this for resale value, and it’s not going to be a “perfect” house.

I’m not sure we have a lot of options at this point.  If there is another finish left in the floors, we could have them sanded again and insist on using the Pallmann’s.  If the flooring guy is to be believed, there is some risk in this, as in, it just might not work.  But after regretting falling for his hard sell on the poly, I’m less inclined to trust.  If there is not another sanding left, we’d be looking at tearing out and replacing All. Of. The. Floors., which has is own environmental costs.  Not to mention the $$ cost, which we probably cannot afford.

So we’re probably stuck with the poly.  And it will probably be okay.  But the whole thing stinks!

UPDATE (5/5/16): The floors do have a sanding left in them, but we decided to stay the course with the poly (and keep that sanding for a future refinish).  The final coat was applied on Tuesday, more than 6 weeks in advance of our move-in date, so it will have quite a bit of time to off-gas before we are living there.  Not our first choice for floor finish, but we’re embracing good enough.

Steroids and shortcuts

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned having problems with what I thought were reflux issues — a feeling of a lump in my throat that wouldn’t go away.  I spent a week eating very small meals very slowly; avoiding chocolate, raw garlic, and wine; and recommitting to daily mindfulness practice to deal with All. The. Stress.

The mindfulness was nice, but the eating changes?  Not so much.  I was hungry and missing my chocolate, and the feeling in the back of my throat (which made the eating I was doing unpleasant) wasn’t going away, so I changed my self-diagnosis from reflux to allergies, and started treating it as such.

First, I bummed G’s Claritin and tried taking a stronger antihistamine before bed for a few days. It seemed to help a little, but the oral antihistamines alone weren’t doing the trick, so I sterilized G’s bottle of Flonase and started inhaling steriods.

Now, I was a Flonase junkie back in high school, taking it regularly for a couple of years to ward off sinus congestion and related headaches.  At some point in college, I realized I didn’t need it anymore, and it’s been over 14 years since I’ve used it.

Lo and behold, just as Flonase was the game changer for G’s never-ending cough, it also saved the day for me.  While I like to avoid taking drugs as a rule, I’m thankful to have found some relief.  It’s nice to be able to enjoy eating again!

Speaking of food, if you’ve been following my Instagram feed, you’ll know that despite the current roller coaster of life, we are still cooking.  Even in busy times, we have to eat, and cooking and eating more or less as normal provides some semblance of balance.

That said, I am making some allowances for this particularly busy time.  In past busy times, I’ve unsuccessfully tried to convince myself to indulge in some of Trader Joe’s prepared frozen food items.  But every time I go to the store and actually pick up the packages and read the labels, I can’t go through with it.  I feel like the options are either not all that healthy, or they’re decent, but half of what you’re paying for is the cooked, frozen grain, which I can make at home, thankyouverymuch.

A couple weeks ago, I made a TJ’s run, vowing to try at least a few things, but I came out with next to nothing in the way of processed foods.  After looking over the options, my compromise was buying lots of frozen vegetables to cut down on prep time.  (Their vegetable pakoras somehow passed my screening, and there are two boxes in my freezer, awaiting a trial.)

Anyhow, the compromise decision has worked well (though I need another TJ’s run to stock up again!).  I’m combining the frozen store-bought veggies with grains and beans cooked from scratch, often rounding things out with some fresh store-bought vegetables, fresh garden produce (asparagus!), and/or frozen home-grown veggies.


On the left, kale (ours from freezer), garden asparagus, and frozen artichoke hearts over whole wheat linguine.  On the right, frozen stir-fry veg medley plus onion and garden asparagus over black beans and rice.

We’re making other food compromises including buying bread, as my baker quite understandably has not had time.   I’m hoping there might be one last round of bread baking in this apartment — with 6 loaves per batch, it would likely see us through to the move!

With all the craziness at the house, it’s very nice to have an intact kitchen and [relatively] clean space to come home to at our apartment.  Taking the time to cook these days, even with some shortcuts, sometimes feels like an extravagance, but it’s worth it when we sit down and enjoy a tasty meal together.


Finding balance

In my semester recap post back in December, I wrote about some changes I planned to make to bring create some space and balance: reducing my hours at my paid job and resuming a regular mindfulness meditation practice.

Mindfulness first!  With the exception of three or four days, I have made time for formal practice every day for over a month now!  I try for 15 minutes a day, but if five or ten minutes is what I have, I go with it.  Gifting myself this time is a struggle some days, but it is SO important!  It feels good to be back in the saddle.

As planned, I reduced my [paid] work hours from about 15 hours/week to 8-10 hours/week.  Eight hours a week seems rather ideal, and it seems to be helping with the balance I was seeking, even though I have somewhat negated the reduction by adding an [unpaid] internship (≤5 hours/week).

My classes are going well, though none of them was quite what I expected. The Experimental Foods course doesn’t involve all that much time actually cooking.  Instead, we have a team project that involves making one modification to one recipe over the course of the semester.  Our instructor works at Bissenger’s [Chocolates], so our recipe had to somehow include chocolate.  My team is making chocolate waffles.

My Advocacy in Family and Consumer Sciences course has some nice tie-ins with my Business Management course.  We’ve picked a broad topic to focus on for advocacy, and mine is diabetes (likely drilling down to the issue of insurance coverage for Medical Nutrition Therapy for people who are pre-diabetic).  The management course is all online, with very little interaction, so it’s a bit of a slog, but I’ll get through it!

In terms of workload, Advocacy and Experimental are both starting slow, with the bulk of the work during the middle and last half of the semester, so I may be in the calm before the storm right now.

I suppose I should mindfully enjoy the space/balance I have right now and not worry that times may get a bit hectic.  That will happen (or not) regardless (though there is some foundational work I can do now to ease my workload later).

Breathing in . . .


. . . and breathing out.

Broken leg aftermath

It’s been a heck of a two weeks, friends.  In many ways, having a young child with a serious injury is a flashback to those [seemingly] endless days of early infancy as a new parent.  The first night in the E.R./hospital gave us a head start on the exhaustion, which just builds with each middle-of-the-night pain med wake up.  There was inconsolable crying, the feeling of not knowing what the heck we were doing (as I mentioned the discharge instructions could have been clearer), general lack of predictability, and little-to-no time for self-care.  I spent the entire first week in a deep mental fog.

Thankfully, except for a few blips (when we tried to ditch the oxycodone too soon), G hasn’t been waking at night except when we wake him for the scheduled pain meds (and most of the time he barely wakes then).  The alarm on my phone goes off at 3a.m. every morning, and I drag myself out of bed and into the kitchen to get the drugs.  For the first week, I was tired enough that I got back to sleep pretty quickly.  This week, that ability seems to have disappeared, and I often spend those remaining hours tossing and turning.  (In another flashback to G’s infancy, I decided that if I’m getting up, I need a middle of the night snack, even though this time around, it isn’t fueling breastfeeding.)

Last Saturday, one week after the surgery, G finally saw the light of day when we took a stroll to our neighborhood’s new Little Free Library.  Getting out was good for him, and we followed up on Sunday with the first car outing.  Holding 40-pounds of anxious child in just the right position to avoid pain while wrangling him into the middle-positioned car seat in a small car is quite the feat.  Still, we not only made it work, we repeated it again on Monday (when Matthew took off work to help care for G at his mom’s house, giving me a MUCH-needed break) and then again on Tuesday for G’s first post-op doctor appointment.

Other than the tech positioning G’s leg for the x-ray, which was quite painful, based on his screams, the visit went smoothly.  We got our first peek at the new hardware (it was also the first time I saw the break).


Hip joint visible at the top, knee bone at the bottom, and some big ol’ titanium nails.  Matthew and I were both surprised to see how off-set the bone is still.  The doc said that was completely normal (and that it would have been more off-set if we’d done casting instead of the nails).  The surgical incisions also looked good (a relief, given my surgical site infection fears!), and with that, we were told to come back in three weeks.

This week, we managed to get him off the couch, and by Wednesday, he was spending most of the time sitting on the floor (or in his booster seat on the floor) playing.  He has not attempted to crawl yet (despite a bit of gentle prodding), but he his bearing some weight on the leg, scooting around on the floor from the sitting position — as he’s gotten more comfortable with it, it kind-of looks like a crab-walk.

We started to cut back the oxycodone for the second time (after our first, too-soon attempt).  It seems that ibuprofen or acetaminophen are sufficient for pain control now, but he did have what we suspect were some opioid withdrawal symptoms (agitation and inconsolable crying for no reason), so we’re trying to dial it back slowly.

My mental fog seems to have lifted this week, though in the logistics of getting G loaded into the car on Thursday afternoon, I left our front door wide open while we were gone for almost three hours.  Thankfully, we do at least have a storm door that was closed.  Also, this was another flashback to G’s infancy — one morning in those early months, I went down our front stairs, only to discover that we’d left our front door open all night long.  Oops!

Yesterday marked our first post-break bike ride.  Big Blue has been a bit neglected since we got the tag-a-long in May, but she’s just what we need now.  I removed one side of the Hooptie to make it easier to get G into his seat, which he said felt just fine.  Getting him onto the bike is much easier than getting him into the car (though the logistics of getting me, our stuff, and then him, in my arms, out of our second-floor apartment are tricky with any mode of transportation — walking is the easiest).

20150814_101424[1]The trickiest part here was strapping the stroller (necessary once we reached our destination) onto the bike.  A couple of bungees worked well enough for our short trip to the library and Target.

If all goes well (knock on wood), Matthew and I will be getting a much-needed break this week when G goes to Tennessee with my MIL.  For the past two weeks, we’ve been back-and-forth on whether or not that trip (which has been planned since June) would happen or not, but as of now they’re a “go” to leave on Monday.  I need to reconnect to my mindfulness practice, and a few nights without that darned 3a.m. alarm will be most welcome!

Friday night E.R. lights

Friday started innocently enough.  The newly be-Hooptied Big Blue was finally ready to ride (after a bit of a debacle involving the internal hub and a missing o-ring), and we towed Lightning to the park for a morning ride.


The previous week, we’d made some progress in riding Lightning after I added some homemade streamers to the ends of the handlebars and made a game out of riding the circle path around the playground.  His interest was strong the first two days but already starting to fade.

Later in the day, after not napping, we hooked Green Bike to Midnight (finally picked a name for my 3-month-old bike) and headed out for a multi-modal trip to meet up with my family, who were visiting from Iowa for the weekend.


Two mile bike ride and 10 minutes on the MetroLink later (I rotated the Burley Piccolo almost 180 degrees to fit on the train), we were at the hotel where my family was staying.  Easy peasy!

An outdoor pool is a nice amenity for summer StL visits, and we changed into our suits and headed to the pool (I was wishing I’d worn mine under my clothes so I could just jump in after the hot bike ride!).

Things went south from there.  I was just about ready to join G and my mom in the pool (after getting all sun-screened and letting it have some time to sink in), when G came out for a little break.  I don’t remember what he was heading for, but he was running on the pool deck.  I was a few steps behind and literally starting to say, “Don’t run next to the pool,” when we experienced the consequence of said action.

He slipped and landed really awkwardly, kind of a side split, but with knees bent instead of straight.  Given the position, I was assuming he’d pulled or strained something in the groin.  He was in quite a bit of pain, and ice and time didn’t seem to alleviate it.  We got him back to the hotel room, and he held his leg very awkwardly.  There was some swelling, but no bruising, and after consulting with a nurse on the after-hours exchange line, we headed to the E.R. at Children’s Hospital.  By that point, I was pretty convinced that something was wrong — I’ve never seen him that upset/inconsolable.


They started pain meds, and took him for some x-rays.  Soon enough, we heard the news: spiral fracture to his right femur (the long bone in the upper leg).  Our treatment options were either spica casting (basically a huge cast, from his waist down past his knee on the right leg, and possibly including some of the upper left leg) or titanium elastic nailing (TEN) of the femur, a surgical procedure which would involve no cast and allow him to start bearing weight as soon as he was ready.  Either way, it would be done under full anesthesia, and we would be waiting until morning.


They put his leg in a very temporary cast for the night.  The manipulation this required was pretty tortuous, even with morphine in his system, as he was crying and screaming, “No, please no, please don’t do that!”  — agonizing for him and for me and my mom.

Matthew stayed with him at the hospital overnight, and I headed home to do a bit more research on our treatment options before attempting to get a bit of sleep.  The TEN procedure seemed like a no-brainer in most ways, both for G and his caregivers, and it was what the pediatric orthopedic surgeon recommended (“What I would do for my kid”).  There wasn’t a ton of information either way.  We were concerned about the risk of surgical site infection with the TEN procedure (not an issue with the spica casting, since it doesn’t involve surgery), but in the end, we went with that option.

Saturday morning a bit before nine, he was wheeled into surgery.  Sometime after ten, the surgeon found us in the waiting room and said we would be able to see him in a bit, and the procedure had gone as planned.


The green is not a cast, just a stretchy bandage covering the incisions from the surgery.  After some time monitoring him, a visit from a physical therapist, a trip to the pharmacy for oxycodone, and much crying about the transfer, we headed home on Saturday night, a little over twenty four hours after arriving at the E.R.


We had great care overall, and were fortunate to be at a state-of-the-art children’s hospital.  I do feel the hospital staff could have done a bit better job preparing us for what to expect once we got home, i.e., how much pain he would be in, wound/dressing care, etc.  I also wonder if some kind of splint or brace would have been useful, but that was never mentioned or offered.

The past few days have been challenging for all of us — a temporary return to the days of having a needy young infant: lots of inconsolable crying, sleep-deprived parents, multiple night-time wakings (even if he’s sleeping, we need to make up to give him more pain meds).  Those were not my best days, and I’m trying to stay positive this time around.

Despite the fact that, bone structure-wise, he theoretically could be bearing weight on the leg now, he is clearly far, far from being ready for that.  I think the way they presented the procedure was a bit misleading in that aspect.

He is clearly still in a lot of pain, compounded by his anxiety about the pain.  I almost think he has some kind of PTSD from all of the pain of the initial trauma, plus the limb being manipulated in the E.R., and then just being in so much pain for so long (he was on pain meds all night on Friday night, but nothing but the morphine seemed to help much, and they were hesitant to give that).  Now, anytime we go to move him, he freaks out, crying and screaming before we even touch him.  Afterward, he often admits that it didn’t actually hurt (although sometimes, despite our best efforts, it does).  I’m not sure how to help him past the psychological issues.

We’re not pushing movement right now, other than wiggling toes and flexing the ankle, but we do have to move him sometimes (e.g., to sit on the toilet — we have a thing for him to pee in; we could use a diaper for bowel movements, but we would likely have to move him just as much, if not more, to clean him afterward, so potty it is!), at which point he usually screams bloody murder and tries to push us away.


We confirmed that the seemingly odd/awkward position he favors, with the leg angled outward, is not a problem, and they gave us another script for more oxycodone (they were really stingy the first time around); as much as we would like to wean him from the hard stuff, acetaminophen and ibuprofen just don’t seem to be cutting it yet.

After consulting with the hospital staff, we decided that the coordination required for a walker, much less crutches, was probably too complicated at this age.  The expectation is that he’ll start bearing weight on the leg as he’s ready, first crawling, then pulling himself up and walking with assistance, and finally walking unaided, so, basically learning to walk all over again, but a faster progression (theoretically — we’ll see with this naturally cautious, and now anxiety-ridden, child — he may just decide it’s safer to crawl everywhere for the rest of his life).