Monday, March 24, 2014

Truth vs. Happiness

I'm teaching The Return of the Soldier in my class on Modern Fiction. It's a novella by Rebecca West--about 80 pages total--and it's about, as you can probably guess from the title, a soldier who returns from war. Specifically World War I (it was written in 1918). This soldier returns with a very peculiar, non-visible injury: shell shock that has given him amnesia. He has no recollection of the last fifteen years, during which he took over his father's business, took over management of his family's estate, married a beautiful woman, and had a son with her. Instead, he returns home thinking he is 21 years old and still in love with his girlfriend from fifteen years previously--a woman who is now married to someone else and living not too far away in near-poverty.

If you think you might want to read the book and don't want any plot spoilers, you should stop reading this now. But I have to say that even if you know the plot, the book isn't at all spoiled. The prose is beautiful and it's so fascinating to think about the way England clung to familiar social realities (like class snobbery) as a result of the anxiety and upheaval of their physical realities--mostly the shocking death count on the war front. I've read it at least five times now, and I love it every single time.

The book is narrated by Chris's cousin, Jenny, who lives with Kitty and him (and seems to have her own complicated love for Chris). She is certain that when he sees Margaret, how ugly and poor she is, how her hard life has aged her and blighted her former beauty, he'll come to his senses and remember his good life with Kitty. But she's wrong--he loves Margaret in spite of everything. The three women must decide together how to "cure" him--or whether a cure is even the best thing for him, since it would mean a return to himself, but also the squashing of his happiness and his likely return to the frontlines of the war.

In fact, Margaret remarks to a psychiatrist who is called in to consult, You can't cure him [...] Make him happy, I mean. All you can do is make him ordinary.

And the psychiatrist acknowledges that this is true. He's a true Freudian and he insists that Chris must be repressing some terrible, unhappy memory, which is what is causing his amnesia. Kitty finds this offensive (understandably, I think), and insists their life was perfect.

But then Margaret learns that Chris's son Oliver had fallen ill and died five years earlier at the age of two (in a heartbreaking twist of fate, Margaret also lost her two-year-old son). Kitty has repressed and denied this grief, but Margaret instantly realizes the depth of love Chris would have felt for his son. She knows how to bring Chris back to the present, and back to himself: take him a ball and an outfit that Oliver wore, remind him of his son. Jenny takes her the nursery so that she can be the one to break the news to Chris.

Margaret, grieving her own lost baby boy, is nearly overwhelmed as she sees Oliver's photograph amid all of his things, and as she realizes the pain that she will cause Chris when she tells him about Oliver and brings him back to the present day, which will include not only the trauma of war, but the death of his only child.

In seeing Margaret's reaction to Oliver's room and his things, the single, childless Jenny remarks, I thought, as I have often thought before, that the childless have the greatest joy in children, for to us they are just slips of immaturity lovelier than the flowers and with a power over the heart, but to mothers they are fleshy cables binding one down to such profundities of feeling as the awful agony that now possessed her.

Margaret makes a convincing plea to Jenny that they shouldn't tell Chris after all: I know nothing in the world matters so much as happiness. If anybody's happy you ought to let them be.

And Jenny agrees with her--let Chris live as he is, enjoying his youth and his love, unburdened by the reality of his heartbreaking life. How can they return him to grief and to war? To a life marked with disappointment and danger? It would be kinder and more loving, surely, to let him continue to live as he is, unburdened and happy.

But then Kitty appears in the nursery doorway, crying. Kitty is not a sympathetic character even though you'd think she ought to be. She comes across as selfish, materialistic, and self-interested (at least, from Jenny's point of view), and she's desperate to have her Chris back, even if he is a tired and broken-hearted man, instead of a laughing and light-hearted one. But somehow, seeing Kitty in the doorway of the nursery changes Jenny's mind:

Why did her tears reveal to me what I had learned long ago, but had forgotten in my frenzied love, that there is a draught that we must drink or not be fully human? I knew that one must know the truth. I knew quite well that when one is adult one must raise to one's lips the wine of the truth, heedless that it is not sweet like milk but draws the mouth with its strength, and celebrate communion with reality, or else walk for ever queer and small like a dwarf. [...] He would not be quite a man.

This is the passage that makes me cry every time. And Margaret admits, The truth's the truth. And he must know it.

I asked my students today in class why it is that Kitty, whom Jenny openly dislikes and whom Margaret has no reason to like at all, changes their mind. One of my students--a thoughtful girl with beautiful red hair--raised her hand and said, "I'm not sure it has anything to do with Kitty. I think Margaret just loves her son so much, she won't deny Chris the memory of his son, even if it's sad."

I could barely breathe when she said that, although I think I covered pretty well, and quickly called on someone else. I just hadn't expected a nineteen-year-old to have such astute insight into that kind of mother-love. I don't think I would have known that at nineteen.

But I asked David last night, as I was re-reading the end of the novel, and asking myself the same question, if he could just forget about 2010 and 2011, but still function normally and just have the happy memories of the years before and after, would he take that deal?

In other words, would we trade Eliza herself, and the experience of being her parents for such a short period of time, for the happiness would we have felt (or, more accurately, the absence of sadness) if we could forget all of it--if we could live as if she had never lived and never died?

There was a time when I would have said yes.  When my grief was so fresh and raw that it was nearly unbearable, when I didn't understand why she had to live at all if she was only going to die. But now I knew my answer would be no, even though I wasn't quite sure what had shifted or when it happened. So I really wasn't sure what David would say.

He thought for a minute and then shook his head. "No. Because that's a part of me, you know? She's ours."

Truth is more important than happiness, for us, and, I think, in Rebecca West's novel. You can deny it and push it down and not talk about it, but hiding the truth doesn't make it go away, and forgetting about it (or pretending it doesn't exist) makes you a fraction of the person you could be.

When it comes to real life, happiness is a by-product, but it can't be the purpose. There are too many things in life that are poignant and heartbreaking and honest and sorrowful, and that also hold more than their measure of good. And love is one of them. Love for a child who dies is one of them. And that truth still aches. It makes us heartbroken adults instead of carefree kids. It's etched grief lines around our eyes and changed us in other, less visible ways. But it's true. She's ours. And I do find now (with the breathing room of three years) that I value that truth of love and heartache more than I value a shallow and artificial happiness.

Of course I'd rather have her here, but if my choice were to have her dead or not remember her at all, I'd have to keep her. She's my baby. The love is the same. And given that choice, it's no choice for me at all. She's ours.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Apple of My Eye

Yesterday afternoon, I was snacking on an apple. (It was a healthy choice I came to because I'd already finished the box of Caramel Delights.)

Backstory: Zuzu watches our snacking carefully now and usually demands a bite, which is how she discovered peanut M&M's on David's watch and is now a peanut M&M fiend. He sprinkles them on his popcorn and he was trying to share popcorn with her, but she found an M&M instead and, well, there was no wrestling it away from her. So we watched like hawks as she chewed it up very carefully and then, naturally, discovered that it was basically the awesomest thing she's ever eaten. She hasn't yet figured out where they are kept, and we are going to try very hard to keep it that way. Even though it's out of her reach, her whining and gesturing is so incredibly persistent that the entry for perseverance should have her photo next to it.

Perseverance: persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement [in the form of parental disapproval]. See also Zuzu Duckworth.

Anyway, I was eating an apple, she wanted some of it, and in this instance, I was more than happy to share my apple with her (Girl Scout cookies, however, require hoarding and sneaky after-bedtime snacking). We made a companionable pair, snacking on our organic produce.

When we'd gotten all the good stuff off the apple. She said "More? More apple?" and I explained, no, the apple was all gone.  Then, in a moment of wild parenting experimentation, I handed Zuzu the apple core and paper towel it was half-wrapped in and asked her to go throw it in the trash can.

Now, I know she is capable of following simple directions, but she's also quite inconsistent in doing so. I had never asked her to throw anything away before, and really I wasn't sure if she would even know what I was talking about.

"Will she do it?" David asked.

I shrugged. She's seen us throw things away in the kitchen, but have we talked about it? Does she know that's even called the trash can? I couldn't remember if we'd had a conversation with her about it or if we had named the trash can in conversation in front of her.

But she toddled off to the kitchen with great purpose, and I got up off the couch to surreptitiously follow her and see what she would do.

And would you believe it?  That little miss walked herself over the cabinet under the sink, opened the door, placed the apple core in the trash can, closed the cabinet, and came running back to join David and me in the backroom.

"She did it!" I exclaimed, my heart bursting with pride. We congratulated and high-fived her on being such a good helper. I remarked that she's going to be a really good big sister. He commented with new certainty that she's going to be able to figure out potty-training after all. Our brilliant child! Look at her follow directions and do things we didn't know she was capable of! She's so smart and independent! We are constantly amazed by her!

We spent a few more minutes discussing the brilliance of our offspring, and she lost interest in hearing her own praises and wandered out of the room.

A few minutes later, she was back.

And she was gnawing on the apple core she'd just dug out of the trash can.

That's our girl. Our little prodigy.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Last Weekend's Adventures: Screams, Scarves, and Fire (Warning: It was Actually Less Exciting Than It Sounds)

So we had kind of a big weekend (Spoiler Alert: Not really). Friday the weather got warm-ish and I decided that Zuzu and Cooper and I were going for a walk as soon as we got home. I headed into daycare to pick up Zuzu and found that she wasn't in the toddler playroom, but was in the baby room (at her request). She loves babies these days (obsessively, really) and she's so thrilled to go into the baby room and look at the babies and play with their toys.

She had only been in there a few minutes, and she was so thrilled to be in the baby room that when I picked her up to leave, she burst into a huge screaming fit, crying "No! Baby! Baby!" in the most piteous slash ear-piercing way possible.

You can guess how awesome this made me feel. Here I am, looking forward to getting home from work and seeing my kid and taking her for a nice stroll around the neighborhood in this thing we call sunshine that I haven't seen in months, and she would rather stay at daycare.  Amazing.

Also there was another mom getting ready to pick up her infant and she watched me wrangle my squirming, screaming toddler (who wanted nothing more than to escape my loving arms and return to the glory of the daycare center) with this total look of pity on her face like, "It must suck for your kid to like daycare more than she likes you." Why yes, actually. It does. I feel AWESOME.

Once we got to the car, Zuzu was fine and we were just getting ready to leave on our walk when David and called and said he was almost home. I asked if he wanted us to wait so he could join us, but he said no, he had to take a shower. I suggested he shower after we walked, but then he explained he was covered in whipped cream. Because of course he was.

(Not as sexy as it sounds! Evidently it was belated Principals' Day at his school and he and the assistant principal had whipped cream pies thrown in their faces. I really don't get what principals do all day or how pie-throwing-target is part of the job description.)

So Coop and Zuzu and I set off and had a nice little walk. Zuzu was excited to see "Dogs! Woof-woof!" and "BABY! BABY!" as we strolled around the park. (Side note: I continue to ponder the double-stroller question and am always scoping out different brands and styles as we walk so I'm ready for warmer weather on a regular basis so I can see my options out there, although I don't think I'll have the courage to buy one until after Rerun is here.) Also Zuzu started shouting "All done!" from the stroller when we were still a few blocks from home and we had a rather vocal disagreement on whether she was, in fact, "all done" with the stroller. I won the argument, but only because she can't yet work the buckles that strap her in.

Saturday morning I ran errands by myself (wahoo!). A few weeks ago, I lost my trusty black pashmina scarf that I got for a steal of a deal at J.C. Penney something like two years ago. I picked it up on a half-off sale having no idea how often I would wear it. Since then, I've found it to be the perfect accessory. I can throw it on with anything and instantly feel more put together. I wear it to teach quite often because it goes with everything, makes me feel like I look more put-together, and it covers up cleavage, tea stains (spills happen), and the start of a baby bump. Somehow--inexplicably--it has disappeared. After searching my house, car, and office in vain, I decided that it had to be replaced.

I had two goals at the mall on Saturday--pick up a couple swimsuits for Zuzu (we start swimming lessons in April) and find a replacement black scarf. Important side note: I'm a bargain-hunter kind of shopper and I almost never buy something that's not marked down unless it's a very specific item that I've been lusting after for a while.

So I browsed around the mall and scored a super cute swim suit and rash guard at Baby Gap (judging by Instagram, it's the It Suit of the season and all the most fashionable babies will be wearing it).

Zuzu approves.
I also scoped out Gymboree but wasn't overly impressed with the cute, although I like that their suits have built-in swim diapers. So then I headed over to Janie & Jack and fell in love with this little vintage number.

The one-sock on, tongue-out look is all the range in beach wear this season.

Oh, hey!
I mean, it has tiny gold buttons. How cute is that?

Having settled the swimsuit issue, it was time to get serious about the black scarf. Nordstrom didn't have exactly what I was looking for, but I was feeling antsy and kind of desperate, so I went ahead bought a lightweight black infinity scarf that I thought would do the job. Then I went to Macy's and found a scarf pretty much just like what I had in mind on clearance for $6.99... except it wasn't available in black. So I bought it in red (and got an additional 15% off!) and then found a black one, almost identical to what I had lost, that was slightly marked down from its original price of $30. So I bought it, too, figuring I'd take both black scarves home and decide which one I liked best and then return the other.

(I'd made up my mind to keep the Macy's pashmina scarf with the fringe and return the infinity scarf to Nordstrom because the pashmina felt more versatile.)

BUT on Sunday my mom and I were going to Trader Joe's and we popped over to World Market just to see what was going on in there and I stumbled across THE PERFECT black scarf for $9.99. I was so excited. So then I had two scarves to return to the mall, but who cares because I have successfully replaced my favorite scarf with an equal or better model.  Huzzah!

(My apologies if you are not totally enthralled by my scarf-buying saga. This was kind of a big deal to me.)

Ono Saturday, my mom was taking the train into town from Kansas City so that she could keep Zuzu for us Saturday night while we went to a trivia night for David's school district. So once my shopping adventures were over, I headed to a coffee shop near the train station to grade papers and wait for her train to show up. (Our team actually came in second place, mostly because the literacy coach's husband is a trivia savant. I did contribute some knowledge about Queen Victoria because the British monarch who ruled the longest, so I guess that seven years of graduate school weren't a total waste. My trivia knowledge is narrow, but it is deep!)

The next morning is when things ALMOST got exciting.

David was making eggs for breakfast and went out to the chicken coop to see if we had any fresh eggs (Like you do when you have chickens! It's super awesome.). Anyway, as he stepped outside, he noticed the smell of SMOKE coming from the side of the house. The Chicken Sisters were wandering around the yard, all accounted for and seemingly oblivious to the fact that the smoke smell was coming from their coop. David headed over there and discovered that their warming light had gotten knocked down and broken, and the hot bulb had actually started their wood-chips smoldering. We were literally minutes from a fire breaking out inside their coop, which is a little wooden house filled with wood chips, positioned between the side of our house and a wooden privacy fence. So you know, kind of flammable.

David bolted inside, filled up a big cup with water and and sprinted back to pour it over the smoking wood chips. It was a relatively easy fix (though he made a few more trips with water, just to be sure it was completely extinguished) but seriously scary to think about what could have happened if the fire had started in the night, or if David hadn't gone out there and noticed it before the whole coop (and then NEIGHBORHOOD?) actually erupted in flames. Crisis averted, thank goodness.

The question, of course, was how the light got knocked down and broken. This was a mystery that we pieced together over breakfast, Nancy Drew style.

My mom got up early Sunday morning and as she was making her coffee, she heard Cooper whining at the back door. She went and let him inside, thinking that David must have come down and let him out very early and then gone back to bed, although she noticed that the back door was dead-bolted.

But David hadn't let Cooper out early that morning--in fact, we realized that we must have let Cooper outside when we got home from trivia and then David went to bed assuming I'd let him in, and I went to bed assuming Cooper had already gone upstairs with David. So the poor spoiled puppy, for the first time in his entire life, spent the whole night OUTSIDE!

Poor pitiful.
It didn't get super cold that night (down in the 40s) but for a pampered pooch like Cooper, it had to be chilly. So we conjecture that he looked for the warmest place he could find outside--and kicked the chicken sisters out of their coop so he could cozy up in there under their warming lamp. However, because he's a big awkward beast, he must have knocked the light down, causing it to break and eventually to start a fire in the wood chips. (Fortunately, no chickens were harmed in the process of Cooper's camp out--although I imagine they were probably annoyed at getting ousted from their cozy coop.)

Chickens have recovered. Also pictured: our little climber, a burned-out light bulb, and a blue dog chew.
 In sum, the puggle spent the night in the hen house and as a result, our house almost caught on fire, but we all survived the weekend and I got the perfect scarf and Zuzu got two swimsuits so we're still going to call this one a win.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Today it was a glorious 80 degrees. Tomorrow they're calling for snow showers and a high of 38. Ah, springtime in Missouri.

We soaked up all the sunshine we could handle the past two days, and instead of being satisfied with two lovely days of early springtime, I'm just greedy for more. I can't wait to see how much fun Zuzu has outside this summer.

I discovered this video on David's phone from last summer and just had to share it (even if nobody besides Grammy is all that interested). You'll see why strangers at the pool would come up and ask where she was taking swim lessons (before she was ever enrolled in them). This child loves the water.

(I also feel compelled to add that even though adults are not always on screen in this video, one of us was always an arm's reach away from her in when she was in the baby pool. She might love the water, but she still makes me nervous!)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Kitchen Reveal

I don't have a whole lot to say about the kitchen...  we hired someone to paint it and they did! There was nothing terribly wrong with the cabinets, but the wood color didn't match the trim or doors and we wanted to do something different as a quick fix while we think about what we might want to do long-term. I stole my paint color from a kitchen in a magazine and we did the bottom cabinets in Benjamin Moore's Witching Hour and the top cabinets in a bright white.

View from the dining room.

Stove side.

And the fridge (the cabinet is nearly cut off in this photo, but you get the idea).

View from the window nook. Look at my bald baby! (That was this past summer)

I'm happy with the way the colors turned out, and I like the simple switch we made in the hardware on the drawers:

I wish we would have gone ahead and added crown molding at the top of the cabinets. David asked me about it, but I blame first-trimester-exhaustion because that decision totally overwhelmed me and I said no without thinking it through. It just seemed like too much work at the time. We have a bit of leftover paint, so it can still be added--we just need to get motivated enough to get on that.

The thing is... (brace yourselves)... the new cabinets now make the walls look kind of dingy. I didn't mind the color when we first moved in and the cabinets were brown. It's Restoration Hardware paint ($$$) and the color is something like "Silver Mint Leaf" (I'm making that up because I can't remember). Anyway, I feel like it looks greener now than it did before, in addition to being kind of... grimy... next to the fresh, clean cabinets. So there may be a kitchen re-paint in our future (distant future...  probably when I'm 8 months pregnant and "nesting" this summer).

Of course the other thing I hate now is the countertops (not that I loved them before, but I love them even less now).  I've been exploring some low-cost options. But I'm not convinced that concrete countertops would be suited to our space. And I'm skeptical of the special countertop covering that is essentially heavy-duty contact paper that supposedly looks like granite or marble. There's really not that much counter space at all--so I'm thinking maybe we should just price new countertops?  Unless we really think we might get serious about a kitchen overhaul in a few years...  I just don't know.

I would like to get on the backsplash situation sooner rather than later. David wants to get fancy, but I just want a simple white subway tile. We just need to get on it. David's hesitant because we haven't tiled anything ourselves before, but I think we can watch a few YouTube videos and then try our hand at it. And if I'm going to do a new backsplash, I'm definitely going to paint first. And I really am not sure what color paint I would want on the walls... maybe a light gray-blue? Maybe a greige?

All in all, I'm happy with the cabinets but the kitchen still feels very unfinished to me (and let's not forget that I'm just totally ignoring the floor with its super-shiny unattractive tile that I would eventually like to replace...).

The tuxedo paint job is a winner in my book. I feel like there's so much more to do, but in the meantime, we're enjoying the change!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Old Bathroom, New Look

I spent the Saturday night of Mardi Gras hugging the toilet.

It was just like Mardi Gras that one year when I was in college, except this time I was (1) sober, (2) pregnant, (3) not puking.

You guys. I worked on a little project over the weekend that may be the most satisfying, least expensive, bigggest impact improvement we have made in this house. The only downside was that it did require me to spend a lot time up close and personal with the toilet--mostly straddling it and squatting beside it.

But let me back up. A few weeks ago, I saw on Young House Love that they had used Grout Refresh in their entry way. My brain filed this away, and when we were at Lowes over the weekend (unsuccessfully trying to buy salt to melt away the ice--they were sold out--and successfully letting Zuzu pretend she was driving a car until she was "All done! All done! Uppa!") I picked up a bottle for our half bath on the main floor.

I'm assuming the bathroom and its tile were original to the house, which means that it is going on 70 years old. And let me tell you, 70 years of grime built up on formerly white grout means that it hasn't been white for a long time. In fact, if I think about it too long, it can really start to gross me out. I had scrubbed the tiles in this room when we moved in--the walls and the floor--and while my efforts at cleaning perked them up a little, there's no way that 70 years of built-up dirt between little tiles comes clean, no matter how hard you scrub.

A refresher of our powder room before, for those of you who don't pee in it daily:

The grout on the walls was off-white at best, beigey brown in places.

So dingy that I actually thought the tiles themselves were off-white.
A sexy close-up of the grody grout.
The grout on the floor was mostly black.

The floor. I had already started experimenting on the back corner. Made it harder to pretend that the grout was originally black.
Honestly, I was skeptical that this Grout Refresh stuff would work. I figured that the blogger who had used it successfully was working with newer tile, and I just wasn't sure how this was going to go down. But, it was cheap, and I didn't have any other ideas about what I could do to improve the looks of the bathroom since I have no interest in retiling it or regrouting it all together.

So I gathered my very technical, high-grade supplies: a paper plate, a Crayola craft paintbrush, a paper towel, and my bottle of Grout Refresh (which costs $11.87 at Lowes).

I had only planned at first to do the walls--I really thought the floors were beyond fixing. I started at a low place on the wall that is tucked out of sight behind the sink. I figured if it looked weird or crappy, I'd just stop there and no one would notice it. But it looked AH-MAZING.

I could hardly believe how good it looked. Making the grout white made the tiles look white. Even though there are a few that are cracked, just by making the grout white, it made all the wall tiles look new.



Seriously--that's the same lighting, the same flash, the same spot on the wall with the crack running through those two tiles.  Photos of this room are pretty dismal--there's very little natural light, but you get the idea.

I followed YHL's method of applying the grout refresh with a small paintbrush and quickly wiping the excess off the edges of the tile. It's tedious, yes, but also a very satisfying process with instant and pleasing results.

I started around 6:30 pm, began by thoroughly cleaning the walls by scrubbing them down with a vinegar/water mixture, took a couple of breaks to eat a bite and put Zuzu to bed, and it was nearly 10pm when I finished. But the walls had gone from this:

To this:

I know it looks like different lighting, but I SWEAR--same camera, same picture taken after dark with the bad little over-sink light on and the camera flashing.

I was so high on the improvement that I decided I had to try the floors. I experimented on a little corner and decided that it would be worth the hassle. The only thing that stopped me from tackling them right then and there was that the surface has to be very clean, and I just couldn't bring myself to sweep and mop and scrub the bathroom floors after 10pm.

So I got up Sunday morning and tackled them. I took a slightly different approach to the floors because the tiles are so much tinier and set closer together. The instructions on the bottle say that you can apply the Grout Refresh with a toothbrush, let it set for 30-60 minutes, mist it with water, let that sit for 5 minutes, and then scrub the tiles clean. I didn't try this with the walls since I just followed the YHL method with success, but I knew it would take me forever to wipe down each teensy little tile as I edged around it, so I decided to do the whole floor at once and then wet and wipe it all up.

Working my way out the door.

Weird angle of floors behind the toilet--it took a bit of gymnastics to squeeze my arm back there, let me tell you.
In retrospect, I think the apply and wipe immediately technique is the better one. Although it's more time consuming (I was able to "paint" the entire floor in two hours instead of the three-and-some-change it took me to paint and wipe the walls), I really had to put my back into my scrubbing in order to get the Grout Refresh off the tile, and my clean-up ended up removing some of the grout refresh so I had to go back and do a lot of touching up. I'm not convinced it ended up being much of a timesaver at all, plus it was really discouraging to think I would be finished and then have to go back and re-do several places in the bathroom.

Places I had to go back and fix
When I re-did the squares, I painted and wiped immediately with a paper towel, just as I did on the walls. It was trickier with the teensy little tiles, and the fact that they are blue rather than white  (like the wall tiles) so you could see the edges of the grout more clearly. The final result is not perfect by any means, but I figure that no one will ever study this tile as closely as I did over the weekend.  In the end, with $12, about 6 hours, and a little bit of elbow grease invested in the project, I still think it was totally worth it. I am thrilled with the results.

And remember the before?

Feel free to ooh and aah over the after:

I still have at least half a bottle of the Grout Refresh leftover after doing the entire room (it's a small room, yes, but still, a lot of tile!).

David and I keep peeking in the bathroom, awed by the difference it makes. The whole place just looks brighter and cleaner. You'd really think we put in new tile, except it's still got all of its "vintage charm."

In short, it was literally a pain in my butt (from sitting on the tile floor) and it was definitely tedious and time consuming, but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Huge bang for the buck and I'm so pleased with the way it all turned out.