I'm an Indian immigrant with brilliant, loving parents who encouraged me to study a lot and made me rake the yard each fall (the activity I least look forward to in my new house). We were not the kind of family known for DIY projects. My father spent many of his days with his head stuck under a microscope; he did not chop wood or carry water. So I guess it's not surprising that when the gentleman who came to look at my floors said, "Your first floor is oak and your second floor is maple," it meant nothing to me. In my head wood was wood, covered by bark. Different trees had different leaves, grains and hues, but I was under the impression that any wood could be stained any color. And I was wrong.

The primary lesson I have learned in my first two weeks of home ownership is to let go of expectations. My friend Carol said, "Your house is like a living being. There is only so much you can change." I learned that late Friday night when the heavily scratched, damaged and shellacked floors that had been one consistent color were now three colors (it turns out the stairs were a third type of wood—yellow pine).

The floors are now becoming beautiful. (Lesson 2: Nothing is ever really done right the first time.) And they turned out differently than I expected (see Lesson 1).

Let me rewind and explain how I got here. I met Andy Martin, a floor specialist focusing on historical restoration. He was one of three floor people I met. (Lesson 3: Get multiple bids to understand the range of costs and then go with your gut). I went with Andy because he gave me the best offer and I could see how much he loved the wood. He shoehorned my project into his schedule before heading on holiday, and there is still more to be done but we are well on our way.(Lesson 4: Do not shoehorn. Always leave room for the unknown: a broken sander, poor lighting or bad weather.)

Simran Sethi is an award-winning journalist and associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications. For more information on Sethi, visit www.simransethi.com.


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