Friday, April 28, 2006


I don't know -- it just seemed like a better title than "Delivery."

Do I hear a banjo in the distance?


Last night I nuked some Velveeta Macaroni & Cheese for the kids in the basement microwave, then stepped outside to the yard for a few minutes. When I re-entered through the garage, I smelled something burning. Burning? One of the benefits of not having a stove -- nay, a functional kitchen -- is that the risk of burning anything goes way down.

I'm not sure how it happened, but the microwave managed to singe everything in it.

"We're not buying a new one, are we?" John asked. Of course we aren't. All this really means is for the duration of the renovation, we will no longer be preparing any food in the house at all, unless it's grab-and-go.

The irony is that this morning we had $4,000 worth of new appliances delivered -- including a microwave. However, nothing will be hooked up for another few weeks.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


The good!
Bam-bam-bam-bamity-bam! I wasn't sure what was going on behind the Wizard of Oz's curtain this morning until our lead carpenter called me. The floor was being installed! (Staining and refinishing won't happen until the very end of the job.)

It's a far cry from how it looked just a week or so ago, that's for sure. While I'm thrilled to have a pretty new floor, I'm even more thrilled that all those rat holes are finally covered up. Hooray! No rats need apply! Begone!

The bad and the ugly!
Of course, life isn't all wine and roses and pretty floors around here. There is still the issue of sagging floorboards in the old dining room. A nice, big gap that runs pretty much along the length of the room. A gap that the mice and rats probably see as a big ol' flashing VACANCY! VACANCY! VACANCY! sign. Come on in, rats! We've left the floor wide open for you! Come spread your germs and leave droppings and terrorize me!

Oh well. There's still progress, and that's the important thing. Especially since cabinetry and appliances are supposed to be delivered tomorrow. Now, installing them will be another matter altogether -- that won't be happening for a while.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

"Close 'er up, guys. We passed inspection!"

I heard our head carpenter joyfully say those words from behind the Berlin Wall (i.e., the thick plastic sheeting enclosing the work site).

Drywall is still not hot news, but I suppose it's newsworthy that we passed the electrical inspection. That means all those rat holes are on their way to being covered up forever. Hooray! In celebration, I bring you a thrilling drywall photo. This space used to be a doorway and will soon be where the new gas range is set.

Word has it that our cabinetry will be delivered on Friday. I think that's when all this will stop looking like a Bob the Builder episode and start looking like a kitchen again.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Once upon a time, when kitchens were simpler ...

Since we're still in Drywall Dullsville, here's a little trip back into history.

My neighbor sent me this photo when she was starting her own renovation. It's her house in the foreground (it now sports a very snazzy addition); mine's in the background.

She bought her house from the original owner's son, who passed on this photograph during closing. Both of our houses were built in the 1930s and by the look of the car in her driveway, I'm guessing this was taken in the 1940s.

At this moment, I'm typing this in what used to be thin air, atop the screened-in porch on the right of my house. The awful '80s renovators responsible for the atrocity of the kitchen did us a favor by enclosing the porch and adding a second-story bedroom; these additions give us some modicum of space in what's essentially a very small house, but the construction and architecture were both compromised in the process. They're here to stay, though, so enough about them.

There's probably not a whole lot of interesting history to this house, much as I wish there were. For years I've been meaning to visit the local history room of our public library for more information and one of these days I'll get there, really. In the meantime, here are a few little bits of information I've gleaned from various sources.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Drywall makes for dull photos

So no real update for now. Stay tuned ...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Dumpster diving

I knew the project was happening for real when a dumpster appeared in our driveway.

It's a small dumpster, since the space being worked on is very compact, but a dumpster nonetheless. It's actually been a fantasy of mine for a while now to have a dumpster in the driveway. Not necessarily in conjunction with a renovation (though that's a big plus), but just to have a big place to toss stuff. Unfortunately, space is at a premium and I can't consider this my own personal dumpster; I found this out when I tossed a bunch of big branches from the yard and our carpenter (very nicely) informed me that he'd have to get in the dumpster to rearrange things so as to maximize his refuse space. (I knew we were getting to be friendly when he said he'd just send A.J. in to take care of it.)

Now the dumpster is just a spectator sport me, and I enjoy checking it from the vantage point of my bedroom window to see what's new in there -- it's easier than navigating through the plastic sheeting and rat holes to the actual renovation space.

I snapped the photo above about four days into the demolition. We'd had several days of oak cabinetry and tile floor and wood lathe, all of which I'd expected. The fake wood paneling, however, was a total surprise. Apparently a past owner had a fit of '60s or '70s renovation-fever. Strange how the '80s renovators had the good sense to cover up the paneling -- but lacked judgment on just about every other aspect of both functionality and design.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

SNAFU (but not for me!)

We went with our renovation firm because although they are a little pricier than others -- and much pricer than doing it ourselves (assuming we had the time, inclination and skill) -- they do everything. So when our lead carpenter called this morning to say he was unexpectedly tangled in red tape at City Hall regarding permits and inspections, all I had to do was wish him luck. (For the record, he anticipates it being straightened out by the end of the day and business will go on as usual tomorrow.)

In lieu of an exciting update, here's a recent photo showing the roughed-in electrical work. Since I had exactly one counter-height outlet for almost eight years -- requiring much juggling if one were inclined to use the mixer, crock pot, and microwave -- you may understand why I get excited about stuff like this. (It even helps me get past the big gaping rat pet-door in the floor on the right there.)

Monday, April 17, 2006

The world's most cramped, badly decorated efficiency apartment ...

... or our living room?

When we were emptying the kitchen for the first day of demolition, somehow I hadn't considered that the table would have to go as well. So for the past week, the table and every other little thing I forgot to move out has been crammed into our living room -- a fully furnished space no bigger or inviting than the space that's currently being renovated.

Embarrassingly enough, this photo doesn't fully show the depth of the chaos we endured all week long. I took the it Sunday, after I had spent most of Sunday going through the huge piles on every chair as well as on the table. Here, at least, I've created paths to the back of the room (which would have come in handy on Friday when the carpenter asked for a payment and I had to practically vault to the far corner for the checkbook).

There's still three times as much furniture as should be in the room, and it's not at all inviting, but at least we can use the table if we want to. (Did you notice the ubiquitous Clorox Wipes front and center?)

Friday, April 14, 2006

Hol(e)y ceiling, Batman!

Today the electrician came in for the first time. As I went downstairs this morning, I overheard voices through the opaque plastic curtain: "Million-dollar tinderboxes!" There was also some griping about how the salespeople really don't know how to price a job requiring extensive electrical work in said million-dollar tinderboxes. (For the record, it's not a million-dollar tinderbox. Per our latest assessment, it's a $667,000 tinderbox, Mr. Electrician.)

I won't hold that comment against him because he did a very nice job boring eight perfect circles in our ceiling for our cynlindrical indirect lighting. (When he made his recommendations about their placement, he asked if there would be any under-cabinet lighting; I suppressed the urge to tell him that people who live in million-dollar tinderboxes don't necessarily have the discretionary cash to add things like fancy-schmancy under-cabinet lighting.) He also put in nice spanking-new wires and roughed in switches and dimmers. And tore a lot of walls and floors to do so.

Which brings me to what you see here.

I'd warned Wayne on his first day about my fear of mice. Yesterday, when he was packing up, he called me into the work site with a serious look on his face. For the time being, there could be no way around the many large holes in the floor, walls and ceilings, he explained. He assured me he had seen no signs of rat droppings thus far anyway.

I sucked it up and decided to be brave, though I figured putting the plastic owl there couldn't hurt. The weather is nice, so with no food in the house the rats should have no valid reason to venture inside. We don't have much food around either, so unless they're looking to be invited out to Moe's with us, they'd be out of luck too. (I could probably develop a soft spot for vermin who appreciate moderately priced Tex-Mex.)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

"Beam me up, Scotty!"

One of the many eyesores of the old kitchen was a very strange hanging ceiling beam. Once upon a time, the space had been a narrow galley kitchen and a separate dining room (the mirror-image house next door to us is still this way). In that misguided '80s renovation that brought us the kelly-green monstrosity, the beam was left behind even when the wall was removed. Everyone who saw it -- including everyone I talked to about the kitchen -- assumed it was a structural beam. In fact, the new kitchen was designed taking this long, thin wart into consideration.

Surprise! It's not structural. All it housed was that cable above (which hasn't been used, even). Wayne, our carpenter, gave the former owners the benefit of the doubt when he guessed that they may have kept it up for aesthetic reasons -- to create a bit of a divide between the kitchen and dining room once they opened up the space. I know in my heart it was left because they were serious cheapskates.

This means we'll get a nice, smooth, even ceiling over the whole space. Good thing we decided to spring for both smoothing the popcorn ceiling in the dining room and for the upgraded lighting, now that we have this attractive overhead palette to work with.

(4/14/06: John just read this entry and e-mailed me his opinion: "I think the beam was left as a place from which to hang the cabinets. Running the wire inside it was a coincidence." He's entitled to his opinion; I still think they were just cheapskates.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The straight and narrow

When we decided to have the kitchen done, I knew there would be challenges. Eating out, getting sick of eating out, having strangers in the house, noise, mess ... I knew I could handle it.

Now that we're three days into the project, I keep getting surprised by new and interesting obstacles to our way of living. To the left is the most problematic: The Incredible Shrinking Hallway! The plastic sheeting you see at the right of the photo is held in place by collapsible rods, essentially creating a wall of tarp.

It's a good tarp, because it keeps the kids (and cat) out of the mess, while keeping the mess contained to the work site. It's a bad tarp, because the rods have diminished our walkway to the basement to about five inches across, and that's from floor to ceiling. Even 50-pound A.J. has to sidle along the wall to navigate it.

Our basement is our temporary kitchen and food-storage area; it's also our laundry room. Try to imagine the challenges of transporting food and laundry baskets via this hallway. Drinks and snacks aren't too bad (unless you have two kids who ask me every five minutes for "cuppy!" or "m-i-l-k, p-l-e-a-s-e!"), but laundry is absolutely impossible. Most inconveniently, I realized yesterday that I was out of jeans and the laundry bins upstairs in general were overflowing.

The kids have been especially demanding since all this started, so I wasn't able to even think about doing laundry until after they were in bed. At that point, I had no choice but to carry the full baskets out the front door, around the side and to the back of the house, and enter via the garage -- all in the 9 o'clock darkness. I realize it's not exactly beating clothes against rocks in the river, but it's still pretty inconvenient (especially since there are some rats in the side yard). So one of the many concessions I will have to make is to ensure that I do a load of laundry each day, preferably during the day, so it doesn't pile up. We're also getting a dorm-sized fridge to keep upstairs so those frequent trips for milk aren't such a burden (and supreme annoyance).

One thing was made easy yesterday, for which I'm so grateful. My wonderful neighbor Valerie offered to send over a meal so I wouldn't have to worry about hauling the kids out after a very long day of activities designed to keep us out of the house. A few hours later, her husband Ken appeared at the door with a picnic basket filled with the gourmet meal you see at the right. I ate my portion hunched over the staircase because I didn't want to wait long enough to clear a space in our living room-turned-storage area.

Valerie even insisted I return the dishes dirty to her, which I felt awful about doing but I had no choice in the matter considering our hallway situation. (At least I didn't have to worry about storing or disposing of the leftovers -- because there weren't any!)

So we continue to adjust to the changes a renovation imposes upon a family. Luckily some (though unfortunately not most) of the surprises are really, really nice ones!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I've got this ... empty ... feeling inside.

Here's what the kitchen looked like after the guys left yesterday. If I had known how much light the room gets without the hanging cabinet there, perhaps I could have saved a few thousand dollars on the eight indirect cylinder lights we ordered.

This is likely the last I'll be seeing of it for several weeks, as it's currently being sealed with plastic to keep the job site debris from getting into the rest of the house.

As the guys were packing up yesterday, we discussed a few electrical and gas issues. I tried really hard to pay attention but I couldn't stop looking at a large rat-sized hole in the center of the floor (and of this picture). It was like the pink elephant (or giant pink people-eating rodent) in the room. Finally I explained my intense fear of mice (my fear of rats should be assumed from that) and could we please stuff something in the hole? The guys humored me (not very affectionately) by putting that long strip of cardboard over the whole open part and sealing it with painters' tape. Any self-respecting rat (or mouse) could gnaw his way through it but it did allow me to stop focusing on it (for the moment, anyway).

After they left, I noticed a lot of other holes on that back wall, including a few such perfect mouseholes they could have been illustrations in a Beatrix Potter book. Since I know that's where our mice were camped out during our vermin problem, I was not a happy camper. I did my best to cover the holes with that blue painters' tape but finally decided it was wiser not to think about it at all. I did get some consolation from the knowledge that there's no food in the kitchen anymore, so the smart mice wouldn't be interested in being there anyway.

That doesn't mean I slept well, though.

Monday, April 10, 2006

And the walls come a-tumblin' DOWN!

Let there be light!

This is the view from the back of my kitchen to the dining room. If you're not impressed, try to remember that there used to be a big, dark, oak hanging cabinet right here.

It has begun! Our lead carpenter showed up at 6:45 this morning and is currently tearing down all the cabinetry. It's incredible how different this space is without the huge hanging cabinet blocking conversation, traffic, and light. For that matter, it's incredible how different the kitchen was first thing this morning even before the demolition began, with nothing in the cabinets or on the counter. Or curtains. Or people. It wasn't a bad kitchen if one wanted to keep it empty, I guess.

Here's the new view from the door; I post this mostly for the benefit of our parents who have endured the old kitchen for going on eight years of visits and will appreciate the great difference already.

(Note the ubiquitous Clorox Wipes on the counter. I think giving up the wipes will be my hardest adjustment to the new kitchen, because they're too harsh to use on granite.)

More may have happened since I took these, but the kids and I are sequestered in the family room until we figure out our plan for the day and I haven't been back in the kitchen. Interestingly the lawn guys showed up for the first time this season, so I feel a little like the lady of the manor surrounded by all her "help."

Sunday, April 09, 2006


Zelda would like to inform our readers that not only are the cabinets now empty, but they are mouse-free. (We'll see what demolition brings, though.)

I spent the better part of a work week (my director was out of town) back in '98 cutting all that contact paper to size. Did you know that none of the cabinets in this kitchen are a standard size, or even the same size as each other? I painstakingly measured each and every shelf, then used my department's designers' tools (giant cutting boards and all the fresh Xacto knives) to cut the right size for each piece. I then labeled each completed piece and stacked it in the correct order with the other pieces of that particular cabinet. My co-workers threatened to swap the labels on me but knew not to follow through on this.

My original paperwork is in our basement utility closet; I knew I'd never go through and re-measure everything ever again. I can't wait to throw it away later today.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

It beats twiddling my thumbs.

With T minus three days until the demolition begins (so they say), I'm getting a perverse pleasure out of scraping together meals in our sparsely outfitted kitchen, out of items from our sparsely outfitted pantry and refrigerator. It will be far easier eating out once the job is underway, so I'm trying to offset restaurant-weariness in these so-called bonus days of freedom.

Since I'd boxed up almost everything when I got the call, I was able to grab just a few things that were either in the dishwasher or on top of the boxes, so our meals rely heavily on the Pampered Chef MicroCooker, the pancake griddle (which wouldn't fit in a box), and two Tupperware containers. My menus have been surprisingly interesting and well-balanced.

There's a lesson to be learned about having too many pots and pans here. Perhaps my problem isn't that I needed a bigger kitchen, but a much smaller one.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Futility and schedule changes

I'd no sooner closed the fifth and final large box of pots, pans, casserole dishes, and small appliances when the phone rang. (Insert ominous music here.) It was our lead carpenter.

I'm sure you know where this is going. Electricians are held up on a previous job, yadda yadda yadda. How would I feel about the start date being next Monday instead of tomorrow? Otherwise he could come in and start demolition, but leave the job site untouched for probably the bulk of next week, when the electricians will be available to start the wiring.

Surrounded by boxes jammed-packed of everything that makes my kitchen functional, I could feel my heart sinking. I didn't know what to say or how to react, so I told the carpenter I'd call him back and made frantic calls to my husband's many numbers, hoping he'd make the decision for me. In the meantime, I indulged in a little bit of stress-induced weeping. Honestly, I understand that things come up, but I'd just finished packing up everything I need to cook with, down to the spoons and spatulas. If the call had come, no joke, two hours earlier, the situtation wouldn't have been nearly as dire. (What, you say, unpack the boxes? Begone from my blog, evil troll!)

When my husband called back, I was surprised at his reaction: "Next week? Sweet!" He said it would give us more time to pack up everything else, and get the basement in order to accommodate both the boxes and our limited food-preparation areas and supplies.

He had a point. So I called the carpenter and gave him the okay to start next week (but not without making the point that I'd just finished packing everything). In the meantime, I guess we'll be eating a lot of sandwiches.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Boxing day?

The boxing, it has begun. I have to say it's a much bigger job than I had anticipated. Having such a small kitchen pretty much cured me of my addiction to fun kitchen gadgets, but even so I'm overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things I'm relocating.

There's really no way of knowing what life will be like after Wednesday. We have paper products, individual mini cereal boxes, and plenty of grab-and-go snacks, but will that be enough? I'd already prepared A.J. for six weeks of school lunches as long as the menu isn't completely objectionable, but for those odd days when it is (burrito day, egg roll day, and pizza day -- yes, we've created a child who hates pizza), I was planning on sending in Uncrustables from the freezer. His dad seems to think that Uncrustables are unhealthy and why don't we just make sandwiches on the toolbench in the laundry room, but I'm too spooked about the mouse thing to agree. (He contends that we no longer have mice since we haven't trapped one in weeks. I contend that we have mice, and they're just smarter than the ones who got caught.)

In somewhat related news, I just got a freelancing gig, my first in several months. It's due by COB Wednesday. Great timing, eh? But my client really understands my professional limitations and is really good about shooting stuff my way, so I'm happy to do it, even if it will complicate life for the next two days. I'm trying to look at it making a dent in the refrigerator price, or 0.000000001% of our loan.

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