Loose Ends

Loose Ends

the creative impulse gone awry

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Kitchen Phase 2

Well, you know.  If this had been the only thing going on, it would have been pretty smooth and awesome.  But we also had a bunch of ridiculous family stuff going on, and we decided to also have the garage doors replaced which meant cleaning out the damn garage, after only 1 year in this house it was full.  We had to get a dumpster, which was awesome and somehow smaller than I had hoped -even though it was the biggest one we could get.  I'm actually thinking we need to have a yearly dumpster until I can walk around my house not sighing.  The problem with listing your house (and really working to stage it) is that I somehow got used to having a relatively clutter-free house.  It's not that I loved having to clean the house all the time and having towels that no one was allowed to touch, but I did like the whole "a place for everything and everything in its place" even if its place was in a box in our garage (not kidding)

So, I had this insane idea that we had to get most of the kitchen reno done by the time that Clara went to school, because under no circumstances was I going to deal with not having a kitchen during her first weeks of school.  All while having the garage doors replaced, going to Maine for a weekend trip, getting Clara ready for starting school, you know, and the rest of my life.  HA!

We went back to the contractor that tore out the wall between the kitchen and dining room - even though I had completely embarrassed myself by freaking out about dust.  I was really happy with how things turned out in the end, so no reason not to use them again.  We had hoped to have them tear out the existing cabinets, the terrible tile, rip up the linoleum on the floor and refinish the hardwoods underneath (even though I really hate these floors - they are pine and dent if I look at them funny)  While the walls were torn out, I wanted them to beef up my outlets... add extra sockets and you know, make sure they wouldn't catch on fire, and move the power for the dishwasher because we were moving it to the other side of the sink.  Then they were going to make the walls all plastered and pretty, and give me a nice new window frame for the window over the sink.  The rest I would do - install the cabinets, re-plumb the sink, install the dishwasher, countertops, new lights, etc.

I spent a load of time working on the ikea website to find a design that I hoped worked - I still panicked several times.  I'm just not a design person naturally and, seriously, this is a room I spend 90% of my waking hours in.  What if I messed it up and ended up with a terrible kitchen?  It's not like I was going to get another chance at it. 

When we got our estimate I freaked out a bit and started cutting things off of our list.  A few things from the Ikea list - like the pantry next to the fridge, and a few things off of the contractor list - like the floor refinishing. The pantry we may do later, but we have some other ideas for finishing around the fridge which may suit our needs better, and the floor refinishing I would manage to do as well.

Once we got the budget down to something we could afford I went to Ikea with the girls and bought the whole shebang and scheduled the contractors to come.  We had this lovely idea that I would spend the time during the construction in Maine and Josh would stay home to manage the project.  But that ended up not working out.  We did take a whirlwind trip to Maine because my brother was visiting, because why not?  (I am so obviously insane.)

I did completely overdo myself trying to get the house spotless for the construction and ended up giving myself a migraine for my trip to Maine (see above insanity)

The first day of work took our kitchen from here: (photos we took before we bought the house... I never took before photos of the kitchen because I hated it *so* much)

 To this:
Even blurry, you get the idea....

More soon!

Monday, October 14, 2013


Somewhere during all of that Phase 1 of the Kitchen De/Construction we had 3 birthdays.  Days before it started was Josh's, then Zoë's basically in the middle of it, and my birthday was the week before that tiling picture with Clara.  Tiling was actually my mother's day present from Josh - he knows me too well!

While Josh and I are certainly happy to have more birthdays, really, the most exciting one is Zoë's, of course. 

The big 3.  3 is apparently when my kids get difficult, and frankly, she's truly excelling at being 3.  She has always been very particular and now she is just old enough to get mad that she can't make all of her decisions.  The lovely part about her being the 2nd baby is I know what to expect and that this will eventually pass.  It doesn't make it any easier when she's pitching her 5th fit of the day, but hey, at least we know it will pass!

The great thing about the third birthday is she was experienced enough to help determine how she wanted to celebrate.  Her big present was her big girl bed - she was so excited about it!  We found an old and beautiful bed frame in my mom's barn attic and brought it home to clean and paint it.  It had a bit of water damage from being under a part of the roof that had leaked at one point, so there was no way we could just sand it and re-finish it.  I think a white bed is sweet in a little girl's room, so we decided to just paint it the same white as the trim in the rest of our house.  (I love how I make it sound like I've actually painted the trim in the house... HA, only in Clara's closet when I put shelves in there... eventually!)

We took advantage of a beautiful early spring day and laid it all out in the back yard:

After two coats of paint:

And in use:

I know many people who keep their toddlers in cribs for long long times, but with our little climber, we'd had the bars off of her crib for more than a year.  Since she often wants us to snuggle her to sleep, or sleep with her when she is feeling unwell or scared, it is much nicer for Josh and I to have a twin bed to stretch out on!  I think it was as much a present for Josh and me as it was for Zoë!

For her actual birthday celebration, we just kept it small and family-style.  One of the most lovely parts of this birthday is the presents that Clara made for Zoë.  I have read on other blogs of the sweetness of sibling presents and now that it is happening in our house it just fills me with joy.  Clara made Zoë a series of windmills - Zoë's favorite things = Elephants, Windmills, and anything purple.  And she drew Zoë an adorable picture of her in a field of windmills.  She even took money from her sheep bank and got her a panda puppet.  So sweet and thoughtful.

Of course, Zoë asked for a purple windmill cake, which, I made happen.  It was not exactly pinterest-worthy, but luckily 3 year olds have great imaginations and low standards, so it was exactly what she wanted.

Lucky for me my enormous piece of cardboard wrapped in aluminum foil was large enough to sit on our countertop-less peninsula.  As you can see we were really in the thick of reconstruction then.

Another awesome thing about turning 3 is that Zoë could start gymnastics with Clara.  She has always been fearless and bouncy and very strong - good traits for gymnastics.  She absolutely loves it, and I love how much energy she can release each week in class.  Clara and Zoë on her first day of class were in adorable sister mode, holding hands and sitting next to each other... it was so sweet:

It has certainly been a very very busy year, and it's complicated when new ages and abilities mean that I'm acting so much as a chauffeur.  It has taken us quite some time to get into a routine this fall - now that the weeks are starting to find a good rhythm I have more energy for other nooks and crannies in my life that have been neglected.  My health, the blog, laundry, piles of clutter that have been staring me in the face for a few too many months.  It is wonderful to finally catch up with you all - I've had all of these posts in my head for so long and just no time to get them out! 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Things I Learned from Construction Part 1

This is only part one because, let's face it, we have a lot of work to do on the blue house and I'm sure I'll continue to learn from the process of having my house ripped apart and then (slowly) putting it back together.

As I mentioned in the last post, there was lead glazing on the tiles in the kitchen so we felt strongly about not demolishing the walls ourselves.  Josh and I are truly not fans of lead poisoning ourselves, so, professionals who knew how to deal with this stuff were definitely a must.  There was also some electrical stuff on that wall, and I'm also not a fan of electrocution, so you know.  And even though I fancy myself a bit of a smarty-pants when it comes to these things, I really wanted to make sure that our suspicions were correct that the wall was NOT load bearing.  Turns out even the pros weren't completely sure and said there was a tiny chance that once they opened up the ceiling that they would have to change plans.  Luckily everything went (mostly) as planned.

I look back now and realize that as a complete noob I set myself up for some pretty big disappointments.  My first wrong assumption was that keeping lead dust out of the non-construction portions of your house does not mean that you will keep all dust and construction mess from creeping in.  Plaster dust is a light floaty bitchy little dust and it will fly out in all directions no matter what you do.  I had a HUGE panic attack when I came home during the first afternoon of construction and there was plaster dust on every surface of the first floor and half way up the stairs to the 2nd floor.  Did I know it was just plaster dust at the time?  No, that would have been too easy.  The crazy mommy in me (we all have one lurking in there) burst forth with very little warning and no time flat I had Josh coming home from work and bringing me lead dust tests, the contractors trying to talk me off my ledge, and the children quarantined in the upstairs with whatever portable electronic devices that were charged. 

While the girls were playing upstairs, the people we hired - who were certified to work with lead - told me everything was fine, plaster dust is not lead dust, that the tiles came out in large pieces, etc.  I surface tested to be certain - the girls are just too precious to risk that kind of thing - and when it all came back negative for lead I was able to relax a little.  But not before doing enough emotional damage to make me twitchy and edgy for the duration of the project. 

I was completely unprepared for there to be dust everywhere on our first floor.  There are a few doors, to the playroom and the bathroom - I didn't even close them because I just assumed that containing lead dust meant containing *all* dust.  I didn't even remove cushions or curtains, or clean up the clutter in the living room.  I didn't even take things off of the kitchen counters!  There was dust in everything, on everything.  What a mess!  Blankets, toys, our electronics, I was cleaning for days.  I was also really embarrassed about unleashing Neurotic Mommy on the workmen - that is a side of me usually reserved only for Josh.  Hey, he gets the worst and the best, what can I say.  So I also felt really vulnerable and embarrassed by the whole experience. 

So Lesson 1: Clean everything on the level of the house where the construction is occurring and remove as much as you can from a half floor in either direction.  Close down everything you can, tape it up, cover it with sheets, or better yet move it.  You know what's more annoying that moving a bookcase full of books?  Hand dusting all of the books because they are covered with plaster dust. 

I also learned that I'm a complete mess when it comes to these things.  I wrongly assumed that I have control over the situation because I'm the one writing the checks, but these folks aren't living in your house and they only care so far as you don't complain to their boss.  It is unreasonable to assume that they will care as much about the state of your house as you do.  They do this for a living and are accustomed to the dust and mess.  I, clearly, was not. 

For Phase 2 of the Kitchen De/Construction I swung way onto the other side of the spectrum and cleaned the house to the point of my own exhaustion.  I made myself sick trying to get the house completely in shape.  Literally, sick.  I was so obsessed with getting ready for construction that I gave myself a migraine.  I have a bullet list of triggers for my migraines and I basically used it as a recipe - every single one of them.  Go me!  You know what's less fun than hand dusting a bookcase of books covered in plaster dust?  A migraine. 

So Lesson 2: Ignore Lesson 1.  Do your best and let the rest go.  You are not in control of anything, so stop kidding yourself.  What you *can* do without killing yourself is good enough.  Get those doors closed!  Toss a sheet over the TV!  Awesome!  The house is generally dusty, so you know, plaster dust just makes it slightly more colorful.  A little effort will make things easier, but too much effort will make you a neurotic mess.  Above all, you can't avoid all stress when you start tearing apart your house, even when things go "smoothly" they won't feel all that smooth at the time. 

I'm hoping that by the time we decide to demo our only full bathroom to do the repairs necessary to un-gross-ify it (technical term for the kind of OHMYGOD state our bathroom lives in) I will have this all figured out and it will go a bit more smoothly.  My other big discovery is that our contractor - because our renovations haven't required much in the way of permitting - is basically a big secretary/coordinator.  There is a rhythm to these projects, remove surfaces of walls, do things inside walls, rebuild surface of walls, put stuff on walls, etc... I think I could manage the bathroom project without the contractor.  It will certainly save us a bit of money, since I work for free.  Then again, it is pretty gross, and I'm a bit nervous about the state of the subfloor under the tub.  But that is a project for next spring (at best) so I'm doing my best to not think too much about it right now.

I can't wait to tell you all about how Phase 2 went.  The (not quite finished) results are so awesome, and we're really happy with how it's turning out.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Hello, again, again!

Hello dear readers!

I laugh when I look back at the last post, specifically the date.  It was just a few weeks before we had contractors tear out a wall in our house.  That was the beginning of a long, complicated, often very sad and frustrating, often very happy and rewarding spring and summer.  We'll talk about most of it, there is a lot to say, but we should start closer to the beginning, okay?

We knew when we bought the house that the kitchen was wretched and needed to be gutted.  It was a very quaint and classic "cottage" style kitchen, but the flow didn't work for us and the original stick built cabinets were falling apart.  Also, the yellow and blue tiles on the wall had lead glazing and were, well, yellow and blue, so we wanted plaster walls!  The appliances were serviceable - except for the fridge, which we replaced within days of moving in.  We'll look into new appliances later, we're on a budget, so if it works, it's staying!

We lived with the kitchen for almost a year, thinking and scheming about what we wanted to do.  The one thing we were nearly certain of is that we would rather have a large eat-in kitchen rather than the kitchen/formal dining room situation original to the house.  So we removed the crazy ornate corner cabinet, and hired contractors to get us from this:

to this:

We were very lucky in how the house was built that this wall wasn't load bearing.  It certainly helped with the expense of the project.  We decided to do our kitchen renovation in phases for 2 reasons: 1- we needed to budget wisely and 2- most of the kitchens we loved had been slowly worked on over the course of several years.  Not being particularly design-savvy we knew we wouldn't be able to get that layered look in one giant leap, so we figured if we slowed down the process we might be able to achieve that look by accident (on purpose)

Once we had the wall out, we lived with it a few weeks and started thinking seriously about the peninsula we wanted to build where the corner cabinet had stood.  I imagined something generously sized, so I could roll out cookies and the girls could do homework at the same time.  Enter Ikea:

That, my friends, is a counter.  I was really happy with how easy it was to put together the cabinets and install them.  If you are used to the Ikea instructions, really, putting a kitchen together is like building an Expedit plus some leveling and attaching to the walls.

We've been thrilled with how solid they are and just how much storage we have in that peninsula.  We had a small issue with flooring, because of the space where the wall used to be.  Both rooms, the kitchen and the dining room had 3" pine plank floors, but that little strip had, uh, nothing, of course.  The quote from the contractor was $1000 for that 13 square foot area to match the floor and install it and he still said that it wouldn't match perfectly.  We had no extra floorboards anywhere in the house - only the living room has this flooring, the rest of the house (and closets) had 2" oak floors, go figure.  So we decided to put something else there - I can think of a lot of ways to spend $1000 that would be more satisfying than 13 square feet of flooring.  When looking at all the options, tile seemed to be the easiest and least expensive choice.  We went with a 2" slate tile.

the dry fit:

It turns out that Clara loves to help me with tile.  We had done a small amount of tile work in our old house, and this time she was big enough to really help with the grouting.

We're thrilled with the results:

Truths: I took this picture today, and it's way cleaner than usual.  It took us about 4 months to get this much done.  I think if this was the only project we had going on, it would have gone faster... but then again we did try to take things slowly for a reason.  I guess this is one of the benefits of the frantic pace of our life.  I apologize for the cell-phone photos, but we just didn't take a lot of pictures with the big camera.  It was so dusty and chaotic most of the time!  I'll be back soon with more on what we were all up to in the past few months.