Sunday, September 23, 2012

Renovation Reality

Have you ever watched the show on DIY Network called Renovation Realities?  It's a reality show that basically just follows real-life people doing real-life renovations in their own homes.  There is no professional involved, other than an occasional local plumber or electrician who is hired by the homeowners.  Just cameras, watching people unwittingly removing load-bearing walls, getting zapped by live electrical wires, and renting the wrong equipment, with some humorous text thrown in.  It has become one of my favorite shows.  Perhaps this makes me a sadist.  I like to think that it's just because it makes me feel a little more normal.

Living in a very old house is like living in a daydream.  It's all about "some day...".  We bought the house almost 11 years ago because:

a) it was cheap
b) it had "good bones" 
c) it had a formal dining room
d) it had two....count 'em....two porches
e) it had a cool front door
f) it had a sweet double-wide pocket door
g) I didn't know that more than five square feet of counter space was to be greatly desired
h) we had no idea how much it costs to heat a leaky old house, and
i) we looked at, and fell in love with it in the dead of winter, after dark, and while my hormones were still playing ping-pong with each other after the birth of our first child.

The pink tile bathroom was no big deal, because that was just a matter of giving it a facelift.  Same with the pastoral scenic wallpaper in all four of the bedrooms.  And the horrific kitchen with orange-ish knotty pine cupboards?  What?  Cupboards can be changed.  

Turns out, all those facelifts and changes take more money, time and effort than we realized.

Did I mention that we bought the house almost 11 years ago?

Okay, so we've done a few things.

Three of the four bedrooms no longer transport you to a creek, a pasture, or a barnyard.  That's a very good thing.  The cool front door became even cooler with some nicer stained glass pieces, the removal of the paint on one side, and a darker stain.  All of the boring beige carpet on the main floor was removed, and six years later, the hardwood underneath was refinished.

We are making progress.  But it is slow.  Painfully, excruciatingly slow.  

For one thing, you kind of have to work backward.  Over the last 120 years, various owners have made some "improvements".  Like wallpapering a ceiling to cover up the cracking plaster.  And then painting over the wallpaper.  And when the wallpaper comes loose in a few sections, just tear off the loose sections and paint over that.  

Because that looks a lot better than a crack in the plaster.  *sigh*  So it's not just "demo", as they say on DIY.  It's demo, then fix all the things that were done wrong in the last several decades, and then you can finally start to rebuild.

There may be no better example of the difficulties of renovating an old house than the project that we are currently working on.  

The Back Entryway.

This small room was, at one time, a part of the kitchen.  We never quite realized this until a few years ago.  The house used to have a large kitchen, but at some point (I suppose when indoor plumbing became fashionable), nearly half of it was separated by a wall and split between a bathroom and the entryway.  A couple of years ago, we removed the door that separated the kitchen and the entryway, and removed the cupboards that lined one side of the entryway.  They were covered in lead-based paint, and not terribly well-built or practical, so I was happy to be rid of them.  Turns out, though, that having a place to put my dishes was underrated.  I would love to get the everyday dishes off of the open, warehouse-type shelving in the pantry.  And the nice dishes out of boxes.  In addition, I have dreamed for about six years (ever since I saw a picture of them in the Pottery Barn catalogue), of having a mudroom with sections for each of my kids to put backpacks, coats, and most importantly, wet boots when they come in from outside.  It seemed like the back entryway (where we usually enter the house) was the perfect place to take care of both problems.

So I designed and sketched out a plan:

Obsessive?  Me?  Did I mention.....11 years?

For cupboards, cubbies, lockers, a bench, and boot storage.

Of course, a wall was in the way.  No problem, right?  Just take out the wall!  It wasn't original, so there was no real worry about it being load-bearing, and it would give us an extra foot or so to work with.  An extra foot of floor to ceiling storage space is worth its weight in gold.  Well, space doesn't really weigh anything....but you get the idea.  So we went to work getting that little section of wall torn down.  

Of course, we weren't counting on the old knob and tube wiring running right through the part of the wall that is above the door.  Shucks.  So we had to move it.  But knob and tube isn't really safe, so it would be dumb to just move it.  I mean, we're in the wall already....we (and by "we" here, I mean Jeff, and you can assume that anytime that wiring is mentioned) might as well just rewire to the overhead light.  Well, that meant removing a part of the wall that we hadn't intended to remove, on the other side of the door.  And of course, that led to more wiring that we couldn't, in good conscience, drywall over. So another wall came down.  I wasn't sorry to see these walls go.  They were part of the addition, and built with cheap wallboard, not plaster.  Still, it was more work.  And more time.

In the meantime, we did buy the MDF needed to build the cupboards.  Jeff took a week off from work, and we had a little stay-cation.  The first day, we made a lot of progress.  All the pieces of the cupboards were cut out.  There was a lot of measuring twice, and thrice, because we have never built anything like this, so we wanted to be REALLY sure.  The next morning, Jeff rolled primer on the pieces, and that is when the project hit a major snag.  We didn't like the way that the paint looked.  It was rough and marbley from the roller.  We wanted it smooth.  That took a while to figure out but we finally came to the conclusion that a foam roller is giving us a good result.  In the meantime, we tore out the linoleum and most of the sub-floor, which was made of a repurposed wood "Home for Sale" sign.

The "HOME FOR SALE" sign, the rusty hinges, and the partially stripped door casing (on the right)

Again though, we hit a roadblock.  The only access to our basement is through a trap door in the floor of this entryway.  It was all rigged up with a pulley system, counter-weighted in the basement with old bleach jugs filled with sand.  Really, who says recycling is some new idea?  Anyway, the hinges were rusted, and it was hard to get the screws out.  We needed to remove the hinges in order to get the For Sale subfloor out.

On top of that, I decided to start stripping the paint off of the wood trim that would be adjacent to the new cupboards.  I had decided a long time ago to restore all the wood trim to its original beauty, but I wasn't planning on starting in the back entryway.  However, stripping paint is a very messy affair, and I figured I should get that out of the way before I put newly painted cupboards in, since those would inevitably get messed up by the paint stripper.  

So the entryway sat, stalled for a few weeks.  It didn't help that there was a short camping trip for the family, a hiking trip for Jeff and Jacob, the start of school for all three of my kids, and work to go back to.  

Well, we've finally started inching along again.  Jeff has put the drywall up, so there are no more exposed studs!  He also mudded and taped it, and today, he primed the walls.  I have put two coats of paint on the cupboard pieces.  Some pieces need paint on both sides, so once the other side is done, we will be ready to put the cupboards together.  Then we will start all over again, cutting out, painting, and building the lockers and cubbies. 

We also need to figure out what to do with the ceiling before we hang the cupboards.  The kitchen has a dropped ceiling, whereas the entryway does not.  Now that the two rooms are no longer separated, and since the cupboards will be hung where the kitchen ceiling tiles now are, we need to come up with a short-term solution. 

 In the meantime, I can work on wallpapering and trimming out the opposite wall, as well as the wall around the door to the porch.  I also really need to finish stripping the door casings.   

So, in this small project, just about 36 square feet, we went from dysfunctional: 

to barren: 

to blank canvas: 

all in only five weeks.  I'm feeling okay about it, though.  

Maybe that's because I've been watching too many episodes of Renovation Realities.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Wait....isn't this a cooking blog?

Have you ever read Job?  I have a confession to make.  I once resented the book of Job.  I thought it was utterly unfair that poor, righteous Job had to go through all his troubles, just to make a point.  

Well, that was because I didn't read the whole book.  I just knew the story.  I promise you, if you want to get a higher view of our God, just read Job.  Then, when you get near the end, and Job says, "Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes," you will get it.  You will want to crawl under a rock, and still feel like you're making too much of yourself.  God is Big.  So much bigger than our songs, or our prayers, or our imaginations can fathom. 

One line in particular struck me as I was reading through the book.  Job 26:14 says, "Behold, these are the fringes of His ways; and how faint a word we hear of Him!"  And that is after describing little "fringe" items, like how His breath clears the heavens, and His power quieted the seas.  

In other words, there is SO MUCH MORE that we don't even see.  

But how much DO we see?  

Do we consider the power of God in His creation?  Do we stop when we see the beauty all around us?  Are we too consumed by the craziness of life to examine a flower, and think about how God continues, from the beginning of time, to allow it to reproduce according to its kind?

What about during our daily lives?  Are we so busy that convenience is our top priority in the food we serve our families, or the way that we keep our homes?  Are we striving to entertain with newer, bigger, better?  Or is it possible that, if we quiet down and search a little, we will find that the most beautiful, the most delicious, the most comforting, was there all along, just waiting to be noticed? 

Everyone who knows God is struck more by one aspect of Him than any other.  For me, it has always been His creation.  He is so good to us.  He could have created us to speak in monotone.  Instead, He created all the amazing tones that make up all of the music ever composed.  And He created musical geniuses like Beethoven and Rachmaninoff to put those notes together to create a piece of music so beautiful that it is capable of bringing you to tears, if not your knees.  He could have created all food to taste like Wonder Bread.  Instead, He gave us so many different flavors and textures that the combinations are endless.  He could have created everything in greyscale.  Instead, He gave us endless colors, some of which we have yet to discover.  

So what do we do with His creation?  Do we settle for "good enough" and go on with our lives?  Too often, I think that the answer is a resounding "YES!"  

This is not a blog that will teach you, with any degree of authority, anything.  I'm too busy searching.  I am happy, though, to share the things that I try, learn, and hopefully even achieve, in this wonderful job that God has called me to.  I do especially like cooking, so there will be plenty of that.  But I also have a treasure trove of material in this house that we call home.  It is an 1890 two-story in desperate need of rescuing from its latest (c. 1962) renovation.  It's a painfully slow process, but worth it.  As for that other piece of the puzzle that is homemaking, organization, well, I'm hoping that I will get lots of comments on those posts (if I can stop crying long enough to post on this subject), because I need help.  Desperately.

I am committed to searching out the best, and using the creativity that my Maker so graciously gave us. To explore the riches of His creation, the good gifts that are present, even in this sin-crushed world.  To bring them into my family's lives to enjoy.  And to take time to ponder the Fringes of His Ways.


Feeling melancholy today. Autumn usually does it to me. A few reminders of my childhood (a shake of black pepper, of all things) had me longing for simpler days. Was life simpler before computers and cell phones and jobs that expect 60 hours while paying for 40? Or was it just my lack of concern about where the money was going to come from to pay for the car repair that has been put off for far too many months? Did my parents lives feel this busy? Was I just along for the ride? Will my kids look back and feel wistful for the simpler days of their childhood? Or will they remember it as being as hectic as it feels to me? Is it just the changing times? Some things can't be rolled back. Cell phones aren't going away (and I don't want them to--I enjoy the security of knowing that if the car breaks down on 131, I can make a phone call), nor are computers (I'm a little more open on this one), but there is a price to pay for all of their conveniences (did you know that the company paid cell phone and laptop meant that you are virtually on call 24/7?). I'm not one who has ever felt the need to wring every moment out of life. I prefer to just sit down with a good book or share a meal with friends. I like simple. But complicated has a way of sneaking into our lives and taking up space until you are driving on 131 and notice the autumn clouds, dark and flat on the bottom, blindingly bright and fluffy on the top, and remember a time from your childhood when you just sat and watched those clouds from your front lawn, and you wonder....when was the last time I just looked at the sky? If I am actually at home, I'm likely too busy looking for information...a better recipe or which paint stripping product will be the most effective, or maybe I'll actually be using that information. Keeping up with the Joneses has been blown way out of proportion. We don't have lots of "stuff". It's not that we are stuck in the consumerism rut. But that doesn't stop me from trying. If I can't buy everything that I want and "need", then surely I can make it! The Joneses used to be your next door neighbor. Now, through the miracle of the internet, the Joneses are every blogger and pinner on the globe. And we look at the very carefully staged pictures and read the choice words and we think that we are not doing enough. Because if Chloe from has time to make all of her food from fresh locally sourced ingredients, make artful vocabulary flashcards for her children, renovate 8 rooms, keep her house spotless (have YOU ever seen a speck of dust in those pictures?) AND take twice yearly fabulous trips with her husband and kids, then WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?! But I would speculate that the table in that picture just got a fresh swipe of the Swiffer, and that Chloe was super proud of those flashcards....because it's not like she makes them everyday. How easy it is to look at a few pictures from someone's life and imagine that they represent that person. I'm not berating bloggers....I would like to become one, at some point. The onus is on me. It's my interpretation of the pictures and stories that is at fault. I allow myself to imagine that the few things that someone chooses to put out there for the world to see (that is, the impressive things) are what define them. And from that, I draw the conclusion that I am a failure. And because of that, I keep trying. And trying. And failing. And failing. No wonder I feel so busy. Pinterest is great (though I have purposely not allowed myself to spend much time there), and so are blogs. The internet is filled with so many great ideas. I just need to be careful not to measure myself by how many of them I manage to put into practice. I can't be so busy trying to make my family's lives so much better with this idea or that, that I forget to actually live. To enjoy. To look at the sky, on my back, in a pile of dead leaves. Because, let's face it: God's pinterest board would blow Chloe's out of the water. And there's no pressure to replicate clouds.
To anyone who bothered to get this far in my rant, sorry. What can I say? I'm not one to pick up a phone.....