Saturday, May 30, 2009

The kitchen remodel chronicles....

OK here we are at another episode of the kitchen remodel....

Well so far we have the cabinets in, a microwave that was in but was sent back, and another new one waiting to take it's place (the first one had missing parts- I know that because the contractors called it some very colorful words as they were trying to get the thing into it's new home and in mid install found the factory that made the microwave must have had some "Quality Control" issues the day they sent it out because the damned thing had no hardware attached to it for installation on the cabinets.....The contractors taught me some new words I'm thinking I shouldn't use at my grand kids day care center.....), the granite folks will be here next week to measure the granite and get that here. The house is covered in sawdust and sheet rock dust. We have no counter except a piece plywood over one part. The sink is leaking because a pipe has to be changed but we can't do that until something else comes in (I'm not sure about that....)I have an old Tupperware container catching the drops (a lot like the way I lived in an apartment in the 60's when we had no money to fix anything...Thank God for Tupperware containers. But other than that..the job is coming along nicely...

We are trying to keep everything cool and collected. We each have a set of silverware, a glass and a mug. We're using paper plates mostly, and at times we don't even wash the previous food off the bowls, just wipe it out and reuse.....I've taken to eating my veggies either frozen or out of the can. But it's OK...I'm on a diet anyway.

This remodeling stuff is not my favorite thing to do. I thought it would be fun and a challenge to get all the supplies and make the decisions on the products I was going to use. In fact, some of it has been fun, but more of it has been a drag. I now understand why designers get so much money. There's a lot to do when you remodel, even a small kitchen like the one I have. There are many more details than I realized.

I'm a child of the 60's. Give me a sleeping bag, a cup of tea, bread and cheese, and I should be happy...Yeah...right. I've gotten soft (either that or I've gotten smarter). I want all the cushy things available. I'll pay enormous sums of money to make my life easier. I don't want or need to "prove" how "cool" I can be living off the sticks and twigs of nature. I want all the techno gadgetry available, and I want it in my kitchen.

I've sold out...

So big deal...shoot me...but first let me get a cup of cappuccino.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Kitchen edition continued...part 3

Who knew there were so many choices of flooring? OK, so I knew there were an huge assortment to chose from, but honest to God, I didn't realize I was stepping into a class I like to refer to as, "Flooring 101" when I walked into the floor store...

The day I bought all the other essentials for this kitchen remodel, I decided I wouldn't go home until I had purchased the flooring. My original plan was to install tile or slate. I didn't want vinyl at all. I have nothing against vinyl, but I figured if I was cutting off one of my arms and legs for this remodel, I may as well go all the way and spring for something a bit more upscale.

I needed something that has some give when you walk on it for the sake of my last leg....I didn't need the pain that's associated with tile and slate. Also, Larry drops lots of things. I swear on all that's holy the statement, "like a bull in a china shop" was written for him (and for that matter his two brothers as well...Do you think it's genetic?). I decided I didn't need to be buying new dishes and glasses every week, and that's what would have happened had I purchased tile or slate.

My success in the faucet store and the tile place gave me the confidence to walk tall and straight into the flooring store. I was ready for whatever was thrown my way...

The colors accosted me when I opened the door. There were all hues of the rainbow screaming at me... Here's where I should tell you something about me and my problem. I have this thing about big box stores and warehouse stores. I get overwhelmed almost to the point of panic in these places of material consumption. I'm pretty simple when it comes to purchasing things. I buy quality stuff so it lasts (forever sometimes...). I like to shop in smaller shops where I don't feel as though I will be absorbed into a pallet of "stuff". I don't like to walk down the aisles of the big warehouse stores and feel like I'm in the Grand Canyon with cliffs all around me waiting to collapse on my head. I hate buying in bulk (although Larry LOVES to buy in bulk. I think I've discussed the "retired guys" transition from working guy to retired guy and their need to buy everything they can in bulk...think 96 rolls of toilet paper, 48 rolls of paper towels and giant bottles of detergents, that I can't lift...). Anyway, the bulk thing gets to me.

This store was all floors: tile, slate, vinyl roll/tile, hardwood, laminate,cork, carpet, bamboo, you name it, they had it. In each category there were subcategories to include everything mankind could think of to make the choice harder. You could choose color, thickness, quality, this was not going to be as easy as the last couple of purchases.

The owner of the shop, seeing my eyes with the "deer in the headlight" look, ambled over to me and gently sat me down at a desk. He asked me what I was looking for in a floor and all the other pertinent questions for making an educated decision on the flooring. The space I have is small so I was limited with some of the stuff in the store, but still there was still a bunch of things to choose from...I was getting that panic feeling...I could feel the heart start to pound, the beads of sweat were beginning to form on my brow, I started to look around for a paper bag in case I started to hyperventilate.

The owner was very helpful and let me collect myself before he proceeded to show me some of the best stuff he had to offer. At this point in the remodel all thoughts of cost have been thrown out the window. I'm at the point of not caring about costs, just get me something to put on the damned floor...To be honest I would love to go away for a month and come back to the job completed and all the stuff put back into the places it belongs. I walk back into the house after my month away and say, "Thank all that's holy, the job is done" and get on with my life. Unfortunately, that's not how you can do a remodel. It's work.

Do I care that some of the flooring comes from the wilds of some country I've never heard of in my life? Actually, I probably know where the country is, but the name has changed so many times I don't know the newest name. Frankly, when I look at a World map I'm still trying to find the Belgium Congo and some of the other African nations who change their names more than I change my socks. It's nice to know where the material comes from, I guess, although I'm not really impressed. My main concern is the floor is something that won't poison me, put me into cardiac arrest, or make me break out into scabs and running sores.

I'm all for "green" and all that, but I'll take something that's not so green...Saying that probably makes me a "bad" person these days, but come on, this is a freaking little 10 x 10 kitchen remodel. If I buy something that's not totally "green" is it going to make that much difference in life in America? I think not.

After careful thought, and understanding what I needed, the owner showed me what I wanted. I bought something that looked like slate, but wasn't. I was 80% "green" (wow) and floated on the floor. I still don't have a clue what that means. When someone says something is floating, all I can think of is a pool with a raft, me on the raft holding a plastic martini glass filled to the brim with vodka and relaxing in the sun. I don't get the concept of a "floating floor". But I bought it.

to be continued....

Friday, May 15, 2009

Kitchen edition continued

If you read the last blog, you'll know about my kitchen remodel. I've been educated in the finer points of the remodeling gigs. It's not fun.

Some of my friends are laughing at me. Most of them know me well enough to understand I'm just not into the perfect house, perfect decorating, perfect, perfect thing. I don't see the point. If the house is comfortable, clean (at least mostly clean), doesn't have springs poking out from the couch or chairs, has a place to put my tea cup and an ottoman, I'm happy.

I've said before, I would be more than happy to tell someone what color palette I like (that's another one of the those Home & Garden buzz words) I'd be more than pleased to go away for a month and return to everything completed. I just don't care that least that's what I say. However, truth be told, I am pretty fussy with some of this stuff. I sure know what I hate.

I went out the other morning with a mission. I told myself I would not return to my house until I had certain items needed for the completion of this remodel in my hand our on it's way. I gave myself 6 hours to complete the task.

Can I tell you how many distractions and delays I had? It was incredible. I HAD to get coffee in order to function (I forgot to add that to the equation), so a stop at DD's for coffee. Standing in line I thought I'd better get something to eat, since my plan was to do all this with no other food breaks. I bought something light and yummy. I turned around to find two of my friends excitedly calling me over to their table. I tried (honest to God) to tell them I was on a mission, and couldn't be deterred from it, but it didn't work...I sat down.

One and one half hours later I was on my way again. Oops, I forgot I promised Larry I would stop at the bank before completing my mission. At the bank, I was approached by a long time client of mine asking for some help on one of their missions for that day (I had a fleeting thought that perhaps I could pretend I was my twin (I don't have one, but I could lie) and try to flee. You know I couldn't do that.....

One hour later, after helping the poor guy with his stuff, I was on my way again. You understand , I had yet to accomplish one thing of my mission for the day.

Finally after a complete morning of ADD, (not my ADD but all the other folks who brought me into THEIR ADD) (attention deficit disorder-in case you don't know what ADD is...although in this day and age of acronyms you must be living under rocks or something), I arrived at my first destination.

The faucet place... I walked in, told the nice man my dilemma about the super expensive faucets I had seen and was not going down that road. The guy was very nice about my ranting, smiling and nodding(I know he's been down this road before with other women. He knew enough to let me rant). Finally, when I needed to take a breath, he took a chance and said, " I know what you're looking for and I'm going to show you...". I stopped him in his tracks and said, "Does the faucet have all the features I've asked about? Is it the finish I want? Does it cost a reasonable amount of money? Do you have it in stock so I can take it with me?" He looked at me and said, " Wow, you're really gun shy, huh?" By that point in the conversation all I needed to do was to nod in agreement. He said, "Affirmative! to all the questions". I said, "I don't need to see it. Wrap it up!". He did, I paid, I left. One thing done.

Next stop, tile store. I walked in, found a sales rep, said, "This is what I want. Do you have it?". Showing him my sample (this sample was another story for another time...believe me...). He looked at me and said, "I have others like you". "Stop! don't say another thing. I can't look at any other tile. I need to know if you have this one", as I held up the tile I wanted. He said, "Yes, we have that but....". "No", I interjected, "you just have to let me know you have this in stock and you have enough to do my job. Honest, that's all I want to know". He said, "Gun shy, huh?" "Yeah, yeah, I am. Now please, do you have the tile or not?" "Yes" Thank God, an affirmative answer. I said, "OK wrap it up". He did, I paid and on to the next place I went...

Floor store was the next place. Have you any idea how many floors you can buy out there in "floorland"? We shouldn't have so many choices in this country, it makes us crazy, at least it makes me crazy.

to be continued

Monday, May 4, 2009

Cooking Disasters 101

Look, I'm a pretty good cook, but I have a tendency to "experiment" at times. Most of the times my experiments are good, well, at least mostly they're edible and you won't die. Sometimes though, the experiment goes bad...A lot like the experiment with Frankenstein... I should explain.

I love farmers markets. I love to buy all the fresh new vegetables and sometimes there are some vegetables I don't know much about so I buy them to try. This doesn't happen often because there are not many I haven't tried and most of them I like...with exception of okra...I can't seem to find a way that tastes palatable to me. It seems slimy and slippery. It's a consistency thing with me. I'm sure there are ways to cook the stuff that would pass muster, but I haven't experienced it yet. I'm just not a fan.

This week was the first week the farmers were outside with their wares. I walked around the vendors looking at what they had to offer. Most of the stuff was green leafy stuff and I bought some of it, but there was one thing I knew about but I hadn't experimented with it before, so I had to buy it.

The stuff is called "Ramps", or spring onion, wild leeks and a number of other names. It can be found in the Northeast and in the mountains of Appalachia. They have Ramp festivals, why? I don't know but they do. It grows in wet lands. Ramps are a cross between onion and garlic. They're definitely more pungent than leeks. In fact some folks think they smell like a combination of garlic, onions and goat sweat... Believe me that's not too far off the mark. Normal people would read that description and shy away from buying it, but I'm the adventurous foodie, not quite as far out as Andrew Zimmer of Bazaar Foods, but I'll try things.

The farmer I bought the ramps from made sure they were meticulously clean. They grow in wet muddy ground so they're usually coated with mud. Cleaning them can be tedious. They looked beautiful. It's great to see the first veggies of Spring. You have to get these things out of the ground quickly because they turn nasty if left in the ground too long...That should also have given me a clue about the little green leafed devils...

I chopped one up and put it into a salad, one mind you, not a bunch, one. The salad was on the counter when Larry came into the kitchen and asked me if I had forgotten to shower that morning. (This was the second clue...). I laughed and said it was probably the onions in the salad he smelled. I wanted to belt him, but I've become kinder in my old age. That, and it hurts to punch someone.

We ate the salad, along with some other food and we lived. I figured I'd find some other recipes online for the green devils for the next night.It sounded like a rational thought.

Ah...potato, ramp soup, sounded pretty good. The base was chicken stock, so how bad could it be? Well, I'll tell you, it looked like normal soup, but the smell was...aromatic? noxious? putrid? I honestly don't know what to call it. It wasn't something that normal people should have to smell.

Larry had been downstairs, he came up and said, "Oh my God, what is that smell, and can we find it to kill it?' I didn't think it was that bad, but then I hadn't left the room for a while so I was used to the smell.

I served the soup along with crusty bread and a small salad. It looked pretty good. As I brought the soup spoon up to my lips, I got a whiff of the smell. Honest to God, it sort of smelled like paint thinner. Stupidly, I ate the soup. I ate half of the soup, to be honest. The first mouthful almost didn't go down. You know how that is, you put something in your mouth and something about the substance isn't right. Your brain is saying to you, "listen, numb nuts, you better not ingest that, cause I'm going to rebel". Did I listen? No, I didn't. (when will I learn?). Larry, good sport that he is, really tried to eat it, then I think God took mercy on him and caused him to drop the bowl and spill it all over himself. He got three spoonfuls into his body before the reprieve.

We both thought better of eating more of it. The toilet ate it. I thought we were going to be OK, until an hour later. All Hell let loose, as well as my bowels. My brain rebelled and told my bowels to expel the offending stuff from my body ASAP. My insides must really be scared of my brain because they listened to the brain and nearly exploded before I got to the bathroom...

Larry is still in hysterics, laughing his head off. The house smells like goats have been working out with weights and treadmills in an over heated gym, and haven't seen hide nor hair of any deodorant or showers for days. I'm hoping it's warmer tomorrow so I can air out the house.

"Ramps" that's what they're called, stay away from them. This has been a public service announcement!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Remodeling, your space? your head?

I think the Home and Garden network is out to get the American public. I have friends who now speak the, "H&G language". You know what I mean; "designing on a dime", "staging" their house, "bang for your buck","curb appeal",generation renovation". You get the picture.

It seems as though every sentence pops with a buzz word from the H & G channel. Most of my friends are far better "designers" than I am, and I'm intrigued by the lingo they use, so I figured, what the heck, I'm getting ready to remodel my kitchen, I'll sit and watch some of these shows to get some ideas.

There's no doubt some of the shows have some great ideas, if you're living in California, have an unlimited budget, or you're under 35. Since I am none of those, I find the programs a bit off putting. I thought the program that touted being able to design something new and different without selling your first born, would be the show for me. Unfortunately, I guess I don't fit the demographic they're trying to lure. I have a hard time trying to convince Larry that sprayed aluminum pie plates are the next artistic wave of the future. The folks who were doing the spraying on TV must have been in an enclosed room too long with the spray paint if they thought their "work" looked good. It didn't. My friends who watched the same program thought it was bit of a stretch as well, so I'm not that far off the mark with my comments.

I did watch a program with a host who showed how to redecorate a home in California. As I watched the show it had potential, I thought. The couple were not much younger than me, so I assumed they would have similar thoughts on decorating. I didn't think we'd be seeing spray painted pie plates on this show. I was correct.

This couple had moved quite recently from the confines of their apartment in New York City. They needed "space, to spread themselves, to understand who and what they were". (puke) They were moving lock, stock and barrel to the west. California was the place for them. Yep, they traded one coast for the other coast. Far enough, I thought, a need to change their lives. What I didn't know until after the break for commercials, was these folks were over the top wealthy. They didn't seem to think they were, but trust me they had big bucks.

I kept watching the show to see what they were going to do with this perfectly good home to make it, "more theirs". The house was 5000 square feet, of palatial interior, not to mention a gorgeous landscaped yard. Their furnishings gushed wealth. The biggest problem they faced was how to position their grand piano and the enormous vases they purchased in the bazaar in..Zanzibar? Morocco? South Africa? Who knew, who cared? I was trying to figure out where they had those things in their apartment in NYC. Then I realized, their idea of an apartment and my idea were obviously two very different concepts......

After watching the host, and the team she had helping, the furnishings were "staged" ( damn it, the lingo is catching), so the living room (the size of my whole house I might add-actually bigger than my house), was completed. I looked at the before and after shots they were showing and decided there was never going to be a time when I would have anything that looked remotely like these folks' house, so why was I watching this stupid show. I turned the TV off and decided to get real.

I do need to remodel my kitchen. I'm doing that right now. My kitchen is old and worn. It needs a big face lift. I sat down, pen in hand and wrote all the things that needed to be done. The list was pretty daunting, and I knew for sure this project was going to take experts to complete, not Larry and I. I needed help, and needed it before I started to buy things.

My friend is a designer. Her husband works with a contractor. They're honest, sometimes brutally, but that's what I needed. They agreed to help out. I had no idea what I was in for in this "little" project.

People tell you when you want to do something in your home you should go to houses and see what others do. They tell you to look in magazines, watch the H &G network (yeah, right....after I win the Lottery) and ask around. So I did all of that and came up with what I thought was a pretty good idea of what I wanted, how much I planned on spending and how I was going to finance this venture.

I didn't know how much stress and aggravation I was getting myself into. I wasn't totally naive, I knew there were going to be things that would blow my mind, I haven't lived under a rock these last years, so I had a pretty good idea of what I was facing. I thought. I have been educated this last couple of weeks. I knew NOTHING...nothing I tell you, to prepare me for the onslaught of what I was about to learn.

Are you aware you can buy kitchen faucets for $3500.00? and that's not the most expensive. $3500.00, that's what I paid for my first brand new car, for crying out loud. What makes a freaking faucet cost $3500.00? It's a piece of bent pipe, with a spout, a handle with a valve to turn the water on and off (probably made with some other kind of not so showy metal and plastic- you know it's plastic, and you know it's made in China -and they're not getting $3500.00 for making the damned thing!). How can it be worth $3500.00? That was my first eye opener. There were many more to come.

After the shock of the faucets, I went on the the cabinets...The ones the contractor picked out were OK, but they were very similar to the ones that came with my house 40 years ago. I felt I could spring for something a bit more eye catching. My first foray into the world of cabinetry was like Alice going into Wonderland.

The cabinet salesman (and he was a man-a man I have decided was a savior in jeans) led me by the hand to the books of cabinet listings. He then asked me a bunch of questions about what I wanted from the cabinets (this was more like an interview for a job-or marriage). I was having a hard time understanding the cabinets and I had to be a good fit in order to be happy. Where was I, on some far off planet? This certainly wasn't what I expected from Lowe's. He explained all the variations of cabinetry, the whys and wherefores of options (who knew?), what the cabinet could do for me, and what I could expect from the cabinet. I was clearly out of my depth. I needed my designer friend. I was in the glazing over of the eyes stage. I just about jumped up to run screaming from the store. I felt the old anxiety attacks creeping into my body. I bent my head down, taking deep cleansing breaths, as I said I would be back to continue at another time when I could control my emotions.

I stayed in the parking lot a few minutes to collect my thoughts. At one point I thought my kitchen didn't need to be remodeled. It was fine with the torn wallpaper, the cabinets that were shimmed to level, and the sagging base cabinets. Who cared if the door of the corner cabinet fell off if you grabbed it wrong? Yes, I could live another bunch of years without the dreaded remodel.

I drove home, happy with the thought I would live another day, and be happy with my worn, but loved kitchen. I felt I could rest easy in that knowledge, until, I walked into the house and looked at the kitchen. The door askew from the casing, the wallpaper looking torn and scotch taped, the floor with cuts in it as though some neighborhood toughs were using it for a knife contest. I had to pull myself up and look at my reality called, the kitchen.

I awakened the next day filled with anticipation and hope. I knew I could do this, I would do this, I would be the conqueror. I am woman hear me roar!

My designer friend, Mary, sat with me as a repeated everything I learned from the Lowe's savior in jeans... She listened intently as my inadequacies poured from my lips. She patted my hand, held my hand when she thought I needed it, and spoke gently and quietly telling me it was going to be all right. We'd get through this together.

We walked into Lowe's as though puffy white clouds were showing us the path. The sky was blue, the air crisp and clear. We were on a mission and by God we would prevail. The savior in jeans was at our side in an instant with his books, his knowledge and his ever present smile...

With Mary's help, the savior in jeans and my own common sense, we ordered cabinets. Then on to the flooring, the tile back splash and the dreaded faucets.......I thought I was in the clear. I could do this. I was well equipped to conquer this remodel. I WAS woman. Then I found out I had to purchase all the cabinetry hardware. Who knew it was a separate purchase? I thought you had to pick from two or three choices and it came with the cabinets. WRONG!

So...I'm now going through websites and books to see what kind of cabinet pulls and handles are available. You thought faucets were expensive? Ha! I think I'm going to climb into bed and pull over the covers...

to be continued....