Boxed Out

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I had vowed to never move again. I was 9.5 months pregnant that last time. The doctor told me not to lift any boxes. She commanded me to sit in the new house and point to where I wanted others to move things.

While I packed many boxes, I followed doctor’s orders and did not move any furniture. I unpacked most of the stuff and put the stuff away. I climbed up on chairs to do the putting away thing.

I painted the brown pegboard white. The Spouse caught me, standing on a cafe chair with a paint brush poised. There was no stopping me. There was a baby to be born. I didn’t have much time.

After the moving madness was done, two weeks before our first child came into this world, I announced to The Spouse–and with all imaginable drama that a very pregnant person can conjure–that I was never moving again. This was it. Throw my corpse in the yard when I’m done with this life. Done. Finito. Fini.

And, today, here I am. Twenty five years later. Sitting among a pile of boxes that need to be packed up. Because I’m never leaving this house.?.

Two weekends ago I started packing. I packed three boxes with books. I took some I wasn’t keeping to the free little library. And others that I don’t want and that don’t belong to me are in a pile to be reviewed by The Spouse. So I packed three boxes. In the grand scheme, three boxes is the equivalent of zero.

Last weekend, I was going to really get stuff done. I had a goal of packing ten boxes. I emptied a bookshelf and the media cabinet (except for those four things I left). I cleared the mantels of things. I transferred a box full of bar and glassware to a neighborhood victim who succumbed to my listserve offer. I said it was free, but she had to take whatever I put in the box.

I packed up two “medium” boxes with dishes that became so heavy before I filled them I had to switch to topping them off with table cloths. Medium wasn’t strong enough for what I needed to load.

I emptied the server in the dining room, mostly shifting items for later packing. Doesn’t show much progress moving things from a shelf to a staging spot. I know this.

I packed eight more boxes and successfully dumped out about four more, so, if I am generous to myself, I exceeded my goals.

Except I look around the accretion stuff over of the Big Guy’s time on Earth and realize that I have done absolutely nothing.

Ab. So. Lute. Ly. Nothing.

On the other hand, all will be done. Just in the nick of time. Because that is exactly how things happen. In real life. I have a few more weeks.

Windows and Opportunity

East wall of the house with the big windows in the dining room, the bay at the living room and the picture window on the front.

Our neighbors, on the next block, had their door removed. They had gone to work, and at 10 a.m., the cleaning lady came by to find the door with jam meticulously disengaged from the threshold and leaned against the brick wall, leaving a gaping entry. When they replaced that door–after reconstituting a bunch of laptops, TVs and a clarinet–they installed an insanely heavy duty door that would require an army of super Orcs to remove. It’s an illegal door in NYC.

This makes me feel incredibly lucky that nobody has kicked in our borderline decrepit front door, the lower-middle third punctuated by a fault line. Maybe the luck was boosted by a wild animal howling and snarling in a vicious baritone on the other side of the door. Nobody said The Beast didn’t do his job well.

Today we got to pick out door knobs and locks for a new door. Compared to our current non-descript brass pulls, the new rig is positively sexy. The door wasn’t in the original scope, but we really needed it.

The windows weren’t on my list either.

Actually I like these old windows. Almost all of them open, and almost as many stay open on their own. There are screens and storms for the hot and the cold. They are a little heavy and make a squeaky woosh sound on open and close. Sometimes I need to get leverage from above–like standing on a chair to push it closed. But only sometimes. And only on two or three of them. There are lots of windows. Oh, and did I tell you that none are standard sizes. Glorious. Custom windows. 

The Spouse was hot for new windows, though. I think it’s the Eagle Scout in him. You know. Camping and loving the earth and recycling and being energy smart. His Christmas is Earth Day.

I’m less jazzed. Camping to me is staying in a hotel without a closet door. You know, just hangers in a nook? And thin towels. 

New windows are so tight. They squeal versus swoosh. You work them along their hermetic guides to vacuum into an airless seal. They lock steadfastly in place with little plastic doodads. Keeps out the cold. Keeps out the heat. I get that that makes sense.

I’m not against energy efficiency, but I will NOT see these windows pay for themselves. Perhaps that’s not the point. The ancient siding is coming down. The outside of the windows are an unholy mess. New windows simply make sense. I can be good with that. 

[And mark this well, Loyal Reader. This is how scope creep happens, not with a bang but via the inevitable whisper of air held at bay by glass.]

Next, I need to learn about windows to make a choice. They have “features,” and not just finishes. You can tilt them so you can clean them. (I don’t do windows.) There are e-value and u-value. Casings. Sashes. Glazes. Rails. Latches. Layers.

I can have wooden windows. And I’m making an investment for decades. And, mostly, The Spouse will be so happy with them.

The design-build team is recommending different window vendors for the basement versus the upstairs. I’m ready to learn why at my Spring term accelerated Intro To Windows 101. I’ll let you know if anything is interesting.

Bye, Calypso

One hundred and seventy eight pages of documents to sign--signatures indicated by colorful sticky flags.

A friend is almost a year ahead of us in the renovation journey. Journey is her word.

She’s been at this way longer than us, which makes sense given the (huge) scope of her project. But her identification of journeys seems to have some universality. She has named the design journey, the finance journey, the downsize journey and the journey of the build. There may be more as they are revealed to her. I’m sitting at the foot of her throne of wisdom, waiting for her to drop more knowledge.

Yesterday, we did our finance journey. Or, at least, a major part.

We had one-hundred and seventy eight pages of forms and contracts and acknowledgements and clauses and hold harmlesses and a smattering of goofiness that all needed to be signed.

So, today, I will tell you some of the things we agreed to.

  • We won’t run a meth lab on the property.
  • We won’t do any nuclear energy experiments, either.
  • We will buy insurance to protect against floods. And locusts. And fire hail. We didn’t need flood insurance, so no protection against a river of blood.
  • We will show how we would sign our names with and without middle initials.
  • I wouldn’t demonstrate how I would sign my name misspelled. Seemed counter-productive.
  • We initialed four different documents that said we saw four different credit reports. Each of us did that. That was sixteen of the pages.
  • We gave our lender permission to ask the IRS information about us that we already provided to them from the IRS.
  • We did that a second time, too, but this time as a married couple. So there was a total of three forms saying the same thing to the IRS about information that was already in the file.
  • We said we were not terrorists. And this is true because we signed a form with our drivers license numbers.
  • We signed a paper saying we were married. I did laugh out loud for that one, especially since the Spouse refused to acknowledge our relationship on Facebook for years.
  • We put our initials on a bunch of pages. The Spouse dogged me for missing one. The notary found one the Spouse missed and let me pay his snark back. I liked that guy.

There were many more pages and affirmations and agreements and promises in the finance journey. Yet it is all simply the prelude to the writing of the checks. Now, signing those lines feel like the real Odyssey. Next journey, up. I hope we didn’t piss off Poseidon.

Origin Story

The kitchen, sketched out in its inglorious glory.

Truth be told, this was not my first rodeo. I had emergency surgery twice to complete my pregnancies. Those boys always wanted to do things the hard way. And then, a dozen-plus years later, I had six pins put in my ankle to ensure it didn’t hang at a bad angle after my free fall.

Perhaps the first two didn’t count. Both of those were epidurals. I did have general anesthesia for the orthopedic surgery. I had been knocked out for oral surgery before, but it wasn’t general. The ankle doctor warned me that I would be intubated.

This translated to waking up in a a new place with the worst case of cotton mouth that I have ever experienced. And then they gave me crackers!?! I guess to get my system back in flow. I took a nibble. I had absolutely zero moisture in my mouth so the slightly salty cracker dust sat between my cheek and my gum like a very dry and very heavy sand. I tried to float it away with apple juice, but instead the sakrete expanded and solidified into an immobile brick. I had to work it out with more juice and my pinky finger. And then all I wanted was a toothbrush–except dry mouth and toothpaste was almost worse.

This time, I was going under to get a tattoo (if you want, you can catch up with this part of the story here). I was there, cheerily in the morning. I was cheery because I needed to be. It made the entire process better for the surgical team, and being a frightened mess served no purpose.

The Spouse and I were called into pre-op, which was an eight or nine square feet space delineated by a bed in the center and a surrounding set of curtains that made a metal swoosh sound as they were drawn aside. I stepped into my bay, was given a not-cute outfit and a set of instructions. I placed my street clothes into the clear plastic bags with drawstring tops and snuggled my feet into the surgical socks with gripper bottoms likely required by the risk manager wishing to avoid unnecessary patient falls on the cold slick floors.

I wasn’t walking around, though. I was on my cot with my jacquard hospital blanket tucked under my elbows. I had my surgical gown on, but didn’t need to wear my green mesh hat until later.

Pretty much everyone in the hospital verbally verified my name and birthdate as they spied the data printed on the plastic bracelet around my wrist. The first year resident put in my IV. He totally blew it and got blood all over my bed and uncleverly hid it under my hand. He then had me apply direct pressure to stem the flow until the weary nurse fixed his mess. She did make him clean the floor.

There were additional residents and medical students, nurses and nurse anesthesiologists, techs and transporters, my doctor and his assistant and the anesthesiologist herself. They all name-checked and proofed me.

Everyone was very polite and, more importantly, kind. I teased the youngins and joked with the pros. The Spouse shuffled between the single guest chair and the space just outside the curtains, depending on the staff directions. I liked it when he was closer. I think the staff did, too.

We did our schtick–where we trick everyone into thinking that we had deep affection for each other via our cruel and cutting banter. There really wasn’t reason to be too worried about this procedure, but it was the start of a series of procedures with more worry. But today, we were keeping it light.

It was close to showtime. My gurney was flanked by the transporter, a pair of nurses and the anesthesiologist who stood at my right. She patted her breast pocket.

“This is the good stuff,” she smiled. I didn’t know there was any “good stuff.”

Turns out they give you some pre-juice before wheeling you into the operating room. She explained that the syringes in her pocket didn’t completely knock you out, but relaxed the patient. I would be awake but wouldn’t remember anything.

I was a bit suspicious. “Is this like some kind of truth serum?” Everyone laughed, the nurses, the transporter, the Spouse and me.

“Naw. We won’t quiz you.” She pumped the happy juice into my IV and I woke up two seconds later in the recovery room. Well, it wasn’t two seconds in a literal sense, but that was all I knew.

I had my apple juice and skipped the snack. While I avoided the dry crackers, I did have real moisture in my mouth. After a short stint, I was unhooked from the monitors. I changed back into my civilian clothes. Not long after, I was dropped off at home for an uneventful day, and the Spouse was able to squeeze in a half-day at work.

That evening, when we sat down for dinner, we went through notable moments that day–the funny socks, the charming nurse, the failed resident and the happy juice.

“Hey, did I say anything after I got that shot?”

The Spouse looked at me for a second before he answered. “Why, yes, you did.” The way he said it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up a little.

“I did? What did I say?”

He paused again. “Well, as they were wheeling you away, you pointed your finger at me and said, ‘You will not stop me from redoing the kitchen this time!’ And all the women around your bed [there were only women] looked at me in horror and said that I better get you that new kitchen.”

Whoa and WHAT? I had no idea where that came from. Really and truly, I didn’t. This hadn’t been a major point of discussion or contention. That morning, I was going to have a procedure to mark the tumor in my mouth. I had this cancer shit on my mind, and of all things, I talk about a stupid kitchen remodel?

And, Loyal Reader, three years later, that’s how we got here.

End of Book I

The front yard and front porch. Stylized.

It is officially real. After pouring over the plans. After nitpicking the locations of each electrical outlet and switch by posting up in the hall and peering past what would be darkness but would be lighter because it will be like that.

After staring and staring and staring, again, at the simply white versus white cabinet paint and shuffling those samples along with the tile swatches–in this case white v. biscuit–from dining room to kitchen, from sunlight to cloudy day, to overhead fixture “on,” only to full-circle back to the original selection that was recommended by our guide. 

After sweating the doors that I couldn’t tell the difference between for an extra thousand dollars. After learning that paint selection comes at the very end. And, after kicking the decision about our floors down the road. 

After all that, we signed the contract. It was the contract and the drawings and the biggest check I ever wrote out myself, accompanied by a handshake to seal the deal all pulled close to my chest. To my center. 

It’s the big checkpoint in the game. We have reached a new, boss level, and there’s no going back. Unless we start a new game. But why would we? I like this player, and the progress is in the right direction. 

And, importantly, everyone is still breathing. Sounds like we should play on, player.  Boom shakalaka. 

End of Eden

The sum total time f my counter space with tonight's dinner prep all over it. It is literally a 24 square inch patch.
Actual entirety of my work counter.

I’ve been working on a postage stamp space in my kitchen for a generation. I have used all of my wiles to maximize the chopping, measuring, mixing, cleaning and plating space. I stage in the sink. I manipulate pots and pans and cauldrons across the stove when I need to hold something. I rotate mis en place on the counter, on the storage cart behind me, in the dish drainer, in an open cabinet on top of the dishes, and, occasionally, when it’s not in use, inside the oven.

Today, I just might have hit a wall that I knew not of.

I knew not because I was managing in what is. When the kitchen designer asked me what I didn’t like in my kitchen–what didn’t work–I looked at her blankly. I actually never thought of my kitchen in that way.

Sure, I’ve broken a glass or burned my wrist or spilled a plate full of food on occasion. But these faults have been exceedingly rare.

Yes, I cook many days during the week. And, yes, I enjoy trying new foods and new techniques. And, yes, I’ve hosted many dinners. And, no, I didn’t think it was any trouble. I was simply cooking in the kitchen I had. Nothing to complain about, because I got it all to work. If it didn’t work, then there would be reason to complain.

Today, I almost lost it. I didn’t have enough room. I was working in layers. There were piles upon piles of workspaces in order to mimic more than the less than two square feet of workspace. It’s actually smaller than that, since the kettle and dish soap and olive oil and salt are permanent tenants on that patch. Why don’t I move them? Because there is no place else for them to go.

In fact, lots of things have no place to go. And when there is no home, things mill around like a grade school class without seats. Chaos.

I’ve been plotting where things would go in the updated kitchen. With it’s new cabinets, ample drawer space and new island that, by itself, is six times bigger than my current counter space. I stand at today’s sink and think about turning around to line up four or six or eight plates, plopping down the rice or potatoes on each and then the green beans, next, the chops or steaks or thighs and, finally, spooning the relish or sauce–all without tying myself up in the pretzel contortions to which I am expert and accustomed.

I stand near the door where there will be a dishwasher that I’ll remove the used utensils and bowls to–rather than figure out how to get enough space in the sink so I can get the full salad bowl just waiting for it’s vinaigrette out of the work’s way.

The imagining has been fun. I’ve been anticipating the efficiency and ease of a right-sized and right-spaced kitchen. But not today. Today I was frustrated.

Today, I was annoyed at the high level of tightrope walking and high wire balancing that I perform every time I try and get a good meal on the table.

If the architect asked me what bothered me about my kitchen today, I’d tell her that it isn’t the kitchen that I will have. I am dissatisfied with my culinary life because now I see myself in a new environment. One that is not so difficult.

I’m hungering for something better than what I’ve had that I didn’t actually feel was that bad. It’s a loss of innocence.

I feel like I’ve taken a bite from the apple. I like apples.

Season Opener

The staircase to the upstairs in the center hall.

This house is bright. The light was a big gain from our first house which allowed little sunshine through its windows.

Our house is a bungalow with a wide covered porch. The big front picture windows welcome the rays. The bays in the front rooms and the radiator to ceiling glass portals in the dining room provide sun patches for the Beast to follow throughout the day. The light is invited into the hall by the south facing window in our bathroom. The house loves the light.

When that bathroom door is closed, though, when someone showers, shaves or shits, there is only darkness in the center hall.

Much of the plaster is crumbling through the house, and I bet it started in the hall. Or there was some god awful wallpaper that couldn’t be removed. I think this because someone, before we moved here, covered the walls in the hallway with dark brown paneling from floorboard, ten feet up, to the ceiling.

Once, during a party, a guest pointed out that the perpetrator of the darkness used standard eight foot panels, capped them with a piece of trim, then finished with scrap. While they did an excellent job in lining up the panels, the walls now seemed flimsy to me.

Over the years, some of the panels have come a bit loose. There may or may not be a hole or two that may or may not have been delivered by a boot or a fist by brothers who may or may not have been in a brawl. But damage or no, the dark paneling just doesn’t make sense.

But we aren’t so simple. No. We. Are. Not.

Of course we’re tearing out the depressing paneling. That will be amazing. But not as amazing as opening up the stairwell.

Bungalows are a either one story or a story and a half. Our stairs to the second floor have been enclosed just behind a door and ensconced in thick plaster–like a secret elevator shaft without the elevator. The door will be replaced with air and the wall is being subbed out by an open railing. I will be able to look down from upstairs to the hall. And so will the sun. The house will be flooded with light from its center. I think this will be the aspect of the remodel with the most impact.

More than increasing the kitchen size by 50%. More than adding another full bath. More than the new windows across the back of the house. More than the new HVAC and powered up electrical.

Just you wait. This new staircase, with it’s come hither look, is the refresh. It’s going to be grand.