Overbite

Sight line From the living room through the dining room to the back door of the kitchen.

“What do you think about moving the door over a little?” He asked the question very gently. I guess I’d been pretty adamant about leaving things as built. Perhaps a notch or two above adamant. I think that’s why he just barely poked the bear.

I don’t know much about the history of architectural trends. I don’t know how homes were designed in 1915, what the fashion dictated. I do know that the window placement on the two sides of the center hall mirror each other. There are bays in the front rooms and twin trios of windows surrounded by the impressive frames in the middle rooms. The rooms themselves are not identical with an array of fireplaces, closets and some room transitions being archways versus doors.

I never noticed that the door between the dining room and kitchen was off center. I mean I knew, because of furniture placement, but I didn’t notice. The fact that there are non-standard nooks, bends or placements is part of the charm. Like the gap in Michael Strahan’s smile or Eva Mendes’ overbite, imperfections that are unique and memorable.

I’m obviously not a designer, trained in the beauty of symmetry. I’m not a mathematician seeking the beauty in a balanced equation. I’m not a quilter like my mother-in-law who made a coverlet that matched perfectly when folded. Although I can spy a double space in a sea of words, I sometimes forget how many scoops of coffee I put in the pot. I still add water and drink it. I’m okay with a little slop.

I had a very delightful colleague who would place four pens on her desk each morning. A red pen, a black pen, a green pen and a blue pen perfectly aligned, parallel to the edge of her desk, just above her blotter. She would remove the caps and carefully snap them to the top of the pens. Sometimes when I was meeting in her office, I would nonchalantly use one and return it haphazardly. She would reset it within about 45 seconds–even after she realized I was teasing her. She’d look up at me from above her glasses and underneath her curly bangs when she caught herself. We’d both laugh.

I don’t know where my pens are, and I have a lot of colors. I hang my kitchen utensils on any old empty hook. They don’t have a specific place to go. Sometimes I wear two different socks. My right eye is shaped a little different from my left eye. I’m randomly random.

I like things a little unbalanced–to have to solve a puzzle that may not have a neat solution.

The door stays off center. We won’t have a clear line to the back porch. I like that. That’s how the house was built. I’m centered by being a bit off-center, by imperfection.

So what makes an overbite a little cute?

The Blob

Our front yard started with a big honking For Sale sign (which I had The Spouse rip out of the ground as soon as we closed on the house because I didn’t want to give that idiot realtor even one second of advertisement) and a little bit of landscaping. There were two or three hostas, a few mounds of Sweet William and a small boxwood. The shrubbery was about two feet square and maybe eighteen inches tall.

Over the years the boxwood grew. The Spouse had a dull set of clippers he’d use to keep it in shape, but the plant was sneaky. It would always grow a little more than he trimmed. Slowly, it crowded out the hostas. It grew tall and wide, deep green and bushy. Grew being the key word.

I’m not sure when I started calling it The Blob. Maybe it was when I noticed that the hostas had been swallowed up.  The porch might have been next. But The Spouse was confident that he could control the creature. I was less certain. I didn’t like it. No, I did not like it one bit.

The Blob soon engulfed the entire front yard. There was a very narrow path, less than a little trail’s worth, around it. The Blob grew taller than me. Eventually it became impossible to reach to trim the middle of the monster. It overtook the view from the picture window in the toy room. Porch sitters were hidden from sidewalk strollers. Feral cats, raccoons, oppossums and flesh eating spiders (I’m less sure about this last one) lurked in and around it.

My dislike for this thing, this Blob, grew along with it.

Last winter–when we had a real winter with cold weather and snow–the Beast went mad when we stepped off of the porch. There was a few inches of snow on the ground. He furiously sniffed near the Blob and suddenly bolted. There was something loitering behind that stupid Blob. I was on the ground and he dragged me  to the back of the Blob. I was screaming “STOP,” punctuated by short, guttural words that rhymed with truck.

The Blob didn’t eat me, but it could have. I was about ready to sacrifice the Beast to the monster. Instead the Beast, surprised to see me on the ground in the snow, thought it was a game. I did not find it entertaining. No, not one bit.

Once, in the Spring, I saw a trio of little sparrows that were being chased by the neighborhood hawk fly into the sanctuary of its boughs. And then there were the nests and little eggs that sheltered in the arms of its nursery.

Still, it had to go. Since it was beautiful and healthy, someone said that it was valuable. I tried to give it away. There were a few window shoppers. They looked underneath its branches and were shocked to see that it grew from a one root, a single specimen.  Unfortunately, nobody could figure out how to get it out.  Well, one guy said he’d need a crane. No takers.

So today, Julio and his crew came by. In less than thirty minutes, it was gone. Twenty-five years of growth disappeared in less time than a lunch break. Bye Blob. It was you or the yard. I really won’t miss you, but I am still sad to see you go. Funny how you can have both of those feelings at once.

The spot is readied for a birch tree, with that beautiful smooth gray-white bark. The tree will contribute to the replenishment of the city’s tree canopy. It’s native and helps with the water table. It’ll shade the front of the house, host some nests and allow space for ground greenery.

I’m thinking hostas. Maybe some Sweet William. Nothing invasive though. We know where that leads.

Connecting Rooms

I was committed to staying within the current footprint and floorplan. I was okay, and, in fact always planned, taking out the pantry wall. The pantry was a rabbit hole with a bottom that we never could actually get to. Stuff piled up. I’m sure this is a problem that could have been organized out of, but opening the kitchen and gaining those fifty-four inches would add a third more space to cook in. And a better cooking experience is a major rehab goal.

The rest of the house would keep the historical layout. Center hall. Three rooms on the right. Living-dining-kitchen on the left. The bathroom at the end of the hall needed an internal reconfiguration, but there was enough space. I always loved how the rooms interconnect and how the house flows.

Over the years, the front room went from “toy room” to TV/game room and den. We still call it the toy room, to the dismay of our adult children. Old habits.

The back bedroom had been our guest room (except when I was recovering from various surgeries). We referred to it by the name of my sister-in-law, on account of her living with us for her first semester of law school until she divined that the benefit of free rent (to be fair, she insisted on paying us) and family meal was poorly balanced against a precocious four-year-old who wandered in asking a cross-ex worth of questions during reading for torts or contracts. We understood her escape. She was honored with the room name for a decade, until the former four-year-old-now-fourteen decided that he didn’t want to share a room with his brother and slowly assumed that space as his own.

That middle room was long the office of The Spouse. Computer towers, two phone lines and the screech of a 2400 baud modem electronically defined a space full of contract negotiations and a highly complex hiring hall. The Spouse had to be very efficient–more contracts meant more jobs to fill. More jobs meant more itinerant members with their schedules and last minute trips as well as the occasional times in rehab or jail. A merger and some technical changes unchained him from the desk and landline. And the room accreted into a huge closet.

I moved boxes from my last office in there. He piled up old briefcases that were never quite emptied. There were boxes of photos that I didn’t trust to the dank basement. The board games we maybe might play, boxes of computer discs, laser discs and record albums that got moved there when we got rid of the old wall unit and turntable. A collection of serving pieces and table cloths. A bunch of unidentifiables stacked haphazardly on the long buffet server that didn’t fit in the dining room. Random pieces of furniture. A ladder that didn’t get put back downstairs. A set of crutches and the recording rig that the Big Guy used to record and produce music.

When the proposed design relocated the bathroom to take a hunk out of that room, a bit of a shudder shot across my shoulders and down my spine. But I was gaining five more kitchen feet and opening light to the back of the house. We weren’t doing anything in that room, anyway. We didn’t need it as a bedroom in any future configuration. But we were losing that room. My pulse stepped up and my tongue was too dry to lick my lips.

The architect swapped the master suite idea for a narrow office configuration. We could definitely use that–I had carved out a corner in the toy room. Then she drew in two pocket doors, reestablishing a direct connection between the three rooms. The linking of space that first drew me to into the spell of this house. And my heart slowed to a regular pace, the moisture returned to my mouth. Deep breath. Okay. Let’s do it.

Old Pine

Some very, very, very well-worn floorboards.

“So, we’ll try to save the floorboards.”

Uh, no. Wrong answer. We will save the floorboards.

This is an old house. More than a century old. These are the original floors. And yes, they are a bit distressed. I like ’em that way.

I am not so crazy about the grooves that catch crumbs and fill up with junk when I pass the broom over them. I have discovered, though, that if I quickly and smartly sweep back and forth in the grooves, the gunk comes out. And then, if I push the rubble quickly, I can brush the detritus into the dust pan.

[Actually, moving quickly doesn’t help. The stuff still falls in the crevices. I just do it quickly because it seems like it should be more effective. Then I sweep it up and out of the cranny and move it along to the next cratered board and the next until I get to the lesser-damaged area. Thought I’d let you know that I wasn’t really fooling myself.]

The finish is shot on most of the exposed wood. The wood under the area rugs looks great. Under the radiators? Fabulous. Where we walk, where the dining room chairs slide back and forth, the hallway run where the Beast chases what’s left of his Kylo Ren doll? Pretty well unfinished. There is no fear of sliding and falling if you run through the house in stocking feet. But watch for splinters. And for the nailheads.

The morning sun streaming through the dining room window will still reflect a bit on some parts of the floor. Closer to the walls where there is less traffic for sure, but there is a gleam beneath the arch between the dining and living rooms.

While I have been derelict in my care for them, I love these old floors. They hardly creak, but a few spots do. There is a decent-sized hole in the Big Guy’s room, where we had to put a big board so that the bed leg wouldn’t fall through. The floor by the front door is a hot mess, with embedded pine needles from Christmases past stuck deep in rain and snow damaged trenches.

But I don’t want new floors. I don’t want the house to look new. Like the lines at the corners of my eyes or the gray streaks in The Spouse’s locks or the loose skin around our middles, there is no reason to erase all signs of time. A little bit of yoga, an eye cream that delivers more hope than results, a slightly shorter haircut that minimizes the amount of silver will get us through.

These floors. I don’t want them to look new. I just want them to last longer.

Moby Dick

The east wall run the current kitchen. Yeah. For reals. It's a stylized filter so you don't think it's so bad.

One of the pre-identified risks in this project is the possibility that I will not stay married. A disruption of this magnitude could fray the loosely woven cloth, nay, the net, of our union. At our core, the Spouse and I are incompatible.

To get this particular project moving–this project that has sat simmering, fermenting, fomenting and even festering for nigh on a generation–I extracted a promise. It was really quite clever of me. I asked that for my birthday present, the Spouse would give me boss status on the project. Final say on any disputed decision.

It was helpful that we were at the beach, that there was a post-sun beer or two and a lovely bottle of red that we drained along with grilled sea and farm fresh fare. With the Beast splayed on the cool tiles of the oddly large and mildly dysfunctional rental kitchen, his baleful hound dog eyes tracking the slow merry-go-round of the ceiling fan and with the red sun flaming the window over the sink (with a view of a yellow brick corporate mall that included the Piggly Wiggly) signaling the end of my birthday, a “yes” was extracted.

Yesterday we saw the kitchen elevations. And I wasn’t blown away. I was a little surprised. I thought that I would hear choirs of angels. Nope. No celestial movement.

Kitchen elevation of east wall. All cabinets.
It was the great white wall. A wall of cabinets that stretched to the very top of our ten foot ceilings. A great wall of white that ensconced and cocooned the rangetop. I railed against it. I was Ahab who needed to destroy that great white monster.

Working with the architect, we moved some storage blocks off of the counter. We replaced some closed cabinets with open shelves. We decided that the bottom cabinets would not be white. It was a great solution. We picked out some stuff, scheduled the next meeting and went about our day. But still, I wasn’t settled.

After work, I walked into the kitchen and imagined the storage space at the top of the room. What would I put in those cabinets? I’d need a real ladder to reach them. I stretched my hand above my head, as far as I could. I opened the current cabinets and stood on my tippy toes. I could barely touch the third shelf of these low ones. I could neither see nor touch anything in the back. I looked up to the ceiling again. It looked like a shear rock wall that I had no idea how to summit. I felt closed in. I felt claustrophobic.

I shook off the future kitchen plans and turned to the current meal plan. I worked on getting dinner together in my borderline decrepit kitchen. It was comfy. Most everything was in reach–mostly because the footprint was confined. Stuff was either right there or not in the room. But still, it was manageable. I was managing.

I plated the arugula, topped it with the burrata and scattered halves of heirloom cherry tomatoes and a few red onion strings around the mound of cheese. I crushed black pepper over the top and rained sea salt. I sliced the leftover roasted chicken and placed it on the other side of the plate. I drizzled a lemony pesto sauce on the chicken and finished the burrata and arugula with olive oil and a drop of the good balsamic.

The Spouse and I sat down to eat. I poured the wine that he had opened. I said that I wasn’t sure about the big wall of white. The Spouse said that he was surprised when I didn’t object to the enclosed exhaust hood. He was surprised because when I showed him images of what I liked, a hearth surround was not on the list. In fact, he noted that I liked the clean lines of an exposed stainless steel hood reaching to the ceiling and disparaged the hearths fashioned to look like a pizza oven or a fireplace.

He knew this because when I swiped through dozens of pictures that I amassed online, those times when I thought his nodding head was a signal to move along, he was actually paying attention. And that his nods indicated that he understood. 

Now I saw the white monster in its true form. It was the closed-in range. I wanted freedom to cook and create, but the design of the cabinetry was closing in.

But here’s the thing. I didn’t know he was listening. But he was. And he fixed it. What a dope. Me, that is.

So, really, the secret to our marriage is that we are incompatible. At least that’s what I say it is. And I’m in charge of this project.

Autonomy

A shot f some tile samples---black and white hexagon, if you must know--and a snippet from the kitchen drawings.

Dear Lord Jesus, please. Please help me. Please help me breathe. Because I think that I might have stopped. I’m not sure. And I’m worried that it might have been long enough to have killed some brain cells. You know, those cells that let you think. Like those ones that are responsible for decisions.

Like, do I like the tile pattern? Sure. It’s awesome. So how about it in the bathroom? No. It’s nice, but I was thinking of something simpler.

Like, you said storage was important so we have cabinets to the ceiling. But how will I get the platter from the ten-foot cabinet? Oh, there’s a ladder we can store in the toe kick. And it’s cool because we can have it so when you kick it slides out.

And, there I am, wondering, what the hell is a toe kick???  Oh. That.

But my guides are amazing. They are keen listeners and they are interpreters, too. They are accommodating and kind. They make me feel smart instead of stupid.

And then I’m home. Am I still stupid? I wonder if I’m like a baby who demands his way and feels a win because a wise adult pointed me in a direction that I thought was my own. That was what I wanted, wasn’t it? And I am content–like a thumb sucker with half closed eyes, aimlessly and with direction curling a lock of hair around my opposite index finger. Wait. Did I just shit myself?

Living on a Prayer

A colorful rendition of a soon to fail, or perhaps failed, tub faucet kit.

So here’s what happens when you’ve been planning to do an upgrade for like, I don’t know–let’s just say, maybe like–twenty five years? Like literally since you bought the house that you walked into and it took your heart into it’s wood floors and interconnected rooms that made you feel like a child. The house that has windows that speak to you in tongues. Those windows that refract the light that streaks across those shiny wood floors that have been dulled over years of the tredding of sneakers and boots and paws and slippers and cleats and high heels and loafers. The house that you moved into and told The Spouse that this was your final resting ground. Like throw my corpse in the backyard when I die resting.

The house with the unacceptable kitchen that you ended up cooking for seventy revelers–actually between 55 and 100–for the past twenty five Christmases. The kitchen with the stove that your Dad saw when he met his four-week-old, Big Guy grandson and immediately took you to Sears to replace the 1940s stove. Really it looked super retro-cool, but was a disaster for cooking. And those few forties cabinets that you impossibly stuffed your goods in. But the door to that great back deck!

And now, we’re going to do that modernization thing. Including that bathroom.

Yes. That bathroom.

There is just that one. The one that was clearly very cheaply revamped to sell the house. You knew that when you saw the wallpaper trim tacked onto the subway tile that surrounded the tiny vanity with the door that you couldn’t open fully because the toilet bowl was an obstruction. Yes. That one.

The house that I love.

And, now, I am crossing my fingers and making the sign of the cross and maybe lighting candles with herbal essenses that are healing, so that the tub fixtures will allow us to take the number of showers we need until–well, until we move to the interim space.

Frankly, I know we are on borrowed time. Both the hot water and the cold water faucets are stripped. This is pretty recent–like two weeks. So there’s the most awesome pliers that we are using to deliver and adjust the water for showers. It rests on the edge of the tub, in case someone needs to adjust the water temperature. Actually, in order to get the water flowing. Currently, it’s just that essential.

When you’ve been planning to gut the bathroom for twenty-five years, and you are close to doing it, you just don’t want to invest in a new tub faucet system. Especially because you are living in a dream world. Where the tub is on the other wall. And there is room for your legs when you are doing your morning constitution.

And then, you look at the plans and realize that everything will be somewhere else. But not today. Not, yet.

Pray for showers. Just need a few more months. Just. A. Few. More.