Big Breath

I was being mindful.

I took a deep breath. It was full. Full of brightness. Full of late Spring. Full of fresh spice and basil and grass clippings and the secret sulfur of lighting bugs. Because there has to be a scent that accompanies those blue yellow sparks.

I took that deep breath. After my Yin class. I take that class on Friday at six. (Except if I have a drinking date.)

I take that class to take all the sit out of my ass. That solid compression that is the spring coiled. But not coiled to spring. Coiled to set. That which needs to be undone.

So, (if I’m not boozing early), I work to fold into shapes that I hold for eight to nine minutes. Shapes that I’m supposed to surrender to. And shapes, that through and with my breath, I push away thinkings. Of the week. Of my weakness. This is a battle. I believe I’m at stalemate. But I try.

And now I’m on my back porch. After that class. After cooking that beautiful trout. After drinking more of that Cave de Lugny than The Spouse. And I took that big deep breath. It was a big breath.

The breath of contentment. The breath of gratitude. The breath that exhaled lightness because there was no oppressive heat or humidity. That breath that was truly deep, and natural, and of bright green flora, of freshly spayed dirt. And that was grounding.

And as I took that delicious and nourishing breath in through my nose and, just before I welcomed it into my lungs, a huge moth hit my right cheek.

It was huge. At least it felt huge. My right hand raised to swipe it away. And my breath, that beautiful and perfect breath, receded early. Too early. And I’ll have to try it again.

I did. And, now, there is rain on the horizon. I can smell the ozone. I can smell the earth. And it’s heavier than the other try.

But it is still beautiful.

Something to Think About

A stylized image of my new kitchen wall. Lots of windows. Lots of light.

Yeah, I know. I’ve been radio silent for a while. Sorry. Turns out I learned that I’m not a HGTV-lifestyle type blogger. I know their ilk since I’ve been reading their blogs–their posts on trends and their how-tos written with folksy familiarity. The edgier ones smattering in some cuss words. The more wholesome peppering posts with sweet kiddos and doggos. The rarefied have chickens, which lay heirloom coloured eggs. Their kids have blonde ringlets festooned with sweet bows. They also serve up recipes. And dinner parties hosted at a clearing in their personal thousand acre woods lit with strings and strings of round bulbs powered by some mysterious source of 1% energy.

Nope. Writing about construction progress and current project status with accompanying pictures isn’t my forte. Not because I dislike that genre. I’ve definitely binge-watched many a remodeling series, hungrily following each episode to the great reveal. And, also, not because I don’t have scores of photos chronicling this journey.

I just can’t write it. Nope. This Doc does musing, angst, comedy and more thinking. Show and tell? Not without a point to make. And in the fast forward pace of this remodel, there hasn’t been much brain space left to make my points.

Sure there have been some decisions. And some real walls. And moments of beauty.

Like that moment when I walked upstairs to our bedroom and looked through the new window. Our bungalow is a classic story and a half, but when they rebuilt the walls and ceiling they recovered about eight inches of head room at the dormers. The construction team raised the windows up, too, and we have a new view to the outside and a more airy inside.

Taking in the new vista, I placed my fingertips on the newly drywalled and primed walls. I looked at my hand and recognized the perfectly familiar meeting of the knee wall angling to meet with the roofline. I suddenly ran through a series of memories–of painting that wall, of moving the bed (once moving the head to meet it, and once rotating it on the side), of steadying myself on it on groggy mornings.

Relief. My house is still here. I didn’t ruin it by stripping it down to its sticks. When I exposed its very bones. The house, its soul, still remains. I felt it in through the gypsum plaster that marked the newly finished corner. It told me it was okay.

Then there was the moment I needed to select cabinet hardware. It was more than a moment, to be honest. My wonderful design lead from the design-build team emailed me links two websites. She told me to pick out a few, and we’d order one of each to see what works.

There were literally THOUSANDS of choices. Overwhelming. So, I did what any modern Doc would do. I googled, “What to look for in kitchen cabinet hardware?”

Turns out that there are some things for the practical-minded to look for. First, there is a difference between knobs and pulls. Knobs are little and pulls are bigger. Bottom line, you don’t need to be as precise with your grab if you have pulls. Also, there are categories of pulls. There are bar pulls, handle pulls, finger pulls, cup pulls and arch pulls. Bar pulls can get caught on wayward pockets. Cup pulls can get full of the goop from your dirty hands that open the drawer to grab the extra whisk.

Armed with my new data, I downselected to handle pulls that were black or bronze and added those categorized by “industrial” or “rustic” style. And, still, there were hundreds. I started scrolling the options.

The first one I liked was $20. For one cabinet pull! Some long drawers could require two. I could easily spend thousands of dollars in kitchen hardware. I immediately added a downselect with an upper dollar limit to accommodate my budget. There were still a bunch.

My search and selection process could have consumed hours. I stopped looking after I found four that I could like. I slapped myself. Really, Doc? What’s a “good” cabinet pull? For items that, to be honest, I can’t tell apart? I cut and paste links to pulls, hit send and haven’t looked back. Don’t ask me what I chose. I don’t even know if my selections come in the right size. I’m praying that the pro makes sense of my design idiocy.

Then there’s that color moment. Last time I painted was the unfinished refresh of our bedroom. I know exactly the day I stopped painting. September 11, 2001. Just never got back around to it. I lost interest in color around the time I lost interest in the project.

Now I have to choose colors for all the rooms in the house. Someone said to paint it all white or taupe or greige or some neutral. But I have pro-painters using fabulous paint at my disposal. And I’m not moving the furniture to paint again. This is my moment.

I don’t want my house to have that flipped house gray with white trim. Or that creamy builder white. No. No. No. I walk into the open houses for the new crappy condos popping up all over my neighborhood and feel nothing but coldness. I check out the newly rehabbed homes with their cookie cutter granite countertops and cheesy cabinets and their achromatic walls and feel empty.

Ours is a 1915 bungalow that traditionally had that craftsman/arts and craft palette with muted vegetable colors of squash and pumpkin and greens tinged with yellow. Colors with names like ochre and olive, walls to be framed in natural wood.

I imagined walking in the front door with the brown stained wainscoted walls topped by that yellow squash color, turning to the muted yellow green in the living room and stepping into a pumpkin dining room. I started pulling paint chips for this warm, autumnal color scheme. I found historical palettes online and assigned colors to rooms. We’d paint a few samples on the walls before making a final call.

One problem. I don’t actually like those colors. Sure, they were better than the colorless “new house” look I was railing against, but they actually brought me down and closed me in. I wanted colors that had warmth but a cool vitality. Back to the google drawing board.

I decided to back up. What colors make me happy? What colors did I want to be surrounded by?  What colors looked good together and flowed from room to room, too? I flipped through Design Seeds, focusing on how the images made me feel. I dismissed photos, not looking at palettes. I pinned the pics I liked. I saw that my aesthetic had a clear pattern. Now I have a bunch of paints to try on the walls. My starting point is authentic.

So, sure. There’s been stuff rolling around in my brain, some causing strain and some stirring emotion, but none with much of a tale.

Yesterday, I took my regular foray to the worksite that will soon, once again, be my home. And my excitement was definitely tempered. After weeks of daily transmogrifications–of sticks being formed into walls that became rooms and closets and hallways and entries, of a huge rectangular box that time-lapsed into a kitchen lined with cabinets centered with an island and framed by a light wall, of the hole between the upstairs and the basement bibbidi-bobbidi-boo’d into a grand staircase–things have slowed down.  I’ve entered

The trough of disappointment.

This is the part of the hype-cycle. The part following the peak of unrealistic expectations. Stuff is happening, but we’re waiting on the delivery of the grout, and there is some challenges with the cabinet install, the basement windows had to be reordered and there will be some painstaking craftsmanship that will go into the creation of beautiful trim (no prefabbed trim for this project).

Meanwhile, I’m studying the project calendar every day. Sometimes more than once a day. Okay. Always more than once each day. As if by looking at the schedule it will move ahead. I walk into the house daily, on my way home from work. The actual days have shortened to leave me only a few moments of light before it switches over to night. Next week there won’t be any daylight moments on my way home.

This is the time where you can see the finish line, but there is still a grueling distance ahead. This is the time when I want to be on the other side of that line.

I want to move home and figure out where to put my colanders and to hang my winter coats in the closet. I want to unpack my waffle maker that I stored in the basement. I want to line up my spices in the new kitchen and put the good dishes on the dining room table. I want this computer to be on my new wooden desk in the office. I want to place my shampoo on the bench in the upstairs bathroom and put my hair dryer in the new closet.

I’m really done with this project. These last few yards need to be ground out, but the excitement has faded. This week anyway. I’m ready to move in and move on. I know there are more finishes and more surprises that will get me back in the game. But now, today? I’m wishing that I could buy a fifth of brown patience liquor.

I hate waiting.

Gutted

I was showing a friend pictures from our demolition. The friend’s friend had an op-ed she needed to share. One that bit.

“So, if you hate your house so much, why don’t you just buy a new one?”

Ouch! That throw away comment from a grinning stranger really did burn. It freezes, too.

I, in my shock at that unthinkable thought, objected. Too much, in retrospect, methinks. Too much because her unwelcome comment was based on her observation. Of the evidence. That I provided.

Looking at the photos of the bare and picked over bones of the edifice I had sworn to protect I thought, “What hath I wrought?”

The next day, I hesitated as I stepped onto the porch as part of my daily construction inspection. I gingerly inserted my key. I slowly opened the door. There was almost no floor to speak of–just a bunch of planks that forced me to leap from one to the next at the risk of falling through to the basement below.


And I’ve been stuck here. Right here. For two weeks I haven’t been able to move this post forward. Not able to skip past it. Because I can’t skip it. It has to be dealt with. I have to deal with it.

Usually, I have posts and pieces of posts trolling through my head–all of the time. I sit down and tap them out and hit publish. That’s how it works. Sure, there’s a bit more than that, but not the writer’s black hole I’ve had.

Usually, the hardest ones come out the fastest. Usually.

I’ve been stuck in the unusual.

I’ve reopened this page again and again. I’ve tweaked some words, moved a comma about and walked away. I’ve sat down with a brew in hand and a strict self-imposed deadline to put a bow on it. Three beers later, I successfully avoid any accomplishment. I’ll do it tomorrow. I don’t.

I’d walk into the house and take more photos. I’d look at the skeleton of the house, and see that the specimen is incomplete. Some of the bones are missing. No floor, not just exposed joists, but an entirely missing kitchen floor. No stairway to the second floor, the ladder carefully balanced over the canyon of the basement stairs.

The radiators were all piled up in the former toy room, like the mountains of blocks, legos and Hot Wheels from a recent past.

This week the siding was torn off. The chipped paint along the thin wooden boards were stacked in dumpster number six. Or are we up to seven boxcars of the house toted away? What could be left?

I didn’t know what gutting the house really meant.

GUT: to clean out. strip. decimate. ravage. ransack. disembowel. eviscerate. empty.

That was it. Empty.

I haven’t been able to come to terms with what I’m doing to the house. I started counting what was staying.

  1. The roof. (Which we replaced 8 years ago).
  2. The foundation. (Which is getting parged to shore it up.)
  3. Most of the original sheathing that was diagonally hung, keeping out the elements. (It’s being covered with some kind of new-fangled water impervious wood and then foam insulation and then new man-made siding.)
  4. Most of the original posts and joists. Many of which are being sistered with new, man-made materials.
  5. All of the woodwork and trim in the living and dining rooms. The fake fireplace mantels are STAYING!
  6. I saved the floors in the first two bedrooms, now known as the den and the office. (Over objections of some/one. I can’t let them all go.)

I’m looking at this list and the house that I swore to protect that I can’t recognize and I start hearing Obi-Wan telling Luke that Luke’s father is now more machine than man.

And then I get to thinking. And I feel better. Because in the end, Darth Vader was alright. He kept his soul.

Publish!

Elm Street

A collage of the same flowers candle and wine glass with a variety of filters.

My countdown clock was ticking. I estimated ten grim days before we moved to the next stage–construction. This, followed by the final act, moving into the new old house (or old new house?). I was down to day nine.

Until.

Yeah. You knew this was coming, didn’t you, Loyal Reader.

Until. Until the morning we had our pre-construction hand off meeting. This is the meeting where the project lead passes our relationship over to the construction team. The Lead Carpenter–I’ll call him Carp from here–will be onsite daily. He will supervise all the work from setup to daily clean up, from managing plumbers and electricians to kissing up as required to inspectors or neighbors who are mad about a dumpster. He will oversee the hanging of drywall and cabinets as well as texting me for any game time approvals.

The Production Manager was there, too. He has a one level up role. I don’t really know what, but it’s built into the contract. And I like him. He has the same name as The Spouse. The Beast literally sat in his lap during our meeting. He casually draped his arm around the thick neck of the red dog and gave a little hug as he wrote his notes. He took notes. He had a hat. I’ll let you know more later.

Anyway, they walked with our project manager–trailed by The Spouse–around the house and pointed at things and went over the plans with visual annotations. The mantles and baseboards and window casings will be carefully removed. The remaining appliance will be wrapped and stored.

We shared contacts and established communication protocols. Mostly to not hold things in and not let the little annoyances grow until an ugly explosion. I think I’m good with that. I contributed important data about a certain person who might live next door to someone who may have a documented tendency to call the cops for nothing.

We went over lead abatement rules, plastic drapings to keep dust out of lungs and other hazmats, and construction safety instructions primarily for clients not having the entire guts ripped out of their house. This last item wasn’t necessary for our project.

We’re moving out. No need to carefully protect rooms. No protocol required to keep The Beast from escape. Our movers were already scheduled for a Friday move out.

Not.

Turns out there was a week delay on the job before ours, and the crew won’t actually start until July 5th. Holiday and whatnot.

[Full stop. Insert abrupt sound of record scratch.]

So all my stress and planning, the anxiety over our insufficient packing progress, the pending argument over the incomplete bathroom at the interim property, and the immediate garage and basement haul are no longer on a short fuse.

And I’m pissed.

I’m not pissed about the delay. We knew it was a possibility. Our firm has finite crews, and I want them to finish the other job–just as I want them to finish mine.

I’m not pissed about the change for the move. I got two days back at work this week and rescheduled the mover without a penalty. And, honestly, while we would have made the move if we had to, I expect there would have been a weekend after the move of crashing around trying to pack up 35 additional boxes of odds and ends. This is actually a gift.

No. Im only pissed about one thing. The worst part of this project is the moving out. Moving back in will be so awesome–especially since we are doing minimal unpacking,  we will have lightened our lives of stuff, and, well, beautiful home.

No. I’m pissed because the end was in sight, only to find out the damn episode drags on. It’s like the insane killer, after killing the rest of the cast, is finally done in by the spunky heroine. Yet he refuses to die. He keeps coming back for one more battle. And one more.

I don’t like those horror franchise movies. I get no thrill. Just die already, bad guy. I got something else to do.

Thinking about it, maybe first thing I need is to make an attitude adjustment, because this episode will end. I just have to believe that I will survive it.

The Pit of Despair 

The shitshow of in progress packing in my dining room. Find The Beast.

Ooof! This packing game is so very, very, very painful. I am not liking it at all. No. Not at all.

To be sure, I was not expecting to enjoy this part of the “journey.” I am on record as one who totally despises moving. I have infamous antipathy to the picking up all of my stuff and transporting it en masse to a new destination. A little of my stuff? I’m okay. I like to travel. But the whole enchilada? “Hatred” does not do my emotions justice.

So much is my aversion that I have avoided moving for nearing 26 years. Yet, and herein lies the rub, in order to stay here–where I want to be for the rest of my life–I need to physically exit the space so it can be remade.

Oh, the sickening, sickening irony.

This move has unfamiliar complexities. In the past, I’ve just moved. Still hated it, but it was Point A to Point B. This equation has a few more hops. Point A to Point B, Point C and Point D simultaneously with a return to Point A.

First, what to move? While everything needs to move, much will be placed in a temporary deep freeze. So I’m marking boxes with things that we can suffer without for the next few months and with things we will need. This includes crossing seasons. Ugh.

Then there’s a set of things that are in the in-between on my hierarchy of needs. That which needs to be protected. Anything that is susceptible to scourge. So photos, all cloth-based goods, and some Christmas perishables. Then, there’s another category of goods: where things will fit. The spaces available–basement, garage and temp house–are not like a Harry Potter magical tent. They have physical requirements.

Alas, I am just a Muggle.

And, boy, I’m not even an above average one. I completely disgusted myself by attacking the room that was once known as The Office until it degraded into The Locker.

Sure as I was that the meaningless piles were all detritus of The Spouse, I was chastened to find those dust encrusted boxes were actually my own. Untouched for twelve years, forced via the pressures of time and neglect to barnacle underneath the beomouth of my old dining room server and attach to the wall like the lost sailors who became one with Davy Jones’ Pirates ship. Pieces of my own, forgotten past lives.

Letters of offer from before Bear was born, paperwork of praise and raise, and fastidiously folded physician folios from forgotten afflictions were scattered among paper clips, my father’s old stapler and other things unseen by human eyes for a decade and a quarter. Undoubtedly, other, smaller eyes did pass among the ruins. But not ours.

I was ashamed. It was as if I was moving though my parents’ home, discovering the madness of laxity, of ignoring the progress of inaction, of the results of indifference.

I hung my head and imagined being draped in sackcloth, my cheeks rubbed with ashes. I walked into the other room, winding my way around misstacked boxes, tripping on the upturned edge of the rug.

“I’m sorry,” I said to The Spouse. “It’s not you, it’s me.”

Now, to the next pile, to the next box , to taping them shut and marking their destination.

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.

Nightmare Scenario 

An old sink and faucet with an electric blue cast.

The sink got replaced. The new faucet sat shiny above it. I signed off on the project. It was now me and The Spouse.

Then, almost immediately—but not really immediate because it took at least a part of a second for the realization to reveal itself—I could see that the counter was a mottled mustard, flecked with dark brown. It was akin to a 70’s color combo, not the expected white quartz composite. Where was my pro-faucet? I expected it’s flamingo-like neck arching over the sink, but it’s just a workaday American Standard spigot that my big pot won’t fit under.

Wait, wasn’t the sink going under a new window? Hey, it’s in the same place it was before. There aren’t any new windows. And the cupboards are new, but they’re a dark wood and the pendant light emits a sickly yellow cast.

This is not my beautiful kitchen.

I turned, distraught, to The Spouse. The shock in my eyes was matched only by the slack in my jaw. I couldn’t even get a baleful “noooooooooo” out of my lips. We were going to have to de-sign off. Somehow. What do I do next?

I woke up. It’s not too late. We haven’t even started.

And yet, already it starts.