Wolf Whistle

The current state kitchen from big stainless steel fridge to teeny counter to old sink to more teeny to stove. Also some raggedy cabinets. And no backsplash.

There was that day, much earlier in this adventure, when we went appliance shopping. We needed to pick stuff out so it could be designed in. Like what if we wanted warming drawers or wine chillers or a pizza oven? For the record, none of those items were on my list.

Our contracting team sent us on the adventure to the fancy appliance showroom.  This was not Kenmore-land. Not big box Best Buy. It was quite fancy and a bit intimidating. But, first, we had to get there.

We made an early Saturday morning appointment, which bordered on stupid since we don’t normally travel together in the morning.  Except for those early mornings that marked the beginning of two weeks at the beach–also known as the pre vacation screamfest that takes fifteen miles to overcome. I know this because for as long as I’ve been with The Spouse–inclusive of those pre-nuptials years–whenever we drove up the I-95 corridor, like going to see the Orioles in Baltimore, visiting his family in Manhattan or trekking the rest of the way up to the Cape for those beach days on the island, whenever we’d near Exit 35 to Laurel/Scaggsville I would always say,

“Hmmmmm. Scaggsville. That’s where you’re from.”

And The Spouse would always reply, “That’s where I met you.” It’s part of our shtick.

And on those early mornings, after frantically shoving bags and boys and bikes and dog into the car. And after the inevitable disagreement at volume. And after me glaring out the window through hot tears and in cold silence, we’d approach the exit. And I’d wrestle with my righteous anger and vow not to talk. And then I would get this worry that if I didn’t say it this time, that it would break everything. And so I’d say, “Scaggsville, that’s where you’re from.” And he’d answer, as always.

But on this morning, the one I started writing about, we were driving up I-270, the other way north out of D.C.  We weren’t heading on a trip, but were still in the car in the morning, together. This time, there was no yelling. Well, maybe a little peckish huffing followed by some sighful puffing. Nevertheless, we made it to our appointment on time. Our appointment to check out major appliances.

Our architect had emailed a list of items to the sales consultant a few days before. She was well prepared for us.

We were early, the first clients in the showroom. We started with an offer of coffee. There was a fridge that had a built-in keurig coffee maker right in the door, near the water dispenser. It took a long time to brew.  It was silly and gimmicky. I asked who would buy it. In fact, they don’t sell very many of that feature. Us? We’re keeping our current bottom-freezer-without-French-door icebox. It’s fine and just a few years old.

Our guide steered us to our first event, the cooking surface. This was the only appliance that I wanted to invest in. I wanted high heat burners and low heat simmer. I was thinking five burners. It was going to be the jewel in my kitchen. It would make me a cooking star.

First, we learned the difference between cooktops (burner controls on the top) and rangetops (the top of a standard oven with controls in front). We went through the paces on a pair of GE’s to see the difference between the cooktop and range–especially in moving pots and pans across the surfaces. I was leaning rangetop. She then had us walk across the showroom to the far side. The Spouse ran ahead.

“Oh! It’s the Wolf! It’s the Wolf!” He was nearly jumping up and down.

I looked at the salesperson a little sideways. She was caught a little off guard, too.

“You know this appliance?” If I could have raised one eyebrow independent of the other, be assured I would be doing so. I think he saw the unnatural furrow above my right brow. He took his hands off of the red knobs, caught in his excitement like Dan Ackroyd gleefully sliding down that fire pole in Ghostbusters.

“I’ve used this at the condo in Telluride and at Sundance, too.” [Yes, Loyal Reader, The Spouse is way cooler than me.] He described the low and high burners. The model we were looking at had low and high on all six burners–yes six.

After we wiped the drool from our chins, we looked at the Viking. He knew that one, too. Was not as favored. Turns out he was right. They are in a quality spiral, and not in a good way. The Thermador? He knew that one, too.  But it was the Wolf that compared to all others. It was our new standard.

It was the all super hot and super low burners. It was the relighting feature. It was the clarity of the controls and the more obvious signs of being “on,” especially important for super low simmering. It was the promise of an amazing chocolate roux for shrimp étouffée, like The Spouse prepared for his colleagues in Park City.

“Do they all have red knobs?” The salesperson started to answer, but The Spouse interrupted.

“That’s their thing.” Turns out, though, that you could get stainless steel knobs if you wanted.

Today I old-school mailed a check for our new appliances. And in addition to buying the first dishwasher that I have ever owned (I know, right?!?), we bought the Wolf. That mighty fine Wolf. With the red knobs. Added to our repertoire, next to the exit.

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.

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.

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.

A First Dark Day

Note the contrasting flooring. The stairs are original and the landing is new. This was from my recon trip yesterday.

The report from the trades on trades day was fine. Of course, we found yet another thing that needed to be done that was outside of the initial scope.

There’s no question that we need a new front door. The report included an option to use the entire width of the door opening. The original door was a big one and it would be so sexy to power-up to the authentic entryway.

The Spouse was providing the report, since he was there.

They had discussions about electrical boxes and radiant heat underneath the tiled spaces. There was some confusion over my second story cork floor requirement. Somebody got a crazed idea that I wanted carpet upstairs. Nope. Nope. Nope. I truly hate carpeting. I liked cork for the warmth and soundproofing of carpet in a renewable and easy-to-sweep-dog-hair-out-of-corners form.

The floor guy was less sanguine about the main floor wood. The beat up planks that mean a lot to me. The ones that I love. The Spouse’s report included words about a lack of sub flooring, about the grooves getting untongued or something, noise about exposed nailheads and a few holes that were shortcuts to the basement. The Spouse also noted that our project manager was very worried about how I would react, since the floors needed to be replaced and he remembered my resolve that that wasn’t going to happen.

And I’m like, “Nope. Not happening. I am keeping the floor.” This was not a great part of the report. Nobody [that would be The Spouse since it was only the two of us in this discussion] said I was being stubborn or ridiculous, but I felt that those concepts were just barely stopped at the back of someone’s tongue.

I was feeling like The Spouse was always taking the side of the mens. Some kind of he-man club. That I was being patted on my little emotional head and was out of my element. Even though I am the logical one in our equation. I’m the one who pushes emotions aside to solve an issue. And this is an issue that I am sure can be resolved with engineering and tools and ingenuity.

That said, it’s true that maintaining the soul of the house, respecting and honoring the bones of this structure is my top requirement for this remodel. Number one. I wrote it down first, before new kitchen or second bathroom.

It was why I was [secretly] putting off this project. I’ve been worried that I might not make the right calls for the house. The house has embraced us and our madness. It’s known families before ours, too. It’s been the keeper of our secrets. The holder of our joys. The witness to our sorrows.  Our protector. We owe it our fealty. We need to protect it back, like the special vessel it is.

After a bit of tension, the report was finished with the decision hanging in the air like the smell of Elizabeth, N.J.  Next day I hit up the Google to arm myself with knowledge. I typed in searches like

  • replace or refinish old floors
  • salvaging heart pine flooring
  • stain or varnish

The links I clicked were things like Restoring Old Wood Floors to Their Former Glory or Can I Save My Hardwood Floor? or Refinish or Replace Wood Floor from Bob Vila’s Blog.

My research turned up the same types of challenges that the Spouse described–exposed nails, separated planks and balancing the volume of floor that needs to be replaced. I read time and time again, in article after post after discussion forum that old floors can last 100 years.

Gulp. Mine are 100 years old. While floors that have been well cared for could certainly last longer, it seemed that 100 years was a good run.

I was on my knees, with my hands running along the floor boards. I looked right inside those crumb filled gaps. I felt the nail heads with my fingertips. I laid my cheek on the rough floor. A surprising liquid welled in my eyes and dropped to wet the ancient surface.

Where the hell did that come from? I stood up and pushed my hair back behind my ears. I strode into the bathroom to wash my hands and found myself oddly agitated, pacing along a four foot path. What was I doing? If the floors have to go, maybe I shouldn’t even do this project.

I sat down at my 1917 built mahogany table that desperately needs to be refinished and pushed my coffee cup back and forth in front of me. I flipped the newspaper away from me and a sob escaped my throat. In the split of a second, The Beast bounded from his perch on the couch and I found his paws supporting his 85 pound body in my lap. He put his snout next to mine and lapped up the wet salt streaking my face. He wasn’t going to stop until I stopped. He really hates it when I’m sad.

I looked for solace from the floors in dining room. They hate it when I’m sad, too.

 

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.

Time in A Bottle

The Brooklyn Bridge from the FDR in the rain at night.

I was walking down Lex. That’s what my mother-in-law called Lexington. It was twenty blocks to East 72nd street. And twenty blocks back. I spent the first three or four blocks doing the math. Counting blocks.

The next few blocks I got a little overwhelmed by emotions. She hadn’t lived in Manhattan for seventeen or eighteen years, and hasn’t lived on this earth for over a decade. But I still miss her.

I remembered when I met her. It was my first time on the East Side. We were there for Easter. I wasn’t the first girlfriend brought home, and the relaxed banter around the table made me think that my presence didn’t have any great import. They come and they go, I surmised.

It was the biggest apartment that I had ever seen. There was a substantial foyer, with a bunch of furniture–chairs, tables, couch, lamps–and a big closet. On the right was the hallway to the bedrooms. One for the twins and the other a master bedroom with a separate dressing area with en suite.

The main living room was spectacularly huge, to me. It had multiple sitting areas and a most impressive oriental rug that, if rolled up, would likely take three men to carry. Someone would need to support it in the middle. The dining room was off to the side and led to a more regular-sized kitchen. The Future Spouse slept on the couch near the balcony. I slept on the pullout couch on the other side of the room, miles away.

There was a lively discussion around the family-laden table on that Easter Sunday. Catching up on school and jobs and the status of a cousin who was moving on to a third husband. The Future Spouse totally missed the middle husband. They come and they go, I suppose.

One thing that the Future Spouse did not miss, however, was the menu. There was a beautiful leg of lamb, peas and mashed potatoes. I am not a fan of lamb or cooked peas, but was brought up to eat what was in front of me without complaint, and, indeed, with gusto and praise to the cook. I wasn’t raised by wolves.

I had politely piled my plate with a reasonable amount of food that I was neither allergic to nor made me retch. Despite that, someone studied my plate.

“Well at least you like the mashed potatoes.”

I. Thought. That. I. Would. Die. Right. Then. Why couldn’t I just simply disappear? Maybe there would be an earthquake to distract us?

Embarrassed, I swiftly kicked his shin, sent daggers from my eyes and placed a forkful of lamb in my mouth followed by effusive compliments about the delicious meal. I mean really!

The woman who was the hostess and who would become my mother-in-law quickly spoke over the impolitic comment and acknowledged my truly heartfelt praise. She also shot a nudge–perhaps a virtual dummy slap?–over the top of her glasses to my companion who was rubbing his shin. The Spouse to this day claims that this was a strategic move to make me less nervous. I know that nobody supports that crazed claim.

As I turned down 72nd, I realized that I had five more blocks. I had forgotten about York. But I remembered now, even though I hadn’t walked this street for over a decade. I fought back another wave of emotions. It was still a part of my memories of home. A home, in this case, I was welcomed into.