Thursday, September 26, 2013

Seeing is Believing

Well. I almost have a heckuva kitchen. You may remember that I had this kitchen about 15 months ago:

(Be aware: if I come to look at your house and I eventually buy it, I will post pictures from various showings on my blog, with all your stuff in them. Also if you look at a house with that many microwaves and toaster ovens? CHECK THE MAJOR APPLIANCES!)

What is not evident in the images is that the wood was in horrible condition in many places, rotted in some, worn beyond repair in others. The appliances, original to the house, were not great - although they did turn on and off - and sometimes without anyone pushing a button or turning a knob. The cabinets were not really functional for modern living, and certainly not for a cook. I think that this kitchen was a bit of a space age, TV dinner sort of a thing really. But I don't live that way, and for me this kitchen was just really intolerable. Kitchen snob: I am it!

Then I had this kitchen which I felt I had for entirely too long:

Then very (very) briefly I had this kitchen:

And then this kitchen:

which turned out to be a big old failed attempt to retain some of kitchen one in a misguided attempt to save money and resources.

Last but not least, I had this kitchen:

Definitely not a big favorite, except that it paved the way for the kitchen I have now. Because now I have a totally different kitchen, which is not quite yet ready for a full reveal. But trust me, it's amazing!

I have also had, for a long time now, a microwave cabinet of forgotten origin. You see it up there in a fair number of those images. I remember that it cost me all of about $100, and I know I bought it specifically for use in our old-old house during our kitchen remodel there. Thanks to a slick real estate deal I was able to double my money on a piece of land by selling it back to the original owner for twice the price I paid. Long story - just never sell a piece of land you think you might be attached to, or you'll find yourself buying it back for a lot of money. Anyway, I used the profit to invest in our old-old house - I had both kitchen and bath completely redone. At the time we still had kids at home, and we lived for a few weeks out of this microwave cabinet. It housed a microwave (who saw that coming?), toaster, and coffee pot along with lots of paper plates and utensils, bread, and peanut butter. And coffee. Lots of coffee.

Since then it's served us around the house(s) in a variety of ways. It has been used to hold video game systems along side it's junior sibling - who is identical in all but size. It has housed craft supplies. It was used by Mr. W to hold his cycling DVD's and two small televisions for when he rode on his bike trainer in the basement. It eventually became the island in my 1950's kitchen nightmare, and then most recently was again put into use as part of a temporary kitchen during this latest kitchen update.

I have loved it's usefulness, but it's appearance has left me pretty flat for some time now. I preferred it hidden in finished basements or craft rooms. It's junior sibling, for example, holds my primary sewing machine so that I can sew while standing up - a boon for ye old sciatic nerve problem. Out of public view, it does not offend. But in public view...well, I guess maybe I am just over it. Love, love the butcher block top, but over the unfinished exterior and the big blocky handles and drawer pull. So I decided that in order to continue to use it in the new kitchen (it makes a great island!) it would need a serious face lift. Initially I tried staining it the same color as the cabinets, which proved to be a hideous fail. The color wasn't a match at all and - worst of all - the stain clashed pretty violently with the aged and heavily treated butcher block top.

I started with a splotchy and brush-stroke-laden coat of the gray paint I'd used previously on the old cabinets we tried to salvage - Benjamin Moore Satin Impervo. I liked that color a lot - I think it's a Martha color, Chinchilla, which handily can be dumped into any Ben Moore paint. The neutrality of it would, I thought, work well in the kitchen again. Then I distressed the gray with a series of power and hand tools. Specifically, I beat the hell out of it with, in no particular order: a pair of scissors, an ax, a wire bristle brush, and my little DeWalt random orbit sander. Then I covered the whole thing with a brown glaze using a sample of brown paint left from Girl's wedding birdhouses and a jar of Martha Stewart glaze. I brushed that with a Martha Stewart wavy graining brush, being sure to go out of my way to get as much effect and odd layering as possible, but no waving. I just wanted the brush strokes and the removal of excess that this tool offered. Once that dried I coated the whole thing with Zar Ultra Max waterborne polyurethane; another leftover from a previous project. Waste not, want not!

And now I love it. I wish the butcher block was squared and not rounded. That's my only complaint.

It's neutral, distressed, abused, and has me written all over it. I love the rudely and roughly filled holes, the sand marks, the chips from the ax, and the lovely uneven brown glaze.

In the middle of this amazing new kitchen, surrounded by perfect cabinets and pristine flooring and appliances, it somehow fits right in. Just don't look too closely at the underside of that butcher block. I may have gone a little nutty...

Now, to find perfect knobs and pulls. Ideally I want something salvaged and old, maybe from a dresser, and with that in mind I stopped in at Fat Chance today on my way home from the Depot (where I procured a host of items ranging from silicone caulk to one ivy plant for that rejuvenated Crock Pot that works and still has it's cord but for now I've decided is a planter and is that a run-on sentence or what?):

I didn't find knobs. But I did find things to amuse me:

An adorable copper fondue set! It has forks, and even an old Sterno ad tucked inside.

Bunnies! Primitive bunnies missing body parts but needing love.

The new kitchen counter top doesn't come for days and days. Between now and then I can work on a book,  install the dishwasher, plan a baby shower, and make some newborn diapers for said baby. And try not to count the minutes before I can give you a tour of the whole kitchen, and explain how, on a budget resembling a shoestring, I managed to get a whole new kitchen in a matter of about 5 weeks. It's a good story, I promise!

Sunday, September 08, 2013

You'd Have to be There.

Sunday Morning Lap

Five women at prayer
enter into their chapel in Sunday best –
two in violet, one in blue;  two wear black.

A steeple rises outside the window
of their small watery church.
Each one comes to find solace in this place -
which to whom we do not know.

Their bodies slice through liquid blue like knives
as each finds the rhythm and pace of her prayer,

unspoken on the rippling waves that melt around them.

Sunday morning lap.


Saturday, September 07, 2013

Bed of Nails

Spent the morning tangoing with this... :

 (I did this one all by myself!)

which turned out to be the easy version of this... :

(I did not do this one by myself!)

a sheet of plywood sub-floor with enough nails to hold down a double wide in a tornado. The whole floor looked like this - nails, nails, nails, everywhere nails, in all shapes and sizes and styles and types. Everywhere. Nails. Mr. Wonderful pried the sheets up a little at a time, and I grabbed pieces as they came loose and held tension on them as high as I could from the sub-sub-floor so he could better position the pry bar for another round of tug o' war. As each sheet came slowly and gradually up, I found myself grappling to find a place to put my hands that didn't involve nails - hard to do when the nail-side is down, and my eyeballs are up. Once a sheet was free we carried it out of the house. Then it was lather, rinse, repeat until all sub-floor was removed.

We had visions of the "bed-of-nails-mouse-trap-effect" (use your imagination) described by a contractor friend, but managed to avoid it (Thank you, Father!). The most interesting moment came when I was holding tension on a sheet while Mr. W. pried on the opposite side. It was a tricky one; oddly shaped and resistant, so he told me to "go ahead and let it down" for a minute so we could rest and regroup - which I would have cheerfully done, because they are not easy to hold up when the forces of a million-billion nails (in a million-billion shapes and sizes and types...) are pulling them back to earth. But I couldn't let go without risking a partial mouse trap effect from knee to foot. Two of the nails had become stuck through my jeans, and had been scraping my leg with every movement. I hadn't mentioned it because I thought we'd have the sheet up and out in a few more tugs of the pry bar. One slip and I would have had nails embedded in my thighs just above the knee. Mr. W. was himself on the other side of the sheet of ply in such a way that he could not come around to assist. Eventually I managed to extract the denim from the nails, and let the sheet down for a minute before we resumed. Certainly an experience to add to the list of experiences we had at our first house (aka "hell house") and the new list we've begun compiling here. Based on the number of nails first in the cabinets and now in the sub-floor, Mr. W. has taken to calling it "Zombie Apocalypse House", as in "the builder thought one was coming any day, and wanted to be prepared".

Then we did some other little bits, much cleaning, and some temporary taping in of fixtures for visual support as we move through this. It's better to decide now that those recessed cans over the breakfast bar should be a little further back than to realize it after they're installed!

We won, in the end. And to reward ourselves we went to the fair for supper. Because nothing says "balanced diet" like real, skin-on french fries with vinegar and salt and ketchup, kettle corn, and lemonade, consumed while watching people, rides, and horse pulls. The sad part is that I did this - stuffed my freezer full of healthy meals so we would not end up living on popcorn until our kitchen is done.

(speaking of long do I think this kitchen will take, anyway?)

But who can resist the excuse of no kitchen to trot off to a fair and eat garbage for an evening? Between raw dog food and freshly killed chicken for people and meals ready to thaw and eat, I am officially declaring myself done with tomatoes. See this? Going to the chickens, every last fruit (excluding the corn), first thing in the morning.

I am completely out of freezer space. There's bags and bags of the things already in there, taking up space. They should be canned and processed and in the basement in tidy jars by now. But with an incomplete kitchen, that isn't going to happen until months from now. Frustrating, but it's just the way things will be. The fridge is stuffed with pickles (can't can those right now either) or I suppose I could make a whopping huge batch of salsa or something. Shame, but just the way it is. Figures that I have a bumper crop and no kitchen available.

Tomorrow I swim, leaving Mr. W here to finish off some kitchen things, and it may be the last swim for a week or two. On Monday things begin in earnest. Electricians and plumbers and cabinet deliveries, oh my! This means no kitchen, more or less at all, for the duration. As of tomorrow, dishes get done in the leaky bathtub on the other side of the house. Pray for me. I think I am gonna need it!

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Make It Stop (No, Don't)

I signed up for a class today at A Notion to Quilt. A quilting class in which I will learn how to use "the big machine" to top stitch my own quilts. This is probably good because quilting anything bigger than a wall hanging on my machine is not at all fun. But I am not planning to buy a $10,000 long-arm machine that takes up the whole house. And hand quilting - well, I toyed with the idea briefly, but since this is 2013, and we have the option of machine quilting, who am I to stand in the way of progress? I've got one project ready to go and another one soon to be ready, and plans for a minimum of three more right behind these two. There's no way I could quilt those all by hand AND write a book AND keep up with real life. My ancestors may be spinning in their graves, but polyester thread and machine quilting, here I come! I wish I could stop obsessively sewing fabric into quilted things. Or do I?

I am trying to take the edge off of my new-found quilt problem with some simple projects, like napkins, more place mats, and flannel baby blankets. I love flannel unreasonably and I have tons of scraps in my stash; enough to do a scrappy flannel quilt, which I plan to do someday - just not today. Today we focus on simple baby blankets. These blankets are super fast and easy. They are made from two layers of flannel and so don't really count as receiving blankets - they're more like a tummy time blanket, or a snuggle-down-for-the-night blanket.

I begin by cutting two pieces of flannel to 43" x 43" - or "width minus selvedge square". Pin neatly around, and then sew them right sides together with a 1/2 inch seam allowance, leaving open about 10 inches along one side to turn right side out. Clip the corners on the wrong side, and then turn the whole blanket to the right side. Then press all the way around to set the seams, and finally top stitch 1/4 inch from the seamed edge. The sewing part is done now, and really they could be considered finished at this point. I wanted to amp them up a little, so I am crocheting a simple edging on them. I haven't done this in ages - since my friends and I were all young and having babies of our own, in fact. I used to use the awl from an old leather working kit to poke holes around the edges to accommodate my hook.
But today I used the doffing pin from my drum carder and poked holes through the two layers of flannel about 1/2 an inch apart, and worked 3 sc in each hole, then a chain one between shells. At the corners I worked one 3 sc shell, ch 2, and a second 3 sc shell in the same hole.
I will probably change this a little for the second blanket. The gauge of the yarn for the second blanket is smaller, so I may make the holes closer together, or change the number of stitches in each shell. I am in love with both of these, and I still have four other pieces to make two more blankets from. The problem with flannel is that I see one I love and I buy it (and a coordinating piece to go with it), and I bring it home, and I sew it up or just ogle and pet it for a while until i decide what to do with it. But then I go out again, and the seasons change and new fabrics come into the shops, and the next thing you know I am buying more - and more and more and more. I always buy 1.5 yards of flannels because I know it's enough for a blanket OR for pj pants for me should I decide I can't part with a print. I wish I could stop buying flannel...but really I don't want to stop at all.
The garden has been kind of amazing this year. We didn't get anything in last year because we were busy just settling in. This year I planted in the "lasagna" beds I started last fall. I didn't expect much to come of them. It's been a pleasant - mostly - surprise to be wrong. But I wish I wasn't quite so very wrong. Well, what I mean is, this is probably not the best year for me to have a bumper crop of tomatoes, and a minimum of 6 small to medium eggplants every few days. I put about 8-10 lbs of tomatoes in the freezer some days, chopped up and put into zip lock bags. When the kitchen is done and I have counter space again, I will pull them all out, thaw them, and process them in proper canning jars. We've also had a huge outpouring of zucchini and cucumbers and baby lettuce from friends. The result is that we're eating salad daily, and there are three huge jars of refrigerator pickles tucked behind the raw dog food and bags of baby lettuce. Some mornings I think if I see one more eggplant, I will scream. Mostly I am grateful for the bounty, if a little tired from all the extra work. I could say no to friends, and I could hand the tomatoes and eggplant over to the chickens - but make hay while the sun shines, so they say!

It's fair season here, with our local county fair kicking off with a parade Thursday. That fair will end this weekend and will be followed by "The Big E", also known as the Eastern States Exposition. When my kids were small I spent the weeks leading up to fair time canning, sewing and baking like mad. I would enter things and come home with ribbons to show for all my efforts. I beat my mother more than once in the canned goods classes which always felt really good! One year I even entered "Homemaker of the Year", and won. I was so thrilled! I also had a couple of "Best in Show" items over the years - most notably a hand-crocheted infant's christening gown that someone later insisted on paying me $150 for. I would appear at the round house on Wednesday afternoon with my wares in hand. Everything would be neatly labeled with my exhibitor number, class number, and description. It was the focus of weeks for me, and I loved the simplicity of it - and the good honest competition. I miss that side of life. They changed the rules though - you have to enter weeks in advance - and I am more a last-minute, pull out all the stops and make something amazing sort of girl. It's how I got through college, and it's how I go through life, most of the time. Stop, think, plan, plot, debate, decide, stop again, discard, reevaluate, plan anew, plot, and at the last second, produce! 

I doubt if I will go to the local fair this year - it has changed so much in the past decade, and not much for the better, but I'll most likely make it to The Big E. Now that the kids are grown I've traded the round house and french fries with vinegar, for state buildings and smoked salmon on a stick. Now that I don't want to stop ever!