Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Kitchen Reno - First Installment

I have a home renovation problem.  I'm sure this will come as no surprise to those who know me.  I have grand plans--oh so grand!!--for my home, but a teeny tiny budget (or really, NO budget), and the two don't really go together.

However, what I also have is a whole lot of pluck, and I really don't like to think there are things I can't do.

And so it came to pass that Bill and I are remodeling our entire kitchen.  Ourselves.

Bill, at least, is a professional at such things, and knows how to do all the things needed to remodel a kitchen.  I, the lackey, am there simply to plan big and screw things up.

So Bill and I started to plan our kitchen remodel.  We agreed on one big detail:  everything was coming out.  The laminate-over-particle-board countertops, now swollen and warped with 25 years of moisture?  Out!  The low-end, warehouse-store cabinets?  Out!  The Pergo-knock-off flooring?  Out.  The chair rail, the sink, the corner cabinets, the range hood that was woefully underpowered for our kitchen, the out-of-code electrical outlets, the dated switches, the color scheme, the popcorn ceiling, the horrific track lighting, the worst-ever dining room "chandelier" nastything?  Out, out, OUT!!!

I also knew that I wanted a kitchen unlike anyone else's kitchen.  I have watched many home renovation shows, and while the kitchens are often beautiful, to me, they look supremely generic.  Ultimately they end up with walls of cabinets, regardless of how high-end they are, and I really wanted to avoid the standard kitchen look.  Add to this the fact that we can't afford "high-end" anything, and we had quite a conundrum.

Enter the Rehab Addict, my favorite of all home reno shows, and a woman I aspire to be.  She's hot, strong, opinionated, and does beautiful work.  WWRAD?  What would the Rehab Addict do?

I asked myself what did kitchens look like before the gabillion-dollar prefab kitchen cabinet industry came to be?  And I realized, kitchens had FURNITURE.  Work tables, china cabinets, shelves and hooks.  We could do this.  We could convert our kitchen into something no one else would have.

Then we were at the Re-Use Warehouse in Durham, and we found the motherlode. It was an 8-ft piece of granite, 28 inches wide, with finished edges. They were asking an incredibly low price on it.  I know this because I have lusted after granite for over a decade, and knowing I had a small kitchen had always thought I could find a small piece for cheap.  I never could, until now. 

So naturally we snatched it up.

That piece of granite is now wrapped in a blanket in our living room, where it's been for several months.

The next thing to do was to find a sink cabinet.  We agreed we wanted a buffet style cabinet, made of real wood, that would sit away from the wall and hold the sink on top of it.  We were lucky to find JUST THE THING at a local antique store--it's a true pine cabinet with a rich stain and a gorgeous, sturdy solidity that will stand up to the task of holding our sink.  Since it was also priced remarkably low, we grabbed it, and it now sits in our living room as well.

We had been planning this extravaganza for months, but we were holding off as we knew we were going to Disney in May.  We held off, with great effort, promising ourselves we would get fully into the kitchen reno once we got back.  So after a weekend of rest, it was time to start on the kitchen.  We agreed, our weekends for the foreseeable future would be a solid day of work and a day of fun and rest.  Every weekend, though, had one day of work.  And so it came to be the weekend of the ceiling installation. We decided the counters would be an asset to this task, so we waited on the demolition.  As you know if you watch the DIY shows, demolition ROCKS.  It's a pleasure to tear out crap in your house.  Woohooo!!!  But first, the ceiling.

Our anxiety was running high that first weekend.  Bill knew firsthand what a difficult task it is to install ceiling drywall.  I had never done it, but I am aware of how difficult it is.  I know how heavy the sheets are, I know they are difficult to wield, and I also know that installing fresh drywall--regardless of where it's going--involves many coats of mud in the seams, with hours and hours of sanding.  I almost couldn't bear it.

Interestingly, to me at least, was that Bill was also anxious.  I guess he just knew it was a bear of a task looming over us, and he wanted it to go well. 

Our first task was to go to Lowes and purchase the sheets of thin drywall we would use to cover the popcorn ceiling.  I had already smoothed several ceilings elsewhere in the house, but because of the moisture prevalent in kitchens, the type of popcorn used there cannot be scraped off and must be either replaced or covered.  We went with covered.  And at Lowes that morning, we hit our first snag.

We knew the sheets of dry wall would not fit in Bill's CRV, so we borrowed a friend's Element. But guess what, they don't fit in that either.  They are four feet wide, which did fit diagonally through the Element opening, but they are brittle, weak, and vulnerable, and cannot rest diagonally for the ride home.  We experienced great stress and verklemptitude in the Lowe's parking lot, but we were saved by kind shoppers with a pick-up truck who were happy to carry our sheets home.  We were extra happy two weeks later when they pulled up next to us at a stop light, recognized us, and asked how the project was going.  I love the people of Durham.

Once we got the drywall home, we then engaged in the puzzle-solving skills that are needed to match the dry wall up to the ceiling rafters, some of which don't correspond to the walls.  Our stud-finder, also purchased at Lowe's that morning, could not read through the existing popcorn and was rendered largely useless.  We opted for the good old-fashioned drill method, and then marked the locations along the walls, visible througout the project.

I have to say it's a bit of a thrill to scribble on walls and the ceiling, knowing it will all be painted over soon.  I scribbled love notes to my hot husband, and since we are still knee-deep in this project, there are still hearts on my ceiling as I type this.

So we figured out how to lay out the dry wall sheets to maximize coverage, minimize cutting, and create as few seams as possible.  Thank the gods for Bill's man-brain, as I kept getting things confused, and for the life of me couldn't convert shapes from their vantage below me on the floor to above me over head.  So confusing for my non-visual brain.

The next step was to lift the sheets -- eight feet by four feet -- over our heads and hold them while Bill was also drilling them into the rafters.  Now, I aspire to be the Rehab Addict with her fantastic arms, but I am not her at all. I have little spaghetti arms that struggle with opening a soda bottle.  While I hate the thought that there are things I can't do, I have to admit my arms look more like Spongebob Squarepants arms than the kinds of well-toned appendages that are needed to wield these sheets above my head. 

We were able to lift the first sheet up and I held it with my arms shaking, panic rising, as I realized I might not be able to do this.  I felt so foolish, not being able to hold it up while Bill not only held up his end, but also held a screw to the drill bit and screwed it into the ceiling.   It was slow going, though, as he had to do it all one-handed, while the other hand held up the sheet.  Bill, you'll remember, also has significant injury to both shoulders from his motorcycle accident, and I feared we would do him in for good.  I have since looked up the weight, and now I don't feel so bad--each sheet weigh in at 40 pounds!!  My spaghetti arms didn't stand a chance.

We got the first one up, with great difficulty, and after a rest, reached for the second.  I could barely lift it.  We had stored them against the living room wall, and I realized almost immediately, I wouldn't be able to pick a second sheet up.  I have exactly one piece of dry-wall-over-my-head in me.  I learned that much that day.  One piece.  Then I'm done for.

We were thrilled, then, to discover that Home Depot rents the little crane lifty things, specifically designed for putting drywall on the ceiling, for an amazingly low price.  Why why why didn't we look into them sooner?  But so it was, and we dashed off to Home Depot, and we then installed sheet after sheet with relatively little fanfare.  Bill even "let me" drill some of them in, so I could learn the process beginning to end.  (Another thing I'm not good at?  Drilling straight.  But this is not news...)

And so we accomplished the one task that we both worried so much about.  Our marriage was intact, and I think we could both appreciate how challenging it was to each other; I think we were both proud of the other for overcoming our own doubts and plunging forth. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Hunt for the Statesville Mummy

Ages ago, a friend mentioned that there is an Egyptian mummy in a museum in Statesville.  Ever since, I have hoped to check out the museum on one of our trips to visit Bill's family.  Well, it seemed, this was the weekend for it.  We were headed to visit with Bill's uncle, so we packed up some snacks and it was Statesville or bust!  Rain in the forecast, plus a tight timeframe, had us in the car, rather than on bikes, and off we went.

I had done a quick (too quick, it turned out) search for the Statesville mummy and found the website of the museum, but I simply left it open for later persual.  We were visiting with the family when I checked the hours--ack!  They are only open till 1:00 on Saturdays!!  What a disappointment!  All this way, and we would not see the mummy.  But wait, what's this?  The mummy is no longer on display--instead, the mummy rests in storage until the town can raise enough money to greatly increase the size of the museum to make room for the mummy and other exhibits.  

I noticed an article from April celebrating a recent fundraiser that raised several thousand dollars.  Good luck, Statesville, a few hundred more of those fundraisers, and you'll be on your way!!  (Direct quote from article:  “As growth is eminent, we have the space to grow into,” said Getsinger [President of Board of Directors]). 

So this was not the day to see the mummy.  Plans had to change.  I again left the adventure in Bill's capable hands, and he again turned right--this time all the way in to Virginia, where we swooped along gorgeous, curving roads, ultimately landing at Smith Mountain Lake, where we stopped to take in phenomenal views and some fried food.  The man-made lake has scores of coves and over 500 miles of shoreline, some of which sit at the bottom of a gorgeous, tree-covered mountain.

The roads there and back toward home were amazing.  We curved through farmland and mountain vistas.  The fog became incredibly thick, and for an hour or so, we couldn't see more than a few yards.  The road emerged in front of us, out of the gray mist, with each stretch and turn unfolding like a ribbon.  At one point the light became much brighter, although the gray still surrounded us--I couldn't see any more of the road, but it was obvious we were no longer surrounded by trees.  "Is it a lake?" I asked, "or a field?"  All I knew was there was an open space on either side of us, but we couldn't tell if we were next to grass or water, the fog so thick, nothing could be made out.

At one point a yellow sign appeared suddenly next to us, with the black silhouette of a bear, informing us of their potential presence on the roads.  I gave a startled yelp, laughing that if a bear suddenly loomed in front of us, tense as I was driving through the soup, I would freak out!  "And now I'm hallucinating a dark shape in front of us," I said, and Bill replied that it was actually a car.  Oh dear!  Sure enough, its squarish outline could be made out in the distance, but soon enough it disappeared as the driver pulled just that much out of our visibility.

The fog would startlingly break at times, too, as we dipped below the cloud line.  Suddenly the beauty of Skyline Drive and similar roads would be in front of us, the wet forest, the black road, the beautiful creeks and mountain trails, the gorgeous pine-and-hardwood skyline.  Beautiful.  Breathtaking.  And then again as quickly, back into the deep fog, the world shrunk again to the monochromatic mist outside our windows.

Now, I know, those of you who come from other mountainous regions laugh at the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia.  "Hahaha," you say; "These are not mountains!  These are merely HILLS!!  Real mountains are TALL and have CLIFFS and GRAND DROPS and stretch to the sky, so high they have snow year-round."  Yes, yes, I understand your need to laugh at our little bitty mountains.  You go right ahead.  Cuz let me tell you something.  The mountains of North Carolina and Virginia are the oldest mountains in the world.  In.  The.  World. 

Other mountains may be bigger and grander and all that, but ours sing with a deep resonance of ancient wisdom, beauty and strength.  Stand quietly on a mountain in the Appalachians, and you can feel the history of an entire continent beneath your feet.  Before the Europeans, before the Vikings, before the indigenous peoples, the mountains have stood here--right here.  The New River, which runs through Virginia and NC, exposes rocks that are one billion years old.  A BILLION years old.  What do you imagine the world looked like a billion years ago?  A BILLION years ago. 

Want to feel small?  Don't stand in front of a tall mountain reaching high into the sky; stand on one of our mountains, and know that it has been here for a BILLION years.  How many creatures have stood, skittered, slithered, swum, flown, scootched, marched, run, and skedaddled in that exact spot--that exact spot--over the last BILLION years?  Who will stand in that spot a billion years from now, and not care one bit about us and our fog and our families and our thwarted mummy adventures?  

These are the thoughts that run through my brain as I twist through our beautiful state and its delightful neighbor.  And when you see the lake, it's a rare time when you can look up at one of our mountains and have a fairly flat vista in front of you.  The lake is a result of damming in the 20s, so I could not indulge a fantasy that the lake stood at the foot of this mountain for long, but the beauty of thick trees stretching overhead and rolling into the sky, made low by the tumbling fog/clouds, took my breath away.  

So I didn't get to see a 6000-year-old mummy, but I got to listen to a billion-year-old mountain. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Diego and the Rainbow Bridge

"Mom, would you mind if I put a dead chihuahua in our freezer?"

No mother wants to get this text.  But for the mother who did--my bestest ever bestie bestie--it was not a surprise. How would you like to live a life where THAT text is not even a surprise?

Later I saw the Facebook updates from both the bestie and the daughter -- anyone missing a chihuahua in our neighborhood, please call.  I realized right away, my niece wanted to let the family know gently that their beloved pet didn't make it.  I admit, though, I imagined her finding a dead dog on the sidewalk and picking it up.

However, the story, I learned, went like this...  The chihuahua, an intact male wearing a pink collar, was loose on a busy street and was struck.  My niece, who has been a vet tech for years and is in school studying animal sciences, witnessed the unfortunate scene. The chihuahua, later dubbed Diego, didn't make it.  A nearby vet was also on the scene to "assist."  

My niece would track the owners down and be kind.  But she would need some time.  Could the vet take the pink-collared wonderdog?  No.  (Why not, mean vet?  You've surely got the facility to store the poor guy!  Remind me never to go to you for my veterinary needs.)  But the vet did offer gloves and a specimen bag for appropriate home storage.  

In the days that followed, several theories of Diego's unfortunate circumstance bubbled up.  The pink collar and be-testicled nature stumped us.  We imagined the loving family, the pink collar, the kisses and hugs, the carry-the-cutie-everywhere habits, and expressed our concern for this sweet dog's family.

In the end, though, no one claimed little Diego, and he spent a week in a suburban freezer.  This morning, though, I got these texts, and we can all rest easily that Diego is in a better place...

"We are all awake getting ready to bid farewell to Diego, the frozen chihuahua.  He will be buried by the reservoir this morning.  Husband and daughter will ensure his safe travel over the rainbow bridge.  The caped crusaders in the dark of night, saving furry little souls."

I.  Love.  My.  Life.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Keeping Life Interesting

This was the weekend with Mead Day in it.  Mead Day, as some of you may already know, is the first Saturday in August and is used to bring awareness to that most wonderful elixir, honey wine.  Like many things of the 21st century, modern mead-makers have elevated this delicious treat to levels of deliciousness heretofore unheard of.  Take, for example, the Chocolate Orange Reserve blend of Starrlight Mead, which is our local meadery in Pittsboro.  Chocolate.  Orange.  Mead.


So anyway, it is my strong affection for Starrlight Mead that brings me to Mead Day each year.  And the event always delights.  For one thing, let's start off with a glass of the richly delicious Blackberry Mead, a deep red liquid of honey, blackberry, and yum, with great legs that roll gently over the palate and into the bloodstream with all the intoxicating effects of the best wines and none of the bothersome side effects--I don't get a wine headache or the wide-awake-in-the-middle-of-the-night problems that come from grape-based wines.  (Please, yes, GIVE ME MORE MEAD.)

So we first stopped in to the meadery itself, equipped ourselves with glasses of blackberry mead, and then headed into the rain to check out the local wares.  We were all surprised, of course, to find a truly autumnal day in the middle of our Carolina summer.  We have endured a very wet year, from snow and ice all winter, to a rainy rainy spring, and now a summer marked by torrential downpours, where the radar not only shows orange, but red, maroon and purple as well, along with temps pressing against three digits for several days running.

But we awoke Saturday to a morning in the low 60s, and even as we got ready to leave for the afternoon festival, I was donning a sweatshirt and preparing myself for a day more like an NC October.  The air was cool, and instead of the steamy humidity we'd been struggling through all week, we were now looking at a misty rain in a steady, but not unpleasant, downfall.  What better way to celebrate a beverage of our Celtic heritage than with a rainy day????

So as I walked among the vendors of such beautiful trinkets as jewelry, faerie houses, iron-worked candlesticks, beeswax candles and soaps, and crocheted dragons, I really didn't mind the rain that fell softly down, dampening my shirt, cooling my toes, and occasionally trickling through my hair.  The organizers had arranged the tents such that both the vendors and the attendants were under cover as we walked through the rows--only as we moved from section to section were we truly exposed to the weather.  

As with many such celebrations, a group of gentlemen hosted a sword-fighting competition with exhibition fighting and a chance to test your own skill against trained swordsmen, all for the benefit of the day's charity.  So I stood for quite some time next to the sword fighting tent and watched as grown men donned armor and beat the crap out of one another with sticks and pointy things.  We stood long enough, my friends and I, that the rain could not go unnoticed, and while we weren't soaked through, we were certainly wet.  And I realized as I stood that the rain added a certain context to the event, as I can imagine the people of Scotland and Ireland must develop a tolerance to a lot of rain.  As a younger person, the rain would have deterred me.  I would have bemoaned the bad luck, as the weather would have "ruined" the event.  Now, though, I realize life is short, and if I'm going to go enjoy a little Blackberry Mead, I'm certainly not going to let a little drizzle stop me.  I realized, as I stood there, that our Celtic ancestors must have learned that lesson early on, for in an area where rain is a near-constant companion, you must be willing to stand in the rain, or you wouldn't be able to enjoy much at all.  So while I looked out at the deep greenery around me, and enjoyed the mist coming down, and laughed at the fairly baudy humor of the sword fighters, I realized what a joy it is to be able to participate in Mead Day and not fret one bit about the cool rain or the damp chill creeping into my shoes. 

And so was my philosophical point of view as I headed back into the meadery for a second glass of blackberry yum, and then had a sit in front of the delightful band.  I spent some time talking to the crochet lady as well.  She had made dragons and gnomes and all sorts of fantasy creatures, including an Ewok and a Yoda.  She had a kitchen witch on a broom, and as we talked, she lifted the kitchen witch's cape and exposed a little, crocheted rear end, chuckling as she did so.  "You hang the witch from a string," she said, "and if she turns so she is facing out (and you can see her bum), then you know it's a night to order take-out and not cook."  I fell in love with the beautiful crochet lady who wore a lovely leather mask, flowing skirts and a large, jewel-toned dragon on her shoulder. 

Such was Mead Day, 2014.  Thank you Becky Starr (and Ben too!) of Starrlight Mead, for making it happen!!!

That evening we ate dinner with friends and then went to see Guardians of the Galaxy.  We had a great time, and laughed a lot, sitting in my living room and tossing jokes back and forth that can never be repeated, partly for their adults-only content, and partly because these things just lose something in the translation.  Nevertheless, I laughed from my belly till I had tears in my eyes.

I had made myself a promise that I would try each weekend to do something worthy of a blog entry, and then blog each week.  This would accomplish two things--make my life a lot more interesting, and get me back to writing.  I certainly succeeded this weekend, because even after the fun of Mead Day, we still had Sunday, which included another trip out to Pittsboro, this time to enjoy the big cats at Carolina Tiger Rescue.

I've let too many months go by since I was there last, and so I was delighted to get back to see my old friends.  We walked the gravel paths, chuffling at the tigers, being ignored by the lions, and getting quite a lecture from the smaller cats.  Sunday's weather was absolutely perfect, and we were able to shed the sweatshirts and trek the path with little ado.  I got to see Aria again, one of the Carolina Tiger miracles, who arrived in their care at the edge of life, having suffered from an illness that left her desperately thin and miserable.  She had owners who loved her but simply could not provide the care a tiger needs, and after only a few months at Carolina Tiger was on the mend, and now, many months later, is robust, beautiful, happy and playful, sporting a lovely and thick ruff of fur--a marked departure from the thinning, sad hair she had arrived with. 

I saw Mona and Moki, two dark orange, glorious tigers, who arrived at Carolina Tiger Rescue full of aggression and anger, seeming a lot like the patients I've worked with, angry after years of struggle, distrustful, hungry, and oozing neurotic misery.  Within a year of the careful, consistent, relatively-stress-free life at Carolina Tiger Rescue, they became lovely, poised, delightfully mischievous tigers.  They have lived at Carolina Tiger Rescue many years now, and they are wonderful .  They had never had an opportunity to be socialized properly, so they are still naughty neighbors--aggressive against the fence and full of posturing, negative energy to their peers--so they have a privacy fence constructed of used traffic barrels that allows them the illusion of alone time.  But damn, they are beautiful.

Dinner on Sunday was another treat--Carmen's Cuban Cafe near the airport.  If you're local and haven't yet been, I highly recommend it.  And so you see, promising myself a blogworthy weekend worked out, and I'm hoping the trend continues!!