Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Our New Old Home

The lockbox is coming off the door, the inspection sheet is no longer on display. Crews of people are  not showing up to at random times of day, needing access to our house.
Old Kitchen
New Kitchen
 Our remodel is done and we are thrilled.

It's not just that we have a mudroom or a new kitchen, it's what that change in space has meant to our family.
New main floor powder room.


Previously, with four of us sharing a bathroom, we've gotten into a habit of wandering while preparing for bed. For example, one person uses the sink to wet a toothbrush, then walks around the upstairs to brush teeth because the next person is using the sink to wash her face. By the time the tooth brushing is done the face washing is done, but then I'm leaning over the side, getting just a bit of mirror space so I can take out contacts as the face-washer wets a toothbrush.

Now when I want to get ready for bed, I go into my bedroom, shut the door and use my own bathroom. No one else needs to use the sink. No one else needs to use my mirror. It takes me half the time because I'm not waiting for someone else to be done. Ironically, though, we are all accustomed to walking around while brushing teeth, so now we have to train the girls to not wander into our bedroom while readying for bed.

New master bath.
The new kitchen has changed our family dynamic.

I used to enjoy cooking, but for me part of the enjoyment is being able to visit with other people while I'm working. This hasn't been possible for years, as there wasn't a suitable place in the kitchen for others to be. Many times Wayne or Kristi would stand in the kitchen to chat, but would have to move while I opened a drawer or needed in a cupboard. Trying to share in preparing a meal was practically impossible. I often felt cut off from the rest of the family, alone in the kitchen while everyone else gathered in the living room or on the patio.

Now, more than one person can be in the kitchen at the same time. The girls sit at the island and do homework while I cook; I don't have to keep stopping and walking into the dining room to look at a problem or hear a question. Homework feels less of an interruption and annoyance and more a part of the evening's activities.

I enjoy cooking again for the first time in years. And I can't wait to be able to finally get some of the kitchen gadgets that I haven't been able purchase before because there was no place to store them.

The new space has also allowed Wayne and I to have much-needed couple time.  We can sit down and share a glass of wine in the kitchen while the girls are in the living room, meaning that our conversation is a not open for commentary.
Our original bathroom, refreshed for the girls' use.
Our bedroom feels like a retreat. Even though it is right next to Marissa's bedroom, it feels a bit more secluded and private. We have a chair in our bedroom -- a chair! I have sat there in the early morning with a cup of a coffee and a computer, writing. What a joy.
My new coffee and writing corner.
I am so grateful that we were able to make the location we love into the home we love. 


Thursday, September 08, 2016

Arkansa Edition

Terry and Dad together; a good evening on the patio.
My dad has not been in the best of health for some time. He is living with stage IV colon cancer,  with all the trials and tribulations that come along with that condition. He has been on a chemotherapy regimen for about a year, which doctors tell him should keep the tumors from growing and spreading, if he can withstand the side effects. As soon as the chemo stops working or his quality of life is such that he decides not to continue treatment, the cancer will probably continue to spread and grow.

This is a tough diagnosis to take. Quality of life has been less than ideal, not just for Dad but for my stepmom, who has been thrust into the role of primary caretaker.

I have not been to Arkansas to see Dad for some time, not to say that I haven't seen him or don't talk with him, but he came to Minnesota twice last year. He understands that my life is busy and it's hard to get away.

But at some point "busy" becomes "bullshit," and the people who are really important in your life must come to the surface. On some level I've been holding off on visiting, waiting for him to have the energy to have company. I finally came to the realization that I need to make the trip.

Kristi and I planned a trip over Labor Day weekend, flying from Minneapolis to St. Louis, then taking a 10-seater directly to Jonesboro, Arkansas.
We ain't in Minnesota anymore. A drive-through liquor store. They'll hand you a cup with ice with your vodka. No lie.
We had ourselves a time. There was plenty of "gabooning," as my grandfather Vern used to say (his term for visiting). The weather was divine, with plenty of opportunity to sit on the porch in a nice breeze, taking in the peace and quiet while three white dogs played the part of immovable porch rugs. Hummingbirds flitted from the feeder to trees; crickets and other insects provided the background music to their wings.

The largest and most immovable of all the white dogs, Jack.

Can you find all three?
We ate some good southern fare, and I made authentic Minnesota Wild Rice Soup, with wild rice smuggled from Minnesota. (Apparently bags of wild rice look like weed when viewed through a security x-ray machine, and warrant extra screening.) My nephew Sam decided it looked like bird suet, and leftover soup the rest of the weekend was donned "liquid suet."

I spent time with family members that Kristi has gotten to know so well through her many visits. We had a feast of pulled pork, barbecued ribs and smoked chicken.

Kristi and I helped with chores that escape doing in the midst of caring for someone else. We made trips to the store for victuals and supplies, vacuumed, helped organize the week's pills, cooked, and cleaned dishes, usually accompanied by laughter and banter.
Terry gives me a tour of the yard, including a fig tree.
By the end of three days Kristi and I were ready to get back to the land of North, and I think Dad and Terry were ready for us to leave. They themselves had to travel to Nashville the next day. What is it they say about fish and company?

Memories were made, and that's all that matters.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Don't get me wrong. 90 percent of our remodel project has gone fantastically. And the majority of the big work, the stuff that really matters like laying a foundation, framing, electrical work, etc., has been done flawlessly and on time.

But in all projects some rain must fall, and the last three weeks it's been pouring. And unfortunately these final "touches" have everything to do with the creature comforts of why we took on a remodel in the first place, so they are hard to ignore.

It started with our kitchen backsplash tile, which I saw installed for the first time as the tiler was putting the final piece into place. I walked in and stared in utter astonishment -- were my eyes deceiving me?



"How do you like your tile?" he said, expecting a positive response.

"It's beautiful!" I replied. "But...it's not the color I picked out."

"Oh, ha ha, people say that to us all the time."

"No really, I wish I were kidding. It is not the tile we picked out."

Within 30 minutes the two people who had spent an entire day tiling our entire kitchen began the work of ripping it all out before it set and took the drywall with it. I felt badly for this small business owner to literally un-do an entire day's work, not knowing if he would get paid for it or not. It hurt all of our hearts to see that gorgeous tile in a trash can, all that beautiful greenish-gray tile, when we had selected white.

Turns out that the store we had purchased the tile from mislabeled the sample. Our designer ordered the right color, assuming that "Whisk Me Away" meant white since that's what the label said on the sample. I had set the white tile out the night before, but, in a fit of neatness, Wayne had put it away, so they didn't have a piece for comparison.

That same day our electrician informed me that the lights we had selected to hang vertically alongside our mirrors in our master bathroom were only meant to be hung horizontally. Plus...they were as bright as a fucking lighthouse lamp. He hung one up just to show me -- I can't imagine how someone could see past the brightness of that light to see their reflection in a mirror.

Back those lights went and a re-order for more appropriate light fixtures was on task.

The tiler got to work tiling our bathroom while waiting for the re-order of the correct white kitchen tile. Then the plumber came to put in our faucets -- finally, we would have a working master bath!

But alas, the faucets were set too low, the nozzles hung into the sinks themselves and the turn knob could not be turned before hitting the countertop. The beautiful tile work around the faucets was ripped out, the dry wall taken out, and the plumber raised the plumbing up and all was re-done again. Only this time the tile is not QUITE as perfect as the same time it was laid, and we can kind of see where the tile had to be taken down for this fix.

Throwing away more beautiful tile.
At least the SHOWER is ready to use! Except...the glass shower door hasn't arrived yet. And we still don't have mirrors. So we can use the toilet in our master bath, but then we have to walk to the original bathroom to wash our hands and brush our teeth, and the four of us are in a familiar bathroom battle.

Finally, the shower door arrived along with the mirrors, and the faucets were re-installed in the new, proper location. A working bathroom! I couldn't wait to take a shower in our OWN bathroom! Except...why doesn't the water drain? Not a single drop of water made it down the drain -- I had to stop my shower early or risk an overflow onto our bathroom floor.

A shower full of water.
Did you know that plumbers do an air test any time they install new plumbing? That makes sure that there are no leaks in all of the pipes that are laid. When they're done with the air test, they're supposed to take out the plastic stopper that keeps the air from escaping the plumbing during the test. And when they don't, well, then you don't exactly have a working shower.

Then this past week we were startled to get a text from our girls informing us that water was pouring into our kitchen through a recessed light. The water was from Marissa's bath in our original bathroom, NOT the new bathroom. What?!

Turns out that the construction work against the back of the original wall had displaced tiles in our original bathroom, so there was nothing keeping the water from running through the floor and out our new kitchen ceiling.

The radiator was drained, moved away from the wall and the tiler was called back again so he could fix the files underneath said radiator that had broken during the construction project.

Broken tiles (plus nasty dirt) in our existing bath due to construction on the wall behind it.
Our circuit breaker that controls our oven and frig goes off at random times, apparently due to an electric current fluctuation in the frig model itself. Fix is in order.

Our newly corrected bathroom faucets apparently STILL don't meet code. Being worked on.

Our hood vent for our oven was delivered with two massive scratches down the middle of it. The hood vent sat in our basement unopened for 2 months before they went to install it and found the scratch. We are waiting for a replacement. Seriously, people.

By this time our project manager was pretty pissed with the number of things that weren't going right at the end of this project. And for as nice and understanding as Wayne and I can be, we were rather pissed, too.

We appreciate the work all the crews have done in our house, but we just want them to leave and not come back.

Once it's all working, that is.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Surprise!


Our family has had to get used to constant change since this spring. For the most part I think we've adjusted well - the girls shared a bedroom beautifully for nearly three months. We learned to live without running water or a sink. We adjusted to eating in a variety of places: the Desk Kitchen, the patio table, now standing around an island because we have no chairs.

What better way to embrace chaos than to plan a surprise birthday party for Marissa...at our still-being-remodeled house?

The party was entirely planned by her big sister Lindsey. After sharing a room with her for three months she knew her well and planned a spa party put on with her friends. There were four stations: pedicures, manicures, facials and make up stations. Lindsey told Marissa that she was hosting a spa party for her own friends, so it didn't seem unusual for Lindsey to be planning and scheming.

Wayne took Marissa out for lunch as a special daddy-daughter treat, since he had been traveling over her actual birthday a few days earlier. While she was gone Lindsey and I frantically prepared -- I got groceries, Lindsey set up the spa stations and drinks in the kitchen.

When Marissa got home Lindsey led her into the kitchen to show her the spa set up. All of Marissa's friends had arrived by then and hid behind the island, then jumped up and yelled "SURPRISE!" And she was!

Marissa had a fantastic time getting her nails done, a facial, pedicure, all of it. We learned that some of her friends aren't quite as "girly" as Marissa is and didn't take advantage of the spa stations, but they seemed to have a good time anyway. We had gluten-free chocolate mousse cake which was divine!
Cake cutting.
It was supposed to rain that afternoon which was concerning,  since all the activities had to happen outside. At the time our living room floor was covered in paper, our dining room filled with furniture and our basement was our storage area where everything else is stored! Thankfully it turned into a beautiful afternoon and everyone could enjoy the great outdoors.

Marissa was very surprised and grateful for her party.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Eleven

Self portrait. 
When we had concrete poured for our new patio, she wondered how the ants and worms felt when they tried to reach the surface only to find concrete in their way. The thought worried her.

She has instant love for every dog she sees being walked on the street. She would probably feel that way about cats too, but most people don't walk their cats.

We once saw a homeless man in frigid weather holding out a sign asking for help. She asked what it meant to be a veteran (because that's what his sign said) and why we hadn't stopped to help him. How do you explain to your children the social injustice of poverty and safety nets that aren't wide enough to catch everyone? I did my best, and there was silence in the back seat. I turned to look and she was crying, tears silently rolling down her cheeks.

You've never met an 11-year-old with a bigger heart.

She is happiest and most herself with her music, making videos, singing and dancing. If you can sneak a peek without her knowing you're there, you will witness pure joy.

She is chronically messy, yet meticulously organized. She brushes her hair religiously every day but has to be reminded to wash it.


Take a moment to look her in the eyes while she's talking and you'll be distracted by their depth. Are they grey? Green? Brownish blue?

She is our Marissa, and she is eleven.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Machine Shed


If you stop and listen, really listen, you can hear the life that once was there.

A tractor starting up, its long, slow crank to life. The clanking of tools. A command yelled over the sound of work. Perhaps a word of frustration. 



At the end of the day, the doors would pull shut and relative silence would fall over the machinery, interrupted only by the small scuffles of cats chasing mice, or birds in the rafters.


The machine shed is mostly empty now, or at least more empty than it's been in a long time. Favorite tractors have been hauled away, to be cherished or used by other family members. Cars that were in good working order are living their second or third life with someone else. 

Two cats remain to keep the mice population down. They are friendly and still call this shed home. Perhaps they will stay when the new owners come, and continue their useful lives for a new family.



Soon the final pieces will be hauled away, and the shed will be quiet and empty.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Sunrise



I walked to the lake and to the fishing dock to see the sunrise.

By the time I arrived the sun was up but clouds were obscuring it. I decided to wait to see if it would eventually break through the clouds.

My watch said the time was 5:56 a.m. I decided to absorb the morning until 6:00, then would walk home.

I watched the sun in an epic battle with the clouds. It looked brighter, then darker. Rays of sunlight escaped and colored the entire sky, then were obscured again.



Puffy clouds floated close to me, occasionally lit from beneath by the rising pink light, other times dark with the remains of night.


Fish jumped. Seagulls dove. Ducks fluffed their feathers, and geese chased each other across the lake.

It was beautiful, peaceful and quiet. I filled my lungs with air and my heart with gratitude, then looked at my watch to see if it was yet 6:00.

It had just turned to 5:57.

I was in awe at all I had seen in one small, little minute.



How much more slowly life would go by if we only took the time to enjoy it.