Sunday, October 21, 2012

Remodeling Connections

"All things are connected," observed the Victorian author E.M. Forester.

Clearly he had remodeled a kitchen.

When my husband and I embarked on our kitchen remodel we decided to do it on the cheap, which was a win-win situation: Mr. Wonderful liked my frugality and after "redoing" our guestroom together, I liked that he still liked me.  DIY home remodels had fractured stronger relationships than ours, so I was thrilled he was game to tackle the hardest room in the house on my bare-bones budget.

Our planned remodel consisted of painting the cabinets, replacing their hardware and installing a backsplash (that was both practical and gorgeous; another win-win!)  And that was where we planned to finish the remodel.  But plans are things you make before your kitchen collapses around you.  What we didn't plan for was Forester's insight: "All things are connected".   Let me tell you, the bookish Brit wasn't kidding.

A kitchen is connected to a stove, so we bought one.  A stove is connected to an overhead hood, so we purchased one.  A hood is connected to a ceiling vent, so we busted through to the roof and made one.  A ceiling hole is connected to repair work, so we insulated and replastered.  Hoods are connected to symmetry, so once our narrow stove was centered under the hood it produced gaps on either side of it... and gaps as wide as the Grand Canyon aren't connected to anything but needed to be, so we made two cabinets to fill them in.  New cabinets are connected to finding things easily or why else would you bother installing the darn things in the first place?  So we built pull-out drawers.  Pull-out drawers are connected to special parts, so we special ordered their specialness despite their extra special arrival delay.  All of this stuff is connected to our money, which was in shorter supply now than when we'd started this %&#@$ DIY project, which was all your cheap, frickin' idea!

The money, the stress of cooking in a lumberyard, the constant scrapping-and-making of plans, this gentle readers, was why relationships broke during DIY projects!

E.M. recognized the ugly truth of remodels but he also gave me the solution.  I walked out to Mr. Wonderful's work bench.  Sawdust covered his dark hair, band-aids were wrapped around three of his fingers.  He set his drill down.

"I'm making steak for dinner," I said.
"Great I'm starving..." he said giving me the first smile of the day.  "Crap, then I have to hook up the stove again."
"Nope.  We're grilling out."
"Yes" he said high-fiving me.

It's connections, people.  With all the kitchen, stuff, crap in a remodel don't forget to connect to the people.  Because... all things are connected.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

How Do I Love Thee, Backsplash?

(With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett-Browning)

Oh, Backsplash, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways!

I love thy depth, breadth, and porcelain height
That lets me keep food stains out of sight
With a quick wipe from a moistened dishcloth.
I love the clean look you give to every day’s
Kitchen moments, by sun or candlelight.
I love thee freely, since I bought thee.
I love thee purely, since I have only thee.
I love thee with the passion I felt before
For my favorite blue jeans or my childhood toys; Like Paddington and Pooh Bear.
None of which was clean but you get what I’m saying.
I love thee with the sweet love I lost
After I learned the truth about Santa.
I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears of all my life. 
Thank you for making everything better.  Will you be my wife?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Kitchen BEFORE, AFTER and DURING the Backsplash

BEFORE: Here's a close up view of our Kitchen sink the day we moved in.  The "backsplash" tile is so "1970s bathroom shower stall".  

AFTER: Here's a close up view of our finished Kitchen backsplash.  My husband also deleted the light switch by the sink, which we never used.  

DURING: Here's a close up view of the Kitchen backsplash after it had been hung and before it had been grouted.  The tile was affixed to the wall with glue which had squeezed through the tiles so before applying the grout to the backsplash, I had to go over each tile with a toothpick and scrape out the excess glue.  It was like flossing a T. Rex.

In Summary...

BEFORE: Here’s the Kitchen on the day we bought The House, complete with the streaked “Kountry Kitchen” paint job, itty bitty cabinet handles and the lone strip of bathroom (!) tile.

AFTER: Voila!  Here's our Kitchen after we’d painted the cabinets, installed new hardware, bought an oven and oh yeah, hung the porcelain tile backsplash.  Thank you Mr. Wonderful! The kitchen suddenly has a polished, finished, and—to borrow a phrase—a very “now” look to it. I love my Kitchen! I guess this means I have start cooking in it…

Friday, October 12, 2012

Kitchen Remodel: Backsplash Installation

“I got the tiles for the kitchen backsplash,” I told Mr. Wonderful.
“Good,” he said while shaving in the bathroom.
“I got the grout for the tiles.”
“I called the handyman to install it.”
“No way!” he said nicking his chin.

Since buying The House my husband had turned into a Do-It-Yourself maniac.  It started small with him installing handles on the closet doors the week we moved in and grew with each DIY success until now he wanted to single-handedly expand the kitchen to feed 80, add a helicopter landing pad and build a second Griffith Observatory on our roof.  All while working a full time job.  It was crazy.  He was crazy.  He was driving me crazy.

Now he spent hours at hardware stores buying materials.  He spent days on the internet researching DIY projects.  He spent weeks avoiding local handymen. 

One of our neighbors, James, was a certified electrician.  When we first trimmed our palm trees, James thanked us by handing out his business card,
“If you need any electrical repairs, call me,” he said with a wave. 
Instead of seeing this as the friendly gesture it was, Mr. Wonderful viewed it as a challenge to his masculine virility.  I saw his chin jut out in defiance and could hear his brain screaming: Fix our electrical system?  Over my dead body!

So I said goodbye to a weekend with Mr. Wonderful.  And for the next 60 hours I worked, I went to dinner with my girlfriends, I watched every movie at Laemmle’s Polish Film Festival just to avoid being in his hair while he toiled on the remodel.  While I gallivanted around Los Angeles, he prepped the walls, applied the glue and slapped the tile suckers to it. 

Then he rested for two weeks.  After which I, again, became a weekend widow while he spent another weekend applying the grout.  This time I worked overtime at the office, I invited myself to dinner with my girlfriends and their boyfriends, I caught Laemmle’s entire Icelandic Film Fest.  I’d never seen so much ice on film.  During (another) harsh ice film scene I got a text message from Mr. Wonderful.

“Come home."

I returned to the house with coffee, sushi and ice cream.  I entered the kitchen and beheld a finished backsplash and a dirty spouse.

"It’s beautiful,” I gasped.  He ran his grout-encrusted hands through his hair.  He was beautiful.  There was nothing but masculine, virile perfection about him and his work. 

So I decided: If he really wanted to be a DIY maniac… I’d let him.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Kitchen Redo: Kitchen Tile

“The kitchen remodel isn’t finished,” Mr. Wonderful said after dinner. 
“I know,” I said.
“We need a backsplash.” 
“I know.”
What backsplash do you want?”
“I… I don’t know!”

Months before, we had painted, sanded and rehardwared our kitchen.  We’d made the space attractively workable but every time I washed a dish in the sink or cooked on the stove—oil, water or waffles splashed on the walls.  It was a daily reminder that we needed to install a backsplash or eat vertically.  Darn gravity.

So I dove into exploring backsplashes.  I looked at stores, I poured over friends’ Pinterest photos, I barged into strangers’ homes to see what they’d done.  I saw backsplashes in tile, ceramic, porcelain, Paris subway, automobile stainless steel and NASA’s titanium/aluminum combo.  The options were dizzying and oddly, transportation related.  These backsplashes were going places.

After doing more research than they did to develop the Hydrogen Bomb, I decided I wanted my backsplash to be: 1) Practical to keep food from sticking to it; 2) Beautiful to look at; and 3) Wouldn’t cost more than our mortgage.  Clearly I had pursued the wrong career.  If I’d really wanted to make a fortune, I would have gone into selling kitchen backsplashes.  Not selling homes or kitchens just The.  Backsplashes.  

Who would have thought a surface to collect dirt and grease could be so expensive?  Not the Parisian subway designers—√©videment—who had installed Paris subway tile on 200 kilometers of underground walls, floors and ceilings.  Imagine how valuable those tunnels were!  If Europe really wanted to solve its debt crisis it should dislodge just half those metro tiles and sell them to idiot Americans who were crazy about Paris.  I’d be the first in line!  Mais oui!

As much as I loved Paris and its M√©tro, I couldn’t install those tiles in my kitchen for two stark reasons: they were white and I was a slob.

Nope, I needed to hide the dirt with a patterned backsplash, which by the way describes 99% of all tile.  I discovered this fact while shopping in a pocket of Los Angeles called the “Broadway of Backsplashes” except instead of having tony New York theaters located one next to another, this pocket of the San Fernando Valley had one backsplash store located next to another.  And another.  After visiting half a dozen of these stores, all their tiles blended together into a brain smoothie of images and impossible tile combinations like “terracotta-white-marble-glass-bubblegum”.  Looking down the street I saw three dozen more stores just like them

So I fled to Ikea because for once, Ikea had fewer options in tile than anywhere else.  In fact the kitchen tile I liked at Ikea wasn’t even for sale at Ikea but some local Home Plus store  I didn’t care, I loved it!  The tiles were wide porcelain panels covered in streaky lines and I had to have them!  I raced to Home Plus and grabbed a salesclerk, the one with the smiling dark eyes. 

“I want this tile,” I said.
“Would you—” he said. 
“I don’t want to look at another tile.  It’s taken me months to find this one.”
“But would you like—”
“This is what I want, so don’t try to talk me out of it!”
“Would you like a cup of coffee?” he said pointing to the espresso machine on the countertop. 

Although caffeine seemed like the last thing I needed, he made us both a double shot and handed me a coffee cup and saucer so small they belonged in a queen’s dollhouse.  While we sipped the java he brought out another tile sample, which had a similar pattern to ours but was cut in thin rectangles.  I gasped.  It was clean, simple and would give our kitchen a retro feel and I… I loved it even more!  Incredible!  This salesman knew me better than I knew myself.  And when I told him so, his dark eyes smiled even more. 

“Some people think I’m pushy but I just want to help,” he said with grinning eyes.  And help he did.  I bought the tile he suggested, loaded it in my car and thanked him profusely. 

Now I knew why backsplash sellers made the big bucks: they prevented me from making design mistakes, which kept me from re-installing the backsplash twice.  Not having to go through this backsplash drama again?  That’s worth any price.

Next step: Installing the Backsplash!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Home for the Weekend

Nothing says "comfortable" more than the perfect pillow; except cat hair on the furniture.

This timeless pillow is made from a retired U.S. flag.  It's welcoming and has great structure.  For me it encapsulates what "home for the weekend" should be.  Plus it's recycled.  A win-win!

Enjoy the weekend and Columbus Day holiday!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What the Rodeo Taught Me

“Welcome home,” I said embracing Mr. Wonderful at the airport.
He rubbed his neck.  “Remind me never to take a trans-Atlantic flight that starts on the Pacific.”
“The House missed you,” I said.
He nodded.
“The neighbors missed you.”
He nodded.
“Jackson missed you.”
“All that cat misses is a brain.”

He called it.  After witnessing Jackson’s recent run-in with a wild opossum where the cat rolled over and played dead, Mr. Wonderful took to calling him the “Dumbest Kitty Ever”.   Looking at the cold hard facts, if the opossum had attacked Jackson, the cat would now be dead.  So our cat’s existence on the planet continued despite his lack of a brain and his complete physical unfitness.  Forget Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest theory, it didn’t apply to dim, pampered felines whose only street cred was they were named after “Jack” Bauer. 

This pushed me to act.  Perhaps I could help Jackson become less of a pillow and more of a cat?  Perhaps I could reawaken an inner tiger hidden deep, deep down inside him?  Perhaps I could give him the skills to fight off a fierce opossum attack?  


But I had to try. I thought about the Reno Rodeo I’d just been too.  All the events were activities that cowboys, cows and horses really did on a working ranch.  Perhaps I needed to simulate real life cat activities to awaken Jackson’s latent tiger?

Currently Jackson’s day consisted of sleeping, eating and playing with his catnip toy, then… sleeping some more.  We’d bought the mouse-shaped catnip toy for him after he arrived in our home.  It had a Velcro pocket where you could remove the old catnip and restuff it with a fresh supply.  Once a day Jackson would hug it between his front paws and slowly lick it like an ice cream cone.  After which he’d crash into a drug-induced stupor right on the kitchen floor. 

Then it hit me.  Catnip was a drug!  It was preventing our cat from functioning at his highest intelligence or any intelligence.  The worst part: I was his supplier!  How could he get in touch with his inner tiger if he was as high as a kite?  I confiscated the catnip mouse toy and stashed it in the closet. 

Another game we played with Jackson was “catch the pocket pen laser”.  Friends had given us this toy to get our sad, lazy cat moving.  Initially he liked chasing the red light across the floor and around the furniture but after two minutes when he couldn’t catch the red dot in his paws he slumped off to his food bowl and ate.  The laser hadn’t help him become fit, it made him fatter.

So I went out to the garden, found a stick and tied a ribbon to the end of it.  Then I tied the ribbon to the empty catnip mouse toy.  Back inside I twirled this contraption around our cat, who ignored it with boredom.  His message was clear: Hey lady, I'm not bothering with this mouse toy if it isn’t full of drugs.

I continued wiggling the stick, ribbon and mouse toy on the floor for 30 minutes and just when I felt my wrist would fall off from spinning this clunky homemade contraption, the cat turned his head and pounced.  He clutched the mouse toy in his paws and bit the toy even though the toy was devoid of catnip.  He has animal instincts!  He's a tiger!  He's alive!

Back at the house, I showed Mr. Wonderful Jackson’s progress with the mouse toy tied to the ribbon and the stick.  While Mr. Wonderful ate dinner, rehydrated from the flight and kicked back on the sofa I spun the ribbon and stick toy until the cat collapsed into a panting, happy heap on the floor.     

“See,” I said admiring our feline.  “He has some cat instincts.  We just had to simulate his natural environment to bring them out.”
“Chasing a mouse toy doesn’t mean he can fight a opossum.”
“It’s a beginning.”
“It’s the start of a beginning.”
“It’s better than nothing.”  Mr. Wonderful nodded.  The cat walked to the sofa and rested his paw on Mr. Wonderful’s foot. 
“I told you the cat missed you,” I said.
“Did anybody else miss me?”
“I missed you.”
“Prove it,” he said pulling me close.