(TCBTB)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

remodel...mostly by yourself.

As I mentioned, the arrival of the new range and refrigerator officially kicked off our kitchen remodel. I've been planning it in my head for, oh, a year, but as we know, I sometimes struggle with actually pulling the trigger and starting a project. Now, though? It's underway!

Please don't be mistaken. I'm doing this mostly by myself, and there are a smurf-ton of changes I plan on making, so it's going to take a few months.

Here's the semi-current state of our kitchen:
The cabinetry/appliance heart of the kitchen...
...Moving to the right of the cabinets - this side of
the kitchen opens out into the family room...

...Moving to the right of the open side, opposite the cabinetry/
appliance portion (that desk is now upstairs, and that wall is bare)...
...Moving to the right once more, the long wall of the kitchen (circa
June, according to that calendar), bringing us back to the fridge.
Those bookshelves are now in the family room.


That's the kitchen. Kinda outdated, not enough storage, peeling laminate countertops - but with sturdy maple cabinets and (since yesterday) new major appliances. I was waiting for the fridge so I could draw up plans for what's going to happen next - building the fridge in. I'm hoping to follow the lead of Sherry and John at Young House Love. They built their fridge in not too long ago, and I think I can...sort of mostly do what they did? 

Side note: It's true that I read YHL every.single.day., and it's true that I find most of my DIY inspiration from them. But I promise you, I realized only after we ordered our new fridge (which we found in the scratch-and-dent section at Lowe's) that it is EXACTLY THE SAME AS THEIR NEW FRIDGE. Stalk much? Yeah. Moving on...

Here are the tentative plans, Stans:

  • Move the range to the fridge's current space (moving it because the dishwasher hits the oven handle every time we open it); remove the wall cabinets there and have a new sexy range hood installed (tentative)
  • Replace a skinny base cabinet with a new one and outfit the new one with a sliding garbage bin; reinstall the skinny cabinet between the range and the fridge and install floating shelves over it
  • Move an IKEA Malm dresser that I got dirt-cheap on Craigslist to the range's old spot, and build a shallow drawer on the top so it's the right height
  • Build a shelf over the IKEA dresser (where the range hood currently is) for the microwave
  • Remove the wall cabinet that's currently above the fridge and use that, along with new planks, to build the fridge in
  • Build an 84"H x 36"W x 18"D pantry using these plans
  • Replace two functionally-deficient wall cabinets with a corner cabinet
  • Remove the circa-1966 wavy decorative molding from the soffit over the sink
  • Fill in the current design on the cabinet doors, install a new molding design a la our new closet doors, paint them white, and add new hardware
  • Install new countertops (well, have them installed; I ain't DIY-ing that)
  • Do a backsplash (maybe high-gloss paint in a deep shade of blue with this over it)
  • Install new flooring
  • Install new under-cabinet lights and a pendant over the sink
  • Maybe buy a cheap broom pantry & white desk for the bare wall where the desk used to be
  • Replace the broken toaster and broken dish drying rack
  • Add crown molding

I've been saving up for a long time to do this, and I gave myself a budget of $5,000 (+ $2,000 for appliances - fridge, range, range hood, undermount sink, toaster - I should come in way under budget on that part). The bulk of the budget will go towards countertops (I've got my eye on these), though I'm still undecided on whether it will look stupid to have fancy stone countertops along with cheap-o vinyl flooring...that will look a little something like this:


Ignore the white seams - those won't be there. And pretend the cabinets are white.

Will it look stupid to have cheap floors with nice countertops? I definitely want floors that are warm (i.e., not tile), that we don't have to be careful with (i.e., not hardwood), and that we can install ourselves (i.e., self-stick vinyl tiles). But I also want purty countertops that will last a long time. Ehhhh, who knows. This is what stymies me: So much to do, and so much of it is absolutely foreign to me.

But I'm going to push through (push through my first-world problems, that is). Next weekend's tasks? Get an electrician to install a new range outlet where the fridge currently is, and a new outlet where the range hood currently is. (Or is there an outlet somewhere there already, for the range hood? Hmm...Better ask the electrician, and also ask if we need a new outlet for the new range hood location.) Also: Remove the faux copper backsplash, the crown molding on the cabinets, and the wall cabinet above the fridge. See, if I take things down, I need to replace them with something else! I should try to remove that skinny base cabinet while I'm at it...and visit the Habitat for Humanity ReStore to assess my base cabinet/corner cabinet (need one of each) options. 

First things first: Get an electrician over here. Scary, for some reason. But awesome, too. I think?

Monday, February 27, 2012

check yourself I.

Okay - this was Week One of holding myself accountable to new standards of physical and mental health. I detailed last week my proposed methods of promoting my own mental health, and the goal was to do at least 10 minutes a day of any one of those activities - meditation, yoga, deep breathing, journaling, stretching, progressive muscle relaxation.

Wellll...there were only two days where I can say I truly devoted myself, for a full 10 minutes, to a mental health exercise. Both times, it was deep breathing. So, okay, it's a start. And I can say that a some good things came from Week One:

  • The two times I did the deep breathing were freaking awesome. Very calming, very effective.
  • I think there were about five other times throughout the week that I stopped what I was doing to "find my breath." Finding my breath was (1) easier to do after devoting myself to concentrated deep breathing sessions, even just two of them, and (2) still calming even when I didn't spend a full 10 minutes doing it. Word.
  • I found another activity to add to my arsenal (because "arsenal" sounds way more badass than the cliched social work "toolbox" <shudder>) - Doing Nothing. It's one of the first principles in Martha Beck's book The Joy Diet, which is sort of a partner book to her Finding Your Own North Star, which taught me about essential self vs. social self. (Enough linkage for ya there? Sorry.) Martha Beck has been a favorite author of mine for about a decade, but I only recently started reading her self-help books. They are, like Martha herself, witty, hilarious, and decidedly un-cheesy. What can I say, I'm a fan obsessed. But anyway - I'm learning about Doing Nothing, which is part of her Joy Diet, which I predict will offer even more activities for me to add to my toolbox arsenal.

And although I struggled with my goals for mental health activities, my physical activity goals for for my work's exercise program are going well. I'm supposed to do 30 minutes of activity, three times a week, plus at least 10 minutes the other four days of the week. Might not sound like a lot to you, but I am in full winter-blues couch-potato mode right now. It's been baby steps to get me to meet my admittedly meager goals. The mild(ish) temperatures are helping - I've been going for a lot of walks - and last week, I brought my little five-pound weights up by the television. Yeah, that's how bad it's gotten. I went from doing full-on Insanity in the fall for six weeks to begrudgingly doing squats and bicep curls while watching Hoarders.

Which brings me to my Week Two goals:
  1. Do a new physical activity this week - anything. One step aerobics class, one drop-in class at the rec center, one Insanity DVD. ANYTHING.
  2. Do a new mental activity this week. You know...going to a yoga class would meet both of these goals...but do at least one new activity from the list, and aim again for the 10 minutes per day goal.
  3. Order the paperback version of The Joy Diet. The Kindle version isn't cutting it. I love my Kindle for most books, but sometimes, I need to be able to dog-ear the corners and scribble notes in the margins. Yes, I know that, technically (no pun intended), you can perform similar functions on the Kindle...but it's not the same. I want to be able to easily access the lines that inspired me and the exercises I want to remember.
I think that's enough for Week Two. (Side note, yes, I'm actually on Week Three of of the exercise program, but it's only Week Two of my individualized plan, so whatevs.) Really, the best side effect of incorporating mental health maintenance is that it's already so much easier for me to locate the calm center of myself, even though I only did two "real" breathing sessions. And a fun side effect of the increased physical activity? During one of my walks, J.J. and I happened across a house in the neighborhood that's undergoing construction - an addition over the garage, which is totally my "should-we-ever-happen-to-magically-fall-into-a-medium-to-large-amount-of-money" dream. Slash, maybe we'll take out another loan to make it happen, because we love, love, love this neighborhood, and specifically the location of our house within the neighborhood...but we'll outgrow it if we have more than two kids. I seriously want this to happen someday. Like, I already have floor plans (with measurements) in the back of my journal detailing our new master suite / first-floor mudroom & laundry room. Yeah. And a Pinterest board devoted to it. Yeah.

What the hell was I talking about? Oh, right - so we found a house in the neighborhood that's under construction. In a move totally out of my character, I left a note in their mailbox a few days later saying I'd love it if they could contact me to chat about the addition. And a woman called a few days later saying she'd be happy to talk with me! I missed her call intentionally didn't pick it up because I don't answer my cell if I don't recognize the number, but she left a message saying they were going on vacation until this past weekend, but I could call then. I procrastinated calling back by moving furniture and measuring kitchen stuff (anxiety avoidance techniques, what what!), and finally, I had to bribe myself to call her back: I couldn't go to Lowe's to get my lumber for kitchen projects until I called her back. Weird-ass bribe, but it worked. The woman was so, so nice, and she shared a bunch of details - square footage, timeline, cost, architect and contractor names, etc. She also said we were welcome to check it out once it was finished in a few months. Yes! Awesome!

...So now I just need to realllly work on my mental health exercises before I go see it, because even talking on the phone with her left my cheeks flaming red and my nose a sweaty mess. Score one for anxiety, and phone anxiety, specifically. UGH PHONES. Doesn't matter if I'm talking to my best friend, my husband, a stranger, or the lady down the street...phones suuuuck. Again: Need to incorporate the mental health exercises. STAT. 

Here's to Week Two.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

fix it yourself.

Ahh, a big weekend for the kitchen! After pouncing on great appliance deals last weekend, they were due to be delivered yesterday. Around 3:00, just as I took a phone call from a dude who was interested in our old fridge (posted on Craigslist), the doorbell rang...fridge and range! Fridge and range! -Not actually, like, ringing the doorbell (though next time, the delivery guys might consider staging that to up the "wow" factor), but they were here.

Aaand so were the issues.

I'm not sure why, after all the updating we've done, it still surprises me EVERY TIME when a project takes twice as long as we planned. For reals, I had done all the prep I could think of: I had moved our cars out of the garage; shoveled and salted the walkways; wiped down the fridge, freezer, oven, and stove inside and out; emptied everything; unscrewed a doorstop on the sliding wall to accommodate a wide load; and even laid a tarp on the hardwood so it wouldn't get salty. DUDE, I OVER-PREPARED.

The house disagreed.

First was a teeny little bump - the delivery guy wanted to know if we had purchased a cord for our new range. Nope, seeing that I was never told to do so. Ack. He said it was okay to use the cord from the old range, so? Problem solved. I breathed a little sigh of relief and figured that was our issue of the day. Old range out, new range in, bibbity-bobbity-boo.




After they moved the old range into the garage, where it awaits adoption by a yet-to-be-named Craigslist buyer, it was on to the fridge. So, once upon a time, our old freezer started making uncontrollable amounts of ice. We put bowls in there to catch it; they overflowed. We tried turning it off; no dice, just ice. And more ice. And more and more ice. We didn't know why, and we didn't really use the ice very much anyway, so J.J. dismantled it. Well, that was actually a clue of what was about to come.

The head delivery guy took one look at the old copper water line that ran to the fridge and said, "Now, you may have to replace this before we can do anything." Uh, what? "This is old. You start messing with it, you're gonna get some leaking." Sonofamother. Sure enough, after attempting to stop the water flow to the fridge line by turning the shut-off valve (Teachable Moment: that is the ACTUAL NAME of that plumbing part) in the basement, the delivery guy loosened the nut by the fridge...and, Houston, we had a wet problem. All over the kitchen floor. This is very likely why our ice-maker over-functioned a while back - the water line got out of control. J.J. shut off the water to the whole house, which was the only way we could stop the leak at that point. 

Meanwhile, I was on the phone with a dude from Craigslist (henceforth known as Craig; he became a major player in our SATURDAY OF FUN) who was ready to pick up the old fridge within the hour. Delivery Guy shook his head, said he couldn't detach the old fridge without risking major leakage, suggested we hire a handyman to help us out, and basically - after depositing the new fridge in another part of our kitchen - dusted his hands off and hauled ass.

Awesome.

I relayed the issue to Craig over the phone, who responded, "Oh, I've got a handyman with me. He's coming to help me move the fridge." What's that? You just happen to have a handyman with you? What is he, like, your sidekick? I tried to discern whether he was a legit handyman, or if he was just mildly handy and a man. Craig assured me he was legit, that the guy (we'll call him Manny, after Handy Manny) always helps Craig out with repairs...but English is not Craig's first language, and from the way he was answering my questions, I wasn't sure he understood what I was asking. Cathy: "Is he employed as a handyman?" Craig: "Oh, yes, he's with me all the time." Cathy: <silence>

Whatever. At this point, we had a new range, an unplugged old fridge, an unplugged new fridge, and a cooler and countertop's worth of spoiling food, all squaring off in the kitchen. We were desperate for help and knew of no convenient plumbers or handypeople.

Old Fridge vs. New Fridge: WHO SHALL PREVAIL?

Leaky McWaterline places his bet on Old Fridge.
J.J. took off to grab the few supplies the delivery guy told us we would need (which was our only source of information for this entire home repair: Delivery Guy's offhanded advice), while I stared at my kitchen (Kim Jong-Cathy: Looking at many fridges) and slowly started to panic. I understand that this is not really a panic-inducing situation, but hey, we had some pretty bad scenarios lined up for us. At best, Manny would hook us up, and we'd be all set. At worst? Floods, food spoilage, major money output, getting murdered by Craig and Manny and ending up as the next set of Craigslist victims. And we couldn't turn the water back on until the leak was fixed, and I really had to pee.

Thankfully, J.J. returned and Craig and Manny showed up shortly thereafter. Usually, I try to quickly size up Craigslist folks for murdery potential (meaning them murdering me, not vice versa, friends) if I have to be around them for more than a few seconds, or if they're entering my house. Craig and Manny were...I don't know. Strangers. They assessed Leaky McWaterline's situation, and then J.J. and Manny headed to the basement (alone! What if he had killed J.J. down there?! What was I thinking?). Craig and I stood in the kitchen and made awkward small talk. He asked intrusively personal questions about my job and my house (sketchy) and told me about his kids (un-sketchy).

To lessen the sketchy factor, I guided Craig towards the basement (safety in numbers?), where I found a great big puddle of water on the floor underneath the fridge water line's shut-off valve. DAMN. J.J. and Manny had installed the new shut-off valve incorrectly (and let the record show that Not-So-Handy Manny had NO FREAKING IDEA what he was doing). They messed around with it for another 20 uncomfortable minutes, during which I discovered that Craig used to own the Indian food cart outside the School of Social Work. Good times, but I still couldn't help envisioning how I would escape if Manny attacked J.J. and Craig went after me. (FYI, I was definitely faster than Craig, who had 20 years and 200 pounds on me, and so would have bolted up the stairs and out the front door, where I would have screamed for help. Our next-door neighbors were home; I could see their SUV in their driveway. It's always good to have an escape plan when Craigslist strangers are in your basement. I even had a script for how I would tell my therapist that I now needed PTSD treatment. My brain is...active.)

Finally, I gave Craig and Manny an out - I suggested they just take the fridge and go. They weren't helping J.J. make any progress, and either way, we were going to have to leave the main water off while we figured out how to fix the line. Manny was clearly out of his element, so they might as well just disconnect the old fridge and take it with them. Also, Craig was glancing at his watch repeatedly and shooting Manny meaningful looks. SKETCH. ...Or maybe they just had dinner plans, whatever.

Craig, Manny, and the old fridge left (after Craig asked to use the bathroom, to which I stammered, "Um, you're welcome to, but the water is still off..."), and J.J. continued working in the basement. I do not do such a good job of watching J.J. work on repairs that he's never attempted before (see: blog post about the new vanity oh, that's right, there isn't one yet because I'm still so bitter about it), so I tapped into my strengths and started cleaning the new-to-us refrigerator. There were some food smudges on the inside and tape remnants on the outside that needed some love. I discovered a few scratches I hadn't noticed in the store, but I kept reminding myself that (a) no one will ever notice those except me, (b) who cares if they do, anyway, and (c) it was half-freakin'-off! File under: Worth it.

And then...from the basement...a cry of victory!

"I did it! It's not leaking! Check up there!"

Dude. No leaks anywhere. J.J. totally did it! We literally jumped up and down and high-fived each other and made out a little. We hooked up the new fridge to the water line, checked for leaks again, and - that was it! J.J. successfully replaced the shut-off valve and the water line all by himself (well, Manny provided moral support for a short time). AND, bonus, we didn't get Craigslist-murdered.





We celebrated with pizza and fridge water. It's actually strange to me to drink water that comes out of a refrigerator door, just like magic (and my rich friends' fridges from when I was little). This must be what people felt like when indoor plumbing was introduced: "I can just turn the handle...and the water flows through this tube?" I'm still not feeling like it's safe, triple-mega-super-internal-filter notwithstanding. Safe or not, the fridge is pretty as hell, not to mention significantly bigger than our old one. Four-point-six cubic feet bigger, in fact. And, when all was said and done, it only took three hours, two hardware store trips, two delivery guys, two Craigslist dudes, two new parts, and a lot of rags for us to get two fancy new appliances.

The best part? This officially kicks off the kitchen remodel. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 20, 2012

check yourself.

...You know, before you...wreck  yourself?


It's been a week since I officially started tracking my exercise for my work's exercise-incentive program, and, um...yeah. Mixed results. So far, it's at least pushed me to exercise more, and I'm technically meeting my time goals, but I'm not yet actually doing the daily activities I planned out for myself. Nonetheless, the exercise program concept + having a bad anxiety funk a couple weeks ago = a new concept for me: If, in order to maintain physical health, you really need to work on it daily, then wouldn't it follow that mental health maintenance requires the same kind of effort?


There are lucky folks out there who don't need to put much effort into their physical health to maintain it. I can count myself among them. I mean, aside from consuming massive quantities of sugar (which will probably need to be decreased if I get pregnant someday...zoinks), I eat a generally healthy diet - vegetarian, mostly grains and fresh produce, organic when I can, not too much food, not too little. I cook at home more than I eat in restaurants. I hardly ever have fast food. I'm also an active person, and I get regular sleep (and regular naps, woo!). I'm on a prenatal multivitamin that, hopefully, fills in any nutrient gaps I may have. So, physically, I don't require much conscious effort beyond my relatively healthy lifestyle.


Mentally? Ha. Another story. Most people can probably skate by without having to put in major hard work to maintain their mental health, and I've been one of those people for the majority of my life. Not these days, though. I don't want to give too much weight to mah new label (Generalized Anxiety Disorder); in fact, I think that's partially why I had a rough time a couple weeks ago. I started believing in it too much and giving it an awful lot of power, which created (shocker) more anxiety. I despaired at the thought that, for the rest of my life, every day would just be a fight against unbidden, inexplicable anxiety. Generally anxious, day in, day out. I mean, that's a pretty awful prognosis. Sometimes I understand the origin of the anxiety - an important presentation, a misunderstanding, a meeting with my boss's boss's bosses. But when I'm chilling on the couch, flipping through a magazine, sunshine streaming through the windows, and all of a sudden, I'm barely breathing and my stomach clenches and my hands grow clammy? Nuh-uh. Unacceptable.


I shouldn't say that: "unacceptable." Part of this is going to be learning to accept that anxiety will just sometimes be there, provoked or otherwise. But I was forgetting that acute episodes of anxiety, whether they last an hour or a week, aren't representative of reality - even the reality of general anxiety. In order to give myself any kind of hope, I needed to address two things: preventing the constant anxiety, and my response to the moments of acute anxiety.


That's when it clicked - the connection between maintenance of physical health and of mental health. And although I'm still working on incorporating my exercise program ideas, I think it would be a good idea to start incorporating daily activities that promote mental health, and that, specifically, prevent anxiety.


There are a few activities that I know are stress-reducers for me, like watching dumb super awesome sitcoms ("Big Bang Theory" and "How I Met Your Mother" rank high up there), perusing home magazines, stalking blogs, and singing at the top of my lungs in my car. Those are great, and I don't really need to work on incorporating those into my life any more than they already are. (In fact, that's one of my hesitations about becoming a parent - not having time for those regular stress-reducers anymore.) And the fact that I eat well and sleep well (minus the periods of frequent waking, nightmares, and panic attacks) certainly contribute to good mental health. I think, though, that all of these qualify as "inactive" efforts.


I'm aiming now for times when I am actively working to calm and relax my mind and body. These would be in addition to the therapy sessions I go to every other week. So far, I've come up with a few activities that fall under this category:

  • Meditating
  • Deep breathing
  • Journaling (ew, I hate all forms of the verb "to journal." "Journal" should only exist as a noun.)
  • Stretching
  • Yoga
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
Two of these activities - meditating and yoga - I need professional guidance for...although I could probably find some guided meditations on YouTube. Or through my friend Leonard. The rest of the activities could easily be incorporated into my day.

Like physical exercise, I'm gonna have to ease my way in. I want to start with 10 minutes a day of any of those six activities and eventually work my way up to at least 10 minutes, three times a day, with one of those sessions being longer than 10 minutes. It's not all that much, when you think about it, especially since the one that helps me reduce anxiety the most - deep breathing - can be done anywhere, almost anytime: driving to work, on my lunch break, while watching TV, before I fall asleep.

My other goal? To hold myself accountable by checking in here, weekly, on Mondays. For this week, since I haven't started the mental exercising yet, I'll only log my physical exercise (which I'm also doing through the exercise program website, but I only log the minutes there, not what I did). The weekly "check yourself" check-in will go a little something like this:
  • Tuesday, 2/14: 60-minute walk with J.J.
  • Wednesday, 2/15: 10 minutes of stretching/yoga
  • Thursday, 2/16: I logged 15 minutes, but I can't remember what I did - wasn't keeping careful track yet
  • Friday, 2/17: 20 minutes of heavy lifting (and, yes, heavy breathing) while I built a bookcase and moved furniture
  • Saturday, 2/18: 60 minutes of mega house cleaning
  • Sunday, 2/19: 10 minutes of stretching/yoga
  • Monday, 2/20: 60-minute walk with J.J.
Challenges (aside from remembering to record all of my physical and mental activities)? Eh, the usual. Time. Laziness. Acute stress. Being tired. And, just like physical exercise, it's when those challenges loom that the mental exercises would benefit me most, so I'm just going to try to remember: 10 minutes a day. Push through it.

Totally worth it if it reduces the general feeling of omg-panic-sucky-panic-sweaty-fearful-omg-anxiety.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

update yourself.

Guess who practiced trigger-pulling today?

I've been the lookout for new appliances for about a year, ever since I got it into my head that they would be the icing on top of a kitchen remodel cake. (Mmm, cake.) Problem (and by "problem" I mean "first-world kitchen remodel snafu") is, our current appliances are really working just fine. So I compromised with myself: If I could find bargain appliances and sell our current ones on Craigslist, then I could stomach shelling out the dolla dolla bills.

And, truthfully, it's only a fridge and a range. I just can't justify getting a new dishwasher yet. Our current one is black, which, unlike our off-white fridge, won't clash with the cabinets once I paint them white, and dishwashers are pretty pricey. We're going to wait for that one to die before we replace it. We will be getting a new microwave, but that's primarily because I'm going to build a shelf for a microwave, and there's no chance the behemoth we own right now will fit on a shelf. (Side note: How the eff do you pronounce "behemoth?") Still holding off on that one, though, because it's not quite as urgent (or expensive) as the others. I might lump a sexy range hood in with the appliance budget, but I'm nowhere near making a final decision about those yet.

So, for fridges and ovens, I window-shopped (in stores, online, and in other people's houses...STALKER) and concluded that I definitely wanted a French-door, bottom-freezer, counter-depth fridge. Counter-depth is a necessity in our long but narrow kitchen, and the French-door models looked so fancy - a definite upgrade from our current situation:

Don't mind the IKEA dresser...the plan is to build it
up to cabinet-height and use it as a base cabinet.
Alas, French-door, bottom-freezer, counter-depth fridges are freakin' EXPENSIVE. (Question: Why are counter-depth fridges, which are SMALLER, more expensive than standard-depth ones? So dumb.) I've saved my pennies for a while and allotted myself a $2,000 budget to cover a new fridge and range. The fancy fridges that were making me drool, though, usually ran close to $2,000 alone. Sad face. But I kept my eye out for sales and scratch-and-dent options that would fit the bill.

This morning I woke up with no house projects on the day's horizon...aaaand then remembered that Sears was having a 30%-off sale on Kenmore appliances. J.J. and I headed to the mall at 10:30; Sears didn't open until 11:00. We went to Lowe's, mostly to kill time, and ogled refrigerators (you know you're a grown-up when...).

THIS IS WHERE THE PLOT THICKENS.

Turns out? I am NOT a fan of the bottom freezer in real life. Good thing I didn't just play lemming and order a fridge online because it was pretty. J.J. didn't like them, either - we both got the feeling that the drawer would end up a disorganized dumping ground for freezer items. We had visions of digging through gallons of ice cream and boxes of Popsicles in search of the frozen Girl Scout cookies. Not happy visions. I'd much rather have my Girl Scout cookies be readily available than have to expend calories searching for them.

And? I had actually fallen in love before we even got to the French-door models. I had laid my eyes on this:
Frigidaire Gallery (image: lowes.com)
It was in the scratch-and-dent section and was marked down from $1,299 to $701. That's almost half-off, for those of you playing along at home. I was immediately suspicious and inspected the thing from top to bottom, inside and out. I looked up reviews on my phone (mixed...hmm) and chatted with the sales guy. I flirted with French-door models, all the while casting glances back at the side-by-side Frigidaire.

It's a used fridge, which grossed me out for a minute...until I realized that every fridge I've ever had was used, by default: They came with the apartment/house, and whoever lived there before me had used them. The original owner of this fridge had ordered a standard-depth, but this counter-depth was delivered by mistake. That was the only issue, aside from (nearly invisible) scratches on the lower side of one of the doors. J.J. liked it (but couldn't really have cared less, as long as it wasn't a dreaded bottom freezer). Done deal! We placed the order and bid adieu (really, a tout a l'heure) to our new fridge. I hope it's not lonely in the holding warehouse. I've got a whole Toy Story thing going on in my head where all the appliances come alive at night and talk to each other...

Just to max out my Lowe's card round out my evening, I hunted around online for a range tonight. Again, I was seduced by what's popular in electric ranges these days (stainless steel, glass tops), but went a slightly different route instead.

GE 30-inch electric range (image: lowes.com)
Coils! Gasp. But I did my research, and it sounds like glass tops can be a bitch. They scratch easily (at least, the models in my price range do), and you're not really supposed to use cast-iron cookware on them (wonk-wonk, that's what we have). We have coils right now, and I've never minded them. I figure we'll end up doing the same amount of cleaning with either coils or a glass top, and that's the only supposed advantage to glass tops, anyway. This model isn't anything fancy, but I'm not looking for anything fancy! And it was a steal - only $470 after taxes, my 5% Lowe's card discount, and Lowe's free delivery. Mostly, I don't want anything that I feel is too precious to use, you know? It's my home, not a showroom.


I'm pretty satisfied so far. Deliveries won't happen until next weekend, but at least financially, I came in way under budget, which helps with making my sexy range hood dreams a reality. My current fridge and range are posted on Craigslist, which could net me some more cash...which will be poured back in my kitchen remodel budget. I've been saving up to do this remodel for a while since I'm not a fan of loading up credit cards - I usually put items on a card, and then head home and pay the card off immediately. Makes for some instances of delayed gratification, but hey, it's good to practice that in SOME areas of my life. Just, um...not any candy-related areas.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

maximize yourself.

Well...maximize my closet space, anyway.

"Wasted organizational real estate" is kind of a running theme in this house. It was built in the mid-1960s, and like other houses of that era, it's lacking in built-in storage areas - no pantry, two tiny hall closets, and bedroom closets that did NOT make the best of the space available:


We could make our clothes and shoes fit into this space, but it wasn't awesome. There was one horizontal bar with a shelf laid on top, and that was it. The thing is, it's actually a deep closet - almost three feet, if I remember correctly. Because I'm a masochist when it comes to Getting Myself In Over My Head on DIY House Projects, I trolled the interwebs for some inspiration photos. This was pre-Pinterest-obsession (circa September 2011, aka one month B.P.: Before Pinterest), so I just Google-image-searched (how juvenile! Oh Pinterest, how you've jaded me) until I found some good stuff.


All the closet systems I found for purchase were mega expensive. I was kind of hoping to do this whole project for under $100, but closet systems? Tend to be wayyyy more than $100. I considered buying plywood planks at a big box store and completely DIY-ing it, but then I found this affordable closet system on Amazon. It was right around $100 for the shelving tower and three hanging rods.



I wanted the system to look built-in, which meant I had to paint it white to match the interior of the closet. Speaking of which...prepping the closet interior turned into an extra week of the project, ugh. I know I'm supposed to plan for things to cost more and take longer than expected, but it still gets my goat.

Why did it take so long? Well, it was my first time doing any sort of major removal of original-to-the-house shelving, so I didn't anticipate...um...ripping up half the wall while taking out the closet shelf. First, I had re-located our clothes, shoes, and crap to the purple room closet, which was, at that point, mostly empty. Then I spent a good half hour trying to figure out how to dismantle the existing rod and shelf. The metal hook-rod piece had been screwed, glued, and painted to the shelf, and I whacked it (heh) with a hammer for a while. I was still only 80% certain that I was capable of improving the closet at all, so the lack of confidence probably contributed to how long it took to get that thing down. Once it was, though, I tackled the shelf (also screwed, nailed, glued, and painted over). And that's how my closet went from this:

To this:


It was...not looking so hot.

"Look, J.J., I updated our closet!"
The strip of exposed drywall (or whatever the eff that is...as if I know) ran the entire length of the closet and ranged from a half inch to about five inches high (and about a quarter-inch deep) in some places.

So fancy.
I had anticipated having to fix some nail holes, so I had wood filler on hand, but this...required more than just wood filler. I thought. I didn't really know. Still don't really know, but either way, I ventured into the basement to see what my options were. Wood filler, caulk, joint compound: I went for the joint compound. I smeared it all the way around the gouges and pressed the tape stuff into (how's that for a detailed, professional description?). I sanded it down after it dried and repeated the process...just in case. I mean, structurally, everything was still fine, but aesthetically? Hot mess.

And, of course, this fun process meant that I was going to have to re-paint the closet. We didn't have a can of the original color (because we didn't paint it), and the interior was so dingy and scuffed up that it needed a new coat anyway. I bought some off-the-shelf white paint (after lingering over some light blues) and slapped two coats up. FYI, painting a new white coat over an old white coat is confusing. Picture me, staring at an expanse of wall, murmuring, "Shit, did I already do this part?" (Kim Jong-Cathy: Looking at wall.)

In the meantime, I was also painting and assembling the new closet tower in my ever-professional workshop. I don't know what faux-wood chemical compound the tower components were made of, but painting them was a total bitch. I sanded them down first, applied a coat of primer...and watched it seemingly disappear before my eyes. Like, little holes dotted the primer job. Second coat...samesies. Being the brilliant impatient DIY-er that I am, I forged ahead anyway. And ended up doing seventy hundred jillion coats of paint.

Coat #45,377.
Once the paint was (mostly) behaving, I assembled the two halves of the tower...


...and set them up in the also-freshly-painted closet:

You probably can't tell, but there's a level on the
third shelf up, and it indicated PERFECTION.
I tried sawing slots into the base molding so I could slide the tower in flush against the wall, but that was far beyond my capabilities. Instead, I borrowed J.J. for a minute (he was busy building our new backyard shed with his dad). He leaned the whole thing against the wall while I slid some wood shims (which I WAS capable of sawing - in half, so they didn't jut out) under the front part of the tower's base planks. Somehow, it all stayed level, and I fastened the entire contraption to the wall with pieces from the kit.

Apparently, I grew tired of playing Mediocre Project Photographer sometime around this point, so I have no in-progress pics of the rod installation. Suffice it to say that my do-it-yourself patience had dimmed considerably after about a week of unforeseen patching and painting complications, and, long story short, I installed the three rods. J.J.'s mom had a hanging rod attachment that she gifted to us, which hung at the perfect height and increased our hanging capacity. I also added some hooks to the side walls.

End result?
Don't worry, Internet police, we've since
moved that safe to a...safer location.

My side of the closet, with a view
of the jewelry hooks on the wall.

J.J.'s side, with the belt hooks I added to that wall.

It seriously feels like a walk-in closet now - wayyy bigger than it used to. And our storage space was, like, quadrupled. I wish I had hung the lower-left rod a couple inches higher to accommodate the laundry basket, but it's so not a big enough problem to necessitate re-hanging it. I also want to add more shelves to the tower, but the pre-cut shelves I found aren't quite the right size (too shallow), so that's still in the works (four months later). Overall, though, it was a serious upgrade. And I found a garbage bag's worth of clothes to donate, which you know made my minimalist heart happy.

Next on the list was tackling the Bad-Kid Cupboard...but that's another post for another day!

What's in the boooooox? Hint: not bad kids.  (Yet.)



Sunday, February 12, 2012

question yourself.

The general consensus of those around me seems to be that, since I'm 31, in a heterosexual marriage, and gainfully employed, I MUST BE on the path to Purposeful Babymaking. This assumption is magnified, I think, since both J.J. and I happen to work with children. I think I want children. I mean, I'm pretty sure. Like, to the point that, after over a decade on the birth control pill, I stopped taking it on New Year's Day. I wanted to make sure my ovaries still knew how to do their thang, minus the synthetic hormones. (Update: Yes. Yes, they do.) And even though the doctor assured me that said hormones were out of my system the minute I stopped taking the pill, I'd rather be on the safe side and give my body a while to flush the stuff out.


But? I still have some serious misgivings about becoming a mother.


The major issue is that I always thought that when I became a parent, I'd be a grown-up already. Well, despite having been a legal adult for 13 YEARS (a newly-legal voter + a tween = me), I don't yet consistently characterize myself as a grown-up. I never consciously outlined the prerequisites for Grown-Uphood, but I guess I thought there'd be a point where it was clear that college was over and adulthood was HERE. But it appears Grown-Uphood snuck in sometime between finishing grad school and - well, now. Because I am a grown-up...right?


When I look at the families who attend my child care center, the parents are - grown-ups, definitely. Like, obviously, and I would never confuse them with, say, our undergraduate student volunteers, as some of those aforementioned parents have done with me. What shocked me in the last year or so was having potential families tour our center. They'd walk in the door with round preggo bellies or drooly newborns or unruly toddlers (or all three, and maybe a grade-schooler to boot), and I'd greet them and hand them off to our director for the tour, and then - it would hit me: Those grown-ups? They are not my parents' age. They aren't even my older sister's age, not all of them. They're my age...OR YOUNGER. And they are, unequivocally, grown-ups. Then an undergrad volunteer would call me "ma'am" and I'd think, oh, my God, I'm one, too. I'm a grown-up, at least in the eyes of the general public.


But I don't feel like a grown-up. I'm not sure what exactly that would feel like - and as I said, I never listed the parameters for achieving grown-up status - but I didn't think it would feel like constant, unrelenting fraudulence. When the neighbor across the street came to meet us after we moved in, he thought J.J. was in high school and asked to meet his parents. What a relief - not only did I marry a super-young-looking hottie, but a neutral stranger had confirmed my fears that we don't belong in this new category of "homeowners." I was afraid of making major changes in our house after we first moved in because, you know, you're supposed to get the landlord's approval first. I kept glancing over my shoulder as we ripped up the threadbare carpeting on that first night - partially to keep an eye out for ghosts, and partially because I expected someone to come yell at us for doing such a thing without adult supervision. Last fall, when one of the child care teachers called me into a parent conference after the mother requested a chat with the social worker, the mother laughed when I turned out to be the social worker she had requested. She asked, "Really? How long have you been doing this?" Um, at that point, five years. I wasn't offended, though. Quite the opposite; again, just relief that others recognized the incongruence.


A few months before we got married, my period was a no-show. All the years I was on the pill, my period was as punctual as possible: every 28 days, at 10:00 on Wednesday morning, thar she was. Never a few days, or even a few hours, late. I know stress can affect your cycle, but I wasn't feeling particularly stressed (new house and impending nuptials notwithstanding). When it still hadn't arrived by Thursday morning, I was convinced: This was it. Preggers, for sure. Gonna need to alter that J.Crew wedding dress to allow for a baby bump. I called !Rachel, my pregnancy-scare consultant of many years, who advised me to call into work, get a pregnancy test, and chill the fuck out.


I focused on my breathing during the four-minute drive to CVS (which I figured would be good practice for WHEN I HAD TO BIRTHE THE BABY THAT WAS DEFINITELY GROWING IN ME HOLY SHIT). And another weird, out-of-body, Grown-Up phenomenon occurred: As I furtively darted through the aisles, anxiety squeezing my lungs, I realized that if someone saw me purchasing my two-pack of First Responses, they wouldn't avert their eyes in sympathetic pity. They wouldn't suspect the terror that gripped my every brain cell. They'd think affectionately, "Aw, that lady might be in the family way!" (And, possibly, "She might consider changing out of her pajama pants before venturing out in public.") My fraudulence would not be apparent. (Ha. "A parent." Unintentionally punny.) I hid the offending package with a magazine anyway, just like we did as college kids in Village Apothecary (except this time it was Better Homes and Gardens instead of Jane, belying my adulthood yet again).


I was not, in fact, with child. A few hours later, after a negative pregnancy test, an omelette with green peppers and spinach, and a few episodes of Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood, I awoke from a mid-morning nap and went to check my menstruation status for time number seven jillion. TA-DA! Relief coursed through me, along with all the water I'd chugged to generate enough pee for the pregnancy test (even though it explicitly instructs you NOT to do that). But the feeling remained that, for the first time in my life, if I'd actually been pregnant, I'd have been in a place where it would have made sense to me to raise a child, despite...everything.


It could be the longtime split between my essential self and social self that feeds this feeling of fraudulence. It could just be that I'm a fraud. Either way, the doubts creep in. Sure, I love babies. So does J.J. And we're both pretty damn good with them, with plenty of experience. If my uterus requires reference checks before opening up shop, I'll be able to supply them readily. But...I thought grown-ups, especially those of the parent variety, had answers. Had logic. Had confidence. What I'm learning, through the parents at work, my siblings and friends who are parents, even celebrity parents, is that grown-ups don't always know. Not even grown-ups who have kids. That. Is. Terrifying. 


These days, at the very least, I can acknowledge that my biological clock exists. I had wondered for a while if my professional life, where I spend my days hearing all about the myriad ways child-rearing can go awry, had permanently dismantled my biological clock. It's been my passion to support families and teachers as they raise kids, but...after a while, it seemed like becoming a parent automatically inducted you into the League of Eternal Complainers. No sleep. No sex. No stability. Horror stories of labors gone wrong and floppy vaginas and bungled adoptions. Children - even the well-behaved, "easy" ones - commanding your house and your free time and your brain cells. Fumbling through the stages of childhood development only to find that, once you'd mastered one phase, IT WOULD CHANGE, and you'd be a novice all over again. And that's only the tip of the iceberg if your child also has delays and/or disabilities. Being subjected to these tales for 40+ hours a week is enough to mangle the hands of nearly anyone's biological clock.


That said, I have yet to encounter a parent who doesn't then turn a loving gaze toward his or her offspring and coo, "But it's all worth it!" Sometimes I fear they have to say that, to convince themselves as much as anyone else. I've felt that way about purchasing a house and getting married, too - that once people do it, they feel a primeval urge to suck everyone into their institution (ONE OF USSSSS)...sort of a misery-loves-company dealio.


But then? Then I fall in love with a baby, and my biological clock ticks, ever so hesitantly. A kid at work, or my nieces and nephews...love. And that love - which is just a teeny-tiny fraction of what a parent probably feels - supercedes everything. Explosive baby diarrhea on my forearms. Discovering a trail of dried spit-up running down my back at the end of the day. Ruining jeans because I washed them without removing the stickers a little friend had bestowed upon them. Even the dread and fear that accompany a trip to the emergency room or a major surgery for my nephew - I'd still rather have him, obviously, without a doubt. And these aren't even my kids.


Who knows. For now, my favorite kind of kid is the kind I relinquish back to his or her parents at the end of the day. This might be another venture that my anxiety is trying to talk me out of. The "what ifs" are overwhelming, and avoidance is, as always, an easy out.


But I stopped taking my birth control pill anyway. I started taking prenatals anyway. (Side note, they made my pee kind of green at first, like the Incredible Hulk's pee. Or Slimer's.) Sometimes, even though you have doubts and misgivings, even though you're not sure if you're qualified or ready, even though you're scared and unsure and things might go terribly, horribly wrong - sometimes you have to forge ahead anyway. Because it will all be worth it.


...Right?



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