26 July 2013

The Household Means & Ways

The dumpster arrived this morning and the kitchen remodel kicks off this afternoon. It's been a tough week for us trying to narrow down what is left of our choices and has included an 11th hour addition and removal of work which I'll discuss in an upcoming post. The main take away this week has been living within our means in all ways: physically, emotionally, and monetarily.

This was a common phrase in my household growing up. It stemmed from money issues that everyone has and both my brother and I had eyes bigger than our stomachs and pockets. It was a hard lesson to learn and  it took years of bad debt for me to finally get the idea that living within my means was not just an old fashioned idea but a very prudent way of life.

I still have money issues to a much smaller degree than I did in my 20's. Budgeting is easy, sticking to the budget is hard especially when one is doing home renovations. In our household, Jeff is the breadwinner easily even when he's off work for months at a time and that makes budgeting for renovations a bit tricky as when he is home, we're doing remodeling but he's not working and when he's working he's not home so we're not making changes and cleaning things up -- it's a bit of a catch 22 really.

One of many 'dream homes' on Pinterest.
A harder thing still is keeping my idea of a dream house/kitchen/bath/etc in check. Pinterest was a huge help in putting together my ideas in a visual way that I could explain things to Jeff, but the downside is having these huge ideas and trying to fit them into the space we have with the money we've saved. It does me no good to lust after a garden design that requires acres of manicured space as that is not the home I have, nor is it likely that I will ever have that home. Same with kitchens. I can look at these gorgeous kitchens from magazines, but the reality of what my house is verses what I pin may be gulf sized in variance. 

Once I realized that I could actually live within my means and design a home space that was functional and reflected our tastes without being cheaply manufactured, or something I'd be bored with in a few years, the social desire of keeping up with the Jones' flat-lined. My goal is to finish this house, room by room, and leave it alone so that when we go to sell it in 30 years, it's fabulously outdated. I *want* to be the little old lady with the kitchen that is Soooo 2013, mainly because I want to love the space I have enough that its functionality permits me to make preserves and sweets for gifts, and lavish dinners for family and friends. I want that, those memories, more than I want the trends. It makes it much easier for us because we don't have a plan to move, or sell, for many decades barring something unforeseen. 

It's an unfortunate bummer that it took me decades to figure out why living within ones means and ability is so important.

The flip side to DIY is knowing when to fold them, as it were. Again, Pinterest has a bajillion and ten (I counted) DIY examples and a lot of them are really good... but. But. Some things should just be left to the professionals if one doesn't know what they're doing, has not used tools before, or really 'functional' means macaroni art. Which is not to degrade macaroni art whatsoever, but you might not want someone who touts that as their mechanical and artistic ability putting up wallpaper, right? We each have our skills and pitfalls. Knowing that we can't do everything is not a bad thing at all.

And so the big renovation begins. Tonight we'll pause with a bottle of mead, make offerings and really take a moment to appreciate each other for all the crazy and good points leading up to this moment.

Besides, you can't really go wrong starting out with mead, right?

19 July 2013

This Kitchen Will Be The Death of Me

My post today had originally been something a bit more thoughtful on the whole how it is that I practice and perceive being Heathen.

Instead it's about the kitchen. Why the kitchen? Because the boyfriend and I are gearing up for quite possibly the biggest project we've ever undertaken together. We are taking this:

That right there? Some kind of Sexy. 
and trying to turn it into say, this: 

Gorgeous. Bright. WHITE. 

This of course poses multiple dilemmas. One, money. Two, time. Three, our kitchen is not from a magazine and is roughly the size of a large post stamp with eight, count them! eight egresses of some form or another. The stove cannot be moved to an outside wall, so there is no vent unless I do a recirculating vent (which has been the point of many a frosty argument between my darling dearest and I) The fridge really must be recessed otherwise it eats up a good eighth of our floor space. The sink is currently in the galley which is great when I want to ignore the dishes for a week (don't judge!) but if one is going for something resembling hygienic, perhaps it should be a bit more you know... in the way. Which interrupts every other design dream I had. 

The galley. Of Doom.

We have a few weeks if we are lucky of Jeff being home. We have the cabinets stored in our basement, an awesome craigslist score from February. We just have to you know, gut the two layers of sheet rock, plaster, lathe, and all that, rewire everything, put new sheet rock back up, and ... then we can put the cabinets in? Except that in between now and then, I am fussing over the semi-original design plan that looked like this: 

The pretty mock up the cabinet people did for us... and then wanted $14,000 to build the cabinets. Not the counters, not installed. Just.. cabinets. No. 

Which is lovely and mostly wonderful, and basically... turning the galley (to the far left of that picture) into a butlers pantry (say it with me now, ooooo!), putting a normal sized sink in the island with a dishwasher and just giving up on my absolute need/lust for a marble island, and ... trying to convince the boyfriend that we can put a small bar area in the galley. With a prep sink. Which when I mentioned, he actually looked like he might help me pack. 

The other thought was putting the sink to the counter area to the left of the main room (marked in red). Eventually the area to the right of that which is currently all brick from the main chimney no longer in use, that will all come out. So we could put in a bit more counter and cabinet. In like five years when we redo the roof and the chimney comes out from the third floor on down (The expression on Jeff's face while trying to explain to me WHY we can't take out the chimney only in the kitchen? Poor devil. Someone buy him a drink, will you?)

I forsee a long weekend of pencils, pizza, and alcohol while we hash this out. Gods help us. 

12 July 2013

The Main Bathroom, or How We Knew We Were on the Right Track

Narrow, ugly, not functional. 
A very cold day in January we found ourselves in our new-to-us house with friends, sledgehammers, buckets, pry bars, and masks. We we going to begin the process of ripping out the yellow and blue tiled cave of a bathroom. We thought it would take a weekend to gut. We thought it would be dirty, but mostly easy work. After all, we have burly male friends who love to blow things up! How hard could it be?

That phrase -- "How hard could it be?" is every first time homeowner/DIY's first, and unlikely last, mistake. 

The house itself was built around 1902. It's a lovely, simple prairie box/four square design. Sears & Roebuck sold these houses back in its hay day for a few hundred dollars. It was an immediate success being that it was simple, easy to customize and modernize, and could look luxurious for a pittance of what the old Victorian houses cost. 

The haze of debris does not deter
Because our house was in such a bad state (read as uninhabitable), we needed to get a special loan (203k for those of you who are home-loan savvy) which meant we needed to have contractors lined up to do a lot of the major repairs as most banks do not really want your random homeowner doing the work for a lot of good and weird reasons. To save money on the loan, we worked it out with our contractors that we would do the demolition - get everything in the bathroom torn out down to the studs and cleaned up so that they could come in and redo all of the plumbing, the electrical, the wallboard, the new bathtub, and the tile. We were responsible for the hauling away of all the old materials and purchasing the fixtures. 

But before they could do their work, we had to do ours. There was plaster, horsehair, and lathe. Old cast iron pipes. And before we could even get to that we needed to get through the mortar and tile. At first, the guys thought this was AWESOME. I mean, here we were saying please, put holes in our walls.

Three hours later it was much, much less awesome.

By the following weekend, there was talk of setting explosives.

Three hours in and barely a dent. A lot of mess, but not a dent. 
Three inches of mortar on top of peaked joists. Hitting the walls with sledges barely cracked it. The overhead storage that made the bathroom such a cave did.not.want.to.come.down. We had men hanging from the rafters, we had men bracing themselves in bathtubs while trying to pull off the metal lathe, we had men throwing the 1930's cast iron built in (not claw footed) tub off my bedroom balcony into the yard below on Super Bowl Sunday.

In short, we had absolute chaos. And pizza.

Dear Clark, I'm going steady with Jim. Love, Pat 
In the midst all of this, we started to find clues to the personality of the people who lived there before us. An old playing card tucked in the wall. Newspapers from 1937 when a years subscription cost $9.00 used as filler for the ceramic soap dish. Our favorite, the literal Dear John letter that must have been stored in the attic and fallen into the bathroom ceiling - a letter from a woman who had decided to become an airline stewardess and date another man, dated 1958 in envious, looping script.
Binghamton Press, 1937.

While all this was going on, I was also scouring the craigslist ads for fixtures. We knew we wanted to keep the history of the house in mind when we added new details so I convinced (begged/pleaded) the boyfriend to purchase a gorgeous double ended claw foot bathtub, brand new. I found a pedestal sink, also new, for cheap on craigslist,and we got the faucet on sale. The light fixtures might be another story altogether but sufficed to say I do have a crystal chandelier in my bathroom and I do not regret it for a moment. Even if I have been mocked mercilessly by my loving peanut gallery.

The tile though, that proved to be a sticking point. When I thought about the bathroom, I wanted my baths to remind me of being in the warm waters in Corfu. The tile had to be just right -- matching my desire for a mini vacation and the history of the house -- white hex tile then. And we found it, not cheap, but from a small, local shop that had done work for my parents marble bathroom.

Horrible picture plus cat! 
Of course, once we had ordered it and paid the deposit I got cold feet which my boyfriend pointed out was quite possibly the worst time to feel like I had made a mistake as the money had been paid and there were emphatically no refunds. I fussed about it for a few days and finally gave up, telling myself it was floor tile and my life was not going to be made or broken by the size and color of my flooring.

That was the day the guys found that same exact tile in between the floor joists from the first version of the bathroom, small white hex tile perfectly matched to what we had purchased. I knew then that we were getting somewhere.

Even though the bathroom took the better part of a year to complete even after the contractors had done their job, I can safely say it was worth it. All the swearing with the measuring of the board and batten, my paint splatter that I had to scrub off later, my bitter disappointment with shower curtains and the complete lack of anyone understanding my vision and you know, having it on sale, all of it came together into a room that I love. There are still things that need touch-ups or finishing: the octopus stencil on the dresser, finding the right prints for the frames, a small shelf behind the shower for our soaps and things. All that being said, baths have never been quite this delicious.

05 July 2013

house buying, home building

I took a hiatus from blogging and took refuge in my old livejournal account to get me through the last couple of years. A year and a half ago, we bought a new-to-us 103 year old house that was in dire need of repairs and that has had pretty much all of my attention. Our poor friends have humored our pretty constant barrage of "And then this happened! And This! And now we need to do this, this, this, and are you free next Thursday night because we need to rip out/repair/haul away something else?"
The scary picture. The steps alone were worth a pause. 

It has been exhausting, on all possible fronts.

But with the transition of the physical comes change here as well. I'm back to writing, working on improving my lackluster photography skills (you'll have to suffer through my awful shots for a bit longer, sorry!), and most importantly getting back into my craft and communion with my ancestors, spirit of place. Our home is a work in progress which is both frustrating and amazing. Over the course of the time we have worked on the house, we've grown closer -- both the boyfriend and myself, and us with this house.

As I posted forever ago, each place has a spirit. This genius loci is a guardian spirit, a feeling, a tickle in the back of one's mind that one is being watched even though no one is obviously there. Different cultures from the Romans to the Orient to the Americas all had versions of this spirit and always recognized that the spirit was powerful in that place, should be respected, and could be called upon for guidance and favors. Offerings would be left, prayers said, and communion was constant though not necessarily highly ritualized as we modern pagans like to be. These practices, these artful leavings, have been largely forgotten in the hubbub of what our world currently is, but much can be gained from the simple communion with that place that is Home.

The dogs exploring the disaster that is the kitchen. 
In our home, we were aware of the Spirit the first time we walked in. The house felt - for lack of better word - forlorn. Even if you subscribe to less hooky explanations, the whole house was in obvious disrepair and neglect. The previous owners had run into some super bad personal life messes which led to not being able to make the mortgage, let alone repairs, and eventually this led to busted water pipes, a kitchen that hadn't been updated in decades, old wall paper and plaster peeling off the walls due to other water damage from the roof, and grime inches thick in some places, and that was just to start. Some of it was just poor handy work, impatience run rampant, and lack of training or know how.

But because we are who we are, because we worship the way we do, we listened to the house. A lot. When we started ripping out the battered and mostly missing drop ceiling in the basement, we talked to the house. We said out loud everything we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it. Even before we bought the house - which was a saga in of itself - we were in the house several times and each time we whispered how much we wanted to work with her.

In the end, it was those whispers and our super awesome Realtor (who thought we were crazy but totally worked her own awesome magic) that finally got it and us on the right track.

And while we have reached a fair accommodation with the house, and the spirit, I still make offerings of incense mainly, or sometimes cut flowers, sometimes honey, at our main fireplace. I tell her frequently how much I love her and how happy we are to be there, sharing these moments with her and stories of her. We uncover bits and bobs of her history when we tear down the walls and gingerly recreate the what might have happeneds and hope that we are just part of the middle, that with our work and patience she will out live us by another hundred years.
The door knocker. How can you not  fall in love with this? 

So upcoming posts will focus on what we found when we found our house and how we've managed to make it our home. There will be a lot of DIY crazy, hopefully some decent photos, and some musings on the spirits we've encountered.