Tuesday, June 23, 2009

As long as it's black

I was thinking of that Henry Ford quote today, about the Model T, remember: "any colour you want, as long as it's black." Munchkin was sitting in a Mennonite buggy as we were on a farm tour, and the tour guide, a progressive-order member of that church, was describing a similar policy for the horse-drawn wagons that still drive our local roads:

All black. Thing is, the idea resonated not so much with the buggies, but with my mood this week, which seems to be: "any mood you want, as long as it's black."

It's a wonderful week, a vacation week booked off work, off daycare. Pynchon's parents are here. We are relaxing, taking it slow, taking a break, having a marvelous time. Why, then, do I keep bursting into tears?

My girl seems suddenly so tall, somehow less round, more ... grown and my pride and love are mixed with shock at the racing pace of her changes. She loves me more than anything in the world and I revel and mourn at the same time.

Pynchon's parents are such lovely people. They fly here from very far away, a goodly expense, and devote themselves to us. They've made four week-long visits to us in the five years we've been here, which is far far more than I can say of my own parents. Munchkin adores them, launching herself to hug her Grampy, asking every morning if they're still here, and cheering when she finds that they are. That too, makes me tear up. Her love is so pure, so total.

Her grandparents are old and infirm. My father in law can walk maybe 200 feet before he needs a substantial rest. He is uncomfortable and tired most of the time, makes grim and fatalistic remarks about his own mortality. My mother in law can't hear very well at all and is busied near constantly keeping her husband comfortable and steady. They carry a pharmacy of medication with them. I hate to watch them decline like this. I love to see them and it breaks my heart, all at once.

Pynchon is a marvel: kind and loving and helpful and understanding. He's taking on a good deal of the planning burden of the week, and still finds time to hold me close when I burst into tears after what was obviously a very stressful half-an-hour reading the newspaper. I am so blessed to have him for my husband. It's so wonderful to be able to go for walks with him in the evening, strolling the neighbourhood hand in hand, a couple, while our girl sleeps at home and her grandparents sit on the front porch. A rare treat.

Our week is a whirl of fun and special times: heritage train, farmer's market, farm tour, library, backyard pool, stroller rides, playground, rubbing sunblock on strong small shoulders, more kisses and hugs and love than I have any right to expect, from all quarters. I want to devour it all, touch it and smell it and hold it close to keep it all in my heart for always. I want to crawl into my room, lie down in the dark, and hide. Maybe it's simply heat exhaustion. Maybe quiet, solitary me is overwhelmed by all the busy-ness and people this week. Maybe I see the solstice as beginning of the coming of the dark. Maybe it's the insomnia that's gripped me again.

But here's where I am: I'm so happy, it's making me sad.

The knee, like my mood, is not to scale.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Real Reno: What it Costs

Does anyone else read the Canadian 'shelter mags'? I subscribe to Canadian House and Home and to Style at Home, and have for about a year, since we bought the new house and I became well and truly determined that I was going to need some skills to disburden it of its 'a family moved in here in 1957 and the last one just left last week' vibe.

Besides, it's way cheaper if you subscribe. And it's nice to sign up for pretty mailings and arrange to have them mail to you New! House!

Anyhow. Much of the content is truly ridiculous ($60 tea towels!) or not really practical for someone of my lifestyle (with 47 hours of work and a lot of skill, you can turn a $75 antique chair into ... a better looking chair!) But what truly makes me question my subscription is always the cost of the renovations they depict. I particularly hoot at the High / Low feature of both magazines: the choice is yours! Refresh the décor of your bedroom for a high of $18,000 or a low of $7000! That's décor, people, not structure.

I don't know about you, but when I want to refresh my bedroom on the cheap, I buy a $75 bed-in-a-bag and a couple of $20 throw pillows and marvel at my own verve.

So. In the name of real life, I present to you my kitchen 'reno'. This is the placeholder configuration of the kitchen before we undertake the Big Redo we intend to do for my 40th birthday--once the car is paid off, daycare is done, and we save up some money. What I've done is mostly cosmetic, partly practical, and partly safety- and building-code related.


Of note: those laundry machines are not hooked up--they're portable. There is an ugly fluorescent bulkhead, about a gagillion years old. The range hood sounds like a jet engine and vents ... out the top of itself.


Doesn't that look way better? I can tell you it cost waaaayyyy less that the 'low' of the magazines, but the aesthetics (paint and furniture), usability (appliances and layout), energy efficiency (ceiling fan), and safety (GFCI electrical outlets and addition of new outlets) have been vastly improved.

Here's what we did, and here's what it cost:

Electrical work:

We had an electrician rewire the countertop electrical outlets to GFCI, so that we won't electrocute ourselves. He also added two new outlets by the stove, one to plug the stove into (really, there wasn't one there ...) and one for above the stove, where we recharge our phones and such. He also removed and de-wired the dysfunctional range hood, removed the nasty fluorescent bulkhead, and installed the new ceiling fan/light fixture. To boot, he hooked up our gas stove, because gas lines and furnaces and such are the other part of his business. Cost: the labour and electrical equipment cost us in the range of $200. The ceiling fan--which is very important to redistribute the air, as there is no heating outlet at all in this 13' by 17' room and we also no longer have a range hood--cost $170 on sale at Home Depot. It's operated by a remote control mounted on the wall.


The microwave, fridge, and gas stove all came from our old house, which, since the plan of the new owner is to tear it down and build a $500,000 townhouse in its place, we were free to plunder of all appliances and fixtures. Cost? Free. The kitchen 'island' is actually a portable dishwasher. I got it on sale and tax-free (because it's a high-efficiency model) at Home Depot for just under $500. It rolls over to the sink when we need to use it, but otherwise functions as a prep surface--all the 'real' countertops, installed in the 1940s, are about 2" or 3" shorter than contemporary work surfaces, which is awkward when you're a tall woman like me. That silver thing is a Very Fancy Garbage Can: it was a splurge at $90 (reduced from $140 at Winners, which is a like a Canadian TJ Maxx), but its semi-circle design means it tucks up neatly against the dishwasher, and makes the whole shebang look deliberate.

The walls:

That small-print red and green floral wallpaper HAD TO GO. And it did. But it took a year because while removing wallpaper from new drywall is not really a big deal, removing it from 90 year old plaster is very much a big deal, a process of steaming and chipping off dime-sized chunks that just as often rip the plaster apart too. That took a year to complete, and once it was done, it was game on for the rest of the re-do! Cost: part of my soul, one bottle of vinegar, and a paint scraper. And now the fun part! There are two paint colours. The green is my favorite on earth, and it's Behr flat enamel in 'rolling hills.' I love it. It needed a coloured primer and two coats of colour, but it went on like velvet. The very subtle brown / beige / greige colour is Behr flat enamel in 'mochaccino' and I adore it as well. Two coats, smelled absolutely awful, but now looks great. Cost for paint: one bucket of each colour, plus one bucket of coloured primer for the green, $100. Oh, removing the range hood left a BIG hole in the wall above the stove. I repaired that and all the dings from the wallpaper scraping with a $10 patch kit from Home Hardware.

The breakfast nook:

Seriously, don't you love it? I'm sitting there right now, feeling smug. I really missed the breakfast bar from the old house, and it's no fun preparing for dinner parties if your guests are just kind of standing around your giant open kitchen with no where to sit or put their drinks down. This was totally wasted space. I installed a giant mirror to visually connect the nook with the rest of the kitchen (um, by reflecting it) and also to bounce the light around, as the kitchen is pretty dim but the mirror catches the south-sun that makes it through the back door. The table is from Ikea (natch) and it's a small marvel: solid wood, pre-stained, easy to install, and it's a drop-leaf so we can tuck it out of the way if something big needs to pass by to get to the basement (door on the left of the photo). The chairs came with us from the other house (sigh), and they were originally a splurge at $175 each (reduced from $300). The irony is that we bought them from the business owned by those self-styled real estate tycoons who eventually bought our house with such acrimony. What am I really proud of? I didn't matchy-matchy the table and the mirror--and also, the two tones of wood pick up two of the three tones of brown in the bar chairs. Design WIN! Cost: table $49, mirror $84. Oh, and the clock. That I left the price tags on, because it originally cost a truly ridiculous $52 at a local Overpriced Boutique, but I got it reduced to $10, and my sister picked one up, too! Now every time I change the battery, I will feel smug.

The inspiration:

You know all those complicated swatch boards in the magazine? Um, yeah. My inspiration was my set of dishes I bought with Christmas money from the inlaws five years ago (on sale, 8 place settings for $50 at The Bay [Canuck J. C. Penney]).

Total costs:

Labour: $200
Appliances: $670
Paint and wall repair: $110
Furniture: $233

Which is a grand total of just under $1300. For what I think is a HUGE and impactful change.

There you have it. We spent the money and did the work over twelve months, for an amortized outlay of $110 a month.

Now that's a 'LOW' reno--take heed, shelter mags! Yeesh.

Have you done any cheap-ass renos you want to brag about? Go nuts in the comments! I love reno stories, in any form.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

It's a trip

[Ur, hi. Remember me? I used to blog here fairly frequently? Sorry about the absence.]

Today is Munchkin's birthday. She's three. Fittingly, I woke up precisely at 4:30 am, the very hour and minute at which she made her appearance and opened her eyes to the world. Less fittingly, I woke up at 4:30 am because I am on the West coast and suffering from jet lag, twisted into a single bed in a dorm room, dreaming of lesson prep for the workshop I'm leading this week.

So much about parenting has completely defied my expectations. I thought I liked infants more than toddlers. I thought I would enjoy the release from career stress that my maternity leave would offer. I thought these business trips would become easier as she got older. Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

I used to leave town on my trips to conferences, to archives, to workshops a little surprised at the zeal with which I grabbed at my temporary freedom. Caring for Miss Baby was so all-encompassing, so physical and and so emotional, so total that only a clean and decisive break could give me any respite. I handed her to her father and fled, relieve. Now that she's older, I'm surprised to find I crave my time with her. It's not that she's somehow of a different temperament or that caring for her is not still sometimes a challenge. It's that I like to be around her, this little person who converses and imagines and plays and cajoles and demonstrates 'dance moves': I enjoy her company in a way that I did not during her infancy.

Maybe, also, it's that she understands what it means for me to go away. That she cries when I leave, and daily pleads on the phone for my return, where before she might remark on my absence but blithely then turn her attention to a stray rubber band.

Two weeks ago, she and her father saw me off at the train station, headed to the capital for a conference. I waved at her through the window of the train and came home to them five days later. One more week passed, they saw me off on Sunday (Pynchon's birthday!) at the local airport, a small-town affair where all the passenger trek out across the open tarmac to climb a set of aluminum stairs up to the plane's entrance, the jets blowing our hair around. Pynchon and Munchkin were pressed up against the glass of the terminal, waving like mad. It broke my heart. I wanted to go back.

My girl is three and I am far away from her, my gift perhaps this new realization that sometime recently something in me has shifted. I want more to be near her than to clutch at time for myself--it's not that I don't need that time, but that it's not so desperately a matter of prying off the child so that the mother can breathe. In fact, I find, lately it seems that I breathe better when she's around. My girl, my sweetiepooper, my darling daughter. My Munchkin, 'free years old', still herself--always that very same assertive little soul who came home from the hospital with us--but more and more a part of me.

Airport hugs. Now with extra heartbreak, brave faces, and goofy smiles.