As I sit here writing this, the dog and I are hunkered down in the kitchen trying to stay out of everyone’s way. I have no idea where the cats are and don’t care. The reason for this seige mentality is because at my house there are four mowers mowing, three painters painting, two installers drilling and a paaartriiiidge in a peaaaar treeeeee.
In the beginning, in April, I was a little kid, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and excited for all the coming changes. But five months of living like a refugee in my own home have morphed me into a cranky old lady. (Turning 60 a few weeks ago didn’t help, either.) My mantra, It’s an adventure! fizzled out a long time ago. Now, I’d just like to go into a state of suspended animation and have someone wake me when it’s done.
The work goes in phases. This is necessary for my mental health because having workers on the premises for days on end gets stressful, so we cram in downtime to give me a chance to decompress and rev up for the next project. (Richard gets to escape to the office, so his sanity is not at stake.) I said earlier that we live like refugees and it’s true. We move from one part of the house to another, keeping just ahead of the workers with their cans and brushes and saws and drills. We are currently in Phase 349. It feels like it, anyway.
The kitchen was the first thing we tackled. After weeks of eating out, we finally moved back in and now I don’t want to cook because I don’t want to dirty my new appliances, they are so shiny and pretty. They are also evil. The microwave and both ovens will condescend to work, but only after giving me a digital version of the third degree: what do I plan to do? and with what? and when? and for how long? The fridge, thankfully, is mute, but it’s sly and will happily disgorge the latest batch of newly minted ice all over the floor. The gas stovetop takes eons to boil a small pan of water, but two nanoseconds to burn the butter. And the faucet? Let’s face it, the faucet is racist. We bought the kind that has a sensor. Wear white clothing, it’ll give you water all day long. Wear dark clothing and you don’t exist. The dishwasher is the best behaved of the bunch, but you know what people always say about the neighbor who makes the 10 o’clock news, “Gee, he was quiet and seemed like such a nice guy.”
Picking out the furnishings has been a kind of purgatory because neither of us has any design sense. Despite spending every weekend scouring furniture stores, roughly half of our new things were found and purchased online. Online furniture shopping is tricky because there is no way to test drive anything. And once you’ve got it out of the box (and rendered the box and packing materials useless in the process), the chance that you’ll return it — even if you don’t like it or it has minor damage — is remote because just the thought of trying to ship the thing back is exhausting, so you find a way to live with it. People actually say this in online reviews: “It’s more pink than red, but I can live with it.” “Some scratches, but I can live with it.” “Arrived broken in a million pieces, but I can live with it.” That being said, we’ve had good luck with our online purchases — so far — but that has come at a cost: hours and hours that I will never get back surfing the Internet and then, once I’ve found something, a day or two screwing up the courage to buy it. I took a leap of faith on a large — actually, oversized — piece of art for the living room wall. It’s 54 inches square (the ceiling is 11 feet high) and because it’s so big, I have to stretch the canvas myself, something I have never done in my life but the website assured me an idiot could do it.
As with the new kitchen appliances, I want to keep our new furniture looking nice, too. This is impossible with two cats in the picture. Ranger knows he’s not allowed on the furniture unless invited, but the cats do not understand the word “NO!!!” and, unlike the dog, cannot be shamed. So, all of the new chairs are covered with plastic and the new couch sports a lovely swath of aluminum foil. Phoebe is wearing plastic caps on her claws (hot pink, so help me) to keep her from scratching stuff, and Penny will meet the same fate as soon as we find the liquid courage to tackle her; she’s 15 lbs. and freakishly strong. Speaking of Penny, getting rid of the old living room couch was the best thing we could have done for her. She spent her days hiding under it, coming out only at night to eat and potty. Once the couch was sold in the estate sale, she had nowhere to hide and was forced to become a part of the family, whether she wanted to or not. I never thought I’d see the day, but Penny will actually curl up and sleep near the dog. Here’s a photo documenting this miracle:
Needin’ a pedicure and some downtime,
Last night Richard came home with some Thai take-out. Here's a snippet of the ensuing conversation:
Richard: Where's the salt?
Prunella: In the office.
R: Red pepper flakes?
P: With the rest of the spices in the Jacuzzi.
R: I can't find a serving spoon.
P: Try that box under the wing chair in the living room.
R: Are we out of paper towels?
P: There's a roll in the kids' old bathroom next to the iced tea maker.
R: Now I need a bowl.
P: I saw some disposable ones by the fireplace. Be careful you don't step on the wine glasses.
R: I just saw Phoebe. She has masking tape stuck to her hind leg.
P: That's the third time today.
R: I need a knife.
P: The knife block is under the kitchen table in the living room, and the cutting boards are shoved under the chair cushion.
When our neighbors gave their house a top-to-bottom renovation last year, they did the smart thing and moved out for four months. We are doing the cheap thing and staying put.
The first order of business is the kitchen. To prepare for this, every last cup, pot, spoon and can of soup were hauled out of their hidey holes and into other parts of the house, mainly the living room. Neither Richard nor I gave a thought to some kind of organization. This oversight means we spend precious minutes scrounging through boxes and under heaps of plastic dropcloths to find a drinking glass or a trash bag. We put the microwave in the office but we can’t operate it when the computer is on or the fuse will blow. With no dishwasher and no kitchen sink, dishes have to be washed in the bathroom. Until the new fridge is hooked up, we have to purchase ice in bags.
I know. First world problems. I keep telling myself it’s an adventure.
Even our menagerie can’t escape. The dog doesn’t know where his food and water bowls will be on any given day. Phoebe has developed a weird affinity for masking tape. Penny, who is homeless since her sofa was bought at the garage sale -- sorry -- estate sale, is having a hard time finding a new place to call home. First, she tried living under the plastic dropcloths next to the Crock Pot. When she got mistaken for the large white bowl we use for popcorn, she tried to shove her bulk under the den sofa, but the space underneath is too narrow. Then there was the closet in the front bedroom. That worked until the painter, or perhaps the paint fumes, scared her away. She was last seen lurking behind a guest room toilet, not the most hygienic place to set up housekeeping, but when your food bowl is next to the litter box, I suppose it’s just a matter of degree.
We spent three-and-a-half months picking out all the new doo-dads for the most important room in the house. Remember playing Crack the Whip when you were a kid? Poor Richard was (and still is) the hapless kid at the end of the line getting yanked hither and yon every time the leader (read moi) changed direction. I changed my mind so much, it's like I had no mind at all, just a sieve with giant holes incapable of holding onto a decision for more than a day or two. Richard learned very quickly that "I love it! That's what I want!" didn't mean squat. You wouldn't believe the hand-wringing that went into deciding between two different shades of grey. Once the grey we had so agitated over went up on the walls, we discovered it was more blue than grey, necessitating another round of needless drama. Thankfully, our second choice turned out to be perfect.
There is so much out there it is overwhelming. Couple that with no color or design sense and we were on a collision course with bad taste. Making it worse was the fact that we wanted to go in an entirely different direction. Our old kitchen could pass for country French in dim light with eyes crossed. We wanted something modern and minimalist. Modern in the hopes it won't look too dated before we are called to Glory (or the kids stick us in a home, whichever comes first). Minimalist because we are both "getting up there" and the less stuff to bother with, the better. Paige swears she had a dream that when it was all over but the shouting, our new kitchen looked exactly like the old one.
Whoever said the devil is in the details was probably three weeks into a reno. You get so wrapped up in the big stuff that no thought is given to the little things until the contractor asks a question that you are totally and awkwardly unprepared for. For example, our fridge is moving several feet west. It never occurred to us that the new placement would block the light switch until the electrician pointed it out. It’s amazing how quickly I can make a decision — and stick to it — when a contractor is standing there frowning at me. We never knew how yellowed-with-age our electrical sockets and light switches were until the bright white subway tile for the backsplash went in. There were forty different grout colors to choose from. Forty! My mother’s generation has no idea how easy they had it.
Another tick mark in the column labeled “Stuff We Didn’t Think of and Should’ve” was the impact four-plus weeks of dining out and take-out were going to have on our waistlines. I never need an excuse to eat out; as I tell everyone who asks, my favorite food is anything I don’t have to cook or prepare, but this is getting ridiculous. Richard and I have sworn that as soon as the kitchen is functional again, we are both going on diets.
As restrictive as life as been lately, it’s also been freeing. Messes that used to be cause for a meltdown don’t bother me anymore. Spill liquid on the floor? Nobody cares. The floor’s going to get ripped up eventually. Cat hacked up a hairball on the carpet? Ditto. Queso on the couch? The couch will soon be history; until then, turn the cushion over. (I wish I could blame my husband for that last bit.)
In the meantime, it's fun (and a little scary) watching what has only ever existed in my head take shape in reality.
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