Stalled

IMG_8695Construction has come to a halt while we wait for the township to come and inspect the insulation. I have been extremely surprised at how quickly we have had the past inspections. It seemed Don had but to call and an appointment was scheduled within the week. Not this time. This is more what I had expected, given some of my other dealings with government when trying to sell our mother’s house. We are stalled for over a week, waiting to get the next inspection done. I think this is the last inspection for quite a bit. I don’t think the next few rounds of activity are going to require stage-by-stage approvals. So no renovation news until next week sometime, when we pass inspection (we hope) and start on the walls.

In the meantime I’ll share garden pictures. I’ve been working in my sun room in the front of the house. The house faces south, which means that sun room can get quite warm. IMG_8697That’s a good thing in the winter but can be a bit much in the summer, hence the awnings. A friend of mine said “why AWNINGS??? They are so DARK!!!!” Well, yes, I replied, but come and join me when the temps are in the 90s. The awnings are a real help then. There are 8 windows in that sun room. I keep the blinds shut in the early morning, until the sun rises above the awnings and there is no direct light into the room. My co-workers have been commenting on my beach room, because that is, of course, what I did with my sun room. It is a very happy place for me, even if the chair/desk situation is not very good for my back. I’m in the office today and I’m wearing my sweatshirt and drinking hot coffee because I’m COLD in the air conditioning. But the chair is soooo comfortable and I love my 2 ft monitor. Pros and cons everywhere.

Spring flowers (peonies and roses) are done but many of the summer flowers are blooming. I love them, but I confess that I get bored around mid-July with having to water them so much. I have a soaker hose, and I even have a 4-way spigot I could put on the outdoor faucet. I just haven’t gotten to it. IMG_8710A common refrain: “not gotten to that yet”. I know Honour knows this song too. I love canna lilies as you can see in the photos – I have them in 3 places. It’s almost time for the rudbeckia to bloom as well. I picked some of my “crops” to snack on today in the office: yellow cherry tomatoes, which are wonderfully sweet, and Mexican sour gherkins. The gherkins are fun but they are very sour. 🙂 I’m trying to think of a good way to use them to take advantage of the taste. I have another tomato plant as well as the cherry tomatoes, but that second plant has produced a single tomato. One. And my hot pepper plants have done nothing. I bought all of those at the ag fair back in the spring. I’m a bit disappointed with most of my purchases there. Only the gherkins and the cherry tomatoes seem to have thrived.

I need to trim the front hedge again. I took it down quite a bit in the spring, but it needs some attention. I need to tame the forsythia and the rhododendron on the side of the house. I cropped the picture to avoid the overgrown azaleas and the huge taller-than-my-dining-room-window weed that is growing by the outdoor faucet. That side of the house is definitely in need of major pruning. The lilac bush is blocking my way to that faucet, and so are the spider webs that spring up as soon as I clear them away. This past weekend was actually perfect pruning weather but I had other plans. I need to hire someone. Of course, I now need to hire someone to cut the grass as well, because my young high-school grass-cutter found himself a permanent job. It may be time for me to stop supporting the local youths and simply hire a lawn care service. But only if they’ll do it without chemicals. Or I could just let it all grow and grow….
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Up and Down

basement wiresLots of things have been up and down this weekend. Especially me – up and down the basement stairs. One of the ‘promises’ my husband and I make to each other is that our next home will be one story – no more stairs. Highly unlikely, but everyone needs the hope of something better.

Down: I broke 2 pieces off of the vacuum cleaner while I tried to get every little spec of kitty litter off the carpeting upstairs. Oh yeah, we are so ripping out those carpets when the kitchen is done. This is only half-down because the vacuum still works. I’m not sure what those pieces did.

Up: a wonderful day spent out in glorious sunshine, without humidity, at a very good street fair with a fun friend. The weather was perfect, the fair was well attended but not jammed, and we found a parking spot in the shade.

laundry sinkDown: broke one of the 2 light bulbs in the refrigerator. Again, not really down-down because we are not keeping this refrigerator anyway. But annoying because there is now less light. Also annoying because I think the bulb broke off so part of it is still in the fixture, so I can’t just put in a new bulb.

Up: found a new artist at the craft show whose work I really like – Linda McAdams. Had to buy a piece to bring home with me, and I’m hoping to get one to put in the kitchen, to hang between the basement door and front hall door. She takes photos and transfers them to wood. The grain of the wood enhances the photos and makes for extremely appealing landscapes. She can make them to spec as well. I notice that the one that I liked is cropped differently in the photo I took at the show, than it is in the version on the website.

new art palm treeDown: I dropped one of my plastic lids so that it is under one of the cabinet drawers. I don’t have room to remove the drawer to get to the lid, and I haven’t been able to get sufficient leverage to try to knock it out under the opened drawer. When they move this piece back into the breakfast room they’ll take the drawers out and I’ll get it then. In another 6 weeks…..

Up: Managed to find enough surface and tools to make 3 different salads to have handy in the house. I’m very tired of store-bought salads and all the plastic containers. Here’s a concept – just like we bring our own bags, we should be able to bring our own containers to have them filled with salads and other prepared foods. We managed to cook dinner 3 nights in a row on the grill, with salad and corn on the cob. Perfect. And I also found everything I was trying to find (plastic containers, potato peeler, measuring spoons, spices) with the sole exception of the good can opener (hand operated). I did find the not very good one, which I had upstairs to deal with recalcitrant cat food cans, but the good one is not in any of the 3 kitchen implement storage bins. Or it is, but it was hiding. But still – this is the first thing in 6 weeks that I have been unable to locate. That’s not a bad percentage.

Down – or is this Up? Once again I am playing the role of Sisyphus, this time trying to deal with dust and debris. We’re both a bit tired of having to schlep dirty dishes to the basement to wash them (and I had a lot after making the salads and dinner). I spent a good hour or more in the basement sweeping and vacuuming and wiping down surfaces and objects trying to deal with the residual mess from opened ceilings and drilled holes and other banging and hammering. care packageI am REALLY growing to loathe the hanging wires at the foot of the basement stairs. Short as I am, I still bang my head on them no matter which way I duck. I understand why my husband goes down those stairs even less than I do. But on the upside of this down, the laundry area is MUCH cleaner, even if I did inhale a ton of dirty dust, and even if I know it’s only momentary until the workmen are back. I also swept the kitchen and breakfast room areas, including the “carpet” that is meant to help us walk safely between rooms. Another probably pointless task but at least for the moment I am not seeing pieces of wood or wire or other chunks of whatever. It was the window seat in the breakfast room that triggered this particular boulder-up-the-hill effort. I just had that replaced this March and it was completely covered in dust and debris. I wonder if my new blinds will ever be clean again. I wish I had realized they’d be coated with dust. I could have taken them down. Or realistically – had someone take them down for me. *grin*

flock of sea birdsHUGE UP: I came home from the street fair to discover a BOX! It was from Honour. On the label it said “paper bags”. That was odd. Why was Honour sending me paper bags????? I opened the box and lo and behold – the label lied. (Must have been her Canadian accent.) It was a care package sent with love from Canada. Apparently somewhere in the last several days Honour had gotten the impression that I was a little stressed, and thought I could use a bright spot in my day. 🙂 Brilliant woman. The box was chock-full with edible goodies AND a non-edible puffin!!! My husband and I both grabbed for the puffin. 🙂 It’s mine. 🙂 We made a start on the yummies that night with the cranberry cookies. The puffin made friends with the seagull and took up residence in my sun room, which is my beach room. A good place for a puffin, right?

Adding not Subtracting

IMG_8699We have definitely turned the corner. We are not yet in the home-stretch but
have rounded the first curve. 🙂 Yesterday we passed another inspection – a building inspection for the fire-stops. Today the insulation was added. This means another building inspection and then….. then…. WALLS!!!!

I’ve been answering some questions from Manny (do I want a want a tilt-out soap tray? No.) and hoping for some suggestions from him about new deck lighting. It’s clear that my husband and I are excited about very different aspects of the kitchen. When I talk to people it’s all about light & space: opening the doorway, the pocket door, the slanted ceiling in the breakfast room. He is very much about the stove and the counters. When I was chatting with the foreman and reciting back to him “what happens next” I listed walls, floor, cabinets, appliances. I forgot about the counter top completely. I confess – I’ve NEVER walked into any kitchen or showroom or anywhere and said “WOW!!! What a gorgeous counter!” Obviously counters are not my thing. Although at the moment I am missing them greatly because it’s very difficult and unpleasant to try to do any food preparation in the little piece of the dining room table that is available. I know, first world problems, right?

We are also tweaking the schedule to make life easier on our painter. Don (the foreman) suggested that our painter might want the opportunity to get in and do the priming and the ceilings once the sheet rock was done.IMG_8700 I checked and he agreed. Given that this is July, we all expect that it will take days for the sheet rock to dry sufficiently for any further work. Our forecasts here are 3Hs – hazy, hot and humid – now through August. Don even suggested having the painting done, but I haven’t the faintest idea what color I’m going to want. I’m not going to be able to figure that out until the counter top and the backsplash are in place.

I think it’s probably time to start looking for a new ceiling fan for the kitchen (sans lights) and for funky cabinet handles and knobs. I’m going to have to make a decision whether I want to keep with my earth tones/materials in the kitchen or if I want to look for something funky (like steampunk) or if I want to get splashes of bright color. One thing about knobs and handles – if I get it wrong it should be fairly simple to change. I hope. Sure beats knob & tube wiring issues.

A New Career

Who knew? I certainly didn’t. Apparently I am an architect. 🙂

We were having a lovely, lovely 4th of July BBQ with friends, folks we have not seen in ages. Of course we were sharing the saga of the kitchen renovations. Most of them had also lived through a renovation or two. After asking about the contractor we were using, one of the men asked “Who’s the architect?” I looked at him, puzzled. “Architect?” I shrugged and said “we don’t have an architect, what does an architect DO?” He replied “Decides on heights and changes in walls and where things go.” I looked at my husband, still a bit puzzled. My husband gave that little secret smile of his and sort of nodded my way and said to me “You’re the architect.”

I guess I AM. I’m the one who is changing the doorways and the ceilings and deciding other structural changes.

Look at me – I’m an architect! I’d better figure out what the heck the soffit IS and how it’s going to work with the crown molding. *grin* search: images soffit………

Renovation Hardships

When we told our friends about the kitchen renovation, and that it would take 10-12 weeks to complete, almost ALWAYS the first question was “What will you do about FOOD?” I scoffed and said what was so terrible, we’d have the grill on the deck, we had a microwave, we had a refrigerator. I was right and I was wrong. We do have all of that and more (coffee, hot water, toaster oven) but it’s really not the same. My husband is reveling in this lack of kitchen because he gets to stop every day and pick up food for dinner. I notice he’s also spending a fortune on eating out for breakfast and lunch because there are never any leftovers to take. Bringing in food is not awful, but it’s a lot higher in calories and much less fresh than if we were making our own. I usually make up a huge salad and then munch my way through it during the week (much the way the local deer work their way through our gardens and yards). I miss all the fresh veggies and I miss my weekly trip to the local farmers’ market 5 block away.

I thought I was prepared to deal with the cutlery and dishes. I bought a huge quantity of plastic ware and paper plates and plastic (recyclable) cups. After all, we have no dishwasher and no kitchen sink. Yet we still use dishes and utensils that need washing. drying dishes in the bathroomWe can either do this in the bathroom sink or down in the basement in the laundry area. The basement was working well – I had the dish drainer on the washing machine. There is a big sink so we could do the cutting board and other large items. Then the electrical work began. Not only did the alien electric cords emerge from the ceiling but there is dust and wood chips and other debris down there. The contractors do a very good job of cleaning up each day but there is still the debris that has fallen down among the items on every surface. Washing the dishes in the bathroom sink is a challenge because the faucet is fixed and low – very difficult to get a 16-oz glass clean. I also worry about glass items because the sink is so shallow that anything larger than a cup hits the sides.

The recycling hasn’t been too much of a hardship. That all used to be in the kitchen. Now we have the glass/plastic in the front hall and the paper in the living room. Both containers are tucked in neatly. They need to be emptied more often, however, because (1) we have a lot more containers to toss and (2) they are unsightly and (3) it’s summer and I don’t have central a/c and it gets warm and they start to smell. Still all in all, not really a problem.

Water and ice are perhaps my biggest annoyances. I can’t make my own ice and I have to buy bags of ice. The ice in bags is NOT really cubed ice. IMG_8676It may have started that way but by the time you get it home and hammer it apart (because it melted on the way home and then froze into one huge lump in the freezer) it has a lot of little pieces and lots of pulverized ice. The crushed ice is great for a frozen drink, but if you want iced tea or coffee or water, cubes are much better. And the fragments fall on my wood dining room floor which makes me crazy. 🙂 Okay, crazier. I don’t want my floor ruined because of stray ice chips. We are in the 5th day of a heat wave, with at least 2 more days predicted, and we are using up a lot of ice. Although it costs more, I’ve gone back to the gallon jugs of water instead of the 2.5 gallons. The 2.5 gallons are not as easy to use for filling coffee pots and pitchers. Sometimes they are difficult to close one-handed and that means water on the dining room floor. They also take up a lot of room, and counter space is in short supply these days. dust on tableOn the other hand it finally occurred to me that I could store things under the dining room table since I removed half of the chairs (so we had room to walk around the table).

I guess the last “hardship” is the dust and debris that seem to be everywhere. I don’t consider myself an especially “neat” person. I can tolerate a fair amount of disorder in the house. But when I get stressed, my solution is to clean and straighten. There is kitty litter being tracked all over the upstairs which is, unfortunately, all carpeted. That may have to change after this experience. There is dust and minute particles tracked all over the downstairs from the open ceilings, walking back and forth through the construction, food handling in the dining room and eating in the sun room. There is plastic hung between the front hall and the construction to limit the mess, but as we keep walking back and forth to the bathroom, the deck, the basement, the plastic can only do so much. plastic in doorwayNot to mention that having to wend our way through the plastic is annoying. When the workmen are not here, I try to keep the big plastic sheet tucked out of the way. This all seems to be causing a low-grade, subconscious stress for me because no matter where I look, things are not clear and organized. I had no idea I was so obsessive about order. No wonder I love Seder so much. Vacuuming is do-able if I don’t mind freaking out the cats when I do the upstairs. Downstairs is okay, but there is so much stuff in the way that it mostly consists of moving furniture. It all feels extremely Sisyphean.

I was going to call this “first world hardships” because nothing I’ve described is really a hardship. There is an end to it, I’m getting something wonderful, and I chose to do this. It all reminds me of a wonderful parable I read when I was young. A poor couple has a one-room house and many children. They are very crowded in their house and it’s becoming very stressful and unpleasant for them. They ask the Rabbi for help. The Rabbi has them bring their farm animals into the house, one-by-one. Finally when all the animals are crammed in the house with all the family, the Rabbi has them take all the animals out. The man comes running back to the Rabbi to proclaim how WONDERFUL it is – there is sooooo much room in the house!! *grin* That’s how I am going to feel once all of this is out of my living room and dining room. Wow!!! Look at how LARGE a house I have!!

(of course not EVERYONE in the house agrees with me…… )

Renovation hardship cat

TRUE Renovation Hardship

Finally the Ceiling I Wanted

flat ceilingI can’t remember how long ago we did the addition on the house – maybe 28 years ago. As I’ve mentioned before, when I requested a skylight, it never occurred to me that it did not come with a slanted ceiling automatically. Instead I’ve had a shaft going up to the roof, letting in light and air (the window can be opened). It hasn’t been bad, or a problem, it was just not what I had envisioned. After we all agreed to slope the ceiling, it was almost a matter of minutes before all the extraneous boards were removed, and the proper supports to satisfy the engineer were installed. I wish I knew how to take photos that would convey the slope, but you will have to make do with what I have. As happened with the widened doorway, freeing the skylight from the shaft has already made a HUGE difference in the room, even with only rough boards. I now also have a beam that WILL be noticeable when all is finished, but I am already planning to hang flower baskets from the beam. That may NOT be a good idea unless I put in fake plants, because I tend to water my plants until it runs out the bottom, and I will also have a brand new floor under those plants. I’m open to suggestions because I’m fairly certain a beam like that is calling for something creative or funky.

I ask questions when the workmen are here, hoping to learn more about how things work, what other people do when renovating old houses. sloped ceilingI was pondering putting in a new electric skylight but we all agreed that making it a power window (and shade) would be adding one more potential headache. I’m not sure what to do about a shade up there. I have a suspicion that now the window is freed from the shaft, there may be a lot more heat than even I will like (I have a very high tolerance for hot weather). That is one of those things that can be addressed at a later time. Still on my list of “things I’d like to accomplish this year” is the replacement of all of the upstairs windows. I can think about the skylight at that time too. Also a new front door. I really want a new front door, too. 🙂 The window people usually do doors as well. Again – that’s something for the fall. I figure maybe October/November time frame to replace the windows. It would be nice to have more energy efficient windows come the cold weather.

I believe that I have mentioned my dislike for the knob & tube wiring in our house. The K&T struck again. We knew that the dining room chandelier was down the line from the kitchen K&T. skylight with high hatsThe electrician had come up with an ingenious solution for getting the dining room back online once we replaced the kitchen K&T. I’m going to spare you the photos and diagrams that would explain this, because – spoiler alert!! – we didn’t do that anyway. I’m sharing it so you can truly appreciate the nuances of replacing K&T. By the way, 3 knowledgeable folk have told me that K&T is SAFER than the current approach. I have NOT understood their explanations but they have all assured me this is so, and they are people who would know. The explanations for why insurance companies won’t insure homes with K&T make as little sense to me as do the explanations for why K&T is safer, but we do what needs to be done to get the permits from the township.

The plan was to take the new up-to-code wiring from the kitchen and run it up the wall to the ceiling, where it would hang a left and go into the breakfast room area. At THAT point it would hang a right and go outside the house, secured to the siding by tubing. I was told that there would be no problem with this if/when we replace the siding. Once the new wire was in line with the dining room chandelier, it would hang a right and head back into the house in the ceiling. They would take down the chandelier and hook it to the new wiring. If all went well, and if they had a clear sight line through the ceiling, they would even send the new wires straight through the ceiling to the sun room, where they would put the ceiling fan/light on the new wiring. You remember the new fan in the sun room, right? That’s what started all of this a year ago. 🙂

Well, the best laid plans and all of that. When they went to replace the K&T in the kitchen, they discovered that the hot wire and the neutral wire did NOT go in the same direction in the dining room. dining room ceiling PLEASE, do NOT ask me to explain what that means. The hot wire went up the wall, hung a left, went down to the switch in the dining room and then up to the chandelier. The neutral wire did not accompany the hot wire on this venture. No, apparently the neutral wire went straight across the dining room and somehow met up with the hot wire near or at the chandelier. In other words – we couldn’t redirect as planned because we wouldn’t have all of the parts available.

The electricians were very apologetic and sorry and, to be fair, as unhappy as I was, but for different reasons, I’m sure. They needed to cut open the dining room ceiling to figure out where the neutral wire was exactly. We discussed all the permutations and as long as they were cutting open the ceiling in the dining room, we agreed to take the new wiring all the way to the sun room and get that done properly as well. That meant a hole in the ceiling and wall of the sun room. This is where again, they know what they are talking about and I imagine something else. That happened in the breakfast room when they said they’d “open the ceiling” and I didn’t realize I was going to lose the whole ceiling and get to beams. That worked out well for me, however. I was imagining the same “rip it all the way open” approach in my dining room as well. Nothing like that. They marked out sections to cut, hoping that they’d hit gold in the first one or two sections.

sunroom ceilingThey covered everything in the dining room with plastic, hung a big plastic sheet between the dining room and the living room, and proceeded to cut away. As you can see in the pictures, the openings are NOT very large (well, not compared to what I was imagining). It just means more painting at the end of the job to get the dining room and sun room cleaned up. In the meantime, I am almost completely free of K&T on the first floor!!!! The front hall light (and I suspect therefore the front porch light) and a few wall sockets are the only K&T left on the first floor. I’m hoping that when we go to deal with them, it will be a non-event. I hope. Please.

So the good news is all of that got done. We had our rough electrical and plumbing inspections last week and passed. I love how we pass the electrical with the wires all hanging down in the basement. aliens in the basementJim and I do need to go down there for laundry, and some other supplies, and we’ll need to empty out all of the STUFF we have stored there for the congregational rummage sale. Yay – we can bring our donations now!!! But we will have to weave our way through the alien life forces that have emerged from the basement ceiling and have congregated around the foot of the stairs.

We’ve started Week #6 and we are making progress. The next thing to be done is to get past the building inspection. I think I understood that means that all the holes around the wires need to be fire-stopped (plugged with fire-retardant material). And I *think* we may get the insulation put in before that too. But our township seems to only inspect on Wednesdays so despite the fire-stopping being completed, I doubt much will happen for another week or more, since the next Wednesday is July 4th. I rather doubt any inspectors will be here on July 4th. But once we pass this point now we start ADDING things instead of REMOVING things. We get walls, then a floor, and then appliances, and then cabinets…. It’s really happening!
approvals

Mexican Sour Gherkins

IMG_8623There is a lot of hammering and drilling and other construction noises emanating from the basement today. It’s sunny and warm and dry outside, which means it’s a good day to check out the garden.

I am growing Mexican Sour Gherkins!!!! They were a spur-of-the-moment purchase several weeks ago in May. It was FINALLY a warm, sunny, weekend day and I fled the house to soak up some sun and fresh air. Rutgers University was having its big Rutgers day celebration which I believe started many years when the Rutgers Ag school would have Ag day, and the students would sell their plants – flowers, herbs and vegetables. I have NEVER made it to Ag day, despite many of my friends singing its praise. I headed over there and picked up a few items, including my strawberry plant (which got its very own post) and something I’d never heard of before: Mexican sour gherkins. IMG_8620 I asked if I could grow it UP a trellis instead of in the ground with runners. The answer was as long as it’s supported, it should be fine.

The plant has been putting out skinny light green runners for weeks, and little yellow flowers have been appearing everywhere. Last week I noticed that some flowers had become fruit!! I’m hoping I’ll know when they can be harvested because so far the most detailed description that I have for size is “smaller than a grape”. That’s very small.

If you are going to follow one of these links, I suggest the one above to “Modern Farmer”. I found Mexican sour gherkins in Wikipedia, but they have a horrible name there: Melothria Scabra. All I can think of is scabrous which is a big yuck. *shudder* The description is a mite alarming as well. It says it can grow to 10 feet. Um, I have this in a pot. IMG_8621 There is no way I can support 10 ft of plant. On the other hand – it’s a very skinny vine. Maybe I can just keep looping it.

It’s very exciting to see these tiny gherkins growing. They are colorful and I’m getting a good crop. Stay tuned for more adventures of the ignorant farmer. 🙂


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