We’re moving on to faucets.

But I need to pause here. In the midst of all this, I have an idea. It’s something so small in the scheme of things, but big on the soul-side. Something that feels way more real than any part of this renovation. So keep reading. I need your help.


Electrical and plumbing is done. Paint, floors, kitchen cabinets — done. Countertops ordered. I’ve mastered the glossaries for all of these. That’s the way I make choices; I learn the language first. So now it’s gooseneck, swivel, single-handle, side handle, pullout sprayer. Chrome vs. nickel vs. stainless. Aerator. Insta-hot. Or not.


It’s too much. Too much information, too many choices, too many stores and price-compares, packaging, shipping charges, and STUFF. I’ve mentioned before my uncomfortable sense of privilege with this project, modest as it may be. A home renovation puts you right in the belly of American consumer choices, perceived value, discardable everything. Your Stuff versus your self. Your House versus your home. I get to choose from hundreds of faucet designs. Somewhere, a woman is walking for miles, every day, to get jugs of clean water back to her family.

Early this morning, sitting with this itchy feeling of materialism, I made a commitment to myself that I will a) set a budget for our faucet fixtures, and b) come in under that budget, and c) donate the remainder to a water-focused charitable organization.

It’s nothing. Maybe it’s even obnoxious, I don’t know. But I feel compelled to bring some balance of … responsibility? accountability? kindness? humility? … to this project. A gesture of gratitude to the universe. A bow.

So, I googled “water charities.” And what pops up but this remarkable coincidence (AKA, affirmation from the universe): 2013 is the United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation. And, March 22 is World Water Day — just eight days from today. Meant to be, right?

But that google search? I’m right back in the maelstrom of information and choices. There are dozens of organizations doing amazing work with water resources. I need recommendations — from real people, not a search engine.

If you had a very small amount of money to donate to an effort that helps bring clean water to developing communities, where would you send it? Here are just three options that rose to the top for me.

Ryan’s Well Foundation – started by a first grade boy, the foundation has now built 710 wells and 910 latrines in developing countries.

WATERisLIFE – brings clean water solutions and programs to developing countries, including the WaterisLife Straw: a personal, portable water filtration straw that filters out waterborne diseases. Each straw costs $10.

Water.org – Partners with indigenous organizations that have real understandings of their local culture, which helps ensure long-term oversight, ownership, and success. Through a small-loan program, communities partially fund their own projects.

What do you think? Comments are wide open and can be anonymous if you choose. Your email address stays private. I’d love to hear your ideas.

Kitchen update

I’m starting to bite my nails. (Well, I always bite my nails, but I’m biting with more … assertion, these days.) We are three weeks out, people! The spouse is a true hero — several late nights this week, just him and the IKEA manuals, power tools and a whole lot of Rage Against the Machine.

The contractors cleared out today — gigantic pile of tools and equipment, and a whole ton of dust and debris, GONE. They did a great job, but we’re ready to claim our space and all of the remaining projects that come with it. Before they drove away, I made them carry our orphaned toilet out of the kid’s future bedroom and scrub off a crazy, thick layer of splattered wall texture goo. We need to reuse that toilet, fellas. It’s the little things.

I thought I might hold back these progress photos, but you guys. I’m starting to get excited. Look at these before-and-afters. Oh, heck yes:

peninsula before

peninsula phase 2

The angle on these above shots isn’t identical (I was able to stand inside the new refrigerator nook to take the second one — more on that below). But, you can see that we gained a ton of space by pushing the peninsula out into the dining area. Also — notice how the sink used to be bizarrely off-center from the window? No way. That could not stand, man. It made my weird spatial-alignment sensitivities go haywire. Fixed.

I haven’t yet mentioned the pantry. It was much worse than this before photo leads you to believe — cracked and broken accordion doors, screwy shelving. It did offer a lot of storage, but it also offered a great place to relocate the fridge. This means significantly increased counter, cabinet, and butt space. We think the upgraded cabinet solutions will make up for the loss of shelving, and we did retain a smaller pantry (on the left, bottom photo — it still needs shelves):

pantry beforepantry phase 2

And then. AND THEN! There’s this:

kitchen view before

kitchen view phase 2Open, light, full of personality and functionality. It’s starting to take shape.

Can I get an amen?

In the spirit of celebration and back-patting, I will not list all of the things we still have to do before move-in day. Instead, here’s the (almost certainly incomplete and in no way representative of actual effort) checklist of everything accomplished to reach this stage of the kitchen reno:

  • Ripped out cabinetry, appliances, and soffits
  • Ripped out carpet and Pergo
  • Tore out and reconfigured pantry space to relocate fridge (we lost some bedroom closet space, but restored it by framing out an extra several inches into the bedroom)
  • Traced circuits, relocated various outlets and switches, installed can lights, added electrical to the fridge space, added a 240-volt circuit for the oven
  • Rerouted plumbing in order to center the sink under the window; plumbed the fridge space
  • Extensively repaired drywall, taped, mudded, patched, and textured
  • Skim coated the ceiling to cover up the popcorn (especially necessary since the kitchen didn’t have a popcorn texture, and without the soffits and upper cabinets the division in the ceiling line was gone)
  • Chose paint. Chose a different paint. Polled the family and chose yet a third color. Painted.
  • Chose the wood flooring. Chose again. And again. Entered a long period of doubt and indecision. Bought wood flooring. Installed wood flooring. Mourned our choice. Started to grow fond of it.
  • Designed an IKEA kitchen, sent the spouse by plane to Portland, where he rented a truck and did the heroic IKEA thing to bring back a pile of flatpack.
  • Built lower cabinet boxes, including a custom corner unit.

How’s that for a progress report? [knucks]

Akurum. Gezundheit.

Today’s number one goal: base cabinets, complete. We’re past due on ordering the counter top. And I still have to choose and purchase the sink and fixtures. I really, really hope I don’t have to wash dishes in the bathtub come March 31.

Wait. We don’t have bath fixtures installed, either.

Or flooring in the bedrooms. Or a shower surround. The toilet is still in Nora’s bedroom. And the closets don’t have hanger rods. Or doors. Come to think of it, the bathroom doesn’t have doors, either.

I operate best under pressure.

(Have you read the New York Times article about why some of us do well under stress, and others not as well? Super fascinating. It’s all about dopamine and enzymes — good news is, we can condition ourselves in either direction.)

IKEA Akurum

Lighten up

Let’s all move on from the wood floor debacle, shall we? Those suckers are nailed down and there’s so much more to get done before our 3/31 move date.

Did I say move date? Yup. We gave our landlord our 30-notice and ohmygod. That means it’s real and we have to get our asses in gear so we have things like, oh, sinks. And a refrigerator. And stuff.

Which is why I’m distracting myself with pendant lighting for the kitchen peninsula/bar. Any advice, experience, or aesthetic preferences for a ranch house gone “organic modern”? Here’s a roundup of a few styles that are catching my eye:

pendant lighting board1. Schoolhouse Lighting, Luna globe pendant

2. Besa spotlight pendant in copper foil

3. Kichler Fremont pendant in chrome

4 & 5. Schoolhouse Lighting, Willamette series

6. Isla glass pendant in smoke

7. Fredrick Ramond globe pendant

8. Fredrick Ramond 4″ spotlight pendant in maple

Friday Sky Day, no. 5

For the next few weeks, we’ll still have these views right out our back door. Views like this give me an instant sense of place. The bigness of the sky and broadness of the horizon does not make me feel small. It makes me feel located. Situated. Part of everything.

From atop our butte, we can stand in the sunshine, and watch three or four different weather systems cross the high desert plateau. Huge cloud shadows slide across the ridges and creases of faraway hills. Today, there are waves of snow passing west to east–the white, vertical swaths in this photo. From inside, where I sit working, I can watch the graupel fall and skitter down the incline of our neighbor’s roof.  Every few minutes, it switches to soft, drifting flakes. Right now, I can see a robin on that roof, holding nest makings in her beak. Spring-winter mashup. (Sprinter?) It’s beautiful.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Friday, March 8, 2013

Coming to terms

Pinterest lies.

With the bright rooms, white walls, Moroccan rugs and reclaimed industrial work stools. Ombre this and Ikat that and repurposed mason jars and teapots with neon-dipped handles. I have a board called “rooms” that is filled with images like this:

wood floors from cottage-gardens dot com

The wood floors. We wanted (I wanted) light, natural, clear wood floors. A solid expanse of the palest blonde wood, to brighten the space and lighten our steps, the calming underfoot palette for the happy clutter of our lives. I would CURATE our space, I would. Really, this time. And the floors were going to anchor the entire thing.

We’ve had a lot bound up in this simple little house. In the vision of this house. Fresh wishes and hopes are bound by its walls. Do-overs are tucked under the eaves. Leaps of faith–successful ones–are promised by the long stretch of yard. Joy dangles down, tempting us to pluck it, from the high branches of the juniper grove out front. We’ll hang a swing from those branches this summer, teach the kid to go high and higher, letting her sandals fly off her feet at the apex, underdogs and jumping off for popsicles in the grass. Cue soundtrack.

The floors are being installed, right now. Probably half done, today. We stopped by last night to check on progress, and there they were, the planks laid out through the entry and down one side of the living room. I smiled and ohhhed and smiled some more, and remarked on how perfect the paint color is, and clapped my hands. But later, to the spouse, I confessed.

The floors are exactly what I didn’t want.

The color and grain variation is super pronounced, far more than I expected, so that the floor has a kind of … checkerboard effect. Blonde to reddish swaths, over and over. It’s distracting and pulls the checkerboard of the randomly painted fireplace brick into this wash of visual chaos.

Then, as is my wont, I started to spin out. I spin out in the face of being placated, which is what the spouse does when I’m upset. He placates, I escalate, he placates, I spin out, until I’m yelling and he’s stomping off to bed without saying goodnight and I’m googling results for keyword search “interior design for intense wood floor grain variation that doesn’t suck goddammit it all to hell.”

And I started wondering how long it would take to sell the house and start over because OMG how could we liiiiiiive liiiiiiike thiiiiiiiis!

Entirely silly (and, frankly, out of line, in so many ways I’m ashamed of, not the least of which is my awareness of how privileged I am to worry about something like this). I know.

Still, when the single highest expense of your fresh-start dream is a huge, irretrievable disappointment, it’s hard to process. Especially at midnight.

Then I fell asleep. And this morning, I know that even though it matters, it doesn’t. We will fill those walls and the floors beneath them with lightness and creativity and kindness and play. We will practice sock-slides across those floors, shuffle in bedtime slippers across those floors. We will sit criss-cross applesauce on those floors to build puzzles and teach the kid checkmate. We will wipe spilled milk from those floors and stomp temper tantrums on those floors. We will roll up the rugs and turn up “Brass Monkey” and have family dance party until we’re sweaty and hilarious and staying up past bedtime on those floors. Who knows, maybe when it’s all done, we’ll even like those floors.

And later, maybe many houses from now, we will remember that time we learned lessons about renovating a house on a tiny, lucky budget and the (disem)power(ment) of (too much) choice — or we won’t remember at all. Because life is so much bigger than and beyond what’s underfoot.

maple floor installation

Kitchen progress

There’s more to it than this. As we speak, the maple floors are being installed beneath freshly painted walls. Here’s phase 3 — just before the Men in White armed themselves with those sprayers, and the whole thing was coated in Sherwin Williams SW7005 Westhighland White.

One of the most exciting things about this very bland photo is the disappearance of popcorn ceiling texture! Tony the Texture Guy was a master — it’s all covered up with a skim coat layer. Can you imagine? It’s like those guys in France who seamlessly repair ancient stone walls, so you can’t even tell:

1965 kitchen remodel

The 1965 kitchen was gutted, new can lights installed, minor electrical work completed, popcorn ceiling covered in skim coat, drywall repaired, taped, mudded, and primed.

For a sense of progression, here’s a step backward — phase two (the mostly gutted room – I can’t believe we had the nerves of steel to rip out the soffits and leave gaping holes in the ceiling!):

ranch kitchen renovation

The kitchen, gutted.

And the original, as-puchased kitchen:

The 1965 kitchen, phase zero.

The 1965 kitchen, phase zero.

Chug, chug, chug. That’s either the sound of a train (we think we can!) or the sound of me drinking bottles of wine throughout this experience. Cheers!

Friday Sky Day, no. 4


Downtown sky slice. March 2013.

Writing prompt: Downtown.

You can walk the entire length of downtown, end-to-end, in less than 10 briskly paced minutes. Start at the library, go north toward the historic post office. There is a concert hall marquee, high-end shoe store, giant stuffed Totoro outside the Japanese anime shop. You will go past the Birkenstock store where you can put your name on the list for eggs from the owner’s home coop. There will be beautiful teenaged girls in lycra and Uggs, raccoon-eyed with goggle burns, tangled hair that must smell like mountain wind and snow powder.

Coupla nice restaurants with trendy cocktails. Sushi. Breweries. Expensive “home goods” boutiques with things like “reclaimed barn wood entry tables” and lamps from Sweden. Two candy shops and a toy store. Sometimes, a busker will show up with drums made from oil cans, or a gypsy selling crystals lined up in rows on a Mexican blanket. There will be women in tight jeans, high leather boots, fur-collared Patagonia parkas, expensive makeup not quite hiding their age. They will browse the racks of designer clothes, self-conscious and primped.

Off the main drag, past the bookstore promising live music on Tuesdays, sharp turn into an alley, look for the chipped, vintage school chairs lined up by the brick wall. Inside is a coffee shop and roastery, hipsters staring sullenly into their Airbooks. The barista will be wearing a snug plaid shirt with snaps and Warby Parkers. The espresso will be perfectly extracted, the latte milk a precise, glossy 150 degrees. The gal from the bakery will show up with the pastry delivery and almost everyone will greet her by name. Her cheeks are rosy like rose hip jam above a nubbly crocheted scarf.

The skies will turn indigo at dusk. The river slides by, silver.

Deschutes at dusk.

Deschutes at dusk.