Vintage remnants

There are still a few mid-century relics popping up across the house. Amazing what you find when you’re on your hands and knees, scrubbing baseboard. These little mysteries hadn’t registered with me — until my sweet sister-in-law was crawling along, sponge in hand, right down at their level and she called me over to see.

Make a guess?

1965 portable phone jackHere are the guts of it, for the engineering geeks:

1965 portable phone jack interior

You do know I have major sleuthing tendencies with a side of research nerd, correct? I couldn’t resist a late-night google hunt. Guess what I found?

Fedtro portable telephone outlet Fedtro portable telephone outlet back

The 1964 Fedtro Portable Telephone Outlet. Make any phone portable! Use your one phone … in EVERY ROOM! No bathtub interruptions!

So … telephones used to be hard-wired into the wall. You couldn’t unplug them. This kit essentially let you wire a plug at the end of your phone cord, and install receptacle outlets anywhere in your house.

Fellow writers — how ’bout that benefit-driven copy, ‘eh? Oh, the effusive and bygone era of the exclamation mark. Fabulous!

(I found the photos of the mint-condition kits at Etsy store TomLaurus.)

By the way, I didn’t end there. I got super geeky and looked up some history on Fedtro.  Among other electronics, they made TV tube testers, transistor radio parts, and the Powerhouse Control-O-Matic Deluxe Battery Charger — “Wonderful! Just plug in and charge!”

Have you ever lived in an old house? What’s the best piece of history you’ve found?

Too tired for full sentences

Painting. More painting. Baseboards. Dryer vent. New breakers. The one-chance, don’t-mess-it-up, IKEA-is-three-hours-away drilling of cabinet faces for handles. (Not pictured: Major garage clean out. Debris sort and load. DIY installation of custom countertop supports. Scrubbing. I don’t even know what else.)

The people who are making this possible. Family that shows up with hammers and brushes and ladles and love. Boundless gratitude.


Friday Sky Day no. 8

This is it. We’re one week out from loading a truck and making this new house a new home. We have raw subfloor. We have no kitchen countertop or sink. No dryer vent. No bedroom doors. The working bathroom is resplendent in original filth and 1965 awkwardness, and the “new” bathroom is nothing but sheetrock and Hardie Backer.

[Pessimist swings to Optimist, annnnnd … go!]

We have beautiful floors. The kitchen cabinets are millimeters away from done. All of the appliances are in place and ready to turn on with a few small adjustments. The countertops have been promised by Tuesday. The carpet is on a truck, on its way, and installers are ready to go. We hired a tile guy. We have a deposit to the carpenter for the bathroom vanity. We have a working shower and toilet (YAY for second bathrooms!). All of the baseboards and walls will be painted by the end of the weekend. We kept all of our moving boxes and bubble wrap, so packing up the rental should be straightforward. There are crocuses, day lilies, and lupine sprouting up in the backyard. We met a neighbor who has an 8-year-old little girl.

The sun is angling down through the split in the trees, melting the frost underfoot. The trail ahead seems narrow and steep, but the view from the top is going to be awesome.

Ever forward, everybody.

Trail and blue sky

Choosing backsplash tile

We can’t mount our range hood or open shelving until we’ve chosen and installed our backsplash tile. Assuming we’re doing tile. We’re doing tile. Aren’t we? Are we?

Should we just put up a stainless backsplash behind the stove, caulk the back edge of the countertop, and call it good?

Are we saying that because we’re tired?

That’s about how the breakfast conversation went today.

We’ve rounded up a few options from our friends at Home Depot. We’re going for white, because we’re an indecisive Libra/Gemini couple that’s afraid of color commitment it’s timeless and adaptable, and matches our cabinet faces. I’d like to bring in some curves and shapes, since everything else in the room has straight, modern lines. The spouse has always imagined subway tile. Penny tile seems to be the middle ground, and comes in 12×12″ mesh sheets for easy install. (If we DIY. Which is a serious debate at the mo’.)

Or, for real–should we just go for the stainless panel behind the stove and move on?

Votes? Speak to me, good people.

Backsplash tile choices

1. Merola cobble subway tile (1×2″ inch mini)

2. Lantern tile in matte white

3. Merola Cosmo penny tile

4. Basic Merola Palace tile

5. Basic white subway tile (3×6″)


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. – 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]

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

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