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I originally submitted this to a magazine but it seems they didn’t want to publish it, so I’ll put it here. A funny piece, my writer’s group liked it so I’ll consider it a “free” blog entry for the day because I don’t have to write anything new.
On Gaining Weight While Remodeling the Kitchen:
Our kitchen just got a lovely new French Country remodel…
…and I got a good old American-style dough-nut around my middle in the process.
Partly it was the depression I felt. The kitchen job we just completed wasn’t even really a remodel, just a fresh coat of paint and some tile work. But this turned the entire house upside down, and what I envisioned as a one-week quickie took my perfectionist husband, with my inexpert help, nearly four weeks to complete.
I’m seriously affected by my environment, you know? Which is why I like to remodel and make things prettier in the first place. But having the kitchen mostly in the dining room, and the front porch furniture piled into the living room (so we could paint doors and drawers out there), and my husband—not to mention two kids, a puppy and the cat–constantly underfoot drove me into some very bad moods.
So I ate carbs. Lots of them. And chocolate. And sugar. And whatever other foods made me forget, if only for a second or two, about the mess my house was in.
With the kitchen and rest of the house all askew, we knew we wouldn’t be cooking much. I attempted to budget for this. By my calculations, one week’s dinners of pizza, deli food and Taco John’s should cost the four of us about 80 bucks. But soon the first week was over, we were still without a kitchen and money was scarce. (After blowing some of it on beautiful new kitchen linens that would coordinate the new colors in the kitchen with the dining room which meant I HAD to have them, well, spare cash for more eating out was low.) Do you know that those five dollar large pizzas they advertise are actually quite tasty and filling, not to mention convenient, for a family of four without a kitchen? We must have had pizza four nights the second week. Nobody even complained.
On the muggy, hot day we sanded the cabinets, we ran to the deli for an 8-piece chicken dinner with all the trimmings and hurried off to the beach to get away from the dust and grime. After a day of tiling and grouting, we spent an hour at the sub sandwich shop eating five dollar foot-longs because why get a mere 6-incher when you can get twice as much food for only two bucks more?! Besides, sub sandwiches are diet food.
One night when we felt brave enough to fire up the one-burner on top of the washing machine, what did we make? Pasta, of course. It couldn’t get much simpler than that. Just boil up some water, throw in the noodles, strain them through the colander into the utility sink (never mind the paint brushes and other gross stuff in there, it can’t be helped), throw on some sauce and grated parm and you’re set. Pasta is the perfect remodeling-the-kitchen food.
I was told by a nutritionist once that carbs and sweets produce a calming effect. It’s no wonder people crave them to relieve stress then. But the effect doesn’t last long, and when it goes away one is left with nothing more than a low mood, a sluggish digestive tract, and after four weeks of this, an extra five to ten pounds around the hips.
I’m happy to say that my kitchen is done and it’s bright and beautiful. And now I feel just a bit obligated to spend more time in there, keeping my cute new French Country cookie jar filled and turning out delicious dinners. After all, I always said I’d be the perfect wife and mother cooking in the kitchen if only the room were prettier.
But on second thought, I’ve got a dough-nut to get rid of. Maybe I can put weight loss affirmations in that cookie jar? Somehow, I think my family will complain.
More photos today…
It was foggy outside on Saturday morning, but I’m not sure how the mist got into our front hall.
The living room. This is Elijah’s favorite chair, but when we bought it it was going to be MY favorite chair. The print above the chair is an old photograph of Gloucester, Virginia, my husband’s home town. I found the lamp at a garage sale for $5. The table is an auction purchase, a 1970s/80s Thomasville Furniture piece that I painted black.
The dog’s favorite chair, with washable slipcover. Is it any wonder I never get to sit down?! This is one of a pair of wing chairs we inherited from my parents. My dear friend Kim made the quilt for our wedding. The print above this chair is by a local artist, Flora Schinkle, and it’s the church steeple and water tower in the last town we lived in, Richmond, Minnesota. It’s part of a series of small town steeples and water towers that she’s painted.
I took many of these photos in the early morning before the Home Tour started, so they are dark. It was a foggy start to that day. The living room walls are “River Rock” blue/gray by Behr and do not normally look periwinkle like this. We painted both the front and back porch ceilings the same blue. The trunk/coffee table is an antique with the name Jules Thorner carved into it–likely it traveled from Scandinavia to America in the late 1800s. I bought it when I was in college and already an antique lover (have been since jr. high, really).
I sewed the curtains the day before the tour, and they turned out lovely. They are upholstery fabric I’ve had for ages, with a backing of light blue gingham sheets I’ve also had stashed. These are so easy to make, just put the front and back wrong sides together, sew around all sides but leave a little opening so you can turn them right side out. Turn in and sew up that little bit, then hang from clip rings. I got many compliments on them so I’m glad I got them done and hung.
The print above the bookshelf is by a local St. Cloud artist, Nona Huyler, and it is ice skaters on Lake George which is our neighborhood lake and is just a couple blocks from our house. I framed both the Richmond and Lake George prints in cheap 16×20 frames and mats from Michaels. You can see we are just using cheap tray tables from Bed, Bath and Beyond for end tables on either side of the couch. We also use these for lunch and weekend breakfasts all the time because I grew up eating lunch in front of Sesame Street at my grandma’s, so it’s kind of nostalgic for me–bad parenting or not.
George used shoe polish on the leather couch the night before the tour, covering up the cat scratches which were bad but not horrible. I saw him doing it and said, “that better look good in the daylight”, and it did. A new idea!
The dining room, later in the day when the sun shone through the west piano windows. George made the table during a weekend class several years ago at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota. It is a family heirloom now, with a pine base and a top made from huge fir beams from an old Lutheran church in Wisconsin. The benches were bought for half price at World Market, and at $100 each they were much cheaper than buying six chairs. I sewed all the curtains in here the day before the tour, as well, with fabric I’d had-again-for ages. The bookshelf in the far corner was a dumpster dive freebie; it was ugly plywood that I painted Cranberry (the paint was also free, from our county’s hazardous waste site where they give away paint that has been brought in for disposal). It is now just a nice basic bookshelf that holds a lot of stuff.
Here I have just sewed a bottom from the calico fabric onto cheapie Target tab-top curtains that came with our house. I was going to do something fancier, but then I came up with this idea at the last minute, saving time and actually looking better than my original idea.
And more curtains made at the last minute, inside this old cabinet/secretary desk which was a $25 auction buy. It came with no doors so I had them made (roughly) for $65 and then painted it the same Cranberry color. You can see we have french doors between living room and dining room, and from the living room into the hall.
The freshly white-painted back porch. I promised a photo of a window seat with cubbies a few posts back. Well, here’s how it went. George had the top cut out of an old ping pong table from the neighbor’s trash pile. He was making a frame from some oak 1x2s from another neighbor’s pile. Sitting in bed the night before he was going to install it, I said, “Now,” (and you know how that “now” went), “the window seat will have a base, right, so it can sit up off the floor with a 1×4 as a baseboard around the bottom and then quarter-round and stuff? Right?”
Well, somehow I had not been clear enough when I telepathically showed my husband my vision for this window seat (which I had to stop calling a bench because it was to be taller than a bench so that had been confusing him all along). And as you can see, the window seat/bench/cubbies that were to hold these blue bins and NOT SHOES, no not shoes or boots or anything like that because that wasn’t what I wanted either. Well, anyways…you can see I made do with a bench from the front porch to hold the bins (which I hope to replace with similarly-sized cuter baskets someday).
And the kitchen. You’ve seen this angle, but here it is with mums and lemon balm in the pitcher, and a bowl of tomatoes on the counter so you know it’s now September. I also added a little Tirolean wood carving/wall hanging of Mary and Jesus to the wall. I’m not even Catholic, but I got this recently in a box at a neighbor’s auction and I think it’s so sweet and adds patina to the wall. Also, it adds a 5th item because any grouping should have an odd number of items, correct? Well, who cares. I still need more old stuff in my beautiful but too-shiny kitchen, though.
And another kitchen angle, now that the windows are in and painted. On top of the fridge I have an old crate with my cookbooks in it, something I’ve done in all our houses. The basket is from an Amish woman’s home in Harmony, Minnesota. The curtains are a $2 garage sale find. The cookie jar is Goodwill. The breadmaker is $5 garage sale. The toaster was purchased with wedding money 14 years ago and is still going strong. And George thought $65 for a toaster was too much! My kids and I are huge toast people, so it was an investment. Ha Ha.
Oh, and where it looks like there’s a hole under the sink, it actually WAS a hole because that piece of cabinet keeps falling off. But George put a double layer of hardware wire/chicken mesh in there, spray painted the same brown as the cabinet handles. It is dark so maybe we’ll paint it the cabinet color someday.
So there you have the main floor of our 1925 Foursquare here in St. Cloud, Minnesota. This type of house is very common in Minnesota and we have tried to do both its history and present usage justice. It’s fun to have it “done”.
Soon I’ll show you the second floor.
The other day I wrote about how we have just 77 bucks for gas and groceries (and spending in general) for the next two weeks. A big part of that is because we had the unusual expense of Rose’s choir tuition, a couple hundred bucks for the year of choir (a bargain in kids’ activities, really). We actually have a little money in savings, and even some more in the checkbook, but all that is untouchable except in an emergency! I can make do on that 77 dollars because of a few tricks I’ve learned on how to stretch a dollar, so I’m really not worrying about it. Well, maybe we worried a little when the final tally came in, but not much.
In the not-too-distant past, when we had a shortfall like that, we would’ve made up the difference with a credit card, “just until the next paycheck comes in and we’ll pay it back”. Well, when the next paycheck comes in, invariably there are a million other things to spend that money on and the credit card bill hasn’t arrived yet, etc. etc. and eventually you’re up to your eyeballs in credit card debt just because of a few large and lots of little “oh this doesn’t count” purchases.
Been there. Done that. Much of my “adult” life. And we’ve got to change our ways! Is it really worth taking out a mini loan and paying big interest to that huge bank just to have that meal at Taco John’s? Or those school supplies which are “on-sale-now-and-won’t-be-in-two-weeks” when I actually have the cash? (Could you hear me hyper-ventilating with fear there in those quotation marks? Our consumer culture loves to have us quaking in our boots about sales, “buy now!”, “get it today!”, “prices will NEVER BE THIS LOW AGAIN”!) And you start shaking and think, I’d better get these notebooks now while they’re only 10.cents.each!!!
Oh my gosh, have I fallen for that one. I was RAISED to fall for that. Weren’t we all? Those of us in our pre-teens, teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s seem to have been, at least. At least since the 1940s. Since TV, maybe even before.
George and I are really trying hard to stop it, though. He has a better background than me, having been raised frugally, but one can’t say he’s been the perfect “Frugal Freddie” either (I made that up). Both of us really know how to stretch a buck, though, when needed.
Some helps I have found are, first, Amy Dacyczyn’s The Tightwad Gazette. I read this early in our marriage, when we were trying to merge two people with huge school debt (mine) into one income (his). What I got out of Amy’s books wasn’t so much about how to use juice can lids in 101 different ways, or what to do with old tinfoil, but more a philosophy of thinking. A philosophy I’ve only been sometimes good at, because sometimes you just gotta rebel and spend some money, eh? She calls that “spendthrift” thinking, of course…But the main thing that won’t leave my mind from The Tightwad Gazette’s pages is the questioning of each purchase, “is the value of this item to me worth the effort it took to earn the money for it?” I try to teach my kids to ask the same question. Do you love it? How much does it cost you in time to earn/get that money? Fortunately, I think my kids are really good at it! Hopefully better than their parents…
Some online sites I’ve found very helpful are:
Hillbilly Housewife–I actually took the time and ink to print out her entire $45 a week meal plan (though those recipes were priced just a few years ago in 2006, in 2009 the same items cost $70 a week–there’s some major inflation for you and no wonder we all feel strapped!) and all the recipes for that menu. I love her Rock Bottom Salmon Patties, even more than my old Salmon Patty recipe (the most searched for post on my old blog, The Zahn Zone, by the way). Hillbilly Housewife has lots of good recipes and ideas for feeding the family on a low budget. For us, of course, having a pantry stocked with good foods purchased on sale, and gardening, has made a big difference in our budget.
Frugal Girls! and Money Saving Mom have been helpful for some “fun” freebies and coupon deals that I otherwise wouldn’t know about. For example, through them, I heard about and signed up on the Noodles and Company website and got a free birthday meal and a BOGO coupon for another meal, which allowed for some fun lunches out I otherwise wouldn’t have had.
I also love Brenda’s pantry posts at her blog, Coffee Tea Books and Me. Brenda and her husband live on disability and occasional jobs, and she’s very forthright with how they do it and still have a bit for those “simple pleasures” in life, such as coffee, tea and books (the very same “simple pleasures” that I will spend my last dime on!). She has many links to her pantry-stocking posts, and other frugal living sites, on the side of her blog.
And lastly, I got most of my stocking the pantry motivation from Sharon over at Casaubon’s Book. There are reasons other than saving money to have a full pantry, and if you want more information on that do some searching through her excellent blog.
I also like to decorate my house on the cheap, as you know from my kitchen post. And in thinking about how I’ve learned to do that, I have to say most of it comes out of my own imagination. I do search for bargains in fabric, or at garage sales, but a lot of it comes down to imagination. I get a big rush from making something look nice for very little money. Whereas some people paint, or play music, or scrapbook, making my home look pretty (with as little sewing as I can get by with!) is my “art form”.
Fortunately, I have a husband who’s a willing participant in my art form. He can take a piece of old ping pong table plywood from one neighbor, some oak 1×2″s from someone’s scrap pile, bead-board we got through freecycle, and some free paint from the county hazardous waste site, and transform it into the back porch window-seat-with-cubbies of my dreams…You’ll see photos of that hopefully after this weekend! Having a handy husband is essential to my decorating “cents”, though I suppose I could learn to do that stuff myself. Nah, I’d just do more garage sale shopping and make do with what I found.
Use it up.
Wear it out.
Make it do.
~old New England saying
I love that one!
There are still two or three details to finish, but for the most part the kitchen is done. I can finally share a few photos with you.
The above is my favorite shot. Here’s a “before” picture–look how busy and dark it was!
We actually can’t believe how much brighter the kitchen is right now. I didn’t think this little room on the northwest corner of the house could even BE bright, but it is. The paint makes such a difference.
The framed print is an original by my daughter, Rose. It’s a bike she drew last year (age 9) for an art class, and I have wanted to frame and hang it ever since. I thought it fit the “french country” theme of the kitchen quite well. I got the clock for $1.99 at Kohl’s. The lower plate is “Wicker Dale” by Spode and was given to us by my Grandma as a wedding gift–14 years later I finally have it hanging! The top plate is Royal China’s “Willow Ware”, and I’m always on the lookout for more of those. The wall needs a little something more, don’t you think? I’m working on it.
Here’s another “before”:
…during the teardown. Here’s an “after” shot of that same corner:
This “total kitchen makeover” cost less than $200! Here’s the breakdown:
3 gallons Behr paint (Ultra Pure White and a custom khaki color) and a brush: $84
1 can “hammered brown” spray paint: $7 (for door and drawer pulls)
tile and supplies: $50
frame and mat: $9
a bunch of white canisters from Goodwill: $15
the perfect oak table at Goodwill: $20 (priceless, really–it was exactly what I wanted, when I wanted it!)
Everything else I either had, or was given, or scrounged for free. Of course, a lot of elbow grease went into this, too, but we don’t pay ourselves!
I wasn’t sure I’d like the dark handles on the white doors, but now I think it looks pretty good. We really didn’t have the money to buy all new hardware, and because there’s a little plastic thing-y on the hinges, we couldn’t paint them at all. So by spray painting the door and drawer pulls with the hammered brown Rustoleum paint, we have managed to match the hinges well enough and get rid of the hideous greenish brass 70s look that they’d sported before.
I’d really like new countertops (either maple butcher block or darker wood) and a new sink and faucet. Money is too tight for now, however, so I’ll keep dreamin’.
This week, we’ve started on our bedroom painting. Wish us luck! We’re exhausted already…
Stopping by my neglected blog to say, this project is never.ending!
Will it be done on Monday? Ummmm…….life intervenes. But hopefully!
We did take a day off on Wednesday, our 14th Anniversary. I’ll share photos of that when I’m on my other computer!
We’re liking the colors, the brightness, the ceiling with no stain-y hole in it. I’m getting excited.
(edited to add: of course, now the old “neutral” countertops look horrible! Doesn’t one thing always lead to another? Probably not this year, though. Maybe I’ll paint them.)
The kitchen painting, tiling and ceiling repair was dealt a major setback last week when George got the flu. He did a little work each day, but progressively felt worse as the week went on. Finally, he took a few days to rest and repair his health–after much advice to do so!
So today, he was ready to sand the ceiling patch and the cabinets. He is a perfectionist even when it comes to taping off the cabinets with newspaper. We’ll see how much that helped keep the dust out when we take the paper off later…
Tonight and tomorrow, we grout the tile and prime everything. And then we paint! Here’s George looking extremely dusty, after 5 or 6 hours of sanding.
He does clean up pretty nicely! Stay tuned for the final results–by next Monday for sure.
Ooh, you guys were all waiting with bated breath for the basement reveal, weren’t you? Ha ha! I doubt it. Still, we worked hard and it’s clean, if not completely “decorated” yet. I’m really happy it’s mostly done. Now George can host his music lessons in the room, and when his parents come to visit from Virginia next month, we’ll be sticking ’em in the basement! (I think they’ll like it, actually…)
Next for this room is a guest bed (it will fit near the desk), some sheer white curtains on the little windows, and a few more bits of art work. The watercolors above the couch are from the kids’ preschool days and I can see in my haste to take these photos I hung them too high. This room is no “miracle”, magazine-worthy space, but it’s so functional now. It was the room we stashed stuff into it five years ago when we moved in, so it really needed a cleaning out. Several boxes of stuff will go on the August garage sale, and quite a bit went into the trash. Now, if we can just keep more from accumulating…
Now we’re working on the kitchen. Here’s the spot on the ceiling that George is repairing, after years of bathroom leaks (no structural damage, thankfully, just plaster damage).
And here’s George measuring for tile on the backsplashes:
Well, I shouldn’t say WAY before, because at least some painting work has been done in this basement room. However, it is such a disaster area right now I’m embarrassed to show you today’s photos.
The project for this week is to completely declutter and organize this room. George starts teaching summer private music lessons in our home one week from tomorrow, and we’ve decided this room will be his “studio” so there is a lot of work to do between now and next Tuesday.
Many of these toys will no longer be in our home.;-)
My craft supplies will find new homes either in our bedroom cabinets (my sewing machine has a nice spot in our bedroom right below a wall of cabinets that hold fabric and will hold yarn, etc. as well–sounds bad but it works), or they will be in the garage ready for our August neighborhood-wide garage sales.
This room will hold a loveseat, two Ikea-style chairs, and some shelving units for books, organized toys and TV/video games. I’m thinking of adding a twin bed near the wall of cabinets and desk area, for guests or maybe to make this room a place for someone who needs to stay for a while (with the economy that could happen). I also need to keep this play cabinet my grandpa built and would love to “feature it” somehow…
That messy closet will hold off-season coats, and boots, skates, skis, etc. in bins. Right now George has files and musical scores in there, which is dangerous in the basement.
As a space for instrumental music lessons, the room needs only seating for a parent and a couple of music stands. It also needs to stay clean and decent (as does my laundry area on the way into the room). I hate to send people to the basement, but it works in our house because students can enter into the side door and head right down the stairs for lessons. It’s actually a fairly open basement so doesn’t feel like a dungeon heading down. I can’t wait to get it looking nice!
And to make myself feel better, I’m posting this photo of a quick sewing project I did yesterday. I have been needing a tea cozy for my red pot for so long. When I saw some in a vintage shop on Saturday, I knew I could make one myself. I mean, how hard could it be? I’m not much of a seamstress, but I’m proud of myself for this! I found the tutorial here at The Rusty Bobbin.
Next week I’ll post “after” photos of the basement, so the pressure is on. Then after this room, I’ll be working on the kitchen while George paints and finishes off our master bedroom. It’s a whole summer of projects! Thank goodness George is a teacher with summers off to get things done with me.
Are you impulsive like me? Have you ever done this…
on a whim?
I have, lots of times. George and I have renovated three different homes before we got to our current one. They all started out pretty ugly and ended up mostly beautiful (the first kitchen turned out bad, but we moved out of there fast anyway…). We’ve lived in this house, which is in very good condition, for nearly five years now. Until now, the kitchen has been considered “okay”–if not exactly our style, at least decent enough to leave alone until more time and money allowed for a remodel.
Well, now our home is going to be one of five on our neighborhood’s 3rd annual historic home tour this fall. And now, I’m freaking out! I want everything to be perfect, in spite of what I said just a few months ago. “As long as it’s clean, it’ll be fine…” to my husband who started freaking out sooner than me.
So now, the kitchen is getting redone by sheer force of my will. No money, but willpower and sweat equity. The cabinets will be painted. After days and nights of obsessing over the color for them, I think I’m going to go with a dark cranberry red on the base cabinets and creamy white on the top cabinets and walls. It’s really, really hard for me to decide on colors because I have so many things I like. Here are my favorite kitchen things…
The things I use every day–the red colander and gingham curtains I found at garage sales and have been “saving up” till they matched the kitchen; the vintage aprons I wear, from my husband’s grandma; the blue Kitchenaid and red enameled dutch oven; the red teapot; and the mix-matched mostly thrifted blue and white dishes. There’s a blue and red theme going on here, which demands a fairly neutral paint palette. Or does it?
Then there’s the “wild country” look I also love. Vintage brown bowls from my grandma; pottery mostly from local friends Ken Maddux, JD Jorgenson, Richard Bresnehan, Bill Gossman, and a few from travels; beeswax candles; and crocheted lace. This would look good with all creamy white cabinets, but we’re afraid to do the base cabinets light-colored because the kitchen is tiny and sees lots of dirt!
No! I am not a collector…but I have this lovely stuff, and more, as well. All this stuff goes into my tiny kitchen (because we mostly use the dining room as an office/music/crafting space–the “creativity room” we call it–these days).
So I’ve been thinking of black base cabinets, red base cabinets, 30s green base cabinets (which we had in our last house and I adored that color) and even light blue/aqua base cabinets for something different to go with the red and blue/white. For sure white or creamy white goes on top, but what for the bottom? Anyone have a strong opinion? This morning I woke up to my first thought “cranberry!” but last night my last thought going to sleep was “light blue!” I think black is too dark, since it has to go on the wainscoting on the walls, too, as you see here:
We have black appliances (I’d prefer white), which is why black cabinets have entered into my mind. However, since I want to paint the wainscot (which is also ugly, but we’re not changing it) to match the cabinets, I don’t think I want black halfway up the wall.
Cranberry red? That’s where I’m leaning…I have a cranberry red (Olde Century Colors paint) cabinet and shelves in the dining room. And in the photo below you can see I have a light blue in the side-door hall and rose red in the front hall leading to the porch, which is (thankfully for some of you neutral lovers) tan and white with a “river rock” blue ceiling.
Oh, and the dining room is green!