Friday, September 2, 2016

Kitchen Renovation Part 3 - Decisions, Decisions

Just a tip if you're thinking of renovating your kitchen and have an opinionated, impatient husband... know what you want BEFORE you begin.

We had an idea of what we wanted, and I had very particular ideas about what I did NOT want, but when we had chatted about the end result, it was in terms of vision, not actual, concrete ideas. That is a recipe for some irritation and a fair whack of bickering!

First decision was the new hood. Goodness! There are SO many options!

Source: Google Shopping

I learned that there are two basic models: vented and recirculating. We definitely wanted vented, so that narrowed it down a bit. A bit! Do you know how many different options you have available? Well, I finally chose two after a few hours of research (yes, hours) and presented them to Himself for a final opinion.

"No, we have to get LG or Whirlpool!" he stated firmly. "Those are the only two reliable makes." Say WHAT? I've just spent hours researching the very best models, learning about power and air circulation and dunno-what-else and he knew what models he wanted up front? Share, much? Only.. neither of those models had turned up in my searches. I found out why - neither of them offer any model in our price range of under $500. Back to the first two I had offered.

Just half a day on that. Not a killer.

Then we had the cabinet finish discussion.

I started by "painting" the cabinets in a photo editing program, which I unfortunately did not save to show you. Then we tried staining some wood and comparing it against the existing cabinets. We did not love any of them! Eventually Himself had an idea and experimented on the side of one cabinet. Bingo! It is awwwwwwwesooooooome! But I'm keeping it a secret for the big reveal.

Those were the easy decisions. Next up was wall paint color, which was slightly more painful. I went to Home Depot and got some samples that I pinned on the far wall, plus a whole slew of booklets to go through. Himself wasn't too impressed with any of them.

Then I happened to see some colors in a magazine that I liked, ripped out the pages and took them to Home Depot and asked them for a copy. I also found a room on that I liked and took a screenshot on my phone and asked them to copy the wall color there. I was really impressed with the software that allowed them to do that. Then I brought all the samples home and painted swatches on the wall. We liked the Chili Pepper color, so it got an extra big swatch!

We liked the pop of color it gave to the room, so we decided we would go with it. However, I'm a distrustful little puppy and did NOT order a whole bucket of the stuff. Instead I painted a small piece of drywall with it. I am soooo glad I did!

Bickering levels increased when it came to the cupboard reconfiguration. Himself said we would "play with placement" a little when we started putting it all back together. I did not realize it meant we would rearrange mentally and then put them in position physically just once. When I wanted to move stuff around and re-position, Mt Vesuvius erupted! "Make up your mind!" and "You said you wanted it there!" was hollered in frustration, along with "You keep changing things!"

Eventually it was all sorted out and cabinets were hung back up on the walls. I was adamant I did not want a cabinet back up on the wall by the windows, blocking the light again, but agreed to open shelving instead, which would allow the light through.

Of all the discussion and argument, our biggest head banging was tiles. We decided we wanted to get a mural to go beneath the hood, but couldn't find anything we liked. No, scratch that. We DID find something we liked. Isn't this gorgeous?

Not so gorgeous is that price tag! Ms Paul has several murals we liked, but no freaking way on the prices. And that's before shipping too!

So the Great Mural Hunt began. Hours and hours and hours online. Traipsing around every tile shop in three different towns, and then multiple drives down to San Antonio to go to the big tile shops. Not one single thing that made our hearts beat faster! Lots of tile, lots of very expensive tile, but no murals. Eventually we bought a bunch of Mexican picture tiles and came home to see what we could put together. I patched it all up like a quilt pattern and presented it to Himself for approval.

"That looks like a collage," he frowned. "I don't like it."


Eventually we found something online that we were both willing to live with, and it was on sale, so it made me very happy.

Finding backsplash tile was another exercise in patience. The Bratness coined a phrase that totally summed it up. I was fross. That's frustrated and cross. Yup, this entire decision making process made us both very fross!

I brought home dozens of samples and we stuck it up on the walls over and over again. I was almost on a first name basis with the ladies at the return counters of both Home Depot and Lowes! Nothing got final approval.

And here's where my wily refusal to buy the paint came in handy. When we put the paint up against the wall with the tile and the cabinets, it just didn't work. There's so much pattern and shape and texture in the kitchen now, that dark color just really didn't pop any more. It overpowered and was dark and gloomy.

One morning I happened to mention that the plain, primed walls were very good against all the pattern. The neutral finish was soothing and comfortable. Himself agreed. (We had agreement! Woot woot!) By sheer fluke, I had just bought a five gallon drum of paint from the oops department. It was going into my paint stash for furniture painting, but I pulled it out to paint the walls as it looked like an antique white. It wasn't. But the color is fabulous and I'm in love with it, so... phew!

Next up, we begin the reconstruction.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Kitchen Renovation Part 2 - Dismantling.

Dismantling Day!

Just kidding. It wasn't as bad as that, we didn't really need to bring in the big guns.

Only... our project began with a little misunderstanding. I was under the impression that we were going to do the kitchen one section at a time and so I obediently cleared the cupboard from above the hood all the way to the window. Himself looked at me in disbelief.
"Are you crazy?" he demanded. "It would take forever to do the kitchen that way. No, I'm going to take everything down and rebuild it entirely."

Say WHAT!?!

The first day began with me frantically packing the contents of the kitchen into whatever receptacle I could find and attempting to fashion an interim kitchen out of the way. Then Himself erected a large plastic "wall" to close off the kitchen from the living room and keep the dust out of the rest of the house. It didn't take us long to fight with that wall!

When he said we're going to "close it off" he meant CLOSE IT OFF! First it was stapled, then taped, then topped. Then he closed the air vents so that nothing would be sucked through the HVAC system. We had a small opening for access at night that was closed during the day with a line of tape, and it was the Most Annoying Thing Ever! I cannot tell you how many times Jock brought it down because he was determined to get his 90lb body through a 19lb opening. (Jock is in the top photo, in case you needed a reminder.) (No, the black and white, not the one on the tractor!)

Himself began with the peninsula hanging cupboard. I felt like singing Handel's Messiah. Hallelujah! Haaaa-le-lujah. Ha-le-lujah! No more head dents in my future.

Next, all the wall cupboards came down. He removed all the doors and then used a system of planks on top of a big 4x4 piece, with an hydraulic jack under another piece of wood. He would bring the jack up to hold the unit, then I would stabilize it as he undid all the screws. Then he would lower the jack and we carried it outside. All done very, very carefully. Very clever system. Very clever man I haz there! Proud, and all that. Yup!

(By the way, it is with great relief that I advise Himself is a great believer in TL:DR* - so I can brag on him as much as I like and he's none the wiser. LOL. He just checks out the pictures when I show him my posts. Gotta love it. Perhaps he's not the only smarty-pants in this family. hee hee)

(*Too Long; Didn't Read)

I know the structural footprint of the kitchen has not changed, we still have the outer walls in exactly the same place, but it feels so BIG now that all the cupboards are gone!

The tiles were all removed over the course of two days. What a job that turned out to be! Apparently, in the old days tiles were set into a thick layer of gunk called a mud bed. An apt phrase! This stuff is about an inch thick behind the tiles and getting them off was an exercise in frustration and an art with a hammer and chisel. Michelangelo had nothing on me!  I dunno how I got the job of removing tiles, but Himself showed me how to do it and then left me to it. Yes, I know this looks like he's doing it, but you can't see what them paws is up to! Oh, okay then, he did do some of them. But I did a lot!

As the mud bed was extremely thick, it damaged the drywall so severely that it all had to be removed. My not-at-all OCD husband cut it out in measurably neat and squared-off shapes. He reckoned it was to make it easier for himself to install the new drywall, as neat shapes are easier to fit, but I know better. Wait until I show you how the fusspot built our chicken coop!

Next we started on that wall. This unit was more interesting to remove because of that strange L-shape, but we managed it the same way. The fridge got moved around a lot during this project, it moved around cupboards and backwards and forwards in the kitchen, and even into the dining room for a spell. It really is a dinosaur of a thing and there were many occasions when I gave it the evil eye!

Oh, and we nearly set the house on fire with that fridge! Turns out the fridge has a dedicated plug point, and when we moved it to a new plug point, it melted all the wires and nearly set the place alight. Unfortunately, the phone was plugged into the plug on the other side of the wall that was daisy chained with it, and so our phone got fried. Most frustrating!

Again, the wall had to be removed where the tiles had been, so there was another spot needing new sheet rock. And now began the joyous progress of removing wallpaper. I have no experience with wallpaper, it's not an African "thing" and I don't think I've ever lived in a house with wallpaper before Himself and I got hitched. Well, not that I remember. I've never put it up, nor brought it down, so Google was my friend. In the beginning you will notice I began with the ubiquitous bottle of hot water. They lied, I tell you. That stuff does NOT work! An entire afternoon and all I got down was that little patch above the ladder!

P.S. That is not a large bottle of wine in the bottom right corner. It is a gallon of sweet tea. I mix up about five gallons each week for Himself. Sweet tea is very popular in hot weather in Texas and I had to learn how to make it. Although, by the end of that day, I'd have given my ladder for a gallon of fermented grape juice, I can tell you!

This picture is not that interesting in terms of deconstruction, but it is a really good illustration of how shadowed the kitchen gets in the afternoon.

A return to Google revealed an alternative method of wallpaper removal and so my clothes steamer was pressed into service. It is going to need a massive cleaning now to get all the glue and gunk out of the nozzles, but it was a huge improvement! Where that little square took me an afternoon, the entire kitchen barring the little patch around the window was done in a day using the steamer. By the end of that day, however, my desire for wine had expanded to a jeroboam of the stuff!

It turned out that the main reason we had such trouble removing the tiles and wallpaper was because the drywall had not been sized before being covered. No, it doesn't mean it was not properly measured. Sizing drywall means treating it properly to seal the drywall and prime it for the next layer: paint, wallpaper, tile, or whatever. As you can see here, the wallpaper had been installed directly over the untreated drywall - a major construction no-no. Himself and I considered just priming over the wallpaper, but on further investigation (I love you, Google!) we discovered we would just be making things worse for ourselves. It turned out later, as we were painting, that this was true, but I will explain that to you when I get to that part.

Removing the wallpaper involved removing the drywall paper as it was fused to the wallpaper glue. The drywall paper covering is not supposed to be removed, it is part of the protection of the drywall. The wallpaper also removed some of the tape that covers the joints of the drywall as the glue had fused onto that - an indication that it had not been properly plastered, if plastered at all, before the wallpaper was installed. Himself and I have been very disappointed in the poor quality workmanship that has been revealed in this house.

One final thing that was brought to our attention during the dismantling and our almost-fire: none of the plug points were GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) and they were all installed upside down. Now, GFCI was not a requirement when the house was built, but I cannot understand how an electrician could have installed all the outlets upside down! If we'd had a GFCI outlet, it would have tripped before melting all the wires and my telephone would still be taking messages!

Hence, part of the reconstruction would involve some rewiring and the replacement of all our outlets. Whoop-de-doo! Admittedly, GFCI's are not that expensive (about $5 each) and Himself is doing all the work, but it is still an expense that grinds my goat!

Well, the kitchen has been stripped. Now the fun begins as we start to rebuild it. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Kitchen Renovation Part 1 - The Before.

This was the introduction to our new kitchen: the Realtor's photo, neatly labeled. Looks decent enough. Lots of cupboards, wood floors, ceiling fan - dunno how folks survive without a ceiling fan in the kitchen - at least, in Texas!

Now, before I continue, allow me to show you a little sketch I made...
The living area of the house is one large rectangle, with a wall in the middle to separate "food" from "entertainment" or whatever you want to call the living room. That's it. A wall. There's absolutely no planning or design involved. The kitchen is a u-shape with a peninsula island and the fridge and microwave unit are on the opposite wall (big black thing in the sketch is the fridge.)

I discovered that a 'peninsula' island is different from a standard kitchen island in that it has one side attached to a wall, allowing open access to only three sides, where an island has access on all four sides. You learn something new every day!

Now that you have a line drawing visual, here are a couple photos to show you what it looked like in real life...

Here's that wall... photo from the front door.

Directly behind the wall is the fridge and microwave shelving unit

See how HUGE that fridge is? The space between the corner of the fridge and the corner of the counter is so small, I couldn't walk through the space carrying a full load of groceries. Aaaaand... of course I can't find a photo of the gap. Grrrrr....

And here's the kitchen as it was empty, just when I moved in.

Not too bad, really, is it? Seems to have lots of light and lots of space.

Would you do me a favor and scroll back up to the top photo, the Realtor's one? I'll wait.

See how dark the room looks? The kitchen is east facing, so first thing in the morning, the sun streams in and everything is bright and beautiful. By mid-morning, when the sun is climbing the sky and the rays are slanting inwards, things look a lot dimmer. After lunch, when the sun is on the opposite side of the house, it is quite gloomy. Refer realtor's photo, above. You can see through the window that it is still daylight, but he has the light on and it still appears dark. The cupboards flanking the window blocked a lot of light and that peninsula hanging cupboard closed the room in like a giant sunshade.

The lack of light bothered me from the outset, but there were several things that began to irritate me as time went on. That darned hanging peninsula. It is actually very low. If anyone was on the other side, like a friend chatting to me as I prepared us a snack or a cup of coffee, for example, they had to stoop down to see under it. Or I would smack my head on the edge as I reached across the counter. That was the worst, because I did it over and over and over and over again! I'm sure I have a permanent dent in the top of my head from doing it so often. Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Then the tiles on the backsplash. Fugly brown. What you'd find in a baby diaper.

Excuse all the stuff on the counter, I forgot to take a close up photo of the tiles and this one was the best one I could find.

That hood is what they call a "recirculating" hood. It sucks the air up through a filter and blows it back out the front. What happened was that each time I got distracted and Himself discovered a charred mess on the stove, the hood would recirculate the air into his offended nostrils. Which would just make him even angrier as he called me from the back where I was happy with something shiny, or from outside where I was preoccupied with a furry or fluffy butt.

Speaking of which - look!

Aren't they just the cutest fluffy butts? I love how the one on the back left has her beak full of munchies! They're all enjoying a home made protein treat.

Oh yes, the burned pots. So the recirculating hood was a very bad idea. That had to change - pronto!

The storage issue was also not as good as you'd think. Firstly, all the corner cupboards were built as long-cupboards-that-stretch-into-a-corner, with the crossover cupboard blocking access. Which meant, for the most part, the corners were utterly inaccessible unless I was willing to grovel on the floor and disappear halfway into it for the base cupboards, or perform a similar magician's trick standing on the counters. The corner in the furthest section, which you can actually see in the photo above of the fugly tiles, wasn't even usable. It didn't have any shelves. It is large enough that I could crawl into there entirely and pretend I wasn't home. If I didn't mind the spiders, scorpions, or whatever else was enjoying the dark and deserted space. Which I do. I mind very much indeed! Shiver... 

Also, there was no pantry space, no dedicated food area to store groceries. The only cupboard that was remotely suitable was one of those with the magical corners where food could get lost forever. And we had no entrance console for bags and keys and stuff.

Lastly, the wallpaper.

Large swathes of wall covered in pretty floral wallpaper. Pretty.. but very twee. So not what we had envisioned in our forever home.

When Himself's payout came through we debated for a couple of weeks on what to do with it and decided eventually to not do a single large upgrade like the master bedroom and bathroom, but to do a series of small home improvements instead that would add up to the larger amount. Gutters and a rainwater catchment system; a water purification system so that we would have drinking water and no longer have to buy bottles; a carport; and the kitchen. As labor is free (Himself and I don't charge for our services) and we would be reusing most of the existing kitchen, it would not be an expensive job. Time consuming, yes, but not expensive.

And so it begins...

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Dublin, Texas - another Dublin visited!

Waaaaay back, in the mists of time, when the Bratness was about the age of Squiggs, we visited Dublin, South Africa. As this was in the Dark Ages when we didn't have digital cameras or smart phones, my photos of that event are, well, awful! Blurry, dark, uninspiring. Unfortunately, it is such a tiny town, it only appears as a pin on Google Maps!

It's the merest scattering of buildings off the main road. Sneeze once just as you get there and you'll miss it! But we were there! 

Dublin as a city is named so often that it actually has a Google search auto-complete. The Irish certainly love their capital! Anyway, according to Wikipedia, there is one Dublin in Australia, one in Canada, one in Belarus, and thirteen towns in the States (there are also some communities and 'burbs, but I'm counting only towns or cities.) And, of course, because Texas has everything, we have one in Texas too!

It was on my way home from Fort Worth, so I did a quick online investigation to see if there was anything worth checking out. As it turns out, it happens to hold the world's oldest Dr. Pepper bottling plant, and it's still operational! 

Only, they no longer produce Dr Pepper due to a falling out over whether or not to continue to use real raw sugar or change to the cheaper corn syrup. Refusing to switch from quality to quantity, Dr Pepper took their corn syrup elsewhere and the Dublin Bottling Works was born. They produce a range of sodas with real sugar, and you can order your own taste sensation on their website. However, much to my disappointment, it was a Sunday morning and everything was closed, so I didn't even get to try a bottle! L

The bottling plant was visible through the window that you can see in the pic above, so I snapped a photo, but I don't know if this is an historical display or an actual running operation. 

The statue in the front of the building is Bill Kloster, aka "Mr. Dr Pepper" and it was he who refused to make the change to high fructose corn syrup. Smart man!

Now the town is really small

But very quaint. 

I couldn't resist these gorgeous picture book houses. 

One can easily imagine wee faerie folk in this storybook setting. 

Everything being so green here is only a bonus!

Thanks Dublin, I loved my visit. One day Himself and I shall take a drive up TX-16 and explore its oddities, and we shall end up in Dublin again. On a weekday. When we can grab us some soda!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Business Boutique Dallas - my first businesswoman's conference!

Himself is a fan of Dave Ramsey, the financial guru who preaches that a paid off home is a better status symbol than a BMW, and listens to Dave's podcasts all the time. They were advertising the third iteration of a business women's conference in Dallas and before I could say "but who's going to feed the animals?" I was packed off to it! The Man takes care of me. J

I drove up on the Thursday and wow! Texas sure is green right now! 

And overcast and thundery! We've had a lot of rain this year.

The drive up was long and uneventful. Five hours of driving, with about 95% of it being all alone on the highway. 200 miles between gas stations! It was glorious. It's a beautiful part of Texas and I was dreamily thinking of how nice it would be to live up here... until I remembered it's right in Tornado Alley. Suddenly, it was not quite so appealing!

The conference was held in Fort Worth, actually, not Dallas. Although the two cities are only virtually separate, the denizens are fiercely defensive of their individuality.  There were several comments posted on social media about how the conference was NOT in Dallas!

Fort Worth has this interesting way of lighting up its skyscrapers. I shudder to think of the electric bill!

They have a lot of museums and interesting places to visit and I got to visit... one. Yeah, sucks! I shall have to go back with Himself and explore the city. And, that one place was a bit of a letdown too. The food was delicious, but I think Penny was off duty, so there was no sign of Leonard, Sheldon, or the rest of the gang!

The Big Bang Theory TV show is the reference for Penny, Leonard and Sheldon - for those who are lost. :)

I didn't get cheesecake though. They made me a yummy gluten free pasta lunch that was so enormous, half of it went home with me for dinner! As for sightseeing, I did get to walk past this glorious vista on my way TO the Cheesecake Factory, but as we were limited on time, I could only get a quick snap across the road. Or, in other words, apologies for the picture quality.

Ok, on to business.

There were, according to the speakers, 1600 women at that conference. And five men. We all laughed at the MC's comment: "To the five men - Hi ... and... Why?" The conference was held in the Fort Worth Convention Center which is, in a word, HUGE! 1600 women plus vendors plus speakers plus workers and we barely used up a third of the downstairs!

The actual conference took place on Friday and Saturday, as it was a Christian-based event and the folks all go to church on Sunday. The main speaker was Christy Wright, a business/life coach and Dave Ramsey team member. She did most of the speaking and covered a lot of business basics. Excellent information for those who are new to business, but not quite as valuable for anyone with business experience. 

The women were divided into three groups: dreamers - those who don't have an idea yet or those that have an idea but have not yet started a business; starters - those who are just starting a business or who have been in business up to six months; and builders - those who have been in business for a while. All good, except that all three categories were lumped together in one single group for the entire conference. 

Several women asked if they were going to have breakout sessions so that folks could choose to attend sessions particular to their level of experience; and at the end of the event, a survey included a question of whether we felt the organizers should include breakouts in future. One thing that did impress me was that the organizers took the feedback seriously from the last conference they did, so I look forward to a "new improved" version. 

We received workbooks to complete during the presentations. 

It was helpful, in that we had a handy bound copy of the event in which we could scribble notes and stuff, and all the speaker info was together. Much better for future reference than scribbled notes on a legal pad. Still, I heard many comments about "Back to middle school!" - and it did feel a little childish. Perhaps keep the info and the quotes in the margins, but leave the notes section open for the adult attendees to fill in their own thoughts! 

Another unfortunate side effect was it advised the participants that all the information was canned, right down to the "interviews" they held during the day, as the fill-in-the-blanks sentences were provided even for the interviewer's responses. It kinda lessened the impact of what we were hearing, knowing that it was just a one-size-fits-all approach. The answers for the blanks are even provided in a margin! Everyone has different triggers, different things that speak to us. Telling us all to take the same notes in our little preprinted notebooks was a teensy bit Orwellian! 

Day One was mostly entry level stuff: business plans, monetizing your business, stuff like that. Or, as I put it to some friends - revision. It had value for those with business experience in that it reminded us that we needed to go over our business plans and tweak them. Or maybe create one, if it was not yet created. 

Day Two was more meaty with some excellent speakers such as Amy Porterfield and Tiffany Peterson. One issue that frustrated several attendees was that they gave a full platform to women like Rachel Cruze and Christine Caine (both excellent women of business in their own right, but their talks were more personal and less business) but reduced critically important business speakers like Shane Gibson (tax and accounting) and Melissa Kaiserman (Etsy) to mere interviews. Melissa was actually only part of a panel interview team. Several around me were openly astounded at this, especially as it was glaringly apparent that Rachel and Christine were both promoting new books. While I understand that the bulk of their income for these events comes from after sales, to bump business speakers in favor of the boss's daughter (in Rachel's case) was deplorable. 

One of the new books being promoted was by comedian and author Annie Downs. She was the Master of Ceremonies and got only a couple of sentences between each speaker, no special treatment. She was so funny and down to earth, I would have loved to hear more from her, but I did win a copy of her book! You can see it clutched in my grubby little hand after she autographed it for me.

The main benefit of this conference IMHO was getting to meet other ladies in the same or related industries. Unfortunately, very few women were in mine, but I did make a couple of friends and meet some extremely interesting women. I would love to attend again just to expand my network. These women are out there, making it work, growing their businesses and battling their demons, and creating a sisterhood of like-minded ladies can only do good!

Toni, Christina, Christy, and Jodi

Just outside of the event itself was the vendor display, a collection of staff who were either selling books for the speakers, or selling business related stuff like marketing or IT, or selling personal items such as jewelry and clothing. (It was a women's conference after all!) They also had a little display where you could snap a photo of yourself with a motivational sign. The whole weekend there was a long queue of women snapping selfies, but I waited until the very end as I considered which one I liked the most. In the end, I couldn't decide between these two:

In closing, was it worth it? Well, much as I would love to give you an unmitigated Hell Yeah, I'll have to go with yes and no. There definitely was value to be found and, based on historical performance, they do take feedback seriously, so I reckon it will only get better as they have more of these. The business plan and other business information was excellent revision for me and has motivated me to actually create my business plan. You know how a plumber never fixes his own pipes? I wrote business plans for a living but haven't gotten around to my own yet. This was a good kick in the whotsit for me. 

And going forward, do I have plans? Now here I can say HELL YEAH! Watch this space!