Kitchen Reno PTSD

I think we can all agree that this isn’t a home improvement or interior design blog. In those cases, I’d have much nicer fonts here and a fresh new color scheme each year.

My niche is perhaps best described as chronicles of domestic failure, in which case our most recent renovation fits right in here content-wise. So don’t worry, I’m still on-brand. Wait, I don’t have a brand.

Anyway, I mayyyyy have mentioned a few thousand times that I reluctantly agreed to gut our kitchen this summer and exile the family into the basement while the work was being done. I am here to declare the project complete. In all honesty, it has been finished for over a month, but my lingering renovation PTSD is still flaring up now and then.

If I were to summarize the project in a list of potential movie titles, here are some that come to mind.


Meet Two People Who Will Never Have an HGTV Show

Twelve Weeks Without Sunlight (Or, I Never Want to See My Basement Again)

83802390482309450234982497414012784n12 Uses for a Hot Plate

You Can Microwave THAT?

I Can’t Sleep Without the Sound of Nail Guns: One Toddler’s Story

How to Lose Your Shit Choosing a Backsplash

The Summer We Used Enough Paper Plates to Circle the Earth


Let’s lay out the basics. First, I don’t have a big kitchen and that wasn’t going to change with this project. It’s a galley kitchen from 1909 and, short of putting an addition on the house, there wasn’t a viable way to make the space bigger. But what we did instead, that was of equal value, was update everything and reconfigure the space to make it way more usable. I wasn’t aiming to have a giant kitchen. I just wanted to change the look, keep the broken drawers from falling out onto my feet and get rid of some wonky features.

Like this. What the hell? Why would I want to stash plates or platters in strange little slots that jut out inappropriately above a poorly fitted microwave? Would it be so that I could more easily access the fucked up too-tiny-for-even-your-smallest-tchotchkes corner shelving situation?

My eyes, they burn.



Or this. You know, the old freestanding shuttered non-pantry-food-pantry. Because there was literally no other space to store a decent amount of food in the kitchen. In my dreams, this piece of furniture serves as the primary kindling in a kick-ass bonfire. And can we please not overlook the curious yet completely nonfunctional half wall/ledge/molding thing? Our best guess is that this is where the original house ended and they — just grasping at straws here — kept it as a nostalgic feature. No fucking clue but it had to go.



Speaking of ill-conceived walls, this was the big to-do item: take down that awful half-wall between the kitchen and family room. Open it up! Not that I didn’t enjoy the 2,893 extra steps each day that I got from walking over while cooking, just to peek around the corner and address the multiple calls of “Mommmmmyyyy” from the kids playing over there. It was like a constant game of Look What Child-Sourced Destruction You’ll Find Here Every Time You Try to Step Away.




Taking out that wall meant a steel beam and all kinds of structural issues that were bound not to go entirely smoothly with a 100+ year-old home. It also meant we’d also lose use of the family room during the construction.

And so, down to the basement we moved. It was fine(ish), mainly because my wine fridge is down there (that room was our first renovation).




It’s not lost on me that, with all of the insanity going on in the world, it’s ridiculous to complain about a kitchen renovation. I get that. So let’s focus on the absurd.

Like the time capsule wallpaper we unearthed during demolition.


Do you prefer the spring florals or the patriotic bald eagle collection? I mean, any decorating choice I made could only go up from here.

Progress felt slow at times. OK, most times.





But, many weeks and take out dinners later, we got there. Here are some before and after shots from a few vantage points.























Wall down. Steel beam in. Shuttered hideous pantry thing gone (possibly on fire).

And, to firmly cement my standing as a suburban mom in her mid-40s, let me tell you what I’m really excited about.

  • The garbage disposal in the sink. I’ve never had one before and I have to stop myself from testing its limits just because.
  • Soft-close drawers. What sorcery is this? The entire soundtrack of my family has been significantly altered by the absence of ancient drawers slamming 24/7.
  • Dedicated storage for the affectionately termed school lunch mess of shit. It warms my jaded heart to have an actual slide-out shelf where the random tupperware/food storage/thermos situation doesn’t look like a Jenga World Championship round that I’m always one bad pull away from losing.

My bar was set pretty low, apparently. I marvel at the phenomenon of not yelling “Watch out! OHMYGOD, the drawer will crush your foot bones, be careful, goddamnit!” every time someone opens a (soft-close) drawer. It just stays, even when pulled all the way out. This is awesome news that should significantly impact my health insurance deductible.

But really, that wall coming down was life-changing. While it technically created a peninsula instead of an actual island, I’m not about to get all hung up on fucking topography. The reality is that it’s my command center and the center of my universe. My new Keurig is plugged in there. My shiny new hanging file drawer is there to stem the Countertop Paperwork Mountain Range effect. My view into the family room is unobstructed, so I am the first to witness the he-said-she-said sibling altercations before they can be misrepresented. We added bar stools on the other side for the kids. {OK, so maybe only two fit well and it’s like The Hunger Games at mealtime, but whatever.} All in all, it is a 42-inch slice (or slab) of quartz paradise.

Now, it would be silly to think that we are all settled in our new kitchen. Mostly because my husband, an Engineer and Project Manager by trade, loves nothing more than a challenge to optimize any given storage situation, especially a new canvas like this. And so, my new kitchen joy is often tempered by screams of “Where did you move the spices?” or “The spatula was here at lunch time and now it’s not. Damn it!” This experiment with kitchen equipment placement is on final notice, though. There’s no reason our marriage should survive four renovations, only to be undone by guessing where the coffee cups have been relocated.

And so, we’re basically back in business. I’m back to cooking on an actual stove and lowered my take out food order per week average dramatically. My daughter, ever at the ready to practice for her Chopped Junior audition someday, has taken over my favorite spot and claimed it as her prep station.


My husband, when not on his quest for optimal placement of the paprika and rosemary, is loving his most favorite purchase: the new TV in the family room that I did not know was part of the secret plan. I’m actually starting to think he did this renovation solely to justify this stadium-like screen that makes all male guests completely overlook the new kitchen.

And the next renovation? Never say never. But certainly not until after I can locate my measuring cups.




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I Didn’t Mean to Buy a Fixer-Upper

I said it again a few days ago, as my husband and I began the process of preparing for our latest renovation project.

“You know, I really didn’t think we were buying a fixer-upper when we decided on this house.”

He looked at me incredulously, as if I were either joking or completely insane. But I meant it.

When we bought our house in 2010, I knew it needed a bit of work, mostly cosmetic. Built in 1909, it had so many original details that drew me in. So much character.

To be fair, looking back on when we first saw our house, I remember my husband joking that “character” actually meant “expensive repairs” in real life. I shrugged him off at the time as a cynic.

We were approaching the house hunt from two different perspectives. Although we had been living in Manhattan for the previous five years together and both adored city life, my New York City residency stretched back a solid ten years prior to that point, while he had owned a house in the suburbs as a bachelor before I lured him out of Connecticut. As a result, he had seen this movie before — the one where gullible buyers think that old houses are charming but they invariably end up becoming money pits. Apparently I skipped that movie to watch bad reality TV instead.

But he was dealing with a woman who, for the better part of 15 years, had grown accustomed to living in minimal urban space that required certain lifestyle trade-offs. I never had a kitchen in the city wherein I wasn’t able to simultaneously touch all of the walls. I got used to storage and closets getting categorized as luxuries. As a perpetual renter, I hadn’t controlled my own thermostat in over a decade, and became accustomed to sleeping with the windows open in the dead of winter as the inside temperature lingered around a steady 81 degrees and the radiator activity resembled that of an active geyser.

So, about sixty houses into our two-year hunt, this was the one that satisfied most of our respective wish lists. Sure, it showed some signs of wear and tear from its 101 years, but it had a good deal of what we needed, plus it was located where we wanted to live and was within(ish) our budget. So what if the kitchen was dated? I didn’t have to store sweaters in the oven. And the old floors? Certainly not in their moment of glory, but original to the house. The bathrooms needed a facelift, but there was more than one! It was a plural bathroom situation. The unfinished basement? It was glorious storage.

I figured that some paint and a few modest upgrades would be all we needed.

Fast forward six years. This morning, the work began on our fourth major renovation project.

You see, since 2010, our then three-year-old and eight-month-old children grew a ton, as they are prone to doing. They accumulated a shitload of stuff and required more space to destroy. Oh, and we had a third child as well. I also no longer worked full-time and became more attuned to what kind of space we needed day to day.

And so, we took on a few projects.

We first finished our basement. Many people could end that thought with a singular sentence, but our estimated five week project took eight months and has several lengthy blog posts devoted to it — many of which involve thinly veiled threats to my often-MIA contractor who had better not ever set foot on my block again.

basement floor work


This was the first time I learned that when you fuck with a 100 year-old house, it never goes as planned. I also learned that a giant steel beam can be shimmied under your house, when necessary, to keep it from collapsing. (Related: Steel beam shimmying wasn’t in the original plan or budget.) Yay for the new basement!

After a lengthy PTSD recuperation and a total HGTV blackout period, we regrouped and decided that maybe we’d make some straightforward cosmetic updates to the curb appeal of the house. You know, refresh the front porch and add in a paint job for good measure. Hilarious.




Because you know what happens when you fuck with a 100 year-old front porch? Unexpected steel beam #2 to support the weight of the house. Yay for the new front porch!

My husband, feeling my growing anger and resentment toward the house that was steadily betraying us, abandoned our previous plans to build an addition for obvious reasons involving sanity, dollars and remaining married. He did, however, gently suggest that perhaps our powder room on the main floor was in dire need of a refresh before we hosted this past Christmas. No plumbing moving around, no major changes, just updating it.

This became known as a case of “while we’re at it,” a common renovation syndrome where homeowners fall prey to the logic that, while already suffering through work on the home, they may as well just add on one more item in the nearby vicinity. This one more item, for us, became an entire new entryway, extensive work on the dining room, new moldings, updating paint colors, replacing the original floors (because the basement upheaval had caused them to assume an endless “whack a mole” quality with tetanus-prone nails and planks perpetually popping up) and expanding a hallway. No steel beam to get any of this done, but we almost canceled Christmas.


But what really needed more work than anything — what really stood out and cried for desperate repair — was the kitchen.

Remember when I said that the kitchen was dated but that was OK because it had enough storage and space? I lied. It’s not OK. And I don’t just mean because it’s ugly. I can live with ugly for more way more than six years.

What I can’t live with as much is shit falling apart. Like warning helpful relatives and friends as they open my kitchen drawers, “OH, WAIT! Watch out! That’s heavy and will fall right out onto your foot!” (There’s only one way to find that out for the first time, by the way.) And I don’t need a giant kitchen. We actually have a decent amount of space there, but it’s so poorly laid out, with some really wonky features. Its design makes little to no sense and can just be reconfigured so much better, without actually expanding the footprint of the house (because, again, sanity/dollars/marriage, my friends).

It took a lot of convincing to get me to agree to this project. A lot. I mean, can you even believe we are doing this instead of, say, torching the place? The truth is, despite what I’ve described in the last six years, I’m not a renovations kind of gal. I have a Type A personality, three young kids and an aging pug. I don’t do well with people in and out of my space, making a mess and creating chaos. I’m not that person, but I play one in this house. Apparently.

(Insert logical questions here about why not just move instead or why not just do all of the renovations at once instead of in a torturous piecemeal fashion. Just know that you can’t ask us anything that we haven’t already talked to death on our end.)

All conventional wisdom says to do kitchen renovations in the summer. I get that. It’s the season of grilling, of being out and about, no schedules, no homework and the occasional getaways. And so we began these “conversations” (which I really didn’t think would ever become more than that, based on my resistance levels) a few months ago with designers, architects and contractors. And we kept going. And we filed permits. And we ordered cabinets. And then we were all-in as summer approached.

And it was pretty much last weekend, as we began to empty out the kitchen and the adjoining family room (which will also be impacted), when I started to have a panic attack. Our plan was to relocate to the basement (see Project #1), as it has a microwave, sink, a full bathroom and some decent storage. Also, it has a wine fridge, if we really need to pinpoint my anticipated center of gravity during this process.

What it does not have is an oven, stove or dishwasher. And, hey, I don’t mind hand washing some dishes, but if your kids are card-carrying members of the Use All of the Cups We Own Every Day Club like mine are, you can see how it starts to give me anxiety. Yes, I’ll be loading up on paper plates this summer (shhhhh, sorry environment) and the grill is at the ready. But, honestly, I’m trying to embrace the sort of freeing feeling of not actually being able to properly cook all summer long. Oh, and entertaining? Off the table this summer. We’ll be at your place if you want to get together. Unless you want to enjoy a chilled white wine in my laundry room with me. Just don’t tell the kids I’m in there.

They say it will take eight weeks to get it done, but I know better. I even know where the steel beam is going this time.

The real irony here is that, apart from when we are upstairs in our bedrooms, all of our common indoor family time will now be spent in the basement this summer — which basically is like taking the smallest apartment I ever had in New York, on my own, and adding four additional people to it. And their toys. And their food. And their noise. And the pug (who is totally discombobulated and pissed off by his forced proximity to the kids).

I’ve come full circle. All I need is a George Forman grill, an overbearing, narcissistic boss and, hell, I’m practically back to my old city life.

It’s all going to be OK. I’m keeping my eye on the prize, even as the hammers bang and the dust flies and everyone is all over me about dinner as I try to fashion a meal out of a fucking hot plate.

kitchen renovation 1

kitchen renovation 2

Day one is done, and I’m getting a pizza. But I’m stopping at the wine fridge first.

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The Ghost of Christmas Renovations Past

Do you do that thing when, faced with an insurmountable and beyond overwhelming to-do list, you instead choose to do something entirely unrelated and pretty much unproductive?

No? Just me?

Because it’s after midnight as I’m typing this, and trust me when I tell you that the amount I have to do to make all the Christmas magic happen is insane.

Oh, speaking of insane, welcome to my home. The place where I impose silly Christmastime traditions like home renovations on impossible timelines. In 2014, I almost had to ask my carpenters to stay for Christmas dinner to get our front porch finished in time to allow guests to walk through an actual front door instead of shimmying in through a side window (because it’s the little things that make you feel welcome).

It was a highly stressful time. Who the hell would repeat these mistakes of the past? What kind of self-punishing fool would decide to “just upgrade the powder room” and then maybe have things sort of domino while insisting that all will be fine to host 30 people for Christmas?

<looks around to see if anyone else can be blamed>

It’s cool, though. We still have two weeks to go. Let me show you that we really don’t have much left to do.

Here, you’ll see that our living room is ready to greet our friends and family in full Christmas decor. Clearly everyone will pick up on our festive theme upon entering our home. In the far end of the photo, you’ll see our dining room – the place where we will gather to cherish our holiday meal together and form a lifetime of memories.


Before you become concerned about the dining room, let me give you a closer look.


The only real question left is whether to use the white or cream placemats. These decisions can be stressful.

I’m also thinking that maybe I just spotted my kids’ homework under that tarp.

But in terms of logistics and necessity, do not worry. The new bathroom is definitely on track for completion.


Just a few final touches and it will be ready to go! I really should get the Christmas hand towels into the laundry since I’ll need them any day now.

And, you’ll be glad to know that, despite all evidence to the contrary, I actually have extremely low blood pressure. So there’s room for error before I stroke out completely.

Say it with me: “It will be fiiiiiiine.”

Now say this with me: “I love wine through a straw in the daytime.”

There’s a reason I like you guys so much.

And this brings me to my deflection strategy. Here’s a truly microscopic sampling of what I could/should be doing right now:

  • Wrapping gifts
  • OK, fine – buying gifts
  • Moving an elf
  • Eating the chocolate in the kids’ advent calendar
  • Deciding if eggshell really is the right finish for the bathroom paint
  • Buying a lock and hinges for a new door
  • Accepting that my two year-old recognizes Home Depot as “the orange cart store,” or possibly as a play date
  • Finding a reputable mediator to use with my contractor when/if this renovation ever ends
  • Wondering if, with global warming trends, outdoor seating will be feasible for Christmas dinner
  • Using parental forensics to determine which kid’s fingerprints are in the wet hallway paint
  • Imagining where the fuck to put a Christmas tree in any of the scenarios shown in the above photos (we’re thinking front porch)

Nope, nope, nope.

I decided that a much more engaging use of my time would be to make a flowchart. See, I’m in the middle of sending out my holiday cards and am having my annual crisis of conscience over where to make the cuts in my list. I err on the side of ruthlessness but maybe I’ve been hasty. Perhaps it’s time to spread some additional cheer. Because going back to the post office this week would prove that there is a worse place to be than in my own home, and that would bring me more comfort than spiking my coffee.

holiday card flowchart final


Yeah, you’ll need to zoom in. Sorry, it’s late and my Edit Image skills are not up to par right now. I’ll try to tweak it next time I’m looking to avoid any and all responsibility.

So, in the spirit of public service, I hope you’ll find my flow chart both useful and timely. To be clear, this assumes you’ve already made basic decisions about your list. If you’re looking for advice on whether or not to cut out your parents or neighbors, I’m probably underqualified. This highly scientific approach that I’m advocating is really for the gray areas. The ones you and your spouse might not agree on. The ones that test the boundaries of your holiday spirit. The ones that make you question just how you want to use your last holiday Forever stamps.

If nothing else, I hope I’ve made you feel better about your holiday preparedness levels. And if your gifts happen to be wrapped and you’re looking for some amazing holiday deed to perform in the name of humanity, please drop by and I’ll pass you a paint brush. With wine and a straw.


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Tidings of Discomfort (and Joy)

Turns out there’s a fine line between thriving and cracking under pressure.

I truly love Christmas. I do. But I am willing to admit, with 15 days to go, that I maaaaaay have taken on a tad more than I can handle. Am I excited to have 25 people over on Christmas Day? Yes! Honestly, I am. On any given day, I’d rather host a holiday and keep my kids at home than spend multiple hours in the car. Because what else says joyful and triumphant like averaging 4 mph in traffic while mediating arguments over Frozen vs The Lego Movie for vehicular DVD entertainment?

But wow, the big day is coming fast and I’m not as prepared as I’d hoped to be at this stage of the game. This may have something to do with our latest home renovation project veering way off schedule. Our original completion timeframe was scheduled for mid-November, and yet, here we are — living in a construction zone with, among other setbacks, an erroneous front door that is far too narrow and actually more suitable for a doll house than a home where adults reside. Until the right door arrives (estimated delivery date: anyone’s guess), you’ll just have to enter sideways if you eat one too many crescent rolls. Unless you are an American Girl doll or a Barbie — then please, come on in. I can then serve you out of tiny toy teacups the size of thimbles just to keep the experience going.

At least I was making very good progress with my holiday shopping. I use the past tense because I had, until today, a complete and total false sense of security that came screeching to a halt when I took a few minutes to actually look at my purchases to date. And there, on the floor of my bedroom, was bonafide scientific proof that 1) it’s easier to shop for a girl than a boy and 2) I should never shop while undercaffeinated. With my daughter’s gift pile (I use the term loosely — these are all small gifts) looking about four times bigger than my son’s, I knew I was setting up some serious therapy discussions for his teen and adult years. Time to kick Operation Even Out the Gifting into high gear. Oh, except for the baby — at 18 months old, he will not know the difference. He loves playing with my Tupperware so much that I’m considering getting him his own set and calling it a day. Shhhhhhhhh. If any of you tell him he was under gifted, I will Photoshop the hell out of Christmas 2014 to prove you all wrong.

But guess what I got done early? For the first time EVER, I knew well in advance what to buy for my husband. I mean, apart from the obvious front-runner, this was a true Christmas miracle. I purchased. I had it delivered. When my friends discussed in stressed out tones what to get for their husbands, I nodded calmly and told them I was done while buffing my nails. And then I had an extra venti peppermint mocha because I earned it. The stress of finding something for him was alleviated before the first weekend in December.

Until he came home the next day and declared he would be making the very same purchase as something “we need for the house.”


I had to come clean and ruin the surprise.

Moving on, I’d be lying if I said feeding my 25 Christmas guests wasn’t on my mind pretty much 24/7 at this point. Yes, I have some ideas. And the problem, really, is that the black hole of Pinterest has about four million more ideas that render what I considered traditional to be tired and just outdated. Ham? Prime rib? Pffffft. If you’re not infusing your stuffing with kale and serving a signature cocktail, does it even count as dinner on the Internet?

Now, there is one area where I have excelled (versus my own historical performance): My holiday cards. Imagine my complete shock when I placed my order last week and was offered options like standard shipping and others that did not involve a 670% premium for shipping via time machine. AND: I have already purchased all of my stamps. That means no physical altercations this year at the Post Office, which is a huge time saver.

Speaking of efficiency, as I prepare to get those cards out the door, I am going through my annual process of chopping down the recipient list. Not to be mean, but just to be prudent. My traditional (but sometimes modified) rule of thumb is this: If I haven’t heard from you at all since last year’s card and we’re not related, then sorry. In the paraphrased words of the Seinfeld Soup Nazi: No card for you! Happy holidays and godspeed. Your kids look adorable on Facebook, and keeping our relationship strictly at the Zuckerberg thumbs-up level is ok with me. No hard feelings.

My husband, on the other hand, is less ruthless. Put another way, he would be ok with sending a card to everyone we’ve ever known since the dawn of time. It’s really a nice thought. And that’s because he’s way nicer than I am. But you know what he’s not? The person who is sending all of the cards. It’s a discussion every December.

There are a few other people I won’t be sending cards to this year. They are on my Holiday Shit List. Like the aforementioned Pinterest Overachievers. Also, the inventors of Common Core Math — because just when I thought math couldn’t get any more painful, touché! Let’s not forget Kay Jewelers, anyone who got a Lexus with a red bow like the commercials and all members of The Trans-Siberian Orchestra (do they play that music strictly to induce cardiac events?). Oh, and the manufacturers of my new front door. It’s a door, not a planet — let’s get moving here.

In the end, of course, the holiday season is not really about any of these things. The gifts, the cards, the menu, the state of my house. Most people won’t remember what I served and what my cards looked like. OK, but they will probably joke for years to come about my dollhouse front door.

The truth is that this year I have a lot more family members coming to visit who aren’t usually here for Christmas anymore, and it’s making me excited and nostalgic and thrilled and sad at the same time. It reminds me of the years we all had Christmas together — before people moved away and the crowd was always big and loud and crazy. It only recently occurred to me that every family has a golden era of sorts when it comes to holidays — a stretch of years, whether it’s a handful or a decade — when everyone is in good health and everyone travels home and nobody misses it. The years when all of the holiday snapshots, literal and figurative, are captured. And you can’t possibly know during those years that you’re all in the midst of that golden era and that it will become the standard to which you hold your holidays in your mind and heart for years to come. It becomes the time you look back on so fondly (family drama and all) and wish you had held it more dearly while it was here.

And while I won’t have every family member here, it’s going to be very close. Closer than it has been in years. It’s going to be special to me.

So maybe it’s easier to worry about food and cards and gifts.

Maybe it’s easier to stress about the size of the front door.

And maybe, in some respects, it’s better to be immersed in the crazy prep phase than to think about how infrequently these times actually come along.

(Still, I’m cutting the card list way back.)


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Renovation Meets Hyperventilation

I need you guys to promise me something. It’s not a difficult task, but it’s a critical one. Kindly take note.

If I ever, ever in my lifetime try to purchase another 100 year-old house, I want you to slap me.

OK? Thanks.

Some of you have been following the blog long enough to remember The Great Basement Shitshow of 2011. The one that was slated to take five weeks but actually took more than eight months. The one where our foundation was left unsettled and masons didn’t show up for weeks and the house shifted and steel beams had to be run under the foundation and I almost litigated and my sanity unraveled more each day. That one.

Well, if you missed it, don’t feel bad! Because our latest renovation project is shaping up to look just like it.

All we wanted to do was replace the front porch. A cosmetic job. Or so we naively thought.

The pit in my stomach felt oh-so-familiar when the dumpster showed up and the demolition crew arrived. I’ve seen this movie before, I thought. But, no. This is just the PTSD talking. This will be nothing like tearing up a basement. This is just a porch.

It will all be fiiiiine.

And it was. For about two hours.

Until the demolition crew summoned me outside, shaking their heads. They pointed to two distinctly rotted beams they had uncovered, and essentially said that these are holding up the front half of  my house.

They summoned my architect, who came over immediately.

He summoned the engineer, who came over immediately.

(FYI: Nobody ever comes over immediately in Renovationland, so I knew shit was about to get real.)

Everyone who came over immediately shook their heads and marveled at how the house has remained standing like this since 1909.

Then, they stated talking about “reinforcements outside of the intended scope of work.”

For those of you who are not fluent in Endless Money Pit of Despair dialect, let me translate it for you: “Ma’am, we have to do a bunch of shit that we hadn’t planned to do, that’s going to cost more — not sure how much more — before we can proceed.”

Or something like that. Since I was half doubled over and requiring smelling salts at this point, I can’t be sure. I do know that I hallucinated dollar signs flipping me the bird from out of the rotting beams.

And, it’s not like we can go back. We don’t really have the option of saying, “Hey, guys who all came over immediately and shook heads in unison, let’s just forget we saw any of this. Let’s just go into that full dumpster over there, get all the materials out and put it all back as it was. It’s going to be A-OK.”

Nope. We’re all in.

Now that I’ve had several days to digest this information and walk very carefully on the second floor of my house, I’ve made peace with our fate. With this construction poltergeist of a house. Whatever builder was wronged within these walls at some point in the last 100 years, I’m sorry. I think we can all agree that my family had made up for it and the karma has evened out.

And now, my mission in life is clear. I will be an Old House Interventionist.

For every 100 year-old house that stands for sale near me, I will confront the potential buyers. I will, gently at first, warn them about owning an old home. I’ll tell them how I thought our home was “charming” and “historical” when we found it, and that I now know these terms to mean “insanely expensive,” “in constant need of repair,” and “potentially falling down around you.” Also, notice how “historical” and “hysterical” are separated merely by two letters. This is no coincidence.

Go forth, I’ll tell them, and buy yourself some brand spanking new construction. Build in the faux charm and the pretend historical detail. Fake it, my friends. Because you will sleep better at night knowing that, while your coffered ceilings may not be carved from early 20th century wood, said ceiling will in fact stay in place.

Go ahead and tell me they don’t build them like they used to. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. “Like they used to” in this case means this.


Or this.



It’s a little late for me, but maybe I can save someone else.

Just remember: When you say you want an old house, you don’t. You think you do. What you really want is a shiny new house that’s built to look like an old house.

Trust me.



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The Basement Epilogue

If you’ve been here before, you may have heard a little something occasionally about a certain basement renovation.  You know, just a casual mention here and there.  Mostly about how it was ruining my life and aging me beyond my years.

To clarify, I’m referring to the basement renovation that started last August 20.  The one with a five-week time frame.

The one that was not, in fact, finished five weeks — or even five months — later.

The one that was finished eight months later.  And by “finished,” I mean for the most part, and as good as it’s going to get without litigation.

Just a mere eight months.  The same time frame it takes to erect an entire subdivision.

During six of those months, I had no laundry machines.  I might have mentioned that a few times.  This meant no ketchup or tomato sauce for my kids.  I also had to consider catheterizing my son overnight.

I’m just kidding.  Partially.  {We totally had ketchup on special occasions.}

For all of you who stuck with me through this, I feel like I owe you the final update.  Plus I need a place to channel my fury.

OK, so let me just pre-empt your questions right here about how five weeks became eight months, and how we could allow this to go on, etc.  The questions where you make me feel like a jackass.  It’s OK — I’m used to these questions.  I would ask them too.

I won’t bore you with the lengthy details of what went wrong.  Suffice it to say when you start messing with the foundation of a 100 year-old house, it may not always go well.  It may in fact come to pass that, in certain places, your house essentially is resting on piles of stones and not a true foundation, per se.  And it may come to pass that the mason who is handling this sub-contracted portion of the job is one slippery motherfucker.

We’ll leave it at that.

I have to wonder how people with those pretty home renovation blogs don’t carry around the same rage that I have.  Clearly, I wasn’t cut out for this.

I mean, I just wanted some extra living space, new laundry machines and room for a wine fridge.  And I didn’t want it to look like the set of a horror movie anymore.  Because here it was.

I mean, tell me this does not scream Poltergeist or The People Under the Stairs to you.

So the project was to be fairly straightforward.  More space.  Better laundry room.  A new bathroom.  No horror movie vibe.  Oh, and better water drainage — which is where the foundation issues began.  And once they started, it was like a domino effect.  On crack.

Let me show you what I mean.

See this?  Not really what we signed up for.



There was also a lot of this.


Which led to a lot of this.


And, of course, there was this.  Week in and week out.


Which brought me back to this.

It was kind of cyclical.

When we heard that we needed brand new multi-ton steel beams inserted under the length of my house  — to hold it up — I moved on to this.

Because the espresso martini fixes everything.

Except this.


But, eventually, we got there.  Even if our patience was shattered.  Even if we called bullshit on every HGTV family ever filmed for one of those shows.  Even if we considered the earn-your-law-school-degree-from-home approach.  Like a prisoner researching his case and trying to get parole.  The two scenarios were not dissimilar.

And now, we have a shiny new basement.  No dumpster in the driveway.  No house shaking as the new beams were moved beneath the Earth.  No ladder to get downstairs.  No profanity spewing episodes (OK, that’s not really true).

Here are some before and after shots.




I’m considering moving down there and making it my apartment.  Forget the Man Cave.  This is a Mom Cave.  Mostly because of the ease with which I can move between the laundry machines and the wine fridge.

Now that it’s all said and done, do I love it?  Yes.

Will I ever complain about doing laundry again?  Nope.

Am I still pissed off about the insanity of the project?  Absolutely.

But — and I know this is crazy — I see how people get the renovation bug.  I do.

In fact, we’ve decided to take our residual renovation rage and channel it to another project this summer:  The Kitchen.

Why get comfortable, right?  And yes, we’ll be using a different contractor.  And medication.

I mean, how bad can it be?

{Crazytown, Party of Two:  Your table is ready.}



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Time Capsule

You may recall that, a few weeks ago, I mentioned our storage pod delivery.  The one we had packed away in late 2010 in order to empty out our basement and vie for the world record in Home Renovation Delays.  I’m still waiting on the official ruling from the Guinness Book people.  I know it’s going to be close.

And when I casually mentioned this pod, I failed to confess something important.  So I’m here to do that today.

Here’s the thing.

I assumed that my husband, to whom I jokingly refer as a hoarder on a regular basis, had stuffed the pod full of his stupid crap random possessions.

Notsomuch.  It was kind of a bunch of my stupid crap.

You see, it seems I have what P calls “a nostalgia problem.”

Yeah.  I think I’m a Memento Hoarder.  A Sentimentality Archivist.  A Memorabilia Historian.

I. Kept. A. Lot. Of. Crap.

This is probably about 30% of it.

Because I’m on the verge of a very big birthday  (it’s true, I’m turning 21 — again), what better time for a little trip down Memory Lane?  One where I mock myself publicly.  You can see just what I’ve been sorting through for the past few weeks.  Which is mainly my life in photos, greeting cards and old concert tickets.  And really bad hair.

I bet you didn’t wake up knowing today was your lucky day.

So my high school yearbook was located in Hoarderpalooza.  Now, I’m not quite self-punishing or drunk enough to show you my official high school yearbook photo, but I did find this one of myself.

How about that French braid and the boxy, oversized sweater?  And how about the clear academic rigor, concentration and focus on my face?  But the real value of this photo is capturing the guy behind me in a moment when he is clearly contemplating killing off all the annoying chatty girls with bad French braids and boxy, oversized sweaters.  This is practically forensic evidence.

And I found a bunch of notes from one of my oldest friends — someone I’m still close with today.

Oh the punk rock rebels in the suburbs!  How cool we thought we were.  This, coming from a girl in a French braid.

Good news, though: I did not fall prey to the weird guy in the yearbook photo and I made it to college.

Do you see me? I’m the one drinking a beer.

I mean, it’s obvious why nobody wants to graduate and go into the real world.  Why would we ever want to leave this behind?  This entire scene seems so foreign now, although perhaps it’s not terribly dissimilar to the pre-school lottery.  Or maybe even playgroup, on a good day.

And then I found this.  I’m too afraid to open it.

Lest you think I might have been bored in high school and college, fear not — I made a career out of attending concerts at that time. And, for reasons that remain unclear, I felt compelled to save some of these tickets.  Probably so I could pin them all up on my dorm room wall.  Or find them in a box decades later and blog about them.  See — my plan fell right into place.

If you don’t know about my U2 addiction, I’ll let the ticket stubs speak for themselves.  When I say these are just the tip of the iceberg, take my word for it.  If I showed all of them to you, I’m pretty sure I would be issued a restraining order.

Now, attending these concerts meant tailgating.  Which required a suitable automobile for these purposes.  Good thing for everyone that I was driving this beauty, which comfortably seats approximately 18 college students.

Oh yes.  The 1986 Monte Carlo.  Where you could almost be in two states at once.

{It was New Jersey in the 1990s, people.  What did you expect?}

Don’t worry, though.  Life was not all concerts and parties.  I did have some significant literary aspirations along the way.

Like this.  I thought this was the funniest thing I’d ever read when I was in middle school.

{And really, if you remember Sniglets, I’ll love you forever.  Triple bonus points if you can name the show where they originated.  Come on — don’t leave me hanging out here loving Sniglets all by myself!  Anyone?  Bueller?}

But then I got all self-important in college for a few minutes and decided I would change the world.  Unfortunately, Sniglets weren’t going to get the job done.  So I started reading stuff like this.

FYI, not recommended for beach reading.  Highly recommended for insomnia. {Who would save this book?!}

And let’s wrap this up with some antiquing.  Behold the evidence of my old age.

I believe this what they called film.  For a Kodak Disc Camera.  Remember those?  I want to just go and drop this off at the local Walgreens with a straight face, and ask the 17 year-old behind the counter when my photos will be ready.

And this was called a record.  Or, a 45.  It required a little machine that spins this circle-like object around and around, while putting a funny little needle on the surface to play music.  And if you turn it over?  There’s another song!  One that is often very good but has far less sales potential.  It’s called a B-Side.  Say it with me.


Guess what?  There were bigger versions of those bizarro vinyl circles that contained multiple songs.  Sometimes you will see them for sale on iTunes. They were called albums.  Here is a sampling of my favorite childhood albums — just before I discovered Led Zeppelin IV and my hair went sky high.

So there you have it.  A {very} small yet mortifying display of the random crap I kept in boxes over the years.  And, a written admission that I surpassed my husband’s hoarding tendencies in this particular instance.  Yes, I am making it hard for any of you to believe that, in my adult life, I am actually a ruthless purger.  An anti-hoarder, if you will.  It’s true, despite my obvious weak spot for memorabilia and personal artifacts from my past.

And this was before I had kids.  Maybe I’ll get a new pod for their mementos.



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I’m not a nature girl.

I mean, I like nature.  From a distance.  It’s pretty.  But I’m not a camper.  And, late at night, I’ve always been more comforted by the sounds of the city streets over the sounds of crickets outside.

Bugs, in particular, are not my thing. I know they’re not most people’s thing (except for you budding entomologists out there) — but they are really not my thing.  Bees scare the hell out of me.  Correction:  One bee scares me.  I’m that person who, against all advice, does the spastic, desperate arm flapping and yelling when a bee is nearby.  You know, *that* person.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was when P realized we have a bees’ nest inside a giant tree in our backyard.  It’s a big ass tree — probably 80-100 feet high.  It’s old and imposing and provides lots of shade.  And, there, on the side, about 30 feet up, is a clear entry point where the bees fly in and out of their deluxe accommodations.

Since the nest is conveniently located right over the kids’ swing set, we called the pest control folks to see if they could treat it.  It was going to require ladders and hoses and stuff.  By “stuff,” I mean cash.

When they came to treat it, we hit a roadblock.  They are honeybees, which are endangered.  You’re not supposed to kill them.  So I had two choices:

1) Leave it alone.  Honeybees are, after all, docile in nature, I was told.

2) Find a honeybee specialist or beekeeper to scale the giant tree and extract the hive.

I’m sorry, but I wasn’t going to leave it alone.  I’ll take Curtain #2, for the win, Chuck.

As with anything on the Internet, you quickly discover the passion that some people have for subjects you never spent a moment thinking about.  Like beekeeping.  I found a local guy online and contacted him — I’ll call him The Bee Dude.  He’d be over the next morning to have a look at the tree.

Great!  Progress.

And then.


About two hours after I called The Bee Dude, I was in my kitchen.  It was a sunny afternoon so I thought it was odd that, out the window, I seemed to be seeing something like rain.  Brown rain.  Raining dirt?  It took me a few seconds to realize…



I did not have the wherewithal at that moment to take a photo (which confirms my suspicion that I will also never be the gal videotaping an oncoming twister because I’ll be too busy peeing my pants and screaming).  But in my hours of post-apocalyptic online research, I learned that I had witnessed a swarm of a honeybee colony.  And I also found this picture, which looks exactly like what I saw.

{Photo source: Wikipedia}

It lasted only five minutes but it was one of the freakiest things I’d ever seen.

Well, until my neighbor called me an hour later, her voice kind of shaky.  I figured she was calling because she had seen the swarm too.


“Hey, uh, you know that tree [this is a different tree from the original large one I mentioned] in between our driveways?”


“Uh, can you, uh, take a look out your window and tell me if you see what I’m — “


“Bees!  Everywhere!  What the hell is that?”

She had managed to take a photo from inside her car.  It was this.

Maybe you guys have seen something like this before.  Maybe you’re all “Hey, it’s a hive on the move.  No biggie.”  If you are one of those people, please forgive my histrionics.  Because when I tell you I went batshit crazy at that point, I’m kind of understating it.

I still can barely look at the photo.  My friend described it as Biblical, which I think about sums it up.

Is it just me whose skin is crawling from this?  It can’t be just me, right?  It was like a horror movie.  Do you remember Candyman?  Uggghhhh.

So while I was trying to distract my mind that night from the mental image of the End of Days swarm outside my house, I read up on this whole phenomenon.  In a nutshell, when the colony gets too crowded, about half of the bees leave with the queen (this is when they swarm) and find a temporary place to land for a few days.  During this time, they all gather around the queen to protect her, while they send out scout bees to find a new location for their colony.  They leave a virgin queen behind in the old nest so she can take over.

Holy shit, it’s just like high school, isn’t it?

Anyway.  We survived until morning without my nightmares of bees boring through the walls of  my house coming to bear.  And The Bee Dude showed up early the next day, as promised.

I hadn’t told him about the swarm development since we last spoke.  He saw it and was like a kid in a candy store.  Or in a honeycomb, I guess.

He insisted we cut the Shock and Awe/End of Days conversation short so he could put on his swarming gear.  Because, in his words, “Every minute we spend not collecting this swarm is a minute the scout bees could locate a new home for the colony.  Possibly in a nook of your house.”

Oh.  Carry on, then.  I’ll just wait inside.

{Why didn’t we build a panic room as part of our basement renovation?  Why?}

And then a live episode of National Geographic unfolded in my backyard.  The Bee Dude was in full gear and managed to get all of the bees into his trusty box within a half an hour or so.  The key is to make sure you get the queen — to ensure that all the others follow.

See?  Just like high school.

My photos are not great because there was a window screen in.  And, as much as I like all of you, I sure as hell was not going outside to snap some higher quality pictures for your benefit.  You understand.

So The Bee Dude removed all 30,000 of the bees protecting their queen.

Yes.  30,000.  That’s what he said.

And that’s when I thought about the tidbit I read the night before that only half of the bees leave the original colony in a swarm.  Which means…there are still…

OH MY GOD.  There are still 30,000 bees in the original giant tree?

At that point, The Bee Dude, who clearly loves nature more than most, looked me in the eye and recommended that I have the giant tree taken down.  ASAP.  Because a colony that size has certainly hollowed out and compromised the structural integrity of the huge branch that hovers over my house.  Oh, and the virgin queen is laying 2,000 new eggs a day.

Seriously?  She is not messing around.

So now I’m in what I can only describe as a Nature Clusterfuck, which involves various tree removal companies and the pest control people.  The tree guys won’t touch the tree with 30,000 live bees inside (OK, fair point).  And the pest control guys won’t exterminate because of the endangered species issue.  Even though I did my good deed for Beekind and saved 30,000 of them this week.  They went to a very nice home in a neighboring town.  I was even promised jars of honey this fall.

We’re at an impasse.  Just waiting for the virgin queen to ascend to power and the after swarms and a Candyman sequel in my yard.

I’m so not a nature girl.



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Pod Living

Look what we had delivered last week.

The last time I saw this storage pod was back in November 2010 — as we prepared to shred the basement beyond the limits of a tolerable home renovation period. {“Whatever happened to that basement reno that you wouldn’t shut up about,” you ask?  The big reveal is coming soon.}

Anyway, the storage pod — it’s baaaack.  And it was a little like a game show:  Guess What’s in the Pod!  Or Fordeville:  The Early Years.  OK, maybe more like Hoarders: Storage Pod Edition.

Well, I’m knee-deep in sorting through its contents.  And — lucky you! — you’ll get to see some of the gems that I am not too ashamed to share.  Soon.  Because, when you grow up in New Jersey in the 80s…well, let’s just say that the photos and artifacts are highly entertaining. At my expense, of course.

But in the meantime, some deep thoughts.  Namely, it struck me that the storage pod is a viable alternative for a first apartment.  Yes, really.

If you recall, a few months back, I was on a similar tear.  I shared my total resentment of observations about the Pottery Barn Kids Cottage Loft Bed being both larger and nicer than my first Manhattan apartment.  It’s obvious that the PBK execs followed my every word, latched onto my ideas, and immediately called an Emergency Bed Sales Strategy Meeting to keep the trend going.  Because in the last PBK edition, I noticed that the urban male dweller was not to be overlooked.  Behold, fine hipster twenty somethings with low income and steep city rental tabs:  The PBK Eli Fort Bed.

{Image: Pottery Barn Kids Catalog}


Now you don’t have to do the Walk of Shame from  your hipster girlfriend’s PBK Cottage Loft Bed.  You’re welcome.

“This magical retreat for your child evokes the spirit and appeal of an outdoor tree fort. The twin-sized bed sits above an open play area to double the space in the room. It’s built of rustic-finished wood, with open windows for a lookout and a sturdy ladder for access.”

Ah, yes, like its cousin the Cottage Loft Bed, this is also better appointed and larger than my first actual Manhattan residence.  Move thee to thy nearest young nephew’s house.  Stat.


Get yourself a storage pod.  And move in.

Just hear me out.  Especially if you’re in the Marketing department of 1-800-PACK-RAT.  Get your Emergency Bed Sales Strategy Sales Team in place.  Because I have a whole new revenue stream for you:  The Urban Residential Pod.

Here’s the interior of our storage pod.  It is essentially the same size as my studio apartment in Manhattan, circa 2002.  Truly.  How interesting (aka sad) that both seem to fit the same amount of furniture.  Sadder still, they both seem to have the same view of a wall and minuscule exposure to natural light.

But here’s the rub.

  • The pod is stored in a climate controlled facility.  Whereas in the Manhattan starter apartment, you are opening your windows during a blizzard to bring the temperature down to a breezy 81 degrees.  And then, come summertime, you are taking your life in your hands trying to precariously mount an ancient AC unit in a crumbling old window frame, while hanging from your waist four stories over a busy city street.
  • The pod and my apartment seem to have had a similar neutral color palate. 
  • The pod might have been cleaner.  And more updated.
  • And, the pod is cheaper.  Way cheaper.  We were paying around $90/month for the pod.  And my apartment?  Well, in the year 2000, I was SUPER LUCKY  to have found this rent-stabilized place for a total steal of around $1300/month.

Now, there are some drawbacks with the pod.  Top of mind, of course, there is the issue of some basic utilities.  Don’t panic — I’m not referring to WiFi — because you can totally pick up the storage office signal from  your pod.  I meant the other utilities.  Like plumbing.  And possibly electricity.  But I’m totally confident that PBK will soon have a pint-sized yet high-end solution for you.  Unless the newly established Urban Residential Pod sales team at 1-800-PACK-RAT beats them to market with a utilities upgrade package.  It’s going to be a fierce race to the hipster consumer’s wallet.

Then there’s the socialization aspect.  I mean, it’s probably hard to bring a date home with you to the pod.  As clean and well decorated as you may keep your pod, it’s probably going to be, at a minimum, a little awkward.  The truth is that any woman is going to get a very Silence of the Lambs vibe from this situation.  It’s also tough to keep one eye on the clock all the time while out with friends, making sure you don’t get home after the storage facility closes for the night.

So there’s that.

But these are smallish trade-offs for a clean, secure, spacious and totally affordable urban living space.

Or maybe I’ve just gone completely delirious in my attempt to sort through all of these boxes.


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On the second day of the 26th week, the God of Endless Home Renovations bestowed an incredible gift upon us.

A fully functional, newly installed (again) washing machine and dryer.  It was like a mirage before my weary eyes.

No more trips to the wash and fold {farewell, Bruce, and thanks for the great origami laundry folding — maybe we’ll have you over for Christmas}.

No more threats of catheters for the kids.

No more bans on markers.  Or condiments {ketchup for all!}.

Once the installation was complete, I proceeded to go batshit crazy and washed every possible piece of clothing, bedding and linens I could get my hands on.  In my giddy haze, I even considered doing some of those TV commercial experiments where people spill the red wine on the white shirt just to test the detergent.  For kicks.  I mean, the red wine was handy.

I know it will wear off, this laundry buzz.  But, come on, six months was a long time to go without it.  Especially relative to the initial five week timetable.  I think I might apply for the next season of Survivor.

So.  Is the project finished?


{Profane rant directed at General Contractor omitted for the sake of common decency. Or maybe litigation.}

But almost.  It’s so close, I can taste it.  Or maybe that’s just the effect of the wine fridge being installed.

For now, I’m focusing on this small miracle — my shiny new laundry machines are home at last.

So can I get an Amen?


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