Ranch Redux: A Ranch Done Wright

The End of My Rope

July 10, 2011

Planning and executing a major remodel is like planning for an expedition through hostile territory.  Tim looks at it like a military campaign, but I see it more like a long complicated, mountaineering adventure.  We trek through mountain passes, climb heights and then have to belay down them.  Tim is unfazed by all the setbacks we have had.  He manages to put a positive spin on everything.  I am not always so optimistic.  I often find myself near the end of my rope.

Starting this project I had coils and coils of fine cord ready for action.  I was looking forward to this adventure with zeal even.  Along the trail there were times when things were so difficult I felt the rope slipping through my fingers at a pretty rapid pace.  Like the morning when I woke up on our 27th wedding anniversary to find the inside trenches filled with water.  Luckily Corrina and Sam came in the next couple of days filling me with joy and replenishing my line.  I saw the end of my rope close at hand the day we found out our car was stolen, but the kindness of our friends and family kept me from reaching the end.

Two weeks ago we had a serious setback where my line was slipping so fast through my hands it gave me rope burn and had me clinging desperately to the last frayed end.  The back room which in turns we have used as a dining room, Tim’s shop, and our den had to be torn down because it was so poorly constructed.   We knew the room was built on a patio slab rather than a proper foundation, and that we would have to retrofit it,  but we didn’t know just how bad it was until Tim and J began to frame the opening for the new sliding glass door.  The room had a three foot high brick base with wood framed walls above it.  We always assumed there would be some anchoring of the bricks to the slab.  What Tim and J found was that there were no anchor bolts, or rebar, not even wooden dowels holding the bricks in place.  The only things keeping the walls upright were the drywall and the roof.

Up until then I was always fond of the previous owner of the house, Ted.  Ted was a colonel in the marines and was the original owner.  He was at the house when Tim, the kids, and I toured it for the first time.  Corrina and Sam went through the house picking out which bedroom they wanted.  They were particularly charming that day, no bickering and no fights.  Ted showed us around taking us through the dining room.  I remember asking if the room was permitted and Ted saying yes. Pants on fire Ted!  He showed us the playhouse that he had built for his grandchildren.  He seemed like such a lovely older gentleman.  Later when we were all moved in we heard from neighbors that he accepted our offer, even though ours was not the highest, because he wanted to sell to a nice family. Yes we always liked the colonel.

At some point Ted decided to remodel the kitchen and add a formal dining room to the house for his beloved wife.  We knew after living in his dream kitchen for thirteen years that he was one to pinch the pennies.  The range was weak and the pull-out drawers in the cabinets were pathetic, but we didn’t know how cheap he was until we started demolishing the back room.  J. and Charlie started the demo by taking off the roof.  Once that was done, they literally pushed the walls over.  Ted spared every expense in the building of that room.

I was very upset about the extra time and money it will take to rebuild the back room.  Really it is less about the money.  My dad always said that any problem you can solve with money can’t be that bad.  What really bugs me is the ridiculous waste.  We spent hours in that room, eating meals, watching T.V., playing scrabble, and generally enjoying life.  For less than $100 Ted could have made that room safe to occupy, but instead he created what, in a bad earthquake, could have been a death trap.

So there I was at the bitter end when three things happened in rapid succession to add to my store of rope.  First, Tim found a salvaged maple top for our kitchen island.  There is a secret place in Orange County where Tim has found wonderful salvaged tools and shop furniture.  He won’t let me put the name of the place in my blog, but suffice to say it is a hidden jewel.  The four and a half by seven foot maple top was originally in a school library.  It came fully loaded with gum on the bottom and graffiti on the top.  Tim plans to refinish it to make it look new, but in the meanwhile I am thoroughly enjoying it, rough as it is.

I immediately started looking for counter stools on the internet.  All of the stools I wanted were beautifully mid-century and outrageously expensive.  I came upon a website for school supplies (http://www.nationalpublicseating.com/science_lab_stools.htm) and found some pretty good looking counter stools for only $75.00 apiece. We ended up buying four counter stools.  When they arrived, they were heavy duty with that post-industrial look.  It really got me thinking about what other things I can get at school supply stores.

The second good thing was when Tim and Rich started grinding the cement floors.  We knew we wanted to keep our cement floors, but I didn’t want it to look like the floors at Home Depot or Trader Joes.  I wanted a shiny, finished product.  To achieve this effect it took a huge amount of effort.  I have bad allergies and hate carpet, so we ripped up all the carpet and painted the cement floors as soon as we moved in.  So now we had to scrape up all of that paint.  What a hassle that was!

Then Rich and Tim rented a cement grinder to start the grinding process.  It looked pretty good, clean and flat, but it wasn’t the look I was hoping for.  So they rented a polishing system that went through progressively finer grits until the cement is shiny and smooth like a granite counter top.   It is a beautiful floor treatment, but it is not for the faint of heart.  The grinding is loud and extremely dusty.  At first we were really worried that the finish could be scratched so we walked in bare feet and obsessively cleaned the floor.  After a few days we realized that the floor is concrete for god’s sake!  It is super tough.



The last good thing that has happened in the past week is that Tim, J, and Charlie began framing.  I left the house on Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. and there were no interior walls and came back at 5:00 p.m. and the downstairs had a definite structure!  I love framing.  It is fast and very satisfying to see the progress.

We still have weeks of framing to go, and we still have to rebuild the back room, what will be our dining room.  There are months of finish work to go.  We really are nowhere near the end of our expedition, more like the middle, but I my supply of rope has been replenished and I am ready to continue the trek.









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The Beat Goes On (And On, and On)

July 1, 2011
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It is surprising how you can get used to uncomfortable things so quickly and so completely that you begin to think of them as normal.  It really hit me when Tim was pouring the entryway.  The front door to the old house was inset about ten feet from the front of the house.

The new plan calls for the entryway to be flush with the house.  In order to be able to lock the door, be secure at night, and still be able to work on the slab, Tim and J moved the front door beyond the front of the house.  The temporary threshold was at ground level and the form for the foundation was at house level, so we couldn’t open the door all the way.  In fact, we could only open it about a foot. In order to get in the house, we could either squeeze through the small opening and navigate our way through the rebar or climb in and out of the window.

After the pour was completed and the rebar was covered with cement, it got easier to get in and out of the house.  At least we didn’t have to worry about getting tangled in the rebar, but we still couldn’t open the door all the way.  Tim is rarely bothered by anything uncomfortable, but this was really bugged him.  He said he wanted to put the front door back at the height of the slab, but I said why bother?  I was so used to climbing in and out of the window; it seemed like a waste of his time.  I thought we might as well wait until we frame up the new opening.  One Saturday, Joey, Jeffrey, Gus, and I went hiking in Torrey Pines and came back to find the door in its rightful place on the slab.  When I opened the door wide, I felt a wave of well-being flow through me.  I really didn’t know how awkward it was climbing through the window until I was able to open the door all the way.

I feel the same way about my new range.  The old range, even in its prime, only managed about 8,000 BTUs.  By the time we replaced it, the BTU count was probably around 5,000.  That didn’t stop us from making wonderfully complicated meals.  We always celebrate food related holidays like National Eggs Benedict Day.

To make pasta on the old stove I would put the big stock pot on to boil and then go to Trader Joes to get the pasta fixings.  By the time I came back home the water would just be starting to boil.

My new American Range has three 17,000 BTU burners, two 15,000 BTU burners, and one 9,000 BTU burners.  It is amazing!  I can boil water in record time!  My only complaint is it makes a booming sound when we heat up the oven.  It is not perfect, but pretty darn close.

I often wonder how we managed to cook anything on that old, weak, unreliable range and why we didn’t replace it long ago.  We just dealt with that old range and thought it was normal.  It is like the bad boyfriend I had in college that I put up with so long.  Looking back, I wonder why I dated him at all, but he did make me appreciate the good man I ended up marrying.

The inconvenience that, strangely, doesn’t bother me much at all is the kitchen sink we are using now.  Instead of a proper kitchen sink with a garbage disposal and a dishwasher that drains into it, we are using a stainless steel laundry sink.  It is not very big, but very deep and, when I do the dishes, water splashes everywhere.    I find myself in front of that sink doing dishes and daydreaming or reminiscing.

The other day I was reminded of a woman I knew in college.  She was really my friend Barbara’s friend.  I can’t remember her name, but she had a cat named Thorozine and a charming house.  She was a rare bird in that she was older, had a nicely decorated house instead of a student flat, and was married.  She invited Barbara and me over one time when her husband was at work and we hung out and ate a meal.  In those days I absolutely loathed doing dishes.  I felt like dirty dishes were somehow an affront to my very existence, but, after the meal, my good manners won out (Thanks mamacita) and I offered to do the dishes.  She graciously said to leave the dishes to her.  She claimed to like washing dishes because it was like taking her hands to the beach.

Most of the time I don’t mind dong dishes anymore even in our laundry sink.  It gives me a chance to meditate on the day’s activities, or plan how I am going to deal with the latest phase of our project.  Life goes on during the remodel.  We still celebrate all of the standard, and not so standard, holidays.

Joey still practices his saxophone.

I still send my hands to the beach and learn to accept the new normal.

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Pole Dancing

May 27, 2011
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This was a good week for our project.  A few weeks ago Tim and Fernando completed the last interior pour and set the templates for the outside structural steel posts.

The pour went smoothly, no problems really at all, but then the sleepless nights began.  Are the templates placed correctly?  Did we measure the height of the poles correctly?  How are we ever going to place these massive steel posts?

These posts are crazy big.  They are made of galvanized steel and are 6 inches in diameter.  Two of them weigh nearly 700 pounds and the third weighs 550 pounds.  During the weeks it took them to be fabricated we puzzled endlessly over how to place them.  I would pass by large construction sites and lust after their big, beautiful cranes. Would they even notice if it went missing for a few hours? I even looked into renting a small crane, but, unless we rented a huge and hugely expensive crane that could go over our house, there was no way to get a crane in the backyard where the posts need to be planted.  Tim thought maybe a Bobcat with a forklift would do the trick. Still there was the problem of getting into the backyard with the equipment.  In the end, it was sheer manpower that did the job, just like the Egyptians.

Tuesday morning, Richard, Timmy, Joe K., Charlie, and Tim were nervously waiting for the guys from Del Mar Fabricating to come to the house.  I did the math: eight guys, 680 pounds per pole, meant each guy had to handle 85 pounds.  That’s a lot of weight, but doable as long as no one loses their grip or trips over a chicken or something.  When the guys from Del Mar Fabricating arrived the mood quickly changed.  The men were suddenly transformed into a team, working together, as if they did this every day.

They backed the truck up on the lawn as far as they could into the side yard, pulled out these sling devices to hold the pole, and got to work. Two guys were in the trench guiding the pole as the other six pushed the pole into place.  It looked a lot like the iconic picture of the flag raising on Iwo Jima.  Twenty minutes later we had three massive posts bolted to their cement cradle.   If you ever need structural steel poles, I highly recommend the people at Del Mar Fabricating in Escondido.

Relief!  They are in, they are up!  The poles look a little funny right now, just holding up the sky, but I imagine when they are supporting the second floor they will look just right.


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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

May 2, 2011

A couple of my friends who have read my blog said that I was a “saint” for enduring the difficulties of this remodel.  Of course I sound like a saint in the blog because I am the author.  I am not going to tell you about the morning when the car was stolen and I put my head down on the table and wept like a fool; or the time I stubbed my toe on an anchor bolt in slab, started swearing like a sailor, only to turn around to see Joey watching me with a mixture of horror and humor on his face; or the many arguments Tim and I get into over silly things because we don’t want to fight over the big things.  Yeah, I’m no saint; I am a big faker trying very hard to be patient.    So here is it is: an update of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Some Good

We got our car back.  Apparently someone took our car out of the driveway, drove forty miles to National City, and abandoned it in a neighborhood close to the border.  They didn’t even have the decency to fill up the tank.  The car wasn’t damaged at all except for the ignition switch.  Sadly, Tim’s golf clubs were not in the trunk.

For the three months the car was gone I began to take the train and even though we got the car back, I continue to take the train at least a couple of days a week.  It really is quite pleasant.  Tim takes me to the train station in the morning; it takes about thirty minutes instead of fifteen to get to work.  On the way home I take the train to Oceanside, the bus to Carlsbad, and walk the rest of the way home.  The return trip takes a lot longer than driving, but I enjoy it and get a little exercise.  I play a little game on the train and bus called “Bluetooth or Crazy.”  Most of the time on the train it’s “Bluetooth” on the bus it is almost always “Crazy.”

My friend Leah told me I should keep a notebook of some of the things I hear and see on the train.  Maybe that will be my next blog.  I do see some characters.  There is a girl I see most mornings at the station who dresses all in lavender and sometimes barks like a dog.  When she does barks, she’ll look around as if trying to figure out who just did that.  Once I was sitting in the train and a big man with gold teeth and green and pink curlers in his hair sat next to me.  He was sucking on an unlit cigar and started talking while staring out in front of him.  “It’s Johnny!”  “I told you I would get back at you.” “My pockets are shallow, but I’m not.”  “You like that?”  “That was just right off the top of my head.”  At first I thought Johnny was talking to me, but there was no eye contact.  Then I thought “Bluetooth,” but there was no evidence of an earpiece.  After a couple of stations he got up and moved to and empty row and continued his conversation.

The train is pretty clean and is usually full of working people or students.  The bus is another story.  It is dirty and mostly filled with the homeless, parolees, and the occasional tourist.  Strangely, I never feel out of place or endangered on the bus.  Sometimes I feel a little sad.  Once I was listening to a couple discussing their plans for the evening.  She was about my age, toothless, and clearly worn out.  He was a little younger, looked a little cleaner, and had a full set of teeth.  He was telling her “Honey, I saved up 60 bucks and we can stay in a motel tonight.  It’ll be so nice.  You and me sleeping in a fine bed.”  She nodded.  It made me sad because I couldn’t help but think about the other nights they didn’t have a bed to sleep in, but there was some sweetness in his words to his woman.  He wanted to take care of her and please her the only way he could.

More Good

We have made progress on the house.  Tim and his buddies have dug all of the trenches in the backyard for the outside footings.  We also have a structural steel pole set in the ground inside the house.

It will hold up part of the second floor and will be to the left of the stairs.  Every day there is some progress toward completion.  It just is slow.

We also bought a new range for the kitchen and it is being delivered on Friday.  It is an American Range, built in Southern California.

The American Range company builds mostly for restaurants, but has a residential line that is pretty close to the Wolf ranges in terms of quality, but much cheaper.  We bought it early because the prices were going up and because I think Tim thought I was going to go insane trying to cook on our old broken down range.  It gives me the promise of my new kitchen.  I can hardly wait to fire it up and cook!

The Bad

What has really slowed down this project is the rain.  Yes I am glad that California is no longer in a drought, but did it really have to happen this winter?  When we began the remodel the weather forecasters were predicting a La Nina winter.  Generally, La Nina winters are dry so we thought we were golden.  Ah, but not his time.  We had one of the wettest winters I can remember.  This meant a lot of days when nothing could get done as well as trying to keep the rain from undoing the work already accomplished.

Now that we have moved from winter to summer with only a day or so of spring weather, things should be happening faster.  People keep telling us that it is just as well we weren’t trying to frame the house in the wet weather.  That, they say, would have really been a disaster.

The Ugly

The worst part of living in a construction zone, even worse than the dust and dirt, are the bugs.  I am not really bothered by the big black spiders or the little silverfish, but the earwigs freak me out.   Whenever I see one of those buggers I am transported to when I was about ten years old and I stayed up too late to watch Night Gallery. It was the one where the guy put an earwig in the bed of another guy in an effort to kill him. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4p_gg4KHu4&NR=1)  Of course the perpetrator of the crime got the earwig in his bed instead and it ate through his brain to get to the other ear.  I was so scarred by that episode that for months I screamed whenever I saw an earwig.  I was certain that I was about to meet the same fate as the man in Night Gallery. Finally my dad, probably sick of my hysterics, brought a book home from the library that clearly stated that earwigs do not go into people’s ears and eat their way out through the brain.  That calmed me somewhat, but those earwigs can still give me the heebie jeebies.

We are scheduled to do the second concrete pour sometime this week.  That means we can do the final pour by the end of May.  It is all I want for my birthday!

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A Good Foundation

February 19, 2011
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Our framing contractor said: “the hardest thing is to get out of the ground.”  After the setbacks we had in January, I believe him. There was one thing after another. The rain filled up the trenches.  Our car was stolen from our driveway while we slept.  The rebar bender was breaking the rebar instead of bending it causing Tim to have to rent a huge U-haul truck to get eight pieces of rebar back here from Home Depot.  When it came time to pour, the weather again turned ugly and we had to postpone it several times.

All of this reminded me of an old joke my dad used to tell.  There was a farmer, we’ll call him Bob, who went on an extended vacation.  Bob asked his neighbor to look after his farm and animals while he was gone.  After a month the neighbor picked Bob up from the airport and on the way home Bob asked about his farm.  The neighbor said that everything was fine except “The dog died.”  Bob exclaimed “oh no, how did dear Fido die?”

“Fido ate burned horse flesh” the neighbor drawled.

“Burnt horse flesh?! How did he get a hold of burnt horse flesh?”

“The barn burned down, trapping the horses in the barn.”

“The barn burned down?! How did it that happen?”

“A spark from the house lit it on fire.”

The joke goes on from there, but you get the picture.  In my house growing up, we used “the dog died” as shorthand when one of us had string of bad luck.

In spite of the delays we got the interior footings poured, but it was a struggle.  The first step was for Tim and Fernando to put all the rebar in place and dowel the old slab to the new slab.

There is so much rebar in our foundation, it is amazing.  It is probably overbuilt, but that is what the City told us we had to do.  I guess I will be happy about it if there is a 7.0 earthquake (Tim says WHEN there is a 7.0 earthquake) Next, Tim had to coordinate a cement truck, a pump truck, and Fernando to pour.

This week it rained off and on, and the cement plant doesn’t even open to mix cement unless they have a minimum of 100 yards of cement on order.  The only possible day to get our foundations done was Thursday, and Tim got it done!

It is such a relief to have the trenches filled.  There was something unsettling about having to avoid deep ditches filled with razor sharp wire and rebar.  Tim put plywood down so we wouldn’t accidentally fall in the foundation trenches, but it still was difficult. Now that we are closed in and we don’t have to worry about stormy weather, we are almost giddy.  We still have the outside trenches to dig, structural steel posts to set, and more concrete to pour, but it feels great to take a big step out of the ground

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Christmas Deconstructed

January 13, 2011
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It is amazing how quickly you can get used to things.  Things like having no walls or warmth, or having plywood covered trenches bisecting your house.  You just make do and move on, that is until you get a little distance on the situation.

December was pretty much a bust when it comes to progress on our project.  We came to grips with the need to replace the cast iron waste pipe in mid December.  Soon after, Tim and his buddies cut yet another channel in the foundation from one side of the house to the other and proceeded to excavate the area where the pipes are to go.

Then it started to rain and rain and rain.  “Oh Mr. Noah, can I ride in the ark of the Lord?” On December 22nd, our anniversary, we woke to canals filled with dirty rain water that leached into the trenches. The house was an island surrounded by water in the front and backyards.

It was just like being in Venice except without the fabulous art, architecture, and food.  Okay, it really wasn’t like Venice at all. It was just cold and damp.  It took Tim several hours to scoop out all of the water.

In spite of that we got a Christmas tree and tried to get in the holly, jolly mood.  Corrina and Sam came into town December 22nd and 23rd respectively.

The space Tim, Joey, and I have been living in seemed really crowded with two more adults in the mix.  We decided that a little rain and a torn up kitchen would not stop us from having a nice Christmas Eve, so we decided to have caviar and Champagne and make Duck a la Orange using Julia Child’s classic recipe.  We set the table, put on our party hats and had a great time.

Fortunately we spent the following week house sitting our good friends’ beautiful home in the hills.  I remembered the sheer joy of walls and heat.  It was like being on vacation far away from home even though we were just up the street from our house.  After living with such common luxuries, coming back home was quite a letdown.  It took me a couple of cranky days to get back used to living in our construction site again.  I tried to be grateful that our situation was temporary, thinking about those who were homeless or in homes without heat or running water.  The operative word in the last sentence was “tried.”  I didn’t quite get to grateful…

Now, we are back at it.  After the low ebb of project energy, Tim, Ed the Plumber, and Chad put in the new waste pipe.  It is amazing how quickly a professional plumber can put everything together and how beautiful it looks.

We had our first inspection which was a success.  What a relief! From here on out we are building up, step by step, to the second floor.

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Baby, It’s cold Outside

December 6, 2010
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It is unseasonably cold in San Diego this year.  So very cold.  Joey came into the bedroom on Thanksgiving morning holding his iTouch up for me to see the temperature.  “Momma it’s 31 degrees outside!  It’s colder here than in Davis!  It’s even colder here than in New York City!”   I was still in bed, unwilling to face the day.  We haven’t had any central heating for a month.  At first this was fine, fun even.  “It is like camping indoors” I said smugly. It really was quite pleasant, an adventure, until the weather turned frigid.  As the weather cooled so did my enthusiasm for roughing it.  Ah well, we are past the point of no return and must soldier on.

The project at hand is the foundation.  At first the progress was amazing.  In one afternoon Tim and his guys jack hammered up the back patio.

The next week Tim marked the lines for the load bearing walls and got the Jobe brothers in to cut the slab.  The next weekend Tim, singlehandly, broke up all of the concrete, making neat piles of the debris.

He and Fernando dug trenches, fifteen feet long and two feet deep, necessary for the footings for the bearing walls.

I thought that at this lightening fast speed we would have the foundations poured by Christmas!   Then we had a series of issues that slowed the project down.

The first setback was when we found out that the structural steel poles that we had ordered were not the correct size.  We took our plans to Del Mar Fabricating, a company recommended to us by our framer.  They initially told us the four structural steel poles would be about $2800.00 and would weigh about 200 pounds apiece.  They called a few days later and said that they had misread the plans and that the three outside poles were actually double strong XX poles and that they be $2000.00 more and weigh 600 pounds each.  Apparently the codes had recently changed requiring the new, stronger steel poles.  They were very apologetic and offered to help Tim place the poles.  Not a huge setback, just something for me to fret about.

Setting the structural steel poles is quite a feat.  Tim and Fernando will dig the footings which are three feet square and two feet deep.  They then suspend the templates in place among the rebar and pour concrete.  The template has long hooks on one side that anchor into the concrete.  On the other side they have bolts that hold the steel pole in place.

Each pole will be welded to a steel plate that will exactly fit the template.  Because these poles are six hundred pounds, it will take six guys to place, level, and dry pack them.  Then they pour a second round of concrete covering up the steel plate and bolts.  It will be super strong and really cool looking when it is all done.

The second setback was deciding whether to replace our corroded cast iron waste pipe with a new plastic pipe.  The common practice in the 1960’s was to bury a cast iron waste pipe and pour a 4-6 inch concrete slab over it.


Unfortunately cast iron rusts and rust never sleeps so now, forty years later, the pipe is about a quarter of the diameter it was when it was new.  The main issue is that the pipe cannot go under the new footings where the bearing walls would be.  We agonized over the decision to replace the thing.  We basically had two choices: we could ignore it and hope that the pipe lasted another 20 years and became the next owners’ problem, or we could cut a new trench and replace it.  Tim did a lot of research on the subject and talked to plumbers, contractors, and random strangers.  Pretty much everyone that Tim talked to said he would be insane not to take care of it now, so he decided to bite the bullet and replace the pipe.  We have a plumber coming in on Tuesday to mark the proper line.  More cutting and trenching…argh.

The last setback turned out to be the easiest fix thus far.  Tim was in the attic looking at the heating duct work and determined that it was made with asbestos.  He did not want to mess around with taking out the ducts so he called an asbestos mitigation service.  They came out and took care of the problem in four hours. Amazing!  I thought that it would have been a huge Haz Mat operation with the men wearing suits similar to the ones they depicted in Monster Inc., instead it was a pretty simple operation. The men came in, taped everything off, sprayed  the ducts with water, bagged them, and that was that.  They wore masks and had the positive airflow going, but it was no big deal.  I also thought that it was going to be hugely expensive, but it turned out to be a little over $700.

I guess it is common for these projects to go in fits and starts. Tim assures me that each of these steps gets us closer to our second floor retreat. I realize now that I was a little bit in denial about the level of discomfort we would be experiencing in the next year.  We have regrouped and moved Joey’s bed into the living room and are using it as a place to hang out in front of the fireplace as well as his bedroom.

We are trying to use all the livable space in the house and stay as warm as possible.  Luckily winter is short in San Diego.

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You Are Not Alone

November 14, 2010
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I was driving down the Coast Highway listening to Mavis Staples sing “You Are Not Alone” and I was thinking “Is that a threat or a promise?”  In our abbreviated house I find it difficult ever to be alone.  When the house was intact we all had places to retreat when we felt the need. We had bedrooms aplenty for refuge.  I usually staked out the living room, grading papers or reading on the blue couch.  Tim would come in occasionally play some guitar for awhile before he would continue his work in his shop. With our new, very open floor plan, there are only a few places to sit and be comfortable.  But really, it is not as bad as I thought it was going to be.  It just takes a little getting used to this new, unceasing, togetherness.

Tim, Joey, and I are all sleeping in Sam’s old room, the only intact bedroom in the house. 

The room is at the front of the house so the light and sounds are entirely different from our old bedroom.  In the back of the house we hear the freight trains go by, conductors laying on their horns, at around midnight and again at 5:00 a.m.  The first couple of nights I woke up at those times wondering what was wrong.  It took me awhile to realize what was troubling me.  The loss of the train sounds are made up for by the snoring and snorting of the boys.  I am used to Tim’s snoring.  Tim falls asleep so fast!  He is in dreamland before I get to the last syllable of “good night.” He begins his snoring symphony slowly, first breathing deeply, then a little louder, and finally it sounds as if there is a walrus sleeping beside me.  If I can fall asleep in the first or second stage of snoring I can generally sleep through the third.  Joey doesn’t snore per se, he snorts very, very loudly, but thankfully not often.  Joey’s snorts punctuate Tim’s snoring in a way that encourages louder snoring from Tim.

When I was thinking obsessively about how we would manage sleeping in one room, without a proper kitchen, and with workmen coming in and out of our house, I thought it was going to be a nightmare.  I was sure the dirt and dust were going to drive me crazy.  My mantra was that no matter what, I would be optimistic and good natured.  

So far, it really is not as bad as I thought it was going to be.  Sure, it is dirty and dusty, but now I don’t have to spend so much time cleaning the house.  My routine used to be that on Friday I would clean the house, starting in the kitchen, moving to the den, then the living room, and finally tackle the bathrooms.  Well the kitchen is all torn up, the den is so crowded with our stuff that I can’t really get it clean, and the living room is gone.  That leaves me with one bathroom to spend my cleaning energy on.  So I find myself on my hands and knees making sure that the baseboards are pristine and the tile is glowing.

The makeshift kitchen we are using is pretty rough, but in a strange way I already like it better than the old kitchen.   Even though our kitchen was in a big space, the kitchen always felt small because there was a counter peninsula with a bank of cabinets above it.  Once Tim tore that out, the kitchen opened up considerably.  We brought in the maple base of the European workbench that Tim started years ago, added a plywood top, and called it our island.  All of our kitchen stuff is in open shelves which is very handy.  I can be at the stove and glance across the room to see if we have any chicken stock or oatmeal, or whatever I need for the dish I am cooking.  I am thinking seriously about having an open pantry in the final kitchen, or maybe an open pantry with tambour doors.

We all have become quite knowledgeable about how a house is constructed.  With its drywall, paint, and molding on. hiding the interior workings,  the house always seemed mysterious.  Things would go wrong and Tim miraculously would fix them.  He always said “Our house is a ship and I am the captain.  I just have to keep her afloat” On our Love Boat Tim was Captain Stubbing and I always felt a little like the clueless cruise director, Julie Mc Coy.  Now that all the trim is removed, and we are down to the skeleton of the house, I see it really is a pretty simple system. In essence it is a big box with tubes that carry water and wires that carry electricity.

So now when things go wrong I am much more confident about being Tim being able to fix it.  A couple of nights ago we were sitting down eating dinner and a load of laundry was doing its thing, when all of a sudden a geyser of water shot up from the ground.  When the workmen cut the slab that day they must have hit the waste pipe.  A year ago I would have been freaked out about it, now I know that it can be fixed relatively easily.  We are all more resilient  than I thought we would be.

Still the hardest thing for me is to find a little sanctuary, a place to think unmolested by life’s demands.  I have my office at school and a couple hours in the night when Tim and Joey have gone to sleep.  I also have my car.  I sometimes get in the car and drive down the Coast Highway, listening to music, just to get away.  The renewed joy of driving idly around town is reminiscent of when I got my first car in 1976.  It was a white Triumph Herald convertible and I drove that car all over the place with the top down, music blaring, my long red hair blowing in the wind, feeling young and free.  Now I drive a blue Honda sedan, and I don’t feel very young or free, but the music is still blaring.

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And The Walls Come Tumbling Down

October 29, 2010
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Well it is finally happening.    After ten months of planning, designing, and packing demolition has begun!   Up until now the remodel project has been surreal.  We thought about the project constantly, wrote big checks to the architect, structural engineer, city, and the school district, but the house remained essentially the same.  Last weekend the surreal and the real had a smack down and reality won.

Friday was the Lancer Day Parade which is a big deal in Carlsbad.  All of the schools have floats in the parade, the police close down the streets, and the kids march through the town.  We went downtown with our friends Leah and Scott and found a window seat at The Pizza Port.  We drank beer and ate beer buddies as the boys ran outside to watch the parade.  We had been waiting impatiently for the Waste Management District to drop off the dumpster all day and this was a little break.  The day before Tim ordered the biggest dumpster Waste Management had.  It finally showed up around 4:30 and barely fit in our yard.  We all were pretty giddy about beginning of our adventure.  Joey named the dumpster Fred.  The neighbors all came over to see Fred and talk about our plans.  The idea was to start taking down the interior walls and kitchen cabinets the next day.  We went to sleep that night snug in our beds while visions of sledgehammers danced in our heads.

Saturday dawned and Joey and I made a couple of last minute storage unit runs while Tim prepared for a big day of demolition.  Tim has a friend named J., a master carpenter, who is helping with much of the project including the demolition.  Tim and J. started by determining which walls were load bearing, and which were curtain walls. They marked the walls that were coming down with a thick black pencil.

Then they began feeding Fred the doors, moldings and soon the living room walls.

The nails screamed as they were being torn from the walls. I asked if it was difficult to tear out the cabinets, but Tim assured me that “anyone with fifteen minutes and a sledge hammer could do it.” I doubt that.

Demolition is fun!  I mean how often can you take a sledgehammer to your walls?  At first the euphoria of starting the project and the sheer joy of wielding a sledgehammer made our Joey very happy.

For a couple of hours he was pulling off drywall and hauling the wheelbarrow with the best of them.   But when Joey and I came back from the Teri Café with lunch for everyone and most of the kitchen was gone Joey began to get really sad.  These walls that protected us during rain, wind, and fire storms were being assaulted.   This is the only house he has ever lived in and we were destroying it.  At first he tried to shrug it off, making  jokes about the termites, but soon the grief overwhelmed him.  He lamented “Things will never be the same.

“That’s true Joey, but they may be better.”  I replied.

“I just want to go home!”

I tried to comfort him, telling him that home is not made up of walls, but a home is the family therein, but he was not having any of that.

I know how Joey feels.  I can remember many times thinking that I wanted to go home even when I was in my own house.  Home is the comfort of stability, a place where you are safe, and here his own parents were threatening that.  Poor little fellow…

Luckily Joey is eleven and eleven year olds are rubber bands when it comes to emotions. We found some old, metal sparklers deep in the cabinet and celebrated our new beginning.  This buoyed his spirits.

By the next day he was getting used to his new surroundings and started finding the silver linings.  The acoustics are much better for practicing the saxophone, no one is nagging him to be careful with the furniture, and he can ride his skateboard in the house.

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An Exercise in Patience

October 13, 2010
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A couple of weeks ago we got a reality check about the cost of our remodel.  We were living in denial, deluded by the dream that we could afford to hand our project over to Dave Funkhouser, move out of the house, and let him have at it.   Dave presented us with a bid that was out of our price range thus catapulting Tim into the roles of builder-owner, plumber,  electrician, and general laborer.  People think we are crazy go this route  and most tell us we are going to get a divorce before it is all over, but I know that Tim can fix anything so I’m not worried.

I didn’t understand Tim’s talent for building and fixing things until a few of years into our marriage.  Before that, Tim solved a couple of car problems, but I never thought he was doing it right.  Growing up I saw my dad repair many cars and he knew you had to show them who was boss.  He had full command over the automobile, cussing up a storm.   “Damnit all to hell!” or my favorite “Jesus Katie Christ!”  (I thought Jesus’ middle name was Katie for the longest time.)  After a little while dad would ask one of us to try and start the car and it would roar to life.  Tim, on the other hand, seemed a little too quiet to be competent and even though the car would work at the end of his machinations, I always thought it was just a fluke.

It wasn’t until one very frigid winter that I realized Tim’s mastery of mechanics.  We were experiencing a severe cold snap and our furnace went out.  I know my friends and family on the east coast are now snickering because really, how cold does it get in Southern California?  But considering our houses here are really just glorified tents, without insulation, it was really, really cold.  Corrina was just a toddler and I started worrying about her getting sick.  We called our landlords (my mom and dad) and they said, of course, call a furnace repair company and get it fixed or replaced immediately.  We did just that, but it seemed like all of the furnaces in Orange County broke at the same time because we couldn’t get anyone to come out to the house for two weeks.  That made me very unhappy.

I woke up the next morning feeling chilly and fussy and dragged myself to work.  I waited tables on Sunday mornings at Coco’s to supplement my substitute teacher income.  On Sundays, Coco’s had three distinct groups of customers.  First there were the regulars who would come in early and order the same thing every single day.  There was Mr. #4, over easy with dry, wheat toast, and Ms. #5, bacon extra crispy, among others.  When I saw them pull into the parking lot I would put in their orders.  I thought that some day they would surprise me and order something different, but it never happened.  The second wave of customers came in around 9:30, after church services.  They were mostly comprised of families with hungry children who were antsy from being “good” all morning.  I learned to bring toast immediately.  No matter what they ordered, it came with toast if they sat in my section.  The last group came in around 11:00, bleary-eyed and slightly hung-over.  They drank prodigious amounts of coffee and ate very little.

On most Sundays Tim would bring Corrina in for breakfast in the lull between the church-goers and the party-goers.  This Sunday my little family did not show up.  I figured they were at one of our parents’ nice warm houses so I didn’t give it much thought until I arrived home.  Upon entering the house I saw Tim leaning over the dining room table scrutinizing our disemboweled furnace.   Corrina was on the floor dressed in all of her warm clothes, looking a little like an Eskimo, playing with her red, blue, and yellow wooden blocks.  Tim looked up smiling, held up a piece of metal, and said “I think I know what the problem is!”  I thought I knew what the problem was too, our furnace was in about a hundred pieces on the dining room table!  I kept my snarky comment to myself, faked a smile, and went to shower the smell of hash browns off of me.  Tim disappeared into his workshop where he carved a replica of the defunct metal piece out of ebony. He then proceeded to put the furnace back together.  Miraculously the furnace started up and began to blow hot air into our house!  Years later  we moved out of the house and forgot about the repaired furnace, but it continued to work for more than a decade.

I know a few things about this adventure we are embarking on.  I know that Tim is competent to do anything home related.  I know the cat will always find a comfortable place to sleep no matter what the chaos is.

I know that the project will take a lot longer than if we had a general contractor doing the work. I know that I will get irritated by the subcontractors and their glacial pace when it comes to bidding.  I know that every stage of the project will take much longer than I would like.  (It already has!)  I know it is going to be hell living here during the remodel.   I know I will be swallowing many snarky comments, faking smiles, and exercising my patience daily.

The demolition begins….

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We are embarking on an adventure turning a boring little ranch house into a modern style remodel.