More miscellaneous than most posts

Blog-hero Kimberly had an unwritten rule about posting to the blog every day. I say “had” because she wrote about the rule, so I don’t think we can consider it unwritten anymore. This rule sets the bar way too high for me, but tonight I’m making a valiant effort to overcompensate for past negligence.

Today I made a special effort to be a better home camper. I made myself a nice double espresso this afternoon, and in my caffeinated state I managed to cook an actual supper, sort of: I heated some instant Swiss cheese fondue (the real thing would have been better, but let’s be real–my nutmeg is two crates down in the hallway, I have no idea where my fresh garlic would be, if I have any, and I think my cheese grater is three boxes down in my guest room) on one burner of my camp stove and hard-boiled some eggs on the other for upcoming breakfasts. Meanwhile, I hacked up a crown of broccoli to use as dippers (cubes of sourdough bread would have been better, but I’m doing the Atkins thing, so broccoli it is) and poured a nice glass of tepid Two Buck Chuck chardonnay (chilling it would have taken forethought).

Pause to reflect on the irony of how acquiring a “gourmet kitchen” has reduced my concept of fine dining to a pot of lukewarm instant fondue and a 40¢ glass of wine.

Cynicism aside, construction is proceeding apace. The widening of the doorway between old and new dining rooms is done, the wiring seems to be mostly done, the wall between bar and kitchen is gone, and the stud wall for the back of my peninsula is done.

Some comments on the recent batch of pictures (One month in):

That back wall is, as George puts it, “strange.” The black part that goes about to chest-height is the foundation (my house is built into a steep hill). Above the foundation you’ll see two ex-windows. The windows were above eye-level, let in approximately a hundredth of a candela of light and looked out onto dead leaves, dirt, and the occasional napping deer, so it’s no great loss that they’ve since been walled in and will end up behind cabinets. Why they were there in the first place is anybody’s guess. Notice also the two-by-fours bolted to the foundation. Why are they there? To make room for pipes and wires behind the sheetrock. George wonders why they didn’t just build a normal stud wall in front of the foundation. I wonder why the studs are in arbitrary, uneven, seemingly haphazard locations. The newer wood you see is where George has finished the strange job the original contractor started, and where he has extended the wall to the new edge of the kitchen.

Widening the opening between rooms turned out to be quite a bit more complicated than we originally thought, so that’s just now getting finished up. There are still some holes in the floor where the old pipes and supports were, so currently I can see into my crawl space and must hope that the rats who live down there don’t think to come up for a visit.

No, I’m not sending my cats down to hunt the rats. Neither of them has any experience with rodents, one of them lacks front claws, and I don’t care to risk either of them getting bubonic plague, rabies, hanta virus, slivers, into the fresh supplies of rat poison, or lost. They’re sequestered upstairs in my master bedroom/bathroom suite, which for the time being I’m calling their apartment. They seem to be adjusting fairly well, no longer expressing themselves on my bedding, and merely burrowing under the duvet when the banging and power tools get too loud. We’ve had beautiful weather lately (sorry, Dad, but I’m not going to go into any further detail–weather here is just not that interesting), so a lot of the time, I’ve been able to leave both deck doors open. They enjoy napping by the screen doors and smelling the great outdoors, and I enjoy not smelling their two litter boxes.

Today while hanging out with the cats in their apartment, I let them wander out onto the front deck for their afternoon naps, which they seemed to think was a wonderful treat. Gjetost also enjoyed a vigorous spider-hunting expedition. She loves hunting bugs. Occasionally when her quarry escapes to too high a spot on the wall, I’ll help out by hoisting her up, and invariably she finishes off the bug before realizing that she needs to wriggle out of my hands and get back in control of her locomotion.

Yes, my bedroom has two decks. It’s a strange house–probably not the house for everyone, but I love it. For those of you who haven’t been here yet, (a) what are you waiting for?, and (b) there’s a roomy deck off the bedroom on the front side of the house with a Meyer lemon tree that I’m trying not to kill through excessive benign neglect, and there’s a smallish deck off the bathroom on the backside of the house. That funny little deck is one of the reasons I had to buy the house–haven’t you always wanted a bathroom with a deck? It’s crazy but wonderful. The big sliding glass doors make it feel a little like showering outdoors (without the weather). My bedroom has a slanted ceiling that’s ten feet high in front and something like twenty-six feet high in back, with high windows in back and tall, high windows on the side wall behind my bed, so that when I lie in bed, what I see through all these windows are trees, stars, and sometimes the moon. It’s pretty spectacular when there’s a full moon shining through one of the high windows. When I moved in, I was one of those people who couldn’t sleep in anything less than complete darkness. It’s a good thing I’ve gotten over that.

Anyway, this house is up in the woodsy, canyony Oakland hills, and the design of the house is all about bringing the outside in. Long ago I decided to play up this concept by replacing the FUBAR flooring in both upstairs bathrooms with Indian peacock slate: rough-hewn stone of many muddy, watery, swirly, ex-river-bed-ish colors. I plan to have Jon use the same tile for my foyer floor, kitchen floor, and backsplashes. He wants me to take a look at Brazilian slate. I like that, too. I think I like the Indian peacock (and continuity) better, but I’m waiting to decide until I can set both out alongside samples of the flooring (white oak, just barely stained), cabinetry (alder with a clear finish), and countertop granite (verde uba tuba).

Click that “Comments” link if you’d like to weigh in! The alder and white oak are done deals, but it’s not too late to talk me out of the uba tuba or the slate.

Cast of characters

Yes, Kimberly, Jon my contractor is Kyla’s Jon. (Kyla and Jon are both on Bufflehead, the dance team of which I’m a non-dancing, tuba-playing member.) It is nice to work with a friend, especially when that friend is a sweetheart with really good taste, and better yet, taste that is remarkably similar to my own. Jon’s own kitchen is, in my opinion, beautiful and creative, and aesthetically quite similar to what we’ve designed for mine.

Those of you reading my blog know me well enough to know that I’m a detail-oriented control freak (can you say “INTJ Virgo project manager”?), so you’ll know how much I appreciate this: Jon is really good about asking about even more details than I’ve thought of myself, and he’s really good at figuring out what I’m trying to ask for. When I don’t have an immediate answer, he always has good suggestions and alternatives, and his recommendation almost always matches my own preference. It’s reassuring to know that if there are any details left that we’ve forgotten to talk about, his assumptions are likely to be at least as good as anything I would come up with, if not better.

Jon’s right hand man is a soft-spoken carpenter named George. George’s work appears to be meticulous and well thought out. On days that I work at home, we often enjoy a cup of coffee and a chat together, so I’ve gotten a chance to learn that George is also quite an interesting guy. In prior lives, he was a set designer for the Stuttgart Ballet and Opera companies, the website designer for an orchestra I used to play with, and a paper millionaire from a software startup that didn’t quite work out. One morning he mentioned that he’d been on a blind date the night before with a prominent author of a series of vegetarian cookbooks that changed my concept of food (yes, that author, but I promised George I wouldn’t name her here). He said she was charming, gorgeous, and wonderful, and they had a great time, but he doubted that it would go anywhere. Sure enough, the next morning, he announced that he’d received a Dear George letter. I had suggested that he might introduce her to me, but she seems to play exclusively for his team, so I guess it’s just as well that he’s not in a position to do so.

Minor players in our drama include Manuel the Manual Laborer and Reid the Plumber.

Fresh, hot pictures!

Kimberly and Paul are my blogging heros, and Kimberly requests pictures. Who am I to refuse my hero?

The earlier entry, “A picture is worth a thousand gasps,” had pictures of the before, demolition, and early during photo albums, but to save you some scrolling, here are the links again:


Preparing for chaos

Demolition and chaos

A fresh batch of pictures is available here: One month in

In all these photo albums, you can click any thumbnail to switch to a one-larger-picture-per-page view. Both views have the same captions.

I suppose it would be more reader-friendly of me to integrate the photos right into my blog entries, but I just can’t deal with doing that much html markup. Apple’s iPhoto makes it easy for me to crank out photo albums with thumbnails, big pictures, and comments. If Blogger has an easy way for me to integrate them into my entries, I haven’t figured it out, so this is just how it’s going to be for a while.

Why brassholes shouldn’t be lyricists

Jon, my contractor, is also a member of Bufflehead Northwest Morris, and I got to serenade him with a parody of “Oh Danny Boy” (aka “Londonderry Air”) this weekend.

It all started at the Robert Mondavi winery, in the bathroom. Somehow that tune had found its way into my head and had become a bit of an earworm (that’s what you call those tunes that get in your head and refuse to leave). Like most instrumentalists, I’m hopeless with words and not a lot better at remembering melodies, but I did vaguely recall that the song begins, “Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling…” Before you know it, I was singing to myself, “Oh Jonny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling…” and a parody idea was born. Unfortunately those and a few other fragments were about all I could remember.

Not to worry, though–if there’s one thing a busful of morris dancers is good for, it’s singing British folk music, so it didn’t take long to find a few dancers (Laura and Genevieve from Sheperdstown Northwest Morris of West Virginia) who could help me with the rest of the words and set me straight on the rest of the tune. Best they could recall, and best I can now make out my bus-bumped handwriting, the words are:

Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling

From glen to glen and down the mountainside

The summer’s come and all the flowers are dying

Oh Danny Boy, ’tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bide

But come ye back when springtime’s in the meadow

And all the valley’s hushed and white with snow

It’s I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow

Oh Danny Boy, Oh Danny Boy, I love you so

But if ye come when all the flowers are dying

and I am dead, for dead I well may be

You’ll come and find the place where I am lying

and kneel and say an Ave for me

And I shall hear though soft you tread above me

and all my grave shall warmer sweeter be

For you will bend and tell me that you love me

and I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.

It does seem as though there must be some errors in there–springtime white with snow?–but let’s not be tedious and hunt down the correct words. Anyone can Google, but it takes talent to dredge words out of memory on a bus. Let’s hear it for Laura and Genevieve and leave it at that.

Later that night, I got my chance to sing my version of it for Jon, complete with a backup humming chorus. Thanks to Laura, Genevieve, Kyla, Victoria, and Wendy for being my Pips, providing moral support, and most importantly, keeping me clear on the tune all the way through. (We hornists tend to take left turns into harmonic variations and segues so on learned from too many orchestrated medleys.) Since I’m still battling off the bronchitis, it was a good octave lower than you might normally expect.

Oh Jonny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling

So bring your torch and silver solder by

The walls are studs and all the ceiling’s falling

Oh Jonny Boy, ’tis you, ’tis you must work and I must bide

So come ye back when Herrel’s got the cabinets done

And all the wiring’s wired and lights are lit

It’s you’ll be here to put it all together

Oh Jonny Boy, Oh Jonny Boy, I’ll owe you so

And if ye come when my foundation’s sinking

and we are screwed, for screwed we well may be

You’ll come and bribe the inspector till his signing

and clear tghe way so that we may go on

And I shall cook, though broke your bill will leave me

And then my stove shall warmer, Wolf-er be

For you shall come and join me and we will dine

And I shall stir the peas until you open wine.

Bad blogger!

Sorry it’s taken me forever to post an update. It turns out that camping in your own house takes up a certain amount of energy and time…

Since last I blogged, a bunch has happened in life:

  • I got a hideous cold, fever, sinus infection, bronchitis crud thing that I’m still fighting off.
  • While still sick, I visited my folks in Montana. Flying while congested is never fun, and I’d have preferred not to be sick for my vacation, but if you’re going to be sick, there is at least something to be said for being in a house with a kitchen–especially one in which someone else is doing the cooking.
  • Bufflehead (the Northwest morris clog team for which I play tuba and trumpet) hosted a weekend dance tour of Napa and San Francisco. I even ended up with one heck of a good sport of a houseguest!
  • Last week I finally used the camp stove for the first time to scramble some eggs. Working with the camp stove was the easy part; schlepping the tools, paper plate, ingredients, and so on from the kitchen, loo, and hallway out to the deck and back was a royal pain. The eggs were yummy and I felt terribly proud of myself for making the effort.

…and in the kitchen:

  • Two ex-windows which are going to be behind cabinets in the new kitchen have been walled in inside and reshingled outside.
  • The opening between my music room and dining room is going to be about three feet wider. This turns out to be a bit involved. So far Jon has ripped out the drywall, cut some studs, and moved two water pipes and two waste pipes (the latter was PVC and is now cast iron, to reduce flushing noise), which involved doubling up two joists and some studs in order to meet code requirements for drilling pipe holes through same. He’s also built stud walls on either side of the opening to provide temporary support, and it looks like now he’s just about ready to start framing out the header. In the meantime, we have to pass through a maze of stud walls to get to the fridge.
  • George and Jon have rewired the kitchen, sorting out some screwy circuit-sharing so that it has its own dedicated circuits, and installed umpteen junction boxes where outlets and light-switches are going to be.
  • The other opening to the kitchen is going away, to become a shallow pantry/bookshelf, and so far Jon’s got a stud wall started there.
  • Herrell is well along in cabinet-making and is actually now ahead of schedule.
  • The carpet is gone from the dining room, and hardwood is stacked up and acclimating.

There are piles of wood and tools everywhere. I mean everywhere. I’ll take some pictures tomorrow when there’s daylight.

Expected expenses and sneaky expenses

My contractor got married on Saturday and took Sunday and Monday off to honeymoon, so there’s been no change on the destruction/construction front.

When you start a project like this, you know about the big expenses–remodeling projects cost way more than you would ever think reasonable, but you sort of expect that and you rearrange your financial life to accommodate. You even expect budget increases due to the infamous “while we’re at it, we might as well…” syndrome, and then there’s the extra costs of eating out, eating prepared foods, and so on. What you DON’T expect are the sneaky little incidental expenses, viz.:

Plastic crates for the kitchen stuff that needs to remain quasi-accessible for basic survival. $36.

Moving boxes for everything else. Got lucky there: borrowed boxes from friend and office. $0.

New mattress pad and water vinyl mattress case, after cat expresses displeasure at household upheaval. $54.

Dual-burner Coleman camping stove and gallon of white fuel for cooking outside for the next three months. $72.

Having found rat scat all over the insulation where Jon opened up the walls, I now know my rat situation is as bad as I’d feared it was. Jon commented that on a recent job he encountered a foot-long (plus tail) rat so dead and dessicated it had “the consistency of a Cheeto.” His colorful description evoked giggles, shudders, and the memory of having to evict several somethings similar from my crawlspace a few months ago. Ugh. I plan to buy more rat poison refills. $25.

Chaos reigneth

The last few weeks have been a nightmare, only partly due to the kitchen remodel.

Three weeks ago, we agreed on the various contract revisions and I signed my life away. Meanwhile, Akhnaten opened at Oakland Opera Theatre (, and I was spending much of my life in the pit. The week before last I spent in North Carolina taking a class for work, and I returned home for five nightmarish days of catching up on the work that had piled up while I was gone, three more operas, and packing up my kitchen, music room, and dining room. Then I packed myself and left on a mini-vacation to New England with Bufflehead (, the Northwest morris clog dance team for which I play trumpet and tuba. We were performing in the 29th annual Marlboro Morris Ale, which was great fun, and I spent a few extra days touring New England afterward.

While I was gone, demolition began. The kitchen is now down to the studs, and a few forlorn appliances are lurking in the corner of what was the music room and will become the dining room. The dining room is a messy pile of whatever I couldn’t quite get to packing away, the hallway is the pantry, and the half bath’s sink, a refrigerator, a microwave, and a tea kettle are now all I have to call my kitchenette. It feels like I’m camping in my house. This morning I attempted to scramble eggs in the microwave (something I used to know how to do) and produced a grayish puck that was only barely edible.

The cats have been sequestered upstairs in the master suite, which I’m thinking of as their apartment. They’re fairly comfortable, and both David and I are making a point of hanging out with them in their apartment, but understandably, they’re unhappy about all the chaos. Norton expressed his displeasure on my bed. Argh. Can’t say I blame him, but washing all the bedding is not how I planned to celebrate my return home.

Jon came over today with Cabinet Guy’s drawings, and we went through them and compulsively double-checked every possible detail, since these are the drawings he’ll be building from. Checking cabinetry measurements seems easy on the face of it, but you always have to add half an inch for sheetrock here, 3/4in for underlayment and tile there, and so on, until you don’t trust your instincts on anything anymore and you need to draw everything onto the studs and the subfloor just to make it concrete enough to understand.