A lot of clunking and banging is a good thing

In things electrical, George seems to have most of the circuit box put back together, and Russell has temporarily reconnected the motion detector and glass break connector to the security system so we could make sure that’s all working before the walls get hidden behind sheetrock.

The small rathole where the old vent duct exited is now filled in, but now there’s a big raccoon hole where the new vent duct will exit, but Russell kindly put a wire mesh screen over that one, so the raccoons will have to work at getting in. Russell’s also filled in the various holes in the subfloor, and he says we’re about a day away from the rough inspection. Place those bets now.

The cats have really made the apartment theirs. Here was the scene I found last night: we’re standing over the recliner, Gjetost is on the seat, and Norton is on the ottoman. I took this with my cell phone, so it’s not the greatest photo in the world.

Another one of those days

So Russell and George were both supposed to start around 10 and work together all day to tie up all the loose ends and get ready for rough inspection by, say, Tuesday. What really happened is that George came around shortly before 11, pulled all the spiffy new circuits into the circuit box and hooked some of them up to breakers, and left shortly after 1. George asked me to have Russell call his mobile phone when he showed up. Russell never showed up.

Coffee was served.

In other culinary news, I hardboiled some eggs outside on the camp stove for breakfast today and tomorrow, finished the last of the grilled pork chops for lunch, and wonder what I’m going to call dinner. So far it’s looking like pistachios and some Two Buck Chuck.

I leave Friday night for another week on the East coast (company headquarters in North Carolina). If the rough inspection really happens while I’m gone, and it passes, then I owe Jon the next big chunk of money. Since I won’t be here to hand him the check, I guess I’ll write the check, hide it somewhere, and after receiving the good news, tell Jon where he can find it.

However, I’ll bet a pint of fine microbrew upon our next meeting(s) that rough inspection doesn’t happen while I’m gone. Any takers? Hit that “Comments” link. This wager is open to any and all who think they’ll get a chance to drink the beer with me. Paul D: does your pump like {whirr click click burp!} beer, or would I have to try the dreaded Osmolite?

Better than bupkes

What I thought would get accomplished today, as of 3pm: bupkes.

What has actually gotten accomplished today, as of 5:40pm:

  • Jon delivered the custom duct
  • We chatted about various details
  • We agreed on change orders for the extra plumbing work and three extra lights
  • George (who still feels crappy) arrived around 4pm and started working on his list

George is still banging away at stuff, and I’m on my way out the door to go have dinner with kind friends who have taken pity on me in my kitchenlessness: Jon (the very) and Kyla.

Prodigal blog children

My blog-heros Kimberly and Paul of http://gopaul.blogspot.com fame have described me and Kimberly’s sister as their blog children, since we were both inspired to start our blogs after becoming addicted to theirs. Yesterday, as Kimberly describes in her blog, Paul accused us both of misbehaving, since neither of us have come anywhere close to adhering to Kimberly’s post-a-day rule.

Guilty as charged.

I have two main excuses: one, I’m too darned busy just surviving here in the construction zone, and two, not that much seems to be happening sometimes. Oh, sure, George and Jon and sundry others are here most days at least for parts of the day, and they bang and clunk and run loud power tools, and they certainly look busy, but unless I look closely it’s hard to see a lot of the progress. Compared to the initial shock of demolition and some of the more dramatic changes like the sudden disappearances and reappearances of walls, the transition from empty gangboxes (or whatever they call those sites of future switches and outlets) to wired gangboxes or the disappearance of a hood duct is pretty subtle.

I suppose I really ought to try harder to post every single day, though, since the agonizingly slow pace of things from the homeowner’s perspective is a huge part of the gestalt.

You, gentle reader, play a part in this drama. Knowing that I have an audience helps me make time to write updates. Papa Paul of Little Faith has already reprimanded me for not keeping my promise (logged in a comment on their blog earlier today) of posting tonight. I find this strangely gratifying, if hasty. At least as gratifying was receiving a greeting comment from a crossover reader. And here I am, posting away!

So, here are the changes I’ve been able to discern since 27 June:

George has wires running everywhere. There are going to be outlets in pairs and foursies all over the place (be still my beating heart!), including a pair at the bar in case the blender or somesuch beast decides to live there, and we came up with a very sensible plan for switches:

  • Just inside the bar wall (at the opening into the kitchen/dining room) will be switches for the overhead lights in the kitchen (recessed, aimable low voltage halogen floods), the under-counter flourescent lights (they’re flourescent because code requires flourescent lights in kitchens, and Jon sagely points out this is the least aesthetically-offensive way to meet the letter if not spirit of that law), and the suspended fixture over the dining room table (the one I installed in the old dining room shortly after moving in and deciding that even a hole in the ceiling was better than the atrocious plastic faux-Tiffany chandelier that came with the house).
  • On the right side of the bar will be a switch for puck lights inside the cabinet over the bar, which will have glass doors and shelves and be full of glassware.
  • On the backsplash to the right of the stove will be a switch for the recessed floods over the breakfast bar/buffet. To the right of the sink will be the disposal switch, and to the left of the sink, the switch for the puck lights in the cabinets over the sink. (George suggested having them on opposite sides so that I hit the wrong one less often.)

It’s a whole lot of wiring, and getting all the boxes and cans nicely spaced, aligned, attached, and wired seems to take forever. All these wires run through holes that had to be drilled through studs and joists and are affixed with plastic staples that had to be driven all over the place.

Jon has redone the water supply lines for both sinks and raised the main sink’s drainpipe’s cleanout so that it will be inside the cabinetry and not underneath in the toe-kick zone. I suppose this is another sneaky detail caused by my not being satisfied with the world standard counter height of 30-36″ and instead wanting nice, high 37″ countertops–it means that my toekicks need to be that much taller. (Actually I wanted 38-39″ countertops, but Jon talked me down to 37″ by pointing out a million fussy ramifications of getting the counters up to the ergonomically-ideal several inches below elbow height. I had no truck with arguments about ADA requirements, though: nobody in a wheelchair has any business buying a house in the hills with a steep driveway and a front door that’s 25 steps up.)

George has ripped out the old vent’s duct (leaving, temporarily) another nice entrance for curious raccoons and rats, and he’s ripped out the blocking between the joists where the cabinets over the peninsula used to hang from the ceiling.

A kitchen sink and bar sink are now loitering in the old dining room. I’ve picked out faucets (I think) and Jon is going to order them. (Single-handle, single-hole Euro style, of course. I’d prefer a brushed/satin finish, but that adds a ridiculous amount to the sticker price, so unless his supplier adds a less ridiculous amount, I might settle for ordinary chrome.)

I’ve ordered and received the pot rack (a 54″ bar that will hang from the ceiling in front of the vent, so that pots can dwell in the otherwise-wasted space over the skirt of the vent), and I’ve spent a long time on the phone with the pot rack company trying to find out which special shortest-possible mounting hooks I need to order to replace the standard 8″ long hooks that would perfectly position my omelet pans to bruise my forehead. I thought eight-foot ceilings were pretty standard, but I guess they’re considered “low” to the makers of pot racks.

A sheetrock guy came over, eyeballed the place, and gave Jon a price.

Jon and George managed to convey to me how nontrivial that wall is. You’d think that some studs, some wires, a pipe, the stove-side’s slate tile, and the bar side’s cabinetry panel would be about it, but no! Enter those pesky building codes. Both sides also need a layer of sheetrock (under the tile or wood panel) for fire-safety purposes. There’s all kinds of hoorah to support the granite bar countertop, too: a plywood base of this, a lip of that, some brackety framey things, and the whole mess should either nail down into the studs or bolt up through the studs (not sure who won that argument and glad I don’t need to care).

I think that’s about it. Didn’t seem like much until I started writing it all out.

Meanwhile, I’m getting a little more accustomed to camping in my house. It’s a lot like Dubya being President–both benefit from low expectations.

Last Monday I grilled a giant package of pork chops, chopped some vegetables into a five pound bag of prewashed salad greens, and dug through my plastic crates until I’d found enough ingredients for a passable vinaigrette. Most of my dinners since then have consisted of a giant salad with some cold, sliced grilled pork and a glass of wine. This has been satisfying, if boring, and passably convenient.

This weekend, I went all out and made scrambled eggs on the campstove for both me and David (my housemate and the cats’ doting uncle). It doesn’t sound like much, but we both commented on how civilized it felt to be eating a hot, homemade breakfast.

I’m not sure what my next big culinary project will be. I leave for another weeklong business trip on Friday, so maybe I’ll just scrape by with leftovers, one or two dinners out, and some PowerBar-shaped objects.

Washing dishes in the tiny bathroom sink and trying not to start a draining-rack avalanche continues to be a huge drag. I’m getting more used to dumping coffee grounds in the toilet but am looking forward to having a disposal again someday.

Paper plates are for the birds. I’m just about ready to dig through my boxes for a few real plates, even though I’ll have to wash them.

I’m not sure what it says about me that the dishrack’s census on Sunday morning included one fork and five wine glasses, but I’m pretty sure that nobody who’s been through a kitchen project like this would judge me.

Bolt sister

I have no idea what that means, but it heads a list hanging from a nail in a stud in a wall-like structure in my would-be kitchen. This seems to be a “Honey Do” list from Jon of all the loose ends he wants George to tie up so he can schedule the “rough inspection,” which is a payment milestone for me and a hoop to jump through for Jon. Passing rough inspection seems to require that the studs, joists, beams, pipes, wires, straps, and basic structural stuff are all kosher and the bureaucrat du jour is properly placated, bribed, or bored.

Jon seems to think this inspection is about a week away. Jon says all he needs to do is run a copper pipe for the gas line to the new stove location and install ductwork [May I interrupt myself here to comment that it’s really hard to type on a laptop while you have a cat snuggling against your hands and preening herself over your trackpad?] for the hood. You wouldn’t think running a duct would be any big deal, but because I can’t be satisfied with a normal stove and insist on getting the giant commercial-style 36″ stove with burners like rocket-engines and a grill that will incinerate steaks indoors in mere minutes, I also need the giant commercial-style hood vent (Vent-A-Hood of course!), which requires a minimum 10″ round duct to the great outdoors. However, while my joists are the necessary 12″ apart, they are not the necessary 10″ deep, so Jon had to have a custom duct made that has the largest rectangular profile that will fit the joist bays.

In there’s that list for George. I reproduce that list here verbatim, in all its lovely mysteriousness:

  • Bolt sister
  • Block ABS
  • Strap copper
  • Ext wall blocking
  • Patch exterior wall
  • Telephone
  • Block corner of skirt/DR
  • Nailers to DR transition (cut rock)
  • Header straps
  • Extend blocking in front of header
  • Toekick plate in header wall
  • Hookup CB BX
  • Wirestrip/mudrings
  • (R) old nails throughout
  • Patch subfloor
  • Wire DR cans
  • Staple wire

George also thinks this is about a week’s worth of work, but he didn’t come in today (he’s fighting off some awful chest/cold thing, too), so I guess that one week of contractor time turns into about two weeks of calendar time.

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.