Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Guess what? Kitchen gut.

The kitchen is gooooone! I took the day off and hung out in the basement while upstairs there were...

And now, what looked like this last night...

... now looks like this:
Hey, studs.

Hey, giant ziplock bag for my kitchen.

Gross discoveries along the way: 
What is this? It was screwed into the underside of one of the cabinets. And it is filthy. Which makes me think that it was heavily used at some point... but for what? Please comment if you know the answer to this mystery.
Additional gross things I did not get pictures of: So much mouse poop under one of the cabinets. Ugh. We haven't seen any evidence of mice since we've been here and the previous owner had two cats, so I'm guessing and hoping it was very old. 

Also, you know how you're supposed to clean the coils of your refrigerator periodically so it runs more efficiently? I had the chance to see the bottom of our fridge when the guys were moving it, and it was basically wearing an inch-thick sweater of dust and cat hair. I'm not kidding about the inch. Luckily I had the chance to vacuum that away before the fridge was stationed in its new home. 

Exactly where the old one was. There's probably a note on the blueprints for this place that says "ugly fridge goes here." I really do want to paint this a fun color, because why not, but that task is not high on the priority list at the moment. 

What is actually high on the list is putting the dining room back together, because this will not do:

The picture-hanging project is exactly where it was 10 days ago, except worse now because I piled a bunch of random kitchen stuff on the table. But today I seized the day and went out and purchased spackle, so now I just need to spackle the messed-up hole, touch up the paint and finish the hanging project, after which I can then use the credenza to hold the junk that the table is currently holding. 

Progress! Sweet demo-ing progress. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Curtain Math. (Math is hard.)

So the last post I was all, "Ooh, lookit me, I picked up my house like a grownup!" Let's check in on our progress with that, shall we? Here is the dining area in its current state:

Okay, so that lasted a whole two days. We are in the midst of a picture-hanging project that is currently stalled because stupid wall anchors are stupid and I didn't want to go back to the hardware store for a second time today. We got out our boxes of photos and tchotchkes about a week ago and this room has been in an iffy state since then. I'll post an update when it's finished. Probably in about six weeks.

HOWEVER. Did you notice the cuuuurtaaaiiinnn? We got curtains! I actually put these up last weekend and just haven't gotten around to posting about it until now.

Before curtains (B.C.)

After curtains (A.C.)
I'm not gonna lie; I had a little scare with these. They were only available online from Target, so I wasn't able to look at them up close before ordering. When the delivery came and I took one out of the package I had a little moment where I felt maybe I'd made a huge mistake. But I'm kind of bad at visualizing things. It wasn't until we actually hung them over the small window that I could step back and say, "I think they're good?" And a few hours later that evolved into "They're good!" And now, a week later, it's definitely, "They're awesome!"

They do just what I wanted them to, which is bring a little funny haha to the space. The room was veering deep into Taking Itself Way Too Seriously Land with the dark wall color, gray furniture, and no embellishments. So I felt like patterned curtains would be a good way to start balancing that out. I searched high and low online but definitely did not feel like paying more than $30 per panel. (To cover the two windows I figured we'd need 6-8 panels, so $180- $240 for curtains alone, never mind hardware... no.) Then of course I received an email from my old friend Target, and it's like they KNEW what I needed. (Which, if you've read the coverage of their analytics capabilities, is entirely possible.) These were on sale for $22 per panel; they were light-colored and patterned; they were green to boot; yada yada yada; I ordered them.

The last time we bought curtains I said that next time I would get the 95" length so I could hang them higher above the window, but that wasn't going to work here because the ceiling beams wouldn't let me go that high. I could have gotten the 95" ones and then just hemmed them to the right length, but come on. Do I own a sewing machine? No. Am I going to ask my poor mother to do it for me? No way. So I went with the 85" length again.

But I still found a way to cheat a few more inches of height out of these. They're made with a pocket for the curtain rod to go inside, but I wanted them to slide more easily on the rods so I bought clip rings instead. Boom, more height, and also if your curtain rod isn't ugly it's a nice way to let it show. (Side note: the big window is about 134" wide and I was worried it would be a pain to find rods that wide, but Home Depot had them up to 144". Victory.)

Okay but here's the thing about clip rings: they're about $1 each, and they are annoyingly sold in packages of 7, which you might think would be enough for one panel, but it's not unless you like droopy curtains. Something that tripped me up was calculating the right width to leave between each clip. It seems simple if you don't think too hard about it- the curtain panel is 54", divide by 7, space each clip about 7 3/4 inches apart. But that's wrong, because you actually clip the first ring at the 0" mark on the end of the panel, effectively leaving you with 6 remaining rings to cover the 54 inches. So you'd need to space them about 9 inches apart to stay even. Does that make sense? I'm just trying to share this knowledge with you because I am a college graduate and was also labeled a "gifted child" and I am embarrassed about how long it took me to figure this out. Math + spatial relations = my personal Kryptonite.

We ultimately figured out that the panels looked best with about 6" of space between each clip. Naturally, this necessitated the purchase of more g.d. clip rings and in fact I went to three Targets in one day to get the nine packages needed for this project. 

I know this is getting tedious, but just in case anyone out there is hanging curtains soon: I also said last time that the rule of thumb is to get a total curtain width that's two to two and half times the width of the window. So for the big window that works out to 268-335 inches worth of curtains. I initially planned on hanging six panels over the big window (324 inches) because four panels (216 inches) was short of the "minimum" 2x calculation. But here's the thing: we're not going to pull these curtains shut very often. These windows face north and don't get direct sunlight, so the curtains aren't really for light control; they're more for looking groovy.

Here's what the four panels look like pulled shut. Adequately drapey, especially considering they'll almost never be pulled shut. So after we realized that, we returned the two extra panels, which helped offset the cost of all those packages of clips.

Here's the pattern up close. Between these and the addition of our art, which you saw a preview of at the top, the living room is getting a little more balanced and a little less Ron Burgundy.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Baby Steps to Tidiness

Last week I had a medium-grade attack of angry-crazy-stabby-brain, in which everything just seemed terribly disorganized and chaotic. After much reflection, I determined that this was due to the fact that everything in the house was terribly disorganized and chaotic. 

My name is Kate, and I am not a tidy person. Now... I'm not a hoarder or anything, and actually keeping things clean is important to me, but there is a difference between clean and tidy. So while I can do a decent job of keeping visible dust bunnies off the floor, what I'm not so good at is keeping clutter, papers, bags and clothing from landing places they shouldn't and staying there for a period of one to... 14 weeks.

This tendency was only made worse following the move, when everything we owned got put somewhere "temporarily" and anything remotely organization-related didn't get unpacked. Last week was when things came to a head and I actually could not take it any longer. 

So I started small. I cleaned off the bedroom dresser. 

There is not a before photo here because when the urge came over me to pick this up I just went with it and was too afraid to stop for anything. Here's what I recall was there, though: drill, paint fan deck, tags that I'd clipped off new clothes and somehow failed to throw away, dozens of loose nails and picture-hanging doodads we had pulled out of the walls before painting, and every pair of earrings I had worn since the move. I'm gonna say it's not a good idea to store your jewelry strewn among bits of small hardware. 

Here's where all the earrings went! Where they are supposed to go, in my Pinterest-inspired printer's drawer jewelry hanger thingy! Did I have this the whole time that the chaos was happening? Yes, but it was on the floor in the other bedroom, because I never hung it up, while ironically, picture hanging hardware and earrings were both piling up on my dresser. So now it has been hung with great fanfare in the master bedroom where it belongs.

I also have a big problem with decluttering mail and catalogs. I always set mail aside with the intention of bringing it into my office and putting it in the shredder, and of course I never do, so then I just end up with mountains of credit card offers in a drawer. But now I've got a real servicey tip for anyone who has the same problem: Here is the website where you can get your name taken off all those rando mailing lists for catalogs and charity drives and what-have-you. 

Also- this relates more to mental clutter than physical clutter- but here's where you can put your landline on the National Do Not Call Registry. We got a "digital landline" or whatever as part of our cable bundle and gave the number to literally no one, and have already received like 30 calls in the two weeks since we bought a set of phones. The telemarketing industry is alive and well, I guess. (Ask your grandparents if they'd like to put their number on the list too! We did this for Eric's grandma when we realized that every time we visited her she was getting telemarketing calls.) 

Last week, between the bedroom and the living room (which got tidied up basically as a side effect of the painting project), I carved out a small toehold of order around this place that I'm hoping to build on. Alternately, the kitchen gut at the end of the month could send everything spiraling out of control. If that happens though, at least I'll have one nice photo, of one clean surface, at one time in this house. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Piano men.

The piano is here! Do you know what surprised me about this process? When the appliance delivery guys came, they had these harnesses they wore over their shoulders that strapped underneath the appliances to help them lift things, and it really seemed to work well. So I guess I expected that a piano moving service would have a lot of specialized equipment too. But nope, it was two guys and a moving dolly.

Don't get me wrong, they were friendly and capable guys!

The old girl survived the trip, not to mention a decade in my parents' garage, just fine. The story of how it ended up in there is that when my parents moved from Aberdeen to Sioux Falls 10 years ago, their movers at the time kind of rebelled against moving this into the house, and there wasn't actually a great place for it inside anyway. So in the garage it stayed. 
I think my parents originally found this piano through a classified ad or a flyer or something (pre-Craigslist!) when I was in grade school. It originally had a heavy, dark finish on it and you couldn't even see this wood. My mom painstakingly restored it piece by piece in our driveway, because my mom is bitchin' like that.

I only took lessons for four years before I moved on to the string bass and abandoned this classy lady. I still expected to be able to play a few scales though, so it was a rude awakening when I sat down today and realized that while my brain knows what to do, the muscle memory in my left hand is badly lagging. Fooey! You mean I can't abandon a hobby for like 18 years and expect my skills to stay sharp? Guess I have to get back on the wagon now. I'll buy Eric some earplugs.

Remember way back, a whole three months ago, when the living room looked like this?

That should about do it for living room furniture I think, unless we get something very minor like a plant stand. But curtains are being shipped to me right now, and we also need to hang up our art, so there are still a few changes to be made in this room. It's nice to see the progress though! 

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Kitchen Plan

I mentioned last week that we have finally signed with a kitchen contractor. We are quickly moving from fuzzy, vague plans to very specific ones. Like, annoyingly specific. Like, do we want xenon or LED undercabinet lights? There are online message boards where women obsess about these kinds of details all day long. They seem to enjoy it, but I don't yet.

I feel like I need to preface the entire kitchen discussion with a disclaimer that yes, I know that we are incredibly incredibly lucky that we can do this, and there are many homeowners who would love to gut their kitchens and just can't. I know that. And I know that this will be really gratifying in the end, when we have our kitchen-4-life. So I guess I just want to clarify that I never want to complain here. But the truth is, while this will be awesome when it's done, right now it's the third most expensive thing I've ever bought (#1: the house itself, #2: college) and the process is a wee bit stressful.

As an HGTV addict, when we went house hunting I was full of budget-friendly ideas about how we could improve every kitchen we saw. But I actually didn't even want to look at this house initially, because the kitchen photos looked so terrible. And the real estate agent oddly posted like five photos of it in the listing, as if he wasn't actually trying to sell this place but instead just wanted to be really upfront with potential buyers about what they were getting into.

Which is this. There is really not a good budget-friendly option for dealing with this. I would have loved if these cabinets were wood, so we could just freshen them up with paint. Alas, they are laminate, and the only fresh thing about them is the layer of disinfectant that I sprayed on them when we moved in. So, plans: new cabinets. Lose the upper and lower peninsula cabinets on the left side and go with an island, which is the box taped out on the floor. 
The National Kitchen & Bath Association recommends a 15" landing space on either side of a cooktop. So hey, we're only like 13 inches short here. We're going with a slide-in range to recapture more counter space. Also, this beautiful fridge? That is an aftermarket paint job. Yeah, someone did that on purpose. We are actually going to keep this bad boy, but it will be moved to the basement where the old old fridge used to be. And maybe I'll get crazy and repaint it myself someday.

There used to be doors on these upper cabinets but I took them down the week we moved in. Where you see lower cabinets now will be open walk-through space between the counter and island. 
The stove. The two burners on the right do not work, even though the pilot is lit. It's probably for the best, since having an open flame that close to the cabinetry would give me an ulcer anyway. 

The oven is broken as well, as we've discussed. But the clock works!
Also broken: the dishwasher. Please note the pile of washing powder that the previous owner left in the bottom. That black thing is part of the control panel. Inside of the dishwasher is a great place for it. 

A testament to the fact that the dishwasher was not part of the original kitchen: this drawer doesn't open unless the door to the dishwasher is open. Practical!
Preway vent hood
But! Crazy indulgence: I am keeping this vent hood! Our contractor said they could replace the guts. So it will have new mechanics and retro esthetics. I've tried to find information about the manufacturer, Preway, but the only stuff I've turned up indicates that they were better known for making these groovalicious freestanding fireplaces. So I think this is heritage worth preserving!

Everything else, not so much. Your days are numbered, kitchen. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Green in the face.

The living room is finished! I did not meet my goal of having it done by Wednesday (turns out when you run hard all weekend and then continue into Monday and Tuesday nights, by Wednesday you are feeling kind of exhausted and stabby) but it turned out that the radio membership drive wasn't even all that bad when I was finishing yesterday, so it was a needless goal in the first place. Needless goals! Sometimes useful, but no need to beat yourself up for not meeting them.

You'll recall the before. Beigey peach + red accent wall. It just wasn't doing it for us. We sampled 10 colors before we arrived at our combination of ceiling and wall color. I'm going to blame the fact that I bought a fan deck for our inability to be decisive. Every time something didn't grab us, there were a thousand more colors at our fingertips. But this is the biggest room in the house, so we really wanted to get it right. 

And in our minds, we did. Here's the after. The wall color is Behr Egyptian Nile and the ceiling is Sagey. They're two shades apart in the fan deck, which I had read was a good approach to getting a ceiling and wall color that worked well together. And now I agree. I also like how the molding stands out more now that it isn't blending into the white ceiling.  

Here's the opposite view. Now you see a huge palm plant...
... and now you don't. I did end up giving it away on Craigslist. I had wondered if anyone would even be interested, but I got 39 emails about it before I pulled the ad down, so I guess the lesson is don't underestimate the demand for free stuff. 
I would have liked to keep the plant, but this corner was really the only place it worked and we needed the space. Why? Because my piano is getting delivered on Wednesday! Yes, it is a weird expenditure at a time when I said we were trying to buckle down and save for the kitchen, but here's the deal: the piano is at my parents' house in Sioux Falls. My parents also wanted to give us their snowblower, which my dad tells me is top of the line, and we really do want to get a snowblower before winter hits. So I contacted a piano moving place in Sioux Falls and asked for a quote for both items. It turned out that another family in our area was waiting for someone else to do the same move from Sioux Falls, therefore we could both get a discount by sharing the mileage. So we went for it. It's certainly less than a new snowblower would have cost, and so the piano is like a bonus on top. (Side note: I still need to paint and replace that vent cover.) 

One of the things that was holding me up on Monday and Tuesday nights was the fact that I decided to oil the woodwork while we had all the furniture pushed away. As it turns out, there is a lot of woodwork. It was kind of a workout, but I'm guessing it hadn't been done in a long long time, so I feel better now. 

So, it's very green. It's also Very Serious. It's a Very Serious Room at the moment. I keep saying, "I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany." That atmosphere is not our ultimate goal, but I think once we hang up some of our art and get new curtains we can inject a little levity and quirk and arrive at the right balance.

This project was a doozy and I'm reaaalllly glad it's done. This room is about 500 square feet, and I'm pretty sure my last apartment as a single lady was 450. I know that both the dark wall color and the fact that we painted the ceiling condense things visually a bit, but I feel like this room can take it, if that makes sense. Now it feels big, but warm. Which, come to think of it, is pretty much ideal for a living room.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Things You Cannot Make Without an Oven: Apple, Potato and Onion Gratin

I have really been trying to be a trouper about the kitchen. I've lived without a dishwasher before; I've lived without a disposal before; and I can work with limited prep space. But now, after two-ish months in the house, the thing that's really bringing me down is the broken oven. What I wouldn't give if I could roast some stuff right now. (Well, I know what I'd give. In fact, we signed with our contractor today and finally have a pretty concrete estimate of exactly what we'll give. Excuse me, I'm just going to take a chug off the nearest Maalox bottle.)

Yesterday I was browsing on my Pinterest food board trying to make a grocery list, and literally everything that looked good to me required an oven. It's fall. It is roasting time. It is just the WAY OF THINGS. UNNNGGHHH WANT OVEN. The fact that our new oven is actually sitting in our dining room for me to see every day, taunting me, probably isn't helping matters.

Okay then. Since I can't use my oven, I'm going to make a suggestion for what you should do with yours: gratin. Specifically, this gratin. I found this recipe a couple years ago after two things happened: 1) I went apple picking and therefore had a ton of apples, and 2) Eric's mom went south for the winter and gave us what was left in her pantry, which included a ton of potatoes and onions. So I went a'Googling for a recipe that would use things up, and this came up big.

- Do not be tempted to use dried thyme. I know, prepping fresh thyme is the worst, but it pays off here. 
- If you have a mandoline, break it out and you'll have the 6 1/2 pounds of produce uniformly sliced in no time. BUT. Use the safety grip, obviously. I say this to you as a person who has learned this lesson the extremely painful, fingerprint-shaving way. (Who's hungry now?!)
- You might feel lazy and not want to peel the potatoes and/or apples. I know because I have been that lazy person. You really should peel them; it's not the same otherwise.

So here we go. Make this gratin, and give your oven a little appreciative pat for me. If anyone needs me, I'll be blowing up a potato in my microwave.

Apple, Potato and Onion Gratin
Adapted from Bon Appétit

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter, divided
2 pounds onions, sliced
2 tablespoons (packed) chopped fresh thyme
4 teaspoons salt, divided
2/3 cup water
2/3 cup dry white wine
4 teaspoons sugar

2 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold, yellow Finn, or German Butterball potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
2 pounds tart apples (such as Granny Smith, Pippin, or Pink Lady), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds

Preheat your oven to 400°F and think about how lucky you are to have a functional oven. Count your blessings; don't be shy- get all Oprah about it. Spray or butter a 13x9x2-inch baking dish. Melt 6 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions, thyme, and 2 teaspoons salt and sauté until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high; sauté until onions are tender and begin to color, about 8 minutes longer. Remove from heat. Add remaining 6 tablespoons butter (maybe less if you're feeling bad about all the butter, but it's sweater season so cut yourself a break), water, wine, and sugar to skillet; stir and swirl skillet to combine. Bring to a boil and then set aside to cool. 

Combine potatoes, apples, remaining 2 teaspoons salt, and onion mixture in large bowl (seriously large, it's a lot of stuff) and toss gently to blend. Transfer to the baking dish and spread evenly. Cover the dish with parchment paper, then cover with foil, shiny side down. Bake gratin until potatoes are tender, about 55 minutes. Uncover and bake until top browns and juices bubble thickly, about 20 minutes longer. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Then savor that gratin, all up in your mouth.