Thursday, March 27, 2008

Kitchen Reno

Meg asked for before/after photos of our kitchen renovation, so here are a few. This is the main view you got entering the kitchen when we moved into the house five years ago:

Why yes, those dark cabinets and fake marble countertops are original to the 58-year-old house! Note how that upper cabinet obscures all views and light from the backyard, requiring adults on one side of the kitchen to bend down over a hot stove to have a face-to-face conversation with anyone on the other side. And I get a facial tick just remembering the old cooktop. It suffered from narcolepsy. You'd boil something and realize that the power had nodded off when the bubbles petered out. Then you had to beat the burner with a wooden spoon to get it to wake back up.

This is what it looks like now, after years of incremental improvements. The fresh paint and built-in bench for the breakfast nook were the final projects:

Obviously we didn't go crazy and break the bank, knocking out walls and upgrading everything to the highest degree. It's still a small kitchen that has a 1950s feel to it. We didn't even put in new cabinets, opting to just paint the old ones and replace the pulls. But the floor is now eco-friendly marmoleum, the counters are silestone, and we went with a tile back splash to add a little bit of color. We also sprang for a new back door to take advantage of the views and light. Then we created a countertop peninsula for another food prep area, and added a small bookcase under that for more storage.

My favorite addition to the kitchen is the corner nook bench. Even though we always had a table and chairs back there, the space was awkward because there was only room for two people to sit. The nook is a real space saver that allows the whole family to eat together.

I still need to unpack my cookbooks and bricabrac, as well as get some curtains and bench cushions so it feels more homey. But overall, I'm really happy with the changes. The kitchen went from a dark and frustrating place to cook to a bright little spot where I savor my coffee while the kids throw food at each other.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Queen of Spades from an 1810 card deck
by Vincenz Raimund Gruner (Vienna).

My mother's mother taught me the basic game of solitaire as soon as I was old enough to count to 13 and shuffle a deck by swirling the cards in messy circles on the Formica table. We'd sit in her kitchen and snap down cards in round after round of side-by-side solitaire. The games gave my fidgety, childish fingers something to do while I listened to her stories.

The names of the places she spoke about were familiar because our family had lived around our village since before the American Revolution. But the jobs and activities Grandmother spoke about were strange to me. Men worked at the locomotive plant in the City or sharecropped in the hills. Women rose before dawn to build a fire in the kitchen stove so breakfast could be served. There was no radio, no television, and no electricity in most of the homes when my grandmother was a girl.

I couldn't imagine what people did when it got dark. Sleep, my grandmother would say, And play cards. The family always had cards. Not the waxy, mass-produced type I used for my games, but ones my great grandmother cut out of cardboard and drew with a pencil.

My grandmother said that as a child she would sometimes wake to see the lantern throwing off a glow that filled the gap between the floor and the bedroom door. She'd stumble out to find her mother bent over the kitchen table staring at a game of solitaire.

"Come to bed," my little grandmother would plead. "It's late. It's cold." My great grandmother, recently widowed and raising four daughters alone, would promise to come soon and then linger.

The story never included direct mention of what kept my great grandmother at the table those nights. But I sensed it even without understanding the details of the poverty and the times. As children we all know to fear the darkness lurking just outside the narrow glimmer of a lamp.

And now every time I click and drag a card of light across the laptop, I can't help but think of my great grandmother. She played her rounds one hundred years ago and died decades before my birth. But the chains of cards stretch out, and sometimes I catch a glimpse of her weary eyes reflected in the screen.

Monday, March 17, 2008


I am holed up in my home office as I write this, trying to work but instead really just listening to the contractors do some finishing details in our 3/4ths renovated kitchen. (We are into year four on this project now. Obviously we move sloooowly on these things.) It's not that anyone is preventing me from working by being incredibly noisy. More that I'm either used to working with the bedlam of children behind me, or (when the kids are at school and/or the sitter) complete quiet. Having adults milling around in the background is odd. I have to resist the urge to offer them sippy cups or ask if they need to go to the potty.

Plus, construction in the kitchen reminds me of when we redid the floors, counters, and back splash when I was at the tail-end of Little A's torturous pregnancy. That job contract was signed when I was in the second trimester and feeling relatively ok. But most of the work ended up being done in the period of time when I was in and out of the hospital with preterm labor. That last month of Little A's pregnancy was probably the most difficult of my life so far. I was terrified that things were going wrong, unable to control what happened, and in terrible shape. It hurt too much to pick up Big A, or get down on the floor to play with her. Even if the kitchen hadn't been gutted, I couldn't stand up for a half hour to cook dinner at the end of the pregnancy, anyhow. We ate way more takeout and watched way more TV than I want to think about now. Hopefully our hearts, arteries, and brains have recovered from all that.

I am glad to be reminded by the new construction that life was shitty back then, much like the old kitchen sucked. It's not that life is perfect now, what with Little A's illnesses and trying to make ends meet during a recession. But, those are all new problems. Hallelujah, that's real progress.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Green World

After growing up in a place where March is really just
Winter Part Two (aka the muddy season,) this month
always takes me by surprise in the East Bay environs.

When does the garden burst into bloom where you live?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Back in January Little A's baby sitter offered me a mesh bag full of daffodil bulbs. "I won't be around this weekend to plant them," she explained, adding that she'd accidentally left the bulbs outside in a rainstorm and they were wet. Once wet, they would need to go in the ground almost immediately to have a good chance at sprouting in the spring.

I brought the bag home and put it down next to the orange tree, intending to plant them early the next morning. But it rained more, Little A went back in the hospital, and life turned into one big to-do list that kept increasing in size but never saw any items crossed off of it. I did not plant the daffodil bulbs. I did not even move the bag. But every time I set foot outside for the last six weeks, I saw it and felt regretful.

Then the doctor called with good news -- sweat test normal, no cystic fibrosis for Little A. I felt so relieved, so grateful. The ice jam of terror that left me suspended for so long broke apart. I could cry, I could think, I could live again. The next time I saw the bag in the backyard I resolved to throw it out.

When I picked the bag up, I saw the green fingers of stem pushing out from the gnarled fists of each bulb. Despite laying in the wet grass with no nourishment outside of the occasional rainstorm for so long, they had not rotted or frozen or withered. Every single one grew.

Thinking about toughness and luck, I planted them after all.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Another Fork Stuck in the Road

Back home now after spending the morning at Children's Hospital getting Little A a sweat test to check for cystic fibrosis. The procedure went fine. No needles or strapping her down to get what they needed. So long as I held her in my lap, Little A was quiet and cooperative. She even held her arms out for the lab lady to attach the electrodes and sweat-collection device thingies, which astounded everyone. And now she is at her baby sitter's house taking a nap, no doubt dreaming of cupcakes and tricycles.

Meanwhile I'm sitting at work all a jitter and distracted. On one hand, I know that according to the powers that be, Little A has a relatively low chance of having CF. Both parents need to have a bum gene for a kid to develop the disease. And even when both parents have the mutation, you still have a 75 percent shot at not having a child with CF.

But the problem is twofold. First, we know I am a CF carrier and DH's status is up in the air. Back when I was pregnant the first time, I found out my carrier status and DH got tested. He screened negative, and we were told we had "zero chance" of having kids with CF. But now that zero has turned iffy. The pulminologist claims that the blood test DH took only checks for the 30 most-common CF gene mutations. There are about 1000 rarer mutations DH might still have. So, to clear up ambiguities, we opted to do the sweat test on Little A.

Second, I can't help but think about how my chance of making a baby with trisomy 18 was over 1 in 300. The chance of getting my uterus perforated in the D&E and having the anesthesia fail was even lower than 1 in 300. And the risk of uterine rupture outside of labor in Little A's pregnancy was way less than 1 percent. In light of all that has happened in the past few years, risk statistics are cold comfort.

So ... 25 percent. Possible big fork in the road directly ahead. More news soon.