Remodeling the kitchen, part 3: on Tenterhooks, and my first major FAIL

You know . . . when you are designing and planning and doing much of the work of a kitchen remodel yourself, sometimes the process can feel like a bewildering guessing game. At least that is the way it has been for me. That said, call me crazy–but I’m glad that we have been doing it ourselves, this far, at least.

Hear me out. If we had hired a professional designer to do the job, for example, I probably wouldn’t have thought quite so carefully about each step along the way. How high should my counter tops be? What kind of surfaces do I really want? If I had been able to afford a professional designer, I would not have had to work so hard on these issues. I probably would have deferred to the professional’s opinions quite a bit. “What do you think?” I would have asked, time and time again, and as I am easily intimidated by “experts.” I would have taken the lazy way out, and followed the designer’s suggestions often, probably. Plus, I think I would have had to make all the decisions pretty quickly, rather than drawing them out and musing about each one as we have. And then, I suspect that I wouldn’t have been as happy with the results.

Well. On the other hand, maybe I’m just making lemonade out of lemons. At least that’s the way I feel about it this time.Β Next time--I just may take that trip around the world that I’ve been wanting to take, and leave the whole stinkin’ mess and fuss to professionals.

That’d be nice, too. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

Actually we have come a long way since this day!

Actually we have come a long way since this day!

As it is . . . Gentle Reader . . . my kitchen is going to turn out like no other kitchen I’ve ever been in. For good or ill: it’s all me. *nervous shivers of anticipation* I hope that’s a good thing. *repeat nervous shivers, and add in a shudder or three*

Our contractor Reuben has done a great job of opening my eyes to things that I wouldn’t have thought about otherwise: he is a big fan of recessed can lights, for example, and now I appreciate them, too. He has helped me think through the marble–laminate–granite—quartz–butcher block–oiy my–question, which I appreciate. Not that I’ve decided yet (sorry, Reubsy). He has been gently respectful through the whole process, though I’m sure that there are times when he feels like pulling his hair out.

Or pulling my hair out.

I’ve been cooking and using a kitchen for so many years (please be nice, you) that I should know a thing or two, right, about what I want and need, kitchen-wise?

At least I knew a great deal, going in, about precisely what I didn’t want–white bathroom tile counter tops, to begin with. Grout on horizontal surfaces (the pain, my friends, the pain of trying to get that stuff clean!). No natural light. That horrid corner cabinet with the broken lazy Susan that harbored mice families and didn’t work once you overloaded in one time too many (not that I just admitted that to you, since clearly, I would not).

Nobody who has ever been in my original kitchen would argue with the fact that it was crowded and unhandy, with the main traffic flow of the house going straight through the work space in the kitchen.

Keep in mind, please, that I’m humbly aware of my blessings–indoor plumbing. Hot water. A roof over my head, heck even that my house is cozy enough to be attractive to mice families! I know all this, I do!!

Still. And yet. Hello. We get a lot of traffic through our house, as you might expect. All of it previously flowed through a kitchen that was roughly the size of a pencil box. Or, possibly, smaller. A pencil. A pencil lead. A micro-organism on the pencil lead. Am I putting too fine a point on it?!


My sophisticated way of leaving instructions for Reuben.

My sophisticated way of leaving instructions for Reuben.

The thing is--well, there are two things, actually, which kept me on tenterhooks during months of planning.

Possibly, three. Do you have time, Gentle Reader, to read about a few Tenterhooks? Well, if you do–make a cup of tea and settle in . . . πŸ™‚

Tenterhook One: I don’t browse or shop–I mean, hardly ever. I used to enjoy browsing and “just-looking!”, and window-shopping and seeing what’s new and whatnot-ing—but raising six vehemently-adverse-to-shopping-babies, not to mention toddlers-prone-to-embarrassing-meltdowns-at-the-checkout-counter, convinced me of this simple, undeniable fact:

Shopping Sucks*

. . . at least when you have littles, anyway, and even now that they are all mostly-grown-up, I’ve never really regained the desire to do this sort of browsy-shopping. It bores me. Shocking? Perhaps. But there it is. Malachi: you’re welcome. You can thank your cranky-older-siblings-as-babies (you’ll have to get out the time machine) for ruining shopping for me for good.

Sorry, big-businesses-that-would-like-me-to-buy-new-stuff-all-the-time. I’m really not interested. *yawn* I’d rather be at home, poking around in my garden, making pies, or shoving needles into my eyeballs. *ouch, not really on that last one*

Nowadays, I’m more of a practical shopper, like my hubby. I’m more of a Manly Shopper, folks. I go in, grab what I need, and look for the nearest checkout, all while consulting my watch darkly.

This habit puts my darling Amalia into despair, often. She dearly likes to meander. And chat. And discuss the many, many options for improving one’s life through retail exercises, and so I can reel back my jetting-for-the-exit nature, if she needs me to.

And quite often–-she does.

On the other hand—if hubs has lots of shopping (i.e. screws of a certain size, plumbing supplies of particular and various genders, bolts and curious replacement parts and so forth) to select, and I’m just in the store to while away some time with the kids, to avoid frostbite out in the car, in just a few minutes I can be on friendly terms with everybody in the appliance department, learning everything about respective ‘fridge style pros and cons, not to mention the issue of cast iron sinks vs molded . . . what is that stuff? glorified plastic??—and get all of us a free can of cold pop, in the process.

It’s a gift.

Reuben cannily made a mock-up of an island, out of other cabinet pieces and cardboard, to help me decide what size of island to make.

Canny Reuben made a mock-up of an island, out of other cabinet pieces and cardboard, to help me decide what size of island to make.

And a curse. Amalia will roll her eyes. “Mom. How do you do that? How do you make friends and get to know everybody so easily?” I just laugh. It’s better than being taciturn or bored, say I, at being stuck in the Home Depot for the twentieth time that day, waiting. For–ever and a day.

So I’m not in a funk while shopping, lest you misunderstand. There’s treasure everywhere, you know. But. Since I don’t walk around Home Depot or Lowe’s or whatever store, as a matter of habit, studying counter tops and wood finishes and sinks and hanging lights and whatnot, I really didn’t know–going into this process, at least–what was available for sale, that is, in the traditional market.

That is, not the thrift store–used Ecostore–Goodwill–garage sale–market. Which is (after all) more my proverbial cuppa tea. So discovering all that was a big learning curve. Still–is—-bother!

*Sorry, Amalia, for the language, again. πŸ™ Slippery slope, I know. Slippery slope. Get the bar of soap out, and wash mama’s mouth out, stat!!

Speaking of Poor Amalia. Imagine us in the sink department of Home Depot. And then Lowe’s. And then (somebody help me) Menard’s. Picture it: we meander into the aisle of kitchen sinks. My mouth is open in astonishment. I am making a scene, I’m so excited: They make sinks this deep? How come I didn’t know this? And–Amalia!! Look–at–this–faucet!! It’s so beautiful and tall! WOW! LOOK HOW SHINY THIS SINK IS, AMALIA!!! THEY COME IN MORE COLORS THAN SILVERY, AMALIA!

Yep. I’m a Total Rube in these stores. No wonder Bryan always urges us to divide-and-conquer, at the door: “You go look at the sinks again, honey, while I get my shopping done. Please don’t tell anybody that we are married to each other.” Moving on . . .

Tenterhook Two: I prefer non-standard (i.e. fanciful, actually never sometimes often-not-practical) things. (I wish I had a dollar for every time poor Reuben has said this: “That’s not a standard way to do this—“) Using a sweet antique milk glass hanging lamp that you picked up at a garage sale for a dollar, for example, to hang over your sink might seem trendy and thrifty and all the rest, but it gives your contractor (and your hubs) nervous fits because it’s so much more work than just buying a light fixture off the shelf at Home Depot, like everybody else.

Okay, I just thought of a Third Tenterhook: (and it’s not just because I’m enjoying using the word tenterhook so completely, either. Although I am.) Here it is: I really, really, really don’t want to be like everybody else.

News flash!

Big. Surprise. eh? Oh well. What can I do? What can I say? Anytime I hear somebody say “everybody is doing it this way . . .” I automatically want to do it the other way. No kidding. And no, I was not a rebellious child, by the way. Not really. Not—much. We’ve never had cable television, for example. Once when we lived in town, a pleasant-faced cable t.v. salesman was walking door-to-door, trying to snag the last few folks in town who didn’t have cable. He made his pitch to me, over the (literal) garden gate. I told him (in no uncertain terms!) that we didn’t have cable, nor did we want it. Now. Or EVER.

I was fairly firm, for me. πŸ™‚

Then he said the very worst possible thing that he could have said to me, in particular, if he wanted to sell me cable service:

But, ma’am: everybody else has it.”

No worries, it will get done. It will.

No worries, it will get done. It will. It. WILL.

I was standing out in my backyard garden, Gentle Readers, with a shovel in my hand. No lie. I had to quench a very strong desire to smack him with it. I had to bite my tongue until it bled, against giving him a lecture on the evils of doing stuff just because everybody else is doing it, not to mention why defaulting to passive entertainment–especially the likes of which is available to our children today–is a wildly stupid and lazy way to raise your children, in my humble opinion . . . the mental image of lemmings pouring, mindless, over a cliff had to be purged. (And please excuse the passive voice.)

He continued, oblivious to the fact that he was digging the hole that I was going to bury him in, deeper and deeper, with every ill-fated word, AND furthermore that I was, after all, holding a shovel.

Oblivious, the lad was just warming up. He said, all in a rush:

Don’t you want your children to be watching the same television shows that all the other kids in town are watching? Don’t you agree, that they are missing out? And they can watch so MUCH MORE TELEVISION and never get bored with it: the Disney channel, the Science channel, the History Channel, all the others–!” He grinned encouragingly. “You can even get some current movies for them, for a small monthly add-on fee!” πŸ™‚

I took a step backwards, not trusting my “itchy elbow”* and said, darkly, forbiddingly, “I much prefer that my kids be reading books, not watching television.”

“Reading books?!?” he spat out, as if there were a nasty bug in his mouth, his eyes opening wide and a look of utter astonishment on his smooth young face. “Poor kids! Reading what books??

Then I smacked him with my shovel.

No, not really.

I’m not sure what I said to that, although I think I do remember turning and walking stiffly away, going to check on the state of squash bugs in my pumpkin patch, or something more interesting than him and his sales pitch. He did leave the brochures stuck into the gate, feebly, before he turned and went on to the next house.

Hmm. Now I’m wondering how I got HERE.

Here's my Flaire in place. !!

Here’s my Flair in place. !!

Rein me in, somebody! I’ve got pies to make!

And thus! The exceedingly long lead-in to our first massive remodeling fail!

Monstrous Kitchen Remodel Fail #1: Pantry Light Fixtures

First, I fell in love with these pendant lights in the Home Depot lighting department. Quite unlike myself, instead of doing the usual “I’ll think about it, let’s just wait and see—” strategy, leaving for home, and then forgetting them entirely, I just bought them and took them home.

Simple as that. I patted myself on the back. It felt good to be DECISIVE, for pete’s sake. For once. It was nice to see Reuben smile, too, for a change.

I thought they were wonderful. You see, I love watermelon. . . but never mind why I liked them, I just did. I handed them happily to our contractor, Reuben, relieved to have made a decision on one of the three thousand forty-two hundred zillion quadrillion choices that he had given me to make decisions about that day (cough) week, gosh, forgive the slight exaggeration. And Reuben always laughs when I beg off for the day, claiming Decision Fatigue! (rolling eyes)

It’s a Thing, Reubsy. I promise. Google it.

Does Reuben love working here, or hate it? I’m still not sure, but he sure does shoulder the burden well of dealing with me. As long as I keep the coffee coming . . .

Anyhoo. So Reuben let the new lights sit on our faux-island for a few days (he’s kinda controlling big about what order you do the remodeling tasks in) and then one day, I returned home from some errand and he stuck his head out from the pantry and yelled “Hey your lights are in!”

By–the–way. One only-one-blessed side note. I don’t think Reuben knows my first name, and I see this as a bit of an oversight on his part. He refers to me (when discussing things with my husband in the next room) as “She Who Must Be Obeyed,” or simply “She” for short. (By the way, Reuben, maybe you should just use this acronym: SWMBO, or simply Swimbo.) This is what I hear:She hasn’t made me any coffee yet,” or “She’s not going to be happy about that, you fool,”Β  or “She really is taking a long time with that coffee cake,” and so on.

Reuben: My name is Amy. FYI. In common vernacular: Amy Who Must Be Obeyed, or AWMBO, or simply AWWmbo. Like, Awwww, she’s so nice. See? Easy-proverbial-peasy.

But back to annoying my contractor the subject at hand.

What was I writing about before Reuben interrupted me? Oh yes, the pantry lights.

So Reuben yells out at me “Hey . . . . (leaving out my name *sigh* again). . . your lights are in!” and I rushed to the pantry, giddy with delight and expectation. He smiled at me, and I flipped the switch on. I stared. I didn’t have words. I smiled, slightly, with effort. I think I said something at that point. “Wow. Reuben.” or something insightful like that. But that wasn’t what I was thinking. I kept my thoughts to myself for the moment. I didn’t want my sweet contractor–even if he doesn’t know my first name–to know my honest thoughts, at that moment.

But I’ll tell you, Gentle Reader, what they were. We’re so close, after all.

What I was thinking was this: “This is what the devil’s pantry looks like, I’ll wager,” or possibly “I have devil lights in my pantry,” or maybe even “My pantry looks like the devil’s red-light district.” In any case, every thought I had–and I had many, all tumbling all over themselves, skittle-skattling around in my weary, decision-fatigued brain–included three things: displeasure, discomfort, and the devil. Alas.

I flipped the lights off, smiled woodenly at Reubsy (you see, just another side note–I not only know my contractor’s first name, but several winsome nicknames for him, as well!) and clomped away, wondering how I was gonna manage never going into my pantry again.



This was the first major fail of my heretofore short kitchen-remodeling career.Β 

In my defense. Sheesh, the way they hang hundreds of pendant lights all together at Home Depot, you’d never guess that the ones with red globes cast such a devilishly red light. Be forewarned, Gentle Reader. But onward.

It wasn’t unfixable, by the way. But we’ll get to that later. Anything to keep you reading when I’m so long-winded. Which today (apparently) I am.

The second FAIL came pretty quickly afterwards. But I’m going to make you come back in a day or two for that one. I’ll also share with you if and how we fixed the Pantry Devil Light Debacle, too.

So come back, chickie.

I love ya for popping in here!


p.s. *itchy elbow: Anytime my Grandma Young was privy to a small child (or a big one) in her care misbehaving or getting “lippy,” she’d say “My elbow is getting itchy,” which–we all knew–meant that if the child in question didn’t shape the heck up, he/she would receive a spanking from Grandma. I never got one, by the way, but I’m pretty sure that my big brother Mark got more than his share.


18 thoughts on “Remodeling the kitchen, part 3: on Tenterhooks, and my first major FAIL

  1. Diane Young Decker

    Well, Amy, love, we DO have cable, so if you ever need a completely educated NOT, opinion on anything kitchen related, I’m your person. I compulsively watch only two channels, Food Network and HGTV. I can talk for hours about countertops, flooring, backsplashes, lighting, storage options, whatever your heart’s delight. I too, am of the vintage fixture school of decorating and love auctions, thrift stores, etc. If I had my way, I would fill my kitchen with real furniture, like Hoosier cabinets, old-school dish cupboards, and have a floor to ceiling pantry that is bigger than the actual kitchen. As we have matured, some of us have a heck of a time reaching the bottom cabinets with doors on them, so I am a huge fan of pull out drawers for the lower cabinets, big deep ones to hold those big pots and piles of cookie sheets. And a place to neatly store pot lids. I could go on forever. Oh, and a place for my Kitchenaid mixer that is out of the way of the countertops, but does not need to be moved to use it. That sucker is heavy! Would need tons of cookbook storage, in the handiest spot. I guess I do have a couple of opinions. Must be a Young trait?

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      See, Diane, that’s why I’ve always looked up to you–alll these details. I do need advice on countertops and backsplashes? Also what are Hoosier cabinets?

  2. Lynda Holliday

    Amy, you always make me laugh or at least smile and nod in mutual support! I envy you, there isn’t a Menards with in 2 hours of me and I miss them! Years ago we remodeled our kitchen in Iowa and hired a designer, and I agree with you I probably deferred to her opinion a lot. Can’t wait to see your kitchen complete, as I bet you can’t wait either.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Lynda, you see, how you grabbed a positive right there–that’s why I love my Gentle Readers so much! Instead of thinking “I HAVE to go to Menard’s” you said “I Miss Menard’s!” I’ll remember you and your sunny attitude the next week that I spend in that store.

  3. gene gage

    Gentle readers of Amy’s blog – that pantry isn’t nearly as bad as Amy makes it out to be. In fact, I would bet that most of you (mostly) female readers would give your first born for a pantry so spacious and well thought out (except for the stupid red pendant lights). I’ve been in it twice and I can guarantee you that it is totally serviceable; much more so than the pantry that I “designed” 11 years ago when we built our “house in the country.” Amy’s is long and narrow with shelves along both walls, but those shelves are not so deep that she cannot find stuff stashed next to the wall.

    In my case, the Pantry is just a 6′ x 6′ x 8′ tall cube with 18″ deep shelves that are a total disaster, because stuff gets stacked in there so high and so deep that the only things that are readily accessible are the things directly facing the too small space in the center – a space that is often as not filled with cases of bottled water, empty wine bottles, not-yet-filled canning jars, boxes of garbage bags, our largest wooden salad bowl from the 1960s, kettles that are too large for any other place in the house, etc.

    In fact, the only thing that I did right about the pantry was to give up on finding an attractive light fixture (“For God’s sake, sweetheart, who is ever going to see the interior of the pantry except us?”) and it has been lit for the past 10.5 years with a bare 60 watt bulb dangling from the ceiling. Which is totally adequate from a utilitarian perspective. (Amy, are you listening, er reading this?)

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Hmmm . . . Spoiler alert! Gene, I’ve got to respectfully remind Gentle You that you saw my new pantry and the red lights AFTER the fix–but I can’t reveal what that is yet. And for my part, the pantry will probably be the first thing that I show off to most folks who come to the house, so proper lighting (i.e. not Satanic) is a concern.

  4. Chef William

    wow, I did read this (over a few cups of coffee) I must say, I am so happy for Reuben to have found a job that will carry him to his retirement years and beyond. I do hope you put a retirement package together for him before he signed on to the job of a lifetime. I can’t wait to read HIS book on kindle if ever this project should be completed. I think that the least you should give him is a nice big rocking chair in a little corner of the kitchen so that he can drop by from time to time for coffee and a fresh baked goody as he rocks back and forth and admires the work that took the better part of his working years to complete. Better he sit in your kitchen than in the general store telling all those stories about the remodeling job he did for the slightly mad women that lives over on Happy acres.

  5. Anne

    Oh, I thought I was done laughing until I read Chef William’s reply. Thank you for that. Oh Amy. This is a delightful read. What a blessing you are.

  6. Lucy

    ….Amy….you’re making me, WHAAA, sniff sniff “home sic”……meaning, we’re …renters, have been, gulp, for 7 yrs this coming March….I’d just love to, “do something to these walls!”( that we’re renting ) but alas….I shant or rather, I can’t : ( Still, a new year is upon us all and I truly do believe it’s going to be a SUPER DUPER one, ( did I just say super duper? ) meaning, (again) “there’s no place like, home….there’s no place like A HOME. We WILL find the perfect dwelling and you… the”perfect light” for the pantry : ) In the mean time, please please keep the coffee and crumpets and your wonderful stories coming…I /we/ Reuben thank ya kindly, oh and…Happy New Year!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Lucy, oh, I feel your pain! We rented for many years, and then we lived in fixer-upper houses that we then sold. It wasn’t until we were in our 40s that we moved to the country to our current project.

  7. Kay

    I just deleted a VERY long comment praising Reuben, berating the contractor we used and supporting satellite tv. In a nutshell, kiss the ground Reuben walks on. Sometime I’ll tell you the sad, sad tale of our remodel. PS We all make questionable decisions in a remodel. Mine were convincing the BEF that the contractor was a good one and that a wide wooden threshold between the office and living room was what I wanted. (until I saw it installed and hated it! Thankfully I have a very patient Farmer. Not thrilled with the metal strip thingie but it’s ok for now.) Can’t’ wait to see the final reveal.

  8. Pingback: Remodeling the Kitchen, Part 4: The second FAIL I'll own up to . . . -

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