Friday, July 30, 2010

Sheep Camp!

Today G and R had their last day of sheep camp. What is sheep camp, you ask? It's run by a local farm (also where we get our free-range chickens and pork) for kids ages 6-12; they spend their days learning all about---you guessed it--sheep. G and R were each assigned their own lambs and all week they worked with them; teaching them to walk on a harness, tipping them to get them in position for shearing, trimming hooves, helping with injections, taking their temperatures (that was fun), and giving them baths. They also played games like Hide-and-Go-Sheep (hard to play because a lamb all alone will start to bleat loudly, giving you away!) and ran them through an obstacle course and a maze.

R enjoyed working with his lamb the most, but G's favorite part was working with the wool. The kids carded, washed, and spun the wool into yarn, and then dyed it with Kool-Aid of all things! They also got to try their hands at crocheting and knitting as well as weaving on popsicle stick looms.

We also sponsor a ewe on the farm; her wool was sheared in the spring and sent away to be cleaned and spun into yarn for me. It should be delivered by the end of next month; I have no idea how much yarn you get off an entire sheep, but I'm hoping I can at least eke out a sweater!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Will this floor drive me crazy?

Okay--I know I'm jumping ahead here, as I haven't written about any of our other choices concerning the new kitchen---but I have to make a decision about the floor in the next week or so and it's driving me nuts.

For various reasons we have discarded every flooring option except for tile (for those who are interested, I'll explain our reasoning in a later post). Tile presented its own issues for us, for although we are not trying to recreate a historically accurate 1870s kitchen, we do want the new floor to look like it belongs in the house. Lots of tile sold these days has a Tuscan, rustic look or a more modern polished look that just wasn't right for our room.

Then I found this.

Sorry my photo skills are lame
This is a combo of two different tiles; the outer tiles are a 2" matte glaze hex tile in a color called bone (a nice off-white/cream). The tile in the center is a 2" glossy hex in a caramel hue; if you look closely you can see the edges are fired in a cocoa color.  Believe me when I say this looks awesome with all of our other elements/colors. The bone tiles come in sheets of 36; we would randomly sprinkle in 3-4 caramel tiles on each sheet. (It would not have the organized flower look as above). Grout would be a medium shade to better hide any dirt.

I love how this looks. It fits the house and the kitchen perfectly. Yet I have been unable to move ahead and place the order. At first I thought it was because hex tile has more traditionally been used in bathrooms or Victorian surgeries rather than kitchens, but then I found lovely pictures of hex tile kitchens like this one:

Source: House Beautiful Kitchen of the Year 2007, via Your Home, Only Better
So I saw it can be used in kitchens, and in quite a lovely way (the above floor is apparently based on a floor at Harrod's department store in London!). It will give the room a light and airy feel and be somewhat unique at the same time. I have to face it. The main reason I can't pull the trigger on this decision? CLEANING, aka my lazy housekeeping habits.

My current floor (see previous posts for pics)? I hate it because I never seem to able to get it 100% clean. At the same time, I love it because you can't really tell it's dirty, at least until you look at the bottoms of your feet. (Eww.) You could really sweep it every so often, and not mop it at all unless it was grossly sticky or something, and never really tell the difference. Good when you have three boys and a dog.

This new floor--will it look like a muddy disaster after five minutes? Will I be mopping every hour, on the hour? No doubt it will show every crumb, every splash or spatter, every trace of dirt. So on the plus side, I will know it's dirty, but on the minus side, I will know it's dirty and feel compelled to clean it. I don't think it will be difficult to clean, just possibly time consuming, an every day thing instead of an every week or so thing.... ;-)

I feel we have exhausted just about all our possibilities here. We have looked at wood, cork, marmoleum, slate, marble, brick, other styles of porcelain/ceramic tile--this hex tile is what we're left with. Is it a huge mistake, or am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Should I simply encourage the removal of shoes at the door and give the children mops for Christmas? Hmm.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New shoe, old footprint

In my last kitchen post, I laid out some of the challenges we have in our current space with which we are not so eager to live. That said, there are some areas where we have been more than willing to compromise, perhaps even to the detriment of an ideal or perfectly useful kitchen.

We decided early on in our renovation process to stay within the existing kitchen footprint. Though the current remodeling trend seems to be knocking down walls to open up the floorplan, we just didn't feel it would be in keeping with the style of our home. Taking down a wall or closing up an entry would also mean losing original doors, moldings, and glass panes--we just couldn't bring ourselves to do it. I also like the fact that when I'm cooking, I have some semi-private time to myself.

This isn't to say that this choice made things easier. Our kitchen has five (yes, 5!) doorways: one to the den, one to the dining room, one to the laundry room, and two to the sunroom. All of these openings are at the same end of the room; this creates a feeling of somewhat useless space in that part of the kitchen as none of the doorways can be blocked with a table, for example, which would impede the traffic flow. 
to sunroom
to dining room, laundry door on other side of fridge

to den, you can see one of the sunroom doors on the left

As the existing layout leaves no room for a table large enough for all of us to eat in the kitchen, we decided to divide our dining time between the sunroom in warmer seasons and the dining room in chillier months. This works well for family meals, but after a while we all felt it might be nice to have somewhere in the kitchen to sit for a cup of coffee, or review a recipe, or have a quick snack after school. We had already found this most excellent antique workbench to use as an island:
we added wheels!
However, we could not fit stools under it and our aisles are about as narrow as we want them to be with out chairs gumming up the works. So we ordered a maple and walnut butcherblock tabletop from Vermont Butcherblock and C made a lovely table to which he also added wheels and a latch to connect it to the workbench. Both items are now moveable to any area of the kitchen and can be attached or separated as the situation dictates!

Of course, they usually end up staying locked together right where they are, but it's nice to know the option is there is we ever need it. This solution works well for our family, but I know many people would be turned off by a kitchen without a table or an island large enough to seat the entire family. Some might also think the long table running down the middle of the room blocks the work triangle; from fridge to cooktop you do have to take a slight detour, I admit, but to us the extra workspace is worth it.

So we've decided to live with all of our doorways (and the resulting empty space/dance floor at that end of the room), as well as our lack of a true eat-in-kitchen and somewhat crowded triangle...Perhaps in this instance form is triumphing over function, but if it functions well enough for us, it's all good, right?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tuesday is CSA Day!

Just one of the benefits of living in a town surrounded by farmland is the abundance of fresh produce. Farmer's markets are everywhere, ranging from a roadside table with a few baskets of zucchini and corn and an honor jar, to a weekly indoor/outdoor fresh food bonanza where you can find fresh meats, handmade soaps, hot pretzels and any fruit or vegetable under the sun. Lots of people grow their own vegegtables, too. Many backyards in our neighborhood are filled with neatly tended rows of squash, tomatoes, and peas. I, however, have a seriously black thumb and have never been able to keep a plant alive for more than a week or two. So the home garden is not really a viable option for us.

When we first moved here, we were excited by the prospect of getting our meats and produce from local farms, possibly organic/free-range as well. My original intention was to drive to the farmer's market 30 minutes away every Wednesday and purchase all of our meat, eggs, and produce. I think I went exactly twice, and not even on consecutive weeks. A half hour really isn't that far to drive; I used to do it as a matter of routine in the big city and thought nothing of it. But somehow, when confronted by nothing but two lane road, the sky, and cows, 30 minutes seemed like 3 hours. I bailed.

I started researching, looking for other markets that might be closer. While doing so, I came across something I'd never heard of before: a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) run by a local farm. How does it work? Members purchase produce shares for the growing season (here, typically about 20-22 weeks, June-Nov), which you can pick up at the farm, or at a designated delivery spot. Last year we picked up at a spot 15 minutes away, but this year we are site hosts and the veggies come right to our door! You can't beat it.

Our CSA offers a half share of 5-6 items per week, or a full share of 10 items. They also offer eggs twice a month. I'm sure we pay more for vegetables (the farm doesn't offer fruit at this time) than we would at the A&P, but we know it's extremely fresh and from right down the road. It also gives us an opportunity to try things we would never ordinarily buy. Our boxes have contained things like kale, swiss chard, red scallions, anise hyssop, fennel, pattypan squash, garlic scapes, and Asian greens. I confess having to scramble for recipes sometimes, or even look something up because I'm not sure what it is; I'll also admit we don't always like everything we get.  (Except for C, that sweet man, who happily eats everything put in front of him!) Sometimes the radishes get thrown to the rabbits. But it's been a fun experiment, and one I think we'll continue as long as we're able.

Monday, July 26, 2010

So what's wrong with it?

Well, there are a few things that can be improved about our kitchen, some which are tiny little minor annoyances, and others which are much much bigger pains in the butt. When a kitchen is over 40 years old, it's inevitable that some aspects might have lost their luster, or worse. I'll start with the smallest and finish big:

****You've already seen the photos of the cabinets; the outsides are fine, just not my style. A completely shallow statement on my part. I admit it.

****The white countertops are sliced, diced, scorched, stained, and coming apart at the seams. Some hard prep for lots of meals was done on these babies, that's for sure. The wood trim on the edge has only a few sad vestiges of finish left, and again, it's just not my thing.

****There's a largish imbedded wall heater next to the fridge that we were warned at our inspection not to use for fear the house might burn down. 'Nuff said.

****The refrigerator is outside of the triangle. Yes, yes, I know the triangle is considered outmoded in some circles, but when we are cooking and need more butter and then some milk and then sheesh we forgot the cheese and it's at the other end of the room, it gets a wee bit annoying. We need a more functional workspace.

****Soffits! I know sometimes these are necessary to hide AC ducts or the like, but we don't have any AC. As far as anyone can tell, the soffits in our kitchen were a purely aesthetic choice likely popular at the time, complete with chair rail to delineate the tops of the cabinets from the soffit wall. Maybe no one made cabinets taller than 30" back in the day, I don't know. Because our ceilings are so high, our soffits are big, too. We're knocking them out.

****A 15 year old over-the-cooktop microwave that is supposed to vent (and doesn't) so whenever we boil water or cook bacon our cabinets around the cooktop get all steamy and smelly. Fun! For a bonus delight, the microwave really only cooks on one side, so a plate has to be turned multiple times while reheating. Double fun!

****There are who knows how many layers of flooring in the kitchen, but it is enough that we have a small step into and out of the room. We'd like a flat floor.

****Remember in the previous post when I mentioned that part of a porch had been incorporated into the big 1968 kitchen remodel? You can tell exactly where the dining room used to end and the porch used to begin because the floor starts to take a downward slope toward the sink at exactly that point. Old house, lots of settling.

****Perhaps the biggest issue, having lived through one frigid winter here? Aside from the aforementioned ancient wall heater/potential fire hazard,  there's no other source of heat in the kitchen save an extremely loud toekick heater of indeterminate age. I tried it once and found the combination of headache, ringing in the ears, and yelling to be heard less than pleasant, so chose to go without.  Now granted, we just came from 6+ years in the Deep South, so maybe our blood was running a little thin last winter, but I swear the temperature in the kitchen was at least 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the house, and by the sink over that old porch? Dropped another 10, guaranteed. I practically needed mittens to do the dishes. Forget pretty light fixtures and pristine counters---without a doubt our favorite aspect of the new kitchen will be toasty toes while making our morning joe.

I  want to clarify here and for all future posts: I know we are just talking about a kitchen and that it is very inconsequential in the scheme of the world and the universe. We know we are quite fortunate indeed to have the opportunity to create our "dream kitchen" and though we haven't even started demo yet, we already know we never want to do it again, so we'd better do it right this time!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A History of Our Kitchen

When we first looked at this house, as much as we loved it, I knew the kitchen had some issues. It was giving off a distinctively '70s vibe; problem was, it was 1970s, not 1870s, and it just didn't mesh with the rest of the house.

This house has been owned by five families (including us). The man who built it, Judge H, lived here with his two unmarried daughters, and when he died, they remained. When they passed on sometime in the 1950s or '60s , the house was sold to Dr. and Mrs. R, who found a house still running on coal (which needed to be shoveled into the furnace twice a day) and with a very tiny afterthought of a kitchen. Over the course of their tenure, the house was updated and remodeled extensively with new electric, plumbing, and a significant rearranging of the floorplan. The old kitchen became a den; the old office became a dining room, and the old dining room and part of the side porch became a new big kitchen.

This newly remodeled kitchen was well done for its time, with high quality oak Wood-Mode cabinetry and white countertops and backsplash fashioned from a new material called Corian. When the R's had to move, they sold the house to Dr. and Mrs. S, whose presence in the home is expressed by their kids' names inside the hall closet and on the basement floor. After them came Dr. and Mrs. M, who updated some appliances, added a lot of recessed lighting, and devoted a ton of energy to the landscaping. They decided to move across the country, and now--here we are.

The kitchen as it currently stands has seen 42 years and four families (including at least ten kids), and really for all that it is in remarkable shape. The cabinets still seem solidly attached to the wall; the countertops, while scratched and stained and gouged and melted, perform as a countertop should; the appliances  (5 to 15 years old) all have their quirks but work well enough. So why are we ripping it all out, some of you might ask? (For others of you, the phrase "42 years and four families" may have sent you running hysterically for your sledgehammer and axe, I don't know.) I'll cover some of our reasons in the next post.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Let's give it a go, shall we?

Welcome to my blog! I suppose for my first post I should give a little background information. I live in a town big enough for three fast food burger joints, but small enough that the nearest mall/big box installation is 25 minutes away. The closest decent mall is an hour's drive through corn fields, and for a good mall, well, I just go visit my parents near DC.

Our town has a quaint Main Street, pretty Victorian houses, good schools with excellent student/teacher ratios, lovely countryside with rivers for kayaking and hills big enough for skiing. Headlines on the front page of the local paper say things like "Man thankful pet parrot survived house fire" or "Woman sees face of Jay Leno in raisin bread".  It is a slow, easy pace of life, something we were aching for after six years in a huge city where we spent more time alone in traffic than with each other.

Our house is one of those aforementioned pretty Victorians, the kind of house I've always dreamed of inhabiting. The only thing lacking was a mysterious trunk filled with love letters and old dresses hidden behind a secret door in the attic. (Thank you, Nancy Drew.)  I live here with my husband, three sons, and a bossy standard poodle, and I am thankful every day for our situation--but the house is 140 years old, and therefore needs some serious upkeep. We have a long list of projects we'd like to/need to accomplish, and the first one up is a biggie--we're gutting the groovy 1968 kitchen.

And of course putting it back together, hopefully in a much better state than we found it.