Grumpy about the construction project (We’re home. Oh shit.)

We got home Friday evening. We pulled up with vague feelings of trepidation, because two weeks’ worth of labors have happened in our absence. From the outside, we saw immediately that the skeleton of the addition is done. Very very cool, and very very exciting.





Looks pretty good, huh?? The blue roof tarp adds a touch of class.

Then we walked into the house through the kitchen door.

The first thing I noticed was the ripe stench of raw sewage. It hit me like a hammer to the head. After I contained my gag reflex, I investigated. I discovered that our powder room toilet, which is right next to the kitchen door, was full of brown mucky water. Definitely sewage. The toilet in the second floor bathroom was the same. There’s no water running to those rooms, so it felt all wrong.  Also the towel rack over the upstairs toilet had fallen off. I have no idea why, since nothing has happened in that bathroom. Maybe the shaking from demolition on the other side of the wall? Hopefully it didn’t involve someone holding onto the towel rack while making sewage.


I wandered into the living room. The fish tank was murky. Verrrrry murky. There are three fish in there, but I can’t seem them. There used to be four. One died while we were away.


The wood floors were dirty everywhere. Very dirty.

The basement laundry/bath room, the only place where we actually have running water — i.e., where we’ll piss, shit, shower, brush teeth, wash hands, do dishes, and get drinking water until some weeks from now — was completely filthy from mechanical work. I thought the laundry would be hooked up, but it wasn’t. My dreams of getting right to washing the 10-gallon ziplock bag full of vomit-covered clothing and beach towels, from yesterday’s drive, were dashed.

The carpet in our basement, in the zones around the mechanical work, was scary dirty.

The refrigerator was off for three or four days while we were away, so there was no cold food. Everything had to go. Also we had no other food worth mentioning.

Our gigantic window fan, which usually draws a massive amount of air into the house via a window in the middle room, wouldn’t cool down our haven bedroom. We slowly figured out it’s because there’s a giant hole in a wall where a window is supposed to go, and that’s where the fan is drawing in air instead of from our bedroom windows. The actual window can’t go in the gaping hole yet, because there’s a massive main-line electric wire bundle running out the hole. I’m sure it has something to do with the utility company being asshats.

And so on. But it’s cool. It’s groovy. It’s all good. Because this is what living in a home under renovation is like, right?

We eventually figured out that the vent stack for the house has been untethered, because it was all quirky and has to be redone with the new bathroom and all. Here’s the place where the vent stack used to head up:


And the top of it heading out the roof:


There’s a missing link, and the twain shall never meet again, at least for a while. If you don’t already know about vent stacks:  they’re really, really important. Those nasty gas bubbles that come up from raw sewage go up the vent instead of pushing sewage back up into your toilets. Once we saw that our vent stack had been dissected, we understood that gas bubbles had pushed sewage back up into our toilets. Easy solution: we carried buckets of water up from the basement and poured them into the toilets, and after a few pours it was all better. Fortunately, the drains were still in place. We forgot to check first. That would have been a disaster of unimaginable magnitude.

Our air conditioning still works, so we fixed the fan and heat problem by turning on the a/c. Easy-peasy.

Food deficit? Solved: Noodles and Company, and then Trader Joe’s. Each within six minutes of our house.

Filth? Solved: Anthony. He is a Type A machine when it comes to this stuff. Armed with a swiffer stick and a few boxes of swiffer wipes (wet and dry), along with a dustpan, he cleaned everything up. I vacuumed aimlessly in my poodle skirt and sweater set while he toiled.

Fish tank? Working on it. I scrubbed stuff and change the filter and changed out half the water. It’s recovering.

Laundry? Solved big time. I texted Kristi-the-designer to whine a bit about it. I wondered if the washer could be hooked up Monday. But the plumber came this morning (Saturday!) and fixed it up right away. His name is BOB. Bob the Plumber. Kristi refers to him affectionately as “Bob the P.” BTP totally came through for me.

I even remembered to call Time Warner before we got home. The cable line had been pulled off the telephone pole a couple weeks ago, right before we left on our vacation, so we had no internet connectivity. Talon, the demolition specialist, admitted he took the line down (unintentionally) with a mighty blow from his sledge hammer. I couldn’t blame him, because earlier in the day a visitor to my next door neighbor had rammed Talon’s car with her own and then tried to avoid reporting it to the police and insurance. Not. Talon had good reason for some aggression.

During our long and miserable drive home from New Jersey (where my in-laws did not eat me), I called Time Warner, and they came out before we got back home to fix our internet line. So when we got home, we actually had internet. We set the kids up for a quiet movie and all was well in the world (except for everything that wasn’t well).

And the new spaces in our house are starting to come together. It’s hard to capture in photos. but here are a couple looks.



You’re seeing our future new kitchen and mudroom there, from a couple different angles. Looks good.


Naked stud walls and bare subfloor planks upstairs. I love that look.

Nothing seems to be irreparably broken, despite the removal of an entire wall of our house. Jesse might appear to be broken, but I’m not buying it. I just need to try a little harder and get a fresh perspective. We’ll survive this renovation because we have no choice anymore. I’ll survive Jesse for the same reason, just as surely as she’ll survive me.

grumpy about the construction project (whatever the weather)

Not even the thunderstorms of the past few days can stop Kurber Construction from doing its thing. Our house took a pounding in rain, but somehow none of it came in the house despite a variety of little holes, and these fellows just keep on working.

Here they are, hard at work.

Eric, enjoying fresh delicately sliced fruits.


Dan, chilling in his head band. Duuuuude.


Talon, chilling on his lunch cooler. Double duuuude.


Kristi, our designer, relaxing with them all.


You would think I could get these peeps some chairs. I might do that today. Regardless, they know how to settle down for a slouchy lunch to recover their energy for the afternoon’s labors. That’s a skill set I need to develop.

One morning I came out of the house with the kids and saw someone on the roof. I knew it couldn’t be Topol, ya ba dibba dibba dibba dibba dibba dum, because there was no fiddle. It was Erick, having a pleasant conversation on his phone. On the roof, because… why not?


They work steadily and carefully. Here, I think they’re framing up headers for the second story floor. I’m sure they were happy that I was standing under them snapping these pictures. Very safe, exactly the type of distraction that tests their focus and mettle. It’s what I’m here for.


There it is. Floor joists are in.


And at the end of every day they clean up after themselves.IMG_9582

I really didn’t think construction crews did that. But this trio does. KURBER CONSTRUCTION, in case you’re wondering, right here in Wisconsin. Good stuff. Nothing to be grumpy about.

But the day is very young, and I have to spend the rest of it with two little kids and a dog who are still completely flipped out about this whole project. I’ll find my way back to grumpy soon enough.

grumpy about the construction project (random moments in a life of mayhem)

Everything is happening fast. The crew got enough demolition done to lay down floor joists for the addition’s first floor, and then before I could even take a photo of that skeleton, they had the subfloor in. So the space that used to look like this —


looked like this after about a day of work:


Wow. Just like that, it’s all covered up. Erick seems to be demonstrating the wide sitting stance in tae kwon do. Then they framed up the exterior walls for the first floor of the back corner of the addition.IMG_9500 IMG_9503IMG_9506 IMG_9510

You can see the framing for the small windows that’ll sit on either side of my new range in the last pic. It’s all being done so smartly. We still aren’t living al fresco, because no existing exterior wall has yet been torn out. I think they’re planning to finish the new exterior first so our existing home will never be fully exposed to the elements. I had expected it to look more like a gaping two-story hole covered in plastic sheeting. Instead, the plastic sheeting is inside. IMG_9554

They put that in to separate the work space from our living room, which will be untouched. It keeps out most of the construction dust. The plastic is taped in place and held up by extender rods, like shower curtains on end. The opening is some funky tape-on zipper system, so that closes right up whenever you want. It’s great, but now I’m worried about looking in the kids’ stuffed animal bin. ET might be hiding in there.

Our kitchen, which used to look like this… IMG_9018

now looks like this:


Which I consider to be quite an improvement. We’re eating in our makeshift kitchen in the basement, which isn’t so bad. It’s a bit like being in college again.


Except for the fancy gas grill we invested in, which is perfectly fine for cooking gourmet food. Like bacon.


That’s the kind of food we’re eating now. Bacon sandwiches on hamburger buns are the new normal. I think I’ll continue the trend even after my kitchen is done. And, if I use slices of raw eggplant instead of bread, I will finally be paleo and grow strong cavewoman muscles.

We’re trying to keep things as clean as we can in the spaces we’re living in, but it’s been a struggle during the heart of demolition. I feel a sort of muck in my eyes when I wake up. Demolition dust is like ghost smoke, it just goes everywhere no matter how hard everyone tries. The guys put down some thick paper product on the floors to protect them, taping it in place carefully up the stairwell. It turns out the paper is harder to clean than just mopping up the floors at the end of each day after the crew heads home. More importantly, our wee dog was a brat about the papered stairs. She wouldn’t go up or down them. She’d just whine at either end hopelessly until someone came to retrieve her. So annoying. After only a day we asked if the paper had to be down. Erick the boss said no, so I said great, we’ll take it back up over the weekend and I’m sorry you did the extra work. I felt so bad. The guys nodded quietly and said sure. But at the end of the day they had quietly and neatly taken up the paper for me, without any fuss at all.

I hate it when people are thoughtful and nice. It makes me feel like such a grumpy shit.

Why can’t I be like that too? Instead, I’m just feeling crabby and tired on this Monday morning. The kids are hating all over me about the renovation. Every single morning, Jesse wakes up whining loudly. “UUUUGH. WHY??? Why do we have to renovate the house??? Why are you taking everything away from me?” She keeps going, even as I heat up the oil on the hot plate to cook her blessed FISH STICKS for breakfast. Nick has been chiming in too. “Mommy? Can they put the rug back on the stairs? Then it will be soft when I fall.”

I’ve had some low points too.

One day we forgot to leave the kitchen door unlocked. When the crew arrived at 7:00 am (uuugh), they couldn’t get in the house so they rang the bell. I jumped out of bed and ran downstairs in the t-shirt and shorts I was sleeping in. Dan and Talon were standing at the door. They saw me and some strange look passed over their faces before their polite smiles came on. “We are soooooo sorry to wake you up! We could just wait if you want. Seriously, we can just wait outside until you’re ready for us to start. Soooooo sorry.” I shrugged to myself about why they were feeling so bad until 30 seconds later, when I walked into the bathroom and happened to see myself in the mirror. GAH! I jumped back in terror. Eyes half swollen shut, skin splotchy, wild bed-head sticking up all over the place. I was probably drooling. I looked insane.

Another day I was taking a dump on the basement toilet, which is located on the same exterior wall as most of the demolition and rebuild. As I sat, bits of plaster and dirt rained gently down on my head. I almost cried.

But I know it’s all in pursuit of a good first-world cause. Someday soon, I will see my crazy-ass morning face in a beautiful master bathroom mirror that I don’t have to share with the kids (I think), and I will sit my ass on a pristine new toilet to poop.

grumpy about the construction project (oh sh**, asbestos)

We already have our first unpleasant surprise, at least the first one that’s real instead of mocked up by the architectural review board.

We wanted to knock out a wall. When they took down the drywall they found air ducts in the cavities where we want to have the opening.


The ducts could probably be moved, but they happen to be sheathed in an insulating paper that contains asbestos, according to the construction guys. Well shit. Shit shit shit.

Does this mean we have to put a tent over the house like when they found the alien in E.T.? Maybe I’m over-reacting. More realistically, it may mean we choose to leave those ducts be and we don’t get our opening.

I guess worse things could happen. Like Anthony could make your grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich on the hot plate we’re cooking on these days. I love Oster for making the most practical, cheap appliances for a simple life. This is our cooktop for the next two to three months, and it works great:


But place it in Anthony’s good hands and he does this:


GAH. He flipped the top slice of bread over. The flat bottom of one slice is matched to the round top of the other slice. What kind of human being does that?? I sliced up a fresh loaf of french bread and carefully arranged the slices vertically on a plate so anyone could grab two adjacent slices and easily place them together in the correct orientation.

Anthony made a mockery of my prep work by creating this, this… monstrosity of a sandwich. He didn’t even feel the need to slice off the overhangs and mis-matched ends (very, very carefully, as I would have done) before he ate this sandwich gone askew! The humanity.

I guess I’ll learn to live with the asbestos.

grumpy about the construction project (rubble rubble I’m in trouble)

It started out so gently and innocently. One fellow named Dan hung out late last week for a day or two and took out a few bricks and some siding, in a sort of exploratory sparring match with the house.

IMG_9432 IMG_9430

Then over the weekend we had to empty the refrigerator and disassemble it, so that the construction guys could move it into the basement for us.

Refrigeration is a modern miracle, but when you have to move a fridge, it’s a modern pain in the ass. First I had to empty it, which is kind of shocking. I found stuff in there that I must have bought five years ago or more. I loaded the perishables into a couple coolers filled with ice so they’d last overnight. Then we had to take the refrigerator doors and shelves off, because otherwise the monster doesn’t fit through our old house doors. That process was enlightening and frightening. There was gunk and junk in nooks and crannies I hadn’t imagined existed, and unexpectedly foul muck on every shelf. New single-cell life forms were evolving. I’m sure I heard them say hello, unless it was the distant sound of my own disgusted grunts. Much washing and wiping ensued.

By the way, what do you make of this ridiculous water line into the fridge?


That’s about 10 feet of bent flexible copper. Who does that? No wonder our water dispenser never worked.

Anyway, we survived the refrigerator job, and then two large burly men hauled the fridge downstairs Monday morning. As I re-assembled the fridge, the pounding began. Two children and a dog huddled in on me, blank and silent. Silence is always the definitive sign of true terror, in my opinion, so I knew they were really scared.


IMG_9478 IMG_9482 IMG_9483

These pictures are fuzzy because my hands were shaking, due to the anxiety attack I’m having. All of us – the kids, Anthony, and I — are experiencing some sort of primal emotional yawp as the demolition goes down. I guess it’s hard watching parts of your house turn to rubble, even when it’s on purpose.

It must be some paleo thing.

Speaking of paleo, how many peeps do you think it takes to demolish half of a house? The answer is apparently: three.

The fellow in the photo above is named Dan. He seems really easy-going. (He may not actually be, because he’s venting a whole lot of spleen with the demolition.) He came the first couple days with a cotton head band on, to accompany the sledge hammer. Monday morning I opened my mouth and words came out before I could stop them, because I have the social graces of a flea: “Can I call you Olivia Newton John?” I giggled. It looked like Dan bit his tongue, and then his BOSS, Erick, chimed in. “You mean, Olivia Newton DAN.” Snicker snicker snicker. O.N. Dan handled it well, but today he didn’t wear the headband. I hope it was a coincidence.

Dan, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. I was very rude. I don’t think you look like O.N. John. She had chicken legs, and you don’t.

Erick is the boss. He works hard, as you can see in this picture.


It’s good to be boss. You can still smile while the hard work goes on, even when your insane client approaches you snapping madly with her iPhone camera.


Okay okay, Erick’s no shirker of worker. He moved my fridge down, which was brutal. Plus he wears those cool metal-tip boots, which have a sort of cartoonish look to them, sort of like heavy metal Popeye. I want a pair.

The third guy on the crew is named Talon. Or Tallin. I don’t actually know how to spell it. Here’s Talon/Tallin working on the brick wall.


He and Dan work clean and fast and careful, a sort of trifecta of desirable traits in demolition work, plus they’re actually cheerful. Weird. I’m pleased to report that, despite the name similarity, this Talon/Tallin is not a fully weaponized bio-mechanoid space alien known as a Leviathon, nor does the Talon/Tallin ripping my home apart serve as a space vessel to an insane, treasonous Peacekeeper commander on a single-minded mission to kill John Crichton.

Which is all good news. Jesse met these three fellows and wanted to know if Daddy is as strong as them. Anthony answered. “No.”

Economists understand efficiency.

The other strong man I’ve met so far can’t be left out of the cast of characters. This is John, our foundation and masonry guy.


He is perfect – he has the right kind of grumpy written all over him, crunchy outside and marshmallow inside. I said I was taking his picture and he reacted like a runway model, taking off his glasses, striking this pose, and popping me a smile. Awesome. On the few occasions we’ve had a chance to chat, he grumbles about this and that, complains about bureaucrats and politicians, and then smiles a big winning smile and just gets the work done with a jolly flare. What’s not to love. I was told his brother and business mate died less than a year ago, so he’s going on building foundations for other people’s homes and lives while he learns to live without one of his own foundation stones. I can’t be grumpy about that.

grumpy about the construction project (I am addled)

We filled a PODS container with half of our possessions. We just relocated our kitchen stuff to an alternative site in the basement because major demolition is commencing. We pulled out a wall ourselves. We moved all the beds into one room. We re-arranged much of our furniture to make space for renovations and still allow for some reasonable living accommodations. We emptied a couple closets that disappeared and re-organized all our linens and blankets and Things We Keep In Closets into other closets. The house actually looks remarkably organized.

I can’t find anything.

I am completely addled by all the changes. I am addled, rattled, confused, anxious, and fussy. I can’t think straight. Lately, several times a day, I find myself pacing slowly in the living room, wondering blankly where stuff is. I’m not even looking for anything in particular. I feel like an old dog, aimlessly wondering where my bones are.

Last week I put together a little letter package to send to my mom. She wanted help closing out a little investment account, and the form the financial company sent her after receiving her first form request was — NEWS FLASH — confusing. Why do insurance companies have to dick around so with elders? She sent it to me. I read it and highlighted the spots she needs to sign, wrote her a note explaining things, added a pre-addressed and stamped envelope for her to mail the form in, and sealed that little secretarial package up and addressed it to her.

Then I lost it. I left it somewhere in the house with a mental note to drop it in the mail next time I went out, but that never happened. I have hunted far and wide for that blasted envelope for the last 6 or 7 days. I looked through the garbage. I rifled through what few drawers and shelves remain in the house. I went through all my recycled bags and backpacks. Nothing. I called the company to see what to do next. I found the power of attorney mom gave me and was going to fax it over so I could get on this, and then I got swept away by all the mess of getting things ready for demolition and the architectural review board stress. In other words, I forgot about it.

My iPhone chimed today and I saw the call was from Mom. Bleeeeah. I wasn’t ready to deal with her asking me why I hadn’t come through for her yet, so I ignored the call. But I felt really guilty about that a couple minutes later so I listened to her message.

“Hi Cahla! Thank you for sending me the letter! I really appreciate it and I’ve sent the form in. I know you’re busy with your construction, and that can be very confusing.”

You’re not kidding, Mom.

grumpy about the construction project (I’m still not over the ARB)

I can’t let go yet of what the asshats at the architectural review board were like.

Asshat 1 (I’ll call him A1) sat next to me in his denim shorts and was such a self-righteous jerk. His first sentence about this situation started like this: “I don’t want to be difficult, but…” ASSHOLE MOVE. we’re grown ups and shouldn’t be doing opposite-talk like juveniles. What if I had started by saying, “I don’t want to tell the ARB that you’re a bunch of fucking idiots, but…”


A1 claimed to be worried about what our next door neighbor would feel about wood siding on our back corner, instead of brick. I answered as dryly as I could, because I was close enough to head slap the guy and was tempted. “You mean the neighbors sitting on their dilapidated wood porch,” I showed him a photo, “attached to the house that’s covered randomly in wood and brick.” I showed him another photo. The house could win an ugly house contest.

“Not that neighbor,” he smarmed at me in the worst patronizing way. “The other neighbor.” I answered again. “You mean the neighbor on the other side of our property from the addition, who can’t even see the side of the house where you’re asking us to put bri—-”

A1 interrupted me. He was clearly full of shit and had no idea what he was talking about. “What if you use the sheet siding that they press and color to make it look like brick?”


I took an internal breath. This guy is claiming to be worried about what my neighbors think? He thinks they’d prefer cheap-ass fake imitation sheets to real wood? No wonder so many of the renovations in my town are butt-ugly with ugly siding materials! This joker is telling people to do it.

Architect Kristi slouched in her seat and I saw her hide her glare. She replied quietly and stiffly, “They can’t make that stuff look good.” I chimed in. “I don’t want to put cheap materials on the house. That’s the whole point. I want to match the materials that are already on it, brick and wood, not sheets or aluminum or vinyl. That’s why we can’t afford brick in the back corner.”

I’m not sure anyone heard me.

Asshat 2 (A2) sat in his short sleeve 80% poly button shirt micro-criticizing the project with a tired dopey look on his face. “I don’t like the way this window is so close to the change of materials,” he whined. No renovation is perfect, I shot back. He smarmed sagely, “I wondered why the windows were like this until I looked at the kitchen plan and saw what’s going on. The sink really should have been on this back wall and then you’d be able to look out at the yard from it through a big window blah blah blah.” He finished smugly along the lines of, “but who am I to tell you how to design your kitchen.”

Oh really, asshole? My womanly place is at the sink staring at the back yard with my fat ass pointed at the guests enjoying my fine fare at the island counter? I’ll tell you who you are to tell me how to design my kitchen. NOBODY.  NO. BO. DY. Go shove your bad ideas up your patronizing male ass. Jerk.

This is why I hired a woman designer who does things her own way and actually listens to her clients, instead of telling them exactly how things have to be because that’s how it’s done. My guess is, these guys on the ARB are insiders in our town’s construction trade, and they don’t know Kristi, so they’re giving us shit. Fuck them all. I’m not buying into the con. I’m going to be communicating with the city manager and mayor and my alderman. I don’t care that I got exactly what I wanted. They shouldn’t have been wankers about it, and they shouldn’t have pissed me off. I’m coming after them now.

grumpy about the construction project (success at the architectural review board)

Remember my problems with the architectural review board (aka the ARB)? They wanted me to put brick where I want to put wood, in the back corner of the house. Remember that the ARB told our architect Kristi that they wouldn’t require it, but then they did.

This is a much too complicated story to bother telling accurately or fully, especially with this delicious Redemption rye in my hand distracting me, but here’s my best go at keeping it short and simple.

Not one member of the ARB who was at the first meeting showed up for the second meeting. I have no idea whether it’s because they weren’t invited by the city development guy (I’ll call him Todd, because that’s his name, and I wouldn’t go so far as to rename him “Mr. Toohey”) who caused this whole dust-up with his memo to the permit guy, or because they refused to attend and participate in an argument where they had to admit they screwed up. Todd seems to actually run the show, even though he’s not an official member of the ARB, so maybe they’re just afraid of him. Whatever. It’s LAME.

Todd came out to get us for the meeting and it went like this. He apparently told Kristi (our architect) that we weren’t going to talk about what happened at the last meeting. That’s convenient; we won’t talk about how we think Todd screwed up. Excellent news. Then he told us to come back to the room. I never met Todd before so I was still waiting for one simple nicety. I stared at him and he stared at me as we stood in the hallway. After a surprisingly long moment, I finally had to ask, “Who are you?”  He looked at me blankly. “I’m Todd,” he said, in a tone and with a stone-dumb look in his eye that suggested the following additional silent words: “how can you not already know that I am the King of England?” I held my hand out. He looked down at it. He remembered he had a hand to shake with.

We followed him into a very small, cramped conference room, where two ARB members were seated. We weren’t allowed to sit at the conference table. We had to sit along a wall. I kid you not. So there we sat, Anthony and me and Kristi, waiting for the third board member who would actually attend the meeting. When he arrived, King Todd called the meeting to order and they formally convened. Then Anthony and I and Kristi were formally invited to sit at the table. We got up from the chairs we were sitting in, took one step forward, and sat down in chairs at the table.

Then yadda yadda yadda happened, and yadda yadda. The ARB members wanted to hear from us. I opened my big big mouth. I gave them fresh color copies of our letter and powerpoint presentation. I told them I wrote the letter because that’s what lawyers do, and Anthony organized the powerpoint slides because that’s what economists and professors do. It was really snotty puffery of the worst kind. I have no idea if it intimidated them, but I hope it made a point of some kind. My skort, beach sandals, food-stained black t-shirt, and dirty hair certainly weren’t winning me any points. I didn’t mean to be unclean or sloppy. I just forgot as I was walking out of the house to put on decent shoes, and I don’t have any professional clothes that fit me anymore after a decade off the job market, and the t-shirt was dirty from feeding the kids, and the hair? Well who has time to bathe during summer vacation??

Bottom line: I don’t have to use brick anymore. Wood good. There was some banter about setting the contiguous wall back about 4 inches where there’s a change of material, and something about a shadow line, and Kristi said something along the lines of hey that’s great, it’ll look better that way and we can do that and it won’t increase costs at all — which I thought was really classy of her, because these guys really messed her about.  It’s good enough for me. Now Mr. Carpenter, can you please show up soon?

grumpy about the construction project (still waiting for total destruction)

Our foundation is dug, poured, and laid. That job wrapped up last Thursday, and now we’re waiting for the carpenter and gang to begin demolition and new building. Tick tock, tick tock. Tomorrow… carpenter Erick (hypothetically) finally begins his work.

It’s probably a good thing this part is going slow, because Anthony and I are definitely procrastinating on emptying our kitchen, which will disappear later this week under the weight of the wrecking ball. Not a real one, of course, which would trouble me no end by bringing to mind cringe-worthy images of Miley Cyrus in white undergarments and, well… ew. On the other hand, maybe it would entertain the hard-working demolition crew if Jesse and Nick and I stood out front in white t-shirts, rubbing our cheeks with our wide-open palms and bellowing “YOU CAME IN LIKE A WREEECKING BAAAAAALL…”

That’s kind of disturbing, actually. Never mind.

Sometimes I think this sort of ideation is a sign of mental illness, but another part of me says it’s just a desperate coping mechanism. I’m not sure.

Oh. Today, without any further delay, we have to bring our dining table down to the basement, empty our kitchen cupboards, and set up our alternative kitchen for the next two months. No more daydreaming about wrecking balls and Miley tears.

Meanwhile, our back yard is trashed.

We tend to keep gardens that are quite nice, in our opinion.

Oh how lovely. Look at all those textures. A little fastidious here, but it’s a young area that hasn’t filled in yet to cover all the mulch spots. Also it’s not flower season in our garden. We’re past daffodils and tulips, and not yet at our butterfly wildflowers.IMG_9354

And here are our shady spots. Boring plants to be sure, but you know, not so bad.IMG_9359 IMG_9358 IMG_9356

These are all on the east side of our property. Here’s what the west side looks like now.


That’s a “silt fence” that the city required the contractor to put up around the construction zone. I’m not sure what it’s accomplishing other than making things a bit more ugly. The giant piles of dirt were dug up for the new foundation and basement crawl space. There used to be plants where the dirt now resides. In fairness, the plants were total junk — random ground covers and weeds, and plants we dropped in there because they were dying elsewhere. I’m not that sad about the tear up, though the weeds still looked better than the dirt.

But that trashy-looking construction zone certainly sits in stark contrast to our well-tended gardens.  On the other hand, it fits perfectly with the kids’ junky plastic shit in our front yard.


Onward HO. In 3 hours we appear before the architectural review board to bitch about them requiring us to put brick on the rear elevation of our addition. I’ll be back this evening, stiff drink in hand, to tell you how that went.

grumpy about the construction project (why, architectural review board, why?)

Our addition is advancing.  Last week they dug out a bunch of earth and poured concrete footings.IMG_9248

Yesterday they built the cinderblock foundation walls.IMG_9326

I don’t know what’s happening today, but it involves white gravel–looks like crushed granite. Maybe a drain field?IMG_9330

Because the location of the addition is in this cramped space between our house and garage, and because we have slopes and tight property lines to the sides of the structures, everything is being wheelbarrowed or carried to the addition space.


That work sucks. I’m keeping a cooler full of sodas and water out there for the crews, but there’s little I can do to to improve this poor mate’s plight.

Meanwhile, somewhere in La La Land, the architectural review board, aka the ARB, is giving us grief.

Pretty House

Here’s our pretty house. This is an old photo. We don’t have the red on there anymore, and we removed the shutters, and we have some dark blue trim now, and also actual gardens instead of so much grass.Untitled

But I can’t take a current photo because right now it looks like this.IMG_9249

By the way, that PODS storage box sitting in my front yard is about as attractive as a lot of additions I see in the neighborhood, all of which have been approved by the ARB of my little city.

Okay, so look up at that first photo of our house — can you see the little breezeway between the garage and the house? That’s the site of our expansion, just that little bit. An eight-foot addition, running the full depth  and height of the house. The roof line will stay exactly the same, including the shed dormer, It’s all just stretching 8 feet to the right, with a couple new windows. We’re having the cream city brick recycled from the side wall to the front, so the addition should be totally seamless. Visually, you’ll never know we added to the house.

Cream city brick is A Thing around here. Apparently it isn’t made anymore, so the only way to apply new cream city brick is to find recycled brick. Can you say cha-ching? It costs money, lots of money. Homes that have it are supposed to be awe-awe-awesome, but in this down real estate market coupled with midwestern cheapsk—- uh, frugality, no one actually is willing to pay a premium for it.

Still, we heart our house, so we’re having them put that blessed brick on the pretty front side of the addition.

Ugly House

And here’s our ugly house.IMG_9259

Can you believe that’s the same house? This is the butt end of the house, and it is butt ugly — a  three story blob hanging out in our back yard.

The side is kind of ugly too and covered in wires.


How lovely to have a second story porch staring at the roof of the garage over the breezeway. Where my children can go out and, after electrocuting themselves on the low-slung 20-kabillion-kilowatt main electrical line into the house, tumble over the railing onto the erstwhile concrete slab or stone walkway.

That side wall is coming out so the house can stretch. Bye bye cream city brick.

And here’s the breezeway we’re filling, viewed from the backyard. It’s kind of ugly from this angle too, isn’t it? I think so.


Anyway, real cream city brick veneer is so expensive. Kristi our architect told us we could save a ton by using wood siding to match the wood on the house (not vinyl or some other crappy material, mind you, but actual wood), and we said YES PLEASE in less time than it takes for my dog to sneak a puke onto the only nice wool rug in the house. We decided modern plumbing in our new kitchen was more important than non-structural brick in the back corner.

It won’t be perfect from the back. The last eight feet of the house will be clad in wood head to toe; so on the bottom half, brick will meet wood on a single contiguous wall. Meh. But honestly, it’s going to be the cramped back corner of the house, invisible from the street. And these photos, taken from the future back corner of the house, show you who will see it.

IMG_9263 IMG_9267 IMG_9265

Nobody. Just the deer, raccoons, and coyote that wander through and leave their dung for our dog to sniff. No one will ever see that back corner or care about it, except (hypothetically only) us.

Kristi went to the ARB meeting in April and thought they approved our plans. There was a Great Debate, in which everyone was like “yaaawn nice plans go for it,” except for one young fuddy-duddy architect who was all “ARCHITECTURAL INTEGRITY DEMANDS BRICK ON THE BACK AND SIDE ELEVATIONS OF THE ADDITION.” Nonetheless, the ARB told Kristi they would “recommend” brick, not require it. End of story?  Of course not. We just learned that the approval memo for the permits says “require.”

Seriously? Does this view have any architectural integrity to begin with?IMG_9259

Don’t get me wrong. I love me a beautiful building, even if it’s plain. I do see that the windows on the first floor diminish from right to left in a cute little pattern. But the windows on the second floor are randomly placed, and what’s up with those mushroom vents? It’s not plain; it’s plain ugly. It will remain plain ugly whether the left end is clad in brick or wood.

Having the ARB tell me I have to care about this back corner makes me feel a rage well up inside me against the puny-minded beaurocrats who are using my renovation as a venting point for their sorry, small-minded need to impose their vapid and emasculated will arbitrarily on thoughtful, super awesome peeps like Anthony and me.

It’s almost enough for me to feel a kinship with Ayn Rand and go dust off a copy of The Fountainhead, and then I can go into the special ARB meeting that’s being convened to address this sorry issue and bellow at the board members in symbolic protest, “I AM HOWARD ROARK!! How dare you impose your empty vision of nothingness upon my greatness??”

NOOOOO. Did I really just say all that?

No no no no no. Reboot. Ayn Rand is an over-rated woman-hating fool. Howard Roark is a smug, asshat misogynist driven by unadulterated ego and lacking what would be an attractive modicum of modesty.

Damn you, ARB, damn you for causing that shit to ever come out of my mouth!!

Hold on while I get some soap in my mouth and wipe this greasy feeling off my skin and give myself a culture war colonic.

* * * * * * *

Okay, all better. I’m back on the left where I belong. Right, so we saw the memo saying we have to apply brick and had a mini-shit fit. After a few hours of raging, I announced to Anthony, “I’m gonna write a letter! And take photos of some of the ugly renovations in our neighborhood that the ARB has approved!” Anthony chimed in. “Don’t just send them photos. Let’s make powerpoint slides!”

Never leave a lawyer and an economist alone to stew in their emotions.