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August 25, 2017
My Kitchen and First World Problems

Dear one,

How was your summer? I’m going to tell you a story about mine, and hope it might shed light on why, if you’ve written me a lovely snail mail letter, I am late in getting back to you. This is where I get shallow, and instead of writing about the important things of life or the things going on in our world, right now, I complain about something that doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things.

The window is open and I hear the crickets singing this morning. There’s a cool breeze and hope that fall is coming and summer won’t torture us anymore with its heat. I’ll miss the pool, miss watching the kids all jump on bikes and ride away for an hour or two, I’ll miss the glasses of wine or whiskey with our neighbors on the porch at the end of the day, I’ll miss the romantic air of summer. But that’s about all, because summer in the midwest is a hellish torture oven and with the summer we’ve had, I am thankful to see it passing.

This summer was hard, and not just because I’m not looking through my prescription rose colored glasses. It was hard, with empirical evidence to prove it. But I must warn you here and now – nobody died, nothing catastrophic and forever life-altering happened.. it just sucked in a “first world problems” kind of way. Be forewarned, this is mostly just for me to complain about it, because that’s what you do with your pen pals, right? Along with life’s general summer woes of kids getting sick, zion’s seizures continuing, my migraines not being nice to me, the calendar being full or relationships being messy, there were other unexpected things that popped up and robbed us of time, energy, life, money, reserves of strength. One of them was the “accidental kitchen and dining room remodel.”

I have heard that house remodel projects can break you, that they can put 200,000 miles of wear and tear on your relationships and resolve. I would agree and I would add to it: unexpected / surprised house remodel projects add an extra 50,000 miles to the emotional odometer. What started as a bouncy floor in one small area of the kitchen, turned into a multiple month remodel, on accident, in our busiest work season of the year.

The bouncing area of kitchen floor had to be dealt with, and after ripping up seven generations of vinyl linoleum flooring and, most likely, some asbestos, the source of the bounce was found.. 130 year old floor joists eaten to sawdust by termites. What happened next was a sight I never anticipated or hoped to see.. A view to the outside of my house while standing on the inside of me house. So much was destroyed, so much rotten and without hope of repair. The dog thought it was a brilliant idea to be able to climb in and out of the house without help. We felt the terror of our old home falling apart right before our very eyes.

I watched Jeremy dig into the earth our house was built on in the 1880’s. I watched him pull out our entire kitchen, dining room, the floor joists underneath, and parts of the wall. I watched a cloud of deadly dust fill those two rooms for days. I watched our bank account dwindle and our waist lines grow as we realized we had no place to cook for a couple of months. I watched as my husband rebuilt a brand new kitchen and dining room from the ground up, literally.

House remodels suck. It’s not like chip and joanna Gaines in Fixer Upper at all. I, for one, feel gipped. Like those house remodel jobs might be more complicated than they look on television… As much as I have binged on that show in the past, and smiled at the lighthearted feel they give those projects, this was not that. It was a shit show. It was like a mushroom cloud hovered in the heart of our home for months. Kitchen remodels suck most because, without running water or a stove, there’s not a lot of healthy eating options. Or if there are, we were too stressed and overwhelmed by the project to think of them. Apart from some crock pot meals and a few trips to the neighbors to use their stove, we ate out a lot, which meant we felt like crap a lot. There’s nothing like the combination of continual filth, stress, and malnutrition to make the mind work well.

Without a ton of excess cash to hire help, we were left to relying on our wits, youtube tutorials, and friends and neighbors to come over and pitch in as they could. Because I love making things more complicated than they have to be, I decided we needed to take this opportunity to do what had made sense in my head all along – swap the location of the kitchen and dining room. The kitchen was always confined to a cramped space with low-ceilings while the dining room was way too big for its britches and the high ceilings made it feel like you were eating in a dark, echoing tomb. My idea was a good one, but it lead to all kinds of extra steps when it came to plumbing and electrical wiring. This meant that each next step had five surprise steps wrapped up within, and it also meant there was always something that needed to be done.

It’s at this point where I realize I should kiss my husband a million times and thank him for what a freaking stud he is. Goodness, the work that man did! The nerve he got up to keep going until his lungs nearly collapsed from coughing (I’m afraid some of that poison dust settled deep down in there) and his knees nearly broke off. Turns out that hours laying concrete board for days on a bum knee is not the same as physical therapy. He worked harder than he’s ever had to work in a long time, and each day it was written all over his face and body.

It was rough on our family rhythms to have no kitchen/dining for awhile. It was rough on our marriage to go to bed alone while the mister stayed up late into the night working on electrical boxes or laying tile (which turned out to be a slight disaster that we have covered with a lot of rugs and grace and “oh the fuck well.. it’s just tile” remarks). It taxed our business, because there are only so many hours in a day, and when you’re shooting every weekend but have no time to edit, things get backed up. It wore on our sanity, our relationships, our boundaries.

I sit here this morning with the smell of bacon wafting up from the kitchen. The massive kitchen and now appropriate sized dining room, that we (mostly he) remodeled with bare man hands. For the most part, it’s complete. It’s messy and imperfect but dammit, it’s ours. We have a slick new black gas stove that feels like julia child heaven to cook on. We have the vibe I was hoping for – some incestuous love-child mix of a french farm kitchen meets European coffee house meets nordic wood wet dream. We have bacon cooking and hot coffee pressing and lots of stories and photos and a lot more grace for one another. We made it through, somehow.

A couple of days after we were at a good stopping point with the kitchen, we loaded the family and the dog and a bunch of stuff up in our car and drove West. We went to Colorado, fled to the mountains, for two weeks of blissful escape. We stayed with friends by a river, visited family, played and climbed and rested and read. I wrote a couple of letters and caught up on your lovely pen pal messages. We recovered from the kitchen remodel.

So I greet the fall air with open arms and say goodbye to the mess of summer with a small shudder in my body, hoping we never, ever have to go through a remodel that big again.. at least not without a little warning and some planning up front. And maybe with the help of Chip and Joanna, because somehow they make it look easy and, baby, it just ain’t.

Complaining over. Peace out, summer. And if you’ve written me, I’m on my way to write you back as soon as the time is right. Keep writing as much as you want, your letters are a bright spot in my world these days!




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