Home Renovations Take Longer Than HGTV Would Lead You To Believe

The really cool thing about home renovations is you get to find out what’s hidden behind cabinets or walls or baseboards. You get a glimpse at spaces you don’t normally see.

Take for example the kitchen renovation we undertook in January. When we pulled out our dishwasher and the cabinets that surrounded it, we found a nest of mice! I mean, they had obviously heard us coming and vacated already but they left behind lots of goodies like acorn shells and insulation they had dragged up from the basement. They sure are industrious little buggers. Also, super big props to the contractor that installed the kitchen 22 years ago and left a soup can-sized hole around the dishwasher’s electrical conduit!

But, enough about the mice that we no longer have but that still haunt my dreams.

This is what we started with. It was fine and I was so grateful when we found this house that it came with a kitchen that didn’t need immediate work. However, after four years, I still, frequently, tried to open those cabinet doors on the wrong side. I need HANDLES. Hinges on one side, handles on the other.

IMG_0877

Here’s the after. And, look, I’m not one of those home renovation bloggers so this isn’t a fancy photo shoot but I did fold my dish towels nice and neat before I started taking pictures so, you know, effort.

IMG_0215

I love that the cabinets now go to the ceiling. Sure, I can’t reach anything at all on those top shelves so I haven’t put anything up there but still, there is no longer a space on the outside that collects SO MUCH DUST.

IMG_0878

We waffled on closing up that kitchen cutout for a long time. (You can see above that we pushed a piece of furniture in front of it to help determine if we missed the view.)

IMG_0218

We don’t miss the view. Bob and I spotted the pineapple painting in a gallery window while we were on our honeymoon. We both loved it so we purchased it and had it shipped home. Then, we had kids and never spent large sums of money so frivolously ever again. It feels like it finally found its perfect spot.

IMG_0879

In the original design, this wall was going to hold the refrigerator and some pantry cabinets and that would have been great and afforded lots of extra storage but I found a piece of furniture instead and I really like furniture. The bottom half of this hutch can still hold a fair amount of Doritos so I think we’re good.

img_0228

With the cutout above the sink closed up, we gained a lot of useful space on the dining room side, too. Surprisingly, this is probably my favorite change the kitchen renovation brought. Well, this and the fact that we broke up that gang of mice under the dishwasher.

IMG_0224

And, no, we did not end up renovating the kitchen ourselves. We went back and forth for awhile, debating whether our marriage could withstand a diy kitchen remodel and, ultimately, decided our union was more important. Bob and I like each other but we don’t like each other enough to renovate a kitchen together. Also, it seemed like there would be a lot of math involved in such an undertaking. Math is hard.

We did, however, serve as our own general contractors on the project and, not to brag or anything, but also if I may brag for a moment, we came in ahead of schedule and under budget. I asked for a trophy but Bob just pointed in the direction of the brand new kitchen instead.

I still have to figure out the window covering situation and there’s a little punch list left that will inevitably take us six months to complete but, I’m calling this space done.

Which means, you are all cordially invited over for chicken nuggets and tator tots.

IMG_0099

 

Advertisements

Just Feed Them Whatever YOU Eat, They Said

IMG_1638

Sunday: Pizza

I love making pizzas on Sundays. Mostly because it takes forever and I usually have the luxury of time on Sundays. There’s cheese to shred and sauce to make and toppings to prep and dough to flour and stretch. Homemade pizza will absolutely, hands-down be the food highlight of the week for my family. It can – and will – only go down from here.

Bob – “This is delicious pizza! That broccoli topping is crazy good.”
Millie – “This is amazing! You are amazing! Did you make more than one pizza? Two? Only two? Okay then. Can I take the leftovers in my lunch tomorrow though?”
Henry – “THE BROCCOLI JUST DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE. YOU DON’T PUT BROCCOLI ON PIZZA.”
Charlie – “So, is this sauce the spicy sauce? Because sometimes we have pizza that has spicy sauce on it and I don’t care for the sauce that is spicy. But, if this sauce isn’t spicy, I’ll like it. As long as it isn’t spicy.”

Monday: TACOS!

If I had my act together, we would have tacos on Tuesday because Taco Tuesday is more alliterative than Taco Monday but I never, ever have my act together. Ever. So, Taco Monday it is! Because EVERYONE loves tacos! EVERYONE!

Bob – Piles plate high with romaine lettuce, avocado, tomatoes, and several fresh vegetables managing to make me feel awful about all of the tacos on my plate, of which there are many tacos.
Millie – Inaudible words in between grunts of satisfaction as she shovels tortilla chips piled with taco fillings in her face.
Henry – “I just invented cheese tacos! Just taco shells! With nothing but cheese! That’s it! So easy!”
Charlie – “I’ll take the rice.” Covers the rice in ketchup before eating.

Tuesday: Spaghetti

I’ve been making my mother’s spaghetti sauce recipe for years and it is unbelievably delicious. I grew up eating a lot of spaghetti and just the smell of the sauce simmering on the stove conjures up wonderful memories of my entire family – sisters, brother, parents – gathered around the kitchen table in our home in Indiana laughing and talking and sharing stories. Those are some of my favorite memories from my childhood. It’s a really good sauce is my point here. Also, it is literally deconstructed pizza and the kids love pizza so…

Bob – “Red sauce sometimes irritates my stomach so just maybe a tablespoon or less of that, please.”
Millie – “YUM!”
Henry – “Nope. Nope-ity, nope, nope.”
Charlie – “Just plain noodles for me.” Covers the noodles in ketchup before eating.

Wednesday: Breakfast for Dinner

I am a cool mom and cool moms sometimes throw caution to the wind and get all wild and stuff and fix BREAKFAST FOR DINNER. Woo-hoo! And, sometimes, we even fix breakfast for dinner when daddy ISN’T EVEN OUT OF TOWN. Pancakes for everyone!

Bob – “Um, yeah, so I’m just going to fix myself a salad.”
Millie – “THIS IS SO FUN!”
Henry – Reluctantly eats a couple of syrup-less pancakes knowing full well he’ll return to the kitchen an hour before bed and fix a plate of something coated entirely in peanut butter.
Charlie – “So, are these regular pancakes? Or, the pancakes that have those little bits of apple in them? Because I can taste those little bits of apple and I don’t really like those little bits of apples that you put in the pancakes so I really hope there isn’t little bits of apple in these.” Covers the pancakes in 1/4 cup of syrup before eating.

Thursday: Soup and Sandwich Night!

I’m running out of steam. And, love for my family.

Bob – “Hold the mayo!” This seems more a lunch than a dinner but I’m going to honor my wife’s hard work and the sheer determination it takes for her to feed her family many times a day. I will devour this soup and gamely eat this turkey sandwich. As long as it’s on that healthy bread I like that has all those nuts and seeds. The kind that makes the kids cry when it’s all that’s left for toast.
Millie – “I just love ALL of this. Soup! Sandwiches! What a GREAT combination! Did you think of this yourself?”
Henry – “So, you’re suggesting a grilled cheese but with, like, turkey on it? Let me think about it.”
Charlie – “I’ll be in my room.”

Friday: Chicken Nuggets (Or, fish sticks or, any sort of protein here really as long as it’s coated in bread and/or brown in color) & Tator Tots

Because we (and by we, I’m referring exclusively to my self-esteem) badly need a win at this point.

Bob – It’s Friday. I can tell she’s getting tired.
Millie – “I’m never moving out. Promise me you’ll cook for me forever.”
Henry – “TATOR TOTS! MY FAVORITE!”
Charlie – “Which kind of chicken nuggets are these because sometimes, I don’t really like the kind of chicken nuggets you get. Do you know the chicken nuggets I’m talking about? The chicken nuggets that look just like these chicken nuggets but they’re a little different kind of chicken nuggets? Those are the chicken nuggets that I’m not really a fan of. Are these those chicken nuggets?” Starts guzzling ketchup directly from the bottle.

Saturday: Just… here’s two heels from a loaf of bread. 

The Other Side

When Henry was little more than a week old, I noticed each of his eyes had a single white spot right in the middle. The spots weren’t exactly symmetrical but there was one in each eye. A pair.

Henry had begun to open his eyes for longer periods of time, focusing on what he could in the world around him. I noticed the white spots while I was feeding him and we were gazing lovingly, exhaustedly into each other’s eyes. Him, undoubtedly wondering who this lady was that wouldn’t stop crying and me, wondering if I would ever sleep again ever in my whole entire life.

I wasn’t concerned because I was way too tired to be anything but tired but I do remember getting up from the chair we were sitting in and peering in the bathroom mirror to see if I, too, had white spots in the center of my eyes. My sleep-deprived mind had thought maybe it was a structural thing in the eye that I had simply forgotten we all had? But, no, I did not have white spots in my eyes.

Henry’s pediatrician at the time was part of a very busy group practice near our home. When I took Henry for his two-week checkup, the scheduling backup at the office meant we were seeing a doctor we had not seen prior. He was a founding physician of the practice and his son worked there as well. He was older and kind and patient and when, almost as an afterthought, I mentioned the white spots in Henry’s eyes and did he think those were supposed to be there, he took a closer look and casually exclaimed, “Oh, I see those, yes. He has cataracts.”

We never saw that doctor in the practice again and I’m not exactly sure why. I remember reading about his passing a short time later and thinking that the randomness of our appointment with him was one of the more fortuitous events in our lives because he referred us to the pediatric ophthalmologist that would eventually save Henry’s vision.

001_24A

Ten days after that newborn checkup, Bob and I took a wee baby Henry to Children’s National Medical Center to have his cataracts officially diagnosed. I remember Henry nestled in a bucket car seat we had borrowed from friends. I remember meeting his ophthalmologist for the first time – a man that would feature so prominently in our lives for more than a decade. I remember wishing I had written down more of what the doctor had said. I remember being a little scared and mostly being really, really sad.

And, I remember exactly what Henry was wearing that day – a onesie and matching pants given to us from a neighbor. The little shirt was covered with knights slaying dragons.

For the next three years, we continued with regular, frequent appointments with Henry’s ophthalmologist, tracking the progression of the cataracts and trying our best to determine what, exactly, Henry could see. Wrestling a toddler through an hours-long ophthalmology appointment is just as fun as it sounds. There’s the waiting room wait, followed by blatant coercion to cooperate in the exam room, then the application of stinging eye drops, followed by more waiting, and finally wrapping up with yet another lengthy exam. It was challenging and difficult. Henry once accidentally punched the nurse administering the eye drops. I never seemed to bring enough of the good snacks or the right toys. But, we eventually got into a routine and each appointment was a little easier than the last. Plus, the waiting room played non-stop Disney Junior.

Shortly after Charlie was born, in the summer of 2009, one of these routine appointments turned up the presence of secondary cataracts in both of Henry’s eyes. His congenital cataracts had changed as he had grown and the situation was more pressing and his condition more serious. If Henry’s clouded natural lenses weren’t replaced, his vision would be further compromised. And, compromised vision in a young child means that the critical connection between his eyes and his developing brain would also be compromised.

Surgery was inevitable and, following some intensive testing to rule out genetic disorders commonly associated with congenital cataracts, Henry was scheduled for surgery on the first eye – his left – the following May, when he was four years old.

DSC_0333

My memories of the nine months between Henry’s diagnosis of secondary cataracts and his first eye surgery are cloudy. I’m convinced it’s a trick my mind plays to safeguard my heart from how absolutely overwhelming life was at the time. We had just completed a whole-house renovation, I had shifted from full-time to part-time work, Charlie had surgery to repair a birth defect that included a rather complicated convalescence, and we were in the beginning stages of Bob’s heart health journey. In one particularly unimaginable day, I checked Bob out of the cardiology wing of our hospital after an overnight stay for a heart procedure and we walked – very slowly – to the children’s wing of that same hospital so Charlie could have an emergency ultrasound due to a post-surgery complication. I have no idea what the receptionist in the children’s imaging center must have thought at the sight of us. Charlie, agitated in the stroller, Bob wearily slumped in his chair, hospital bands still affixed around his wrist. Me, staring blankly ahead, willing all of this to just be over, please be over.

But, by May of 2010, we were ready to fix Henry’s eyesight. We had seen some very dark days and, like seasoned warriors, we were ready for the new battle ahead.

However, Henry’s first surgery did not go as planned. Cataract surgery in young children can be difficult since the eye is so malleable at that age. It took his doctor three attempts to get Henry’s new artificial lens to sit in Henry’s eye correctly. It was a long and worrisome surgery followed by a long and difficult recovery.

The three biggest challenges in recovery being to prevent Henry from touching or rubbing the eye, to encourage Henry to open and use the eye, and to administer steroid drops directly into the eye which is akin to wrestling a grizzly bear to the ground but being, you know, gentle about it. I remember having to pin Henry to the carpet, his arms restrained under my knees, my left hand gingerly opening his delicate, damaged eye, my right administering the drops while he screamed and thrashed. We’ve both recovered from this trauma but just barely, if I’m being honest.

DSC_0473

Two months later, we did it all over again with his right eye.

Weeks after that second surgery, a suture from the first surgery popped, a rare complication necessitating an under-anesthesia repair. I discovered the popped suture BECAUSE YOU COULD SEE IT STICKING OUT OF HIS EYEBALL. Let that sink in for a minute.

Three months after that suture repair, another suture in the OTHER eye popped, requiring ANOTHER under-anesthesia repair. Henry’s doctor was amazed. We weren’t. We were just really tired.

At this point, Bob and I were getting pretty good at the dividing and conquering part of parenthood. One of us would remain with Charlie while the other was with Henry. Since the suture repairs were pretty quick, I was taking Henry to these procedures solo. Before I even had time to properly organize my purse, he would be out and in recovery. We had the whole process of out-patient children’s surgery down pat which, frankly, is a skill you never expect to acquire.

Several months later, the development of a membrane in Henry’s eye – kind of like scar tissue – meant another round of invasive surgery. It was impacting his vision and had to be cleared out.

A year and a half later, Henry had the same surgery on the other eye.

DSC_3348

The intervening years since Henry’s last surgery in 2012 have been filled with eye patches and regular checkups and the occasional emergency appointment and lots of new glasses and the inevitable replacement of those glasses when they’re broken by a renegade sibling and also some long lectures on caring for one’s glasses and a bit of wondering when Henry will be old enough to manage contacts.

For the most part though, the past few years have been a lot less stressful for Henry than the few that came before. I hope the painful memories recede for him and the better ones rise to the top.

But, my memories haven’t faded. I remember how difficult things were. I remember how hard it all was. How scared we were. I remember bracing myself at every appointment for bad news. How often there was bad news. But, I also remember how good I got at caring for Henry. How his condition made me more confident as a mother. I asked questions and sought solutions. I advocated for him. I remember how Bob and I worked so well together. I remember family that would drive long distances to help us. Friends that worked at the hospital and would distract us on surgery days. Neighbors that would ply Henry with gifts in an effort to encourage him to open his eyes.

All of these memories melt together in my mind, a mix of worry and exultation, of sadness and relief, of thankfulness and exhaustion. They’re tucked away but they’re still there. Right below the surface.

IMG_1400

We haven’t had an appointment with bad news in more than five years now and so, earlier this month, Henry was officially discharged from the care of his pediatric ophthalmologist. Very nonchalantly, after almost twelve years to the day of treating Henry, his doctor announced that he didn’t need to anymore. It took me by surprise. It makes sense though. Henry won’t need additional surgery until his late teens. It seems a prudent time to find a local ophthalmologist that can see him through from here. But, still, the finality of it all, the finality of our journey took my breath away. I refrained from making things awkward by crying or hugging his doctor but I did thank him profusely for his diligence. Though, Henry and I both hugged the nurse on our way out. He apologized, again, for accidentally punching her that one time.

For so long, I’ve wanted to write about our experience. To record the history of our journey, reflect on the tremendous frustrations, dwell in the depth of our gratitude. I never did. I never could. I realize now that was because I couldn’t think about it, couldn’t focus on it too much when we were in it. When you’re in it, the journey is about something else entirely. The rest of it, the reflection, comes when you’re on the other side.