Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Transformation Kit

The cardboard box contained every component needed to metamorphose our kitchen cabinets from blah caterpillar brown to bright monarch butterfly: deglosser and scrubbing pads, bond coat, optional decorative glaze and cheesecloth, polyurethane sealer, and instructions.

Looking at the kitchen with our realtor before purchase

Back in January, I tried Murphy’s Oil Soap and TSP on our kitchen cabinets, trying to remove the sticky residue from thirty years of cooking, handling, and lemon Pledging, trying to restore a bit of shine and pep in the tired odd-toned brown. I wasn’t successful.

We couldn’t afford new kitchen cabinets, so I gravitated to the brochures and display at Home Depot: Cabinet Transformations. It was a new product last winter and Tammy, a wonder at the paint counter, had demoed the product, liked the results, and recommended it.

It was easy to narrow down thirty-two color choices to one.

I discarded wood-tones like gingerbread, russet, and autumn, whites and pastels, and muted colors like meadow, cottage blue, and bay leaf. I’d been perusing my new subscription to Atomic Ranch thinking about ways to incorporate mid-century modern details of into our home’s interior. I chose bright and dramatic: Paprika.

Labor Day weekend we were ready to transform our kitchen. It took several weeks. In addition to using the kit, we painted the interior of our cabinets and drawers white. We painted the drawers outdoors, but moved into the garage for the paprika bond coat after we found leaves and bugs dried on the white.

painting, caulking and repairing drawers

In an inspired idea to make our door fronts look more modern, Kevin suggested we reverse the doors, moving the raised edging inside. This meant he had to putty over the hinge holes and sand before I could paint. This also meant ordering new, shiny silver hinges.

I moved everything out of our kitchen (I still haven’t put everything back), including our fridge. To keep our three cats out of the kitchen (which has no doors or walls now that we’ve ripped them out) for the weeks our cabinet frames were wet and curing, Kevin built a four-foot high cage out of wire shelving, PVC pipe, and zip-ties.

part of the kitchen cage

We did lots of ducking in and out of the cage’s entrances. My youngest daughter, home for the earliest parts of the project, saw me cooking in the cage, and joked that I was on display in my natural habitat.

The results are stunning, but not perfect. The polyurethane was very drippy, and not very shiny, so frustrated after the recommended two coats, we bought another product and applied it.
If you visit, you will see flaws. I see them too, and it’s a reminder that I’m human, and can live with imperfection, especially when I know how hard and long my husband worked on this project. 

But still, I dream, in the future of gleaming new IKEA cabinets (like the one’s we installed in the Writer’s Suite) gracing our kitchen.

Paprika cabinets. The door fronts used to be the backs.

My paprika cabinets also remind me that, kit or not, transformation is messy, and the results of our efforts may not look like what we thought we wanted.

Our lives have been and still are in a process of transformation.

In June of last year, my husband decided to take a severance package. We thought we’d sell our house and move near San Francisco for a job there.  We moved to this island near Seattle instead thinking a job was here. 

We’ve been fixing up this house and yard, tearing apart and piecing back together, dreaming about a vocation of writing hospitality for me, and meaningful employment for my husband.

The thing is, I can’t consult my transformation kit instructions and find out what’s next.

I thought I was applying sealant, the final coat before launching into all our plans. But, for all I know, we’re cleaning and deglossing, to get rid of old habits, patterns, and expectations. Or maybe we’re applying the bond coat, fastening ourselves to one another, learning to be content with our own company in an unfamiliar place, so that we can move again to the next right place.

The future could lead us anywhere.

After more than one year of job hunting, my husband has signed on with a search firm to help him find a great position that will utilize his incredible skills. As part of that process, we’re expanding the geography of his job search.
my wonderful hardworking husband hanging cabinet doors

We’d like to stay here in this house that we’ve poured our hands and hearts into, but we also want to remain open for God’s leading, whether it be this or something better.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bound and Determined

Bindweed Roots

 Forked ropes the color of old teeth, the texture of pleather, the thickness of my middle finger, the length of my husband’s belts, splayed in garden beds, choking the roots of raspberries and ferns. This is the image floating in my consciousness each night when I close my eyes to sleep: Bindweed (wild morning glory) roots.

Above ground the stems, ranging in thickness from embroidery floss to sport-weight yarn, wrap themselves around berry canes and rhododendron trunks, flower stalks and garden stakes, strangling branches, obscuring flowers and fruit.

Earlier in the season, before I knew about their subterranean network, I simply yanked at the stems, satisfied when they snapped off just below the soil, and wrapped them, like errant thread, into wadded balls, and tossed them in my yard waste bin.

But they came back; of course they came back. My mother always told me to pull weeds out by the roots, demonstrating the technique when I was a teen and her affectionately named garden slave. I held a trowel, she held a kitchen knife, and with it taught me how to dig down next to the offending plant, how to loosen the soil around its roots from all directions, how to goad it into surrendering its grip on the dirt, how to ease it from the soil.

Those weed roots were thicker and deeper than I’d imagined.

I knew this, but forgot or chose not to remember, too overwhelmed by this half-an-acre of neglected garden, I was looking for quick and easy fixes.

My mother, whose skill and tenacity in the garden have increased exponentially since my teens, visited in July and we toured a handful of gardens during Bainbridge in Bloom, admiring the variety of plants in their planned, pruned places. I secretly rejoiced when I saw a strand or two of bindweed or tiny clump of buttercup (my other nemesis) in the manicured spaces.  

Then we toured my garden together, my mother inspired as I was, by the possibilities in this space. Much of what Mr. Nunamaker planted here I saw in other island gardens and also at the famous Butchart Gardens in August.

Knowing I could benefit from a sense of accomplishment, my mother, before she left, suggested that I tackle one small area of the garden at a time, instead of flitting from one section of yard to another, as I’d been doing.

And so, for the last three months, on most days, from late morning until the sky grows dark (ten pm at the solstice, seven pm now), I have been outside, crawling on hands and knees, leaning and shoving my way under branches, sitting in dirt, hair filling with leafy detritus, brushing spiders off my shoulders, shoes and pants, listening to books on my ipod, wielding my yellow-handled serrated trowel like a weapon until my hands are cramped, my arms numb through the night, eradicating the bindweed and buttercup from my garden one square inch at a time.

The raspberry bed overrun by bindweed and buttercup

Summer has come and gone—the driest summer here in years, which being from California and not the Pacific Northwest, I didn’t realize until my rhododendrons’ leaves curled in thirst—and I have become intimate with my environment in the most literal sense, sliding through my garden on my rear-end, my hands and knees, learning which areas (rhubarb and raspberry patches) have light, dry, amended soil, where I can remove the roots in long strings, and which spots (along the street, behind the house) have damp, chunky dirt, forcing me to wrestle mud to remove roots in short sections.

the raspberry bed redeemed
I have been single-minded in my war against The Evil Bindweed. I have won some skirmishes, but not the war, not even close, but the season for this battle is waning. Soon the rain will come, soon the temperatures will drop, soon I will move indoors to finish painting and install flooring and light fixtures.

In the coming season I will open my writers’ retreat to guests, and write something myself. In the coming season, I hope and pray that my husband will find a job.

In the coming season we will bind our time and determination to new tasks, to new ways of becoming familiar with our environment. We will develop a new rhythm, one where I track less dirt into the house and brush fewer spiders from my hair.