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Betsy Block

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Diary of a Kitchen Renovation

Diary of a Kitchen Renovation

The once-traumatic corner.

D-Day Minus Four
Renovating the kitchen was originally my husband BD's idea, and this project is basically his baby. As a real estate appraiser focusing on high-end properties, he's been in hundreds of the finest homes in the state. After work each day, he comes home to our charming but relatively humble three-bedroom Colonial with big dreams.

When we moved here seven years ago, we knew the kitchen wasn't long for this world. But now that the fridge has been leaking for six months, the dishwasher and stove are both broken, and the ceiling is cracked, even I agree: It's time.

For me, the appeal of this project is that for a couple of months, anyway, I'll get to escape the tyranny of the kitchen. I've made it clear that I want to do as few dishes as possible; that even a knife in the peanut butter will become a hassle with just one small bathroom sink upstairs. BD keeps telling me I'll be sick of eating out after only a week or two. I say, we'll see about that.  

D-Day Minus Three
For some reason I can no longer remember, when BD brought up the idea of getting a water cooler, I scoffed. Now that we've been using it for a day, though, I'm addicted. It makes a friendly little gurgle every once in a while, like a very undemanding pet that doesn't shed. It offers hot water on demand. Since I work alone at home, I plan on standing next to it frequently throughout the day.

D-Day Minus One
Tonight's our first dinner out! We choose one of my son E's favorite restaurants, a diner, and he orders one of his all-time favorite foods: hot dogs. Things are humming along nicely until he whispers, "I don't like these hot dogs." Then P, his little sister, says, "Look!" which I do, to see her proudly putting her feet up on the table. BD is saying, "We could put together a makeshift kitchen sink with the hose, you know," and I'm thinking: a pox on all of you. This may not have been the ideal first meal out, but you're not stopping me.

Three AM
This will: E awakens, sick. He throws up five times between now and daybreak. By 5 a.m., I'm changing sheets, doing laundry, and trying to forget that he just breathed directly into my face right after heaving. Is the party over before it's even begun??? At least we have excellent dust control.

Later that day
Hiding out in my room, escaping both the work downstairs and the sick boy in the next room. It sounds like a dentist on loudspeaker, the whole house shakes, and the boy is fast asleep. There will be no dinner out tonight. Plus, it's dusty.

Day Two
T, our beloved general contractor, takes BD and I into what's left of the kitchen and points out that the floor under the dishwasher (which is now gone) has almost totally decayed, and that a very important pipe is on the edge of dissolution. There's also something about a potentially deadly carbon monoxide leak in the chimney that he will fix. "It's a good thing you're doing this," he says. Now, instead of feeling slightly ashamed about renovating our kitchen, I feel like a wise woman. A seer.

After takeout Thai, as I rinse the containers in the bathroom sink, I wonder: How easily do bathroom sinks clog up anyway? The leftover dressing and sauce take a long time to drain. Remember to ask T in the morning.

Day Three
I would have asked T if P hadn't distracted me by throwing up.

Day Six
I'm trying to be a good sport, but I'm fraying around the edges. I buy a salad, but can't toss the dressing into it without it spilling all over the table. I nuke some leftovers, and the bowl melts into the rice. BD has engineered a "slop bucket," a plastic soup container into which he is putting sundry food bits. It sits on the dining room table gathering crumbs and ants. Is it any wonder that I'm not having fun yet? And it's all because we haven't eaten out as a family once even though we've been without a kitchen for nearly a week. I'm not a difficult woman. I just want dinner.

Week Two
Go out for a lovely Chinese dinner with our neighbors. Later, we all fall into bed tired, full and happy. At midnight, I awaken to the sound of violent coughing. I get up to see what's happening only to find that E has thrown up again. He gasps when he hears me drop the F-bomb.

In the morning when I see that, shockingly, E feels fine, I determine that he has had a nasty (albeit brief) bout with food poisoning and I inform all relevant parties that he will, indeed, be going to school. (The neighbors all felt fine. Go figure.) Coincidentally, our babysitter is going away for two weeks tomorrow, so today will be my last three hours of daycare for two weeks. Not that this has anything to do with it. On the way to school, I casually mention that it's probably best if he doesn't mention last night to anyone. He understands and agrees, then tells his teacher.

Week Four
We have been eating out every night; I admit it's getting just the tiniest bit tiresome, even though the post-prandial vomiting seems to have stopped. Still, April manages to become a blur of illness: colds, coughs, fevers and headaches, tossed among the four of us like a softball on a spring day. Spring? Oh right, it's spring. With the seemingly endless cold and rainy days, I forgot. So much for grilling out every night.

Unable to take the bleached smell of paper cups for one more day, I dig out a lone glass mug from the basement for my tea. From now until we have a dishwasher, I will wash it daily in the bathroom sink. I crave cutlery.

Week Five
It is a big day: The stove is here. It is a gorgeous six burner masterpiece -- and the top is a different color than the bottom. The distributor will send someone out to take a look, but they're skeptical, thinking we're probably just whiners like most of their customers.  He doesn't come until nearly a week later, but when he walks into the kitchen, he is silent for a moment. "This is two different colors," he admits. "I'm ready to quit." Back of the line, buddy.

Week Six
By the end of today, we will have cabinets, and this bare room will begin to resemble a  kitchen again. We will be able to start putting away most of the detritus that has flowed all over the downstairs: There are boxes in the living room, dining room and my office. We'll move the toaster oven and microwave out of the living room and back to where they rightfully belong. Order is almost here, and we can't wait.

Wait: Are the cabinets supposed to look like that? The installer later says he could see the rising panic on my face. It's understandable, since I'm looking at a corner of fridge and cabinets that's a jumble of confusion. I call BD at work.

"I'll be right home," he says.

We don't get much sleep that night, but sometime during the wee hours BD arrives at a solution. It will save the day aesthetically, but it means we lose both countertop and storage space. I sigh.

Week Seven
The old refrigerator has been sitting in the corner of the dining room, steadily weeping water onto the floor. The leak has grown from a trickle to a stream, but we weren't going to spend the money to fix it. The new fridge comes and -- can't be installed today because of the cabinet fiasco. For the weekend: no fridge.

Week Eight
The cabinets are fixed, the fridge is in, the stove is working in all its two-toned glory, and it's all about to come together in one final, thrilling crescendo. By the end of today, we will have a kitchen once more because we are scheduled to get counters, a sink, and a dishwasher. It feels like the biggest birthday party we've ever had.

Until -- well, at first the counter guys will be an hour late, then three. We are feeling slightly wild from waiting, but then they finally arrive and -- the counter doesn't fit. One more week.

Though I know as well as anyone that this disappointment ranks very, very low on the scale of life's difficulties, BD and I find that we are actually depressed. I need the smell of food cooking, the feeling of warm, soapy water rushing over my hands, the satisfying squeak of a freshly washed dish. Everyone was right after all. Being without a kitchen for this long has left me feeling oddly bereft and disoriented, not to mention sick of takeout barbecue. Uncle!

Week Nine
We're almost out of paper plates -- again. "Where should we eat tonight?" asks BD. As I start to mull it over, three-year-old P pipes up and says, "I don' wanna eat out." I look at BD and say, "I'll cook pasta if you'll wash the pot," and he agrees. The mushy pasta, toaster-oven crisped ham (on foil, to eliminate cleaning), bread and raw peas taste surprisingly delectable.

The End
Finally, we have a working kitchen once more. But we happen to have babysitting lined up, so we end up toasting each other at a restaurant. We go home early and spend the rest of the night washing dishes and putting them away. "Where's the pasta pot?" asks BD. Still in the basement, doll, where you left it.

The kitchen is indeed absolutely gorgeous, but truth be told, we're just a tad low on cabinet space. If you happen to mention it to BD, though,  I'll deny everything.