Betty Duffy


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Something's Cooking in my Kitchen

I know it's gauche to talk about your kitchen renovation when there's suffering in the world. But I also don't want to hide my husband's light under a bushel. He's worked hard, and I'm proud of him.

There are still a few small loose ends, but I'm here today, and it's mostly done, and every time I walk in there, I have trouble believing that this is really our house. It's been fun to see how the vision shapes up with reality when reality happens.

And it's better than I imagined, mainly because Joe is a wizard. He just solves these problems that I would never start.

Here's a look at our problem before we began:

The oldest parts of our house were built in the 1890s. We've barely touched that portion of our house because we haven't needed to. It's rock solid, even the part of our living room floor that is supported, basically, by a large stump in the crawlspace that keeps the center joists from sagging. But there was an addition on the back in the 1930s which contains our kitchen, laundry and mudroom. We've pretty much redone the whole thing from the ground up.

The kitchen, as you can see suffered poor lighting, missing cabinet doors, dingy linoleum, drawers that sometimes fell out on the floor if you pulled them too hard or too fast, and you can't see it in this picture, but a large hole is in the floor to the right behind the baby where Joe had to pull out some rotten floor joists when we re-did the laundry room.

On the plus side, it's a pretty big open room, and I like the layout. So we didn't do any major structural overhauls. Most of the work was a swapping of materials, rotten boards for good ones, decrepit cabinets for new ones my husband made. Linoleum floors for wood floors that he milled.

He started by making the upper cabinets which have been in since shortly after Christmas. Here's an early sketch of the new cabinet layout. He numbers the boxes in his shop so he knows which one goes where.
 I'm sure it looks beautiful in his mind.

Apparently, the chicken scratches meant something.

For the floor, we used quarter-sawn white oak. Over a year ago, he started planing the wood, and cutting the tongue and groove into the floorboards. Doing it himself cost a couple bucks a board foot as opposed to 10-15 dollars per square foot for finished solid wood floors.

I didn't take a picture of it, but I did write about those few days in which there was no floor to speak of in this kitchen, just parallel joists we scaled to get through the kitchen and out of the house.

Mapping out the grain: you do a dry run of how you want the floor laid out so you don't have clusters of tiger stripe and straight grain.

laid, sanded, and sealed
Construction of the lower cabinets began once the uppers were installed. The uppers are poplar lacquered in an oatmeal color that matches the lockers in the mudroom and laundry. For most of the painted poplar, we were able to use timbers harvested from my parents' woods. A couple years ago my dad, my brothers, and my husband cut down most of the trees that were dead or at risk of falling for one reason or another, rented a wood mizer to cut the wood into boards and put it in my parents' hayloft to dry. Here's a quick recap of the mudroom lockers:

There's a tall cabinet and cubby for each of us, with the lower boxes storing things like shoes, boots, dogfood and winter gear. Basically, everything that we formerly dropped on the floor. I realize mudroom is a fancy way of saying "entry way," which is really what this area is--the main entrance to our house.
 You walk in the front door and see through the kitchen all the way to the laundry room.

Opposite the lockers, right next to the entry is the trash area.

One drawer each for the trash, paper, and recycling:

And here's the laundry room cabinets:

Joe and I attended a woodworking conference at Colonial Williamsburg awhile back, and when we toured Thomas Jefferson's estate, Monticello, I wanted to take to heart his theory (though not so much his designs) that one's home should function not only as a shelter, but as a working machine.

The challenge in accommodating the eight people who live here is to make sure that the square footage we have works for us and not against us. Being able to put things away means actually having a place where the things belong, which is not something we'd much considered when we first moved here. A lot of things landed where they did on moving day, and there they remained for many years, and we lived around them. So clearly Shaker thinking on furniture craftsmanship has also been very beneficial here.

The laundry and mudroom are both "working" rooms rather than gathering rooms, and now they are indeed earning their keep.

The kitchen functions as both a working room and a gathering room. It really is where we live.

Joe made this kitchen table several years ago, which seats ten comfortably, out of curly cherry:

It's over eight feet long and takes up about half of the kitchen. So without expanding any cabinet space, we tried to make the space we had more useful. He lobbied for the lazy susan in the corner cabinet, on which I wasn't sold until it was finally in place.

bending wood edge banding for the lazy susan.
I thought we would lose the corners of the cabinet to the rounding. As you can see, there's narrow access to the corner cabinet:

But it's a pretty deep cabinet and the lazy susan allows those corners to actually come around and extend into the kitchen, giving me access to my bread bowls.

This slender cabinet fits in the tight space between the stove and the wall.

But it makes a good spot for "sheet goods" as Joe calls them because he's fancy. I call them cutting boards.

This idea of making deep drawers for stock pots and pans we copied from my aunt's house, because I was tired of getting down on my knees and sticking my head into a mess of pots and recycled yogurt containers in order to find the right thing.

And toe kick drawers that sort of disappear when they are closed make a good spot for placemats and table cloths.

We got rid of so much stuff once we pulled it all out. Things like my Grandma's old bundt pan, because no one really likes cake without icing, also, the apple-corer-peeler-slicer because it was obnoxious, lots of dumb coffee mugs, anything broken, etc.

Here are the three main cases for the lower cabinets before they were installed:

In the lower left corner you can see the stack of oak flooring before it was laid.

The sink cabinet.

flush mounting the doors on the corner cabinet

People kept telling us that the cabinets wouldn't match if the uppers and lowers were two different colors. We disagree. It needed to be lighter, but not where the kids could reach it, because then it would always be dirty.

Apprentice, putting adhesive on the baseboards.

researching plumbing to install the sink we go...



We added some can lights, and under-cabinet lighting.

I bought the chandelier for 12 dollars at Value World. So it's "new" too.

Our major expenditures were the sink, the hardware and the countertops, which are soapstone, but without a major cost on the cabinets and floors....we splurged.

It also cost an ounce of flesh.

(Squeamish people should look away right now)

Joe did lose a bit of finger from the table saw over the course of this project. Not bad, all told.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Cosplay Saints

My bad memories don't bother me much. They're tucked away back there somewhere, but mostly out of mind. It's my good memories I've spent half my lifetime trying to overcome. 

All of high school, and most of college are in the vaults, but every time I listen to Gregorian Chant, I'm back in 1997 putting on my plastic headphones and tape deck to go for a walk along the Thames river near Port Meadow, happily anticipating that around any bend in the path I'm likely to run into a pub, a church or a friend.  

It was such a short window of time, six months, that I spent in Oxford, but I think of it as the best time, because I was fresh out of a bad relationship, free and foreign in another country, reading some of the best books ever written under the tutelage of insanely intelligent (and sometimes very attractive) tutors, while living the communal life of students sharing a small house.

I laughed a lot. Did things I couldn't get away with at home, not so much because they were bad, but because people would have thought I was weird. I wore my religion publicly, and my clothes oddly. I drew so many pictures.

I've gotten into the habit of thinking that I was most myself during that interlude, even though I was away from my native habitat and my people, doing things you only get to do once in a lifetime. I was a personality that relied on transience in order even to exist. If I'd thought any of those people would know me ten years out, I probably wouldn't have felt so free. And I was still dependent on my parents' dime, charging my life on their credit card, with the statements arriving on my mother's desk half-way around the world. 

When it was over, I came home to depression and a new dumb relationship. I drew mostly sad pictures of myself and wrote my life story so far. There began a long, dull phase of self-portraiture from which I've never quite recovered. And even once the depression had lifted, my former life in Oxford felt like a chronic condition that would flare up and make me sore whenever the weather at home turned dark.

It still does.

Read the rest at Patheos

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

At Patheos this week:

A little complaint about online registration: Back to the Virtual Chalkboard.

Make the Hole Bigger and Eventually it Disappears: Finding God in the Kitchen Renovation


The Pleasures of Non-ownership.  Nobody liked this one, and I think it's because it sounds a little tiny bit like socialism, even though that wasn't my intent, and I didn't talk about politics at all--not really interested in it, actually. But this has been one of the biggest ideas of my summer. I've spent more time thinking on it than anything else. And of course the only part of it that I've been able to put into practice is the part about enjoying other people's gifts without accompanying envy. When it comes to offering my gifts-- material, spiritual, or other--without expecting permission, compensation, or other forms of appreciation, I am yet untested.

They go out, I go in

Everything is so close to being finished. The school supplies are in the bags, and the kleenex and clorox wipes are resting by the door. The physicals are done and ready to turn in. Everyone has made it through the virtual registration process. Tonight I gave six haircuts and pierced my daughter's ears for her, and then I felt like crying.

I didn't screw any of it up. I give one style of haircut to all the boys, and I used to make a mess of their hair, but not anymore. And my daughter looked very pretty with her earrings. They'd been a long time coming. She's been collecting earrings for ten years and asking to get them pierced for almost as long. And I know people are supposed to go to Claire's or Walmart, or the piercing pagoda at the mall and then get ice-cream or something, but I didn't trust anyone else to poke a hole in my daughter.

So she iced her earlobes, and I bought a cheap little piercing gun at Sally beauty supply, and she stood in front of the mirror in the bathroom, and seconds later, it was done, faster even than I thought it would take. The guns are spring loaded, so you barely even have to press on them.

The crying urge was a little bit about the fact that it can't ever be taken back, and a little bit about my realization that there is no such thing as perfect symmetry. I drew the mark on her earlobes about twenty times before I realized that it was her ears that weren't mirror images of each other, and so the marks could not possibly achieve identical placement.

And the summer is over. Tomorrow is open house for kindergarten, and my little Paulito won't be my eternal shadow anymore. Just me and baby at home now.

And my husband's vacation is almost over. He took off two weeks to install the kitchen floor and cabinets he made for us, and I've gotten used to having him here all the time.

Of course nothing can stay how it's been. Even if I barred the doors and locked everyone in here at home, people would still grow up and change and become restless and difficult. And I'm looking forward to quieter days and getting some writing done, I guess.

I wish I always knew what I'm supposed to do with myself, really. Everyone's walking through passages from which they can't easily return, except for me. Everyone's moving forward and out, and I'm always reconciling to the fact that my life has become more inward than I ever imagined it would be. If I ever wanted to be a nun, here's my cloister. If I ever wanted to be alone, well, here I am.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Many Wolves

I don't think I've done well this month about linking to my patheos blogs. Here's a little catch-up:

In response to a conversation about this guy, whose mythical concept of manhood really does involve crushing the souls of women, I re-ran this older post, On having a dream and educating girls, which is only loosely related to his initial suggestion that women should not go to college, because (reading between the lines) their fathers will not be able to act as their human chastity belts there. Incidentally, it's not worth examining the manhood guy very closely. His made-up version of Catholicism becomes very limited very quickly.

On the opposite end of the made-up religion spectrum, I've decided not to stick with a book about a wandering hipster making secular pilgrimages. Why bother? Life Drifts from One Party to the Next

And here is me, possibly (but I hope not) making up my own religion: --And one day you shall die--life lessons from Mommy Killjoy.  

Finally, The Art of Mothering, which is not technically an art, but I do it better if I can make myself think that it is.


So I'm noticing a theme developing in my life right now, that I think has something to do with wolves in sheep's clothing. I don't want to be one.

I went to a training earlier in the week to become a "sexual risk avoidance" educator in the public school system. It is essentially abstinence education, and I won't name the particular program, but it is run by fundamentalist Christians who were pretty frank that certain elements of their verbiage are code for God and his teachings. I appreciate codes and symbolisms, and their Christian heritage, especially in times and places of persecution. And it's true that you cannot bring up God in public schools. So how to offer students an alternative to the mainstream way of thinking about sex?

Unfortunately, the alternative that this particular program is offering is not quite the right alternative. It has more in common with the Manhood Man above who is so terrified of sexual sin and its possible manifestations in women in particular, that it has lost sight of the inherent dignity of every person, especially the "fallen woman," (fallen men being sort of less troublesome). 

I don't know which way to go. Do you follow the hair of truth in the hopes that it will, in time, be woven into full cloth. Or do you reject the hair because of its potential to be woven into something really ugly. Or maybe it's already ugly, but it's the only hair you've got, and all you can do is try to control the damage when someone uses it. I don't  know.

The cozy nest

This morning, the intermediate boys (ages 5 and 8) are the first to rise, as usual, one in his t-shirt and underpants, the other in pants and no shirt, both skin and bones, both unusually perky, with the hair on their crowns puffed into cones from sleep. They look like mushroom caps, and smell about the same. It's time to brush those big teeth in their smiling little mouths.

Currently, they are piling up blankets and each making their own 'cozy nest.' Both my girls, who bookend them, have liked to nurse and then push away from me to go back to their cribs and sleep without the problem of other bodies close to them radiating heat. But the boys were such willing little hot potatoes who nursed interminably, and when they could not succeed at crawling back into the womb, would be content with taking possession of one of my arms or legs.

They still do this, often at Church, when they pin me in from either side, pulling my arms around their shoulders, building a 'cozy nest' out of me. Sometimes I feel challenged by these presumptions.
cozy nest occupied by one invisible boy

 But what are relationships if not a challenge? We meet with rigidity, we revise and soften.

Here is attempt one at an apology note from boy, age 8, to boy, age 12:

(I am sorry for hitting you with a broom. It probably hurt you. You now know what hating people is really like.)

And a revised attempt:

(I feel bad that I hit you. I could see that it hurt you and it made me feel bad before I sped off. I had to stand in the corner, and I guess it served me right. Signed, with sincerity)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dry Land Appears

Never leave home without your camera, is what I've told myself before. You just never know. Still I left for my walk without my camera, because it was late and cloudy and I didn't expect to see anything interesting. 

The corn is tall now, making the roads into dark green tunnels lined with petticoats of Queen Anne's Lace. As cool as it's been this summer, the way the breeze has never been still over the fields, and the fields at times look like an ocean--I think of the first lines of Genesis: "the darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters." 

Maybe I shouldn't want to go there--to the beginning-- but I do.

In a similar way, I've felt a little homesick for my drowning experiences, being lifted and carried by a tremendous rhythm, the purposeful desire for life. Just knowing the wind is up there somewhere, constant and timeless, though you can't reach it for now, and maybe never will--somehow it was a blessed experience.

But that could be the wine talking.  

The first thing I saw that I wanted to photograph was an indigo bunting perfectly preserved and smashed on the speckled pavement, like a pressed flower. 

The boys went to bale hay this weekend at Mom and Dad's. The romance of this particular job has definitely worn off for me, especially with as tired as I still am from God knows what, and when the work kept getting put off, because of a flat tire on one of the implements, or a missing bolt on the baler, I was wishing the boys were old enough to drive to their own jobs.

At 8:00 P.M. my dad pulled the baler down the lane with my mom following in the truck and my two oldest kids on the wagon behind her, finally ready to work. 

I had decided to take the little kids home, spend some time with my husband before the day was over, and let the boys stay all night, but at the corner of the road, I did a three point turn. 

"What are you doing?" my daughter asked. 

"We should probably help. I feel bad for leaving them."

This was exactly the news that the younger kids wanted to hear. "You're so good at feeling bad!" said my daughter, which seemed the truest thing she's ever said.


And the blessing always comes later--in those moments you keep going when you want to stop. Each year, the boys get a little stronger, while the grown-ups get a little weaker, and somehow everything gets done. And anything you do in the days' last light is lovely--so lovely, I almost can't stand it. I always doubt the beauty God wants to give me, that glimpse of sun between the clouds and the tassels of corn at the end of a gray day. 

Then God said, "Let there be light, and there was light."


Tonight, walking in the last light of a different day, I almost cried at how beautiful it was. I've wanted to cry about a lot of things lately, and it's all familiar territory, none of it sad, through probably exacerbated by fatigue. I know that wanting to cry about things doesn't signify much, except that they're surpassing all the stops I have in place, and affecting me. The only trouble with becoming more porous is that things quickly weigh you down and life feels heavy, like walking through water or trying to fly when you're pressed in stone.

24 hours after I first saw it. It used to look a little less dead.

The super moon