Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Learners' Permit

We have a lot to learn about the permitting process.  In the city of Waco, you are allowed to start demo without a permit on the interior, but not do anything on the exterior.  Who knew?  I also thought the permitting process would take a month.  Five days after submitting the construction plans, the city blessed them and on Friday we got our permit to start the full construction.

Now we're cooking with gas. 

Monday started with the exterior demo along with the interior framing of the house. 

The interior demo went well.  We only altered the design in a couple of places.  We are unable to move to move the HVAC unit in the bedroom wing, so the flow is less than perfect.  This space was an addition on the original house.  It's built on slab while the rest is built on pier and beam.  We figured out a way to leave the unit while creating some privacy for the first bedroom--a half wall.  Now the kids can have their own shared space while keeping their bedrooms separate.
At this rate, the bedroom wing and living/dining space will be livable by April and the kitchen/laundry, carport, master bed/bath will be finished sometime over the summer.

Here is a shot of the new kitchen walls.  The wall being framed on the right of the photo will separate the space between the kitchen and a large butlers' pantry.

Beyond the butlers' pantry wall is the new wall for the master closet.  Here is a shot from the opposite side.

Seeing this view caused one of our first big design changes.  In the plan, this space is framed out as a hallway with a door on the left going into the closet and a door on the right going into the bathroom.

Looking at the pictures, I called Stan, the architect, and asked him if we should just include the hallway as part of the closet.  Which means we will have a huge 9'x14' dressing area.  I'm picturing well appointed wardrobe cabinets, a nice credenza in the center with a cool pendant light.  Making this choice means that we flow from the bedroom into the dressing room then into the bath--which could be a little weird.  But I'm happy to live with a little weirdness to have a closet that looks like the inside of the personal shopping area of a Neiman's.

The one snafu is that this area has already been framed to the original design.  So there will be a labor cost if we can make this happen.  We will save a little on interior doors, but probably not enough to cover the whole cost.  I think it's worth it.  We'll see!

Now for the outside. 

Of course the week we start there is a threat of thunderstorms, flooding and tornados.  But before the storms rumbled through, the concrete contractor was able to demo and haul off the entire front porch and walk.

Do not adjust your monitor.  That house is spray-tan orange.

After just a few hours there were three truckloads of rubble.  I was impressed. 

I see this and all I want to do is climb it, plant a flag and announce that I'm king of the rubble.  Is that strange?

They were able to dig out the space for the addition and cover it in plastic before the storm.

And they also demo'd the interior of the garage.  We found a new garage door.  Anodized Bronze with frosted glass panels.  The wooden garage door is on its last leg and looks like it could collapse at any moment.

Anyone need a slightly used toilet?

Of course the kids are getting a huge kick out of this experience.  Watching the walls get torn down and seeing what's going back in their place keeps them really engaged--for about 5 minutes.  Which is why we put this in first.

Next week is spring break, so we are heading out for a vacation.  More to come when we get back!  The framing should be complete, the plumbing and wiring are next on the list for inside.  Outside, the foundation should be poured--weather permitting.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Step 1: start with a clean slate

Before we even closed on the house in Waco, we had 3 contractors, 2 architects and countless friends and family members traipse through to give us their opinion.  Was it too much to take on?  Could we realize a full vision of the house?  Everyone agreed--absolutely.  But we dove in head first anyway.

Thankfully we found an architect who was able to take what we wanted and put it on paper.

Proposed Remodel and Addition

The goal is to renovate and restore this home to its intended design.  After 60 years, the original finishes and layout were lost.  Our architect had just finished a remodel of another home in Waco designed by the original architect of our home.  It was pure luck.  He was able to fully understand what the original architect was thinking while solving for the modern needs of our family of five.

We are taking a 4 bedroom, 4 bath, 3500 square foot home to a 5 bedroom, 4.5 bath, 4000 square foot home.  Every inch of this house will be touched.  Interior and exterior.

Our first step was to manage the two-plus acre lot a bit.  Which meant cleaning up the 200 year old live oak trees and removing three long dead and decaying mesquites.  It's amazing what a difference removing a few branches makes in the views from the house.

Live Oak Before

Live Oak After
Once we made room for the addition, we shifted focus to the inside.  Our architect recommended we complete the demo first before finalizing the construction plans.  That way he could see exactly what we were dealing with on the interior.  We went from brown tile and traditional cabinets to a completely open space.  We are so glad we went this route.  It saved us on redraws and allowed for a full view of the work that needed to be done.  And yes, I totally let the kids hammer and break through the existing sheet rock.  They got to karate kick the walls and pretty much destroy a tiny section of wall in the play area.  The reward was the look on the boys faces when the hammer went through the dry wall.  Priceless.

Here are some before shots of the main living areas.

Living Room Before

Kids' Space Before

And here are shots during and after the demo.

Living Room?
Kids' Space

View to the kitchen from the main living area during demo
After removing the walls, our builder added in support beams.  Eventually they will be clad and stained to match the medium walnut trim throughout the house.  We also discovered quite a bit about the remodel history of the house.  The entire west side of the house was added on some time after the original construction.  The bulk of the house is pier and beam.  The addition was put in over an existing patio or porch, so it's part slab.  That meant we could not use the original hardwood floors.  In some areas, the wood was in great shape.  In others, years of neglect and poor repairs meant we could not salvage them.

We also found an awesome hexagon patterned terracotta tile in the entry and fireplace hearth.  Unfortunately, it too was a casualty of previous remodels.  We found a side porch that was enclosed and two windows that had been walled up in the kitchen.  At this point, there was no hidden treasure in the walls (or dead bodies, thank goodness).

Our dusty clean slate is complete.  Now comes the hard part.  What do we prioritize next to be able to make the house livable enough to move in.  June 2016 is fast approaching and I would prefer not to live in a tent outside.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Waco or bust!

About eight months ago, we started a plan to simplify our lives.  Make our extended family more of a priority, reduce expenses and live a bit greener.  Picture "chicken coop with Gucci wallpaper" or "hopping into our tweeds to feed the goats."  Not really.  Just a simpler house closer to family.
At first we started down the path of buying a second home, that we would eventually make our primary.  Clearly not simplifying-we decided to go whole hog, sell our beloved home and move to, of all places, our hometown, Waco, TX.

When tell people about the move we get one of two responses (sometimes both at the same time).  "Why??"  Usually with a slight cringe or furrowed brow.  The second response is "Will you get Joanna and Chip to do your house?"

This blog is to answer both of these questions.

For the first--Waco is really a beautiful small city.  It has the second largest municipal park in the US (Central Park is the first).  Yes, it has its blemishes, but what city or town doesn't.  The people are warm and friendly and life is at a different pace than anywhere else we've lived.  (Ok, that one could also fall in the "con" category).  All of the kids' grandparents and two aunts live in close proximity.  We are midway between Dallas and Austin, so we don't feel like we are missing out on really anything.  The kids love it there and they love spending time with Gigi, Mamaw, Papaw and Grandma.  Who can turn down the perk of free babysitting!

The answer to the second question is a little more complex, but can be summed up to "We tried."  Early on in the process, we found a really cool house for sale.  It had been on the market forever.  One of statements in the description was "As seen on HGTV's Fixer Upper!"  To be fully honest, I had heard of the show, but until we found this house, we had never seen an episode.  So commanding the full power of the internet, I scoured videos until I found the episode the house was in.  You can check it out here.  So the couple on the show didn't pick it.  And if you watch the episode, you can see why.  It's literally orange, with orangey-taupe trim and a copper-colored roof.

So of course I email the show, send them a bio and picture, told them we are interested in the house and think it would be cool if they remodeled it.

Well, we didn't hear back from them.  And we decided to go forward with it anyway.  Thankfully, it's all worked out great so far.  Our exceptional real estate agent and family friend had several contacts to help us figure out if we could swing what would be a significant remodel.  That's how we found the talented and visionary Stan Love, who has since created a master plan that we hope will transform and restore our home from an large orange boomerang to a clean, modern and functional family home.

Between Christmas and New Years, 2015, our house in Dallas sold.  We've moved into a rental and bought said orange

For whatever reason, Steve and I seem to be gluttons for self-inflicted change.

This series of blog posts are to share our experience with the move, the remodel and re-acclimation to a place that has changed so much in the past 15 years, but still seems the same.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Of Braids and Men

Over the past few years we have been educating ourselves on hair.  Products and processes.  Natural versus chemical.  Pomades, relaxers, conditioners, oils.  Not to mention the hundred some-odd bows, hair ties and head bands.  We’ve gotten so good, Steve and I can spot a polyester lace front at a hundred paces.

For the past two years, we have been channelling a toddler-sized Lupita Nyong’o.  Simple products, usually a light detangler with an olive oil creme to keep her hair moisturized, pulled back with a simple bow.

As we are wrapping up our bachelor’s degree in hair products, one problem still persists.  Willow’s hair has hardly grown a “hair” in the past two years.  The only exception is a small section on top that gets braided every few days.  This little “unicorn puff ball” has grown very well and has gotten our wheels turning.  We should try something a bit more daring for her hair.  Braids!

Through our nanny, we found a woman that would come to our house and works with children.  As with everything, we planned this out.  We took the boys to a dad’s day out so there would be no distractions, bought a handful of hair options--some natural, some synthetic--rollers, scalp spray and a dry shampoo.

Kimeko showed up right on time and we talked about what we wanted.  Something that would help her hair grow.  Something simple and stylish, but easy to care for.  Since Willow’s hair was so short, we opted for micro-braids.  These are individual braids, braided down to the scalp.  They are different than corn-rows, which the braids are fully woven into the hair down the scalp--think of Bo Derek in “10.”

The micro-braids allowed us to pull her hair into a ponytail or a high bun, giving us more styling options.

We put Willow in her old booster seat from the kitchen, buckled her up and gave her an iPad.  Kimeko went to work.  Steve and I watched her a for a bit, but we ended up being more of a distraction than anything.  Hour one went by quickly.  It was getting close to lunch time, so I fixed Willow a PB&J and some oranges and snuck into her room.  

Wow! What a difference!  Kimeko had only a small section of Willow’s hair done, but it looked amazing.  She was braiding her hair so quickly, but so gently, Willow was just sitting, eating and watching Cinderella, completely unfazed by what was going on above her head.

So patient!
Two hours, three hours, four hours went by.  We would give Willow periodic breaks, but we were not prepared for how long it took.  Finally, after lunch, two snacks, a chocolate milk, 4 Disney classics and half an episode of Peppa Pig, we were ready for the big reveal.

When we saw Willow’s hair, it almost brought a tear to my eye.  She looked so grown up.  Well beyond her two years.  Then I started to question--did we do this too soon?  Is she too little for such a grown up hair style?  But once we saw her playing with the braids, we knew she loved it.

We set her hair in warm, damp rollers, sprayed a soothing scalp spray on her head and gave her some children’s Tylenol.  We knew it may be a bit sore later and we wanted to make sure she was comfortable.  

Ok, she was upset about a toy, not her hair.  Although I could see why. 
That evening she played with her rollers in her hair--she was so adorable!  When it was time for bed, we put her in a white hair cap, pulled out her pink satin pillow and tucked her in.  Steve and I weren’t sure if she would leave the cap on all night, or if she would even sleep well with all that gear on, but the day proved to be tiring for her and she fell right asleep. 

The next morning, we went into her room.  She was perfectly asleep in her cap and rollers.  We got her up and ready for the day. A little scalp spray, a rubber band and a bow and our little Audrey Hepburn was ready for the day.  We opted for the high bun.

Every day was a bit of treat with her hair.  We tried new things; the double puff, side pony or the low pony, but the high bun was definitely the favorite.  Every week or so, we would use the dry shampoo to keep her hair fresh.

Four weeks went by and we figured it was time to take them down and take a break.  The braids were so well woven that we could have left it in for another four weeks.  It took almost as long to take the braids down as it did to put them in, but it was worth it.  Willow’s hair had grown a good quarter of an inch in that time.

We are taking a break for a couple of weeks before braiding again, for Willow's benefit and for ours.  It was nice to have our baby back after having her look so grown up for a month. 

I can already feel her growing up and becoming more independent. I’m ok if we can hold on to her being little just a bit longer. There will be a day when she doesn’t want me to pick her up anymore--or I may not be able to pick her up anymore--and I’m just not ready for that yet.  

Maybe we’ll wait a few more weeks before braiding again.  It’s better for her hair, right?

Vanity Fair

Early December of last year, I woke up one morning with the typical mad dash to everyone ready for the day.  Steve was traveling and had just turned on the lights in the kids room and padded down the hallway when I hear a noise.  It sounded like the boys were up already and playing in the sink in their bathroom.  But wait, it wasn’t coming from their bathroom, it was coming from the kitchen.  

Like a wolf hunting its prey in the forest, I dodged the living room furniture, cocking my head to hear where the water-sound was coming from.  Not the kitchen.  The laundry room maybe?  As I opened the door into the back hallway, there it was.  An inch of water creeping over our oak floors.  We had sprung a leak in the guest bathroom.  

Frantically, I turned everything off and started to mop up the water.  I pulled out the wet vac from the garage, pulled a handful of towels and a big fan and started.  At this point, everyone was up.  Sean was in shock and awe and immediately it was 100 questions.  “what happened, why are you doing that, where did that water come from, why are you vacuuming the floor, who did that, where’s my breakfast?”  From the other part of the house, I hear a scream.  It’s Willow.  Luc had snuck into her room and was pestering her.  That nonsense, along with a two-year old’s typical screaming phase and you now have total chaos.  

Wait, then Jack started barking and needed to be let out.  OK, now we have total chaos.  

I left the wet floors to get the kids ready and fed and Sean off to school.  Once the dust settled and I got the floors dried, I assessed the damage.  It was pretty bad. Ugh, right before Christmas, too.  At least we weren’t planning on major company--we had just had everyone over for Thanksgiving.

I called the insurance company.  The floors and the vanity were pretty much a complete loss.  

This was the first time we’ve ever had to use our insurance policy.  I was completely unaware of how these things worked.  Normally when we have work done, we schedule it, it gets done and we pay for it.  With the insurance involved, everything seemed to take forever. 

Everything seemed to be working out, except the vanity.  I looked online and found one that Steve and I both agreed on.  I ordered it.  It arrived.  Vanity number one was the wrong color.  Vanity number two was defective.  Vanity number three was poorer quality and ended up not fitting the plumbing (which was set for vanity number one).  

Surely redoing a bathroom--a half bath at that--shouldn’t be this hard.  I started to look at vanity number three and how it was put together.  All we needed to do was change this brace here and move that brace there.  Hmm, I think I could do that.  Wait, I think I could actually MAKE that.  

So with some words of encouragement from my friends and the contractor, I set out to find all the necessary pieces to build my “vision” of a bathroom sink.

First, the wood. Through a friend, I found a place that sells high quality wood.  As I pulled up to the parking lot, lo and behold, there was a natural stone supplier right next door!  I ran in there first, figuring I should base the size of the counters on what stock they had for countertops. In their remnants, I found a piece of white quartz that they were able to cut to fit for me.  

I ran next door and drew out my plans for the wood guys.  The guys were awesome and helped me with the design, even down to the tools that I would need. We picked out a solid dark walnut.  I listed out the wood pieces I needed and asked the wood guys to make the cuts for me.

Countertop, check.  Wood for the base, check.  Sink? Faucet?  Hello Amazon app!  I ordered a square vessel sink and faucet from my phone and gave the dimensions to the folks at the counter top shop on the spot.

The original plan was to fasten everything together with dowels, but after a trip to a woodworking store, the Kreg jig seemed to be the best option.

A week or so later, I picked up the wood and counter.  I laid everything out in the garage and went to work.  I sanded all the wood down with a hand sander and fine grit paper.  

Next, after watching the accompanying DVD for the Kreg jig, I drilled all my guide holes for fastening the frame together. This part was much easier than I expected. I used some stock pieces of wood and clamps to hold the frame in place while I glued and screwed it together, double checking with my square before driving the final screw.

Once the frame was together, I put my first and second coats of Danish oil on the wood.

Next came the doors.  I had the wood guys cut a 45 degree angle at the top of each door, to allow for finger access to open the cabinet.  I lined up the doors and with the hinge jig, made my cuts for the hinges.  I fastened those together.  

I couldn't believe how easy it was.  Since the wood guys made the cuts--and double-checking their accuracy, I'd equate it to a couple of steps harder than putting together an IKEA bookcase. 

After getting everything assembled, now came the really tricky part.  The contractor had to install it--even with my imperfections.  Lonnie, the contractor,
was able to attach it directly to the wall studs, through the tile.  We used two heavy duty shelf brackets inside the cabinet to help distribute the weight of the countertop. Lonnie used 4” lug nuts to secure the cabinet to the wall.  We ended up needing to make a small cut to allow for the p-trap, but all-in-all it went in without much trouble.

After 24 hours, it was ready to use. It turned out just as I had imagined--It just took three months, almost to the day.  And was half the price of the first vanity that I ordered.  

We’ll see what the next project is.  I’m thinking the boys need new bunk beds?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Empire Strikes Barbie

Thinking back on my childhood, I had it pretty good.  I got to play with some really great toys.  The Weeble-Wobble Haunted House and the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse were my favorites.  Being the youngest, I had access to my sisters' toys too.  I used to make furniture and houses for their Barbies or I took them apart, cut their hair and made other toys out of them.  Give me a big pile of dirt, add a cardboard box and a Barbie or two and I was in heaven.

Fast forward to today, we've tried hard to give the kids toys that inspired some imagination.  Stuff like Legos and blocks, crayons and clay or sometimes just a shovel and bucket and free reign in the back yard.  So when we started working with "Santa" to plan out this Christmas, the toy selection criteria was no different--with one exception.  Willow.

The boys were relatively easy.  They are both going through a Star Wars-robot-monster-car-truck phase, so everything is or can be imagined as a robot.  Blocks and Legos were a no-brainer.  For his birthday, we got Sean a good sized Darth Vader action figure--or "doll" since that's what it is.

Since Willow has gotten bigger, she has had more access to the boys' toys.  She loves cars and trucks and has Legos of her own, but when that Darth Vader doll came into our house it was love at first sight.  She would not let it go.  She carried it everywhere, even slept with it.  We had to sneak it away so the boys could at least play with it a little bit.  Lucky for us the boys moved on very quickly and only rarely do they miss him.

So Steve and I thought it's probably time for a doll of Willow's own.  We've tried baby dolls and she's just not into them.  Barbie seemed like the next logical option.  Close enough to the Darth Vader "action figure" but something that we thought she could identify with.

On the hunt for a dark complected, short black-haired Barbie.

I know technically they're made for the three and up set, but she's a pretty smart two year old and three is not that far off.  Plus we would pull the small parts like shoes and handbags, anything that could be a choking hazard--hey, we aren't completely headless.

Off I went in search.  How hard could it be, right?  A Black Barbie.   Apparently pretty difficult if not downright impossible.

Aisle after aisle at Target was a sea of white faces with blond hair--the toys, mind you.  This search heightened my awareness a bit.  I realized that the bulk of customers and employees I was passing by were not white, but were all different ethnicities.  No one color over another, but a fairly balanced mix of people.  But still, there were HUNDREDS, no exaggeration, of only blond haired, blue eyed, fair/lightly tanned complected Barbies and Kens.  I asked a black woman for help-at first she asked me to repeat myself.  She couldn't find a single one.

Why would a doll that is reflective of a community where a store is located be a "special order."  Why wouldn't it be on a shelf for every little girl sitting in a shopping cart to squeal and bed her daddy to buy it for her.

Almost every one, even off-brand Barbies were white or slightly tan.  The slightly tan ones, I think, were supposed to be Latina.  Not like any Latina woman I've ever seen.  Yeah, like if Paris Hilton was Latina.

In fact, the only Black-ish Barbie-like doll was a vampire dressed like a prostitute.  Even the white Barbies weren't necessarily ones I'd pick for Willow.  The outfits were just terrible.

Can't there be a dark-completed beauty doll, with short curly hair with just a slightly elevated taste level for clothing?  I'm not asking for Dior or vintage Valentino, but even a Ralph Lauren or JCrew inspired outfit would be much better than the pink and turquoise animal print leggings and halter top.

Oh yeah, and the Paris Hilton-Latina Barbie was offered in a scantily clad bikini--Merry Christmas!

What is this telling my little girl?  That in order to be considered attractive, she has to be a hoochi-monster?

My saving grace--Doc McStuffins.  She's a doctor, for crying out loud.  As a parent, I couldn't pick a better toy to hopefully satisfy Willow's doll desire and somewhat rest easy that I wasn't pointing my girl in the direction of a blood-sucking version of the oldest profession.

Christmas morning came.  Boxes and wrapping paper every where.  Doc made her debut.  Steve and I waited with bated breath to see what Willow's reaction would be.  Unfortunately, Doc was used as a weapon to beat Luc into losing his grip on the Darth Vader doll.  Poor Luc did not stand a chance.  Neither did Doc McStuffins, come to think of it.  Willow has not let go of DV since.

Ah well, that's my girl--$10 bucks if you can guess what she'll be for Halloween next year.  Maybe by then there will be a Superhero Black Barbie that happens to wear a Darth Vader mask with a light saber on Target's shelves. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Bringing up Baby

Sean has always had a fascination with how things work.  He's able to figure out pretty complex puzzles and processes just by watching others.

The human body is no different.  Skeletons, x-rays, blood, bones, stomach, brain, "pee-pee."  As soon as he could talk, he was asking questions about how things work, what's the stuff inside of us, where do babies come from--yes, at just four years old, we've already had to field the first of what I'm sure will be many challenging questions.

Sean is curious.  He wants to know things.  Not just big things, but the most minute details of things.  He was trying to take a nap in our room one day and the faucet from the bathroom was making a noise through the wall.  Immediately he asked what that was.  Who is in the wall?  What is in the wall?  Why does it make noise?  What's it doing in there?  How did it get in there?  Some of the questions out of fear and some out of curiosity.

We talked about how pipes and wires run through the walls.  That's why we can have water that comes through the faucet and electricity to power the TV and vacuum cleaner.  I used this as an analogy when he asked about his own body.  I told him we had pipes and wires that ran through us the same way.  That's where our food goes (and sometimes comes out again) and why we bleed when we scrape our leg.

Back on the baby situation--we were reading one of my favorite childhood books, The Berenstain Bear's and the New Baby, and Sean immediately took to the cue of Mama Bear's big belly.  "Is there a baby in there?"

I paused, almost too long.  Where are my notes?  I know I had this conversation written out somewhere as I was planning milestone conversations in my head.  Is it in my journal?  My iPad?  Scribbled on post-its stuck around my desk.  Damn, I wish I had written this out on my arm just in case.

I'm racking my brain to remember if we've discussed someone's pregnancy while we thought the kids weren't listening.  He's a smart kid, he may have pieced some of this together himself.  Early on, Steve and I decided that we would be completely honest when the kids asked us questions, even if we thought they were too young to fully understand.  Then I remembered my mom's favorite response and I said, "What do you think?"  (Thanks, Mom!)

He said, "Yes, there's a baby in there.  How does the baby get out?"

Me:  "The doctor gets the baby out."

Sean:  "Does the doctor cut Mama bear's tummy?"

Me:  deep breath, slight pause, "Sometimes the doctor may need to cut a mommy's tummy, but most of the time the baby comes through one of Mama Bear's pipes--just like we all have pipes, girl bears have different pipes that boy bears."

This time Sean paused.  "Does it hurt?"

Me:  "Yes"

Sean:  "Does it come out here?" pointing to Mama Bear's mouth.

Beads of sweat started to form on my forehead.  My stomach was turning just a bit.  I did not want to be the parent that gets a phone call from school because their child is giving an anatomy lesson to all of his friends.  But at the same time, honesty seems to be the best policy, even if it's not completely clear.

My response:  "Nope, it comes out down here," pointing to Mama Bear's lower abdomen.

"Oh, ok."  Sean seemed completely satisfied with the response.  I was shocked and finally able to breath again. No follow up questions--nothing about how the baby gets there in the first place or more details about the process.  Nothing.  Thank God.  Off the hook for now.

I totally thought I was prepared for the baby conversation.  But apparently even prepared I still had a deer-in-the-headlights response.  At least we are practicing for the next two.  I hope with practice we'll get it right.  Thankfully, neither are showing even a slight interest in the same things Sean has.

Since then, Sean has moved on for now.  He doesn't even pick that particular book out anymore at bedtime.

Now I just need to find those notes....