Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Dollar Store Kitchen

I remember my Dollar Store equipped apartment kitchen fondly since cooking at the time consisted of boiling water and heating up a frozen pizza when I was really famished. At 26, when I finally decided that being helpless was no longer cute and realizing that knowing how to cook was a basic life skill likened to knowing how to wipe your own butt, the state of my kitchen utensils, skills and love for cooking gradually matured. Fabulously useful and expensive cookware usually appears on either a wedding registry or a carefully crafted letter to the jolly one at the North Pole:

Dear Santa,

All I want for Christmas is a Vitamix. I like my margaritas and gazpacho much smoother than the hand-me-down blender from 1972 I have now can make them.

                                                          Sincerely Yours,


P.S. I left you cookies and beer on the mantel. There’s vodka in the freezer if you prefer.

After some answered letters AND a wedding, I was equipped with a kitchen fit for a functioning, middle-class adult and then some…that is until the bearded husband and I recently moved to Dallas.

I’ll spare everyone the details of the actual moving process because it sucked a lot and not in like a funny, shit hit the fan kind of way…more like it might have permanently mangled my soul kind of way. Long story short, we’re building a house, it’s not done yet, we’re now living in a temporary furnished apartment that costs more a month in rent than our mortgage and everything we own, minus a few essentials, is in storage.

It was not easy to come by and we didn’t get the luxury of actually seeing where we would be living for nine weeks in a brand new city before we were actually living in it. Not even pictures. The sweaty hike up the three flights of stairs after our 13 hour drive consisted of us both chanting, “Please don’t be a shithole, please don’t be a shithole, please don’t be a shithooooooole,” cringing as we turned the doorknob, then letting out a breath as it turned out to not be a shithole.

It’s the basic apartment that everybody lived in with a roommate when you were 23. The laminate countertops were meticulously splatter painted by a 3-year-old to mimic granite. The fake and poorly executed crown molding was surely a selling point for rent hikes in the early ‘90s. The walls have cracks in them from the many miniature earthquakes, which was quite surprising the first time it happened and I realized what actually caused the cracks (OK, so maybe that one isn’t typical). The furniture is courtesy of wholesale upon wholesale and maybe mom’s basement and the minimum two-flusher toilet in the hall bathroom prompted the need for this sign courtesy of the bearded one when we had guests last weekend:

About 3.4 seconds after we walked in, the air conditioner broke (Did I mention Texas is a tropical rainforest?) and then I morphed into the Hulk and ripped the handle off the toilet in the other bathroom:

But, my favorite part of our magnificent temporary abode is the kitchen. The complex promised us a fully stocked, useable kitchen. Let’s just say my Dollar Store kitchen days have come back to haunt me in full force.

During our most recent house hunt, our realtor spotted a knife block on the countertop of the home we were visiting.

“I really hate it when people leave the knife block on the counter,” she said. “It messes up the Feng Shui.”

“It pierces the heart of the home,” she added, matter-of-factly.

The bearded one and I just looked at each other. Really? Is that really a thing? Where the hell else do you put the knives? Then at the next house, we saw a knife block on the counter and almost simultaneously clutched our chests and croaked, “It’s piercing the heart of the home!” because we are incorrigible assholes.

She just shook her head and said, “I should have never told y’all that.”

She’s your quintessential lady Texan. I absolutely adore her.

Well, our apartment knife block won’t be piercing the heart of the home or anything for that matter. After a couple weeks of terrible eating habits brought on by packing, moving and traveling, my arteries were crying out for a vegetable, so we made our first attempt to cook in our new place. It was vegetable risotto…or a least it was supposed to be as I used a coffee cup as a ladle and chopped everything on the lone, envelope-sized cutting board.

I labored over the vegetables, sweating profusely while trying to saw them into rough pieces with the equivalent of a clear plastic cafeteria spork. I might as well have been beating them with a club like a caveman it was working so well. When they were furnishing this apartment, I imagine that some guy in the main office said his kids no longer played with their set of Fisher-Price knives, so he’d be willing to donate them to the corporate unit.

Then the bearded one Hulked out a few days later:

Waaaa, waaaaaaah. Once again, where the hell is that damn super glue?

At this point, we broke down and bought a decent knife, along with a measuring cup, a ladle, a sheet pan and some cutting boards. This fully stocked kitchen is getting expensive.

I spotted this strange object right away and you can probably guess why:

Yes, because I have never seen one of these things in my life.  It looks like a giant version of one of those honey dipper things. Perhaps somebody glued one of those metal balls you put into protein shakes onto a stick and placed it into this kitchen. Maybe it’s a miniature bastard version of a whisk. The apartment complex decided that whoever lives in this unit doesn’t need a full-sized whisk, just borrow one of them there do-dads from Barbie’s Dreamhouse and call it good. Whatever it is, it was simply put here to give the illusion of a real kitchen. I’m fighting the urge to go down to the office, waggle it in someone’s face and ask in my most polite, sweet as sugar, southern tone (because this is Texas and you always mind your manners), “Excuse me, miss…what the fuck is this?” I guarantee she wouldn’t have a clue.

If you were searching for your next throwback to post on Facebook, please feel free to use my kitchen. Hello, 1991:

When is the last time you saw a trash compactor…excuse me, a trash masher? I used to have one in my garage growing up. My dad would put random objects into it, his favorite being burnt out light bulbs, then we’d all stand at the door and listen to see what kind of a crunching sound it would make. It was far more educational than Nintendo, yet one of the best examples of suburban hillbillies I’ve ever run across. While walking through the complex, the bearded one and I have commented more than once that this joint was probably THE place to live in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s…because it has trash mashers, sold!

When this place was being built in the ‘70s, they uncovered an ancient civilization and this object was discovered in the archeological dig that followed amongst several pieces of broken pottery and piles of petrified caveman shit:

The cave paintings revealed that this was once used to peel prehistoric carrots and rutabaga providing a luxury to the people of the village. But, now the only thing it will peel is your finger right off your hand providing a trip to the ER and tetanus. An absent-minded historian misplaced it and it ended up in this apartment. Apparently the Smithsonian has been searching for it for nearly 30 years. They contacted me last week and when I told them I would hand it over for the price of one month’s rent at this place, they declined. I wonder why.

Yes, I did in fact state earlier that this apartment is NOT a shithole. It’s clean…ish, there’s a bed to sleep in, the neighborhood is nice, all broken things were fixed promptly and I have yet to see a rat...inside. It’s just a regression from where we used to be and the feelings of temporary amplify the stress of the situation. My current number one stressor (among about 1,000) is the fact that I couldn’t get a full-time job in my field even if I branded my resume onto my naked ass, donned a set of longhorns and paraded around downtown, combined with the fact that I don’t understand why or how to fix it. But, you know, I’d rather talk about my ridiculous apartment kitchen for obvious reasons.

Whoever said material things don’t matter never slept on a rented bed for two months. I’ve tried to think of this like I’m sleeping in a hostel during some grand adventure in an exotic country because frankly Texas is another country. Unfortunately, that didn’t work, so now I’m just trying not to think about it at all.

What I am thinking about is the fact that we are about three weeks away from closing on and moving into our brand new, gorgeous house. I never thought I would be so excited to live in a neighborhood where all the houses look more or less the same, are about two inches apart and sport backyards the size of my hand, but in reality it’s a new experience for me. There’s a lot to love there.

A close second thought is the fact that our butts will surely look exactly like this when we move out from walking up all those stairs several times a day:

I suppose it’s always good to have your resourcefulness tested from time to time, but I’m ready to be reunited with my functional kitchen where I will make out with my KitchenAid mixer, dance with my incredibly sharp knives that I will proudly display in a block on the counter and snuggle my gas cook top. It’s true that I do remember my Dollar Store equipped kitchen days fondly, but it doesn’t mean I want to relive them ever again.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Where We Started

House number 40 in the sea of 43 homes we saw in the span of three weeks caught our eye. The combination of a turning housing market and our lust for both charming imperfection and instant gratification drove the frantic search…and both of us nearly insane, but it was our first house. We weren’t settling.

I remember sitting in jury duty of all places while a slight offer/counter offer war was waged, my sweetly bearded not-quite –husband-at-the-time repetitively texting and calling in the details. By the time I was released, we had a house and we were off to celebrate one of the largest purchases either of us had ever made in our lives.

On closing day, we ran by our little apartment to pick up our dogs in a spring snowstorm and headed straight to our new house. Built in 1963, it was only new to us. While the mid-century ranch was basically fully updated with the 1960s details still intact, we had some painting to do, the hardwood floors needed some love and the layer of somebody else’s filth that was draped all over everything made me squirm, but I couldn’t stop smiling. It was ours. I loved it and I was about to jump out of my skin. While the dogs flung themselves around their very first backyard with glee, we popped open some champagne in the kitchen and drank it straight from the bottle, the bubbles shooting up my nose. I still have the cork tucked away in a drawer.

The next three weeks tested our bank accounts and interior decorating skills. Suddenly we had to furnish a house…one with five bedrooms and two whole entire bathrooms plus a living room that was far larger than the postage stamps of our past. I had never even owned a real couch. If you couldn’t tell by the number of alan wrenches in my junk drawer, all of my previous furniture had come in pieces and was assembled one slow, patient quarter turn at a time.

Despite the hit to the wallet, running around the furniture stores and picking out all the fully assembled pieces was far more enjoyable and less curse word inducing than the wonderful task of painting. This house finally gave me a studio – a designated place to write and create – but unfortunately Buzz Lightyear had exploded in it at some point.

We slapped some soothing and trendy minty green paint over the purple walls, which wasn’t so bad, but then I started on the built in shelves. I wanted to do a homemade chevron pattern on the back of the shelves and used silly, foolish words like “fun” and “easy” to describe this project based off online tutorials I had perused. One small detail I missed was that all these tutorials were based on flat walls, while my project was confined inside a box…To think, this minor oversight turned “easy” and “fun” into my eyes bleeding and non-stop f-bombs echoing off the empty walls of the house, but I finally got it done. Now, it’s my favorite room in the house.

Also, were you aware there are trends in baseboards? Apparently, your house is embarrassingly unfashionable without the latest five and a quarter inch flat white baseboards with top beveled edge according to the guys who refinished our hardwood floors. Never wanting to be totally lame and out of style, that’s what we got, along with a fine layer of sawdust on top of the heavy layer of grime already in place on absolutely EVERYTHING, floor to ceiling. We were so thankful we had heeded the advice of many to wait to move in until after the floors were done.

This sawdust-y detail made me hire my first cleaning lady. I’m going, what am I doing and who have I become? I don’t hire people to clean my house. Who do I think I am, a Kennedy? But, it was just the best thing to do. Along with hiring the electricians, floor finishers, baseboard painters, acrobats, jokers, smokers and midnight tokers, we also had worked ourselves weary. We ended each day sweaty, with paint in our hair and dirt under our fingernails face planted in bed before 9 p.m. We single-handedly kept Home Depot in business during that pre-move in period buying new outlet plugs and covers, furnace filters, paint, light fixtures and ceiling fans. The house made us its bitch and I enjoyed every second of it, but even the things you think you can do on your own, like cleaning sawdust out of every minute crevice, are often best left to the professionals.

Soon after the clean sweep, we finally moved in and a week later, our new, polished home played host to my 30th birthday – a choose your own decade party that rivaled even the best college date parties.

Many parties followed that first one. That first glimpse of the original vintage bar in the basement made us feel as though it was our duty to fulfill this house’s purpose:  To be a fun gathering place where people laughed and loved; to be home.

Many decades of memories were made within this old, well-loved home long before we made it our own. I love this little time capsule on the back patio from some point in the home's history:

As the epitome of home, we soon added our chapter to this house’s story:

  • Our exploding farmer’s market in the backyard:

  • Drinking whiskey and dancing barefoot in the kitchen to Wagon Wheel, which became our first dance song at our wedding. There’s been so much drinking and dancing in this kitchen.
  • Practicing said wedding dance while the dogs barked ferociously. Dogs hate dancing.
  • Trying unsuccessfully to change the light bulb in the bathroom, then admitting defeat, duct taping the hanging fixture to the shower rod and calling the electrician. Please know that we were wearing matching headlamps during this fiasco because our style doesn't stop at baseboards.

  • When the bearded one took me to the ballet then demonstrated the ballet run down our hallway and Andy, our Jack Russell Terrier jumped up and bit him in the ass like a cartoon character.
  • Laying in bed and preparing for our European honeymoon by putting hilariously inappropriate phrases into the translator, playing it and laughing hysterically.
  • That remarkable, nothing-else-like-it, newlywedded first year of marriage.

We talked about our future and having children in this house. Our little house with its perfect mix of mid-century charm and modern updates; scalloped edges and leaded stained glass intertwined with stainless steel and sleek track lighting that just worked in the most wonderful way.

Then, just shy of two years in, we celebrated one of the last memories in our first home:  The bearded one’s promotion and our impending move to Dallas, Texas.

The plan was to keep our house in Denver and rent it, but news that it fell through and we would have to sell came on a particularly stressful day wandering around Dallas looking for the new neighborhood we would want to call home. I remember wishing it was easier:  Leaving the old home, yes, but finding the new home, too.

Finding your place in a new neighborhood and a new city is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to navigate. The eccentricities of one neighborhood to the next can either intrigue you or scare you away and you really don’t want it to surprise you after you’ve already put down a deposit or down payment.

In my hunt for a little peace in relocation, I ran across a site called Urban Compass that matches your tastes with neighborhoods and the homes in those neighborhoods…in New York City. There is a neighborhood guide section with detailed descriptions providing the daily vibe, things to do and what you should and should not expect. Basically, exploring this site and connecting with its agents is like doing what we just tried to do in Dallas without the stress of traveling or wandering aimlessly. If only I was moving to New York…

But, I’m keeping it in my back pocket because at the rate of promotions the bearded husband is getting (two in eight months) our next move could very well be to New York. Oh, and if anybody from Urban Compass happens to be reading this, other large cities and weary, crazy relocators desperately need your services.

As the countdown to moving day begins, yet again, I know this move is going to be different than any of the ones that came before it or any of the ones that will come after it. This house made me a homeowner for the first time, something I never thought I would be, and the pride attached to knowing I earned that unique privilege makes me feel like I could burst. This is where we started and while having to leave it behind breaks my heart, it’s time to move on. But, wherever we go and whatever we do, I will always miss and be desperately in love with number 40 in the sea of 43; our little eclectic starter ranch; the first place we called home together.


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