25 September 2011

I'd give summer a mixed review

Friday, the autumnal equinox, was mattress-flipping day at our house. As always, the turn of seasons (and mattresses) is cause for reflection. The remodel, despite a handful of hassles and hangups, is proceeding on schedule. We're beginning to talk about where things will live in the new kitchen. At dinner last night with friends, we allowed ourselves to fantasize about actually cooking, ourselves, again.

While we're waiting for the electrician, I want to bring y'all up to date on our backyard chicken situation. My friends who aren't on Facebook might not know that we lost a second hen this summer. Skip the next three paragraphs if you don't want to read about chicken angst; I just feel the urge to get it out.
Three weeks ago, Shelly, our blue-laced red Wyandotte, suddenly developed trouble walking. She'd take a couple of steps, then her legs would collapse under her, as if they couldn't support her weight. It didn't present like Rachel's neurological disorder. I thought maybe she was eggbound and gave her a warm water bath and other recommended treatment before taking her to the vet. She discovered a kidney infection, which might impact the femoral artery leading to the leg. We did a course of Clavamox for that, as well as Celebrex in case the problem was muscular or joint-related. After a week, not only was there no improvement, but Shelly had stopped eating and drinking. When it looked like I wouldn't be able to get a vet appointment til the following Monday, Chris and Tonya, a very kind and knowledgeable couple whom I know from the Portland Backyard Chickens list, came by to see her and offer some advice.

Luckily we did get into the clinic on Friday. They kept Shelly for the weekend, tube-feeding her and, finally, getting enough of a fecal sample to ascertain that her kidney infection was gone. That meant they could try a cortisone shot, a tactic that had gained Rachel six more weeks of relatively high-quality life. No miracles for Shelly, though; she still wasn't eating on her own, and her breathing became labored. Monday morning, after a long conversation with the vet, I authorized euthanasia and a necroscopy. 

The results of that were surprising. There had been nothing wrong with Shelly's digestive system, her reproductive tract, or her legs. What she did have was a huge fatty deposit in her abdomen and up one side into her chest -- more fat, the doc said, than she had ever seen in a chicken. And the fat had apparently constricted her heart to the point where the ventricles were a fraction of their normal size. Her liver was also fatty, though not tumorous. This has apparently been going on for months; untreated, she would probably have died soon, of congestive heart failure. What mystifies me is that she didn't present as an overweight bird, and wasn't a particularly voracious eater, even when it came to treats. It might have been something congenital in the way she metabolized fats. I've since heard of other Wyandottes that died of what might be similar causes. 

Hard as it is to believe, I've actually spared you some of the more squicky details. Okay, the rest of you, it's safe to start reading again.

Perhaps I'm becoming more hardened to the ups and downs of poultry-keeping, but I do know that chickens are social animals and that Maxine -- whether she liked it or not -- would soon have new companions. Last Thursday, the final day of summer, everything clicked into place. Jerry had an audiologist appointment in Oregon City. Tonya and Chris, who live down that way, had mentioned that, should Shelly not make it through, they had some "teenagers"-- pullets old enough to live outside, and on the brink of starting to lay -- available for rehoming. We got an early start so we could have lunch at a restaurant I wanted to try (I'd done a Master Gardener phone shift with the owner). Then I dropped Jerry off at his appointment and went to see some chickens.

Chris and Tonya have a flock of about 70 birds, all of whom they've named. They recently acquired another 15 or so from a neighbor who could no longer keep them. These were the pullets -- Easter chicks, most of them, now four to five months old -- available for adoption.

Without further ado, meet Red and Muffy.

Those are the first names I came up with, and they might not stick. Red, above left, is a Red Sex-Link, a.k.a. Red Star. Muffy is an Ameraucana. Note the "muff" around her neck and the tuft of feathers sticking out from her cheeks. Ameraucanas are also distinguished by the shape of their comb and the fact that, if you're lucky, they lay blue or green eggs. Some Ameraucanas, like the South American bird from which they derive, have no tail; Muffy is one of those. If my understanding is correct, that would make her an Easter Egger -- in reference to those colored eggs -- rather than a show-quality Ameraucana, but let's not get technical. By normal chicken standards, she's definitely quirky-looking. I think she's adorable.
Here's Maxine (below) -- a Barred Rock, since we're talking breeds -- giving Red the ol' stink-eye. Our original three were best buddies from the git-go, so this is the first time I've witnessed the pecking order working itself out. Max occasionally chases the youngsters, mostly away from food, and delivers perfunctory pecks now and then. But they share the same roost at night, and I'm pretty confident they'll work it out. It's only been three days, after all. How long did it take you to get used to new roommates?

"Red" is transitioning in my mind to Red Molly, after my favorite Richard Thompson song. She seems pretty ballsy. That way we'd have Maxine, Muffy and Molly -- or Max, Muff and Moll, in normal barnyard usage. Too cute, huh? Muffy doesn't really seem the preppy type her name conjures up, but perhaps she'll wear it ironically.

So, it was a grim summer for chickens, but things are looking up. It's also been a trying couple of months on the home-improvement front, but we knew what we were getting into, and we'll soon have a new kitchen to play in. And, despite dire prognostications back in June, it turned out to be a darned good season for tomatoes. Given our limited cooking facilities, we've had to eat most of them raw. I'm not complaining.

Kitchen Remodel: Week 5

The end is definitely in sight. This past week was all about surfaces -- floor, stairs and, at last, countertop. Here's the Marmoleum:

The color is called Eucalyptus. I was concerned that it would be too dark, but I think it'll be fine. The new garage stairs are also Marmoleum-clad, and edged with utilitarian metal trim. I'm glad we decided not to do the basement steps that way. 
Garage stairs and railing
The finish carpenter put in a long day Thursday doing baseboards, window and door trim, and probably a score of minutiae we haven't even noticed yet. I like this elegant turn on the stairs; we all know how much fussier a miter joint is than a butt joint:
The new basement stair carpeting is a tweedy mix that picks up the blues, greens and even a bit of the yellow in the kitchen area, and manages to harmonize with the old blue-green wall-to-wall downstairs. We made sure of all this in the showroom. Installed, you can't tell. It reads like a darkish neutral, and that's okay. Basement steps do not have to make a statement.
We're very pleased with the countertop. It's going to be a stretch for me, though, to reach those windows behind the sink. 
 In fact, as soon as the stove hood went in, I realized that this is going to be a Tall Person's Kitchen. I can barely reach the vent controls on tiptoe.
Accordingly, I ordered a Kik Step (tm) stool from Demco, a major supplier of library furniture. I haven't bought anything from them in more than 30 years. Kik Steps, like model Ts, used to come in just one color: black. Mine will be "Celery."

I'm happy that the countertop overlaps the sink by a smidge, instead of the other way around. I find that much more pleasing, and it will be easier to clean. In fact, I'm thrilled with the sink itself.
I'm grateful, too, even though the lighting isn't fully functional yet, that we've managed to normalize the wiring so that each switch controls the most logical (i.e. closest) set of lights. It wasn't that way in the old kitchen, nor is it so elsewhere in the house.

When the electricians left after rough-in three weeks ago (it seems a lot longer than that) they said "See you at finish." According to the schedule, that's tomorrow.

15 September 2011

Kitchen Remodel - End of Week 4

It's beginning to look a lot like Kitchen....

First, though, to conclude the Saga of the Stairs: the old ones are gone gone gone. For one night we were stairless entirely. Fortunately we had plans to be out for the evening.

Good thing Sophie and the cats heeded the yellow "caution" tape. (We did put up a plywood barricade as well, as much for our welfare as for theirs.)

The new stairs are a thing of beauty, relatively speaking. I'll never take them for granted. Once we got on the right track, they were done in a day.

Nothing in this picture is really this yellow

Painting is completed, except for touchup at the end. I don't think we made a mistake with the color; we'll know more when the other big color elements -- countertop and floor -- go in.

Remember that beam dividing the full-height ceiling from the dropped portion by the big window? Here's what that stretch looks like now:

Most exciting of all, the cabinetry guys worked all day yesterday, with these results:

The cabinets are maple. Right now I'm loving the look of the wood without any hardware, but the drawer pulls will go on soon. Hopefully they'll add rather than detract.

Most of the upper cabinets have frosted glass doors. The bottom ones all pull out. No more hunting in dark, obscure corners for a colander or a funnel! No more neck-wrenching reaching for the Kitchenaid mixer!  Everything closes softly, with a final damped drawing-to that's so cool to watch. I imagine it will lose its novelty eventually.

To the right of Jerry (below) is the built-in box that will enclose the new refrigerator. We measured; it should fit. We'll lose some potential fridge magnet surface, but it does look elegant this way:
 We spec'd the right-most pantry wider than the left to accomodate the wine rack that my Dad made decades ago. It's been living downstairs, in the guest room, since we've been in this house, and that's just not right. I hope we have the discipline, when it comes to putting our kitchen back together, to take the time to break old patterns in favor of new arrangements that make more sense.
Jer and I journeyed to Tualatin this afternoon to see our quartz countertop slabs for the first time. It turned out that we needed to cut into a second slab for the counter plus the 4" backsplash we'd envisioned. Once it became clear that we had to buy two slabs anyway, we decided to go for a full-height backsplash behind the stovetop. Still, there'll be a substantial remnant left over, enough for a bathroom vanity, I'm guessing. Anybody interested? Seriously, we'll probably put it on Craig's List.
 More to the point, I was relieved that we liked the color and pattern of the full-size slab as much as we liked the 12-square-inch sample we saw in the showroom. A good thing, since we'll be living with it for a long, long time.

12 September 2011

Kitchen Remodel: Week 4 - Monday, Monday

The decision was made this morning: The problematic basement stairs will be rebuilt. Alrighty.

The deck door arrived and was installed. It's beautiful.

Jerry realized over the weekend that the outlet we'd spec'd for the microwave, which will go into a cabinet above the oven, was missing. He alerted Steve, who alerted the electrician, who came out this afternoon and ran the wire. Whew; much easier now than it would've been a couple of days from now. The new box is on the upper right:

Sheetrocking finished this morning. Painting will proceed on schedule tomorrow.

Oh, and our block party last night was excellent. Best food ever, though we say that every year. I managed to scrape together a simple tomato salad -- just layers of sliced homegrowns sprinkled with fresh basil, s&p, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Tomato season is waning now, but yesterday I picked our first ripe plums. 

09 September 2011

Kitchen Remodel, Week Three

After a delightfully calm and quiet three-day weekend, Tuesday morning brought the sheet rockers. They worked almost 12 hours, at the end of which we had recognizable interior walls. Taping and mudding followed; Dave will finish that up next Monday.

Southwest corner
Stovetop,  oven and pantry wall
Ceiling (with can lights)

Meanwhile, Les made good progress on the deck. He hoped to complete it this week, but there was a glitch in delivery of the door, which meant that he couldn't finish the siding and framing of that giant rectangular hole in the side of our house. The supplier promises the door will be here on Monday. If not, I suspect heads will roll.

Then he resumed work on the basement stairs. It was a case of one step forward -- the deck -- and twelve steps back. We knew that area would present some issues. For instance, this is the tradeoff we had to make, load-bearing-wise, for raising the kitchen ceiling to a uniform height:

We haven't lost any below-stairs cabinet space, but right now it looks ugly, weird and awkward. We'll make it work somehow. It's actually less intrusive on the rest of the room than I'd feared.

I explained earlier why we're messing with the stairs at all. Scroll toward the end of my August 28th post to refresh your memory. (Yes, this will be on the test.)

The first problem came to light when the carpeting came off. That charming linoleum riser wasn't confined to the first step; nope, it went all the way down. So much for my clean-and-simple vision of varnished wooden treads and painted risers. The linoleum would probably take paint, but: uck. No, we'd have to either remove it all or cover it with wood. We opted for the latter.

Working our way up
Side view (note fiber art hangings)
After (with wastebasket)

The second stair problem compounded the first. Les discovered that the original risers weren't quite perpendicular; each was off by about 1/4 inch. In addition to raising the height of each riser slightly so it would all come out even at the top, Les had to shim each one to square it up. It looks very patchworky right now, from both front and side. I'm not sure how we're going to make the funky-looking profile (below) look decent. Maybe putty and paint will suffice. After all, they're just basement stairs.

Stair risers (side view)

We'd been contemplating a carpeted runner but, even after patching and painting, the exposed portion of the risers would look kind of shabby. The dark sections (below) are the original treads, which are bullnosed and will have to be firred out. (I love construction terminology; actually, I love the specialized vocabulary associated with any given profession or pursuit.)

Then we considered running the kitchen Marmoleum down the stairs, but the unevenness of the pieced-together risers --  even after firring, filling and filing -- would likely lead to buckling and sagging down the road. And I don't love the look of those anti-slip strips that typically go on the edges of linoleum-clad stairs, and that we'd be foolish not to put in place for when we get old and unsteady.

Stair risers (head on)

So, after all this, we're going with fully-carpeted stairs again. The cats will be thrilled. Jer and I returned to the floor 'n' wall store today, surrendered the Marmoleum samples we'd had out for way too long, and chose a commercial grade carpeting that should bridge the transition between the new kitchen floor and the blue-green wall-to-wall downstairs. You can judge for yourself when it's installed.

Between the late door and the escalating (no pun intended) stair problems, it's been a difficult week. I asked Les if this was the worst set of stairs he'd ever worked on. "It's right up there in the top two," he smiled.

Hopefully next week will be less fraught. The schedule calls for painting, cabinet installation, countertop template and fabrication, and finishing up the deck, siding and stairs. What could possibly go wrong?

Our block party is this Sunday. I wondered what we could possibly contribute, given our primitive food  prep facilities. Whatever it is will involve tomatoes. Here's yesterday's harvest:

03 September 2011

Kitchen Remodel - Week Two

This week started slowly, with some digging and concrete work for the second-floor deck footings, delivery of new windows and decking material, and other undramatic but necessary activity.

On Wednesday, the corner windows went in, which was kind of exciting. Here's the southwest end of the expanded kitchen, where the little deck used to be:

The downstairs deck, my preferred good-weather hangout, is not very hospitable right now, piled as it is with lumber for the upstairs deck. The boards closest to the camera (below) are the new deck flooring; they're a composite material designed to look like Ipe wood. I like the natural-appearing variations from board to board. I wish we'd used something this good-looking on our front porch when we built it, but the material probably hadn't been invented yet.

By Wednesday afternoon, the south wall of the house looked like this:

Then the pace picked up. Thursday was totally insane: two electricians and a plumber worked upstairs and down simultaneously, while Les began framing the new deck. Power went off and on unexpectedly. The noise from all quarters was varied and, at times, horrendous. The electrical work involved the breaker box, of course, which is adjacent to our makeshift kitchen sink. Several downstairs ceiling tiles in the same area were removed to run pipe or wire. Sawdust drifted ankle-deep (you think I'm kidding) in the construction zone; the west end of the basement received, through the subfloor, a light but significant coating.

I managed to escape the madness for a while to have lunch with a couple of friends. They declared it a month-to-the-day delayed celebration of my birthday, and presented me with a tiara and matching magic wand. Can you guess what I wished for?

By the end of an 11-hour workday, plumbing and electrical rough-in was complete. Here's the wall by the entrance to the kitchen, where the phone will live, as well as an outlet and light switches for most of the kitchen, including the undercabinet lights:

We'll have plenty of outlets at counter-level, too. This is the south wall to the left of the sink-to-be. I can barely imagine a functional kitchen without three-prong plug adapters and tangles of extension cords. Apparently we will have one:

Electrician Hieroglyphics

Friday AM, while Jerry and I were out shopping for cabinet pulls, the city inspector came and passed us on electrical, plumbing and framing. Woo hoo!

The rest of the week was all about the deck:

It's Labor Day weekend and, fittingly, "labor" is taking a well-earned rest. We probably won't see any action until Tuesday. But we're still on schedule and, after a week like this one, all of us -- including the animals -- can use a respite.

The tomatoes, though, are still producing.