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Remodeling My Bathroom Reminds Me of Our Catskills House: The House Which Always Changed

30 May

I am in the process of having a little half bath remodeled. The old pedestal sink is gone. The old linoleum tiles are gone. The distressed paint is gone. In their place are a new cabinet sink, ceramic tile floor and new paint. The process has taken three days. And the entire time it has been in progress, I have been going back into time to our home in the Catskills.

My grandparents bought the ‘big house’ in the early 1960s. The home had been divided into four little apartments. Three were rented out during the summers, and the owner stayed in the one that was slightly bigger. My grandparents bought the house with the intention of reuniting it into one home. It became a forever process.

It slowly took shape. First they stopped renting out two of the three other apartments. They took down the wall that separated the upstairs from the living room. We now had two rooms upstairs and another bathroom. Of course there was a kitchen along one wall as well!

The fireplace in the center of the living room.

The fireplace in the center of the living room.

Downstairs they removed the kitchen and teeny bathroom that had been built behind the fireplace. They left the room on, but made it part of the living room. The children loved to sleep back there on the trundle bed. It was also a great hiding place. And the fireplace is a magnificent stone edifice. We love it. Originally it was at the end of the house. But now it stands in the living room.

They opened the doorway between the two sections of the house. Putting in a pocket door to close the living room off in the winter. Each room of the house was slowly redone.

They built a garage, since they started spending the winters up there. At first there was just a flagstone patio that led from the kitchen door to the across to the garage. But eventually walls were put up to keep the snow from blowing. At first my grandfather just put up some old windows and plywood to keep the wind out. But eventually real walls were built and a roof put on and another door creating what we all called stone room.

The kitchen was remodeled and remodeled several times over the years by my grandparents and then my parents.

The fourth apartment was changed. The bedroom that originally belonged to the main house was reunited, and a true apartment was built. This was rented during the summer.

The upstairs was remodeled. The kitchen came out and two bedrooms were created. And when a dining room was built onto the downstairs kitchen, a large attic area was created. This empty storage space became a bone of contention between my grandparents. My grandmother wanted a dormer put in so the room could be used. My grandfather could not. This debate created one of my favorite Grandpa memories.

I was a senior in high school and I was explaining parapsychology to my European grandparents. I explain how some people believed they could foresee the future. My grandfather looked at me and said, “I can foresee the future.”

“Really,” I naively responded.

“Yes,” he said. “In two minutes your grandmother is going to be screaming.” He walked passed me into the kitchen, and said two words: “No Dormer!”

He was right, my grandmother started to scream.

And my grandfather and I started to laugh. It was a great example of my Grandpa’s sense of humor, as well as an indication of my grandparents’ house remodeling issues.

The screened porch.

The screened porch.

When my grandparents passed away, and the big house passed to my parents, more remodeling occurred. My parents redid the kitchen and modernized it. They added a screened in porch, which we love. I think we spend most of our time there! They put in French doors that lead from the porch into the dining area. And they created a master suite with a small en suite bathroom.

The difference from my grandparents’ experience is that my parents hired an architect to plan and oversea the work. This meant that work was actually done to code. And so as they worked they opened walls and replaced all the electric wiring and much of the plumbing.   They also remodeled the upstairs bathroom, adding a small dormer to enable to addition of a shower. I will never forget the first time I saw the little dormer area. I could not help but think of my Grandpa Nat and his glorious sense of humor.

All the remodeling did not just stay in the house. I have not even mention all the changes that were made on the small bungalow that sat behind the home.   My parents, siblings and I stayed there. And over time it also got another bedroom, a real living room and a redone kitchen. A screened in porch was also added, while we stayed there.

The outside also underwent many changes over the years.  With four acres, my grandfather and dad had a lot to work with, and they did.  We had gardens and vegetable gardens; sitting areas and patios; trees put in and tress removed.  New wells were dug  and landscaping redone.

Over a 50-year period “change” was the word, and remodeling was the main entertainment! But now it is complete. My siblings and I own the house. Although we work to keep it maintained, we have no remodeling planned in the near future!

My little bathroom is not such a big deal as a house. But it did bring back the wonder of the house that always changed.

The Moves of Summer Result in New Beginnings

23 Sep

With the arrival of autumn, I look back on a hectic summer. Four members of the next generation of my family moved this summer, while at the same time my siblings and I did the final cleaning of the Catskill home that once belonged to our grandparents and parents. It was a summer of change.

One nephew spent the summer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, training for the “Teach for America” program. After traveling from New Jersey, he meet up with 100s of other college graduates to begin this adventure in Oklahoma. On his way back to Indiana, where he is teaching, he and a friend stopped overnight at my home in Kansas.

He wanted to see his cousins, especially my daughter, who lives in Israel and was visiting. We had a great time. His presence helped my daughter as she frantically packed, and he quietly played the guitar.

But in the morning, before he and his friend left, there was a slight issue. Would they be able to fit everything back in the car? And still have room for two 6’3” young men. Before they left Tulsa, they had just thrown everything in. Now it needed to be a bit more organized.

My nephew's car before he left for Indiana.

My nephew’s car before he left for Indiana.

 

That was my job, and I was happy to help. My family would tell you that I am a bit OCD about having things fit in place. I have a map in my brain that cannot be stopped. Spatial relationships work for me. No one loads my dishwasher, but me. And when I buy groceries, no one puts them away but me. I have a program, a diagram in my mind.

In any case, when they drove off, I will not say with room to spare, because there was none. But they had some legroom.

Next was my daughter, she was flying back to Israel. She had come with two, basically empty suitcases, her carryon packed inside the other, larger bag. She was returning with three, all full. I did not have to help her pack. She has my talent for fitting things in, even more so! I just had to judge weight. I am really good at judging the 50-pound limit.

My daughter's room in the middle of the packing mess.

My daughter’s room in the middle of the packing mess.

Then she was off! When she returned to Israel, she was also moving into a new apartment. Some of the items she took back with her were to decorate her new home.

My other nephew called me a few weeks later, on a Thursday. He lived in Lawrence, Kansas, where he earned a master’s degree in math…with honors.   His request, the movers were coming on Monday morning, and he needed help packing. I was glad to assist. My husband and I drove out to his apartment of three years on Sunday.

“Do you have boxes?” I asked. His entire kitchen needed to be packed. He did not. We left my husband at the apartment while we went off to purchase boxes. On the way we had the following conversation:

“I might have to give some of my clothing away,” he stated disappointedly.

“Why?” I asked.

“Well in the three years I have lived here, I have purchased new clothing, and they don’t all fit into my suitcases,” he replied.

I did not laugh out loud. I kept calm and said, “That is why we buy boxes.”

“You can put clothing in boxes?” He asked.

“Yes, I will show you later.”

And we went into the store and purchased boxes, tape and packing supplies. I had bought lots of bubble wrap and newspapers with me, but I needed a few extra items.

My husband put the boxes together as I packed the kitchen. I had four boxes sitting on the floor as I analyzed where to place what items and how to pack most successfully without breakage. I gave my nephew four Tupperware containers to put in a box. He threw them in. “No,” I cried. “Put one inside the other. They take less space.”

“How do you figure out where to put what?” He asked.

At this point my husband looked up from his e-book and spoke out, “Think of it as a mathematical problem. That is what she is doing.”

One nephew taped boxes after I packed them.

One nephew taped boxes after I packed them.

It helped, that is when my nephew saw a little light in understanding on how to pack.

After I finished the kitchen, and we had packed other items, I had one large box left. “Bring me your clothes now.   Keep them on the hangers,” I told my nephew.

“ON the hanger?” He was stunned. “How will you fit them all in the box?

As I folded the clothes in half and put them in the box, I looked up at him. “Bring me more!”

He was elated. “They compress,” he said. And they do. The clothes compress and they all fit in the box.

“This is great,” he exclaimed.   “I can just hang them up in the closet when I get there.”

I was laughing at loud at this point. I even tried to text my sister, but I was laughing too much to send a coherent sentence.

He came and lived with us for a few days before driving to Florida with a friend. He is going to study for his PhD in math.   Before they left, I analytically loaded his car so everything fit including the two young men. Success.  My organizing talents were coming in to good use!

I left a few days after he left to visit my sister in New Jersey for a week. We went up to our Catskills home and met up with our brother. He had ordered a 20-cubic yard dumpster to be delivered. “We cannot leave till this is filled.” He said.

My brother filling the dumpster.

My brother filling the dumpster.

I thought, “No way.” But we filled it!

We emptied out the basement, garage and attic of all the junk accumulated over 52 year. What amazed me is that we had been slowly cleaning this house out for two years, in bits and pieces. But I never imaged we had that much more that needed to be ousted from the bowels and hiding places. Now the house is ready for life again. We will be spending more time up there. And all the junk is gone; the dumpster was filled!  (Do not worry, anything that can be recycled, will be.  The items that could be used were given away!)

I returned home from New Jersey and New York, to my son’s move. He left his small one bedroom apartment to move in with a college friend. This move was a little smoother. He and his girlfriend had been packing while I was gone. And he was just moving across the parking lot to a two-bedroom place.

Setting up the kitchen in my son's apartment.

Setting up the kitchen in my son’s apartment.

 

My son, three friends and his girlfriend did all the moving. I stayed in the new apartment and put the kitchen together; lined shelves, put away dishes, glassware, utensils and food. Then I loaded books, videos and games into bookcases. I also directed the boys and where to place the furniture. We got it mostly done in about four hours on a Friday. WOW.   His roommate moved in on Sunday. I was exhausted and did not have to help with his move.

Four moves and a house cleansing — sort of like four weddings and a funeral. The moves are all new beginnings for my nephews, son and daughter. Cleaning the house was, in a way, like a funeral. As we cleaned away the items in the attic, basement and garage, we found treasures that brought back wonderful memories. We sat and talked.  My sister, nieces and I shared memories.  My brother said we were doing the harder work, looking at all the memorabilia.

New beginnings for our children and for us as we celebrate a new year with sweetness and joy.

Building Projects Are Family Friendly

30 Apr

Whenever my parents came to visit, I always had a list of jobs around my house and yard that needed to be done. My Dad was not the type of person to sit around and do nothing. If he did not have a goal, he would just get too antsy.

Over the years he helped my husband put together bookcases, desks, closet organizers and more. They planned and dug flower and vegetable gardens. And spent hours together walking through home improvement stores and buying much needed equipment!  My Dad and husband loved going to home improvement stores together.  If they spent less than $100, I thought it was wonderful.  Most times they spent much more.

One year they built a giant closet organizer for my walk-in closet. They went to the home improvement store and brought home information on how to do it.  We designed it. Then my husband and Dad bought all the shelving and hanging poles, and spent a few days putting it together. I have had the best use out of that one project.

My son enjoyed helping as well. The first time he really got into putting something together, besides Lego sets (which he was quite good at completing), was when he was in seventh grade. I think it was because he was taking ‘shop’ in middle school. He got the urge to really build and use tools in that class.

My son builds his first project with my husband and Dad.

My son builds his first project with my husband and Dad.

The first project they all worked on was a desk that needed to be put together for my computer. My Dad, husband and son set up a command center on my dining room floor near the stairs. Why there? I am not sure. I think it was because my dad could sit on the stairs and direct.

They pulled out the instructions, got some tools and spent the next hour happily bonding through building. It was fun for the three of them. And, eventually, they actually finished putting the desk together.

These type of projects were easy. All the pieces came in a box. They only had to assemble it. My husband and son put together three bookcases for our basement family room with these box projects. There were drawers and closet doors, which was a bit more of a challenge. But they were able to complete their mission.

Building his first independent project for the cats.

Building his first independent project for the cats.

My son wanted a bigger challenge. He wanted to build a place for our cats to hang out. We had seen some of the cat platforms in the pet store. But the one he wanted was expensive. At the same time, I was reading a magazine for cat owners, in it was the instructions on how to make one at home.

That was all information my son needed. He begged my husband to help him build it. So they took the magazine to the hardware store and bought all the needed supplies. It took several weekends, and several trips to the store. But the time they spent together building the cat hideaway and platform was worth much more than the money spent to make it.   An added benefit is that the cats love it.

The cats loved the finish project.

The cats loved the finish project.

But my son is not the only one to get the building bug. My daughter was often right there with them putting things together. She had the patience to actually read the instructions. Her Dad and brother were more likely to go by instinct. Her help was always appreciated, as she used her calm to keep them on target when the building was not going exactly as planned.

When my Dad had a more difficult time putting things together, my daughter, who went to college near by, was the helper. But she was more than just a builder, she was often a tech support. Spending a weekend with her grandparents meant also fixing the computer, the internet connection or a television’s reception.

She was not the only one to help, but since she actually stayed with them, they often saved up chores for her to accomplish when she visited. My brother-in-law and nephew were the usual tech support because they lived close by. But I think they enjoyed the ‘vacation’, when my daughter could take over for a bit.

Cousins putting together a coffee table.

Cousins putting together a coffee table.

Years later, my nephew moved to Kansas for his master’s degree.   My children and I took him shopping for a coffee table. It came, of course, in a box. The three of them had a great time putting it together. Their Grandfather would have been so happy to see them on the floor with the pieces and the screws and the directions. I sat on a chair and directed…taking my Dad’s role.

Building is fun. But more important, in our family, it brings us together for a glorious time as we reach a common goal.  Dad would be smiling.