The roasting spit in this European medieval ki...

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My husband is a project engineer and is in charge of – among other things – scope management.  Project costs depend largely on scope and if the budgeted project funding falls short, it’s usually because of “additional scope” or “scope creep”.

Now that the weather has begun the bouncy slide toward winter, we’ve abandoned any pretense that the outdoor renovation will proceed any further than it has already. Rob went at the stone work like a 15th century mason, but even his Herculean efforts couldn’t compete with the rainy damp September and he fell behind his own draconian schedule.

What he accomplished astounded nearly everyone who’s seen it. The neighbors literally stood in their yards and watched in awe. Of course, some of this admiration likely stemmed from the fact that until this summer, we were the white trash neighbors with tar paper standing in for siding and rusting cars parked in our front yard (though it was NOT up on blocks – I cling to that with all my middle-classness).

Reno called by weather means that we move indoors. This house has been in a perpetual state of renovation since the mid-1990’s when Rob, Shelley and the older girls moved here from The Fort. Rob told me a story once about Mick asking her mother how she could stand all the hammering and drilling that is really the sound of summer around here.

“It’s the sound of progress,” Shelley told her.

When he thinks about it, my husband is amazed to have had two wives who – for the most part – are extremely patient women where the state of our homes are concerned.

So now, we are indoors and we’d thought to update our tiny shoebox of a 1950’s kitchen. It is so narrow that only one person can stand at the sink at a time, and in terms of storage or counter space – well – meal preparation is a series of contortions that generally restricts the enthusiasm of the cook.*

The seed planted, took root and then began to grow like creeping charlie.

We thought we’d open up our downstairs space by knocking the wall out between the dining and living rooms. Which naturally led to the idea of extending a breakfast bar off the end of our narrow kitchen for more counter and storage space.

Once the wall was out we thought – why not put in a fireplace to heat the downstairs which led naturally to a flat screen tv above the mantel and that of course means we will have to get a couch again.

The kitchen planner listened patiently and thought maybe she could design something and sent us home with instructions to measure, sketch and photograph to give her a base from which to work. And after Rob had done all these things he said to me,

“I think we need to flip the kitchen and the dining room.”

“We’ll have to build the kitchen from scratch,” I said.


Which is how our little kitchen reno gained the urgent need for additional scope.

It’s not as if we hadn’t toyed with a brand new kitchen before. The vastness of such a project convinced us we should simply finish this house and look for newer housing in town. But then there was that little heart attack and the fact that getting mortgage insurance will be next to impossible for several years and … well, neither of us are foolish enough to venture down that road.

The demolition begins this weekend. All the floor has to come up and all the drywall has to come off. My lungs ache at the thought of all that dust. Some of it is probably older than I am. The older kids – Edie, Silver and Mick – offered to help but Rob hates to ask them. So, of course, I did. We don’t need any more heart “incidents” around here.

But it won’t be done for Christmas. And Rob’s mother is coming – possibly with her fiance in tow.**

We will have a living room with a fireplace, sofas, and a flat screen. So, good enough.

*Though to be perfectly honest – this cook really has but the barest interest in it. If it were not for the fact that Rob and Dee would starve, I wouldn’t cook at all.

**A very recent occurrence which caught him off guard but not me. The last time she’d mentioned her gentlemen friend, she used phrases like “handy man” and “good with cars”. She sounded like Edie describing Silver.  I wondered aloud how long it would be before Mick found another doppelganger and earned myself “the look” for it.

Oil painting of a scullery maid by Jean-Simèon...

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There is a reason why women abandoned the kitchen in droves once the combined effects of modern conveniences and access to the workplace kicked in. And that reason?

Kitchens are the equivalent of salt mines. Backache inducing, mind-mushing and mostly unappreciated work.

Subtracting the last bit for myself personally because my husband appreciates enormously and often, the aching back and low-level of intellectual stimulation will not induce many of my gender back to the scullery no matter how Home Depot dresses it up.

Today I baked, laundered, raked and tidied.

For hours.

And I am not a pioneer homemaker or even my Grandmother. Despite my personal fetish of mixing up foodstuff from scratch, my wifely arsenal includes an industrial mixer, an oven that doesn’t require the need to stoke it with wood (that would need to be chopped), a microwave, a blender, a food processor and a dishwasher (which praise be to my husband is installed and in service again). And still, the morning and a goodly chunk of afternoon later saw me just finishing and not even close to cleaning or yard-work.

Here’s where the feminists – married some, but mostly single – chime in, “Where is your husband? Division of labor violation alert!”

But he was mixing cement and applying scratch coat to the sides of the house, and seriously, labor division is an illusion. Always was and continues to be this fantasy that ruins more relationships than it should.

Reality is that Rob tends to the big house things – like siding, roofing, knocking out walls, installing hardwood and all things mechanical, electrical and plumbing related. I make the trains run on time, which isn’t glamorous or easy to point a finger directly at most days but necessary none the less.

And I teach yoga. Which is fun and good for me besides while Rob girds up to head back to literally dig a salt mine at a nearby chemical plant. It is neither fun nor good for him – as his recent heart attack attests to.

The point then? There isn’t one aside from the obvious, which is that fair is an ebb/flow thing, and when one gets all bean-counterish about it – joy is naturally sucked right out of one’s  existence.

There is nothing overwhelmingly odious about modern life that probably isn’t self-inflicted by unrealistic expectations that are imposed on us from the outside.