Buying a new home is always a tumultuous and frustrating process whether you have the clandestine budget of a godfather or modest budget of most. It's further still exhausting to go through the process of building a new home, especially through a developer which have set floor plans and only items you can select through their process.
We began our home building process about 14 months ago when we sold our condo and moved into an apartment that felt like living in a garbage pail painted with "nice paint". At that point, we had spoken with a developer that built houses very quickly (6 months or so) but realized they were out of our budget if we didn't desire to be house poor. So our next step was to find a different developer, which we did. Unfortunately, their time line was much longer (9 months) and by the time the house was actually done, it was 12 months (cold winters do more than dry out our skin, you know).
One thing to consider when building with a developer is that while they may offer a lot of attractive options for a home, everything costs another dime. With a base price of $281,000, all the selections you may want to be more than a base model of the home (side-load garage, better siding colors, alternate floor plan, granite counter tops, etc.) can bring the price up $50k - $80k! Since Holly and I are handy and also willing to do the work, we left many items in the house at base price rather than pay their expensive premium pricing. For example, one room of wainscoting through the builder could be as much as $500 but it cost us about $40 in materials and one day of work. I'll do another blog post on wainscoting in the future.
In the end, the items we upgraded through the builder were: side-load garage, granite counter-tops, alternate floor plan (which moved the dining room from the front of the house to the back which made the kitchen significantly larger), vinyl (yes...VINYL flooring) throughout the entire home, canned lights over the kitchen, and craftsman style molding around all doors and windows.
With only those items done we knew we had a lot to do:
Yes, this was all expensive. Yes, it seems very "rich" like. Our first home was a small condo and we were fortunate to have made some extra money from the real-estate boom in the Ann Arbor area when selling (it sold in less than a day with 5 offers) - we also saved a ton of money by living in an apartment for the year while our house was being build (stressful yes but far better than trying to save, sell, and buy at the same time). Saving and planning matters if you want to do something like this so don't be disillusioned into thinking we were just lucky - years of planning, improving our original condo, and sacrificing comfort for a while were integral to accomplishing this project.
I am not exactly a chef but would call myself a pretty decent cook. The kitchen that was included in the build was already pretty nice - the cabinets were upgrades with the sarsaparilla stain (a chocolate look) from Aristokraft. The cabinets didn't come with any hardware (without an upgrade) but that was an easy change and went quickly with the use of a cabinet jig.
One thing we originally wanted was a butcher block counter-top for the island. This was ideal because granite on the island was probably $1300 upgrade and we love butcher block (we installed our own counter in our previous condo). So we went with the standard free top for the island and were going to replace it. Fortunate for us, someone messed up on the install during our homes build and put granite in anyway!! So no butcher block but hey, we won't complain!
Below are some pictures before. Nice kitchen but our goal was to have tile all the way up the walls, open shelving, chef appliances, and improved functionality. The 2 appliances that came with the home just wouldn't work and their upgrade options were too expensive and not what we were looking for. Basically, there was no way our builder could do what we wanted and even just to have them add a basic back-splash was very expensive (and they didn't offer the tiles we wanted in the first place).
Our very first step was to remove all the upper cabinets so we could tile up the walls (note: tiling entire walls, grouting, crown molding, cleaning, etc. took about 2 weeks. If you want to do it - go for it - but it WILL take time).
The Range Hood Fiasco
Ahh yes, the coveted range hood that all fancy kitchens seem to have. You know the one:
Range hoods are truly necessary if you cook a lot. They help trap grease and pull in moisture. In our case, we have a duct for the vent to the outside which means all the steam leave the kitchen entirely. A VERY awesome tool. After taking everything apart we were determined to put up a similar one to the picture above from IKEA (IKEA but made by Whirpool). We stalled on the tile while trying to figure out how to install the vent. Our first step was to remove the outlet and move the wire to under the vent (easy task!).
The harder step was to actually install the vent onto the wall. After some lifting, budging, and looking (literally half a day!) we realized the most "duh" thing: The vent was NOT center to our stove!!! This means we wouldn't be able to use our vent as planned because the stack wouldn't be center; you can see below. So, as anyone who takes on projects like this should know (or will find out) being flexible with your plans is important since who knows what will need to change. Since we needed cover the hole we ended up needing to go back to having a cabinet and return the original vent. This also proved a challenge because we needed a different hood vent (pictured to the right) and then had to figure out how to put in the duct. We ended up going for a less expensive vent made by Presenza - it was an under-mount that required a cabinet.
Originally our plan was to put up the vent ourselves and getting the new vent didn't change that. To get the vent on the wall, we needed a new cabinet - rather than buying an expensive one to match the bottoms, I opted for the cheap lighter cabinets your basic Lowes/Home Depot sells that run about $70 for a 3ox30x12. In my attempt to screw the vent into the cabinet to mark the holes for installation, I slipped and ended up needing to go to the Urgent Care (who then sent me to the ER) - resulting in 5 stitches (my wife guessed 3 and I guessed 5 - looks like the Physician Assistant lost out to me on that bet....or maybe I lost given the stitches). I was very close to cutting the tendon which would have been a major surgery. The lesson here is that sheet metal edges, while not sharp to a gentle touch, are very sharp on a slip - wear gloves (we really learned a lot of safety first on this reno).
Obviously this put a damper on all the work we had to do but luckily we were mostly painting at the time so my left hand was covered up and painting away I want. At this point we knew our limits and opted to hire a handyman to install the cabinet and the ductwork (duct work like this has NO plan!! We bought all kinds of pipes, boots, ducts, etc. to make this work and it still required our handyman to crimp, cut, bend, and tape like hell!!). People, take on projects but also learn your limits.
We also opted to have the handyman install all our brackets because they needed to be installed on studs and since my wife worked so hard on the tile, we didn't want to crack anything or miss a stud. You cannot, I repeat, CANNOT put up brackets for a kitchen with anchors - you need studs. Same with cabinets. It cost us about $270 to have the handyman install all the brackets - well worth the price if you think about the disaster that could occur if I made a mistake. The vent ended up costing quite a bit more than we thought for the install as it took him about 5 hours to install (and a second visit): but, that was 5 hours with a professional! However, the Presenza vent saved us several hundred dollars from our original vent so we still ended up about where we thought we'd be.
After the cabinet was installed, I decided to go with our wainscoting theme and I dressed up the cabinet. I still need to cut a hole in the top so we have access to the junction box (that's an easy thing to do) but otherwise it was straight forward. I have a 30x30 piece of underlyament plywood (very thin and light) cut and then I nailed it on the face. Then it was as simple as nailing and gluing trim work (I'll have more details on my wainscoting adventures in another post later) in a pattern I like, caulking, and painting.
Our original plan was to use pine board for the shelves but our handyman (who really saved the day) recommended we use something harder because pine will warp. We ended up going with 12" poplar - while it has a bit of a green appearance at first, we were able to find quite a few that were more white and had some nice knots.
Staining was as you would stain anything. Sand, wipe, stain, dry - repeat - then polyurethane, stain, poly - then wait. Sanding is ESSENTIAL. Do NOT skip this step. When you first add stain, the wood will rise up slightly and feel rough - same with the first polyurethane application. Don't fret! Just sand again using a fine grit sand paper. I prefer the sand blocks because hand sanding ensures you won't ruin the board. Don't use a powered sander if you can help it.
We opted for corner cuts on the long end to the right of the vent and then I bracketed them together with some simple L brackets that we painted black. These cut down on any bending you might have in the corner.
Picture Below: Poplar cut before stain. You can see some of the uneven cuts in the corner. I did not have a 12" miter saw so I had to pull the board. At first I was worried but in hind-sight, once sanded and stained it actually gives it a nicer uneven look that feels appropriate to the style of kitchen.
Picture Below: After the stain. Again, the key to quality smooth shelves is to be sure you sand between all coats. As much as we were in a hurry (due to waiting for a handyman, the hood vent issue, and my hand, we ended up 2 weeks behind) we knew proper dry time would be best. The board ended up being almost perfect - a few spots here or there where I didn't get it sanded well enough but for the most part they are very smooth and almost glossy.
Stain: We combined Minwax Ebony and Dark Walnut at about 1 to 1 (with a little more Walnut than Ebody).
Polyurethane: Minwax Satin
As you may have wondered: Where do things go!??? We were really fortunate that this initial kitchen model has a TON of lower cabinets and drawers. The island also has two over-sized base cabinets with supremely wide drawers. Even with the open shelving we still have some unused drawers.
For the pulls, we snagged a bunch of a gold/brass color from Target - they were their Threshold design (being replaced by their new in-store brand) and since the name was changing we purchased a bunch at half off (they have the same ones still, just labeled differently). Those were VERY easy to install: blue tape at the height to mark the holes and then drill THROUGH the tape so you don't splinter. It took very little time because I purchased a stencil that allows you to mark consistently for all of them.
But we did save space with some of the items you see below. The pull out shelve pantry is from your basic box store and actually very easy to install; the rail bars are from IKEA. Originally we meant to attach the rail bars to the wall but thought more drilling wasn't worth it so I just installed them into the shelves which was very easy (a few pilot holes and then hand screw).
For this kitchen we really went with a more minimal theme. Our concept was open, light up top, and then darker and heavier on the bottom. With the light floor we were able to balance the dark wood cabinets with the cream walls. The subway tiles are over-sized (I want to say 4"x6" tiles but the tile work was really my wife's doing) in a slightly creamy white - which plays well off of the floor and counter-tops. We also purchased a new set of dishes from Sur la Table (on sale!!) in their basic white collection and then supplemented the white with green and gold colors. The cups are all halved wine glasses we purchase from World Market.
Our color scheme: white/cream, dark brown/black, gold/brass, and green (with some wood accents as well).
The key here was to make sure our secondary colors aren't overpowering. With an open concept kitchen it's important to make sure all your accessory items and dishware is a part of the decorating. Plus, as a cook I find white dishware to make food look its best. At first the cabinet pulls felt awkward in color next to the stainless appliances (black stainless steel Kitchenaid appliances with stainless accents) but once paired with the other threshold gold items (also from Target!) everything felt cohesive.
For a reminder: BEFORE
Hello everyone! We are approaching the end of the open join period for this commission and I hope others will join. The first portion of the work is just about complete and I will be working on the second portion (the up tempo section) in the coming months. It's not too late to join the consortium!
Sample of Progress
There is a lot of literature out there for young bands - a lot centered around melody, harmony, and bass. A folk song arrangement here, a old hymn arrangement there, and a lot of other pieces designed to get the kids excited through some clever titling and programmatic elements. All of that is GREAT - effective with my own students. However, there is a lack of music that fits a more modern voicing style with thicker textures, suspensions, and other musical characteristics (think composers like John Mackey, Eric Whitacre, Frank Ticheli, etc.); obviously because music like that tends to result in works that is more difficult and less approachable for novice musicians. My approach with this piece is to find a way to greatly limit rhythms and pitch sets so that when learning music that doesn't rely nearly as much on melody and traditional harmony, musicians can focus most on balance, drama, tension, and tuning. This section of the piece does exactly that.
The second section will utilize motif development and energy, with some meter change without accompanying difficult rhythms. Again, allowing musicians to focus on elements of musical expression without being inhibited by range or rhythm. The goal is to produce a piece of music that is stylistically interesting for performers and audience, perfomable by almost any level of group, and utilize doubling and cued parts that make the piece effective for most bands' instrumentation.
Below is a screen shot of some of the piece and I've also included a virtual mock up (using GPO 5).
It's not too late to join!
My Story (and it's not about music)
I've been thinking a lot lately about what to post on this website as my first true blog post. Being stuck between domestic and work obligations has made my time for creativity and composing music limited. This has ultimately led to more reflection on my own past as I draw for inspiration in the hopes that, sometime soon, time will be available to create art with those thoughts.
Two days ago I found myself thinking a lot about my parents and my family. For more than 5 years we have been estranged, except my older brother, because of a series of unfortunate confrontations over the last decade. In particular, I saw an instagram post written by one of my other brothers (10 years my junior) in which he professes his difficulty with friends and feeling abandoned. You see, we became officially disconnected 5 years ago but this has been an ongoing process since 2007. It's fairly incomprehensible for me to imagine what he has gone through - losing his three older siblings to not only the natural cycle of growing up, but an even darker subtext; one in which this essay will entail. He was growing up at the wrong time, too young to understand the intricacies of life and familial relationships and too old to not remember. He was 7.
This story isn't one I share with many. Especially in detail. But over the last year I have begun to understand that part of my responsibility as an adult, a teacher, and an artist, is to find a way to share my experiences. In particular, this especially nasty political and presidential election cycle has spurred many feelings due to how life changed for me so drastically when I turned 17.
It's not possible to write or discuss every excruciating detail. It's also clear that my experiences are not to the level of ubiquity in which humans experience death, suffering, hate, and violence. But who I am and the way I connect with others is eternally interconnected with my past experiences; and when we come into contact with others, we are shaping their future with our own past.
When I was 16 years old...
When I was 16 years old my father heard a knock on the door. It was this knock that eventually tumbled the very structure our family relied on. Within one year my entire family unit had become enveloped into a religious circle full of well intention actions. At 16 years old I understood that while I did not agree with the religious change, preservation of our family at the expense of my happiness was paramount. We weren't doing anything damaging, our family was together; we were strong. And so, I dealt with the studies, the 3 days a week religious services and events. I put on a smile as I peddled flyers and "the good news" to others. For their salvation, of course. I even shaved my goatee (of which I was incredibly proud as a 16 year old boy finding his way to manhood through the physical permutation of testosterone) because "people might get the wrong idea".
You see, I dealt with all of this because our family was together and these were only minor inconveniences. But, as I was a 16 turning 17 year old young man, the age-old story of love was destined to forge a future of our own Capulet's and Motague's (religion and love). When I was 17, I began dating a girl of whom didn't belong to my parents religion. And so, in the interest of time, our love was forbade. At that time I had done everything I could for preservation of my family. But I was not going to choose who to love for the preservation of my family.
All things came to a head on a weekend when my parents had went away. My father had invited over his suicidal cousin and her daughters, and expected his children to take care of the home. At this time, I was driving daily 40 minutes each way to attend university and then working 40 hours a week. The notion of taking care of my 3 younger siblings, a 40 year old suicidal woman and two strange children under the age of 7 was daunting. Not for being 17; for anyone.
But I did it. I did it with pride because it was my family and they needed me. My sister was notorious for doing as she pleased without regard to familiar concerns and my brother had his own difficulties to manage. And so I went to school, worked my shifts, shopped for the family, took care of strangers, and gave myself one evening to go out on a date. My parents wouldn't have it. My younger brother, spoiled with rage and selfishness at his lack of attention during this time, took it to himself to ensure that I would be punished and communicated vigorously on my parents behalf. It was indefensible for me to go on a date and so all the work I did was void because of a single evening. And so I packed a bag.
When my father returned there was no discussion, no waiting period, no time to investigate. It was time for me to break up with my girl friend and fully embrace the church or leave. But even leaving wasn't so easy. As I stood at the front door my father baited me to hit him, an inch from my face. If I was so justified to leave, then I was justified to a physical course, no? Fortunately, my parents also raised someone who could analyze a situation and, seeing that this was a ploy to use the law to get what he wanted, I simply walked out.
I was 17. In college. Working. Living with my girlfriend and her family.
I was 17. In college. Working. Living with my girlfriend and her family.
To keep this short, I did return home for a short time. After all, my parents couldn't save my soul nor control me if I wasn't in their grasp. And, even so, I still needed a plan to make a jump into adulthood that skipped half a decade of steps most young adults are afforded. In a turn of fortunate events, I continued in college and my father received a job offer 2000 miles away. I had a reason to stay away (continuing at my university) and I took that opportunity. Our relationship continued to slightly improve. I was a sophomore in college, working, and living in a new apartment with another student I met in my "introduction to education" course at Michigan State.
My relationship with the girlfriend was fading as I realized this relationship was also unhealthy - she used my familial guilt to control me. There was no way I would leave her since I had already proven to leave my family for her. And maybe she was right. The regular break ups and uncertainty she gave me didn't matter because I had given up so much for her. But if there was one thing I learned in those several years, it was understanding that doing what was right for yourself is the most important thing to do if you are to find happiness.
And so, after all the destruction of my family relationships, we broke up. I was never more relieved. I discovered power over my choices and baggage; it felt good to know that I could be in control. It was time for a new life - no family to control me, no emotionally damaging relationship, and no guilt.
Over the next few years, various things happened that would stir these old emotions. My parents eventually discovered if they couldn't control me emotionally, they could control my finances to achieve their goals. And so, they no longer would sign off or provide information for my Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). As a rising college Junior, I was no longer eligible for student loans and many scholarships. But should I move - leave my university and live with my parents, they would sign anything. They would not only sign, but they would pay for my school. They were offering me a chance to live debt free. All I had to do was to live with them and attend their church.
Think on that for a moment.
After everything, they continued to make every attempt to control me. I politely refused and continued getting my degree through working and taking out my own private loans (which, by the way I have yet to understand how a 19 year old was granted $45,000 in student loans over the next 3 years without a cosigner). Additionally, I was on welfare. Food stamps. I mentioned earlier my gripe about politicians and policy relating to this election cycle. I was working hard and in a difficult situation. Two years of food stamps and I was eventually back on my feet.
But here is a possible outcome without that government assistance:
(1) Drop out of school because I could not work enough to purchase food
(2) Work a full-time job to be able to eat
(3) Student loans from my first 3 years are now in repayment
(4) cost of living, food, and working full time means school is no longer an option
(5) I would become trapped into a low economic life of hardship and, worst yet, not pursing my passion of teaching music
Luckily, government programs were able to keep me going until I was back on my feet. But I digress.
I still continued the relationship with my parents. I needed to try. After months of dating my new girlfriend (who is now my wife) we took a trip to visit my family. I was putting a good foot forward. It was awkward, but we survived.
And awkward survival was the status quo with my parents for the next few years.
And awkward survival was the status quo with my parents for the next few years.
After graduating from university I received a monetary gift from my grandmother. It was to be used to pay off a large portion of my student loans. Originally, the intent was for it to cover the entire cost but living on my own with no financial help and high interest rates didn't allow that. (However, I was and am incredibly thankful for that gift.) The last kicker in this twisted card game was when my parents were put in charge of the payment fund. And rather than pay off my highest interest rates they used the funds to pay off every single loan they were connected with from when they had signed FAFSA forms. I was left with every high interest rate loan I had and no choice of how to manage my finances. They had one last card to play and damn did they play it. It was moot, however, because I had developed the resolve to move forward.
Our relationship was still tumultuous. Uneasy wouldn't even cover the phone conversations. I often received religious tracts in the mail from my parents, insistence on continuing to read their bible, and regular hints that if we just lived a little closer they could help us get through our tough financial times. But it was okay because maybe things would eventually be alright. Then, about 5 years ago my brother was excommunicated from their religion. They don't call it that - the individual is free to attend services. But all ties are expected to be cut. And the good followers that they are, my parents obliged. For my brother's failing and because he left their church my parents "put him in time-out" (as my mother calls it).
My older and adult brother (who was a father to their grand child no less) was put in isolation as an adult time out.
After watching their relationship deteriorate, much like mine, I finally had enough. And so, during a lunch-time conversation over the phone, with these words I ended my relationship with my parents: "You are crazy". Nothing more, nothing less, and no explanation.
It has been 5 years. Sometimes, like earlier this week, I am reminded that there are many joys I can't share with my family. I have a career I love, my older brother and I are close, and my wife and I bought/renovated a home (my father built and renovated many things while I was a child - I wish more than anything I could show him what I've learned). But the thing I keep coming back to, is that I don't have parents. Those things I wish for, that relationship, exists as much right now as it does for those who parents are no longer alive.
And it is with that I realize I don't long for my parents. I long for parents.
I don't have advice for others, really. Every situation is different. But what I can say is that I am happy. I have a truly great life - grandparents who care, an older brother who is quirky but smart and funny, a wonderful wife, friends, home, job, pets. So do what you need to do to be happy, surround yourself with those who care, and don't bind yourself to people or situations that make you into your own enemy.
It is never easy, it is never fair. But ultimately, be kind. Be the kind of person you want others to be to you. It's an old phrase but that doesn't make it old fashioned. Remember, we all have a history and are shaped by our environments. Compassion goes a long way.
After a year and a half hiatus from managing and running a website, we're finally back up and running. With some newfound traction of my music, energy to begin composing again, and generally more time, I am happy to be back!
I'm also excited for purchase-in-site options for my music.
Hopefully I'll also be blogging more regularly as I continue in this process.