Sunday, May 25, 2014

Reincarnated Brown Dog

It's been one year today. One whole year since I have hugged that sweet brown neck. In some ways it seems like it has been forever, but in others I feel like it was just yesterday. I can still tear up at just the mention of his name and each and every thought of him. But thankfully, sweet time has also allowed me the grace of laughing just as easily as crying when I think of him as well. I never wrote about losing him because I just couldn't. And it is still very hard right now. If I could take it all back, I would selfishly ask to keep him in my life, but we all know that the hardest part of loving your animals is knowing that you are most likely going to outlive them. This brown dog was my best friend. I have always been a bit of a loner when it comes to friends. Don't get me wrong, I love my friends - but I am also very much an introvert. I love to be alone and I choose my closest companions very carefully. This brown dog knew everything about me. He was there for 11.5 years of everything I went through. He stood by my side as I walked down the aisle to marry Byron and he accepted Byron into our "clique" without a blink of an eye. He stood, tail wagging as I brought both of my babies home and sniffed and licked his approval, without the blink of an eye. 

He was ALWAYS there. He was always up for a cuddle and he knew sometimes, before I did when an emotional meltdown was coming and he would sit beside me and let me cry into his fur.

So needless to say, losing this fellow wasn't easy. I would be lying if I said I didn't spend a few nights in deep sweats of the panic and anxiety that comes between the hours of 1 and 4 am thinking of the possibility of losing him and playing out in my mind how it would happen. I remember the first night that sort of panic set in - he was about 6 and it literally tore me up. So although I knew deep down the day would come - it never makes it easier.

But I must say - this came quick. And unexpected and in the blink of an eye and I will forever be grateful for the grace of that suddenness. Looking back I think he had a stroke. When I took him in to the vet one Friday morning panicked because he wasn't breathing right (needless to say I wan't wearing a bra, I hadn't brushed my teeth and who knows the state of my hair or the 2 children I had to bring with me) I didn't think he would make it that far. The look on my amazing vet's face as soon as she saw him told me she didn't think he would either. But that sweet, unselfish brown dog gave me one more day. One more day to take him home and do nothing but love on him all day long and tell him how much he meant to me and to thank him for being the best buddy in the whole wide. One day of bonding, sitting in the grass and bawling my eyes out. Lucy knew too. She didn't leave our side. This is the last picture I took of them together.

You see, he was her best friend just like he was mine. We brought Lucy home as a rescued puppy when he was 4. So all along, he taught her the ropes and helped to bring her out of her stage when she was better referred to as "Lucifer."

Partners in crime. Frick and frack. Bonnie and Clyde.

Other than her "Lucifer" stage in which she ate through everything including but not limited to: hardwood floors, original 1920's built-in butler pantry shelving, a down-filled sofa, original baseboards (I think you all know how I feel about anything original, so as you can imagine those findings still make me cringe when I think back), a metal dog crate and my parent's kitchen cabinets in their new house; Lucy was not the "bad" dog. Mallard had quite the reputation. He was rotten as they come and knew he was exempt from pretty much any rule that was made. He had a terrible PICA habit and had a love for the trashcan and cat box. I can remember coming home from work (a 12 hour shift mind you) only to find him with the top of the trash can stuck on his head. Busted. I figured that was punishment enough. He begged, he whined, he was grumpy, he barked at the wind, he was neurotic and he would worry the snot out of anyone within a 5 mile radius of a tennis ball. He was notorious for getting into things so much that in this story (I just died laughing reading it again), when Lucy was the culprit, I immediately figured it was him.  

So, needless to say our house was very quiet and very boring for the first month or so after saying goodbye. I never realized HOW loud he was until he was gone. It was so quiet in the house it was odd. We left Lucy outside a number of times just because she was so quiet and never barked. It was a sad and quiet house.

Until (and this is when the story gets happier - promise)...

The day I brought my brown dog back home. If you are not an animal-lover, you may want to stop reading now. In fact, you probably haven't even gotten this far because I am sure I have annoyed the snot out of you already. Yes, I said the day I brought him back home. Granted, this time it wasn't the trash-can-eating, wind-barking, shedding-like-it-was-his-job, brown dog. He was now confined to a carved wooden box to remain a part of our family. Yes, I am that girl that had her dog cremated and placed his remains in our living area. But to make you feel better about me possibly being deranged, if I had buried him in my back yard - if we ever moved I would have been that girl that dug him up and moved him with me. I think I picked the lesser of two evils. :) I would say I was hanging my head in shame with that confession - but there is no shame in my game. Methods to my madness. I think it's that slight derangement that keeps Byron loving me. ;)

Once Mallard passed away, Lucy sort of took over as the alpha dog. This personality that we had never really seen took over and made it known that she was now the queen bee. I guess all along she just let Mallard think he was the boss, but deep was always her. She sort of took over the house and now I must admit she is just as rotten as he was, and eerily becoming more similar.

In regards to rotten, she has her own couch. In fact, if you ever came over and sat on it...she would sit beside you and give you the "Lucy stare" which is the dog equivalent of the stink eye. I finally gave up and just draped a fitted sheet over it so I no longer had to fight the battle of a shedding black dog on a     linen-colored sofa. Talk about design style. But it finally dawned on me one day after noticing a few of "Lucy's new habits" that I think her seat in the house (said sofa) had a lot to do with what was going on.

You see, here is Lucy all snuggled up in her spot.

Zoom out and you see a small wooden box on a sofa table right behind that sofa. Yes, that is my brown dog. And hear me out...I think he's been influencing her from beyond.  

Here are just a few examples of how my sweet, quiet Lucy has taken a turn for the brown-side. 

For starters, remember how I said our house was so quiet after losing the brown dog? Lucy was so quiet. She would sit at the back door and just wait for someone to notice she was outside, this is why she got left outside so many times. And when inside, she was so quiet many times she went unnoticed. Until the reincarnation began. Now, she barks at the wind in classic brown-dog style. 

In fact, she will sit on her sofa and bark and bark and bark until the cows come home. So much for quiet Lucy. And one of Mallard's biggest bad habits was his begging. In fact, I nick-named him the stalker as he would sit close enough that you could smell his pinecone-eating breath and wait for you to either drop a piece of food or sometimes he was bold enough to just grab it out of your hands. One time Louisa was eating a peanut butter sandwich and I swanny Mallard pulled a Jaws move and came up out of nowhere and grabbed her sandwich straight out of her hand. Before reincarnation, Lucy steered clear of the dinner table and the kids. Now, well...I spy a stalker.

Byron and I even joke sometimes and call her the brown dog. Or, when she does something SO uncharacteristic of Lucy but right up Mallard's ally, we just say it is the reincarnation. It is wild, and funny and honestly it has made his absence a little easier to bear. 

Another aspect of my brown dog that Lucy has taken over is being my side-kick. Mallard went everywhere with me, and if that included the option of sitting shotgun, well...he was all for it. One day I let Lucy sit shotgun and it was that same day that I realized I started a very, very, very bad habit. She now refuses to sit anywhere else. If I even open the back of the car, she refuses to make eye contact. In fact, if I try and leave the house without her, she tries to nudge her way out of the door (just a side note, 120 lbs of black dog can be very hard to fight). When I tell her that she can't go - I get the "Lucy stare." In fact, she will hold a grudge until I get home and refuse to look at me. She means business. Here she is in "her other spot." Happy as a clam. Heaven forbid Byron try to sit in the front seat with me. Guess who wins that battle? I will give you a hint...she sheds, drools and weighs in at 120 lbs and isn't the one that winds up in the back between the two kids.

So, you see, while the brown dog is no longer with us, he still remains. Which for any of you that had the privilege of knowing Mallard, this should not surprise you. The only difference is the color of the fur. And about 30 lbs.

Rotten. Pure, absolute rotten. But I'd have it no other way. I once had someone tell me when they died they wanted to be reincarnated as one of my animals. I must admit, although they are spoiled and loved and treated as if they are human...they do the same for me, if not more. If I can return half the love, loyalty, commitment and unconditional love they show for me, I'd call it a win.

All in all, I miss that Mallard Brown something awful. Do I wish he was still here? Yes. If they are 2 separate places would I forgo my spot in "human heaven" for a place in "dog heaven?" Without a doubt or a blink of the eye. But at the end of the day I am so very thankful for my 11.5 years with the best brown buddy I could have asked for. And I thank the Lord above each and every day for my sweet, sweet Lucy who has stolen a piece of my heart I didn't realize I still had. Man's best friend. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

Have you hugged your labrador today?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Take a Load Off Fanny

I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin' about half past dead...

Go ahead, sing it. You know you want to. And this Monday morning although I am no where near Nazereth, I am feeling about a half past dead. We busted it this weekend. Why do you ask? Well, since I am feeling clever and listening to the classics as I type, let's take Carly Simon's advice this time and ask ourselves if the walls are going to come down. 

Yes, yes they are. One big fat load bearing wall and another one that doesn't bear near the weight of that first one. And in order for that to occur, we had to pack and move the living room, dining room, kitchen and office. So my muscles ache, my skin is dry from cardboard boxes, my Dyson has seen its share of dust/fur...BUT, I now have what I like to refer to as "the wall of wonder."

A refrigerator, a washer, a sink, a dryer and a stove. All on one wall. Methinks the amount of productivity on this wall blows my mind. You see, this is my temporary kitchen. 

And the irony is oh so great since it actually has more room and counter-top (read: plastic folding tables) space than my old kitchen. And I die over the exposed bricks. You cannot beat the beauty of an old house with a walk out basement. Thank you West Clover for being the best house ever.

So, phase 3 starts this week. This phase will be huge and the transformation out of control. I know I still haven't filled everyone in on the first 2 phases, but I promise that will come later. Maybe. When it is all said and done, I will have my very first ever "real" kitchen that I actually got to have a say in what went into it. That excites me and makes my armpits sweat at the same time. I will have a mudroom, finally (granted that room won't be finished completely for another few months) and I will have a kitchen/dining/sitting room that actually works and functions. I am so excited I am about to wet my pants. 

But, this is also bittersweet and I know some of you may get our your violins to play a pity song for me as I whine, but hear me out. I love an old house (if you are new here, you can catch up on my love affair of anything old here) and I am absolutely a lunatic when it comes to the architecture. And over the years I have become slightly unstable when it comes to anything "original" to a house. Which is why amongst all of the excitement of this renovation my heart is a bit heavy. Get the violin ready.

This giant wall right here (with the vacuum plugged in)...(view from front door)

(view from screened porch)

(view from back door)

 is about to come down. This is the heart of this house. It has borne the load of the house since the day it was built in 1938. This wall has witnessed everything that has ever happened in this house. The person that drew the plan for this house had this wall in mind. It was a necessity. It had to be there. And here I am, 76 years later making the choice to tear it out. Who do I think I am?

You see my friends, this right here is where my love of an old house rips my heart out. To most people this will sound so silly and trivial, but I firmly believe a house has a soul. It lives and breathes and watches families grow under its roof. It listens as we laugh and cry and love and lose. It protects us from the elements and it guards us from the world. And so I have spent some time mourning the loss of this wall. Completely and certifiably a nut case, I know. Point and laugh as you may, but I have a lump in my throat just typing about it. 

I have had some quiet moments with West Clover and explained that in its place will be a very, very large beam that I fully intend to wrap in reclaimed wood. While not original, it will be old wood coming to live another life in a house full of love. Where the wall stands now will be a massive island that will have 2 hooligan children sitting at it over the years doing homework, helping to cook and telling stories sharing giggles and some tears. There will be no loss of love even though there is no wall. In its place will be the most used area of the house. It will be loved times a thousand. I hope it is convinced. I think deep down this house knows I have good intentions. I think it is so happy to finally have a family here. I *think*. To me, this house is like a child and it amazes me how much more I love it with each and every day.

This wall (with microwave) will also be coming down. It is original as well, but for some reason it doesn't pull my heart strings as bad.

I also don't feel as sad tearing out this kitchen.

While this kitchen was the best possible to function in the space given, it wasn't original. My guess is that it was added at some point by someone who, like me, needed a bit more functionality as the times changed. That was one of the only changes made to this house in the years 1938 to 2012 when we bought it. Which was one of the major reasons I fell so hard for this place. All of the original charm was still there, waiting to be loved and appreciated.

So, by the end of next week those 2 walls will be gone. All of the plaster from them will be shattered and placed in a dumpster, sniff, sniff. The crown, picture molding and baseboards, however will be gently removed and placed in a safe pile to put back up after we tear down the ceilings and add insulation between the floors (yet another necessity that wasn't heard of at the time in 1938). I was adamant about leaving all of the plaster in place if possible, however  I realized that my contractor may commit me if I asked him to re-plaster the ceilings instead of drywall. So, I will be happy with all of the exteriors remaining plaster and difficult to hang photos. :) But I must say, I won't miss this beauty of a crack in ceiling.

So, there are places and things that I can let go of easily and be okay with...but then there are things I have a hard time being the person to say they need to go. Take for example my most fave floors in the house. These old, soft pine boards in the kitchen.

Good heavens I love those floors. But sadly, they are in very bad shape. They have suffered some water damage over the years and are buckling in some places and rotting in others. So, on a day hopefully once I have dried the tears from watching the wall come down these, too, will come out and the worst parts will land in the dumpster. But, have no fear as crazy-lady Amy is right around the corner and will be grabbing the better pieces to save for a piece of furniture down the road. I am thinking either bench for the mudroom or desk top for the mudroom, but probably both. :) I just cannot let all of the pine floor leave this house. Some of it must stay, re-purposed to be loved all over again. All of the other floors will remain and we will have new oak feathered in to match. At the end of the day, most people would never notice, but I will miss those dark, soft boards that sit waiting for bare feet that they can impale with splinters.

Another thing I refuse to part with is windows. All of my windows are original, as are my doors. What this means to most people is inefficiency. What it means to me is beauty. I will never (and I will say never this time) replace a window for energy purposes. As absurd as it sounds, I cannot fathom parting with an old wooden window and its wavy glass. All of my windows leak air. Half of them no longer open since the house has settled over the years and the wood has expanded and the jambs no longer square, and it is quite possible they never were. When the wind blows outside, there is a breeze inside. And when the wind blows like crazy outside, my windows shake in their frames. I love it. Absolutely love it. The only window I have thought about swapping is this one right here.

At one point in West Clover's history a dog had its day with the muntins. I could replace this lower part of the window with the one from the window on the left in this photo, since it will be removed and a pair of antique french doors from a friend's mother's farm house will be in its place.

Or, I could leave it just as it is and love it as part of the history and life of this house. I haven't decided on that just yet.

But, ready or not...phase 3 starts this week. As I have said before, with the exception of painting the exterior, this is the phase that will have the largest impact on our house. I am so ready, so excited and so nervous. It is going to be a fantastic new space within the old, plaster walls. These 2 gargantuan front windows that I love so much

will be right smack dab in the middle of my new kitchen. They look out onto the street that I have come to love just as much as this house itself. The view from standing at my sink on the island will be onto the screen porch and out to the covered back porch we added in Phase 2. This is the view here, but there's that big ole load bearer in the way.

That porch that I was talking about will have those french doors where the middle window is so that I can have my house wide open to the outside just like I like it.

 And the window to the far right in this photo will soon be replaced with the door that is to the left of it so that I can go directly from the porch to the mudroom/pantry.

 This is that window from the inside.

And where this closet is, there will be a door into the new kitchen so that the mudroom and panty all flow together. 

Can you tell I am excited? Can you tell Byron and I spent hours and hours and hours coming up with the best scenario for the space and for us? We did, and we almost drove our architect crazy I am sure, but in the end this is our new space in black and white.

 I cannot hardly wait. While I am removing the old load-bearing heart of the home, here's hoping I am replacing it with a new heart of the home...the central hub. Where life happens.

Cheers West your biggest transformation yet!