Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Gardening in Brooklyn - The Ugly Truth

"Here's the deal - I need some low shrubs for a corner tree bed that can withstand not being watered, car exhaust, lots of dog (and sometimes child) pee, trampling, abuse by high school kids, and lots and lots of cigarettes."

At first, the woman stared back at me, mouth on pavement, panic in her eyes. Slowly, her eyes moved out of focus, beyond my head, and began to scan the acres of annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs, herbs, veggies, and garden gnomes.

"You don't live around here do you?"

"Nope, Brooklyn".

"Gary. GARY!, can you help this woman please"?

Luckily, Gary was used to dealing with "city folk" and was able to set me up with a few nice shrubs and plants for our tree bed. (A note on Gary, his experience with "city folk" was extremely rich people who had large roof decks in Manhattan, which is not us either).

A few months ago, as part of their plant a million trees campaign, the City dug up our stump and planted a little linden. They very carefully moved my rather sad container shrubs and very carefully uprooted my just emerging bulbs, and placed everything off to the side. The freshly mulched and top soiled tree bed has been barren ever since, slowly gathering weeds and the ire of the block association (I kid!).

I knew I needed to plant something but hadn't had the time. While home in NJ, I stopped by a great nursery (Rostlers in Allendale) and picked up a carfull of plants that would tolerate not being watered and being peed on. Bayberry, a thorned and beautiful bush was a natural choice as were some sedeums and a big spiky thing that promised to send up an ostentatious 5 foot bloom in the late summer.

Bathroom update

The bathroom is finally, mostly, almost done (if you don't could proper caulk). This was not the smoothest bathroom renovation but we're so happy to finally have all of these random people out of our house. I once held the idea that we would be happy to live in a fixer upper that existed in a constant state of flux but definitely definitely not.

The tile is really lovely and the floor tile is great. The chrome fixture are like a naughty older aunt with some dementia - always nice to have around but in need of constant attention - and I'm still compulsively wiping them down after every use (not at all like I'd treat an aunt). We have mixed feelings about the paint - the husband thinks it's fine and I sometimes,kind of hate it. I certainly don't hate it enough to find a painter, choose another color and give my house over to another contractor as they hemmed and hawed for two weeks.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bathroom Update

I was joking last night that I've become to most boring person in the world because the most interesting thing happening to me right now is our bathroom renovation. That isn't totally true (work is going well) but the bathroom does have the most visible progress.

The tub is in (and is incredibly comfortable) and the tile is 75% up on the walls. The glass tile is beautiful and despite our best efforts is the exact same shade of blue as the hall bathroom.

On the garden front, I put in bulbs last Fall and they are starting to come up. Right now they just look like brownish green nubbins but I post some photos when they get a little more interesting.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Bathroom Progress

We're at the halfway point after having been side tracked by all of the repair work that needed to happen downstairs. All of the rough plumbing is in, the tub is in and has the surround and the radiators have been swapped out. All of the sudden it looks like a real bathroom!

Next week will be devoted to tiling and we'll really see if we made some good choices about tile and fixtures. Something about the order of all of this seems wrong. I'm sure there is a way to put together a computer model to help us visualize how the tile will look on the wall but right now we're just finding comfort with the fact that we usually pick good looking things.

One of the more exciting and tiny projects are the radiators. The one in the bedroom was comically large so we swapped it with the appropriately sized bathroom one. All this means is that we can get the wall back and actually put stuff there.

I'll be away next week and hope I'll come home to a mostly done bathroom!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bathroom Progress

Nothing too exciting is happening other than a lot of plumbing, the walls are starting to come back up and the bathtub is up. I hope we're at a point where pieces start to come together rather quickly as the husband might lose it completely if he has to keep sharing a bathroom with me (and all the workmen).

I like these pictures because you can see the burn marks on the original plaster and lathe. We think that this was originally the kitchen and that this is the impression from the original stove. It would be scary if we didn't expect everything in our house to be wackadoodle. In contrast to the electrical, the burned boards seem rather pedestrian.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Wander on the West Side of the Canal

What I've Been Up To

I've been up to a lot lately and while I'm a bit sleep deprived and certainly lighter in the wallet, our many projects are moving along nicely.

You wouldn't notice too much action in the bathroom and that's because they've been patching the bathroom below us from all the damage in the wall. They've started on the plumbing and reframing some of the walls. We now have all of the fixtures (sans toilet) and tile waiting to go and I think have made all the major choices.

At work, we launched a website . When I pitched my vision for this department, no one said anything about a website. I'm a big believer in digital outreach and a well curated list of resources but building a website from scratch with a major deadline was not what I signed up for with this position. Luckily, I had a great technical team who was hugely supportive, patient, and willing to catch my typos and bad ideas. I now maintain a professional blog where I write about education and not my bathroom.

My stuffed staph infection that Ab gave me when I was sick a few years ago. Staph watches over meet and is an instant conversation starter that signals to people that I am not the serious, scientific side of the Academy.

Work has very much settled down and we are just executing all of the programs and plans that I designed in the Fall. I can legitimately say "we" because I was able to hire someone to run one of the programs in the department and that has made a world of difference. I feel a tremendous amount of pride in my after school program and often get a bit teary when I talk about it.

I've also read some amazing books since the holidays. Everyone is sick of hearing about the
Frank: The Voice by James Kaplan but I also read Susan Collin's Hunger Games Trilogy, Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken; Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stonee; Hazel Rowley's Franklin and Eleanor (which was not nearly as good as Doris Kerns Goodwin's No Ordinary Time and many more. The Kindle app on the iPad has made me into an even more voracious reader, a feat I never thought possible. The weather has been so cold and dreary that the only true solace is a nest of blankets on the couch and a good book.

I also read Sam Kean's great book "The Disappearing Spoon" and then got to meet him at a talk he gave at work!

And for a bit of randomness, I wandered around on that freak 60 degree day and found this amazing homage to Michelle Obama on a shopping bad at Pearl River:

And we went bowling for a birthday and I found that the husband can really bowl.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

End of Day 2

So today I hauled a lot of trash and then went to work. That is all.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


A silver oak piece of furniture to store stuff in and frame around the medicine cabinet.

This may be too blonde (from restoration hardware)

With just a slightly ornate train rack for towels from Restoration Hardware?

Now I'm just cutting and pasting in the whole West Elm catalogue

At the End of the Day You're another Day Older

It's been a productive day one. All the tile came off the wall, the sink is out, and most of the fixtures are purchased. Tomorrow is more demo and more hauling. The dumpster is set to appear at 9am. Our building is taking bets on how long it will take the neighbors to fill it to the brim with their own stuff.

I originally misordered the first tub so trooped over to Park Slope Plumbing to fix my mistake and see what else I could order. I worked with Bob Gomez and he was pretty amazing, knew the inventory really well and actually gave me his opinion. The biggest challenge was the tub as we wanted a deep soaker that will fit in a small space and be acrylic. We had a tough time finding something that maintained the size and wasn't over our budget.

Bob found this guy from Fine Fixture at the same price as the original Kohler Archer that we originally chose. It's the only tub they make and is comes in very limited sizes (I think small and big).

Next we moved on to the vanity. (You have to imagine that the husband and I are emailing, sending pictures, and talking on the phone and Bob is patiently waiting). We both liked the metal console but most of what we found was extremely expensive. The sink we both fell in love with was "at least $7,000". We told him we wanted a metal console but "less old lady" and he immediately pulled this one from Empire Industries. I'm not sure how it escaped my googling but I didn't find it online. (The website is empire-industries.com if anyone is looking) We loved this one in the cheaper white china top and it came in our size. No brainer. And the cheapest one that we liked. Huzzah!

By the way, here's what an "at least $7K" sink looks like. Swooooon! It's Kallista's ONE.

You may notice that I'm not giving specifics on price. It just makes me squicky to talk about money. I'll say that Bob gave us really good prices which I think we a reflection of their usual business practices, the fact that we bought everything together, and dropped our contractors name a lot. The best part of Bob was that we went through the show room and I pointed out things that I liked and he pointed out things that worked with what we had chosen all together. When I balked at price he found similar things at lower price points and helped me decide what was worth spending money on. For example, everyone will see the sink faucet but not the tub faucet. Or the fact that the lines of the spout were really lovely on the more expensive version, but a tub spout isn't expensive so spend the $50 to get what you want.

Ah, I'll show you those:

Sink Faucet by Danze

Tub spout by Groeh

Shower Handle by Danze

We need to get accessories and a toilet but the accessories can wait and we can't do anything until the floor comes up and a plumber looks at the dreaded toilet. We didn't find anything terribly exciting behind the walls other than things being overdone in some areas and underdone in others. There was something that looked like fire damage but it was so rotted out with water that it was hard to tell. Surprise!

I also cleaned out a lot of basement. I have to admit that throwing out other people's unwanted stuff is cathartic.

The destruction begins

I opened my front door this morning to 5 guys (and one lady) and all their gear ready to destroy our bathroom. It is very slow going but as they're destroying I'm cleaning out the basement.

I suspect that the previous owner, the one responsible for the crazy toilet, was a bit of a hoarder and today I'm hauling all his old stuff up and out. Unfortunately, he seemed to be a hoarder of boards with rusty nails and broken IKEA furniture. I'm pretty sure I should go get a tetanus shot this afternoon.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Checks written, tub ordered

After our big tile breakthrough last weekend we've been on relative fire on the bathroom project. We settled on a price, picked a start date (Tuesday!) and started making choices.

The bathtub has been the number one priority in this renovation. When we moved in, we were saddened by the tubs. They look fine but have no slope in the back and are not very long. This means that the only slightly comfortable position is ramrod straight, legs extended. For me, a voracious bathtub reader, the uncomfortable baths mean that I can get through about one page of a New Yorker article without wanting to get up and go somewhere else. But in the deep, dark, frozen tundra of winter, the only really civil place to read is a nice steamy tub with a glass of white wine and a few pretzel nubs. For the husband, a soaker by nature, this uncomfortable tub means lying fetal position in order to get a good soak in. Not ideal, optimal, or even really acceptable for a relaxing soak.

So, when confronted with this bathroom project, we choose to get the proper tub for our lifestyle. But... well there are a lot of buts, but they boil down to the fact that we live on a 4th Floor walk up and cast iron is very heavy.

We settled on a couple of candidates (Kohler has a really good selection of 5' tubs) and a number of people told us that you need to lay in a bathtub before you buy it. Well the only place I could find the tubs was a very fancy design studio in Manhattan. While my parents raised me right and I can completely fit in at a fancy design studio in Manhattan, this particular day I was wearing my rubber boots, jeans, and my big puffy coat and brown pompom hat with lots of bags. Given the weather, my coat and hat are beginning to get that rumpled homeless person look and the rubber boots are brightly polka dotted. Add my giant purse, gym bag, and drugstore bag of tissue boxes and, well, you can see why they weren't too keen on taking me without an appointment.

They were gracious enough to take me without an appointment and although no one would make eye contact with me, I got to slip off my Wellies and throw myself into these cavernous tubs (coat, hat, bags and all). These suckers are deep and they made me feel like a small child in a normal size bath.

So after selecting the tub, the Archer 5' drop in tub in white, I needed to go about actually purchasing it. Ab and I needed to drop some clothes off at the donation bins at Lowes and wandered inside and pretty quickly found someone to help us. He was very helpful, gave us a quote, and potential delivery date. Done. We needed to stop by at Home Depot too so we headed down the block.

Let's just say that shopping at Home Depot is a little like supervising detention as a first year teacher. Everyone who works there seems to hate you and no one seems to have the job of helping you or answering questions. Needless to say we ended up leaving our quite full cart in the middle of the checkout lane and walking out in frustration.

The final chapter of the tub saga was a quick stop off at a large local plumbing shop, Park Slope Plumbing. If you know anything about my life, you should know that this should have been my one and only stop to find this tub. I walked in, they gave me the best quote of the day with a good delivery date, and told me to say hello to my contractor. So, we got the tub!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Bathroom Tile

Gut renovating a bathroom with a few weeks lead time isn't the easiest thing in the world. We ended up scrapping our original ideas (spa-like and black and white subway tile) for something pretty different. The husband found a wonderful cobalt 3/4" hex tile

(Image Found at

And then we chose a frosted, white (almost green seagrass) glass subway tile to go with it.

(Image from http://www.mytilebacksplash.com/3x6whitefrostedglasstile.aspx)

Once he found the blue we quickly converged on the light glass tile but it took us at least an hour to decide between 4 slightly different shades of glass and another hour to choose frosted or clear. There was another woman in there with us most of the time choosing between 5 identical looking tiles as well which made me feel a wee bit better.

For bathtubs, we're looking a couple of acrylic, rectangular soaking tubs.

For sinks, we were considering a metal console sink with white top. This one is way too big but has the right look. It's from Pottery Barn and I find it lovely.


(Image from http://ladacorp.com/index.php?route=product/product&path=60&product_id=213)

Something very simple, modern and in a warm, reddish wood maybe. I think that would warm up the room a bit but it's hard to tell without the floor tile.

Friday, January 28, 2011

More Snow!

The snow from Christmas has never really melted leaving huge grey, dog stained piles at every turn. Yesterday's snow just added insult to injury. I can't remember the last time we had this much snow around for so long. I also can't express my gratitude for my Wellies ($15 at Target) and their amazing ability to let me slosh through the slush even when it's ankle high.

Here's Ab posing with the snow!

Our very typical Brooklyn block, posing with the snow.