Sunday, March 27, 2011

How to Renovate on a Shoestring......when all you have are flip-flops

I can't emphasize enough how where we live would not be where we live if it weren't for the very specific circumstances that lead us here.  So, how did this end up as our house? What is this mysterious chain of events to which I allude?  This little studio apartment started off as a vacation rental that we procured and then swiftly forgot about. We had landed on it during a visit a few years ago. We came here to see my parents who are just a few miles down the road for much of every winter. Later, when we realized that our plan-engineering discussions for this venture kept bringing us back to this part of the world, it seemed logical to make this teeny, tiny partition-less space our home.

True, it is small. That does mean living 'close together' but it also means less air to condition; it means there's nowhere for your partner to hide when you want to talk about your feelings and it means you have to be really spaced out to misplace your keys (we still manage, so you can go ahead and buy us both T-shirts that read   'I'm with Flaky --->')  Also, its design deficiencies, while daunting at first, have been tapping us on the proverbial shoulder, goading us to make a project of them.

So even though this would not have been what we planned if it were all ahead of us to do again, it's working out.  The transformation of our place into something that does not look like the sound stage for an "All in the Family" taping was our first goal.  I am proud to say that we have reached this goal. Shortly, we will be able to present some 'Before' and 'After' shots (to be included in all transformation related stories, as far as I'm concerned) and to share some of the more cathartic changes that took place.  Here's how it all went down....

The first order of business was to ensure that daily functions could be carried out. The bathroom checked out. While not beautiful, everything flushed, ran, drained and flowed as it should. On to the kitchen. Now this was a problem. Imagine the most transient of residents, guests here for a short spell to take a splash in the pool and move on; people who don't have a vacation moment to waste - who buy prewashed and pre-chopped vegetables, pre-grated cheese, 2-minute microwave meals; people who use disposable dishes and drink to-go coffee even when they are to-staying. Although we are firmly positioned on the other end of the spectrum we know that even those culinary minimalists would have trouble in this kitchen. Because the one thing everyone needs no matter how kitchen's a surface. All those meals-in-a bag need to wait on deck before going in the microwave. Your wine bottle has to sit somewhere while you work your corkscrew in. The weight of the grocery bags carrying frozen pizzas and Lean Cuisines has to be borne by some countertop, some table, some stool somewhere. So, amidst the flying lessons, our toddler's needs, and some sanity restoring walks in the sea breeze, we hunkered down to solve our first conundrum. How do we get a whole new kitchen while waiting until we can get a whole new kitchen. We aren't allowed to do major renovations during the busy season.  Plus, now we would have nowhere to live while the place was being torn apart.  Later, we could stay at my parents'. So, we needed an effective - and cheap - temporary fix.

We learned quickly that there is an M.O. around here for the DIY inclined. And while you don't want to end up at the end of the furniture recycling food chain, it is the most cost-effective way to redecorate. Step #1 ask yourself: 'Can my needs with this project be met by visiting one of the very numerous thrift shops in the area?'  Very often, the answer to that question - unless you are in the market for something made of shells, shell shaped, shell coloured or shell inspired - turns out to be 'NO'. 

In this case, however, we were lucky. In a white elephant corner of our little world, we found a simple piece that would do just fine. It was an old, white, cheap architect's drafting table. Although Gehry might not approve of our adjusting the ergonomically intended slanted top to a flat 180 degrees, we probably won't ultimately have offended any actual architects. One adhesive layer of brightly coloured contact paper later and - voila - a worktop is born.  Also, because as a drafting table, it's empty underneath, we screwed in a few tea cup hooks and keep our pots and pans etc. there. This is the best possible outcome of a design dilemma: inadvertantly solve two - count 'em, two - problems with one task. And because this was one of the first things we did, we were optimistic moving forward. And, in fact, this trend of thrift shop success would continue for a while....

I don't need to talk too much about how paint can resolve - or at least hide - some hideous decor decisions. The walls here were not even hospital green....rather, post-apocalyptic hospital green. They had to be covered quickly. We might have overcompensated to get rid of the depressoid vibe a little by choosing orange (not Apricot Sunset, not Waves of Tangerine - but stark, bright, in-your-face jailbird jumpsuit orange) on a couple of accent walls, but it worked. And it made us feel instantly better. The strange thing is that the pink corduroy (that's not a typo) sofa didn't match the old valium-trip green any better than the new orange. We will never know who brought it here, but we knew we would be the ones responsible for sending it on its way.

One day, when Gav was on his way back from school, he stopped at the thrift shop nearest us to donate something. He saw an orange sleeper in there that was almost new and, after approaching to ensure it was not, in fact, just a tropical mirage called me to report his findings and make a decision.  We decided that we should both see it. So, at 3:45, he arrived home and tagged in for being-home- with-sleeping-child duty. I rushed to the store knowing I would arrive moments before the 4pm closing time. I spied the sofa, rushed over, made a gut call and asked the store clerk if they could just hold it until the next day so we could sleep on it...hah....I mean to say, decide whether we would sleep on it!  He said he would be happy to hold it but that the day's 50% off sale (quite serendipidously that day on sofas and - rather randomly - men's shoes) would not be honoured the following day. So, in a flash of confidence and conviction, I purchased the sofa. They would deliver it the following day and pick up the pink one if we were willing to donate it. Were we ever!

So, there you have it: two happy endings in the thrift shop game. It's such a feel-good game at that.  We spend little money. Stuff stays in circulation meagerly delaying the production and introduction of new stuff into this crowded world etc. and we end up with stuff no one else here currently has. Of course, this coincidental success meant a rude awakening when our third hunt for the thrift shop treasure came up empty. We were forced to Step #2: how can I repurpose what is already here so it's not hopelessly ugly and/or useless?

And with that intriguing cliff-hanger, I bid you all a good night's restoration.....

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I heart ha-chchs

This isn't a mommy blog but I feel compelled to recognize the intuitiveness of children- my child in this case - as I name this post.  It was only a matter of time before a helicopter themed entry showed up in this journal or as Luca would say, a 'ha-chch' themed entry.  Yes, why shouldn't everything be named according to the sound it makes ( like helicopters and their propellors' sound: ha-chchchchch)?  The famous inconsistencies of the English language would all but disappear.   If we could have more splash type words and less silence (a really noisy word if you ask me) type words, we would be on the right track.  So, as an ode to my dear son: vive la onomatopeoia - we all heart ha-chchs!

We have been here just under a month now and this is around the time when I expect to shift mentally into "I live here" territory. I don't feel this yet because my life here has been largely the same as it was at home (note 'home' is still not here) except that here I seem to constantly be finding sand between the sofa cushions.  For Gavin, however, life became different almost upon arrival, as soon as the bulk of his time started going to either preparing for or actually flying the Robinson R22M that is and will remain his classroom for the next nine or so months.

And it's not just the actual flying lessons and the ground school (which, to the un-airborne of us, is just plain school- or hittin' the books).  It's all the industry savviness that he has to collect......and the connections with the mechanics and the airport and airfield staff that he has to charm and all the lingo.... This past weekend, he attended the largest helicopter convention and exposition in the world.  In recent years it has been held in Houston, Anaheim and Dallas.  What a serendipitous stroke of luck that this year the International Heli-Expo was in Orlando, Florida!  Yes, a mere 3 1/2 hour  drive - which ,in the vast expanse of the flat marsh that is Florida, is just up the palm-edged road.

So, off he went on a quick jaunt for the weekend.  There, his school had a booth on the trade show floor along with hundreds of suppliers, employers, schools, helicopter manufacturers and countless other muckety-mucks of the helicopter world.

At a special ceremony marking the introduction (and, judging from all the hoopla - sale) of a new model of helicopter, one of Igor Sekorsky's sons was in attendance representing his father at this photo opp.  Now, I will save you the trouble of consulting Professor Google and let you know that Igor Sekorsky was a Russian-American engineer known for inventing, designing and building the first successful helicopter.  When he died in 1972, he left a legacy of aircrafts, books and children.  One of his spawn was there  suited up and signing cheques, smiling for cameras and generally doing whatever  propellor pomp and ceremony was called for.  So that was kind of a big deal.  Apparently the owner of the school Gavin attends (a moderately large operation with several 'campuses' all over the US) looks deceivingly like the guy down the street but is, in fact, very much a heli-celebrity.  There he was rubbing shoulders with a former student, now the Captain of the CBS helicopter crew that does the aerial video for the reality show, Survivor.

It seems that people in the helicopter industry are like couples who have been together a long time or dog owners and their canine buddies:  they start to look like their this case, their 'ships'.  The CBS survivor guy had a camouflage photographer's vest like the helicopter he flies.  The Sekorsky crew looking very a la 'men in black' had their shiny black, tinted-windowed birds parked nearby.  

While there, Gavin also attended a student symposium where the keynote speaker - a former President of the largest helicopter school in North America - told his audience that the average helicopter pilot is a mild-mannered introvert.  The nature of the job just attracts people with an inclination to the solitary, apparently.  "So", he said, "even if you are just a little bit of a people person you will stand out from your peers".  That was one of the big take-home messages.....

Also part of this symposium was a Q&A with a panel of other helicopter types.  Among the panelists was a woman who was, like Gavin, a 'Second Career Pilot'.  Apparently, there are enough of these fool-hardy types who trade their 'grounded' existences for the uncertainties of heli-life to warrant a name for their group.  Her message was 'network, network, network'.  Network to get jobs, scholarships, good rates for flying time.....Well, network he will but I think she has a leg up on the scholarship side of things being a woman ( Now, fancy that, a leg up for a woman - hmmm).  Anyway, I don't think Gavin would qualify for a grant from 'Whirly Girls'.

So, the moral of this story, Gavin reported, is that in order to pursue this loner loving career where most of one's time at work is spent alone in the air - just you and your ship with no one to talk to but air traffic control and nothing but the sound of your own breath and the silence of the sky..... not only do you have to dress like your helicopter looks (which is unfortunate for Gavin who flies a blue and white striped craft with giant pontoons on the bottom) but you also have to be some kind of social- butterfly fluttering about trading business cards...introducing yourself to strangers... not just joining, but initiating conversations....making small talk, then....making bigger talk and generally being the life of the party.  

Hmm what a contradiction of high altitude proportions...