Sunday, December 12, 2010

Having a Gifted Son - The Downside

No one feels sorry for a parent who has a gifted child. Usually, people say "well, that is a good problem to have." When you want to talk about your gifted child it feels like bragging and I am sure it comes off as bragging, but it is worrying. Are we doing enough for our child? Do we really have to pay 20k a year for the rest of his life to make sure he gets a proper education. It is weird that there are no parents that I can turn to with gifted children, probably since most of them just go to private school. This is Marin after all.

Then I am wondering whether he is gifted, or just advanced in comparison to the curriculum. Maybe the curriculum is just too slow. Do you know what I mean? If he were in a different school district, different state, or different country, would he just be normal? 

Before my son started school, random strangers would come up to me and tell me their tales of how pubic schools in Marin were not good enough for their kids and that they had to go to private schools. It was weird that I would get this unsolicited advice. I always thought it didn't make sense to pay 20k a year for elementary school or middle school. We could supplement whatever the schools couldn't.

Our son was always bright, but when he got into Kindergarten, we started noticing that he was picking up things easily. He was placed in an advanced reading class and as soon as he was told the phonics rules, he was off running. Math came easily to him and we were able to challenge him with harder addition and multiplication problems with carrying.

Now he is in First Grade and he reads beyond his comprehension because he knows how to decode. We along with his teacher are trying to get him to work on comprehension. He does several times more work than his peers, but he is still not challenged. He reads manuals for the video games he plays an hour a week, if that. He loves reading, chess, and playing all kinds of games. He also is a jock. He plays baseball, soccer, basketball, swims, and is committed to tae kwon do where he is almost a red belt. We want him to be a well rounded kid. Fortunately, he has this ability to adjust and play with almost everyone as he is very easy going.

The problem is that since they have a wide spectrum of learning abilities, the school has to break information in manageable pieces so everyone has time to learn concepts, when our son can absorb more information. In First Grade, he has a perfect report card and perfect score on his First Grade math test. First Grade math is below what he used to do in his spare time in Kindergarten. I work in his classroom and I do see the difference, but try to downplay it because there is nothing we can do about him being so ahead. Two separate parents have said we should have him in a gifted school. Again, do we really have to spend 20k a year for the rest of his life to get an education? Will paying for private school just put him with smart, rich kids who may exclude him because he is not rich? Paying for private school means we would not be able to see our son as much as he likes, because we would both have to work full-time.

We could promote him, but then that is one less year we will have him around us. Most of his friends are younger than him, it would be a social adjustment. Plus, it would thrust him faster to all the mindless testing that wouldn't tell anything about him. We have no idea whether Second Grade would challenge him either.

There is always homeschooling, but part of school is the relationships and interactions with peers. Homeschooling robs him of that even though you can go to homeschooling socials. My other concern is that the majority of parents would home school for different reasons than I would be.

What is missing is having peers that challenge him and having material that engages him and finds the outer limits of his capability. We have no idea how to do this. There are plenty of services for kids who are struggling, but nothing for kids who excel. This totally sucks.

Paris in Winter

The Eiffel Tower has been shut down because of the snow and subfreezing temperatures. Children are playing in the snow around it. If only I can be there now in my Parisian apartment looking out through my dining room window to the Eiffel Tower across the street with snow flakes falling. All I would want to do is to dress up in layers of warm clothes, boots, and warm gloves and go out into the Wintery Paris that is so beautiful.

From my winter experience in Boston, my body is of the type that acclimates to extreme colds quickly so I could wear jeans and a sweater while it is snowing. Paris in whites and grays has the beauty of an old photograph except you would see shocks of color -- like a black and white dress with a flame red petticoat. I imagine that I could always duck into a cafe and sit by the window as a sip coffee. There would be soft, aromatic cheese and hot crispy baguette with my creamy coffee. A door would open letting in a rush of arctic air into the warm cafe, and I would ache for a fireplace fire in the library of my apartment.

20101208-_MG_1037, originally uploaded by AkiraleShiba.
I found this photo over at Parisian Adventures which has beautiful pictures of Paris in the snow.

Henri Riviere, La Tour en construction,
vue de Trocadero,
pl. 3 from the book
Les Trente-Six Vues de la Tour Eiffel, 1902.
Color lithograph © 2010 ARS, New York / ADAGP, Paris

Till January 9th, 2011, The Legion of Honor in San Francisco will have an exhibit which includes this little print. The exhibit is called, The Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism at the Legion of Honor. This particular print is by Henri Riviere which shows the Eiffle Tower in the snow as viewed from the Trocadero, where my dream apartment is located.  The exhibit is described as an introduction to the "development of the Japanese print over two centuries (1700–1900) and reveals its profound influence on Western art during the era of Impressionism." I will be taking my mother-in-law to this as she loves everything Japanese. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Turkey Tale

Surely, this tale will someday be re-made into a Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated Christmas special.


Growing up in a small family with only my mom and dad, and no real extended family, I always longed for an opportunity to have a Thanksgiving with lots of people around the table. In my minds eye, I envisioned  the whole Norman Rockwell scene of the long table with nice china and everything sparkling. It was not until I found my birth family and met the man who would be my husband that I could fulfill my dreams of formal in-home dining.

I now had formal dining room and a large 1957 range called "The Liberator" (It was called the Liberator, because it had a dual oven. One oven was large enough for a 28 pound turkey and the other was great for side dishes. Women's lib, baby!)  All I needed to do is invite our newly formed family for our first formal Thanksgiving. We invited my mom and dad, my fiance's mom and dad, and my birth father and his wife-to-be. There was a 28 pound turkey, which I got up at 4am to wrestle it into the oven. Wrestling with a 28 pound turkey is like wrestling with a toddler, I was over my head, but I was not going to be defeated. As daylight broke, I called my parents, my mother-in-law-to-be, and my birthfather for advise on how to cook the turkey as this was my first. To my alarm, everyone told me different temps and technques. Then, the chef on the radio told me something else. I must have changed the temperature several times, turned it over, and wrapped and unwrapped it in the next few hours. The amazing thing the turkey turned out to be the perfect turkey and the entire dinner impressed everyone. Psyche! My pride and confidence swelled. I could do this at will. Soon, Martha Stewart would be calling me for tips.

A couple of years later I organized a Christmas dinner, but had to schedule it on Christmas eve because my birthfather preferred that day. There were no worries since I was a pro already. Christmas eve came and I was more than organized. Everything was beautiful. Everyone was there except my birthfather and his now wife. I didn't worry because they had a two hour drive and sometimes he runs late. The food was done and everyone was ready to sit down for food. Finally, I gave him a call.

Brrrring. Brrrring.
Dan: Hello
Me: Hello...
Dan: Are we still on for tomorrow for dinner?

Of course, I said yes, not wanting him to feel bad. There was no time for them to get here today and I wanted him and his wife to come over. We started the days dinner without them, and my mind raced. What will we do tomorrow. We couldn't give them leftovers. Somehow I need to find a fresh turkey on Christmas day and create an entire meal from scratch, while already having leftovers from the first meal. Can I make two Christmas dinners within 24 hours?


We woke early on a chilly Christmas morning in San Francisco. Calling around we found there was a small grocery store open not too far from Sutro tower. Taking a deep breath we went in. I found the refrigerated section and found a turkey tucked in. Gasp! Oh, Turkey Gods, I feel your warm hug! Lifting and hugging the turkey, I made my way to the register. The clerk acknowledged me and saw that I had the last turkey and ask, "Oh, are you the person who called about the turkey?"

If I were not desperate and crazed to have every Christmas meal be perfect, I would have done the noble thing and admit that I was not the one who called. As I said, I was in desperation. I had spent most of the night before imagining disaster of not having a fresh turkey. Those imagined looks of masked disappointment of having leftovers were too much for me. Before my noble self would discern the immorality of taking of a turkey promised to another, I said, "Yes, thank you."

I said it. A flush of shame warmed my face in the chilly air as I carried it to our car. There were thoughts of another family who would go without a turkey this year because of us. There they were with sad, hollowed out eyes as they were told the turkey was already claimed. Sighing heavily, I was resolute to accept the karmic retribution that would surely come from claiming someone else's turkey. I had no choice. My birthfather absentmindedness had forced my hand. In times of crisis, people make difficult moral choices that they wouldn't in less demanding times. Sophie's Choice!  In my head, I imagined I was in some sort of Stalingrad during World War II having to find food for my family. We became the family with hallowed eyes frantically searching for food as bombs fell in the snowed in city.

Mistakes were made, but a second Christmas dinner in 24 hours was achieved. It only took the sacrifice of my dignity and integrity. The End.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Chanel Channel

Just so you know, I haven't forgotten my obsession with perfume. Rather than  hoarding perfumes with my lizard brain, I am fully appreciating what I have. Although, I find myself wanting to celebrate the holiday season by going to Union Square and delighting at all the perfume bottles. I absolutely need to pilgrimage at the Chanel Boutique. For those who are new here, I have blogged about my history with Chanel fragrances that began rocky and is progressing wonderfully.
1000 Fragrances blog has written an interesting review of what seems to be a historical novel about the history of Chanel No. 5. , The Secret of Chanel No. 5: The Intimate History of the World's Most Famous Perfume. It features a cover that has Wharhol's painting of No. 5. I am putting it on my books to read list, even though my relationship with No. 5 is still up in the air. There is an appreciation that No. 5 is a huge part of perfume history and is a classic fragrance. It just doesn't move me like Coco, No. 22, and No. 19. Still trying to find out why.
Oh, before I forget to tell you, I finally got around to watching Coco Before Chanel. As far as biopics go, this one was was entertaining and beautifully filmed. It is a good rental. Whether it is a film or book, my impression that stories about Chanel and Coco herself are concoctions where the unvarnished truth is elusive and a definitive story almost impossible.

William S. Borroughs Documentary

I think this documentary was made in 1984. Fascinating. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Holiday Tradition: Thanksgiving Prayer by William S. Burroughs

 "Thanksgiving Prayer" by poet, William S. Burroughs.
Watching this has become a tradition with me. It is a nice way to embrace what is dark,disturbing, and distressing about our Amerikkan heritage. It is kinda like reading Air Conditioned Nightmare by Henry Miller (Will be reviewing that book shortly). It cuts through the artery clogging grease of self-congratulation and grotesque hubris of our countrymen. It casts the evil eye on mean-spiritied neo-puritanism and anti-intellectualism that hates art, science, women, gays, dark people. It takes a mid-century junky to see that our country is diseased and put it into words. It shows what happens when a great mind gets hold of opiates he can plug into a subcutaneous of our national psyche. When I offered these thoughts to the Wonkette forum, Dashboard Jesus offered the following quite: 

"It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society" ~ Krishnamurti 
I do pause and consider my attraction to artists who are considered degenerates, drunks, druggies, deviants, and damsels of decadent living. Many of these people see the dark underbelly of our culture after taking all sorts of mind altering, and some see all this before and are driven to numb the pain of knowing the truth about the world around them. Being a student of human history, you know their pessimism is based on documented fact. Shock and awe began right after the native Americans feasted with us and we have been doing variations of it ever since. Our love of guns run parallel to the beginning of the KKK. For all our strength, we are a fearful people. We only use our lizard brains to desire or react to things that threaten us. It is as if we know on a cellular level our collective sins, and know we wouldn't deserve mercy if those our culture tormented came to power. 

My son learned a song about the Native Americans and the pilgrims for Thanksgiving  that stops short before you talk about diseased blankets and a brutal sense of manifest destiny. How long do I wait to tell him the darker side of life? There will be plenty of time, I guess,  for him to develop a dystopic pessimism. My feeling is that I need to kick start him with the optimism and faith that hard work, discipline, intellect, and compassion will yield him much success. 

It is true that while I can entertain the darkness, I am at heart an idealistic optimist. I still have hope that we will wake up and reject our nation's dark side.

Happy Thanksgiving, Kids.

Thanks for the wild turkey and
the passenger pigeons, destined
to be shat out through wholesome
American guts.

         Thanks for a continent to despoil
and poison.
Thanks for Indians to provide a
modicum of challenge and

Thanks for vast herds of bison to
kill and skin leaving the
carcasses to rot.
Thanks for bounties on wolves
and coyotes.

Thanks for the American dream,
To vulgarize and to falsify until
the bare lies shine through.

Thanks for the KKK.

For nigger-killin' lawmen,
feelin' their notches.

For decent church-goin' women,
with their mean, pinched, bitter,
evil faces.

Thanks for "Kill a Queer for
Christ" stickers.

Thanks for laboratory AIDS.

Thanks for Prohibition and the
war against drugs.

Thanks for a country where
nobody's allowed to mind their
own business.

Thanks for a nation of finks.

Yes, thanks for all the
memories-- all right let's see
your arms!

You always were a headache and
you always were a bore.

Thanks for the last and greatest
betrayal of the last and greatest
of human dreams.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Poetry: Carnal Cerebral Love

Carnal Cerebral Love
I want to make love to your mind
Stimulate me with your intellect, your insight and understanding.
Ignite me with random connections and your clever wit.
Carnal Cerebral Love
I want to make love to your inner being.
Allow me to delight in your orgasmic, dynamic mind.
Open up and invite me into the deep warmth of your soul.
Carnal Cerebral Love
Let our synapses dance entangle and connect at the same plateau.
Complete each other’s sentences, not our lives.
Carnal Cerebral Love, Our physical being
Our external egos decay daily and by the moment only our inner selves
Denise Castellucci 

This is a poem I wrote and eventually used in my wedding in 1995 in Stern Grove in San Francisco. It would be fabulous for me to say that I wrote this for my husband, but alas I wrote this when I was single and was inspired to write poetry. It was an aspirational poem. Most of my adult life I have been attracted to very intelligent men with a keen sense of humor. This means that men I dated had a charisma that came from unconventional sources. The body is so temporal, temporary -- like a butter or sand painting -- it melts or blows away with the elements and time. The soul, the mind, the heart is forever. Both subjects of sonnets from the 1500s live on today as I read them to my son.

Since I wrote that poem and read it at my wedding, I have seen it published in various online wedding vow guides including "Wedding Ceremonies Galore" and is used by various officiants. I have seen it blogged by a woman who is processing heartbreak. It surprises me how viral it got as Reading no. 29 or no. 30. I am curious how many couples actually use it. It has been around the Internet since 1996, but I wrote it around 1991. 

I guess I am a published poet. 

God Won't Let Global Warming Happen

I love reading the Liberal Values blog, because Ron likes to cover the amazing things the Republicans do and say. It turns out that according to Rep. John Shimkus, we don't have to worry about Global Warming since the Bible said that God told Noah that,
Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though all inclinations of his heart are evil from childhood and never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done.
“As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease.”

Yes, it is absurd to use the Bible in place of a scientific argument. Ron also writes about the growing mainstreaming of replacing science and reason, with biblical belief. The Republican Party has become the supreme water-carrier  for the interests who want to undermine science for their business plan or religious alignment. Adding to the absurdity, Rep. Shimkus wants to be the chairman of the Energy Committee which makes policy on the energy and the environment. This midterm election makes his appointment more likely.
Sir, if God controls what happens on Earth, him letting 230,000 people die around the Indian Ocean is a big message that life is cheap and there is no escaping the consequences of Global Warming. Personally, I do not think there is a God controlling what happens to our planet. We just happen to live on a planet with tectonic plates floating and crashing and gnashing against each other from time to time. We have tons of recorded history that proves God doesn't deliver us from ground cursing or life destructing events. People, animals, crops, homes, waters, nature gets wiped out all over the world. God did not sweep up and save people from the scourge of the Black Death in the Middle Ages, so God isn't going to deliver us from the effects of Global Warming.

Another thing to consider is that Global Warming won't necessarily destroy the planet, just make the planet drastically unable to maintain life on earth. Once the consequences wipe out the planet of humans, the earth will bounce back beautifully without us.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

BJ Lifton Remembered

In the 1990s, I became very involved in the adoption world. It is a time where I was allowed to think about being adopted. One of the seminal books about the adoptee experience was Betty Jean Lifton's book, Lost & Found:: An Adoption Experience. Why not everything in the book rang true to me, there were parts that really spoke to me and I was always grateful for her books being out there for adoptees and those who love them. I especially responded to her description of adopted persons feeling in limbo.

When I worked on Voices of Adoption, I made sure people knew about her books. She dug deep to give adoptees a vocabulary to describe what we are feeling and thinking. It was consoling to have someone give us permission to think about things we as adoptees were told we shouldn't even think about.

In my work in Voices of Adoption, I know that BJ's books were a lifeline for generations of adopted persons.

At the turn of the century, I went to Ethics in Adoption conference with Ron Morgan and I was able to meet BJ in person. She was just the most lovely lady. I didn't agree with her when she discussed the adoptee syndrome, but it was just a thrill for me to be able to speak with her.

After I left the adoption movement, I kept in touch with almost all the folk from the adoption world on Facebook. I was lucky to have BJ Lifton as a Facebook friend where she would share her life with her dear companions, Jingly and Maui. Through them she would offer her wise opinion on current events. They would always make me smile and think. When her dear Maui was thought lost out in the wild this Summer, we all held our breath until she found Maui in a cabinet. Her updates showed her incredible humor and humanity.

This morning I found out this wonderful lady passed away last night.  We are all huddling together online today in shock and in sadness that she is no longer here. We have her books, but we will miss her caring, passion, and wisdom. Rest in Peace well BJ.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sing by the Dresden Dolls

Sing - The Dresden Dolls from MediaVox NYC on Vimeo.
The discovery of the Dresden Dolls came from stumbling upon Amanda Palmer and her ukulele on NPR's Radio 360 and they did mention and play a clip of he Dresden Dolls "Coin Operated Boy" which I love to pieces and am learning to play it on the ukulele.
If you read my blog and if you know me, you will know I love the Weimar culture and this band is in very much that aesthetic.

Santa Baby, Slip A Uke Under the Tree For Me...

Eleuke Concert Black Metallic Jazz Ukulele CCJ100-MBK3e
Originally, I had been thinking of getting a Kala Archtop Jazz Electric Ukulele.  While the sunburst is very popular, I was liking the solid black. There are a few videos that showed that you can get some very nice sounds from it whether you plug it in or not. The downside of hybrids is that you can get feedback.
I already have a nice Kala Exotic Mahogany Tenor ukulele, so all I need is a solid-body electric. Risa has these insane ukesticks and very artsy versions of ukuleles that are actually solid body electrics. The price and the elaborate string system keeps a Risa out of reach. Maybe someday, I will get a Risa.
So the other alternative is a Eleuke, which comes in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors.  The style I like is the Jazz cutaway with f-holes and black metallic finish.
Why do I want an electric? While my hubby plays acoustic when he plays with me, he cannot help himself plugging in his electric guitar and blasting my little Tenor Uke out of the room. With an electric, I have a fighting chance. This little guy and all of the Eleukes have some neat features for someone like me. With these instruments, you can plug in headphones to be able to practice without bothering anyone. This means when the boys are in bed and I can't sleep I can go off somewhere and practice. Eleukes also allow you to plug in your mp3 player and play along to your favorite songs. The nobs can be adjusted to have a mellower, more ukulele sound or sound more like Jimmi Hendrix electric guitar. It is this feature that interests me since I do tend toward wanting to play blues, rock, alternative, and punkish stuff. When I want to play folk I can always bring out the acoustic.
Solid-body's are also thinner than acoustics and that might make it more comfortable to play. 

The Dresden Dolls 'Coin-Operated Boy' music video

I am working on a ukulele version of this song. This song is slathered in awesome sauce. I am also digging the direction and art direction of this video.

Friday, October 22, 2010

I Got Dreams Part. 2

The majority of my dreams involve me moving around in familiar territory that is skewed to be steep and perilous. One reoccurring dream is that I find myself walking up and down El Camino Real from Mountain View, CA to San Mateo. The picture from hmdavid and it features one of the countless neon signs along El Camino Real in Redwood City. My life has intersected this long boulevard of storefronts and neon of a certain age just before me. In my older elementary school days I would walk down this boulevard and take Karate or visit various stores. Crossing it would take me to the Redwood Roller Rink that played the City of New Orleans as we would circle around a dingy floor.

Later I when I lived in Menlo Park in Junior High and High School, I would go to various movie theaters and restaurants in Menlo Park and Palo Alto.

In my young adulthood I would find myself driving from Belmont to Burlingame for various reasons as I went to College of San Mateo to transfer to San Francisco State.

I once lived behind the Glass Slipper Motel in Palo Alto which is this motel that features neon outline of a castle -- where Cinderella would stay after she drops out of rehab.

I return to El Camino Real now a days and it is like there is a psychic imprint to this boulevard. No matter how hazy the memories can be, I feel them -- random faces, smells, sounds, and feelings. I am like an apparition retracing my steps in an infinite loop. 

In my dreams, I am always walking here in the dark when the neon flickers and glows giving off this seedy beauty. The dreams are always hyper realistic when it comes to the storefronts and the maps of the offshoots from El Camino Real. As you venture off El Camino Real you know that this is a dreamscape. Everything is a steep climb. In fact, the entire Bay Area Peninsula is a steep incline into the bay. Some parts houses perch precariously and you have to be careful not to fall off when you go up and walk by these houses.

There is underlying gloom and wonder to the place. The stars and nebula often create a show like fireworks in the sky. The night is often less dangerous than the day, where some airplanes can randomly fall from the sky. Then you find yourself driving to the airport as you have a ticket to somewhere. You feel you need to hurry or you will miss a flight you dread. Once on board you can barely breathe from fright and the flight is terrifying (landing and take offs are very steep) but you arrive at what is supposed to be China, but it doesn't look like China. It is a lush jungle with storefronts with neon signs in Chinese. There were a lot of flowers.

The flights do take me to locales I am more familiar with London, Paris, Munich, Vienna, Boston, Amsterdam, and other points in Europe. They are heightened versions of themselves like they were Gritty Disney versions of the cities. You get the essences of the places but simplified with lots of grit. Gingerbread like inns that are crowded and dark hostels.  In Boston, the T is hyper-exaggerated almost like a rollercoaster with stations that reach the entire East Coast from Maine to Philadelphia. Then there are tremendous high rise buildings that reach into the sky so that it is breathtaking when you take the elevator to the top. I enter a room to the top floor and I am scared to look out the window because I know it that if I look I may fall through the glass.

Then I will find myself in San Francisco always moving to different apartments and flats that will magically expand out to involve different floors. San Francisco is the most steep of cities in real life, but it is even more exaggerated.Cable cars are more like ski gondolas. The bay below is a turbulent body of water hitting against the rocks. San Francisco is a city that still has Playland at Ocean Beach and it is very run down.

 In these dreams I am some kind of reality TV star and then I am in a dark club belting out "We'll Meet Again"

I Got Dreams Part. 1

Once I had a sexy dream about Robert Reich. It surprised me only because as it came from out of the blue. It turns out NPR was playing his speech at The Commonwealth Club. It is not unusual that I dream the news on NPR. During the Persian Gulf War I had a dream that I was on a beach where troops were invading and I turned into a spider who could write in Arabic. Don't know what to make of that dream.

This sexy dream was a good dream and rarely do I have them. Occasionally, my ex-boyfriends will visit but they are normally awkward rather than sexy.

There is something very sexy about Reich. I know he is around 4'11" but I do not care. He is an attractive, smart  economist. I thought he was great when he was our Labor Secretary under Clinton.

Of course, we are both happily married and there is no way anything would happen. He has only visited my dreams once and that was all I needed. Thanks for the memories, Robert.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Kitchen Remodel Over

It is done -- our kitchen remodel or makeover is over. First lets take a peek what it used to look like. It was this aging, off-white kitchen that was begging for a new lease on life. It took 2-3 weeks to do not including all the pre-planning I did. I think it is important to pick everything you can possibly think of before the contractor comes, because you will always have stuff to get that you couldn't conceive of during the job. I feel that getting everything ready really saved us labor costs. Plus I was always willing to be gopher for my contractor so he can concentrate on getting tasks done.

It originally was a project to just replace the cooktop. Then you have to replace the counters. Then you should have a backsplash and then you gotta paint. If you paint you have to fix the walls. If you fix the walls, then you need to replace the light fixtures. If you replace the light fixtures, you will have to fix the faulty wiring you inherit. Sixty percent of the remodel went to labor and much of the work you do not see because they are fixes.

We reused our cabinets but tore out the soffit and put moulding up. We also added trim to them to give the cabinets new life for a small amount of time and money. The soffit above served no real purpose but to rob us of usable storage space. Prior to this I had nowhere to put my Lenox Butterfly Meadow Tea Set, now I do.

My goal was to bring color, character, and functionality to our kitchen without changing the footprint or layout of our kitchen. I couldn't do anything over the top since this kitchen is small and we live in a modest ranch home.

Tada! So here is the reveal. We have Metal Ocean Formica counters that features greens, blues, grays, and golds. For the backsplash, I used Verde Laguna Marble tile. The cooktop is a 30" Wolf gas cooktop. The marble is the splurge even though 8 sheets of it was $80 off eBay, the labor involved was significant because while my contractor can lay tile, but is attention to detail slows him down when dealing with small tile. I helped out by putting in all the spacers for him. Once he laid the tile, I took over and grouted, impregnated, and sealed the tile myself. By that time we were aware that we have hit the top end of our budget. So, we ended up taking care of the finishing touches ourselves.

Of course, it all started with replacing the cooktop. We had to cut off the existing bar because it was a fire hazard and looked dated. The person who had installed the bar, didn't do the proper measurements, and so there was an overhang over the back burners. I decided just to have our contractor make it a flat peninsula. I think this makes it look much more modern. People can pull up chairs and talk to me while I cook or prepare food. Before the bar was just a place to put stuff and it created a barrier between the kitchen and the living room.

We also replaced the exhaust fan since it had not worked since we moved in. We had the most unpleasant task cleaning out all the grease up there. It now works like a charm and the original fixture sparkles and adds to the stainless steel/chrome accents for the kitchen. If we need to have a better exhaust system we can purchase a rooftop fan for about 200-300 bucks and it will give us a significant amount of CFMs. We had a real problem finding an affordable hood that wouldn't take up the tiny kitchen and be low profile. So far we haven't found we needed the extra CFMs.

We have since moved the DVDs shown here and moved up a hutch for our dining room area now that our son is old enough to have furniture with glass.The hutch is an old one that has been beaten up over the years, but I was able to clean it up and accessorize it to hussy it up a bit.

Eventually I would like to put a wine rack and shelf  from Pottery Barn up around it. It would be nice to have a place to store our wines.

It makes me happy we have a proper dining room area that is more adult. It makes me happier that we didn't have to spend anything in accomplishing that. I just used what I had stored away. This looks better when I have a table cloth that is burnt orange
I am really liking how the tile came out. There is a real variation to the tile from dark to pale green with streaks of gold or white. There are pictures below that show the variations better, but this is a nice close up against the Metal Ocean counter.

I got the idea of pairing tile with the Formica by searching for photos on the Internet and noticed all the photos I liked of the Formica had a tile backsplash rather than a Formica one. It was a gamble to get the tile when I really couldn't see the countertop until it was finished an delivered. Swatches, even large ones do not do the design justice. It really looks better than the swatches suggest. Fortunately the countertop and tile work well together and both work well with the wall color.

The only catch was the wall color, Kelly Moore Calypso Breeze, turns out to be not the color we used in the living room after all. The livingroom is more a greenish blue than Calypso Breeze, which is more of a proper blue. I am now thinking this color was some wacky custom shade we will never figure out.

Removing the soffit allows me to store and display my tea set and bring in my Quan Yin statue. Did I tell you how much I love that moulding? It was beautifully done and just adds that special something to the kitchen. The cabinets look more solid and hides the fact that these cabinets were resurfaced in the 1980s. I really love how the wall color goes with the tea set and statue, but also with the cabinets. I really put thought into how all the color choices I made complemented each other.

We added more storage with stainless steel shelving from a restaurant supply store. They are both 84"  18 gauge stainless steel shelves. They replaced white shelving that was not very appropriate for kitchen use. We reused them down in the garage that we turned into a game room for all the boardgames we have. I like that there is a lip that will keep things from falling off. Again, I am happy how the stainless steel goes with the wall color.

The curtains are linen shades from Pottery Barn, which give privacy and window dressing without sacrificing natural light.

Speaking of light, we replaced the light fixtures. The one you see in this photo has a green design on the frosted glass. New lighting fixtures are a simple way to update the space.

The table there is for groceries, homework, and for me to organize stuff. I can help with homework and make dinner.

Light blue and green are actually very hot color combo and I can see why. You can add splashes of red and white with the golden wood to good effect. I have even been able to throw in bits of fuchsia and bright blue.

I am extremely happy with the result. I have learned that you really do not need granite countertops or solid surface countertops to update a kitchen. You can get great results with a laminate like Formica.  If you have the money and absolutely LOVE a solid surface option then, of course, get that counter. My experience is that there was no design of granite or solid surface that was worth the drastic leap in price. It was $480.00 to get both counters done. To get Caesarstone, I would have to spend about 5k. Given this remodel cost more than we were planning, the added cost of 5k would have been just unbearable. The thing is I wasn't in LOVE with any of the solid options. Plus, there are trade off with all types of solid surface options. Going with Formica allowed us to do a lot more with the kitchen as a whole.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ridding Our House of Wallpaper

6:50pm - Green Wallpaper Peeling in a Grandmother's House by Marc Shank
Part of the 10-piece "Scurvyville" Series
Acrylic on Stretched Canvas
4 feet x 3.75 feet

Before the Summer of 2004, wallpaper did not concern me. No where in my heritage did it touch me as I never seemed to encounter it. I may have watched a situation comedy about people trying to put up wallpaper in a comically argumentative way. It may just as well been an activity of beings from a distant planet. What a strange custom! Living in San Francisco, home of Victoriania, I only encountered moulding -- never wallpaper.

There was a scene from the Cohen Brothers' Barton Fink with melting and curling wallpaper. It was supposed mean something-- unraveling layers of Hell?

I guess when I was playing "The Sims" which is a computer game that is sort of like playing with paper dolls I did select wallpaper for the houses we built if paint wasn't enough. Even then I think I opted for paint. Walls are supposed to be a canvas where you hang art or have someone do a mural of paint or tile.

Our move to Marin introduced me to wallpaper -- its horror presented itself immediately. What seemed like innocuous floral print wallpaper which came off deceptively easy revealed layers and layers of suburban archeology in paper and adhesive. First was the painted over layer of wallpaper -- who knows what it depicted and who cares? Beneath the next was the brownish duck hunting motif, which must have been from the sixties. Beneath that and the final layer of wallpaper was a teal and pink Dutch Girl and tulip motif. Good God, what were they thinking?

In the dead center of a sweltering Summer, it was just me and the wallpaper steamer. The wallpaper steamer could have been filled by my tears. This was what Hell was like. Heaven is being in a coffee shop while Henry the Coffee Guy roasts the beans. Hell was removing wallpaper.

No one told us that while being a non-toxic, the wallpaper steamer wrecks the drywall. According to wikipedia you can score the wallpaper and use a water and vinegar mixture to get it off. There is also chemicals you can use to eat at the adhesive. I notice that every method I hear about never promises you easy success. When you watch home improvement shows, they edit out the part when they removed the wallpaper. They know as I know that if they showed what you needed to do to remove wallpaper, it would turn people off on home improvement. It is that horrid. All you see is the host cheerfully saying, "After we removed the wallpaper and painted, it made such a difference."

A contractor we know said it is not unheard of just removing the drywall with the wallpaper and just replace the drywall.

It is another Summer and I did have to remove wallpaper in the kitchen, and if I am lucky we will grit our teeth and remove the last remaining bit of wallpaper in one of the bathrooms. Then I will never ever go near wallpaper again unless it is a part of an anti-wallpaper art piece.

"The most common wall covering for residential use and generally the most economical is prepasted vinyl coated paper, commonly called "strippable" which can be misleading." - Wikipedia

Cue bitter laughter.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Resistance is Fertile: Sitting on a Red Couch chatting with Fidel

© 2007 – 2010 Michael Eastman Red Couch, Havana

Visiting Kitchen Clarity yielded this gem of a photo, Red Couch, Havana from photographer, Michael Eastman. Beautiful. It makes me want to spend time in Havana. Needless to say I have to add Havana to my list of places to visit. Look at his photos and you will find Havana's architecture is off-the-hook. I appreciate the faded opulence with rustic communism. Then you have these moorish detail and Caribbean colors, audacious but perfect contrasts. Pale blue walls with a red couch. I am certain my red Kitchenaid Artisan blender will look great with my pale wall.

Oh Fidel
, I am so sorry my bourgeoisie house-wifishness is showing. What I mean is blue, green, white, and red are revolutionary combos and neutral colors are counter-revolutionary.

Michael Eastman also has Abstractions. Here is one of my favorites, "Resistance is Fertile." Indeed it is - a play on "Resistance is Futile". Saying that resistance is fertile is so hopeful as it is subversive.

While I think that simply tagging is mindless and evil vandalism, thoughtful and clever graffiti that makes a statement is acceptable. It is often inspired when it is an act of media or culture jamming. Surfaces that have layers of posters, paint, and graffiti have a certain beauty to them. They are multi-sourced collages of urbanity. They add color and food for thought. In films as well as real life it is the way for the streets to mumble and make graphical shouts of resistance. Sadly, I haven't come across any inspired graffiti in very long time.

Then there is the nature of resistance. What are you resisting, what can't you resist? Do we even know how to resist anymore?

We were nearly reduced to a landscape of lost hobos by a financial system that allowed no resistance against the forces of consumerism. If you couldn't resist that new 50k-70k kitchen it was okay you could always borrow against your house. It used to be what helped people resist buying something was that they couldn't buy it until they had enough money to pay for it.

A young relative once sold us a used vehicle in a pinch. In order to take our check they had to do a credit check. She fluttered back to us chirping that with our high credit rating we could buy a pair of NEW Escalades! The reason why we could is because we don't do things like buy twin Escalades. One of our friends called their credit union and found out he could borrow a five figure sum and was psyched that he could buy a sporty utility vehicle. It was like an old joke that goes, "How can I have run out of money, I still have checks!"

It is like the 1990s where people were making purchases on paper money that was merely paper money on a whole precarious house of cards. People made fun of me for not investing entirely in tech stocks. It is like how a whole generation of people were using their homes as ATMs, and looking down on us for not following suit and keeping up at night. Later, I got to witness the wicked aftermath of the downturns and the effect they had on people and communities around me. I got angry after this latest downturn as it effected me even though I played no role in it and tried to warn people of the coming downturn and what they were doing was based on crazy wishful thinking.

Blue Window Grid by Michael Eastman

Why is this all boiling to the surface today, Fidel? It was a thread on Gardenweb, a forum for home improvement (which is just another way to encourage the anti-revolutionary consumerism), about counters. It starts with a question about how far to go when there is no pressing need, but a desire to refresh the kitchen. There was a spouse who also wanted to work on another room as well and wanted to wait to do anything significant with the kitchen. Formica was brought up as an option. There was granite, she only liked the granite that was at the top of the price range. You could tell that there was a significant coven of those who love granite and were trying to convince her that granite was better than Formica and her husband is just being cheap. It is one thing to prefer granite. It is another to make judgments on those who choose Formica or a laminate over the trendy granite (a material I don't even like and is not appropriate for all kitchens).

It is with a certainty I tell you that there are hundreds if not thousands of foreclosed homes and people who are house-poor that granite is a cold comfort. If I went with granite and later my family had to go without because I spent part of our cushion on it, I couldn't look at it without a sense of shame. When I look at Formica, I can look at it guilt free. $500.00 bucks as opposed to $5k. Oh, that's easy.

After this thread, getting Formica is a form of resistance. It is a resistance to this mentality that we should all have neutral colored, over-sized granite kitchens that look like what all the magazines and television shows (I am looking at YOU HGTV, guilty pleasure that you are!).

New battle cry: F*ck that, I'm getting Formica! Viva Le resistance!

Now I would love to do concrete or Earthcrete (it is not shiny like granite) counters, floors, sinks, and fireplaces and just go crazy refacing my house and do the backyard with a pool. It would be beautiful. I do not need that to be happy. It is not a need, but a want. More likely it is stuff of a really involving fantasy. I see how people, even I, blur the distinction between want and need. The difference is that I slap myself out of it and keep it a fantasy. It would surely be a turn on to turn our house into a work of art. I am just going to scale it down so when the revolution starts I will be passed over by the masses for the counter-revolutionary granite owners.

It is no secret I have a luxury real estate fetish. The sexiness of the properties I love isn't the prestige or necessarily the opulence. The 20 million and higher properties tend to be too garish for me. Around 3-10 million can get you a place with history and beautiful architectural features that is absent from the countless hills of McMansions. The attraction is often location -- Paris, an ocean, Merrikesh, Istanbul, Southern France, and Southern Italy. My fetish is for craftsmanship that has disappeared perhaps as far back as the Industrial Revolution. My fetish is for evidence of the artisan. It is also just a fetish of a person who loves looking at pretty things but through the eyes of someone who is unconventional. I had a needlepoint of Lenin hanging over my son's changing table.

Resistance is fertile because it gives birth to new possibilities, new thinking, and new attitudes. It frees you from conventional, cookie cutter little boxes. Resist and see what happens.

Not surprisingly, one of my many fantasies involves running the revolution in halls and parlors of exquisite architecture or being a vagabond being able to move from luxury villa to luxury schooner to vintage teardrop trailer. With henna'd hair and tattoos, smelling of vintage perfume, and wearing comfortable shoes I am looking forward to going on a journey whether it is outward or inward. Wanna come along?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Amanda, Ukulele, and Radiohead

More often than not I am awake when Studio360 is on the radio where NPR plays all day in our bedroom. Being as I love the ukulele and am teaching myself how to play, I was immediately interested in a woman, Amanda Palmer, who was doing Radiohead covers with her ukulele. In her interview she said she learned that when you play the uke it makes you pay attention to vocals. The uke kinda strips you naked and gives you the space to bare your soul, reveal your humor, or just play vocally.

There is something about Palmer that intrigues me to explore her work. I will write up a review when I get to listen to her album of Radiohead songs.

The ukulele, the people's instrument, is truly versatile.

Now I must get back to playing.

Falling into Place and Setting a Date

Today we picked up the Metal Ocean counters that we ordered last Friday. They look better than I hoped. No matter how big the samples are (I got multiple 5x7 samples even), they never do the counter justice. You really notice the golden color, which will compliment the cabinets. By the way, I do have lots of Formica and Wilsonart samples if anyone needs. As you may know already, my tile is in and I am very happy. I will go 5 inches with the 1 inch tile, but 3 inches up I am inserting a row of the 5/8 inch tile to make it more interesting. Plus, I couldn't send them back because I love them so.

We just spoke with our contractor and we are tentatively set to start work on the kitchen 8/30.

I had a friend come over yesterday and she thinks that the color we used was Calypso Breeze. She even remembers me saying something about Calypso Breeze back six years ago.
Since we cannot agree on a green and the off-whites/yellows are too creamy for stainless steel, we are going with the blue Calypso Breeze. It goes with the cabinets and the tile, since anything I picked had to go with the blue since the kitchen borders with the dining and living room space.

Speaking of stainless steel, I was hoping someone could give us advice on the shelving whether we should go with 16 gauge or 18 gauge stainless steel shelves. Currently we are looking for two 84" inch stainless steel shelves. I imagine we will be putting our bowls, colanders, electrical gadgets, steamers, and recipe books.

We are getting rid of the soffits and updating the light fixtures.

This month better roll by quickly.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tile Arrival and the Color Crisis of 2010

Good news. The tile is here. The bad news is that the blue I wanted isn't Benjamin Moore Caribbean Mist, but some blue from KELLY MOORE. Six years when we painted my son was 7 months old and I am pretty hazy I guess. Thanks to a friend on Gardenweb's Kitchen discussion board, I was able to go and get a fandeck of Kelly Moore colors and it is between two colors: Dreamy Space and Calypso Breeze for matching the wall.

My secret hope is for Dreamy Space to win, but it is so close.

Just so you know I can think outside of the box. Here is a gold color that would pick up the gold in the counter.

Here below is the tile with a series of off-whites: Swiss Coffee, Frost, Bone, and some other color. Bone caught my eye and I am thinking Swiss Coffee as accent.

So I am not sure what I want to do. I can see if I can get testers for the blues, because we still need to touch up the existing paint. Another consideration is I can go a slightly darker shade of blue. It turns out we are going to keep the little tile and make a single row in the upper half of the backsplash.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Kindred Kitchen Spirit

This image is from Sabjimata's blog and I admire her color scheme and use of stainless steel shelving. Check out the rest of her photos and there is a kindred spirit in terms of the design aesthetic I like. Hers is a larger kitchen than we have, but I think that we can achieve the spirit of this space on just a smaller scale. We will probably get the stainless steel shelves when we pick up our counters. Stainless shelves seem more substantial than particle board and project more culinary gravitas.
Shhh...don't tell my husband, but I am contemplating re-purposing a french style dresser we have in storage as a kitchen sideboard to go under the stainless steel shelves. It has a a lot of drawers where kitchen stuff can go. We can put white ceramic tile or some on it cheaply. Leave me alone googling kitchen ideas plus have me go to a French themed store that has our French style dresser repainted -- i get dangerous ideas.

Part of me wants to get a working green rotary phone for the kitchen, but when we call Kaiser advice line, we do need to have a touchtone phone. Otherwise, I am hankering for some analog goodness. That is a whole nother post.

My husband gets nervous when I start visualizing and imagining what we can do with our living space. What he must realize that those musings are far less expensive than my other daydreaming topic -- luxury real estate. Honey, it is either this, or a villa in South of France. Stay tuned because at some point I am going to share some properties in France that I have fallen in love with.

Be back soon.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Caribbean Mist to the Rescue?

In my determination to have a "Green Kitchen" I found the most beautiful green marble tile, but what color would the walls be? I would have to find a shade of green my RG Colorblind hubby could register nicely, that is pale enough to focus the attention on the tile.
After being disappointed by too many green paints and by the mixing skills of Home Depot, I am retreating to a color I know works with the lighting of the house -- Benjamin Moore's Caribbean Mist. The answer to my color problem was staring me right in the face as I painted our computer room Caribbean Mist. It is in our livingroom/dining room that looks onto the kitchen. Having a pale blue, medium/pale green, and white is a scheme that seems to work in rooms including kitchens.

This feels like a breakthrough. So we can do pale blue walls, white trim and ceiling, and green marble tile. I can still do those Pottery Barn white curtains. I may have to consider sturdy white wood cafe shelving (shown below) instead of the stainless steel (either one would work). Not sure if we have to paint the cabinets yet, but I am open to it. We could paint the cabinets white or a matching green to the tile.

Let's not forget the Metal Ocean countertop. Metal Ocean has both blue and green hues that could play off both the green tile and the pale blue walls.

So tomorrow I am going to make a trek to Benjamin Moore and get some Caribbean Mist, since I need some to touch up the walls in the livingroom, dining room, and computer room.
The benefit of going with the Caribbean Mist is that I know it is a color I can live with. It is also a color that can go with stainless steel as well as white.

A Blue Kitchen

Should I just paint the kitchen the same color as the adjoining livingroom and diningroom? It would go with the stainless steel shelving, countertops, white trim, and make the green tile pop. There is a chance that we have leftover paint in semi-gloss left. Of course, the photo does no justice to the countertop sample.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Kitchen Paint and the Road Ahead

Originally, I was going to go with Celery Ice by Behr, but the color really didn't work on our walls. My husband eyes register yellow greens far better so I turned to a yellow green (Behr Feldspar), a green yellow (Behr Home Song), and a yellow (Behr Garlic Clove). Using Photoshop, I was able to insert my tile and countertop. Once I finish prepping the walls I am going to try out the testers I bought to see which one we like.

The tile and countertop should be arriving next week. By then, the walls will be ready for our contractor to fix what is wrong with our walls and paint. Then he can install the counters, cooktop, and the tile. We had inherited some bad patches on the walls that were covered badly by poorly put on wallpaper. We tried to fix it ourselves but wasn't happy with the results. We are going to do as much of the prep work we can ourselves, so he can just come in and finish up.

We are also contemplating getting commercial stainless steel shelves for our kitchen storage for bare walls that are 88 inches long. I want to break it down for 2 56 inch shelves and 2 36 inch shelves, because in the future if we want to put in a 36 inch refrigerator or double oven, we can take out and reuse the 36 inch shelves elsewhere more easily than 84 inch selves.

A lot of this work will involve organizing the entire house. Our house is cluttered and we need to find a way to simplify, declutter, and make our house work better for day-to-day living, but also to entertain kids and adults.