09 December 2014

The Kitchen Remodel

I've told you about my father in past posts.  He was a wonderful musician and played the violin.  When Babajan would come home from work, he would get comfortable, and if dinner wasn't quite ready yet, he would grab his violin, stand in the center of the kitchen, and play...sometimes Vivaldi, sometimes Bach, sometimes just some amazing gypsy violin, but it would be in the kitchen.  Inevitably, my mom would tell him he was underfoot.  "Varouj," she'd say, "go play in the dining room.  You're right in the middle of everything!  Vodkee dag es!"  To which he would say that the kitchen is the soul of the house.  It's the center.  "This is where it all happens, Anne!"

If you own a home, or even if you don't own a home but are lucky enough to have a roof over your head, the chances are great that you have a kitchen, right?  What makes this room of the house so important?  It's where the food is prepared to nourish the family.  If you happen to have a table or counter or counter to eat on, it's often where the family gathers for meals, sharing what happened in their day. And that's also the table where the children gather to do their homework too.  Growing up, the kitchen in our old California craftsman home was always the warmest room of the house.  Something was always cooking in the oven in the evenings.  In the morning, my father would make chai in a pan (even before Starbucks made it popular), steeping a tea bag in water with cloves, cardamom, cinnamon sticks and orange peel.

Growing up as an Armenian daughter....and granddaughter, the kitchen was always where I would have to work helping my mom or my grandmother.  There was always work to do there.  Whether I was washing dishes, or folding the clean laundry on the table, or rolling choreg or sarmas there.  It's no wonder that the kitchen is so important to me.  When we bought the house that we're living in now, my kitchen was hardly a showpiece, but coming from living in a 700 sq. foot rock cottage as a single mom to our present home, the kitchen felt HUGE comparitively.  The counters are ceramic tile, and that had it's appeal as well.  My parents' and my grandparents' homes all had tile kitchens.  There was nostalgia there, and for a long time it was fine.  But the man we purchased this house from back in 2007 had flipped it.  Bought it, made some repairs and turned a profit on it.  What he didn't do was seal the grout in the kitchen, and over the past 7 years, the grout has been eroding to the point where ...well...let's just say the situation is not pretty.

To regrout or not to regrout...that has been the question.  I'm a pretty good do-it-yourself'er, and I started looking into tools to scrape old grout.  The problem is though, that it's not just the counters, There were some bad areas on the wall behind the sink where I could tell there was water damage. That was something I wouldn't be able to handle.  I talked to my husband about it.  "You do realize this is huge project, right?"  Yes.  I knew that.  But it was also like opening a can of worms, and that's what my trepidation was about.  Okay, so we do the counter.  That doesn't change the fact that the sink (that is so old and scratched it won't come clean any longer) needs to be replaced.  If we were going to change the sink, then we would definitely need new fixtures since the soap pump dispenser built into the sink is yet another thing that's falling apart.  And then there's the garbage disposal which no longer grinds anything but just spins stuff around...that would need to get replaced too.  So you see what I'm saying?  You start, and then it's just ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching.  A money pit.

But the thing is that when you own a home, you have to maintain it, otherwise it will fall apart around you.  We can't continue with the grout situation as is.  At least I know that I can't.  And so a couple weeks ago, we started researching countertops, visiting granite yards and trying to find the best deals out there.  We narrowed it down...or I should say I narrowed it down - the granite with the matching tile for the backsplash -  because my husband was not too excited about this at all.  But to give him credit,  he did come with me as we looked at slabs and tile backsplash.   We got a price, the fabricator came over to take the measurements, we got the cost estimate, I convinced my husband it would all be okay....and then.....

"What are you planning on doing with the walls?"  That's what the contractor asked.  I asked what he meant.  I mean we just put down a deposit for them to start work in a couple of days.  "The walls...tile, paint?  What are you planning?"  All this time we were assuming the price he gave us was for the works...we were hit with the fact that no, it covered demolition of the existing tile on the counter, removal of the sink, and the installation of the new counters and new sink.  But not the cost of the tile for the backsplash nor it's installation.  This wave of panic hit me.  Hit us.  So we ask what it's going to cost to do the job the way we had imagined it.  He gives us the new price.  He must have seen the look of horror on our faces.  So he gives us options.  My husband says, "just leave the existing tile as the backsplash."  Okay, not an option for me!  The new granite counters won't match the backsplash.  It's going to look terrible, even though the existing tile is off white..still, if you know me, you know how my eye is drawn to every single detail.  "No!" I say.  We can't leave the current tile.  It's going to look terrible.  The contracter is trying to come up with options.  "We can add a 6" granite backspash and then you'll just have a couple of rows your existing tile." Right,  but what about the large areas of wall that are tiled behind the stove and washer/dryer.

My heart sank.  I mean, finally after all these years of living with it, I was this close to getting it done. And now this set back.  No pressure from the contractor.  He suggested some options.  Do the counters now....then when you can, do the backsplash.  The immediate need is the counter and sink area....do that.  But to me, the queen of impatience, it didn't make sense.  We're going to do the project half way.  Once the momentum has gone, I know it's not going to be a priority to finish the project as something else will take its place.  It always does.   He told us to think about it, and let him know what we decide and we could start work today...Monday.

So the deliberations began.   Being spontaneous, impulsive and impractical that I am, I was trying to convince my husband and myself that we need to do it all right now while we can.  It will never be the right time, and given that I do so much cooking and entertaining, it's a really important room for us to upgrade and maintain....not to mention that the lack of grout is not very sanitary, right and can lead to water damage, etc.  My husband, being Mr. Practical, was more concerned about the financial aspect of it.  Rightly so, I mean, I get it, right?  But regardless, it does need to get resolved.  He kept trying to convince me to leave the existing tile in place.  No, I told him.  "You know how I am!  My eye will go directly to that  and it will bug me."  The next day I received his text while he was at work, obviously still thinking about where we're supposed to be getting the money for all this...."King James Bible...And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee:  it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire."  To which I texted back, The book according to Noonee (which is what he calls me)..."And if thy counters offend thee, demolish them and cast it from thee;  it is better for thee to enter into the kitchen with clean, smooth, hygenic counters rather than having groutless, bacteria-laden surfaces to bring the hell fire into thy stomach."  No response.

As it turned out, we found a way to make it work.  I negotiated with the contractor, he agreed, and this morning, the two guys doing the demolition showed up.  The tile was removed from the walls and the counters, and then we found more water damage.  Heart sank again.  The worker said that we should replace the cabinet as there was water damage not only behind the sink but on the walls of the cabinet.  He showed me.  It's there.  And this is where we are right now.  I have the granite guys showing up tomorrow morning, and I'm not certain if they're going to be able to even put it on the existing cabinets because of this area of damage.  The can of worms has been opened once again.  I texted the contractor to let him know about what they found.  Can it be shored up?  Will it be okay?  I have no idea.  All I know is that tomorrow, when I'm at work, the granite guys will come and we'll see what happens.  All I can do is trust.

Okay, so other than telling you this, you're probably wondering where I'm going?  Other than giving you a peak inside my home I started thinking about the similarities of the kitchen...being the center of the home....to our own centers....our souls.  As Father Vazken says, "Think about it for a moment."  As Christians, the cabinet that holds us up is our faith.  Our faith in Christ is our foundation.  If we don't properly seal that foundation...in other words, if we don't practice our faith through action, through compassion, through love and tolerance, and finally through worship, eventually decay will enter and cause erosion of that faith.  Our foundation has to be strong.  That being said, if we do have a solid foundation, we still need to maintain what we do have.  We need to nurture our faith, take stock.  When we see that it's started to wear away, we need to stop and maintain it.  How?  By checking back in with Christ's teachings.  If the problem is not too far gone, sometimes a patch job will do...just a quick fix.  But if the damage is extensive, then we have to do what we need to repair it, pinpointing the problem, closing up the gaps, and getting ourselves back into working order, right?  Oh, and it's important that we ask for help too!  Sometimes the job is just too big to handle on our own.  That's when we've got to call in the "trained professionals" to help do the job.  If we're talking kitchens, it's the contractor.  If we're talking souls...it your favorite Der Hayr, your favorite clergy.

So, we'll find out sooner than later if our cabinets will be strong enough to hold up the new granite counters.  If not, we'll need to figure out something, but I'm hopeful that we can just repair the damage, and things will be okay moving forward.  In fact, I have faith that it will all work out!  And I'm sure it will.  It always does...one way or the other.  And I'll definitely keep you posted as to how it all turns out, next week!

03 December 2014

Teaching Compassion and Christian Responsibility (Audio)

ITP #41: On Thanksgiving Eve our In His Shoes outreach delivered meals to needy families in the Glendale area. Anush and her husband and niece delivered food to three families in transitional housing. On this episode, we take a look at those families, and we talk about getting our children involved in helping out with compassionate acts and teaching them Christian responsibility. Come on in...it's all Inside the Pomegranate.
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Teaching Compassion and Christian Responsibility

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and we're only three weeks away from Christmas.  I hope you all had a blessed day filled with love and family.  Did you remember to relax and breathe when dealing with the day?  Did you do okay with the food situation?  Or did you resign yourself to the day and show up in your sweat pants with the elastic waistband??  The good news is:  that was only ONE day out of 365.  So if you happened to indulge a little more than you should have...okay a LOT more than you should have.. it's okay.  Today is a new day and a chance to start fresh.  Don't do what I used to do:  Mentally, Monday is always the first day of the week, right?  So my best intentions used to always be saved for Monday.  The new diet would start at the first of the week.  By  Wednesday, it had gone by the wayside....and then of course, Wednesday is almost the weekend, and everyone knows you can't start a diet on the weekend...and you know, Monday was right around the corner, and that's the day to start.  So essentially, dieting 2 days a week, and getting ready to diet for the other five.  I can laugh at it now...but thinking about that way of thinking....madness.  Can you relate? I know you know what I'm talking about!

My Thanksgiving day was wonderful.  I've been sharing my gratitude list with you for a couple of weeks now.  If you're just here for the first time, I've been writing down 5 things a day that I am grateful for.  I continued it up to Thanksgiving and I'm still doing it now, almost a week afterward, because it is such a great exercise in raising my consciousness about all that I have.  By the time Thanksgiving day rolled around on Thursday, I was so emotional about all that I had been blessed with.  I heart  felt so "open" and I just had the best day.  Throughout the day I was reminded of these blessings and it just added to my wonderful day.  Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, I am still in tune to the blessings.  I'm still doing my five a day! So what are today's five?
Today, I am grateful for...
  1. The great podcasts that are out there that make my morning commute so interesting
  2. My kiln that allows me to work in metal clay
  3. The rain because we really need it here in southern CA
  4. New tights to keep my legs warm (okay, not everything has to be heavy duty...I happen like new tights!)
  5. And all of you for checking in every week
Just a few of the many pews of food we had collected
As wonderful as Thanksgiving Day was, the holiday really started off on Thanksgiving eve when we got together to distribute the food collected during our annual In His Shoes food drive. If you listened to this week's Next Step with Father Vazken, he shared with us about the evening, the service, the people.  What I wanted to share with you today is about the three families that we personally delivered food boxes and turkeys to.  When I say "we" I mean my husband Neddy, my 11 year old niece Nicole, and I.  Our In His Shoes ministry was able to provide food for about 40 families.  And I was really moved because this year, I was able to get the names of three families that had just been placed in housing after living in the shelter.  Because of our work with Glendale's homeless shelter, the case worker there was able to connect us with these three families for food drop off after our Thanksgiving eve service.

Along with giving you a glimpse at these three families, I also wanted to discuss the importance of  involving our children (nieces, nephews, grandchildren) in Christian outreach.  My sister was busy with my older niece that evening, so I asked if Nicole would like to come with me.  At 11 years old, Nicole is really a good worker, and when I told her we'd be sorting and boxing food for needy families, she was happy to come.  It's important for kids to feel a part of something greater than instagram, facebook, texts and selfies, right?  And given that this was all happening at our church, my she was very comfortable with just jumping in and helping because she was with her extended church family.

Here's Nicole in full swing, sorting through
the cans with Sossie and Yn Susan
We arrived at  church at 6:00 p.m.,  and it was already this bustling beehive of activity.  The most wonderful thing, I think, is that our volunteers were all ages  We had families and children working side by side with parents and grandparents.  Nicole started bagging fresh potatos, carrots and yams. I was sorting cans.  Everyone was in a great mood, and like a well-oiled machine, sorting through the donations we received and the putting them in corresponding pews.  If you can imagine, all the various types of canned and dried foods were in their own spots, making a balanced distribution easier.   And the potatoes, carrots and yams were being bagged for each family as well.  When the sorting was done, we all started filling the boxes.  Each family would receive a full box of dry and canned foods, cereal, fruits and vegetables, mashed potatoes, pasta and rice, fresh vegetables and a fresh turkey.

After a very beautiful and meaningful service of Thanksgiving, the food was blessed and some of us had deliveries to make.  I had received the names of three families in transitional housing from their caseworker at the shelter.  We had the routes mapped out and finally found the first aparment where we met Gary.  Gary was a single father with a 9 year old and an 8 month baby.  I had called the three families earlier in the day to let them know we'd be coming over at night after church, so he was expecting us.  The door was open.  He invited us in .  The apartment was like one large room.  Very little furniture, and unpacked boxes.  His eyes were filled with emotion as he thanked us and told us how this blessing had come at the perfect time.  I asked if he knew how to cook a turkey telling him to make sure that refrigerate it overnight.  He said he would ask one of the others in the building to help.  Coincidentally, my boss had given me a bag of baby food just the other day hoping I might find a family that could use it.  And seeing that Gary had an 8 month old, his little baby was the recipient.  I'm always amazed at how God puts right where we are needed most.  Receiving the food, he was just so happy, and a look of relief came over his face.  We hugged, he blessed us, and when we left, he was smiling.

Our second delivery was to a small apartment a few miles away.  Maria opened the door and invited us in to bring in  the boxes and bags of food.  The apartment was small and cluttered.  The dishes weren't done, there was unfinished homework on the table.  Two young children came running into the living room and hid behind Maria's legs, screaming and playing.  They saw Nicole and squealed and ran off.  Maria yelled at them to behave themselves.  She said, "my granddaughter has special needs."  She explained that she was living in this apartment with 4 of her grandchildren and how grateful she was for the food.  Here's another example of "right place/right time": Nicole had no idea who we were delivering food to, but she  had brought with her a brand new purple sweater with the idea that we might find someone she could give it to.  She whispered to me if we should give her sweater to this little girl. We showed the sweater to the Maria telling her it was from Nicole....and asked if her granddaughter would be able to use it.  She was grateful and said that purple was her granddaugher's favorite color.  As we were leaving, the little girl was calling out after my niece.  "What's your name??? Nicole turned around to answer her and saw that she was holding the bottle of apple juice that we had put in the box.  "Thank you for my juice!  It's my favorite kind."

The last delivery we made was to Kim.  She and her husband lived in this small apartment with almost no furniture at all.  In the kitchen a TV tray served as a table for two.  There was a stool and a chair and that was about it.  When we came in with the food, Kim and her husband praised God.  They thanked us and blessed us.  Kim couldn't contain her happiness and came over and hugged all three of us, thanking us and giving thanks to God at the same time.  Her sincerity and faith was really touching.  She was excited about the prospect of being able to roast a turkey...something she hadn't been able to do for a while.  We wished them a Happy Thanksgiving and were on our way.

On our way home, I was interested my my niece's reaction to what she had just witnessed.  What had surprised her the most was the lack of furniture in the last home.....and living out of boxes in Gary's home.  It was good for her to see because I think our children and grandchildren are desensitized to what's going on in our country...our community.  It's good for them to see beyond their bubble.   She was surprised to see Gary's apartment with no room for much of anything...and there were 3 people living there.  She asked how they could do it?  I explained to her that whe you put it into perspective - that just a week or so ago they were living in a shelter, and prior to that on the street with no home at all -  this little apartment is a wonderful and safe home and definitely a blessing.

I know that Nicole was moved by our outreach.  Over the past couple of days. I have heard her sharing with her mamajan, her sister, and her mom and dad what she did and how she had helped.  It's up to us to teach our children about compassion and Christian responsibility.  And as uncomfortable as it might be, it's good for them also to see the other side of life and to understand ...
1.  A home is anywhere where you feel safe and secure, no matter how large or small, how cluttered or sparsely furnished
2.  You don't have to be a certain age to do God's work.  It's right there when you open your heart to it.  All you have to do is care.
3.  A simple act of kindness brings about other acts of kindness...it just kind of snowballs.  We delivered the food, they gave us hugs, we hugged back, they got to eat, we got to feel good....it's a win/win!
4. A cell phone isn't everything.  When I first picked up my niece, all the way to church she was on her cell phone, texting, posting, etc.  Once we got to church, I told her "put it away."  It took a few times of me saying it but she did.  It was only after putting it away that she started enjoying herself, working with the others for a common goal.  I think kids lose site of this.  There's so much to be done.  We just have to harness that energy.

It was an amazing evening shared with our church family.  Exciting too was that there were quite a few new faces.  Which is always good.  Love is contagious!  With Christmas just around the corner, it's a good time to get your family involved in compassionate work.  Maybe volunteer with your children at your local foodbank.  Take a group to your local convalescent home and ask if you can sing the patients a few carols.  Call your local shelter and ask ho
w you can help.  It's such a wonderful experience, and it connects our children to life and our obligations as Christians.  God is love.  And if we are all children of God, then we are children of love.  Remember that old song: "What the World Needs Now is Love"?  It's more true now that ever before!  (No, not just for some, but for everyone!)

The best way to celebrate Thanksgiving is with family!!!  Here's some of our church family at
St. Peter Armenian Church Youth Ministries