Remodeling the Kitchen

Floored

Progress on the kitchen has been stalled while we are waiting for the hardwood flooring to dry out. We picked it up two weeks ago in Reno, where it was shipped from the warehouse in Sacramento. The wood has to acclimate to the temperature and specific humidity in the house, and it needs to shrink now before we glue and nail it down, so that we get a tight fit. The plan is to start installing it in a couple of weeks, and my beautiful daughter-in-law, Tori, has offered to help Dennis put it in. She’s done it before, with her dad, and she says it’s easier for short people!

The wait has worked out okay, since during this period I was still getting estimates for the cabinets. Every remodel takes longer than you hope it will, but I figured that this one would take at least 3 months to finish, partly because we are putting in a new floor, and partly because it takes time to get estimates and make decisions. Unlike those HGTV shows where they do a kitchen in three days, an ordinary remodel is a protracted process where you hurry up and wait a whole lot. Hurry up to order the flooring, wait for it to come in, and then wait for it to acclimate before it’s installed. Hurry up and choose the cabinets, order them, wait for them to come in, and then wait for installation. Hurry up and choose the countertops, wait for them to be measured for, cut, and installed. Hurry up and choose the backsplash material so you can have it on hand to be installed as soon as the countertops are set. Oh, and did you need to paint? Better get that done before you have a new floor, new cabinets, and new countertops to worry about!

For the floor, I chose prefinished, natural red oak strip in 2 ¾” planks to match the flooring in the adjacent living room.

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The living room floor is an old oak strip that was covered in brown carpet when we bought this house in 1987. I didn’t know it, but my husband knew there was hardwood under the carpet and didn’t tell me! We know each other too well. He knew what I’d want to do if I discovered there was oak floor under that nasty old brown carpet, so he didn’t tell me. The secret came out some years ago when we had to tear out the old chimney and hearth. By that time, it was past time to replace that carpet.

We had to tear out the old chimney and hearth in the living room because it was crumbling and cracking. I really hated to knock down the old chimney. It was original to this house, and the foundation stones of the chimney were exactly that, stones. Really big stones, with a brick chimney stack built on top of them. That tells you something about the age of the main room of the house (this house has been added on to several times) and the people who built it and lived here. They knew the old ways of doing things: use what you have. We live on a volcanic litter field (not the technical term, but you get my meaning), with basalt boulders sprinkled around like nonpareils on a cupcake. You can’t dig a fence post hole without running into a rock, some of them too big to break and dig up. When this house was built, lots of boulders were available for building (and still are), and they were also used as foundation stones for the older house on the place which has to be torn down because the roof is bad. (More about that later this year.) After we put in a lawn some years back, the ground settled under those big chimney stones, and the whole chimney structure became unstable.

Lo and behold, what to my wondering eye did appear when the tiles on the old hearth came out, but hardwood flooring! My husband should have played dumb, but he didn’t. The living room was in for a face-lift. The old, singled-pane picture window came out, and we had a double-paned window custom-built and installed. Our son did all the trim work around the windows. We decided to put in an oil-burning stove to replace the wood stove that had been seated on the hearth in front of the chimney. I love wood heat, but cutting wood had become a problem for Dennis, and bending down to stoke the fire had become a problem for me, so we decided to go with a kerosene-burning stove that looks, sort of, like a wood stove. This also solved the problem of having to have somebody come in to keep the fire burning if we wanted to go anywhere in the wintertime. Without heat in the house, the pipes would freeze, and the wood stove was our only source of heat. Of course, as soon as we had the new stove installed, heating oil doubled in price. That’s how our luck always runs. Dennis built a beautiful slate hearth and ran the stone up the inside wall. He did a good job, and I love it. We have the radiant warmth of a wood stove without the mess and work of wood, but we also have to pay the price for kerosene.

The acoustic tile ceiling in the living room was replaced at that time too. Before we bought the house, there’d been a leak in the roof over in the corner by the hearth. The ceiling tiles were stained and warped in that corner, and the wood floor there was also water-stained and a little warped. That’s probably why the previous owners decided to cover it up with carpet when they added bedrooms and bathrooms onto the back of the house in the ‘70s. The ceiling tiles were torn out and replaced with sheet rock.

And finally, we were ready to refinish the old oak floor. At the time, we knew a guy. You know how that goes? There’s always a guy. He did a good job sanding down the floor and restoring the beauty of the wood, even in the corner with the water damage. I had planned to stain the oak dark again, the color called gunstock, but the guy talked Dennis out of staining while I was teaching in Las Vegas. He also couldn’t (or wouldn’t) fill in the caulking between the planks because too much of the old caulking was still in place. He told Dennis to buff out the finish in a year and put another coat on it, and that would help seal the cracks. The buffing and second coat were never done, so the floor is a little squeaky in places.

When I came home from Vegas for a visit that fall, there was the finished floor, and it was beautiful. I’ve always been glad it wasn’t stained because the paler color brings more light into a rather dark room, and the beauty of the individual boards is more evident, although keeping it natural has created some problems. For one thing, in the interim between finding the guy to do the living room floor and the guy actually coming in to do the floor (about a year’s interval), Dennis and Joel had laid some prefinished hardwood in the hall in the gunstock color, to match the proposed color in the living room, and I’d put a matching stain and finish on six huge oak bookcases to line one wall of our unusually wide hallway. So now the living room and hall floors are both hardwood, but they don’t match in color. That’s a big oops that would take a heck of a lot of work to rectify, and I’m just not into it.

You can see the advantages of doing a whole house remodel all at once, and the disadvantages of doing things piecemeal. But unfortunately, most of us don’t have $50,000 (or more) to sink into a remodel in one whack, and we have to do things as we can afford to do them. Sometimes, you make mistakes you just have to learn to live with. And you call it “character.”

At least I know I’m not making a mistake with the new kitchen floor. It’s going to be beautiful and durable, and it’s going to flow nicely from one room to the other, with a transition in between that will also be dictated by past work. When the kitchen was redone twenty years ago, we widened the opening between kitchen and living room. Originally, there had been a door between the two rooms, and when the kitchen was added on to in the ‘70s, the door was removed but the opening was left the same size. We wanted it widened to allow heat from the stove in the living room to warm the kitchen, because we were taking out the small woodstove that sat in the corner where my kitchen table is today (or was before we moved it to stack the new flooring while it acclimates). Yes, I once had two woodstoves to stoke, not a good thing with a bad back. With a new double-paned window and a new outside door in the kitchen and with the wider opening to the living room allowing heat to transfer, we didn’t need the little woodstove, and we did need the space for a kitchen table that would seat two adults and two tall teenagers.

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Taking out a portion of the original wall between the living room and kitchen meant that there was then a gap where there was no oak flooring. I covered the gap with a rug for several years before we found the money and another guy to do the patch-in work. I also wanted him to repair some planks damaged by removing the glued-down hearth tiles over by the stove in the living room and box in the edges of the new slate hearth with oak trim. That guy was a big rip-off who caused as much damage as he repaired. By the stove, he dropped a hammer claw down on the new wood, and I didn’t find the damage until I’d paid him off. I ended up having to fill several gouges in the new boards. He did an okay job filling in the gap in the flooring left by removing the wall, but he took shortcuts. Instead of feathering in the planks, he ran them horizontally, and created rather a wide transition. He had all kinds of excuses for doing things the easy way rather than the right way, and our ignorance let him get away with it while he charged us what seemed to me at the time an exorbitant hourly rate. I can’t remember the exact number, but I know it was a whole lot more than either Dennis or I made per hour!

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But it is what it is, and because there’s a change in elevation there at the opening, we can’t take out what that guy did and feather in with the new floor. It’s all right. That transition doesn’t look bad, and it will always remind me never to trust “a guy” and to do my homework. And after all, it’s “character.” Such a handy word and concept. I’ve learned I’d rather live with mistakes we’ve made ourselves than pay somebody to screw up! But either way, yeah, it’s “character.”

Laying the new floor in the kitchen is not going to be easy. We discovered that we can go over the old vinyl, but because there is particle board over the subfloor and under the vinyl, we have to both glue and staple down the new flooring. We have to use long staples to reach through the particle board and into the subfloor, and we have to glue because the staples could work out of the particle board if we don’t. The vinyl is securely glued to the particle board, and the hardwood adhesive will hold the wood flooring securely to the vinyl, so it won’t wiggle and cause the staples to become dislodged in the particle board. It’s a messy alternative to ripping out the particle board and nailing directly into the subfloor, but it saves us time and labor, so that’s how we’re going to install the new floor. And before we do that, the rest of the cabinets have to be removed and the vinyl patched in where they sat so that we have a level, even surface for the hardwood. We picked up a roll of remnant vinyl at Home Depot when we were in Reno a few days ago. It is ugly, but it doesn’t matter because it will be covered with oak flooring, and then the cabinets will sit on top of that.

We could have waited for the new cabinets to be installed and then put the new floor in around them, the way the vinyl floor was laid, but with wood floor, that means a lot more cuts around the cabinets, and more chances to make mistakes, cause more waste, and increase expenses, as well as a more difficult installation around awkward angles at the cabinet bases. So Joel talked his dad into putting the new flooring wall-to-wall. I thought all along that was the right choice, but what do I know? It’s a good thing we have Joel to advise us, or we’d be stumbling along totally in the dark.

Floored: The Saga continues with installation. Nobody’s looking forward to the next adventure with glue. We may be high as kites by the time it’s over! And in the meantime, the kitchen walls need a fresh coat of paint. That’ll be next weekend’s task.

 

 

 

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Remodeling the Kitchen, Uncategorized

Creating the Vision

As the kitchen remodel process unfolds, I begin to see how important it is with any creative project to not just have a vision but be able to communicate it to others. I’m a writer, so I’m used to thinking about a story, how to begin it, how to move it forward, how to bring the whole thing to a conclusion. For a novel, my vision can change as the writing progresses because my characters grow and evolve with the telling. (That’s just a writerly way of saying I get new ideas as I write.) I have found that I have to retain the same kind of flexibility of mind with this kitchen design process, but it seems to be a lot harder to communicate the vision to others.

For one thing, I have to contend with men and their vision. Men and women, in my experience, see things in very different ways. At least, that’s the way it works with me and my men, my husband, Dennis, and our son, Joel. Dennis is a reluctant participant in this whole kitchen remodel process, but he is the main muscle, so his participation is absolutely necessary because we don’t have the budget to hire the muscle. And God bless him, he’s going along. Our son is the family member with the most building experience, so he’s the project adviser. He’s the guy who says, “If you’re going to do this, you have to do this way.” And I am so thankful for his expertise and guidance. But I am the project boss. I take advice, but by golly, this kitchen is going to be done in a way that works for me. It’s my vision. And the problem I’m having is getting the guys to see my vision. They really just can’t. They’re so concerned about how to get from Point A to Point B, they can’t see Point C, the finished project. Or rather, they are not sure they think it should be done the way I want it done. And here is the project boss saying, “I can see it, so I know it can be done. Now figure out how to get it done.” Sounds like a boss, right?

The main point of contention is the most creative thing I’m doing in this kitchen, putting in a redwood burl slab as a bar top/pass-through. The blank kitchen/living room wall (we got the cabinets and countertop trim on that wall out on Sunday) will be removed down to countertop height and back to the plane of the cabinets on the intersecting wall. The run of upper cabinets on that side will butt up against what’s left of the wall. The opening in the wall will be trimmed out, and you won’t see the end of the cabinets from the living room/dining area.  I drew some lines and marked a big X on the blank wall after we took down the cabinets, but you can’t see it in the photo. The drill is pointing right at the portion of the wall that will be removed.

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Where the whole thing gets sticky is with the countertop. I’m planning to use either quartz or granite, depending on how the cabinet budget shakes out and what I can find and where. The countertop will definitely not be as thick as the burl slab I want to join to it. And the guys are having a really tough time with that concept. The countertop material will join to a thicker piece of wood? No, no, no! You can’t do that! It will look weird! It won’t be functional!

Originally, I thought we had a burl slab big enough to run from the back wall of the kitchen along the long leg of that L-shaped base cabinet space. But when we checked and measured the slabs on Sunday, the only one big enough for that is really too big. (I forgot my camera when we checked on the slabs, so I don’t have a picture to show, yet.) We’d have to cut off way too much of the biggest slab to make it work. I don’t want to waste any of that precious wood. Besides, that big slab, which Dennis has always called the potato chip slab because of its shape, is the perfect size for the dining room table I want to build. The only other slab that we can make work is just eight inches too short. This calls for a reworking of the vision, and I’m okay with that.  Unfortunately, the guys aren’t.

In the new vision, the stone or quartz countertop will run all the way along the back wall of the kitchen to where it meets the wall that’s being opened up. That’s what started up the no, no, noes.  And the project boss is saying, “Yes, yes, yes, we can make it work. Make it work!”  (I’m channeling Tim Gunn here.)

The reason I think this will work is because of the position of the slab in the kitchen. Because I have had such limited counter space in the past, this area was a main work station. This is where I have done all my mixing and baking in the past (and will continue to until the base cabinets are gone, as my new Kitchenaid mixer attests). But my baking station will now be across the kitchen, on the opposite wall, on the other side of the fridge, and closer to the sink. This area where the wall is being opened will not be used nearly as much for food prep in the new design. It will become more of a serving station, so that when we have the family over for football games, for example, I can put the snacks on the burl slab pass-through, and nobody has to miss a minute of the game going into the kitchen for food.  It will also open the kitchen up much more to the living room/dining space. (More about that another time.)

I want to have the granite or stone countertop and the burl slab cut in matching, shallow curves which will join right where the kitchen wall will end when the upper portion of the wall is removed.  I cut a partial paper template so I could visualize and demonstrate what I’m thinking.  The white paper part represents the burl slab, although the template isn’t as large as the slab actually is.  The slab’s live edge will protrude into the living/dining room. Again, the slab will be at least two inches thicker than the countertop, maybe even a little more.

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The edge of the slab will be trimmed even with the plane of the lower cabinets where it ells out along that wall, like a regular countertop and just as I’ve done with my paper template, but around the end and the other side, the piece that will extend out over the lower portion of the wall will retain the shape of the burl it was cut from (I couldn’t do this with paper). If shape allows, I want to notch out the burl slab to allow it to snug around the portion of wall that it will fit up against, so that it looks like it is growing out of the wall that’s left. Pretty cool concept, right? Actually, that part was my son’s idea before he got cold feet, but I immediately loved it. Below is the living/dining room wall that will be partially removed above the level of the table, so picture the burl slab rounding through the opening there.  (The table is still stacked with things that either need to be packed away or given away or sold.  Sigh.)

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The change in elevation from stone or quartz countertop to burl slab will be about a 2 ½ inch difference (unless we can trim some thickness off the underside of the slab). That change in elevation would be a really bad idea if it were happening in the middle of a work surface. You’d set something down on the edge of the burl slab, and it would topple over. But the beauty of my plan is that the place where the join would occur is off to the side and runs back under the cabinets in the corner, where the counter space is unusable anyway. Probably all I will have on that surface back in the corner is my big kombucha jar that just needs a warm, dark place to lurk while the scoby works its peculiar magic.

The other advantage to running the stone or quartz countertop all the way to the side wall has to do with the backsplash. I’m probably going to go with some kind of tile, and trying to deal with that change in elevation between countertop and burl slab along the backsplash wall would have been quite a headache. This way, there will be no change in elevation where backsplash meets countertop. But the boys are still shaking their heads at me.

I’m meeting with Maurice of Gold Run Cabinets in Susanville today, and I’m hoping he will have some ideas for how to bring my vision to fruition and silence the naysayers. But he’s another guy, so wish me luck!

 

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Desserts

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies (with variations)

I don’t know why I’ve never shared this recipe before now.  It is the best cookie recipe I’ve ever found, because you can make the basic dough and then add all kinds of delicious variations.   I use it all the time.  I make these cookies at least twice a month, keeping that cookie jar full for Dennis and the grandkids.

Today when I made them, I couldn’t find the big bag of chocolate chips.  We packed up the pantry cabinets last weekend, and I couldn’t find the right box that held the bag of chocolate chips.  (I found them after Dennis got home from work, but it was too late.)  I had about 1/3 cup of semi-sweet chips, some white chocolate chips, and some peanut butter chips in a storage jar out in the laundry room/pantry, so I combined those, and boy, these cookies were really good!  The grandkids noticed the difference right away, but they liked them.  I think they ate three apiece.  At least they are getting fiber with their cookies!  Hee-hee.  Nana sneaks in some fiber, and they don’t even know it.

Most of the time when you say oatmeal cookies, people make a face.  Oatmeal cookies are often thick and doughy, or thick and dry.  These aren’t.  These are thin and soft and delicious when they are warm, then cool to crisp and equally delicious.  I have found that the texture is better, thinner and yummier, when I use old-fashioned rolled oats rather than quick oats.  And all the variations below are equally good.  This is a basic recipe you can add all kinds of different things to and have fun with.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

1¼ cups softened butter (2 ½ sticks)

¾ cup packed brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1½ cups flour (I often use whole wheat pastry flour)

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 ½ cups chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Beat butter and sugars until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt, mix into butter/sugar mixture. Stir in oats; stir in chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10 min. or until lightly browned. Cool 1 min. on cookie sheet; remove to wire rack. Store tightly covered. Yield: about 4 doz.

Variations:

  • Use half white chocolate chips and half semi-sweet chips for black and white chocolate chip cookies
  • Add 1 cup chopped walnuts, almonds, or pecans for chocolate and nut cookies
  • Use all white chocolate chips and add 1 cup chopped pistachios (these taste like Trader Joe’s)
  • Use half peanut butter chips and half chocolate chips, can add 1 cup chopped roasted peanuts
  • Use milk chocolate chips for sweeter chocolate taste

For Oatmeal Raisin Spice Cookies:

Make dough as above, except add to dry ingredients:

1 tsp. cinnamon

¼ tsp. nutmeg

Substitute 1 ½ cups raisins for chocolate chips. Bake, cool, and store as above.

 

 

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Remodeling the Kitchen

The Recipe Project

I have a rich inheritance in recipes. When I married in 1981, my mother gave me a current edition of the Betty Crocker’s Cookbook and a plastic recipe card file box, with many recipes already inside that she loved or that I had copied for her when I lived at home.

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Although I had been cooking for the family since I was about ten years old, Mama wanted to make sure I didn’t have the issues she had when she married. As the youngest of ten children, she was more in the way in the kitchen than help. The older girls in the family (there were four of them) were all the assistance my grandmother needed. Mama was shooed out whenever she wanted to help. She must have depended on the other girls’ cooking in the dorm of the women’s college she attended when she first moved away from home. After college, she lived at home for a while with her mother who was, I have heard, a fabulous cook, and didn’t have twelve to cook for any more. And then Mama took a job as a home missionary’s secretary in the mountains of Southeastern Oklahoma and lived with the family. The missionary’s wife did all the cooking in those years. So when Mama married, she couldn’t cook a lick, as she would say.

I remember my mother telling me often that when she married my father and they arrived after their cross-country trip at the little house in a tiny, backwoods mill town in northern California where they would live for the next two years, he asked what was for supper, and she had to confess she didn’t have a clue. It was quite unusual in those days for a woman to know nothing about cooking. Daddy taught Mama to fry chicken and make “sawmill” gravy (white gravy made from the pan drippings). That was the extent of his culinary expertise, beyond frying bacon and eggs. He also expected biscuits—his mother, my Grandma Ola, made the best “light” biscuits you ever put in your mouth—and poor Mama had no idea how to make biscuits. She never did learn to make them from scratch, but she discovered Bisquick. Evidently, they lived on fried chicken and gravy and Bisquick biscuits until they made a trip out to a bigger town, and she bought a Betty Crocker’s cookbook. That was in 1955.

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This was Mama’s cooking bible, and the pages were falling out of it when my sister gave it to me after Mama passed away. Fortunately, it is in a binder, and the pages were repairable. I still use that edition of the cookbook for a lot of things. I like some of the recipes in it, like the muffin recipe, better than in the edition Mama gave me. My sister also gave me Mama’s recipe card file box. And I have my own collections of recipes and cookbooks, some I’ve gathered in antique and secondhand shops. I also inherited my mother-in-law’s cookbook collection, her recipe card file box, and her extensive clippings collection.

Now, in the necessary purge of the kitchen prior to a remodel, I’ve had to let go of some things. I will not donate any of my mother’s or mother-in-law’s things without a thorough going-over, but I did pare down my own cookbook collection. Well, actually, I got rid of very few of my own cookbooks. I mostly got rid of cookbooks that Dennis had bought and brought home and never used. Why a man who only cooks when he absolutely has to thinks he needs eight barbecue cookbooks is a mystery to me. He has never made a single recipe out of any of those books, so he will never miss them.  I still have a large box of cookbooks to replace in the kitchen when the work is done.

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I didn’t do much cooking or writing last winter.  I’m trying to do more of both this year. One of the writing projects I had planned to work on last winter, and couldn’t because my shoulder didn’t heal well after surgery and my finger joints were badly inflamed, is a compilation of my mom’s favorite recipes.  Many of these dishes I remember from church potlucks in my childhood. Mama relied on Betty Crocker’s, Good Housekeeping, and Grit, and the women of the church for her recipes. I’ve been promising my siblings and their children a copy of that compilation for some years now. I still want to work on that project this winter, if the kitchen remodel allows me the time. And after this week’s look at my mother-in-law’s recipes and cookbooks, I may have to do the same thing for her collection.

Both Mama and Virginia were incorrigible clippers and savers. When I received Mama’s recipe card file, it was jammed so tightly with clippings from magazines and newspapers that I couldn’t even get a recipe card out of it. I removed all the clippings, placing them in a large envelope, to go through for the memoir-cookbook project. Virginia had both a card file and a small binder stuffed with clippings and handwritten recipes on sheets of paper. I’m going to have fun going through those old recipes.

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Virginia also saved a cookbook I’m looking forward to delving into, Adventures in the Kitchen. This was a compilation of recipes from the Waverly Lutheran Church in Truman, Minnesota, and was given to Virginia in 1956 by her brother-in-law and his wife. This recipe collection was first published in 1953 and again in 1954. It also is in a binder, and inside are fun recipes like Delicious Orange Pie, with an orange juice egg custard filling, and Peanut Brittle Pie, with a panna-cotta type filling that includes crushed peanut brittle. I love pie, and I’m always attracted to these old recipes using fairly simple ingredients and older techniques.

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A few years ago, I began the process of gathering my paper recipes, some of them in my own childish hand of 50+ years ago, into a large binder. I have been putting them into clear plastic sleeves, so I can pop the recipe I want to use out of the binder, put it beside the stove or mixing bowl, and wipe the splatters off when I’m done. Some of my paper recipes are already pretty spotty from years of use. I am hoping to get that binder completed and organized while the remodel project is going on, so that the cardboard stationary box I’ve been storing my paper recipes in for 30 years can finally be retired. The binder is already pretty fat, and I’m not finished with it yet.  You can see it on top of the box of cookbooks above.  I couldn’t fit it into the box with the others, and it holds the gluten-free recipes I’ve collected and developed, so it will stay handy as the remodel goes forward.

The small bookshelf I stored my cookbooks on is going to my son’s house. In the remodeled kitchen, I’m hoping to have a couple of built-in shelves for my cookbooks. It will be nice to have a good place to display old cookbooks like Adventures in the Kitchen and the Farm Journal’s Complete Pie Cookbook, which I found in a library sale last year.

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It’ll be comforting to glance at that shelf and see my mother’s and mother-in-law’s cookbooks there. I’ll enjoy making more of the recipes they loved and used.  I’m hoping that as I share some of those recipes, you’ll be inspired to try them in your own kitchens.

 

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Remodeling the Kitchen

The Well-Traveled Table

I’ve categorized this post under “Remodeling the Kitchen” because while I’ve been working on packing up the kitchen in preparation for tearing it all out, I’ve been trying to finish another project I started before Thanksgiving. I’ve been trying to get this Mission-style coffee table refinished.

I call this the well-traveled table because it has really gotten around in the last ten or so years. From 2003 to 2010, I lived and taught in Las Vegas, Nevada. I furnished two rental apartments from second-hand stores, and then I bought a fixer-upper in Las Vegas. I had been living in really small apartments, and the house wasn’t very big, but I didn’t have enough furniture for it.

Dennis decided to buy some furniture for the Vegas house at the Victims of Crimes Benefit sale. The inmates enrolled in the woodworking program in one of the local prisons make a number of items for an annual sale to benefit the victims of crime.  Dennis bought a beautiful corner table made from birds-eye maple, two oak plant stands, and the Mission-style coffee table, and gave them to me for Christmas. I loved all the pieces. I left the corner table at home in California because it fit perfectly there and gave me a place to display some hand-thrown pottery, but the rest of the furniture came down to the Vegas house with me.

The coffee table lived in the Vegas house for three years. Then it moved to Denver with my daughter, Amy, and her husband, Solomon. Amy and Solo had lived with me in the Vegas house while Amy attended dental school at UNLV. When she finished her program, they moved to Denver so that she could take specialized training.

When Dr. Amy graduated from her periodontal program in Denver, the coffee table was loaded into another moving truck, and back it came to Reno, Nevada, where Amy and Solo bought a periodontal practice. The table lived in their rental house for about a year before they decided it no longer worked with their new furniture.

At that point, Amy asked me if I wanted the table back, or if she should try to sell it or donate it. I think she probably already knew what my answer would be. Everybody in the family knows I am sentimental about things. Dennis bought that table for me at a very stressful time in our lives, when we were conducting a long distance marriage. It was a sweet gesture, and the table will always be special to me for that reason. In addition, I’ve always liked the Mission furniture style, and we have other Mission-style pieces in the house. I decided I’d rather have the well-traveled table than the one we currently had in the living room.

There was just one problem. I’d never liked the ugly, yellowish-brown finish on the coffee table, and by this time, it was pretty beat up from all its travels. In the move from Denver to Reno, one of the side support pieces had suffered some bad gouges that needed to be filled.

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And after Amy and Solo rescued a sweet, badly injured little Yorkie, the bottom shelf got pretty scratched up from doggie toenails. So the table needed a facelift.

I’ve refinished a lot of wood furniture and all the doors in the house, including the closet doors. I used to really enjoy it, but I have to admit, this project was not as enjoyable as my other adventures in wood refinishing have been. Stripping and sanding are really hard on my back and hands now, and I needed a lot of help from Dennis on the sanding. He really did more of that than I did, and it was hard for me to trust him to do it to my standards! In fact, I sent him back to the sander more than once, and I probably should have been even stricter about it than I was.

But eventually, the well-traveled table was stripped, sanded as good as it was going to get, and ready for stain and finish. I decided to do a two-toned effect, partly because the lower parts of the table were very difficult to sand, and I knew it would be impossible to get the old, ugly stain out completely, and partly because of the filler in those deep gouges,  Filler never takes stain quite like the wood surrounding it, in my experience. But I wanted the top and the bottom shelf to be natural. I knew the wood had beautiful grain and character. So I decided to stain the legs and side pieces a dark, reddish brown that would look nice with my brown leather couch. And I kept the top and shelf light with the application of a clear, water-based polyurethane that won’t amber as it ages. I really like the contrast of the light horizontal surfaces with the dark legs and support pieces.

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Now this piece that Dennis bought for me years ago has its second wind and a new life in the living room here in the house in the woods that I fell in love with in 1987.  I like the way the table looks with the other woods in the room, the knotty cedar tongue-in-groove planks on the walls, the old, unstained oak plank floor, and the birch doors.

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It took quite a bit longer to finish the table than I’d figured it would, and after the deadline for Thanksgiving passed, and then the deadline for Christmas passed, I knew the table had to be finished before we started ripping out the kitchen. In part that was a practical decision, because the slate coffee table had to come out and the Mission coffee table put in place to make room for the temporary storage in the living room of the kitchen appliances.

Now that the well-traveled table is done and in place, it’s onward to demolition of the kitchen. The pantry cabinets (the really big ones) came out yesterday, and I ordered flooring today. Progress!

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Remodeling the Kitchen

The Things We Keep

I love rustic Americana. I think fine china and crystal are nice, but they’re not me. They’re fragile and pretty, and I’m not. I’m physically challenged, but I am far from fragile. I am strong in mind and heart from years of living with a life-and-body changing disease, and my beauty is the beauty of a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, not a silver chafing dish.

That said, it’s probably no surprise that some of my favorite pieces that I’ve collected over the years are my red-and-white enamelware coffeepot, cup, small pan and soup pot. I would have more of these pieces if I had more room. The coffeepot was actually our camp coffeepot for many years when we tent-camped. When we finally retired it, I put it up with my other treasures on the top of the cabinets.

While I’m giving away and donating a lot of things I’ve collected over the years, I’m keeping the white-and-red enamelware. It’ll go on some open display shelves made perhaps from barn wood.

When I packed up these things, I noticed something about the big white-and-red soup or stew pot that I’d forgotten. Before it hit the secondhand shop or yard sale where I bought it (I’ve had it so long, I really can’t remember when I bought it or where), someone had tried to make it hold water again by placing a bolt or screw through a hole in the bottom, securing it with a washer and nut on the other side.

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Eventually, the bottom of the pot rusted out in a ring, and then it was no longer functional and couldn’t be repaired. But I wanted it.

Why would anyone want a pot that won’t hold water? Well, I love the look of the white body with the red trim. I love that somebody, maybe many people, most probably women, used this pot. Cooked beans and bacon in this pot. Stew. Cornmeal mush and grits. Turnip and collard greens. I look at that pot, and I imagine the meals that a woman like me produced in it. And I honor her effort and cherish the only remnant of it.

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But the other reason I love this pot is the very fact that it’s been mended. That says to me that somebody was poor enough to need to mend this pot. The owner of the pot couldn’t just buy a new pot. Either she didn’t have the money for a pot, or she lived in such a frontier sort of place that replacement pots weren’t available. So with some ingenuity, the owner of the pot mended it, and the pot continued to be used for some time afterwards. I applaud that kind of mental toughness, grit, determination, the ability to go on in the face of misfortune. What do you do when your one pot is broken? You mend it.

We live in a culture of the disposable. Disposable products come on the market with monotonous regularity. From toilet wands to coffee filters to razors, there’s a disposable option for nearly everything in our world. We create so much waste for the sake of convenience. Many folks, like my oldest friend, Coral Young Hawley, work really hard to rescue, repurpose, reuse, and recycle what others have discarded. (Check out the clothing, jewelry, and other items in Coral’s Etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/shop/DaughterOfBetty). People like Coral are the spiritual heirs of the owner/mender of my pot. When I display this leaky old pot on my wall, I salute the mindset that mends rather than discards.

 

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Remodeling the Kitchen

In Memoriam: Virginia French

As I pack up the decorative items in my kitchen (I’ve barely started on the contents of the cabinets), I am washing things so that they can be put away clean and taken back out and put back clean. I have time, as I wash, dry, and wrap, to think about what these things mean to me, and in some cases, what they meant to someone else.

One of the things I have to find a new space for after the kitchen remodel is this huge vase/urn/thing that belonged to my mother-in-law.

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When I took this thing down from the top of the cabinet and washed it, I found the tag Virginia had placed on the bottom many years ago. On a piece of white adhesive tape (the kind we used for really big boo-boos when I was a kid), she’d written: “Lee and I bo’t this in Tijuana, Mex. in 1951.”

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Lee was Virginia’s husband and my husband’s father.  Dennis’ dad died when Dennis was seven years old. Lee had gone on a hunting trip, fell asleep at the wheel while driving home after getting his buck, and was killed when his vehicle drifted across oncoming traffic. It was a devastating blow to Dennis, his older sisters, and his mom. I know that Virginia loved her husband very much. She talked about him quite a bit over the years, and I think this vase was a reminder of a time that was very precious to her.  1951 was three years before Dennis was born, and about five years before Virginia was mistakenly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

This vase was one of the things Virginia brought with her when she moved up to Susanville to be close to us in the early ’90s. She downsized from a double-wide mobile home to a one-bedroom apartment, where space was very limited, and she chose to bring this huge vase with her. One handle of the vase has been broken and mended (more skillfully than I did with my Blue Willow plate).  It obviously meant a great deal to her.

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When Virginia’s disease progressed to the point where she could no longer live alone, she moved into the convalescent facility in Susanville and lived there for ten years before she passed away. The vase (and a lot of other things) came to our house when Virginia moved out of the apartment and into the nursing home.  She put these adhesive tape tags on many of the things she passed on to us, so that we would know their significance.  I really appreciate that now and have begun to do the same thing for my kids.

Virginia and I didn’t get along well.  I was never good enough for her baby boy, and she let me know it.  I always tried to be respectful to her, but I often didn’t like her much. I appreciated her better qualities, though.  She had guts, a good sense of humor, and faith.  I think at times I resented her for still being alive when my mother was gone.  But after she passed away, I missed her more than I thought I would.

I think this vase is ugly. I don’t really like it. But it was important to my mother-in-law, and out of respect for her, I can’t discard it. Maybe my kids will be able to get rid of it when I am gone. They are far enough removed, emotionally, to not be particularly moved by it. But I am. I look at that vase, and at that faded tag written in Virginia’s distinctive script, and I think about the father-in-law I never met, the family that he left behind, the struggles they all went through with his loss, and the courage that Virginia possessed to raise a little boy on her own while battling a disease that slowly sapped her ability to move.

I’ll find a place for that vase somewhere. It’s what my mother-in-law’s memory deserves.

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