Remodeling the Kitchen

Clean Slate

Writers are urged to avoid clichés, to find fresh ways of expression.  But with my interest in history and language and the history of language, I’ve always loved clichés. Buried in them are remnants and glimpses of the past.

Take, for instance, the phrase, “clean slate.”  I once thought the phrase went back to school children who must have been told by their teachers to start a new lesson with a clean slate, the only form of writing material many frontier children had.  Most of us are familiar with this from Little House on the Prairie, either the books or the television series, and from other books and movies, like Anne of Green Gables. But the phrase and its antecedents are much older than that.

“Clean slate” is actually a term used for a grade of slate, a type of rock that breaks relatively uniformly along a straight plane.  It was once prized for roofing material, and eventually, small, reusable writing tablets as well as larger, wall-mounted chalkboards. I couldn’t find a reference for the age of the expression as a builder’s or geologist’s term. But the metaphoric concept of a clean slate is embedded in the Latin phrase, tabula rasa, which means “erased tablet.”  This expression comes from the way wet clay tablets were used in accounting in ancient and paperless cultures, scraped clean of marks while still damp and used over and over. (If the clay tablet were allowed to dry, it would form a permanent record.  Cuneiform writing on clay tablets tells the story of ancient Mesopotamian life five thousand years ago.)

Apparently, the term “clean slate” also comes into common use in English as an accounting expression, and derives from tavern owners’ habit of using a slate to keep account of a customer’s “tab.” When the tab was paid up, the customer’s line on the slate was wiped clean.  But I digress, as usual.

Today, “a clean slate” has become so common, it’s now cliché. It’s shorthand for a fresh start, a beginning place after the old rubbish has been cleared away.  And that’s exactly what we’re finally getting to in this kitchen.  A clean slate.  I’m hoping that my brief historical exploration of the phrase demonstrates that I use it purposefully.  And if doesn’t, I don’t care.  I like clichés.

Most of the kitchen’s slate has now been wiped clean.  While I was sick with the flu this past week, Dennis finished removing all the old cabinets and the old flooring.  He’s down to the subfloor now.  God bless him for continuing on when the driving force (me) was laid low.  (Yeah, I’ll work in as many clichés as I can this time.)

Originally, we thought we were going to nail and glue the new flooring over the old vinyl, which was glued to particle board, which was nailed to the subfloor.  But we were advised by our former builder friend, Leonard, to strip off the vinyl and particle board and just nail in the new oak strip flooring.  Dennis and I were both relieved to be relieved of the necessity of applying the very messy glue (and getting it right), but removing the top layer of the old floor meant more work to prepare the kitchen for the new flooring.

And now there’s a hard deadline to work toward.  The countertop fabricator will be here on the 29th to measure for the countertops, which means the cabinets have to be in.  The cabinet shop is scheduled to install cabinets on the 25th, and if they don’t finish in one day, they’ll come back on the 28th, so the cabinets will be in for the countertop measurements.  Those dates can be pushed back if necessary, but the longer we wait to measure for the countertops, the longer it will take to get them fabricated and installed, and until they are installed, we don’t have water in the kitchen.  The sink has only been out for a few days, and already the inconvenience is, well, inconvenient.  We don’t want to be without a sink and water in there one day longer than necessary.

So, after a period of waiting for the flooring to acclimate to the humidity and temperature in the house, and working on the wall in the meantime, it’s a hurry-up atmosphere around here.  And there’s a complication.

Before we started ripping the kitchen apart, we had an ant problem.  The warmer than normal temperatures in January woke up some insect life (I actually saw mosquitoes in February), and we had an ant invasion along the outside wall of the kitchen, and where the kitchen and living room walls join, in one corner of the oldest part of the house.

This is nothing new for us. We’ve been invaded before in years past; I always tell Dennis it’s just part of the price we pay for living in the woods, and I’m okay with that, although it can be disconcerting.  Twice I’ve woken up in the morning to find a swarm of thousands of ants on the tub surround in the back bathroom.  They come in around the window, somehow. These are small black ants, and they don’t seem to be looking for food.  I’m not sure exactly what they’re doing, but I think they’re moving house.  We’ve seen them do this outside many, many times in the 35 years we’ve lived in this “cabin” in the woods.  Every spring, these small black ants go on the march.  I think their populations get too big for the nest, and off they go, looking for another place to build a new nest.  They follow straight lines that you can track back for yards and yards (to a tree or the wall of an old building, and there are several such on our property), and they don’t care that their straight line means marching through the house, although they seem to get very confused once they get inside and hit a perpendicular wall.  They swarm in a corner, maybe trying to figure out how to keep going straight, or maybe deciding if this is a good spot to build a new nest.  The swarming makes it relatively easy to spray them, wait for them to die, and then wash everything down.  (I don’t like using chemicals, especially inside the house, but it has to be done.  Dennis always says, “The label on the spray says it’s safe for inside the house,” and I always insist on washing everything down thoroughly anyway. But I digress again.)

We thought we might have an ant nest inside one of the walls of the kitchen, so after he sprayed around the door, window, and wall in the kitchen, Dennis crawled under the house to see what he could see.  He didn’t find any trails of ants or ant nests, but what he did find was a sill plate (a piece of wood that supports a beam that supports the floor joists) that has dry rot in it.  It is under the newest part of the kitchen, the part that we think was added in the 70s when the back part of the house (bedrooms and bathrooms) were built on to the original living room and kitchen.  We know that about six feet of new space was added along the back wall of the kitchen because of the way it was constructed.  Dennis was going to have to replace the rotten sill plate from underneath the house, which would have been difficult, but not impossible.  (Personally, it sounds impossible to me, but he did it once before in another spot, many years ago.  My hero.) But because we decided to tear off the old flooring, he plans to take up the subfloor in that area and replace the sill plate from above.  Pictures from that effort should be interesting, when it happens later this week.

Once the work under the house is done, he can replace the subfloor, top it all off with a layer of plywood to level the older part of the kitchen floor with the newer part, and then we can finally start putting down the new oak flooring.  It should go fairly quickly at that point, because we don’t have to mess with glue, just nail.  Phew!

It’s been a long process, with a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, getting to the clean slate.  We’re not quite there yet.  But once we are, we’ll be able to start writing on the slate again.  And I’m getting so excited for that day! (I think Dennis is too.  He misses his cookies. I can’t really bake in the trailer oven.)

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In the meantime, it’s chaotic inside and outside the house, with all the kitchen appliances and furniture and boxes of flooring and cupboard contents stacked in the living room, and the old cabinets stacked on the patio under the overhang, waiting to be moved and installed as storage in pumphouses, sheds, and “barn.”

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I have my tea station set up in the small hall bathroom, the microwave and Dennis’s coffeemaker in the bigger master bath, and Dennis has moved the travel trailer down into the driveway, closer to the house, so we can wash dishes and cook out there.  It’s chaos, but controlled chaos.  Another cliché.  Yep, I just love clichés.

 

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Remodeling the Kitchen

Down with the Wall

One of the changes we are making to the kitchen concerns the wall between the kitchen and dining area/living room.

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There is no dining room proper in this house. The living room is a large room, what might have been called a great room in the 80s or 90s or whenever it was that term was popular. I’ve always had a dining table in the area next to the kitchen, even though when it was just the four of us at home (Dennis, our two children, Joel and Amy, and me), we ate in the kitchen. I grew up with an eat-in kitchen, and I prefer it to a dining room, but there are times when there are too many of us now to eat around the small kitchen table. So we do need a dining space large enough to accommodate the whole family, which can number up to 13, 14, or even 15 when all the in-laws are here. I’ve had my mother-in-law’s table in that space for many years. It’s going to be moved to the kitchen, and I’m planning a new table for that space. More about that later.

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When we remodeled the kitchen twenty years ago, we widened the opening in the wall between kitchen and living room. There had once been a door there, before we bought the house. I think that wall was an exterior wall, and that was an outside door. Probably the one large room that is our living room was the whole house at one point. Some time later, what is now our kitchen space was added on, and the door was removed. The original door jamb with the marks and holes of the hinges was still in place when we bought the house. When we remodeled the kitchen, we more than doubled the width of the opening and cased it. Now, it’s being opened even more.

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I didn’t want to take the wall between the kitchen and dining room down completely. I would lose too much cabinet space on the kitchen side. I wanted to create a peninsula with a redwood burl bar slab extending out into the dining space. Well, you don’t always get what you want. There’s just no way to make that work with the burl slabs we have without ruining a beauty to make it fit. I won’t do that. So, I’ve come up with another solution. More about that later when I’ve got all the details nailed down.

The solution involves creating a pony wall between the kitchen and living room. The original wall is being taken down to about half its height to open those rooms up to each other. This has not been an easy project for my long-suffering husband, because of the way the wall was constructed.

When the living room was framed in, ¾-inch wormy cedar boards were laid horizontally across the framing. I don’t know what sort of siding went on the outside, but maybe an asphalt shingle like what is on the older house on the property out back. There’s nothing there but wood, now. On the inside, this beautiful (to me) knotty cedar tongue-in-groove paneling was laid. All of this had to be cut and removed from the section of the wall Dennis was working on so that he could take out the upper section, install a header all the way across the opening, and reroute electrical wires for outlets and light switches.

That’s where we ran into some serious trouble. The cedar paneling is old. We think this part of the house might date from the 50s. That means this wood is some 60 years old, and it is dry. Our climate is very arid, and this wood has been inside the house, subjected to heat from wood stoves every winter for 60 years. When Dennis tried to remove it from the wall, parts of the boards began to break and splinter.

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One day, I came home from town to find Dennis working on the wall. On the kitchen floor lay a pile of paneling boards, some of them broken. When I saw them, my heart sank. Where in the world would we find any replacement boards? Nobody wants this stuff in their houses any more. Most people would come into my house and wonder why we didn’t take all that wood down and replace it with sheet rock. And the designers on those DIY and makeover shows I like? They paint the stuff. It kills me every time I see paint applied to beautiful wood, but as I said, nobody wants this stuff. Except me. I want it. And I did not want to take down every board in the living room because we couldn’t match the damaged ones Dennis had removed.

I didn’t sleep for a week. Literally. I’d lie in bed and see that pile of paneling on the backs of my eyelids. I just kept thinking, “What are we going to do?”

Last Saturday, we attended our grandkids’ basketball games in town as usual. We had a couple of hours between games, so we decided to run some errands. That morning, I’d told Dennis I wanted to go to the lumber yard and see if we could match the trim we’d taken down around the cased opening. If we could match it, we could reuse some of what we’d taken down, and that would save us some money, time, and effort. He said, “I think I’ll take a piece of this paneling along and see if they have anything close to it.” I thought it was futile, but what the heck, right?

When we got to Payless Lumber, we asked about the piece of paneling first thing. “Oh, yeah,” the guy working the yard says. “I can get that. We just have to measure the width, tongue, and reveal.” We went into his office to look at his supplier’s catalog. I was holding the small piece of paneling in my hands, turning it around and looking at the finish, when I noticed a stamp on one end. Collins.

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The light dawned. “This was milled by Collins Pine,” I said. Collins Pine is a mill in Chester, about an hour west of us. “Oh,” said the young man, when I showed him the stamp. “If it’s a Collins Pine product, you can just take it over there and see if they have any or can make some for you. If not, I can order some for you.” Simple as that.

I was floored. I’d never imagined that the wood was milled locally, although of course it makes sense. When this house was built, people used local products. Stuff wasn’t trucked all over the country and shipped out of it and brought back again. Probably all of the wood in this house was cut and milled in Lassen or Plumas counties, at lumber mills that are no longer operating. I’m guessing that the Susanville mills didn’t do fancy stuff like this tongue-in-groove paneling, so whoever built the house either got it from Collins Pine in Chester, or the lumber yards in Susanville stocked it.

Dennis and I drove over to Chester on Tuesday to see if we could get some replacement paneling boards from the Builder’s Supply/Collins Pine lumberyard.  Unfortunately, the answer was no, they don’t stock those paneling boards.  And it would be very expensive to have just a few boards milled by Collins Pine.  If we were building a whole house, they’d waive the fee to set up for that particular kind of board, but for just a few replacement boards, nope.  I’m pretty bummed.  It would have been really cool to be able to get cedar paneling boards from the same mill that produced the old ones.

So it’s back to Payless Lumber in a couple of days.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we can order what we need and make it work.

But then it will be my task to try to match color and finish on the new boards to the existing boards. At the time these boards were finished, the finish of choice would have been varnish or shellac. I don’t believe they were stained, and I can tell from the slight drips and runs on some of the boards that the finish was applied after the boards were put up on the walls.

Finishes have changed a lot in 60 years. Because of new rules about toxicity and safety, I won’t be able to get the same product that was used on these boards when they were finished. Even if I could, it still wouldn’t match. Varnish darkens in time, and cedar yellows. These boards are not the same color they were when they were put up on the walls and finished. So my task will be to try to match the color of the existing boards by using stain on the new boards.

I’ll also have to try to duplicate the sheen of the existing paneling, and that might be harder than matching color. Stains can be mixed and matched until you get something pretty close, and I’ve done that before, but the sheen of polyurethane is different than the sheen of varnish. All I can do is try to figure out what will come closest. And this is all moot unless we can find the replacement boards we need.

 

 

 

 

 

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Remodeling the Kitchen

Dare to Design

There are two things that really drive up the cost of a kitchen renovation—well, really any renovation. One is labor costs, and the other is the cost of professional design. The way to keep costs down, obviously, is to do as much as the labor yourself as is possible, within your scope of ability, and to dare to design your own space.

When we gutted and remodeled the kitchen twenty years ago, with the help of a friend, Leonard, who built houses for a living, it turned out pretty much the way I wanted it to. We had a shoestring budget, and even though the cabinets were custom-built, we had to go with the cheapest possible material, which was pine. It was the same with the countertops and the floor. Laminate for the countertops, vinyl for the floor. This time around, we will actually spend more on new countertops alone than we did for custom cabinets and countertops twenty years ago.

Twenty years ago, the footprint of the old kitchen was altered drastically to create better function for cooking and ease of movement through the space. That is the scariest part of designing your own space, making sure that it actually functions. And this is where you really may need the help of a professional. I was so glad to have the advice and expertise of Leonard and his wife, Lynzie, all those years ago.  We all collaborated on the kitchen layout in that remodel, and what we came up with works so well, it doesn’t have to be changed this time around. All the appliances can stay where they are now, in an elongated triangle that touches both side walls of the kitchen. That makes designing the renovated kitchen much easier this time around. I am glad I don’t have to make those kinds of decisions, at least!

If you do want to change the footprint of your kitchen, you may need to get some professional help, or at least advice, in relocating the sink, dishwasher, stove, fridge, etc.  Changing the plumbing can be particularly problematic and expensive, so keeping things where they are, if at all possible, is one way to keep costs down.

The other thing that makes designing my own space not quite as intimidating these days is the plethora of online resources and the proliferation of DIY and construction programs on television. I love those shows and have watched them for several years now, gradually acquiring enough knowledge to make me dangerous, in Dennis’ view, but also getting a much better sense of what will function and be sturdy, practical, and attractive at the same time.

Designing your own space comes with pitfalls. A professional designer is trained to know what looks good together, what color of cabinets or types of materials look nice with what kind of countertop material, with what sort of backsplash. For me, it’s really a guessing game, an experiment. And yeah, that’s a little scary, because I’m spending thousands and am going to have to live with my choices for perhaps the next twenty years. But I’m taking the dare.

I figured I would go about the design methodically, but taking one step at a time. I knew it wasn’t going to be possible for me to choose everything before the work began. I did know right from the start what I wanted in flooring and cabinet material this time. I love natural oak, and it’s hard, which is what I need. I need something that can withstand hard use, because this kitchen gets it. I figured when those materials were chosen and ordered or purchased, I’d work on choosing countertops, getting samples and looking at them alongside the sample cabinet doors. And then once the countertops were chosen, I’d have to try to find a backsplash material that looks good with both cabinets and countertops but is easy for me to clean.

It’s not quite working out that way.

Dennis and I went to Reno on Sunday to look at countertop material and try to choose a material and installer. Because we can’t do it locally, we decided to limit our search to Home Depot and Lowes in Reno. We just don’t have time to run all over town looking at multiple shops and installers.

I had ruled out another laminate or solid surface countertop. Laminate is the cheapest option, but it also the least durable. Solid surface countertops that mimic the look of granite are attractive, but are neither heat nor scratch resistant. I wanted something I wouldn’t have to be quite as careful with as I’ve had to be all these years with a laminate countertop.

When we went into each store, we chose a low-end quartz and two or three granites, one in low-range pricing and one or two in mid-range pricing, and had estimates written up based on each material, so we could see what fit into the budget.

Ideally, I wanted quartz because it requires no maintenance. Most granite has to be sealed once a year to prevent staining. (Yes, I learned that watching DIY shows.) I was worried about hard water staining around the sink, and food stains from all the preserving I do, if we went with granite. But even low-end quartz countertops cost more than I want to spend. And they were ugly besides. Well, not exactly ugly, but certainly boring. Mid-range quartz, much more attractive, was just not possible with our budget. So we turned to granite.

We already had a pretty good idea of what low-end granite countertops would cost us because I’d asked about it when we were getting estimates for cabinets. Once we’d decided quartz was out, we started comparing both price and a couple of other factors at each store.

Home Depot’s installation fees were cheaper; they gave us free samples, and there were two granite choices I liked there. We even looked at backsplash tiles while we were there, and I realized something I hadn’t thought too much about before. The busier the countertop, the simpler the backsplash tile should be, for my taste. The plainer the countertop, as in a low-end quartz, the more I could tolerate a busy, decorative backsplash, and the less I liked a plain tile like the one in the photos below.  But with the busier granite material, I liked a plain, almond- colored subway tile. Hopefully you can see what I mean in the badly-lit pictures below.  The first photo shows the almond subway tile with the beige quartz.  Blah.  The second photo shows the same subway tile with the busiest, veiny-ist granite.  Much more attractive to my way of thinking.

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I only found one glass backsplash tile I liked with my favorite of the granites from Home Depot.  That’s the one below.  I took a picture with my phone so it isn’t a very good photo, but I liked the longer strips of glass in this 12″ tile better than the ones with the tiny squares, which Dennis liked because they’d be easier to cut!

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I like this stone the best because it has small red splotches in it, although it’s hard to see in such a small sample.  Red is one of the accent colors in my kitchen.  It is called Butterfly Beige, but it has a slight greenish tint that I like too.  Here’s a close up of Butterfly Beige and that red splotch.

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I thought I’d picked a stone (the one above) and maybe had a choice for backsplash tile (also above) until we got to Lowes. At Lowes, we discovered that if we took advantage of a sale, we could get a mid-range granite that Dennis liked (below) for the same price as the lower-end granite that I liked there.  The picture of Dennis’ pick doesn’t do it justice.  It has a nice wave pattern to it, and many different shades of brown speckles.  It looked very nice with the cabinet color and that plain almond subway tile. I could do a dark brown grout with that subway tile and have a very easy-to-clean backsplash.

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There was one lower-end granite at Lowes (below) which also had a red splotch in it.  I do like that red splotch!  Crema Pearl is very similar to Butterfly Beige from Home Depot, but the designer at Lowes said I’d definitely need to pick out my slab if I chose that one, because he’s seen them come in to the store with big, purplish patches the size of a pumpkin!  I don’t think I’d like that as much.  And there is no greenish tint to this one.

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Both choices at Lowes came from the factory already treated with a process that prevents staining, without the yearly sealing, plus a 15 year warranty. This granite at Lowes was only a few hundred dollars more than the untreated granite at Home Depot. But to choose our individual slabs after ordering from Lowes, we’d have to go to the stone yard in Roseville, several hours away. To choose our slabs after ordering from Home Depot, we’d only have to go to the stone yard in Sparks, a few minutes from Reno.  We’ve been advised by both stores to choose our slabs individually, because they can vary so much in color and pattern from the samples.

My first inclination is always to pick what’s least expensive. Fortunately, I have Dennis, who says, “What’s a few hundred dollars in the long run?” And he’s right, at least in this. But cost isn’t the only factor. I’ve still got the problem of the backsplash tile in my head. So I’m thinking about what’s going to be easiest to coordinate. And what’s going to look best in the room with all the other design elements I have planned: the barnwood shelves, the utensil gate, the cookbook rack. Not to mention the built-in banquette benches. Have I mentioned those yet?

Ah, decisions, decisions! I haven’t decided yet. I’m weighing all the information I’ve gathered. Since the floor is holding everything up (more about that in another post), I’ve got a couple of weeks to think about it before the sales and promotions on the granite are over.  I think my daughter and I need to go on a backsplash tile hunt.  Maybe then I’ll be able to choose the countertop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Remodeling the Kitchen

Painting Tips

Tips for painting are probably completely unnecessary for most people, but I do know some folks who have never painted a room in their lives. This sort of blows my mind, because I can remember painting walls when I was very young, and since Dennis and I married 35 years ago, we have always done all our own painting, both indoors and out. Painting is the easiest of renovations, and the cheapest way to perk up a gloomy or blah room.

I love color, but not so much on my walls. I like a neutral wall so that my art pieces will show nicely, and I have six paintings/ wall hangings in my kitchen. When this kitchen was renovated twenty years ago, I chose a cream color for the paint. The paint was Color Place brand from Wal-Mart, and amazingly, it held up through twenty years of hard use. We’d have had to paint this year whether we’d renovated or not, because it was starting to look a little dingy, and I have scrubbed it off in places behind the stove, where my jams and preserves splatter, but for an inexpensive paint, I’d say it performed very, very well. For that reason, when Dennis said last week, “Hey, guess what? Wal-Mart has Color Place Country White on sale for 14 bucks and change a gallon,” I said, “Let’s grab some!” Country White is the color I put on the walls all those years ago, and while I’d toyed with the idea of changing the color a bit, I was happy enough to go with that soft cream again. It’s going to look great with my new oak floor and cabinets. I’ll just have to make sure it also goes well with whatever countertop and backsplash I choose. I’ll take a paint sample with me on a paint stick when I start the search for counters and tile.

So, my first painting tip concerns color. Whatever color you choose, be aware that if it is not very close to the color that is already on the walls, you will need to use a primer. Primer is an inexpensive base coat that helps hide the color underneath your new paint so that it does not show through. It’s less expensive to put on two coats of primer before your colored paint, if the paint underneath is either several shades lighter or darker than the color you want to paint the walls. If you don’t use a primer in this situation, you may find that you need several coats of paint, and paint is far more expensive than primer. Another option is to use a tinted primer, which the paint store or department can help you with, if you’ve got a really stubborn color to cover like black, bright red, bright yellow, dark green, or dark brown. A general rule of thumb is that the more expensive the paint, the better it covers. If you’ve got an ugly situation to fix, go for the best quality paint you can afford. It will cover better and quite possibly save you money in the long run. And if you use good paint, you can often get away with a very inexpensive primer.

Paint comes in several different sheens. There’s flat, with no gloss at all. Many people choose flat paint for interiors. I don’t like it because it doesn’t wash well, and I scrub my walls in the kitchen and bathroom, probably not as often as I should, but often enough to warrant a paint that can resist soap and water. I’d rather wash my walls and ceilings than repaint them. High gloss is usually reserved for trim paint rather than walls or ceilings because too much reflection on surfaces is distracting. So for me, semi-gloss or satin is like Baby Bear’s porridge; it’s just right. It washes well and is only lightly reflective. You’ll have to decide what sheen is right for your rooms.

Paint store or department people can also help you figure out how much paint you need if you know the dimensions of the room you’re painting. I have learned to get a little less than I think I need. Personally, I’d rather have to go back for a quart of paint than have a gallon more than I actually need. That’s because once the store tints your paint, you can’t return it. You’re stuck with it. And with the price of paint these days, especially good paint, I don’t want to fork out for paint I don’t actually need. Our kitchen measures 12’X 21’, but because we are getting new cabinets that will go all the way to the ceiling, there was no need to paint above the existing cabinets, or where the wall will be removed, or where the backsplash will be applied. We painted everything we needed to paint with less than a gallon, but we decided that we needed to give the ceiling another coat, so Dennis went back to Wal-Mart for one more can. If properly lidded and stored (don’t let it freeze!), a re-closed can of paint should last for at least five years, so this extra partial gallon will probably be enough to paint another room in the house, since this same color is on all the walls and ceilings in the house. When I find something I like, I do tend to stick with it!

My next tip is about preparation for painting. Really, you cannot skimp on prepping unless you are a professional. They seem to know how to manipulate the paintbrush to avoid applying paint on trim, countertops, cabinets, light fixtures, switches and outlets, and oh, let’s not forget the floor, but I have learned that I need to tape off or cover those items. I love the blue painter’s tape that comes in several widths. I can choose which tape works best for which application. And I tape everything. I would rather pull tape off window and door trim than scrub off paint smears and speckles later. And if you wait too long to scrub, you’re stuck with speckles. It can take longer to tape, and to clean before taping, than it does to paint, but it is worth the effort, in my book.

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Before you tape, wash the walls, ceilings, and trim. Professionals often use a product called TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) for prepping surfaces to be painted. I have used this product, but I’ve found that clear ammonia works just as well, and I always have it in the house for multi-purpose cleaning. I mix about a cup to a gallon of hot water, and I don’t have to rinse after washing. Dennis uses a sponge to wash the walls; I use a rag. Change the water frequently, because the cleaner the walls are, the better your new paint or primer will adhere. Paint does not stick well to dirt. (Don’t ask me how I know this.) You might think you shouldn’t have to wash your trim if you’re not painting it, but you want the tape to stick so no paint runs underneath, and tape won’t stick to dirt or kitchen grease.

Don’t forget to tape off your baseboards unless you are replacing them or painting them the same color as the walls. We are replacing our pine baseboards that matched the old cabinets with oak ones that will match the new floor, so Dennis pulled all the baseboards. They are just pin-nailed, so they come off very easily. If you pull out your baseboards, and your kitchen is a dirt magnet like mine, you’ll need to wash that space too, because there will be a dirty line where dust sifts down behind the baseboard. Also remove the outlet and switch plate covers if you can and wash around them. You don’t want any dirt or grease to get onto your brush and into your paint. If the covers are caulked, tape them off instead of removing them. We had one that was caulked and three that weren’t! (They will all be caulked when this is over.)

Finally, cover the counters, the fridge, the sink, stove, ovens, anything else you don’t want to scrub tiny paint splatters off of, and the floor. You can buy a roll of thin plastic sheeting that works well for shielding the floors and large appliances. I have some old cotton sheets from my kids’ twin beds when they were little (boy, you can’t beat an old cotton sheet for durability) that I use for drop cloths. I also have some plastic mattress covers from the days when the grandkids were babies and some old shower curtains that I’ve saved for drop cloths. (Yeah, I’m chintzy.) When you roll a wall or ceiling with paint, tiny droplets fly off the roller and land on any surface below. If this happens, you can scrub the paint off with a plastic net scrubber and a little Dawn dish soap, and it will come off very easily when it’s fresh, but if you cover, you won’t have to scrub.

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When the walls and ceiling are clean, dry, and all the trim and counters, etc. are taped and covered, you’re ready to paint. Don’t forget to stir your paint thoroughly before you begin.

At this point, I should probably say a word or many about tools. Buy a decent paintbrush. A good paintbrush with a thin edge will give you a nice edge. Ask for a cut-in brush when you buy your paint. For the newbies, cutting-in refers to the process of painting the corners and around the trim with a paintbrush, because you can’t get into those spots with a roller. A good paintbrush makes painting so much easier. A good paintbrush is worth washing out. I hate cleaning paintbrushes—hate, hate, hate it, but I will wash out a good paintbrush. For some things, I use foam brushes and throw them away, but not for a big job like the whole kitchen.

I feel exactly the opposite about roller covers. There is no roller cover worth washing in my book. If you want to buy a roller cover so expensive that it must be washed out rather than thrown away, well, you go right ahead. As for me, I will stick with the cheapies that can be tossed when I’m done with them. Quite some years back, when we did the work in the living room, our friend, Lyndon, who did the drywall and texture work on the ceiling, talked Dennis into buying a lambswool roller cover. Lyndon had been a professional drywaller and painter in another life, and he swore by this thing. I refuse to use it because I will not wash it out. However, if I am painting on consecutive days, I will put my paint-soaked roller cover in a gallon-size Ziploc bag and stash it in the fridge, because if you keep the air off the cover and keep it cool, you can use it again the next day. Without washing!

I wrote a post recently about our disposable culture, but I will admit that I am glad some things, like cheap roller covers and foam brushes, are disposable.

You’ll need a ladder or a step-ladder or a bench scaffold, also sometimes called a painter’s bench. If you don’t have these things, they can often be rented at tool rental places.

If you’re painting a ceiling, and you’re scared of ladders or don’t have a tall enough one, buy a long-handled roller. I cannot handle these myself—they are just too unwieldy for me and my damaged hands, but I’m not afraid of climbing up on the ladder if I have to. Fortunately, I have Dennis, so I don’t usually have to. It helps to have two people painting, one to roll and one to do the cut-in, but I have painted many a room all by myself. I like to do the cutting-in first when I’m painting by myself, one wall at a time. When I paint with Dennis, I just try to stay ahead of him.

One more tip concerns painting the ceiling. I’m in favor of painting the ceiling the same color as the walls, because it is so much easier when you are cutting in, but this doesn’t work well when you are using a dark color on the walls and a light color on the ceiling. Unless you have really high ceilings in a really bright room, you don’t want a dark color on your ceiling. It will shrink the room. So there are tools you can buy, edgers and shields and such, or you can use a piece of thin cardboard, like card stock, which you hold up to the wall while you use a sharp-edged cut-in brush to put a lighter color on the ceiling. The cardboard helps keep the light paint off the darker walls. You can use the same piece of cardboard to shield the ceiling from the darker wall paint, so that you don’t have to cover up dark smudges on the ceiling. Make sure whatever paint is on the cardboard is dry before you switch to another color!

You will also need plenty of soft cotton rags. Old cotton underwear and tee shirts are great for cleaning up after painting, staining, finishing because they don’t leave lint behind. Always have a wet cloth handy for cleaning up drips of paint immediately. Wet paint is much easier to clean up than paint that has dried, and paint dries fast.

That’s my final painting tip. Drying times really vary depending on the type of paint you’re using, the temperature and humidity levels in the house (or outside if you’re painting the exterior), and the condition of the surface. The paint can will give you guidelines about drying times. My experience has been that it’s best to let paint dry for several hours, even overnight, before you decide if you need a second coat. Wet paint always looks streaky. Semi-dry paint often looks streaky. Let the paint dry the full time specified on the can before you re-coat, if necessary.

Dennis and I painted the kitchen on Friday and gave the ceiling a second coat on Saturday, and if this paint last as long as the previous paint job did, we shouldn’t have to do it again in our lifetimes.

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Painting is a lot of work, but it’s not difficult.  I can’t see spending mucho moolah hiring a professional to do something that’s easily done ourselves.  If you haven’t painted before, take the plunge into your first gallon of paint.  It’s really satisfying to see that fresh color go up on the walls.

Did I miss anything or get something wrong? Experienced painters, chime in. Inexperienced painters, ask questions. We’ll try to answer them.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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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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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