WATERSHED is a reality at last. To order my second book of poems, please go to https://foldedword.bigcartel.com/product/watershed . I would write more, but I’m in Alaska, and it’s difficult on my phone.
I’ve been working for several months on a project that was at the head of my list of priorities and projects for this year. Before I could start on the big pass-through countertop juniper slab, I needed to refinish a set of dining room chairs that belonged to my mother-in-law, Virginia, and which go with the table presently in my kitchen. The table has been in continuous use in the house since it was moved here some twenty years ago, but the chairs had been languishing in the barn, getting ever more worn and decrepit with the years. I moved them to the barn twenty years ago because there was no room for them in the house, and by the time we cleaned out the barn in the fall of 2016 so that we could put a roof on it, the chairs were in bad shape. I decided that I had to try to restore them, and I put them on the deck, under the porch, where I intended to work on them during the winter of 2017. My plan was to begin sanding and stripping them after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
Flu intervened early in 2017, and then two more illnesses followed that took months to diagnose and treat, and it was October of 2017 before I was on the road to health again. Of course, by then there were all the “getting ready for winter” chores to do, the end of the garden harvest to deal with, and then the holidays again, and it took every ounce of energy I had to get through those things. The chairs had, at that point, been sitting on the deck for over a year. One had a split leg, one had a broken arm (side rail on the top of the frame), and one had severe joint arthritis, and all were weathered, dry, splintery, and looked as if a squirrel had been chewing on them in the barn. They all had my sympathy.
Finally, in January 2018, during the mildest winter we’ve had here in many years, I began to work on the chairs. Because of the arthritis in my hands, I was only able to spend a couple of hours a day sanding and stripping. But every day I could, I was out working on those chairs. They were so badly damaged, there were times I despaired of getting them smooth. I thought sometimes I was going to sand right through a piece of wood before I got to the point where I stopped raising splinters. The original finish, some kind of varnish, was worn, but stubborn, and had penetrated into the open grain of the wood. I sanded and sanded. I used a small palm sander when I could, hand-sanded when necessary, over and over and over. I got sick of those chairs, I can tell you. There were five of them, instead of the original six belonging to the set. One of the captain’s chairs went to a family member years ago and was disposed of when no longer needed. I wished at first for the full set, but by the time I finished the fifth chair, I was glad I didn’t have another one to do.
It took months to sand off the old varnish, strip the backs where the fine detail made sanding impossible, then fine sand again. All of this had to be done outside, so the worrisome dry winter was something of a blessing for this project. I worked on the lower deck, under a roof, bundled up when it was cold. I had to figure out ways to save my back while I was sanding, including sitting in patio chair, and balancing the dining chair on my thighs and shoulders.
I didn’t work when it was really windy or when the temperature dropped below freezing, but I was out there on lots of days when it was 35 degrees. Sanding is warm work. When it came time to strip the backs of the chairs, I had a problem. I don’t have a workshop, and you can’t use stripper outside at 35 or 40 degrees. It just doesn’t activate and loosen the finish. I needed a space I could heat to at least 60 degrees. I tried the pump house first, but with two freezers in it, it was too crowded and rather dark. Then I thought of my greenhouse. Even when it’s chilly outside, if there’s sun, the greenhouse warms up to at least 60, and I had an extension cord already out there, so I could plug in a small heater and warm it up a bit more. I ended up stripping four of the chairs in the greenhouse, and it worked out well. It was nice and bright out there, and since I could only work a couple of hours at a time, I was usually finished before the sun went behind the trees and I lost the good light.
When I finally had the chairs sanded and stripped and finish sanded, and we had completed some structural repairs on several of the chairs, mending what was broken with screws and glue, it was time to apply a new finish.
For the finish, I wanted to use a product I’d used before, years before, on some benches I bought unfinished. It was called Bartley Gel Varnish, a rub-on finish that was so easy to work with and has held up very well on my benches. Unfortunately, the company had been bought out some years back, and the finish went out of production for a while. I took a chair down to the local hardware store, The Woodsmith, to talk to Norm about it, since he was the one who’d turned me on to Bartley’s and sold me my first can of finish all those years ago. I wanted to ask his opinion of the wood in the chairs anyway. He thought the wood might be beech. He said definitely not oak, which I also knew. The grain and softness of the wood is all wrong for oak, we both believe. As for the finish, he said Bartley’s was being manufactured again by the company that bought Bartley’s, and I should be able to find it online, although he could not buy it for the shop because of California regulations.
I did find the finish online, now made by Seagrave and renamed Bartley’s Clear Coat Gel Stain (bizarre contradictory renaming, and it gave me some trouble figuring out it was the same varnish), but I couldn’t get it shipped to California. It’s difficult to get some kinds of chemical products here now because of state regulations, so paints, stripping products, even cleaning products are less effective than they used to be. I ordered two quarts of finish (thinking ahead to other projects and the cost of shipping) and had them sent to my daughter’s house in Reno. I picked them up about a week later. Then it was time to turn my living room into a woodshop.
The beauty of this finish is that it is a thick, wipe-on finish that gives a gorgeous, fairly hard, hand-rubbed glow to the wood. It doesn’t run or drip like polyurethane. Because of that feature, I could spread old sheets and towels on my oak floor in the living room and not worry about messing up the floor. The finish is also not terribly strong-smelling, so all I had to do was crack the living room door and open a window, and keep the air circulating. The other beautiful thing about the Bartley gel finish is that you do not have to sand between coats as you do with poly. It also dries very quickly, so you can do three coats in a day if you want to. I generally put on a coat in the middle of the day, and another one at night, or a coat at night, and another in the morning, whatever worked best with my schedule that day. It’s a rub on, rub in and off process, so it goes very quickly. I worked with one chair at a time, because by the time I was done bending to coat that chair, my back did not want me to bend any more for a while. I did plop a little finish onto my floor a couple of times, and it wiped right up and never left any hint it had been there. But the chairs took on a beautiful golden glow. I used two coats on most of them, but on a couple of the chairs, the ones with the most badly damaged wood, I used two coats to stabilize the wood, then lightly sanded the slightly rough spots and recoated a third time. They feel like satin to the touch now.
As I was preparing to finish the varnishing, Dennis and I contacted the local upholsterer, George. He’s retired now, but he still works on cars and does some furniture when he’s needed. George gave me two books of upholstery material to look at, but they all looked like car upholstery to me. That wasn’t what I wanted. I looked at various materials, and I really started to panic a bit, thinking I wasn’t going to find anything that was just right. Then George told me to go to Mill Ends in Reno. It’s what it sounds like, a warehouse of fabric mill ends. I’d been there before, years ago, for another project, but I’d forgotten about it. I found a piece I loved almost right away at Mill Ends, and it only cost $25!
These chairs were originally covered in a red plastic fabric you’d have seen on diner chairs and booth benches in the ’40s and ’50s (and into the ’60s because the stuff was tough). The pattern was called “ice,” we were told at Mill Ends. I wanted something deep red, because that’s the accent color in my kitchen, and it had to coordinate with my kitchen window valance, sewn for me years ago by my friend, Paula. I love the apple print, and I love how Paula crafted the valance, and so the chair seats needed to look good with that valance. The upholstery fabric I found was made of recycled leather with a vinyl top in a deep red diamond pattern, very retro looking, which is what I wanted, given the age of these mid-century modern style chairs, and most important, easy to clean. Food dropped on them will wipe right off with no staining. This was perfect for chairs that’ll be used in the kitchen by the family. After a short delay while we waited for foam padding, George got to work and recovered the seats beautifully. In the meantime, I cut out stick-on felt pads for the bottoms of the chair legs to protect the new floor in the kitchen. I was so happy the day Dennis brought the seats home from George’s shop, I sent him a jar of apple butter as an extra thank-you.
We had a bit of trouble getting the seats back on the chairs. Dennis had started to number them when he took them off, but then he got distracted and didn’t number three of them. We had a time figuring out which seats went on which chairs, and it was important because they were attached by several screws, and the holes had to line up. He also found several holes that had wallowed out and had to be repaired. George had a tip for that. You pour glue in the screw holes, then jam several matchsticks into the hole. When the glue dries, you can insert the screws, and they’ll be tight. When we matched the seats to the chairs, and after replacing some screws that were so long, they might have punctured the new upholstery, Dennis got the seats reattached, and the chairs were moved into the kitchen and placed around the table. Done! Success! Finally!
This project would probably have taken somebody who isn’t disabled no more than a couple of weeks, outside the time it took to find the fabric and have the seats recovered. Somebody with undamaged hands could probably have done the upholstering herself. The whole project took me about two months. During that two months, I had a lot of time to think about these chairs, and why I was putting so much time and energy into them. I love doing this kind of work, but it isn’t easy for me, and sometimes it is downright painful. So why do I bother? Why was I bothering with these particular chairs that were so badly damaged?
Part of the reason I bothered was because they belonged to my mother-in-law. I’ve written about this before. Virginia and I had a complicated relationship. I was never quite good enough for her only son, and I knew it because she made sure I knew it. It’s hard to like someone who makes you feel that way, but I respected her for many reasons, and I grieved for her when she died. She had a lot of courage, and I admired her for that. Widowed when Dennis was only seven years old, already diagnosed with a disease that would cause slow, but complete, physical deterioration over the course of her long lifetime, Virginia persevered. She never gave up on life. In that respect, she was a wonderful role model for me, and I have appreciated her example. Dennis and I naturally ended up with a lot of her things, and I’ve tried to honor her memory by preserving and displaying most of them.
Even though Virginia’s style was not to my taste, she had good taste, and the things she bought were of good quality. The mid-century modern style of her dining table and chairs is not my favorite style; although I do like it, I really prefer older pieces, true antiques, and I like rustic. But these pieces were well-made. Dennis, his sisters, and his niece and nephews grew up eating at that table while sitting in those chairs. I just couldn’t bring myself to send those chairs to the dump. Even though it would have been easier, I’d never have been easy in my mind about that. So the other part of the reason I bothered with these chairs is that I just can’t bear to throw away something I know I can restore and make useful and beautiful again. And the chairs were in such bad shape, I don’t even think I could have given them away as they were. I felt obliged, by some freak or fault in my own nature, to keep them and restore them and love them.
One day, when I was working on a chair, I said to Dennis, “These chairs better not end up at the dump after I’m gone!” He said, “Well, I won’t dump them.” And I said, “The kids better not either, after all the work I’ve put into them.” But I had a lot of time to think about that as I was sanding, stripping, and finishing the chairs. And what I’ve ended up thinking is that nobody should feel under any obligation to keep these chairs if they don’t like them. I know mid-mod is not my daughter’s style, nor is it my daughter-in-law’s style. Why should they have to live with a style that’s not what they like best just because I have made that choice? They shouldn’t. My choices are my own. I make the best of what I find and what I have, and I love these chairs now because I have made them beautiful again. But that doesn’t mean my kids need to make that same choice.
When I am gone, I won’t care about where these chairs end up. However, having put months of work into them, making them pretty and usable again, I’m pretty sure somebody will want them. I think they’re safe from the dump for many years. And that’s really all that matters.
As many of you know, the loss of my friend, Leslie Jordan Clary, in September has hit me very hard. Writing was so much a part of our relationship, and it’s been difficult for me to write without dissolving into tears as I think of how much I miss my friend, every single day. But life does go on, and I know Leslie would want me to keep writing.
I thank all of you who expressed your love and support for me in this loss. It took me months to respond because I had a hard time coming back to this site that Leslie helped me create. But writing here also helps me remember good times with Leslie as she taught me how to set this thing up.
Life does not stop for grief. Work helps us get through grief, and I have been working at many things I want to share, eventually, with those who want to see and hear. So I will be back, soon.
After the unexpected death of my dear friend, Leslie Jordan Clary, on September 7th of this year, I had to withdraw from Facebook and the online world for a time. I tried to let my friends and family know how to reach me, but it was impossible to let everyone know. I appreciate all those who reached out to me via email or Messenger. The love you shared was palpable.
I have lost other loved ones before, my mother, aunts and uncles, grandparents. But never a close friend. And never before have I lost a loved one so shockingly, just out of the blue. Leslie suffered an aneurysm and never regained consciousness. I did not know of her passing until I read about it on Facebook a day after life support was terminated.
Leslie and I met at the University of Nevada, Reno, when I was in the second year of my Master’s program in English, and she was just starting hers. We hit it off instantly. We discovered that we both lived in Lassen County, only 14 miles apart, and we began to car pool the 150-mile round-trip to UNR as often as our schedules allowed. We were both 30-something mothers with kids close in age. We were aspiring writers. We were nature lovers who enjoyed hikes in the desert and the mountains together. We had very different backgrounds and belief systems, but that didn’t matter in the least. We became the closest of friends and writing buddies. We read and commented on nearly everything the other wrote for many years. Leslie helped me set up the website on which this blog appears. I’d never have done it without her, but she helped me, encouraged me, led me, taught me how to make it happen.
Leslie was a restless spirit with itchy feet. She liked to move around, live in new places, experience other cultures. When her family moved to San Diego, we stayed in touch via email and occasional phone calls, sending each other poems, stories, and essays to read, but we didn’t see each other during that time. Then her parents passed away one after the other within a very short time, and she decided that she needed to get away from her present life. She spent three years in China, teaching English part of the time, free-lance writing for various gemstone and jewelry and travel magazines part of the time, traveling to different parts of Asia for free-lance assignments. She also traveled in Mongolia with her then-husband, Bob Clary. She’d also developed photography skills for her assignments, and she took many beautiful photographs during her journeys. When she came back to the states, she started teaching more classes online for National University and developing curriculum for them. Eventually, she and Bob separated, and Leslie returned to live in Lassen County. She worked for a time at the local college, won a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Northern India, and stayed there for several months. She wrote quite a bit about that experience in her blog, “Cloud and Mountain.” Many pieces of writing came out of that Indian trip, and she began to think about a book project, which we discussed many times.
After leaving Lassen College in what were shameful circumstances on the part of the college administration, Leslie worked at the local paper as a reporter and began to develop a stronger free-lance presence in the magazine industry. Eventually, she quit the newspaper and began to free-lance full time while continuing to teach online for National University. At the same time, Leslie began to deal with some events and memories from childhood which had shaped her life in ways she was only beginning to understand. In an effort to gain clarity, she began to study Buddhism and eventually took the Buddhist precepts. Buddhist practice gave her an unprecedented calm and focus, and she began to write about those troubling experiences from childhood.
About that same time, while still teaching online and free-lancing, Leslie began a new business. She had become interested in making topical cannabis products for health purposes, particularly for people suffering from arthritis. She went through all the legal processes to license and register her business and began making and selling salves through cannabis dispensaries and to those who had a valid California medical marijuana card. She believed in the efficacy of her products and knew that they helped people in pain, and she felt so good about her business, Leafy Botanicals, and put a tremendous amount of effort into making it grow. Just this summer, Leslie told me that she felt she’d finally found her purpose and calling in life.
I remember that moment so clearly. We were sitting in the sun on the front brick steps of her house, with our feet on the wooden deck where we’d practiced tai chi together when she first taught me. We were looking at the herb garden she was creating in the rock pile that formed her front yard. I’d given her many of those plants from my herb garden, and in fact I’d stopped by that day to bring her some Johnny Jump-up seeds. She was exploring ways to incorporate many different healing herbs into her cannabis salves and oils. Earlier that spring, we’d both gathered dandelion blossoms, I to make a tincture to use in I wasn’t sure what, she to incorporate into her salves. “I love what I’m doing,” she said on that bright July day. “It just feels right, like I’ve come home in myself.” That was the last time I saw her.
Only a couple of months later, Leslie was gone. I could not believe it at first, and then I was thrown into a maelstrom of grief and loss. Leslie was my closest friend in Lassen County. She was someone I could talk with about anything, and we did talk about everything: our men, our kids, our faiths, our politics, our worries, our joys. We didn’t always share the same point of view about everything, but it didn’t matter because we loved each other, and there was never any rancor if we disagreed about something. We appreciated the differences of our viewpoints. Leslie also had a great sense of humor and a strong perception of irony, so we laughed about everything. There were many times we laughed so hard we cried.
I cried a lot the first few weeks after Leslie’s death. I’m weeping as I write these words because I miss her so much, and I know I always will. A few weeks ago, Leslie’s stepdaughter, Alia, contacted me and asked me if I wanted one of Leslie’s houseplants. Alia and her dad were at Leslie’s house, cleaning and removing the last of Leslie’s possessions, getting the house ready to rent. I drove up the next day and sat on the deck for a while with Alia and Bob, talking about memories of Leslie. It was a bittersweet time, but I’m so glad I got to know Alia a little bit and see Bob again.
Before I left with Leslie’s plant (now sitting by my big living room window), I picked some juniper berries from the trees around her house. Last fall, Leslie and I made soap together with bear fat, juniper-infused olive oil, and ground juniper berries. It came out great, and we gave a lot of it away last Christmas as gifts to our families. We’d planned to make another couple of batches this fall. She won’t be here to do it with me, but I will do it in her memory and with the memory of our laughter as we made our first batch together ringing in my ears.
I love birds. I love to watch them nesting and breeding around my place. But I don’t love what they do in my garden. I don’t mind sharing with the birds, but sometimes they ruin what they don’t completely consume. This year, they’ve gone after my ripening tomatoes.
Usually, the birds don’t bother with the tomatoes. They aren’t sweet enough to compete with plums, apricots, and berries. But this year, I don’t have any blackberries for them. This spring, Dennis and I cut my blackberry patch to the ground to renew it. There were an awful lot of huge, dead canes in the patch that just got in the way when we wanted to get in and pick. I knew we wouldn’t get any berries this year, but that’s okay because I have a small chest freezer full of berries from last year. But without the blackberries this summer, the birds are turning their attention to my ripening tomatoes.
It’s a lot of extra work to try to protect fruit from the robins and Steller’s Jays that nest around my garden and orchard and live on their bounty. As I discovered with my apricots, netting only discourages birds if they can’t perch somewhere and peck away through it. I don’t like to net tomatoes because it’s too hard to remove the netting to pick the fruit without damaging the plants. Some years ago, I tried using brown paper lunch bags to hide the tomatoes from the birds, and it works very well.
If I can slip the whole bag over the individual fruit or clusters, I can clip the bag together at the top with clothespins. If the clusters are wedged awkwardly between stems, I tear the bag and wrap it around the cluster as best I can to hide it from the birds. Wooden clothespins can be manipulated to close the tops of the bags.
I also use nylon tulle in certain situations to protect my produce from birds. I can lay it over berries or wrap it around tomatoes to protect them. In the pictures below, I took the tulle off the boysenberries and wrapped it around the bottom of the tomato cage to protect my cherry tomatoes. I’d already lost a few nearly ripe tomatoes before I realized the birds were going after them. The tulle is fastened to the tomato cage wire at the bottom and at the join with clothespins. The fruit at the bottom of the plant is ripening first, so it has to be protected first. And I had to wrap the tulle in a way that will allow pollinators to get in and pollinate the blossoms on the upper part of the plant as it grows. I can add another section of tulle as needed.
I reuse the tulle and brown paper lunch bags from year to year until they start falling apart. Sun will eventually rot out the nylon, but I have some pieces I’ve been using for ten years. It’s very dry here and rarely rains in the summer, but the paper bags will hold up though a thundershower or three. They dry out quickly here, so they don’t lead to mildew issues. (This might be a problem in humid climates.)
I also use the lunch bags for seed collecting. I can cut seed stalks of plants like kale, lettuce, heirloom carrots, dill, parsley, penstemon, and lupin, label the bags, and close them securely with masking tape. Then I stash them in a cool place and let them dry without worrying about losing the seeds. Drying seed can scatter everywhere with seed pods that pop open when dry, like petunias, snapdragons, lupins, sweet peas, and beans. If these pods are contained in paper bags, there’s no muss, no fuss when the pods pop. The bags allow air to circulate, so seed pods dry quickly. And all I have to do later is remove the stem and empty pods, re-close the bags, and store them in a cool, dry place for next year. I have plastic shoe boxes for my seed storage. I save those silica drying packets that come with things like boxes of new shoes or prescription drugs and tuck them into my plastic shoe boxes with my seeds to keep moisture to a minimum.
Brown paper bags and nylon tulle are both inexpensive ways to protect my garden produce from the depredations of the birds I love.
I love a cold, hearty salad for dinner in the summertime. I’m always on the lookout for such recipes. I went looking specifically for a lentil salad recipe because I wanted to up the fiber in my diet. Lentils are quick-cooking and full of fiber and nutrition. I found a recipe, and the flavors sounded good, but some of the method seemed odd to me. For instance, if you cooked diced carrots and onions with the lentils long enough to get the lentils tender, as the recipe dictated, the vegetables would be mush. Not very appetizing. I prefer the texture and crunch of raw veggies anyway. And there was no mint in the original recipe! What, in a Mediterranean-flavored salad, no mint? I had a small zucchini that needed using, so I diced it and put it in the salad also. I made a number of alterations in the recipe I found, and I was pleased enough with my dish to share the recipe.
Mediterranean Lentil Salad
1 cup dry lentils (any color or variety, but use all one kind) *See Note
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced
In a saucepan combine lentils, garlic, bay leaf, and thyme. Add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on variety, or until lentils are tender but not mushy. Drain lentils and remove bay leaf. Allow to cool.
1 cup diced carrots
¼ cup diced red onion
1 cup diced zucchini or cucumber
¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
(I also added about 1/4 cup of chopped chives because I had some that needed using)
Mix vegetables, herbs, and lentils together and prepare salad dressing.
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
Whisk dressing ingredients together and stir into salad. Allow to marinate and chill in fridge for a couple of hours. Crumble in ¼ – ½ cup of feta cheese and toss before serving.
Note on cooking lentils: Various colors/varieties of lentils require different cooking times. I mistakenly mixed red and green lentils, and the red ones cooked to mush before the green ones were tender. It didn’t ruin my salad, but I learned my lesson. Here’s a link to a handy guide for cooking times. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/lentils-common-varieties-and-how-to-cook-and-use-them/2014/01/07/6cf88616-74cc-11e3-8def-a33011492df2_story.html?utm_term=.4341c608503b
We sure know how to stretch out a renovation! As some may or may not remember, we started working on the kitchen at the end of January 2016. We had so many delays with the countertops, the kitchen wasn’t usable until May 2016. By then, we were busy with the garden, the spring raking and burning of pine needles, and all the other maintenance jobs involved with a three-acre property with lots of trees and old buildings on it. (Dennis and Joel put a metal roof on the old house we call the barn last fall.) So the kitchen went on hold as soon as it was usable, and the backsplash tile, mastic, and grout sat in a corner for the rest of the summer, the fall, and the winter. I really thought we’d get to it before Spring 2017, but best-laid plans and all that.
Just after Easter, Dennis finished laying the backsplash tile. I wanted to share what we learned about laying backsplash with the kind of tile we used.
The only tiling Dennis has ever done was on our hearth a decade or more ago. He used big slate tiles on that job, and it came out quite nicely. He was nervous about tiling such a large area in the kitchen: two long walls and two short end walls. I don’t have pictures of all of it because I can’t keep it all clean enough at the same time to take a picture, but I will when the entire project is finally finished. (We still have to finish the pass-through slab and install it, and repair the wall where we cut it.) This is what I call my baking station. All my flours, sugars, and other baking paraphernalia are stored in the cabinets above and below, and my vintage canisters, bread board, and stand mixer can stay here on the counter. I love my baking counter!
Because Dennis was nervous about the tile job, he thought using those 12’X12’ mosaic squares, with the tiles attached to a web backing, would be easier than laying the subway tile I wanted. He thought it would be less work and there’d be less chance of messing up the lines. Just the opposite turned out to be true. This is the small subway tile I liked.
We talked it over and decided that the best approach would be to tackle one section at a time, get the tile up and grouted, before moving on to the next section. That way, not all the counter space would be out of commission at the same time, and it would help to avoid having all the kitchen counter paraphernalia (canisters, toaster, bread board, coffee maker—you know, all that stuff you keep on your counters) in a pile in the living room. (The living room has enough piles already.)
So Dennis started on my baking station. It’s about a six-foot long section of counter. He covered the counter top and started applying mastic to a small section. We’d been advised to use mastic rather than thin-set because we were going over a painted surface instead of tile board. Mastic dries out faster than thin-set, so you have to work quickly or work in small sections. Dennis soon found out he wasn’t going to be working quickly.
The tile we chose, once subway tiles were off the board, was a 12’X12’ mat of small 2” square tiles. They were reasonably priced at Floor and Décor, and they looked good with the granite countertop, a classic, plain backdrop for a rather busy stone counter.
Dennis was happy. He thought he could put up a mat, put the tile spacers at each corner of the mat, and then put up another mat, and so on, keeping the lines straight with the spacers around the mats. He thought it would go pretty fast. He got all that first section up, painstakingly slowly (a whole day of labor), trying to get it right, let it dry the required time, and then grouted it. And that’s when all the mistakes showed up.
Lines between mats were crooked, lines within the mats were differing widths. There were places so bad, he had to remove tiles and mats and redo it. He re-tiled about a third of that first section. He learned that when working with mats of tiles that will eventually have grout lines between them, you have to put a spacer in between every single tile. You can’t depend on the mat to space the tiles evenly. (It might be different with glass strip mosaic tiles. I don’t know. I didn’t like any of those with my busy countertops.) As you can see in the picture above of the mat, the tiles are not necessarily perfectly applied to the mat. Each mat contains 36 tiles. I can’t even remember how many bags of spacers he went through before, near the end, our son came over and said, “Oh, Dad, you’re supposed to take those out. They make a little hook thingy to pull them with.” By that time, all but the section behind the stove and the short wall under the pass-through were done. Grouted over. I said, “Heck with it. Leave them in. You have enough to finish, and they are small enough to grout over.” We couldn’t see them at all after the grout was applied. Here is the worst part of the baking station after the repairs were made and the tile grouted. I’m happy with it.
Dennis finally admitted that laying subway tile would probably have been easier and less time-consuming. I think it took him two weeks to completely finish the job with caulk in the seam between the tile and the edge finishing product we used. (It’s nice that all this stuff, grout and caulk, comes color-matched.) The edging strip is made of PVC and creates a finished edge for tiles which don’t come with bullnose or tapered edge pieces. (We thought of edging after we’d purchased ten boxes of tiles for which bullnose was not available!) This edging is made by Schluter Systems, and it was fairly easy to use, Dennis said. It gives a finished look to the backsplash and was inexpensive compared to bullnose tile. The edging goes up on the mastic and the last row of tiles goes over the bottom of the edging.
In general, I really like the way the backsplash tile and dark grout look against the granite countertops and the light oak cabinets with their dark hardware. The tile job isn’t perfect, but the tile in my daughter’s brand-new house, which was laid by professionals, isn’t perfect either. In the end, Dennis took the time to fix his worst mistakes, and the kitchen walls look very nice. More importantly, when I start making jam this summer, I’m going to be able to clean that backsplash easily instead of scrubbing paint (along with jam) off the walls.
Next, we have to start cutting and finishing the pass-through countertop and shelves. That’s going to be a big job, because it’s a big juniper slab. We may be working on that for several months. Wish us luck!