That was Fast

This summer is going to be recorded in our family history books as one of the busiest and fastest moving summers we have ever had.  I feel like I have barely blinked and two months have passed by.  Another thing I discovered this week as I opened up this blog for the first time in weeks is that this blog is five years old!  Amazing how the months roll by.  At the time, so many moments seem to last longer than they should, but in hindsight I wish they had lasted longer.  Oh well.  C’est la vie.  I will try not to waste my time in past regrets, just like I won’t waste your time by going on about how I did not mean to be gone from the blog so long.  The truth is, we all have to do what we need to do in the time that we have and sometimes we have time for extra things and sometimes we don’t.  My goal is just to be grateful for what I am doing right this minute, which is talking to you, and also to be grateful that you are spending your precious time listening.  Thank you.

Sunset.  #vacay #beachtime #betterthanfireworks #nofilter

Beach time.  #vacay #knittersofinstagram

One berry two berry, pick me a blackberry.  #summerfruit #berrypicking #familyfun #vacay

Last beach day.  #vacay #beachtime

Now, onward.  To kind of celebrate the five year birthday of this blog, I’ve created a new tab at the top of the page here for recipes.  Hopefully, when you click on that, you will find a nice tidy list of recipes with hyperlinkies attached that I have posted over the past five years.  They are separated into categories that I hope will be helpful if you are looking to make a particular type of food.


Really loving the rose garden in Balboa Park.  #sandiego #beautifulday

Dessert.  #creamistry #supersmooth #liquidnitrogen

Japanese fries, breakfast crepes, and tacos.  #foodtrucklove #yummy #socal #eatingourwaythroughCA

It was fun to go through all my past recipes.  There’s lots of cake and jam and cookies, lol!  It’s really amazing to think about how much sugar and butter we have gone through in the past five years as well.  People often remark that they wonder how we stay so skinny with all the goodies I make.  Well, all I can say is that we have two growing boys who are very active and they keep us active and busy enough that a piece of cake or bread treat a day isn’t going to make us fat.  Also, we try to keep our portions small and I utilize a big deep freezer for extras.  We hardly eat any packaged foods, which also means any treats we eat we usually make ourselves.  Sometimes, we share as well!

Lunch at the beach. #vacay #beachtime #yummy #justneedamargarita

The photos above were taken on our various travels lately, which included visiting both coasts of the continent.  Thankfully, for the next few weeks, we are at home and experiencing our first New England summer.  (Even though we were here last summer, it did not really count as a summer for us as we were stressed with moving and new home and job stuff.)  The first thing we did when we got back was to enjoy the local produce.

I hope to have some more inspiration and ideas to share with you soon.  In the meantime, enjoy the new tab with all the recipe links!




Good for Now

Many people have been asking me lately if the kitchen is finished and the answer is yes.  And no.  Officially, according to the building department of our town, we are finished.  We had our final building inspection last Friday and we passed easily.  In a lot of ways it is true that the kitchen is finished.  All of our appliances are working, the plumbing is all functional, and the cabinets are all full.  (that last one took at least of week of unpacking and organizing to accomplish)

There are still some things that remain undone, though, most of which are cosmetic.  For example, we still need to replace the window trim.  It has to be remade because the old stuff won’t fit anymore over the extra layer of drywall that was added when the plasterer came to do his work.

There are also some trim panels that still need to be put up to hide unsightly bits of hardware and gaps behind cabinets. We are also contemplating putting up a decorative panel on the side of the peninsula next to the doors. It just looks a bit blank there. We’re not sure how that would work with the options that Ikea has, however. They do sell decorative panels, but they are flat and pretty boring, which is sort of what we have already. Another option is to buy a matching door and mount it instead so that it would at least match our cabinet fronts. My guess is that we will wait awhile to decide because none of us are really eager to make another trip to Ikea anytime soon.

Two other big things that you will notice that still need to be done are the toe kicks and the flooring. Those sort of go together and since we probably will not be doing the flooring for at least a year due to budgetary constraints, the toe kicks will have to wait as well.

The kitchen has seen a good bit of action already as a site for science experiments. I’ll be honest and tell you that I did not jump into the kitchen right away and start cooking and baking a lot. It took me a couple of weeks to get myself and the kitchen organized. It turns out that not doing something for a couple of months can really break some habits, such as cooking!

One of my favorite features about the kitchen layout is how we can open the dishwasher and unload most of our dishes and silverware right into the cabinet that faces it. The boys especially love this since it is their job to unload.

Now that I have used them for a little while, I have really been enjoying the new appliances, especially the stove. It’s wonderful how the burners light up right away and pots of water actually come to a boil.  Our old stove did neither one of those things.

I have yet to take the oven through all its paces, but so far, it has baked cookies, cakes, a few loaves of pan bread and a cobbler quite nicely. It has yet to be subject to my high temperature baking or any broiling, but I have no reason to doubt that it will do well.

Another thing that I love about the kitchen is the number of electrical outlets! It’s wonderful to be able to plug things in at multiple locations and not have to juggle them all out of one or two sockets.

So, this is about as finished as the kitchen is going to get for the time being and I am OK with that. We did enough home improvement work in the two months that it took to get to this point to last us for quite awhile. For now, we are just going to enjoy the fruits of our labors and get to the other things once we have the proper motivation. In the meantime, as you can imagine, we have a lot of other things to catch up on that we have been quite neglecting, not the least of which is the lawn.  It’s almost the end of May and we have yet to mow the lawn once.  I say we, but it’s really the husband.  Poor guy has lost of lot of sleep and time over the kitchen and now he has to go straight to yard work.  Home ownership is a lot of work!

Mostly Functional

If you are following me on Facebook or Instagram, you will know this already, but I will repeat it here. We have a working kitchen again!! Woohooo! From the first day of demolition to last Tuesday when we had the plumber came to hook up the dishwasher, oven, and sink, we had 49 total days without the use of our kitchen. We had many a late night working on the kitchen, but as we all knew it would be from the beginning, it was worth it in the end.

So, let me catch you up on what has happened since the wall cabinets were installed.

The first big thing was installing the countertops. I think I did mention there was some drama about our countertops in an earlier post. The last time we talked counters, I showed you a picture of one of the slabs that we picked. Here it is again so you don’t have to go searching back.

The second slab was supposed to be a bookmatch to that one, meaning it would be a mirror image. We saw it at the warehouse and confirmed that it did indeed look like the bookmatch. Both those slabs were put on hold and the numbers were sent to our fabricator.

We then had to delay our schedule by a week at that point because we knew we could not get the cabinets installed in time. In the meantime, our slabs were supposed to be ordered by the fabricator and then delivered to them. All seemed fine. We got our base cabinets installed and the fabricator came to make the template for our counters. The next day, I went to place the templates on the slabs. Everything still seemed fine until they moved the top slab and revealed the second slab that was delivered.

And here is the first one.

Kitchen renovation day 42:  Placing the counter templates on the slabs was fun.  #kitchenremodel #gettingexcitednow #thegraniteplace #canyouseethewolfshead?

Hmmm, the boys and I agreed that they were really different from each other and one was very different from the slabs we had chosen. Despite some niggling doubts, we went ahead and placed the templates, but as soon as I got home, I checked my photos and slab numbers. That’s when I discovered that the warehouse had sent the wrong slabs. Neither one of the slabs was a match to the ones I had ordered! One of them was from the same lot, but it was not the same number. The second slab that looked very different was from another lot altogether.

What followed was a couple of hours of discussions back and forth with my fabricator with photos being texted back and forth. There were calls from my fabricator to the warehouse. It turns out that one of the slabs that I had picked had a crack in it and could not be sold. Or at least that’s what the warehouse said. So instead of calling anyone to let us know, they sent a slab from an entirely different lot of stone? And that doesn’t explain what happened to the other slab I ordered, for which we never got an explanation. At this point, my fabricator was saying that if they did not have the slabs by the next day, they would have to reschedule. Which would mean delaying the completion of the kitchen. Fortunately, the one slab that the warehouse sent was close enough to the ones I picked that we decided to keep it if they could find the next one in line. Natural stone slabs are cut like slices of bread. You know how awkward it is to make a sandwich with slices that aren’t right next to each other? Well, stone slabs can vary quite a lot, even in the same “loaf”, so if you need more than one slab, it is best to choose adjacent slices. Fortunately for us, they had the next slab in line, and they were willing to ship the next day (it was their mistake after all). Here it is.

That afternoon of stress actually marked the beginning of the phase of Kitchen renovation that I am calling “Project Fatigue”. Up until this point, regardless of the obstacle, I still felt energetic and enthusiastic and ok with spending all my waking energy on the kitchen. However, after the incident with the counters, I was decidedly ready to be done with it. Thankfully, at that point, we really were nearing the end of the project. After a few more days, the fabricator came to install the counters.

Unfortunately, we have a lot of steps, so the guys had to roll the counter over the grassy hill in front of our house.

We were really impressed that they were able to cut the counters and install them without any seams.

What a transformation! It’s hard to know when you are designing a kitchen and picking out all the things that go into it whether or not they will all look good together. It’s even more stressful because there is a lot of money involved in making these decisions, which is why the problem with the warehouse was a big deal. It all worked out in the end, though, and we love the counters.

Kitchen renovation day 48:  countertops today!  Woohoo!!! #kitchenremodel #soapstone #gettingexcitednow

My advice to you if you are still in the planning stages of your project is to stay on top of all the details. Don’t assume everyone is doing what they should be doing and don’t be afraid to ask to check on any detail. It’s your project and your money that is paying them after all.

After the counters were in, I had one more loooong day with the plumber. I won’t go into the details of that day here if you don’t mind. Suffice it to say that it was the cherry on top of my week of “Project Fatigue” and it was a day of torture for me. I think I just want to forget that day and focus on other things now.

Like what a joy it is to have running water in the kitchen and a working dishwasher.

Those are the things we missed the most. Well, I did miss baking a little bit.

We still have some things to finish up before we can call the kitchen officially done, but it’s mostly fun stuff like organizing cabinets.  Next time, I will try to show you some better pictures of the kitchen as a whole because it really is an amazing difference.



Going Vertical

Our original plan with this kitchen was to forego wall cabinets all together.  If you have looked around at modern designs for kitchens lately, many of them have few or no wall cabinets.  Some have open shelving instead, but a clean, open look is a popular look for kitchens nowadays.  We liked the idea of opening up the feel of our kitchen a bit since there is only one little window and it s a north facing window.  The kitchen is the smallest and darkest room of the house (not counting the bathrooms), which makes me sad because I spend so much time there.

However, this plan did not work out for us because of one primary reason: the hood/mode of ventilation.  We did not know ahead of time whether we would be able to install a vent over the stove that would exhaust to the outside world.  Our dream was that we could, but once we removed everything, we found that it was not be possible without relocating the stove entirely.  This would involve relocating something else and then running the gas line to a different place.  All this would add up and since we were trying to sort of stick to a budget, we ruled it out.

This is what kitchen renovation is about: making decisions and compromising on what you would love to have with what you can live with.  We’ve lived with a recirculating vent for years and, though we don’t love it, we are used to its problems, so it was not a tough choice.

Decisions made also impact other decisions that have to be made and so it was the case with this one as well.  Because we chose to go back to a recirculating vent, we also chose to go with a microwave hood.  This would help us gain back some counter space but also meant that we would have to install a cabinet above the microwave hood.

So, you see where this is going, right?  Once we realized we would have to install one cabinet for the microwave hood appliance, we knew we would have to fill at least that one wall with cabinets because it would just look odd to have one cabinet with a microhood under it floating on a wall.

We decided to keep it to one wall, though, and Not turn the corner as many others would because I really wanted to keep the space next to the window free to let in as much light as possible.  I can tell you that it must seem strange to everyone because everyone who has come into the house has assumed we would turn the corner.

We did spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out what to do with the corner so that it would not just be wasted space.  As you can see there is a gap under the soffit and next to the wall cabinets that was open and blank.

Fortunately, Ikea makes a nine inch wine bottle cabinet that matched the color of our cabinets and fit perfectly in that gap.  However, it is a bit long and hangs down past the bottom of our other cabinets.  We thought about cutting it down, but it is a made of a different material than the main cabinets and we were unsure whether it would be as easy to put back together.  Since we did not want a Humpty-Dumpty situation on our hands which would require yet another trip to the giant blue and yellow building, we decided to keep it as is, except we installed it upside down.  On purpose!  Really!  We don’t drink much wine and it would be too high to store wine bottles anyway, so my plan is to put cutting boards and smaller baking pans up there.

The microhood itself was quite a pain to install, but unlike many things in this kitchen, this was mostly our doing.  To achieve that space that I wanted between the counter and the wall cabinets, we had to stack two cabinet sizes from Ikea.  This meant that our hood, if we installed it the standard way, would be either too high or too close to the stove.  Well, I can tell you that too close is really a pain.  The one that we removed was only 16 inches above the stove and I was always running into it with the handles of my ladles or hitting it with my pots and pans.  If we had to go one way or the other, I would prefer higher.

However, the husband did not like the idea of the microhood living above the level of the cabinets next to it.  I can see his point.  Those cabinets would tend to get dirtier and be hard to clean.  The only other choice was to design some way to install the microhood at a level that would bring it down even with the wall cabinets.

Thankfully, between the two of us, we still had a few working brain cells and we devised something.

It took us a few days to figure it out and we needed three people working together to do it, but it was worth the effort.

Also, on a side note, if you are considering Ikea cabinets with a microhood, be aware that their cabinets are deeper than the standard 12 inches.  They are more like 15.5.  In order to open the microwave door, it will have to be installed to clear the cabinets, which meant for us that we also had to move it out an inch and a half.  This was easily done by attaching two thicknesses of plywood to the back wall.

And now we have half of the appliances in the kitchen hooked up! Don’t worry about those unsightly blocks of wood. We have some decorative trim pieces to hide them. More to come soon.

On the Level

Kitchen renovation is not for the faint hearted.  Even if you are not doing any of the work yourself, it is still a roller coaster of decision making, crisis management, and active problem solving.  There is no such thing as an effortless kitchen remodel, just as there is no such thing as a perfectly level wall, floor, or ceiling.  While I am at it, there seems to also be no such thing as a kitchen remodel that comes within the original budget.  Maybe someone out there has done it, but if you have, please don’t tell the rest of us!  We would like to hold on to the feeling that our experience is the norm.

Anyway, this week, we are back with another  leveling problem.  I know I mentioned this last week, but I have to say that just because we managed to solve it on one side of the kitchen did not mean that the problem went away.  In fact, on the other side of the kitchen, it seemed worse.  Mostly, this is because of our design.

We have cabinets facing in all four directions.  One of them faces the family room here, while the other one is at a 90 degree angle and faces the fridge.

Kitchen renovation day 37: It turns out that yesterday was more of a layout day.  Today is leveling and installing.  Maybe.  I hope.  #kitchenremodel #crazyweirdhouse #tired

The two middle cabinets face the fridge also as well as does the end cabinet closest to the sink.  The last cabinet by the dining room door, faces the hallway.  Since the cabinets are facing different directions, we could not use the rail system.  The cabinets had to be installed to the floor.

This is when we found the biggest flaw to the Ikea cabinet system: the feet.

The base cabinets come with these plastic feet that do not get attached in any stable way.  There is a groove that they can slip into, but you cannot move the cabinet while there is any weight on the feet.   If you try to move the cabinet while it is resting on the feet, the feet will come off or break off.  This means that in order to move the cabinet, you have to lift it, even if is just an inch.  And these cabinets are hard to lift.

Why?  It’s the rails on top.   Most cabinets are box shaped.  Ikea base cabinets are U-shaped with rails connecting the top instead of another piece of “wood”.  This leaves you nothing to grab unto or lift from without risking damage to the cabinets.  Maybe we were being overly cautious, but we were afraid to lift these very heavy cabinets by the rails for fear of distorting or making the rails come off.  Once the cabinets were in place, the rails were a non-issue, but it took several days to get to that point.

Why did it take several days? Well, it took several days because not all of the cabinets were square and because they were not square,  they were having trouble sitting next to each other without unsightly gaps.  This problem also made it difficult to level the cabinets.  If you are just considering Ikea cabinets, just be aware when you are building them.  It’s much easier to make sure they are square during the building stage than it is to correct them when you are trying to install them.

Also, if you want your counter to be level, your cabinets have to be level.  If you want your cabinets to be level, it would help if your floor was level, which ours was not.

We had over an inch of variance in the level of our floors.  To deal with the floor and the problematic feet, the husband made plywood boxes that the cabinets could rest on.  This all meant that we spent a lot of time laying on the floor adjusting the height of the feet and the boxes underneath using shims to get all the cabinets level.

Eventually, after many hours of work, we got all the cabinets in place and leveled and could begin attaching them.  For this, we needed a special tool.

This is a right angle extension for a drill.  It helps to drill things in tight spaces, which we definitely had.  It was useful for the boxes underneath the cabinets and also the box which we built as a spacer behind the two middle cabinets.

Since we were not using the wall to attach the cabinets, we decided to pull everything away from the wall a bit to increase our counter space.  Oh, and I am sure you have wondered why we have a U shaped layout over on this side of the kitchen.  It is a bit unusual, we know.  Our first plan was to make a matching L shape to oppose the sink and stove side of the kitchen, but the space from the sink and stove to the other side of the kitchen was too wide, about 5-6 feet.  It was not enough space for us to put in an island (you need 3 feet of space all around an island), but it was just wide enough that it was not efficient.  It was two big steps from there to the stove or three little ones and when you are cooking, all that inefficiency adds up and we found that we did not use the L for cooking or prepping.  We decided to try adding another section of counter  and, despite the fact that it makes it harder to pass through the kitchen, we loved it.  We found that we used that little bit of extra counter more than any other bit of counter in the kitchen.  It was within easy reaching distance of the sink, stove, fridge, and the area where I have my mixer.  So, here is where we stand now.

Our base cabinets are all installed, including the one that the husband had to build for the dishwasher.

We have all the wall cabinets built.  This took us as a family, working in assembly line fashion, less than two hours.

The boys have really been very helpful throughout this whole process.

Next time, I will have to tell you more about the Countertop Saga.  Like I said, no kitchen renovation happens without hitches.  In our case, it seems that every part has to have some sort of obstacle. Stay tuned.





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