Category Archives: DIY


Oh, what a difference a day can make!  And, if you add them up, a week later, things are quite transformed.  When we last spoke, the husband and I had just finished probably the latest and hardest night we’ve had since my younger son was born over ten years ago.  Let me remind you what the kitchen looked like at the end of that crazy night.

The next day, the professional plasterer came in and spent the whole day squirreled away in that kitchen.  He made a whole lot of noise and kicked up a lot of dust.  At the end of that first day, the kitchen looked like this.

All the bad plaster was covered up by drywall.  And look at that soffit!  You would never know there was a pipe hiding behind it.  He wasn’t done after that day, though.  The next day, he came back and did this.

Seriously, I was really amazed.  I never imagined that these walls would ever look this good after staring at their sad state for over three weeks.  I thought he would just smooth over the drywall seams and patch the damaged plaster.

It was like we had totally new and fresh walls.  The thing that is important about DIY work is knowing when to call in a professional.  We could never have made the walls look this good and compared to the electrician, the plasterer was really cheap.  So far, I think this is the best money we have spent on this renovation.

The plaster needed to cure for at least three days before painting, so the husband got busy assembling some cabinets.

While he did that, I was busy still trying to pick a countertop.  By the middle of last week, we had narrowed our choices down to soapstone and marble.  Yes, I know, we are definitely not in the mainstream here with our preferences.  Here’s what happened:  We really thought at the start of this process that we would go with an engineered stone, such as silestone or ceasarstone.  They are durable and easy to take care of.  However, the more we looked at them, the less we liked them.  They are basically chopped up pieces of rock all glued together and then polished.  That sounded like a lot of packaging to us and we started going off the idea.  So, we decided to go natural and the next logical thing to look at was granite.

Oh, there are a lot of granite choices out there and I liked some of them, but many of them seemed fairly boring to me.  The ones I really liked were really complex and did not seem to fit the style of our house and kitchen.  Wandering around the warehouses, the husband and I were really drawn to marbles.  They were classic and varied without being wild.  I also liked the idea of a light colored counter because our kitchen has very little natural light, so I wanted something that might brighten things up.

However, since the beginning of the renovation project, the husband has been advocating for soapstone.  Have you heard of it?  It’s the countertop surface that your high school or college chemistry lab probably had.  The reason why is because soapstone is inert.  It won’t react with anything.  This is not the case with most other natural stones, especially marble.  Marble and granite will stain and some will react with acids to create what is called etching.  I did a lot of reading about this and even tried it on some samples I brought home from the warehouse.  There was no question that the marble would etch with even just a short contact with lemon juice or a piece of fruit.  The soapstone remained unchanged.  The piece of granite I had was fine as well, but it was sealed.  This brings me to the next thing about choosing countertops.

Granite and marble are typically sealed to help keep them from staining and etching.  Soapstone does not need to be.  We liked the idea of choosing a completely natural product, one that did not have to be altered in order to fit into our cooking lifestyle.  The one drawback to soapstone is that it is softer than marble and granite.

The sample we brought home could easily be scratched with just my fingernail.  However, not all soapstones are that soft.  Some are quite hard, such as this one.

In the end, we decided to go with soapstone, even though it was darker than I would have liked.  I never found a granite I loved and I think that living with the marble and its etching would have stressed me out.  With the soapstone, I won’t be afraid of staining it and any scratches are easily buffed out (or so I am told).  It doesn’t require any sealing at all and comes in several interesting shades.

Once the countertop was picked and reserved, we could finally pick a paint color and move on, yay!

Since our countertop ended up on the dark side, we decided to go as light as possible for the walls and picked a blue to bring out more of the blue/gray tones in the stone.

Hopefully, the two will work well together.  We’ll find out when the counters are installed, which will not be for awhile yet.  First, we’ve got to get some cabinets installed.

The Darkest Hour

There comes a time in every Do-it-Yourself project when the self doubts.  DIY projects are by nature fraught with uncertainty because most of us are doing things we don’t do on a daily basis and have therefore have no formal training in the task.  What DIYers have, though, is a special combination of fearlessness, determination, and a willingness to learn new things, even from mistakes.  We also have to be flexible because when you don’t really know what you are doing, it is hard to make a plan and when you don’t have a plan, then things don’t go according to plan!

All this also means that every new DIY project feels like inventing the wheel all over again.  The other problem with DIY is that it is a side job, not a main job, which means projects have to be done after our “real” jobs.  This is only problematic if there are deadlines involved.  Since my last post events conspired to bring us to our lowest and darkest point on our kitchen renovation path.  As they say, things only get worse before they get better.

Let’s see, where did I leave off?  Oh yes, we got our building permit, which meant the electrician could come in and do his work.  He was here for two days.  The first day, he concentrated on putting in all these little boxes around the kitchen according to the present code.

This means I get four new electrical outlets in the kitchen, yay!  Before I was working with just two outlets in a 10 foot by 11 foot kitchen.  One of our outlets had to have a box on it to make it into a 6 outlet box.  Yes, I have a lot of small kitchen appliances and yes, I use them all, though not usually all at once.  Some of them, such as the stand mixers and food processor need to live on the counter because they are just too heavy to haul in and out of a cupboard and my general rule is that if I use it at least once a week, it can stay on the counter.  The only exception is the rice cooker, which is very light, so it is easy to move back and forth.  So, I am really excited for all the new outlets because now the small electrics do not have to be all crowded in one space.

On the second day, the electrician finished up the kitchen wiring and installed our new dining room light.  In the process of doing this, he discovered that the wiring for that light fixture was all wrong and, as a result, was very unstable.  It could have fallen on someone’s head at any time!  He also told me of a couple of other fixtures that were not wired correctly and were hazardous, including our overhead kitchen light.

It all helps to make us a little more glad that we opted to spend the money to get all the wiring done right.  Now, I will have some peace of mind for at least this one room in the house.  (we won’t talk about the screwy wiring in the rest of the house.  we’ll just hope that it doesn’t go bad anytime soon.)  The only problem with all this is that we now have to figure out what kind of lighting to put in the kitchen.  Recessed lighting is out because of the *&&$&^ drywall covered plaster ceilings.  Anyway, I will come back to lighting later.

Once the electrical rough in was finished, we had to take over and do some work of our own.  First, we had one exterior wall that had part of the insides exposed.  The building inspector told us we need to put some insulation in there.

For some strange and unknown reason, much of that wall has cinderblock in it.  Everyone who has come in to look at it has made mention of it.  This makes it hard to hang anything on it, so we first had to build in some strapping.  Then, we had to cut the insulation to fit into the openings.  And, of course, we had less that 24 hours to do all that before the building inspector was coming to check it.  Thankfully, we were able to get it done with a half hour to spare and we passed!

At that point, we were ready to do something a bit more fun, so the husband and I went countertop shopping at a marble and granite warehouse.

Whoa.  Let me tell you, there are a lot of options out there, from the fairly plain and sedate.

To wild and crazy, and frankly, quite amazing.

It was fun, but really overwhelming and I am concerned about the cost of our first choices.  I’ll save that discussion for a later post.

Our next big task was to build a soffit to cover that offending pipe that we found when we took down the old cabinets and soffit.  The old soffit was poorly built and not really hanging properly, so it all had to come down.

This is where things start to get dark.  I am really not much good at this kind of thing because I don’t know much about construction (though I know more now than I used to!) and also I am pretty weak.  It sounds simple to build a soffit.  After all, it’s just a box.  How hard can it be to build a box?  However, when you consider that the box has to be attached to the wall and ceiling so that it does not fall off and add to that the fact that the joists on the room are unevenly spaced and the walls are double thick in some parts, things get much more complicated.

We spent several hours alone drilling holes blindly in the ceiling trying to find the joists.  We did find a few, but we also found a drain pipe and a couple of water pipes and some other things that we could not figure out.  I can’t describe how exhausting and unpleasant it is to drill through the ceiling with plaster raining down on our heads only to find nothing.  And when we were done with that, we had to do the same thing with the walls.  Needless to say, by the end of almost an entire Saturday taken up with this, we had no soffit to show for the amount of time we worked.  I say we, but it was really the husband because I discovered that I am pretty much a weakling.   At the end of Saturday, the day we had hoped to have the soffit built, all we had was more uncertainty, discouragement and exhaustion.

It was time to take a break and so we did.  We took Sunday off and tried very hard not to think about the kitchen at all.  It was a great, almost normal day, and we needed it.

I am glad we took that day to rest because on yesterday, Monday, the plasterer called and said he was coming a day early, which meant we had exactly one night to build the soffit.  You know how sometimes big projects come to this?  When it starts, you think you have all the time in the world and you plan and puzzle things out and think about how to best do things to get what you want done.  And then the deadline is suddenly in front of you and all that kind of goes out the window and you just have to get. it. done.   That’s what happened.

We started right after dinner.  There was a bit of planning and setup that needed to be done.

At around 9, we were attaching some things to the wall and ceiling.  Our older son was really helpful with this as we were trying to hold up an 11 foot piece of wood and keep it in a straight line while the husband drilled.

Soffit building teamwork.  #kitchenremodel #diy #lovemyhandyhubby #likefatherlikeson

Then, we built part of it on the floor and I did my best impression of Atlas holding up the world while the husband attached it.  Sorry, there are no pictures of this part.  The boys were in bed and my hand were in the air!

There were horizontal supports to wedge in and screw into place to make sure it was a uniform depth.

And by 1 am, the soffit was finished and getting a little use as an American Ninja Warrior obstacle to prove its sturdiness.

Now, if you have any building experience, I am sure you can see that we did things the hard way.  That’s one of the pitfalls of DIY, you often end up doing things the hard way, at least the first time.

We only got 3 hours of sleep, but the soffit is done and ready!  #kitchenremodel #lovemyhandyhubby #diy #sotired #wishthatpipewasntthere

We still had some more odds and ends to do with the walls to get ready for the plasterer, so we still did not get to bed until 4am.  By that time, the elation of finishing the soffit had worn off and we were just plain exhausted.  In some ways, though, having that deadline really helped us and now we can say we are done with that, which is so very satisfying.  And while I know we still have some challenging tasks left to us, I hope that none of them will take us as low as this one did.




Last week at this time, I was feeling highly optimistic.  We had the electrician and plasterer scheduled and I was hoping to have all the cabinets and appliances installed by the end of next week.  I should have known that there is no such thing as a house project that goes according to the first plan.  The day after I wrote my optimistic post, the electrician came and blew away our schedule and our budget.

Kitchen renovation day 8:  the day in which the electrician comes and blows our budget up😟 #kitchenremodel #crazyweirdhouse #guesswearerewiringeverything #itsonlymoney?

It turns out that our entire kitchen needed rewiring and it was not going to be cheap.  Not only that, he couldn’t start for another week and it would take two days to rough it all in and then another day to install.  In addition to all that, he refused to do the work unless we got a building permit.  It was a lot to take in at first and we spent at least a day in a state of high anxiety over the expense and the time all this would take.  In the end, though, we decided that it would be best to get it done and have the peace of mind that at least this part of the house was wired and put together correctly.  (Did I mention that I have started calling this house the Frankenhouse?  You can probably guess why.)

Actually, the week of delay gave us some time to do extra prep work, such as look at counter options.

Kitchen renovation day 9: doing something a little more fun.  #kitchenremodel #somanychoices #betweenarockandahardplace

There are a lot of options out there.  Once I started looking in earnest, I was actually kind of surprised at how many counter patterns I did Not like.  You would think that would narrow it down, which it does, sort of.

I thought I liked this one quite a lot in the store, but now I am not so sure, especially because it is kind of expensive.  Counter shopping was a bit annoying actually, because a lot of places won’t give you prices up front, but want you to choose ones you like and then price them out for you.  I sort of work in the opposite direction when I am shopping.  I like to limit myself by price first and then choose from what I can afford.  But, I may be in the minority there.  Anyway, as much as I like to support small and local businesses, we ended back at the big box stores where the prices are transparent.

Despite all this, we are still having trouble making up our minds about counters, but since our schedule got pushed back by two weeks and it is really one of the last things that you do in a kitchen, we still have a little time.

We’re also picking appliances and dreaming about what to cook/bake in our new kitchen once it is done.  If you haven’t seen this cookbook and you like to bake bread, I urge you to go seek it out.  It has a great variety of bread recipes and the story is wonderful.

The boys also enjoyed having an art session in the kitchen with no fear of getting anything messy.

We might even let them color on the walls or write some sort of message on them in case some other future homeowner wants to tear down what we have done and do their own thing.  There was definitely some entertainment value in seeing all the different styles of wallpaper that we unearthed during our demolition.  This first one is my favorite.  So cheerful and 70’s.

There were others.  Some were hidden behind other layers of wallpaper.

Others we found behind cabinets.

And behind the brick tiling.

Which is your favorite?

We have now had a week of not much visible progress, but it has given us time to make a new plan.

Kitchen renovation day 14: organization, mine on top, husband's on bottom.  We have really different systems, but they work together well, as long as we have regular meetings.  #kitchenremodel #ihateorganizing #diy #tryingtodoneasap

It’s been  two weeks now since we have had no working kitchen and it looks like it will be another 3 or 4 before we get everything installed, fingers crossed!  At least now we can move forward.

Kitchen renovation day 13: the first in a series of bureaucratic hurdles has been passed.  He tried to convince us to tear down more plaster, but thankfully did not require it.  We decided to take an easier route and just cover it all up.  #kitchenremodel

Let’s hope there are no more surprises!




A New Project

When we were looking for a house last year in our new state, we had limited time and funds, which of course limited our choices.  When I was a girl and dreamed of the time I would one day go looking for a house, I never dreamed that I would have so many limitations.  We are taught to dream big when we are little, but no one ever tells us what to do when reality comes knocking on the door and we finally realize that those childhood dreams will never come true.  What we don’t realize when we are kids is that those dreams are really shallow.  There is a richness and depth to life that cannot be got through perfectly behaved children or immaculately designed and cleaned houses.  Through our imperfectness, we learn how to love more fully, be thankful for little things, enjoy the good times, and help others through their difficulties.

Now, what started as a post in which I intended to describe our current home renovation project, has turned into something a bit more profound!  My intent was really to say that, much like life, this new house we bought last year is really in need of a lot of work, especially the kitchen.  On the surface, it looked ok.

The side where the dark cabinets live is what we inherited with the house.  They look pretty good, right?  Well, we didn’t really look close enough.  They were old and only good from the outside because they had been refaced.  Inside, the particle board shelves were slowly turning into particles and the face frames were driving us crazy.  I won’t go into the debate of face frame vs no face frame cabinetry here, but will only say that it is puzzling to me why no face frame cabinetry is not more popular.  There was only one option at Home Depot and none at Lowe’s.  Since the HD option was more than triple the price of Ikea, we have decided to go with Ikea, which is what you see here.

A couple of months ago, we bought a couple of Ikea cabinets to see if we would like them and how easy they would be to assemble.  Well, we like them just fine and the husband and boys love to put things together, so we decided to go for it.  Many people would pause here and do an extensive plan of the kitchen, but this was overwhelming to us.  Also, we were really unsure of what we would find once we started taking the kitchen apart, so we have decided to take the process one step and decision at a time.  To save money, we decided to do as much of the project as we could do ourselves.  As soon as we could get the plumber to come in, we began work.

Our plumbing is old, a bit convoluted and has been the biggest problem in this house so far, so we felt more comfortable having the plumber come in to do this part.  Once this was done, we started the kitchen renovation clock.  This marks the first day without heat, water, and a stove in the kitchen.  Everything else got moved into other parts of the house and we started working in earnest.

The cabinets were taken down.

Wallpaper was taken down.

Plastic sheeting went up in all the doorways.

We went to Ikea to buy the balance of the base cabinets.

By day 4 we had all the cabinets down and were ready for a day of rest.  And also, we needed to think about that pipe in the corner that we found.  Yes, it’s a drain pipe from the upstairs bathroom and it sticks out from the wall.  I told you this house has crazy plumbing!

Yesterday, we took down all the decorative brick in the kitchen.  This by far was the messiest and dustiest job.  The poor husband did all the heavy lifting out to our dumpster bag.  He estimates that he has moved over 2000 pounds of debris out of the kitchen so far!

You’ll notice that after everything was removed from the walls, there are a lot of walls missing.  And the walls that are there do not look so good.

This is where we stand now, after 7 days of demolition.  The question now is whether we can get a professional to come in and finish these walls for us or if we should go the total diy route and put up the drywall ourselves.  In any case, I am going to say that phase 1: demolition, is over.  Tomorrow begins phase 2: Rebuilding.  Stay tuned!


Day 12: Caramel Monkey Bread

So, you know how yesterday I said that the Salted Caramel sauce with Maple Bourbon was just about the most delicious thing I have ever eaten?  That is still true, but it is also true that today’s recipe is almost as good as yesterday’s, and that is mostly because it includes yesterday’s sauce.

After I made the caramel sauce, I started thinking about all the things that it would go well with.  Ice cream.  Cake. Coffee.  And then I thought of bread.  Monkey bread.  What if I used the caramel sauce with monkey bread?  Now, normally I don’t love monkey bread.  I find it too sticky, kinda how I feel about sticky buns as well.  They are always good for a few bites, but after that, stuff starts sticking to my teeth and it loses its charm for me.  But, with this awesome sauce, how could it be bad?  So, I tried it.

Oh my goodness, it was amazing!  It was soft and gooey, but not sticky.  There was just enough sweetness to let you know you were not having a plain roll, but not so much that it felt like you were having a serving of candy with your breakfast.


I loved it.  The boys loved it.  The husband even loves it and he hates sticky things.

Do you want to hear the best news about this recipe?  You can make it ahead of time.  It can be made and assembled the day before and refrigerated to be popped into the oven when you wake up the next morning.  Or, if you are really thinking ahead, you can make it several weeks ahead of time and freeze it.  Yes, I said you could freeze it!  Then, whenever you want to bake it, just take it out of the freezer, let it sit for a bit while the oven preheats, and then you bake it.  It just needs an extra 15-20 minutes in the oven.


When I made this, I split the dough in half and made two loaf shaped breads so that I could bake one immediately and freeze one for later.  If you want to feed more people, you can put all the dough in a bundt pan.


This is also a really fun thing to do with the kids.  They loved helping out and it makes the tedious job of rolling little balls of dough in butter and sugar go by much more quickly.


It is so good that this monkey bread has been officially voted in to the standard Christmas list of baked goods.  In order to make this very short list, everyone has to love it.  Many breads have auditioned, but few make it.  This group includes Pannetone, Pandoro, Snowflake Buns, and, now, Caramel Monkey Bread.


If you have taken my advice and made the caramel sauce from yesterday, I hope you will take my advice today and make this bread.  If you are feeling really generous, you can make the sauce and the bread and give it away as a gift.  That would just about make you a saint, I think!


If you do make it, be sure to put the pans on another baking pan to catch the drips.  Otherwise, you will get a house full of smoke because that caramel sauce will definitely bubble up.  Ask me how I know, haha.  Also, when you eat it, be sure to scrape up that yummy sauce with each little pillow of dough!  Yum.

With that, my Twelve Days of Christmas Gifts is done.  I think I said that the deadline is midnight tonight to enter, but this post is a little late in the day, so I will extend the deadline to 6pm tomorrow, December 20, Eastern standard time.  I will announce the winner tomorrow night.  Leave me a comment to be entered.  Tell me what you would love to get for Christmas this year.



Caramel Monkey Bread

makes one large bundt bread or two loaf pan breads

3 3/4 cups or 18.5 ounces all purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup instant nonfat dry milk

1 envelope of instant yeast or a scant tablespoon

1 cup hot water, not over 115 degrees

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2/3 cup of caramel sauce (see recipe here)


6 Tablespoons melted butter

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup toasted pecans(optional)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour, sugar, dry milk, and yeast.

Melt the butter in the hot water.

With the stand mixer on low speed, add the buttered water and eggs to the flour mixture and mix just until the dough comes together.  Stop the mixer and cover the bowl.  Let stand for 15 minutes.

Sprinkle on the salt and continue mixing the dough until it is smooth.  If it does not clear the sides of the bowl after five minutes, add a tablespoon of flour at a time until it does.  Be sure to let the flour fully incorporate before adding more flour.

Cover and let rise until doubled, about 60-90 minutes, depending on the temperature of your house.  Meanwhile, prepare your pans and filling.

Spray with oil or butter your bundt pan or two 8 1/2 by 4 inch loaf pans with oil.  Pour the caramel into the bottom of your pan(s).  If using the pecans, sprinkle half of them over the caramel in the pans.

Melt the butter in a small bowl.  Mix the brown sugar and cinnamon in another small bowl.

When the dough has risen, scrape it onto your counter.  Divide it into 4 pieces and then cut each piece into 12-16 more pieces.  Roll into little balls.

Dip each ball into the butter and then into the brown sugar mixture to coat.  Drop the balls into the baking pans.  Repeat with all the balls, evenly distributing them.  Sprinkle the remaining nuts on top.

Cover the pans and let them rise until just doubled, about an hour.  If you are making them ahead of time, make sure they are tightly wrapped and then put it in the freezer or refrigerator after they are fully risen the second time.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  If your pans are cold, just take them out, unwrap them and let them sit on the counter until the oven is preheated.

Cover the pans loosely with foil and place on a baking sheet.  Don’t skip this step!  The caramel will bubble up and drip out!

Bake for 20 minutes.  Then, remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes for unchilled dough.  For chilled dough, bake for another 25 minutes.  For frozen dough, bake for another 40 minutes.  These are all estimates.  If you want to check for sure if it is done, slip a knife into the dough between two of the balls and look inside.  If it still looks doughy, bake a little longer.

Have a rimmed plate or platter ready for the bread when it comes out of the oven.  When the bread is done, take it out and turn it over onto your serving plate within a few minutes.  Be careful as the caramel sauce is very hot!  Try not to burn your fingers when you eat it.  This is best served warm and eaten within a day.