Basement Plan: Storage? In the Basement?

As part of the plan for our basement, we are extending the workshop by taking out the wall between the workshop and the storage room next to it. So we had to find an alternative storage solution.

Aside from the stuff in the storage room, our basement is a bit of a mess. It wasn’t always this way. It happened gradually as we “stored” detritus from home improvement projects down there. Among other things that live in the basement are the door frame and trim from the bedroom closet project, the counter tops from the recent kitchen project, and a random five-panel door that doesn’t even belong to this house.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe solution we came up with was to build two parallel racks for storage bins in the corner of the basement next to the storage room. That corner was the dumping area for things that we didn’t know what to do with. There was also a sink in that corner that was never used.


First I had to take all of the stuff out of that corner and pack it into the few spots in the basement where it isn’t in the way — much. Then I took out the sink and capped off the drain.

Now, with the corner emptied, it was time to build the racks. I used 2 x 4 construction timber. At one end, I could attach the rack to framing members of the basement bathroom wall. At the other end, I installed two uprights to attach the cross pieces to.

At the top, the uprights were screwed to joists. At the bottom, they were not fixed in place as the horizontal parts of the rack would be enough to keep them in place.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince  water occasionally infiltrates this corner of the basement, the uprights were stood on bricks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce the uprights were secured, the cross members were installed at both ends. Obviously everything was as level as I could make it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis rack, the longer of the two, would need additional support near the middle to stop the 2 x 4s bending under the weight of our stuff.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEach shelf would be wide enough for five bins, so, the support was positioned so that there would be three bins to the right of it and two to the left.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe top of the middle support is attached to the ceiling joists and the bottom is fixed to one of the 2 x 4s that makes up the bottom shelf. The shelf 2 x 4 was clamped to another 2 x 4 on its edge to keep it straight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACross members were installed in line with those at each end.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen the shelf pieces were screwed in place at each end.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd that was the first rack completed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe second rack was made in a similar way, but being shorter, it didn’t need a middle support.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo now we are in the process of organizing our stuff. Quite a lot will go to Goodwill (a charity shop), some will end up in landfills, and the remainder will be easy to locate in well-organized, labelled storage bins.

Once the storage room has been emptied, we’ll begin work embiggening the workshop.

Posted in Before & After, Construction, Organization | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Basement Plan: Sink Removal

So it was time to begin executing the basement plan. We began with the area designated as the future storage area. After taking out all of the stuff that had been temporarily stored in that corner, the only thing left in the way was an old unvented sink.

We never (or hardly ever) used this sink, so it would be no big loss to take it out to make room for the storage bin racks that we were planning to build in this corner.


Taking it out was fairly straightforward. Only the cold water supply was still attached. You can see the cold water supply pipe to the right of the sink. The mark on the wall that runs parallel to the cold water pipe is where the hot water supply pipe used to be. The hot water was disconnected years ago during a different project.

The valve to turn off the cold water to this point is quite old and hard to turn, and doesn’t completely shut off the water. As soon as we disconnected any part of the pipe work, water was going to start dribbling out. Taking the pipe out beginning at the sink end would have meant unscrewing each straight piece of pipe from each bend. All the while, water would have been dribbling out.

So instead, we cut through the straight piece of pipe farthest from the sink. This meant that only the last piece of pipe had to be unscrewed with water coming out. Stacey cut through the pipe with the sawzall, and I would like to show you pictures, but I didn’t get any because I was trying to stop the pipe from moving about at the time. Cut through pipes like this from the top down so the blade is in the water for the shortest time, and keep the handle end up so water doesn’t run into the motor.

Of course, there are pictures of me unscrewing the pipe with a pipe wrench. You can see where the pipe was cut, and the water trickling out of it to the left of the white dwarf.


Once the pipe was removed, we capped off the supply with a plug. Now, the rest of the pipe could be taken out without the annoyance of water going everywhere.


Plug wrapped with lashings of PTFE tape.

With the supply lines removed, we unscrewed the drain pipe from the sink so that the sink could be lifted off the wall. The sink was attached to the wall with two specially made brackets that have the word ‘Standard’ molded (UK: moulded) onto them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese brackets were screwed to the wall. Each one has sockets at both ends that lugs on the back of the sink drop into.


This is one of the lugs on the back of the sink.


There are five lugs on the back of the sink. Only four of them were used.

With the sink gone, all I had to do was remove the drain pipe. I used the sawzall to cut off the pipe about 1½” above the floor, leaving enough pipe to work with if it’s needed down the road. Then the drain was temporarily sealed with bubble wrap and duct tape. Eventually, we’ll plug it more formally, but we want to do that in a reversible way in case someone wants to use the existing drain line in future. That may require a trip to a plumbing supply house, so I’m pleased with the duct tape solution for now.

Posted in American vs English, Plumbing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Planning Has Reached a New Low

Guys! Stop throwing things in the hole! The more you throw in, the bigger and more dangerous it becomes!

- Lisa Simpson

For the last few years we have been slowly filling up the basement with stuff that we didn’t need, but didn’t want to throw away. You never know when some unknown piece of junk might come in handy. Well, we’re now at the point where we have to deal with all the stuff, or accede to the basement’s demands for secession. I think we’re going to choose the former.

It's not an elegant space (even shown here before the junk built up).

An overview from back in the days of less stuff.

There are a number of things that we would like to do in the basement:

  • Enlarge the workshop,
  • Create a well-organized storage area, and
  • Set up an area for beer brewing.

Here’s a plan of our basement as-is. It’s accurate as far as it goes.

plan 1

What it leaves out are the drifts of detritus. All the places that look like open space are actually about a meter deep in stuff with walkways threaded through. Something must be done.

1.  Workshop

When we got the house, it already had the 9′ x 6′ room in the northeast corner of the basement (lower left of the plan) . Since it contained a work bench, it had obviously been used as a workshop, and that’s what we’ve been using it for too. Until recently, it has been perfectly adequate for that purpose. Admittedly, there were times when I wished I could deal with things that were longer than nine feet, but that hasn’t happened very often.

Too many tools!

Too many tools!

A more pressing problem with the workshop is that over the last few years we have acquired larger tools: a drill press, a miter saw, a bench grinder, and a table saw. All of these would be easier to use if they had permanent, static positions. The workshop is barely big enough to contain all of these tools and a person. We’re gonna need a bigger workshop!

2.  Storage Area

Up to now, we have made use of the 6′ x 6′ room (labelled “current storage room” on the plan) for storing items that we only use occasionally, including:

  • backscratcherspare chairs and table leaves,
  • camping equipment,
  • packaging supplies, and
  • a back scratcher.

We want to get rid of the most worthless stuff and consolidate the basement storage items with attic storage items in one organized space.

3.  Brewing Area

An area for brewing beer — well, that doesn’t need much justification. I have a lot of beer brewing equipment, and I need to put it somewhere. Also, if there were a sink nearby, it could be a dedicated space where brewing could take place start to finish.

4. The Resulting Plan

To achieve all our lofty goals, I updated the floor plan.

plan 2

The idea is to take down the wall between the workshop and the current storage room. The bigger room (at left, above) would be the new, enlarged workshop with space for all our tools.

The wall we want to remove is not load-bearing; it's actually just a planked room divider like the one you can see here.

The wall we want to remove is not load-bearing; it’s actually just a planked room divider like the one in the foreground here (the actual wall to be removed is on the right).

Most of the stuff in the old storage room would be moved to a new storage area (upper left). We intend to build two parallel racks in this corner to hold large storage bins. That way, we could easily get to all of the bins, making storage and retrieval an easy and pleasant task.

For the brewery, the plan is to use the largest piece of counter that we recently took out of the kitchen, which still has the sink attached. The counter would probably be installed on the long wall. That way, with the old kitchen sink plumbed-in, it could be used by the brewery and the laundry (there’s no current laundry sink). We might even put some cabinets in the brewery for storing brewing stuff. Ah, the future is bright for SkyFish Brewing.

By cutting the basement into zones that serve different functions, we hope to better use the space and to gain some sense of order in the house (one of our non-resolutions for 2014). A better-organized work space will also help us take on projects with less stress. And obviously, the brewery will also support stress reduction in its own way.

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Modified DIY Retractable Roman Shades

It’s been done.

- George Harrison

Since our bedroom project has lacked nothing but window coverings for long enough to gestate a human, I thought I might see about making some progress on that front.

I generally used Little Green Notebook’s revised blind tutorial, which uses a mini-blind base to build a Roman shade that you can retract. The basic concept is that you remove the vinyl slats from the blind, leaving the cords intact. Then you cut and hem your shade so it’s the same width as the mini-blind and an appropriate length. Attach the shade to the header rail, run the cords through loops on the shade’s back to a new bottom rail, and Bob’s your proverbial uncle.

Thwarted by a cat

Shade-making thwarted by cat

I want these to last a while with daily use, so I modified LGN’s low-sew version. Call my version the “some-sew” model, or maybe the “I don’t have a glue gun” edition. This version takes more work…


…ok, still with me? I understand bailing at “more work” but the changes to the basic plan make this thing more durable. And it’s not that much more work. Here are the modifications, which can be read alongside the LGN tutorial (I referenced the step numbers from her version below):

1. Prepping the Shade

I generally followed the LGN instructions for making the shade (steps 1-4 in the LGN tutorial), except I sewed in a black-out liner (step 3) instead of a lighter lining. I wanted the shades to really darken the room because the windows face south and west — plus, the house to the south has a huge window opposite ours that is often lit late at night. I covered the black-out liner with an ivory fabric, and edged with yellow grosgrain ribbon. 

Sewing on trim

2. Keeping Cord Length

At step 5 in Jenny’s tutorial, she cuts off the cords just above the bottom rail, but this rail is easy to remove, allowing you to keep the full length of the cords. You just need to pry off the plugs in the bottom rail that cover the knots in the cords. Untie the knots and the rail comes off. If you want a longer shade, it’s nice to have all the possible length.

Opening up blind

Other than this variation, I followed LGN step 5 to remove the unneeded parts of the blind cords.

3. Prepping the Shade to Attach

I followed steps 6 (marking the folds) and 7 (sewing rings to the back of the blind for the cords based on the fold marks). Steps 8 and 9 dealt with the lift bar at the back of the shade. I made mine as LGN recommends, but instead of only gluing the lift bar to the back, I drilled holes through the bar that attaches to the back of the fabric to lift the shade. I sewed and glued it to attach. I also painted it because the blind will be very visible from the outside.

Bottom rail

4. Attachment to Top Rail

The second half of step 9 in the LGN tutorial has the shade glued to the top/header rail from the mini-blind. I just have trust issues with glue, so I drilled a series of five small holes along the top front of the mini-blind header.

Drill holes in header rail

I sewed through those holes into the shade to connect the two together. THEN I added glue as well.

Ensuring good contact with the glue

Ensuring good contact with the glue

It’s not mentioned in the LGN piece, but be careful not to glue out all the way to the ends. I left an inch or so free at each side so I could use the mini-blind mounting hardware as-is.


This gap at the end will make more sense shortly.

5. Threading the Cords

I followed step 10 of the tutorial as written — you thread the cords from the blind through the rings on the back of your shade, then tie the cords to the eye screws on the lift bar.


In step 10, Jenny also says that you can glue on your trim. I sewed the trim on when I put together the shade in my step 1.

6. Hanging the Shade

The LGN tutorial concludes saying that you can just hang these like regular blinds. I made the shades a bit longer than the window because I wanted to mount the shades above the window frame. I needed to bump out from the wall so that the shades would drop straight rather than catching on the window frame on the way down.

Fortunately, the legs from the bedside table project were just right. I cut them off to extend from the top of the window woodwork to the top of the blind. I screwed these blocks into the wall, then the blind hardware attached at the top.


The block and mounting hardware won’t show when and if I ever finish the curtains that will hang over the top.

Here’s where the loose edges I mentioned in Step 4 come into play. When you push the header into the blind hardware, there are plates that slip into the front of the brackets to trap the header in place; you can see one of them in the picture above.

Since I left the ends open, I was able to use the plates as designed, making the whole thing nice and secure. I am going to add velcro dots on the loose bits and attach those to adhesive velcro dots on the plates. Tap-tap-tap and there you go.

Since I used black-out backing, the shade is stiffer than the ones shown on LGN. So this happened when I first lifted them:



I laughed out loud, this looked so ridiculous! When I fiddled with the folds briefly, it looked a lot better:

Not quite so bunchy.

Not quite so bunchy.

I imagine that the black-out fabric will relax a little after the shade is used a while, but if it doesn’t, this result took five seconds of tucking. Here it is down:


I clearly need to hit this with the steamer, and my temporary curtain isn’t making my heart sing, but still. PROGRESS.

So it’s just the curtains (and the steaming and the velcro) standing between me and this bedroom project being completely done! Many thanks to Little Green Notebook for the shade tutorial!

Posted in Decor, Windows & Doors | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Including the Kitchen Sink

Kumiko: The walls are covered with garbage.
Homer: Oh, not garbage! Americana.

- The Simpsons

Every time a contractor or inspector visits our basement, they point to the sink in the corner and say, “That’s a nonconforming sink.”


The nonconforming sink is under there somewhere.

The sink itself is fine, but the drain isn’t vented, so it’s not up to code. It used to have a gas ring on the wall next to it, and one builder guessed that it was installed specifically for laundry use. Others reckoned it was the original kitchen sink. Since it wasn’t vented (nonconforming!) and the faucet barely worked, we’ve mainly used it as a shelf for miscellaneous basement junk without regard to its provenance.

Judging by the date stamp on the flip side, the sink is from 1939, so not original to the house.

This is the date stamp on the flip side; I’m guessing this means the sink is from December 1939, so not original to the house (built 1922).

When the Kev started work on a storage project in that area (yay, Kev!), I said we should finally take the shelf-sink out to free up usable space. He said, “It’s a pretty cool thing. We could probably sell it.”

“Or we could use it as the sink in our master bathroom when we remodel the loft!” I responded energetically.

And then he made a face much like this:


Ok, yes, it’s a sink with a drainboard, so it’s clearly a kitchen (or laundry) sink. But it’s old and it’s so cool and it could work in a bathroom! IT COULD WORK. Other people think so too. Professional designer people.


Michael Haverland Architect (via)


CG&S Design-Build (via)




I would have considered using this sink in the kitchen proper if work surfaces weren’t at such a premium there. I’ve had kitchens where drainboards make up the majority of the flat space, and it’s just not a great option in a tiny area. But in a bathroom, that’s another matter.

The sink with less stuff on it after we took it of the wall.

The sink with less stuff on it after we took it off the wall.

We knew it would need to be cleaned up and re-coated or patched if we decided to keep and eventually use it. But once we took it off the wall (and by the way: HEAVY, sooo heavy), I had some misgivings. It’s very much in what’s sometimes called “as-found” condition. The enamel is scratched, and it has substantial rust.

Rust on the back of the sink behind the tap. Maybe there was a leak?

Rust on the back of the sink behind the tap.

Same hole, same rust, but on the front.

Same hole, same rust, but on the front.

How much rust is too much rust? This is a very lot of rust. Kevin is a former blacksmith…


When I mention that Kevin used to be a blacksmith, ladies sometimes get a faraway look in their eyes. At this point, I often comment sagely, "I know, right??!"

Because I, too, have read a romance novel or two in my time.

Kevin will probably edit this passage out of the final post, so back to sinks!]

…anyhoo, the former blacksmith (I know, right??!) thinks we’re ok on the rust front. The rust is extensive, but it’s all on the surface. The bulk of the original, thick iron is intact, so the rust can just be ground off. I did a little research, and the area around the faucet can be touched up as well. Then the sink could be rehung or placed on a vanity table. Or both — this puppy is so heavy that I would feel better backing up the sink bracket with table legs.

If you are following along, you know that the master suite/loft renovation is on hold, so it would seem to make very little sense for me to be talking about sinks. But in order to clear the area for the storage project, we had to move the sink. The sink needs to be either stored or gotten rid of, so even though it’s out of sequence, it’s sink-thinking time. Old houses have this perverse way of rearranging the intended schedule.

There hasn’t been enough sink-thinking for a final decision, but enough to determine that it’s worth keeping for now. Fortunately, Kevin is creating a storage area that will fix the worst of the organizational chaos, so we should be able to stash it with minimal risk of toe-stubbing. In the meantime, we’d love to hear about your experiences with restoring and reusing old sinks.

Posted in Bathroom, Decor, Plumbing, Salvage | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Before and After: Tiled Kitchen Backsplash


- Bart Simpson

Done and dusted. AT LAST. I would have had this done sooner, except I selected a fancy synthetic rubber caulk for the joint between the tile and the counter. I could not work with it — not the product’s fault, I just couldn’t get the hang of it. Ultimately, I had to remove and replace it, but since it holds on like grim death, that was a lengthy process involving tweezers and neck cramps. That’s what I get for trying to use high-quality materials!

Here are some before pictures. First, a long time before:

The wall was painted. Sometimes, we splashed things on it.

The wall was painted. Sometimes, we splashed things on it.

We remodeled the kitchen in 2002, but still didn’t have a backsplash. Later on, I added some wallpaper between the counters and the upper cabinets.

doh kitchen sink before

With former laminate counter and beadboard wallpaper “backsplash”

We put in white quartz countertops earlier this year, and decided it was high time for a tiled backsplash. Here it is:


I put up the two Ikea magnetic knife strips to get the knife block off the worktop. They wouldn’t work horizontally where I wanted them, so vertical it was. I thought that was a clever idea, but there’s a reason that they are usually hung horizontally — the handles just want to droop. Still, I was able to put the larger knives on the wall.

Here’s the other side. This image has the most accurate rendering of the Antique White grout color. It’s just a warm, sandy tone, very subtle.


The tile is nice and shiny with the quartz counters. The thin grout lines were tricky at times, but I like the look.


And I did manage to install all of the retro porcelain wall plates. I scrubbed the GFI receptacle faces with a toothbrush (with the circuit off, naturally), but they still look a little dingy in comparison. But new ones would look this used almost immediately, so the old ones are fine.


I’m really happy with how it came out. It really brightens the place up! We went a little off-script with our choices — 4×4 ceramic tiles instead of 3×6 subways, but still laid out in the staggered brick pattern; warm-toned grout rather than gray — but overall, it gives a similar, vintage effect.


If you are thinking about tiling your backsplash, here the steps we took along the way in our tiling project:

Picking out a tile pattern and More on picking out a tile pattern

Picking out grout

Picking out wall plates for switches and outlets

Tile installation: applying tile adhesive and keeping tiles level

Tile installation: cutting tiles at edges and around electrical boxes

Tile installation: replacing bad tiles and grouting in general

Drop us a line if you have any questions — despite all my griping, it’s a fun project, and it makes a huge difference in the finish of a kitchen. Plus, it probably won’t take you as long as it took me!

Posted in Before & After, Decor, Kitchen, Walls & Floors | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Clematis Combos

They love! They share!
They share and love and share!
Love, love, love!
Share, share, share!

- The Itchy and Scratchy Show

When we bought Chez D’oh, the only desirable plants in the garden were two clematis vines on the side of the garage. They reminded the Kev of a clem that grew alongside his workshop in England — it would creep inside the building, with different coloured blooms inside than out. We’ve grown several varieties — they are low maintenance and lovely hardy vines, and give us a way to use vertical surfaces as part of the garden.

You know what’s better than one clematis? Two clematis…es. Clematii?

Niobe (red) and Viola (purple) clematis on a shared trellis

Niobe (red) and Viola (purple) clematis on a shared trellis

I’ve heard “clematis” pronounced a bunch of ways. In the states, you hear both cle-MAT-is and CLE-mat-is. Both are considered proper. The Kev says cle-MAY-tis, which is how I usually hear it in northern England (so it’s not just Kevin). You can avoid all this potential confusion by just calling them clems.

"Clem" could also refer to a friendly demon featured on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

“Clem” could also refer to a friendly demon featured on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (shown here expressing his enthusiasm for clematis).

Clematis will live quite happily side by side, assuming enough light and water. The two above are planted about 18 inches apart, on either side of the fan trellis base. They climb opposite sides, but then wind around each other. Niobe is naturally shorter, so Viola is the headliner, but I love those red flowers. Viola compensates for Niobe’s shorter bloom time by pushing out lots of purple flowers and showy seed heads (which I believe are sterile, but they are still pretty).

Clems are also great with other vines. I love purple and orange together, and clems can sure do purple. We have Jackmanii clematis and Mandarin honeysuckle vine in a corner, but the bloom overlap is short and loves to evade photography! To extend the length of the purple-orange bloom period, I planted orange day lilies in front of the clems.


Mandarin honeysuckle being shy on the top of the fence on the right.

I love these orange day lilies (hemerocallis fulva), which are often called “ditch lilies” because they do, in fact, freely grow in ditches. Some people won’t have them because they’re so common, but I love their exuberant orangeness.

Combining plants is sometimes about perspective. Here’s the bed immediately behind the house.


That firepit grate is protecting a columbine from the bloody rabbits.

But when you first come around the side of the house, the purple clem growing on the back of the house (via nylon netting) and the ditch lilies…um…align (for lack of a less cosmological term).

Ditch lilies peeking from behind Polish Spirit clematis

Ditch lilies peeking from behind Polish Spirit clematis (there’s one little bit of Mandarin honeysuckle blooming above the tallest day lily).

While you can plant fairly mature plants, I usually don’t (I’m cheap), so these combos don’t happen overnight. Here’s one I didn’t make earlier:


Zephirine Drouhin climbing rose (on left) and Hagley Hybrid clematis (on the trellis)

A mature Zeph rose

A mature Zeph rose

This planting borders what we call the “breakfast patio” — a small patio tucked outside the kitchen door. I’ve been trying to put this pink clematis with another climber for years now. It’s a slightly tricky spot, and requires some shade tolerance. The Hagley Hybrid clematis has done terrifically here, but I can’t seem to find it a friend. A climbing hydrangea didn’t thrive, so I swapped it for this rose a couple of years ago, but rabbits (or something) promptly ate it down to the stems. It’s recovering.

Gardening is an exercise in patience!

Clems are not just about going vertical. One of my favorites is Rooguchi, which is a scrambler rather than a climber. It blooms forever with nodding flowers instead of the open blooms seen on most other clems. You could tie Rooguchi to a trellis and make it act like a climber, but they are wonderful running amok over and through other plants.


Rooguchi clematis with strawberries and Shasta daisies

Our garden is cottage style (otherwise known as “PLANT ALL THE PLANTS TOGETHER, PLANT THEM NOW!” style). But layering and combining clematis with other vines and flowering plants works for a range of garden designs to lengthen bloom times and add impact. Plus, I never met a clematis I didn’t like in any context! Give these friendly flowers a go.

Posted in American vs English, Yard & Garden | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Easy Yum: Strawberry-Rum Jam

Your jelly stays right in the middle, where it’s supposed to. I don’t know how you do it, you’ve just got a gift I guess. 

- Homer Simpson

The underlying secret to keeping jelly (or jam) in the middle is pectin. Most pectin requires an alarming amount of sugar to set up. Recently, we’ve been harvesting strawberries, and I decided to make jam to use up the surplus we couldn’t eat outright. But I didn’t want to drench the berries in sugar, so I bought some low-sugar pectin and played around. After all, the worst thing that happens if your jam doesn’t set up is you have something gorgeous to pour over ice cream. But my experiment worked: jam for the win!!!


In the states, jam and jelly are neighbors on the fruit-spread continuum, but in the UK, “jelly” is something rather different.

Jam (both places) is jam. I suspect jam is a universal constant.

Jelly (US): fruit spread similar to jam, but made from juice alone instead of from juice and pulped fruit. Jelly is firmer than jam, but you can still put it on toast. If you are in the UK, US jelly is basically the same as the clear part of marmalade (although it’s not usually citrus).

Jelly (UK): gelatin desserts (such as Jello); it’s not intended to be spread on anything (although it might show up in chunks in a trifle).

The Kev thinks not, and I never noticed — is there a US jelly-type thing in the UK? If there isn’t such an item and you want to make and sell it there, feel free to use that terminology for branding.


Aside from Britain, I’d love to know what’s up with this terminology all over the English-speaking world, if anyone from the English-speaking world cares to comment.

So, anyway, do you want the recipe?

Strawberry-Rum Jam (with US and metric measures)

Just for fun, I threw in some rum, but you could use any liquor you want, or skip that step. I like to think it enhances the flavor of the berries, but that might be the (tiny amount) of rum talking. It would be good either way.

  • 10 cups (2 and 1/3 litres) mashed strawberries and their juice (I used a potato masher, but you could also crunch them in a food processor)
  • juice of one small lemon; throw in some of the lemon zest too, if you like that sort of thing
  • 1/3 cup (about 80 ml) of rum or brandy or whatever you like
  • 2 packages Mrs. Wage’s “lite” fruit pectin (or a similar low-sugar pectin)
  • 3.5 cups (70 g) granulated sugar (caster sugar)

Mix powdered pectin and sugar and set aside. Bring strawberries, lemon juice, and rum to a boil. Add pectin/sugar mix to the strawberries and return to the boil. Boil for 3 minutes. Place in jars and process them for 10 minutes.

Makes 6 pints.

This isn’t achingly sweet, just lots of rich strawberry flavour. And the color is great. I’m having a little trouble staying out of it — these six pints won’t last long if I keep this up!


If you are new to canning (I’m not all that “old” with it myself), here are some tips for the novice canner. I notice the cherries are ripening, so I see more jam in my near future.

Posted in American vs English, Food & Drink | Tagged , | Leave a comment

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Our Quartz


Earlier this year, we installed quartz kitchen counters. We chose a low-contrast white “Riverstone” quartz offered through Menards. While all the fabrication is done for you, you have to provide and confirm measurements, then pick up and install the countertops.

Just after installation

Riverstone quartz shortly after installation in April

Before we ordered the quartz, I dreamed of white marble countertops, which are both gorgeous and period-appropriate. Although I tested marble thoroughly, I still fretted that I wouldn’t really feel comfortable cooking and canning in a marble kitchen unless I did something like this:

Joshua Kristal, via South Brooklyn Post

Photo: Joshua Kristal, via South Brooklyn Post

Quartz is supposed to be extremely durable and stain-resistant — between that and the cost savings, I felt good about our decision to skip marble. But some online commenters say that white quartz actually is stain-prone. Regular cooking hasn’t touched it, so I wanted to give it a real test.

Since we are swimming in strawberries, I made jam and pies this past weekend. I took no precautions with the quartz whatsoever. And I am ridiculously messy. The Kev can attest that fine motor control escapes me when I enter the kitchen.

Jam making EVERYWHERE.

Jam makings EVERYWHERE; great-grandmothers rolling over in their graves all over Texas.

Just to be really perverse, I allowed a few of the marks to sit until I was done canning and baking.


Dried-on jam goo up in here; great-aunts disinheriting me way over there.

Some of the messiness was unplanned. I made a couple of strawberry-rhubarb pies. One of them was a rebel and threw off the crust of oppression.

The Great Pie-tastrophy of '14

The Great Pie-tastrophy of ’14: Dali-esque but still yummy

After I’d cleared all the debris on the counters, I wiped them with a damp rag. The dried spots took some extra pressure to get up, but…it all came off with a damp cloth, leaving no stains.


Maybe not quite this sparkly, but real dang clean. It’s metaphysically this sparkly.

Outside of this test, the only thing that has left a mark that didn’t just wipe up was a permanent marker. I managed to transfer bright blue Sharpie ink from my hand onto the main stretch of counter (right in the middle of the sparkles above). I wasn’t able to shift it with a rag, but I averted a complete freak-out by trying an eraser sponge. Almost immediately, the eraser sponger removed the mark, leaving no trace.

In short, big thumbs up for white quartz!

Posted in D'oh!, Decor, Food & Drink, Kitchen | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Tile Tile Tiley Tile 3

Welcome back to the neverending tile project!

I thought the backsplash was done, but then we picked fancy porcelain switch and outlet covers. In addition to being fancy, they are small and unforgiving. The unforgiving covers of fanciness required that some of the tiles had to be re-done to avoid gaps.

THE LESSON? Pick and install your dang wall plates before indulging in tile-related self-congratulation.

After checking all the switches and outlets, though, I was relieved to find that only two boxes needed reworking.

Two outlets, three tiles.

Two outlets, three tiles. Later, it turned out to be five tiles, but I stopped taking photos by that point.

I used a chisel and hammer to pry the “bad” tiles. Surprisingly, the tiles did not break, but they did take bits of the underlying sheetrock with them, while also leaving lots of lumpy tile adhesive.

Tile gouges

I used the chisel to remove the excess mastic. This worked well to remove the dried adhesive, but some of it came away with even more of the sheetrock paper, leaving crumbling plaster in spots. “Rat fart!” I exclaimed. (I say this when trying to avoid saying other things. I also said a few other things.)


Crumbly plaster is not a good substrate for tile (DUH!), so I had to fix that little problem. Recall this is all because I’m trying to use wall plates I didn’t plan for, rejecting perfectly serviceable plates we already had. I give myself a headache sometimes.

ANYWAY, having made my bed of tiles and being required to lie in it, I fetched the drywall joint tape and joint compound.

Joint tape: more mesh than tape.

Joint tape: more mesh than tape.

I cut the tape to size.

tile mesh in place

Then I took the tape down and applied the joint compound to the surface. I pressed the tape into the compound and smoothed off all the extra goo to make a fresh, flat surface.

tile mesh ready to dry

I cut (and double-checked) the new tiles while waiting for the new surface to get good and cured. Here’s a tile cutting tip I hadn’t mentioned before: after you cut tile, there will be tile-colored dust and debris around the saw. It looks harmless, but do NOT sweep it away with your hand. It’s full of tiny sharp shards, and many will end up stuck in your palm. Unpleasant.

Some time (and a few tweezings) later:

tiles in

After this photo, I determined that I also had to recut the two tiles above the box on the left, grr.

Hurrah. This got me back where I was over a week earlier! Now, I can ply the outlets with spacers (as discussed more fully here) and all the plates will fit.

Meanwhile, we made a grout decision from the options we considered: TEC Antique White. More grey than white, more beige than grey, it’s the ultimate compromise!

grout instructionsSo I applied that. My main advice about grouting is to follow the instructions. And I really do mean that! The TEC grout says to work on only about 5 to 10 square feet at a time. I decided to do all 20 square feet of the backsplash, ignoring the wisdom of TEC. And then my arm fell off, true story, the end.

THEY MEAN IT when they say 5-10 square feet at a time. First, it’s not just applying the grout; less than an hour later, you need to rub down all the tile with a grout sponge to make all the joints neat and uniform.


It’s a weird thing to do with your arm — just ask Ralph Macchio. Plus, it takes a fair amount of force to wear down the grout. My arm is killing me now! It would have been better to mix up smaller amounts of grout and do this job in short bursts over two or three evenings. Sure would have saved me some money on painkillers.

Another tip for backsplash grouting: use a “margin float” to apply the grout.

grout margin float

A margin float is designed to deposit grout on the edges (margins) of a tiling area, but a backsplash can be a cramped area. It’s all margin. The offset handle also makes it easier to get under cabinets and around outlets. I bought this float “just in case” with the intention to return it if I didn’t need it, but I only used our regular float for ten minutes (if that) before giving up and trying this option. Much easier.

Finally, make sure you really mix up powdered grout. When I started grouting, I saw a few red streaks on the wall, causing me to loudly query where I was bleeding from (this reminds me of a joke that most of the English sorts among you will already know). I wasn’t bleeding on this occasion — I just didn’t dissolve all the tinting bits in the mix, so they would streak from time to time when I was spreading the grout.

grout streak

Fortunately, these buffed off as I continued spreading the grout, and I never did start bleeding.

Here’s some tile with grout slapped on it. I am liking the warm tone of the grout. Not very white for “antique white” is it?

grout color

And here’s an area after I wore out my arm violently caressing the joints with a grout sponge:

grout washed down

I still need to clean this up, remove the grout haze, and seal the grout seams. I also intend to tile the window seat area, but we need to consider a possible rework to the seat/lid portion. So once I’ve sealed this grout, the tiling will be DONE. Done enough, anyway.

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Posted in D'oh!, Decor, Kitchen, Walls & Floors | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments