July 30, 2018: Something’s cooking in our kitchen, but don’t expect it to be ready for dinner any time soon. That could include Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, knowing the speed at which projects unfold in our home. We refer, of course, to the remodeling project that was the subject of last month’s newsletter.
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It is funny how plans evolve as projects progress, and this one is no different. We began with the idea of replacing our old tile countertops with a granite slab and were close to biting the bullet on a purchase before budget concerns and labor logistics gave us pause. After what felt like weeks of research, we decided on a style we liked at Granite Expo and were prepared to hire them on to do the installation when the time came. Glenn had taken meticulous measurements of the roughly 28 square feet of counter area our kitchen contains, and we took the numbers to Granite Expo’s Pittsburg store to get some specifics about price and timing. Then the sales consultant we were working with broke some bad news: the bay window behind our sink meant the job couldn’t be accomplished with a standard 2-foot-wide slab of granite, so we would either have to buy an oversized piece at considerable expense or have to seam two pieces together — a non-preferred solution that would leave an unsightly line in the middle of the main counter.
The store’s installers apparently won’t do such seams for whatever reason, so it was suggested to us that they could do a “step-up” that would involve hiding the seam by mounting the small slab in the bay window over the edge of the main counter behind the sink. We looked at an example of this and were coming to accept the solution until we realized it wouldn’t work in our case because the bottom lip of the window sits too close to the counter surface and the 2 cm granite is too thick. We didn’t want to have to relocate the window just to install new counters, so we needed another option.
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OOKING AROUND ON the internet brought us to the idea of making our counters out of wood. For the ambitious, boards can be glued and screwed together to make a monolithic surface that not only functions like a solid kitchen counter but also looks beautiful. For the less ambitious or those otherwise unskilled at such endeavors, there are prefabricated wood counters that can be purchased online for a few hundred dollars and shipped to you. All you need to do is stain them and install them, which unlike a slab of stone is something an average do-it-yourselfer can handle. Building our own wood counters would allow us an affordable workaround for the bay window problem. We could even buy a premade one and glue up the extension ourselves.
But then the logistics of this idea became apparent when we started watching videos on the subject. Finding the wide, 2-inch-thick strips of oak or maple or other suitable hardwood would be problematic. You can’t buy those at the big box stores, and even our local lumber yard didn’t carry those wood species in that size. Even if they could order them, the wood would be very pricey. And then we would have to have a way to plane those boards perfectly flat, and enough large clamps to glue them together, and a wide space in which to assemble everything. Then we would have to invest is enough epoxy to apply seven coats to seal the wood from water damage, not to mention maintain the sealer every year or so. We kicked this idea to the curb once we realized the prefab counters we were looking at from IKEA consisted of a particle board core, so they were not 100 percent hardwood anyway.
Then Glenn had another thought: what if we returned to the idea of granite counters, but instead of a solid slab used granite tiles? There are several such tiles available in a variety of sizes. If we used a handful of large tiles and arranged them in a decorative way, the resulting seams would look like they were planned and not accidental. Best of all, we could install them ourselves.
But wait, didn’t we say we hate our existing tile counters and wanted to get away from them? Well yes, but those are boring ceramic tiles with giant grout lines. These would be solid stone, just like their expensive slabby cousins, only easier to handle and install. We could do the entire job on our own and save about $1,000 in labor. Incentive enough, we think. And we would keep the grout lines to a minimal thickness using a complementary color, so the seams would be less obvious. This could work!
We decided on a type of granite called blue pearl. We think the bluish gray hue will work well with the gray paint scheme we plan to use on the cabinets. But we quickly discovered that the 18-inch square tiles we hoped to use aren’t available locally, and having them shipped would add at least a third to the cost of the materials. Grrr. So now we’re going with 12-inch tiles. They are smaller, yes, but still larger than the 8-inch ceramic tiles we currently have on our counters. To be continued…
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EANWHILE, WE HAVE started work on the expansion of our existing kitchen cabinets. These cabinets end about a foot below the base of the ceiling, leaving a lot of unused space that could be used for storage. Our plan is to build a row of small cabinets that fit on top of the existing ones and replace all the doors so that they look the same. This has meant a lot of trial and a little bit of error as we experiment with what works best.
Since we are painting the cabinets and not staining them, building the boxes and face frames can be done with relatively inexpensive materials. This gives us an excuse to use some of the scrap wood we have had lying around the garage for years, so Glenn sawed down a few pieces of particle board and plywood for the cabinet boxes. We did buy some strips of poplar to make the face frame of the first cabinet, mostly as an experiment to see how we like it.
The doors are a little trickier. We are hoping to ditch the original doors and replace them with shaker-style doors that we will build from scratch. They are very simple to design, consisting of a frame of ¾-inch lumber with a panel of ¼-inch plywood attached to the center. How to construct these has been the bigger challenge. There’s the Norm Abram way, then there’s our way. Our way involves getting a pocket hole jig and using it to attach the rails and stiles together for the frame. Then we will rout out the inside edges and nail the plywood to the frame. The only problem with that is we didn’t have a router or a brad nailer.
We solved the lack of a router by finding a Craftsman model at Sears, which unfortunately was not in stock locally. We had to drive 45 minutes to Tracy, where we were able to purchase one off the shelf, rather than wait three weeks(!) to have it shipped to us. The lack of a brad nailer was handled more easily, with a trip to Home Depot. There we picked up a Porter-Cable combo pneumatic brad nailer and crown stapler that should do the job nicely.
The first cabinet extension is nearly finished, as of this writing, and looking pretty good. At least the wood fits where it is supposed to. We are just waiting to add some paint and a few hinges and the new doors to see if it meets our vision for what this kitchen is supposed to look like once it’s all done. And as we said above, to be continued...
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UR KITCHEN REMODELING plans took a bit of a detour on Independence Day. That was the morning we awoke to the unfamiliar sound of water running somewhere in the house. Ben had just finished up his shower in the guest bathroom and the toilet makes a different sound when the tank in filling. We went in there to check things out and found water pooling on the vinyl floor next to the bathtub. Well, this couldn’t be good. Not even Ben leaves that much water on the floor after a shower, so the most likely answer was that a pipe had burst somewhere in the wall or the foundation.
Glenn shut off the water to the house and then went about the task of locating the source of the leak. Having just remodeled the bathroom in February, he wasn’t keen to the idea of ruining all that hard work. But where to start? There was water bubbling up through the seams of our vinyl planks, which are supposed to be impervious to water — from above. The noise was coming from between the shower and the toilet, so nothing to do but grab tools and start with the wall.
To get to the wall, Glenn first had to disconnect the toilet and remove it from its base. Then he pried off one panel of the wainscoting to reveal the drywall behind it. The wall was cool to the touch and intact up higher, but it had turned to crumbling, soggy paste near the baseboard. It was a loss anyway, so Glenn used a utility knife to cut out a rectangular section of the wallboard, revealing the copper pipes behind it. One of the pipes feeds the intake valve for the toilet. The other pipe pops through a stud and then angles toward the ceiling just behind the fiberglass bathtub enclosure. Glenn felt around the back of the shower stall and his hand came back wet. The leak was higher.
Ripping out more of the drywall, he traced the moisture along the back of the stall until he discovered the culprit: a nail hole in the pipe. Turns out that during the remodeling project, when we attached the wainscoting to the drywall, Glenn nailed into the shower stall with his pneumatic finishing nailer and it pierced the pipe behind it. Through whatever miracle of miracles, the nail had mostly plugged the leak for more than five months, choosing Independence Day to… well, gain its independence from being stuck in the pipe.
The good news was that the leak wasn’t in the foundation. The bad news was that we had to figure out how to fix it before we could turn the water back on. We had planned to take a drive to Sacramento, but that idea fell through the moment we heard the leak. With Ben at work, we were just thankful the leak happened before we decided to leave for the day, as we would have come home to much worse damage.
We took solace in knowing that our mistake is quite common. YouTube is rife with videos on amateur (and professional) carpenters who have punctured pipes. There are several different ways to repair small holes, and we spent hours looking at solutions ranging from dabbing on plumber’s putty to soldering in entire sections of copper pipe. Having never “sweated” a plumbing repair, we were leery of sticking a propane torch inside our walls. Furthermore, all the videos make it look simple because they demonstrate techniques on a workbench or locations with easy access; our pipe was obstructed by the shower stall.
Eventually we discovered a product called the SharkBite that doesn’t require solder. You saw out a 2-inch section where the leak is, then use a copper stent that slips over each end of the cut to form a watertight seal. It is supposed to be safe for use behind walls. This seemed like our answer, except we disliked the idea of having to further damage the pipe in order to use it. In the end we decided it was better than the propane torch approach and went for it.
We went to ACE Hardware for the $30 in supplies we needed, and after realizing we’d bought the wrong piece the first time, we soon had assembled the SharkBite kit, a pipe scoring and cutting tool, and a deburring brush. It is important to make the ends of your cut as square as possible. The pipe cutter is supposed to do this efficiently. It is essentially a sharp blade attached to a circular clamp that spins around the pipe. You clamp it tighter with each rotation until it cuts through cleanly. This is great, in theory, if you aren’t obstructed by walls and studs and such. We were, and unfortunately quickly found that the clamp tool was useless to us.
If the small clamp cutter wouldn’t fit our tight space, then neither would a reciprocating saw or an angle grinder — our backup plans. The hacksaw proved too large, as well. We don’t have a file that would work. The solution turned out to be Glenn’s Dremel tool with a flex shaft attached to a cutoff wheel. It was slow going, but eventually both cuts were made. No, they were not perfectly square, but with a bit of sanding they came close.
Now came what proved to be the hardest part of the repair — attaching the SharkBite. Glenn slipped the adjustable end over the bottom part of the cut and wiggled it into position. That was relatively easy, despite the tight quarters of the wall. The next step involved having to align the top pipe cut with the stent opening and then slide the SharkBite up to make a firm connection. There is some sort of orange plastic C-shaped tool that snugs against the bottom of the SharkBite and releases its grip enough for it to move more easily. Yeah, right.
For the next half hour, Glenn strained and cursed and grunted as he tried to twist the pipe into place. They don’t call it the SharkBite for nothing — once it grips the pipe with its metal jaws, there is no amount of force that can easily coax it into moving. And that little C-shaped tool didn’t help much, mainly because there was no room to work inside the wall. But somehow the connection was finally made, and so far we have not seen leaks or heard running water, so now we shall close up the hole in the wall and pray the repair continues to do its job.
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EN HAS BEEN enjoying his first month behind the wheel as a fully licensed driver. Life is so much sweeter when you save 40 minutes off your daily commute to and from work, despite the fact that his job is less than two miles from home. Not content to leave his driving to work hours, however, he has also made several recreational trips around the area with friends to keep him company and help boost his confidence; even though Ben has proven he can handle himself on the road, doing so alone still feels daunting in new situations.
Like visiting the drive-through. It was one of the things Ben most wanted to do once he got his license, and so for his inaugural journey into the fast food lane he chose Taco Bell. He took Dad with him for moral support, most of which amounted to suggestions that there were better restaurants to choose from. Ha! It mostly went well, except for the part where he had to pay the cashier and she made him back up the car so he wasn’t two counties away from the window. Yeah, you’ve got to be closer unless you want to conduct your food transaction across the Grand Canyon.
Afterward, Glenn rode with him to work, where Ben dropped him off so Dad could walk back home while Ben kept the car for the night shift. It wasn’t that Glenn especially wanted the exercise on a day the mercury was expected to hit the mid-90s, but he has been taking regular daily walks since the doctor told him he needed to work on lowering his blood pressure.
Actually, Glenn visited the doctor in late June because he was having pains in his side that weren’t going away. He attributed it to a backache until reading about his symptoms and worrying that is could be appendicitis. Yes, the mind runs wild when left alone with an internet connection. The doctor assured him it wasn’t appendicitis and sent him on his way with a prescription for painkillers, but not before letting him know that his blood pressure was just north of hypertension stage and that he would have to come back for a retest.
After Glenn’s July 6 follow-up visit proved worse than the earlier test, the decision was made that he should begin a course of regular exercise — something that hasn’t been happening since he stopped working more than a year ago. A writer’s life has its ups and downs, but one of the biggest negatives is a sedentary work environment. As one nurse told him, blood pressure is 80 percent hereditary, but we have some control over the remaining 20 percent. So for four weeks solid Glenn has been engaging in daily walks of at least 2 miles, curious to see if they will have any positive effect on his blood pressure readings.
So far, the major benefit has been on the scale. Walking regularly has taken off about 5 pounds. Which gets him down to just being normally overweight instead of uncomfortably over, but it’s a start. Will he keep it up beyond his next follow-up appointment with the doctor? That remains to be seen, and knowing himself the way he does, Glenn isn’t hopeful for long term success. But for now he is enjoying his evening promenades with the crickets to keep him company.
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UR LOVE AFFAIR with the pear continued July 29 when we checked out the 46th annual Pear Fair in Courtland. It was a special visit for us, given that this was our 30th appearance at the show we have attended faithfully nearly every year since 1988. Each year is just a little bit different, and this one was no exception; the skies were shrouded in smoke from the many fires burning in the northern part of the state, making it look like an overcast day even as the temperature approached the mid-90s.
The gloomy weather may have contributed to a drop in attendance this year, as we noted crowds were unusually light and we actually were able to find plenty of seats in the shade tend near the main stage, a spot that is usually full when the sun is at its blazing best.
We arrived around 10 a.m. and made our usual route of the festival grounds, stopping first by the history exhibit where we picked up our souvenir pins and bumper stickers. Then it was off to the Lions Club booth to purchase pear bread for ourselves and Ben, who unfortunately had to work and was unable to join us this time. Finally it was over to the Walnut Grove PTA booth to purchase a pear pie to take home for dessert. They are so good, and even at $15 each they often sell out quickly, so we always make sure to get ours first thing. A volunteer at the booth told us her group baked more than 900 pies the night before the fair! With the lower attendance it appeared they still had some left by the time we headed for home around 2:30.
Gone from this year’s fair was the quilt show that had been in the elementary school gymnasium for the past two years. Also missing was Sarah Simpson, better known to fairgoers as the “Pear Lady,” the show’s costumed mascot. In her place was a new, younger version of the Pear Lady dressed in green leggings and carrying her basket of lollipops that she distributed to the young and young-at-heart who posed for photos with her. Still on the schedule was the 1 p.m. parade, which is always a highlight of the day.
In the optimistic words of the fair’s program guide, the parade makes its way “throughout Courtland,” which really means around the park where the fair takes place. We staked out viewing spots at the corner of Washington and Primasing avenues, not far from the review stand, to see the brief procession of bagpipers, cheerleaders, classic cars and candidates for the title of Pear Queen and King. There was little suspense at the coronation ceremony, as the king’s throne was a race of one and just two girls were up for queen; Gina Laurenzi beat out Wendy Macias-Torres in what we can only assume was a fierce local rivalry. Or not. They all seemed in high spirits as they traveled through the festival grounds afterward, greeting their royal subjects.
We enjoyed a handful of pear goodies we purchased from the dozen or so food booths, then had our customary Lockeford Sausages while listening to the Dave Russell Band belt out country tunes on the main stage. We hung around long enough to see it all and do all that we wanted to before the heat and fatigue finally did us in. We headed home content with the knowledge that it had been another memorable visit and with hope that we’ll be able to do it all again next July 28.