Kitchen conundrums

Overall, I think we did a great job on our kitchen design — maximizing a relatively small space, staying within budget, and working around multiple doorways and a large window (lovely for natural light, but does limit options).  However, a few things have come up as we’re settling into the space.

Where to put the dish drainer
Despite having a dishwasher (which we enjoy!), there are a number of things I hand wash, including pots and pans, the plastic lids to our glass Pyrex containers (trying to baby them), our water bottles, etc.  In addition to holding these items, our dish drainer houses dishes that don’t get fully dry in the dish washer and our Neti pots and the jars we use to heat our Neti water.  For us, it’s been something that is always out.

At our apartment, our sink was placed diagonally in a corner, and our dish drainer fit perfectly into what would have otherwise been dead space between the sink and the wall.  But now our sink is on an island, and the dish drainer is hogging valuable space, including what will be part of the counter for our bar-style seating.


Note: That is the clearest (i.e., least cluttered) the island has been since we moved in!

Back to what to do about the dish drainer . . . .

  1. Live with it
  2. Get a slightly smaller model and live with it
  3. Buy a dish drainer that hangs across the sink (trade-off here is less usable sink space)
  4. ??? — I’d love to hear other suggestions here.

While it’s not the end of the world, this issue makes me wish we’d flip-flopped things, putting the sink against the wall and locating the stove on the island (though that may have presented other issues), but this is what we’ve got.

Related note: We now have barstools!  I found a set of three basic wooden stools on Craigslist for thirty dollars — score!

Faucet spacing issue
Our counter tops were a bit of a splurge, and a bit of a gamble on the color (which we love).  We were told to have our faucet of choice ready on installation day.  Along with the faucet, we provided a spigot for our water filter (we bought the under-sink retrofit kit for the filter we’ve been using for several years).

On the day of the installation, neither Matthew nor I were on-site.  We left the installers a note specifying that the water filter should be installed to the left of the main water faucet, and the sprayer should be installed to the right of the main water faucet. 

The installers called Matthew at work to inquire about the spacing for the faucet and sprayer.  Not being there to see, and not being the professional installer, Matthew asked what was standard, and they replied, “Four inches.”  So they installed them with four-inch spacing . . .


. . . which, it turns out, was not really enough.  It kind of works, if you put the sprayer back in just so (i.e., facing perfectly forward) and/or don’t turn the water on all the way.  This picture was actually taken after they came back out and adjusted things slightly, pushing the main faucet a bit closer to the filtered water supply and the sprayer a bit more toward the outside.

The adjustment that was already made is basically as good as it gets without ordering a whole new slab of quartz for the island.  On one hand, this seems wasteful.  On the other hand, this was installer error, and we plan to have these counters for a long time.  Having it not right is frustrating.

If this was your kitchen, what would you do?  Live with it, or request they make it right?

To pegboard, or not to pegboard
I got the idea of pegboard for kitchen storage from reading about Julia Child’s kitchenI wasn’t sure it would work in our space, but I tagged the idea for consideration.


Fast forward to our almost-finished kitchen, and we have a wall space where pegboard would be an option.  For durability, I would use metal pegboard, rather than the fiberboard material.

We have already ordered a couple of utensil-hanging rails, so the current plan is to install those and wait and see on the pegboard, which would be the pricier option, once we buy both the metal pegboard and the accessories.  Pegboard provides lots of versatility, so that might still happen someday.

Clothesline options
This is not really kitchen-related, but I’m tossing it in here anyway.  In general, I prefer hanging laundry in the basement — because I’m a vampire, and because the sun fades things, and pollen, etc. — but we don’t have a ton of space in our basement, especially right now.  An option for outdoor clothes drying would be great.

Anyone have any favorite out-door clothesline set-ups?

Posted in House | 6 Comments

Because #BlackLivesMatter

Looking at my Facebook feed, filled with posts from my social justice-oriented friends, it is easy to sit back, to feel like everything has been said.  That anything I say would be preaching to the choir.  But the protest posters that read “Silence = Complicity” and “White Silence = Violence” speak truth.

I wish I wasn’t writing this post.  Again.  But there is clearly still work to do.

Work has been done, by many groups and individuals, including the Ferguson Commission and Black Lives Matter (Campaign Zero recommendations), but much, much more is needed.  In the meantime, injustices based on skin color continue across our country.

If you see an American flag today (or have noticed in the past few days), you will see that it is flying at half-staff, to honor the victims of the shootings in Dallas.  And those deaths were a tragedy.

As were the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

Which got me to thinking . . . I don’t know the criteria for ordering the flag lowered to half-staff, but something was nagging, so I visited  Browsing through recent months, it seems that on a national level, the flag is rarely lowered for one single death unless the deceased was politically important (e.g., Antonin Scalia).  Okay, fair enough.

My search also revealed that President Obama has ordered flags to half-staff more than any other U.S. president.  Okay.

What was bugging me, what I wanted to know, was, what about June 2015?  What about the nine dead men and women, including state senator Clementa Pinckney, in a terrorist attack in Charleston, SC?  What happened with the flag then?

So I scrolled backward chronologically through the months:

  • July 2016 — Dallas (5 killed — police officers)
  • June 2016 — Orlando (49 killed)
  • March 2016 — Brussels terrorist attack (32 killed)
  • Dec. 2015 — San Bernadino (14 killed)
  • Nov. 2015 — Paris attack (130 killed)
  • Oct. 2015 — Roseburg, OR (9 killed)
  • July 2015 — Chattanooga, TN (5 killed — Navy reservists)
  • June 2015 — NOTHING

I went to May 2015, then back forward to June 2015.  Still nothing.

So I did a bit more digging on each of the shootings/attacks in question.  Number killed, whether the deceased included police/fire/military personnel, etc.

Because maybe there was a logical explanation — a reason for not lowering the flag to half-staff for the nine BLACK men and women killed in Charleston, SC.  The number of deceased in Charleston matches that in Roseburg, OR, where eight students and one professor were killed.

And I could stick my head in the sand and pretend this means nothing.  Is indicative of nothing.  But that would be horribly ignorant at this point.

Until the 9 people killed in Charleston, SC are worth as much as the 9 people killed in Roseburg, OR, until those 9 people get the same respect, we need to keep raising our voices.


For more on racism at work, from people who live it every day, please watch this short video:


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Ten months.  That’s how long it took from first seeing the “For Sale” sign to move in day, but we were patient and worked hard (and all the stars aligned), and for the past two-and-a-half weeks, we’ve been living in our house!

The final weeks leading up to moving day were busy and stressful — everything you could want for a move, right?  But we wrapped up most of the work, got our occupancy permit (with a few minor violations to address), packed lots of boxes (is anyone every completely ready when the movers show up?),  and finished painting all but one room in time for moving day.

The move itself went quite smoothly, a marked improvement on four years ago.  And then the exhaustion hit.  Once the adrenaline was gone, the effects of sleep deprivation (and perhaps low iron?) and cumulative stress set in, and I was nigh upon worthless for a number of days, but I feel like I’m reentering the land of the living.

There are still more boxes to unpack and additional repairs / finish work needed, but we’re starting to feel settled.


Front room, AKA living room


Breezeway, AKA dining room (/office)

We started off with the two rooms above flip-flopped (dining table in front room and sofa in breezeway), but it just wasn’t working, so we switched to the current configuration.  In addition to just feeling better, this set-up means we’re eating in the room with the old laminate flooring (vs. the newly refinished wood), which is nice, especially with a kiddo involved.  It also means I am happy with our current dining table (I wanted a rectangular table for the front room) — one less thing to buy.

Sneak peek at the kitchen

We have quite a few ends to tie up in the kitchen: glass fronts for the wall cabinets (until then, enjoy our “invisible” glass), tile around the top of the island (over plywood visible here), buying bar stools, decluttering the island so we can actually use the bar, installing the shelf for the microwave, and replacing some baseboard.  Fortunately, those things don’t affect the function of the kitchen, and we’ve already cooked a number of tasty meals (and a pan of peanut butter brownies) in the updated space  The kitchen will get it’s own post in the future.

So, there you have it — the reason for the radio silence around here for the past several weeks!  We’re very happy to not be running between the apartment and the house anymore.  You don’t have to worry about us spending too much time on the sofa though — garden planning is in full swing!

Posted in House, My Life | 3 Comments

Camry vs. Corolla

It’s been a month since we sold our 2002 Corolla and “upgraded” to my MIL’s 2011 Camry.  The decision was made in the midst of a million billion other decisions because that was when the opportunity presented itself.  As such, it was not the most well-though-out purchase in the world.

Our general thought process:

  • The Corolla has been quite reliable, but it is getting up there in years. Also, a little crammed when the three of us are in there together (which wasn’t all that often).
  • The Camry is much newer (though already 100k+ miles — my MIL likes to drive), and scores well on reliability ratings.
  • The Camry is a limited time offer — we don’t need to replace the Corolla now, but if the need arises sooner than later, we’re stuck hunting for a good used car.
  • The Camry is not nearly as efficient as the Corolla, but our aging Corolla hasn’t been getting the best gas mileage, so maybe there won’t be much of a difference (spoiler alert: FALSE!).

We failed to do one thing that most people do when buying a car — test drive it!  Both Matthew and I have been passengers in the car on road trips, and we even drove it on a few very rare occasions when my MIL yielded the steering wheel.  But those were all highway miles, which are very different from urban streets.

Driving the Camry has been an interesting experience.  I felt like I was driving a boat on my first few outings, and I feared we had made a really bad decision.  Rationally, I know it isn’t THAT big of a car, but on narrow city streets, and compared to the Corolla, it feels pretty huge.  Parking, whether parallel parking on the street or fitting into the suddenly none-too-big spaces in parking lots, is also a new challenge.

Then there’s the engine size and acceleration difference.  Our little, old Corolla engine was perfect for a nice, steady 15-20 MPH on neighborhood streets (despite posted speed LIMITS of 25 MPH, 15-20 MPH is really much more appropriate for many of the dense streets we travel).

In contrast, it’s a struggle to keep the Camry much below 30 MPH.  It’s not impossible, but I have to constantly, intentionally, WORK to maintain appropriate speeds in this car.  This leads me to wonder if our addiction to speed is as much about how we’re building our automobiles as it is about personal choices.  (Still, it IS the motorists’ responsibility to be aware and maintain safe speeds, even when it requires extra effort.)

On the gas mileage front, we’ve only filled up once, so we don’t have official numbers, but the Camry isn’t looking good (that big engine), even compared to the aging Corolla.  We’ll likely be able to go about the same number of miles on a tank of gas, but that’s only because the Camry’s gas tank is bigger than the Corolla’s.

On the upside, the decreased fuel efficiency has already motivated me to choose bike over car on a few extra occasions, so that’s something!

The newer, bigger Camry is, not surprisingly, a much nicer ride than the Corolla — smoother, quieter, etc.  Also, all of the power windows work and the radio power/volume button functions normally — not true of our 14-year-old Corolla.  Generally, I’m not in the car enough to care too much about these things, which is how I prefer it, but there you have it.

The Camry is not the ideal car for us, but we knew that (at least to some extent) going into this.  At this point, the decision is made, and we hope to get the most of the Camry (while using it as little as possible).  Compared to my MIL’s use, the Camry is now in semi-retirement, both in terms of mileage/frequency of use and driving style, as I am determined to maintain my laid-back, granny-driver ways, in spite of the big engine!


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Losing the lawn

Well, we finally have the huge, sunny yard we’ve been wanting  . . . and it’s covered with zoysia grass. Zoysia is a drought-hardy, warm season grass, which means you can’t just kill it by letting it dry up.  It will also readily invade our garden beds (which will be most of the yard) if we just till and try to work around it, so it’s got to go.

This resource from the University of California lists several methods for removing warm season grasses.  Any of the effective methods will involve noticeable time and money for a yard our size.

Our plan is to use solarization, which basically bakes the grass to death by trapping the sun’s heat underneath a sheet of thin plastic (you know, the good ol’ greenhouse effect).  This means that we have to buy a lot of plastic, and stay off of the yard for several weeks.

We will likely use sheet mulching in a couple of areas, primarily to create some walkways through the plastic-covered portion of the lawn.   This may, in some ways, be the “greenest” option, especially if we obtained enough old cardboard, but at 4 layers of cardboard over the entire yard, that’s a LOT of cardboard (and mulch, which you need to cover the cardboard).

All of the plastic for solarizing is far from the greenest thing ever — not sure how to weigh that against multiple rounds of Round-Up — but in the end, we’ll be on our way to having a space that is growing food, not lawn (so ready to be done with the mower!).

Solarization has additional benefits, according to the U of C guide: “This method not only kills grass but can also improve soil structure, increase nitrogen availability and reduce some species of nematodes and soil borne disease.”  Sounds good to me!

If all goes well (i.e,. we can afford to buy All. The. Plastic. and the solarization works), we will be laying out our garden beds, perhaps in time for some fall planting.  Once the grass is gone, we’ll bring in some compost as well as any indicated soil amendments (Matthew took soil samples for testing waaaaayyy back in December), and get our garden on!

We’d love to hear from others that have successfully used solarization (or other methods) to get rid of warm season grasses!


Posted in Garden, House | 2 Comments

Floors fume dilemma

Who gets one coat into having three coats of polyurethane on their floors and has serious second thoughts?  We do!

Here’s the thing — we did a LOT of research, and we never intended to use a polyurethane finish in the first place.  One of the first flooring guys who gave us an estimate suggested we look at Rubio Monocoat, which is a hardwax oil, and I quite liked the idea of a no- or very low-VOC finish that could be touched up easily.

I found a great resource on hardwax oil finishes in the Tadas Wood Flooring blog.  They tested and reviewed four brands of hardwax oil, including Rubio, and another product, Pallmann’s Magic Oil.  It seems like the tide is slowly turning away from the standard polyurethane finishes to these healthier, more environmentally friendly options.

In the end, they declared a tie between the Rubio product and the Pallmann product.  After reading through all of their results, I decided that the Pallmann’s Magic Oil might be a little more forgiving on our imperfect floors.

A bit more on our floors — while all the floors in the house are oak, our flooring guy said we essentially have FOUR different floors because of what floors in different rooms have had on them in the past:

  1. Bedrooms: at some point these likely had some kind of polyurethane finish.  Most recently, they were carpeted.  The wood in both bedrooms has fairly extensive urine stains.
  2. Hallways: had vinyl flooring adhered to the wood with a water-based adhesive; water staining from one of the closets being turned into a main floor laundry.
  3. Kitchen: had linoleum adhered to the wood with an oil-based adhesive (tar paper — yuck!).  Once all of the gunk was scraped and sanded off, this floor looked the best of all of them.
  4. Living room: Not sure if this had ever been finished — maybe some kind of wax or oil finish at some point? Most recently had carpet.  Some staining in this room as well (likely urine), but not nearly as bad as the bedrooms.

Anyhow, the guy we chose to do the floors had used Pallmann’s Magic Oil before, but was concerned that our wood floors would not be good candidates, based on all of the issues outlined above.  He was concerned that the oil would not penetrate well and/or would have weird chemical reactions with previous compounds that had penetrated the wood (i.e., urine, adhesives, etc.), but he said he would try to bleach the urine stains (he did) and that he was willing to do a test patch of the Pallmann’s Magic Oil (he didn’t).

So last week, his crew had an unexpected opening, and they came in and sanded the floors and worked on bleaching the stains.  In order to best hide what remained of the stains, he suggested we use a stain that was darker than what we planned.  He had a test patch of this darker flooring stain (“chestnut”) for us to look at.

When I went over to check the color, I was a bit taken aback.  I wasn’t comfortable making this relatively big decision for our future home without Matthew seeing it in person as well, especially since he was more hesitant to go dark than I was.

But in the end, the color wasn’t the biggest issue.  Once our floor guy saw the sanded floors and the results of the bleaching, he did a one-eighty on the Pallmann’s Magic Oil, basically saying our floors were not a good candidate for that finish, and we’d be unhappy with the results unless we went with a standard oil-based polyurethane.  He also pushed us to make a “decision” quickly, as he didn’t want to leave the floors with nothing on them in the high humidity.

And so we okayed both the darker stain and the standard 3-coat oil-based polyurethane finish.  I should add that this is the finish that we’ve lived with in both of our apartments for the last eight years.  It looks shiny and pretty and is fairly durable.  But with an oil-based poly, you’re essentially walking around on a plastic floor, not a wood floor.

On Thursday night, the day after the first coat of poly was applied, we got a sneak peek at the result.  The floors look really great (we’re both happy with the color) . . .


. . . but after just a few minutes inside, my eyes and throat were burning.  The fumes were horrible!

Now I’m having serious regrets about going with the poly.  The thing is, other than vaguely knowing that oil-based polys are bad in the VOC / indoor air quality realm, we didn’t do all that much specific research, because we weren’t planning to use a poly finish!  I feel like the flooring guy railroaded us into it, without ever even testing the Pallmann’s Magic Oil (we were too overwhelmed to really process that at the time).

So here we are, one coat into a three coat process with the poly.  Realistically, the worst (or at least most obvious) of the fumes will have off-gassed by the time we move in in mid-June.  And we’ve been living with poly floors for the past eight years (I believe the floors in both apartments were refinished not too long before we moved in, but I don’t really remember detecting a smell in either).

But I’m feeling kind of sick about this, especially with a little one in the equation (children are usually more sensitive to respiratory irritants because of higher respiration rates, and there’s just so much still developing in their little bodies — I would prefer G not be inhaling high levels of formaldehyde, benzene, etc.).  I feel like we were talked into perfect-looking floors at the expense of a healthy finish, and really, I would prefer the latter.  We’re not in this for resale value, and it’s not going to be a “perfect” house.

I’m not sure we have a lot of options at this point.  If there is another finish left in the floors, we could have them sanded again and insist on using the Pallmann’s.  If the flooring guy is to be believed, there is some risk in this, as in, it just might not work.  But after regretting falling for his hard sell on the poly, I’m less inclined to trust.  If there is not another sanding left, we’d be looking at tearing out and replacing All. Of. The. Floors., which has is own environmental costs.  Not to mention the $$ cost, which we probably cannot afford.

So we’re probably stuck with the poly.  And it will probably be okay.  But the whole thing stinks!

UPDATE (5/5/16): The floors do have a sanding left in them, but we decided to stay the course with the poly (and keep that sanding for a future refinish).  The final coat was applied on Tuesday, more than 6 weeks in advance of our move-in date, so it will have quite a bit of time to off-gas before we are living there.  Not our first choice for floor finish, but we’re embracing good enough.

Posted in Health, House, Not Green | 7 Comments

Steroids and shortcuts

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned having problems with what I thought were reflux issues — a feeling of a lump in my throat that wouldn’t go away.  I spent a week eating very small meals very slowly; avoiding chocolate, raw garlic, and wine; and recommitting to daily mindfulness practice to deal with All. The. Stress.

The mindfulness was nice, but the eating changes?  Not so much.  I was hungry and missing my chocolate, and the feeling in the back of my throat (which made the eating I was doing unpleasant) wasn’t going away, so I changed my self-diagnosis from reflux to allergies, and started treating it as such.

First, I bummed G’s Claritin and tried taking a stronger antihistamine before bed for a few days. It seemed to help a little, but the oral antihistamines alone weren’t doing the trick, so I sterilized G’s bottle of Flonase and started inhaling steriods.

Now, I was a Flonase junkie back in high school, taking it regularly for a couple of years to ward off sinus congestion and related headaches.  At some point in college, I realized I didn’t need it anymore, and it’s been over 14 years since I’ve used it.

Lo and behold, just as Flonase was the game changer for G’s never-ending cough, it also saved the day for me.  While I like to avoid taking drugs as a rule, I’m thankful to have found some relief.  It’s nice to be able to enjoy eating again!

Speaking of food, if you’ve been following my Instagram feed, you’ll know that despite the current roller coaster of life, we are still cooking.  Even in busy times, we have to eat, and cooking and eating more or less as normal provides some semblance of balance.

That said, I am making some allowances for this particularly busy time.  In past busy times, I’ve unsuccessfully tried to convince myself to indulge in some of Trader Joe’s prepared frozen food items.  But every time I go to the store and actually pick up the packages and read the labels, I can’t go through with it.  I feel like the options are either not all that healthy, or they’re decent, but half of what you’re paying for is the cooked, frozen grain, which I can make at home, thankyouverymuch.

A couple weeks ago, I made a TJ’s run, vowing to try at least a few things, but I came out with next to nothing in the way of processed foods.  After looking over the options, my compromise was buying lots of frozen vegetables to cut down on prep time.  (Their vegetable pakoras somehow passed my screening, and there are two boxes in my freezer, awaiting a trial.)

Anyhow, the compromise decision has worked well (though I need another TJ’s run to stock up again!).  I’m combining the frozen store-bought veggies with grains and beans cooked from scratch, often rounding things out with some fresh store-bought vegetables, fresh garden produce (asparagus!), and/or frozen home-grown veggies.


On the left, kale (ours from freezer), garden asparagus, and frozen artichoke hearts over whole wheat linguine.  On the right, frozen stir-fry veg medley plus onion and garden asparagus over black beans and rice.

We’re making other food compromises including buying bread, as my baker quite understandably has not had time.   I’m hoping there might be one last round of bread baking in this apartment — with 6 loaves per batch, it would likely see us through to the move!

With all the craziness at the house, it’s very nice to have an intact kitchen and [relatively] clean space to come home to at our apartment.  Taking the time to cook these days, even with some shortcuts, sometimes feels like an extravagance, but it’s worth it when we sit down and enjoy a tasty meal together.


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