Kitchen Renovation Part 1

So, we decided to renovate the kitchen. This, unlike the bathroom renovation, was planned. However, what we didn't plan or anticipate was just how much harder, longer, and more expensive it would be.
It all started with this wall. 
Around the corner on the right is the living room.
Waaaaaaaaaaahhhhh we can't see the living room from the kitchen!
I know, first world problems.

But seriously, see the wall? It's dividing EVERYTHING!

Taking down the wall of course, also meant redoing the floors...
So, we paused here for about 7 days while my handy husband slaved over jackhammers, tiles, saws, glue, wood, and really sore knees.  Meanwhile, I continued to remove drywall, cabinets and um, the countertops?
Sure! Why not!

But why stop there?!
 Well, I'll tell you why.
Because we ran into more rotted wood (remember the bathroom nightmare?)

Well, it seems all the wet areas in this older home are full of lovely leaks. This one was apparently from the dishwasher and had pretty much annihilated the sink cabinet. It turned to sawdust when we tried to move it. So, my handy husband had to stop what he was doing and run to Home Depot and pick up another sink cabinet.

Once he got that installed, he had to build a frame to hold the cast iron sink.
Well, we've never installed under mount farm sinks before. Or built under cabinet mounts for them.
So, we paused here for a few more days to figure it all out.

Once we got the sink supports completed we made an attempt to attach the new sink cabinet to the old cabinet next to it.
And discovered it was rotted as well.
So, the man went BACK to Home Depot and picked up more cabinets.
Multiply this experience a few more times and we were finally ready to do the sink and countertops.

Butcher block counter tops went in fast. This was about the only project at this point that seemed to go as planned or expected. Oh, and note the new sink and faucet my handyman installed! We did a little research and ended up buying both of these online. These projects were a nice diversion from some of the other more, um, tedious, tasks involved in this reno.
Oh, who am I kidding...this was tedious as well, just in a less annoying way.
But hey, at least the floors look nice!
Wait, is that an electrical cord hanging where the wall used to be?

Why yes, it is.
Remember that wall that started it all?
Well, after we removed the drywall and some of the support beams we realized it was a load bearing wall.
So, we built a temporary support wall and paused here for about a week getting estimates and trying to figure out what our next move was.
Boy was THAT fun!

A round of estimates to the tune of around $5000 to put in a support header helped us plan our next move.

And call for help.
My brother just happened to be in town that weekend so late one night we offered him free beer and a roaring good time installing a support beam.

And by golly, those boys got that sucker UP!
Beer is a powerful motivator.
It was a proud moment.
And saved us a ton of money!
My handy man then spent several more nights trying to figure out all the electrical.

But LOOK! We can see into the living room from the kitchen now!

And only 9 hours of drywall later...
 This part of the reno was DONE!
Stay tuned for Part 2!

Shower Renovation

So, we recently remodeled our upstairs shower. We didn't plan to remodel the shower. We didn't even really want to remodel the shower. But when my 10yo daughter had tiles literally falling off the wall while she was showering one day, running out in tears saying she broke the shower...we figured maybe we should look into it.
Actually, it was only about 4 tiles that came off with the soap dish/tray thingy. We figured we would just match them and redo that one section. Unfortunately I don't have a before picture. But the tiles that were currently falling off were original to the house (30 yrs?) and were builder grade square 4x4 off-white blah blah blahs. Well, when we went to clean off the section of backer board, more tiles starting coming off. And more. And more. And then the tub came out. And before we knew it...
this happened...
Dry rot. Mold. Dry-rotted mold. Who knows how long this had been going on. Pretty much explains the mystery stain on the ceiling underneath. Why the inspector didn't catch this is a mystery as well. Where's Holmes when you need him?! This also explains the musty smell we noticed when we bought the house.
Dear Inspectors,
Ceiling stains + musty smell = leaky rotting moldy boards. Let's put those together next time, OK?
And this wasn't just a little bit of rotted wood. This was the entire subfloor. That blue-ish looking floor in the above pic is the plywood subfloor...completely rotted thru and covered in mold. The ledge was rotted and the boards leading all the way up to the window were rotted. You could poke your finger thru the wood. Almost all the way to the exterior siding on the house.
This was a serious leak. And we knew it would be very expensive to fix. Thankfully the floor joists weren't ruined. So, we googled and did our best to learn (quickly) how to rebuild the subfloor and window ledge.

We re-insulated the walls...sealed the window really well! And put up new backer board.
I think my man did a pretty darn good job figuring it all out! And saved us a ton of money. He said the original tile was laid straight onto drywall. I guess they didn't have backer board 30 years ago? Hmmmm...
either way, this shower was never really sealed properly and should have been updated years ago.
Now, we've tiled a shower before, but never to this extent (rebuilding walls, ledges, and subfloors). And we've never really had to put up this much backer board. And pretty much everything that could go wrong with this lack of knowledge, did. Or, better said: Everything we could potentially mess up, we did mess up. We didn't get the right thickness of backer board, we didn't buy enough tile (and had to go to several different stores to find more!), we didn't do the tile all at once. We didn't wipe off the grout in time which meant spending, literally, 3 evenings after our day jobs just chiseling away at the grout left on the tiles. THIS because we didn't realize we had picked un-sealed tiles.
Ya know, we just thought they were pretty.
So, naturally, we didn't think we needed to seal them before grouting.
And who knew those little glass tiles with stones added as accents would be so evil? Each of the stones just soaked up the grout. Chisel chisel chisel - there was no getting that off. Just a little note on the back of the tile pkg to seal the stones before grouting would have been so incredibly helpful. Also, cutting those little 1 inch glass tiles in half? OMG. We had to go out and get a tile saw...but those little devils required a separate $40 diamond blade.
Don't be fooled by those pretty glass tile mosaic sheets!
In fact, RUN!
Don't even consider it. Just get the 12x12's and be done with it. Had we done that all over instead of adding an 'accent wall and trim' we would have finished about 5 weeks sooner. Seriously. Those mesh sheets don't lay straight or completely flat. They allow thin set to squeeze thru, they require a lot of tricky half inch cuts with a special cutter or blade. They are expensive and well, should be left to the pros to install.
Never. Again.  
But hey, the job is done! It looks 100% better than it did. And we never have to do it again. Hopefully. 
Though truth be told, we're pretty sure our master bath will be next.

What We're Reading Now

It's been a while since I posted an update on what we're reading. We started our library days back up again a few months ago, then the holidays hit and we ended up moving (again! - but for good this time!) and are just now starting to see a new routine take shape in terms of school and library days.

Sorta. More on that later.

Anyway, my 12yo and I both got a stack of books for Christmas because, well, we both get a little jittery when we're about to finish a book and don't have another one ready to go. In fact, I don't feel completely secure unless I have a stack of about 6 or so ready to read.

So, here are some of our recent stacks:

I finished all of Sharon Kay Penman's books recently, and I have to say these are absolute treasures! I love love love these books. So much so that it's inspired me to look into a whole new career path (ya know, that awesome one I'm going to have just as soon as my most awesome wonderful kids move out, get jobs, support themselves, etc!)
I've always had an interest in medieval studies. In fact, my masters thesis in grad school was about Beowful, but at the time my focus was more on 18th century lit. After reading Penman's books, as well as a few others, I can see that focus shifting more to the 12th and 13th centuries. I have a few ideas of where to take this...we'll see how it goes! For now, I'm taking an online college course thru the University of Leicester in England on the Reign of Richard III. It's a free course, but I'm hoping it will lead to something more um, accredited?
Moving on...
Since I exhausted all of Penman's books (sob) I've had to move on to another series. I chose Elizabeth Chadwick. Her books are mostly only sold in the UK so I wasn't able to find any of her earlier books at the library or at Half Price Books, so I've resorted to buying them on Amazon. I've finished up most of the Chadwick books now and while some are definitely shelf worthy, some are not. I'm curious how the Bernard Cromwell books are. Haven't hit those yet. I'll keep ya posted.
I also have The Dovekeepers in the stack, as well as Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which was a Bill Gates recommendation. I'll be honest, I read the first chapter and set it aside for a time when I'm really really desperate for something to read. I just couldn't get into it. I think I'm just in 'medieval mode' and not ready for modern day works.
So, my 12yo is rather picky about what books I can buy her (this is her stack). She really likes Wendy Mass books so she has two of those in her stack and I think that pretty much exhausts what she can read from that author (she's read all her other books).
So, I got on Amazon and started looking for books that Wendy Mass fans were reading, hoping to find something similar in another author. Most of the reviews pointed to Avi, and she's read some Avi books and enjoyed them, so I picked out a few more: Midnight Magic, and Something Upstairs. She's been reading another Avi book called City of Orphans, which had really good reviews, but alas, about half way thru she told me she can't finish it. It's boooorrring.
I picked up the second book in the Bob the cat series: The World According to Bob. She loved the first one (I got the teen version, not the adult version). If you haven't seen the videos about Bob, google it. Great story.  
A few others in the stack: Pennies From Heaven, Nature Girl, Bright Shadow, Sparrow Road, and Stranded. All had good reviews and seemed to be about things pre-teens find interesting. I'll let cha know which ones she ends up keeping.
So, what are you or your kiddos reading?
Happy Reading!

Make-up Bag Detox

So, I've been wanting to do this for awhile. Not sure what the hold up was. Probably fear. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. Fear of wasting A LOT of perfectly good money.
Sounds reasonable.
But then my pre-teen girls started asking about make-up. Then they started wearing make-up.
Even mascara!
At 12 years old! Can you imagine??
(insert preteen eyeroll)
Well, this got me thinking...and really looking in the mirror...and I decided it was time to clean house. Or, at least my make-up bag. It's one thing for me to use cheap potentially unhealthy make-up but a whole 'nother when it involves my girls. I decided this was important enough that they should start off knowing and using good clean products. Products that don't test on animals, or contain parabens or weird wackadoo chemicals, or make their skin blotchy itchy or bumpy.
My youngest and I are both redheads and thusly, we both have the super duper sensitive skin. All my life I've had to deal with make-up sensitivities and breakouts, be extra careful with oils, fragrances, and lotions, etc. And I now see this in her as well. My oldest is blessed with more hardy skin, but there's no sense in throwing icky chemicals on your skin, even if it can handle it.
So, I cleaned out all our old make-up products and filled our stockings this year with some lovely new goodies. And yes, they were a bit more expensive. And yes, it does sting a little to spend close to $20 on mascara. But, these are my kiddos and I want them to have a good start in all this. And we're all in agreement these are worth the extra dough.
Now, I should preface this by saying we don't wear much makeup. I have one girl going on 13 and one who just turned 10. They are both homeschooled so they don't have a need for makeup every day. They usually throw a little on when we go out or are with family or friends.
And I have never really been a big fan of it myself. I will wear just enough to brighten things up, but I stick to a pretty basic routine.
Having said that, here's what we bought:

This is my stash (above). I started off with Physicians Formula powder foundation and blush. I think each was around $30. I found this brand at Walgreens. Within a day or two of using the powder I noticed bumps and itchiness. I immediately stopped using that, did a little more research and ended up with Mineral Fusion powder, which I found at Whole Foods for the same price. LOVE it! I never thought I could give up Cover Girl. But I did. And I'm so very happy I did! A little goes a long way, it covers great and I've had no sensitive skin reactions. Just creamy goodness.
AND: Free of animal cruelty, gluten, parabens, artificial colors, phthalates and talc.
This is good stuff! Amazon it, or google it. Read the reviews.
(Aside: I kept the Physicians Formula blush. I'll switch to the Mineral Fusion blush next but I don't seem to have the same sensitive reaction to the PF blush as I did the powder, and I use so little blush I'm fine with keeping it a few months. Plus, I just can't swallow tossing $60 worth of decent organic makeup! Unfortunately, there's no other way to know except trial and error.)

I bought two small eyeshadows from Mineral Fusion (also found at Whole Foods). One is a champagne color and the other is a darker taupe. Each was about $16. Love them both!
I picked up Zuzu mascara in a brown color, Zuzu eye liner in a brown color, and Zuzu eyebrow pencil in a taupe color. Zuzu comes from the Gabriel Cosmetics line and can also be found at Whole Foods. Each was under $20. This line is also vegan, cruelty-free, gluten free, no parabens, sulfates, fragrances, dyes, etc.
I never thought I would spend $17 on eyeliner or mascara, and maybe it's a placebo effect...all I can say is this stuff just feels better. And I would much rather take a chance with this stuff on my kids faces and eyes than the chemical-y stuff.
I've been there done's time to detox!
So, for the little one:

She's 10. And not allowed to wear mascara yet. And really can't be bothered with make-up. She's a hormone mess AND a redhead to boot. But, she's gotta keep up a bit with big sister so I tossed her Cover Girl stash and replaced it with this. The Mineral Fusion stick is a 3 in 1 product she can use on her eyes, her lips or her cheeks. It's a pink color. She uses it for her eyes and maybe just a touch on her cheeks. That's about all she has time for. Thank goodness!
For her lips, I picked up a fruit pigmented product (I have one in my stack as well!) that comes from 100% Pure. It's good enough to eat. And if I have a complaint that would be it. It tastes a little too natural and I constantly have to reapply. But at least I'm not eating wax. And neither is my little one. Ewwww.
I found 100% Pure online. Not sure if you can buy it in stores. They have a whole line of products. I've only tried the concealer (also in my stack above, which I LOVE!) and these lip glosses. My kiddos gave it a thumbs up as well. I just don't like having to order online each time we want more so I may see about switching to something I can get at Whole Foods. I'll keep ya posted. For now, we love this line of goodies!
Now, for the pre-teen!

She's the pickiest, and very adamant about mascara and looking girly and wearing cool clothes, etc. Thankfully, she keeps her makeup neutral. She'll find these products in her stocking from now on! She actually picked these out with me. She picked a Zuzu blush, mascara, and lipstick. Each was about $20 or a bit less. And she picked the Mineral Fusion powder and eyeshadow. I got a BIG thumps up from her!  
I definitely recommend Googling or Amazoning these products. Research what you're using. Research what's out there. And go for the detox! It's more money initially, but these products last longer, work better and they're going on your skin...for some of us, everyday. What goes on your skin goes directly into your bloodstream. 
I know there are lots of non-toxic cruelty free products out there, but these are the ones we found affordable and worth looking into for now. I'll update in six months or so and let you know if we've changed things around again!
Happy New Year!

Chemistry For Every Kid

So, we're back to doing science experiments this year. We did them a few years ago, but took this last year off for biology studies. The kiddos really enjoy these experiments, and they're super easy to put together. Otherwise, let's face it, I probably wouldn't bother.

I picked up this Janice VanCleave book, Chemistry For Every Kid. You can get the hardback on Amazon for under $3. Fer reals.
Aside: we also have the Janice VanCleave Math For Every Kid, which is really good for explaining basic math concepts to kids (grades 3-8). Janice is also a Houston, TX native so, we're keeping it local here.

With the chemistry book, there are over 100 basic experiments covering a variety of topics.
I choose about 8 to do at a time. I type up a notebook page template sheet that has the name of the experiment, a one line description, a large space for the kids to draw a picture of the experiment, a few blank lines for them to write what happened, and a short paragraph describing why this AMAZING THING occurs.
I'm basically copying all this verbatim from the chemistry book.
So, for each experiment, each kiddo gets a corresponding notebook page to fill out while we're doing the experiment. We then put these notebook pages in our science journals after we're done.
So, for example, in the picture above, in the two small wine glasses, we actually have apple juice and pineapple juice in the glasses. Along with vinegar. The experiment is to test for the presence of iron and have it settle in hardened form on the bottom of the glass.
The coke and salt...well you can imagine what happens there. My 12yo daughter was so impressed with that experiment she posted the video on Instagram.
INSTAGRAM! (It's almost like I'm a celebrity)

In the penny experiment above, we have pennies coated with vinegar to see how fast they turn green!
Lightening speed, people, lightening speed...

And in this cool experiment, called Naked Egg, we learned how to take the shell off an egg without cracking it!
OMG it's like MAGIC

I only pick experiments that use household items we have on hand. Most of the ones in this book require salt, baking soda, vinegar, bleach, fruit, sodas, etc. Like I said, anything that requires a trip to the store or super advanced planning probably ain't gonna happen here. Another reason to love love this book book.
Anyway, my kiddos enjoy science and it's so easy to set these up I don't mind indulging them in a little chemical fun every now and then.
 If only school WAS fun, right? wink wink.

Homemade Chai

So I gave up coffee earlier this year. It was sometime in the spring, after we got back from Seattle. Ironic, I know. I've been drinking coffee off and on for many MANY years. I tried quitting last year but then for my birthday my mother bought me a Keurig and a lifetime supply of different flavored coffees. I felt obligated.
But, to be honest, I don't like the after-taste that comes with those flavored 'instant' coffees. If you read the labels, most of 'latte' coffees contain aspartame or sucralose. Which is essentially the same after-taste/sweetener you get in diet foods and drinks. Google it. It's not good for you, and it tastes bad - if you haven't acquired a taste for it.
Also, many of the flavored coffees on the market today contain gluten. Weird, I know. But true.
And I'll admit, most of my coffee addiction was to the creamers and lattes - not the actual coffee. So, giving up the coffee meant giving up the artificial-ness of the creamers and sweeteners.
I don't miss it.
Though, I will occasionally indulge in a redcup from Starbucks.
I mean, come on, I'm not an animal.

But, since I AM only human, I had to replace one addiction with another.
So, I chose Chai (tea).
Now, I've learned that Chai means 'tea', so to say, "I like Chai tea" is basically the same as saying, "I like tea tea"...which, probably isn't true, and probably not something grown women should say, ya know, out loud.
But, I do like Chai. A lot. Like, in an obsessive I want to make out with it and swim in it kind of way. Kinda the same way I used to like The Guinness back in my beer drinking days. I guess I'm just drawn to strong dark drinks. At least this one is fairly healthy. Or, at least not UN-healthy.
The problem is finding a good loose leaf Chai. The Chai that comes from Starbucks is a syrup (and yes, I realize I'm capitalizing 'Chai' and I have no idea if that's correct or why I'm doing it, but let's just go with it for now). And here in San Antonio we don't have any loose leaf tea stores. I found a great one in Fort Worth, in fact their Emperor Chai is what inspired me to make my own. It's wonderful stuff, but expensive and has to be shipped so I can't just run to the store and get some when I run out. Gah!
Whole Foods has a decent loose leaf Chai but so far has been out of stock the last few times I've gone. It's also expensive, and not as strong (read: cinnamon-y) as I'd like.
So, I decided to try making my own.
I googled a few recipes and basically came up with my own by combining a few of the recipes I liked. I purchased my spices, got out my mortar and pestle and got to work smashing up cinnamon and cardamom...

and star anise.

and peppercorns...

and candied ginger (oh my...who knew THIS stuff existed! What heaven!)

My kitchen smelled so I said, I think I could have made a bath of this and swam in it. I mean seriously, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom...bless it, people.

Once I had everything broken down I toasted it in the oven for a few minutes (5 minutes, to be exact). Let it cool, then combined it with the ginger and loose leaf black tea (this I purchased in bulk from Whole Foods - I think it's Asaam, but any black tea would work). And threw it in my jars.

So, the one on the left is the large pkg I purchased from the Fort Worth store online. It cost me over $30 and barely filled half the jar. The jar on the right is the batch I made myself, which cost me about the same amount, over-filled the jar (I had to put the overflow in a different jar) and I still have muchos spices left over to make more batches. I'm also able to adjust the spice - so if I want more cinnamon and less star anise, I can haz it!

I keep mine in mason jars...chalk painted the tops. I love me some hot tea.
Here's my recipe (I doubled this recipe to fill up the large mason jar):

Loose Leaf Chai
1 cup loose leaf black tea (Assam or Darjeeling) 
4 cinnamon sticks
6-8 star anise broken up (or 3 tsp anise seed)
1 T fennel seeds
2 T whole cloves
1 tsp coriander seeds 

24 green cardamom pods
1 tsp black peppercorns
6 T crystallized ginger
1 T ground nutmeg or allspice

Crumble cinnamon sticks into small pieces. Split cardamom pods in half. Crush other spices with rolling pin or mortar and pestle. Place cinnamon, star anise, fennel, cloves, coriander, cardamom, and peppercorns in a pie tin and toast in oven at 350 for about 5 minutes.
Toss spices, ginger, nutmeg and black tea together. Store in airtight container.
YUM! Also makes a great gift!
*Here are a few links I found useful: