Archive for the 'Dirt under our fingernails' Category

This is a “budget” remodel?

Anyone who’s followed my blog for even a short time will know I’m big on bargains and remodeling on the cheap. I love do-it-yourself features in magazines and online, so I immediately clicked through to an article titled “Budget Bath Makeover” in the latest DIY newsletter. There I found a photograph of a very pretty master bath that had been remodeled on a budget:


And here are the first couple of paragraphs of the accompanying article:

This master bath had many advantages: a separate tub and a shower, a window, and clean white fixtures. The effect, however, was cold and impersonal. A color cure and pretty accessories much improved the look.

Instead of damaging (and then fixing) the wall by removing the plate mirror over the vanity, the homeowner hung an antiqued flea-market frame in front of it. Then she switched out the contemporary light fixture for a classic three-bulb affair; replaced the basic faucet with a porcelain-handle Victorian-style model; and ditched boring cabinet pulls for brushed chrome knobs and cup pulls.

Okay, so far I’m all there. I’m all about painting, replacing ugly pulls, updating light fixtures, and repurposing antique frames. But here’s where the jaw-dropper hit:

The total cost for the room redo: $900.

Wait a second. Was that nine-HUNDRED dollars? Surely you mean a hundred and ninety dollars, right? Um, no. In the alternate reality of today’s crashing economy, it seems there are “budget” remodels and then there are BUDGET remodels. I wouldn’t class spending $900 on a few bathroom fixtures as a real saving accomplishment. In fact, I feel a challenge coming on! I bet you that any one of us could re-do this room in the exact same way for under $190. Wanna try?

Okay, here’s the challenge: Get online and see if you can price out this remodel for under $190. That means finding bathroom paint (one gallon does it for this size room), pulls similar to the ones used in the photo, a three-light fixture, vintage-style faucet, and a frame to go around the mirror (antique or otherwise–just see what you can find). Post links to your finds as well as prices and your grand total (no need to figure in taxes, as we’re all in different states) in the comments section. Whoever gets this remodel done at the lowest price wins a year’s subscription to Mary Jane’s Farm Magazine.

I’ll play along with you and post my BUDGET remodel on April 10. That gives you six days to get cracking! Invite your friends — pass along this post. The more, the merrier! I bet we can show DIY Magazine a thing or two about real budget remodeling!

PS (4/7/09): I’ve removed the current comments with their running totals and will wait until the contest is over to reveal everyone’s finds. That will make it more fun and won’t discourage anyone from trying. Keep the budget challenge going!

Getting into the Gardening Mood!

oldplanterYep, it’s that time again! It all started when I walked outside to get the mail the other day and stood looking around the front deck in disgust. The build-up of fallen leaves, tracked mud, mis-matched shoes, and other bits and pieces just finally pushed me over the edge. Time to Spring Clean the deck! My two large planters looked so sad with their dead annuals and crusty dirt. So I decided to get pansies and liven up all the pots on the deck, then clean up the mess when all the planting was finished. I nabbed two flats of pansies while doing the bi-monthly grocery shopping, then promptly came down with a raging sore throat, fever, and chills, and the poor plants sat on the front deck for a week with no one to think of them (or water them!). By the time I was up and around again, the pansies looked like a lost cause. But I decided to plan them and just see what happened.


The most promising of the pansies...

I grabbed my potting soil and tackled the dirt in the two large iron planters. The soil was so compacted and tough that it took a while to get the crusty layer out and mix up a nice layer for the plants. But the pansies looked a little happier to be in nice, loose soil and have some water.


I tackled the next iron planter, then the two large “terra cotta” (plastic) planters:


toplantYou can see the mess of dirt and leaves waiting to be swept. But I wanted to finish planting first, and I’d fallen for some roses while shopping, too! I picked up two Chicago Peace bush roses and two coral-colored climbing roses for $4 each. Naturally, the package said, “place in ground immediately,” but mine sat out with the rest of the flowers while I was sick. They didn’t look the worse for wear when I finally got to them. Roses are tough. I used to be afraid of roses. I thought only master gardeners could care for these wonderful plants. I quickly found out this is a myth! Roses are easier to care for than almost anything you can plant. You only have to be vigilant through Japanese beetle season and watch for black spots on the leaves that can indicate mold — watering  early in the day prevents this, as the sun has a chance to evaporate the water and dry the leaves. What’s most wonderful is that roses positively thrive in a hot, sunny environment like the one in which I happen to live. Serendipity! So I happily picked up new roses to put in front of the deck.

Last year I planted annuals in this spot just to have some color. Now, with more time to plan, I was ready for more substantial, long-lasting plants. My children helped me prep the flower bed by raking out the leaves so we could work the soil and loosen it up a bit. We didn’t get rid of the leaves, since those are wonderful for compost and can also serve as mulch. Here’s a picture of the bed, ready for roses:


Next, I dug the first hole for the climbing rose I wanted to put at the far left edge of the deck:

dighole holedug

Now it was time to put some good soil into the hole and settle the roots of the rose:


Then my oldest son and I crumbled the native dirt and filled the hole the rest of the way, leaving the “bud” of the rose about an inch above the soil line (this is where the rose branches out):


Finally, my daughters grabbed handfuls of leaves to mound around the rose, since we weren’t quite past the danger of a nighttime freeze:


emptypotThe girls got into the spirit of gardening and quickly brought me an old pot they’d found behind their playhouse in the back yard. They wanted to have flowers in front of their doorway, too! So we scooped the leftover potting soil into it, and the girls planted the remaining pansies in their little pot:

plantingpot3 plantingpot

sweptcleanWith all our planting done, it was time to clean up the deck. The boys matched up all the outdoor shoes and lined them in a row. The girls gathered the toys and miscellaneous items into a pile to go inside. I swept all the fallen leaves out of the crack between the deck and the house and added them to the growing compost pile. We kept working our way from one end of the deck to the other, the boys stopping to exclaim over a long-lost Lego and my oldest daughter declaring, “This looks like a house now!” Because, of course, a messy deck just can’t look like much of anything, right? 😉

The finished results gave us all a smile. How nice to have flowers nodding from their planters and a clean, swept floor to greet the eye!


With more days of sunshine and water, the panies perked right up and looked fresh, too.  The welcome mat is out, so come on in!

The Rat Who Came to Dinner

newfloor2I promised I’d tell the story of how we got beautiful new flooring in the dining room, and it’s a doozy. I didn’t share it back in July, because I couldn’t find the pictures I’d taken of the aftermath. Now I’ve got them, so it’s time to share about our little visitor last summer! 😉

If you’ve read the posts about my adventures in tiling over laminate, then you know it was a start-and-stop process due to my failure to buy enough mastic and then getting the wrong color grout when I ran out. I ended up having to stop in the middle of the grouting process and come back later to finish. The Saturday I quit, I cleaned up and left everything in readiness for the Wednesday following, which was supposed to be three days before our actual move (I know, I know; insanity runs in my family — as Cary Grant once said in a movie, “It practically gallops!”).

When I walked into the trailer Wednesday afternoon, I crossed the kitchen floor to discover this sight in the living room/dining room area:


Yes, that’s a huge empty area in the carpet with little “pills” of carpet pulled out by their roots lying all around. I gasped in horror, realizing that this was the job of a determined nest-maker–probably a rat. I ran through the other rooms and found little bits of carpet chewed up here and there, but nothing compared to the giant patch of “yuck” in the dining room. And now I must back up and give you a little story of the first visit we had from this little creature.

Back when I laid the sticky-tile in the kitchen, I had taken off all the floor vents so I could tile around the holes neatly and accurately. You may recall that I didn’t finish the tiling job on the first go, saving all the precise cutting for the end. But I left the floor vents off (there goes that insanity again), planning to come in a couple of days later, finish, and screw the vents back down. My husband decided we’d all just come out with our air matresses and a change of clothes and spend the night so we could get a lot more done. By the time we reached the trailer, it was already dark and time to put the children to bed. So I walked in with sheets and blankets while my husband pulled out the port-a-cribs and such from the van. I strolled into the kitchen, sizing up what was left to do on the sticky-tile, and saw the vent covers waiting to be screwed back down. At that moment, I remembered that our landlord had said he’d be replacing the ductwork beneath the house, so sections might be off. My eyes widened as I realized I should have put the vent covers back on, and I mentally congratulated myself that the house was not full of cockroaches. I knelt down, vent cover in hand, ready to screw the first one back in place…just in case any nocturnal visitors should get ideas. That’s when I heard the blood-curdling scream from one of the back bedrooms.

rattyMy heart leapt into my throat, and I looked up to see a black furball hurtling toward me across the living room floor, headed straight for the vent I was bending over. I shrieked  and jumped up, dropping the vent cover with a clatter. Seeing me blocking his exit, the rat screeched to a halt, turned tail and ran into the hall bathroom. My second-born son had by then fled to stand tiptoe on the hearth, so the rest  joined him, looking anxiously toward the hall. I stopped to put the cover back on the vent before hopping up on the hearth. At this point, my husband walked through the front door and burst out laughing. All of us started talking at once and gesticulating toward the bathroom. The girls breathlessly got out, “It’s a rat, Daddy! A rat is in our house! In the bathroom!” So our fearless leader grabbed the broom and headed in to do battle with the intruder. “There’s nothing in here,” he announced, at which point my oldest son said, “It went up the shower curtain, Daddy! I was standing in the bedroom and saw it run up!” So with all of us cowering on the hearth, hubby pushed against the shower curtain with the broom.

Mr. Rat decided his hiding place wasn’t all that great and came streaking out of the bathroom, through my husband’s feet, headed straight to the kitchen again. Finding the vent cover back in place, he veered left and scooted behind the stove. Ugh. By the time my husband made it in there, there was no sign of the rat. He called our landlord, who came over, and they both moved the stove. No rat. That fat creature had squeezed into a half-inch gap behind the cabinets and gone out through a tiny hole around the sink pipes! Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well that night, wondering if our little visitor might come back in the way he left!

I finished up the kitchen floor the next day and made sure all the vents were securely fastened back down. My husband and our landlord didn’t think the rat would be back, since he knew there were people in the house now, and the hole he’d used to leave was so small it must have been a painful exit. So we locked up and left, and on my subsequent visits to tile and grout, I didn’t encounter Mr. Rat. So we were sure he was gone for good. Until the Carpet Incident of 2008, that is.

As I stood over the messy pile of carpet fibers, I knew the rat had, indeed, come back through his exit and made himself at home once again. I looked around more carefully and noticed that my clean-up rags were all missing, too. I stepped back into the kitchen and glanced at the stove. In the space between the stove and the cabinet was a pile of rags and some scattered carpet fibers. I’d found the nest. I called our landlady, who sent over her oldest son with the shop vac. He very sweetly cleaned up all the rat’s “gifts” while I poked around to make sure our visitor was no longer in residence. When the landlord arrived home that afternoon, he came over to inspect the carpet, fuming over the damage the rat had done. “Oh, well,” he said, “this carpet really needed to be replaced eventually anyway.” I nodded, then reminded him that we planned to move in three days. His eyes popped wide, and I knew there was no way he could replace the damaged flooring in that short window of time. Thankfully, we’d given ourselves an extra week for our move in case of an unexpected emergency. Word to the wise: always plan a cushion around any move or big project! This was a life-saver for all of us.

So this brings us to the main point of this post: how ratty events can bring about unexpected bonuses in life. I would never have asked a rat in to share my home and chew up the carpet, but what was done was done. No use crying about it. We’d just clean up (thoroughly!) and move on. And our wonderful landlord put in beautiful hardwood laminate flooring instead of new carpet! So now we had a dining room with a floor we wouldn’t have to worry about at mealtimes. Talk about a wonderful providence! Here’s the beautiful result:


So, while I certainly won’t be inviting any more rats to dinner (and I’ve plugged their entrances!), I am rather thankful for what resulted from Mr. Rat deciding to pull up the carpet and make himself at home! Just goes to show you that there really can be a silver lining in the blackest (furriest) cloud!


Post Script: Our landlord did leave a cage trap in the kitchen after this episode, and Mr. Rat obligingly stepped into it. He was then sent packing and will not be visiting again. 😉

It’s official: We’re rednecks…and we love it!

cimg1805I wish I could paint a word picture to do justice to the goings-on in our trailer tonight. It almost requires a video, but I’ll do my best to give you the sights and sounds from memory. But first, there’s a bit of a back story:

After enjoying two full months of country life in our trailer-cottage, we decided to go back to suburbia to visit old neighbors and help them with some pressing projects. We packed ourselves up, lock, stock, and schoolbooks, then crammed ourselves and our necessaries into our old faithful van and headed down the road, anxiously hoping we’d remembered everything on the to-do-before-we-leave list:

* Turn down the thermostat? Check.
* Leave food for the yard kitties? Check.
* Turn out all but the kitchen night light? Check.
* Lock the doors? Check.
* Leave the note for the mail lady? Check.
* Ask the neighbors to keep an eye on things? Check.

Everything was closed up, and our house looked like it missed us already. But we really looked forward to our visit with friends, so off we drove. The children worried that the kitties would miss us, that our country neighbors would miss us, that we’d miss important things happening while we were gone — the list went on. But the closer we got to our old stomping grounds, the more excited they became. They wanted to see friends in our old neighborhood, and they soon forgot what we’d left behind.

Arrived at our destination, out we tumbled, dragging what looked like half our household belongings with us (our friends are perennially tolerant of our entourage and are so gracious that we always feel like family in their home — that sure is a wonderful thing when you have a large family with all its nicks and nacks!). We settled in for what was only supposed to be a five-day visit…that grew into ten…and then sixteen. I told you they were family to us! We got so much done, and we had a wonderful time, but being back in suburbia reminded us of all the reasons we were so glad to downsize and move out to the country. It turns out we were closet rednecks all along.

chatsAnd this brings me to a big revelation I’ve had since moving back to the country after a six-year hiatus in suburbia: I do better living small than living large. Oh, I’ve always entertained fantasies of living in a big, sprawling English manor — or a columned Southern country house with more doors and windows than a body can count. I’ve done my share of drooling over 3500-square-foot homes in house plan books. Yet, when it comes down to it, for me, a big house is just more house to clean. It’s more to keep up with, more to manage, more to repair, and more to stress over, particularly if you have a neighborhood association breathing down your neck.

In our little piece of suburbia, we found out after the fact that outdoor clotheslines were no-nos, that vehicles should not be parked in the driveway but in the garage only, that bicycles and scooters had to be kept out of sight, that trash cans could sit here but not there, that your mailbox had to be kept painted, and the list goes on. The minutiae were enough to kill the most fastidious homemaker. Yes, people in the neighborhood did cheat on the rules and regs (lots of people had above-ground pools, which were a no-no, and most people parked in their driveways), but that didn’t stop the association from scolding (and even threatening one family with a lawsuit if they didn’t park a travel trailer somewhere else than their own driveway — who knew?). In short, living in suburbia with a large family was a little like trying to keep all the brand new Crayolas in the 64 colors box pristine and newly sharpened — and in rainbow order. That just doesn’t happen in our house.

clotheslineSo by the end of our first two months in the country, we all felt like we were finally breathing again — all the way to the bottom of our lungs. Our children could leave all their trikes and balls and army men out in the back yard, and no neighbors tsk-tsked at the sight. I could leave newly-washed rugs out to dry in the sun on the front deck railing and no one raised an eyebrow. We could park our vehicles anywhere we felt like it. We all felt like we were able to stretch, move, and run again after being leashed for several years. Going back to suburbia was a little like trying to put a leash back on a dog who has tasted freedom for two months and isn’t interested in the kennel life any more. Our children felt the leash more than my husband and I did. We couldn’t just open the door and let the littles run into the back yard (there was a lake nearby and a road very close to the house). We couldn’t just turn the girls loose; someone had to be out side to keep an eye on them–and big brothers don’t always like to babysit sisters who aren’t interested in the charms of army men and the vacant lot next door! The freedom of 13 acres and a quarter-mile-long driveway came to a screeching halt, and it was tough on our little folks. Okay, it was tough on Mama, too. 😉 I will freely admit that it is so much more difficult to manage lots of energetic little people when there isn’t room for them to roam, to climb, to jump, to run, and to yell and whoop.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not condemning everyone who doesn’t live in the country! We should all bloom where we are planted. There are seasons where living in town is the best option for many families, and there are most assuredly drawbacks to living in the sticks. But the revelation that has come to me has been the mental leash that we put ourselves on during our Neighborhood Days. I think there’s got to be a way to make suburbia work (I know families who do), but it would take great mental awareness and vigilance to do it. For us, suburbia became a drug. We slowly oozed into the soporific stupor of convenience and forgot so many of the things we took for granted back when we had to be more self-sufficient in the country. I pride myself on being frugal, but it has been a sobering reality check to realize how wasteful and careless I became while living in suburbia. Downsizing on purpose has forced us to wake up — and that waking up is what has shown me that, deep down, I’m a redneck. 😉

cottagegardenI’m not the English manor type at all–much as I once loved to imagine I was. I’m a cottager. If I lived 200 years ago, I’d be the gal in the apron in the low stone cottage, churning butter and humming in the doorway, watching the lady of the manor ride by in her coach with the footman standing up behind. My children would be the ones tumbling about in the dust of the side yard, climbing the ancient apple trees, and chasing the dog into the cow pasture. And tonight’s escapades convinced me once and for all that this beautiful smallness is exactly where I belong.

That brings us back to the beginning of this post. Picture thin slices of chicken, freshly battered, frying up in a pan of olive oil and butter, while I stand mashing potatoes with garlic at the counter. In the background, my oldest daughter slips a favorite family CD into the player in the living room. All of a sudden, the house is alive with the sounds of banjo and fiddle, and my daughters (one wearing a favorite “princess dress”) are clapping and giggling and whirling to the strains of … “Zip Coon” (What? You expected Mozart or Swan Lake?) 😉 Pretty soon, we’ve got half a dozen children clapping, stomping, and dancing in circles to the music:

Round in a circle!

Round in a circle!

Jump in time!

Jump in time!

Old zip coon, he’s a learned scholar,
Old zip coon, he’s a learned scholar,
Old zip coon, he’s a learned scholar,
Sings possum up a gum tree, coony in the holler.”

Take your sister by the hand!

Take your sister by the hand!

Swish your skirt, and...

Swish your skirt, and...

Possum up a gum tree, coony on the stump,
Possum up a gum tree, coony on the stump,
Possum up a gum tree, coony on the stump,
We could overcome our troubles if coon will jump!”

...follow the leader 'round the room!

...follow the leader round the room!

It was a regular hoe-down in our trailer tonight. Daddy came out of his office to join in the fun, twirling little girls and foot-stompin’ with the toddlers. I turned around from all the cookery at the stove and felt a big grin steal over my face. This is it! I thought. Look at this! I stood barefoot in the kitchen, frying up chicken and mashin’ taters while my barefoot offspring had a regular hootenanny in the living room. The giggles and shrieks of laughter were as contagious as the foot-stomping music from the 2nd South Carolina String Band on the player. I called my husband over and said, “See? We were rednecks all along!” He laughed and nodded, his eyes sparkling as he watched the children dancing up a storm.

I think I’ve finally come back around to my roots. I don’t know about you, but I do better with less. I am happier in this little place with our younguns all around us, the music playing, the chicken frying, and the love as warm as the fire crackling in the hearth. I don’t miss the square footage. I feel like I’m finally truly enjoying what I do have and not wishing for what I don’t. I think I’ve learned that, while there are blessings that come with a big house, there are also the worries that crowd in with the responsibilities. It really is possible to pitch the stuff and keep what’s important. How I hope I can remember this lesson. Mr. Darcy can have Pemberley; I’ll keep the cottage. 🙂


Fall flowers on the front deck!

Last time I showed you my sad-looking front planters (the day I mulched the garden). A week later, they looked even more pathetic, as the summer petunias had almost completely died out. It was time to put some color on the front deck! The first order of the day was to pull out all of the dying plants, making sure I got all the roots. The pot on the right-hand side in this picture is quite deep (about 16″), so I intended to leave some of the original dirt on the bottom third, adding new soil to the top and mixing it with the old before adding plants. The day I did our grocery shopping, organic potting soil was on sale at two 10-pound bags for $5, so I grabbed two bags. Wal-Mart had a good selection of fall annuals on sale (I started rather late, so many of the annuals were half off).

Here’s a picture of the plants I got, along with the two bags of soil:

The fiery orange flowers at the back are snapdragons (a favorite with my children). The deep fuschia flowers did not retain their little identifying tags, and I am not sure what they are, unfortunately! They look like miniature asters. The two pots at the front contained a mixture of trailing plants and one tall, spikey flower that I also cannot identify. Anyone who knows what I have, post a comment! I love to learn!

Here’s a closer shot of the snapdragons and the deep fuschia flowers. I love these!

Here are two of the pots cleaned out and ready for new soil. You can see that one pot is a wire basket with a liner. It used to be a hanging basket, but I don’t have anywhere to hang it. I was tickled when I found two black iron stands for these pots in the clearance aisle at Wal-Mart for $3:

Here are the pots with the new soil mixed in. Rich!

I placed the deep fuschia flowers in the center of each iron basket , then surrounded the edges of the basket with the snapdragons. In this photo, you see the plants still in their plastic containers. I did this just to see how many flowers would fit comfortably. I had some snapdragons left over, so I planted them in my front rose garden. I’ve discovered that snapdragons are actually perennials in my region of the South because of our long growing season. At my old house, they came back yearly, bigger and brighter every year. I can’t wait to see what they do here!

I placed the mixture of flowers into the larger pot all together. They’d have more room for their roots and could stretch out a bit. Here are the two pots finished and full of beautiful fall flowers:

And here are all four of the pots next to the front door. Cheerful!

It’s amazing what a little bit of foliage can do. These should last us through November and even early December, depending on how cold it gets. Then we’ll have a month when everything just dies or goes dormant, and I’ll be back at it again in February when the pansies are out and the daffodils are thinking about popping up. I love a long growing season!

Time to show off the flowers!

I adore a cottage garden, and this is just the perfect place to have one! When we got here, there was a front flower bed with a lone trellis standing in it–just begging for some roses! I obliged by purchasing several “knock-out” (ever-blooming) rose bushes at Lowe’s. The great thing was that I hit Lowe’s when all the summer flowers were marked down 50-75%. I got my roses for half off, and I got some coreopsis and a rose “carpet” plant for 75% off. I also picked up another spikey blue flower that the bees and butterflies love, but I can’t remember what it is (should have saved the little plastic marker!). At left you see the triangle-shaped bed to the left of our front walk and at the corner of the deck. Right up against the deck are day lilies planted years ago by our landlord. They are glorious in mid-summer.

Here’s a close-up of the front bed so you can see the light pink roses in front of the trellis and the deep pink “carpet” rose in the center. I also have three more small roses (deep fuschia). The strange thing is that the one in the front corner is the same size as when I planted it, but its “sister” on the left-hand side next to the yellow coreopsis has tripled in size! Must be some good soil in that spot! I did use some organic dirt when I put these in, as well as rose food, but I guess there’s still a “sweeter” spot in the garden that the plants just like better! In the background of this shot you can see the little border garden along the front edge of the deck. It contains some boxwoods, hosta, and butterfly bushes. The children and I have been tickled pink to see both butterflies and hummingbirds flock to the flowers!

Here are two views of the house with the newly mulched flower beds:

And here’s a whole slew of shots to show off these blooming beauties. How I love the colors and scents!

Deep pink rose "carpet"

Deep pink rose carpet

And a close-up

And a close-up

Light pink knock-out roses

Light pink knock-out roses through the trellis

Closer still...

Closer still...

After a shower...

After a shower...

Gorgeous deep fuschia rose

Gorgeous deep fuschia rose

Looking down from the deck...

Looking down from the deck...

Finally, here’s a view of the garden looking down from the deck. It’s a delight from all angles. Next year the plants will have doubled in size and be even more colorful! I look forward to adding more to our landscaping. We have a lovely shaded bed on the western side of the house that will be perfect for a couple of hydrangeas. I’ll be sure to share pictures once we get to work on that part of our landscaping. We were delighted to get a free load of mulch to do the front flower beds. The front now looks really trim and tidy. Maybe I’ll start thinking about planting some bulbs now that fall is here…. Hmmm….!

Oh, and I do have another short-term project I plan to take care of this weekend. I removed the butterfly bushes I had in my deck planters and put them into the garden near the roses. That leaves some very leggy petunias looking rather spindly. Time to re-do the front planters!

Tiling Laminate Countertops – Part Two (The Grout Stops Here!)

Since I’d run out of mastic before placing the small tiles on the edges of the peninsula or adding the backsplash, that was the first order of business when I returned to the trailer. It didn’t take long to finish placing the tiles along the front edge and to set the backsplash along the short area at the wall end of the peninsula. It was so exciting to see everything coming together so beautifully. I decided to mix up the grout and do the other counters while the peninsula was drying, so I pulled out all my grouting tools and read the directions on the 25-pound bag of grout mix. Grout is extremely caustic and can harm eyes, skin, and lungs, so I had purchased heavy-duty rubber gloves just for grouting, and I carried the grout out to the front deck to mix so the grout dust wouldn’t be in the house. I also tied an old shirt over my mouth and nose to avoid breathing the dust. In the photo below, you see my grout bucket, grout float, rubber gloves, clean-up sponge, and cheesecloth (for removing the haze afterwards).

After adding the correct amount of water, I began mixing the grout with a large paint stick. Grout has to be stirred for five minutes, then allowed to rest for ten minutes, then stirred again before spreading. I found out which muscles are out of shape about a minute into stirring the heavy grout! 25 pounds of grout takes about 1/3rd of a 5-gallon bucket, and it’s heavy! I set the timer to allow the grout to rest for ten minutes, then gave the grout one last stir when it beeped and began using the float to spread the grout over the tiles on the small counter next to the fridge. There was no way to get a picture, since I couldn’t hold the camera with grout all over my gloves, and I couldn’t take off the gloves with all the grout around!

Let me just tell you that I had forgotten how extremely messy grout is. The last time I grouted was when I helped my mom tile a bathroom over twenty years ago. In my hazy memory, that was a totally clean and easy job. Ha! If I had known how messy grouting was going to be, I’d have waited to redo the kitchen floors. Failing that, I’d have been smart enough to place drop cloths on the floor first! As it was, I made quite a big mess that I had to clean up quickly before the grout had a chance to harden onto the floor or cabinet fronts! Pushing grout into the grooves with a float isn’t at all difficult if you’ve gotten the grout to the right consistency. It just kind of seeps down as you gently pull the float over the surface of the tile. Then I followed this 20 minutes later with a damp sponge to make everything neat and smooth. I had the small counter grouted in about ten minutes and was ready to move on to the sink countertop:

In this picture you can see the haze forming as the grout dries. This is normal. You wipe the haze off a couple of hours later, once the grout has had a chance to set in the spaces between the tiles. If you’ve been paying attention, you may wonder why there’s no backsplash on this countertop. After I’d placed the backsplash on the peninsula, I stepped back and had second thoughts. It would probably be easier to grout the countertop first, then go back and set the backsplash and grout it. That way I could also be sure that I’d filled in the crack underneath the backsplash between the tiles and the kitchen wall. So I ended up creating yet another step for myself. If I had it to do over again, I’d just go ahead and place the backsplash and do all the grouting at once!

I moved next to the long sink counter and grouted it. This went pretty quickly as well, though I had to stop several times to clean up grout I’d dropped down the cabinet fronts or let dribble on the floor. Messy, messy, messy. But I was absolutely thrilled at the beautiful appearance of my grouted countertops! Everything was looking gorgeous–even better than I’d hoped.

But here’s where I must confess to yet another rookie mistake. I’d come out to the trailer later in the day, thinking it wouldn’t take very much time to finish up what I’d started. So I took a leisurely lunch with our next-door neighbors after laying the last of the peninsula tile, chatting for about an hour before heading back over to the kitchen to do the grouting. By the time I had finished mixing the grout, grouting the first counter, and cleaning up the colossal mess from that area of the kitchen, it was already 3:30 pm. I had to head home by 4:30! Even though the sink counter grouting went fairly quickly, it was 4:15 when I was cleaning up the mess from it, and I knew there was no way I’d get the peninsula grouted and cleaned. My children were playing next door, so I’d have to clean up, pack up, pick up the kids, and head home–all within fifteen minutes. I inwardly berated myself for foolishly thinking I could get so much done in so little time. Worst of all, I had to dump the last third of my grout out, since it would harden in the bucket while I was gone. Rats. Another half day added to this project unnecessarily. Thankfully, my neighbor was willing to run over later that evening and wipe the haze off the grouted counters for me, since that didn’t need to sit for so many days!

I headed home, mentally going over my calendar to figure out when I could get back and finish the grouting job. We were already packing for our move at that point, and I had less than a week left before we’d planned to load up and vacate the old place. So I decided I’d just have to take a day off packing and run back over to the trailer to finish the grout and do the backsplash. Four days later, I did just that. I stopped at Lowe’s to pick up more grout on the way, but I couldn’t find the exact same color. I was sure I’d bought “Sandstone,” but Lowe’s only had one called “Sand.” I went ahead and bought a 7-pound bag and another cheesecloth for final clean-up. When I arrived at the trailer, I saw the original paper bag for the first batch of grout lying on the deck and had an “Uh-oh” moment. By now, I’m sure you’ve lost count of my rookie mistakes, but let’s trot this one out as yet another word to the wise: Remember where you shopped! I hadn’t gotten the grout at Lowe’s at all. If you read Part One, you know that I deliberately got the grout at Home Depot, since Lowe’s didn’t have the color I wanted!

Feeling sheepish, I trekked the 12 miles to Home Depot and picked up the Sandstone grout. With that in hand, I was ready to get back to work and not waste any more time. I followed the mixing directions as before, but this grout came out clumpy and sandy in texture–not at all like the first batch. I re-read the instructions, wondering what I’d done wrong, but I’d definitely added the right amount of water. So I wondered if I’d added too much water to the first batch. A glance at the first bag nixed that idea, but I decided to use the grout as it was anyway. It was like trying to force play dough into the spaces between the tiles! So I disobeyed the instructions and added more water. Bingo! Worked like a charm. I quickly finished grouting the peninsula and its backsplash, then grabbed my mastic and finished placing the backsplash tiles on the other two counter sections:

Above is the fridge counter, with some spare tiles lying on the front. Below is a close-up of the backsplash on the sink countertop:

Now we come to my final rookie mistake. When I’d bought the second batch of grout, I’d only counted the square footage of the peninsula and its edges. I hadn’t thought to include the backsplash for the other countertops. So, yes, I ran out of grout and couldn’t finish the other two backsplash areas! There wasn’t time for another trip to Home Depot. I had to get back home. I knew I wouldn’t have time to get the grouting done before our move, so I figured I’d just have to do it after we moved in. I did manage to get the grout sealed before we started using the kitchen. Here you see the handy-dandy sealant dispenser with its little wheel that is sized to go between the tiles and roll on the sealant. Below is a picture of the sealant drying on the grout. You can wipe off any excess as you roll it on. Sealant prevents your grout from staining as you use your countertops, so it’s definitely a step you don’t want to omit.

Now that we’ve moved in, I am loving my tiled countertops. I can place hot pots and pans directly on the counter, and I love the color. It looks fantastic with our old curtains and furnishings. So, without further ado, here’s the finished kitchen!

Our small round table fits nicely into the center of the room with two chairs. I’ve got a spare chair over by the pantry. A toile valance goes with the toile slipcovers on the chairs, and the blue china on those end shelves of the peninsula help pull everything together for our blue and white color scheme.

Here’s a closer view of the sink counter with our new sink installed. I love my sink!

And here’s a nice close-up of the tile next to the stove.

This was a project well worth the time and effort–and the silly mistakes! If you learn from my errors, you could easily cut this down to a two-day job for a similarly sized kitchen. Best of all, you can save serious money by doing this project yourself. Here’s a rundown of costs for several countertop upgrades, beginning with most expensive:

  • Granite – The average cost for granite is $55 per square foot. That would obviously have been overkill for a trailer like ours, but if we’d gone that route, it would have cost us $2,640. Stainless steel would have come in even higher at $3,360.
  • Solid surface (like Corian) – $1,920
  • Poured cement or wood (butcher block) – $1,440
  • New laminate/formica – $720

So, what did we pay when all was said and done? Here’s the breakdown:

  • Countertop mosaic tile: $94.56
  • Backsplash tiles (the splurge): $82.80
  • Tile spacers: $2.97
  • Mastic: $16.92
  • Grout float, sponge, cheesecloth, tile sealant and applicator: $58.22
  • Grout: $31.82
  • GRAND TOTAL: $287.29

That’s almost two-thirds less than it would have cost to replace the laminate, and it’s way, way below any other replacement options. You could bring the price even lower if you eliminated the backsplash tiles, which were definitely a splurge, as they cost nearly as much per tile as the 12×12″ mosaic sections! If I’d left those out, along with the extra mastic and grout needed for them, that would have dropped the full price to $180.67. Amazing, isn’t it, what a little elbow grease will do?

Looking back on this project, I’d say it is something I definitely wouldn’t want to do after moving into a place. Having the time to do it before a move is really wonderful, so if you are able to, do it that way! I can’t imagine the hassle of trying to live for several days without the use of our kitchen while re-doing countertops. But it certainly could be done, so don’t let me discourage you! Just be prepared for the time, effort, and mess. All three are absolutely worth the end results! Below are photos of the before and after–what a difference!

About the Queen…

Amanda Livenwell is the pen name of a stay-at-home mom who shares the adventure of living large on one income in, yes, a double-wide trailer! Join our family as we say goodbye to suburbia, trim down, and start saving to build our own home. We're going to talk about doing it yourself, living beautifully on less, making do or doing without, and counting it all joy in the process. We'll cover prep-work and painting, refacing kitchen cabinets, flooring on the cheap, tiling over laminate, upholstering furniture, and just rolling up our sleeves in general. If you love home improvement, this is the place for you. Let's get cracking!

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What Inspires Me Most!

"She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands. She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms. She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle. She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness." ~ Proverbs 31:13, 17-19, 27

"Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings;he will not stand before unknown men." ~ Proverbs 22:29

"The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich." ~ Proverbs 13:4

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