Archive for the 'kitchen' Category

Here’s a great $10 challenge!

I was scanning through radio stations while running errands this week and ran across a really neat feature on NPR — a challenge to create a delicious meal for a family of four with a $10 budget! Now, these aren’t just run-of-the-mill casseroles and crock-pot meals (though I’ve certainly got tons of recipes for those). These are chef-created meals using delicious, easy-to-find foods and spices.

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Check out the links below for the first three challenges (including recipes!), and bookmark the page to get the rest as they are posted:

From Chef Jose Andres, A Family Favorite for $10

Chef Ming Tsai’s $10 Dish

Navy Chef Gets Creative with $10 Skate Meal

Enjoy! Also consider submitting your own $10 meal recipes to NPR. They’re going to share the best on the air. And if you’ve got budget-friendly meal secrets you’re willing to divulge with the rest of us, share them in the comments section! I love to bargain shop and bargain cook. It’s amazing how creatively you can stretch the grocery budget when you’re willing to try!

PS – For some of you old pros out there, this challenge is a walk in the park. When we had a family of four, our entire weekly grocery budget was $40 — never $10 a meal! But if you want to make something really special for a birthday or to take to a friend as a gift, these $10 menus are fantastic!

A quick link to share…

I get Country Living Magazine’s email newsletters, and they always have something fun to click on and explore. I thought this piece on renovating a small country cottage was charming: Country Cottage Small Budget Makeover — Easy, affordable updates give a characterless country cottage an inviting new attitude, both inside and out.

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Scroll through the slide show to see what a huge difference paint can make! You’ll see that the kitchen cabinets were repainted rather than replaced (and look totally new and different!) and that the owner used vinyl sticky-tile on the kitchen floor, just like I did. He also tiled over old kitchen counters to cover them inexpensively.

It’s so inspiring to see how much can be done with very little money. Just roll up your sleeves and get cracking! 😉

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!

Tiling laminate countertops – Part One

I’ve got a bit of time this evening to write about the counter tiling job, but I’ll make this a two-part post, since this was a bigger job than any of the others I’ve attempted thus far! In this post I’ll cover preparing the laminate countertops and doing the actual tiling. Next time I’ll cover grout, clean-up, and sealing. I learned several things during this whole process, but the most important one fits the old Boy Scout motto: “Be Prepared!” This is true confessions time, and I hope all my goofs will help the next person avoid time-wasting mistakes. At left you see the original pea-green laminate countertop. The old sink has been removed so that I can tile right up to the edge of the hole. The new sink will fit down on top of the new tile.

This is the old sink we removed. It was one of those typically shallow stainless steel sinks for manufactured homes–barely over five inches deep. I knew this was going to make washing and even food prep difficult (hard to stand a deep pot in a shallow sink to fill it with water for cooking). Strolling down the sink aisle at Lowe’s and Home Depot left me cold. There were lots of gorgeous kitchen sinks, but the prices bordered on the ridiculous ($289 for a basic white sink?). So I got back online and started shopping around for deals. eBay came through for me again, and I found a seller offering this fabulous white sink in a size standard for mobile homes–but deeper:

This sink, though brand new, was listed as “with blemishes” and so was only $29.99 instead of $80. The seller explained that the sink had minor scratches or pitting–but nothing that would effect the overall quality of the sink. With $20 for shipping added on, I had a beautiful sink for just under $50! When the sink arrived, I opened the box and unwrapped it to check out the blemishes. For the life of me, I could not see them. The sink is made of a special composite (tough like PVC), and it is white all through. I guess that must make the blemishes invisible, because I’ve never been able to find them! Before shipment, I requested the seller to drill a fourth hole in this standard three-hole sink so I could add a water purifier later. This has been one of my favorite finds during this trailer remodel. You’ll see later how beautiful the sink looks installed.

But let’s move on to tiling! According to the helpful DIY instructions I found (and contrary to popular belief), you can tile directly over laminate counters. The old methods decreed that you’d have to put plywood over the laminate or use a special fiberglass paper (called “thin skin”) to cover the laminate completely prior to tiling. This just isn’t the case. To prepare laminate to accept mastic (tile glue), you simply need to rough up the counter with #50 sandpaper on a hand-held rotary sander. And so we arrive at my first mistake. When I glanced at my sander’s accessories (including several circles of sandpaper), I thought I saw #50 sandpaper there. So I didn’t bother to stop at Lowe’s and pick up sandpaper before heading out to the trailer to put in a day’s work. On this trip, I’d hoped to get all the countertop prep done and start laying tile. I also planned to rent a tile cutter from the local Home Depot (12 miles from the trailer).

After arriving at the trailer, I mentioned to our landlord that I’d be renting a tile cutter, and he told me that Home Depot in our area doesn’t do tool rental. However, he gave me the names of two other places that rented tools, so I drove 12 miles to check them out. Wouldn’t you know, both of them were closed that Saturday! I didn’t want to drive 20 miles to get to the next closest Lowe’s, so I just headed back to the trailer to rough up the counter tops, figuring I’d at least get that done and not make the day a total washout. When I began sanding the countertops, I noticed that they felt smoother rather than rough. So I pulled the sandpaper box out to check the number again. Whoops. #150! That was a far finer grain than I needed. I was actually just making the counter feel even silkier to the touch than ever! I dug through my stash of sandpaper rounds and had nothing lower than #100. Rats. That meant a trip back to town. I could have kicked myself for not double-checking the sandpaper earlier, since I could have gotten correct sandpaper at Home Depot on my first trip to find a tile cutter. Phooey.

Knowing I couldn’t proceed without the right sandpaper but unwilling to make yet another trip into town, I decided on a whim to see if the tiles would fit without any cutting. I seriously doubted this was possible, but I had time to try it, so I opened the boxes of tile and started laying them out on the countertops to see where I’d need to cut tile when I did have a tile cutter. On the first counter I tried, I was elated to discover that the sections of tile fit perfectly. I would not need to cut a single tile:

I even tested the backsplash tiles I’d gotten, and those were a perfect fit, too. The tile I purchased came from Lowe’s in one-foot square sections. Each individual tile is slightly under two by two inches with 1/8″ spaces in between. The tiles are held together in a square by dots of glue. This is called “mosaic” tile and is typically used in showers, but it’s also fantastic for counters. I liked the shades of brown (doesn’t show dirt as easily) and the fact that I’d be able to set hot pots right on the counter. Can’t be beat! I’d already measured the counters to see what kind of square footage I was looking at, and from that I knew I’d need 50 12″x12″ sections (really 46, but I also planned to use individual tiles to cover the front and side edges of the counters). I’ll give you the cost breakdown in part two once I’ve added in mastic, grout, and the backsplash. You’re going to be amazed at how inexpensively you can redo your countertops!

Now that I knew one counter could be done with no cutting, I headed over to the most difficult counter–the sink section. I didn’t think it was possible to get around that sink hole without cutting at least some tiles. Imagine my great surprise when the tiles fit there exactly as well! Here you see the tile all laid out. Because the tiles were less than 2×2″ individually, it was easy to simply cut through the dots of glue to create smaller mosaic sections. As you can see, it only takes a row of tile one deep to go across the back of the sink. It’s a double row across the front. Below is a photograph showing how I cut through the glue to separate the tiles as needed.

With a little snip, the scissors go right through the glue. Any glue residue left on the edge of the tile can be peeled or scraped off afterwards to leave a smooth edge (particularly important for tiles that will line up with the edge of the counter–you don’t want glue showing there).

Now I was down to the last counter–the peninsula. This one was a bit tricky, since it has a display shelf unit on the end that tile has to go around. I was just positive I’d have to cut tile here, but check it out:

No need to cut a single tile! So now I was thrilled that I hadn’t rented a tile cutter after all. I wasn’t going to need it. Quite providential. Now, when I’d pulled all the tiles out of the boxes, I found that Lowe’s had shorted me three 12×12″ mosaic sections (they come ten to a box, and one box had already been opened, unbeknownst to me). I knew all my tiles would fit on the countertops, but I still had those front edges to do, so I counted all the leftover pieces to make sure I had enough. Nope. I definitely needed those three extra sections. The day was drawing to a close, so I decided to head back home and come back the next Wednesday to do the extra tiling, stopping at Lowe’s first to get the three that had been missing from my box and to purchase the right sandpaper.

When I stopped at Lowe’s four days later, they only had four pieces of my mosaic tile left, and two of them had broken sections. I spoke with the lady at the customer service desk, and she not only gave me the three I’d been missing, but she discounted the fourth I’d need to cover the broken tiles. Never hurts to ask for a discount when something is broken or damaged! I headed back to the trailer and jumped right in to sanding the countertops with the #50 paper. The difference was not as noticeable as I thought it would be, and the counters still felt relatively smooth to the touch. I worried that the mastic might not stick, but I went ahead and followed the DIY directions, wiping down the counters to remove any sanding residue before tiling. This is where the real fun begins!

Believe it or not, laying tile is actually very easy with the right tools in hand. I had my notched trowel and my 1/8″ tile spacers, so I was ready to go. I slathered on the first section of mastic and laid the tiles as directed, putting a section of mosaic down and giving it a slight push to move it into position. You don’t want to lay it down far from where it needs to be, because the idea isn’t to mess up the mastic. The slight push is just to encourage the tile to stick into the mastic. With the first section down, I laid the second section, then placed spacers between them to make sure the 1/8″ spacing remained consistent between sections. Here you see the first four sections in place on the far right edge of the sink countertop. The mastic to the left has been spread and then “combed” with the notched edge of the trowel. You don’t want a very thick layer of mastic or it will ooze up between the tile spaces (as you can see on the tiles just to the right of the mastic!). Here’s a closeup of the spacer to show you how it works:

I purchased the spacers that have a little “handle” on the top to make them easier to remove when the tile is set. Conventional spacers can get stuck in the mastic, which means you have to pry them out later with a knife–no fun. The tile guy at Lowe’s recommended these spacers, and another video demonstration I watched online also showed how easy they were to use. I was very happy with the way they worked.

Tiling the rest of the countertop went very quickly, since I’d already laid out the tile to begin with when I tested the fit to see if I’d need to cut anything. That added step ended up saving me lots of time, since I didn’t have to stop to do any special fitting. I just troweled on the mastic, tiled, placed spacers, and moved on. The only real challenge was setting the tiles onto the front edge of the counter, which is a tad bit trickier, since you don’t want to drip mastic or drop tiles. Here you can see the front edge with mastic and some tile (over the dishwasher):

At right you see the sink countertop completely tiled and ready for grout. All told, it took about twenty minutes to tile this counter. I was amazed that it went so fast, and I moved on to the smaller counter next to the refrigerator, saving the more complicated peninsula for last. Mastic only takes about 45 minutes to set, so I intended to go ahead and grout the counters once I finished tiling. I figured I’d begin at the sink area, which would be set by the time I finished the other two counters. I’d purchased my grout at Home Depot, because Lowe’s didn’t have a color I liked. I wanted a brown grout that wouldn’t show stains, so I got a sandstone color from Home Depot in a 20-pound bag. The tile guy assured me this would be more than enough to grout the entire kitchen, including the backsplash (you can see in this photo that I hadn’t placed the backsplash yet).

Next I moved to the short counter next to the fridge, which went even faster:

Finally, I tackled the last counter. This peninsula turned out to be a lot tricker than I’d anticipated, even though I’d already pre-fitted the tiles around the display shelf and on the odd little notch that sticks out next to the stove. By the time I got to the end of the counter, I was also completely out of mastic, so that meant I wouldn’t be able to get the backsplash up that day or grout the countertops, either. I was disappointed, because I’d really hoped to wrap up the entire tiling job in two days. Word to the wise: a pro could get this done in two days, but amateurs need to add at least another day and a half for the learning curve and for silly mistakes (I was about to make another one–but that’s for part two!).

At the end of the day, I did have all three countertops nicely tiled and ready for grout. The following Saturday I’d be back to place the backsplash and tile the edges of the peninsula (there wasn’t enough mastic even for the small tiles). All in all, a good day’s work. I was just thrilled to see the difference between the old laminate countertops and the beautiful new tile. I cleaned up and headed home with the children, who had enjoyed a day playing at the new house while I tiled. In part two I’ll reveal a few more blunders and show you the beautiful end results of my amateur labors. If I can do this, so can you!


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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