Monday, December 21, 2009


We finally grouted the new tiles in the kitchen. We first had to clean them and then soak them really well with water, so that they don't absorb all the moisture from the grout and make it dry too quickly, without letting it stick. The reason it took us so long to get to this stage, is that we first thought that we'd seal the tile before grouting. We thought that if the tile is not sealed, it will absorb the grout that would inevitably land on it, and so get stained. But we then realized that if the tiles are soaked, the grout can be cleared pretty easily off of them while it's still wet. So we finally did it, and it took us two nights. Last Tuesday we did the part under the oven and by the sink:

And also the part under the fridge (on the right):

We finished the rest on Wednesday night, including all along the cabinets.

I'm glad we ended up not sealing the tiles before grouting. The grout does leave something on the tile, but it makes it match the old tiles, which were probably also not sealed before grouting. The difference between old and new tiles that was obvious before, all but disappeared after grouting. Of course, the old tiles are way dirtier... We'll need to scrub them with ammonia and then reseal them, but we'll do that only after we seal the new tiles under the oven and fridge, and then move the oven and fridge - finally - to where they're supposed to be. And we can only do that after the tiles and the grout are completely dry.

Grouting was mostly done by Mark. My job was to get clean water and clean the buckets. This was not fun: I had to wash the bucket and sponges in the cold water outside, where the temperatures dropped to somewhere in the 40s, plus a chilly breeze... Brrrr... I'm glad it's done!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Guess What! Our Oven is in the Middle of the Kitchen Again!

Yes, we had to move it and now it's blocking the access to one of the cabinets, not to mention making our kitchen even smaller.
But we got the tiles laid out under where it's supposed to be:

We also got a lot of little pieces laid out right next to the cabinets. Sometimes as narrow as less than an inch! We couldn't have done that without the wet saw that Mark's dad gave us! Here's a picture of it in action:

Our Veggies are 1-Month Old!

They turned 1-month on Thursday, which is when I took these pictures:

Don't they look great? On Sunday we put the first string for the peas to climb on.

Our little mixed salad bed. Tomorrow we will thin them out and have a delicious salad!

The fennel is starting to look like fennel!

Also, last night was freezing, so we had to cover the fig tree. Hopefully that helped.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tile Redoing

Today we redid almost everything we did yesterday. Yes. It's sad, I know. But Mark found that the tile wasn't set very tightly on the floor, and decided to take all but 4 pieces off. Indeed, these 4 tiles were the only ones that didn't come off way too easily. So today we got some thin set and tried over. It seems to have worked better than the cement, but we'll see. Hopefully we won't have to do it yet again.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Kitchen Floor Tiles!!

We finally got to work on our kitchen floor. You see, until today, our floor looked like this:

This is because there used to be cabinets over there. Now the corner will house the refrigerator, which awaits patiently in the dining area. Some of the other tiles we had to remove because they got damaged. It's very easy to get them damaged - you don't have to even touch them. But don't get me started on Saltillo tiles - which is what these tiles are. Suffice to say that if you ever consider installing new floors in your house, do yourself a favor and do NOT install Saltillo tiles. Any other floor would be better, I assure you. Anyway, we prepared the floor by removing the tiles and parts of the grout, and now they're ready to accept the new tiles. First, set them up, to see if they look okay:

Now, attach with mortar. We got some cement, and at first tried to use it mixed with sand. Didn't work - it dried out too quickly, and was too tough to squeeze out from under the tile. Since the tile is not flat - neither at the underside nor at the top - you have to make adjustments with the mortar, so soft mortar works better. This is why we had to remove what we started, and do it over, this time without any sand, just straight cement. We found that the tile also needs to be completely soaked, otherwise it would suck up all the water from the cement and dry it out really quickly. Well, this is what it looks like now:

Now we need to wait for it to dry, which should take 1-2 weeks or so, seal it - since it's unglazed tile - and grout it. We also have to do the part under the stove, because the stove is now standing were there used to be cabinets.

When we were done with the tile, we went to the garden and thinned our mustard greens. From the thinning, I made these open sandwiches:

They were good! Mustard greens have a distinct flavor that I like. I tossed them with some balsamic vinaigrette and put them on some lightly toasted bread, topped them with some avocado salad (avocado, diced tomato, toasted walnuts, lime juice, garlic powder, salt), and finished with some crumbled feta. Our first garden crop was delicious!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Growing Veggies II

Here's how much our veggies have grown in a week! Cool or what?

And the mesclune leafy greens are starting to look like a salad mix!

Growing Veggies

While visiting in Israel I heard that our peas came out, and also some of our lettuces. I couldn't wait to see them! It was so much fun to see green in our little veggie beds!
The following pictures are from last Sunday.

Our peas

Pea close-up

Leafy greens

The mantid lives on the fig

The next post will be of pictures from today, so you can see how much more they've all grown!

While I was gone Mark also made another bed for the herbs, and planted oregano, parsley, chives, and cilantro. The picture I took of that is very blurry, so I'll wait till we get some seedlings to show you.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


The last couple of nights we spent preparing the beds for the vegetable garden, setting the irrigation, and, finally, planting. Monday night was for the peas - we planted sugar snap peas and snow peas - and Tuesday night was for the leafy greens - mesclun mix, spinach, mustard, arugula, leeks, green onions, and fennel.

Do you think they'll be green by the time I get back from Israel (in 10 days)?

To prepare the beds we basically repeated what we did with the trees: gypsum at the bottom to loosen up the soil, then mixed layers of compost, peat moss and soil.
As for the irrigation, the peas have a dripping hose, and the greens have sprinklers. Note that when the label on the sprinklers package reads "1' to 6'" it means that it actually can barely reach 1.5 feet. Lame!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Three Trees

With sore muscles from Saturday's tree hole digging, we continued with the same motion and kept digging some more on Sunday. This time it was for the vegetable beds. We dug one little trench for peas - 1 by 17 feet, and one for leafy greens and other vegetables - 3 by 17 feet.

Then we went to get trees from the Mesquite Valley Growers Nursery, which happens to be the largest nursery in town. They have a huge selection of everything, and they got very good reviews. Indeed, they helped us find the most beautiful trees:

The farthest away, by the shed, is a semi-dwarf redblush grapefruit tree. This means that it will only grow to about 12 feet. On the left is a Janice Seedless Kadota fig tree, whose fruits were rated best-tasting at a 1996 Dave Wilson Nursery fruit tasting. And at the front - hopefully the largest tree, so its canopy might shade the office in the hot summer mornings - Fuyu persimmon! I always thought I hated persimmon, but I guess I just never had good ones. We recently bought one to try, and I realized that it is an absolutely delicious fruit. I can't wait to try ours!

Before sticking the trees in the ground we put some (2") gypsum and mixed it with the hard bottom of the hole. This is supposed to soften the soil. On top of it we layered compost, peat moss (for increasing the acidity), and the original soil, mixing the layers as we went. It took about an hour to finish each of the trees. We did the same with vegetable beds, one of which, the little one of the peas, you can see in the tree picture above. We ended up working on it in the dark, with only the moon and the measly porch light to show us what we were doing.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tree Holes

Today we finally started working on the garden! We dug 3 large holes for three fruit trees. We're hoping to get fig, grapefruit and persimmon.
Tucson is known for its hard clay alkali soil, and also for its caliche - a really hard layer of deposited calcium carbonate. We heard that sometimes you need a jack hammer to penetrate it, otherwise your plants will die either because their roots can't go deep enough, or because the water would be trapped and suffocate the roots. Luckily we don't have a hard layer, but we do have some fragmented caliche. You can see it here as the white material in the hole:

Here's a look of the pile of soil we removed:

Because of that caliche-like stuff, we decided to test the soil for drainage, as recommended in a publication about caliche from the U of A. We partly filled the hole with water and measured the level to see if we get 4" of drainage per 4 hours.

It drained way faster than that. Actually, we got to test it again, just in case the water creates an impenetrable layer with the caliche. It drained pretty quickly the second time as well. So yay! We don't have caliche problems! What a relief!

Tomorrow we'll add gypsum to the bottom of the holes, and then mix the soil with some compost we got a huge pile of:

This will hopefully create a suitable rich substrate for the trees to grow, and the gypsum will hopefully make the soil softer.

Just in case you're wondering how we'll get all that compost to the garden area in the backyard, here's the answer :)

Today we also started digging the beds for the vegetable garden. We still have a lot to do tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Countertop is in!

Monday morning, way before our wake up time, the phone rang. It was the countertop installation person, asking if he could come an hour early. "Sure", I said, "since you already woke us up...". He apologized, and a few minutes later showed up ready to install the countertops.
We got them from the Home Depot, and they are made by Corian. They came with a free integrated sink that fitted our sink base cabinet, and a free edge upgrade; we chose the bullnose edge. Very classy. We ended up paying around $1700.

Here is the installer drilling holes for the faucet:

After the countertops were installed, we could start working on the installing the faucet. Here's what it looks like under the sink now:

The drain is not attached yet, because we keep finding more tubes that need extensions. Maybe tomorrow!

But we do have our sink:

Isn't it lovely??
We got it from the online Home Depot for about $90 less than they charge for the same thing at the store (we paid $100).
And just a general look at the countertop by the sink, even though there's still a lot of work-related mess:

Oh, and yes, on Sunday we installed the dishwasher!

So we almost have a functional kitchen. Perhaps tomorrow!

Monday, October 19, 2009


Yesterday we installed the LAST CABINET!!
We started the last section, which lies against an adobe brick wall, by preparing it. First, the we have a tall cabinet - 90 inches, that goes beyond the brick wall into a wood board that supports the ceiling beams. The board extends from the wall, so we had to cut it, and fill it with something else, that doesn't stick out. We also attached another board to the beams, so we can use them to support the wall cabinets with bolts. This is because the adobe brick crumbles easily, and we don't completely trust it to hold all of the cabinets' weight.

What you see here is the brick wall, with a piece of the board cut out (using the dremel) and the space covered with a think piece of plywood. Above it is the board that we attached to the beams for extra support for the cabinets.

Then we installed the tall cabinet, and aligned the base cabinets with it. This was the first time we installed the base cabinets before installing the wall ones. This required some help with holding the cabinets in place, which we got from some paint cans:

Finally - the wall cabinets were installed:

See the Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World on the "countertop"? Yes, I made some delicious cupcakes in the kitchen, even though we still don't have a sink, and all the ingredients are in boxes.

Tomorrow the countertop people will be here to measure the counter surface to be topped, and next week they will come to install it! Finally - after more than 2 months - we will have a sink!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Bit More Progress in the Kitchen

Yes! We have the essential kitchen in! That means, all the wall and base cabinets that are against the plaster walls, that hold or surround the fridge, microwave, stove, sink, and dishwasher. The non-essential kitchen is the part of the kitchen that will be against the brick wall and will give us extra storage and counterspace. That's pretty essential too. Especially for bread baking. We're working on this part now.

The microwave took all of Saturday to install. We wanted to make sure it's gonna stay where it's supposed to be, so we took extra precaution, in the form of extra screws and attachments to the cabinet above it and to the wall. Also, as I mentioned before, we made sure the cabinet above it is securely fastened to the wall and the ceiling beam.
It took a long time also because of vent that comes out of it and needed to be attached to ducts in the cabinet:

And then we had to seal the opening to the outside with some Great Stuff.
And cut it when it dried.

Can't wait to be done and remove all that protective plastic off the microwave!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Bit of Progress in the Kitchen

On Saturday we finally finished installing the wall cabinets on the southern wall. It took a long time because we had to deal with the most difficult of cabinets: the one that goes above the stove. That's because this single, 30 inch cabinet is the home of the air-conditioner vent, the microwave exhaust vent, and the microwave outlet, which means: a) it has to have a bunch of holes of various sizes; b) it has to be very strong, to hold the heavy microwave. So we had to measure and plan everything carefully, add extra support in the form of a bracket from the top and extra screws to the studs.

Once this cabinet was up, it wasn't too hard attaching the next two cabinets!

While Mark tried to figure out stuff, I was sitting in the living room, and I noticed that front yard plants cast lovely silhouettes on the corridor's wall, which reminded me of Japanese paintings:

I assure you, it looked much better real life. The wind also added a nice effect. Lovely.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cajoling a Cabinet

The last cabinet on the eastern wall of the kitchen was indeed a bit too large to fit (mostly because the walls are crooked), So it took us pretty much all of yesterday to cajole it to go in. This involved sanding, planing, removing pieces of wood from the wall, sanding the wall, etc., etc. Today we finally got it in!

Twelve more to go!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Hardships of Installing Wall Cabinets

So far we installed four wall cabinets. Boy - was that much harder than we expected! The corner took us a while to get leveled, but wasn't too bad, especially considering it was the first one. Attaching the two small 12" cabinets next to it - that was pretty much horrible! First of all, they're so narrow, you can't fit the drill in to screw it to the face frame of the corner cabinet. This means we had to HAND-DRILL the holes 3 times each: once with the small drill bit that goes all the way, then with 2 subsequently larger drill bits that only go through the first cabinet's face frame. Hand-drilling is not easy! Second, the corner cabinet's diagonal face frame made it very difficult to align the cabinets to each other, and also made it impossible to use the cabinet claws (see picture below), so we had to use regular C-clamps. Because of the hardships of alignment and leveling, the toggle bolts were hard to align as well (with toggle bolts, the anchor needs to go inside the wall before the cabinet is up, and the screw then should go through the cabinet and into the anchor). And yes, the 12" cabinet to the right had to be attached to the wall with toggle bolts, because it completely misses the studs.
By comparison, the last cabinet we attached so far, the one over the sink, was very easy. Although we had to use toggle bolts for it too, because there's only one stud behind it, it aligned perfectly almost without adjustments. It was also finally possible to use the cabinet claws, and to drill with a machine. Much better!

We work at night - hence the glare...

Even though we could use the cabinet claws as clamps and guides to drilling, we nonetheless could not use them for screwing through, because our screws' heads are too big. Figures! Still, it wasn't too bad. Now we'll need to see if the 36" cabinet can fit in the remaining space!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

First Cabinet In!!

This is such an exciting event, it deserves its own entry!

(...And a rather fuzzy picture...)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Operation Duststorm

The title may sound like the kind of war a George Bush would start, but ours was actually quite constructive. If you remember, we had to remove parts of the walls in the kitchen to accommodate the electrical wiring.

So now we had to close these openings.

Which we did with sheets of gypsum, in which we punched holes to hold the plaster. The electrical outlets didn't make it any easier...

Again, the outlets didn't make it any easier to apply the plaster - they were always in the way! The result was too much plaster, that needed to be sanded. At first we did it with a hand-sander, but we soon realized we might need the help of a professional - in the form of a power sander. It sure helped! But soon enough the whole house was covered with a thick layer of plaster dust! Lesson learned: covering the dining table with plastic is not enough! Next time - use the plastic to create a barrier between the place to be sanded and the rest of the house!

Took us ages to clean up!

But then the fun part started:

We used FreshAire paint, which is supposed to not release toxic volatiles, but it still had some paint-scent to it. The color is earthenware, if you're interested. I think it'll go well with our cabinets, countertop, tile floor, and exposed-beam ceiling. But we'll see!

Up next: Installing the cabinets!!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Brush 'n Bulky

Tucson collects brush and bulky twice a year, and it happens this week. We had to get our trees trimmed and our kitchen leftovers sorted out, which was a nice change from inhaling dust in the kitchen (more about that in the next post).
Trimming the trees was a lot of fun! We got a pair of loppers* that were SO good, it felt like cutting butter, even if the branches were thicker than 2 inches! Incredible! While I'm here, I might as well mention how pleased I am with the lawn mower we got. I used to mow the lawn at my parents house all through my teen years, and although the activity gave me time to come up with solutions for some troubling issues (e.g. my English teacher), and shaped my triceps for years to come, I never really liked it. First, it was a HUGE lawn. Second, the lawnmowers we had - and we had a few of every kind! - were never as much fun as the one we have now. We had fuel-powered push mowers, electric mowers, and rider mowers, and each had its problem. But our reel push mower is excellent! I always thought it would be hard to push a non-motorized mower, but it turned out to be even easier than the heavy gasoline push mowers. Not to mention the fact that it's not half as noisy. Anyway, I highly recommend it!
So our pine tree got a hair cut,

It's not the best view of the tree before the trim, but you can see how low the branches hang

Now it looks more like a tree!

...and we also had to thin the mesquite, so it won't fall off (we will have to do it twice a year, as per previous owner's recommendation). We also had to cut down a really nice agave plant that was in the way of the ditch we will have to dig to connect the main water pipe to the water supply. As I mentioned some time before, Lloyd the plumber found that it's too corroded and needs to be replaced. Removing the agave was really sad, but its 3 kids were spared at least, and I think they're doing well.

Finally, here's the pile of brush and bulky, which I'm pretty sure is the largest in the neighborhood:

Left to right: scrap in bin (shouldn't have done that - they took the bin!), poor agave in cardboard boxes, pine branches, old kitchen, mesquite branches.

*Our loppers are bigger!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Considering the State of Our Kitchen...

You might wonder, like Dani, where we eat these days. Actually it's a matter of what we eat. We still eat mostly at home - we don't have time to eat anywhere else. But we do spend a lot of time buying a lot of frozen food! Our freezer is full of frozen pizzas, fake meat chicken nuggets, buffalo wings, chicken patties, veggie burgers, etc. That's what we usually end up eating for dinner. Sometimes we carry out pizzas. But every now and then we feel like having something that resembles a real meal, you know, the kind with vegetables, so we experiment with dishes that don't take too many dishes to prepare, like roasted green beans (wash the beans, spray them with olive oil, salt, and parmesan, and bake for 1o-15 minutes), shakshooka (tomato and eggs mixed together - one of the few real Israeli foods), salsa fresca (tomatoes, corn, and beans), black rice salad (black rice cooked in the microwave, edamame, and sesame, tossed with some sesame oil and a bit of rice vinegar), or just plain salad.

This has been the case for exactly 2 months now. And now that we don't have a sink, we're even more limited - by the size of dishes that fit in the bathroom sink. For example, In the days we still had a sink, I discovered a fabulous recipe: melon tapioca soup (courtesy of the Vegetarian Times): you soak 1/4 cup of small tapioca pearls in 1 cup of water for about 45 minutes. Then you cook it with a can of coconut milk and 3 T of sugar for 5-10 minutes (until thick and pearls are translucent). Then you turn the heat off and add 1/2 cup of milk, stir well and let cool. Next, you blend a melon, and when the tapioca pudding is cooled enough, you add the liquefied melon and chill. It is SO refreshing and delicious! You have to try! Now, where can I wash my blender?? :(

So we are really motivated to finish up with the kitchen. Here's what we need to do next:
  1. close up the kitchen walls and plaster them (we can finally do that, now that the electrical wiring got inspected)
  2. paint the walls (either before or after installing the cabinets, or both)
  3. connect a new AC duct and a vent duct over the range (the latter will be connected to the microwave)
  4. remove floor tiles from areas where cabinets are to be installed
  5. install cabinets (I suspect this will take us a while!)
  6. call the countertop people to come and measure, so they can prepare out fabulous Corian countertops with integrated sink. It will take them about 10 days to prepare the countertop, and then we will FINALLY have a sink, and we could FINALLY unpack all of our kitchen equipment and all the raw materials, and FINALLY we could eat some real food.
  7. in the meantime, we will need to install new floor tile in places where there used to be cabinets but there will not be in the future.
At least there are still a few things that don't require much dishes and are awesome nonetheless, like a scoop of ice cream in a glass, topped with a bit of Irish Cream and some soy milk. Pure indulgence!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A+ in Electrical Wiring

If you need some electrical work done, I've got the person for you: Mark the Electrician! Yes, Mark did all the work (I tried to assist, but sometimes I felt I was more in the way) and the inspector thought it was PERFECT!
But I should start at the beginning. We needed to add 5 new circuits: 4 to the kitchen and 1 to the office. This is because we got new appliances, and each requires pretty much its own circuit. A kitchen, according to The Code, also needs to have at least two circuits for the countertop outlets. We thought we'd get an electrician to do most of the work, but somehow ended up having to do it all by ourselves (electricians are very busy these days, apparently).
In order to get all the wiring done we had to break holes in the walls, remove some old outlets, put knew ones, run wires through the studs, etc. Better I explain it with pictures!
So here's what our kitchen looks like now:

Hopefully you can read the text in the callouts. It explains what each electrical element is for. You can definitely see the absence of a sink - we kept it as long as we could, but finally had to get rid of it on Sunday before the plumber's arrival.

Here are some details of the big picture:

On the right you can see a hole where an old outlet was removed. Next is the refrigerator's outlet, with its own circuit. Then our first ground fault protected outlet that we connected to an existing circuit, and that feeds the rest of the outlet on this wall and the next (total of 4 outlets).

Here you can see the old oven outlet, which was connected to the same circuit as all the other countertop outlets. This outlet will be removed and the box will be covered and hidden behind the oven. Above it is the microwave outlet that will reside inside a cabinet. We got an over-the-range microwave, and it will be connected to wall and to the cabinet above it. I bet it'll be neat! Below is the new oven outlet, connected to the microwave circuit. We have a gas oven, so it doesn't take much electricity. You can also see a part of the new gas pipe that the plumber installed - nice and yellow.

This is where the sink used to be. Lloyd the plumber removed old pipes and put shiny new ones. Don't they look good?
on both sides of the corner are two more outlets connected to the same GFCI, and on the lower left is the dishwasher outlet, that will be share a circuit with an outlet to a disposal, that we are not going to install. This outlet will be inside the sink cabinet.

Two light switches that will connect to under-the-cabinet lights and final outlet inside a junction box where all the indoor Romex wires (yellow) connect to the outdoor ones (grey). The wires go up and to through the wall to the garage, where they are running along the ceiling. From there they go outside and run along the wall under the eaves all the way to a conduit that is connected to the main service panel.

First we had to remove the LB that connects the AC conduit to the panel. It used to be where the little hole is now at the bottom, blocking all access to knock-outs. Only then could attach our new conduits in.

Attaching the new circuit breakers was my most worrisome part. One has to be careful not to touch the exposed live wires that are connected to the main circuit breaker. Fortunately, there was a very small part of them that was exposed, so it wasn't too bad. Just in case, though, Mark stood on a wood board while working on the panel, and I had a wood stick on hand to hit him with in case of an accident. I was relieved when this part of the electrical work was done!

The work also involved digging into the brick walls, because we're adding cabinets to the north wall, and they require outlets and a new circuit.

We drilled two holes in the wall, and widened them with a chisel. It took a long time...
And this is what it looks like from the outside:

I should say something about getting an inspection. We got a lot of raised eyebrows from different people when we told them we're getting an inspector. Apparently not many people get inspections for small projects. We were worried at first, because getting an inspection means you have to know all the rules specified in The Code, and there are so many things that no one could tell us if they are acceptable or not, because they vary with inspectors. We had to do a lot of research. We were also worried about the required procedure of acquiring a permit, and about the expense. It turned out not to be too bad. I had to draw plans of the kitchen and where each electrical element is to go (outlets, switches, lights, etc.) and mark them with the right circuit number. Turns out the guy at the Residential Review was pretty impressed with my plan. The pricing for the permit is hard to figure out. There's a 40-page pdf file on their website that tells you how much you have to pay for each outlet and switch, and for a visit, but it's really hard to figure out the final number. We thought it would be around $200, but it came up to $76.
So getting the permit was not a big deal, and I'm glad we got the work inspected, because otherwise, if something happens and there's a fire, the new work would have invalidated the insurance on the house.

Anyway, did I mention the inspector was very impressed with the work? Of course I knew he would be - after all, Mark is a perfectionist, and now he's also an electrician :)