Category Archives: DIY

Bathroom Progress (or Not)

The bathrooms we started gutting back in early April are still gutted. Granted, every bit of piping including the main stack has been replaced. Out with the cast iron and galvanized steel and in with the PVC and copper. The HVAC and electrical have been updated, and because we’re going all legal with permits and such, we got ourselves sidetracked.

The electrical inspector (a woman!) raised an issue about the ventilation fan we had placed in our main floor bath which led to further questioning which led to us talking to the village and their inspection service which led us to needing to file for an insulation permit which led us to needing to hire someone to come in and apply toxic spray foam insulation (or rip out the studs and rebuild the room and get to use standard insulation).

Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

I will also note that my living room continues to look like a plumbing supply warehouse and the house is huge mess.

Oh, and our garage sale was a success, but here we are, what? 2-3 weeks later, already building up our next “garage sale” pile in the basement. And the garage hasn’t even been fully emptied from our last sale¬† despite two trips to the charity resale shop with donations.

Also, hubs got laid-off recently, but I’m mostly happy about that. He’s got time to finish the bathrooms now!



Garage Sale, Day 1

Today is the first day of our garage sale, so I’m keeping it simple on the blog. Earlier this week, the boys and I conjured up a great bit of summer fun with duct tape, a contractor trash bag and water.

Take a look at the Water Blob we made and let me know if you try this yourself. It was hours of fun using inexpensive materials we already had around the house. The fun was extended by the boys hovering over the computer creating mash-ups with the video segments I’d filmed. Best deal of the summer so far.

Stop by the garage sale if you’re a local. You’ll get the blog reader discount!

I Got Carried Away in the Shower

Our Passover Seder was wonderful and now it’s time to get back to business–the business of renovation that is. We’ve got two bathrooms, the classic pink 1950s one and the kids’ one, that need more than facelifts. We’ve got to rip out walls, enhance wiring, add insulation, replace pipes and maybe relocate a few. Oh, and there’s a bit of HVAC work to be done, too.

On the bright side, the windows and tubs will stay.

We’ll be hiring out for the work, but Hubs thought we should take on some of the demo. It could save us a few bucks. More importantly, he feels that potential contractors will provide more accurate estimates if they can see what’s going on behind the walls.

Makes sense.

I started peeling off the plastic pink tiles on Sunday. They came off easily enough, but the adhesive behind them did not and apparently the stuff has a half-life on more than 50 years because it was off-gassing some nasty fumes. I’m sure whatever volatile chemicals were used in the old glue were banned in the 1980s because they cause brain cancer or something.

So on Monday I decided I had to move beyond tile peeling to full-out knocking down walls.

I gave myself about 90 minutes to do some work, but once I started taking down chunks of wall, I couldn’t stop.

By the time I stopped, I was so filthy that I didn’t dare rinse down in my precious shower. Instead, I cleaned up in the boys’ bathroom. It’s the first shower I’ve taken in there and now I understand why they are eager for a renovation. The shower spray is pitiful and deeply unsatisfying.

As far as what’s going on behind the walls, thankfully, there was nothing (not even a secret stash of cash) behind the soffit in the shower. However, there are two ducts running up the shower wall and another three (!) running up the wall next to it. Glad I didn’t bang full force into any of them.

Yesterday I chaperoned a school band and field trip and now I’m grabbing my safety glasses, work gloves, hat and dust mask and jumping back in.

More Passover Prep. Or, How Not to Make Horseradish

Passover brisket

There's a brisket under all those mushrooms and onions.

The Passover Prep continues. One brisket, dozens of hard boiled eggs, 8 roasted beets, 120 turkey meatballs and a giant bowl of quinoa later, I’m here to tell about it.

Oh, I also made my own horseradish, the condiment of choice for the seder’s requisite “bitter herb.” I first did this a few years ago, but I was a bit confused this time around because when making the first batch with the white root, I didn’t experience the strong odor that practically burns the hair from your nostrils. In fact, even chopped up it barely had any flavor. I brushed it off as no big deal since batch one was to be the Mild batch.

I asked hubs to pick up another horseradish root for me, so I could make a second batch, the Hot one. This time the root came wrapped it plastic. As soon as I unwrapped it, the familiar scent wafted up to my nose. I must have had a dud of a root the last time.

And then it dawned on me that my original root was not a dud, it was

(wait for it)

parsnip. D’oh!

Batch number two is guaranteed to make old men and young boys cry when it hits their tongue. (My middle-aged husband will love it!).

I blended a small spoonful from the Hot batch into the Mild one and giving it just enough of an authentic horseradish taste. Like substituting Folgers for a fine coffee, no one would be the wiser. I mean, the consistency and color were right on and so was the smell.

But within an hour of my little taste test, my kishkes started rumbling and I had a revelation every bit as eye-opening as God speaking to Moses in the form of a burning bush: Do not serve raw parsnip to your 26 dinner guests unless you want them to be rushing for the bathroom (whose door, by the way, does not lock because we still bask in the room’s original pink 1950s splendor).

So, like the burning bush, batch one of the horseradish will not be consumed.

In addition to cooking and cleaning, I’m also putting together our Passover haggadah, the guidebook for the ritual meal. Next year, I need to check out Haggadot, a site that helps people DIY their Haggadahs (or haggadot).

Today’s agenda: finish the haggadah, cook another brisket, prep salads and make my boys work so hard to clean the house that they understand the bitterness of tyranny and can enjoy the Festival of Freedom.



Making Schmaltz: Getting Ready for Our First Seder

rendered chicken fatIt’s hard to believe I made it into my 40s without hosting a Passover Seder, but it’s true. Sometimes it’s good to live near so many family members. Also, our previous house couldn’t handle a crowd of more than about 10 without feeling cramped, so we were voted Most Uncomfortable Place to Host Family Gathering. That label was not without its perks, but honestly, we’re excited to cook clean and host this special dinner.

We are doing it and doing it big. We’re expecting¬† about 20 22 25 27 folks.

(No, the house is not that big.)

(Yes, we only own 12 chairs at the moment.)

I’ve been busy preparing a haggadah, the booklet that guides the seder, as well as doing a lot of cooking.

Thanks to a gentle nudge from Ciaran at Momfluential, I rendered my own chicken fat, or schmaltz in the vernacular. After reading her post on the topic, I was grossed out, but intrigued.

I told my husband I was considering making schmaltz.

“That sounds like a messy and ridiculous waste of time,” he replied.

And then I knew I had to do it.

I needed chicken thighs for a dinner recipe, so I bought ones with skin and ripped that off for rendering. I couldn’t find skinned, Kosher chicken thighs (the schmaltz factory beat me to it?), so I got the next best thing. Maybe. Halal chicken.

Does this mean I’ve made the world’s first Muslim matzah balls?

Regardless, here’s a quick tutorial.

Skin the chicken. I used 3 pounds of chicken thighs, give or take.

chicken skin to make schmaltz

Add some chopped onion and water to a pan.

making schmaltz, chicken fat

Add the chicken skin and heat it all over a medium/high flame.

rendering chicken fat

Continue heating for a good 20 minutes or so.

rendering chicken fat

If time allows (i.e. you do not look at the clock and realize you need to pick up your child from school in three minutes) continue cooking the skin until it crisps for a delicious, high-calorie snack laden with saturated fat.

If you’re in a rush, remove the skin and drain on a paper towels and then quickly strain the rendered fat into a jar. Refrigerate when cooled.

strain rendered chicken fat

I was was concerned the rendering chicken fat would stink up my kitchen a la Chanukah latkes, but it actually left a pleasant scent that felt like home, something along the lines of simmering chicken soup.

Speaking of which, after mixing up a couple of batches of matzah balls, pictured below cooling in the Chicago Fridge, I’d realized our crowd had grown too large for the tricky logistics of serving soup. So much for planning ahead.

matzah balls chilling in the chicago fridge

The Five People I Didn’t Meet at the Blissdom Conference

Carol Schiller and Stephanie Schwab

Not house bloggers, but fabulous women, nonetheless. Carol Schiller (L) and Stephanie Schwab (R)

I had a wonderful time at the Blissdom conference seeing old friends, making new ones and getting to know some really great women at a deeper level. As a Community Leader in the business track, I met a lot of women making a living in or around social media, but I missed the chance to connect with many outside that niche.

I brought my tool belt and work boots (which, BTW, took up a ton of space in my small carry-on), but I never wore them. Well, I wore the work boots on my trip home because otherwise I would have had to leave my three new canvas bags, five new t-shirts and a copy of The Lorax back at the hotel along with my bottles of VO-5 shampoo.

Or something like that.

Anyway, had I been bold enough to break out my Renovator Kim outfit (seriously, don’t call it a costume even if I do wear it in almost all my videos), I’m sure there would have been some sort of Law of Attraction thing going on and we would have met. But I can still read their blogs, and so can you.

Here are five home/house/DIY bloggers that I did not meet at Blissdom, but wish I had:

Confessions of a Curb Shopaholic

Pretty Handy Girl

My Repurposed Life

The Country Chic Cottage

House of Hepworths

Who else did I miss at Blissdom? More importantly, do you think any of these ladies would want some of my vintage fabric? Do you? It’s free to a good home.

About that photo: I was fortunate to spend lots of time with both Carol Schiller, the community manager at Cozi, an online family calendar that I love, and Stephanie Schwab who is, among other things, creator of the Digital Family Summit.