Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve Party Tips

New Year’s Eve is a time to celebrate not only the passing year, but the year to come. And this usually entails a party. If it’s your turn to host this year, keep the following tips in mind.

1) Don’t try to do everything yourself! As much fun as it is to prepare an entire spread and have all of the various drinks for your guests (and I’m guilty of this), remember to keep it simple. Have a few snacks and a drink or two, but encourage your guests to bring a bottle of wine or champagne or sparkling cider and/or finger food to share. You’ll get to spend more time with your guests, and be a better host as a result.
2) Prepare yourself for some overnight guests. While you may not need to, it’s always better to be prepared for someone overindulging in the vino. We may not all have a spare bedroom, but even a sofa with a blanket and pillow will do. And don’t forget to raid your camping gear! Have a blow-up mattress ready to be placed on the living room floor.
3) Cleaning has two options, but I prefer the latter. To make it easier, clean as needed, such as when people appear to be done eating by keeping the sink filled with soapy water. I know some of you have dishwashers, but we don’t, and this is my suggestion! The other option is to take note when most people have finished with plates and take a minute to rinse and stack them to be washed the next day. I mean, c’mon, it’s New Year’s Day, you won’t be up till noon anyway, and lord knows you didn’t make any plans, right? So plan on a late start, fill the sink with hot soapy water and wash your stemware first, and then everything else. And because it’ll be a late start to a lazy day, why not go ahead and start your late lunch/early dinner by making a pot of Black Eyed Peas.

Black Eyed Peas


1lb Italian sausage (hot or sweet or a combination)
1 medium onion, diced
8 cups water or stock (I use 2 cans beef stock and 2 cans chicken stock)
1lb bag dried black eyed peas, rinsed and picked through
salt and pepper to taste

Crumble and cook the sausage over medium heat until browned. Stir in sweat the onion (that means cook till slightly translucent but not browned.) Add the water or stock and raise the heat to medium high. Bring to a boil and add the peas. Lower the heat to low to medium-low and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally for 3-4 hours. Season with salt and pepper during last half-hour, if needed.

Have a Happy New Year’s!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The (Ongoing) Half Bath Renovation

We moved into our house 12 years ago. I say this to put some perspective on this project. At that time, there were quite a few medial issues that needed to be resolved: The toilet in the half bath would run, constantly, after flushing it: The faucet in the bath tub leaked constantly at a rate of about a gallon or two per minute: The tub surround needed to be replaced as it was cracked, in all places, the very center of the middle panel like someone elbowed it while showering: There was no exhaust fan in the bathroom, which meant moisture build-up, mold and mildew and, well, grossness ensued: The walls needed to be painted in the entire house badly as the previous renters must have been heavy smokers: The countertops in the main bathroom, laundry room and kitchen all needed to be replaced: The peel & stick vinyl tiles in the main bathroom were not so much sticking anymore: The linoleum was missing in sections between the kitchen, laundry room and half bath: The front door handle could only be operated by myself and my partner.

Okay, so let’s work our way from the bottom of this to-do list, shall we? So the front door handle, it would let anyone in from the outside, but when people tried to leave, they’d end up pulling the handle off, and just for the heck of it, we’d stand there horrified and yell, “Oh my gawd, what did you do to our door?!” This was great fun to torment our house guests, but after a few years it got a little annoying, so we broke down and bought a new handle. Simple, right? Wrong. Apparently the people who installed our door decided it would be a blast to put the handle 5¼ inches from the door jam, instead of the much more common 2½ inches. I’m sure my measurements are off, but alas, I suspect you may be able to figure out, none-the-less, that it made finding a new door handle rather difficult. Well, as it turned out, it wasn’t too difficult to find a new door handle at the Home Depot, it was just our utter ignorance of not knowing what the heck we were looking for. So, we bought the wrong size, and being someone who despises returning stuff to the store, decided to change out the back door, which had the more common placement, and went back to the store to locate the correct handle, which is when we decided it would be keen to have a deadlock too. So we bought a drill and a kit to make the holes needed to install it, and just like that we have a door handle that won’t fall off in your hands while trying to open the door!

Moving on to the missing linoleum in the kitchen, laundry room and half bath… yep, it’s still missing. And yes, it really is linoleum, not vinyl.

The peel & “stick” vinyl tile in the main bathroom was replaced with, get this, peel & “stick” vinyl tile! Our friend Stacey helped us paint and redecorate our main bath, as well as laid down the tiles. And it looked rather good… for a couple months until the lack of an exhaust fan wreaked havoc on our newly painted ceiling, causing the paint to crack and peel and mildew to creep in.

Now the countertops that all needed to be replaced? Hmmm… during our main bath touch up, we installed a new ceramic tile countertop over the newly painted cabinets. The kitchen and laundry room countertops are still mostly intact. I say mostly because the kitchen has some bare spots around the sink, and the counter around the utility sink got another coat of paint. Yes, we painted the counter. Don’t mock! It was an easy fix for a countertop that doesn’t get a lot of abuse.

Before even moving in, we painted the entire inside of the house white. Walls, trim, ceiling, all white and with the same cheap paint. Now, we did this for two reasons: 1) the walls needed to be painted because they were tar-stained from a chain smoker, and 2) we were poor, and didn’t have a sense of style yet. Our first mistake was not stripping the orange-yellow-brownish slime off the walls before painting. I think it was a living, breathing organism, that, once being painted over, slowly crept to the surface to regain its previous location. Our second mistake was using the absolute cheapest paint we could buy, as it took multiple coats to achieve a rather artistic “streaky” look. One that we lived with for many years.

It wasn’t until about 3 years ago that we decided to remedy the exhaust fan in the bathroom situation. We took this long to decided because we thought it would be a rather difficult job. However, my mother’s boyfriend said it’s a pretty simple, straight forward cut a hole in the ceiling and another hole in the roof directly above it, and then just install the unit. And so that really was all there was to it, albeit rather messy since we have blow-in insulation in the attic that got everywhere, but it all got swept away and vacuumed easy enough. So, success! we have a fan in the bathroom! Until 9 months later when it decided to go caput. It would be another year and half before we replaced it.

Now, the tub surround, with its cracks and yellowing vinyl. You guessed it, still in place. The cracks have been caulked and new cracks have formed and the whole thing looks ghetto. Now, my partner, being the more adventurous of the two of us, decided to pull back the surround at one end to see what the walls look like behind it, and gasped in sheer horror. Now, we had expected the walls to be sheet rock, or at least remnants of it, but what he saw was far more terrifying.

Yes, that is bubble gum pink tile, with a lovely black tile border. But if you look closer, you’ll also see the original paint color was a lovely mint green. Ah, you’ve got to love the 50s, with their mismatched fashion sense! The best part of this is that they aren’t even ceramic tiles, they’re plastic, and merely glued onto the drywall! Ingenious!

Where are we now? Ah yes, the leaking faucet. Oh, sometimes I miss the lovely sound of our little, miniature bathroom waterfall, but I certainly don’t miss the high water bill! Now, at the time, we were renting from my grandmother. To say my grandma was cheap would be an understatement. She kept her rents low, with the understanding that small fixes would be taken care of by the tenants, and she’d take care of the big jobs. A rather fair deal. After a couple years of living with this immense leak which only worsened with time, Grandma called around the got a plumber (the cheapest, of course) to remedy the situation for a mere $300. So the guy comes out, starts cutting huge holes in our bedroom closet, which is where the back of the shower head and faucet butts up to, and proceeds to fix the problem. This is also where I learned that people used to put rocks between the walls. Or maybe that is just unique to our situation? I’m guessing the latter. The leak gets fixed and now we are left with two huge holes between our closet and the shower, which, surprise! are still there.

Which brings us to our half bath, with its problematic toilet. Now mind you, with only two people in the house, this toilet was so rarely used, we didn’t think twice about replacing it. It just wasn’t a priority, as the house had so many other more important projects to tackle. And years passed, and so did my grandma, and the option to buy the house came about and so we did. We weren’t going to get a better deal than low tax value, and it would give us more incentive to fix up the house even more. (Laughs to self.) So, I believe it was summer of 2008, we discovered that our toilet had apparently lost the integrity of the wax seal, and as a result, the toilet was, well, raised above the rest of the floor by almost an inch from water seeping into the underlayment and causing it to swell. Now, I believe this is where a normal person would freak out and replace the toilet and get right to work on the bathroom to fix it. We are not normal people. Our solution? Turn the water off to the toilet and forget about it. I mean, the bathroom was only used by the cat, and she had her own litter box, so what would she care if the toilet was not operational?

January 2009 rolls around and we’re celebrating my brother’s 30th birthday, and unbeknownst to us, he uses the half bath toilet… for #2. Crap. And that it was, and lots of it. So I turn the water back on, let the tank fill up, flush, repeat, repeat again. Now, because we had allowed it to be off and the water flushed out of the bowl, the floor had deflated back to a flat surface. So we left it back on. And guess what? That’s right, it happened all over again.

So, July creeps up unexpectedly, and my ambitious partner decides its time to finally do something about the half bath. He tears out the toilet only to discover that the wax seal is completely gone, without a trace, disappeared. Tears out the linoleum, and the underlayment, only to discover, to our surprise, a perfect subfloor without any damage to it. Perfect! So off to Lowes we go to get some slate tile, another underlayment, some concrete backerboard and everything else we need to start doing the floor at least. We had decided long ago we liked slate, and wanted to lay slate tile throughout the kitchen, half bath, laundry room, and even the main bathroom, and figured we’d learn how to do it in the half bath where the floor needed to be replaced for practice. And we wanted to get this bathroom fixed before we had a houseguest who would be staying for a week, maybe two, which was a day short of three before he left. And was the half bath done? Nope. It pretty much looked like it did the day we tore everything out.

And what does it look like today?

Pretty much the same, with the exception of the outside pond fish in a bucket utilizing the space, along with the 3 boxes of slate tile waiting for installation, underneath my clogs I use when cleaning out the chicken coop. And no, your eyes are not deceiving you, that is Foghorn Leghorn and Gossamer from the Looney Tunes, as this is what everyone lovingly refers to as the Looney Tunes Bathroom. Give me a break, I was 21 when I painted those and still rather immature. Of course, I'm 32 now, and not much has changed. Ah, the joys of home improvement.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What This Blog is All About

First off, don't let the name of this blog fool you. It may be called the Modern Male Homemaker, but rest assured it is for everyone, albeit, from a man's point of view. After losing my job over a year ago, I found myself taking over an increasing number of household duties. And with the loss of income, a need for frugality arose.

What my plans are with this blog is to share my experiences, tips, recipes, crafts and basically anything home-related. I hope to not only inspire you to become better homemakers, but to have fun at the same time!