Self Preservation

OMG, you guys, I have sun room updates galore.  So much is happening out there right now, you’ll be amazed.  But I forgot my camera cord today so I can’t post any pictures of the action.  Instead you’re going to be treated to a recap of our canning adventures on Saturday.  I took all these pictures with my new Blackberry Q10.  I know I am the only person on the planet to own one of these phones, it makes me feel special.

Ahem.  Saturday morning Natalie and I drove over to the Falls Church Local Market and bought two flats of tomatoes and a box of peaches.  Natalie has all the canning equipment because she made peach preserves for her wedding favor a few years back.  She also has a six-burner stove top, which is ideal for this type of undertaking.

We started with simple, whole, peeled tomatoes.  I’ve found that placing them on a roasting sheet in the oven at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes works just as well as blanching them in regards to removing the skins. So that’s what we did.  No need to score the skins ahead of time or rub them with olive oil, just place in them in the oven like so.Image

You’re not trying to really roast them, so it’s ok to load the tray down as full as you can. They will be ready when you see a few whose skins have already burst a little. About 30-40 minutes.  Once the tomatoes have cooled enough to handle, you can easily peel them.Image

While the tomatoes were roasting, we started the water for our canning pot.  Once it came to a boil, we added the first set of jars to sterilize.Image

We used these 1-quart jars for the whole peeled tomatoes.  Don’t they look pretty?Image

We are by no means canning aficionados, so I’m not going to go into alot of detail about how we did each of these, but I can recommend for helpful tips, tricks, and recipes.  And I can tell you that we used this handy set from Target in addition to the large pot with canning rack, and it was money well spent.  The tongs were great at getting the jars in and out of the hot water.IMG_00000042

The funnel was a lifesaver when it came to pouring the food into the jars.IMG_00000068

And we all loved using the magnetic “wand” to procure the lids from the pot on the stove.IMG_00000066

We didn’t have this set of accessories two years ago when we did this for the first time, and it was alot mess-y-er/burn-y-er.

In addition to whole, peeled tomatoes, we also canned diced tomatoes for things like chili. For these, we blanched the tomatoes quickly and then plopped them in an ice bath to stop the cooking.  When you do the tomatoes in the oven, they tend to get a little smushy and since we were going to dice them, we went with the blanching method so that they would remain firm.

Once we diced them up, we put them in a pot to cook over medium/low heat for about 30 minutes before putting them in the jars.  For these, we used these pint size jars.

At this point we had a lot of jars waiting to go into the water to be preserved, so we decided to make some freezer ready strawberry jam.  The cool thing about this recipe, that that it’s no cook.  We simply chopped up some strawberries, added sugar and pectin, and put them in jars.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy.Image


At this point we were really excited about canning and begin looking around for something else to make.  We realized the we had the goods to make sweet/hot pepper jelly so whee, away we went.  We took these gorgeous peppers…Image

…chopped them up, added some sugar, and cooked them down into this.Image

Here’s what they look like in their jars.  We tasted a little of it, so delicious!  I can’t wait to throw some over a log of cream or goat cheese one day this fall/winter while watching some football with friends.  Easiest appetizer ever!Image

And last but certainly not least, we made peach preserves.  Natalie got excited and bought an entire box of peaches.Image

We didn’t use all of these, but we did make quite a dent.  All told we used 13 cups of chopped peaches for the preserves.  First we blanched and peeled all them all.Image

Then we chopped these puppies up and put them in a pot with a boat load of sugar.IMG_00000096

Sidebar: fruit preserves are a little like sausage; you kinda don’t want to see how it’s made because it might disgust you. It’s ALOT of sugar, yo.

Here’s what the preserves looked like after cooking for about a hour.  We’re adding the pectin before letting it cook a few more minutes.Image

We used both pint and half pint sized jars for the preserves so that people could have their choice.  The small jars are great for gifts and company and the larger jars are perfect for making one of my favorite winter recipes.  Yum!

So that’s what we did Saturday.  It really didn’t take long at all.  Natalie and I left for the market around 9:45 a.m. and Julia joined us around 2:30 p.m.  I kicked out around 3:30 p.m. with only the peach preserves still needing to go in the water bath.  All told we made about 30-35 jars in under 7 hours.  And we had so much fun doing it, we’re thinking of doing it again next weekend.  The tomatoes are so easy and it’s so awesome to have your own canned tomatoes in the dead of winter that everyone agreed they wouldn’t cry if they had a few more jars in their pantry.

So that’s the story on our second year of canning.  I’m so grateful that Natalie has not only the tools but the kitchen and stove big enough for us to take on this adventure every year.

Oh and while I was up the street putting food into jars, Mark and his brother were laying sub floor (Yay!) so I will be back with a post all about that as soon as I can find my camera cord.

Until then, happy canning!

Much Ado About Flooring

Warning: This post is long, however, there are no dusty pictures of torn up floor. Bonus? Perhaps.


For the most part, decisions about the “bones” of this room have been pretty straight forward.  We want to raise and pitch the ceiling, we want either casement or double hung windows (we went with double hung), and we want a bar area with lots of storage.  We’re all good in the hood sun room, right?  Well what about the floors?

From the day we bought it, the sun room has easily been the biggest eye sore in the house.  We’ve always planned to renovate it as soon as our pocketbooks would let us. That’s given us 2.5 years to come to a consensus on what to do out there.  And yet, here we are, in the middle of our reno, and we still don’t know what to do with the floors.

We’ve talked tile, bamboo, cork, cement, vinyl, hardwoods, laminate, the list goes on. Each option has it’s pros and cons and we’ve discussed them at length.  Now that the outdoor kitchen is officially a thing of the past, it’s decision time.

And our decision is….

…to put the decision off.  Kind of.

Anyone who knows me will not be surprised and my hesitation to make a commitment. Mark really wants hardwood, specifically something reclaimed.  I’m not fully on board with this because I don’t want it to look like the wood in the rest of the house for fear that it will look like we were trying (unsuccessfully) to match the wood it.  I also don’t think wood is very low maintenance in a sun room and as the chief house cleaner, I am not looking to drum up more work.  I am also worried about the wear and tear with the sun room being the route in and out of the house for these two yahoos.


I really wanted tile (specifically slate tile) as I thought it would go with the period of the house, be easy to take care of, and be resistance to doggie wear and tear.  Mark said that going with tile would mean having to do alot more reinforcements to the floor joists and sub floor.  It’s also quite expensive.

So with no clear choice and no large budget, we’re taking a page from our neighbors in Congress and kicking the can down the road a bit.  We’re going to install plywood sub floor and then paint it.  Yes, you can do this.  For some, it’s a temporary solution and for others they love the look so much, they have no plans to change it.  We’re not sure which category we fall into yet, but we figure we’ll try it for at least a couple of years and see how we like it/it holds up.

Here’s a couple of pictures of others who have done this in their homes.


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I am thinking about doing stripes like in the first photo.  I want to do white and light grey.  I plan to run the stripes the opposite direction of the ceiling boards (i.e. from the house wall to the window wall) in an effort to make the room feel wider.  Like this.Image

Home Depot sells plywood tongue and groove sub floor, which we were excited to discover as the tongue and groove feature that will allow the floor to have the same flex and give as hardwood.  However, it will only cost us about $410.00 to cover the 330 sq. ft. of floor which works out to $1.23/sq. ft. That’s about as cheap as you can go when it comes to flooring.

Now I have read on the Interwebs that the fine state of Virginia has issues with uncovered sub floor.  Apparently any room with uncovered sub floor cannot be counted as finished square footage and you may not be able to get the house financed because of it.  I am glad that I found out about this before I took the plunge, but since we’re not planning on selling in the near future, I’m not deterred.  But if you’re looking into doing this in your home, you might want to check your local codes beforehand.

So that’s where we’re at.  We’re hoping to get the floor joists in and the sub floor laid this weekend.  If that happens, we will be really close to being ready to install our new windows. YAY!

Have a great weekend everyone, I hope you all have a project you’re looking forward to doing!

Removing Concrete

The concrete patio/floor is no more!  It was actually easier that we anticipated, taking less than a day to remove.  Mark rented a concrete saw for about $90 for the day and it did a great job of cutting the concrete into removable chunks.  Here’s what the saw looked like.


Originally the plan was just to cut the concrete down below the floor joists and then spread new concrete over top to level it off with the height of the wood joists, but ultimately Mark decided it would be easier, more cost-effective, and better for the over all performance of the floor, if he removed the concrete entirely and ran wooden floor joists the length of the space.

So to do that, Mark ran the saw as deep as it would go into the concrete slab about every 6-8″, working from the door of the kitchen to the door outside.


Then he ran the saw as deep as it would go about half way across the width of the slab.


From there, he used a sledge hammer to bust the middle two pieces completely apart, allowing access to the other sections.


Now Mark could use both the wedge and the sledge hammer to rip out the other pieces of concrete.  We don’t have pictures of him doing this as he was the only one home at the time, but here’s what it looks like once most of the pieces had been pulled up.


Mark’s brother and sister-in-law were nice enough to come over and help him haul and the concrete pieces and debris to his truck.  He took it to the dump at a cost of $30.  It still stings to have to pay to throw stuff away, but we didn’t have any alternative with these big blocks.

So now the entire area where the old kitchen and patio used to be is completely gone.


This means we will have to run floor joists all the way to the back wall, but that will ultimately make the floor more solid under foot.

You might be wondering what are plans for the floor are.  Tomorrow I’ll give the you inside scoop.  See you then!

Burying the Evidence

The outdoor kitchen is gone y’all.  Image

It took a long time and a lot of work on Mark’s part, but we finally demolished all the brick as well as the stone tile that was in front of it.


Unfortunately, it didn’t go all the way to where the other floor started.  There’s a slab of concrete (probably the original outdoor patio) in between the two.Image

Unfortunately, the concrete is a little bit higher than the rest of the floor.  We noticed this even before we took up the carpet and tiles as you can tell when you open the door to the backyard and the door scraped the floor a little bit.  We want a completely level floor out there so Mark plans to rent a concrete saw so that he can cut down the concrete patio so that it’s lower that the floor joists.  Then he will have to pour new concrete so that’s its level and flush with the rest of the floor.  I’ll have a more detailed post explaining this step once we get started.  As seems to be par for the course with this reno, it’s not going to be an easy job, so who knows how long it will take to complete.

But back to what we have already accomplished.  I mentioned in the last post the we needed to shore up some of the floor joists.  To do that, Mark simply placed a piece of wood under the beams that had too much flex or give in them, like this.Image

This, of course, will make the whole floor more stable and secure and prevent dips and creaks.  We also had a small area where the wood had rotted so we replaced those beams with new ones.


Once the joists were shored up and the rotted wood replaced, we could start filling in with debris from the kitchen.  As I mentioned here, after our first trip to the dump cost us over $40, we decided we could simply “bury” the broken brick, etc. under the floor where the “storage” is free.


So now we’ll grind up the concrete and get to work on laying the sub floor.  Turns out that there’s a few different sub floor options we can go with and we’re still deciding what will work best.  We’ll let you know where we land.

A Window to the World

Our new windows are here!


Hello lovers!  So nice to see you. 

Right before they put our house on the market, the previous owners had all the original windows in the house replaced with new, white, vinyl ones.  They aren’t the most expensive windows around, but they look nice enough so we decided to get something similar for the sun room in an effort to make it look less like an add-on

In the window and door section of our Home Depot they had a brochure stand with a sheet of all the standard window sizes they carried.  We took one of those home awhile ago and measured to see if the existing windows happened to be a standard size.  Cue the sad trombone, they were not.  We were prepared for this so Mark took some good measurements of the window openings and we went back to Home Depot to get a quote for custom ones.

We decided after much thought that we would go with double hung windows.  We considered casements as well but Mark was nervous about the additional strain the weight of the window would have on the roof when they were open.  Plus double hung is what we have in the rest of the house.

Here is what our long run of jalousie windows looks like now.  photo (5)

The original quote for the windows and doors was just under $3,000. This is about double what it would have cost if our windows were standard sizes.  But again, we were prepared for this and had budgeted and saved $3,000 for the windows so we were just happy it wasn’t more.  However, in talking with the sales associate, they told us that we could save a little money by buying two smaller windows instead of one “double window” like we currently have.  If you look closely you can see that the middle sets of windows are actually double windows.  Photo (6)

So instead of a double window, we order two smaller windows and we will install a 2×4 in between them, like this.


We got the quote at the end of the June and with the 4th of July holiday around the corner, I scoured the Internet for any sales on windows, but I saw none.  So the week after the fourth we went in to place our order.  We decided beforehand not to order doors at this time as the doors are standard size and we can easily order them later. As the sales associate was totaling up the cost, he told us that we were there on the last day of a sale.  We got 15% off bringing our total down to just over $1,800 for just the windows.  I totally did the happy dance.

The sales associate at Home Depot told us that it would take about three weeks for our order to come in, so we were surprised when they called about a week later and told us they were ready.  We picked them up about a week later and they are going to hang out in our garage for a while while we work towards getting ready to install them.  In theory, we could install them now, but we don’t want to risk putting a 2×4 through one of them, so we plan to wait until most of the construction is completed.

Speaking of construction, here’s the deal with that.  In my last post I mentioned that we have to demo the rest of the outdoor kitchen before we shore up the floor joists.  Well it turns out that we are going to shore up the floor joists before we cover them up with the debris from the kitchen demo. So that’s what’s happening out there right now.  Our progress continues to be hampered by fun plans with friends and family, but we’re still plugging along.  Right now we are hoping to finish shoring up the floor joists, demoing the kitchen demo and installing the sub floor before the middle of August. Yahoo!