Friday, March 7, 2014

Wishing for Spring

In winter it's snowy and boring on the land
And the sky is a grey and cloudy band
Oh how I wish for spring
When trees bud and birds sing

I'm tired of when frost bites
And tired of cold snowball fights
I want spring with weather nice
That melts the old snow and ice

I want to see a snowman's carrot nose
Sitting in a small pile of melted snows
'Cause that's a sign that spring is coming
When flowers bloom and bees are humming

--by Naomi Eby (age 9)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How to Update a Sink, I Think

Matt was actually the one who planted the crazy idea in my mind. He complained that it was too hard to wash our large cooking equipment in our sink. He said he wished we had a higher, arched faucet to fit the pots underneath. I said I wished we had Cono's industrial kitchen…but we didn't, and we'd just have to make due. I've been working over the past year and a half to upgrade as much of our cooking equipment as possible to match our family's huge cooking needs. We've gotten a huge crock-pot, food processor, food dehydrator, rice cooker, jumbo skillets, huge stock-pots, massive mixing bowls, and a professional sized kitchen-aid mixer. Last week I put up a shelf-and-hook system to help store some of my larger equipment in easier reach.

And while all of this has helped immensely, I've continued to come back to the idea of having a deeper kitchen sink, with a higher faucet to accommodate our larger-than-average dishwashing needs. Plus, our sink was just old and nasty looking, with white porcelain that collected annoying black marks every time a pot touched it, and creepy brown stuff that continually snuck out from under the edges, no matter how often I wiped them clean. Yesterday morning my sink looked at me and told me it was ready to go: it's work here was done.

I looked on the internet some to see what might be available for sinks and faucets, but figured I was dreaming--the 10" deep stainless steel double sink that I would really have liked to have was about $250, and then there was the little cost of playing a plumber to install a new sink and faucet. I knew that wouldn't happen. But I thought I'd just take some measurements and look around, just in case. A trip to Lowe's revealed a nice faucet on sale $89, which isn't too bad, but they didn't have the sinks I needed in stock and they would have been too expensive anyway. I noticed that their posted price for installing only a sink was over $200. So I sighed, and left.

On my way home I swung by the ReStore (a store of used hardware and houseware items, like a Goodwill for Home Depot) not expecting to find what I was looking for, but I figured it was worth a look. The lady in the store listened to my description of my ideal sink and helped me look through a large shelf of used sinks. I was floored when I saw my dream sink in front of me: a stainless steel, double sink with the left sink extra large and 10"deep. When the lady offered to sell it to me for $20, I suddenly became insanely crazy and bought a kitchen sink, deciding to install that thing myself if I had to. Back to Lowe's I went for that faucet, and some silicone caulk, and I was all ready to go.

All I had to do next was disconnect the old faucet and drains, rip the nasty sink out, slip the new one in place and hook everything up: a three hour project at most… I hoped. So Matt came home from work to find me tearing up the kitchen. He promptly left the room, because we both know by now that it's just easier that way. I'm not sure why, but he finds these whims of mine stressful.

Alright then. So this is what it looks like under a kitchen sink… This stuff should come apart somehow… Might need some tools or something… 

And so I got started at about 7:00pm yesterday. I didn't have any problems disconnecting the old faucet, save for the crumbs of nastiness flaking off the fittings and into my face as I lay under them with my pliers. The major problem with disconnecting the drains was the smell, and the four kids in my kitchen making gagging and vomiting noises. They got banished, mainly because they were making me want to vomit, which would have been wholly unhelpful. Then Matt stepped in for his one manly job: removing the old porcelain sink which was entirely too heavy for me to lift out of a hole. I tried, then I called Matt, and sure enough, it was much easier with Matt doing it.

At about 8:30 I gleefully plopped my new kitchen sink in place… sort of… but no, something was wrong. It was sitting half an inch off the counter. Some genius had decided that sinks should now be made with half-inch metal rods sticking down all the way around, about an inch inside the sink edge, probably to do something dumb, like hold the sink in place. Nobody needed those in the 1950's when my last sink was (effortlessly) dropped into a hole in the counter just big enough for the sink basins. So, there I was at 8:30pm with a new sink that measured the same as my old sink on the outside, but didn't fit in the hole in my counter.

I tried removing the obnoxious metal rods: then I remembered that they were supposed to hold a sink in place and they were made to stay put under pressure. I tried bending them out of the way: negative on that as well. So it came down to cutting the counter. This might not have been too hard if I had a handy little rotary saw of sorts, but I didn't. But I was in too deep to back out now, and at this point in a perplexing project I tend to pull out my most useful weapon: unyielding tenacity.

Yes, folks, that is how I removed a half-inch thick piece of plywood, one inch in on three sides of a sink hole with a box-cutter, a hammer, and a flat-head screwdriver (aka chisel and wedge). And it only took me three hours. No, no the kids didn't mind sleeping through the incessant pounding noises and culturally acceptable curses at 10:30pm.

Shortly after midnight the sink was sitting in it's proper place, beautifully caulked and all. I decided it was a good time to let the caulk dry. So I slept then--not because every muscle in my upper body was aching or because nine out of ten of my knuckles were bloody, just needed to let that caulk dry.

I woke up early, more out of fear of the kids getting into my plumbing tools and supplies all over the kitchen, than out of eagerness to greet my project. The drains didn't quite meet anymore, since the left sink drain was lower and farther back that the previous one.

Well shoot.

But actually, one trip to Ace Hardware and two hours later, I got that problem worked out relatively easily.

It even drained, except that I realized I had forgotten to seal the drain on the right that I had taken off our old sink to add to the new one. So then I had to take it apart, seal it, replace everything, and cellophane-wrap the sink so the glue could dry for 24 hours. At least the left sink was draining without a hitch. And here I was giddy with excitement again: I just needed to hook up the new faucet.

I should learn not to be giddy.

The new faucet hooked up perfectly smoothly: like warm butter on toast. I took a deep breath and turned on the water supply lines, and then I met a monster. The hot water supply line was something like a thousand years old. It had always been touchy, leaking if you turned the handle wrong, but I had always been able to find a sweet spot before where the water would run through the pipe, but not spray out all over under the sink. No such luck today. That valve was shot. It had heard that the sink and faucet had been relieved of duty after sixty-plus years and it demanded to retire as well. I had no choice but to turn the valve off, take some measurements, and head back to the hardware store for a new valve. It was a compression fitting, no blow-torches needed or anything crazy like that, so once I had the part in hand I was sure I'd be done in a few minutes.

I turned the water off to the house, and very carefully attempted to turn the old valve off the copper pipe. Then I broke out some major tools and attempted again, but it was stubborn. I was careful to support the copper pipe as I cranked on the fitting, but with the slightest movement the ancient copper pipe, which already had a slight kink in it where it came in through the floor, kinked worse and, to my horror, sprung a leak.

That was where my heart really sank. Crap. And now what? So I called my dad, of course, who told me it might be time to call a plumber. But that wasn't going to fly with me. I didn't want to pay for that; I didn't want to wait for that--remember the water is off; and I really didn't want Matt to think I'd screwed it up or he might not trust me in the future. I had to fix this myself. So my dad gave me a list of things I'd need to buy: soft copper pipe, a pipe-cutter, and a compression union. The hardware-store guys who were hanging out in the plumbing aisle waiting for people to laugh at, got their laugh at my story. Then they hooked me up with all the right stuff for under $15 and I began to feel hopeful again.

The pipe had burst right at the junction with the floor so I had to pull the old pipe out through the basement. This is one of those times where it's nice to have an unfinished basement because the pipes were easily accessible. I cut the old pipe, ran a new copper line, cut it to size, connected it to the valve under the sink, then connected it to the cooper line in the basement with a compression union. I breathed a huge, satisfied sigh and turned the water back on.

Instantly children began screaming in the kitchen. I was hoping they were screaming for joy along with me, but when I heard, "Mommy!! There's water spraying all over the kitchen!!!"that nice, satisfied feeling felt more like a rock in my stomach. I turned the water off while Hannah ran for a few bath towels. They hadn't been kidding. I hadn't tightend the compression nut on the hot water valve enough, because it blew right off and created an indoor sprinkler. Once everything was dry again, I laid into that nut with every muscle I had in my body. Then I checked the compression union in the basement and it was trickling too, so I gave it a little more muscle with my crescent wrench and pliers as well.

I braced myself as I turned the water back on again, but there were no screams. Painful silence followed as I listened, then watched for drips, but to my amazement: I had successfully completed plumbing the sink! I wiped all the pipes dry again and watched and watched for drips and leaks, but there were none. The cold water turned on in my new faucet, and the hot water too. It ran down a drain with no leaks. And then I realized, while angels sang, that I had put in a new kitchen sink a faucet completely by myself, for a total cost of about $150, and… about thirteen hours of labor. And it was worth it all.