How to Make Your Own Concrete Countertop

Posted on January 18th, 2014 by Tonia 1 Comment

We’ve been keeping busy around here this winter with tons of home renovation projects. I’ve posted pictures of the progress on IG from time to time, and it was requested that I break my blogging fast in order to show how Mike and I made the concrete vanity top for our downstairs bathroom.

Most of the changes being made in that room were things we didn’t know how to do well enough ourselves (tile work, mudding, plumbing, electrical), so we hired people who know what they’re doing. But the one thing we did feel comfortable tackling was the vanity.

Concrete is cheap and extremely versatile. You can make it literally any color you want by mixing in powdered pigment. It can be perfectly opaque and smooth for a modern look, or you can sand it down to reveal the aggregate for a more organic/rustic look. I have even heard of people pouring agates or sea glass into the concrete for a colorful, mosaic-like look. The sky is really the limit with this material, and if you mess up you’re only out the cost of a bag of cement and sand. Besides that, it is extremely hard and durable after it’s cured and sealed, making it a practical choice for kitchen and bathroom surfaces.

We had concrete countertops made by concrete professionals for our kitchen this summer, replacing the speckled blue laminate ones that had been there since the 90′s. Boy, do we love how they look and feel!…Butter smooth with beautiful dove gray mottling. That built-in drain-board was a genius move, too.

So it was an easy decision to go with concrete for the bathroom vanity as well, and in the interest of staying within our budget we decided to try doing it ourselves.

Mike made the base out of cedar and then we poured our own concrete top for it. The whole process only took an afternoon, not including buying/gathering the supplies and setting up the mold (we did that the day before. You want to have everything set up ahead of time because once you pour the wet concrete, you have to work fast.)

Mixing the gravel, sand, concrete and pigment together is very similar to baking. You have to pay attention to the texture and moisture of the mixture. Too watery and it won’t set up in the mold very well. Too thick and it will be hard to spread it and get it really smooth. The general guideline is 3 parts gravel, two parts sand, one part concrete, and one part water. And then pigment is added “to taste” until you achieve the opacity and color you want.

Pro Tip: We heard that if you ad a little anti-freeze into the mix, it will help keep air bubbles to a minimum! We tried it and it worked! We had very few air bubbles in the finished product!

Keep in mind that if your sand is red, your concrete will be tinged a light pink color naturally if you don’t ad any pigment. If your sand is more yellow in color, the concrete will be a light beige naturally. We have red sand and added white pigment- a lot of it- because we wanted a very opaque, creamy white color. The natural color was really pretty too, but just didn’t quite “fit” with the gray and white limestone tile in the bathroom.

I made two short videos showing us pouring the mixture into the mold and spreading it. IG won’t let me embed them here but if you click here and here you can watch them. As you’ll see, we laid metal mesh into the mold and then poured another layer of the concrete mixture over the top of the mesh. This is a way to strengthen the countertop and make it durable enough to withstand us picking it up and moving it into the bathroom. Without some sort of reinforcement like this, whether you use mesh or re-bar, you risk cracking.

We let the mixture sit for a few minutes and then scraped off the excess water that rose to the top. After that, it was time to wait. And wait. It really should sit and cure for a week before you attempt to move it at all, but we were having a New Year’s Eve party in two days and needed to have a functional bathroom for our guests, so we held our breathes and asked a strong friend to help us move it. It worked, miraculously!

We didn’t have time to seal it before the party, so we covered it with a sheet of plastic to keep it safe and quickly installed the sink. Even with cutting some corners and never having done this before, it turned out looking exactly how we wanted it to! It’s a pretty forgiving material.

Let me know if you have any questions. There are many awesome Youtube videos that explain this process really well, which is how we educated ourselves ahead of time. I know a few of you are doing some remodeling projects of your own…good luck with everything! I love seeing your progress so keep posting to IG/your blogs. Those of you trying concrete, I can’t wait to see how it all turns out!

Stay In Touch

Posted on October 7th, 2013 by Tonia 4 Comments

Hello faithful readers who wait and wait and waaaaaait for me to once in a blue moon post! I love you. I miss you. Thanks for keeping me in your bookmarks and readers so that I can occasionally unload a random stream of consciousness on you. There is an explanation for my major blogging drop-off.

The thing is, that feeling I started having a while back hasn’t gone away. I don’t know what changed or why, but blogging just isn’t my jam anymore. It makes me sad, because Itty Bitty Impact was a big deal for me and I fondly look back at old posts and wish I could hammer out some new ones that would inspire and entertain and provoke discussion the way I used to be able to. There’s certainly plenty to write about. But something inside me is telling me to hold back. Keep the stories for myself. Have some secrets. Explore privacy. Protect this delicate bubble of experiences that is my little life.

I know you understand and are probably nodding your head like, “Yep, our generation doesn’t know the value of privacy. We over-share and we rank our experiences by how many ‘likes’ they receive from others.” But that’s not to say you shouldn’t blog or read blogs- I certainly read the shit out of them. I appreciate those who take the time to put thoughtful, well-written work out there on a regular basis. I wish I still could. But it just doesn’t feel good to me anymore. Maybe it will again later, but not right now.

That being said, it has been an amazing last few months since I checked in with you all. Life is good over here on the edge of the lake. And I would love for you to follow along on Instagram if you so choose. Comment with your IG handle and I will follow you. That way we can stay in touch until the next time I decide to randomly post on here {which might actually happen more often once winter sets in and I find myself routinely hunkered down on the couch with the ol’ laptop and some tea. That right there is a recipe for some good old-fashioned blog posts.}

Stay well and stay in touch.

Maple Syrup Season 2013

Posted on April 29th, 2013 by Tonia 10 Comments

We came, we went, we made over 30 gallons of maple syrup.

Since my last post, I have swung wildly from “Still like winter! Winter’s OK! Take your time, I’m fine!” to “Oh my god, when will it eeeeeeend. I haven’t seen the sun in 8 long months. I’m going to die.” But turns out all this late-season cold weather and snow that we’ve (I’ve) been whining about made for a pretty great syrup season! It was like the old days, before global warming, when spring was an actual season that lasted a few months instead of just an afternoon melt session in March where winter cedes the win to summer in the time it takes to frantically brew iced-tea and shave your legs.

My maple-syrup-loving self was delighted that spring didn’t vanish before our eyes, but my I-NEED-SOME-DAMN-VITAMIN-D self was just a liiiiiittle crabby about the full-blown snowstorm we got on April 18. Yeah. We’re talking around 20″ of new snow.

So before we talk about our awesome maple syrup season, here’s a taste of what we were dealing with around here last week (I’m looking for a little sympathy here, in case you didn’t pick up on that.)

Ok, that’s quite enough of that. Moving on.

This was the first season in several years where we needed snowshoes for tromping around from bucket to bucket in the woods. The fact that the roots of the trees were insulated by all that snow made the season progress slowly and steadily, instead of the sap gushing out at light-speed and being done within a week. The slow runs made for easier collections because the buckets would only be 1/4 to 1/2 full each time we went out, rather than brimming/over-flowing.

The sugar content was very high and went up as the season progressed, starting out at about 2.5 and ending at 3.5. This allowed for a shorter boiling time and lighter syrup (the longer the sap cooks, the darker the syrup.) We achieved the ideal honey-amber color and smooth, buttery flavor with each batch.

My little brother Danny firing the evaporator and checking sap levels in the pans.

Lunch, enjoyed in the sap house while we worked: Curried butternut squash soup and fresh-caught trout.

Mike pouring finished syrup into the canner.

My mom, Sammi (Danny’s girlfriend), and me canning up a batch.

As a special treat in the middle of a particularly long day of boiling, we made up a whole pile of doughnuts and dunked them in the hot syrup.

You guys…I’m not even going to attempt to explain how out-of-this-world delicious they were. There are no words– just loud, happy, grunting noises and chewing. We will be doing this every year from now on.

As usual, syruping was a lot of work and we all sigh a little sigh of relief when it’s over and normal-life returns. But being together, working out in the fresh air and quiet woods with my family, joking and talking and laughing as we go, is what makes it special and worthwhile. It’s a yearly tradition that has taken place almost every year of my entire life!

Happy 26th season, Maple Moon Sugarbush! Thanks for the liquid gold, and the memories.

Oh, and Mr. Spring? In case you didn’t get the memo…it’s April. You can go ahead and warm up and melt all this snow and start pushing up tulips anytime now. That’d be great.

P.S. Posts from seasons past can be found here.
P.P.S. I promise I will start taking REAL photos again…Instagram is great for documenting little moments here and there, but I think we can all agree that my cell-phone camera compares poorly to the real thing.

Savoring the Remnants of Winter

Posted on March 26th, 2013 by Tonia 6 Comments

We still have two feet of snow on the ground around here, but I’m trying not to complain because this is the first “normal” (read: bleak, snowy, cold, seemingly never-ending…) winter we’ve had in about five years. Even though I am looking forward to the return of sunshine and greenery, there is something comforting in the fullness and earnestness of seasons. It just feels right–as if all is well with the world (plus, 5 months of cold weather means we have less scary bugs. Really, my favorite thing about winter is that it kills everything. If you’ve ever seen the hideous/poisonous life forms that live in the warm states, you will agree with me that an annual mass bug-freeze is a great thing. And not shaving my legs is my other favorite thing about winter.)

Spring should be showing up sometime next week, so before then I’m relishing the last hurrah of “winter activities”. Once the garden is cranking and there are things to be done outside around the homestead, there will be no time for listening to podcasts while baking glutenous, sugary “snacks” that are really desserts, organizing shelves and cupboards, therapeutically sifting through unused belongings and putting them into boxes and donating them, obsessively Googling things like “natural options for de-worming horses” and “essential oils for horses”, and sneaking snuggle sessions with Charlie in the middle of the day/whenever the mood strikes.

Mike has also been savoring the remnants winter. Lately he has spent a lot of time in the kitchen, plastic gloves on, radio blaring Punch Brothers, up to his elbows in ground pork. He cranked out two types of sausage last week: Spicy Italian pork sausage from our pig and tomato-basil-chicken sausage from the chickens we raised last summer. We ate the Italian sausage last night atop homemade pasta and marinara made from the tomatoes I canned last Labor Day…DELICIOUS.

He also started a batch of homebrew (and, ahem, sprayed the entire kitchen with foamy wort in the process), which is now fermenting in our dining room and should be ready to bottle and drink in a week or so.

It has been very fun to work on these quiet projects together. I’m grateful I have a partner who likes to learn and try new things, and that he doesn’t mind spending hours upon hours painstakingly creating stuff that, in the end, we eat! God I love food. Really, it’s all about food. Amiright? Everything. All of it. Food.

Every spring I go through the same horrible break-up with “winter food”. I freak out about the fact that we’ve been surviving mostly on pasta (gluten), stored root vegetables (starches), and baked goods (sugar) for five months and we need to “be better”. So we start making green smoothies every day. We grow a million kinds of lettuces and we eat mounds of salad. We work out (kind of). We drink more water. It feels great and it’s good and everything.

But we’re not there yet. That’s next week. This week we’re savoring winter. Cookies and pasta and pizza and beer are still happening. Don’t cheat me out of my last precious week of winter! I will kick you. And then I will eat another chocolate-chip muffin.

IN YO’ FACE, SPRING!

P.S. A big, huge, warm hug to everyone who left a comment on this post. You rock. I love you.
P.P.S. We’re all set up and ready to go for maple syruping, and we think the season will be kicking off this weekend! Stay tuned for lots of sugary fun!