Bad Overhead – Popcorn Ceiling Removal

Jill and Jerry hated the popcorn ceiling in their hall and asked me to remove it.  I was only too happy to oblige. Texture coat done wrong can look a lot more like baby sick than fluffy snack food, and theirs was the worst.  But, luckily, like baby spew, it’s pretty easy to clean up.  Here’s what you want to do.

Cover all electrical outlets with painters’ tape then completely encase the walls and floor in plastic sheeting.  It’s easier to hang the sheeting if you rim the room with painter’s tape first and tape the plastic on to that line. We were not concerned about protecting the floor since we were planning on replacing it.  But if you want to preserve your existing surface, line the floor with generous plastic sheeting. Pull the edges of the plastic up about a foot and affix to the wall with tape.  Let the plastic that’s taped to the walls hang down and drape over the edge.

Popcorn partially removed

Now, with more plastic sheeting, seal the entry ways of the room off from the rest of the house. Seal your lungs off too.  Thar’s asbestos in that there popcorn!  (Not if it’s been manufactured recently, but the older stuff can be lethal, so why take chances?) I wore a respirator mask, safety glasses and a shower cap in addition to protective clothes. Jill says it was quite fetching. You’ll have to take her word for it.

Next, squirt the ceiling with a water hose.  We used a pump type hose, but the good old garden variety garden hose works even better. Be sure to control the flow and don’t over saturate.

Either attach a flat sharp scraping tool to an extension pole or climb up on a ladder and start to scrape away the gunk.  The texture coat practically falls off when it’s properly damp.  Great clumps fall to the ground and you’re finished it’s easy to wrap them up in the plastic and toss them.  You may want to invest in the shop vac popcorn ceiling tool if you have a lot of rooms to cover.  But I advise against springing for scraper that comes with a clip for a plastic collection bag. The attachment is awkwardly placed, not too sharp and doesn’t catch all the refuse anyway.

I also advise you to stock up on Epsom salts. Your shoulders may welcome a hot bath after work.

Of course, the popcorn is up there to hide something. So my next job was to use plaster to hide that something (read cracks) in a more pleasing way. Jill and Jerry wanted their hallway to have “some texture” rather than a glass smooth surface.  On the other hand, they weren’t looking for the classic knocked-back ceiling you see in, say, an Spanish or rancho style house.  I decided the best way to make cracks vanish and yet leave a uniform pattern was to hand apply a thin coat of plaster everywhere. 

I went along filling cracks with plaster and flattening them back a bit. Then, I went over every inch of the ceiling with a tiny sponge applying, swirling and patting. Yes, you may secretly chortle at me for being so anal, but, hey, plastering is an art, and you’re allowed to get creative with it.   The result looks pretty good, don’t you agree?  I filled and smoothed cracks on the wall, too.

I waited a day for everything to dry then created quite a dust-up sanding all the surfaces lightly with a small handheld electric sander. My light application of plaster made it a breeze.  Blessedly, Jill did the clean up.

Definitely an improvement, don’t you think?



Apple Walnut Wontons

Two delicious “super foods” come together in my recipe for Apple Walnut Wontons. Crunchy, gooey and loaded with cinnamon, this easy, elegant desert never fails to impress.   I serve them hot with vanilla ice cream or fresh out of the oven striped with low-fat chocolate sauce for a warming yet healthy breakfast.  You’ll need:

  • 2 apples
  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar (or Splenda)
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon or one cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 cup of walnuts
  • 1 package of wonton skins
  • 1 cup of water
  • canola or olive oil spray (or 1/4 cup of olive oil for deep frying)

Whipped cream, butter, ice cream and chocolate sauce are optional.

Peel and core the apples.  Cut into 1/4 inch cubes.  Mound the cubes on a 1-foot square of sheet of tin foil. Top with cinnamon, vanilla and brown sugar or Splenda.  If you’re not concerned about calories, you may also add a pat of butter.

Fold the edges of the tin foil over to form a leak-proof package.  Bake the entire packet in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes, or until the apples are soft. (You may wish to place a cookie sheet under the tinfoil  pack to prevent leakage.)

Remove the packet from the oven and pour the entire contents into a food processor.  (Discard the cinnamon stick if you used one.)  Add the walnuts to the food processor and blend/chop the mixture together by pulsing the switch on and off at five second intervals.  You can quit when the texture is smooth but still contains granular lumps. Think “steel-cut oatmeal.”

(Note: At this stage so you can simple eat the mixture as a dip or smeared on graham crackers if you prefer.)

Place a quarter teaspoon of the mixture on the center of a wonton skin.   Moisten your (clean!) finger in the water and swipe two edges of the wonton skin.  You may also use a brush.

Fold the dry edge over to meet the wet edge and press.  The skin will seal easily.  Repeat this process until you have used up all the filling.

visual instructions for Walnut Apple Triangles

Ridiculously easy to do, if you don’t over stuff the wonton.

Now, for the big finish.  If you want an ultra-healthy treat, simply spray a cookie sheet with canola or olive oil, place the skins on the sheet and spray them all over with more oil.  Bake for 10 minutes or until the wontons are golden brown.

Or, you can quickly deep fry these treats in a half-inch of olive oil, turning once and removing as soon as they begin to appear slightly tan.  Remove with tongs and drain on paper towels before the wonton skins begin to burn.  It’s perfectly fine if the browning is a bit uneven.

Did I mention that Apple Walnut Wontons taste wonderful with hot chocolate?

Let’s Decorate a House!

Several years ago I took a home decorating course. Now, I can’t stand those fluttery geegaw selectors to the stars. I wanted to combine my home-repair knowledge with design sense to help real people figure out how to make decisions they could live with and choices they could afford.

I’m a firm believer in the saying “You always get what you want – just not when you want it.”  So I wasn’t particularly surprised when, seven years after I’d given up on the design dream, my good friends Jill and Jerry asked me to help them pick up the slack on a home decorating project that had gone awry.

Jill runs an excellent equestrian boarding facility.  She cares for most blissfully spoiled horses in North America. (I’m currently helping to train Kirby, the big gelding who loves his lessons so much he gets the trot poles out between sessions.) Jerry is a busy executive. Neither one has the time to race around town pricing molding, comparing methods for installing a sub floor or even studying up on traditional styles that might appeal to them. Luckily, I’ve already done that homework.  I’ve personally refinished floors, laid tile, painted, plastered, plumbed, torn up and built out about every inch of my own home.  It’s a neo Mediterranean that looks like a quirky 1920s socialite drank a lot of absinthe and went nuts with a sponge.

I absolutely love it.  But I realize that it’s not for everybody.  The problem with a lot of the design books you see is that they show the extremes – dream homes for decorators are not liveable.  Like most folks, Jill and Jerry want something stylish, but not extreme.  And that’s not as easy to accomplish as  you’d think.

I thought I’d blog about the process of helping my friends pull it all together. Maybe some of our experiences can help you.  First up, THE DILEMMA OF COLOR

Saddled Up for The Hollywood Christmas Parade


Here are a few shots I took of California’s première equestrian historical preservation group, WAR HORSE (.org) at this year’s Hollywood Christmas Parade.  We’ve decided to collaborate on a new coffee table book, so I wanted to get right down to work documenting their year.

(More on the book as plans unfold!)One might think running the entire length of the parade route ducking under TV cameras and trying like heck to keep just a few feet ahead of excited, prancing Arabians would be a punishment. But the experience was worth the workout.




After patiently waiting their turn for 5 hours, the horses were ready to cut loose and show off.  The crowd egged them on. Call it post election patriotism, but spectators were mad for the high-stepping antics and tricky close-quarter maneuvers.  As the team trotted down the Blvd, hundreds warned “The British are Coming!”  (I wonder how the Brit ex-pats watching from the Cat and Fiddle felt about that?) In response, the group spun and reeled and called out assurances that everyone in the multi-ethnic, multi-generational crowd was indeed safe from King George and his minions. With power like this a hoof, who could doubt it?