We put up our solstice tree the weekend after Thanksgiving. Spencer actually helped me put it together, and has been pretty good about not destroying it. He does like to take the ornaments off some, so occasionally we have to remind him not to. We’relooking forward to more daylight tomorrow.
Note that I started this post in June. The bathroom remodel was done in July.
I spent much of May working on the bathroom remodel. I took pictures along the way, but I was too busy working to post them. The project is nearly done now, and I have a bit more time to post what I did.
Once all the demolition work was done, and the plumbing was roughed in, the next thing I did was install the bath tub. This was one part of the project I hadn’t done before. It turned out to be not too bad, though tricky in some parts. Our bathroom is exactly 60″ wide between studs, meaning that it is only 59″ between the walls when they have drywall on them. The tub I got is a Crane 60″ by 30″ porcelain coated steel tub. So it fits just right between the studs, but it was tricky to get into place. The particularly tricky part was getting the 2×4 stringer at the right height, and getting the tub level. I did this by screwing in a 2×4 to the studs with one screw, then sliding the tub into place, and testing the level. I did this three or four times until I was satisfied with the level of the tub, and then screwed the stringer in with a few more screws. Sliding the tub back and forth was hard, because I ended up having to cut off some of the door frame and a bit more drywall in order to slide the tub far enough out so that I could screw into the stringer board.
Once I had the tub in place, I then worked on installing the drain assembly. I ended up using most of the old assembly, though I had to extend the bottom part just a bit. I used plumbers putty underneath the rim of the drain. I read that plumbers putty is good for porcelain, and silicone is good for acrylic, so I followed that advice. When I turned the water on and checked for leaks, it was leaking a bit. So I took it back out, added more plumbers putty, and screwed it in further, and that fixed the problem. Getting the overflow stop adjusted was tricky as usual. It still sticks a bit sometimes when trying to lift it up to keep the water in, but after several hours playing with it, I decided it is ok. I got brushed nickel drain trim and overflow trim to match the brushed nickel finish on the new bathtub faucet.
After the tub installation was all set, then I could put down the cement board for the floor tile. I used 1/2″ thick hardiebacker, which is what I have used in the past. I used sheets that are 60″ by 36″. They went down very easily, except for the fact that there were a few places where a stud was sticking out just a tiny bit, so that the opening was a little less than 60″. I used the reciprocating saw to cut those back a little bit.
While I do think that cement board is a great underlayment for tile, I also think it is a royal pain to cut. The last time I did it, I just scored it with a utility knife. This time I bought a special scoring tool, which helped a little bit, but I find that using the scoring method, I have to score both sides about 10-20 times before the sheet really wants to snap. I had a breakthrough with this project in terms of cutting cement board. Spencer and I went to Lowe’s about 2-3 times per week during April and May. Part of the frequency lay in the fact that I would not always know what I needed, so I would buy a few different things, and then return ones I didn’t use. Another part of the frequency lay in the fact that Spencer will only tolerate shopping for a certain amount of time. We were frequently lucky and got the racing car cart, which made the trip nicer, but even then, he doesn’t like it when we don’t move much, so it is hard to stay in one place and make good purchasing decisions. An advantage of our frequent visits was that I got some good clearance deals, including a rotozip. They had a tile accessory kit on clearance for about $50 instead of $150, which included a floor tile bit, which is a $40 bit in itself. The rest of the kit included a handy little table to clamp down tiles while cutting them, and a rotozip tool. Had Spencer been more patient with me, I would have realized that the kit included the tool. I didn’t though, so I ended up buying a slightly nicer model rotozip, and then gave the basic one to Ellen, since I didn’t realize the kit came with one until after I had already used it. The fancier one I got also included a cutting wheel attachment, which I have yet to use. In retrospect, I realized that I could have used it to cut cement board. Instead, I used the wall tile bit to cut cement board. The floor tile bit will also cut cement board, but I didn’t want to use it up cutting cement board. As it was, I went through two wall tile bits, and I broke the floor tile bit because I didn’t read the instructions. (You have to move the tool up and down while you are cutting with the floor tile bit.)
Once I got the rotozip, cutting cement board became a breeze. I got the cement board down on the floor relatively easily, securing it with thinset mortar, hardibacker screws around the edges, and 1 1/2″ galvanized roofing nails in the middle of the panels. While screwing in the hardibacker screws, my Black and Decker cordless screwdriver (wedding present from Jean and John Wolfe) started slipping. It wouldn’t fully countersink the screws, which is crucial to get a flat surface. Luckily I also have a Craftsman corded drill which Sean Gallagher bought me a couple years ago, which did the trick just fine.
After I got the cement board down on the floor, I then worked on getting the cement board up on the walls. It probably wasn’t totally necessary, but I took down all they drywall half way up the wall, and replaced it with cement board. I probably could have just used cement board around the tub, but I decided it would be better to do it all the way around, just to be sure. I also wasn’t sure how well the tile would stick to the drywall, since the walls are textured. I did run in to one snag while putting up the cement board behind the toilet. In order to do so, I had to take the escutcheon of the toilet supply pipe off, and I ended up having to take off the whole valve to do that. When I went to put a new valve back on, I had to cut off a bit off the pipe to get the old compression ring off. By the time I had gotten the compression ring off, I had cut off enough pipe that I started to run into the part of the pipe which was bent, and therefore not completely round, so the compression fitting was leaking slightly. I ended up hiring Dave Colly, a plumber who lives down the street to fix it. He put on an elbow joint, and then capped it off, leaving me plenty of extra pipe to put the new valve on (and he gave me quarter turn valves). He got it all done in about an hour, and charged me a very reasonable price.
Around the tub, I put up 4 mil plastic sheeting behind the cement board as a moisture barrier, which is recommended by most people. After being done with the tile, I realized that I probably should have put some furring strips on the studs behind the cement board, because they were not totally level. So the walls around the tub bow in a bit in the middle. It is not super noticeable, unless you know to look for it.
Once I had all the cement board done, I tiled the floor. We decided on a reddish porcelain tile for the floor, called Rialto Terra from Lowe’s. We had gotten some decorative pieces on clearance, so we used those in the design. I ended up alternating rows of 12×12 tile with 4×4 tile, which I think ended up having a very nice effect.
Once I had the floor tile down I installed the vanity. We searched long and hard for a vanity. I really wanted one that had top drawers which actually opened, which is quite rare it seems. Most of the vanities have fake drawers on the top. The only one we could find was an Allen Roth Sarasota Espresso cabinet. It is darker than we would have chosen otherwise, but it is working out ok. We had a bunch of stuff delivered from Lowe’s, since we don’t have a pickup truck, but I didn’t have the vanity delivered, because I was still thinking we might change our mind. Once we had settled on the Espresso vanity, I needed some help picking it up, since I needed two people to go the store, and one person to watch Spencer. Our friend Mekayla came through like a champ. We took her Mazda 3 to the store, and were surprised when we found out that it would not fit in the hatch back, even though we had measured it beforehand. What we had not counted on was the box. So we ended up taking the vanity out of the box in the parking lot, and then it fit. I debated putting the vanity in first, and then the floor tile, tiling up only to the vanity, but I eventually decided to tile the whole floor. Part of my decision for this was based on the fact that when I replaced the kitchen cabinets, I was left with about a 1/2 inch gap between the new cabinets and the laminate flooring. So if someone else decided they want to replace the vanity, but keep the floor tile, they shouldn’t have that problem.
The old vanity was 48 inches wide, and centered along the wall, leaving about 5 1/2 inches of space to either side of it, which is virtually unusable. We decided to put the new 48″ vanity off center, leaving only about 1/2 inch on one side and about 10 inches on the other. Since I was making the counter top myself with tile, I was able to make the counter top span the whole width of the wall. So now we have some extra space under the counter to put a trash can.
As I have learned from some other projects, the order in which you do things can make a big difference. I wanted to put the vanity and counter top in before tiling the walls, because I wanted to keep the horizontal grout lines consistent through out the bathroom, based on the counter top backsplash, and it is very difficult to guess what the final height of the backsplash would be. As it turns out, the vanity ended up being a bit higher than I had expected, leaving only about 2 inches between the counter top and the gfci outlet. I had thought the backsplash would totally fit underneath it, but that would have been a very short backsplash. You don’t want to have the tile come up halfway of an outlet, because then the outlet cover won’t be on an even surface. So I ended up making the backsplash 12 inches high, to come up above all the outlets and switches.
Once I had the backsplash done, I could start working on the rest of the tile on the walls. Most of it was pretty straightforward. One thing I did to ensure even grout lines was to use to use a level and tape measure to draw boxes on the walls, just like I did for the floor. I re-used a little trick we learned from a display at Lowe’s to make a fancy row, by cutting 4×4 tiles diagonally, and then putting 4×4 tiles inside them. This is quite easy, cheap, and looks nice. I used some trim tiles that match the ones on the floor.
Probably the hardest part of the tiling job was the niche. It seems like there is never enough space for shampoo bottles and soap and such in the bathtub/shower, so I decided to put in a niche, which fits in between the wall studs. I ended up buying a pre-made from Noble. It is basically like styrofoam. I secured it in place with silicone sealant. My only complaint about the niche is that it wasn’t quite flush with the cement board. Now, this could have been faulty installation on my part. It stuck out about an 1/8-1/4 inch, which isn’t that much, but once I started doing the tile around it, I discovered that it created a huge problem. I originally thought I would simply cut tiles to go half on the cement board and half on the niche, but this 1/8″ bump meant that the tiles were very uneven. What I ended up doing is cutting the tile to stay just on the cement board, then cutting pieces to go just on the niche. I had some leftover tile from the floor, so used this on the niche, which ended up creating a very nice framed effect. Doing it this way meant that my bump would now be covered up by grout. Now that we have had time to use the tub some, I would have put in a second niche, because we still don’t have enough room for all our shower accessories! It took me about 4 hours just to tile the niche though, so another one would have added a lot more time.
Besides the niche, there were some other tricky cuts as well. I ended up having to make holes in the middle of a tile several times. To do this, I bought a Rotozip with a floor tile bit, which worked pretty well. I also made sure to leave just a very small gap (1/16-1/8 inch) for caulk between the tub and the tile.
Last January we bought supplies from Lowe’s to redo a bathroom. I decided we should replace the door, since it was crappy. This then turned into replacing all the interior doors, and Clare decided to go ahead and throw on the exterior doors too. We got the exterior doors done in February and March (thanks Dave and Mekayla), and I have 3 out of 7 interior doors done now. The front door is fiberglass, which I painted Reaction on the outside, and Ginger on the inside. We couldn’t get a matching stock 30″ fiberglass door for the back, so we went with a steel door, which has blinds in between the glass, which I like. I used the same paint as the front. We got six-panel pine doors for the interior, which were modestly priced, and much nicer than hollow doors (there is cardboard on the inside of them). The key with a soft wood like pine is to use a pre-conditioner before staining. I used Minwax Golden Oak, followed by several coats of Minwax Satin Polyurethane.
I have always liked the look of rosettes (corner blocks) for trim, so we decided to use those. I looked into fluted trim, which normally accompanies rosettes, but it was pretty expensive, and I since I wanted to stain the trim, not paint it, I thought it would be a real pain to sand. Ellen came up with a great idea. We found some 1×3 select douglas fir boards at Lowe’s which have a nice grain pattern to them, and already had kind of rounded edges. They were also cheaper than any of the other trim options, and weren’t terribly expensive. The stain on the doors doesn’t exactly match the trim, since they are different types of wood, but it is pretty close. Thanks to Rick, Mekayla, and Nathan for helping me hang some of the interior doors.
 Actually, I did buy a matching 36″ door, then realized that the back door was actually 30″. I blame it on Spencer, who was getting antsy while I was placing the delivery order at Lowe’s. Fortunately, my next door neighbor Micah, who has a truck, helped me exchange the door. He is a great neighbor.
We stayed home for Thanksgiving this year. It was very nice not to be traveling, and since we invited some friends and family over, it also forced us to clean the house, which was good. Our old roommate from Ann Arbor, Stephanie, came to stay with us for a couple days. She was very helpful in cleaning up and preparing food. Thanks a bunch! Our friend Nick from Boulder, as well as my Aunt Betty, Uncle Phil, and cousin Melissa also came. We had a very nice time, and some excellent food. I got a few pictures, but unfortunately did not get any of Phil and Betty, or of Clare and me. Oh well, maybe another time.
Last weekend we went to the zoo with some friends. It ended up being much colder than we had expected, so we bought Spencer a hat and mittens from the gift shop, which he ended up liking. Lately Spencer seems to be getting very attached to certain toys, books, or blankets. Interestingly though, he seems to switch attachments every 12-36 hours or so. Some days it is a blanket, other days some hot wheels cars, and some days it is a book. Last weekend he would not put his Trucks book down. He took it in the car to the zoo, and when he got there, he would not let go of it. He ended up carrying the book around the zoo for over an hour. He did still enjoy looking at the elephants and the birds, but it is pretty hard to compete with trucks.
Spencer is more and more interested in what we are doing all the time. He likes to try on our clothes (shoes, jackets, glasses etc.), carry around accessories (like purses, laptop bags, and canvas bags), and help clean (e.g. sweep, mop, rake). One of the cutest things is when he picks up my laptop bag like a briefcase and says bye, as if he is going to work. Here are a couple shots of him wearing glasses and purses.
Two weeks ago we stopped at Target on our way to the children’s museum to get Spencer some underwear, since he has been doing so well potty training. While we there, I spotted some hot wheels, and remembered that my niece Sadie wanted some for Christmas, so we got some. This was of course a big mistake to buy while we had Spencer with us. He did not understand that the toy wasn’t for him. So within a day the toy was now Spencer’s. He played with them non-stop for several days — they even went into the bath, and into his bed at night. One thing he likes to do with them is to line them all up.
This recipe is largely inspired by a combination of recipes from the Moosewood New Classics and Very Vegetarian cookbooks. It is a bit time intensive, so it is not the kind of dish I prepare often, but it is fun for dinner parties, and most of the preparation can be done the day before.
Spencer has been quite helpful lately. The last couple weeks we have spent a fair amount of time getting ready for winter. We took out the garden about a week ago, and this past weekend I raked a bunch of leaves, and winterized the swamp cooler. Spencer likes to try out whatever tool I am using. He also likes to wear my gloves. He is getting to the point now where his help actually does help a little bit. It’s pretty exciting. I am of course totally prepared for him to stop wanting to help once he can actually help on his own. But who knows, maybe we’ll get lucky. He is a pretty helpful and sharing kid so far.
Pizza is a very common food in the United States, and it is difficult to avoid. Many people find it very tasty, but it is also seen as very practical, in that it can be ordered for delivery, is relatively inexpensive, and usually pleases most. As a vegan, I started experimenting with cheeseless pizza. This may seem like heresy to some — pizza without cheese — but I have learned that if it is made with certain parameters, it can be very tasty. For eating pizza out, it is crucial to have ample sauce and tasty toppings. A no topping, $5 pizza from Hungry Howies will not be good. But a $10 pizza with extra sauce and lots of tasty vegetable toppings from Papa John’s can be very tasty. But if you want truly good vegan pizza, you probably need to make it yourself. This recipe aims to be both tasty and healthy, and is actually not that difficult to make. I took the dough recipe from a recipe for calzone dough I found on the Vegan Chef (Sometimes I do put on some cheese. The top picture does have a little mozzarella and feta cheese on it; the extra pictures at the bottom do not).