Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Shower To Beat

When you are doing things yourself, you can opt to put in some better stuff than you might normally have because you don't have to pay someone to do it for you. You save on labor and product markup and that equates to quite a bit of money. So when my wife mentioned that she wanted one of those fancy smancy showers that she sees in her magazines, I obliged.

It was harder than I thought to even buy the parts for this project. There weren't any stores around here that carried them except for one which only dealt with licensed plumbers. The other stores carried the individual pieces but no one who knew which of those pieces I needed. So in the end I went with Moen brand stuff which is the only one that had a fairly nice shower designer program on their website. It got me the main numbers of everything I needed and all I had to do was go through and make sure they all had the same finish since it didn't allow you to select it and gave you a hodge podge of different ones on the end printout. I ordered them and have been looking at a pile of boxes near my bedside for the last couple months.

I had things all mapped out where I wanted them until I chickened out at the last minute and paid for a plumber to do the rough installation. It was money well spent because it saved me numerous trips to the hardware store for all the proper fittings and he advised me to do the layout above instead of the one I wanted. Originally I had the body sprays in a pattern above handles which have openings through the tile and thus water dripping from the body sprays would always be dripping on the handles and inviting leaks if not sealed up properly. He advised me to have them separate from the handles and thus we came up with the configuration you see above.

The upper left handle with the round trim controls the shower head. The lower left handle with the round trim controls the body sprays. The two round heads with the square trim in the middle are the body spray and they have adjustable heads that allow you to move them around 15 or 20 degrees in any direction. The far right handle with the square trim is a thermostatic valve that doesn't control water flow. It only controls the water temperature so that no matter what is happening elsewhere in the house with water pressures, you have the same consistent water temperature for the shower. Once you find your ideal temperature, you just set it and leave it there.

I haven't yet had a chance to test the temperature part of it yet because I'm currently waiting for caulking to dry first and I don't have a shower door installed yet. I have one ordered but it has yet to arrive. Once that happens, I might have to get naked and hop in there with a screwdriver for awhile to get the upper and lower temperature limits set right and then that project is done. Sorry for the graphic imagery.

There are only two problems with the shower that I've found. The first is that the showerhead doesn't swivel as much as I thought it would and thus it sprays against the back wall in that position which is all the way down. So I have to buy another showerhead arm that has more of an angle to it so I can direct it down toward the middle of the shower. The second problem and the one where there isn't really a good solution is that in all my measuring and tiling, I still ended up with a low spot right next to the drain instead of the drain itself. I could  bust up that section of tile, scrape out the grout, build it up with more grout and replace the tile but I won't. It will just be a lasting reminder of how much  money I saved by doing it myself and as my friend Ron says, it just adds character.

Now onward to the garage where I am going to start building the vanity. I'm excited to be out in fresh air and on my feet for a change instead of the other way around.

Monday, April 28, 2014

What a Crapper

Things have been going fairly well with my bathroom remodeling project. I really can't think of a setback I've had other than missing some spots sanding drywall which was a really quick and easy fix afterwards. So I was lulled into believing that the rest would be more of the same. Unfortunately that bit me in the ass hard recently.

I hate remounting toilets. There is nothing that beats getting all close and dirty with a device that flushes away your byproducts and plant your ass on a fairly regular basis. When I can't put off the task any longer, I put on some dirty clothes, get the job done as quickly as possibly and take a nice long hot shower to get to feeling clean again. When I pulled the toilet to work on tiling the floor a month and a half ago, I cleaned it up and replaced all the internal parts which were in need of replacement, including scraping off a half tube of caulking that some previous owner had squirted between the bowl and the tank. Doing this makes me feel a little bit better about getting close and personal with it.

My first step was to place some new flange bolts into place since the other ones I took off were corroded. I unwrapped a new wax ring, put it in place and set the lower half in place. That is where I discovered my first problem. When I set the toilet in place, the wax ring didn't even touch the floor flange. When I inspected the underside of the toilet, I saw that it had an fairly deep recess plus the tile I had put down was a little extra thick compounded with the extra grout to even out the heated floors. So I made another trip to the store for the deepest wax ring they had and put it in place of the standard one I had previously bought. This got me closer but still didn't provide for a positive pressure I was looking for to ensure it was sealed well. So I cut another half inch off the old/new was seal I first tried and that did the trick nicely. Problem one solved.

The old flange had been put in at a slight angle meaning that despite a level floor, I could get the nuts on the flange bolt on one side with the decorative bolt caps that hide them but couldn't get the decorative cap on the other side. Since that side was up next to the shower and really not visible, I wasn't overly concerned by this and moved on and tightened the bolts only to immediately break the plastic toilet flange on one side. Crap, figuratively. I pulled things up again (something you aren't supposed to do with wax rings) and rotated the bolt slightly to an unbroken place and tightened things up again very carefully. I quit while I was ahead and things were sealed up but it still wasn't as tight to the floor as I like to get it. The only solution to this is to put a new flange in or put a reinforcing plate on top of the old flange. I decided to just punt for now and let it go as is to see if it would be a problem. As long as it didn't rock when sat upon, I figured it would be fine and it didn't rock when I sat on it and I'm the heaviest in our household so it probably would work fine.

I put the tank in place but again, I felt like it didn't have much of a positive seal where it meets the lower part of the unit. I put the tank bolts in that hold it to the lower part and tightened things up anyway thinking that the weight of the tank had sealed it and it would work fine. It always has before. I filled the tank and checked for leaks. There were none. I flushed to make sure the new internal mechanisms worked fine and disaster struck. Water from poured out from between the tank and the bowl all over the floor. I quickly shut off the water, mopped up the mess, emptied the tank out and removed the bolts to inspect things. Everything seemed fine so I thought perhaps I just didn't get it on quick lined up. I carefully lined it up and checked through the flapper hole inside to verify it and reconnected everything. Again there were no leaks until I flushed and again the bathroom flooded with water coming from between the tank and the lower until. I shut off the water, mopped up everything, emptied out the tank again and pulled it all apart again.

That is when I remembered something from when I had taken it apart initially so long ago. There had been massive amounts of silicone applied to the joint along with the regular seal which isn't normal operating procedures. Then I started measuring things and saw that the distance from the bottom of the seal to the porcelain on the bowl where it seals against was about a quarter of an inch. There is not supposed to be a gap here and in fact, it should be a compression fitting. Though the base is like all the other ones in our house, the tank in that bathroom is different. I'm guessing someone broke a tank at some point and found a donor which wasn't made to fit and used silicone caulking to get things to work. Crap, figuratively.

It was getting late so I pulled out all the new internal components and took off the new seat to replace the one I had indelibly marked with pvc cleaner that I had spilled on it and put the tank and bowl out back. The following morning, I made yet another trip to the home improvement store for a new complete unit, a flange reinforcement ring, which should also fix the too short bolts on the one side, and a new wax ring. With the new thick reinforcement ring screwed in place which meant I no longer needed two wax rings anymore, I assembled everything again. Although things were new this time, I still didn't enjoy the job anymore than I did on my previous attempts. Filled the tank, checked for leaks, there were none, flushed, phew! Now I have a functioning crapper again, literally!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Marvelous Marble and Grout

Although I generally let my wife get the final say when it comes to coordinating things due to my partial color blindness, which believe it or not, can be a handicap in coordinating things, when we saw the tile above at the big box home improvement store, we both immediately agreed. She agreed because she like the veined marble and has always wanted a floor like that in the bathroom. I agreed because it was most likely an over order from someone else's tiling job and there was just enough left for us to do this job and it was about half the price of going with ceramic. I grabbed all the boxes remaining and for about $100, we now have a very posh bathroom floor. I have also come to find out it hides dirt really well which is also a plus in my book.

The installation went fairly smooth. I broke the first tile I attempted to cut along one of those veins. Fortunately I was able to salvage most of the tile for around the heating vent area. After that however, I was careful when I cut trying to avoid a cut line near a vein and also pushing it a lot slower through my saw. That wasn't too hard since my little tiny saw could barely cut through these 1/2" thick tiles. I ended up having nine tiles left over which after some discussion, I think I am going to make into the vanity top. I have to wrap my head around it a bit and figure out how to work that it but I think if we get a drop in sink bowl it can work.

I ended up skim coating the mortar down over the heating mat wires on the floor and then over the rest of the floor without the wires by checking to make sure I was the same depth. I then back buttered the individual tiles with my notched trowel and set them in place. My whole goal was to avoid nicking any wires and thus making the heated floor non-functioning before I could get it functioning. I plan to install the thermostat here in another day after it has had several days to cure and see if it works. I can't wait.

Here is kind of an overall shot showing after I finished up grouting the shower pan. I had already grouted the bathroom floor and the shower walls. I think it turned out great. We used white grout on the shower walls which really hid any of the imperfections that probably only I will ever notice. Now it will be hard for me to even notice. Although it is just out of the frame, you may recall that I had a half inch gap between the uppermost row of tiles and the ceiling due to my wife opting to go with a wider row of accent tiles. I ended up just grouting it and with the white ceiling and white tiles along with white grout, it has all but disappeared. It will stay that way. We, and by we I mean my wife, chose a brown grout for the marble floor. It looked pretty sharp after I was done but when it dried out it turned a chalky gray color. Whenever I wet it again, it turns brown. I'm planning on sealing all the tiles and I hope when I apply the sealer that the grout will remain brown color but even gray it doesn't look too bad.

I just got done acid washing all the grout residue off the tiles in preparation for the sealing. I hope to seal it next so that I can start putting things in place. First thing is the crapper which I really miss. I am tired of lugging that thing from one side of the bathroom to another and back again and it would be just nice to have use of again. I replaced all the internals which I've been adjusting almost continuously since we moved in here and it just made sense while I had it all dried up and apart. I accidentally dropped some purple pvc cleaner on it while doing plumbing early on and it landed on the toilet lid and stained it purple. Fortunately it was just the lid. I tried to acid wash it off but even that didn't work so I'm out the cost of a new seat.

I still need to figure out what I'm doing for the shower door and get that on order soon along with the vanity sink bowl. I also need to start building the vanity now that it is warm enough to work out in the garage again. It will be nice to work in a nice big garage on my feet instead of kneeling on my knees in our postage stamp sized bathroom. It makes me so claustrophobic.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Things Are Starting to Heat Up

Well technically they aren't quite yet but they soon will be. Back when we were discussing ideas for the bathroom remodel, my wife really wanted heated floors. I really didn't care either way but put it in the nice to have part of the list because I didn't think it would be within my technical range to do. Mostly this idea was because I thought it would have to be radiant water heated and I would have to put in some sort of manifold and temperature sensing device. However I started doing some research and found out that they sell kits that come with electric mats, a temperature sensor and a thermostat all bundled together.The mats can be cut (as long as you don't cut the heating element wire) and rearranged to fit various bathroom sizes and configurations and seemed really simple to install. They don't draw much electricity and with the thermostat only heat twice a day when we might be actually in the bathroom. The kicker was the kits were pretty darn cheap. Worst case if I really messed it up and it didn't work, I was only out about a hundred bucks. So I bought a kit.

So after completing the shower tiling, I unwrapped the package and installed it. The installation went smoothly and I was able to complete it in about three hours. The start of the mat is the one on the right and near the door. It has leads that are stuck down in a crack between the floor and the drywall and runs up into the hole you see in the upper right part of the picture down next to the floor. That hole will be covered up with the vanity after I get it built and installed. I fished the wires up to the thermostat base which you see mounted above the bank of electrical switches and outlet. I bought an remodel outlet box that clamps on the back side of the drywall and is made specifically for situations like these.

I think I ordered a nine foot mat and the bathroom is only five feet long (not counting the shower) so that I could bend the wire to fit around the vent opening in the lower left side of the picture and pretty much cover the area evenly. You aren't supposed to put the heating elements under any permanent fixtures like a vanity or toilet which is why there is nothing on the right side of the bathroom. To get everything to lay flat and stay where I wanted it, I used hot glue to tack everything in place.

To regulate the temperature so it gets warm when you want it too, doesn't run when we are not around and doesn't overheat, there needs to be a temperature sensor embedded along with the wires. That is the black wire you see kind of in the middle of the photo that ends in between a loop and runs out and into the hole in the wall up to the thermostat. I haven't plugged in the thermostat because the wires aren't supposed to run without mortar around them and I didn't want to have to figure out how to get the thermostat in vacation mode before things started melting.

The only problem I had was checking the resistance of the system before installing it and before I tile over it. You do this to verify that it is working before cutting it up to fit your area and again before you permanently tile over it. I checked the resistance on the mat before and after installation and it matched the range the manufacturer said it would. I DIDN'T check the resistance of the temperature probe before installing it because I didn't know I had to before I started hooking it up to the thermostat and saw a label wrapped around the wire. For some reason they didn't state that you were supposed to do this in the instruction manual. So when I discovered this omission, I got my multimeter and checked the resistance on the leads. Despite trying several times, I got only infinite resistance which means the thermister wasn't good. I was going to have to call it in, deal with customer service and get another one shipped to me which would be a week or two of delay.

I was actually on hold with their customer support due to 'heavy call volumes' when I decided I should gather all the information close to the phone so it would be handy. I peeled off the label from the wires telling me to check the resistance and the range along with the manual and box it came in when I read the label a second time. It said the resistance should be between 10k and 12k. Now the resistance in the floor mat had a range of 50 to 96 ohms so 10 to 12 ohms seems right in my brain for the thermister. But that k on the end is short for 10,000 to 12,000 ohms and I realized right then that my multimeter was set on the wrong scale to measure it. I quickly switched to a higher scale and my resistance was smack in the middle at 11,000 ohms. Before I could hang up, the service guy picked up and started asking questions. So I explained what I had just figured out and big him a good day.

So now everything is checked and working and ready for tiling. The wires were a lot thicker than what I had thought, probably around 1/8th of an inch so I have to account for that when tiling the left side versus the right side where there isn't a mat. I think what I am going to do so that I don't accidentally nick a wire is to fill the mesh and wires with mortar and use the wires to kind of screed it flat with a float. Then I will apply the mortar to the back of the tiles with a notched trowel and set in place. I think that will work better than trying to run a notched trowel over the wires and mesh and not nick anything.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Ethiopian Tibs

The town we live in currently isn't as culturally diverse as the town we formerly lived in. As a result, your choices for eating are much slimmer especially when it comes to ethnic foods. Surprisingly however, we did have a new Ethiopian restaurant open up here in town and we went down to check it out despite all the social media reviews.

Our town has a couple social media sites where a couple people posted pictures of the Ethiopian food, (essentially pictures like what I have above only not as good as quality) and the reviews weren't very good. Several people just commented that it looked disgusting and they wouldn't eat it. Then others called them close minded and a bickering fest ensued which is typical for social media sites like that. Not one person however said the food had tasted good and I suspect that was because most people hadn't yet tried it.

So we went during prime eating out hours and as it turned out, had the restaurant to ourselves for most of our time there which confirms my suspicions. Normally new restaurants up here are packed for the first month or so upon opening. The young man running the place was extremely nice and walked us through the menu and answered our questions. My wife got a lamb dish, I a beef dish and my MIL a chicken dish. The cuisine style was called Tibs.

Above is the Beef Tibs which came on a hubcap sized plate. The diameter of my plate in the picture is probably 18 or 20 inches across! The beef had been marinated in garlic and tomatoes among other other things before being stir fried. In the upper right there is a pile of sweet potato and cabbage. Going clockwise it also came with a pile of salad greens, some lentil mash and then the green mash in the upper left was from green and white beans. All this was served on top of a bread like tortilla that the server said was made from teff grains.

It came without any utensils and one was supposed to tear off a piece of the bread and use it to grab onto hunks of meat and vegetable while dipping into the mashed beans. I cheated and asked for a fork anyway. The whole thing was very delicious and we tried each other's dish so I can say with confidence that the chicken tibs was by far the best tasting. The beef was very delicious but a little bit more chewy.

The server kept coming back to make sure we were enjoying our dining experience and even brought us out a bowl of some stewed kale like greens with chunks of meat in it that was also very delicious. We ended up taking large portions of our food back home to finish another day since none of us could finish our servings. We will most likely go back for as long as it stays open but I doubt it will stay open for long. I think judging from the lack of people there on a weekend eating out night shows that most people aren't willing to give it a chance. It is also situated in the industrial part of town away from most of the other eating establishments so one has to go out of the way to eat there. It was my first time to eat Ethiopian cuisine and I must say I really enjoyed it.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Hard Part Is Over

On day three of the shower tiling job, I lowered my tile support board another two rows first thing and then re-waterproofed the old holes. While I was waiting for that to cure, I started tiling the back and right walls up to where we were planning on putting the accent tiles and then putting in the accent tiles. Because there wasn't much cutting involved, it went pretty smoothly and I was pleased with everything. I must say though that the narrow grout lines sure take a lot more work to keep straight and looking nice than wider grout lines were you have more room to fudge things to get them to line up. I stuck two tiles up above the accent tiles to see how much of a gap I was going to end up with at the ceiling. It really isn't too bad. I think I'm going to grout it and use some white caulk to seal it up and see how it looks. If it doesn't look good I can still fall back to the quarter round idea. In the afternoon I worked on putting in two more lower rows all the way around.

This was a lot trickier and time consuming. I left a little extra room to make sure I had the room to get the grout lines lined up on the tiles. This meant I had to use more shimming but in the end it was worth it. Finally I started tiling up on the left wall which meant cutting around the shower rough-ins. I wasn't sure how I was going to cut all the holes at first but I did some internet research and came up with a two pronged attack. For the small holes, I bought a diamond hole saw bit. It worked easily. For the larger holes, I couldn't find hole saws that size and had I been able to, I'm sure they would have been way expensive especially when I only had two holes of one size and a third slightly large hole to do. After research, I found I could buy special tile cutting blades for my 4" hand grinder. The blades ground right through the tile but cutting 5" and 5-1/2" holes with a 4" diameter blade wasn't the easiest thing to do. I held the grinder up vertically and sort of swept the hole circumference. By shear luck, the tiles lined up such that I never had to cut more than a semi-circle in the tile. I'm not sure I could do such a small hole in the middle of a tile with that method. With experience, I got better. I found that if I scored the semi-circle and then cut a slot in the discard portion to relieve stress before finishing my cut, I ended up with fairly good holes. It was time consuming and it took me the rest of day three to get halfway through the fixtures.

On day four, I removed the support boards and waterproofed the holes for the last time. I then got started cutting three more tiles to go around all the hand valves and body sprays with the hand grinder and hole saw. Once I got above them, the rest of the left wall went smoothly and I soon was complete up to the ceiling. I then cut the last row of tile to size and grouted them in place.

Despite having a line on the liner and beveled screeding rails for the sloped concrete shower pad, I soon discovered that I had a couple low spots where the concrete would hold water if it got beneath the tile. I ended up using the leftover mortar from my wall tile to flatten those spots out. Once it hardened up, I will mortar over it with my notched trowel as normal and nobody would know the difference. I cleaned up things and called it a day.

It's hard to tell but on day five, I added a row of bull nose tile on the left and right walls to give things a more finished look. I also had to cut the last piece of wall tile up next to the shower curb in the background. Then I spread mortar over the shower floor and laid all the whole pieces of floor tile. They had built in grout spacers on them so it was pretty easy to get them all lined up and looking nice. The hardest part was just figuring out how things would lay so that I could get a nice fit around the drain and not end up with a tiny sliver of tile up next to the wall. Once all the whole pieces of tile were laid, I quit early for the day to let things set up so I could get closer to the far edges when measuring and mortaring them in place.

My wife was packing to leave for a week long conference in Florida and she was taking her mother with her and I was looking at a week of taking care of the kids myself. So on day six, I made a concerted effort to finish laying the tile on the shower floor. I didn't think it would take me more than a couple hours but cutting and measuring all those tiles and then tiling the shower curb ended up taking my most of the day. I struggled with how I was going to do the shower curb. Option one was to make the tiles on the side of the curb overlap the 'flat' top tiles of the curb so that you see the more finished edge of the tiles. (I say flat because it looks that way but in reality it is slightly sloped towards the shower for any splashed water to drain inwards. ) However, one tile wasn't wide enough to fill in the gap on top so to make things look symmetrical, I would end up with three grout lines running the length of the shower curb. It just seemed like that was inviting more places for potential problems. Option two was to do like what you see in the picture. Overlap the flat tiles over the side tiles. I would end up with only one grout line running the length of the curb but the cut side of the tiles would be exposed. I decided to go this way because frankly the exposed tile edge didn't look much worse than the finish edge did because the finish edge wasn't colored gray like the face of the tile. I'm going to smooth the edge out with a tile stone and probably call it good. I frankly don't think once the shower is done, the fixtures and glass door is in place, that your eyes will ever look down in that direction. Worst case I could paint the tile edge after I get done grouting but I don't think it will come down to that.

So as I write this, it has been a week since I stepped foot in the shower. Next up on my agenda is to tile the floor which should be easy compared to the shower and grout it so that I can at least get the toilet set back in place and functioning. It gets old walking down the hall in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Once the crapper is working, I can go back to grout the shower and get the fixtures all mounted so that we have our master shower working again. After that I will need to build the vanity and get it plumbed up. Finally after that, there is lots of little things that need to be done but can be done in a working bathroom. I have to trim around the baseboard, door and window, hang bathroom fixtures like towel rack and toilet paper holder things. I also need to hang some artwork on the walls to admire, touch up paint, put the ceiling fan back together and a myriad of other things. Despite this lengthy list, I feel with the shower now tiled, the hard part is over and the end in sight. I can't wait.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

... and Tiling Continues

After we got back from Dallas, I started in on tiling again and this is as far as I got on the second day. It doesn't seem like much and I always figure I can get further but it never seems like I do. When I started this project and was buying supplies, I bought some 1/8th tile spacers but when prepping for tiling, I didn't think it looked right so I shot for 1/16th of an inch. That went okay but I didn't have any spacers so I was using bits of plastic and cardboard as shims which was slowing me down since I didn't have very many of them. So before I started here for the day, I went and picked up a box of 1/16th spacers.

The shower niche was built into an existing stud cavity and like most framers do when putting in internal stud work, they really weren't concerned with every single stud being plumb. As long as they could hit it with a drywall screw they were fine. So the shower niche had an ever so slight lean to it as I discovered as I tiled up around it. I did my best to keep grout lines constant while trimming tiles around it but I ended up with a few wider ones. We are planning on going with a white grout so I really don't think it will be that noticeable when done but it is still a blow to my pride.

Next up when it warms up enough to thaw the water in my tile saw outside (as I wrote this it was a balmy 27 degrees!), I plan to put the row of accent tile up above where I left off. I had planned for a 4" strip of accent tiles but my wife called an audible and switched it to 6" which means when I put one more row of the large white tile above that, I'm going to have a gap of 1/4 to 1/2" between the tile and the ceiling. Too small for another piece of tile. I think I may buy a stick of quarter round to cover that up or if it turns out closer to the 1/4" mark, I may just grout it. I'll have to see. (In fairness, I hadn't calculated how the distance would have been effected if we had stuck to plan so it could have happened just as easily that way too.)

Now that I have a row of tile on all sides of the shower, I will remove the prop boards and fill in the bottom and that will leave me with cutting around all those shower nozzles and handles. I hopefully have a trick or two up my sleeve for them to make it easier but still, it will be slow going until I get up above them. Fortunately we have another shower and I have the time to do it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Tiling Begins

I'm not a tiling rookie but I would still say I'm no where near an expert yet. I've done two small floor projects and one project up around a tub surround and that is it until this project. In those three projects I've always felt that the first tile mortared was the hardest. There is a sense of permanence that makes me agonize over things because I know that once they set up, they aren't coming out in one piece. I spent many a day working on other things in this project pondering the best way to tile the shower. But the day before we left for our trip down to Dallas, I overcame that hurdle and stuck up the first tile. This was my progress at the end of the day. It doesn't look like much but I had to set everything up and the details of the shower niche ate up a lot of time.

I started by putting tile on the bottom, then sides, then top of the shower niche and putting a cut piece of the floor tile between the two tile pieces that makes up each side. That way it is supported on both sides and the back mosaic tiles which I installed next. Originally I was going to install the wall tiles up to the edge of the shower niche but they don't have a really nice edge when cut. So I got some bull nose tiles and edged the shower niche with them. As you can see and what I quickly found out, if I had planned on using them from the beginning, I would have probably made the shower niche and inch shorter so that the top corner joints would look like the bottom corner joints. As it was, I don't think it looks too bad and could have looked worse. I think it will look better once I get the field tile on the walls.

The field tile is 9 x 12 subway like tile that I'm going to put on a staggered joint which explains why I used little pieces close to the shower niche. I installed the board underneath the niche to get a full row of tile installed with the proper spacing and to help hold things up until it set up. This will allow the row lines to line up with the bull nose lines so they appear to be in the row. The only problem with this is that I still have two and a partial row to do underneath that board. This will mean I will have to install the level boards two more times. Ideally you would only do this once and work up. I just wasn't confident that I would end up with the proper tile spacing when I reached the niche and then I would have either staggered joints or a big wide grout joint now up in plain view.

The biggest relief is that the permanence of the tile is over with now that it has been there for a week. I can't change what is up short of pulling off the cement board and starting over which I am not going to do. So when I start tiling again, it is just filling up the field which is pretty straight forward work now that I have two rows up straight and level. Once I get up past the niche where I can put up a dozen whole tiles at once instead of just a few before having to cut some, I will probably apply the mortar directly to the wall to speed things up. So far I am just 'back buttering' the tile which is to say I'm applying the mortar to the tile back and then sticking it to the wall.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Dallas Book Depository

Although I like going to museums, it seems as if I am always disappointed with them. They are full of people bumping and jostling each other and they always seem dumbed down to me. The last part I'm sure is because I am an avid history reader and probably know more than the average person which is who they cater too. So when we made it to the 6th Floor Museum at the Dallas Book Depository where Lee Harvey Oswald shot President John F. Kennedy, I figured it would be similar to past experiences. While waiting to get a ticket and three school buses of young kids rolled up and got escorted into the museum ahead of us, I figured any enjoyment I might get from going through this museum was now lost. I was pleasantly surprised.

When you entered the museum, they gave you a set of headphones connected to a audio device that allowed you to play an audio track pertaining to what you were looking at. One benefit is that you could go at your own pace which let me allow the kids to get off ahead and out of the way. The biggest benefit however was that it allowed you to disappear inside your own little bubble and immerse yourself in the experience. At times it felt like I was personally getting escorted through the museum by a very knowledgeable curator.

You were not allowed to take pictures in the museum proper which I liked. It allowed you to further immerse yourself in the experience instead of walking around people posing for photographs. As a result, I have no pictures of inside the museum. In the photo above, the middle window on the right is the window that Lee Harvey Oswald shot out of killing President Kennedy. It was enclosed in a giant glass box and preserved so that it looked just like it did on that day. The window above it with the partially opened blinds is on the 7th floor and contains traveling exhibits.

On the day we visited, there were only two giant portraits of President Kennedy and his wife made out of tiny individual pictures of each other. While I was admiring them, the guard said I could go through an open door and look out the windows, the ones you see above with the half open blinds. We were allowed to take pictures on the 7th floor so I took several pictures including the one below. In it you can see where the second and third bullets struck Kennedy marked by the white X's on the pavement. The first bullet didn't hit him. As my oldest daughter and I went back through the door into the museum 7th floor proper, some other museum employees closed off the room and blocked it so my wife and others behind me couldn't see what I saw. I'm glad I got a picture first.

Standing and looking out this window was a very moving experience for me. I wasn't even alive when these events took place but because I was here looking down, it felt almost like I was seeing through the eyes of Oswald as the events unfolded. I was reminded of the computer demonstration that I saw one floor down that showed a virtual unfolding of events as they happened that day.

This is the infamous Grassy Knoll which is hidden behind the trees on the left side of the previous photo. On the far right side of this photo is the spot where the famous Zapruder film was taken of the assassination. After the museum, we walked across the street to sit in the shade trees near the fountain and absorb our surroundings. The whole time I kept feeling the raw emotions of the event from 50 years earlier bubbling up and almost overwhelming me at times. Because it isn't the first time I have visited historic sites, I can only assume it was because it is so well preserved and looks just like it did back then. Anyway, we spent the morning here and it was a very memorable experience and one that I highly recommend to anyone visiting Dallas.

This building has nothing to do with the assassination of Kennedy other than he passed between it and the building just seen on the far left of the photo moments before he turned the corner in front of the Book Depository and shot seconds later. I was just captivated by the architecture and the style of buildings we made back in the day. We certainly don't make them like that anymore.

Monday, April 7, 2014


No shit so there I was. A boatman once told me that every great story must begin with these words and so I start this story with them. I was at my wife's uncles house in Dallas and his live in partner had waffles set out for breakfast. They were prepackaged things you buy in the supermarket and taste like cardboard compared to ones made from scratch. They were tiny things that you were supposed to toast and serve. As I got two out of the package, the live in partner seemed very concerned. He told me that they don't toast and only burn so if I put them in the toaster I could only do so for a minute. 

When I make waffles from scratch, I always make more than I need so everyone can have as much as they please and because they freeze really well and heat up well in a toaster. You do have to monitor them because they do take longer than bread to toast to get warm and crisp and if you leave them in too long they will burn but the window between those states is a couple minutes. So I thought that if I stood right by the toaster and constantly monitored the waffle toasting progress I would do just fine and make the jumpy partner at ease. Wrong. About a minute and thirty seconds into the toasting process, the partner of my wife's uncle suddenly screeched that they were burning. I immediately popped them up from the toaster and was able to grab one of them as it bounced out but the other one was still down in the toaster due to its diminutive size. The one I had retrieved was barely luke warm, soggy and no signs of burning so I didn't think there was much danger of actual burning as I stepped across the kitchen to get a fork to pull the second waffle from the toaster. 

The partner of my wife's uncle however had different ideas. Still screeching about burning waffles he leaped across the kitchen and frantically started jerking the toaster lever and trying to catch the waffle like his life depended on it while I watched with fork in hand. When he finally got the waffle out he audibly breathed a sigh of relief and stepped back telling me about how that had been what he had been referring too when he spoke of burning waffles. I took the waffles into the dining room where the first waffle I had retrieved was still soggy and barely warm. The waffle that the partner of my wife's uncle had frantically retrieved had just started to brown and was actually halfway crisp. Needless to say I declined to eat waffles the following morning.

No shit that's the truth. The same boatman ended his stories like that.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Short Vacation In Dallas

My trip to Texas a week ago was sort of a mini-vacation to a part of the country we haven't spent much time at and to visit an uncle of my wife. He lives on the north side of Dallas in a small community up the hill from the one seen in this picture which was obviously a pretty nice part of Dallas. My wife and I would walk through the community her uncle lived, go down one block, walk through part of this community and get on this trail along the river. Most of the people that we saw walking along the trail were dressed in clothes that would have cost me week's salary back when I was working so it was probably a fair assumption that they lived in the houses seen in this picture.

The thing that made this trip unique was not where my wife's uncle lived or the places we visited during our stay but that it was our first time to meet her uncle's partner. Yes he is gay. Although I have known people who were gay over the years, this is the first time I have ever lived several days in the house of a gay couple. I wasn't expecting anything shocking and it pretty much met those expectations. It was kind of like living with two guys at college only they have more money to spend on furnishings. They were good hosts and we had a good time. The partner of my wife's uncle however turned out to be a bit neurotic and I will probably share a good story about him in a later post.

The first time I met my wife's uncle I suspect he was gay but it wasn't until a few years later that he finally hinted at it enough that we knew for sure. As the years went by, he still has never came out and said so but he worked up to telling us about his partner and finally this year being comfortable with us going to visit him with his partner there. Up until this year, his partner, an world traveling Irish guy, had been living and working in the Philippines so they had only seen each other once a year or so for a week. However in December the partner retired and my wife's uncle and him bought a house together in Dallas. They are both well into their 50's and after so many years of living alone, they are having to adjust to living with someone full time. After several days with them I'm not sure they will survive the adjustment.

Number one on my list of things to see in Dallas was to go visit the Dallas Book Depository where Lee Oswald shot Kennedy. I wasn't expecting much as far as museums go but was very surprised. I'll write more on that experience in a later post. We also went to the Arboretum which we heard good things about and it too was very nice. It was a nice trip, short and sweet and a much needed breather from my bathroom remodeling project which I will start working on again shortly.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


No pictures but I thought I would vent about drywall. As I have mentioned before, I hate the stuff, specifically the mudding and sanding of the seams part. I just struggle at it. After several days of mudding, sanding, more mudding, more sanding, touchup mudding, touchup sanding, so forth and so on, I finally thought I had a perfectly smooth surface that would make the most anal retentive person proud. I got out my drywall primer and put a coat on all the non-tiles surfaces and sure enough I found several areas that looked terrible. Nothing like putting paint on a surface to highlight all the imperfections. Fortunately it was just primer so I sanded through it and fixed all the areas before applying more primer. Now I finally have it looking great, at least to me, and I can start putting on the final coats of paint. I think I am going to paint first before tiling so I don't have to worry about protecting all the tile with tape and plastic. After I get it all installed, I will just touch up any edges near the tile that I'm sure will get stained with splotches of mortar as I do the tiling. I'm really looking forward to the tiling part but I know it will be punctuated with periods of frustration as I try to get all the tiles nice and straight with grout lines lining up. Been there and done that part before.