A Cool Stool

In the midst of our bathroom renovation, we knew we’d be taking a trip up to PA for one of my friend’s weddings, and luckily it worked out that we’d also be able to visit Nik’s best man, Jed, and his wife Laura who just had a baby boy in June. This baby has a special (and kinda funny) story: Jed and Laura Skyped us last December to tell us the very happy news, and the due date. They could quickly see the gears turning as we thought about the due date, and realized it was just about 9 months after our wedding! So we call him our wedding baby (which will surely embarrass him some day!), and he is the sweetest little thing! Nik is a little more enthusiastic about children than I am, so I’m pretty sure this trip was one of his ploys to get me more interested….and he was so cute,  it was pretty effective!


Before our visit, we hadn’t gotten the little guy a gift yet, so we decided to build him something. I had seen a post on another blog I read about a step stool that she made for her kids, with free design plans from another DIY blog. We headed to Lowe’s because somehow in our garage filled with lumber, we didn’t have quite the right piece of wood to start building it. We got a plank of poplar and traced out the design, then cut it with the jigsaw:



Nik used his Kreg Jig to make some fancy pocket holes for the joinery:


Then it was time for assembly. We decided to stain the top and prime and paint the sides light gray:

After 2 coats of paint, we then screwed the steps onto the body, and I got to work free-hand painting his name onto the stool, which was stressful but came out pretty well in the end:


He’s not old enough for it yet, but I’m excited to watch him grow into it over the next year or two! Jed also just finished a very impressive remodel of their basement, and I told him we’d love to have a guest post about it on the blog, so perhaps that will be coming in the future.

I also mentioned in our last post that we were doing something exciting for our anniversary. Nik and I (well, mostly me!) have been thinking about adding something fluffy to our family for a while, and we finally decided on adopting a retired racing greyhound. We’ve done tons of research on this breed, and visited a wonderful adoption kennel about an hour west of us called Project Racing Home. On our anniversary weekend, we picked out this handsome, goofy boy, and he’ll be coming home with us tomorrow! One good thing about a dog is, in anticipation of his arrival, we’ve been forced to clean up after ourselves for our in-progress DIY projects. It’s nice to have our living room back (well, mostly…the dog’s crate is rather large!) which is normally our staging area, and all the tools and debris from our bathroom renovation mostly cleared out of our master bedroom!  Here he is!




The Tile is Up!

We didn’t get to grouting last weekend, but we DID get all of the tile on the wall! Tiling around the nook was not fun, and didn’t come out perfect, but I’m hopeful that the grout will patch in all the cracks and it will look great when it’s done!

Last weekend we got the tiles on the back of the nook done irst, so we could get a decent measurement on the depth of the side tiles. This weekend we first did the tiles lining the walls of the nook, which went alright. We laid them out first to make sure our measurements worked:


It was tricky, because I didn’t account for the fact that all the walls of the nook are slanted to allow water to flow out instead of collect inside, so the corners all have a pretty tight fit towards the back of the nook, but quite a wide gap at the front of the nook. But I think with the grout in, this will look normal.




On Sunday, we then cut the tiles for the wall around the nook, got our last row of mosaic tiles down, and finished with the bullnose on the edges of the tile. The 45 degree mitered corners of the bullnose tiles for each corner of the side walls just about had me in tears. Something just wasn’t measuring right, and we ended up wasting a few of these expensive tiles, and I had to drive back to Lowe’s to buy 3 more. But it’s done, and we’re so relieved. I even vacuumed up and neatened around the pan, so you can actually see our floor!



Next weekend will be grout grout grout, and hopefully tackling smoothing over the seam between tile, cement board, and drywall so we can paint around the shower. AND Sunday is our one year anniversary! Hard to believe it’s been a year already, but I guess that’s a good thing. We have an exciting event planned for Saturday, so we’ll update with some pictures next week if it goes well =)

I’ll leave you with a picture of our huge resident praying mantis. We see it every few days, and this thing is a beast. Shortly after I took this picture, it caught a large bumble bee and munched (crunched? There was lots of crunching…) it ALIVE right in front of us. At one point he dropped the injured bee onto the ground, and eerily walked all the way off the plant to the ground to retrieve the poor bee so he could finish his feast. Usually Nik is politely tolerant of  my often excessive interest in nature and bugs, and will briefly come look at the weird things I find. But for this show he was even engrossed!



Progress Here and There

This weekend Nik got 3 applications sent away, so we had some time to get more work done on the shower. The tile is almost done (being placed, that is. Grouting hasn’t begun yet)! The last step of tile-laying is around the niche, and it will be complicated – having these tiles meet at right angles is tricky, because it’s not just tile measurements as it’s been everywhere else. Around the niche, we also have to account for the thickness of mortar and tile on the tiles in the niche and around the niche to ensure they meet at the right place. Cutting as we go might be necessary for this section.

Here is our progress after this weekend:


It was hard to get the whole shower in one picture…sorry for the bad angle. I also did just the inside of the niche, with the accent tiles, so we at least would know the thickness to build off of for the sides, top and bottom:


We got a couple other projects underway or completed this weekend which felt good. We bought an old window frame upwards of 2.5 years ago from an old warehouse in Durham, with plans to make a collage picture frame. We first reglazed the panes (this actually happened so long ago, it was before we bought out house!). Then, trying to figure out how to attach the prints to the inside of the glass derailed this project for about 2 years – we thought of using little black picture corner attachers, but the adhesive side that would show against the glass wasn’t pretty. Then we tried directly gluing pictures, but the glue made marks on the photos.

We had about given up, so we looked up videos of how other people successfully mounted pictures into these DIY window frames. This lady with a thick southern drawl came on, and said ‘it’s so quick and easy you wouldn’t believe it’ (hah, we thought, there’s NO way, we’ve been thinking about this for years and everything we try looks ugly and noticeable). She instructed us to use invisible tape – yup, plain tape, and just tape the corners. We were unimpressed, and knew we would see the tape and it would look so amateur. But in our desperation to get this project done, I tried it.

And guess what? YOU COULDN’T SEE THE TAPE! So, 2.5 years later, and we finally finished this project, using pictures from before our wedding, our honeymoon, and our trip to Utah. Now we just need to find a place to hang it!



I know this picture is blurry…but you can’t see the tape!!

There was one more project we did this weekend building a piece of furniture from scratch as a surprise for Nik’s best man’s new baby. I’ll wait a couple weeks until after we’ve given it to him to post that, in case they stumble on the blog in the meantime. I just wanted to mention it, you know, in case you thought we weren’t very productive this weekend!

I’m really hoping to get the rest of the tile in Saturday, so we can at least think about grouting on Sunday. After that, we need to patch all the drywall around the tile and finish painting the walls, caulk around the shower pan and finish installing the drain, and then finally install the doors and faucet hardware. I swear, this list seems to never get shorter…

Shower Tile, Phase I

Well, tiling didn’t go as fast as planned (it never does!), and Nik really had a ton of work work to do this weekend, between submitting edits for a publication he’s in the middle of, applying for jobs (which apparently require 16,453 different documents that I’m sure no one on these hiring committees actually wants to read ), and making lesson plans for the new upper level microbial ecology course he’s teaching. I’m trying to help where I can so he doesn’t have a nervous breakdown – but almost 10 years out from college, I just don’t have the motivation and work ethic that Nik still does to do that much work work outside of 8-5 M-F! He’s really committed to getting these things done and done well, which is awesome for him and it makes me proud to have such a driven and hard working husband. But unfortunately, the timing of all this work is bad news for our shower progress!

This is not to say that we didn’t get anything done on the long holiday weekend, but my lofty goals of finishing all the tiling and even getting the grout done certainly were not reached. While Nik was getting some writing done on Saturday morning, I started visualizing how the tile layout should be. We had a few obstacles to work around such as the niche, the faucet hole, and considerations such as the width and height of each wall. From past tiling projects, we’ve learned that it rarely works out to start blindly and hope for the best. When this is done, you’ll undoubtedly end up with a space that needs a 1/4″ more tile to cover it, or a tile that needs a circle cut right out of the middle of it for a spigot. Basically, Murphy’s Law applies if you choose to wing it.

So I decided I’d made some to-scale drawings of the shower walls, with all the trouble spots drawn exactly in place:


Then I cut out little practice tiles (also to scale) and essentially tiled the drawings:


One issue was the height was 76″, and our tiles are 12″ tall, plus the 2.75″ bullnose at the top, and 4″ of decorative tile somewhere in the middle. Not an even 76″. To make it add up, we ended up deciding that the very bottom row of tile would be cut 3″ lengthwise to make it only 9″ tall. Using my practice tiles was actually very useful, and guided a number of decisions about which rows would have the staggered start, where cuts would be around the faucet, and how we could do the niche with as little headache as possible. Once decisions were made, I started drawing cut lines on all the tiles for the back wall. Nik took a break to cut all these tiles, and that was Saturday.

Sunday we got some of our new fancy mortar mixed up (it has a higher latex content, so is more flexible and supposedly has the best grip for heavier tiles) and started laying tile.



We got about 80% of the back wall laid, up to the decorative strip, then we ran out of mortar and decided to stop there. On Monday, I got all the tile cuts for the right wall traced out and Nik cut them and then we started laying this wall. The mortar didn’t behave quite as well this day, and we had to add more water a few times to keep it pliable.


I think we were also moving slower because not only were we having to think about the levelness of the tiles on this wall, but we also now had to ensure they were lining up with the already-laid back wall. This wall also had some major concave curvature going on with the cement boards for some reason (I’m thinking it has something to do with the questionable stud work in our house’s framing), which made some of the tiles appear to be dramatically different thicknesses. We did our best to minimize the problem areas, but there’s certainly going to be some weird grout lines on this wall. It is what it is!



We’re going to keep slowly working on the tile over the next few weeks. I decided rushing isn’t worth it, and the other things Nik is working on are much more important than getting our bathroom back a few weeks earlier. It’ll happen when it happens.

I also got around to lining the drawers of our vanity the other night, so we’re about ready to start using it again. It’s going to be weird walking in the other direction to use the  bathroom again after walking down the hall to the guest bathroom for so many months!


Paint it Red

Well, we didn’t get to tiling last weekend but we did manage to spend about $350 on tile, special mortar, mirror mounting brackets, a few other things we needed at Lowe’s. The tile that got us was the stupid bullnose tiles for the edge. You think, oh the edge, that’s not that much, it’ll be cheap. But when we actually added it up, we needed 22 linear feet of edging, and at $3.58 per foot that definitely added up. We also bought 6 boxes of 7 tiles, 2 square feet each at $1.99/sq foot, knowing we’ll have some extra that we can return. And we finally picked our accent tile, which will go around the shower in a thin band, and also fill the back of our niche. I think strongly contrasting accent tile is trending out, so I wanted something neutral but still noticeable. Our tile choice had an option for small mosaic tiles in a 12″ square pack, so we decided our accent line would be 2 rows of this. Something slightly different, but not too eye catching:

Product Image 1So most of the shower will be horizontal 12×24″ tiles of that color, with the small accent. I even found a picture on the Lowe’s website of the two next to each other:

Product Image 4

To finish prepping the shower, I showed last time how we mortared all the seams with alkali tape. Then last Saturday we busted out the Red Guard waterproofing membrane. This stuff was like painting with hot pink pudding. We stirred it then started with a cheap brush doing all the corners and edges, then went at it with a very bushy 3/4″ nap roller to coat the rest. IMG_3935


It dries red, so you know when it’s ready for another coat. We had plenty for a second coat, which is when they officially declare it “waterproof” vs just water resistant. I’ve never used the ‘As seen on TV’ Flex Seal product, but I imagine this is very similar. It was flexible, and seemed like a thin layer of textured plastic when dry. The gallon cost $50, and we had about 1/4th of the pail left over.


After red guard, we went around with a silicone caulk gun to fill the gap between the shower pan and the bottom of the cement board. One of these gaps was at least a good 1/4″, which took several caulk applications to make me feel good about it. Tile will cover over this, and then we’ll put one more caulk line between the tile and the shower pan. Extra caulk sealing certainly never hurt anyone.

I also took some pictures of our newly-mounted mirrors, and the vanity with all the hardware and doors freshly attached. We had these handles left over from a previous project, and they don’t 100% match the faucets despite their color also being called ‘brushed nickel’, but for free I’ll take them! We still need to do some painting on this wall, since we thought we were rehanging the giant mirror, so that will have to wait until we finish painting the area around the shower:


We decided to stay home for the long weekend, and buckle down on the shower. In theory, we should be able to get the tile mounted and grouted, with some time left over for Labor day drinks!

Back to the Bathroom!

When we started our master bathroom renovation, the big goal was to have it completed by the time we went on our trip, since Nik would be going to back to teaching soon after returning. Well, we didn’t quite make the deadline but we’re back at it in earnest, so I’m hoping within the next few weekends this project really starts to wrap itself up.

When we left for vacation, we were in the middle of the frustrating cement board installation on the shower walls:


It was going very slowly, and we were really struggling to get the cement board to break in the right places – it can’t really be “cut”, so you’re supposed to “easily score and snap it”, according to the website. But, it’s 1/2″ thick cement fiber board, and unfortunately, neither of us is the Hulk.

But this past Saturday, refreshed and renewed, we got back at it, and began using a revised method of breaking the 1/2″ thick concrete boards by raising the desired part up off the ground on some 2×4’s, with the part we were planning to break off in the air, and then stomping on the break point that we scored with a blade. This worked about 90% of the time, and we were even able to use a modification of this method to bust out a circle using some scoring and a hammer to  go around the shower faucet.




I think the big difference was moving the boards outside…where I wasn’t worried about what was under them. Previously, we’d been attempting to do this in the bathroom, over the newly tiled floor, so I think we were being overly delicate. Anyways…

We got the boards mounted and screwed reasonably well into the studs with the alkali resistant Hardi screws. A few of the screws crumbled edges of the board, but nothing bad enough to not move forward. Seeing all the pieces in place after finishing (and no more studs to be seen!) was such a refreshing sight! It made me feel like a legitimate contractor (if I ignored the fact that this single part of the project took us about a month and a half to do). So that was Saturday.

On Sunday, we ran some errands in the morning and ended up at Home Goods looking at mirrors. Nik has been worried about reinstalling our old huge mirror because he felt it would be hard to mount safely, plus building a nice frame around it would take time and I think we’re both about ready to be through with this project. We found some nice sized simple mirrors for $80 each, so we bought two to mount side by side. When I saw how excited Nik was at this purchase, I felt bad that I haven’t been giving him more breaks like this! We also got the sink backsplash affixed to the wall, and I sealed the doors with polycrylic. To fully wrap up the sink area, we need to mount the mirrors, caulk around the backsplash, install the doors and attach the pulls, and line the cabinets with new liners, most of which are easy jobs that we can get done this weekend:


Later on Sunday, Nik got to work on some of his lesson planning for teaching, and I got to work mixing up a small batch of mortar to patch the shower seams. This involved smearing mortar on the seam, embedding a a 2″ strip of alkali resistant tape, and smoothing it over. I can’t remember if I mentioned our shower niche, but it’s that black thing:


Close-up of the tape:



Now that this is done and dry, the next step will be waterproofing everything by rolling on 1-2 coats of red guard membrane, which we may begin to tackle tonight. The next step is mortar and tile, which I can’t wait for!

Bathroom Break, Part II

As promised in the last post, I’m going to pick back up with our trip, at day 7.5! We have a (fun?) weekend planned of finishing our shower cement board installation so I’m excited to show an update on that next week.

So, back to Utah. After a morning of Canyonlands, we headed out towards Capitol Reef. In my googlemaps perusing, I saw a tiny little park off of our route, called Goblin Valley State Park. After a bit of research, I decided we’d be stopping there. The road leading to this park, both the highway (and by highway, I mean the tiny two-lane road) and then the side road, were so desolate, hot, dry, and remote it was actually a little scary. We’re glad we filled up with gas at the last station, a hundred miles back, because there wasn’t gas for another hundred at least! Goblin Valley is a small valley filled with short, sandstone shapes that look like little mushrooms, so-called ‘Goblins’. The park lets you walk right down among them which was really cool. We only lasted about 30 min, because it was so hot, but we got some good pictures!







After leaving here, we got to Capitol Reef National Park. We kind of just did a drive-through, with plans to hike some trails in it the next day, but those plans ended up changing. We did stop for a scenic point called the Goosenecks Canyon, however, although cloudy skies obscured the famous sunset at this place:



We stayed at a nice resort just outside of Capitol Reef, which was a bit touristy (they had teepees you could stay in, but at $260 a night this was out of our budget!). It did have beautiful views, though, and they had a cowboy on site who gave us a short horseback ride the morning of day 8:




After our horseback adventure, we packed up and headed out of the Capitol Reef area south on Scenic Route 12 (also called the “Million Dollar Highway”, containing a portion referred to as “Hell’s Backbone”). It was beautiful driving, unusual canyons and constantly changing scenery. We were aiming for a trail head in Grand Staircase Escalante National Park called Lower Calf Creek Falls, which was a long trail at almost 6 miles round trip, but we decided it was higher on our list than any of the hikes in Capitol Reef. We found a gourmet lunch spot a few miles before we got to the trail head, so we stopped and it was delicious! We sat on their patio, and Nik (reluctantly) had to share his space with the restaurant’s ancient resident patio cat, Jezebel.



After our yummy lunch, we continued down the road, and it turns out they were doing construction on Hell’s Backbone. This portion of the road is essentially a narrow ridge along the top of a canyon – the ground literally drops off on either side of the road! And with the construction there were areas missing guard rails and road markers, and they actually had an escort truck leading each cohort of cars past the construction. Nerve wracking!! We finally reached the trail head to Lower Calf Creek Falls and it was a beautiful hike through a canyon with smooth, striated red sandstone, with an amazing waterfall at the end.







After our hike, there was about an hour left to go to get to our hotel outside of Bryce Canyon. On Day 9, we woke up early to get into Bryce before the crowds. The drive in was surprisingly forested terrain, and it was chilly as well (Bryce has high elevation). Despite it being called a canyon, it actually was not formed by a river, but whatever weather elements caused it, the outcome was beautiful. These first two pictures are fun – that very high point in the top right of the first picture is zoomed in for the second picture and you can see teeny people standing up there. Just to give an idea of the enormous scale of this canyon!!


We hiked the Navajo trail to go down below the rim, which was pretty intense going down into the huge spires, the technical term for which is “hoodoos”:




And on our way out we stopped to see Natural Bridge, which was also beautiful:


After our morning at Bryce, it was on to Zion! The last half hour of this drive actually entered into Zion National Park to reach the main town that everyone lodges at, and it was unbelievable. There were numerous tunnels we had to drive through because there wasn’t enough room on the side of a cliff to make a road. It was really breathtaking! We woke up super early on Day 10 to get into the park, because the crowds were intense and due to the busy summer, they only allow entrance to the park on a shuttle…which you have to wait for. Even at 7:15am, we had to wait about 30 minutes to board a shuttle! But it was worth it!


We knew the park would get crowded so we picked our top hike and got started. We wanted to do the infamous Angel’s Landing, which is just steep and strenuous for the first 2 miles to Scout’s Overlook. At this point, most people turn back, but the adventurous ones can continue another 0.5 miles on a narrow, steep trail that at some points has 1,000 foot drops offs on either side of a 3 foot wide trail with a chain in the middle. It was pretty intense, and we were indecisive of whether we wanted to risk it. Several people die each year falling off this trail. But we went for it, and unfortunately there aren’t a bunch of pictures of the narrow, chain rope portion (since my hands were on the chain, not my camera!) but the view at the top of the final peak was fantastic. It certainly felt so high that angels would land here! Here’s some pictures of us on the way up, and finally at the top:


After the exhilaration of not dying on that hike, we decided to do one more easy hike all the way at the north end of the park that is a riverside stroll leading up to the other infamous Zion hike, the Narrows. Where the riverside path ends, the Narrows begins…IN THE RIVER. Literally, the river is the trail. So only serious hikers who have the right equipment to essentially the bottom of a canyon, often wading and swimming, continue much past this part. Flash floods through these slot canyons claim lives each year so there’s a lot of information warning about weather conditions. A lot of people go up the Narrows maybe half a mile or so, just to see what it’s all about though, so here’s a picture of that (note that I couldn’t even begin to get a picture of the river and the sky in the same frame, that’s how monolithic the canyon walls were!):


So, that was the end of Zion. After this last little hike, we headed out because it was getting really crowded. As in, the trails were wall-to-wall sweaty people. Crazy.

We headed out, grabbed lunch, and got on the road to Vegas! I don’t have many pictures from Vegas, but we stayed at the MGM Grand, and walked the strip for the evening. We got some food, but we were really too tired and hot to enjoy it – I was over 100 degrees even in the evening, plus, I think I was still on an adrenaline high because I kept thinking how only 8 hours before, I was on the top of Angel’s landing! We did see the Bellagio Fountains which were beautiful. And we spent $60 in slot machines, and walked away with 7 cents. The only other time I’ve played slots, I put in $2 and walked away with $60, so it seems the tables have definitely turned.

The next morning (day 11), we wandered around a little more, then caught our flight in the afternoon. We got home at 1am (with the time change), and it felt GREAT to sleep in our own bed! This was a perfect trip, because we obviously had an awesome time, and with how much hiking we did, we were also ready to go back to real life and our jobs after 11 days. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I think Zion was mine, despite the crowds. What continued to shock us every place we went was that each park was so different. Different rock, different shapes, different trees, different landscape and animals. I was worried that we’d get tired of the “same national park scenery” but that was never an issue. Everything was amazing – you forget what unbelievable places are right in this country!

I haven’t added up exactly what we spent, but I’m pretty sure it was well under $4000, including all hotels, rental car, flights, meals, excursions, and our park fees. In grad school that would’ve been an insane amount to spend on anything, but now that we’re real adults, for the amount that we saw and did and the length of the trip, I think I did a pretty good job keeping it reasonable. It was certainly an unforgettable adventure, and I already want to start planning our next one!