Saturday, December 31, 2011

The One Percent

On our tile wall, about 99% of the area is tile and the rest is grout. This particular ceramic tile has a glass-like finish that is completely non-absorptive. On the other hand, the grout (the one percent) is uncommonly thirsty and indiscriminate about its thirst.

But get this: Our tile is finished only on the top--its back and sides are red Mexican clay that has been baked in an oven and is as parched and thirsty as a desert lizard in July. A drop of water immediately disappears into this clay.

What does this mean? When we take a shower, water rolls off the tile and is sucked into the grout. The sides of the tile then begins to suck water away from the grout until the insides of the tile can get wet. (This is also called trickle-down, the effects of which are nearly impossible to measure.) So even after the shower is over and the walls are dry on the outside, some of the moisture remains trapped where it cannot be seen and from where it cannot easily evaporate and escape.

Over time this one percent provides the perfect breeding ground for ugly black mold, ruining things for the 99.

The best defense is to soak the grout with silicone sealer, an outrageously expensive substance that is difficult to apply to walls and especially to the ceiling, causing an unavoidable measure of waste. It seems that using a spray bottle and sponge may be the best approach. My Scottish side cannot help worry about the cost, but it must be done.

In any case, the one percent cannot be ignored. It has an insatiable appetite, consuming more than it possibly can use, and with no ability to control itself.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Painting the Trim

I found some white paint in the garage, so I decided to give it a try as the first coat (after two coats of primer). It said vanilla-bean white on the can, which could mean anything, and which turned out to be almost the same color as the walls. I'll need to pick up some trim white at Home Depot.

I don't have any shelves yet and there's no time. To meet the deadline I've got to get back onto the shower and finish sealing the grout and then, finally, hook up the plumbing.

No time even to finish this post. Going to a wedding today...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Days Between

The days between Christmas and New Years Day are a vanishing refuge for us corporate lackeys and peons who once could expect a few days of rest and who now are expected to work and compensate for all the missing employees, those poor souls who have been laid off and who also can't relax this week, due to the stress and worry.

Specifically, I'm not talking about our little Jam, who has shown no interest in helping me with the project or in helping Willow (as a corporate goon underling butt-kisser assistant manager type, whatever it is that they do) and who has shown no regret or anxiety whatsoever at being unemployed and unoccupied at this or any other time of year. The new drop-dead project date has no affect on Jam, nor does any event affect him that occurs within the considerable time and space that is not between him and his food bowl.

So, yes, I am working overtime during this vacation days, working to meet the deadline. I suppose I should give Jam some credit--he doesn't chew up everything in site anymore.

And I should account for the fact that Jam might be destined for an occupation that does not including home remodeling or business. Maybe he is more suited to an artistic life? Or maybe he might be suited for some personal service? I am afraid to get my hopes up too much...

I've got the detail and trim in place around the window, door and shelves. Just a little more carpentry and it will be ready to paint--two coats of primer and then some vanilla-bean white, two coats.

Once the white paint is on and the tape is removed from the tile, there should be an interesting reflection at this point.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Red Velvet Pancakes

I admit being skeptical about the idea of having red velvet pancakes and bacon for breakfast, but I was determined to make the best of it and was even prepared to fabricate a more favorable than honest opinion of them if necessary, which seemed a very likely outcome because I am not a fan of bacon (though this was supposed to be some special sort of bacon) or pancakes, at least not early in the morning.

But we opened our presents early, while the red batter rested in the kitchen, and I was so pleased by all the surprises, including my new clay teapot and some monkey oolong (said to be picked by monkeys because the tea grows so high), that I was prepared to eat a dozen fat pancakes and not make a face no matter what.

And not to forget that on Friday I learned that I do not have cancer after all, and after a week of waiting for the test results, so that I could easily eat 2 dozen pancakes and not make a single face or fail to compliment them on any single bite.

The time came, and the pancakes sat a blistering crimson in the pan, big and fat and scary. Food for a vampire, possibly, but not for a person. And the bacon sizzled in the pan to the left. OMG, I thought.

But then we sat at the table and I reached for a pancake (reaching with both hands just in case) and was surprised by the feathery lightness and was surprised again when I tasted them--sweet but not too much. In fact, probably the best pancakes I've ever had.

Later we had tea on the porch (it's about 75 degrees today) and more pancakes for a snack. Excellent.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Corporate Euphemisms

While the corporate world is usually very good with euphemisms such as outsourcing, outplacing, rightsizing, smartsizing, streamlining, etc., they occasionally can be pretty blunt with language. This morning, for example, Willow emerged from her meeting and announced that I had a drop-dead date: January 19.

The implication is that something very bad will happen if the bathroom project is not completed by that date and for now, she said with a cryptic smile, I can just use my imagination.

We have seen these tricks before, one thing after another, bringing in young, hard-nosed micro-managers and so on. But now I am left to wonder if the universe will implode on itself if it cannot shower at my house by January 19. Just what is about to drop dead?

Yesterday I tackled the most difficult carpentry task so far: getting the trim for the new cabinet area to wrap around multiple layers of wall, a task that dates back to the very beginning of demolition, when I was forced to make a difficult choice about whether to use the existing studs or remove the wall and start over, and I won't revisit that decision now except to remember that I was between a rock and hard place then and I remain similarly positioned now.

In short, the shower wall is not level with the wall behind the toilet--it's about 2 inches out. So I need to compensate with framing.

To do this I need two layers of framing and a special cut on the first layer (actually several cuts), the diagramming for which looks more like a football play than carpentry.

The toilet side of the frame was simpler, and finally the tile can be seen with smooth border. With some paint this should finally have a clean look.

January 19 seems both near and far away. Obviously, I can't rush the project now, but I do have to admit (privately and away from the management goons) that deadlines can sometimes have a positive effect.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


To frame in the window, I'd need to split some boards in half, like thin-sliced bread, and to do that I'd need to be in the proper frame of mind.

Interesting that the word frame has so many meanings and textures. Framing a picture or a window is a positive thing, while framing a person is not. An isolated picture from a movie is a frame. A mind has a frame, even though it has no edges or corners. And a mind can have a frame of reference and, when inspired, can frame an idea.

Because I'll be painting the window frame instead of letting the natural wood show, I am less careful about the process in general. I know I can fill the small cracks with caulk and no one will know.

Immediately I discovered that stapling up the plastic was a dumb idea. The staples stick up and don't let the thin boards sit flush. I stripped them all out.

Also this is my first opportunity to cover the tiles with wood--this requires some special cuts that also don't need to be perfect. I'll put some putty between the wood and tile, and then paint over the top.

Once I account for the many imperfections, I'll be ready to paint.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Not Breaking the Tank - Hyperbole

Hyperbole is not my friend. After writing a post yesterday about my absurd fear that I might somehow break the new toilet tank (because I clearly broke the first one, though I still don't understand how), and after writing that the tank appeared to be OK, all with a foolish pretense that installing the tank was akin to defusing a bomb or splitting a big diamond, I discovered that, in fact, the new tank is NOT OK.

Water was dripping from the opening where the water supply goes into the tank. I took out the float valve, and there it was--a crack.

On closer inspection the crack is obvious, not all the way through the tank but just enough for the water to seep under the washer.

Oh, yes. The company should replace this tank, and they might. But I've read the fine print on their web site (not to mention the big print on the box), and I know what a pain this will be. I've already installed the tank, and I should have inspected it first. Most of the crack was hidden under a washer, but I could have seen it.

Sending it back means I spend the time to pack it up and ship it back and send them emails and bitch over the phone and then finally get another tank and install it again. On the other hand, I could fix it in 10 seconds and it most likely would be fine for the next 200 years.

Yes, hyperbole is not my friend. I know this from playing blackjack in Vegas and (after learning my lesson) from watching other people at the table, like the guy who says "Well, I can't possibly lose again." And that guy always loses again.

My two options: send it back or fix the crack. I am 99% sure about what to do. More later.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Not Breaking the Tank

Today I handled my new toilet tank with all the care and tenderness that I might apply to a little puppy, resting the tank on a big Styrofoam pad that came in the shipping container. After watching it there for an hour or so, I got up the nerve to start with the first step: gentling nudging the big rubber gasket into place on the bottom of the tank.

Gently, more gently still, I slid the washers onto the two main bolts and threaded these through the little holes on the bottom of the tank--doing it this way despite my better judgement to insert the bolts later--doing it because the little instruction sheet demanded it.

Then on both knees I caressed the smooth porcelain sides of the tank, very cool to the touch and delicate, reluctant to pick it up for fear that that my fingers my bruise the surface or cause it to shatter due to my unbridled strength and ogre-like clumsiness.

And then, blindly now, because I can't actually see if the bolts align with the holes, I inch the tank down, inch by inch, over the toilet, not daring to breath or blink, until the gasket magically finds its way into the hole.

No time to relax though. The secret is in tightening the screws: too little and the tank will leak; too much and... but I can't stand the thought. So, small turn on the left screw, matching turn on the right, back and forth, gently rocking the tank to determine if mating has been achieved. And then not a scosh more, not a micro-inch more or Chaos might wrap its arms around me and never let go, throwing bits of porcelain into the air, blasting the roof off the house and leaving me as a blackened cinder on an otherwise pristine bathroom floor.

And then am I done? No. Gently, gently, I turn on the faucet and watch the water rise into the tank, but only a few inches so that I can watch for leaks.

Looks OK for now...

Monday, December 5, 2011

UPS, Good

Not only did I find a replacement for the toilet tank that cracked, but the company ( delivered it in two days and with free shipping, even after their website estimated 2 weeks for delivery. UPS left the big box on my front porch.

Like usual, the UPS guy rang the doorbell, hurried back to his truck and drove off before I could get downstairs. The warning on the box reminded me of the catch-22 episode with my shipment of tile last year: I could not inspect the tile before signing for it; if I refused to sign, he promised, he would drive away with the tile. But that was a third party shipping company, not UPS.

Years ago I had some friends who played in another band, and I just happened to be with them when their guitar player quit. He stood in the doorway and refused to come in, stood there in his brown uniform with tears in his eyes, explaining how his wife and new daughter had changed his life and how he needed the security of a steady paycheck, etc. He wouldn't look anyone in the eye. "UPS is a good company," he said more than once, more to himself than to us.
My toilet tank, a very fragile thing, came in the box that says "Please inspect before signing...," but I didn't even get a chance to sign, so no inspection took place. Luckily the tank is fine. But what if it had been broken? I have no doubt that UPS would make it right. (Good company)

The tank still isn't installed--our Christmas party was this weekend. Very nice time.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Toast and Sardines

What's life if not the opportunity to learn new things? The seconds tick away, and every moment rushes by with the same potential. But does this mean that I am ignoring the opportunity, that I am squandering the potential, if I engage in some repetitive task, like having toast with my coffee in the morning instead of, for example, toast with okra and coffee or toast with sardines and coffee?

I like my toast a certain way and my coffee a certain way, and the thought of going through every possible configuration of toast and coffee does not interest me. (Actually, I had toast with hot sauce the other morning and it was fine.)

Likewise, with the bathroom project I've had the oppotunity to learn many new things (some of which I will never do again). But now it is time to start the wood work, something that is as familiar to me as toast and coffee. In one way, the excitement is gone--I'm not really worried about making some catastrophic mistake, like watching the ceiling collapse or the pipes explode.

The first piece is the window sill. I have the rough opening now.

And here's the sill piece, just below where it will go.

It will slide into place here. Then I'll put in new side pieces and a new top. Then the frame.

But before I put in the place I will shorten and round off the side and the front edge so that the person doesn't get jabbed in the arm when standing up from the toilet.

Things work out for a reason. The final phase of this project is wood work, which is good because I'm not in the mood to learn anything new right now.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Toilet Cracks, Again

Something very strange happened the other night, something that challenges my concept of the physical world in general and of toilets in particular.

It reminded me of an event about 30 years ago, back when I lived in an old civil-war era house in Arkansas, a house that had barely moved into the 20th century, still burning wood to provide heat for all the rooms except the master bath, which had a small gas space heater. The second bathroom had no heater at all, and it was the room that was farthest away from the wood stove in the living room. In the winter I would warn people not to use that bathroom because they risked getting stuck to the seat.

My landlord owned about 300 acres surrounding the house, and I was permitted to cut my own firewood. I remember those days very well, walking through the woods with my dog Matt to find a big tree that was dying or dead and then cut it down. I'd fill up my panel van with wood, sometimes even the passenger seat in front, so that Matt would run alongside the van on the way back home. He seemed to think that was great fun--I can still see him out there wagging his tail.

For several days in winter I had to wear a jacket inside the house day and night. The house had very little insulation, and the windows were so old and rickety that a strong breeze would rustle the curtains inside.

After one very cold night I found water puddled up on the floor in the second bathroom. The water in the toilet had frozen and cracked the porcelain bowl. OK, I thought, that probably doesn't happen every day but at least I understand how that could happen.

But when Cheryl woke me up at 4am the other morning and told me that the toilet in the guest bathroom had broken and that water was going everywhere, I could not, and still cannot, understand why this happened.

The crack starts at the top of the tank and runs down the side. This allowed water to spill out, causing the float to go down, causing the tank to fill again, then out through the crack again, over and over, until water had run into the master bath and then through the cracks in the wood floor to swamp the kitchen floor below. Thank goodness Cheryl woke up.

What made the tank crack in the middle of the night? I had stored it outside for a while during the project, and maybe I banged it and caused a microscopic crack at some point, like a small windshield crack that finally opens up when you hit a bump in the road. But there was no bump in the bathroom.

Now I need a new toilet...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Aunt's Perfect Mirror

As soon as the sawing and hammering and framing is done, I will be moving my aunt Helen's mirror into the guest bathroom. We have two of her mirrors--the bigger one is in the living room, but this smaller one is the perfect size and color for the bathroom, and I will be proud to have it on the wall.

(To my Aunt Helen: Thanks for sending me the get-well card. I'm feeling much better and will be back to work on the bathroom soon. I hope you all have a very nice Thanksgiving. But mostly, happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you!
Love, Fred)

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Prospect of Perfection, Foiled Again

Imagine a pond on a summer day, a perfect plane of green glass, or pretty close to perfect, with no breezes and no ripples on the surface other than the tiny circles of light caused when a dragonfly or honey bee dips his butt into the water.

The watery surface tells a story with two certainties: what is smooth and what is straight. Not absolute certainties, because of the curvature of the earth and quirks of physics that I don't understand, but close enough for carpentry.

Of all of the project work up to this point--the demolition, the plumbing, the framing, the flooring, the tiling--nothing has more potential for success than the work that has finally arrived: the wood work. I'll be framing the window and the door. And I'll be creating a bookcase and shelves. And I enjoy working with wood most of all.

In a normal framing project, we would expect to see virtually flat, pond-like surfaces on the wall, and we'd find some entertainment is finding and compensating for minor imperfections, like a wall that veers off a few fractions of an inch to the east or west for no apparent reason. Ha, ha, we would say, I can fix that.

In this case (as has been the project theme to this point), the adjustments I'll need to take are anything but minor. It's as if the quiet pond had a sudden step in the middle, so that you have to get out of the boat and hoist it up to the higher water to continue on.

Of course, there's a good explanation, and I will place all the blame for this elsewhere. More later..

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hearing Again, and Feeling Better

I am reminded of a night about 30 years ago--can it really be that long?--sitting under my baby grand piano in a stinky nightclub, sitting on some nasty shag carpet on the stage and trying to get a little piezo pickup to attach to the underside of the piano. The piezo, about half the size of a penny, had a wire that lead to my amplifier. I normally used the piezo to amplify my violin. The vibrations somehow get turned into an electric current inside of it (who knows how)...

When my ears finally cleared up yesterday, I was skeptical, but today my hearing is pretty much back to normal. In fact, I'm feeling better all around. In just a short time, no doubt, I will forget about the whole thing and take my health completely for granted again.

The trick to using a piezo on the big bridge of a grand piano is to attach it with just the right amount of pressure; too much and the sound is stifled, too little and the vibrations don't get captured. I sat on the dirty carpet for the longest time, tightening and loosening the piezo under a screw on the bottom side of the piano.

We started playing for the night but I just couldn't tell if it sounded OK. Coincidentally, another piano player was there that night, and I asked him to sit in for a song so I could go into the crowd and listen. For grins he put on my jacket.

I remember it all very clearly. We were the house band at this club, and we'd been there for probably about one year at that time. I had never actually heard the band from off the stage.
But now I could see the band, and I could see someone at the piano, someone wearing my jacket, not me but might as well be me, someone sitting on a stinky stage in a stinky club. And it all hit me.

Thanksgiving is coming soon. I will try to remember to say thanks every day. Thanks that I don't have to sit in that stinky club anymore. Thanks for my health and hearing. Thanks that I have a wonderful wife and family, good friends and happy dogs.

Patience is Hard

I woke up this morning with a gentle ringing in both ears. Nothing new. I've been hearing this same tune for years now--a sound like crickets singing and whistling, and it's loudest in the morning when I haven't had enough sleep.

And lately the whistling is accompanied by a stuffy head, clogged-up ears and fatigue. If I do anything strenous, these symptoms and an extreme fatigue overtake me immediately and persist for the next few days. And then, if I rest, I start to feel myself again. So I've been resting since Sunday, studiously resting, planning my trips up and down the stairs, walking in slow motion. And today my ears have unclogged a little. What a weird illness this is.

As a result I'm just sitting here, staring at the bathroom project, staring at all the projects in the yard (with all this perfect weather), and doing pretty much nothing.

At least I've had time to plan the next step. I'll be putting a new frame on the window. The old frame had water damage and was one of the catalysts of the project--I just hated looking at that cracked and warped frame--so I be putting up some vapor barrier and then encasing the window in pine, overlapping the tile just as I'll do for the doorway and for the shelves I'll be making.

But no more relapses. Just planning for now. And maybe a little grout sealing, as long as I don't push it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Rocking Chair and Teapot

On the weekends I sometimes bring my laptop downstairs to do a little work or some idle surfing. I have a long table next to my rocking chair, the same chair than my grandpa sat in years ago while we watched Tarzan movies and he smoked a pipe there in his living room, which was just a few steps away from the back door of our house. At that time he had a little table, too, populated with some items that captured my continued interest at the time--a mechanical nut cracker (we had some big pecan trees in the yard), a pecan bowl made from the cross-section of a pine trunk, hollowed out and still with the bark attached, the untensils for getting pecans from the shell, his pipe and pipe cleaners, a TV guide, a pencil, and probably a coffee cup. I remember him drinking something...

My side table was messy as usual, with several remote controls, a rag that I confescated from Jam and a stand for my teapot, and this morning it had a tangle of wire for my laptop, all coiled around in a chaotic manner, even though it would just take a minute to neaten things up. I'm not sure why I have such a problem being orderly.

Into the mix of this mess I put down a pot of hot tea and my cup, and not 2 minutes later I picked up the laptop, pulling the wires along and dragging the delicate Chinese purple clay Yishing teapot over the edge and onto the floor, crashing into a thousand pieces.

Cheryl and I drove to St. Pete for lunch and to get another teapot, but of course the store didn't have one. And even the short walk from the car to the store tired me out and caused my head to begin buzzing and my ears to stop up tight, a weird sort of fatigue. Hopefully tomorrow the blood tests will return and we can see what kind of virus I've got. Everything's fine as long as I rest, so the bathroom project sits on hold.

After we returned home Cheryl went back out to do some shopping while I took a nap, and she just returned with a teapot exactly like the one I broke. How cool is that? I'm a lucky guy.

I'm sitting back in the rocking chair writing this with a tangle of wires on the table and a hot pot of tea nearby. A detour, then back to normal.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Otitis Media

We've been off work for so long that Willow could barely contain her excitement when I told her that I would be sealing some grout this afternoon.

I limited my work to the sink and to a section of the floor, keeping it small because I wasn't sure how quickly I'd run out of energy.

My ears appear to be clearing up a bit after my trip to the doctor yesterday--he gave me a big shot in my rear end and a prescription for same heavy-duty steroids. As I stated in my last post, I had already figured out what was wrong--a case of Otitis Media brought on by a viral infection--but I knew not to say anything to Dr. Stine. Better to let him figure it out on his own.

He suspected at first (as I had predicted he would) that this was probably a simple case of too much ear wax, so he started with my left ear, scraping and poking and pulling until the wax finally came out. And not very much wax, he agreed. I suppose it had been in there since Kennedy was president. His face fell a little when I said that my hearing did not improve as a result. Same on the other side.

"I can see you've got fluid in there," he said. "Looks like you might have a viral infection causing this condition, since the antibiotics haven't helped."

"And what condition is that," I asked.

"Otitis Media is the formal name," he said and probably wondered why I seemed so happy with the news.

So I sealed the sink. It's easy because it's flat. I squirted on the liquid on the grout until it would not absorb any more, waited 10 minutes, then wiped it off, and now it's returned to the original color.

Time for a break.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Say What?

Nothing could be more perfect than this day, sitting on the back porch with the dogs and waiting for the next cool breeze to come along and rustle the big leatherleaf fern and cause the big bamboo culms to rustle and rub against each other.

At least I imagine they are rustling because my ears are stopped up, still. I can unstop my right ear by leaning my head to the right about 90 degrees, causing fluid to passing from one place to another in my head--I can hear it go glug, glug, glug, about 3 or 4 times--and my right ear hearing improves. But then it stops up again when I sit up straight.

And sitting here couldn't be more pleasant because sitting is about all I can do. Any kind of physical activity tires me out to such a degree that it reminds me of the time in Tucson when I was determined to chop down a tree with an ax and that I would do it from start to finish without stopping, one blow after another until it was finished, no matter what (even with a dull ax that I could have sharpened first), until after I'd finished about 200 blows of the ax (and tree still standing) I fell to my knees and nearly threw up (then I got out my chainsaw). That's how I felt this morning when I tried, for about 30 seconds, to put some seal on the grout.

I'm on my second round of antibiotics and have just finished taking some steroids and I'm not a bit better. I found the answer online:
Otitis media with effusion
Otitis media with effusion (uh-FEW-zhun), or OME, is a build up of fluid in the middle ear without signs and symptoms of acute infection (pain, redness of the eardrum, pus, and fever). OME is more common than AOM, and may be caused by viral upper respiratory infections, allergies, or exposure to irritants (such as cigarette smoke). The build up of fluid in the middle ear does not usually cause pain and almost always goes away on its own. OME will not usually benefit from antibiotic treatment.
The irritant, in my case, has been all the mortar and grout dust I've gotten in my nose over the past several weeks.

Yesterday Cheryl came down with the same fatigue symptoms, only her ears are fine. And she has to shout for me to hear, especially when I'm outside on a perfect day.

She's yelling something at me now, I think. Ha, ha...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sealing and Calico

Because grout is porous, it eagerly absorbs water. Over time, these damp little cracks between the tiles can become a home for microscopic molds and mildews, and these bastards mess up everything. So I'm soaking the grout in a sealer to help block them out. The down side: even if a do a perfect job, the seal is recommended to be applied every two years. (Are you kidding me?) Oh, and you have a use a brush that's the size of a pencil.

I did a little sealing last night on the walls. The goal is to get the seal to soak into the grout, which is no problem on the floor, but the sealer just wants to run down the wall. So I'll take my time and alternate this with the wood work, beginning with the new frame for the bathroom window.

Also, my favorite fish died yesterday. She was a sweet little fish, never fussing or complaining. I called her Calico because she was the cutest combination of red and white that you can imagine on a Koi (or any other creature for that matter).

Our tradition here is to hold a fish funeral each time one our wet little friends passes into the big pond. In this case the fish cemetery is our bamboo stand, because our bamboo are also very fond of fish. Next year a big bamboo shoot will jump up in this place.

I wasn't sure if the new management would allow me to have any time off for a fish funeral, so I didn't even ask. Facing my act of defiance, and in an attempt not to appear weak and unable to control the workers, the managers decided to actually come to the funeral, as if it was their idea to begin with, and then proceeded to cry and show out shamefully.

A picture of Willow and Jam, and Jam looks like he is crying (or smelling fish)Is there no shame?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Home Alone

My project manager, Willow, went to get her teeth cleaned yesterday, and I had no idea how empty the house would seem without her. Each movement I took--into my chair, out of it, to the kitchen and back, to the piano and back, outside for a walk, and back--was a reminder of how often I look for her and say little things that sound pretty silly and sad in a house all alone.

I did get a coat of paint on the wall using the rag technique to help give it a glow. I can't say that it does glow now or that I like the color, but I'm moving on--I can always change the paint later.

Who knew how serious a teeth-cleaning could be? She got a full anesthetic, a tube down her through, and she could barely get back into the car late yesterday. Even today she's very groggy and unsure, and I can't imagine that her clean teeth are much compensation.

People sometimes ask me how I can stand to work alone during the day. I didn't know until yesterday.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Reliable Gadget

After several days of antibiotics I feel pretty much normal except that my head is still filled with fluid, gurgling in my right ear as I tilt my head to the side, glug, glug, glug, and then my ear opens up and I can actually hear, and then glug, glug, glug as I straighten my head and my hearing goes away again.

We had company for dinner last night, giving me the incentive to finish off the bathroom wall prep work, remove the tape and clean up the incredible mess of my various texture attempts.
Now I'm ready to paint.

Also, I had a nice surprise when my aunt sent me something that I remember from childhood. I remember it sitting on my grandmother Mamie's kitchen table, capturing my attention as I waited for the breakfast of eggs and bacon and homemade bread, with the bacon cooked first and the eggs in the popping grease. Mamie would tilt the iron skillet and paddle the grease to cook the eggs on top. I see this all very clearly still today.

Mamie allowed me to play with the sand timer as much as I liked. I remember wondering why it worked. Why did the sand go through the tiny opening in such a consistent way? How could it know which grain of sand should go next?

And I still wonder. Today we would need to stop the sand and hold meetings at every 5th or 6th grain, produce a statistical analysis and discuss at length the dependability of gravity and the trustworthiness of sand.

So, being the adult that I've become, I had to measure the thing. My guess was 2 minutes but it finished at 3 minutes, 7 seconds. Had it grown slower with age? So I tried again, and again got 3 minutes and 7 seconds. Of all the gadgets that we've collected, I wonder which one will still be working 50 years from now?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Deja Vu

It occurred to me that my symptoms today are very similar to symptoms that I had not too long ago--a stuffy head, popping ears, fatigue, flu-like nastiness--so I checked my blog and found an entry from last January titled Antibiotics.

Exactly the same.

There's no point in writing about it again. Once again, I'm on antibiotics, waiting to get better before returning to the project. What a baby.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Big Head Cold

I'm stuck in a blurry, stuffy world of muffled sounds, with the mother of all head colds that won't go away and that makes me tire out so quickly that I can't get any serious work done.

A few days ago I stumbled, literally, onto a solution for the ceiling and wall texture. Stumbled, because I was tired and depressed after my first, failed attempt but I didn't want to give up, so I tried something that would not have occurred to me had I been in my right mind.

And it worked--pretty much. By mixing less water with the sheet rock compound, I was able to roll it on and get a nice texture. I got part of the ceiling and wall finished, then I ran out of compound (and energy).

I need to get over this cold before doing any more work.

I've been fascinated by the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York--Cheryl and I were there when it first started, but we never went down to the park. It will be interesting to see where it all leads.

I've been thinking what it means to be an American, what it means to say we. Sometimes big changes grow out of a small beginning like this.

The texture is not exactly what I wanted but I'll get there.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Happy Anniversary

Tomorrow is our 20th wedding anniversary. My memories of life before marriage are like random scenes from an old movie, while everything since that day is clear and connected with a common thread and a happiness that I never deserved: Cheryl, our homes, our dogs, our trips and our life.

Here's a picture of Jam looking up at Cheryl with the love that I also feel for her. Happy anniversary.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Frog-Free Project

All the grouting is done, leaving just one more tile-related step: sealing the grout. But I'll save that for later. The grout needs to be bone dry before getting soaked with the sealer. Sure, it feels dry now, but it's just trying to deceive me--underneath the grout it is as cold and damp as a frog's butt.

In fact, in the old days tile workers would hang up a frog and wait until its butt was dry before applying the sealer. And, no, they didn't use expensive silicone sealer. The human race wouldn't know how to do anything if it weren't for the old-timers.

We have no shortage of frogs in our backyard, but I'm not keen on the idea of hanging one by a string and letting it suffer and flop around. I could possibly use worms, but they dry out too quickly. Instead, I'll just wait for a long time.

So now I'm prepping the walls for painting, getting them ready to try another old-timer's trick (no animals are abused). I'm going to create an orange peel texture on the wall--the physical texture. Then I'll do some rag painting to get a textured affect with color.

But first I need to even out the drywall, and for some reason I've never had much patience with drywall.

Here's the project task description for this step: Earlier I installed a thin sheet of cement board on the ceiling above the shower and then tiled onto that board, so the tiles stick down a bit and the edge of the board would be visible (as in ceiling, board, tile). I'm filling in that area with compound to make it all smooth and level. On seeing these layers, the eye is tricked into believing that the tiles are applied right on the ceiling.

Except it take a little work to get it smooth. It all has to dry, of course, between layers. Fortunately it dries out much faster than a frog's butt, more like a worm's butt, though I can only guess.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Orchestra Pit

We had a great weekend in New York with some friends, highlighted by the Book of Mormon play, which was hysterical. The music, one of the songs in particular, has been going through my head since we returned on Sunday.

As usual following a plane ride home, I've been fighting a cold this week. I'm making very little progress on the bathroom. I did finish the remaining grout work this afternoon. Tomorrow, or when the spirit moves me and I can get my brain focused, I'll start prepping the walls to be painted.

But part of me is still in New York.

I wonder what it's like to be a musician in New York, playing in the orchestra pit of the Book of Mormon. One of my favorite memories from college is playing violin for the school's production of The Music Man--I know, a corny play, but I loved being in the dark pit, with tiny lights below our sheet music, listening to the actors sing and to the audience laugh, playing my simple parts and getting some mean looks from the conductor because I was not a very good violinist at all.

After the Book of Mormon ended, we exited out a side walkway, and I could almost see down into the pit. The orchestra was rocking away, having a great time. What fun.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Grouting the Mirror

Grouting the floor was no problem at all. What would have taken me hours on the Mexican tiles just took a few minutes on these nice, flat porcelain tiles. Being on the horizontal also made things much easier.

Like I had hoped, the grout lines have lightened up and blended in pretty nicely with the floor color.

Willow came in for an inspection, sniffed a few times, and then took a nap. I assume this means that she approves.

But I'm not quite done grouting. I've saved the mirror for last, assuming that I would be a world-class expert at grouting Mexican tile by this time.

Except I'm not at all happy with my first attempt. The grout is uneven, sometimes too shallow, sometimes uneven looking. We have a long weekend in New York, plenty of time for me to cuss myself for such a poor job.

By next week the grout should be plenty dry and ready to be sealed. At some point very soon, the tile portion of the project will end and it will be time to do the wall and ceiling prep for painting. I found a cool technique for doing orange peel finishes (manually, not with those stupid spray cans).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Very Long Crack

I've got one more section of wall to grout, then I can start on the floor, except I still need to finish prepping the floor, which means cleaning out the odd pieces of mortar and dirt that are stuck in the cracks, some of which are very hard and stubborn and reluctant to be vacuumed away.

By my calculation, I have about 2.3 miles of tile crack on the floor, enough crack that if I put it end to end it would stretch around the block 50 times until I can't walk any more. And I would still have more crack.

And once the cracks are clean, I will fill them with grout, and I'm drinking, breathing, eating and sleeping in grout these days. Grout salads and grout sandwiches. Grout movies, grout books, grout Internet. Enough grout for a lifetime of tile and more. Two lifetimes of tile and grout.

And then I have to seal it all.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

After the Beep

Cheryl is away on a school trip, so I have no distractions and no excuses for this weekend--I've got to get the grouting done. By my calculations, it will take 6 or 8 hours to finish the job. Very slow going, and I have a theory about why this is so.

Normal tile is pretty flat, and the edges of the tile naturally catch the grout as you wipe it over the surface. Our crazy Mexican tiles are unusually curved, bending back slightly at the edges and corners, so the grout just smears across the face instead of flowing into the cracks, and I have to really work it into the cracks.

Crack by crack. Corner by corner.

Once again I can deflect blame onto these tiles, and once again they deserve it.

Sometimes when Cheryl is out of town I like to talk to the navigation girl who lives in our car. She's got a cute voice but is nowhere near as much fun as Cheryl:

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dirty Hands, Brand New Flange

1:01 p.m.
Our water heater has rusted out. The plumber, a surly dude and about my age, which is reason enough to have an attitude, is out in the garage installing the new heater. I'm especially surly right now. I can't have any lunch, not even a sandwich, because all the water is turned off and I can't wash my dirty hands (dirty from cleaning up the watery mess in the garage).

When he's finished with the water heater, I'm bringing him up to look at the toilet flange issue in the bathroom.

Right now there's just a hole in the bathroom floor. I need a new flange, which is the thing that connects the drain pipe to the toilet. Without a flange, the toilet become a feces distribution machine, a manure spreader, a crap-tossing device. The flange is not optional.

Because the floor is higher now (after leveling and adding the new tile), putting in a new flange may be difficult (or even impossible). I already know what the plumber will say when he sees the floor. He'll say that I should have done this and should have done that, etc., etc.

But I am ready for him.

2:23 p.m.
Still no lunch but the water heater is installed. The plumber was actually a nice guy. Yes, I got the speech about what I should have done. But when I told him that the floor has a 3-inch concrete slab underneath, he became quiet. We sat there on the tile, staring at the hole, and I told him how I leveled and raised the floor and how I removed the old flange and carefully bent the sleeve to receive one of the new flanges that are inserted with pressure rather that the old method of melting lead (I knew all this from the Internet), and he was impressed.

"OK, then," he said, "you did the right thing." I showed him the flange I had bought from Home Depot, and he installed it, for free. We shook hands goodbye--probably the least hygienic hand shake of my life.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Crazy Day

8:22 a.m. I've just mixed up a batch of grout that is targeted for the shower ceiling tiles. The grout needs to sit in the bucket for about 5 minutes before I use it, giving me some additional time to consider what a mess I'm likely to make.

I remember back to the day we visited the tile store in Phoenix, standing in their demo tiled bathroom, and I told the sales guy that I was considering whether to tile the shower ceiling and he laughed. "If you do," he said, "be sure to wear a raincoat. And goggles."

The five minutes is up. I don't have a raincoat but I am wearing my work glasses and some big rubber gloves...

9:30 a.m. The grouting went pretty well. I just did half the ceiling--good thing, because it was pretty tricky. At one point a chuck of the stuff flew off in a perfect arc so that it went over my glasses and into my left eye, which is something that needed quick attention, otherwise my eye could be stuck forever. I had enough grout left over to do the section of wall under the sink--not bad.

12:36 p.m. After the grout was finished I went outside to mow the yard. About halfway through Cheryl comes screaming over to me. Our Jam got into something strange, something that turned out to be rat poison. He's fine, We got him to throw up and there were only a few tiny pieces of the blue stuff. But we were very upset. I found some additional packets of the stuff near a big plant in the back yard, and I'm guessing that some squirrels carried them here from somewhere else and stowed them away for safe keeping. I can't imagine any of our neighbors would do such a thing on purpose. I went and talked to some of them today, but the person who owns the house behind us wasn't home. More later...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Root Canal 2

Today I got my root canal from a guy who does it for a living, a professional with such a cool set of tools: tiny prongy picks and pencil-sized drills and big plunger syringes full of tongue-numbing goo.

He knew exactly what to do and what not to do (cause me any pain). He made me laugh. He explained the procedure. And how many times has he said those same words to other patients?

It's nice to be reminded, from time to time, about the importance of a good doctor or dentist or plumber. They provide peace of mind and and a sense of trust, the ability to just breathe out and relax and let someone else take over for a while.

Tomorrow is a grout day.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Root Canal

It's 7:30 pm and I'm sitting on the porch with the dogs, my iPhone and my cracked tooth that I didn't get fixed today because my dentist doesn't do root canals; I need to see a separate dentist for that. Tomorrow.

So no grouting today, because I feel like crap, and probably none tomorrow. Everything I put into my mouth hurts. Miserable.

Now I've walked up to my office because it is difficult to type a blog post into the iPhone. And now I can see the bathroom, waiting to be grouted.

Yesterday I did some corner grouting--where the ceiling meets the walls and where one wall meets another--with a special type of grout that is flexible and less likely to crack when the house expands and contracts. Crap. When my mouth hurts I find it difficult to get very excited about grout.

My cracked tooth has a filling that I got years ago, when I was about 14. Since then every dentist who has poked around in my mouth has criticized my small-town dentist and his filling, that it is too big and that the tooth will surely crack as a result. But the filling has lasted pretty well.

I don't remember actually getting the filling but I vividly remember closing the door to the dentist's office and then happily walking home on a summer day and over a gravelly road. Maybe it was the Novocaine.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Grouting as an Art Form

On Friday night I cut and mortared the very last piece of tile for this project, an angular piece of rope tile in the upper left corner of the shower trim. I ran downstairs to let Cheryl know about the stupendous milestone, but more about that later.

Yesterday I started grouting. And though I was prepared to be careful, slow, methodical and precise, my nature runs in the opposite direction, and soon I had bitten off more than I could comfortably chew.

Grout goes into the joints and begins to set up immediately, turning into a gray haze. After about 15 minutes a damp sponge is used to wipe off the excess and get the grout into its final shape, just so, between the tiles. Then it becomes as hard as stone.

If a grouter is not meticulous, if he doesn't look at every single corner, the grout might harden up over a corner of the tile face. If the grouter is too meticulous he might overwork the grout and weaken it. If the grouter is too slow, if he starts at the top and takes too long to get to the bottom (certainly not me, even though getting the grout into those irregular cracks was very tricky), the grout at the top will become stiff and difficult to shape.

Of course the Renaissance fresco painters faced this same dilemma, the clock tick-tocking as the wet plaster canvas dried.

I could have been someone like Michelangelo but I'm not, and I'm not sure why. For several years I practiced the piano many hours a day--hours and hours and hours. I believed that if a person wanted something enough and tried hard enough, a person could do anything, like becoming a good pianist. At least that's what we tell children. Instead we should teach children how to tile and grout.

Then, after a few hours, it's time to wipe off the haze and see the tile shine again. I've been looking into the depth and shadows of the cracks between the tiles for several months, and now the surface is flat, more or less.

Now I have to figure out how to grout the shower ceiling. I guess if Michelangelo could paint the Sistine chapel ceiling I should be able to get some grout into upside-down little cracks. And be very proud when I'm done.