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.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Minor Imperfections

Finally it was time to cut the bottom row of green wall tiles, each one a custom cut to account for the slight roller coaster rides on the floor, the wall and on the edges of the tiles themselves, angling this way and that. I see imperfection everywhere I look, and it pleases me.

Here they are installed but not yet cleaned up.

The news today was full of bad stuff about all the unemployed people out there, about how people are staying unemployed longer than ever. Computer programmers (sigh!) continue to do management's bidding, which is to create a personnel-free environment wherever possible. Consider that a jet's autopilot can take off, fly, and land on its own--the human pilots are there just in case. Maybe airports someday will be completely self-serve: automated tickets, automated baggage, automated security, no flight attendants etc. Just wait for the doors to open and get on the plane. Maybe all places will look like that someday, like a Lowes store at 8pm on a Sunday night, full of confused people and no employees.

Isn't that management's dream, to drive up the stock price by sending the human workers home? It's called Free Market, and things will probably continue in this direction our shrewd managers (the humans) discover that their great thinking skills are no longer required. But as long as everyone owns stock, who needs a job, right?

I'm sure I know why Jam has been giving me such strange looks; his worth to the company will double when he figures out how to replace me with a do-it-your-selfer robot.

Meanwhile I keep my head down. I enjoy working with my hands and with the oddly-shaped hand-made Mexican tiles, and I enjoy seeing the imperfections that I create. I will be very difficult to get rid of...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Floor Tiles, Luck and Providence

The new bathroom floor tiles come in 12-inch square sheets, with 36 small tiles on each. I wanted the tile to butt up nicely to the tub, so I started installing the tiles at the tub.

It's about six feet from the edge of the tub to the opposite wall, and in perfect world--which is a world that is kind to me, that looks out for me like a mother duck looks out for her ducklings, a world in which my coffee is always fresh and the dogs are happy to be with me and Cheryl is laughing, a world in which my mistakes are minor and I can correct them without anyone noticing, a world not free from tragedy (because that would be asking too much) but one in which tragedy always seems to skip past me--in such a world, the six sheets of tile would set down perfectly to the opposite wall with no necessary cuts on the tile saw.

The sheets of tile are not exactly 12 inches, and it's not exactly 6 feet to the wall, so I couldn't be sure if my guardian angel would be there for me. The floor tiles must fit under the wall tiles, which stick out about 1/4 inch from the wall. And since the little tiles on the sheet are about 2 inches wide, my chances of having a good fit, one arranged for me by providence, were about 12%. But to get a perfect fit, one in which the tile almost but not quite touches the wall, would be almost impossibly lucky.

And yet it happened.

Because I was tiling from right to left, I couldn't get to the section under the sink. I guess I could have suspended from the ceiling like spiderman, but I didn't want to push my luck.

Then I'll cut the final row of green wall tiles and it should look pretty nice. I'm a lucky guy.

Friday, September 2, 2011

One Job, Then the Tile

The orange Ditra is down, set now and into perpetuity onto the bathroom floor where it has one job--to keep the floor stable so that cracks do not appear, even in the face of Armageddon.

Cheryl and I have adopted the phrase "one job" as a way of shoveling scorn on people who fail to pay attention, in particular to those people who are first in line at a turn light and who sit for several seconds and fail to act after the light turns green, causing us (who are sitting in line) to get stuck when the light turns red again.

We say at that evil person, with a loud voice, "You have one job! One job!" And the person drives away in shame, but there's no hope for people like this, and we shouldn't yell at them.

Or if we are first in line at the light and Cheryl is driving, I turn to her and (in jest) say "one job" as a reminder to watch the light instead of playing with her fingernails or admiring her curly hair in the mirror, to which she replies negatively.

Soon the Ditra membrane will disappear under the new tile, which comes in 12-inch sheets and is not orange. Because the stupid orange sheeting was so expensive (I am embarrassed to say how much), I am probably being more verbally abusive toward it than is necessary. "One job, you asshole," I may have said to it earlier...