Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Case of the Cast Iron Tub

We knew there would be surprises along the way in this bathroom remodel. In fact, if we didn't find any I would be convinced we were skipping steps that we'd regret later. So when it came to the dismantling of the bathtub to finish up the demo portion of our renovation, of course there had to be a few kinks in our plan. 

First up, the confusion around how to get our drain disconnected. Youtube videos made this seem like pretty straightforward step, and we equipped ourselves with a $15 Tub Drain Wrench to get the job done. Hopefully this very specific tool will get several uses over the years.
The drain plug popped off easily enough, but the screw inside the drain was a tricky beast. Bob spent a good 20 minutes working it with a pliers, stripping off quite a bit of metal in the process.
It came loose eventually, and with a push of the tub we could see that the drain was successfully disconnected. The overflow cover plate was a much easier thing to tackle after that!
As Bob got the bits of drywall out of the way, we learned something else about our tub: it is cast iron. Hard to believe considering the quality of a lot of our builder grade material in this condo, but apparently they went big when putting in the tubs.

You might wonder why we don't just keep a nice 'n solid tub like this, and the answer is not just, "because we already bought a new tub." We don't love the shortness of this tub, it only sits about 13" high and our new one will be 19". We are planning on running floor tile up the side of the tub, which requires a drop-in style. And the finish has gotten quite dingy over time, even a good scrubbing hasn't really fixed it.

Everything we read about tub removal had an asterisked section that called for destruction of a cast iron tub for feasible removal. This 300-400 lb beast was not a "Bob & Lydia" kind of job.

So back to the Ace Hardware we went, this time to pick up a $35 sledgehammer. We found an old blanket and covered the areas of contact to prevent flying shards. 
With a quick prayer that our sledging would not make angry neighbors, Bob started swinging. It seemed to get easier after a few good cracks. This is also how we discovered what was underneath our tub - extra insulation, an old rag and a couple pieces of wood. Lovely.
Pieces were collected as they broke off and soon enough the tub was a manageable size for us to lift.
We geared up our trusty handcart and got the rest of the tub out of sight, out of mind and into our storage area. We'll bring the pieces to our local metal recycling location and see if we can't get a few bucks out of the deal. Don't mind us, our tub is just taking the elevator. . .
Speaking of taking out the garbage, we spent part of our Saturday at the dump. No, not The Dump (can you think of a worse name for a furniture store? But then again, I do always remember their name. . .). I mean the actual dump. Our bathroom job is small enough not to warrant our own dumpster rental, but large enough that our debris had piled up beyond what we felt comfortable placing in our condo's dumpsters. We loaded up the car with bags of tile, drywall, sink and toilet pieces and headed to the South Side. 
The unfortunate part of the story is that the minimum price to dispose of the material was $60 for the first ton. We ended up having about 300 lbs of debris, not quite the 2,000 we paid for. I'm sure with a little more digging we could have found some competitive pricing, perhaps in the suburbs, but we were ready to clear out our storage area and get the demo off of our list! 

I seriously think every person should have to visit a city recycling plant like this to get a view into how much garbage we produce. Amazing.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Pizza Perfection

A super short one today, but important to share. Folks, I think I finally found my favorite pizza topping combination. After years of pepperoni and black olive pairings, another combo has caught my taste buds and I think it is here to stay.

It all started with the perfectly rolled out dough from Whole Foods - we pick up the ready-to-go balls of dough for around $4. I don't know if it was the inclusion of our new pizza stone or how we rolled it out this time, but the dough was thinner than ever. And that's a good thing in this particular anti-thick crust Chicago household.

And now for the ingredients - cooked italian sausage (never put raw meat on your pizza thinking it will cook through in the oven!), black olives, diced onion and lightly sautéed & thinly sliced mushrooms.
After 18 minutes at 350 degrees, the color was pretty much perfect. We dug in and my new fave was born.
This pizza was done in the oven, but those interested in grilling them up should read my way-back-when post

Monday, July 14, 2014

Demo Days

It's official, the bathroom renovation is underway. All accouterment removed, shower curtain folded up and wall art taken down. This bathroom is ready for a change.
Bob and I spent a couple evenings last week dismantling the sink and toilet in order to gear up for a Saturday of tile removal. I picked up this book from amazon.com awhile back to help be a double check as we tackled these projects, so between that and a couple helpful youtube videos, the easiest part of our bathroom remodel was underway. 
We shut off the water supply for the sink, then started dismantling the vanity, starting with the corner blocks that held the top in place. After little effort, disconnecting of the drain and pipes and a razor's edge to the caulk line, the countertop and sink popped right off. 
In about 45 minutes, this corner of our bathroom suddenly got a lot more spacious.
Next up, the toilet. Water lines shut off again, with a small bin placed underneath the pipes to catch any dropped water. We followed this youtube video to a tee, first adding bleach to the water to help disinfect the bowl and then sponging out the excess water into a bucket. 
The tank was removed by simply unscrewing the connecting bolts and lifting it out. A rag was stuff in the opening at the bottom to prevent leaks, and we placed it on a mat in our extra room until we were ready to discard it with our other demo'd material. The bowl also lifted right out after the putty line was broken with a boxcutter type tool. Our second bedroom was becoming quite the showroom. . .
Then the grossness - getting rid of all of the waxy parts adhered to the bottom of the unit and stuck in the floor. The DIY book had a suggestion to use a gallon ziplock over your gloved hand to pick up all of the pieces and create an immediate container. 
We also picked up this test plug for $5 at Home Depot as opposed to just using a rag to stop the drain and prevent debris from making its way down the hole. This proved very useful as mere hours later wall tile was flying in the room.
Speaking of tile, we got up bright and early on Saturday morning ready to begin demo. And then we started watching Burning Love on Hulu. . . But by 10am we were ready to go! With the first crack of the hammer against the chisel we looked at each other surprised at how loud it ended up echoing in the tiny, empty bathroom. Now, keep in mind we live in a condo building with neighbors on four sides, not our own tucked away house where buzzsaws and jackhammers are more than welcome. We've already determined we need to find a faraway place (ahem, my sister's house) to tackle our tile cutting, but even just removing the tile proved much louder than anticipated! 
Ahh well, with neighbors properly informed of our impending work and noisy plans for the next few Saturdays, we threw on our safety goggles and work gloves and got busy. The floor tile came up relatively easy, and before we knew it here's what we had on our hands. 
Concrete lay underneath the tile, so Bob is rethinking his idea to level out the floor (if possible) so it is even with the hallway height, which currently sits a bit lower and necessitates a door threshold.
After a deserved break and a trip to the local Ace for a thinner pry bar to attack the wall tile properly, we got to work on the shower area. We got the job done in about 3 hours total, but not without some difficulty and sore arms the next day. It turns out the builder used mastic to glue the wall tiles on, which left a yellow residue in most areas and caused us to tear out some drywall in other parts - or maybe that wasn't the mastic's fault, but rather our less experienced method? 
We had the opportunity the next day to ask our friends at the Tile Outlet what they thought of mastic vs. thinset, and we were told that mastic is a time-saver that doesn't do well in wet conditions - a hotbed for mold growth. As you can probably guess, we walked out of the Tile Outlet with thinset. Here's an article with some more info on the debate.

But, we persevered through the pain and by 5pm (our building's cut off time for noisy projects like this), the walls were cleared. Yes, some drywall came with it, but we were looking at replacing some of it anyways for our wall with the pocket door and to be able to remove the tub. I even managed to complete a large portion of one wall myself - though definitely not as forceful or quick with the hammer as Bob could be.
On another note, I've been the safety queen of this project, trying to make sure we're wearing our safety goggles during the demo, but one thing I didn't push hard enough was for the husband to wear pants instead of shorts! But after Bob's legs suffered a couple nicks from flying tile, the message was received. Pants from here on out.

We decided to let the bathroom stay like this overnight and shut the door to would-be curious kitties, tackling the clean up the next day after researching best ways to dispose of our demo'd material. While I'm sure we don't have a ton of garbage in the grand scheme of construction projects, its always a pet peeve of mine to see old toilets or refrigerators dumped in the alleyway, sometimes days away from garbage pick-up, so we piled together all of our ready-to-discard material and plan on driving the bags out to a recycling center that accepts construction material.
Clean up was actually a breeze, we made sure to wear paper masks because the tile, grout and drywall dust was everywhere. We bought 18-gallon compactor bags from Ace, lined our two buckets with them and started filling. In the end, we only needed 4 bags to get the wall tile cleaned up (the floor tile had been placed in extra cardboard boxes we had on hand).
Suddenly, the bathroom was swept up, cleared out and ready for next weekend's next step: tub removal! 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Sweet Dreamin'

Happy Birthday America! 

What did you do over your Fourth of July holiday weekend? Me, I stayed home in Chicago visiting with family and eating quite a bit. Visiting relatives always means an excuse to try new recipes, so with Bob's mom, aunt and grandmother making their way to our house for a few days, I got to work on the menu. Saturday night dessert? Strawberry Shortcake.

No, not that Strawberry Shortcake!

In the past, I've made the semi-homemade version: frozen pound cake, store bought whipped cream and a pack of fresh or frozen strawberries (depending on the season). I did a quick google search to see what it would take to make this from scratch, and decided to go with the tasty-sounding first recipe that popped up!

This simple-ingrediented take on strawberry shortcake from the Food Network was a winner. First step, we picked up a container of organic strawberries from the local Farmer's Market. They may not have the size of their non-organic brethren, but they are large on taste. Bob helped de-stem and dice. 3 tablespoons of sugar was added to the bowl and it was left to marinate in the fridge for an hour or so to develop a nice syrup to go along with the berries.
The shortcake consisted of dry ingredients already on hand and a cup and a half of heavy cream to keep the mixture together. This was poured into an 8 inch square dish and baked for 20 minutes, until golden.

6 servings
2 cups flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 Tbs sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Sift together dry ingredients and then mix in cream until just combined. Place in ungreased 8 inch pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 18-20 minutes or until golden.

While the shortcake cooled, the whipped cream was whipped up. Another cup and a half of heavy cream, a bit of lemon zest, sugar and vanilla extract was mixed together. I went to town on the electric hand mixer for a few minutes until the cream solidified and those elusive peaks started to form. 

Whipped Cream
6 servings
3 Tbs sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1 tsp lemon zest

Beat ingredients with hand mixer until peaks form.

A slice of shortcake layered with strawberries and whipped cream, with another spoonful of syrup-drenched berries on top for good measure. Now that is a summer dessert.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Water World

I'm not a natural water drinker - it isn't my first, second or third choice when it comes to beverages. But while I default to choose a Cherry Coke, I know my insides are saying, "please water us!" To help with the taste and the excitement level of drinking tap water, I started making spa water at home more often. I would always see dispensers at event receptions I attended filled with lemons, cucumbers, and - most tasty - starfruit. I definitely gravitated towards filling my glass more than once when these were in the picture. We finally took some action last year and bought a dispenser from Bed, Bath and Beyond. By setting this up on a weekend morning, filling it with H20 and the fruit/veggie of the day means I find I'm re-filling my glass throughout.

Last weekend, we picked up a cucumber and strawberries from the Farmer's Market. After letting it marinate for an hour or so, the dual taste really came through in the water.
You may recall I set up these dispensers at our fall yard sale last September, with lemons in one and cucumbers in the other. What did I realize about a month after the yard sale? I had the base on backwards! So if you are thinking the black base looks a little odd,  you would be correct. However, the table wasn't super stable that it sat on, so I actually would have been less confident with the glass dispensers sitting so high off the surface. At least that's what I'm telling myself.
It's not just me feeling the spa water love: My sister had put together a strawberry, rosemary and cucumber mixture over Easter that delighted.
And I gave my mother this infuser pitcher for Christmas. She told me she's about to go strawberry picking for the season, so I picture a lot of pitcher usage in the near future!
photo source
I'm also finding myself bringing a couple slices of cucumber to work with me to add to the glass I keep at my desk, making me drink something in the morning before I grab a Coke for lunch. That's still one habit I just can't seem to break.

What are you putting in your water?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Goals: Year Four

It's that time again, when I finally start thinking about the 12 months ahead and set up some not-so-lofty goals to set my sights on. In my fourth go-round, you'll find even more staples that re-appear from year to year, a few stretch goals and an opportunity to spend more time in the kitchen, something we've been doing less and less it seems like lately.

Here's a look at the 36.5 in 365 goals of years past before we dive into the 2014-2015 season:
Year One - the start of the experiment. Highlight: I ran a 5K.
Year Two - Highlights: This was the year of the project table and shag rug.
Year Three - Highlights: I set up an Etsy shop and we completed our laundry room makeover.

Culture Vulture
1. Read 15 Books - Between Book Club and a Leadership Program I am in through work, I don't think I'll have any problems at all with this one - I've already fit in 11 since January!

2. Watch 120 Movies - The habit continues. Latest Netflixes at home - getting through the tail end of the Woody Allen pics I have yet to see. Highly recommend The Purple Rose of Cairo and Hannah and Her Sisters.

3. Visit 2 Museums - I just came back from the WWII Museum in New Orleans - amazing exhibit. Ready to tackle a couple new ones, and maybe an old favorite like the Art Institute!

4. 2 Trips to the Theater - Breakdancing with Bach is coming up this weekend, that's definitely something new!

5. Visit 3 New Cities - If I want to keep up with my 15-places-in-15-years list, I think I may need to be crossing Austin or Savannah off in 12 months time. . .

6. Plan an International Trip - Peru was a hit, but after several trips learning about ancient civilizations (Egyptians, Incans and Mayans), I think we're ready for something completely different.

How Entertaining
7. Create 4 New Freezer Meals - We've been getting lazier in the kitchen lately, all the more reason to have more grab-and-go meals to pick from.

8. Cheesemaking, Second Phase - I attempted mozzarella, with room to improve. Shall we try the next level up afterwards?

9. Host 2 Parties - Our annual Harvest Party is a given, but also hoping to fit in a late summer bash to celebrate a (hopefully) done second bathroom.

Health and Wellness
10. Get Outdoors More Often - I'm a self-described indoor kid, but here's to long walks, camping trips and afternoons on (someone else's) decks.

11. Learn how to Swim - I shouldn't admit this since I grew up a lake, but I can barely swim. I don't love the water, but know I need to learn how to do more than flounder. Maybe I let Bob take me to the pool once or twice. . .

12. Keep Drinking More Water - Already doing more than I ever have before thanks to a steady supply of cucumbers and strawberries added to our drink dispenser. Keep it up.

13. Make More Appointments - I hit up the eye doctor and dentist for the first time in a long time this month. I told my eye doctor I thought it had been about a year and a half since my last visit. It had actually been close to 4. Make the follow up appointments early and stick to them.

Adventures in DIY and Home Ownership
14. Sew Something Else - I promised my family their very own mantel scarves, and also had visions of a puppet theater stage for the nieces. First step: Detangle the thread that jammed up the machine last time I used it.

15. Second Bathroom Renovation - Tub, sink and tile has been taking over the garage storage area. We're gearing up for demo days in July and preparing to learn a lot.

16. Closet Organization - Thanks to a revamped laundry room, our coat closet has mucho storage space and the wheels are turning with how to use it.

17. 12 Pinterest Projects - Recipes, crafts and holiday decor here I come.

18. Complete Entryway Decor - With a church pew bench, entryway table, some art on the walls and a storage crate, we're well on our way to calling this area done-zo. Now to finish off the wall above the table and pick up an umbrella holder.

19. Purchase New Nightstands - Our nightstands are ridiculously short compared to our bed height. We finally picked up new bedside lamps, so the end tables can't be far behind, as long as we find the perfect ones.

20. Find a Buffet - Sigh. We came very close last month when we spied this awesome buffet at an Antiques shop in Andersonville at 75% off. Someone else had it on hold and swooped in before we could make it ours. Might this be the year we discover our match?

21. Install New Ceiling Fan/Lights - We bought a ceiling fan a year ago. so in the box it sits. We moved in three years ago and can't reach the dining room lights even with the ladder, so in the dark we eat. Time to make a change here.

22. Make 50 Cards - Using my new Cricut machine to be sure. I'm running out of birthday cards, so a pile of those is next on my list.

23. Update Photo Albums - The wedding album is complete, but stacks of photos stare at me from their bin, waiting to be cut up and added to the memory books, including trips to London, Italy, Belize and Peru!

24. Make the Advent Calendar - I have a vision of creating wooden blocks that fit within a printer's drawer. The drawer was bought on eBay a year and a half ago and there it sits.

Professional and Personal Development
25. Learn Guitar - I received a guitar as a gift a couple years back. It is a nice display item, but it turns into a bit of a joke when I realize I don't even know how to hold it properly.

26. 65 Blog Posts - I'm trying to be a little more realistic, bringing this number down a bit from past years - but at the same time, would like to make sure that I hit at least 5 or 6 posts a month.

27. Keep Driving - I haven't taken the car out as often as I should to keep up the practice, but here's to another year of behind the wheel, one trip to Target at a time.

28. Support 3 Charities - Whether it be time or cash money, here's to supporting the causes out there.

29. Find a Speaking or Writing Opportunity Through Work - I've had a chance to write an article and present in front of the department in the past 6 months. I'll proactively look for more opportunities in the professional arena.

30. Volunteer Once a Month - Chicago Cares, Ronald McDonald House and more on are on my regular rotation. Is this the year to try out something new?

31. Create 2 Positive Rituals - After reading the wonderful book, The Power of Full Engagement, I'm going to focus on finding at least two areas to create positive rituals to help manage my energy.

Money Matters
32. Purge 100 items - Last year I collected several bin-fulls to sell at our yard sale. Between clothing, old games and never used household items, I see some craigslistin' and yard sellin' in our future.

33. Meet Savings Goal - A year and a half ago, I made up a goal to get to by our 2 year anniversary. We're getting closer, but hit a couple roadblocks called "Special Assessments" and "Elaborate Vacations." Not that I would give up our holidays, but if we can hit the goal by the end of 2014 you can count me as a very happy camper indeed.

34. Find 3 Extra Cash Opportunities - Between Lollapalooza Year Four, the odd focus group and collected pocket change, there should be at least a handful of extra moolah opportunities coming soon to a wallet near me.

35. Back Up eFiles - This blog alone has hundreds and hundreds of photos attached to it, not to mention thousands of words. Between my music, my photos and my personal documents, it would be a good thing not to lose them all suddenly to a virus or sledgehammer to the computer.

36. Complete an Inventory - I always read about how you are supposed to have a home inventory on hand in case of a fire or disaster or a robbing rampage hits our house. Research how to put this together and make it happen.

And. . .
36.5. Be a great wife, aunt, sister, daughter, friend, boss and co-worker.
The old "do unto others" thing.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Don't Remove This Stain

I mentioned our New Glarus Brewing Co. crate in this post, as a plan to add to the bottom of our new entryway table. Photos like this were the inspiration to add some storage and pizzazz to the floor underneath the table.
photo source
However, the unfinished wood left something to be desired, and was super bright against our green hallway wall. I had thought about staining it when first bought, but was unsure how the color would affect the label on the side of the crate. If I wanted a blank one, I could stop at any Michael's and pick up a crate for 10 bucks, but I needed to make sure the stain wouldn't be so dark as to make the "New Glarus" text unreadable.
We perused Home Depot last weekend and compared the colors on the Miniwax wall. I really liked Cherry and Gunstock, but not for this project as they ran a little too red for our tastes. We picked up a small half pint of Special Walnut, thinking it wasn't so dark that it would overtake the wording on the crate, but still heavy enough to feel like vintage wood.
I set up shop outside our garage spot, threw a dust mask on my face to be on the safe side, and put down our painting dropcloth. 
Having never stained anything before, I made sure to read the directions a few times before beginning. The stain was opened, stirred and I did a quick color test on a random piece of wood in our garage. Right away I could tell we were on the right track.
Because of the unfinished wood, this piece barely needed sanding at all, but it is a good step to remember for future projects.

I used a clean white rag to apply the stain as opposed to a brush. I went with the grain and worked through the crate to get every nook and cranny. The first side seemed a little dark, so luckily the New Glarus wording shows up on both sides, so I had a second chance!
On the side that would be displayed, I went a tad lighter in application to make sure "New Glarus" was still easily visible, but other than that bit of carefulness, the process was quite easy. I wiped down the crate to get rid of extra stain that hadn't sunken in and then left it propped up in the garage for a day to un-fume itself and dry out.
I brought it in the next day and quickly got to work figuring out what it should hold.
Right now, I've got an extra blanket tucked into the crate, but I can see this being the home for scarves and hats in the wintertime. I love how it turned out, and think I just got on the staining bandwagon - what else can I tackle?
All that's left for this space is a TBD statue or decor piece for the other side of the crate to add some height. 

PS. We picked up the crate during Bob's 30th Birthday surprise trip to New Glarus - read about it here!