How Was Your Weekend

If you’re American and like a lot of Americans, you probably celebrated the Fourth of July in something like a stereotypical All-American style. There was family and friends and cookouts and parties and drinking and reds whites and blue everywhere, and of course fireworks.

I decided to go against the grain. I decided to remodel my bathroom. By myself. Why? Cause I’m insane.

The truth of the matter is that the assembly inside the toilet was broken so badly that the water wasn’t filling the tank so much as it was exploding out of the assembly, hitting the top of the tank, and thus leaking down the outside of the tank and onto the tile floor.

Know what else? Those tiles in the bathroom floor started to come up. Mainly around the shower. Since I knew I’d need to take the toilet off to replace the tile, and since I was about to take the toilet off to replace it, I figured I might as well just bite the bullet and redo the whole shabang.

(Caveat: I didn’t touch the tub, which is a vinyl wall tub built right into the sheetrock. I may be insane, but I’m not stupid.)

How’d it go? Short answer: not too bad.

Shorter answer: ouch. I haven’t been this sore in a long time. There was so much up and down, squatting, kneeling, hammer, sawing–I was popping Aleve like a madman.

The truth is, the job itself is not so complex that you can’t wrap your head around it. In a nutshell, it’s just a series of basic steps:

  1. Remove old toilet
  2. Remove old tile
  3. Remove old vanity
  4. Check plywood for rot
  5. Apply thinset, then lay down and screw in the concrete backer board (called Hardiebacker)
  6. Lay out one row over and one row down of tile to determine the arrangement
  7. More thinset and lay down the all the tile
  8. Grout
  9. Install new vanity
  10. Install new toilet
  11. Caulk
  12. Install new baseboard

Easy, right? Looks like a lot of steps, and yes, it will take several days, but no step is so crazy it doesn’t make sense, right?

Well, easy as it may appear, there are a lot of subtleties to doing this job. I’ll spare you the pain of taking you through every little thing I did. This isn’t a how-to blog, and since I’ve done this exactly once and I will likely only do this exactly one time, I’m by no means an expert. What I will offer are a couple of tips I learned (or was told) while doing this:

  1. Ask the folks at Home Depot for advice. They can be incredibly knowledgable and helpful. They like to give advice about this stuff, since they’ve done it thousands of times before.
  2. Write out all of the steps to do that job. Make a detailed list/plan so that you don’t miss anything.
  3. When hammering up the old tile with a hammer and a Wonderbar, make sure you wear goggles. You’ve only got two eyes. Googles saved my eyes multiple times.
  4. If the plywood under the tile is waterstained but the wood is not spongy, you’re safe. Lay the new backer board on top of it.
  5. The Hardiebacker board may feel like you can break through it easy, but you can’t. Use a saw.
  6. Measure three times, then measure again. Then cut. If you dare.
  7. Make sure your drill is fully charged. Drilling corrosion resistant screws into the Hardiebacker goes through a lot of juice quickly.
  8. Be aware that, if you’re replacing a vanity that predates your ownership of the house, when you pull it up you might just find the former owner’s teenager son’s porn stash in the false bottom (I kid you not).
  9. Use your level when setting the tile.
  10. When cutting the tile with a tile cutter and not a wet-saw, make sure you score the tile well and put the breaker bar as far up on the tile as possible for a clean break. Or misery will ensue.
  11. Marble is frickin expensive (see number 9 above).
  12. Clean the grout with a sponge as often as possible. Don’t wait for all the grout to be in before you begin cleaning the excess off the tiles. Otherwise, cue the misery.
  13. Make sure you have enough space at the back of your new vanity for your plumbing, especially if your vanity has drawers (and these days, they all do). You will be cutting out part of the back of the vanity. You do not want to be cutting through any part that the ball bearing glides for the drawers might need.
  14. Check the caulk before you check out at Home Depot. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that some idiot returned a half used tube of caulk to the store you shop at, and that Home Depot restocked it without checking it first, only to have you buy it without checking it first.
  15. However long you think something will take, double it. Then your halfway there.

In the end, the bathroom turned out pretty well. There is still work to do. It needs a coat or two of paint. I still need to get new caulk and finish that up. Once the caulk is done, I can put the baseboard trim on. I need to scrape the ceiling and repaint it since its peeling. But this is minor stuff compared to what I spent two and a half days doing. 

I’m pretty proud that I was able to accomplish it, especially considering I had no prior experience with this kind of work. In my mind, of course, I can see all the little things I did wrong. In my head all the little things I botched are huge glaring errors. But they’re not really. And I really do like how it looks. 

Below you can see the before, during, and after pictures. 

So, how was your weekend?



Road Trip 2015

School vacation week was this week. This year we decided to take a trip back down to the Maryland/Virginia area to visit family. We hadn’t been there in four years. It gave us the chance to catch up with family and a few old friends. 

We started in Frederick, got the chance to both chill at my mother’s house and walk around the historic section of Frederick. On the side of one building is a pretty nifty mural of a man looking out an open window. We ducked into an antique market where there were, among other things, endless jars of old silverware. 

After a few days we headed to Virginia, staying just over the line from Washington DC. From there we got to catch a Nats game one day, and revisit the National Zoo the next. Took the Metro both times, which was an absolute madhouse after the ballgame let out. The zoo had some great exhibits we hadn’t seen before, especially now that they’ve opened the Asian Trails section. This exhibit gives the Asian elephants a lot more room to roam than I remember them having the last time. 

In addition, I got the chance to play my father’s new Martin guitar, which has an amazing sound. 

All told, lots of fun was had by all. Observe the proof:

IMG_6585 IMG_6588 IMG_6618 IMG_6592 IMG_6591 IMG_6593 IMG_6595 IMG_6598 IMG_6632 IMG_6631 IMG_6651 IMG_6686 IMG_6635 IMG_6688 IMG_6772 IMG_6774 IMG_6776 IMG_6775 IMG_6773 IMG_6777 IMG_6748 IMG_6756 IMG_6760

NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 2


I promise not post progress every single day. I think will tend to make people bonkers. But here we are at the end of day two of NaNoWriMo, and I’m just curious: how’s it going?

For myself, I’m just over 6000 words. It’s a nice start, especially since I know that once the work week hits, life returns to its normal state of crazy.

No matter how far you’ve gotten remember that it’s farther than you were. Keep writing!

How Was Your Weekend?

This weekend, like many of the weekends during the school year, was a blur. Ballet classes, Sunday school, grocery shopping, etcetera etcetera–the list runs long.

One of the things we did was man a table at the local Farmer’s Market. The town Farmer’s Market has been running for about a month now, and will keep on going until the middle of October. This Saturday was particularly fun because it was “kids vendor” day, the day when the local town kids can make things and sell them. There were the usual suspects of cookies, cupcakes, and Rice Krispy treats. There were also the usual craft-y suspects in the form of loop band bracelets, bead necklaces, and paracord bracelets. There was one little girl selling colored pencil drawings she’d made for $2 a drawing (each came with its own sheet protector–in case you were wondering what all you got for your $2).

The Boy Scouts were there selling popcorn, which, if you’ve never had, is very good. It’s not Girl Scout cookie good, but then again, what is?

IMG_3595Of course, there are other vendors there. Actual, you know, farmers. There were four or five farms represented, selling everything for apples to shallots to meat. (Apparently Boylston had its own meat CSA. Who knew?) There were also other craftsmen/women there as well. One woman was selling handmade soap (we bought a few bars because they smelled so good), there was a vendor selling goods made from alpaca hair, there was a local woodworker selling things like bowls and oil lanterns and pens. I bought a pen because they were just fantastically beautiful.

My kids didn’t have anything to sell. Instead, they had been asked to man the table for the local food pantry. The food pantry had been running low on stock and one of the parents of the third graders mobilized an effort to get it restocked. Because of schedules and conflicts, there were a lot of people who could be present at the Farmer’s Market to help collect the dry goods. So we volunteered. And while I can’t say they stood there for four hours taking food donations, they were there to help out for a while and accept food (with their parents there to pick up the slack for when they bolted.)

All in all, it was a great time. The kids had a ton of fun with so many of their friends who were there to buy or sell. And they helped out a local charity. I’m really proud of them.

Check out some of the pictures from the day below.







How Was Your Weekend?

I’m just getting back into the swing of things after being on vacation. One if the things I did on my vacation was to trek up to the LL Bean store in Freeport, ME and trade in my 14 year old boots. They no longer carry my size in the store (size 14 boot), so they gave me a credit which I used toward a new pair of boots.


Yesterday was the test run (or rather, test hike) of the boots.

While I was out there, I thought I’d take some pics of the trails and areas of Mt Wachusett, which is where I do most of my hiking. Hope you enjoy them.



The windmills on Wachusett never fail to impress me.


Clearly no one has been cleaning the Jack Frost trail in a while…







One of the cooler things was that I found the stick on the trail, partailly worn, propped up against a tree. I took it and used it as a walking stick for the rest of the hike. Then I left it at the entrance to the Mountain House Trail for the next hiker to use.


How Was Your Weekend (part 3) – New Books

(Last one, I promise.)

Part of the Memorial Day festival in our town includes a library book sale. A buck a hardcover, or a buck for two paperbacks. This year I spent eight dollars and came away with some great reading:


Some are books I’ve read before and loved but don’t own (South of Broad). Some are books I’ve always wanted to read (the Bachman Books). Some I think I was supposed to read but didn’t (All Quiet On The Western Front). Some I read but I think a reread now that I’m older will allow me to appreciate the book more (A Separate Peace). Some I’ve seen in a past life while shelving books and thought “Now that looks like a cool book” (The Company). And some are just for fun (Elmore Leonard).

All in all, for eight dollars, I think my summer reading (and then some) is all set.

How Was Your Weekend (part 2) – Updating the Addams Family Patch

The front part of my house gets no sunlight in the summer. I have a pretty large tree in the front yard, such as it is, and another tree right next to it. And because I don’t really have a house but rather a condo, I therefore don’t really have a yard so much as I look out on the common areas of the property.

Don’t get me wrong, the condo property is beautiful, the trees tall and gorgeous, especially during the Fall, and I don’t miss mowing the lawn or shoveling the walk. But I can’t do much about the trees.

Because of said trees, I have a helluva a time getting anything to grow in the small patch of land I do own, which is the garden in front of the house. I plant flowers and bushes that are partial or all shade, but sometimes they last and sometimes they don’t, and then the winter comes and the snow and ice tumble off the roof and crush anything that had only the slimmest hope of survival. It gets so bad that my wife jokingly refers to it as the “Addams Family patch.”

All this said, about every five years or so I have to yank everything out and start all over again. So part of what I did over Memorial Day weekend was tear up the front garden, till all the soil, and replant just about everything. The only things I left were two hastas (cause nothing seems to kill them and my daughter begged me to keep them) and a few day lilies (which I love to see bloom for literally the one day per year they do so). Which means the garden went from this:


to this:


PS – Every single rock you see lining the garden came out of the garden throughout all the times I’ve tilled the soil. It wasn’t until I started tearing up the garden the first time ten or so years ago that I understood all of the farmer walls in New England. Honestly, how did anybody grow anything here when they first settled?

How Was Your Weekend?

It was a long weekend here in the States, a holiday weekend. Memorial Day was today, which is the day we celebrate the men and women who served our country and gave their life in that service. To honor that sacrifice, our town holds a Memorial Day festival every year. And for a tiny town of about four thousand people, it’s a helluva festival.

The day goes something like this:
9:00 AM – Katie’s Memorial 5k Race
11:00 AM – Memorial Day parade
11:30-ish – General merriment and festivities on the Common

It’s always fun, always impressive, always crowded. It starts with the race, and this year the whole family ran the race, with my younger daughter finishing second in her age group (a total surprise to all–including her). We all got the memorial shirts, and my daughter even got a glass and a custom-made cookie as the second place prize.  Then the parade got under way, which starts down by the town cemetery, and eventually makes its way up the hill to the main street, and then down the main street which is always lined with spectators. And you always know when the parade is getting close to the main street because you can hear the pipe and drum core as they lead the way with the colors. It really is a fantastic parade for a tiny little town.

Here’s some photos from the day (and, yes, the sign on the back of the tractor in the last picture does indeed say “Tractors and Tiaras”):













Movie Review: Muppets Most Wanted

muppets most wanted

My wife and I took the kids to see “Muppets Most Wanted” this weekend. As a matter of full disclosure, I should state up front that I didn’t really want to see it in the first place. From all the commercials and trailers, it didn’t look like it was up to the caliber of the last movie, “The Muppets”. In the context of my disinterest, I was not disappointed. It was as poor an outing as I expected.

I won’t try to give away too much of the movie, though it’s not so full of plot twists or turns that you don’t see any of them coming. This is a movie geared to children after all, and you don’t want to lose your core audience. As the movie opens, we find ourselves right where we left off with the previous movie. Literally. The streets are thronged with fans and supporters all cheering on the Muppets. Then the “cameras” stop rolling and the crowd disperses, with the Muppets learning that the crowd were mostly extras and a few paid performers. But just as quickly they learn that there is at least one camera still rolling, still framing them. With a sudden realization they deduce that the studio must have greenlit a sequel. At which point we get the Exposition Song, which cleverly states that everyone knows the sequel isn’t quite as good. This might be the highlight of the movie. It is certainly the most clever part.

As plot goes, it’s not much more than an update on The Great Muppet Caper. A con man, played with a fair amount of sleaze and slime by Ricky Gervais, tricks the Muppets into riding their newly rediscovered fandom to a world tour. Little do they realize that the world tour is a simply a way of taking advantage of particular settings, venues that are all situated next to a museum of some sort. Each museum holds a key to the ultimate heist, which concludes in London. But while Gervais gives a nice turn as Dominic Badguy (“It’s pronounced ‘Bah-jee’. It’s French.”), the mastermind behind this dastardly heist plot is the nefarious Constantine. He is billed as “the world’s most dangerous frog”, and the fact that he bears a striking resemblance to one Kermit the Frog is, shall we say, convenient.

After escaping from the Siberian gulag where he was imprisoned for an undetermined length of time, he manages to switch places Kermit, taking on the role of Muppet emcee, while at the same time serving as the brains behind the upcoming heist. Kermit meanwhile ends up trapped in a Siberian gulag and, despite the fact that it’s immediately evident he is not Constantine, he is held captive nonetheless by a moon-eyed gulag warden played by Tina Fey. Yet even while imprisoned, Kermit cannot escape the call of the stage, directing the gulag prisoners in a ridiculous the music and dance review.

There’s plenty more, with all manner of gags and jokes, riffs on the past, and characters given some time to shine that were not seen in the last outing. Some of it’s funny, but not enough of it. Some of it could have been brilliant had it been given more chance to shine. Ty Burrell turns in a hilarious performance as the French interpol investigator, teamed to discover the root of the heist with Sam the American Eagle. Together they steal the screen, with Burrell turning in the best Non-Frenchman-As-Frenchman performance since Peter Sellers. It’s too bad we didn’t see more of him.

What really struck me, and why I came away from the theater with an underwhelmed feeling, is that this movie, unlike the last one, felt just like what it is: an attempt to capitalize on a franchise line that was reinvigorated by a previous outing. I felt a similar way toward “Star Trek Into Darkness”, which tried too hard to please the fanboys, but still didn’t leave me as wanting as this one. I found “Muppets Most Wanted” largely without heart and without comedy, a kiss of death for a movie like this. Contrast it with the previous movie, which was the most touching love-letter to a lost franchise that I think I’ve seen in years. “The Muppets” was lovingly crafted first and foremost by Jason Segel, a self-proclaimed number-one-fan of the Muppets, and it showed. “Muppets Most Wanted” felt crafted by Disney accounts trying to pad the bottom line.


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