Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bathroom Renovation - Things I Love

Besides writing, my greatest joy in life is renovating what needs it and restoring what is possible in my 121 year old folk Victorian house. In its lifetime, this lady has seen hundreds of remuddling attempts. I'm surprised she hadn't barred her own doors before we found her. Set on an acre of east Tennessee land, this house embodies my love, my hate, my triumphs, my failures, my busted knuckles and most of my bad words. 

Renovating and restoring old houses is in my blood. When I see an old house in need of a hug, all in the world I want to do is run up and give it one. I made a promise to myself and to this house that one day -- one lovely day, she will stand with the grace and beauty she once had. 

Not beautiful yet, but she will be
This is how she looked the day we bought her. Awful siding that we later discovered was covering cedar shiplap siding (among other things), rickety hand-crafted homemade porch balusters and railing, metal front door masquerading as something much prettier than it actually is, and a host of other things make up this house that I love. We will pretend that those shutters and aluminum screens aren't there since they aren't anymore. I ripped them off last year.

The first thing I wanted inside this house of mine was a bathroom that didn't make me scream and run off in terror each time I walked in. Here are a few images of what we were dealing with:

Water heater and washer / dryer connections just inside the busted Luan door.

With the existing configuration, I could get my daily workout over and done before I made it all the way into the bathroom each morning by climbing over the washer and dryer. In other words, it had to go. The water heater was also in a stupid place, if you ask me. 

Waterslide, anyone?
Now, I have absolutely no idea what the previous owners were trying to accomplish here. Is it a waterslide? Is it a headrest? What is it? I just don't know. We ripped it out. 

Unfortunately, this situation had to stay. 
Without the funds or inclination to replace the bathtub, and considering that it was in ok enough shape, we kept the enamel bathtub. We also kept the toilet, since it was relatively new. It's not my ideal bathroom stuff, but we had too many other things to worry about without tackling things that didn't require it. 

Phase one of the reconfiguration

After ripping out the combination Headrest / Waterslide of Doom, Mr. Vagabond and I built a wall at the end of the tub. I added 2-by-2 cleats for shelves, and called it (temporarily) beautiful. This image is the middle of the Hardiebacker installation. 

I wanted a ledge on the front of the tub. I am a soaker. I love my baths. A ledge meant that I could set candles along the edge and still have room for a book and a glass of wine. I framed out the front of the tub with 2-by-4s, similar to the way you'd frame and raise a wall. Because I am a splashy bather, I used a ton of silicone under the Hardiebacker along the top edge of the tub instead of hoping thin-set would do the trick. Five years later, and it's still holding beautifully. Because I was not blessed with length of leg, I stand on that ledge to change the shower curtain. 

I made it myself!
This door is something I love. Because the bath is rather narrow, it's difficult to get a shot that shows some perspective. But if you look at the left lower edge of the photo, you can see part of the toilet (you're welcome). 

Because we had to move the water heater, we also had to find it a new home. That home was on the right side of the toilet. I framed up a wall on the left side, making a closet that separated it from the toilet, and then I built this beautiful door!  Did I mention that I am proud of the door? I am. Lots. It's nothing but simple tongue-and-groove beadboard mounted on 3/4-inch plywood and 1-by-4s for molding.  This closet only houses the water heater, and I am on my own with most improvements around here, so I used a sliding bar-style lock. It doesn't really need a knob. How often to you need to access your water heater? That's what I thought. The hinges are plain gate hinges. I thought they were cool. 

The door was eventually painted a creamy off-white to match the rest of the trim in this room.

Rotozip Love
Next came the tile for the shower. I learned to love my Rotozip that day. A wet saw is almost mandatory for a large project, but the dimensions of this shower meant that I had very few cuts. I opted to only use my Rotozip diamond attachments. 

Ugly shoes!
The diamond bit is indispensable for making precision round cuts. The plumbing needed openings, and this little thing did a beautiful job.

Don't worry - the Hardiebacker was re-hung without the gap before I installed the tile. 
See what an awesome job that little tool did on the openings? This is why I love it. Without the Rotozip, I would have cut away a square for the plumbing, and then patched in a small section on the right side. This way, the tiles remained intact, with no ugly joints.

Nice, thin cuts!
The diamond blade on the circular saw attachment made light work of trimming off thin slices of tiles in the few places where I needed it. I made one steady pass across the tile to create a groove, which enabled me to go back and cut the tile cleanly and without worrying over potential chips on the surface.

I love this tile!

After all the cutting and pre-fitting, it started to take shape. 

Oooh Pretty

I used a trick that I learned from my former landlady to achieve the narrow grout lines. Instead of tile spacers, I used pennies slid in on-edge between the tiles. Pennies are uniform, and they're easy to pull out once the thinset is dry. Pennies create a narrower grout joint than spacers, and I prefer a narrow joint in bathrooms. 

One word of caution about pennies. If you leave them in place too long, they will start to oxidize. If your tiles are porous, you may be stuck with green stains embedded in the tiles. Always pull them out as soon as the thinset is dry.

How I love my bathroom
If you're wondering what became of the corner where the water heater and washer/dryer connections used to live, this is it. The vanity was once a dresser that belonged to my niece. I reconfigured the innards to make room for the plumbing and removed all the drawers. I shortened two of them and reinstalled them on the right. The top drawer face was fastened back to the vanity as a dummy plate, and then I built a door to access under-counter storage. The last part of converting the dresser into a vanity was cutting the opening for the basin. 

I didn't want too much of the dark slate in one room since we have a black wood floor, so I tiled the vanity top with pale dove gray 4-inch ceramic tiles and accented them with tan bar tiles. I added a single row of the same decorative, metallic gray tiles that I used in the shower across the top of the backsplash to tie them together. 

I am proud of this little vanity thing that I created. I found the basin at Habitat for Humanity's thrift store in Knoxville for $10. It was practically new.  

Unfortunately, or fortunately, there was a real problem when it came to installing the faucet. There was no room!  I kitty-wopped it at the back left corner, which I think turned out kinda cute. If nothing else, it's different. Mr. Vagabond isn't a fan, since his hands are a lot bigger than mine. The faucet works fine for me, but I will likely need a new style so he can get his man hands under it. 

The other cabinet in this image is an old filing cabinet that I put on casters. The drawers face right, and it houses all those silly little bathroom things.

The finishing touch was the print of Bougereau's Pan and the Water Nymphs. My boys used to look at it and say, "EW!  Girl butt!" They grew out of that. 

My bathroom is nowhere near complete, but it is certainly livable now. Each week, I'll bring a bit of my renovation and restoration insanity into your world. If nothing else, it might serve to make you feel a bit better about your home and hearth! 


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Quotes for Determined Writers

Talent and the sheer determination to see it through are on my mind today. There are talented individuals around the globe. Most of them have never been published. Some of them don't care. Others do. A lot. 
It's a common theme among the writerly folk I know. Submissions, rejections, fear, self-doubt, self-loathing, a little jealously from time-to-time, wounded pride -- they are all part of the package deal. 
Many of us monitor the musings of rock-star literary agents as if their words are golden. In truth, they are. At least if we want to be published the old-fashioned way. 
In today's post, I decided I would share some of my favorite quotes. Some of them feel like a kick to the gut. Others lift me up until I am floating. I think it's healthy to have an equal measure of each. Dreams with some reality mixed in to keep me from flying off into outer space. 
I hope you find some of these useful.


People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character - Ralph Waldo Emerson
You are what you say most often. Really. 

If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary - Jim Rohn
Be courageous, or make peace with banal work.
“It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that others waste.” - Henry Ford
Even the dull and unschooled get published. You know it, and I know it. Combine talent with determination, and you will produce fruit. Maybe your grape isn’t the orange that you wanted, but grapes make better wine -- in time.

"I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me." - Hunter S. Thompson 

Don't try to be anyone other than who you are. If you're a freak, dig on it and let 'er rip. If you're not a freak, don't pretend that you are. Everyone will know, and that beautiful authenticity that is uniquely yours will be lost.

"The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say."  - Ana├»s Nin
Good writers are able to see the ordinary in a way that few can. They daydream, see animal shapes growing in the kudzu and assign convincing personalities to inanimate objects. They asses a problematic situation and offer a solution that no one thought of (or was courageous enough to write about!) before.The trick, with all this creativity and determination, is also having the ability to explain those discoveries to others and have them really get it. 

"And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise.  The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."  - Sylvia Plath
Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re a bad writer. Unless you really are. In that case, find out what you're doing wrong, listen when others offer constructive criticism, work even harder and don’t give up. Being offended by criticism is pointless, unless the other person is being downright mean. In that case, kick him in the shins, tell him he's a jerk and then get back to work.

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."  - Anton Chekhov
After hearing “Show, don’t tell” a hundred thousand times, it eventually sinks in. A dull read tells you that a car is driving down the road. An engaging one dares you to experience the chugging motor that vibrates the foot on the gas pedal, the maddening patter of the rain on the windshield and the uncomfortable pinch of the seatblelt.

"If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood.  I'd type a little faster."  - Isaac Asimov
If you’re nodding your head in agreement, face it -- you are a writer. You’re not a person who writes. You’re a blood-and-bone writer. You are one of an enviable lot.

"Almost every wise saying has an opposite one, no less wise, to balance it." - George Santayana 
And if you don’t like any of these quotes, just hang on for a bit. Others will come along in a minute to support the opposite theories in an effective manner. 

Be bold. Be courageous. Be diligent. 

Now, go forth and be brilliant!  *Muah! XO


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

It's Tipsy Tuesday!

Recently, I had the undivided joy of meeting a fellow writer whom I’ve known through cyberspace for about six years, give or take. It seems like aeons ago that Jamie Mason stayed up all night offering me encouragement via a lengthy thread at AbsoluteWrite while I wondered whether Mr. Vagabond were dead or alive. 

I'd received a distressing phone call from him and an abrupt, "Oh my God, Sweetie. I gotta go." He never says, "Oh my God." That couldn't be good. He was working disaster relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when all hell broke loose. Several agonizingly slow hours later, I received another phone call telling me that all was ok. That scary night, I learned that Jamie is good people. I have never had a reason to think otherwise. And the rest of that is another story for another day.

Jamie and her beautiful family graciously welcomed Mr. Vagabond and me into their home shortly after Christmas. Well, they actually welcomed us after asking, “What is that gigantic thing you just parked in my driveway?” 

Mr. Vagabond’s truck is a bit on the hefty side. He could fit a herd of wallabies in there. Do wallabies run in herds? Inquiring minds.

Anyway -  

We showed our gratitude for their hospitality by bringing along a bottle of Booker’s Small Batch Bourbon.

You have no idea
Now, I am a bourbon fan from way back. But when Mr. Vagabond buys liquor, he ain’t playin’. Being a tequila man who knows everything about agave and nothing about grains, he marched straight up to the counter and asked the nice lady for a recommendation. I’m so glad he did. 
Booker’s Small Batch Bourbon is stout. It’s approximately 127 proof, depending on the batch, and it speaks with authority. We sipped that golden liquid over giggles, theories and tales while huddled on the sofa in their cozy living room. It seemed like hours and minutes all at the same time. 

I spent most of the next day after our visit lying prostrate on my bed, asking Jamie repeatedly via Facebook whether I’d been a bumbling fool the night before. She swears I wasn’t. She is a kind soul.
For purists who like their bourbon neat, this stuff is warm, offers myriad scents and flavors all in the same swallow, it's aromatic to the moon and absolutely delicious. The first glass packs a wallop. For wimps like myself, it’s delightful mixed with Sprite over ice. My mother would say that sounds tacky, but I’ll own it. 
If you’re in the market for a bottle of nice bourbon, give Booker’s Small Batch a shot. I doubt you’ll be disappointed. 

Jamie is not only a gracious host, but also a talented writer. Her debut novel, The Liar’s Margin, is set to be released by Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books in 2013. Learn more at her blog, Because I Love to Hear Myself Type, and at AuthorScoop, where she is managing editor. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Motivational Monday

Whether you are a writer who works in her jammies at home, someone with a respectable brick-and-mortar job out in the so-called real world or anything between, finding the motivation to grab the edge of the bed linens and hurl yourself to the floor is sometimes hard to find. This is especially true during winter. On Motivational Mondays, I'll share some of the things I'm learning about sluggish motivation. Or I'll beat it soundly with a stick and go back to bed. 

Either way.

There are gadgets and widgets and thingamabobs galore that practically guarantee to boost focus, increase energy and keep us off Facebook during normal work hours. 

Most of them don’t work.

Our mortal minds are clever, and Miss Miserable Mindset is ugly. Her proper name is Daphne Dammitall, the anti-muse. 
Great. It's you, again...
Daphne is the empty container of milk when there’s a new pack of cookies in the cupboard. The coffee can with slightly less than enough grounds to make one cup. The blank page with nothing but a flashing cursor mocking us in a steady, maddening rhythm. 


If Daphne is on the prowl, she always seems to trudge through even the most caffeinated of drinks, energetic music and morale boosts from our friends. She also finds a work-around for anything that dares keep us off Facebook and Twitter. 

**What's that? Did my phone just *ding* again? It must be a message. It might be important. Maybe it's (insert name of famous agent) telling me she loves my work! Ok, I'll just go check. Just for a second.**

Two hours later, the cursor is still flashing. Oh, well. Teh LOLcats were so cute, they almost made me forget about my miserable existence.


What can we do to coax Daphne into a better mood so that we can be productive? Sorry, there’s no magic answer. 

Pretend you didn't already know that, while I go pour another cup of coffee. No, I am not checking Tweets!

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. Motivation is different for everyone. I read inspirational quotes about people getting up and taking a walk. Thanks, but walking in 12 degree weather only serves to make me want to dive headlong under the covers and wait it out until spring.

Text me when it's spring

Some folks, myself included, swear by music. Most of us also need some sunshine, which is hard to come by this time of year. 

My pharmacist, who gingerly hands over my Zoloft each month, told me about a nifty gadget called a light box. Light boxes are used by many folks who suffer from SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the research on them looks pretty darned encouraging. The idea is to expose yourself (not that way!) to a little artificial sunlight each day, and hopefully push SAD under the floorboards for a while.

The reduction in sunlight during winter can wreak havoc on even the best intentions. If you experience a lifted mood and a burst of energy when the sun breaks through the clouds, you might have a touch of SAD. A light box might help. This is the part where I say that you should always talk to your doctor about anything that involves your physical or mental health. Another reason to talk to your doctor is that with a recommendation, some medical insurances cover light boxes. Imagine that!

Light boxes aren’t the same as old-fashioned sun lamps; far from it. In fact, they filter out most of the UV rays. You should only use a light box the way the manufacturer or your doctor describes. They are generally directed at the face, but don’t look straight into one, fer Pete’s sake. After all, you may want the ability to see the pages of brilliance that you might feel like writing later on. 

According to most of the information I have found, and the pep-talk from my pharmacist, light boxes are used anywhere from five to thirty minutes each morning. 

You can read more about SAD and light box therapy at The Mayo Clinic website. 
With that, dear reader, I am off to drag Daphne down and lock her in the cellar. What do you do to combat the anti-muse? I’d really like to know. She’s getting on my nerves, and we’ve a long way to go ‘till spring.

Daphne Dammitall is created exclusively for Irrational Propensity by Daniel Cox, artist extraordinaire. View more of his work at Deviantart


All text and Daphne Dammitall images are copyright © Irrational Propensity 2012

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Slacker Sunday

Today is Slacker Sunday. My Slacker Sundays involve anything that can be accomplished in at least a semi-horizontal position. Today, we’re talking about old movies. One old movie, actually. Reviews for new movies are available far and wide, so I want to take a different approach. In my opinion, the old black and whites offer the most bang for the buck, especially when they are available streaming at whatever the low-low Netflix price happens to be at any given moment. Without further ado, I give you: 

Stage Door Canteen (United Artists, 1943)
Plus 6 Name Bands!
Many years ago, I watched Stage Door Canteen on AMC. It aired at some point between wrestling my boys into their matching Mario Brothers pajamas and serving up Fruit Loops the next morning. Afterward, it seemed as though the great movie just disappeared into thin air. I researched, but couldn’t find any shred of evidence that it existed. I had almost decided I dreamed the whole thing until one lazy Sunday afternoon, many years later, it aired again. 

Ha! I’m not crazy after all! Well, not entirely. 
Stage Door Canteen’s cast seems like the origination of “A Cast of Thousands.” The list of stars goes on forever. This is only a brief highlight.
Tallulah Bankhead
Edgar Bergen
Charlie McCarthy
Ray Bolger
Katharine Hepburn
Gypsy Rose Lee
Ethel Waters
Count Basie
Benny Goodman
It goes on and on and on!  
The short of it is boy meets girl at New York’s Stage Door Canteen before he heads off to war, then hilarity, romance and bittersweet stolen moments ensue. 
Canteens were a place where our brave men in the armed forces could relax, have a warm slice of Americana Pie and feel a little bit normal before heading overseas. The lovely, fresh-faced girls-next-door working in the canteen were strictly forbidden from dating the boys, but they were encouraged to spend wholesome one-on-one time and make them feel special. I’ve always wondered how well that worked in real life, as Manhattan’s Stage Door Canteen, and another on the west coast, were quite real, indeed. Because dating is a no-no, boy (Dakota) and girl (Eileen) get themselves into a bit of a mess.
The first time I watched Stage Door Canteen, I remember being in awe of the music and the war-time melodrama. I’ve always wondered whether I lived one lifetime during WWII, since I love the fashion and music. 
Sadly, I would never be able to keep my seams straight.

Years later, I realize that Stage Door Canteen is one of the best US WWII flag-waving films ever. It’s good, clean fun that you can watch with the whole family. 

Gypsy Rose Lee gets my vote for the best scene in the entire movie. Her performance, which is a very mild, yet incredibly entertaining strip-tease-light, is funny, clever and... well, it’s easy to see why all the boys loved her back then. She barely (and almost agonizingly slowly) reveals part of her shoulders and  legs in her famous "Psychology of a Stripteaser" act, yet it’s clear why she was a top-rate entertainer. I love her monologue. And her vaguely Bryn Mawr accent. And her costume. And her wit. And her gams.

That's all there is; there isn't any more!

No wars were won with Stage Door Canteen. No philosophical theories were indulged, and there are no major explosions (which is why Mr. Vagabond has never seen it). However, it encapsulates the ideal 1940s America that Hollywood wanted needed our brave men and women to see. In the long ago that was WWII, those who fought, and those who toiled, prayed, worried and waited back home, needed something to believe in. Some semblance of normalcy that still existed somewhere. Something to hope for. Something to come back home to. Stage Door Canteen helped deliver that on a shiny Hollywood platter. 

This is one movie that I can watch over and over. If you have the opportunity, I hope you give it a shot and let me know what you think.

With that, I am off to listen to Benny Goodman and his swingin' clarinet! 

Sing, Sing, Sing, baby!