Bathroom update: two steps back

Friends, I was so hoping to reveal our beautiful new bathroom this week. Here’s where we’re at: tiling is 95% complete, with the exception of a backsplash. (Our vanity top is beautiful, and was the deal of the century! More on that soon.) Fixtures are mostly in — except what you see here. Which is turning into a serious headache.

See, way back long ago, in a chapter that we don’t much care to revisit, our contractor asked us to choose our shower and faucet fixtures. We looked at him with big, wide eyes — at the time, the entire bathroom was gutted down to the subfloor and studs. And we had no earthly clue what we wanted it to look like, eventually. All of our creative vision was focused on the kitchen and wood floors (and framing out a laundry room, and moving electrical outlets, and and and …). We were in a state of decision-making saturation, and couldn’t make even one more.

So, he fixed us up with a cheap faucet set — which he had to do, because he had to complete the plumbing work inside the walls — and they needed the install the valve that goes behind the tile. A little vocab lesson: the “valve” is where the water pipes connect to and deliver water to the bath (13 and 14, below, I’m pretty sure). The valve holds the “cartridge” (15, below) which protrudes through your shower wall, and into this your faucet handle is eventually fitted. Turn the handle to move the cartridge to open the valve, and you’ve got flowing water.

shower valve diagram

Fast forward a year: a custom vanity is built, the tile is set, and we finally choose our lovely fixtures — carefully selecting the same brand as the cheap (read: super ugly), previously installed model to ensure everything will work together. And … the new Delta faucet handle doesn’t match up to the installed Delta cartridge. At all.

Normally, when you update or upgrade your faucet handle, you can swap out the cartridge from the front — but not so, for us. Because the valve itself — the thing attached to the pipes inside the wall — won’t accommodate the newer cartridge that came with our new fixtures. Because the contractor-installed fixture set was discontinued in 2006. (Six years before we moved in, notice. Where this fixture came from, we have no idea.) And we can’t return the (expensive) fixtures, because we’ve already opened and mostly installed them.

The most reasonable path forward? Cut a hole (this is where my shoulders slump and I open a bottle of wine and try not to yell) through the freshly painted bedroom wall directly behind the shower, and replace the entire valve.

It’s one of those projects that creates another project. And believe me, with everything on our priority list, patching, texturing, and painting a drywall hole is going to fall wayyyyy at the bottom.

The spouse is on deck for this one, because we’re out of cash — Saturday promises drywall dust, scraped knuckles, and some cursing, most likely.

Fingers crossed — we are so ready for baths and comfortable showers in this house.

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A month. Then two.

Hi, you. It’s been awhile.

In a month, seventeen boxes of books get unpacked.

A room filled to the ceiling with boxes and furniture is transformed into a home office/guest space.

A yard pushes up surprises: columbine, lily of the valley, forget-me-not, day lilies, painted daisies, hosta, daphne. Wild roses and strawberries.

The eight-months-missed touchstones of home emerge from boxes and find new nooks. Our artifacts. Our us, in objects. The small stone jaguar from the Yucatan. The sonogram. The flower pot decorated with buttons and crayon scrawls. Grammy’s desk.

The typewriter collection comes out of storage for the very first time. (Platen count: nine.)
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Paid work gets tackled every day. Kindergarten races toward the finish line. We meet the sweet neighbors who live with their 90-year-old mother named Violet. The first water bill arrives (xeriscaping and water barrels are in our future). I cut an inch off of my own hair. Mainly to avoid auditioning curly-hair stylists. Two bummers about moving: new dentists and new stylists.

The kid writes a song about fleas on a dog’s knees that get blown away by a breeze onto the trees–and sings it to me whilst strumming our out-of-tune ukulele on Mother’s Day.
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In two months, a fence gets half built. There are 260 linear feet to cover, in total. Half is good.

I realize it’s my first summer without a daily office job since the kid was born. Longer than that. I buy a wading pool and a stack of bubble wands and make a huge list of fun-but-educational games and at-home science experiments for an enriched summer experience and … yeah. I know. It will be popsicles and mayhem.

I help launch a family dream.

Our coffee ritual transitions from warm to iced–we unpack the espresso machine and the cold brew kit. The fence continues; the neighbor offers beer and sends her kid out to help.

We take our picnicking skills for a test run, sandwiches and potato salad and gritty sand in the wrong places. Crawdads. Lifejackets. Sunscreen protests. Aloe vera. Inexplicably, my head is too big for my old sunhat. Can an adult outgrow a sunhat? The lake’s water is rimmed in a wide band of bright yellow, rocking in the small, lapping waves. It’s pollen from the pines, blown across the water and pooling at the edges. I don’t realize how vibrant and beautiful and strange it is until I look at the photos, later.
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We glance at the boxes still stacked against the dining room wall. We studiously ignore the Chaos Pit otherwise known as our garage. The (now gutted) second bathroom fades to a vague future dream and we forget what it’s like to have a bathtub. Almost.

The kid’s kindergarten graduation ceremony happens. I don’t cry.

The next morning, I drop her off for the last day. Through the classroom window, I see her toeing off her velcro sneakers and sliding on her indoor slippers–a preschool routine for four whole years. Goodbye, soft-footed mornings. I cry in the parking lot.
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We think about adopting a kitten. We discuss our chicken coop dreams, sketch plans for a treehouse, talk greenhouse strategies. We stare at the mistletoe infection in our junipers and mumble hopeful predictions and go inside.

I finally have lunch with a new friend.

We welcome a hamster into the mix.
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A 34-year friendship is shored up with a visit. I make her look at mountains every single day. I make her break her cleanse with beer and a cheese plate. (I once force-fed her an olive. We were eight. A story for another time.)

Dance recital rehearsals are incessant. They are a flock of little girls, skinny and pudgy, knock-kneed and swaybacked, awkward and graceful. They match only by merit of their identical pink leotards and ballet slippers, gauzy skirts above playground-bruised shins. They are certain of their own beauty.

We count nine months since we hightailed it to our new life. It is vibrant and beautiful and strange. Knock-kneed and soft-footed. Awkward and certain. Stories unpacked. Pushing up surprises. Wide open.
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Kitchen follow-up: the pantry

It’s been a little over a month of living with our kitchen, up and running — hard — in our daily lives.

We use our kitchen, and I was curious to see where the clutter would gather. How the surfaces would hold up. If the gooseneck faucet would have splashback issues. Whether one of our new drawers could withstand the weight of a dozen vintage Pyrex bowls, two waffle irons, and five serving trays.

So far, so good. Last night, we rolled out fresh tortilla dough on the laminate countertop–and it performed beautifully. The stainless appliances aren’t streaking or smudging (relief!). The evenness with which the electric stove bakes a cake is a thing of beauty, and the continuous grill across the gas range is soooo helpful when you’re playing musical pots and pans for a dinner for eight. And if I ever questioned a single vs double-bowl sink, I never will again.

In the Big Reveal post, we skipped over the pantry. And this pantry deserves some attention, because I swear it’s got magical properties. It never seems to fill up. We reduced the pantry size by more than half, and I can still store all of my staples plus weekly dry goods in here, and feel no clutter.

Remember, we started with this:
1965 accordion door pantry

After removing the horrid accordion doors, we ripped out the shelves, knocked out the back wall, and pushed the whole space back about a foot. This meant losing closet inches in the adjacent bedroom. (We then restored those bedroom closet inches with new framing, sacrificing some bed space — gain a foot here, lose a foot there). It also meant the pantry would have an odd L-shape, because the furnace is located directly behind the back left corner, but it would increase the overall depth of the shelves — and it would let the fridge nook hold a standard-depth fridge, if necessary. Mid-stream, it looked like this:
pantry phase 2

On our first attempt at building pantry shelves, we went with plywood — inexpensive, large enough sheets to cut out the odd shape we needed. But we cut exactly one sheet before I confessed how much I would hate returning to painted shelves. I lived with painted shelves for seven years. Everything sticks to them, no matter how long the paint cures. They chip, get gooey, and suck to clean. Back to Home Depot went the spouse, for sheets of white MDF.

We made an L-shaped template, decided on shelf heights, attached the support ledgers, cut the shelves, and installed. There was some caulking and possibly a few curse words. We built and hung the over-fridge cabinet (aka, The Liquor Library).

And then, oh wouldn’t it be nice to have the microwave hidden? Wiring an outlet inside the pantry, no big deal, you go ahead honey, I’m just going to make an iced coffee …

Of course, he totally did it. And then it looked like this:

Pantry phase 3

One of these days, we’ll paint the unfinished door. Voila!