Bathroom Madness

The “last” project for our condo remodel was to have been the bathroom. We purchased a deep soaking tub, a nice vanity, and were just waiting to have the extra funds available to be able to hire somebody both good and fast. Well, life caught up with us. So, in order to rent out our condo, we felt that we needed to do a few things to make the bathroom livable. Those few things involved tearing out the bathtub surround, to see if there was mold. Surprise!

We didn’t find anything going into the walls, so much as just upon the surface of the drywall. But, in order to discover this … the drywall needed to come all the way out. So, we went ahead and showered at a friend’s house for a few days, and demolished the wall around the tub. After we were done, we had a “professional” install a new bathtub surround. Well, it’s done, and done fairly well, and that’s what matters, right? Yeah. Sure. The little things like caulking? Oh, those can be done by the homeowner.

No matter – it’s just another one of those things which we’re dealing with along the way. Kind of like the multiple layers of paint on the ceiling … which were infested with mildew … and which needed to be dissolved prior to painting with a mildew-resistant primer. We’ll have more pictures soon (the camera is well – Yay!), to show the finished paint job, but suffice it to say that the painting? Oh, that was the easy part, compared to the stripping of old paint. Three applications of stripper! Two days! Showering? Oh, yeah. That. Hah!

The shower is now done, except for a bit of tidying around the edges where paint or caulk have been errant. So, everything is moving apace, even if it doesn’t feel that way. The remodel is as done as it’s going to get, for at least the next, oh, four years. So – when I take pictures of the finished product I’ll post them on Flickr, and we’ll call this “the end” of the Remodel.

Remodeling Pause

Our books have finally made it to their new home. They had been living in bags – lots and lots of paper grocery bags – but we’ve finally gotten to the stage of settling things into their proper places. May I just say that it’s enough to make you feel human again, to have books upon shelves? And to realize that you have some nice books, books that you’re proud to own, let alone to have read at least once if not several times?

You see, these are the beloved books. These aren’t the books which live upon shelves in the office; these aren’t reference books, but books we have decided are worth reading again and again, and books which can be picked up, caressed. These are what really tell us that we’re home, and well, and make us feel wealthy.

Yes – books make us feel wealthy. It’s strange, until you consider that we’ve had to sell books, and have suffered with their loss. The Riverside Shakespeare, the Riverside Chaucer: they went during the first year of our marriage, when we were living in a one bedroom apartment above somebody’s garage, and were lucky that one of us was working. We lived on spaghetti and jarred sauce; we sold our college texts, because they would get us through the difficult times. We heated the apartment with the electric oven and countless candles, and played cards for hours on end, betting with pretzel sticks. We had a black and white television, with a straightened metal coat-hanger for the aerial. We got all of three channels, one of which was FujiTV.

So, throughout the years, we’ve collected books to replace those beloved ones we sold; the Riversides haven’t made it back into our collection, probably because they sell for hundreds of dollars, and we didn’t like them that much. We look back on that time in our lives, and know that it shaped who we are today. We still love watching Iron Chef – because we watched it on the little black and white set, subtitled in English. We love watching cooking shows in general, because we watched so many on that little set, and we were so hungry at times. Not that we were starving or any such thing – at least, not starving for calories, but for richness, and specialness. To feel wealthy.

So, as we’re remodeling, we’ve pulled back into ourselves. And we’ve been dieting. And our things have been packed away, and we’ve had mess and clutter everywhere. And we’ve had a gimpy heater. So, in some ways, we’ve been waiting for the end, and experiencing a sort of gleeful rebirth as it’s come. I’ve been repeating the phrase, “nobody else has keys to our house” for several weeks now.

And our books are home.

Relocating Serpents

The Critters are being relocated, finally, to their new homes. With all of the chaos of this remodel, they’ve been living in the guest room, trying to stay away from the dust and chaos. They’ve been relatively happy, although they haven’t had much in the way of socialization. Willful has been moved downstairs, to the top of the television cabinet. His tank is about 4 inches too large for the cabinet, so … we may have to find him another place. But we wanted him downstairs, where he’d be out and about, and easily accessible.

Chicken, on the other hand, is going to be moving to our garden after this weekend. He’s a California King snake, illegally obtained by a former coworker’s child. I inherited him when said coworker’s child spent some time in juvenile hall and was unable to take care of him. We named him Chicken because he’s so determined not to be handled, and hides pretty much all of the time; he’s been known to stick his head out of his hidey-hole only to grab the mouse, and then to duck back inside. California Kings are not supposed to be bought or sold, nor are you supposed to catch them, so … we’ve decided to let him go, where he can do us some good. Another week or so and he’ll be after our gophers, we hope!

Curse you, 1950’s man!

At the end of all this remodeling, and because summer is fast approaching, I’d thought to see what it would take to get our heater replaced, and to add an air conditioner. I know, it’s not all that environmentally friendly to use air conditioning. We both work in an office upstairs in our small condo, though, so it’s a necessity for a couple of weeks every summer, if not for a full month. We’d been getting by with a portable unit, but it wouldn’t even touch the heat of last summer. So, I figured I’d have somebody tell me what it’d take to get an a/c put in, and to replace this behemoth of a 1960’s heater while they were at it.

Just one problem. See the shiny pipe? See the shiny coating on the shiny pipe? See the tape, which was holding the shiny coating in place? Well, here’s the scoop: the shiny coating inside is just plain steel ducting. The shiny coating on the outside, and the tape? Oh, those are just asbestos. Yup. Each and every duct is wrapped in asbestos, which, in turn, has been wrapped in shiny paper. And, to seal each section of asbestos “cardboard” together, they used asbestos tape, of course!

So, the heater project is going to run us $3,200 more than it would have, if we’d not had to replace the bright ideas of 1950’s man. And who was this man? You know: the man who said, “let’s see if this rock burns,” and then, when it wouldn’t, decided it was a good thing to make into insulation?

I don’t know who he was, but he owes me an air conditioner.

On the flip side of this whole thing, and just as a matter of passing interest and “isn’t that creepy”-ness … if we’d lived in the county next door, we wouldn’t have to replace any of the asbestos at all. You see, the county next door falls under a different set of regulations regarding asbestos. We’ll tell ourselves that it isn’t because they’re darker-skinned over there. Yes. We’ll tell ourselves that.

Truthfully, we’re not legally obligated to replace all of it, just the bits which are exposed to the heater area. However, if you’ve ever blown across the mouth of a straw which was immersed in liquid, you’ve noticed that air moving past a small opening creates a vacuum, sucking your soda up the straw. It’s the same effect as opening two windows on the same side of your car – the window in front exhausts air from the vehicle, sucking air in the rear window. Because of this wonder of physics, any crack in the asbestos tape will let air beneath the asbestos, provided that there are small gaps in the ducting. Thus, any gap in the ducting will be sucking air in past the oh-so-dry-and-dusty asbestos fibers, and will end up depositing those fibers into our living space.

So, we’re replacing all of the ducting we can get to. This will leave about 15 feet of ducting which is enclosed in the floor / ceiling between the first and second floors. There’s not much we can do about that, unless we want to tear out the ceiling. So, we’re going to live with that risk for a while, if not indefinitely.

Our only recompense is that we’ll end up with a decent heater for next Winter.

Garden & Remodel Update

If you squint hard you’ll be able to see me in this picture. Yup – these are the first of the garden space, with 6’3″ me standing amongst the rows, by way of perspective. We’re so proud of our beds this year it’s not funny. And best of all? Tomorrow we go to pick out tomatoes!

Jackie from one thread two thread has promised to send me some crimson hot peppers in exchange for a few of our seeds from Kitazawa. I’m hoping that she’ll have some luck growing the Thai Hot way up there. (I looked at your address on a map, Jackie: you’re about as far away from us as is physically possible while still remaining on the same continent! And when you say “frost” I’m thinking that you mean something entirely different than we do down here!)

The remodel actually looks like we may wrap up this current stage (floors) soon. The downstairs bathroom (shown to the right) is as “done” as it’s going to be for a while. We still have to get some additional storage for it, and to bring back some of the missing decorations … and, oh, some hand towels would be nice, as would some soap. But, other than that, it’s the first room downstairs to be completely finished.

The stairs have to come out again, temporarily, because they squeak awfully. So, we’re going to not let them “float,” but are going to apply copious amounts of construction adhesive. It’s not a happy thing, to glue them down, because it’ll make them harder to replace if they get damaged. But … well, you do what you have to, because the stair noses are actually working their way loose, and won’t be worth walking on in a few months if we don’t fix them.

More tomorrow, when we know how many and what varieties of tomatoes we end up with, and when the builder has left … hopefully for good!

Upstairs flooring complete … er … almost.

Thus continues the saga of the remodel. Shown here is what we found when we peeled the carpet back in the office. Note the years of water damage? Note the fresh puddle? It hasn’t rained in about a week, but this puddle was still wet to the touch. We figure that it’s some small leak, running down the wall from the attic, and is going to be a joy to track down. ‘Cause really, how do you find the source for such things unless it’s raining? We contacted our condo association, so we’ll see what happens.

At long last, though, the upstairs is done with the exception of the stairs and banister. There had been a storage cabinet, bolted to the floor, to which the banister was bolted (you can see the original paint color on the wall where it had been for the past 35 years). We tore it out, though, to give ourselves more space, and because the thing was truly ugly and tended to catch whatever was in our hands when we came upstairs. So, as soon as our builder can figure out how to make things match up, we’ll have a nice open landing. I’m helping by actually buying a real router, instead of the stupid RotoZip thing he uses, so that he can actually make edges which lock together, instead of relying on glue or something.

Out of this whole process, we’ve learned several things. First off, we’ve learned that time is a very very flexible thing: 10:00 to a builder may mean noon, or maybe tomorrow. We’ve also learned that any estimate as to when something will be done is just hot air – we’ve taken to packing everything away as if it’s going to have to sit there for several weeks, because it most likely will have to sit for several weeks. Lastly we’ve resolved to never live in a place while it’s being remodeled; it’s simply not worth the dusting, shifting, and misery of having to share space.

The end is in sight, but we’re trying not to get our hopes up, as we know they’ll just be dashed. After all, this is now month three of what was to have been a one month project.

Of course, this is just the flooring and the kitchen. To be done after all of the flooring downstairs is 1) the bathroom (and we know there’ve been leaks from the tub, so that’s a big job), 2) a new heater / air conditioner (the one we’ve got has been retro-fitted with a new burner, but is 35 years old, and just as efficient), 3) a ladder to the attic and rough flooring of the attic (there’s a full attic, but you can’t get in unless you get a ladder), 3) painting of various walls. So, I’d guess we’re more than halfway through, when it all comes down to it, but we’ve still got some more to go.

Then there’s the organizing of the Art Closet. That’s on the agenda for today, but … well, we’ll see.

Baking During the Remodel

I managed to bake some bread yesterday, despite the remodeling going on. It wasn’t a matter of having run out of bread (‘though we had), but a matter of seeing the neglected sourdough starter sitting in the fridge, going darker and darker, and of knowing that it would die in another couple of weeks if I didn’t do something with it. So, I pulled it out and let it roam free for a while (about 9 hours), and then turned it into some lovely olive bread.

I didn’t take the time to steam any whole grains to put in this (barley or oat would be choice), but it’s not missing it much. I took my basic sourdough starter, gave it 4 cups of water & enough flour to bring it back to consistency. After it’d been sitting out all day, I added some more flour & then removed a portion to go back into the fridge. To the remainder I added:

  • 2 Cups Oat Bran
  • 2 Cups Golden Flax Seeds
  • 1 Cup Merlot
  • 1/4 Cup Potato Flour
  • 1 Large Onion, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp yeast
  • 1 Tbsp Yellow Mustard Seeds
  • 3 Tbsp Brown Mustard Seeds
  • 1 Tbsp Sage
  • 1.25 Tbsp Salt
  • 8 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary, chopped
  • 16 Oz. “Spicy Pimento Stuffed” Olives
  • 1 Cup Sun-Dried Tomatoes (well, not really: they’re from our garden; we dried them in a dehydrator)

From there, it was a matter of kneading, forming, rising, and sliding onto baking stone in a 500 Degree F. oven which had preheated for a good 25 minutes. Oh – and sprinkling some French sea-salt on top before they went in.

Note the granite tile? Grout’s still not sealed, but that’s going to happen tomorrow … or, rather, that’s what I’ve been told several times now. He’s running out of projects to do other than the ones he says he’s going to do, so I figure he’ll get to it when he’s got nothing better to do. Or, rather, just nothing else to do.

1975 has a lot to answer for

Isn’t it just lovely? That’s the carpet which is in one of the intermediate layers upon our floor. Beneath it, throughout the kitchen area at least, is a layer of black foam rubber, and then a layer of linoleum. We haven’t breached the linoleum yet. Atop this lovely carpet is another layer of carpet.

We figure that this carpet was put down in, oh, about 1977. So, for the past 30 years this carpet’s been hiding out, and keeping its dark layer of foam hidden from the light of day, allowing it to thoroughly bond to its linoleum friend. It’s particularly disgusting, because after 30 years, foam rubber? Oh, no. It’s just spongy muck at that point. Bleh.

What’s particularly terrifying to me is the coloring of this carpet. T says she’d like to frame this piece, as it’s in such good shape. I’m just afraid of the radioactive isotopes involved in manufacturing the dyes. I mean, just how can it have stayed so brightly colored? I’m certain that there had to have been now-extinct species hunted down for their exotic parts, just so this carpet could retain its hideousness for all time.

Kitchens and Foodies and Thoughts, Oh My…

It’s been awhile since I’ve been here, and I can’t honestly say it’s for any reason other than the fact that lately I have been having Huge Food Issues, and I got that post-holiday guilt-thing kicking in, which made me avoid mirrors, closets and scales for a bit. (What I should have been avoiding was the bloody TV. Could we STOP with the Slimfast ads, for just a week or two? Sheesh.) Now that my brain is safely back inside my body (or hovering nearby), we rejoin my daily obsession already in progress…

My buddy Jackie got the new Joy of Cooking, and man, am I jealous. (Yes, I am a cookbook whore.) She shifts the recipes just a titch to make them workable for a vegan-veggie type, and has reminded me of something I adore: roasted chickpeas. I first had them in a Peruvian restaurant, mixed with roasted and salted hominy, and I’ve been striving to recapture that nutty, addictive tastiness ever since. The Peruvian folks probably fried their bar snacks instead of baking them, but I’m going to simply:

1.) Open and rinse a can of garbanzo beans,

2.) Turn them out onto a pan, and pat them a bit dry;

3.) Spritz them with a bit of olive oil, and sprinkle them with a tiny bit of salt, onion powder, curry powder, and turmeric,

4.) Oven roast them in a preheated, 400 degree oven for approximately (depending on your oven) thirty minutes, opening the oven to shake it about every ten minutes,

5.) Serve with chopped cilantro and lemon juice spritzed onto their crackly outsides, and inhale. Yum.

These chickpeas are tasty with the hominy (treated in the selfsame way) or mixed with raisins and dark chocolate chips as movie munchies. (Okay – if you like salt and sweet tastes together, this works. Otherwise, just ignore me.)

Been checking out some interesting blogs lately. Mac’s already remarked on the Post Punk People, and my find is Yeah, That Vegan Sh*t, a site about all things vegan, and Vegan Core, way fun because it has pretty pictures and plenty of recipes. I expect I’ll visit that one repeatedly; I’m always intrigued by people who test recipes and change them to suit. So much less work for me!

And speaking of less work – in my continuing quest to figure out what to do with that Vegemite, I’ve actually stuck my finger in it, and given it a taste. It’s really … not half bad. I’m still not up to it on toast (sorry, T&C), but it may have a future as more than just a soup base. My favorite use for it thus far? As a non powder form yeast in scrambled tofu. Here’s my updated take on it:


1 lb. medium tofu (medium is better, for me – some prefer firm)

1 tbsp. oil, or use your sprayer as needed.

2 tbsp. snipped chives

1 tsp. onion powder, turmeric and curry powder

one crumbled sage leaf

1 tsp. Vegemite

After rinsing the tofu, I grab it in my fist and basically crumple it up. I toss the chunky bits into my lightly oiled pan and sprinkle heavily with onion powder and more lightly with turmeric and curry. The turmeric will give it a yellowy color that makes some people feel better about eating non-eggs. I then add the Vegemite, and let it soften in the heat before stirring it in. It adds both saltiness and a nice depth of flavor. Finish with the snipped chives and voilá!

Some people enjoy finely diced mushrooms in their scrambled tofu, grated carrots and other items. Imagine it as a chicken-egg omelet, and let your tastes be your guide. I prefer to keep it simple, unless I make this as a brunch item, then I really jazz it up, adding herbs and cheeses and Tofurky Italian sausages. I’ve heard chopped spinach and roasted sweet potato added to it is tasty… ah, to each their very own.

The remodel galumphs on… It’s definitely not galloping in any way, shape, or form. Still, it’s had its high points. We had a great little visit to KWW Kitchens & Baths in San Leandro, where we walked through Kitchen/Bath heaven, at least from the point of view of myriad cabinets, huge slabs of fabricated stone counter tops, slick modern fixtures, and more. It was well worth the trip down I-880, because it was really quite inexpensive. Most of the goods are likely from China, and we opted to go with real granite tiles on the counter instead of a fabricated slab, but it’s a definite check-it-out for Bay Area folks. (If you look at our remodel pics, you’ll see how it looks.) Of course, I feel quite scarred that we will not able to put an Aga range in our new kitchen, as Minty and Simon from Posh Nosh urged us to do. Alas, we ordinary mortals must make do without the hundred year old range that the fabulous Marchmont’s have at Crowe Hall, their house in Upper Berkshire which was built in 1685… sigh.

I think our builders over-estimated how easy this was going to be… now with tightly fitting cabinets (Mac is an EXACT mathematician; I think he has quite terrified the builders), ancient plumbing and cracked copper pipes, and the odd drooping ceiling, I believe they’re getting a little worried about the timetable. They thought they could fully gut and rebuild a tiny kitchen in just a week. Now we’re on to day five… two to go. They swear it’ll all be functioning on Monday. We’ll see. Meanwhile, the bamboo flooring is on order, and we expect it to be ready to go down on the floor by March. Hope springs eternal…

Let the Chaos Begin

This afternoon begins the actual, real-life, this-isn’t-going-to-go-away portion of our program. Yes, now that the taxes have been done (and paid – ouch), we’re finally going to begin tearing apart our little home. This afternoon we’re off with the builders to buy cabinets, so that sometime next week our kitchen can be demolished.

On the plus side, this means that we’re finally getting rid of the 1970’s era microwave. On the negative side … this means that we have to buy a new one. Also on the plus side, we’ll end up with some way better storage down in the garage, because we’re having the builder install the old cabinets down there. That way we can store canned goods downstairs instead of taking up precious space in the pantry; hey – try storing 100 quarts of anything & you’ll see what I mean.

So. First comes the kitchen demolition, then installation of the new cabinetry, then removal of a wall & part of a coat closet so that we can add kitchen cabinets on one side and simply have less storage for coats (who, in California, needs that much storage for coats?). After that’s all done comes removal of a strange little pantry (so that we can have more light and more dining room space), after which comes carpet removal and wood floor installation (bamboo, thank you). After all that comes the upstairs bathroom.

So, the schedule looks like this:

  1. Kitchen Cabinet Removal
  2. Kitchen Cabinet Installation
  3. Coat Closet split into more Kitchen Storage & a smaller Closet
  4. Pantry removal
  5. First-floor bathroom renovation
  6. Carpet Removal
  7. Bamboo Floor Installation
  8. Upstairs bathroom renovation
  9. New hvac installation

And somewhere in there we’ll be painting things as well. It looks like this project’s going to involve our house being torn up for at least a month, and probably more like two. The builders seem to think that it’ll only take them one. I laugh. Truly.

I’ll be taking pictures of it all, I’m sure. After checking out TeaAndCakes’ photostream on Flickr, I’m thinking that I need to get a decent digital camera. Perhaps after all the building would be best … but I’d like to have pictures of it all, too. Film may just have to suffice. And, besides, I really do like my camera.