± Up for Sunrise

Gonna rise up. Find my direction magnetically.

Bathroom Remodeling Fun

DSC_8835In the past, I have taken on the bigger remodeling/home improvement jobs myself: finishing the basement, installing wood floors, rebuilding closets, landscaping, etc., but when Julie and I decided it was time to deal with our upstairs bath, I balked. We have been having issues with the upstairs bathroom for several years now. These issues culminated with water pouring through the living room ceiling below a few years ago which required pretty extensive drywall and moulding work.

Plumbing is not a craft that I have any extensive experience with. Framing, drywall, electrical, heck… even some masonry and I am good to go, but water is a whole different matter. This, combined with the desire to have some rather extensive tile work done which is something else I have zero experience with, and it was a no brainer. Time to hire a professional!


The problem of what to do with the layout of the upstairs bathroom and how to improve it was not easily addressed. We had several plumbers and friends share their thoughts, but it wasn’t until the last contractor came in that we settled on a plan that finally made sense to us. Coincidentally, we also ended up hiring the contractor to do the work. The main premise of the design was to keep the vanity, toilet, and bathtub where they were at but to rework the shower and all the framing around it. When I write that, it doesn’t sound like it should have taken that long to come up with the plan… but it did.

The old shower was a neo-corner unit that was very cheap and had leaks in both corners where it met the drywall. I had to recaulk annually and had cut a nice piece of large baseboard to hid the growing hole in the corner. There was also a pocket door that came out into the bathroom and provided an enclosed section to keep the shower separate from the room. Kind of nice for privacy, but not a great use of the space. The plan was to rip out the pocket door and the wall that hid it and replace that with a standard door. The neo-corner unit would be pulled out and replaced by a 34″x42″ swanstone shower pan with a bench.

Julie fell in love with slate (shocking!) and found inspiration for what she wanted on the web. You can checkout her pinterest album here: http://pinterest.com/denalidreamer/for-the-home/

Julie also found project details for refinishing our old vanity on pinterest, which we were going to attempt and salvage from the old bathroom. New plumbing fixtures were a must and we decided to replace the old lights with 4″ cans that had a glass, water resistant enclosure while we were at it.


Completed Project

Our contractor started the first week in March and it took 3 weeks to finish it. We had a few touch up things in week 4, but they held pretty true to the original estimate I was provided. I learned a lot from this experience. Several things I thought were settled, turned out to require more effort and planning, like replacing Kohler fixtures with Delta (protip: if you are remodeling a bathroom try and just keep all the base plumbing fixtures and just swap out trim if possible). We also had a bad experience with builddirect.com where we ordered the slate tile from. The reviews were good and the tile looked great, but the tiles were not square and the thickness varied wildly (some variation is expected in natural tile). I thought we could save a few bucks and still get a great tile but it ended up slowing things down and we returned a bunch of tile.

Thoughts about the project:

  • Having someone else do this was the way to go. It was stressful enough with having someone else do it. I wouldn’t have been able to manage work plus this.
  • We made a lot of right calls on things like plumbing fixtures, lights, etc. One area I would do differently next time is with the slate floor. I would have pushed for something that was smooth and consistent (thickness and size). The floor looks cool, but the uneven aspects and bumpiness will mean it will be difficult to clean and it’s not the most comfortable to walk on.
  • Instead of a heated tile floor, which I did extensive research into, we went with a kickspace heater. This worked out great and we have it on a timer mounted next to the light switch. I am really happy with this!
  • We got several quotes on different countertops and we were not excited about paying $1000+ for a granite one (I am looking at YOU Home Depot and Lowes!). I did a little searching and found this place: graniteselection.com. This place gets my top recommendation. We got our granite counter top + backsplash and undermount sink for $370. We lucked out because this place is only 15 minutes from my work. Nailed it! It also makes you feel like a bad ass when two huge Russian guys carry your countertop out to your car in the middle of winter at an unmarked building.
  • The vanity turned out awesome and saved us a bundle. If you look at the pics, you’ll see it turned from the golden oak color to a dark espresso color. Big points for Julie on that one.
  • If you are running electric and need to end a job short of completing it, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS CAP ANY WIRES. It doesn’t matter if they aren’t connected to anything. Always do it. Never leave a bare end of a wire without a wire nut. No need to ask why I am dropping this piece of advice here…
  • Our two-flush toilet rocks (1 button for liquids, 1 for solids)
  • Slate tile is a pain in the ass to get grout off of.
  • My wife has some great ideas and is a great match for me.
  • I am awesome at picking out paint colors. Show me 30 chips and I can tell which exact one we need to get. Haven’t had a bad pick yet in 13 years!
  • Mark Ripley was the contractor and he and his crew did a great job. I don’t want to post his email directly, but if you’d like to contact him about a job, just send me a message and I’ll get you the contact info. Highly recommended… that guy knows his stuff.

Only thing left is for the glass shower door to get installed. We have gotten two quotes and will be deciding that this week. I’ll post a few more pictures when it’s totally done and the window casing + shower doors are in. A pretty exciting, yet exhausting experience. It’s nice to have the bathroom functioning again upstairs!







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Napa Valley Marathon

IMG_2631I know some people who workout and don’t have any specific goals. They find motivation in just the workout itself. Maybe it’s weight loss, increased strength, or just ‘being healthy’. There isn’t a larger, driving goal, like go on a big hike, sign up for a strength competition, run a marathon, etc.

I am NOT one of those people. When I don’t have an overarching goal when working out, I tend to eat worse and lack focus. I have tried to set weightlifting goals such as ‘bench press 170 lbs.’ or ‘squat 225’. I got motivated when I started to get close to the goals, but then what? What is lifting that much going to allow me to do? It just doesn’t do it for me.

So it wasn’t a big surprise that while on the plane trip back from doing a rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon, thoughts of what’s next were going in my mind. I have always wanted to do a marathon where I traveled to the location… a destination marathon, if you will. After searching around for what was available in the timeframe I wanted to do it (March-April 2013), I came up with the Little Rock Marathon or the Napa Valley Marathon.

Since my brother lives in Sonoma, CA now, I thought this might a good chance to train with him since he had expressed some interest in running a marathon in the past. I sent him an email and a few weeks later, we were signed up and I had my flights booked. Given the timing, I had to start my training plan the week I signed up for it.

Training through the winter was rough. It was mild through January, for the most part, but that is when it got cold and corresponded with when my really long runs started. I had to get creative and ran 14 miles on a treadmill one weekend (not a highlight for me). A big thanks to my wife for her support during these runs and for not getting upset that I needed to take one day every weekend to get my run in. Running a marathon is not an individual thing when you are married and have a family. It impacts everyone and I appreciate it. IMG_2633

I had an ankle injury that got worse during my training. I would limp all day between runs and even through the first 2 miles of my long runs, but after that it usually loosened up. This obviously had me nervous going into the run, but I focused on making sure I would show up at the starting line with plenty of rest. If I got seriously injured, I wanted to get injured giving it my all during the race.

The race day weather was nearly perfect and while my ankle hurt, especially in the last 4 miles, I finished. My goal was to run another sub-4 hour race, and I was on pace until mile 23. My brother and I ran together until that point. The pain in my ankles and the fuel in my tank just ran out. I had nothing left and knew I wasn’t going to be able to maintain the pace for the last 3 miles. My brother took off and met the goal, finishing in 3:56 or something close to that. I walked it in for most of the remaining three miles and finished in 4:09. Missed the big goal, but still a great experience. Made even better because I ran it with my brother.

My post race meal was two chicken tacos from Juanita Juanita, a local mexican place. A great ending to the trip.



How much do you trust Google maps?

While on vacation, I use my iPhone as my main source of getting directions. I think most people with a smartphone do this now. Especially when you can just ask Siri to navigate to any location and she’ll give you turn by turn directions to get there. When iOS products had Google maps as the primary map application, I never second guessed the directions I received. After the default app switched to Apple maps last year, I was doubtful at first based off all the noise in the news about it, but I have rarely had issues with it the directions and when I do, it’s usually in the last 1-200 yards (house number location is off a bit, or the wrong side of the road).

So here I am in Page, AZ and trying to get directions to Grand Canyon Village, AZ. I have studied the maps for where we were going to be traveling during spring break over and over so I am pretty familiar with the roads to begin with. I enter my destination into Apple maps and it’s exactly what I expect. On a whim, I put the same location into Google maps… just to double check… and what do the directions come back with? A proposed travel plan that takes me over an hour out of the way! This raised some alarms so I check it against Mapquest, and it shows the same thing as Apple maps… the route I had planned to take.

Why is Google maps telling me to go an hour out of the way!!! And why won’t it let me drag to the route I want to go? Damn you Google! Since I still had a day until we had to travel, I let it go and figured I would come back to it.

We had to travel down the planned route to get to Horseshoe Bend and on the way, we are presented with several detour signs and then a bigger electronic sign that says the road is closed in 18 miles. I found out later that day that the quicker route that both Apple maps and Mapquest suggested I take would not have worked due to a landslide that took place in Feb. and knocked the whole road out (http://www.azdot.gov/us89/). Google, by some black magic, had this road closure already taken into account and gave me the only directions that would have worked!

Google is so close to perfect… they just needed to provide some indication as to WHY I couldn’t take that route. There is nothing in the interface that gives you any clue. Bottom line: Google maps FTW!

Apple Maps

This should be 2 hrs… so Apple has the wrong route, but the time is for the alternative.

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Google Maps

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Reflections on the Grand Canyon


I have been listening to wild by Cheryl Strayed while running lately and this book has caused me to reflect on a recent trip that Julie and I took to hike the Grand Canyon. The book is about a woman who decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail to deal with all the struggles in her life triggered by the death of her mother. She details her hike, unpreparedness, people she meets, and lessons learned.

Julie, my Dad, myself, a friend of my Dad’s, and his daughter hiked the Grand Canyon, north rim to south rim, in early October (still need to do a trip report on this someday soon…). Being away from all the activity of daily life: technology, phones, computers, cars, restaurants, etc. is one of the reasons Julie and I enjoy doing things like this. Cheryl Strayed commented on this as well. It’s amazing how quickly you forget the feelings of self-reliance, hunger, and physical struggle when you return to civilization. A warm house, bed to sleep in, an abundance of food, and  water… just clean, easily accessible water get taken for granted very soon after you emerge from a remote location.

So now the longing to be back on the trail has started up again… John Muir Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, somewhere in the Sierras are all thoughts going through my mind. Time to start looking at how I can make that happen…

Multiple iDevice Stand

The Problem

First of all, I know that this is a ‘first world problem’ and in the big scheme of things, trying to improve how and where we charge all our electronics is not a big deal. Still, it was a fun project that I made with some scrap that I found in my wood pile so I figured I would share.

The need for a better way to organize our charging area became apparent while walking past it last weekend. I noticed that with two iPads and two iPhones, we end up just laying them all out on the counter and when they are all connected, it takes up a significant amount of counter space and just doesn’t look as organized as my mind likes to keep things.

Julie bought me our existing charging station for Christmas or a birthday a few years ago. It consists of a drawer and a hollow area for a power strip below a top that has slots for devices to rest. The problem is that you can’t put iPads on it and because of that, and the need to pull the charging cables out really far to reach the iPads, no devices end up actually on the charging station.

The Solution

I thought if I could find a relatively small piece of wood and cut some angled slots in, it might do just the trick and be free! I did a little googling and found out that I was not alone in this line of thinking. Lots of different ideas similar to this are out there, but since it’s so simple there is little you get from seeing what others have done.

I took a piece of 1×6 oak I had lying around, cut it to 14″ and got started. I needed to cut four slots with enough space in-between to allow for them to sit at an angle. The table saw was the logical tool to make the cuts since they needed to be angled and precise. I laid out the design on the block of wood, set the angle of the blade to 12 degrees (I wanted the devices to angle a little, but remain mostly upright), and got cutting.

The only real piece of advice on this was to GO SLOW and have all your devices on hand. I made my stand custom for each devices width, including the case. This is one of the major benefits over buying a prefabricated stand. I took the exact device and test fit it as I was cutting my grooves. Most stands have a fixed width which may not fit your device while it’s in the case. Some stain, two coats of poly, and it’s done.

End result, not bad… not bad at all, and we now have our counter back.

The summer has begun

1st Sleepover in Basement

The first sleepover for the girls is planned for this Saturday night. The basement is now in a state that the kids can use it and stay down there practically the whole night. Woot!

The projector showed up last week and I spent some time this weekend finishing the crown along with other small trim pieces. Julie did touch-ups with the paint and we are good to go. The search for furniture has gone a little slow since we still can’t decide exactly what we want. Frustrating…

I am ordering the electronics bit by bit because the overall cost of everything gave Julie some sticker shock. The second Apple TV is on its way and the receiver will be ordered shortly. This will allow for access to the vast media library stored on the NAS and allow us to set up the Wii down there.

I ordered the cabinet doors this weekend. Depot doesn’t do business with the company I used before when I needed custom doors, so I went online. Rawdoors.net came through for me. $200 for 4 shaker style solid oak doors. I am happy with it. The picture below shows a closeup of the cabinet in the front. Notice the three holes in the back of the middle shelf to allow for cords along with the supports for the middle shelf and top counter. Nothing really fancy here, just needed to make it as solid as possible so there is no risk of it failing. I have stood on the counter without it moving at all. Very happy with how it turned out.

The projector rocks… as I had hoped it would. 105″ of excitement. I don’t have a screen yet so I am just putting it up on a white wall we painted in the front of the room. It does look MUCH better with low light, but the contrast on the projector and overall size is overwhelming.

Yes, that is the Muppets Movie. Am I a muppet, or a man???

Cabinets and Trim

Cabinets and Trim

Last weekend we got all the plywood (5 sheets total, Honda mini-van FTW!) and supplies for doing the cabinets. After putting in the carpet, we got inspired to try and tackle this part of it rather quickly. It’s not done yet, but we made huge progress in the past week. I ripped all the material and planned it all out last weekend. Julie spent the week staining and finishing all the material (she did an awesome job!) so that I could do the install this weekend.

The most amazing thing is that there is really only one part that I screwed up and need to go back to correct. At the last-minute, I decided to drop the height of the bookcases at the ends about 6.25″ so that I could wrap the crown around the top of the bookcase instead of ending the crown and then starting it again. Here is a better shot of what I am talking about:

I did this by boxing in the area above the top shelf, or ‘header’. The problem is that I screwed up the small piece I inserted to create the header on the other end which is why if you look at the picture at the top of this post, you’ll notice that corner doesn’t have crown yet. Overall, a very minor issue. Not like cutting a piece too short or splitting a piece.

I have three shelves that will sit in the bookcases, but I needed to special order the adjustable shelve brackets so that will need to wait until the shipment arrives. I looked everywhere for Knape and Vogt shelve supports but couldn’t find them at any of the big box stores. Really frustrating… so I ordered them online at The Hardware Hut. I really like these types of supports because the actual support locks in place and can support a ton of weight.

The kids are pumped and Julie seems excited to be able to unload some of the storage stuff onto the shelves to free up space in the laundry room. I still have to do a lot of finishing trim, get 2 sets of doors for the middle set of cabinets to hide all the electronics, and caulk the crown moulding in preparation for paint, but overall it was a very successful weekend and the end of the basement project is in sight. Woot!

First set of electronics show up tomorrow and we are now on the hunt for some furniture!

Carpet, at last!

One step closer

After weeks of trying to figure out what to do with the basement floor, we finally made a call and finished it off yesterday. Our original plan was to have carpet installed by Home Depot, but after we found some ‘environmental’ concerns during the install/inspection process, we needed to consider alternatives.

Out of all the options, we ended up going with 2′ carpet squares made by Simply Seamless. It has a decent carpet pad on it and the quality of the actual carpet is a step up from what we were going to get installed by HD. The installation went pretty quick and between Friday night and a few hours Saturday morning, we got it all wrapped up. The room now has a definite ‘finished’ feeling to it. I have some minor moulding work to finish up and then there is the big cabinet system on the back wall, but it feels good to have the basement now in a state that is ready for daily use.

You can see the vinyl tiles we had to put down because the previous home owner had removed a bunch of the 9″x9″ tiles and just left the concrete. There was a lip between the tiles and the concrete that could be felt through the carpet when we put down a test piece.

Bet you thought I gave up

Finally got back to it

After taking a break from basement work for 2 weeks (1 week was due to a work trip), I got back to it yesterday. Most of the remaining work is finish carpentry and touch-ups. Unfortunately, this is one area that takes longer than the others. With framing, electrical, drywall, etc. you are building the foundation that you can cover up or deal with mistakes without significant effort. When it comes to the trim and detail work, I go pretty slow because this is the first area people usually notice. How tight are the miters in the casing, how does the crown look, etc.

So here is what I got done yesterday:

  • All baseboard is done. Ready for carpet (most likely after we get back from spring break).
  • All crown that can go up without doing the front cabinets is completed.
  • Window is framed and it’s only missing one small piece of casing which I stained last night. This should be done this week.
  • Hand railing was put up so the stairs are complete.
  • Casing for all doors is now done.
  • New light at the top of the stairs was purchased and installed yesterday.
  • Work on some of the final moulding surrounding the outside of the staircase was started but not finished.
  • Julie finally stopped complaining about me not doing anything in the basement for a day (major accomplishment!)

I have the projector picked out and have looked at the electronics side of things for the past couple of days. I’m thinking that the initial setup will have the projector, receiver with 5.1, Xbox, and an apple tv (jailbroken to run xbmc). This will provide me the ability to play all the digital content I already have, plus use the Xbox as a Blu-ray player in addition to a gaming platform. For me, this is the payoff of all the work in the basement. Just need to find some guys to come over and break in the new system with me in April…

Bye Bye Comcast, f-you very much

Feb 8th, 2012

Remember this day. It is the day that the Dobson’s quit cable. We cut the cord! We broke the shackles! We tasted freedom from ‘THE CABLE COMPANY’ for the first time since before I got my first apartment in college.

We’ll probably be signing back up in a few months or when the girls and Julie get tired of not having it, but it’s fun and exciting for the moment and I loved being able to tell the Comcast lady (who was pretty rude) that I didn’t want or need her service and was cancelling. Felt SOOOOO good.

So here is the breakdown of where we started and what we ended up with.


  • (Comcast/Xfinity) Preferred digital cable package + DVR + HD channels + 12 Mb/s internet + Unlimited local phone = $180 / month
  • (AT&T) 2 cell phones with family call plan + data plans + unlimited text = $150 / month
  • Total: $330 / month

Where we will be by the end of the week:

  • (AT&T) 3 cell phones with family call plan + 2 data plans + unlimited text + 12 Mb/s = $178 / month
  • Total: $178 / month + $400 initial investment (3 month payback, $1824 savings per year)


We ditched this totally. For content, we are going with a combination of HD OTA using the antenna I posted about last year, Amazon prime streaming, the library, and some other content that I am not at liberty to state how I get… We may have to sign up for Netflix or Hulu Plus if content becomes an issue.

For distribution to the end devices (TVs, PCs, iPad, iPhones), I made a few purchases today to make this transition easier.

  • A NAS with a 2 GB HD for now so I don’t have to worry about the computer being on to stream all the video (Synology DS212j).
  • An HD Homerun dual tuner streaming TV box made by SiliconDust. I connect the OTA antenna to this baby and it will stream the HD video to any device on my network, including my desktop PC which I will configure as a DVR and have it record shows to the NAS above which is then accessible from XBMC running on my Apple TV. Got it???? I know, it sounds complicated… but this will give us a very similar experience when watching TV to what we had when we had cable. At least for the major networks.


I setup a third cell line on our family plan with AT&T for $9.99/month and got a non-smartphone for free with the new line of service. This new phone will have our existing home number transferred to it. I picked up the phone today and it should be switched over in a couple of days.

The one complaint Julie had with this plan was that she would miss the ‘feeling’ of having a home phone and have to run about the house looking for the cell phone when someone called. To eliminate this, I found a set of cordless home phones that have a feature called link-to-cell. You sync your cell via bluetooth with the base unit and then any calls you receive or make are through your cell phone. VERY COOL. Panasonic KX-TG7645M


The one service that is essential to us now… over the cable or home phone. So here, getting the fastest connection for the cheapest cost is what I was after. Comcast wouldn’t make me any deals and wanted $45/month for 12Mp/s. AT&T offered me a new customer deal of $24/month at the same speed for a year. Done. I figure this is probably the one service I will be switching back and forth between Comcast and AT&T if I need to in order to get the best rate. It’s pretty painless to switch and I don’t use my ISP for anything other than a pipe (no email or any other service).

Wow, big changes for the family…. I’ll keep you posted. Maybe this will force us to spend more time playing games as a family or watching only the things we really really want to see. Either way, it can’t be that bad and it’s a fun experiment. I can’t believe we don’t have cable. So pumped!! (the only major issue is what happens when football starts up again… hmmmm)

And no… there is no basement update. Still working on moulding. Grrr.

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