Posted by: BigWin | April 8, 2013

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:

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 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: 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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Posted by: BigWin | March 28, 2013

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.



Posted by: BigWin | March 27, 2013

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 ( 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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Posted by: BigWin | January 12, 2013

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…

Posted by: BigWin | July 8, 2012

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.

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