Real World

Pesky Projects within a Project

Posted on August 26, 2013. Filed under: Home, Master Bath Remodel, Real World |

I had the pleasure of having my impacted wisdom teeth surgically removed in late June. I thought I had passed the point in my life where wisdom teeth would present problems. It’s a little unusual for wisdom teeth to pop up at 27 years old, don’t you think? Maybe this means I’m immature and going to live longer.

I’d rather be ironing, cleaning dirty toilets, or going to work, than to suffer the aftermath of oral surgery. But I had my mommy, husband, and great friends to help see me through it. Spoiler alert: I made it through. Thanks for all the milkshakes, ice cream, soups, Jell-O, DVDs, flowers, and books.

For you sick souls that want to see pictures of me bruised and puffy, you’re out of luck. No such things exist (at least that I’m aware of) and you’ll just have to use your imagination. I looked like a chipmunk with chapped lips. It was oh-so attractive.

While I was laid up on the couch with all the 2013 Oscar-winning movies, Pretty Little Liars, old episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, Dawson’s Creek, Scandal, a bunch of books, and trashy magazines (I laid on the couch for 5 days, okay?), my husband was sodding the yard and working on our bathroom.

My dad was a huge help with the wiring. Huge. Though our bathroom is pretty small, it is nice to have 2 people work at once.

This is what the bathroom looked like after the demolition:


Then Adam built a knee wall:


the plumber came, and the shower pan man.


With any home project, there are lots of surprises and small things you have to do, that you never considered. Here are some of those things for us so far in our bathroom renovation adventure.

Unexpected task #1:

Repair the subfloor in one place. It was uneven and unsupported over the duct and my handy husband fixed that.

Unexpected task #2:

Replace the old insulation

Unexpected surprise #1:

An empty bottle of corn whiskey



That might explain this random hole in the floor.


Our home builder was under the influence. Nice…

Everyone that sees it thinks they cut the hole for the toilet in the wrong place.

Back to the insulation, I replaced it while wearing my gloves, safety goggles and mask (recommended on the packaging).

Expected task:

We framed out the knee wall between the plumber’s visit and the shower pan man. This is the half wall that will separate the shower stall from the vanity like so:

half wallImage courtesy of

The placement of the knee wall took a lot of hemming and hawing, me waving my arms around to make sure I could still wash my back and shave my legs, all while making sure the shower wouldn’t be too small. Professionals we are not.

Adam used two by fours and nailed together a nice frame. Since the floor isn’t quite level, we had to shim it. We also placed tar paper underneath it for moisture protection since it would be against the shower. Then Adam secured it to the floor joists and wall studs.

Then our shower pan man came to do the base.

Expected task:

Once the base was dry, we were ready for electrical – specifically wiring our new vent fan and can light over the shower. That’s when my dad came to help. He’s an electrical engineer and knows all about this stuff.

Unexpected surprise #2:

We were sidetracked when my dear husband went into the attic to run the wire and smelled something funky. He smelled something funky after I heard high-pitched squeaking for a week. And then he saw them.

batsImage courtesy of

This is not our house, but we had bats roosting in our gable vent. BLECH! and EEEEEEE! A call to the wildlife removal people and $500 later, we’re bat and guano free. Sometimes it blows being a homeowner. Unfortunately we had to smell the guano in our master closet and bedroom for 2-3 days before the bats all went out their one-way door. Then the crew came to vacuum and disinfect.

Luckily, Adam was able to run the wire through the walls without having to go into the attic.

We purchased a new vent fan because the other one was loud and not very effective. This one is 90 CPM and a lot quieter. The vanity light was the only light in here before so we decided to install a can light over the shower and wire it to the same switch. We installed a double switch with the lights on one switch and the fan on the other. Big deal, right? It is when your switches looked like this before:


Two switches, on either side of a stud, crooked and offset. Fun times.

I would explain the wiring to you except I have no idea how to do it. Sorry.

Unexpected task #3:

Once the wiring was complete, we had to figure out how to build a shower curb because we weren’t too gung-ho about the one our shower pan guy built. I thought he put the 2 x 4’s there as a temporary curb so he could have them to build up the mud pan. At least that’s what he told me. Then when he was done, he said he screwed them into the floor, glued them together, and attached the liner to them. What? Yeah. So we had to go back and re-do it because it wasn’t up to our expectations. That’s the dilemma with home projects. You feel like you need to hire out for certain things because you’re paying an experienced professional to do it, but the only way to ensure that a job is well done is to do it yourself. Live and learn.

Basically, the curb’s dimensions were dictated by the width of the knee wall (adjacent to the curb) with cement board plus the height of the marble skirting tile we got for the sides. We wanted everything to be flush – or on the same plane.

After some diligent research, Adam decided to build the curb with a combination of bricks, mortar, lathe, and construction mud. It’s a lot more water resistant than wood – obviously. First he had to disassemble the shoddy curb the shower pan man made:


It took forever because the professional we hired stripped all the screws he used. The irony was not lost on us. You can tell how happy we are with his work, right?

First Adam laid down tarpaper, pulled the liner to the floor, used one row of bricks and mortar. He waited for the first row to set up and went back to do the second row. Once the second row had set up, he took the liner that was under the curb and guided it to the outer edge of the curb. Then he bent metal lathe over the bricks and used u-shaped nails to affix it to the mortar. Adam mixed the mud in a 5 gallon bucket and created a form with shims and 1 x 6 boards to keep the mud square, smooth, and the correct thickness. Then he filled in the form with mud, on the inside first and then on the outside. The lathe is used to give the mud something to stick to. The mud will stick to the bricks on the inside, but not to the liner we guided underneath and around on the outside. That’s where the lathe helps.

We allowed the curb to set-up for 24 hours before touching it.


Whew! God bless home renovation projects and the can of worms that accompanies them. Or in our case, the attic full of bats.

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The Shower Pan Man (and the Plumber) to the Rescue!

Posted on August 12, 2013. Filed under: Home, Master Bath Remodel, Real World |

Remember Nasty McShowerson?



Yep. Mr. Nasty. Disgusting. It’s a miracle there wasn’t any mold underneath.


You saw in my demo post how Adam went about destroying practically everything in here. It was cathartic. We eradicated the nastiness.

And a little side story… The junk removal folks took most of the old bathroom debris to the dump. They’ll stop by and give you a quote and you have two options: 1) accept and they’ll haul everything away, or 2) decline and no charge for the quote, but you’re still left with your junk. We accepted.

We did salvage a few items for recycling:

1. Hutch – we plan to list on craigslist

2. Vanity – ditto

3. Shower doors – we are going to try to recycle

There is so much glass; it doesn’t feel right throwing them away. Once this bathroom adventure is over and I have some time to research, I’ll let you know if we recycled and how you go about it.

Back on topic… Before we could address our shower pan, we called in a plumber to check everything out while the bathroom was down to the studs. We’re all about DIY, but we know when to fold ‘em. It was worth it for us to have an expert assess our 49-year-old pipes. We actually got 2 quotes from 2 different plumbers so we could compare. The first plumber told us we needed to replace our shower p-trap (the old one is lead and gross… and OLD) and the galvanized steel water lines. We asked him to move our shower head higher, convert our shower fixture from 2 valves to 1 valve and lower our toilet flange since we were afraid it would be higher than the new floor.


I liked the first plumber a lot and thought they gave us a pretty reasonable quote. They knew what they were talking about and they gave off good vibes. I’m all about good vibes. Then I called in a larger plumbing company for the second estimate and was underwhelmed to say the least. First of all they wanted $100 for an estimate. I got out of that by telling them I already had another free quote from a plumber and I’d just hire him if they couldn’t waive the fee. It worked like a charm.

The second plumber wanted me to tell him what we wanted done. Excuse me? I know nothing about pipes and drains. That’s why I called you in here. I basically told him I wanted him to tell me what we should do. Let me tell you, I was not impressed. He didn’t bring up our old galvanized steel water lines and told us our p-trap needed to be snaked, not replaced. He didn’t even recognize that it was lead and no snake could tackle 50 years of build-up. After all of that, his estimate was $250 more expensive than our first quote and it was for less work, work done by a moron.

Once we decided on the plumber (easy decision), he came out to do his work before we put up the backer board: he raised the shower head, changed the shower fixture to 1 valve, replaced the galvanized steel pipes with copper, replaced the p-trap and the entire shower drain with PVC, etc. He’ll come back again once we’re finished tiling to lower the toilet flange and install the sink fixtures. He was amazing. If you ever need a plumber in the Atlanta area, message me and I’ll get you the contact information. He even went to Lowes to get another pipe because he didn’t like how one of them looked. That’s dedication.

Then we called in the Shower Pan Man! True story. I was pretty disappointed he didn’t have a cape when he showed up. Yet again, we’d rather pay an experienced professional to slope the base and install the liner for our shower floor since waterproofing and drainage are so crucial. I figured he knew just how to slope the mortar and still make it look right. I know my husband could’ve done this portion of the project, but I reasoned it was worth it to pay someone more experienced to do it. Plus, if the shower leaks, we can go back to him.



So this is what the shower floor looked like pre-tile. Lots of sloped concrete. There’s a rubber liner in there too to keep the moisture from seeping to the sub-floor. (This was a phone picture and I have no idea why it’s so small.)

shower pan

The next step is building a proper curb with bricks and mortar and installing cement board.

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How We Vacate

Posted on April 25, 2013. Filed under: Real World, Travel |

After I posted about our trip to San Francisco, Sonoma, and the central Californian coast last fall, I thought I could share how we plan our vacations and what we do to save money so we CAN go on a nice vacation.


We are in our late twenties, just getting started paying off a mortgage and school loans, but it’s all about priorities. Travel is one of our top financial priorities at this stage in our lives. If you want something bad enough, you make it happen.


He went for it. He got it. Plain and simple. We could all learn from Mason.

Here are some other situations, devices, personality traits that help us travel.

Our jobs have great vacation policies:

We are both blessed with jobs that give us 3 weeks of vacation a year. Adam has been with his company for 15 years, so his vacation rate will see a nice increase to 4 weeks next year. I know not everyone has a job where you can take time off whenever you want. For the most part, we can go somewhere at any time with proper planning.

Me in Forsyth Park

Me in Forsyth Park, Savannah, Georgia

Adam in front of the fountain

Adam in front of the fountain in Forsyth Park

The biggest drawback is if Adam is going to take a big chunk of time off – a week or more – we have to apply for it in advance. Sometimes, we apply for it almost a year in advance to guarantee that he’ll have enough days off in a row that we can go somewhere. He can always turn it back in, but if we don’t request it and the days get blocked off, we’re SOL. And with Adam’s current position, it’s not feasible for him to be out of pocket for more than 8 business days. This makes international trips tricky because so much of your time is spent just getting there.


St. Lucia for our honeymoon


In short, we have the days to take off, but we have to plan in advance and compete with Adam’s co-workers to get approval.

We have a credit card with reward points:

Credit cards with reward points are the best things ever if you’re financially responsible. 10 years ago it was a little scary to put everything on your credit card because you couldn’t track it carefully. Now that financial institutions and accounting software are so integrated, we have a nearly instant snapshot of our credit card spending. We pay for nearly everything with our credit card: groceries, gas, lunches, nights out, clothes, etc.

We especially use it for big purchases like our recent landscaping, living room furniture, and Christmas presents. We pay our credit card bill off in full every month so we never have to worry about interest or our credit score. Our credit card reward points make our bigger trips feasible. We didn’t pay for our airfare for our trip to California last year. We were able to use our points to purchase our 2 round-trip, non-stop tickets from Atlanta to San Francisco. It saved us about $800.

There are many options out there for reward-based credit cards with different reward structures, annual fees, credit limits, etc. Like everything financial related, do your research and find what’s best for you. Our credit card reward system has a ton of reward choices: everything from airfare, rental cars, hotel rooms, to kitchen appliances, magazine subscriptions, and a knife block.

I am a compulsive planner:

Advance planning – how we decide where to go

I plan vacations for fun during my lunch break, on a lazy Sunday, in my head during my commute. I also have a running list of the places we would like to visit. It’s a travel bucket list. I’m sure a lot of people have one of those.

Once you look at a long list of places, it’s fairly easy to prioritize them based on life circumstances, desires, whether you’ve been there already, whether or not it would be easier to get there as two childless people, or it would be a better idea to save that trip for the future kiddos.


Courtesy of The Harried Mom

Last year we decided to stay domestic because we didn’t quite have the money or the time off for an international trip. Adam had never been to the west coast and I really wanted to go to Californian Wine Country. Plus, San Francisco is one of my favorite cities. It was an easy decision.


We would love to do a ton of international travel in our lifetime, but we realize that we will only be able to do a few trips pre-babies. The rest will have to wait until we can leave the kids stateside (see ‘ya lata’!), bring them with us (which is so expensive), or wait until they’re out of the nest. When we factor that into our decision-making process along with the places we would most like to go with our current budget, we usually come up with a handful of locations. Once I narrow down the destinations, I craft rough itineraries of sights and activities to get an idea of how long the trip should be. If it’s longer than 10 days, we have to evaluate if we still want to go there and crunch everything in, if we should give something up, or if we should go somewhere else. Putting together a basic itinerary provides both of us with the information we need to say yay or nay. It’s so helpful.

Shopping flights

I use Kayak to set-up alerts. Usually these are for specific dates since Adam has already requested off and been approved for his block of time. I track the alerts for a couple of months. I read somewhere that the sweet spot for purchasing international airfare is 34 days out, domestic is even closer at something like 25 or 28. We still try to cover at least half of our airfare with points if not all of it. But the amount of points it takes changes with the market. It’s good to track fares because you want to cash your points in at the same time you would buy a ticket to get the best deal.

It is highly possible that airfare could prohibit us traveling to that destination. It really does depend on where you go. We are fortunate enough to live in Atlanta and have a hub airport. There are so many places we can fly to direct or with one layover. Even so, if airfare makes up over half of the trip budget, we seriously reconsider.

Shopping lodging:

I cannot stress how great of an invention is. I use it for all of our planning along with millions of other people. We get creative when it comes to accommodations. Sleeping and eating are the two main areas where you can really save some money, and we like to eat. We’re not fussy and we know we’ll only be in the room to sleep, so we don’t bother staying at chains or fancy places. Our requirements in lodging are as follows: great location, clean, has the basic necessities, safe, less than $200 a night or more (less than $150 is AWESOME), and it must have a ton of good reviews. Sometimes it is challenging to find something that meets those requirements, but it can be done. In California, we stayed at an old boutique hotel right in Union Square, Sonoma was a B&B right off the square,


and Carmel was a vacation rental by owner a mile from downtown. It ended up being this super nice studio cottage in this sweet couple’s backyard.

carmel cottage

We’re planning an international trip and I’m only looking at family-owned accommodations – B&B’s and guest houses. It’s more authentic, you meet more people, and you have more money to eat, drink, and to buy keepsakes.


Like I said, I get compulsive about planning and that includes a budget. Since we’ve been on a couple of trips together, I have a good idea now of what should be included on our travel budget. We love to eat, so our food budget is pretty big. On the other hand, I gave us a lot to spend on shopping and souvenirs in California, and we hardly brought anything home. One thing I highly recommend is once you finish your budget, add a 10% cushion on top of that. With a little research, it’s fairly easy to predict the price of accommodations at your standard. I usually start with airfare, add in accommodations, food (after I’ve scoured forums for price ranges related to those locations), tours/activities, car or local transportation, shopping, and surplus.

It really is possible to travel if you can get the time off, save your pennies, and plan like a fiend! I get such a rush when I plan out a fun trip on a tight budget. I’m a nerd.

Anyway, that’s how we do it and will continue to do it. Maybe one day we’ll buy a sailboat and float around the world. That’s if we win the lottery.

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Coming Soon

Posted on January 22, 2013. Filed under: Brain Dump, Home, Real World |

Having some technical difficulties over here, but I got lots to blog about. We’ve been working hard.



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Moving Up

Posted on December 17, 2012. Filed under: Real World |

I love blogging, but I haven’t been such a great blogger in 2012. This year has been pretty insane with work and a new puppy. The last few months at work have been all-consuming and I was spending much of my free time trying to find another job. Well, three months, five interviews, and one breakfast later, I got the job and started last Monday!

It’s too early to tell what my new job will be like, but I know it will be demanding. The good thing is that I already feel much more satisfied. The work is rewarding, everyone I’ve met has been so nice, and my office is on a pretty quiet hall.

There is a trust at my new job that I haven’t had for some time. I have two bosses and they both seem to share the same work philosophy: no time clocks, just get your job done and we trust you to do it. Awesome.

I loved my 4 years at my old job. I learned so much there and was able to surround myself with a great arts and culture scene. However, in recent months the organization started to face the consequences of its financial problems, morale was affected, and I began to realize that my opportunities for advancement were nonexistent. There were many other things, but I’m not going to get into them. I am grateful for my time there, but now that I’m out and on the other side I know I made the right decision.

Five days in and the new job is going well. It won’t be an easy job, but the people I’m working with are fantastic, smart and influential. The benefits are great and I’m a part of a larger community of education, social activities, and entertainment where I already feel like I belong.

Please be patient with me on the blog as I navigate new waters and figure out how everything will balance.

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