Home Improvement: Fireplace Edition, Part 7

Tile work has started! Actually, Pat started cutting time last week, an exercise in the most complicated puzzle imaginable, where you have to make the pieces to fit this precise space and shape.

I didn’t get a picture of it, but he started by laying out all the tile and figuring out how to match the patterns on each tile. Then made this curved pattern with a flexible piece of wood, traced the correct curve onto each tile, and eventually started cutting, very carefully and precisely. Each tile was then laid out again to make sure the curves matched each other.

These are some of the pieces cut and staged, waiting over the weekend.


On Monday progress leaped forward dramatically. Earlier in the day:


Later in the day:


By the end of the day:


We are all pleased with how the tile is turning out. Pat is happy with the design and with the tiles themselves, which he says are excellent to work with.

The limestone tiles are 5/8″ thick, twice as thick as Pat expected, and this caused us some concern as to whether the extremely-tight clearance bookshelves we ordered would fit into the space – it’d be a real bummer to have them be 1/8″ too wide. But some phone calls to the shelf makers established that our shelves will fit even with the thicker tile. Also, the extra-thick limestone means more work making the face flush with the thinner porcelain tile.

But Pat is equal to anything unusual; in fact, I suspect that the trickier the job, the more he likes it.

Anyway, still to do: Texture and paint the repaired wall; finish tile work; finalize a design and make mantle; receive and install bookshelves, and, finally, track down carpet. The end is near! … Although I still deem it fairly likely that we’ll celebrate a two-month project anniversary.

Then, last of all, we get to schedule a final visit from the charismatic and delightful City of Bothell building inspector, who gets to sign off on the final product. Honestly it is hard to imagine what we’d do it he found something we should change – by then it’s done. But hopefully he’ll just take a look and leave promptly.

Sugar Swirls


I made snickerdoodles yesterday, and thought rolling them in colored sugar would be fun. I swirled the colors together and got the above. For the record, though, that large decorating sugar doesn’t stick well to snickerdoodles. They aren’t sticky enough. Cookies turned out fine anyway.

Springtime Curmudgeon

Strangely, it’s looking quite like spring around here, and has for a number of weeks. Even our camelia has gotten into the act (not to mention our grass, which desperately needs mowing already, in the places where it’s still prevailed against the more dominant moss).



We’ve had weeks of mostly dry, sunny weather with highs in the 50s or even 60s, so much so that I’m not biking every day it’s sunny (read: not raining) the way I normally would this time of year. Frankly, I’ve started wishing for some more rain and cold weather, just because this unnaturally pleasant pattern is so far from the norm. Not that I’d trade for six feet of snow, or sustained temperatures in the single digits, mind you, but I’d just like a little more seasonal weather. Plus, the lack of snow pack in the mountains, which mostly confounds skiers for now, is likely to presage a summer drought, never a good thing. Climate change, northwest-style?

Edit to add: I guess I should be careful what I wish for, as today turned out to have a high of about 50 and had drizzle on and off all day, including the 20 minutes total I spent riding to/from my dentist appointment.

Anyway, on that bizarrely pessimistic note – yes, I did just find a way to complain about our spectacular weather – let’s have some lighthearted Benji pictures from our trip to the aquarium last week.



Oh, and not at the aquarium, just around and being silly:



A Few Stories

Believe it or not, life has been happening beyond our fireplace project. Here are some things we’ve been up to lately.


Playing in the tube maze at Nana's house.


At the park with Harper doggie (oh, and, incidentally owner Christy) this weekend, Harper took his first Ride down a slide, and I managed to get a couple pictures.



It’s been warm, but rainy lately. Benji and I go outside anyway, and he’s started “helping” worms find dirt when they’re out wiggling around. I heard that sunlight paralyzes worms, but can’t confirm that from observation due to lack of sunshine. However, I can confirm that toddlers squeezing worms seems to have a somewhat paralytic effect, which may or may not wear off if the worm survives the trauma.




And, a while ago, we drew handprints on the wall inside the fireplace. Once it’s tiled we’ll never see them again, but it made the project feel a little more ours.


Finally, a story about being two. Over the weekend, we had dinner at my parent’s house with some family (my phone first offered faculty, an amusing slip because Mom knows them from teaching) friends of theirs. The friends brought a delicious lemon meringue pie, and as soon as Benji saw it, he started asking for pie. All through the dinner prep – pie. Eating dinner – pie. Waiting for everyone else to finish dinner – pie. He really, really wanted pie, and probably waited an hour or more for it, a very long time for a little kid.

Finally, it was time for pie! Mom cut him the first slice, he eagerly reached for it… And suddenly his expression dropped and he burst into tears. Through the storm of weeping, he made us understand that this wasn’t apple pie, and he had all along been expecting apple pie. Oh, the disappointment! The tears! Mom have him some strawberry slices, which sort of placated him, but we won’t soon forget the tragedy of the lemon meringue pie. (I should add that it was excellent lemon meringue pie, with a crumbly, light crust, fluffy sweet meringue, and tart, smooth lemon custard. Yum.)

Home Improvement: Fireplace Edition, Part 6

After discovering the box o’ ductwork, I spent some time scrambling around trying to figure out what to do. Jim and I met a couple times to try to figure out a solution, but no clear solution proved forthcoming until I met with Pat, the guy we hired to tile the fireplace. I explained the problem to Pat, who does kitchen and bathroom remodels singlehandedly, and he started thinking about what we ought to do.

After some discussion, we agreed that Pat would take over the project from here, since he can finish everything that needs to be done on his own. This choice took a huge weight off my mind — the project may still take a while to finish, but we aren’t going to have the same scheduling gaps and down days just waiting, and I know who’s going to do what. Also, Pat is clearly a creative guy who enjoys problem-solving; his business is called Creative Home Works. A little ducting puzzle doesn’t faze him at all.

He started with yesterday and ended up taking the ductwork entirely apart and redoing it entirely.


Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of this, but for a while we also had a hole in our bedroom floor that Benji spent a long time looking down. We could see down into the work area, and the novelty of seeing through the floor was quite high. Pat was very patient about having a peanut gallery watching and commenting, too.

Anyway, by the end of the day, he’d testing all the ductwork and gotten the blower in our bedroom wall.




You can see down on the floor where the original vent came out, and where Benji kept pushing down the hole (sadly, patched now)

The hole in the carpet is where the fascinating hole was; we don’t have any spare of this carpet, but will find a creative solution. The unfinished electrical box is a control to turn on the blower.

Ian just told me, “Wow. It feels like it’s really going to get done now.” That articulates pretty well my feelings, too. Before, I kept having to struggle and fight for every inch of progress; now I know it will progress no matter what. We may still have hurdles, but I feel more confident at overcoming them.

Home Improvement: Fireplace Edition, Part 5

The subtitle for this post should be “What you’d call good news, bad news.”

Good news: Our rough-in inspection passed! Ian was here for the inspector, who took about two minutes to review his notes, look at the work we’d done, and sign off on the changes. Huge sigh of relief! Maybe I’ll sleep tonight (last night was all wakeful shades of inspection-related misery).

Bad news: Last night, I looked into a box that was in the construction area of the house. It had been sitting there for quite a while and I’d forgotten what was in it, and some insulation ended up on top of it. An unassuming box.

Unfortunately, this box was actually about as unassuming as a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick to our timeline, because it contained all the important parts for installing the heating duct that I had completely and totally forgotten about when the heating duct guys were here. Most notably, it contains an air-tight collar that fits securely into the top of the fireplace. It also contains the blower, which should be installed behind the vent (that’s the thing that sucks air from the fireplace into our bedroom, without which all the ducting would be useless), along with a passel of electrical controls that hook up to the fireplace and allow us to control the air flow and heat from our bedroom. All those things need to be installed for the heating ducts to actually work.

The other thing is, there are specific guidelines about the duct work that the installers didn’t know about, and I don’t know how much of their work will be able to stand versus how much will have to come out and be redone. And, best of all, I get to be 100% responsible for the screw-up, since I’m the only one who knew about the box and its contents. On the bright side, the permit did not cover HVAC and electrical, thank goodness, so even if we have to redo everything, we at least don’t need another inspection.

I’ve said it all along, to try to reassure myself: Don’t worry, this isn’t life or death, anything that goes wrong will just be more time and money to fix. And, sure enough, that’s exactly what’s happening. If we don’t have to redo all the venting, a nontrivial amount of it will need to be redone, and of course, we pay for the first duct work and then again for the second work to fix the first stuff, since it was my error.

Just when I start thinking I see the light at the end of the tunnel, it turns out I was seeing fluorescing fungus, and there’s just more tunnel after all.


The last month or so, I haven’t slept much. I’m hoping that all this remodel work drives the sleeplessness, so that when the project ends, I’ll resume sleeping more normally, but I don’t think that’s going to be the magic bullet I want. Whatever the cause – if there is one – I’ve struggled to adapt to operating on three or fewer hours of sleep per night. I’m not caffeine user normally; never have been; but some days I get up tired enough to need a little chemical assistance to get through the morning. Masking chronic fatigue isn’t a long-term solution, but once every week or two it helps.

Through all this, through all the long, dark, sleepless hours, I’ve kept thinking of the Bible verse in Zechariah 4:6, ” ‘Not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD.” This is taking the verse rather out of context, as God was talking about the restoration of the temple, but for me lately this verse has made me think about the fact that while I’m at the end of my endurance, God’s endurance is infinite.

I would never choose to go without sleep voluntarily — I value sleep and being well rested above most other things, and good sleep habits were the one thing Ian and I chose to emphasize with Benji as a baby. I have always protected my sleep, and made time to get at least 8 or 9 hours of sleep a night, so I’m well rested for the next day. So this period of sleeplessness and feeling exhausted every day isn’t just about getting tired; it touches on something I value more deeply than most other things. Losing my sleep feels like a smoker losing his cigarettes. I love my sleep.

But through this month I’ve slowly come to wonder if God is trying to reach me something through this experience. Perhaps, although it’s painful and difficult, this nighttime wakefulness may be an opportunity to learn to rely more on God’s strength rather than my own. But maybe it takes reaching the end of my strength for me to finally let go of the illusion that I have enough strength in the firmeanwhile I’d never voluntarily give up that rest, but maybe it’s what I need to keep growing in my faith.

I don’t know. But I keep trusting that it will pass eventually, and meanwhile, I’ll practice relying on strength greater than my own.

Dulcius Ex Asperis