May 30, 2016

Shed Finished

After recently painting and staining the shed, my 5x14 foot shed is officially complete!  I built the doors from scratch, put in a reclaimed window on the south side, and included a 2-foot overhang on the north side for wood storage.

The shed sits in the corner of our lot, so I envision the fence lines eventually tying in to the edges of the shed.

The north side also includes a small ladder door so I can slide a 24' extension ladder in and hang it on the back wall.  The shed is topped with a corrugated, galvanized metal roof.  It is built from about 70 percent recycled material, which largely contributed to keeping the total cost down to $961.

I had a blast building it from the foundation to the roof.  I love the way it turned out, especially considering that this was my first piece of new construction.  Now I don't have to carry the lawnmower up and down the stairs into the basement each time I mow the lawn!

May 27, 2016

Westward Ho!

As I eluded to in my previous post, Ava and I will be moving to Truckee, California in about a month.  I received an engineering job offer that was too good to pass up.  I'll start working on June 20 as a geotechnical engineer for Holdrege and Kull in their Truckee office.  H&K have a few offices, with the main one being about an hour away in Nevada City, CA.

The Truckee office is small, with about five to ten people depending on the season.  The people I met there while interviewing a couple of weeks ago all seem to have a great perspective on the elusive work-life balance that matches my own.

I find that I'm filled with equal parts excitement to move and resume my engineering career, and sadness for leaving Missoula.  It'll be great to be closer to Ava's family and I'll keep my fingers crossed that this works out and I'll finally get to settle in a place long enough to become a legitimate part of the community.

May 22, 2016

Bathroom Finished

Despite my lack of recent posts, I've been quite busy.  Between working 40 hours per week as a carpenter and putting in up to 30 more working on my own house, finding time to take pictures and write blog posts has been difficult.  Without further ado, here's the best before and after picture comparisons.



Of course, that's just one side.  The shower took the most work.

 And a little paint and pallet wood accent wall really spiffed up the toilet alcove.

The major pieces of this project were re-plumbing everything, redoing all the lighting, installing cabinets, tiling the floor, refinishing the tub, tiling the tub surround, and building the accent wall.  If it wasn't for a handful of termites discovered in some of the pallet boards and the mank discovered in the wall behind the shower, everything would have gone real smoothly.  As it was, I had to rebuild both mirrors and part of the pallet wall.  I also used pallet boards as base molding.  Other than having an electrician help out with some of the wiring and the countertop supplier install the countertop, I did everything else.  The total cost of the bathroom remodel was $6,815, which includes all new appliances, and fixtures.

So, we've got a beautiful new bathroom, finished just in time to move to California and rent our house out (more on that in the next post).

February 20, 2016

Bathroom Remodel - Phase Next

After installing the cabinets, countertop, and sinks, the next committing move was to tear out the old, plastic tub surround and redo the shower area.  This turned into a multi-phase project that was more work than anticipated.

The old shower, complete with pink bathtub and leaky, plastic surround
After removing the surround, I discovered two layers of wet, moldy drywall with complementary smell.

With the drywall removed and mold damage assessed, I decided to plane down the studs that appeared affected by mold and mildew.  This brought clean, fresh wood to the surface, convincing me the mold issue was surficial as far as the wall studs were concerned.  As an additional precaution, I hosed down the studs, twice, with mold and mildew killer/preventer.

With that unexpected issue dealt with, I began some framing modifications to accommodate a built-in niche for the new tub surround.

Framed out niche for 
 Prior to rebuilding the surround, I planned to turn the hideous, pink tub white.  Using a $95 refinishing kit from Bath Works, I made this happen.

White tub!
Next task, plumbing.  I installed a new valve, tub spout, and shower head and connected it all up with PEX.  The instructions said to use copper pipe between the valve and tub spout, but the "expert" I spoke with at Home Depot said PEX would be just fine (and I desperately wanted to avoid soldering).  So, I went with 1/2" PEX all around (more on this later).

Plumbing complete (sort of)
 With blocking in at all planned board edges and transitions, and the wall framing planed as flat as I could get it, I was ready to start rebuilding the surround.

 Rebuilding the surround would consist of installing 1/2" backer board up to about the level of the shower head and waterproofing the backer board layer prior to tiling.

Backer board installed
 I had originally attempted to leave the existing drywall above the back board in place.  This turned out to be noticeably thicker than the 1/2" backer board, so it had to come out as well.

Upper drywall removed and replaced
 Next, the waterproofing.  I taped all joints with 6" fiberglass tape and covered all backboard surfaces with Hydro Barrier waterproofing membrane.

Pretty, blue membrane
Once the membrane dried, I installed the fixtures in order to temporarily use the shower while we wait for our ordered tile to arrive.  In doing this I discovered that water would come out both the shower and bath outlets when it was only supposed to be coming out of the bath outlet.  Further research into this issue led me to the conclusion that it was because I didn't use copper pipe between the valve and the bath spout.  While there is nothing magical about the material itself, 1/2" copper pipe has a larger inside diameter than 1/2" PEX.  The reduced flow through the smaller diameter PEX causes a pressure build up that ultimately raises the column of water between the valve and the shower head high enough to allow water through the shower head.  My planned solution, waiting to be implemented and tested while I wait for a couple of PEX parts to show up, is to increase the PEX diameter from 1/2" to 3/4" between the valve and bath outlet.  With the back of the wall still completely open, this should be a relatively simple and non-invasive fix while still avoiding and need to solder copper pipe.

The entire process described in this post took me one week.  I worked mostly evenings as I've been working full work weeks as a carpenter with Confluence Construction for the last five weeks.  As my hair is still long and I'm now working as a carpenter, the low-hanging-fruit of a joke is that I look like a modern-day Jesus.

Provided this plumbing fix works, the main tings left to finish the bathroom are to tile the surround, tile the floor, finish up some drywall installation, texturing, and painting, and some minor trim work.

December 30, 2015


After working a winter skiing course for NOLS in early December in the mountians of western Wyoming, I had about two days before heading to Cuba with Ava's family.  The adjustment from living in tents and snow shelters to all-inclusive resorts in the humid tropics couldn't have been more abrupt.  I'll try to keep this post in summary form as the prospect of recounting all the events and experiences we had in Cuba is far too daunting.

Rick, Nancy, Maiya, Shaun, Ava and I traveled to Cuba with Backroads on a People to People visa.  There were 20 participants in our tour group, including the six of us.  We had two amazing Spanish guides and a local Cuban guide who was employed by the state.  We spent seven days in Cuba; three near the town of Matanzas, and four in Havana.

The Hollidays (sandwiched by an Elliott and a King) at the Dupont mansion, Xanadu

A requirement of our People to People visa was that we needed to spend all of our time engaging with various locals and generally learning about Cuban culture.  This made for a highly educational trip as well as giving the trip a pretty intense "go, go, go!" vibe.  The following list provides an idea of how we spent our time:

  • Visited an organic farm
  • Visited tourist attractions such as the Dupont Mansion and Hemingway's house
  • Listened to lots of live, local music, and speaking with the musicians
  • Ate at several private restaurants, many of which also served as art museums
  • Toured some limestone caves
  • Spoke with a former professional baseball player
  • Spoke with Marc Frank, an American born Cuban who writes for Reuters and Financial Times
  • Visited several art museums and spoke with artists
  • Had many great and enlightening conversations with our Cuban guide, Oscar, who encouraged us to ask any and all questions
  • Walked the streets of Havana, visiting Catholic churches and a synagogue
  • Hiked through a reforested coffee plantation
  • Visited a small town in the forest with a commune vibe
  • Etc., etc.
Rather than recount all of these experiences and more, I'll summarize my overall impressions and learnings.  I think the biggest thing I got out of this was a first-hand impression of what life in a communist/socialist country is really like.  The US media loves to demonize communism and socialism doesn't fare much better.  We always hear the negative side associated with these types of societal structures, but never the positive.  Speaking for what I observed in Cuba, it's true that people tend to have very little expendable income.  However, you don't need much expendable income when education and healthcare are free and housing and food are highly subsidized.  The education system is so good that one of Cuba's main exports is educated people (e.g., doctors).

Old Catholic church in Matanzas

Of course there are problems with this system, just as there are problems with any system, but my point here is that it is not all bad.  In some ways (education, health care, lack of xenophobia, equity), Cuba is far ahead of the US.  Other than the occasional theft, there is almost no crime.

The cars, and much of the rest of the country, seem to be stuck in the 50's.

The next major learning I'll talk about is my impression of the general state of contentment of the Cuban people.  In the news, we hear about Cubans risking their lives to escape Cuba via raft, directly implying that life in Cuba is so awful everyone wants to leave and some people are willing to risk their lives to do so.  Based on what I observed, this is the exception rather than the rule: akin to saying that everyone in the US wants to shoot up a school because there have been so many mass school shootings.  Everyone we spoke to seemed content with the system and actually had quite a bit of pride in their country, while at the same time recognizing that there is substantial room for improvement.

A sample of the somewhat morbid art that was fairly common

I have many other thoughts pinging around in my head that have yet to land and solidify.  Suffice it to say that I learned a ton and think I will continue to learn as I process my experiences and filter media coverage of Cuba through a realistic lens.  I'll finish with a smattering of pictures, but before I do, I'd like to give my sincere, blog-public thanks to Rick and Nancy for making this trip possible.

We found many adorable dogs, and at times wished we were on a People to Dogs visa

Invasive bamboo, a cow, and a cow reflection at a sustainable farm/restaurant/art studio

Classic Havana

Streets of Old Havana

Cuban National Bird (Cuban Trogon)

Hiking through a former French coffee plantation

Totes adorbs

Also totes adorbs

Baseball practice near Hemingway's house, by far the most popular sport in Cuba

Kitchen Officially Finished

With the delivery of our new refrigerator, the kitchen is now finished (in just under a year)!  From the new floor to the new lighting and everything in between, we're super happy with the way things turned out.  Sure, it looks a lot better, but it's also way more functional and fun to cook in.  Take a look at the before photos to gauge the improvement for yourself.

November 23, 2015

Fun with Pallets

After surfacing a wall with pallets and having it turn out well, I decided to try out a few more pallet projects.  First was the construction of two pallet-framed mirrors for the bathroom.

Total cost of mirrors was about $20 each

Then I picked up my European mount at the taxidermist.  I had originally planned to use a commercial device to attach it to the wall.  After doing just that and finding that it stuck half way out into the living room, I committed to building my own mounting device out of, you guessed it, pallet wood.

Mount complete with tip of second arrow to enter the bull

In the end, I think both projects turned out really well!  Maybe I should start selling pallet things on Etsy.

November 18, 2015

Remodel Update

Today was toilet day.  I started by removing our old toilet, which always flushed twice and used a shit ton of water (pun intended) each time.  Once removed, I was able to rip out the old flooring and install cement backer board within the toilet alcove.  With the toilet removed, I decided to be artistic and attempt to duplicate a decorative wall I saw on Pinterest.  The previous day I tore apart and sanded some pallets I acquired for free on Craigslist, so today they were ready for staining, trimming, and attaching to the wall.  Since we already had the stain and I resused the nails pulled from the pallets, all this little project cost me was time and two bloody knuckles obtained while pallet wrestling.

When the wall was completed, I installed a new, high efficiency toilet.  This install in temporary until we pick some bathroom tile, but this way we only had to be without a toilet for about 3.5 hours.

November 13, 2015

Bathroom Remodel

The bathroom remodel has been initiated!  The cabinets arrived during our last bout of traveling, so I tore into the bathroom as soon as I was around for more than a day.  First on the agenda, remove the old, hideous cabinets and tear out the drywall behind them.

Old Plumbing (Single Sink, Centered on Wall)

Next up was to split the plumbing so we can have two sinks.  This involved cutting out a galvanized 3-way junction in the drain line and replacing it with a 4-way PVC cross, and extending left and right.  The water lines were easy to modify, because, well, PEX is easy.

Water and drain lines re-plumbed for two sinks

Similarly, I split the single wall sconce receptacle in two so we can have two sconces, one centered on each sink.  I also relocated with two wall outlets so they wouldn't be positioned directly over the new sinks.

Drywall replaced

Once the drywall was replaced, I took to mudding, priming, and texturing the wall.  With that messy work done, it was time for the cabinets . . . or was it.

After removing the old cabinets and linoleum flooring, I noticed some very compromised (rotten) subflooring.  Out with the bad, in with the good.  Also, we're planning to tile the new floor, so I began researching how to make that happen.  I read about this stuff called backer board (common in the tiling world but new to me) that you're supposed to install below the tile, so I just put a layer of that down over the whole bathroom prior to starting in on the cabinets.

My anal-retentive nature came in handy when installing the cabinets, making sure to get everything even and level in all three dimensions.

So this is where the bathroom stands right now.  We'll hopefully get the soapstone counter top late next week.  Tiling and toilet replacement will commence in the meantime.

October 27, 2015

Sad but Cool

After much deliberation, I've decided to post the video I took of the elk I shot.  This video shows the last few minutes of the bull's life, so if you don't want to see animal death and aren't ready for the unfortunate reality that animals do not die instantly no matter what you shoot them with, don't watch it.

While it is admittedly sad to see such an amazing animal die, it is also pretty unique that I was able to get this footage.  I was about 150 yards away when I saw the bull standing in the field.  By the time I got my tripod set up and camera rolling, it had bedded down.  At first, I wasn't sure if it was the bull I shot, and it actually seemed a little bigger so I was leaning toward it being a different bull.  I eventually noticed signs that it was injured and gradually figured it out.

This footage begins about 45 minutes after my first shot.  Toward the end of the video, you can see part of my second arrow sticking out high on its right side.

I had great difficulty finding a song to put to this as anything remotely happy seemed inappropriate.  For better or worse, I settled on Joshua Bell's sad violin sounds in Elegie-O Douz Printemps d'Autefoix (I can't say it either).