It could be the cover of an indie rock album, but it is actually Ben hanging loose on Main Street in Locke on a brisk Thursday morning in late February. He appears none the worse for wear after navigating nearly 30 miles of winding Delta roads during a Feb. 22 driver training exercise. Photo by Glenn.

Bathroom beautification

February 26, 2018: It’s amazing what a few small changes can do for the look of a room and the comfort level of those who use it. When it’s your guest bathroom, both are important. Ours, to say the least, was less than satisfactory. Apart from a few cosmetic changes over the years — paint — we had never seriously addressed the fundamentals of the second bathroom off our front hallway. It was looking every bit of its 30 years, from the scuffed and peeling linoleum on the floor to the streaks and water stains behind the mirror. We won’t even mention the odor, which had so worked its way into the wood, walls and floor that nothing short of a nuclear bomb could overpower it. So we might be exaggerating a bit, but not by much.

To see any of these photos larger, or as a slideshow, view our Flickr gallery.

Roni has plenty of reasons to smile after receiving multiple awards from the Bay Area section of the California Water Environment Association in late January. She was named the Community Engagement and Outreach Person of the Year, and one of the outreach projects she coordinated for Ironhouse Sanitary District was also honored. She now competes for statewide honors in both categories. Photo by Glenn.

We're going to spend a lot of time in the bathroom this month, specifically remodeling it for the first time in almost 10 years. Glenn is already repainting the ceiling. Phyre supervises. Photo by Roni.

The ceiling finished, we're starting work on the walls. The huge mirror is out of here for good, and the counter top will soon join it. Photo by Glenn.

Removing the mirror exposed some damage to the wall we weren't expecting. Water damage has ruined the plaster, exposing the drywall tape beneath. This is a more extensive repair than we were prepared to make. We patched it and moved on. Photo by Glenn.

We've got the counter and vanity removed, so now it's time to start tearing up the old linoleum. It's amazing how many tools you accumulate in your work area while doing a project like this. Photo by Glenn.

The new vanity is unboxed and awaiting installation. Phyre is making a last minute inspection for us. Photo by Glenn.

Floor-laying day was Feb. 7, while Ben was at work. We took the toilet off its base and finished scraping up the last of the old linoleum. The sink was already off the wall. The first of the new vinyl planks is ready for a test fit. Just need to make a cut around the toilet flange. Photo by Glenn.

No need to hire a plumber for this toilet installation, as we have our water-loving cat Phoenix ready to lend a paw should we need one. He finds the bowl a perfect fit for his curled-up body. He'd probably be taking a nap in there if we didn't have to hook it up to the pipes in the bathroom. Photo by Glenn.

It's 11 p.m. and we've got most of the floor laid and the toilet installed just in time for Ben's return from work. That pesky plaster problem on the wall remains unpainted, but at least the patch is in place. We'll finish adding the wainscoting and remaining floor planks in the morning. Photo by Glenn.

The hallway leading to the guest bathroom is a staging area for just about every tool in our arsenal. Our house is too small for this. Can't wait to get this project done and our living space cleaned up. Photo by Glenn.

A few days have passed since the flooring marathon and we've got the bathroom remodel mostly finished. Here's the new vanity and toilet side by side along the freshly paneled wall, new floor and baseboards. Still need to add a picture mirror. Photo by Glenn.

Here is a better look at the new floor. The LifeProof Luxury Vinyl Planks were a breeze to install and look pretty good, especially up against the repainted walls. We wish we could have replaced the bathtub too, but we'll be content with the progress we were able to make. Photo by Glenn.

This is the wall opposite the toilet. We got a new towel rack and a new towel to hang on it. Photo by Glenn.

Shifting from bathrooms to the great outdoors, it is Feb. 12 and a beautiful day for our annual blossom walk to check out the budding trees in the DuPont vineyards. This is what used to be our favorite almond tree, which was reduced to a stump a little more than a year ago. It's still our favorite stump. Photo by Glenn.

Here are a couple of railroad date nails that were once used to identify the year ties were laid in the DuPont yard. These are from 1935 and 1954, respectively. Photo by Glenn.

A westbound Amtrak passenger train rounds the bend on the mainline near the DuPont rail yard in Oakley. It is a very quiet day in the yard, but these tracks are usually filled with empty cars. Photo by Glenn.

This is what we've come to see — the colorful branches of the few almond trees that remain on the former DuPont property. This one even contains a remnant of last year's almond crop. Photo by Glenn.

Selfie time. Consider this a celebration of spring and Chinese New Year all in one. Photo by Glenn.

Another view of the almond trees in bloom, looking southwest toward Mount Diablo. It may still be winter, but spring always seems to arrive early to our part of the Bay Area. Photo by Glenn.

The grapes in the vineyard on the DuPont property have been here for decades. Every now and then you'll find an almond tree growing among them, adding a bit of color. The roots of this particular tree are actually entangled among those of the grapevine. Photo by Glenn.

Our own property also enjoys its taste of spring. Here we have some blossoms on the ornamental plum tree in our front yard. Photo by Glenn.

The few weeks this tree is in bloom make keeping it all worthwhile. We recently received compliments on our front yard landscaping from a Baptist church lady and a pizza delivery guy. They have no idea how their praise brightened our day after the months of labor we poured into this project. Photo by Glenn.

Happy birthday to our two beautiful bubsie twins, Phoenix and Phyre, who were born Feb. 17 last year. We didn't have cake and ice cream to celebrate, but the kitties seem content to smell the flowers (or eat them, in Phe's case.) Photo by Glenn.

Even at a year old these two are still kittens at heart, and there is still plenty of cuteness left in them for moments like this. Photo by Glenn.

"Who says those two are cute? They aren't so cute. They don't do cute like I do cute. I am the original queen of cuteness. Now bow down to me, knave." Photo by Glenn.

Ben might feel ready to conquer the world after he successfully drove up Highway 160 on Feb. 22, but he probably can't conquer gravity as it works to bring down the old Star Theatre building in historic Locke, which was our destination point at the end of the drive. Photo by Glenn.

Ben checks out the commemorative plaques in the Locke memorial park. Photo by Glenn.

Some have said that Glenn is a piece of work, but a piece of art? We'll let you be the judge. Photo by Ben.

In the category of one project leads to another, our bathroom remodeling project did not begin in the bathroom, but rather the kitchen. As mentioned last month, the kitchen floor is also in need of a makeover, and while it is fun to dream about all the things we might do to it if time, budget and expertise weren’t an issue, the reality is that we will probably tackle the most pressing concerns and leave the rest for later — probably much later. Roni has dreams of a beautiful kitchen with shiny new cabinets, appliances, lighting, and tiled walls. But she’d be happy at the moment with a new floor, so that’s where we decided to start.

We made our usual trek to the big box home improvement stores to research flooring products. For years we have been attracted to tile planks, which are a relative newcomer to the flooring world. They install like traditional tile, using thinset mortar and grout, but they are made to resemble the look of real wood, among other materials. We had long ago decided that when the time came to tear up the original linoleum we would switch to these tile planks and go from there. The problem is that once laid, tile is virtually impossible to remove. If we ever changed our minds, or our tastes in home decor, we might come to regret using permanent tile — sort of like we are now in the master bathroom. The look just wears on you after a while, it’s inevitable.

So we were intrigued when we discovered LifeProof Luxury Vinyl Planks at Home Depot. It’s a recent addition to the world of laminate flooring that offers many of the characteristics of the tile planks without the need to mortar them to the floor. They have a tongue and groove system that enables them to be snapped together for a tight, permanent fit. They are roughly a quarter-inch thick and feature a core of PVC that is bonded to a rubber underlayment and a top veneer of textured vinyl that comes printed in a number of wood, stone and concrete patterns. They are competitively priced at $2.97 a square foot and received solid marks from other customers, so we wanted to investigate this option further.

However, we didn’t want to investigate by trying them out in our kitchen first. If we hated the look or feel or durability of the vinyl planks, we wanted to learn that in someplace less visible. And so we turned to the one room in the house that could most benefit from new flooring: the guest bathroom.

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HE THING YOU need to know about our guest bathroom is that it seldom receives guests. Most of the time it is used exclusively by our son Ben, who as one of the conditions of living in our home is entrusted with its care and upkeep. That can range from occasionally emptying out the garbage bin to running a sponge over the sink or bathtub. Anything more extensive than that is usually reserved for the rare occasions when we might have company, but there is only so much that can be accomplished with cleaning products and elbow grease. We had last attempted a serious overhaul in 2010, but at the time we never got to the floor. Nor did we deal with the old toilet or sink. We slapped on a coat of paint, unclogged the drains and called it a day.

This time we planned a more thorough overhaul. We figured that if we had to replace the floor then we would also need to remove the toilet from its base and might as well tackle the vanity too. We quickly turned a $100 project into a $700 one. If not for the additional time and labor involved, we also would have considered replacing the bathtub with a shower stall. But sometimes good enough is good enough. We decided to work around the tub and linen closet.

Before we could tackle the floor we first had to conquer the paint. We decided to go with shades of blue that would compliment the gray and tan colors in the flooring planks we selected. The guest bathroom is barely 25 square feet, so just a couple quarts of paint would do the job. We painted the ceiling in a light blue, then worked our way to the walls which we decided to make a dark blue. Because we would be replacing the huge picture mirror on the wall above the sink and toilet, we removed it with the goal of painting the wall first. Sadly we discovered that the plaster behind the mirror was peeling off the wall, so we had to buy some drywall compound to patch it.

We got a leak in one of the roof vents last winter that caused some damage to the drywall in the bathroom. The damage area is rather small, so rather than replace it we just painted over it. We suspect that the chipping plaster behind the mirror is probably related to the leak and that we have more extensive repairs ahead of us, but for now we’ll rely on the patch job and keep an eye on it. We already expect to have to redo this bathroom again in a few years, at which time we’ll also take out the tub.

Because we planned to replace the vanity and remove the attached counter that was under the mirror, we thought it likely there would be more damage to the wallboard. To hide it, we bought a few packages of MDF wainscoting and trim boards to nail over the lower wall. We painted the wainscoting light blue and the trim a cream color at the same time we took the linen closet doors off and painted them light blue. Glenn spent four days or so just painting, which might seem a long time for a tiny bathroom, but he was being meticulous, using a small brush near adjoining surfaces and touching up spots that were missed with the first coat.

The main challenge in remodeling the bathroom was working around Ben and his schedule. We couldn’t just shut off the plumbing for a few days, so Glenn did much of the project while Ben was at work. The floor replacement had to be a tightly orchestrated dance involving removing the old toilet from its base, scraping up the existing linoleum sheet, placing the new floor planks, attaching the wainscoting and baseboard to the wall, then installing the new toilet — all within an 8-hour window.

* * * * *


HE DAY OF the floor installation, Ben left for work at 1:30 p.m. Glenn had previously started tearing out the old floor and had already disconnected the sink and removed the vanity and countertop, so now it was just a matter of pulling out the toilet and scraping off the remaining floor. You can install the LVP floor right over your existing flooring, but we chose to remove the old stuff first because it was filthy and smelly. Glenn had to use a scraper to cut through the adhesive and backing material to reach the bare concrete of the slab foundation. Disconnecting the toilet from the water source and removing it from its base took longer than expected — about two hours — so he was considerably behind schedule by the time he got around to installing the vinyl planks.

Fortunately the bathroom is small and mostly square, so placing the planks was fairly quick and easy. There were a few odd cuts to make with a jigsaw so the planks would fit around the toilet flange, but the rest of the cuts were straight and generally made with a miter saw. They snapped together well. A few taps with a rubber hammer to lock them into place was all that was needed. The fit near the walls didn’t have to be precise, as the directions call for using a quarter-inch expansion gap and that is later hidden by the baseboards.

Although he didn’t get all of the floor finished that night, Glenn was able to install about three-quarters of it. He completed the area near the toilet, so the next step was to attach the baseboards and wainscoting in that small corner, which he did quickly with the aid of his pneumatic finishing nailer. Finally it was time to unbox the toilet and install that. There were some minor difficulties tightening the tank and washers to prevent leaks, which added an extra hour to the installation, but by 11:30 p.m. the toilet was back online and much of the project was done. It had been a long, tiring day, but the bulk of the hard work was behind us.

* * * * *


HE NEXT FEW days were spent tackling the parts of the project that remained, including installing the new vanity. Taking out the old vanity and its attached shelf had proved much easier than expected. The shelf — a godawful cement board thing that took up about a quarter of the room, was basically attached to the wall with no more than a bead of caulk. It just popped right off with a few passes of a utility knife. The vanity was slightly more difficult, as it required removing the sink basin and then pulling out the huge nails that were keeping the cabinet anchored to the wall. The threads to the trap on the sink drain had become fused solid and couldn’t be budged with even a pipe wrench, so Glenn decided to buy new pipes to reassemble the drain. He sawed off the old drain and then cut and glued the new assembly, which fit nearly perfectly. The best part was that the trap could once again be easily removed by hand.

The new vanity we picked up at Lowe’s, complete with the sink basin. At 25 inches wide, it is about half a foot narrower than the cabinet it replaced, and also several inches shallower; the sink basin extends over the top of the cabinet to give it a more stylish appearance, but it also effectively exposes more of the floor and gives the bathroom a roomier feel. It took about a week from the time we turned off the sink plumbing until it was back up and running again, largely because Glenn had to focus on the toilet first and because there were so many things that needed replacing with the vanity. He first had to replace the 30-year-old water shutoff valves, which were the old-style kind with the feeder lines soldered directly to the valve. Now the sink has new compression fittings with screw-on connectors for the hoses. The vanity did not come with a faucet or drain, so we had to purchase those separately and then go through the process of installing them. Yes, there of course were leaks. A bit of caulk and tightening of threads solved the problem. The sink looks great and has been trouble free.

The wainscoting might have been the best addition aside from the floor. It really brightens up the room, giving it a more country appearance, and best of all it hides the ugly, textured wallboard that was exposed by removing the vanity. All that is lacking is a new, smaller mirror and some door hinges we plan to replace; the original ones on the linen closet and door were rusting from years of exposure to moisture. After initially painting the original door light blue to match the wall accent color, we have since given it a lot of thought and decided that we will probably replace it with a brand new door. Yes, one project always leads to another.

* * * * *


ELL, IT DIDN'T take long before the remodeled bathroom got its first major “christening.” About a week after we finished the bulk of the project, we were at Home Depot collecting materials for our next idea when Roni got a call from Ben while he was at work. He said he wasn’t feeling well and needed to come home early. Seeing as we had a cart full of stuff we hadn’t yet purchased and were in the neighboring town, he had to tough it out for a while. He managed to make it home on his own, but almost immediately he fell under the effects of what we assume was a stomach flu. Any thoughts that this might be a mild case of food poisoning passed quickly when he began vomiting uncontrollably every 30 minutes or so for the rest of the night. The fun continued on into the next day, along with other digestive complications.

Needless to say, our beautiful new bathroom took a beating, much to Roni’s chagrin. She waited until the bulk of Ben’s sickness had subsided before taking bleach and a mop to the bathroom and his bedroom, doing her best to clean and disinfect everything. Ben stayed home sick from work the following day, Sunday, but his commitment to duty and an unsympathetic boss had him back at the grocery store for the Presidents Day holiday. The same day that Glenn came down with a stomach ailment of his own. Unlike Ben, Glenn never had to race to the bathroom to regurgitate his food, and fortunately he was back in the pink of health within a couple of days after spending most of the holiday huddled in bed. But now Roni is worried that she might be the next casualty of this little flu bug, particularly since she was the one cleaning up most of the mess from Ben’s illness. And this is why we got flu shots last fall! Hopefully Roni stays well and this will be the last bout of sickness in our family this winter.

* * * * *


INTER IS DEFINITELY waning, and apparently it has been since before it began. We haven’t had much rain this year, and February has been especially dry. While we’ll take those sunny springlike days and warmer temperatures, it does beg the question of how long it might be before California enters its next period of extended drought.

The real advantage to all of this spring-ness is that it has provided lovely weather for outdoor activities, and while we haven’t gotten out as much as we might like due to all the home improvements, there is always time to make for Glenn’s annual blossom walk through the former DuPont property near our home. He made his solo trek on Feb. 12, following his time-worn route through the grape vineyards and along the Highway 160 easement. Aside from a delay caused by the arrival of a freight train that parked for half an hour on the BNSF mainline, and the discovery of a homeless person sleeping under a blanket amid the weeds, the hike was mostly uneventful. The almond blossoms are still as beautiful and fragrant as ever, and this year it appeared that we haven’t lost any new trees.

Ben was a bit surprised to learn that Dad had taken the walk on his own, especially as he sometimes likes to tag along. But Ben’s work schedule doesn’t often allow for midday or weekend outings. Still, we have had some opportunities to do things together on the days when he isn’t running his courtesy clerk shift at the grocery store. One of those adventures was Jan. 30, when Ben and Glenn went to see “Maze Runner: Death Cure” at the Delta Cinema in Brentwood. It was Ben’s treat, a belated Christmas gift that Glenn had asked for. It was their first time seeing a movie in the historic downtown theater, and a perfect excuse for Ben to get in some driving time. There were just seven people in the house for the Tuesday afternoon matinee, and after the film Ben got his first taste of night driving as he wheeled Dad’s car back home on busy Brentwood Boulevard.

Ben has come a long way in his quest to obtain his driver’s license. Now we are looking ahead to May when he will probably put his knowledge to the test at the DMV. Until then, we are taking opportunities to get him out on the road for practice in a variety of driving situations. His biggest challenge so far was our Feb. 22 excursion to Locke, about 30 miles north of home. With Ben behind the wheel, he and Glenn drove up winding Highway 160 through the Delta late on a Thursday morning, stopping at the historic Chinese community of Locke to check out the shops before grabbing lunch at Mel’s Mocha & Ice Cream in Walnut Grove. Despite the narrow roads and some bridge construction work, Ben did great and is gearing up for our next big driving adventure.

Feeling jealous of Ben because he was able to get out and enjoy a day trip in the nice weather, Roni decided she needed a road trip too, so on Feb. 24 we drove out to Suisun City to visit the Suisun Wildlife Center. The center serves as a sanctuary for at least a dozen raptors and a one-eyed coyote that are too injured to live in the wild. Some of the animals will be coming to Oakley in April when the Ironhouse Sanitary District hosts an event for the annual Oakley Science Week, so Roni wanted to visit the facility and see what it was all about.

The wildlife center is very small and run by volunteers. Touring it barely took half an hour. We’d made a long trip to get there, so afterward we drove over to the city marina and had lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant called the Athenian Grill. For dessert, we visited the Family Cookie Company on Spring Street, where they have an outlet store for It’s It ice cream bars, frozen cookie dough, cheesecake and other delectables. Despite the chilly weather, the store had a steady flow of customers, proving yet again that ice cream knows no season. We might have to take another drive to Suisun City once the weather warms up just to visit the outlet store, where you can get It’s Its at a great discount if you buy them by the dozen. We picked up a couple for the road, along with a brownie pie, snickerdoodle cookie dough, and a box of Auntie Anne’s pretzels.

Last month we mentioned that our new neighbors were preparing to concrete their entire front yard to make driveway space for their boat and assortment of vehicles. About a day later we learned their plan was thwarted by the city code enforcement department, which apparently informed them that you have to have at least half of your yard in plants or at least something other than concrete. So they were able to do about half of their project, but the side closest to our property for now remains a dirt pile after they tore up their front lawn in preparation for a project that never materialized. What that means for us is that the row of bricks we had placed as a border for our median strip, but which were removed for the would-be concrete work, must now be reinstalled. Not sure how that is going to work out, but maybe once the weather improves enough and we get our druthers for some outdoor projects again.

That ought to do it for this short month. We’ll continue with the home improvement project parade in March.


Glenn, Roni and Ben