Thursday, July 19

Mosaic House Numbers Project!

New project! With Step by step instructions and Lessons Learned (because I think everyone can do this, but you should do it smarter than we did!)

Some history: Baltimore rowhomes typically have a window above the front door, to let light in.  Many rowhomes include stained glass and the house number. This is called a transom.

My house was rehabbed before I moved in, but they decided to close in the transom and add decorative stucco to the outside.  This looks fine, but I'm greedy and I wanted something awesome above my door.

Here's my door in two BEFORE states:
Before I moved in.

 Last week.  New door, painted blue, new mailbox, pretty flowers.

 I became obsessed with adding a mosaic tile art piece above my door.  I googled and pinned cute versions and attended a free class at the Loading Dock (a great non-profit in SE Baltimore).  I did my research and it seemed easy.  

  1. Acquire tiles
  2. Break them and glue them in a pattern to a board
  3. Grout over them to fill the gaps
  4. Install it!

This turned out to be my most time and attention and labor intensive project yet. Here's the actual steps...

0. Came up with design I liked. Photoshopped a guide.

1. Bought tiles from Loading Dock in 4 colors.
2. Never ending step:

Clockwise from Left: 

  • Non-sanded grout ("sanded" may scratch the finish on your tiles, and is used for larger gaps), 
  • a grout spreader tool, float, 
  • a bag of mortar/thinset (add water to create the glue), 
  • spray bottle of water to moisten thinset as you work, 
  • shovel/trowel to mix, 
  • small container to mix, 
  • A big yellow tile (showing what they looked like before we broke them up)
  • big sponge for cleaning grout, 
  • thinset/mortar spreader (with grooves to make lines in the thinset), 
  • caulk to match your grout, a caulk gun (for this size)
  • adhesive to stick board to the wall along with the screws, 
  • tiles (these are chipped), 
  • a tool to spread the grout around, 
  • a tile chipper (a hammer was also used in my project, not pictured), 
  • a toothbrush for fine cleaning of the grout,
  • a file (to file off sharp tile edges)
  • Not pictured, but needed for hanging: flat-headed screws, anchors, a power drill, a cement backer board (Hardibacker)

2a. My SSO, Matt, measured and created a cement backer board that would fit in the spot.

2b. I printed out the numbers and taped them to the board, then drew guidelines on the board with a sharpie (no pics of this step)
2c.My mom visited two weekends ago and we sat in the basement, broke tiles (with hammer, chipper, and file), scrapped the idea of 4 colors down to 3, and laid them out on the board (no glue).  8 hours later, the design is "set".

Seemed so easy! It's practically done!

2d. Matt brings thinset over to glue the tiles down. Matt and I stare at the laid out tiles and think: "Hmmm, how are we going to get the tiles off the board, put the thinset down, then put the tiles back in the same design?"  We failed at trying to lift the tiles with contact paper and setting them back down.  We eventually remove a section, add thinset, scrape lines into the thinset, and reset each tile.  I don't know how many hours but LOTS. (Luckily, we like each other) Let dry.

Attempt of contact paper and a layer of thinset.  The tiles did not easily peel off the contact paper.

2e. Reset the tiles that did not stick to the thinset the first time. Let dry.
2f. Reset the tiles that did not stick to the thinset the second time. Let dry.
2g. Used a nail and a file to remove any pesky thinset showing between tiles.
2h. Reset the tiles that popped out of the thinset during step 2g. Let dry.
2i. Reset a few more tiles. Let dry.

(No pic of this "completeness", but it looked the same as the previous "done")

3. Grout!  Picked a "Bone" colored grout.  We also left spaces to screw through to the wall, which we will add tiles and grout to later. We didn't use the grout float, just some spreaders and our fingers, to make sure it got down in all the cracks.  Let dry a bit. Wipe grout a few times to get the excess off. Use a toothbrush for fine cleaning, like pushing it back to make sure the tile is showing.

Grout on most of it. 
Cleaning the grout with the sponge and water

4a. Remove old numbers
4b. Hold the board up, realize it doesn't fit.  File off a few tile corners to make it fit, after a few tries.
4c. Drill holes through the tile gaps to the stucco and brick.  Add anchors into those holes.
4d. Add adhesive to the wall space.  (Easier than putting it on the board, then getting a hand in it). Press the board into the advesive and hold for a minute.
4e.  Screw the board up into the anchors.
In place, with the screws showing.

4f. Install the last few tiles with thinset. Let dry.  Go to happy hour and eat BBQ and drink beer (me only).
4g. Grout remaining sections.  Clean.  Go to Home Depot for something unrelated.  Get back by dark.
4h. Caulk the mosaic edges in the dark, by flashlight. I didn't think about the caulk in the original plan, but Matt did.  As you can see in the above pic, there is a gap between the stucco that could be filled in with caulk.

Look at it sparkle at night!
Check out that cat in the window.

 Sparkly, at night.


I'm happy with it, but wish I planned for the bazillion steps and three weekends of time.  I've already gotten a few positive comments from neighbors.

Lesson Learned: 

  • Either Glue the tiles down the first time, or glue to a mesh than can later be lifted in one piece and dropped in the thinset.  
  • Thinset dries quickly, and the longer it is down, the less likely that tile you smush into it will actually stay.  Near the end we were just dipping tiles in the thinset and laying them down.  This worked for staying power, but caused excess thinset to seep up between the tiles, which later has to be removed if you don't want to see it.
  • Matt suggests wetting the backer board, which we didn't do, which would have apparently kept the concrete from stealing all the moisture from the thinset, giving it longer sticking power.  (He came up with this as I am writing this, not during the process!)
  • Match your thinset to your grout, and you won't have to worry about the seepage between tiles.  
  • Everything takes more time than you would think!
I hope you find this helpful and there are cute mosiac house numbers all over Baltimore (and the world!)

Monday, April 18

Random pics

So I guess I suck at blogging even when I have boatloads of time.

Update on the job situation:

Things moved amazingly fast on that front, then slow.  I actually got a call about an interview from the first job application I submitted (for a different position) and had an interview and an offer within a week.  Yay me.  Except due to processes at the employer, I don't start til May 9.  My summer vacation comes early.  I'm planning a trip down to South Florida for the end of April.

Here's a few pics I've taken recently to summarize what I've been doing:

Shopping!  I got this new welcome mat today.  I walked by it and did a double take.  At only $9.99 I couldn't walk away without it.
I wish my front flowers were doing better.  I planted a few red tulips that were looking good to the left of the door that have mysteriously disappeared (bulbs and all) before I got to snap a pics. The biggest pot has perennial orange lilies that are not back yet.

I'm jealous of the red tulips in front of the Hopkins Bayview campus:

On gardening, My indoor window boxes in the kitchen:

 Spearmint, a small pot of Armada Roses, an orchid.

And waiting to go outside:
 Tomato, Cukes, basil, rosemary, chives, lettuces (spring mix seed packet).

Here's the current sorry state of last year's lovely patio:

         aka a trash pile from a project of replacing the upstairs windows.  Ideally the lettuces will go in the shoe holder on the fence.  The rest will live in the raised bed that is currently covered in windows to keep the rats out (ick).

 Also I recently got back in to Acting! I was in the Vagina Monologues and most recently The Good Body, both by Eve Ensler.  For the latter I made a collage for the set:
              The idea is it is the messages from "the media" women get about what is beautiful (GOOD) and the products that will make us that way.  All in the shape of an "ideal" feminine figure.

Since I had the cast party at my place, it's actually clean enough to share pics.

 (Action shot of Sushi the cat.  Cats are always getting up in my pics)

              The chairs were a refurb I did with my Mom last summer.  A before and after post will follow, but I think they need something else, like cute pillows.

Cooking/making messes. Because I'm sitting around/surfing the net a lot I get random urges to try out a new recipe I find.  Cue Strawberry Scones at 3:30 to use some ugly berries in my fridge.
Here's the mess I made of the kitchen:

I used this recipe because I had everything on hand (uses yogurt instead of cream, I used a lowfat vanilla instead of the recommended orange flavor).  I gotta say my batter was way runny and they came out more like muffin tops.  The OJ-powdered sugar icing is delish.

Mostly, I've been running errands.  Trips to Home Depot, getting my car its maintenance (two trips to an auto shop), shopping, giving my friends rides at hours most people are working, etc.

Here's a kinda artsy shot driving over the Key Bridge.

Ok, maybe I'll remember to blog more. I still have to show off the projects in my bedroom!

Wednesday, March 30


One job application in.  I think I will be awesome at the position, in a seemingly brand new department at a hospital.  Too bad I messed up their online application process and had to end up submitting my name twice.  Oh well, it's not like I'm claiming I'm highly technical.... Oh wait, I am... Sigh.

As soon as I finished updating my resume and cover letter my ADD (and the morning's coffee) kicked in and I ended up re-caulking my bathroom window and back door, and touch-up painting the half bath.  After about 6 years (I'm assuming) the toilet paper holder just wasn't staying in the wall, so I had to move it, re-mount it, fill in the holes, and repaint. My parents will be glad to know that the toilet paper is no longer mounted directly below the hand towel, which led to water drips on the roll.

I'm definitely more in the maintenance phase of my house.  While fixing the TP holder I noticed the floor could use a caulk touch-up and the air vent could look better white. Out of caulk and spray paint.  Home Depot run is eminent.

Gregory sensed I wanted to take a pic of something and sprang to action.

And here is the status of my plant babies.  Most of the ones on the right were planted two Saturdays ago, with the rest started Friday (productive first day of unemployment). Paper egg carton is a spring mix of lettuces, unlabeled white ones are tomatoes.  Also: cucumbers (tallest sprouts), rosemary, chives, basil, some tomato sprouts, peppers.

Saturday, March 26

Back to blogging

So it's been a while since I've dropped by here.  I think I even have a few sets of projects pics I completed but didn't post. 

Overall, my house is pretty much "done" but I do have a few pieces of ugly furniture I never improved last year.

I was busy, but due to a surprise "elimination of my position" I now have loads of free time.  In order to not go crazy with boredom as I will now spend the majority of the day in my house, I am setting goals for myself:

  • Research my career (engineering/IT for healthcare, if you were wondering)
  • Search and apply for jobs
  • Work on final house projects
  • blog completed house projects
  • Search and apply for jobs
  • Exercise more (Kinect in my basement, and walks around the park when it warms up!)
  • Cook good food for myself and friends
  • Keep a healthy garden (seeds are started!)
  • Volunteer at Banner (get out of the house)
  • Network
  • Search and apply for jobs.
The last time I was out of work it was for 3 months and I pretty much stayed in the house all the time clicking "Apply" to anything remotely related on CareeerBuilder, and went a little crazy over time. 

This time will be different,  This is also a time to focus on me and think of life outside the 9-5.

Monday, July 5

Patio complete!

8 days after it began, construction was complete.  The contractor said 3 days.  Contractor man, why can't you just overestimate and tell me 10 days, then leave me really happy when its completed early?  Instead I'm left frustrated.  If someone asks I'll say it was good work, but have to tell them about how it took more than twice as long as your estimate, you woke me up early for stupid questions, and you rushed cleanup, leaving concrete speckles on my door and trash cans.  Sigh, enough negativity.  Here's the pictures!


(of course I waited until the crew showed up to snap pictures) 
Cellar door that I would never have been able to open.  And look at the nasty broken concrete!
Old gate.  No privacy.
Gregory the cat wondering why this looks so ghetto.  And in case you were wondering, IKEA Lack tables were not meant to get rained on.

 Goodbye, wall!
Goodbye, door and stairs to basement!

Hello, place for Prius!!

Hello, private patio! (Gate is open in)
Hi, herb and vegetable garden!
From left to right, Basil, Tomatoes (I forget which kinds made it from seeds, so I will be surprised later.  Some Big Boys, Cherry, and heirlooms were planted at different points), Jalapeno pepper, green peppers, chilli pepper, eggplant, and squash. Not pictured: Dill, parsley, and Blue Basil to the left, Cucumbers to the right.
Grill where the awful metal door was.  Wildflower seed sprouts on the table.
New locking gate.  Red chair and cute pillow from Home Depot.

I also have a bunch of pictures on how I built the vegetable bed (it's pretty much the size of a coffin, and of course I had to get a pic of me laying in it.  Because I am weird.) that I'll save for another post. 

I'll probably hang some flower beds off the fence for more color in the future, but I'm invested enough time and money into this area for this month.

Time to grill some farmers market goodies (peaches, corn, eggplant) and steak tonight!  I don't want this long weekend to be over.

Thursday, June 24


Construction! is going on in my back "yard."  Having contractors around has been...interesting.  I got a million (or 6) quotes from different people who came recommended by neighbors, and went with the cheapest (big surprise).  After meeting him a few times to talk about the project, I signed a contract Saturday morning and gave him a check for a third of the project cost.  (A bit scary handing that check over)  He told me he would start Tuesday morning at 8am, given there was no problem getting the permit on Monday.  I called and checked on Monday afternoon that everything was good, and he said he'd be there at 7:30am. (Which is when I'm usually rolling out of bed and into the shower, grumpy.)  I got up (and dressed) early and his crew appeared at 7:15!  I guess early is way better than late or not showing up at all.

They've started early the last few days.  Yesterday he rang the doorbell right as I was getting out of the shower, causing me to run down in my pink robe, and got another peek at the robe as I had just hit the snooze button when the damn doorbell rang.  Plus, the house sounding like it is under siege (pounding, scraping, jackhammers) is freaking out the cats. 

I'll do a post when it is finished with before, during, and after pics.  This will be a busy weekend, as though I could have asked them to build one for me, I'm convinced I have to build a raised flower/vegetable bed by myself.  My plants (most from seeds) will finally have a home!

Here's a pics of my flowers out front.  Sunflowers (from seeds) and daylilies I bought at the Farmers' market last year that decided to come back for this spring!

Saturday, May 29


After an early morning of helping a friend with her moving away yard sale, hitting the Waverly farmers market, gardening, and grocery shopping, despite multiple invites to drinks, here's my Saturday night in:

Mmmm... berries for dinner.
(I am wearing shorts, they're just true to their name.)