Weekly writing prompt challenge: Shine

This week’s challenge is “shine”. It could be the sunshine, or the gleam of an object in the light, perhaps the inner glow of a person with a kind soul. I leave the interpretation up to you.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100 words in response to the prompt, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Breastfeeding with hyperemesis gravidarum

This article will talk about how I have continued breastfeeding with hyperemesis gravidarum. Hyperemesis gravidarum is a debilitating form of extreme morning sickness which affects 1-2% of pregnant women. If left untreated it can be deadly.

As well as the physical problems, one difficult aspect of having hyperemesis gravidarum is the absolute lack of support or sympathy most people have, including midwives and nurses. The two most common things I was told during all three pregnancies were “Have you tried ginger biscuits?” and “It’s just morning sickness”. When you have hyperemesis gravidarum, these stupid comments are not helpful and when you hear them enough, it starts to really get you down. Add breastfeeding and you get comments about how stupid you are. You do you.

If you are still breastfeeding when you fall pregnant again, you might be wondering how to continue breastfeeding your baby through this difficult time (or whether to continue). I was amazed there was no info about this online, so now I’ve been through it, I decided to write this article, although it’s taken a couple of weeks as, even though my latest HG has subsided, I’m still exhausted from throwing up so much. Also, I find it difficult to discuss this due to the trauma surrounding my first pregnancy (TW).

Choosing to stop breastfeeding completely is also an option for some. It wouldn’t have worked for us because my little one wouldn’t take a cup at all at the start of this pregnancy, although he now does.

My history of hyperemesis:

  • Pregnancy 1: I was in and out of hospital, developed Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (this is a life-threatening development of untreated or treatment-resistant hyperemesis gravidarum) and nearly died. At that point I couldn’t even keep down little sips of water, I was dizzy, confused, unable to walk more than short distances or stand up for long (these are symptoms of a medical emergency, get help if you develop these amid severe vomiting). The hospital were shockingly ignorant and negligent but my GP was really good about continually pushing the hospital to sort me out. I had to have an emergency TFMR without anaesthetic which traumatised me and I have never been able to come to terms with losing this baby.
  • Pregnancy 2: It was so much less awful than pregnancy 1, that I didn’t even know I had hyperemesis gravidarum. I thought I had normal morning sickness until I got diagnosed at my first antenatal appointment by a very stern Chinese doctor who told me (through a translator) that I had to eat more for the baby because I’d lost 6% of my body weight. I was sick with this pregnancy until I was 21 weeks pregnant and only tore my oesophagus twice, and some days I could even get out of bed so I didn’t think I had HG. Given our previous terrible experience, I had stockpiled anti-emetics when I’d been in America. When I got the positive pregnancy test I thought I was prepared, but actually, I couldn’t swallow down the tablets and they tasted extra bitter (my tongue got over sensitive; they were usually tasteless, I was also using them for travel sickness) and made my nausea worse so I stopped trying them after the first two weeks. This pregnancy culminated in my healthy baby boy born late 2019.
  • After he was born, problems that had been caused by my hyperemesis continued to manifest. You lose 300-500 calories per day from breastfeeding, which means that even if you eat normally, you will struggle to get back to a healthy weight after hyperemesis. I became clinically underweight a second time when he was about 8 weeks old and had to be referred to a dietician who put me on a weight gain plan. I had to fight really hard to get enough food in (and I wasn’t dealing with hyperemesis by this point). I’m not saying this to put anyone off breastfeeding after hyperemesis, but be prepared to eat a LOT of peanuts/peanut butter to get that weight back on.
  • Pregnancy 3 (my current pregnancy): The hyperemesis gravidarum hit me like a shovel over the head at 6 weeks pregnant. I mostly couldn’t move from the sofa and struggled to care for my now-toddler (thankfully my husband was here to do it). In 8 weeks of HG my weight dropped to 7 stone from a comfortable 8.5. That’s 10% of my body weight. My BMI went from a comfortable 19 to a dangerously underweight 16. So it was becoming a matter of survival to eat and drink. My hyperemesis gravidarum has vastly improved and now, at 16 weeks pregnant, I’m only being sick 1-2 times per day, but more than that, I’m able to eat food. For me, the nausea and stomach cramps are always a bigger issue than the vomiting because they stop me eating, so I’m glad they’re gone now.

What happened to my breastfeeding when I got hyperemesis gravidarum:

  • At the start of this pregnancy, I was feeding my 18-month-old baby about 5-6 times per day around the clock (he also ate solids but breastmilk was his main drink as he didn’t like his cup).
  • My milk supply reduced. One boob gave up completely around 9 weeks pregnant.
  • Boobs got sore. Feeding became agony again, akin to when my LO was newborn (undiagnosed tongue tie).
  • Baby started self-weaning and signalling for his sippy cup, presumably because milk supply was so low.
  • My baby got clingy as my milk supply reduced. More cuddles were needed and an understanding that he needed me to physically be nearer to him than usual, so I spent a lot of time lying down next to him while he played.
  • It was very hard to stay hydrated anyway, but with breastfeeding on top, it created an added dimension.
  • My stomach has shrunk (this is a known side-effect of anorexia, so God knows why doctors don’t know this can happen after hyperemesis gravidarum), making it impossible to eat full portion sizes now, two weeks after most of the vomiting has stopped, so I am trying to eat more but I physically don’t have the room to do it as well as I would like.
  • Due to the amount of weight I had lost, and concern that I had a responsibility to the baby in my tummy as well as my one-year-old, I didn’t fight hard to continue the BF relationship as it was at the start. I unwittingly ended up doing “don’t offer, don’t refuse” to cut down the number of feeds, although I didn’t intend to wean him and I am still feeding him.
  • Anti-emetics are generally unsuitable for breastfeeding. They’re also impossible to get hold of where I live.
  • The maternity care here has so far been a bit primeval and no professionals have helped with the HG.
  • At 16 weeks pregnant, I am still breastfeeding my baby once daily, for the first middle-of-the-night feed, and he drinks from his sippy cup for his second wake-up.

Tips for breastfeeding with HG:

  • Focus on the connection with your baby, not the “how” to get that connection. Breastfeeding is more than just nutrition, and its the loss of connection as your milk supply dips that can make it so hard. Plenty of cuddles, gentle words, understanding and love for your LO, from you and from any other caregivers.
  • Don’t guilt trip yourself. Whatever breastmilk your LO gets is better than nothing. Stress is bad for your pregnancy and it will also make your hyperemesis worse.
  • Don’t be afraid to unlatch and regroup when you need to. Boobs are super sensitive during pregnancy.
  • When boobs are sore, go back to basics and use Lansinoh or other nipple balm remedies such as ice compresses or cabbage leaves.
  • Leave your bra off. No one is looking. If they are, they can get lost. I found this made a huge difference to the soreness and also improved my nausea a bit, along with having absolutely nothing around my waist (I started in maternity dresses at week 6 with Jellyfish because I had an ovarian cyst the size of my fist in there too and it was very uncomfortable).
  • If you don’t have the energy for your usual breastfeeding positions, try and master feeding while lying on your side. Use any amount of pillows or cushions to get the positioning to work.
  • I was too sick to work even from home. If you can, get signed off and get sick leave from your employer. If not, find out if you can claim welfare.
  • Don’t do anything that isn’t urgent. Let it all go. The washing machine’s powder drawer will be fine if you don’t clean it for four more months.
  • Don’t worry about forcing down the prenatal vitamins. In China, where I was pregnant with Jellyfish, women don’t use these (prenatal vitamins aren’t even sold in shops, nor are any other vitamins) and they produce healthy babies. Prenatals are much less important than we are told. Focus on hydration before anything else.
  • Take little sips of bottled water or juice instead of gulping down a big drink.
  • Keep track of how much water or juice you’ve drunk in a day by changing to a new cup when you finish. On very bad days I couldn’t finish a full mug of water.
  • Between feeds, when you get a moment to yourself, I recommend relaxation with a meditation video. My favourite ones are yoga nidra, a type of yoga that focuses on mindfulness relaxation.
  • I have found with all three of my pregnancies (all of which were HG) one specific food group was easier to eat than others. In my first and second pregnancy, carbs were what I could keep down (plain rice, plain pasta, plain bread), I struggled with protein and I developed a complete aversion to every green vegetable on the planet (and some colourful ones). In my current pregnancy, protein has been the thing that has stayed down (in small amounts).
  • Don’t worry about what you’re not doing, not eating etc. You will make up for the lost calories/nutrition/prenatal vitamins later. Hopefully, your HG won’t last the whole pregnancy, but if it does, you will have to do a lot of extra eating after the birth if you’re planning to breastfeed your newborn.
  • Ensure you get as much rest as you can, and don’t be afraid to depend on anyone else in your life (or get LO into daycare, if you can get him there. I was too sick to drive) to get you through this time.
  • Don’t be afraid to put the TV on for your LO. It won’t ruin their development.
  • When the hyperemesis starts to ease off (hopefully around 12 weeks, I hear this happens for some women), you will need to gradually build up to eating full-size meals again. Eating five meals a day is often recommended, but I find it’s hard to fit them in around a toddler and anyway, my stomach has rarely finished digesting the last small meal in time for the next one. Your mileage might vary so try eating little and often.
  • If you can eat it, Bombay Mix (and similar mixes such as the barely-spicy London Mix) is about the most calorie-dense food I have come across at over 500 calories per 100g. Otherwise peanuts are also very good for calories, or peanut butter.
  • Find a hyperemesis gravidarum support group e.g. on Facebook or one of the parenting sites (babycenter, mumsnet etc) if you think that will benefit you. Different groups have different group culture, so find one that works for you.
  • Don’t panic if you get to the magical 12 weeks and your hyperemisis isn’t gone. Mine never is. I’ve never yet suffered with hyperemesis gravidarum for a full pregnancy.

THERE IS NO SHAME IN STOPPING BREASTFEEDING. I can’t stress this enough. But there is also no shame in continuing to breastfeed. Ultimately, you have to do what is right for both your babies and yourself. Good luck.

Thursday Writing Prompt: Reflection

Welcome to my new Thursday writing prompt! Today’s writing prompt is “reflection”. If you care to participate, write 100 words about a reflection. It could be literal or metaphorical.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100 words about this week’s theme, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Thursday Photo Challenge is Changing.

I’ve been doing these photo challenges for six months, now, and despite the fact that I’ve been part of the photography wordpress community, I wasn’t prepared for how bitchy and cliquey people can be. So far, I’ve had to delete more than a handful of really nasty, shitty comments from people who think they’re photographers, people sending me emails telling me who do I think I am running a photo challenge, and people telling other people to avoid participating in my challenge. In six months of running the Thursday Photo Challenge I have had ONE person share their (awesome) photos with me, and that was via Twitter.

Until I started this challenge, I always thought the WordPress Photography Community was a welcoming place where anyone could participate. Obviously, I was wrong about that. Apparently you have to be approved by the right people to be allowed to do photography on WordPress these days. It wasn’t like that when I started this blog in 2014, and I never got that vibe in all the years I participated in other photo challenges on WordPress, but times they have a-changed and some shitty, bitchy people have installed themselves as gatekeepers.

With that in mind, and given that my blog started 6 years ago so I could share my travel photos with my friends and also keep a log of how I did certain things like put up curtains in my car campervan, I’m going to continue posting my photos in relevant travel articles. Since I’m also a professional author and I largely don’t care to be part of the photography community if they’re going to be fifty-something men acting like the thirteen-year-olds in Mean Girls, I’m going to change my weekly Thursday posts to writing prompts.

Let me be clear. Nothing is STOPPING me from continuing to blog, but I can blog about anything I damn please and I am not interested in the pathetic drama that the photography community is sending my way so they can all get stuffed. Perhaps bitchy comments is why the original weekly photo challenge died a death. I’m sure a fiftysomething man called Roy will be along any minute now to enlighten us all about the things us mere female mortals could never possibly understand.

DIY chalkboard magnets crafting

So after I did my chalkboards (tutorial here), I had some very small offcuts of chalkboard stickyback vinyl just sitting around, looking sad and lonely. When I got another Amazon delivery, I finally had a box I could turn into these super-cute DIY chalkboard magnets!

If you want to make your own, you will need:

Chalkboard stickyback vinyl (UK Amazon) (US Amazon)

Some cardboard (the corrugated brown stuff works best)

Magnet tape (UK Amazon) (US Amazon)

Scissors

Chalkboard pens (UK Amazon) (US Amazon)

You can make the little chalkboards by following my easy DIY chalkboard tutorial. For magnets, make them small (2×3 inches or 5x7cm rectangles work perfectly but other shapes and sizes are also good).

Write a cute message on your tiny chalkboards. If you suck at calligraphy/lettering as much as I do, draw the outline of your chalkboard onto a piece of paper first and plan out where to place the letters. My first chalkboard worked perfectly first time and all the letters went exactly where I wanted. The second one took about 7 attempts of cleaning it off and starting again because I just kept messing it up. Drawing out a plan helped me a lot.

Let the chalkboards dry thoroughly before doing anything else with them. This should take about 5 minutes. I made a little door sign for my baby’s bedroom out of a slightly bigger piece at the same time (I’ve skewed the bottom line to the left slightly on the room sign as he is getting a brother or sister in 6 months’ time so I will want to change it to “little ones” but not yet):

Once you have the chalkboards ready, turn them over and cut 3-4 strips of magnet tape (you might want to use less but I like them to stick really well to the fridge when they’re holding up baby art). The magnet tape should be about 1cm smaller than the edge of the magnet. Peel back the protective film and stick the magnet tape onto the back of the chalkboards. Press down firmly.

Voila! You’re ready to put up some baby artwork. Or a shopping list. Or your favourite postcard. The sky is the limit!

You could even use these for gifts, although I will say I’m not 100% happy with the finish, because it scratches easily. To figure out how to make these into gifts, I will do some experimenting with varnish spray to see if it preserves the writing. However, the flipside of that is once the writing has been fixed to the chalkboard, there’s no option to wipe it off and change it to something else.

I loved making these chalkboard magnets for the versatility and they’re an easy way to bring a classy look to your refrigerator. I’m using mine to display baby art that my little one made with these Crayola Finger Paints (here in the US, in a bigger pack).

Mystery: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge!

Welcome! Come and join the Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos! Oh, wow, I can’t believe this challenge marks six months of Thursday Photo Challenge! Time flies when you’re having fun.

This week’s challenge is a mystery.

Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.

Neil Armstrong

What photos can you take to depict a mystery? My photo comes from Angkor Wat, Cambodia. There are few explanations for anything at the huge site as you walk around. It’s all a mystery. You can learn more about Angkor Wat at the museum in Siem Reap, though.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

How to calculate the yield from a soap recipe

When you’re making a soap recipe, one thing you might wonder is how to calculate the yield from your soap recipe.

Yield noun – the amount or quantity produced or returned.

There is a really easy way to calculate the yield from any recipe. However, some real world variables will affect the calculation, and in practice, you will find that the yield from any given soap recipe is a bit less than it ought to be.

Why don’t soap calculations produce an exact weight?

A viscous liquid is thick. As a liquid gets more viscous, it pours less readily, until eventually a liquid can be so viscous it doesn’t pour at all (like whipped cream). Soap is a liquid which is viscous, whether it’s melt and pour or a cold process soap that has reached trace. A light trace is less viscous than a heavy trace, but both are more viscous than water.

When you try to pour a viscous liquid, some of it will stick to the sides of the bowl or jug. It will also stick to your stick blender or stirring spoon. This results in a loss of about 10-20g of soap batter per batch. If you are making a small batch such as a single bar of soap, you can lose a significant amount.

The best way to compensate for this loss is to make a bigger batch, because you will not lose much more batter from a larger batch than from a smaller one.

With that in mind, here is how you calculate soap yield:

Add together the weight of all the solid ingredients. Convert water into grams (1ml of water weighs 1g). Other liquids don’t convert 1:1, because a ml is a measure of capacity while a gram is a measure of mass, and the mass of a given capacity is dependent on the density of its molecules. Oils have long chains of molecules, where water has small molecules made of only three atoms, so more water molecules fit into the same space as any oil, so water will always be heavier and more dense than oil for the same capacity.

Confused? Here’s how it works on a practical level. With liquid oils, such as avocado oil, you will need to weigh them separately. Do this before you mix your ingredients together. With electric scales (recommended for soaping), you can do this by turning on your scales and putting an empty container on top, then pressing “tare”. This will set the scales to ignore the mass of the container and just weigh what you put inside it. Next, pour your oil into the container. This will tell you how much it weighs. Add this to the mass of all the other ingredients and this will tell you the total yield of your soap recipe.

Lye dissolves in water, so do I need to weigh it?

Yes. This is because, when you add the lye to the water, even though it dissolves, it is still in the container. The mass of the water increases by the mass of the lye. Any time something soluble (like salt, sugar, or sodium hydroxide lye) is dissolved in water, the mass doesn’t go anywhere.

You can put this to the test if you want to do some at-home chemistry by getting a cup of 100ml water, stir in 50g of salt, and weigh the total mixture. You’ll see the liquid will now weigh 150g and it will have noticeably increased in volume, too. This is because of one of the laws of physics which explain how the universe works.

Example:

Melt and pour recipe (taken from my Easy AHA exfoliating melt and pour soap recipe which you can find here). These are the ingredients:

10 ml Cherry kernel oil

90g Melt and pour soap base

1 ml Cherry blossom fragrance

A pinch of sliced up loofah

The cherry kernel oil needs to be weighed. It weighs 8 grams. Add this to the melt and pour soap base and we get 98 grams. It wouldn’t work to try to weigh 1ml of fragrance so we will round it up to 1 gram although it’s more like 0.9g.

In a higher yield recipe (e.g. making a kilo of soap) we would use a lot more fragrance so we would be able to weigh it but here it will not make much difference. So our total is 99g. In a 100g soap mold, this leaves a tiny bit of room for the sliced up loofah to go slightly under the surface of the soap without it spilling over the mold.

90g + 8g + 1g = 99g

So that’s how to calculate the yield for a soap or cosmetics recipe!

PS I’m super excited that my lye just arrived, so I’ll be trying out some cold process soapmaking as soon as my new stick blender gets here (mine died last year before the first lockdown), and I’ll be sure to share my makes (and fails… part of the learning process) as I move into this awesome new world of handmade soapmaking!

Our shower caught fire! Total DIY bathroom renovation

We renovated our whole bathroom including doing the plumbing. Here’s what we did and how we did it, so you too can DIY renovate your bathroom!

Navigation:

Introduction

Complications

Removal of the shower enclosure

Removing two layers of tiles

Removing the plastic strip from enclosure

Removing the damaged wall

Change of plans

Removing the shower base

Putting a cupboard above the stairs

Repairing the damaged wall

Installing a new shower

Replacing a tiny bath with a bigger one

Redefining the bathroom

Making an upcycled X-shaped towel store

Flooring

Result

What I learned

Introduction

At our first house, we discovered a significant issue with the bathroom. The people who had the house before we did were experts at DIY bodge jobs. We found this out when we replaced the shower after it caught fire while I was getting ready for work one morning.

I kid you not, the shower LITERALLY caught fire. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in that situation but there’s this terrifying moment of “Whaaa?? There’s water pouring out of something that’s on fire?!” It was like a bad dream. It was also the first day of my new job, barely four weeks after my mother died (and not long after I started this blog) in the dark ages of 2015.

When it stopped burning, I didn’t know if we needed to call a plumber or an electrician. We went with an electrician. He cut the wire to the shower from the fuse box to make it safe. We were left in the difficult situation of having no money to fix this. Add to that, we found out the bathtub was actually child size and my husband looked like a beached whale in it. He is not overweight. With no functioning bathroom, I did what any sensible person would, and attempted to get three quotes from plumbers.

I got a quote from a plumber and he reckoned £2500 to do it.

I tried to get another quote from a second plumber but he never even turned up so that was a waste of time. A third plumber came and looked at the bathroom then didn’t bother emailing us the quote. So that was our three quotes.

Stumped (and with no shower) we knew we had to do something, so we took on the huge job of doing a DIY bathroom renovation.

The entire shower enclosure was in a bad state, the white plastic parts were stained orange from years of iron-rich water being poured on it. The shower tray was chipped, revealing dark patches, and also stained. There was disgusting black mold underneath the shower enclosure door and the whole unit was very dated and falling apart with cracked plastic. The wood around the shower tray had gone rotten in places and the floor-to-ceiling plain white square tiles looked like they belonged in a prison.

We had known about some of these issues when we bought the house, but we had put every penny into our deposit and couldn’t even afford a sofa for over a year after we moved in. So it wasn’t until the shower caught fire that we were able to give ourselves permission to do something about this (also, we were finally both working by this point, where we’d just had 18 months of one then the other of us getting short contracts, never at the same time as each other). Ahh… buying a house in your twenties. It’s an adventure.

We also weren’t happy with the lack of an airing cupboard (hot press in Ireland, linen closet in America) in our house. So I spent hours and hours looking online for inspiration, and jotting down ideas. After about a week of this, I started to get a coherent plan for how to completely renovate our bathroom space.

It took about two years for us to complete this project while we were working full-time. My husband did all the plumbing work (he is not a plumber). Here, finally, is a write-up of what we did.

We started out by measuring everything and drawing a plan of the existing bathroom. From this, we could see the space we had to work with and also what complications there might be.

Complications

We discovered several issues that were going to limit our bathroom renovation.

First, the wall to the right of the bath is not an original brick wall finished in wet plaster, it’s a plasterboard (drywall) one. These are more susceptible to damp permeating the outer layers in a bathroom.

Second, the sewage stack (the black square between the sink and toilet) was unmovable without paying a plumber. We had already had problems getting a plumber, so this had to stay where it was. That meant the bath couldn’t be placed anywhere else.

In my original idea for the bathroom, I’d hoped to get a larger bath (this one didn’t fit adults in it) or a double-width shower enclosure and put it in the space where there was currently a shower and a toilet. Due to the sewage stack we had to put the new bath where the old one was.

The third complication was the unusable space over the stairs, especially with the radiator hanging in front of it, because it rendered the space in front of it completely unusable, too, as that was where the door arc was. Bathrooms are steamy and have to have a door.

There was a floor to ceiling wall between that unusable space and the shower, and two very dated plywood cupboard doors on the front, creating what should have been an airing cupboard, but it was so high off the ground, and the radiator prevented you from standing in front of it, so no one could put anything at the back of the cavernous, flat first shelf, never mind getting anything on the second shelf! This was also where the shower wiring and off switch were situated. It was so much dead space!

The fourth complication was the wiring for the bathroom light. It ran from the switch beside the door to the light, which was partly above the bathtub. Building regs state the minimum distance between an electric light and a shower (this same building regulation also meant the way the old shower was installed was dangerous and caused the fire), and this meant we couldn’t put a shower over the bath due to fire safety.

The fifth complication, not clear in my diagram, was that this 1930s house had a sloping ceiling on all external walls. The wall where the original shower was, and the wall with the window by the toilet, were both external walls, so we had two feet of sloping ceiling around those walls, which reduced the height of the walls, limiting things like where to hang a shower curtain rail or the height of any shower enclosure or glass panel.

We thought these were all of the complicating factors when we planned our bathroom renovation. In reality, that was just the start of our problems. As work began, we realized the true extent of the issues we were dealing with.

Removal of the shower enclosure

The first task we needed to accomplish was to get rid of the entire old shower enclosure. Aside from being very old and damaged, it was really tiny, at 75cm square, and our original plan was to replace it with a more modern 90cm squared shower, with room for elbows.

The glass enclosure had plastic around the sides and this was attached to the wall then filled in with lots and lots of sealant. The internet said there would be nails to remove with the back of a claw hammer. This was not the case. We actually couldn’t figure out how this was attached because it was nothing like anything I could find a tutorial for on the Internet.

Taking it apart bit-by-bit, first, we removed the aluminium frame from around the top of the glass. With a crowbar we lifted the glass shower enclosure away from the wall and off the shower base. The sealant was really solid, so we used a kitchen knife to cut it away (a Stanley knife wasn’t long enough to reach) while applying pressure with the crowbar.

The glass was put in the back of my car and taken to the recycling centre. I hope it became ketchup bottles or something.

The plastic strip that held the glass to the wall was attached with screws, we finally learned once the glass was out. Unfortunately, we couldn’t remove this tall plastic strip from the wall because the previous owners had tiled over the sides of the plastic strip so it was impossible to remove until the tiles were off the wall.

Before tackling the shower base, the next job was to remove the tiles because they had also attached the tiles to the shower base using shower grout. Crazy, crazy people.

Removing two layers of tiles

This should have been a relatively simple job for a careful person with a chisel, hammer and some goggles. If the tiles had been put on properly. How does someone put tiles on wrong? Oh, boy, I’m glad you asked.

See, when they tiled the shower enclosure, there were already tiles there. Instead of removing these, as any sensible person would do, they tiled over them. There were two layers of tiles (which didn’t have edges in the same places) for us to remove.

That’s a cream tile beneath a white one.

Wait, I hear you say, tiles have a really smooth surface, they wouldn’t give a good surface to stick another tile to.

Yup. The previous owners of the house figured that out, too. But instead of thinking, “let’s just remove the old tiles” like sensible people, they used an almost-solid layer of tile grout to attach the second layer of tiles to the first.

Because of what they had done, we had to chip the top layer of tiles off the wall in tiny pieces that shattered and flew everywhere. This took us weeks because doing this at ceiling height is exhausting.

Once we had the top layer off, we started on the layer underneath. These were relatively easy, and had definitely been put in properly, with little blobs of tile grout behind them. However, removing them left us with a wall full of holes in the plaster where the plaster came off along with the grout. This is fairly normal for removing tiles.

Looking at the extreme damage, I thought we were going to have to admit defeat at this point and call in a plasterer to remove and replaster the entire wall.

It got even worse. The tiles on the left hand wall turned out to be on a fake plasterboard wall. When we removed the electric shower unit, we found a huge 8-inch hole behind it, where someone had ham-fistedly made the hole for the plumbing and electric wire. When we removed the tiles from this wall, we found out they hadn’t put in a waterproof membrane behind them. A waterproof membrane is essential to protect the plasterboard from water damage. The wooden joints holding up the single layer of drywall were black and completely rotten and the drywall was soaked so the paper on the outside had disintegrated.

Between the hole, the water damage and the rotten wooden frame, the wall was so bad, it had to come out. At this point, we were deeply worried about whether water had gotten down to the floor level, in case the floorboards needed replacing beneath the shower tray.

Unfortunately the only photo I have of this is a bit out of focus. I thought it was worth including anyway to show the extent of that hole in the wall. Where the wood touches the wall, it’s black and rotten. It’s also black in other places such as immediately to the right of the hole, and the plasterboard was badly damaged too.

We ultimately removed the entire wall on that side, floor-to-ceiling, even the part that was an enclosure for the top of the stairs.

Removing the plastic strip from enclosure

Now the tiles were gone, we could finally remove this plastic strip which had been quite a nuisance while trying to get the tiles out because it got in the way of the chisel.

It just unscrewed, which was a bit anticlimactic after all the work I’d done to excavate it from under the two layers of tiles, but I was happy to take the win.

Removing the damaged wall

When we finished removing the tiles from the left hand wall, we discovered that the tiles were attached straight to the plasterboard (no waterproof membrane down here, either) which meant the bottom half of the plaster wall came away with the tiles. The top half came away with careful application of a crowbar and once the plasterboard was gone, we could take out the wooden joints carefully. Finally, we had completely removed the wall. It hadn’t been on our original plan, but sometimes DIY is like that.

We were amazed when we discovered what was behind the wall.

Change of plans

See, we had thought that the reason this boxy enclosure next to the shower was taking up so much space in our bathroom was because it had thick joists behind it, holding up the house structurally. We were surprised to find out it was basically an empty space and that none of it was needed to protect the diagonal staircase ceiling.

When we found this, it inspired us to change our plans a bit, because we realized we had all this unused space.

We sat down and talked about what we might do with this space. First, I wondered about removing the boxy area completely, only, that would mean our radiator would need to be moved, and there was nowhere to move it to because the wall opposite it was a plasterboard DIY job, and given the quality of the work these clowns had done around the shower, I didn’t want to move the radiator and discover that wall was actually a portal to another dimension or something.

I had an idea to put a floor-to-ceiling cupboard in on the side of the space that went almost to floor level, but we decided not to because the access to the cupboard would be blocked by the shower enclosure, rendering it totally unusable.

All the same, I really wanted to use this awesome empty space we had found. It seemed insane to just put drywall back over it.

Removing the shower base

Next we had to remove the shower base, which was hard because it obviously had a drain attached at the bottom and we didn’t want to pour icky drainwater through the ceiling below. I didn’t know that shower bases are made of concrete covered in fibreglass (it makes sense, so it doesn’t move around when you stand in it, but I didn’t know).

This one was also surrounded by wooden skirting (which was partly rotten). We removed the wooden skirting with a crowbar and my husband eased out the shower tray, disconnecting its plumbing as he went.

When we removed the shower tray, we found this amazing newspaper article that dated the shower tray installation to September 14 1984!

Putting a cupboard above the stairs

I had this crazy idea that maybe we could cut a hole in the diagonal ceiling of the staircase and install a storage area that was fixed inside this big empty space, accessible from the stairs. I looked up houses with hidden storage but nothing was even vaguely close to what I wanted to do.

My husband understood what I was imagining, and he promptly measured and cut a perfect rectangle. He drilled a hole in one side then used a jigsaw to cut the rectangle.

This led to a hilarious but slightly embarrassing few days when we had a 2 foot square hole between the bathroom and the staircase while my husband sourced the wood and made the custom cupboard insert to put in the hole. Thankfully, none of our visitors at that time needed to use our loo!

what to do with dead space above the stairs

The view from the staircase :O

After the cupboard insert was made, however, the problem we had was the space was obstructed by the third diagonal piece of wood (in the centre of the last pic) and the cupboard couldn’t go in. We had planned to wiggle it in past the beam and use that beam as the centre of two cupboard doors, but alas it wasn’t to be.

The diagonal beams hadn’t looked very thick from the bathroom side, especially when compared with the horizontal and vertical beams, but when we looked more closely, we were concerned that the diagonal beams might be holding up the ceiling above our front door and supporting the wall above the hole we had cut. We didn’t want these to fall down but we really wanted our cupboard, so we did some careful structural work to make this happen.

My husband ensured the middle beam was still supportive by attaching the top and bottom of it to the two other wooden beams either side of the hole using horizontal pieces of wood. Once it was supported like this, he cut out the middle so we could get the cupboard in.

We put the cupboard in and anchored it to the thick beams. I sadly never took a photo of this because we shifted our focus to the rest of the bathroom almost immediately. I always thought we were going to finish it with some doors (or hide it behind a painting) but we decided to leave it open and then moved to China in 2017.

Repairing the ruined wall

To repair the ruined wall, I used spackle (Polyfilla, although I didn’t use that brand). I actually had a lot of fun filling the holes in. You have to do the deeper holes in thin layers of under 5mm of spackle at a time and leave them for about 12 hours, sand them flat, then add the next layer. Some of the holes took three or four layers to repair (I know they don’t look that deep in the photos, I was learning how to use my first-ever DSLR and I really struggled to show depth in these pictures). It took about two weeks to fill all the holes (bearing in mind I was doing other things, too, like going to work).

How to repair a damaged wall without replastering spackle on a wall polyfiller

Once all the holes were filled, the next job was to sand them flat with the rest of the wall. This is important so the paint or wallpaper has a smooth surface to adhere to, otherwise you will end up with lumps and bumps.

Then, we covered the wall with liner paper and painted it all. We didn’t want to paint dozens of coats (remember, this whole time we had no shower and an inadequate bath with no shower attachment) as this was where we were going to install the new shower. The previous owners had painted this room an obnoxious fluorescent yellow which was showing through the liner paper (as were the white patches of spackle, which are making the wall look lumpy in the picture below when it was actually smooth). We painted over everything with a cute lemon yellow.

repaired wall after tile removal DIY bathroom renovation

Installing a new shower

We decided for our new shower that one of the fully-enclosed units from Better Bathrooms would be best. It has glass panels on all the sides (except the doors) so there’s no need for tiling or other wall-work like plumbing. There were several reasons we chose one like this.

First, it was cheaper than buying all the components like tiles, shower enclosure etc. Second, it was going to save us a lot of time because I hadn’t tiled before and so it was going to take me a while to learn. My husband hadn’t tiled, either, but he was adamantly against doing it. Third, the self-contained shower unit would minimize the chance of water leaking into the house beams ever again, something I was now concerned about with a regular shower. Fourth, we wouldn’t need to work out how to hide the pipework going up to the shower control unit.

The fifth reason? The shower unit we had fallen in love with had an overhead drench head as well as a regular shower head and six body jets, as well as a thermostatic control. And it required no electricity, something I really liked to save money on our electric bill which had mysteriously been through the roof since we moved into this house until the moment the shower caught fire. We were paying double in electricity what we had paid at any of our old houses and this house was only half the size of our last place – a badly-insulated Victorian townhouse spread over three huge floors.

So we were very excited to get one of these. It cost £300, which was a lot less than the cost for the enclosure, shower tray, pipework, boxes of tiles, tile grout and electric shower unit if we had bought it all separately, even without using a professional tiler.

Our excitement sputtered a bit when it arrived in six ginormous and very heavy boxes. We hefted them up the stairs and read the instructions. Putting this shower together was possibly the hardest DIY job I have ever done.

After we put it together, the first time we used it, it leaked through the ceiling downstairs. It turned out that a normal amount of sealant was nowhere near enough to stop the water escaping and we had to put so many layers on, it started to look like the bottom joints of the shower enclosure had survived a collision with a Vaseline factory. It was still leaking. Arrgh.

At one point, we were catching the water in old margarine tubs and emptying them down the toilet after showering. We tried sealing it one more time and we were out of clear sealant, so we used white stuff this time. Guess what? White sealant is (for some bizarre reason) better than clear sealant. It stopped the water getting out and finally our shower was trouble free.

Replacing a tiny bath with a bigger one

The next job for our bathroom renovation was to remove the tiny old bath (in a stylish 80s cream colour) and replace it with a normal-sized bath. We had gone to five local bathroom showrooms and at every single one, I climbed into the baths I liked, to see whether they were big enough. We settled on a great model with the taps and drainage in the centre. It was 1700 long where our old one was 1200 long, so we had to take care that it would fit.

Removing the old bath while leaving the cream tiles in situ was less of a mission than we thought. My father-in-law came up one weekend and he and my husband took out the old bath tub and fixed the new one in place. We had used modern plastic pipes to plumb the shower unit in, so we decided to use these to do the bath, too. My father-in-law didn’t like this idea but my husband had researched all the options extensively beforehand so we went with it anyway and guess what? It was cheaper than copper, easier to work with, quieter when the pressure changed, and it caused no problems at all.

Re-defining the bathroom

The end of the new bath lined up precisely with the end of the big boxy area that covered the ceiling of the stairs. I wanted an airing cupboard (linen closet, hot press) and storage that wasn’t going to get damp when the bathroom was in use. It needed to not be in the bathroom. No one wants moldy bedding.

We decided to build a thin plywood wall at the end of the bath and cover it in vinyl to make it splashproof. We built another wall stretching to the ceiling where we had removed the damp, rotten wall. Between the two, we put a wooden lintel and above this, some frosted perspex to allow light to get to the new airing cupboard storage space which was also an atrium between the bathroom and the landing.

Beneath the perspex, we hung a thin folding door, which we found on sale for £20 at a local DIY store because one of the landlords of one of York’s many student rentals had ordered it then decided he didn’t want it. It was a custom size of 60cm which was exactly the width between the two new walls. We could have left it open without building a wall and effectively making our bathroom smaller but it was worth it for that extra storage space.

By doing this, we were able to remove the original bathroom door, maximising the storage space in this new area of the house.

My husband built shelves up the wall that was closest to the original bathroom doorway. There was 6 inches between the door frame and the wall, and beneath it, we put the laundry basket (for dirty clothes) and this wooden storage thingy his dad had made for us.

On the other side, above the big boxy area, we added a shelf at a height of 160cm. It didn’t come all the way to the front of the space, to make it hard for anything to get lost in there. It was made of wooden planks for air circulation.

Making an upcycled X-shaped towel store

Beneath that, using some MDF we had salvaged from an old shelving unit we had found under the stairs when we bought the house, we made an X-shaped towel store in which towels could be rolled up and stored. We took the sides off the storage unit to use as the main X-shaped part of the towel storage rack. There were four quadrants, and we used two for bath towels, one for hand towels and one for tea towels, so we could always find the right type of towel.

Before, we’d had the towels all folded flat and stacked on top of each other which meant playing a guessing game of unfolding towels and folding them up again to find the right size towel for any given thing.

Our new X-shaped towel store was efficient and it also meant we didn’t need to ever reach the back of that big cavernous space, because we could slide the towels in horizontally and pull them out from the front. I got the idea from some kind of supermarket magazine and between us, we reverse-engineered how to build our own, but I’ve never seen anything like it before or since.

Here’s a drawing of how I designed it (imagine the grey things are towels sitting in an X-shaped rack). Wood sizes were length 50cm, width 80cm, depth 15mm (the depth of your wood is the exact same size the cut needs to be):

DIY how to make a towel rack X shaped

In front of the X-shaped towel store, we attached storage containers to the walls for cosmetics and we had a nice shelf made of more wooden slats. This was a great spot for mixing hair dyes which was really important to me at the time as this blog covered a lot of hair tutorials back in 2015 and I was Youtubing new hair videos every week as well.

Flooring

We used wood-effect vinyl flooring in the bathroom because it was waterproof and easy to clean, which is ideal in a bathroom. We cut it to size and nailed it down to the floor.

Result

So that was how we finished it all off and this was the incredible result:

DIY renovations bathroom shower enclosure how to completely replace a shower
DIY renovations bathroom bathtub how to completely replace a bath
Our airing cupboard bathroom storage. The X-shaped towel store is on the far left.

What I learned

Bathroom renovations are hard work but they are the perfect opportunity to learn new skills and a great way to save a lot of money. You don’t need to rely on professionals if you do your research.

Total cost: Under £500.

DISCLAIMER: Don’t DIY electrics, we got a professional to disconnect the dangerous old electric shower. Mama Adventure is not liable for any injuries or losses arising from your inability to fully research or learn skills prior to taking on a big project like this. Turn your water off before doing any plumbing task and check it is definitely off!

Sleepy: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge

Welcome! Come and join the Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience. This is the ideal life.

Mark Twain

This week’s theme is sleepy! What can you come up with?

My photo is from a rare animal rescue cafe in Seoul, South Korea. Basically, they took in rescued animals who had been bought as exotic pets then abandoned by their owners, and was completely funded by the money people paid to see them. It was like a cat cafe, but with different animals and a lot of strict rules like no touching the animals and no feeding them. This dog is so sleepy at the top of his slide!

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

9 Prehistoric sites you can day trip from York

The county of North Yorkshire has some pretty fantastic prehistoric sites. The City of York itself doesn’t really have anything but within an hour’s drive, there’s lots to see. If you want to visit Neolithic monoliths, Iron Age ceremonial mounds, Bronze age stone circles or prehistoric art in the form of cup and ring marks, you’ve found the right article.

I haven’t included most of these in my big list of 54 day trips from York, because I know a lot of people aren’t that interested in prehistory (I don’t understand them at all). The best part is, all of these are free, all you need is petrol money and lunch. If you’re not sure when each time period was, or its key features, you will find info below under the heading, “some dates”.

Because this is a travel article, I haven’t included some key North Yorkshire sites which archaeologists find important, such as Star Carr. This is because what makes these sites important is beneath the ground, while they’re being dug for the 4-12 weeks of digging season once a year. The rest of the time, you can’t see anything except the soil of the farmer’s fields covering them up. They are usually on private land, too. All of this makes it not practical or worthwhile to visit them in a day trip.

Places to see prehistoric stuff

I’ve included the nearest town so you can get an idea for where they are, because isn’t it really annoying when people just rattle off the names of prehistoric sites in the middle of nowhere and one could be in Cornwall while another is in Aberdeen.

Thornborough henge, nr. Ripon: A triple henge of three stone circles close to one another, along with a huge mile-long cursus (two ditches side by side creating a sort of pathway). At one point, it was apparently used for jousting and was known locally as “The Charging Ground.” The site is Neolithic, from at least 4,000BCE. Findable on Google Maps, but be aware extensive quarrying has taken place in the environs and the landscape beyond the stones therefore isn’t safe to free-explore.

Rudston Megalith, nr. Bridlington: I’ve talked about this one in my other article on day trips from York, because if you’re heading out toward Flamborough Head or Bempton, this is well worth a shufty. It’s an 8m tall megalith single-standing stone which is in a churchyard in the village of Rudston. If you’re into megaliths, you might want to make a day of it. Findable on Google Maps.

The Devils Arrows, nr. Boroughbridge: This is a small circle of three tall megalith standing stones. Dating to the late Neolithic, it is thought there were four or five stones originally. The tallest of the three is 7m high, and a Victorian excavation discovered it was buried a further 1.8m below the ground. According to local folklore, these are three actual giant arrows thrown by Old Nick himself in a spectacularly poor attempt at destroying the village of Aldborough. Founded in Roman times, Aldborough didn’t exist until thousands of years after the stones were put here. More likely, the legend sprung up around the superstitious time of the witch hunts and stuck. You can find it on Google maps.

Harwood Dale, nr. Ravenscar/Scarborough, North Yorkshire: Probably the nicest stone circle to photograph on this list, at 14m around you can fit a nice amount of stones into one shot. Bronze Age Harwood Dale is locally known as the Druid’s Circle. It is not, however, a typical circle. It is a Bronze Age burial cist, a stone-built box shape where human remains would have been buried. There are three upright stones in the centre. Two more cup-and-ring marked stones from the vicinity were taken to Scarborough Museum in Victorian times and the rest of the site was seemingly forgotten. More details and a map reference here.

Ramsdale Stone Circle, nr. Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire: Only three stones make up this tiny stone circle, which makes it fascinating and easy to look at in its entirety (unlike gigantic circles such as Long Meg and Her Daughters, in Cumbria, or Avebury, in Avebury). It has been suggested that the three stones once formed part of a burial cairn, or that they were originally a larger stone circle, but the truth is that no one knows. More info and map reference here (not marked on Google maps).

Simon Howe, nr. Goathland, N. Yorks: This visually intriguing stone circle has a more recent addition, in the form of a modern cairn like the ones you see at the top of many mountains frequented by ramblers. It’s due south of Goathland (where you can also find the Mallyan Spout waterfall). I have attempted to add it to Google Maps so hopefully it will be more findable for other people. If not, get the map reference and inspiring photos here.

High Bridestones, nr. Goathland, N. Yorks: While you’re here, the road above Goathland also has two more Bronze Age sites. High Bridestones is four standing stones and they are thought to be what is left of two circles that have been joined together. North of it sits Low Bridestones. Get the deets here.

Brow Moor Carved Stones, nr. Ravenscar, N. Yorks: The rock art at Brow Moor is incredible. These stones were carved in the Bronze age and they are highly striking, speckled with lots of small dots (cups) and some bigger circles (rings) and even concentric circles known as double rings. If you’re into prehistoric rock art, this is a worthwhile day out. Photos and map reference here.

Blakey Topping, nr. Scarborough, N. Yorks: This intriguing and mysterious site has been suggested to be a sacred hill. From the top, you can see another potential sacred hill to the southeast (Howden Hill). A sacred hill is a relatively new class of ancient monument, and there’s no consensus yet on whether they exist or not. Blakey Topping has four standing stones at the top.

Legend has it that Blakey Topping was created by Wade the Giant, who was angry at his wife Bell and scooped up soil from the Hole of Horcum to throw at her. Blakey Topping was created where the soil landed, along with some other local hills. Looking at the shape of the hill and how it fits into the landscape, it is clearly a man-made hill, with a very uniform shape and a flat top typical of Iron Age earthworks, although it could be older. Well worth a look and there are loads of walking guides if you DuckDuckGo Blakey Topping hill. Photos and map reference here.

Some dates:

Neolithic: 4000-2500BCE Britain transitioned from a marine-based diet to livestock farming. Inland settlements became more permanent as the same land could feed people year-round with domesticated cattle. Stone tools still the norm.

Bronze Age: 2500-800BCE Metallurgy was invented and bronze could be forged into shapes to take the place of stone tools. Archaeologists have found many ceremonial burials from this period.

Iron Age: 800BCE to 43AD Iron smelting replaced bronze, allowing metal production to be faster and the tools to be better as iron is harder than bronze. Iron age forts abound in the English landscape but for most of them, all that remains is a big hill with no trace of what it looked like, because stone wasn’t used widely for building until the Romans arrived.

The Romans arrived 43AD, bringing an end to the stone monuments and circle building traditions of the past and eventually blanketing England in Christianity. Also started writing stuff down and calling it “history”.