Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Wally World Christmas

Since it's the holiday season, when people usually focus on positives, I'll try something new on the blog: an entire post without complaints.  Here goes:

We pulled up to the house on Wednesday and people were working.  Drywall was being handed through Isaac's bedroom windows.  The front door was wide open, and fresh subflooring had been laid on the porch.  I marveled at how sturdy the porch felt, after having been forced to hopscotch across holes overlaid with old particleboard for so long.  I stood on the porch, waiting for the kids and Abby to round the house, and was happy with the progress I was seeing.  I mentioned the flooring to Isaac and he looked at me incredulously, as if to say "no, Dad, there were never holes in this floor."  Still, progress, satisfaction.  It was nice, because it's been a while since I had that feeling.

Then I went inside.

(This, for the casual reader's benefit, is usually the part of the story when things go dramatically downhill.)


Not since the windows were painted several months ago have I been as excited to go through the house.  Guys were up on ladders mudding the drywall in the great room.  Walls had sprung up everywhere, and we had something we've only been planning for so long: Rooms!  I walked into my bedroom for the first time since it had been separated from the kitchen; it's not so bad!  Maybe I'm looking at it from the perspective of someone living in a 600-square-foot basement with three other people, but my 90-square-foot bedroom actually looks, well, if not spacious, then full of a lot more possibility than I had thought.  The closets are walled too, and with the borders finalized it looks like we might have an actual choice as to where our bed might go.

Downstairs, the family room is the big surprise: it's huge!  And bright!  We had been so worried walling it off would make it a long, narrow cave, shut out from all the light that streams in through the kids' rooms.  But no, it's immense!  And full of light!  And, get this: the light was not only coming from the windows, bur from light bulbs!  In the ceiling!  That were turned on!

The kids rooms are walled too, and although Isaac's room was filled with a mountain of garbage bags, it didn't matter.  Why?  Walls!  The laundry room?  Walls!  The guest room?  Well, too many walls! (They walled over a section that's supposed to have been left open for storage...)  The bathroom has no walls yet, but that's because they're waiting until the porch is finished, since not doing so would risk getting the new walls wet in a storm-- like the one that's happening right now.

Overall, a full 18.5 months into owning this place, I shouldn't be excited about walls, I know.  I should be living there, learning my new surroundings, getting used to my new commute on the Red Line, sitting next to my gigantic Xmas Tree and my fireplace and my dog.  (Okay, that last one is only in my dreams...)  But regardless of what's happening, I am excited about the walls.

And while I promised I wouldn't bitch during this post, well, okay, here's my attempt to continue not doing so.  We've been waiting for a timeline from our contractors for months.  Since we got back from London, actually.  And it's not that we've been meek and haven't wanted to ask more than once; we ask on at least a weekly basis, if not more frequently.  Well, this week we got our timeline.  It says all the work will be done on the house by the end of January, and the only things that will happen in February will be things like the final inspections and walk-throughs and stuff.  Makes sense.  So the timeline gets delivered to Patty at the mortgage company and she's not happy.  She pretty much turns around and says she needs a new timeline-- one that doesn't extend into February.  It's been a week now and I haven't heard a peep from our contractors, but what I know is that their idea is that we'll be in there within about six weeks, and our financiers want it to be sooner.  And the only way our contractors will get their money is if the financiers are happy.  So, that's all I'm saying.

(Patting myself on the back... I think that was a non-bitchy paragraph.  I think.)

So where we stand right now is about 90% drywalled, with electric and water hooked up and running.  Cabinets are ordered, appliances have already been delivered.  Still having communication issues with the contractor, but they've communicated to us that we'll be in in about six weeks.  Porch is half-done, rooms are decently-sized.  And to top it all off, the dining room chairs Abby wanted are actually comfortable, even though they're made entirely of metal.  (I didn't talk about those at all, but I will include a pic at the bottom for those who are interested.)

While we were at the house, I finally met Lee, the contractor working with not only the Windmill next door, but also the Pagoda and the Swiss Chalet.  He offered us a tour of the latter two houses, which we hadn't been in for almost two years.  For those of you who might not have known us back then. we actually responded to the real-estate ad for the Chalet back in February 2011, but since there was just too much work in that place for us to stomach (ha!), the agent showed us the Pagoda and the Bungalow since we were already there.  We were really intrigued by the Pagoda, but didn't want our kids to be "those kids who live in a pagoda."  Honestly, both of our families and most of our friends already think of us as the weirdos of the bunch, so that would've just added to our reputation.  Anyhow I jumped at the chance to look, and we weren't disappointed.  The Pagoda looks amazing: they've unearthed some original screens inside, and outdid our excavation by digging out an entirely new lower level.  Our biggest practical problem with the Pagoda was that it was only 1,400 square feet, but with the addition it's gonna be just about the same size as the Bungalow.  Moreover, Lee took a lot of the original local-quarry stones from the foundation during the excavation and re-placed them outside in spots where they look totally original to the design of the place.  Beautiful work, and made me very jealous, since I think most of our stones disappeared, despite my requesting that all of them stay put.  (But no bitching, so on to the next house.)  Across the yard, the Chalet's still well behind even our house, but the work inside is amazing.  The top floor has been converted from a hodgepodge of small, cramped rooms with slanted ceilings into a spacious master suite, complete with hidden storage compartments behind the HVAC system.  The ground floor has been developed so thoughtfully that the new flooring was laid underneath the walls, just in case any future owners wanted to reconfigure without worrying about replacing or matching up planks.  And a mysterious grotto underneath, which predates the house, is being converted into a wine cellar with a natural low temp and hi humidity.  Oh, and the incredibly expensive but gorgeous cedar shingles they put on the houses that we thought would cost about $40,000?  Yeah, Lee found a mill in Canada that made them and shipped them directly at wholesale, and he says they ended up costing about the same as the higher-quality shingles from Home Depot.  Seriously, I'd say I wish I had met Lee while we were considering contractors, but I am pretty sure we wouldn't have been able to afford him.  It's fantastic, however, to know our neighbors are going to have such awesome houses.  (Once again, we'll be the bad element in the neighborhood...)

But our house is our house, natural grotto or not, and our house is now walled; and in six weeks or so it should be Wahled as well.  (Insert laugh track here.)  While there are still a lot of issues that need to be worked out, I figure since it's Xmastime, I might as well think of the happier Bungalow-related thoughts now.  Once Santa's back at the North Pole, though, all gloves come off.

What we believe will be our new dining-room chairs;
three in copper and three in red lacquer. 
They're pretty cool, and are actually very comfy.
Very modern, but will offset the traditional style of
the dining-room table we inherited from my grandmother.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Tortoise and The Bungalow

Once upon a time there was a tortoise, who was ever so slow, but whose perseverance was known throughout the land, for he beat the quick but lazy Hare in a race for the ages.  What you might not know is that the Tortoise is well on his way to beating another foe, Bungalow.  You see, boys and girls, the Bungalow is a strange creature, who looks small from the front and big from behind.  His cute and unassuming face is offset by his grand and nearly see-through behind, as well as his cavernous insides.  But what really sets him apart from the rest is his ability to drag on and on and on; while the Hare's surprise loss kept readers rapt 'til the end, the Bungalow's sporadic fits and starts seem more to disappoint and underwhelm than to interest and delight the audience.  Ahh, the Bungalow is a creature who may prove, in time, to defy time itself and regress back into the very local timber and stone from which he was built.

Oh, wait.  I was told in a recent review at work that less frequent use of sarcasm might serve me well in my career.  Let me unsarcasmafy that last paragraph and state what I mean in clear, simple terms: "BUNGALOW SLOW AS MOLASSES IN ALASKA WAFFLE HOUSE."

"But no," you say, "your last post was about the drywall being completed, and this post contains pictures of even more drywalling, with news of even further work!"  "Ah," I counter, "but it also contains sad tales of woe-- or rather-- sad tales of whoa."

Drywall continued to go up after my post last week.  In fact, Abby went by the house today and found most of the second-floor drywall to be complete.  But it was supposed to take several days at most.  The first floor remains incomplete, with the initial work in the kids' bedrooms and the family room not joined by the rest of the floor.  This is because, understandably and ununderstandably, the front porch has to be ordered: understandably, because the front porch is what overlays that area of the house that was excavated, so it forms the roof of those several rooms and, without it, the drywall could get wet from precipitation; ununderstandably, because last week I specifically asked the contractors why they hadn't laid the porch yet, and they told me it was because they would wait until the end so as to avoid heavy foot traffic on the new flooring.  Yet, in the same email they told me the drywall was beginning.  So if they knew they wouldn't be able to complete the drywall until the porch was laid, why the heck wasn't the porch laid at least concurrently?  I believe it's a mystery.

Two nights ago I had to pee at about 2:45am.  After I accomplished the major feat of getting out of bed, trudging across the basement to the bathroom, and going back to bed, I managed to make myself stay awake for the next 75 minutes having an argument in my head with the contractors about the major issue of them having drywalled the first-floor bathroom without first having moved the door like we wanted.  Seriously, I was awake until 4am having an argument in my head with someone about a door.  Do I feel vindicated now that I know the bathroom is part of the area that has not yet been completed?  I don't know; ask me when it's all over.  In 2058.

Thing is, Abby asked the contractors at the house today why the door hadn't been moved, and got pretty much a blank stare of an answer.  She got the same answer when she asked why the toiled hadn't been moved.  She's pretty angry, and for those of you who know Abby, that takes a lot.  I'm pretty angry, and for those of you who know me, well, um, it's become par for the course lately.  Tonight as we headed across the neighborhood to a neighbor's Hanukkah party, I opined that this is the point where normal people would fire their contractors.  Abby didn't disagree.  (Only we're both wrong, because normal people would have done that a long time ago, methinks.)

And yet again, progress comes from next door, where Lee the Windmill Contractor (I picture him dressed as Don Quixote, since we've never met) emailed me several days ago about an issue they've encountered with the water company.  Seems as if the water company is requiring some sort of fancy-schmancy $200+ water hookup for the Windmill because of the way the line is set up.  Lee said the water company told him we would need that too, but I hadn't heard anything of the sort.  So I forwarded the email to our contractors and asked them to hook up with Lee to see what was going on.  Crickets.  So a day later, I get another email from Lee, saying he had talked to the property-management company and they had agreed to pay for the hookups, since it was only $200 apiece.  I forwarded that to the contractors as well, again asking they advise me and/or Lee on what to do.  I did receive a response of "let me talk to the plumber," but only, I think, because I used ALLCAPS when writing my email.  Now this would only normally be mildly annoying to me, despite the fact that our neighbor and their contractor, who is helping us, is potentially being put off by the lack of communication, were it not for another set of emails from my contractor only one day earlier. Yes, this set of emails involved the contractor asking us for the money for the extra insulation we asked for in the walls and floors.  I have no problem paying this bit the contractor claims to have not known about, even though we had mentioned it over and over and over again throughout the whole process.  But the problem is that the four or five emails we had on this subject all happened within about a half an hour.  No problem replying to my emails at all when it involves a check, huh?

But enough of the sarcasm.  Now, back to the serious business of returning to the normalcy that is living in my basement with my wife and two kids.  Luckily, the drywall down here was finished about four years ago by a contractor who was neither Tortoise nor Hare, but rather a dependable worker who showed up, did his job, got paid, and let us go on with our lives.
Inside Lola's room, with her bed area at left and closet center-right
Family Room, looking left as you go down the stairs,
with the doorway into Lola's room at right

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Power Makes 'Em Go

It's been ten days since drywall has gone up in our house.  You'd think I would have been so excited about that that I would have reported it on this very blog, but to make a football analogy, it was like kicking a field goal near the end of the game when you're down by three touchdowns: too little too late.  Not that I don't want the drywall to go up-- it was highly important, because it was in the kitchen, and it was required for the final cabinet measure to happen--but I really wanted it to go up everywhere.

Yep, the drywall went up in exactly one room: the kitchen.  It only went up there because the contractors knew about the cabinet guys waiting around for them, and about the deadline we approached and blew by for the cabinets to be manufactured.  It went up by hand, and the rest of the drywall did not go up at all, because there was still no power in the house.  You see, drywalling is a very power-intensive endeavor, or so I am told.  Putting drywall up by hand may be what the Amish do-- they of prolific hand-hung sheetrock-- but it just doesn't fit into the schedule of modern-day contractors... nor does it fit into the budget of modern-day homeowners.  So it went up, and last week the cabinet guy came out and made a final measure.  And what do you know, the original measure-- done by the same guy-- was off.
Drywall in the kitchen:
Once the cabinets are installed,
it will be cut down to size.

Kitchen drywall (Range wall to left, Fridge wall to right)
Abby was there, and luckily the measure wasn't that far off.  It could be remedied by changing the two nine-inch floor cabinets flanking the range into two four-inch drawer cabinets that will probably end up being filled with crap.  It could be remedied either by getting rid of our built-in trash-can cabinet (never!) or by getting rid of a random nine-inch cabinet we had put into the plan as filler (bingo!).  And it could be remedied by moving the sink just enough off-center from the window it will be next to to probably guarantee that Abby will be staring at it ruefully for the next few decades.  (Yes, she who lusts after asymmetry was not amused that the sink would be several inches to the side of center.)  But after all of that, the cabinets will still go in.  She'll drop by Home Depot tomorrow to sign off on the final design, they'll go into production, and we'll wash our hands of the whole kitchen until they magically appear on our walls in a month or so-- hopefully more month than so.

But still, no power.  A week went by and I again got angry, as I tend to do now whenever I think of this house and all of the things that are going to be "wrong" with it (versus the perfect house in my head) once it's completed.  I made an enumerated list on Monday morning and sent it off to the contractors, fuming.  Several hours later, I got a phone call and Mark was good enough to go, one by one, down the list.  Okay, he left off a few of my bullets, but he did mention one gigantor thing: we "went hot" that morning.


The electricity was on.  He said he had a load of drywall already ordered from Home Depot, ready for delivery on Tuesday.  If, for some reason, that delivery would have to be pushed off until Wednesday, he had trucks ready to go bring 50-60 pieces of drywall from Home Depot on Tuesday so they could get hanging.  POWER.  Drywalling would start Tuesday.  As in yesterday.  And the reason I'm still writing this as future tense is because I have no idea whether it actually did start Tuesday.  Why would I?  I mean, it's only the thing we've been waiting for for three months or so.  You'd think-- I dunno-- that we'd be getting pictures or phone calls or emails or a text message or something from them telling us the thing we've been pestering them about the most, and that they've supposedly been waiting on the most, was happening.  But, you know,  when they got power on Monday morning, they didn't tell me that either; they happened to note it when going down a list of that morning's grievances.  Don't they get it yet?  This is good news!  Tell me about it, damn it!

Isaac being a brooding model
in front of the insulation
in his bedroom
So, besides the power and drywall, there were several other items of note.  No, the plumbing had not yet gone in for the refrigerator (for the ice dispenser), but it would go in before Lola's bedroom ceiling was up, since that's where the pipe would be located.  No, he didn't realize my bedroom closet had no light, and he would check on that; but yes, the lights are now in in all the other closets.  (Can't remember whether there was lighting in the room we're calling the "library," which is the entrance to the balcony. Hmm...)  Yes, the light switch has been moved in the downstairs bathroom to accommodate the movement of the door to one side, which in turn would accommodate the division of the bathroom like we want; no, the door frame itself has not yet been moved.  No, the concrete pad for the HVAC unit outside has not been poured, but we actually might not need concrete at all; rather, there's this one-piece product that can just be laid on the dirt that the HVAC guy might prefer.  Yes, the ginormous HVAC unit did overhang the newly-built platform for it, but the platform has since been extended and is complete.  (Yes, this program recognizes "ginormous" as a correct spelling, but not "HVAC.")  Yes, the insulation is finished.  Yes, they meant to wait until near the end of construction to complete the porch, because they don't want lots of foot traffic on it right away; I had thought they were just waiting to install the HVAC unit since it was so, well, ginormous.  Yes, they have already spoken with the fireplace guy, and were set to send him the necessary specs.  No, not all the windows are done, because they're having "pricing issues" with some out-of-state window manufacturer (in Wisconsin I think), but yes, the windows in the dining room and the laundry room have been rehabbed and installed.  Yes, the kitchen ceiling has been scraped and sanded.

Newly-scraped kitchen ceiling
And yes, one week ago today, I moved my family into my basement because my renters needed a place to live.  This despite the two mortgages I'm paying on two different full homes.  I have to ask permission to use the washer and dryer upstairs; this despite the fact I now own two washers and two dryers.  I have to wash my dishes by hand; this despite the fact I now own two dishwashers.  I have to cook my food on an "Americana" range with electric coils with tinfoil underlay; this despite the fact I now own two ranges with ceramic cooktops.  The list goes on, but it's nothing but frustrating.  The basement itself isn't bad at all, which is really nice considering I've had renters down here for 4+ years.  It's not even terrible with the kids, who love the idea of having "sleepovers" every day.  (They're sharing a bed.)  It's just, you know, not what I had imagined.

Tomorrow, as I said, Abby goes to Home Depot up in Aspen Hill to finalize the cabinet order.  She asked me whether I would be okay if she made some small last-minute edits, such as correcting the fact that we no longer want an in-cabinet microwave, without me.  I told her I expected nothing less than her leaving that store completely, utterly, devastatingly done with the cabinets.  On the way home, I expect she will drop by the house.  What I don't expect is the drywall to be near completion, even though it would be Day Three of installation-- an installation I was told would take 2-3 days.
Newly-extended HVAC platform

Maybe just because I want to have a pleasant surprise?  Maybe because I've finally become cynical towards not just this process but this entire genre of processes?  Who knows?  I just know that the Power Wheels commercials from when I was little told me "Power Makes 'Em Go," and I hope that my contractors take a page out of the handbook from those overly expensive motorized vehicles for kids.  After all, it's nearly Christmas.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanks for Nothing

Thanksgiving was supposed to be our first big holiday in the new house.  It was going to be the holiday when we asserted our adulthood in the family, hosting Abby's side from Tennessee, North Carolina, and Maryland-- maybe even Georgia-- and finally getting everyone back together on Turkey Day for the first time since her Aunt Linda died in 2010.  Since then, the family hasn't even seen each other, let alone gotten together for Thanksgiving like they had for decades.  I was lucky enough to take part since we started dating in 2000, and knew we would be the ones that'd have to take charge if it was to continue.  Well, tonight we had a great Thanksgiving dinner in Silver Spring, but alas, it was just the four of us using a Groupon to eat sushi.

Packing up was supposed to be exciting, putting everything into boxes and loading it into the Prius, bringing it up a little at a time as rooms finished up.  Bigger furniture would go in a rented van, or maybe we could coerce my father-in-law to come up and let us use his pick-up truck.  Room by room, we'd watch the house empty out, and the bungalow fill up.  We'd have a smooth transition, hire a cleaning crew to go through the house, and turn over the keys to our new renters.  We'd wave, maybe take a few pictures, and drive the fifteen minutes up to our new place, where we'd walk in, turn out the lights, and go to sleep.  Well, today we spent the day packing all right, but the boxes are being stacked in the attic and in the dining room, and the furniture's going to move into the basement, along with us, in less than a week.

We were supposed to be done already.  We were supposed to be SO done already that our loan has already expired.  Our cabinets and our appliances and my grandma's piano and dining room table and everything else is just sitting.  Waiting.  We're not that much over budget, but we'll be paying more than $2000 a month more than we thought we'd have to be paying from now until we move in, because we aren't able to refinance our loan until the house is done (about $500/month), we're going to have to pay to store a lot of our stuff that won't fit with us in the basement (about $200/month), and we're going to have to pay rent to our new renters for renting out our own basement from them ($1300/month).  The clock is ticking, the wallets are emptying, and I just don't feel our contractors give a crap.

Sure, they're nice.  Sure, they have great answers for us when we have questions.  Sure, sure, sure.  But I'm just done with this process.  Done.  Abby used to ask me how much money we had in the bank, just to make sure.  (We figured we had enough saved to go two years on the process without moving in; it will be 18 months this week.)  Now I'm nervous, even though the situation hasn't changed.  All along, even with my apparently unrealistic goal of Labor Day, and my secondary goal of Halloween, I hadn't thought we wouldn't be in the house by Thanksgiving, and certainly we'd be in by Christmas, no?  In August, when we were complaining nothing had been done while we were in London, our FHA inspector said there was probably a month's worth of work left.  It's been three months now, and our contractor is now saying there are two months left.  Two months.  That means we won't be in by Valentine's Day either.

Our renters are being extraordinarily nice.  They were supposed to move in before October 1, but ended up moving into the basement on November 1, and we let them stay for free.  But they need the place now, and even though they're telling us they won't move upstairs until we're out, and they're fine with living in the basement, enough is enough.  Our contractors may or may not be screwing us, but they're not about to screw my renters.  The buck stops here, I guess.

I agree with Abby that it'll be an interesting experience, living in our 600-square-foot basement just the four of us, in the winter, at Christmastime.  After all, we lived in this house for two whole DC winters without heat, pre-kids.  Fancy camping.  But I want to be an adult now.  I paid people to do this project.  I paid to keep my family in this house.  I want the work done.  I want my renters happy.  I want my kids to have Christmas in their new bedrooms, and open presents under the 12-foot tree next to their new fireplace.  I want to be hosting Thanksgiving.  Like an adult does.  Tonight.  Now.  

And I can't.  And it sucks.  Thanks for Nothing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Keepin' it Clean

I don't often have really nice things to say about stores when it comes to this process, but I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to Sears at Seven Corners.  Charged with finding a washer and a dryer for the house during the day yesterday, Abby went to the blast-from-the-past store out in Falls Church and spied a pair of Kenmore appliances on a wacky sale: originally $1399 apiece, they were marked down to $699.  They were exactly what we wanted-- electric, not bottom-of-the-line, steam capability, front-loading and stackable, and even came in stainless steel.  (Who really cares about the color of their washer anyhow?)  She ordered them and checked two major appliances off our list.  (Yay!)
Wacky '60s Sears in Falls Church, VA.

I got an electronic receipt from Sears and clicked on it, just to see where the appliances were being delivered from.  (Yeah, I like to track my packages across the country.  You got a problem with that?)  What do you know: the same appliances that were $699 apiece at the store yesterday were $664 today online.  So I click on the link to chat with someone at to ask them about price matching.  Dead link.  I click on the link to have call me, the phone rings immediately, I pick up.  Dead line.  I just call the 1-800 number listed on the website, and the customer service representative tells me Sears stores and do not price match against each other, so if I wanted the online sale price I had to return the order and start anew online.  Annoyed, I called the store.  The guy confirmed that they couldn't price-match against the website, but once I asked him how to delete the order before it was delivered, his tune changed dramatically.  My guess is they work on commission at Sears...  He had no problem taking the $70 off our bill, and even said he'd do it right then, rather than having us come in to make the change.
Our new washer and dryer.  Originally $2800, now $1330.
So yeah, now that I read this, it doesn't seem like Sears really did us any favors, did they?  But I like the fact that I didn't have to go in to get my $70 back, so that's a plus in my book.  Jeez, I'm easy to please...  That said, I'll leave you with a picture of our current washer and dryer, the subjects of one of our first Xmas card pictures as homeowners way back in 2005.  We tried to be all smart about the wording, but ended up convincing some people we were going to have a baby.  No, it'd be another year before that happened, and NO it's not gonna happen now (or ever again!) either.
Our apparently-confusing Xmas card in 2005,
starring our still-humming washer and dryer in DC.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Dozen Days and Who Cares

Here we are, twelve days before the expiration of our loan.  Our lender's hot and bothered, I'm freaked out, and our contractors seem not to bat an eye.  These guys are really nice, but either they know something I really, REALLY don't, or they're just assuming once the shit hits the fan, we'll just all be wearing Teflon slickers.  Twelve days.

So where do we stand?  Well, we went to the house yesterday and, yes, there was slight progress.  The HVAC system has been delivered and placed on its perch, although I don't know whether it's been connected, because it hangs decisively over the overhang that was supposedly purpose-built for its bulk.  And bulk is the right word-- this thing's enormous.  But it's in, and so is all of the wiring.  While we were there, the electrician stopped by to do some final tweaks.  Never met the guy before, and his lack of a front tooth immediately put me on edge.  I don't know whether he sensed this, but he explained without being asked that he had cracked it last week, and was freaking out about how much money he was about to plunk down for a new one.  Okay, so that can happen to anyone.  Other than that, he seemed like a cool guy, and had no qualms about making a couple of slight modifications we asked for.  First off, he said if we had no problem with the light switch in the downstairs bathroom being a bit higher than code required, he'd have no problem moving it over so we could have that door moved like we wanted.  Check!  Then he said he had no problem going back and installing the wiring for the light fixture that'll hang over the dining-room table, which involves getting way the heck up to the top of the great room's ceiling and tacking a wire that matches the ceiling to the back of one of the rafters.  Check!  Finally, he said he had no problem adding a second switch so that we could turn that fixture on independently of the track lighting that'll otherwise light up the great room ceiling.  Check!  This shouldn't be a big deal, but these are things we have asked our contractors about, only to receive reticent "I'll sees" in response.  (To the contractors' defense, it's not them doing the work, just them passing the request on to the subcontractors, but still, the electrician took it all in stride.  Let's just hope that stride isn't the same stride that the plumber took when, months ago, he said it wouldn't be a problem to move the upstairs toilet by six inches and then followed up by doing nothing, causing our shower to be six inches shallower than I wanted.  But who's counting?)
Our HVAC system as it sits ponderously over the upstairs bathroom.

The electric wiring is done, so that means our final inspection before the walls can be closed is scheduled.  Don't know when it will be, but hopefully before the end of this week so everything can get going in earnest.  First comes insulation, then drywall, then EVERYTHING ELSE.  Waiting waiting waiting...

The electric transformer box outside is still in the same state it was last week, and the bollards haven't yet gone up.  We met our neighbor, Paula, who owns the Windmill with her husband, Richard.  She has definitely had a time with a lot of her rehab as well, and it's interesting that while her stories are so different from ours, they still cause the same headaches.  In her case, it's that she had to remove an enormous tree from her property because it was growing into the house, but the law required her to plant six trees at least two inches in diameter to replace it.  Several of those trees died, so they themselves had to be replaced, which is what was happening on Tuesday.  Not to mention, the little ring of Yews the community had planted around the transformer were too close in proximity for the electric company's taste, so she was having them moved.  She's annoyed that the community property between our houses is pretty much barren, and that there are ridiculous numbers of utility pulls around our houses, and that massive branches are hanging down from the 100-foot-tall oak trees and hovering above her new roof; you know, things I'm going to think about only once I'm in my house.  This woman means business; it'll be nice to have her as a neighbor, because she'll definitely keep our asses in gear and our eyes on the prize... seeing as we do have a proclivity towards slackerdom.

Paula invited us to look inside the Windmill, and it's really neat.  Especially awesome is the view from the top and, if I may say so myself, the specific view in the direction of the Alpha Bungalow.  Couldn't help but take some snapshots.  The house itself is pretty small, and there really wouldn't be room for more than one bedroom for a couple without being severely cramped-- at least for my taste.  It would make an awesome second home / cabin / beach house, though.
The Bungalow as seen from the Windmill's balcony.
Might be my favorite pic I've taken of our place.

Back to our house, though.  Our contractor told me the reason we had failed the gas inspection last week (which we passed soon thereafter) was not for any problems related to the work, but because the gas pressure was not turned up high enough for the inspector's taste.  Now that we have passed, we don't need to be in as much of a rush to get the fireplace decisions made.  I still would like to finish everything-- don't get me wrong!-- but I want to make sure we get the fireplace right, as with all other decisions, and that's something that's not do-or-die in terms of finishing the house.  What I do know is we have the gas hookup and we're going to get those fake logs that "burn" with real fire from natural gas.  What I don't know is what's going to happen all around it, because Abby really likes the look of the stone fireplace without edging around the mouth, and is averse at this point to any sort of conventional finishing that comes with a normal gas-insert fireplace.  I, on the other hand, couldn't care less.  So it's going to be a case of "whatever Abby wants, as long as I get my gas fireplace."  Those are the kinds of decisions that can be fantastic because of ease, or terrible because of procrastination; only time will tell...

We did go to look for fireplace stuff and more this weekend when my wonderful parents agreed to watch the kids and allow Abby and me to go on a date.  Maybe I should put "date" in quotes, because it involved a trip to Lowe's and to the mall, with the only food being a stop for an Iced Mocha and McDonald's and some Wetzel's Pretzels courtesy of an expiring Entertainment Book coupon, before going to a 10pm movie... but it was definitely a date for us!  We looked at washers and dryers, and were basically told that we shouldn't buy anything until the pre-Thanksgiving sales start.  We looked at door hardware, and realized that everything is either incredibly flouncy or incredibly traditional, in the bad sense of the word.  We looked at outdoor lighting, and although we didn't find anything in the store, we did find stuff online that we both agreed on.  And on the way out of the store, we saw this wacky thermostat called Nest that learns what you like, when you're home, and what your habits are, and somehow becomes this nearly sentient being you don't have to fuss with ever.  It's only a couple hundred dollars, and since we haven't bought our thermostat yet, it could definitely be worth a shot.  
What Abby does NOT want our fireplace to resemble.
(Are these those newfangled anti-gravity "logs" or something?)
Finally, as an aside, we voted for the first time as Maryland voters.  Yeah, we're keeping all of our official residency stuff in the District, but we did switch our voter registration because I need to have me some congressional representation.  Our new polling place is Temple Emanuel in Kensington, which is a 5-minute drive, and compared to the two-hour waits in the cold experienced throughout this region, I am very happy with my 15-minute indoor line, complete with dollar fundraising donuts and ten-year-old volunteers offering large-print versions of the nine ballot referenda for people waiting to vote.  Because we had budgeted a lot of time to vote and used nearly none of it, we headed over to a lighting store in the District that had been recommended by the front-toothless electrician.  Holy moly, who does he think we are?  This store had not one normal fixture.  Everything was crazy expensive, and looked freakishly '80s modern.  We asked ourselves whether maybe our contractors think because we're spending a heck of a lot of money on a crazy house in the suburbs, maybe we're some crazy yuppies with zany Julia-Louis-Dreyfus-in-Christmas-Vacation taste.  I dunno, but I drive a Prius with 102,000 miles on it, and just bought my first new pairs of shoes in more than two years.  We're not looking for a $400 rhinestone mini-sconce for our bathroom...
Then there's this.  Left on our family room windowsill.
Come on, folks!  It's our job to defile OTHER people's homes, not the other way around!
(Honestly, good on someone... because it's COLD and DIRTY up in there...)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Almost A Go

Well, what do you know: we got a green sticker today.

It's been a long time coming, but Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, they of the cumbersome and somewhat antiquated-sounding name, have awarded the American Bungalow at National Park Seminary a green sticker, and that means the only thing that stands between us and getting walls put in is an inspector from Montgomery County.  And if anyone knows what kind of Edible Arrangement that guy likes...

JUST KIDDING.  But not really...

Definitely excited to get past this hurdle that has been eluding us for so long.  Not only did it take several tries, but even Hurricane Sandy had to get in the way, since our original inspection was scheduled for Monday morning, when she decided to plow through town.  This afternoon, we took our DC neighbors Marni and Alex to the house to show them around, and I hadn't even thought about the inspection having been rescheduled.  While we were driving up, I got a call from the subcontractor doing our kitchen-cabinet install, wanting to know if we forgot about them.  No, I assured them: we've already paid you the $13,000, so you can be darn sure we haven't forgotten about you.  The first email I sent out was not to thank the contractors or brag to my family, but to the cabinet people, letting them know we were now one step away from finally requiring their services.

This is the second time in four days we've been up.  The first was on Sunday, since the neighborhood was having its Halloween party.  It was a great event, with a costume contest that I must say was nearly swept by the Wahl family: Isaac won Third Place in the 6-and-under division for his Solar System costume; and the Adult category was all us-- me in Third with my Orion Constellation; Abby in First with her Cat; and my mom a surprise out-of-state Second-Place winner with her Black-Eyed Susan.  Granted, only three adults showed up in costume, but we don't need to discuss that right now...  After the party, we opened the house up for anyone who wanted to see.  We met some great new-to-us neighbors, including a couple who have two kids nearly the same age as ours.  (We also met some neighbors on the landscaping committee, which might come in handy once we get around to that next year... what was that number for Edible Arrangements again?)  

The reason I bring this all up, though, is because while we were showing people the house, who walks in but our contractor, Mark.  He's there to board up some of our windows ahead of Sandy's grand entrance the next day.  Say what I will about the lack of communication on his part, or the plodding pace of late, but it was very impressive to see him show up with boards and hammers, unrequested, to make sure our pricey windows remained intact.  Brownie points indeed.  He also explained what was going on with some of the red stickers we've been getting lately.  For instance, one had to do with the main pipe under the house, which was perfectly up to code for a house our size... but not for one below grade, which is what ours is, since it's on the side of a hill.  The pipe had to be something like a quarter-inch wider and at a bit of a slant to stop any potential backups.  I think.  (That sounds about right...)  Little stuff like that.  It satisfied my unasked questions on Sunday, although I still feel these are things that should have been known about before, and things that should have been communicated to us when the red stickers appeared.  (That said, I still haven't gotten anything from him today, even though we got a green sticker, so it's not like he's just incommunicado when there's bad news...)

He also said he's not quite sure about our new plans to save the division in the downstairs bathroom.  We will likely have to go ahead as planned, and make that an amendment at the end, if at all.  Even moving the door over a foot to the left may present problems, since there is wiring in that space right now and no extra slack on the wires to be able to move them.  We may lose that, which sucks, but we're not going down without a fight.  What we did "win," though, was placement of the air-conditioning condenser out in the yard. We wanted it to be as far away from the barbecue area as possible, and he had it sitting right next to the back door.  As a compromise, we moved it as far to the front as possible, while still being positioned along the east-side wall.  Stick a few bushes around it and it'll hardly be seen.  (Plus, having it where we wanted it originally would have meant seeing it out the bathroom window, a placement I don't know if we had thought about.)

So what else is going on?  Tomorrow we're supposedly getting the giant HVAC unit delivered, which will be a milestone-- especially since it's ready to go in.  Also, all the trash has been removed from the yard, which is great because I just started getting very pleasantly-worded complaints again, which I hate.  (It's not like I want that trash to be there!)  The contractors graded the whole yard, which I think was a bit of a waste, because it's not how we want it to be in the end-- the whole thing is graded as a slope away from the house, which I understand is wonderful from a drainage aspect, but not exactly from a livability aspect.  It did, however, give us a good idea of what we'll be dealing with in terms of run-off, since the rain from Sandy carved a definite trench across the yard.  We can definitely do something with that-- likely putting in gravel and maybe a French drain to corral the water onto the sidewalk, rather than through the yard.  (By the way, did you know that the "French" in French drain refers not to France but to Mr. French, the father of Daniel French, he of Lincoln Memorial fame?  Yeah, you're welcome.)
Look at the trench carved out by Sandy's rain.
We hope to redirect it off the bottom-left corner of the picture.
That's our HVAC guy working on the vent for the heating system.
The AC condenser will be at this corner of the house.

Overall, this has been a very positive four days.  Sure, tomorrow's November, and we're supposed to be completely done with absolutely everything in 18 days, and we wanted to be moved in last week.  But baby steps, people.  Baby steps.  

And at least that baby's stepping.
Work proceeding on the cement bollards for the electric transformer.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Tiny Morsels of Progress

Still waiting on the inspections, which are supposedly scheduled for the second half of this week.  I'll believe that when I see the green stickers on my window.

Our new electric transformer box, behind the house in the parking area.
BUT, there has been some progress at the house, seen by my very own eyes this weekend.  Pulling into our parking space, we couldn't help but look right at our very own, dark green, brand-new electric transformer!  Okay, so there's a caveat: it's not there because we asked it to be there, but rather because the contractor working with the Windmill next door got it put in.  But either way, it's there, sitting on the existing cement pad on the part of the lawn that's common area.  The transformer will serve our two houses as well as the Colonial (the yellow house that hasn't been sold yet), and can be hooked up to actual gosh-darn electricity as soon as bollards are installed.  (For those of you outside the DC area, who may not be familiar with the term, bollards are those cement poles that guard things like electric transformers or sidewalks or the White House from being damaged by runaway cars or trucks or terrorists.  We're intimately familiar with them here in the capital, and me even more so with my line of work.)  Anyhow, I got an email late last night from Lee, the contractor working with the Windmill, asking me in the nicest way if I might consider possibly talking to him about the potential for me to possibly hopefully be okay to maybe help them with some of part of the cost of installing the bollards, since we were sharing the transformer.  Really, he asked in the nicest, most polite, nearly Canadian manner possible.  It was actually very nice of him, because it very much is something that's my responsibility to pay for; it's just nice to be asked!  I emailed him back this morning with a very short note letting him know of course I'd be happy to pay a third of the cost (along with the owners of the Colonial and the Windmill).  Based on his reply back to me, I'd guess he's also not finding willingness to help a plentiful commodity during his work, because he was definitely appreciative.  Hey, in my estimation, I'm all about being as friendly and accommodating to my neighbors as I can, because in the end, once all the contractors leave, it's they who are going to be staring into my windows all day long...

So after the transformer, we headed inside to take a look at "the boxes."  "The boxes" are two, well, boxes that our contractors said they had to build on either side of the fireplace.  They told Abby about them late last week after we had discussed what kind of fireplace we wanted.  Although we have a real, working fireplace in the house, it has been impressed upon me by my parents that what we want is a gas-insert fireplace to put inside of that, so we don't have to haul wood around or worry about flue issues or have crazy losses of heat any more than we already will, what with 49 windows and cathedral ceilings and all...  I'm all about actually using the fireplace, and I was totally sold on my parents' gas fireplace they had installed in Grand Island; a flip of the switch and you're good to go.  So after installing the gas line, the contractors told us that code requires the hose to be completely closed in by some sort of housing.  They built a small box around it, just to the left of the fireplace.  It's a pretty low box, less than a foot off the ground and about a foot long.  But to make it even, they built a faux box on the right side to mirror it.  Looking at the fireplace with the two boxes in place, they don't seem to get in the way much.  The only problem, though, is what we'll be able to do with that space now.  It's hard enough to think about what kind of furniture's going to go in there, but now we've got to deal with these weird little boxes.  Plus, the wall to the right of the fireplace was going to have our handy-dandy, futuristic, tv-pops-out-of-it console that we are going to buy ourselves for our birthdays or anniversary or Arbor Day or something.  Abby says that box on the right has to be there for purposes of symmetry, but I'm betting it won't stay long.  In the meantime, hopefully I'll be sitting all warm in front of a nice gas fire while she debates the longevity of the right-side box.
The fireplace flanked by the two new boxes.
But since the boxes are uneven, my guess is one won't be staying long...

The left (functional) gas box up close and personal.
Next up: the downstairs bathroom.  As I mentioned last week, this is the most vexing of our issues with the house right now, apart from the inspection issue.  We want the bathroom to be split into two rooms-- one with sinks and storage, and one with the toilet and shower-- so that two kids getting ready in the morning can use it at the same time.  Right now, because of an ill-placed toilet pipe, that's impossible.  But my brilliant mind came up with a brilliant answer that hopefully won't be shot down by the evil needs of the inspector, who I think from now on I might call "Javert," since he's not exactly been nice to our cause as of late.  Anyhow, the idea is to move the door to the left, and be okay with a little jog in a dividing wall.  (Looking at the picture will help here.)  So right now, the doorway's a few feet from the left end along the wall between the bathroom and the mudroom, and opens straight into the toilet, which presumably would face directly out the door.  My super-brilliant plan is to have the door moved all the way to the left (towards the sink & storage section), to turn the toilet 90 degrees counterclockwise (so it faces the tub), and to create a zig-zag wall that runs behind the toilet, then to the right of the toilet, then back to the wall with the mudroom, so the two parts of the bathroom fit together like puzzle pieces, rather than just two rectangles.  (Listen: the reason I use the word "brilliant" here is because, for the amount of time Abby spends thinking about this, for me to look at something and have an idea she didn't think of yet?  Well, that's just brilliant.  Or crazy.  I'll take either one, as long as it works.)
The downstairs bathroom, as seen from the mudroom.
The doorway should be moved left, to accommodate that white toilet stub.
Looking back on this, it is kind of amazing that I view this as "progress," although I did preface that word with the modifier "morsel," so I think it's acceptable.  Or maybe I'm still not in the acceptance stage of this renovation.  Regardless, I'll leave you with one more set of pictures to show you more of the ceiling that was finished last week.  This time, it's a view up at the Great Room Balcony, which will serve as our home office once we move in.  The before-and-after will give you only a little taste of the difference in the house as a whole, since the balcony area didn't actually suffer too much at either the hands of the Army or time.  Still, though, it's a cool comparison.
Balcony after ceiling
and windows painted
Balcony pre-renovation

Thursday, October 18, 2012

One Month to Go

A month from today, our loan closes out.  That means everything meaningful that has to be done to our house must not only be finished, but inspected, approved, and signed off on, with appropriate paperwork sent to Delaware, approvals made there, and, presumably, a check cut, signed, and sent.  A month.  One month.  

Luckily, October has 31 days.

So obviously we will not be done in a month.  But at least there's progress being made, right?  Oh, but wait:

Three reds trumps a green and a white in this game.
So what we have here is an approval for work done back in June, a certificate of participation for work done thereafter, and three-- count 'em!-- three failed inspection stickers for work done since.  Oh, and we got one more red one this week, which makes four.  I don't understand.  The reason we hire people is because they know what they're doing, right?  These failures are for things like having a pipe that's the wrong circumference; that's not a requirement that changes by jurisdiction, is it?

We have been waiting for WEEKS now solely because of this.  We cannot close the walls until we get another green sticker.  And, like I wrote in my last post, we can't do pretty much anything until the walls get closed in.  Abby and I are just this side of panic mode, to tell you the truth.  Honestly, it's not a huge wait, if you actually think about it.  My amazingly optimistic hope was that we would get in by Labor Day, but Abby never believed that one.  It then became October 1, then by Isaac's birthday or Halloween.  Now we're pushing up against the loan deadline of November 18.  It's only an extra 75 days after my original optimistic date, which is probably par for the course for a project this big.  But with a renter waiting patiently (and undeservedly) for us to move out, and Patty the Delawarean loan officer looking at her watch and tapping her foot impatiently, this is painful.  

So here's our current plan.  We're already culling, and have made a give-away pile and a yard-sale pile in the attic.  We've been rather brutal with the kids' toys, as well as their clothes.  Isaac's birthday is October 26.  We are having the party at home.  On October 27, we start to pack, moving everything towards the front door.  We hope against hope that we have a place to put things at that point in the bungalow, but it's not going to happen.  Rather, we'll be handing out Halloween candy from among boxes.  That's fine, because it'll at least be progress on our end.  The moment-- the very moment-- we get the go-ahead to start moving things into the house, it'll happen.  It won't mean we will be living there, but it will mean our attic will start shifting into our new attic (in the basement), and we can start emptying.  Jamie will move into the basement-- for free-- that week, and will stay-- for free-- until we're gone.  And we will go the moment the bungalow is livable   It won't be done when we move in, and the work can definitely continue past November 18, but all the major work has to be done.  This won't be another case of Abby and me living for two winters in a house with no heat.  We're not going to get our electricity from one solitary working outlet again, and we're not going to use the end of an extension cord to alternate between a microwave, a toaster-oven, and a tv, and we're not going to light the house with the help of Christmas lights we grabbed from Siobhan and Perry's wedding-- like we did when we were hardy, childless newlyweds.  But we may not have a front porch, we may not have every room painted, and who knows what'll become of the Thanksgiving we thought we were going to host for Abby's side of the family?  But it's gotta happen.

And-- not that I wish them anything but the best-- but my parents, in the span of about two weeks, have found a new house, put a bid on it, had it accepted, and past an inspection.  And they're likely to close and move in by the end of October.  All in one calendar month.  It's a great little house, way the heck out in the twelfth circle of hell-- a.k.a. a town that actually touches the West Virginia border-- but it'll be theirs and done and livable and...  hey!  Maybe we can move all of our stuff in with them!  Now there's an idea.  (Actually, when they first made the decision to move, I promised them I'd help them drive the moving van down from Buffalo.  So now it looks like I'll be helping two different households move in the same month, but the only one that's sure to happen is not my own.  My favorite word lately comes to mind: Argh.)

My parents' new house in Round Hill, VA.
Things are not all frustrating.  Okay, so they're mostly frustrating, but I'm going to end on a positive: our Great Room ceiling is done.  The beams still need to be cleaned up, but the ceiling looks beautiful.  So maybe, when we kick ourselves out of Petworth and move into an unfinished Forest Glen bungalow, we can do a bit of fancy camping-- that's what we called it when we lived with the conditions I wrote about above -- and look up at our own kind of star: the ceiling of the room that sold us on the house in the first place.  Sigh...

This ceiling is awesome.
But is it worth all the pain?
Only time will tell...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Canadian in the Kitchen, an Italian in the Bathroom

Rather than bitching about what isn't happening at the house, we spent our Columbus Day driving around suburban Maryland in an attempt to finish up with some of the remaining choices we have to make.  Most importantly were the kitchen countertop materials and the bathroom flooring.  Isaac was sleeping over at his friend Alex's house, so my thought was to get up whenever Lola did, which is usually 7 something, head out to stores, maybe with a stop at IKEA for breakfast, and then come back by noon in time to pick Isaac up.  Well, with Lola sleeping in until after 9 (hallelujah!), we went another route and the girls made heart-shaped pancakes for breakfast while I cleaned up the backyard.

Finally set off afternoon with both kids in tow, headed up the B-W Parkway... but not until a stop at Burger Delite in Hyattsville for some Carolina Barbecue.  Nomnomnom.  (You see where I'm going with this, right?  So much for getting a lot done...)  Made it up to MSInternational, this huge warehouse in the middle of nowhere (Jessup, Maryland) full of enormous slabs of stone.  Very impressive, if I must say so myself.  They were recommended by a store Abby went to, and apparently they're the suppliers for Home Depot, so I guess their prices are pretty competitive too.  Anyhow, I've never seen so many countertops; they were stacked sideways all the way across the warehouse, sorted by color and grain and source and type and whatever-- impressive.  When we walked into the warehouse part, Isaac actually gasped, which I thought was neat, since he more and more often acts unimpressed by anything, being the premature teenager he is.  What was also very cool were framed pictures on the walls of giant mountains being ripped apart in extremely geometric ways.  Now I'm definitely not a fan of hilltopping, which is what coal companies do in West Virginia, leaving ridiculous environmental damage in their wake.  But does the fact that these mountains have marble and granite and whatever else in them instead of coal mean that the operations are cleaner?  My guess is no, but I'm choosing to deal with this political issue in another way some other time-- maybe as I'm making a sandwich on my new kitchen's new granite countertop...

Anyhow, Abby had two things in mind at this place: a countertop and a floor tile.  She had been here before, on a day she spent gallivanting around home-improvement places between DC and Baltimore, and had wanted me to see them.  It was great: we walked in, we looked at the slab, I said "yep," and we moved on.  Wish all decisions could be made that way.  (And for the record, our kitchen countertop will be "Virginia Mist," a charcoal-colored granite with a low number of variances, mined in Canada.)  Okay, so on to the tile.  Should be easy.  Nope.

Virginia Mist Granite:
Our Canadian Countertop, eh?
Abby picked out this tile that made me think of an Iranian whorehouse.  Okay, maybe not an Iranian whorehouse, but how about the place where Iranian call girls go to get their nails done?  It was dark gray, which is what we were going for, but with these weird cloudy streaks of metal going through it.  There were two different shades of the same style tile, and the other one, which had more brown, was definitely more bling-y, but I just couldn't get over the metallic shine of it all.  Tried going the nice route, by pointing out other tile in the store I really liked-- Abby said everything I liked was too "rustic," but I don't see it-- until I finally just told her it wasn't for me.  So, not exactly back to the drawing board, but let's call it going 1-for-2.
This is what an Iranian bathroom looks like, at least in my head.

By now it was already 4:00, and Abby was strongly hinting maybe we should just go home and call it a day, but I wanted to GET STUFF DONE so I pretty much steered the car the way I wanted it, across Central Maryland and over to the other tile store Abby had liked.  On the way, Abby conveniently started getting another headache, which is something that's been happening a lot lately-- she gets migraines, if you didn't know already.  But doggone it, we are shopping for tile here!  We make it over to Rockville and pile into the store.  The guy's a bit skeevy, with a terrible dye job, but the store has tons of choices, and we quickly go to work.  Lola's immediately fascinated by the Hello Kitty tile.  Thankfully, the kids are distracted by the putting green up front (good idea!) and we can mostly work sans kids.
I kid you not: they sell this in Maryland.
Abby and I are both drawn to stripes, for some reason; all the prettiest tiles have 'em, apparently.  But we can't do stripes on the floor, because the vanity has a really bold wood grain.  Having more lines on the ground would just give the whole thing a bit too much vertigo, I guess.  After an hour or so, we decide we really like this one gray tile, very simple but still three-dimensional (meaning it's not just flat gray), and are happy.  And it's Italian: ooooooh, fancy...  Then we realize this is the same exact tile we've had a sample of in our trunk for about two months.  Oh well-- when you like something, you like something, right?  And not a moment too soon, because the kids start going crazy.  We whisk them outta there, it's after six, we make it home by 6:30, have homemade burritos, and put them to bed. Can't think of a better way to celebrate a holiday that's still around pretty much solely due to the Italian-American lobby than by deciding on a purchase or two of granite.  Michelangelo would be proud.

Dark Gray Bathroom Tile:
Will be less blurry in person

Friday, October 5, 2012


This is ridiculous.  

I hate that the last few posts have been about how we've been sitting around and waiting.  I've been putting off writing because nothing has happened, but then I started thinking today that I was going to write this blog to show what was really happening (or not happening, as the case may be), so I might as well fill you all in on the non-events.  (What a lead-in, folks!)

No, seriously, since I posted last time, I wrote at least four emails to our contractors, asking them little stuff like "hey, just wanted to make sure you remembered about moving the upstairs toilet over," or "hey, just wanted to make sure you remember our fridge has an ice maker," since I saw no plumbing holes cut near the fridge when I went over the weekend.  Nothing.  Not until Monday afternoon, when I wrote an email specifically saying that I was pretty freaking nervous, and that we were supposed to be moving in in a month, did I get a response.  Not a satisfying response, but at least one that made sense to me.  But WTF? Why can't you just write to me like you said you would and let me know what's going on, even if NOTHING is going on?  (Which brings me back to why I hadn't been writing... hmm...)

So what has been going on is this: the inspector came out to take a look at the electric and plumbing, and immediately informed them that the gas lines had to be finished before he could do his inspection.  They weren't, so that apparently started a mad scramble to finish them up.  And I'm guessing they're done, or almost done, because the gas inspector is coming next week-- or so I've been led to believe.  Once that's done, the original inspector can come back, and once he's okay with everything-- and seriously, he had better be-- then the drywall can go up and all the dominoes can fall.  Until then?  Nada.

Well, not nada exactly.  Abby went by the house this week and saw that they've started working on the Great Room ceiling, which is good, since that needs to be done before we move in, since it's probably not in our best interest to have our stuff and our kids living somewhere where old paint is being stripped.  I haven't seen how they're doing it yet-- I'm guessing with some sort of scaffolding-- but it heartens me to know something's actually happening.  Hopefully, I'll go by the house in a few days for a different inspection and inspect it myself.

That different inspection is one for our loan.  You know, the loan that needs to be closed out by November 18.  All of the work doesn't need to be done by then, but all of the work to make the house livable does, because it's all been planned out by HUD.  Got an email today from Patty, the administrator of the loan, forwarding concerns from HUD itself wondering why we haven't had an inspection lately.  Answer: nothing's been done that's worth inspecting!  Or rather, that's my answer.  Who knows the real answer?

Well, here's what actually has been done.  My bedroom closet has been built.  It intrudes slightly into the Great Room to the left of the window on the right as you walk in, so it's pretty much mirroring the bump-out from the bathroom.  Only problem is that they built the door to the closet opening into the Great Room.  Mind you, this is my bedroom closet.  With a door that opens into the Great Room.  See the issue?  They did that, supposedly, because we said we had wanted a pocket door as an entry door to our bedroom, but we had only said that because they asked "do you want a pocked door there?"  We assumed that, since they asked, they understood that we understood that their asking was based on the understanding that the BEDROOM CLOSET WOULD OPEN INTO THE BEDROOM.  Argh.

Honestly, I feel bad.  I feel bad because these are nice guys, and this is a huge project, and the nice part of me feels I shouldn't be so peeved.  But then I feel bad because this is my freaking house!  If I want a bedroom closet that opens into my bedroom, I shouldn't be made to feel bad about asking for it!  Similarly, the fact that I've been pestering them about moving the damn toilet pipe six inches to the left for MONTHS now makes me feel like a nag.  BUT IT'S MY HOUSE.  So I go in and notice they've laid the base to the shower.  Great.  Now the shower is small, because they based the dimensions on where the toilet pipe is.  THE TOILET PIPE THAT HASN'T BEEN MOVED.  Now I feel bad enough that I didn't bitch enough about the toilet pipe that I'm just going to drop the whole issue, because I don't want it to set us back any further in time.  No, we're not going to drop the fact that the downstairs toilet is also poorly placed, but this one I'm willing to take for the team.  But again, this was MY bathroom.  And I have always wanted a big shower with no tub.  And now that shower is going to be six inches smaller than I wanted it to be.  And I feel bad, because it's only six inches so I should just shut up about it.  And I feel annoyed because IT'S MY FREAKIN' SHOWER.  Argh.

The bathroom itself now has a lip coming out above the entry door, which I think I wrote about last time.  Don't think that's a big deal, although it looks weird now when there's no reason for the lip to be there.  But once it's finished, it'll be fine, and they're supposedly going to run the trim all the way around it to make it blend in.  But what if that doesn't happen?  What if I walk in and the bathroom bump-out is all painted nicely and the trim ends on either side?  Will I complain?  Will I feel bad about complaining?  Will I feel bad about not complaining?  Seriously, how many "arghs" can I put in one post?  Argh.

Oh, and some pipes are done in the kitchen, and there are working water pipes in the showers.

So Abby calls me one afternoon this week-- Wednesday?  Thursday?  They all run together...  Anyhow, she calls me after having met with the contractors and sounds defeated.  She tells me what's going on-- more things we're either losing or "will have to see" about.  No more instant water heaters, for instance.  Sure, they were more expensive, but they're really ecological, and when you're on vacation you don't use a lick of electricity because no water's going through.  So it looks like we're going to have a standard old water heater.  Not a complete loss, but one less thing that we wanted.  I guess a bunch of people took a look at the house and said there's no way we can use them.  I trust that-- I do.  I'm just annoyed because it's not the only issue.  Another: the damn toilet downstairs.  Some crap (ha!) about the angle of the pipe that feeds out of the toilet, and how if it would be moved, that angle might not be sharp enough.  Without the toilet where we want, not only will the toilet pretty much be facing straight out the back door, but we won't be able to use the bathroom how we wanted at all, because it won't be splittable into a bathroom and a getting-ready room.  "Good news" on the fireplace and the fridge, in that both are definitely still in the works.  But annoyed that the "good news" we have to report is that something we wanted to have done, and planned all along to have done, is still going to be done.  Argh.

All in all, it still looks like a good two weeks before drywall goes up.  Remember, we bought appliances on our vacation in London so that we could buy cabinets on our vacation in London so it could all be done in time to have everything done in time.  Now, the appliances are sitting in boxes in the Great Room, the cabinet installers are writing me weekly emails to check up on when they can come out and measure, and we've already paid the $13,000 bill for it all.  

Worst of all, I feel horrible because I'm screwing my friend Jamie, who's set to move into our house the moment we leave.  That was supposed to be October 1.  Now?  If we can't move by the end of the month, which is a definite, what does he do?  We're actually thinking of moving all of our stuff either into boxes or just straight into the basement and setting up shop there for a few weeks, letting Jamie move in upstairs so at least he can live normally for a while.  But we can't do that until at least October 26, for reasons I will NOT be going into in this edition, because that's a whole 'nother story...


My bedroom closet.  Notice how the door, at left, opens NOT into the bedroom...

The overhang at the entry into the upstairs bathroom.
The beautiful wood behind it will be concealed by the air conditioning. :(

My shower.  Not nearly as big as I wanted it to be.
And the infamous poorly-sited toilet pipe at left.