Thursday, June 28, 2012

On the Right Track

Rep. Van Hollen
A while back I mentioned that I had called my new Congressman's office to ask if there was anything they could do about the train tracks that ran across the northeast corner of the National Park Seminary Property. The tracks carry Amtrak trains between DC and the midwest, as well as MARC trains, which are Maryland commuter trains connecting DC with Montgomery County and going out as far as West Virginia.  But the tracks are owned by CSX, the freight company, and a good number of freight trains buzz through on a pretty regular basis.  It's actually not bad at all: if you're standing outside, without trees around you, you can definitely hear the trains from across the glen, but once you're in the trees it really gets muted, and you can hardly hear anything from inside, even with our current state of holey-ness.  I guess the trains used to sound their horns every time they approached the crossing at Forest Glen Road, which is just across the glen, so the train traffic was much more in-your-face -- in-your-ears, actually -- until recent months, when they reconfigured the crossing and put up signs warning cars and pedestrians that no horn was sounded.  I understand some people were not so happy about the horns, and others are not so happy that people moved so close to a horned crossing and groused about it-- either way, there are no horns now, so that's no longer an issue.

But what is an issue, and the reason I called the Congressman's office, is that when the tracks cross the glen and run by the property, they do so without any kind of barrier or separation.  And knowing my kids, and especially my son's love of everything trains (a love that is quickly being supplanted by outer space, actually), I can definitely see them traipsing across the glen to see how close they could get, or how tracks feel.  Heck, I can see Isaac trying to see what they taste like, but that's a different blog now, isn't it?  Anyhow, even though I trust that, even at 5, Isaac would listen to us when we told him to stay a certain distance away, it's nice to have that backup, y'know?  Congressman Van Hollen's office got in touch with CSX, and one of their public affairs reps actually called me back today, which was pretty impressive.  (Took only four weeks, too.)  She was definitely guarded, and started right off by wondering why I was so interested, since my property was so far (maybe an eighth of a mile?) from the railroad.  She also noted that CSX owned 23,000 miles of rail, and it wasn't exactly their policy to fence it all in.  I understood where she was coming from, but I also understood that she thought I was a townsperson with a pitchfork and a torch, so I quickly told her my side of things, and explained that what I was out for wasn't blood, but rather some sort of help or advice.  I think I may have caught her off guard, and I'm guessing most people she speaks with are not the flexible kind...

So what happened is she told me that while they don't put up fences, they have several different options they're usually willing to work with.  One would be allowing us, as a homeowners' association, to pay to put up a fence of our own on their land.  But she noted that fencing along a railroad track hardly keeps people out, and attracts things like vandalism and kids sneaking over/under/around/through; not the best option.  She also mentioned that CSX would be willing to donate money to the homeowners' association to buy and plant vegetation that would separate the tracks from the land-- she specifically mentioned "really thorny plants," which was funny-- and that CSX even had a specific type (she didn't mention which) of trees that they could donate to the cause.  Seriously, I didn't think I would get as much help as this, so I was really impressed.  (Not to mention, she finished by telling me she had a whole bunch of coloring books and other materials for kids explaining train-track safety that she could send to us.  Lady, you had me at coloring books...)

So where it stands right now is that I'm going to try to write a note to the homeowners' association explaining my busybody-ness and asking if there is any interest.  I would say that I can't imagine there would be a lot of blowback to a potential partnership with a neighboring utility to plant trees, but you never know; after all, we live in a country where people today are saying they want to move to Canada to get away from our "socialized healthcare system," so anything could happen.  I, for one, am just impressed that communication lines are open between a lowly property owner, a Congressman, and a corporation with $9 billion in annual revenue.  Who'd'a thunk it?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cabinet Chicanery and Losing a Ceiling

We went out to the bungalow this afternoon to meet with a couple of subcontractors, and to give Mark a gigantor check for $25,000.  (Seriously, it took me five years to pay my car off, and it was just under 25 grand, and now I just fork over a check?  Argh.)  (Oh, and for anyone who thinks I just have 25k sitting around in my bank account, it was a HELOC check , which means it's just more debt, as opposed to less assets.)  ANYHOW, we went to meet with the guys who think they're going to do our kitchen cabinetry (I'll explain), and the HVAC guy.  Meetings were successful, and we got to see progress on the retaining wall, which looks great.  Whereas for the past couple months you could look down through the holes in the front porch into an abyss, today we saw the tops of baseball caps sticking up out of them, since the wall and the surrounding foundation is getting closer and closer to completion.  The kids were also a little better behaved than normal (for the bungalow...) because Abby had the idea to bring watercolor paints with us; they sat for a long while painting away in front of the fireplace-- very idyllic.  Lola offered most of her artwork to the contractors, which was pretty cute.

Anyhow, the HVAC guy came first.  He seemed really honest and straightforward, and I liked him right off the bat.  The meeting was to set up exactly where the inside air-conditioning unit would be situated, as well as where all the ductwork will be.  We didn't have to deal much with this in our current house, since we've got a flat roof and the unit's up there; plus, with the flexible ducts, we didn't have to worry about any unsightly bulkheads.  Unfortunately, it looks like we'll have a couple in the bungalow, and we're trying to figure out how to make them as unintrusive as possible.  For those of you who are familiar with the layout, it looks like the unit's going to go right above the upstairs bathroom's jut into the great room; the ductwork will then run behind the rail around the top of the room, feeding first into the bathroom, then our bedroom, then the kitchen, and finally out near the huge window.  A duct will run straight down from the unit to the first floor, where it'll make the same counterclockwise arch around the floor.  Unfortunately, there's a possibility we may have to run a bulkhead directly in front of the very top of the pediment for the fireplace, which would really suck; we would much rather have him run the ducts through the kids' rooms and around, and he said he'd plan his stuff out with that detour in mind.  

The interior HVAC unit will go right on top of the new wood at center,
and ductwork will go behind the rail at center heading left.
All in all, he said with the draftiness we're likely to face with our rehabbed windows, we're going to need a 4-ton unit.  I imagine that's pretty big, but I really have nothing to compare it to, so I just said I'm okay with whatever works, as long as it's energy-efficient and cost-efficient in the long run.  The condenser, which is the giant fan unit that sits outside, will likely be placed in the "front" of the house next to the downstairs bathroom window.  (I say "front" because, although it's technically on the same side as the front door, it's down one story and blocked off from nearly everything by the retaining wall holding up DeWitt Circle.  Basically it'll be nearly hidden, which is good.)

Another old picture (pre-paint-job) showing the area at far right
where we'll position (and hopefully hide) the AC condenser.
Next came the kitchen cabinetry.  Now, we've planned these things out over and over again, and these are the second contractors we've had come out to measure and give us quotes-- the first Mark knows about, and the ones he recommended.  But their quote is pretty astronomical.  They're likely going to ask for about $18,000 for the job, and we're just not thinking about spending that kind of money on kitchen cabinets.  Abby and the kids stopped by Home Depot today to see about getting quotes on their cabinetry, since that's where we bought them for our current house back in '04, and we have had good luck with our cabinets ever since we actually bought them.  (Remember the 7-hour debacle at the Rhode Island Avenue Home Depot?  Our our red car, Commie, getting stolen in the parking lot?  Yeah, that was our kitchen cabinet-buying experience last time around...)  She got a very-ballpark estimate of about $10,000 plus labor, which is a lot better than 18, so we set up an appointment for them to come out and do some measurements as well.  Hoping to get them to come out before we leave for Buffalo on Saturday.  Regardless, I'd love to have this stuff ready to go in during the month of July.

As for the cabinets themselves, it looks like both Abby and I are going to lose out on things we've been pretty dead-set on for this entire process.  I've always been jealous of my parents' enormous pantry, and said from the start that I wanted a floor-to-ceiling pantry with pull-out shelving.  Well, we just don't have the space for it.  We have the actual footage for it, but with the way the windows take up half the wall space, and the third wall is half doorway and half back-of-the-fireplace, we're pretty constrained in what we can put where-- the fridge is pretty much locked in one place, for instance.  Putting a pantry in is possible, but leaves us with a really awkward corner space between it and the range.  I just said to make the whole corner a floor-to-ceiling cabinet, but apparently that would make the whole corner very claustrophobic, so it looks like I'm gonna lose out.  As a consolation, I may get a narrow pantry on the doorway side of the fridge, and I also think I succeeded in deepening our wall cabinets on the other side of the fridge from 12" to 18".  (Baby steps...)  I'm just really concerned about storage space; I know we pretty much fill out our cabinetry right now, where we're making use of ever square millimeter of possible cabinet-holding wall area, and having anything but maximum use in the bungalow will leave me worried come time when we have two teenagers in the house...

As for Abby, it looks like she's going to lose out on her open ceiling.  Yeah, you say, she lost out on that a long time ago.  Yeah, but I think she's been holding out hope for a solution.  You see, Abby has always wanted to poke out the beadboard ceiling in the kitchen (and our bedroom) and open it up to the gorgeous exposed rafters of the great room.  The MHT folks basically said No Way Jose because of the "historical significance of the kitchen as the former porch," since porches were an integral part of bungalows.  Since the porch had already been enclosed as part of the house, they weren't going to make us turn it back into a porch, but if you remember the debacle with the width of the opening into the kitchen from the great room, you'll remember that they wanted to keep its look as being separate from the main part of the house.  Well, any dreams of circumventing that requirement were dashed by the HVAC guy, who said we needed to have ductwork both for the HVAC system and for the range-hood exhaust spanning the area between the kitchen ceiling and the exposed-only-momentarily hidden beams.  Abby has been a bit dejected since this afternoon on this topic, but I'm sure she'll pull through eventually.  (As an aside, I'm not that upset by the decision, since I was worried how an open ceiling would work in our bedroom one room over, considering doing anything like putting plexiglas over the openings would just make the great room look cheesy.

This is an old pic of the area Abby was hoping to bust out the
kitchen ceiling, opening it up into the great room.
Now, not only will we not have that, but it looks like we'll
have to close it back up to hide ductwork.
Anyhow, that was our afternoon.  Paying lots of money for the retaining wall, hopefully saving lots of money on cabinets, and compromising on kitchen cabinetry.  The next week looks to be a busy one, with the wall being finished an inspected, followed by a flurry of activity for everything that can be built up on the wall, including plumbing.  (Can't wait!)  We'll go back to the house at least two more times over the next three days for meetings, but I'm hoping a big change'll await us when we get back from our week up north.  And hopefully, Abby won't feel as dejected about something I came to accept, oh, a good eight months ago.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ahh, the Existential Crisis

So here were are folks: Existential Crisis Time. What the heck did we get ourselves into?  How is it that things are slipping away from us so quickly?  What's so terrible about buying a cookie-cutter house in the Northern Virginia suburbs anyhow?  And how is it that a retaining wall made of concrete blocks and rebar costs $15,000?

Okay, so we're not exactly going back on the house, and we're not falling in dislike with the house.  We're not even blaming the contractors, actually, for anything more than springing an enormous number on us without giving us much warning.  For the last month, we've been dealing with a "change order," which is basically a contractor's way of saying "things that are going to cost you more due to unforeseen circumstances."  Since it's a month in the making, and since we knew we were going to have to go above and beyond the FHA loan since day one, this is not a surprise.  What was a surprise was when we received an email from Rory with the attached line-item invoice for $25,000, $15,000 of which was for the aforementioned retaining wall.  Now, mind you, this retaining wall was necessary, and we know it: without it, there would be no stability in the excavated section of the first floor, and we'd be having moisture problems ad infinitum.  We understand the need for it.  We just didn't realize it would cost as much as it does.  I got the email at work on Friday and put it out of my mind, since my parents were here for the weekend, and the weekend was supposed to be all about telling them how wonderful and affordable and possible it is to live in the DMV.  Turns out, Abby did the same thing.  So when I said "yeah, we need to talk about something" last night before bed, she looked at me and said "that bill?"  Yeah, that bill.

According to ,
we are not being screwed.
I just stared at the numbers for a while, going up and down the line items and trying to find a place where we were being screwed.  You know, because I went through all this shit with our current house and, even though Rory and Mark are good guys-- a description we had previously found to be the kiss of death for a contractor-- this surely is the place where they start to screw us.  No such "luck."  Abby had the wherewithal to actually Google "How much does a cement retaining wall cost?"  As she's typing, I'm thinking "what a ridiculously specific question.  There's no way there's that specific of an answer out there in the Interwebs." Yeah, turns out there is:  Take a look at what has to say about things. (See graphic) So basically it just looks like we're paying above medium, but below high, based on the fact that we have a 38-linear-foot, 8'-high wall; but based on the fact that everything has to be done by hand (without machinery) because it's below the porch, and other conditions are also not ideal, my guess is we're probably actually getting a deal on the project.  And that's what's making us worry.

This is really the first time we're not only feeling like we're breaking the bank, but we're actually thinking we're not jumping to conclusions too quickly.  We had planned for unforeseen circumstances, as I already explained when we were given the "surprise, you're not connected to any water source" bill for $15,000 back in the spring.  But this bill is starting to make us rethink what we should be doing.  Abby immediately jumped to "let's not finish the downstairs bathroom until after we move in," which I told her we just couldn't do; that'd be something that'd just sit forever, and the major money when it comes to plumbing is not in the faucets or the tiles, but in the pipes-- and those are already accounted for.  Sure, we could wait to tile a couple of bathroom accent walls, but what will that save us?  $300?  And in the meantime, we'd have to paint the walls, which will still cost, I dunno, $50-100 for supplies and labor-- or at least $50 for doing it ourselves, and that's something I'm trying to avoid at all cost.  Yeah, it might make me seem like a snob, but if I'm paying $200,000 to have my property completely and utterly finished, I don't want to consistently base my opinion of the whole place on a sloppy paint job I did on one wall to save a couple of hundred bucks, and that's exactly what I'll do. The absence of perfection is perfectly fine in our current house, because we did so much of it ourselves, but in the Bungalow, my standards are much higher because we're going to be there for the long haul.  This will be the house I will likely live in for more of my life than any other; my kids are going to grow up in it; not only that, but it's a showpiece with historic significance.  We're not being extravagant, and we are being careful, but I feel we also deserve the full complement of amenities befitting a family of four-- like two full bathrooms.  Not too much to ask!

In my mind, the way we can cut costs in the short- to medium term would be to go easy on home furnishings once we move in.  Okay, so we're moving in in October; do we have to have the perfect couches by then? Do we have to have the table with the TV-hider thingy attached to it?  No-- we can get those things for Christmas, or for birthdays, or next Arbor Day.  We just don't need them right away.  In Abby's mind?  Well, I think the idea of a less-than-furnished house is a bit scarier to her than one with a less-than-finished second bathroom, so there might be some debating coming up in the near term.

In the meantime, I'll leave you all with a pic of the newest item of refurbishment to appear at the house.  A few months ago, Mark had been very concerned about our front door.  It pretty much needs to stay, because it's integral to the design of the house.  If we got a new one, along with all of the windows running around it, it would be prohibitively expensive.  But Mark was really concerned that by just stripping and redoing it, it would be less than perfect, and we wouldn't be happy.  I assured him way back then that, no, what we wanted was in fact not perfection, but authenticity.  I'd much rather have the original door with the nicks and dings of its possibly 117 years of existence rather than a modern version with perfect balance and a smooth surface made of space-age polymers.  He asked me at least two more times, and I assured him the same thing each time.  Well, looks like I made the right call.  The door's not done yet, but it's stripped, and the windows all around it are gorgeous.  I just hope it didn't cost, yeah, $15,000.

Add caption

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Search for the Great American Faucet

We had to choose our bathroom hardware this week.  The vanities, bathtub, showerheads, you name it: everything bathroom-fixtures is now decided.  And best of all, when I asked Rory what we needed to be looking at next, he told me "tile."  Wow--tile!  That means an actual room-looking room is in the near future, as opposed to walls that you can walk through or that are made of mud.  I can't even imagine...

Why are faucets such a big deal?  Seriously, Abby and I aren't picky about them-- if you can imagine-- and thought it would be a cakewalk to choose.  Simply go to or, click on shower hardware, narrow down by those that come in nickel... Wait.  Do you know how many kinds of "nickel" there are?  Brushed nickel, antique nickel, brushed antique nickel!  And about twelve other variations.  And no way, on several websites, to just say "NICKEL-- ALL OF 'EM!"  Okay, so once we've got that, we want shower controls with one handle, and nothing that looks like it would be in an old-folks home, a dorm, or a bed and breakfast.  Should be simple, no?  No.  We're still left with hundreds of choices.  Death by overselection.  Okay, how about nothing where the handle looks like a penis?  (Seriously, that took about half the choices away.)  And nothing too incredibly modern, and nothing that, if it should fall off the wall for some reason, is so big that it would give us a concussion.  And, wait... we have to choose ones for downstairs too?  Aw, screw it: let's just get this one.  Click!

In the end, we actually chose two identical sets, one in nickel and the other in chrome.  And the chrome one was because we had known all along which bathroom vanity we were buying, and the vanity we wanted came with a choice of faucets.  I liked the one that was chrome-- not because it was chrome, but because it was rounded-- and Abby liked the one that was squared, which just happened to be nickel.  And you can't have some chrome and some nickel in the same bathroom.  In the meantime, we had to click over to open a new window to make sure shower enclosures came in both chrome and nickel, because what it we chose one and the enclosures were only available in the other?  (My head is spinning a little now...) 

ANYHOW, it's nice to know we're looking at little stuff like that now, and that tile is on the horizon.  Our summer plans are approaching fast-- I only have 12 more days at work until I leave for the Olympics!-- and once my two summer trips are over, I was really hoping not necessarily to be moving in, but at least to be moving stuff into rooms that were completed or nearly so.  It's only six miles, so we were thinking once it came down to moving stuff, we would just do so gradually to avoid having a huge rush all at the end-- and also to make it much easier to fix up our current house for its future as a rental.  I know my timeline is not exactly going to work-- there's no way we're going to be in by September-- but I also know our absolute drop-dead must-be-done date is November 18, and there's not a huge gap between September and then.  

I'm just hoping it's not as difficult to pick out the kitchen faucets...
Upstairs shower hardware

Downstairs bathtub/shower hardware
Upstairs bathroom vanity
Downstairs bathroom vanity
Upstairs bathroom faucet
Downstairs bathroom faucet

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Slow Going

I know I haven't posted anything in a while when I get pinged by my sister.  "New blog post!"  Okay, Courtney, but it's not going to be very exciting.

Slow going these couple weeks, doing a lot of waiting.  It's been pouring lately, and the ground's pretty saturated.  So the plumber hasn't been able to finish, because there's water everywhere.  And the wall behind the retaining wall needs to dry too, I think.  But supposedly both of those things will start up again tomorrow, when the plumbing inspector comes out and puts his stamp of approval on the connections that have gone in.  Yes, the plumbing is not 100% done, but we went yesterday and saw we are now officially hooked in to municipal water and sewer.  The plumber dug up under the sidewalk that faces the kids' bedroom windows-- getting awful close to the huge Yew tree in the process-- and around the corner into the house.  We got there just as the crew was pouring gravel on top of the pipes, so we did get to see the PVC before it was closed up.  And it's not just the water piping that's done-- Washington Gas came out in the last week or so and relocated that crazy pipe that was outside Isaac's window, sure to break the glass the first time he tried to open it.  That big metal thing's now a thing of the past, and we didn't even have to pay for it's removal and relocation.  Yay!  Montgomery County had supposedly been giving Mark the runaround on the permit for the retaining wall downstairs, so the excavation has been at a standstill.  However, yesterday I think he got it all sorted out, so hopefully, since there's a dry forecast for at least the next week, that project can get back on track too.

The water/sewer pipes snaking around the side of the house.
Tight fit for the water/sewer pipes between the sidewalk and the Yew tree.
Notice the big root they dug around; hopefully it won't cause any damage.
The blue pipe sticking up is where our responsibility ends and the
water company's responsibility begins.
We're having more than just a little feeling of crunch time lately, not necessarily because we're behind schedule but more because we have a crazy busy summer coming up.  Between going to Buffalo for a week for the Fourth of July to going to the Olympics for a month for work and going to Russia for a couple weeks to cover a summit, I have literally four free weekends at home the entire summer.  I've been trying to impart this to Mark & Rory, giving them our schedule and pleading with them to tell us beforehand what we need to have decided, and they're slowly giving us things to do.  We went the other night to Home Depot after work to pick out shower heads; not a good idea.  Shower heads are incredibly boring to choose, and taking the kids between school and dinner maybe wasn't the best choice.  We came home grumbling to ourselves, "we are not being overly strict to expect our kids to behave in Home Depot for an hour, are we?"  Lola actually got a time out in the shower-head aisle.  We came out of the experience with one "meh, that one's fine," and one "I guess--"  not the best results for a shopping trip!  Luckily we don't have to pick out bathroom faucets, because they come with the vanities we've already chosen and Abby loves.

Yesterday we stopped by to meet up with people who are going to give us an estimate on kitchen cabinets.  It's a place where they specialize in custom stuff with an ecological bent-- they sell sustainable cork and bamboo flooring, as well as kitchen counter-tops literally made out of paper, for instance-- and we've already chosen floor tile for the bathrooms from them, so they said they'd give us a discount on a custom kitchen.  Fine with me!  But when they came by, I think they confused me more than helping.  Of course, seeing a blank slate, they had all sorts of ideas... that were different than hours.  And when we told them our ideas, it was kinda Seinfeldesque: "Not that there's anything wrong with that..."  The two were an older Iranian guy, Mo, and a younger Serbian guy, Igor.  Mo was kind of the idea man, and Igor was the planner. Or something.  Either way, Mo mentioned moving the wall abutting the bedroom back a foot because our bathroom closet was too wide to be a normal closet and too narrow to be a walk-in.  He mentioned moving the pantry over to the window side of the entryway and blocking out that one window-- a non-starter with me, since the windows overlooking the glen are way too important to block, in my opinion.  He mentioned moving all of the cabinets over to one side of the room, getting rid of the counter-top that blocks the bottom pane of each window, and putting in seating and a quasi-breakfast nook in the corner.  I hate breakfast nooks.  And I am truly scared about the potential lack of storage in this house, even though he assured me there'd be the same amount of storage with his idea that there'd be in mine.  The one important thing he mentioned I hadn't thought of before: the exhaust vent from our stove.  I had thought it should go straight up and out of the roof, but he said it'd be better to make a 90-degree angle and have it exit through the side of the house, since apparently roof exhaust pipes deteriorate more quickly than wall ones.  Problem with his idea is it blocks out the top 6-9 inches of half of the upper kitchen cabinets.  My response was to suggest the pipe go through the wall before making the 90-degree turn, instead using the top 6-9 inches of our bedroom closet.  He was intrigued...

So, they took measurements and will get back to us.  We have someone tomorrow coming as well to give us an estimate; a man Abby met a week or so ago that she described to me as "an old man who is literally in love with granite."  Since we are not putting granite in our kitchen, I hope he's okay with our plans!  In the meantime, we're going to do some more independent study, and hopefully the slow moving will speed up.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Year Two Starts Today

These beautiful, newly-restored and reinserted windows
in our Great Room will *never* hold a Romney sign,
despite being in our "second home."
Yep-- today marks our first anniversary as owners of a second home.  "Second home" sounds so swanky, like we're automatically going to vacation in Aspen and send our children to expensive private schools and vote for Romney.  Let me clear that right up for those of you who don't know me: don't ski; having a hard enough time as it is sending my kids to a public charter school, after Abby & I amassing 37 combined years at public schools; and HA!  Still, this will only be our "second home" until we move in, at which it'll become "home" and the building currently known as "home" will become "absentee slumlord property."  (Wait-- did I say that out loud?)

First thing's first: it must have been the mention at the very end of yesterday's blog that we would be temporarily uninsured that caused the regional tornado warnings and accompanying thunderstorms this afternoon.  Well, Mother Nature, sorry: we're now officially insured, (Phew!) although not without requisite drama, of course. Contacted the insurance company this morning to get the quote and buy the policy, and it turns out they wanted $1100 for four months of coverage.  Yeah, this after $438 for the whole year.  However, they were the only ones that agreed to insure us, right?  NO, wait... way back when Travelers dropped us I went to Insweb and filled out a form and got quotes back that I thought were way too expensive.  I called the cheapest of the bunch, Lloyd's of London, and we are now insured by them at a much more reasonable (but still astronomical if you ask me) $570 for three months of coverage.  So yeah, I'm breathing a sigh of relief that I only have to spend five times as much on insurance, rather than eight times as much.  At least it'll drop back down once we move in.

Next: you might be wondering how our utility work is going.  I showed you pictures yesterday of the pipes going in under the house, but you may also be interested to know that the gas line was scheduled to go in yesterday.  Not sure it did, but things have been pretty much on schedule... once they've actually been scheduled, that is.  The gas company agreed to foot the bill for re-placing the meter at our back door, rather than in the ridiculous blocking-the-windows location where it currently stands; hopefully it'll be joined by the water and electric meters as well, and we can put a big bush in front of them all or something.  PEPCO has informed us that they would be happy to install a service line for us-- for the price of $1,800.  After some back and forth, there has been not a millimeter of budging on their part, so we've gotta swallow that price; sending a check tomorrow.  (Yeah, they'll only accept a check, which is super annoying.)  Regardless, they assure us they'll come out the moment the check arrives, so I'm hopeful.  Water's still up in the air, as I mentioned yesterday, because of the questionable placement of the toilet drain in the upstairs bathroom.  I'm also pretty sure the plumber's not done, because we haven't heard that he wants his money yet...

Painting is nearly complete on the main Tadpole Green color.  We were going back and forth, pre-painting, on whether to paint the spanking new cedar shakes on the dormer, because the wood is just so gorgeous.  There's no way we could leave the whole house unpainted because of the previous paint job, but we thought it might not look weird to have a painted house and an unpainted dormer.  Yeah, we were wrong-- dormer will definitely be painted.  Only a few spots remain that aren't Tadpole Green, and I'm guessing that's because they ran out of paint.  Next comes all the trim, which should be exciting.  

Yeah, we know: the unpainted dormer looks weird.

I was out admiring the paint job when Jimmy was here this week and a couple of neighbors came by with their kids in tow.  So nice to see kids our kids' ages in the neighborhood, because we were slightly worried the place'd be mostly retirees.  (Not that that's a problem for us, but Abby grew up in a 'hood full of kids her age, and I'd love that for ours.)  Judging by a spirited debate on the neighborhood listserv today regarding building a playground on-site, there are most definitely a bunch of families with small kids hiding behind those  historic and faux-historic facades around us... as well as a bunch of people who may be just a bit wary of having a playground so close to what apparently had initially been marketed as a quiet retirement-esque community.

Speaking of visitors, I must mention that Courtney & Chris (my sister and her husband) stopped by the house this week too; it was his first time over.  It's hard enough getting Chris to venture out of his Prince William County sanctuary, let alone drugging him enough to cross through the dreaded District of Columbia and into (egads!) Maryland, but we did it by bribing him with steaks.  I didn't remember their visit along with Jimmy's and the Stewarts' because, well, I didn't go with him-- Abby did.  But yes, Courtney, I do appreciate the visit.  

The Pagoda and Chalet
Anything else?  Well, The property manager, Dave, responded to my request that the ungrated opening underneath the lions, possibly leading to the inner workings of the fountain, be covered up lest ne'er-do-wells start being all nefarious in there, and it was fixed with one email: hooray!  It looks like new concrete has been poured all around the pagoda, and it looks great.  Don't know if construction is at a standstill at the Chalet, or if things are just progressing inside right now, but I can't see anything different in the last few weeks over there.  I heard the Spanish Mission was sold, but can't confirm that.  And our sad neighbor, the French Colonial, remains alone, destined to be sucked back into the realm of condo because of its peculiar connection with Practice House (I think that's what that building's called...)  Oh, and get this: for how political of a being I've been for so long, I made what I believe may be my first-ever call to my Congressman today about a house-related issue.  Abby's none too excited about the NPS property bordering the railroad tracks without any sort of barrier, so I called Rep. Van Hollen's office to see if they knew what we could do to get one built.  We'll see if that works, but in the meantime I feel like a bit of a busybody, especially since I probably haven't even been at the house for a combined 48 hours yet.  Still, I came out of the exchange with one new piece of annoyance, which seems pretty par for the course: the U.S. Postal Service does not recognize our address.  When you go to their website and try to find out our ZIP+4, it says they don't deliver to our address, and that any mail addressed to it will be returned to sender.  I called them to say, yet again, that yes, we do exist, but the woman on the other end said it was our responsibility to tell the city to tell the post office we existed.  

I'm'a leave that call for another day.