Saturday, July 28, 2012

A.J. Who?

Eleven days now since we left home, and we have little knowledge of what's been going on in Forest Glen.  We do know that our recessed lights have gone in, although only because after having worn Abby down and convincing her that we should get LED lighting, I emailed Mark and Rory to tell them... and they replied that they had just installed the regular stuff.  Oh well.  (FYI, it wasn't really me who wore Abby down; it was the fact that we have LED lighting in our hotel room here in London, and she was finally convinced that all LED lighting doesn't make you look dead.)  We know that they're working on "electrical and mechanical" at the house, but that's really it.  Hoping we'll get some pics or something from Mark and Rory to update us soon.

However, while no news is flowing from Maryland, there has been progress in Mayfair.  (That's where we're staying.)  We have ordered our kitchen appliances!  Okay, so that doesn't sound so monumental, but really it is.  We had been planning our kitchen cabinetry, as you know, and were told that Home Depot is pretty insistent (understandably) that appliances be purchased prior to finalizing cabinetry decisions.  That kinda caught us dumbfounded, so we fumbled around looking for appliances in our last days in the States, each of us in different states, and me without a car.  Nothing, and really, just confusion added to the pile.  Then we got here, and you'd think the last thing you'd want to do on a work-vacation to London when your kids are still across the Pond is look for appliances, right?  Well... we do walk an awful lot during the days (when I'm not working), and sometimes all we want to do is grab some food at the grocery store, and eat it on our bed while watching TV.  So why not channel that desire to have your feet up into online shopping?

That's just what we did, and we actually were finding that most of the best deals were at Sears, of all places. Home Depot had 10% off all appliances over $400, and so did Lowe's, but Sears had all sorts of stuff, and when we saw a sale pop up that was 20% off all Kenmore appliances, plus an additional 15% off if you open a Sears charge account, we were hooked.  We picked out a bunch of stuff-- although not everything -- and tried to buy.  But we couldn't.  There was a dishwasher with all the bells and whistles, originally over a thousand bucks but on clearance for more than 50% off, that just wouldn't go through.  So I called Sears, trying to understand what was going on.  Seems as if there may have been one dishwasher like that in all of the country, or something, and it just wasn't shippable.  It was late, so we went to sleep without buying.

Next day, we were wishy washy about what to do, so I said Listen, we've gotta do this, and took the initiative to march us back home to buy appliances.  Sears still had the sale, Home Depot and Lowe's couldn't match it, and searches on Google and Amazon were fruitless.  We had everything we needed, but still couldn't find a built-in microwave, which Abby really really wanted.  I don't want to pay $1000 for a microwave, and we couldn't find anything under $600-- and that was an IKEA microwave that I still think may have had to have been assembled at home.  Okay, Abby, just one more search for a microwave... and then...

Ever hear of AJ Madison?  I know I had at some point, but I am pretty sure I thought it was AJ Wright, which is a store that sells Thomas the Tank Engine toys and scrapbooking crap.  Well, what do you know: AJ Madison has a Frigidare microwave that fits the bill without breaking the bank.  Hmm... what about its other appliances?  Within 15 minutes, we were sold, as were just under $3000 worth of appliances from AJ Wright-- no-- AJ Madison.  And best of all, all of our appliances are the same brand, which is something I had really wanted, but was afraid we weren't going to be able to find (because of the microwave issue).  Now their handles will match, and they won't have differently colored stainless steel.  Plus, while I'm perfectly fine with having a Whirlpool fridge and a GE stove at our current house, I think that's because of our galley kitchen, where you never really see more than two appliances at a time.  The kitchen in the bungalow is much more traditional, so matchy-matchy is much more important.  So, here's what we got:

The Fridge:  Our requirements: At least 20 cubic feet of space, stainless steel front, automatic ice-maker, top freezer (because I don't like to stoop over and search for my ice cream), energy star, and right-side hinge.  The winner: "Frigidaire Professional Series 20.6 cu. ft. Top-Freezer Refrigerator with 4 Half-Width SpillSafe Shelves, 2 Humidity Controlled Crispers, Quiet Design and Energy Star Rated: Right Hinge."
The Microwave: Our requirements: Built-in to save counter space and allow for a hood over the range, not compact but not enormous, stainless steel front, decent wattage, no hidden controls (so we don't have to open the thing if we want to add time).  The winner: "Frigidaire Professional Series 2.0 cu. ft. Built-In Microwave Oven with 1200 Cooking Watts, 3 Auto Cook Options, Sensor Cook, 7 User Preference Options and One-Touch Options."
The Range: Our requirements: Electric with a ceramic cooktop (we're not foodies, so please no hate mail from the gas crowd!), self-cleaning, stainless steel.  Abby really wanted one with flat controls, but that wasn't worth the extra cost to her.  The winner: Frigidaire 30" Freestanding Electric Range with 4 Radiant Elements, 5.4 cu. ft. Quick Bake Convection Oven, Self-Clean, Auto Oven Shutoff and Storage Drawer in Stainless Steel"
The Range Hood: Our requirements: Okay, let's say "Abby's requirements," because I didn't really care if we had one or not; I'd rather have had an over-the-range microwave, which is cheaper than the microwave we got and takes the place of a range hood.  But alas, my wife is the decorator and assures me the kitchen will look much better with a hood, so there you go.  Abby's requirements: stainless steel, 30" wide to match the range, no supermod glass stuff.  The winner: "Frigidaire 30" Wall Mount Chimney Range Hood with 400 CFM Internal Blower, 3-Speed Centrifugal Fan, Halogen Lighting and Convertible to Recirculating"  Plus, we bought the convertible part so we can filter the air back into the kitchen, rather than installing an exhaust vent through the roof.
The Dishwasher: Our requirements: White.  Wha?  Yeah, Abby wants white because it is down with the white base cabinets and she wants a nice, straight white line down there.  Other requirements: quiet (or relatively quiet) with a stainless steel tub, lots of room inside, and controls on top so you can't see buttons when the door's closed.  The winner: "Frigidaire Gallery Series Fully Integrated Dishwasher with 5 Wash Cycles, 5 Wash Levels, 14 Place Settings, SilentDesign Sound Package, Effortless Dry System and DishSense Technology: White"
So there you have it-- our kitchen suite.  We've forwarded the info to John, our cabinet designer at Home Depot, and hopefully we'll be able to finalize our cabinets over the next couple days.  But for now, when we're giving our feet a rest at night, at least we can watch the Olympics instead of poring over home-improvement websites.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Nerves and Mascara: Lots of Both

So now I'm nervous.  You all know yesterday I went to Home Depot and designed the cabinets.  Well, this morning I talked with Abby, who's in North Carolina, and she had some tweaks she wanted to make.  I called Home Depot again, and John had an opening for this evening, so I found myself going up again just to make the changes ahead of my trip, which starts Tuesday.  It mostly worked out, although a couple of the cabinet changes we wanted weren't 100% possible because doors and drawers might not open fully due to interference from the range handles.  Or rather, the handles that might be on the range-- because we haven't yet picked out appliances.  John said Home Depot is really not happy about putting in cabinetry without knowing exactly which appliances are going in with them, which is completely understandable, because with appliances everything can go in exactly.  We just hadn't thought of that.  Now I've got about 38 hours left in the country, and I'm kind of freaking out about the appliance issue.
The updated cabinet plan, although it too will be tweaked before all's said and done.
Dare you to find the differences... and know what they mean! :)

With the current house, we shopped around and bought a few different brands from a few different stores; the fridge was a scratch and dent from Lowe's, the microwave was a clearance item from Home Depot.  No one notices that our fridge doesn't match our stove, because they're on opposite ends of a galley kitchen.  But the bungalow kitchen isn't the same; it's more square, and all the appliances will be in the traditional kitchen triangle design, more or less.  So mismatched appliances will be a lot more evident.  For instance, Abby wants a built-in microwave, and unless we want to spend over a thousand bucks on a microwave-- we don't-- we'll probably buy it from IKEA.  (It's got a funny Swedish name on it, but it's built by Whirlpool.) But I don't want to buy all of my appliances there, because for instance their ranges are at least $200 more than anywhere else.  And to top it all off, I keep thinking of my mother-in-law, who bought all of her appliances (and good ones, too) on Black Friday for under $2000 in this crazy sale at Best Buy.  Argh.  I just want more time, but the thing is we have to buy the cabinets between July 19-29 if we want to get the sale price from Home Depot, and that price is nothing to shake a stick at: we'd be saving just about $4000 off their regular prices, which are still lower than the other estimates we got.  

What we will NOT be doing on Tuesday afternoon.
So my guess is our three-hour layover in Charlotte will be spent poring over the laptop at different appliances from different stores, rather than gazing longingly into each others' eyes on the rocking chairs they have there.  (Okay, that wouldn't happen anyhow, but you catch my drift.)  I'm hoping we won't have to do too much Internet-shopping from London, but if we must we must.  Maybe I'll ask Mark and Rory if they have any ins anywhere where we can get contractor pricing or something.  Worth a shot.

Speaking of nerves and Mark and Rory, when I went by the house last night I noticed wetness downstairs-- right next to the brand-new retaining wall that has just past its moisture inspection.  It was dark, and I wouldn't have noticed it had it not been for Frank and Lisa's kids stepping in the wetness and tracking it around on the plywood.  Took some pics and sent them to Mark and Rory to ask what was up, and they both wrote back within about 20 minutes to say it was a combination of the porch plywood not being waterproof since it's not the real porch floor, and actual water being poured there on purpose the day before.  A) Glad it's nothing; and B) Really impressed with the communications skills of my contractors, who definitely did not need to get back to me in 20 minutes on a Saturday evening.  They're great-- I had even asked Mark earlier in the week if he would be able to bring a ladder by so I could cut down a limb on my tree at the current house that had broken in the storm a few weeks back and was now hanging precariously over the backyard.  He came over, looked at it, and said not to worry; he'd send someone over while I was gone to take care of it, and he'd fix the back gate too.
Wetness in the downstairs storage area.

Also a cool idea is Mark's to place some of the stones that were in the original underground retaining wall (that match the rest of the house) around the front side to cover the new cinder-block retaining wall, rather than just painting it.  I think it could look great, because then the same rocks would ring the whole place.  I also love that they're local rocks-- when you go out into the Glen you can find a bunch that are similar looking.  For now, the completed wall still looks nice (as in "done") from the front, although as I mentioned above, the porch hasn't been connected for good yet.
... and from inside (the guest room).
The finished retaining wall from outside...

And finally, nerves because more of our paint job is going on, and I'm not in love.  Actually, I kinda hate it.  Abby has a five-color design she assures me should work, and showed me similar designs online, but I'm not convinced yet.  I told her she has the say on color, and I just want tweaking and veto power (remember the main green debate?), but with the front door all finished, I'm reminded a bit of women who wear way too much eye makeup.  However, the columns still need to be painted, and my guess is once they're done, their dark green color will offset what is currently a way-too-bold front door.  I hope...  (Not to mention, I really liked the outline all white...)
... and painted.
Hopefully, our house will not look like Christina Aguilera.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Cabinets Redux

In October 2005, Abby and I drove our red Dodge Stratus to the Home Depot on Rhode Island Avenue, stopping on the way to fill the tank with gas.  I remember the gas part because the gas prices were soaring at the time, and it was the first time I had ever put more than $40 in my tank.  So we walk into Home Depot for our appointment to design our cabinets for the kitchen in the house we had moved into one month prior-- we had been living pretty much on hot pockets alone for the previous month-- and the young woman with whom we had an appointment was still helping her previous customers.  Not having anything else to do that day, we walked around Home Depot for an hour waiting for her to finish.  We filled up a cart with all the stuff we needed for the house, including a brand-new microwave that was on crazy sale because it had been returned, and headed back to kitchen design.  Hours two, three, and four were spent designing the kitchen with Candace, someone we would come to know too, too well.  (At one point she and Abby became so friendly that she pulled out a picture of herself giving birth.  Yes, you could see everything.  Yes, I had the fortune not to be around for that one.)  However, when it came time for us to finish up, something went horribly awry: the plans were not saved, and we'd have to start all over again.  Hours five and six were spent painstakingly recreating our design until we were both happy.  We took our new plans to the front, left Candace's coochie pic back at her desk, and paid for our cartload of stuff.  We then walked out into the big parking lot, and couldn't find our car.

It had been very busy that Saturday; the weather was great, and a city full of house refurbishers and flippers was taking advantage.  We had to park right in the middle of the lot, which had the Home Depot on one side and a Giant supermarket on the other.  We knew our car was there, somewhere, anywhere... but no.  No car.  After six hours in the store, our car had been stolen from what apparently was the #1 spot in the entire District of Columbia from which to have a car stolen-- or so said the police officer in the substation at Giant. (Yes, so much crime happened at that shopping center that there was a police substation there.)  An hour later, we had made our police report, returned everything in our cart save the microwave, since it was a really great deal, after all, and trudged home on the metro carrying a huge boxed kitchen appliance.  Oh, and we lost an entire $40 tank of gas to boot.
Sadly, our Dodge Stratus, Commie (because it was big and red)
never got to visit Monument Valley with this stock-photo cousin.
So when I arrived at Home Depot this afternoon, alone and carless, since Abby and the kids are in North Carolina with our Prius, you can imagine the humor of the situation when Abby told me a black cat had been sitting outside her dad's window the whole day.  No matter-- this is a different location, at Aspen Hill way the heck outside the Beltway.  (Washingtonians: did you even know there was a 14000 Georgia Avenue?  Fourteen-thousand!)

John is our kitchen designer at Home Depot.  John looks to be an early retiree, seems nice enough, and reminds me of my dad how he thinks out loud and takes just a little more time to search for things on a computer desktop than I want him to.  (Love ya, Dad...)  I walk back for our appointment, and as soon as we're ready to start (on time?!), two customers corner him for a "quick question."  I oblige, and their question turns into a ten-minute info session on setting up a cabinet appointment.  He assures them, as he did us a couple of weeks back, that they need to sit down with him for 90 minutes to fill out paperwork before the contractors will come out and do a space measurement.  (Our session actually took about 10 minutes, done by cell phone while I was driving home from Buffalo last weekend.)  Only ten minutes late, we start in.  Two cabinets placed in the system later, the computer kicks him out of the program and we have to start all over again.  Not a good sign.  Thanks, Sanford cat!

The rest of the way, though, everything runs smoothly.  He saves the file after every single cabinet placement.  We're not kicked out of the program again.  Our appointment was supposed to go from 5-7, and my friends Frank and Lisa are picking me up at 7 so I can show them the house while they're in town with their kids doing tourist stuff; we run exactly seven minutes late.  Frank and Lisa's car was not stolen from the parking lot.  But best of all, while the previous estimate we had on cabinets totaled $18,500, these rang in at $15,500, and with all the bells and whistles (such as plywood construction and easy-glide drawers) too.  Not to mention, John told me they're having a huge sale next week, so if we finalize between July 19 and July 29, we'll pay just under $11,000.  This would most definitely be the first time anything on this house came in under budget.
The cabinets are white maple Thomasville cabinets in a simple Shaker design.  This is a picture of what they will like-- although remember: this is the stock photo and not the layout of our kitchen!  (Also, our drawer pulls will be different, and we aren't getting any cabinets that have glass fronts, because we all know we have enough windows in our house already...)

As for the layout, here it is.  Hope it's big enough for those of you who are interested to read.  Just know that the opening at the bottom is the doorway into the Great Room, there are only base cabinets on the left and top because we're not hanging cabinets over the windows, and there are both base and wall cabinets along the bottom and right.  Of course, since Abby wasn't there, it's not going to be 100% right; I'm sure I forgot something, or got something slightly (or more...) wrong, but I feel this is an accurate representation of what we will actually be getting.  More or less. And we didn't even have to lose a car over it.

A bit of a key: B = Base Cabinet; SC = Super Cabinet (the kind with pull-out drawers and shelves on the door); SB = Sink Base; W = Wall Cabinet; FH = Full-Height Cabinet (the kind without a drawer); U = Utility Cabinet (Pantry).  Enjoy!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Eine Kleine Nachtkleenup

I have been a very bad blogger as of late, and rather than blaming my lack of recent posts on the electricity outage caused by the "derecho" storm a couple of weeks ago (I didn't lose power) or on the hectic schedule I had for a week in Buffalo visiting my parents (packing only took two of the seven days), I'll just do a little clean-up duty tonight, and forge forward this weekend.

First up: we have an address!  Yes, folks, the United States Postal Service has recognized our home exists.  We now have an official ZIP+4 address of 9618 Dewitt Drive, Silver Spring, MD  20910-7109.  I know this may seem inconsequential, but it will go a long way in helping us be recognized by different offices we have to deal with, not to mention being able to receive mail.  Granted, we haven't yet gotten a mailbox, but without the recognition we couldn't even request that the post office forward our mail elsewhere, since their computers wouldn't recognize the initial forwarding-from location.  (Sound familiar?)  However, looks like someone (a neighbor? a contractor?) has decided to christen our house with incorrect numbers.  For some reason, we used to have another address in the 2000s, when we the house was placed on Dewitt Circle instead of Dewitt Drive.  When the house was painted, the old numbers finally came off.  But someone, thinking they were helpful I guess, saw that the divots were left from the old numbers and decided to use a pencil to draw on our newly painted house to show everyone our erstwhile address.  I used an entire pencil eraser to take the writing off the wall.  So please, if you're out there Mr/Ms Tracer, go draw on your own house, okay?

Secondly: we have a retaining wall!  And more than that, it's connected with the porch-- so much so that the rooms downstairs are now nearly sealed off from the elements!  It's very cool to be downstairs now and see how the rooms have developed.  The guest room is a bit bigger than I had imagined-- something I think will please the out-of-towners among you.  The bathroom, however, is VERY differently shaped.  Uh oh.  Abby had to go to the house several times this week, and each time she went she came out with a different view of how the bathroom now had to be situated.  I made a quick call to Mark yesterday to explain that he shouldn't buy the vanity we had planned, because it now "made no sense."  Not an hour later, Abby called me gleefully, saying that since the AC unit was now moved upstairs, we could place the bathroom door where she had wanted all along, and the window will now be in the shower instead of towering over the sink, and that, yes, we could buy that vanity after all.  This, after we schlepped the kids to IKEA to look at a differently sized (and half-the-price) vanity she thought would fit better in the bathroom the way she had thought it would have to be.  Basically, and I'll explain with pictures this weekend, the bathroom has gone from two squares to a square and an "L" to a square and a rectangle, due to the build-out of the retaining wall.  But now that the wall's up, it shouldn't change any more.  Hopefully...

Third: our house was NOT affected by the derecho storm on June 28, but our neighbors were.  For those of you outside of DC, a derecho is a new kind of storm that weathermen made up to describe a quick line of powerful thunderstorms that makes crazy stuff happen, like five-ton tree limbs fall onto the roof of the Aloha House, and also like making sure there are no pony rides.  Luckily, no one in the Aloha House was hurt, and the insurance company's going to cover the damage.  Unluckily, we postponed our trip to Buffalo for a day to attend a holiday weekend neighborhood party complete with a petting zoo and the aforementioned pony rides-- to be held directly in front of the Bungalow-- and then showed up with a cooler-full of brownies and other snacks to share, only to see a small printout notifying everyone the event was canceled.  The kids were disappointed, but Abby and I were totally miffed; we have this thing about not telling the kids about something that could get canceled because a while back it seemed they were being flaked out on a lot, and this was yet another case of cancellation without good reason.  It seriously took us about a half an hour to realize that the power was out everywhere, and another 15 minutes or so to realize that all of my complaining texts I had sent to my parents were still sitting in my BlackBerry inbox, since the cell service was also out.  Oops... I guess that'd explain why no email went out to notify about the cancellation, huh?  And while we were able to pick up and drive up to Buffalo, our new neighbors suffered through 104-degree weather for the next five days without getting their power back.  We've been so lucky in DC, having almost never gone without power in a region infamous for power outages, that it scares me a bit to go into this area's "reality zone" as pertains to Pepco, the evil power company...

Finally: Bonnie wrote to me and congratulated me for getting through to someone at CSX regarding the fencing issue, since I guess they've been trying to do so for years.  But she also told me the land over there is actually not HOA land, so it might be a bit harder for the plan to go through.  Either way, I'm still gonna try, although I haven't yet had a moment to write anything formal to the HOA letting them know my idea.  (That said, I think a couple of people on the HOA Board read this blog, so...)  Regardless, even though we may have to include Alexander Company (the developer) in the discussion now, all the interested parties are still likely to be receptive to the barrier idea.  It's just going to take a bit more legwork.

So that's it for now.  I promise to upload a bunch of pics this weekend for those of you interested in seeing how the first floor is shaping up, because it's really getting to the point where you don't need imagination anymore.  And I've been told by several of you that until we get to that point, all the explanation in the world isn't going to allow them to have a good picture in their heads of what everything will look like when it's done, so this should make you all happy.  For now, though, good night!