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.