Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Farnsworth Technicality

As Professor Farnsworth says at the beginning of every episode of Futurama, "Good news, everyone!"  Our tax-credit application has been given the (unofficial) thumbs-up from the Maryland Historic Trust for the full amount-- meaning almost everything we spent on making this house livable (as opposed to the little indulgences like the gas fireplace) qualified for their program, and we'll be getting a whopping $50,000 back from the state. (Holy cow!) We haven't gotten the paperwork back yet, but Renee from MHT told me she just needed one small edit on one page of the form for things to go forward, and I'm totally psyched. I immediately began looking at financing our HELOC, which resets in December, with the hope that the fat fifty-G check we'd be getting in the mail at Thanksgiving could cut the amount in half and give us a way better rate. Alas, I was only half-right: yes, we will be getting the money, but no, it will not be coming anytime soon, and it will also not be coming in the form of a happy, gift-like check.

Rather, we have to file taxes in the Spring and claim the amount as a tax credit. Hmm. So here's the issue now: I planned our finances so we'd be DC residents until December 31, with a switch to Maryland beginning January 1. All DC withholding this year, then a clean break with no need for part-year resident filing, with all MD withholding in 2014. Now we have to file as MD residents for 2013, and I'm stumped. For those of you who know me, this is how stumped I am: I'm going to go to H&R Block and get tax advice. (I know, right?!) But this money is just too much to screw around with, and I'm willing to pay the $150 or whatever they need at the tax place in order to see my mortgage balance decrease by half-a-hundred grand. Now I just have to find some time to get there.

Once we get the official paperwork back from Annapolis (Crownsville, actually) we can then start with the Rockville paperwork--for the county. I already started talking to Josh over at the County Preservation office, letting him know to watch out for our impending application, and it looks like it may be an easy-enough process. The county looks at all the stuff you did to make the house pretty from the outside, as opposed to the state livability standard, so the amount we get back will be much, much less-- 10% of the exterior improvements will still be nothing to shake a stick at, mind you.

But the other reason I contacted Josh was to let him know we finally got the energy audit results back, and decided to go for it. Granted, all that wait (since what, August?!) was for a report that basically told us we had drafts -- in a 115-year-old house -- we liked their remedies, and we don't like how freakin' cold it is in the house. So next Monday and Tuesday, Smart Homes Maryland will be coming by to install seals on all 49 of our windows, new latches on almost half of them (to help close them more tightly than the current latches, some of which are the hook-and-eye kind you'd find at a campsite latrine), and what they describe as an inflatable device inside our chimney that will help divert the heat from the fireplace into the house. That last part makes sense but sounds strange-- but it's also less than $200, so why the heck not?

The whole project's not cheap, but do-able nonetheless.  They originally gave us an estimate in the high $2000s, and I balked at it until I thought about the cost of simply buying 49 windows-worth of that cheap weatherstripping from Home Depot, and how cheesy it'd look. Only problem was that the quote was for white weatherstripping and brass hardware; all of our windows are black. So we went back to their rep, Karim, and asked what it'd take to darken things up. apparently about a thousand dollars. But again, that now involves painting 49 windows-worth of weatherstripping, getting upgraded hardware, and being happy (and warrantied) at the end of the process. For energy savings, it's worth it. The bummer is we haven't been in the house for a winter without it, so we have nothing against which we can compare the cost savings. But I think I can deal, and I'm looking forward to being able to sit at my computer without feeling a cold breeze, to waking up to see something other than "57 degrees" on my bedside thermometer, and to snuggling with Abby under a blanket when we watch tv because we want to-- and not because we're trying to stave off hypothermia. That, combined with a nice big check from Maryland-- even if it's in the form of an income-tax refund check direct-deposited into my account at some point in late March-- will truly be "good news, everyone!"

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

That's Cold

Old married couples have their "normal" (to them) back-and-forths that go something like what Abby and I have. For instance:

Billy Ocean is dressed appropriately for my first floor.
A: Hey.
G: You.
A: Get into my car. (You can guess the rest.)

Similarly, and on the same '80s pop vein, there's this gem:

A: That's cold (or) I'm cold (or anything else ending with the word "cold")
G: So's your heart.
A+G: Random Paula Abdul reference. (Is there any other kind?)

Paula Abdul would be VERY cold in my downstairs bathroom.
Well, now we have something else that's cold, apart from each of our hearts: our house. More specifically, our first floor. Each morning, we wake up, put our parkas on, grab our chisels, and start chipping the children out of their beds. We can leave meat and dairy out on the counters without fear of spoilage. We have a family of hibernating bears under our stairs. It's cold.

"Of course it's cold," you say. "You have 100+ year-old windows and your first floor is partially submerged underground." "Yes," I would reply, "but you see, I had installed an enormous furnace, along with bulkheads for distributing all of that heat. And I paid extra for insulation of Buffalo standards. And I yell at the kids to close the door, for fear of (and I quote, unfortunately) 'heating the neighborhood.'" Still, very cold.

Madonna would probably be okay with a shawl,
but those dogs in the video would need sweaters.
Madonna once sang "You're frozen when your heart's not open."  I say "you're frozen when your freakin' cold."  And yes, I say this from the vantage point of someone who went through the winters of '04-'05 and '05-'06 without heat. But I was a lot younger then, and didn't have to worry about potential Child Services intervention.

We sit on our couch after the kids go to bed, and immediately crawl under a blanket. Abby's nose is probably 40 degrees. And I strongly suspect our little issue with Lola wetting the bed a few times last week has at least something to do with her preferring not to get out of her warm bed to trek across the tundra that is our family room, into the icebox that is the downstairs bathroom. Let's just say we have issues.

A few months back, you may recall, we won a free energy audit courtesy of the county, for historic homes. Following the audit, we were supposed to receive a professional estimate on how an organization affiliated with the county and knowledgeable about the limitations of working with historic buildings could work to make our house more energy-efficient. (Read: warmer in winter). And hey, I'm all about up-front payments with back-loaded, long-term benefits-- bring 'em on!

So the audit guy came out, did his thing, and said we'd have his report shortly. Then... nothing. around Labor Day, sensing the imminent change in season, I emailed the county asking about the report, and was told there were "issues" (with the auditor, not with our audit) and we'd get things shortly. Two weeks ago, I re-pinged them, and was told I'd have the report no later than... last Friday. I don't want to be the pain in the ass to people who are giving me something for free, but by the time we finally get the report, there may be a glacier advancing on Silver Spring, starting from my property.

Proper gear for the Aurora and the Bungalow
(I write this while standing on my Red Line commute, facing an ad for Icelandair, with a smiling couple in thick sweaters and furry hats enjoying the Northern Lights; they would be properly clad to visit the Bungalow too late in the evening.)

So what do I do? I could spend a whole weekend going back and forth to Home Depot buying weather-stripping and that cellophane stuff for the windows and door-sweeps and a giant knit house-koozie, but in the end I feel that my professionally-done house deserves a professionally-done insulation job, especially since I have actual tourists taking actual photos of the place at least once every month on the neighborhood tour. And also because I'm pretty positive that once I finally plunk down the time and energy on doing it myself, the county will call me, all ready to go.

In the meantime, we have decided to close our upstairs registers and pump the heat up a few degrees, with an eye toward tricking the HVAC system into warming things up downstairs without baking the upstairs. We've made sure all of our duvets are washed (following Isaac's barf-o-rama last week, and Lola's aforementioned string of accidents the week before) and on the beds. We turned on the fireplace during Isaac's party, which made the upstairs nice and toasty; the temperature downstairs may have been fine, had all the kids not kept leaving the door open (and heating the neighborhood...).  Oh, and we're stocking up on soup.

Here's hoping the county gets to us before we go the way of the Woolly Mammoth. (Or at least the way of that poor snake Paula Abdul was singing about back in the day.) In the meantime, we can only dream about the point whne we'll get to another of our regular-to-us conversations:

A: I'm hot.
G: And modest.
A: (Rolls eyes.)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pianoless Foyer

It's been a while, but that's because the physical work on the house has ended, so we're pretty much not doing anything else house-related. Um, no. It's just that we've been pretty busy, what with life and everything, that we are trying to do a better job at balancing house and life. Abby took a ten-day vacation to Greece with her mom, I escorted a group of 40-some fellow Buffalo Bills fans on a 1000-mile round-trip pilgrimage, and of course there's ballet and soccer and school potlucks and work. But stuff's going on, I assure you!

First off, we've submitted our paperwork to the Maryland Historical Trust. That long process two years ago, with all the approvals and denials and back-and-forth about the color of our roofing shingles and the width of our doorways? We filled out the forms, sent in a bunch of annotated pictures of various places in the house where there had been consternation on their part over what we were going to do, and are now sitting, crossing our fingers like we did two years ago. Except whereas the process then ended with their blessing for us to go ahead and begin work, the process now ends with a big fat reimbursement check. Needless to say, this process will hopefully end in celebration, just like that one did... Just without the use of sledgehammers on Christmas Day.

But in the meantime, life goes on, and progress has happened. During a weekend spent with my parents at the house a couple of weeks ago, my dad and I put together Abby's closet with one trip to Home Depot and about $40 in materials. (Sure wish other stuff worked that well!) It was a nice feeling of accomplishment, with my dad directing me as if I were working on my carpentry-for-dummies merit badge. But in the end, it looks/works great, and I had fun with my dad in the process. (Afterwards, he commented that it'd be nice to come over once and not talk about what's wrong or still needs to be done with the house, but I'll believe that when I see it; I'm convinced those are two of his favorite conversation topics!). Unfortunately, we weren't able to install the hot-water tap. The contractors had said they'd do it for $200 and I balked at the cost. So of course, when I call an independent plumber, they quote me over $600. I turned around and asked the contractors to help, like we swore we'd never do... And am still waiting for them to respond... And I don't blame them!

I did have one experience with lightning-quick response from the contractors since I last wrote. You may recall my grandmother's piano had been sitting in our foyer for a LONG time, since the contractors said they'd get around to moving it downstairs when they had enough guys on-site. That's because it arrived from Buffalo when we had no floors downstairs. Well, it had been six months since we moved in, and still the piano sat in the foyer. With Abby nearly ready to come home from Greece, I wanted a big "wow" for her, and knew a closet wasn't gonna cut it. So I cut a deal with the contractors: you have your guys come over to finish unfinished drywall in the storage area downstairs, trim the door to that room, and drill for and install the doorknob, and I'll pay someone else to come move the piano. I had never seen such a quick response from them. The workers came over the next day-- a day on which I *cough cough* felt too sick to work ;) -- and after a quick trip to Home Depot to buy five 8-foot-long sections of trim, the work was done. The same day, I had Johnson's Piano Movers come by and, after 45 minutes of figuring out how exactly the instrument could/couldn't fit down our semi-circular staircases, I suggested they take it all the way around the house and just go through the back door. Sure, they had to tip it on its side to wedge it through the mud room and had so little clearance once inside that removing the night-light from its socket made all the difference, but we now have a piano in our family room. And, way more importantly, we have a pianoless foyer. (It's actually really weird still, even two weeks later, to stand in such a "wide open" entranceway. And I still have to force myself to go down the west staircase, after being so used to it being blocked by the piano and its adjoining piles of stuff.

Speaking of Johnson's (as in the piano movers), one not-so-good thing that's happened in the last little bit is that more than half of the bushes I planted this summer have died. You may recall the eight bushes I planted on the hottest day of the year, when Abby and the kids were in North Carolina and some schmuck had just run off with my new bike. Four were from Merrifield Nursery, four from Johnson's in Olney, and all were expensive. Luckily, or rather, hopefully, buying expensive plants means buying warranteed plants. Now I just have to find a time to dig them up and replace them; maybe when my parents are over again next weekend. So three of our four Arborvitae survived-- only "Eileen to the Left" is kaput; but everything from Merrifield's died, including the really neat curly-haired cypress. All of 'em still have the tags on them; now I just have to dig out to receipts. But digging the actual plants out will be well-timed, actually, since we have a ton of bulbs that can go into the ground at the same time.

So that's the update for now. Lots of mundane stuff, but that's what happens when you actually live in a house, right? Little stuff, like last night was the first time we turned on the fireplace; i sat on the couch next to it and read "The Giving Tree" to Lola before bed. And our freezer door opens only half as much as it used to when the fridge door closes, thanks to a shim the contractors put under it; it's effectively leaning forward because of the slant of the kitchen floor, which used to be a porch floor, and there's only so much you can do to fix it. Thinking of getting childproof locks so we don't have to deal with a defrosted icebox every time one of the kids gets some juice. And this weekend is the big test: our first house party, for Isaac's birthday. In the meantime, though, just life in the house. And so far, it's working. :)

Wait-- where did the piano go?
What will we do with a pianoless foyer?!
The piano rolling down the sidewalk by the kids' rooms...

...and then through the backyard...
...then into the mudroom...

...and into the family room...
...where it belongs!  FINALLY!

Monday, September 16, 2013

It's Over

It's over, folks. Fini. 27 1/2 months after we closed, 2 years to the day after we received state approvals, 21 months after the sledgehammers started swinging. But also five months after we moved in, and a year after our desired date of completion. But it's over. All work requested of our general contractor has been completed. Let me repeat that, but louder: ALL WORK REQUESTED OF OUR GENERAL CONTRACTOR HAS BEEN COMPLETED. THAT FELT GOOD--er-- that felt good.

Final touches were done on the kitchen in the middle of last week: grouting the backsplash tile (black, Abby's idea-- surprised me, but looks great); painting the top sash of the far window that had, for some reason, never been painted; getting up under the little notches with black paint to give added depth (Abby's idea too, she wasn't sure I'd like it, but I love it). Standing in the far end of the kitchen at night, it feels like an old-fashioned modern French kitchen, if that makes sense. I love it.

And downstairs, a third of our mudroom has been gobbled up by the new closet that encloses the water heater. Actually, a lot more of the mudroom is left than we thought, and we might actually be able to hang some hooks on one side so as to get some coats up on the wall. We still need to paint it, but whatever-- it'll be white, like everything else down there. (My only complaint: there are too many angles in there now, but it had to be that way to allow clearance for the required access panel.)

There are a couple of things we realized that have not yet been done. For instance, the door between the guest room and the storage area has been hung, but the doorknob is uninstalled and there's no trim inside or out. When I mentioned this to Abby, she could not have shot back more quickly her desire not to involve the contractors in even one more project. Her take is that if we ask them to do something, they'll just pass it on to the subs, charge us too much, and take too long. Instead, we got the phone number of one of the workers we know who has done excellent work, and we'll ask him. (We've already asked him to help us with an odd job at the old house.)

The latter part of last week was spent trying to get the invoice out of them. I told them countless times that we'd want an invoice to turn in for the historical requirements, yet it constantly seemed like a surprise to them-- as if keeping records was anathema to their way of life. They sent a first draft invoice, which was hilarious because it just mimicked the loan numbers, which we all agreed were just placeholders. Plus, they included things like floors and doors and appliances-- things we purchased ourselves. After three drafts, we finally got an acceptable (if imperfect) invoice in my inbox on Sunday. But not after being pestered for more of the money we owe them. Abby had given them $5,000 midweek, and we're disputing some of their final charges. We say we owed them a bit under $8,000 before that payment; they claim it's a bit over $9,000. So I gave them $2,000 more on Saturday, since that was undisputed and we really need that invoice. We'll see what happens next.

But really, apart from the last $900 (or $2,300, depending on whose side you're on) and the movement of our piano from its resting place in the foyer down to the family room, we have wiped our hands of Servicez Unlimited. It's really a pity-- we started off loving Rory, then Mark took over and things went for a roller-coaster ride that ended with, if not hard feelings, a definite desire never to deal with each other again. I'm not so sure that they'll ever respond to a call from us should we need to make use of our warranty... and I'm not so sure that the two years didn't start when they started work, which, when you think about it, was more than two years ago now. Regardless, it may take more than the already-chipping exterior paint for us to call them again.

Things are not done. There is still a lot of work to do. We have a long road ahead of us with paperwork, with landscaping, with living in the house. But this part is over. We no longer live in a construction zone. We can unpack boxes with the knowledge that they don't have to be repacked-- possibly for decades. We can sit on the couch, and stare around, at OUR (technically) COMPLETED HOUSE. And yep, the allcaps there were deliberate.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Squatting No More

It's been a month since I last wrote-- more than a month, in fact. And I wish I could say there have been massive movements in construction. Actually, were it three days ago, I could say absolutely no physical movements have been made. But in the past three days, well, movement. First off, though, is the most important thing to happen since I last wrote.

The reason I haven't written about the house for so long is that I haven't actually been in it. Between a 2,500-mile road trip and a 25,000-mile business trip, I only slept in my own bed four times during the entire month of August. But early last month, while I was visiting friends and family in Buffalo, we got the big news we'd been waiting for for so long: we passed our inspection. So, for the first time on this blog, I can tell you we are no longer squatters in our own home. (I know, right?) And I wish I could be more excited about that pronouncement of officialdom from the good people in Rockville, but the thing is, for the next month, absolutely nothing happened in the house. Oh wait-- they planted grass seed that actually grew. So there, we have a lawn. In the meantime, my closet lay in ruins, having been assembled and active since April; as a result, unpacking after 17 days of leisure, and packing for 18 days of business just 4 days later, was accomplished with more than a little consternation on my part.

But then, there was communication. Yes, none other than Servicez Unlimited themselves texted us, we thought because they wanted to work. But no.  Actually, they just wanted money. You see, we still owe them about $15,000, money that was held by the mortgage company until all work was done. You may remember it as the money they decided to allow to lapse rather than having to deal with us anymore. So, sure, we owe it to them, but they ain't getting it all until we are happy. Abby met with Marc and, while I said she should give him a third of it, gave him half. In exchange, they agreed to wipe away some of the ridiculous charges they had amassed, like a $70 charge for delivering a door.

A week later, still nothing from them. So I texted them back-- seeing as it's apparently the way they communicate best now, although I prefer email because of the more easily-discernable trail. By the end of the day, I've worked out with them that there are several things they're just itching to complete-- do you sense my sarcasm?-- and they can start on Wednesday, and "be finished by the end of the week," if I get back to them by 7pm; otherwise, it'll be another week, for some reason. Interestingly enough, I get the text at 5pm, giving me plenty of time to consider. But consider I do, and within 15 minutes I respond to most of the bullet points as if to say GET YOUR BUTTS OVER HERE. Among those things I don't agree to? A $250 installation of the hot water tap they had already installed, only to remove because they screwed up the plans they submitted to the county. The tap cost about $125, and I know for a fact my dad can install it; I'm pretty sure I can too, which tells you either how easy I think it is, or how little further work I wish to give to these guys.

So Wednesday comes. And voila-- my closet is reassembled. I feel I can step back into the adulthood I had claimed in April.

But then Thursday comes. And all the whining and begging and debating and convincing becomes worthwhile-- at least momentarily. We pull up in our parking space, look up at our kitchen windows, and see it: nothing. Nothing, as in there had been a ridiculously high backsplash blocking half of our window array. And now? At least five inches had been cut off. Abby ran into the house-- I think she forgot she had kids in tow-- and opened the window, yelling for me to come up and see. Walking into the great room, the change is immediately perceptible; there are just so many more TREES visible. Standing at the counter looking toward the glen, you can actually see most of the backyard without having to get up on the counter with your knees. It's the view we fell in love with 31 months ago, when we first stepped into the house. And the icing on the cake? Tiles. Abby chose white subway tile, similar to what we had in our old kitchen, except with beveled edges, to line the exposed walls and what's left of the backsplash, and they look amazing. The look is exactly what she wanted, the installation is perfect-- even along the uneven stone wall backing the fireplace-- and Abby is giddy. She decided it looks so good that she wants one more wall covered in it, rather than being painted. (Being the nice one, she at least feigned changing her mind if I would be upset that her plan would tile over a wall I had painted in my paintathon a couple months back.) For those of you who know Abby, you'll appreciate that she wanted this bad enough the she was willing to drive a half-hour through the suburbs to get an extra pack of tile, and another half-hour back to deliver it to the guys before turning around and driving yet another half-four, getting to the kids' school in time to pick them up. That, my friends, is dedication to design.

So that's where we stand now. Still incredibly frustrated with the contractors, but more and more feeling that it doesn't matter. It's the end of the week, and they're not finished as they had texted, but it's not like I believed them. After all, we're about a year late now-- remember, we were originally shooting for Labor Day 2012. Regardless, only small stuff is left for them to do. The biggest thing on our horizon now is paperwork. Ten days from today is the due date for our submission to the Maryland Historical Trust. As long as we amass all the receipts we can, fill out all the necessary documentation, and get it in on time, we'll get a giant chunk of change back from the State of Maryland as a thank-you for saving a deteriorated old property. I've already gathered about $120,000 in receipts, and Abby was tasked with getting at least $20,000 more from Home Depot today, so we're well on our way. Pushing it, sure, but we'll make it.

What will be interesting is whether we'll be happier about finishing this project or cutting our ties to the contractors. My guess? The latter in the short term, and the former in the long term. But both will be welcomed, and that's for sure!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Now You Can Find TP, But Not T-Shirts

A while back, my sister approached me with a very important directive: under no circumstances were we to put the toilet-paper holder to the right of the toilet; it causes undue difficulty for right-handed people.  Additionally, dispensers placed directly across from the toilet can be problematic should the distance between the seat and the opposing wall be great enough to require anything more than a slight forward lean. Having never actually thought about the placement of toilet-paper holders in the house-- other than my distaste for free-standing holders placed beside the toilet-- I proceeded to visit both of our bathrooms, sat on the lids, and groped around to see which were the optimum placements for our specific set-up.

Turns out, my sister was not only correct, but will have to deal with the reality that neither of her directives were heeded. The toilet-paper holder upstairs can really only be placed to the right of the toilet, since there's no wall to the left, and the bath towels hanging directly across would make any roll underneath them humid--yuck. Downstairs, there's no wall on either side-- regardless of the fact that we wanted one, if you can recall that from a ways back-- so the opposite wall's the only choice, apart from a free-stander, which is out of the question. This is all to say, however, that after living in the house for three months now, and having working plumbing for several more, we now have mounted bathroom hardware!
Now you can actually dry your hands in our upstairs bathroom.
What you see when you sit on the toilet
in our upstairs bathroom.
What you see when you sit on the toilet
in our downstairs bathroom.
My bed, with my closet sitting
on top of it. :(
As an aside, holy crap is it bright in Isaac's room!  My mom complained about it last time they were over, but I didn't think anything of it. But on the second night in there, Isaac woke us up saying he couldn't sleep, and I had no idea what time it was-- judging by the light coming through the shades, I guessed it was about 5:30, but when I checked my phone, it was barely 3:15. That street lamp outside has some major power, and is positioned perfectly to make Isaac's room the Forest Glen equivalent of Times Square. (Maybe that's why all his guppies are dying? They've all got insomnia!) Needless to say, last night we moved the pile of clothes onto the closet floor and we all slept-- soundly-- in our own beds. Still, I worry that the brightness will somehow affect Isaac, even if he doesn't complain. I'm not worried about guests like my mom, because once the guest room is up and running, lack of light may be the problem, rather than overabundance. But black-out curtains might be in Isaac's future, unless we can somehow persuade the community to let us cover up the half of the light that points at our house.

The contractors have been at the house a few times this week, if you can believe it, and have supposedly put our house in compliance with twelve of the thirteen items that had caused us to fail our inspection the last time around. The one that's left I'll discuss in a moment, but I'll note that the reason I say they put us in compliance rather than "they fixed the stuff" is our closet work-around situation. The issue in there was that my closet system, which was installed back in April and represented a big, unusual splurge for me, did not leave enough clearance for the inspector's taste when it came to the ceiling lighting. So rather than rerouting the electric and tearing drywall up, the contractors wanted to tear out my closet. Abby called me at work, asking if I would be okay with the system's temporary removal, pending the inspection. I freaked out, since part of the draw for me was that a) the system was installed by the manufacturer, and b) it has a lifetime warranty. I didn't want anything the contractors did to void the warranty, so I called Closet America to see what the deal was. Apparently, they're okay with it, but anything broken during the process would not be covered. In other words, you break it, you buy it. I communicated this to Abby, telling her that they could take it apart as long as they took responsibility for any issues. Abby confided that she trusted Fernando, the guy who'd be doing the work, so it all went down on Tuesday. As a result, our entire closet was emptied onto our bed, and we slept in Isaac's room for two nights while the kids had sleepovers in Lola's room.

My closet, stripped naked of its accouterments.

So back to lucky #13: the foundation wall. When we last left off, we were in a weeks-long wait to get the new downstairs front wall approved, and were looking at a $4000 bill (and most definitely a fight over responsibility for that bill) to dig up our front yard for a day to show the inspector something he supposedly saw and forgot to record several months ago. This week, Mark told me there's an alternative: a third-party inspector who can approve the job by looking at the plans, figuring out where weaknesses would be that should be able to be detected even with finished walls and a filled-in front yard, and ensuring none of those weaknesses are present. All this for the bargain-basement price of about $2000. To me, this all sounds very fishy: some guy is allowed to okay a permit that some other guy can only approve once earth is moved, and all he has to do is knock around on some walls, and all we have to do is pay a fee about twenty times the price of normal?  If I were abroad, I would call the Embassy or Transparency International to get the 411 on this, but now? I just want this thing completed. I feel defeated. I don't want to do anything that would jeopardize our investment in this place, but jeez!  Meanwhile, we're steeling ourselves for what will inevitably be a brawl over the cost. But first things first: get the damn inspection!

So as it sits right now, we're potentially on track for a final inspection in the middle of next week, although I'll believe it only when the inspector physically enters the premises. But in the meantime, at least twelve-thirteenths of the requirements were completed, according to the contractors. And hey, we've got toilet-paper holders mounted on the wall now too-- and I'm totally willing to take the necessary flak from my sister.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Cabinet Marathon Complete

A year ago this week, I made my way to London for a month of working at the U.S. Embassy there during the Summer Olympics. Before I left, I made a couple of long, hard slogs on public transportation from the old house in Petworth up to the Home Depot in Aspen Hill to finalize plans for our kitchen cabinets, which required taking the Red Line to the end, then going on a bus that was labeled "Leisure World." All this, because supposedly so much was going to happen while we were abroad that it was imperative kitchen cabinets were designed and purchased before we left. Well here we are, a year later, and our kitchen cabinets have finally been completed. Yep, every cabinet is in, every door is correct, every door pull has been affixed, every appliance has been anchored, every gap has been filled. One huge box has been checked. And all it took was a year.

Not that we haven't had stuff in the cabinets since we moved in-- er, "started squatting"-- three months ago. But now, we don't have to use a paint-can opener to get peanut butter, we don't have to keep glasses away from the front of the dishwasher drawers in fear of it tipping too far forward and flinging them out, and we don't have a seemingly teeny-tiny microwave sitting in a big hole. It's done!

On Friday, before I left to pick up Abby and the kids in North Carolina-- which, incidentally, also included a long slog on a bus-- the installers came by and finished the last five items on the list.  What took so long, and who was to blame?  Honestly, at this point I don't care, but it was a mix of the installers' poor measurement, Home Depot's poor transcription, and our terrible luck with all things housing-related. But they arrived, I gave them the list, and I left. (Actually, they gave me a ride to the Metro, which was nice, considering I was late for work.) First up, they attached all of the drawer pulls and door handles, which was great because we had actually purchased them separately, and the company was under no obligation to do that; since there were so many problems, though, I think they overlooked the fact that we probably could have been charged for what they did. Next, they installed the shield that goes around the microwave, filling the gaps around the unit and centering it in the hole; again, we bought this separately, back in February. After that, they switched out the solid wood door mistakenly delivered back in April with the glass door we had paid for, so now the cabinets flanking the range match, and we can see our glassware like we wanted. Next came the dishwasher, which lurched forward every time we emptied it because it hadn't been attached to the cabinets next to it; now it is, and it stays in place like it should. Finally, the gap between the top of the fridge and the bottom of the liquor cabinet was filled; unfortunately, it was too small a space to allow for a taller cabinet, so the space is just wasted. (Actually, I bet we could have had the filler on top and brought the cabinet down a few inches, but that'd involve changes that are just not going to be made-- I should slap myself just for thinking about it!)

I trusted that the guys finished the job, and didn't call to make sure all was well, assuming if something went wrong that they'd give me a call. Went right from work to the bus to the Carolinas, only seeing the finished product last night when we got home. I had told Abby about how the contractors installed the storage room door, raised the range hood, and worked on the porch roof, and she knew I had painted (for 20 total hours!), but this was a surprise for her to see. I think she loved it, but could see she was a smidge disappointed because of the placement of some of the hardware. The installers had asked me where the hardware went on the doors and drawers before I left-- something I had never previously considered. I couldn't get a hold of my notoriously unreachable wife because she had lost her phone on the trip, and because I didn't have her mom's telephone number due to a quirk with my own phone's contact list. So it was executive decision time: for the drawers, I chose to center the handle above the inlay, because putting it inside the inlay might look too anal retentive-- too "me;" on the doors, I went with their recommendation to center the knobs between the inlay and the side, square with the top of the inlay. I think Abby may have wanted the hardware to be more cornered than centered, but what's done is done. (I also think it'll take a while to get used to how busy the cabinets look now, seeing as I've gotten used to hardware-less cabinets these last three months!)

New in this shot: Glass door to left of range hood,
filler above fridge, all the hardware
All said, our kitchen's not done. We still have to wait for our inspection, after which we can have the electric outlets on the backsplash moved, the backsplash itself cut down to a more manageable level, and the tiles that have been waiting so patiently in the foyer finally put up. After that, the part of the cabinetry that faces out the windows needs to be finished-- hopefully in white, so as to match the color of the cellular shades on the rest of that side of the house as seen from outside. Then? Then that's it. I think. Or rather, then maybe we'll have to start fixing things, like when they finish painting the Golden Gate Bridge and just start over at the other end. (Shoot me now.)

But in the meantime, I got to make a PBJ for myself this morning, and didn't have to use a construction implement to facilitate the simple act of opening a door. It will make all the "gourmet cooking" we plan to do in that room so much easier, that's for sure. As Martha Stewart might say, "That's a good thing." And as Paula Deen might say, "I like your white cabinets, y'all."

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

White on White

With Abby and the kids in North Carolina for the week, I've been left to my own devices. And that means, in the last four days, I've made three trips to Home Depot, spent fourteen hours painting, and have somehow reinvigorated our contractors. Don't ask me how on that last one, because if I knew, I'd kick myself for not having done whatever it was a whole lot earlier.

Just like Adam Duritz of Counting Crows,
I have stepped into a fog where no one
notices the contrast of white on white.
First off, what I'm doing myself. Painting. And more painting. We have about three miles worth of trim in our house, and all of it is plain white-primed wood, just ready to be finished. No idea why it was put in prior to being painted, but I'm not about to pull it off piece by piece in order to make the painting process quicker, as my cousin Tim the contractor suggests. (Tim the out-of-state contractor, I might add; otherwise, he'd be Tim my contractor.)  I know pulling it off would speed up the painting process, but I have nowhere to do the actual painting once that happens-- no basement, no yard that isn't entirely mud (and would therefore likely force me to clean the trim after painting it), no workhorse things (isn't that what they're called?) to set up on the street outside. So for this project, it's the slog of alternating between a paintbrush and a mini-roller, laying on the ground and climbing ladders and choosing a shirt to ruin with paint-- my old, huge Albany tee, in this case.

The painting is satisfying up close, because I can see the paint going on wet, but frustrating from afar. That's because, after eight hours of painting on Saturday, I stepped back and saw pretty much no change at all. White paint replaced white primer. (At least all the furniture was moved away from the wall and my Albany shirt was sufficiently messed up, so I could prove to neighbors passing by that I had actually been doing something the whole day!) However, on day two, things changed. Only three hours of painting on Sunday left me with completed trim-- two coats-- throughout the entire upstairs. And since it's high-gloss, while you can't necessarily see the difference, you can feel it. Just run your hands across the door frame on the way to the kitchen, and instead of a blunt, matte surface, your hands are greeted with a smooth, cool surface that says "people might actually live here!"  Monday night I started downstairs, and after three hours I stopped, having completed a first coat in the bathroom and mud room-- that's it. Holy cow: whose idea was it to get trim?

This afternoon I'll have a choice: go back home and keep brush-painting the as-yet unpainted surfaces, or stop by Home Depot for a fourth time in five days to get a new roller so I can do the second coat. I tried the trick Abby told me about-- wrapping the roller in cellophane and sticking it in the fridge-- but rather than keeping it wet and usable, like the paintbrush, it just hardened the roller into a latexy rock.

"Now real people can use me!"
Well, while that excitement was forming in the refrigerator, something was actually happening just a 90-degree turn to the left. Yes, contractors were in our house, and they fixed the problem with the range hood-- namely, that it was positioned about nine inches above the range itself, so as to aid denizens of Munchkinland in their cooking travails, should they ever need to make use of our kitchen. In their defense-- the contractors', not the Munchkins'-- the range hood had been placed level to the bottom of the cabinets, so there was a pretty line from one side to the other. But then there was that whole pesky not-being-able-to-reach-the-back-burners issue to deal with. Rory called me at work, asked me a bunch of questions pertaining to the things on our list, and surprised me when he said he saw what I was talking about-- meaning he was actually at the house. His being sent out is probably a sign that I have pissed Mark off enough that he wants to shut me up, but I think that's a good sign. Especially since when Rory's on the scene, things get done.

It all probably emanated from my frustrated email last week.

Mark + Rory: What is going ON? No one has been here for at least ten days. Meanwhile, we're living in a construction zone, and people are downright laughing at us. We would be too-- this is beyond ridiculous. There is NO acceptable reason your guys were not here this week. NOT amused. We need action immediately on the items we emailed you with already three times. There are NO excuses. Gregory + Abby

I'm not usually an emphatic capitalizer, but come ON.  Actually, I bet it came from the fact that I copied Rory on the email, rather than just sending it to Mark; that's worked in the past, and I don't know why I had stopped doing it. Whatever reason, something was done yesterday, and a large piece of drywall was left on our front porch, so who knows what else they're planning for this week?

Other than painting and the stove, the only other movement on the house has been self-initiated. After seeing the constant influx of cricket spiders and regular spiders and fruit flies and now wasps inside and out, I made an executive decision to get us some pest management. Terminix came out and sprayed the place, and now there are clumps of dead little bugs in the corners of the bathroom that I have to sweep up every day. I was told to wait two weeks, then call for another round, at which point everything should be dead. The exterminator was amusing-- he started the appointment by telling us how he's pretty sure he and his friends used to get high in our house back when it was abandoned (then apologized if that offended us, which hopefully you know it wouldn't, especially since he's not the first to tell us he'd done that!), then told us our house had an inordinate number of bugs in it, finishing up by asking if he could grab a ziploc bag to take a few back to the office, since there was a specific bug-- teeny tiny white ones-- he'd never seen before. Always ones to be unusual, we are.

I also finished the row of bushes planted over the last two weekends by filling in the holes with nine bags -- 360 pounds -- of topsoil. The holes were the result of taking huge clumps of rock out of the bed. I guess I could have left 'em in there, but we want those bushes to grow, and I don't want rocks I left in the ground to be the reason all those bushes may get stunted. And as far as stunted bushes go, there's one issue I've been avoiding: our front yard.

They're gonna have to dig it up. And someone's gonna have to pay. A few weeks ago now, Mark was telling me that he was fighting the inspection issue with the county, because the inspector had looked at the retaining wall, regardless of their records. Rory concedes that he probably should have called to follow up with the inspector, who had been there to look only at the footer, but that he definitely had done the inspection. I didn't believe Mark 100%, but I do trust Rory. Thing is, Mark mentioned the inspection while noting he had explained to the inspector how it "would be unfair to have to charge the homeowner $4000 to re-dig."  No response from me, other than quiet bewilderment. So Rory mentions this time that they had feelers out to get quotes on the dig. So that sounds like they're at least trying to get the cost down... But I feel we shouldn't have to pay at all. It's not our fault, and although I'm now unconvinced that it's entirely the contractors' fault, it's not our fault. Similar to how I expect not to have to pay for the patching of two spots in the porch roof where recent downpours have revealed leaks, this was not a repair job-- it was a job from scratch, and we shouldn't have to pay to fix their mistakes.

But something tells me what I think ain't what's gonna happen. Sigh.

So for now, I'm gonna focus on painting enough that it looks like something was actually done when the fam gets back, and hoping the contractors do enough that it can be a decent surprise to both me when I get home from work every day and Abby on her return. Hey, stranger things have happened. Like, for instance, work restarting this week.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Easy Being Green

While we're waiting for our stalled inspection-- more about that later-- we've worked on making the place greener over the last week or so.  We started last Saturday with a trip out to Johnson's Nursery in Olney, where we bought "The Irenes" -- four three-foot arborvitae that we placed alongside the SE side of our house, under the kids' bedrooms, between the window banks.  This weekend, I hinted to Abby I wanted to finish the job, but she had been noncommittal to the various plants the Real Irene had showed us.  There was, for instance, a series of Japanese hollies that came in normal, dwarf, and giant varieties that we'd be able to plant in between The Irenes and, right away, have the look that everything was the same size-- given the fact that the side of the house is on a slant.  Or any number of other plants.  But nothing doing.  So I suggested we go back to Olney this weekend and revisit the decision.  Abby suggested we go to Merrifield Garden Center out near Tyson's, since she thought it was bigger and had better choices.  If it meant I got to buy plants, I was all about it-- plus, we have had really good luck with their stuff; W.C. Merrifields, one of our favorite plants from the backyard of our old house, was in their clearance section, and now he's so big that our tenant tried in vain to suggest that we trim him back this spring.  NEVER!

So we went off to Merrifield, and spent a good couple of hours browsing around.  After about 20 minutes, the kids decided they'd had enough-- after only about five, Lola was pulling her "I'm tired of walking" shtick. No, sorry Lola, you're related to Gregory and Abby, so you're gonna have to deal with walking.  So while Abby pondered and pondered, as she's apt to do, I took the kids over to play with the fountains and the koi pond.  After an hour or so, we headed back to see what Abby was up to, and found she had arranged six plants from side to side, smallest to the left, largest to the right, in a display of what she thought would be good on the side of the house.  They were really pretty, but all together they cost almost $400.  Plus, I really didn't think we'd have enough room for them all.  Sure, we do now, but when they grow, they'll totally bunch up, and not in a charming-garden kind of way, like we want eventually out front.  So we winnowed them down to four-- although I think only three were necessary-- and brought 'em home.

The area we have is 30 feet across, and 32-34 inches wide-- about the width of a sidewalk.  It's at a crazy slant so that at the far left there is a clearance of about two inches between the ground and the window sills, but at the far left there's almost five feet.  So clearly, there was math involved.  With The Irenes positioned at the ends and between the windows, we had ten feet between the first two, nine between the next two, and another ten between the last two; however, each Irene will get about four feet wide, so that left us with three spaces of six, five, and six feet in width.  Follow?

They say a picture's worth a thousand words?
Well, this one's worth at least a few paragraphs.
Three of the four bushes we bought are really cool.  Funny enough, we ended up buying two more arborvitae (although way different looking than the originals), and two differed cypresses.  The shortest of the three cool ones went in the middle of the left space, right under Isaac's bank of windows.  It's a Whipcord Arborvitae, and the only way I can describe it is by referencing Side Show Bob from The Simpsons.  It's only about a foot tall right now, but it's got dreadlocks, and will grow to about four feet tall at maturity.  I think this one will be called "Marley," for obvious reasons, but also because Lola has a friend named Marley, and it's better that than the crazy thing Isaac thought of in his stream-of-consciousness style of thought.  Next, in the middle, is a Rheingold Arborvitae, which is rounded, about two feet tall, and is colored bright green with a tinge of yellow/orange-- hence the name.  It's smack-dab in the center of the stretch, right where the wall between the kids' rooms is.  Hopefully, it'll grow big and bushy enough that it'll block the direct view of the kids' bed areas, although with the curtains in, that matters less.  Finally, on the right side in Lola's windows is my favorite-- the Curly Tops Cypress, which is blue like a spruce, really soft to the touch, and looks like a bush made of poodle hair.  It's really cool, and can supposedly grow 8-10 feet tall, which would be awesome.  Ideally, all of the bushes will grow high enough that the bottom halves of all the SE-facing windows will be obscured... but that won't be until the kids are probably in middle school at least!

Interestingly enough, while I'm not "that dad" at all, I had very much been considering buying plants with thorns to put under the windows.  For Abby's sake, it was to deter people from stealing our kids through their windows, but for my sake, it was to deter my kids from using their windows to sneak out an night when they're older.  That said, they could just walk over to the back door, and it'd be easier and probably quieter, so there goes that idea...  We had found an amazing plant called a Mock Orange Flying Dragon that would have been amazing for that reason-- it was all spindly with big thorns, but produced beautiful flowers and tiny inedible oranges year round-- but Abby didn't like how it looked in the winter, so that was nixed in favor of the other three-- all of which are perfectly soft and quiet to brush against.  Oh well.

New sidewalk, new bushes, new hose,
and lots of unearthed stones
(Oh, and the fourth tree-- the most expensive, and the smallest-- was a Tsukumo Dwarf Cypress that's about the size of a bowling ball, and grows in that shape.  I convinced Abby it didn't belong with the rest, with the hope that we could return it, but she liked it a lot, so right now it'd just in a planter until we can think of something else to do with it.)

I planted them all on Sunday afternoon, and was lucky enough to have a huge rainstorm about an hour later, so didn't have to water them.  The number of big rocks I pulled out of that yard is ridiculous-- the area under the Yew tree in that corner is strewn with unearthed stone right now-- and the topsoil is a patchwork of colors right now, from the orangey-brown clay that was there originally to the brownish-gray topsoil and the black nutrient-rich fertilizer I bought, plus some other stuff thrown in.  But it's there, and I love how it looks.  There's just something about planting stuff-- especially stuff that'll stay around for years-- that's so satisfying to me.  Now, if we can just get to that damn front yard.

So now for the front yard update.  Meaning: what the heck is going on with the inspection.  Get a load of the latest: You all know we're waiting for our Certificate of Occupancy inspection from the county, and that  while we failed 13 different things, the main issue was that there was no record of an inspection of our new foundation wall at the front of the house.  You may also know that Mark said he might have to re-dig the area in our front yard so as to show the inspector what the now-buried wall looks like, thus precluding us from doing anything in the front yard,  But what you don't know is that Mark more-than-alluded to the fact that it would cost us $4,000 to have that done.  Yes, for him to dig up the yard to show the inspector who he claims inspected a wall, but who claims he did not, more than a year ago, he wants to charge me, and that charge would be $4,000.  When I mentioned this to Abby the other day, she flipped out.  Honestly, although it would be so much easier for the county to "realize" they had inspected the wall after all, part of me wants them not to, just so I can see my mild-mannered wife go ballistic on whomever it is that broaches the subject of us paying for that dig.  Ballistic, I tells ya.  For now, the news is that Mark has petitioned for them to approve the wall without a dig, seeing as he had to have the footer under the wall inspected at the same time, and the county does have a record of us passing that.  While it would totally make sense that both things would have been done at the same time, I don't put it past our contractor to have bypassed the one because the other would be done easily enough later on.  (If you can't tell, they're no longer getting even a modicum of a benefit of the doubt from us.)

Our bathroom window and the resulting
post-shower leak.  Oh, and that white stone
to the left of it is positioned where the roof leaks.
Also, as I mentioned last time, we "won" a giveaway from Montgomery County for a free home-energy audit sponsored by the Maryland Historical Trust.  I guess ten historic homes from each county were selected from among all the applicants-- and we applied, thanks to a heads-up from Bonnie (thanks!)-- and we were one of those chosen.  Originally, we had been told they might bring a film crew along to record it for local TV, but that never happened, which is good, since our house is pretty much a disaster inside right now, with us still in squatter mode and all.  But the guy came late last week and ran his tests all over the house, and we're supposed to get a report back one of these days on what we can be doing better.  I can only imagine the exclamation points that will be all over the thing.  So hopefully we can get going on whatever recommendations they make, without having to rely on Servicez Unlimited to do the job.  As it is, we've been going back and forth with Mark for weeks now on our list of stuff to do.  It's taken about the last four days to get the same damn list to him, this time broken down between stuff they have to wait until after the inspection passes to do, and STUFF THEY CAN DO RIGHT FREAKING NOW!  One thing on that list: fix the leak in the porch ceiling that I noticed yesterday while I stood outside during a downpour and Lola ate her ice cream cone.  Oh, and the fact that when we take showers upstairs, water trickles out the windows and pools on the floor of the porch along the wall.  Great.

But hey, we've got bushes, right?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Scene of the Crime
Before I start today's installment, I just wanted to send a big, hearty FU to the jerk that stole my bike this weekend.  You see, I did go to Wal-Mart and buy a cheap bike because I didn't want to be upset if a more expensive one were to have been stolen, but I also figured any loss would be because I did something like leaving it out on my porch overnight-- as I've done several times-- or forgotten my lock or something.  But no, it was stolen over the weekend while it was locked to the bike rack at Forest Glen Metro Station.  You know-- the station in the suburbs to where I moved, as opposed to the one in the iffy neighborhood back in the District from where I moved.  But hey, in the interim, before I re-buy that $94.94 basic blue bike again, maybe my face will clear up, because it's just exploded since I started sweating in the morning on the bike-ride in.  Back when we lived in Petworth, we had a bunch of stuff stolen; in fact, both my dad's and my mom's bikes were stolen from our front porch last fall, but that was my own stupidity for leaving them out on the front porch.  Isaac's winter jacket was stolen from inside his pediatrician's office one winter-- now that's desperate-- and some jerk stole all of my CDs, my stereo, and a whole bunch of expensive tools from a friend's uncle who was helping us renovate, which totally sucked.  But for some reason, this one hits me different.  I had thought I had moved away from all of that shit.  But here I was again yesterday, filing a police report and calling pawn shops.  Argh.

Our four newly-planted Arborvitae, that hopefully
will grow in nice, straight, narrow columns into
the spaces between our windows.
The lovely incident came in the middle of what was an otherwise productive weekend on our part.  Abby and I decided to go ahead and start planting in the one area in which we have the power to do so at this point-- the tiny strip of "yard" on the south side of the house, along the kids' windows.  We drove up to Johnson's, a huge local nursery way up in Olney, and out of all of the amazing stuff they had, we ended up buying four Arborvitae.  Yep, Arborvitae, the generic, everyone-has-three tree-bush.  But we arrived at the purchase after consulting with a nursery employee who knew everything they had to offer.  Our need was for four thin, narrow, tall evergreens that are good in full sun.  Arborvitae.  In fact, we have a sad, little Arborvitae in front of the Petworth house that we bought from Johnson's in Tenleytown; his name is Johnson.  (And yes, we name our plants, for those of you who aren't aware.)  We made our purchase on Saturday, then kept them out in the yard overnight, since we had tickets to see Daniel Tosh that night.  (Good thing no one stole them!  Grumble grumble grumble...)  Sunday came around and it was pouring out, so I waited for the rain to subside, then went out to dig holes.  By the time I was done, the sun was blazing, and it was about 340% humidity, but we had four new Arborvitae planted outside.  And two of them are already named: the woman at Johnson's was named Irene, so of course the two are "Irene to the Left" and "Irene to the Right."  (The ones in the middle remain unnamed for the time being.)  The bushes or shrubbery (another shrubbery!) are coming next-- maybe even this weekend.  But for now, it's the two Irenes, the two no-names, the brand-new sidewalk, and a colony of wasps on that side of the house.

New sidewalk, new plantings, more to come.
Inside, some work has been done since the infamous list of 13 items was unveiled.  Most of it, unfortunately, was not done by our contractor.  He insists that the only major thing left to do is to show the evil inspector the retaining wall, which will require digging up our front yard again to show him underground.  He had better not kill my hosta,  I'll tell you that!  He supposedly needs three consecutive dry days to do this, and it's true that it's been raining non-stop the past few weeks.  He claims the rest of the things that need to be done can be done in about two hours, and he has all the materials in his truck, and they'll all be done on Wednesday at the earliest, if there's no rain forecast.  Hopefully, the things that need to be done will be done a bit less haphazardly, unlike the way he "fixed" the problem with the poorly labeled fuse box.  (Abby was furious when she saw it, and wrote him a pretty nasty email about it; he claims it was a temporary fix.)

Our new upstairs shower, and the new gray wall at left.
But other stuff that has been done include our shower door, which was finally installed last week.  I took the first shower upstairs, and was really happy with the size of the enclosure, which is a relief, since I had thought it would be really tight.  I guess standing naked in the space gives you a bit better idea of how it feels than when you are clothed...  Abby's still concerned about the window, since she showers at night, but she's got this totally ghetto wood block she puts up over the glass (which you can't see through, because it's pitted, but you can still see shadows) when she uses it.  Hopefully that'll all be moot once our front landscaping's done.  Also in the upstairs bathroom, we decided the walls looked too boring, and unfinished.  I complained to her that I wanted a bathroom that felt like one in a nice hotel, and got one-- downstairs-- while the upstairs one, which was mine, felt like a Days Inn.  A simple coat of gray paint on one wall may just have done the trick, and although they're not in yet, the towel bars should finish things off nicely.

Our newly-painted black-on-black family room walls
Elsewhere, Abby painted the white trim in the family room downstairs black to match the black walls, and immediately doubted herself because it cast a shadow.  She claims she wanted the black-on-black look to blend in with itself, rather than to stand out.  I don't quite understand, and told her-- likely to her frustration-- that I liked it both ways, but that it'd be awfully hard to re-white the stuff she already painted black.  So she finished it up, doors and all, and turns out we both really like it.  It may not be what she had envisioned, but those of us who know Abby also know her imagination sometimes leads her to magical lands filled with perfectly done, affordable, clean, timely homes-with-character, and, well, that's just a fiction as far as I'm concerned.  But I like the walls.

"Magnetite" is pretty much the same color Magneto wears.
I also painted one wall in the computer room the same gray as the front foyer-- so yes, now we have three different colors of gray in the house, in addition to all the white.  This one is called "Magnetite," but I think I'd just call it "Dark Gray."  Back when we had the floor finishers in the house, they were laughing at Abby for painting the walls so delicately, claiming that if she used more paint on the first coat, she wouldn't need a second coat.  So I tried that, but I think it still might need a second, which sucks, because I really just want to watch TV tonight...

Other than that, not much else is going on.  Just waiting for the damn inspection.  Mark stood Abby up twice last week, after she had called him demanding a meeting to talk about the snail's pace he's been on.  My parents were here for the weekend, and offered to help us do stuff, but there wasn't that much to do; my Dad helped us put doors on the cabinet in the mud room, but their biggest help was watching the kids when we went out on our Tosh Date.  Oh, and we were picked by Montgomery County as one of ten historic homes to get a free energy audit this Wednesday.  A few years ago, our friends Siobhan and Perry in New Jersey got an audit sponsored by their electric company that ended with a plan for how to make their home more energy-efficient, and the ability to pay for the work over time as an add-on to their electric bill; that was an amazing idea.  We had the same thing in DC a year or so ago, but it ended with an email showing us where we could do things ourselves.  We did like two of the things, but got sidetracked by this place.  This time around, I'm hoping the audit's a lot more like New Jersey's than the District's, because I'm totally willing to pay for the upgrades, but I have no patience to go out and get someone to do the work; tell me what's wrong, fix it yourself, and take my Master Card, or fuhgettaboutit.  In the meantime, I'll be sitting here, waiting for my inspection, ducking wasps, and getting to know my local pawn shops with the hope some idiot will come in with my month-old 26-inch blue and gray Roadmaster Granite Peak 18-speed bike from Wal-Mart.  Welcome to the neighborhood.