Friday, March 29, 2013

Hiatus? Not Likely

Tomorrow we head out on our Spring Break trip to Florida, four basement dwellers in search of some sun and sand before the final push.  And in the waning days before the trip, we had another small flurry of activity from our side, with only a smidge of movement on the other.  But I have faith that in the ten days we're out of state, our contractors won't be on vacation.  What I don't have faith in, however, is that we'll be devoid of all things house during our trip.

Last year, I distinctly recall tracking down the water company people while standing watching the ocean.  This time?  I may be dealing with plumbing fixture problems while standing on that same deck, only it'll be the very end of the process rather than the beginning.  Last year it was finding out we had absolutely no connection to municipal water whatsoever, and this year?  Who knows?  Although we have some inkling...

First off, Abby found out yesterday that the bathroom door in the basement doesn't clear the toilet, which is against code.  Never mind the fact that we wanted the toilet to have been placed in a location where, gasp, that wouldn't have been an issue.  Now it's an issue.  Contractor says they may have to move the door, although I think they should just move the whole wall a few inches into the mudroom.  Problem with that?  The walls were put up before the tile was laid, so there's no tile where the wall currently stands.  We do have extra tile, though, so that's a possible fix.  Time will tell how that problem is solved: ten days of time, that is.

Our downstairs shower door.  How very Euro...
(And for $3000 less than custom.)
We had a guy come out to measure the openings for our shower doors, and he came back with a completely, utterly ridiculous quote of $6,400 for the two doors together, including $3,400 for a custom door for downstairs that took into account the height disparity between the two sides of the shower wall.  I promptly wrote back to Mark: "tell the guy thanks but no thanks."  I went on and in about ten minutes found a perfectly good (fancy, actually) all-glass door with no edge, just like Abby requires.  It's a splash door, which is how Europeans do their showers a lot of the time.  That means it only covers about 75% of the opening-- where the water splashes.  Halfway across, there's a pivot joint in the glass that turns the window into a door when you want it open.  Simple, pretty, modern, and less than $500.  Rather than $3,400.  Upstairs is gonna be a little harder, because we haven't found anything online that has no edge, as Abby requires.  Or rather, all the un-edged doors are sliding doors, and Abby wants doors that swing out.  She went by Home Depot today to talk to someone, but no one was there.  She says she'll call them tomorrow... from the airport... we'll see...  But in the meantime, the downstairs shower door has already been ordered, so at least that's a job 50% done.

This is what $450 in door knobs looks like.
Also ordered is one of the two door knobs we're missing.  Still haven't picked front-door hardware, but it was simple enough to go onto and find the pocket door version of the knobs we got for the rest of the house.  Less than ten bucks, matches everything, done.  Hopefully by the time we get back, all of the doors will have been delivered, installed, and attached to hardware. We may not have a shower door upstairs, but at least we'd have a bathroom door!  I sat down on Wednesday in the Great Room and labeled the 20-some knobs we've already had delivered, since there are five different kinds (dummies, lockable ones, ones without locks, keyed entry, and a deadbolt), and Lola sat down with me to look at the boxes.  She was intrigued that her name was on three different boxes (two closet dummies and a lockable knob) and was downright thrilled with the idea that she'll have a lock on her door, "so I can lock Isaac out!"  Exactly what I was thinking...

Abby's Home Depot trip also had her finalizing our blinds order.  Yeah, blinds may be thought of more as decor, but think of a) how open our bedrooms are to people walking or driving by the south side of the house, and b) how old our stormless windows are.  (Actually, I was holding my hands near the windows the other day and found them to have not nearly as much of a temperature gradient as I had feared.  Bonus!)  Anyhow, the blinds we ordered are the cellular kind, that look like accordions and help not only with privacy (while allowing for light to come through) but also with efficiency, because they have an R-value of something-small-but-I'll-take-it.  What's also cool about them is that they'll be attached at the bottom, so they can be pulled up rather than down; that'll help because the top parts of the windows can be kept open while still getting privacy in the room.  Additionally, since they're custom, that means each one will fit the window perfectly, and will be installed professionally.  And hopefully that'll be done in about two weeks, just as we're moving in.

The couches on which Abby napped.
After Home Depot, Abby took a nap.  Sure, that sounds like not-so-big news, but it's the first time any of us has slept in the house, so there's that.  She napped on one of the sofas downstairs, which we arranged on Wednesday after having given Abby ample time to put a lot of our stuff away where it needed to go.  It still amazes me that the giant pile of stuff that came out of that storage pod has pretty much disappeared into all of the closet space downstairs.  (Although upstairs, that's a different matter... How is it that we have so many clothes?!)  

Our paperwork stuff is coming along as well; the mortgage refi hasn't moved, but our insurance rates are coming down, which is always a plus.  While we're gone, I expect to spend some time on the cell phone working both of these issues... just as I had on the beach in Delaware last year.  Hey, it'll be worth it!

In the storage area under one set of stairs.
There's TONS of room down there!
Anyhow, that's about it as my vacation begins.  I won't see the house for the next ten days, and hopefully once I do, it'll be completely and utterly livable-- although I still haven't heard anything about those damn windows that need to be replaced.  I'd say "fingers crossed," but I have said that way too much while writing this blog, and plus, doing that would give me weird tan lines on my hands, wouldn't it? ;)

Guest room closet, with door!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Moved, Just Not Moved In

The ZippyShell storage unit
that caused more than a few of our neighbors
to walk their dogs by our place this weekend :)
So it's official: Almost all of our stuff is now in the house.  We are currently still living in the basement, but our confines have suddenly become much more spacious.  Basically, we've got two mattresses, the cushions from our couches, our electronics, clothes for a week, toiletries, and foodstuffs here.  Everything else?  In Maryland.  I know, right?!

This weekend was really productive, thanks to my father-in-law and brother-in-law schlepping themselves up here for the weekend with their pick-up truck.  Between that tiny Tacoma and our Prius, we managed to get everything up, and didn't even have to cancel on two different birthday parties the kids had been invited to.  In fact, the parties really helped things, because they took the kids out of our hair for hours at a time on both Saturday and Sunday.  By the end of Saturday, we had put a huge dent in the basement, and by the end of Sunday there was so much stuff in the family room of the bungalow that we were having trouble moving around.  We basically put everything on the floor it needed to go on, and left it at that.  Once Monday rolled around, Abby spent the day dividing things up.  For instance, she put all the seasonal stuff (like Christmas ornaments and Easter baskets) in one of the storage spaces under the stairs, and all of the home improvement stuff (like paint cans and extra shingles) in the other.  She says that after having done that, it's clear we're not going to have a storage issue after all, which I still suspect we will.  

When looking at this photograph,
please imagine a high-pitched scream
going off at random intervals.
Getting the stuff out of the storage container was fun for us, because it meant progress on the house.  But for the kids, that was the most important thing we could have done-- screw moving, they wanted their toys back!  The squeal let out by Lola when she saw the giant garbage bag full of stuffed animals way back behind most of the stuff in there was likely audible across the Beltway. She insisted on carrying the bag out herself, even though it was bigger than she is.  And forget anything about not unpacking because of dust; by the time we left to come back to DC Saturday night, those toys were strewn around her room like nobody's business.  Surprisingly, she chose not to bring her Abby Cadabby (a Sesame Street fairy character, for those of you without small kids) back to DC with her, favoring a couple of small cat toys.  Guess quantity ruled over quality in that decision.  Meanwhile, Isaac was absorbed with his synthesizer (which I fully expect him to forget within a week, since that's what he did after we got it for him) and his BeyBlade spinny things-- they're tops, but with enough styling on them that saying they're tops just makes you a party pooper.  Whatever-- the kids were left to their own devices once the toys popped out of the storage container, which helped us get everything else out without  breaking anything!  (And yes, Abby's grandpa's enormous armoire got in, in one piece, without breaking anything else.)

We even managed to do an IKEA run midday on Sunday, although after all was said and done, I think it wasn't the best use of our time.  It ended up being no sweat to find the stuff Abby wanted, but we spent at least a half an hour in line, and since everything we got ended up being in long, flat boxes, I think we could have easily fit it all in the Prius with the seats folded down.  No matter: I am likely to have more than a few days of putting Scandinavian furniture together in my future, and I'm okay with that.  (We got each of the kids a new desk and a new bookcase, got flush-mount light fixtures for all the closets, and the same hanging fixture we've had in our DC kitchen for 9 years for our mudroom; hey, you stick with what you like!)

On Saturday, Abby met with the countertop measurer guy, and by the end of the weekend we got the plans for the project.  They told us it'll all be done within ten days, which means it should be installed before we get back from Florida.  That magic return trip will probably be when we physically move into the house ourselves, which should give the contractor and all the subs plenty of time (famous last words!) to finish what they've got left.  We had four doors delivered today, and the plumber "had free range" (Mark's words, not mine) of his stuff today, so a lot of that final stuff is being, well, finalized, even before we leave for the beach.

Can you tell there's a wood block mounted behind
this sconce?  I can't...

And the upstairs bathroom is also lighted now.
Other stuff has been done as well.  I bought this snazzy and probably overpriced thermostat called "Nest" that supposedly learns your habits and adjusts the temperature accordingly all by itself.  We had the bathroom sconces installed and the downstairs ones had to have wood blocks placed behind them because they didn't clear the mirror (that same damn mirror!) without them; amazed to see the guys actually painted the wood the same gray color as the walls to make it blend in.  Honestly, if Abby had not pointed it out, I wouldn't have looked twice at the way they were mounted-- see for yourself!

On the financial front, I did decide to go with the local lender and forget about having another place beat the rate.  I felt a bit slimy about it, and the fact that the guy's local makes it better.  I do have to dredge up all of our paperwork over at the house tomorrow, to make sure we have everything we need to allow the refi to proceed, but that shouldn't be a huge issue.  I also was pretty psyched when I remembered I could transfer our construction insurance policy into regular homeowners' insurance; doing that should cut our rate in half.  I checked for cable providers, and unless we go for a dish-- which is pretty much a non-starter-- it looks like we're stuck with Comcast.  Yuck.  I also put out feelers for a security system.  For our DC house, with three doors and only five windows on the first floor, the free promotional systems worked just fine.  This time, with only two doors but crazy numbers of first-floor windows, I think we're gonna have to pay a bunch up front to make sure we get all the windows tied in.  Plus, that'll ensure our kids won't be able to sneak out of their windows undetected once they're teenagers... right?  Right?

Speaking of the kids, I finally got in touch with a legal mind who helped us out with our schooling dilemma, and it seems I was right: our kids can keep going to their school in DC, even after we move.  According to this firm, the fact that we'll be paying property and income taxes in DC allows us to choose our residency, just like snowbirds in New York choose to be Florida residents for tax purposes, even if they spend more time in Buffalo than in Sarasota.  Abby had been freaked out, because even though I was telling her that was the way I thought it would be, without having talked to a lawyer, she was worried about things like inviting people over for play dates or having birthday parties at home.  Now that we have someone in the know that told us we're cool, we can relax and renew our DC driver's licenses, register the kids for their same school next year, and bring out those mothballed plans for Abby's-- er-- Isaac's Halloween birthday party extravaganza down in the Glen.  But that's October, and this is still March, at least for one more week.

We've definitely got our work cut out for us this week, but now it's almost all squarely on us.  Once the plumbing is done, I'm going to consider the house unofficially livable.  Sure, we've got no doors on the bathrooms, and a giant hole under our back door-- although I just got an email from Home Depot about two hours ago saying the new door has been shipped-- but it's really now our job to make sure the accoutrements of living in a house are in order.  By the time we get back from the beach, we will be able to live in this house, and I'll be damned if something I did (or didn't do) is gonna hold me up from that!  (That said, we probably do have to get an official Certificate of Occupancy from the county, but that's Mark's job, not mine...)

Friday, March 22, 2013

3.5% Moved In

Originally, we were supposed to get our stuff delivered from storage today, so I took the day off.  Unfortunately, what ended up happening is that Zippy Shell had a technical issue.  The way Zippy Shell works is that they deliver you what is basically a cage in a trailer, or as they call it, a Shell.  You fill the cage, the trailer takes it back to their warehouse, where they keep it until they put it back in the trailer and deliver it to you.  From what I understand, someone is being belligerent about returning one of their trailers-- the same one they had planned to use when delivering our stuff, in our cage.  So instead of getting our stuff this morning, we will have to wait until Sunday.  That said, the owner of the franchise seemed genuinely sorry for the situation, and said he'd waive the delivery charge, so we'll deal...

Can you find Abby under all the stuff?
But the problem was that I had already taken the day off, and didn't want it to go to waste.  So, before we took the kids to school, Abby loaded the car full of stuff to take to the house.  It was frigid outside, so we made a pit stop for apple fritters and hot drinks, but we made it up to the house by 10 to deliver our first load of actual belongings into our home-to-be.  Really weird feeling... After a half-hour of procrastinating by giving a tour to Anique (sp?), the really nice woman who works in the main office, we headed back home to pack for round two.  This time, with no kids in the car, we were able to smash a lot more stuff in, including a giant tub of shoes on Abby's lap.
A window-box-full of stuff from Day One

After dropping the second load of stuff off, Abby dropped me off at the kids' school and went home to pack for a third round.  I got off pretty easy on this one-- she's so motivated to get out, that she's perfectly happy to do most of the packing work.  Not complaining of course, other than the fact that I had to stand out in what became the freezing cold playground for an hour (with good company, though) before she came back for us, again with a rather full car.  After a third round, we now have a decent dent taken out of the basement, and have made some rather substantial piles in various rooms throughout the house.

The rest of the weekend looks to be a LOT more fruitful, what with the Sunday Zippy Shell delivery and the appearance tomorrow morning of Abby's dad and brother; they're coming up from North Carolina to help us with moving our big stuff from the basement, like the couches and a giant bureau, with the help of my father-in-law's pick-up truck.  We're also hoping to use them to pick up some stuff from IKEA, like three new desks Abby's had her eye on.  (And if we get some meatballs in the process, it wouldn't be a shame.)  Once the weekend's over, we're hoping to have a bare minimum of belongings in the basement-- basically, the clothes we'll be using for the next week, our two mattresses, foodstuffs, and maybe some cushions from the already-moved couches.  Oh, and the TV; can't forget that.  Then?  It's only a matter of time, because on Monday the plumber is supposed to show up to finally hook up the toilets, the washing machine, the hot-water heater, and the fireplace.  On Monday night, I fully intend to go to the house and pee and wash clothes, maybe simultaneously.  Oh, and maybe dry them by the fire. In the meantime, I'll have to make due with the image of our newly-stacked laundry facilities, just waiting for their hookup.

Hook us up!  Please!
A bonus when it comes to the laundry room will be the fact that, due to erroneous ordering by our cabinet people, we're likely going to be left with several extra kitchen cabinets.  Abby says that, while talking to the installers, she found out that they generally just toss the misfit cabinets, or the installers take them home themselves.  Since to of ours are 90-inch-tall pantries, we're definitely interested in keeping them for ourselves, especially since one of them might fit perfectly next to the washer and dryer if we just push the two machines over a couple inches to the right.  It's not often we get silver linings like that, and I'll take it!

Another silver lining came to us when we found out Freedom Mortgage had officially severed our loan-- or whatever they call it when they cut their losses and run.  We had about $16,000 left in the credit line they had extended multiple times, and they just decided to put that money back into the mortgage and call it quits.  It actually works out for us, because we'd already paid that extra money (and more) to the contractors months ago, and had they written us a check, we just would have put it right back into the mortgage.  What this all means is that we are now officially good to refinance our mortgage, something I've been aching to do for a long time. Our current rate is 5.25%, which is not bad at all for what we had, which is called a 203(k) construction loan.  But now that the construction part is over, and interest rates are still historically low, I felt a need to take a refi and quick-- especially since our loan was FHA-backed, and they require PMI (mortgage insurance) on top of all payments, meaning we were paying an additional $200+ each month that had nothing to do with the interest or the balance, just for the right to have had the loan in the first place.  After 20 payments, I'm ready to shed that onus, that's for sure.

So I called Citibank, which is where we have our DC mortgage, and asked for rates; they told me 4.0%, which was great.  On a whim, I went to and filled out a form on Wednesday night just for kicks.  On Thursday I faced a barrage of calls from lenders wanting to help us with refinancing, which was really refreshing, since when we bought the house we had to fight for exactly one obscure bank to make us an offer.  We ended up getting the best offer from a local broker with a bank I'd never heard of-- Round Point, which sounds like an oxymoron but I digress-- and locked in a 3.5% rate with no points and very low fees.  That means our payment will go down more than $800 a month once we refi-- hallelujah!  I called Citibank before we locked with Round Point and asked them to match the offer, since I really would rather have all my stuff at one bank, and they told me their rate desk required me to lock in my rate with the other lender first, then send Citibank the paperwork to consider.  I don't know how I feel about that, because it feels a bit like screwing the first guy buy having him do the work, then jumping ship for the too-big-to-fail chain.  I'll get back to you on my decision, but the gist of it all is that my  nearly $3000 monthly mortgage payment will soon be a thing of the past.  Phew!
"Round Point.  Because after all, we don't want you to poke your eye out."
Anyhow, that's all for today.  I'm staving off a cold, and have been popping generic DayQuils all day; about to NyQuil it and hope I won't drop before I physically hit the bed.  Tomorrow?  Progress.

And meatballs.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Look

The six miles between points A & Bungalow.
When we were driving to the house on Saturday morning, we took our usual route: Illinois to Georgia to Missouri to Sixteenth to Second to Linden.  Halfway through the drive, you're still pretty much in Petworth, where we have lived for the last nine-or-so years.  But when you turn right onto Sixteenth, you enter a new world; that of Shepherd Park.  If you're unfamiliar with that neighborhood, I can only describe it as one of the most attractive you can have while still being on a major street in a major city.  The homes are large and expensive, although not all grand.  Most are from the 1920s I'd guess, although there are a few conspicuous 1970s modern specimens that look like they'd be more comfortable on a cliff somewhere along the Pacific.  A few have turrets, a few have ivy-covered walls, and a most are brick of one color or another.  Dotted amongst these stately homes are at least two synagogues and an atheist gathering spot, as well as the back side of the old Walter Reed complex.  At one end is the side entrance to Rock Creek Park, and at the other is a traffic circle on the Maryland border with one of the District of Columbia boundary stones in the middle.  This is the top of the diamond, geographically and economically, where all of the east-west streets are named after plants, in alphabetic order of course, rather than after the obscure statesmen you'll find in the rest of the city.

Our former neighbor Angie's gorgeous Craftsman in
Shepherd Park.  I wonder if she knows her house
is now featured in at least two local blogs?
When I drive the six miles from one house to the other, I'm often taken to dreaming about living in one of those houses.  Maybe the one with the huge magnolia out front and the bay windows over looking the park.  Or maybe the one with the amazing slate roof and the arched doorways and the understated cars in the back that cost well into the six figures.  Or even one on a sidestreet near, say, the corner of Geranium and Alaska, where our former neighbors have a gorgeous Craftsman Bungalow.  I know I'd never be able to live in this area, because it's out of my tax bracket, but who doesn't like to dream a bit?  Well, I was dreaming out loud on Saturday morning, and I think I hurt Abby's feelings.  I probably went a bit overboard by mentioning all the imperfections of the house I did own: the fact there was no basement or attic; that we'd have little privacy; that we'll be a mile from a Metro station; that we won't have a garage; that we will forever have to deal with a homeowners' association and an historical society; that we have terribly inefficient windows and a loud HVAC system and a huge water heater and a tiny bedroom and will forever be shooing people out of our parking spots.  And we live too close to that tiny industrial area off Linden, and the Beltway can be really loud at times.  And suddenly, Abby was giving me the look.  You know the one: "Are you serious? Are we not a week away from finishing into a project we've spent two years on? And you're dreaming about these houses that are easily three times the price ours will be when it's all finished?"  Well, if you don't know the look, I know the look.  After all, I have experienced it many, many times in the nine-plus years we've been married.

I had to explain to Abby that, sure, things aren't perfect in the house, but they wouldn't be in one of these either.  She asked whether I'd take any one of these as an even trade with the Bungalow if someone offered. Of course they'd have to be ridiculous to offer.  I mean, the houses at the top of the street have all that, and are walking distance to the Metro to boot, for Pete's sake!  It would make no economic sense for me not to do that trade.  But the thing is, that's not an option, because I know the entire zip code came up goose eggs for us when we were searching for homes in our price range, or even a bit above it, back in 2011 when we were house hunting.  And the market has only gotten stronger since.  Plus, no matter how perfect the house, we'd still have to do tons of stuff to it to make it "ours," and who wants to go through that again?  My sister asked us Saturday night whether we'd do a project like this again, considering all we'd gone through.  We shrugged and looked at each other, and pretty much in sync said we would, but only once the kids had moved out.  My sister was incredulous.  We were unfazed.

No, the Bungalow is not my perfect house by any means.  But it's a heck of a lot better than this place.  No, it's not fair to compare a medium-sized single-family home in the leafy suburbs with an English Basement in the District, especially when there are four of you, but these four months have made me wistful for the days we had a dishwasher, when we could use the laundry facilities without having to knock or grovel, when we didn't have to duck to get into our own door, when our kids had separate rooms and ours was not a hallway between theirs and the bathroom, when one of us could go to sleep early and wouldn't be kept awake by the sound of the TV or the computer keyboard ten feet away, when we had a family-sized fridge and an microwave that didn't have to be plugged in with a retractable extension cord.  When we had a dining room table, and the kids didn't have to sit on the floor to eat dinner.  When the toilet wasn't on the wall behind the stove.

The Embassy of the Republic of Congo:
Who would not want to live in this place?
I'm going to love the Bungalow.  In just the past ten days, I've gotten really, genuinely excited about the place at least three times, and I'm itching to go back up there, since it's been over 100 hours now since I last visited.  I'm going to love the new space we'll have-- and not compared to the basement, but to the house we were last in at Thanksgiving.  I'm going to love being able once again to host friends and family when they trek up, down, or over to see us and/or our city.  I'm going to love the view of the glen when I'm making dinner, or the sound of my kids playing on my grandma's piano downstairs, or being able to let the kids play outside all on their own as a regular habit.  But it's like being married: I made my choice, but I'm not dead.  There's no reason I shouldn't be able to wonder what it'd be like to live in that building that houses the Congolese Embassy on Sixteenth and Colorado.  And just because I will fantasize about living in walking distance to the kids' elementary school or staying within the five blocks we currently are from a Metro station, it doesn't mean I won't completely get a kick out of seeing deer stand on their hind legs to eat from the century-old yews in my yard, or enjoy the moment when I realize I know the names of more than three of my neighbors.

So please, even if I complain, be it about any of the things above, or any number of other things I haven't mentioned this time around --cost and schedule overruns, anyone?-- know that I'm really, truly, honestly excited to live in this place, and to get this part of my life started already.  And the only thing I'm resigned to is the fact that I'll never stop giving Abby reason to give me that look.  You know the one.
Home.  Almost.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Closer and Closer

For the last, oh, six months, Abby and I have believed (on and off) that we were no more than two or three weeks from moving into our house; okay, maybe a month, but you know what I mean.  From the time we were in England and knew we just had to order our appliances right then and there, from the confines of our hotel room, to any number of times when if only one thing wouldn't hold us up, we've been living under that illusion for what seems like forever.  Well, we've reached that precipice again, folks: on Friday, I have taken the day off from work so that I can meet the guy from Zippy Shell at the house and unload all of our stuff that we had in storage.  Into the house.  We won't be moving into the house this Friday, but our stuff will be.  Or about 50% of our stuff.  But that's for sure.  And so far, it seems that most everything is cooperating with us. Mark even rearranged the schedule of what the crew is going to be doing to accommodate the move; he was going to stain the porch last week, but that would have meant postponing some other things that involving using the front door, so I think he's going to wait until we're in Florida in a couple of weeks.  So we arrived at the house on Saturday morning, fully prepared for a letdown, and were more than pleasantly surprised.  How surprised?  Well, when I walk around the Bungalow now, I tend to take out my BlackBerry before I go in, open up the notebook app, and take note of all the things I need to tell Mark he needs to fix or to change or to just do.  This time?  Only four things, plus a compliment.  I've never written a compliment in my BlackBerry notes app for Mark before.  A corner has been turned.  The last corner.  I hope.

Going back a few months, do you remember when the crew diligently was working on restoring the 49 windows in the house?  45 of them were salvageable, and the crew spent weeks making sure each of the looked perfect, and was painted the exact color of black Abby wanted.  It might sound like nothing, but remember each window has latticework on it, is more than 115 years old, and yeah, there are 45 of them.  They looked gorgeous.  The only problem was that once they went in, the drywall followed, and all this white glop got all over them.  And sure, white drywall glop can be washed off, but they had been perfect!  And then, there was the problem of the windows being way too far forward, in front of the drywall, because of the difference in thickness between the new drywall and the old wallboard on lathe.  There were jagged edges and steep cliffs and big ol' holes with insulation popping out around every window.  Things were not pretty.  On Saturday?  Things were pretty: white glop gone; insulation tucked; edges sanded; windows beautiful.  And even the window ledges, which were oddly populated with boards from the old kitchen cabinetry (which had been in what is now Lola's room, if you can remember that far back), were halfway done; they're taking the extra wood flooring and installing it on the window sills.  The problems have been fixed, and what little problems are left are easily fixable.

Can you tell which part is brushed nickel and which part is chrome?
Yeah, I thought you could...
Next up are the bathroom mistakes from a week ago, when the upstairs vanity was set to a height where a little person would have to stoop to brush his teeth, and both bathroom mirrors blocked any possible use of the electric outlets.  Well, the vanity has been reset to the highest point possible while still retaining use of the faucet, and not only have the outlets been moved away from the mirrors, but the walls have been filled in, sanded, and repainted.  The toilets still aren't set, and for some reason they didn't notice that they mixed up the bathtub controls by putting half of the chrome set with the other half of the brushed nickel set in one bathroom and vice versa in the other... but the problems have been fixed, and what little problems are left are easily fixable.

Our kitchen, with cabinets about 80% installed
The professional closet has gone in in my bedroom, and Abby painted the walls (a surprise while I was on my business trip) the same blue as Isaac's stripes; I love it.  (The closet disappoints a bit, because I thought it would be a bit more hotel-like than it is, but I'm assured I'll appreciate the modifiable shelving once I actually have to put clothes into it.)  The fireplace has come in, and is waiting patiently next to the hearth to be installed; I'm hoping we don't have to do too much to the chimney before it can go into use, but even if so, it won't be until fall when we'd really want to start using it in earnest.  The kitchen cabinets have once again caught a snag-- measurements of one cabinet that touches the back of the fireplace are off by a half an inch or so, so the whole thing has to wait a few more days to be completed; but the bottom cabinets are all in, which means we can go ahead with the countertop measure.  And the space looks terrific.  I had been worried about the kitchen feeling cramped once everything was in, but it doesn't feel that way, and it'll actually open up more than it is now, once the backsplash gets cut down following countertop installation.  

We've bought a ton of things.  Abby bought all of the doors: four used doors for the upstairs doorways, so the older look of that area will stay intact; 13 new doors for the downstairs doorways, so everything down there will match.  All the downstairs doors match, with what are called "five-lite" designs-- five squares cut into the door going vertically; the bedroom and guest room doors have beveled glass in those squares, while everything else is just solid wood. That way, the family room won't lose all of the natural light from the southern side (kids' rooms) of the house, and so that (hopefully) the guest room won't feel like too much of a cave.  We haven't bought doorknobs yet-- we have to buy 20 sets!-- but we have a design picked out, and we just have to make sure we're buying the right number of ones that lock, ones that don't lock, and ones that are "dummy knobs" just for show.  We also have to find out whether the second door of the french doors into the guest room will open-- Abby says they won't, but I'm not so sure, and I want them to because I want to be able to open the doors together to air out the room when nobody's in there.  We'll have to ask Mark.

My twist doorbell
And I bought a doorbell.  For $60.  Okay, I know it's dumb to spend $60 on a doorbell, but I am the doorbell guy-- probably a result of five years worth of ringing doorbells on my paper route as a kid-- and I want to have a cool doorbell on my house.  Well, I found one: a twist doorbell with a design from the 1890s, which is when the house was built.  Instead of pushing a button and hearing a ding or a bing-bong, you grab a knob, twist, and hear a brrrrring!  I fully admit I'm a dork, but I think the thing is so cool looking, and I used my parents' birthday money to get it, so sue me.  Hopefully the historical folks won't have too much of a fit over it, since although it's from the right decade, it's from a style of house that's a bit more upscale, and was more popular on the west coast than the east coast.  But I want it, so there.

Our kitchen sink
Last night we sat down and, amazingly, agreed on and purchased both a kitchen sink and a kitchen faucet in about 45 minutes.  Shocking, seriously.  Abby wanted a squared-off sink, with actual corners at the bottom rather than rounded edges.  I wanted one basin, and I wanted it to be mounted underneath the countertop rather than with a ridge on top.  We found two we liked, one was too big to fit on the cabinet, decision made.  Next was the faucet.  Abby wanted a "bridge faucet," which has the spigot and the two handles coming up out of the counter independently, but with a connecting piece between the three.  I wanted modern, clean lines.  And neither of us wanted to spend an arm and a leg.  We found it, along with the sink, on, and the decision was made.  She went to take a shower, and before I ordered them both, I Googled both of their serial numbers, and found both identical things on other websites cheaper.  So when she got out of the shower, not only did we have our sink and our faucet, but we saved almost $100 on the pair.

Sconce for the upstairs bathroom
Lighting.  Lighting has been the bane of our existence.  It has been weeks since we've gotten anything done with lighting.  We already chose sconces for the kitchen and the front porch, and hanging fixtures for the foyer and the dining room.  But the damn bathroom sconces have been eluding my poor, dear wife, who has probably spent about 48 hours (no lie) of her life in front of a computer screen poring over bathroom sconces of every shape, size, texture, color, make, model, and flavor.  But this weekend-- a breakthrough.  We have our bathroom sconces, and I am really happy, because everything she had been leaning toward was just a bit too farmy for my taste-- kind of like when we had to choose a girl's name when she was pregnant with Lola.  And no, folks, we didn't end up with a Regan on our bathroom walls.  (For those of you who don't understand the reference, you will eventually hear the story of how we literally changed the name of our daughter when she was already three months old at some point...)  I'll post the pics here, and you decide for yourself, but let me just say I'm very happy with the choices.

Sconce for the downstairs bathroom
Everything else?  It's going in.  Fireplace I already mentioned.  Light fixtures as they are delivered.  Doors too.  Water heater is big and bulky, and takes up way more space than we had hoped, especially since we originally were told we could have one of those teeny tiny ones, but we can build an enclosure for it in the mudroom, continue the wall across, and have built-in storage where we were originally thinking of getting something funky like lockers or something.  The glass doors for the showers will be measured this week.  And come Friday, that Zippy Shell will be emptied into the house.  Granted, the stuff will all go into the storage room and the guest room, but we will have stuff in the house, and it it will be good.  Soon thereafter?  We're currently appealing to Abby's dad and brother to come up for a few days from North Carolina with their pickup truck to help us with moving stuff from our DC attic up to the house, as well as helping with some IKEA runs-- we have at least three desks and some other lovely Swedish stuff picked out that'd complete a bunch of the rooms, and the truck would do it a lot easier than the Prius... although our car is certainly up to the task if necessary.

The water heater is inside, but the box we build
will likely have to be about the same size as the
box it's in.  :(
Cars are another thing we'll have to work on.  People are continually parking in our spaces.  Usually it's just sedans from the nearest neighbors who actually live in their places already, but yesterday it was an actual trailer that was parked in one of our spaces, and I was not having it.  I wrote a pleasant-enough note (with crayon on contractor paper) and put it on the car's windshield asking them to stop parking in our space, but I  wrote a big sign that read "Please move this from our parking space immediately" in big letters and taped it to the front of the trailer.  I understand these people may have gotten used to parking in the unused spaces while no one lived in the house, but they've got my address on them, and they're mine.  I don't want to be the jerk who has to call the tow truck, but c'mon now, read the sign!  Luckily, after a long, drawn-out listserve-based debate on parking spaces elsewhere in the community, one of the leaders of the homeowners' association mentioned (without me asking) that people should stop parking in our spaces as well, since we were so close to moving in.  So I've got some backup...

Anyhow, that's where we stand right now.  In four days, we will hopefully have belongings other than my grandmother's piano and some pants hangers I bought at IKEA in the house. In five days, we'll have a countertop measure.  In twelve days we'll jump on a plane for Florida.  And in fewer than twelve days, I hope, we may actually get to a spend our first night ever in the State of Maryland.  We're that close.

Exterior lighting on our front porch.  And it turns on, too!

The newly-raised upstairs bathroom vanity

Our downstairs bathroom vanity outlets.
Now with more space to, you know, plug stuff in!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Updated Video Tour

In lieu of a full update on what's going on, I give you yet another installment of the Alpha Bungalow video tour, hosted by Isaac and Lola.  This time, you get all the absentmindedness of the previous videos, but with a bit of face-pulling from Isaac, some fussing from Abby, and just a touch of sibling rivalry in the middle.  It wouldn't be a trip to the Bungalow without some whining from the Wahls now, would it? Enjoy! (And I promise to have a full update on here soon enough.)  --Gregory

Monday, March 11, 2013

Crying Wolf?

It seems that every few months we have a fit of progress on the house and declare that this is the time things finally are winding to a close, and we are on the verge of moving in.  Well, folks, I'm here to announce it again: things are finally winding to a close, and we are on the verge of moving in.  I was out of town for almost two weeks, during which time Abby spent a great deal of time at the house painting and making sure things were getting done.  We're now to the point where there are just three places in the whole house that need a second coat of paint-- not counting the foyer that mistakenly was painted white instead of gray-- and nowhere in the house is there solely primed drywall anymore.  The flooring has been completely refinished upstairs, and completely laid anew downstairs, excepting three spots where we were waiting for special-order pieces to fit into steps or thresholds-- and those are now in and ready to be picked up at the flooring place.  The tiles have been laid and grouted, both on the floors and the walls where necessary.  The vanities have been placed on the walls, although the upstairs one needs to be adjusted, because I don't feel like stooping to brush my teeth for the next 20 years.  At this point, so much is done that it's actually more worthwhile to talk about what isn't done, and not in a complainy way, either; in a way that says we're almost there!

First, what's already scheduled: tomorrow, the cabinet people are coming back to finish the kitchen cabinetry.  You may remember that about a third of it went in probably a month ago already, but one cabinet was either mismeasured or produced incorrectly, so they had to stop, reorder, and wait for manufacture and delivery.  Well it came last week, and they're coming tomorrow to put it all together.  By the time they leave tomorrow, we should be ready for the final step in the kitchen, which will be the countertop measure, as well as placement of the range hood.  And although the kitchen cabinetry is coming tomorrow, the custom closet was installed a week ago already.  It looks great, although I was looking for it to look more like a piece of furniture in a fancy hotel closet than a really nice adjustable closet, if you know what I mean.  Abby assures me I'll appreciate the adjustability of the shelving once it goes into use, but I'm still about 3% bummed that it's got the little adjusty-dots going up the side.  I'll get over it, I'm sure, and I bet you can't see them once the shelves are filled with clothes.

Apart from what's actually scheduled with outsiders, Mark tells us they'll be staining the front porch late this week , which should appease some of our neighbors; more than a few of them have come up to us in recent weeks saying it looks as if work has stopped, though we assure them it hasn't!

In fact, we've been told there are just a few things left in the job until the house hits the magic "L" word: Livability!  We may be a short while from the finish line in terms of completion, but we're well into the home stretch now in terms of being able to move in.  In fact, I believe we'll be able to make the move before we go to Florida for Easter.  Here's why: the four things we supposedly need in order for the house to be livable are a working kitchen, hot water, a functioning back door, and functioning bathrooms.  
  1. Well, the cabinetry will be completed tomorrow, and I have no issue living for a few weeks in a counterless house-- any of you who visited us while we were "fancy camping" during our DC renovation would know that, and honestly our current situation is only a modicum of counter space better than absolute zero.  And heck, we'd have a complement of working appliances, which is more than the microwave and toaster oven we had to alternate on the extension cord way back when.  So that's a check for the kitchen.
  2. The hot water hookup is ready, but the heater is nowhere in sight.  That said, this is a simple purchase and install, so my guess is one day it will just show up.  If it doesn't before this weekend,  I will instruct Mark to let me know which kind to get and will buy it myself.
  3. The back door is more of an issue than you might think.  It's a really weird dimension: 33" x 78".  Normal doors are an even number of inches wide, which isn't a big deal, but almost all entry doors sold in stores are 80" tall, so we may be forced into a special order door.  Abby has been looking valiantly everywhere from here to Baltimore to find a second-hand door.  She's gone to Community Forklift in Hyattsville and Second Chance in Baltimore multiple times.  With Brass Knob in DC closed down, she followed the trail of their door stock to this place on Rhode Island Avenue in Edmonston, to no avail.  We've tried Lowe's and Home Depot and just plain Googling, but nothing.  Tomorrow, she's hopefully going to meet with Rory so they can work out the kinks on all the doors, including this one.  (She picked out a bunch of matching older doors at Community Forklift for the upstairs, but we're going to end up getting new ones for the downstairs.  I wouldn't be upset about getting a new entry door for downstairs either, except that they can get pretty pricey, regardless of whether they're special-order sized.  So, while this one won't be solved tomorrow, hopefully we'll get some clarity on the issue at least.  And honestly, I can move into a house with a bum back door; just board it up, and use the front until something better comes along!
  4. The bathrooms are nearly functional.  The water is on, the tile is in , the vanities are hung.  The toilets are sitting on the floor, but haven't been installed.  The mirrors are problematic in that the downstairs one has been hung so as to block all access to the electric outlets (d'oh!), and the upstairs one has not been hung because doing so would do the same thing in that room.  But again, mirrors may make vanity easier, but do not equate to livability.  And I use a manual shaver, so we can work that outlet thing out once my toothbrush is already safely in the drawer.
So there you go.  If you believe that those are the items that need to be completed in order for us to move in, then those are the obstacles in our way.  Following most of these things, we will definitely be needing a deep cleaning for the place, because there's a decent coating of dust over everything in the house.  But that's something that can be solved with a Groupon.  We're serious enough now that I've called our storage place, and they said as long as we pick our stuff up by the 27th we won't have to pay for April.  That'd give us 16 days from today to do ensure those four items are complete, and unless we're required to have all four, and the door issue can only be solved by special order, we shouldn't even be cutting that date close.  I personally would like to have our stuff moved in sometime late next week, and move ourselves from the basement to the Bungalow little by little over that weekend.  But you know what they say about best-laid plans, eh?

Our bedroom, with the new blue walls, refinished floors, and custom closet.
Oh, and with balloons for my birthday put there by the kids. :)
Cut-outs in the upstairs shower.
Too small for shampoo bottles, but just the right
height for Abby to shave her legs...

The upstairs bathroom as seen from the Great Room.
See how low the vanity is?  Yeah, we're tall, so that's an issue...

The family room with the new flooring

The downstairs bathroom with vanity installed.
Can you see what I mean about the outlets?
My dad uses an electric shaver, so...