Monday, May 20, 2013

DIY Because They Certainly Won't

Our newly-painted stair risers

Last Monday, I wrote to our contractor, asking when four specific items would be completed. He picked one-- sanding and painting the risers on the stairway-- and said that'd actually been planned to be done the next day. (What a coincidence!) It was, but here we are a week later and nothing else has been done--on the list or otherwise. By Wednesday, we knew we'd be in this situation, so we started brainstorming everything that was left. Lots of little things, for sure, but "lots" is the important word here, not "little!"

Maybe the mailman
can find us now...
One of those things was an issue with the fireplace. (We did the gas fireplace ourselves, and just had his guys install it.) There is no way to close the flue to the fireplace, which means when we turn it on, we lose almost all of the heat up the chimney. Granted, we're more worried about getting rid of heat right now, but hey, I'm nothing if not a box checker. The good thing about this whole situation is that, of all the contractors we have worked with in both house projects, there is one who has come through on multiple occasions with flying colors: American Professional Chimney Services. I would recommend these guys without reservation. In fact, I called them for an estimate, didn't even bother calling around, just hired them to do the work, and expect that they'll be done before I get home from work tomorrow.  By the end of the week, we'll have all the pointing done, the flue will be capped, we'll have paid the bill, and we won't have to think about our chimney again for a long time. Over the weekend, Abby and I thought maybe we could incorporate a whole-house fan into the project, and the owner actually emailed back and forth with me several times (on a weekend evening!) to discuss the issue. Ultimately, we just went with the original plan, but why the heck can't all of this job be this way?

They say if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. Or, at least micromanagers say that. But when my parents asked us what we would have done differently with this project, my answer in all seriousness was that we should have hired Abby as our general contractor. Sure, we tried to do that with the first house, but that was also while we were both working, and eventually, while she was pregnant with and then nursing Isaac. This time? She's not planning to go back to work until the fall, the kids are in school, and she did so much anyhow; it just seems like such a waste to have gone the route we did.

One of six Hostas, originally from Tonawanda, via
Grand Island and Petworth.
But at this point, I'm not whining. I'm happy living in the house-- even if we're still technically squatters. And it's not just because it's not the basement, although that's definitely part of it! It's nice to be able to get home from work, do normal family stuff, then maybe do something on the house after the kids go to bed. Last week I spent a half-hour hanging hooks in my closet. Tiny stuff for sure, but now my belts and backpack and shirts in need of laundering are up off the floor, and the closet can actually look clean. This weekend we were able to make IKEA runs to pick up some As-Is cabinetry Abby found (that is identical to the stuff we already had, but already put together and 30% off) while the kids took naps. I was able to go to the old house and dig up a couple of my Buffalo Hostas, then transplant them into the front yard, while Abby was in the shower. Heck: we can grill out now that we've replaced our sad old wedding-gift grill with a snazzy new one, just a couple weeks shy of our tenth wedding anniversary.  If you want to get something done, just do it yourself, right?

My dad helped me move the
perfectly-sized extra cabinet
into the laundry room yesterday.
But we can't do everything. We were able to keep a couple of the cabinets Home Depot brought that had been mismeasured, and put them downstairs: one fits perfectly in the laundry room with not even an inch to spare, (thanks Dad!) while the other will serve as our coat closet in the mudroom. But we had to wait an agonizing two weeks for a plumbing inspection; the inspector's coming "Wednesday or Thursday," but the hot and cold are still reversed on the kitchen faucet, Abby says the spigot on the yard side of the house is leaking, and there's still the possible issue of the pipe behind the laundry room that my dad strenuously objects to due to the fact that it may overflow and spread poop all over the area under the stairs. The inspection for the Certificate of Occupancy can come only when the plumbing's been certified, and our refinance, which is set for Thursday night, can only be finalized once our current bank sees the occupancy permit. Dominoes have to fall, and we're not in charge of finger-flicking; no matter how hard we try, they're not being blown over with our breath alone.

Our new doorbell
So where we stand is in the middle of a construction-zone-that-isn't. It is a construction zone, because, you know, the thing's not finished. It looks like a construction zone, because we have piles of boxes and cardboard on the floors, just in case we need to make like we're not actually living in it for the sake of the occupancy permit. It feels like a construction zone because on the way back from taking a shower in the gorgeous bathroom, your feet get gritty from stepping on dust left by prior projects on those cardboard panels, and your family and friends are constantly referencing the fact that you live in an unfinished project. But it isn't a construction zone because, well, no construction is actually going on. Little projects, sure. But nothing ongoing, and nothing integral.  In the spirit of DIY, I guess the next thing we've gotta do is have the kids drywall the rest of the storage room.  But in the meantime, Abby and I will be enjoying the burgers I just made on our grill, eating under the new dining-room chandelier that we commissioned, and watching So You Think You Can Dance on the DirecTV we ordered.  Oh, and stuffing food down the disposal we think we're gonna keep (thanks to commentary on my last post), because that's just a crazy novelty at this point...

Thursday, May 9, 2013

On the Line

A few of things were supposed to happen on Tuesday, and an hour into my phone call with DirecTV Tech Support, it appeared that not only would we fail on all counts, but we may have to begin the search for Internet providers -- if not television as well -- all over again.

The issue with DirecTV was not that the satellite wasn't working. On the contrary, we had watched TV for a couple of nights in a row, and except for the temporary appearance of rainbow-colored vertical bars on the screen on Monday, everything was good. Everything, that is, except our On Demand feature. Granted, this isn't a huge deal, but what it meant was that the satellite was not hooking up to the Internet, where all the On Demand content is stored. It would mean that we'd have access to current programming, but not to anything in the past, unless we DVR'd it. We'd also have no access to the "10,000 movies and TV shows" they say we have, which is a major part of the subscription cost, I would guess. 

As the hour-long call progressed, I became more and more nervous about having to scrap our Clear Internet and go webless for a while longer, until the cable companies got their act together and ran a wire under our street. That's because this weekend, two different DirecTV reps told me the two systems were incompatible. Of course, I didn't believe them-- not because I'm some electronics expert (ha!) but rather because a) Clear assured me I could get between 3-6 mbps for downloads, and DirecTV only required 2 mbps; and b) the Clear sales department directed me to DirecTV-- I used the same phone call to order both!-- so how the heck could they be incompatible?  But now, faced with a 15-day Clear trial period already half over, and a 2-year contract for DirecTV that has $20/month cancellation penalties, I was thinking I'd have to send back the system and not only have to deal with a cable company for Internet service, but at an exorbitant rate, due to us not actually getting cable from them. So as the 1:00:00 mark hit on my phone call, things were not looking good.

Earlier in the day, I had been on the receiving end of a sorry-'bout-that message, as Rory wrote to tell me the plumber couldn't come until Thursday. We have been waiting for him to come hook up the kitchen plumbing for a week now, since not only does it mean we can apply for a certificate of occupancy (and finally finalize our refinance), but also that we could put an end to microwaving water for tea, waiting for ice cubes, smelling a weird NYC-subway-like stench in the storage room caused by an incorrectly-sized waste pipe, and (most importantly) having to wash our dishes in the bathroom sink. Seriously, things like excess milk and chicken soup don't look very nice poured in your toilet-- trust me.

We're also waiting for the last piece of our dining-room chandelier: the lighting. Well, half of the lighting, to be exact. James, a local artist from our old neighborhood, created a larger version of an Anthropologie light fixture Abby really liked. It's installed now, after a process that freaked Abby out, since it involved him standing on the top rung of our step ladder, itself atop a six-foot scaffold on the dining-room side of the great room, with Abby holding things steady as James reached to place the electric box at the apex of the cathedral ceiling. But the install looks great; you don't notice the box at all, silver on the white ceiling, and hidden behind one of the rafters. (That's more than I can say for the smoke detector mid-room, which is still hooked onto the dark rafter like a big blob of marshmallow fluff on a Twix bar.) The unfinished part of the chandelier is that, as we plugged the bulbs in-- Edison bulbs, so as to make sure we pad the Pepco CEO's annual bonus more effectively-- we noticed only four of the eight sockets worked. James seemed unaffected, announcing he knew what the problem was, and that he'd fix it when he came back later in the week to adjust the height of the fixture. I'm still not a fawning fan of the thing, but I think it'll grow on me, and it's definitely a plus to have adequate lighting during dinner.

We did have some things completed this week. On Monday morning, we had our first trash pick-up, following the end of our annoying "please recognize us as an address, since we pay taxes and stuff" issue with the county. We have two different recycling bins, which means that we have to separate paper and cardboard from bottles and cans. And what's really weird is that we're responsible for providing our own trash bin, as opposed to the Supercans provided by DC to residents there. We also have to urge the mailman to start delivering mail to us, since everything's still being dropped off at the property manager's office even though we have our address on the wall now. Granted, we have no mailbox as of yet, but we have a doormat; just put it under that!  It's a pain because the office is only open during business hours, and as mail isn't exactly a priority for me dear wife, we can go a week without retrieving it. (Love ya, babe.) 

Pay no attention to the non-working bulb to Abby's right.
We also found out that our assessment of the plumbing situation wasn’t entirely correct—in both good and annoying ways.  The good way was that it turned out that our fridge actually had been hooked up, and the ice is now being made.  (C’mon, that’s the one bit of progress? I’ll trade you for a dishwasher!) When the plumber stopped by momentarily this week, he apparently was able to do that, as well as to affix the faucet to the countertop—albeit with no actual plumbing hookup underneath the counter.  He said that the subway smell was probably not going to happen anymore, since the washing machine was now working and there was enough water in the pipes to keep burps from the sewer down where they belong—although I don’t know whether I should buy that explanation.   But he also said they’re going to have to install a garbage disposal in our sink.  A disposal had kept showing up very early in the planning process, and we kept telling them that we didn’t want one.  But time and again, there it was on the planning documents.  Well, I guess one of the documents it was on was the plumbing permits, and without an install, we won’t pass the inspection.  So they had to install an accompanying switch on the backsplash to go with it.  My guess is that I’ll be charged for both of these things—whether on a line item or, more likely, buried in other costs—when I explicitly said on multiple occasions that we didn’t want a disposal.  I’m guessing it’ll be taken out after the inspection—again at my expense?—and I have no idea whether our access to the hot-water tap will suffer during that time, but I’m going to guess so.

Which leads me back to the beginning of the second hour on the phone with DirecTV.  Things aren’t looking good.  The lack of 50% of my chandelier, and the lack of progress on my plumbing was wearing on my mind, and I was looking for a way—any way!—to just end the call without pissing the guy off for having wasted an hour of his time.  Abby walks into the room, having spent the last hour (or so it seemed) in the shower, and plops down in front of the computer.  She announces that the Internet’s not working.  Wait, it was working at the beginning of my phone call.  I tell Mr. DirecTV, and we’re puzzled.  I say, “wait: would that switch we threw a half-hour back have changed that?”  Maybe.  I go over, throw the switch, and the web comes back online. And, an hour and three minutes into my call, all of a sudden a message shows up on the TV screen: “Congratulations?  Your DirecTV system has been connected to the Internet!”  Bells ring, angels sing, babies coo.  Happily, I take the piping hot receiver away from my ear, and sit down to watch our On Demand.  Hey—we ain’t got a kitchen sink, but we can watch Tosh.0, and that’s really all that matters, right?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

An End to Fancy Camping?

When we first moved into our house in the District, Abby and I joked that we were "fancy camping," what with our one working electric outlet and our daily trek to the basement to use the shower, and our lack of central heating.  More than eight years later, we have found ourselves "fancy camping" once more.  Only this time, the hardships are the lack of television, Internet, and a kitchen sink.  Lo and behold: this week.

Up until Monday, I had been holding out hope that some cable company would come to our rescue.  You see, our neighbors all have cable.  That's because, well, they live in 2013.  Unfortunately, Dewitt Drive separates the historic from the pre-historic.  That's because while 9615 Dewitt Drive, across the street, has their choice of Comcast or Verizon, 9618 Dewitt Drive, us, is left in the dark ages.  No wires cross the street, aboveground or underground.  And although a conduit runs from approximately 250 feet up the street over to a location near our parking spots, it is empty.  Just like when we found out last year that our house was "eligible" to have public water supply access, but didn't actually have a connection, we found out this weekend that we are "close" to having cable companies accept our money in their exorbitant pricing schemes, but no proverbial cigar is anywhere to be found.  So on Monday night, after a fruitless meeting with Comcast, I officially gave up on cable.

Therefore, enlightenment.  Yesterday we got a FedEx package in the mail with our new Clear Internet equipment in it.  Clear is a provider that gives you Internet from cell towers, and doesn't require any wiring at all.  We unpacked the box, plugged in the receiver, scratched our heads for a moment while our computer told us we weren't installing something correctly, then noticed the web was already working in the background.  Yep, not even one button to press: Internet.  As a gift to ourselves, after we put the kids to bed, we officially sat down on the couch for the first time in the new house and watched an episode of our favorite British TV Game show, Q.I., off of YouTube.  And there was much rejoicing.  (For those of you who are interested, Clear is $50/month, and you can even take it with you when you travel.  You basically make yourself into a wi-fi hotspot for up to ten devices, which is great because we have a lot of things that want to hook themselves to the Internet, like our thermostat and likely the security system we haven't gotten yet.  Another thing that wants to hook to the Internet is...)

Television!  Today: Dish Network.  Nope, sorry, DirecTV.  (I always get them mixed up; it's the "D.")  After I called Clear on Monday night, I called DirecTV and scheduled an install.  They assured me that, despite our weird angles and the fact that the main NPS building overshadows the house, we'd be able to get perfectly good coverage.  Last week in Buffalo, when I realized satellite service may be in my future, I talked with my cousin Jenny about it, and she assured me that she had never lost coverage before-- and she lives n Buffalo, where there's this thing called "weather."  So we asked DirecTV to come out today, and of course Abby has a migraine.  But she was a trooper, because she knew it meant television was en route.  We had wanted the installer to put the dish on the side roof, above the first-floor bathroom, because it would be out of the way, but it needs to face in a southwesterly direction, and the house would block it there.  So the main roof was the only option, but as with everything here, there are considerations.  So I called the property management company and asked them what their satellite dish policy was.  Kwame, the property manager, told me there's actually an FCC regulation prohibiting prohibitions on satellite dishes, but that we should put it in the least conspicuous place possible, and not on community property.  Bonnie, from Save Our Seminary, said she didn't know of anyone else who had a dish on the property, but she also didn't know of anyone whose request for one had been denied; she also quoted the FCC regulation.  So we are now the proud owner of a satellite dish, located at the far eastern corner of the roof, where it can't be seen at all from the front of the house, and where it's partially obscured by the 100-year-old yews in the yard.  And I've already set the DVR to record Parks & Recreation.  Again, about $50/month, so $100 for cable and Internet, which would have been $139 with Comcast... whenever they decided to lay the lines.
Our new faucet.  All that's missing is water.

The entertainment hole has been filled now, but there are a few other holes that have been missing.  Namely, when our counters were set a few weeks ago, some holes were left undrilled.  The countertop guys came out for the install and asked Abby for the faucet we'd be using in the kitchen, so she handed them the box.  Only more than a week later, when we took the faucet out of the box, did we realize that, um, the faucet had never been taken out of the box.  Only one hole had been drilled, and it was a three-hole faucet.  I called the countertop people and got a definite attitude from the manager.  So I made Abby call back, because no one dislikes Abby.  And what do you know: we now have the proper number of holes drilled for our faucet, and should have a completely functioning suite of water-using fixtures in our kitchen by early next week.  And not a moment too soon, either, because washing dishes in a bathroom sink is truly disgusting.  I don't know why that is, actually, because it's not even like we're using the upstairs bathroom much, since the door to it only went in this week, and the shower's still doorless.  It's just that when you're cleaning out a pot that has cheese and tomato sauce stuck inside of it, and it's all going down the drain in your brand-new ultra-modern sink, it doesn't sit right.  One thing I'm sure of: we'll make very, very good use of the dishwasher once it's hooked in.

The dishwasher, pre-spacers
The dishwasher, by the way, does not need to be replaced.  Phew!  We had thought there was an issue because of the large gaps separating the dishwasher from both the cabinets on either side of it and the counter on top.  But when the guys came back to finish cabinet installation, fillers magically appeared on the sides.  Granted, the cabinet installation is still not completed, not the least of which is because the gap between the dishwasher and the countertop remains, but at least we know we don't have to buy a new one.  As for the cabinets, they're now all in.  The problems are very minor now: one door is solid, but was ordered to be glass; the drawer pulls were not attached; and the space above the dishwasher needs to be filled.  The fridge needs to be leveled, which is less the fault of the cabinet installers and more the fault of us having put the kitchen on a slanted surface (that used to be a porch).  Also, having bought "supercabinets" for the corners, convinced the inserts would allow us to use more of the space in the corner cabinets to each side of the range, we realized very quickly that the supercabinet inserts actually preclude us from using the back third of each cabinet.  We're going to try to return the inserts, but at the very least we'll be removing them from the cabinets and just using basic shelving.  We'll totally deal with having to bend down and stretch to get the less frequently-used stuff hiding in the back if it means we're not wasting so much space in the first place.  Oh, and our contractors have to raise the range hood, because they apparently think we're about three feet tall.

Our kitchen as it stands today.
The cabinet to the right of the range hood should have a glass door,
and the range hood will be raised significantly.
As for space, we are bouncing back and forth between thinking we have way too much or not enough.  I think it's because as we put stuff away, we see the empty boxes and think, "wow, there's not much left to unpack!"  Then we go to another room and realize, "wait, there are kitchen boxes stored in the library.  Crap."  And more boxes shift to the rapidly filling cabinets.  I think in the end, we'll be just about right, with maybe a bit of extra room, but not too much.

My doorbell!
It goes "Brrrrrrring!
As for other new stuff, we've now got all the doors installed.  Except the one for the storage area, which we swear we ordered but is not here.  So we'll have to buy another one.  But there are no doors sitting around anymore, waiting to be installed.  About half the trim is in, but none of it is painted.  That is going to be a huge, immensely boring undertaking that I'm totally going to pawn off on Abby if I can help it!  The misplaced door hardware has been corrected, and I realized the deadbolt on the back door was not done incorrectly-- it just works that way.  It's a keypad doorlock, which is awesome because it means we don't have to give anyone a key if they want to come over when we're not here-- we just give them the code and they walk right in.  I love it, because it's fantastic when you have your arms filled with groceries.  And speaking of awesome: my doorbell has been installed!  No one has rung it yet, though, because even though our house numbers have also gone up out front, still nobody can find our house.  I constantly have delivery people wondering where we are.  "I'm on a traffic circle, and all I see is a big building and a green house."  Duh, look at the numbers on the wall, blind guy!

Our main goal now is unpacking.  Because once we unpack, I really feel we can do landscaping, which I desperately want to do.  Oh, and because it will then feel less like "fancy camping" and more like "living in a house you've owned for 23 months already."  Abby and I had a bitch session while washing dishes in the bathroom last night, and went over all the reasons we were unhappy with the house.  My unhappiness has already been expounded on in this forum, but is generally concerned with my not wanting to have had a "fancy camping" experience in this place.  Hers, though, can be compared to watching that show on HGTV where they show people what their house would look like if it were rehabbed with an unlimited budget, but then they just go out and buy stuff from flea markets instead; yeah, it's way better than your old place, but you had so much more in your head.  Once we're settled, I'm sure it'll keep getting closer to that picture in our heads.  But for now, I'm looking forward to using the Internet, watching the television, and washing dishes in the kitchen.  In other words, the end of "fancy camping" for good.
The new up-lighting in our Great Room.  Decidedly NOT fancy camping.