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!