Leaving behind the rough

This weekend, we got kicked out of our house. Something about it being a formaldehyde-filled death trap. We have finally gotten to the phase of the attic project where the windows are in, the wiring is done, the plumbing is roughed and the walls are where the walls are going to be. So it was time to insulate the attic for the first time in its 120 year old life. As long as you have the walls and ceiling down to studs, it’s a great opportunity to do it right – floorboards to roofline. But you can’t be in the house for 24 hours after they finish (the off gassing can be dangerous). And it took them two *full* days to do our attic – they still need to clean up & do the fireproof spray paint, despite working from 7 – 6 for two days.

During this period, I’d been planning on getting hotel. It’s a bit annoying to get a hotel in your neighborhood (and expensive when that neighborhood happens to be Boston!) Plus with my folks here, I’d definitely need to get two rooms. But when I was complaining to a neighbor, she generously offered us the use of her house while they were on vacation! It was fantastic, although super weird to come home to your street, park your car in your driveway, and then not go home.

We’re three months into the project. It started in early April, and now it’s nearly July. Despite pretty consistent work, I feel like we’re about halfway there. But perhaps we’re at the beginning of the end? And maybe someday soon my bathtub will no longer be on my front porch? That seems like an impossibility. I really do miss my quiet spaces – both the attic as it was and the porch as it was. I’m also tired of my house being a constant mess. I blame that less on construction than kids. When they leave for summer camp, Imma gonna clean this place thoroughly and enjoy the rare sensation of having it stay – mostly – clean.

MJ Clothing in Lowell

We had a lovely weekend. I loved having my mom and dad here. They took the kids off to Great Wolf Lodge for one of the days of this weekend, letting Adam and I have a lovely evening full of a run & a dinner at the Stones. We watched a lot of World Cup, both with and without the kids. I wish I could take a day off and just watch all the matches! Alas, work is very busy. My mom and I went to an African clothing shop run by a friend of mine (MJ Clothing) and I got to help her pick out an African outfit that is going to be tailored for her. When the new shipment of fabrics comes in, I think I’ll get an outfit for me too!

We finished off that fantastic day at a friends house celebrating the start of summer with a BBQ that somehow ended up with Rock Band – the way the best of parties do.

One of my favorite pictures of our pastor emeritus

Today was a pretty special day, too. It was the Pastor Emeritus service for our beloved pastor of 36 years. I really enjoyed getting to sing in the choir today for the celebration. And it was such a joy to get to show off all our progress to the folks who helped set us on the path.

So what’s up with you?

Ready – set – go!

On a near-monthly basis this year I’ve talked about how we’re JUST ABOUT READY to start our attic renovation project! Just a few weeks! Almost there! Nearly happening!

Well, this time it’s for real. At least, the “please start work now” deposit has been paid, the contract has been signed, the stuff we ordered from the plumbing supply company is in, and we’ve for reals cleared out the linen closet and 95% of the attic. (We need to make a few trips to the storage facility to make it to 100% of the attic.)

We found the floor tile to go with the countertop and backsplash

The project is a big one. We’re totally gutting and putting plumbing into the third floor. We’re replacing all the windows on that floor. We’re making a walk in closet, a bedroom and a nice bathroom. Then on the second floor, we’re putting in a laundry room where once there was a weird deep linen closet. It’s going to be messy, disruptive, expensive and – hopefully – transformative. And it’s really happening!!

Putting down and picking up

I’m finishing some major bodies of work in my life this week. Today is my first day at a new role within my company. It’s a big change – new team, new office building, new industry. I’ve been working towards it for quite a while, and I’m very excited. I spent quite a bit of time doing *both* jobs (which makes you feel like you’re doing neither job well) so the concept of doing just one job has me slightly giddy.

Also, it’s my first day on the new job and I’m currently on a plane heading to a meeting in California. So I think it’s gonna keep me busy.

This weekend also marks the completion of another great task I’ve undertaken. We will be installing our new pastor. (You’re invited by the way. Wear red.) As you have likely heard me complain, I’ve been running the “next step in hiring a new pastor” process for well over two years now. It’s going to be a wonderful thing to get to switch from thinking about what work God wants us to do, to doing the work God wants us to do. It’s going to be a fantastic celebration.

People have been asking me, “So what are you going to do with your free time?”

AHAHAHAHAHAH! You’re so funny, people!

You see, I’ve been pushing off all the things that could be pushed off for quite some time now. But not all things that are pushed off can be ignored indefinitely. At some point you have to actually do some of them. And a few of them are feeling quite urgent now, while others just finally got to the top of the pile.

Chief among the new things I’m starting is – finally – our long-delayed attic project. The money has been saved. The plans have been drawn. The toilet selected. The tile agonized over. The contractor picked. The dumpster arrives next week. Which means that the attic needs to be empty like the week after. Empty empty. And maybe the vast linen closet too, with its mysterious Narnia-like depths. I never thought I was a hoarder, but attempting to clean out my attic is making me think I might have slight hoarder-like tendencies. I’m counting on the strength of last-minute-panic to help me get through it all in the one the day before we have the installation service for our new pastor. Right after I land from my California trip. And rehearse the installation music.

I’m dead meat. I know I’ll make it because I always make it. I’m just not 100% sure how.

Once again, back to work

For four straight weeks, I’ve had four straight days where I was home. I took a long weekend to prepare for Christmas. Then Christmas. Then New Years. Than the blizzardpocalypse of arctic doom (we worked two days, but from home). I’m really rather looking forward to “leaving the house” and “doing stuff other places”. This time of year, the walls start closing in on you.

One thing we did during this period was change the boys rooms. In preparation for our attic project (which it seems like we’ve been preparing for for years at this point) we have totally gotten rid of our guest room. After long begging, the guest queen bed (which is crazy comfortable) is now Grey’s. The bunk beds that were in his room are now in Thane’s. If we get company while the attic is undergoing construction (and likely afterwards too) they’ll be in Grey’s room and Grey will bunk with his brother.

The boys did a great job of working to clean up and clean out their rooms as part of this. Grey’s is especially cozy right now. Grey also did a fantastic job helping Adam repaint a wall in Thane’s room which had taken significant abuse over the years. The kids have really been great lately, and I’ve thoroughly been enjoying their company!

Thane’s room – with mood lighting

Thane’s room – normal version
Grey’s cozy room
Grey’s room, mood lighting
Meanwhile, up in the attic…

It’s electric

Days before my birthday on September 23rd, I came home with a “new-to-me” Hybrid-Electric car dubbed Minerva. Those first few weeks we classily stuck the charger that came with the car through a window to an inside socket to charge it. Ah, solutions that only work in September! But I knew that at some point the fantastic weather would cease (although you wouldn’t know it from this amazing 70 degree November day) and we’d need to, you know, close the window.

So I attempted to find someone in the area who had actually installed an electric car charging station before. I put a note on the local Facebook group. I emailed a work mailing list… crickets. I finally had to (heh) Google it. Sylvester Electric responded to one of those “Fill out this form to hear from a technician!” sites and sent out a technician who had actually installed one of these before.

There was a hilarious moment when I asked about using a charging station hardware setup that I got discounted through work. The installer asked if it was rated for outdoor use. I had this brain moment where I was very dismissive and confused. My thought process was something like, “Why wouldn’t they all be? What, you think people are going to drive their cars INSIDE THE HOUSE and park them there? How ridiculous?!” …. “Oh, right. Garages. Those are a thing.”

Anyway, he’s about the fourth electrician we’ve brought out for a big project (like the AC installation) where we’ve been afraid we’d need a new panel and he’s all “Nah, there’s enough room! Probably your next project.” Which is true – the next project is the attic. Between the steam shower, the upgraded electric and the heated floor I’d be deeply surprised if we got away with the electric we have now!

The cost of installation, including the 240v all-weather charging station, was just over $1400. The car cost (used, same model year, with 1300 miles on it) just about $21,000. I have gotten our first month’s energy bill with charging to car, and it looks to me to be about $60/$70 higher (although the year-over-year is made messier by having the AC installed, and it actually ran last month some days).

We’ve put nearly a thousand miles on the car since we got it, driving it practically every day for short distances. And I still have more than half a tank of the full tank the car came with – a predicted range of over 300 miles. We pulled the charging station window operation out of use last week (it got cold and it felt like a safety risk when we were gone for the weekend). We’re on track to fill the tank like once every quarter, for normal commuting use. Plus, apparently the “real” charger will use less energy than the “window-stringing” 110v version.

So financially-fuel-wise, at great gas prices it’s about a wash. Any increase in gas prices and we start saving money. The really big difference though is where the propel comes from. There are a bunch of ways to generate electricity – hydro, solar, wind, geothermal etc. There’s only one way to get gas, and that is both a limited resource (you do remember that part – right?) and one that moves historically sequestered carbon from inside the earth to into our atmosphere.

I do wonder if the car charger adds or detracts from the house value. I suspect that it might add a few hundred in calculations, but for the right buyer it would be a huge plus. For not the right buyer, it would be a neutral to a negative. Good thing I have no plans on selling, well, really kind of ever. Maybe when we have flying cars…

Final note – I just got this shaming letter from my electric company. Our family, pre air conditioning, was often “better than average” and sometimes the full smiley face. Now we’re clearly in the bucket of shame. I know that this is and environmentally friendly choice on our part, but it does kind of crack me up how bad it looks in this graph!

Bad Energy User – no cookie for you!

A place of my own

When I was 9, I had a hideout. It was under the stairs in the garage downstairs – a place no one came because no one had any reason to. It was cold and concrete and entirely mine. Tragically, my parents converted that hideaway to a bedroom for my sister (some tripe about her not wanting to live in a drafty room entirely made up of windows). I’ve had many “places of my own” through life. There was the concrete bunker by the river. The abandoned tree house. The best of them was my dorm room in college. Since I married straight out of college, that was the only time in my life I’ve been the single occupant of my residence.

Now I own a house. It’s a nice house, with 4 bedrooms and practically all new appliances. (Latest update – the battery in our car died while we were pumping gas yesterday. I’m debating whether that counts or not.) You would think that this house I own is really “a space of my own” from basement to attic. I mean, I bought the couch. I organized the glassware. I water the plants. It should be the ultimate fulfillment of that impulse, right?

After putting our attic renovation plans on hold (due to being twice as expensive as I reckoned + needing a new furnace), we had to reconstruct our living space up there. The attic as it is has four spaces: a landing, a completely unheated bedroom (no closet, so just a bonus room) with the best view in the house, a partially climate controlled room with a sink (I know – weird) and an unfinished storage area with particularly lethal looking nails.

In our previous iteration, the small room was our guest room (or Chez Gospel when he was living here). The bigger partially heated room was our office. This came from a period in time, now lost to the fog of history, when computers were stationary and couldn’t be moved around easily. I know this sounds crazy now, but you needed a room where you could leave them set up all the time, and they took a significant amount of space. So when we moved in, we prioritized that space (which we’d used constantly in our prior house) and deprioritized the guest space. In her October visit, my mother in law had… ideas on how this could be improved upon.

So I decided to make the larger/warmer room with the sink our guest bedroom, and turn the (coldly) beautiful room with the view into an office. Since we do still intend to eventually do the attic project, one doesn’t want to buy much in order to do this. For the guest bedroom, we will need a new bed, my brother having taken his with him. But the office had everything I needed.

Over the course of a day or so, I put it together. And it scratched an itch that I’d had so long, I hadn’t even realized it was an itch. It was like taking off boots I’d worn for a long hike. It felt… amazing to have my own room again. And although my family is welcome there and Adam also works there, it feels very much like my own secret spot. It’s made me unreasonably happier than it should.

The view as you walk in
The view as you walk in

img_20161217_133553

img_20161217_133558

The new best reading spot in the house
The new best reading spot in the house
My favorite view in the house
My favorite view in the house
The workdesk - primarily for computing but also for scrapbooking/stamping
The workdesk – primarily for computing but also for scrapbooking/stamping
The music alcove - the first time I've had all my instruments and music in one spot
The music alcove – the first time I’ve had all my instruments and music in one spot

What about you? Do you have a place that is just yours? Is it something you long for?

Appliance gremlins

When Adam and I got back from our vacation this summer, we discovered two rather unhappy facts. 1) Our microwave wouldn’t turn on at all. 2) Our dishwasher no longer worked. It was now more of a dishwetter. Kind of.

I went to Target and bought a new microwave. Adam called a repair company from the dishwasher’s paperwork to come fix it. In the way of such repair companies, they had no record of the first appointment we set. When they came for the second appointment, they didn’t have what they needed to fix the dishwasher. They finally fixed it on the third time.

I often wonder how service providers think people make the money they use to pay for service providers services. I mean, we can work from home with more flexibility than most. But still.

I also remembered sincere appreciation for having a dishwasher, and used more paper plates than we’ve ever used before.

The day after the dishwasher resumed working, Adam was finishing one of the final loads of laundry when the door locker thingy stopped door locking. It made sad sounds of not locking. It’s a side washer, so it just doesn’t work if it’s not locked. This time, I called 1-800-SAMSUNG. They have this rigamarole where you call person one (in this case, she gave her name as Hope Destiny) who passes your information through “a system” (which I can totally picture in my mind and I hate from afar) to a third party who actually schedules the service. So Hope Destiny says things like “You should get a call Friday about when you can schedule.” You spend a week picking up all the spam calls just in case, and then they call during the middle of an important meeting.

The dishwasher had set us back about $360 for a hermetically sealed motor. (It’s almost, but not quite, cheaper to buy a new one.) The wee plastic bit for the washing machine was $60 and the labor was nearly $200. I think I might go into appliance repair for my next job. But they fixed it in one trip and I was grateful for that small mercy.

That same day we noticed that all our beverages in our aged fridge (which we’ve never replaced because it would either need to be counter width or we’d need to renovate that wall, and renovating that wall is a better idea but it’s load bearing and we’ve never gotten around to it) were freezing solid. Like, you know, the milk. And eggs. Frozen eggs are no good. We read internet articles about load-balancing your fridge, and we vacuumed the coils and I pondered whether I could just call the frozen milk ice cream. And then we went online to buy a new ‘fridge (which is nearly the same size but admittedly much nicer). We scheduled the delivery date.

Those delivery dudes were great. But I had a 6 hour delivery window. And I was working from home. And somehow I thought it was a good idea to play a funeral that day because it was with my favorite funeral home and I was working from home anyway. So I called and asked them to shift the delivery time to avoid that window. I think that they may have written down that I specifically wanted it during that window, because just as I was pulling up to the funeral cortege, I got the note that they were on their way. I called my neighbor, fidgeted next to the piper, and played a very allegro taps (ok, not really, but I left immediately thereafter which I don’t usually do).

In a feat of over-scheduling, I also lined up the furnace service folks to come that morning to do the annual service. (I mean, I was already working from home… do you see a trend? Just FYI I often work about 2 hours longer when I work from home because I don’t commute, so my employer is truly not shortchanged by all this.) Well, the furnace guy called me down with this fancy camera he had. “Do you see all that?” He asked? “That’s rust. It’s ready to give at any moment.” On the service report he wrote optimistically “Unit operating at present time”. He gently asked if my carbon monoxide detectors were all up to date.

Not good news
Not good news

I’d known this day was long in coming. The furnace was 22 years old and had died on us at least once a year for the last three years. I knew when we did the home inspection that we had an older furnace. It was clearly time to replace it. And there was no way I was replacing the furnace without adding air conditioning, even though we’d need to add a cold air return to the second floor. It’s been very hot these last few summers. So I got two quotes. The first quote, the guy refused to quote me AC. So I went with the second quote.

I got a call last Thursday, right after I signed. “Hey, we had a cancellation for Friday. Would you like us to install then?” Well, I’d been planning on being home Friday anyway, to superintend Grey’s half-day sleepover birthday party. So what’s a little more fun? Thursday night Adam and I frantically clean out the basement and hall closet. Friday morning at 7 am a team of six burly guys arrives and begins taking hacksaws to various parts of my basement infrastructure. I hadn’t quite been warned that the high efficiency AC I ordered came with the world’s most ginormous compressor – thing takes up half the back yard! They ran tubes and wires and vents and gizmos throughout the house, competing for “most noisy” in the latter half of the day with four ten year old boys playing XBox. (Ten year olds won – the workmen were very respectful.)

Of course, I’m not quite done yet. I still need to run the electric for the AC (which is a rather expensive part of the whole project). I just tried to find another good day to work from home for that.

I can only hope that no additional appliances pick that day to shuffle off their mortal coil!

So anyway. It’s been fun.

In moderately related news, we ended up getting four bids for our attic project. One of them came in ridiculously low. Low as in “You don’t really understand this project do you” low. The other three were all right on. And they’re for a number that is just well beyond what I was planning for. We’ve saved for this for quite a while but it’s been an expensive summer (see above). I just can’t justify the cost and disruption and aggravation and stress of the project versus the benefit. So we’re going to shelve it for now. In another two years, we might have saved enough to handle the project price. Or if the housing/construction market slows, those bids might get significantly more aggressive. (Right now it’s definitely a contractor’s market.)

I don’t regret all the cleaning out we’ve done. I’m sad that I still have to share a bathroom with my sons. (Including one legit preteen!) But sometimes you just need to be the grownup who says you haven’t saved enough to do what you want to do.

New Furnace
New Furnace
Old Furnace
Old Furnace
Half the fleet
Half the fleet
Staging area
Staging area
My little backyard
My little backyard
New cold air return
New cold air return
New duct
New duct
Gigantic air conditioner
Gigantic air conditioner