Sequential puzzles

I was probably four years old – we were living with my grandparents – and it was Christmas. My parents constructed this cardboard fireplace and mantle for Santa’s sake. And there in my stocking was this little puzzle. It had nine slots for eight sliding blocks in order to make a picture. (I have a vague memory of it being an elephant? Perhaps?) I eagerly scrambled the picture. But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to unscramble it. I probably asked my dad to fix it for me 20 times that Christmas. I was amazed at his ability to see this magical solution completely opaque to me. Grownups are so magical.

To this day I have never successfully completed one of those puzzles, although in fairness to me I probably haven’t tried in (cough) thirty years. In the deep depths of my mind I suspect my belief that I’m not particularly good at spatial reasoning puzzles goes back to that sliding, scrambled elephant.

But lately, I’ve felt like I’m in a mega version of that puzzle. We all remember the triumph of the attic renovation. It was the great effort of the past year. But as our new space was finally finished and ordered, it set in motion of a series of cascading effects that are still eating up my weekends.

The laundry room was the biggest one of these. While the attic was the bulk of our project, we also got this idea to convert a second floor linen closet into a laundry room. We carefully measured width & of depth we had plenty. It was certainly tall enough, although not excessively so. We tiled it, plumbed it and put in a gas fixture so we could stack our existing washer and dryer into the space. We hired movers to move it and a plumber to connect the gas. They got the washer in, but couldn’t stack the dryer.

It could not be done. See, there was room for the washer and dryer. But there was no room for a human being to connect said washer and dryer plumbing-wise, and emerge again. The stack couldn’t be pushed back intact because it has a floor drain. You can’t crawl over it, regardless of size. We contemplated opening walls, using flexible hoses, creating ladders to climb out – but finally realized that based on the location of the drain and connections an adult would still be unable to connect everything. We thought of sending Thane in, but the sobering realization the plumbing inspector would need to be able to see the gas line connection to sign off on it was the death knell. There was, alas, no way that we could move our existing stack in. I researched new washers and dryers to see what might possibly fit. There were none. Trust me, we thought through every possible angle.

It seems like it should be possible to stack. It isn’t. This is my all-in-one.

Well, ok. There was one. If we went with a European-style ventless washer-and-dryer all in one combo, it might work. That meant that the venting, the gas line, the high powered electric line (yes, we put in both) were absolutely useless. Plus, it was expensive. We were terribly afraid that it wouldn’t actually dry. The first one we ordered the installers told us that it was impossible to remove the washer without terrible damage. But it didn’t matter anyway since the washer/dryer on the truck was badly damaged. We got a second one, and I made a call to the installation HQ begging them to send me the *good* team. They did (the team not only had no problem with the installation or move, they were incredibly fast – I tipped them well). And wonder of wonders, it works amazingly. It’s hell on the electric bill (between that and the electric car and heated floors in the attic we went from “more efficient than your neighbors” to “holy handgrenades, what are you doing in there?”). But now it’s SO MUCH EASIER to drop in a load of laundry on my way to work and by the time I get home it’s dry. I’ve even started making the kids do their own laundry.

But see, we had plans for the old laundry room. We were going to put a treadmill down there so we had a good exercise option for the winters – and a thing to tell the kids to go do when they needed some exercise in bad weather. We got the tv installed. After careful consideration, we figured if we moved the freezer next to the washer and dryer and got rid of the horrific particle-board cabinet, we would have plenty of space for the treadmill (if it’s not too tall – finger’s crossed).

Linen closet

But to get rid of the cabinet, we needed to move the linens from the downstairs shelves to their eventual destination in our new linen closet. And that required the building of the linen closet. During the holidays, Adam and I dragged the kids to a hardware store and bought gigantic sheets of plywood that we desperately tied to the top of the car in bitter cold. (OK, ADAM tied. I stayed in the car.) Over the next weekend or two, they were carefully measured, cut, and placed into the closet – all by my handy husband. Once the paint had dried, the remaining work fell to me. I cleaned out the closet in what had been our bedroom (now the study) and the basement linens – so we could proceed with the basement.

After several hours of labor

But that brings me to the study. It needed old furniture removed (and I wanted to get it to someone who would use it, not just trash it). Lots of junk needed to be cleaned out. And new furniture (a new standing desk, new chair and new couch) acquired and assembled. I posted free stuff on Facebook and dealt with no-shows. I carefully disassembled old Ikea furniture with Thane’s most excellent help and carried it to the porch.

He’s amazing

Finally, yesterday, I finished completing all the dependencies for the study. The old stuff was cleared out. The new ordered and assembled. I’m thoroughly enjoying writing from the new sleeper sofa.

Our study

You’d think we’re almost done. All we have to do is get the treadmill in the basement and we’re done, right? WRONG! Next up is a hardwood floor in the second and first floors. Once that’s done, we’ll need to repaint the hallway, and then build built in bookcases to replace the particle-board ones we inherited when we were first married and then….

Right. If only I could get my dad to finish this puzzle for me, I swear I’d stop rescrambling it! And if you believe that….

Why I shouldn’t take vacations

Adam and I were in the car on the long ride up to Canada. (As an aside, Thane is begging to go to Canada for his birthday “just like you and dad did”.) As so often happens when I finally relax and momentarily get off the hamster wheel of my daily life, I started to think. This is a mistake. Because given a good night’s sleep and no immediately pressing pending tasks, I start inventing things we’ll do when I get back. I have some sort of amnesia about how little time I have (especially during the fall).

For your entertainment, here are a few things that I came up with for us to do in that languid week on the Bay of Fundy:

1) Redo the living room
We spent a lot of time talking about what we’ll do with our house. It was built in 1898, and the last major renovation was in the 1970s. That ’70s renovation was… not good. These were not choices I’m glad they made (although it probably kept the house affordable for us). Specifically, almost every room in the first two floors has a drop ceiling and cheap wood paneling. We ripped it out of Thane’s room – a project that Adam took two full weeks (between jobs). We have a Google doc full of all the projects we’d LIKE to do. (The stupid windows. I can’t figure out what we should do. We got three contractors in and they each recommended something different, with estimates between 7k and 20k. So I’m doing the mature thing and ignoring it for another year. Also, I think next year we will put the second full bathroom in the attic and turn it into a master suite.)

But somehow we landed on the brilliant idea that we would renovate the dining room. (I think that is mostly because one of our gamers has a commitment that will make gaming hard for several weeks, so it’s an opportune time.) It sounds simple – we’ll pull down the drop ceiling and the wood paneling (which, in a brilliant design decision doesn’t run all the way to the real ceiling because it was put up the same time as the drop ceiling. We’ll re-drywall the ceiling (or a tin ceiling?! maybe with crown molding?) and walls (there’s likely horsehair plaster back there, and its unlikely to be in good condition). We’ll put the trim back on, prime and paint, and voila! Beautiful dining room! Of course, this involves moving all the furniture in the room, which includes the heaviest stuff in the whole house. (To … somewhere else….) And likely weeks of double shifts for Adam. And we’re not sure how we’ll handle the curves in the archways. But it’ll be great!

2) Invite my brother to come live with us for a while
My brother is wrapping up his current church contract in Denver. While he’s working on discerning his next call, we’re looking forward to having him here for a while. He’s wisely planned his schedule so he should be here shortly after we finish getting the dining room redone. I can’t wait to see him again!

3) Decide once and for all if my children need a piano
We inherited a piano from Adam’s grandmother. I play piano, poorly. But given a choice, I’d rather plan trumpet mediocrely, or guitar poorly. Heck, I might even prefer to play cornetto abysmally. For a long time we hung on to it in that fond hope that one of our sons might be musically inclined. Those sons are now 9 and 6 and it’s put up or play wind instruments time. So I’m thinking of trying a 4 week piano lesson for each of them. At the conclusion of those 4 weeks, we’ll either have a kid who seems actually interested in practicing music, or we’ll get rid of the piano.

4) Chair a church committee
OK, this wasn’t actually a vacation decision, but it did kick off this week. My church is getting ready to do our mission study in preparation for discerning who we are, what God is calling us to do, and who the neighbor is that we should be loving. I’ll be part of that discernment process. I’ve taken a few years off church committees, and this marks my dive back in.


There are a few more things, but those are the high points. I am looking ahead to fall – the busiest time of my year – and trying to figure out what I can do RIGHT NOW in order to save myself having to do it in September/October!

What brilliant ideas did you come up with on your vacation?

I’m renting my house from BofA

I hear a lot about the wider world. I listen to NPR so religiously my son thinks that his phone number is 800-909-9287 (the pledge number for WBUR). I read the Economist over my Honey Nut Cheerios every morning. No day is complete without various other news sources as well.

In the last year or so, it is possible I might have heard one or two stories about home prices and the economy. Perhaps you’ve heard one or two too?

I have this bad habit of rethinking decisions that have been made. In October of 2007 we found a great house for $350k in a town I’m happy to live in. By December of 2007 we were moved in. At the time, I was proud of myself for not buying at the top and waiting until house prices had declined. The house had originally been offered for $409,000. A bargain, no? I keep wondering if buying then was the right thing to do.

But here’s another way of looking at the equation. House prices have stood up decently where we are. According to Zillow, our house is now worth $329,000. That’s not bad in this market. We’re still above water. But I’ve been thinking about that $21,000 difference. Between 2000 when we got married and 2007 when we moved, we rented. Our first apartment in Roslindale was $1200 a month. The lovely three bedroom place on Cliff street was $1500 a month. If we lived in Cliff Street for the 14 months we’ve lived in our current place, we would’ve spent $21,000 with no equity returned to us. We lived there for three years. 36 months times $1500 a month is $54,000 that we spent on housing, with no equity returned to us for our expense.

There is, of course, lots more complexity to it. Our mortgage payment is larger than our rent was. Rent didn’t include interest. Rent wasn’t federally tax deductible. (It is state income tax deductible here in MA.) I didn’t have to pay the water and sewer back then, nor did I pay real estate taxes.

But I don’t think we should regret our decision. Paying your mortgage while your house declines in value is a lot like paying rent. You may not get equity, but you do get a place to live. And hey, assuming you have a fixed rate mortgage, at least you won’t get any rent increases. How good the landlord is is entirely up to you.

Rent to own?
Rent to own?