May 8, 2006

 oh my gosh my days are getting longer


the island got updated with a lawn chair and a house this weekend in honor of the historic home tour that was going on in old north durham.

again, apologies for the lack of substantive blogging. i'm just not feeling all that inspired lately, i guess. what i HAVE been is busy... i've been pulling some double-shifts on-air to help out a co-worker. i've also been busy shoe-shopping (check out this discount site i just discovered!), trying to find shoes to match a dress i'll be wearing to a wedding in july. i've also been knitting a gift for this wedding. and doing yard work... which, surprisingly enough, i'm enjoying. i've spent so much time loathing yard work that it's rather stunning to find myself enjoying it.

the trick is to do only as much as is interesting. in other words, i'm not knocking myself out to get any one project done. i'll go piddle around a bit, maybe lay a bag of mulch or two, then quit... and not feel guilty about it. because these short spurts are rather easy and pleasant, i find myself enjoying the sunshine and the birds chirping in the trees, and am actually seeing more progress than before, when i dreaded it all. back then, i would go out of my way to find reasons to not do yard work and consequently not get much done.

so, this weekend i uncovered even more brick border (as i did last year), and before that i spread newspaper and mulch over some really overgrown beds in the back yard. i really want to get to work on the landscaping in the front of the house, too, but i'm so ignorant about plants that i have no idea what to put in the ground. i want something that will soften the look of the house, but i don't really want shrubs. i'm going to have to start tivoing some gardening shows for ideas, i guess. (here's what the front of the house has looked like over the past year or so, if you have any suggestions. note that currently the landscaping is most like the bottom photo... cut-back, bare and dead. it's lovely.)

i also foolishly told the locopops lady that i would build her a website, and suddenly i'm feeling less than excited about that. i finally have the ambition to work in the yard and on the house, and the last thing i want to do is sit indoors and build a website. b'oh.

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February 6, 2006

 please look only at the windows


well, the windows are done. at least they should be... when i left for work today, the crew said they had just a couple of more windows to trim out.

i'm happy. the noise-reduction is incredibly evident, and the windows are definitely doing a great job at keeping out the cold. i think i'm going to be able to stop using my space-heater at night (though our exterior walls are not insulated so there's always going to be some cold seeping in).

so, yay! hopefully i'll be able to keep these things in mind when i'm writing kingsford their Very Large Check tomorrow evening.

god, the landscaping looks like crap right now. i guess that's the next project. ugh. we cut everything way back last fall, and i guess i didn't realize how horrid it looked until just now. damned before-and-after photo...

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February 2, 2006



i got a call late yesterday afternoon from kingsford: my windows were in! they could come install them the next day.

so i'm home today, 'supervising' the installation. in truth, all i'm doing is trying to console the cats, who are freaked out beyond belief.

here's ryan (one of a three-man team) sweeping out debris after he took the first window out.

this is the absence of a window.

by noon they'd already had the two side windows installed.

even better, the wall construction has taken another large leap with the installation of the super-tall support posts. brick and mortar must be imminent. they must be.

good stuff!

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January 28, 2006

 today i made my house ugly


i got to thinking that maybe some of my water issues in the crawlspace could be caused by my downspouts. they currently feed into a system of terra cotta pipes which run underground, away from the house and further into the yard. i have heard horror stories from neighbors about these pipes getting clogged with roots and causing water to back up into the downspouts. so today i decided to see if that was the case at my house, too.

i took a sledgehammer, crushed the terra cotta and freed the downspouts. 2 of the 3 them were clear, but the third was packed with roots, at least 8 inches up. i couldn't believe it. there's no way any water was getting through that downspout.

one trip to the home depot later i had replaced the terra cotta receptacles with the black plastic drainage tubes. if it works (and it's supposed to rain, so i'll be able to check soon) then i guess i can dig a trench for the tubes and bury them.

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January 25, 2006

 and here i thought i was making progress on the to-do list

ray recently noticed a number of new cracks in the walls of his room, so i called brackett (who did some foundation repair --at the seller's expense-- when i bought this house back in 2003) in the hopes that they could give me a diagnosis on the cause of this cracking. they came out this morning.

using a laser level, we quickly found that the problem was rooted in the area of my front porch, a good 4 or 5 feet from where their original work had been done. roger (the dude from brackett) pointed out how the settling was occuring not only along the north-south plane, but also along the east-west plane. in a sense, it looked like the porch was moving in on the house.

he got on his hands and knees and slithered into the crawlspace, only to emerge looking confused. "it's bone dry down there," he said, "except for one area --around the foundation footing near the porch-- where there is a massive pool of water." he said he'd never seen anything like it: totally dry conditions except for one localized area of standing water. even more flummoxing is the fact that there are no plumbing lines in that area of the house, so the water isn't coming from a leak. he actually posited that the source could be an underground spring.

it sounded preposterous to me. a spring? under my house? i clearly have some googling ahead of me.

in the meantime, i'm going to try to pump some of that water out of there myself and see if/how quickly water returns to the area. if it remains dry, all the better. (the source of the water would remain a mystery in that case, but at least we can move ahead with the repair to the footing.) if the water comes back, we've got some more thinking to do.

maybe i should have held off on the purchase of the replacement windows. <sigh>

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January 13, 2006

 the window saga finally continues

i had a local window replacement company come over this morning to give an estimate on what it would cost to replace all the windows in this house.

you may recall that i had a ridiculously high estimate from the home depot during the summer... i've been thinking about doing this for a while. the cold weather has finally fully convinced me, though. i HAVE to do something about this. even with the storm windows up, i can still feel cold air coming into the house. these single-paned crank-windows may be cool-looking, but they just don't serve their function properly anymore.

one of the demonstrations the salesman did was impressive. he set a BTU meter across from a heat lamp. we put a single-pane window between the lamp and the meter and watched how much heat was blocked. it wasn't a lot. (i think the meter went down to maybe 310 or something.) we progressed through several other window configurations and watched the BTU drop each time. to 274, to 237. i could feel a slight difference with my hand, too. but when he put the next-to-last window up the BTU dropped to 47. i could feel no heat on the other side of the glass. it was astounding. (he had one other window to demonstrate beyond that one, but i didn't care about it.)

we walked through the house and took measurements, then he sat down and did some number-crunching. this estimate was MUCH more agreeable: just a little over $5000 for the entire house. though i have a really good feeling about these guys i'm still going to solicit a few more bids. it's good to have lots of information.

after this morning's meeting, though, i find my head is reeling over the design possibilities. there are a couple of windows in this house that will be best served by big "sliders". these sound fine to me -- it seems like they'll let in lots of light and won't block the view horizontally, the way regular double-hung windows do.

but as i drove through the neighborhood after this meeting was over, i looked at everyone else's windows. and everyone else seems to have windows with the "grids" (which make one big window look like many smaller panes). and i wonder if i should get these, too? i can add them to the sliders (and all of the other double-hung windows i'll also get), but i don't know if i want to.

i guess there's a charm about the grids that the plain pane doesn't have. but it also blocks a lot of the view. (granted, i'm not living in a scenic vista or anything, but still... i like to look outside.)


here's a photo of the front of the house if you want to help me envision it. to be honest, what i have right now is almost gridular, though in the ugliest manner possible. grids on the new windows would be white, and much cuter.

but i don't know if i want them.

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August 5, 2005

 yellow shutters


my shutters have now been painted to match the entry area.

it's a big change from dingy off-white, and it's taking some time to get used to, but overall i think i like it.

i also had the trim painted bright white, so on the whole everything looks more updated and crisp.

and yes, "i had it painted"... i didn't do it myself. i knew that hauling my ass up and down a ladder that much would be torture on my aged knees, so i paid someone to do it for me.

i'm also paying someone to regrade the beds around the perimeter of the house next week. (they slope down towards the foundation instead of away from it.) the mere thought of hauling and shoveling loads of dirt made my stomach turn (and me knees hurt again), so i'm biting the bullet and hiring trosa for the job.

this is going to be a tight month, financially speaking. damn house. damn knees.

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July 20, 2005

 ceiling fan


after fighting with my old ceiling fan for weeks, i finally decided to get my butt in gear and buy a new one. the old fan was ugly, noisy and on the "slow" setting it would often just stop altogether.

so after waking up on yet another morning covered in sweat (the damn thing having come to a halt overnight) i vowed to do something about it. i went to the HD after work, quickly chose the most contemporary-looking model that was under $100, and set to work.

i wished i had thought to blog the whole installation process, but i was too focused on my mission. the box said "easy to install! anyone can do it!" but having never replaced a ceiling fan before i figured i was in for an all-night adventure.

and i was right. it took about 3 hours.

about half that time was spent getting the old one down. since i was not the one who installed it, i didn't know which screws to loosen first. i've seen countless home improvement shows where the whole fan comes down as one unit but that definitely wasn't possible in my case. the blades had to come off, then the upper collar, then i had to release it from the mounting bracket. the entire time, little crumbs of plaster were falling in my face. yum.

once the old fan was down (and my rug covered with dust) i sat and read the new fan's installation instructions cover to cover. this is a new strategy for me, actually... i usually read step one, then perform step one, read step two, then perform step two. this method has gotten my butt in trouble more times than i'd care to share, and since i was dealing with something heavy, with the potential to send large currents of electricity through my body, i decided to be thorough. just this once.

though i must say, i'm no stranger to wiring light fixtures. i've done it in my hall, twice in the kitchen, and even on random lamps. i felt so sure of myself, in fact, that i didn't turn off the breaker this time. i just shut off the light switch and kept the black & white wires away from each other. i felt like a pro... a pro living on the edge.

and i did the whole thing myself, carefully, making sure i had all the connections secure and all the screws tightened. i even lifted that damn 50-pound motor into place myself. and when i pressed the remote control it all worked. nothing fell, nothing wobbled, and i had the reward of a silent, cool breeze.

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June 1, 2005


i walked into home depot a few weeks ago and noticed a give-away for a gas grill. as i filled out the entry form it became clear that by handing over my name and address i was also apparently indicating interest in home depot's "at home services"... i was asked to check a box next to "decks", "siding" or "replacement windows" and a representative would come give a me quote on whichever service i selected.

i checked "replacement windows".

and i didn't win the grill.

but a man in an orange apron came to my house this morning and measured all my windows, discussed terms like "double-hung" and "vent latches", and left me with a quote that fucking shocked the hell out of me:


since the day i bought the house i have wanted to replace the windows. they're metal casement windows, with hand-cranks that lift the glass up and out like louvres. i hate them. they're ridiculously energy-inefficient (so much so that we have to keep the storm glass on all year long) and very, very ugly.

now, one thing i do love about my house is that the windows (ugly as they are) are HUGE. the two biggest are 128" (!!) wide, and 50" high. these windows will cost close to $1,500 to replace. each.

so, here i am with a brand new home equity line of credit, thinking "geez, it sure would be nice to have new windows." but i don't know if there's any way i can convince myself to spend that much money.

i need to research a couple of other companies and get a few more quotes. maybe i can find something more reasonably-priced. the obnoxious size of some of the windows, though, makes me think it's going to be expensive no matter who i get to do the job.

first, though, i just i want to live with the sticker shock for a while. the more i force myself to think about it, the more i'm going to realize that this is something that i should do sooner rather than later. i spent all that money on a new gas pack last year, and these crappy windows i currently have are letting all of that fresh, new A/C and heat seep out.

utlimately, i bet the idea of living in an energy-efficient home is going to end up being so appealing that i'll forget the fact i'm going to be in more debt than i have ever been.

yeah, right.

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May 13, 2005

 when to fold 'em

the leak under the kitchen sink last night came from an unexpected source.

previous leaks had been at the drain's p-trap. last night it was the dishwasher's supply line.

after diagnosing the problem i couldn't believe it had ever not leaked; the water was spilling through a ridiculously-placed compression fitting which should have been a soldered joint all along.

i generally pride myself on my home improvement skillz, but i have never learned to solder. i sat in front of a cabinet full of water last night and knew i would have to actually (gasp!) call a plumber.

he arrived around 11:30 this morning and fixed the leak within about 10 minutes. then i set him to work on other tasks that i have also been so far unable to do myself: fixing the squirt nozzle on the sink faucet, and repairing the outdoor spigot.

i ended up spending a little over $100, but i consoled myself with the fact that the plumber fixed everything WAY faster than i could have (evidenced by the mere fact that these other problems have been waiting for repair for almost 2 years).

it felt a little weird paying someone to do this simple home repair for me, but in this instance i think it was really the best thing to do. i would have likely spent 4 hours just teaching myself to solder, and i don't think i would have ever diagnosed the spray nozzle problem correctly... i would have ended up buying a whole new faucet -- which would have cost $100 anyway.

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May 1, 2005

 door painting

well, the ibook is back from the apple store. i have a new LCD and a new inverter (whatever that is). the display now stays continually bright, so the problem seems to be fixed.

by the way, if you ever have to take anything to the apple store for repair, please do yourself a favor and ask for zack. oh my god, he is amazing. a true genius. he stayed 2 hours after closing on saturday night to get my repair done. when he called me at close to 11pm he said i could come in before they opened on sunday to pick it up... "i'll be here... just knock on the door and get my attention... i'll let you in."

he went WAY above and beyond for me. he totally rocks.

so now that the computer is back i can detail some stuff about my weekend:

friday night:

i went to mary's first big art show. she makes earrings (slogan: "jewelry and more, to support my shoe habit.") and has often thought about trying to make money making earrings. i'm pretty sure she made some money this weekend at the MOMart show.

also saw the hitchhiker's movie, and had a good time laughing with the mcventrils, dick umbrage, spacegrrl and the mintys. excellent fun.


crappy weather. i had lots of home improvement plans, but the weather on saturday threw my schedule out of whack. i did what little i could (mostly just fixing the leg of a chair while mimo supervised), then i packed it in and made a nice dinner.

  • creamed spinach & mushrooms:
    1. take one box of frozen chopped spinach and thaw it in the microwave.

    2. while the spinach is thawing, chop about a half-package of mushrooms, a quarter of an onion and 1 clove of garlic, and sautee in a skillet with some butter.

    3. when the spinach is thawed, place it in several layers of paper towel and squeeze every last bit of moisture out of it.

    4. add to the skillet about half of a small container of cream cheese and about a 1/4 cup parmesean cheese.

    5. when the cheese starts to integrate with the mushroom/onion mixture, place the spinach into the skillet and move everything around until the spinach is totally coated in the cheesy mushroom stuff.

    6. season with salt and pepper and serve.


started work on the house around 10am; the sun is shining! finished sanding the back door, caulked the cracks. (we notice when it rains that the inside of the back door gets wet; i tried to patch whatever cracks in the wood i could find, and am going to prime and paint it in the hopes of more properly sealing the exterior from the elements.)

i also finally painted my front entryway:


i'm sure my neighbors think i'm crazy.

it's going to take me a while to get adjusted to the bright orange, but i think i like it. i still have some touch-up work to do (i want to put a bit of orange around each of the entryway windows), but after this particular project is done, i think i want to paint my shutters the same yellow as the entryway. what do you think? yes... i think yellow shutters are a must now. maybe. i don't know.

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February 19, 2005


after work friday i found myself with some unexpected free time so i decided to go to a few home stores and see if i could start putting together a more comfortable space in the den.

i think i hit about 8 different shops in an hour and a half, and i came home with a couple of microsuede ottomans (ottomen??), some striped pillows and two swanky wood folding chairs (for in-a-pinch extra seating). i felt good. progress!

i was productive today, too:

* went to flea market at the fairgrounds. found a groovy new telephone table for the den (as well as a totally girly pink flowery handbag).

* went to home depot and bought new switchplates for the kitchen, as well as silver spray paint for the kitchen lighting project.

* went to world market and bought another chair for the den.

* brought all the loot home and rearranged the den with the new stuff. it looks good!

* vacuumed the den.

* installed new locking doorknob on bathroom door.

* installed new switchplates in kitchen.

* sat down. put my feet up. watched last night's episode of "what not to wear."

* began two painting projects with lisa's help: spray painting kitchen lamp, and painting the cube table.

* ate burgers ray grilled. totally yum.

* wired and hung new kitchen light.

* touched up paint on cube.

* cleaned up.

what's surprising is that i didn't think to photoblog any of this.

Posted by xta at 11:46 PM | TrackBack

February 18, 2005

 designed to sell

i watch a ridiculous number of home improvement shows.

i enjoy DIY shows like "weekend warriors", where homeowners tackle demolition and construction projects themselves. it was this show (along with the confidence of friends and family) that convinced me i could renovate my bathroom myself.

i also really like decorating shows. "design on a dime" is one of my favorites... a team of designers redecorate a room for $1000. though this show works within the same budget as "trading spaces", "design on a dime" isn't at all concerned with being a soap-opera... they just get right down to business. (i can barely tolerate "trading spaces" anymore. i'm not even going to link to it.)

lately i've been watching a show called "designed to sell". real estate experts and designers help get a house ready to go on the market, and have a budget of $2000 for the improvements. this show is big on design elements too, but there is often a small amount of construction (or deconstruction) going on in order to get a house to appear more updated.

the thing i find most fascinating about "designed to sell" is the portion of the show --at the beginning-- when the real estate expert walks through the house and talks about everything that is wrong with the property... the things that will scare away potential home-buyers. this walk-through happens outside of the homeowners' presence (though they're watching via closed circuit tv), and the real estate expert is always very blunt. it's not the harsh critique itself that intrigues me, but rather the moment when the critique causes the homeowners to realize "oh my god, our house is such a sty! how did that happen?!?"

this is what is interests me: the idea that we get so accustomed to our surroundings that we stop noticing the moldy grout, the rotting baseboards, the overgrown hedges. maybe on some subconscious level we're aware of these things, but we never let it never bother us enough to take action. there are more important things for us to worry about: cooking dinner for our families, getting the car fixed, doing laundry. getting through life. the house can wait.

"designed to sell" doesn't make a big deal of that light-bulb moment when the homeowners realize how far they've let their home degrade. it's not glorified in any way, but it's there in every episode. and more often than not during course of the renovations, as their house is being spruced up, the homeowners express some reservation about selling the home. "i forgot it could look this good," they'll say.

the changes are often small. a fresh coat of paint. removing a too-large couch from the living room and replacing it with two properly sized chairs. getting rid of the clutter. planting some flowers by the front door. changing the curtains. sometimes these improvements actually correct the flaws that instigated the selling of the house. (homeowners that thought the house was too small for their family are surprised to find that with correct furniture placement their home is really larger than they thought.)

anyway, now that i've decided to have a party (the 26th!) this show is causing me to look at my house with a more critical eye. i want to spot the things that aren't working before my guests do.

so yesterday i did a little bit of thrift shopping with "designed to sell" in mind. at the habitat hand-me-up store i found a light fixture for $5 that, with a coat of paint, will work pretty well over the kitchen table. the minute i moved into the house --almost two years ago-- i knew i needed to get rid of the existing 1970s-era basket-topped fixture, but over the course of time i just stopped seeing it. until the light bulb burned out last week, i actually forgot it was there, still ugly as ever.

i am also seeing how the furniture configuration in the den is not working. i picked up a small cube table for $5 at habitat that will go the den after a cute paint treatment. i'm going to get another chair for that room as well, and create a more comfortable conversation area.

ray and i had hoped to be able to afford a new couch by now, but mimo screwed up our budget. that'll have to wait for a while. but at least i know that the living room furniture is crappy!

there are a couple of other light fixtures i want to swap out, but i haven't found anything that excites me yet. i'll have to keep my eyes open and do more thrift shopping. i also need to get my butt moving on the construction of the kitchen window seat. as you may recall, i was hoping to tackle that last fall, but then tivo entered my life and i've allowed it to keep me from getting things accomplished. (what's ironic is that the glut of home improvement shows themselves that has likely slowed my progress!)

past experience has taught me that i'm happiest when i'm focused on a home improvement project. i need to keep reminding myself of that, and find little things to do each month to keep up the quality of my surroundings.

Posted by xta at 11:17 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

January 23, 2005

 no more dishpan hands!



well, that only took about 4 hours, but i did it. no leaks, either!

i only had to make one trip to the home depot. (sometimes i end up going back 2 or 3 times in a day to exchange incorrect parts for correct parts.) the machine came with a drain tube and firm instructions to use it instead of any existing tube. so while i was removing my existing tube i noticed that everything was even more cobbled together than i'd thought. there were adapters which reduced 1/2" pipes down to 3/8" pipes, and then more adapters adjusting the size back up to 1/2". it was crazy.

i quickly found the parts i needed, plus spray foam for the mouse-gap in the floor. when i got back home things started to really come together. though assembly was a little tricky i wouldn't say it was prohibitively difficult. the hardest part was getting all 3 hookups (water supply, drain tube and power line) to reach their connecting spots on the dishwasher. length was an issue. i had to do some pretty tricky maneuvering to get everything to reach.

the only disappointment is that the previous dishwasher was a smidge bigger than this one... there is a noticeable gap around the perimeter that i'm not sure how to handle. i'll have to give that some thought.

Posted by xta at 6:45 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 22, 2005

 dishwasher deinstallation


so, now that mimo seems to be out of danger we can move on to something more mundane: our dishwasher.

the new one is being delivered tomorrow afternoon, so i spent the evening uninstalling the old piece of crap.

oh, and speaking of crap... we now know where our mice were coming from. more on that in a minute.

before i began this process, i knew that there would be three things to disconnect: the water supply line, the drain hose and the power line. after analyzing the mess of pipes and hoses under my sink i began undoing things. (determining what to unscrew and disconnect was much harder than it sounds... i have valves that don't do anything and junction boxes that don't make any sense. i actually called my electrician friend at one point to get advice about the confusing power supply.)

the hardest part was disconnecting the water supply line... it was copper tubing of a fixed length. (i assumed it would have been flexible rubber tubing.) it was hard to get at, and difficult to maneuver.

finally, after much cursing, tugging and sweating i got the dishwasher out. our reward was the discovery of a phenomenal amount of mouse poop. it looked like a million mice had a ticker tape parade with their asses. disgusting. we have seen a mouse or two five in the house over the last year or so, and we've always wondered where they came from. now we know. there's an inch gap where the wood floor stops and the wall begins. in that inch-wide space you can see the slats that stand between the hardwood floor and the floor joists, and there is a 1/2" gap or so between the slats. so the mice come up from the crawl space, between the gap in the slats, and then through the 1" gap behind the dishwasher.

we clearly need to stop those little fuckers from getting in. i was thinking i'd take care of that tonight, but i hear the streets are a mess (ice) so my plan has been thwarted for the time being. in the morning, though, i'll go to home depot to get squirty foam stuff for the gap. then we'll wait for the delivery of the new machine.

hopefully installation will be easier than deinstallation. now that i am more familiar with the tubes and wires i think it will go pretty smoothly. ((fingers crossed))

Posted by xta at 8:57 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 13, 2005

 dishwasher, purchased

dishwasher.jpgisn't it lovely?

armed with printouts from the consumer reports website, i headed to sears right after divaville this evening. i figured there was a slim chance i could walk in the store by 8:15 with time to browse, choose and purchase a dishwasher before they closed at 9:00.

thankfully, the salesdood was the nicest i've ever had at sears and answered all my questions quickly and succinctly. what's more, he even reaffirmed my belief that i wouldn't have any trouble installing the dishwasher myself (thereby saving a good deal of money). he led me over to a used model they had on the floor and showed me all of the tubes to hook up (all 3 of them, that is). very sweet.

his manager came over at that point, and looked at my salesguy like, "are you trying to sell her this piece of crap?" it was pretty funny how he was trying to get his concern across without coming right out and saying anything. once he realized how ridiculous the situation was, we all laughed. i kept smiling and asking their opinions while browsing around.

so after i nudged, banged and adjusted everything they had in stock i decided that i really wanted a particular model that was just out of my price range. by this time, though, me and my saleschums were all buddy-buddy, and they slyly told me that there was a $50-off coupon in the paper that i could use... but it expired tonight. in, like, 20 minutes, when they closed. so they dug one up for me. and that was all it took... the machine was suddenly in my price range. i was sold.

even better, while we were going through the sales process salesfella #1 mentions that i would also be eligible for a rebate on delivery. woo hoo! so i was saving $50 on the cost of the washer and $45 on the cost of delivery. i felt like i totally scored!

but before i could blink the transaction was complete and no confirmation printed out for the delivery rebate. my two sales-luvahs looked at each other, passed a silent acknowledgement between then, then punched some magic numbers into the computer... which credited my account for the cost of delivery, right there on the spot.

i saved almost $100, and all i had to do was be friendly. maybe my low-cut blouse helped, too, but i don't really want to think about that too much.

the only bad part of the fascinating story is that the model i chose is backordered and won't be delivered until the 23rd. but i think we can manage until then.

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January 12, 2005


well, apparently we need a new dishwasher. the repairman says the trouble with ours is the motor and the repair would cost $300 or more. i think we're better served putting that money towards a more efficient machine.

so the research begins. if you have any advice on what or where to buy, please feel free to chime in.

the repairman this morning suggested we purchase a model made by whirlpool (consumer reports seems to back that up) and to also stay away from anything digital. power surges can cause damage to the unit, he said, requiring more frequent repairs. "best to go with basic knobs and dials."

i don't suppose you want me to post photos of my dishwasher shopping excursions, do you? furniture photos are so much sexier.

Posted by xta at 1:56 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 28, 2004

 window seat

in a concerted effort to yank myself out of my restless aimlessness i've begun (once again) to research ways to build a window seat in my kitchen.

the easiest method would be to simply purchase stock cabinets from a home store and throw a slab of plywood (and cushions) on top, like this.

however, this method presents two problems:
1) i have an air duct that will need to be extended through the width of the window seat, and working with pre-built cabinets would require me to saw into them. i don't know how this would affect stability or appearance.
2) if this project goes well, i am considering adding on to the window seat so that it would wrap along the adjacent wall into an "L" shape. buying pre-buillt cabinets removes any flexibility i have about "adding on" at a later date.

ooh, i just thought of another problem:
3) it could be difficult to match the style of the pre-built cabinet to my existing kitchen cabinets.

ack! and here's another one:
4) it's probably prohibitively expensive to buy pre-built cabinets.

so there. i think i've just talked myself out of that option.

the other route is build it from scratch, using 2x4s and plywood. this will allow me to build around the air duct, re-use my tall baseboards, add the "L" portion later if i so desire, and save a buttload of money.

however, i've never built anything like this before. plus, i'm not big on precision, and pretty exact measurements would be called for.

still, i think i can do it.

Posted by xta at 9:59 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

August 17, 2004

 the home improvement bug

the home improvement bug is biting again. (dammit, i thought i sprayed for that earlier in the season.)

last week my mom sent me 4 books... each one is part of a series on how to build furniture using the most basic lumber (usually just 2x4s).

here's a link to one of the books.

after browsing through them last night, i'm inspired to really start thinking seriously about my next house project: building a window seat in the kitchen.

none of the 4 books addresses such a project, though, so i'll more or less be on my own. but i think if i clearly read the instructions for similar projects i'll be ok.

i hope.

this is kinda scary, actually.

i think i'll set a tentative start date of mid-september. that'll give me time to do some more research (and some time to totally psyche myself out up).

Posted by xta at 3:38 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 3, 2004

 yay for me

last night was a good night.

after a string of bad, icky, PMSy days it was wonderful having a string of things go right.

#1 - i bought a cute denim skirt. now, this may seem like nothing, but it's worth noting that i don't wear skirts. like, ever. i'm not known for my overly-girly appearance. but dear lisa convinced me that i needed a skirt in my wardrobe... and i found one, sitting innocently on a rack in target.

the best thing about it (if i can trust you with a secret) is that it's not actually a skirt. it's a skort. which is a totally dumb name for the best invention the world has ever seen. it looks like a skirt, but beneath the illusion is a pair of built-in shorts! this is pure genius for ladies with sizeable thighs... no chafing! rah!

#2 - i fixed the floor lamp by merely installing a new socket. very easy, very cheap. plus, i didn't die!

#3 - bolstered by the above success, i installed the ikea fixture, too! also pretty easy, though made more challenging by the presence of a ladder and aging knees. also, a question for the electrically-savvy... the wiring in my house is old and i have no grounding wires anywhere. this new fixture, of course, has a green grounding wire, which is basically useless to me. i just shoved it up in the ceiling without attaching it to anything... is that bad?

the new fixture is very bright halogen light, which will take some getting used to. the other down-side is that it leaves exposed an unpainted circle on the ceiling where the old fixture was. so next time you're at my house, don't look up. please.

#4 - this is the big one... my new ibook arrived! i've been wanting a new computer for about, oh... forever, and in a fit of fiscal irresponsibility last week i just went ahead and took the plunge. (it was made slightly less frightening when i realized i knew someone who worked for apple. i mooched his discount.)

so i'll be spending the next 10 months or so getting used to OS X. it's a crazy new world... things look very bubbly. i was so tickled with the machine that i took it to bed with me and watched the "girl with a pearl earring" on DVD with it. i lay on my side in bed and turned the computer on its side, too. i suppose that's either really, really cute or really, really pathetic. but i'm too happy to care which.

Posted by xta at 1:58 PM | TrackBack

June 2, 2004


so last night i go to turn on the lamp in the dining room, and as soon as i twist the knob the light bulb blows out.

that's happened to all of us before, right? no biggie. i grabbed another light bulb, screwed it in, then turned the knob... but got nothing. darkness. hrm.

i'm embarrassed to admit the number of unsuccessful combinations i tried (light bulbs, lamps, outlets) before i finally realized that the breaker had been tripped and that's why i wasn't getting anything to work. duh.

so i flipped the breaker back on and with a new bulb in the socket i tried the original lamp again. POOF! that light bulb blows out too, and the breaker tripped again. this isn't good.

at this point ray becomes interested. he suspects a short somewhere in the wiring, which seems logical. but we're curious to know what exactly causes the breaker to flip... is it simply turning on the lamp? perhaps screwing in a bulb? so the testing begins... i unplug the lamp and unscrew the bulb, then turn the breaker back on.

the first test tells us everything we need to know. simply plugging the lamp into the wall causes the breaker to flip. crazy.

so ray and i start disassembling the lamp. ray is looking for cat-chewed areas on the cord. he finds nothing. i examine the bulb socket... and wonder what that little silver doo-dad is in there. it's attached, but it looks kinda rough.

we compare it to a doo-dad in an operable lamp and notice there is a slight difference between the two. the good lamp's doo-dad looks much smoother.

and now that i'm on this trail, i notice the first light bulb... the one that blew out when i twisted the knob the first time. it has a black singe mark and a small hole in the silver, threaded part. it looks like the electricity burned through it, right in the spot where it rested against the doo-dad.

so the doo-dad must be the culprit... mystery is solved. (at least the mystery about what was causing the short... how it got that way is another thing altogether.) i'm feeling ambitious, so i'm going to the home depot after work to purchase a new socket. i'll try to repair the lamp myself tonight.

this could be interesting. if i can do this without killing myself, i can probably install the new lighting fixture i got from ikea! :-)

Posted by xta at 2:28 PM | TrackBack

May 9, 2004

 ta fucking da!

the tub is finally done.

the faucet is hooked up & functional. water is flowing and draining, without leaks.

the caulk is drying, the grout is setting.

a shower curtain has been purchased.

a trial run is set for tuesday night.

i can't believe i'm done.

i'm really, truly done.

i stood in the middle of the bathroom this afternoon and cried. i've worked so hard for so long... tearing down walls, building walls, putting down a floor, installing a toilet, sink & tub, and finally tiling. i'm incredibly proud of myself.

Posted by xta at 9:56 PM | TrackBack

 i have become intimate with my grout

when we were last with our heroine she was lamenting the touch-up work to be done on the grout. today she met that challenge with a tool heretofore unused:

her finger.

there was just no other way to get that grout deep into those bubble holes. so now i have touched, with my right index finger, every square inch of grout around my bathtub. i think i have a callous. i'm sure i have sore shoulders and a bruised knee (i fell off the ladder). i'm going to be a mess tomorrow. i just took 6 advil (!) to try to fend off what i'm sure is going to be a painful morning.

to be honest, the finger-grouting was difficult and cramp-inducing, but cleaning up after myself was worse. as i mashed the grout into the cracks i guess i also mashed it onto the tile face itself... so tidying up behind myself was extra hard.

ow ow ow.

Posted by xta at 12:04 AM | TrackBack

May 5, 2004


i started grouting last night. i began at 6:30 and stopped around 9:30... and i was beat. this is much harder than i thought it would be. i mean, in a way it's easy... you don't really have to worry about alignment or anything like you do when you're laying the tile. but the grout is the most important part... it keeps the water out, so you've gotta get it right.

it was the smearing on and wiping off that was so hard... it took a huge toll on my right shoulder. i probably could have gone later than 9:30 last night if i weren't in such pain. thankfully a good night's sleep seems to have set me right again, and i'll likely finish the job tonight.

well, actually, i probably won't finish. because when i went to admire my work this morning i noticed that all the grout that looked so good last night is now pockmarked with little bubble holes. it looks like the grout is shrinking as it dries, so i'll likely have to do a second coat over the whole thing. (the instructions on the grout suggested i might have to, but i was hoping to avoid it.)

so, with 3 more hours tonight maybe i'll finish the first coat. then on saturday i can do a second coat.

what really sucks is that i was really hoping to do some yard work this weekend, but it looks like i'll be stuck in the bathtub again. we also need to start cleaning the house... ray's mom arrives a week from today.

Posted by xta at 12:21 PM | TrackBack

May 2, 2004

 bathroom, bathroom, bathroom...

we finished the tile today!! unfortunately it took longer than i thought, even with lisa's help.

i wiped out at one point... i had been standing on the edge of the tub, reaching to put a tile at the very tippy-top and i lost my balance and fell, face-first, onto the floor.

amazingly enough, i didn't hurt myself badly at all. i know lisa was panicking, though, so the first thing i said was "i'm ok!" my tooth poked through my upper lip a little and i have a bruise on my wrist, but i could have hurt myself a lot worse.

the instructions for the grout say to wait 48 hours to let the tiles set... so maybe tuesday or wednesday i'll finally finish this project.

i found a great old picture of of the bathroom... it was taken at the peak of the demolition. (i wish i had more photos of the bathroom in its original, grody state... not long after we moved in we started demolishing it.)

anyway, here's the photo, followed by a photo taken yesterday from the same angle. nice progress! :-)

Posted by xta at 5:31 PM | TrackBack

May 1, 2004

 sometimes i blog just so i can remember how i spent my time...

my neighborhood had a big "spring clean" today. the association asked everyone to put their old, junky crap on the street, and they'd come around a pick it up in a big garbage truck and haul it off... for free.

so last evening everyone was carting big piles of shit out to the curb. for a few hours the neighborhood looked really strange. ray and i went to a movie and on the way up the street there was just crap everywhere. "junk!" i'd say, and point. "junk! junk! junk!" it was everywhere you looked.

all of this junk made for good 'dumpster diving' (except there was no dumpster)... i saw a few neighbors checking out each others' piles. ray wanted to grab some old strappy plastic lawn chairs, but i talked him out of it.

the movie we saw was "bobby jones, stroke of genius". i couldn't believe ray suggested we go... he doesn't like movies very much, and he's not crazy about golf. i think he suggested it because he knew it would make me happy. what a sweetie.

alas, the movie pretty much sucked. the story of bobby jones is fascinating (he was the only player in the history of golf to win the grand slam, and he never turned pro), but the movie was poorly acted and edited. it was downright corny. which is too bad... i'm a jim caveizel fan from back in his "thin red line" days, but he was downright flat in this film. (i never saw him pretend to be jesus, though... was he un-flat in that?)

so then this morning i accompanied lisa on her quest to buy a 1982 vw westfalia vanagon. i don't know where in the hell we travelled... somewhere west of clemmons, nc. it was about a 2-hour drive, and it was beautiful. rolling green hills. lovely.

we left at 9am and i think i got home a little before 3pm (we stopped for lunch at steak & shake on the way home). it was a nice trip; i haven't driven such a long distance in a while, and i told lisa i considered it a warm-up for my trip to annapolis in a couple of weeks.

when i got home i almost immediately started tiling. it's almost done! all that's left is the one vertical strip that needs to be cut down to size, and the top, that will also need to be cut down to size:

as i mentioned before, the hardest part was cutting around the plumbing:

it required cutting the tile in half, then measuring where the hole will need to be (as well as its diameter), then taking the tile snips and cutting the semi-circle. very hard. i'm glad that part is over.

lisa is coming over tomorrow to help me finish. it's much easier to have one person do the cutting and one person do the measuring & sticking.

Posted by xta at 6:28 PM | TrackBack

April 17, 2004

 more tiling

on friday night i started tiling the left wall of the tub. (how's that for a rockin' social life??) saturday morning i continued and got to a stopping point equal to the back wall.

i'm bummed that i'm not going to have time to work on it at all tomorrow. the durham symphony concert is going to consume my whole day. but i'll be happy to get the paycheck in a few weeks, so i shouldn't complain.

anyway, i used the spacers a different way on this wall. when lisa & i did the first wall, we set the "+" shaped spacers at the corner of each tile. only after we were done did i look at the photo on the box of spacers... it indicated an entirely different usage (which you can see in the photo below).

to be honest, even though our method resulted in difficult extraction i think it gave us a better alignment. i had to work too hard to keep things straight today.

also difficult are what i call the "special tiles"... the 3D-looking ones. they're ever-so-slightly smaller than the regular tiles, and a couple of times i found that affecting the alignment of the tiles i placed above them.

so next weekend will be my next opportunity to work on this, and i'll be cutting the tiles to fit the right edge of this wall (where it meets the back wall). i'll also take off the wood and work on tiling down to the tub and also down to the floor. cutting the curve around the front side of the tub is going to be tricky.

i've only got one day next weekend, though, to work on this (next sunday is another durham symphony concert... in hillsborough). after that i've only got 2 weekends before ray's mom comes to visit.

in the middle of the day i actually went to get my hair re-cut. i felt weird mentioning anything to erin (my hairdresser) about it, but i thought the bottom of the cut was kind of triangular and harsh. when she saw it, she agreed. and she also wanted to add a few more highlights. all for free.

Posted by xta at 9:20 PM | TrackBack

April 10, 2004





Posted by xta at 6:00 PM | TrackBack

February 15, 2004

 the to-do list bites the dust 

* painted my 60"x28" canvas black. (will finish the art-work this week.)

* painted bathroom yellow. i hate it.

* painted bathroom trim, doors & ceiling hi-gloss white. i love it.

* painted ledge for front hall.

* painted bookcase hi-gloss brown.

i've been a paint fiend today.

i'm praying for 6" of snow tonight so i'll be able to stay home tomorrow (as i've already been directed to do, should this weather event actually materialize) and complete some other projects. but overall, items are getting crossed off the to-do list at a nice pace. i'm starting to feel more relaxed about having people to the house on saturday for the party.

Posted by xta at 6:57 PM | TrackBack

February 14, 2004

 shmalentine's day 

well, i fulfilled my promise of getting 8 hours of sleep last night. i didn't wake up until almost 11am. when i saw the clock i grinned. and my worst zit is drying up. so there.

i decided to start the day by making the sheer curtains for the closet in the bathroom. then by 1pm i was working on the slipcover to the old, peach-colored chair i'd bought at habitat hand-me-ups well over a year ago. i've hated that peach since i saw it, but i knew eventually i'd have the energy to re-cover it. today was the day.

it's definitely not a professional job, but it's better than it was. it took me 6 hours to do, which totally bummed me out. it was exhausting. probably because i really had no idea what i was doing. (that, and i chose a corduroy fabric, and it was hard keeping the cords straight.)

when i was done with that, i made the coffee table in the den into an ottoman (by adding foam & fabric), and then it was time for dinner.

earlier in the day ray & i had settled on a new valentine's tradition. we decided we'd make dinner together --it had to be a dish we'd never cooked before-- and we also decided we'd split the cost of one red rose. so at 9pm we started cooking pork chops with apricot stuffing. we also had red new potatoes and sauteed asparagus. and a bottle of shiraz. (he also surprised me with a heart-shaped carvel ice-cream cake.) it was all very good!!

we're going to watch gene kelly in "brigadoon" here in a minute, but it's likely i'll fall asleep before it's over (even though 'almost like being in love' makes me swoon).

it's really amazing how exhausting this day has been (and how little i have to show for it... at least given my warped sense of productivity). maybe i'll try to knit during the movie; at least that will be one more thing accomplished. ;-)

Posted by xta at 10:43 PM | TrackBack

February 8, 2004


it's been one helluva weekend. many, many thanks to lisa, charo & ray for their help!

tired now. must sleep...

Posted by xta at 11:02 PM | TrackBack

February 2, 2004

 ways to spend superbowl sunday if you don't care about the superbowl: 

* check the squirrel traps. both are empty.

* take photo of injured foot. notice the spectacular color while pondering the relative absence of pain.

* make blueberry pancakes and bacon for breakfast. yum.

* contemplate, for the umpteenth consecutive day, paint colors for the living room, dining room & front hall.1

* go see 'monster' with lisa.2 forget to turn cell phone off.

* examine list of oscar-nominated films with day-timer in hand. many films to see, little time to see them.3

* knit while watching presidential candidates' debate with tom brokaw.

* finish puttying joints in bathroom baseboards.4

* assemble new bathroom cabinet (pictured, with the toilet i installed all by myself, thankyouverymuch). be thankful for leftover pergo glue; elmer's wood glue has gone missing.

* finish bathroom baseboards with bright white high-gloss paint.

* feel ambitious; paint window trim and door, too. accidentally back into fresh paint.

* shop for towel bars online.5

* go to sarah's for the survivor premiere. ehhhhxcellent.

1 painting party at my house this weekend! i could use some help, if you're feeling generous with your time.

2 an extremely compelling performance by charlize theron. i thought the movie as a whole was weaker than her singular performance, though. she'll surely get the academy award for best actress. but christina ricci's character drove me bonkers. how historically accurate is this film?

3 anyone want to go see mystic river, in america, 21 grams, master and commander or the cooler with me?

4 i like their t-shirts.

5 did you know that towel bars can cost hundreds of dollars??!? it's ridiculous!

Posted by xta at 12:33 AM | TrackBack

January 20, 2004

 dig if you will, my closet: 

this was one of the easiest projects in the bathroom. nowhere near as hard as installing the toilet or figuring out the sink drain. it doesn't matter, though... i still have a fine sense of accomplishment.

oddly, though, this was one of the most expensive projects in the whole room. go figure... it's only plastic-covered wire! (but man, you should have seen the tool they used at the HD to cut the shelves down to size... a pneumatic wire-cutter! it would work great with my air compressor! *drool*)

so just one more thing and the closet will be totally done: i'm going to hang a simple sheer over the "door". the cats' poop-box is going to go on the floor in there, hence the lack of a proper door. i guess i'll hit the fabric stores after work tomorrow.

i bought myself a pair of size 8 bamboo knitting needles today. hopefully the next photo i post of my baby-blanket project will be much more attractive than yesterday's. (i'm putting a lot of faith in the needles, granted.) i bought them at cozy, on 9th street. my first time there since the place was called 'fiber space', and i have to say the woman behind the counter was not very friendly. granted, i popped in only 10 minutes before they closed, but i barely got a half-assed grin out of her. i wanted to ask about their knitting lessons, but i got the impression she didn't want to have a conversation with me.

last week i posted something about ray's habit of leaving cute little love-notes for me in the mornings, when he has to leave before i get up. today he left me a multimedia note. in fact, it took me quite a while to figure it out. ray had put the digital camera right on top of my computer keyboard... i had no idea what it meant, but i knew it meant something.

so i turned the camera on and looked through the photos he had taken. there was only this one of himself:

Posted by xta at 8:45 PM | TrackBack

January 16, 2004



and isn't the package unit sexy?? ooh, baby!

shortly after my last woeful post the inspector arrived, the PSNC guy came shortly after, then griles fired it all up.

the people at griles are the best. really, truly wonderful. i urge you to hire them for all your heating/cooling needs.

ooh, and here's a picture of my ductwork, too ('cause i know you're just dying to see the underside of my house):

(well, this is only as much as i could see from the crawlspace door. i wasn't going to go slithering around in there just to get a better photo for you. sorry.)

but I HAVE HEAT!!!! it's 72 degrees in here right now!!!!!!!!!

i think i'm going to run around naked for a while, just to thoroughly enjoy it.

Posted by xta at 4:53 PM | TrackBack

 almost heat 

it's 2:35 and the potential for heat is very great.

the new package unit has been set. the ductwork is fully installed. everything is ready to be fired up.

but first the guy from PSNC has to come out and put a meter on the gas line. but he can't do that until the city inspector comes and signs off on everything. in fact, the PSNC guy was just here, but he left when he saw the inspector hadn't been here yet. on his way to his truck he even called the durham inspections office to see if he could personally get someone out here pronto, but no such luck.

so now everyone has left and i'm waiting for the inspector by myself. when he appears i am to call griles, who will then call the PSNC guy back to put the meter on the line. of course, if the inspector comes late this evening there's a good chance the PSNC guy won't be able to come back out until monday (unless i pay some kind of on-call fee), which means i wouldn't have heat for the whole weekend.

so let's hope the inspector comes in the next couple of hours. if not, it's likely going to be a tough weekend. maybe i should run out and get some more firewood.

Posted by xta at 2:37 PM | TrackBack

January 15, 2004

 please meet my two new boyfriends:

boyfriend #1: short, square, unobtrusively warm boyfriend that can be placed near a wall.

boyfriend #2: tall, round boyfriend that cranks out an ungodly amount of heat.

plus the not-so-new, real boyfriend, of course, who scoops the cat poop, takes out the trash, and makes me laugh until my bladder explodes.

as you can see, i've got the best of all possible worlds.

so, yes... those 2 kerosene heaters kept our house quite warm last night. (we built a fire too, but it mostly resulted in a smoky house and not so much heat.)

i had been so terrified about freezing our buns off while the new furnace was being installed... but thanks to the heaters it's not so bad. if everything goes as scheduled the new furnace will be up & running late tomorrow afternoon, meaning tonight would be our last kerosene-powered evening. cross your fingers...

i realized something weird about myself this morning while i was pumping gas. maybe you're this way, too. maybe everybody is this way. when the tank gets full and the pump shuts itself off, i don't just hang up the nozzle and move on... i have to keep pumping up to the next even number. this morning the pump stopped at $12.36 and i kept squeezing the trigger until i got up to $12.50.

but why? it's not like i was paying with cash and wanted to avoid excess coinage. (does anyone even use cash anymore??) in fact, i always put my gas purchases on my BP credit card then pay the whole thing off with a check at the end of the month. so why do i feel compelled to strive for the round numbers? do i think i'm making my end-of-the-month accounting somehow easier? do i really like things that tidy? am i impossible to be around??

it was an existential drive to work this morning.

Posted by xta at 1:43 PM | TrackBack

January 11, 2004

 i'm a genius

well, a sub-genius, anyway.

the drain in the bathroom is now all hooked up. sexy, isn't it? i've never worked with PVC before, but it's pretty easy (and the fumes from the primer & cement really produce quite a nice high).

i could have put it all together without another trip to the home depot this morning, but it occurred to me that i might want to -at some point- actually take apart this whole thing (say, if an earring went down the drain or something). so today's purchase is that big wedding-cake lookin' thing on the left, right where the PVC meets the metal pipe. it allows the whole glued-up unit to disconnect (along with the similar nut on the other end) so i can retrieve errant jewelry if i need to.

now all i have to do is wait 2 hours to let everything cure and then i can run some water down the drain to check to see if it actually works. ;^)

Posted by xta at 2:08 PM | TrackBack

January 2, 2004

 the heating saga continues 

i think our heat is broken again.

i felt a little chilly last night but didn't think much of it. i thought i was just tired. but this morning i felt cold air blowing out of the vents, though the thermostat was still reading "68", right where we had set it. by looking at the thermostat it seemed it was still working (previously the temperature in the house quickly dropped below 68 when the cold air started spilling out), but who knows. the cold air confuses me.

i looked more closely at the thermostat just before i left this morning and i saw that the unit was set to "cool", not "heat". which is curious, because neither ray or i have touched the damn thing. so i flipped it back over to "heat" but i still felt cold air as i was walking out the door. hrm.

i guess we'll see what the situation is when i get home.

thankfully my final bid for the replacement of the whole unit came in today, so i feel like i have all the information i need to make my decision.

the final bids: (drumroll, please)
carolina heating & cooling: $9200
accu-air: $7785
griles: $5800

so i just called troy griles and told him he's got the job. part of me worries that i shouldn't be picking the cheapest bidder, but since he's gotten such high recommendations from my persnickety neighbor i'm going to tell myself not to worry too much.

here's a picture of the gas pack i'll be getting. isn't it beautiful? you can click the picture to learn more about it, if you find that kind of thing interesting.

as a bonus, i'm looking forward to not having to deal with freon. i'm also looking forward to spending $4k less than the highest bid.

initially i was unsure how i was going to pay for all of this. griles will help me finance through the gas company (who is coming out next week to lay the gas line to the house), but they charge, like 12% interest. so i thought about just putting it on my credit card, but that has 9.9% interest which still seemed kind of high to me. so i called my credit card company just before christmas and asked if they'd lower the rate for me... and they said yes. to 7.9%. so i figured i had it made.

then i got a credit card solicitation in the mail offering 5.9%. i usually just throw those offers right in the trash, but this was timed right and caught my eye. so i just called them and got hooked up: 5.9% on all purchases, cash advances, balance transfers... plus i earn 'world points'. which are a type of frequent flier miles, i think.

so there you go. terribly exciting stuff, i know. only joy is on the edge of her seat.

speaking of joy, check out her new blog!

i have to share this tip with all of my curly-haired friends. this is the only product i've found that will keep my hair in decent shape during this dry weather. i use the entire 'curl friends' line now... shampoo, conditioner, gel... everything. it's expensive, but worth it. i would love to not have to use any sticky product in it at all, but i can only do that when it's reasonably humid outside. i kind of want the hot humid summer weather back, just because my hair loves it.

plus my furnace would love to take a break, i'm sure.

i wonder if griles would cut me a deal on repairing the current outage (if there really is one) now that i've promised him $5800.

Posted by xta at 10:01 AM | TrackBack

December 19, 2003


ok, i won't be going with bolton.

the dude barely peeked his head under the crawlspace, he didn't ask questions about my current problems with the unit, and he hardly even looked me in the eye.

plus, he said he wouldn't be able to get a quote to me until AFTER CHRISTMAS.

good lord.

so i'm down to accu-air or griles at this point.

Posted by xta at 12:13 PM | TrackBack


the heating saga continues. this is boring for a lot of people (probably you, too), so apologies. i just want to get this down and out of my brain before i forget it.

larry from accu-air was here this morning. good lord, the man likes to talk. but the things he says are smart and considerate. larry showed me brochures for trane & amana package units (and a couple other brands i can't remember). from 10 SEER up to 14 SEER (SEER is an efficiency rating. i probably have a 10 SEER package unit right now) with a variety of warranties. (that seems to be the biggest difference between all of these brands, quite frankly... the length of the warranty, protecting different parts of the unit.)

anyway, larry spent a lot of time under the house, checking out the ductwork, and while the thinks some of it may be salvageable (he's definitely looking out for my pocketbook like none of the other guys were) he's not crazy about any of it. he says the sizing is wrong on some sections, it's not insulated, and there aren't enough dampers to balance the air flow. (this is mostly stuff i've heard before.) he also said that the ducts take some crazy twists and turns that don't make any sense, and with each turn i lose efficiency. my returns are fine, though, but he'd change the ductwork leading to them.

larry had one big brilliant idea that no one else has had: to not install an outdoor package unit at all, but rather put a furnace in the crawlspace and an A/C unit outdoors. he says with the split-units you can get much higher efficiency on the unit itself, and also cut down on the ductwork needed. the warranties are generally higher on 'indoor' furnaces like that, too, as the unit isn't sitting outside in the weather all the time.

so larry took his pad full of measurements back to the office to do some calculations; we'll talk either this weekend or monday about what he thinks the best course of action is. after he adds everything up a crawlspace furnace may be out of the question, but he won't know until he plugs some numbers into the computer. he didn't leave me with any brochures for the furnace (only package units) so i feel a little in the dark about this whole new product.

but i have a good feeling about larry. i think accu-air is a smallish company (he owns it, i believe) and he offers a variety of brands and is pretty passionate about what he does. he mentioned taking continuing ed courses for heating & a/c, as well as for his electrician's license, and while i'm pretty sure most contractors do stuff like that i thought that from larry the statement was really endearing.

anyway, he's going to call me on my cell phone, probaly monday while we're in florida. i might have to make my decision then and trust him to pick the right unit for my house.

the folks from bolton are coming over in a few minutes... i'll write another update after they give me their assessment.

(if i manage to get to work today it will be a minor miracle.)

Posted by xta at 10:53 AM | TrackBack

December 12, 2003


well, for 3 of the last 4 days we've woken up to no heat in the house. such fun!! this morning we discovered a unique new problem... no display at all on the thermostat. that's a new one! (no display, though, means we weren't able to see just how cold it was... which in this case is probably a good thing.)

luckily, one of the contractors i'd phoned to ask for a bid on the project returned my call this morning. we made an appointment for him to come out and spec a whole new heating system, and i was hoping he could fix what was wrong, too.

but first i had to take mimo to the vet for his yearly appointment and shots. that's never a fun thing to do. mimo, being only secretly brave, howls and yelps all the way to the cat hospital. it's a terrible, horrible, heart-wrenching sound. once we got there he stopped howling, though he was still a little freaked out, breathing fast and hissing in an "i'm scared" kind of way.

during the exam the vet found a totally icky inflamed area on his gum, back by one of his molars! we hadn't noticed... primarily because mimo hadn't told us! that sounds silly, but usually when cats are in pain they'll let you know. they won't eat, or they'll behave erratically. we had no signs from the meems that anything was wrong.

so the vet wants us to come back on tuesday so she can probe the area while mimo is under sedation. (oh yes, did i mention that this was already the most expensive month in the history of my life?? this is unbelievable.) there's a chance it's just a weird infection, in which case the vet can drain the abcess and put him on antibiotics. but if there's something actually wrong with the tooth itself, she may have to pull it. she can't tell for sure until she pokes and prods it a little.

well, after all of that i barely made it to the house in time for the heating guy. i think he was just getting ready to leave when i pulled up. (i suspect he wished he had left when i emerged from my car with a howling cat in tow.) we talked about my current situation (he couldn't fix it himself, but he'd call someone in to get it working this afternoon) and about replacing the unit altogether. he agreed that my ducts were total shit, too.

this guy (troy griles of mebane) only sells "bryant" units. the folks at carolina heating only sell "trane". i've heard good things about trane, but nothing at all about bryant. (granted, a lot of what i've heard about trane comes from their own advertising, but consumer reports also mentions that on average trane might require fewer service calls.) consumer reports specifically mentions that they didn't want to rate specific brands, though, because they pretty much all do the same thing: "All companies offer furnaces in a range of capacities and efficiencies, and we think manufacturers generally deliver on those specifications. Each brand offers a generally similar array of key features."

so, troy hands me a brochure and the most encouraging thing i see is that bryant boasts envoironmental friendliness by using "puron" instead of freon for cooling. (i can't find any indication about coolant in the trane brochure.) the bryant has a slightly higher AFUE (annual fuel utilization efficiency) than the trane, and the bryant also has the energy star seal of approval... the trane doesn't appear to.

here are links to the 2 different units, if any of you sick people are interested in learning more:
trane model XL 1200
bryant model 583b

both are gas/electric package units. (i really just wanted to type "package unit" again.)

oh, yeah. troy also quoted me a price of $5,668! (carolina heating quoted $9,280!) that's for the new unit and new ductwork. plus a gas line run to the house.

i've still got calls out to 2 other contractors, but if they don't call me back soon i'm tempted just to go with troy. one of my most persnickety neighbors recommended him to me, which says something. (if troy can please this neighbor, then he must be good.)

it's still cold in here right now. i'm waiting for troy to send over one of his technicians to fix this old, decrepit furnace. if we can get it running for just a few weeks, until we get back from our christmas vacation, then i can go ahead and schedule its replacement. which reminds me: another good thing about troy's company is that they're most familiar with bryant products. my carrier furnace is made by bryant's parent company, so they're pretty familiar with what i have. (i don't think carolina was ever really comfortable working on my carrier.)

so because i'm sitting here waiting it appears as if i'm not going to get to the office today, gosh darnit. this gives me an excellent opportunity to get moving on some of my christmas presents. much assemblage is needed. my fingers are cold and creaky, though... i don't know how much i'll actually be able to accomplish in this arctic house.

the director of the durham symphony just called. the orchestra is scheduled to do 2 concerts out in clinton on sunday. i was starting to doubt how much my services would be needed for this show (the people in clinton are providing the tympani & podium that i usually have to haul, and shoot... someone else could set up the chairs, right?) but now alan says that the 4th horn player is sick with the flu, and could i please play? sure! yay! i got to play the same part in a similar concert with the DSO a couple of weeks ago. it'll be nice to play again. renaissance woman: stage manager and musician!

so that will take up all of my day on sunday, which means that i'm going to have to miss the finale of survivor. don't snicker. i'm addicted. i guess i'll just have to watch the tape as soon as i get home that night.

Posted by xta at 1:03 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 10, 2003


tonight, after almost 3 months, we moved back into the bedroom that was smashed by hurricane isabel.

those water spots on the photo are my tears of joy.

Posted by xta at 12:01 AM | TrackBack

December 9, 2003


before i was a homeowner a $100 expense seemed gargantuan. if something cost $500... forget it, i went ballistic. but now, a mere 6 months into home ownership, a $9,000 estimate for furnace repair seems reasonable.

how the fuck did that happen? i balk over spending more than $20 on a new blouse, but $9,000 for something intangible like heat is just fine.

well, it's not "fine", as you might imagine. but i've illustrated my point. right?

so someone new from carolina air conditioning just came out to rescue us from our frigidness. note to self: i'm going to specifically ask for jim whenever i call these people again. jim totally rocks. jim just got out of the marines and has been working for this company for all of 2 weeks. in the marines, he did this kind of stuff (plus a lot more, which apparently took him to iraq, but he didn't want to talk about it)... he says he's been doing this kind of heating & cooling work since he was 12, for what that's worth.

anyway, jim had lots of fun trying to figure out why we had no heat. something went wonky in the thermostat (he speculated, 'off the record' that elnora --the woman who came out last week-- tried to make something better by attaching a blue wire somehwere, but in the process ended up breaking something), plus he spotted burned wires and blown fuses (no fault of elnora's) in the package unit outside.

i just love that term. package unit. yeah, baby.

anyway, it took him some time, but he eventually got the heat back up & running. it sounds like he really had to rig something up, though. he took lots of time showing me all the different parts in the package unit (heh heh) and giving me little demonstrations of how everything worked. thanks to jim's illustrative talents, it didn't take me long to realize that i had a crappy package unit. we started talking about my options, and even though i like jim an awful lot i really don't want to have to see him more than absolutely necessary... he intimated the same thing: that i could keep calling him out for temporary fixes, or i could start thinking about a whole new unit.


anyway, after we had heat back in the house again, he did a quick analysis of my air-flow pressure out of each vent and got really concerned. he said there was hardly any air coming out the ducts in the back of the house. he went slithering around the crawlspace with his little meter and emerged 15 mintues later proclaiming total disaster.

i knew this house once had oil heat. but apparently (according to jim) when the upgrade was made to electric heat there was no upgrade made to the duct work. oil heat, it seems, pushes a higher volume of hot air through the ducts than my current electric package unit does. so the air from my electric heat is not even coming close to filling up the ducts. think of putting your mouth on a tailpipe and blowing, jim says. you get lots of "back pressure" because the volume of what you're displacing is bigger than the pipe. but then think of blowing into a dryer vent, for instance... your hot air isn't going to make it very far down the tube, because it's so much bigger in diameter. he is suspecting i'll need new, smaller duct work.

so jim gets on the phone to troy, who apparently is the head honcho over at carolina heating & cooling. troy shows up not 5 minutes later and does the crawlspace slither, takes some measurements, then starts his pitch with a "what the hell were the previous owners thinking" rant that i've heard oh-so-many-times before.

to make this long story short, troy does some magic calculating and hands me a price quote of $9,280. at the risk of boring you all, i'm going to write down all the info from his quote.

  • new gas/electric package unit (*snicker*) BTU cooling 36,000 SEER rating 12 BTU heating 80,000 AFUE 80%
  • new gas line run from the street (!!)
  • new condensate drain (yippee! mine drains into the depths of my lawn somewhere)
  • new 2" wrapped insulated sheet metal trunk with foil vapor barrier flex (r 6.0) branch duct system
  • air balance
  • digital thermostat
  • install new breaker
  • new control wiring
  • removal of all existing equipment
  • pour new concrete pad for new package unit
  • 5 year warranty on all manufacturer's parts
  • 2 year warranty on labor
  • 10 year limited installation warranty
  • 10 year manufacturer warranty on compressor
  • 10 year manufacturer warranty on outdoor coil
  • 20 year manufacturer warranty on heat exchanger


the good thing is that i'd be eligible for financing, at the montly cost of $209.50. and when i put this all into perspective, this new unit will probably save me that much on my heating bill each month. no joke.

plus, i get a gas line run to the house, which is exciting. (in a way that only homeowners find natural gas exciting.)

but this is just one company's estimate, and i've already been on the phone to someone else to come out and take a look and give me their own version of the bad news. i do have to find a company that will offer financing, though, as i'm not a wealthy individual. especially these days.

i think i need to go lie down now.

Posted by xta at 1:58 PM | TrackBack

December 4, 2003


the day's not even half over yet, and it's already been eventful.

my neighbor chose this morning to come over and start doing brick repair on my house. for the record, he said he'd do this work weeks ago, and when he hadn't shown up weeks ago i just assumed he was backing out of the job. so i was more than a little surprised to hear construction noises this morning at 7:30am.

bang bang bang! saw saw saw!

and lots of talking in spanish. my neighbor doesn't speak english.

well, he speaks a little english... enough that i could arrange the job to be done (with some help from a translator), but i could say little else to him. "hi", he understands. "can i get an invoice for my insurance company"... forget it.

when i went out to check on their work this morning, though, it looked good. they're repairing more than just the hurricane damage... they're also fixing the bricks on the side of the house that cracked when the house settled (that problem having been fixed by foundation work done with the seller's money at closing, in july).

with that unexpected work underway, i knew to actually expect someone from carolina heating & cooling at 9am to do a 'tune up' on my furnace. i had them come out during the summer and i signed up for their deal where you get a winter tune up at a reduced price if you pay for both up front. so today's visit was 'free' in that sense; i'd already paid.

the woman came out today was the same woman who was here this summer, which was nice. she was already familiar with my heating/cooling system. in the summer she did a lot of extra work because the unit had been neglected for so long. she unplugged the drain, cleaned the coils, deodorized the system, and a whole lot more. today she didn't do as much... just a check-up and cleaning of the coils.

however, she did deliver some bad news to me. when i bought the house and had a contractor fix the inoperable A/C system (again, at the seller's expense) apparently the thermostat the contractor picked was one that doesn't allow my 'heat pump' to operate. i'm pretty damn ignorant about this stuff, but elnora (i think that's her name, from carolina heating & cooling) took a lot of time explaining it to me this morning. (of course, i now remember very little of it, but i'm writing down what i recall so i don't forget it all). see?

not only is the heat pump not working (i think that just exists to give me extra, 'emergency' heat, but i'm not sure) because it's simply not hooked up to the thermostat, but also my brand of furnace ("carrier") isn't all that great. and it's probably under-sized for the house. my carrier furnace only has 2 'heat strips' (i think that's what they're called) and higher-end brands have 4, 6, 8 or more. the more heat strips, the more heat, apparently.

to add more bad news, the insulation inside the unit (it looks like a reflective blanket) has been sorta sucked into the unit and is hampering ideal performance. she also tracked down, using the serial number, the year this unit was installed (or at least manufactured): 1995. this carrier model apparently has a 10 year life-span. elnora said if it makes it to 10 years, she'd be surprised.

oh joy. just what i wanted to hear!!

she was very nice, though, in saying that there's no problem with just letting it go until something breaks (either the compressor, the fan, or the contactor is probably first to go) and then considering my options. she even said she'd try to get her boss to come out and look at the unit to see if there's any way they could figure out some sort of life-prolonging rig.

she's very helpful, this elnora.

so when she was done, i packed up the car, said goodbye to the mexican brick-fixers, and headed to work. on thursdays i travel with my giant bag of CDs, as i go straight to divaville when i get off work, so i popped in a christmas CD and damn if it didn't make me feel better. bing crosby singing "i'll be home for christmas" about made me cry, but then next thing i know danny kaye was singing "all i want for christmas is my two front teeth", and everything was bright & shiny.

until i realized i'd forgotten to put on makeup before i left the house! i was practically panicked at the thought... and then i got mad at myself for being panicked. this is exactly why i didn't want to wear makeup in the first place... i hate the idea of becoming reliant on it. geah! i reluctantly admit that i briefly entertained the idea of turning the car around and going back home to at least slap on a little foundation. but that was merely a fleeting fantasy. i kept driving, and tried to put it out of my mind.

peggy lee's version of "jingle bells" is rather swanky.

i'm singing along and i turn a corner near work and see a bunch of landscapers laying very, very green sod at the entry of a newly-built subdivision. they were all wearing red shirts and jackets. it was very seasonal! it made me smile. and it made me wish i could take a picture while driving.

i got to work and pulled into the parking lot... and saw that there were zillions of cars there. which means that there's a fundraising mailing going out and that the zillions of cars belong to the zillions of volunteers inside, who are all stuffing envelopes. and this is exactly why i started wearing makeup... because in a weird way i'm a public personality and i feel like i sort of owe it to these people to look nice. (analyze that!) today i'm dressed nicely, but no makeup. d'oh.

a quick (very quick) "hi" to everybody and i duck into my office, where i see that someone has left me a tangerine on my desk chair:

the house work, the makeup... none of it really matters.

i have a friend here at work who somehow knew i needed something sweet and good... and a new foundation for my day.

Posted by xta at 11:59 AM | TrackBack

December 3, 2003

 here's what $650 looks like: 

so i got home last night and the tree was gone. threatening, evil tree! die, die! bwahahaha!

really, it did pain me (just a little bit) to have it cut down. but it was tilting and i didn't want to have to watch it crush our house during the next wind/ice/rain storm. i would totally pop a gasket if i had to go through all of this house repair again. so "bye bye" tree! hope you told your friends what i'm capable of, and how they'd better all keep standing straight and tall!

in other exciting news, ray & i did our big monthly grocery shopping last night. it takes friggin' forever, and i was tired and grumpy by the end, and my feet hurt. but it sure is nice to be able to look in the pantry the next day and know what you're taking to work for lunch.

to make the shopping trip a little more fun i always try to grab some new food product. branch out of my culinary rut, even if it's in a totally simple way. i remember the day i adventurously grabbed a whole pineapple; man oh man, was that good. (but now i always grab a pineapple and it's part of my rut! d'oh!!)

so last night i grabbed "scallion hummus" and wheat pita bread. we'll see how that goes. i also got some meat for beef stew, but i forgot to get carrots and onions and stuff, so it looks like i'll either have to make all-meat shish-kebob or head back to the store for stew-friendly veggies.

that'll teach me to make impulsive purchases.

anyway, that trip to the grocery totally wore me out and when we got home (around 10:30pm) i was ready for bed. the shopping must have energized ray, though, because when i woke up in the morning i discovered that he had stayed up late, touching up more of the holes in the paint job. our walls now look like they have chicken pox:

all that pink stuff is primer-pox. the splotchy thing on the window sill is mimo. hopefully i'll have a little energy tonight to start putting the red color over the pink. maybe by this weekend i can move back into that room. here's hoping.

our cats definitely don't want that to happen, though. they are currently thrilled by "mount mattress", and will be heartbroken when it goes away. "mount mattress" exists in our den; it's my mattress and box spring, propped up against the wall. they love climing up there. it's their new favorite place. here they are to prove it:

they even have battles sometimes over who is king (or queen) of mount mattress. only royalty gets to sleep atop the apex, apparently. i think they just like being people-height. we can look at them eye-to-eye when they're up there.

so, ray and i have been sporadically attempting to take a family-worthy picture of ourselves, as you might recall. here's our most recent attmpt:

what do you think? is this one better than this one?

we have to come up with something soon, so we can print off copies for the family and get them framed and stuff.

it just occurs to me that i have family reading this. please forget that i've just told you what you're getting for christmas and act surprised when you open your present, ok?

thank you.

Posted by xta at 2:28 PM | TrackBack

December 2, 2003

 show me the money

last week i faxed all of my invoices & receipts to state farm. my point was to illustrate that while i was thankful for the $11,000 they'd given me for hurricane repair, i was still going to need a little more. just a little.

first off, i have to say that i was terrified of doing this. i didn't want to seem like a greedy customer, and more importantly i didn't want them to cancel my policy next time it comes up for renewal. i thought maybe i should just suck up the difference and be quiet... it would be safer that way.

but the difference is over $2,000 and i really need some help... especially after yesterday's monetary surprises. so i called the state farm people this morning and they sounded more than happy to send along more money. in fact, it should arrive in just a couple of days. (of course, it will be co-written to my mortgage company --just like the $11k check was-- so it'll take a few more days to get them to endorsed it, but at this point i ain't complainin'.)

so when it's all done and the $ has been deposited in my account, i can go ahead and get the last of the work finished: gutters and fencing and bricks. whee.

and if there's anything left over i should probably put it towards the car repair. or my sears card, which is currently carrying $1300 of debt from the purchase of my washer/dryer and refrigerator. or a new computer, which i'm realizing i desperately need. or maybe a trip to NYC with lisa this winter.

if i haven't mentioned it already, all i want for christmas this year is CASH. jeez.

or a blog that allows people to post comments. that would be nice, too.

Posted by xta at 1:47 PM | TrackBack

November 21, 2003

 They're finally here!

The floor refinishers are finally here. 4:46pm.

Mimo is currently terrified, underneath the slipcover on the couch. Sherpa wants to play fetch.

Posted by xta at 5:05 PM | TrackBack