31 July 2009

On Contractors

We've remodeled our house almost completely, almost every room. After the kitchen is done, the only two rooms left pretty much untouched are the downstairs bathroom (we painted, that's about it) and the utility room. Over the last three years (I can't believe it's really been that long), we've encountered all different kinds of contractors and subcontractors, some good, some not so good. The good guys were surprisingly good, and I've included photos of their work and contact info wherever possible. The bad guys, though...ugh. I wouldn't wish 'em on anybody.

The Nice Guy
Nice Guy fools you with his friendly demeanor, pats on the shoulder, and soothing words like, "It's gonna be BEAUTIFUL when we're done!" Six months into the six-week project, you're ready to saw his head off with a piece of stray lumber as he tries to blame YOUR choice in paint for the god-awful job done by his sixteen-year-old "helper." (No, dude, semi-gloss paint doesn't end up looking like orange peel just because it's a dark color.) Nice Guy preys on the remodeling virgins, the people who've never done more than swap out a ceiling fan. You accept his higher bid because, well, he's just NICE! He loves your ideas, loves the color scheme, and really loves to take your money. He promises that the job won't be done until you're 100% satisfied, but doesn't return your calls when you want to know why his sub hacked into a door frame to accommodate a wall outlet, or why your tile that's supposed to have white grout looks like someone spilled coffee on half of it. Or why the tub makes a loud pop-CRACK! sound every time you fill it up or step into it. Or maybe why the caulk around the tub is already coming off. Or why there's paint on EVERYTHING. By the time it's done, though, you're so happy to have everything finished that you don't care -- you give him the check and swear you'll never use a general contractor again.

The A-hole
He comes to give you an estimate on flooring, and sneers at your choice. His words: "Why the HELL would you want to use BAMBOO?!" You're about to throw him out on his ear when he explains that for your lifestyle, what you've picked is basically crap that comes with no warranty. He proves you wrong, smirks, makes sassy comments. But he does fantastic work, shows up on time, and lets you buy all the flooring at once, store it in his warehouse, and then has his crew install it a room at a time.
Steve Salas, Master Image Flooring 757.282.6770

The Chatty Guy
He shows up on time and knows what he's doing. He's polite, loves your dogs like they're his own, and gives you good suggestions about the work you're doing in the house and what you've done so far. And more than anything, he loves to talk. He talks to himself, to his helpers, to you (even when you're in another room and totally not responding to him). A little kooky, but it's worth it -- his prices can't be beat.
Dave, Orefice Plumbing Heating & AC 757.436.9752

The Invisible Man
After being hired to complete some pretty simple trim work, he goes out for lunch and never comes back. Bonus: He disappears before you pay him, and also leaves his tools behind!

The Strong, Silent Type
They show up early and work fast. They're so quiet, it's eerie. And most of them look like they might've spent their morning in front of a judge after a weekend bar fight. 
Sam Dowdy, Breaker Box Plus 757.689.8700

The Repeat Offender
Oh, the Repeat Offender...he's the dysfunctional boyfriend that you just can't bring yourself to dump because he's really, REALLY good at what he does. He shows up late (if at all), says he'll be back in an hour and doesn't come back for three. He does it every time, and every time you're about to write him off, he comes through for you. 
Lawrence Harris, 757.717.2372

The Dipshit Duo
You decide to help out a friend, someone a family member suggests, someone who's hit hard times and could really use the work. You're a little wary, but you say, "Why not? She's cheap, and she says she can get it done in a hurry." Oh, little homeowner...you'll never make this mistake again. On the rare occasion that she shows up to do work, she ends up doing nothing. (Yes, because I'm paying you to sit on my patio and smoke with my husband's grandmother. I didn't really want walls in my bedroom. That's just silly!) Sometimes her husband comes with her, and he manages to stain your tablecloth, trail ashes and dirt wherever he goes, and generally annoy the bejeebus out of you the entire time. The whole thing ends with a screaming match on your front lawn, where you end up telling her to get off your property or you'll call the police. 

Just makes you want to start ripping out walls and remodeling YOUR place, doesn't it?

Note: None of these people gave me any discounts or freebies in exchange for positive feedback in this blog post. This isn't a review blog, I don't have sponsors or advertisers, and I don't say good things about stuff just to get things for free.

28 July 2009

Pugtastic Tuesday - 7.29.09

Pugs at the Vet

Typical pug craziness, captured by Charlie when he took them to the vet.

27 July 2009

The Weekly Austin - 7.27.09

Austin - 5.21.08

It's funny to go back and watch videos of Austin when he was just a few months old. I had such a hard time with breastfeeding, partly because I didn't catch Austin's cues that he was hungry. Now I see a video like the one above, where he's sticking his tongue out and smacking his lips, and it seems so obvious. I'm hoping that if (when?) we have another baby, nursing will be much easier. I always felt a little crappy for giving up on it with Austin.

26 July 2009

Quick Update

Just a quick kitchen/life-in-general update on a busy Sunday:

1. The electrical work is all done. I have lights, with switches in spots that actually make sense. Like, the switch for my back porch light is now by the door that leads to the back porch, instead of, you know, OVER MY WASHING MACHINE IN THE NEXT ROOM.

2. The plumbing is all done. No more house o' horrors plumbing, and a minor bathroom plumbing leak we discovered has been fixed (thanks, David and Orefice Plumbing!).

3. El Heep is fixed! No more god-awful squeal from the dying alternator.

4. We're scheduling the wall guy to come this week, which means floors can go in next weekend as planned. It also means that once the walls are up, I have to paint the whole kitchen by Friday. Anybody want to come help? Anyone? Anyone...?

5. My garden is putting out about two pints of cherry tomatoes a day. HOLY COW, that's a lotta tomatas.

6. If I eat any more take-out, I may die of MSG poisoning.

And now it's time to fly...have to go check out my MIL's house (her painters are done), meet Liz at Xways for coffee and free art (wooooo!), and then head to Shannon's for her going away party. Whew. Oh yeah, and we're picking up paint on the way home. Double whew!

22 July 2009

The State of Things

Seems like not too long ago that I had a (semi) functional kitchen. And then we decided to start tearing it up. It began with two cabinet doors:

The Beginning of the End

Shortly after the above picture was taken, we pulled out the upper cabinets:

Ahhh, That's Better!

Remember that deeee-lish wallpaper I was talking about in my last kitchen post? Well, there was a whole bunch of it hiding behind one of the uppers. It just screams ELEGANT, doesn't it?

The Height of Kitchen Fashion - circa 1962 (or so)

After that, we moved on to the counter tops and base cabinets. I pulled off all the laminate that had been used in the "refacing" job done about twenty-plus years ago. You can't tell in this picture, but the rails for the drawers on the right were held up with DUCT TAPE.

Why did I leave my rug there?

Pulling out the base cabinets revealed more of the house o' horrors plumbing we've encountered in other rooms. I think the guy who did the original work in this house was either a) completely incompetent, b) using large quantities of crystal meth, or c) both.

Mold, corroded pipe, and hey look! A can of window cleaner!

After the initial shock wore off, Charlie and I dug in and started the serious demolition. We ripped out all the old drywall and plaster, pulled about a billion nails and screws, and scraped five, count 'em, FIVE layers of flooring off the concrete. Where does that leave us? Right about here:


That big white rectangle you see behind the studs of the far wall is actually the rear of the huge metal medicine cabinet in our downstairs bathroom. We pulled one out of the upstairs bathroom, and it weighs about nine billion pounds. It also features its own huge and totally unflattering fluorescent light fixture. But hey, that's another post.

My stove is in my dining room, where we've set up an interim kitchen. It's a decent setup, but I don't think I could deal with it for more than a month or so. (I'm thinking of my mom's kitchen remodel, which took about six months.)

Charlie's moved the door to the utility room; well, he's framed it, anyway. And the electricians (great guys, 'tho one of them looks about 12 and bears a striking resemblance to Jesse Pinkman from "Breaking Bad") are here today finishing up all the rewiring and installation of new outlets and recessed lights. I can't believe I'll have more than one outlet to use! And that I won't have to fumble around in the dark to find the switch for my one overhead light! Squeeeeeeee!

We're making serious progress, is what I'm saying. It's a little unnerving - I keep waiting for something to go really, really wrong. Like, you know, the guys go to run wire and find something disgusting and Edgar Allen Poe-ish plastered into the ceiling.

21 July 2009

Pugtastic Tuesday - 7.21.09

If you don't like today's post, well, you can kiss our...

Sorry for the late post -- I had no power or internet for the majority of the day.

20 July 2009

The Weekly Austin - 7.20.09

I'm Here About the Fridge - 7.14.09

Austin's getting to the age where he can play pretend. Or at least, that's what I think he's doing. I really love it when he plays with the plastic Craftsman tool set that Uncle Brandon got him. It makes me picture what he'll (hopefully) be like as a grown man - tinkering with things around the house, just like his dad.

17 July 2009


We're heading north tomorrow, venturing into the wilds of Woodbridge to rustle up some cabinets from Ikea. I usually do a good bit of writing on the weekends, but that won't be the case this time. So, try to live without me 'til Monday, mkay?

A much thinner, cuter me - 5.29.2004

16 July 2009

Thank You

Growing up in a Navy town, and being raised by a retired Army officer, I always figured I'd end up married to somebody in the military. It just seemed logical, familiar, the usual path followed by a lot of girls I knew. I came close -- there was a certain Navy chief I dated for a while, but it ended, and in retrospect, it would've been disastrous. Not just because he his career was all he really cared about, or because he drank a little too hard and a little too often, or even because he was totally emotionally unavailable. But because I don't think I could've cut it as a military spouse.

I read a few military spouse blogs here on Ye Olde Internet, and it's amazing how much these ladies can handle. Dealing with moving halfway across the country, selling a house, raising kids...all these things seem pretty run-of-the-mill, until you imagine doing it with your spouse half a world away, stuck someplace where you can only be on the phone a few minutes at a time, someplace with little or no internet access. Also imagine that you have to watch the news every night and see not just god-awful, terrifying images of violence just about where you think your spouse might be, but also footage of idiotic talking heads who're trying to convince everyone that the war is magically over. And you have to take all that in, and lie alone with it in bed, and try not to fall apart.

And sometimes, it's not even that dramatic. Sometimes, like my friend Mike, it's just a matter of leaving a job you love when your wife gets orders to someplace in the middle of nowhere. Having to make new friends, a new start, not just in another town but in a different country. Being man enough to love and support his wife and her career, no matter what. Raising his daughter in a strange land. Damn. Instead of whining and crying and pissing and moaning, he made friends, got a job, and got (another) new hobby. Mike's taken a big ol' tub of lemons, and made lemonade (or lemonade stout, since he's now a home brew-meister). 

I sure as hell couldn't do it. I'm a tough cookie, but I can hardly get through a single day without calling Charlie to ask him a question, make a joke, or just say hi. What would I do if he wasn't here to rescue my dying Mac, get the waffle maker down off the high shelf in the pantry, replace the leaking faucet that I tried (and failed) to fix myself? What would it be like to have to crawl into bed a night knowing that he's not just snoozing downstairs on the couch, that he won't be there with me for months? And how 'bout getting dropped onto a tiny island in the Pacific, where I know no one, nothing? Uhhh...yeah. Y'all think I tweet and blog and Facebook it a lot NOW?

The spouses, the families, they're the real support structure of our military. And they really don't get enough credit, or help, or hugs, or applause. Except right here, right now, from me. I admire you all. I applaud you all. I give you my deepest thanks for supporting our soldiers, our sailors, our airmen, so they can do their jobs and come home safely.

15 July 2009

Minor Crises, Averted

We're about a week into the kitchen remodel, and we've had two minor SNAFUs thus far. I'm hoping we run into a third minor snag, and then finish without any further problems. No, seriously. Stop laughing. DON'T KILL MY HOPE.

We had leftover Armstrong laminate flooring, and decided to use it in the kitchen instead of spending tons on tile. We needed another six boxes to finish the job. Charlie, who is the King of Research and Price Comparisons, called a bunch of local flooring places (and the big box stores) to see who had the best deal. A few days later, our order was in and Charlie picked it up on his lunch hour. 

The trouble started when he got the flooring home. We pulled it out of the box to make sure the pattern and color matched (it did), only to discover that Armstrong apparently changed their clicky-locky-floating-floor-hook-together mechanism, so the new floorboards wouldn't connect with the old. This, my friends, was eff-bomb worthy. The flooring place was closed, so Charlie put it on his list for Monday.

Monday morning rolled around, and Charlie decided to skip Mr. Local and go straight to Armstrong. He called them up, explained the situation, and they told him to go ahead and buy six more boxes of the new style floor. Before he could say "Uhh...WTF?!" the Armstrong guy explained that if we'll fax in our invoice, they'll send us a check for the purchase price of the six new boxes. AND we can keep the old stuff. Proof yet again that LIFE IS EASIER WHEN YOU HAVE A PENIS. Because you know, if I had called, they'd have told me to take a flying leap.

Part of our remodeling plan includes moving the door that leads to our utility room/pantry/laundry room. At present, it's squished into a corner. It's not in a load-bearing wall, so Charlie had planned to do this part of the job himself. It involves some demo, some basic framing, and then hanging a piece or two of plasterboard. No bigs, right?

Well, sure, except that there are ELEVENTY BILLION ELECTRICAL WIRES running through this particular wall. They spread out from the electrical panel like kudzu vines, and I have no idea where most of them go. Neither does Charlie. This means that we can't move the door until the electrical work for the whole kitchen is done, because we don't want to pay the guy for multiple trips (one to wire the kitchen, one to clean up the crazy kudzu nightmare). Annnnnnd, you guessed it, the electrician can't do his stuff until the whole kitchen's gutted. Blah!

So now we're working on gutting the kitchen. The upper cabinets are down, the stove is sitting in the dining room (classy!), and the lower cabinets may be gone tonight. 

Wish me luck, kids.

14 July 2009

Is it wrong to be excited about a trash can? I mean, like REALLY excited?

Yesterday, I spent a good chunk of time browsing teh Intarwebs for kitchen-organizing accessories. Anybody who knows me will tell you that I love to be super organized, and that my P-Touch label maker is truly my best friend. (I didn't used to be this way - my OCD was a hindrance and then I turned it into a coping mechanism, but that's a whole 'nother story.) One of the reasons I'm so happy about getting a new kitchen is that I'll be able to take my time putting things in order, and really get it organized the way I want. It's hard to explain, but when you're trying to organize a space that you didn't plan or design yourself, it's a huge pain in the tuchus (at least in MY tuchus) to cram all your stuff in there just the way you like it.

Anyway, I ended up on the SimpleHuman website, staring at sleek, overpriced soap dispensers and such. And then I found this:

What's that, you say? Looks like just an ordinary pull-out trash can? No no, friend...this one's different. This one costs sixty bucks.

One of my biggest complaints about my kitchen (and many previous kitchens) is that there's never really a good spot for the trash can. I'm too germ-phobic to put it near any food prep areas, which means it's usually shoved in a corner too far away to be useful. Plus, our current can is so big that by the time the bag's full, it REEKS (and no, I will not buy overpriced odor-eliminating trash bags), or it's way too heavy to lift out.

So, the idea of having a petite trash can tucked away under a counter is very exciting to me. It'll go under the sink, which is usually wasted space anyway. This particular one has an 8-gallon capacity. That doesn't sound like a lot, but we recycle and compost, so not much ends up in the actual "trash."

To you, it's just a pull-out trash can. To me, it's a squee-inducing joy bin. Now you know my shame.

Pugtastic Tuesday - 7.14.09

Alabama - 7.11.09

Alabama is our little girl pug. She's a couple of years younger than Pugly, and really, she's a mess. She was a perfect puppy, and then...well...things went a little awry. She's wall-eyed, she has a gimpy back leg, her teeth are unbelievably crooked. But we love her to pieces, especially when she sits like this, with her little back legs stuck straight out.

13 July 2009

The Weekly Austin - 7.13.09

Mah Pointer Finger - 7.7.09

09 July 2009

Histoire de la Maison

It occurred to me that I've been Tweeting about my kitchen remodel, and some of you don't know anything about my house. Since we're about to tear into the old cucina, I'll start there.

Our house was built in the early '50s, when apparently all one needed in a kitchen was a giant stove and about six inches of counter space. Delicious avocado-green lino tiles were the flooring choice of the day. Oh, and the cabinets? They've got fixed shelves that prevent me from storing anything taller than a salt shaker.

When we first moved in, the far wall was half windows, the floor was half carpet and half linoleum, and the walls were covered in hideous, nicotine-coated paper. Two tiny overhead fixtures and one ghetto-tastic under-cabinet fluorescent strip were the only sources of illumination. Your basic nightmare:

Wall color: NICOTINE

That thing lurking next to the microwave cart? Yeah, that's a boiler.

Fake fruit, a birdhouse, and a china cabinet made entirely of particle board.

We couldn't afford to gut and redo the kitchen at the time, so we settled for some minor changes. We closed in the huge, nonsensical doorway to the dining room, added a sliding glass door to replace the bank of single-pane aluminum-frame windows, and swapped out the appliances. The hideous wallpaper got covered with plain white paint, and I scrubbed the tar and nicotine stains off of every surface I could. A vinyl remnant went down where the carpet used to be. 

It was a big improvement; we were making the best of what we had. And it really didn't bother me to be without broad expanses of counter space, a dishwasher, or functional cabinets. That is, until I had to cook Thanksgiving dinner. Dinner for six, cooked in the tiniest, most poorly laid-out kitchen I've ever worked in. And that year (2007), the far wall still had exposed studs and insulation hanging out over the stove. Everyone likes a little fiberglass in their stuffing, right?

Anyway, we've made do for as long as possible. But now, it's got to be done. I'm home to cook dinner five nights a week, and I can't work in this old, stinky, Formica-coated U anymore. I thought we'd be stuck for another couple of years because of financial constraints, but lo and behold! My fantastic mom and mom-in-law have offered up the funds needed.

We're going to use Ikea cabinets, mostly because they're inexpensive (everything we need for under $2000) but also because they're nice looking and well-made. The countertops will be LG HiMacs solid surface, and the same flooring we used in the rest of the house (Armstrong laminate in "Tiger Maple") will continue into the kitchen. Here's the plan:

An Ikea Dream, in greyscale

I can't put into words how grateful I am for my two moms and their generosity. And how lucky am I to have a hubs who's going to tackle 90% of this work on his own, while working full time AND finishing up his MBA? Yep, pretty darn lucky.

07 July 2009

Pugtastic Tuesday - 7.7.09

Stair Chicken - date unknown

This shot isn't of the pugs, but of their handiwork. I came home from work one night and this is what I saw as I opened the front door: a perfectly upright stuffed chicken, waiting for me halfway up the stairs. Yep, my dogs are weird.

06 July 2009

The Weekly Austin - 7.6.09

Officer Austin - 7.4.09

Austin saw his first parade this past Saturday. We headed to South Norfolk (SoNo) with friends and enjoyed a little ol' fashioned Independence Day fun. As you can see from the picture, little man scored some loot -- red, white, and blue beads and a super-cool police badge sticker.

01 July 2009

The Rage

At breakneck speed, Austin's becoming a little man, not just a pink raisin who giggles and poops all day. There's good stuff -- he walks, he can carry his own toys, he hugs, he babbles -- but there's some not-so-good stuff, too. Like tantrums.

Apparently, 16 months is the new "two," meaning my once beautifully-behaved guy is an absolute nightmare at least once a day. He had a fantastic meltdown at Toys R Us last weekend, complete with flailing and screaming on the sidewalk. My reaction was not what I'd expected it to be: instead of feeling frustrated, or mad, or embarrassed, I wanted to laugh. Not laugh in a mean "ooh look at how pitiful you are" way, but in that, "Oh dear...that's just a hot mess of a toddler on the sidewalk" way. It was really surprising, and it made me feel like a good mom; I didn't lose my patience with him, I just picked him up and away we went. That's not to say that a mom who reacts differently is "bad," -- I can totally understand that feeling of "O MY GOSH WILL YOU PLEASE JUST STOP!"

Austin's tantrums are (fortunately) almost always predictable. Like me, he hates to be hot, he hates big noisy crowds, and God forbid you let the kid go more than three hours without eating something. I don't keep him away from everyone or everything just for the sake of preventing a scream-fest, though; I think he's got to adjust to being around big groups, and he has to learn that sometimes, getting hot and sticky and sweaty is inevitable. (I'm sure at some point he'll start saying really classy stuff like "It's so hot, my balls are stuck to my leg," a Charlie trademark phrase.) I don't want him to turn into one of these kids that's so isolated from everything that they never learn how to function in the real world. Isn't that the goal? Make him a well-adjusted kid who doesn't end up skinning the neighbor's cat?