Friday, April 28, 2006

An Army Of #1

Been doing some toilet shopping. I'm noticing a theme here. Toilets are supposed to inspire one to think of greatness, of patriotism, of military life.

First, there's American Standard's Cadet.

Then, Eljer's TITAN (hmm, sounds like a few of my p...never mind)

But there are also lines that inspire regalness, and royalty.

Check out American Standard's Ugliest Bathroom contest. Perhaps I can submit my childhood bathroom, it's bright red formica counters and silver wallpaper with preprinted grafitti for next year.

And if you're REALLY into poopers, check out The Toilets Of The World site, starting with one in a hospital in Saint Peterburg, Russia. The open plumbing is used by patients to dispose of empty vodka bottles, newspapers, and cigarette butts. Many plumbing chases in the hospital have experienced minor flue fires.

Progress, turmoil and shower seats

Boy, what a difference one week makes. My last post was Monday, and a lot has happened since then. I posted some pics of the progress here. So far the basement and the first floor is framed, and Bob (the builder) has started some exploratory research into the family room ceiling.

During the exploration, Bob removed a portion of the ceiling drywall to discover one large kink in our overall design. Turns out that the ceiling joists in that room go left-to-right, not front-to-back. Whoops. Whoda thunk that an 11-foot by 20-foot room would have 20-foot ceiling joists. So, after a quick review with the architect (that'd be dad) we decided that to keep the floor of the new room upstairs from bouncing like a diving board, a little joist reinforcement was needed. No biggie. Bob then discovered that the ceiling slopes 3/4" from the left side of the house toward the middle. Not much that can be done about that, and it means that any coins we drop on our bedroom floor will be conveniently collected in one corner of the room.

Another interesting side effect related to the holes in our family room ceiling....this week the weather has been great, but the temps dropped to the 30's at night. With a gaping chasm in the family room ceiling, there's nothing keeping the cold out. We've woken up with frost in the kitchen the past couple of days.

So meanwhile, we've completely emptied the family room, meaning that I write this to you from our new computer desk location under the steps in the basement. I feel like a troll. My precious. The other rooms are still livable, though starting to get slightly cramped. It's gonna get real interesting in a couple weeks when we lose our kitchen table space and pot cabinet. I've already planned out our dinner seating arrangements for that point. I'll eat standing by the kitchen sink, Hilary will be on the front porch, Natalie can eat sitting on the toilet using the sink as her table, and Jessica will be perched comfortably on top of the fridge. Any guests that come over will be required to take us out to dinner. And it better not be Eat & Park!!

A final thought for the day. The shower was ordered today. I had a long discussion with the plumber over the benefits of shower seat location. If your shower head is on the left, do you want the shower to have a seat on the right (so the water can hit you) or on the left (so you are under the water? This turned into a discussion on Zen and the art of leg shaving. We decided that the overall feng shui of the room would be greatly affected by the seat placement, and in the end we opted for the right. Now the next big question...round toilet bowl or elongated? Oh, the decisions....

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Hard Room and The Soft Room

Jessica (our 2-year-old) has quite the system in place for remembering her current location.

The family room, which currently isn't so much a family room but a massive firetrap of plastic toys, is known as "the hard room".

The living room, (or as I call it, the Cheerio-laden-TV-slugfest-room) is known as "the soft room".

Why they are called the Hard Room and the Soft Room is quite simple, really. The hard room has this matted down thin berber carpet, and the soft room has a normal higher-pile carpet. Hard, soft. toddler logic.

So naturally, we dramatically messed with that logic this weekend when we completely emptied out the hard room of all possessions, as the walls are about to be demolished. We spent all morning Saturday emptying out the room, and Jessica never noticed as she was ensconced in Berenstain Bears on Noggin in the soft room. When it was all done, we called her in to inspect.

"Jessica, c'mere!"

"mkay." (pitter patter, pitter patter. Queue the sudden look of astonishment)

"Where my toys??"

"We emptied out the hard room so we can renovate."

"You bloke the hard room?" (that's how she pronounces "broke")

"Yes, the hard room is broken."

"The deck is bloken too!"

"Yes, the deck is bloken too. But guess what. When the renovation is done, this will become the soft room, and the OTHER room will be the hard room!"

"Woah, wait a minute dad. Yer totally messing with my head now. I mean, don't do that, don't completely blow my mind like this. I work long and hard to get a handle on my whereabouts, and you come in here and completely screw up the feng shui of it all. How can you do that to a little toddler like myself and expect that my chakra won't be completely misaligned? I need to take a moment."

(pitter patter, pitter patter). Back to Berenstain Bears on Noggin.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Dandelion Child

Not much happening on the build this weekend due to rain, unless you count whatever topsoil I have left washing down into the neighbor's yard. It's starting to resemble the Lousiana Delta down there.

But back on the kid topic for a sec, here is a link to a story in the New Yorker by Paul Rudnick, entitled, "The Dandelion Child", about why gifted children can be dangerous to your lawn. Laugh-out-loud funny. Thanks, Bob, for forwarding this one. Made my day.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

I hear there's a floor

You know, it kinda sucks to sit in an office all day when all kinds of fun stuff with cool trucks and power tools is happening at home. The report from my wife is they poured the basement floor today. So now, even if we decided this whole renovation was a crappy idea and killed the project, at least we have a basketball court on the back of the house.

Builder Bob informed me that by tomorrow there should be a big pile of lumber sitting in the yard, and framing should start Monday. He also informed me that by a week from tomorrow, he'll be ready to start "infiltrating" the existing house, meaning knocking some walls down. That's when the REAL fun starts.

Yesterday, as I met with the builder and the inspector over lunch to decide where the sump would be located, I took a look at what is currently the back of the house and realized something. The back of the house is brick. After construction, those brick walls will be interior walls in the workshop and mud room. Those walls are filthy from years of exposure to the elements. Great, another project to do. I spent the evening locating a friend with a power washer and scrubbing the outside of the house.

So, I'd like to take a moment to say a few kind words about the little guy. We're considering a laminate (like Pergo) floor for the new space. Naturally out first stop was home Depot. While they have a wide selection, if you want to take a sample home you must pay a buck for each 2" wide sample you want. The other day I went to Pittsburgh Discount Flooring, a place that also sells Pergo. When I asked for samples, he gave me free reign to take home a full 4-foot wide plank of each and every color I was interested in. For free. That's called service.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Sump

Well, we had our first "gotcha" today. It seems our township has gone the way of many other over-built, paved over, concrete jungle suburbs and recently changed the building code regarding storm drainage (I say that like I was aware of the OLD code). The inspector popped by for a visit today, and told us that we couldn't drain the gutters and downspouts simply into the ground, because that would cause excessive erosion, possible property damage to the folks living below us (I like to think of it as offering "free humidity" to a neighbor) or, god-forbid, grass that would actually grow effectively in my yard. Instead, we must build a sump.

This is where we gotta actually do math and smart-person stuff.

We need to measure the square footage of the roof, and for every 100 square feet of roof that drains water we need 40 cubic feet of sump. A sump is simply a hole in the ground filled with gravel. The gutter runs into the ground and through a pipe that leads to the center of the gravel, where it pours into another pipe with holes in it and disperses the water amongst the gravel. And then, the water flows into the yard, where it can more slowly cause excessive erosion, possible property damage to the neighbors, or grass that would actually grow. So now, we get to take several hundred additional dollar bills into the back yard and bury it underground, never to be seen again.

Now I wonder what Mr. Inspector is going to say about my toxic waste containment bin I'm planning to put next to the shed? Perhaps I shouldn't mention it.

Monday, April 17, 2006

But who will wash your back?

So as the builder does his thing, the list of decisions we have to make grows. Currently that list includes:

* The shower, toilet and sink
* Flooring for all the new rooms
* Paint/wallpaper
* Windows
* Paint for ceilings
* Kitchen cabinets
* Kitchen countertop
* Doors for office
* Outside doors
* Furniture
* Siding and shutters
* Mirrors for above the bed (oh wait, that's another list)

I'm sure there is more, but that's just what I thought up during my last visit to the bathroom. So, this past weekend, we attempted to work on the first couple of items on the list. Speaking of bathrooms, let's talk about showers for a minute.

Being of the practical (and cheap) sorts, we decided it would be prudent to avoid the excessive cost of a big ol' whirlpool tub. We'd never use it, we'd never clean it, and it would cost a portion of our children's college tuition to fill it. We therefore decided we didn't need another tub (got two already), so a shower-only model was the way to go. We then learned there are more varieties of showers than there are ways to get dirty. And they can cost as little as a few hundred bucks, or approximately the same as your average Bentley Continental.

Take this one for example, which includes a foot massaging system and overhead speakers. There are showers with teak flooring, showers that utilize hydrotherapy and aromatherapy, and I'm pretty sure showers that include built-in geishas that will massage your buttocks with leaves of heather if you so desire. When we spoke with one distributor, she recommended a line from Aker. Aker was a shipbuilder who somehow got into the business of shower-building. To me that's a career move in the wrong direction, but I'm sure he's doing comfortably. Supposedly he took what he knew about shipbuilding, encorporated his knowledge into shower-building, and the result was a very fine place to rinse your privates. Who knew?

So after a fairly full friday of wandering to bathroom galleries we discovered what anyone who watches those home shows on HGTV knows already, which is that it's virtually impossible to make a decision. Oy, this is gonna take some effort.

I'm not even gonna get into flooring.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Coolest truck ever

On Thursday, the excavators carved out the footprint of the addition in preparation to pour the footer. At about 4pm, they got the weather report and found out that Friday called for rain. "Hey," they said. "Let's just pour the footer today." so Tom, the lead excavator guy, picked up his cell, and in ten minutes this truck showed up on our street. It seem someone came up with a way of delivering concrete much the same way as one delivers pizza. After talking with the owner of the truck I found out that he's got three of these rigs in strategic locations around the suburbs, and can usually respond to a call within an hour. The machine has a number of hoppers containing gravel, sand, water, and other mysterious chemicals, and simply by lowering the nozzle attached to the tail, it pours out perfectly-mixed concrete ready to pour. The truck even has a built-in credit card reader. Beats out any tonka truck I ever had.

Rather than drive this massive rig on my driveway, the excavators chose to go back and forth with their little four-wheeled John Deere bucket-loader. After the third or fourth pass, the driver of the bucket loader got into a real rhythm, much to the expense of what little grass was left back there. It's amazing what you can do to a lawn driving one of these things in circles at 30 mph.

Movie Review: The Wild

My suggestion: Avoid it. Skip it. Forget it ever existed.

These days, technology has reached a point where, in a well written movie, the animation should almost go unnoticed as you watch, much like a good score does. A good score simply adds to the power and emotion that the movie contains. Animation can serve the same role. If you watch a truly well-made animated movie, you almost forget it's animated. Finding Nemo is a great example of this.

The Wild is not.

Unfortunately, the ONLY redeeming feature of The wild was its animation. The animation was incredible. Whereas Madagascar (my kids' favorite movie) was amazingly animated with the characters intentionally looking cartoony, The Wild's animators made the animals look REAL. Or, at least, like real stuffed animals. The scenery was also fanastic. One striking scene involved the cast riding in the back of a garbage truck down 42nd street. The glitz and glamour of Manhattan was incredibly realistic, right down to the giant, flashy ads on 42nd (including a well placed TiVo ad!). In that scene, however, I noticed there were no people on the street. so much for realism.

My wife, daughters and I walked out of the movie at least twenty minutes before it ended, totally disgusted with having spent $25 on tickets to see it and expecting nightmares from the kids later tonight. This movie has a "G" rating. As parents of children ages 5 and 2, we need to be able to trust that "G" means "G", not that it means "no sex or blood, but plenty of scary scenes that will make your child scream that she wants to go home and throughout the after noon wish she was never born". The Wild started off with the father lion telling a story to his son about how he fought of a 14-foot (actually, he changed it to 14-thousand-foot) tall wildebeest with fire in his eyes, four sharp horns, and hooves that could destroy mountains, simply by roaring as only lions can. I felt extremely uncomfortable throughout the opening scene, and thanked the lord when it ended with a down-to-earth attempt by the son to roar like daddy. Picture the "Be Prepared" scene in Lion King where Scar sings with the hyenas in a cave, but even more scary and no music. Later in the movie, the mean, scary wildebeests return in scenes that were not only dark and fearsome, but also long, boring, unimaginative, humorless and tiring.

The basic story line is nothing original. Based in the fictional NY Zoo (and not nearly as creatively as Madagacar did it), The son can't roar like a real lion ("he's eleven, but roars at a nine-year-old level"). His dad (played weakly by Keifer Sutherland...he's much better when he's pointing a gun at someone) is visibly disappointed, to the point where the son wants to go back to the wild, where his dad supposedly grew up, and learn to be a big meany like him. In a familiar story line, the son accidentally gets stuck on a boat headed for who-knows-where, and Dad has to gather his group of trusty friends to save him. The son was actually on a boat headed to rescue animals from the African Jungle where the threat of a volcano eruption was eminent, but the whole volcano thing was barely even an issue in the movie (perhaps the ending was about the eruption, but again we left early). The dad and friends hijack a tugboat and follow the giant sea-going barge across the Atlantic, without so much as filling up the gas tank.

Dad's posse included a forgettable giraffe, a best-friend-and-advisor squirrel that was in love with the giraffe, a snake, and a koala named Nigel with an English accent. Sorry, but since when are koalas from London?

The humor fell completely flat in this movie. For example, when the zoo closed, all the animals got together for a big event, which was a curling competition using turtles for pucks. Problem is, it just wasn't funny. There was also a potentially great scene where the garbage truck starts to compress its cargo much like the famous trash compactor scene of Star Wars. In homage to Star Wars, the lion attempts to use the snake to brace the walls. But again, weak. The only other bit with potential was when, as the gang searches the jungle for the son, trees and rocks seem to guide their way by lighting up with neon arrows and through mysterious jungle whispering. It was a scene that (I think) was a parody of LOST, but again, weak.

Save your money.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

STEP 1: destroy all grass

Originally uploaded by daninhim.

We are well underway today. The diggers are digging. Interesting that they dropped off the excavation equipment a few days ago, and I'm pretty sure did some donuts on the grass. The purpose of that, I believe was that if they start off with the grass all nerfed up, the home owner isn't going to worry about it later in the process. seems like a reasonable idea to me.

We also had our first minor hiccup of the process. Bob the builder (yes, his name is Bob, that's why we hired him....) realized that we measured one wall wrong. If we'd gone by the dimensions on the left side of the architectural plan, the new space would have been 4" shorter than if we'd used the measurements on the right side. No big deal, all is well, but it's a good thing he didn't order the floor joists yet. Bob first asked me if we should forget the extra 4 inches. I asked him what that would affect, and he said the bathroom vanity would be a little shorter. I said no big deal. But then he also said the workshop would be 4" shorter. I told him no f'ing way. a man's gotta have his priorities, you know. I can brush my teeth in a smaller bathroom, but don't mess with my workshop.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Weekend's gone, so is the deck

well, the deck is outta here. Many thanks to Dave and Ed, trusty grunts that enjoy demolition. Overall everything went as planned. The only rather frightening moment was when it came time to remove the posts from the old half of the deck. This is the half that I DIDN'T build, the one that came with the house. Once the structure was down, I laid a hand on the first post, to find that it tipped over with as much ease as tipping an empty beer bottle over. And that was what was holding up the deck. Yikes.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Of mice and men

I guess you could say that today was day 1 of the build. Today began the teardown of the deck. But first, a comment on omens.

You know those moments when you just KNOW you're making the right (or wrong decision)? Well, we had three of those moments over the past few days. the first happened last week or so, when the kids (and, well, okay, the parents) were dancing around the room to Smashmouth. All that glittered wasn't so much gold, but broken glass, and oil.

Okay, I've lost you. I shall explain. During the festivities, someone knocked over an oil lamp (basically a glass jar full of kerosene) all over the living room carpet. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get oil out of a carpet? Our living room floor suddenly turned into the set of an infommercial as we discovered the wonder of the absorbent chamois cloths we obtained at a recent home show. Now the carpet is so lumpy that Natalie's remote control car wouldn't even drive over it. But hey, with the renovation the carpet goes away. So be it. And it reminded us that now would be a good time to start potty training Jessica.

The next omen occurred the evening we signed the loan papers. We told our kids that we were definitely going through with the project. The generaly response was, "yeay. Can I watch a video?" So we obliged, flipped through Comcast's on-demand programming, and discovered that the "preschool network" (or something like that) had a show teaching kids about home renovation. Daddy and daughters watched intently. Mommy will be forced to watch it before the end of the weekend so she can learn what HVAC stands for. How many 2-year-olds do YOU know that know what HVAC stands for, huh?

The final event (or straw, as it were) occurred this morning. I was making my morning coffee when, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed furry critter bounding across the kitchen floor into the dining room. And it wasn't a muppet. It seems little GusGus (Cinderella reference for all you non-parents) had been snacking on a bag of brown sugar, and I disturbed him. I then went all Bill Murray on his ass, chasing him around the house, overturning chairs and couches, all the while swearing a blue streak and working up a good sweat. I cornered him behind the piano, behind the bookshelf, under the computer desk, until finally I managed to direct him out the back door to freedom. After the chase ended, I tried to think of a way to debrief my wife on the chaos without completely freaking her out. Unfortunately I'm not that strong a thinker. Hilary spent the rest of the day traversing the house across countertops and couches, a broom in one hand and a saucepan in the other.

But hey. We're renovating. A chance to clean those corners full of cheerios and other kiddy snack foods that GusGus has obviously been squirrelling (well, mousing) away for years.

So back to Day 1. As mentioned above, the deck comes down this weekend. The excavators come on Wednesday afternoon (quite an event for the first night of Passover, dontcha think?). So out come the power tools and beverages, as I'm expecting a small crowd of helpers to arrive tomorrow. Here's to a summer of barbecuing in the driveway!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

It's happening!

Well, as you see from the post below, we weren't having much luck with alternative sources of funding, so we are proceeding gaily forward with our local bank and a loan. We sign the papers tomorrow, get the permits Thursday, and if all goes well, begin demolishing the deck this weekend. Pictures of both the progress and any blood drawn will of course be forthcoming.

Let's talk money for a moment

So we're at the final stages of planning for the renovation project. And that's everyone's favorite: getting the loan.

We've had reasonably good luck with our local bank, so I went to them asking about optionsf for a 2nd loan or line of credit. The end result was that they offered a loan covering about 75% of the estimate for the build, at an interest rate that a month or two ago would have seemed obscene. So I did a little more investigating. It turns out there's this thing called a "home construction rehab" loan designed just for projects like this. Sort of.

On the phone, the HCR loan sounds like a sweet deal. They appraise your current home, look at the plans, and come up with what they think the net worth would be after the addition. They will then loan you up to 80% of that net worth. This amount pays off your existing mortgage, and usually gives you plenty of additional money to do the build. It's kind of like consolidating your debt before you even manage to get yourself into debt. But there's some strings.

First, they don't just give you the money. They pay off the current mortgage for you (at a higher interest rate, by the way), and then based on the construction bid they set up a set of milestones at which they provide a sum directly to the builder. So he might get $10k at the start, then another $20k when the foundation and walls are up. But it's up to the bank to decide those milestones. Sounds kind of like an accountant deciding on the right health care coverage, huh? But wait, there's more.

In order to provide us those "draws" of money, they have an inspector come out and check on the completion of those milestones. so if the walls were supposed to be completed, but they are only 90% done, no money. Sounds like a real hassle.

And to top it off, they want over nine thousand in closing costs.

In the end, our local bank is making it easy. We'll have money on Tuesday. This weekend, I get to demolish a deck.