Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The BabyKeeper

I can't decide it this is the most retarded thing to hit the baby stores yet, or actually a good thing, but I lean toward the former. Let's think about this. Imagine you're in a store (without a baby) and decide it's time for a pit stop. You tend to expect that there will be a coat hook inside the bathroom stall, right? One on which you can hang your jacket, perhaps your shopping bag, perhaps your umbrella so that nothing except the soles of your shoes and the folds of your dropped pants touch the germ-ridden floor.

Now add a baby to the mix. Do you tell little Jasper to stay put, right by the sink, don't move, and don't stare at anyone's wiggly things at the urinal? Do you invite him into the stall with you, hoping he won't actually pay attention to your business? Oh, wouldn't it be just easier to hang him on a hook for safekeeping?

My mother hung me on a hook once.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The first day of kindergarten

It's time. It's happening. It's the big event. The day the giant pile of money I've been giving my town's school district finally goes to good use. Natalie starts Kindergarten Monday.

This evening my wife and I went to "curriculum night." This is the Lamaze class of kindergarten. The session where the nice lady stands up in front of all the proud new parents, and teaches them to breathe in and out, breathe in and out. It will all be ok. You can do this. We may need to use the foreceps on you, but it won't hurt that bad. And if worse comes to worse, we may need to surgically remove your child from your womb, but it's time for you to set her free. For she is now a kindergartener.

My wife and I, joined by our neighbors who also have a daughter Natalie's age, piled into the car and headed to the elementary school to join other first timers while various grandmas watched various kids. As we wandered the halls of Peebles Elementary, we were taken back to our own early years...reminders of our kindergarten accomplishments, cubby holes, yellow buses, and pencil boxes. Personally the only thing I really remember about my own kindergarten experience is getting hit in the eye with a rogue snowball, being sent home with an earache to the house of a mom I didn't know, and thrusting Matchbox cars through tunnels made of cardboard bricks. Okay, so the kindergarten experience didn't really stick with me so much. But the experience is obviously for the parents. As we sat in the back row of folding chairs in the gymnasium and listened to the principal speak, I scanned the room for the other dads like myself. In the crowd I saw future "guys night out" club members, T-ball coaches, and power tool lenders. Up on the screen, I saw Powerpoints describing learning methods, rating systems, and guidance counseling recommendations. I sat and wondered if my parents had to sit for two hours in uncomfortable chairs like ourselves and learn about all this, or if they sent me on their merry way in a happy bliss over the fact that they finally got me out of the house for a few hours a day.

We learned that, in kindergarten, our children would learn algebra. They'd learn sign language. They'd have opportunities that I not only didn't have when I was a student, but I don't even have as an adult.

When the kindergarten teacher talked about her goals for the children, and how she wanted to ensure a safe, warm nurturing environment, and about how she would wipe their tears when they got off the bus missing mommy, the wives wept. Most of the dads looked at each other with emotionless shrugs, secretly trying to keep it all in. But one thing was for sure. In those emotionless shrugs, one little bit of feeling leaked out.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Bracket Racket

I blogged a week or two ago about shopping for a rack I can use to hang the plasma TV on the wall.

So, I bought one on eBay for ten bucks. The rack arrived and looks completely sufficient to do the job, but it turns out that it did not include bolts that actually fit the back of my TV (even though the seller said it would work). I called Panasonic, and they were very helpful and very specific in telling me I need 4 M8 bolts with a 1.25 thread pitch, 45mm to 55mm in length.

So first I emailed the seller. He replied back telling me he had some of those and would mail them out to me. Great, but I'm an impatient person, so I checked Home Depot. Turns out they have a drawer full of 1.25 thread pitch M8 bolts, in 40, 50, and 60mm sizes. But they were out of 50's. Grrr...

Then I called my local Trader Horn, "Your Favorite Store". For those who don't know Trader Horn, picture a KMart back in the late 70's or early 80's. Now take away clothing and toys, and add hardware and building products. This store, until last month, had only one credit card reader, at the service desk, for all 7 registers. Tehy still use price tags. No bar codes here. It's so quaint. But where else can I buy one screw? I love it. So anyway, I called and got a guy in the hardware dept. When I told him what I wanted, he replied with, "hmm...45 to 55mm, huh? 'Bout how long is that?"

I replied with, "umm...a couple inches?"

"Lemme go check."

He came back and said, "yeah, we got M8 bolts. They come in either rough thread or fine thread, and they're 'bout 2 inches long."

That didn't help me.

Meanwhile, the envelope with the bolts arrived from the eBay seller. At least, the envelope did. For some reason this guy thought it reasonable to put 4 machine bolts into a #10 envelope and toss the envelope in the mail. Instead I got an empty envelope with a hole in the bottom. I emailed him back, but haven't gotten a respose. Gee. Wonder why.

So my wife realized there's a good old fashioned hardware store a bit north of us. I called the store to see if they had what I wanted. The guy went and checked, came back to the phone and said, "yeah, we got three...How many you need?"


Luckily it ended well, in that he found a 4th on the floor under the shelves. I would expect nothing less from an old fashioned hardware store.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

You done yet?

A lot's been done in the past couple of weeks. We painted the bedroom. Wednesday the kitchen floor was put down. We have a toilet now. Yet, there's still so much to go. Everyone keeps asking me, "so is it almost done?"

Depends on how you define done.

We're using the new family room now. but the light over the table is a simple bulb currently. We've got the new kitchen floor. but there are no countertops on the new cabinets. The bedroom and the old family room are awaiting carpet, and the dining room contains piles upon piles of temporarily stored crap. We've got buit-ins to build, dining room wiring to do, more painting, and lots of cleaning.

That's just the obvious stuff, and that's also just the inside. There's grass to plant, construction stuff to clean up, yada yada yada.

So yeah, we're almost done. But really, I'll call it done when we rent a Rug Doctor and shampoo the dust and grime out of the carpets. It'll be done when we've moved into the new bedroom, our office has become an office, and our canned goods no longer have a need for temporary refuge in a sweater box under the bed. It'll be done when I no longer get up from the computer desk and hit my head on what was once the dining room chandelier.

This weekend was a productive one. Our new family room couches were delivered, some college dude came and took the old one off our hands, and a custom-ordered area rug arrived. Unfortunately they all came in that order, making logistics somewhat of a concern. But we like the end result.

In addition to the deliveries, I managed to start Mantown this weekend. Mantown is my workshop. My castle. My refuge. My fortress of solitude. The place where I'm planning on spending most of my time once my kids hit their teenage years and start having "female" issues. Every guy needs a Mantown in their house. When my sister and brother-in-law renovated, he decided last minute to build his own Mantown by taking over a corner of the basement, framing it up into a box with a door, and sticking about 75 electrical outlets on the wall so he could charge his cell phone, camera, volunteer fire department gear, and cordless cigar humidor. With mine, I made sure to include an escape hatch, the double door that sneaks me out to the back yard and around to the driveway where I can make a quick getaway. So this weekend I built myself a workbench and shelves, and began hanging tools on the wall. I had the foresight to tell the builder not to hang drywall in there, but rather hang pegboard directly onto the studs. It was a moment of brilliance. Every square inch of wall space can have tools hanging on it. It'll the anal retentive woodworker's dream. Heck, I might actually even build something in there. But let's not get crazy.

Another question often asked of me is if there were any good horror stories during the build. Well, other than the water leak on the morning of July 4th, it's gone quite smoothly, oddly enough. Everything's been in budget, even. Although I have to say the plumbing's been an adventure. From the kitchen sink clogged with whole grains to the toilet that leaked as soon as it was put in, I'd say it could have gone better. But no, there's been nothing devastating, no horrors on the order of a Romero film.

Today and tomorrow are Bob The Builder's final days on the job. Installing trim, doorknobs, and window hardware. Cleaning up tools, insulating a crawl space, and hanging the shower door. He's got just odds and ends now. Pretty soon we'll be able to move furniture in. And that's when I find out who my real buddies are. I still haven't figured out how we're getting a 300 lb. eliptical machine from the basement up to the 2nd floor. I wish we still had that crane.

Monday, August 07, 2006

I succeeded in not blowing myself up

Okay, after installing 75 or so outlets, switches, and fixtures over the past three months, I managed to squeak by with only one potentially deadly explosion. Not all bad for an unlicensed non-professional, I think. And considering the plumber just called me as he was installing the shower faucet asking me if I knew where the direction book was (he needs directions? He's a plumber!!), I figure I'm doing ok.

So last night I was wiring the under-cabinet light in the dinette. The hockey puck-shaped light screws to the underside of the cabinet and plugs into a surface-mounted outlet. This surface-mounted outlet has a metal case with what I found to be a rather sharp edge. The edge must have pinched the black wire coming from the wall because when I hit the switch after I installed it, BANG! sparks everywhere, and an outlet that looked like it'd had a face-off with Elmer Fudd's musket. Back to Home Depot.

Speaking of which, I'm even more a regular there. I'm like Norm from Cheers:

Mornin', everybody.
Hey Mr. Daninhirsch, what's cooking?
Me, after blowing up an electrical outlet last night.
(insert laugh track).

Where'd I put that extended warranty?
So here's some information that's more a note to myself than anything else, but may be of interest if you're shopping for furniture. We bought couches over the weekend at Macy's Furniture. Included (for an additional $129) was their fabric care warranty. For 7 years you are covered if you get a stain on the couch. You call a number, and they suggest how to clean it. If you can't clean it, they come out to try. If they fail, they replace the upholstry with the same stuff. If that fabric is no longer available, you get your purchase price back on the furniture. Now here's the interesting bit. After 7 years, if you never use the warranty, you call a number and they give you the $129 back as a gift card to Macys.

I'm putting in an appointment for August 5, 2013 into my calendar....

Nice rack
At last it's time to take care of the one thing this who renovation has revolved around...hanging the TV on the wall in the new family room. Having done no research whatsoever, I happened to be in Best Buy the other day and, while there, picked up a "universal flat panel TV mount" for $80. It came in a box that was about a foot long. That was a mistake for two reasons. First, it turns out that the center point where the TV will hang is in such a place that this unit would only touch one stud, so I needed a wider model. Second, it turns out that Panasonic places their mounting holes on almost the complete outside corners of the TV, and this bracket wouldn't even come close to reaching the corners of my 37" screen.

So when all else fails, read the directions. I pulled out the TV manual, and it said to check for a certain model of mount designed for the TV. On Amazon, that mount was almost FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS!!!

Scared for a moment that the whole purpose behind the entire renovation was a failure, I began surfing eBay for alternatives.

Gotta love eBay. There are TONS of mounts out there, ranging in price from nine bucks to over three hundred bucks, and probably even higher. but they are all designed for my TV, and sold direct from the manufacturer (or so they say). I couldn't find much difference between the $9 one and the $200 one, so I tossed a bid in for the cheaper one and it's on its way.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The dumpster is gone!

Whoopie! Just thought I'd mention it. Oh, and the chipmunks that were living underneath it are pissed!!!

Bad customer service, part II

So here's a fun followup to the flooring order debacle. We hit the point where we are ready for the new kitchen floor to be installed. When we last left off, I told "BOB", the scheduler at the flooring store, the couldn't install yet because there was a wall in the way. He said give him a call as soon as we are ready, and he could have the installers there within the week.

So on tuesday AM, I called and got Bob again. I got one sentence out, and he told me he'd have to call back because he was swamped. Okay fine. The rest of the day went by and I didn't hear back, so I called him again around 4:30. He was perfectly pleasant and said, "let me get in touch with my installers and I will call you right back."

Never heard from him the rest of that afternoon. So I then let Wednesday go by, until 4:30 when I called the store again and got someone else. I asked for Bob, and the guy said, "he's in the bathroom, can I have him call you right back?"

Okay fine. But never heard from him.

This morning, I called John, the sales rep who came to the house (the guy who successfully got the other flooring delivered for me). I told him that this guy Bob has done an excellent job convincing me he's an idiot. So I asked John to get the install scheduled and to have someone, other than Bob, call me back. I told him I did not want to hear from Bob again as I was done dealing with him.

A half hour later the install was scheduled for next Wednesday morning.

I've worked at a flooring store during high school. I manage a customer service team for a living. This is basic simple stuff. How dumb can someone be?

Meanwhile, I've been hearing stories about the allegedly nightmarish service at home Depot. Let me just say that that is nuts. Home Depot has been awesome through this. we've gotten kitchen cabinets, a shower door, and several other things special ordered with only one minor, quickly-fixed mistake on the manufacturer's part. We are getting carpeting through them. The day we were at the store, the salesperson took our info and told us that "the measuring guys" would call us first thing wednesday morning to schedule an in-home measure. At 7:30 that morning, they called, said they would be here between 9 and 11. They got here at 9:30, with a really cool proprietary laptop thingy in hand. As he measured, he entered dimensions on the laptop and it automatically drew an accurate picture of the room. He told me HD would call back to set up an install by Monday. I have complete faith that they will.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

My kingdom for a bronze toilet handle

I have a question for the folks on the show Trading Spaces. How, exactly, does one transform a room in 48 hours, AND expect paint to dry?

Last night I put the third coat of paint on our family room (now called "the reading room") walls. The first coat went up about 6 days ago. I would love to see one of those rooms redone by the folks on Trading Spaces and see just how bad the paint job is. The camera may add ten pounds to anyone on it, but it also hides a lot of paint on the ceiling, bubbles, drips and bumps.

I also installed three new kitchen cabinets and sealed the grout on the bathroom tile last night. So it was a slow evening. I keep having to remind myself that we have no hard deadline, and even though the sheer volume of items on the renovation to-do list seems to be enough to employ a team of 12 for 6 months, it can and will be done. Granted exercise, social engagements, and basic hygiene must be pushed aside for now, but it can be done.

I'd like to take a moment to submit some suggestions for those of you thinking of redesigning a bathroom. The one thing we learned through all this is that if you want your bathroom to have a specific design or look, you can't just "go with the flow" picking out the shower, faucet, etc whenever the builder calls for it. It is in your best interest to select everything at the same time, buy it, store it in the garage, and stop shopping. Like most products these days bath fixtures have begun following the same scheme of planned obsolescence that iPods do. A decade ago, brass was in. Last year, brushed nickel was all the rage. Now, it's oil rubbed bronze. But don't blink, because bronze is about to succomb to the power of copper. Now isn't that ironic. Copper. The same stuff that runs water through your walls and gets hidden because it's so ugly, is now used to make beautiful faucets. Pricey ones too. We're talking kids-are-going-to-community-college pricey.

When the build started, Fred the plumber told us we needed to pick a shower. So we got a shower, after mulling over design and color. Then he needed a shower faucet, so we went down the brushed nickel route (cuz it was the style at the time). Later on, we decided on a floor....and cabinets....and lighting. Suddenly the brushed nickel look wasn't the look we wanted, and we decided we needed to consider bronze. So now we have a bronze faucet and a brushed nickel shower head. DEAR GOD. Ty Pennington's gonna kick my ass. But wait, that brushed nickel trim on the shower door....does it balance things out, or make the situation worse? And what about our toilet handle...can you get a bronze toilet handle????

You know, the heck with it...I'm gonna get the fish tank toilet.