House Update – March-August 2017 Edition

After a crazy warm weekend in February when I took advantage of the weather and routed 600+ board-feet of lumber (no, don’t ask me how much of it’s been primed, painted, and put on walls), I decided to take advantage of the early spring weather that started a few weeks later and get some landscaping done. Looking back on it now, I’m realizing I got a hell of a lot done.

  • Repurposed some scrap pegboard in the garage for use in the basement workroom, freeing up the library in the process
  • Painted the full bathroom, after removing towel bars and the green trim tile around the shower
  • Landscaped the east lawn near the house, partly to fix some erosion issues, and partly to use up the remaining blocks from the central ring/firepit work last year
  • Ripped out both the bubble tree and the umbrella tree from the front yard
  • Divided the massive hosta in the front bed into five smaller hostas (hostae?) and sprinkled them along the side yard
  • Unified the two flower beds in the front of the house
  • Trimmed back both the wygelia in the front and back yards
  • Cut back and later ripped out the yew bushes in front of the house
  • Replaced the mailbox with a new mailbox and post to better support the clematis that were found in the back yard and transplanted
  • Powerwashed and painted the front of the house
  • Put a new ring in around the magnolia tree for a future hosta garden (and to make mowing around the thing easier)

Here’s a picture of the front of the house from when I moved in:

And here’s how it looks as of June:

At this point, the only real tasks remaining in the front yard are to replace the edging, take down the basketball hoop, and have the pine tree on the corner of the lot dropped and the stump ground up, which means that finally, after two years of saying it, I can focus my efforts on the back yard.

New Recipe(s): Marinades for Kebabs, Two Ways

One of the nicer aspects of my job also happens to be one of my unofficial job duties: cooking for our bi-weekly team lunch meeting. It’s no secret that I love to cook, and since our office has a full kitchen and a decent-sized gas grill, I’ve got some room to play. It’s consistently one of the few meals I prep for more than just myself, and work picks up the tab (it’s often cheaper than ordering pizza) so I see it as a pretty awesome win-win.

Most weeks, I keep things relatively simple; in the summer I’ll grill up brats or burgers, and in the colder months I might throw together a pan of lasagna the night before. These last few weeks have been busy for us, though, and my boss told me to swing for the fences this week and take things up a notch. With that in mind, I settled on kebabs, which isn’t something I tend to do myself very often, but seemed like a decent departure from the usual fare.

I wound up doing two different marinades for the kebabs, with one marinade covering chicken, green peppers, onions, and pineapple; and the other marinade covering beef, steak-cut mushrooms, and zucchini. I had given some thought to doing fingerling potatoes as well, but frankly I ran out of space on the grill, and in the marinade pan. While they would have been tasty, they also would have taken a little while to cook on the grill, and between the pasta salad and the brownies, people seemed pleasantly full by the end of the meeting.

One thing I should note about the spice blends mentioned here: there’s an awesome store in downtown Holland called The Seasoned Home, which sells, as you might guess, seasoning blends (they also have a great collection of dry soup mixes and some interesting novelty kitchenware and decor). While the spice blends are more expensive than your usual McCormick-variety blends at the grocery store, I like them because 1) they’re not THAT expensive, 2) buying local is a good thing, and 3) they have literally dozens of different spice blends for everything from steak and chicken to rice and vegetables. It’s proven to be a great go-to for gifts, and if you want to find a dozen new ways to season a chicken breast, this place is great.

That said – feel free to try these with the spice blend of your choosing, be it your own local shop or your favorite supermarket.

Red Wine Beef Kebab Marinade
1 cup red wine (I used Apothic Red for mine, because it’s an inexpensive blend)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Seasoned Home Backyard Chophouse Butcher Rub (if you’re going the generic route, Montreal steak seasoning would be a close substitute)

Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups marinade, which I used with 2lb of chuckeye steak, 3 small zucchini, and 8oz steak-cut mushrooms.

Mix thoroughly and pour over cubed steak and/or veggies. Marinate for 3-6 hours and grill over direct, high heat.

One observation on the beef marinade – the spice blend I used includes coarse garlic salt, and a fair amount of it at that. The salt didn’t seem too eager to dissolve in the marinade (admittedly I was prepping this at 8:30 in the morning and wasn’t in a mood to let it sit) and what I marinated definitely picked up some of the saltiness. If that’s something you’d rather avoid, I’d recommend a separate blend, or perhaps a combination of coarsely ground black pepper, coriander, and (some) crushed red pepper.

Citrus Chicken Kebab Marinade
1 cup orange juice (pineapple juice would also work well, but I was playing clean out the fridge)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons Seasoned Home Sweet Orange Habanero spice blend

Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups marinade, which I used with 2lb of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 1 large yellow onion, 1 green bell pepper, and approximately 2 cups chunk pineapple.

Mix thoroughly and pour over cut chicken and/or veggies. Marinate for 3/6 hours and grill over direct, high heat.

And finally, a few thoughts on grilling kebabs
My boss had originally suggested spare ribs as the “kick it up a notch” suggestion. While I’ve made ribs on a gas grill before, I can’t say I recommend it; flare-ups are a real issue, and if you’re trying to slow-cook something, you should probably switch to charcoal. Ditto for skin-on chicken thighs or legs – low and slow is the way to go. I’m sure it can be done on a gas grill, but I only use gas at work and lack the requisite experience.

That being said, gas grills are fantastic for kebabs. You’ve got a ton of workspace, and you can apply consistent, high heat, which is what I recommend for kebabs. Couple of other pointers:

  • Don’t cut your protein so small; the goal here should be cubes 1-2″ in size. Anything smaller than that and you risk turning your steak or chicken into tough dice-sized pieces of meat.
    The couple of extra minutes it takes won’t hurt anything, and the payoff is totally worth it.
  • Don’t bother getting really nice beef. I went with chuckeye steak, which I considered a reasonably lean, cheap cut of meat. You can afford to cook that a little longer on the grill without worrying that you’ve ruined it, and the marinade should compensate for the tougher texture.
  • Assemble skewers of meat, and skewers of veggies, separately. I recommend this for two reasons: one, it mollifies the picker eaters who don’t want a kebab with green peppers or onions (like me); and second, it gives you the ability to pull items off the grill as they’re done, so that faster items like the peppers or the zucchini aren’t cooked to mush while you wait for the chicken to cook through all the way.

Summer’s almost here. Get grilling!

Eighteen Months (and more) Later: Life with Nest

Due to what’s probably the collision of boundary-pushing architecture and city fire codes, I had some less than great experiences with smoke detectors in the condo I lived in before I got the house. The smoke detectors in the bedroom and hallway (which was right off a bathroom) went off whenever I so much as thought about cooking bacon or taking a shower, so when I heard about Nest and their Nest Protect smoke detectors, I was intrigued.

I moved in right as Nest released its second-generation Protect smoke/CO detector, and set up three of them: one in my bedroom, one in the hallway outside the bedroom, and one in the basement; just enough to pass muster for fire code (sidenote: this was three more smoke detectors than my house came with. Don’t ask how this house passed inspection with no smoke detectors, I have no idea.)

I was drawn to Nest for a few reasons: first, the design and usability were simple, clean, and intuitive. Second, I liked the idea of being able to control my HVAC system from afar; and third (and most important), my Nest Protects would link together wirelessly and warn me before they start shrieking. The wireless part is a big thing; in older construction, you might be able to get away with installing independent smoke detectors, but code issues aside, you’re still willing to bet that a fire/CO event on a different floor won’t overtake you before you can respond.

Now, 18+ months later, I can say I am on the whole pretty satisfied with the whole Nest situation. A few thoughts:

1. My Nest Protects have yet to so much as utter (did I mention they speak?) a Heads-Up, which may be due to better sensors and algorithms, but might also be due to the fact that my stove and hallway smoke/CO detector are about as far apart as they can be.

2. The daily/monthly metrics provide interesting information, if only informative in nature. Case in point: I can not only see how long, but roughly when (and how often) my HVAC system ran the day(s) prior to today, and on a monthly basis as an aggregate. I swapped my furnace and AC out this last summer for something much more efficient, and while I’ve found that my furnace is running, on average, twice as long as it did before, my gas bill hasn’t really budged.

3. The addition of Home/Away Assist has proven to be an incredibly helpful tool. The first summer I was in the house, I would (naturally) obsess over the web interface for the thermostat, and note that if I lingered in the east half of the house, out of range of the thermostat’s motion sensors, the thermostat would kick into Auto-Away mode. Enabling Auto-Away Assist on the Protects meant my cat could kick the system out of Auto-Away, so that wasn’t an option, but using my iPhone to approximate my location and determine if I was home has proven invaluable; Nest has yet to assume I’m not home since I turned on this feature, no matter where I hide.

4. This may or (probably) may not apply to you, but within 4 days of replacing my furnace and air conditioning, my Nest thermostat’s backplate shorted, disabling my AC. I mention this largely as a word of caution about providing your own Nest thermostat: because I provided my own, the burden on getting a replacement was left to me as well. This meant calling Nest and getting a replacement (which was, truly, a painless process) and then getting my HVAC guys back out to reinstall my Nest thermostat (a less than painless process, plus two trips onsite in total). Evidently this is something that happens with a certain degree of regularity, so if you’re thinking about getting a Nest thermostat, do yourself a favor and see if there’s an HVAC contractor in the area who will sell you one, since they might then be on the hook to help out if you have problems.

5. Aside from the problems I’ve had with the backplate on the thermostat, I love the ease in programming it and controlling it; I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually adjusted the thing standing in front of it. That said, if you have a house with multiple Nest thermostats, the math might stop adding up pretty quickly. At $250 each, they’re not exactly cheap. That said, they are still functionally similar to your run of the mill bimetallic/digital thermostats, and can work with pretty much* any HVAC system short of a variable-speed or climate-controlled system.

*One thing I noted after having my furnace replaced with a high-efficiency system is that unless the thermostat wiring is replaced, you won’t necessarily get two-stage heating and cooling even if you system is capable of it. I can’t speak to this with any certainty, as I deal with computers, not HVAC, but I have found that my furnace will run at low speed for 5-10 minutes before ramping up to full speed. This may or may not have to do with the doubling on my furnace runtime without any discernable increase in my gas bill.

Bottom line: if you’re not totally thrown by the sticker shock, and you’re willing to accept that your Nest products will probably never integrate with HomeKit at this rate, it’s worth the investment. At the very least, give some solid consideration to the Nest Protects. As John Oliver would put it, I’m not paid to say this, I’m just a fan.

A long-overdue update – it’s been a beautiful weekend

It’s not that I’ve forgotten that I have a blog with a readership of…maybe, in a good week, 1 (plus about a thousand bots)…but I may have realized that my last post to this thing is almost 18 months old.

A lot has changed since then.

This post isn’t meant to cover the contents of the last 15-18 months, it’s just a reminder to myself to post a few things a little more often.

Anyways.

Thanks to Facebook Memories, I was reminded that it was about 5 years ago this weekend that I was in Berkeley visiting a friend. It was an awesome trip, a perfect chance to unplug and get away from life for a week or so and recharge, but looking back on it I’m struck by how much things have changed in that time. In that time, I moved (twice), bought a house, moved over to a new position at work, lost Jetta (and gained Cortana), retired (for now) from soccer, lost a few friends, and picked up a few new ones. Oh, and Game of Thrones finally figured out how to let good things happen to good people.

Despite the fact that it’s the weekend after Valentines’ Day, the weather this weekend was positively spring-like. Mid-April, spring-like. Sunny enough that my furnace hasn’t run since this morning, and I actually turned off the heat (again!) today and opened a few windows to air the place out.

It was also sunny enough that I opted to rout 660 board-feet of lumber in my garage, rather than in the basement as I had originally planned.

First: some background.

One of the things I’ve done since I painted a room and hung up new curtains is redo the bedroom that I turned into an office. It was very much a test case for both a design style and our methods for finishing things. I’ll cover the methods and process in a separate post, but the short version is we stripped the wallpaper (and about ten gallons of wallpaper paste), ripped down the trim, and then replaced the trim and painted the ceiling and walls. We had borrowed tools in the process of routing and cutting trim, but realized that if I’m going to re-trim an entire house, we should probably in-source that stuff.

So, recently, I got my hands on a few new toys.

In addition to the kick-ass miter saw and stand, I got a Porter Cable 690 router (fixed-base) for Christmas. I ran some rough numbers for trimming out the rest of the main floor, and got a couple of quotes for lumber from a few local lumber yards, which brings me to this:

A NOTE ABOUT YOUR LOCAL LUMBER YARD: if you have a local lumber yard, please go visit it. Odds are they’re cheaper than Lowe’s/Home Depot/Menards (hey, Midwest readers!), and not only will they not store lumber vertically so it can warp into all kinds of fun shapes, it’ll probably be a better grade than what your big box has. I got my lumber for this project from DeLeeuw in Holland, and they came in about $250 cheaper than what it would have cost to source from Lowe’s. Yes, some pieces were still a little funky, and quite curiously, several boards seemed several inches short of their alleged length, but on the whole it’s a huge step up from my original experience going to Lowe’s for the lumber I used to do the office.

Behold: this is what 52 pieces of 1×4-inch Poplar looks like:

I’m still probably a few boards short, but that’s 45x8ft lengths, 5x10ft lengths, and 2x12ft lengths. Not everything needed to be routed on both sides, but in total, we were looking at 660 board-feet of lumber to rout.

Since it was a sunny weekend, we set ourselves up in the garage. The original plan had been to close off a section of the basement with plastic dropcloths and hope that would contain the sawdust, but I cannot emphasize this enough: do. not. ever. rout. boards. in. your. basement. The sheer amount of sawdust generated by this was mind-boggling, and it got everywhere. My garage looks like a fine layer of dust was sprinkled everywhere, and that’s AFTER we swept everything three times. There’s a couple of cubic feet of sawdust in the flower bed in front of the house, which under different circumstances might look like snow. Plastic dropcloths might have stopped the dust from leaving the area, but a week of vacuuming wouldn’t have caught it all.

The MDF I had on hand as a surface wasn’t as long as I wanted, but there we are:

Another nugget of unsolicited advice: when shopping for saw horses, get the kind that have extendable legs. I got mine from Lowe’s, and the fact that I was able to raise the work surface up to a level approximating “standing desk” is about the only reason my back hasn’t completely betrayed me at this point.

After playing a bit with the router base depth adjustment, and running out to a local hardware store for a different type of clamp that was far faster to clamp/remove, we were able to get the process down to a well-choreographed routine. On Saturday afternoon, we were able to get about 15 boards routed, including the two 12ft pieces, which were probably the hardest ones to manage. Today, though, we ripped through the rest, and now I have 52 pieces of poplar sitting on my old desk in the basement waiting to be sanded, primed, and painted.

The other major accomplishment for the weekend was getting my new desk set up in my office. For a while now, I’ve been wishing for more storage, and my old desk was okay, but it wasn’t really cutting it:

As a work surface, it was perfectly adequate and sufficiently large, but I have found myself wishing for more storage pretty much, well, everywhere. Over the course of a few weeks (okay, months), I had been building a new desk top to put on some table legs I had gotten at IKEA (Mother’s Day 2016), and everything was finally good to go. We assembled the table legs this morning, and once those were done, set the desk top over the legs:

After dinner and once my parents had left, I collected all of the gear I had dumped on my bed and put my desk back together.

I am beyond happy with the result. It was exactly what I had pictured in my head a year or so ago when I decided I should build a desk and a standing desk in the office. The standing desk is another project for another day (although looking at the space left in the room, I’m not sure I’ll be doing that here), but at this point I’m just a desk lamp, some new displays, and a couple of new display arms away from having the desk setup I’ve been dreaming of.

Oh, and since it was almost 60 outside today, I brought out the grill.

It was beyond delicious.

Next weekend’s forecast: 34 and cloudy.

It is still February, after all.

Room Complete*: Living Room

Two months after closing on the house, I am ready to declare the living room update complete.

Here’s a couple of before shots:

IMG_0361

IMG_0360

IMG_0359

IMG_0363

IMG_0362

This room was one of the first rooms I took a paintbrush to, largely because there was no wallpaper to deal with and we could move things around with relative ease. Two coats of paint and a new set of curtains later, and things are starting to look a lot better:

IMG_0116

The room looks completely different with the new paint job and curtains. The existing paint job wasn’t a bad color, but it was a really rough looking paint job, and may or may not have been the original paint from the mid 1970s. All of the electrical fixtures were updated with new, white receptacles, switches, and plates, although I still need to swap the fixture in the entryway out for another one of the circular lights like I have in the kitchen. The wall with the cold air return got a lighter blue, and the grate was cleaned and painted. Overall, things look much better, just in time for the housewarming this coming Saturday.

* I still have plans to update trim and heat registers, but I’m not moving on to those tasks until the winter or spring of next year. For the most part, the trim isn’t all that noticeable anyways.

Kitchen Remodel, Phase 1: Complete

Gather round, my children, and let me tell you the tale of a month-long saga to purchase and install a range, a microwave, and a dishwasher.

First, some background.

When I bought the house, I knew I wasn’t buying it for the kitchen it had, but rather the kitchen it could have, after I had a chance to play around with it a bit:

kitchen-old

2015-06-10 10.22.08

2015-07-14 16.43.37

I’m fairly certain the appliances in that kitchen were around to see Return of the Jedi when it came out in theaters, if not Empire Strikes Back.

Keeping that in mind, I set aside some cash and went over to Lowe’s, which seemed to have the best prices in town, beating out Menard’s, Best Buy, the (Grand Haven) Home Depot, and the local appliance retailer. Nothing I bought was Lowe’s exclusive, and I wasn’t too irritated when I was told that the appliance(s) they had in stock actually had to be ordered from the manufacturer and would take a couple of weeks. I hadn’t moved in yet, and besides, I could survive for a while on salad/fast food/delivery. I normally don’t eat that way, so it’d be sort of novel, right?

Move-in day came about a week after I ordered the appliances.

Move week came and went, with news that my dishwasher and over-the-range microwave had arrived, and would be installed the following Friday (almost 3 weeks after I ordered the appliances). I wasn’t too happy with this delay, but chalked it up to busy subcontractors (I deal with this all the time in my job).

I spent the final day of move week waiting all afternoon for a Lowe’s delivery truck that was supposed to be bringing me my new range, but when the store closed at 8pm, all I had was an apology from the appliance manager explaining that my range was delayed by over a week because Whirlpool hadn’t processed the order properly and the range had to be re-ordered. I was not happy.

On the day of the dishwasher and microwave installation, I learned a couple of important things:

– My dishwasher is apparently on the same circuit as at least half the basement (most new construction would isolate the dishwasher on its own circuit)
– Plumbers, who are not electricians in most cases, can still somehow be assigned jobs requiring electrical work
– The height between the top of the range and the bottom of the OTR microwave was too short by about 4 inches

The last part I knew, but had been assured that it wouldn’t be a problem, and that the contractor can cut the cabinet down to the right size. Except that the guys who arrived told me that, first of all, they were not electricians and could not install an outlet for the microwave, and second, I would need to cut down the cabinet myself. They removed the range hood and left the microwave in the packaging on the floor of my garage with a promise to return at some point.

At least the dishwasher was nice and shiny, and most of all, QUIET:

dishwasher-new

At 44dB, it was so quiet that Bosch felt the need to put a little red light at the bottom of it so that I had an indication of some sort that it was on. My parent’s Bosch, which is about 15 years old at this point and on it’s second motor after 13 years, is pretty quiet, but not like this. It’s amazing.

The following Monday, Lowe’s finally delivered my new range:

range-new

Two down, three to go, but by this point the countertop microwave that had been left behind by the previous owner had arced on me and was sitting in the garage, reeking of ozone and unusable. Lacking the ability to reheat leftovers, which is what I depend on 90% of the time, the need to get my microwave installed had become acute.

I arranged to have a carpenter cut down the cabinet. We took some measurements, and because I didn’t want to try to position the back of the microwave against the partial backsplash, and didn’t want to start tearing out tiles, we essentially cut the cabinet in half:

At this point I would like to point out the most frustrating part of this entire process. A couple of days before the carpenter was supposed to come out and perform the cut down (we had already taken measurements by now), Lowe’s called to say that for an additional (substantial) fee, the contractor would perform the cabinet cutdown. I wasn’t interested in having them do that, but wanted to make sure that if I handled the cutdown on my own or through someone else, that they would still install the outlet and finish the job. The appliance manager didn’t know, so he bounced me to the installation scheduler, who sent me to the contractor, who sent me to the electrician they use. After half an hour of calling people and rescheduling the installation for today, I had my answers and was hopefully all set.

Our tale, fortunately, does have a happy ending: the installers (curiously, the same two guys who said they didn’t do electrical work a week and a half ago) came out, made the cuts for the outlet and installed the outlet (at which point I learned that my microwave, refrigerator, office, and family room all share a circuit), and then installed the microwave.

With that, I had finally completed Phase I of the kitchen renovation project. What I had figured would take a week or two at most took 29 days.

The end result is a kitchen in transition. I have much more extensive plans to redo the kitchen (Phase II) in a year or two, but at least I have appliances I can count on, and that will make the time between then and now worth it.

The biggest lesson I learned from this process, however, is that the installation services at Lowe’s deserve a bit of an asterisk. This is only one story against who knows how many people who buy appliances and installation services from my particular Lowe’s, but I found it incredibly frustrating that after paying installation fees for a dishwasher and microwave (the hookups and conversions meant no free installation by the delivery guys) I was the one left to coordinate, ask questions, and schedule things. A few weeks before I bought the appliances I was looking at cabinets for Phase II and the Lowe’s associate told me, much to my delight, that they had contractors for everything from drywall to rough construction to plumbing and electrical, and they could manage the whole thing for me. At this point, I don’t believe that. The installation coordinator/scheduler/whatever you want to call him evidently doesn’t know what his contractors will and will not do, and when the time comes for Phase II, I’ll be coordinating that myself. I can’t say I’m happy about that; coordinating and managing the implementation of projects is something I spend my work day doing, and I don’t really want to have to do it for this, but I’m not about to let a four to six week kitchen renovation turn into a three month affair because the left hand isn’t talking to the right.

But, on a brighter note, for the first time in a month, I can set about the task of cooking in a kitchen with a well-lit, ventilated range that doesn’t use those awful coil burners, and then wash my dirty dishes in a dishwasher so quiet and so incredibly good at washing dishes that I’m still irrationally excited. It may not be big enough for a kitchen island, but I’m a huge step closer to the kitchen I’ve wanted for almost the last 10 years now.

Coming soon: the paint project!

And, And, And.

This afternoon, after much procrastination, I finally finished moving myself out of the condo. My keyring is a couple of keys lighter, and I only have one garage door remote in my car now.

Now that I’m down to one place to deal with, I need to sit down and map out what I want to do and in what order. To quote a perpetually optimistic character from Parks and Rec, there are LITERALLY hundreds of things I could work on. I could, for instance:

  • Start peeling wallpaper in the office, which is apparently fabric-backed and, despite being floor to ceiling, should come off with nothing more than a few kind words.
  • Start peeling wallpaper in the dining area, which is apparently paper-backed and much more difficult to remove, but is holding me up from hanging the shelves I want to use for my stemware, wine, and cook books, among other storage needs.
  • Swap electrical fixtures so that my shiny new white faceplates have shiny new switches and receptacles to match.
  • Finish unboxing everything that is still scattered about the house, and hopefully track down the box that must contain my pasta bowls and salad plates, as I seem to recall packing them together and am currently missing them.
  • Finish the backyard ant suppression project, and count and stack the pavers on the patio.
  • Etc., etc., etc.

It’s a long list.

And it’s hot outside. Hot enough that I broke down and turned on the air conditioning, which I really didn’t want to do, but when it was hitting 90 degrees outside…you turn on the AC. On the bright side, my lovely little Nest tells me things like how long the AC ran that day. I could (and will) devote a whole, separate post to Nest, both the thermostat and the Protect smoke/CO alarms, but for the moment I’m impressed. But the weather does not leave me motivated to do much in the way of work, outdoors or indoors. Fortunately it’s supposed to cool down soon, and then I can get back out there and resume the task of taming the back yard.

For tonight, I contented myself to get my indoor broom into the house so that I could sweep the half-cup of cat litter Sam has broadcast throughout the office in the course of entering and exiting the litterbox, and now I can walk near the box to scoop it or grab some food without cat litter crunching under my feet.

Progress.

I bought a house.

Holy hell.

The process started back in April. I met with a realtor, built my search parameters (north side of Holland, 2 or 3 bedrooms, attached garage, and full basement) and then promptly sat on my hands for a few months while I piled some more cash away and got ready to pounce.

By late May, I had a shortlist of four houses I wanted to check out. Most of them were somewhat unremarkable. One was a deceptively small house with high ceilings on a tiny lot (strike one) with no place for my grill (strike two), in the middle of nowhere, and was part of a homeowner’s association (strike three). Another place was on the north side of town, for a decent bargain, but beyond the slightly odd feeling that went with knowing the current owner, it would have needed a lot of work: new carpet, bathroom redo, tree removal and trimming, etc.

About a week later, while I was still trying to decide if this place on the north side was an opportunity or a money pit, I decided to look at another round of houses to see if something else jumped out at me. I was pleasantly surprised.

I found a house listed at the upper end of my price range, far closer to the lake than I had figured was possible, and although it was a ranch house (not my favorite floor plan) it was sitting on almost a half acre of land and it was a 15 minute walk from State Park (we’ll set aside for the moment the part where it’s been more than 10 years since I’ve seen the beach at State Park). I was told my by agent that there were 9 other viewings on this house (which was on the market for all of a day at that point) between when it went on the market and the end of the day on Friday, which left me with about 45 minutes to look at a house and decide whether I wanted to put an offer in on it.

From this point forward, I was thinking quite a bit about this particular strip from XKCD:

That was basically the theme for the next six weeks. There was paperwork. There was more paperwork. There was more than a moderate amount of tension and anxiety as I approached my expected closing date with neither an approved mortgage application nor the attendant paperwork.

But now she’s mine.
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There are a few things about the place I’m changing pretty quickly:
2015-06-10 10.22.08.

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And the back yard needs a lot of work:
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But now I’m surrounded by boxes and half-placed furniture, and it’s time to rock and roll.

Tulip Time is Here

Tulip Time, our most favorite time of the year, has arrived. I’d say I’m surprised by that, mostly because Easter was a scant two weeks ago, we’ve seen one 70 degree day since last October, and the tulips look a little stunted in the darker parts of downtown.

However, regardless of what it feels like, the truth is that Tulip Time has arrived. Work is moving at the end of July to a larger space farther from downtown, which is a bummer, but it’s a little closer to where I live, and we won’t have to deal with the kind of parking madness that the festival introduces. Also, not being across the street from two different bars will probably be a good thing for me as I continue my efforts to get back in shape.

The upside to Tulip Time, for me at least, is that it’s a nice, relatively quiet week, if only in the sense that the work quiets down a bit. Outside our office in the street below, they’re running wooden shoe dancing twice a day, and Wednesday and Thursday are parade days, which means I might as well just take the afternoon off. As long as I show up early, and don’t leave downtown for any reason whatsoever until I’m done for the day, it’s not all that bad. We’re equidistant from two different concentrations of food cart vendors, and I’ll have a nice, crowd-free vantage point on the roof to watch the Saturday parade from.

I spent the weekend simultaneously resting, working, and cleaning (I like to multitask sometimes). I’ve got some friends coming in for food/drinks next weekend, which has inspired the kind of frantic cleaning that the condo has not seen since it was put on the market back in October. I finally got the giant cardboard box my Weber Performer shipped in broken down and recycled. I put together the set of shelves I got a week and a half ago and had to haul out of a broken up Jetta, and with the added storage space I was able to move my collection of beer bottles (for homebrew), which have sat in the downstairs office, and my fake Christmas tree and garland, which have sat upstairs next to the kitchen table, back to the garage. Finally putting away one of the blankets I kept around when it was uncommonly cold upstairs also helped make things look somewhat uncluttered. I’ve prepped some lunches and breakfast for the week, and even made some chili with the express intent of storing it and freezing it for weeks when I’m a little off-balance or am tired of the current selection of leftovers. As a result of all this work, I feel for the first time in a couple weeks like my game is back on point, and for that, I’m pretty happy. My only real regret stemming from the weekend had to do with welching out on two different friend’s birthday parties; I feel bad for flaking out, but I was not in a mood to be around people this weekend. While I’ll admit that I’m kinda lonely right now, I’d still argue it was the better choice.

There’s a week left to Tulip Time, and I’ve got 9 working days between me and the longest stretch of time off I’ve had in over 10 years, the tail end of which marks my 27th birthday. I have a feeling this month is going to move by quickly, but when it’s finally over, I’ll be standing at summer’s doorstep, and hopefully be a little closer to having a tan. Or I’ll be recovering from a wretched sunburn. It’s 50/50 with me.