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A couple of small refresh projects…

July 29, 2019, 10:00 AM

In the past month, Elyse and I completed two small “refresh” projects in the house.  These projects were nothing too major, but still make a big difference in the quality of life in the place.  We repainted the half bath and also replaced the toilet, and then I also repainted the coat closet.

The bathroom project was the more involved of the two, since the toilet was getting replaced.  That one was something that I’d wanted to do for a while.  The idea was that the old toilet was so cheap that it wasn’t worth rebuilding, and then since I had to patch a few holes in the walls and the door (from the previous owner’s decor) anyway, might as well do a full paint rather than trying to match the old color.  The new toilet came from a thrift store, believe it or not.  We bought a brand new American Standard Cadet 3 at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Herndon back in May:

The new toilet at the Habitat store

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Categories: House

Home organization…

February 28, 2019, 8:33 AM

I suppose that home design is a continuing evolution.  There’s the first wave of home organization, which is mainly about making moving boxes disappear, and then there’s that second wave later on where you come up with a more sustainable solution, after you’ve had time to think about how things should go.  I recently did this with the back bedroom, where I put it through a second wave of organization.  The back bedroom has always been a bit of a multipurpose room.  I can inflate my air mattress in there, and it becomes the guest bedroom.  It’s something of a playroom as well, as Elyse has used it to build Lego sets.  It’s also the home library, as that’s where I keep my books and videos and such.  The closet is a “miscellaneous storage” area, and is an open design.  It had an Elfa shelving system in it when I moved in, and it was laid out for hanging clothes at that time.  I organized the linen closet in the hallway at the same time that I did this project, since I was moving things between both spaces.  I had previously reorganized the linen closet in order to make the shelving arrangement more compact, and discovered how inefficient that space was.

Here’s what both spaces looked like before I started working on them:

Back bedroom closet.  Note that everything is just kind of thrown in there.
Back bedroom closet.  Note that everything is just kind of thrown in there.  We did this in order to quickly get the room operational ahead of a guest’s coming to visit, so that we could put them in here rather than in the living room.

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Categories: House

I don’t want to undertake another unfinished furniture project for a long time…

December 1, 2018, 8:00 AM

At last, my journey into the land of unfinished furniture is over.  Four dining chairs and an end table are now complete and in service.  My house looks way better for it, but I am so glad that it’s done and over with.

For this project, I was staining to match existing furniture.  I tested a few colors, and ultimately settled on Varathane “Early American” for the stain.  Unlike the kitchen chairs, stain and polyurethane were separate efforts for these pieces, since the right color was not a combo item like it was for the kitchen chairs.

I’ve already shown the unfinished chairs in the Journal entry about the rugs.  Recall:

The unfinished chairs, in place in the living room

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Categories: Furniture

And now, new toilets…

November 23, 2018, 2:16 PM

A year after buying the place, I’m still working hard to make it my own.  First it was the new furniture from IKEA.  Then I painted Elyse’s bathroom.  Then I finished the chairs in the kitchen.  Then I painted Elyse’s bedroom.  Then it was the area rugs.  And now, it’s new toilets.  I suppose that this is what happens when you become mature, that buying and installing new toilets becomes exciting.

In any case, Elyse and I had both been less than enthused about our respective toilets from the moment that we moved in.  The ones in Elyse’s bathroom and mine were both fairly old, and both had problems.  Mine leaked water from the tank into the bowl, which was a waste of water, and it also splashed me in certain places, which was quite annoying.  Then parts of Elyse’s didn’t work, which reduced its effectiveness, which also ultimately wasted water.  So they were both quickly marked for replacement.  The toilet in the half bath is in good shape, and is not slated to be replaced, though we are planning to do a small refurbushment project on it, likely coupled with a repainting project in that room.

On September 29, Elyse and I finally took the plunge.  While we were out in Hagerstown, after looking at a store called CoinOpWarehouse, we went over to Lowe’s and looked at the different toilets that they had.  She got the Ove Beverly, which had a very modern design. I got the American Standard Champion 4, which is an ADA height toilet of more traditional design.  This is what the Champion 4 looked like in the store:

The American Standard Champion 4

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Categories: House

New rugs!

August 2, 2018, 10:28 AM

So I have a little house update for you: carpet!  In the last month or so, I finally got the area rug question figured out, and procured and placed three area rugs in the house.  It makes for a much richer setting with some area rugs on the hardwood floors.  I put area rugs in my bedroom, the back bedroom, and the dining area part of the the living room.  So now, all three bedrooms and the living room have rugs in them.

For some reason, choosing home decor tends to stress me out.  I popped so many Advils in the process of picking these carpets.  I think it’s because it’s a significant cash outlay, because (A) furniture and carpet aren’t cheap, and (B) it’s something that you really don’t want to return, especially if if required special arrangements to get it home in the first place.  Choosing what loveseat to buy for the mezzanine was difficult, as I visited so many stores in search of the perfect loveseat.  I eventually settled on an Ektorp loveseat from IKEA, which turned out to be the perfect thing to put up in the mezzanine.

Deciding on the area rugs took the stress from the loveseat search and multiplied it by twelve.  I had three rooms to outfit, and each had to be perfect, but I didn’t know what “perfect” was.  I knew what my dimensions needed to be, and then worked from there.  I spent many nights on Amazon looking at area rugs.  More headaches.  I went to Walmart and Target’s websites.  Nothing good – need more Advil.  I went down to Big Lots and came out empty, save for a brand new headache.  I also went to Ollie’s up in Jessup, and came out with something for Elyse, but no rugs.  And rugs were my responsibility, since Elyse didn’t quite understand why I was so wound up about rugs, and often suggested that I “just pick something”.

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Categories: House

I’m pretty sure that I now have the modern equivalent of TXL…

June 1, 2018, 3:50 PM

Over the last month or so, Elyse and I created a network of smart speakers in the house. Elyse has had a Google Home Mini since early January, and I expanded it, first to three, and then to seven speakers when I realized the capabilities of the devices. With speakers throughout the house, we can use the “broadcast” feature as something of a home intercom system, and we’ve also created speaker groups in order to play music on multiple speakers in various sections of the house, or throughout the entire house. I love these things, because I can, for instance, just ask the system what the weather is, or what time it is, and it will tell me. I can even make phone calls on them and control the lights, though I don’t typically use the phone feature because of audio quality issues, and I’m not willing to spend money on the lights at this point in time (but maybe in the future). Right now, I use them most often for music, and for the home intercom function. And then if I ever get various Nest products, I will be able to connect them to the system as well. Pretty neat.

All in all, I can do a lot of things that TXL could do on Today’s Special. I can talk to it and it gives me information back, I can place phone calls through it, and I can make it control various building systems. I still don’t know how to get it to play “Yo He Ho” at the most inopportune times, though one day I might figure out a way to make it do that. Only thing about this system that I’m not a fan of is that you have to activate it by saying, “Okay, Google,” or “Hey, Google.” If I could customize the phrases that it responds to, I would make it respond to “TXL”, to make it complete. Considering that it does a lot of things that TXL could do on Today’s Special, it seems rather fitting.

Those of you who have used the various smart speakers also know that Google has built some Easter eggs in them, like if you ask what the answer is to life, the universe, and everything, it will tell you that the answer is 42. Using custom routines, I built in a couple of Easter eggs of my own, related to Today’s Special. I wanted it to respond to “How many size 9 shoes are for sale in the store?” with “There are ten pairs of size 9 shoes for sale,” (from “Boxes and Boxes“) but for some reason, it couldn’t comprehend that one, try as I might.

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Another room transformed…

May 19, 2018, 10:40 PM

A second room in my house meets the paintbrush.  As you may recall, I painted Elyse’s bathroom a few weeks ago, and now, while Elyse was out on a trip to Japan, I painted her bedroom.  This was a much-anticipated paint job, because the basement bedroom was, to put it nicely, the only weird room in the house.  While the rest of the house had white trim, the trim in the basement bedroom was a blue color.  That color, along with the wall color and the ugly chandelier, worked with the previous owner’s furniture, which involved muted colors.  With my furniture in it the color scheme doesn’t work.  So I fixed it.

The color that we chose was Behr “High Speed Access”, which is a medium gray color, in satin finish.  I strongly recommended that Elyse go with a neutral color for the walls, because she intended to put lots of different things on her walls, and that would avoid having colors on the wallhangings clash with the walls themselves.  And then the trim was getting painted white.  That part was non-negotiable.  The rest of the house had white trim, and Elyse’s room was getting that, too, to achieve a consistent design language.  I have a few other “design language” issues with the house that I want to correct as well, such as doorknobs and light switches, but this was a relatively easy one that I knew how to do.

I started the morning after Elyse left, getting “before” pix:

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Categories: House

Two projects completed…

April 22, 2018, 1:44 PM

I always enjoy that feeling of accomplishment.  I recently had a vacation from work, and knocked out two home improvement projects: counter-height chairs for the kitchen, and painting Elyse’s bathroom.  Both of these were long in progress, and several days off of work meant that I could finally complete them.

The kitchen project probably had the most impact on me.  Since moving in, Elyse and I had been using chairs that were the wrong height:

Chairs of the wrong height in the kitchen

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Categories: Furniture, House

Looking back on ten years at Hewitt Gardens…

March 3, 2018, 4:54 PM

When I moved to Montgomery County in 2007, I never imagined that I’d stay in the same apartment for a decade.  But I did.  Hewitt Gardens Apartments, on Hewitt Avenue in Aspen Hill, was my home from May 10, 2007 to November 16, 2017, i.e. ten years and six months.  In the intervening decade, the apartment served its purpose, but I eventually outgrew it, and it eventually became very clear that it was time to move on.

I found Hewitt Gardens in a second round of apartment hunting, in May 2007.  I originally wasn’t supposed to live at Hewitt Gardens at all.  If things had gone as originally planned, I would have lived in Oakfield (now split into two properties, with the other called Glenmont Crossing), i.e. closer to Wheaton, across Shorefield Road from H-Mart.  But what happened is that after I filled out their pages-long application and sent in a deposit, I was informed that there were no one-bedroom apartments available, and that they could “upgrade” me to a more expensive unit with a den, and give me two months’ free rent, allegedly to compensate for the change.  However, even that would not be deliverable in the timeframe that I needed, plus what they tried to pull with me was a bait-and-switch, which is a really dishonest thing to do.  Nothing like starting a relationship with mistrust of the management’s business practices, right?  So Oakfield was out, I got my deposit back, and I conducted a new search.  In the new search, I had Hewitt Gardens, Peppertree Farm (off of Bel Pre Road), and Montgomery White Oak (off of Lockwood Drive) on my shortlist.  Hewitt Gardens was first, and it was perfect.  It had a lot of space, it was close to the Metro, it didn’t have a lot of unnecessary amenities, and at $920/month, the price was right.  Plus, unlike Oakfield, they showed me my actual apartment, and not a model.  We ended up putting a deposit in with Hewitt Gardens on the spot, with the idea that no matter what else happened, I would have a place to live when my new job started in a couple of weeks.  Peppertree Farm was more money and had a bunch of amenities that I didn’t need, and then Montgomery White Oak was a five-minute visit, since the apartment was just not very good, as well as more expensive than I would have liked.  So Hewitt Gardens it was.

It took Hewitt Gardens a few days to complete all of the processing on my application, and by Wednesday, May 9, 2007, they were ready to go.  I was up the next day to sign my lease and move in.  So far, everything was good.  I got my stuff moved in, I got the Internet turned on, I got my parking permit, etc.  Additionally, the new job, where I was an underappreciated office monkey at a nonprofit, was going well.

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That point where you’ve turned a corner on getting settled…

January 26, 2018, 2:27 PM

Slowly but surely, this house is coming together.  Old furniture is in place.  New furniture is acquired and in place.  Various other little flub-dubs have been purchased and placed.  And I have a dust mop.  You know that you’re mature when you’re excited about buying a dust mop.

But in any case, it’s starting to look like Elyse and I live there.  My bedroom, for instance, is more or less complete:

My bedroom, with bed, nightstands, lamps, and curtains.
My bedroom, with bed, nightstands, lamps, and curtains.

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Categories: Furniture

Now to build on the successes of the past year…

January 3, 2018, 9:37 PM

A new year always brings a lot of feelings.  It’s a time to reflect on the past year, and a time to look ahead to the year ahead.  Reflecting back on 2017, I’d say that I had an outstanding year, and laid the groundwork for a strong future.  After all, at the beginning of 2017, I was still relatively new at the whole train operations thing, and lived by myself in an apartment with a hostile relationship with the property management.  Now, I’m more experienced with my work and more comfortable with all of the ins and outs of my job, and I’m also a homeowner with a roommate.  I made my first mortgage payment at the end of December.  Things suddenly became very real when I wrote that check.

Now, in 2018, I want to build on my successes from the past year and reach even greater heights.  After all, in 2017, I got the house.  Now, I want to make it my home, and not someone else’s idea of a home with my furniture sitting in it.  That means getting rid of that chandelier in Elyse’s room, painting a few rooms, and getting my wallhangings up.  I’m excited to design the new decor, because I have so many blank canvases upon which to expend some pent-up creative energies.  My parents are delighted about this as well, because I’d been fantasizing out loud about redecorating their house for a few years in order to expend those creative energies that I couldn’t do with the apartment, but they were a bit cool to the idea.  Now I have my own place to paint and decorate as I wish.  The previous owner of my house decorated the place fairly minimalistically, using pale colors on walls and few wallhangings and furnishings, such as in the living room:

My living room during the showing

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I suppose that this is why you buy a Kia…

December 4, 2017, 2:59 PM

I suppose that what happened to me recently is exactly why you buy a Kia.  My car had been making some funny noises for a while, but since the check engine light had not come on yet, I figured that I had time to deal with it, and put it off until later.  This past Monday, the noises got noticeably worse, and the “check engine” light finally came on.  That’s when I scheduled a repair with a Kia dealer (since I suspected it might be covered by the warranty) and booked a rental car for the upcoming repair.  Then the car finally quit on me on the way to work, i.e. it just cut off in the middle of Georgia Avenue in Olney.  Thankfully, I was able to coast to a safe location to call for a tow truck.

The car ended up riding on the back of a tow truck from Olney directly to the dealer, and then I took the bus the rest of the way to work.  Then the next day, Elyse and I took a bus down to Rockville to pick up the rental car and talk to the people working on my real car.  I decided to kill two birds with one stone on that one, because I had planned a trip to IKEA during that time anyway, so I rented a truck.  So for a few days, I went from a Kia Soul – a compact – to a Ram 1500 pickup truck.  That thing was massive:

My rented Ram 1500 pickup truck

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Categories: Furniture, House, IKEA, Kia Soul

I suppose that I live here now…

November 26, 2017, 11:58 PM

So as of this writing, I’ve been living in Montgomery Village for about a week and a half, having moved on November 16.  The new place is starting to feel like home, even though I’m not entirely unpacked yet.  That is a process, and it will take time.  However, I think that the weirdest thing about the whole move process was watching my home of ten years get dismantled and carted out the door.  I hired movers to pack and move everything, so all that I had to do was keep Elyse occupied, make sure that the movers didn’t take the cleaning supplies (for the post-move cleaning that I am obligated to do, but have not done yet), and answer any questions that the movers might have.  Afterward, I was struck by what felt like the finality of it all:

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Categories: House, Montgomery Village

I’m a homeowner now, and so many things to think about…

November 14, 2017, 2:12 PM

Good news: I closed on the house on Thursday, and I am now a homeowner.  About a thousand signatures later, my longtime fantasy just became reality.  There are certain occasions in life where an event leaves you mentally drained at the end of it, and closing on the house was one of those things.  And now that the closing is done, there are so many more things to think about.  There is some minor electrical work that I need to have done.  The paint needs to be updated in some places.  I need to buy curtains.  I need to buy a new bedroom set for myself, since Elyse is getting my old one.  I need to get an air mattress to sleep on until I get the new bed.  The cable gets installed on the 15th.  Moving happens the following day, on the 16th.  I need to change my address in a zillion places.  And it goes on.  Such is the joy of homeownership, I suppose.

But in any case, the house is now mine.  Check it out:

Wheelock 7002T on the breakfast bar
Wheelock 7002T on the breakfast bar in the kitchen.  I used this photo for a “Welcome home” post on Instagram.

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Categories: House

So… I’m buying a house!

November 5, 2017, 2:45 PM

You may recall back in May that I sort of casually mentioned that Pixsy money was helping me get ahead financially and eventually buy a house.  “Eventually” has since morphed into “very soon”.  So I might as well make it official: I am buying a townhome in Montgomery Village, and therefore, I will be leaving my apartment of ten years in Aspen Hill fairly soon.  I am just a ball of different emotions, being both excited and terrified all at the same time.  I’m also picking up a housemate, as Elyse will be living with me.

I have wanted to own my own home for about six years.  Back then, it was an “eventually” thing, and more of a fantasy than anything else.  While some of my coworkers at Food & Water Watch owned their own homes, almost all of those people were married or otherwise in a committed relationship.  As a single person, I could not afford to buy a house on a Food & Water Watch salary.  I also owed a bunch of money on my credit card due to several large repairs that I had to make on my old Sable station wagon, which certainly didn’t help things.  Then when I lost my job at Food & Water Watch, any thoughts of being a homeowner went right out the window for a while as I went into survival mode, having to live off of what should have been retirement money for a little while.  When I started working in public transportation, one of the instructors during bus training gave us some advice: “Get yourself some bricks.”  In other words, buy a house.  My financial situation was not where I wanted it to be yet in order to do that, but I knew that our instructor was right.

In the fall of 2015, I was in the financial position to start considering becoming a homeowner, and I was starting to “hit a wall” with my apartment, as I wanted to do things that I couldn’t do while renting, like paint the walls.  I had creative energies that I wanted to get out, but couldn’t expend them in my place.  So I started fantasizing about redecorating my parents’ house, where the decor is somewhat dated (“stuck in the nineties” is the phrase I would use).  Mom wasn’t very receptive to my ideas for redecorating, unfortunately, as she didn’t see any reason to redecorate.  I also wanted more living space, as it was always hard to have guests over with no spare room and only one bathroom.  Guests sleep in the living room, and so whenever I had visitors over, no one had much privacy.  Plus, with guests sleeping in the living room, bedtime for one basically meant bedtime for all, since no one could really move around without disturbing the other person.

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Categories: House, Montgomery Village