Monday, April 30, 2007

Wishing ahead

I just want it to be Sunday already.

I'm as excited for this move as I've ever been for any move, but I can't take the nonstop hustle, the need to do five things at once, in about three different places, with no end in sight until Saturday evening, when we'll only have one place.

Our apartment is a mess -- both because it's in various stages of packing and because there are places where we're just like, "Well, we're moving -- what's the point?" That throws me off. I'm out of my routine. I'm used to sleeping until I can't sleep anymore, hitting the treadmill in the gym, then having breakfast while I watch last night's DVRed shows. Only I'm falling behind on the DVRed shows, to the point where I think I'm going to have to do all the painting I can tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday so that I can spend Friday at home packing while I exhaust the DVR queue.

I'm also down on myself, kicking myself mentally -- and soon physically -- because I lagged too long on setting up our new cable and internet and therefore couldn't get an installation date until six days after we move in. I think that nearly had me sleeping on the couch when I told Casey the bad news. The fortunate thing was that she'd be away for two of the days, limiting the impact on her, and that the only things we watch regularly on cable right now are The Sopranos and Entourage, meaning we'd only miss an episode of each.

However, when I called today to check up on the order, they found it wasn't in the system. Turns out I'd put in the new street address, but our soon-to-be-former town and ZIP code. So when they found out that there was no Clifton Boulevard in Edgewater, they canceled the order. (Nevermind that they never called to tell me any of this.) And now we're stuck with a later installation date, May 16 instead of the 11th (which I haven't broken to Casey yet). And because this all took 45 minutes of back-and-forth and hold music (about 15 minutes' worth), I was on the bus on the way to work when it was finally solved and, therefore, I couldn't really protest the later date. I may try to argue that point tomorrow.

So for the first 11 days in our new home, we'll be back to the days of VCR timers and juggling video cassettes. Fun times. I don't know if I can go two weeks with out The Sopranos, or if Casey will talk to me if she misses two Entourage episodes in a row, so rather than wait until our cable is hooked up and we jump right to HBO On Demand, I may have my parents tape them and make use of the Postal Service.

But we're getting Verizon's FIOS service, which intrigues me. The cable package is better than anything Time Warner (or current monopoly provider) or Cablevision (the monopoly holder in our new county) would provide on its basic tier, but I refuse to use either of those companies ever again. Well, I've never used Cablevision, but they're horrible, arrogant owners of the Knicks and Madison Square Garden (not that I like the Knicks) and pulled some dirty tricks to thwart the West Side Stadium that would've moved the Jets to Manhattan and provided a stadium for an New York Olympic bid in 2012 (not that I wanted any of that to happen).

So let's just hope that FIOS is worth it, and that it's easy enough to set up Casey's computer, because I'm not paying them 60 bucks for the second computer setup. But the new fun fact I learned about FIOS today is that, with the enhanced DVR box, we can record shows on one box, but then watch them on either of our other two TVs that have the standard box, in addition to the TV with the DVR box. That beats having to get a second DVR box.

Oy. I'm just ready to move. Two and a half years ago, we couldn't wait to get out of our old place, both because the reasons it sucked far outweighed the reasons we liked it and because the new place had so much going for it. This time, there are things that are harder to leave -- the fitness center, the parking garage, the groundhogs -- despite all the good things about where we're going.

I'm sure, over the next few days, my feelings will drift more toward the "ready to leave" side of the scale, particularly as we check off more rooms from the painting list.

Starting tomorrow, earlier than I'd particularly care for.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Plugging away at homeowning

Thanks to favorable scheduling at work -- I am grateful and perhaps indebted to my scheduling boss -- I've been able to help Casey at the house each of the past two weekends. Last week, we got our patio furniture and a dryer when her father and stepmother came out from Pennsylvania and, with the help of my parents on Saturday, five of us spent a weekend ripping up carpet, installing a bathroom cabinet and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning.

The carpet ordeal was taxing -- pulling carpet off of stairs is among Dante's circles of hell, if I'm not mistaken -- but rewarding in the end. Our living room -- the parlor, if you go by the notation left by the former owners on one of the window screens -- had hardwood installed beneath the carpet, we were told. However, our cursory inspections beneath two diagonal corners showed otherwise. All we saw was plain, regular plywood. Yet, once the carpet padding was ripped out last weekend, we found that those two corners were merely replacement planks from a previous remodeling. It turns out that our long, one-room living room/dining room space was once two separate rooms, and those two places we had peeked under the carpet just happened to be two spots where walls used to be. When they were taken out, the carpet was laid down, so there was no need to install hardwood flooring where the walls used to be.

The hardwood in the parlor was in pretty bad shape, but the pine planks we found upstairs in the third bedroom and foyer, in particular, were in really good shape. The other two bedrooms weren't too bad, either, and now that all the floors have been refinished, everything looks spectacular.

On Friday, when I finally reached the bottom of the stairs and yanked up the last section of faded green carpeting, I found that the step that reached from the end of the stairway to the front wall -- about three feet, forming a small landing -- was simple plywood. It turns out that the former owners, for some reason, had essentially extended the bottom step to fill in a corner of the front foyer. Why, I have no idea. Why I didn't think to take pictures of these things, I also don't know.

So on Saturday, when Casey's dad saw the unsightly step, he asked that our contractor tear it out and rebuild the bottom step for us, an he'd pay for it. By Sunday night, it was done, and an antique saw found encased in the added step and a stick of Wrigley's gum lodged along the wall. Those were the only real finds we've had -- no hidden treasures to be found in this house.

Which brings us to this weekend, and the painting. On Saturday, my dad came up, and with his help, we managed to paint a primer coat in about four rooms. The kitchen and our bedroom needed it on all walls, but the dining room, living room and guest bedroom only needed it in spots where wallpaper had been removed and plaster retouched. We got all that, plus a few other needs, taken care of in a solid six-and-a-half hours' work. Upon our return today, Casey and I worked for five hours and primed or painted three and a half whole rooms. She took the living/dining duplex and turned the walls blue, while I primed the half-bath and painted the guest room green. I don't remember the specific names of the colors, and we haven't taken photos yet, but I'll get those up soon enough.

With moving day next Saturday, the plan is to have everything painted before the movers arrive. We'll have another round of floor cleaning ahead of us, perhaps two -- one when the painting is done, but before the movers come in, and then another when they leave. Some rooms still have a fine coating of plaster dust that will only get tracked around the place until we thoroughly mop the floors.

The plan for this weekend is tentatively this: I'll try to get over there tomorrow to paint the half-bath, then team up with my sister on Tuesday morning for another room, before we each work in the evening. On Wednesday, when I'm off, I might allow myself a minor league baseball game in the morning, but then I can spend the afternoon painting and Casey can meet me after work. Thursday, my sister is free all day, though I'll have to work, but we might get a lot done with two of us. Friday could mean the same -- or could mean a cursory sweep of the floors. And I expect Casey plans to spend more than just Wednesday night over there.

With bare rooms and ongoing updates/improvements/construction, the house has yet to feel much like "ours," though now that refinished floors and fresh paint have removed any last hints of "old people smell," it at least doesn't feel like "theirs," or someone else's.

It'll be home soon enough.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Change of design plans

Oh, that Mother Nature.

Here's what our basement setup could have looked like once we move in a couple of weeks. We actually have a couch that's similar in color -- a base from the red family, with a pattern that can be described as slightly flowery and somewhat swirly -- that will be placed in the basement on moving day. We'll eventually remove the fake brick paneling and the shingled lower covering on the lower wall to avoid the confusing sensation of looking at the outside of a house while actually inside -- and below -- it. I get the impression that most of the basement decorating will be left to me because, as Casey likes to say, it will be my Man Cave.

So Mother Nature -- specifically Sunday's 100-year storm -- decided that waiting to pull up that tan carpet is silly when we can pull it up sopping wet and lay down ceramic tile before we move in.

I stopped by the house yesterday to drop off some things, and as I descended the basement steps, I noticed a new smell. And not a good one. I didn't have enough time to register the scent of wet carpet before my feet were squishing along like those of a Soprano in a far-off, secluded corner of the Meadowlands beneath the New Jersey Turnpike.

I didn't handle it well. It was about 1 p.m., I hadn't had lunch, and I was hungry. I expected to drop off some things, check in on a few items, and head out. Instead, I lost my appetite and couldn't control my thoughts before they started racing. Shit, now we've got to pay to remodel the basement! The carpet's ruined! We're doomed! DOOOOOOOOOMED!

Luckily, Casey was much more level-headed than I, and after talking with her, the solution was rather simple: Pull up the carpet and padding so that they didn't create a dank, musty, mold-infested den and pick out some tile that we can lay ourselves in the next two weeks. Even if we don't get it done by moving day, we can keep the furniture to one side of the basement while we lay half the tile, then move the furniture onto the completed side while we finish the rest.

Despite the fact that I was planning to wear my clothes to work -- nothing fancy, just jeans and sneakers, a t-shirt beneath a long-sleeved shirt on top -- it wasn't a particularly difficult job. Had I been dressed nicely, I would've been in trouble, or at least constrained more by time. In the end, my jeans were wet from my thighs down, my socks were soaked and my sneakers soggy all the way through.

I started in one corner, cutting the carpet into three-foot-wide strips, rolled it up, and lugged the sopping, dripping rolls out through the Bilco doors to the patio. It wasn't long before I was sweating, panting and aching, but wanting to finish in time to eat something, get back home and change before getting on the bus to work, I pushed on. It took roughly an hour to pull up approximately 230 square feet of carpet and padding. It got particularly nasty at the end, when the section of foam padding appeared to be either melting or deteriorating after sitting in the puddle for two days. That, or some glue had broken down and mixed in with the padding. In any case,

In the end I was left with a puddle a half an inch deep roughly in the area of the couch in the photo (after taking everything outside through the door in the back of the pic). A dark-red subfloor was now exposed for the first time in years, and over near the stairs a smaller section of the finished area had once been covered in cheap plastic tile made to look like a red-brick Italian piazza.

When my friend Dave pointed out that a tiled basement can tend to be a bit cold, I was excited by two things. The first is that such a scenario may help keep the basement cooler in the summertime. Those windows in the basement are not big enough for an air conditioner by any means. We can also get an area rug or two to warm -- and soften -- up the place a little. I have just the thing in mind.

Who knew that Mother Nature had a better decorating scheme in mind for the Man Cave than I did?

Friday, April 06, 2007

'Give us all your money' day

At 3:28 p.m. on Wednesday, April 4, 2007, our lawyer turned back toward us from the doorway of the conference room and, in a small ceremonial gesture, said to us: "Congratulations. You now own a home."

We'd just gone through the first round of signings (in triplicate) and said goodbye to the sellers, an old couple likely in their 80s who had come with their attorney. The major documents were signed and the house was ours; all that remained was another round of signings related to our loan and various other things that needed to be turned into legalese and explained to us by a guy who charged us what I think was the best chunk of money we spent on this whole process. Well, that and the actual house.

Before the part of the process that a friend of ours described over the weekend as "the part where they say, 'Give us all your money,'" we drove through a downpour for our 1 p.m. walkthrough, where the weather allowed us to witness first-hand the dry basement and attic, where the rain echoed off the roof of the empty space. Even the shed at the end of the driveway was cozy and dry when I stepped into it and discovered a relatively new, sturdy, well-built structure that will house whatever outdoor implements we determine we need. Other pleasant surprises included the bottle of champagne in the fridge and four filled ice trays in the freezer.

After the closing, Casey and I treated ourselves to sliders at White Manna and then went home -- to our apartment -- to change into more comfortable clothes and gather some things. We returned to the house with a few lights to leave and a tape measure to start planning some changes. Armed with a flashlight for the rooms without lights, we noted the measurements of the closets upstairs and the bedrooms, which might need new carpets. That conditional is included because, when we opened one of the closets to measure its depth, we noticed hardwood flooring that seemed to extend beneath the carpet in the bedroom. Pulling up what we could without any tools, we feel we may have found hardwood beneath the carpets where we were told there wasn't any. The upstairs foyer seemed to hold the same promise, so perhaps our flooring renovations won't necessitate the actual installation of hardwood and we can instead simply refinish that which has been covered up for who knows how many years.

Casey and I shared the same feeling that the more exciting moment was weeks ago when we found out the sellers had accepted our bid. Yesterday was monumental as well, but not quite as thrilling as the back-and-forth negitiations through our realtor and the call that we would be buying this place. However, now that we've been back there -- at night, by ourselves, with the keys in our hands -- the plans and our vision for the house are starting to move from possibility to reality. I think it may have contributed to the restlessness last night, when Casey and I both tossed and turned from 4 a.m. to 6:30. For my own part, I don't think I slept a minute during that time, finally dozing off again around 6:30 -- only to be awakened 20 minutes later by the banshee next door yelling at her drunk of a husband (her words, previously) for not setting the alarm for her Very Important Meeting at 9 a.m.

(At this point, I could only laugh -- schadenfreude -- and think, Well, if you'd focus your energy on getting ready instead of abusing your husband for not setting an alarm that you easily could've done yourself, you could very well make it into the city in the next two hours. She then continued berating him by saying he knows she has a Very Important Meeting every Friday morning. That's when I said to Casey, "Um, it's Thursday." Ten seconds later, the husband gathers up the nerve to say, "Today's Thursday." After a beat, the bitch replies, "That doesn't matter." After that comment is when I managed to drift off again and didn't catch all that followed, but the episode served as a pleasant reminder of what we'll leave behind when we move in a month.)

Tomorrow -- which is now later today -- I'll head back there to wait for the locksmith, the first of several trips I'll make in the next month to wait for one service or another. A folding butterfly chair and tray table will give me someplace to sit and a surface on which to put my laptop. Surfing the internet will not be an option, but I can write or sort through songs on the iPod or watch DVDs I'll likely bring with me. For now, that's all I can do, up until I repeat the process while waiting for the cable/internet guy to come and hook us up.

From our first visit there, Casey and I started picturing it as our house, imagining our books in all the shelves built into the walls, configuring our furniture in the upstairs living room and finished basement, wondering what we'll end up naming the cats. Now, after one month of phone calls and appointments that were at times taxing, we move into a new phase that will change the home from that of an elderly couple that spent the last 40 years -- and all but 13 years of their 53-year marriage -- there to ours.