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Friday, June 30, 2006

it's here it's here!

Our dumpster is here!!

So when you go to rent a dumpster, first you have to figure out how much trash you're going to have. Dumpsters are sized by the cubic yard -- ours is the biggest the company offered, at 30 cubic yards (the 'Biggie Benjer'). They recommend, however, that you think of it in terms of pickup trucks full -- the 30 cubic foot dumpster holds about seven pickup trucks worth of trash. If you're throwing away certain materials -- sand, concrete, other heavy things -- you're only allowed to fill the dumpster half full. If you're just throwing away regular junk like we are, you can fill it up. There is a set amount -- I think ours is five tons -- that if you go over, they start charging you overage charges. But it's not all that complicated when you get down to it. Here's a pretty informative FAQ from the company we used.

The dumpster arrived on a big truck, and to set it down they had to first tilt it up into the air so it could slide off the truck. This presented a little problem, because there's an electrical wire at ceiling level right over where we wanted them to put it -- the squirrels use it like a highway, somewhat unnerving when you're standing at the window it's next to. Fortunately, with a little maneuvering, the delivery driver was able to get it very close to where we wanted it to be.

Next step is getting the materials to build a temporary chute from the window to the dumpster, so we can just slide the stuff out as we pull it off the walls. That'll happen tonight; then tomorrow, Don's dad, Don's sister, and her boyfriend will be showing up at 8 AM (plus anyone else who chooses to come), and demolition will begin.

Unfortunately, you won't be getting a play-by-play description, as the office is one of the rooms we are tearing down -- which means no internet until at least Monday. Ugh!

why it's important to have a well-stocked tool box

So that when the knob falls off of the hot water in your shower, you can use a spare vice grip instead.

I'll open the betting pool on how long it takes for this to get fixed. I'm laying odds on 'not until we re-do the bathroom'! Same reason I haven't cleaned or replaced the icky caulk. We're such slobs.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

oooo, history!

I found a really interesting article about the history of our neighborhood while I was faffing around on the local library's website. It refers to the English Consul estate, which is what our whole area used to be before a developer bought it in 1909. It was owned by the first English Consul to Maryland, William Dawson. The original estate's main house and several outbuildings still exist in the neighborhood, as private homes. The mansion itself is actually a couple of blocks away from our house.

And some history that ties our house directly into the history of the estate: our pool house (which in its former, less glorious life was a chicken coop), actually stands on the original foundation blocks of the estate's water tower! Underneath each corner of our little building is a gigantic concrete pyramid, going quite a ways into the ground, strong enough to support a very large water tower, which in turn supplied the whole area when it was the English Consul estate.

History is fun.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

free beer!

So we're renting a dumpster this weekend. Saturday is going to be the big work day. We're going to tear down the paneling and plaster in the dining room and office, and take the walls in both rooms all the way down to the studs. We'd also like to get the drop ceiling in the kitchen down, and if there's time we'll tackle a few of the ceilings upstairs.

So. If you'd like to come and help, drop me an email: jamailac at gmail dot com. We'll provide beer (or soda, or whatever) and probably pizza if enough people show up. Start time is morning; Don's dad is coming at 8 AM but if you're not an early bird 10 or 11 is fine. I'll give you address and directions in the email.

We'll be working other days, too, so if you can't make it Saturday but really need to get in some therapeutic property destruction, let me know and I'll tell you when we're going to be home and working (most likely Sunday and Tuesday).

Monday, June 26, 2006

if it weren't for this baby, our basement would look like the metro today!

One of the things that was part of our settlement on this house was the new sump pump setup. A plumber came in and completely rerouted the drainoff, installing shiny new pipe (the only place in the house where there is PVC instead of copper, incidentally) and setting it to drain safely and effectively.

And what a good thing, too! The weekend rainfall -- record levels -- turned Maryland, Virginia, and DC into a disaster area today. The Metro system flooded, the commuter rail lines flooded, and a mudslide shut down the Capitol Beltway. Government buildings -- including the IRS, national archives, and the Smithsonian -- had flooding and electrical issues. Daring boat rescues went on in street tunnels, and stranded motorists were everywhere.

Fortunately, our basement escaped the worst of the wrath of nature. There's a little water there, but nothing drastic and nothing out of the ordinary. Our basement doesn't actually even have a real floor; we're pretty sure it's just packed dirt and layers of some sort of cardboard. So water is not all that big of a deal. It's more of a cellar than a working basement; if we ever need to use it for storage we'll build platforms to keep everything off the floor. Meanwhile, our valiant -- and functioning -- sump pump will continue to save the day.

Friday, June 23, 2006

decorating like a grown-up

So I went shopping this weekend (my drug of choice, yes), and bought new sheets. We were in desperate need of sheets. Why, you ask? Well, take a look at the dilapidated old sheets:

Yes, those are penguins. Yes, they're wearing Santa hats. And scarves.

These are the new sheets:

I chose high thread count sheets, in texturally striped blue and beige. When we order our fabulous new Wesley Allen bed and move our current bed into the guest room, these sheets will transition nicely into the blue and beige spa-zen-luxury-relaxation decor scheme I have in mind. And they'll last. Money well spent, and more steps into the world of grown-ups taken.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

braggadoccio, google style

It appears that my caulk-removing tutorial has moved up to the number two spot in Google search results for "remove caulk". That's kind of exciting. I don't really have anything to post about legitimately today, so I thought I'd brag about that, instead.

I do have a list of posts that I intend to write -- with what day I intend to write them on, even, how organized am I? -- but alas, today's post got derailed because I forgot to take a picture for it last night, being far too busy complaining about the heat and running out of eggs and going to bed at a reasonable hour and all those things that make up a regular sort of evening at our house.

I'm lying, we almost never go to bed at a reasonable hour.

So, while you wait for me to come up with meaningful content, go play around with my favorite Google tool,
Picasa. It found photos on my computer I didn't even know I had! What will they think of next? I love Google. And they love me! First place, here we come!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

go forth, spend money

Yes. I love to shop. Prompted by some strange nesting impulse, I have been doing a lot of shopping lately -- although not all that much buying, fortunately for our future HVAC system. So, in the spirit of shopping, I thought I'd share with you a list of some of my favorite places, both for ogling and for actual spending.

Wesley Allen: I'm going to buy my new bed from here. They make custom wrought iron beds -- you choose the look, then you choose from like ten configurations and thirty different finishes. Plus they can upholster them. Their prices are reasonable, too -- they aren't thrift store beds or anything, but they aren't any more expensive than any other wrought iron bed you might find in a retail store, and they're a lot nicer.

The Container Store: Here's a secret: I love boxes. Seriously. Boxes, bottles, little containers, secret compartments... I go into little organizational spasms of glee every time I get a sale email from the Container Store. Admittedly, I rarely buy anything from there, both because they are far away (the nearest store is in Rockville, forty five minutes south) and because they are ridiculously expensive and you really can get most of their stuff at Target. But the thought of an entire store devoted to containers makes me secretly very happy.

Home Depot: This is obvious. Hello, building supplies. In addition to straight up drywall and power tools and other homebuilding necessities, though, I often shop at Home Depot for other things. We own a whole lot of their sturdy bookshelves, for instance. And my latest craft project, tabletop fountains, owe a great deal to a recent Home Depot shopping trip. And do you know the fun things you can do with paint chips? For reals.

Crate and Barrel: If you take me to an upscale mall, I have this tendency to plaster myself to the windows of the Crate and Barrel store, drooling pathetically. Sometimes I lick things, too. Apparently, that's frowned upon. In any case, I have only ever bought one thing from a Crate and Barrel in my entire life -- a set of measuring spoons for my mother -- but that's going to change. Oh, boy, is it ever.

Williams-Sonoma: I lick things here, too. Someday, I'll be the sort of woman who buys kitchen gear at Williams-Sonoma and regularly invites several guests to her beach cottage for a weekend of luxury and relaxation and keeps baskets of upscale toiletries in the guest rooms. Someday.

Home Goods: This store is my best friend. Really. Sorry, previous best friend, you've been cut out. Home Goods is this great store which is owned by the same corporate parent as T.J. Maxx and Marshalls (where I got a nice dress once, but I digress), and it specializes in home accents. You know when you watch those shows on HGTV and they finish up by putting in all those little frou-frou bits and pieces like trays and candles and bowls and rocks and designer soaps and fancy statuettes? That's what Home Goods sells. For cheap. They get overstocks from major retail design centers, and it's always a mishmash of the most random stuff, and sometimes you have to pick through shelves full of mysteriously broken cat clocks and garden hangings, but there is always stuff there worth buying. They have particularly good deals on glassware; we stocked our sideboard with Home Goods glasses. Fabulous. They don't have a great deal of furniture -- the most you'll find is an occasional table or two -- but they have decorative accents beyond your wildest imaginings.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

and lo! there was an arch

Taking down the paneling in the dining room wasn't all disaster; we did find one pleasantly startling surprise: arches!

Both doors (the one to the kitchen and the one opposite it, to the hall) turn out to have once had lovely arches above them. Upon discovering this, it took us all of about thirty seconds to reach a mutual agreement that we would restore the arches, and make all of our new openings into arches, too. With the exception of the bathroom, none of the rooms on the main level are actually going to have doors by the time we are done with the renovation. Mostly because they will be so open to each other that they won't really qualify as rooms anymore. So arches ahoy!

Monday, June 19, 2006

they were a lot cuter in the disney movie

We've got ants.

Three words, short ones, even, but they can provoke an immediate reaction in any homeowner. Our reaction, played out over the course of this weekend, ranged from mild hysteria to sheer panic. The cat's reaction was worse; it's her food they went after. Tiny sugar ants, making their bloody-mindedly determined way from some mysterious hole behind a closet door in a solemn processional to the cat's food dish, around in a circle to the far side, up, and back. For a while, it looked as though we'd encircled the dish with some sort of writhing rubber ring.

We knew the ants were around; when Don went to pull out the ugly pathway lighting in the front yard in preparation to hewing down the grass jungle, he encountered boiling hills full of them. This prompted a panicked call to my cell phone -- Don doesn't deal well with bugs. Or rodents. Or slimy things. Anyway, he got some ant killer and happily sprayed the yard. And the deck. And the pool deck. And the lawn furniture. And the sidewalk.

They still came back. There's a little ant interstate going on from the bottom of the house, up through the little ivy vine that's valiantly growing on the corner by the door, and up into the siding. From there, presumably, they make their little ant way to the cat food. Mmm, cat food.

Just how delicious they find cat food was proven when we went out and bought baited traps -- guaranteed to be irresistable! -- and set them out, directly in the middle of the kitchen floor interstate. They went around. They ignored the supposedly delicious bait in favor of the proven delights of cat food. I mean, given the choice between deadly poison meant to kill my family and cat food, I'd probably make the same choice, but they're ants. They're not supposed to know we're engaging them in biological warfare, they're just supposed to eat it. And die. Both of which they failed to do.

After this ignominious defeat, we retreated to talk strategy. First step: remove the mysteriously delicious cat food (nobody is quite sure why they like it so much -- ants normally go for sweeter things, and they are ignoring the entire pantry en route to the cat food; literally en route, as the door from which they are emerging is the one to the pantry). So we threw out the cat food in the dish -- teeming with ants, yuck -- and gave the food and water dishes a thorough scrubbing, and left them to dry. Poor kitty was left without food and water for half a day or so, but the ant inquest became remarkably less prolific. The cat became less obviously worried -- and stopped trying to trip me whenever I walked around -- when I put down ceramic dishes with food and water, far away from where the original dishes had lain. So far, so good. When last I checked (last night), there were only four or five ants milling around confusedly in the area where the food dishes had been.

Next step: caulk the hole they're coming in from. Once the ants seem to be gone, we'll caulk the hole, and I'm going to look for natural sources of ant deterrent to sprinkle around the foundation of the house and all around the ant interstate. The most feasible I've found so far seem to be orange peel oil and peppermint oil. The most esoteric is diatomaceous earth, a powder comprised of razor sharp microscopic bits of various minerals, which apparently shreds antly innards quite effectively. All of these are pet-safe, our biggest concern.

The cat, one hopes, will be appropriately grateful.

Sunday, June 18, 2006


I must have turned out at least mostly okay by my dad's lights; nowadays, when he quizzes me about 401Ks, construction techniques, and tax codes, I even answer most of the questions right. Somewhere underneath his mild-mannered software engineer exterior, I think, there are still strong traces of the hippie geek who insisted that his baby daughter's middle name should signify her planet of origin. Just in case.

Thanks, Dad. Happy Father's Day.

(A note for the uninformed: My middle name is Terrin, which is derived from and pronounced the same way as 'Terran', the term used in most science-fiction novels to indicate someone from Earth, as the Latin word for Earth is Terra. My folks changed the spelling at the last minute, probably realizing how incredibly dorky it was to have a kid named Jamaila 'Earthling' Cohen-Michaelson.)

Friday, June 16, 2006

give a man a crowbar...

...and he'll destroy your dining room.

I've been sick for the last several days. This is what happened to the dining room while I was drugged to the gills with NyQuil, sleeping it off. Don finished pulling down the panelling on three walls, and began to pull down the plaster. It made a lovely mess.

Extreme close-up of plaster wreckage:

Note the shoe and half-leg of ZUL THE DESTROYER standing proudly by while I photograph his handiwork.

Work has, however, come to a grinding halt, because after completing the above destruction, Don abruptly realized that he had no place to put his mess. This caused a few snarky phone comments from my father. We'd been taking SUV-loads full of debris to the dump, but the scale of this -- and the nature of this particular debris -- requires something further. So we're renting a dumpster over the fourth of July weekend. Anyone who wants to come help rip things down is of course welcome -- we might be persuaded to provide free beer, even. Details on dumpster rental forthcoming, since it seems a lot of people have been Googling me for it lately.

In the meantime, we wear shoes in the house all the time now, since you never know when you'll find a chunk of plaster underfoot. Particularly since the cat has discovered that they make excellent toys, and bats them all about the house.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

plaster disaster

This is what we found when Don ripped down the green-painted wood panelling in the dining room. Just like with the ceiling, it appears that rather than try to fix problems with the wall, they decided to cover them over. And yes, that is masking tape stretched over the giant hole in the plaster. Presumably to hold the insulation in.

In another corner of the room, you can see the sorry state of the plaster -- not drywall or sheet rock, but actual plaster -- walls.

It's like this all over the room. The plaster crumbles away at a touch. We're going to have to tear it all down -- a very messy prospect -- and put up new drywall. Not that we didn't expect to have to do this -- we knew we were probably going to have to re-drywall every room in the house. It's just that the reality is a little daunting.

Good thing the only thing we ever get for Christmas and birthdays anymore is Home Depot gift cards!

Monday, June 12, 2006

i kiss deliciously

This fell down out of the wall when Don was knocking down the phone cabinet in the dining room yesterday.

The expiration date is 12/31/81. I guess Aunt Pammy never got her t-shirt. And it was a $10 value, too! What a shame.

Friday, June 09, 2006

naked pool

Ever wonder what the inside of an aboveground pool really looks like?

And yeah, that nasty green goo is the last remnants of the "water" we drained out of the pool. The last little puddle just couldn't be got up with the pump, so we cut a big circle around it in the liner -- vinyl cuts surprisingly easily, incidentally -- and then we got rid of the rest of the liner in sections, then just spilled the goo out onto the ground before we folded up the last piece of liner and stuffed it in a trash bag. The whole process took about an hour and a half.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

big news

Jamaila Cohen-Michaelson

We are pleased to grant you admission to the following program(s).

Institution: University of Baltimore
Term: Fall 2006
Career: Graduate
Program: M.A. Publications Design


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

my driveway can beat up your driveway

Normally I try to post every weekday, even if nothing's happening. I usually have a store of pictures from stuff we did over the weekend that I can use, or I write a tutorial on something. Sometimes, though, stuff just happens. We both got sick over the weekend -- I have an ear infection, he's got some horrible sort of sore throat - headache - coughing thing -- and have been rather the worse for wear. So I apologize for not posting, but I had a good excuse. Liberal applications of ice cream and chicken soup are forthcoming, as I went to the grocery store for that express purpose after work today.

So, to make up for my negligence, I thought I'd show you all my new four thousand dollar driveway.

It's lovely, isn't it? Our original driveway was lumpy and incomplete, for a very good reason. Many years ago, Pop-Pop Brinkley was accosted by a gentleman who, seeing his unpaved driveway, inquired whether he might be interested in having the leftover asphalt from the parking lot the gentleman's company was paving a couple of blocks away. Pop-Pop pondered, then said yes. So the nice asphalt men came and cheerily dumped a giant mountain of steaming tar on the driveway. Clan Brinkley mustered, armed with rakes and shovels and what-have-you, and they proceeded to do the best they could to spread out the mountain into some semblance of a paved driveway. For a bunch of people with rakes, they did a good job.

But by the time we bought the house, the weeds had managed to find their way onto the driveway, into the spaces that had been left unpaved. The uneven pavement was cracked and lumpy, and it was all rather seedy looking. But getting a new driveway was hardly a priority -- after all, I still don't have a working dryer or a fully functional stovetop! We planned to leave it until we had finished other, more important things. Then Don got laid off, and began his campaign of therapeutic demolition. One day, while he was out wrestling with the chain link fence that lined the driveway, a man in a truck pulled up and leaned out the window to ask -- you guessed it -- if Don wanted the leftover asphalt from a parking lot they were paving up the street!

Needless to say, we had no intention of breaking out the rakes and shovels, but the man assured us that they would actually pave the driveway, giant rolling presser-downer-thing and all. Hurrah! We agreed, and they came and paved the first two-thirds of the driveway with the leftover asphalt, and told us they'd come back the next day to finish up. They charged us half of what they would normally charge for paving, and threw in the sealant coat for free to thank us for taking the leftover asphalt off of their hands (normally they charge four dollars per square foot; we got it for two, and the sealant would have cost thirty-five cents per square foot if we hadn't gotten it for free -- and yes, still spending four thousand dollars after that steep discount means our driveway is very, very long!).

So, our unexpected driveway turned out quite nicely. And the plus side for the friendly asphalt man? The day after our paving was completed, we spotted our neighbors standing by the side of our new driveway and examining it -- and two days after that, three houses on our street sported new driveways!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

even the cat thinks it's too hot

Just a quick post today, as I'm about to head out to UB for my grad school interview. I just wanted to note that it is currently hot as balls here in Charm City, and it has been for the last week or so -- which has meant that I've been sick for the last week. I have a little problem with heat sickness. I know, I'm living in the wrong town.

The wrong house, too; we don't have central air. Or any air, really. The only temperature control in this house is the old radiator system. Not very helpful in summer. Fortunately, we found about nine window AC units in various places around the house and property (we also have eight lawnmowers!). Two of them work. We found them tucked in an upstairs closet. Emboldened by the fact that they looked newer than any of the others, we figured out how to install them in the two most crucial rooms in the house: the master bedroom and the office. Both rooms also have ceiling fans; the combination of the window unit and the fan keeps the rooms tolerably temperate. We try to avoid the rest of the house, but going to the bathroom is like peeing in a swamp. We are having some people come over in the next week or so to give us quotes on installing an HVAC system, which we really should have done much sooner. Don getting laid off derailed several plans. Hopefully we'll get back on track right away. More on HVAC when I know more.
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