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Thursday, May 31, 2007


It is 93 degrees. In the shade.

I have nothing to say today.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

we are going to have to do something

The backyard is eating the poolhouse.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

a lolcat of my very own

Never seen a lolcat before? Try here.

Friday, May 25, 2007

the difference

Posting about the roses earlier reminded me of something. I took photos of the same rosebush at about this time last year, with the old camera. Check out the difference between the old and new cameras! The photo from the old camera is here, and the photo from the new camera is here.

Yay new camera!

a little outdoor space

This is our side yard. I almost never mention it (because really, the front and back yards are enough to tax anyone's imagination), but it exists, and it's really quite large. If I were able to just poop money whenever I wanted or something, I'd build a sunroom off the side of the house here, as it's really ideal for it -- lots of space and lovely quality of light. Alas, I don't have the financial -- or intestinal -- fortitude for that, so it just stays the way it is.

The best thing about the side yard, though, is that around this time of year it starts to smell really, really good -- because the roses are in bloom!

Whether or not we're going to be able to keep the roses when we finally "do the yard", as we've taken to saying, is still up in the air. They are so tangled and wound around the chain link fence that separates the side yard from the back yard that there may be issues, as that fence absolutely has to go. We're planning on hiring landscapers whenever the mythical yard-doing actually occurs, so they may have some tips for saving the roses. We'll see.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

restoration is hard

In order to put in the new joists and subfloor in the hallway, we had to remove the first step of the stairs. Fine, right? Well, because we are restoring the stairs instead of renovating, it meant that we had to be really, really careful, and save everything we removed. So here's what's on the floor of the screen porch right now:

As for how we're getting up the stairs right now...

We jump.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

shout out to the dumpster dudes

Today I just wanted to give a "shout out" to our dumpster supplier, Benjer Inc. We've been renting dumpsters from them for two years now (what that says about the pace of our project we won't discuss), and they are always super nice, super friendly, and super available. This most recent dumpster -- our second this year -- was delivered when we weren't home, and the driver accidentally put it down a little too far over into the driveway; we called them, and the next day we came home to a perfectly positioned dumpster. They are great, we love them. I think I mentioned these guys at about this time last year, but it's definitely that time of year for a lot of people. So if you're in Baltimore looking to rent a dumpster (please don't tell me why, I don't need to know), we definitely recommend Benjer (even if they did discontinue my favorite dumpster, the "Biggie Benjer").

Monday, May 21, 2007

real estate roundup: may 2007

Every so often, I put together a list of homes currently for sale in our neighborhood. If you're looking to buy a house in the Baltimore area, our little area is a great place to look. Since almost nobody knows about it, it's still really undervalued compared to the rest of the area's market, especially because it's in a prime location: within just a few minutes of downtown, with easy access to all of the major roads (including interstates 95, 695, 195, and 395, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, and Route 1). It's seriously family friendly, safe, and has a friendly neighborhood vibe. Most of the houses tend to be bungalows; all have decent-sized yards, and generally speaking they tend to be well-maintained, though most could use some cosmetic updates (what they like to call "putting your own stamp on it" on HGTV). Just because we chose to gut our house doesn't mean that the houses around here need it -- ours was perfectly livable, we're just weird.

Anyway, here's the real estate roundup of homes currently for sale that you ought to check out.

If one of you people doesn't buy this house, frankly, I may never speak to you again. This is just a few blocks from us, and simply put, it's amazing. The great room addition at the back is phenomenal (I have a weakness for windows, what can I say) and the kitchen is spacious and updated. Hardwood floors, a phenomenal master suite, and a freaking fish pond! Seriously. Buy that house. It's even got a big backyard with a patio for entertaining. Which means you can invite me over!

This house is about seven blocks away from ours, and towards the back of the community; a nice location. It looks like it's in great shape -- the only work you'd have to do would be painting and personalizing. To be honest, I think it's a little overpriced for the size -- but real estate is always negotiable! Depending on how long houses have been on the market, sellers may be willing to take a lower price. And I have to say I think the curb appeal on this house is just adorable.

This fabulous cottage isn't actually in our little square of gridded neighborhood -- it's across Annapolis Road. But just look at it! This is a real case of undervaluing (although, to be fair, it's only got one bathroom and I haven't seen a home inspection or anything). But it's got half an acre, a pool, some nice landscaping, and what looks like decent space. This would be a fantastic house for people who want to make minor improvements indoors and enjoy their outdoor space.

This one's literally two blocks from us -- you could walk over and visit any time! Or, you know, vice versa. This place was built in 1922, but it appears to have been renovated fairly recently, and it's in great shape. It doesn't have a huge lot (comparatively speaking -- it's got 0.11 acres, which isn't nothing!), but it does have over 2500 square feet of interior space, with four bedrooms. So you've got the space you need. This place is actually bigger than our house (we have 2200 square feet, although we do have a bigger lot). It looks really nice from the outside, definite curb appeal. The inside, what little the pictures show, appears to be pretty nice as well, definitely well-maintained. They mention an aboveground pool with a multi-level deck -- that sounds promising!

This is ten blocks from us, on the other side of the neighborhood, and it looks like a fantastic renovation. It's 1900-some square feet with four bedrooms, so I don't know how big the rooms are, but I'm definitely impressed with the thought they've put into the renovation. Hardwood floors, elegant fixtures, and neutral colors are a seller's best tools. The exterior is attractive, and the location is great.

This house is for sale for just over $200K, but to be honest, I wouldn't buy it. It's very small, and it's being sold "as is" -- always a red flag (unless you are as insane as we are, and even then this just isn't that good of an investment for the price -- look for more space if you're going to be paying that much). It's also at the very back of the neighborhood -- right across from the light rail. If you dig it, though, more power to you.

Here's a decent first-time home buy: this place is on the market for just under $220K. It's got nearly half an acre of land, which is great for the price. It's just two bedrooms and one bath, so it's probably not suited to anyone who needs a ton of space, but it's a really good value. It's towards the back of the neighborhood but not close enough to the light rail to be a problem, and it's about eight blocks away from us (laterally, anyway -- if you add in the distance from front to back of the neighborhood, it's probably another three blocks, but meh, no biggie).

This one's on our street; it's another small one, with two bedrooms and one bath, but it's got a partially finished basement and about a quarter of an acre. Probably another decent starter home.

Here's one a few blocks away; I don't have much to say about it, since I'm not sure which one it is. It's got four bedrooms but only one bathroom, and from the look of things it needs some updating. I'm not sure what the total square footage is, although the lot is almost a third of an acre. So I really don't know if it's worth $265K, although generally speaking in today's market any house with four bedrooms on a third of an acre that isn't falling down is probably worth it to some degree. When you're buying a house, you have to remember that it's not just the price you need to think about; you have to think about how much work you want to put into a house, and what you're willing to dedicate to it in terms of your time and money. If a house needs a lot of work, that list price is only the bottom of the barrel of money you're going to need to tap. So you have to strike a careful balance when you're calculating what a house is worth and whether you can afford it.

Here's another house for sale for $265K. I have a feeling this one will sell more quickly than the first, because the sellers are doing more things right here. First of all, they've put up a picture of the exterior of the house, looking cute, as houses are wont to do. Second, this house is four bedrooms and two bathrooms on a quarter of an acre. Marginally less space, but as the HGTV gurus will tell you, bathrooms sell houses. The only flag on the play here is that this house is being sold "as-is", and you have to wonder why. Incidentally, this house is just a couple of houses down from us -- not quite our next door neighbor, but nearly. And no, I don't know why it's as-is, I haven't been inside, sorry. If you check it out, let me know.

This house is two bedrooms and two baths, but it's over 1800 square feet, plus it has an unfinished basement. So it sounds like there's some room to grow there. I don't know if that really makes it worth $275K, particularly on a relatively small lot size for the area (0.14 acres), but if it's in really good condition it could be. It's over on the other side of the neighborhood, closer to Don's parents than to us.

This place is new construction, and the price shows it. Three bedrooms and two baths in just over 2000 square feet is nice and all, but I think you can get a better deal with an older house. Plus, I hate split levels. But again, there's a house out there for everyone, and if this is what you're looking for, go for it. New construction does have a few advantages, after all -- it certainly won't need updating yet!

We're getting up into the spendy-spendy range (for around here, anyway), but this place is available. It's got three stories -- most of the houses around here just have two -- and both a swimming pool and a one-car garage. It's definitely big, and on a decent-sized lot, but take note that it does not have central heating or air conditioning. If you're okay with both that and the price, have a look. But remember that that sort of thing can be a hidden expense in an already expensive house.

That's it for now. You'll note that not one of these houses was over $400K, and most were in the 200 to 300 range. The market's gone up since we bought our house a year and a half ago, but this little area is still definitely below average. The Baltimore Sun reported earlier this month that the average home price in the metropolitan Baltimore area was $310,323 -- although single family homes in residential suburbs (which is what our neighborhood is) tend to go for significantly more, since the "average" metropolitan Baltimore house is actually a townhouse or rowhome. So while this neighborhood is still an 'undiscovered gem', take the opportunity to check it out.

If you want to do your own MRIS search (or whatever), just do a zip code search for 21227 and find the houses listed as being in the Baltimore Highlands or Rosemont subdivisions. Double check to make sure they're on streets named after states, and you'll be in the right area.

Friday, May 18, 2007

a typical supply run

We give Home Depot a lot of money every week. Especially since the cost of plywood has gone up by two dollars a week for the last three weeks! Argh!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

current house status

Here's what the first floor looks like right now. As you can see, the house is still being held up by the temporary wall -- Don and his dad were pretty much dead on their feet by 6 PM Saturday (they'd been working since 7 AM) so even though they had a couple of hours of daylight left they decided to go ahead and leave it at this stopping point. If you're wondering about layout, incidentally, this is the view from the kitchen (or will be, once we knock down the wall I was leaning against). The kitchen is at the back of the house. The room to the left will be the family room, the room we are in is the dining room, and the room the temporary wall is in is the living room. You can see the front door all the way in the background, and the open door on the far left leads down to the basement.

Don said this morning when I was leaving for work that he thinks they'll finish up on Saturday when they work again; as you can see, what's left to do is to build and install the new wall (a little more complicated than it might be, since we're doing the columns and built-ins), install three or four more joists (in the front hallway), and finish out the subfloor. I don't know if he's right in his assumption, but it would be awfully nice to get this over with. After this construction work is done, they need to wire a few outlets in the living room and then we're going to move all of our stuff either downstairs (the necessary stuff like bed, clothes, and computers) or out to the garage (the remainder of the boxes of stuff that are currently taking up space in the upstairs office). Then we finally get to call the HVAC guy.

PS - Local folks, don't forget about the Baltimore Blogger Happy Hour tonight! I'll be there.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

how to remove, replace, or rebuild a bearing wall

The first thing, of course, is to determine whether or not your wall is a bearing wall. Helpful tip: if you can't figure it out, don't start your work until you call somebody who can (your father-in-law is often a good bet, as are any architects or general contractors you might be hiding in your closets).

The basic premise of this whole process is that you've got to hold up your damn house. It's a pretty simple concept. So, if you're going to be taking out the wall that's
currently holding it up, you'd better have something else in place before that support goes away. So, you build a temporary wall.

Don and his dad put the studs on their temporary wall 24 inches apart rather than the standard 12 inches apart because a) it's temporary and b) we all have big butts. Once it was built, we had an old-fashioned barnraising!

You'll notice that they installed the temporary wall about five feet away from the wall slated for removal, to give themselves space to work but also make sure that the weight of the house is still being distributed fairly evenly.

Once they had banged the temporary wall into place, making sure that it was square, they dropped a few duplex nails into it for security's sake (believe me, that thing is wedged in so tightly that it's not going anywhere). Finally, they installed diagonal crossbars for added support.

And at last, it was time for demolition of the old wall. As you can see, Don was quite pleased.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

not so structurally sound

This is what used to be holding up my house.

Yes, it is a small square of wood. The middle wall of the house was apparently held up solely by that piece of wood and this almost-completely-gone sill plate:


As you might guess, the big project right now is rebuilding that wall. On the plus side, since we have to rebuild it anyway, Don has agreed to my Craftsman-style redesign, which will create a little more open space.

More on the process tomorrow. With action shots!

Monday, May 14, 2007

i'm a dork

I just added a twitter widget to AP; if you look in the top left corner you'll see it. If you have twitter, feel free to add me as a friend. If you don't, check it out, it's cute.

this is the danger of living out of boxes

Your towels? Surely you jest.

Friday, May 11, 2007

a very uncomfortable place

And not the back of a Volkswagon, either.

Monday, May 07, 2007

busy bee

Well, no work wound up getting done on the house this weekend. Various commitments on the part of various parties wound up making the scheduling impossible. Alas. Of course, that means I have very little to write about this week. Which is probably good, since my last classes of the semester are on Thursday night, meaning that I have to have a ten page paper and a final presentation piece finished by then -- all while I work frantically to finish the proposal at work that needs to be sent out by Wednesday! Whee!

Don't expect great things from me this week. Or even regular-type things. Just... you know, bide your time. Or something.

Friday, May 04, 2007

springtime: or, the time when i stop being allowed in the yard until november

I made what will probably be my last foray into the yard for quite some time last weekend, to take some pictures of the flowers that have managed to bloom despite proximity to me. Look, they're pretty:

Not so pretty? What happened to me the last time I ventured into the yard once the plants came back to life. So from now until approximately, oh, next winter, I'm not allowed in the yard. Sigh.

Hopefully once the interior is done (next year? maybe?) we'll be able to start clearing out the devil weed poison ivy and put in a real yard. That I can go into. Exciting!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

but a really excited space cadet

Don is yelling at me because he wants me to post something here so he'll have something to read at work. Unfortunately, I am sort of a space cadet and for the last four days I have consistently forgotten to transfer the photos I took this past weekend off of my camera and up onto Flickr -- and I'm sort of out of filler material! I don't have time for the research that a real estate roundup would take right now, as I'm in the middle of a proposal, and likewise my time for hunting down other interesting things is limited just now. Sorry!

Anyway, the big news is that my big brother and his wife and son (he's not actually my brother but it's much too complicated to explain) are moving! From California to North Carolina! And let me tell you, North Carolina is a lot closer to here than California (also, gas = cheaper than plane tickets [for now]). So it's sort of needless to say, but I'm so! freaking! excited!

The exclamation points will probably clue you in.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

historic property

At some point soon I'll do another local real estate roundup, for those of you who are interested in buying in our fairly undiscovered neighborhood (yay for below market pricing!). But while I was perusing the various Maryland listings, I came across one I am simply lusting after. This 24-acre historic estate in Monkton, MD was originally settled by Josiah Sparks (after whom I believe the town of Sparks, MD is named) in 1798. It's got this great house (six bedrooms!), a guest cottage, barn, and a whole bunch of other stuff -- and it's exactly the sort of place I'd love to own someday, where I'd have enough space to be really private, enough room for friends to come and stay whenever they wanted, a historic home to make my own, and near enough to civilization to not be totally isolated.

It's going up for auction (the previous owner has sadly passed away) on May 17th. I wish I could afford to bid.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


It's times like this when I really get mad about not having a decent camera. I just got home from work, and when I pulled up into the driveway I discovered that there were dozens of birds of every different sort -- including the pair of doves that nests above our garage -- playing in the water in the pool hole. They're not nervous about people -- one robin who we've taken to calling 'Fatty' and his various equally portly descendants are downright cavalier about the whole cars-pulling-up-doors-slamming-curious-humans thing.

Once we finish the demolition in the yard and fill the hole, I plan on putting some serious birdbaths in to replace it. I love having birds in the yard.


On an entirely different note, I can't wait until we can get a spare standing freezer. I saw this fantastic-looking recipe on the Food Network over the weekend, and it and a few others I have in mind are perfect for freezing. I plan to either go to the restaurant supply store (there's one down the street!) or look online and get some disposable aluminum baking dishes of various sizes with sealable lids so that I can prepare dishes and then freeze them pre-baked. Plus, I'll be able to freeze things like fresh strawberries and cubes of pesto (that may be going a little overboard, considering my general lack of aptitude for productivity). Right now, we have just a regular above-the-fridge freezer, which is crammed full all the time, so there's no room for big containers full of pre-made meals and the like.

I did try my plan out in miniature the other day, though: I was grilling chicken breasts for fajitas, and instead of the usual two, I went ahead and grilled four and stuck the extra pair in a tupperware container in the freezer (crammed it in under the ice cream, barely had room for the bagels!). Then, several days later, I came home on a busy, stressful weeknight, pulled the grilled breasts out of the freezer and defrosted them in the microwave while I boiled some pasta, then chopped them up and threw them into a baking dish with the pasta, a jar of alfredo sauce, and some shredded cheese (I keep shredded mozzarella and cheddar in giant ziploc bags in the freezer at all times, we heart cheese). Threw it in the oven for ten minutes at 400 and dinner was ready. So easy! And almost no extra dishes! I love it. I can't wait to do it on a larger scale. A couple of extra minutes on the weekend or a free day, and I'll have practically instant food for those nights (read: all of them) when we are busy, stressed out, and exhausted. And so much cheaper than going to Let's Dish (although I still think it would be fun).

Don says that once the downstairs subfloors are in and we stop throwing things through the floor into the basement, I can get my big freezer. Yay!

Got any good freezing recipes? I've found that most of what I've been coming up with are pasta dishes, although YNL's pre-marinated chicken variations are awesome.