shannon_a: (Default)
Last Tuesday, Kimberly went to pop some corn in the microwave and the circuit popped instead. Or that's what it seemed at first.

I poked my head out the door, looked around carefully from druggies from People's Park (this morning's homeless hijinks: an ice-pick stabbing in front of Ben & Jerry's in downtown!), and when the way was clear scooted out to our electric box and flipped the switches that were most likely for the kitchen. (They're very poorly labeled, or unlabeled, and the circuits aren't entirely logical.) I came back inside and K. told me that she'd been able to pop corn again for several more seconds, then it shut off once more.

Further investigation revealed the problem was the outlet. If it was used for power for more than a few seconds, it went out. Not good. It kind of made me nervous, but for the moment we extended our microwave extension cord to run to the next outlet in the kitchen, which we'd replaced some years ago due to flakiness (hmmm ... I sense a pattern), and popcorn was popped.

So Wednesday I went to our fixit website of late, Thumbtack. I put out a request to fix our bad outlet, plus a problem we'd been having with a switch, which rebounded whenever you pushed it down too hard. And since I was there, I put in a second request for a tile repairman for our continued downstairs bathroom problems, after I didn't get any Thumbtack response a week or two earlier, and a third request for a handyman to fix a variety of holes and cracks that have appeared in our walls over the last 17 years.

Within an hour I had someone offering to do both the electrical and handyman work. I was a little leery of someone who wasn't a full-time electrician, but his profile listed electrician as his main category in Thumbtack. He also had good reviews, so I figured, good enough.

Sort of.

Our handyman ended up spending around six hours at our house last Thursday and Friday. The amount of work he did was uninspiring, as was the quality.

Certainly, our house has challenges. It's over a hundred years old and it's had bad work done in past times. So the bad outlet was apparently very tightly packed and hard to work with. The bad switch (and associated outlet) was jammed in between uncut tiles, had a faceplate that wasn't really the right size and after it got accidentally shattered, we learned that that size was no longer being made.

But our handyman also didn't seem that good. Oh, he could do the basic work. He clearly knew how to rewire electrical wires. And he knew the basic techniques for patching our holes in the wall. But, given anything more challenging, like a switch and outlet where there wasn't a cover that could easily slip into the old spot, he was at wit's end, leaving me to troubleshoot. And he was also very sloppy. (If I wanted sloppy, unfocused home improvement work, I'd do it myself). And, he was also very messy. I spent almost an hour cleaning up after his first day of work, seriously messing up my Thursday evening's schedule.

After those six hours of work, we have:

  • An outlet that's working again, and just slightly crooked.
  • A switch and plug that may look better than they did before (and work cirrectly now), but which aren't wholly professional, and where the plug isn't totally stable in the wall.
  • Six or so patched holes, none of which are painted (because he couldn't get us a paint match) and a couple of which look very rough (due to sloppy work and a lack of texturing).


I mean, things are improved. Our two big electrical problems aren't problems any more. Some bare wall is covered. But I'm thinking about presentation nowadays, and most of this work fails the presentable-enough-to-increase-the-value-of-a-house test, to various degrees.

Our biggest lesson out of this is: don't use Thumbtack. I think we've gotten four people from them, and three have been disappointing. There was the handyman who built us OK shelves (but failed a little bit on that presentation), but just threw up his hands over our bathroom problems after working on them for a while and even cutting holes in our wall; there was the other handyman who worked on the bathroom and made the situation worse by grouting over our grout with a different color, which then started washing away weeks later; and there was thi electrician-handyman who did OK work but was very bad at finishing and polish. We did get a good roofer from Thumbtack, who did solid work on our leaking back roof and resealing our repaired garage roof, but 25% aren't the odds I want when having someone work on our house, especially when presentation increasingly matter.
shannon_a: (Default)
Two Sundays in a row, Kimberly and I have bussed up to Tilden and hiked around, as part of her effort to get out and about more.

Last Sunday was very nice. We picnicked by Jewel Lake then hiked around the Loop Trail and up to the bus stop near Lake Anza along a very pleasant creekside trail that I love. We even stopped and wrote for a while at my favorite bench in Tilden, deep in the shade, near Wildcat Creek.

This Sunday was substantially less successful, because we're in a heat wave and today was apparently the hottest day of it. We picnicked by Jewel Lake again, and that was still very nice. But when we walked down the Wildcat Creek Canyon Trail we turned back almost immediately due to the heat. Then, when we were hiking through the Nature Area, Kimberly was getting increasingly overheated. When we stopped at the Little Farm she was very red-faced. After dousing her in some water, we headed back to the bus stop so that we could get her back to cooler places in the lowlands.

She still said she enjoyed the wildlife she saw, and we got smoothies when we returned to downtown Berkeley.

I actually made one other trip to Tilden in the last few days: Saturday, on my own, as part of my getting out and about on Saturdays, which I do while not gaming.

It was a fairly normative hike, from my house up to Lake Anza. Nine or ten miles. It was hot, but it certainly didn't feel as hot as Sunday.

I love being out on my own and just relaxing in nature.

I also did a lot of not-relaxing-in-nature in the last week. We had a BBQ scheduled for Thursday in advance of gaming, and that meant I had to get the backyard in order. So I spent about three-and-a-half hours between Monday and Tuesday, downing foliage in the backyard and filling our green bin. Twice.

I really don't understand how our teeny backyard gets so out of control. Our new neighbors behind us give just as little attention as we do to our (much huger) backyard. Last winter they grew clover up and over everything, totally covering their yard, but then spring came and it all died out. Now their backyard is certainly scraggly, but not particularly overgrown.

Meanwhile, we'd totally lost the entirety of our yard beneath ivy and bushes and purple flowers. It was probably an hour before the walkway leading from our fence to our back door was clear. And still the walkway around the back and side of our house are pretty impassable. (A problem for another day.)

But I definitely communed with nature. And fortunately my knee and ribs were mostly up to the task.

The BBQ that followed on Thursday was sadly less than successful. We could barely get any flames on the grill. The corn eventually got mostly cooked, but the various sausages went into the broiler, which did the job. (We think the grill was almost out of propane.)

The food was still quite tasty, despite the problems, but we did also have a less than successful game (the new Buffy co-op, which is flat-out a bad design).

Still, it was good company and that generally makes for good times.

And that was a week of communing with nature. Or at least a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday of such.
shannon_a: (Default)
The birthday festivities began yesterday. Well, not really. But, on my birthday's eve we have workers at the house all day. Plumbers spent about four hours taking out our old main stack from the second floor and installing a new one, then roofers spent another hour or so patching up the roof and rewaterproofing everything.

Seems to have all worked. (Fingers crossed.)

The big problem, as usual, was shoddy past work done on the house. At some point, running water got put in the house and for whatever reason both of the sewage pipes were put through the garage. Which is stupid, but this house is really tight on our lot, so it might have been required. And at some point plaster or stucco or something got mostly wrapped around the pipe in the garage that came down from the second floor. Which probably was not required and always looked ugly. So before the plumbers could take it out, they had to hammer the stony pipe covering away. It was a big pain, and shockingly looks much nicer now.

Still, total damage of something less than $2,000 to us, I think. We have the money, but it was intended to pay property tax in a few weeks. (We'll just have to sell a little stock, to pay various taxes, but I'd hoped to avoid that this year.)

Today was my birthday outing. I took the day off work, which I sometimes do for my birthday (particularly when it's weekend-adjacent).

K. and I were up bright and early and we went out to Cheese and Stuff to pick up sandwiches and chips and desert. We then long-hauled those out to the Palace of the Legion of Honor, out by Land's End in SF. It's always a long trip, since it's way in the back corner of SF.

It was raining the whole time, but the peristyle at the entryway has covered walkways to the sides. For some reason, every one enters the museum through the courtyard or the righthand walkway, avoiding the lefthand one like it's the plague. So, we were able to sit there, out of the rain, and eat our sandwiches.

Then it was into the Palace. We had almost 45 minutes before our viewing of the Monet exhibit, so we quickly walked around to our favorite exhibits: the Impressionist room, at the end of one of the arms of the museum and the Rodin sculptures in some of the center rooms. We also saw one of the visiting exhibits, a teeny room of art about letters, which K. and I both had a lot of fun with.

However, our purpose in going to the museum today was to see "Monet: The Early Years", and it was awesome. It contains about 40 paintings from 1858-1872, which means that we saw some of his pre-impressionist pieces (but most were trending toward impressionism). It was amazing to see him working in such a realistic style. But what I found particularly interesting was that by 1865 or so, he was varying between clearly realistic work and impressionistic work, apparently based on audience (and whether something was a "sketch" or finished piece).

The art was all beautiful. Some of it we'd seen before at the series of great impressionist exhibits that we got in several years ago. A lot more was new. We got to enjoy the Magpie again (and realized how faded K.'s print has gotten) and many more. The descriptions of the artwork were also written very well, with lots of discussions of Monet's technique and his character, all of which was intriguing.

I was thrilled to see another big (mostly) impressionist exhibit while we're still here in the Bay Area.

And now we have a year's membership to the Palace of the Legion of Honor and the deYoung, since the tickets for the Monet exhibit were almost the same price as a membership. I already know another exhibit we want to see, which is on the Summer of Love, showing up at the DeYoung in just a few weeks (and staying through the summer). The great thing about the membership is that we can go and have a day in the Park, and just stop by the museum to visit that, without feeling that we're "wasting our money" or something.

We headed home afterward. Hanging out in a cafe for a while, we worked on our current read-aloud book, Fool's Fate, and then were enticed to eat dinner there too. After we got home, K. played a two-player game with me (Saboteur: The Duel) in large part so I could review it, then we watched the first episode of Legion.

Reviews: Fool's Fate (excellent), PIQ Berkeley sandwiches (very good), Saboteur: The Duel (ok), and Legion ep 1 (very intriguing, but I feel like we just got to the premise.
shannon_a: (Default)
Yeah, I'm a workaholic — or at least an accomplishmentaholic. You can tell because I even set goals for my leisure activities.

So this year I want to spend some time out at Mt. Diablo, to hike around and really explore the area. I got a big map from the folks at Save Mount Diablo to help.

I went out to Mt. Diablo for the first time on Saturday. Or, rather, I went to one of the connected parks. There are many of them. I chose the park closest in to downtown Walnut Creek, Howe Homestead Park, which reaches quite a ways into Walnut Creek itself.

Howe Homestead Park is a little bit of nothing. There's a grassy area with a few picnic tables and a bathroom. And oddly a barn. Not particularly attractive, not particularly well-used. I ate lunch at one of the picnic tables, a sandwich I'd brought over from Berkeley.

From there it was up some very poorly maintained paths that had weeds growing into them all over. The worst was when the weeds were spiny thistly things. Even stepping carefully, I had them stabbing at me. These initial paths were all on a narrow, wavering strip of land that connected Howe to actual park I was heading for.

But eventually the so-called Kovar Trail brought me into Shell Ridge Open Space.

Shell Ridge is one of three major parks that are to the northwest of Mt. Diablo itself. There's Shell Ridge, which directly adjoins Diablo Foothills to the south of it, and then somewhat further northeast there's Lime Ridge.

The further I got into Shell Ridge, the cooler it was. Pretty soon I was surrounded entirely by green, rolling hills. I felt like I was in the shire or something as I walked the narrow paths between the relatively sparse trees in the middle of green greenery.

Every once in a while, I'd turn a hill and suddenly a big brown lake would be in front of me. They were like hidden little gems ... despite the signs that warned the water wasn't fit for humans or their pets.

Parts of the park were quite deserted, particularly when I hit its easternmost edge. But there were people along the ridges and in the west. I heard hikers complaining about bicyclists destroying the path ("Look at those tire marks! Right there in the mud!") and I heard bicyclists complaining about cows destroying the path ("Look at that trench, you'd think a tank or something made it, but it was a cow.") [One presumes he spies on cows at night to be sure.] And, yeah, some of the paths were a mess. I imagine the cows sitting around, blaming the hawks ("Look at those holes! Those darned birds fly down and root around!").

It was gray when I started, but the sky had gotten blue by afternoon and I was increasingly aware of how exposed all of the trails were. I was hot, worn-out, and thirsty by the time I did the last huge climb up and down a ridge-line trail. (Note to self: bring more than one water bottle.)

When I looked at my Save Mount Diablo map afterward I was shocked by how teeny of a bit of ground I'd covered on the huge map. Apparently my work is really cut out for me in exploring the Mount Diablo area this spring (at least until it gets too hot over the hills.)

Paths I walked were: Kovar Trail, Fossil Hill Loop Trail, Briones-Mt Diablo Regional Trail, Corral Spring Trail, Deer Lake Trail, Upper Buck Loop Trail, Lower Buck Loop Trail, Costanoan Trail, Sulfur Creek Trail, Costanoan Trail, Ginder Gap Trail, Briones-Mt Diablo Regional Trail, Indian Creek Trail, Fossil Hill Loop Trail, Summit Ridge Trail, and Kovar Trail. I was out for about 3.5 hours and covered about 8 miles. A little bit on the slow side, but there were hills and sun.

The Save Mount Diablo map was a godsend, as there were no maps available at the park and Google Maps was almost entirely useless for paths in the park. Heck, the Save Mount Diablo map didn't even have all of them, but it had enough to figure out where I was. Mostly.

Meanwhile, back at home, we have ... more leaks.

No, seriously, like the third different leaks this year. Water was coming down the walls of our garage from the bathroom above. We had a plumber out on Thursday and he confirmed that our cast-iron main stack coming down the wall has split. It goes down our wall and into our garage through the roof. Pro tip: don't build your sewage lines through your garage.

Yeah. So.

The plumber and a friend are coming back on Thursday morning to replace a good chunk of the main stack. Then a roofer is coming out Thursday afternoon to at least try and protect the roof that's going to be cut apart around the pipe. Then rain is coming in Thursday night.

That's going to set us back at least a few thousand, just when I had shored up some cash for property and income tax in April.

Yeah. So.

Oh, and leak #2 for the year is back. That's the downstairs bathroom leak that we've been fighting with for at least six months. I thought our grouter in January had done a crap job, and sure enough the grout is already starting to wash away and we've got damp in our crawl space under that bathroom again.

Friday is my birthday. K. and I are planning to go see a Monet exhibit in the City. Hopefully circumstances will allow us to do so.
shannon_a: (Default)
Welcome to week four, and how is the new year going?

I must admit to a bit of existential dread about the new president. I mean, surely we've had pathological liars in the White House before, though none so obvious. But it's really the combination of that lying with a high level of incompetence and a certainty that he's right that's scary. It's like Dan Quayle rose up to power, but if he was also a narcissistic, self-centered man-child.

The existential dread is the big picture stuff, and I look at the headlines with fear every morning at what he's done today. I've actually had to sign off of a few progressive mailing lists, because what they were sending out was pure FUD that wasn't helping my mood.

But it's the specific stuff that's even scarier. I'm the most worried about health care. Are my costs going to double in the next decade as the CBO has predicted if the Republicans have their way? Am I going to be out of insurance? The damnedest thing is that I'm pretty healthy. I mean, if I had such horrible insurance that it only covered catastrophes, my life probably wouldn't change. I can't even imagine folks that's not true for.

I've lost two of my familial elders since the New Year, heck since the inauguration: Bob's dad (my step-grandfather) and my Aunt Peg.

I probably knew Bob the elder better. We drove down to Los Angeles a number of times when I was growing up, to spend time with Bob's family, and he was the patriarch of the house.

I probably knew August Peg less well, because she lived out in St. Louis, but she was one of the family members delighted to see me when I visited summers long gone.

And all the losses diminish us. It's a somber start to the year.

OK, perking up.

It looks like our recent roof work was successful, as the torrential downpour of the last week didn't cause new leaks. Yay. And they're going to come back in to stucco over the wounds where our water heater was removed last year, after one of our last house problems (sigh!), which will be another thing off our list-of-stressors and our list-of-things-that-must-be-done-before-we-leave-this-house.

Our recent bathroom work was more so-so. I'm hoping that the handyman fixed the leaking problem we had since last year by grouting over the bottom half of the tiles in our bathroom. Our wall has definitely stopped leaking, I'm less sure about under the house. But the grout is much darker than what's on the other half of the tiles. And it looks really grainy. And there was grit all over the tiles. Days later we've got the grit mostly off, and I'm hoping a sealant will make the stucco itself look smoother and better. But the variegated look of the top and bottom of our tile is annoying.

Speaking of rain, I'm well and sick it. It's greatly impacted my exercise over the last few months. I've been getting 50k or so steps a week instead of my goal of 70k and my more typical excess of more than that. Oh, that's been partly the cold too. Altogether it just hasn't been that nice going out on weekends or evenings or whatever.

I've been trying to figure out alternative ways to exercise, but the success has been somewhat limited.

But, yay, we're heading out of our drought.

The state water regulators, meanwhile, talked about extending our drought restrictions during one of the heaviest days of rain after days of rain. Because they have no sense of irony. Or too much sense of irony. But that's generally their modus operandi.

Work has been good since the new year. I feel like the week off helped me get my mojo back, so I've been bouncing around, putting finishing projects on various projects that have been long standing, and feeling good about it.

I'm getting a bit more weighed down this week, because various people all want my attention. I suppose that's to the good, but less bouncy.

So that's 2017 so far. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Trump is the ugly.
shannon_a: (Default)
So the weather services were predicting a truly apocalyptic storm this last week. Especially over the weekend, they were pretty much saying, "Stay inside if you don't need to go out, or you might die."

It was pretty ridiculous, especially when you saw the hours of mere drizzle throughout the day.

Despite the inanity of their hysterical warnings, the truth is that it was an unusual amount of rain for such a short period, and that does put pressure on our infrastructure. So, rivers are raging, and aquatic park is flooded.

And, and our house is leaking.


What a crappy start to the year.

The problem is in the back of our kitchen, between the cupboard, back door, and bathroom. Water is coming down through the big beam that marks the original back of the house and also through one of our new windows.

And darn it, I hate mysteries, and this is another one. Because the rest of the ceiling, including the five feet or so of ceiling between those two places, looks fine. So where is the water coming from? Dunno.

(Presumably: from the flat roof right above, one of two small flat roofs in our house, both representing extensions of the original house.)

Oh, and let me say, water suddenly coming down in your kitchen at 6pm, when there is a storm thundering by outside: not very pleasant for your stress and mental health, especially not when poor Kimberly has been sick abed since New Year's Eve.

I thought for a minute we might be in luck, because our roof has a shocking 18-year warranty on the workmanship and a 40-year warranty on the materials.

Except, it turns out, not the flat roofs. Those only had a 10-year warranty.

(I can't really complain about that; flat roofs are tricky.)

Here's the real problem: when we put in that flat roof, they had to rip out the house's old deck. No problem. It was rickety, looking like it'd been built by an 8-year-old with misshapen Lincoln Logs(tm).

We just finally rebuilt that deck several years ago. 2012, I think. Then we just spent a hard day improving its weatherproofing last July.

And now it seems likely that they're going to have to rip it out again to get to the roof.


(The deck was totally sour anyway: it gets too much sunlight and that reflects off the white walls, and it all turns into a blinding furnace. So it's never gotten a lot of use. But, darnit, it was also supposed to improve the value of the house when we rebuilt it, so I don't want to be right back where we started.)

This is just a continuation of water hating us over the last year.

First we had our old water heater go out and we were forced to replace it with a tankless. And now it looks like our installers did something bad with the electricity because we've had the circuit pop three times. Want to know when it did last? That'd be this morning, as I stepped around recycling bins under leaks, to get to the bathroom.

Second we had the mysterious leak in our bathroom which was never entirely solved to my satisfaction. I *think* the problem was poor grouting in our new tub area by our ex-contractor, as regrouting parts of it seem to have lessened, maybe even solved the issue. But our handyman didn't investigate the tub very thoroughly, and so there's still cracked, broken grouting I can see with my naked eye.

The lesson here seems to be: don't engage in home improvement. Too many of our problems seem to come from work we've had done. Like the deck and bathroom.

Current status: wait and see. Hope tonight's storm doesn't do too much damage.

Kimberly has been a total champ and contacted several roofers, including the people who did the initial work.

(I was going to say poor work, but actually the roofing has been fine up until this, and I can't argue with a flat roof having an issue 17 years later. But they did awful work on the gutters, which they literally left dangling from the house until we argued them into coming back to fix it. I was a bit offended, however, by their attitude today, because it was so two-faced. When we thought it might be under warranty they had no one available for days, then when we realized it wasn't because it was the flat roof we were "at the top of their list", and then they called back and said, oh, since we were in Berkeley, they didn't do repair. So much for the top of their list and that extremely high level of service they provide to out-of-warranty customers.)

But, there's no one scheduled to see us yet, let alone solve the problem, let alone tell us the cost in decks and dollars. Kimberly is continuing calling about, and I've told her to let me know if she gets too tired out, as she is still recovering from the flu.

Edit: A Few Hours Later, The End of the Story? After calling numerous roofers and setting up a few appointments for tomorrow, Kimberly got someone to come out today.

They arrived, immediately spotted that the roofing material wasn't well-attached to the stucco, and recaulked it. They did ominously say that the roof should be replaced sometime, due to the poor work (c.f. our problems with the original roofers), but that again hits the deck problem, so we'll hope there aren't any more issues and that they did solve the problem.

Cost was $350, which is a lot for half-an-hours work, but they said it was their minimum, and I had no particular objection after an evening and morning of stress.

So fingers crossed.
shannon_a: (Default)
Goodbye to the Dream. I feel like I spent last week out of town (again). Three days of designworkshop were enough to totally fill my brain. It was only on Sunday night and Monday morning that I finally came out of my busy daze and started to remember the things I was working on the and the things I'd promised to people.

So, it's slowly back to work on personal and Skotos projects alike ... but it feels like it's been a million years.

Flying the Unfriendly Skies. I've been putting off getting tickets for next year's Hawaiian trip for over a month, but last night, with all of my October weights off my shoulders, I suddenly felt able to do so. And despite Hawaiian Airlines' ass-hattery this year, I went back to them.

Why? We have miles. In fact, we have more miles than I thought. I spent about 37% of the miles sitting on my account, along with $22.80 for tax and fees and was able to get our tickets to visit the folks next year.

So, I'm giving Hawaiian continued business, despite how they acted this year, but I'm not actually giving them any money. I can deal with that. And based on how many miles I have left, I should be able to do the same thing in 2018 and 2019.

Three years of free Hawaiian vacations! Woot!

The Defernestration Initiative. On Sunday morning, K. and I emerged from our house to find the tree in the median strip of our next-door neighbors entirely destroyed. It was literally ripped into multiple parts. My best guess is that on Saturday night a drunken college student tried to swing around on it. Whoops! (And then onward to more booze at the next party.)

This was one of three trees that were planted next to the apartments next to us about two years ago. Unfortunately, whoever was taking care of them did a bad job. Two died from lack of water. This third one survived its irresponsible upbringing ... but not irresponsible college students.

For those keeping score, drunken college students tried to kill one of our trees too, by backing a car into it. That was just before last winter, and it survived. But it was a year older than the next-door trees, and so better able to take the abuse.

Alas, what could have been five nice trees running along our side of the street has become two. The two in front of our house.

Open the Streets of My Heart! Sunday was Berkeley's fifth annual Open Streets, when Shattuck Avenue gets closed for a couple of miles and stuff happen. Kimberly and I walked it, had lunch at Saul's (on the far side), then walked it back.

Honestly, it was pretty mediocre. It was obvious that the event had been hurt by the last-minute cancellation last week (due to rain), because there just weren't as many vendors out. The crowds were more sparse too.

Every year, I've felt like the event has been a little bit less interesting than the year before. There were more actual fun things that first year, and our NIMBY merchants hadn't yet driven off the food trucks. Now? Pamphleteers, jewelry merchants, and advertisers.

Nonetheless, I always love being able to actually walk up Shattuck and back and feel for just a single day that we're not a car-obsessed culture. Yeah, it's just an illusion, but still ...

And K. did find some jewelry.

Winter is Coming. I fear that my evening hikes have come to an end for 2016.

'SFunny, it wasn't even a thing before this year. But early in the year, my doc advised against biking for a while (as part of a long and fruitless series of medical exams and procedures that brought me nothing but annoyance and pain), so I took up hiking in the hills above our house and I've come to really like the fire trails and other paths there.

But the rain has started to come down, and the trails are getting muddy, and soon enough we're going to lose a precious hour of evening sunlight.

So I'm going to need to figure out how to get my evening exercise again. Maybe nighttime bike rides, maybe Dance Dance Revolution which I haven't done in a few years.

But winter is (sadly) coming.
shannon_a: (Default)
On Thursday night, our bathroom door suddenly broke. It had one of the most jury-rigged knobs in the house, with a lever on the inside and a regular knob on the outside. And the lever had always been kind of loose, requiring quite a bit of movement before it caught. But on Thursday night it wouldn't turn any more if you pushed down, only if you pushed up.

It was actually quite a trick figuring out how to get the knobs off. I'd about given up, but then I brought K. in and when I did the same 'ole jiggling and pushing of the hidden latch, she just popped it off. We agreed that I'd clearly loosened it.

So the knob was easy enough to change at that point. I did that on Friday, but the problem was that it wouldn't latch correctly into he old strike plate. So I needed to install a new strike plate less than an inch away from the old one. Which was troublesome because of the screw holes.

Youtube to the rescue! Home repairers told me how to fill the old hole with toothpicks and wood glue, which I did Saturday night. It was literally the coolest home repair that I'd ever (successfully) done myself, really making me feel like a home owner.

Then after that all dried, I was able to put in the new strike plate today. Presto! It all works fine again and is a much better knob too.

(However, I just used an unused knob that was in the garage; I really need to change it out for one with a lock, but hopefully that will be super easy at this point.)

Today there was a big task on my TODO list: clearing the acacias with the neighbors.

Acacias suck. They're high allergen trees with hugely invasive root systems that grow like weeds. They've been a plague on our household for years, constantly cropping up. Sometime after our former neighbors left, a whole crop of them appeared along on our fence line, in the neighbor's yard, and four or five years on, they were attacking our fence, reaching over the fence to attack our windows, and probably sending invasive roots at our foundation.

So several months ago K. sent a very nice letter to our new neighbors asking if we could do something about them, and offering any help necessary.

Fortunately, our neighbors are quite nice, it turns out. There were some concerns about using poisons to try and more permanently deal with the acacias, but we finally agreed to deal with them at the start of fall, when the poisons were supposed to be more effective.

And then our neighborly wife had some time off last week and she took out quite a few of the smaller (I think) acacias, making it all look super manageable. Then the neighborly husband and I went out today to deal with the remaining four and to chop them up and cover everything up so that their kids wouldn't get into the poison.

We spent about three and a half hours, and it was actually quite nice, comradely work. The trees went down pretty easy between a small little battery powered sawer they had and a big bow saw I'd gotten. Then we stripped them and cut them up and filled a green bin.

(There are still a bunch of tree bits in their yard.)

Applying the poison and covering everything afterward turned out to be quite a bit of work just because there were so many of them.

But we got it done, and I again I felt like a home owner. One who even worked with neighbors!

A few hours later I felt like I'd been beat up, and I suspect I'm going to be sore as heck tomorrow, but it was still good work.

(And I got a good hike up to Inspiration Point yesterday, so it wasn't all work this weekend.)

Still one little bit of acacia-related trouble to deal with: I'm aware of two stumps on our side that I've cut back at various times. I need to cut one of the two back and them apply poison to both of those — but I decided it was a problem for another day. I've got it on my schedule for next Sunday.
shannon_a: (Default)
In writing about goings-on last night, I forgot to write about our newest handyman. K. found him on Yelp! and then stayed home on Saturday while he worked. We are now another $700 poorer (which seems to be the standard cost for getting anything done lately), but hopefully several problems lighter.

We now have two working bathrooms again. Hopefully. The handyman resealed the whole tub and the troublesome wall in our downstairs bathroom. This was to resolve leaking under the house, and we hope it did. I say hopefully because we'll need to monitor that area for more leakage, since we were never able to definitively spot the origin.

The ultimate culprit here was probably our old contractor T., who renovated that bathroom for us. Ironically, it's when we decided to stop working with him, after he electrocuted the bathtub and then told us we had bad electricity.

We now have a working front door. Hopefully. Our house constantly settles back and forth, but the front door has been particularly troublesome, with the dead bolt first going awry, then the whole door getting so it wouldn't shut unless you carefully popped it upward. I have no idea what the handyman did, but it now closes and latches again.

The ultimate culprit here was probably our old contractor T., who used cardboard to pad out the hinges on the door. And cardboard contracts, causing the door to settle much more than the house. And I say "hopefully" here, because that cardboard is still there, so I'm not convinced that the problem won't recur in 2-8 months.

We now have a patched foyer door. There's always been a big crack in our foyer door. Our handyman patched it up and sanded it down, but the whole thing needs to be painted (or at least the center panel does).

We now have shelves over our laundry. We used to have shelves over our laundry before we ripped them out to reinstall a window there (replacing a bigger window which had been knocked out and built over some decades ago). Since, we've been storing laundry detergent under our microwave. But now we can keep them right by our washing machine, and not have them get nuked.

So at this point I think we aren't needing anyone else to deal with any of our house problems — though I still need to resand parts of the deck and refinish the floor; paint some or all of that entryway door; and cut down acacias with our neighbor.
shannon_a: (Default)
The Bathroom Blow-up. We finally have at least one fully functional bathroom, but it came at cost.

The problems with our upstairs bathroom started when I knocked our upstairs sink out of the wall. This knocked the piping out too. No problem, we decided to take this as an opportunity. We ordered a new faucet, with the goal of having a plumber come into the house, repipe the sink and install the new faucet. (Really, faucet installation is something we should be able to do ourselves, but this sink is very hard to work with, and I just bloodied my knuckles last time I tried.)

So the plumber comes in to do the work on Tuesday ... and the next thing I know, I hear sawing and hammering. It turns out that we've got corroded and rotten pipes leading out of the sink into the wall. And so he took care of all of that in order to get things back together.

Meanwhile, we've been showering upstairs because the downstairs shower currently has some sort of leak. (We had a handyman in today who seemed to have a much better handle on what was going on than the plumber we wasted money on last week; he should be sending us a quote soon.) Anyway, the upstairs shower doesn't work well. The diverter only gets about half the water up to the shower head, and after you shower, the faucet drips, sometimes extensively, sometimes for days. So, having a plumber out, we asked him to look into that too.

First up, it turns out that the tiles and pipes have been installed pretty much on top of each, which makes it very hard to get at the piping without breaking anything. This is typical of the DYI badness that occurred in this house before we bought it, and that we've slowly been undoing.

Second, more rotten pipes. In fact when the plumber pulls out one of the knobs, it literally comes apart. This one requires a trip to a nearby hardware store to get a replacement.

Total damage was a bit more than $700 (including the cost of the faucet, which we ordered from Amazon last week). I'm not particularly upset about it, because this was really 16 years of deferred maintenance, and if we're ever going to rent the house out, the shower in particular was one of those things that needed to be fixed. But, it would be nice if we didn't keep having big expenses.

Now mind you, we still have a somewhat unstable console sink, but we're looking into getting a second leg for it. Otherwise, that bathroom is looking pretty good at the moment. Other than the cat litter all over. The shower and sink now are both much better.

The Passport Progress. Last Friday I applied to renew my passport. This came up suddenly, but fortunately I've got all my identity papers together.

(Which will be really useful is Trump is elected president. Ba-Dum-CH!!)

So I ran downtown to go to CVS and get a new passport photo, which is where I hit snag #1. CVS doesn't have a photo department any more. I suppose that's not too unusual in a new world of digital photography, but it surprised me. They have crappy little photo computers and they say that you should call over an employee if you need a passport photo. But this CVS has also been doing its best to replace all of its employees with semi-functional autocheckout machines. So I waited a few minutes, but their only employee was busy checking out other customers who refused to use the machines, so I left.

Fortunately, Google Maps told me where I could get a passport photo, at an actual photo place in Shattuck Square, and it was quick and easy, other than discussions about whether I should wear my glasses. (Consensus is no, because the gov't now uses passport photos for biometric bullshit and they couldn't manage a picture of my super-glasses without glare.)

So next I went to the US Post Office to get all my papers checked and turned in. Except I wandered up and down the hallway where the passport office used to be, and there were just closed doors. I finally asked at the front counter and they said, "Oh, our person who does passports is out for a couple of months, so we're not doing them right now."

Really. Our main government office that does passports in Berkeley staffs it with just one employee and if she's out sick, that's it.

(My brain goes: "So you have to wait a few months until she's back if you want a passport." But I just say "thank you" to the postal clerk who seems really apologetic and clearly realizes how asinine this is too.)

Somewhere in city hall actually does passports too, but it's by appointment only. Fortunately I'd found one other passport office in central Berkeley: Cal's RSF. (That's the campus' Recreational Sports Facility.) I was a little trepidatious about going there while not being a student, but it was easy. You walk in, the customer service window is right there, and they run all the paperwork for you. Easy. (Also: much more efficient than the passport lady hiding in the bowels of the US Post Office, from my past experience.)

Now the question is if the US gov't actually issues me a new passport. You see, I changed my name when I got married to a combination of my and Kimberly's former last names. But at least in California that's not really recognized anywhere on the marriage certificate. I think it's just assumed that either the wife takes the husband's name or nothing happens, and that would be easy to see from the certificate. Back after our wedding I was able to get my social security card updated easily enough and my driver's license with some determined arguing (that ultimately paid out, as surprising as that is with a gov't bureaucracy). Given that, I'm a bit nervous about sending the passport application out into the void, but fingers crossed.

The Health Hijinx. So when I saw my specialist about my chronic problems (again!) last month he laid out a plan to try out some drugs and supplements over a period of 6-7 weeks. It's possible that increasing my alpha blocker helped a little, but the day I was scheduled to start up a totally new drug I was still having some symptoms, so I went ahead with it.

And this damned thing seemed to make my chronic symptoms worse. I gave it 10 days hoping that would fade, as I had great hopes for the drug, but no dice. So a week ago Saturday I discontinued it entirely, after 10 days of use.

My increased discomfort seemed to recede, but I'm still doing worse than I have in months.


I'm back to see the specialist next week to report in, but I'm beginning to lose hope they're going to do anything useful.
shannon_a: (Default)
Problem #1: The light switch in our upstairs bathroom has been bouncing up whenever you try to turn it off. And there was fuzz under it. So today I unscrewed the light switch to clean that out.

Problem #2: The sink in our upstairs bathroom has always been precarious. It's mounted on the wall with a bracket, and it has precisely one leg supporting it, off to one side. It looks like there should be a leg on the other side, but there isn't, so the sink has always looked like it's doing a magical balancing act.

You may see where this is going ...

Problem #3: While cleaning out the light switch, I must have leaned on the sink just a little bit, because it suddenly came out of the wall. I managed to catch it, and Kimberly soon helped me get it back in the wall.

But the piping came apart.

Also, cleaning the light switch out did not fix it.

We could get a plumber out to replace the piping and I'm sure it would be 30 minutes or less. ("That'll be $140, please.") But given the precariousness of the whole setup and the fact that we're going to rent this house out someday, we're going to look into replacing the whole sink. So tomorrow it's off to Amazon or Home Depot or whatsoever.

Flashback three days, and we had a plumber out for our other problematic bathroom, downstairs. We had the shower running for a good 40 minutes beforehand, but our intermittent leaks did not leak. There was much crawling under the house, and he asked me, "Have you actually seen it leaking?" "Yes!" I said. "I've felt it!"

He was finally able to ascertain that if you dumped water right along the side of the tub, it does leak below the house, around where I was seeing it before. However it was not leaking in the volume I'd seen before, despite the dumping of a whole Dalek mug of water. So I'm dubious this is the only problem.

But, the plumber was very adamant that the pipes were not leaking. ("That'll be $140, please.") This I believe.

So, we've lit the popeye-signal for our local handymen. We're going to ask them to reseal everything. And we're going to hope that does the job.

Except they haven't actually responded yet.

Batman always responds to the Bat-signal much faster.

Yes, home ownership can be frustrating sometimes. And I'm annoyed that we're going to be spending money on upstairs bathroom repair when I'd been trying to recover our finances from taxes + stock market crashes early this year.

But, on the other hand, our home ownership over the last 16 years has created a nice nest egg through property valuation.


If you're keeping count, we now have zero fully functional bathrooms. We have a sink and toilet in one bathroom, but no shower, and a shower and toilet in the other, but no sink.


Here's the good stuff:

I took a bus up to Tilden Park yesterday. After eating lunch pretty near Lake Anza, I then hiked up to Inspiration Point.

My goal was to take the Inspiration Trail, which is an EBMUD Trail on the other side of the hill, down. Which I did. It ran along the hillside for a while, then plunged downward to San Pablo Dam Road. It was a pretty typical hillside trail, which means that this time of year it's all brown. It was a nice walk. Very windy at times. I almost lost my very-expensive straw hat.

The only deficit of the trail was that it was covered in cow dung. Really, there was one point where it was so frequent that I had to veer back and forth to avoid it.

Curiously, the cows were all gathered along one little pond in the middle of the hills. There was a fence, but the gate was open, so they could have wandered where they wanted. And it was clear that some wildly pooping cows did sometimes wander far afield, but if so, they do it stealthily, at night or something.

Down on the other side of San Pablo Dam Road is the reservoir, and that has continued EBMUD trails. The connecting trail from Inspiration Trail to the Old San Pablo Trail was horribly, horribly maintained. Its as almost invisible at times. But once it linked up with the Old San Pablo Trail proper, it was absolutely beautiful. A nice woodland trail that was quiet and bucolic and pretty. I saw lizards and rabbits and squirrels and birds. I enjoyed the trees. The reservoir sadly isn't that visible, but it was still quite nice.

I was heading toward Orinda, and once I left the EBMUD lands behind, there were fortunately sidewalks or trails all the way there. (I'd been a bit worried about that, but I'd known there were at least some sidewalks from my bike rides in that area.)

I was pretty tired when I got to Orinda. From there I BARTed to Rockridge and headed home.

So, a nice Saturday.

And a nice enough today despite a hill of plumbing problems.
shannon_a: (Default)
K. and I have decided for once not to wait a year to see the new season of Game of Thrones (when it hits DVD).

So I looked into HBO Now, the streaming, on-demand service that you can buy ala carte. Except Tivo doesn't support HBO Now, and that's our main entertainment center.

No problem, I figured, I'll just order HBO for a month through Comcast, then watch it through HBO Go on the Tivo. That's their connected-to-your-account HBO streaming service. I mean, I hate to give Comcast any more money because they're one of the scummiest corporations in the country. But it'd be convenient to watch on our Tivo in our living room. Except (1) Comcast makes me waste 10 minutes talking to a chat operator to sign up for HBO; (2) then they can't even get it to work, and with my experience with Comcast and Tivos and Cable Cards in the past, I'm not sure they ever will; and (3) While wasting my time chatting, I discover that Comcast is the only major cable provider in the US that isn't supporting HBO Go through the Tivo. (Discussions imply it's because they tried to get a bribe from Tivo, and Tivo refused; I don't know if that's true, but it sounds right to me from what I know of Comcast.)

So that order got canceled before it ever worked. It's like Comcast is begging you to cut your cable.

Next up I guess I dig up the Roku we could never get to work reliably and see if it supports HBO Go. (The internet says yes, unless we have too old of a box or something.)

And I hope I don't have to fight with Comcast in a month; they claim that canceled the HBO service at no cost, but I have no faith because Comcast's customer support is full of liars, in my past experience.

Meanwhile, the bathroom. After the leak last week, we didn't use our downstairs (nicer) shower for a few days, then I tested it out on Tuesday night and running the water didn't make it leak.

So we started taking showers. Wednesday, no leak. Thursday, no leak.

I come to the conclusion that the problem is actually in the way our tile is sealed, particularly some broken caulk next to the tub. And I'm being really careful to make sure no water is getting out of the tub. The plan is to get a handyman out to recaulk and seal.

Then Friday morning there's water running down under the house again. Despite the total lack of water outside of the tub. In fact, I look carefully under the house and in the bathroom and I really have no idea where it's coming from, though it seems roughly in line with the outer edge of the tub.


(My guess is that I ran the shower hotter today and that's unsealing something. But I have no idea what. So I think we're going to have to call out a plumber to do expensive investigation before expensive ripping out of walls or something to get to whatever's leaking. I'm really sick of this year costing extra money, while the jacked-up stock market keeps our emergency funds in the doldrums.)

Our deck refinishing of the weekend seems to have gone pretty well, but there are a few spots where apparently the finish got put on too heavily, resulting in tacky wet spots. I tried to fix it quickly during the week by reapplying, letting that eat up the old finish, them wiping it off. (Multiple sites on the web told me this was what to do.) And that slightly improved things, but didn't fix them.

So Sunday I may have to do something more drastic like sand and reapply.

But I'm not sure that we actually have enough finish; I think there might be too much pigment and not enough oil left.

While bitching, I suppose I should bitch about health.

My plan with my doc for my chronic problems was to try some increased meds for a few weeks, then try a new one this Wednesday if things weren't good yet. And they weren't, so I did.

And the first couple of days it seemed to crank up my symptoms and give me a pretty horrible dry mouth. I was on the verge of calling it quits, but today seemed better. So we'll see how it goes.

Two steps forward implies one step back, and therefore progress, but I'm not convinced it hasn't been two steps forward, two steps back.

Except for the deck. That's clearly almost all done.
shannon_a: (Default)
I blame Eric L.

A month and a half ago, I hosted the first board gaming barbecue of the year. It works like this: Eric asks, I agree, folks bring food, he cooks, everyone is very happy.

But I'm standing outside while he barbecues, and I notice that our upstairs deck is starting to really show the weathering.

When our contractor T. built it, he said we should finish it. That was obvious, though we had no idea why he didn't do it himself. This was a general problem, with him not quite finishing things. So it's sat like that for years, and now it's starting to show the wear and tear.

So, I reluctantly realize I really need to do it. I look at the calendar and finally settle on July 3rd, under the theory that I can have a relaxing and fun Saturday (I did!), then work hard on Sunday, then get my mojo back on Monday.

Earlier this week, I picked up finish and brushes and a roller.

So today we were ready.

The day starts like this: Kimberly begins to bring her Adirondack chairs into the house, and I start telling her to bring them back out, immediately.

She asks why, but does, and after she sets them down I point out the wasp hive attached to the bottom of one of the chairs.


It's pretty small, and I just see a couple of wasps, so after she hands me a ruler, I bravely knock it into the yard below.

For the morning, I've got sanding and cleaning scheduled. The sanding goes quite well, in part thanks to a power sander than helps to make all the long, wide surfaces go very quickly.

It's really the railing that causes us the most problems all day, because it's got so many surfaces, and some of them are facing away from the deck and quite hard to get to.

And the deck has cracks in it here and there which I'm not that pleased with, but there's only one board that looks really bad to me, and it's in the middle of the deck, so if it gets flaky, no big.

I had this prep work penciled in for two hours, and indeed we're done by about noon after starting around 10.

I'm quite happy how everything is looking good, and feel like this is going great.

Except we're filthy. That wasn't in my schedule. My pants are caked in dirt and mud and sawdust.

So there's about 15 minutes of cleanup that I didn't see coming, but no big deal.

We go out for lunch at La Bateau Ivre, and we're back by 1.30, which was also what I'd originally planned.

I'd originally thought the actual finishing would take 2-3 hours, but I've revised it to 2-2.5 after seeing how well things went this morning.

Not so much.

All those surfaces we were messing with in the morning: the fronts, backs, and sides of all the slats and posts, are just that much more difficult when going at them with paint brushes and a roller.

But it's really the backs (and other external surfaces) that are the most painful. I spend infinite amounts of time painting stuff I can't see, then looking out and seeing I still don't have complete coverage. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Our Acacia neighbors see us working and take pity on us in the afternoon. They ask if we'd like to borrow a ladder. I agree, and I use it for the side of the deck facing our teeny yard (as opposed to the side facing their yard, which we'd already done, and where there was no room for a ladder.)

It keeps feeling like it's going to vibrate apart when I climb, but otherwise it's quite sturdy, and I'm able to get to the outside of that final (and biggest) edge of the deck much easier. I even finish some of the lower surfaces and the main post, which I thought I'd have to do another day.


When I return to the deck (after returning the ladder) everything goes much more quickly. We've got surfaces that can be rolled and are visible, which makes it much easier.

But by 4.30 or so we've still got the biggest chunk of wood to go: the surface of the deck itself. It looks super daunting, but the roller goes really quickly on it. And we have just barely enough finish. (At the end I'm worried about running out, but we have enough left afterward for some minor touchup.)

By 5 or so we're done.


So, 3.5 hours of finish application.

It's an exhausting day overall. I'm not used to 5.5 hours of physical labor, and this isn't even walking or biking or something else that I've built up muscles for.

But other than a few aches and pains, I'm feeling good by evening.

And we got the deck finished!

Here's the unhappy coda: When I planned this out, I thought I was fixing the last major problem that T. left us.

But T. also redid our downstairs bathroom. He famously electrified the bathtub. And yesterday when I'm showering, I discover that our downstairs bathtub is leaking through the floor. Not good!

So, we've got another T.-related problem to fix. And my guess is that it's actually some of the shower piping that's leaking, which would mean it's going to be a major repair.

I need to do some better investigation tomorrow, to try and diagnose the problem before getting a plumber out.

And here's the other unhappy coda: I really wanted to shower after all that hard work, but before I could I had to clean our (usually unused) upstairs shower and hang a curtain.


Now done.

The day ends like this: A wasp flutters around the upstairs bathroom while I'm showering. I'm too tired to care. But afterward I hunt down the poor thing and kill it because I don't want it hurting our cats.

It was probably very confused about where its hive went.
shannon_a: (Default)
Speaking of annoying holdovers from before we owned our house ...

When we first moved in, our water heater was in the backyard atop a rickety wooden structure that appeared ready to go right over. We replaced the water heater and had a rickety aluminum shed built for the new one, which at least had the benefit of not being on the edge of falling over. Then that "new" water heater died within 15 months or so (right around Thanksgiving weekend, as I recall).

Our second water heater has been good for 13 or 14 years, which I suppose I can't complain about. That stupid aluminum shed has been an eyesore though, and I've never been too happy about how it largely blocks access to our side yard, or how ivy gets into the shed (or in recent years how trees that our neighbors aren't dealing with loom over it).

So, this morning. No hot water. No shower (which is my quiet, meditative way to start the morning). After really, certainly assuring myself that something was wrong, and the water wasn't just going to heat up, I let K. know, and blessedly she jump right in to calling a plumber.

Water heater #2 is indeed leaking and generally toast. Worse, plumber-guy doesn't really feel that he can reinstall in the narrow space where the old heater was. And I don't blame him. I agree with his statement that the current setup probably decreases the value of the house. So, he proposes a tankless water heater. I've investigated this possibility before, and it's something I thought might be a good option for us, so I'm good with it. But it's almost $5,000.

So it goes. I'm sure it'll increase the value of the house by at least that much as long as they're able to do a nice job and leave something much more good-looking. I wish it weren't right before tax season, when I've got property tax and some notable taxes on Designers & Dragons earnings; and I wish it weren't in a year when our stock accounts are down, meaning I'll have to take a loss to free up the money.

But, as I said, so it goes.

No hot water for at least a few days though.
shannon_a: (Default)
In December we decided to abandon the concept of having a guest room. This was due to its general failure when we'd had a guest earlier in the year and had been woken by her comings and goings. But, over the course of 15 years that we've lived in this house, she was only our second guest. I guess we're really not the invite-people-over sorts.

Meanwhile, we'd been talking about having an exercise room someday when we move to Hawaii. So, I put the two ideas together and said, "Why don't we just turn the guest room into an exercise room now?" Duh.

That idea later morphed into having it be an exercise-and-art room. No, I don't mean painting while lifting weights. Rather a room that could support both exercise and (Kimberly's) art. Kimberly ordered an art desk with an adjustable top last month; it was the first entry to our new room, going in shortly after we gave the old futon the boot. But today our exercise equipment arrived.

That was an exercise bike and some adjustable hand weights. We'd scheduled them both to be delivered to our house, so we didn't have to haul them home, and were waiting patiently. We made sure one of us was home at all times, so the stuff would actually get delivered.

Which was why I was surprised when I went by the front door and saw a UPS slip was stuck to it. We've had this problem with UPS before. Many times. They don't bother knocking at the door, they just toss the package on the front steps without breaking stride, perhaps hoping it will still be there when we notice it (a pretty unlikely hope in this neighborhood), perhaps not caring. It's why we don't have most stuff delivered at home anymore.

This time we had a particularly canny UPS driver. He moved our green bin up against the wall of our house and then hid the exercise bike behind it. As much as you can a 6-foot long box behind a small, green trash can.

(The hand weights arrived later; I was alerted by the house-shaking clunk of the mailman dropping them on our front steps, and thus managed to catch him before he abandoned them there. Probably he was actually going to ring the doorbell; I arrived between him dropping off the first and second boxes. USPS >> UPS about that sort of thing.)

After work Kimberly and I dragged the exercise bike up the stairs, which was probably the hardest part of the whole process. I'm hoping I didn't strain anything too much. Then we opened up the box to pull out the instructions. They were in French. Fortunately there was a second copy of the instructions right under that. Also in French.

The French instructions said that you could get Spanish instructions on the web. I went there and fortunately found English instructions as well. (Though I actually used the French instructions most of the time, because they were handy and on paper. AVIS!)

Setting up the exercise bike took a bit more than an hour and a half. Kimberly and I were able to do it efficiently and in good spirits. The instructions were good (even in French) and almost everything went together easily. Kudos to Schwinn.

Afterwards, we did a bit more rearranging of the room, voting some of the old guest room furniture off the island.

Afterward, there was reward ice cream at Ici. Because setting up an exercise room deserves junk food.

Exercise room renovation courtesy of the Appel Christmas Fund. Thanks guys!
shannon_a: (Default)
We had painters in the house three and two halves days last week. I always find this sort of thing exhausting because it involves people interactions and folks being in my space. Also: early awakenings.

However, it's now done, and we're very happy with the results.

This was the finale to some work that's spread throughout the year. We've been rehabilitating the back (really, the southwest corner) of our house, which previously had 1 boarded up window (from before we moved in, patched on the inside to look like there was no window there) and 2 badly damaged windows (of which I tried to clean up one of them maybe a decade ago, but without sufficient expertise).

So the two damaged windows got redone in March, and then we decided to get the boarded up window (which had also been sized down at some time, but never reframed, so I have no idea what it looked like before the boarding up ... but my guess is not good) rebuilt, reframed, and rewindowed too. That bonus window got done more recently, in May or June. But at that point we had a back-of-the-house which was a mess. It had always been cracked and flaky, but now there was fresh stucco and primer standing out in contrast to the stucco itself.

The big part of this week's painting was thus the repainting of the southwest corner of the house. Beforehand, it was so bad that when the second time we tried to refinance the house, they refused unless we redid the whole exterior of the house, with particular concern for that boarded up window. (Or, at least that was the claim; I'm pretty sure there was also some discrimination going on, so we ended up dumping them, sure they'd keep finding one "problem" after another.) Now, it looks mostly pristine with major windows all reframed and the older trim on the upstairs deck all cleaned up and everything painted over. Whew.

We also got a bit of work done inside the house. The laundry area got repainted because we'd messed it up by taking out a shelf to free up the space for the aforementioned new-ish window. Then the back of the kitchen got redone, because our contractor had replaced a window there too, right above the sink, and put some primer on the wall, and never told us that it was just primer and not waterproof. So over time it became clear that the wall's paint wasn't aging right.

At this point we are very done with home improvement. I mean, we've spent as much money as we should for several years. But we've also spent as much emotional energy as we have at the moment.

I could certainly point out more things I'd like to see done (replacing the single-paned windows in the sun room, specially the ones in my office; touching up some interior paint on some of the areas where windows got reframed; buying a new dish washer), but none of it's a priority, so I'm happy to let it sit for a few years at least.
shannon_a: (Default)
We've had problems with street kids using our outside water lately. I don't have a philosophical problem with sharing our water, but I do have problems with these kids loitering around our property, and really paying attention to our house in general.

So I hear the water running the other night and I mostly ignore it, because the homeless problem has gotten so troublesome and unchecked in Berkeley that a guy up in the hills was murdered a year or two ago for confronting a homeless guy. So, no confrontations.

The next morning I went out and saw lemon rinds strewn all across our steps. And they all been very cleanly cut open with a sharp knife.

I'll leave that picture for a moment: some kid sitting on our steps with a big knife eating lemons.

After more hose use yesterday by some kid, I decide we've become a destination for some reason. Fortunately, it turns out that they make locks to put on outside faucets.

Just a month or so after we received it, our new Samsung washer has already broken down. It was pooling water under it this weekend.

So, K. is heroically jumping through the hoops that Samsung is laying out before her to get our warranty service.

First Samsung required us to get Home Depot out to verify it wasn't an installation problem. We'd already looked at things close enough to know it wasn't an installation problem. Nonetheless, the installation people were out at 7.30am this morning, and apparently very apologetic in explaining that it wasn't an installation problem. They said the washer was defective and the water pump was broken.

Second, Samsung is requiring us to get a repair person out. That's occurring Monday morning.

Presumably then (third) they'll send out a replacement washer. By which time both the washer and drier will have been replaced since we got them in February.

In case it wasn't obvious from my post yesterday, Antigonick was a pile of crap. I find that most experimental theatre is bad, but this was in a whole other dimension. It was like it'd been written by a Freshman drama student. Probably the worst thing I've ever seen at live theatre, and I'm pretty sure it was the only live show I've ever walked out of.

K. was afraid it was rude to walk out of a live performance. On the other hand, I feel that it's almost obligatory. That people walking out is the main walk to protest how terrible a show is. (Shotgun also tends to send a poll out after their shows, and I'm going to be much more blunt that I usually am.)
shannon_a: (Default)
I can't believe it's been a month already since we got back from Hawaii. Seems like we were out there just yesterday!

Various stuff seems to be falling into place.

We ordered some new blinds last week, to replace ones in the the redone windows. Sadly, those will take past the end of the month to appear, because we're ordering one out-of-house blind from 3 Day Blinds (but that's what we wanted). We did the same thing ago last time we ordered from them ~2010, and we joked they were actually 3 Week Blinds.

Our house painters will be out here tomorrow to start a few days of work cleaning up the outside of the house with regard to those same windows (and generally redoing the trim, which will result in several windows looking the best they have since before we moved in).

And tomorrow I get my new glasses from the new optometrist. Barring some wacko problem with the lenses, I have faith that he tested my eyes right when the people at BOG just made wild guesses about reading glasses. Which means hopefully glasses that finally work. Finally. A year later.

In another week, more things will have fallen.

Yesterday we had Jared and Melody out for our fraternal-sororal (familial!) Christmas gathering. Yeah, it's been that sort of year. They were busy in January, and then K. was sick before Hawaii, then Melody was sick afterward .... and then it was March 14th. (And poor Melody was still coughing something fierce.)

Anywho, we had lunch at Remy's Cajun La Fiesta and cookies at Pacific Cookie Company and we talked for an hour or two, but then they needed to get back to their pup at home.

Overall, I've actually spent most of weekend working on stuff from my personal TODO list. I've been running through all my different categories of work rather than concentrating on anything, so I rescued a few old board game articles from my BGN articles (and republished them at Mechanics & Meeples), worked on some D&D Classics histories, cleaned up some links for Designers & Dragons, worked on a board game review, and have done various work related to my Moorcock project.

shannon_a: (Default)
Windows. Massive power tool usage was going on downstairs today, often shaking the whole house. The cats were locked in my office, to keep them safe from open doors, and Lucy was frequently cowering while even Callisto was super jumpy. Poor cats! Poor me, as it was one of a few stressors for a stressful week that will continue through to Sunday.

This first stressor was the result of new window installation, which will be continuing through tomorrow. Six windows total are being replaced, including all of our most troublesome ones and all of the really crappy aluminum-frame windows — put in by the butcher who did so many horrible things to this house sometime before we moved in (though this is one of the last major signs of his incompetence).

Generally, we try to use some of the interest we've earned on our savings to do some house work every couple of years; the last major work was the bathroom a few years ago now, so it was definitely time for something new, and several of the windows had long bugged us as cold sinks, wind magnets, and shoulder wrenchers, so we're very happy to see these replaced. Our hope is that the back of the house will be warmer, the winds will stop blowing through our bedroom, my games and books will stop fading, and we can open more windows in summer.

Still, lots of people were moving about the house today and there were lots of thudding noises.

Fortunately, I was able to reduce at least some of the stress thanks to K. She noted that she was listening to a movie on her headphones so that she didn't have to hear all the banging about. Afterward, I started blasting music in my office off of my laptop (which I got some cute little speakers for last year), and that helped.

As of the end of the day, four of the windows are done, but the two more troublesome ones are in process. The installers ripped out lots of wood to get these done, and they found some surprises in how things were constructed. (Basically are walls are like a Twixt bar, with many, many layers.) Hopefully they'll be able to resolve that tomorrow, when they're supposed to finish all the major work. (Fingers crossed.)

In the meantime, the house is a bit of a wreck. K. and I have set up a temporary bed room in the family room, because our bed room has no drapes, no blinds, and a light coating of debris.

Eyes. Today was also my return to the optometrist. A new optometrist, I should say, because the folks at Berkeley Optometric Group wasted most of a year failing to get me acceptable glasses, then wasted another few months processing a refund. They finally cleared everything by the very end of January ... by which time I already had an appointment scheduled with my new optometrist, Dr. Kiyomoto, today at 4pm.

Sadly, after about 20 visits to BOG last week (a literal count), going to an optometrist has become very loaded and a bit stressful; I noticed it on my last few visits to BOG last year. I certainly wouldn't have planned the new optometrist visit the same day as window work, but that's how it ended up.

Anyhow, I spent about 2 hours at Dr. Kiyomoto's office. He was very thorough (and also explained everything a lot). He didn't explicitly say it, but it looks like the doctor at BOG who fit me with progressive lenses four years ago was an idiot. Then when they upgraded my progressive lenses last year, it made the problem even worse.

The problem? I just barely need progressives, so they were making it harder and harder for me to read, not easier.

We'll see if this theory holds out when the new glasses arrive, but I'm hopeful.

Reboots. The third stressor is upcoming. Every single machine at Skotos is going to get rebooted this weekend due to some required security work. Most of them should come back fine, but a couple need to be managed more carefully, and there's always the potential for horrible problems on a reboot.

Very annoyingly, I have to deal with this both Saturday and Sunday morning, and I also have to do a bit of work while gaming on Saturday.

Again, this shouldn't be a big deal, but the logistical requirements are stressful, as is the potential for downside.

On the bright side, I can have a restful Sunday afterward, because K. is going to a class, so I can do whatever I want, wherever I want.

And that's the week of stress. Which is now at least one out of three parts done.
shannon_a: (Default)
Yeah, it's been that kind of week. Work was overly busy and I kept not being able to get to my priorities. K. has been having some troubles.

And there were other annoyances:

We got our new washer and dryer on Thursday ... but discovered the dryer had a big dent in it. Much to my surprise, Home Depot, who contracts the delivery company, would have nothing to do with the problem. They passed it off to the manufacturer ... who happily will be delivering us yet another dryer on Thursday, hopefully sans dent. What a waste though.

We also had a guy in to measure the seven windows we're replacing on Thursday and today I got a very unhappy call telling us that they'd decided that our two big south-facing windows had enough damaged wood around them that they either weren't willing to warranty the work or else we needed to get a contractor in to reframe the windows first. I told them that neither of those options were acceptable, and that without other options we'd need to cancel the order because they couldn't fulfill the contract ... and that got our (great) sales guy working hard to come up with another solution. He came back a few hours later and let me know their in-house team actually was up to the work and that they'd give it to us at cost. So, it's a considerable addition to the cost of the windows (+30%), but we'll be replacing the framing of windows that we knew were troublesome, so I feel like it's still a win.

I also decided to withdraw from a game design project that I was working on with a friend, because I wasn't comfortable with the collaborative process, and we weren't creating a game that really made me happy. That was a bit of a bummer, but I think the right choice. Which means I'll have more time for my personal writing, I suppose.

As I said in the title, it has been two steps forward with all this ongoing stuff ... but also one step back.

But our new mailbox works great. Also the new locks on our front doors.

And I'm really looking forward to less heat loss through windows ... just in time for Spring.

Meanwhile ...

18 months after it closed down, our local Safeway on College finally reopened last week, after being rebuilt. That's about 6 months past schedule, at least some of that time lost to the NIMBY jerks of Elmwood, who did everything they could to keep the 1950s era ugly-box Safeway that used to be there. When they started raising a ruckus again after the store had been torn down, I half-hoped that Safeway gave up, to leave a rat-infested wasteland for the fine folk of Elmwood.

Anywho, I went to the new Safeway today, and it was nice enough. Our northside Safeway (which is a little further away) got rebuilt a few years ago, and the new College one is much the same ... except that it has more space and so a teeny bit more selection and a lot more space in the aisles. The latter is really nice. (The northside Safeway is a little cramped.)

On the downside, the new College Safeway seems to have no clue as to who its clientele is. For example, they had some fruits and vegetables (like carrots!) available only in an organic version. That'd be fine if their clientele was entirely Elmwood and Rockridge, who love their arugula, but in my experience 50% of the people who shop at that Safeway are students, many of them bussing down to the Safeway because it's the only reasonably priced grocery story on southside. Mind you, this Safeway also had two whole aisles of booze ... but it seemed to be for high-class drunkards, not the wine-in-a-box and gallon-jugs-of-hootch that the students seem to prefer.

They also seemed to have less sale/club prices than at the northside Safeway, but that might change after their opening few weeks.

Anywho, it looks like a probably acceptable destination for the Friday nights we stay toward the south, rather than venturing to downtown for dinner (which puts us much of the way toward the other Safeway). There's been many a Friday night, when I've cursed having to cut all the way across town to get groceries, so those days I'll be happier. As long as the sale prices don't remain less obvious.

September 2017

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