Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Picture This

A recent visitor to my office commented, "You have a lot of pictures in your office."
That is a fact. They should see all the pictures at This D*mn House!

In my office, there are pictures of the Ozman, and of Tigger and Toby. There are pictures of me with my friends. There are pictures of some of the coolest places I've ever been, all snapped by yours truly. (These include Cancun, Seattle, Ocracoke Island, and Rocky Mountain National Park.)
At home, multiply that by 30 or 40 and you might be getting close. Mostly, these are family photos from four or five generations, with a few friends thrown in for good measure. It's probably close to a 50/50 split of those I knew and those I never met. Their faces cover almost every wall both upstairs and down except for the bathroom.

Downstairs is home to my collection of Creative Memories scrapbooks. I think I have seven or eight now, each with at least 90 pages. Do the math. It's a mind-numbing number of pictures.

But I've always been something of a shutterbug, shooting pics since age 7 or 8. I much prefer being on the viewfinder side to the lens side.

The purchase of a digital camera last year only made the images multiply exponentially. But here's the funny part. A few nights ago, I discovered an exposed, yet still undeveloped, roll of film. After nearly a year of shooting almost exclusively digital, I miss the mystery of dropping off the roll to see what you got. This one, however, really is a mystery as I don't even recall shooting anything with it.

Watch for me. I'll be the geek at Walgreen's flipping through the photos as they walk out the door ...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

One Year Ago ...

Can you believe it's already been a year since my foray into the world of installing laminate flooring at This D*mn House began? It hardly seems possible. (I think it must be due to the serious mental block I've tried to build to prevent myself from revisiting the often nightmarish experience.)

Time has lessened the trauma, though I still involuntarily bristle every time I hear the "I want a floor like thaaaaaaaat" melody that still ends their commercials.

In the past year, the floor has held up admirably. It has its share of scratches, a small gouge or two, but nothing major or even noticeable, unless you already know that it's there. And in fairness to Shaw Floors, they met my criticisms and complaints head-on -- but only after I invested the effort into getting to someone who would listen.

That said, they gave me a refund. It was a small refund , especially considering how they managed to turn a three-day job into a more like 30-day project -- about 12 percent of the total cost -- but a refund, just the same. Of course, it would have been a larger refund, but Home Depot opted to keep their cut of it. (It took me a while, but I finally figured out why the refund Shaw quoted me and the one Home Depot gave me differed by nearly $60.)

So, a year later, I still harbor an HD grudge. They've done nothing to lessen it either. But since they're an exclusive carrier of Behr paint, I have to keep going there. That, and they now have a store that's a few miles closer than Lowe's.

Would I do it again? No. I'd probably have just bought the Bruce hardwood that I liked so much. But I thought that would be a challenge to install ... Truth be told though I think my case is the exception rather than the rule. Most DIY flooring jobs I've heard about have gone smoothly. However, the majority of horror stories I've heard have evolved, oddly enough, from having "the pros" come and do it. Go figure.

So, here's a few tips on choosing a floor. (Some of these I learned from my online searching!)
  1. Investigate. Read everything you can. (I sure wish Google had had a blog search last year!) See what others are saying about the company and/or specific product you're interested in. I had run across a few entries online from people who had used Shaw products and had good luck in doing it. Check out company Web sites. Look online for complaints specific to the company or product -- and heed them.
  2. Shop around. Take full advantage of competing stores. When I bought this floor, HD honored a current 10 percent off special order flooring at Lowe's. These two often like to do battle that way. Pit them against one another and make it work to your benefit.
  3. Avoid special order. There are some beautiful options out there, and, unfortunately, some of them can only be had through special order. Run, don't walk, away from these! That way, you don't have to worry about added delays if you run short or need more product due to excessive damage.
  4. Buy an installation kit. If you do the job yourself, this $10-$20 investment is worth every penny. The plastic spacers and the block (that you bang on to click the pieces into place) are very handy.
  5. Buy or borrow a saw. If you don't own a miter or table saw, get one. I was lucky enough to get a compound miter saw at a bargain price. It made all the difference in moving things along.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Best Check Ever Written

As a general rule, I hate writing checks. Not that I write that many. Primarily, what I do write are for bills which might explain why I hate writing them. But a few hours ago, I took particular pleasure in writing one. This check was a true rarity and more than 20 years in coming. It represents something that I may never experience again.

This check is the final payment on This D*mn House!

It doesn't even represent one-fourth of what a full payment would be (not including escrow) making it all the sweeter. The thought of no longer having a mortgage payment seems completely surreal.

And so, it's official. I OWN THE MONEY PIT! Or, I soon will. Now, I just have to drop this in the mailbox.

I may skip all the way there ...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Blogging: An Illicit Affair?

Poor neglected blog ... I've been paying attention to This D*mn House today after enjoying a much deserved day off yesterday, filled with friends, scrapbooking and shopping. Just what the doctor ordered after a very miserably ill day on Thursday.

So I'm talking about the blog with my most excellent friend Chele. She is one of many of you who are regularly reading it (which both delights and shocks the hell out of me) and has told me that she likes it. My sincerest thanks to her and to all of you. She is directly responsible for this entry, which is based on that conversation.

I have to admit that writing this blog has made me rediscover how much I love to write. Or, more accurately, how much I love to write about what I want to write about. My job, which keeps the lights on and food on the table and affords the expense of a new computer and Internet access, thereby directly supporting the blog, does require a good deal of writing. Some of it is fun and I enjoy it. This is, however, in the minority.

Despite this fact, most days I really do love my job. Other days, a trial separation might be in order. (I think everyone feels that way about their job at some point. I'm just fortunate to be in the minority that doesn't feel that way every day.) In fact, I have to tell you that I got some serious love from my job on Friday. So, I'm feeling a lot about it like you do your beloved after a particularly happy anniversary celebration or a romantic weekend getaway. Who loves ya, baby?

Even so, I've concluded that the true love of my life is, in fact, writing. (Sorry, Oz, you're a very close second.) And it's made me wonder if there is a way to earn a living blogging. It's made me seriously contemplate this. Seriously.

But because I do love my job -- though I love writing more -- this blog is like an illicit affair. It's like your high school or college sweetheart, the one you never quite got over, that moves in down the street from you -- and your husband and three kids. You love your husband and three kids, but that sweetheart will always set everything aflutter. You really love your husband and three kids, so you'll never do anything about that flutter because: 1) the reality is probably not as good as you think it would be and 2) it would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, your home.

And so, I'll continue to be happy with "the flutter."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

WWW: Mandee's Kitchen

Welcome to the debut of Weekend Warrior Wednesday. If you're doubting your DIY abilities, hopefully these posts will give you some confidence. I'd love to hear what you think - and I'd love to hear about YOUR project.

If you can keep up with this girl, I'm frightened. She's not content to be expecting a baby, chasing a 7-year-old, working from home, and being a Yorkie mom -- she has to take on a kitchen remodel, too! (Note the adorable Yorkie on the finished floor.)

Actually, she's got some great advice to share about her new kitchen from top to bottom. While it's still a work in progress, her kitchen is already sporting a new ceramic tile floor and lovely crown molding and wainscoting. I think even Mandee may have been surprised by more than one of these tips:

1. When family visits, put them to work. Mandee's brother-in-law and father-in-law were key to getting the job done. The tile had been languishing around the house for about a year. So, if you get extra hands in, don't let them be idle!
2. It may take less time than you think. While "the boys" had estimated 3-4 days to complete the work and banished Mandee from the house (limiting exposure to chemicals), they wrapped the job in little more than a day.
3. Give it a try and save big bucks. While home improvement can be very expensive, a lot of the cost is in labor. So, when you take it on, you cut the expenses dramatically. Mandy's hubby is busy putting in crown molding and wainscoting. Mandee reports that the molding was $150 for material but that will cover both the kitchen and living room. The wainscoting cost $80 for all of the material and paint. With hubby doing the work using a borrowed saw, the labor cost: NOTHING! Mandee estimates that this work alone saved them hundreds of dollars.

That will leave Mandee some spare change to put into a future project. And since her redo continues, that will sure come in handy!

CONGRATULATIONS, Mandee. It looks great. We'll have to check back in with you when you get the next phase complete.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Something Different

To steal a line from the legendary Monty Python: And now for something completely different ... but not 'til tomorrow. Tomorrow I am officially launching Weekend Warrior Wednesday.

Every Wednesday -- ideally -- (hey, I'm just startin' it) I'll feature a diffent project that someone else has done. Maybe it's something you'd like to do at your house but were either too afraid or too uncertain to try. By seeing someone else's project and hearing their account of how it went, as well as some good tips and other advice, maybe you'll be inspired.

And with a different job each Wednesday, that gives you plenty of time to plan for a weekend project!

A special thanks in advance to Mandee who has agreed to be the guinea pig by debuting this feature with her very recent flooring project.

Neanderthal Humor

After yesterday's post on refrigerator shopping, I can't get past this self-generated imagery in my head: Two cavemen (sorry, Geico guys) are standing in the middle of an appliance department, laughing and pointing wildly at a female customer. They are bellowing: "Me neanderthal in big box hardware store. You WOOOO-MAN! You no come here. Bring husband."

Monday, April 21, 2008

Cold Reception While Fridge Shopping

"Men wear the tool belts, but women decide when the house needs repairing and what brands of appliances, cabinets, faucets and carpet to buy." -- Robert Tillman, former CEO of Lowe's.

Mr. Tillman's theory, while it may have some validity, makes some very broad generalizations. That said, I've got a few flaws to report.
Flaw one: In my house, I wear the toolbelt. The only male entities are of the canine and feline varieties. (Though Carter Oosterhouse is welcome to fill that void anytime he'd like.)
Flaw two: Mr. Tillman's belief system clearly evaporated before some of the neanderthals were hired in the appliance department at a local Lowe's store.

I recently got an email from a very dear friend that left me shaking my head in disbelief. CP wrote: "Went to buy a fridge recently and they asked where my husband was. As I explained (not once, not twice, but three times) that my husband was not participating in the purchase, they just couldn't fathom me being there alone with money much less making a major purchase."
After I reassured myself that it was, in fact, 2008, I found her experience fascinating on several fronts. 1. I'm guessing that these guys aren't working on commission. 2. They probably weren't aware that their stores were redesigned in 2005 to specifically attract female shoppers. And 3, they clearly haven't seen stats like these:

*Women are responsible for 94 percent of home furnishings and 80 percent of do-it-yourself home improvement projects.
*A 2004 study found -- Thirty-eight percent of Gen X women (born between 1965 and 1976) are the home improvement decision-makers who do the work themselves, compared to 30 percent in 2000. Seventy-eight percent of Gen X women are in some way responsible for home improvement decisions (although they may not do the work).
*In 2003, Forbes magazine reported that women initiate 80 percent of all home-improvement purchase decisions, especially when it comes to big-ticket orders like kitchen cabinets, flooring and bathrooms.
*An article on quotes a building contractor as saying that while old school remodelers were told "never to spend too much time on a customer unless both spouses were present and both confirmed the commitment to the project" that things have changed and "the best professionals are much more savvy these days." (Too bad that didn't apply to the jokers CP spoke with.)
*And from this 2005 Businessweek story, the bottom line: Retailers are helping to keep their own houses in order by recognizing that women, like men, are willing and able to learn -- and buy.
Luckily, I've never had this kind of experience with Lowe's or with their competitor, The Home Depot. Oh, I've had my feuds with Lowe's, only resolving a long-standing one earlier this year. They continue to win me over though by sending me cards with money off my next purchase. Can't say the same for The Home Depot. I still haven't forgiven them for last year's major flooring debacle. But anyone who does DIY projects, particularly on a regular basis, will have some disagreements with their local home improvement proprietor. Like death and taxes, it's inevitable.

What I found odder still is that CP pulled into an Ace Hardware and got the complete opposite in treatment. "It was nice to be talked to like I was a person, not a girl," she said. I, on the other hand, had an experience more like the one she had at Lowe's when I visited a local Ace Hardware last year. I spent about 10 minutes talking to a brash and condescending moron who insisted that the faucets in my kitchen were not brass, and kept trying to sell me a silver replacement part. (Really? And he's been in my kitchen how many times?) But, I've since found other employees in the same store to be helpful, friendly, and very respectful -- a credit to them that only the occasional neanderthal passes the HR screening.

Did the Earth Move for You, Too?

I heard there was another aftershock very early this morning. Though still awake, I didn't feel it. (There have been about a dozen, though almost all of them to a lesser degree than today's, since Friday.)

I did, however, feel the earth move early Friday. At 4:37 a.m., I awoke to a shaking bed. (It was like something straight out of The Exorcist, minus the spinning head and green, projectile vomit.) By the time I realized it was shaking and jumped out of it, I noticed that the whole room was trembling, as if it might detach itself from the back of the house. It certainly felt like it would anyway.

There is something incredibly surreal about standing in an almost completely dark room and watching one's empty bed shake violently. Being startled awake didn't help much as my initial verbal response was, "What the hell?!"

I don't remember much about the one that hit in 1968, and was just a tad stronger than Friday's. For some reason, I think I was watching "Corky the Clown" at the time.(I'd have to check out old TV listings to see if this is even possible. I was barely 3.) I do vividly remember though my grandmother tearing through the house, scooping me up, tucking me under her arm and running out the front door and into the yard. All the while, she was carrying Nellie Bell in her cage. (Nellie was a baby sparrow my mother had rescued in a storm, about the time I was born.)

I also remember that either a tea cup or a saucer in the china cabinet was broken during all the shaking. Luckily, that didn't happen at my house this time, though I do know people who had pictures fall from walls or porcelain collectibles drop from shelves and shatter. Bummer.

I guess we should just feel lucky that it wasn't homes collapsing or cars dropping from bridges.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Dude, Where's My Lawnmower?

So it rained on and off most of the day Saturday making mowing out of the question. That task got pushed to today.

Counter to my previous entry, and entirely counter to my long-standing hatred of all things yard-related, it was a pleasant day. It was warm and sunny with the occasional breeze. The birds were singing. And I even spied a baby bunny under one of the bushes. (Too cute!) And the lawnmower, on its last leg, managed to complete its final tour of duty.

I say that because I "inherited" a lawnmower last fall. My great aunt and uncle sold their house and moved into assisted living and I received their lawnmower. A self-propelled lawnmower. A Honda lawnmower. A lawnmower that cost over $400 when it was purchased almost 20 years ago.

If you knew my great aunt and uncle, you wouldn't even briefly wonder why their 20-year-old lawnmower is better than my 14-year-old version. (I'm sure my Uncle Ed, now in his 90s, still has the first power tool he ever purchased. And I'm equally certain that it's in near pristene condition.) One small caveat: It had a coil or a cellunoid issue. So, I rolled it down the street to Stan, the Lawnmower Man. I told him I was in no hurry to get it back. Stan marveled at my new mower. "You do realize that this was the Cadillac of its day?" he had asked me as he met me halfway to claim it for repair.

That was in November.

With this year's long winter, followed by an extended battle with the seasonal bug, I didn't try to reclaim my mower. But Thursday, as I was dashing for the bus, Stan was coming out as I passed his house. I finally inquired about my inherited lawn Cadillac. "I'll bring it home this weekend," says Stan.

On Saturday, I checked between downpours to see if Stan was home. No dice. I repeated the ritual -- minus the raindrops -- today so I had plenty of time to finish before the yard waste dump closed at 6. Finally drug out my old orange friend, purchased at the long-defunct GrandPa's for about $89 in 1994. While the engine is still in pretty good working order, the chassis is another story. The left side of the frame is almost entirely rusted out. This meant I had to gingerly run it today. But it made it through.

In all those years, I've invested about $45 in it. I spent $35 a few years back to get the engine running again and I spent $10 last year to buy a new bagger from Stan after the frame from the original finally gave out, rendering it useless. I always remembered what my grandfather said about lawnmowers. First, that you never buy anything but a Briggs & Stratton engine. Check. Second, always drain the gas and engine oil at the end of the season and replace them every year. And keep the filter clean. Check - well, almost. (I think I missed one season draining the engine oil in all those years. I think that was the year I rebuilt the deck floor and ruined my hands.) But I cleaned that filter at least twice a season. Usually more.

I honestly don't know if the new mower has a B&S engine, but I hope so. Not sure if I know how to drain the oil or clean the filter on the new one, but I guess I'll be learning. Because it sure sounds like the old man was right.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Yard Work -- TWO Four-Letter Words

So, I still haven't completely abandoned the idea of adding an ark to the project list ... but if the weatherman is right, this weekend will be dry. That means only one thing: I have to mow my yard.

If not, it will soon look more like Vietnam than a home in the suburbs. And, the fact that both yard and work are four-letter words is irony not wasted on me.

I'm the person who gets excited when the realtor on House Hunters says, "And it has a lovely little yard." (Added emphasis on the little.)

For years, I have always maintained that it will be very easy to tell when I hit the lottery. Every piece of yard maintenance equipment I own will be out in the alley. I will never touch one again.

C'mon, Powerball!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

An Honest Offer? Don't Bank on It

I like my bank. Historically, they've been very nice to me. In our 4+ year relationship, they've treated me much better than a bank where I held an account for nearly five times that long. But there have been lots of changes in the past year.

First, all of the people who were there when I opened my account, from management to tellers, are now gone. The new people are all nice, mind you, but the degree of familiarity that I learned to like so well, is gone, too.

Second, what used to be customer service type over-the-phone surveys have been replaced by semi-aggressive sales calls. Home equity lines of credit. Open a savings account. Yada, yada, yada. Annoying. I politely say, "No thank you" and hang up.

But the thing that really made me angry was a credit card that arrived at This D*mn House last week.

OK, technically, I applied for it. But … I was told that I wasn't applying for it.

To explain: I was using the ATM when some clipboard-toting young'uns struck up a conversation, asking me if I had one of the bank's credit cards. I do not. Well, why not apply for one and get this … and they went on tell me about a 0 percent balance transfer. Well, that interested me. (I am in the process of paying off a card that just arbitrarily jacked up my rate at the beginning of the year. Ideally, I'd like to put the remaining balance somewhere with a lower interest rate than it has now. Which is virtually anywhere. But zero, 0 percent, is best of all.)

I asked if they had literature so I could see the terms. They didn't have any. But put your information right here and someone will get back to you who can fill you in on everything. Said I: "I don't want to apply for one -- I just want information to decide whether to apply or not." Says kid: "Oh, you're not. Someone will contact you and answer all your questions."

So I filled it out. I wasn't applying for anything after all. Uh-huh. And that's why the credit card arrived in my mailbox last week.

LIAR! No mention of 0 percent balance transfer, and an insulting interest rate to boot. (Especially considering that I got an unsolicited offer in yesterday's mail for a different card with a rate for half as much -- and a fixed rate at that.)

So today, I marched into the bank with the credit card and visited with "Amanda." A petite, perky brunette, with a blindingly white smile, Amanda was eager to help me. She did some typing and then looked up at me and said, "But you applied for this." I reiterated that, while technically that was true, I had been lied to.

"Oh no," says Miss Perky. "I'm sorry. Clearly, there was some kind of miscommunication." Well, I have to disagree there, Miss Perky. Let's consult Webster.

Miscommunication would have been if I had just blindly filled it out. But, I did in fact, very clearly state, I don't want to apply on no less than four occasions during my conversation with the lying kid. And, he did in fact, respond that I wasn't applying. So, I fail to see the miscommunication. It was, quite plainly, a lie.

The never-activated account has been closed and the card shredded, yet it's left a bad taste in my mouth. If these are the kind of tactics employed to get business, should I really trust them with my money? I'm sad to say it's made me wonder.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Yes, We Have Quantity

We made a trek to The Home Depot tonight in the interest of buying some bricks that were on sale. Said bricks are the future walkway and porch surface for This D*mn House.

When Mom called this afternoon, they said, and I quote, that they "had quantity." Their quantity about four hours after that call: exactly EIGHT. Eight bricks. I can't even make a sufficient row with that. Luckily, that's not a project that's on the front burner. I was just hoping to get at least half of what I will ultimately need and save a few bucks in the process. So much for that plan.

On a happier note, the car is back on the road and driving better than almost any other time I can remember. So far, it's worth every penny.

Except for the gusting wind, which was battering the poor car pretty consistently, it was a very pleasant drive. No horrible noises or annoying shudder.

Score one for the good guys.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Rags and the Boy in Pajamas

I like to walk but today I think I overdid it. Since it was finally a beautiful spring day, I walked to the St. Louis Public Library at lunch. (And I rarely, if ever, take a real lunch.) It's about an eight-block hike and I really put the hus in hustle getting there. Just over 10 minutes including getting stopped at intersections.

I spent about 40 minutes in their genealogy resource room. But that's for another blog. By the time I got back to the office, I was sizzlin' hot and spent much of the afternoon semi-comatose.

Since it was so pretty out, I decided to take the Oz Man for a walk. A real walk.
We didn't get far from home when we were joined by a Pekingnese mix. I initially picked Ozzie up as he charged across the street but he quickly made it clear he was friendly. He continued to pad along with us on our trek.

As we got closer to home, I got nervous. I live on a four-lane roadway and had visions of him charging into traffic the way he had charged across at us earlier without a thought. He wouldn't come to me beyond letting me pat his head. I finally got a hold of him and found that he had a tag with his name, address, and phone.

"C'mon, Rags," I said to our now identified friend, and tucked him under my arm. "Let's get you home." I dropped Ozzie off and borrowed his leash. As we headed toward Rags' residence, about three blocks away, I used my cell to call his family.

No answer. They're probably outside, I thought. But no. The house was locked up tight and no one was in the yard, front or back. The back yard was fenced with dogeared panels nearly as tall as me. For a second, I considered putting Rags inside and heading back home. Just then, a pitbull mix appeared in the backyard. It seemed like a less than good idea. Rags and I headed back while I left a message on the answering machine.

Ozzie was a sh*t and very rude to his guest at This D*mn House. Rags, meanwhile, was a perfect little gentleman. He laid by me and then by mom and then would jump up on the sofa with us and would sit on whatever side Ozzie wasn't.

A little over an hour later, the phone rang. It was a young mother named Autumn. She was nervous and sheepish. "Hi. I'm sorry. I think you have my dog." Indeed. She would thank me about 10 times in the next two sentences.

I could hear a child in the background, so I offered to deliver Rags. I could tell she was grateful for that, too. And as I stepped back from the door after ringing the bell, I saw the face that goes with the voice. "Oh, THANK YOU!" And then a boy of about 4 or 5, already in pajamas, bounded into the room. "RAAAAAAAAGS," he yelled.

Autumn explained that she had taken her son to T-ball practice and was gone about an hour. Rags occasionally does a Houdini bit and tonight was one of those occasions. I'll admit, I stepped off those stairs feeling pretty full of myself. But it felt good.

I was going to beg off on Ozzie's walk. Now I'm really glad I didn't.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Cubit Query

My recent entry referring to the cubit -- or the measurement by which Noah supposedly built his ark -- had several people commenting: "So how big is a cubit? You never said." Being the eternal student, and determined to learn at least one new thing every day, allow me to remedy that.

According to a whole lot of entries on the cubit, it is roughly the modern equivalent of 18 inches or half a yard. Wikipedia has some interesting info on this historical measurement.

Just don't try telling the guy at Lowe's or Home Depot how many cubits of materials you need.

Aw hell. I may have to do it now.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Drunken-Driving Simulator Without the Drunk

Before I left the paper, one of the assignments I covered, oddly enough, was around this time of year. It was a pre-prom prep assembly at the high school and one of the activities was a driving simulator designed to discourage underage drinking.

The simulator put students behind the wheel of a vehicle and let them see what it would be like to drive at varying states of impairment. While I didn't try it, I think I now know what it must be like.

Before returning to This D*mn House with the newly repaired car on Friday, mechanic Jim warned me repeatedly how out of alignment it is. (The car essentially has a new front end after having virtually every piece of the front suspension replaced.)

I've driven cars out of alignment before, they pull to the left or pull to the right. Well, as I pulled away from the curb Friday night, I quickly realized this eclipsed those experiences. The car was quite literally swinging wildly into the street and I had barely touched the wheel, which had been at a 90-degree, hands at 9 and 3 o'clock position.

What it amounts to is that to keep the car perfectly straight, the wheel is turned most of the way to the right, with hands at 11:30 and 5:30. It's got to be the simulator in real life!

But not for long. On my way to work tomorrow, I'll be dropping it off at the tire store since I couldn't get an appointment for yesterday. Cross your fingers that I have a "perfect" car tomorrow night ...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Where's George?

Congratulations NK

Your 2003A Five dollar bill with serial number FC379---98A has just been re-entered into Where's George

That's an email that greeted me when I logged on tonight. I found out that that bill, which I last saw on Leap Day, turned up in Fayetteville, Ark.

I know where all my money goes -- it goes into This D*mn House, or at least most of it does. But where does your money really go? Have you ever wondered where your bills go after leaving your hands?

That's what Where's George? is all about. The site helps people track their money as it moves around the world. The site's been on the Web since 1998, when it was created by Hank Eskin, a computer consultant in Brookline, Mass. I only discovered it at the end of last year.

It's kind of fun. So if you get a marked bill, definitely enter it. OR, just grab whatever's in your wallet now and get entering! It can be a good geography lesson for your kids and it's just plain fun. And it's free!

Now That's Customer Service

Do you know why JCPenney (or, for the more chic set, Jacques Penoit) has been in business so long? In two words: customer service.

I was kind of mad at them for a while. I'd made some purchases and then a rather substantial one and EACH time I would get a promotional postcard in the mail afterward for money off what I just bought. It seemed to be more than coincidental. And it made me mad.

Then, the day my most recent substantial order arrived, so did a postcard offering 10 percent off what I had just purchased! I was really mad. So I called them on it. They waffled -- initially. But then they came through.

Not only did they make good on the 10 percent -- they nearly TRIPLED it! I was really excited to say the least. It made up for all the other promotions I'd been cheated out of in the past. I can mark them off of my running list of retailers with whom I have scores to settle. (Top of the list right now are The Home Depot, Staples, and Walgreens.)

Then, Mom decided she didn't like the rug she'd bought for her bedroom after all. So we took it back to JCPenney's. While there, she ordered something else and the clerk asked if we had a promotional free shipping code. We did not. All I could think was "Here we go again." But, the clerk just keyed one in anyway. Turns out, that saved about $16. Cha-ching! Money that can be used on the next disaster at This D*mn House. And rest assured, there will be one.

The moral of this story: ASK. All they can say is yes, right?!

Friday, April 11, 2008

You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To

I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't have a pet. When I was a baby, there were cats and birds. I got my first dog at 7 and my own cat at 8. And since then there have been more dogs, more cats, birds, mice, even a bunny. A menagerie to say the least. So, I have a very hard time relating to people who don't like animals and/or who knock those of who are a bit on the fanatical side. Frankly, I feel sorry for them as I think they're missing out on something truly wonderful.

I understand why some people who like animals don't have animals. They don't feel they have the time or energy to take care of them. I'll admit, animals are a lot of work. I don't even have the lion's share for mine because I'm not home with them all day -- Mom is. I do my share though.

Some nights, I wish they would clean up after, feed, and otherwise care for themselves. But they also have an ROI that can't be beat. This photo is a perfect example of what I mean. It's what I often see in the door of This D*mn House when I get off the bus at night. Ozzie gets SO excited. He just hunkers down and shakes, waiting for me to reach and then open the door, before he explodes into a flurry of barking and erratic movement. He is a welcome wagon extraordinaire!

A greeting like that is the perfect kind after a tough day at the office! (Assuming, of course, you can't get Antonio Banderas with a margarita.) Ozzie's one guy in my life who will never ever care what I look like, how old I get, or how much money I don't have. Which, after picking up the car, ain't much ...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

So how big's a cubit?

Overnight, it poured like crazy at This D*mn House. It took a brief respite then started up again while I was waiting for the bus.

Semi-drenched when I arrived at work this morning, I couldn't resist the urge to ask one of my older and infinitely wiser colleagues, "So how big is a cubit anyway?"
He just laughed and countered with a line from Bill Cosby's historic Noah routine: "RIIIIIIGHT. What's a cubit?"

I guess I thought the cubit reference was more common than it is. When I said this jokingly to someone else they looked at me oddly and then said, "What?"
And later in the day, my wise colleague approached me in the corner kitchen, leaned in and said, "I would have thought more people would know what a cubit is. Not the measurement, but at least understand the reference." Yeah, me too.

While we're on the subject of doubling up … let's talk about the car. Turns out it needed a whole lot of parts as the front suspension was basically shot. At least two of everything! After stopping by the mechanic's last night, I can tell you there was a sea of hardware laying around the car. And I have to tell you, with its front end jacked up and all the wheel assembly gone from either side, its hood standing open, the poor thing looked like it had been parked and then stripped in a bad neighborhood. I actually felt sorry for it.

I say that now. But, of course, once I finally reclaim it, that thing better ride like a Cadillac for what it's costing to fix it! Here's hoping it's done on Friday ...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Lawrence the Handyman

No, sadly, this is not Lawrence. In fact, my handyman is more likely the supreme antithesis of Carter Oosterhouse.(Perhaps you've never watched HGTV's Carter Can. Ladies, do yourself a favor one Thursday night. You'll probably think of a number of things Carter could.)

No cover model, but Lawrence is a good guy. Late 60s, semi-retired. (That's why I need to call him and get on his schedule. You never know when he's going to be working. Plus, he dabbles in real estate. He's a busy guy!) He's dependable, resourceful, and affordable. He's a little guy, but mighty. And unless I force it on him, he isn't one for lunch breaks. The one thing I had to get past is his voice. He sounds just like Mr. Mackey on South Park. But after working with him on several different occasions, I'm over it.

During the past year, I've been on-site to help him with a variety of projects including:
*Running electric into the carport (We have an outside outlet! Ah, the things others take for granted.)
*Installing a ceiling fan in the carport
*Putting up vinyl scallops in the eaves of the house (Less house to paint -- ALWAYS GOOD!)
*Building a closet in the downstairs family room
*Hooking up a gas log in the downstairs family room fireplace
*Repairing the leaky kitchen sink faucet (twice now)

I wasn't a part of a few Lawrence projects which involved new light fixtures and the installation of a new kitchen overhead vent fan/light. We were going to rebuild the storage shed last year, but house-painting took us down to the wire weather-wise. This year, the shed and replacing the back fence (going from wood to vinyl -- FINALLY!)are on the roster.(Waiting for the fence to go on sale OR the "tax-free" days that Illinois is supposedly going to offer next month when the rebate checks go out.) I may also have Lawrence help me rip out the concrete walkway in prep for the brickwork.

In recent months, some of my mom's friends and one of our neighbors have wanted to know how to reach Lawrence.

Sounds like he's going to be an even busier guy.

Two fixes, one day -- sort of

As has been the more than 20-year tradition at This D*mn House, no one thing can ever be wrong. I call it the Homeowner's Rule of Law: If it isn't one thing, it's 10.

For now, the mystery of the disappearing channels has been resolved. Charter came out this morning and fixed a few frayed wires. They even gave us two new remotes. (One remote Carole used to change the channels on the television, instead of the cable box, so I was greeted at the door with, "The TV in my bedroom doesn't work." Luckily, I resolved that in under 30 seconds.)

Apparently, there was one section the previous tech missed when he put a new outside box on the back of the house a few weeks ago. It had been disturbed during his switchover and obviously, not making connection as intended. Hence the alternately disappearing and reappearing channels. Case closed. I hope.

But yesterday I dropped the car off at the mechanic's because something fell from the undercarriage while we were on our way home from shopping Saturday. (I had intended to go to a party that evening, but had to pass because, while I didn't think it was serious, I didn't want to take that chance.) Turns out it was the cover for the catalytic converter. Not a huge deal.

It does, however, have a nasty oil leak and there were a few assorted and pricey problems that came to light so it will be a second night and third day of a car-free existence. That's not really a huge deal either. I take the bus to work. There's food in the house for both us and the animals. And as long as Carole has cigarettes, we're OK.

I'm just waiting to hear how much this is going to hit me for. I shouldn't complain too mightily. The car is old, starting to rack up miles, but has been one of the best ever in terms of repairs. That said, it's making the itch for a new set of car keys almost impossible to stand.

Ah, wistfully waiting for the day when I can park a new car in This D*mn Driveway!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Happy Birthday to my ... saw

I was moving some of my tools around last night and it occurred to me that I'd made some of these purchases just about a year ago. So, happy birthday to my Denali 10-inch compound miter saw. It's a tool that I was long overdue in getting, though I didn't know it at the time. It has served me quite well and paid for itself 20x over. Great thing to have whether you're doing mitre cuts for trim or just straight cuts like I did with the final portion of the laminate project. My mother worries that I will one day lose fingers to it. So far though, so good.

I bought it at at a ridiculously low price and got free shipping. At the time, I didn't know they even had tools. I later bought a lawn edger and a new jigsaw from them. So if you're needing some new tools, make sure you check out their selection and price before you buy. Another good place for household goods is I got a heavy duty steamer, and a handy Dremel-type tool I'll be using pretty soon to put in a brick walkway and porch.

And before you go buy all your new gear, visit This site comes in handy, too, if you're looking for things to decorate your d*mn house with. You earn points for things you're already going to buy from a variety of merchants. Those points can then be turned into gift cards to various eateries (Cracker Barrel, Bread Co., Starbuck's) or to retailers like Kohl's, Penney's, and Target. There's almost nothing This D*mn House likes better than a bargain!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Mystery of the Disappearing Channels

I'm biting my fist every time I see a Charter commercial. That is, when I have any channels on which to actually see a commercial.

Since Monday night, we've had a weird situation where channels have been disappearing. (Replaced with a blue screen and message THIS CHANNEL WILL BE AVAILABLE SHORTLY.) Uh-huh.

At first, it appeared to be only a few channels. By Thursday, it was MOST of the channel line-up EXCEPT for the movie channels. (Oddly, when we've had this kind of trouble before, those are the ones to go.) We were limited to local, a handful of non-kid channels in the 100s, and the movie channels EXCEPT for On Demand. (Which sucked because I thought I could use the absence of everything else to catch up on John Adams.)

By Friday, the local channels were all gone, too. No news. No weather. No TCM or HGTV. Life with Carole was NOT fun. (My mother watches those channels and all news almost to distraction. Yes, I've created a news junkie.)

We went to pick up some things yesterday and when we came home presto! Several channels were back. Several others were gone. And then some of which had returned -- including TCM -- were gone again. On a Bette Davis night. Carole was livid.

Phone calls -- sometimes more than one per day -- have been futile. Even when you can get a person. And how's this for hilarious? My cable is out and I can't get anyone to admit there's a problem. Would I like Charter phone service? Oh sure. That way, I can't call you when my cable goes out! Sign me up right away -- not!

After getting sick of wrangling with the automated system, I resorted to an online chat. At least THAT got acknowledgement that something was wrong. And, for now, an appointment with a tech on Tuesday.

Stay tuned ...

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Buying Furniture Online

It was a This D*mn House first: I bought furniture online.

In trying to make the basement family room less of mish-mosh of furniture styles, we decided to buy a cherry wood one. Found a nice Sheridan style to fill the bill. And at a really good price, too!

We don't own a truck (though the 'bird often carries the capacity of one, poor thing)so hauling anything of length is always an issue. That's where the online advantage came in -- delivery! And it was free delivery at that.

I was told by the furniture people that it would be about three weeks before it would arrive and that I'd get a call 3-4 days ahead to set up delivery. That never happened. What I did get was a post card -- on Wednesday -- saying that if it wasn't delivered by week's end, it would be subject to freight and storage charges. And since they only offered "curbside" delivery, I couldn't very well leave my mother at the curb to accept it.

So, I took an on-the-spur vacation day (frowned upon) but no one made a big deal of it so I could be home to manage it.

At least it wasn't raining, a major achievement of late. And the guy who brought it was a sweetheart. He handed down the springs and mattress. I hefted those to the porch. Then, he handed down a dolly -- and proceeded to load the daybed onto the dolly AND ROLLED IT TO THE PORCH. I didn't expect that.

Getting it downstairs was a bit tougher, but Mom and I did it. We were able to unbox it and we carried the back down together. I carried each of the sides down a trip at a time by myself. Someday it will have to get assembled. But first, its predecessor will have to be dismantled and removed. Someday.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Let Sleeping Blogs Lie?

It's been nearly a year since I first set this blog up. I was certain at some point that I had deleted it. But, here the poor thing still sits, immersed in its solitary confinement.

During the last few months, I've revisited it and/or pondered whether I should bring it up to date and START INVITING PEOPLE. (Something I didn't do the first time 'round, mostly 'cause I'm a chicken!) Blogs have become a big topic of conversation at work and, after meeting for about 30 minutes with a colleague the other day to discuss just that, I've decided to return.

It might be fun for everyone to hear about what's been going on at This D*mn House for most of the last year, or with the life forces within it -- or not. I guess I'm going to find out.