Gone Before We Could Miss It

Let’s recap what has happened in the last few days:

  1. I logged into our bank account Wednesday evening when what to my wandering eyes should appear but our tax refunds. Last year, after our first-ever tax bill, I painstakingly calculated exactly how much to withhold so that this year’s taxes would be as close to net-zero as possible. That was, of course, before we even knew Noah was on the way. Since our fourteen-pound, diaper-wearing tax break was born in 2014, he gave us a nicely-sized refund. As I stared at the screen, the possibilities of what to do with the money were tantalizing: pay off some debt! Put most of it in savings! So recklessly carefree!
  2. Thursday morning, we had a snowstorm and the government was on a two-hour delay / unscheduled telework day. I had signed up for some online classes for just such an occasion, so I sat down at the computer in our basement den/office/music studio/creative space to plow through some of the lessons. Before long, I noticed that my socks were getting wet. Figuring that Heidi had tracked in some snow that had left the carpet damp, I ran upstairs to put on new socks. Back at the computer, it wasn’t long before this fresh pair of socks was also soaked. Frowning, I rolled my chair back to look at the situation a little more closely, and saw trails of sopping-wet carpet left by the wheels of the chair. Panning my head toward the rest of the room with a growing sense of dread, I finally noticed the damp spots that were springing up across the floor like little oil slicks. I ran back to the rear of the room to the water access panel, fearing the worst – only to have my fear confirmed. Our pressure regulator valve was leaking, and there was no telling how long it had been doing so. I cried a little inside when I realized just how much junk stuff we had in the room that would need to be quickly moved and bounded upstairs to recruit Gina.
  3. The plumbers were mercifully able to come that same afternoon. They fixed the pressure valve, but as a special bonus, they also discovered the burst pipe leading to the spigot on the front of the house. They happily repaired this for me too, as a two-for-two special. And of course they had to cut a couple of holes in the drywall for good measure.
  4. Thursday evening, I was still hopeful that I could Rug Doctor the excess moisture from the top of the carpet and all would be well. I was so young and naïve. By Friday, the carpet was still soggy, and I finally resigned myself to the fact that this would not be an easy or quick process.
  5. Gina and I manhandled the remaining furniture out of the room, exhausting ourselves and pulling muscles in the process.
  6. I called in a homeowner’s insurance claim and a water damage restoration company. There are currently five high-powered fans and a dehumidifier running in the room downstairs, and they’ve been going strong for two days now. The room still has an interesting smell, and the fans have played havoc with the temperature differential through the house.
  7. The rest of the basement looks like a creepy warehouse you see in TV shows where the bad guy is a creepy magician that lives in the warehouse and random stuff is stacked haphazardly everywhere and oh no, look out, the creepy magician IS RIGHT BEHIND YOU.
  8. In a completely unrelated chain of events, on Saturday afternoon I smashed my thumbnail in the inner workings of the baby stroller in the dining room at Chuy’s before sitting down to a nice Tex-Mex lunch with family. I’ve been cataloging the kaleidoscope of colors that my thumbnail has displayed. It’s moved past blood red and is currently sitting somewhere near dark-washed denim. It will likely fall off.
  9. Between the insurance deductible, rising home taxes, thumbnail replacement surgery, and other various bills coming due, that tax refund is suddenly thinning out. So much for that life-size replica of the Iron Throne.

So I guess you could say that this hasn’t been a banner weekend for our house. I’m ready to move on from winter.

Oh, and anybody want some wet carpet? I can get you a good price.

The Parking Wars

Every now and then, I think about joining forces with my HOA to try to help make our community a little better. “I should do my part,” I think, “after all, you don’t have a right to complain if you never do anything to make it better.” Then I slap myself across the face, bringing me back to my senses, and go on about my business.

I applaud those members of our society who step up to the plate of civic leadership, I really do. But over the last few years, I’ve watched as every decision our HOA makes is second-guessed or questioned, every rule or request booed or generally ignored, every social event snubbed. As a completely volunteer job, being an HOA president or committee chairperson has got to be the most thankless position in all of the history of man, falling just short of the honor of being the person who invented HOAs in the first place. (Full disclaimer: we haven’t gone to any social events, either. But we at least do what our HOA overlords tell us to when they’re doing maintenance around the place so our cars don’t get towed or mistaken for trash. But maybe I should thank them more. Mental note: send the HOA a thank you card.)

The most recent example of thanklessness was this weekend, as our neighborhood received some much-needed repainting of parking spaces. I’ve never received more paper notices, Facebook posts, and all around advertising than I did this week to warn us all to move our cars before the painting started on our particular street, lest we face certain doom. And yet, there were still a handful of cars up and down our street who didn’t budge when it came our turn. When I saw them, I felt like pulling my pants up waist-high, putting on some big glasses, and yelling at those darn kids to get off my lawn. Then I slapped myself again and just chuckled sardonically at how clueless and selfish some people can be. Today’s rain prevented the workers from finishing, so we’ll get to revisit this behavior in another few days. My pants will be ready.

I was actually glad to hear about the painting at first. We definitely needed it, because recently some curbside parking was taken away due to a disagreement with the Fire Marshall (mental note: never tick off the Fire Marshall). This forced many people, who had been rather fast-and-loose with the old curbside parking game, back into proper spots. Since there aren’t really enough proper spots to go around, for weeks now this has set off a daily game of musical chairs on our street, where the last person home in the evening has to park a mile or two away – battling wild dogs and boars the entire way back to their front door.

To make things even more interesting, up until this weekend our spots (which are narrow enough as it is) were only marked by a foot-long white line near the curb. So when the family in the townhouse up the street from us that owns four hulking SUVs park crooked, as they always do, it’s been harder for the rest of us to scoot into the remaining spaces. We now have glorious, car-length stripes with our brand new parking spaces, but I don’t think that will change the SUV Family’s behavior or magically improve their parking skills. At the very least it will be blatantly obvious that they’re over the lines, so the rest of us can scoff indignantly and turn up our noses. That’ll show ’em.

You can probably detect some sarcastic undertones in this post. It’s mainly because leftover road rage from commuting home has usually boiled over a bit each evening with each new chapter of the Parking Wars, but I try not to let it affect my long-term mood. I guess being in the neighborhood this long has made me somewhat defensive of it. I want it to thrive and do well. I like having interesting neighbors, even if I don’t hang out or talk to them as much as I should. I don’t like people being jerks to each other, but alas that’s human nature in the suburbs of Northern Virginia. If the Parking Wars continue to the breaking point and our society finally crumbles, I guess I’ll have to be ready. In the meantime, at least the Internet can make me laugh about it.

Seems about right.

The Butterfly Effect of Owning a Home

It’s funny how one thing can lead to another, right?

A few weeks ago, Gina noticed a faint water spot in the ceiling of our music studio / home office / library / crafts refuge / basement fun room. I crossed my fingers and closed my eyes shut really tight and hoped that it would go away. Surprisingly, it got worse.

That meant, of course, that it was time to get a plumber involved. And not just for your average toilet clog. No, we’re talking sawing-through-the-ceiling, drywall-dust-everywhere, blowtorch-wielding, no-holds-barred plumbing action. At the end of a Friday afternoon, two pipes with pinhole leaks had been replaced, and there was a giant hole in the ceiling of our fun room. A younger version of Bret might have called up a handyman next to patch the hole, but now I’m older and wiser, and trying to save every dime of money I can now that there’s a baby on the way.  So I resolved to take care of the cleanup and patchwork on my own.

Eatin' drywall dust.
Eatin’ drywall dust.

This part wasn’t too bad, actually. I think I surprised everyone, including myself, by patching the hole up rather nicely with some replacement gypsum board, drywall tape, and a healthy amount of joint compound. It’s amazing what you can fake your way through after watching a few YouTube tutorials. I’m still picking the stuff out of my fingernails three weeks later, but it was a triumphant occasion. I climbed down from the ladder and gazed at my accomplishment, but only for a few minutes. If you’ve ever patched up a ceiling or wall, you know that the patch is only half the battle. Patches may look good on your jeans in the late 80’s or on your eye if you’re a pirate, but no one wants a discolored, mismatching glob on their ceiling. And so I knew I had to paint.

There are times in our lives when we know, deep within our soul, what the right thing to do is. Maybe you see an elderly lady struggling to help her husband out of the car, so you take up their offer to help. Perhaps you find a lost dog with a collar, so you call the owners to bring the dog back to its loving home. Maybe you’re facing a relatively small painting job, but you realize that if you really want to do the job right, you should just go ahead and paint the whole room to match the colors you and your wife had picked out but still hadn’t bothered to extend to the bottom floor of your house. These are the times that try men’s souls, but it’s a testament to your character if you press on and do them anyway. So, reluctantly, I did.

I should point out that Gina, by this time, had succumbed to a nasty summer cold that left her in alternating fits of coughing and sleeping for three solid weeks, so I took on the job knowing she couldn’t help that much. I still did it.

Our fun studio room is packed deceptively densely with memorabilia and other items of, well, fun. It took me the better part of a day just to clear out the shelves and other totes, bins, and boxes until the adjacent basement family room resembled a small-town general store, or maybe just a teenager’s bedroom, with every surface covered by random stuff. From there, it was a time-consuming but otherwise uneventful and uninteresting process to paint the room. Sometime along the way, though while I was painting, Gina began going through boxes of mementos to try to thin down our massive collection of junk stuff that I’d hauled out of the room. We’d long ago decided that we were going to try to purge the house as we began preparing the nursery. It’s as good a time as any, right?

What’s amazing is what she found: mementos of nearly all the trips we’ve taken since we’ve gotten married, stuffed in boxes for years. While she sorted through, we got to relive pieces of our honeymoon cruise and road trips that we’d nearly forgotten. She even dug out some emails that we’d exchanged while we were dating in college – mushy stuff, mostly embarrassing, but they brought smiles to our faces all the same. For my part, I took a break from the brushes and mined out a box that held notes I took while trying to play some early computer games – passwords, notes to myself on where to find items, that sort of thing. But I also found a calendar from high school where I’d actually marked the days when some of the best times of my teenage years happened.

I guess part of life sometimes is your wife noticing a water stain that ultimately leads to her and you sharing memories in a hallway overcrowded with junk. Thanks, butterflies.

When I finally did go back to paint, leaving Gina to finish up the sorting of papers, I smiled despite the aches in my neck and shoulders. For the first time in a while, I was conscious of the fact that we’ve really built a nice life together, even if it means patching a few holes now and then.

I crossed my fingers and closed my eyes shut really tight and prayed that would never change.

A New Yard!

Just picture Rod Roddy saying this post’s title, and that will set the tone for you. After a two-day rain delay, all of the front yard and house work is finally completed! The checklist is done! The HOA should be off our backs now, unless they find something else! Happy Holidays! America #1!

Below is a before-and-after view. Please keep in mind that, since we couldn’t do this in the spring, half the plants that we had planted won’t look like much for a few months, and we’ll probably add some more annuals then too. I’m also glad that we were able to reuse the hydrangeas and azalea after some shifting around. Can you spot all the differences between the two panels?


I think that even without new plants, the pruned tree, rock wall, sod, and mulch would instantly make the whole thing look cleaner. It would have been nice to put a little more “sweat equity” into this, as well, but I at least watched the workmen most of the time, which counts for something, right? And please note the amazing cleanliness of the light pole glass in the close-up photo below – that’s the only part I had a hand in:


Anyway, it looks like people that care about their house live here now. High-five!

Tower of Power

A few posts ago, I briefly mentioned how our homeowner’s association sent us a notice that we had to reseed and clean up our front yard. Well, that was actually the first in a list of things that includes fixing up a rake board, cleaning the glass on our lamppost, and power washing the front steps.

Admittedly, our little yard has been in need of sprucing up ever since we moved in. Except for a couple of plants and our nice cherry tree, everything else is overgrown with a mystery weed that we’ve since learned is a case of Chrysanthemums Gone Wild! (Or “Mugwort,” according to this site, which makes it sound like a Harry Potter character.) Even so, the yard has turned out to be the easy part, at least from an effort perspective. We could have done the bare minimum and just put some sod down, but we decided to go the whole hog and get the entire thing re-landscaped. We were going to do this anyway, but in the spring like most people. Instead, the ruthless HOA said 45 days ago that we need to get it done by the end of this week. Hiring a company to do the work does end up costing a healthy sum, but it also means that we get to join forces with Merrifield Garden Center and one of their designers that’s been on HGTV’s Curb Appeal, so our streak of famous contractors and realtors continues!

As for the rest of the list, I’ve gotten the chance to educate myself about even more obscure house parts names. I thought once I’d gotten words like “soffitt” and “fascia” down, I would be okay, but of course I was mistaken. A quick Google search revealed to me that practically every feature on a house has a special name. If it sticks out or curls around, it’s got a name. If it’s more or less a board on the side of a roof, it’s got a name. Anyway, one of our “rake boards” needs “sanding” and “painting” before it, I don’t know, turns the soffitts “against” each other and forces the “crowns” to attack the “dormers.” Once I finally identified the rogue piece of house, I assigned our handyman to take care of it. I don’t do roofs.

That brings us to today, when I realized that if the power washing was going to get done, I was going to have to do it myself. One trip to the Fairfax Home Depot later, I had a rented washer manhandled between my rented truck and our front steps. Thankfully I’d had experience with Dad’s power washer, so it only took one extra trip to a gas station instead of two to get the job done. After a couple of hours blasting years of dirt off of our steps, I was deaf, soaked, covered in flecks of dirt and dead leaves, and feeling pretty manly as I gazed over the charred landscape of my victory. It’s funny how power tools can do that. The whole ordeal lasted about three hours and totaled up to about $100, truck and all, so I call that a win.