Sunday, October 31, 2010

And the answer is. . .

House - no. Condo - no. Moving - no. Staying where we are - yes. Again.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

House - maybe?

I'm wrestling with a very strange decision right now. We've been debating buying a newer house and moving for several years, since we retired. We even talked with a builder in 2008 about a new development he was starting. As it turned out, we shied away from that because we thought he was getting over-extended, and it was a good decision. The builder went bankrupt and the four houses he had started, along with the land for the development, went to the bank.

That bank still owns two of the houses which are pretty much complete, but sold the other two houses and the rest of the land to another builder. The bank's two houses are done on the inside but need everything outside: final grade on the lot, landscaping, sod, driveway, sidewalks, gutters. The bank has listed the two houses on MLS, even though they can't get a habitability permit now because the road has not been installed in the development (which will be done by the other builder that bought the rest of the land) and the sewer and water lines need to be backflushed and connected, which won't be done until the road is done. We were told that at least a hundred people had inquired about the houses but were scared away by the unknowns: when will the city services be available, what will be built on the rest of the land adjacent to these houses, etc. The up-side to the decision is that the houses are listed at about 60% of what they would have sold for had they been completed as originally planned, and are still well under actual value even though without the planned amenities from the original development they wouldn't be worth that much now.

This is what it looks like right now:

It's like a completed house sitting in the middle of a construction site. Since it's the first house on the street, on the corner of the main road, it is somewhat separated from the rest of the development and may not be as affected by what else is built as the other houses further up the street will be.

The inside is very cool, by the way. The kitchen is to die for - plenty of cherry cabinets, granite, the works. It doesn't have appliances yet but the realtor said to specify what we wanted in the contract and the bank would install them. There are build-ins in the living room, a sunroom, nice large baths, the works.

So our dilemma is this: this house is a good fit for what we have to have in a new home - slab construction with no steps, roomy, good use of space, well designed and constructed, attractive, small yard. But the downsides are almost too much to consider: Will the bank accept a contract that specifies that they must complete all the remaining work on the lot and house? How much of a pain will it be to get that work done correctly? When will the new builder put in the road (it's been delayed three or four times already this year)? How long will it take for the final city inspections and the habitability permit to be issued? What will be built on the rest of the land - will those houses affect the value of the ones already built? Could the builder put up apartments or something else instead (that's completely possible but not as likely)?

And - very important - will the new builder know what he's doing with respect to water control and drainage or will we have to worry about that too? That's a biggie because on our last house we had water issues in the basement when it rained hard due to the bad runoff control in the subdivision. This house is the first one on the road, and the land slopes uphill slightly from the main road to the back of the development. The original builder was very good at runoff control and we wouldn't have had a concern if he was still in the picture, but this area has become infamous in my eyes for builders that don't have a clue how to handle grading lots to avoid water issues. We have seen damp crawlspaces and basements and water problems everywhere we've looked.

That's a lot of issues to grapple with. Add to it the whole "Do we want another free-standing house with yard issues or should we just buy a condo and not have to take care of the outside?" and I'm in a complete tizzy. I'm good with problems where you solve for an answer and get THE answer - like math - but these fuzzy decisions completely stymie me.

Any thoughts?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Wrangling the remote controls

Home theater set-ups come with a lot of stuff. You have your front speakers, you have your back speakers, your center channel, your sub-woofer, your home theater amplifier, DVD/Blu-ray player - and of course you have a television and a cable box. How you accomodate all those speakers is a post for another day, but the subject at hand is all those remote controls. Every piece of electronics in the cabinet has one. And they take up room. If they're not handy, it becomes a nuisance to get them out and play a movie. If they're too handy, they tend to take up all the space on the end tables.

What to do? I made a remote control caddy. And I had the perfect place for it.

My husband is a pipe smoker and he's had an ashtray stand for thirty years or more. It was a Christmas present from me several houses ago because there wasn't a good place for his ashtray (pipe smokers tend to have large ashtrays to hold the pipes). It's still is use even though the finish is getting a little beat up. While contemplating one day what to do with the remotes after we got the small end tables, the space between the three turned legs on the ashtray stand caught my eye. A little sketching and voila! The perfect remote caddy. I made it today:
Here's a close-up:
It can not only hold all the remote controls but also the case for his reading glasses. I think it's kinda-sorta brilliant.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What we get ourselves into

Cute little split Log Cabin blocks, aren't they? They're only 6" square. I need 104 of them. And 80 Flying Geese blocks. Oh my.

Time to update the living room

In the last few months we reached the point where we looked around the living room and said "Something's gotta happen." Not that things were in shambles, but we had kept it the same for at least 10 years and both of us were bored. His chair was the first priority, because it had become uncomfortable, so we found and bought the leather armchair I posted about several days ago. Then we started talked about the rest of the furniture.

The matching couch was looking tired and getting kind of squishy, and didn't go with his new chair. We had debated ordering a chair to match it but figured the new chair would far outlive the existing couch and besides, we had found a good deal on an in-stock recliner in that dark brown leather. So the couch had to go. A little sleuthing (and some phenominal luck) put me in a local furniture store during a Columbus Day 25% off sale, and I found a nice comfortable small-scale Flexsteel sofa. We ordered it with custom upholstery for a great price. We had looked at sofas all over town and they were so BIG. Our house just isn't that large, at least the living room isn't, and it doesn't have a lot of open wall space that isn't taken up by the ginormous television. The sofa has to go under the window on a wall that also contains his comfy chair in the corner, positioned so he can see the television. So the sofa can't be 90" long. The one we ordered is only 79" and that's rare.

The rug, drapes and striped arm chairs are staying, so that left the end tables and coffee table, which we've had for over 30 years. Nice stuff, cherry, well made, but we're tired of them and wanted smaller scale end tables. One evening, surfing through, I found the perfect solution:
Lovely little cherry drum tables with interesting veneer and two shelves behind the door to stash remotes and stuff. They arrived yesterday. The next step is new table lamps for them because he detests the ones we have, but surely that won't be hard.

Still can't find a coffee table that's not as big as a bed, but I'm working on it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Vogue vs. Bazaar

First, if you know me you might wonder why I am writing a post about fashion magazines. I, who sartorially lean toward khakis and comfortable loafers. I, whose skin can't tolerate make-up. Well, I may not covet the clothes, but I love the photography.

Vogue is an icon to the fashion world, a staple for upteen decades, the Mecca toward which all other style magazines bow. But is it starting to look a little, well, long in the tooth? I started reading Vogue in my teens while waiting for my mother at the beauty salon. It documented a world populated by exotic creatures doing entrancing things in faraway places. It had a society column that showed what the rich, so so different from you and me, were doing and who was who in the social whirl. These images showed a millieu just about as far away from eastern Kentucky as you could get and still be on Earth.

Harper's Bazaar always seemed sort of an also-ran. It had the best models, the newest fashion, but it just didn't have the cachet. I never found much to read in Bazaar, whereas Vogue always had top-drawer writers as well as drool-worthy fashion shoots. Even now, the first thing I turn to when I get my latest issue of Vogue is Jeffrey Steingarten's fabulous food column. It's the photography that seems dated.

Have you seen the documentary "The September Issue", which chronicles the production of the fat-as-a-phone-book Vogue issue that contains all that is new and noteworthy for the fall season? It's an eye opener, and hugely entertaining. Some people come off pretty well as the photographers trail them through their days in the office. Grace Coddington, the creative director and possibly the best photo stylist in New York, is particularly personable. An ex-model who moved into publishing, she least looks the part, with her wild frizzy red hair, no-nonsense dress style and forthright demeanor. The film follows her as she sets up and styles memorable and wildly creative photo shoots (and gnashes her teeth as Anna Wintour, the editor in chief, cuts some of her best work from the magazine layout). She works hard and she's real. You like her. But the rest of the Vogue crowd don't come off so well.

Andre Leon Talley is just plain weird, a creature from some label obsessed planet where he really does have go-fers and assistants to do things like peel him a grape and keep his highness from actually interacting with the real world. You see him playing tennis, Hermes towel draped around his neck, and you half expect him to have his assistant hit the ball for him. And Anna Wintour, the doyenne of Vogue who personifies the magazine, is more like a block of ice with impeccible makeup and large sunglasses, a Sphynx in Chanel. She makes proclamations, she bosses people around, and she peruses photos over which the stylists and photographers have sweated blood and casually tosses them out without even a flicker of an expression. You kind of want to smack her. And you really begin to see where the screenwriters got their inspiration for the boss lady in "The Devil Wears Prada".

Nowadays Vogue magazine feels like Ms. Wintour seems in the film - distant and preserved in amber, scarcely breathing and never cracking a smile. Whereas, Bazaar, since an overhaul several years ago, is bright and chipper, new and fun-fun-fun. The restyled editorial pages have imaginative photography, beautiful layouts and elegant but lively typography. The couture clothes are just as otherworldly as those in Vogue, but seem a lot more interesting. I read Vogue, I pore over Bazaar, drinking in the pictures.

Take the October covers, for instance. They both feature au courant actresses. Vogue chose Carrie Mulligan, a pixie faced new star with a prodigious talent. As a cover model, however, she falls a little flat for me. There she stands, square to the camera, in an unfortunate dress that is probably gorgeous in person but way too busy to photograph well. She's not smiling, she's not emoting, she's just staring. Her background is out-of-focus greenery that adds a distracting texture to the shot. And surrounding her picture are the usual cover-clutter of blurbs tailored to catch your eye at the newstand. It's not a bad cover, it's just kind of blah.

Bazaar photographed Drew Barrymore, a woman that has enough sizzle in her personality to light a 100 watt bulb by staring at it. She's posed against a simple background of gold fabric hung in fluid drapes. Her hair is swept away from her face and falls in lush waves down her back. She is dressed in frothy voile with killer gold dangle earrings. And she is giving the camera a look that should have melted the lens. Ah, there's glamour.

Better still, Bazaar does something that all magazines should consider: the newstand and subscriber issues have different covers. If you're a subscriber they know they already have your attention. The subscriber covers are clean and spare, freed of the clutter of typefaces designed to compete for eye-space with the other newstand fodder. It contains hardly any words at all, just a simple statement of the focus of that month's issue "Fabulous at Every Age" (indeed) and that beautiful picture.

Every issue I've received in the past year has contained striking photography, the most jaw dropping of which was the April cover featuring Demi Moore perched atop a twelve foot tall spiral staircase standing in the sand at the beach, a giraffe daintily nibbling from her hand. I looked at it and said, "Well, it's a paste-up job but it's cool." Husband, the expert of all things photographic, pronounced it photoshopped but well done.

And then I was channel surfing one night and came upon a program documenting the photo shoot for this cover, and there was that stairway on the beach at Malibu, Ms. Moore positioned at the top, while a giraffe wrangler (!) coaxed his charge to take the treat she was offering, the whole thing like some fevered heat mirage.

Now THAT's cool. I'm not sure Ms. Wintour and Vogue would have even have had the idea, much less make it real.

Window world

Time for that miserable window washing job again. I just spent the last two days on them, and boy, I am going to be sore this morning! Up the ladder, down the ladder, haul that bucket of water, wash that screen, do it all again. Inside and outside. Ugh.

In case you're wondering, I don't have that wonder of the Western world, the tilt-in window. Nope, mine are vintage 1968 aluminum frame single pane wonders that are starting to hit the end of their lifespan. A few of them are decidedly wobbly in their frames and getting hard to open. They weren't state of the art when they were installed and haven't improved with age. I got to thinking today, I've never had a house with decent windows. The first one had aluminum crank-out awning windows, which were old when we bought the house, and the cranks promptly started to break after we moved in. When we left, two didn't work at all. The next house was new construction but the guy cheaped-out when he bought windows. They were wood frame casement types that swelled and stuck. Now this place with its own peculiarities. I would replace them if it wouldn't cost a mint. I know - I got the estimate several years ago. Ouch! So it's up the ladder I go to clean the outside.

One of the most trying things about them is that if they are in an area with any moisture in the air, like the baths, kitchen or laundry, the frames mildew. Why? Who knows. I've never had this problem in any other house. But they do, and the best way to remove that is bathroom cleaner, the fume-ier the better. So after you wash the frame and the sills with Tilex you break out the Windex and the paper towels and shine up the glass. And wash the screen. And, oh yes, remove the flimsy metal grate that gives the windows the look of multiple panes (and, for the person doing it, multiple pains!), being sure not to bend or distort it - which is very easy to do, wash that also and snap it back onto the inside of the window.

After the windows, I cleaned the glass in the front and side doors and realized that the doors and door frames needed some attention so I washed those too. And then the garage doors looked dingy, so. . .right, they were next. Then the outside lights caught my attention so I polished up the metal and glass on those and vacuumed out the bugs. (Just an aside, but how do bugs get into a sealed outdoor light? The top attached with two screws and the glass panels fit into channels, but the bugs get inside anyway.) These are easier to clean than they appear because you can remove each of six trapezoid shaped pieces of glass to clean them.

In doing that, just as I finished polishing the last of the panes in the last outdoor light, I dropped the piece of glass and broke it. So I had to trace a pattern to take to the glass shop and get a replacement cut today. In fairness, this light is beside the sliding door to the patio, at the top of a set of rather steep concrete steps, and I was balancing on the top step trying to reach around to the back side of the light and replace the glass after cleaning it, so add in the fact that I was tired and getting sore in my shoulders and it's no wonder I dropped it. Probably a miracle I didn't break more of them.

All evening I walked around the house and admired the nice clean windows. It's a shame that they will be dusty and messy again before you know it. I suppose that's what drives me crazy about housekeeping. You work like a dog and everything looks. . .right. Not special, just like it should be. And by the next week it's as if you never did a thing.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The new baby in the house. . .

. . .at least it's my husband's new baby! And, boy, is it comfortable. I took a turn reclining in it while he was on the computer and almost fell asleep during Project Runway. He may never stay awake for the end of another movie we watch at home.