Category Archives: House and home

Too many things vying for focus

Mount Rainier from the house in CentraliaSometimes all the stars align to make life more interesting than the long periods of doing the same thing day after day that seems to be normal. When I was younger, those long periods of the mundane seemed boring. Now they just seem restful. Last night, it dawned on me that, with two days before we are supposed to close on your our new (old) house, I have not made all the arrangements for all the utilities to be switched over to us. At the same time, the sickle cell disease project on which I am working is scheduled to deliver its first device for testing in Africa at the end of April which means I need to complete a boat load of finishing touches. All the while, I have to decide whether I want to stay in my current job and travel to Texas once per month or switch jobs and travel to Vancouver, BC fairly frequently with intermittent trips to China and other far away places (currently leaning toward BC).

In the mean time, we have to make a plan to get all our stuff from Texas and North Carolina to Washington state. The Texas part we have handled, but for the North Carolina part we do not know whether to do it ourselves (fly out there and drive back over a week), hire a couple of college kids to fly out there and drive the truck back for us, or just bite the bullet and get a moving company today. All of these items with their fun and interesting cash flow challenges. And none of this mentions that we start a full-blown remodel of the kitchen and a partial reconstruction of the roof on the new (old) house. Whenever I get too stressed, I look at the picture of the view we hope to have out the back of the house when we are now fogged in or clouded over or both. That helps some. What will help more is to have all this behind us with a cup of coffee in my hand sitting on the porch for a few weeks in a row.

Lorena and Pier One Imports for the win!

Supposedly, this is a lantern. At any rate, Lorena won it at Pier One Imports. Hahahaha!Lorena went to Pier One Imports today to take a class in how to do place settings on a table. She won a ten dollar gift card and a lantern, at least that is what I think it is. She won the lantern by remembering how to fold a napkin into a rabbit. She is all fired up about her new kitchen now. Notice the six pack of root beers to the right of the “lantern.” What an indicator of a great wife. Root beers when you need them.




Lorena's second prize from Pier One Imports

More kitchen stuff–getting very close to a final design

Getting close to a final designMark P., our contractor, said there are only a few things missing in this drawing. The microwave will be above the double oven, the range top is not drawn in and a few other details that we have actually already settled. One thing that is cool is that the curve at the bottom of the island is the line the granite will follow. The big challenge now is when we can get started and it depends on resources–ours, Mark’s and his subs. The next thing we we need to figure out is lighting and granite. We have finished with the cabinets (hickory with a pecan stain and handles, not knobs or pulls).

Picking cabinets for the new kitchen

Shaker cabinet door and drawer stylesWe are starting to figure out that picking styles of stuff for the kitchen is not for the faint of heart. We thought we had made great progress when we decided we wanted Shaker style, but no. The minute I sent out the email I got a message back asking whether we wanted pulls or handles or both on the cabinets. I have NO idea about that. I asked Lorena, but then asked our über builder, Mark P., what he thought and, even more importantly, what is the difference.

Right now Lorena is out looking at granite colors to try to figure out what we want for that. In our discussion with our builder, we just got more confused by the different grades of granite and hardwood floors not to mention hardwood species that go with the floors that are already there. Fun and challenging.

Third pass of the kitchen design

Front of the new kitchen designWe are now on the third semi-official round of the kitchen layout. This time we put an angle in the kitchen island and moved the sink and dishwasher there from where it was previously along the wall beside the cook top. The sink is in the angled part of the island so whoever is working there can see what is going on in the living room as well as look out the back windows of the house at Mt. Rainier and the forested area below.

You can see there is a cheesy drawing (sorry Mark P.) of a vegetable sink drawn on the right side of the island in the front view (right above the letters FSB). That is one of the things over which we are still in negotiation, but pretty Top of the new kitchen designmuch everything else is in the design the way we want it our the best way we can figure out based on the footprint of the kitchen, the doors and what will be the dining area.

We have already picked the cook top and ventilation hood (Thermador both), so next we have to pick out counter tops and appliances. We also have to figure out what style of cabinets we want even though we have already decided on the same hickory Mark P. installed in the kitchen he remodeled for us in Albany. We have to get this figured out pretty quickly because the house is due to close in two weeks and we want him to start work the week after that so it will all be ready when we move in.

Fits and starts and restarts designing the kitchen

Very preliminary kitchen designDrawings have started to arrive from the kitchen designers. As is always the case in these kinds of things, some of the ideas are exactly what we wanted, but there is a disconnect on others. Part of the disconnect is due to not properly communicating what was wanted. Some though are because of our own disconnect with reality. Sometimes it is not possible to do what you want because of lack of budget, a footprint and configuration that will not fit the available space, etc. etc.

This is a very fun process for us. Now that we have been through it a couple of times we know more about what to expect and what is actually possible. One of our big challenges in this pass through the process is that we would really like to kick off the construction in less than three weeks. That means the builder has to have the material available to him post haste. He needs appliances, custom cabinets and local subcontractors on a tight schedule. We hope to have the design in place before the end of the week so we can officially pull the trigger and our contractor, Mark P. can get started.

Looking at appliances–the grill

Lorena shopping for Thermadoor range tops at Nebraska Furniture Mart in TexasThe kitchen in the house we are trying to buy is getting dated. We pretty much need to replace everything. We hope to use the pieces in the current kitchen to make a standalone apartment in the daylight basement. The three things we usually do not have to replace when we move are the refrigerator and the clothes washer and dryer, but they all went as part of the sell in the house in North Carolina. We did buy a new clothes washer and dryer when we moved to Texas, so that means we are going to have to figure out how to get a range top and hood, an oven or two, a microwave, a dish washer and a refrigerator.

Of course everything is negotiable, but Lorena knows what she wants, especially when it comes to the range top. The range top shown in the picture on the left is the one she wants. It is the Thermador Professional 36″ with an electrically heated griddle in the middle (for warming tortillas). The range top is always the center piece in her kitchen so we do the best we can. We think we kind of have it figured out this time. In these pictures, it looks like the Albany range top was better and, in some ways, that was true. It had the cool blue knobs (actually, we still have them because we kept the blue knobs that came as add-ons and returned the original metal knobs back to the range top when we moved from Albany to Raleigh) and it was a 36″ inch top with a grill in the middle. That is not entirely true because we had a much better hood in Raleigh than in Albany. All in all it was about a wash.

We chose the grill in the middle of the Albany stove because we thought we would use it a lot. We hardly used it at all. We liked to cook on the outdoor grill a lot more than the one in doors and ended up getting a comal which Lorena set on the grill to warm tortillas. When we moved to Raleigh, we would have had to make wholesale changes to the cabinetry and buy new granite to accommodate a 36″ cook top, so we reconciled ourselves to a 30″ top with four burners and no grill nor griddle in between. Sadly, the blue knobs from our old Thermador did not fit the grill we bought in Raleigh, so they have been packed away ever since. We will bite the bullet and buy new blue ones if they do not fit our new range top this time. We are not sure exactly what we can afford, but we certainly know what we would like!

Notes: We will talk about the hood in a later post

Amazing birdhouses

Al Russell (our elder in Lewisville) makes awesome birdhousesAfter church a couple of Sundays back, I was talking to the elder, Al R. (we meet in his home), about the doll house business my father ran for many years. He told me he made birdhouses that were similar. I thought that was nice and interesting, but did not think much of it. Then he texted me a picture of his work and I was completely amazed. It is not just that they are beautifully done with a lot of ornate rock work, but the houses are weatherized so they can handle the outside, too.

Our new place in Centralia (keeping our fingers crossed) is a perfect place for birdhouses. We are right in the middle of a forested area with a river (with salmon and steelhead in it) just a quarter of a mile away as the crow flies. Al only makes them for fun to give to friends and family. I am going to have to be on especially good favor if I want to ever commission him for one. We absolutely need to have some bird feeders and some birdhouses, but my understanding is that to have any success with them, you have to do war with the squirrels. I suppose that is true everywhere.

There is enough wildlife in the area that the porch should be a great place to just sit with a pair of binoculars, a telescope and a camera. There are black bears, bobcat, mountain lion, deer, elk, etc. all over that part of Washington, but we really do love to watch the birds, too.

Progress on our haven (only thing left is closing)

Kelly - Make America Great AgainThe appraisal for our house purchase came in fine yesterday. We signed off on all the improvements required for the sale. The only thing left is to close. The close will occur, God willing, at the end of the month. So now we are are excited about making the move. We know a lot about that part of the world, but not so much about the particular place we chose. We love everything we have seen in our visits and within a two hour drive of our house we have a gazillion old friends. Right in town it surely seems like we have a great and growing group of new friends we look forward to getting to know better.

We are some what apolitical these days, or at least we are trying to be. Still, we know we are moving to the belly of the beast when we go back to the Pacific Northwest. Portland and Seattle with all their natural beauty are notorious for their lack of decorum and reason with respect to the hard left politics of at least a plurality of their populations. We want to live on the west side of the mountains and avoid some of the lack of tolerance in those places so that restricted our choice a little. The place we chose is almost the exact center between the two, maximizing the distance to both of them. The picture in this post is of Kelly stirring the pot more than of Kelly making a political statement. It was a brave thing to go dressed like that to school in Seattle. She needs the haven just as much as us. We were assured by our new friends in our new town we will fit right in and it surely seems like they are right from what I have seen so far.

Getting ready for a long drive

Truck rental for cross country moveI am starting to talk to truck rental places. Some of you might know that, even though we are currently living in Dallas, all we have is an apartment and enough “stuff” to live there short term. Most of our “stuff” is still in a warehouse in Raleigh. So, this trip will entail me flying from Dallas to Raleigh, loading up the truck, driving to Dallas, picking up Lorena and the “stuff” in our apartment there, driving to Tempe to spend some time with Christian and go to one of our church conventions, then driving (through California, not Utah) on up to Washington state. I put “stuff” in scare quotes advisedly. Why do we need all that?

I actually love these trips. The first time I took a cross country trip was when I drove Aunt Jean’s car to her in at University of South Florida in Tampa. I have done these kinds of trips enough times that I have lost count. Some of the best ones were when I had one of my buddies along (Warren B and Curt N in particular), but Lorena and some combination of the kids and I have made the trip four or five times now, too. This trip I will get the best of all worlds: a third of the trip on my own, two thirds with Lorena and a couple several day stops in between. The spring is really a pretty nice time of the year to be on the road. All I need to do is make sure the truck has a jack for my Kindle. When I load up on good books for the road, I am good to go.

Landscape options

Albany landscaping projectWe bought a new house in Albany, Oregon back in about 2004 (picture to the left). When we bought the house it did not have anything but a small slab for a patio in the back. Grandpa Milo helped us put in a beautiful, stamped concrete patio with large planters in the back. There was no landscaping other than a small patch at the front of the house; all of the rest of it was dirt and weeds. I have to say we had a great time putting in the lawn and doing a little landscaping around the house. We planted rows of trees along both streets (it is a corner lot) and the back property line. There were some electrical services at the front of the lot that drew attention that we did not look. Since there was a very slight slope toward that corner of the lot, we put a small retaining wall around the services, built up the dirt behind the wall a little and planted some trees and plants. We also added the porch roof and decorative posts that cover the porch that leads to the lawn on two sides of the house and the French doors that lead out to the porch. lead out to the lawn from(well that was our builder Mark, but we paid for it). What you see here is the result.

We have a better starting point with the new house in Washington in one sense. The landscape is manageable, but not great in terms of use and maintenance and it is much, much bigger. First idea on landscapeLorena and I need to decide how much of the lawn we want to maintain as landscape and how much we want to maintain as “forest.” We definitely have an opportunity to put in some terracing that will change the area behind the house into something eminently more usable. One of the first things we plan to do as soon as we get out there is take a bunch a pictures of the yard and start figuring out what we want to do. Part of our goal is to get me some manual labor with a shovel in doing any kind of transformation we plan. I think the landscape will be at least a three phase effort, especially since I am going to be providing the manual labor (unless I wimp out).

The remodel plan, kitchen first

As Lorena and I are get closer to our move to Washington state, we get more anxious to figure out what we want to do with the old kitchen in the new (to us) house. I thought it would be fun to have some before and after pictures of the work we hope to do. Our plan is to do this in five phases: 1) the kitchen, 2) the covered porch/new roof line, 3) fireplaces and a new floor upstairs, 4) a downstairs apartment with kitchen and laundry and 5) new bathrooms. Of course, we might have the time, resources or energy to do all of this, some other change in personal or world circumstances might dictate other priorities or we could just die in a flaming train, car or airplane wreck (or maybe something not so exotic) so we reserve the right to change or stop the plan.

With all those caveats, we know we need to start with the kitchen. Our friend Mark Prescott has already started putting together some options for us. The pictures below show the kitchen as it is now. The window of which you cannot see much in the first pictures looks out onto a fairly incredible view of Mount Rainier. The window to the left of that looks out onto the front/side yard which is an obvious place for Lorena to grow flowers. We want to take all the appliances and the cabinets from the old kitchen (and the clothes washer and dryer from the laundry room–we have better ones) down to the daylight basement for the apartment down there.

We were thinking we could put the main sink where the stove currently sits with a window above it looking out onto the garden and the stove to the right of that. Then put in a French door to replace the window facing the front/side yard–the porch right there is a great place to put a grilling area. We are still thinking about it and Mark almost always has better ideas than us, but it is getting real now and we are looking forward to getting started.
Centralia, old kitchen, 001 Centralia, old kitchen, 002 Centralia, old kitchen, 003 Centralia, old kitchen, 004

Back from Tempe, time to get ready to move

Lorena visits Christian in Tempe - ASU palm treesLorena is at the airport right now, waiting to return home from a very good stay with Christian. Of course Christian was slammed with work–he had to respond to reviewers on a paper he wants to publish, prepare for a technical presentation for his Network Information Theory class, etc., etc. But at least now he is slammed with a shiny clean apartment, food in the pantry, rotated tires and all those other little details of which Lorena is queen.

For her part, Lorena truly loves the palm and citrus trees, the blooming flowers and the incredible, February, Tempe weather. It really is nice here in the Dallas area right now, but not nearly as nice as Phoenix as if that were even possible. We will start the serious push to get organized for the move starting next week. The rest of this week we do not plan to do much because life is going to get very rushed, very soon.

Back in the game for the house in Washington we want

My buddy, Mark P. met me in Centralia for the day on Monday to take a good look at the house we want to buy. We spent four hours in the house and came away feeling pretty good about it. Mark did a remodel for us in Albany back in about 2005 for which we still have a bunch of pictures here on the blog. You can see them here, but I have also included an image of one side of the kitchen below. He did a tremendous job. If we can finally get the house purchased, we hope to have Mark do a three or four phase remodel based on what we can afford and when we can afford it. I love to look at remodels as they progress. Here is Aunt Julia’s remodel web page. I will try to put up a page if we ever get there.

Remodel in Albany

Another whirlwind trip to Washington

Lorena at McDonaldsLorena took me to McDonald’s early this morning then dropped me off at the airport. If all goes well, I will have a look at our (hopefully) new house along with my real estate agent and my builder (thank you Mark P. for driving up from Oregon). Then I will get on a plane at midnight and arrive back in Dallas just in time to go to work on Tuesday morning when we are going to make the first major new installation of some machine vision/machine learning/video analytics software.

In the mean time, the working I am doing on finding low cost new methods to diagnose sickle cell disease in developing countries is getting to a critical juncture. I need to put some finishing touches on the work I am doing on that project so they can start real tests. I will have to work on that on the airplane ride to Seattle and in the hotel room so I can deliver it to the team that needs it at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Thankfully, that is something that can be done by email and dropbox.

Presents for Mom

Lorena's new birthday skirt from KellyWe got a package in the mail the other day. It was a new skirt from Kelly for Lorena’s birthday. She wore it on Sunday to church. It is beautiful and we were thankful for both a beautiful skirt and a thoughtful daughter. Lorena has been running like crazy, but now has our apartment under control. We can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel now and hope to be settled into a long term home within the next few months. We have had a wrench thrown into our plans at this stage, several times, so we are not holding our breath. Still we have hope.

No sooner had I put this up than these flowers arrived from Kelly and Christian as an “apartment” warming gift for Lorena. Wow. Maybe I am doing something wrong. Why aren’t they for me?
House warming flowers from Kelly and Christian

Henry VI, Part II, act IV, Scene II, Line 73

Shyster's at work11.1 of 60

We are have had all kinds of challenges with our house negotiations in Washington state. It turns out the current owner of the house is a trial lawyer. If you REALLY want to know how the negotiations are going, look up the reference in the title to this post*. We still have hope that we will make it through, but boy howdy, we will have earned our stripes if we negotiate this successfully. If we can get past one or two more hurdles I will keep my appointment to do the final inspection in Centralia in the middle of the month. I have the ticket and the day off from work, so I really want to this to work out. So does Lorena.

*Please note we do not mean this literally. We are more in accord with what Luke 11:46 than with Shakespeare on the topic of lawyers.

The house hunt inches forward

10.6 of 60

I went backwards about a pound and a half on my exercise/diet program, but other than that, life is pretty good. I am beating my buddy Lyle W. like a drum on the number of steps on our Fitbit’s, but that is mostly because he has been sick. I still counting it while I can because I am sure it won’t last. The house is still in Washington state is still up in the air, but we have our fingers crossed. I have a ticket out there in a week and a half to meet my other buddy, Mark P. to do the final inspection if we get our latest offer accepted. It is all good. I also have two work-from-home jobs (one requires domestic travel, the other requires domestic and international travel) from which I need to choose within the next couple of months. Now, though, we are on hold to see whether or not we have a house.

The continuing saga of the house in Washington state

The house we want to buyI am not sure how much I wrote about the struggle we were having getting to a close on the house we wanted to buy in Washington state, but just a few days before the funeral the whole deal fell through. What happened was that a lot of stuff showed up on the inspection that needed to be fixed. That was OK with us; there was nothing on the list that was not fixable for a very reasonable price. The house owner, a lawyer, decided he wanted to give us about a third of the money required to fix the problems, add a bunch of legalese to the contract and have us take it “as is” so we were saddled with all the issues. We decided to bail out.

So, three weeks later, our real estate guy calls us and tells us the owner is having everything fixed at his expense. I told him we were still interested. He recommended we make the same offer contingent on an inspection after all the repairs are complete. So we are still in the game to head back to the great Pacific Northwest and are truly excited about it. Who knows what will happen, but were are hopeful it will all work out.