Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Remodel Hell - The Pain, The Pain

It’s time for the whining. This is the blog I knew I would write at the end. It’s almost the end. And I feel like whining about all the pain and suffering I went through during this remodel.

1. I reduced all of my clothing to a couple of pairs of everything. Undergarments, pants, shirts, socks. One pair of running shoes, one pair of black dress shoes, one pair of brown. And put all that into the dresser that was shoved into the living room. The rest was bagged up and thrown into a corner of the den. Hence, laundry was every other day.

2. Sleeping in the living room. There was no backboard, so my pillows kept falling off the bed. Because the hallway was encased in brown paper (and perhaps nails), I had to put on slippers every time I went to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

3. I had to get up at a specified time every morning, around 6:30 am, because the workers were going to show up. Unless I wanted to do my showering with workmen looking into the skylight, well, you get the picture. It was like a job, only I stayed at home and waited for the Invaders.

4. Everything became absolutely filthy over a period of time. Although the construction guys put up a zippered plastic envelope over the door leading to the construction zone, dust seeps out from the sawed timber. Thank goodness I decided early to dispose of the carpet, as it is unbelievably bad right now, covered in God-knows-what. Everything else in the house is covered with a fine veneer of dust as well. And because the workers used my deck as their “shop,” the finish is wiped off completely.

5. The front window vertical blinds were closed for two months because the bed headboard was stationed right in front of them. That provided privacy, for sure, but also made it dark in the living room for two full months. Depressing.

6. My old, make that “current”, bathroom was unavailable much of the time. They were either working on it, or using it (and the latter provided its own problems). There were times when I had to leave, quickly.

7. The lack of privacy, plain and simple.

The actual process of writing this blog has been immeasurably soothing. And I took a look at some of the other blogs involving the words "remodel hell", and found that I wasn't doing too badly. There was one woman whose blog was very funny, very true, who told us all what her typical remodel day was like. She was lucky to see her one construction guy for a couple of hours a day, and chronicled the ridiculosity of a guy who would show up whenever he felt like it, leave when he had to go to his son's school, leave for Home Depot after 10 minutes of work to pick up some nails, ad infinitum.

I feel very fortunate, first with my lack of knowledge that things came out so well, and second that I got an incredibly wonderful group of workers in Martinez Construction. At this point -- mind you, not everything is finished -- I would definitely recommend them, especially for the fool who doesn't know what she's doing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Remodel Hell - Carpet, Carpet Everywhere

The Carpet Guy Cometh!

As Glenn and his compadres were finishing up, sawing off doors, etc., the carpet guy rolled up, right at 10 a.m. The rain hasn't shown up yet, but as he said, "I can smell it in the air."

Larry the Carpet Guy planted the roll of carpet in the doorway, in the only six-foot area I had left that wasn't going to be carpeted today. Today we're carpeting the construction zone; tomorrow, we're doing the living room.

He went through the rooms, tearing up the old, compressed padding with his machine, all the while Glenn and crew were finishing up and stashing detached doors in various niches.

We discovered three different hardwood floors underneath. The middle room, or office, is a beautiful red wood! Quite amazing. (I'm still having it carpeted, as I don't like the feel of hardwood floors on my bare feet.) After working for almost two hours, the carpet guy announced, "I didn't bring the tools to patch up problems, so I'm going back to the office. I'll be back in half an hour." He showed me where some pieces were missing from the floor in the bedroom.

So, here I am, kind of trapped in my office as I type this.
I can't go into the kitchen or the living room because of the big roll of carpet, brought inside to escape the rain, and his tools on the other side. So I can't wrap up those two eBay items I have to mail out. And I'm sorta worried about lunch as well, leftovers that are sitting in the 'fridge waiting for me. Well, they'll wait for half an hour more.

What do we have left? More carpet tomorrow. Three doors are unhinged and will have to be re-hung. One of the door's knobs will not lock (the new, lockable door onto the bedroom). The light in the bedroom is hooked up to the new electrical line, and that won't be hooked/charged up until the PG&E guy comes out. I noticed that the construction crew left the French door blinds off the doors when they trimmed them.

Larry had to leave early today, didn't finish up the middle room/office or hallway. He had an Astronomy final exam to take at Chabot. And he left the remaining carpet rolls in the living room, blocking the furniture that had to be moved into the newly carpeted bedroom. So, to help out, he and I moved the mattress, box springs and bed frame into the bedroom. That gave us room in the living room to move the carpet around as we needed.

And, sure enough, A & J showed up on schedule and moved the furniture into the bedroom in no time. I slept for the first time for two months in my newly carpeted bedroom, and liberally used the new bathroom.

Of course, there are two doors propped up in the bathroom, blocking the sink. There's no electricity in the bedroom. But I slept well.

Remodel Hell - Not Finished and No Carpet in Sight

My day outside began with having to move the garbage and recycle bins after two trucks and a car blocked them from the street. The workers were here: The last-minute race was on.

It's 9:30 am right now. No sign of carpet. And rain is looming, due to arrive (according to the KRON4 news station) within the hour. I almost wished I hadn't even tried to book the carpet today. Too much of a rush yesterday and today.

Jamie came over last night, and we went through the construction area with pen and paper, jotting down problems that would have to be addressed later. I have at least 20 items. One of them is that the middle room/office is not painted and shows it, and the walls seem worse for wear after all the heavy equipment was stored in there. There is no time to request paint and re-texturing now.

Most of the Martinez Construction guys have left, but one remains (Glenn, of course) to finish up. No one talks to me. They're just in a hurry to finish up, knowing, I imagine, that they'll be back next week to correct what was left undone.

Is the bloom off the remodel rose? No. Last night as I was waiting for Jamie to show up, I christened the new toilet. What a thrill!! Until I realized that it was so new I hadn't put toilet paper in...

Monday, December 19, 2005

Remodel Hell - To Rain or Not to Rain

I called the Carpet Lady this afternoon after checking with Ernie. She said, "Carpet's still on for tomorrow! Unless it rains..."

Rains? It's been raining for three days, on and off. Rain interferes with carpet laying? "Well, sure," said Mary. "You gotta cut it." I don't know what that means -- I mean, can't you cut it while you're laying it in two huge rooms? But these are the carpet Gods, and you don't mess with them. "Well, I guess we'll find out tomorrow," I said meekly, as I hung up.

Ernie was trying to get the guys to rush the finishing touches on the inside. "They just installed the last light," he remarked, which I figure must be the closet. "And they're working on the baseboard. So they should be finished today."

What about the fence? "Right, we will tackle that tomorrow, if that's okay with you. I figured the important thing was to get out of the house before the carpet shows up!" Indeed.

He also advised me to go through the house after everybody has left, make notes of what isn't done to my satisfaction, and let him know about it. Now's the last part before the very end.

"Oh, and I'll let you know about the shower door as soon I hear something." Oh, yes, probably the last piece to be installed.

Pray for no rain.

Remodel Hell: The Last Day Which Isn't the Last Day

I got back from my weekend trip to L.A., hoping everything would be done. It wasn't.

However, we're almost there. In my little self-guided tour on Sunday night, I discovered a toilet!! I have always thought to myself, I'll believe I have a new bathroom if there's a toilet in place. It looks great, and my greatest fear on the installation was, is it too big? Will the door clear the toilet bowl? Will the shower door, yet to be installed, clear the bowl? The bowl does clear the door, but the answer to the latter question is....I don't know yet. I think so. The markings on the floor are covered up by the linoleum.

The shower head is also installed -- notice how large it is! I thought I would try this, as the shower stall itself is rather large. And the shower control is in, which looks gorgeous! I wonder if the water works? I got some spurts of air pockets when I turned on water in the rest of the house (meaning, the plumber had been fooling with the water control since I left), but I don't dare try the shower, as there's no shower door, and I'm aware I shouldn't play until I talk to Glenn.

It's 9 am on Monday morning, and Glenn is hard at work -- alone, I think -- sawing away. I don't want to interrupt him while he's into heavy construction mode. I'm assuming he's building and installing shelves for the closet. When I looked last night, only a few shelves had been put in. There will be shelves on all three sides, with a bar for hanging clothes in the middle, straight in the back, when all is done with the closet. The light has not been installed in the closet.

There is still a lot to do, but all of it is small. After the shelves, the baseboards have to be put in. Some touch-ups. Some clean-up. That's about it. Oh, yes -- and I wonder if they're going to do something about the gate on the side of the house. The plan was to pour concrete for a new post and cut some off the gate itself, in order to increase access to the new electrical panel on the outside. Ernie may be thinking that they will leave that for the end. You know, get all the construction done on the inside so that carpet can be laid.

Carpet. Tomorrow. Gotta be ready for that!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Remodel Hell - The Light Fixture Shuffle

Glenn showed up early per usual, accompanied about an hour later by his new helper. Today the theme is "The Fast and the Furious."

Today they worked on:
Patching the holes in the den wall.
Grouting the new tile in the old bathroom.
Painting the walls around the skylight in the old bathroom.
Putting in the new light in the office.
Putting in the complete sink.
Painting and hanging the three new doors (bathroom, closet, bedroom).

Also, the subcontractor came to install the shower wall made of faux marble. He asked me where I wanted the soap dish (which also holds a shampoo bottle, a really big size), and told me he thought it would be better off down at the end, away from the shower spigot. I agreed. He then cut a hole in the wall to accommodate the soap dish. And he was done within the hour.

Now, for the shower part, we're waiting on the doors to be cut, delivered, installed. Ernie said he'd tell me today when that will be. We're hoping for next week rather than the end of the month.

Glenn told me that tomorrow, they'll tackle a lot of the finish stuff. He then said, "Where's the light for the closet?" What light? Oh, my God. Here we go again.

So I went to the light fixture pile that has to go back to Costco for a refund, grabbed the smaller one and said, "Will this do?" He said, "Perfect!" He then told me how he will put up the shelves in the closet, in accordance with what I told him I wanted, which was a rod for hanging clothes, but mostly shelves for shirts.

And the plumber is due back tomorrow to hook up the shower and sink in the new bathroom. I'm not sure, but I believe the electrician will be making another trip in, too.

They're busy right now, doing the small, detailed stuff, cleaning up the marks on the white paint job, cleaning up. Soon, soon, I tell myself as I comb my hair in the reflection in the microwave. Soon, no more sleepless nights.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Remodel Hell - Just Swipe your First-Born in the Slot

Glenn very nicely gave me a little tour after last night's finish. We talked about light fixtures. He looked at both of them, the one for the bedroom and the one for the office, and said, "You're going to have other lights in there, right?" I thought, sure I will.

At 3:30 this morning, I awoke with a start. I have to get new lighting fixtures! Glenn was trying to tell me that neither one would throw off enough light. And obviously today is the time to do it, while there are these big gaps in the ceiling and the contruction workers are going to be installing them within the next few days. So, at 8 a.m. this morning, when Glenn and his new helper started working on the old bathroom, I headed out for Lowe's, 20 miles south in Union City. I've never shopped at Lowe's before, but I hoped it had more options in lighting fixtures than the two Home Depot's had.

Lowe's is better lit, better organized, cleaner than Home Depot. You still can't find anyone to help you. I figure that all of the fired workers from Home Depot and Lowe's are lining up at the state employment office as I type this. While I easily found the lighting section. I couldn't find that third light that I needed, the one that Glenn said would be a problem with the city inspector: a fluorescent light. I got the idea to look for lights that didn't have the usual G.E. 60-watt bulb in them. Finally, I saw 'way above eye level on a rack of about 20 options: two fluorescent lights! I chose the smaller one which holds three bulbs. It should look good AND give off a lot of light. Hopefully it won't look too big in the small bathroom.

And for the other two lights, we need more wattage, so I picked up sort-of track lighting that isn't, a Gorgonesque contraption with three heads coming out. The one for the bedroom has a white background, and the other one for the office has a chrome backing. If they fit, I think they'll do the trick.

I went to check out, and just like Home Depot, there was a line. None of the lines were very long, but I thought I'd try their Self Check-Out, which was conspicuously empty. I had done them at Home Depot, so the process couldn't be too difficult. I figured out how to scan the bar codes. But I couldn't guess what the machine wanted next. There was no mention of credit card, and yet that step, logically, would be next. Finally, one of the Lowe's helpers stepped up, took my credit card firmly in her hand and swiped it. "You're supposed to do this next. I don't know why it doesn't tell you to do that." Because working these machines is not self-evident! But there's no use in screaming. It's just part of the hassle that you take on when you do a remodel. I guess you just know that going in. (Or I should have.)

So I came home and put those lights in their proper rooms so Glenn and crew could find them when needed. The new guy was working on laying the white tile on the far wall in the old bathroom. This tile, of course, is where the old window used to be; it's currently the side of the new walk-in closet.

Glenn, I noticed, wasn't there when I arrived, but showed up soon afterwards. He informed me that my shower door had imploded for no reason -- this is the shower door, only about 5 years old and made of safety glass, that was in my current bathroom. "So I went out and got another one for you. It's on us. I'm just glad it didn't happen to you while you were in the shower." I thought it was very decent of them to buy me a new one, as the old one was obviously ready to self-destruct. How weird.

I'm glad Glenn was all right, that when the glass broke, it didn't catch some flesh. Two days ago, Jose took a chunk out of his left thumb by sawing the planks for the outside of the house. "A pound of flesh," I muttered as I saw the blood dried up below the large bandage. Jose continued to work that day, but couldn't use it. It was obvious to me that he was in a lot of pain. When he showed up at my house yesterday morning for work, Glenn sent him to see the doctor. Glenn carried on all day alone.

....which means that we are currently behind schedule and may not finish this week. Glenn hopes that, with another worker, promised to him by Ernie, he will be able to catch up. I look around me at all the work that remains to be done, and shake my head.

As long as it's all done by next Monday, before the carpet shows up...

BUT, I was VERY pleased to see that he and his helper got in all of the custom-cut tile in the bathroom (grout to be filled in later, I surmise), AND the brand new bathroom lights and bedroom light. The office light isn't up yet. Soon...

Monday, December 12, 2005

Remodel Hell - The Carpet Woman Cometh

I showed up this morning in front of Triple A Drapery promptly at 9:05 am. They had just opened and Mary was still getting settled when I opened the door. I dropped Jack's name (her husband), and Mary offered to help me after telling me Jack was at the dentist.

I had spent another sleepless night last night, wondering how furniture is going to get moved while the carpeting is getting installed, when would that happen and how -- well, you've read about that already. I wanted to do something about it today, get that settled if I could, at the beginning of our sixth and supposedly final week of construction.

At 7:45 that morning, I had conferred with Glenn, who was already there (he's usually there early), and got his measurements for the rooms being remodeled, including the walk-in closet. I then added on the hallway and living room with rough estimates from the tape measure. I took those in and Mary gave me a rough estimate per square foot: she told me to add about $1.25 to the price listed for the pad and installation labor. So after I did some simple math and discovered I was well within my budget for carpet, much to my delight, I looked at carpeting around $2.65 - $2.95 per yard and decided to go with nylon (vice polyester) with a short, comfortable pile. I went with a grayish-brown color. I wanted something a bit darker than what I currently have. I have a hard time discerning at this point, however, what color my current carpet really is, it's so dirty.

Mary came out promptly at 2 pm -- yes, the same day! -- measured to be sure, and gave me the real estimate. I gave her a deposit, and then we talked logistics. She suggested that we break up the installation into two days, which would give me time to move the furniture crammed into the living room back into the bedroom. Yes!! Just what Aaron had suggested! And when Jamie checked in with me later, he gave me a commitment to show up on Tuesday afternoon/night so that we could make this happen.

I won't know exactly what days installation will take place, though, as Mary advised me that the carpet is coming from the east coast and is supposed to be here by Friday. That gives us an extra day (Monday) to make sure it's available. And in my mind, that gives us an extra day in case Martinez Construction can't be finished by this Friday. As Glenn mentioned today when I checked in with him, he hopes they can be done, but he isn't sure. There seem to be a lot of loose ends, e.g., trim and baseboard that have to be reconstructed.

So, what's new today? I looove going in after the guys have left to see what's new, what's been added. They did almost all of the painting today -- yes, the right color, a real white -- and the bathroom has been painted a glorious glossy white. The bathroom window was open, and I can see into the neighbor's backyard. (Mental note to self: keep this window shut.) The new medicine cabinet is sitting in the recessed cavity built just for it, and I can see the mirror shining back at me! And the recessed lights in the new hallway are apparent.
Glenn told me that they will most likely put the shower tub marble facing in around Wednesday.

Lots to do, four more days to do it all. This is soo exciting!!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Remodel Hell - One More Sleepless Night

I couldn't sleep tonight, so I figured I'd get up and blog my worries. Chase the demons away by writing them down, if possible.

I was driving to Emeryville on Friday morning to buy two ceiling lights for the demolition zone when I received a call on my cell phone from Ernie. "Can you write this down?" he said. Of course not, I replied. I'm driving. So I called him back when I reached Expo territory. I'm to see some guy at AAA Drapery about ordering the carpet for the new rooms. Unforunately, I couldn't get to it that day as I had an already-arranged lunch date with Aaron, plus a movie and dinner date with friend Bruce. So that's on my Monday list.

New carpet has to go into three rooms. Two of those rooms are in the demolition zone, so that's not a problem. Ernie believes we'll be all finished with construction by next Friday, only one week away. (There will still be the matter of the shower door to be installed, but I'll talk about that later.) It's the third room that's the problem. The third room is the living room, where all the bedroom furniture is piled. As you recall, that's where I'm sleeping these days.

So I must be excited, that must be what's keeping me awake, right? No. It's the logistics of moving furniture while carpet is being laid. How to move, where to move a large mattress, frame, headboard, dresser and end table, plus one large leather chair, plus 20 or so boxes that's sitting in the living room?

Aaron suggested I delay the carpet installation of the living room for one day so that he and brother Jim can move it all into the newly remodeled bedroom after carpet is put down in there. Then they can move what remains (basically the chair) back from the bedroom into the living room once it's done. I'll ask if that's possible.

Another thing to consider is that I'm going away to L.A. for three days, from Friday to Sunday, for that weekend. When I come back, I'll be moving right into get-ready-for-carpet mode.

Also, there's the matter of moving the heavy desk from my current office to my new, smaller office. It's been suggested by several smart people that I get rid of this desk and get something smaller, something more suitable for this newly revised room. But I love this Stanley desk with the blonde wood. I bought it just for the new house. It will be a pain to move, 'cause it was a pain to put in here. And the tall, massive bookcase sitting beside it matches. So I want to keep them both, if at all possible. Aaron thinks it won't be that much of a problem to move it -- I guess we'll see.

So that's what's keeping me awake. Oh, there's also the matter of the shower door for the new bathroom. Ernie called with the news earlier that morning -- the shower door will be have to be custom-made because of the unique dimensions of the shower stall, to the tune of $1700. Ouch!! However, when I asked how much a regular shower door would cost for the stall, the answer was only a few hundred dollars less. So I'm going with the rail-less door. It'll be gorgeous, simply gorgeous. Also, it'll take longer. They can't install until the end of December, two full weeks after construction is completely done. It'll be the last thing done, and the individual company will work with me to make arrangments for the install. I can live with that.

Oh, and on another change note, Glenn called me into the room after I got through talking with Ernie the first time (about the shower door) and said, "I think you'll want to look at this." The pueblo white paint I had ordered for the walls of the two remodeled rooms wasn't white at all -- it was a dismal looking off-white that tended toward yellow. Ick. I love that Glenn knew I wouldn't be happy with it, and called my attention to it before painting all the walls. So they'll take the paint cans back, get a refund, and try to get something a little more white, something closer to what the primer looks like. "I love the primer!" I said to Glenn and Jose, and they looked at me like, "Lady, it's the primer. You can't have that." I'm sure they can find a white that's closer to that color, though.

I think there will be a few more sleepless nights before all this is done. The next week will be a flurry of activity as the new bathroom begins to really look like a bathroom. That part is very exciting.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

How to Save Money at the Mouse House

I bought yet another book about Walt Disney World, this one promising to save money. Rather than reading that book tonight, I thought I'd post my own thoughts.

These suggestions are based on our last two trips to WDW. Plus, we're already in the planning stages for another trip, planned for 2006. We have to talk about that one because in order to save money, we bought annual passes for Rick and myself. We knew we'd be spending four days in October 2005 (we did and had a wonderful time - read my blog about WDW in the eye of the hurricane), plus another 10 days in May 2006. With all of those days, we knew we'd save money on an annual pass if timed correctly.

Disney World takes planning. With Disneyland, you walk right in, and you can always eat at Denny's across the street if you want to save money. WDW, however, is in the middle of hundreds of acres of land and water; driving outside the park takes time and effort. We only get in the car to change parks, or to leave at the end of the day. So, knowing that planning is all-important when visiting Disney World, here are my suggestions.

1. Do all the research you can. Decide which parks you're going to go to when, and write it down and post it in your resort room or suite. How does this save money? Don't buy a premium pass that includes the water parks, for instance, if you're not going to go there. We decided to just get the regular park hopper during our initial visit in 2004 -- we could visit all four parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and MGM), go to any of them we wished at any time -- rather than the Premium Pass, a pass which includes visits to water parks, Disney Quest (that unique five-story building with nothing but games in it), and other extras in Downtown Disney. And buy a pass for the exact number of days you'll be there -- try to plan your trip with these number possibilities in mind, so you won't waste money on days you can't go.

If you do decide to visit something you had originally scratched off your list, pay for it separately. For instance, we went to Disney Quest for half a day -- it was raining and seemed a great thing to do for the teenager in our group, and it turned out to be a memorable experience. However, I'm sure we're not going back. Neither Rick nor I found that much about it to warrant a repeat visit.

And knowing where we wanted to END the day allowed us to park our car at the appropriate spot. Knowing, also, that you have to drive to Animal Kingdom and MGM (you can't take the monorail or ride a boat) meant that we had to plan our day more carefully when we were visiting those parks. But if we were going to visit Epcot every day because we were attending the Food and Wine Festival, as we did in October 2005, we could leave our car there, take the monorail after lunch to the Magic Kingdom, then ride the monorail back to the Epcot parking lot at the end of our long day.

It helps to have a Disney-phile among you. Ours is Rick. He reads everything about the parks (WDW and the original Disneyland) all the time, whether or not we plan to visit soon. He knows which rides are working when, which events are planned, etc. Our next visit will coincide, but not coincidentally, with a Star Wars weekend. Our last visit occurred during the Food and Wine Festival. Our 2005 Disneyland visit took place during the special 50th Anniversary.

Also, appoint someone to read the map and point the way for the driver. I drove around and around the freeways of Orlando until we could figure our way. Oh, by the way, if you buy the annual pass, you don't pay for parking -- figure that into your savings if you're there for enough days during the year to make it worth the purchase.

2. They say the best way to see Disney World is to stay in the park, that is, book a hotel that's part of the Disney system. But if you're on a budget, forget that. If you book "on property," as they call it, you pay a premium for hotels -- the upside here is that you can use their transportation system but the downside is you have to use their transportation system. It's slow and crowded during peak times. But you don't have to rent a car. BUT....if you can use a timeshare condo property that's within 10 miles of WDW, you save the most expensive part of the trip, the hotel stay, AND you can eat one or more meals in the condo because it has that all-important kitchen and refrigerator.

You don't have a timeshare? Find a friend who has one. I'm willing to bet that half of all timeshare owners have access to something in or around Orlando. Walt Disney World is the most sought-after vacation spot in the nation! Sure, it'll cost your friend some points, but I'm sure you can make it up to them somehow. Be sure to volunteer to pay the housekeeping fee, or any other administrative fee required.

3. Find a way to eat cheaply without giving up the Disney experience. During our 2004 stay with Brandon, my 15-year-old great nephew, we all ate cereal every morning. I figure that, over a 9-day stay, we saved about $200 right there. Plus, we had snacks late at night when we returned. We shopped at Publix, a large but cheap chain on International Drive on the day we flew in, took all the groceries back to the resort, and then headed out the next morning after eating a substantial breakfast. Eating well in the morning really cuts down on the hunger when you get to the parks. And buy a six-pack of water and take one with you every day.

Just so you know -- I love eating in the Disney restaurants. I think it's part of being there, experiencing Disney, even if it means going over the three-figure mark during dinner. But eating one full meal before you even go through the turnstiles is a great way to save money for the meals that are really important to the experience.

One closely-kept Disney secret: there's a special phone number to call to get the Dining Experience card that will give you 20% off specific Disney eating establishments, not all of them, but enough of them to make it really worth your while if you eat inside the park. The card is $50 for annual passholders and $75 for everyone else. Since it applies to many of the restaurants we eat at in the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and MGM, it's a fabulous deal for us. Allow 4 weeks for delivery, yada yada yada.

4. If you have kids along, give them a budget or allowance. I allotted Brandon $15 a day. I gave it to him every morning while he ate breakfast. Yeah, that cost me $15 x 7 days, but I figure if I'd been available for all of his requests for this or that, all day long, I'd have to file bankruptcy. This way, he could buy whatever he wanted and not ask me about it. I paid for his meals, as long as he was around me during meal times (he made sure he was).

5. Shop for cheap airfares during the year. Southwest doesn't have any schedules available until 3 months before, but the other airlines have up to 6 months. Use orbitz or travelocity to book, which compares fares and schedules so you can get exactly what you want. And sign up for their fare-searcher -- it alerts you when a lower fare comes up. You can usually find cheaper fares 'way before you go, or close to when you want to leave. It's hard to predict.

You should also book your rental car this way -- and you will need a car if you're not staying on property; just be sure to get a rental company that has a booth at the airport, not outside the airport. You can get some great deals on Florida rental cars.

6. Here's something you probably never thought of -- use American Express to pay for everything in the WDW parks. Disney loves American Express. If you get a cash-back card, you can charge all the meals you eat in the parks and yet get 2 or 3% back at the end of the year.

7. Sign up at and other cost-saving Disney World sites. Mouseforless, let me warn you, has about 100 messages a day! So sign up for their daily digest. You get one long message that way, but you can sift through these to find the cost-saving measures that people come up with. For instance, I learned to buy $2.50 plastic rain ponchos at Wal-Mart before I went; they came flat in plastic and packed very nicely in my suitcase. They saved us a lot, and we used them almost every day, as it rains a lot even in the summer in Florida. Mouseforless folks are Disneyphiles. They live to go. Take advantage of their knowledge. Another example: they talked about a Coke you can buy at the resorts -- it's a huge thing, but you can fill it up all day long for no extra cost, as long as you're staying at one of the Disney properties.

8. Get a meal certificate if you can, but be careful. I obtained one on eBay. The cert allows you to eat as much as you can -- it's an all-you-can eat allowance. It tells you which restaurants you can use it with, and I picked the restaurant at the entrance of Animal Kingdom, the Rainforest Cafe. It has a fantastic menu with fantastic prices, and I knew that if we pigged out, we could save money. My nephew Rick isn't a pig so I couldn't count on him, but I had a ready-to-eat teenager with us. Brandon and I plowed through the appetizers, the entrees, and split the massive Volcano at the end! Awesome! And we probably saved at least $20 even though I overspent a bit on the certificate.

9. Make reservations (they used to call them "priority seatings" but now I think they're back to reservations) at the Disney restaurants you want. If you don't, you'll be standing in front of the Liberty Bell Tavern for an hour or two with no other options for dinner except hamburgers. It's a waste of time, time you could be tearing down the freeway at 5 mph on the Autopia. Be sure to show up 15 minutes before your reservation with your entire party so that everything goes according to plan. By the way, the Liberty Bell Tavern is a character-meeting restaurant, even at dinner. You get a very American meal -- lots of turkey, ham and roast beef with potatoes and veggies -- as well as a kiss on top of the head by Minnie Mouse, the owner of the establishment. Well, that is, if she likes you. Watch out for Pluto, though. That tongue is looooong....

In May 2006 we're going for 10 days (9 actually in the parks). Rick and I are going again, hopefully with Rick's friend Joel. I know that Rick and Joel won't worry about the money. That's my responsibility. But I've now got it down to a science without living like a Scrooge.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Remodel Hell - A Light at the End of this Tunnel?

Ernie handed me the latest weekly bill yesterday, and I realized with a gulp that I had just gone over $30,000 on this project.

But it appears that we're nearing the end. When the bathroom has a toilet in it I will know this for sure, but this afternoon Glenn came over, stuck his head into my office and said, "Have you picked out your office light yet?" Uh we go again.

Glenn figures that the reduced middle room is going to be my office rather than the large bedroom-sized room I'm using now. He's probably right.

He then gave me a tour and gave me a rough guideline as to what will happen over the next few working days. Only one day is left in this week, and they'll finish applying the texture on all the walls. Then they'll start painting all the walls, including those in the closet, and they'll probably be finished with this phase on Monday. Tuesday, he believes the bathroom flooring will go in.

Decisions, decisions. Ernie asked me earlier by cell phone what I wanted my shower door to look like. "Do you want the railing at the top?" I asked for that in English. It seems I can get a shower door that doesn't fit into a track, and without that horrible looking rail at the top. Yes!! Glenn explained to me later that since my shower is an unusual shape -- the width and almost the length of a bathtub -- my door would have to be custom-made anyway. I'm eager to see what it will actually look like.

By the way, if you want a phone call -- you know, if you feel lonely one day and want to talk to people -- get into your car and start driving. I seem to get all kinds of calls as soon as start driving. I don't know what it is about the timing of that.

So I have to pick out a ceiling light within the next few days. Another light went on within my brain: I asked him if I could just put a light in my bedroom without the fan going back up. That fan is a horrible dark pink color, was installed, most likely, in the '70's, and is too big for the room. (Besides, I have an air conditioner in that room.) He said, sure. Too bad I didn't request a recessed light for that room; the two lights in the new hallway are recessed, are 6 inches, and throw a lot of light into that hallway! Okay, so I have two overhead lights to buy.

And then Glenn announced that the whole project will probably be finished by next Friday!!

Of course, I doubt that's true. The carpet is a different project tacked on top of the remodel. That won't be done. But we're so close! And then I'll have to move furniture. And write one or two more large checks. But then, I'll actually be able to live in my own newly renovated house. Woo-hoo!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Top 10 Things Retirement Isn't

I celebrated my two-year anniversary quietly at home the other day. I retired from 33 years of federal service on December 3rd, 2003.

What my life is now like is quite different from what I imagined it would be like. I had many mistaken ideas about how I would choose to spend the rest of my life. Here are some of the mostly funny mistaken ideas I had.

1. I would watch T.V. 24-7. In truth, I rarely watch television. I don’t channel surf any more. I don’t come home from 16 hours of painful Baggage, sit in a chair, throw off my shoes and jump into T.V. to “zone” out. I have no need. I DVR what I like to watch, and watch only that when I have the time.

2. I would travel for weeks at a time to exotic locations, or just to visit friends, or on long road trips through mountain passages. Truth is, I get nervous if I’m away from home for more than four days. Part of my part-time job, an important part, is picking up the mail, and it never fails that that one important letter that has to be acted upon immediately arrives when I’m on vacation somewhere. As for exotic, well, I’ve been to some really cool places in the last two years. As soon as I retired, I took three trips within the next 30 days, including Oregon, Hawaii, and Mexico. Since then, I’ve been to Orlando (twice), Missouri, Las Vegas (let me count the ways), San Diego, Los Angeles (many times), Phoenix, Seattle, Germany, and Italy. But the truth is, since my home is really changing into what I want it to be, I really like being home.

3. I would sit in my garden and read all the novels I couldn’t get to when I was working. Trouble is, I lost any patience for lounging around during those years. I lost my attention span. It’s now equal to that of an ant. I look at the books but then turn to magazines, the internet, information at my fingertips – fast, fast, fast!! Sinking into a novel just ain’t appealing any more. There are the exceptions, however, as I’ve enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha and the Harry Potter books tremendously.

4. I planned my retirement finances meticulously, taking every advantage along the way in order to ensure a stress-free financially secure retirement. Here’s another truth: I didn’t do enough. In the last two years, I’ve done what I can to correct what I didn’t do in the last 30, which is save, save, save. You can’t really recover from the years you bought those Air Supply records and clothes you can no longer fit into (if you’d even want to). Because of what my father taught me about the advantages of civil service, I maximized my 401K (when it eventually became available in 1986) and took advantage of any IRAs possible. But I simply didn’t save enough. The best scenario would’ve been to have a house that was paid off, and a hefty bank account. Instead, I had just purchased my first single-family home a few years before; there was no chance I could pay off the mortgage. At least all my credit card bills were paid when I entered retirement.

5. I would live simply and not have many expenses. I have to laugh out loud at this one. While I don’t have any recurring credit card bills, I have credit card bills at the end of every month. My travel takes care of that. I hope to work on that one, reduce travel and living expenses in order to save more, concentrate on the projects that cost more. You know, like remodeling.

6. I’d spend all day at the baseball park. I have two parks to choose from! Plus, many more out there, all the National and American League parks out there I’ve never visited! I used to tell people it was my goal to visit them all. It is no longer my goal, but there are certain ones I’d like to see, like Wrigley Field and Fenway. Yankee Stadium. In the meantime, I figured I’d spend most of my days at Oakland or San Francisco ballparks. I’ve discovered that I’m kind of a baby about it. If it’s too hot or too cold, I’d rather watch it on television. And please, networks, broadcast more A’s games!!!

7. I’d see more stage plays. I’ve seen too many stage plays that are costly but demand very little in intellectual exercise. I.e., they’re not worth the money. I have seen very little, I must admit, in the last two years. I would still like to visit Ashland, Oregon and their Shakespeare Festival. And there are some ACT plays in SF I wouldn’t mind seeing, on a play-by-play basis, not by subscription. But it appears I will be doing those alone, and although I don’t mind sitting through something alone, I hate *going alone, and usually find myself staring at an expensive ticket and staying home. Another way to do this, though, is to see some plays with friends in Los Angeles. Pam and Trish go to plays frequently, and I might join them for a couple.

8. I would see more people from work, people whose company I have really enjoyed. Stay connected to my old job and its mission. Well, while I still occasionally make the verbal slip and say “we” when I mention CBP, I am no longer in its plans, nor is it in mine. And many of those people, I have discovered sadly, were kind to me because they had to be. So I am seeing the real ones who have stayed my friends. I’m sorry that a few others have slipped through the proverbial cracks. I also have to remember that while I have time because I’m retired, they do not because they are not. And time is precious to us all.

9. I will get myself into shape. I did, and then I didn’t. Meaning, I lost weight and exercised, and now I’m slipping into that weight-gaining abyss. But I can see the tracks, I want that goal, and I am promising myself that I am going to run to it. Just as soon as I finish these cookies on my desk.

10. I would discover the true meaning of life. This, I am discovering, is not a one-time happening, a light shining down from above, an old man in a throne yelling at me with a megaphone saying, “Linda, wake the hell up!” While I am waking up, thank you, it’s a slow process. An enlightening one. And I am enjoying it to pieces. I cannot stress this enough. I am brought to tears every morning when I wake up and say to myself: I am retired. It's only been two years. I am just beginning to realize -- with thrills charging up and down my spine! -- that I can do anything I want with my remaining years. This is my life. Get out of the way.

Remodel Hell - Boot Black in the Bathtub

I talked to Ernie this morning. "Ernie," I said, trying not to sound like the typical whining client stuck in Remodel Hell. "My bathtub is trashed every day. There's dirt in it every day, and yesterday there was boot black." "Boot black?" he said, dumbstruck. "I'll get back to you."

Turns out it wasn't black from the workers' shoes, it was rubber stains from the ladder they placed in the tub. Today, they put a tarp down in the tub before crawling into it. What a concept, eh? Cover it up and don't trod on the porcelain. This was all done when putting in the structure around the new skylight in the existing bathroom.

That's my current bathroom, which means it's unusable again today. Obviously, I'm going to have to leave soon...

So what is today's problem? The electrical inspector noted that the side gate (to the south) interferes with the new electrical box on that side of the building. So Ernie suggested that they re-post the gate, which would lower it about a foot. They also may have to shorten it. They'll dig a post hole, fill it with concrete, saw down the fence, and re-position the gate. Oh, and the inspector also wanted the hedge trimmed. Ernie had to laugh at that. I didn't laugh....I see dollar signs.

Glenn also pointed out to me where the new electrical wires above the den reach out to the sky, connected to nothing. They will soon be connected to the existing power line, but only when PG&E calls Ernie back. Both the inspector and PG&E rep have to be on-site together when the wires are connected to the existing line.

My neighbor to the north, Mike, said he knew I was up to a remodel by the vents on his side of my building. I told him what I was trying to do, and apologized for telling him so late. He admitted that he's thinking of adding on as well, but his addition would be another room added on to the back of the house. But that would only happen when he finished working on other projects within the home.

Finally I can see signs of a bathroom! The vanity is loosely placed in the new bathroom. Sheetrock is up in both bathroom and closet. Ernie tells me things will really start to take shape by Dec. 15th, when they place the faux marble up in the shower area and lay the linoleum. That's another week from now.

I told him what I wanted regarding the shower glass. He laughed and said, "That's the last thing we put in. We don't want it to break!"

But that's when I'll feel that I have another bathroom, when the thing has finally come together. Soon.