Monday, July 30, 2012


So we've now had our new washer/dryer for nearly a month far so good!

Looking for a new set, all the stores were really pushing the front load washer/dryer sets (which of course, are almost all over $2000 for the set!!). After reading many reviews on Amazon, we subscribed to Consumer Reports online (only $30 a year for access to all their reviews) thinking that finally we'd have some objective marks. 

And in some respects they did help quite a bit. They address issues such as water usage, noise and vibration, cleaning ability and roughness on clothes.  However, the one item they don't really get into, which for me was the most important, was reliability!  Thankfully they have a user review section which we read with great interest after we kept seeing front-load washers getting near perfect marks from CR, but <1 star from owners!

It seems that the constant issue with the front-loaders is that the drum bearings break down. And not soon after buying, but just over a year with normal use....right after the warranty expires. I couldn't count the number of reviewers who found this out the hard way, and when they had a repairman come out to service the washer, found out that replacing these bearings cost nearly as much as a new washer!!

So top loaders it was!  The sets that we had our eyes on were some of the top-rated washers on Consumer Reports list, but surprisingly not the most expensive by any means.  We were looking at the Samsung WA5451ANW and DV5451AGW, and the LG WT4801CW and DLG4802W. One would think they could come up with some better model names for the Clean-enator or Tsunami or (for fans of the Transformers) the De-Septic-Con! 

We started tracking prices using our favorite price watching site,, well actually her sister site  If you've never used these sites, they are FANTASTIC!  You can load your Amazon wish list or just search for products and then track them. You set your goal price and wait.  When Amazon has one of their random price changes to your goal price, you get an email!  CamelBuy is the same, but for BestBuy products.

How can a washer be $599 one day and $749 the next?!
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And thank goodness we did track prices, because appliance pricing is completely arbitrary.  If you look back at six months of pricing for most appliances, there will be several hundred dollars worth of variation. For the LG washer we got, prices ranged from $599 (which we got!) up to $749, and the LG dryer from $569 to $849!  No rhyme or reason at all. But we got them for nearly the lowest prices and with free delivery and installation from Best Buy! Not too shabby.

Friday, July 27, 2012

SD Energy Challenge

This is a site I've already shared with mom, but thought it was novel enough that I should post about it.

San Diego Gas and Electric (SDGE) has an energy saving challenge this summer, but they're doing it in a very unique and tech-saavy manner.  The website is  The objective is to earn points by reducing the amount of electricity you use to win monetary prizes for your local middle school as well as potentially for yourself (an iPad!!).  The school prizes are dependant on how many people sign up relative to the enrollment of the school. But the individual prizes are dependant on how many days you are in the lowest 25% regarding overal electricity usage. You can also earn bonuses off your actual bill by reducing your usage during the day on certain "reduce your use" days during which they expect above average usage ($0.75 for each day which isn't bad).

How do they monitor your daily usage, you ask?  SDGE has now switched to remotely read meters that transmit usage information on an hourly basis.  These leads to some very cool graphing options.
Here's our usage over the last day by hour.

Never realized the TV/Xbox (we were watching on Netflix) used that much energy! (the spike at 7pm).  I think this is great; maybe people doing this challenge will be inspired to not watch TV or use the computer as much. I've definitely thought about energy use more over the last few weeks we've been doing this.

So far there are 52 people signed up for our middle school, Taft (which is 10% of the student body and puts us in 8th place out of 33).  But individually, we are not doing so great; 40th out of the 52 for our school.  I guess maybe it's a selection bias, the people who are doing this challenge are already the energy-conscious so we're not competing against the heavy users. Or maybe this includes people who have solar panels! 

Guess i'd better go to the library to get some books for us to read instead of watching TV tonight!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

No need to get catty!

Here I am, planning all the fun stuff for us humans, sinks and blinds and patio furniture, etc. and not one post about the cat. Well Muji reminded me yesterday that since we had taken down her cat-shelves at the old apartment, she really doesn't have a good view of all the birds outside and no place to sun! (isn't she just too cute?)

So yesterday evening I began our search anew for a good cat-tree or other furniture ideas to give Muji a nice perch from which to watch the world go round.  There's so much cat furniture out there, but the majority of it is so, for lack of a better word, ugly.


This blog/all-things-cat website is fantastic.  They manage to find cat furniture and other products that aren't carpet-covered monstrosities and actually manage to increase the aesthetics of your house.  And if you can't shell out the cash (some of these pieces are quite pricey), they have a whole DIY section on how to catify your house.  Fantastic!

Some of our favorite pieces so far we've found through Moderncat:

1.'s "Elevation" Modular Cat tree (left) - This is kind of DIY. You can buy the Stolmen Pole and clamps from Ikea and simply buy the shelves from Whiskerstudio.  The pole can go up to 12 feet tall or you can attach to to the walls via the shelves themselves if your ceiling is higher.  What an awesome idea.  A modified version of this was recently used on the Animal Planet show My Cat from Hell.

2. The Sebastian Modern Cat Tree (right) - This one is also quite elegant, and you could use parts of it as a bookshelf as well as a cat-tree (better pics on the site).  But at $268, still a bit much.

3. Royal Woods Cat Scratchers (below) - Now this is the one I really want.  It's made from Liana wood (a rather ambiguous term referring to woody vines).  The wood is absolutely gorgeous (unclear if they did any finishing) and would almost be a work of art on its own!  The only problem is that they are based in the Netherlands and the nicer models are in the 400-500 euro range! But there's free shipping if you live in the Netherlands...shucks.  I tried to find out what type of wood they used in particular and was searching for any companies that might sell Liana wood here, but no luck.  Wouldn't this be a fun home project!

Oh well.  Muji might have to wait for some of these....

Addendum -
Camila just referred me to an Etsy listing by Franklin Cat Furniture.  It's quite similar to the WhiskerStudio Elevation tower above, but they have nice bright carpeting on the steps as well as some other neat cat-ification ideas.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Laundry sink

Our next potential project for the house is a new laundry sink.  Not one that we install ourselves, we'll leave this one to the professionals (although I would get to buy lots of new toys if I did it myself!!)

But I guess we do get to pick out what type of laundry sink we would like. 

I kind of like the vintage sinks that Kohler makes, like the Kohler Sudbury Service Utility Sink (right). But oh gosh, they start in the $400s!  Maybe we'll go with the much more practical Swanstone Free-standing Polypropylene sink, only $40. But oh so bland and boring (although I guess it is just for the garage isn't it!).

I'm sure there have to be more elegant options other than these two extremes. Any ideas?

Ooohh! I just came across these stainless steel sinks on Mission Restaurant Supply. Not too shabby, and at $232 for a stainless steel free-standing sink, relatively reasonable.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Every now and then there's a rough patch...

the first patch job got the best knockdown resultsWe love our little multipurpose ladder! So here are the before pictures of the two walls we decided to repaint.  As you can tell, there were quite a few holes from the installment of the new grounded circuit last month. It's tough when you don't have an attic or basement!

The patch jobs ended up looking...okay.
I've found that the knockdown texture is a difficult skill to master, particularly using the aerosol cans and doing small areas.  The first patch I did was actually the best looking patch because the knockdown spray was coming out very consistently at that point in the can.  The upper ones were a little thick, and the ones in the study were just a mess.  I'm still thinking about going back at some point and re-texturing, but mandy wanted to start actually living in these rooms so I'll have to postpone that idea.

Either way, the actual painting was rather fun (even muji wanted a part of it!).

We made some mistakes, but I think overall it looks quite nice.  We'll have to post some pictures when it's ready.  In the meantime, here's a picture of the wall mid-paint, and the new fashion from San Diego, painter's blue as worn by Mandy.

muji hunting for paint drops under the drop clothmid-painting on the second bedroom, the color is quite nice! taking down the painter's tape was obviously the most enjoyable part

Monday, July 23, 2012

What a drip!

Although it's now nearly a month ago, I thought I'd share a little learning I received the first time we ran our dishwasher.  We had been watching the kitchen sink plumbing as previously there had been a tiny leak from the smaller half (nothing that a little turn of the wrench couldn't fix), but hadn't yet used the dishwasher. Thankfully we were watching, because as soon as the dishwasher began draining, there was a stream of water running down the dishwasher drain line from near the air gap. Having no idea how a  dishwaser drain is hooked up, I did a little research online to see if it was something I could fix myself, and learnes some interesting things along the way.

First things first, this is the proper drain set-up for a modern dishwasher.  The drain from the dishwasher is brought up to the air-gap before connecting to the waste disposal (if one is present).

So what the heck is an air-gap, and what does it do? 

It's the funny little chrome thing on the sink next to the faucet that you never knew what the heck it was.  The air-gap is a basically a mechanism to make sure dirty water does not get flushed back into the "clean" dishwasher system.  This is useful in case there is a sewage back-up in the drain system further on down the line. 

The old style of preventing back-ups into the dishwasher was by a system called a "high-rise loop" (left).   This system just involved elevating the returning dishwasher drain line above the kitchen sink drain.  However, this just increases the pressure needed to back the system up and doesn't eliminate the possibility of contamination.

The air-gap (below) involves a high-rise loop, but inserts an actual "air gap" into the system.  This way, if the main line were to back up into the dishwasher system it would reach the air-gap and spill out into the sink rather than going further into the "clean" dishwasher system. (Although sewage water in the sink is pretty darn gross too!)

Of course, thankfully all the problem was was just readjusting the clips and tightening the connection between the drain line and air-gap mechanism, but now you learned something!

Coffee-table pictures

Well I uploaded the pictures this morning so here they are.

I wish I had taken a pre-refinishing picture (duh!) but the mood to refinish struck me so suddenly that I was already halfway through sanding when I thought of it.

The second picture is after the second coat of stain.  It looks like a nice color here, but was really quite noticeably lighter.  I haven't taken a finished photo yet as I was so frustrated after the botched finish. Maybe I'll just choose to remember the second photo alone.  Even there you can still see some water rings (man, those things are nearly impossible to get rid of!).

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Let me get you a coaster for that...

After this weekend, I'm almost ready for the week!

I started off by suddenly deciding Friday morning that I wanted to refinish our aging coffee table.  It was a $40 Craigslist find in St. Louis, but it has served us well and I figure I won't feel too bad if the refinish doesn't turn out that great. Well, as with most things, i've found out recently, there is definitely a learning curve.

The first part was fun; I enjoyed sanding the heck out the table.  Sometimes it's very nice to have a rather mundane physical task to perform to free up the rest of your mind, much like the way I play minesweeper while watching lectures online (seriously, I retain information waaaay better). Started with 120 grit and worked up all the way to 220.  The table was gorgeous at this point, the wood looked nice and fresh, no scratches or anything and man, after the fine feels amazing!

The second part, however, was a bit more challenging.  We were trying to re-stain it to the original dark mahogany color it had been. The first two coats of stain went fine, I applied the stain and then wiped off the excess to even the color out.  But I was still so far from the dark color that I wanted that on the third round I decided to leave a bit more of the stain on and not wipe back off 90% of it.  Bad move.  Haste makes waste. Slow and steady wins the race.  Whatever idiom you'd prefer.

I got about halfway through the coat with pretty even results, but then got an area that was a little too dark.  I tried to even it out with the brush but no luck.  And the more I tried, the worse it looked. By this point I decided I should cut my losses and try to wipe off the stain like I had previously done.... except by now it was starting to dry.  ARghhh...  And then some would come off but not all.  When I thought things couldn't get worse, the rag I was using was getting too sticky and not easy to use so I grabbed an old t-shirt...a white t-shirt.  I figure it should be relatively lint free being so old.  Nice try. 

This is why people buy coasters.

I'll have to post tomorrow about the painting (which went considerably better).

Friday, July 20, 2012

Drywall patching

For our first somewhat significant project, I decided to patch the drywall holes our recent electrical work had left. We had a handyman out for an estimate on some other work and when we got the estimate, were a little shocked that it would cost nearly $400 for the drywall repair alone!

 My Black and Decker Home Repair guide listed several methods for smaller holes, but not so much about large square sections being cutout.  Another repair guide I ran across online mentioned cutting back the whole section to the studs, but that seemed a little much to me as I had 8 holes to fix! 

But while pondering this in the book section at Lowe's (yes, they do have one), a very practical solution using furring strips or metal drywall clips.  I found a similar method at do-it-yourself-help.

Either way, for what seems like a relatively simple repair, I ended up needing a lot of little items:
  • joint compound
  • drywall screws
  • drywall joint tape
  • flexible scraper
  • furring wood
  • knockdown texturing spray (to match the rest of the walls)
  • knockdown knife
  • drywall sanding sponge
  • primer
Plus, we also needed some basic equipment (here's the fun part of building my armamentarium!) including a saw and a ladder, which led to a lot of time on Amazon and other review sites. =)

My ladder search ended up taking a bit of time as I wanted a ladder that could be used as an A-frame for changing our ceiling pot lights and doing interior work, but also tall enough to get on the roof for checking flashings, etc. and getting those palm trees.  We had run across the Little Giant ladder in Costco and loved the fact that it was a multi-functional ladder with all the bells and whistles.  But it did seem a little steep at Costco's price of $350 (including lots of attachments). Luckily we ran into our home inspector (who used to be a contractor as well) and asked him about his ladder which he had previously mentioned he loved.  He went with the Werner MT 17 ft ladder which is basically the same as the Little Giant but at less than half the price.  Still had the 300lb rating, still could be used as an A-frame or extension ladder and still fit in the back of his car.  He had been using it for 5 years now on a daily basis and had no problems. We were sold. Lowe's had it for $179, but Amazon (got to love it) was selling for $119 and with the workstation and standing platform accessories, ended up around $180.  These two accessories have been very useful so far.  The work platform has a depressions for common sized cans and accessories and the primer and paint cans fit snugly inside.  There's also a slot for a flexible scraper/putty knife, several holes for screwdrivers etc, and a lasso from which you can attach a power tool to keep it handy.

But I digress.  The patchwork went well, except for a few spots where the hole abutted two studs and one cannot place a piece of furring across.  I ended up putting together a makeshift L-joint of two pieces of furring and using that, but the drywall definitely did not sit as nicely as it did with the furring going straight across.  I'd love to know how experienced contractors would deal with these holes or if they'd use a completely different method.

Closing Day Shots

This is kind of a flashback entry...cue the cheesy harp music, insert misty camera overlay of yesteryear.

Thought I would just document how the house looked on closing day, as a baseline value (as we would say in medicine). All in all it looks pretty awesome!

Here we are after getting our keys. Ivana (our agent) had come super early that morning to roll out the red carpet (literally) and make sure everything was in place.

I've always loved corner lots (I guess because I grew up on one).  Maybe because they feel less crowded by your neighbors. We're really looking forward to seeing those palms get to 50-60 feet tall!  Although I guess at that point we'll have to hire a tree-trimming service to take care of the skirt. 

 But the kitchen was one of our biggest selling points.  Compared to the apartment we moved out of, there is soooo much space.  And countertop! We no longer have to battle for space to put down chopping boards or keep all our appliances in the cupboards (although we may still as it keeps the clutter down).  One of the future projects will definitely be to install undercabinet lighting (once I get a little more comfortable with electrical work).
The living room is a wonderful space.  I'm very glad they got rid of the attic space and put it up to the rafters. so much less claustrophobic than some of the other houses we were seeing.  Of course, without an attic (or basement!) we're a little tight on storage space, but hey, that's what the garage is for! (just don't let Mandy hear me say that!)

Thursday, July 19, 2012


I think I've already got too many projects going on...

Yesterday, I was doing all of these simultaneously:
1. Making beef jerky (granted, I just needed to remember to turn the dehydrator off)
2. Sealing the second bathroom granite
3. Texturing the study wall where the drywall patch-jobs were
4. Sanding our coffee table to refinish it

Although it's kind of fun to have multiple things going on (i'm a little ADD I think), nothing's worse than realizing halfway through sanding the coffee table that you forgot to knockdown the texture on the wall that you applied over an hour ago and will now be nearly dried.

But it's ok. Thankfully the spots are far enough up the wall that they're out of our sight line. Just remember not to invite people over 7ft to dinner.

The biggest roadblock we encountered with fixing the drywall patches turned out not to be the drywall, but the paint. The contractors had left several containers of leftover pain with us, and we thought we had the color they had used for the interior, but it turns out we were wrong. Thankfully I did a test spot in an inconspicuous corner and found out it was at least a shade or two darker. But this did allow us to go back to Lowes to look for a NEW paint color. (I'm surprised they don't know us there by name yet!) While I pondered sealants and lacquer for the coffeetable, Mandy picked a beautiful cocoa brown for the wall that goes quite nicely with the grey-green that is the other walls and brings out the highlights of the pergo floor. It's actually a color from the National Trust for Historic Preservation selection "Coral Gable Biltmore Mediterranean Mocha".

Now we just have the following to do to finish our walls:
1. Finish texturing patches in study.
2. Tape off walls in study and second bedroom (done!)
3. Prime patches in study.
4. Paint!

I think I may have time to prime tonight since Mandy will be working and then tomorrow evening we can have a little painting party! Good thing we have two rollers and a brush.

And don't worry mom, I'll take pictures of my patches before we repaint so you can see how surprisingly nice they look.