Friday, February 3, 2017

More Home Renovation

Our past few months have been full of home renovations. We've been starting from "home base" (our room) and working outwards. After moving some walls, plumbing, and electrical we've now got an almost fully-functional master suite with carpet on the floors, closet storage for clothes, and even a bathroom! Next week hopefully complete the shower installation and our bedroom windows will be installed.


Since it's now taken us 4 months to get an almost complete bedroom, we got some references for interior work (drywall finishing, demolition) for the things that take up the most time and are the hardest for us to coordinate. I have a difficult combination of being thrifty (cheap) and picky (in terms of work quality), so that often leaves me doing the work myself. Perhaps this bedroom was a lesson to teach me that sometimes it's just better to stick with what you're good at (computer code) and leave the actual work to an expert who does it more efficiently. My barrier for cost (cheapness) has been sufficiently worn down, so now I'm finally willing to pay to make quicker progress.

This week, along with getting our windows installed (which we arranged back in November) we've hired help for demolishing another bathroom and finishing drywall in 3 large rooms. Here are some pictures of the progress.
Downstairs guest room.
The blue cinder blocks will be covered with wainscoting.

Upper sunroom.
We'll likely cover the floor with tile.

I also tackled a "honey-do" item in the meantime, building a matching pair of nightstands for beside our bed. Previously, we used an old radio for my side (shown below) and a stack of vintage luggage for Alisha's side.
Our prior bedroom setup

This worked well, until the luggage stack didn't line up with a window on her side in our new house. Below is a picture of one of the new nightstands, which Alisha patterned after something she saw on pinterest. I'm starting to think that pinterest is a place where women get decorating ideas and where men confront unrealistic expectations of how a finished house should look. I built our nightstands out of double-thick plywood, finished on the front with strips of wood to cover the plywood layers. Alisha stained and finished them (then promptly decorated the inside).

We'll post more pictures of our progress in upcoming months as the rest of the house comes together.

Monday, November 28, 2016

How good is that price? Three camels know.

Those who've known me a while will confirm that I'm both detail-oriented and frugal. I use the word "frugal" specifically, rather than other synonyms ("cheap", "thrifty", "miserly", "stingy") because I spend as little on an item as I can, but can be convinced to spend more if the quality warrants it, which it usually doesn't. :)

Now comes the post-Thanksgiving time of year when deals are promoted in front of our eyeballs left and right, in digital and print. However, it is important to stop and ask the question "how good is that price?". I mean, the seller says that it's 75% off, but that doesn't mean that the item was priced reasonably to begin with, or even that this is the best sale that's come along. Look across the sea of racks at a clothing retailer like Kohl's, and you'll notice that nearly every rack has a "SALE" tag above it:
If everything is on SALE, then is it really a SALE
or do they just want a SALE?

Typically, we'll compare a retailer's current price with an online retailer (like amazon) to see how good the deal is. But this just compares the online price today with the retailer price today. When amazon advertises an item at 40% or 50% off, is it really a good deal?

This is where historical price comparison plays a powerful role. I use a site called CamelCamelCamel.com, which keeps track of the price of every item on amazon each day, so you can look back to see how good today's sale really is. This lets you distinguish a run-of-the-mill sale from a best-price-ever sale.

Let's look at an example. If we look up this Laser Thermometer gun, it shows the current price is $12.49 and is 31% off of the regular price. However, if we paste the item number or link into CamelCamelCamel, then it brings up this page:

Not only is the item not at a historical low, but the price has been relatively constant since April. The 3rd party seller price has actually been lower for months than amazon's current price. No rush to buy. Whew.

Compare that with a Nikon camera bundle which shows the current price as $499 and 50% off of the regular price. If we paste that item into CamelCamelCamel, it shows us that today is the lowest price the item has ever been. Not only that, but the price drop occurred today:

I've found CamelCamelCamel very useful (enough to give them a free plug) in letting me know when to rush and when to wait.

Another useful feature is price tracking. If you don't want to buy the item until it drops below a specific price, you can enter your target price and CamelCamelCamel will notify you when the item drops below your threshold. Last year I used this to buy a Seinfeld DVD set for $60, when the price fluctuated around $80. An added benefit is that this gives you time to think how much something is really worth, and whether you really need it at all.

I hope this helps some of my fellow shoppers save some money or gives them time to think whether they really need to splurge on the SALE that's staring them in the face. If you sense yourself feeling stressed or rushed to spend money, that's not a healthy condition. It's just stuff: you lived fine without it prior to this point. Some day it will be out of style, or sitting at a yard sale, break down, or wear out. Retailers (amazon included) want you to spend and consume, but that's their job. They care nothing about your mental health or moral well-being. Practice patience and prudence.

 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
- Matthew 6:19-21
 “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 
- Hebrews 13:5 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Settled in Kentucky

Alisha and I have completed our cross-country move to Kentucky. When I say "completed" I mean that we are here and our stuff is here, but we still have much to do before we feel at home again.


Since our boxes arrived a week ago and filled up every room in the house, Alisha has been feverishly trying to make sense of the kitchen. While she has been bringing order to that part of the house, I've been bringing the master bedroom and bath into extreme disorder for a renovation.


We started the bedroom remodel by removing the wood paneling and drywall, which went as expected. However, when we reached the heavily-tiled bathroom we found out that they'd used 1.5" of concrete/mortar supported by metal mesh behind every single tile. In the non-tiled portions of the bathroom they used two layers of drywall to match the thickness. My dad attributed this to the original owner being a doctor/dentist, and he said that doctors will typically ask for industrial-level construction in their residences.



This resulted in an incredibly stubborn removal process. Using a combination of pry bars, a hammer, a sledgehammer, and vicious wrath we were able to get the bathroom down to bare studs. A final surprise was a lead shower pan, which we carefully removed. I had never seen real lead before. If it wasn't so poisonous, it would be neat to play with.

After we get our bedroom workable, we're hoping that we'll feel much more at home. Presently, it feels a little like camping since we're sleeping on the living room floor, washing our clothes at a neighbor's house, and living out of a suitcase.  We are thankful to be able to cook with our own pans and sit on our own couch, which is a luxury we didn't appreciate before the move.

Our view of the wildlife

Saturday, August 13, 2016

6 months old

Dottie recently turned 6 months old. She has become much less fussy now that Alisha has her on a regulated sleeping schedule. Each morning I'll usually wake up to her talking or making sounds to herself like this:

Then after work, I'll come home just after she's woken from her final nap of the day. She'll stay awake for a 2-hour stretch and then we'll have bathtime, get her dressed, read a little bit, and then say a prayer before bed. Dottie especially likes bathtime, where she'll kick the water with her feet and splash it with her hands. She likes to watch the water spill from a cup or drip from a rag. I'm not sure what she'll do later in life, but I wouldn't be surprised if it had to do with water.

Alisha takes pictures of Dottie each month on her "birthday". This month a few of the pictures were baseball-themed, maybe to hang up in my new office. These were a few she sent, which I think are a good representation of the cuteness and turmoil you experience as the dad of a 6-month old:





... I know this face very well.

Next we'll work on feeding Dottie solid food and getting her to sit herself up or crawl. Fun and stressful times are ahead!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Moving to London

Alisha and I will soon be moving to London:


... no, not that London. We'll be moving to this London:
London, Kentucky

We visited the area in May 2015, to see my sister and her family who moved there several years ago. It was our first (and only) visit. Alisha and I discussed how we liked the area and people, then gradually that discussion migrated to one about possibly relocating. My employer (Hewlett-Packard Enterprise) said that they'd be willing to keep me on as a remote employee. We found a house in the same neighborhood as my family and some friends through church, then finally closed after 5 months of negotiations.

The house we chose sits on a little over 4 acres with half of a pond, but it is located in a suburb and close to the freeway:

The house was built in the late 1960's, so we will be doing some remodeling to give it a more modern aesthetic. My dad moved there recently and he will be doing many of the repairs, with me helping complete the easier work. Our real excitement is about the outside space, which we've been told is a park-like setting. Just about everyone on my side of the family has seen the house in person, except me. An additional benefit is that we will be 50% closer to Alisha's family in Texas, now only a long days' drive instead of 2-3 days.

The closer proximity to Alisha's family, country living, and friends/family in the neighborhood were benefits that drove us to make this big move. As someone who likes consistency, there will be many adjustments that I'll have to make as this move unfolds. We will also dearly miss our family and friends here on the west coast. We are hoping that this will give the best spiritual outcome for myself, Alisha, Dottie, and any future children that God blesses us with.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

3 months and counting ...

Dottie has now passed the 3-month mark. Time seems like it has gone quickly, yet simultaneously seems like it's been a year since she was born. Her crying and wailing have decreased as her blabbering and smiling have gotten more frequent. In the mornings, she'll regularly smile and talk back to whoever will listen (although right now it's just Alisha and I).

She likes talking to a special pillow of ours. Of course living in Alisha's house, we happen to have a black & white pillow with polka dots on it. That high-contrast makes for some interesting conversation:


Her head stability has improved, so now she's able to hold her head mostly steady without my assistance. She'll still flop it aimlessly now and then, but mostly she can direct her gaze up-and-down or side-to-side to follow whatever object has caught her attention (usually a ceiling fan).



Within the past week, Dottie has also let out the occasional laugh. If the mood strikes her, she'll laugh like this. We caught her doing this at our yard sale last weekend:

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Morning Conversation

We are starting to get some "coo" noises out of Dottie. They only seem to happen at certain times of the day, mainly in the morning. Usually the noises we've been getting are grunts, cries, yells, wails, and screams, so these gentle "coo" noises are fun to hear. Her noises are also fun for us because she will make noises in response to noises we make, which is more progress in her communication.

The video below is a talking session that I captured when she was laying on her changing table near the window, which is one of her favorite places to be in the house. She is just about always happy in that spot ...