I Heart Home Depot Tool Rental

I mentioned offhand in the midst of the monster weekend wrapup post yesterday that our pipes were clogged, and I was unsuccessful on Saturday in getting them unclogged.  My piddly little consumer level drain snake just wasn’t cutting it.  Yesterday, it was time to bring out the big guns: the “Easy Rooter,” rented from Home Depot.

I stopped by Home Depot after dinner to pick this bad boy up for a four hour rental.  The cost was about $50 including taxes.  And since I had arrived less than four hours from when they closed, I got bonus rental time and didn’t have to return it until 9am the following morning (about 15 hours later).  I didn’t really need the extra time, but it did save me a late night trip in stinky clothes to return it.

My big problem with the smaller snake was that I had a hard time getting it past bends in the pipe.  No such trouble with the 1/2 inch thick cable on this bad boy.  If it got stuck at all, I could turn it on and start the drum spinning, while feeding the cable in, and it got through with no trouble.  In fact, I fed all 75 feet of cable into the pipe, and it never really snagged on anything.  So I let it spin around in there for about five minutes or so, clearing up some space.  Somewhere along the way of me feeding, or spinning, the water level dropped, and the clog appeared to be cleared, whatever it was.  Pulling the cable back out, I never found anything beyond a small amount of the usual pipe sludge.  But, the big tests worked: I was able to fill and drain a full tub of laundry, and everything went down the drain without even a pause.

Home Depot Easy Rooter rental: $50 and a stinky Brian.

Not having to pay a plumber 5 times that to do the same thing with the same tool: Priceless.

A Satisfying Long Weekend

My weekend started around 10am on Friday, when I left work to make the first trip up to the curling club.  It would be a long three days.

I was playing with two people I had never met before: Alan, a Canadian who lives in Baltimore and hadn’t played in a while, and Sarah, an Alaskan who has been driving around the east coast and Tennessee playing in various bonspiels.  Along the way, we picked up people to fill in for our fourth spot, who was originally going to be Alan’s wife, since she couldn’t make it.

We had no idea what to expect when we started, so Alan skipped us in the first game and I played third.  We ended up losing that game, not surprisingly, since the other team was playing well, and we had never played together before.  Afterward, Alan asked if I would skip the team the rest of the way, since he was just feeling rusty.  So, thrust into the spotlight, I was put in charge for the rest of the weekend.  The move seemed great when we won our 4pm game fairly easily, scoring 5 points in one end and 4 in another, then playing defense the rest of the way to stay out of trouble.  Our reward? An 8am start Saturday morning, lose and go home.

But before that, I hopped in the car and raced home to get changed for the Girl Scouts’ Daddy-Daughter dance.  Ellie was all dressed up, and I even put on a tie for the occasion.  We do have some pictures to share, but in the hubbub of the weekend, we did not have the chance to get them on the computer (there should also be pictures from the curling up soon).  We had a lot of fun, and I was glad that the schedule worked out to allow me to attend the dance.  Also fortunate for me was the fact that Michigan State didn’t play until after the dance was over, so I got to watch a very tightly played game against Kansas.  The local affiliate was even nice enough to realize that North Carolina wasn’t going to lose a 20 point lead, and quickly switched back to MSU-KU for most of the second half.  A great comeback sent the Spartans to the Elite Eight, and me to bed happy.

Up early the next morning, I had breakfast with Ellie before heading out to the curling club once again.  This time, we were on fire and blew the doors off of our opponent, even though we only had three players (shockingly, no one wanted to get up and play with us at 8am!).  Shortly thereafter, I had to head home to try to take care of a plumbing problem.  Our laundry tub had backed up and flooded the basement.  Conveniently, the same drain also services the kitchen sink and dishwasher.  I managed to take apart some pipes to try to get direct access to the clog, but my snaking abilities were lacking, and despite hours of trying and a trip to Home Depot for more gear, I was unable to fix the clog.  It is still not fixed, so we are probably going to have to call a real plumber.

On to Saturday evening, and we played a team of pretty good players from our club, including my skip from previous bonspiels, and one of the players who filled in for us on Friday.  Things were looking grim as we were down by three points (or was it only two? I can’t remember) with only two ends to play.  Through some good shotmaking, we managed to tie the game going into the last end.  Unfortunately, the other team had the last rock advantage.  My lead and second played their shots perfectly, just how you draw it up: two guards on the center line, followed by two draws around in the house to lie two.  The other team never managed to remove more than one of our rocks at a time, so when my turn came, I was throwing up more guards, and they were left with trying some crazy triple takeouts and a tight draw to try to save the game.  They didn’t make them, and we moved on to play again, at 10:15pm.  Did I mention that the previous two games were lose and go home?  Thankfully, the 10:15pm game, coming at the end of a long day that started at 8am, was not an elimination game, because we were worn out.  Early on, we had some momentum, and actually had a one point lead after 4 ends.  But we started to tire, and I missed some potentially game-saving takeouts and the game was lost, and our opponents went on to win the second event the next day.  I stumbled into bed just after 1am.

Back again Sunday morning at 9am.  My buddy Jeremy was good enough to fill in for us Sunday, and if we won, we would get the privilege of being piped onto the ice for a final game at noon, and be assured of winning a pin.  The problem? Standing in our way was a team that had just lost in the main event’s semifinal. Translation: they were good.  But we turned out to be a bit better.  We played a great game, and again it came down to the last two ends.  We managed to take a three point lead after the seventh end, and all we had to do was keep knocking out their rocks until they ran out.  My team did a great job of this, and when it came to my turn I had two chances to get rid of just one of the opponent’s rocks.  Naturally I choked and missed both times.  Ugh.  Unfortunately, the opposing skip sailed his last shot through the house, and we escaped with a one point victory, not the way we intended though.

On to the finals, our seventh game in three long days.  On the other side, a grizzled veteran from Ardsley, NY playing with some relatively new curlers.  I was a little nervous to start, but got the jitters out quickly once we walked out onto the ice following the bagpipers.  The shot of Drambuie probably helped a little bit with the nerves.  The game went back and forth and yet again, came down to the last two ends.  Things were looking rough for a while, and honestly, I wish I could remember what happened a little better.  I do remember that I managed to make a couple of really great game saving shots.  In particular, I really had my draw weight down pat and was putting the rocks at exactly the right distance that I wanted them to be.  In the final end, we had managed to clutter up the front while protecting our rocks in the house, a perfect setup to steal away the win.  The opposing skip’s last rock came up just short of where it needed to be, and we had won the fourth event final, and I had my first gold “medal” as a skip.  What a fun experience!

And yet, the weekend wasn’t over yet.  At 4:45pm, I had to play in the finals of my regular Sunday league.  So I hung around the curling club and watched the conveniently scheduled Michigan State-Louisville basketball game.  Thankfully, after all the drama of the weekend, MSU handily trounced the Cardinals to advance to the Final Four!  Now I just have to figure out how I’m going to watch the games in Ireland.  The places we’re staying all have cable or satellite, but I’m not sure whether they’ll be showing the games live or not.  Once the game was over, it was out to the ice for one last game.  It was no contest.  The team played great and we were up 8-1 when we decided to have some fun.  We let our rookie players call the shots and see what it was like from the other end of the ice.  It was a lot of fun and a great way to end the weekend.  I got home, got the kids to bed and pretty much passed out from exhaustion.  What a weekend!

Twenty Five Dollars

What a fun weekend. On Saturday, we went to the La Maison Française at the French Embassy to see a Czech performer doing a show with bubbles. Yeah, the soap bubble kind. It was really cool, and Ellie and Evan LOVED it. I came home to catch up on the Michigan State game, and promptly scared the kids with my yelling at the TV. It would have been fine if the MSU receivers could have caught the freakin’ ball a little more often! Still, a win is a win, and we’re unbelievably 8-2 right now, with Purdue at home next, before the big game at Penn State on November 22. It’s a pretty exciting time for MSU football, shockingly enough.
We finally decided on Saturday to pull up the old crappy carpet on the stairs, so that we could get rid of the drywall that’s been sitting around forever. I pulled the carpet up on Saturday evening, and there were actually pretty nice hardwood stairs underneath! A little TLC, and they’ll look really nice. On Sunday morning, I tore down the paneling on one side of the stairs, so I could drop the drywall in. The demolition was fun (Lisa remarked that she’s glad I have protective eyewear: there were a lot of splinters flying around!). It was a little frustrating though, just because there always seem to be gotchas whenever we try to redo something around our house. But we ended up managing to get the drywall mostly in place before I had to leave for curling.
Yes, the curling season has begun. For most people, it even started a couple of weeks ago, but I scaled back my schedule, so I’m only playing on Sundays. My team jumped out to a 3-0 lead, then a 6-1 lead, before wrapping up the win at 12-2. It’s Pizza League though, so I wouldn’t say I played great, or read anything into the results. We could just as easily get killed next week. But it is fun, which is how I like it right now. And it was especially fun coming home and watching the Giants whip the Cowboys. Man, do they need Tony Romo back or what?
So, to the subject of this post. Our local Safeway has a gas station. They give you $0.10 per gallon off for every $100 you spend in the store, or $0.03 just for being a member. We apparently had been racking up the credits and had spent $400 in the past couple of weeks, so we got a $0.40 discount. Off the $2.44 price. So we paid $2.04 per gallon. Wow. We spent only $25 to fill up the tank of our Odyssey, just a few months after routinely paying double that. Crazy.

Knocking Stuff Out

No case of the Mondays for me, I’m getting stuff done. After shopping for new car insurance and saving a whole lot of money, our homeowners insurance came up for renewal recently, so I figured I would check that out as well. Turns out we’re going to save a lot of money there too. Like $385 for the year. Very nice.
A couple of days ago, I managed to do something stupid and get a trojan on our home computer. Stupid me, ended up being able to use Windows Restore to get back to before the problem and eradicated it with a long-overdue full virus scan (disclosure: the virus scan picked up the trojan before it infected the PC, but I stupidly ignored the warning and let it go). Alas, the computer started scaring me even after this problem by freezing up a couple of times, leading me to check out some backup possibilities. I looked into a few of the online backup services like Mozy and Carbonite, and also Amazon S3. All seemed reasonable, and I really liked Amazon’s offering. Then I decided to check out my web host’s latest offer, and found that they’ve upped their storage to 375GB! That’s more than enough to protect my precious pictures and music. After a couple of emails back and forth, my plan is now upgraded, and I’m going to start backing up tonight hopefully.
I heard through the grapevine that the latest FIOS promotion is a free DVR for a year, which includes their Home Media DVR, which plays shows it recorded on any TV in your house. That’s kinda what I have now with DirecTV, and part of the reason I haven’t switched. Breaking it down, our current cost with DirecTV, FIOS internet and VOIP runs us $137.18/month. Depending on how the taxes for FIOS break down, doing their triple play would cost about $130/month, and would include HD service, should we ever break down and get an HDTV. If nothing else, I think a call to DirecTV retention is in order, simply because their current offer to new customers is a lot less than I’m paying now! Update: A quick email to DirecTV got me $10 off per month for the next year. Not too shabby.  Update 2: 5 minute phone call to Verizon upped my speed to 10/2, got me $5 off for the next year.  7 minutes of work for $15/month, or $180 for the year.
One last thing: this morning I started week 6 of the 100 pushup challenge again. I’m getting close now though. I managed to do 80 pushups on Saturday before collapsing in a heap. Pretty damn good after starting out doing only 25 when I started at the end of June.


For the first time in a while, we actually got a lot accomplished around the house this weekend.
We ran a 1 mile fun run on Saturday morning. After battling through the kiddie traffic at the start, I finished (with the double jogging stroller and both kids in it) in about 7:40. Probably would have been closer to 7:20 without the traffic, and under 7 minutes without kids. Lisa actually ran to the halfway point, then hit the big hill and walked the rest of the way. Nice job!
We hit the first farmers market of the year and got our milk and eggs from South Mountain Creamery, a bunch of strawberries, some onions, and a mint plant and a basil plant. The mint is for mojitos for Cinco de Mayo tonight!
Once home, I mowed and trimmed the lawn. Then we got ambitious and decided to stain the bay window, which had been collecting crayon and marker on its bare wood since it was put in. So I sanded and stained the whole thing. Just before dinner, I got started on putting up a new door to the office, but the drill ran out of juice before I could get the doorknob hole drilled.
On Sunday, I applied two coats of polyurethane to the bay window, separated by 4 hours and sanded with steel wool between coats. It looks flippin sweet! I also finished drilling for the door, and it miraculously fits, with only a modicum of sanding the edges so it would close. Only two more doors (upstairs) to go!
I wish I had taken pictures, because the window really does look nice, and Lisa did a nice job of painting the door which looks 100 times better than the old one too. Alas, I was totally zonked last night and went to bed early, so maybe another day. For now, I’m off to troll Craigslist for a bike and a new Palm Pilot, since we crushed the old one’s screen in the minivan’s tailgate.

New Shoes, New Bookcase

With curling season finally over, it’s time to turn my attention to fairer weather activities, like running and biking. This weekend, I took my bike out for a test spin, and shockingly found everything still fairly well tuned. I’ll probably start riding to work in the next couple of weeks.
I went to a real running shoe store on Sunday to get fitted for new shoes. Here’s what I posted about the store on Yelp.com:

After years of picking my running shoes by looking for a $60-80 shoe, trying it out, and figuring it was fine, I decided it was time to get truly fitted for new shoes this time. My body is getting creakier with the years, and those little injuries start adding up, so I needed to make sure it wasn’t my equipment that was doing it to me.
I was helped by Sandra, who had me roll up my jeans and take off my shoes so she could get a good look at my feet. She immediately saw I had high arches, which I had never been told before. My walking stride didn’t show anything out of the ordinary, so it was time to take a look at my jogging stride. After putting a pair of Asics Cumulus on my feet, I ran down the sidewalk away from her, then back. She noticed a slight roll in my left foot, and we went back inside to try out some shoes.
Since I am only going to be running 5-10k at the most, she recommended a shoe with just a little bit of support to keep me from rolling when I get tired. The first shoe ended up being the one I liked most, as it felt the most like an extension of my foot. I left with a new pair of Saucony Progrid Guides. I was very pleased that they were only $90, and that she hadn’t gotten me into a pair of $200 shoes without me realizing.
Great experience, and I could see while I was there that the other people in the store were getting the same personal attention that I was.

I’m excited to try them out on a real run soon, and I’ll record my stats on my GPS watch.
We also picked up a new bookcase. After years of abuse, our crappy particleboard bookcase was listing alarmingly to one side, so we decided it was time for a new one. We had our eye on the 5 shelf Riley bookcase at World Market, but we wanted to check out our local “bare wood” furniture store first. I wasn’t blown away by any of their choices, but they had a good one that we could have stained ourselves for around $300. But when we popped in to World Market, we found the one we wanted on sale for just over $200, and we had to get it. I spent the afternoon putting it together, and it’s very solid, and goes well in our living room. Looks a heck of a lot nicer than the old one too.
So that’s a big chunk of our economic stimulus check spent before it even gets here….

Land Value ‘Correction’ Surprises Homeowners

It comes as no surprise to me, people are pissed about the arrogance of the county assessors in revaluing the land our houses sit on. According to them, their staff “placed emphasis on the review of land assessments to determine if they adequately reflected market value.” Coincidentally, this resulted in most assessments staying relatively steady compared to last year. Here’s the problem I have with this “emphasis”: there is no way the wood, metal, and drywall my house is made of dropped in value by $125k in a year. I do believe that the land value is probably accurate, now. But it bugs me that it went up all at once, rather than gradually over the course of the past three years, when it has stayed constant. If they had “equalized” the land and building values slowly over the course of three years, $40k at a time, a lot less people would be accusing them of cooking the books. Many of the Board of Supervisors agree.

Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee) said he has asked County Attorney David P. Bobzien for an opinion on whether the board can challenge the tax department’s methodology and push for a reassessment of values. He said the agency is playing a questionable game of catch-up.
“It appears that we are behind in keeping up on raw land, and now to bury that, we depreciated people’s structures, all in one year,” he said.

I don’t envy their position. It’s a paradox: empty lots sell for nearly as much as existing homes on similar lots, but it would be nigh impossible to rebuild my home for the amount they say it is worth.
At any rate, regardless of their position, I’ve been researching recent home sales in my area, and I believe I have a legitimate appeal, regardless of their land emphasis. Thankfully, I have a wonderful tool in Zillow to help me in my efforts. The Irishman in me really does love a confrontation!

What a Farce

So the latest housing assessments for our county came out on Friday. I’m feeling another challenge coming on, because this is getting plain ridiculous. In 2005, I successfully challenged them because they had clearly made an error in their assessment. This time, I may have to challenge them just for spite. On every house around me, including ours, the “building” portion of the assessed value went down by $125k. Good news, right? Sure, except that the “land” portion went UP by the EXACT same amount: $125k. The net effect is that our house has now had the exact same assessed value for the past three years running. What a load of crap. According to the county’s news release, 26,261 homes had their land and building values change, but not the overall assessment. Most interesting. The Vienna area in general had a -0.10% change in assessment values, which shows me that a lot of those 26,261 are in Vienna.
Time to go start gathering my evidence again. I’ve already found one “comparable” home that sold last August for $20k less than their assessed value. This should be fun.

Oven’s Fixed!

I almost forgot to mention: my $17 oven part ($25 including UPS shipping) arrived on Friday afternoon. Since I had already taken it apart previously, it was a quick 5 minute installation. And lo, our oven was working again! How awesome is that? How about $160 of awesome? To get a GE repairman out to our house would have cost $80 for the house call, plus getting the part directly from them was another $80. Doing it myself saved us a load of money, which is especially nice after having to pay for an electrician recently.
So yes, the rumors are true: I stuck my head in an oven, and it had nothing to do with the kids driving me crazy.

Sore on Monday, Again

Last week, I was sore because I had just finished curling 7 games in 4 days, including 3 in one day. This week, I’m sore because I ran a measly 1.8 miles yesterday.
This weekend, I really just wanted to catch up on some sleep. I was dragging all week, and hoped to get an extra couple of hours in on the weekend. But, on Saturday, I was still up around the usual time. We took Ellie to ballet class, and I later went to Home Depot for doors and shelves. Of course, on the way home I was hit with the epiphany that even after thinking three times about which way the door needed to open, I still got the one that opened the wrong way. So instead, I put the shelves for our guest room closet together. That went pretty well, and now our Rubbermaid bins of Christmas stuff, baby clothes, etc, are much more neatly organized than before (and we don’t have to unstack 5 to get to the bottom one).
On Sunday morning, I woke up around 7:30 and couldn’t get myself back to sleep, so I decided to try out my nifty new GPS watch and go for a quick run. It wasn’t terribly cold, nice weather for a run. I only averaged about an 8:24 pace, and the watch worked pretty well, though ironically, it doesn’t actually tell time! Then it was back to Home Depot for the correct door and home to install it, while watching MSU beat the hell out of Michigan in college hoops. Despite all my best efforts to make sure everything was square and level, the door still ended up just off kilter by fractions of an inch. I think I was eventually able to shim around the door and get it to the point where I was okay with it, but it was just plain annoying.
My usual Sunday curling game went to an extra end, thanks to two good shots by me to tie it up in the last end, but we lost in the extra because I missed both of my shots badly. I need to work on my release, because I know that’s where I’m having the problems.
All that leads me to this morning, where my shins are in agony, unexpectedly. It has to have been the running, though I wouldn’t have thought less than 2 miles could have that effect. Most of the rest of me is fine, just those shins (or rather, the muscle running alongside the shin). I definitely should have just stayed in bed.