Housaversary check in

I got an email today that my domain had renewed which means I’ve had this blog for a year. But I sort of knew that because I knew I had closed a year ago (well, that was actually two weeks ago, but I knew it then). So it seems as good as time as any to say what is pretty apparent: the set-up of my house is mostly done and now I just kind of live there. And while it’s still novel and awesome to me, I am kind of done with what I can say about that. So there won’t be too many posts although there will still be some, especially this summer. I had a blast spending Spring Break at the house these last two weeks. I saw and hosted friends, visited museums, relaxed, and shoveled lots of snow. That last part was unexpected and less awesome. But it was still great and I plan on being there most weekends between now and summer. I am considering having a little housewarming at some point but haven’t really decided. It’s just great to not be surrounded by paint chips or on a first name basis with the people at Ikea.

Although, I did get a new TV stand as well as a new TV (it was the other way around, duh). Many people have giant TV’s but I’ve never sat far enough away that it mattered. So I brought down a 26″ set and then I had to squint to pick my Netflix movies and when the texts came on House of Cards, I had to get off the sofa to read them. Now I have a 40″ model, which is still small for America but wow, is that thing big for me! I could get used to it.

Anyway, that’s the update, and once again, the Little House in Baltimore welcomes visitors and I invite any of my non-axe-murderer readers to come on down and visit beautiful Baltimore. We have crabs, Hamsterdam, the Inner Harbor, rowhouses, and really bad accents. Not me, although I can understand them, so there’s that.

And if you can’t visit, I will still post now and then. Here’s to the end of snow and the beginning of baseball!

Here in my car

A long time ago, I had a friend who found that after a promotion, he was being moved to an office in front of which was a cube he had occupied many years earlier in a far lowlier position. Things had gotten rearranged since then, so it wasn’t like he had his former boss’ job, but it still amazed him (and me as well). It was a marker of sorts.

I am reminded of this sometimes while driving in Baltimore when I find myself stuck in back of vehicles in which I formerly travelled in my car-free days. Sometimes it’s the Blue Jay Shuttle, which is an on demand service that took me to places like the Giant in the Rotunda in Hampden, the nearest real grocery store. Or the Hopkins Shuttle which used to be a school bus but is now far sleeker and goes to better places than it did when I was using it. Sometimes, I’ll see the #3 bus in my rearview mirror, and that’s the bus I used to wait endlessly for to go to work. It’s hard to describe how lost and helpless you are when you depend on public transportation in Baltimore. How isolated and frustrated and dependent you are. As weird as it is to be back, it’s a hundred times more so to be back with a car.

This weekend, I had a bit of the old way, as I was mostly trapped at my house by constant bad weather and slick roads. I’m too inexperienced to really want to drive on ice and snow when there’s nowhere real I need to go. It was disappointing. I like to drive around and shop and explore. But I mostly stayed home. I’m too far from the bus these days.

When I finally did get to Safeway, this song came on my shuffle, which is all 80’s music, because it’s my old iPod Touch that I just leave in the car attached to the USB. It’s by the Higsons and there’s this line, “I think it’s sick the way you talk to your car! When you won’t ever talk to me.” It came on just as I was pulling in to park, and I thought, “well, duh.”

A year ago

house-exterior-smI saw my house for the first time. This is a picture I took on that day (you can see the For Sale sign on the lawn and the “this house has been winterized” notice on the door).

Because I am that type of person, I had fun looking back at all my decision-making emails. It was between this house and one other, but it wasn’t too hard to make. There was also the email I sent to my Real Estate agent first asking to see the house. “Hey, how about this one?” And now I live there. Kind of.

Tech for the second home

Exciting title, right? But I feel like it would be of service, maybe, to people who have second homes or who travel a lot.

I did not want to pay for cable or phone twice, so all I get at the house is Internet. I had had Clear but it was slow and never quite worked right. I recently signed up for Comcast and so far things are great. Fingers crossed.

Many people will just use a cell phone, but for those who want a “landline,” I use this device, called an Obi, to make and receive calls with Google Voice, which is entirely free. It works with a regular phone and has been awesome and reliable, as long as your Internet connection is. Another option is to get a Skype phone but that has a small charge (about $60 a year for unlimited domestic calls). But the great thing is, I have it ring there when I’m there and not when I’m not, so there are no worries about turning off the ringer when I leave. I do the same for my NY phone. It doesn’t ring and ring when I’m out since 90% of my calls are through Google Voice.

As for TV, I really did not want to buy cable twice. It’s expensive enough as it is and it’s not like anyone is using it at the NY place when I’m out. I have a three-pronged solution.

Local channels – I get these through a digital antenna. I use this one, the Leaf, and it’s great.

Cable – I just stream my home cable to my computer or iPad and then send those to the TV. How? I use a Vulkano, but you can also use a Slingbox. It can lag a little, but for the most part, it’s amazing how well this works. I use an Apple TV and Airplay to send from my iPad or laptop to the TV.

(EDIT: I have switched to Slingbox. Not only can it turn on the cable box if it goes out – which I found out I needed desperately – but the picture is much better).

I also have tons of movies and TV on my computer in NY which I can watch using the Plex app. This means you have to have a computer in your first home which is always on.

The rest – I chose an AppleTV to get channels like Netflix and Hulu but a Roku or Chromecast will also do a good job. I like the AppleTV because of the Airplay function I mentioned in the previous item. There are many great channels, and if you have cable someplace else (as I do), it allows you to log into many apps that save their content for cable subscribers, like ESPN. I was able to watch all of Wimbledon last summer just using the ESPN app.

Security and Automation
Since I set up my house last March, there have been tons of new entries on the market for “connected home” type devices. So there may be better ideas out there. But here’s what I did.

I use the Z-Wave standard to connect all my sensors and devices. It was easier because I already knew I wanted outside monitoring for my security needs. After tons of research, I went with SafeMart and bought many of my components from them. The advantage was that they pre-programmed many for me. On the other hand, some items were cheaper from Amazon or other online places, and so I bought those separately. But SafeMart have been awesome. I highly recommend them.

What did I get? First, a panel to control the whole thing. I went with GE. To go with it, I used wireless sensors on all my doors and first floor windows. I decided my house was visible enough that if anyone put a ladder up against it, folks would notice. I also used a glass break sensor and motion sensors that not only trip the alarm if set off but take pictures. As you may remember, I can peek in using these at any time.

On the automation front, I also have a front door lock that uses numerical codes that can be set and removed from afar. My system emails me when one of these is used. So when my painters were there, it would email me to say “Acme Painters unlocked the door at 9:15am.” The same when they left. I can also program alarm codes remotely, if I want them to be able to set and turn off the alarm. Having this kind of system, incidentally, also ensures you never get locked out if you lose or forget your keys.

Other connected devices I have are these:
Thermostat – Many people have heard of Nest but my system uses one that works with Z-Wave. I can raise or lower the temp with an app from my phone wherever I am, as well as setting up rules, like emailing me if the temp goes above or below a certain threshold. This way, I can turn on the A/C when I’m an hour from home or turn the thermostat up when there’s a cold snap as there was last week.

Lights/Devices – I plug my lamps into modules that I can turn off or on from my app. I also have rules set up so that a lamp comes on 15 minutes after sunset and turns off 15 minutes before sunrise. Because my devices are connected to the cloud, it can be dynamic this way and not just be a certain static time every day, like 4:15pm. This way, there are always some lights on in my house when it’s dark out.

Smoke alarms – The three I have (one for each level of the house) are all connected to my system. This way, if I am not there and they go off, the fire department gets called. Otherwise, I fear the whole house would go without anyone there to notice. I’d also get contacted so I could be on top of it. You can also get carbon monoxide alarms, but I feel like if those go off and I’m not home, meh.

Webcam – This is my only device separate from the Z-Wave system. I could have bought monitoring from SafeMart but it would have taken me up another level of payment. Besides, it is easy to set up your own system. I have one camera pointed outwards from my front window sill. It’s not really for security, although I am sure it would provide some. It’s really to just kind of know what’s going on outside my house, like if the snow needs to be shoveled or if the the lawn needs to be mowed. However, as I said in my last post, it’s kind of hypnotic to watch. It makes you feel like you’re there when you’re not. I have discovered things I had only assumed, like that the teenage girl next door parks in my space when I’m not there and that people like to use my steps to cross over to their own houses. No one does these things when I’m there, not that I mind. But it’s interesting to see. I could set it up to record to a DVR that I could watch later, but I’ve never had a security problem, so I don’t feel it’s needed. This is the camera I got but there are many out there and some come with software or monitoring. My software is ultra-basic but I can still pan around from my computer and it does email me photos when it detects motion.

Here’s a fun screenshot of the software, and my front window view, on a misty, wet day. Weather is bad, but I wish I were there.

Questions? Ask away in the comments or use the Contact page!

It’s curtains for me (and rugs)

What an awesome vacation, and I barely did any relaxing. But it was truly productive. I sewed curtains for nearly every window (and pajamas for me). I made repairs. I put up hardware. I… waited at home while rugs arrived. I switched ISPs and re-networked the house. I added a webcam so I can view the front of the house while I’m away (ostensibly to see if there’s enough snow to be shoveled, but there are other uses, too). I got the car maintained. I found several new shops that are awesome. And I shoveled lots of snow.

Many of these things you will not need pictures of. For instance, you can probably picture an Apple Airport Express and a happy gal being able to finally access the Internet without interruption. And me remembering shoveling snow as a child and my mother making hot chocolate afterwards. I made it myself this time, but not before the woman next door called out to her daughters as they shoveled that she had made them hot chocolate. That was super warming, even if she didn’t offer me any.

But here are some other pictures! (click to enlarge)

First off, here’s the dining room with its new rug. And you can see the color I fell in love with, Quiet Moments from Benjamin Moore. The rug is from West Elm and was on a huge sale. It’s good I liked it because I ordered it knowing it couldn’t be returned. Obviously, the room needs some decor, but you get the gist.


Here’s how it looks through the living room (that’s Titanium from Benjamin Moore for those Googling in the future).


And here’s the new curtain, which I hemmed with my new sewing machine. I used this curtain on the four main windows on the first level. I left the two windows in the kitchen bare because I want blinds there, since cooking smells. And I haven’t yet decided what I want for the French doors.

I love these because they are sheer enough to let tons of light through but give you great privacy. That was my worry, that I couldn’t have both things and I bought this house almost entirely because of the light. I did not want to lose that, but I also didn’t want everyone on the street to be part of my life. I’m on a corner and enroute to a park. There can be a lot of traffic for a low-key neighborhood.

It’s called Hillmari and it’s cheap, cheap, cheap from Ikea. It has this cute, fun but subtle white-on-white swirly stripe.

As you can see, I am not a fan of the “drapes to the floor” look. I like my windows and I want to see them.


I staged some beautiful photos of the living room today but it was a super gray day and they came out very off-color. Instead, here’s one from earlier that I was sending someone which has a bunch of junk on the coffee table. That’s more how I live, anyway.

It’s so you can see the new rug. Originally, I had bought it for the dining room, but I liked it better in the living room. It was also on a final sale from West Elm.

Please note once again that there is another chair coming and this is a cheap Ikea coffee table (really, literally $20) that is standing in for a beautiful, nut-brown mid-century modern one that I’m waiting on. Same Hillmari curtains.


The curtains for the second bedroom are just basic white, quite sheer, but I plan to have them open this way most of the time, anyway. I just used plain purple ribbon for the ties. They’re so sheer they’re hard to see, but the alternative is dark with flash, so here’s the best I could get.


So the last bedroom, well, I’m never sure about this room. Actually, the paint is growing on me a bit or maybe it’s just curing into something tolerable. The curtains are made of sheets I just adore for this room, but they don’t make them anymore (I got them at Ikea last summer) and there was only enough material for one panel for each window. Now, that’s not entirely true, I could have cut up the bottom sheet and made additional trim to add on to another sheet but when you have been sewing for days, you kind of just want to be done. But you know? I kind of like the cleanness of the one panel. It almost looks like a blind.

(Sorry again, it was still a dark day).


In case you can’t see up close, it’s got swirlies in the exact three shades of the room: red, black, and grey. I find it adorable. And if I ever have the energy, I can always make more panels. But I probably won’t.


And that’s that! I could, of course, include a photo of the view from my front window as it’s being streamed right now, but it’s kind of dull. And yet, I love watching it. I could see the people knocking on my door to offer to shovel snow for a little cash, without even going downstairs. I only wish I had a way to hire them when I wasn’t there! The last one who came knocked after I had already shoveled. I found that kind of insulting. What, you think I didn’t do a good job? I grew up in a snowier climate than Baltimore, buster! But really, it’s hypnotic to watch whether I’m home or not. It emails me, mostly with false positives, when motion is detected. Sometimes, it’s someone driving by or occasionally, me getting the mail. That’s always a fun email. But mostly, it’s nothing.

And there is another rug coming, for my bedroom. That leaves just one rug left to get, and of course, decor. The walls are really bare, especially. But then, basically, I am done. In fact, when I started my budget spreadsheet for 2014, I left off the itemization for things for the house. Because I think the big-ticket, one-time purchases are done. The rest will just be “regular stuff.”

Here’s the moment of joy, though. The night of the snow, I kept both of my curtains open (I finally sewed my bedroom curtains, too… still no pictures) as I went to sleep because, well, I never see snow falling out of a window. All my apartment windows face a narrow alley which isn’t really lit. So you can’t see anything at night unless you make a concerted effort, like standing right next to it. It was such a pleasure to have the snow falling visibly… I could barely sleep, I was so happy.

Happy holidays, hon

I promised long ago that I would post a photo of the backyard and now here is one enhanced with the five minutes of festive snow we got this afternoon. Sometimes I pretend that shed is the playhouse I always wanted as a child. And then I remember that this house is the playhouse I always wanted as a child. Truly grateful.

Hope you all are having a lovely and joyous holiday season!


And then there was paint

home-nexusI have a new phone and it has the new Android operating system which just out of nowhere tells you how long it takes to get home, without asking if you needed that information. I have the Baltimore address set as home since I never need GPS to get to my apartment in New York. The subway stop is pretty easy to navigate to. Hopstop is more useful. But this just popped up while I was on the BoltBus, which was really fun! The card underneath was for the weather.

This weekend I did something I have literally never done in my life: rake leaves! I did grow up in the suburbs but we had a gardening service so jumping in big piles of leaves up and down the street was as close as I got. The raking part was super easy. It was the “bundling” into the giant paper bags, because in Charm City you cannot just leave them in the street, that was ridiculous. North was helping me and we got about six bags in before my neighbor, who had been sitting on his porch smoking quietly, finally said, “you know, you can just dump the leaves in the park. That’s where most of them came from, anyway.” Duh. So we did that. But they still had to be put in the bags to be carried across the street to the park. There must be a better way. Little red wagon? Leaf blower? Pay someone? I don’t know. There will be more leaves next week, probably.

In the meantime, the house is painted! Completely! I can’t tell you what a relief this is. Particularly since the painters and I could never quite seem to communicate. Once, they locked themselves out and my poor niece had to drive out from Fells Point and open the door. Such are the perils of long distance home improvement. But this would have been awful to do while I was home. I never could have been at the house. The one day I was there I had to go sit in Panera for two hours.

Anyway, here’s how it went. In the success column are two of the three bedrooms and the dining room. The second bedroom, in particular, is exactly what I imagined.

It is a color called Vapor Trails from Benjamin Moore. When I say that, I sing it to the tune of “Happy Trails.” Because in my head, everything is a song.

My bedroom, for which I worked so hard to find the right color, was also a real win. There is no picture because I simply cannot find the right bedding. I am on the third try and it’s not returnable. Luckily, it was cheap. But it’s so… blah. When I get it right, or at least acceptable, there will be a photo.

The dining room (also no photo, as the painters left the table covered with stuff from my kitchen and I didn’t have time to put it back) was a color I fell in love with and just wanted to use somewhere. And it looks AWESOME. North and I found gorgeous pillow covers at Ikea that I hope some day to sew into chair covers. This may take until summer, especially because I don’t yet have a sewing machine.

In the meh column are the kitchen and the color I used for the living room, stairway, and upstairs hallway. It’s called Titanium from Benjamin Moore and it was the final decision I made. I still wasn’t sure. What I am sure of, is that it doesn’t look the same on the wall as it did on the poster board I painted. I even told the painters this, as I saw a swatch they had painted on the day I was there. I made them stop using the Sherwin-Williams match of it and go get the actual Benjamin Moore. I paid extra for that. And yet it still doesn’t look like what I chose. I don’t hate it but I don’t love it either and it covers a large portion of the house. It looks different in different spaces and in different lights. But none of them like the sample. Oh well. I’m not doing it over and not just because I have no Plan B for a color. It’ll have to do.

I wish it would look like this all the time: a grayed down green. But it looks like a pale, soft, pastel-ish green much of the day. Alas.
PS, pay no attention to my remote on the sofa. You didn’t notice it till I said that, did you? Shoot.

The bathroom is disappointing but OK. I used a very pale gray and it ended up looking like an ultra-light blue. It’s the light and the small space. But it works fine, it’s just not what I was going for. And I had to return some of the towels I had purchased as they are now the exact color of the walls. Oops. The tile they added looks perfect, though, so that’s great. I forgot to take a picture of it. Next time.

The kitchen is more of a disappointment. I like the colors but they don’t work with the trim and the elements already in the kitchen. But I also don’t hate them enough to redo. I think I will get used to them. The back wall color is Benjamin Moore Smoke (inauspicious for a kitchen, I know) and I do love it, just not with the countertop and cabinets, which is what I wish I could change, but it’s not in the cards right now. The other color is BM Cloud White which is lovely but looks wrong with the glossy white trim that you can’t see. It’s OK, though.

That part behind the oven that makes it look like it’s not painted in a straight line is an optical illusion. In person, it is actually a straight edge.

In the complete fail, must be done over column is the third bedroom, aka, the red room. The gray looks totally purple! You could not tell that at all from the sample I painted. It’s just the whole room with the red. Maybe even without the red. I either have to repaint it myself or have painters come back. It just looks…. bad. This is the absolute best light to see it in, and it still looks wrong in this shot. The light at night is kind of horrifying, really. (Pay no attention to where the rug is placed; it needs to be re-centered).

Yeah, that has got to go.

So there you have it. Some great, some OK, some meh, some terrifying. But the palette does achieve what I wanted: a light, airy, ethereal, dreamy feel. That’s what I wanted in my getaway/dream house. I am really pleased with it in toto.

Next stop: curtains and rugs!

Come up and see me some time

So, finally, here are the guest rooms! But with the same beige paint. This will change next week, but I did just want you to see the furniture and bedding.


This is the 3rd bedroom and I decided to go… red. You know why? because I would never decorate my own bedroom in red and I am so delighted to have another, that I figured I would go that way. It was originally supposed to have a black dresser but there was no room. So it’s… very red. And although those reds look different on my monitor at least, they are nearly identical in real life. But I’m still not decided on that rug. And the walls will be gray and the duvet covers (you can just see them there on the nightstand) are gray and white. I imagined it kind of like an Interpol record. It’s the only non-soothing room in the house, but I do find Interpol kind of soothing.


Then there is what I call the Princess Room, except if you’re a man and then you’ll get different sheets and it will be called the Royal Room. Or something. Those lamps cast a purple glow; you may want to use the real light when you read.

The room will be a soft green.


That dresser is actually from the kids’ line at Ikea, but who needs a regulation height and width dresser in a guest room? I didn’t want to block the window and it seemed too much to have it across from the bed. But if you decide to move in, I could do it.

So there you go, and hopefully the next post will have photos of the park in full Autumn Colors. My neighbors say it’s really beautiful, but Fall is the one season I have not yet seen there, so stay tuned.

In other news, I think I mentioned (maybe?) that I was able to get a spot in a parking lot near Penn Station. I leave my car there when I go back to NY and the employees there are just as baffled by me and my situation as my neighbors are (wait, you live in another city? and you’re here on weekends?). But there is this one guy there who makes me feel (deservedly) like the stupidest driver ever. Each time I pull out, he has something to chide me about, since there are cameras everywhere (which is a good thing in a garage – said the person whose fender was bashed in while parked in an unattended lot). “Don’t go the wrong way, even to turn around. Use the pass-through.” Or “You need to go up to the second level if you want to go out the side exit.” I was not even really clear what a pass-through was when I first parked there.

Making this all worse is that usually, when I am picking up the car, it has been 8-10 days since I last drove and I completely forget what I am doing. I’m sure all the people there for the opening of the BSO the other week were amused to see me have to do 25 maneuvers to get out of my spot. But, well, I am always happy to see my little Honda and I like to think it is happy to see me. “Wait, you live in another city?” I imagine it saying. “And you only come here on weekends?”


Oh my gosh, it’s been quite the last part of the weekend. Here’s how it happens: you dilly-dally the whole summer away, relaxing on the deck, or inside with the air-conditioning, or at the ice cream shop, and your rooms sit unfurnished and who cares? But then… then someone comes to visit and they have children and you don’t know them so well and so you can’t say, “so sorry there’s just a bed in this room. I can’t decide on the rest and there is ice cream to be had.” And their children need a room, too, so you can’t say, “eh, that small room will be the staging room for the other rooms.”

So this weekend, push came to shove, and I went back to Ikea and Lowe’s and Michael’s and I started racking up the kinds of bills I did at the beginning of the summer. And then I built all the furniture and made all the beds with the new bedding and actually put the recycling out and scrubbed the tub and even bought a rug, which is like crazy because decor is a whole new level. But it looks amazing! And here is my usual apology about no pictures and this time I really mean it because everything just looked so, so good. Things actually work and look nice. Now, it’s not painted yet but I decided to push that till after this guest weekend because no one wants to stay at a house that is a construction zone. So that will be the end of this month. And this month means October, because I am forward-thinking.

And the reason why I am so disappointed about not taking pictures is that I’ll be arriving when the light is already gone and then my guests are arriving at the same time, so I won’t be able to get a fresh picture in the daylight. So it might be several weeks before I get a good shot. Sorry!

I think there is just one last color choice to be made, and let me tell you, after this weekend, I don’t have the energy to link to anything, so I’ll just say, Titanium or November Rain. And I don’t know how they name these things but they both look really good. Maybe later this week I’ll actually be refreshed enough to make that a more visual choice.

But in the meantime, even though more decor still needs to happen, I can now say that every piece of furniture upstairs and maybe even downstairs is built! The only thing left is to wait for some living room pieces from my Dad’s place which need to be transported down to Maryland and one of them needs to wait till his apartment sells. But hey, if you are driving a minivan down anytime in the future, please see me after class.

Happy anniversary to me!

It’s been six months since I closed on my little house, and I could not be happier. Well, I could be happier if I got to spend more time there and less money, but we can’t have everything. I actually discovered my anniversary because I was sitting with columns of numbers on my spreadsheet trying to figure out how to spend less when I noticed the date. So, hurrah! Orange and black confetti for everyone!

I have begun booking my travel earlier to try to save a few bucks but I still can’t really make Thanksgiving work. However, I am booked for every second weekend pretty much through early November. Did you know? You can save the $1 transaction fee on BoltBus by booking lots of trips at once (it’s per transaction, not per ticket)? The experience of being stuck in traffic for hours on the New Jersey Turnpike on a Sunday afternoon, however, remains the same. They really need to move Baltimore closer or invent faster buses. See? I told you I could be happier.