Wednesday, September 14, 2011


By Paul

Want a nice Jotul gas stove?

We have one, but we may not need it. Our contractor has stopped responding to our phone calls and there's a hole in the (physical) wall where the project hit a (figurative) brick wall two weeks ago. Our dilemma illustrates an all-too-typical experience homeowners often confront when dealing with contractors who are good craftsmen but lousy businessmen. And this one took us completely by surprise.

Our contractor for this job was a plumber who has done several projects for us in the past. In every case, he has been prompt, responsible and reasonable with his fees. We'd been looking forward to enjoying the warmth of our new gas stove for a year, and finally had the wherewithal to purchase and install it. We called up Jeff and he cheerfully agreed to the job.

That's when Jeff became the plumber from hell.


The week before the Aug. 7 start date, we called Jeff to confirm that all systems were go. Days passed without a response. The installation date came and went and no Jeff. When I was able to reach him directly a few days later, Jeff explained that his stepmother had died suddenly and he had been called to help out his dad. We couldn't understand why he couldn't also place a one-minute phone call to notify us, but Jeff had always been reliable in the past, so we let that detail go. We rescheduled for Aug. 17.

That day also came and went with no sign of Jeff. Two calls went unanswered. When I was able to reach him again, the explanation was bizarre. A bee sting had landed him in the hospital and he had been recovering for several days, he said. This time I asked the question outright: "Was it too much trouble to make a quick call to tell us?" Jeff had to admit that no, it wasn't. I read him the riot act: "Three strikes and you're out, Jeff," I said. We rescheduled for the Friday before Labor Day weekend.

This time Jeff showed up, two hours late, carrying a couple of hundred dollars worth of piping and towing Eric the carpenter. When they opened up the wall to cut a hole for the flue vent, a groan went up. A huge support beam blocked their way. There was no way to go around it and still meet fire codes, and nowhere else to put the stove.

We debated alternatives that afternoon and during a return visit from Jeff over the weekend. Bypassing the support beam would require opening up the whole wall and probably a day or more of labor on top of a couple of hundred dollars in materials. It would more than double the installation cost, and I wasn't comfortable with messing with support beams in the first place.

Out the Window

That's when we hit on the window idea. Move the stove four feet to the left, take out a large window and replace it with a smaller one. Build up the wall a couple of feet and vent through the wall. It was quicker, cheaper and didn't mess with the support beam. "Let's do it," Jeff said. He promised to pull some numbers together and call me in a day or two.

That was 10 days ago. Our calls are again going unreturned, Jeff has vanished and the stove sits in the family room staring at us like a cast-iron Cyclops. The flue pipe parts Jeff bought sit in a corner and one of his ladders is propped against a wall in the basement. We wonder if he'll simply walk away from the money he spent on the stuff so he doesn't have to confront us directly.

Three strikes, Jeff.

If only this was the exception, but it's more like the rule. So many contractors are good at fixing and installing things, but terrible at the nuances of running a business. They can sweat a pipe but not meet a deadline. I once had a plumber gave me a quote on a washer/dryer install, get the job and never be heard from again. I tried to dial up a general contractor who had done some jobs for us in the past and discovered his phone was disconnected. A Google search revealed that there's a warrant out for his arrest.

I've often wondered why the contractor market bifurcates into two business types. You have the very large general contracting firms and the small mom-and-pop outfits but very little in between. I think what makes these big businesses so big is that they know how to run a business. The sole practitioners never scale up because they can't meet commitments.

Price is one of my least important criteria in choosing a contractor. I want someone who'll give me an accurate estimate, show up on time and finish the job on schedule. Unfortunately, many tradesmen find these expectations far too demanding. I thought Jeff was different from the rest. Turns out he's just like all the others.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Crib #2, baby-approved!

Today, Jannine sent me some great news -- Crib #2 is all done!!! She also emailed me pix of it, which substitutes the cherry for red oak and switches the walnut for the cherry/red oak in the pattern, compared to Crib #1. Take a gander at its beauty!

It just so happens that my parents had some friends over, who have recently adopted an adorable baby boy named Nouraiz. So, of course, the baby had to check the crib out to make sure it held up to baby expectations!

(Don't tell him there's a bear on his bum!)

The cribs will both arrive on Monday, delivered in person by my parents. They live 6 hours away, so this is nothing to sneeze at, but the cribs will be safe and they'll teach us how to set them up and move them properly. It'll be a good visit, but short, as my parents have to get home again to do all the things they've left undone in the several months they've been working their tails off making the cribs. They'll be back shortly after the babies are born to help out.

Weights of girls at 34 weeks

We went to the perinatologist yesterday (at 34 weeks gestation) and got the usual once-a-month ultrasound, which measures key parts of each baby. We find out every visit here how much they weigh.

So this week, Lillian weighs 4 lbs., 2 oz. And Blair weighs 4 lbs., 6 oz. They are each compared to the singleton growth chart (there isn't really one for twins, which grow just a little slower than singletons), so they matched up at 18% and 21%, respectively. That may sound like they're totally small for their gestation and -- OMG -- what can be done?! But in fact anything over 10% is considered normal. If they were compared to other twins, they'd be closer to about 30%, so still small, but not AS small.

We didn't get any pictures to share, because both Lillian and Blair, who is usually a ham for the ultrasound pictures, had their heads turned away yesterday. But the weight was something interesting to learn about.

We have another appointment in 2 weeks, if I haven't delivered them yet, and that will probably be our last perinatologist appointment.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Crib #1

Jannine sent me a picture last night of crib #1. It's GORGEOUS!! Crib #2 will be the same idea, just a slightly different pattern with the 3 woods. Crib #1 woods are walnut (dark), cherry (reddish), and maple. Crib #2 will be constructed of walnut, red oak, and maple. The walnut is from a supply from Jannine's dad, my Grandpa, who has been gone from us for about 11 years now. So that's kinda special. My Grandpa and Dad are both, obviously, woodworkers.

Dad and Jannine made both of them by hand and we couldn't be more grateful. They are truly made with love (not to mention time, patience, talent, etc.). The cribs both convert to toddler beds (with three sides) and then to double beds, so the girls will be able to use them for years to come. We couldn't be more excited to welcome these particular pieces into our home. Truly beautiful heirlooms in the making!

Dad and Jannine will be coming this Sunday to deliver the cribs.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Totally ready to meet our girls

I'm 33w4d today and it's getting more and more "uncomfortable" (read: sometimes painful) to carry multiples. I still LOVE my big belly and I love feeling Lillian and Blair kick around in there, but there's almost no non-baby room left and sometimes their kicks aren't so much towards my belly as towards my ribs. Today, for instance, I've been on my laptop checking email and sitting slouched in my comfy chair. Well, the only place Lillian's feet fit anymore is right up in the right side of my rib cage. So there's this constant pressure there. Sometimes I push against her feet when they're lodged there, but I know there's really nowhere else for her to put them, so it's kind of futile.

The nursery is coming together slowly, as I can only do a bit each day before my back or my pelvis starts to hurt. But I have assembled (and played with) the Chicco playard, so I know where all the connectors/parts of the bassinet and changing table and activity arch go. It's really a marvel of engineering! There's even a corner unit that provides a night light, vibrations and music (with volume control!).

Over the course of a few days, I even decorated a trash can for the nursery with bunnies and little carrots on it. Paul and I also got curtains for that room and he put them up this past weekend, so that's all set. We just need a rug for the nursery and we'll be set. That and the cribs, which are arriving with my parents on Sunday. We simply cannot wait to see them!! All the love and hard work and looooooong hours that went into them will be appreciated every day the babies are in those cribs and afterward, when we convert the cribs to toddler and twin beds.

We have our now-weekly OB/midwife meeting tomorrow. And on Thursday we have another ultrasound with our perinatologist, when we see the girls again and find out how much they weigh now. We'll keep you posted. 4 weeks ago (when I was 30w pregnant), Lillian weighed 2 lb 13 oz and Blair weighed 3 lbs even.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

50/50 bedrest

My midwife, who works with my OB, gave me the thumbs up last week to go 50/50 on bedrest. That is, 50% of the time I'm awake, I'm allowed upright; the other half, I should be reclined. While this freedom definitely does my mindset good, the fact of the matter is that if I'm upright for half of my day, my back kills me.

But it's all a matter of degrees. I guess I was on some kind of self-imposed bedrest before my late-December hospital stay anyway, because of the back pain.

Paul picked up (with 2 nice coupons) our crib bedding sets the other night from Babies R Us (BRU). Now all the things we've gotten for gifts and picked up ourselves are just in the packaging in a spare room. Starting next Monday, we're getting the floors redone on the 2nd floor in the back section of our house (including the back room, which is the nursery). It'll look FANTASTIC when it's done (hopefully it won't take more than a week), but in the meantime, we can't set up any part of the nursery. It's an empty room with gorgeously painted light-mint-green walls (thanks to Paul, who painted the majority of the 2nd floor in November and December).

I can't wait to get in there and set things up. We have the changing table from, a glider/ottoman from BRU, 2 cribs coming from my parents (my Dad is making them!), so the furniture is set. Check out this pic of the crib slats so far (mock assembly):

I can't believe how shiny that wood got with just tung oil! My dad did lots of research to make sure that both the wood and the finish he used would be safe for babies (especially when they teeth and could possibly chew on the rails, etc.).

I finally put the ultrasound pix (which have been on Facebook as I get more pix of our girls) and my belly pix on Flickr. Take a gander: