26 January 2009


Sometimes a thought comes into your head and you have to follow it, even when it takes you to places you don't need to go.

Last night, I suddenly decided I wanted to make a cartoon style avatar that looks like me. My daughter has a site where she can make cute, chibi-style avatars. (Chibi are the cute, oversized head people populating Japanese anime meant for kids.) But I wanted something a bit more lifelike and less cute.

So I typed "make an avatar" into Google, and found lots of information about rendering objects in 3 dimensions, and the anime series, Avatar. My kids are the anime fans, not me. But patient searching finally led me to a site that made chibi, but gave me plenty of customization options.

Otaku Avatar Maker lets you put together various features and clothing to make an avatar. Here's a sample:
Cute kid, no?

Fun, but not right for me. No middle aged options here.

However, at the bottom of that web page, are links to other avatar makers. The one that worked best for me is Portrait Illustration Maker. This can produce a drawing that, while cartoon-like is definitely recognizable as a real person:

I could play with this for hours ... and I did. You can tell by the mess in my kitchen.

OK, so what does she look like? We have a cute kid, and a man, but where's our blogger. Well, ... it still needs work, but you could use it to find me in an airport.

23 January 2009

New Remodeling Post

The best laid plans and all that ...

We didn't break ground last fall. In September, we sent out bids for the work, asking contractors to bid on the basic structure, including rough mechanicals, plaster walls and interior door installation, but no other finish work. The bids came in, with the cheapest one for 30% more than we planned to spend on the entire project! Things came to a crashing halt, and by the time we recovered from the sticker shock, it was too late to build.

We still need the space, so we're doing things differently. First, we're not using a general contractor. Instead, our architect will act as a construction consultant, finding subcontractors for us, preparing bids, and making sure the scheduling flows. This will cost us less than hiring a G.C., as Matt doesn't add an upcharge to material costs, and isn't concerned with tightly scheduling subcontractors. [We have time, so we don't mind if the plumber can't come for a week after the framing is done.] We can also choose the best sub for the job, and not get stuck with the G.C.'s best buddy.

Last week we had a framer (who also does foundations, roofs, and windows / exterior doors) come by, and a plumber who took a good look at our heating system (hot water, so a plumber does the work) and plumbing for the addition. So work is moving along, and we hope to break ground this spring.

Old Remodeling Post #6 — 26 July, 2008

The last of the old remodeling posts.


This is the house as it is today. It is to scale (well ... almost), so you can see how -- ahem -- compact the kitchen layout is. We added a 6 foot long office table near the benches, it serves as a storage space and extra counter. We have some shelves along the basement stairs, these are our pantry. Extra kitchen equipment is stored in the sunless room (why put a sunroom in the northeast corner?) or packed away in the basement.

I didn't draw in the dining table, with 4 chairs it takes up most of its room.

Enter the Architect

We decided to add 10 feet across the entire back wall of the house. Here's our first pass at how we'd use the space:

The major feature is the central "pod of space", housing some coat/backpack cubbies, a pantry, and a family desk/communication center. I hadn't thought of doing this, but it helps use the new space effectively. We'd be able to have an upright freezer (we don't have one and need it!), too.

We haven't done any designing with the family room or bathroom yet. DH wants a shower in there so we can have guests stay there.

The plan is good, but needs work. There's a lot of empty space in the work part of the kitchen, and no good place for guests to hang out. I want a built-in bench, there is none. So, more planning.

Here's the second concept:

Here, we put in a second rectangular island for the prep area, instead on an L off the cook center. We'll have an overhang on this island, so the kids can sit and do homework, or guests can watch. We added a bench along the back wall, above will be a nice window. [We have woods behind our house, for a great view.]

This is what we have so far. We're still thinking about the exact placement of the appliances, but I think we have the beginnings of our final plan.

[That is, assuming we can afford it. ]

Plans created with Omni Graffle

Old Remodeling Post #5 — 24 July, 2008

This time with pictures!

Drowning in Designs

We're into the thick of it now!

Our timetable, as far as we can make one, has us doing the design work and finding a builder this summer, and building the structure this fall, through to the plaster, but no other finish work. [Here in New England, plaster costs the same as drywall. We have plaster walls in the rest of the house, so it would be silly to get drywall.] We expect to have heated unfinished space by the first snows. Then the builder goes away and DH and I finish the space, with help from friends and pros as needed.

So we've been busily working on kitchen designs (as well as the rest of the addition). We have a space about 20 feet by 15 feet for the kitchen, give or take.

I have to admit, I like working with M ... he brings up things like balance and proportion, and creating clear distinctions between working and non-working space. But he listens to me as I teach him about work centers, string diagrams, and motion-mindedness (not to mention the therblig). We're not paying attention to cost at this stage, but we both know the budget is tight.

I haven't posted any photos yet ... I just taught myself how. Here are some Before photos, of both the kitchen and the laundry dungeon, from the day of the house inspection.

This is the stove and sink corner

the rest of the kitchen

and the Laundry Dungeon
Sorry about the head-tipping ... does anyone know how to rotate photos?

Old Remodeling Post #4 — 16 June, 2008

And another ...

Back on Track

Well, after my surgery, DH's severe work stress, and our architect's personal issues, we're back on track. M (the architect) is coming over this afternoon to pick up the signed contract and the first (of far too many) checks.

In order to save money, we're keeping his involvement lean and mean. M will be our design consultant, helping make sure that what we come up with is sane, buildable, and within budget. He's helped with that already ... did you know that there's very little difference in building out 11 feet or 12 feet? Since most of the cost is labor, we shouldn't let the material cost compromise our space needs.

M will also help us get the shell of the new space up, and will bow out as soon as we have heated unfinished space. We will finish it ourselves: flooring, cabinetry, trimwork, other finish materials. If we need, M will continue to consult on design.

So right now, the timeline is to work on design all summer, while finding a builder, then start work just after the kids go back to school in late August. M thinks we'll have our heated shell before the first snows. I hope he's right.

Also part of the remodel will be adding insulation to the existing house, and replacing the 50 year old oil boiler. With the price of heating oil these days, I'm pushing we do the boiler replacement as soon as we finish the heat calculations.

Old Remodeling Post #3 — 25 February, 2008

Unedited post #3

Life Gets in the Way

January and February are busy here ... we are science fiction fans, and winter is con season. I was on 6 panels at Arisia (MLK Day weekend), and DH and I are on the exec. committee of Boskone (Prez Day weekend). So we were a little busy for that.

Then I had outpatient surgery in between the two ... recovery was quick, but did take some time.

Our architect has family health issues of his own ... I'd find someone else, but we really like him and feel we might not be able to find someone else to work with.

And last, DH found out the hard way that cast iron skillets and glass top stoves don't mix ... he was moving our 14" pan onto the stove to dry it, and dropped it — only a few inches, but we now have a cracked smooth top, and one highest power burner (though still wimpy) is DOA. We're going to try to muddle through with it for now, until we figure out what we want in our new kitchen. Maybe we will buy and set it up early.

Life. It does get in the way of remodeling, doesn't it?

Old Remodeling Post #2 — 16 January, 2008

Another unedited post.

Why an Architect?

As I mentioned in my last post, we are using an architect for our remodel.


Why spend the money, when you are doing a budget project?

Well, our project is fairly big. To get what we want, we'll be pushing the back of our house out about 8 - 10 feet, with shop/lab space for DH in the walk out basement (along with a new laundry room and kid hang-out space). The main floor will house the new kitchen, family room (finishing off the "sunless room"), half bath, and enough dining space for a small army. We won't add on upstairs, but we'll add an unheated mud room connecting to both the front door and garage. So this is a fairly major remodel.

We want to get the most from every square foot of new space, and we want it to look like a well-planned house. The right architect can help us figure out where it makes sense to save money, and where we want to pay for quality. He will check my designs and make sure they are build-able. He'll suggest tweaks to make the remodel look great.

And the architect we will use thinks the way we do. He was happy when I warned him that DH might debate concrete composition, and I'd happily tell him why I think kitchen triangles are silly (I'll tell you too, in a later post) . He wants clients who stay deeply involved in the project. He is a teacher at Yestermorrow, too.

I figure he'll save us far more money than we end up paying him, and the house will be better for it.

Old Remodeling Post #1 16 Jan 2008

NOTE: In order to get all my bloggish meanderings in one place, I'm porting over the beginnings of a blog I started a year ago on our remodel project. Here's the first in that series. I am not editing the posts, so note the date in the title and mentally adjust as needed.


I'm the chief cook and bottle washer for our family. The rest of us are:
DH, a Mad Engineer (not scientist), complete with a metal shop in the garage and woodworking tools stockpiled in the basement;
Me, a polymath (look it up) who excels in deciphering DIY instructions;
our 12 year old daughter, who has an opinion on everything;
our 7 year old son, who will politely drive you nuts with non-stop hugs.

We currently live in a small 1950s house in the Boston suburbs. We love the neighborhood, and have fantastic schools — but the house! When we bought it, we knew we'd have to remodel ... the dining room barely fits our table, we have a "sunroom" on the northeast side of the house, and the kitchen ... it would be fine, for a single person who didn't cook much.

But we all cook, including DS, who loves making popcorn and nachos. The living room is a sea of Lego and books, and we'd love to entertain more than 2 people at a time. Before Thanksgiving we had 12 people over, all in the kitchen at once, and I'm amazed we all fit.

So, DH has finally decided it's time to remodel. I've been working on plans since we moved in 3 years ago. We've talked to an architect, and will probably hire him. But our budget is marginal for what we want, so we'll have to find creative (a.k.a. cheap) ways to do things.

So, come join us on our descent (further) into chaos, as we expand our house. I welcome your constructive comments.

Let's Try This Again

Long time, no blog. Is anyone still here? [Was anyone ever reading this? Oh, well.]

I don't make New Year's Resolutions, but if I did, keeping this blog would be one. So with that, let me do a recap on what's been going on lately, neatly compartmentalized.

1. House Remodel For the past year, we've been working on (and off) with an architect, the goal being to make our too small 1950s "colonial" house work for us. After the first bids, for the shell and mechanicals only, were coming in at 30% over our entire budget, we re-thought the plan. So now we'll be doing our own contracting, with the architect assisting us by finding workers.

2. Odyssey of the Mind I'm coach of my son's team. I've coached OotM / DI teams before, so while this is a time sink, it's not much mental stress.

3. SF Fan This is the local con season. Arisia was last weekend; after a snafu I got Programming to reduce my workload to only 10 panels. Half were with kids — would have been more, if the head of the kid's program had asked me to work more instead of just changing my schedule without telling me.
Boskone is next month, as usual my husband-creature and I are running the Registration Desk. This is our third year of doing this, we have it down to a science and have enough trustworthy volunteers that we can enjoy the con too.

4. Knitting The shawl I was starting at my last blog post is still unfinished, but the end is near. I also just finished a Moebius scarf for my math-loving son, and am beginning a matching hat. I have a few little things on needles too. Taught knitting to kids and adults at Arisia (and taught my helpers how to teach).

5. Gifted Education First, a public call-out to my son's teacher this year. He's wonderful. Last year's teachers worked to put the brightest kids together in one classroom, and my boy now has both a teacher who gives hm challenging work and fellow students to learn with. It's a wonderful year. My daughter is having a tougher time, but mostly socially, as her good friends are in different schools this year.

6. Woodworking My new obsession. I've wanted to make furniture for decades, but never had the time, space, or money to set up a shop. I was also scared of tablesaws ... but the house remodel will demand my skills to do finish trim and built-in furniture. This past fall, I took a basic woodworking class at our local vo-tech school, and realized:
- I had more book learning than anyone but the teacher
- I'm enough of a perfectionist to do good work, even for a beginner
- There's a wealth of woodworking information on the Internet.
So I began "drinking from a fire hose", as I call my obsessive study of new material. And I learned even more:
- I prefer working with hand tools
- A tablesaur, as Alf the Cornish Woodworker calls it, is not essential.

So, I've been buying some hand tools, and learning to sharpen them. I'm also almost done with my first project, a hanging Shaker shelf with a drawer and coat hooks, in clear-finished maple. So far, it looks great.

Enough for now ... time to begin my morning chores with a brisk walk to my son's school to deliver him, then a contemplative walk home.