Monday, June 29, 2015

A New Addition


Today is a good day! Remember a gajillion years ago, when I told you that as part of our dream house project, Charming Suitor was finally getting his very own Wine Cellar?

Well, the time is finally here.

After months of prepping the space, and working closely with Vinotemp on the complex design for the two-room space, with literally hours and hours of really tedious measuring and re-measuring to be sure that every single area was plotted out to the tiniest variation....

This happened:

 So here are the important bits:

Vinotemp does a truly amazing job of taking your measurements and the layout of your space, and maximizing the useful storage.  I know it is hard to tell, but these racks have been custom designed to hold a variety of sizes and types of bottles...Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, Riesling, half bottles and even some spaces for larger format bottles like Magnums and Double Magnums.  The racks were built to order, and then sent to Quality Control to make sure they were all perfect, and then packaged up.  35 crates, each labeled with a code that matched the code on the drawings, with all of the fasteners and trim pieces included.  Key pieces were also individually stamped with the same code, to ensure that installation would be as easy as possible.  Which doesn't mean that it is easy.  While I absolutely believe that regardless of the space you have available for wine storage, that tiny nook under the stairs, or that huge corner of your basement, and everything in between, unless you are a very skilled and confident and patient DIYer, it is very much worth the extra expense to have the cellar professionally installed.  You'll be so glad you did, and if you aren't lucky enough to have a contractor onsite like we do, Vinotemp can help you find a local installer in your area.

As much as we love the racking, and the perfect cool humid environment that Vinotemp has helped us create?  The real magic of this space is 100% credited to our King Konstruction team.  Patrick latched on to Charming Suitor's desire for a space that honored the structural elements of the building, and came up with little details that have made the cellar very very special.  He and Dennis salvaged tons of the lath that had been removed during demolition, and cleaned up every piece and clad the whole ceiling, the soffits, and other odd nooks and crannies with it.  He created wainscoting on the one little bare wall using salvaged wood that used to be the stair risers from the section of staircase we had to demolish, and installed them so you can see the marks of the saws that were used to rip the boards, as well as the signatures of the contractors who installed them back in 1907.  The wainscot and door are trimmed out with wood that was also salvaged from the house, which makes it look finished, but not polished...rough and rugged, just what CS imagined.

It is so gratifying when you work with people who really embrace the feel you are going for, and bring their own creativity and expertise to the table.  We could not have had a more perfect team for this cellar than Vinotemp and King Konstruction!

Today, the wine is being carefully removed from the storage unit, and will be brought to the house, where we can use the Vintotemp drawings to carefully nestle every delicious bottle in a place specifically designed to keep it safe and drinkable.  And yes, I can promise you that tonight?  There will be a little bit of drinking!

In other news, I have just finished my ninth novel, Wedding Girl, which will be out in May 2016.  As such, I'm sure you can understand, my brain is total mush.  So I'll be taking a brief blogcation until after the holiday weekend.  I wish you all a terrific next week, and hope that your celebrations are full of everything delicious, and I will be back after July 6 to give you some more exciting updates as we leave the basement and head up to the second floor!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Thursday, June 18, 2015

To Xfinity And Beyond!


So it’s been all AV Club up in here, and let me tell you, that is no small feat.  Let’s sum up:

The building is from 1907 and a lot of the electrical had not been upgraded since the mid-seventies. Our commitment to the building was always that we would bring infrastructure up to 21st century functionality and quality, while still celebrating the parts that are old world.

This makes for some fun details.  For example, while we will be using the latest technology for internet, phone, cable and home security, we are not creating a “smart home”, so lights go off and on from the flip switch on the wall, and our intercom system is officially the restored set of speaking tubes that are original to the building.

We also have the additional complication of living in the space while under construction, so we can’t upgrade everything at once, since we are only opening walls where we don’t inhabit the space daily. 

This has been a Comcast home since I moved in in 1993, and I’ve always been mostly satisfied with the service.  I’ve been bundled with phone, internet and cable forever, and in general, any problems I’ve had have predominantly been area outages, the equipment and service inside the house has always worked well and they’ve been good about periodically swapping it out for new when their systems upgrade.

Not that it’s always been perfect.  About five years ago, when upgrading the system, they brought me their DVR box.  I’d always been a TiVo girl, but I was game to see what their equipment could do, since it came free with my service.  In a week, I sent it back and re-installed my trusty TiVo.  The functionality of that box was clunky and complicated and not intuitive.  The search function took forever to type in shows, and it was difficult to manage priorities, and the storage capabilities were minimal.   By comparison, my TiVo was light years ahead, and we used it happily, only bemoaning the fact that you could only tape 2 shows, and couldn’t watch anything else live if two things were taping.

When we started talking about the renovations in the house, we realized that we were going to seriously upgrade the whole media experience.  We had only ever had two televisions, one in the living room and one in Charming Suitor’s mancave.  But we were adding a designated media room, as well as an exercise room and two guest bedrooms.  And I know two things:  If I’m going to walk on a treadmill to nowhere, it goes a lot faster if I have a Real Housewife or two to keep me company, and that I wanted our guest rooms to feel like wonderful little hotel rooms, so that meant televisions.

I called Comcast and explained my situation, and they sent over a supervisor, to talk to me about our needs and our complex building, and do a walk thru with my contractors.  We decided to temporarily run the two floors we are occupying as separate entities, since we had the opportunity to run new cables in the walls in the basement, but would have to continue to use the existing infrastructure on the first floor until other areas of the house were ready and that floor is unoccupied.  A plan was designed, they recommended we do a special panel to run the whole house, which we added to the scope of work, and we laid out the plan.  Comcast sent over bundles of the right cables to our contractors so that the electrician could install them in the walls when running all of the other power. 

And last week, we were finally ready for install!

The team from Comcast was amazing.  We were putting in two DVRs, one to run all of downstairs and one just for the upstairs living room TV.  A new modem, to upgrade our internet speed and run our landlines.  Three terminals in the basement for the exercise room and guest bedrooms, so that those televisions have cable.

We also had the additional complication of needing to set up some boosters and extenders to ensure that both floors have great Wifi coverage in every room.

But as complicated as it appeared the system would be, the actual install and getting us up and running was amazingly smooth.  Our main glitch was that while we were installing, you might have noticed a little bit of weather in our fair city, so there was an outage in the area.  Not ideal.   So we knew that things were running as best as we could get them on the day of installation, but we also set up a follow-up appointment just in case some things weren’t working properly once the area outage was fixed. Our technician called us the next morning to say that everything in our neighborhood was back up and running and he had us check our system.  Sure enough, we had a couple of things that weren’t as they should be, so they came back to reboot the system and get us on our feet.  Essentially, since the area was down, our new modem had not fully activated to our account, so the ultimate fix took less than half an hour! 

And let me just say, as nervous as I was to lose my beloved TiVo, and worried about the functionality of the DVR, this X1 system they have created is AMAZING.  Everything I didn’t like about the functionality before, is not just fixed, it is insanely easy to use.  Totally intuitive, I can tape up to four things at one time AND watch a fifth.  Anything we tape in the media room DVR can be watched on any of the other televisions, or get downloaded to our phones or tablets for travel.  The search function is so quick and easy that I was able to set up nearly 40 television shows to tape as season passes in about 20 minutes.  On Demand is right at your fingertips, as well as some apps that allow you to quickly check the local weather, sports or traffic! (Or even your horoscope, if you are so inclined…)

I haven’t even begun to really play with the mobile apps, but I know that I can stream live TV, watch On Demand programming and download shows and movies to my devices really easily, as well as manage my account.

Script officially flipped.  I’m now a total X1vangelist.

And if that weren’t enough Comcast love?  On Monday, I was called to Jury Duty down at 26th and California.  A long day, and me on deadline.  I got to the Jury Room and set up my laptop in hopes of getting some work done.  While they were making the announcement about there being no Wifi available except in the law library, which we would only have access to during our lunch break?  I was connecting to one of the eight gazillion Xfinity hotspot towers they have installed all over the city, and in no time I had four bars and was internet and email ready.  I was actually able to get some decent work done while providing my public service.

Our experience has been nothing but terrific, and while I know that many of you may have had issues with the company previously, from my experience, they have really been listening to the frustrations of customers and are very actively working to make improvements in every area.  I think it is nice that they acknowledge where they have fallen down in the past, and every member of their team that we encountered is really focused on changing the customer experience.  We are absolutely delighted, and as such, have decided to work with them on the home security system when we are ready to get that organized!

I’m going on a little bit of lockdown, as the new book is due to my editor in twelve days, but when I come back, I will be able to bring you up to speed on some more improvements!

 Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Monday, June 8, 2015

Quick events update!


As you know, the new novel is due in 22 days, so your Polymath is all about the typing right now.

The good news is that I think you are all really going to like it.

But you'll have to wait till next May :)

I am planning on leaving the house briefly for some upcoming events, and I really really really would love to see you there.

Lemme 'splain.

I know many of you love to read but don't necessarily come out for booksignings.  Maybe you think they will be boring.  Maybe you worry about parking.  Maybe it just isn't on your radar for something to do.  But here is something to think about:

What we do as writers is, by its very nature, isolating and lonely work that when we get to deadline, isolates us from even the people we live with, bless their compassionate and understanding hearts.

These people who live in our heads are good stories, but not such great company.  And we write for a faceless, nameless mob of strangers, people who exist in an almost ephemeral space, who are just shy of mythological, and who we are all desperately afraid are mostly mere figments of our imaginations.

For authors, book events are a chance to get out of the house, to put on clothes without elastic waistbands/holes/stains of indeterminate origin, to put on a bit of makeup and do our hair in a style that isn't "unwashed sloppy bun on head".  And it's a chance to take that bloblike mysterious mass of "readers" and turn it into real actual flesh and blood people.  Nothing is more nervewracking for us than the days leading up to an event, when we are sure no one will show up, and nothing feels worse than when no one does.

By the same token, when you come out?  When you leave your houses and park and maybe make a night of it with pals and have some wine and dinner and come to talk to us, and ask us questions and tell us your names, that?  Right there?  That is EVERYTHING.  We want to meet you and take pictures and hear that you gave the book to your sister or that you introduced us to your book club.

Heck, we want to COME to your book club. You know who is never IN a book club?  Authors.

If you are our friends and family, having your familiar faces in the crowd makes our heart rates slow to normal rates, and increases our joy, and gives us confidence.  We love having those moments to connect with the people we care about, and your support of us, (especially when you bring your friends to meet us), that is huge fun.

If you are readers we've never met before, coming out to see us without any sense of personal obligation or guilt or duty, just because you like us, you really like us?  That is like the awesome guy you thought didn't even know your name breaking out a serious prom-posal.


I'm not kidding.

When we come into a bookstore or library and you are there in your chairs waiting for us?  We see you all looking fabulous, leaning against your red Porsche, and we just know there is going to be cake.

Also, often, we have cake.  So that is good too.

So, my little Jakelets, here are some upcoming opportunities to really make my day.  Don't let my blowouts be in vain, I wanna see you!  I wanna meet your friends and your sister and your grandmother, as long as she doesn't mind if I work a little blue.

Thursday June 18 6:00 pm-8:00 pm
Read it and Eat a fabulous new cookbook foodie bookstore in Lincoln Park!
2142 N. Halsted
Register for the free event HERE.

Saturday June 20 noon to 1pm
Boelter Superstore in Milwaukee
Details HERE.

Saturday August 15, 2pm
In conversation with Jen Lancaster
Warren-Newport Public Library
Gurnee, IL
Register HERE
(Cake TBD)

I'm going right back to the book typing now, or I won't have a reason to re-post this request next Spring, but know that I adore each and every one of you and REALLY WANT TO MEET YOU SOON!

Your Samantha,
The Polymath

Monday, June 1, 2015



This will just be a quickie, as I am officially ONE MONTH out from delivering the manuscript for the new novel, so I will be a little less verbose in this post, as I'm saving the words for the book!

Are you fully up to date on our basement countertop situation?  No?  Read THIS.  And then read THIS.  All good?  Excellent.

So the final countertop for the basement arrived today. Once again, we relied on the amazing team from Cosentino to advise us on the choice.  From a design perspective, this counter was going into the media room, to serve as the top for the console underneath the television.  The console was created out of two salvaged cabinets from the second floor, that were originally part of the butler's pantry on that level.  Our cabinetmaker created a third piece with sliding open drawers to accommodate the AV equipment that is coming.  And on the far end, the Marvel beverage center .  We knew we wanted to use Silestone again, since we hope this room will get a lot of use, and that stuff is indestructible...we didn't want to have to worry about staining or chipping or anything like that in what is essentially our rumpus room.

When we were at the Cosentino Center, looking at options, we were leaning towards a simple slab in a pale oatmeal color.  We thought it would pick up the lighter color of the stone, and also be a nod to the drapes we were planning to hang for blocking out light during movie nights.  They had several options in that palette, so there was plenty to choose from.  I was looking at the samples with our fabric samples when Erik, who runs the show over there, suggested I look at one more option.

Enter Pacific, from the Silestone Ocean series.

Shut. The. Front. Door.

This is a beautiful marbled slab, with tones of dark and light gray, taupe, oatmeal and ivory.  Essentially, it picks up all the colors of our stone wall, as well as the gray in the paint and the color of the drapes.  The minute Erik showed it to us, any thought of a basic solid went right out the window!  This is why it is so important to work with great people and solicit their input.  This is a material we would never have thought of on our own, or pulled off the sample wall, but the moment it was on the table with all of our fabric samples and paint samples etc., it made perfect sense!  You might have what you consider to be impeccable design sense, but that doesn't mean that there aren't wonderful opportunities for expansion of your own ideas.  When I first met with Costentino about the basement countertops, I had three totally different ideas in mind, all of which would have been lovely.  But I ended up with their guidance finding three products that are all very different from what we originally envisioned, and all of those choices, I think, upped the ante on the wow factor.

The media room counter arrived today, and once again, Martin and MJ, our intrepid installers from Stone Masters were on hand to get the job done. Here is how it went...

The slab has entered the building!

Setting it in place, notice there is a notch cut out at the back that lines up underneath where the wires for the AV equipment will go, so that when things get installed, the necessary wiring can slide right up through the countertop.  This was a Stone Masters recommendation, and I'm so glad that they thought of it, because otherwise all of the equipment would have to sit on top of the counter, and this way it can all be hidden in the console.  GENIUS!

Laying down the silicone adhesive under the top.

 Doing the final caulking with clear silicone, just to make sure that if someone spills a drink (Looking at you, Lancaster) it can't seep behind the counter and damage anything.

THERE IT IS!!!!  Even more gorgeous in the room than we had dreamt of!

Look at how perfectly the colors work with the stone walls.

The completed console.

Many many thanks once again to Erik and the team at Cosentino Chicago for helping us find such beautiful products for the spaces, and for Tom and Robert and everyone at Stone Masters for fabricating them and installing them with such precision.  Once again, I implore you to like both Cosentino and Stone Masters on Facebook, and if you are in the greater Chicagoland area, I cannot recommend them enough as fantastic people to work with.  We have already fully committed to working with all of them on every countertop in the house, so stay tuned for more fun information in the world of surfaces!

More later this week with a bathroom update...

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath