Rear Ended

On April 15, 2021, I drove to my sister-in-law’s house to pick up her son to go ice skating with us. As I backed out of her driveway, I felt an impact. Her neighbor across the street also backed out and we collided. The edge of his bumper hit the side of my bumper. His car was fine, but my minivan was damaged. We called our insurance and settled the coverage.

I took my minivan to Ourisman Toyota Collision Center to get it fixed. They did a good job of replacing the bumper and the sliding gate in the back for $3,500 (covered by insurance). The downside was that they took almost three weeks. We didn’t have rental in our insurance policy. Fortunately, my wife and I both work from home; therefore, we could get by with our other minivan. Still, there were times that we both needed to be out.

In addition, I asked them to look at the scratches on the sliding door that were unrelated to the collision and to give me an estimate so I could pay out of my own pocket. They said that they would take care of them without additional cost. When I picked up my minivan, they did nothing to the scratches.

I talked to David Martin, the production manager, and he said that he would order the protectors and schedule a specialist to replace the projectors. He said that the cost would be less than $100. I agreed to the service. I am not sure if he would follow through with it or just an empty promise.

Less Technologies

Two weeks ago, we received a “friendly reminder” from our homeowners association telling us to edge our sidewalk, take care of our lawn (weed/feed), and tidy up our front yard. So we’re paying the homeowners association an annual fee so they can tell us what to do. How ironic is that?

In my defense, I like my lawn natural—no weeding and no feeding. We have kids running around our yard; therefore, we don’t want to use any chemical to kill the weeds. As for the edging, I liked my grass to grow organically even if it spread over the sidewalk. The homeowners association staff told me that the sidewalk must fit two people. My sidewalk definitely has enough space for two people and I am fine with them walking on my lawn. But to comply, I picked up a True Temper turf edger. My wife told me to get a power one, but I got a manual one so my sons can help me. I am thinking of picking up a manual lawnmower for them to do some exercise.

I don’t want to rely on technology too much. If I can reduce it, I will. For example, everyone in my family uses electric toothbrush, but I still a hand brush. I prefer physical books over e-books. During the pandemic, I did not use our car as much. I wish that one day, maybe when the kids grow up, I will get rid of the vehicles. My future goal is to move away from dishwasher, washer, and dryer. These tasks can be done by hands. I am looking forward to doing things manually again.

Replace Sliding Patio Screen Door

My spring-break staycation started with replacing the sliding patio screen door. The installation was quick and easy. I just followed this YouTube video.


Grisham 36-in x 80-in Bronze Aluminum Frame Sliding Screen Door: $80

Why I am Terrible at Doing Business

Last Monday, my sister-in-law clogged her kitchen sink. After her husband tried to snake it unsuccessfully, he called a local plumber. When I asked them about the price, I was stunned. The plumber charged them $600 (with $100 discount) to unclog it. The process probably took less than half an hour.

Last Friday, a long-time client’s website broke. They asked me for help. After checking out their site, I predicted something went wrong with the SSL certificate. The browsers kept throwing out the unsafe warning. It took me several hours to figure out what happened. It turned out that their hosting provider had changed the DNS. The host sent out a notification, but my client ignored it. They didn’t realize it would affect their site. The host also installed a SSL self certificate, which caused the browsers to freak out.

I updated the DNS and replaced the self certificate with a Cloudflare certificate (Cloudflare rocks). When I fixed the issues and notified them, they simply replied with “thank you” without mentioning any compensation. I sat on it for a day and decided to send them the bill for my work. If a plumber charged $700 to fix an urgent issue, I shouldn’t feel bad charging the client for the time I put in. If the issues could be fixed in half an hour or less, I wouldn’t charge my client, especially if the client is just an individual. This particular client, however, is a small business. They can easily pay for the time I had spent fixing their website. I sent them the bill and they had no issue paying for it.

I am suck at doing business. That’s why my freelance gig hadn’t gone too well. I thought of doing freelance full time, but I will definitely fail. I don’t have the business mentality in me. I take on freelance projects because I am passionate about web design. I just don’t like the business side of it. I hesitated to charge for my services. When people charged me for their services, on the other hand, they showed no mercy.

I need to step up my game. If I am going to provide the services, I might as well get the pay I deserve. I didn’t charge $700 even for the several hours I spent. My price was very reasonable. I often hesitated to call a technician to the house because they would charge a ridiculous fee. As a result, I tried to fix it myself first via YouTube. A couple of years ago, a plumber inspected my house and recommended I replace three toilets. They were going to charge me $600 to $700 to replace each. I couldn’t afford to pay two grants to replace them and they were still working fine. I replaced one myself because it kept clogging up and I got tired of plunging it. I did it for the first time and the process was easy. A decent toilet cost around $150 to $200 and they were going to charge me $500 to $550 for an hour to replace a toilet. That’s simply crazy. I do not want my clients to feel that way; therefore, I tried to make it as fair as possible so my clients do not feel they were being ripped off.

I wish I could make the amount of money that I don’t have to to worry about paying for these types of services. I recalled the founder of Slack talked about the levels of wealths. The first level is when you don’t have to worry about paying bills like student loans and credit cards. The second level is when you don’t have to worry about the price at the restaurants. The third level is when you don’t have to worry about the price when you take vacations and travels. I don’t know where home-fixing services fit in, but they give me anxiety. Imagine if you make $10 an hour and you have to pay $700 for half an hour to unclog your kitchen sink. How do you justify something like that? I would just order from McDonald’s dollar menu until the damn sink unclogs itself.

Fixing Squeaking Wood Floors

If you thought walking on a squeaking wood floor was bad, have you tried freaking on a squeaking carpet floor? Just putting it out there. Anyway, it was time to fix our floors, which had been squeaking for the past ten years. Why now? I hated house maintenance. I liked to spend more time fixing my virtual home than my real home.

Fortunately, fixing the squeaking floors was easy with the GBW Squeeeeek No More kit. It was even easier with my helpers: Đạo, Đán, and Xuân. I also found this YouTube video very helpful. Nowadays, I learned to do everything myself through YouTube.


Total cost: $39

For 40 bucks, no more squeaking floors. Not a bad deal at all.

Fixing Samsung Dryer

Our Samsung dryer had been screeching for a long time and had not generating much heat. I told my wife to buy a new one, but she insisted on fixing it. She told me that a new dryer would cost from $600 to $1000. She watched this YouTube video showing how to replace the heating element and she bought all the parts.

The dryer was surprising easy to take apart. The machine was much simpler than what I had expected. With my wife’s instruction and help, we replaced the heating element, the belt, and the idler pulley. Unfortunately I broke the door switch when we put the parts together. The heating element generated hot air. The screeching noise is gone. The dryer works like new. I am glad that my wife wanted to fix it than to replace it.


Total cost: $61

Our Deck is Officially Legit

Back in May when we decided to redo our deck, I didn’t know that we needed a permit. After we ripped out the boards and the railings, my wife came to me and said, “We need a permit.” I said that’s ridiculous. We’re just replacing the boards. We’re not modifying anything. I emailed our county to ask and she was right. We needed a permit because we replaced woods with composites. I was like, “Oh shit!” So I started the application process and paid the fees. I followed the instructions and submitted my drawing for the deck I made in Illustrator.

While waiting for the permit, we continued to rebuild the deck. I couldn’t wait to get the permit because it will slow down the progress and I already took three weeks of vacation time to do the project. Every week, I received a rejection email from the county with a cryptic explanation: “You need to draw your deck on the plat. Your drawing needs to scale.” Week after weeks, I kept getting rejections. I gave up and asked my engineering wife to give it a shot. She did it one time and it was accepted. Our permit came when we already finished the deck.

The whole process was so stressful. We built the deck without permit. Although I followed the county’s specs and requirements, I worried that we might have to break down the deck if the inspection failed. For weeks, I kept pushing off making the inspection schedule. I finally made an appointment for yesterday. Because of the coronavirus, the inspection was conducted virtually through FaceTime. The process took about a minute. The inspector asked me what type of fastening we used and how high is the deck above the ground. That was it. He passed our inspection.

I was under stress for the past few months for nothing. The whole process was not bad at all. I should have just chilled out. I still am stressed the fuck out, but at least I can check one stressful item off my head. Let’s celebrate with dim sum.

Replacing Shut-Off Valves

Last year, we had a plumbing inspection by Home Service Doctors. The plumber recommended that we replace shut-off valves. He estimated a few hundred dollars for the three that were worn out and no longer shutting off water. I declined the service because I wanted to replace all of them (eleven total) and that would have cost me at least a grant. I thought I could replace them myself.

This weekend, I decided to take on this project. After looking up YouTube for instructions, which were straightforward, I went to Home Depot to pick up 11 one-forth-turn angle valves. Saturday morning, my wife and I dropped the kids over at my sister-in-law’s house so we could shut off our main water valve. Taking off the shut-off valves were as easy it looked on YouTube. Unfortunately, the most challenging part, which did not emphasized in a few videos, was how to remove the compression sleeves. We ended up buying a compression sleeve and faucet puller. It worked for some sleeves, but not for others, especially the valves underneath the sink with pop-up drains in the way. For those, I just left the old nuts and sleeves on and just replace the valves. If I have to do it again, I would do it that way instead of trying to pull off the sleeves. Initially, I was going to replace all eleven valves, but I only did nine for the three bathrooms. Each bathroom has two valves for the sink and one for the toilet. These are the critical ones anyway. I didn’t replace the valves under the kitchen sink and the bathroom in the basement. It already took the whole day with just the three bathrooms.

After new the valves were in place, we turned the water back on and that when the horror began. Water sprayed and leaked everywhere. The project turned into a disaster. One particular valve had water came out of the pipe. I might have pulled the sleeve too hard that I cracked part of the pipe where it was soldered. It was already late into the day. I was overwhelmed and exhausted. We called it the night. We went over our my sister-in-law’s house to have dinner and to sleep. I was half dead. I couldn’t even eat dinner. My mood was gloomy. I crashed on the the sleeping bag in the living room with my kids. Fortunately, my wife was not as worried as me.

Sunday morning, I woke up with a mild headache. I did not want to continue the job. I wanted to call the a plumber, but my wife was confident that we could do it. Apparently, she did some research on repairing the pipes using SharkBite materials, which do not require soldering. Of course, I went along with her. We let the kids stayed with my mother-in-law at my sister-in-law’s house and we headed to Lowe’s to get more materials. We went back to our house and we went straight to work. I cut the the drywall where the pipe was leaked. It turned out the pipe was more complicated than we thought. It has an elbow connect to a tee fitting, which meant we have to replace both. I gave up and called the plumber guy who used to remodeled my sister-in-law’s bathrooms. Unfortunately, he was unavailable. My wife went back to Lowe’s to pick up more materials to replace both the elbow and the tee while I stayed home tried to tighten up the screws as much as I could to stop the leaks. After tighten up the one with the leaking pipe, I turn the water on to test and to my surprise there was no leak. The pipe never cracked. The leaked was from the screw, but the water shot out too strong that it gave the impression the the pipe was leaked. My mood changed immediately. My headache was gone. I couldn’t wait to tell my wife the good news.

When she came back from Lowe’s, she also brought back a few SharkBite’s shut-off valves so we can try out. With the two valves that I could not get the leak to go away, I took them out and replaced the with SharkBite’s. When she installed SharkBite’s valves, I was amazed how simple it was. She simply marked the copper pipe and pushed the valve all the way in to meet the mark and that was it. There was no leaking and no tightening. If I could have done this project all over again, I would just go with SharkBite’s valve. It saves time and hassle. Actually, I did come across in my research about the SharkBite, but I ignored it. It seemed too good to be true. Now I am beating myself up for not considering it.

Once again, my wife saved the day. This lady is amazing. When I am pessimistic, she’s optimistic. With our next project, I will run by her first before I do anything. I told her, I am just going to be her machinery—a pretty bad one. Nevertheless, I’ll just do whatever she tells me to do. Unlike me, she does much better research and she does not feel down when things go wrong.

We dodged another bullet. I thought it would be a disaster, but it turned out fine. I truly despise house maintenance. It takes time away from my days off to relax. It also takes time away from our kids. I told my wife that for next project we will contract out, but she wanted me to do it and we will include the kids so they can learn to do as well. They need to learn how to do fix things around the house. It will be beneficial to them. I have to agree with her. In retrospect, I could have learned so much from my dad. He built houses, theaters, and temples before he retired. And yet, I know nothing about construction or house maintenance.

Fixing Hardwood Floor Gap

Our hardwood floor had a huge gap between the boards. This ingenious video from Adriel Denae shows how to do it quickly and cheaply. Thanks, Adriel!

Redoing Our Deck (Part 7: Final)

We did it. The re-decking project is now completed. It is not perfect, but I am satisfied with the final product. I am glad it is now done. It feels like tons of weight has lifted off my chest, literally. The project was a great learning experience for me and it has definitely boosted my confidence. As someone who loves to build virtual homes more than real homes, I came to realize that I am not as bad as I thought when I have to get my hands dirty.

Of course, I could not have done it without my wife who has more confidence in me than I do in myself. She knew I could do it and had been there with me every step of the way. She researched, made suggestions, did all the calculations, and made me redo parts that weren’t quite right. Sure, we had some tense moments, but we communicated and worked things out. I loved our collaboration. We didn’t move mountains, but we accomplished something together. I have nothing in common with Barack Obama, except that we both married up. He became the president of the United States, but I have a new deck.

I also could not have done this without the help of my mother-in-law. She took care of the kids so we can focus on this project. Although I took a week staycation, I did not get to spend much time with the kids. I felt guilty letting them spend lots of time on their digital devices. They helped out a bit in the beginning when we broke down the deck, but they rather stayed inside when the weather was getting hot. I don’t blame them. Đạo, our oldest son, helped out a bit here and there, but he also was tied up with video games. The good thing is that I still have to take another week of vacation time by the end of this month. With social distancing still in effect, I am not sure what we can do, but I am fine with just staying home, reading, blogging, and playing with the kids so my wife can focus on her work. Also thanks to my sister-in-law and her husband for lending us the tools, which saved us quite a bit of expenses.

The biggest motivation for redoing the deck ourselves was cost saving. We could not afford $15,000 to $20,000 to hire the professionals. Initially I budgeted $900 for the materials if we simply replaced old woods with new woods. Then we decided on composite materials and my wife estimated $4,000 and she was close. My rough tracking is around $3,332. You can see the break down at the end of this document.

The project took us three weeks to complete. It was not as hard as I thought. It just takes time, patience, and many trips to Lowe’s and Home Depot. If you’re thinking of redoing the deck yourself, you can do it. I am not even a good handyman and I could pull it off. For resources, I find Lowe’s video and instructions to be easy to follow. YouTube also has plenty of good instructional video.

As I was working on this project, I thought of my father-in-law. I wish he were still here with us. I would have learned so much from him. I still recall one time he asked me to help him fix a wood gate when I came over to his house. At the time my wife and I were still dating. He knew his daughter would be in trouble if she married someone who couldn’t even hit a nail’s head straight on with a hammer.

Even today I still can’t hit a nail straight on its head; therefore, I preferred screws. Even with a screw, I stripped its head at times. Thankfully I have his daughter to guide me through. I want to dedicate this project to my father-in-law. Rest in peace, dad!

Total Cost

  • $3,332


  • Materials for posts: $255
  • Seal tapes: $110
  • Wood filler $10
  • Water sealer for post: $15

Deck Boards

  • Fiberon composite decking: $1320 (including Trex’s hidden fasteners)


  • Fiberon railing system: $870 (including sleeves, base mountings, and caps)


  • Fiberon composite decking: $180
  • Wood: $70
  • Nails & brackets $60
  • Grass: $50
  • Concrete blocks: $40


  • Trim $200
  • Fairfax County Permit: $112
  • Wrecking Claw: $50
  • Triangle rule: $10
  • Drill head: $10