Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

29
Sep
19

Mill Street Blues: Posts, Posts, and More Posts

With the Craftsman bungalow finished, it was time to shift focus back to the wing and gable farmhouse. Winter was fast approaching, and our goal was to complete the work that could not be done in the dead of winter, and/or which could not or should not wait until spring.

First up was to finish the repairs to the front porch that had been started over a year ago. We’re not talking about a big project here—like say, transforming a tiny outdoor sitting nook into a ginormous grand veranda. We just wanted to restore the sizable but simple covered porch to its former understated glory.

Of course, even that modest goal was going to involve more than a bit of scraping and a few cans of paint. We knew this because, at various points over the last century, someone (or several someones) had committed egregious crimes against the home which had compromised both its style and its structural integrity.

Case in point: the seven Tuscan Roman columns. Known to some folks as pillars, these huge, hollow, wooden cylinders were doing their job—that is, holding up the roof of the porch without completely blocking out the sun—but they were doing nothing for the home in terms of curb appeal.

Now, personally, I have nothing against Tuscan, Roman, or even Grecian columns, provided they are attached to a structure that:

  • I do not own
  • I do not have to look at every day
  • is located in Tuscany, Rome, or Greece

That’s not to say I don’t appreciate columns, or that columns have no place in Midwestern farmhouse architecture. In fact, with a large covered front porch being one of the hallmarks of the American farmhouse—and with our greatest scientific minds having yet to to invent a roof that can hover over a porch of its own accord (presumably because they’ve been busy working on self-driving cars) columns are—at least for the foreseeable future—a necessity.

But while I appreciate columns for their ability to hold up a roof and add character to a home per se, I can’t get on board with having seven (seven!) giant, cylindrical columns on the porch of this one and a half story wing and gable farmhouse. They simply don’t belong. Just like they wouldn’t belong on the front porch of an adobe ranch, a Quonset hut, a mobile home, or anything short of a bank, a museum, or the Library of Congress.

One notable exception may be a two-story Greek Revival farmhouse, which theoretically would have the height and breadth to pull off columns of that size and scale.  But even then you would typically see something less ornate and grandiose than a full-on Tuscan Roman colonnade. Think six-by-six or four-by-four posts. Or eight-by-eight barn beams.

In fact, I can think of only three reasons to put these enormous Tuscan Roman columns on the porch of a small wing and gable farmhouse:

You’re broke, and said columns are free on Buy and Sell, Facebook Marketplace, or other social media platform (which we know these were not since their existence predates the sharing economy and all social media platforms except papyrus scrolls and stone tablets)

You’re obsessed with the concept of re-purposing, and there is literally NOTHING else you can think of to do with seven spare Tuscan Roman columns than stand them on your front porch (which is unlikely since it would have much easier to lay them on the ground and use them as tunnels for training small animals, or chop them up and use them as fuel for your furnace—the columns, not the small animals)

You live in an isolated area and said columns are the only material at your disposal when you realize your porch needs work (which is also unlikely since there are no less than 16 stores within a 30-minute drive of this dwelling that sell lumber, and about one hundred times that many very tall trees within a 3-minute walk that easily could be cut down and hewn into lumber over five or six days)

Knowing how the Jarhead and I react when one of us wants to do something completely insane with one of our projects (like when he suggested we just repair the columns instead of replacing them and I suggested he stop drinking in the middle of the day; or when I suggested we repair the columns and re-purpose them to build the world’s first and only Tuscan Roman deer stand and he decided to store them just in case he gets bored and decides to build the world’s first and only Tuscan Roman deer stand) I would love to have been a fly on the wall when the decision was made to install these pillars. I imagine the conversation to have gone something like this:

She: Baby, the porch is in pretty rough shape. Could you please fix it?

He: Sure, honey.

She: Thanks, baby. And maybe instead of 3 or 4 ordinary porch posts you could  support the roof with seven giant Tuscan Roman columns.

He: Why would we do that?

She: Why, to show the neighbors that we are people of great wealth and taste, of course.

He: That’s a great idea! Let’s go shopping for them right now!

But more likely, it went something like this:

She: Baby, the porch is in pretty rough shape. Could you please fix it?

He: Sure, honey.

She (six months later): Baby, the porch is in pretty rough shape. Could you please fix it?

He: Sure, honey.

She:  Thanks, baby. I don’t need you to make it too fancy. Just do what you must to keep the roof from caving in.

He (looking up from his newspaper): You bet, honey. Anything you want.

She (six months after that): Baby, the porch is still in pretty rough shape. Could you PLEASE replace those posts before the roof caves in?

He: (sighing): Fine. (Flips to the Classified section. Finds an ad for seven free/cheap Tuscan Roman columns, then picks them up and installs them while wife is out shopping with her friends…

Fortunately, that is not how it went when we commenced work on the porch in 2018. Instead, the seven Tuscan Roman columns came down—along with the PVC railing and the chain link fence—and four simple, square columns went up in their place.

As he was removing the old columns, however, the Jarhead decided (without prompting, I might add) to look under the porch to see why the floor seemed a bit bouncy. Turns out that someone (probably the same someone who installed the pillars) decided to replace the floorboards when they went bad but did NOT replace the rotten stringers that were supposed to be holding them up. Thus, he had to pull off much of the floor and rebuild the underlying structures before he could replace the columns.

And then winter came, so we had to quit before the stairs could be rebuilt and the painting could be done. Finally, in September of 2019, we got back to work on it, as well as the lawn and the landscaping. Several months and countless hours later, we have four nice new six-by-six columns, a new set of stairs, new wooden railings, and a row of little boxwoods lining the front.

 

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The unseasonably wet fall weather is complicating our efforts to get it painted. But once we finish painting, lay the mulch, and get the risers on the stairs—assuming it stops raining before the snow flies—that will be one job down and only fifteen left to finish before it’s too cold to work outside.

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09
Sep
19

Mill Street Blues: Move It or Lose It

After relieving Dude of his responsibilities vis à vis the wing and gable farmhouse, the Jarhead and I found ourselves in a bit of a quandary. A predicament. A veritable pickle, if you will. With our other house having already sold and closing day just weeks away, we needed to kick things into high gear if we didn’t want to spend the winter in a storage facility with our cat and all our worldly possessions.

Although we had finished installing the cabinets and painting most of the walls by then, we still had doors to paint, hardware to clean, two porches to repair, a deck to strip and paint, and a kitchen to finish. On top of all of that, after dismissing Dude, we also had kitchen and dining room flooring to install, interior doors and trim to hang, and some electrical work to finish. We also had a crapload of cleaning to do since the folks on Dude’s crew either had a pathological aversion to putting garbage in the 55 gallon bins we so generously had provided, or were trying to see how much trash they could amass on the floor before I lost my flipping mind.

Meanwhile, as they were NOT throwing away their drink cups, soda cans, and water bottles, they WERE throwing out other items. Like entire strips of original Victorian-era door and window trim and hardware we were saving to reuse. And the original siding that was to have been removed from the OLD east end of the garage before the addition was framed, and which we had expected to have put back on the NEW east end of the garage when the addition was finished.

Fortunately, the Jarhead realized what was happening in time to salvage enough trim and other components to finish the patio doorway to match the rest of the main floor doorways. That meant he had to do something different around the kitchen window and one of the upstairs doors, but at least we were able to preserve the original character in the main living areas. As for the garage siding, it presumably went to building materials heaven. Or the dump. Depending on your religious affiliation.

Meanwhile, as the Jarhead worked on the tasks involving power tools, muscles, and advanced math, I finished the painting, learned how—and how NOT to—install vinyl plank, and arranged for the carpet, counter tops, and appliances to be installed so we could accomplish the modest goal of moving out of the old house in time for the buyer to move in.

We barely made it. That is to say, we got moved out of the old house, but we moved in to the new one under less than ideal circumstances. For example, the counter tops couldn’t be installed until almost two weeks after we moved in. And because we couldn’t install the sink, disposal, and dishwasher without the counters in place, we didn’t have running water in the kitchen for a few more days after that. And because the plumber who was installing the sink, disposal and dishwasher was also installing the washer, dryer, and stove—and because he didn’t want to make two trips to outer Mongolia—we couldn’t cook or do any laundry until then either.

Thankfully, we had a grill to cook on, paper plates to eat on, a bathroom sink to get water from, and enough clothing in our closets that we didn’t have to sneak over to the old house and do laundry while the new owner was sleeping. I’m just kidding, of course. There’s no way I could have gone over there at night without waking up her dogs, and everyone knows I’m afraid of dogs.

Had we known we were going to fall so short of our goal, we definitely would have fired Dude and taken over the project much sooner. As it was, we had to hire a couple guys to work on the doors just to buy the Jarhead enough time for other tasks that absolutely had to be done before winter.

We thought that would bring us back on schedule, but as fall turned to winter, it became clear that the windows all needed to be replaced. And so, the porch repairs got bumped to spring, along with the deck repairs, the garage updates, and grouting the kitchen back splash.

And then, just as we were getting around to doing the winter projects, the foyer ceiling started leaking. And the pipes froze in the kitchen. Evidently Dude and crew forgot to insulate above the foyer when they replaced the ceiling and installed the new roof. And apparently the plumber was unaware that water lines should not be placed against a stone foundation wall. Seems to me that professional roofers and plumbers would have known these things. But then I’m reminded that, although they take money to perform a service, Dude and crew are not professionals.

Needless to say, we were very glad we opted to love this house instead of listing it. I can only imagine the lawsuit we would be facing if we had sold it. I can only imagine the excuses Dude would have to offer if I had bothered to confront him over it. I can only imagine the charges I would be facing and the sentence I would be serving if the Jarhead hadn’t been around to uncork the wine.

Meanwhile, just as I was learning to manage my homicidal tendencies, we found the Craftsman bungalow I mentioned a few posts ago (Mill Street Blues: Love It or List It.) And so, the rest of the interior painting got bumped to the summer, along with cleaning the basement and sorting the garage.

And then, just as we were wrapping up the demo at the Craftsman bungalow, we discovered that it needed a new roof and had bad wiring. And so, because we had to find a roofer and an electrician—and pull permits and meet with inspectors—the reconstruction, drywall, plastering and painting there got bumped to the spring, which meant work there would continue through the summer.

And then, just as, well, you get the picture.

In the end, it took us just under eight months to get the Craftsman on the market, and it sold in two weeks. We’re pleased with how it turned out, and excited for the folks who are buying it.

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Almost a year after moving to Mill Street, we are finally getting around to the work that should have been done fifteen months ago, including insulating the foyer and properly installing the kitchen water lines. With luck, it won’t take fifteen more.

10
Jul
19

Mill Street Blues: Pros and Cons

We didn’t recognize them as such at the time, but there were a few of clues that renovating the wing and gable farmhouse might be a bad idea.

The first came in the form of the blizzard that hit three days before the previous occupants were scheduled to vacate the premises, forcing them to choose between shoveling 22 inches of snow and walking repeatedly through 22 inches of snow to retrieve all of their belongings. Care to guess which option they chose?

The second clue came in the form of all the crap said occupants left behind—in the basement, in the garage, in the yard, and in the fridge. One might assume they got tired of trudging through the 22 inches of snow they had refused to shovel. Then again, they got the important stuff—like the washer and dryer that, legally speaking, were supposed to stay with the house.

The third clue came in the form of two teenage boys who, two days after we took possession of the house, jabbed all four tires on the dump trailer as it sat in the driveway filled to the brim with several tons of what used to be the roof. Although we took little comfort in learning that the dump trailer was just one of almost 40 vehicles that the little dickens vandalized that night, we took a great deal of comfort in justifying the amount of our restitution claim in court eight months later—and even more pleasure in depositing the check a few weeks after that.

The fourth clue came in the form of a note that was slipped to the Jarhead at a local builder supply store that warned us against working with the sketchy-looking guy who was assigned to hang the new gutters.

Yep. All those signs and still we persisted. Like those idiots in Poltergeist who stayed in their McMansion even after they retrieved Carol Ann from the TV or wherever she was. And the morons in The Amityville Horror who stayed in their Dutch colonial even after the walls started to bleed. And the dumbass nurse in The Skeleton Key who stayed in the plantation home in Terrebonne Parish even after it was clear that the place was replete with bad juju.

Starting to see a common theme? It’s okay to admit that you’re questioning our intelligence. We have questioned it, too. Many, many times.

Like when we looked under the sink and discovered that someone had used an empty tube of lotion and a metal clamp to terminate an old water line. And when we learned that three different plumbers had decided to leave all three generations of water piping in place when it came time to put in the fourth.

And when literally every single gutter on the house began to leak and it became clear that the sketchy gutter guy had much to learn about installing gutters. And when the roofing crew forgot to safeguard the structures around the house before tear-off and the gas meter suddenly had to be replaced.

And when their leader became enmeshed in a feud with the power company after one of their reps had the audacity to suggest that his folks should be a bit more careful in the future. And when he got into an argument with the building inspector and ordered him off the property. And when he called the police when the inspector refused to leave.

Having already racked up more visits from local law enforcement in the eight months since moving to Weyauwega than we had in the entire 8 years we had spent in Oshkosh (where our one and only encounter with the police was the night they mistook the Jarhead for a burglar) I was no longer questioning the wisdom of renovating this house as much as I was questioning whether we’d chosen the right people to help us do it.

That sense continued into the summer as we waited for three weeks for the stairs to be put back together because dude could not find the app that would calculate the run and the rise. In fairness replacing the stairs was added to the scope of work when we realized that the studs and stringers holding them up had been reduced to charcoal by a fire at some point in the distant past. On the other hand, I’m the type of person who would not have taken down the old stairs until I was ready and equipped to put the new ones right back up.

But that’s just me.

Anyway, dude eventually found the app and, eventually, we had stairs. Unfortunately, we then had to wait for the upstairs doorways to be rebuilt. It seems that rebuilding stairs also means bringing them up to code, which means making them less steep and, thus, longer. And making the stairway longer would have left the upstairs bedroom doorways suspended a few feet above the middle of the stairs, which is apparently dangerous and, therefore, not cool. Unless, of course, you’re into strains, sprains, and compound fractures. Which is fine. I’m not one to judge. And I don’t know your life.

I don’t know how much longer we would have waited for the rest of the work to be done after the doorways were framed and drywalled, but I do know this: When we determined that the snow was likely to fly again before dude and company would finish the reconstruction so we could start painting and installing flooring and fixtures, we decided we would rather do the reconstruction ourselves than wait any longer.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I pay someone to build or fix something, I generally expect it to turn out better than if I had built or fixed it myself. Clothing, for example, should look and fit better when I buy it at the store than if I had sewn it myself. I can hem slacks, re-attach buttons, and even make simple things like curtains and blankets, but I SHOP for the clothes I wear because I don’t want to look like the lady who stands at the end of the Walmart parking lot holding a can and a cardboard sign.

Car repair is another example. I could—theoretically—change my own oil, rotate my own tires, and replace my own air filters and spark plugs. But even if I were willing to get all dirty, dusty, greasy and sweaty just to save a few bucks, no doubt I would not do as good a job of tightening my lug nuts and connecting all those grody engine parts to the other grody engine parts as Colton does at my local Tires Plus. (I would have cited a local dealership here, but the last time one of their guys worked on my car they forgot to reconnect the clamps on my engine air filter, and the poor thing shuddered, sputtered, then died as I was heading home. So, there’s at least ONE person in the Fox Valley who isn’t a better mechanic than I am.)

Of course, there are some exceptions. For example, I haven’t found a chef on planet earth that can make bacon and eggs exactly the way I like them. Or guacamole.  But by and large, the people who do stuff for a living should do that stuff better than the rest of us can.

So imagine my surprise when dude had this to say after the Jarhead and I decided our relationship with him had run its course:

Dude: I know we haven’t gotten things done as quickly as you’d have liked, but I hope you’ll keep us in mind for future projects.

Me: I don’t mean to be unkind, but it isn’t just the timeline I’ve had a problem with. To be honest, the quality of the work isn’t quite what we expected.

Dude:  Well, let’s not forget that when we bid the project, it was going to be a flip.

Me: Personally, I would have expected quality work regardless of what we were going to do with the property. I mean, no offense, but when I hire someone to do a job, I expect it to look better than if I had done it myself.

Dude: Well, I never said we were professionals.

And here I thought a professional was someone who performed a service in exchange for money.

Silly me.

 

02
May
19

Mill Street Blues: Love It or List It

When the Jarhead and I finally found our first official ‘flip,’ we thought we knew exactly what to do. Avid fans of HGTV, we had the drill down pat:

Step 1: Demolition. I don’t think I have to explain this, but I will. It means for a few weeks you get to wreck stuff.

Step 2: Identify between 2 and 20 previously undisclosed and expensive issues that will severely disrupt the timeline for your project. Or greatly impact the budget. Or both.

Step 3: Agonize over those problems and their various implications. If necessary, discuss each problem at length—and preferably on camera for all the world to see—with the appropriate expert  and/or your favorite therapist. You might try discussing them with your spouse or business partner, but only if you have no religious or moral objections to the concept of divorce, and don’t mind getting up close and personal with terms like division of assets.

Step 4: Devise a solution to the problem(s.) For most people, this means giving up some pricey element of the design (like, say, custom cabinets) in favor of a more economical one (such as stock cabinets) or giving up a luxury item (for example, that gold-plated coffered ceiling you’ve had your heart set on since 2011) in favor of a necessity (like, say, walls.) For others (like the folks on Flip or Flop) the answer is never to cut one or two custom and/or luxury items from the budget, but rather to ADD three or four more. That way buyers will be so blown away by what they see, they won’t even notice the ridiculous asking price.

Step 5: Put the house back together. Try to do this in the proper order, if possible. For example, it’s best to drill your dryer exhaust vent BEFORE you spray the top of the basement walls with foam insulation. That way you can see where everything is and you won’t accidentally drill through all the fancy new wiring you had the electrician install a few weeks earlier, and you won’t have to stop what you’re doing to run down to the local home improvement center to purchase a junction box so you can get the power back on to the laundry room and finish installing your dryer exhaust vent.

Step 6: Look at the comparable homes that have sold in your neighborhood within the past 6 months, then flip a coin or use a set of dice to choose your sale price. If gambling isn’t in your blood, you can instead hang pieces of paper containing the numbers 0 to 9 in random order on your wall, then put on a blind fold and throw a dart, an ax, or a sauce-covered meatball at the wall five or six times and record the number that you hit each time. The five or six-digit number you wind up with then becomes your sale price. (Note: If at any point you do not hit a number, just keep throwing the dart, ax, or meatball until you hit enough digits to create a five or six-digit number. It doesn’t have to be complicated.)

Step 7:  Put the house on the market. This is best done with the help of a realtor. If you aren’t one and don’t know one, do like we did and simply conceive one. It may require some serious advanced planning, but 30 or so years later, it definitely will be worth it.

Step 8: Cross your fingers and hope to attract a serious buyer. If you’re not superstitious, take up drinking instead. That should get you through the tense moments.

Step 9: Pray that the sale goes through. If you’re not religious, take up drinking instead. If you’ve been drinking all along, send me your address. I’ll come join you.

So as you can see, we knew what we needed to do. And we were ready to do it.

What we didn’t know was how hard it can be to part with a house once you’ve finished it. Or how hard it can be to decide WHETHER to fix it up to love it or fix it up to list it.

The house in question is a 3-bedroom wing and gable farmhouse. Built in 1900 and situated on a corner lot with a 1-car garage, it had somehow escaped our notice for several months despite being located only six blocks from where we lived in and despite having been on the market for the better part of two years. Featuring 18-inch stone foundation walls, 9 ½ foot ceilings, covered porches on the front and back, and all the original doors, brass knobs, latches, and stamped hinges, it had the potential to be a grand home.

But for the clogged kitchen drains and toilet, the lack of a working stove, the interior water damage from ice dams over the foyer, the stained and frayed carpet, the cracked plaster, the insanely steep stairway, the smell of cigarette smoke, the stench of cat pee, the beams that had been compromised by a coal furnace fire in 1960, the beam and other structures that had been compromised by the wayward saw of an unimaginative HVAC installer that same year, and the renters who did everything in their power to make it look as nasty as possible while it was up for sale, the place would have been snatched up and fixed up within days of  hitting the market.

Fortunately for us, the house was so far gone, no one else could see it’s potential. Had it been on the market in May of 2016 instead of July of 2016, we would have bought it instead of the once decrepit 3 bed, 1.5 bath ranch we spent 15 months turning into our forever home.

Thus, before the demo even started, we were asking ourselves: Are we going to fix up this little farmhouse to love it? Or are we going to fix up this little farmhouse to list it?

Or, to put it another way, after working for 15 months to gut and rebuild the decrepit ranch, were we going to love IT? Or list IT?

In the end, of course, it came down to money. With the formerly 3 bed, 1.5 bath ranch now a fully updated 4 bed, 3 bath ranch, it was more house than two soon-to-be empty-nesters needed. And with 4 bed, 3 bath ranches in higher demand than 3-bedroom farmhouses, it was almost a no brainer.

I say almost because, although we now live 3 blocks further the train tracks, the sound of that train passing through town—which it does almost every hour on the hour, all night long—carries further southward than it did eastward. And because Mill Street has no stop signs between Main Street and Clark Street, no one obeys the posted speed limit. And because a surprising number of Weyauwega residents seem to be unfamiliar with that portion of a vehicle’s exhaust system commonly known as a muffler, this house isn’t nearly as quiet as the last one.

Had I known that, we probably still would have sold the ranch and moved here, but we would also have replaced the old sash windows with something that offered better sound proofing.

Fingers crossed that won’t be an issue for the Craftsman bungalow we are rehabbing right now. Also built in 1900, it stands just a block from the railroad tracks in Neenah, which virtually guarantees that in five weeks or so, we won’t be asking ourselves whether to love it, or list it.

12
Apr
19

Mill Street Blues: Hunting & Blathering

Fans of HGTV are familiar with the House Hunters series and its progeny, House Hunters International and House Hunters Renovation.

For the uninitiated (and those for whom the title is a bit too cryptic to decipher) House Hunters involves one or more people—usually, but not always, a couple; and usually, but not always, attractive—looking for a home in a specific geographic area aided by a local real estate professional. Over the course of thirty minutes (minus 8 or 9 for commercials) the parties view and assess three properties, each one ticking off some—but never all—of the boxes on the parties’ wish list.

Yep. Three. No more. No less.

As if choosing a place to live were like The Dating Game.

“So, house number one: What is your idea of a nice romantic evening?”

“Great question. I think my idea of a romantic evening would be lying down beside you on my deep orange textured shag carpeting, where I’d gaze with you winsomely upon my velvet avocado wallpaper and show you what seven thousand dollars below budget feels like.”

“That sounds, uh, interesting. House number two: same question.”

“My idea of a romantic evening is sitting with you before a roaring fire under my vaulted ceiling with exposed beams, surrounded by real linen blend wall paper and sustainable bamboo hardwoods, eating ramen soup and hot dogs.”

“Wow. You must really like ramen soup and hot dogs.”

“No. That’s just all you’d be able to afford after paying the mortgage and utilities.”

“I see. And house number three?”

“Well, I can’t offer either velvet or linen wallpaper, but I am in a good neighborhood and right on budget. That being said, a romantic evening to me means taking you to my kitchen, showing you my huge peninsula…”

You get the idea.

And if only it were that easy.

We could make it even easier, I suppose, by posing it like that age-old philosophical question: If you were marooned on a deserted island, what is the one thing you absolutely would have to have with you?

Only in this case, it would be, if you could live in one place and only that one place for the rest of your life, which place would it be?

It would be a tough choice—especially for me and the Jarhead, who have moved so often our friends and family probably think we’re in witness protection. Or on the lam.

In case you’re about to check Google or the FBI website for our names and photos, let me save you the trouble: The only thing we’re guilty of is criminal indecision.

And in case you were going to check Google or the American Psychiatric Psociety website for a list of psymptoms of psychological disorders, let me save you that trouble, too: What we have is a type of addiction where you can’t live in a house without modifying it in some way, and also a form of hoarding where you are unable to sell a house you’ve fixed up without first living there—if only for 385 days, like our last one.

And if you believe that, I have a lovely bottle of windmill noise cancer pills to sell you at a good price.

Seriously, though. If we had to choose a home from a pool of just three, it would be like having to choose only one cat from the shelter (as in, next to impossible) or asking my friend Von to select a piece of chocolate from a Belgian sampler (meaning, delightful or deadly, depending on the odds of finding a piece that contains cashews, almonds, or coconut.)

Fortunately, we aren’t forced to choose a project from just three pitiable properties. UN-fortunately, that means we can end up touring five, ten, sometimes fifteen houses before finding one that can be saved without spending more money fixing it up than can be made when it’s time to sell it. And if we’re outbid by another buyer or can’t put together an offer that’s acceptable to the seller, then we’re right back at square one. I’m not suggesting what we’re doing would make for a bingeworthy TV series, but there is plenty of drama.

And just for the record, we’re not going through these homes whining about laminate countertops, popcorn ceilings, or carpeted floors like many folks do on House Hunters.

Some of these people truly could use a lesson in perspective, come to think of it. Perhaps HGTV should develop another program called Get Over Yourself, where the participants from House Hunters tour three properties whose occupants are barely keeping a roof over their head so these jerks can understand just how effing good they have it, and maybe learn not to be so glib and condescending when talking about their own tastes and preferences.

Just sayin’.

Nor am I walking through our prospective projects in four-inch heels, false eyelashes, and a Brazilian blowout, and screaming at the mouse droppings in the kitchen, the chickens roosting in the garage, or the dude sleeping on the pile of clothes in the back bedroom. To be fair, the mouse droppings are the only item from that list that I, personally, have run across while touring a home, so it’s probably not fair to judge Christina until I’ve walked a mile in her designer platforms. But I like to think I’d know enough to shut my mouth and slip back out the front door so as not to get us shot or shanked.

Even without the chickens and the squatters, some of what we’ve run across during a tour or a remodel would still give you pause. A basement filled with rotting clothing and garbage may not shank you, but it will make you stop and think about the date of your last tetanus shot. As will the carpets covered in cat, dog and human waste; the rusted-out razor blades you pull out of the furnace vents, and the long, thin lines of sticky yellow-brown liquid that adorn the walls with bits of fuzz trapped in and around it like bees suspended in fossilized tree resin.

And let’s not forget about the graffiti, the freezers filled with rotten food, the cat litter clogged toilets, and the wobbly outline of a child’s hand drawn repeatedly in colored marker next to the scribbled words “Natalie’s time out hand” that you hope was written by a living, breathing child named Natalie, and not by a vengeful spirit come to haunt her.

Wow. That sure took a turn toward the dark and surreal.

If you’re not afraid to find out what’s around the next corner, be sure to tune in next time for Mill Street Blues III: Love It or List It.

27
Mar
19

Mill Street Blues

It all started innocently enough, as many spectacular disasters do—with an abundance of good intentions and a dearth of interest in doing research and checking references.

The Jarhead and I, having survived multiple military deployments, thirty-two income tax seasons, and five home improvement projects—including one whole house renovation–decided to go into business flipping houses.

It made perfect sense at the time. As the more creative member of the team, I would come up with the designs, choose the furnishings and fixtures, and do the accounting, while he—as the stronger, fitter, and more mechanically inclined member of the team, would be the muscle, the engineer, and the eye-candy.

As with our marriage—ill-advised as some considered it to be back in 1985—we knew it wouldn’t be easy. As with raising children, we knew there would be challenges. As with military deployments, we knew we would need to plan well and be prepared for surprises. And as with income tax returns and other home improvements, we knew there would be tears, heated exchanges, and homicidal ideations. But we also knew that with patience, dedication and—if necessary—copious amounts of alcohol, our business could be a smashing success.

And so, one month after the Jarhead retired, we bought a domain name, created an LLC, acquired a trailer, and started shopping for investment properties. There were other steps involved, as well. I’m just listing the highlights.

You’re welcome.

We didn’t issue a press release—mostly because no one reads the newspaper anymore, but also because we weren’t sure anyone would care that we were going into business, and because we didn’t want to have to admit it later if the endeavor was a colossal failure. But we told a few friends, and word got around.

Those who didn’t hate it, loved the idea. They imagined the Jarhead as a midwestern Tarek El Moussa to my shorter, plumper, and false eyelash-free Christina. Or as a taller, darker, and less excitable Chip Gaines to my shorter, plumper, blonder, and less patient Joanna. Or as a shorter, older, and handsomer Jonathon Scott to my shorter, plumper, blonder, and slightly less masculine Drew. You get the picture—with my apologies.

And just over a year later, here we are—still married—and about to embark on our second flip. There have been ups and downs, setbacks, and surprises, which I hope to cover in future posts.

And even as I joke about spectacular disasters and colossal failures, from my perspective it’s been a mostly positive and highly educational experience. Case in point: I’ve learned how to (and how NOT to) install vinyl flooring.  I’ve also developed new appreciation for people who show up for appointments and meetings on time, and I’ve learned many new words for ordinary household devices.

For example, cabinets that don’t appear level when hung, are pecker-heads.

Screws that won’t turn at the speed or in the direction you want them too, are also pecker-heads.

Cordless drills with lithium batteries that won’t hold a change are quite vexing, and, therefore, are also pecker-heads.

If you type it often enough while watching someone hang kitchen cabinets, your Android keyboard will eventually recognize the word pecker-heads.

Apologies for the blue language. However, if you’re easily offended, you probably shouldn’t be here in the first place.

And for those of you who aren’t easily offended, be sure to tune in next time for Mill Street Blues II: Hunting and Blathering.

02
Mar
19

Tattle Tales

This may come as a shock to the folks who think of me as a sweet old lady who spends her days cleaning, sewing, and tapping on a keyboard, but I spent more than my share of time in timeout as a kid.

That’s not to say, I passed many hours sitting on a bench waiting for a game or sporting match to resume play. This was not the kind of timeout designed to give a team of players a chance to strategize, or to provide coaches the opportunity to verbally abuse the officials without missing any of the action on the field. This kind of timeout was designed to be punitive. Like a penalty box in hockey. Only without the giant scoreboard on the wall at the far end of the room.

We didn’t call it timeout back then, of course. To be clear, we were already calling automobiles “cars” instead of “tin Lizzies” by the time I was born. We also had color TV—well, WE didn’t—but some people did. In other words, it had been invented.

I mention these things to give you context more than anything else. To give you an idea of how far back it was so you don’t think the concept of timeout is something that Supernanny Joanne Frost invented at the turn of this century.

The practice is believed to date back to nearly ancient times. In the 20th century, according to the more colorful pages of the average Sunday newspaper, children were sent to stand in the corner when they misbehaved—especially if their misdeeds annoyed or caused harm to an easily aggrieved man named Mr. Wilson. And according to several black and white film reels, children were also forced to stand in the corner when they misbehaved at school. Further evidence of this can also be found in 20th century depictions of 19th century Walnut Grove.

I don’t recall having been asked to stand in the corner, myself. My timeouts were usually spent on a couch or in a chair.

During one two-year period in my youth, when my dad was married to my first step-mom, I spent much of my time in timeout for arguing with my step-brother, Burt, who was usually sent to an adjacent cell—er, chair.

On one particular afternoon I recall nearly having extra time added to my sentence thanks to that little bastard, who was two years older than me but exceptionally unintelligent and immature for his age.

Never one to tolerate either silence or inactivity very well, I decided to pass my time in the penalty box by mouthing my list of vocabulary words, and their spellings and definitions. As I was doing this—and because he was either a moron or a lying sack of steaming doodoo—Burt decided to go tell his mom, Betty, that I was swearing.

Fortunately, she didn’t buy it. Although she did call me to the stand and ask me to repeat what I had been “saying” while she was out of the room, she also stopped me less than three words into my list to tell me to sit down and shut up. I’m paraphrasing, of course. She would never have been that nice.

The point is, she recognized that Burt was trying to get me penalized and have time taken off his own sentence by providing testimony—false though it was—of my further wrongdoing. Burt’s plan backfired, I’m thankful to say, and while I don’t think he learned much from the experience, I myself learned two valuable skills: how to manipulate tattle tale step-siblings into cutting their own throats, and how to successfully defend yourself against false and not so false accusations of swearing under your breath.

That incident wasn’t the first in which I was accused of something I hadn’t done, nor would it be the last.

During middle school, circa 1979, I was summoned to the administrative office, where I found myself subsequently being interrogated by the principal and the school nurse, Mrs. St. Pierre, about some unspecified item that had been found in my locker.

To my knowledge, all that was in my locker were books, school supplies and perhaps a spare feminine product or two, so I was dumbfounded. Especially since the only other person who had access to that locker was my friend, Alicia, who was as pure a soul as they come and without a doubt even less likely to be in possession of contraband than I was.

Unable to get me to admit to anything—since there literally was nothing to admit to—Mrs. St. Pierre reached into a drawer and produced an 8-ounce bottle that bore the original and unadulterated product labels, including one on the front that said Cepacol mouthwash (similar to the one seen here ) but instead of the original and unadulterated urine-yellow liquid, it contained a caramel colored substance resembling brandy or bourbon.

“So this isn’t yours?” Mrs. St. Pierre asked calmly as she set it on the table.

“Oh that! Yeah, that’s mine.”

“Well what is it?” she asked. “Because it most certainly isn’t Cepacol mouthwash.”

She was right about that. It was Ten-o-Six lotion by Bonne Bell. Ten-o-Six lotion is an astringent I used to clean my face after P.E. Because it was expensive, I would buy it in the large bottle (like the one seen in here) which didn’t fit on the top shelf of my locker. And so, I kept a supply in an old mouthwash bottle, which DID fit on the top shelf of my locker.

Assuming they thought it was booze, I explained all of that, believing it would soon lead to my release. It did not.

“Why didn’t you label it Ten-o-Six lotion?” the principal asked.

“Because I knew it was Ten-o-Six lotion.” DUH.

It was then that I found out that illicit alcohol was the least of their concerns. As it turned out, believing what was in the bottle was Cepacol mouthwash, Alicia had taken a swig of Ten-o-Six lotion during our last break, planning to stop and spit it out in the bathroom sink on her way to her next class.

But instead of fresh clean breath on her way to the next period, Alicia got a nasty set of chemical burns and I got pulled into the office on suspicion of trying to poison her. Which is not something I would have thought of doing to anyone at the time. (Now, sure. But then, never.)

In retrospect, I probably should have told Alicia it wasn’t mouthwash. But since I never imagined anyone would help themselves to someone else’s mouthwash (ew!) I didn’t think I had to tell anyone that it WASN’T mouthwash. Later, as a college student with three untrustworthy roommates, I learned that people will help themselves to all kinds of things you wouldn’t expect (double ew!) but in eighth grade, I was still an innocent.

Ah, the good old days.




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