Sunday, March 22, 2020

Friday, March 20, 2020

I'm not panicking. I'm not panicking. You're panicking.

So I'm totally panicking.  Since my last post the entire world has changed dramatically.  Courthouses are closed with most hearings kicked or moving telephonic, which has resulted in a frenzy of conference calls and other logistical scrambling.  Megan is a public health researcher and an ABD PhD student, so we have WAY too much knowledge and information to feel very confident right now.  On top of all that, we commenced a second job as school teachers (and, by the way, actual teachers are heroes and deserve all the love / respect / funding on the planet).  Day-to-day life is very INTENSE these days.

Meanwhile, we continue our efforts to resuscitate a 120-year old house we are desperate to inhabit while watching a daily shifting landscape of closures and restrictions. We have a looming fear that a "shelter in place" order will come down bringing the project to a halt.  Given COVID-19 trends in New Orleans, we anticipate it's not an "if" but a "when" situation.   Being generously receptive to our anxiety, our painting contractor is putting forth a Herculean effort to see this project completed.  We've been putting in whatever efforts we can to facilitate progress, most recently spending hours in the painstaking removal of thousands of carpet staples from the staircase:

I realized my panic had grown a bit out of control yesterday after I lost my mind on a call with Lowe's.  For context, the master bedroom closets are carpeted.  Pretty small space.  Naturally we're interested in replacing and refreshing the carpet, which had been a minor punchlist item for who-knows-when.  But now in the face of imminent potential SHUT DOWN OF EVERYTHING, I commenced a carpet panic buying process.  On Monday, while at Lowe's for supplies, I requested immediate carpet replacement.  They informed me that measuring the space should come first.  Fair enough.  We arranged for measuring the next morning.  I was told I'd get a call back to finalize the order, but no call came.  So yesterday I began haunting the phones.  I finally reached someone who helpfully explained I could get any carpet  I would want in one to two weeks. 

Then an eye witness (ok, Megan) tells me I near-shouted the following line: "WE DON'T HAVE ONE OR TWO WEEKS.  IT'S ALL GETTING SHUT DOWN.  I NEED CARPET TOMORROW."

The guy at Lowe's was remarkably gracious in the face of my insanity.  He invited me into the store to pick from what they had in stock.  I raced down Jefferson Highway and moments later selected a carpet called--and I kid you not--NOTORIOUS GAUCHO.  If I ever make it in the Latin American hip hop scene, you will find me by that pseudonym. 

So carpet install is slated for Monday.  I'm hoping we are getting the top layer on the upstairs floors shortly thereafter, which would put us living in the house NEXT WEEK.  Time will tell. 

Stay safe, folks.  These are serious times, and we all benefit if folks stay at home.  High hopes we'll be staying at home from the new home very, very soon. 

Monday, March 9, 2020

Order and Progess

The distractions of carnival season coupled with the house project left me little time to tend to the blog.  However, we now have some real signs of progress.  The house has functioning electricity, no more holes in the walls, AC (although not quite heat), and even internet service!  We don't exactly have running water right now, but that's a story for another day.

For now, let's document the progress.  Megan has focused on restoring some of the historic hardware, such as these plates on some 120 year old pocket doors, which polished up nicely:

The more dramatic progress appears upstairs.  We removed some purple carpet to reveal viable hardwoods.  As of today, those are repaired, sanded, and awaiting stain: 

However, the part of the house where I feel the change the most is in Hattie's future room.  The room has been hard work by all.  Electricians struggled to remove some particular pesky wiring, resulting in more holes than in most other rooms.  The paint and patch crew then had to deal with the aftermath.  Meanwhile, we took the laboring oar in removing window treatments and an old window air conditioning unit (which was then followed by Megan dangling precariously out of the second floor window to hack apart caulk in order to close the window for the first time in probably 40 years).  The room is really coming along.

More to come . . . 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Area Codes (I've Got Holes)

The first stage of our project requires a certain degree of destruction.  This process has been somewhat painful.  We've taken something functional and made it temporarily not functional at all.  But the most destructive project--removal of knob-and-tube wiring--was unavoidable.  Knob-and-tube debuted around 1880 and became obsolete by the late 1940s.  As best we can tell, no insurance company wants any association with the stuff anymore because of its tendency to catch fire should even the tiniest rat find the need to gnaw a wire.  And let me tell you--this city's rats are anything but tiny.

Fortunately, only about two-thirds of the house had knob-and-tube.  The back of the house includes additions from the 1990s, so we had some viable wiring.  The original part of the house actively used knob-and-tube until the day of our closing.  However, with a high interest in keeping the home insured, we had to commence re-wiring immediately.

There are a couple of different approaches to K-and-T removal.  Some contractors will recommend a to-studs remodel.  While that process makes the rewiring itself faster and easier, it creates much more destruction and risks damaging some of the historical character of the house.  We found a contractor who works extensively in older homes and takes a less invasive approach.  They've been sparing in their cuts, preserved material, identified risks, and, even better, worked very quickly.  Still . . . I've got holes . . . I've got holes . . .

The process has provided some discoveries.  On a personal level, I've discovered that having holes in most of my walls makes me uneasy.  I will never take an unperforated section of sheetrock for granted again.  Aside from anxiety, the discoveries have been interesting. Many of the cuts reveal lath and plaster work, often with sheetrock right on top. The plaster walls the intensity of the care and labor involved in their construction.  It's unsurprising to see them holding up well after 120 years.  We found at least one case of a knob-and-tube light fixture suspended from an old gas line that would have once supplied a gas fixture that likely pre-dated the knob-and-tube.  Fortunately the gas line was defunct, but apparently it is not uncommon in the older houses to find electricity running right on those old lines.

But I'm not done talking about holes . . . the other substantial hole in our lives rests under the house.  The K-and-T removal is our biggest project, but the second biggest project is HVAC replacement.  The old units in the house included components manufactured by Chrysler (and if you are curious, I found an interesting history of Chrysler's journey in and out of climate control products, which oddly enough includes a role in uranium enrichment for the first nuclear bomb).  Amazingly the units still functioned but with enough deterioration that replacement proved essential.  While the one in the attic presented no access issues, another unit lived under the house . . . in a narrow crawl space . . . made less accessible by decades of silt and plant growth.  Hence, the need for another big hole (and occasional swimming pool depending on the rain).

The underground tunnel is the kids' favorite feature of the house, and they have begged me to keep it in place as the ultimate cranny for hide-and-seek.  Much to their disappointment, the HVAC work is nearly finished, and this hole will be vanishing soon.  I have high hopes the rest of the holes in the house will be gone by Mardi Gras.  We will see . . .

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

A Domestic Adventure

This poor blog has withered in the whirlwind of work commitments, kid commitments, and the continuous revelry of New Orleans.  But now we find ourselves in the middle of a serious project, and I have fielded enough interested questions from friends and family to realize that others are closely following along.  So, I've dusted off the old Blogger login and decided to bring this space back to life.

We recently sold our beloved 1914 double shotgun on Laurel St. with an aim to having a little more room for our growing kids, a need that seemed suddenly urgent as we hosted a hurricane party (Barry) and found ourselves quickly out of space.  The house we found was built in 1900, a sturdy Victorian sitting a bit over a block from St. Charles Avenue on Arabella.  The melodious rumble of the streetcars reaches the front porch.  It's classic, and it's quintessentially New Orleans.  We're in love.

All that said, if we've learned anything in our time in this city, it's that maintenance needs exceed those of many other places.  Structures are older and quirkier with layers of historical changes, half-hearted repairs, necessities mothering strange invention.  A house inspection borders on archaeology.  The heat, humidity, and creepy crawlies ravage wood.  The city is called the Big Easy for so many reasons, but this aspect of the city is not easy at all.

But we wanted it this way.  We spent months wandering open houses and evaluating options.  Many places have been beautifully restored, but such care comes at a premium.  Other places proved hastily restored, which leaves the specter of hidden trouble down the road.  Our ideal scenario was an old house in need of some work that we could really make our own.  We finally found it.

So here we are with the great adventure ahead.  We're deep into the work already, and I aim to chronicle some aspects of the transformation--the discovery of the massive attic cistern, the coat closet that may have housed a WWII-era kitchen, ancient wallpapers, and knob and tube wiring.  In the meantime, here's a picture of the house from around 1907.  I can only hope that by the end of this we will be entertaining our friends in such style.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Lourmarin, Provence

I'm going to light our guidebook on fire. It led us on a hunt for a silly little fountain in Aix. Now it told us that Lourmarin, the charming town in the distance, was basically an ok place for a car to breakdown and while stuck there go see some chateau.

So we rolled into town thinking we'd see a chateau and move onto the next town. Au contraire. This town is awesome. It's really got everything. Great little cafes. Excellent art galleries. Charming, narrow lanes. The grave of Albert Camus. Really everything.

We wandered. We saw the chateau. I paid respects to Camus, recalling a study abroad summer where I read his entire works over espresso and angst. We dined at a great little patio on garden fresh tomatoes while watching the world scurry by. We nearly bought some extremely dark modern art (but passed upon reflection and with full stomachs).

Anyway, Lourmarin is wonderful. Tonight we dine at Cucuron and then onward tomorrow to cooking class.

Truffle Hunt at Las Pastras

A weigh in of the day's haul. We discovered that the highest and best use of the truffle is truffle ice cream drizzled with truffle honey.
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