Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Jolly Holiday

Christmas Decorations

We've been busy at my parents' house decorating for Christmas this year. They always host our extended family on Christmas Day, so we take great care and joy in decorating the house for our family and ourselves. Since my house can't be decorated this year, I decided to share pictures of their house.

Christmas Wreath on the back door. One of my sisters made this a few years back.

Sideboard in the Den. We really didn't do much in this room, but this little, over-lit Christmas tree with its big huge bow sure is cheerful!

Kitchen tree. The Quilt on the wall was given to my mother by my grandmother years ago. This tree is a favorite of the kids and young at heart. Check out the next picture to see why:

It's decorated completely with play food! You know, toy kitchen type stuff. This really is a fun tree. You can't help but smile when you discover the surprises hidden in the branches.

Dining Room. No tree in this room this year. Instead we decided to focus on the mantel and decorate with silver. We have a LOT of polishing to do...

Living Room. This is the Family Tree. It's decorated with the old-fashioned big bulbs, white minis, colored minis, and every decoration the 5 of us kids have ever made. This is where Christmas morning happens.

A better, centered view. Check out the angel on top. We had to help her out a little bit this year. Might I add that this tree is VERY bright from outside.

Living Room mantel. It hosts the collection of Santas, a silver/snowy Christmas tree, and a manger scene. This is where we hang the stockings with care.

Ah, the study tree. The physical tree is new this year; the one we used to use retired. This might be my favorite tree. It's meant to be a more masculine tree, since it's in the Study. It's decorated with all natural materials and birds.

Another view from inside the room.

A close up of the birds and ribbon and ornaments.

The topper. I won't divulge any secrets. But this tree is very nice to contemplate after a long day at work...

The front door is still in progress. Half of it is up.

The Hall tree, covered in fruits. This tree is really pretty, too. We haven't finished with the Hall decorations, including the lights. They still need to be tweaked a bit.

Close up of the heavy, beaded fruits.

Hall, looking from the front door. The staircase has gold lame swags and draped beads. We like to change this one up every year. You can see where the Hall tree lives, on top of the sideboard.

View looking up. This staircase takes about 5 hours to decorate all by itself. Which is why we haven't finished the Hall decorations, yet.

A view from the halfway point.

And looking down... We're all very pleased with how the staircase came out this year. Even more so because it was totally and completely improvised.

We're almost done. We lack only a few touches to the hall and of course, packing and re-storing all the decoration boxes. And the major clean-up before family comes.

I'll leave you with two beautiful poinsettias that my mother received 'just because' this year. We're going to find them a home, too.

I hope everyone has a bright, happy, and magical Christmas this year!

Monday, December 10, 2007

How did you find YOUR contractor?

December Update

The KEEP OUT signs I posted on the dumpster two weeks ago seem to be working. No new trash in the dumpster, as far as I can tell. I talked to one of my neighbors on Friday and she hadn't seen anything. Apparently they did their deed while she was a work. It was nice talking with her; she's always one to come out and speak to me when she sees I'm working over there. She's very glad that someone bought the house. It had been empty for a while and she candidly told me the last tenants there had made it into a 'drug house'.

I went over to the house on Friday because I managed to get off of work early and wanted to take advantage of the daylight to do a walk-through of the property. I do have the electricity turned on over there, but only in one apartment, on one side (the power company was going to bill me for service to both apartments, since that is how they are wired). But it's not a big deal since they are separate apartments no more--- the walls are stripped down to the studs. Running an extension cord is no problem. But there are no lights. One used to work but... err... the wall switch may have been accidentally hit with a hammer, causing the actual 'switch' plastic part to break off. Don't know how that happened...

So I was walking through in the daylight, getting a feel for the space. I'm trying to modify my new floor plan to use the existing walls are they stand now. Since most of it is stripped down to the studs, I have a better feeling of the flow of the space and where the original doorways were in the house. I know what I want, but I'm trying to figure out what will work best and where compromises will have to be made.

I still haven't heard anything lately from my contractor. But I did hear through the grapevine that he's been working on another project for someone--- turning their existing carport into a den and adding on a new carport. But from him, I have not heard a word. No estimates, nothing. While I was at the house for the walk through, I could tell that no one had been there, so I know he's not properly getting estimates and taking subcontractors on a tour of the home. Which has led me to this:

Even though I love his work, I'm not going to wait on him any longer. It's been five months since he told me he'd be at my house in two months. And at this point, I've determined that either he's not interested, not truly interested working with me, or that he just thinks I'll wait on him indefinitely. I'm not going to do that. Aside from having owned the house for seven months now and not being able to live in it, I am also paying a hefty builder's risk/vacant house insurance policy that I have to renew every six months. And then there's always the interest accruing at the bank on the draws I've made on my construction loan. It's costing me more than time at this point, it's costing me money, too.

Plus I'm just ready to get it started, to get even more excited about it. I have a vivid imagination and when I'm in the space I can see very clearly what it could be, what it will be. The other kicker is that yes, it's a entire house renovation, but it could very easily be completed in two months, if every job is scheduled on time (which I know it won't be, but follow my logic here). For such a small house and not that extensive of a project, it's inane to have waited five additional months for work to even begin.

My question to you is this: How did you find your contractor? I'm actively hunting a new one. I have one in mind, but have yet to talk to him, and have gotten other companies' names off signs in the yard of houses being repaired/rebuilt since the tornado. I know I'll have to wait for a new person, too, but maybe they will be more actively interested in my project than my current guy, who happens to have worked both for my sister and parents.

Lately my weekends have been filled with helping my parents' decorate their house for Christmas. Maybe tomorrow I'll get some pictures up of some of the stuff we've done.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Protecting the Territory

Thanks so much for your ideas and suggestions on my last post! I decided to try posting signs first, but this was before I made yet another discovery about the dumpster... I went to Lowe's after work because, really, who doesn't love an excuse to go in there?

my booty:
These were the supplies I deemed necessary to protect my turf: Two KEEP OUT signs, a roll of duct tape, and the latest Cottage Living magazine. I needed the signs for the obvious reasons and found myself feeling like a true home owner buying the duct tape to post the signs. And the magazine, well, I make no excuses--- I like it.

Scary, isn't it? I know it would stop me dead in my tracks. The lady at the checkout counter asked me if I was feeling antisocial when she rang up my signs... I explained what was going on and she wished me good luck.

How utterly intimidating. At least now the general populace will take the hint that I'm onto them.

So I was feeling pretty good about my impending signage, after I made my purchases and was driving over to the house. That is, until I got to the dumpster and looked in:

Ladies and Gentlemen, that's not *a* mattress... It's more like SIX mattresses AND box springs. And bed rails. I was so shocked and angry when I found this tears came to my eyes (it had been a long day, too). I just couldn't believe that not only was someone using my dumpster, but they had the audacity to dump this many mattresses. Not just the one that already had me worked up and excited, but THIS MANY?

I felt utterly defeated.

Once I got home, I talked to my parents and sister about it and they said I should talk to the neighbors to see if they saw anything. We also hypothesized that this came out of the triplex brick apartment units next-door that had been undergoing recent renovations due to the tornado back in March (some of the tenants, if not all, had to move out/were evicted because of the intensity of the work going on). And if I find out it was them, I'm going to definitely call the police and pursue them for illegal dumping.

I'm still shocked by it. I just had no words when I saw it.

At least when I got home I had my Cottage Living...

A trashy situation...

Dumpster Woes

I'm currently at work, but my sister drove by my house while ago and asked had I been dumping things in my dumpster, to which I replied that I had not, but I knew that someone had. Apparently now there's an old mattress hanging out of the dumpster.

My question is this: How do I stop people putting things in my dumpster? I have no driveway, so it's parked on the street. Not just my neighbors, but anyone could be dumping in it. But I'M paying for it. The little things at first I didn't mind. But the last time I needed to use it, it was almost half full and I couldn't put all of my trash and construction debris in it!

I'm not there enough to monitor it. It seems silly to file a police report. I could post signs on the dumpster, but really, a sign isn't going to stop anyone...

I guess I'll put a call into the company who rented me the dumpster. Maybe they have some ideas, or I could get a smaller dumpster, with lids I can lock and close. Seems like a lot of trouble, but I'm tired of paying for other people to get rid of their trash.

What would you do?

EDIT: Called company, talked to the lady in charge. She said they didn't have any smaller dumpsters (or any that would close and lock), that ideally they could move the dumpster closer to the house, but that won't work in my case. She said people have this problem every so often and the only thing to do is to post signs and file a police report. Maybe the police will patrol the area and catch someone dumping there. I guess it's better than nothing. She was super nice.

My sister suggested that I talk to my neighbors and ask them to be on the lookout for unsavory activity. I'll leave this dumpster in place for now, but as soon as it's full, I'll call the company to come deliver a dumpster when I'm ready for it, instead of having one sitting there all the time, ready to be taken advantage of.

What ever happened to people respecting others' property?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Floor Plans... What I bought, what it might've been...

Floor Plan Sketches

EDIT: The pictures of my sketches have somehow disappeared. I'll try to fix this problem soon. 11/30/07

I've been meaning to get these up for a while, but it's all a bit confusing. These sketches were hand-drawn, but with much thought, so bear with me. If you click the picture you can make it bigger, as I've written in the functions of the areas.

What I bought: You could not enter one apartment from the other, nor could you access the back porch without going outside to the back of the house.

On the left hand side, you'll see the sketch of the house as I bought it, divided into two apartments, A and B. The A's and B's are written in help to show what rooms went with which apartment. CL=closet, FP=fireplace (two separate fireplaces, one chimney), SK=sink, F=fridge, SH=shower. While this sketch seems hastily drawn, it is actually very accurate. The kitchens were little more than appliances in rooms, with some mismatched cabinetry. The bathrooms were shower units, toilets, and small vanities. Whomever divided this house was Cheap (notice the capital C) and Quick.

The sketch on the right is paired with the sketch on the left so you can see the doorways I found during demo, that show how the house USED to be connected. The 'hidden doors' are all circled. Please note that the bathroom for Apartment A was built out ONTO the back porch and that Apartment A's HALL was at one point an open side porch to the yard (covered breezeway, if you will).

What might've been...

As for the 'original' sketch... I know that the front porch is original, as are all the rooms, which have 10 foot ceilings. Nothing has been added onto the house, even porches, but some porches have been closed in and built into. There are five original closets, all small, seemingly 'coal closets'. There was one chimney, two separate fireplaces. The chimney had been terminated below the roof line at some point, so I made the choice early on to remove the structure completely and tear down that wall, even though I would like to put some kind of fireplace back into the house. Apartment B's bathroom seems most likely to have been a hallway to the side porch, but the evidence suggests that there was a bathroom there, or at least a sink or something, at some point (cast iron drain pipes).

The rooms still remain choppy and a little illogical at this point. There's no real evidence to point out where the kitchen was, or I haven't found it yet. I'm not sure when the big shift from outhouses to bathrooms was. There is no woodwork evidence, either, to clearly state where a dining room or living room was. Everything is Plain Jane and neutral. I would think that a bedroom would have a fireplace in it, but following that logic, you'd think a living room and/or dining room would, too. Since there is a back porch, and the sides are high, I would imagine this was used as a sleeping porch, so maybe the bedrooms were off or near it.

Maybe another sketch to come, showing the rooms' dimensions. And what my probable new floor plan will be...

Care to hazard a guess to the house's original layout?

Update, November 2007

Random House Visit

I recently joined the like-minded folks over at, which is a community for Home Improvement Enthusiasts like myself. There are many of us house-bloggers out there on the internet and I found myself very lucky to have stumbled across this group of people. They all share their triumphs and tragedies, as well as the day-today life restoring and renovating their homes. I added my houseblog to their community. Very lucky I am to have found them, indeed.

I've been perusing their blogs lately, all of which serve to inspire me in my own endeavors. And honestly, viewing other houseblogs has taken the place of my late-night television watching. It is much more entertaining, to boot!

The Months of Holidays have descended upon us leaving my attention elsewhere besides my house. But I've still been planning, looking, and (window) shopping. The fever that home improvement enthusiasts share never goes away... While I haven't been swinging a hammer as of late, I have been thinking about my interiors and wishing, hoping, and waiting on my contractor.

I have been over to the house three times in the past month and a half. One time was to meet with my contractor and his crew to walk through the space with the aid of a (hopeful) floor plan sketch to discuss the work needing to be done. My contractor now has a set of keys to the house and is supposed to be working on getting estimates for me from the electrician, plumber, and air conditioner guys. I'm still waiting on him to get back with me with those estimates and to finish up his other projects so he can begin on mine.

I've been patient. But it's been hard when so much of yourself, time, and money is waiting on someone else to pick up the ball. But he's the contractor I want, so I'm pacifying myself with the thought that the wait is worth the effort.

I missed my house today, so I strolled down the three or so blocks from my parents' house just to visit it and check on things.

I have to say the front of the house is really beginning to show its personality, now that we've cut back all the trees, bamboo, and bushes that were suffocating it. The oncoming winter months have served to deaden the foliage, as well. I was happy to finally get a clear shot of the front of my house, minus the leftover debris from Yard Day 1.

The bamboo stumps are still there, but I was glad to see that they haven't been growing with much gusto. This side view of my house (from the porch) still amazes me. I didn't realize how much I couldn't see beforehand until we cleared the yard.

This is another view from the front porch, looking East down the street. Not much of a view, but I like it. Again, here to me, there is SUCH an improvement than before when the house was being choked and almost reclaimed by nature. It's so much more open, airy, and light.

This is a view looking West from my front porch. There are some other houses on the street that people have been showing love. Mine should fit right in, when it's finished.

Here is a neat token I found while demoing the fireplace and chimney--- an old key. I haven't tried it on any of the doors, but I did hang it on a nail for safekeeping while the demo continued. It was a cool find to me, a bit of the home's history. I wondered whose hands held this key and how it was lost in the fireplace debris to begin with. I'm lucky that I even found it; it could have easily been tossed out, unnoticed.

Alas, the dumpster talk again. I have had a dumpster sitting outside my house for the majority of the months that I've owned it. This dumpster should be bone dry, barren, and empty since I haven't put anything in it since it was last dumped. People just seem to think it's their own and take the liberty to dump whatever they want in it. Since I'm not at or near the property every day, there's little I can do to stop it. Maybe people just don't think that someone is PAYING for this dumpster, and PAYING to have it dumped. I can't really monitor it or stop it, so I guess I should just get over it. It still irks, me though.

And lastly, a picture of my parents' house. It was built in 1890. They bought it 17 years ago and spent about four years renovating it before we ever moved in. While it wasn't the first old house they renovated, this is the one in which the reno bug built me. It's what made me fall in love with old houses and gave me the vision to see what an old house could be, when brought back to life. My house will never be as fancy as this one, but it remains to serve as my inspiration (and current place of habitation!). Also, I'm gad to see the front porch looking like itself again. Almost all the repair work has been completed on the house since back in March, when a tornado tossed a 400 year old live oak tree onto the front of the house causing the entire front porch to have to be rebuilt.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Men vs. Bamboo

Yard Day 1

I've owned the house for about 6 months now. Which means I missed my original completion guesstimate date of 6 months. It also means that my house insurance policy was up for renewal, due to the nature of the policy one has to have for a vacant, renovation-in-progress house. My insurance people decided that I needed to cut back the overgrowth of greenery on the sides and back of the house, clearing space and getting the branches off the roof before the renewal can take place. I agree with this assessment, I just wish he would have told me about it when *he* found out about it, instead of letting the papers sit on his desk for half a month, then casually letting me know less than two weeks before the policy was to expire/is up for renewal. Also interesting, he waited until he already had the check for the continuation of my policy coverage to tell me these things... but I digress.

You'll notice that this is Yard Day 1. Yard Day 2 isn't in the plans for a while yet, I hope, since I'm trying to focus my attention on the INSIDE of the house. But regardless of the circumstances, yesterday was Yard Day 1. My friend, my father, my two brothers and I worked for about 3 or 4 hours, with the help of a chain saw.

I looked in my picture archives for these next few photos, to remind us all of what the front of the house looked like, or rather, what you could see... Look in particular to the left side of the picture, how dark and shadowy the side of the house is. And the low-hanging branch swooping down at the front of the house.

This picture is along the side of the house, from when I stacked brick from the fireplace. This area seems clear ground-wise, but let me assure you, that bamboo is thick, packed in densely, and acts as a wall against sunlight and the environment.

Yard Day 1

Anyone know how to kill bamboo? We didn't. Instead of cutting back the bamboo, we decided to cut it down, as close to the ground as possible. Here's one of the clumps of the roots. Look how close together and big they are. This bamboo lived here happily for a while.

The front of the house, side angle, towards the side we were working on. I forgot my camera when we first started working this day, but got it about halfway through. Notice how easily you can see the neighbor's roof line and side of her house. Also the low-hanging branch was trimmed back as much as we could. The pile of greenery accumulating on the front yard is from everything we're cutting down on the side.

This is from the other side of the house. Not much grows on the side, but if you remember correctly, there was limited, almost impossible access to the back yard. Here's the gate...

At the gate, this is the view directly in front of your face. These are the vine covered bushes and shrubs blocking the way.

At the gate, hanging over and looking to my left. See the big tree top that sits right in my backyard? Over this way too is the back porch... Maybe we'll actually be able to see it later.

Back at the front of the house, you see my friend at the front porch post. This looks back down the side of the house. See the stack of bricks? Those are from the fireplace. And you can see my father working with the chainsaw; he's actually standing my neighbor's yard, which is about a 4 or 5 foot drop from mine.

Here's a shot from the street of the front of the house, with the side cleared some and the branches over head cut back. Looks pretty good, doesn't it? At least like someone loves it and is trying to make it better...

This is in my neighbor's yard. We started clearing a little beyond her parked car. This is her driveway and it was early-ish and we didn't want to start the chainsaws too early... Later she moved her car for us and we tackled this part, too. Note to everyone: chainsaws are much quicker than clippers or snippers. But only use them if you know what you're doing. We let my father do all the chainsaw work, since he's experienced with it.

In neighbor's yard again, past where her car is parked. You can see the cleared areas we were working on up to this point, as well as some of the bamboo shoots lying on the ground, ready to be pulled to the front. Most of those shoots were 20 or 30 feet long.

Further down the side of the house and we get to the back... but wait! What's that? There on the end of the house... Are those screens? Is it? Could it be? The mythical and much talked about screened-in porch? We'll explore that more later...

In neighbor's yard again. A shot from the back of the house towards the front. I'd never seen this side of the house before... and it hadn't seen daylight in a long, long time.

The culprits... Bamboo. The shoots were mainly centered in clumps, but they totally spread. It may look innocent and sweet to you now, but you try fighting them. It's not exactly fun. Good thing is was such a nice day outside that day.

Another clump. I think there are about 3 or 4 of these along the side of the house. But they kind of spread out between themselves and eventually covered the whole side yard.

Me, on my tiptoes, holding the camera above my head at the back of the house. What do we have? Screen porchage! Yay! I told you it was there...

After a little more time elapsed, I took more pictures. It's progress.

The problem with renting a dumpster for your work site is that inevitably someone is going to throw stuff away in it. Meaning, someone other than the person who is actually renting the dumpster and paying to have it emptied. Now small things, I honestly don't mind. And a few people have actually asked me permission, which was even better. But when you're throwing away wooden pallets and large, bulky, obviously building materials from the HABITAT FOR HUMANITY house down the street that's being rebuilt since the tornado, I have an issue with that. People, think before you dump trash in someone else's dumpster. Because someone has to pay for it, and as a result, I couldn't fit all of MY own trash in the dumpster.

Seen here are the boys, my little brothers, resting after hopping around in the dumpster on top of the bamboo and yard debris, compacting it in and effort to make more room.

A larger shot of the dumpster. I don't know how many times they had to get in it. Eventually we gave up and I had to pile all the excess bamboo shoots in the front yard, which eventually spilled over onto the sidewalk. I couldn't help it. It'll just have to wait until I can have the dumpster dumped and brought back.

Standing on the front porch, looking down the side of my house, towards my neighbor.

Standing in neighbor's yard, looking at the side of my house after much of what had been cut had been moved to the front yard.

View from the sidewalk looking up at the house. This is quite a large mound of bamboo, wouldn't you agree?

Front porch view, looking down at neighbor's yard where her car was parked earlier. See how much we cleared? The mound you see is just the bamboo piled in the front yard.

Here's a better view of what we did here, where her car was. It looks a lot different, doesn't it?

Back in the backyard, where my father went with the chainsaw after we finished in the front and side. It's a mess but at least you can get back here to see the mess, now.

Standing in the back yard, looking at the back of the house! Hardly a view I've seen often. And look! The porch!

Nasty top of a tree from the neighbor's yard... it's been here for a while. and the back porch!

The porch. On the left side, you see the 'boarded up' part; it's where the bathroom was built.

Stacks of trash on the back porch. Fun. Anyone need a chair or three and an old electric organ?

Ahh, the water heaters, here you hide. Don't overlook the mini-me water heater in the background. It's like they're playing hide and seek.

On the porch, looking at the exterior of the bathroom. Great construction job, eh?

And the #1 reason why I'm having the house re-wired. Just one of many examples of how this house is rigged. And this is stuff one can see, openly. Just think of what might be hiding! The horror!

Who doesn't want an old stove, a mattress, and two or three ancient hot water heaters in their back yard as ornaments? Jealous, aren't you?

Standing at the back porch doorway, looking out into the back mess. I mean, back yard. But hey, at least I can get here to stand, now. This view is new to me.

Back at the front of the house, looking towards the back. My father's down there, working with the chainsaw near the back porch. By now we've cleaned up the side yard from everything we cut down.

Daddy working, trying to clear a path from this side of the house to the back yard, too. We didn't make it that far.

The view out from the same spot earlier, towards the front of the house. Wow! What a difference!

And let's not forget the tree we found hiding amongst the bamboo. We decided to try to save it. Hopefully it will truly grow since it has room to breathe.

Like this tree, I think I'm giving my house the potential to grow again. The inside had been neglected and patched over, the outside was left to the wilderness... But in one day, about 4 hours, five guys were able to fight back and try to reclaim her. And look at what we were able to accomplish. Hopefully, with a little more love, the tree will grow and blossom just as I wish the house to glow and smile again.