Slowly, I am at last making progress on painting our deck.
I stained it (blue) years ago, after we bought the house. Last summer, the ACORN staff offered to paint it, so I bought a bunch of paint and they stripped it with a pressure washer. But then ACORN moved on to another house leaving us with a bare naked deck.
It’s taken me this long to finally get the right combination of my schedule, energy level and decent weather to get started. I did a chunk Saturday and Sunday, and a little bit this morning. It may take a while to finish. But at least it’s happening.
Paint sure is easier to apply than stain, but I understand it doesn’t last as long. Oh well. When this coat wears off, it may well be time to replace the whole deck.
Unless I have a clear plan and a grim determination, I won’t get any work done on the house.
Rainwater collects in little puddles on several of the steps leading up to our front porch. Ideally these old worn treads should be replaced, but that’s a lot of work. As an interim measure, before I put down the second coat of paint, I was thinking to drill a few small holes to allow drainage. I just hope that doesn’t create some bigger problem.
ACORN just finished up the job at our house around noon today. It’s been three weeks since they started — instead of four days, which in retrospect seems like a silly estimate.
The work was done by a mix of volunteers and employees. We had Unitarians from Ohio, evangelical teenagers from all over, and a guy from Massachusetts who wasn’t a part of any group — just an individual who was ashamed of our government’s handling of the disaster in 2005.
As for the ACORN crew, besides their hard work, I was impressed by their diversity. How often do you see Latinos, Asians, white and black folks working together as a team? Until you see it, you might not realize how rare that is.
I find that photo inspiring. And also this one…
That’s what our house looks like now, more or less. Actually there’s still quite a bit of follow-up work I need to do. I think I know how my weekends will be occupied for the rest of the summer at least.
The whole experience was a little chaotic, sometimes confusing, and just a tad stressful — but I’m not complaining. They got all the lead paint remediation done. That’s the important piece, the work I wouldn’t really trust myself to do. I’ll rest much easier knowing our house is a safer environment for our daughter, and I hope more people will sign up for this program.
If you’re interested in getting your house tested for lead paint, in New Orleans, I’d recommend calling ACORN at 504-943-0044. If you live elsewhere, check acorn.org — they have offices everywhere. They might have a lead paint program where you live.
We’ve got some lattice panels that enclose the space beneath our porch. (Our porch is about ten feet off the ground, so the space beneath it is substantial.) One of these lattice panels was mostly gone, disintegrated over the years, with just a little corner remnant remaining.
I figured since we were having the exterior of the house painted that now was the time to replace this panel.
Easier said than done.
For starters, when I bought the panel at Carruth Lumber, I discovered it didn’t fit in the car after all — just a few inches too wide. Fortunately Thomas, who is organizing the current work on our house, was able to pick it up in the ACORN van. They painted it but did not get a chance to cut it to size, so I tried my hand at it today.
Therein lies the rub. I don’t know how you’re supposed to cut lattice. I used a handsaw. I thought it would be easy enough, even though it involved cutting two inches off one side, and cutting the top at a diagonal. But how hard could it be? It’s just a bunch of wooden slats tacked together. It seems fairly strong, but as I sawed it, the whole grid started bending and warping and it pretty much disintegrated.
Frustrating, and it struck me as a metaphor for something, though I’m not sure exactly what.
Today is Midsummer. It’s just about the biggest holiday of the year in Sweden and Finland and I’m assuming the rest of the Nordic countries too. It should be a big holiday here too, but alas, it isn’t. Nevertheless I shared some pickled herring with Thomas and Ben from ACORN.
Then a huge crew of evangelical teens showed up and started painting.
Woo hoo. Somehow I feel much better. I didn’t make it to the bayou last night for St. John’s Eve and the ritual Voudoun ceremony. I was just feeling too tired and stressed. But now I’m feeling better. Maybe it’s because the painting has begun. Maybe it’s because after I expressed my concerns the crew is working extra hard to clean up the lead paint flakes now, before my returns. Or maybe it’s because I’m set to pick up said daughter and wife from the airport in just over an hour.
Don’t tell Xy, but I’ve got a surprise in store for her when she returns from Indiana. I spent the day installing fourteen aluminum mini blinds throughout the lower level of the house.
Dull avocado blinds in the green room, metallic silver blinds in the blue room, and metallic gold blinds in the orange room. They look great.
This renovation is so close to being finished I can almost taste it.
As a rule I try to buy local, but I ordered these from a place in Arizona called Blinds Chalet. Pretty happy with the results. If you order from them, let me know and I can give you a coupon code. They’ll give us both a discount.
I bought 20 gallons of primer and packed the wife and daughter off to Indiana, but somehow the prospect was still so unreal to me. I felt certain something was going to go wrong. Work was supposed to start on Tuesday, but I didn’t hear from them. My contact person didn’t return my call.
But lo and behold when I went home for lunch yesterday, there they were: a crew of volunteers wet-scraping the lead paint from our house. They’re Unitarians from Ohio. Today they started slathering on the primer. It feels weird to have all these people I don’t know working to help us out of the sheer desire to help.
There’s a little confusion over finances. My contact at ACORN had told me that all I needed to pay for was supplies: primer and paint. But he is no longer with ACORN, which is why he didn’t return my call Tuesday. So today I was presented with a document indicating I should pay 60% of the costs. (The volunteers work for free, of course, but there are also professionals involved.) Hopefully we’ll straighten this out.
Update: The plot thickens. My new contact at ACORN was pulled over for a tail light yesterday; the cops discovered an outstanding warrant from another parish. So now he’s in jail. Damn.
Maybe one reason New Orleans seems to have so many problems is chemical. Specifically I’m thinking about lead. There’s a lot of lead in this old city, and it gets in your system and slows down your development. It’s been linked to poor performance in school and higher rates of crime.
Naturally with an infant in the house I’ve been mighty worried about lead. I hear horror stories from neighbors who find their kids test way over the limit.
So we had our house tested a while back, through ACORN, and sure enough they lead-based paint on the exterior and also in one interior room.
That was the bad news. The good news is we qualify for their lead abatement program. We’ve been waiting and finally our number’s come up. So next week I’m shipping the wife and daughter up to Indiana (hope it dries out a little by then) as a crew of volunteers swoops down on our house and does some remediation and then a fresh paint job.
Therefore I’m revisiting our color consultation from two years ago and trying to make some decisions.
Over the last few weeks, building on the brackets my father helped me install, I’ve put up approximately 64 linear feet of shelving in the lower floor of our house.
It’s nice to have shelves to put things on. This way, stuff can sit on the shelf instead of on the floor where you trip over it all the time.
We’ve been slowly re-occupying our full house. We’ve been living all cramped up in half of it for two and a half years. The other half, the lower floor, was under renovation for waaay longer than I’d expected. But the flood that caused our renovation also disrupted the lives of everyone we knew, including my friend the contractor.
Anyway, we’re finally able to expand back to our full capacity and I finally realized the metaphor that explains what it feels like.
It feels like I’ve been sitting down for a really long time and my legs have fallen dead asleep. And now I’m standing up and the blood is flowing back to those limbs. Prickling, needling pain and pleasure intermingled.
That’s exactly what it’s like.
So you thought Story #28 was the final chapter in our renovation saga? Not quite. Check today’s Times-Picayune for installment #29, the final final chapter. Check the online version for cute pix by Kathy Anderson.
Continue reading Story #29
Today her umbilical stump fell off. To celebrate, we made a pilgrimage to Bayou St. John.
She’s definitely growing. Her loose folds of skin are filling in with baby fat. Xy has been breastfeeding, and the results can be seen daily. Funny, by sheer coincidence we watched The Life of Mammals just before the birth. Mammals are defined by having fur/hair and giving milk to their young. Did I mention she’s very hairy? She had down all over her body and even hair on her ears but it’s falling off.
In another landmark, our contractor Mike Kaplan made his final visit in this renovation today. He finished up a few odd details, and what with various paperwork and a recent inspection by our mortgage company, we are nearly ready to close the book on this chapter. To celebrate, I did my best Eliot Spitzer impression.
I finally got the set of old Bakelite push-button switchplates I ordered from eBay.
Wow. Check out the cover of the today’s Inside Out, the Times-Picayune’s weekly home and garden supplement. There’s a picture of Kilowatt Rising rocking our house party, and sure enough there’s Michael Homan (with unbroken clavicle) continuing his sinister project of confusing himself with me. Open it up and we’re in the center spread with pictures and a timeline of our whole renovation. This is the final story in the series, ostensibly, #28 by my count. This can’t be reproduced online easily, but head over to nola.com to for a reasonable approximation with some cool pictures. I’ll include the text here for future reference just because you never know how long nola.com plans to keep their content online.
And of course I must note that although Stephanie gives my wife credit, that’s actually my jambalaya.
Continue reading Story #28
This story in the paper made me feel ever-so-slightly vindicated about our decision to renovate.
A new study of home prices around the New Orleans area shows that buyers rewarded sellers who gambled and rebuilt in devastated areas like Lakeview, eastern New Orleans and Chalmette. Renovated homes in those areas recovered much of their pre-storm value last year, while prices continued to tumble on homes that were gutted but otherwise left untouched.
It’s not that I take any glee in seeing others lose out. Take for instance our next-door neighbor. He hasn’t even gutted his house, two and a half years after the flood. I’m not happy about that, and I hope he can get it together. I wish him well.
I’m just glad to know that we aren’t being punished for having done the right thing. We have no plans to sell our home, but if we did, we wouldn’t take a bath. There’s a little solace in knowing that.
I rented a buffing machine to clean our tile floor. It cleaned up OK, I guess, except for a powdery white residue everywhere. I thought this might be efflorescence, but upon further investigation I decided it’s probably just dirt, specifically drywall dust.
As I was carrying the buffing machine back out to the car, I twisted my ankle, probably because my shoe wasn’t laced properly. I dropped the machine, which is pretty heavy. Luckily I didn’t drop it on my foot. I tried to act like I hadn’t sprained my ankle, because I was so gung-ho to get a lot of work done on our house over this three-day weekend. I returned the machine to the store, came back home, wet-mopped the floor, then hobbled upstairs and discovered that my ankle was quite swollen.
I’ve been trying to practice the RICE method since.
Normally I would almost enjoy being laid up like this. It’s a good chance to catch up on my reading. But we are in the home stretch of this flood renovation, and Xy’s eight months pregnant, so the timing really sucks. I was in something of a foul mood, but I’m starting to accept my condition. It seems to be a mild sprain, and I anticipate healing quickly.
Update: As of February 7th (two and a half weeks later) I’m back to riding my bike to work. I’m still wearing a brace but the ankle’s healing, slowly rather than quickly.
Update: As of February 20th, ankle’s still stiff. I am only wearing a brace for the ride or for more strenuous activity. Stairs especially are difficult.
One feature that attracted us to buy our house was the beautiful terra cotta tile on the floor downstairs. People often ask if we installed it ourselves, but the previous owners get the credit for that.
Alas, the old floor ain’t what it used to be.
It sat under brackish water for a couple of weeks back in 2005. We pressure-washed it with a mild detergent, but since then it’s been subjected to all the dirt and abuse of a two-year renovation project.
I despair of the floor ever looking as good as it once did. We merely aspire to restore a semblance of its former glory. But we’re not sure how.
Over the weekend Xy tried scrubbing a section with soap and water. After it dried you could hardly tell the area had been cleaned at all.
So… any bright ideas?
What have I been doing over the holiday break? Painting. Every day. Yes, even on Christmas. I’ve finished painting the walls of our living room. I painted the balusters (banisters if you prefer) which took three days, because I did three coats of two different colors. I’ve been painting the wall above the mantel gold, which is also taking multiple coats, and a story unto itself. I spent most of today cleaning and priming the downstairs bathroom.
It’s easy to get up and get the work done when I feel Xy’s support. It’s a little more difficult to get motivated when she lies in bed sleeping all day. Of course, she gets a pass on all such behavior because she’s pregnant.
This break has been especially sweet because we figure it’s the last time we’ll have together as just a couple for quite some time to come. I remarked on this today, and Xy replied: “Yeah, but it’s not so bad because we’ve had so many ‘just a couple’ times over the years.” And that’s very true — we’ve been together fifteen years now. But what’s truly amazing is that I said something negative and Xy looked on the positive side.
I told her we could use a lot more of that attitude in the months and years ahead.
I almost forgot — the 27th story on our renovation appeared in today’s paper, with a cool picture of yours truly working on the staircase. It’s nice to have a picture of me actually working for a change instead of just standing in front of someone else’s work with a cheesy grin.
Continue reading Story #27