Saturday, January 20, 2007

And now it's time for a break


I'm going to Greece!

The rehab rants will recommence in February...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Workday musing

I have a tendency to romanticize spaces. I tear back old wallpaper and wonder who's bedroom this was, who grew up here, and if there's anyone who might drive down the street one day, just to have a peek at their childhood home. Would they knock on the door and ask me for a look around the place?

What kind of dreams were dreamed in this bedroom? Did any of them come true? What sort of dinners were cooked in this kitchen? Did they eat at a dining room table, or in front of a television? Was this place a nest for newlyweds? Did they raise children here? Did anyone die in this home? I cannot separate a house, no matter how dilapidated, from the notions of home, family, birth and death. Perhaps that's why I do the work that I do. Maybe I feed off of the imagined memories.

The house I'm working on now was a foreclosure. As I primed the drywall today, I found myself imagining the previous owner. He never lived there, I assume. I guess this by the fact that when I bought the place, it was partially rehabbed with supplies and equipment laying around in all the rooms. I suspect that he was a handyman, who picked this house up with an eye toward flipping it. At some point, something happened, and he disappeared, leaving chemicals, a paint sprayer, antique furniture, and loads of bills behind. I wonder where he is now, and if he thinks about what he lost.

Before him, however, this was a home. Somebody's home.

In the past I owned a four-unit, brick and stucco craftsman building on Park Avenue. It was a stately building, with hardwood floors, stained glass and built-in buffets and bookcases in every unit. I learned that the penultimate owner had been there for many years, and had taken great pride in his building, remodeling two of the units and landscaping the exterior with unusual flowering shrubs and ornamental trees. (As opposed to the owner just before me, who let things get run down.) This man's name was John. It was in that house that he lost a lengthy battle with AIDS. He had no heirs, and the building slogged through a lengthy probate until his brother finally took possession and sold it.

I often thought about John when I was pruning his three different varieties of lilacs, dividing his spring bulbs, or fertilizing the apple tree he planted. I imagined that he approved of the work I was doing, and I felt warmed by his memory, even though it was actually just a construction of various facts I had gleaned.

I have a sense of reverence for houses, I guess. No matter how many times I tell myself “I'm just going to fix this one up quick and flip it,” I cannot stop myself from developing an affection; an emotional attachment, not simply to the work I have done but to the structure as a whole, and what it represents to me: home, family, security, and memories.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Let the nude sunbathing begin!

Just kidding.

But the privacy fence is now complete!

I thought about doing this myself in the summer, but when I saw an ad on craigslist for winter fence installation, I just couldn't pass it up.

I really hate digging footings anyway.

Now I just have to make a nice firepit to burn up all the waste these guys left behind...

Friday, January 12, 2007

There is ALWAYS a REASON!!!

Have you ever been looking around a house, and wondered why something was there?

For example:


I cannot count on both hands the amount of times I've said to myself: "Now whyyyyyyy would somebody put some crappy shit like that up on their walls???"

"...and then PAINT IT robin's egg blue?"

"...and put Mopar stickers on it...?"

Or something like that.

Well, I'll tell you why:

It's because they're covering up some f-ed up plaster. Period. I have never encountered an alternate scenario. So, NOW, after four houses, I am finally smart. (mm-hmm) I see a room with wallboard and I calculate an extra week of work, which consists roughly of: A) yanking down the board and breaking it into small pieces, B) smashing out tons of plaster and lath, and C) hauling all that shit to the dump. (Not to mention -of course- hanging, taping, and sanding drywall after all of this, but whatever.)

*note* I am too cheap to rent a dumpster, so one must factor in extra pain when doing things the rantyway.

But anywayyyyyyyyyyyy...

Today I found even more proof to support my claim that THERE IS ALWAYS A REASON for weirdo crap you find in old houses.

So I yanked this old, metal sink cabinet, complete with cast-iron top/basin from the kitchen, in preparation to have the whole room re-done. I hired a cabinetmaker. He came and took measurements, and we made a deal. Yea. There was one little thing that I had not ripped out though.... it was a strange, built-out, backsplashy-deal that had been behind the sink-cabinet. It was only about six inches deep, so I had been lazy about pulling it out.

Well today I did.

And what did I find?

The effing waste pipe/vent-ish thing, in addition to going down, goes UP NEARLY FOUR FEET against the wall, next to where I want to put my sink cabinet.

For those of you who cannot visualize this, allow me to describe: If I do the cabinets the way I want, I will be standing there preparing dinner, while staring at a big, fat cast-iron PIPE coming out of my countertop. (Er, before it makes a right angle and courses the length of one entire wall, at just-above base-cabinet level, but just-below wall-cabinet level.)

Allow me to illustrate:


P.S. The pink wallpaper square exactly outlines the aforementioned "backsplashy-deal."

Perhaps I should have left the damn thing there.


This is the ugliest stained glass window I have ever seen. Who the hell puts brown, turquoise, pink, red and green together???

What am I supposed to do with this?

Monday, January 8, 2007

I wonder if the squirrels pay rent too?

Slumlord alert!

(Right next door.)


Sunday, January 7, 2007

What some crazies will do for a wood floor...

Welcome to my kitchen. Lovely, isn't it?

Look at that gorgeous wood...

I scraped for hours!

Wood refinishing is certainly not for everybody, I must admit. It's brutally physical work, and there are like 253,921,745,121,093 different steps that need to be taken, in proper order, for the results to be of a professional quality.

Having said that, however, I still would encourage anyone who's already fixing a place up to give it a try, especially if you only need to do a couple of rooms, such as a living room and dining room. (This appears to be the most common scenario.)

This little cottage, on the other hand, now has clean, gorgeous floors in EVERY ROOM except the bathroom.

WHEW! It took about a week, and cost $855 in equipment rental and materials. It would have likely cost 3 times that much to have hired a professional, so I guess it was worth it...

TA DA!!!!!!!

I have no idea what kind of wood this is, despite asking a zillion different people. Suggestions included: Maple, Birch, and Hickory.

Do you know? If so, please tell me!

Does this closeup help?

Or this one?


And one more just for good measure...

Finally, for anyone considering this sort of project, I highly recommend Pete's Hardwood Floor Store. The staff are helpful, patient, and always encouraging. They will show you how to operate the machinery and let you work on a practice floor at the store before embarking, as well as giving you cell phone numbers to call if you run into a snag... even on a Sunday or a holiday.

They are FAB!

(I'm so effing glad that it's done though...)

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Crossing the Great Divide

Up until today, when I googled North Minneapolis, I consistently got this link at the top of the page. For those of you too lazy to click on it, it defines the area as "an African American neighborhood" and contains a big photo of a graffitied building with some folks loitering on the corner in front of a grocery-tobacco shop. Nice.

Thankfully, today's google search resulted in Positive Perceptions at the top of the page.

North Minneapolis gets a bad rap, but there are a few people working on changing that. It's going to be a tough road, considering the fact that this section of town has been slathered in stigma for my entire life, which -let's just say- represents a fair amount of time.

First of all, it's not a "neighborhood." North Minneapolis in fact contains at least 15 distinct and recognized neighborhoods within it. The term "North Minneapolis" simply describes an area, to the northwest of downtown, not to be confused with Northeast, Southeast/University, Downtown, etc.

Second of all, I want to just come right out and say that a big part of the metro area's distain for North has to do with the notion that black people are concentrated there. Sorry, but I believe that. Nobody wants to say it... but most of Minneapolis is whitebread. The suburbs are essentially whitebread. There is still a LOT of prejudice around these parts.

Having said that, I will now admit to a bit of predisposed thinking myself. For example, I never really questioned the idea that most of our metro's black people were over North. So much so that the first few times I went to work on my new house and saw a white person walking their dog or getting in their car I was like "Oh look, a white person! How novel!"

As an aside, the feeling was something ambiguous, and akin to my reaction to Americans when I was living abroad. I was curious about them, but not sure if I really wanted them around, since they might well embarrass me.


The whole point of this is that I, a life-long South-sider, just bought a house over North. I am going to renovate it and live in it, at least for a while. So, I thought it might be interesting to chronicle the experiences.

Who knows? It could be boring as shit. Or maybe not.

I trust you will let me know...