Saturday, December 13, 2008

Funny Dances

So I'm having some trouble with Blogger's photo upload feature, making photos very time-consuming to resize. We have some new photos posted of our recent floor endeavors (two coats of polyurethane down, one to go!), and you can see them here on Facebook until I sort out the issue.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Befores and Afters

It's probably hard to see this as progress:

Here's a peek into the same room upon our arrival in Durham 3 months ago:

Some would say we're undoing work. Why pull up perfectly good carpet? What was wrong with 8-foot ceilings? We say... it had to get worse before it can get so, so much better. Here's a few more before-and-afters, even though I find the phrase ironic, because our Before stage stretches out into the future as far as I can see. I dream of the day we can post real before-and-after photos of our finished house. But then again: they say you're only truly finished with a house when you sell it... or die.

The hallway, looking towards the front door. As you can see, we knocked out that middle wall to open up the space. Eventually, the ceiling just beyond that arch will open up to the attic, accessed by a narrow staircase. Two skylights in the attic roof will let light into the hall. Our door came from Steve Peter's salvage shop on Foster Street.

Same hall, different angle. The door on the right leads to the living room and will be replaced with French doors:

Here's the hallway facing the other way - a little less of a straight comparison, but you can still get the idea. We tore down the dropped ceiling - hence the two-toned look of the arch. The door at the back is the one current bathroom.

Below is a shot of the back wall of the bedroom, in progress and then as is right now. The other side of that wall will be a small second bathroom, or master bath; the little "nook" we built in will house the sink, which we're making from an antique cupboard. We had to take down some of the old beadboard from the bedroom as there wasn't enough to patch it where it was damaged and it's very hard to find. We're keeping the beadboard ceilings plus one wall, the one to the right in this picture. The floors have also been patched with new hardwood, and will be sanded, stained and varnished soon!

Here's the opposite wall of the bedroom, which is adjacent to the study. The first photo is when we opened up the wall (there were two crappy closets that someone hastily built in), the second is current. The bed will go where the bike is.

(Here's an early shot of the same wall.)

Here's Kim the day she and I pulled up the carpeting, the first real inside progress back in August! Note that the ceilings were still at 8 feet:

And here's the same wall that's at Kimmie's left in the photo, with a built-in closet (minus doors) and nook for a big armchair or small desk. The space overhead is open for now, but we'd like to build in storage cabinets once we find the perfect doors. The ceilings, which had several broken boards, were patched with wood from the bedroom by Barrio, our neighbor and awesome carpenter friend. Clearly we need some electrical help... we're in the process of finding a new electrician.

Couldn't resist this before-and-after: our experimental winter veggie garden, flourishing despite recent morning frosts! Can't wait to get to more landscaping next spring...

Here are a few more images for you from late:

And... may we introduce our new friend, excellent companion and security-system-in-training... meet Cleveland, "adopted" 9/28/08 when he followed Tyler and his dog Sancha home from a walk.

Yeah. We know. He's completely amazing.

Life trucks along here on Mallard Avenue. I'm sorry it's been so long since we've contrubuted to our online epic. Up next: choosing windows, fixing siding, and finishing the bedroom so we can move out of the kitchen, where we've been living for the past two months!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Word From Dad: New Series

In a brave attempt to join the online word (in the same manner that he admitted, eventually, that CDs have handy little tracks you can skip to, and that email is actually a satisfying way of corresponding with people) my father has started his own "blog", in the form of emails that go out to me, my mom, and Matt once a week or so. Entitled "The Ballad of Mallard Ave", they are great accounts of whatever day he's just spent at our house, working on the lawn or just seeing how things are going with the work being done. Since I'm interested in keeping good documentation on this whole project of fixing up a first house, I asked if I could "syndicate" his blog here. So I bring you the new series, "A Word From Dad", starting with his latest entry. Expect updates (and hopefully archives) soon.

July 10.

Hey to all- Regular readers of this blog know that I do everything I can to make your reading experience up-to-date and enjoyable. Many of you have written to tell me that you've enjoyed the regular features, the games, the promotions, the contests. Tonight's fun is to vote on a new name for this blog. Here are the choices, or what I call The Ballot of Mallard Avenue:
1) The Mallard of Mallard Avenue (in case a wild, male duck is sighted in the back yard)
2) Mallard Avenue Melody
3) Mallard Avenue Malady
4) Your Choice: _______

On to today's news. I had an interesting meeting with two women at lunch today. They're trying to start a farm where women getting out of prison can live and work and learn about organic farming. They knew about a community garden ( where I volunteer. We traded ideas and names. Late in the day I phoned Donna, our contractor, to see if she'd be there when I got there after work. She'd already left, but told me about the work that got done (you can read about that in her informative email). Aside from the construction, she: heard and saw two women on Oakwood Avenue cursing and screaming at each other; heard the music of Tooth, which electrician Clint, who's a killer musician, thought was incredibly loud and bad; could barely get away from neighbor Lester, who kept saying that Donna should have hired him.

Lester, who lives in a house about twenty yards across the street from 502 Mallard Avenue, is the star of tonight's blog. The first time my wife and met him, he told us that he'd been a cowboy out West. Though he grew up as a young black man smack in the middle of Durham, he'd had a fascination with all things horses and cowboys. Not that we needed proof, but he ran inside to get a lariat and an orange traffic cone. He placed the traffic cone on the hood of an old truck and, sure enough, roped the critter from about twenty feet away.

I ran into him first thing when I got there today. He alternately praised Donna's work, then said he should have been hired, he can level the side stairs, told me to ask Jessie and Matt if they need help with molding, installing light fixtures, et. al. But the best of all was when somehow we got on the subject of martial arts and fitness.

I got into a mock karate stance and told Lester that I'd practiced for 4 months 38 years ago. That launched him into a very long speech about how he teaches teenagers in a gym to box. About then neighbor Tyler, the street's Mayor walked up. Lester asked me,"You know how to get in underneath them? You got to do the duck walk!" He proceeded to lunge toward me in a low crouch, threw mock punches to my ribs. Thing is, though, his "punches" felt like noogies to my ribs, so I started laughing hysterically in a high-pitched howl. This didn't deter him at all. Instead, he did a reverse duck walk, then a forward duck walk with more noogies to the ribs. Tyler was almost doubled over with laughter. Lester then lay on the ground doing situps/crunches (despite various aches and pains, he's in great shape) as Tyler and I continued to laugh.

What did our "fight" look like to others? I'm a 6'3" white guy, he's a 5'9" black guy. As Sheriff Andy Taylor once said on the Andy Griffith Show, "what looks like rasslin' to some is dancin' to others."

I told Tyler, "Say, how about that thing you wanted to show me at your house!?" Tyler said, "What thing?" I said, "You know- that thing!" Finally Tyler caught my drift and we were able to get away for a few minutes. Tyler and I hung out for a while- he told me how he got a little mad when a neighbor with whom he'd been friendly wandered into his sister's house and inadvertently scared her, also how he chased away what he thought was a crack user who went onto the porch at 504. Tyler knows I'm at least a little nervous about Jesse and Matt's living down there and usually has some sensible thing to say that puts me more at ease.

I was about to leave, but spent a few more minutes talking to Lester at his house. Jesse Curtin was also there. Jesse has almost finished sheetrocking his master bedroom at 501. I drove away laughing about Lester.

502 definitely looks like a construction site- a whole lot going on inside and out. Living on Mallard Avenue, I expect, will never, ever be dull.

- Dad/PK.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back, Repeat.

It's been a little tough getting excited about keeping a blog when I've been so far removed from the action on Mallard Ave, though there's been no shortage of phone activity on our end - talking to Donna (our wonderful contractor who's made great progress on the foundation), electrical workers, HVAC folks, the security company, etc. etc. etc. It's my parents, at this point, who have to (or get to, depending on how you look at it) be the ones actually watching things unfold, and learn the nuances of our dumpy-but-full-of-potential little house.

There has indeed been progress, which is exciting, but for every two steps we make towards "livable", a road block comes up and either delays us, or it rains on our parade a little bit. Things like, for example, our electrician who refuses to call Matt back but instead would call my mom or dad, even though Matt was handing things; or the across-the-street neighbors who like to use a little wooded part of our land as a free-for-all dumping grounds (no trash bags necessary!); or the little sliver of land we're in the midst of purchasing for which no official deed seems to be found. It's all getting worked out with time and patience. But I am prepared for the whole process to be like this, sometimes even more so.

Here are a few of my favorite elements of late. First the front dormer, which will eventually have a window of some sort cut into it:

...something like this (the house next door):

The original (I think) wood trim, and the way the light comes into the windows on both the east and west sides of the house (this is east morning light): Won't it look beautiful spilling onto hardwood floors? Can't wait to raise those ceilings, too.

The piles of letter found underneath the house just waiting to be pored over, and other treasures:

Donna's handiwork (boring to you, maybe, but to me this means progress!):

The huge attic waiting to become a guest loft accessed by spiral staircase (check out the transformation this woman performed on hers):

The kitchen, which will be opened up to the living room, and have a door added in this wall onto an eventual back deck:

The existing arch, and the idea of adding others elsewhere in the house:

Perhaps the most exciting piece of news so far: running water! Isn't it beautiful?

On a neighborhood note, things seem to be moving along quickly in ours, especially on Mallard Avenue which mere months ago sat completely abandoned. Our neighbors like Jesse and Tyler (whom my dad has dubbed "Mayor of Mallard") keep us posted and send names and numbers our way for repair folks, and have big plans for making our street a great place to live.

A week or so ago, Matt and I watched an incredible documentary which hit on lots of issues we've been thinking about as we embark on moving to Cleveland-Holloway. It's called "Flag Wars" and it takes place in a neighborhood of Columbus, OH. The characters' circumstances differ a bit, as well as the ratio of homeowners to renters, but many of the tensions felt very applicable. We were both moved by this film. Go rent it, friends and neighbors.

Next up: security is installed, we have temporary electric, and how to deal with trash-dumping neighbors! See you then!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Openings and Closings

The date has arrived... thirty years ago today my dad bought the farmhouse and land in rural Hillsborough, and today Matt and I are the co-owners of our first house in downtown Durham. My dad asked me to take a moment today and think about what my house and landscape have meant to me growing up, but I don't even have to try; I think about it all the time. I had 50 acres to tromp around on, thick grass to lie down in, woods to run full speed through and a big pond to swim in. I think of my home as a big, gentle friend who I love almost as much as I love anything. It has undoubtedly made me who I am.

And as much as I love the farm, I also grew up with more of a taste in my mouth for the urban landscape. Durham is not Boston, and it's certainly not New York (which honestly I'm glad for; I'm a little tired of Boston and I don't think I have the energy right now for New York), but it is still a city; the house on Mallard is a mere three blocks from the downtown loop. There will still be noises to deal with (instead of the braying of donkeys I grew up with), traffic to fight (though I plan to stay out of a car as much as possible), and also the wonderful benefits like walkable amenities, interesting people around all the time, businesses that will come and go, opportunities for fun and cul-cha.

Last night Matt and I sent my parents out to dinner at Tosca as a thank you for making the purchase with us, and therefore making it possible, and together we split a bottle of champagne and toasted our good fortune, which is really what it feels like. (I can feel the house's damp foundation mockingly laughing at us, just waiting for us to see what's in store.)

Today we've been deluged with emails from Durhamites welcoming us to the hood. Many of them, I'm almost shy to say, I already "knew" by reading their blogs or hearing of their music or their involvement in things. It felt great.

Here's another post from a Durham blogger whose writing I really like. It bothers some people that being "green" is "trendy" now, particularly those who've believed that living environmentally consciously is just the right thing to do for years. But I love it. I say, who cares about the motives - can you imagine how great it would be if folks who previously sat in their cars in traffic to go five miles home would start biking home instead, even if only for the trendiness factor? Especially if it actually makes a difference to the earth? More marketing, I say. Let 'em all scramble to put out their "green issues" and hire "conservation consultants" so they can boast about it in their annual review. This is all a little off-topic from the aforementioned post, but it's what it made me think about.

We missed the neighborhood house tour, and I'm struggling to find time to arrange repairs and other work from my post 700+ miles away, but it's only two months now. My feet are itching to move.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Another Response

...from one of my daily-read blogs, Endangered Durham.

The closing is tentatively set for May 28th, a date that happens to fall exactly 30 years after the day my father closed on the purchase of our farm and house. Some celebration will be in order.

The Cleveland-Holloway home tour was this past weekend and I feel like stamping my foot that we had to miss it. I'll post some pictures my mom took soon. I am still trying to make the most of my last two months in Boston, but itching to get started on this new chapter in Durham.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Distress the Wood, Make it Shout!

Lately Matt and I have been having these little two-person dance parties to Thao's song, "Bag of Hammers" in front of our huge window over Mass. Ave. for our neighbors and everyone else to see. We don't care - we're unbelievably happy these days and can't help but shake it. In two months we'll be shaking it on our new (to us) hardwood floors beneath their layers of dirty carpeting, ignoring all the work before us to break it down together in the oppressive and wonderful North Carolina heat.

This is intended to be our new digs in cyberspace to showcase our progress as we go. There's the house itself to dress up all spiffy, a neighborhood to explore and try and understand, a venture away from the lives we've come to know in Boston for the last several years. It's a way to collect the things we're reading about Cleveland-Holloway in particular, and things like gentrification (uh-oh.... it's the 'g' word!) in general. Expect lots of pretty (and not so pretty) pictures and occasional wordy ramblings. For our friends who we'll be leaving behind, I hope this will be a way to stay close to us in some sense, as I feel closer to people I see infrequently by watching their lives unfold in pictures and words. Not a replacement; just a supplement.

A few items right up front: My flickr set of the house photos from a few weeks ago when I went down to visit (read the comments for some of my grand plans); Wednesdays insightful Indy article about Cleveland-Holloway's precarious balance on the cusp of something new, and Bull City Rising's eloquent response.