Sunday, November 04, 2007

restoring an italianate/gothic victorian

Some of my favorite shows include Property Ladder and Flip This House. A friend is renovating a gorgeous painted lady in Fairfield, and I’ve been fascinated by his tales of progress and lack of progress and what he’d do differently for several years now (he and his wife are living in the house as they re-do it. I guess you could call him a slow flipper, since this is the current of several houses he’s restored over the last 40 years or so).

And we live in an old, old house that we’re working on (at about the rate of ten square feet per year ... nah, that’s not fair. We created our office out of what was Stanley’s mother’s sewing room, which was created out of a porch that was enclosed ... and the downstairs bathroom has new wallpaper and lighting fixtures ... and good parts of our bedroom and upstairs hallway have been painted ... ) and that we have plans for finishing. We just need to seriously make the time to do it and hope no more health problems blow our plans out of the water (we were going to replace the columns on the porch last summer—really we were!)

My point is renovations and restorations are fascinating to us. But I doubt I could ever do it professionally, whether as a flipper or someone who does a restoration in the hopes of selling it to someone who will love it (around here, restoration/flips are seldom worth the effort—the nouveau riche tend to buy up old houses and demolish them so they can put up huge, ugly homes that cost more to heat and cool that I make in a year). It’s just so much work for someplace you have to let go. I think I’d become too attached. I think it’s too much work. And if we did something like that, we’d never finish Squirrel Half Acre.

But we know someone who is restoring a huge Italianate/Gothic Victorian. He’s my brother-in-law’s brother-in-law (is there a better noun for this relationship?) Bruce and his wife, Melanie (my brother-in-law’s sister) renovated their own house and that process bit Bruce and infected him. So he formed a renovation company and bought a big old house in North Attleborough, Massachusetts. You can read all about it on his website: Below, on the top, is the exterior c. July 2007. On the bottom, as of the end of October, after it was cleaned up and painted. There are loads of notes and before and during photos on Bruce’s site.


It was divided into four apartments and Bruce it turning it back into a single-family home. I might have kept one apartment and merged the rest just so whomever buys it could rent out an apartment to pay at least part of the mortgage or use it as an in-law or au pair apartment. Hopefully, when we go up to Massachusetts for Thanksgiving, we’ll get a chance to go over there as see it and then I’ll ask Bruce why he didn’t (and probably a hundred other questions). I’m dying to see it—I love Eastlake and a lot of the trim and posts and carving are Eastlake. What’s interesting about this house is that the turret is an add-on. I’m not sure if I like it or not—I keep expecting to see Morticia Addams in the doorway. Stanley loves it. The side house (carriage house?) used to have an ornate porch, and there used to be a garage. But I’m more interested in the interior anyway. I wonder if there is any original wallpaper that’s been uncovered? Yep, I think we’ll have to go see it if Bruce has time to show it to us. I know what he spent on the house—I just wonder what the renovation budget is and what unexpected things have some up (like they always seem to do on the shows we watch) and hope he’ll be able to make lots of money when he sells it. And how he’ll be able to bear to sell it. If we did something like this, I’d worry so much about it being a folly that I don’t think I could really enjoy the process—especially in this softening housing market. But I don’t know what the market is like in N. Attleborough (or even in Massachusetts) especially for period restorations and high-end housing. I wonder what the kitchen will be like—all the shows insist on granite counters and stainless steel appliances, but that certainly wouldn’t be a Victorian kitchen (I loathe granite counters and stainless steel appliances) but you have to put in something that people will buy ... that must be an interesting thing to figure out. Gotta go see this. Bruce’s site is pretty interesting—lots of information. Even the Houdini stuff, which has nothing to do with the house!

posted by lee on 11/04/07 at 09:09 AM
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Friday, November 16, 2007

only 2 days of bang, bang, banging

Through the wonders of appreciation (as in real estate), we finally got a new boiler. The installers from Santa Energy spent Tuesday ripping out the old boiler (which was old when it was converted from a coal burner to an oil burner) and Wednesday installing the new one.

Get this—they were on time, and other than the noise that comes with dismantling cast iron, we hardly knew they were here. Very efficient, I think—so far, so good.

The new boiler is a lot smaller than the old one—here are two views of the old one on the left and the new one on the right (bet you couldn’t tell, huh?)—click to enlarge them (and this is the neatest you will ever see the cellar I’m willing to be a lot of money on):

old boiler new boiler

view two old boiler new boiler

We were lucky that it was in the 50s most of the two days—it did get really cold in the house Tuesday night, but we never have the heat on at night, anyway, so it wasn’t THAT much different from normal. Just a little chillier. Stanley got me a radiant heater for the office so I can work this winter and that came in handy. I wanted a space heater without a fan because the fans are too damned noisy and they end up drying out my eyeballs.

It’s just so kewl that we FINALLY have a new boiler—at the very least it will save us a bunch of oil money. And I won’t have to watch periodic hissy hysterics when the filter clogs or the pipes bang (though I quite enjoyed the show, it upsets the creatures). It’s got an energy star rating of 84 and is a tankless boiler, meaning it doesn’t run all the time just to keep the water steaming—that alone will save us some oil money. Stanley also said the intake or outgo or whatever is split apart into four so that it’s more efficient. The savings should pay for the new boiler in about ten years!

Today we received the digital camera we ordered from Woot—$50 for a 6 megapixel camera where I can set the compression—I needed to be able to take higher resolution photographs. And we wanted it. I’d put up a photo or two from it but I already burned through the batteries just figuring it out. Maybe tomorrow ... hafta get some rechargeable AAs ...

Just one more picture before I go watch CSI—this one Stanley took of the cats taking over my half of the office. Busybodies, the both of them ... (click the image to enlarge)

Slink and Twitch take over in the kitty ways

The round dot on the window molding used to be a dragonfly—Slink keeps stealing it and hiding it so I’m leaving it down for a while. Both Slink and Twitch go after the praying mantis on the ledge and a cricket that’s on top of my clock. Keeps them in practice for the moles and voles and little mousies they murder.

posted by lee on 11/16/07 at 01:32 AM
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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

why yes, everything is fine

Dad called me to find out if I’m okay because I haven’t been blogging lately. I’ve just been busy and too tired.

I have some photos I want to post, and I will. We went up to Natick for Thanksgiving and had a really nice time. Maureen is decorating a guest room and it’s coming out great—beautiful, and comfortable. She should trust her taste more than she does. I love the color she put on the walls, a chamois yellow that is really soothing and that changes color depending on the lighting to a deep, orangy glow at night with the lamps on. Love the lamps she and Jeff picked out—they work really well in there.

Thanksgiving dinner was good, and it was great to see Kate and Ben again, though I really didn’t get much of a chance to talk with Ben. We vegetated on Friday, watching crap TV in the evening after eating leftovers. On Saturday, we went to Curry Leaf for my birthday dinner, followed by a movie: No Country for Old Men.

The movie was very, very good. Very frightening. I initially didn’t want to go see it because I knew Maureen wouldn’t like it, and she didn’t, but she chose it so ... Stanley and I would’ve gone to see it at a matinée or something. I’m glad I saw it, though. It’s the kind of story that sticks with you as much as you might not want it to.

On the drive home, we only sat in traffic in Massachusetts, really—it took us a lot longer to get home than usual, but it was annoying that the traffic on I-90 moved so slowly for no discernible reason. Once we finally got on to I-84, it was better with only a few tie-ups. There was an accident on I-95, but we managed to exit at 18, about 50 feet before traffic came to a near stop—we were both amazed that we called it right for once and didn’t try to get to exit 17.

Did very little work over the holiday weekend. I’m still tired—I still want to get away for a few days, a cottage on the sea, if I can just find a place. We both need a break.

Mom and Dad are heading to Florida on Saturday, via stopping to see various kinder in the Dearborn area. Would love to go down to Panama City Beach and visit this winter, but it’s a hard trip down unless we board the creatures up here—the cats would be okay, but Ginger would be miserable, even at Maureen’s house (which is where we would leave her). Mainly I just want to see Mom and Dad before next August. We’ll hopefully figure something out.

More soon.

posted by lee on 11/28/07 at 08:12 AM
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Friday, November 30, 2007

no more burger king

Today I read an opinion column in the New York Times by Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness. It really made me angry. This is what he wrote about:

Migrant farm workers harvesting tomatoes in South Florida spend 10 to 12 hours a day picking tomatoes by hand. They earn about 45 cents for each 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick and usually, they pick, lug, and unload about two tons of tomatoes per day. These are the tomatoes destined for fast food chains: Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Burger King. They, of course, want their tomatoes to be as cheap as possible.

Taco Bell ended a consumer boycott a couple of years ago by agreeing to pay an extra penny per pound for tomatoes it buys from Florida growers, with the extra penny going directly to the farm workers. McD’s agreed to do this as well. This increases farm worker wages to about 77 cents per 32-pound bucket. But Burger King refuses to pay the extra penny—which would cost them about $250,000 per year. This has led tomato growers to cancel the deals with Taco Bell & McDonald’s.

The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, 90% of Florida growers, said none of its members are allowed collect the extra penny for farm workers. Because, according to the FTGE, the surcharge is “un-American,” and subjecting its members to a $100,000 fine if they try to comply with the Taco Bell and McD’s agreements. They claim the extra penny per pound violates several laws, but refuse to specify which laws. In fact, the surcharge is perfectly legal (like the fuel surcharges are perfectly legal).

Florida has a piss-poor record of abusing its migrant workers, the majority of them undocumented workers. Growers have forced the farm workers into slavery at times. forced them to work for nothing, and subjected migrant workers to other forms of abuse. For doing the jobs that Americans won’t do. Burger King treats its livestock more humanely than the people who supply the chain with produce, with strict new rules on how its meatpacking suppliers should treat chickens and hogs headed for your belly, and say that if farm workers want to make more money, they should apply to work at Burger King restaurants.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is the organization behind improving the lives of migrants in the state, investigating slavery cases, and negotiating the penny-per-pound surcharge with fast food chains. Bain Capital, Texas Pacific Group, and Goldman Sachs Capital Partners (private equity firms) control most of the Burger King stock. The bonuses alone for the top 12 Goldman Sachs executives—$200 million-plus in 2006—is more than twice as much as all of the 10,000 or so farm workers earned in Florida that same year.

Just $250,000—that’s all it would cost Burger King to comply with the surcharge. I think I can do just fine without eating at a fast food restaurant of owners who care more about treating a chicken humanely than a human being. In fact, I think I can do without Florida tomatoes, period, unless I get them at Taco Bell or Mickey D’s. If Burger King just stopped running their creepy commercials a couple of times during prime time, they’d have more than enough to fund the surcharge. So, please:

BOYCOTT BURGER KING until they agree to pay the penny-per-pound surcharge.

posted by lee on 11/30/07 at 09:40 AM
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