October 22, 2009

Broken Thoughts, by Random Lunacy

I went to open a new checking account for my business because the bank I am currently with decided that instead of giving a high five to their loyal customers, they started hitting small business accounts with mondo fees.

Um, did they not get that small business part??? Can little fishies like me really afford to have my money either held hostage or unceremoniously taken away? I believe the answer you’re looking for would be a clear, ‘oh hell no’!

So, the local bank in the next town over charges nothing for small business checking and I decided to move my money on over so it is no longer held up at fee-point.

When I opened up my EIN document to print it this morning, I realized that Chucka Stone Designs just celebrated her second birthday three days ago. Yea!!

I totally love my job and I love my company and fully intend to keep this little fish swimming in the big old ocean for as long as possible, dodging sharks and finding super secret awesomeness around the corners of patches of coral reefs.

Speaking of awesomeness…

Today I started drum lessons, a promise I made myself last year. Well I might be a little late to the party, finally learning, at age 36, the instrument I have wanted to play since I was a kid, but as far as I’m concerned it’s never too late. My instructor Gil Graham, is so cool.

I found him in a most destined way too; thanks Universe! My mom was selling her lovely photo inspired art at an open studio fair in my old (and now defunct) Junior High School so Matt and I went to check it out. The show was on all four levels of the building as there are artist studios everywhere. We came in through the basement door as it seemed a logical place to start.

As we were walking by a completely unassuming room with an open door I pointed out where the cafeteria line used to form across the hall. Next thing I knew there were some slow drum beats coming from that door and there was a sign reading “Come On In!”. As if I could resist. We listened to the kid play for a few, shook hands with Gil and promised to be back near the end of the day to chat after seeing my mom.

The end of the day proved to be well over an hour while, for free, Gil started breaking down my skill and experience level as he let me play a few hundred beats. I was amazed with what I already knew like how to hold the sticks and limb independence (thanks Rock Band, seriously) and Gil was amazed at not only those things too but also that I was able to keep consistent time.

I think we both got a little giddy at the prospect of entering into a kick ass teacher student relationship and I signed up on the spot. Today was great as I worked toward greater independence and lengthier beat combos. The coolest thing was he told me as I was leaving that we just went through about 3 lessons in that one lesson time slot, that I sound great and am picking it up really quickly. Woo hoo! It still feels weird but I guess that is like anything new right?

I had a chance to interview Adam Sankowski from local band The Grownup Noise again about their veggie oil conversion van that they have used to tour the country for two consecutive summers now. He is such a great guy and always a fun interview. Plus I love discovering new music, especially when it is really, really good.

And they are really, really good.

If you are in the area and can stay up past your bedtime this Saturday night I highly recommend hooking up with me and Matt at their show at TT the Bear’s in Central Square Cambridge.

OK that’s about all I have steam for today so go read everyone else’s stuff now. How about if I say please?
KC, Ginger, Kate, Bridgete and Bree

BTW…thanks for the picture SuperStock!

September 13, 2009

Labor of Love

Uplifting Can Be Heavy

Over the next seven days we had to weigh our most essential priorities for reconstruction because moving into the house with the cat was going to be one of our greatest challenges yet.

There were three things we deemed more than essential: running water (primarily in the bathroom), at least one operable outlet in each room, and walls.

Since we both knew that only a crew of ten could get drywall up on every surface in five days, and that it would be a cold day in hell before Mr. ‘Slow as Molasses Uphill in the Winter’ would have our outlets installed in the same amount of time, we were forced to scale back on even the most basic of needs.

We finally settled that if we could get a toilet, sink and shower, two outlets (one in the bedroom for the alarm clock and one in the kitchen for the coffee maker) and walls up in the bedroom that we would at least feel more comfortable moving the cat in.

That first morning living out of Motel 6 Jerry miraculously beat us to the job. He proceeded to be there before us every single day for the next two weeks and since we were only coming from fifteen minutes down the road now, we were arriving fairly early in the morning.

At the time it was baffling but months later we discussed how he suddenly became so motivated to get the job done; why he was putting in such long hours. The only sensible conclusion either of us could surmise was that he felt nervous to allow us to move in without a C.O. since it was his name alone on the permit. Rightfully so.

Unfortunately obtaining a certificate of occupancy was the very least of our concerns at this time. Basic survival and the essential elements to achieve it for both ourselves and the cat were much further up the list of priorities so we started in the most critical location -- the bedroom.

While we were still in the demolition phase of the project, a couple of our closest friends, Sharon and Bob, were brave enough to trek through the ‘hood to come and help us tear down and clean up about four rooms worth of plaster and lathe. Those same friends, when called upon for another favor during this stage of the game were more than happy to oblige.

We headed back to the Boston area and picked up their drywall lift.

There are no words to accurately express the level of gratitude we had for their lending of the big yellow contraption. This beast of a machine is one of the simplest pieces of equipment ever constructed yet one of the most useful for any contractor doing a job like this -- it has two L shaped arm rests where the drywall edge is placed so the sheet is vertical, a pin that is pulled so the arms fall back flat to bring the sheet horizontal and a crank that essentially does the work of a professional body builder as it slowly snugs the piece of drywall just about right up to the ceiling.

With eight or more pieces per ceiling all I kept thinking was ‘and we thought it was heavy just carrying it into the house’.

When I mentioned before about the number of curse words we both uttered during the door installation I was simply preparing everyone for this part of the story. Seems the lack of level and plumb was a rampant issue throughout the entire house. So rampant that some walls were upwards of 3” out.

For those not in the know of the beauties of home construction, most contractors attempt to come within 1/16th of an inch out but anything up to 1/8th of an inch over about ten feet is considered acceptable. That leaves a difference of 2-7/8” out of level and / or plumb throughout the whole house.

Not one single sheet of drywall fit into a perfect square because not one single ceiling or wall corner in the entire house was a perfect angle. Every sheet in the house had to be scored, cut, shaved, retro fitted or simply fist-hammered into place before being screwed in.

While we crept up on the end of day four of our seven day stint in the motel, Jerry finally got us two working outlets -- one in the bedroom and one in the living room.

When we moved in we had a small dorm sized refrigerator, toaster oven, microwave and coffee maker to house in the kitchen. There was also our fourteen inch television, alarm clock and self cleaning cat litter box that would need to be run in the bedroom.

Walls were finally complete in the bedroom and in order to prevent the cat from pulling insulation from the cracks we tossed up some unfinished trim and I got started on joint compound while Matt began plumbing the bathroom.

Matt and plumbing became strange bedfellows over the course of this experience; a true love hate relationship was born out of applying heat to flux. He remains to this day one of the most skilled plumbers I have ever seen install copper. Unfortunately he is also the slowest and most meticulous pipe fitter I have ever wanted to take a torch to. It took him two full days to complete the shower install and toilet rebuild as well as shoring up the sink.

With just one day left before we moved in we had yet to install any walls or flooring and caulk was going to take at least a couple days to dry. We hugged each other then because we both knew after three more days of hard labor with no shower both of us were going to be wishing we had two bedrooms complete just so we didn’t have to smell each other.

September 6, 2009

Labor of Love

Leaving on a Jet Plane and When You Get Back, Get Out

It became clear that not only had I reached a glass ceiling at my day job, but that helping out on weekends alone was not going to cut it, so the moment we were able to refinance I joined Matt in making the house a full time thing. We were now commuting in one car together from a family member’s house in the Boston area. Each morning we headed out at about 8:00 and did not arrive back home until well after all of the members of the household had gone to sleep.

It was May so with Jerry stumbling in here and there and our newly acquired pile of materials secured in the front bedroom, we wasted no time doing all of the things that could be done before the inspector came to give the final okay on the permit; the day we would finally be able to put the house on the market.

Matt located a builder’s supply center in Rhode Island that was a fairly lengthy drive but worlds less expensive than Home Depot for windows. He picked up nine standard sized, wood ones there and we custom ordered eleven more in vinyl for some areas that were a little bit quirky in size. While on the spending spree we also sprung for eight new interior doors and the front and back exterior doors.

That is when Matt found Phil.

Phil and Jerry were definitely both sent to the same school for odd ducks, but Phil was just an all around funny guy. He was big and burly and drove this beat up maroon pick up truck with his company name on the side. That was more than poor Jerry had to show for credentials.

We hired Phil and his crew to do some demo work for us that was a little out of our comfort level; we paid them to rip out the shed in the front yard as well as the two and three season porches on the back of the house that were only still together because the termites were holding hands.

In three days all said structures were down, cleaned up and the guys were out of our yard. It was tempting to ask if they also knew how to hang drywall. Or could run wire.

On the back of the house the three season porch was accessed through a slider door in the kitchen. The slider was an older style aluminum type and the only locking mechanism it had was the block of wood that had been cut to fit in the lower channel on the static door side. Needless to say we were anxious to remove the entire jimmy-rigged contraption and replace it with the locking door.

We both agreed that this would be the last thing we did before going away on our vacation because we were looking to firmly secure the premises prior to being gone for a full week.

The day came and while we replaced the door Matt got a call from Jerry that he was having shrapnel removed from his appendix and would not be able to get back for a couple weeks. By this point we both held nothing back with the world’s slowest contractor and Matt simply told him that we were running low on some materials over at our place so since he was likely on his way to another job for a couple weeks, he might want to pick up a check from them to pick up the stuff for our job.

After a very long day, and lots of curse words flying out of both of our mouths at the lack of not only level but plumb in a 150 year old house, we managed to install the door and window on the back of the house. There were some cinder blocks lying around from who knows what and we used them to makeshift a set of stairs out the back door.

We stood in the yard and admired the first truly noticeable exterior change then we headed home to pack for our trip the following morning.

After 9/11, as many may recall, flights were somewhat off for a while and many airlines were offering amazing deals on tickets as well as additional incentives to keep people up in the skies. Just before our wedding I had come across an impossible to pass up price on tickets to Arizona so I jumped on it.

Neither of us ever imagined we would still be working on the house in early June of 2003 but we were so I began looking into the options of what we could do about not going away. Sadly, it would have cost us substantially more to transfer the tickets than the original tickets cost to begin with so we found ourselves heading out for sunny weather.

The trip was just what we both needed and we came back rejuvenated, refreshed and ready to tackle whatever the house could throw at us next. Even if it meant we had to corral and hog tie Jerry for him to actually finish before the anniversary of our closing date.

The people who were letting us stay however must have felt that the vacation was a bad idea because the day we returned one of them sat down to talk to us. The conversation went something like this: “He wants you out tomorrow.”

We had no electricity, no walls, no bathroom and a cat.

Matt went to pick up some rope for the necessary kidnapping of Jerry and while I located a local motel that took pets, Matt called our friendly electrician to explain that we would be moving in just five days from that moment so he had better get his act together.

We packed everything we owned that night and made it to Motel 6 in Springfield the following morning by 9:00 AM.

September 3, 2009

Labor of Love

Materials Witness

We decided it was finally time to have the re-construction materials delivered despite the fact that Jerry was stringing us along with stories of his wife’s, cousin’s, landlord passing a gall stone, or something just as ludicrous. That way, we figured, we would be able to begin putting her back together before a year had passed in our three month renovation.

We waited out on the stoop one warmer spring day in 2003 for the eighteen wheeler flat bed truck to show up. When it pulled in I believe I simply mumbled a fearful ‘um, is that seriously all for us?’ Matt just nodded. I think I saw his eyes well with tears. Mine immediately followed.

That day we had delivered sixty bundles of cedar shingles, 176 sheets of drywall (packaged in twos), twenty rolls of R-19 wall insulation, four packages of R-38 attic insulation, twenty rolls of drywall tape, four 5 gallon buckets of joint compound, three packages of roofing shingles, two 2-1/2 gallon buckets of textured ceiling paint, six boxes of industrial staples, a few sheets of paneling, ten sheets of pressboard, a crate of drywall screws and very likely a slew of other things my brain has purged because the day was simply too traumatizing.

The truck arrived at about 9:00 which means we had risen that day at about 5:30, hit the road by 6:30 and arrived just before the materials were to be dropped.

Total time for truck driver to back in, exit vehicle, get in attached little forklift truck thingie, unload all our stuff and leave? Approximately twenty minutes.

Home Depot doesn’t bring your materials into the house, they forklift the palates onto the front lawn then wave goodbye with their middle finger which they just used to point at the storm cloud moving in, and then they laugh as they peel out of the field.

We stared at this material in front of us, looked at each other, sighed and started moving it all into our storage room. The size of the pile was daunting; it was definitely taller than both of us when stacked on top of itself. We knew there would be no lunch until this was finished but we doubted it would be done before the rain.

Trouble with drywall is getting it wet renders it useless.

The other trouble with drywall is the stuff is insanely heavy and neither of us had built up any real stamina or muscles yet. We had to cut apart the double sheets and carry each individually. For those who are counting, that would be 176 trips up the four front stairs with just the drywall. My calves were rockin’ by the end of that day.

The real trouble was that we had no choice but to secure all of these materials before we left for the day no matter how long it took or we would never see them again.

We got a couple of our tarps out as we watched the ominous storm clouds race across the open sky as fast as we were racing up and down the front stairs.

After about forty sheets we felt a drop. Both of us hustled like maniacs attaching the tarps to the two piles; something we became pros at by the end of the day.

There were at least three separate times when rain came through. At one point we half considered just giving up and saying oh well, that was at about 5:00. We decided that one of us should just run out for food instead.

We ate dinner and felt completely recharged to tackle the rest of the pile. With only a handful of drywall sheets, most of the paneling and all of the cedar shingles left to redistribute to secured locations we figured we were home free.

The last bundle of shingles made it into the basement just as all four of our calves tore away from the bone while we were on the basement stairs, sometime around 8:00 in the evening. We never had a more physically exhausting day than that during the entire remainder of the project; we were wiped out but miraculously Jerry had called and would, by some miracle of chance, be showing up the next day.

In order to ensure he would, we knew it was vital that we did too, even though all we really wanted to do was lie down and sleep the next four months away. Luckily we had a vacation coming up and we were both pushing so we would be able to take full advantage of the recovery time our bodies so desperately needed while we were away in the sunshine.

September 1, 2009

Labor of Love

A Pirate’s Life for Me

I am not one of those girls who goes all ga-ga for electronics, but pulling the electrical nightmare wiring out of the entire house was one of the happiest times in the whole project. At that moment we knew the only way the house could ever go up in flames would be because of the punk kids who lived behind us.

At some point we prayed that very thing would happen; alas it never did.

That first winter we had saved up enough money for Matt to quit his mortgage job and go work on the house full time. He was going to complete the demolition of plaster and the subsequent clean up, frame out the concrete block room and a couple other places while our electrician ran all the wire into the brand new, super shiny, battleship grey, 200 amp circuit box.

Perhaps I should back up to explain how it is we arrived at winter as some of you might be scratching your heads in wonder for the “couple of months” we had promised ourselves as a completion date.

Since we purchased the house just before our wedding we wanted to get through that insanity first. There went ten weeks right down the drain. Of course another week for honeymoon and another for catching up with work once we were back and, well, you probably get the idea. Our couple of months was over before it even started.

During the winter, while Matt was working in sub zero temperatures with little to no block from the elements, he tracked down a couple reasonable priced electricians who could come in to complete the work; he chatted with all of them and made a decision to hire Jerry.

There are times when a spouse is supposed to bite their tongue and allow their other half of the equation make their own choices, regardless of the outcome.

This was definitely not one of those times.

Matt was all kinds of excited that Jerry would be able to finish the entire project from running the wire, attaching outlets, baseboard heaters, smokes and pulling it all back into the box in just a few weeks.

Again I will pause because I think it is important for everyone reading to run right out and pick up a copy of The Money Pit, watch it and pay special attention to the standard line that flies out of the mouth of the General Contractor who handles their project. I will wait.

Contractors in Massachusetts are required to become licensed and many of them must complete ungodly numbers of hours of training before the licensing can occur. In some instances certain classes are even required. I am convinced that the “How to tell the client two weeks no matter what” class is the first they are all sent to. It is an ongoing educational endeavor they all must refresh each year to stay quick on their feet when asked how long a project will take.

Matt gave Jerry a key and entrusted him to get in there and get the job done with little to no supervision because after all, he was a professional and Matt may or may not be able to be there every day. Silly, silly Matt. Jerry started the work sometime in early part of the Spring of 2003. A few weeks in we headed on out one weekend to check out the progress.

I was still going with that original few week estimate. Silly, silly me.

Our electrician had drilled a bunch of chase holes in the studs, haphazardly hung switches and outlets from the boxes with just one screw and hundreds of feet of wire were coiled up all over the three floors of the house but not attached to anything. He had assured Matt he would be done by the time we showed up that weekend. The two of us just looked at each other and Matt dialed the phone to find out where he was at.

While this was going on, our apartment, which was one floor of a two family house, had gone under agreement and we were being forced to find an alternate place to live. A family relation allowed us to move into their basement area for a short time.

On top of all of that the city had failed to turn off the water so although we had shut things off on our end, there was a trickle from the street. As one of the coldest winters on record the plumbing slowly filled, so did the water heater and furnace.

All of the above burst. Luckily we had been given the Home Improvement 1-2-3 book from Home Depot for our wedding (yes we registered at Home Depot) and Matt read the plumbing section like a bible. The inspector told him there were professionals who didn’t do such quality work and he should consider getting licensed.

About a week later, Jerry arrived back on the jobsite and Matt did a double take. He was wearing a gauze patch over one eye. Turns out although he was cutting for a ceiling fan box above his head, straight into horsehair plaster, he saw no reason to wear safety glasses. The plaster had gotten in there and he wound up in the hospital.

This is the second class contractors are forced to attend, the “How to come up with the most outrageous excuses on the fly so as not to simply admit to the client that you ran out of money and needed to front load at a different job for a few weeks”. If he was telling the truth I certainly felt bad for him but his overall wishy-washy work ethic told me otherwise. I had never seen any contractor go so far as to don a costume to drive the point home however, so I had to give him a solid A for effort there.

Jerry worked for approximately one more week, which brings us up to about mid May, and then he simply vanished. Matt blew up his phone leaving countless messages. We threatened not paying his final installment, we threatened going to the licensing board. Nothing worked, he had just disappeared. We were ready to get going with reconstruction so we called in a new electrician.

He sadly told us that because the permit was in Jerry’s name he would be unable to do anything.

I went looking for sharp, pointy things to stick in my ears while Matt utilized the tools of the mortgage trade and tracked down Jerry’s address and home number. We contemplated going by, ringing his bell, snatching him and tossing him in our car to take him back to the job, but figured that might be a little harsh so we went with a call instead.

He answered.

“Surprise Jerry, its Matt. Miss us? I expect you to be here tomorrow, finished by Friday or your license is going to be yanked so fast your head will spin.”

August 28, 2009

Labor of Love

Peeling Off Layers

After the first mistake of purchasing 35 Thayer was behind us, we persevered through the next several blunders with our convenient rose colored glasses firmly affixed over our eyes. On second thought, perhaps it was more like a blindfold because we sure happened to disregard a slew of important barriers as we leapt over them.

Ah how I sometimes yearn for the early days when we were still smiling, laughing, no matter what type of nightmare we encountered. It makes me wistful to be that ignorant again.

Our house was located, as I mentioned at 35 Thayer Ave. Many might imagine this to be a busy street with loads of activity, just as an avenue should be. Our house however was situated at the end of what can best be described as a field of dirt; not even so much a street, let alone an Avenue.

The aforementioned field that was our street held just one house, ours. The rest of the field was conveniently the back entrances to a little shopping plaza. The plaza consisted of an urban clothing store, CD creation shop, Laundromat, church, convenience store and one storefront which went through a myriad of different shops; one of which went right through Matt and I, but that fun snippet must be saved for later.

At the time we saw nothing wrong with the odd layout of the street, just the odd layout of the interior of the home so we got right to work on changing it all.

In every room of the house, of which there were eight including the two bathrooms, there was dark wood paneling, drop ceiling, chocolate brown trim paint and at least (but usually more) 10 electrical outlets which were conveniently placed at about three feet off the ground.

It isn’t as if the home inspector did not warn us about the fact that not only was the fuse box a Federal Pacific (known for spontaneously combusting and burning down countless homes before they were shut down) but that it was less than 100 amp service and to make things even more interesting they had gone with the old ‘shove a nail in there so it will never trip off’ trick.

That small bit of information would have been enough to get out of the purchase contract. Instead we waved the inspector off as if he had never done this before and that we clearly knew exactly what we were doing.

I would like to remind you at this time of the cackling which should be taking place.

As the paneling came down we discovered the strapping used to hold it was tacked up right over the old wallpaper from the 1950’s. We had just gone back in time five decades; well, really two I suppose considering when we first walked through the door the entire house was like stepping onto the dingy and dusty set of a Quincy, M.E episode.

Even more interesting than the chosen décor were those outlets I had mentioned. Turns out the genius who lived there took the one (yes, one) original outlet in the room, attached lamp cord to it (see photo) and ran it to the additional 9 outlets through the space. Doors and windows are not exactly an issue when there is that much cord -- feel free to just go up and over!

The paneling tacks happened to miss the strapping in some areas. We counted 6 spots where fire had burned the wallpaper due to punctured wiring.

Since the paneling was coming down the drop ceiling also had to go; mostly because the paneling went to the original ceiling. Of course it did. Perhaps the second layer of ceiling should be stripped then too right? Not too many people are into puke yellow aluminum siding as a modern treatment option. At the time it was installed though I suppose it was a good sturdy base to hold the warehouse style fluorescent lights strewn about the home.

Those lights would have been perfect if we had intended to fill up the house with a whole bunch of pot plants that we would cultivate. Looking back that might have been a safer option.

Talk about scary electrical nightmares. The photo next to the charred lamp cord depicts the outlet in the ceiling mounted light box, 1 fluorescent light is plugged into that, an extension cord is plugged into the fluorescent light box, the cord was supposed to attach to the other fluorescent at the opposite end of the room but since it didn’t quite make it the mastermind of power decided to splice in another. Of course electrical tape should be good enough to hold that connection together for decades. No fear of this house burning down. She wasn’t going anywhere.

Now that the drop ceiling was going we might as well pull up that hideous, vile smelling, brown, gold and orange 1970’s shag wall to wall carpeting. Oh goodie, there is another layer of wall to wall underneath it that this one was simply tack stapled to. Why tear something out when it could simply be covered up right? Unlike our predecessors, we chose to toss it and finally reached the hardwoods.

Because we had gone this far we figured why not rip out all those hand made, wide pine, tongue in groove, crooked kitchen cabinets and the countertop that was harvest gold and cracked. Come to think of it all three harvest gold appliances that did not work could go as well. And since the kitchen was now bare, tearing up that floor would be a piece of cake.

We then discovered another layer. Then another. Then another... All told we pulled five layers out of the kitchen before reaching the subfloor.

Once everything throughout the house was stripped (thanks in very large part to great friends, some of our more helpful family, a few million enormous cups of coffee and one or two overnight hotel stays) and the final pile of horsehair dust was swept into a green contractor bag, we had taken enough out of the house to completely fill four 40 yard dumpsters.

The good news was that we estimated to have gained back over 20,000 cubic feet of space by simply peeling off layers. The onion theory does ring true when it comes to renovation of an 1850’s farmhouse however -- the more layers that are peeled the more likely some tears are eventually going to fall.

August 26, 2009

Labor of Love

Down the Rabbit Hole

Back in 2002 Matt and I purchased a house in Springfield, Massachusetts with the sole intention of fixing it up to flip it quick. Therein lies the first mistake, we had no idea that a home has a life of its own and the second you intend on doing anything other than what it wants the sucker will come right for you and stab you in the jugular until you are left to quiver in the corner like a mass of goo in full submission to its life force while it bleeds you dry.

Or something like that.

At the time we purchased the house we had been engaged for about seven months, had known each other a little over three years and had been living together since September of 2001. We were planning a fall wedding and thought it would be a great way to start our married lives, with a little cash in our pocket.

Insert hysterical laughter here. Continue cackling for the remainder of this story, no matter how long that might be, and then for approximately 2 years after it is over.

We chose Springfield as our investment location for a few reasons. First it was close enough to Boston that we could get there if we needed to, and considering we were intending on completing all the work ourselves, we would definitely need to. Second it was cheap as hell. Being just two hours west of Boston we were amazed at how low the prices were in comparison. Finally, we could get bang for our buck. The cost of entry ran under $50,000 and that was for a home of approximately 1500 square feet.

We should have seen the red flags. We should have paid more attention to all of the signs along the way guiding us into different directions. But we were naïve; we were determined to do what we wanted no matter the cost.

Cost being the operative word here.

We took a couple weekend scouting trips to the area and got a feel for where we would be buying and working. Once we felt comfortable with it, a real estate agent in the area took us through four homes in various neighborhoods.

There was the 500 square foot, one bedroom home with a huge side yard and driveway in the Pine Point area which we dubbed Grandma’s Cottage. That home was in the best shape physically of all of them and would have turned a small profit but due to the size we considered it could be a lengthy period before it would even sell so we offered them about half of the listing price, just to see what would happen. They flat out rejected it and we moved on.

Next up was the huge home on Pendelton, the heart of the second scariest neighborhood in Springfield. The interior stairs had holes in them. In fact everything had holes except the plywood covering all the windows that had not yet been smashed, and some that had. When we headed down the tiny back hall stairs to the basement I was nervous we might find people living down there. I didn’t even know anything about the neighborhood at the time and still I could feel it was sketchy. No offer; again, we moved on.

The next house we saw is the woulda, coulda, shoulda if ever there was one. Had we known more about real estate speculation or what level of work would be involved in completing a renovation to an entire home we would have placed an offer on the little ranch with perfect siding and a new roof over on Vadnais. Sadly we allowed the sound from the expressway out back, the smell of cat pee and the completely demolished kitchen to deter us. The home was on a slab and a total gut renovation (even back then when we were completely green) would have likely only taken through the late fall. The systems were totally intact meaning we would not have needed Jerry, the pirate Electrician; a chapter in and of itself.

We thought they were asking too much for too small a house once we saw the size and listing price of the next place and thus began our slow descent down the rabbit hole known as Thayer Ave.

August 7, 2009

Semi Broken Thoughts for Friday All About Painting

I painted yesterday so as I sit here typing all I can see is splatters of primer all over both hands (yes I have to look at the keyboard when I type) and it is making me think of all things related to painting.

There is something completely satisfying for me at the end of a very intense day of ladder work, cutting in and rolling that I find tough to explain but of course I will try. When I paint (I don’t mean faux, that I actually do have to think about some of the time), I can just zone out and sing along to music I don’t even like that is blasting from the jobsite radio. I eat my lunch out of a cooler. I can wear whatever I like. Sweating is a definite. A workout is involved all day long. I can accomplish a little or a lot each day and no one is there to bitch about it as long as I wrap the entire job on time.

Yesterday I cut in and rolled out the walls in two entire rooms and began cutting in a third in about two hours. Our time was limited as the other kid who was cutting up carpet on this particular job site had gotten a ride there with my dad and had to be back for his other job by 3:00. My dad is protective and since this isn’t in the most desirable area he doesn’t want me there alone so I left with them.

I knew our time would be short so I cranked ass on purpose. Matt and I are going back this weekend. There are three rooms upstairs and 5 rooms downstairs to finish priming. Considering my performance yesterday I’d say between the 2 of us we will have those banged out by mid day on Saturday.

A lot of times I’ll eat lunch on the fly which means I chomp away on my sandwich with one hand while I cut in with the other. I of course did that yesterday because of the limited time but because I didn’t want to eat paint, I first wiped down my left hand with a Wet-Nap. Immediately I started to chuckle because, well, of course I had a Wet-Nap in my ‘Mom Bag’.

When I was working with the awesome faux ladies in Long Island I used to bring my lunch and other stuff everyday in a tote bag. The gals dubbed it the Mom Bag because anything you had to go to your Mom for, you would likely find it in my bag. The current contents include stuff like - straws, plastic utensils, hair bands, Wet-Naps, band aids, ibuprofen, girlie stuff, hand sanitizer, lotion, tissues, cough drops, change, napkins, and usually a roll of toilet paper and a plastic shopping bag but both of those are at the current jobsite.

Hey you just never know and I was a girl scout so I like to be prepared (although I think that is the motto of the Army or something but no matter, it’s a good one to keep in mind).

Taking off at the end of the day after having rocked it like yesterday always makes me feel like I just went to the gym for a couple hours, it is fulfilling but I am totally drained. I fell asleep on the couch last night and this morning my shoulder is definitely killing me but I don’t even care. Tomorrow we are planning on spending a healthy eight hour day out there then another 5 on Sunday and I go back for at least 4, maybe up to 6 on Monday which should take me through just about the end of Phase II of the job. Once the plumber, electrician and my dad (the finish guru) get through the place I will be back out for a couple days to complete the final bits.

This is my meditation.

Visit the whole Zen crew of BTP peeps…
Bridgete, Ginger, KC, Bree, Kate

July 15, 2009

I Am Just Not One of Those Women

The blocks in the city are long and straight and
I have walked them numerous times.
There always seems to be the flawless woman
Perched on every street of my travels. A woman
Who turns heads of both sexes with each step
Of her impeccably pedicured feet hugged by designer shoes.

She is the one with hair that shines bright;
Tenderly sun kissed monthly, in a salon down the street.
Lustrous and perfectly groomed are her tresses
And the clothing she wears. Her outfit in ivory
Is custom tailored and unblemished; not a slight mar
On even one thread of her 5’9”, 135 pound frame.

This woman walks in three inch heels as if she floats.
Her steps provide just enough bounce to gently toss her hair
And her bag never slips to knock into her coffee cup;
Held by a hand showcasing something huge from Tiffany.
Her conversations include plans with fabulous people.
She is on her way to an important meeting or a gala.

This woman is an apparition, a figment of my
Formerly envious imagination when I used to lament over
Never having been a girly girl, owning more sweats than skirts,
Always spilling red sauce on my white cotton tee shirts.
Never the woman who commands the attention of a room
Due to nothing more than my sheer presence as I enter.

Instead my petite self wears flip flops with chipped polish,
Clothes with huge paint splatters smeared across my ass and I
Drink a beer right out of the can while I watch sports.
I have never been one of those flawless head turners,
And that is just fine, perfection is too much pressure.
I’ll take the me I am, the cute but clumsy girl next door.

June 27, 2009

It’s on like Ping Pong

All our boxes are packed…we’re ready to go.
We’re running quickly out the door.
It can’t come quick enough…

Within the next few hours the cavalcade of moving joy begins. Right now feels like that calm before the storm where we are up and drinking coffee, tripping over filled boxes everywhere but not acknowledging that there is anything going on just yet. The wind is just starting to pick up a little bit.

Matt and I have moved so many times it is almost not even worth mentioning anymore but I feel compelled to get excited about this one because we both feel really good about this move. This is the first time in almost seven years we are moving to a place for no other reason than we wanted to.

When we first got together I was living in a little studio apartment in Malden, Massachusetts and he was living in Columbus, Ohio in a similar sized place. If you haven’t read the story about how we met and all that squishy stuff you can do that now. I’ll wait.

Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap.

OK ready? Good. Now where was I? Oh right, Malden.

So once we decided to move in together the studio was not going to cut it and we found a place a few blocks away, also in Malden. It was the second floor of a typical Boston two family -- three bedrooms, one bath, eat in kitchen, hardwoods, single pane windows, no insulation and a boiler from 1850 -- it was huge and we were getting a super deal on rent because Matt knew someone who knew someone. Then they told us they were selling and all of this moving for other people and other reasons began.

We bought the fixer in June of 2002 and by April of 2003 we actually started to work on the place. Just before that was when they sold the house in Malden we crashed for a while with a family member until the house in Springfield was almost ready to be inhabited, but not quite. We went to a motel for ten days while we put up walls in the bathroom and bedroom. Enough that the cat could be safe and we could shower. We lived in Springfield for three years too long but neither of us ever wanted to live there. We just went with the flow of circumstances so when a job opportunity opened up in New York, we figured it was worth looking into.

I was dying to give Manhattan a go. I have always loved The City and could not wait to get there!

So of course we ended up living in my cousin’s basement on Long Island. For over a year. With no windows.

We made the best of it because New York is freaking expensive and we were still paying bills on the Springfield house and trying to sell it. But East Meadow was not where either of us wanted to live. One morning after a particularly heavy rain storm the basement flooded. We had been discussing possibly moving so we would not turn into moles but had not entirely planned on doing it just yet. The house next door belonged to the man my cousin had been seeing and he had just moved into her slightly larger home.

Off we went to his place that day. Like within an hour of the flood.

That house was actually one of the best places we have lived even though we didn’t see the move coming. A cute little 900 square foot, single family, two bedroom ranch with a nice big living room and a kitchen with a dishwasher. We had a couple friends on the Island who would come over and we would hang out on the back deck and drink beers and laugh all night. It was actually not too bad.

Then the housing market imploded.

Our friends had worked together (at a substantial sized mortgage company) and were out of work on the same day. With approximately 5,000 other people. Six or so other small to mid sized companies also went down and Matt too ended up having to find something. There were about 10,000 people all fighting for the same fifteen jobs on the Island and our friends hauled ass out of there and headed for Texas. Matt’s boss at his former company loved him to death and got him into her new place per-diem but we both knew he was on borrowed time.

So we put on our rose colored blindfold and moved back to Massachusetts.

There is a whole lot involved with this move and a very lengthy story surrounding it all, which I may tell at some point but today is not that day. Let’s just say there are three sides to everything and that we moved back here so Matt could pursue a career change, which instead turned out to be a life changing experience for both of us, and we encountered some major financial hardship due to the culmination of everything up to this point. Yes, I think that sums it up rather nicely.

When we first moved back we were crashing at the beach cottage in Humarock. The day I become a wealthy woman I will own a home on both coasts -- a hip loft in downtown San Diego and a home in Humarock. That place is one of the most amazing places on the planet for me, something magical happens when I cross the river; I feel at home. But living in a family house that is opened up every summer means, again, living on borrowed time so this was never meant to be something we could treasure; it was transitional at best. Bringing in 75% of the pay we were making in New York also meant we were limited in where we could even look, not to mention the fact that saving a couple dimes was next to impossible.

I had started Chucka Stone Designs as soon as we arrived and was beginning to roll along with a few great jobs through 2008. That spring the family house in Damascus, Maryland needed to be freshened to be put on the market and I was hired to do so. That job was the most physically exhausting I have ever faced but one of the most rewarding in so many ways. And I came home with our moving money.

We had settled for an apartment in Arlington that was excessively overpriced for the size, but it was Arlington. Now I should explain, as much as Humarock feels like home, I have about as strong feelings to the opposite about Arlington.

The funny thing about Boston is that even the crappiest of areas are overpriced so we figured, why not at least move to a safe town. And so we landed here.

I grew up here from age seven to about nineteen and frankly I am not a fan. There is nothing inherently wrong with this town it is just that I am one of those people who 1. knows when something feels right or wrong and 2. enjoys leaving my past in the past. Even as a kid I never felt like I fit in here. Moving back here caused my past to come running right up to me to punch me square in the kisser; I knew it felt wrong. But when we were looking there was not much of an option and after three years in Springfield I refused to live in another crime ridden location simply because we could afford it.

I have shared some of the hilarity about this building -- the smell of dead cabbage cat, neighbors who sunbathe in the parking lot in a thong, the rabid animals that live in the dumpster, the claustrophobia upon entry -- but I really must admit, despite all of the crap, our landlord has been wonderful and Matt and I went through very distinct, positive transformations here.

This time, there was no pressure to move (even though we were both interested in doing so eventually). No major life changes were occurring which were forcing our hand, neither of us figured we would be going anywhere for at least a couple years. Then one night out of the blue we heard about what will now be our new place.

It is only one town away but it feels like the other side of the Universe to me. With so many positive things going on in our lives right now this new place kind of feels like the culmination of dragging ourselves back up from a very, very dark place that we lived in for a very, very long time. We don’t own it, it is not all that much bigger and who knows what the neighbors will be like but something inside both of us is saying that this time we were actually waiting at the right platform when the right train was pulling in and finally we are headed in the right direction.

I haven’t even set up an appointment for internet access to be hooked up yet. For the first few days I simply plan to unpack, make curtains, explore our new neighborhood, sit in the side yard and read the Kerouac novel I just took out of the library, set up our place and enjoy the surroundings. I don’t know when I’ll get back online to read, write and connect, but even though there is a lot of heavy lifting to come over the next few days, I somehow feel like I will be more refreshed than ever once I get back.


June 18, 2009

Expressing Thanks

Some of you know that I hand make bags from upcycled or recycled fabrics as a hobby and that I have a shop on Etsy under my company name of Chucka Stone Designs where I sell these little goodies. Well about a week ago, Jackie over at Etsy Item of the Day got in touch with me and asked if she could feature this

as today’s featured item of the day. As if I was going to say no! The funny thing is that I have been contemplating marking all of my Etsy shop items at 50% off as a moving sale next week so I can possibly unload some merchandise before I have to pack it and take it to the new place. I would much rather take it to the post office and send it to a fine, yet different, home.

This morning I was suggesting, over on one of the thousand or so social networking sites I now belong to, that perhaps I should get a couple huge posters made up that look like this

to mark the sale’s occasion. I guess pimping out my glorious feature (and the fact that I am thinking of having the sale at all) right here on my blog is going to have to be enough. Never mind the fact that there is no time to print up these babies, I am pretty sure my current landlord would not be expressing her thanks for my hanging them all over the building.

One of the people I recently started following on twitter, @EnlightenYurDay, posts these little excellent quotes a few times a day. They come from philosophers, musicians, writers, Saints and (who some might call) sinners alike. I don’t know where they find them but they never cease to inspire me and make me smile or chuckle too. My very favorite from today is:

If the path be beautiful, let us not ask where it leads.
- Anatole France

This goes right back to being thankful today. I could ask Jackie how she found me, wonder why suddenly my long ago deserted Etsy shop is suddenly being noticed again or how I have been so lucky to make such magnificent connections but instead I will just say a big rock on to the Universe at large and bask in the accolades being vibed my way right now.

June 16, 2009

Easily Translates into Five Thousand Words

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Instead of my usual incessant rambling, I’m going to let the photos do the talking for me today. Well, most of it anyway. OK, not much really but here it is anyway.

On June 8 my mom, her friend Eileen, Matt, and myself went down to Central Square to the bar All Asia to see a comedy show. The host and Comedienne of the evening was Janet Cormier, who my mom met because (as Mom pointed out just now) she was the leader of the Think Tank workshop at the Career Source. The show was great, we must have laughed our way through at least ten up and coming comedians. If you are in the area and want to check it out I think they are on the second Monday of every month and it was super inexpensive, just a $5 admission charge!

The Arlington Farmer’s Market opened on June 10th and although there was not too much yet there were some fantastic deals to be had! S got Hammer and Anvil bundled up in their best winter outfits (because this is late spring in New England people), she swung by to grab me and off we went! This is where I acquired the fifteen pounds of dill and yummy cacao nibs used on that fateful burnt sugar night.

I decided to pick up some last minute tickets to They Might Be Giants for Matt. Live music is never bad in my book so even though I had no familiarity with this band, he loves them so it seemed like the right thing to do. We had great seats, somewhere around the 10th row and the place was really tiny for a performance hall. These guys were awesome! What an incredibly fun band and come to find out they are originally from Massachusetts so it was like a big reunion show with their family in the audience too. They performed their album Flood in consecutive order, tossed in a few warm up songs and did two encores. I had only ever heard one song before that night but would definitely see them again. It was the perfect way to end the day after a fantastic time at a friend’s fortieth birthday party!

We helped my dad and Wicked Stepmother move this past Sunday and after literally half of a day of lugging boxes, emptying the water bed, sweeping water away from the house so it would stop seeping into the basement and driving back and forth to the mid-western part of the state to unload and unpack I was so physically worn out yesterday that I wanted to do nothing more than lie around and relax all day. I managed to do just that for a better part of the day but a good friend of mine, John, called to let me know he was in town for just a couple days from Florida so we had to do lunch.

My goal for today consists of nothing more than finding this product. During my down time yesterday I checked around locally and could not find it here in Arlington so today I must branch out to track it down. I need this lovely little item to complete the kitchen reorganization project I am working on right now so this, or the equivalent in a different brand, will need to magically appear today so I can heroically finish up tomorrow.

Talk about your whirlwind! So much to do, so little time.

Maybe this upcoming weekend will be a bit calmer? Nah, I doubt it

June 5, 2009

Broken Thought Process Thursday

Yup, it’s Friday. Hey, it’s my theme I do what I want!

There is a fine line between determination and insanity. Albert Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again hoping to get different results; or something close to that. He was clearly onto something there. I wish he were alive and well, it would be nice to ask him to move on over here next door to one of my neighbors and share that pearl of wisdom because although they might not be insane just yet, they are quickly driving me there. Come to think of it, they are not driving much of anywhere.

For the past two weeks, every day, at multiple and various times throughout the twenty four hour period, my neighbor has gone out to their car and tried to start it. The car makes that cheg-cheg-cheg-cheg-cheg sound as if it is about to start but it never turns over. I almost feel bad for them, they must imagine that the car fairy comes at night and sprinkles magic motor oil all over the hood in a blessing for their success the next day. What would be the explanation for trying it every morning otherwise? Now, I am certainly no genius like Albie but it sounds to me like perhaps it is time to call a tow truck and go have a starter put in. I don’t know though, just a thought.

Hearing this occur every morning makes me want to quote the movie Mallrats:

“That kid, is back on the escalator again!”

OK well I am going to go take a nine hour break from typing so I can get out to my kitchen reorganization job out in Ayer. Today we are working on the two kitchen junk drawers and the “it used to be a broom closet but is now the toss it in there and hope it doesn’t fall out when the door gets opened” closet. Can not wait to get before and after shots of this job for all of you to check out. Its so liberating to toss stuff and get it into a more organized manner. Well at least for me, I hope it feels the same for the client!

Back now. Hope everyone had a fantastic Friday!

Yup, definitely all about pizza for dinner tonight. So now I have to decide if we are going to make the trek out to Revere beach to get our favorite from Bianchi’s or if we should just stick close to home and do a margharita from Nicola. Ooh choices are so fun, especially when it comes to good pizza.

Oh my, I am pretty sure that was just a really booming rumble of thunder. Perhaps we will stick close to home and forego the beach tonight after all. Decision made.

I don’t know if any of you are Lost fans but we started renting all of the episodes again from season 1 on and let me tell you, I have even more questions now than before going back to re-watch them! There was a whole lot of information, situations, circumstances or subtle nuances that I completely forgot all about. Plus some characters they got rid of that really bummed me out to see them go. We have three left until the end of the season, it is pretty likely that will be tonight’s activity of choice unless I can convince Matt to play a little Rock Band of course.

Speaking of, I think it is time to go tap the pads for a few before Matt gets home. This is about as broken a thought process blog as possible. I like this theme, think I’ll keep it up. Hope everyone enjoys their night!