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Archive for the ‘Neighborhood’ Category

The big move was on Saturday. It was a long, stressful painful, process, and I’m so traumatized by it that I don’t yet feel excited by the fact that we have done it.

When the movers arrived at 8am, they didn’t inspire much confidence. There were only two of them, not three as promised. One was a scrawny teenager, the other an elderly man whom I thought at first was just the teenager’s dad or chauffeur. A third mover showed up an hour into the job, another scrawny teenager who wore an iPod the whole time and sang out loud while carrying things up and down our steps. About 45 minutes later he mysteriously disappeared, and we were told he had left for a “doctor’s appointment.” On a Saturday.

Actually, the other two turned out to be really nice, respectful, efficient guys, despite their odd couple appearance.

Nick had to be at work at 1pm, which meant he had to leave the house at about 12:30. Even though the movers were doing the heavy lifting, we were doing a lot of packing/organizing/tossing at the same time, which made it feel like we were in some sort of race. (This despite the fact that we’d been packing at night throughout the week, including the entire day before, and that we’d been up since 5am that morning.) By the time noon rolled around, there appeared to be just a few dribs and drabs of stuff left scattered about the house. We both thought I’d get it all together with a few more trips to my car and be done by 1:00. At the latest.

Not so fast. By the time I rounded up the last of the moving detritus–brooms, dust pan, packing tape guns, some pretty ceramic wall hooks I had to unscrew from the wall, but first had to borrow a screwdriver from the neighbor downstairs, who was also moving in that day, and oh, shit, did we forget about all the food in the fridge? and that we needed to clean the fridge?–by the time all of this was under control, it was 4pm.

To compound the amount of stress and angst I was feeling, the new tenants started moving their stuff in much earlier than we had anticipated, like at 1:30, not 4 or so. When I got back to the apartment after supervising the first round of unloading at the new house, the new tenant was standing there with a box in her hand while giving me dagger eyes, for what I did not know, seeing as how we’d met the day before and seemed to hit it off–we’d both lived in Brooklyn before moving to Portland, etc. I guess she and her husband did not expect to find some of our stuff still there, or our two cats, so with Thumbs mewling in her carrying case and Wiley hiding somewhere upstairs, I frantically scrubbed the fridge and tossed leftovers left and right into a garbage bag.

At this point I was feeling completely agitated, overwhelmed, and filled with despair that I would EVER get out of this apartment and be able to find anything again in the new house. Miraculously, midway through all of this my mom showed up with Sadie. I have never been so glad to see my mom in all my life. She took charge, vacuumed, cleaned stuff, and basically gave me hope that the move would be complete in my lifetime. I was also glad to see Sadie, who’d slept at my mom’s the night before in her first overnight away from me and Nick, ever!

When I was finally, officially done with my part, there was only one thing left to do: find and move Wiley. Thumbs was already contained in the cat carrier, so I brought her out to my car. My plan was to drop her off at the new house then come back for Wiley, but with the new tenants coming in and out and leaving the door open, I decided against leaving Wiley there by himself. So I picked him up and we walked outside. Unfortunately, two other sets of couples were also moving into our building that day, and there was mass confusion in our driveway, with lots of people milling about, and, of course, a dog.

Wiley saw the dog, freaked out, and jumped off of me so hard that he actually left bruises under bloody claw marks on my neck, shoulder, and torso. It looked like I had a vampire bite on my neck, which was fitting, since it was Halloween, after all.

He ran around the building but I caught him on the other side, getting him into my car along with randomly strewn coats, pots, shoes and brooms, as well as Thumbelina and Ting-Tong. But when we got to the new house, he escaped out the hatchback as soon as I opened it. I caught him, then wrangled him into the house for a brief moment before he darted out the door again, over towards neighbor Ben’s house, and then into the neighborhood. We haven’t seen him since. It’s been three days. Two people now have claimed to have seen him (Tony, the painter, and George, the excavator) but we haven’t yet caught sight of him.

Overall, the move was a trying, stressful ordeal, and right now I sort of feel like a mother who has given birth and then rejected her child. The house lacks running water, it’s a mess, it has wet primer paint in some rooms, and I don’t know where anything is. Luckily, we’re able to stay at my mom’s condo for now, because getting this house in livable condition is going to take all our extra time and energy, of which we don’t have a lot right now.

thumbs

One Cat

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And we call it a woodie

And we call it a woodie

I’m sure there are lots of others way to earn street cred around here, but hauling 16-foot pieces of wood on a flatbed truck must get you some points. This is the happy photo, the morning after we made the hour-long trip from Turner, Maine back to Portland, on the back roads all the way. Nick saw an ad on Craigslist for something like 700 square feet of standard and better grade pine wood, and after a round of emails with the owner (Moose Creek Log Homes), we set out after work one day with a rented flatbed from Home Depot.

Love at first site.

Love at first site.

We were to meet with a warehouse employee at 6pm, after Moose Creek had closed. Of course, this being me and Nick, we took a few wrong turns and didn’t get there until 6:30, but luckily the guy was still waiting for us. What we weren’t expecting was for the flooring to be 16 feet long. We’d just assumed that it would be closer to 8 or 10 feet, and would fit snugly in the back of our flatbed. The reality was this:

A forklift was required to put the flooring on our truck.

A forklift was required to put the flooring on our truck.

It looks like a drug deal gone bad, but that’s just a photo of the forklift that was used to put the flooring on the back of our truck. It took about three tries before we got the wood to come to rest in the center on a pair of scrap 4x4s. And then, as the flooring swayed heavily over the back end of the truck, we realized we had nothing on us that we could use to tie down the lumber. The Moose Creek guy helpfully offered us two lengths of nylon strapping, which we jerry-rigged around the wood. At the last minute he also found a bit of rope, and a scarp of yellow caution tape that he stapled to the end of the wood. For visibility.

It was in that state that we lumbered out of the parking lot  and got onto Route 4 South back to Portland (but not before taking a wrong turn and driving around the front of the showroom and onto the front lawn; we misunderstood the guy’s directions to drive around the back of the warehouse). I kept watch on the wood while Nick drove white-knuckled down the dark back roads of Maine. The overhanging edges of the lumber dipped and bowed with every minor bump in the road, flapping up and down like a diving board as we drove.

Our plan was to get the truck back to the Home Depot by 10pm so we wouldn’t have to pay for a full 24 hour rental. Of course, we didn’t make it, so the next morning Nick woke up early to drive the truck over to the house and unload the flooring before work. As he was parking, he scraped and dented one of the carpenter’s trucks with the back edge of the wood.

When we started this renovation, we once admired some reclaimed pine flooring we’d seen for sale at $7/square foot. Three months later, we realized that this stuff, at 88 cents/sf, was more our speed. But between the white-knuckle drive, the extended flatbed rental, and the damage to the carpenter’s truck, I’m not sure it ended up being the bargain we were hoping for.

Then again, it looks good. Nick’s dad flew out for a power work weekend on Thursday, and by Sunday he and Nick had laid down flooring over 3/4 of the kitchen and dining room. But I can’t show you that photo until I write up a post on the drywall. That is an unveiling that deserve a post all its own.

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In 1924, the Portland Assessors Department took photos of every residential property in the city. Alongside the photos there were notes taken of many details of the dwellings. I went to City Hall today to look up the record for 58 Turner Street and it revealed some unexpected info and this amazing photograph!

Two Cats in the Yard c. 1924.

Two Cats in the Yard c. 1924.

Equally amazing to us are the giant bay window (long gone, but whose footprint still defines the living room wall) and the huge shed dormer on the roof! Did someone live up there? As to what other interesting details we found:

1. The property had two addresses: one for each front door. The door in the picture with the ornate overhang (to the left) [Ed note: Does anyone know the architectural term for this?] was #58 and the other door (now smack in the middle of the kitchen/dining room) was #60 Turner street. Given that each side had a stairway to the second floor, we are now officially assuming that this was a duplex or apartment house of some kind.

2. When we first saw the house, we knew there must have been a third window upstairs, to the left of Sadie’s two windows. During demo, we found evidence of one, but here it is, clearly pictured (above the #60 door)!

3. The house had shutters! And the guess we made with our window lights (2-over-1) was pretty close! In this picture the house has 2-over-2 glass. (Glad we didn’t go with 6-over-1 or 6-over-6).

4. Again, the theory that we might have a foot or two of land rears its head. If you look at this sketch on the back of the page, you see a tiny strip of land on the side of the house:

See that strip on the right-hand side? Do we or do we not have more land?!

See that strip on the right-hand side? Do we or do we not have more land?!

4. The house was assessed at $1,330, and listed as being in “Fair” condition, even at only 50 years old.

5. The owner in 1924 was Nicholas Peterson (my first name), the census taker’s name was Johnson (my last name) and the date of survey was April 15th (my sister’s birthday). Another owner at one time had the last name of Blaisdell (the street I grew up on in Minneapolis).

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Agnes Kerr's poetry book. (Thanks to Maine Historical Society)

Agnes Kerr's poetry book. (Thanks to Maine Historical Society)

We joined the Maine Historical Society today and I spent the afternoon in the research library, with gloved hands, looking through the Kerr Collection: two file boxes full of photos, letters, deeds, wills, receipts and IOUs from the Kerr and Dailey families dated from the late 1800’s to the 1950’s. I fixed on the Kerr collection because the librarian, at my request, had looked up Munjoy Hill on her reference computer and found that the Kerrs were Hill residents and I might find some interesting period photos.

Well, it turns out that the Kerrs actually lived on Turner Street (#38) and not only were there some great photos of our hood, but (the elder) Agnes Kerr also kept a book of poetry with all kinds of nautical reveries. The following is an ode to the neighborhood, some stanzas omitted due to poor cameraphone quality:

I Sat On Munjoy’s Pleasant Height

Agnes Kerr (or Mary Dailey Kerr, I need to double-check)

_______

I sat on Mnujoy’s pleasant height
One Sabbath afternoon.
Twas August, and the short twilight
Would close in very soon.

Below me lay the city,
And stretched both far and wide
A pleasant space of country,
And the bay with its falling tide.

How beautiful the city looks,
Both far and near today,
How pleasant all the shady nooks,
As the sun sets o’er the bay.

Now glistens the tide in the sunset glow,
How gently and warmly the south winds blow,
How quiet and calm doth the city look
With its every tree and every nook.

List, to the barking dogs,
Below here in the street,
Driving home the cows and hogs
Out of the quiet street.

Hark! the Angelus is ringing,
Evening’s drawing nigh.
Birds their homeward flights are winging,
Above the city high.

Slowly the sun sinks in the sky,
The winds now sink to rest.
A gentle breeze is stirring high,
And ruddy in the west.

_______

I can think of only one place Kerr could have been perched when she wrote these lines: a tiny park, about four blocks from her house, at the crest of Munjoy Hill called Standpipe Park. There is a small lookout which presides over Back Bay and offers sweeping views of downtown Portland.

38 Turner Street, the Kerr House, today.

38 Turner Street, the Kerr House, today.

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I’m in a weird place. We’re making a lot of progress on the house, and yet, I’m feeing incredibly stressed today.

Ben told us in this morning’s meeting that the move-in date is likely to be closer to mid-November than November 1. Oh, and not surprisingly, the cost of the renovations has risen again. Oh, and, the vinyl siding they’ve been removing to frame in the new windows is too brittle to put back on the house. So we can either buy new vinyl siding (completely unappealing on every level) and take the time and money to install it (no thanks) OR we can leave the areas around the windows un-sided until we can afford proper siding. They’d just cover up the areas where they removed the vinyl with that tar paper stuff. So then we’d be the hideous house in the neighborhood with the Tyvek paper siding flapping in the breeze. It’d be ugly for us and for our neighbors (Ben O and his wife, and Ben’s sister and her husband) to have to look at every day. But buying toxic, ugly vinyl siding that would only be there for a year or so is not a great option, either. It’s a devil’s bargain.

Honestly, I can’t take it anymore. Why are we even doing this?

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Even though we only had one carpenter on the job today, we got a third of our new stairway built. As a reminder, this is what our living room and the original stairs looked like when we first saw the house:

Living Room

Living Room

Say What?

Say What?

We’re rebuilding the stairway to bring it up to code so it will be less steep and have wider treads. The original stairs felt child-sized, which was sort of charming in its own way, but not great for actually carrying a child up and down on. Here is today’s progress: the old stairway is gone, and one new stringer is in place and ready to go.

Riser

Stringer in place.

Because the new stairway will be less pitched, it will be longer, and because of that, we had to take out the door (our home’s second front door) that was located about two feet away from the bottom of the old stairwell. It goes against code to have the last step of a stairwell abutting a door (which makes sense, if you think about it). Right now there’s a hole where the door used to be, covered with plywood. We’ll be installing a standard-sized  window there soon. I wanted to install a round window about two feet in diameter near the bottom of the stairs, “caddy-corner” to where the door used to be, to let in light from the north side of the house and perhaps even give us a glimpse of the bay down at the bottom of our street. (I thought a round window would look neat, kind of like a porthole.) Unfortunately, a round window apparently costs about $2500, so that’s not happening. We’re looking into installing a square one, but we might just have to wait until the next round of remodeling.

Stair landing

Stair landing

The stair landing, and all the treads, will be pine.

Landing close-up

Landing close-up

Chuck (the new carpenter) wrote his cutting instructions right on the plywood covering the hole in the side of our house where the door used to be.

Cutting notes

Cutting notes

Meanwhile, on sawhorses set up in the kitchen, the second stringer is all cut out and ready to rise–tomorrow, if all goes well.

Later riser

Stringer #2

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Sadie and I walked all around Portland today, while Nick was at work. On our way home, we happened by an open house on the top of Munjoy Hill. A third floor condo was for sale; we went upstairs to check it out. My mom is looking for a condo, but I was fairly certain she wouldn’t be interested in this one. Her looking was just a pretense for satisfying my own curiosity.

The condo was a small one bedroom carved out of an attic space. It was a decent place, with skylights and good light, but overall it felt like a tight squeeze. But as I talked to the real estate agent, I discovered something remarkable: the condo I was standing in had been renovated by Ben, our very own contractor! In telling him about our renovation plans, I also discovered that he had been interviewed by our home’s previous owner about possibly representing the sale of the house. Small world. Well, small town, really.

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