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Posts from the ‘Holidays’ Category

Happy Halloween 2014

With a few minutes to go before 8 o’ clock, we’ve already been visited by two groups of trick-or-treaters. One more and we’ll set a new Halloween record for the Ordinary House. Last year’s meager showing confirmed what we learned in 2012: we’re a low-yield, off-the-beaten-path street, and our house is bypassed by all the ghouls, ghosts, and Elsas wandering in search of a sugar high. We’re no less prepared though, with plenty of candy on hand and a fat jack-o-lantern glowing on the porch. After a pop culture themed pumpkin last Halloween, this year we opted for a more cultured, high brow design. I call it the Mona Lantern:

mona lisa pumpkin

I thought is was a pretty good likeness of Leonardo’s chef d’oeuvre until a trick-or-treater asked, “Is that Jesus?”

Oh well. Happy Halloween.

Doing it for Dad

For little boys, dads are superheroes. They’re big and strong, know how to drive trucks, and can kill snakes with shovels. They teach their sons how to ride bikes, whistle with their fingers, and start camp fires. They laugh at fart jokes, even if mom rolls her eyes and sighs.   As a young boy, your dad is the promise of what you will become when you’re a man.

As little boys grow into teenagers and their hormones rage, they begin to think of themselves as the superheroes of the family. Dad is demoted to the hopelessly uncool guy whose entire existence is tailored to the production of maximum embarrassment for his son. When he mows the lawn in dress socks pulled to his knees, tells you how your mom was smokin’ hot in front of your friends, or blasts the Doobie Brothers with the windows rolled down, the teenage boy wishes (prays) that he could disappear into thin air.

But if all goes well, as a teenage boy becomes a man, he begins to realize once again that dads are heroes. Though they’re no longer as strong or as fast as their sons, they’re perpetually wiser.  It becomes obvious that a dad’s presence, guidance, and unflagging devotion to his son’s success is hugely responsible for who he becomes as a man.

I lost my dad, my hero, on May 24th. Suddenly, I find myself living a parallel life to the one I always imagined, one in which I would watch both my parents reach old age. Though I find solace in the fact that he’s at peace after such an agonizing year, I’d give anything to have him back, even for a day. Grief breeds regret, and I find myself wishing I’d asked him more about his life, told him more about mine, or simply spent more time with him when I had the chance.

My dad loved the Ordinary House. Its quirky charms fascinated him, and he was always anxious to come check out my latest project. He was particularly excited about the kitchen, and after his surgery made seeing the room’s completion one of his recovery goals. I still can’t process the fact that I’ll never again have the chance to share my handiwork with him. Dad was an engineer and a builder with exceedingly high standards for craftsmanship, and there are few thing in the world that made me happier than hearing his approval of my work. His praise instilled me with the confidence to take on ever more complex and demanding DIY projects, first on my starter house in Chapel Hill and now at the Ordinary House. I can state as fact that I would not be capable or confident enough to take on this project if it hadn’t been for him. I will honor the skills he nurtured in me by continuing to do every project in a way I know would have made him proud.

A few weeks before Dad died, he asked me to come get his “cancer car”, the Porsche Boxster that he bought in November as a distraction from his failing health. Though he couldn’t tell you the day or time, he was lucid enough to worry about the fact that his new toy wasn’t being driven. I had plans to visit my dad later on the day he died and I was going to tell him: “You better start feeling good soon, because I’m not giving the Porsche back until you beat me at an arm wrestling match.” That would’ve made him smile.

I like to think he knows I had this challenge in mind and that he’s out there somewhere with a grin on his face and a barbell in his hand, working his way back into superhero shape, ready to wrestle my fist to the table.

I love you, Dad. You were a great father, and I miss you terribly.

walking uphill


Ignorance is bliss

There’s a point in every renovation project when you must face the unexpected. I knew it was too good to be true when the pest control man who inspected the Ordinary House before closing pointed to a few termite-eaten boards in the library and announced, “That’s it.” A 250 year old wood house in the muggy South and that’s it, huh? Dealing with the financial strain of buying the house, I was content to believe the guy, even though my left brain was screaming, “This joker’s on the pipe!”

So, I wasn’t altogether surprised when I demolished the walls of the kitchen-to-be and discovered some suspiciously crumbly wood. Since termites don’t leave telltale signs of their presence on the surface of the timbers they’re eating, I tapped the post a few times, listening for a hollow sound.


I poked the wood with my finger – it plunged right in. Then I grabbed a corner of the post with my fist and watched as it disintegrated into powder. 

Crap. Termites.

A few gentle taps with my hammer was all it took to reduce the post to a pile of dirty cellulose. After a few moments of abject terror, with visions of collapsing houses playing in my mind’s eye, I evaluated the damage. The good news: the infestation is no longer active and was largely isolated to a diagonal brace that was only structurally critical when the existing kitchen was a freestanding structure. The bad news: in addition to the brace, the little buggers got into the back of the siding boards behind it.

termites in siding

I’m not known for my unbridled optimism, but after years of architectural training and practice, I’m conditioned to turning construction’s inevitable lemons into lemonade.

The solution to the termite damage is is to completely remove it and put in a window that’s already on our list of “someday” projects. Though the trio of windows in the kitchen-to-be admit a decent amount of light, they’re east-facing which means the room gets limited light late in the afternoon and into the evening. The termite damage is on the west wall in a spot we’d already identified as window-worthy. In addition to late-day light, an opening in this spot will give us views to the backyard.

backyard window

Didn’t realize our backyard had a Rhode Island sea view, did you? It’ll be a trick to figure out where to locate the window. That white beam in the picture continues across the wall on the other side of the post; it’s actually the ceiling beam of the kitchen, down the stairs on the other side of the door. A transom window above the beam might keep the main window from feeling awkwardly low. Clearly, I’ve got some design studies to do.

The main reason we didn’t include the window in our original plans was that I wanted to pull a building permit quickly so that we could get the kitchen project underway. Since we’re smack in the middle of the Hillsborough historic district, any change that impacts the outside of our house requires the approval of the Historic District Commission, of which I’m now a member (I hear the boos – don’t hate the player, hate the game). HDC approval requires additional documentation to be submitted in advance of a monthly meeting, and approval must be granted before a permit can be issued. Fortunately, with a building permit already in hand, I can continue working on the the kitchen interior while I prepare for the next HDC meeting.

My elementary school art teacher used to say, “mess up, fix up” as a way to encourage us to recognize the hidden opportunities in mistakes we made while working on our noodle art. Who knew I’d be putting that lesson into practice 25 years later while restoring a house?

Happy New Year!

O Tannenbaum

My flu recovery schedule was a tad ambitious. I fully intended to finish up the demolition of the kitchen walls last weekend, but lingering fatigue kept me sidelined from any heavy-duty house work. It’s frustrating to sit idle after finally managing some significant headway a few weeks ago. Once the demo phase is done, the floodgates can open and the fun part – building – can begin.

Compounding the weekend’s discontent, I was forced to bid farewell to some old friends, my trusty, crusty work shoes:

work shoes

Weezie begged me for months to put these old kicks out to pasture. Sure, they’d seen better days, but to borrow a phrase from my dad, I felt like they were just getting broken in. Never mind that the soles were falling off and that the heels looks like they’d been shoved in a leaf shredder, they were still perfectly serviceable foot protection. Weezie bought me these shoes four or five years ago. They were lightweight, comfortable, waterproof and served me reliably for all manner of house projects. I value longevity in all forms, which explains my love of old houses, and my reluctance to give up these shabby shoes. Their condition didn’t embarrass me; it was a point of pride. Isn’t it funny how quickly you progress from the young man who can’t imagine wearing unstylish shoes to the thirty-something who shamelessly mows the lawn in shorts and black dress socks?

Speaking of shoes, Louis is always looking for an opportunity to chew on them. To minimize dirt in the house, we remove our shoes at the door. When we aren’t looking, Louis will grab them, sprint to the corner of the yard, and chew them into oblivion.  After losing several pairs of slippers, a pair of dress flats and an expensive pair of medical clogs to Louis’ mischief, we decided we needed a permanent fix. Now, we safely store our footwear in this:

storage bench

shoe storage

It’s a teak storage bench from Signature Hardware. We searched for weeks for a piece of outdoor furniture that would prove durable outdoors that wasn’t plastic. Though pricey, this piece should stand up to sun and moisture and will weather to a nice silver-gray color over time.

By the end of the weekend, we mustered enough holiday enthusiasm to make our way to the tree lot to pick our 2013 Tannenbaum. We found a Butterball tree, squat and pudgy around the middle. Our parents gave us ornaments every year growing up, so we actually have enough flair to put together a respectable tree.


My ornament from last year has an image of The Ordinary House, a reminder of our first Christmas in our new home.


Thankfully, this year nobody had to wear a parka while decorating the tree.

Happy Halloween 2013!

It won’t take much to beat last year’s trick-or-treater count: three, in one group.

Granted, the house looked ghastly with the shutters removed and the windows covered in plastic. The crime scene tape that wrapped the property to warn of lead paint probably didn’t help either.

The Ordinary House is freshly painted and more approachable this Halloween, so drop by and grab some candy.  Just look for the Heisenberg-o’-lantern (If you didn’t follow Breaking Bad, the awesomeness of this pumpkin will be lost on you.)

heisenberg pumpkin

Bonus: dog costumes.

Louis begins his hunt for the Triple Crown:

louis jockey

Meg lets her inner personality show:

dog dressed as eyore

Happy Halloween!

p.s. – Go Sox. Beard strong!

Pretty ordinary #004: Happy New Year edition

With all that’s gone on at the ordinary this year, it’s sometimes hard to believe that we’ve only lived here since August. I feel good about what we’ve managed to do in the past four months, and I’m looking forward to keeping that momentum rolling into 2013. With central air and a new puppy just around the corner, the new year will be interesting (and expensive) right from the start.

The last sunset over Hillsborough in 2012 was an impressive one. Happy New Year!

ordinary sunet

Oldest and coldest

If you’ve met my wife, you’ll recognize her sharp-witted sense of humor in her description of our home as Hillsborough’s “oldest and coldest”. True to form, the warranty company never followed through on finding a contractor to look at our boiler. Their social media monitoring team was very quick to respond to my last post, however (thanks for reading!). Long story short, after a lengthy after-hours chat with the HVAC tech we called ourselves, we’ve decided to put the boiler out to pasture and start working on plans for a replacement system. I don’t have any clue where we’re going to come up with the money, but them’s just details, right?

We’re adapting, as evidenced by this photo of Weezie decorating the Christmas tree in her bubble goose jacket:


Fortunately, it hasn’t been cold the last few days, with temperatures rising into the 70s.  This gave the painters a perfect window of opportunity to get the siding painted.  After more than four weeks of prep work that consumed 75+ tubes of caulk, 70+ gallons of primer and required scraping 20-30 pounds of paint chips off the house, the workers brushed on most of the base coat in a day.


 So far we’ve gotten plenty of positive comments about the color, so I feel like we did well.  I like it.

On Sunday, the second coat of paint went on with a sprayer, progressing even more quickly than the first.  As it turns out, the horse-drawn carriage rides for the Hillsborough Candlelight Home Tour depart from the front of our house, resulting in a rather disparate scene once the painters worked their way around front.  Apologies to all  holiday revelers whose photos feature this guy:


The tour, which showcased ten historic homes decorated for the season, was well-timed to sustain our hope that we too will one day count ourselves among those with a well-renovated, comfortable old house, with heatin’ and air and all the rest.  I’ll say this, though: our place might be the oldest and coldest, but it’s sure going to have one of the best paint jobs in town!

Happy Halloween

Not sure what to expect from a Hillsborough Halloween, but we’re loaded down with $50 worth of candy, a carved pumpkin and  costumes…for Meg.