Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Remember the Seven P's


First off, when it comes to renovating an old home (or an extremely run-down property) you can plan to be surprised.  That’s part of the adventure.  If you anticipate everything flowing in a predictable way, the unexpecteds will create more uneasiness than necessary.  You need a plan, and be ready to work it, but I’ll encourage you to remember that there will be hiccups.

It happens a few times a month; I hit the jobsite, ready to start the day, without a solid plan.  I'll kick things off  by making coffee before really deciding exactly what I'd do that day.  It's kind of fun to wing it once in a while.

However, planning things out is what I prefer and defiantly the most productive way to go.  Prior proper planning prevents painfully poor performance.  It's the best, safest, and most efficient way to push through a rehab.  I have a schedule in the form of a step-by-step plan of attack and how I exactly take on my project each day is oftentimes dictated by priorities of security, safety, basic construction sequencing, and weather.  On a daily basis, I like making a short list of ten things that I want to get done during a typical work day.  When I'm really on the ball I'll write down that list on an index card the day before.  And making the most of my day includes having material loaded on my truck with tools & equipment ready to go too.   

If you've ever seen any episodes of Renovation Realities on the DIY network, you may have an idea about what I'm getting at.  On this show, the renovators oftentimes wake up, make breakfast or coffee, and then they're ready to start.  However, how often do they get side tracked right at the beginning with other stuff before they really get down to business?    Answer: All the time.  One of them has to run the kids over to grandmas or they have to hit the box store to buy the material.  Maybe they need to go borrow a step ladder or empty the kitchen cabinets and move the appliances.  Like I said before, sometimes it's fun to show up and see what happens, but when you have a limited amount of time to work with, you need to consider the value of being a little more proactive.  If you're re-doing your kitchen, clean out those cabinets ahead of time.  Move the fridge to somewhere else the night before.  Figure out what you need and stock the garage or another room indoors.  And make time to do some research and take a few notes before it's time to start.  The internet is an awesome tool for today's DIY rehabbers.   

If you're a do-it-yourselfer and you want to make the most of your limited hours, then plan ahead.  Get the easy things out the way before the days when you need to really get down and dirty with your work.  Most of you DIYers have a couple days of the week that are your prime times to work.  It could be a weekend or another two or three day break from your paying gig.  You're really going to want to make the most of this time.  Get your game plan in mind and make your list before it’s go-time.  Make an effort to have what you'll need before you need it.  Think about getting in and out of building supply store(s) any time prior to the morning for your on-site action.  Then you can haul the material inside and get some rest before you attack things fresh in the morning.  Not only will this be more productive, it will make your rehabbing more enjoyable.
So remember the 7 P's, plan your work, and work your plan.  This won't eliminate all the unexpected challenges, but it will help to minimize them and it'll put you in a better frame of mind for the bumps in the renovation road.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Shatner Project (Adventure)

William Shatner, the legendary actor who I first saw as Captain Kirk on Star Trek, comes back to TV tonight in the premiere of The Shatner Project on the DIY network at 10pm EST.  The network episode page concludes the show information by describing the remodel as an 'adventure.’  I love it.

I prefer to look at life’s challenges as adventures.  At first this became a comfortable mantra for me when things went south… like vehicle break downs at the wrong place or time, a few unplanned fires I’ve been able to extinguish, or at gnarly traffic accidents or other emergency situations.  This mindset has also helped me keep my head right as I’ve been faced with dicey situations; a stranger with Alzheimer’s that needed help or a neighbor beating up his girlfriend as well as unexpected events like a pet that needs reunited with its owner or a cell phone that needs reunited with its owner.  For some, these may be viewed as inconveniences or headaches, but I accept them as things that are part of the adventure that is life.    

I love renovating these run-down properties for so many reasons and the adventure of taking on a crazy challenge is just part of it for me.  I buy the house and I know I’m going to save it, but I have no idea exactly how I’m going to get to the finish line.  I don’t know who’s going to be a part of the team along the way or who I’ll meet while I’m working.  That’s part of the fun for me.  Heading off into the unknown I guess.  For some this is no way to operate.  I understand.  But taking on a big challenge that no one else wants is not just an adventure, it’s an opportunity to learn and grow, as a professional and as someone who realizes that the world is a big classroom. 

Sometimes folks consider adventure in a far off limited sense that makes it hard to apply to modern everyday life.   Sailing a ship through pirate infested waters.  That’s an adventure that’s a good story, but not all that relatable (unless you’re someone like Capt. Richard Phillips).  Hiking through the wilderness, traveling to a foreign country, serving in the military; these are modern sceneries that we think of when we use the word adventure.  But for me, renovating a pig’s ear is an adventure, just like starting a small business, getting married, raising children, or trying to get everything on the supply list at the department store the day before school starts.  These are all adventures.  Life is an adventure. 

In The Shatner Project, Mr. Bill is serving as the Project Manager of his remodel, but c’mon… he’s Captain Kirk.  He’s really the Project Captain (… a much higher rank than a PM, for sure.)  Anyway, I’m thinking he’s ready.  He’s got the right attitude.  It’s an adventure.  So as far as Mr. Shatner’s renovation adventure goes.  Like I said, I love that, I get it, and I’ll be watching tonight.              

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

American Rehab Charleston

Series Premiere
Thursday, August 28, 2014 @ 11pm

Are you ready for some football?  I am.  But, Thursday is not just the kickoff of the college season on the gridiron; it’s also the series premiere of American Rehab and they’re starting the series in South Carolina with my current project just outside of Charleston in Summerville.  It's on the DIY network on Thursday @ 11pm in the middle of a block of Rehab Addict.  I was on TV once while I was standing in the front row of a college basketball game, but I'm not counting that because my mom didn't get to see it and everyone wants their mom to see them on TV.  Thursday is my day.  No spoilers here , but the transformation was dramatic plus the entire experience was amazing fun.     

Charleston’s oldest building, Pink House, dates back to 1712 (right there with Harvard’s Massachusetts Hall).  Okay, someone has an idea that it wasn’t really finished until 1745, but I don’t want to get hung up on a difference of 33 years to detract from my point.  Like Mass. Hall, Pink House is older than the country.  Wow!  Charleston reveres its old buildings and it's one of the major draws for people visiting our city year after year.  So because of that, I can’t think of a better place to start a new series about renovating old homes in America than The Holy City which undoubtedly loves its old buildings.

So tune into American Rehab tomorrow and watch me get started on the Country Victorian.

American Rehab: Charleston on Facebook

American Rehab Charleston 2.015 -  August 13, 2015

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pere Pere: Our Jack of all Trades

I’m writing about my grandparents this month.  (Please consider reading Grandpa, My Mere Mere, and Dessie.)  As I wrote last week, my grandparents have been a big part of my life and they’re in my thoughts frequently.  One of my earliest childhood memories is of the four of them working together as a team, trying to get me to stop crying.  I was staying with my Mom’s parents and they couldn’t do anything for me, so they took me over to my dad’s parent’s house.  Pere Pere carried me in, I remember going through the dining room and the kitchen with him.  That’s the only memory I have of mom’s dad.  Years later, when I shared this recollection with Mom, she said that they’d been out of town for the weekend and that I was teething.  That’s why I was crying and why the four of them had such a tough time with me.  This makes sense; sharp teeth coming in/out.  That was a good reason to be upset.  After that, it was smooth sailing for all of them and I was pretty much a maintenance free little boy. 

Pere Pere passed away on Tuesday, August 26th, 1969.  He was not yet 58.  He was an electrician, but the epitome of a jack of all trades who worked on scores of construction projects in and around southwestern Ohio.  His adult working life was spent on these job sites while asbestos was used to build just about everything; drywall, caulk, joint compound, roofing tar, siding, shingles, filters, pipes, countertops, plaster, and a whole lot more.  Back then, asbestos was considered a wonder material because it is indestructible.  Our family has never known definitively what took my grandfather’s life.  It was lung cancer, mesothelioma, or some other type of occupational lung disease.  Because we lost him too soon and because I renovate old homes, I’m mindful of the hazards of asbestos and Pere Pere is on my mind as much as ever when I start the demolition process. 

On his own time, Pere Pere was a business minded husband and father with three daughters who built new houses for his family and bought old homes when they came with farmland for his livestock.  I grew up playing on those farms, learning to climb in/around his old barns and in the trees he'd planted.  We built hay forts in his old lofts, I played in my sandbox where his cows once grazed, and I built stuff in those trees he left behind for us.  So even though he was taken from us early, I grew up thinking of and appreciating him.

My mom’s dad had some Angus cows and the whole family was proud of this small herd.  Documentation is a big part of this business and my maternal grandparents both understood that record keeping added to the livestock’s value.  However, the way I understand it, Pere Pere didn’t keep these books on a daily basis the way Mere Mere might have liked.  When he died suddenly, she was anxious about his cattle books.  After his funeral she reluctantly turned her focus to the Angus paperwork and books, but to her surprise, everything was current and up to date.  The cows were ready to be sold.  Pere Pere had gotten everything in order before he passed away.  Mere Mere was not only relieved, she was proud of him for doing this.             

My dad’s side of the family traces its roots to the Pennsylvania Dutch and my paternal grandfather was always organized and orderly.  I aspire to be more like this and him, but I’m not there yet.  Maybe someday.  I think I’m more like my Pere Pere when it comes to organization and I don’t really tighten things up until the end of my project.  I know where my tools and supplies are, I’m organized in my head, but not everything has a designated place.  I’m comfortable working this way.  It creates more opportunity for Pere Pere’s influence since I have some of his old tools and they are, at times, spread out amongst everything else on site.  I may have one of his old chalk boxes in my tool belt, or use an old hammer of his if its close by when I need one, or maybe I’ll make use of some miscellaneous hardware that he dropped in a jar back in the sixties.   I’m definitely not as disciplined and methodical as my Grandpa.  I’m a little more haphazard and flying by the seat of my pants… and speculating that in that way I’m more like our Pere Pere as I bounce around my properties.  But I have a way I like to work and I know how to get to the end with a house renovated the way it needs to be.  I think Pere Pere would love helping me with my Pig's Ears.  I sometimes wish he could actually be with me on the job site, but in many ways he always is.

He was an electrician and he may have loved building more than I do.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Dessie: Patience & Work Ethic

I’m writing about my grandparents this month.  (Please consider reading Grandpa and My Mere Mere)

Besides having the great name of Dessie, my Dad’s mom was a super cool lady, especially with her grandchildren.  I remember her, me, and my younger brother being out in the yard after a serious downpour, one that created a big puddle in her yard.  Tyler was tip-toeing next to the water, like a tight rope walker, staying dry until I gave him a little bump; just enough to send him face first into the deep puddle.  He was mad, but Grandma was total calmness.  She wasn’t happy either.  Not at all.  But she just gave me a look, one that said it all.  Then she took care of my soaked brother.

My grandma got excited, but only at the right times.  Like when she was happy or having fun or schooling me in a game of Racco.  She was a rock when she needed to be; like with my Aunt Velma who had Down’s Syndrome and spent a lot of her later years living with my grandparents.  My Aunt Velma was sweet and fun, but she also needed extra attention and my grandma was so great to/with her.  I need more of that.  When my plumber has an avoidable leak, or a mason has to rebuild a wall or chimney that’s not plumb, or one of my subcontractors blows me off for another client, I need to remember my grandma.  I need to keep calm and have patience.

The Early Birds; folded, bagged, and
stacked on the table.  Good times!  
But equally important is how my Grandma helped to instill a valuable attitude about work into her grandchildren.  As retirees, my grandparents had two newspaper routes that they did together.  They got the bundles of papers on Mondays and delivered them to farmers and rural families on Tuesdays.  We’d fold the newspapers with them every Monday after school.  Not some Monday’s.  Each and every Monday.  Was it work?  You bet it was.  But was it fun at Grandma’s while we worked?  Oh yeah.  She enjoyed and needed our help, but there were no rules on the snacks.  I mean, it was like Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory over there; M&M’s, Hershey Bars, Coke’s, ice cream bars, etc.; lots of things that could distract you from the job of folding the newspapers and stuffing them in one of the round laundry baskets.  But here was the lesson that got drilled into us over the weeks, months, and years:  the harder we worked the more we got paid.  The rule was:  A penny a paper.  This was how it was forever, until Grandma passed away. 

Remember how my grandma took it easy on me when I pushed my brother into that puddle.  Well, when it came to paying up for folding newspapers, she was all business.  No breaks.  An important lesson.  Tears, begging, the boo-boo face… nothing mattered.  She stuck to the rule.  Always.  If I dawdled around and only folded one bundle, then I got two quarters and that was it.  If I got at it and knocked out six bundles, then I got my three bucks.  And there was no bonus money or tips for folding those massive papers with all the Christmas advertisements in December.  She may have indulged us with the sweets and gifts, but when it came to paying us for folding the newspapers, she was strict, firm, and unyielding.  She was teaching us something we needed.

Miss you Grandma...

As I've mentioned before, I played sports in high school and took a lot away from those experiences about work and perseverance, but early on folding those papers was tough and my grandma taught me how to push through tired times when I wanted to stop.  Some may wonder if I've ever wanted to quit in the middle of one of my Pig's Ear projects.  I haven't.  Not once.  Honestly, that has never crossed my mind.  Other people have encouraged me to walk away before a closing or figure out a way to get out of finishing, but I’ve kept on and made it through each one.  And to be fair that’s not all about my grandmother's influence, I just really love what I do and leaving my project unfinished would mean... missing out on a whole lot of fun.

Jump to Pere Pere:  Our Jack of all Trades

Thursday, August 21, 2014

My Mere Mere: Concrete & Faith

I’m writing about my grandparents this month.  (Please consider reading Grandpa:  Work,Clean-Up, & Nails.)

The names for my Dad’s parents were straight-up and easy; Grandpa and Grandma.  But we all know how it goes and one set of grandparents has to be called something else so we call my Mom’s parents Mere Mere and Pere Pere.  That’s what my older brother started calling them, he was the first grand for everyone, they thought it was cute, end of story.

First off, Mere Mere was the one who introduced me to concrete.  It may sound odd, but it's true.  Here's how it went.  She was a school teacher and Pere Pere was an electrician.  They spent a lot of time building together as a team and she knew everything from mixing mortar and concrete to framing walls to hanging wallpaper.  I grew up in a house in the country that Mere Mere had built after Pere Pere died.  Like Garage #2 and The Fire House, this building was replacing one that was lost to a fire.  Anyway, I remember going out to check on this house with Mere Mere during its’ construction.  She held my hand firmly as we walked by a small section of freshly poured concrete.  She explained with intriguing detail how concrete worked.  I remember being fascinated because she explained how it was wet and soft before it would become hard like a sidewalk.  For a toddler, that was pretty cool.  She explained all of this like the teacher that she was as she held my hand and stood between me and the small wet pad.  

Mere Mere loading the mixer, on-site
with my grandpa in the 40's.
Then we walked to the back door, checked on the progress on the inside, and walked back toward her car.  She never let go of me, so as we walked back to her car, I was next to the concrete as we went by.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  I guess I wanted to better understand what was happening with the concrete because as we passed by I stomped my foot into the middle of the wet square.  Mere Mere was right!  It was soft and not at all like the sidewalk!  I remember her being a mixture of exasperation and amusement.  Now that I’m a parent, I get this, but I think she handled it better than this guy would have; she carefully cleaned off my shoe then calmly fixed the concrete before we were on our way back to town.  That’s a good memory.

But the most important thing I got from my maternal grandmother is faith.  Mustard seed-type faith that makes a person think they can save a condemned or abandoned house that no one else wants.  Norman Vincent Peale’s father was the presiding minister at Mere Mere's parent’s wedding and she was a big fan of his work for her entire life.  She especially loved his book The Power of Positive Thinking.  Without Mere Mere and the wisdom in that book, I would have never bought The Fire House.  No way.

After we moved into Mere Mere’s house, she designed and had a triplex built for herself that had two apartments that she rented out.  When one of the block retaining walls needed to be replaced, she let me do it for her.  For me, this was just plain fun.  And even though she didn’t pay me, I was in charge, she let me plan and figure it all out, so I always think of this as one of my first jobs. 

Twenty years after stomping my foot in that little pad for the TV antennae, she let me form up and build that wall for her.  So because of all this, I think of Mere Mere just about every time I’m working with concrete… but more significantly I think of her every time I sign my name to take ownership of a Pig's Ear that no one else wants.  With faith of a mustard seed, anything's possible.  Thank you, Mere Mere.

Mere Mere had cataract surgery before our brother's wedding.
When she showed up with sun glasses, we followed her
lead and hammed it up for a photo.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Grandpa: Work, Clean-up, & Nails

My grandparents have been a big part of my life, so I think about them all a lot.  These are special times in our family so they’ve been in my thoughts even more in the last few months and I wanted to share some memories that pertain to me and these properties we call Pig’s Ears.  Now I think of my parents all the time too, but it seems like it’s more in a personal way.  For example, when I'm complimented or recognized for a positive trait that someone sees in me, I typically think, “I wish Mom or Dad could hear that because they’re really talking about them.”  Or I say or do something that’s thoughtful or extra funny and naturally think, “That’s something my Dad or Mom would do/say.”  

My thoughts that link back to my grandparents are more work related.  I don’t know how else to explain it, but when I’m working I'm reminded of them frequently.

Today would be my Grandpa’s birthday; my Dad’s dad.  His family traces back to the Pennsylvania Dutch which is likely why he always called Eastern PA, ‘God’s Country.’  My grandpa stopped going to school when my great-grandfather got sick with what he always called ‘the muscle disease.’  Besides taking a lead role in helping my great-grandmother keep their small family farm going, he was also a primary caregiver for his bedridden dad for over two decades.

My grandpa w/ his dad before the Great Depression
and prior to my Gt. Grandfather's illness.
When my great-grandfather passed away, my grandpa got married and started his life away from the farm.  He traveled and worked in sales selling feed for a milling company.  As a side business (and then into retirement) he boarded and trained horses.  He had a sizable barn for the animals, feed, and equipment that he needed to operate his stable so because Grandpa was a horseman I had plenty of opportunities to work with him. 

Hauling material into one of my projects reminds me of stocking my grandpa’s barn with hay or straw.  These are really good memories.  The messiness that is oftentimes a part of the initial cleanup of some of my Pig’s Ear properties has more than once reminded me of cleaning out the stalls and loading up his wooden manure spreader, which was a little on the nasty side, but all things considered still pretty fond recollections.  But the thing that reminds me most of my grandpa is the nails that I use to put my houses back together since he always supplied me with this hardware until I left home for college as a teenager. 

My grandpa was a pipe smoker and his tobacco was Sir Walter Raleigh.  He bought it in cans which he saved and reused.  When I ran out of nails at home, I’d let him know and he’d hook me up with more; 8 pennies or framing nails (16d), either of the two different sizes that he always had a 50# box of for mending fences and the barn.  I used those nails for our own barn maintenance (something that I really enjoyed doing whether we needed it or not) and also for building my tree houses.  Hammering nails is a skill.  It’s easy to learn, but it takes some practice and I learned early and got comfortable with a hammer and nails with the help of Grandpa and his endless supply in the orange and black cans.

Last month, I had to buy more 16d sinkers and was surprised that something about buying that 30# bucket of hardware still filled me with some boyish-type excitement, the same thrill that I’d get when my grandpa would give me another full can.  Like the smell of someone smoking a pipe, the plodding, the clean-up, and the nails that are part of my work will always remind me of my grandpa. 

2000 - Our last family picture with Grandpa. 
He was 93 and had one more birthday. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Under Promise, Over Deliver

I'm a gigantic sports radio fan (see Appreciation For The Radio).  I enjoy all the sports talkers, but for years Erik Kuselias of NBC Sports Radio has been my favorite.  A few weeks ago before the US National Soccer Team took on Ghana, EK shared his view that it's prudent to "under promise and over deliver."  At the time, he was vocally supporting Coach Jürgen Klinsmann who wasn't very optimistic about our team's chances of getting out of the 2014 World Cup 'Group of Death.'  Coach Klinsmann explained that he was looking four years down the road and people were less than excited about his seemingly unenthusiastic cynicism.  But Erik loved the coach's approach and passed it on to listeners like myself as good advice for life:  'Under promise.  Over deliver.'

Days later, the Miami Heat lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals and that had me thinking of Erik's explanation.  The Heat have been dominant the last 4 seasons since LeBron James hit South Beach; four conference titles and two league championships.  Not bad.  Pretty great really.  However, LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh had promised a lot more.  Not one championships, not two,... eight.  Lead by LeBron at a 2010 pep rally in Miami, they'd pumped up the crowd with a bold prediction of a historic run that would clearly be a sports dynasty.  The day after they lost to the Spurs, folks started piling on and Dan Patrick pointed out on his show that people had enormous expectations because they'd loudly shouted, "Not one, not two, ... not seven."  They over promised.

So back to the Erik Kuselius' advice/point;  under promise and over deliver.  I totally get this.  It's pragmatic.  It makes sense.  As a rule I don't make a lot of brash predictions about the impact my renovations will have.  I hold off on saying, "This condemned house is going to be transformed from the least valuable home on the street to the most valuable."  I have high personal expectations, but I don't shout them from the rooftop.  I just enjoy my newest challenge as I start making things better.  I simply love the process, making the most of what's there and dealing with the deficiencies.  I'm able to accentuate the property's assets and correct the issues/liabilities.    Outlandish promises can be a major distraction and over delivering is practical.

So consider Erik's point as exemplified by Coach Klinsmann and all this excitement about the USA Soccer team in the World Cup.  Set your goals high and really get after them, but under promise and then... hit it out of the park. 


Monday, June 2, 2014

Memories of Rugby

Playing rugby for
The Univ. of  Cincinnati
in the 90's
As I've mentioned before, the radio has always held some significance on my job-sites when I'm working alone.  (See Appreciation For The Radio.)  Every Monday, sports radio host Dan Patrick invites listeners to phone in to share their best and worst of the weekend.  Although I didn't call, it got me thinking and the best for me was the Collegiate Sevens Championships on Sat. and Sun.  It was great stuff; well produced, good commentary, beautiful to watch, expansive views of the plays developing from above mixed in with seamless angles from the field level.  I got lost in it for a couple hours and wanted more when it was over!  Thank you NBC. 

Like rehabbing an abandoned or condemned property,
playing rugby can look rougher than it actually is.
Anyway, I played 4 years of college rugby. The sport is the link between soccer and football so it shares traits with each; non-stop action like soccer, full-on contact like football (without the protective equipment.)  Playing college rugby was way beyond fun, but because it's so violent, it was sometimes hard for my friends and family to watch the games.  Each season I'd try to help them worry less by saying, "It's not as bad as it looks."  I understood why they had concerns because when I watched it, I saw what made them cringe.  It's intense, looks even worse than rough, and appears vicious much of the time.  However, when I was in there, it didn't feel so dangerous and I loved it.  And that intense craziness added to the thrill and there was nothing like emerging from that chaos with the ball and scoring some points for my teammates. 

I want You to save an old house
that no one else wants.
Renovating an extremely run-down house is comparable in that it looks harder than it seems for me as I'm working my way through each phase of the project.   And even being condemned or abandoned properties, it's not that bad.  It's not as impossible as it sometimes seems to the people in my life and oftentimes the folks in the neighborhood where I'm working.  Getting past the fact that nobody else wants these properties may be a big part of it, but just because they've been overlooked doesn't mean they're lost causes.  And the thing is, for me it's something that I totally enjoy with a passion that compares to the feelings/attitude that I had during my college rugby days.  When I'm there dirty, tired, (and maybe a little bloody), I feel at home.  And when I make it to the end, I feel that same sort of relieved satisfaction.

Finally, I need to realize that just like playing rugby, maybe renovating a Pig's Ear is not for everyone either.  However, if you have that rehabbing dream, don't let those overly concerned friends/loved ones or episodes of Renovation Realities scare you.  Hear them out and learn from the mistakes shared on that show, do your homework, and if you want to renovate a house, I'm here as always to encourage you to go for it.   And... if you want to play rugby, it's an awesome sport, so find a club near you, lace em' up, and give that a try too.  

Monday, May 26, 2014

Brent Britten Nauss


Brent Nauss was my Mom's cousin.  He was quite a few years younger than her and she saw him when the distant families got together for reunions.  So even though they weren't close in age or geographically, she remembered him fondly, liked the sound of his name, and was thinking of him when she named me.  All of my sibling's names start with the letter T so instead of Brent, I'm Trent.

Brent Britten Nauss
My Mom had younger sisters, not brothers.  Maybe this added to the impactful impression that younger Brent made on her.  As I grew up she'd mention him sometimes and remind me that in a round-about-way, I was named for him.  I've always gotten the idea that in my Mother's eyes, he was simply a neat boy and that she enjoyed seeing him grow up year-by-year when these distant aunts, uncles, and cousins would reunite annually as a family.

Our list of family lost serving our country during military service is short.  We have one that I remember each Memorial Day and that's Brent.  For decades I've known where he was on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C.  18W has never been hard for me to retrieve from my memory and I feel pride finding him, knowing we're related in family and with my name.  BRENT B NAUSS on that long wall always stands out for me.  It's like it's waiting for me when I'm looking for it saying, "Here I am."

Trent is not as common as Brent and sometimes people mishear me when I introduce myself or call me Brent on accident when they try to remember my name.  I always enjoy this mistake.  I like being called Brent because of where my name comes from.  Now I don't much like it when people mess up and call me 'Kent' or 'Troy' or 'Trevor.'  They say everyone's favorite word is their own name.  I get that.  I really like my own name, but I'm pretty fond of the name Brent too, just like my Mom and the little boy who it belonged too.

Thinking of you Brent.  Not just today, but every time someone calls me by your name.  We never met and you're gone, but not forgotten.  Thank you for your service and your ultimate sacrifice.  You were just twenty-one when you were KIA in Quang Ngai.  You had your whole life ahead of you.  You probably dreamed of returning home safely after bravely serving your country.  I hope you're looking down from heaven and smiling.  We're proud of you today, tomorrow, and forever.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Taking On Risky Challenges Is The American Way

There’s something very American about wrapping yourself around a challenge that comes with some risk.  Christopher Columbus ignored naysayers and set off to find a better route to the east by traveling west.  That was a larger than normal undertaking with the flat earthers expecting him to fall off the edge before he got to Asia.  What about the American Revolutionaries who decided to go it alone and break away from the mighty British Empire?  There were certainly more than a few who thought that idea should be reconsidered.  And then there's the Moon.  Seriously.  Who did we really think we were setting our sights on that goal?  That thing is way out there; no water, no oxygen, and then re-entry comes with all that crazy heat shield vaporization action.  Whoa.  But we checked the math and then did it anyway.

The thing is, as Americans growing up in what President Reagan described as the shining city on the hill, we have this belief that we can do these things.  We're Americans.  We set a goal and have the freedom to try to find a way.  I get a sense of that when I take on a house that other people don't want or a property that others believe is beyond repair.  People around me try to talk me down.  "Don't do it," they've said.  "Find a place that's not so bad."  But those doubtful pleas are part of what get me going and in this country, there's nothing stopping me from trying.  It just feels right to set my sights on something not so easy and then persevering through the obstacles.  For someone else it may be restoring a junky vehicle, helping someone who's down and out, saving a troubled business, or some other goal that others think is a hopeless mission without a big enough safety net.  For me though, it's rehabbing run-down property.

Now, I hope it doesn't seem like I'm comparing myself to the early nautical explorers, our rebellious Founding Fathers, or those astronauts who made the moon landings.  I'm just saying that I learned those stories growing up like all the other kids in our country (and maybe around the world) and they meant something to me.  They still do.  They inspired me.  So, if you have a lofty goal lingering on the horizon, something that get's you excited (but may worry others), I want to encourage you to go for it.  You don't have to be an American to set a goal, break it down, and find a way.  Plus, it's fun.  It's exciting.  It's what life's about.  Take on a big challenge and make it happen.  And if/when you have a tough day and it seems like you're not getting anywhere, look up at the moon, take a deep breathe (w/out help from NASA), and then get back at finding a way.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Spring Break 2014

Last week was Spring Break so my seven year old sidekick was with me while I worked.  They have an after hours program at her school (in full swing for the break), but she opted to hang with her Dad, which I knew would be fun.  However, it was better than I expected.  It's hard to explain how much I enjoy having her on the job site with me, but it is special beyond words.  She practiced kicking soccer goals, shot baskets, rode her bike in the driveway, learned to rollerblade, and finished a pretty challenging chapter book without very many pictures (big milestone).

Now I don't want to overstate my daughter's activities as if she was just diligently doing all this stuff independently without any oversight by me.  I was there making sure she was safe while I reminded her that once she got done she could have a snack or watch some of a DVD.  Anyway, my current project was built in 1906.  It's an old house that would have a ton of great stories to tell (I'm certain) if it could only talk.  Here's an example/clue:  My girl is curled up in one of the old chairs left behind by previous owners (They're too good to throw away and come in handy when someone needs a place to sit.)  Anyway, she's playing with a coin, right.  I noticed her handling/fiddling with it a few times as I checked on her.  No big deal.  Then I ask her where she got it.  "I just found it," she said with a shrug as she kept most of her attention on her movie.  At first I had thought it was a penny, then I got a better look and asked her to hand it over.  "It's mine," she said.  "Sure, fine, whatever," I said back.  "Just let me look at it."  It wasn't a penny.  It felt thin and lighter than a modern U.S. dime, but similar in size and color.  I could make out all the numbers and letters on each side.  It's a Canadian nickel dated 1896.  Very cool.  Ten years older than the project house.  I tried to take a pic, but it didn't turn out so you'll just have to take my word on this reported discovery.

We went to more than a few salvaged yards/warehouses as I am working on some items on my list that I need as soon as I spot them.  I grabbed up a sweet cache of old wood flooring from The Sustainable Warehouse in Charleston, but struck out at the Sea Island Habitat for Humanity Restore on John's Island.  The SIH4H is around the corner from the Angel Oak tree.  "We're going to look at a tree?" my daughter asked skeptically like I was maybe joking.  She was not excited.  But this is a special tree.  It's estimated to be between 400-600 years old.  Almost twice as old as our country and was likely already growing when Christopher Columbus discovered America (or the Capital of Ohio. :)

The Angel Oak Tree

Along with that, I bought my little girl a hammer so she could practice driving in nails.  I like to tell people she's in training to be my superintendent or project manager one day so she needs to practice the basics.  She did good.  She hit the wrong nail (thumb or finger) once or twice, but nothing serious.  I have this small hammer I like to use for fine carpentry.  It's no framing hammer, it's light and a little on the dainty side.  Perfect for our first grader.  I get a lot of ribbing when tradespeople see it on my job site because it's looks like a toy hammer.  A subtle, "Nice hammer, Trent," is a typical remark.  However, it does the job for the smaller stuff like little trim work and doesn't leave an impressionable dent like a framing hammer tends to do in the wrong hammerer's hands.  So I told the guy at the store that I had to buy my daughter her own new hammer since I couldn't find mine (that I had somewhere) and he say's, "Well, now you'll find it."  Sure enough, I came across that thing less than 72 hours later.  Seriously.   I hadn't seen that little tool for maybe a year and after I right it off as lost, it appears just like that sales guy in the store predicted.  I'm not complaining.  I'll need that small hammer soon enough. 

My ring finger is still swollen.  That's my
wedding band & my grandma's Gt. Dep.
Era wedding ring (that I've been keeping in a
safe place on my own finger til my girl is
old enough not to lose it.)
Finally, we had one trip to the emergency room together.  Also nothing serious.  No blood.  I was doing some uninteresting yard work at the project house.  Boring stuff.  Easy.  Well, I thought I got stuck by a thorn, it hurt a little and I pulled it out.  The pain lingered and the finger started to swell up that night.  I expected it to be better in the morning, but no.  My daughter and I were bouncing around town the next day and it felt like it was getting worse.  I was even more concerned because it was my ring finger and it was obvious that my (also uninteresting) bling was not helping.  So we had a jeweler cut my rings off (which felt much better) and then cruised into the ER.  It seems I got stung rather than stuck and had pulled out a stinger rather than a small thorn like I'd thought.  The doctor says I trapped the insect venom in my finger and my rings kept it from dissipating into my hand and up my arm (which would have been better and easier to shake off.)  So they wrote me a prescription, but four days later and my left hand is still pretty stiff, but improving for sure. 

If you get the opportunity to take your child to work with you, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.  It was a great week.

Monday, April 14, 2014

What Is A Pig's Ear?

When it comes to houses, a pig's ear is an extremely run-down home.  It's more challenging  than a fixer-upper and needs a lot more work than a handyman-special.  It's the worst property on the block, in the neighborhood, or in town and may even have been condemned by building officials for being dangerous and/or uninhabitable. 

In my circle of family and friends it's understood that the projects I dig into are in this Pig's Ear category and in most cases, no one else wants them; investors, house-flippers, real estate agents, and contractors don't want the places that I've taken on.  I have bought and lived in some of these properties during and after the renovations, and I've also purchased, rehabbed, and sold run-down properties for profit.  It's immensely gratifying to buy a rough, old home that's been abandoned or ignored, and then transform it into something beyond what others imagined it could be.

This pig's ear description began with my own family.  After I finished the renovation of my second run-down house, I gave a tour of the completed project to some of my relatives.  This little home had been vacant for a couple years before I bought it and turned it into a charming cottage by gutting it, moving every door and window and rebuilding all but one interior wall.  It was the same house, yet completely different.  One family member's response was to the point.  “You did it," they said simply.  "You turned this pig’s ear into a silk purse.”  When I reminded them that they’d said the same thing about the first property I’d renovated (a condemned house that had been devastated by a fire) they replied, “Well you did it again.” 

Early on, I was virtually alone in my belief that I could save those neglected and forgotten properties, but I could imagine in my mind how they would look when I was done and I was beyond content as I persevered through each phase until completion.  People say it's not really work if you love what you do, and that feels like an understatement when I consider the satisfaction I get resurrecting these properties that have been left for dead.  

It takes a lot of hard work, planning, and passion to turn a pig's ear into a silk purse.  It's certainly not easy, but it is possible.

Originally posted - October 3, 2011

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

My Battles with Renovation Addiction

Today is a special, yet difficult post to write since I am sharing something that is more personal.  Since I sold The Duplex, I have been traveling on my own path of recovery from Renovation Addiction.
RA is not a mainstream affliction that people discuss openly, but those days are on the horizon and I am honored to be part of the solution rather than the problem.  Pretending that I am above the fray has been unhealthy for me.  I am writing this as part of my own multi-step program for healing, but I also want to help others come to terms with their own circumstances. 

My happy smile was masking the sad truth
... my burning need to build stuff.
It may come as no surprise that my progression down this path was in some ways just a result of my childhood beginning with my early memories of playing with blocks while watching Captain Kangaroo.  In addition, I was obsessive about playing with Legos, I spent hours in the sandbox, I erected towers with my baseball cards, and we built hay forts in the lofts of our barns.  My family didn't intervene and I realize now that they were my first enablers.  I still love them, but as part of my recovery from renovation addiction, I must identify the people in my life that have aided me on my travels down this dirty, dumpster lined road.  I hope it doesn't seem as if I'm blaming my loved ones, I'm just trying to move forward. 

Getting my fix w/ harder
things in the 90's.
Childhood playtime is not the most serious of issues though.  In addition, simple maintenance tasks are not dangerous either.  For example, regularly changing a burned out light bulb, switching the heating and air filter every thirty days, or using a Phillips screwdriver to tighten a leaky faucet...these are routine, normal, and perhaps healthy chores for a homeowner or a renter.  But the gateway tasks that can lead to renovation addiction are the things that DIYers need to be mindful of in a vigilant way.     
If you or your loved one is regularly
covered in grime from demolition or
other DIY endeavors, it may be time
to have a serious talk about
Renovation Addiction.
Like others living with Renovation Addiction, my problems escalated dramatically when I was in college.  I lived in a rented house with some of my friends.  One of the guys punched a hole in the wall.  We were young and needed to save the money.  I was up for the challenge and repaired the damaged drywall myself.  It looked good and my roommates were proud of me.  Once again, I was surrounded by enablers who were unknowingly adding fuel to my renovation addiction fire.  This thrill is part of what comes with the gateway tasks and from there I found myself working summers traveling with construction crews pouring concrete foundations and erecting water tanks.  I didn't realize it at the time, but I was hooked.
Other examples of gateway projects may be wainscoting in a dining room, chair rail in your foyer, or crown molding in the master bedroom.  Replacing things in the house that are not even broken or damaged are other examples of gateways that can lead someone down the slippery slope that is RA.

These gateway DIY jobs are dangerous because for many, they lead to harder and harder challenges; kitchen renovations, master suite additions, as well as decks, pergolas, and extensive landscaping in the back yard or construction of detached outbuildings.  Many people can do small projects recreationally and stop there, but others like myself miss the red flags and lose control.  People like me suffering from RA simply fail to know when to say when. 
Building an 8' house of cards as a way of coping with
the occasional March Madness blowout... this may
be a Red Flag for someone suffering from RA.
Nicole Curtis, the hostess of Rehab Addict on the DIY network and HGTV is the most famous person to step up to the plate and admit that she struggles with RA.  She's not denying what she's dealing with and opening admits that she is 'addicted to rehab.'  Congratulations Nicole.  You're on your way.  As I've written before, I'm a big fan of Rehab Addict, but if you find yourself dumpster diving for building materials like NC (or myself), you may have a problem.

In addition, if you find yourself falling in love with the challenge of buying and saving a condemned house (I'm here as well) then maybe you need to talk to someone; a close friend, a member of the clergy, a counselor, or perhaps someone in your family who has struggled with a DIY compulsion of their own.

The thing to remember is that if you are showing these signs, you are not alone and there are people out there that will help you.  But you have to come to terms with your overpowering desires to fix stuff that isn't broken or your obsessions with re-doing things that already look good.  Admit that you have a problem, look in the mirror and say, 'I am a renovation addict.'  Then, get help.  Tomorrow is a new day and April 2nd, but today is the first, so Happy April Fools Day.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Technical Difficulties

I'm not sure what's happening with my account here at BlogSpot lately, but something's not right; photos and videos won't embed like normal and my spacing is jacked up.  
So until I can straighten things out, please consider checking out some of my older stuff.

My Top 5 Most Popular Posts:
1.  Rehab Addict Nicole Curtis on DIY  (April 24, 2012)
2.  Step 22 - Insulation (Aug. 14, 1012)
3.  Weeping Mortar Joints  (March 15, 2012)
4.  Renovation vs. New Construction (July 29, 2012)
5.  Superstorm Sandy Is A Reminder That Insurance Claims Are Complicated (1/4/13)


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Rehab Addict Nicole Curtis: Restoring Homes to Their Former Glory

In the early 2000's, before all the popular house flipping shows, I told someone that I was self-employed buying and renovating run-down houses.  "You can make a living doing that?" the person asked surprisingly.  I didn't know how to answer back except to shrug and say, "I don't know, but I'm doing it."

Then, not too long after this I started hearing about the people on TV that bought, renovated, and quickly resold houses in a 30 minute episode.  Folks would learn a little about me and ask excitedly, "Oh, are you a house flipper?"  However, I'm really not a flipper.  To me that's always a quick turnaround kind of deal that takes a few weeks or months.  That's not what I do.  Taking on properties that no one else wants is my thing.  These are houses that need seriously reworked.  Realtors, other general contractors, investors, dreaming DIYers, or want-a-be house flippers pass on the properties I take on because their wrecks.  Houses that are really bad have been really good for me.

In the last year and a half, others have started to compare what I do to Nicole Curtis' projects and what she does on Rehab Addict.  For me, this fits better than the house flipper comparisons.  My wife was the first to make this link.  We'd have RA on, Nicole would start preaching her wisdom and my wife would say, "That's what you always say."  Or it would show the freelance renovator salvaging something that had been thrown out and it was like my wife started to get me a little differently as she said, "That's something you'd do."  Maybe it looks better on camera than the way I explain at home, covered in dust and dirt at the end of the day.  I don't know, but I appreciate the way Nicole Curtis has helped people understand what we do. 

Nicole Curtis in Action on
Rehab Addict (HGTV, DIY)
In the Rehab Addict intro, Nicole explains how she restores homes to their former glory. I've loved all of my projects, but I don't really think they've had much former glory.  So in that way I guess we're a little different.  My Pig's Ears have all pretty much been jacked up messes with nonconventional or unorthodox additions that have people shaking their heads and questioning my sanity.  When someone's really being nice they might say something like, "What are you gonna do with this thing?"  I recently tried to explain how the Rehab Addict and I differ like this: 'I don't restore homes to their former glory, but I do make them better than they've ever been before,'  However, to be clear, these houses are beyond fixer-uppers with no where to go but up.  (See my Projects.)

So when I get mentioned with Nicole in a blog like Mom and Her Drill or someone hears me describe what I do and says, "Hey, that sounds like what Nicole Curtis does,"  I like it.  We're saving houses that others don't want or can't save, showing people it can be done.  I'm proud of that.  It feels good and a lot more natural than being called a house flipper, that's for sure.

See Rehab Addict Nicole Curtis on DIY