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.