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.