Monthly Archives: December 2013

Spread Some Kindness

“The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can.  Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on.”  Ulysses S. Grant

MY OWN LITTLE WAR: After months of enduring an overage here or extra charge there by seemingly every service provider who crossed my threshold during our house elevation, I had begun to feel like I was fighting my own little personal war against being ripped off and was determined to fight back. So when I met our unsuspecting movers recently, I greeted them with an aggressively defensive stance – like bringing a sword to a pillow fight – ready to thwart any trumped-up extra charges.

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The price for the move had been predetermined with the moving company weeks prior to meeting the actual movers. When they arrived and started talking about additional transportation fees, extra gas charges, blah, blah, blah I was ready. Not today, buddy. You just found the wrong customer to start talking about extra anything. 

GET A MOVE ON: You think we’re already 45 minutes on the clock and decided to add another 15 minutes of intro chit-chat?  AND you walked up all the stairs to my apartment without carrying any moving supplies in your hands? Sounds like you guys are going to have to hustle like mad-men to get this job done within the time-frame I already agreed upon for this job. Giddy-up!

BEHIND ENEMY LINES: And they did. They were fantastic – quick, careful, courteous – the whole deal. I began to rethink my initial stance. These movers were not the enemy. They didn’t OWN the company, they merely worked there. They weren’t going to receive the fees for this job, their company would, they’d get a small fraction. And they were doing all the heavy lifting – literally.

LIGHTBULB MOMENT: Maybe it was seeing the sweat on their brow that cold December day or the Christmas music playing in the background that sparked my epiphany: this crew were mere worker bees in a corporate hive, working as best they could in a grueling job that probably didn’t pay that well. They were just doing their job, trying to make a living. Not setting out to put the screws to us, not these guys.

We made restitution by giving them a generous tip, a heartfelt thanks and an ultra favorable review, by name, to their company. I learned two lessons that day: It’s a jungle out there, but not everyone’s an animal. And, kindness matters so spread a thick layer where you can.

Happy Holidays!

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Fireplace Repairs Post Flooding

WEEK 26: Although the majority of our house hails from the 1920’s, an addition was added in 1990’s by a previous owner – which included a wood burning fireplace. For years the fireplace provided a warm crackling glow to the our family room. Then … it was inundated by a flood or two.

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2007 Flood repairs: note the mantle design

FIREPLACE SURVIVES: During the second flood of 2007 our family room sustained a fair amount of damage and required some renovations. The floors in the picture above show the radiant heat coils that survived this flood event as did the fireplace – or so we thought.

It wasn’t until the subsequent flood event in 2011 that we realized the integrity of the fireplace had been compromised. Water is pretty sneaky in that sense, finding its way into any nook or crevice and quietly wreaking havoc. So during flood repairs resulting from Hurricane Irene a few years late, the entire fireplace had to be removed.

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2011: Mantle, surround, fireplace box, floor of the fireplace – all had to be removed.

HIDDEN BENEFITS: I never really liked the original fireplace mantle. It was a bit busy and slightly ornate for my taste. I could have easily lived with it, but thanks to flood damage, now I wouldn’t have to! The entire fireplace had to be replaced: the firebox, the floor supports, the surround, and the mantle. Fresh start.

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New fireplace box

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Mantle and slate surround being installed.

ANOTHER FLOOD BONUS: In addition to the new fireplace installation where we now had the opportunity to assist in the design of the mantle (built by our carpenter crew) and choose the new surround (black slate), we also got to choose new floors. (Almost makes you wish you flooded, right?)

The mahogany floors being installed above replaced the previous floors that had been nicked up from years of our boys playing smash-up games with their cars and trucks and finding numerous other means to scratch them up.

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Project completed: new mantle, surround, fireplace box and floors (walls and insulation, too)

CHIM CHIM CHER -EE: A few years and a drastic house elevation later, we are preparing to put this said fireplace to work this winter. But just to play it safe and make sure that it survived the lift in tact, we had a chimney sweep come by to inspect and clean it – all the way to the roof.

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Chimney sweep at work

LITTLE KNOWN FACTS: During the numerous renovation projects we’ve endured over the years, I’ve learned something new from every professional that has worked on our house. For example, here I found out that a pre-fab fireplace, such as the one we have, is very easy to clean and rarely has any problems compared to a stone chimney – there are no ledges or crevices for soot to build up. Chim chim cher- oo!

Back Where it All Began

WEEK 26: Oh me, oh my what a week it’s been preparing to move home again. I can summarize the week’s main emphasis in one little word – cleaning. My goal was to rid the house of the ubiquitous remnants of dry-wall and construction dust. No small task considering that every cupboard on the first floor had to be emptied and throughly cleaned.

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Construction dust crept into every cupboard

Hauling out goods:   One of the things I learned about living in a small apartment with a small kitchen is that I generally store WAY too much food in my kitchen: cans, boxes, packages, spices. I found some spices in my cupboard  dating back to the George Bush era – and I don’t mean W. We haven’t lived here that long, I’ve just been throwing these items in moving boxes over the years and taking them with me, like that $5 bottle of bay leaves was some sort of precious metal. No more – I’ve decided to live lean and keep all food products in the 21st century. As my momentum picked up I starting tossing out anything I didn’t miss in the past six months of living away from home.  It was a pretty impressive clearing.

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The cleaning project snowballed into several car loads of items being removed.

I remember my grandparents’  house, attic and barn brimming with so much stuff they couldn’t tell you where or what they had stored away. Not here. Thanks to flooding and construction projects, every couple of years we unload heaps of belongings. Living lean – feels good.

There’s no place like home for the holidays: You know what else feels good? Moving home in time for Christmas. This holiday season I’m just a bit more overwhelmed than usual, but at least I’m home. In a house that no longer floods. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!  (or rain – I’m good either way).

More than One Way to Skin a Cat

CAN’T HELP BUT NOTICE: As fate would have it, next door to our temporary apartment, the house is also being lifted. It too suffers from the occasional rising whims of the little brook near our house, about 2 miles down stream. With my new knowledge base on this subject, I’ve noticed a few things about this elevation that the casual observer would more than likely miss:

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Another house elevation under way

When you look a little closer, you can see some strings. It makes perfect sense that you would want to make certain the foundation was going to match up with the house. This technique was not utilized in our project and they had great difficulty matching up the pieces. Would it have mattered? Who knows. A spool of yarn could have come in handy is all I’m saying.

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A little piece of string ties it all together

Another area where this project deviates from ours is they are building the foundation up to meet the house, unlike our scenario where the house was lowered back down onto the foundation:

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Rising up to meet the house –

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Foundation meets the house – steel beams still in place

Although this technique makes it more challenging for the lifting company to remove the steel beams, logically if makes sense. When I asked my builder about this different technique, he said either way works. Ok – but I’m guessing one house will suffer more than the other. When a mega ton house is lowered, no matter how gingerly it is accomplished, there is bound to be some collateral damage. I don’t know the end result for this house, but our house suffered numerous cracks in the walls (minor) and a permanent slight shift in a bank of kitchen cabinets where a shim of wood was left in place atop the foundation while the house was being lowered.

You know how to remove a block of wood stuck between a hefty house and it’s foundation? Neither does my builder.