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Monthly Archives: October 2011

Congratulations!  We are the proud/scared new owners of a real fixer upper. 

The closing went relatively quickly.  I performed my role splendidly – I brought a large check and, without complaint or query, signed every document put in front of me.  The check was instantly broken down into smaller digestible checks to feed to all the open mouths (seller, realtors, title company, water authority, school taxes, county/township taxes, attorney’s fees, etc.) – eleven in all!   

The forms are prosaically wonderful.  The seller was a bank, and one would swear that they have a whole department of struggling scriveners dedicated solely to creating the most absurd yet somehow marginally plausible documents.  It must be rather fun really.  I can picture it now, a head popping up amongst the cubicles, calling out above the din of a sea of fretfully tapping keyboards: “Listen to this. How about a ‘Signature/Name Affidavit,’ which the buyer would of course have to sign (an old joke, but knowing chuckles all around), wherein the buyer would have to certify that their legal name and signature is in fact the signature that they are using at the closing?!”  There would be hoots of admiration and approval mixed with those of jealousy, having failed to come up with such a simple, yet obvious, additional form.  Some wag might then call out, suggesting an ‘Affidavit to the Signature/Name Affidavit,’ which may get booed down as sour grapes or imitation, yet stored in the minds of many for a more appropriate later date.   

tyvek suits, respirators, gloves, and goggles for all

Check proffered, forms signed, deed recorded.  As my realtor said, this may be the deal of a lifetime.  I’m thinking it could be the death of me.  Either way, I have a feeling this blog could go on for quite some time.   

The unequivocally good news is that my nephew Evan has arrived from North Carolina. Now that the deed is done, we will start work forthwith.  I have purchased the necessary safety equipment, including tyvek suits with hoods, dust masks with mold filters, goggles, gloves, and shoe covers.  Let the demolition work begin!

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Yes, I am still dithering.  In the meantime, summer has sadly come to an end. Mowing the lawn is with an eye toward keeping it short for ease of raking.  The leaves are starting to accumulate, and I have probably mulched them with the mower for the last time.  The rake and tarp (for hauling leaves to the curb) are going to have to make an appearance.  The black walnuts are falling in earnest.  We have been picking them up for a few weeks now so that they don’t damage the blade  of the mower.  Despite our previous efforts I still managed to gather over 200 more black walnuts on Sunday.  I also still managed to find a few more with the help of the mower blade,  which became apparent with the occasional loud bang and shredding sounds.

As for the garden, it is sadly on the way out too.  This weekend we enjoyed a ‘fall harvest’ of a  few acorn squash and a butternut squash, as well as a handful of tomatoes. The squash are fun, especially since they grew randomly throughout the garden as a result of our ‘not fully composted’ compost (as did some tomatoes).  The tomatoes have lost a lot of their flavor, and pale in comparison to the spectacularly flavorful tomatoes of July and August.  The sunflowers are mostly done flowering.  They are, however, leaden with seeds.  Since we had so many sunflowers, I think that the birds may be enjoying the seeds for quite some time to come.  I presume the squirrels will get in on the act too. That should be fun to watch over the coming months. 

The shining lights still in the garden are the zinnia.  The zinnia are great in the summer, with splashes of vibrant color everywhere.  Now, coming into fall, they  continue to bloom, and there are more on the way. The last holdouts on life in the waning garden.   Although we may have recently seen the last of the hummingbirds, there are still some bees listlessly buzzing around and making the most of the pollen. The zinnia have been a real hit with the humming birds, butterflies and bees, but I guess it’s time to put away the humming bird feeder and bring out the bird feeders full of seed.

A little walk from the house along the Brodhead Creek brought some more sights of fall.  The last of the Monarchs enjoying a clump of butterfly bushes was a very nice surprise.  Although most of the flowers are gone, there are still plenty of flowers remaining.  The butterflies flitted about, from bloom to bloom.  I will have to remember to get some cuttings in the spring. 

What is happening on the house front?  I thought you’d never ask.  I continue to fret, of course.  I did speak with my brother again about my nephew flying up for a couple of weeks.   My nephew is apparently ready, willing and able.  Not that my nephew and I have spoken directly to each other about it. Arrangements such as these appear to be fine left to others.  Regardless, I would love to have him visit, and he may be okay with it too.  Kismet?  Perhaps this new house enterprise may come together after all, despite my reservations.

flotsam on the brodhead creek bed

One often thinks of the past as a ‘simpler’ time.  I’m sure those who lived before us would not think of their lives as more simple.  Imagine working farm fields and tending to livestock for 16 hours a day.  War, whether it be with the middle east, the far east, europe, or right here at home, has always been with us.  And think what you will about our current state of health care, I wouldn’t trade it for the ‘good ol’ days!’   The ramifications of the decisions one faced in the past were much greater  than the myriad, yet relatively inconsequential, decisions we make today.  Yet, as the decision date looms, I continue to struggle with whether or not to cancel the agreement of sale to buy the King Street house. 

As I struggle with the decision, I continue to do my homework. I have been getting prices for sheet rock, electrical and plumbing supplies, and a huge dumpster for demolition debris. I also spoke with the borough zoning officer about various permits. Surprisingly, he was familiar with the house.  The house is nestled in the midst of the densely populated borough, surrounded for miles in every direction with lots of houses on rather small lots.  However, he recalled seeing a reproduction of an old hand-drawn map of the area, and believed the house was depicted sitting by itself surrounded by farmland.  Knowing the area as it is now, this seemed absurd. 

Standing on the front porch of the house, with cars and trucks whizzing by, and houses all around, the idea of being surround by quiet farmland seems impossible.  However, if one actually thought about it, blocking out the present, noting the kernels of history dotted throughout the county, the image started to seem entirely possible.  We’ve all seen ‘ye olde’ post cards and historical photos, depicting life of years long passed.  I have often looked at the old photos of Stroudsburg that are hung in various businesses around town, wistfully imagining an earlier time (I was tempted to say ‘a more simple time,’ but I don’t think the early settlers were finding life very ‘simple.’). 

There are records of a Dutch settlement on the Delaware River in 1659, and established settlements within a few miles of Stroudsburg in 1727.  Despite attacks and massacres between Indians and white settlers, the area continued to grow. Stroudsburg was well on the way by the late 1700’s. Monroe County was formed in 1836, carved out of Pike County to the north and Northampton County to the south. It was named after the 5th President, James Monroe, who died in 1831.  The imposing Romanesque stone courthouse in the middle of downtown Stroudsburg was built in 1890. (www.livingplaces.com). There is one photo I am particularly fond of, which shows a tree-lined street leading to the courthouse, ‘busy’ with horse and buggy traffic. It’s fun to think that a former owner of the King Street house may have ridden a horse through the fields (now seven blocks) to town.

courthouse

I am starting to realize why this decision is a struggle.  It’s not that I don’t want to do it, because I definitely do.  I want to use my hands and my back, working with wood and other materials.  I will also learn from doing the project.  It involves every aspect of home renovation, and will surely be a test of all that I know.  There is also sure to be a test of mental strength as well.  The difficulty of learning what to do, and long days of hard labor, will be further weighted with self-doubt and second guessing my decision.  For whatever reason, testing myself, both mentally and physically, is a common thread in my various endeavors.  This home renovation project will be no different in my apparent quest to test what I am made of.

No less important, there is something to be said for breathing life into an old house.  Many generations have lived in this house, building it, maintaining it, adding to it, and renovating it.  I have worked on old houses before, and I like the idea of being one of many people to work on a particular house, becoming part of its history.  Often times one will find a message in a wall, someone memorializing their project.  Or a scrap of newsprint from a time not often thought of anymore.  Many people before us have lived our lives.  They have experienced our various joys and sorrows.  To skin one’s knuckle on an old hand hewn timber, or admire a new wooden floor, as surely happened 110 years ago as well, is to somehow become a part of history, working in that earlier time.

Coming back to the present, though, should I really do this?  The house does not have any historical value.  It does not have any significant woodwork or other features attesting to its age.  The house is simply old.  It would be a renovation, not a restoration.  Is the investment viable?  Can I afford it?  It’s all well and good to test the strength of my back, and the strength of my spirit, but to possibly do it all for a house that won’t sell, or the rent won’t cover the expense, that is a test I don’t want to take.