Archive for the 'housing' Category

Ice dams and porch roofs

February 10, 2015

This is probably the fourth time we’ve had ice dam problems in the house.  Water was streaming inside Jordan’s back window between the sashes, water was dripping on the first floor through the ceiling near the back door, the upstairs bathroom window had a persistent drip — these were the most egregious symptoms (although the water damage to the kitchen ceiling is pretty outstanding, too).  After more than 24 hours of this, I texted Joe, our contractor, in part because I was going to have to get up during the night even more frequently than the previous night to empty the collection containers and in part because of the coincidence of the leaks with the new storm windows he installed this fall — previous ice dam damage had been elsewhere in the house.  It was late, he said he’d be over in the morning.

Joe and Nick showed up while I was still shoveling this morning.  Long story short, they came back in the afternoon with a snow rake, and removed snow from the first floor roof in the back of the house, below the dormer.  Now, it was pretty clear that the water was coming in from the dormer roof above the second-floor windows, but Joe’s ladder was under 5 feet of snow, so he started working on what he could reach from the ground.

And the drips have slowed considerably.  Maybe the water now has a way down on the exterior of the house.

Joe also shoveled off the snow on the second-floor porch.  The snow on it was pretty high, but the snow on the porches across the street is higher — above the railings.  Mine apparently benefited from favorable winds and maybe the way my house is kind of set back and nestled between two other houses at a slight curve in the road.

So we are good to go — to sleep without frequent interruptions.  So I can, in turn, bring the car in for service tomorrow — the windshield-wiper fluid isn’t coming out, even though the tank is full and cleaning out the jets with a pin hasn’t helped.  I guess “it’s always something” during the winter, but when there’s progress on the previous issues, at least it feels more like a hurdles race than a slog.


New paint scheme

January 9, 2015

I have been driving past the former Mitt Romney manse on my way to visit my mother at the nursing center off Trapelo Road in Waltham where she’s being cared for.

The house used to be orange —  a nice orange, as I recall it.  I was aware of work being done on the property after it was sold — lots of bulldozers on the large front lawn, for example.  At some point I noticed the house had been painted grey.  Also not unusual for this neck of the woods.  More recently I noticed that part of the building is red.  I think that that piece of the building is connected to the house, and I guess I have assumed it was a garage.

It took me a very long time to interpret the new paint scheme as characterizing the smaller part of the building as a barn, but that interpretation would help me make sense of it.

Attorney review

September 5, 2014

I have never bought a house in New Jersey, so I was floored by the custom of having buyer and seller sign a contract before having their attorneys review it — the review comes after the signing.

I learned about this as the result of helping my mother communicate with her real estate agent and lawyer during the phase in her house sale of negotiating with a prospective buyer.

It was also not intuitively obvious to me during the attorneys’ exchange of negotiating points what provisions survived which rounds of negotiating — this is why we hired someone who is experienced in these things.  And I did actually conduct some residential real estate closings the year I practiced law in Connecticut.  And I have been involved as a purchaser of a house in Massachusetts.  But these customs in NJ have been quite foreign to me.


August 26, 2014

My building contractor is back from Washington, D.C. and helping his lacrosse-playing daughter get situated at college.  Today he was continuing his digging under the other end of the back piece of my house  —  a piece that may have originally been a porch and smaller than it is now, and in any event has sustained water damage beneath it.  He needs to excavate enough so that he can get underneath it to replace deteriorated wood he has removed.  He did that beneath the other end, under the half bath, and I ended up with a lovely floor re-tiled with tiles Willy and I had bought years ago.

The end Joe’s working on now is beneath a windowed mudroom, and I don’t expect the interior will get spruced up.  That flooring is slate.

But I did get a lovely benefit today:  Joe found an inkwell, Bixby brand, intact, tinted glass, kind of iridescent in places, where he was digging.  Very nice, I am quite tickled with the discovery and find.

The half saucer Joe found a few weeks ago in pieces is nice, too, and I have a small collection of old nails found during such work over the years, but this inkwell is really the first piece found in the vicinity of the house that gives me a sense that this house really was inhabited during much different times.



May 29, 2014

My carpenter was on the phone with me last night about all the repairs he’s going to get to on my house today, most notably concerning the downstairs bathroom, now that he’s rebuilt what rotted underneath its outside corner.

This morning he texted me that he will be late, he’s going to mass this morning, because the cardinal will be there, at St. Agnes’s.

I hope the mass is great, is what I told him.

We had a brief discussion the other day about my Kwan Yin statue in the backyard near where he’s been working, whom he referred to as Mrs. Buddha.  I said I think Kwan Yin hears the cries of people, maybe like Mary does?  I’ve got Mary elsewhere in the backyard, next to a small seated Buddha near the door to the shed — where Joe’s been keeping his tools, so he’s probably seen her, too.

The statue of Kwan Yin I bought because it depicts her less elegantly than most statues do, and I like my spiritual helpers earthy.

So somehow there’s this strand of religion winding through my home repairs.

Maybe I should note that my garden statuary is not all religious, although there is also a young monk under a rose bush.  I’ve got a few rabbits and a turtle and a pig (who is now on its side and covered by leaves, not to mention that it had sprouted moss, last time I checked, so I think it may no longer be visible).  And then there’s this bird statue of Willy’s, I think it’s a turkey but it could be a peacock.  He came home with it once and I did not understand its attraction for him (he explained that it was on sale because it was damaged), but now I’ve kind of grown fond of it and I have it where I can see it from the dining room window, among the vinca.


May 4, 2014

Jonas had to give a potential landlord a deposit before the landlord actually went through his process to decide whether to rent him the place.  I advised Jonas to get a receipt from the guy, in case the deal fell through.  Jonas didn’t.  I was concerned, but two days later, Jonas had the keys.  And a receipt.  And a lease.

It’s hard to know when to play it by the book and when to go along with another way of doing things.  I’m glad it worked out.  It occurred to me that doing things the way I thought they should be done might well have caused the whole deal to fall apart.

Another reason to let people “use their own good judgment,” as a friend of mine used to say.  Backseat driving not only has its limitations, but it can be dangerous.  Ultimately we have to drive using our own judgment, not somebody else’s.

Solar energy

April 3, 2014

I have questions about all those solar panels up on roofs — like how much they increase the cost of re-roofing.  My back roof is hard enough to re-shingle — it requires finesse, because like many things in an old house, it is not all squared-off and perfectly seated.  I would be hesitant to venture out into complicating re-roofing further.

So I was quite proud of myself for buying a garden decoration that included a small solar cell and a lamp.

Only it didn’t work.  We could get it to go on once, but that was it.  Apparently one of its wires was cut as it went from one piece of the decoration to another.

So I returned it.

And stuck a Buddha statue I already owned out there instead.

I’ll leave the interpretation to others.


September 30, 2012

Richard removed two clogs from the left downspout on the front porch, one in each of the two elbows, yesterday morning.  (This Richard is the guy who cleans out the gutters and oils the wooden one in front.)

He tried to explain the difference between a gooseneck and an elbow — the downspout configuration has both — but I’m not sure I understood it.  We’re talking about the curved pieces, in the downspout configuration, that my carpenters used to track the porch architecture closely, in any event.

Clogs in a drainage system resonates for me strongly, and needing someone to remove one and then, it turns out, two, resonates, too.

I think we have drainage systems for dispelling our emotional burdens.  I think we try not to just pass them off to someone else who can’t handle them either.  When we can’t process them ourselves, sometimes it’s as if there’s a clog.  Bitterness can be a clog, I think.  So also can be self-pity and those mutations of hurt feelings that some of us wrap around ourselves like a cozy blanket.

Somebody recommended Al-Anon to me years ago.  It’s for families and friends of alcoholics.  The first meeting I attended — two blocks away from my house the next morning — brought such relief.  It lifted both my sense of responsibility for the alcoholic’s behavior (and not being able to control or cure it as society seemed to be telling me I should be able to) and a sense of self-pity that was getting in my way.

Clogs can re-form.  I have to work at not closing up, at letting things go, at keeping on moving, at not spinning a web of self-pity or bitterness or blame.  The hardest thing for me at this point is dealing with more loss, with trajectories that don’t seem to change.  Sometimes I can’t make a situation or someone better, and I can make things worse by trying, and my first reaction is “I can’t stand this.”

There’s fear in that reaction, I know that’s part of a clog in there.  I was asking for help on that the other day while I was praying, and I heard help from somewhere or someone about treading more lightly and in the moment, trying to float and not press down so hard on things (the way I do when I write with a pencil or ballpoint pen — I get rough patterns like Braille on the reverse side of the paper) and wait and see.  I don’t like to focus on the concept of “patience” — it helps me to re-frame that as this floating lightly in the moment and keeping in sync with the pace.

Richard said he’d just add the work to the bill he’ll send after he or one of his crew does the gutter cleaning and oiling later next month.  When I reflect on that, while it’s not remarkable, I enjoy his trust that if he does the work first and even forgoes immediate payment after he’s done, I’ll be good for the full amount later.  I’ve been stiffed myself in that situation, and finding an alternative to fulfillment of the promise has proved difficult and challenging, although not without benefits.  I guess, to go back to the theme of this post, I need to experience that pattern without reforming clogs in my emotional drainage system.

I’m going to end with what I see as the humor in the universe.  One of the people I’ve helped spiritually I associate with wearing clogs.  He was Dutch by birth, I don’t actually know if he wore clogs, but I associate him with them at least as a symbol.  (This had led me to thinking about magic shoes, witches’ shoes, red shoes, papal shoes, antique Chinese clogs, etc. as possible points through which I might find conceptual insight into the problem.)  The representation of a concept — difficulty with a drainage system — through the situation with my downspouts makes me want to say, “It was that kind of clog, not something about footwear, that was the problem.”   At some point, the image and focus apparently shifted from the shoe to the downspout, through which the problem could be addressed, and the problem became resolved.

Hidden closet

August 10, 2012

Tony, my computer guy, was over last night, working with Jordan on his computers, but we got to chatting nonetheless, and one discussion led to a sketch of the first floor of his house (which is built on a much larger scale than this one).  He was showing me how he discovered a closet that had, through renovations done over time, become completely inaccessible.  In fact, where the original door had been now stood their refrigerator.

Well, my parents are currently replacing their twenty-year-old fridge.  One of its many symptoms suggests a clog in the defrosting mechanism.  My mind puts this all together as an illustration of how some people are in this world cut off from their inner selves and without a mechanism to cleanse their inner systems, because I have been looking to understand people who, apparently unintentionally, create a lot of damage through what I perceive as coldness in their interactions with people like me.

I’ve already thought that maybe such people are like very large and hungry babies trying to get their hunger sated, and that when they can’t complete their end of the exchange in the same way a baby can, by loving openly and without guile, an imbalance is created.  People like me tend to become drained by such an imbalance, others tell a person who sets one up to go away.

But the hidden closet with the refrigerator in front is an image that helps get at another aspect of the situation — that something is trapped and has become inaccessible, not that the person just wants too much.  Trappedness suggests a different strategy from encouraging better self-discipline or self-regulation.  Trappedness suggests needing to create an opening in order for an exchange (between the interior and exterior selves? between self and others?) to occur.

The carpenters who worked on our house years ago cut through current walls where there once had been windows, in order to restore them.  It was a little eerie to experience from within the house someone cutting through the walls that one perceives usually as needed for protection.  I was even moved to write a poem about the cut in the stairwell wall into which a somewhat stained-glass window was installed:

For some reason I associated it with someone coming.

I had always though there should be a window in the stairwell, and when the aluminum siding was stripped off the house, it was clear that one had been there:

I wrote about that in the poem (called “When the Window Goes In”) and also the immediate experience of “Light flooding into / Shadow when they / Break through the wall, / Plaster crumbling, sparks / Flying, hearts beating, / No turning back …”

The next poem was about how the person didn’t come “After the Window Went In,” but how the light through the window revealed things I hadn’t seen before (“turning up marks and / Misprisions”) and brought its own version of joy.  That poem wrestled with making sense of the expectation and the actual reality that ensued.

A neighbor of mine said at the time that work on an old house can bring forth old ghosts, and I think I probably used that as an way of understanding my sense of impending visitation.

So now I’m thinking about Tony’s closed-off closet in a similar way, that it’s a representation of someone’s interior situation.

Tony also talked about his chimneys, because he needs to have a new roof put on his house.  A chimney no longer in use will be taken down to the roof line or below and the aperture closed over.  The functional chimney needs a liner for the top, unlined portion, and there’s a division into two flues up there impeding that improvement (in terms of the availability of liners with the right dimensions).  My chimney has four flues but two of them merge before they reach the top of the chimney.  Tony and I talked about whether that sort of resolution might work in his case, because there is a liner available in those dimensions.

And that’s what I see as a possible resolution of gaining access to that interior space in a person who is closed off like the hidden closet in Tony’s house, that they merge somehow with someone who is not closed off, who has had that window cut through that gives freedom to the soul.

For me my sense is that merger has already been accomplished, just not with the person themselves but with someone in their lineage, with a ghost from their past.  I don’t know what that means for them, I even struggle with what that means for me (and my children).  But I don’t need more understanding than of what I am called upon to do next, and what I hear is to figure out and give voice to what I would like to do, as if this were my last opportunity to enjoy what this world has to offer.

Old rooms

August 1, 2012

During the summer I spend a lot of time opening and closing windows around the house when it rains.  It’s an old house, and well designed, I think, for air flow, although somebody’s misguided renovation of the second floor during the 1960s or so reduced that a bit (they took an open landing and converted it into an “L” shaped hall with a linen closet, among other changes).  When I open up a lot of windows, including in the attic, there’s a nice draft from the bottom of the house to the top.  But when it rains, it often rains in, usually from the west and north.  So I keep the windows open in summer until it rains and then re-open them when it stops.

This gets me into Jonas’ old room more than usual (it’s got west and north exposures).  He hasn’t lived home for years;  I think over seven years it’s been.  I can tell I don’t deal with it, that I push it out of my mind to a large extent.  I’ve cleaned off most of the horizontal surfaces in the room (the desk top, the top of the bureau, etc.) and put the things in boxes or on the shelves and in the cupboards or in the closet in the room.  So the room is pretty neat.  On the other hand, it doesn’t look lived in, either.  Jonas has, over the years, asked to store things like clothing and bedding there between his various stops in various living arrangements, so that stuff is there, for example, folded and piled in laundry baskets on the floor.  I draw lines about what else I’m okay with having there.

The rain storms remind me that Jonas and I do a silent dance around his room.  I have no desire to hurt his feelings and I don’t need the space at this point (if my parents ever come to live with me, I probably will), so there’s really no need to discuss it at this point or to make any dramatic changes, I think.  I have hopes that somehow things will work out smoothly, but if they don’t, I know I need to have the conversation with him directly.

In the meantime, I open and close the windows in his old room to the rhythm of the summer rains.