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No One Is Coming to Save Us

Florida is a weird, weird place. I was born and raised here, and have spent 34 of the last 37 hurricane seasons here. I still have the capacity for astonishment about my home state – each year we seem to find new ways to delight and/or horrify.

Hurricanes are a weird, weird weather phenomenon. Every time I’ve experienced one, I think about how unexpected and awful they must have been for our pre-radar ancestors. The day before a hurricane is almost always beautiful. And then it begins to rain. And it just gets worse and worse and windier and windier. There’s no thunder, no lightning, just the noise of the wind as it screams around the house and through the trees.

It makes a strange sort of sense that hurricanes and Florida go hand-in-hand.

Yesterday was gorgeous. We sat on our porch in the cool evening and watched the kids play soccer in the front yard.

Around lunchtime today, the outer bands of Hurricane Irma began to make their way across the panhandle, even though the hurricane hadn’t made landfall yet. Florida is a huge state, but this is a huge storm. It will get worse and worse, and windier and windier, and then it will be over.

And we will pick up the pieces. We always do.

After Katrina, the city of New Orleans lost over 400,000 residents. By contrast, Miami-Dade County only lost a net of 36,000 residents in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew steamrolled it. We get knocked down again and again, but we just can’t quit our state. Whether this is foolish or fearless, I can’t say.

Floridians seem to share a grim fatalism about our situation. We gather our supplies, make darkly funny jokes with our neighbors, churn out meme after meme, and have hurricane parties. We know how this works.

We’re not morons. (Well, most of us.) We know that these storms are dangerous, and we prepare as best we can. But part of us knows that there’s only so much you can do.

You can’t actually be ready for anything.

Irma is taking a leisurely stroll up the west coast of Florida, so we won’t see the whites of her eye until tomorrow. In 24 hours, the worst should be over.

See you on the flip side.

 

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A Study in Pink

Our house is basically a side-hall farmhouse, but it has a fourth room downstairs that defies logic at every turn. We’ve been befuddled by it since we bought the house, and have finally made some progress in taming it. It’s the green area below:

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Originally, I believe this room was R.A. Gray’s study, as he mentions having a study at home several times in his autobiography, and there’s really no other conceivable purpose for it. This room is 10′ x 13′, and originally opened onto a small porch, but a previous owner enclosed the porch part to make a nursery for his daughter (more on that in a moment).

When we moved in, Hollyn chose this space for her bedroom – partly because she’ll be moving out in two years, and partly because she’d have her own bathroom….ish.

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This is the back wall of the room. The door to the right leads to a half bathroom with the World’s Most Ludicrous Toilet. There is a mere six inch clearance between the rim of the toilet and the toilet paper holder, which means that if you need to use it, you’ll probably want to sit side-saddle. The door to the left formerly led to a closet, and is now a shower. Just. A. Shower.

That was a choice, people.

The first thing we did was rip out that carpet, which had definitely seen better days. We were delighted to find beautiful hardwoods underneath…. but there was a huge patch by the half bath, and no flooring under the enclosed porch part.

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Dagnabbit.

We replaced the carpet with one-inch hexagonal tiles, which fit the time period in which the house was built. We were inspired by all the old hex tile floors we see in Thomasville, Georgia and New Orleans.

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Next we swapped out the old fan for one that operated. Marvelous!

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Then we painted the main part of the room. Hollyn asked for a neutral color, so we went with our old friend Steamed Milk.

Finally it was time to turn our attention to the most frustrating part of the room, which I will call the nook. Remember when I talked about the enclosed porch space that became a nursery? This is it. Hollyn has her bed at one end of the nook and her closet space at the other.

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When I get stressed I find it helpful to make a list. I made a list.

  1. Paint the walls, which were pink.
  2. Paint the trim, which was also pink.
  3. Replace the light fixtures, which were… not good.
  4. Replace the roller shade, which was busted, yo.
  5. Cover cased opening for privacy.

We dug in. As I pointed out above, the doorway wall in the nook is the same cedar-shake siding that is on the rest of the exterior of the house – and it’s a pain in the buns to paint. But you know what else is a pain in the buns to paint? Beadboard. Sweet Fancy Moses. I had to use an artist’s brush to keep the beads clear of paint glops. Both the walls and the trim required three coats of paint. I listened to many hours of podcasts in that nook.

We left the ceiling blue. It’s a nod to the Southern tradition of painting the underside of one’s porch ceiling blue, but honestly I was just d-o-n-e painting.

The light fixtures were an easy swap. They’re on dimmer switches for Maximum Drama.

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Originally, we wanted to hang some salvaged French Doors on barn tracks over the cased opening. But they would have hung at a very awkward height – and not actually done a whole lot for privacy. Instead, I hemmed the curtains from the master bedroom at our old house and hung them on a large dowel rod.

To add visual interest to this sea of cream, I stained the dowel rod dark, and chose a tatami style wooden window shade.

Here’s the nook after:

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Hollyn’s room looks much more pulled-together. All that’s left is to paint her dresser – she’s selected a deep teal – and add more colorful art to the walls.

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Since this room contains the only downstairs bathroom, it gets frequent traffic. But now it’s ready for company!

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Adventure is Out There

So we moved.

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Allow me to introduce you to the R. A. Gray house. Mr. Gray was the longest-serving Secretary of State in Florida history, and he had this house built across the street from the Governor’s mansion in 1928. It was sold after his death and, in 1960, was moved to its present location on the northeast side of town.

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Looks great, right?

LIES.

We were initially outbid on this house, but the winning bidder ran for the hills after they got the inspection back. Every major system in the house needed to be updated – wiring, plumbing, roof, HVAC, foundation.

But on the other hand, the house had beautiful hardwoods, a grand foyer, cut-glass doorknobs, high ceilings, and character.

The house haunted me. We could save this house. We could make it amazing. We can fix this.

Jason, bless him, saw the fevered look in my eyes and agreed to embark on this adventure with me. So we submitted a much lower offer, sold our perfectly adequate, in-good-working-order house, and bought this fixer upper. Then we lit a pile of money on fire in the front yard.

The day after the closing, the electrician got to work. The house had a grand total of zero three-prong outlets, which meant that plugging in anything more powerful than a travel hair dryer was risky. Additionally, the breaker panel was located on the exterior of the house, which just seems like a terrible idea. The wiring they pulled out of our walls looked like it belonged to a nineteenth century electric chair.

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But soon we will have an indoor breaker box, and it’s SHINY.

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We will also have some drywall to patch.

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Because the power has been off in the big house, we’ve been living in the guest house, which was not built in 1928 and which we thought was in good shape.

MORE LIES.

The sink leaked, the bedroom fan didn’t work, and yesterday water began bubbling up here:

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There are many places where water is acceptable in a bathroom, but the base of the toilet is not one of them. Jason took the toilet up, which revealed a previously-broken flange and a poorly-done repair. This was beyond our capacity, tool-wise and knowledge-wise, so we’re calling in professionals.

That sums up our first week of home ownership.

SERENITY NOW!

 

 

 

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A (Farewell) House Tour, Part 1

It’s been a busy couple of months here at the Taylor ranch. Long story short, we’re moving.

We love our house, and we have loved living in our house. I am not a believer in “forever homes,” because life is just too unpredictable and I am too restless. This was the right house at the right time for our family. But now we’ve been presented with an opportunity to move to a house that needs our creative energy (and our dollars, natch).

We bought this home almost exactly five years ago, on May 27, 2011. If you know me at all, you know that on June 30, 2011, one month after our closing, the house was struck by lightning and suffered massive fire/water damage. Jason likes to say that his “honey do” list went from 1,000 items to 5, because after that almost everything in the house was brand-new.

Despite the total renovation, we have continued to make changes and improvements – well, we see them as improvements. I thought it would be fun (for me) to look back to where we started, and compare it to the house we’re leaving behind.

This is the front in early 2011:

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And in 2016:

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We haven’t changed much about the exterior – but we did add a Bevolo gas lamp to the front porch. It remains one of my favorite things we did during the remodel.

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We also chose a lighter roof color, to reflect more sunlight, and replaced the windows with energy-efficient models.

The other big change we made to the home’s exterior was replacing the flat roof over the sunroom with a gable roof, which allowed the space to be properly heated and cooled.

2011:

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And today:

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The picture of the pool reminds me – I need to soak up as much pool time as I can before we move!

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Pitchers

I am not a photographer. I wouldn’t even lump myself in with amateur hobbyists. I have a very nice camera that I am still learning to operate.

However, I visited a lovely home last Tuesday which featured a gallery wall of photography by the owner, and I can’t get the idea out of my head. Cheap art!

I’ve spent the last few days combing through my photos, especially from our South America trip last fall, to pull together some good candidates.

Note: Everything looks classier in black and white.

1. Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu

2. Llamas and Alpacas, outside Cusco, Peru

Llamas

3. Equatorial Monument, Ecuador

Equator

4. St. Louis No. 1 Cemetery, New Orleans, Louisiana

NOLA Cemetery

5. Flower, my back yard

Flower

I’m excited to get these framed and hung. It’s a dreary, rainy weekend, so this may be an excellent project for it.

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Famous Last Words, Home Improvement Edition

It was supposed to be a simple weekend project.

No one’s ever said THAT before, have they? Didn’t think so.

Our house has hurricane shutters on the exterior of the sunroom. They were in sore need of re-painting.

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The plan was simple:

1. Remove hurricane shutters.

2. Pressure wash.

3. Paint.

4. Re-hang.

Steps 1 and 2 went fairly swimmingly. Jason enjoyed the pressure-washing so much that he went ahead and cleaned the driveway and sidewalks.

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We hit a snag at Step 3. We bought seven cans of Valspar’s outdoor spray paint and got to work. But the wood was so dry from long sun exposure it simply sucked in the paint and asked for more. We would have used all seven cans on one side of one shutter.

Ruh roh.

I asked Facebook if anyone had a paint sprayer we could borrow, and lo and behold, our friends came through. We returned the unused cans of spray paint and bought a gallon of the same color.

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After that the painting was much easier, although part of our yard now looks like the Smurf Killing Fields.

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Jason also now has a dedicated Painting Outfit. Good times.

The shutters, however, look FANTASTIC.

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They even look great from inside the sunroom, and give the light in there a nice cool quality.

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To sum up: This project ended up taking a week to complete, and cost about $50.  The generosity of friends is invaluable – if we’d had to rent or buy a pressure washer and paint sprayer, the cost would be significantly higher.

And here’s the B&A…..

Before:

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After:

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I love the pop of color. They even match the pool liner, which I didn’t realize until they were installed. Bonus!

This was another project that’s been on our radar since we bought the house, and it was tremendously satisfying to finally check it off. Don’t worry, though – there’s always more to do around the house. Joys of Home Ownership, Chapter 3495723409587.

 

 

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Shut the Front Door

Our house has what I will refer to as a “nominal foyer.” It’s a separate space, but it’s not very big and does not lend itself to a grand entrance. (I’m Southern. We like entrances.)

Here’s what it looked like when we moved in:

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As with most of the house, the fire took care of the heavy lifting in the remodeling department. We replaced the front door, the floor, and the light fixture. Later, we added the world’s largest trivet:

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From this view, I like it.

The other view…. leaves something to be desired.

Here’s a before, from the day we moved in:

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In February I finally got tired of looking at the blank space, and tried a few things in the room – a mirror made by my great-uncle, a pair of sassy brass sconces we bought in Thomasville before the fire, and a sofa table that my friend Jaime gave me (Thanks, Jaime!).

So we’ll call this Phase 2:

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Then I made a few upgrades. After a light sanding, the table was painted navy blue. The sconces got hit up by some high-gloss white spray paint. I moved the coat rack to the back door, where we keep leashes and umbrellas for taking Homer out.

Better!

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I love how the sconces turned out:

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I spent $22 on paint (1 quart of blue, 1 can high gloss white). The sconces were purchased in June 2011 for $15. The elephant bookends were $10 at an estate sale a few  months ago. And everything else was free.

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I am very happier with the foyer now. I’m not quite done – I want to hang some of my blue willow plates, and maybe switch up the accessories – but the space feels SO much more coherent.

Bring on the grand entrances. Ha.

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