Sunday, November 17, 2013

According to Alexe, I have a new girlfriend.

In the same way that I've always referred to the BTC being Alexe's 3rd child, I suppose it's accurate.

I'm not going to use this site to document the renovation.  There will be a new spot for that, insulated from here, as I imagine it will receive more traffic, and from a wider audience, than I care to have coming here.

But I'll give a taste of the launch, and the timing.  After 4 months of dealing with the probate court and the IRS, the daughter of the recently deceased owner was able to sell me the last 5 buildings on Main Street in desperate need of renovation.  The property includes a cinderblock warehouse out back, a metal building currently occupied with a rent-paying mechanic shop, and a sizable open area reaching back to Railroad Street.  To expedite the sale, I also purchased all the contents, which includes 100 tons of junk, and a few treasures.

We closed on Tuesday, the 12th of November, at 2 pm.  I spent most of the afternoon and evening with a structural engineer.  He answered all my questions based on his 50+ years of saving old buildings like these, and I came away with a much better report than I was expecting.

Wed. morning at 8:30 we had a little blessing ceremony on the sidewalk led by Binnie Turnage, praying for the safety of everyone involved.  Minutes later the first dumpster arrived, and we got started.  

(The we is me and three young guys I have working for me during this demo phase.  As we progress and various sections are ready for building back, I will have crews working on various projects.  I have a year to get 4 apartments, 4 efficiencies, and 5 storefronts built out, not to mention the warehouse and parking and porches and courtyard to finish out.)  Daunting? Yes.  Is my mind buzzing and making it difficult to sleep?  Yes.  Am I having a blast?   Yup.

We started on 428 Main Street, the worst case.

Veeeery carefully, because the cave-in left hanging joists and rafters just waiting to fall and crush someone, we cleared out enough floor space to set up the scaffolding, and I cut out the dangerous hangers.  From that safety zone we repeated the process, expanding the safety zone until, after 1.5 of these:

And 9 of these, (all the wood we're taking to a friend's burn pile to save on dumpster space,)

We had the collapse entirely cleaned out, the brick walls stripped of dangerous hanging wood all the way to the roof line, and the roof and second floor cut back to strong wood.  The new storefront and second story apartment front wall will be built up at this recessed point, with the shell of original brick walls stabilized and protecting the courtyard below.

20 years ago the previous owner started framing in apartments on several of the second floors.  Unfortunately, they were poorly laid out, with dropped ceilings, and no windows for any of the bedrooms.  In most cases this all needs to come out before I can build in what I want.  

For any of this demo work, a safely applied chainsaw makes it fly.  We took a break from the courtyard work on a rainy morning to make a dent up here.  (Second floor of 426 Main Street.)

I am very pleased with the level of progress after 3 days.  We're ahead of schedule, and with the help of some scroungers who have cleared out the piles of scrap metal we had set aside, (they haul it, we split the scrap yard take,) the clutter is starting to give way.

A sample treasure: (First $250 takes it.)

This baby, with a dump bed, was included in the purchase.  I had no idea, until the title was slid across the table to me at the closing.  The mechanic thinks he can get it running again without much trouble. It was parked 10 years ago, in running condition.

So this is my new day job, and until I settle down, my early morning and late evening obsession.  This is what she looks like each night after I button her up and head home.  The first store front on the left is 428, and we're headed all the way down to 420 barely visible on the right. 

Meantime, the farm is settling into the cool weather nicely.  The cows take themselves to pasture each morning, the pigs eat endless tubs of brewery grain, the sole surviving chicken hangs out with the cows for company, and the dogs inspire periodic e-mails from our neighbors when they roam too far from home.

Yesterday, Alexe bought six new hens, and picked up a free rooster from a friend.  On this rainy Sunday I wandered down to the barn to see what was keeping her, and saw this through the window.

They were chicken watching.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Tishomingo and Cider

In exchange for my old iphone and a renewed 2 year contract, our cell phone provider combined Alexe and my cell lines, lowered our collective monthly cost by $40, and gave me a free iphone 5s.  I'm tickled, but in the process of turning over my old phone I lost a couple weeks of family photo-history. Halloween is the major bummer.  Captain Hook and Tinker Bell were adorable.

My office above the BTC has been getting a workout.  Lost are the photos of the record release party on Halloween night, but that may be the fullest this space has ever been.

This past Thursday Julie Lee (Nashville-based singer/songwriter) and a friend came back to Mississippi; we saw her at Thacker several years back and were blown away. 

A surviving picture from Halloween, after practicing with his sword, little Captain Hook rests in preparation for a long night of parties and candy extortion.

This costume was in a bag of hand me downs a friend gave us.  The bag hadn't made it out of the truck and into the house; while I popped into the auto parts store to chat with the mayor Caspian found it, put it on, and climbed onto the roof of the truck to pose for passing vehicles.  By the time I got the phone out to take pictures he was crouched down, but when I first saw him he was standing tall flexing his foam-enhanced muscles for the Main Street traffic.

Our Fall family vacation, this year to Tishomingo Park, where Alexe reserved us one of the stone cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 30s. 

The swinging bridge, a cable suspension bridge crossing over Bear Creek, featuring lovely Alexe right before she grew tired of me fiddling with my new phone and strutted down the length of the bridge.  Those are great pictures too...

I love this bridge.  There is a pictorial ode written here last year when I first found her.

Fires were enjoyed, card games were played late into the night, hot dogs and marshmallows were roasted...

A canoe ride was taken up and down the creek.  We left our picture taking equipment in the dry cabin for that trek, but the summary includes zero fish caught, and many cypress seeds/nuts gathered for planting around our pond.

Many races through the leaves were won by this little fellow.  Possibly because we all didn't enjoy his reaction to not winning; right now it's a bit overly tearful and wail-y.

We took a three mile hike through the lovely rocky hills and deep freshly fallen leaves.  It went something like this.  

Mile 1: The kids fought with tears and screams and tantrums for the right to be the Leader.  Attempts to bride, threaten, abandon, and make the WORK IT OUT all failed.  Progress was slow, with much carrying, waiting, and failed sessions of "reasoning".

Mile 2: Pleasant.  After a stroke of genius I initiated a points plan for good behavior with immediate payoff at the end of the hike, (1 point = 1 super push at the playground,) and suddenly the kids were tripping over each other to be pleasant.  Water and snack breaks were had, acorns were collected, and everyone was pleasant.

Mile 3: The points plan devolved into point-subtractions for bad behavior.  The family chant, led by Alexe, became, "I hate hiking."  Alexe became convinced we had overshot the trail and had hiked miles farther than the advertised 3. The last rest break, where the troop decided we were completely lost and had hiked into the middle of nowhere, was had 100 yards from the end of the trail.  

Mile 2 was really pleasant.

We took a drive into Iuka MS, the nearby town, to explore.  The town center didn't do much for us, but on the drive out a side street I saw this on the right and backed down the street to turn into the driveway.

This is what was behind the magnolias.

I started backing out of the drive, and Alexe couldn't leave without getting out to explore. She and Annaliese hadn't made it halfway up the drive when an older man came out to see what she wanted.  With credit to Alexe's power of persuasion and southern hospitality, we were soon on the porch chatting, and then inside having a full house tour.

The house was built in the middle of the 19th century by Colonel William Brinkley, the same man who built the Peabody Hotel in Memphis.  It has never left his family, and William Brinkley III now lives here alone, single handedly fighting back against time to keep this amazing structure standing.

The siding, columns, and decorative hand carved entryway is original cypress. 

Cypress columns sit on cast iron bases.

Downstairs hallway.

Alexe, standing at the bottom of the stairs, after being allowed inside to look around the entire ground floor, said, "What's upstairs?" I would give her more grief, but guess where we were allowed to go next. 

The upstairs mirrored the T central hall of the ground floor, with 7 bedrooms.  You could have played a tennis game in the upstairs hallway.

A bona fide southern mansion.  In amazing shape.  The southern gothic feel of peeling wallpaper and cracked plaster brought the history and grandeur to the surface for me more than any fully restored historic site I have ever visited.  Mr. Brinkley, the current owner and caretaker, is a fascinating person in his own right.  Father of 5 daughters, inventor, and now living on 160 acres, (what remains of the original 200,) slowly moving his tools from room to room.

Right around the corner we stopped at a park before grabbing ice cream and heading back to our stone cabin.  There were many slides, but none as step as the skate park ramp.  The snail trail is due to wet playground equipment.

After three nights in the woods, with everyone feeling rested and excited to get back to IT, we piled back into the truck and headed home to our farm, town, and life.

Friday morning, as we all headed back to our daily routines, the town was broadsided by a tragedy.  With Alexe at the store, Annaliese at school, Caspian at his learning center, and me doing the farm rounds and prepping for a morning of cider pressing, we learned that Dr. Gary, the elementary school principal, and her 12 year old son had been shot in her home in Oxford.

We knew nothing else until much later in the day, but I went and picked Annaliese up.  The concern was confused, but no matter what was going on, Alexe and I agreed that a morning of apple pressing would be less emotional and trying than being at school.

Since then Dr. Gary's older son has been arrested, a young man we all know, early 20s, who used to work at the school as part of his duties for the sheriff's department.  

It's terrible.  All of it.  Annaliese had not yet picked up on what had happened, and Alexe and I were going to tackle that discussion later in the weekend, when I heard Annaliese tell Caspian her principal had been shot.  (Apparently a friend she was playing with at the store told her.) Caspian asked me if it was true. I said it was true, and very sad. There was a pause, and Annaliese asked if that meant she would get a new principal.  I said some day.  

That was it.  They turned back to each other and talked about other things.  We're going to keep a close watch, in case she has what I was expecting, the reactions of fear for her own safety.  

We spent four hours grinding up apples and pressing out the cider for the BTC open house on Saturday. (It's a Main Street-wide open house, with snacks provided at all locations, and our offering was fresh cider.)

The kids took turns feeding apples into the cuisinart and cranking the crank on the press.  For four hours, with good tunes playing, and a fire crackling in the wood stove. 90 lbs of apples later we had five gallons of cider to bring to the store.

Annaliese has been struggling with her manners, being nice to her brother, and being a five year old grump.  She was sent to her room yesterday, and I was so annoyed I told her she was going to be in trouble until she wrote me an apology note.  In my mind that meant Alexe or I would have to sit with her while she wrote and asked us how to spell the words.

10 minutes later she came back outside and gave me this: 

I had no idea she could do that! 

Seeing the cows out in the front pasture continues to tickle me.

And the spider man costume has become part of Caspian's secret wardrobe.  He arrived in the kitchen yesterday morning at 6:23 looking like this.