Not much happened on the renovation today. Carpenters are on hold until the shoring company comes to level the house — scheduled for next Wednesday. And the electricians appear to be off on another job.

K & I decided to invite a few folks over for a beer in honor of Saint Arnold’s Day. Any excuse to sit on the porch and drink a beer. The evening was going swimmingly until Stanley (our slightly crazy dog) decided to engage in a stand-off with an equally crazy cat under the house. At first I thought Stanley had trapped the cat and attempted — while crawling under the house in the dark — to provide cover for the cat to escape. Then I determined that the cat was holding Stanley hostage and attempted to toss various pieces of detritus at the cat to distract him so Stanley could make his escape. Turns out Stanley and the Cat were two crazy souls who had found each other and neither had any interest in escaping. They were locked in some weird under-the-house cage match and were determined to take each other down. K later referred to them as Sid and Nancy — which I think is the best description.

Finally, with the help of Rob, Ben, and Susan, we were able to coax Stanley away from the cat and out from under the house — where he proceeded to act as if nothing had happened.

While not much happened today, it appears that tomorrow could be a big day for the old house.

Plumbing Pipe waiting to be installed


Small Steps

Time moves so slowly in the hot New Orleans sun but the hours slip into days and I haven’t posted any notes on the renovation.

Each day of the weekend was a new undertaking. But I started and ended in the same place. The back corner of the yard.

Two things converge in the back corner of the yard: the old cat hospital and a plant called a vitex. Neither of these is a good thing in my opinion but the vitex may redeem itself one day.

out-of-control vitex plant

Our house has been vacant since 2005: Not for the reasons many who know what 2005 means in New Orleans would suspect — but that is another story. The important point here is that during the last 5 years, this Vitex plant / weed / tree has been having a great time in the back yard. I don’t even know what a vitex plant is — but that is what a friend told me it is called. They also explained that it is actually a cool plant. So I decided I just needed to trim it up and get it back to looking like a proper tree and not like an invasive weed on steroids.

Friday evening, while K went for mandatory cocktails with her graduate studies cohort, I attacked the vitex with the only weapon I had: a saws-all.

My problem was not that the vitex was a tough opponent. Each branch I touched was clearly not a “real” branch and deserved to be cut back. The problem was that none of the branches appeared to be real branches. Down at the base there were some substantial trunks that made you think “tree” — but above that everything seemed wimpy and ripe for removal. There was no there there. In the end I finally got tired and just gave up, afraid that if I continued cutting K would show up on Saturday morning and find a stump.

The vitex after trimming

Astute observers will note the saws-all in the foreground.

Saturday I decided to move back inside. The plumber was coming on Monday to see about running a new vent stack and had requested that the walls be open in both the downstairs and upstairs bathrooms. I prepared for battle.

ready for the demo of the upstairs bathroom

I enjoy doing demo in these old houses. Perhaps it is the academic romanticizing manual labor. Perhaps it is because lacking trade skills I have trouble with finish work. Be that as it may, there is also a process of discovery and a connecting with unknown craftspeople who have worked in the same place. At times it is the hack handyman whose idea of a repair was to cover over the problem. But more often it is the work of someone who solved problems in a skillful and innovative manner; work that makes you step back and question your own ability to fully engage the physical world.

At the end of the day had I succeeded in removing a portion of the wall. But the end result was meager compared to the energy expended. If playing music allows me to feel much younger than my actual years, demolition in June in New Orleans allows me to feel every one of those years.

removal of plaster and lathe from upstairs bathroom

Now, back to the cat hospital.

As the story goes, the former owner of the house loved cats. And by that I mean that the mother-in-law apartment had something like 20 cats residing in it and the back yard was protected by a double fence to keep the neighborhood dogs away from the 40+ cats hanging out back there. When cats weren’t feeling well, they were put into a lean-to chicken wire structure that had been added to the original 1903 servant quarters. This all sounds quite “crazy cat lady” except that Rosemary was apparently in touch with the SPCA and was designated as a cat rescue location complete with veterinarian visits.

But Rosemary is no longer here and it was time for the cat hospital to go away. K and I decided to divide and conquer. She headed home to retrieve the wheelbarrow and I started whacking at the cat hospital.

debris in back yard

By the time the noon sun was beating us senseless, the cat hospital and all the detritus from the vitex tree / bush / weed had been deposited in the construction dumpster out front.

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