By Popular Demand!!!! Well, okay, by request of my friend Doug, steward of this very fine Airplane/Pagoda bungalow, who has been having raccoon problems.
Raccoons are very intelligent animals and they also have hands. If they had access to power tools, we would be in very serious trouble. Fortunately they don't watch TV, and thus have yet to be seduced by The New Yankee Workshop (which I always thought should be called The Joy of Power Tools). They have adapted easily to urban areas, living in dense shrubbery, ivy, storm drains, and so forth. They will happily use your pet door to enter your kitchen and avail themselves of whatever they can find, and they also will climb into your compost bin. I used to have a whole family- one would climb in and start throwing out various stuff that seemed edible, and then they'd all proceed to have a little raccoon picnic right there. This was all at bungalow #2, the first place where raccoons became a real issue.
So this was bungalow #2, The Walter Chowen House, not a bungalow at all, but a lovely Prairie Style house designed by George T. Plowman and John Hudson Thomas in 1908. I've had a soft spot for prairie houses ever since. See the lovely square (hollow) columns holding up the porch? Raccoons had dug under the siding at ground level, climbed up the inside of the columns (they were open at the bottom, and taken up residence in the ceiling of the first floor porch. (It's hard to tell from the angle of the photo, but there's a skirting of roof between the railing of the sleeping porch upstairs and the ceiling of the porch below, so there's actually about two vertical feet of space inside.) Because they were using it as a residence, they were also using it as a bathroom.
But we didn't know that. We just knew that the house smelled, even after all the pet stained carpet had been ripped out and the floors refinished. And we heard noises at night- making us wonder if the house was haunted. They were also mysterious stains on the porch ceiling, but we thought those were water from a roof leak or something. Eventually, by some lucky chance, my husband was on his way to the basement when we heard a huge crash coming from there- he raced down the stairs and was just in time to see a raccoon tail disappear into the room underneath the porch. So the problem had been identified. We had someone come and trap the raccoons.
It also dawned on us that if raccoons had been in the porch that might be where the smell was coming from. So we proceeded to de-construct the porch ceiling, which luckily was board-and-batten. You really haven't lived till you've pried off a board and had a whole bunch of raccoon turds fall on your head- truly one of life's more special experiences... At the end of the clean-up we had a pile of raccoon turds about 18 inches high and three feet in diameter. We then proceeded to scrub everything as best we could, followed by spraying all of the interior framing that we could reach with every kind of deodorizing product we could get our hands on. All to no avail- the porch still reeked. Eventually we used the same trick we used when cat pee had gotten into the subfloor at bungalow #1- we coated everything with shellac to seal in the odor (just another of shellac's many fine uses). Of course there were a few dim recesses we just couldn't reach, but we got most of it. Still, probably 99% of the odor was gone. We also blocked off the bottom of the pillars underneath the porch, so that if raccoons got back in, they wouldn't be able to climb up. Then, in a fit of raccoon paranoia, we put padlocks on every opening that went into the basement or the crawlspace, and prayed the little critters hadn't discovered bolt cutters.
Still, on a warm day, if the breeze was just right, you would get just a tiny whiff of Eau de Turd.
Here at the bunga-mansion, raccoons have been less of a problem. They don't get in the compost, probably because the restaurant dumpsters down the hill offer much better pickings. We did have one attack a police dog in the backyard (a long story which I shall have to save for later). The biggest raccoon problem is reserved for residents of the front bedroom.
As you can see in the photo, the front bedroom (the stuccoed part) is surrounded by roof, all of which comes right up to the window sills. Raccoons do get on the roof (and they shit on the roof, which is really annoying- as if it wasn't trouble enough cleaning the damn cat box). And because the bedroom has more window than wall space, frankly, generally tenants have had their desk in front of the windows. Nothing like looking up from your computer late at night and finding a raccoon staring at you from two feet away! I used to hear shrieks on occasion. I always have to tell the tenants to only open the top sash for ventilation on hot nights. It's not that the raccoons couldn't still get in, but they might possibly make enough noise to wake them up before they actually succeed.
So how do you get rid of them? Don't have raccoon lures: compost, fish ponds, chicken coops, cat or dog food left outside. (Okay, I keep reading that as chicken co-ops- what would a chicken co-op be like? Would there be endless meetings spent trying to come to Consensus?) Other than that, they don't like bright lights and loud noise. Of course, aiming motion-detector lights at your roof and playing heavy metal or talk radio full blast won't make you popular with the neighbors. Won't be fun for you either. You could try to make it difficult for them to get up there, but then bungalows tend to have many protuberances, making them easy to climb. Certainly keeping trees and shrubbery trimmed away from the roof is a good idea in any case. If you know WHERE they're getting up, you may have a better chance of somehow blocking that route.
Or maybe you can train them to use a cat box. But I doubt it.
I am on my way back from the Grove Park Arts and Crafts Conference which takes place in Asheville, North Carolina every February. This year was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the conference. We often joke that the Arts and Crafts Revival has lasted longer than the original movement. When the first conference took place in 1988, the revival was still in its infancy, although the seminal Arts and Crafts exhibition at Princeton in 1972 is believed to have sparked the revival, it was not until The Art That Is Life exhibition in Boston in 1987 that it began to take off nationally.
I bought my first bungalow in 1987. I already knew about the Arts and Crafts Movement. I knew who William Morris was. I knew enough that shortly after buying the bungalow I traveled to Pasadena to visit The Gamble House. I also immediately took out a subscription to Old House Journal, and bought a copy of Rehab Right, a book about how not to mess up your old house, published by the city of Oakland in the 1970s before they became completely enamored of tearing down old buildings in the name of “smart growth” and “density near transit” and the other forms of sheep’s clothing used by rapacious developers and embraced by planners who all claimed to have read Jane Jacobs but apparently hadn’t absorbed much. Ah, I do love a run-on sentence, and the advantage (for me) of a blog is that there is no editor to do away with it. For you the reader that might be viewed as a disadvantage…
Anyway, that was the beginning of my Arts and Crafts adventure. In 1988 I joined the Craftsman Homeowners Club that had been set up by Kitty Turgeon and Robert Rust in East Aurora, home of the Roycrofters. The first Arts and Crafts Conference in Asheville was touted in their newsletter, but since I still had my display job at Macy’s I couldn’t go. The first year I did attend was 1994. By that time the first bungalow had been fixed up and sold, and I was in house #2, an architect-designed Prairie house which I was to lose later that year in a divorce. So the first conference was bittersweet for me.
By that time I knew some of the East Bay Arts and Crafts people, since I was asked to join the committee for the 1993 Arts and Crafts House Tour being put on by Berkeley Architectural Heritage. I freely admit that I guilt-tripped the house selection committee into including my house on the tour, saying it would mean so much to me since I was going to lose it in the divorce. I guess they forgave me because we have all remained friends.
So I went to the conference at least knowing a few people. Nonetheless, I was intimidated. But I was also hooked. Since then the conference has become an important yearly event. I have gone even when ill. I went in the middle of chemotherapy, in spite of everyone advising against it. One year I had food poisoning, and spent most of it in my hotel room. But I keep going back.
When I was first contemplating writing Bungalow Kitchens, one day I had the horrifying thought that if the book was published and successful, I might be asked to speak at Grove Park. Having, as most people do, a terrible fear of public speaking, I nearly gave up on the book right then. (As it turned out, I discovered I actually enjoy public speaking, but that’s topic for another time.) As of now, I’ve spoken there twice, although never about kitchens.
It’s exhausting and intense, but I’ve met such wonderful people there. Contacts made at Grove Park led me to bungalows to photograph for the books, vendors to put in the Resources, and many new friends, who are now old friends. This year both friends and strangers signed letters to GMAC asking them to modify my mortgage- I now have over 100 letters. Arts and Crafts people are absolutely the best.
The benefit succeeded beyond my wildest dreams! We had over 300 people- the line to get in stretched down the driveway. There were people I hadn't seen in twenty years- people I went to high school with, former neighbors, current neighbors, clients, and many people I didn't know, who had seen the story in the SF Chronicle or the Oakland Tribune, or had gotten a forwarded email from somebody, as the whole thing kind of went viral. A good time was had by all. The silent auction was a huge success, and we also had a "Buy It Now" table of less expensive items, and most of those were purchased. I sold quite a few books, including two Linoleum books, which always makes me happy(let's just say the Linoleum book has a very narrow audience...). We're still counting the money, but it was way more than I even thought possible.
I want to thank everyone who came, everyone who donated, everyone who helped out- I have the most awesome, amazing friends that anyone could ask for. One of the hardest things about the whole fraudclosure/mortgage mess is that you feel very alone, even though you know millions of other people are going through the same thing. The banks and the media have tried very hard to demonize homeowners in order to deflect blame from themselves- we are supposed to feel ashamed of our inability to pay our debts. ( see comment on previous blog entry- nothing like kicking people when they're down)
By the way, the attorneys general settlement announced last week- complete bullshit. A get-out-of jail-free card for the banks. No one goes to jail, they get almost total immunity from prosecution, maybe a select few homeowners get help (the settlement doesn't apply to loans owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, which are the majority of loans). The terms haven't even been announced, so basically they've signed on to a concept, not an actual settlement. Thanks for selling us out, Kamala Harris.
Individual thank-you notes will be going out later- possibly not until I get back from the Arts and Crafts Conference next week. Right now I'm completely exhausted.
Berdette and Jesse Matteson, 1942.
I could still use servants- or some kind of paid help. Even after being subdivided, the lot is still 10,000 square feet, and a gardener would be extremely useful. Right now all the fruit trees need to be pruned, but it’s a choice between that and working on the floor in the green bedroom, or finishing the kitchen, or replacing another part of the roof, or replacing the rotted wall at the front of the porch, or fixing the slant of the back porch so that water drains better, or putting stain on the new shingles on the back porch, or epoxying some rafter tails, or fixing the gutters, replacing the non-matching downspouts, painting the ceiling in my bedroom (it’s sky blue- I have woken up every morning for nearly ten years and thought, “I hate that ceiling.”), etc., etc.
I know my house is excessive. Even though I call it the bunga-mansion, I’m not sure it really qualifies as a mansion. But it is a very large house (3800 square feet). Clearly when Jesse Matteson built it, he was part of the 1%. The Matteson’s had servants (how many is unknown)- they were housed next door in a house he had built in 1903, on the other side of the tennis court. Finding out about this cleared up a question I had when I first bought the house- why was there no maid’s room or other servant quarters in the house? The Matteson’s were clearly part of the upper social strata in Oakland- their garage-warming party in 1906 was written up in elaborate detail in the society pages of the Oakland Tribune.
A cook would be nice too. I don’t get home from work until after seven, and by the time I fix something to eat it’s often nearly eight. Like all single people my dinners tend to the “chicken breast and a salad” school of cooking. Sometimes I just don’t have the energy and end up eating a bowl of cereal.
I do have a housecleaner. Don’t start throwing mental tomatoes- yes, I am financially desperate, but she only comes for four hours every other week, and it’s the only thing keeping me from killing my housemates, because they are all messy. I’ve become a slob too, more from stress and lack of time, because actually I really can’t stand clutter.
An administrative assistant would be nice, too. Someone to do my Quickbooks data entry, answer my e-mail, do filing, keep track of where the hell I’m supposed to be at any given time- that would be awesome.
The 1% have no idea how easy their lives really are. It makes me furious when some overpaid hedge fundie starts talking about how hard he works and how hard it is to make ends meet on $500,000 a year.
So yeah, as some troll commented on an earlier post, I’m just sitting around in my mansion eating bon-bons and whining about how hard my life is. I don’t even like bon-bons. Hell, I don’t even know what bon-bons are.
Every time GMAC tells me they have all the paperwork they need, I don't believe them, but I can never get them to cop to it. Instead, two or three days later I get a letter asking for something else. The latest they wanted was IRS Form 4506T- this allows them to order copies of my tax returns. I did, of course, send them a tax return in the original packet, but clearly I must have cooked the numbers on that one, conspiring with my tax preparer to do so. (Well, she is my sister.) Anyway, I called them today to make sure they received the 4506T, and to ask if they needed anything else. "The application is complete," said the GMAC rep (still not the mysterious and elusive Nicole Nesby). "That's what you told me on January 4th, yet two days later I got a letter asking for the 4506T, as well as for the three separate months of Profit and Loss statements, which I had already sent," I replied. More checking. She comes back to the phone, says, "You're scheduled to start a temporary modification on February 2nd." "What?!!" I said, "No one has said anything to me about a temporary modification." So it turns out that once again they sent a letter instead of calling, and it was mailed last Friday, thus it is not here, due to the MLK holiday.
Don't get excited- this is all part of the game. The idea behind HAMP (Home Affordable Mortgage Program) is that if you faithfully paid the temporary payment for three months, you would then get a permanent modification. Except it's not really permanent, it only lasts five years, and I'm not at all sure that anyone really knows what happens at the end of that time. That was the theory- here is the reality. You pay the reduced payment for three months, or six months, or a year, or however long the servicer wants to dick you around, and then, at the end of that time, they announce that you don't qualify for the permanent mod, and by the way, here's a bill for all of your previous arrears, plus the difference between the modified payment and the original payment, and that totals, oh, twenty thousand dollars or so, and it's all now due and payable in a lump sum. Oh, you can't pay it? Well, then we'll just have to start foreclosure proceedings, which is what we wanted to do all along, because seriously, the thousand dollars we get from Treasury for doing a modification doesn't even cover the coffee we have to give our employees to put up with all you deadbeat homeowners whining. The fees from foreclosure are at least twenty times that, maybe more. Everybody gets screwed in a foreclosure except us- the homeowner, the neighborhood, the city, the county (well, we were already screwing them out of billions with the Mortgage Electronic Registration System- we just have to go on pretending it's a big proprietary database that is very complex, in order to cover up the reality that it's just a giant Excel spreadsheet that no one is checking for accuracy).
Needless to say, the benefit is still on. Response has been awesome so far. I am trying to get a page up listing the auction items, but it may be a few days, since tomorrow I'm having a tooth extracted, and I'm thinking I won't be good for much after that. There are some who think I'm not good for much anyway, but those people are not my friends. My friends, in fact, are totally awesome.
More excellent sideways linoleum
Below is the invitation to the fundraiser. I must say, I have the most wonderful friends.
Help noted author/community and preservation activist Jane Powell save her landmark home from the Bank!Our friend, Jane Powell, needs your help. She’s behind the 8-ball--a chronic and expensive disease, a major fixer for a house, and underwater with a huge mortgage with out-of-reach monthly payments, that the bank refuses to modify. But if we all pitch in, we CAN make a difference!Jane Powell is probably best known for her informative, witty, and passionate writing about restoration and renovation--the big picture philosophy behind preserving historic bungalows and buildings of merit in general, combined with nuts and bolts expertise. Her best-known books include Bungalow Kitchens and Bungalow Bathrooms, in addition to countless articles for The Old House Journal, American Bungalow and other publications. Jane has given lectures around the country and actively participated in preservation efforts locally, including serving as President of Oakland Heritage Alliance. All the while, Jane has been battling lymphoma, pitted against the well-documented problems of the expensive, difficult health care system. Her part-time job qualifies her for coverage by an HMO, but Jane can’t afford many of the additional out-of-pocket medical expenses. She acquired Sunset House in 2002. This one-of-a kind Arts & Crafts treasure from 1905 came with years of deferred maintenance. Jane succeeded in getting Mills Act protection for the house (and some property tax relief), but she’s obligated to make ongoing, expensive repairs.Jane has been trying, with all of her writing and persuasive ability, to get a loan modification, even lobbying representatives of GMAC, the lender, in person in Washngton, D.C. But the bank just demands more paperwork, and stalls, as Jane falls behind in her payments....Keep Jane Powell and Sunset House together! It’s tragic that so many people have been separated from their homes by heartless banks and lenders--let’s make a difference on this one! Here’s how you can help:ATTEND: A fabulous event at the “Sunset House” Feb. 12, Sunday, 2-5 p.m. This house was featured on the 1996 Arts & Crafts House Tour sponsored by Oakland Heritage Alliance and the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, built by architect/contractor Jesse Matteson for his own family. Sunset House was the cover story of the Nov. 2006 American Bungalow magazine.Hosted bar, good food. Silent auction with objets d’art, consults, autographed books, massages, and fine collectibles. Check out the Restoration Comedy section of Jane’s blog, JanePowell.org, for the latest auction items. Cash, checks, or credit cards accepted.Live entertainment: Sharon Knight (Celtic-inspired music--to hear a sample of their music & for more info, go to: http://sharonknight.net/music-neofolk-romantique.html), and other performers.Surprise guests.Singles $25/couples $40 (no one turned away.) Sunset House, 2708 Sunset Ave., is east of Fruitvale Ave., at Lynde and 27th.MAKE A CALL OR WRITE: Jane has been involved in negotiations (fruitless so far) with her lender, GMAC Mortgage. Tell the bank to modify her mortgage to reflect the true value of the house and reduce her huge, and unaffordable, monthly payments.GMAC contact info: Nicole Nesby ("relationship manager") 1-877-928-4622 (option 5, then ext. 236-8552) 1- 866-709-4744 (fax) P.O. Box 780 3451 Hammond Avenue Waterloo, IA 50704-0780GMAC's CEO: Michael A. Carpenter 200 Renaissance Dr. Detroit, Mich. 48265GMAC Public Relations--ALLY Gina Proia, VP/Chief Communications Officer (646) 781-2692MAKE A CONTRIBUTION: Contributions to help Jane with her mortgage can be sent directly to her at 2708 Sunset Ave., Oakland, Ca. 94601.
Or click on the DONATE button to your right.TELL YOUR FRIENDS/ASK FOR ENDORSEMENTS/LEND YOUR NAME: Oakland Councilperson Nancy Nadel; Becky and Michael O’Malley, Berkeley Daily Planet Editor and Publisher, and Lesley Emmington, Save Strawberry Canyon, are early supporters of the ad hoc Friends of Jane Powell group. Sign on!For more information, and to RSVP, Robert Brokl/Alfred Crofts, (510) 655-3841, firstname.lastname@example.org.Press contact: Ralph Kanz, (510) 535-9868, email@example.com
Finishing the floor in the green bedroom has become critical, since I can't rent it in its current state, so tonight when I got home from work I went up and put another coat of shellac on it, making three coats so far. It's actually not as orange as it looks in the picture, but it is blotchy. I have looked for some explanation of why Douglas fir gets blotchy when you sand it, but so far that remains a mystery. In any case, I think of it as patina.
The date for the house benefit has been decided- it will be Sunday, February 12th from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. There will be music, food and drink, tours of the house, and a silent auction. Admission will be $25 per person or $40 for couples, but no one will be turned away. The official announcement will be posted here soon.
I spent yesterday cleaning the gutters. Luckily my roof isn't that steep so it doesn't involve ladders- instead, I sit on the edge of the roof and scoop debris out of the gutter with a special tablespoon, left to me by the previous owners. The reason for the tablespoon is that the gutters are rather narrow. They are the original redwood gutters, and except for being badly patched in a few places with other pieces of wooden gutter whose profiles don't match, they are in remarkably good condition. Usually I hang Christmas lights from the roof at the same time I'm doing the gutters, but I'm not feeling terribly festive this year, not to mention I can't afford the electric bill for the lights.
It's kind of a tedious job but what I realized while I was up there is how much I enjoy working on the house, taking care of it. After I finished the gutters I pruned some redwood branches that had grown too close to the roof, then went inside and sanded the floor in the green bedroom some more. If I hadn't had to stop for dinner, I probably would have kept going till midnight.
In other news, GMAC has received my loan mod package, and they have actually assigned me a "relationship manager", as promised. They said to call once a week- apparently they're not allowed to call me- something to do with my bankruptcy. I expect the requests for more documentation will now begin.
At least I finally got my car back.
Also, I was contacted by someone with a BBC radio show- they want to interview me about linoleum!
linoleum from 1918 Sears catalog
No doubt you're all waiting to find out what happened with the car. Or not. Whatever. Well, the car was totaled by the insurance company (meaning "this car will cost more than 80% of what we deem to be its value to repair, therefore we don't want to repair it"). So I could either take some amount of money they were offering and use it to buy another car, or I could take a lesser amount of money and they would give me the car back as salvage. I briefly considered taking the money and buying another van ( I do miss my van on occasion- generally those occasions involving 4' x 8' sheets of plywood)- that lasted all of ten minutes. The truth is, I love my car, and I wanted it back. So I took it as salvage, and the body shop is fixing it. It's still going to cost me about $600-$700 out of pocket.
Meanwhile, because one of the rooms here at the bunga-mansion is currently empty, and the selection of potential tenants is, shall we say, underwhelming, I decided that this would be the ideal time to finish finishing the floor, a project started about three tenants ago, I think. When I bought the house, this particular room had wall to wall carpeting and painted-over wallpaper. The carpeting was the first thing to go, the wallpaper was next. Under the wallpaper was the original green tinted plaster, albeit with lots of white spackle over later holes ( those have been touched up with watercolor so now it's all more or less green. The floor was covered with what appeared to be brown paint, but after a few solvent experiments, it turned out to be tinted shellac. So I started removing it with alcohol. This was fairly labor intensive, so I ended up just doing a two foot strip around the outer edges, then I covered the rest of it with an area rug. But the areas that had been stripped had no finish except some residual shellac, which wasn't very protective, especially because tenants aren't known for the gentle ways they treat other people's property. So this seemed like an opportunity to get some real finish on ALL of the floor.
Now, if I had money, I could have just called the floor people and they would have done the whole thing in two days for about $400. Or I could have rented a floor sander. However, I've seen enough softwood floors messed up by people who thought they could do it themselves- an out-of-control drum sander with 40-grit paper on it can turn a fir floor into something resembling a roller coaster in record time. So I'm doing it with an orbital sander- slow, but little danger of ruining the floor. It's taken me two days to sand about a third of it with 60-grit paper- still have to go back over it with the finer grits. The shellac gums up the sandpaper, so I've taken to scraping the majority of it off with a carbide scraper first- also a bit labor intensive. I think I'm going to finish the floor the same way I'm doing the kitchen cabinets- several layers of orange shellac with a couple coats of polyurethane on top. If it were just me here, I might dispense with the polyurethane (all the floors were originally shellacked- there's a closet downstairs that still has the original finish), but with tenants, you kinda need something that can't be immediately ruined by water or alcohol.
One other thing- only a few blog posts in and I already had my first troll! Gist of her comment: "Stop whining and write some more books." Yeah, 'cause I can just whip out a book in my prodigious free time.
Not a big fan of Home Depot, but I do love my Ridgid sander!
The bunga-mansion looks glamorous from the outside. Even parts of the inside do. Other parts, not so much. The photo shows my dining room, currently the finishing space for kitchen cabinet doors (that I haven't worked on since July, but that's a whole other story). Why am I doing this in the dining room? Because I have no garage and no basement. Why no garage? Because it was torn down in 1952, when some previous owner of the property sold off a piece of it, and someone built this really ugly apartment building on the sold-off piece. The site of my garage is now part of the apartment building's driveway.
The apartment building is about twelve feet from the north side of the house, and their front doors, living room and bedroom windows all face the side of my house. The building resembles a very long double-wide mobile home, if mobile homes were covered in beige stucco. It's a four plex. When I first moved here there were a lot of bad tenants, including a meth dealer, and one apartment I swore the landlord only rented to couples with domestic violence issues. The tenants have improved slightly in the ensuing years, thank God. It is my fervent hope that one day there will be a miracle and I will be able to buy it and tear it down, and then be able to rebuild my garage.
The garage, by the way, was built in 1906. I know this because Matteson had a "garage-warming" party, which was written up in elaborate detail in the Oakland Tribune. Until I got this latest set of archival photos, the only picture I had of the garage was the photo from the Tribune article, which was a photocopy of a microfilm of the newspaper, courtesy of the Oakland Library. Matteson was an early adopter, as we would now say- not many people had an automobile in 1906. The garage-warming party took place only a few days before the 1906 earthquake. Apparently neither the house nor the garage was much damaged, or else the damage was repaired, since they certainly looked okay in the 1910 photos.
Today I am painting a client's family room for fifteen bucks an hour. I so enjoy working seven days a week.
And, of course, the linoleum of the day.