Baby Under Construction

August 5, 2010

Well, baby amidst construction might be a better way of putting it.

Our building permits finally came through at the beginning of June, about two weeks before Lorelei was born, and she arrived home to a revolving cast of tool-wielding men trooping through the house five days a week. It’s been interesting, to say the least – as with the puppy argument, I’ve never had a newborn and not had a home renovation in progress, so I don’t really have anything to compare it to.

I do imagine that most new moms aren’t dealing with a carpenter’s foot busting through the bathroom ceiling, leaving a hole that rains debris with each new hammer strike (What To Expect When You’re Expecting didn’t mention anything about the best way to remove sawdust from the baby’s hair – then again, maybe we’ve discovered a powerful new weapon against cradle cap). I also had a boobs-out close call with the breast pump one Sunday afternoon when our contractor dropped by unexpectedly with a cabinetry specialist.

The past week, featuring the arrival of the sheetrock team, has been particularly entertaining. The guy who brought the materials over (we’ll call him The Lifter) was not, shall we say, the most cerebral sort.

He arrived just as I was putting Lorelei in her bouncy seat on the kitchen counter so I could scarf down a quick bit of lunch – a piece of defrosted wedding cake left over from our one-year anniversary a few days prior (and no, the irony was not lost on me) – before feeding her.

Lorelei was giving me a decidedly dirty look – I may not be eating solid food yet, but I know you’re eating right now and I’m not, bad mommy – that quickly devolved into full-blown screaming. Over the din, I heard a noise at the front door. A large man was enthusiastically and repeatedly tugging on our old doorbell handle, having mistaken it for the doorknob. It’s a common mistake, but one that most people rectify fairly quickly. This man was not most people.

“Can I help you?” I asked, pushing the door open from the inside. He looked surprised and gave the doorbell handle one final, vigorous tug before letting it go.

“Uh, can you move this silver car here so that we can back into the driveway?”

I figured Lorelei wasn’t going anywhere, strapped into her bouncy seat and screaming bloody murder, so I wiped the cake crumbs from my mouth, grabbed my car keys, and moved the car across the street. As I was hustling back up the front steps, The Lifter turned to me with a knowing look and said, “Um, I’m not sure, but I think your baby may be crying in there.” Supernanny, clearly, has nothing on The Lifter.

We didn’t see The Lifter again after that afternoon. He was replaced by the pair lined up to actually install the sheetrock. One had a portable radio and a passion for country music. Loud country music.

The other was highly anxious to know the whereabouts of our bathroom. I’m a little worried about him, actually. He availed himself of the facilities several times during his work here and blew through both a nearly-new roll of toilet paper and several facial tissues. I’ve started thinking of this crackerjack team as Tex and The Pooper (there’s Matt LeBlanc buddy-movie potential there, I’m sure of it).

It will be nice when the renovation is done.

The Culprit, Unmasked

July 24, 2010

Last night around eight o’clock, we heard a trilled “yoooo-hooooo…knock KNOCK!” at our front door, which was open due to the oppressive heat and humidity (Lorelei was just a few degrees shy of fusing to my chest in her Bj√∂rn). Through the screen door, we spied a middle-aged woman and her companion, a dead ringer for Phil Jackson in the Bulls era – except that this guy had a decidedly beaten-down air about him.

“We don’t mean to bother you,” said the woman, “but we used to live here before Lisa” – the woman I bought the house from in 2007 – “and we see that you’re putting on an addition! Two stories, huh?”

“No,” I said, “just one.”

“Really? Just one?” She was skeptical.

“Really – I swear.” Her intense gaze started to make me feel a little nervous, like maybe it was in fact two stories and I had my facts wrong. She’d be a brilliant CIA interrogator. Phil hung back a step or two behind her, looking uncomfortable. I think he spends a significant portion of his life feeling uncomfortable.

“Do you mind if we go out there and poke around a little?” I looked back at the massive piles of debris in our chewed-up backyard, which included a window (now broken) the guys had removed from our original bathroom, a section of roof gutter, and a few stray sawhorses. Everything was buried in calf-deep grass and weeds.

“Sure, have at it,” I said. This is why I was a terrible lawyer – the idea that she or Phil might meet a gristly, litigious end tripping over a half-hidden circular saw didn’t occur to me until later on.

“Thanks – by the way, what do you think of the wisteria?”

“The wisteria?” I asked, clueless.

“Right here,” she said, affectionately fingering a tenacious, fast-growing vine that has been the bane of my existence since I moved in. It officially lives on a trellis next to the front porch, but that’s merely its home base. Every day it shoots a few new tendrils straight out, wrapping itself around our front railing, our gutters (slowly prying them away from the house in the process), and our mailman. It grows faster than I can beat it back. It attracts great swarms of wasps. It is, in short, a horticultural nightmare.

Until now, I hadn’t known it was wisteria and thought of it only as “that damn vine.” I keep meaning to get rid of it but I’m afraid it might retaliate against my family or cats in some fashion.

“I just love wisteria,” the woman said. “I planted it when I lived here.”

So you’re the one who brought this scourge into our lives!

“Has it flowered for you?”

“No, but it’s, uh, quite a presence.”

“Well, enjoy it,” she said. “Come on, honey – let’s go take a look at the addition. We’ll be back when it’s finished to have another look around.”

Despite the heat, we’re now keeping the front door firmly closed from here on out.

An Inspector Calls…

June 4, 2010

…a building inspector, that is, to say he’s not coming today after all, due to the thunderstorm of Biblical proportions that touched down out of nowhere about 15 minutes before his scheduled appointment to check out the concrete pit in the backyard.

The Lord is clearly in cahoots with PBOOH.

PBOOH Strikes Again

May 24, 2010

The Portsmouth Board of Old Houses (PBOOH – that’s not really what it’s called, but it’s how I’ve come to think of it) finally gave us their blessing to go ahead with our renovation at their May 5 meeting. A few days later, I came home from the food store to discover that construction had started in a big way. Our yard was a mess of excavated dirt, backhoes, and grimy, sinewy men in hard hats.

A week later, we had both the beginnings of a poured concrete foundation and a plumbing leak where the guys had struck an improbably located pipe. This didn’t really surprise me – none of the guts of this house are hooked up in any kind of rational or predictable fashion. (Our electrician once came over for what should have been a 30-minute repair and left four hours later, shaking his head, saying, “I wasn’t planning on drinking tonight, but now that’s out the window.”)

Now, three weeks later, progress has ground to a halt. The current hold-up is not technically PBOOH, but some local building inspector who needs to see more paperwork of some sort before construction can continue. I don’t know why he couldn’t look at the paperwork earlier – you know, before we had a big hole in our backyard.

The only one who seems excited about the delay is Brodie; all of the freshly turned earth and unmowed grass have lent a new dimension of excitement to her backyard exploring. Eleven years ago, she was an abandoned kitten in an urban California park when Eric rescued her, and she seems to be reconnecting with her gritty roots. I actually caught her flashing the West Side sign to the cat next door.

Spotted on a sign outside the Corpus Christi Parish in Portsmouth:

1 cross

3 nails

4 given

PBOOH, Part 2

March 31, 2010

Back in February, I blogged about the various procedural hoops we’ve been jumping through to get our building permit approved – we’re adding on a new bedroom and new bathroom to make room for the Olive.

Earlier this month, we attended a meeting of what I have started referring to as the Portsmouth Board Of Old Houses (PBOOH). PBOOH is in charge of approving any exterior changes to structures in Portsmouth’s historic district, which as far as I can tell is pretty much the entire city with the exception of a carefully circumscribed radius around the Dunkin’ Donuts (because even historical preservationists need a Munchkin fix every now and then).

The meeting was interesting – we saw the board lament the possibility of a “shiny vinyl awning” added to a restaurant (the architect was sent away to explore canvas alternatives), decry the passing era of cedar roofing shakes, shudder in collective horror at a backlit Coldwell Banker sign downtown that had somehow slipped through the procedural cracks, and expound upon the virtues of pristine riverfront rooflines unmarred by HVAC vents.

By the time they got to us and our decidedly non-historic house, nearly 3 hours had passed and they were running out of steam. Other than a small change to the proposed line of our new roof, we were basically given the green light. I say “basically” because we still need to return next month to get the official go-ahead when the plans are finalized.

All of this folderol, mind you, has nothing whatsoever to do with the approval of the Portsmouth zoning board, which is an entirely separate monthly meeting and a separate approval process. Due to the way the two meetings are scheduled, we were unable to get our paperwork in as required (12 sets of final plans in Garamond 13-point font, embossed in gold leaf, delivered by freshly manicured hand no fewer than 18.5 business days before the day of the meeting, unless the meeting occurs in a month with two or more vowels, in which case 17.5 days prior are sufficient) before the next zoning board meeting. So we have been bumped to May.

As far as I can tell, we are on track to have the Olive’s bedroom finished just about the time she heads off to college. (Hopefully PBOOH isn’t aware of this blog. I’m sure they don’t take kindly to mouthers-0ff; we’re nearly as undesirable as backlit signs.)

Ah, the irony…

February 5, 2010

Loyal readers may recall a post a few months back about the possibility of our house being taken over by eminent domain in several years’ time to make room for a new 4-lane bridge. As far as we know, this remains a slim yet real possibility.

Yesterday, we received word that our building permit (necessary for the new construction that will eventually accomodate our new bedroom – complete with TV – and bathroom) is being held up because we are in a historic district and will need to present our case in person to the people in charge of the Portsmouth Board of Old Houses (or whatever it’s called). The PBOOH meets only once a month, and we have missed the Feburary meeting, so everything’s on hold until March.

Bear in mind that our house has been added onto so many times over so many years that it bears no resemblance to any known architectural style; historic integrity is not a concern here. The PBOOH factor does explain why our next-door neighbors had so much trouble getting permission to tear down their circa-1950 eyesore garage last year.

The good news is that I’m going to whip out the “Historic District” card if it ever comes to pass that the government wants to appropriate our house. The bad news is that Eric’s sleepytime viewing of ESPN, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and the inimitable Yo Gabba Gabba has been pushed back for another month.