I had high hopes of traveling the country again this winter, but life and circumstance kept me in Boston. I’ve been busier than usual through a season that’s been balmier than usual – not an inch of snow!!
I continue to rent one of my apartments via “airbnb”. In addition to hosting some awesome people from all over the world, I’ve been able to have old friends and family crash with me.
An old friend is staying the winter in my little “dorm room” in the “garden level” apartment. She’s managing the guest apartment while taking care of some stuff in Boston. The garden apartment is tiny and there isn’t much buffer between it and the outdoors. I worried about a winter as bleak as last year’s, with snow piling against doors and windows. Sheer luck had me trolling craigslist as someone was posting about their free, single pane, industrial deck house windows that were being replaced with more efficient ones. I was the first to respond, piled them all in the back of my truck, and slapped together this structure off the back of the house!
I’m experimenting with rocket mass heaters to see about heating the space with the long term hope of heating my house (or at least parts of it).
There have been two big projects occupying much of my time with smatterings of little wood turnings, cabinet jobs, etc…
I’ve been helping a friend remodel his family’s carriage house apartment in Belmont, MA. The apartment had taken a beating from water and had been harboring mold and ick for years. Adam has been doing much of the work himself – commuting back and forth from Manhattan – I come in for days at a time to perform more difficult tasks or to advise and teach. This has been an accidental new direction for me. It’s practically the same as when I ran jobs with my own crew, only this crew happens to be the client and just one guy – no experience, and a whole lot of personal interest vested in his family’s gorgeous, historic Belmont property. I like to teach – I also think I lucked out with a prize pupil.
Job #2 has been a doozie. My neighbors are siblings approaching 90 years old. I met Paul and Gracie 8 years ago when I bought the place across the street from them. Their back porch was falling off the house – the insurance company threatened to cancel their policy and the mailman was refusing to make deliveries. I replaced the porch with Paul’s assistance and we became friends. Gracie has been suffering from dementia since I’ve known her and she’s only worsened. They have very little outside assistance or support. The fuel grant that they’ve counted on for years has been denied this year for some unknown reason and they struggle to heat the house. Our other neighbor, Robert, checks in on them every day with a newspaper. Robert and I are on-call to break up fights, search for Gracie when she wanders off, or pick up a sack of sugar for Paul when Gracie has locked the dry goods pantry and swallowed the key.
The roof was leaking for years and the weight of that responsibility was literally squashing Paul. Gracie resides on the top floor (originally servants’ quarters) and has refused to move even when the ceiling started to fall. Paul was finally able to get the roof replaced at the start of this year. I’m now faced with the task of repairing the plaster damaged by wind and water.
The house was built in 1840 and is one of Roxbury’s finest historic homes. The carriage house is a dream and was once home to a few horses that pulled a cart around Roxbury while Paul and brother, Joe, peddled fruits and vegetables. The family owned a few grocery stores over the years and bought the house in the 1920s from the original owner – Abigail Rossi (Clapp). She’s a daughter of the revolution.
Gracie isn’t really amenable to having her place worked on. She doesn’t like strangers (which I tend to be, depending on the day), and doesn’t even like company with non-strangers – I have my work cut out for me. I started in the room furthest back in the apartment – a room that Gracie rarely, if ever, steps foot in. There are lots of curated “shrines” about the house. Relics of the past – cool antiques that Gracie’s husband had collected, beautiful shoes and clothing, strange little figurines, photos with drawings and writings artfully collaged into ancient frames, and some straight up junk.
I carefully covered arrangements with sheets of plastic, threw drop cloths over the rest, staged a couple of ladders with planks of wood as scaffolding, and laid out my tools, bags of plaster and buckets. I worked the day scraping paint, securing the old ceiling with plaster buttons and skimming over it all. I left the room as is, blocked the door (Gracie doesn’t ever use the room), and went home.
The next day, I opened the door to my work space and found it completely cleaned out! It took me the rest of the day to find out where Gracie had stowed everything. I’m still missing a drill and a hammer. Gracie lifted things that took me and a helper to set up. She had no recollection of strenuous activity, aside from removing a bag of trash. Gracie retired early that day for a nap.
I had to be pretty stealth from that point on and setup and break down completely each day. I began to learn Gracie’s thresholds. I think we’re friends now. At least she yells at me same as she does at her brother.