The Front Porch

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Is there anything more welcoming than a front porch?
For years I have lamented the near demise of the front porch. As a kid growing up in a city neighborhood, the front porch was part of everyday life. It was a playground on too hot or too rainy days, a fort, and the place to plan all the events that we could cram into our summer’s days. It was also, and probably most importantly, the place that neighbors visited when strolling by one another’s house.

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Those old cement and wooden porches were the foundations of the neighborhood. We could play with Buster Madison all day long but he became even more popular when his parents came out onto their porch in the evenings after supper. It was then that Mr. Madison would treat every kid to a piece of butterscotch candy. Mr. Madison would tell us that what he was sharing with us urchins was a piece of Callard & Bowser Butterscotch –“the finest in the world”.  He may have been right, we just knew it was a special treat. To this day butterscotch of any type conjures up images of sitting on the Madison’s front porch with our little piece of England. At the other end of the block was Mrs. O’Leary. Her son was a policeman so we always settled down a bit as we passed her house. Ya’ never could tell when being extra nice would come in handy! Anyway, Mrs. O’Leary had some fine honeysuckle bushes in her yard. When she would sit on her front porch, we’d ask if we could pick a few (a few dozen, it always turned out) to get the honey. We could – if we didn’t trample her roses. Not being complete fools, those roses were treated with lots of respect for sure.
And, now, neighborhoods are mostly absent the front porch. We won’t even discuss gated “communities”. Our neighborhood, like so many others, has replaced the front porch with rear decks or sun rooms. Although, many of our neighbors have taken to setting up folding chairs by their front doors and garages to mimic the old porches. It works, kinda’. There’s even a sort of code: one chair, wave as you pass. Two or more chairs, you’d better stop and sit a spell. Our friends, Maria and Tom, usually have at least 4 and can somehow produce several others in the blink of an eye. Like true copy cats, we have assembled our hodge-podge assortment of “front porch” chairs, too. It’s great.
So, imagine my surprise and curiosity when it was announced that Jacksonville was holding this weekend its Second Annual Front PorchFest in the Springfield section of town (PorchFest) . Since The Redhead was up North visiting friends and family and my list of things that needed to be done had dwindled, I figured it was a good chance to explore another area of town and to see some front porches – I hoped.
Sure enough, Springfield is about 25 minutes from here, a hop, skip and jump from the downtown and Riverside areas. Tricky folks over there – hiding in plain sight. Arriving a bit early, 12:00 noon and the music was set for a 1:00 P.M. start time, I had time to walk around. It’s a mixed area, with Main Street being the closest thoroughfare. The neighborhood is filled with large, early 1900 era homes sitting side by side with bungalows and craftsman-style houses.IMG_3283 (799x1024)Some have been converted to professional office spaces but most are home-sweet homes. Mixed in is an ample dose of abandoned and run down houses and buildings. I’m told these are being bought and renovated on a rather steady basis. None the less, home is where the heart is and this place, it turns out, has plenty of heart!
For a bit over three hours the hands of time had turned back. Front porches everywhere! People were walking around on the sidewalks and in the road. Food trucks, set up on the periphery, sold everything from fresh ground beef hot dogs (yep!) to fish sandwiches to organic fruit “hand pies”. The Redhead will be happy to learn I was very sensible and stuck with the fish. I did get the address for the local bakery making those hand pies, just in case.
But, the music was reason most everyone was there. The Methodist Bell Ringers set up on the park green, A Soul Group was singing to heaven and us up on Silver Street. IMG_3296 (1024x768)Blue Grass was around the corner. IMG_3301 (980x1024)A folksy gal was on third and the popular Firewater Tent Revival was just up the block. Note the Drum Kit(note the drum kit)

Too much? No way! All of this was within a short stroll and a few hours. Evening would bring out larger musical groups, some of which I had had the pleasure of hearing at the Riverside Art Mart or my beloved Lillie’s. For me, previous and much looked forward to engagements (plus some unseasonable heat) kept my time at the PorchFest too short. So, I hoped to find that one special group or singer that would be “better than good”.

I was not disappointed. Complicated Animals is a duo now in Jacksonville, but singer, Monica da Silva, originally hails from Brazil. They call their style of music, Indie Nova. Their arrangement of, “Take a Walk on the Wild Side”, was an intriguing blend of Lou Reed meets Suzanne Vega meets Astrud Gilberto, without a hint of pretension. Wonderful stuff. Complicated Animals http://www.complicatedanimals.com/ can be found at several venues right here in the Jacksonville area when they are not touring. This Saturday they sung, just for me I think, from the front porch of a charming old colonial. Complicated Animals (1024x768)
How wonderful front porches are!

Hope to hear from you. Better yet, stop by. The front porch is all set!

Tests and Setbacks

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Home, Sweet Home

So, 8 days after moving into our still-being-renovated home, we are tested. Tested in our resolve to keep going, in our faith in believing that we have done the right thing and tested in patience.

It began with the air-conditioning starting to act a bit quirky. Some days it would run fine; other days it would cause the circuit breakers to trip.  The electricians checked the box and said the breakers were fine. The home-warranty company sent a tech out and he found nothing. Maybe it was all the work being done that caused an electrical overload, he thought. When the breakers for the unit tripped during the day it was inconvenient. At night it was something else.  Waking up sweating and knowing that I’d have to go into the garage to re-set the breakers was beyond inconvenient. Everyone knows, especially those of us born and raised in northern cities, that southern snakes lay in wait for us to walk in slipper-clad feet into a dark garage. Past moving boxes and assorted renovation material I needed to go. So, a plan for dealing with the sure- to- be- lurking prey needed to be devised. Aha, confrontation! So, I’d get up, turn on every light on the way into the garage and start banging on the walls and saying loudly, “come out you dirty bums and I’ll cut your heads of”!!  It worked. Never did those dirty-bum snakes show up. When I’d get back to bed the Redhead would just look up and  say, “Are you crazy”? I suppose she just doesn’t understand the theory of Sun Szu and his The Art of War.  But, it worked.  This was only the beginning of what was to come.

After another week of the air conditioning acting up, it just died. Gone, fried. The condenser was completely shot we were told. Not to worry we thought. Our Home Warranty, purchased when we bought the house, was meant for just such an emergency. A little over a week in our new home and we now have no air-conditioning in 95 degree weather. The indoor temps stayed in the 85- 90 range. Thankfully, we had extended our apartment lease until the end of this month, so a night or two sleeping on our pull-out sofa until the unit was fixed wouldn’t be too bad. Or, so we thought. Wrong. For whatever reasons, the warranty company has kept dragging its feet authorizing the repair/replacement of the unit. Repeated calls just kept us moving through an anonymous labyrinth of “help desks”.

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New air-conditioner!

Having gone without air for over a week, with no help from the warranty company, we bit the bullet, called a local A/C company that was recommended by friends, and had a new unit installed. We knew we would need to get a new one someday, but had hoped to get a year or so of use from the old unit. What’s the old saying about, “best made plans”? The warranty company says that it will give us a “buy-out” for only the wholesale cost of the condenser unit part of the system. At least it something and now we have a very efficient unit cooling our house. Beware of Home Warranty policies when buying a home!

Round two.

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Sun Room framing

Our sun room addition was going along nicely. Ahead of schedule, actually. It will be a nice room with a great place to view the pond. Yesterday, the workmen building the room discovered some wood damage on our chimney area that was undetected during our pre-buying home inspection.

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Impact Enclosures team building sun room

We need to get it fixed before we can continue. We have called our carpenter friend, Wayne, to give us a second opinion and possible fix. We’ll know tomorrow what our real situation is.

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Luis installing baseboards

On the bright side our interior work has just about been completed.

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Cutting the baseboards

The new baseboards are being installed and I’m taking care of some minor electrical work like moving switches.

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Ray from New Millennium Tile
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Tumbled marble and Italian glass tile

The kitchen tile back splash is completely finished and looks beautiful. Pictures have the glass tiles looking green but they are more like sea-glass blue.

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The new kitchen

Tonight, The Redhead made dinner in the new kitchen of our once-again cool house. All  is good. We have faith. And the vision of Sister Swammy that this truly is, “Our House”.

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Living Room, a blend of old and new

8 Days

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Less than three months from when we started the house renovations we will move into our new home and begin our new life.

From first deciding to leave Connecticut and then exploring areas in which to relocate and finally deciding to make Jacksonville our home, it has been an interesting experience. We have met many wonderful people. Some have lived in Jacksonville for all their lives; some have come from other Southern states and a few from “up North”, which can mean anywhere north of North Carolina. We have seen a lot, too.

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Finished! glass tile fireplace front

Our renovations have brought us into contact with people we might otherwise not have had the chance to meet: men that work with tile and wood and concrete; men that start work at 6:00 A.M. and often work until 7, 8 and even 9:00 P.M.; men that work 60-70 hours a week and yet still have to weld bumpers onto their cars to keep them going; men that offer a handshake stronger than any written contract. And we have met a few that know the inside of several jails but who wouldn’t steal a slice of bread if they were hungry. There have been some interesting ladies, too. Some are our new neighbors – wives of Navy officers. They raise their families often in the absence of their husbands. Unlike some of the families of corporate executive we knew in Connecticut who commuted to NYC or elsewhere, these women say goodbye to their husbands when they leave for Iraq or Afghanistan or somewhere not to be disclosed. These are some strong ladies. There are other women that we have met that have made this such a comfortable place for us to live. Some are business owners such as Marni of Duval Tile, some are folks we meet in our day-to-day business , some are friends for the Redhead, some friends for us both. New friends, yet not replacing those we love and long to see from “up North”, wherever that may be.

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David Brobst, tile master, laying start line

So, we are nearly at the end of our renovation work – at least the interior work. The painting is done; the various floors have been replaced with new tile throughout, new doors have been put in and this weekend the new kitchen is being installed. In just over a week we will move in – ready or not! 20150528_2326 (956x1024)The sun room is being started next week. But, we can live in the house while that is going on. Hopefully!

During all of this work we have learned and noticed a few things. First, it has been better to deal directly with the folks that are actually doing the work rather than working through a middleman.

A highly skilled carpenter lays out his tools before starting work
A highly skilled carpenter lays out his tools before starting work
New Cabinets
New Cabinets

The kitchen cabinet project is a good case in point. While it does require the efforts of several trades, communication has sometimes been not as easy as when we have dealt directly with the tradesman doing the work.

Secondly, we have noted that those folks that have communicated primarily by text or email have been the least accessible. I’ve written about this before and it becomes more apparent everyday: nothing can replace direct contact – voice or in person. Sorry, Google, Twitter and Microsoft, etc. – you have your limitations – even if the new internet connections will be through ones pants (http://fusion.net/story/141560/google-and-levis-are-teaming-up-to-make-computerized-pants/ ) Yikes!

Thirdly, shop around. Since we are both frugal (where it counts) and love to poke and pick, this wasn’t too hard for us. It is amazing how very often we found better quality materials for 40-60 % less than that found in “designer” showrooms. Beware, too, we found, of sources often suggested by middlemen such as designers. There are built in markups. If you have the time, as we did, shop around. Don’t be swayed by fancy showrooms and sales reps in la-di-da outfits. The best sources for product knowledge often come from someone that has just buggy-loaded a bunch of tile, paint or hardware.

New floors
New floors

And, lastly, talk to everybody and double check references. You may meet some wonderful folks and might save yourself some grief, too! But, most of all, trust. If it’s right and good, it will happen. So, we may as well not worry.

Front door
Front door

See you soon!