Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irene in the House

This morning we awoke to a mess of leaves all over the street, a freakishly clean car, and a nearly empty freezer, but other than that there was little sign of Hurricane Irene's overnight "wrath" in our neighborhood.  But we were not-so-secretly worried about how the storm treated the Bungalow, so we took a detour up to Forest Glen on the way to my sister's place in Virginia.  Little more than a half-mile from the house, we saw a tree that had formerly lined Illinois Avenue laying nicely on top of a surprisingly unsquooshed Cadillac.  Small limbs were abundant on the ground, but it wasn't until we got to Sixteenth Street Heights that the traffic signals were blinking.  Once we crossed the border into Maryland at Eastern Avenue the power to the signals went out altogether; not a good sign, we thought!  To make it worse, on the last split before the Seminary, at Brookville and Linden, a DOT traffic sign blinked "detour to Forest Glen."  Uh oh.  But from there on, no sign of Irene at all.  Driving through the tunnel on DeWitt, I crossed my fingers, but emerging from it we saw the fountain working, the trees standing, and the Bungalow, er, Bungalowing.  Roof looked wetter than normal.  Abby says the extreme left (as seen from the front) corner of the porch roof looked like something happened to it, as did the middle of the right side, but I think both of those things were already like that.  (You decide: there are before and after pics to compare below.) Not to mention, both are set to be replaced completely, so who cares?  Sigh of relief...

Bungalow pre-Irene
Bungalow, post-Irene.  Supposed new lean at far left,
and supposed deeper rut at center right of porch roof.
I went inside while Abby walked around the neighborhood with the kids.  Downstairs, where everything is rightfully musty normally, there was no sign of new wetness.  Upstairs, where there are BROKEN WINDOWS, no sign of wetness on the floors.  That's right: hurricane... broken windows... dry floor.  It had only stopped raining about an hour before, so it's not like things had time to dry.  Weird.  The only interior "issue" seemed to be the far corner of the upstairs bathroom, where there was wetness on the floor.  But that was due to a bad seal on the vent leading up through the roof, so all in all, the house made it through Irene like a champ.  Hooray!

Wetness next to the toilet.
Who can't aim?  Irene!

We met another new neighbor on the way out: Peter, a pediatrician who commutes to work via Ride On (the Montgomery County bus system), and his 18-month-old daughter Anna.  He recommended I get on one or more of the area's many resident Yahoo listservs.  We'll see... it might be a great way to find out the skinny on what people really think about the place... or it might just be a good way to be annoyed by people who themselves are annoyed.  Other than that, we're still waiting for the MHT decision.  Believe me, you'll all hear about it as soon as we do!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Earth Moves (and other things do too)

We haven't been out to the Bungalow since Tuesday's earthquake, but I'm guessing if the house completely collapsed we would've been contacted by now!  Funny thing is, after we got ourselves outside and onto the front sidewalk, the first thing I thought of was not "how is my son faring after this earthquake, seeing as today is his first day at school?"  No, rather, it was "I sure hope the Maryland Historical Trust Board Meeting didn't have to be canceled!"  On Wednesday morning I shot off a polite-as-can-be-yet-completely-ants-in-the-pantsy email to Amy at MHT, asking how Tuesday went.  Her response makes me tentatively hopeful:

We were actually in the middle of the Easement Committee meeting when the quake hit.  We did review your Application and the Committee will have recommendations/comments shortly.  I wanted to let you know that a site visit was requested by Easement Committee members so that they could see the house and be better informed when reviewing future Applications.  Renee and I will contact you (or Rory?) shortly to arraign a site visit for early September.

A shot of Leo (or is it Theo?) in our
Great Room, by Michael G. Stewart
The part I, as a hopeful applicant, picked out of that statement was the "recommendations/comments" part.  And the fact she didn't say "the Committee laughed in the face of your application, and your house fell down because of the earthquake."  I'm hoping you all see the same potential conditional acceptance reflected in this reply I did.

Besides the movement represented by MHT's partial answer, we also got a partial batch of pics back from Laurie and Michael, the two photographers who were in the Bungalow on Saturday.  (And I have to correct something I said earlier: Michael is not Laurie's assistant; he is a photographer in his own right, and found it amusing I referred to him as such.  Sorry, Michael!)  Anyhow, Michael sent me a few really cool pics he took of the place.  My favorite is of Theo (or is it Leo?) in front of our fireplace.  Check it out.

A shot looking up at the ceiling in the Dining Room
section of the Great Room, by Michael G. Stewart

Finally, there's some more possible movement on the neighborhood home-sales front.  According to local real-estate websites, the Swiss Chalet has been put under contract.  For those of you who may not know, the Swiss Chalet, which is located on the edge of the Seminary property right next to the Chinese Pagoda, is the house that initially drew us here.  We toured that house-- absolutely gorgeous, but in even more desperate need of help than the Bungalow-- first, then looked at the Pagoda next door.  It was only after that, when I was hooked on the former, and Abby was hooked on the latter, that Marc, the realtor showing the places to us, suggested we walk through the tunnel and see the Bungalow.  So, for better or worse, we owe our being here in the first place to the Swiss Chalet.  Danke schรถn!
The Swiss Chalet: the younger, more expensive, and
in-worse-shape "Alpine" version of the Bungalow

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Taking pictures, crossing fingers

Interesting weekend with the Bungalow, in that it involved others availing themselves of the house without needing me around.  Yesterday, while Abby played the model parent helping Isaac's new school do last-minute set-up stuff (I think it's called "barn raising?"), I took the kids to the Bungalow so a local photographer could do a shoot inside.  I had seen her stuff while doing online searches of the place, and had commented about liking some of it on her blog.  She wrote back and asked if she could shoot inside, and I didn't see the harm, so yesterday happened.  She showed up with an assistant and they took about two hours to shoot, while the kids and I rode bikes outside until we were sweating too much, then headed inside to the community room, ostensibly to play foosball and pool.  But it was Saturday morning, and some kids that lived in the apartments were watching cartoons, so invariably my kids sat leaning against the foosball and pool tables, transfixed with the images on the tv screen.  (Pokemon: what a ridiculous cartoon...)  Once the kids left, I switched it to something more palatable for me, and enjoyed the air conditioning.  In a week or so, I'll be able to see some of the shots she did, and hopefully they'll be linkable so I can put them up here, but in the meantime you can see the photographer's stuff at her blog, Laurie's Lane.  Her assistant also has an interesting website, and says he's shot album covers for local bands on the grounds of the Seminary, which would definitely be cool to see.

Today we went to Six Flags, but my friend Dave, who works for State Farm Insurance,  told me he wanted to see the place.  So I gave him the combination to the lockbox and hoped he wouldn't find some terrible reason we shouldn't have bought the place-- a reason the home inspector and the general contractors missed.  I trust him because he's been an interested bystander (and frequent contributor) to our current house in its various states, and because of his professional background.  He came over afterwards and had interesting and constructive things to say, but nothing like the crazy awful things we were fearing, so yay!  (And no, Dave's not the holding-punches kind of guy...)  He did mention it was funny we had two lockboxes on our door, yet some of the window panes were knocked out and, if you really wanted to, you could just reach in and unlock the door from the inside.  (It's like I teach in Botswana: it's the appearance of security that matters!)

We're still crossing our fingers for Tuesday's board meeting, after which I've convinced myself the Maryland Historical Trust is going to call me personally to gush over our wonderful plans.  That, or there are 1000 things we left off the forms, and we have to redo it all and spend another 45 days waiting until the next meeting.  (I already know we forgot to talk about removing the paneling from the basement, and talking to Dave has me second-guessing our room placement again...  Argh!)  But no matter: it'll be another 36 hours until the board meets, and it could be up to two weeks before we hear their results.  I asked Abby to bake some cookies and show up at the meeting, but she says she doesn't think showing up with baked goods as well as two screaming kids would help our cause.  I say bake a second batch and stuff the kids to stop the screaming, but she says I'm crazy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Applications Submitted, Waiting Game

After a flurry of activity this weekend in the hours after we put the kids to bed-- filling out forms and such... get your minds out of the gutter!-- we finally finished the two applications for Maryland Historical Trust last night.  Abby did a TON of work, labeling things, going back and forth matching up numbers from one form to another, taking and choosing the right pictures for submission.  Then today she drove out to Crownsville, which is a suburb of Annapolis, about 45 minutes from here, to drop the stuff of in person.  Now we wait.

We already received confirmation that the packets (two of them-- one for the permission to do stuff, and the other for the tax credits) have been stamped as "received" by MHT, meaning we satisfied today's deadline to be considered in next Tuesday's Board Meeting.  We had one little oops: we forgot to pay the fee.  No worries... I ran to the post office in the late afternoon, bought a postal money order (because I don't keep a checkbook at work) and sent it in the mail.  Hopefully they'll get it tomorrow.  (Only ten bucks, although the application to receive the tax credit at the end actually costs 3% of the tax credit itself.  Don't understand why they don't just lower the tax credit by 3%... there's your convoluted taxation system for you!)

So now we wait.  Renee from taxation and Amy from easements, both of whom I met with and showed around the Bungalow a few months ago, are going to pore over our applications and let us know if we are missing anything or need to modify/clarify anything.  Then, next Tuesday the Historical Board meets, and hopefully they like our application enough that we get passed.  I don't know if this is an all-or-nothing proposition; if we have one thing they don't like, will they send it all back?  I seriously hope not, or that'd mean we'd have to go through this whole process again and wait again just to start doing simple stuff like demolition.  Fingers are crossed!  In the meantime, we're going to have to busy ourselves with other things (like finishing fixing up our current basement to get back out on the market) and ignore that we are nervous about the whole thing.  We really had no direction as to what to include or exclude, how much or little detail to put into explanations, and whether our pictures were good.  The directions were crazy specific, as in we needed not only to take multiple pictures but we had to submit them with certain specific labeling as well as with a DVD with all of the pictures loaded onto it.  (We spent an hour and a half at Target in Falls Church yesterday making sure it all worked out... I've already come up with a couple things that they could dislike about it... crap!)  But at this point there's no turning back.  Believe me, you'll hear when we hear how this thing turns out.



Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ganzo Has a New (Second) Home

Our new parking sign, with our house and future
barbecue area in the background.
We visited the Bungalow for the first time in a few weeks today, to take some pictures to put into our application for the Historical folks, and saw the first small bit of progress on the property.  We've got a new parking sign!  So hopefully now when we get to the house, people won't be parking in our spaces (under threat of being towed, no less) and we won't have to ignore aforesaid threat and park in the Windmill's spaces.  (Shhh: don't tell them our little secret!)

We also managed to keep the kids happy while we were there, which is a new feat for us.  It seems we always turn into the family no one wants to be around when we get to the Bungalow.  We're trying to pay attention to something/ someone, such as our contractors, and the kids all of a sudden become the neediest creatures on the face of the earth.  We have even gone so far as to consider the idea of getting a used portable DVD player solely for the purpose of shutting them up... er... entertaining them in situations at the house.  (Although I am still firmly in the anti-portable-DVD-while-driving camp.)  However, today we just needed to take pictures.  So Abby played photographer and I took the kids into the common area and we played with their pool table and foosball table.  (I'd say "we played pool and foosball," but anyone who knows even the slightest thing about either one of those games would likely not recognize either game from what went on around those tables.)  Took some pictures in the common area to show you all what we have access to.

Abby & the kids playing with the foosball and pool tables.
The Bungalow is located directly outside those windows.

The common area, with original fireplace and flat-panel tv.

One of several fitness rooms, just off the common area.

Two final notes for the day.  First, I met a new neighbor, Malcolm, who lives in one of the apartments directly across from us.  Seems like a nice guy, and didn't seem alarmed at all when my kids stormed into the common area, even though he was using his computer there.  Props to Malcolm!  Funny thing is when I introduced myself as the owner of the Bungalow, he said he knew.  Guess word travels fast in these parts! Second, it looks like the Windmill next door is undergoing its lead-abatement process.  There are warning signs on all the doors, and a bunch of stuff on the interior is wrapped tight in plastic.  I love that there's such progress going on there, and hope we can get some of that progress to come our way in the next month or so.  For Malcolm and our other neighbors, of course.  Purely an altruistic hope...

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Good Deadline

Abby & I are great with deadlines.  Give us a month, and we'll get it done in the last week.  Give us three days, and we'll get the same thing done in two, and maybe better too.  That said, we've got our next big deadline: Tuesday.  Spoke with Renee at the Maryland Historical Trust today, and she says if we want to have our proposed changes in for this cycle, we have to have everything turned in by Tuesday (8/16) so they can consider it at the next board meeting, which is 8/23.  Granted, we've got Lola's birthday this weekend, and were hoping to go to Six Flags to celebrate, but we can do this!

An historic picture of our Great Room, without the dividing wall
We've already got the plans, but what we have to get done over the next 72 hours is as follows: for every big change we want to make (and they are numerous...) it is recommended that we have pictures and narratives to back up the proposal.  Pictures, as in of current layout, proposed layout, and even any historical references (such as a picture of the great room as it once was, sans wall, to show that it'd be historically accurate for us to tear down the big divider).  This is gonna be a challenge, and will probably require a personal delivery of the packet to the MHT HQ in Crownsville (near Annapolis) on Tuesday, but I know we can do it.  We are, after all, (generally) pretty good with deadlines.

The best part is that if (when!) we get the packet in by Tuesday, we will likely hear back with a decision by around Labor Day.  And if (when!) that decision is positive, that means DEMOLITION can start.  Needless to say, if you try to contact us this weekend, and we cut you short on a phone conversation, you'll know why.  Wish us luck!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


So I finally have some plans to share with you all.  These are the latest and greatest, and are part of the set we'll compile and send to the MHT folks over in Crownsville for their approval.  There are a few kinks to work out, such as the absence of a dividing wall in the downstairs bathroom (separating the sink area from the shower and toilet, so the two kids can get ready for school at the same time... idea courtesy of Abby's experiences growing up with (as?) a bathroom hog on the same school schedule), but nothing major.  We've got five sets of plans-- current layout, proposed layout, electrical, HVAC, and plumbing-- but I'm just posting the proposed layout so you can have an idea of where we're hoping to head.  Progress!

Upstairs Floorplan

Downstairs Floorplan

Friday, August 5, 2011

Movement Behind the Scenes

So nothing's been doing, on the house or on the blog.  The absence of blog movement can be explained in that I was in Russia for work, and was hesitant to sign into anything from which I felt the Russians might grab password information; not being in Russia anymore, here I am, updating.  The absence of house movement is just a further testament to the patience we're all going to have to show during this whole process.  Believe me, there is movement; just behind the scenes!  Of course, we have been shown the drawings, and have signed off on the initial where-walls-go stuff.  While I was away, Rory put all of the HVAC and electrical stuff into the drawings, and says we should have the complete set by this weekend.  My hope is that, after we sign off on those, there will be a submission to the Historical Trust and the bureaucratic process can finally get moving.  We won't have picked tile colors or appliance brands by that point, but we will have been given the go-ahead to start demo work, which will feel SO nice!

The problem lies in that, having a federally-secured loan, we have to have a monthly home inspection.  We didn't have one in July, since, well, nothing was changed to inspect.  We are fast approaching our August inspection date, and our lender is requesting an inspection in no uncertain terms.  I'll leave it to Rory and Mark to explain to them what's going on-- I don't understand how they (the bank) wouldn't be familiar with this whole historical-homes-progress-slowly process-- but hey, that's why we pay Rory and Mark the big bucks, right?  So we don't have to deal with stuff. :)

So all in all, there's movement, but just nothing appreciable.  I'm looking forward to getting back to see the house very soon, and this time with a new set of eyes: my friend Dave, who's a State Farm Insurance guy, really wants to see the place.  He was very enthusiastic about stopping by while he's in Frederick for the month (or more), and was actually a great resource to have while we were rehabbing our current place.  I guess I'll just be holding my breath for him not to compare the Bungalow to the hurricane- and tornado-ravaged places he's used to evaluating.  Fingers crossed!