Tuesday, November 25, 2008

That House--our dreams

So I have been thinking, planning, dreaming away about That House... she (I know she is a she) has hold of my heart and my future and it's like the honeymoon stage of a long-distance relationship. Reality in a long-distance relationship might be snoring, toilet paper coming off the roll "the wrong way," favorite foods the other can't stand, friends you don't get along with... any number of things which one doesn't have to face until one IS face-to-face.

I don't honestly know what reality with That House might be. I am besotted despite having watched The Money Pit; the scars from watching the bathtub fall through the floors are not strong enough to scare me away from buying an old house.

Besides, the structural engineer has already told us the floors are sound, lol....

Tonight I am hopeful, more hopeful than I have been. The engineer's report has come in, the termite inspection and basement bid are scheduled, and although we have been flying on blind faith for a while, hoping and praying we could talk the owner into carrying the mortgage himself--which I doubt he really wants to do--tonight it seems like we might have found an agency which thinks like we do.

This has been pretty hard to do, yanno? People at housing agencies find out our income and immediately try to talk us OUT of rehabbing a home, because Gryph qualifies for Habitat for Humanity. We've been steered that way a time or two. The most common reaction I've gotten when I've talked about That House is "WHAT are you doing trying to buy that house?!"

Well, I'll tell you... I'm trying to save a piece of living history. I'm trying to find housing which we can afford. I'm trying to stay in this neighborhood which we love and where we are welcomed. I'm trying to live my deepest values, walk my talk, go green.

You might wonder at that last one; 88 year old houses are not exactly known for being energy efficient. But there's more to going green than mere efficiency. It isn't a matter of saving pennies on the dollar by choosing one insulation over another or by timing your water heater. Going green is about saving the earth.

It doesn't save the earth to bulldoze a home lot out of land which has not been for houses before. It doesn't save the earth to use mondo amounts of new plywood, new vinyl, new insulation, new concrete to build a structure that will outgas formaldehyde and other toxins for several years. It doesn't save the earth to use new construction glues and nails, screws, bolts, washers. It doesn't save the earth to have to put in new streets, pipes and sewers, electric lines, sidewalks, phone lines, cable lines.

Going green is about conservation. It's about using what is already there, rehabbing what can still be saved, valuing what is old and has stood the test of time.

My dream is to live a green life, to love an old house, to recycle, conserve, garden. My dream is roses in the front and a clothesline in the back--the umbrella type, so it doesn't take up too much room and can be brought inside if need be. My dream is asparagus and raspberries at the back fence, so passing neighbors enjoying the treat might decide to grow something also. My dream is drainage made to funnel rainwater into a small pond in the back, thereby saving the basement from shifting again while giving me a chance to grow a small willow tree. My dream is rainbarrels under the downspouts, so that I can water my vegetable garden without being a drain--literally--on the city water supply.

My dream is to take a sadly neglected yard which was once loved and cherished, and turn it into a small piece of paradise, with fruit trees, flowers, herbs, vegetables, berries, a fence so the doglet can run and play *without* a leash for the first time in three years, arbors and trellises, big planters, curving garden beds, a compost pile so that I am not taxing the landfill as much, curbside recycling so I can do my part.

My dream is to take a sadly neglected house which was once loved and cherished, and turn it into a small piece of paradise with shining wood floors, beautifully plastered walls, gleaming woodwork, comfortable furniture, room for us and for us our furbabies, room for our possessions... room for Our Beauty, who herself is 56 years old and will fit into That House as if she were made for it.

We've discovered a Revolutionary War heroine--yes, heroine--named Margaret Cochran Corbin, and we're considering naming That House for her. Margaret seems to fit the spirit of the house, and Corbin means crow... now what could better fit? Margaret Cochran Corbin had a hard life; she was devastatingly wounded during the war; it completely disabled her and she became an alcoholic after. They didn't have rehabilitative therapies back then--or pain meds--and alcohol was probably the only thing that numbed her pain.

That House has been wounded, devastatingly so. I haven't shown you the wall that is so badly bowed out, where the mason shoved it back and forth and made it shake to scare us into hiring him for a complete rebuilding. I haven't shown you the basement--haven;t seen it myself yet, and forgot to give Gryph the camera last time--and I haven't shown you the upstairs, where the last tenant did his most destructive remodeling.

What's different now is that we have rehabilitation for old houses. That House doesn't have to end its days in dissolution, like Margaret Cochran Corbin did. It doesn't have to die young, like she did. There is hope and healing for That House, if only we can find the financing. There is love for That House, if only we can live in her.

Of the other Margarets we found, Maggie Kuhn appeals to me greatly. She founded the Gray Panthers after she was forced to retire at 65, and was quite the social activist for the rest of her life. Margaret Sanger was the mother of modern birth control availability--for me, going green means recognizing that this earth has a serious overpopulation of humans, and needs birth control--and her bravery in the face of overwhelming social disapproval astounds me. There were other Margarets as well... my dream is to somehow commemorate them, maybe with small plaques on the front porch. And the name "Margaret" translates from the original Greek as "mother of pearl" so maybe I could somehow incorporate mother of pearl (or pearls themselves?) into my small memorial.

My dream is live in a house full of character in a neighborhood full of character in a city full of character, a city which values the old, the quirky, the beautiful, the neighborhood, the human connection as much as--or more than!--it values the new, the commonplace, the sterile, the technological.

Mostly my dream is to rescue Margaret, and thereby rescue us.



  1. I hope all your dreams come true with the house! I'll be thinking of you!

  2. Me too - and I love the thought that the house was built in much greener, simpler times.

    Do be careful though, in case the paint is lead-based paint. Many of the old houses here have lead based paint...


  3. {{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{Kris, Ursy}}}}}}}}}}}}}} Thank you both so much!

    Ursy, I am assuming That House does have lead paint. We don't have small children though, and will watch to be sure the furbabies don't get into playing with paint chips. I've read that lead paint is pretty safe as long as it's completely covered with modern paints and nothing is peeling or chipping. You can vacuum windowsills and baseboards regularly to keep the dust down, too.

    If we do find agency financing for That House they may have rules about lead paint, and if so we will have to do whatever they require.

    There's asbestos insulation in the basement, too. *rueful smile* Tis part of loving an old house, I guess.


  4. You are so talented. It was a fun to see what went into making that fig. Thank you. I wish I had such talent -- and patience.

    --Chess Jurist


So... what do you think?