In 2000, Jill and I took over a large, Baltimore Victorian town house that was a trashed fraternity. A few years later, after lead poisoning and other mishaps, we married in the house. In 2008 our rehabbing efforts were featured in THIS OLD HOUSE magazine. We're still working on it at http://houselove.org.
My girlfriend Jill and I first saw the big brick Victorian row house in December 1999. It was in an old Baltimore neighborhood and had sat abandoned for nearly a year. It was such a wreck that most prospective buyers walked in, took one look, then promptly walked out. The place had been owned by a notorious fraternity for one riotous decade. We didn’t know this at the time. You couldn’t tell from the outside how bad the inside was. Three stories tall, made of pumpkin-colored brick, with three bays on every floor and a witch’s-cap tower at its foremost corner, the house was the jewel of the block—or had been. It seemed the kind of place that might have grand rooms, secret passageways, ghosts. more here:
I had been having trouble with my GPS for some time but lately it had gotten really bad. Sad to say, I was in the habit of talking to it. This was the I-phone-4 Siri version. Mine was two years old. This version was a woman’s voice. Honestly, she never sounded quite centered. Sometimes, when she did something stupid, like trying to send me to Australia, I yelled at her. And then, just recently in response to a brief bought of my cursing, Siri said, “Ron, watch your language!” This was funny but also it was odd because she had never responded before. It worried me. Shortly after that, Siri sent me into a dead end. She did this on two occasions in one week. I feared she had gone rogue.
At the second dead end, I called the place I was seeking... read more at Houselove Posted 2 weeks 5 days ago.
I had heard about the mansions of Newport, R.I., for years — decades, actually — and I had always wanted to visit them because I’m crazy for old houses and these houses are spectacular. But Rhode Island is just a bit off the beaten path. Boston is the center of gravity up in these parts. So I never had occasion to visit Rhode Island, the only state in the lower 48 I had never seen. As it turned out, during my “From Animal House to Our House” book tour of New England, I had a couple of free days, so I contacted the Preservation Society of Newport County and they welcomed me for a visit and a private tour of their way-cool houses.
Rhode Island is isn’t called the “ocean state” for nothing. If you like bridges and coves and lovely marinas, this state is for you... read more at Houselove Posted 4 weeks 5 days ago.
1) The light in New England is very different than the light we get 400 miles south. New England light is low in the sky. It feels like afternoon all day long. And it makes things look gorgeous because it seems to deepen the color.
2) Everything is close together in New England. From Hartford to Boston to Providence to Portsmouth to Portland, you can drive through all of these destinations — five states — in a single day. That means you’re close to lots of cool stuff just about anywhere you go.
3) Most everything here is made of wood. Way back then, wood was abundant and easy to work with. To make their wooden houses look fancier, and more costly, builders 200 years ago fashioned the outside of the finer homes to look as though they were made of stone... read more at Houselove Posted 6 weeks 41 min ago.
Click here to see the video version of this essay:
Swimming Walden Pond
On the New England leg of my From Animal House to Our House book tour, I was driving south on I-495 in Massachusetts Sunday when I passed the sign for Walden Pond. I’d always wanted to visit the little spot of nature that Henry Thoreau made famous, so I took the exit to Concord. I had heard that Walden was ruined now, a tourist trap. So, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that the place was crowded on a Sunday afternoon, the parking lot packed with visitors from many nations and plenty of Americans like me, too.
You can’t drive to the pond; you have to walk; and pets aren’t allowed. I was amazed to find that the pond is beautiful, and not a pond at all but a lake ensconced in its natural setting... read more at Houselove Posted 7 weeks 1 day ago.
For the last three weeks, Jill and I have been cleaning house in preparation for our super big yard sale. I know, I know, I said that the last yard sale would be our last. But, well, never say never. Actually, we really weren’t planning on doing this but, as with so much that happens in this house, it began with something small. The small thing was a sink I replaced with a better, older — marble — sink. But the decommissioned sink was good enough to sell, so Jill said we should take an inventory of other stuff we might have. As it turned out, we have a lot of stuff. So much stuff that we’ve been selling the higher end collectibles on eBay.
If you sell a lot of stuff on eBay — say, 30 items at a time — it becomes a full time job... read more at Houselove Posted 9 weeks 19 hours ago.
Baltimore’s last video rental store, Video American, is about to close. I don’t want it to go away, but at the same time I haven’t helped keep it in business. When I checked into the store last month, to rent a film I couldn’t find anywhere else, the manager looked me up in the system, then said — without judgment — “Oh, you haven’t been here in three years.” Yes, I felt a pang of guilt. I really wanted Video Americain to be in business forever but it
Video Americain has been a film-lover’s resource for 30 years. If you couldn’t find a certain film anywhere in Baltimore, they’d have it. Always. You will recall — if you’re over 30 — that video rental stores used to be everywhere. Even grocery stores rented videos. But selection was always limited... read more at Houselove Posted 13 weeks 1 day ago.
I used to have a nice belly button. An innie. On occasion, Jill would inspect it and marvel at the lint my belly button collected. Belly button lint is no mystery, by the way. It’s a product of friction as your stomach abrades your shirt. Gravity does the rest, taking the liberated lint downstream, where some of it falls into the welcoming pit of your navel. If you have a hairy belly, as I do, you get more lint rather than less.
Some years ago (four, to be exact) I noticed that my inny had morphed into an outie. It didn’t look nearly as nice as its former self. But I assumed that this was a natural course of events. Maybe everybody’s navel changed over time. When my outy kept growing, however, I realized that something was wrong. My doctor confirmed that I had an umbilical hernia... read more at Houselove Posted 14 weeks 6 days ago.
Yesterday, as Jill watched me bring in the garbage cans from the street — I was wearing a t-shirt and my boxer shorts — she said, “You have officially joined the world of old men.” She was referring to the fact that I didn’t care who saw me walking around in my boxers. She was right.
By “old,” I mean over 50 — because when you pass that mark, a lot of things change. One of the biggest changes for me was that I stopped caring so much what young people thought of me. As a teacher, I’m very familiar with youngsters. I enjoy their company, but they have only one thing I envy: their pretty youth. Otherwise, they have nothing I want. Which means that they can laugh at me if they please and I won’t take offense... read more at Houselove Posted 16 weeks 6 days ago.
Currently, I am living in a house that offers only 55 square feet of habitable space: my camper van. You make think such an arrangement would be impossible, but actually it’s quite comfortable and I like it a lot. My friends find this ironic because Jill and I live in a 4500 square foot Victorian. You could argue that I may be able to tolerate, even enjoy, life in a 55 square foot home only because I have the luxury of living most the time in a much larger home. Still, as the tiny house alternative intrigues me, I put to you the same question I put to myself: how big does your house need to be?
In 1983, architect Donald McDonald built three tiny rowhouses in San Francisco... read more at Houselove Posted 18 weeks 5 days ago.
This week, Jill and I woke one morning to discover that we had been hit by a drunk driver. That is, our house had been hit — specifically, the iron fence in front of our house. The mishap is notable because the driver left the scene of the accident.
More notable still is the fact that the driver did not, or could not, stop until he hit our fence. That wasn’t easy to do, since he had to 1) run through a broad intersection, 2) veer right and jump the curb, missing a light pole to one side and parked cars at the curb on the other side, and then 3) skid across 15 feet of sidewalk before making impact with our fence.
He must have been speeding. And he must have been drunk. He took out two sections of fencing and left one headlight behind... read more at Houselove Posted 21 weeks 2 days ago.