Now Open! This is What it’s All About!

helena outside now open resized
This is what it is all about.

We are thrilled that our new office in Helena is now open. After months of dreaming, sweating, inventing, painting, cleaning, and coming up with some crazy ideas, the historic Nunnally House in Old Town Helena has been rescued back to its rightful personality. The Ribbon Cutting, Grand Opening, Open Houses, and first few meetings are in the books, and we have been blown away with the warm reception from the local community, and the encouragement from colleagues and friends all over Birmingham. But the reception that has meant the most to us came from the most important source: the Nunnally family, themselves.

The night before the Ribbon Cutting, we were honored to host several descendants of Grace and Luther Nunnally, who came to gather, remember, and to see the renovations we’ve done on a house that was their family home for generations. As they were appreciating every detail, from the preserved barn wood, to the upcycled dresser, to the beams and the planks and the bricks, it dawned on us: this is why we are in this business. We do this to help match families with homes they can fill up with memories, just like the Nunnally family did here, for many decades.

When you come visit us at the Nunnally House, you will see a great deal of our heart on the walls; almost everything has a special story or meaning to us. Below are some of the before and after photos along with a explanations. This home was Greg’s idea, from the color scheme to the architectural details; he had a vision to start with the bones of the house, preserving everything possible and adding features with character and personality. He didn’t let the grime or termite rot cloud his excitement, he just plowed ahead! But Greg didn’t do this along; enormous thanks are due to many people: Bill Carroll, our great contractor; Tammy Taylor, our very own “JoJo Gaines”; Ron Bardo and Michael Hebert; Bill Garner, who turned nail-ridden planks into treasures; our son, Matt, for his sweat equity; and above all our families for giving us encouragement and the type of help that really counts.

Come see us! And don’t forget– when you need a Realtor to help you with buying or selling your home anywhere in the Birmingham metropolitan area, we are the team you want to call! We have figured out what the fuss is all about, and it’s worth it.

Before and After

“>Seeing the photos is rewarding; the home was crumbling and sad; it had suffered from being abandoned and under appreciated. Nothing a little TLC couldn’t fix!

helena office before and after side by side

Besides the improvements on the outside, we worked room by room to restore the home into a functional space for an office, but one that didn’t hide from its heritage as a family home.  One of the things we love most about the house is the big front porch, a throwback to the porches our grandparents enjoyed.  Already we have discovered that the porch beckons for many reasons; conversation with a neighbor, a breather from stress, a great place to take a phone call, a place to have a burger, even a place to hold a business meeting.  When we started, the porch was structurally sound, but mainly just very nasty; it also had large, faded puzzle pieces painted on the floor.  We painted the porch floor with Sherwin William’s Super Deck in gray, pressure washed the bricks and sidewalk with the help of Splash!, and Greg had our amazing contractor, Bill Carroll, add a few architecture touches, such as creating larger columns and adding corbels.

helena house after bathroom

We discovered along the way that everything you do when preserving an old house involves time and patience!  For example, the front door.  Who would think it would take so many day just to gain a proper door?

door before and after

What a pleasure it was to brighten up the inside.  Painting the paneling a light color, (Sherwin Williams Accessible Beige), gave a great palette to use dark gray for the beams and trim.

helena main room side by side before and after

With the more neutral palette, the decorator touches that have special meaning for us are able to stand out, such as the sliding barn door created from wood we rescued from a kitchen wall in the house, repurposed old windows from the house being use as frames for photos and specially chosen pieces that double as art and homages to our heritage. We named the conference room “Biggy’s Room” after Grace Nunnally’s pet name from her grandchildren, and within that room we tried to remember all the great things about Helena.

helena conference room before and after side by side

The one room Greg decided to “gut” was the bathroom.  Somehow, the ability to see daylight straight through from the kitchen, through the bathroom, and into the conference room didn’t bode well for this preservation minded team; so with all rules of engagement called off, Greg came up with a great design, and did the work himself! The bathroom counter was repurposed from the old floor joists we pulled out from under the house; we thought the room would be a great place to display the original photographs of the home’s aftermath in the 1933 tornado. After all, the bathroom is the safe spot in the Nunnally House, according to James Spann’s guidelines.

helena bathroom before and after side by side

What fun it was to transform the kitchen!  We tried to take it from a dark, dingy old mess into a cheery reminder of our grandmothers’ kitchens, yellow and white and waiting for a good meal to be cooked.  Thankfully, we are in no short supply of amazing restaurants nearby, but the kitchen is now a nicely restored break room.

helena kitchen before and after side by side

When you get a chance, come on by and say hello.  We would love to know what you think!

This Old House, Our New Office: One Wall

We are having a great time renovating the little brown house on 2nd Street in Old Town Helena… once again, we are hoping the Nunnally House will shine as an honor to its past and a wink to its future. As our banner says, we are making progress!

Our contractor, Miracle Bill, has continued to deliver; we now have a few working windows and a nice little counter at the entrance; the exterior of the house is patched and painted; Greg has tackled sheetrocking and trimming out the bathroom, and we have all painted inside until our arms were falling off. But this week, my forward progress has basically stopped because I’ve gotten bogged down on ONE WALL. And this week’s blog update will be short because I have spent all my time on that ONE WALL— an accent wall of very old planks that was buried beneath many layers of decades old paint.

office wall before and after stripping

The irony isn’t lost on me; working hard to put paint on most walls while working even harder to take paint off another!

But there is just something about that old barn wood; those old planks that are rough, old, and hand-cut. Underneath the five layers of old paint, there was character, and I wanted to find it. A little paint stripper, a lot of elbow grease, a layer of wax varnish and a coffee colored glaze, and more time than I will admit to, and here are the before and afters. Was it worth it? We would love to hear what you think.  (greg@arcarahomes.com or donna@arcarahomes.com).

office wall after

Products used: Sher-Wood glaze by Sherwin Williams, hand sander with #40 abrasive disk, Polyvine wax finish, and a good face mask, gloves, and eye cover. (Use the paint stripper in a very well ventilated area, and clean excess stripper with paint thinner, taking care not to allow these products to touch your skin.)

This Old House, Our New Office: Termites and Beyond

termite blog feature

What’s going on with that little brown house on 2nd Street in Old Town Helena? You know, the one that sat on the market for 1500 days, a little saggy, a lot crumbly, and almost forgotten… it has now been properly adopted and will soon be the home of our Real Estate office, Arcara Residential. We are having a wonderful adventure renovating it!

Here is a general update (our third blog entry) for those following our progress; but, first, a mystery we would love to have anyone from Helena help us solve.

The History Mystery

One quick conversation with Helena historian Ken Penhale offered the first clue to finding the history of the little brown house; it was called “the Nunnally House” and had been owned for decades by Luther Nunnally, including when the tornado struck in 1933. As a genealogist, I went to ancestry.com to see whether Luther Nunnally was being chased by any descendants, and I hit the jackpot when I was able to contact his wonderful granddaughter, Dawn. Since making that connection, for us the house has come alive; we think of it as Grace and Luther’s house, and as we renovate, we are trying to be very respectful of the fact that our new office used to be a family home. In fact, the home as it stands today was built by the Nunnally family; whatever structure was there before the 1933 tornado had to be rebuilt using the salvaged old lumber from the original home, partially standing but roofless, and thankfully the Nunnallys boasted talented carpenters in their family. This is the Nunnally House.

fireplace and chimneyBut, still; we know there is more to the story of this old house and we are obsessed with going back further.  When we cut away a large area of paneling above the fireplace, we were struck by how very old the chimney looks to be; it evokes a history that surely predates the 20th century. With the house being on the National Registry of Historic Places, I am making it my mission to find out its deep history. And I need help; I have spent hours pouring over the old deed books and tax records in the dusty rooms at the Shelby County Courthouse and the Tax Assessor’s offices; I found some cool things! But I haven’t so far found anything that would tell us who first built the pre-tornado house or when. If you know of any Helena historians who like a good challenge, please refer them to my Nunnally House research and pass along my email address: donna@arcarahomes.com.  I want to know the rest of the story.

Renovation Update: Varmints

screwdriver in rotten beamTermites! Spiders! Wasps and hornets! Ants galore! Who wants to visit a business with those as the inhabitants?  Those little critters have wreaked havoc on the Nunnally House and they must be made to pay. The obvious worst enemy has been the termites; they are no longer active underneath the house, but their march of destruction was ridiculous. We knew we had trouble ahead the instant my brother was able to easily jab a screwdriver through one of the main support beams; bottom line is that everything had to come out.

all floors out

Thankfully we have a wonderful, talented (and patient) contractor helping us; (his name is Bill Carroll, Central Alabama Homecrafters, 205-312-8317). Bill and his crew were able to install new floor joists and a solid subfloor, so now we can safely claim that our clients won’t fall into the crawl space. Several cans of wasp spray, some heavy stomping, and we are making progress.

spider

If you suffer from Arachnaphobia, as I do, you will not enjoy seeing our largest inhabitant, Charlene, who had made her ancient nest on our ceiling and was planning Helena’s scariest Halloween Party. (Rest in Peace, Charlene).
Now, in the words of Tangeena, from Poltergeist: “This house is clean.”

The colorssherwin williams color palette

The ugly little brown termite-infested house will soon be no more. In fact, as we have test-painted a small section in our new colors, by contrast the original color looks almost pink! Being in the historic district, we had to stay within the approved palette of earth tones; we would love to know what you think about the exterior colors we will be using:
• Main color: (Sherwin Williams) Colonial Revival Green Stone
• Trim color: (Sherwin Williams) Alabaster
• Door color: (Sherwin Williams) Aurora Brown
• Porch Floor color: (Sherwin Williams) Urbane Bronze

The Wood

barn door

You may have heard screeches of mourning from the house; those would be from our loud realization that the original hardwood floors absolutely could NOT BE SAVED. Yes, a few splintered pieces will be repurposed; but for the most part, we have had to accept this fact and move on. The loss of the original floors hurt our feelings, but we are thrilled that most walls are the original planks, full of weathered stories.

As for those very old floor joists: a good bit of the wonderful heart of pine wood could be reclaimed and we have great plans to build a conference room table and a vanity top for the bathroom from them. Our miracle worker, Bill Carroll, has already built a beautiful barn door for our conference room from the wood. Take that, termites!

 

Looking Old

As much as we want everything to be reclaimed and authentic, we will also have to occasionally turn to new resources to blend in with the “old look” in keeping with the home. We decided to paint the 1960’s wood paneling in the big room (wrong decade). We are tweaking the baseboards and crown moulding, adding new where needed, so it will all be matching, simple 1”x6” trim throughout the entire house. And through the talents of Miracle Bill, we are adding several old-looking decorative beams to the ceilings. Before and after photos coming soon!

Here is a tip I learned for making new wood look old; from here, you could distress it, splatter it, paint it, and generally throw stuff at it to give it character.  To age new wood:  First, paint the wood with a very strong brew of tea and coffee, and let dry.  Second, go over that with a layer of the special brew described as follows: a big chunk of a steel wool pad, steeped in vinegar for at least 24 hours.  Within just a few minutes, you will be amazed at how much the new wood becomes old in appearance!

wood aging

To Be Continued…

There is much to be done and not many “after” photos to show yet, but we will get there soon. Having the delightful neighbors we have met, the wonderful food to enjoy right up the street, the sights of Buck Creek, and the nostalgic sounds of the trains coming down the track make this project a joy to take on. We love Helena!

 

This Old House, Our New Office: Chapter 1.

It was just meant to be.

Nunnally house in august 2015For years, the sweet, neglected little bungalow style house beckoned to Greg Arcara every time he drove through Old Town Helena. Not on Main Street, but right down there on 2nd Street, sitting quietly under the shade of an overgrown tree; the For Sale sign perched in the yard for 1500 days. To a career Realtor like Greg Arcara, that fact alone screamed “damaged goods”; and none of the words coming back from his inquiry surprised him: Foreclosure. Termites. Busted pipes. Questionable support beams. Needs a lot of work. Greg heard those pragmatic words, but they couldn’t cancel out a hunch that whispered into his other ear: This house has a story.

Greg knew that one day he wanted an inviting, comfortable place for our (purposefully) small Real Estate company, Arcara Residential. He wanted a place with a friendly front porch and a lot of character, where people can feel at ease and where he can enjoy becoming a part of a close knit town, specifically Helena. He wanted a place where his agents would look forward to coming to meet with clients or catch up on paperwork. So… he has now officially bought this fixer-upper. The home is not much to look at yet, but we expect to thoroughly enjoy renovating and rescuing it. Think, This Old House meets Our New Office. We want to document the adventure as we go, passing along anything interesting we encounter, including project successes and epic fails. Maybe there will even be some ideas that fellow renovators will enjoy reading about. Please feel free to follow us on our journey!

The History of The Nunnally House

Knowing that this home is part of Old Town Helena’s designation in the National Register of Historical Places, we feel strongly that we need to learn as much as possible about the history of the house; we want to be good custodians of what was once a beloved home for a few generations. We are off to a great start, with the first discovery that the home once had a name: The Nunnally House. To our delight, Nunnally family members have been absolutely wonderful to us and willing to help us learn more about their family home. We are working on tracing back further to learn more about when it was built—we’re thinking 1880’s timeframe—and who built the original home, even before Luther and Grace McClendon Nunnally lived out their lives in the house. Helena residents will know that the house was originally located up the road a piece, close to the current Post Office, and was moved to its current spot a few years ago. We will share our discoveries as these walls begin to talk. Being located within an easy walk of Ken Penhale’s Helena Museum may prove to be perfect. I can say for sure that being within an easy walk of the wonderful Coal Yard restaurant has its appeal, as well; we are already “regulars”.

It Was Meant To Be

One important chapter will already be familiar to anyone who has a passing interest in Helena’s history: the tornado. On May 5, 1933, a catastrophic tornado destroyed much of Helena, resulting in many lives lost and a town forever changed. One of the heavily damaged structures was the original Nunnally home.

Here is where the story gets personal.

My grandmother’s (Ollie Smith Garner) family home in Adamsville, Jefferson County, was completely demolished by a pre-dawn tornado when she was a teenager; several family members were injured, her baby brother Fred was picked up by the tornado and dumped into a field far away, (alive but injured), and she got caught in the wind’s fury with her arms wrapped around a big oak tree, struggling against the roaring winds to make it to the storm shelter. The horrifying event marked her for life. Fear of storms became one of the overriding elements that influenced the way my grandmother lived her life, every day; she could barely have a long conversation without the topic coming up, many decades after the storm, until the day she passed away at almost a hundred years old. The last coherent conversation I had with her before her death in 2011 was about her tornado experience, which I had just written a story about (A Pretty Red Dress).

It was the same tornado.

Yes, amazingly, we have now verified that the same tornado that destroyed Shelby County’s Helena went on to unleash its terror on Jefferson County’s Adamsville. That 1933 tornado got both the Nunnally home and the Smith home, more than thirty miles apart. Something about that shared experience makes me feel very connected to the Nunnally House; many of the boards we will be working hard to reclaim and repurpose will have survived that May 1933 terror, “Mama Ollie’s” tornado. The Smiths survived; the Nunnallys survived; the story continues.

It sure feels that this was simply meant to be.

Current Pictures

Here is our starting point; crops growing in the gutter, wasp nests lurking under the swing, shadows of painted images peering from the porch floor… and all that is before even opening the front door. A lot of fun and elbow grease awaits. We would love to hear what you think as we go along!

Sweet Home Strange Alabama

greg strange bikeLocation, location, location; the classic real estate mantra. Well, chances are if you are reading this, the answer you would give for one of the location blanks on a form is “Alabama”. Maybe you have lived here your entire life. Maybe you are new to the Yellowhammer State. Either way, there is a good chance you have uncovered an indisputable fact: Alabama is strange.

Don’t get me wrong; I mean the title as the highest compliment in some ways. The first definition of strange is unusual, extraordinary, curious. That doesn’t sound so bad. Much better than cookie cutter, standard, and boring. In fact, there is a delightful blog and facebook page devoted to the wonderful strangeness of Alabama, named very cleverly, Strange Alabama. In recent months, the author, Beverly Crider, has offered entertaining examples of our strangeness. For example, her most recent blog has delved into the roadside wonders our state has to offer, such as the Giant Rooster of Brundidge, monuments to hogs, bird dogs, and boll weevils, and the ancient sign near Prattville that reads “Go to Church, or the Devil will Get You”.

Thinking about those roadside oddities, we must have a fascination with rear ends; I have overheard an actual argument about which had the best butt, Vulcan‘s moon over Homewood, or the very cheeky Big Peach water tower near Clanton. I personally think Vulcan wins; after all, there is a song dedicated to his famous derriere. Thank heavens the past petitions to clothe his posterior were stopped by admirers and he stands today in all his glory.

And then there are the crazy place names. Slapout, Whodathoughtit, Remlap (Palmer spelled backwards), Lick Skillet, Boar Tush, Frog Eye, Hell’s Half Acre (maybe that’s where the devil sign should be), Possum Trot, Chigger Hill, and in keeping with the backend theme, Buttsville.

And yes, as claimed in the movie Sweet Home Alabama, there is a sweet cemetery dedicated to Coon Dogs, the only one like it in the world.

Alabama is blessed with a hodgepodge of amazing musical styles and talents.  I give you three namesake artists and dare you to find three more different: Alabama, Blind Boys of Alabama, and the sensational Alabama Shakes. Artists paying musical homage to our state spans The Doors, Jim Croce, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, Otis Redding,  Lynyrd Skynyrd, and many more. And of course Muscle Shoals was at one time the Hit Recording Capital of the World.

If you are in Alabama for long, chances are you will eventually break one of our more bizarre laws, which include my favorites:

  • It is illegal to wear a fake moustache that causes laughter in church.
  • You may not have an ice cream cone in your back pocket at any time.
  • It is illegal to sell peanuts in Lee County after sundown on Wednesday.
  • In Anniston, you may not wear blue jeans down Noble Street.
  • Boogers may not be flicked into the wind.

Never fear. If you do have legal issues in Alabama, our top politicians sport names that should inspire confidence. Our state treasurer is Young Boozer, in charge of the PSC is a lady named Twinkle, and the Alabama Attorney General’s name is: Luther Strange.

Alabama is known for our strange obsession with college sports, specifically college football. It’s not just everywhere that the spring practice game is standing room only in our huge campus stadiums. The Auburn/Alabama rivalry is documented ad nauseam; but what is not as well known is how, in times of trouble, each group of fans is very likely to rush to the aid of the other.

Living in Alabama for fifty years, I have learned to not be surprised at the wacky and weird; an adventure is always right around the corner. I never knew until recently that I live within fifteen miles of Hitler’s typewriter; and even stranger, until just a few years ago it was placed a few feet away from a real, live… no, make that just a real, authentic… mummy named Hazel. If I’d known it I would have visited her.

The internet and the local meat-and-three diners provide a wealth of information about crazy festivals, fabulous foods, and eccentric characters in Alabama. Whether the state is your home sweet home or just a sweet spot to visit, you will not be disappointed if you get off the beaten path and find your own strange favorites.

For Kids: Street Name Bugs!

IMG_6480For kids, one of the fun things about moving to a new home is getting an entirely new address; although it can be a little stressful, too. Here is an easy, creative way to help your child learn and celebrate your new street name: create Street Name Bugs! Or Street Name Aliens, or Street Name Robots, or Street Name Critters… you get the picture.

    All you will need is:

  • computer paper
  • a Sharpie
  • something to decorate with; can be dollar store watercolor paint, crayons,
    markers, or any combination of them.

Young children will need help with the first part, but when the name is turned into a “bug”, they can take it away! At that point, you will be reminded that there is nothing like a child’s creative eye.

You and your child are going to write the street name on a folded piece of paper; this needs a little adult help the first time. Cursive makes beautiful name creatures, but it’s a dying art that sometimes the kids are no longer taught. Printing makes cool name aliens and robots. Either is fun!

Step One:

IMG_6456

Fold a piece of paper lengthwise, keeping the folded part in toward your body. I tell kids to turn it so you can quack  like a duck.

It’s a great idea to have a piece of scratch paper underneath your folded paper.

 

Step Two:

Choose whether to write the name in cursive, or to print it neatly.  You are going to do this part with a Sharpie,  so it’s a great idea to keep an eye on the kids– Sharpie will not wash out.

For the example, I wanted to find an unusual name that kids might find difficult to remember and spell,  so I chose a name from a neighborhood called Glen Iris at Ballantrae, where Signature Homes is building gorgeous new homes.  One of the main streets in Glen Iris is: Kilkerran Drive.  yes, K-I-L-K-E-R-R-A-N. Kilkerran fits in perfectly with the Scottish influence of the neighborhood architecture; it’s even the name of a famous castle. But it isn’t the easiest name for kids to remember.

Whether you print or write cursive, the most important thing to do it to bring the letters all the way down to the fold of the paper, especially on the first and last letter.  Parents, one reason you may be needed the first time is because spacing can be tricky until you get the hang of it; you can do a dry run with pencil if you want to.

Here is Kilkerran both ways (ignore the strange looking “a” in the cursive version):

IMG_6474                                        IMG_6461

Note how close we write the letter to the fold:

IMG_6458

Step Three

This is the trickiest step; after this it is all easy.  Flip over the folded paper and hold it up to a window; with that little bit of light shining through, you can see the image of the word.  Using the Sharpie, trace over the entire name. It will look strange!

IMG_6454

Step Four

Now the fun begins!  Open up the paper and see what you have!  Look for its personality.  Is it a monster? An alien? A strange insect? Turn it 180 degrees if you don’t see something and look at it from that perspective.  If something doesn’t jump right out at your child, help them look for what might be eyeballs– once you settle on the eyeballs, the rest comes easy sometimes.  Kids are usually way better at this than adults.

IMG_6475  IMG_6460

IMG_6463

Once you get the eyes placed, features start to become evident.  Add hands, antennae, hair, ears, nostrils, a mouth, shoes… just whatever your little creature needs to bring it alive.

Encourage your child to let his/her imagination run wild!

 

 

Step Five:

You will be amazed at how much the color will bring the personalities out of these little creations. Crayons or markers work great; or if your child loves to paint, nothing beats a strip of dollar store watercolors (but use water sparingly– encourage the kids to use a pretty dry brush on this thin paper). If you don’t know what something is on your creature, just start coloring the different sections and the ideas will start flowing. You can always add more details, too.
IMG_6476IMG_6466

Put on the finishing touches and enjoy your Street Name Bugs!  Can you recognize the name? If you want to fold the finished bug and look at it again, you can still recognize the root word in it, but when you open it up the magic happens.
IMG_6478

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Feel free to pass this link along, and if you create a Street Name Bug, please email it to me at donna@arcarahomes.com.  I would love to create a gallery of wonderful bugs, aliens, robots, monsters, and other creatures.   It’s also fun to create bugs out of other names; some of my favorites have been from positive words to celebrate, such as JOY, HOPE, SMILE. And of course, celebrating your own name gives you a signature critter; you can scan it in, reduce it down, and use it as an avatar or strange signature.

Have fun and let me know what you think!

IMG_6477 IMG_6469

 

Pipes, Pets, and Plants. Surviving Deep Cold in the Deep South.

from airplane overlooking chicago
Traveling back from Pasadena by way of Chicago during Polar Vortex 2014, I often found myself smirking with the knowledge that once we made it home to Hoover, we would enjoy superior weather and would be tooling around in flip flops in no time. We were still hovering self-righteously over the Illinois tundra in a Southwest airplane at the exact moment our water heater pipe burst in our attic, so there was no one at our Alabama home to hear the pop! sound it must have made. There was no one to witness the maniacal spewing of gallons and gallons of water, but one well accepted scientific principle was proven: water always flows downhill.

So now I sit here having sheepishly just tracked sheetrock dust all over my flooded house, writing big checks to cover water remediation bills and waiting for the painters to arrive, and I wonder. What might we have done to prevent all this? Maybe once those hearty northerners stop laughing at us for cancelling school because it was too cold they might help us out with some advice.

If you go by our local news coverage, besides the main danger of keeping all our people healthy and warm during these bitter cold snaps, there seem to be three secondary concerns: pipes, pets, and plants. There are wonderful general guidelines floating around to help people with cold weather preparedness, especially offering the important advice to check on neighbors who may be elderly or disabled. But for the purposes of this blog, I am hoping you will find useful a few specific things I’ve been learning about the three P’s that follow “people” on the list.

Pipes
burst pipe

The first humbling question from our great plumber was, “Did you not have that copper pipe in an insulated sleeve?” Well, I had been worried about all the family members staying in warm sleeves, including the weenie dog, but it never occurred to me that our most vulnerable pipes might appreciate sleeves, too. At a whopping $1.86 at Home Depot, I think it would have been the way to go.

It turns out that when you build a home in Alabama, as opposed to Minnesota, a lot of priority isn’t given toward avoiding placement of water pipes into unheated areas of your home. Especially if your home is built on a slab in Alabama, there is a very large chance that you have pipes in the attic. When a decade goes by with no problems, you may forget to love your pipes.

The Weather Channel estimates that the danger of water pipes freezing in homes usually starts occurring when the outside temperature is about twenty degrees. The next time James Spann tells you it may go below twenty degrees, here are some precautions recommended by the Institute for Business and Home Safety:

  • Seal all openings where cold air can get at unprotected water pipes. It’s especially important to keep cold wind away from pipes, which speeds up the freezing process.
  • Leave cabinet doors open under the kitchen and bathroom sinks to allow warmer room air to circulate around pipes.
  • Let faucets drip slowly to keep water flowing through pipes that are vulnerable to freezing. Ice might still form in the pipes, but an open faucet allows water to escape before the pressure builds to where a pipe can burst. If the dripping stops, it may mean that ice is blocking the pipe; keep the faucet open, since the pipe still needs pressure relief.
  • Pipes in attics and crawl spaces should be protected with insulation or heat. Pipe insulation is available in fiberglass or foam sleeves. Home centers and hardware stores have sleeves providing 1/8 to 5/8 inches of insulation; specialty dealers have products that provide up to 2 inches of insulation. The extra thickness is worth the price and can save a pipe that would freeze with less insulation.
  • Heating cables and tapes are effective in freeze protection. Select a heating cable with the UL label and a built-in thermostat that turns the heat on when needed (without a thermostat, the cable has to be plugged in each time and might be forgotten). Follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely.
  • Exterior pipes should be drained or enclosed in 2″ fiberglass insulation sleeves.
  • Pipes leading to the exterior should be shut off and drained at the start of the winter. If these exterior faucets do not have a shut-off valve inside the house, have one installed by a plumber.

It’s a great idea for every member of the household to know where the main water cutoff valve is for your home.

If nothing else, the science behind the bursting pipes is fascinating. But I would prefer a jaw-dropping controlled experiment to living through the real thing. Any day.

Pets
luigi laundry
The author of this blog struggles to maintain a reasonable perspective of caring for pets during the deep cold. From my own weenie dog, Luigi, the recommendations would be heated blankets, little doggie sweaters, special treats and complete domination of the entire household. We often sacrifice a load of clean laundry from the dryer just so Luigi can nest in happy warmth.

Turning to more reasonable sources for recommendations, it seems there is not an exact temperature at which it becomes dangerous outside for pets, although several good sources have said for puppies, kittens, and old or sick dogs it may be as high as forty degrees. For healthy adult animals the threshold varies widely by breed. However, it is completely false to think that dogs and cats have the innate ability to survive extreme cold. Especially when temperatures go into the low twenties, bringing your pets inside is the obvious answer. Birmingham-Jefferson County Animal Control has a snuggly solution for pet owners, in three easy steps: 1. Bring them indoors. 2. Keep them there. 3. Snuggle frequently. However, if that isn’t an option for you, below are a few guidelines for caring for your own pet during cold weather:

  • Provide Extra Food – Animals that spend time outdoors in the winter require extra food to give them the necessary energy to stay warm.
  • Give Liquid Water – Ensure their water remains unfrozen by frequently replacing the water or using a heated bowl. Avoid metal bowls that tongues can stick and freeze to.
  • Have a Proper Dog House – Straw bedding is better than blankets, which soak up moisture that then turns to ice. The house should be turned away from the wind, or have an L-shaped entrance to reduce wind chill.
  • Help Cats, too – Cats also need shelter outside – a plastic storage bin turned upside down with a small opening cut in the side and bedding inside can work.
  • Watch Closely When Your Pet Is Outdoors – Pets that are not acclimated to the cold may not be able to tolerate it even for short periods of time. Watch your pets to ensure they aren’t showing signs of discomfort or distress while outdoors.
  • Be Aware of Garage Dangers – Make sure that all chemicals are properly stored and spills are cleaned up. Be especially careful with antifreeze, which has a sweet taste that attracts dogs, cats and wildlife but can be fatal in even small amounts.
  • Practice Caution Before Starting Your Car – Cats and small wildlife in search of warmth may curl up inside a car engine. Before you turn your engine on, honk the horn or knock on the hood to scare them away.

Some sites recommend those animal booties, but if you decide to use those on your pets we ask that you video their reactions and share for our entertainment.

What if you see pets outside suffering in the cold? According to the Greater Birmingham Humane Society, the best course of action is to call local law enforcement agencies because these animals are at risk of hypothermia, frostbite and death. Another option is to contact the GBHS cruelty prevention program at cruelty@gbhs.org.

Plants
frozen plant

Homeowners in central Alabama love their plants; thankfully there are enough Southern Gardeners around that there is an abundance of experts who can help you with any specific plants questions. Especially if you like to push our hardiness zone to the extremes and plant lots of sub-tropical plants and half-hearty perennials, you may already be looking at a disappointing spring because of the extreme lows we already experienced. Here are a few general guidelines from Julie Day at Today’s Homeowner for protecting your plants from the cold:

  • Bring Indoors: Frost-tender plants in containers should be brought inside during cold weather. Dig up tender bulbs and store them in a cool dry place.
  • Water Plants: Water plants thoroughly before a freeze to prevent desiccation and to add insulating water to the soil and plant cells.
  • Protect Tender Sprouts: Cover tender plants overnight with an inverted bucket or flower pot, or with a layer of mulch. Be sure to uncover them in the morning when the temperature rises above freezing.
  • Cover Shrubs and Trees: Larger plants can be covered with fabric, old bed sheets, burlap, or commercial frost cloths (avoid using plastic). For best results, drape the cover over a frame to keep it from touching the foliage. Fabric covers help to trap heat from the soil, so make sure your cover drapes to the ground. Uncover them in the morning when the temperature rises above freezing.
  • Assess Losses: Hardy perennials, trees, and shrubs may recover from a late spring freeze, even if visibly damaged. Their blooms and fruit may be lost for the year, but once they begin actively growing you’ll be able to determine and remove any permanent damage to stems and branches. Frost-tender plants will not recover at all, so avoid planting them until you’re confident that freezing weather has passed.
  • Practice Prevention: Choose plants that are hardy for your climate zone, or plant tender plants in containers that can be brought indoors. Avoid applying fertilizer until after the last frost, to prevent a flush of tender growth that can be damaged by the cold.

Our friends at the National Weather Service have warned that we may have more extreme temperatures coming this winter, so please take care of your people, pets, pipes, and plants.

And don’t forget that purchasing a new home will give you a warm feeling, higher tech pipes, new plants, and happy pets. Call Arcara Residential for all your real estate needs!

Surviving the Auburn/Alabama Madness

roll tide dress miss alabamaWell, it happened. After fifty years of living on the front lines of the Auburn/Alabama rivalry, I saw something today that surprised even me. There she was. Miss America wannabe, our beautiful Miss Alabama, previewing an official ensemble of Roll Tide meets Hancock Fabrics with a dramatic flair of Scarlett O’Hara thrown in. First I was speechless; then my thoughts soon turned to the unsuspecting people who have decided to move to our state, unprepared for the extreme phenomenon that is Alabama and Auburn. If this is all new to you, bless your heart, I’m gonna try to help you out here.

Decades before ESPN made a revealing documentary about the Auburn/Alabama rivalry, Roll Tide War Eagle, residents of the state were immersed in a great cultural divide of orange and blue versus crimson and white, going all the way back to 1893. Even before I learned to ride a bike, I could tell you that Alabama ran the Wishbone offense formation and Auburn ran the Veer. The names Bear Bryant and Shug Jordan were spoken with hushed tones, and my first encounter with product placement occurred during their weekly TV shows. Golden Flake and Coke, there they were; the Bear himself taking a big ole swig of Co’Cola, kicking off his awe-inspiring monologue occasionally punctuated with a sudden exclamation of “Bingo”! That meant the right man had made his tackle stick.

Without a lifetime of developing coping mechanisms for surviving football season in Alabama, how does one make it?  Well, it is pretty obvious that the least effective strategy for living in the world of Alabama/Auburn is to ignore it. Mainly because it’s impossible. There is houndstooth everywhere, at all times; it’s the state pattern. Some days there is toilet paper thrown across big things: everything from trees to army tanks. Not only is there a wealth of logo’ed merchandise, but there is also an entire industry of stuff stamped with the compromising, all telling “House Divided”. And then there was that house that was actually divided. Peace.

First, I recommend picking a side. If you are living in the state of Alabama, it’s almost imperative to go for one or the other; flip a coin if you must.  It’s just easier to answer the inevitable question you will get in the check-out line at Walmart: Auburn or Alabama?  I contend that it’s way too time consuming to explain that no, you really don’t live for college football, or no, you really don’t see the difference, or no, you feel silly chanting, “Bodda Getta Bodda Getta Bodda Getta Bah” or “Rammer Jammer Yellowhammer“. The lowest hanging fruit here is to just pick a side and hang on for dear life.  Note: if you are already a rabid college football fan of another school, you get a shrug.  If it’s an SEC school, you get a pass.  The only mistrusted decision is No thanks, none of the above.

Second, it might be a good idea to conjure up an excuse to have at-the-ready if you don’t really want to hear every detail of the 1972 Punt Bama Punt game, or how Alabama has won a gazillion national championships. “Oh, my! I’m due at the chiropractor, RIGHT NOW” might work. Better yet might be, “Oh, my! I am due to pick up the babyback ribs I ordered for our tailgating!” In that case, you might be met with a “Run, Forrest! RUN!” response.

Third, I offer this really important advice: don’t assume that you know which side one’s bread is buttered on, football wise. We, the residents of Alabama, are all mixed up; and there are divided families everywhere. Just because Dad is wearing an elephant head doesn’t mean Mom isn’t an Aubie groupie, and vice versa. I am the product of a mixed marriage; and I am in a mixed marriage. (A carefully placed Reverse Rammer Jammer might reveal which team I, the author of this Arcara Residential blog, pull for; but it might not be a good idea since the owner of the actual Arcara Residential company yells for the other. Oops.)

Fourth is a piece of helpful information. There is a great sucking sound on Saturday afternoons in the Fall as people migrate to the two college towns of Tuscaloosa and Auburn, to Jordan Hare and Bryant Denny stadiums, and to theater-sized televisions all over the state to watch the big smashmouthed events. The vacuum that is created leaves prime spots open in the best restaurants, shows, movies, and shopping areas, especially when both teams are playing. Especially during the Iron Bowl. You might even get right in at Hot & Hot Fish Club, or maybe navigate nicely with little traffic up Highway 280, or park right outside the door at… well, anywhere not showing the game. But don’t plan something meaningful like a wedding during the game; you might be stunned when even Grandma fakes an illness to see the Big Game.

Fifth, and most important: don’t sweat it. Don’t take it too seriously. Do Auburn and Alabama fans hate each other? Paul Finebaum says yes from his vantage point, and many people agree; no doubt the rivalry is out of hand, with horror stories of disrespectful and downright despicable acts being committed in the names of both teams.

tornado logoBut here’s what is often missed, and often forgotten: when the chips are really down, the good people of the state of Alabama set aside rivalries and come together. When the 2011 tornadoes devastated Tuscaloosa in the worst tragedy our state has suffered in years, the first and biggest relief organization that was formed and ran to the front lines was a grass roots group formed in the heart of Auburn, called Toomers for Tuscaloosa. Had the tables been turned, the good people of Alabama would have done the same for Auburn folks.

There was a time I would have recommended running for the hills, taking up tennis, and avoiding the football madness like the plague.  No more; something strange happened along the way, and the jokes and ribbing became funny again.  Auburn kinda likes being a Cow College, and Alabama fans don’t all have “summer” teeth (some are missing, some are not).  The enthusiasm is contagious; it’s not just anywhere that can pack in 80-90,000 people to watch a practice game in the spring. Something fun is going on here; might as well cash in on the joy.

If all this is too much for your kids to take in, never fear. Among the stacks and stacks of books about Auburn and Alabama football and the surrounding culture, a few books have emerged aimed at helping the kids while they are young. In particular, I have on my reading list When Mommy loves Bama and Daddy Loves Auburn. Whoever wrote that psychological handbook is a genius.

January 6, 2014 marks the end of the 2013 college football season. Between now and then you have plenty of time to perfect your chosen battle cry; a cry that is also a greeting, a celebration, a mark of comradery. Put your hands up, air in the lungs, and haul off with a steady yell…War Eagle! Roll Tide!

You might even find yourself meaning it.

A Pretty Red Dress

The world came crashing down on many residents of Oklahoma yesterday, and it brought back so many heartbreaking memories for Alabama residents; memories of April 27, 2011. Our prayers are with everyone affected by yesterday’s tragedy.

As these storms tear apart lives, homes, and communities, they also yield another powerful outcome: these tragedies seem to bring out the best side of human nature, inspiring neighbors to help neighbors, and strangers to help strangers. Immediately after the 2011 Alabama tornadoes, I had a heartfelt conversation with my grandmother; as she reflected on how a tornado had forever changed her life eighty years before, one thing became very clear. People may feel helpless during these tragedies, and gestures may seem small and meaningless in the face of catastrophic problems, but sometimes the smallest of acts can change the course of a life. My grandmother is proof of that, and here is her story as I wrote it for her just a few weeks before her 2011 death.

One spring day in 1933, despite the hard economic times, somewhere there was a nice lady who decided to donate a pretty red dress to the Red Cross . I know this because that red dress changed the course of my grandmother’s life.

My grandmother, Ollie Smith, was a vivacious young lady with lots of brothers and sisters, strict parents, a natural talent for playing the piano, a hard scrabble existence, and a proud stance against taking charity. Church was the cornerstone of her community, and the Smith Family was well known around Jefferson County, Alabama, to showcase amazingly good throw-down gospel singers. Life in Adamsville had a pretty typical and normal rhythm; until the tornado hit.

That tornado must have been a doozy. If you ask my 96-year-old grandmother today, she can’t tell you what day it is but she sure can describe in vivid detail what it felt like to be caught between the house and the storm pit when that tornado came. She talks about the wind picking her up and dropping her back down, and about the roaring sounds, and about the terror. Her baby brother Fred was not too young to remember later that the tornado carried him acres away from the house and dumped him into a field. There were bumps, bruises, and breaks, but all survived. The house and all their belongings were destroyed; a complete and total loss.

Being in Alabama during the Spring of 2011 has brought to life for me what the days after the 1933 tornado must have been like for the Smith family. Despite their almost fanatical stance against receiving charity, they gracefully and gratefully accepted help from the Red Cross and from generous neighbors; boxes of necessities and clothes came in and a new house went up.

In one of those boxes was a pretty red dress.

Ollie and her sister Mabel scrapped over ownership of that dress, and for some long forgotten reason, Ollie won. When she ventured out to a singing in Republic, I wonder if that red dress gave her some extra swagger up there in front of the congregation. I wonder, too, if the church family felt close, and prayerful, and thankful like we all feel now. I wonder if the reason my grandfather, Calvin Garner, decided to visit that church with his buddies that day was because of the recent storm and the aftermath.

The rest of the story is not up for debate. When Calvin Garner saw Ollie Smith in that red dress, he knew. He had to meet that girl; he had to brave his friends’ warnings that those Smith gals were shielded from rascals like him by the strictest father in the county. He proved his character, ran the gauntlet, and got the girl. The smiling, singing girl in the pretty red dress.

That tornado was eighty years ago, and yet that simple exchange still lives on. The giving. The receiving. The generosity; the gratitude. A garment handed over; a garment worn.

Proof that a simple act of giving can be much more than it seems. A donated red dress can change the course of a life.
ollie calvin bob

May 2013 Tornado Relief

Zombies!

Image credit: antonbrand / 123RF Stock Photo

What is the deal with zombies lately?

I admit, I have always had a thing for zombies, but I have kept that a secret for decades. In my teens, I didn’t admit to my girlfriends when I’d see movies like Return of the Living Dead (tag line: “The dead are back from the grave and ready to party!”) My sweet grandmother, in her uniquely southern dialect, would say “I am walking around like a zombius today”. You say zombie, I say zombius; both are fun words. Mama Ollie, would two be called zombii? And then, of course, there was Thriller.

Lately, I have noticed a national obsession with all things zombie. Except for a scarily named term about foreclosures that haven’t really gone away, called Zombie Foreclosures, I’ve never connected the dots between zombies and a real estate blog. That was true until yesterday, when I ran across a wonderfully fun zombie piece in the biggest real estate blog of all, realtor.com, Eight Zombie-Proof Homes for Living in the Land of The Walking Dead.

The zombie craze has not escaped central Alabama. Zombie fans are anxiously awaiting the date announcement of this year’s Zombie Chase 5K, a fundraiser where the runners are chased through the woods by zombies, all for a good cause. That’s about the only thing that might get me sprinting through the woods these days. In a unique fundraiser, Birmingham’s oldest and most historic cemetery holds Oak Hill Zombie Walk, complete with contests for best make-up, best screams, and best zombie shamble. You don’t have to exercise to enjoy zombies; a zombie movie, Warm Bodies, is at the top of the box office list, and close to the top of the TV list is Walking Dead.

(Author grimaces, holds breath, and types out the words MUST. NOT. MENTION. POLITICS. Sighs.)

Just what is a zombie? The first definition from World English Dictionary is “a person who is or appears to be lifeless, apathetic, or totally lacking in independent judgment; automaton.”

Don’t we all know some of them? And don’t we all feel that way some days? If you are looking for help in finding or selling a home, you won’t get very far with lifeless and apathetic. Maybe we’ll adopt a new tagline, “Arcara Residential: The unzombiest realtors in town”. Or about the market: “Back from the grave and ready to party!”

In honor of this crazy blog entry, we have added to the site a game called Zombie Realtor; you will find it under the “Kids” tab.

In closing, we are passing along a useful chart for anyone wanting to Zombie-proof your home. Arm yourself with Max Brooks’ valuable Zombie Survival Guide and hunker down until summer, when that awful-looking Brad Pitt zombie movie comes out.

Zombie Image credit: antonbrand / 123RF Stock Photo

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