Happy New Year!

new years greeting 2016 blog pic

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.)

Inspired by Aunt Nellie

I am not a Realtor; but I live with one. And after twenty three years of being married to Greg Arcara, I just now figured him out, unpredictably, through genealogy.

Greg paying respects blogThe thing about a good, talented career Realtor is that there is no faking it; I’ve known for decades that Greg truly harbors a great passion for houses, homes, neighborhoods, communities, but especially for the sweet feeling of victory when a perfect match is made between a client and their new family home. I am witness to his tossing and turning at night when there are issues, and to his absolute delight when the deal works out for everyone. I get to know his clients even though I never meet them. I know that when we drive through a neighborhood being newly constructed, all I see is mess and sawdust; but Greg sees the possibilities. When we walk in a vacant house and I just see blankness, Greg literally sees furniture placement, colors, the specific comforts of the right home for certain clients. And when I am exasperated over Greg missing weekend days, football games, or late nights, I see an absence where he sees a presence.

It’s not just Greg; one of my very best friends, Tammy Taylor, is one of those obsessive, devoted Realtors whose mind is reeling all the time with possibilities of making that perfect home/homeowner match for someone. You know a true professional Realtor when you see one; it is not the people dabbling in it for a quick buck, some giving the rest of the Realtors a bad name; the good ones are fierce about the ethics because they really care about the rest of the story; they aspire to a “happily ever after” ending for all.

I have never known where this comes from, the stuff that makes Real Estate the only viable career path for a few special people; could it be genetic? In doing Greg’s family history research, I have run across three interesting characters that make me believe there is a Realtor gene and that my husband has it.

Randolph Hernandez colorizedFirst, there is Greg’s 2nd great grandfather, Randolph Manuel Hernandez, a true pioneer of the city of Birmingham. Born in 1838 in Pensacola, of Spanish descent, he and his vivacious wife, Emma, moved to Birmingham the very year it first became a city; the store they opened was noted for being the only store remaining open during the great Cholera epidemic of 1873. They took pride in building the prettiest house in the small new city, and they became involved in helping everyone around them make this brand new location, the Magic City, a true home. Randolph Hernandez earned the reputation of being a highly respected real estate man; by the end of his remarkable life in 1900, Randolph must have had great pride having seen his own real estate business grow with the booming city.

Second, there is Greg’s great-grandfather, born Andrea Tripi in the little Sicilian village of Montemaggiore Belsito way back in 1865; he came to Birmingham, Alabama, in 1895 and reinvented himself as Henry Trippi.

trippie building for blogWhile most of the new Sicilian immigrants in Birmingham were doing hard labor in the coal mines, Henry saw a different path; by 1905 he had opened one of those Italian “Mom and Pop” style grocery/drug stores in a building he built, called The Trippie Building, in downtown Birmingham. He figured out that this rapidly growing city was made of families needing homes; by the time of his death in 1934, he had become quite successful in real estate. There must have been tremendous pride and satisfaction in seeing home ownership become a reality for so many people who had been largely born into poverty.

aunt nellie for blogAnd then there is Greg’s Aunt Nellie Arcara. Aunt Nellie was a pioneer in her own right; she was the first female to be recognized by the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area Real Estate Board, in 1938. People like Aunt Nellie paved the way for future generations; when she worked her way up from a secretary and learned the real estate business during the Great Depression, most of the doors were closed to women. In 1931, when the company she was working for went out of business, Nellie jumped on the opportunity and started her own real estate company. She surmounted discrimination by the Real Estate Board and successfully fought for a change in the board’s by-laws to allow female members; she was finally recognized by the Montgomery County Real Estate Board in 1938. She was a remarkable person; she raised her family, ran a business, and spent a huge amount of energy towards philanthropic causes. By all accounts, she absolutely loved helping people with the huge life decision of choosing a home. Aunt Nellie worked until just about the day of her death in 2001; she was in her 90’s. She just could not stop doing what she loved and was very, very good at.

If not for pioneers like Aunsenia for blogt Nellie, we wouldn’t have great organizations like the Birmingham Women’s Council of Realtors, over which Arcara Residential’s Senia Johnson, Realtor, has presided.

 

So now I know: I married into the family and the Real Estate gene is real and continuous; our youngest son has decided that he has the bug, too. Here is a bit of advice from someone who has lived with it: when you are deciding on whether to use a Realtor and then selecting which Realtor to use, look for that gleam in their eyes; the one that sees past the structure and imagines the potential home, wheels spinning about how to make every party happy. That smart and ethical person who knows what they are doing because they obsess over it 24×7. The one that does the homework. That’s the Realtor you want on your team.

And when you walk into our new office in Helena, please tip your hat to Aunt Nellie Arcara, whose image will be smiling down, offering inspiration.

be inspired sign

 

 

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: Upcycling Furniture

dresser after from front

It’s happening!

We have secured the necessary approvals, created a master plan, and hired a wonderfully talented contractor to help us, (we call him Miracle Bill), and the “little brown house” down on 2nd street in Old Town Helena, historically known as the Nunnally House, is well on its way to being rescued and repurposed as our real estate office by the end of the year. If you drive by you may see sawdust flying and hear the ring of hammers; and you may see a couple of grubby looking family members swinging a paint brush. Many before and after photos will be posted soon; we can’t wait!

In the meantime, whoever started this latest craze to repurpose everything from furniture to toilet paper rolls is a genius. With a little imagination, a hammer, and a can of paint, a lot of fun can be had. When our oldest son took our old bedroom suit with him to college this year, we were left with a lonely Cherry wood triple dresser that had a broken drawer and a ruined finish. Revealing how much we have caught Helena Fever, the treasure that we created from that old dresser, to be used as our conference room console, celebrates the town with its new decor.

We love being in an area with such a colorful history; a visit to Ken Penhale’s Helena Museum is highly recommended for anyone wanting to know more. We wanted to pay homage to Helena with the subway-style lettering on the console, and also with the image of the steam engine on the top.
Here are the before and after pics:
dresser before and after composite
For any do-it-yourselfers out there, included below are the details of how we upcycled our old dresser into our new Helena Conference Room Console. Feel free to share!

Step 1. Preparation

I emptied our old triple dresser, vacuumed around the drawers, and quickly cleaned the surfaces with vinegar. Because I didn’t want to be stuck with shopping for the exact size drawer pulls (2 ½” distance between screws), I removed the hardware and filled in those holes with wood putty. I also decided to get rid of the bottom two drawers, one of which was broken anyway. I hammered out the wooden bar separating those bottom drawers, which left a gouged-out area that also had to be filled in with wood putty. After letting the putty set up, I sanded the filled areas smooth and also lightly sanded the entire surface to be painted, with 240 grit sandpaper… just enough to rough it up a little bit. Because the finish on the dresser top was compromised, I decided to seal it so the stain wouldn’t come creeping back through later—for this I used American Décor Stain Blocker Sealer, quickly applying an even coat with a sponge brush across the top of the dresser. The rest of the stained wood looked as if the factory clear seal was still intact, so I didn’t seal anything except the top.

Painting Steps

Painting Steps

Anyone who has chalk painted knows you probably don’t have to prime first—in fact, most of the chalk painting companies sell that as a feature. However, I decided to play it safe and prime the piece anyway, knowing this project would have some work into it and not being willing to risk a problem later. I painted the entire piece with gray Zinsser 1-2-3 Latex Primer for All Surfaces.

While the primer was drying, I created my master plan for which words I wanted to use, all with a local flavor of the town of Helena, Alabama.dresser console word plan

Step 2. Creating Lettering Stencils

I decided to use stencil vinyl, which has great adhesive quality but is easily removable—you can find it in the craft stores, with thdresser stencil materiale personal cutting machines. I used a roll of Silhouette stencil material from Michael’s; their 40% off coupon is a favorite.

I knew I wanted the words to have the general feel of subway lettering, with a combination of fonts; I spent way too much time mulling over font choices for each word! I would hope others are way more decisive I was, but if I had it to do all over the same trap would get me again. My words fell into two categories: those I would have to cut out by hand, and those I had the ability to cut using my old, barely used Cricut machine, for which I don’t own many font cartridges. I ended up with about half and half.

For the hand-cut letters, I printed the words onto paper, and then using a tape runner, I stuck those letters onto the dresser cutting out letterstencil material and cut it out precisely as possible. Believe it or not, cutting out these letters by hand went much quicker than expected; a good Netflix binge watch can make that time fly by. I highly recommend the little scissors by Cutter Bee.

For the Cricut-cut letters, I used Cricut Craft Room to plan dresser cricutthe arrangement that would yield the most letters per page, and just had to push a button to have the letters cut out beautifully. If only I had one of those new Cricuts where you can use any font or your own designs! I would be dangerous.

Step 3. Painting

Back to the furniture, it was time to paint; I used Valspar Chalky Finish Paint from Lowes, which can be tinted to match any color you choose. I selected two Sherwin Williams colors: Urbane Bronze (a grayish neutral) and Dover White. As expected, the chalk paint went on beautifully! I painted the entire body of the dresser with the Urbane Bronze, and the front of the drawers with the Dover White, and left it all to dry.

dresser with solid underpainting
Once completely dry, the next step was to afix the letters onto the drawer fronts; knowing thisdresser drawer with lettering stencils before paint was supposed to be rustic, I just eyeballed the placement of the letters to make the words fit. Here it is important that the letters are sealed down tight; in fact, I went over them with a brayer to make sure they were good and flat.

Once all the letters were down, I painted the drawer fronts, right over the stencil letters, with the Urbane Bronze, being careful not to swipe the paint from side to side, but instead using the brush at more of a right angle in something of a jabbing motion—the main thing is not to let too much paint get up under the letterdresser pulling stencil letter offs. It was ok for me if a little paint leaked in because I was going for “messy” but in most cases this wouldn’t be desirable.

Once the paint dried, the letters pealed off easily—for any of them that seemed hard to get started, I used a straight pin to get a good grip on the vinyl and they all cooperated nicely.

At this point, I had a stark gray and white piece of furniture; two big things were still left to do. First, I wanted to do an image transfer to get a huge steam engine chugging across the top. Second, I really wanted to age the piece to have it fit in with our old house. Then I would be down to finishing touches.

dresser with words uncovered

Step 4. Image Transfer

Transferring an image onto furniture can be a blast. Since our house is a few hundred feet from a railroad track, I knew we wanted an old steam engine picture. Using Photoshop, I created a black and white, high contrast image from an old scan of a small print we had, and resized it to sixty inches long at 300 dpi. To do an image transfer with this technique, you have to have it printed using toner, and not ink jet, technology; the good news is that the local Kinkos/Fedex offices can print using that technology and it is very affordable! Our 18×60” print, which they printed dresser printed out steam engine shown on dresser before gluing downon their toner-based plotter, cost less than $5 and was printed on thin white “plain” paper, which is perfect for the image transfer. Keep in mind that your image will be applied face down, so you will need to reverse it before printing if it has a “right” direction.

I would recommend that you choose something smaller for your first image transfer; but unless you choose something very small, it helps to have someone help you with this part so you can work quickly enough. I had a great assistant named Greg Arcara; we tacked the steam engine print to our garage wall so it would stay flat while applying the glue—the glue goes onto the “front” side of the print.

For this step, we used Liquitex Matte Medium, which has the consistency of glue, and a large, soft natural bristle brush. Working rapidly, we applied a very generous coat of the Matte Medium onto the entire front of the print, and carefully placed it face down onto the top of the dresser before it began to dry. I first smoothed it down with my hand, and thendresser opaque paper glued down, starting from the middle and working toward the outside, flattened it with a brayer to remove all air bubbles and to ensure a good seal. It is vitally important not to get a tear in the paper… a wrinkle is better than a tear. Also, it is important to not get any of the glue on the back side… the side you are pressing on needs to stay dry and fibrous. Once the image is glued down it needs to cure for a long time; knowing how large this image was, I gave it four days to cure fully before moving to the next step.

The next part is where the magic happens.

dresser wetting paper on trainWorking in one small area at a time, I lightly sprayed water onto the paper and let it soak in. Using my fingers, I started rubbing the paper away—the magic is that as the paper is dissolved, it leaves behind the image! This step is long and tedious; using your fingers to rub the paper fibers away is the best technique, but it takes a long time; I worked on this intermittently for several days. Every time I walked away thinking the image was completely uncovered, I would return the next day to see paper pulp had magically reappeared overnight. The good news is that the end result was worth it!

dresser paper partially rubbed off
Once the entire image was finally clean and free of paper pulp, I decided I didn’t like the hard edges of thedresser scratched image edges borders; a little steel wool worked great to distress the edges and blend them better into a nice transition. Finally, the image looked exactly as I had envisioned. I applied several coats of my favorite varnish to protect that image.

Final view from above:
dresser after from above

Aging

The first step to aging the console was quick and easy; using medium sandpaper and steel wool, I sanded the edges down to the primer and in some spots down to the wood, and I also sanded over the letters to get them smooth and blended; I also added a few random scratches, most of them on purpose. I applied one thin coating of my favorite new varnish all over and let it dry.

What is my favorite new varnish? I can’t say enough about how much I love the clear satin wax finish varnish by Polyvine! This varnish has wax in it, and I can say I will NEVER AGAIN fight with clear or dark wax typically used over chalk paint. This stuff is amazing. It dries to a perfect, fine furniture sheen.

dresser before and after glazingTo further age the piece, I applied a coat of my favorite glaze, Sher-Wood Glaze by Sherwin Williams, in the color Van Dyke Brown. Using old white t-shirts, I wiped the glaze off immediately, only letting it collect in the crevices; in spots where it needed to come away more cleanly, I used a little mineral spirits to get more of the glaze pulled back up. This glaze gave the piece the exact finish I was looking for, the before and after to the left.

 

Finishing Touches

dresser shiny binI found a few perfectly sized galvanized metal bins at Michael’s that would work well in the console; the only problem was they were too shiny and new looking. My one big epic fail of this project was the entire day I spent trying to age those bins, using amazing techniques offered up by “Pinterest people”; after a day of using chemicals, heat, powders, and scrubbing, I washed the bins to reveal their new found antique appearance—only to be left with shiny, perfect bins that wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow if returned at Michaels just as they were! Turns out—those techniques don’t work if the metal bins have been factory clear-coated with something protecting them. Five minutes with my Sher-Wood Glaze and those bins looked as old and dirty as I wanted them to. I wish I could have that day back! Live and learn.
dresser aged bin

For the rim around the dresser top, I used AMACO Rub N Buff silver wax, applied with my fingers and rubbed to a sheen. To age it, I wiped it down with a rag that still had some Sher-Wood glaze on it, just enough to tone it down.
The round, clear drawer pulls were repurposed from a friend’s project. Voila!
dresser after from front
I am so excited about how this project turned out! Let me know what you think! Like us on Facebook for more fun projects as we tackle This Old House: Our New Office, Helena style.

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:

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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):

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Note how close we write the letter to the fold:

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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!

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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!

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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.

All information on this website is deemed reliable, but not guaranteed, and may change without notice. Any square footage is approximate.

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