Time to Bless This Flip

I’m tired. I honestly feel like I’m working multiple full-time jobs, so keeping my post up to date has just not been possible. Progress is happening and I will back track and write post to share this experience. I think people can learn from my naïveté. If you can think of an extreme roller coaster and the thrills and chills it provides, that has been my experience thus far on this flip. The looks on the face of the two front seat riders are point on. I hope I’ll be all smiles at the end.

Some of my long time followers will remember that for my house I held an event called Bless This House Gathering, where I held a reception and invited family and friends to write words of encouragement/scripture/positive messages in the walls before I closed them up. I can’t stop progress to throw a party now, but I am inviting everyone who wants to email me any positive message and I will print and place them in the cavities before drywall begins. I’m hopeful I’ll be at that stage in the next 6-8 weeks, sooner if possible.

I am still amazed that people from around the world, 60+ countries, have read my blog. I’m looking forward to receiving international entries, so I hope they will come through. This is my home away from home most weekday evenings and weekends, so if you’re local, have my cell or personal email(s) (that way I know, I know you) and you want to stop by and handwrite your message, send me a text or email and I’ll make that happen.

Thanks in advance and here are a few pics to show the progress being made.

The Whole Porch and Former Outhouse Gotta Go

$1000 is what two contractors wanted to demo what remained of the porch off the front of the house. I felt I had done the hard part already, the front and side rails. I decided to save that money and tear down the ceiling myself. One of the contractors offered advice, go purchase some sheets of plywood, cover the windows, and take a sledge hammer to the two post and let gravity have its way. Such a manly way of handling things. I took two weekday evenings and a more systematic approach. I had a gaping hole on the front of the house that needed sheathing and I knew I’d have another hole on the rear of the house to close up once the bump out on the back was taken off, so I looked at the porch as building material, IF, the rot didn’t go much further. The decking for the roof ceiling was the same material as the house sheathing, old pine 8″ tongue and groove. If I could keep the pieces long enough I could use them to patch.

When I’m working alone on a project that could cause injuries taking photos is low on my priority list, so again my apologies you can’t see the true progression. The guys that bailed out my demo day were able to get all the bead board ceiling boards out. I could have saved some of the boards for a woodworking project, but they were so filled with paint that I pitched all of it in the dumpster. It left me with just true 2×4 rafter studs, the tongue and groove sheathing, and the metal roof. The metal roof was attach to a ledger board that had clear signs of rot across about a third its length. I installed a temporary 2×4 post in the center and selected a spot on the house where I thought I’d hit sound wood.

Using my reciprocating saw I cut through all the layers starting at the house and working my way through the box gutter. I then freed each 2×4 rafter in that area, which freed the sheathing. Any nails that held the metal roof to the sheathing had rusted and weakened rendering them useless. It really didn’t take much effort. With all the wood and weight gone I hit the left post with a sledge hammer and the metal roof folded down. I used a a crow bar to free it from the house. The next evening I returned and followed the same steps on the remaining section. $1,000 saved, no injuries. It was clear to me that from the porch ledger board down I would need to take the house down to the sheathing and I was contemplating doing the entire front. It was starting to feel like a Good Bones TV show house.

Before I could start tearing off the back I needed to close the hole in the foundation that was made, I’m guessing, when the house was plumbed for indoor plumbing. What was once an outhouse became a plumbed toilet. That was a fine idea for the early 1900s, but why someone would think it was fine to keep it and add a shower pan and vanity to make it a 3pc bathroom in 2010 is beyond comprehension. I knew I was going to need new sidewalks and a porch top (with the center post removed all the weight transferred to the outer post causing the porch to crack on each end), so I called a friend who a few years earlier had her driveway and porch done. I am not going to mention the company by name as ultimately I did not use him and I would not recommend him, but he came through in closing up the hole. Actually he even helped me out by hauling away another load of bagged debris.

The window, wood, is the structure that was the toilet, located outside of house.

Criminal is the word I’ll use for the decision to leave what was once an outhouse as one part of a three piece bathroom that sacrificed half of a kitchen. I so wish I had taken pictures, but I was focused on tearing it out in a timely manner as I needed to make sure I had time to close the hole.  I found one that I took to capture original wallpaper, but the wood you see in the background was the toilet room.  The wood structure wasn’t crafted to any modern code and yet newer insulation had been stuffed in the gaps. It was a hot mess that was fortified because the poorly constructed frame had been covered in asphalt siding, a thin layer of foam insulation and then vinyl siding attached by what seemed like 1000s nails. I thought it funny that the owners who installed the asphalt siding wanted a toilet with a view (see glow on left), but the owners who installed the vinyl siding covered, but did not insulate or close the opening on the inside. Can you imagine how cold it must have been using that toilet in the winter. At any rate, it took me the better part of a Saturday to rip the structure off. My footing was precarious as I was working over an open pit that was once a latrine.

I used the true 2x4s I salvaged from the front porch to stud out the opening. I used the porch roof sheathing to close the hole. Two layers of the sheathing brought the opening even with the original wood siding of the house, which was in pristine condition. That would have made a nice feature wall in the toilet room, but not nice enough to keep it. Another layer of sheathing will be needed to make that section even with asphalt siding. The vinyl will be replaced as underneath it are two windows that had been covered. WHY??????? I siding contractor wanted $24,000 to put new siding on the house, which would have included removing the bump out and closing the hole. I got a second bid after all my sweat equity and their quote was $18,000. I’ll claimed that as $6,000 saved, although I am looking for more siding bids.

Demo Days

The pee pot has been resurrected.

The rot on the front porch and wall of 2nd bedroom left no doubt as to my need take the house down to the studs, despite the previous owner passing his plumbing and electrical rough-in by cutting channels in the plaster.  Most of what he installed I’m not using, so my first task after closing was removing the framing and HVAC ducts he had placed on the first floor.  Kitchens and bathrooms sell houses, but not a full 3pc bathroom located off a kitchen you cut in half to accommodate said bathroom.  Tearing all the framing out took the better part of a weekend, but I was able to do it by myself and man what a difference it made to the space.  This is going to be one gorgeous kitchen.

After exposing brick in my house I was curious to find out what was behind the plaster of the living room fireplace. Gorgeous condition and unlike at my house the plaster gave way with ease. I had the entire fireplace freed in about an hour. My guess is this house had a pot belly stove for heat when originally built as the square hole you see held a round pipe that had been filled with concrete. The inside of the fireplace has been bricked shut, so it will not be functioning, at least not with my money. I’ve got plans to close the opening that will leave my mark. I’ll also need to complete the row at the top as the ceiling drywall won’t completely cover the gap.

A neighbor who purchased and restored the house at the corner of Sidney and Stock, referred me to two brothers that he used for demo projects he had. I gave them a shot and they cleared the drywall, insulation, and nails from the 3rd floor in less than 3 hours. Everything was bagged and on the first floor when I returned. Unfortunately their quality of work ended with that project. I gave them two more shots and now have deleted them from my phone.

My cousin Greg and his wife Roneisha

Thankfully my cousin Greg and his wife Roneisha made themselves available. They demoed over half of the second floor by themselves giving me a few hours several weekday mornings. We made three trips to Rumpke with a rental 15′ U-Haul truck. At that point it was time to get a large dumpster. Based on my house I felt a 30-yard would get everything left, but I could only find a 20-yard. I had Greg and the brothers from the 3rd floor project lined up to work on a Saturday and the brothers didn’t show up (that was the final straw). In a panic I called Greg’s brother, Cameron, hoping he either had his schedule free or would be willing to change it and more importantly could round up some of his friends at the last minute. Anyone that followed my house restoration posts knows Cameron. He was highly instrumental in working with me and my father during the first year of that project.

Cameron came through BIG TIME. I wish I had pictures, but these men had every room, but the living room down to the studs and the dumpster filled in 6 hours. I was right about the size dumpster. A 30-yard would have taken it all, but it worked out for the best because as they worked inside, I worked to see how far the rot on the porch went. It went far. I was able to get the front and side railings off and what I uncovered made my flesh crawl; carpenter ants and termites. The ants scurried like roaches in light with each piece of vinyl and asphalt siding I removed. I pulled a section of wood about a foot long that had hundreds of termites. I’ve actually never seen live termites before. Thankfully all of the insect infested material went in the dumpster. If you look to the far right corner of house in this picture what you see next to the window is the plaster and lathe from the living room, not house sheathing. If they had removed that area you could enter the house from that corner.

Now if you’re thinking, oh man she must be so disappointed and upset finding all that rot. That reality sunk in later, but on that day I was ecstatic over finding the original porch post. Once again, channeling one of my favorite DIY show host, @NicoleCurtis, “Why in the world would anyone cover that up!” The post on the left was destroyed with insect and water rot. So much so I had to attach a 2×4 to it to make sure it continued to support the porch roof. The one on the right would have been in pristine condition if not for the section someone cut out of it to create a flat surface to attach the asphalt and subsequent vinyl siding. Inez (remember that’s what I’ve named the house) revealed to me some of the beauty that had once been. I know where brackets on the porch once were. I know half post were once attached to the house. I know three post use to go across the front and that she had picket railings. All these things will be returned, so officially this is no longer a first flip, it’s my second restoration, that I hope I’ll be able to turn a profit on.

Or as Kathleen calls it…your terrace is flipping gorgeous

My friends Joan and Rick offered me their gorgeous teak bistro set, one they had for years. When I asked why they said because the chairs were hard to slide in and out due to the concrete surface of their condo terrace. I suggested sliders. They had tried those, but the concrete eventually wins the battle. I then remembered Cassandra telling me about an Ikea product she was considering for the floor of the greenhouse I helped her build. I found the product on my phone and shared the link with Joan. They decided to go for it, but needed some help from their Sista Girl with Skills friend. I love lying tile, so thought this click system would be a piece of cake and for the most part it was.

It took two full days (6-8 hour days) to do the entire terrace largely due to their desire to run the tile to the edge of their terrace, which curves and forced a need to cut around railing anchors. Rick found a couple of of videos people had posted showing the installation. One was cute, the other unrealistic if you have a bunch of cuts to make. No way would a $2 hack saw get their project done. I brought to the job my jig saw and new to me scroll saw, a friend and woodworker Gene Wiggs gifted me his when he bought a new one. I ended up using the scroll saw for the entire project. They wanted the plain tile to be in a crisscross pattern and discovered it doesn’t work when placing around the ceramic tiles set in even rows. They originally had the ceramic tile starting right at the door, 6×6. I ended up changing it to 5×6 and placed the plain plastic as the first row out the door. Joan ordered enough that they were able to repeat the ceramic at both doors to the terrace even thought that was not the plan.

Overall fun project and it did turn out pretty cool. I did suggest they get new sliders for their teak furniture, which they plan to do.

The Taj Mahal in Comparison

I have wanted to work on another old house ever since I finished my home. I put in offers on a few, but lost them all to higher bids. When 3067 Sidney Avenue, next street over from me, went on the market I jumped. From the sidewalk it look to be in decent shape, I have driven on street many times and never noticed it was vacant as the grass was always cut. The inside was a different story. I would learn the seller had purchased it in 2010, started his flipping work, but then stopped in 2014 and let his permits expire. He was asking $110,000, which was way too high for the visual condition. He had his electrical and plumbing roughed in, but his plan was flawed; seemingly based on maximizing the number of occupants (at closing he told me he wired 3rd to be two bedrooms, so potentially a 5 bedroom house). I offered $60,000, was rejected, but came back at $75,000 with no inspections. I really wanted this house…..I needed this house.

My $10,000 fixer was the Taj Mahal in comparison to true condition of my first flip. They have in common starting with no plumbing, electric, or HVAC, but even with the crumbling foundation at my home the bones were solid. I had a brand new roof. I knew there was a roof leak at Sidney before I purchased, but the extent of the leak didn’t manifest until after the close and I entered the house after a hard rain. The floor of the back bedroom was saturated and that leaked down to the first floor kitchen which leaked down to the basement. The rubber roof had about 15 holes in it. Laughably at closing the seller said I could fix that myself. Although not as severe, the asphalt roof over the third floor showed signs of leakage too. Depending on which roofer contractor you listen to the box gutters were shot too (spoiler alert: the box gutters were shot too). Oh yeah, I had snakes in the basement. The pics make them look bigger than they really were. I just hope I never run into their parents.

I’m a house restorer, not renovator, so the one thing I had decided to do from the first walk through, before purchasing, was to restore all the windows back to their original heights. All of the original wood windows, except for the two in the front, had been removed and the openings reduced in size. There was filler, approx 18″, above every window, but you can see where rosettes and moulding once resided. There were two windows on the back and the only window on the right side of house completely covered. This meant I would need to remove the hideous faded yellow siding (oh darn) from the entire house to make the proper corrections.

I had this naïve notion that under the vinyl siding would be perfectly preserved original wood siding that I’d clean up and then paint as I could see mint condition original siding inside the the toilet room the seller left as part of the full bathroom he was creating on the first floor. After the closing I started pulling the siding from around the front door just out of curiosity. Unfortunately it revealed that under the vinyl was fake brick look asphalt siding and under that the original wood siding not in mint condition. The margins on this project would not allow for the removel of all the asphalt siding, so I would need to re-side the house once the windows were reframed.

I stopped removing the asphalt siding, but continued pulling the vinyl when suddenly the right corner of house crumbled to the ground. I thought the entire porch was going to fall on me. Uncontrolled water has got to be one of the worst enemies of any home. For years the down spout from the roof gutter was left to dump water on the corner of the house and to make matters worst there was a hole in the metal roof of the porch right in that area too. The vinyl siding was the only thing keeping the house in tack. The rot had gone through the asphalt siding, the wood siding, all the way to the corner post of the house. My first project was connecting a corrugated extension to the down spout to channel the water away from the corner.

Believe it or not, as bad as it looked I wasn’t overly concerned because the plaster on the inside at that area was in tact; showing no signs of water damage. Now that was not the case in the upstairs bedroom where the floors were wet from roof leak. That plaster was peeling and flaking so I decided to start removing it. For the life of me I don’t know why the seller cut channels in the plaster to run his electrical and plumbing instead of taking the whole house down to the studs. What I uncovered was wood erosion and mold, so extensive that the first roof joist was floating. I knew then I’d need to go down to the studs in the entire house. It would be my only way of knowing the full extent of years of neglect the house had endured. Now I am starting to feel concerned and I most definitely over paid for the house.

Earlier I said I needed this house. This house needs me too. I can see the finish clearly in my minds eye and she’s going to be beautiful again. What isn’t as clear is if she’s going to yield profitability, but as my sign states….I’ll do it right or not at all.

Penofin, Does a Pergola Good

This is a very delayed post and I almost decided to not write it, but Penofin deserves the plug. I’m a real fan of the product line. Staining the pergola was my first maintenance project for my home. I did this work in May. The natural wood was so pretty when I built it, I thought about leaving it natural, but wood greys as it ages. I decided to stick with the plan and applied Ultra Premium Red Label Penofin in Mission Brown, to match the porch ceiling.

When I did the porch I followed Penofin’s suggested three step process, Cleaner, Brightener, Stain. That was a small, solid, area of almost 100 year old wood that had been covered in layers of paint.  Of course that process was needed. I was hoping that would not be the case with a barely 6 month old pergola, but I called Penofin just to make sure. The agent held firm to their process, so I followed and started by removing the top course of the pergola. I thought it would be easier cleaning them and applying the stain to the entire structure with them removed. I leaned them on the backyard fence and proceeded with the Cleaner. Immediately I could see why the agent stuck to her guns. The beauty of the first two steps is that you can go immediately from Cleaner to Brightener. With the top course complete I moved on and did the same steps on the rest of the pergola after wrapping my columns in plastic and draping plastic on front of house.

That was all I was able to do on the first weekend because the only store that carries the product locally, Doeppes Lumber, did not have Mission Brown in stock. They would have to order it in, so I decided to get it from Amazon where I knew I’d have it delivered to my door in two days. The mistake I made was only ordering one gallon. The project took two, so two-weekends stretched into three. I finished the staining on Saturday and re-installed the top row on Sunday. That was the most tedious aspect of this project. I don’t know if I’ll remove it again when it’s time to reapply.

At my old home I treated (stained) my deck floor every 2 years and the fence every 4 and I used a Porter Paint stain. Penofin states their product performs on horizontal surfaces for 9-24 months and vertical surfaces for 2-5 years which is a big range. Most of my surfaces are vertical, so I’ll monitor the wood and hope to stretch it out as far as possible. Easy, but not fun. I applied the stain with a brush and could not control the drip when working on the pergola. So grateful Penofin is a one-coat process.  I was a smelly, sticky mess, so much so that the t-shirt I wore while staining went straight into the trash.

Sista Girl with Skills Update

I have converted venusdiyworld.com to sistagirlwithskills.com and have created a full website vs. just a blog. Based on the limited feedback, all negative, and me not liking the logo either, I have landed on a new Sista Girl with Skills logo. Thanks to an Etsy vendor, The Carton Amiga, my bakery division has its on adaptation of it.

I’ve added two new navigators to the site: Bakery Division, which includes a drop down for my product offerings, and GC Division. GC stands for General Contractor as it is official, Sista Girl with Skills, LLC is registered as a GC with the City of Cincinnati. This was forced when I learned the City would not allow me to pull a building permit for my first flip house project. That’s right, I have purchased 3067 Sidney Avenue, an 1890 Italianate Victorian house located one block from me in Camp Washington. As with my house I plan to chart the journey of the “restoration” not “renovation” on my blog. 

Hopefully her future owner will appreciate seeing what went into saving this house from further deterioration caused by owner neglect.  The house has been sitting vacant since at least 2014 as that was when the previous owner’s building permits expired; he purchased in 2010.  He started the flip, I’ll finish it and as my sign slogan states: I’ll do it right, or not at all. Her name is Inez in honor of my grandmother whom I’m channeling with all the baking I’m doing.

In regards to baking I’m still servicing six coffee shops and a caterer.  Deeper Roots requested a pumpkin version for the season and I obliged by creating a Zucchini Pumpkin Dates muffin featuring Pumpkin Pie Spice from Colonel de Gourmet. I’ve never made anything with pumpkin, I’m a sweet potato pie fan, but that muffin is good!  They also have listened to their customers request for a gluten-free option, so one of the two varieties offered will be gluten-free.  Don’t be afraid to try your favorite flavor if it happens to be gluten-free on the day you visit.  Gluten-free flour changes the texture slightly, but the moistness and flavor of my muffins remains the same.

My muffins are dense because they are really individual portions of my adapted zucchini bread recipe poured into a muffin pan. So what do you get when you cross bread with a muffin pan? A Bruffin, which is what I’ll call my product for here on out.

A New Chapter Begins

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the Ohio River Paddlefest, recognized as the nation’s largest paddling celebration with 2,000 participants traveling 9 miles through downtown Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky in canoes, kayaks, and other human-powered craft. I love this event. It is therapeutic for me to be in my kayak and I don’t make the time to do it often enough. It was a blessing that this year’s event fell on August 7 as the day coincided with a chapter of and vision for my life permanently closing. I would have moped around in bed most likely the entire day, but I had a reason to get going early and what a beautiful morning it was.

I was armed with a PB&J sandwich, granola bar, mango Gatorade, an energy flavored Vitamin Water and my Pandora radio shuffle playlist of Yolanda Adams, Forever Jones, Wayman Tisdale, James Taylor, Macy Gray, Bonnie Raitt, Ashford & Simpson, Maze & Frankie Beverly and The Commodores. Pandora has a psychic sense sometimes as the very first song to start my journey was Natalie Merchant’s Where I Go, a song who’s lyrics talk about going to the river to “To soothe my mind, to ponder over the crazy days of my life, watch the river flow, ease my mind and soul”. The playlist was spot on throughout approximate 4-hour paddle. I paddle to the beat, so I had a great mix of slow and fast tunes and I stopped to nibble or drink during the commercials.

I’ll admit I started off sad, here I am in the midst of 1000s of people, but paddling alone again. I wasn’t 100 yards into the paddle and I came across this couple.  My mind quickly spun all types of positive scenarios on how great of a relationship they must have.  About a mile into Pandora struck gold again by playing Yolanda Adam’s Never Give Up who’s chorus states “keep the dream alive don’t let it die.  If something deep inside keeps inspiring you to try, don’t stop and never give up, don’t ever give up on you. Don’t give up”.  That song and the friendliness of the paddle community was the snap out of it slap in the face I needed.  Last year I traded my lime green Tsunami 12.5 kayak for a blue Tsunami 14.5 and it drew attention.  Several people gave me positive feedback on how well it tracked in the water and how natural I looked in it.  All were shocked when I shared that was my first time in it and first time kayaking since the last Paddlefest in 2019.  

I had a great conversation with the leaders of this group from River City Paddlesport.  They brought their 30-foot long voyageur canoes up from Louisville, KY.  I checked out their website and Louisville has an event called Mayor’s Hike, Bike, and Paddle, which sounds super cool.  It is held Memorial and Labor Day weekends.  River City coordinates the paddle portion and the plans for this Labor Day sounds absolutely amazing.  They will “lock through”. A flotilla of canoes and kayaks will leave the waterfront and paddle through the Portland Canal to the McAlpin Locks. Once everyone is secured to a line, the doors will close in the lock and drop 37 feet. The lower doors of the lock will open and we will paddle to New Albany’s Jaycee Boat Ramp near the Sherman-Mitten Bridge.  Sounds like a reason for a road trip.  I’m definitely going to try and make that, but my life is getting ready to get really busy (tease).

Despite not paddling for 2 years I signed up for the 9-mile (go big or stay home, right) and stretched it out even further by adding the optional 1-mile paddle of the Mill Creek.  Growing up in Cincinnati I’ve heard of the Mill Creek, but wow did I learn a lot more about it in that one mile journey.  I now know were my sanitation waste ends up.  I also now have another connection for paddling via the Mill Creek Yacht Club.  They’ve got a paddle coming up on August 21, MCYC Urban Stream Adventure, that I will definitely participate in, another chance to get on the Ohio River.

Coming out of the Mill Creek detour the winds picked up and we were paddling into it. I was starting to tire out, but then once again Pandora hit a chord with another Yolanda Adam’s song, This Battle is not Yours, and that was the spark I needed to fight through the winds. I actually abandoned the shuffle and went full on gospel for the rest of the paddle. I made it to the finish line, got my boat loaded thanks to the young men from Hughes High School football team, and enjoyed the best chicken and waffles from Sunny Side Brunch food truck. It was a great four hours.

So about my blog title and featured image. The new chapter is due to me officially filing Sista Girl with Skills with the state of Ohio and IRS to form a LLC and obtain my employer identification number. I’m still working through the logo, but the business is official. My business has two divisions. The first is a bakery division (yes I bake too), which is what prompted the official filing. In the last few weeks demand for my zucchini bread, zucchini muffins, and carrot muffins has soared. I am an official cottage industry and I have aspirations of taking it bigger. The second division I’ll keep under wraps, for now, but it will lead to more frequent post. Let the NEW journey begin.

I’d love your feedback on the logo. I’m working on getting a caricature image of me to add to the bakery text.

Serving Her Purpose

People that have followed my three year restoration journey have frequently read things where I talked about my vision for my home. Recently the vision of hosting friends as overnight guest materialized when my former employee, but more important descriptor friends Vicki Schwartz and her husband Steve spent a long weekend with me. Vicki worked for me when I ran the “good” visitor center that used to be located on Fountain Square in what is now Graeter’s Ice Cream. That center closed in 2005, but I have maintained a friendship with Vicki and her husband ever since. So much so that when I’ve traveled to North Carolina anywhere close to Winston Salem, which is where they live now, they have hosted me at their home (once by myself, once with a teenager, and once with my two dogs, now that’s friendship). They come back to Cincinnati at least once a year and they got to see my house during construction, I didn’t have walls yet. I told them then when it was finished they must stay with me on one of their visits. Covid delayed that opportunity by a year.

They got to stay in the Janet Suite and I gave them a key, so they could come and go as they pleased. They arrived on a Thursday night after an eight hour drive.  I was prepared with cheeses, ham, turkey, and a variety of chips; something light as I thought they’d be more tired than hungry.  What Steve had a taste for was a peanut butter sandwich, so thankfully I had that in the pantry. Vicki joined him and had PB&J.

Of course they loved the house.  I’ve shared pictures of the finished product, but they said the images didn’t do it justice.  They truly did not want me to put up a fuss.  For breakfast I had fresh baked muffins for them.  Steve just needed two cups of coffee and Vicki brought her own tea bags.  Friday they spent the entire day out visiting other friends.  I had not gotten a chance to give the yard a fresh cut, so I did that.  It warmed my heart to see clearly how at ease they felt in my home.  I loved seeing my “bathroom of positivity” (decor is filled with positive motivational statements) so lived in.  Friday night they had dinner with friends, so an easy day of hosting for me.

Saturday was hang out day for me and Vicki and Steve got to visit some of his car friends (he has a vintage Alfa Romero that he’s had in the Cincinnati’s Concours D’elegance many times).  Vicki was part of the original docent class for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, so she wanted to go there and hoped she see any of her former fellow docents.  We lucked up and caught James (Jim) Brock as he was arriving for his shift.  Before moving to Winston Salem Vicki hosted her docent colleagues at her home, so I quickly offered to host them next year when Vicki and Steve make their trip in 2022. They had recently lost one member of the original class, Verneida Britton who also use to work for me at the Visitor Center, to cancer.

Saturday evening I hosted a Visitor Center reunion cook out.  Our boss, Joan Kaup, and two other of my staff, Carolyn Sherman and Sandra Bowen came with their husbands.  I am the age now that these ladies were when they worked for me.  Sandra and I recently reconnected when she came to my first open house (I didn’t know she was following the journey), but Joan and Carolyn I have formed friendships too.  What was amazing is that it turned out Vicki and Steve knew Joan’s husband Rick from when he lived in Mariemont (where they lived) with his first wife and Vicki actually use to work for Sandra’s husband.  It turned out Vicki’s and Sandra’s tenure didn’t overlap.  It was an evening filled with great conversation and no concerns about Covid-19 as the entire group had been vaccinated.  It was nice to remember that I actually had some enjoyable years of employment at that start of my CVB career.  I’ve gone on road trips with Joan, Carolyn, and Vicki as a testament that friendships can be formed at work. 

Sunday during the day they visited more friends, but that evening they took me to dinner at the Chart House. I hadn’t been there in years. Beautiful setting as our table was near a window with clear views of the Ohio River. Great food, more great conversation, and awesome key lime pie for dessert. I’d get that pie as a carry out it was that good.

Monday was the departure day. I was able to pack them turkey and ham sandwiches for the road. In route to home they had planned to stop at the cemetery where Vicki’s parents are buried to place flowers and do any needed clean up. Vicki sent me a text sharing they were back on the road after consuming their delicious sandwiches. Not that I want to monopolize their visits to Cincinnati, but I hope they will chose me over other friends when they make the trek next year. It was nice having them visit. My house was filling the purpose for which she was restored and now with the mask mandate lifted I hope more visitors will come.

This photo showed me it was time to address the graying wood of my pergola. Stay tuned for the first “maintenance” project for my restored home.

Cassandra’s Greenhouse

After completing Cassandra’s bench, the next project at her house was a greenhouse. Cassandra is converting her entire backyard, even the blacktop driveway into a urban garden oasis. She had planned to buy a greenhouse, but I pointed out that she could build one cheaper. My 4×8 Lean-to shed only cost approximately $500 in materials, a fourth of what she had planned to pay. She asked if I would help her and I said yes. Since I had successfully built my shed, by myself, I told her to check out the greenhouse plans at Plans Design, where I bought mine. Their greenhouses were similar to my lean-to, so I thought the learning curve would be eliminated.

She didn’t like their plans, but found one she did like.  It called for setting nine 4×4 post in the ground.  That seemed like an odd approach and I knew making nine holes, especially in the location of her yard that she wanted would be difficult, but once past that it seemed like a simple plan.  While weather did play a small part in slowing down progress this project took six weeks to complete, way to long.  I don’t know the final cost of all the material, but I’m sure it was over $1,000.  The plans did not call for a floor, we added one.  The plan didn’t have windows, we added one and another is planned.  This build tested my resolve, stamina, ingenuity, and patience.