The Devil Queen

How my wife and I sold our souls to the Queen Anne Victorian we tried to save.

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Location: Crow Mountain, Arkansas, United States

Synopsis: This is a cautionary tale. A seriously disturbed couple find the charming, old ruin of a Queen Anne Victorian in Russellville, Arkansas, and buy it for $1.00. They tore the roof off, cut it in half, and had it moved to some land they owned sixteen miles away because they didn't know any better. Since then, they have hired and fired contractors, had all of their tools stolen, re-wired, re-plumbed, insulated, and essentially rebuilt the entire house. Their only problem is that after four years it still isn't finished. Now they are tired, broke, and wonder what in the hell it is they've done to themselves. And, it's haunted.
(Last updated on April 3, 2008)

Press: Russellville Courier Article - December 2003, HGTV website article, AP story - October 2006, and Victorian Homes Magazine - February 2008 (link coming soon).
Art: From time to time, I receive requests for my art. If you would like to look at more of my art, go to The Failed Artist. If you would like to buy my art, email me. I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Thanks!

Friday, September 30, 2005

Tax Season

You know something is wrong when you find yourself thinking, "God, I wish it was tax season."

In the last two years, tax season has become a second Christmas for us. With all the interest we pay on college loans and mortgages plus the deduction for our son, we’ve been getting a nice chunk of money back from Uncle Sam. And, paying an accountant to do all the nasty work for you is priceless.

Unfortunately, about four months separate us from our tax refund check, and I need $328.64 by October 7th for the Queen's next insurance payment. Normally, I could scrounge that up, but we've also had to come up with $78.00 for the property tax on the Queen, $250.00 for some bulldozer work, and $280.00 for Tony (we miscalculated last week but he forgave us since we paid in cash).

My only hope is that I either finish a commissioned oil painting this weekend and get paid before Friday, or Mr. Chronister comes back Sunday and buys some of the furniture we're trying to sell. (If anyone is interested in a wood-burning cook-stove, a Rockefeller style reproduction desk, a dining room table, a pair of 1909 mica lamps, or an upright box-grand piano, let me know).

I hate wheeling and dealing with folks. I'm not a people person, and I have no experience. I'm really bad at it. My wife has covered most of the contracting and deal making for the Queen. Since I work over an hour away from home, it was impossible for me to meet with every contractor, realtor, et cetera to get things done. Unless I had to sign papers, my wife took care of it. Since my wife started working last week, I've had to pick up some of the slack. It has not been pretty. Actually, finding someone that does rock work has been a disaster.

My wife says that I'm too nice, too mild. I come across as a pushover according to her. I'd deny it, but she's right. I envy my wife's skill with people. She comes from a long line of bootleggers, outlaws, used car salesmen, politicians, and con-artists, and it has been handy.

One of her great-great-great-grandfathers was Lying Jessie Cowan. Her family considers him a real black sheep, but I find him fascinating. They way they talk about him, you'd think that he was still alive. In addition to being an excellent conman, he practiced law and medicine without a license. They family lost track of him in the 1850's. After he and his wife divorced, she remarried. The man was a cruel S.O.B. so she killed him. She faked insanity and was placed in the state mental hospital. Jessie fast-talked the state into releasing her into his custody, and they fled Arkansas with their six children. He somehow came up with enough money to build a huge plantation in Louisiana before the Civil War. After the war, no one knows what happened to him.

My wife has inherited a knack for reading people, talking with them, and getting them to do what she wants for a reasonable (or very low) price. She doesn't think that she's very good at it, but we wouldn't have made it this far without her skills. For whatever it is worth, I'm trying to learn from her. Just hope I don't make too many more mistakes.

As for money, there is some hope. Earlier in the week my wife and I were hovering over our kitchen table counting through our secret stash. Loose pocket change, a savings bond, and a few crumpled bills were pilled on the table. My wife counts through it all again as I watch.

"We're still $60 short for Tony. Even if we sell the lamp to mom this weekend, we won't have enough. Do you think he'll be upset if we're short again?"

"I don't know, I doubt it. Particularly if we pay cash again. That, and we're paying most of what we were short last time anyhow."

Two days later my wife came home from work. "Guess what I got today?"

"Not a clue, what did you get?"

"Do you remember that $60 we need for Tony?"


"Look," she says handing me a slip of paper.

I take that paper from her. It's a paycheck. "They're paying you for last week already?"


"Wow. They're faster than where I work. I didn't figure they'd pay you for another week."

"I know. Pretty amazing, isn't it."

Serendipity, miracles, or kind hearts, I'll take whatever I can get. Just send it my way.

Thinking Out Loud

Suddenly, Fall is here. A mixed blessing to be sure. No more sweat drenched days in sweltering heat, but the end of the outdoor work season is near.

I haven't been up to the Queen since this Monday. I'm quite curious to see what Tony's finished this week. If I were a gambling man, I'd put money on him having finished the siding & trim. He's probably started working on the main entry hall.

My wife is working Saturday, so it'll be me and an old friend of mine working on the Queen. He has volunteered to paint, so I'm going to put him to work on priming our new exterior siding. If the weather turns ugly, he's reluctantly agreed to strip wallpaper in the master bedroom. Poor bastard.

Our mason is going to start work on our fireplaces Saturday. He wasn't kidding about working us in. He's only going to be working weekends for us. He said that he'd get the fireplace foundation built up to floor level this weekend. Then it has to cure before he can continue working on it. I believe the fireboxes will go in next, and then onward and upward until he's finished.

Sunday, my electrical guru will be making an appearance with his lovely assistant. Hopefully, a few more breakers will come online by the end of the weekend.

I'm not too sure what I'll be working on. I have a whole list of odds and ends that need attention. Window weights, window glazing, a lone storm window, wood floors, demolition, hauling trash, paint scraping, et cetera.

What I'd love to do is get the whole street facing side of the Queen scraped and primed. Really, there are more important things to do. Why do it then? Because it will be a tangible sign of progress visible at an altitude of 2000 feet. Weird, right? But, there is really reason for this.

Our financier is also a licensed single-engine pilot with his very own two-seater, flying deathtrap. Weather permitting, he flies over the Queen every Saturday and Sunday. He may fly over during the week, but, since I work in Little Rock, I wouldn't know.

When we went to him for more money a few weeks ago, he asked where all the money he'd been giving us had gone. "I fly over all the time, no one has been up there for weeks. What the fuck have you been doing!?"

My wife replied, "We took a weekend off to work on our other house. We needed to clean it up and do some maintenance so we can sell it."

He grunted. Then, "Do you know how horrible it looks? I can't tell that you've done anything with it."

"Have you seen the kitchen?"


My wife asked, "Have you even gone in the house?"

"No. No fucking way am I going into the shit hole. Two thousand feet is as close as I want to come to that mess."

In case you haven't already guess, he's pretty torqued up about the Queen. He even flew over the morning hurricane Rita's remains blew through. Personally, I thought he was nuts as I watched his little blue & white plane bobbing through the low clouds and wind.
This whole experience is becoming more and more like a bad, made-for-TV movie. Monty Python meets the Money Pit maybe. It just struck me how odd it all is. I have never talked to anyone that has had their financier stalk them by airplane. A lot of the day to day stuff with the Queen is your typical home renovation fare. In hind sight, a lot of it isn't. I wish I'd started this blog a couple of years ago, there is a lot of bizarre back material that hasn't made it into a post. There is just too much of it.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Genetic Inheritance

Nature or nurture? What are we born with and what do we learn?

Personally, I feel let down by genetic inheritance. Most of what I got really isn't too exciting: brown hair, big nose, and ultra-sensitive skin. What I wish I'd inherited is all the generations of carpentry skills my family possessed. The conventional scientific wisdom is carpentry is a learned skill. Unfortunately, we are not born with a full knowledge of how to cut a perfect miter joint, frame a house, or calculate the correct slope for a roof. Instead, all we get is a crappy sucking reflex.

If the laws of nature could be flaunted in my favor, I would have been born an uber-carpenter. Both of my great-grandfathers were carpenters. My maternal great-grandfather was a Norwegian boat-builder turned carpenter once he came to the U.S. He worked on the Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple in Oak Park (suburb of Chicago), Illinois. My paternal grandfather was a master-carpenter, a contractor, and a lock smith.

Since then, my family has migrated from crafts and trades to white collar professions. Some of the old carpentry skills have tricked down (I remember my dad teaching me how to toe-nail when I was about 4 or 5), but it's been a pretty feeble inheritance. Even though we share the same ancestry, I am bear as close a resemblance to a master-carpenter as Chihuahua does to a wolf.

Even though I enjoy building things, I don't honestly want to spend my life working as a professional carpenter. Having the skills of one would be very useful though.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A Long Haul and Then Some

We didn't get too much construction work done over the weekend. Charlie and I plumbed the tub drain and the sink rough-ins in the master bath Saturday morning. Then, my wife recruited us to help her sort wood and clean up the construction site before the remnants of hurricane Rita showed up.

My powers of self observation are pretty weak. I know that I am a pack-rat by nature, but I never noticed what a trashy person I am before this weekend. There are some pack-rats that horde everything, but they are organized. They have a system. All the rubber bands are wadded into a giant ball in the top drawer in the kitchen cabinet next to the stove.

Not me. Not only to do I not have a system, I don't even horde useful items. Apparently, at some early point in our undertaking, I was deeply concerned that we wouldn't have enough splintered, cracked, or warped wood to finish the Queen. I think we've all had a project where we really needed a three foot long 2x4, warped into a bow, cracked down the middle with a splintered end and we just couldn't find one. "Damn it! There just isn't enough bad wood to finish this house! We're screwed!"

It was a mess and it took forever. Some of that stuff had been there since we moved the Queen 2003. Charlie called it a day at about 5:30 PM, but the Mrs. and I kept at it until 7PM. It rained for the last hour, so we were soaked completely through by the time we left. Mountains of trash were disposed of, all the wall boards, bead board, and other lumber had been stacked, sorted, and cover with tarps. Aside from the exhaustion and sore muscles, it was a good day.

Sunday was more of the same, more or less. It was a long weekend, but we go a lot finished.

Monday, September 26, 2005

A New Face for the Master Bath

Tony, our contractor, finished siding the Queen's master bathroom last week. This week he's planning to finish siding the pantry/laundry room addition, the last original gable, and some trouble spots that have lost their siding to rot.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Stay of Execution

We've dodged the bullet for now.

We have a fat wad of cash for our contractor and a promise of more in weeks to come. Sounds good but there is a catch. We have approximately 90 days to finish the Queen. Finished, by the bank's standard, is a complete exterior (siding, enclosed crawlspace), a heating & air unit, working plumbing, working electrical system, working bathrooms, and a working kitchen. Having everything painted (well, primed at least) and the floors refinished would go a long way with them too.

With all that completed, the idea is we refinance (take out a mortgage to pay off our construction loans) and pay the bank off in full. If we don't make the deadline, we start facing some ugly financial penalties. And, I know for a fact that we won't be able to pay the penalties.

So, we begin our final gamble. It is all or nothing.

Tony finished siding and trimming our master bathroom addition yesterday. After two years of looking like some sad, chip-board shanty, our master bath is now a fully integrated part of the Queen. I can't wait to see it.

If Rita doesn't dump too much rain on us for the first part of next week, Tony should have all our siding finished by Wednesday. Then he'll begin work on the interior of the Queen.

In preparation for next week's work, we're going to spend a lot of time cleaning up the work areas. It just isn't cost effective to hire a master carpenter to work on your house, and then pay him to move lumber and other junk out of his way.

We need to move the kitchen cabinets out of storage in the living room and into the kitchen, clean and stack all the wallboards, bead-board, et cetera close to where it'll be needed, clean off the back porch (our impromptu workshop) so Tony can get to the walls to hang siding, weed-eat, clean up our trash piles, and whatever else needs to be done. My wife has a list two pages long, but that is only the beginning.

We are also going to finish the kitchen floor and try to finish plumbing the house. Our electrician should be up this weekend trying wire up as many rooms as he can (kitchen and master bathroom first).

Sounds like a busy weekend, doesn't it? Yes, but there is even more. We also need to insulate the bathroom addition (the additions' walls get rolled bats instead of blown insulation like the rest of the Queen), install light fixtures, buy some stuff at Lowe's, and fix some windows.

I'm not sure how long everyone else is planning to work, but I think I'm in for two 10 to 12 hour days.

We also have to get all of our hired help lined up. We already have our carpenter at work, our mason will be out the 1st of October (I know that is a Saturday, but that is what he said), and our HVAC guy will be out in October once the plumbing is finished. The only loose end is the rock guy. We will need our crawlspace enclosed as soon as the plumbing is finish. We haven't been able to get a hold of our first choice, so we're looking for someone else. And we need them NOW. Really, that is just piss-poor planning on our part, but we didn't expect things to go the way that they have.

While most of this month has been dominated with anxiety about the Queen's finances, our struggle has started to become a pride-fight as well. In short, our financier told my wife that he thought the house looked like crap, it was a waste of time and money, and he didn't think that we could pull it off.

I think he is wrong about the first two items for sure. There is a chance that he may be right on the third point, but I'm not convinced. In fact, I'd love to prove him wrong and I'm going to do my damnedest to do so. Then, when this old whore of a house becomes a shining, beautiful beacon on the hill, I'll have something that I'll want him to kiss.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Winds of Change?

Lots of stuff going on in the last 24 hours.

We still haven't gotten our finances straightened out yet. Our kick-ass contractor will be expecting a fat wad of cash tomorrow, and we don't have squat. Our financial fairy-godfather said he'd come through for us, but were starting to get nervous. Last night my wife was suffering from an intense bout of insomnia. She woke up early this morning. She was having a nightmare about being in a house that was in horrible disrepair (it was the Devil Queen, but looked nothing like her), and we were entirely without money. A nightmare or an ill omen? I'd like to think it was a nightmare, but you can never tell what comes bubbling up from the sub-conscious.

I had dinner with my in-laws last night. They have given up on plumbing for the rest of the week. It is just too hot. We've had two or three record highs this week. The normal, average temperature is 85 degrees. It has hit 100 degrees every day since Monday or Tuesday. The heat index was 106 yesterday. It’s the kind of weather that really puts me in the mood for Halloween. They did plumb two of our three bathrooms though. Within a week we may have a fully plumbed house (with a working bathroom?).

Tony is doing a fabulous job on the siding, trim, et cetera. According to my mother-in-law, all the work is stain grade finish-carpentry. She said that the siding is cut close enough that it stays in place without the nails. And, I don't think that we'll have to caulk any of the crown molding on the eves. There are no cracks or gaps. From the ground, it looks utterly seamless.

Tony is worried though. He made us promise not to tell anyone in our part of the world that he worked on our house, "I don't do remodeling work, only new construction!"

My mother-in-law replied, "Don't worry, we'll tell anyone that asks that you're family and it's the only reason you did it."

"Thank God. That would be great," Tony said.

My wife has been bringing Tony and his crew cakes and cookies. She's garnering quite a fan club. It probably doesn't hurt that she jumps up and down and cheers every time she goes up to the Queen to see how its going. According to my mother-in-law, "they look like their heads will split open they're grinnin' so wide."

And, a little bit more good news. My wife just got hired by the Russellville Chronicle as a full-time reporter. They'll be calling later this week to tell her when she can start. She also has a freelance article appearing in Cat Fancy Magazine (and their website too) this month. Now, if we manage to finish the house, maybe we can afford to keep it? And, as icing on the cake, my mother-in-law has volunteered to be a full-time grandma/baby-sitter for us.

Things are looking up, I hope our good fortune (miraculous intervention) stays with us for a while. Like my Dad said over lunch, "Wow. It sounds like you're on roll." I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Recent Progress, Photos

This is the window I glazed and installed last weekend. They have installed the window trim in preparation for putting up the siding.

They installed new siding under the gable, an attic vent, and most of the trim over the bay window.

Here is a close up of the starter strip for the siding on the master bathroom.

A view of the Queen with her newly sided gables. The white boards are the new pieces of siding (pre-primed) and the green ones are old, original siding.

A view of the master bathroom with some of its new trim. The master bathroom will not have an attic vent. It has a cathedral ceiling and no attic space.

A Running Start

Work on the Devil Queen is picking up its pace this week. It is amazing. Tony, probably one of the best contractors in our part of the world, started work last Friday. I didn't make it up to the Queen after work Monday. I'm very curious to see what he's finished so far. What he did finish last Friday (photos below, posted yesterday) is beautiful.

Charlie wants to get the all the waterlines run this week. Since my wife was waiting on some prospective buyers to come look at our blue-monkey house yesterday, he recruited my mother-in-law to help him. They are going back up to the Queen again today.

While my mother-in-law was up at the Queen, she talked with Tony. It turns out that he really didn't want to work on the Queen. Why did he do it then? His wife made him.

Tony is a very busy man. It took us nearly a week to get a hold of him on the phone. Most of the time he isn't there, so we talked to his wife. His wife is a lovely lady, very sweet and intelligent (she handles the books for his business).

The first time I spoke with her she didn't sound too sure that Tony would have time to work on the Devil Queen.

"He's awfully busy," she said. "He is finishing off a project now, and we are remodeling our house too. Then, he is going to start building an 11,000 square foot home. It'll probably take him 10 months to complete it. Are there any other carpenters that you have in mind?"

"Well, Tony is the best one we've found, so no. We're really hoping to get him."

Somehow, she seemed both surprised and pleased by this. She had him call us back and arranged for him to meet us to talk over the project.

After talking to us on the phone he told his wife that he, "really didn't want to work on that old house. It's a mess. I'm just not going to do it."

She told him she thought, "those kids," really need the help. He maintained that it was a terrible house to work on, she just didn't know how bad it was. He brought her up to the house to meet with us that weekend so he could show her what a terrible project it was.

Two Sundays ago, we met them both at the Queen. Tony's wife thought the house looked beautiful (as in it has a lot of potential). She also seemed to like my wife and I (she says that I remind her of her son, I think that is a good thing). I'm not sure if it was something we said or did, but after that meeting we had Tony.

As he told my mother-in-law, his wife was the deciding factor. "So, here I am working on this damn, old house," Tony said.

While Tony mostly does new construction, it turns out he has a very thorough knowledge of the "old way" of doing things. He learned carpentry from some old-timer that refused to show him the "new" way of doing things until he'd mastered all the traditional carpentry skills. That way he could really appreciate the newer methods of building. We hired Tony because we like him AND he does excellent work. But, by dumb luck, he is also probably one the only contractors around with extensive "old house" experience.

My wife also called our brick mason. He will be out at the Queen the first week of October to build our fireplaces. The original fireplaces were demolished for two reasons.

1) They were structurally unsound. The bricks were made locally (we believe) out of fired clay. After 110 years of use, you could crumble them to dust with your bare hands. The mortar was shot too. After we got the chimney out, I was amazed the Queen hadn't burned down years ago. The inside of the wood walls next to the chimney were scorched black.

2) The Queen could not be moved with intact fireplaces. The fireplaces were built on a crude foundation of huge rocks, sand, and mortar sitting directly on the ground. Even if the chimney wasn't on the verge of collapsing, there was no way to get under the loose pile of foundation, stabilize it, and jack it up with the house.

We'd originally hoped to use the bricks salvaged from the crawlspace to rebuild the chimney. The bricks used for the crawlspace were added to the house sometime between 1900-1920. They are Coffeyville Bricks from Coffeyville, Kansas. They are made from fired slate and they are as good today as they were when they were made. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough of them, and we couldn't find any modern bricks that matched them (Coffeyville Bricks went out of business in the 1960's I believe). We bought 3000 Acme Bricks of a similar color for our fireplaces.

As with a lot of the major projects on the Queen, this one has been dragging on forever. It's been so long, I can't even remember when everything happened. We bought the bricks about a year (?) ago. Sometime after that we poured the foundation for the fireplaces. We had to custom order the fireplace tiles and fire boxes from Acme. They finally got them in about a month ago and they are waiting for our mason to pick them up. If we get the fireplaces in before Thanksgiving, it will be miraculous. If we have all the materials, the weather stays good, and our mason makes it out on time, it should take about 2 weeks for the fireplaces to be built.

It's all very exciting. If we just had our financial situation settled, it'd be great.

I'm going to make time to swing by the Queen on the way home tonight. Hopefully I get some pictures.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Wild Ride

You've gotta love Arkansas. Vacation anyone? Check this out if you're interested.


The photos above are of the gable over the master bedroom. Our contractor made it out to the Queen Friday and enclosed the whole thing. The photos don't really show have great of a job he did on all the miter cuts. There are two separate pieces of crown molding running under the eves, and I wouldn't want to try to figure these angles out.

I'm curious how fast things will go. My wife and I think that they'll be finished with siding the house in 1 1/2 to 2 weeks. That will give us 1 to 2 weeks for them to work on the interior.

A Job Deferred

I got started too late in the day for Charlie to help me with the kitchen floor, so I decided to work on another priority project. The master bathroom was in desperate need of a window. This window would have been finished ages ago, except that the original, top window-pane was broken. Someone (?) leaned the window up next to its rough-in and a strong wind knocked it over shattering the pane. I salvaged a matching piece of glass from a similar window and tried my hand at window glazing. Considering it was the first time I've ever done this, I think that I went well enough. Aesthetically, it could have been a little prettier. Smoothing the glazing compound at a perfect 45 degree angle was tricky, but I think that it'll work.

After I'd glazed the window, everything else was pretty easy. As a bonus, this window (salvaged from someplace in Mena, Arkansas) came with its original pull and lock. I'm guessing the window dates from 1900-1920. The wierd lighting in the picture below is from the plastic sheeting that was covering the rough-in.

The kitchen floor. So close, yet so far away.

First Light

It's not much to look at, but it makes all the difference in the world when the sun goes down.

A Thing of Beauty

Okay, power poles are not really all that attractive, but I am happy and relieved to finally have our permanent power connection made. And, it only took us 2 years.

Friday, September 16, 2005


Yesterday was not a pleasant day for us. Our financier had a contractor friend come out to give a second opinion on finishing the Queen yesterday. He thinks that our current estimate for completing the Queen is too low by 45%. He thought that we'd underestimated our painting costs (for the paint itself, we're providing all the labor), but over all said that we had good quotes for the siding, fireplace, rocking-in the crawlspace, and heating-cooling systems. Having said that, I can't figure out where he thinks we're budgeting too little. The paint can't account for a 45% difference. Since I wasn't there, I didn't get to ask. I'd love to know.

I think that we're going to get our original amount from our financier. He is not happy, at all. This is definitely our last draw of cash. Period. If the contractor is right and we're short, we are shit out of luck.

It's bad enough that we may have screwed ourselves on this deal, but I hate to think that we may be taking other folks down with us. It definitely provides a lot of very desperate motivation.

In the tradition of the glorious (defunct) British Empire, we'll muddle through.

On the upside, the weather is going to be beautiful this weekend.

Insulation Question

Before a I forget, I have a question for all you house-bloggers out there. Which is better for insulating your attic, rolled bats or blown insulation? We've heard conflicting things about them. Some folks say that rolled insulation offers better coverage than blown insulation, that blown insulation isn't uniformly deep. It has thin spots that don't insulation as well. We have also heard that they are comparable to one another.

So which is it?

It will cost 50% less to have blown insulation put in the attic. That makes it very tempting. On the other hand, we don't want to use inferior insulation. Heating costs are way too high to skimp on this.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

Google Blogsearch and Devil Queen Updates

This is interesting, Google has a new search engine exclusively for blogs. CNN ran this story about it.

We've had some interest in our little, blue monkey-house this week. Unfortunately, everyone interested in buying it is also interested in owner financing. The whole idea of owner financing makes me twitch. My fear is some bottom-feeder moves in, trashes the house, never pays the mortgage, and I waste a lot of time and money evicting them from a house that I no longer need or want.

Our contractor is running behind on his last project. We have had rain for the first time in over a month this week. I imagine it's slowing him down. He should start Friday or next Monday. Either is fine with me. Really, it has worked out for the best. We're still trying to get enough money to finish the Queen. My wife is going to another meeting (?) today about the financing, but I have no idea what's up. I'm almost afraid to ask.

Lately, I have found myself rereading some of T.S. Eliot's poems in the 3 minutes or so that to myself during the day. In college I liked the Wasteland best, but, as I've gotten older, I find myself identifying more with The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

"I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A (Non-Houseblog) FYI for the Federal Government & Major American Media Outlets

It is apparently a little know fact that one of the 50 states of the United States is Arkansas. It is a moderately sized state that occupies 53,225 square miles of land wedged in between Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Missouri. Relatively speaking, there isn't too much here. The entire population of state would probably fit on a single New York City subway car.

Since Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi, over 79,000 people have found refuge in Arkansas. Only Texas has taken in more people to date. Some folks at The Economist Magazine (a British publication, in London) have taken note of this. CNN and FEMA, as of last week, had not.

Please let me apologize for this tirade, but it has been bugging for over a week. Normally, Arkansas is only singled out for mention when something is wrong. When we manage to do something spectacularly well, we're ignored. It just eats at me that a British economists know more about what is going on in Arkansas than our national media and federal government.

Last week CNN had a map posted on their online site showing where all the refuges had gone. Even though we had 50,000 - 70,000 folks here at the time, we were show as having no Katrina evacuees here. Then, later in the week, our Governor was speaking with FEMA officials trying to obtain federal assistance for all the folks here. The official asked him something along the lines of "Well, do you even have anyone [refuges] in Arkansas?"

Sea Sick Without a Ship

Well, we survived lunch yesterday. I've had out patient surgery that was less agonizing.

I'm still not sure how it went or how it'll work out. At this point, there is nothing else for us to do. We're already doing every thing in our power that we can think of to make it work out. Either it will or it won't. The ambiguity makes me sick.

In the mean time, we'll muddle through the best we can. I'm hoping to get 3 or 4 folks up to the Queen this weekend. If so, we should finish laying the kitchen floor, maybe get a couple more rooms wired, and perhaps finish striping the master bedroom's wallpaper.

My mother had a tip for wallpaper removal that seems to help. If you take a utility knife or razor blade and score the wallpaper before you soak it with water, it helps the water soak through to loosen the glue faster. It also comes off easier.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Clever Gambit or Playing With Fire?

I can't tell if things are going our way or if everything is going to blow up in our face.

We made some modest progress on the Queen this weekend. About 50% of the wallpaper has been stripped from the master bedroom. The master bedroom has also been completely wired. We didn't have our ceiling fan/light fixture handy so we put in a temporary light fixture, one of those ceramic, bare-bulb affairs. Not much to look at, but there is light when you flip the switch. The kitchen floor is nearly finished. We have 8-9 more runs of flooring to lay and that is it.

When we started on the Queen we did so with the idea that we'd do nearly all of the work ourselves. Now, with 2 1/2 years experience behind us, we've come to the grim realization that there is no way in hell the Queen will be finished unless we hire out. This is driving our projected (hopelessly optimistic) costs through the roof.

Yesterday we hired a very good contractor that we've worked with before. He is between jobs and was looking for something to keep him busy for 3 to 4 weeks until he can begin another project, building an 11,000 square foot house. I can't image what in the hell do you to with that much space.

Our contractor is going to start with the outside of the Queen. Siding, trim, et cetera. If he has time, he'll begin working on the inside of Queen. This would include patching the ceiling, floors, and walls, finishing the additions' interiors, and so on. This work is going to cost us $2,400 a week, so 3-4 weeks will cost us $7,200 to $9,600. Having seen his work, I think that it is worth every dollar. The problem is that we have no money.

So, today my wife and I are going to try to borrow even more money for the Queen. It's a lunch "meeting," and I hope that I'll be calm enough eat & not be sick at the table. If we don't get the money, we are screwed, and, if we do get it, we may be screwed.

If we don't get the money, we'll have to let our contractor go and the house will not be finished even if we get one more extension from the bank. I'm not sure what exactly will happen, but I have a feeling it would include things such as financial ruin and foreclosure.

If we get the money, the house will probably be completely finished. We'll still probably need one more extension, but a finished house will be the end product. The first problem is the appraisal we'll have to get to refinance the Queen. As I have mentioned before, the first one we had was a ridiculously low figure. If we get low-balled on the appraisal for the mortgage/refinancing end of things, we may have spent more than the house is worth.

And, then there is worry of making a mortgage payment that is much higher than what we originally planned.

In a perfect world:

1) We'll get enough money to pay our contractor.
2) We'll get a final, 6-month extension on our construction loan.
3) The Queen will be finished in March-April 2006.
4) We'll get a very good (high) appraisal that will leave us with enough equity (CASH) to payoff all our construction debts.
5) We'll be able to live in the Queen and have the luxury of keeping her or selling her as we wish.

I guess we'll see how it goes. Wish us luck. We need it.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A Small Miracle

Entergy finally hooked our power up. It caught us completely by surprise. I figured that with Katrina all of their linemen would be down in Louisiana and Mississippi. I was wrong.

We didn't do much of anything on the Devil Queen last weekend. My wife and I spent most of it cleaning our Blue House out. It was the first serious, all-out cleaning it's gotten since my son was born nearly two years ago. Four days and twenty trash bags later, the house looks much better. We also dug out a truck load of building materials for the Devil Queen and a truck load of stuff for Goodwill.

I know we are packrats, but I have no idea how we ended up with all this crap. It's amazing.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Counting My Blessings

I've spent a lot of time watching the mess in down in Louisiana & Mississippi on the news. The last two days I've seen a couple convoys (1 Arkansas National Guard, 1 group of NW Arkansas paramedics and ambulances with flat-bottom boats in tow) heading south on my way home from work. Two of my co-workers have family down there, and all of them are mercifully safe and accounted for.

Really, in perspective, none of my problems are anywhere near that bad. It certainly doesn't leave me anything to bitch & moan about.

This Labor Day weekend I'll be working on the Queen. Hopefully we'll finish the kitchen floor, strip some more wallpaper, and make some progress in general. As for the rest of my time, I'll spend it with my wife and son thinking about how lucky I am. Things could always be far, far worse.

Best wishes to the folks at That Old House.

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