My brother lives in Manhattan (pop. 1,626,159). He and his wife have an apartment in Harlem, just a block north of Central Park.
My brother also lives in Dalton, Pennsylvania (pop. 1,234). He and his wife have a cute blue house just up the hill from the Dalton General Store.
Tay moved to NY in about 2005, got married in 2008 and they have slowly been moving upward on the Upper East Side as their family has grown and they have needed more space. In January, when my sister-in-law was pregnant with Sam (their 2nd child), they bought a 100-year-old house 2 hours west of New York, not far from Scranton, PA. I haven't been out to New York to visit him since we moved back to Calgary in 2007, so this new development was a perfect excuse to make the trip. I kept trying to figure out the best way to get plane tickets for the four of us, but in the end R told me that it would be a win-win if I just went out myself. I love to travel and she stresses out about traveling with the kids, so she was happy to take one for the team and let me go solo. I heard that my parents were going out in late September, so I lined up my dates to be there with them.
My parents flew to Philly and drove up to Dalton. I flew to Newark, which was along the way for Tay and Jamie to pick me up on the way to the Blue Goose Farm (that's what their place is called). I got to meet baby Sam for the first time.
I also got to hang out with my niece Ava, who is super-adorable. She is a year younger than Katie, and it is funny how alike they are. Ava and I played hide-and-seek and we played in the sandbox and we played catch and we played with a fuzzy caterpillar and all sorts of awesome stuff.
Tay and I managed to get in a round of early-morning golf. It was the thickest fog I've ever golfed in, plus it was the first time I've seen the hazards on a hole include a cemetery. The fall colours were beautiful out there in the Pennsylvania hills. Gorgeous scenery. Our play was less inspiring, but we met a great guy named John from Philly who was up visiting his in-laws for the weekend. He thought Tay's dead-pan humour was hilarious. John told his wife that he was going to be a bit late coming back because of the fog but he met some funny Canadians so he was in good hands.
Despite the golfing diversion, we focused most of our attention on the front deck. Apparently, there was a long history of water pooling in the corner of the deck and rotting the timbers underneath, causing the deck to sag on one end, along with the roof above it. As we pried back the layers, we could see how others before us had tried to patch the problems, but the rot marched on. We braced the joists with strong new beams and then jacked the deck up nearly a foot to make it all (mostly) level again. I was impressed how Tay attacked this project. I don't have any experience jacking up large structures. I have jacked up a car before. He didn't have any experience either, but he's got pretty good sense for this sort of thing and he just went for it. It worked out really well too. By the time we left he had the roof disconnected from the deck and propped up on posts and lots of the deck torn apart. He was debating whether he would patch it up or just rebuild it completely. There were 3 schools of thought represented in our team:
1) Tay likes to tear it down and built it up better than before.
2) Dad likes to cut away the bad stuff and come up with a new design that keeps the good.
3) I like replace the worst parts and keep the structure the same.
My approach is based on minimizing the chance of "surprises". Whenever I do a project, there's always an "uh-oh" moment when something I didn't think of at the beginning of the project suddenly rears its head and causes me all kinds of grief. I liked that I was not in charge of this project and I could just take orders from Tay and do whatever his idea was. It was fun to work all together.
Once we got to the stage where we were mostly climbing around under the deck to position cinder blocks and beams, Dad shifted his attention to Tay's truck, which he had acquired to help him with all his renovation projects. Dad is always excited about his boys getting trucks. It's an older-model pickup, but it's got a big 8-foot bed in the back and he can haul all kinds of stuff, which was Tay's main requirement. You have to crank the truck for a full minute to get it to start if it has been sitting, but Tay dealt with that by buying a strong battery that could handle all that cranking. That is pretty much how I would have handled it too. You see, with vehicles, Tay is no longer from School of Thought #1. He just does what is necessary to make it work, while Dad is the one that wants the thorough fix. Dad set to work changing the oil and tinkering with the truck in a few other ways. He was going to replace the fuel pump too but the parts store was closed.
Mom helped Jamie recover some chairs the first day, and then she helped incinerate most of the evidence the remaining days. There was a huge mound of shingles that we tore off the side of the deck as we worked, and those had to go somewhere. On our first day we had taken a load of debris to the dump but we weren't anxious to go back a second time for shingles. It was an interesting experience to visit the landfill, which also doubled as a rock quarry and a methane farm, but it was a long ways to go to pay $50 and there was a guy there with a thick coral choker and a neon green tank top who reamed us out pretty good the first time for driving to the wrong spot. Long-story-short is that we burned the shingles. And then we tossed the ashes in the compost pile by the shed and nearly burned the thing down because there were still a few hot embers hiding in the ash.
This is sort of ironic, because at that same moment Jamie was back in Manhattan with the kids, working with insurance adjusters and the landlord for their apartment, where a fire two floors above them had resulted in massive water damage down below. In most rooms, the water had coursed down the walls and soaked the floor, but the ceiling in the kitchen had collapsed completely, raining sooty bilge and debris down on everything. Their blender was filled to the brim with the nasty stuff.
My brother and I nearly burned down his house in Dalton, Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, my brother's wife was taking care of the insurance claim for fire damage on his apartment in Manhattan.