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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Southern Snow Storm

I happen to be in Norfolk, VA at Lisa's grandmother's home, snowed in under the 4th heaviest snow fall on record. What should have been obvious, but really wasn't, was that the reaction down here to expected and forth-coming snow is markedly different than up north in Eldred, New York.

First, no one has shovels, window scrapers, snow boots or gloves. 2nd, no one really has any idea when the plow trucks are coming. I haven't seen one all day on this side street, and, ominously, the one I did see didn't have a plow on it. In an example of the seriousness of the situation, even McDonalds was closed.

3rd, they can't stop talking about every nuance, flake, news story or possibility concerning the storm.

4th, I've been in Lisa's grandmother's 1935 1 bathroom little house since Friday. She doesn't live here anymore, having moved onto an assisted living facility - so the thermastat's battery is dead (no consistent heat), our room at the back of the house has no heat (it was , literally, no exageration, 56 degrees all night Christmas eve), pitting me against my wife and son for the thin blankets intended to keep us warm.

Did I mention that we are sleeping on queen-sized air mattress, with the wrong sized sheets? And that it took us 30 minutes to blow it up with the automatic ease-of-fill because we didn't check to see if the relief valve was open?

Lisa has been on the road since the 18th or so, and I flew into Norfolk Christmas Eve. We are staying in the house that Lisa's grandmother has owned, raised her 3 children, for as long as anyone can remember. Lisa's mom went to elementary school up the street.

So it's snowing like crazy and we go to Walmart, the only store open for miles - looking for some food for dinner and maybe some gloves, snow shovels and maybe some walkway ice. Let's just say that looking for a snow shovel in Virginia during a once in a decade snow storm was a lot like looking for a generator in Sullivan County when the electric goes down for week.

Anyways, we are going to try to continue our trip tomorrow, up to Richmond, before we do Phoenixville and Lancaster PA. Be back some time late in the week, hopefully.

Friday, December 24, 2010

My Way

(our 2010 client christmas gift - oven mitt with built in fridge magnet)

For all those counter-intuitive, contrarian, out-of-the-box, against the grain thinkers, we salute you this Christmas season.

My Way Lyrics -

And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I'll say it clear,
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain.

I've lived a life that's full.
I've traveled each and ev'ry highway;
But more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Regrets, I've had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.

I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
But more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall;
And did it my way.

I've loved, I've laughed and cried.
I've had my fill; my share of losing.
And now, as tears subside,
I find it all so amusing.

To think I did all that;
And may I say - not in a shy way,
"No, oh no not me,
I did it my way".

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows -
And did it my way!

Hot Damn - Put on the Oven Mitts. 2011 is going to one hot year for this little business.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of our Faithful readers.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Homes Under Construction (and soon to be sold)

Don't tell Lisa that Jake, all 100 lbs of him, was lounging on our lazy boy when I turned my back for a quick second yesterday.

Cottage 34 is looking good. It's an iteration of Cottage 23, just a great design inspired one morning while looking out the window at breakfast one morning. This 1450 sq ft 2 bedroom cottage on 6 acres lives pretty large a few miles outside of Narrowsburg.

Pete Kestler getting the well in.

And Renee getting his stone on at the chimney chase. We should be insulating next week and a sale set for late February.

Double decker kitchen...
...and a large living room.
The house around the corner reserved by Dr. Chemistry. This 7 acre spread runs around 2300 sq ft with 3 beds and 2.5 baths.

We expect a March finish.

Cottage 31 is just about finished and it's turning out pretty spectacular. Big views, cedar shake, interesting floor plan and some great salvaged wood accents from our neighborhood barn wood guy, Hall.

This cottage has sunken living room with a lot of windows and stone, wrap-around porch with dog gates and radiant heat.

Upstairs another bedroom and bath, with a cable rail and salvaged post stair system. This house is set to sell in January.

And cute little Shack #2, all 500 sq ft of it, on 5+ acres.

A living room/di ning/kitchen with a wood stove, 1 bedroom, 1 bath, front and back porch and a full basement. Doesn't get anymore compact than this. This is a our first shack and it's for sale. We haven't figured out the price yet but it will be in the mid-100's or something close.

Bedroom below.
And Farm 14, we had the final walkthrough/inspection this past Saturday. This is one of our few homes in inventory, and in January it will be gone gone gone.

This terrific home has a great flow, and a lot of open space outside. Fireplace and radiators keep it warm and some in-wall speakers keep the party going.

And Cottage 33 will be closing in January as well. This instant classic sports slate gray clapboard siding and galvanized metal roof, wrap-around porch, partially screened in.

Micro Cottage 2 is finishing up also, and set for sale in January as well. Between the homes we have in contract set for sale in January - March, and the 2 or 3 that are set to start in 2011, we should be ready for another busy year of full employment business growth.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Company Christmas Party

I love that new commercial they show during football games where the guy backs over another car and he and his girlfriend start fighting, and they each turn into the other's perfect 10 mate, and she's like - 'oh, this is what you want. I'm perfect the way I am....etc...". It cracks me up.

We had our first company Christmas party on Friday, and it was pretty cool. I'd guess 70 or so people, many driving over a hour each way to get there. Probably a 1/4 of the attendees had never been to the sticks of Eldred NY.

It wasn't a party for our homeowners, it was a party for our team - and pretty much the whole team showed up for beer, wine and food at Baker's Tap Room.

I mean the guy who makes our reflective 911 signs at the Ambulance Auxillary, the guy who puts our gutters up, the cleaning company, 4 reps from our electrical company, 5 from our plumbing company, our architect and his friend who he must have paid to act like his girlfriend, the president of ProBuild Lumber, the President of Jeff Bank, the county Planning chairman, and really just about everyone who makes the Catskill Farms clock tick - too many to shout out by name or trade. It was a real tribute to our efforts.

Some of the people there have been with me for 5 or 6 years, since we were just a little company, barely surviving, taking the knock-down punches on a weekly basis, uncertain which would be the final blow that put us on the mat for good.

There's a large sampling to choose from - lack of money, world-wide real estate crash, some instances of just plain insanity from a few of our clients, vendors/employees/tradesmen who let us down or frankly just screwed us, interest rate increases, construction insurance, real estate taxes, lack of help, computer system meltdowns, impossibility of financing homes during 2009, or just keeping control of a fast growing business- and that's the stuff I can come up with quickly. A couple of the real good ones can't even be mentioned because of their delicacy and lingering raw feelings.

One of the secrets to our business is the fact that I like building a team as much as I like building and designing homes, or selling these homes to amazing people. The reward for me watching our team grow, mature, get better, execute more precisely, -watching the individual efforts grow and become broader in perspective.

At the end of the night, Janice my assistant asked me I got a lot of pictures. I mean, I'm a big picture taker, especially of events like this. But I hadn't even lifted my camera all-night - it just seemed pointless to try to capture the sense of the ambition, journey and accomplishment that this party signified. It's one of those occasions where a picture cheapens the reality by being unable to capture the essence of the moment.

So, here's to 2010 - a historic achievement against all odds. Kind of the same as 2009. I guess I shouldn't forget to mention 2008 was kind full of headwinds as well.

Someday, when we get some economic tailwinds, then watch out- then we will really be something to watch.

Wife's out of town with Lucas. I got to get back to Call of Duty: Black Ops.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New York City (or, Another Year Down)

So I am sitting here at the dining room table with lucas who is watching one of his shows - actually, an ingenious shows that marries two of his obsessions - choo choos and dinosaurs. It's a show named, what else, Dino Train. So he's over there watching it after dinner on the computer - Lisa is out on the town somewhere, and I go get the ice cream out of the freezer, cover it with a dish towel and sneak it back to the table, and station it opposite of Lucas, behind the laptop screen so he can't see what I am doing because there isn't enough ice cream to comfortably share.

Sure, kind of sad, but it was that really good Tom and Jerry's Half Baked, and he's such a glutton.

We stopped by Macy's this past weekend when we were in the City, and Lucas got to meet Santa again. Last year it was in Key West, this year NYC. Not bad for being two yrs old.

So I had no idea that Santa at Macy's wasn't just Santa but actually a maze of Christmas surprises around every corner like Santa Train, the Santa video, the Santa map, etc...

You could even send a letter to the North Pole in the red mail box, which I thought was pretty clever. I'm just glad it wasn't frickin' crowded because it was definitely deceiving how long the line could actually be in a worst case scenario crowd.

Somehow I got stuck carrying everyone's stuff while they gallivanted off to the elves and santa's sleigh and all the other fun stuff.

I didn't catch it on film, but there did seem to be a fair number of slightly tipsy hotties in line to have their picture taken with Santa. I mean, I didn't have time to do much other than remark about it, with all the carrying and picture-taking and human coat hooking I was charged with.

My blogging has certainly decelerated in the last 45 days but I'm expecting it to pick up again here shortly.

We hit the city a few times a year, but our big visit always falls a week or two prior to Christmas. It's a great time to visit the Big Apple and it coincides with our wedding anniversary as well.

We always stay at the W in Union Square, room 1212, the date of our wedding. It's a corner room with good south-western views across the square. The W was really on their game this year, with bubbly awaiting us that evening and the Wall Street Journal each morning instead of USA Today.

We had all these big fluffy pillows so we made a pillow fort, and I did a lot 'airplane crash' with Lucas, launching him from moderate heights onto the bed. I had to stop when Lisa caught a glance in the mirror of Lucas hurtling through the air towards the pillow fort. She's a party pooper like that.

Thursday we hit Chat -n- Chew with my good friend Zach, then Friday the owners of Cottage 23 took us out to dinner near Broadway, in addition to gifting us two house seats to the Scottsboro Boys, a musical satire of some pretty sad events back in the '30's. David, a co-owner of Cottage 23, played a part in the creation and deployment of the music end of this play.

Saturday we subwayed it to Brooklyn, to Park Slope, where I used to live, right off 7th Ave on Berkeley Place. I hadn't been back since 2001, when I left the city for good. Also pictured is the place I ate 6 times a week- the local taqueria.

Me in front of my old abode.

And Lucas playing trains in the hotel room. One day we went out and when we came back noticed that house-keeping had put his track and train neatly back together.

I don't know about you, and I definitely don't want to be politically incorrect, but doesn't Lucas in the picture below look like crippled child from Dicken's novel. Spindly legs and neck that can't support his head....

And then our house, above, decorated. We have our big company Christmas party this Friday and we are expecting about 80 people at Baker's Tap Room in Yulan. Should be fun.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Farm 14 Goes to Contract

Farm House 14 is a great home that sits perfectly on a couple of acres outside of Barryville, NY.
It didn't sell right away, so I turned it into our model home, pulling out furniture that I had stored away, including a disco ball light up the room with terrific multiple lights and colors.

Usually when a house isn't presold and we furnish it I pull out my big gun lucky charm - which is an old skool portrait of Abe Lincoln - old Abe, he gets the job done for me.

But now this great home is under contract at a super fair price. Actually quite a deal, so congrats to the owner's to be. You can't go wrong with this one.

Having a model home was awesome, and the fact that it didn't sell immediately, like we've become accustomed to, was a great reminder of the reality that success can be dangerous because you forget that things can change quickly, and that fear is a super attribute never to lose since it keeps you humble and conservative in this risky business of mine.

Over-confidence probably ranks up there as a real factor for a lot of business failures.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Lucas is looking pretty good in his holiday sweater vest. People say he looks like me. I think he looks pretty seriously single-minded here - probably contemplating some serious choo-choo strategy. He's looking pretty Williamsburg.

So we had 13 people and 3 canines and 29lb turkey for Dinner. The coat racks were the first to suffer from the invasion, suffering under the weight of individual coats of assorted variety. You know it's bad when people stop even trying to find a hook and just throw them on top. That's sort of an antique standing coat rack and probably not engineered for the occasion.

The one below is a favorite of mine - just caught the light right or something - it has that still life perfection to it.
My brother arrived late night Wednesday with his 4 kids and lab/daushound (I don't know how to spell it and can't even get close enough to google it correctly). They arrived at 9:30 and were raucous and kid-like - we kept Lucas awake so he partied down until like 11 which is late for a 2 yr old.
That's Sarah and Eli above, and Marcus below.

And they really kno how to tear up a room.
My dad had been visiting us for 2 weeks prior so we had the heat WAY up, but he was still shivering away. The plant actually moves faster than him at this point. That's my bro in the near-ground.
My Dad went French this holiday, breaking out the standard French hat. All he needed was a baguette and he would be all set.
That's my martini by the plant. Right at crunch time pre-dinner I had Lisa mix my sister and me up a serious martini - and then Lisa was really put off when Cynyth my Sister was off-focus and instead helping in the kitchen went around saying 'I'm just happy, I'm just so happy". Light weight.

There she is - guilty as charged. She's so happy.

Inside the old farmhouse at Crawford Road. The woman who owned it before me was an old school cabaret singer. That's the thing about the Sullivan County section of the Catskill's - it's filled with so much under the radar cool people just doing their thing.

Theresa our neighbor holding court.

"Getting the mail" - actually smoking cigarettes! Where are we? France?

Lucas with the essentials.

And pretty much a great pic of how we all spent the day on Saturday and Sunday, catching up on some zzzzz's in the fully integrated media room. that's right - one of my long term aspirations has been achieved - the surround sound works, the playstation/dvd player works and is internet ready, I can hook my computer up to the TV, and I've extended my wireless network done into the sunken media room, which was always a tough spot for reception before.

The holidays are always a neat time for me, as a business person, because I live in the midst of my 70 homes and nothing is more satisfying than all the cars and lights on and smoke from the fireplace, and decorations at the homes we have all around time.

From a solitary kitchen light late night, to the folks who hustled up on Saturday morning after 5 other family obligations, to the stackers of firewood, to the host of the extended clan - it's really what it is all about.

Good times, in houses that work. A simple concept in a hurried world.