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A Decade of Pittsburgh

Last weekend, after we sold our house, we sneaked out of town to the farm where we got married. My boys ran around the yard where we said our vows. Our rabbi came back and we held a naming ceremony for Oren in Corey’s grandmother’s house, where we signed our ketubah. It was lovely.

And when we got back, we remembered we’ve been in Pittsburgh for 10 years. A decade of living in this place that was once thought to be a stop-over in between “things” in our lives. A rest stop for graduate school.

Now we’re on our second home here, we’ve made 3 little boys here, we’ve dived into the public school system here and joined nonprofit boards and made careers. I mean, Corey has a career and I’m feeling like I have a career, even if it’s small because I’ve made choices around my parenting.

But we can make these sorts of choices here, because Pittsburgh!

When we moved here, Corey felt like I should have a blog. I didn’t even know what blogs were, so he made one for me and wrote the first post. Then, the same day, I wrote my first ever blog post. It was about moving and finding a wonderful building and falling in love with it online.

How true this felt, as I sit at the dining room table in my new house that I knew we’d buy when I saw the pictures online.

Thanks, Pittsburgh, for one decade of awesome. I hope to stick around here for another 2 at least!

Posted by on August 19th, 2015 No Comments

Why I’m Eating Chocolate Squares Today

  1. It’s pouring, pouring, vomiting rain outside and I’m able to see just how badly damaged our downspouts are.
  2. Related to this, I’m standing outside under my children’s Eric Carle umbrella watching the rain pour from the broken downspout right into my basement window wells
  3. I’m profiling a woman who works for WIC in Allegheny County, which means I have to get permission to interview her, which means dealing with multiple layers of administrative offices for social services. And having to re-explain why I’m calling each time. And having to re-spell my name each time.
  4. Yes, L-E-V. No Y. Right. Just 3 letters. I know, it does sound like Love, doesn’t it?
  5. There’s still no electricity in my living room and it’s hot and I just want to turn on the ceiling fan, which I couldn’t do if there was electricity because we weren’t given a remote control for it. 
  6. I have to take all 3 kids for blood tests for lead since we now live in a 120-year-old house and we’re having work done. That’s right. Someone will approach Miles with a needle, and I’m going to have to be in charge of him during this. 
  7. We have basically zero dollars in our checking account today, but provided closing goes well tomorrow we will have tens of thousands of dollars…
  8. The main reason I am eating chocolate squares today is that we close on our house tomorrow. I hope.

Look at that river of inexplicably-soapy water just flowing into my window well and, subsequently, my basement.

Posted by on August 10th, 2015 1 Comment

Settling in the New Hood

Since Monday, we have made the following headway in settling in our new neighborhood:

  • walked to the hippie food store, passing idle construction equipment en route, occupying all my boys for almost an hour
  • made Facebook friends with 2 people living on the new street
  • invited one of these new Facebook friends over for a beer, which…
  • we went to the nearby East End Brewery to get in growler-form
  • walked to/from the spray park
  • met some neighbor kids at the nearby Westinghouse playground, where local kid Josiah tells me there are sometimes parties with hot dogs and mac n cheese
  • greeted old friends who are now close neighbors, and who came bearing another growler of delicious beer

I still feel a little bit like I’m staying in a hotel, but each time I hang a familiar pot on the wall or sleep soundly in my new bed, it feels closer to home.

Closing on the old house is scheduled for Tuesday. I’ll rest easy after that happens…but likely not before!

Posted by on August 9th, 2015 1 Comment

Observations from My Probably-Last Night On My Deck

Despite all my promises not to care if the new owners change things about the house, I’m feeling protective over a text from my realtor that they don’t want the compost bin. I’m afraid this means they are just going to throw their food scraps in the garbage! I’m choosing to remain hopeful that they are A) installing a garbage disposal or B) springing for a barrel-type composter with a crank.

After I got the children to sleep, I climbed up into the garden that’s been reclaimed by the knotweed to dismember the compost bin. It came up from the ground easier than I thought, and I was able to spread the not-composted scraps under the fertile soil. Here’s hoping the remaining egg shells and corn husks disintegrate in the sun before closing. More likely, the knotweed will cover the pile until nobody knows there was once a composter there.

This is one of my last days to live in a house with central air conditioning, so even though the heat has broken and the air feels lovely, I will keep the AC blasting inside and soak it up while I can.

The new rain cap that the buyers asked us to install on the chimney has trapped a large pigeon, which our roofer suggests was probably living in the chimney and inexplicably didn’t fly out during the installation. Our choices are to wait for the pigeon to die in there or hope that Derrick can stop by sometime very soon to try to pry it out.

Window treatments are agonizing to purchase. I stopped at the new house to put sheets on the newly-delivered king sized bed in the master bedroom, and realized the 46-inch wide windows have no coverings. So I went to 3 stores to search for something simple, became paralyzed with indecision, and am now using my deck time to search online for different sorts of shades.

There will never again be a place as serene as this back deck, with a wooded hill across the yard.

I think the bats are mating back here because they are flying around screeching in pairs.

Tonight is a Blue Moon, which my dairy farmer children are pissed they won’t see…except they will see it because they get up early enough in the morning to watch it set. Anyway, so determined was Felix to stay up until dark that I didn’t realize he’d sneaked downstairs, hid under the dining room table to poop in his Jake and the Neverland Pirates Pullup. He scared ten years off my life and is weeping next to me on the deck, searching for the moon like Harold, sans purple crayon.

I wish I had a beer, but I’ve been reluctant to go to the grocery store to buy more things to move to the new house. So instead I have Chambersburg peaches, and it’s just as good.

Posted by on July 31st, 2015 1 Comment

Plumber Texts and Other Strokes

Here, you see water bubbling out from the cracked gutter above my storm drain. On the plus side, the crack makes it super easy for my plumber to access the pipe with his snake! (In the background, you can see the termite-riddled shingles on the mud room)

I’ve almost stopped having strokes each time I talk with contractors at the new house. Almost! It’s just that it’s all SO EXPENSIVE. We have a budget, and the porch not being a death trap after all will really give us some leeway, but let me be the first to tell you there will not be enough leeway for a fantasy kitchen remodel.

Or even to paint the inside of the house.

All the “this and that” requests from the buyers added up, and this morning, I woke up to a text from our new-house-plumber: “I snaked the drain and only got 6 feet. There’s a pretty major problem.”

And then I haven’t been able to reach him ever since! I know he turned the gas back on to the kitchen, so that’s cool, but I have no idea what constitutes major to him and how that compares to what constitutes major to me. In terms of dollar bills.

Corey says this is not stroke worthy because he was only snaking the storm drain. But then he took that sentiment back because there’s so much concrete and so much roof and what the hell would we do with the roof runoff.

I’m not currently working on any writing projects apart from my long-term blogging gig. This is fortunate because I fill all that time on the phone with contractors, insurance agencies, home warranty customer service, and appliance delivery guys.

I’m trying to focus not on the plumber text, but instead on the round piece of wood I snagged from the roofer’s scrap heap at my current house. He was chopping out pieces of the eaves to install vents and I’ve been wanting a piece of this house to carry with me. I’m gonna hang that puppy on the wall at the new house and stare at it lovingly. It can be my focal point when we finally get the estimates for the fireplace bathroom renovation.

Here, you inexplicably see soap bubbling up from the same cracked sewer drain pipe.

Posted by on July 29th, 2015 1 Comment

Dear People Who Will Buy This House:

You’ve asked us to fix a few things in this house, and honestly, I’m glad. The house can use some TLC. It’s looking tatty around the edges, so I’m glad the roof is getting a spruce up and the basement drywall is getting a haircut.

We didn’t mend the porch boards like we should have, but I swear to you I refinished the deck between pregnancies. I couldn’t keep up with the back vegetable garden, but just know that once zucchini plants thrived in that fertile soil. You’ll find playground balls in your yard, tossed down from the elementary school up on the hill. You’ll curse the barking dogs at 5am on the nights you sleep with the windows open.

But you’ll love watching the moon rise through the back bedroom windows or soaking up the sunset with your feet on the rail of the deck.

As we prepare the house for the touch-up work, boxing up all the possessions we’ve gathered as we built our family here, I’m awash with nostalgia for this house and what it’s meant to our family. Corey just took a binocular case from the mantle (there used to be a gilded mirror mounted there, but we pried it down. I think you’ll appreciate that) and shook its contents into a Ziplock bag: tissues printed with $100-bills, a handful of beer-bottle caps, medals from the Kids Marathon, and Matchbox cars. So many Matchbox cars.

If you aren’t careful, new owners, you’ll step on rogue Matchbox cars in the dark as you roam this house.

I remember buying this house, and wrinkling my nose at the holes in the wall where the former owners never mended the damage caused by their baby gates. These holes are still in that doorway. If you look at all the other doorways (and I’m sure you will) you’ll see chunks of paint rubbed off from our pressure gates for our babies.

I wonder if, as you paint the living room a color to suit your tastes, you’ll notice where the wall is scratched from the back of the green chair, where I sat to nurse all three of my boys.

I wonder if you’ll grumble at the deep dent in the wall near the bottom step, where little boys picked at the plaster as they sat in timeout for this infraction or that.

Will you paint over the tire marks on the basement walls, where I learned to carry a bike down the steps, heaved over one shoulder, after I commuted to and from work in Oakland?

This little house was where I learned to be an adult, where we became parents, where I built my freelance career from my seat on the back deck, looking into the woods while the Rose of Sharon bloom.

Beyond these walls and this yard (that’s never quite tended properly), you’ll find the best neighbors you never thought existed. These neighbors will cut your grass when you’re in the hospital and take your garbage out when you leave town. They’ll throw you a farewell party with pancakes, Pop-tarts, and poetry.

These neighbors will bring you plates of home-grown figs and freshly laid eggs. They’ll mulch your flower beds if they’ve got some to spare and they’ll drop frozen broccoli on your porch steps when you have none for dinner.

Of course, it’s not polite for me to leave this letter for you on the counter or tell you all of this at closing. What I’ll probably do is what the former owner did when we closed on this house in 2007. I’ll take your hand and look in your eyes and tell you, “Just enjoy this house. Enjoy it!” Because I know you will. You’ll make it yours and it will feel like home to you.

Posted by on July 26th, 2015 1 Comment

Desperate Times and Moaning Minions

When I was in college, I read Fast Food Nation and it transformed how I ate and viewed the food system. Fourteen years passed before I ate at McDonald’s again, and I did so out of desperation–I had traveled by plane to my husband’s brother’s wedding with a 5 year old, a 2 year old, and a 5-week-old baby, all of whom were asleep in the car and we were very hungry. So. Drive through won out.

Last weekend, during the fridge flood episode at the new house, we got desperately hungry again and stopped at McDonald’s for lunch, where we bought Happy Meals for the children. The Minion toys in that Happy Meal are my karmic retribution for any misery that happened as a result of that fast food stop.

Have you seen the Minion toys in person? They grunt. They’re on some sort of sensor where they grunt in response to vibrations in the Earth’s core or a butterfly sneeze. We have 2 of them floating around the house. Maybe they’ve rolled under the couch. Maybe they’re buried in a bin of stuffed animals?

Hell, maybe I packed them in a box of baking supplies. Who knows where they are?

All I know is that each time Felix has a screaming meltdown, the Minion toys grunt along with his wails.

Last night, he was thrashing about accompanied by “hey-hey.” This morning, while the boys banged their fists on the table demanding scrambled eggs, the Minions joined their chorus.

Miles tells me one of the Minions is in the trash, which is just the right place for him. Except we took the trash out on Thursday and still, two Minions taunt us. We are going to move out of this house and I’m worried these Minions won’t turn up. Then the new owners will be plagued by the ghosts of these grunting toys, whose batteries will never, ever die.


Posted by on July 25th, 2015 No Comments

Under Construction: Getting the New House Safe and Dry

For posterity, here is a list of projects we are taking on to make the new house safe and dry for habitation. We do not DIY things. Corey is from New Jersey. He read a book to learn how to work the lawn mower when we bought our first house. I have 3 children, 2 of whom are breastfeeding. We hired contractors, for Pete’s sake. Bryan seems to be our point-person project manager, and Hussein seems to be his next-in-charge person. This is what they will do:

New roof–this is actually already done. The entire, massive mansard roof has already been replaced, along with the slate shingles along the front portion.

Remove termite-damaged cedar shingles along mudroom exterior–the carpenters started this today

Remove concrete hearth that was sinking onto the gas line because termites ate all the wood from the floors beneath it–today, when I took the contractors through the house to show them the hearth, a herd of them clicked into frenzied measuring when we got into the basement and they saw the wood floor boards that were not holding up the concrete very well. They all whipped out tape measures and started taking notes, talking about framing this and supporting that. Bryan, said, “It’s not the worst I’ve ever seen. I once saw a house with a breaker box inside, powering the dentist’s office next door.”

Fix the gas line leading to the oven that was somehow so unsafely installed that the city put a tag on our gas line. Hussein says he thinks he can fix that pretty quickly.

Install a microwave above the stove. This wasn’t necessary for safety or dryness, but seemed like a good thing to have done while the guys were in the kitchen.

Install new windows. [insert long, slow whistle] This house has a lot of windows. Most of them are leaking, broken, or inadequate.

Treat the property for termites. Done! The termite man came right after closing.

Remediate the radon seeping into the basement. I keep forgetting to call the radon people. They told me to wait until after the roof was done and it just kept slipping my mind. Gah!

Change the locks. Because dudes be walking into my house, yo! We had Ace Lock come right after that incident. We also found a combination lock box for a key (it was buried in a drawer) so now we have a nice, safe way to let our contractors into the house.

Replace the bilco doors to the basement. The doors are currently rusted and actually crumbling to pieces. When it rains, water comes down the steps in waves. It just seeps in there.

Replace crumbling front porch that’s sinking onto the gas main. This was something that allowed us to negotiate the price of the house in a big way. We have had a number of people in to look at it since closing, and the engineer feels that the porch is actually ok. Rather than pay tens of thousands of dollars to repair the porch, we’re going with the engineer’s assessment and skipping that project for now.

Replace the broken balustrades. Every time we showed a relative a photo of a staircase in our house, the relative would say, “You have to replace those balustrades! Your children are going to DIE!” Relatives, please know that we know this and it’s on the work order and Hussein’s little brother took care of most of it today.

Add some closet bars and shelves in the walk-in closet. Which is currently just an empty room next to the master, or, as I call it, the ancillary chamber. This is neither a safety nor dryness issue, and purely frivolous and I love it and it will probably cost a total of $200.

Install a washer and dryer in the second floor. These will go in the “fireplace bathroom” in lieu of the fireplace. Again, not a safety or dryness issue per se, but this will save me a bunch of trips into the wet, radon-filled basement so sort of?

People keep telling me to take pictures, that we’ll enjoy looking at them later. I’m not sure what to take pictures of! Next time I’m over there, I’ll snap a few action shots of Hussein measuring the gnawed-up sub-floor, I guess.

Posted by on July 20th, 2015 1 Comment

Wedding Dress Final Destination

After hemming and hawing about what to do with my wedding dress for years, I have finally come to a decision.

There were so many choices! One friend gave hers to a charity who auctioned them to benefit women with cancer hoping to grant wishes. Other friends gave theirs to charities that give them to women in need. Still others gave them to a local tailor who transforms the gowns into burial gowns for premies and babies who don’t make it home from the NICU.

Each organization that touched my heart was unfortunately (or fortunately?) maxed out: everyone was overrun with gowns donated by women eager to repurpose their dresses in this way. Or else my dress was too old to meet their guidelines.

So! I came to a decision.

I found a tailor who will make kippot for my boys to maybe wear at their own weddings, and at least for them to wear at special occasions. When she came to my house to gather the dress, bedecked in a Welcome to the Night Vale t-shirt so I knew she’d be cool, she suggested making some pocket squares for the boys, too. Perfect!

I’ll never have a daughter who wants to wear my wedding dress, but I have 3 sons who now have fancy pocket squares and yarmulke to mark special occasions.

I’ve been so busy with the houses and their construction projects that I didn’t even take time to have a sentimental farewell to the dress. I didn’t attempt to put it on again, because I know it won’t come anywhere close to closing. I didn’t hold it against my chest and twirl. I just sort of pried it out of the preservation box in between pumping for my baby and sending off some grant research.

That’s where I am right now: I don’t have time to wax nostalgic about a dress I’m transforming into a nostalgic keepsake. And that’s ok.

The goods are supposed to be done next week. I’m so excited to see what she creates.

Posted by on July 20th, 2015 No Comments

Net Gain? A House Update

What I’m about to share is probably gross. You might want to skip reading this.

If you’re still with me, allow me to paint a picture of life with 5 people sharing one bathroom. The other day, I was third in line to pee. My then-five-year-old tried cutting the line, and I had to elbow him out of the way, hissing, “Wait your turn!”

Later that night, I was bathing the younger 2 boys. I crouched by the tub, shampooing one and then the other while, an inch or so from my head, Miles sat upon the toilet grunting with the effort of a massive bowel movement. In between checking the little boys for ticks and scrubbing their armpits, I had to pause and help my oldest son wipe his ass.

He then had to sit in there with us marinating in his stank because the bathroom door doesn’t open while I’m crouching on the ground beside the tub.

So, for that reason, I’m over the moon with anticipation of life in a house with 4 bathrooms. We’ll have one on the first floor (a “powder room” more reminiscent of the tiny toilet room in the rugby house at Penn State), one on the second floor plus one off the master bedroom and then one linking the play room and office on the third floor. If we arranged the rooms differently up there, it’d be just like that bathroom linking the boys’ and girls’ bedrooms on The Brady Bunch.

And also there is this in the basement:

Would you rather take a long, hot bath down there OR lick one of the cobwebs on the wall and get to run away immediately?

So anyway, we’ve got the bathrooms working in our favor. The other stuff is…overwhelming.

We knew we were in for a big project and there would be a lot of work to get the house ready for habitation. It’s the unexpected stuff that’s just sending me over the edge. When we had a worker in removing the cat-urine-soaked carpeting, a man burst in the front door incredulous that we were removing the carpet.

He identified himself both as the man who had “fixed up” the house and the fiance of the former owner. He seemed insulted we were removing the carpet and asked, pointedly, “And what about the kitchen? Are you making any CHANGES in there?”

I share this story because soon after, the city tagged our gas line because of improper, unsafe setup to the gas stove in the kitchen. Also, this morning when Corey and I arrived at the house, the fridge was gushing water into the kitchen. We hadn’t been at the house since Thursday, so that meant at minimum 36 hours of a river flowing over the tile and down into the basement, where at least we have a drain in the floor.

So, if that man were to burst into the house a second time, I’d wonder a little more pointedly why he asked about changing the kitchen. Perhaps he’d tell me what else he did shittily so I could just know it all in advance?

An old house comes with many problems, but we have our whole lives to fix them. I keep reminding myself as long as it’s safe and dry, we’re ok. Problem is I’m not sure what’s safe and it’s not currently dry.

We move into the new digs in 2 weeks. I’ve been trying to work out my frustration by furiously packing boxes at the old house.

Posted by on July 18th, 2015 No Comments