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

They’re Starting to Eat

Growing up, my parents’ best friends had 4 sons and a daughter. My mom spent a lot of time joking about the ways the mom hid loaves of bread throughout the house and bought 64 pairs of tighty-whities at a time. This poor woman kicked off each school year buying cases of white socks and went through multiple gallons of milk per week. I remember they had at least 2 refrigerators and a huge chest freezer in their basement.

I am pretty close to living her life right now.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to make it a full week without a restocking trip to the grocery store, which I find horrifying from both a planning (why aren’t I better at planning our shopping??)  and logistical (how the hell am I supposed to make it to the grocery store twice in a week?) perspective.

I make meal plans and buy the ingredients for these meals like always. Rather than my meals producing enough food for two suppers, they now induce fight over who gets to eat the broccoli because one bag of the frozen florets is laughably inadequate.

And the snacks don’t seem to cut it. The kids aren’t ever hungry at the times I imagine, or else they boycott the snacks they ate last week.

We eat a pint of strawberries in a sitting, but 3 pints will spoil by the end of the week.

We’re currently eating 8 eggs for a breakfast scramble, but I really need to bump that up to 9 eggs because Oren is a food-monster. So that means finding room in the fridge for at least 3 dozen eggs for the week.

Why make eggs every day for breakfast? Because in addition to the eggs they eat bowls of cereal with cow-milk and pints of strawberries. I begin each day madly producing mass quantities of food that I barely have time to serve before it’s inhaled and the minions are begging for another course. The plus side to this madness is I often get to eat in peace my own bowl of whatever cereal crumbs are left after they’ve tumbled upstairs to cross streams all peeing at the same time…

Felix usually refuses to eat supper, which is fine because Oren eats his portion. Miles eats everything on his plate. At bedtime, they reveal that they are ravenously hungry and Corey prepares bowls of things. Pretzels and almonds. Peanut-butter-balls. Animal crackers. All of it goes upstairs and gets eaten. Hundreds and hundreds of calories.

I’m still nursing 2 kids, so I still eat like I’m playing competitive rugby.

We only have one refrigerator, but we are definitely going to need to up our game when we move into the new house. I’ll have a butler’s pantry to store the Costco-crates of granola bars and snack foods, but where will I keep all the cheese sticks when I’m buying pallets of eggs and butter by the pound?

Who will come suggest a shopping list that will last me more than 5 days and then come help me haul it all into my house from the back of my over-loaded minivan?

Posted by on July 9th, 2015 2 Comments

Comments from Strangers: New Essay Published

In May, I mentioned that I was excited for another essay to be published. Today, it has! I wrote this very quickly, actually, when a friend invited me to read at an open mic night. I didn’t have anything prepare and thought I would have to turn her down, but then I was able to finish this fun piece. I love Brain, Child, and I love being featured among their authors.

If I got to add an addendum, I’d put in yesterday’s gem: “You got them playing football? The big one could be playing football.”

Posted by on July 8th, 2015 3 Comments

Two Different Premesis

Currently, I own 2 houses. Two!

We closed on the new house June 24 with only minor snags (more on that later). The roofers and termite men came immediately to begin work. The gas company also immediately put a tag on my line because apparently things aren’t too safe in there…we knew about some of the issues but not others. We’d also forgotten we were getting a home warranty with the house, so we’re hoping some of these issues can be covered via that warranty.

I feel frustrated by the whole process of getting in contractors, because it’s already been more than a week and all we’ve accomplished is making a list of priorities and arranging to schedule a consult with an engineer. The contractor keeps assuring Corey that things should be habitable by August 1, which is our target move date.

The house had a stale, musty odor, like cat piss and cigarette smoke, so we had the carpet removed. The third floor carpet was stained anyway, but the second floor carpet looked like it had been installed to sell the house. I hate to waste new carpet, but it stank and it was very poor quality, so out it went. Just putting in new carpet helped the smell a thousand fold.

I’ve moved in a few vanloads of the kids’ toys and the heap that utterly overwhelmed my entire house just looks like a little bit of clutter in the play room at the new house. It’s amazing what 2,000 additional square feet can do!

This coming weekend, we’ve hired some young folks to help us move out of the storage unit. I think that will help me feel less “in between.” I’m eager to just feel like we live one place or the other!

In the mean time, I’ll just be sitting around panicking waiting for the results of our current home inspection, which happened last Friday. That’s right–we’ve got a buyer lined up for our first home. Emotions are flying high for me right now. Free time is sparse. Ideas are stagnant. But adventure awaits!

Posted by on July 6th, 2015 No Comments

First Family Vacation

In the thick of marathon work, I told Corey I wanted us to go away together when we got him back. Of course, it doesn’t really make much sense to take a trip in early May. Pull the kids from school? Plan a trip right after a stressful string of solo parenting? We decided it was better to go in early June as soon as school was out.

We decided to do what Pittsburghers do and go up to Erie to the lake.

I polled my mom-friends. I collected their wisdom and prior experiences and got us a hotel room for 3 nights, about 15 minutes’ drive from Presque Isle. What a lovely adventure!

As I buckled the kids in the car, I realized this was our first family vacation that wasn’t doubling up as a trip to see other relatives. Miles actually asked me where his grandparents would be sleeping on our trip. What a profound moment, when we told him it was just us, just Team Lev.

We were combining this trip with showing our house for sale, so the build up to the trip was very stressful and involved a lot of me yelling at the children, but we made sure that the trip was a vacation from the moment we pulled out of the driveway. This meant fast food for dinner. Kids meals that featured How to Train Your Dragon placemats, which Felix calls “Dragon Food.”

I must say that Erie has won me over as a lovely vacation spot. Less than a 2-hour drive, free parking on the beach. There were gentle waves and bathrooms and shade trees. There are life guards on duty later in the day and Presque Isle includes kites and bike trails and hiking paths.

I can’t imagine us enjoying many repeat visits to the small museums there, so a trip to Erie might end up a bit drab if it rains, but when the weather is fair, it seems like a place our family will enjoy visiting again and again.

Next time, I think I’ll try to find us a house to rent. The novelty of the hotel wore off pretty quickly and I realized it was a lot to ask the boys to be on their best behaviors for meals 3 times a day for 3 full days. My initial delight that the hotel included free breakfast was overshadowed by the kids having to not act like their usual selves during breakfast at 6am. A tall order for rowdy boys!

Each of us has something we’d like to do on a return trip–bike the perimeter of the peninsula, find more seashells, climb the light house, brave a trip down the steps into the belly of the brig Niagara. Hopefully we’ll make it back there again this summer, even if just for a day trip.

Posted by on June 21st, 2015 No Comments

Someone Forgot to Tell the Baby

boys at lake

Oren crawled right after them, the entire distance to the water.

Someone forgot to tell Oren that he’s a baby. Or else he is choosing to ignore this fact. My ten-month-old is so eager to follow his big brothers that he is just skipping right over baby things and doing big-boy things.

He stands at the train table just playing trains like the big boys.

He jumps on the little trampoline in the basement, climbs up there himself and everything.

He has started riding the little scooter at the Toy Library, so desperate is he for a means to keep up pace with his brothers who zoom around there on tricycles.

Often, this kid forgets that he doesn’t know how to walk. So he will let go of the sofa and move to walk after a brother, and then fall onto his face because, of course, he’s a baby.

I’m sure it’s typical for subsequent children to zoom through milestones as they move to keep up with their beloved older siblings. I recall Felix learning to play with certain toys earlier, for instance. Maybe because this is my last baby I’m feeling particularly sentimental. But rather than swell with pride that my boy is such an independent little sunshine, I want to clutch him to my bosom and weep.

You only get a year out of a baby, and that year is almost up. This last stretch of baby time is marked by crazed cleanings as we show our house (18 showings so far. EIGHTEEN) and stress as we hurry to make sure everything is set for closing on the new house. Also, packing and moving. I’m trying really hard to slow down and just sit in wonder and be with my baby, especially since he’s determined not to be a baby.

Posted by on June 17th, 2015 2 Comments

Wherein I Gush About My Middle Big Boy

Felix is intense and sensitive. I don’t think I realized that about him until he learned how to talk. But he’s not only sensitive to mean talk or unwanted instruction, he’s sensitive to the needs of his family members. If he’s got more than one of something, he often offers some to his brothers.

Last weekend, when I took the big boys for haircuts, he happily stood aside while Miles claimed the first stylist available. Then, even though his haircut finished first, he happily waited for his brother to be done before starting to eat his lollipop, so they could enjoy pops together.

Rather than cut-throat competitiveness like some people in our family, he prefers to wait until everyone is ready for things like walks home from the stop sign or enjoying dessert.

Sure, he gets pissed off and, in spectacular fashion, kicks a damn hole in the drywall at daycare before crawling inside like Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption. But he also carries around a baby doll starts each morning by carefully tucking her into some blankets and fluffed pillows on the couch.

He has a fantastic imagination, and offers me the first magical glimpses of a child who pretends things–really pretends and imagines new scenarios. He drags squares of blue fabric to be water and arranges frogs and plastic ocean mammals to swim. He takes plastic sea lions with him into the bathtub so they can hunt for fish he also brings into the bath tub.

He loves, loves, loves to sing, “Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg. The Batmobile lost a wheel and Joker did ballet.”

And he watches Jake and the Neverland Pirates while he eats astounding amounts of cheese. This boy rejects celery for being too spicy, can balance on one leg while riding his scooter, and clasped his hands in delight when given a pack of 8 tubes of Chapstick.

I worry frequently that I don’t pay proper attention to him. I’m always overwhelmed by one or the other of his brothers. I see now how middle children get lost in the shuffle.

I don’t read books with Felix like I did with Miles, but I try to take him to the Aviary as much as I can because I love watching him love birds there.

All he wants in the world is for someone to play with him, preferably his brothers, but really anyone who wants to climb on top of the gravel pile in the construction zone next door and push a truck. But not the garbage truck–that one is his, and he’s busy refueling it with the tubing he stole from my breast pump.

His rewards for cooperating with a strep test, his fifth of the year.


Posted by on June 12th, 2015 1 Comment