31 October 2007
30 October 2007
We were six weeks away from our wedding and we still had a lot left to do on the house. We were both out of our apartments, we had no money to get a new one together after the wedding, and we didn't want to impose on our friends any more than we already had. We were going to live in this house no matter what condition it was in. We had informed all the subs that they could work up until the wedding, but we were not allowing access in and out of the house while we were gone for the last two weeks in September. The only thing that was supposed to occur during this period of time was the installation of our new water line from the street to the house - a task that required only access into the basement of the house, which is accessed only from the outside of the house. We had no interior stair yet on the house, and the only bathroom remotely close to operation was on the second floor, but we were going to have a ladder and we were prepared to make the trek up and down to use the john. It sure was going to beat going outside to get there. When we left for the wedding we had the kitchen sink installed, the second floor toilet in place, and the bath portion of our claw foot tub ready (the exposed shower components were still in the box.) There was no paint on the walls, the window was leaky, and you could feel the air blow across you when you stood next to the tub. But still, it was indoors, and we had high hopes.
Those hopes were dashed when we arrived back from our honeymoon. For two glorious weeks we put all thoughts of the house aside. We nursed our aching joints and muscles, finished the last minute wedding items in the comfort of my parents house with copious amounts of indoor toilets, and then, after a fabulous night of feasting and dancing, we flew to Vancouver where we wined and dined, shopped and relaxed, boated and hiked and didn't pick up one single hammer. When the cab turned onto our street we peered anxiously for the telltale road patch, the newly poured sidewalk patch, the plumbers street sign warning of the access hole in the road. Nothing. Nada. Not a bit of asphalt was disturbed. Turns out the plumber never came, and the water line was never installed. No amount of wishing at the foot of the fixtures was going to make water spurt from their shiny orifices. We had a home with no indoor plumbing. (And - we were about to live there without an occupancy permit - but shhh, don't tell.)
We got the plumber back on track, but we still lived in a house for nearly two weeks with no indoor plumbing. We lived on the first floor, in what is now the dining room. Each morning we climbed out of bed, freezing in the drafty house that was still not buttoned up tightly around the windows. Months before we ever started this project we were both members of a gym that was near my apartment, but about 20 minutes from the new house. We hadn't been there in months, instead spending all of our energy lifting plaster buckets and bench pressing 2x4's. We took up the gym habit again, this time out of necessity. We danced around the chilly dining room getting dressed, grabbed our work clothes and ran out the door, trying not to think about the one thing that most people do the second they get out of bed - relieve themselves. At the gym we first hit the bathrooms, then spent a few on the various machines to make the visit look legit. After that we hit the showers, and joined the rest of the fitness serious in their morning career look prep. When we exited we looked like real people who chose to get ready at the gym, not people who were forced to. We kept this up for a few weeks, and slowly we stopped even bothering to work out, just heading straight for the showers. We were just too tired to run a few laps on the elliptical.
Plumbing progressed, and soon we had working fixtures. We finally got the opening trimmed out in the central stair hall so that we could place a ladder in the hole and access the upstairs bathroom. This was much better than running outside into the winter air to get there. Our first floor bathroom was not complete, and was hosting a temporary clothes rod that liked to fall down occasionally in the middle of the night. The kitchen was coming together - we didn't have a dishwasher yet, but everything else functioned nicely. We celebrated our first Thanksgiving there together - too tired and too broke to travel for the holiday.
Christmas came, and we celebrated in style with my first real tree - a giant ten footer that was a bear to get home and in the door. But it was glorious, and the house looked so much better when the lights were low and the tree lights sparkled. After the new year we got serious on the stair design, and soon the steel brackets arrived, and then the treads for sealing, and then our contractor who was helping us assemble the whole thing. Since the house never had an interior stair before, we opted against installing one that "looked" historical, and erected a very modern, simple stair that floats away from the wall and lets light pass through from up above. We hoped one day to finish off the attic floor, and maybe even add a skylight above that would filter light though this stair to the first floor 35 feet below. Putting the stair together was a lot of work, but a lot of fun. Once it was in, it really made the house start to feel like a home. We had been working slowly and steadily on trimming rooms out, priming and painting walls, and were able to move out of our dining room and upstairs to our bedroom. We still had no closets, so things were in boxes all over, but we were making progress, and the house project was still enjoyable.
Which was good, because we still had a long way to go, and we were only one year into it...
Volume one is here.
Volume two is here.
Volume three is here.
29 October 2007
In the spirit of the season, and because she is so excited about her costume this year, we seem to be attending one event after another. It's like Halloween used to be the big wedding where everyone wore their finest - every thread was in order and of the finest material, the hair was styled perfectly and the makeup was applied with great care. Now it seems like we've got a whole week of celebration - the final fittings of the costume, the portrait session, a break for the bachelor party - an adults only night out amongst the early Halloween crowd in their near-scandalous barely-there wear. Then there's the rehearsal dinner at the casual local joint down the street, the event day luncheon at the pumpkin patch the morning of with the whole party (or schoolmates) all in a row on the hay wagon. And then finally, the event itself where hopefully the costume is still intact, and the guests all answer their doorbells and drop goodies off the registry into the plastic upturned pumpkin. Approving nods for the name brand chocolates, bonus points for ones with nuts and caramel, sighs of resignation for the cheap sweets that come in the big multi-packs, or the individually wrapped fake hot dogs made out of some strange gummy material that no one can digest. Thankfully there are no thank-yous to write, but alas, there's no honeymoon either. Unless you count the days of extra chocolate a sort of escape from reality. I do.
This afternoon was library day, so a quick trip was made to drop off the old books and pick up the new. The bag was emptied tonight and the majority of books were Halloween in nature. One was deemed too scary for nighttime, another sported a scary page amongst the tame ones. I told her if any were too scary that she could get out of bed and put them in the library book bin until morning. As I type this, it is quiet up there, and then there's the thump. The loud steps across the room, the sound of a plastic wrapped book being shoved into a metal bin. Long minutes pass, and then the thump again. I'm not sure she'll have any left by morning. Fear grows in the night hours, and Halloween lets us dance around those fears a bit, and then come back into the warm bright house and sort the loot for awhile.
We're midway through this conviviality, and we aren't wearied (yet), but this constant carousing requires maintenance. So we pull out the hot glue gun, we touch up the red paint, we dust off the black tights with the lint brush. And we do it all again the next day.
She is so proud of her costume this year. It's not the kind of costume that hides her enough, or transforms her enough beyond the shy, quiet kid in the crowd. She doesn't become something else when she puts it on; it doesn't help her become the fearless superhero or the dainty princess of her dreams. I can just tell in the way she listens to the comments (and there are lots), the way she holds her chin up high, the way her dimples start to peek out from behind the face that is trying not to smile too much under the strain of the attention. Kids love Lego's, they all recognize it instantly, and they want to figure out how she made it. She doesn't want to be on a stage somewhere taking first prize for her costume (she'd never stand up and accept it anyway). She just seems to like the way people do a double take and think it's a clever idea. I can just tell that when I look at her. Plus, it just really cracks me up.
So we continue to work on this shyness around strangers, and maybe that's why Halloween is so fun for us. It's not a lot of high pressure, but a good opportunity for E to practice getting those words out to someone she's never met before. And the reward is instantaneous as its plunked into the outstretched bucket. Heady from her costume success at the party tonight, and perhaps a bit dizzy and wired from ten or twelve trips down the three story curving slide, she bounced out into the parking lot talking a mile a minute. We reminded her that she needed to speak up on Wednesday night, to be brave in the face of friendly strangers, and to thank those that gave her candy for her efforts. To our knowledge she has never actually mustered a "Trick-or-treat" out in an audible range since she first went door to door as a little duck. I stopped her on the concrete stairs and said "Hey - let's practice. I'm here, you come ring the door bell and when I answer it you say loudly and bravely Trick or Treat".
She dug this, totally getting into her new role. March, march, march. "Ding Dong."
I opened the pretend door, commented on her lovely costume and waited expectantly.
"Trick," she said boldly with her pretend bag thrust out in front of her.
I paused, wondering if the rest of the phrase got caught in her throat. She looked at me like maybe she hadn't gotten it quite right.
"Treat," she tried again, just as loud.
Then we got it. When we told her over and over again to say Trick-or-Treat she took it quite literally. She chose one...or perhaps the other. When we explained that it was a phrase unto itself she nodded in approval. She didn't have to choose. It's only taken four years, but I have a good feeling about this year...I think she's going to do it.
The final product of our costume making made its debut down the street at the neighborhood costume party. It was a big hit with everyone, and the temperatures were very mild for late October so we got to hang out in the back yard and eat lots of good food. There were twenty kids or so, plus the grownups associated with them, and (although we didn't photograph them) the costumes were great. E stood quietly by my elbow for awhile, not jumping right into play, which is not atypical. I finally asked her quietly if she was ready to play, thinking she was still feeling a bit shy. She looked longingly at the tiny little plastic slide, way too small for her, but entertaining the masses around her, and said "Oh, I'd like to play, I just could never slide wearing this thing." We took it off and she was off.
26 October 2007
launch date, marker on paper
e, 4 years
22 October 2007
The pictures produced here are all elaborate stories now. It's launch day, and the rocket is ready to blast off. The man that is blasting it off has just pulled into the parking lot of the big tall building, but he has a flat tire so he is attempting to fix it in the parking space, under the (brown) rain. He's not having much luck, so he's called Mater the tow truck. Mater is the aqua object in the lower left, with the gigantic hook. Meanwhile the rocket is firing, and all are nervous that it's going to catch everything on fire. So much fire that even the (brown) rain can't put it out.
25 October 2007
Take costume shell and spray with Hi-Gloss Red Spray paint. Spray a second coat. Notice with dismay that the paint is not covering the text on the margarine cups and is soaking into the cardboard. Spray a third coat. No change. Spray the entire object with white Kilz primer. Go back to Lowe's again for more red spray paint. Wait for the wind and rain to stop. Recoat with red paint, two coats. Bask in the glow of the nearly free (except for the spray paint fiasco) costume you've created. Wait for it to dry.
Step one is here.
Step two is here.
24 October 2007
22 October 2007
After the interior framing was complete it was time to get serious with the subcontractors. Mechanical, electrical and plumbing subs all moved in and jockeyed for space in the floors and the ceilings. Designing the systems that were to go into this old house was not easy. We knew one thing for certain - we did not want any soffits anywhere in the house. We went through one too many rehabs in the area where a perfectly proportioned room was ruined (in our mind at least) by a gigantic mechanical soffit running through it, or a plumbing chase running down the wall. We drew and puzzled and puzzled and drew through layout after layout in order to make this happen. We had a great mechanical contractor, a great electrical contractor, and a so-so plumber who meant well, but required a lot of hand holding. Somehow we managed to make them all get along, and to work within the very limited areas we gave them.
We split the house into two zones. The first floor operates off a gas furnace located in the basement and is serviced by floor supplies and one high return air in a central wall. We located the second system in the attic (now the third floor) to service the second and third floor spaces. Again, we wanted no soffits, so we accomplished this by running the ductwork along the floor of one attic wall (to be later disguised in casework) and fed into place through the existing floor joists to the rooms on the second floor below. We lowered the entire ceiling in the Master Bath on the second floor slightly (you can't even tell in the room) so that we could get the plumbing where we needed it on the third floor, and the second and first floor plumbing walls nearly align. We have a small portion of ductwork that drops into the Master Bedroom below the ceiling, but it too was located to be hidden in future casework. The electrical design was much easier. Since we furred out every exterior wall, and exposed all the interior framing during demolition, it was as easy as wiring a brand new house. We installed a new 200 amp panel in the basement, and ran line and low voltage throughout.
In early July we poured the concrete pad for the outside condensers, and not a moment too soon; the house was stifling. The workshop was still on the uninsulated third floor, so we continued to sweat through it all. We worked a four day weekend over the Fourth of July in the attic when the temperature topped 100 degrees outside, and hotter still inside. We actually took a two hour break and "cooled off" at the VP Fair airshow under the blazing July sun. We had to install a new shear wall to partially correct and secure the moving east wall on the third floor.
In mid-July the families came around again; first M's parents who helped insulate and drywall the ceilings and interior walls, and then my parents who did the same on the exterior walls of the house. We worked on the test kitchen window some more - stripping 115 years of paint layers off with a heat gun. Then we removed the glazing putty, and glazing stops, then the glass - most of which was the old, wavy glass, cracked in nearly every section. We began taping and mudding throughout the house, then moved out of the way for a few days while the floor refinishers moved in. They sanded the existing floors throughout, and laid new hardwood floors in the kitchen where the original floor was beyond repair. The floor turned out beautifully - they are pretty worn in some places where the house was exposed to rain and snow for awhile, but the worst parts were under the new bathroom areas that received tile, and the other rough areas were patched in with some of the flooring we removed. After the floors dried we laid cardboard throughout and got right back to work.
Our wedding date was fast approaching (6 weeks and counting) and like every bride, I was pampering myself in preparation for the big day. Ha. It's a wonder I had fingernails left to paint, or that we didn't have to walk down the aisle with a cast or an enormous gash full of stitches. We were now in full no-sleep mode. My apartment lease ran out in August, and M's did soon after. We crashed where we could at our friends' house for the few weeks in September - working on the house from 6pm til at least 1am. Trying to sneak in quietly to their house, showering, eating a snack and then we'd work around their kitchen table for another hour or two on thank-you notes, wedding programs, etc. And then we'd start at 6am the next morning with work and the same cycle. It was grueling, but we had no choice. When we came back from our honeymoon in Vancouver we had to have somewhere to live...
Plumbing or no plumbing... but that's next week's story...
Volume 1 is here.
Volume 2 is here.
We took a road trip south a couple of hours yesterday for the dedication of one of M's projects - a new performing and visual arts campus adjacent to this bridge, overlooking the Mississippi from the bluff above. It was a really nice afternoon, and the place was packed. E got to nose around the place all afternoon and evening, and was particularly impressed with the art studios, the fiber studio being her favorite. She was entranced with a student who was working on an enormous loom, and this morning she has camped out under my drafting table, trying to recreate that studio space.
Keeper of the map.
Listening to the brass quintet.
The reflection of the bridge on the building at dusk.
We also sold our car on Friday, and aren't picking our new one up until this Friday, so we are in a rental for the week. We went to pick our midsize sedan Saturday night, and our choices were only HHR's or PT Cruisers...the PT Cruisers were all banana yellow. Tempting, but we picked the lesser of two evils, so we are driving this beauty around all week. I don't think we've ever actually seen one of these on the road - apparently they only fill rental car lots, and for good reason because the windows in this thing aren't much larger than the lenses on your sunglasses. But E digs it, so we're all happy. Besides, it has a PA license, so hopefully we just look like strange out-of-towners.
And it's gold. Nice.
21 October 2007
expert frisbee throwing on the sidelines at dad's softball tournament
between games we took a long walk through the park and paid a visit to these old friends
e brought her doll owen to take in the sights
I always thought these two things were in strange contrast to one another...perhaps the dinosaurs were abducted by aliens...
e convinces dad to get the limited edition "bug guts" sundae so that she can try it and see if she'd like to get it next time - this is as close as she got to actually trying it
the only way to celebrate the end of a season is ice cream
ice cream with sprinkles, that is
dad subjects himself to this type of treatment
karaoke night, half price drafts and wings - come early...
19 October 2007
Things have been a little tense around here.
For starters, we have an aging car with a lot of travel miles on it, and the past couple of months have had one too many dashboard lights on for our liking. Lucky for us, we have a father who runs a shop and knows cars and has provided us with lots of help in this area. Unfortunately, that assistance is a six hour drive away and is getting more and more difficult to fit into a busy schedule.
And then I made light of E's allergic reaction here, but it was really anything but funny, and stirred up such a feeling of panic in me. It was the immediacy of the reaction, the severity of change in her face upon just touching this item, and not even ingesting it, that made me so anxious. And now we wait til next Friday to visit the allergist and find out just what it is that triggered it so that we can hopefully avoid it in the future.
There was also the issue of testing E for school next year - a process that I was not looking forward to because it seems sort of strange to me to expect a kid to be tested, one-on-one in a small office for nearly 2 hours, so that she can be deemed worthy to attend a really great school. We know she's a sharp kid, but she is very shy around those she doesn't know well, and I hated that she would have to step up and perform for a total stranger, and that one of our educational paths depended upon this performance.
And then one of my bosses, the one that I work most closely with in an already close office is stepping out of the practice. In a year that has brought tremendous change in my work, some of which has caused tremendous shifting of responsibility and brought about difficult self-examination, this is added stress and responsibility that I was not prepared for.
And to the mix we add the extra hassles of a misfiled insurance bill that requires bi-weekly 45 minute on-hold talk sessions with the related companies, a nasty bump on E's head, the ushering in of the holiday season with it's extra activities and travel, the arrangement of the purchase of a car from out-of-state, and the shortening days that make those much needed re-energizing walks nearly impossible to squeeze in. I'm finding that the academic tradition of a fall break would be well suited to the rest of the working world. I know I need it.
But we counter this stress by tucking in early, by going out to dinner as a family and finding as many ways as we can to relax and regroup. And in the process of doing this, we try to see these things as hurdles we can get over.
We sold our car to a nice family nearby who bought it the day after we listed it, and we turn it over to them in a few hours. We bought my mom's car (a very sweet little Volvo) off her lease, so I get to usher in winter on heated leather seats for the first time ever. (My commute is so short, I've never had a car that actually heats up before I get back out again.)
The EpiPen that we have to carry around for E in case of another reaction is very scary looking, and it represents the loss of control that we actually have in providing her the safest environment that we possibly can. But it is also a tool of control, something that we can carry with us, that we can administer to her if need be, and it is a tool that those mothers and fathers of children with more serious diseases wish that they could have to make it all go away. It's proactive, and I like that. And next Friday we'll be able to know what it is we need to avoid, like we avoid the recalled toys with lead paint or dangerous magnets.
We thrilled to the fact that E bravely faced her fear of talking to strangers and actually sat down in a room with one (a very kind and gentle one) and tested her little heart out for those long minutes and passed them all with flying colors. We still have to wait until February to see if she now makes it through the lottery for one of these special seats in a school that combines the best of both public and private accelerated schools. But we are one hurdle down, and she is glowing at her success. I've never been so proud of that kid.
And work is still work, and it's challenging and it's long, but I go back each day and learn more. I'm not sure where things will go from here, but I work with a strong team and I have confidence that we'll work it all out.
So, I guess it's silver linings time, and that's always easier to do at lunchtime on Fridays. Have a great weekend.
Taking a testing break in the lounge - all smiles.
Describing the testing questions to us with lots of animated hand motions.