Thursday, July 28, 2011

Anniversary Redux It's an anniversary in more ways than one. Three years ago, we had already moved the majority of our stuff into the Four Mile House; we were busy wrapping up last details at the duplex and trying to find ways to get the moving company to pay for the stuff they'd broken, lost, or possibly stolen. A little more than two years ago, I was...updating this houseblog. I really can't believe it's been this long. But given what a huge milestone we're reaching this year--as of tomorrow, we will have lived in the 4MH longer than we've lived anywhere else in Pittsburgh, even if it's just by a day--I don't want to abandon this blog as a failed experiment.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, anybody who's still aware of this blog hasn't missed that much. We're not like the people from HGTV's House Hunters who completely transform their living spaces within a month of moving in. We've barely even painted; the only things I've painted, actually, have been the back porch railings and a few articles of furniture. I have made some progress on most projects, but not much; Adam's crazy work schedule has made it so he's unable to participate for long stretches of time, and I tend to get distracted by things that aren't terribly productive. But here is the status of some of our major undertakings:

*Attic: When it's not summer and ridiculously hot up there, I continue the taping and mudding at a snail's pace. The first coat is mostly complete, except for the places in the stairwell that are too tall to reach without scaffolding. A few renovation-savvy friends have offered solutions for how we can complete that frustrating last five feet or so, though, so I maintain hope that we'll be able to finish it at some point. We got a drywall saw and cut out the outline for an eventual knee-wall storage space, and my dad and I have plans to create an insulated door, but I have to install corner bead around the edges of the hole first. My father-in-law got me an orbital sander for my birthday, so when it cools off again, I will be making good use of it expediting the sanding process.

*Stripping: The paint situation in the 4MH looks a lot like it did in the duplex when we left it: in terms of trim and doors, I've stripped paint from a whole lot of little areas, but I haven't completed anything. We removed the cap from the newel post at the top of the stairs and stripped that, but it got a bit cracked during the removal, so it needs to be glued before it is stained. I've removed paint from an area of baseboard in the dining room, the majority of the tin fireplace screen, and a corner of the fireplace mantelpiece, and those are all going well. I've realized that it's infinitely easier to remove paint when it was put over varnish or stain. If it's on top of bare wood, it's almost impossible for me to remove completely. This is why I ultimately stopped trying to prepare the armoire from the annex for staining; we needed some extra kitchen storage, so I just painted it. The doors still need to be finished, but it works very well as a pantry. I'm still considering using chalkboard paint to make writing space on the front door panels, but I'll have to see how they turn out before deciding.

*Yard: Ugh. Seriously, right now...just ugh. It's been a wet and busy summer, and we are a sea of weeds. We've been in removal mode, but not replacement mode, so we have even more area for ugly things to take hold. We tore out the spindly little yew bush near the annex steps and planted a delphinium earlier this summer, but the delphinium is now dead and the invasives are knee-high in that little plot. We've taken out all but one juniper bush in the side yard, and there were Johnny Jump-Ups in that patch for a while, but they and the pansies in the front bed died when it got hot. My hardy mum that I'd had major hopes for also shriveled up. I'm a little discouraged about the yard right now, but we have big plans for next year. We're going to kill the grass in the front lawn and move our vegetable garden up there instead of having it on the edge of the woods above the patio. That's a major undertaking, and I'm very nervous, but that area is the best piece of land we have for gardening. We have a huge pile of newspapers for lasagna composting, a big tarp, and a Rototiller to prepare the land next spring. As for the former garden, I'd like to do a cottage garden/food forest thing with it. We've agreed on some dwarf apple trees if we can find them, and are trying to decide what else to put in.

There's more, but that's about all for now.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


I've been terribly remiss at posting on this blog lately--most of the summer has gone by without my doing so--but I figured today deserved special mention. Our one-year anniversary of closing on the house passed while we were in Baltimore attending the Otakon anime convention, but yesterday was a year since we actually moved in and slept there for the first time, so it works as well for a milestone as the other day.

It's been a good year, but a strange one. I'm still not sure we've gotten used to the change in neighborhood after having lived in Squirrel Hill for most of the last decade. Our familiar landmarks are all messed up, and since we still have to go into Squirrel Hill to drive people around on a regular basis, it's hard to sever the tie with that area. Also, Adam has been busy, and I have been a bit cocoony/agoraphobic, so we just haven't spent that much time exploring our new neighborhood. We've spent more time running around in the wilds of Junction and Panther Hollows than we have walking the streets of Greenfield, Oakland, or the South Side. The former is overwhelmingly residential and the latter two take a bit of walking to get to in the first place, so it's been a different experience from Sq. Hill, which is one of the most walkable neighborhoods in the country, with a thriving business district a block from where we used to live. I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss our old area--I especially missed walking around among the mansions and beautiful landscaping this spring--but there is a tradeoff. I've spoken frequently about how much I love the nature and the opportunities for urban exploration where we live now, and we are really close to good places we can walk to. We just haven't often taken advantage of them.

Our neighbors keep to themselves a lot, but the ones we've met are generally nice. The only problems we've had--someone briefly abducting our garbage can here, another person yelling at their dogs at an ungodly hour there--have been minor, and have been nothing compared to the issues we had with people we shared apartment buildings with. Just the fact that we have nobody walking around on our ceiling or partying under our floor has been priceless. I suspect we'll get to know people better once we have kids or get more involved in neighborhood events, but for now, I have no problem with the local people.

As for the's in a bad state right now, on account of we've spent the last month and a half pretty much going out of town every weekend and we don't have hot water or a working stove because of a gas line leak, but all of those factors are on the way to being fixed. Our traveling is done for the near future, and the plumber should be done replacing the line (and moving our meter outside, hurray!) by this afternoon. So right now we're sort of camping in a house that desperately needs cleaning, which isn't the best state in which to celebrate a happy house anniversary. But we still like it a lot. There have been problems that we wouldn't have had to deal with if we were renting. We've had to replace the hot water heater as well as the gas line. And I guess we would still have had to deal with the flooding even if we hadn't owned the place, but we could have left it up to the landlords to clean up.

But there have been definite benefits too. We've really enjoyed gardening, and have had tons of zucchini to enjoy so far this summer. We had one ripe tomato so far (although a groundhog stole it), and discovered two baby pumpkins last night. We recently ripped out a creeping juniper bush in the front yard and replaced it with irises (although we're not 100% sure they survived the transplantation from Adam's parents' neighbor's yard), and we're planning to remove a few more bushes and transplant them to the hill behind the house. These are all things we wouldn't have been able to do if we had been renting. Also, we've loved the freedom to have pets. Mina and Eris have been a bright spot in this year whatever else has been happening.

I'm a bit embarrassed about how little we've gotten done with the renovations. I'm still making gradual progress with refinishing the armoire; I recently discovered the glory of scrubby pads and how awesome they are for stripping paint. I made a huge amount of progress with it, but then had to stop because of convention season and, with the gas line broken, the difficulty of getting a hot shower to rinse off paint residue afterward. I should be able to get started again this weekend, though, and hope to have it mostly done by the end of August. The attic drywalling is at a standstill until I can figure out how to work safely on the highest part of the stairwell. Even with the ladder we bought, I'm still a little too short to reach it, and am beginning to fear it will take scaffolding to complete it. We haven't done nearly enough on the list of issues the inspector suggested we deal with; crises like the hot water heater and the gas line absorbed the funds we would have spent on dealing with those or more cosmetic things. Hell, we haven't even hung all that much stuff on the walls yet. I watch shows like House Hunters on HGTV and wonder how people can move into a house and, four months later, have it completely repainted and fixed up. I guess we get distracted by other things too easily.

I even find this hard to believe, but we haven't really explored the secret room beneath the kitchen yet. Given the archaeological interests of everyone in the household, I'm shocked that we haven't yet. I think the cats have been in more places in the secret room than we have (not with our permission). At least they cleared out a lot of the cobwebs. :)

It has been a pretty busy year, though, and we have made some progress, especially outside. And even though the house is in pretty much the same state as when we bought it (except messier, at the moment...), we've hosted two picnics, two Halloween gaming sessions, a few other LARPs, Christmas Eve, and a New Year's party, we've had lots of guests, we've unpacked a lot of stuff that remained boxed up throughout our entire seven-year tenure as renters, and we've begun bringing home stuff that was being stored at our parents' houses. We just recently paid off the first thousand dollars of principal from our mortgage. The house could use a lot of work, especially at the moment, but in general I still like it a lot and am happy to have it.

Friday, May 1, 2009

In Norfolk we besport ourselves around the maypoll

Three gold stars for anyone who recognizes the obscure literary reference in the title. :)

Wow, I'm sorry it's been so long since I updated this blog. I wish I could say it's because we've been working so hard on the house, but for the most part, it isn't. I have made some progress on the attic drywalling project (still on the first coat, though...) and my various paint-stripping endeavors, but since it's gotten warmer, it's been hard to motivate myself to work on indoor projects. And in Adam's case, he has had the semester from hell teaching 19 credits at three different schools, so he has a built-in excuse for neither working on nor writing about the house.

We have redeemed ourselves somewhat in the realm of outdoor work, however. Our first spring in the Four Mile House revealed some nice surprises, including daffodils and tulips in the front flowerbed and a hillside covered with purple flowers in the back. And we actually managed to put together a decent garden this year; so far we've planted peas, spinach, spring greens, and some onions we found sprouted in the bag, as well as some cat grass as a treat for the kittens. The recent stretch of very hot followed by cool and rainy weather has been great for the garden. Our pot of cat grass has finally sprouted, and we have seedlings in all of our rows. Now that it's May and we're not likely to get another freeze at night, we're going to put in zucchini and pumpkins, and we went to Lowe's last night and bought four tomato plants. We did the trendy hippie thing and bought mostly heirloom varieties: Mr. Stripey (which just looks cool), Lemon Boy (I love yellow tomatoes and seldom get to have them), and German Queen (since we wanted at least one red variety). I can't remember what the last one was, but I think it was a hybrid; probably beefsteak. It occurred to me belatedly that we sort of defeated the purpose of buying heirlooms because we got all different varieties and they're probably going to cross-pollinate, and I do realize that buying "heirlooms" at Lowe's isn't the same as buying genuine local breeds from a nursery, but we're new at this. I'll be happy if we successfully get tomatoes of any sort this year, and we'll work on improving our green cred in future years if this works out.

We're trying to come up with a more ambitious plan for our general landscape, and we looked at some trees while we were at Lowe's as well, even though we didn't buy any. We definitely want a lilac, and I found a small gardenia tree that smelled wonderful. I would like to get two apple trees (I think you need two in order to encourage pollination), and we also fell in love with a contorted filbert, a kind of tree I've never seen before. It was very gnarled and twisty, and looked like a place faeries would want to hang out. Mostly Unseelie ones, granted, but they need somewhere to live for the dark of the year anyway. Might as well make them happy and give them some nice real estate ;-P

The problem is finding a place for all of this stuff, in addition to the shed we want to build (we found one for less than $300 last night!). We're not going to have much luck turning the annex into living space while we still have a lawnmower sitting in it. But about 1/3 of our yard is dominated by three increasingly gigantic blue spruces, which have actually engulfed and destroyed other features of the landscape. The other day, while walking the cats, I found the skeletal remains of a decent-sized juniper bush between two of the trees. With the way they're growing, I fear the power lines may be next. Part of me wants to cut one or two of them down, but they are very pretty and they make the breeze smell like a mountain forest when one is sitting on the front porch. Also, there is a thriving bird community in them. So part of me wants to leave them be (until the city makes us cut them down to save the power lines, I guess), but that strongly limits the space we have to plant the trees we really want. It's looking like more and more of a necessity to buy the vacant lot beside us; we just need the space for everything we want to plant.

This summer, we're going to try hard to finish the attic (Adam is going to help me finish taping and mudding the places in the stairwell I'm too short to reach, even with our awesome new multifunction ladder), and Adam is also going to mount an expedition into the secret room. We found, when we moved a big roll of insulation that the previous owners left behind, that there's actually a sealed doorway into the secret room. We've been accessing it through a hole halfway up the wall. I think we're going to open up that doorway and then cover it with a swinging shelf-door thing; Adam wants to keep the room a secret so our future offspring can discover it themselves.

We've been in the house for ten months now, and we still love it. I can't wait to explore more of our neighborhood while the weather is nice. I think it's going to be a great summer.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Happy New Year, and I hope everyone had good holidays! Our first Christmas at the Four Mile House was a lot of fun; we hosted a family party on Christmas Eve and our eighth annual New Year's Eve shindig. The kittens (now a fortnight shy of five months old!) seemed perplexed by all of the festivities, but they did appreciate our putting up some interior trees so they could practice climbing. We took pictures of our various decorations (and of some of the tree-scaling attempts), and I'll try to post them at some point soon.

Low points in homeownership included our first major emergency purchase: a new hot water heater, about four days before Christmas. The inspector had told us that it was thirteen years old and therefore past its prime, so we were expecting to have to replace it eventually, but the timing was really impeccable. Our new one works well, but it's about fifteen gallons smaller than the last one (apparently they don't make 65-gallon ones anymore?) so we run out of water somewhat faster. Oh well, though. It encourages one to conserve and take shorter showers. :)

I've made some significant strides on the attic work recently; most of the first tape and/or mud layer is complete, and I've begun putting up corner bead (Adam got a drill for his 30th birthday, which helps). We're going to need a tall ladder or some kind of scaffolding to finish the walls and ceiling in the stairwell, but I expect to be done soon. It's really an amazing feeling to look at all the progress that's been made. It's not the best job ever--I expect to have to attempt a skim coat once I'm done, because those walls are going to be wavy--but considering that I'd never held a taping knife in my life before this, I think I've done all right.

I've been trying to be responsible and keep my urges to start new projects under control, and I've mostly been successful. It helps that it's been too cold to work on paint stripping in the annex, so I've been able to channel my effort into the attic. This is not to say that there have been no temptations, though. ;-)

Last night, I was looking at the hideous fake wood paneling in our bedroom, and I noticed that the panel on top of the alleged sealed closet was loose. So, of course it was incumbent upon me to use a luggage tag as a makeshift prybar and pull the panel away from the wall (and if fate hadn't wanted me to do so, it wouldn't have made it so easy). :) The previous owners were right: there is a closet behind there, but it's open. The only thing sealing it from us is the quarter inch of pressed board making up the walls. There's a significant amount of space back there; the FWP is nailed to two-by-fours with the "four" part facing outward, not just thin strips attached to the wall, like I thought it would be.

The closet unfortunately didn't seem to have a door--I don't know what possessed past owners to get rid of most of the beautiful five-panel doors and replace them with ugly, plain hollow-core college dorm doors--but it did contain some old wood that appeared to be trim. The trim was still up around the doorway as well. Adam said he saw some sort of opening cut out in the closet wall, but I don't know if it was an old window or plaster damage or what. I wasn't able to see the fireplace we suspect is behind there, but the closet was interesting enough.

We did put the panel back into place, but seeing what's behind it was pretty exciting. When we take the paneling down in there, it's going to be a completely different room. Part of me can't wait, but part of me is pretty nervous. It's going to be a big job. In the space, I was able to see some of the ceiling above the acoustic tiles, and it was nothing but exposed lath. :( Then again, I don't expect much of the plaster above the dropped ceilings to be in good shape. When we redo the room, we're going to have to commit to fixing whatever ugliness is behind the paneling and the dropped ceiling. It's going to be hard, but at least it will be better than what we have now, which is bedrooms with a hunting cabin's walls and a bowling alley's ceilings. We have a house that's more than a century old, and I'd rather do the work to reflect that than live in a cheap 1970s-era cover-up job.

Monday, November 3, 2008


I feel bad for posting so seldom, but we haven't been doing too much house-related work lately; Adam has been working almost nonstop as a volunteer coordinator for the upcoming election, and the rest of our time has been taken up by two new additions to the household:

Said additions will be ten weeks old on Wednesday, and will have been with us for about a month tomorrow. This was one of the perks of homeownership we couldn't wait to benefit from; none of the apartments we've lived in have allowed pets.

We really enjoyed our first Halloween in the house, and we got to meet some of our neighbors from around the Run. We also got about twice as many trick-or-treaters as we ever did in Squirrel Hill, despite the fact that this neighborhood is so much smaller.

In the spirit of the season (no pun intended, really...), I've been haunted by a strange sort of phantom lately. I've recently become fixated on the notion that there are pocket doors sealed in the wall between the living and dining rooms. It's not just that I think they would look very nice there (although they would). My glimmerings of hope are based on the fact that the wall between the rooms seems unusually thick--six inches or more, I think--and that the border between the dining room's hardwood floors and the living room's carpeting seems to be strangely off-center. The carpet extends further into the dining room than I would expect it to, and I wonder if it covers up the remnants of tracks. There's no sign of tracks on the top of the doorway, but it and the sides look like they've been plastered recently. That's another thing: the inside surfaces of the doorway are plaster or drywall, not wooden trim.

I don't have a great picture of it, since our camera's currently broken, but here's one from the inspection that sort of shows what I mean (please ignore the inspector and the haggard-looking prospective homebuyer in the picture.) ;-P

It shows how the carpet extends to the very edge of the dining room, and how strange (at least to me) the doorway itself looks. Maybe I'm just engaging in wishful thinking because of hearing about other housebloggers who have found pocket doors sealed in their walls, but I feel like there's reason enough for vague hope. Unfortunately, I can't think of a good way to find out beyond cutting a hole in the wall, so it's going to have to remain a mystery for now.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Win Some, Lose Some

Okay, so we've been having pretty awesome luck with finding cool old stuff in our house. Yes, we have a hidden room full of early twentieth-century artifacts. Yes, there are statues of saints in our foundation. Yes, a sealed-up closet awaits us when we remove the fake wood paneling (henceforth FWP) from our bedroom. Yes, it looks like there's some beautiful hardwood flooring (of a different kind of wood than the dining room) under the living room carpet. Yes, we just found an old staircase to a street that no longer exists on the hill behind our house. I guess with that kind of track record, it's inevitable that we would eventually come across something that's not cool.

Last night my curiosity got the best of me, and I managed to pry the summer cover (also a cool antique thing) partway off the living room fireplace. We'd been thinking of eventually making it a working one again, and I figured, no time like the beginning of cool weather to do some reconnaissance. We weren't able to get the cover all the way off, but it soon became clear that it didn't matter much. What met our eyes instead of a scary, cobwebby hole in the wall was...more wall.

Gah! Someone bricked it up! Probably 70 years ago, so we can't even get upset at the previous previous (etc.) owners for doing it without disrespecting the dead! Adam tried to look on the bright side and pointed out that 1) that was why we weren't getting a draft down the chimney, and 2) it was probably better that it didn't work given that the chimney needs to be repaired, but still--I would have preferred to find the scary, cobwebby hole in the wall. At least we could have cleaned it out and put a screen or some candles in it for Christmas.

I'm not entirely sure how to proceed with it, not that it's a project we'll get to anytime soon. It would be nice to open it back up again, but if we had to start bashing out bricks, would it damage the tiles around them? They're not in the best of shape as it is; one of them is already missing, and the picture doesn't show it well, but some of them are damaged. I don't even know if it's possible to buy replacement tiles for the ones that are already broken, much less any we might injure in the reopening process.

::sigh:: It is only a little setback in a multitude of awesome things, though. The fireplace itself is very pretty; it just doesn't work. Maybe we'll figure out how to get it functional, and maybe we won't. I guess that for old-house-related disappointments, this is an okay one to have. At least it's attractive on the outside, unlike the dropped ceilings and the FWP.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Snail's Pace

I haven't posted in a little more than a month, mostly because there hasn't been much to tell. Late August and September have been taken up with various things including Adam's new school year (he's now teaching at three different colleges and more of an itinerant pedagogue than ever), trying to get back into a regular gaming schedule with our friends, and working on a new cross-stitch project in my case. We also successfully hosted an awesome Labor Day picnic, complete with marshmallows and hot dogs toasted over a fire, entertained a few houseguests, and participated in a multi-family yard sale up in my ancestral hometown. So it's been busy, but not renovation busy.

We're at a bit of a standstill with the attic work, mostly because there's a crucial piece of drywall that isn't completely screwed onto the studs. We need to borrow a drill from one of our dads to rectify that problem, which is smack in the middle of one of the biggest walls. At some point, before we go much further, we also have to figure out how to create insulated openings into the two attic crawlspaces. The previous owner marked in pencil where one of them should go, and advised us that the other one can be reached through the closet, but we'll have to cut through the wall and make the doorways ourselves. That kind of operation is way beyond our skill level. So the third floor is kind of stalled for the moment, although I may try to work on taping and mudding more of it now that the weather is cooler. We have some pictures of our progress, but I'm not posting them right now because 1) I'm at work and 2) most of the people who read house blogs already know what partially finished drywall jobs look like. It's not an interesting sight. ;-P

I may put up the pictures of the bits of old newspaper we found adhered to the attic floor, though. We couldn't find any dates, but one of them was talking about rations and military action in Tunisia, so I'm guessing they're from one of the world wars.

Until we can get more of the attic straightened out, I've resumed my old, bad habit of stripping. (Paint from wood, of course.) :) In order to practice my skills on an inconspicuous and nonessential piece of woodwork, I've been working on one of the nice doors from the annex--the tall, skinny one that separates the "box room" from the once and future powder room (the one with the smashed toilet and little else in it.) I've gone through layers of white, tan, and dark brown to find a layer of dark red. The red is pretty, but I don't think it's the original color of the wood. It acts like a stain, but it seems more like paint, as it still obscures most of the wood's grain. It rubs off when I put the paint remover on it, but it doesn't bubble up like the other layers do.

I'm not sure what to do about it, but I'm going to see how the door looks in red once it's all stripped, in case it still resists being removed. I'm pretty sure the trim in the annex used to be red as well, so maybe it will all match. With the white walls and the colored trim, it sort of reminds me of colonial architecture I've seen in various historical villages. It may work, at least in part of the annex, to restore it to that state. I'll put up a picture of the door and my progress at some point.

I've also begun stripping an old armoire the POs left behind, which was being used to hold electrical components and paint cans. It's really beaten up, but the wood underneath is nice. When it's done, we're going to use it to store toiletries and linens, since we don't have a linen closet. My uncle (a veteran of auctions and eBay) told me that we'd get more money for it if we didn't strip it, but since we're planning to use it and not sell it, I figured we're not doing it any damage. If we ever decide to sell it, I'll repaint it. It won't have the antique paint on it, but honestly, the antique paint was all banged up and ugly, and not in a shabby chic, peeling, cool patina way--more like a "used to store volatile chemicals for decades" way. So that's been my evening entertainment lately. I'm trying to use up the gross, poisonous paint stripper we used on the apartment fireplace so I can get something less fumey, like Peel Away or more Citristrip. I like Citristrip, although I've found that I now have trouble eating some orange-flavored foods because of altered smell associations. :-P

I discovered the other day that the little patio area behind the annex may be home to not only a tiny snake, but also a big fat groundhog. It was walking around the garden, and when I came outside, it ran back into the hole in the bricks back there. I don't know if it has warrens down there, or if it's just a small hidey-hole; it kept peeking out to see if I was gone, so maybe the hole didn't go too far. If it does have tunnels, though, we may have to figure out how to evict it before it goes into hibernation. In case something happened to the poor thing, I wouldn't want it to be dead under the house. :x(

In cooler exterior news, we discovered that the staircase we found on the corner of our property goes all the way up the hill and under the bridge. Adam found the overgrown upper portion yesterday. We don't know if it used to be a private staircase or one of the city's, but it's pretty narrow, so I imagine it's the former. We haven't followed it all the way to the top, but I know there used to be another street with houses up there before the Parkway was constructed. Adam already found part of another grindstone and some of the same Prohibition-era liquor bottles we have in our secret room. We're going to explore that area at length. I keep finding more reasons to love living on an old property.

Sorry for the long, pictureless post. I'll fix the latter problem when I have access to our photos at home, but I fear I can't do anything about the length. :)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Not Dead

Really, we're not! We've just been helping other people move, unpacking, attending an anime convention, resuming an intense gaming schedule with our friends, (in scholarinexile's case) getting started with the fall semester at three different colleges, seeing a good friend off to marital bliss, and watching the Olympics. There has been some progress on the house in the past month, beyond unpacking; we did begin taping and mudding the drywall in the attic (we took pictures, but they're still in the camera), and we've continued the process of cleaning up the back yard. It's not in bad shape, but it isn't entirely pretty, either.

Most of the yardwork has consisted of rounding up loose bricks, of which there are legion at the Four Mile House. The previous previous owners, at some point in the house's history, decided to cover most of the property's triple lot in bricks. I guess they either required a lot of parking or just didn't like grass. The previous owners, bless them, pulled up most of the bricks and created some viable back yard space, leaving just enough for a car parking area. Then, they (bless them even more) used most of the pulled-up bricks to create an awesome patio area at the base of the hill. However, there were more bricks than the patio could sustain, so there are just random piles of surplus bricks in several locations around the property: there's a stack in the basement, a scattering on the left side of the garden, and a sizable mountain of them on the right. Plus the ones that are being used in the fire pit and as landscaping throughout the side yard, but I'm not counting them because they're at least fulfilling a purpose. Here's a picture of the patio, so I can determine whether I'm actually capable of posting pictures on this blog.

We've managed to create a small cairn of bricks atop the wall to the left of the strawberry patch, but the mountain on the right side of the patio is still untamed. I have no idea what we're going to do with all of these bricks. We could build a decent-sized wall with them if we wanted to. Hmm...we have been wanting a garden shed so we could stop storing the lawnmower in what's supposed to be the craft/sewing room. Maybe we could at least provide it with a brick foundation.

It's going to be difficult to decide what to do with the yard in general. It's huge, but it consists of a few isolated pockets of space with little flow between them. There is the front yard, which is completely fenced in:

...the "hedge maze," which consists of juniper and yew shrubs and three (apparently) replanted blue spruce Christmas trees, all of which are growing at an alarming rate and are home to several gigantic spiders:

...and the back yard, seen further above, which consists of a concrete patio, a brick patio, a brick parking pad, an ill-kept brick walkway beside the house, a path to the garden, the garden itself, the end of the driveway, another concrete pad covered with loose bricks and a firepit, and some sort of structure (possibly old stairs?) completely covered with weeds. Oh, and also some sort of small fenced-in patio behind the annex, which is weed-infested, has two large holes in it, and is home to a tiny snake.

Wow. Until I spelled it all out like that, I didn't realize quite how...diverse...a space it is. I'd really like it to have more continuity between the three separate spaces, but it's going to take some thought and some work to determine how to accomplish this. I want it to contain at least some plants native to the area, to have a healthy and prolific garden, to look nice, to be a good space for entertaining and for kids/pets to play in, and to have good drainage so our basement doesn't flood. We have some vague ideas: scholarinexile wants to take down the front yard fence, we both want a lilac bush, we need a shed, and I'd like to put in a couple of apple trees. But other than that, we're going into this a bit blindly. We're both creative people, but our creativity is largely centered on the realm of the written and spoken word. We're not quite as good with making spaces look pretty.

Given all of this, I can't believe we're also considering buying the vacant lot beside the house and extending our property even more. O.o

For the time being, we are managing to keep the lawn mowed, and we're working on rounding up the the bricks and not bothering the gigantic spiders in the hedge maze. Today is our one-month anniversary of actually living at the house with our furniture, so I guess that's some good progress so far. :)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Sigh of Relief...for the moment

Things continue apace at the house. We're very close to being unpacked (or at least as unpacked as we're going to be for the near future, until we work on making more of the place livable), we've managed to mend some of the damage that the movers did, and even though the house still isn't quite feeling like home, it's certainly feeling more comfortable. My dad, who possesses mad engineering skills, was even able to reassemble my broken desk, which we thought was destined for the curb. He and my mom spent a weekend with us at the end of July, and they provided immense help in getting things unpacked and set up. So many people have been supportive and helpful throughout this whole process; it's like the house is something all of our family and friends can get excited about, and that's a great feeling. We've already had more visits from some people in the past few weeks than we have in years.

This past weekend, we went out and bought a lawn mower and weed trimmer, which felt like profoundly grown-up things to purchase. We returned home and used said items on the yard, which had been neglected since before the previous owners moved, and which consequently was looking rather unkempt. The grass in front was so high that it choked the mower when we tried to start it, and the back garden was a field of vetch and knee-high grass.

The whole experience was an adventure for me, on account of the only yard tools I've ever used in my life have been hedge shears and a rake--I was spoiled by the presence of a brother in the family, and he and my dad did all of the machinery-related yard work. So I used a lawn mower (well, for about a minute, then I gave it back to Adam) and a trimmer for the first time in my life, and felt very empowered and homeownery, until I realized that high-velocity weed fragments really sting, and that I should probably go and put long pants on. :-P

But at the end of the day, we had a neat lawn and trimmed hedges, and we managed to push back the jungle that had been threatening to reclaim the back of the house, so we were happy. We celebrated by having an extremely unhealthy dinner at the other neighborhood bar (the one that's not Big Jim's), and then by building a fire in the backyard fire pit later on. The previous owners had kindly left us a bunch of logs in what we thought was a built-in firewood box, but which was actually a built-in barbecue without the grill parts. The sooner we use up the logs, the sooner we get to put the barbecue to its intended use--and in the meantime, we get backyard campfires, which we both love. Adam is a total outdoor type, and his sedentary wife has been cruelly preventing him from going camping for the past few years, so it's awesome that he actually gets to practice his rustic hearth-tending abilities again.

Now that we're almost done unpacking, we're looking ahead to the real work we're going to have to start soon. First on the agenda is the attic, which has had drywall hung, but still needs all of the taping and mudding done. We bought lots of fiberglass mesh and knives in a wide array of two-inch increments, and I've been watching Internet tutorials on drywalling technique. Such fun! I really hope we don't make a terrible mess of it. Other short-term projects of the type we're afraid to try ourselves include exterior power outlets (these are very important, since we decorate way too much for Christmas), and a GFCI outlet for the bathroom. We were almost certain that the latter already existed, but if it did, then it disappeared at some point before we moved in. I've spent the last three years drying my hair while sitting on the floor in the hallway, and I don't want to spend another winter doing so.

The fact that we can just have an electrician put in outlets wherever we want them has been a source of great joy to us. We're still getting accustomed to having so much control over our surroundings after having lived in dorms or apartments for the last eleven years. Last night, we were looking up at one of the trees in our yard, and we realized that if we wanted to, we could just cut it down, without having to answer to anyone. Not that we would, but we could, and that's a great feeling. :) I can't wait until next spring, when we can actually plant things that aren't in pots.

Speaking of the great outdoors, we've been noticing a big difference between Squirrel Hill (tree-lined but still pretty urban) and Four Mile Run (a tiny island of houses bordered by a city park to the north, the river to the west, and forested hillsides too steep for habitation on the other sides): wildlife. Squirrel Hill isn't exactly a concrete jungle, being sandwiched between two parks as it is, but the local fauna seemed to be isolated to squirrels (of course), raccoons, cats, pigeons, mourning doves, and giant black-and-red-spotted slugs that appeared after it rained. A pretty citified bunch, all in all. In the 2-3 weeks we've been living in the new house, our wildlife sightings have included:

*a bunny,
*wild turkeys (including a mama and a baby),
*leafcutter bees, which I've never before seen in real life, and
*a tiny brown snake, which I briefly thought was a copperhead, but which was almost certainly just...well, a brown snake. :-P

We also heard shrieking one night that sounded very much like what one would expect from a lemur or a chupacabra, but it might just have been a child or an agitated small dog. At the very least, we didn't get visual confirmation of the species. In general, the Run is rather more naturey than we're accustomed to. I' m expecting the deer and bears to start showing up in our back yard any time now.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Reverse Entropy

In the week since my last post, we have almost completely succeeded in moving into the new house; we still have a few items like a lamp, a fan, cleaning supplies, and my wedding dress at the old apartment, and have a few more cleaning duties to fulfill over there before we can turn in our keys. The move was...a qualified success. We moved almost all of our boxes over on Saturday without any hitches, thanks to the help of our wonderful friends and family, but the furniture didn't fare quite as well on Tuesday. The professional crew we hired consisted of three twenty-one-year-olds apparently on summer job duty; the "crew chief" had only been on the job for three weeks, and it showed. We ended up with a broken computer desk that's probably unsalvageable, a La-Z-Boy recliner with half of the handle snapped off, a nightstand with a chunk taken out of the top, a glass-top dining room table with a two-inch-chip missing from the corner, numerous gouges and scrapes on various doorframes and walls, a cracked baluster at the top of our staircase, and broken trim and a hole in the screen on the back door. Unfortunately, we discovered most of it after we tipped them and they left; the moving company received a prompt call, but we're not expecting to get much from the insurance claim. They're a bit notorious about not paying out on damaged goods. Add this to the fact that their moving truck lacked several pieces of important equipment (like a furniture dolly) and we had to sit for a half hour while they jumpstarted the van, whose battery had died...yeah, we didn't end up with a terribly favorable opinion of the company overall. I'm hoping this is the last move we make in a long time, but if it isn't, then we might go back to the U-Haul method in the future. :-P

But despite all of that, we are home, and I'm happy about that. We're slowly unpacking--progress on that should improve greatly once we're done cleaning the apartment--and the house is beginning to take shape. The neighbors we've met have been very friendly so far, and we've already discovered some more interesting features in the house. Even though the last few days have been tough, things are looking positive in general.