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.