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.