On Neighborhood Living: The Endless Snow Day Reprieve

A little over two years ago, I asked Facebook a Very Important Question — because this is the Age of Social Media and all Very Important Questions must be crowdsourced. God forbid I make a Very Important Decision by simply conferring with my husband, my partner in this life journey. Nope, gotta ask the Internet first.

All the same, I asked my Facebook friends whether we should choose a house in a neighborhood or a house in the middle of nowhere.

Before I begin discussing the answers my friends quickly spewed forth, I must state that a large number of my Facebook friends hail from my hometown — which is not really a town. It’s a blip on a road. I grew up on 89 acres of blissful solitude, my grandparents my only neighbors. To this day, I still sit on the front porch in no pants and drink my morning cup of coffee when I visit The Farm; no one can see, and even if they could, no one would care. While I grew up wanting to move away, it took living in close quarters during college and thereafter to realize that, oh goodness, I like my space. Many people who grew up in my hometown feel the same.

As the responses began to trickle in, the resounding answer skewed toward living in the country. Even though the other house that we considered at the time had an unknown water source (eventually we learned it was a spring, not a well), people felt pretty adamant about space and privacy and the beauty of country living.

I took their feelings into account as my homesick heart sided with all of my country living friends, but we ended up here. Here, in this beautiful house that fits our family so perfectly — and just so happens to be in a quiet neighborhood on the edge of the country. It’s kind of like the best of both worlds as we can easily and quickly go for long country walks or runs. But yes, we ended up with the neighborhood house for a myriad of reasons — some of which I only find out as we continue along.

Like today.

Today. The 14th snow day. FOURTEENTH SNOW DAY. It may only be the 13th, but I’ve simply lost count. In short, my children have not gone to school for a full five day school week since before Christmas Break began on December 20th. Desperately behind in work and over stimulated by the non-stop noise and presence of togetherness, I’m a little… punchy.

But I’m also absolutely thrilled to be living here, in this neighborhood, instead of there, miles and miles away from civilization.

Because I just called the babysitter, a teenager who happens to live two doors down from us, and asked if she could walk over for an hour this afternoon so I can go to the gym, get my training run for the Pittsburgh Marathon in, and be alone for an hour. Not only did she say yes, but she asked if she could take them sledding — thus wearing them out as well.

I want to walk out into our plowed, clear streets and kiss their salty, ashy goodness. I want to stand in the middle of my neighborhood and yell, “BURGH BABY WAS RIGHT!” She was one of the few who touted the benefits of living in a neighborhood, a reformed country-liver herself. I want to jump up and down and fist pump and chest bump with my elderly neighbors; they are so awesome and they love my noisy family despite ourselves. I want to shout to the high heavens my deep love for our small, quiet little piece of heaven. But it’s small and quiet, so I simply stand at the window, sipping a coffee, blinded by the bright white of sun on snow and give thanks for blessings we don’t know we need at the time that we receive them.

Fist Bump to the Sky

Okay, and maybe a little bit of a fist bump to the sky.

 

Minted's Limited Edition Art Prints

We Only Own One House!

We sold our old house yesterday. Commence in the throwing of confetti and general celebrating!

I have wanted to talk, Tweet, Facebook, Instagram and generally shout about the process since we accepted the offer from the buyers while in Chicago for BlogHer ’13. But after my initial announcement that the house was under contract, I didn’t say another word on social media or the blog. I don’t believe in superstitions, but the whole process stressed me out so much. I didn’t dare write about it in case it fell through; I didn’t want to jinx it or eat crow if something happened and this wasn’t “it.” I also approached the buying of our current home in the same manner: SURPRISE! WE BOUGHT A HOUSE!

But back to selling the old house: Two years after listing the old house and 18 months after buying our current home, she’s sold. 18 months after paying two mortgages, we will pay only one mortgage payment next month. Sweet sighs of beautiful relief.

After finally exhaling the breath I’ve been holding for about, oh, 15 months, I got reflective on how we’ve changed as a family over the course of our home buying years. Part of the reflection can be pinned on the buyer’s mortgage lender guy, the same guy that did ours when we bought the old house in 2006! As he looked at us, and then did a double take at two sons instead of one, I realized we’ve changed a lot over the years.

Take for example, this picture of my husband, shooting me an annoyed look on the day we bought our old house in February 2006.

Josh is Mad

He just wanted to get inside, out of the cold, with our three-month-old, chubby-cheeked BigBrother. Also, he might have been hangry before hangry was a thing. I now recognize that look in his eye quite well.

Back then, our family was just the three of us. We were figuring out how to be parents, how to communicate like adults in a marriage, how to manage work-life balance, how to be new home-owners, how to manage life in general. Eventually LittleBrother joined the family and we learned we needed to learn more about parenting, especially about parenting two instead of one. We learned how to be an immediate family of four. We spent a lot of time learning about ourselves in our old house.

We were young back then, with our first house purchase. Young as a married couple, young as a family, young in chronological age which means, while not the determining factor on maturity, we were young in life experience as well. We were wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to take on home improvements and life in general.

Then we got older. And wiser. And possibly (definitely) tireder.

In 2012, we looked like this on the March afternoon that we purchased this house:

YAY HOUSE!
Please note that my husband is very hangry in that photo. So very hangry.

We were intensely happy with our home purchase — huge back yard! home office for me! giant playroom -slash- family room for the boys! all the space! all the normal neighbors! hooray! — and quite optimistic about the “improving housing market.” Surely that meant our old house would sell soon.

It didn’t.

Paying two mortgages for 18 months was never the plan, but it became the reality. I plan on writing more about that in another space at another time, but know that we survived. We aged a lot, both in gray hairs and in life experience. But we also thrived.

And yesterday, we looked like this:

September 2013, We Sold the Old House

The look on the two adults’ faces in that photo? The word you are looking for is relieved, as Alexandra stated so perfectly on Facebook. Relieved indeed.

We plan on being here, in this home, for years and years to come. Lots of projects remain: the kitchen needs an overhaul, I still need to paint the awful bathrooms, eventually we need non-70′s carpet in the playroom -slash- family room, general updates here and there. We’ll grow and change a lot more over the next seven-and-a-half-years — and beyond.

I imagine when I look someday back at the relieved looks on our faces in yesterday’s photo, I will think of the time that came immediately before — the two mortgages, the waiting, the stress — with something less intense than I feel at this precise moment. It’s still new and fresh; I still feel like licking my wounds a little bit. I hope when I look back on the stresses, I can say without a doubt, “It was hard, but it was the right thing for our family.”

You know, like so much of living life and making decisions as a family. So hard, so right.

 

“A Tree Falls the Way it Leans; Be Careful which Way You Lean”

When we closed on our house, the first things the boys did was hang from and attempt to climb the tree.

Tree on Move In Day
Note: Holy moly, have they grown in a year!

Over the past year and not-quite-four-months, we’ve made a lot of memories under that tree. They’ve learned to climb the tree. They’ve gotten stuck in the tree. We painted a robot underneath the tree’s branches.

They’ve searched for blue gold as pirates. And built fort after fort. They’ve sprayed the hose while playing firefighter.

Playing Under the Tree

We’ve hung out with friends.

Friends and the Tree

We’ve read many a book.

Reading Under Our Tree

And today…

Tree Down

She’s in pieces. The wind came up so quickly, so suddenly. We knew the storm was making its way in our direction, but it moved faster than we anticipated. Suddenly, the whole house sounded as if it might take leave of its foundation. I stood at the stove, spoon hovering over the pan as I heard, “Our tree broke!” I ran to the living room to see BigBrother standing at the window, a look of sadness on his face.

Sad BB

And it was. Broken. Our tree.

The Tree from the Front

Closer Still

Talking to Friends

In the grand scheme of bad weather luck, this is not the worst that could have happened. Our backyard neighbors suffered far worse as one of their trees landed on their house. We have minor roof damage from the wind, but nothing major. We are lucky. We are blessed.

Eat Ice Cream When You're Sad

But we’re still sad. We nursed our wounds on some ice cream this evening, sitting on the porch as the golden sun came out from behind the clouds and began to sink into the most glorious of sunsets.

Sunset

My husband pulled me into his arms later. “We’ll plant a new one. Whatever you want.” Others pointed out that the new tree will grow with the boys; it will be their tree. Both boys got excited about whatever new tree we’ll plant and how they’ll love it and climb it… except that by the time it’s climbing-size, they won’t be interested in climbing it or playing ninjas in its branches or painting robots or putting out imaginary fires or sitting underneath the branches on a warm summer evening on The Very Hungry Caterpillar blanket while reading and cuddling and tickling and laughing so hard we all cry a little bit. Or pee.

Yes, we’ll plant a new tree, but I’ll miss this tree and all it meant to our family for the short time we had it in our lives. We’ll make new memories around and, eventually, under a new tree. We’ll lean on one another while we watch it grow.

LEGO Switchplates Brighten Up the Boys’ Rooms

Buying a new house is awesome because you get a whole clean slate to decorate. You know, put all those HGTV things to work that you sat and watched idly over the past six years.

Putting the boys’ rooms together has been a highlight of the new house. Their spaces are so much bigger. BigBrother had a half-way finished decor redo for his sixth birthday, but I had never repainted because, well, we were looking for a new house. I didn’t want to paint twice! It has been a joy seeing their new rooms come together with all of the things I have wanted to do for so long.

Well, it turns out that I didn’t know I wanted to do something until Dee recently sent me to Etsy. So, this is all her fault.

She sent me to a LEGO Firefighter Switchplate. I died. Put it in my cart immediately. Purchased it. Then pinned it so no one else could buy it first. Contacted the shop owner, named Val, and said that I needed a pirate boy (she has a girl listed) as BigBrother’s new decor is all about pirates, arrrr! Val is super fast and both arrived today.

Lego Switchplates

Lego Switchplates

Oh my word, they’re perfect.

First and foremost, my sons think that LEGOs are the be all and end all right now. Secondly, holy moly. Thirdly, don’t we think this smug firefighter looks a little like FireDad if he was allowed to have that much facial hair?

Smug Firefighter

Lastly, how perfect? How stinkin’ perfect?

I will say that LittleBrother’s firefighter LEGO switchplate is a little more difficult to turn off because of the yellow ledge directly above the switch. It’s fine to turn on, though you usually whack the one guy’s hose (…). BigBrother’s pirate LEGO switchplate isn’t difficult at all. It’s perfect.

The boys are, understandably, enthralled. I told LittleBrother there was a surprise in his room, but that he needed to turn his light off. He turned to turn it off and his face just lit up so bright, so big, before he exclaimed, “MOMMY! That’s AWESOME! Did you do that?” BigBrother was equally amazed when he got home from school. They stood around and looked at them for a good ten minutes.

Mommy decorating win.

I really kind of want one for our room… like the C3PO & R2D2 … but I’ll hold off until the boys out grow theirs and then I’ll put one in our room and one in our bathroom. Total win.

I’ll be slowly sharing more of what the boys’ rooms look like in the new house over the next few weeks. I have a few project left (spray painting old letters new colors, new picture frames, and so on). Until then you should follow Val on twitter (@valglaser) or like her Facebook page. Most of all, go check out her Etsy store. She does have another firefighter switchplate in stock which is also awesome. That’s one of the best things — each product is unique!

I have two very happy boys right now which makes me a very happy mommy. Hooray for the little things in life — little this time meaning LEGOs that are glued to something and thus can’t be stepped on in the middle of the night. Hooray!

Home Is Where Your Heart Is, Even When You Can’t Find the Microwave

At least once a day, LittleBrother tells me, “I love our new house.”

That’s good, because we live there whether he loves it or not.

I had been worried about the boys’ transition to the new house. In the weeks preceding our move, they asked lots of questions. Like, “Are we going to take our toys?” And, “What about our beds?” And one that LittleBrother kept harping on, “Mommy, please don’t forget my toothbrush, okay?” It’s hard to explain that, yes, you’re going to move everything to the new house. BigBrother didn’t remember the last move; he was three months old and had a crib, a bouncy seat and some basic toys. Since then, he collected a bit more stuff… to put it mildly.

Thankfully they really do love the new house. They have more space in absolutely every place they could have more space. More bedroom space. A longer hallway to run up and down in their underwear, yelling, “Tra-la-LAA!,” thus channeling Captain Underpants. A much, much bigger playroom. Bigger rooms that they don’t care about (read: kitchen, dining room, and so on). A big front yard and a huge back yard! Even their closets are bigger and I have found them, on more than one occasion, huddled in a closet, playing and giggling. The transition hasn’t been much of a transition for them at all.

Maybe it’s because they’re kids and they adjust to change easier than adults do — or, uh, easier than I do. Because why can’t I remember where the cups and glasses are? Or the microwave — it’s not like the microwave is hard to see. There it is! See it! It is not over there! Why do you walk over there? I don’t know. The kitchens aren’t even remotely shaped the same, so why do I wander around aimlessly opening cupboard doors? Also, I keep reaching to the right for the toilet paper; it is not there. It is on the left. In fact, it was on the left at the old house, too. What is my problem?

But maybe it’s also because of their outlook on life.

We were heading home today after running a few errands.

“Home, home, home we go,” I chanted from the driver seat. Mostly I was trying to keep LittleBrother awake as he looked particularly dozy. As a rule, if he falls asleep in the car, he will be a bear for the rest of the day. We try to avoid this at all costs.

There was a pause. I was afraid he had fallen asleep.

“Home is where your heart is,” came his little voice from the back seat. I was kind of taken aback.

“What?”

“Home. is. where. your. heart. is,” he slow-spoke in a louder voice than before, just in case I was either losing my hearing or just not very smart. I craned my neck at the stop sign to see him in the back seat.

“Well, that’s true. Very true. So is our new house a home?”

“Yes, Mommy. You’re silly.”

And there you have it.

Maybe he didn’t have a transition or adjustment period because it wasn’t about the house or the space or finding the freaking microwave or the bathroom in the dark (though that was an interesting first night which caused us to purchase a night light for the hall the next day). Our home traveled with us from one house to another. The heart of our family didn’t change, just the place where we live.

My four-year-old is wiser than I am — and I’m okay with that.

Watermarked Version of Swinging

I just hope to stop wandering around the kitchen sometime soon. You know, before I rearrange it and cause further confusion and delay. That’s just how I roll.

Adventures with New (to us) Toilets

We’re starting to make memories in our new home. Most are of the mundane, everyone-remembers-painting-their-new-home type variety. Some are of the oh-look-the-master-bath-is-leaking variety. And some are truly unique to our immediate little family of four.

Because the following exchange would only happen in our house. First let me set the scene, and to do so, we have to back up a little bit. And talk about poop.

BigBrother demands that after a bowel movement but prior to wiping, he must flush. He was always panicked about “clugging” the toilet. A plunger had to be in plain sight. In our old house, he had gotten used to everything — himself, the way our toilet flushed, plunger in plain sight, and so on — and the panic subsided. It was just the norm to hear two flushes when he was in the bathroom. Life with boys. Or, at least, life with that boy.

On our first day at the new house but prior to the big move, he posed a question.

“Do we have a plunger here?”

We did, but we did not yet know that it was in the bathroom closet, so we told him no. He internalized that fact and decided not to utilize the facilities for the purpose of number two. Eventually, as we moved in, we found the plunger that came with the house and moved in our own plunger. Two plungers for two bathrooms. Life sure is good around these parts!

On our second day actually in the new house, he went off to do his business. He asked a few questions about the presence of a plunger ahead of time and seemed okay with it.

I heard the sound of the toilet flushing the first time, and then a panicked voice.

“Ahhhhhh! PLUNGER! PLUNGER! THE TOILET IS CLUGGING!”

And so I left whatever box I was unpacking and went running down the hall. By the time I got there, the toilet was done flushing and BigBrother looked slightly sheepish.

“But the water came UP before it went down.”

I explained that it’s a weird toilet and that’s just the way it works. It kind of looks like it’s going to “clug,” but then it doesn’t. He gave me a raised eyebrow, untrusting of this strange new toilet. I assured him that it would be fine and left him to finish up his business.

Every morning for the next few days, we had to stand there with him while he flushed because he was too scared to do it on his own. And not just stand there: coax him and tell him it would be okay and eventually say, “OMG! JUST FLUSH THE DANG TOILET!” Or not. But maybe.

Despite flushing drama, the two full baths, one being the master bath, just so happen to be one of my favorite parts of our new house. They’re horribly painted — and we can’t repaint just yet due to paint on the tiles. They really are the bane of our new house, though the carpet in the finished side of the basement (aka, playroom) comes in a close second). One day they will both be peaceful places for us to flush toilets.

So less this:

Bathrooms!

And something far more… us. And less tropical. Like the green accessories in our bathroom and the gray in theirs. Both with plungers in quick reach, obviously.



Creativity kits for kids!