Wednesday, November 30, 2011

the great basement redo: progress

We've been furiously working on the basement.  To give you a little sense of the progress, take a look at the evolution of one wall...

(the wall during demo -- you can see the top layer of paneling, the under layer of paneling,
and the disintegrating rock-wool insulation and termite-eaten boards underneath)

(the wall during framing: we used waterproof styrofoam insulation between the concrete
and the wood to protect it from moisture, and then added a second layer of traditional
fiberglass insulation between the studs.  all cut and placed by yours truly)

(the sheetrock is up -- because of our water issues we splurged on the mold-resistant
sheetrock typically used in bathrooms.  Then, our new friend Dean came and
 mudded the screws and the seams so the wall appears flat when finished)

(and here it is now, just waiting for carpet.  we moved the couch down from our
livingroom in the middle of the project so we could figure out where we would
 want the TV -- and thus, decide where to place outlets.)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Diary of an Expat: An Affair with London

I decided to give it up. I've spent the past few weeks whining to everyone I could about how much I miss New York. At one point, I even said to Joe [my husband] that I loved New York like a person (which, technically, is still true). But I decided when feeling especially bad for myself that it would be a pretty miserable couple of years if I just kept thinking about what I didn't have. I decided this while I was jogging, which is when I make a lot of crucial decisions (and have conversations with people in my head that will never take place, and dream about lives I'll never live, etc.). I continued my jog with a renewed sense of purpose - trying to absorb everything around me. I smelled the fall air, which is something I've somehow gone almost the entire fall without noticing. I organised my new apartment (which I just moved into this past week) and remembered how good it felt to have familiar things around, even if I was putting them away in brand new places. I went out shopping and there were Christmas carollers in the store - seriously, in eveningwear just singing out loud for everyone on the escalators to hear. Where else do you find something like that other than London? (I realize it can probably be found in many places, but that's not the point.)
Logo designed by Milton Glaser, who designed one of my other favorite logos for the Brooklyn Brewery

Monday, November 21, 2011

the great basement redo: demolition

Remember back in the summer, during our "vacation," when the basement flooded with sewage?  That was horrible.  Well, the result of that was that we discovered that our retro-style wood paneling was kind of... moldy.  Actually, it turned out it was really moldy.  And our carpet was trashed.  It seemed like a good time to redo the basement.  We got a bid from a contractor, submitted it to our insurance company, and got the go-ahead to redo the basement.  Then, we waited.  We waited six weeks.  We called the contractor, and said we were anxious to have our basement back (and not have potentially health-threatening mold growing in our walls).  He ignored us.  We called again, and told us if we didn't hear back from him, we'd have to find someone else.  He finally called us back, and said that if we wanted someone to get started before the holidays, we would have to find someone else.  You know, the old "You can't fire me, cuz I quit."  Nice.  So we called three other contractors, and asked them to submit bids.  Only one actually came out to do an estimate, which we never received.  One called and said he would come look at it, and never showed up, and the third did not call back at all.

Finally, 10 weeks after starting the process, we said F THIS and decided to do the basement ourselves.  The drawback is that we did not have the tools, or actually know how to do everything that needed to be done.  We enlisted the help of some of our friends from Massachusetts, who came down last weekend to "help" (except that by help, I mean tell us everything we need to do, and do all the hard parts). 

So, to give you a sense of what we're dealing with, let's see some "before" pictures.

Here's what the kids' playroom looked like for 10 weeks -- note the exposed carpet tacks on the concrete floor, which used to be covered in asbestos tile.  Also note the several weird shelves too shallow to put anything on (except, apparently, the old filter for our shop vac).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

living on the roof

When I was in high school, I was in a church youth group, and was simultaneously horrified and amused to come across this:

Better to live on the roof than share a house with a nagging wife.  Proverbs 21:9

This morning, this particular verse sprang to mind as I was trying to avoid getting up, and I heard Kathy say to A, in the kitchen, "Erin says you need to clean up those clothes on the floor of your room before your birthday party tomorrow..." followed by some muffled things I could not hear.  Sometimes I think my family would not so much mind living on the roof.

So, let's unpack the nagging wife, shall we?  My reactions to Kathy's comment (and Kathy's reactions to my reactions), the Bible verse above, the archetype of the nagging wife, and my realization that I am becoming one.

(a view of our rather inhospitable roof, from A's bedroom window)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

leaving home and the American way of life

Last weekend, Kathy and I traveled to San Diego to visit my parents for my Dad's 60th birthday.  Actually, Kathy went to London for work on Monday, I left for San Diego Wednesday afternoon, Kathy returned from London Wednesday night, Kathy flew to San Diego Friday morning, we both flew home to New York on Sunday, and she left for a business trip in Chicago last night.

"What would be easier," Kathy said yesterday afternoon as she packed for the next trip, "is if we had some family close by to help out with the house and the kids."  Indeed.

When I was 18, I went to college an hour from my hometown.  I lived in that college town for two years after graduation, and then moved to California, where I lived for three years.  During that time, my sister lived in Arizona and my brother moved from Michigan to St. Louis.  Then, my sister and I moved to New York, my brother moved home to Michigan, and my parents moved to San Diego.  Basically, for the last 5 years or so, my family has lived in at least three different time zones.  Kathy's family, too, is spread out.  Her mother lives in the San Francisco area, her father lives in Pittsburgh, and she lives here, in New York.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

the weight is over

Yes, that was on purpose.  I do love a good pun.

Today, I leave for San Diego to visit my parents for my dad's 60th birthday.  My grandparents, who are approximately 9 million years old, will be there, and I don't get to see them very often.  Not to mention my parents, who I haven't seen since last Christmas.  And a surprise guest, which not even my mother knows about, because of how she ruins surprises on a regular basis.  I was wholly excited about this trip, until my mother said those three little words to me.  Bring. Your. Swimsuit.

Monday, November 7, 2011

(financial) freedom ain't free

I'm still looking for a job.  While I have a promising lead or two, I haven't done any actual interviewing yet.  This has resulted in several sleepless nights, where I have nightmares that we are going to be evicted from our house because we can't pay for it, and that it will be all my fault.  Also, in the dreams, I default on my student loans. 

No one thinks that law school is cheap.  That is because it is decidedly not.  According to some articles, attending a top 10 law school (like Berkeley, where I went -- although it's a public school, it's still pricey) costs about $43,000 a year, just in tuition.  Plus your undergraduate education.  Plus the expenses of actually living for the three years you are in school.  This is usually financed by taking out massive student loans, with the expectation that you will either make big bucks to pay them off, or at least qualify for LRAP

So, since this is not a dinner party with in-laws, I will tell you my numbers, so you non-lawyer types can get a sense of what this means in real terms.  I graduated from undergrad with no debt.  I graduated from law school with about $150,000 in student loan debt.  That is the size of a decent-sized mortgage.  Fortunately, like a mortgage, they give me 30 years to pay it off.  Unfortunately, and unlike a mortgage, my interest rate is locked in to pre-crash highs, and I can't refinance it to bring the rate down.  So the interest rate on my educational debt is higher than that of our mortgage, our car loan, and one of my credit cards. 

704 Montclair St, Pittsburgh, PA 15217 
 (an example of a house I could buy with the same amount of money I paid to go to law school.)

Friday, November 4, 2011

muffin mania

I have never been that interested in baking, but lately I have started baking muffins like they are going out of style.  I have also started pinning a lot of muffin recipes on Pinterest.  B and C both have to take a snack and a lunch to school every day, and we were tired of sending them with pre-packaged crap.  So I started baking muffins, first from box mixes, then gradually more and more from scratch.  The advantage to muffins over quickbreads and the like is that muffins are easy to grab-and-go, so they are perfect when you don't have time for breakfast or to put in a kid's snack.  The downside is that they can be a teensy bit packed with oil, sugar, butter, and other things that make them delicious but perhaps not so good for you.  Sometimes I try to modify to increase the nutrition and decrease the calorie count, but sometimes I say f- it and just make a tasty muffin.

Here are my favorite three muffins that I've made recently...

1.  Apple muffins.  I wanted to make something fall-ish, and these were the first fall muffin recipe I found.  I made some adjustments, like using crushed-up granola to top the muffins and pureeing the apple peels and adding to the recipe to up the nutritional value.  The commenters to the recipe complained that the muffins didn't peak, but I didn't have this problem -- maybe because I was careful not to overmix, and/or because I melted the butter before I added it.  (The full list of modifications I made is in the comments on Pinterest, for my reference in case I want to make them again.)  In case you're curious, I used Gala apples.  Because they were the cheapest.

Apple Strudel Muffins Recipe

Thursday, November 3, 2011

an open letter to whoever makes stocking decisions at the stores around here

To whom it may concern:

I try hard to keep our house relatively organized.  This is not easy when any attempt at organization is constantly undermined by three people under the age of twelve, and occasionally undermined by the resident adults.  

There is one organizational item that I disproportionately love.  That item is the holiday color coded bin: the big orange and black tubs you can put Halloween decorations in, the red and green ones for the Christmas decorations, etc.  This is essential when you have an attic completely jammed with all sizes and colors of plastic bins full of kindergarten art projects, baby clothes, high school yearbooks, your sister's sewing machine, cases from CDs you no longer listen to, and the like.  If you don't have color coded bins, you never find all the holiday stuff until the holiday is good and over and you are searching for the stuff for the next holiday.

(the ubiquitous bin*)

stripping down

I always thought that trees lost their leaves in the fall because they were unable to support green foliage during the cold, dry winter months.  This may be true.  However, when New York was hit with several inches of heavy, wet snow this weekend, before the trees were able to shed their leaves, I saw that this is not the only reason.  In my small town not far from New York City, we received only a few inches -- practically nothing compared to the several feet that upstate New York and New England received.  But still, even here, everything from small shrubs to large, decade- or century-old trees lost limbs.  Trunks were split down the middle, entire trees were lost, under the weight of the frozen water sitting on broad leaves.

I have heard that November is a month for goodbyes.  The leaves go, and the trees prepare for hard times ahead.  Last night, as I jogged through my town and surveyed the damage from the storm, still blocking off streets and lined up on curbs, I thought about stripping down in preparation for hard times.