We've now been in Pittsburgh for a week and a half. By all accounts, we have arrived at an "awkward" time. Awkward because the school year will be over in less than 2 months, but Ellie is legally required to go. Awkward because we need an address to enrol in school, and we don't have one. Awkward because the rental market is super-tight. Awkward because most family-appropriate houses become available over the summer months (when "normal" people move), and those notices could be a month or two away (or not at all). And did you realise the more you type the word "awkward", the more awkward that spelling looks? Anyway...
Given that we are professional, expert relocation artists (hee-hee), we have learned over time that the best plan of attack is to choose a place and settle as quickly as possible. Waffling about it can only drive us crazy, especially when the location is new to us and we know so little about how the day to day will really look. We knew schools would be our big priority, along with a good yard for playing outside and room for us and for guests to be comfortable inside during those long, cold winter months. After years away from the States and the car-culture, we were finding it hard to adapt to the idea of needing the car to get anywhere and everywhere, especially with the girls, so the ability to get around on foot and bicycle was added to the list. Hubby's office is way out in the suburbs, but the idea of life as a US suburban mom makes me twitch. He's willing to commute quite a ways if all the other criteria can be met well, so we've been very busy looking, looking, looking. Right away, the two areas that shone through with the most appeal were Mount Lebanon and Sewickley.
Sewickley is very much Small Town USA. It lies along the river, so it is quite flat, unlike the rest of very hilly Pittsburgh (making it great for bicycles and kids). The centre is called Sewickley Village. The houses are sweet, wood-sided, dollhouse-style (except for the huge mansions around), and the community feel is very strong. The shops are nice and accessible, and its walkability is fantastic. There is a new, huge YMCA with fantastic family programs in swimming, soccer...you name it. It was the public school here that blew me away. I wished I had a kid to send there, even if that kid were me. For a fleeting moment, I almost wished I were a teacher again. Seriously. It was amazing! They have such tremendous resources that they have money leftover to fund (quite well) the public library. The commute for Hubby would have been so much less than anywhere else we've seen. And if all that wasn't enough, there was a house with our names on it. Literally.
But all that perfection comes with a price tag (and serious lack of availability). The "best" we could hope for is a house we saw yesterday.
It's a 1950s, two-story, three-bedroom home with a nice yard and attached garage (a rarity there and a premium desirable item due to the winters). Nothing had been updated since it was built, although it was all in great condition. As a person who loves to cook, the kitchen just made me sad with its tiny oven and electric stovetop. Everything has that '50s sizing (small, small, small and dark inside). The bedrooms were very small, except the master which was disproportionately huge. It was hard to imagine making a guest feel comfortable there, though we would try! It would have been a downsize, as we wanted, but it required a lot of compromises too. Hmmm....
Mount Lebanon is fairly close to the city and is connected by a small metro rail. It prides itself on walkability, particularly with their schools. There are so many (highly rated) public elementary schools with the idea that all kids should be able to walk to school. They even let out for lunch (unless the kids prefer to bring the lunch to stay and eat with friends) and the kids can walk home for it. So nice. Yesterday, we saw one very lovely, very spacious (read "HUGE") home in a swanky neighbourhood. There is no way around the fact that it's an upsize from our previous upsize: not what we had intended. It's not perfect (so much bigger than we need, with four bedrooms but six (6!) bathrooms--that's a lot of toilet scrubbing, my friends), but it is really very very good in so many ways. The lay-out allows so much natural light. It has an open plan living/dining/kitchen space that we like so much. And the kitchen...I had to wipe the chef drool (TMI, but you would too).
What about schools? Mount Lebanon schools have excellent reputations (meaning they standardised test well). Last week, I visited a public school in Mount Lebanon, and I really didn't like it, I'm sorry to say. But that school isn't the one in the catchment of this house, so we are set to see two other schools before I made up my mind. One, we visited this morning--Mt Lebanon Montessori--and it was very good. The other is the public school near the house (Markham Elementary), and we were set to see it today but a scheduling mix-up means we have to see it tomorrow. All in all, this house looks like our absolute best bet if we are going to try to choose something and settle as soon as possible.
If you're still with me, you are very dedicated! Thanks for hanging in there. Tomorrow, we'll see that remaining public school and will submit some applications. We'll see what comes up!