Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Have you seen this?

Who are these people and their amazing friends?!  I am so weepy happy for them.


I have all the symptoms: deep sighs, wistfulness, thoughts always returning to the object of my affection, (slight) sadness (and maybe a bit of jealousy) at the thought of another in my place...


What do you do when you've fallen in love with a white elephant?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Dream home viewing

This afternoon, we enjoyed a thorough viewing of my (formerly 1.25 Million Dollar) Dream Home.  Ridiculously, it didn't occur to me to take pictures until after we left.  I apologise.  I truly wish I had, because I don't think that Dream Home will be mine.  Sigh.

Ever since I was old enough to care about such things, I have said my dream home would be a nice house (perfect would be an old farm (?) house with big windows, high ceilings, lots of light, and big porches) with lots of land.  Ideally, it would have (or we could build) a guest cottage.  Even better, the lot would have an old barn.  This house today had all of that.

It is a historic home.  The former owners were seriously flush with cash (their previous hunting and game lodge is now part of Grand Teton National Park), and this was their winter home.  The house is over 100 years old.  The construction is completely solid.  The windows are original (wavy glass, some small bubbles in the panes).  There are porches on both floors, front and back.  Immediately behind the house is a tiny, one room guest cottage with full bathroom.  It is all timber and stone, dark and luxurious feeling.  Behind that is an original barn with large storage rooms built in and enclosed on either end.  Even further back on the property is a guest ranch house: 3 bedrooms, one bath, a kitchen, living room, and 4-car garage underneath.  Crazy.  Oh, and there's a six acre property.  Swoon.

The catch?
The entire place was in need of some serious cosmetic loving.  Apparently, rich as she was, the former owner lost all interest in updating the decor after 1968.  The wallpaper in every room is retro-awesome, as long as you remember to photograph it before you rip it down and burn it.  My favourite was the powder room wallpapered completely (even the ceiling!) in a red and white trellis effect.  Fabulous!  The gorgeous, wide-planked wood floors had long since been covered with manky carpet that was threadbare in many places.  There was an elevator (!) that someone had simply tacked on to the front of the house where you could have accessed the porches.  Down in the basement laundry room, there was an original typewritten notice about how to properly launder the girdles (I would keep and frame that).

The truth is, I could live with all of that.  I really could.  I could see the beauty and the potential under all those years of neglect.  The structure was still very solid.  It needs a new septic system (joy) and possibly, though not definitely, a new roof.  The stripping and painting (outside and in) and sealing of floors etc. could be manageable, though we'd need a contractor to manage the size.

So, what's the problem?
It's on a busy road.  Sigh.  As soon as you step outside the house (even onto the back porch), you hear road noise.  All of the six acres front the road.  What must have once been a tiny, back lane to hunting cottages is now a two-lane direct line from the village to the interstate.  Boo.  I can fix all the other stuff, but I can't fix the road.  Oh, sigh.  Oh, sadness.
Because I still want that old house.
I wouldn't be able to resell her for what she'd be worth to us, so I can't have her...but I still want to fix her up and make her a home anyway.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A new start and some dreaming

Here we are, near the end of May, and we have some pieces in place.

Ellie has completed the school year (in just three short weeks!) at Mount Lebanon Montessori School.  Yesterday was the last day (hooray!).  She was very happy there, a true blessing, but the commute was threatening to undo my and Stephanie's sanity.  We were in the car over 4 hours every day, just for the school run.  Add in any errands, and well...ick.  It was so very un-fun.  But it was worth it.  Ellie was happy and well-placed.  She had a great teacher.  She slotted right in because of the Montessori setting, and she made friends easily.  Another good aspect was that she has a school record, even a brief one, here in the US.  Her birthdate falls close to the cut-off date for most schools, and there were questions about which grade she would enter in the fall.  Having "completed" a school year here, that question goes away.  Whew.

After quite a lengthy process, we negotiated and signed a lease for the house we found a few weeks ago in Sewickley.  It is a down-size for us, but I think that's a good thing.  We have been intending to downsize for a long while, but the ability to live in large homes hasn't created any need.  Now, we have to downsize just to fit in the front door.  I'm ready for the challenge.  While the house is a compromise (the old electric kitchen makes my chef's heart weepy), the fact is the neighbourhood is amazing.  Sewickley is a walking village.  We can get to just about everything on foot, including a great independent book store, a small family-owned grocery store, a pottery-painting place the girls love, and a high-end yarn shop (very important feature).  Right around the corner is a very nice YMCA, which we have already joined.  We have also signed up for the CSA (community share agriculture) and will get a box of fresh goodness each Wednesday from June to November.  The street is overflowing with playmates (22 little girls on that street alone!).  The public school is fantastic, but there is an even better private school if we opt to go that route.  The commute for Hubby doesn't get much better.  The total package was too good to pass up.

Alas, the process of obtaining this house was surprisingly challenging.  The owners are extremely particular and cautious.  Our agent doesn't think this is anything to worry about (she thinks they just worry about getting the right tenants but are easy to deal with afterwards), so we are hoping she is right.  Given how complex that process was, I admit I lost all enthusiasm for the house in the thick of it.  I expect that will change once we move in and start to get settled.  As of this afternoon, I have switched over all the utilities, so it will be ready to go when our things arrive from Oz.  That long-anticipated date is early- to mid-June.  We'll be away for the first 10 days of June, so that will pass the remaining wait beautifully.

Given the rental ordeal, I started vaguely looking at the numerous sale properties in the area.  On our first drive into town, I passed what I dubbed "my dream house" that happened to be for sale.  A gorgeous house with two (!) guest cottages and an old barn on a large property outside of the village.  Of course, it was my 1.25 Million Dollar Dream House, hardly realistic when you don't know how long you'll live in one place.  Sigh.  Then, the owners sold off half of the land and suddenly the price of my 1.25 Million Dollar Dream House dropped down into the realm of possibility.  Our agent did a background search for me and turned up a fascinating history of its previous owner.
Now, I really want it.
Sometimes I so prefer fantasyland to reality, don't you?

Wishing you a wonderful holiday weekend!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Yesterday, Stephanie and I spent over five hours in the car, to-ing and fro-ing with a school run and car service pick-ups and loaner returns.  We finally got home close to dinnertime.  Both girls were tired and cranky.  After a relaxing walk with Papa, Ellie returned and demanded to know where her dinner was (excuse me?).  When I set dinner on the table (bean dip night, one of her favourites), she had an absolute meltdown about the tortilla chips being the wrong brand (and again I say, excuse me?).  What a day.

Once the kids were in bed and Hubby and I settled in for some reading, I brewed up a pot of my new favourite tea and found this message on the tea string:

Good reminder

Yes indeed!  Thank you for that reminder.  Because, really, you can always find reasons to gripe and moan, but you can also find reasons to celebrate and enjoy life too.  This past weekend was absolutely relaxing and fun with heavenly weather.  We spent as little time in the car as possible, and we all appreciated that.  The girls spent hours playing in the stream that runs past the playground, hunting for fairies, building stone dams fairy castles, and excavating dinosaur teeth (which we suspect is a bit of abandoned doggy bone but there's no telling them otherwise).

playground stream

Despite ridiculous pollen levels (thank you, makers of allergy medication), the grown-ups enjoyed lounging in the grass too.

Yoga: cat pose

And the best part of the weekend?  Mimi came for a visit!  After so many years overseas, I marvel that she just drove over because she could!


We were all so happy to spend time with her.
Her visit also blessed me and Hubby with a bit of perspective on this super-crazy-stressful transition time. There is a larger purpose.  Living here allows us to spend time with family and friends as we haven't been able to in many years.  The insane school commute ends this week with the start of summer break.  The lease is almost signed (yes, after a tremendously overcomplicated process but still).  Life will settle into a groove.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012



I've had a completely horrible day, but listening to my husband play with my children and their giggles ringing in the air, I believe life truly doesn't get any better than this.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mini mine

Back in high school, I regularly babysat for a family with three children and their huge, loving dog.  When the youngest was just a newborn, I was asked to babysit on Mother's Day so the mom could enjoy her surprise present.  The gift: a brand new, red, two-seater Mazda Miata convertible.  Because so clearly this gift was for the stay-at-home-mother-of-three.  Even though I was a naive and trusting teenager, it was pretty clear Dad bought Mom a gift for Dad.  Just to be sure, he drove it to work every day.  Not impressive.

Flash forward quite a few years (ahem), and I'm reminded of this story because of what Seriously Awesome Hubby purchased the day before Mother's Day.  No, it isn't really a Mother's Day gift.  We've been looking into our second car options for a long time, but I just couldn't decide.  I've loved Minis for years, but I cannot really fit the kids in it.  We've looked at their new Countryman (4-door), but something about it wasn't clicking for me.  We considered other options, but I wasn't too thrilled about those either.  I wanted to be responsible, but then again, I already drive a particularly responsible car (that I happen to really enjoy, don't get me wrong, but we do need a second car here).  Every time we discussed it, Hubby came back to the idea that he wanted it to be something fun for me to balance out the responsibility and size of my daily mom car.  Last night, we spied this online:

  Mini mine

We went to test-drive it today, and I had to make a U-turn straight away because it had a low tire that worried me.  Still, I stepped out of the car grinning from ear to ear, and the deal was done.

Methinks I will be making many excuses to dash out to buy milk or post a letter or just about anything really because seriously.  I have drooled over Mini for years and now I have one (it even has stripes!).  Mini mine!
Yeah, baby.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What to do?

Back from Virginia Beach and the hard but important times there...


...and back into the thick of what-to-do-ness here in Pittsburgh.

We decided to start Ellie in the Mount Lebanon Montessori School.  It is very close to the house we didn't get (sigh), and the commute from here takes ages (argh!), but she's happy to be there.  She needed to get back to school.  There was no way around it.  She was asking nearly every day, playing school at every opportunity, and really, how do you deny a kid who wants to go to school?  You don't.  So off she went.  The last day of the school year is at the end of this month anyway, so even though the commute is awful, it's manageable.  And she's happy.  That's the most important thing!

first day at new school

As for housing, well...that simply isn't progressing at all.  We now truly understand why that other couple trumped us for the Mount Lebanon house to ensure they got it.  It was by far and away the best possible thing on the rental market: 4 bedrooms, 2 car garage, big backyard and a gourmet kitchen in a fabulous area...we won't find its equal.  Lucky them!  Most of the time, I manage not to sulk about it.  I'm still not certain I want to live over there.  We are not happy car people.  We prefer walking and cycling, and Hubby's commute to work in good weather with minimal traffic would still be quite long.

Again and again, we come back to Sewickley.  The little (mostly unsuitable) house we saw there is still available (telling you everyone else finds it mostly unsuitable too), but the truth is it isn't bad.  It is in a  lovely area with a nice yard, lots of kids in the neighbourhood, and in walking distance to everything but school (and for that, there's a bus).  I'm honestly not sure we'll manage to fit our furniture in there (I'm fairly certain we won't be able to), but (sigh) we had hoped to downsize over our time here, though not necessarily straight out of the container.  We could rent a storage unit to get started, I suppose.  We're going to see it again on Friday.  I'm very good at making things work when I've made up my mind to do so, so we'll see if I can make up my mind about that one this week.  There are so many lovely houses on the market for sale, but we aren't ready for that leap right now.  I contacted several to ask about renting instead, but so far, no.

Coming from a different angle...
This morning, Stephanie and I chatted with a very nice older couple in Starbucks about travel and whatnot.  When they asked if we lived here, I mentioned that we were trying to be but couldn't find a rental.  The woman's eyes lit up and she wondered aloud if we might not be interested in their house.  They hadn't decided what to do about it yet, as their older sons mention wanting it but haven't committed, but they have an "extra" house in Sewickley Village (where we want to be).  She was so nice about it all, giving me lots of information about it, but her husband seemed very hesitant.  Apparently, this is the first time the thought of renting it out had come up.  I gave them my contact information and tried not to press too hard.  She gave me hers too.  Maybe that will work out?

One last possibility is an agent who returned my call just now.  I had emailed her about a sale property, asking if they'd rent.  She said they wouldn't, but she'd be happy to call some others and get back to me, as well as show us again the house we've already seen.  I liked her enthusiasm on the phone, so we'll get that working for us too.

In the meantime, Stephanie and I are enjoying some laid-back hang-out time together while Ellie is at school.  The afternoon commute is the hardest (Stephanie gets cranky and wants to sleep, which I have to prevent or nighttime will be disastrous), but other than that, the days are good.  Today is only day three, but Ellie does seem to enjoy it quite a bit.  She is ready to go each morning.  The school has a uniform/dress code, and she is happy to get down to business, donning the proper clothing and preparing for the day.  She has already been assigned to feed the class pet (a turtle) each day, and she is very proud of the responsibility.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Schools and cars and such

Yesterday, we had a break-through: things went right all day long!  Woo-hoo!

In the morning, we successfully applied for and were granted learner's permits and photo IDs.  The next step is the road test for the driver's license, for which we need to own the we bought a car!  It's a "pre-owned" (that's fancy for "used") Volvo XC70, in great condition and with quite a few bells and whistles.  The price was right, so I abandoned my usual shop-around obsessiveness and bought it without a second thought.  Thankfully, I have a fabulous insurance company, so they issued us new car insurance right away.  Check, check, check!


On a roll, we decided to go ahead and enrol Ellie in the Montessori school we visited last week.  We liked it, she loved it, and she is keen to go.  She has asked daily since the visit.  We were hesitant because it is a long drive from our current, temporary apartment, but in the end, we decided it's better to try it.  There is only slightly over a month left of school before the end of the school year, so it shouldn't be too bad and at least it gives Ellie a good chance to reestablish routine and meet some other kids.  She misses school (the kid loves to learn!), and she is desperate for friends (no other families in these apartments, alas).  Her first day will be Monday.  The school has a uniform/dress code, so we did that shopping today.  Exciting!

Absolutely no developments on the housing front, but I will enjoy what break-throughs we get whenever we get them.  At least we have a fancy pants car for chauffeuring Miss Ellie to school next week.

Because life is like that sometimes

Early this morning, my grandmother--my dad's mother--passed away.  With multiple severe health problems, she had been struggling for quite a long while (years, actually), so we are happy to know that she has had her last bad day.  Still, she will be missed.  She was such a spunky, no-nonsense, warm and loving, tough old bird.  She was happiest in her garden or surrounded by her family or both.  This picture was taken four years ago in that back garden she loved, with our wee Ellie following behind.


Selfishly, I'm so happy we went to visit her during our initial arrival time back in the States.  Jetlagged and overtired, we drove down from DC to spend a few hours and let her see the kids, and it was a very good visit.  I will fly to Virginia Beach to attend her service this weekend.