Tuesday, May 28, 2013


It’s hard to believe, but we are moving into the new house this Saturday, almost two months to the day after we moved out of our Bronxville apartment and into my inlaws’ home on Long Island.  My in-laws have been so gracious and accommodating during our transition into homeownership, and I know they will miss the way Minnow’s exuberant singing, ukulele playing, and knock-knock jokes can fill a big home, but I think they’d agree that eight weeks is just about the maximum amount of time that three generations can comfortably reside under one roof.

When I say it’s hard to believe, I mean that I truly cannot fathom how our house will be ready for occupants in four days.  Every time I walk through the rooms I am overwhelmed by the number of moldings that need to be scraped and painted, the boxes of furniture that need to be built, the layers of dust that need to be eradicated.  I’d analogize it to a paper in college whose submission date is looming.  You know that it’s due by a certain date, and you know that you will submit it by that date, but you have no definite idea how that will happen; you just sort of trust in miracles.  

What doesn’t help is that all of my contractors like to begin phone conversations with, “Mrs. C., we have a problem.”  They then go on to describe said problem, which rarely amounts to much of a problem at all.  It’s like they’re constantly hedging my expectations, as a means of insurance.

For example, on Friday my floor guy, Stanley, called while I was waiting on an infinite line at the DMV to change the address on my license.

“Mrs. C., we have a problem.”

“What’s the problem, Stanley?”

“It’s raining outside.”

“I’m aware of that, Stanley,” I said, staring at my soggy Hunter boots.

“Well I’m trying to apply the second coat of polyurethane to the floors and it’s not adhering.  The weather is too wet.  The floors are not dry.”


“So I will have to turn up the thermostat in your house, allow the floors to dry overnight, and come back in the morning.”

“That’s not a problem., Stanley,”  I replied.

And it wasn't a problem.  Because we don't live there yet.

Similarly, this morning, while at Starbucks, I received a call from my paper hanger, Tony.

“Mrs. C., we have a problem.”

“What’s the problem, Tony?”

“Your hot water is not running.  If you don’t have hot water, I can’t wash the glue off my brushes.  If I can’t wash the glue off my brushes, I can’t hang your paper today.”

“That’s not a problem, Tony.  We turned off the boiler.  The boiler switch is at the top of the basement stairwell.  Turn it on.  You’ll hear the boiler kick in.  Wait a half hour.  You’ll have hot water.”

And I was right.  I’m a freaking genius.

Of course, usage of “We have a problem” is not exclusive to my home contractors.  When I called the body shop last week to check on the status of my Jeep repair, the owner began with, “Well, we have a problem...”

“What’s that?” I asked, feeling like I just might lose my marbles. 

“When we inspected your car more closely, we found additional damage to the suspension.  The insurance company needs to resend its adjuster to make a secondary estimate.  We’re looking at another week, at least.”

Unfortunately, this is one problem I cannot solve, and I so desperately want my car back.

All of this is to say I really don’t know where mothers found respite from life’s little “problems” before Starbucks.  I am there at least once a day, sometimes twice if the day is shaping up to be particularly “problematic.”  Minnow has become so familiar with the green mermaid logo that she points it out from the backseat whenever we pass a store. 

“Oh, Mommy!  There’s Starbucks! We go get coffee now?”

Minnow likes Starbucks because it usually means a treat for her, as well.  When we walk through the doors she immediately struts toward the cold case, grabs a Horizon organic vanilla milk box, and places it on the counter.  “And a bagel with cream cheese,” she tells the cashier.  Sometimes she mixes it up and orders a bag of organic dried mango slices instead.  Truly, we are (or at least I am) raising the Starbucks generation.  But what can I do?  Even the strictest moms have to make concessions sometimes, and lately I've been making a lot of them.

I’m just trying to be a good mom, in spite of all the problems.  Today I had to take Minnow to the new house while I awaited a furniture delivery for the nursery.  I brought snacks and books and movies to watch on the laptop during the two-hour delivery window.  We sat on the floor in the playroom, which is the only room in the house not being worked on, and which is currently serving as the holding area for the furniture and boxes that have been delivered to the house.  “Don’t touch anything, “ I commanded.  “It’s very dusty.”  As we watched an episode of Wallace and Gromit, I became aware of a cloud of dust swirling above our heads.  That’s when I realized that the painters were sanding the moldings and trim down the hall.  The old moldings and trim!  Laden with lead paint!  Creating lead paint dust!  Causing lead poisoning!

“We have to get out of here, Minnow!” I said, gathering the laptop, her diaper bag, and her organic vanilla milk box in my arms.  We would have sat outside in the yard, but it was raining, so instead we sat in our parked car.  Rain pelted the windows I had rolled down a crack for ventilation while Minnow watched her movie in the backseat and I checked emails on my iPhone.  She never made a peep of complaint, but I still felt like all of my new neighbors were spying on us and thinking, “What a dreadful mother!” 

And while I am confessing my deficiencies as the mother of a toddler, let me also say that during this time of upheaval, it has been extraordinarily difficult to even remember that I am pregnant with a second child.  I mean, who forgets that she is pregnant?  But I do, during most waking hours of the day.  (Nighttime is a different story.  Kicks to the bladder as you’re trying to fall asleep are powerful reminders.)  This morning, as I unlocked the front door for the painters, one of them grinned at me and said, “She’s almost here!”

“Who is?” I asked, glancing over my shoulders.

“The baby!” he said, and pointed to my stomach.

"I hope not!" I replied, but then I realized, he’s right.  Peanut will be here in just over four weeks and I am so unprepared!  It is impossible to indulge the nesting instinct when one doesn’t have a nest.  I haven’t washed a single onesie to date.  I don’t have appropriately sized diapers for a newborn.  All of the nursery furniture is in storage.  At this point in my pregnancy with Minnow I had Crockpot meals prepared and in the freezer.  I had washed and rewashed her entire miniature wardrobe.  I had assembled all the baby equipment I naively believed were essential to her baby amusement.  Don’t even ask me where the travel swing is right now.

It sounds awful, but my thoughts have been so consumed by what’s been happening at the new house that I hardly have the energy to give poor Peanut a second thought.  On the one hand, managing the renovation of an old, quirky house certainly helps speed up the tedious third trimester.  On the other hand, holy cow!  I am having a baby, like, next month, and every time I answer the phone someone is telling me, “We have a problem.”

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cable Guy!

(Mom, please don’t read this.  I don’t need you worrying about us for the next two and a half years.)

Yesterday I called Verizon to set up our cable, Internet, and phone service at the new house.  I spoke with a male representative- let’s call him Dave- who sounded to be about my age.  When I gave Dave my address he asked for an apartment number.

“No apartment.  It’s a house.”

“Oh!  Did you just buy it?”

“Yes,” I said. “My husband and I closed almost a month ago.”

“Congratulations!” Dave exclaimed.  “I’m so happy for you guys!”

Well, that was nice of him to say, especially because he doesn’t know us. 

“So are you moving to New York from out-of-state?” he continued.

“Well my husband is from Long Island.  I’m originally from Pennsylvania.”

“Yuengling country!”

“Yes,” I said.  “It’s all I drink.”

“I love Yuengling, but I live in Massachusetts, so it’s hard to find.”

“Yeah, I guess Sam Adams has the market cornered up there.”

“But Yuengling is so much better than Sam Adams!  The last time I was at the Yuengling brewery, I asked them if they had plans on expanding their distribution, and they do!”

“Okay…” I said, wondering when we’d get to the part where we set up my cable service.

“So, Yuengling!  Wow!  I guess we have that in common.”

I wasn’t aware that we were searching for commonalities.

Dave eventually moved on to describing the different bundle packages available, and tried to sell me on a bunch of upgrades, which I declined.  After nearly twenty minutes we were just about finished.  Dave asked me how I wished to be listed in the phonebook, and I said, “How about by my first and last name?”

“No!  I wouldn’t do that!”

“Why not?”

“Well, if you were a man, that would be one thing, but you’re a woman.”


“And, you know, there are still people out there who look up random women in the phonebook to call and harass…”

There are?  This man was starting to sound like my mother.

“So I think it would be better if we listed you by your first initial and last name.”

“Okay,” I said.  “My husband and I have the same first initial, so I guess that makes sense.”

We then moved on to scheduling my installation appointment.  Dave requested my address a second time, for the technician.  I heard him tapping away on his computer, and assumed he was entering vital information into the system.

“Oh, you have a brick driveway!” he exclaimed.  Everything was an exclamation with this guy.


“You’re the white brick house with the black shutters and brick driveway, right?”


“I just Google Mapped your house,” he said.

“You did?”

“It looks like you have a great block there.  Nice neighbors.  I’m so excited for you!”

“Uh, thanks...”

“Oh, and is that the school on the corner?  How convenient!  Your kids will love that.”

“Yeah,” I said, starting to feel like Dave may be one of those people who searches for random women in the phonebook.  I contemplated having the locks at the house changed- again.

Show of hands, who (other than my mother) thinks Dave from Verizon might show up on my doorstep one day with a case of Yuengling?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mama Needs a Mani

Lately, my life is a Bill Murray movie.  I can predict what’s going to happen each day before I even roll (literally) out of bed.  For example, I knew that this morning it would be raining.  I knew that I’d wear my lone pair of dark blue pregnancy jeans and a maternity tee from Target.  And I knew that after sitting in rush-hour traffic for an hour and a half, Minnow would get carsick as we exited the Cross County Parkway, five minutes from her school.  I knew this because the last three times we’ve made the irrational commute to Bronxville for a 2’s program, that is exactly what has happened.  “It’s Groundhog Day!”

The previous two times Minnow barfed in the backseat, I turned the car around and traveled an hour and a half back to Long Island so I could bathe her, change her clothes, and disinfect the car seat.  This time I had other plans.  When we pulled up to Minnow’s school I wiped her down with the extra wipes I had stashed in the diaper bag precisely for this purpose.

“Are we going home, Mommy?”

“Not today, Minnow,” I said, swabbing schmutz from her “Big Sister” tee shirt and buttoning her cardigan to conceal the stain.  Minnow looked miserable as I walked her to her classroom.  I fervently prayed that I would not receive a call from her school an hour later demanding that I pick up my queasy toddler.  Then I drove to Bronxville Nails for my manicure/pedicure appointment.

That may sound incredibly selfish to you and, if it does, I get it.   You are not a stay-at-home mother who is 34 weeks pregnant, just bought a house, has been living in another family’s home for six weeks, and was informed by her floor guy this morning that she needs to buy a $200 dehumidifier for her basement today or her refinished floors will not dry properly.  Between the renovation at the house, the rainy weather, and the monotony of my pregnancy wardrobe, I've been feeling a little blue so- forgive me for being a diva- but Mama needed a mani.

Mama also needed a mani because Mama doesn’t have many other outlets right now.  Mama technically can’t consume caffeine (although Mama does occasionally indulge in a chai tea latte from Slave to the Grind), Mama can’t have a glass of wine or a cocktail, Mama can’t go for a ten-mile run, and Mama can’t treat herself to some retail therapy because even though Mama is optimistic that she will eventually return to her pre-pregnancy size, life holds no guarantees.

Last week I was chatting with a woman who has three children of her own.  She marveled that I am only six weeks from my due date. 

“Won’t you miss being pregnant?” she asked.

I looked at her as if she had just asked me if I thought the Mets would win the World Series this year. 

“No,” I said dryly.  “I can’t wait to have a margarita.”

I’ve heard of women who enjoy being pregnant, and they mystify me.  Don’t get me wrong: Carrying a living, growing person in one’s abdomen for three quarters of a year is nothing short of a privilege, and a miraculous one at that.  But these women must not value their spring wardrobes, uninterrupted nights of sleep, and not having to hold in pee every time they sneeze as much as I do. 

Back at the nail salon, I sank into the pleather pedicure chair, closed my eyes, and mentally composed a list of the first seven things I will do immediately after Peanut’s birth.  In chronological order, they are:

1. Hold the baby, kiss the baby, take in her little baby scent, and tell her how happy I am to finally meet her;

2. Uncork a bottle of champagne (it doesn’t have to be fancy) and politely offer a glass to visitors before knocking back the remainder;

3. Pump and dump, because it would be irresponsible to nurse an hours-old baby after solo-drinking a bottle of Brut;

4. Respectfully request that all those wishing to visit Peanut in the hospital bring her mother a venti FULL CAF skinny vanilla latte;

5. Go for that ten-mile run, even if it feels like my bottom may drop out;

6. Order sushi for dinner and eat more raw fish in one sitting than a killer whale;

7. Gather my maternity clothes into a heap and set it ablaze.  If my husband wants to go for a boy he must accept that the trade-off is a new pregnancy wardrobe.  If I ever have to see these rags hanging in my closet again, I- like Minnow- might willfully vomit on myself.

When I left the nail salon, I wouldn’t have predicted that the sun would be shining brilliantly.  I also wouldn’t have predicted that when I picked up Minnow from school, she would be smiling widely, her carsickness a distant memory.

“Mommy, when we get home can we eat lunch outside?”

“Of course!”

“And then you paint my nails purple like Mommy’s?”

Diva in training.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Solace in the Mail

In this time of transition (five weeks living with my in-laws and counting), there are plenty of people and entities that are slowly driving me mad; at the top of that list is the U.S. Postal Service.  Despite arranging for mail-forwarding two weeks before our move in April, I am currently receiving mail in three different locations.  My student loan statements, credit card bills, and other mail that could affect my credit score are being sent to the Bronxville apartment, so every week, after dropping off Minnow at school, I have to go to my former building and retrieve a shopping bag full of mail that the current residents have left in the lobby for us.  Meanwhile, my New Yorker and American Bar Association subscriptions, as well as mailings from organizations such as The Human Rights Campaign and Food for the Poor have found me at my in-laws’ address, confirming my mother-in-law’s suspicions that I am, in fact, more liberal than I let on.  And at the new house, our mortgage lender, utility companies, and village have not missed a beat in sending us payment reminders, bills, and tax documents.  Welcome to your new home! 

This afternoon, as I opened the house for our painter (whom I adore but, let’s face it, is among those slowly driving me mad) I stepped onto a pile of mail that had been pushed through the mail slot on the front door (because, in addition to light switches and central air conditioning, our home lacks a mailbox).

“Well, here’s some mail,” I observed insipidly. 

“And there’s this, too,” our painter said, bending to hand me a small brown paper package sitting on the stoop.

I knew what this was, and it had nothing to do with monthly payments!  I tore open the paper and, after figuring out how to operate the rental car’s newfangled six-disc CD player, fed the CD into the stereo.  The smooth crooning of Josh Ritter poured through the speakers, temporarily melting away my frustrations with the world and everyone in it. 

One of my first encounters with Josh Ritter was watching an exclusive video performance of “Southern Pacifica” that he and his wife, Dawn Landes, did for Daily Candy in April 2010.  I remember crying the first time I saw it, and I still cry because everything about the video is pure: the music, their young marriage, their vintage Brooklyn kitchen.  Now I have a vintage kitchen of my own and it doesn’t seem nearly as hip because it’s not in Brooklyn.

The summer I was pregnant with Minnow, my husband and I saw Josh Ritter perform at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.  I sang along to every song off the So Runs the World Away album, which was the only album of his I owned at the time, and attentively listened to the rest.  It was one of the best, and definitely the longest concert I’ve attended, which would have been awesome if the venue wasn’t standing room only and I hadn’t foolishly worn my Coach platform sandals.  I’d never left a concert before the encore until that night.

For three years I have been yearning for Josh Ritter to release a new album, and in March of this year he finally did.  The Beast in Its Tracks immediately garnered airtime on public radio, and I once again fell in love with Josh Ritter’s soulful, narrative lyrics.  I imagine he had Dawn Landes, from whom he split in 2011, in mind when he wrote “Joy to You Baby”:

There’s pain in whatever
We stumble upon
If I never had met you
You couldn’t have gone
But then I couldn’t have met you
We couldn’t have been
I guess it all adds up
To joy in the end…

Listening to the album in its entirety tonight on the drive back to my in-laws’ from the construction zone that will eventually be our home was the best part of my day, and probably week.  Suddenly the fact that the electricians have been working for over two weeks and are still not finished updating our electric, the fact that the painters will be delayed at least a week because they have to wait until the floor guy sands the hardwoods before they put paint on the walls, the fact that the U.S. Postal Service really doesn’t give a damn where we live didn’t seem to matter anymore.  In a few short weeks this, too, will be a closed chapter in our family's story.  Or as Josh Ritter puts it in his new song, “Hopeful”:

She has been through her own share of hard times as well
And she has learned how to tear out the heaven from hell
Most nights I’m alright, still all rocks roll downhill
But she says I’ll get better, she knows that I will

And she’s hopeful, hopeful for me
Coming out of the dark clouds.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Maxima Pleasure

It is said that God gives you only as much as you can handle, and I generally believe that to be true, but I don’t think God was keeping count last week.  We made settlement on our house on Monday and four days later, on Friday, I was involved in a low-impact car accident on my way to lock up after the painters had finished working for the day.  I am okay and Peanut is okay but, sadly, the Jeep is not.  It’s not totaled, but it’s going to be totally expensive to repair.  Our insurance company is not pleased, particularly because they only acquired us as clients last week, when we consolidated our new homeowner’s insurance and auto insurance into one policy.  

It is also said that timing is everything. 

Despite their exasperation, our insurance company is generously providing me with a rental car while the Jeep recovers at the body shop.  It turns out that $50 a day gets you a pretty spiffy rental.  I am currently cruising around Long Island in a white 2012 Nissan Maxima that is so wide and roomy, it may have more blind spots than the Jeep.  But that’s not the best part, as Matt at Enterprise pointed out when I went to pick up the car.  The best part is that it has a push button start, which is, supposedly, convenient.  But in order for the car to start, you need to carry the keys with you, so, really, the only step you’re saving is sticking the key in the ignition.  (R. Kelly would be so disappointed). 

Matt started the car for me before I drove off the Enterprise lot.  I had no trouble turning off the car when I returned to my in-laws’, but I ran into issues when I went out later to pick up some ingredients for dinner.   I pressed the button, just like Matt demonstrated, but the car didn’t start.  The radio played music, the air conditioner blasted air, the headlights shone brightly, but the engine didn't roar.  I pressed the button again.  The car turned off.  I checked to make sure I had the keys in my purse.  I did.  Embarrassed, I called Enterprise.

“Are you pressing the correct button?” Matt asked over the phone.

“I think so.”

“Do you have the keys with you?”


“Is your foot on the brake?”

“Oh!  You have to put your foot on the brake when you start the car?”

Seriously, what is so convenient about a push button start?

A few days later, after finishing up some errands, I got into the car, checked that the keys-that-don’t-start-the-car-but-are-still-essential-to-start-the-car were in my purse, put my foot on the brake, and pushed the button to start the engine.  I shifted into drive, but as I pulled out of the parking lot, I could tell that something was very, very wrong.  To accelerate, I had to put all of my weight behind pressing the gas pedal, and if I removed even the slightest pressure, the car jerked to almost a complete halt.  Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get the car to exceed 40 mph- a fact that seemed to disgruntle my fellow motorists on the Jericho Turnpike- and the RPM gauge was spinning wildly.  When I finally reached home- a bundle of nerves- the engine was overheating and the entire car wreaked of burnt rubber.

“There’s something wrong with the rental,” I told my husband. 

He drove the car around the block.  When he returned he handed me the keyless keys and rolled his eyes. 

“There’s nothing wrong with the car.  You were driving in manual rather than automatic.”

You mean I successfully drove a stick shift five miles and didn’t even know it?  Look at me, all sporty!

A few days after that, I was in the car jamming to “The Last Episode” by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg (because Minnow was obviously at home with her grandparents) (if my children are surprised about anything about me as they grow, I think it will be my impressive ability to recite East Coast/West Coast rap as if it were Byron or Keats), when I pulled into a Whole Foods parking lot.  I attempted to exit the vehicle, but the doors were locked.  I pressed the unlock button on the door panel, but the doors remained locked.  I removed my seatbelt and tried again.  Still locked.  

I was trapped!  Panicked, I began beating on the door with closed fists while cart-pushing patrons observed in horror.  What the F is wrong with this demonic car?  It's constantly changing the rules on me!  Then I realized: The car was still on.  Calmly, I pressed the button to shut off the car.  Dr. Dre abruptly stopped singing and the doors automatically unlocked.

Perhaps it is a safety feature that one cannot exit the Nissan Maxima without first turning it off.  Perhaps it is fun that one can toggle between an automatic and manual transmission.  Perhaps it is marginally convenient that one needn't fish for keys in her purse to start the car.  

Perhaps, but I can't wait until my Jeep comes home.  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

It's Electric, Boogie Oogie Woogie

During the course of our two year home search, my husband and I have watched a lot of “House Hunters” on HGTV.  As New Yorkers, it is frustrating to see homebuyers in other parts of the country bid on homes twice the size of ours for a third of the price.  It is also misleading, because the issues that those house hunters make you believe are important are, in reality, inconsequential. 

For example, in the typical “House Hunters” episode, a realtor will walk a married couple into a kitchen that has nineties style cabinetry and Corian countertops.

Wife: “Ohemgee!  This kitchen is SO outdated.  Where are the granite countertops?  I cannot LIVE without granite.  This is a total deal-breaker for me.”

Realtor: “Countertops are easy to replace.”

Husband: “We’re not interested in projects.  I don’t have time for projects.”

Really?!  If these people want to see an outdated kitchen, I invite them to visit our new home.  Our cabinets are from the 1930s and our counters are made to look like butcher block, but are actually laminate.  It’s not just old.  It’s hideous.

But that’s not really important.  What’s important, and what we didn’t notice until after we bought the home, is that there is no overhead lighting in the kitchen.  When our electrician pointed this out to us, after we had closed, I had a mild panic attack.  How did the previous owners cook at night?  Did they only eat during daylight hours?

Even more disturbing, our kitchen has a total of two electrical outlets.  The oven is plugged into one; the refrigerator is plugged into the other.  Why did I not notice that there were no outlets along the counters during the two open houses we attended?  Was it because, thanks to HGTV, I was too busy searching for granite countertops? Where in this kitchen am I going to plug in my 21st century appliances?  How am I going to brew a pot of coffee?

After touring the kitchen, the realtor next takes the house hunters into the master bedroom, which boasts only one massive walk-in closet.

Wife, giggling: “Well this closet is big enough for me, but where are you going to put your stuff, honey?”

Husband: “Maybe you could get rid of some of your shoes.”

Wife, to realtor: “I do have a minor shoe addiction.”

Bitch, I’m sorry that your potential master bedroom lacks a second walk-in closet.  You know what my master bedroom lacks?  A light switch.  In fact, at second glance, none of the four bedrooms have light switches, a detail that escaped us until after closing.  Apparently the previous owners walked the halls at night with candlesticks like Charles Dickens characters. 

The realtor then escorts the couple into the spacious master bath, which, true, has a funky color palette and no tub.

Wife: "I cannot DEAL with these tiles.  They remind me of a Lilly Pulitzer catalogue.  And where is the soaking tub?  I thought this was the master bath.”

Realtor rolls eyes.

Husband reevaluates plan to buy a home with this woman and, instead, considers filing for divorce.

Actually, I empathize with the wife here.  I dream of a master bath with a soaking tub, too, but my master bath is the size of a coffin.  It is.  I measured it today.  It’s three feet wide by nine and a half feet long.  Actually, I think some coffins may be larger.  There’s barely room for a standing shower, but that’s really the least of our problems.  What’s troubling is that I can’t use my hairdryer in the master bath because there are no electrical outlets.  And I can’t dry my hair in the hall bath, which our two daughters- who will eventually be teenagers- will share because there are no electrical outlets in there, either.  I guess there were no such things as hair dryers or curling irons or electric toothbrushes in the 1930s.

To shuttle our house into the current millennium, our electricians have been working for four days, installing light boxes into bedroom ceilings, cutting holes in the plaster for new light switches and outlets, and running wiring from the current circuit board in the basement to the attic, where a second circuit board must be installed to support our electric-dependent lifestyle.  I have no idea what this will all cost, but I don’t believe the $500 we initially set aside for “electrical updates” is going to suffice. 

I really wish the house hunters on HGTV had discussed electricity.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Wrap Your Home in Flowers and Bows

The day after closing, my husband and I met with our contractors at the new house and assessed the work we need to do before we move in.  We knew we were buying a fixer, but I don’t think we realized the gravity of the situation until we saw the house empty.  The previous owners had lived in the house for 51 years, and I don’t think they had redecorated since the early seventies.  I feel like we're in over our heads, particularly when it comes to wallpaper.  Everyone who has come through the house- from the electrician, to the painter, to the ADT man- has commented on the previous owners' fetish for wallpaper.  They couldn’t get enough of it, and their choices were bizarre, to put it mildly.  

For example, here is the first floor powder room:

Notice how the paper extends to the ceiling, and wraps around the steam pipe?  They must have run out before they could cover the toilet.

Here is a close-up of the pattern: 

Don't adjust your screen; it actually is black with day-glo flowers.  Try finding hand towels to match that!

And this is my ugly blue kitchen, which really deserves a post all its own:

Unfortunately, we are not taking down the wallpaper in this room because we are planning a total kitchen renovation within the next five years.  But we’ll see how long I can live with the Burpee motif:

This is the dining room:

It's hard to tell from this picture, but in person you can see the stark outline of the previous owners’ breakfront and buffet.  It’s a useful guide.

I call this print Exodus in Flight.  I imagine the birds are working their way toward the window, attempting a furtive escape.

The foyer is enveloped in deep merlot:

  This is probably the least offensive of all the papers, which is fortunate because…

…it extends to the upstairs hall.  The painters estimate it will take one full day just to strip this paper.

Welcome aboard the guest bedroom:

We have a cruise liner theme going on in here.  Bon Voyage!

My house is like a gift you unwrap from the inside.

For the previous homeowners, wallpaper wasn't enough.  Most of the bedrooms have borders, too:  

And in case you think they forgot to paper the closets, they didn’t:

 I think the botanical print in the hall bath goes nicely with the maroon toilet, don’t you?

This is the master bedroom:

The room is huge, so there is a great quantity of wallpaper.  Even more than we bargained for, it turns out:

Their love for wallpaper runs beneath the surface.  Paper on top of paper: The gift that keeps on giving!

When we pulled at one loose corner, this is what happened:

Luckily, we hadn’t yet formed an attachment to either print

And, finally, this is Minnow and Peanut’s room:  

Minnow is actually fond of this paper because blue is her favorite color this week.    

Thankfully, they had enough bows for the closet, too:

I think the bumper sticker on the mirror sums it up.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Closing Time

I knew I would marry my husband the moment I met him on a dance floor in South Padre Island, Texas.  It was an inconvenient realization; I was a senior in college, on spring break with my girlfriends, and in a satisfactory relationship with a good guy at home.  But when this stranger in pink began singing “Summer Nights” to me as if he were John Travolta himself, our future nuptials were a foregone conclusion. 

“I like you!  Where do you go to school?” I shouted over the cast of Grease’s urging to “Tell me more, tell me more…”

“I go to school with you,” he replied.

“Tell me everything you know about C.B.C.,” I demanded of a friend the following morning as we sat dangling our sun-ripened legs in the hotel pool. 

“I think he’s from Long Island,” she began.

“Long Island?” I repeated, crinkling my nose. 

At the time my knowledge of Long Island consisted of the following: The Great Gatsby, Joey Buttafouco, Long Island iced teas. 

“Well, is he staying in Philly after graduation?”

“No.  I think he accepted a job in New York.”

This was getting more complicated.  As a native Philadelphian already enrolled at a Philadelphia law school for the fall, I had aspirations of eventually becoming the District Attorney and owning a big, historic home on the Main Line.  For this inevitable marriage to work, I would have to persuade C.B.C. to return to Pennsylvania someday.

For the three years that I attended law school, C.B.C. and I carried on a long-distance relationship.  Every two weeks, either I would board a train to visit his dingy first apartment above a Turkish restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, or he would commute to the Main Line, where I shared a spacious, neutral-smelling two-bedroom apartment with a good friend from college. 

On the weekends we spent in Pennsylvania, we’d follow the same routine every Sunday: 10 a.m. mass at St. Matthias and brunch at Hymie’s followed by a winding walk through the neighborhoods of Merion, Narberth, and Bala Cynwyd.  As we walked, we’d admire and discuss the many magnificent homes lining the sidewalks: Stone farmhouses, exquisite Tudors, and- my personal favorites- brick colonials. 

“I can’t even imagine how much money it takes to own one of theses homes,” I’d say.

“We’ll do it someday,” he’d reply.

“Own a home in Pennsylvania?” I’d ask, hopefully.

“No. But someday we’ll own a home.”


“I don’t know.  Maybe Long Island.”

I’d crinkle my nose.  The breadth of my knowledge of Long Island had expanded since dating C.B.C.; I now knew that it was also heavily congested. 

“But Long Island isn’t home,” I’d protest.  “Long Island doesn’t have good soft pretzels, and Tasty Kakes, and Wawa.”

“Everything you love about Philadelphia has to do with food,” my husband would observe.

“No.  I also like how everyone on the Main Line puts electric candles in their windows year-round.”

Putting white candles in the window is an old Pennsylvania-Dutch custom.  As far as I had seen, it was not observed on Long Island.

“We’ll put candles in our windows,” C.B.C. would assure me.

The worst part about Sundays was driving C.B.C. to Suburban Station so he could catch a train back to New York.  I’d cry as I took I-76 back to my apartment.  One night, while I was struggling to get through some case law reading, C.B.C. sent me the lyrics to the Coldplay song, “Swallowed in the Sea.”

The streets you’re walking on,
A thousand houses long,
Well that’s where I belong,
And you belong with me. 

“This song reminds me of you,” he said.  “I promise you some day we will live in the same state, the same city, the same house.”

A year after I graduated from law school, C.B.C. and I married, as I’d predicted, and moved to New York City.  I was surprised by how quickly I adjusted to life in a new city, and how quickly it felt like home to me.  Within weeks I was fearlessly navigating the subway, taking solo runs through Central Park, and carping on slow-moving tourists like a true New Yorker.  I forgot all about living in Pennsylvania (though I still missed Wawa) and living in a traditional home.  But after Minnow was born, the desire for a grassy yard, a formal dining room, and little white candles in the windows began to resurface. 

Our home search began in earnest in 2011, when Minnow was about six months old.  We found a beautiful town on Long Island with paved sidewalks, tall trees, and excellent schools.  It reminded me of the Main Line, so we decided to concentrate our search there.  Almost immediately we made an offer on a center-hall colonial, which the owners accepted.  The house was charming, but not perfect.  It had aluminum siding, which my husband didn’t like; only one full bathroom, which I didn’t like; and a sagging roof, which our inspector didn’t like.  After the homeowners refused to split the cost to replace the roof, we were forced to walk away from the deal.  I was devastated.  Our daughter’s toys and accessories were prevailing over the rapidly dwindling space in our one-bedroom apartment, and we needed a solution.

We relocated to a two-bedroom apartment in Bronxville and signed an 18-month lease to give us time to continue the search for our dream starter home.  We downloaded the Trulia, Zillow, and New York Times Real Estate apps to give us a head’s up on the housing market.   We attended open houses almost every weekend.

In July of last year we saw a whitewashed brick colonial on a manicured street in our preferred town.   It looked exactly like the homes I used to draw as a child: Square body, triangular roof, chimney, symmetrical windows, attached garage.  It was breathtaking but, unfortunately, its appeal ended at the curb.  The interior was wrapped from floor to ceiling in bold, botanical-print wallpapers.  The carpets were fit for a cat, and no one else.  The kitchen cabinets, painted sky blue, were original to the house and dated back to the 1930s. 

It was absolutely perfect and I knew, as much as I knew about my husband the first time we met: It would be mine someday.

“I don’t see it,” my husband said after we left the open house.  “It needs a lot of work.”

“So did you,” I quipped.

We didn’t make an offer on the house and it sat on the market for several months.  The homeowners bumped the price down a few times, but it didn’t sell.  Each time the price was reduced I would inform my husband, and each time he would voice his doubts.  One day in late November the house was no longer listed for sale on any of my real estate apps.  I was, again, devastated.  I called the seller’s agent and she gave me some encouraging news: The owners had decided to take the house off the market during the holidays, but intended on relisting it after Christmas.

The weekend after Christmas we walked through the white brick house for a second time.  This time my husband was more open to the idea of living there because this time I had a special ally: Peanut.  She’s coming, and she needs a bedroom!  We made an offer on January 2nd.  Our offer was accepted on January 4th.  We signed a sales contract on January 13th.  The dream of owning a home appeared to be within reach.

And then, for lack of a better term, a lot of shit went down.  Our home inspection revealed that the house was missing several roof shingles, presumably from Super Storm Sandy, and exhibited evidence of termite damage in the basement.  The sellers, at first, refused to fix either problem.  Then it took them six weeks to sign the sales contract because they didn’t want to represent that all of the appliances were in working condition ("an ambiguous phrase," they said) and wanted us to agree that they could leave “any an all personal property on the premises after closing and title [would] automatically pass from sellers to buyers.”  (That’s a literal line from the original contract.  If you had seen the state of their garage and basement, you would understand why we couldn’t sign off on that.) 

Then the 86-year-old seller husband had an emergency appendectomy, from which he had to recover in the hospital for six weeks.

Then we were constructively evicted from our apartment, and moved in with my in-laws. 

Then the sellers (again) asked me if we would mind if they left their pool table in the basement.  (We minded).

It took over four months, but on Monday, the guy I met on spring break and I became the owners of our very first home:

As we walked through the house after closing, my husband stopped at the living room window and began scanning the wall below it.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

He pointed to an outlet to the left of the window.  “And that’s where you’ll plug in your candle,” he said.