Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chapter Three (fifth increment)

In the fall we lost Egg. Grief is a physical assault, in addition to the emotional devastation. You feel it in your twisting gut, your imploding chest, your constricting throat. I suppose that’s where the term brokenhearted gained its currency. Losing a companion animal is something you can never get used to, no matter how many times you suffer it.

Dean and I met at a doggie playgroup in our neighborhood in 1992. A bunch of dog people would meet up every evening in a little park on North Moore and West Streets in Lower Manhattan. The financial services company that had "developed" (euphemism for destroyed for profit) the open land formerly there, which sat atop an historic foundry, threw us a bone with the miniscule park but, outrageously, dogs were not allowed to enjoy it. They gave the community these two really tiny, manicured parks at either end of the block that were pretty much useless for anything a park normally offers, useless for anything really, other than sitting and ruminating about how this miserable company ruined the neighborhood.

This travesty occurred after our delightful Mayor Koch gifted the corporation with a prime piece of real estate and energy abatements to "entice" them to stay in New York, when they had no intention of leaving anyway. The sweetheart deal reconfigured the streets, created so much more pedestrian and auto traffic, and gobbled up the only open space the neighborhood had. It was inconvenient on so many levels: the mob now needed to find a new place to dump bodies, the homeless had to relocate their cardboard boxes, the stray cats had to search out new hiding crevices, the giant river rats were rendered vagabonds, and the worst part of it was that our makeshift dog runs were devoured by unsightly, really ugly architecture. Seriously ugly. Really.

Though the little red signs in the center of each park clearly stated NO DOGS ALLOWED, we obviously ignored them. Our playgroup dogs actually seemed to smile while urinating on the offending signs (such a sense of humor they had). The original playgroup dogs (in addition to my two) were Igor, a magnificent husky, Lena, a show-quality Portuguese water dog, Jessie, Penelope, and Dudley, all of mixed heritage (Penelope was Tim's special someone, by the way, and would eat biscuits out of his mouth), Buffy, most likely a bearded collie, a Ridgeback named Daisy, and some exotic breeds whose names I no longer recall, alas. One day Dean brought Egg—a dog that looked mostly like a Doberman but was the size of a Great Dane— and my dogs, Tim and Lucy, introduced themselves. As I continually called, then pleaded, for them to return to me, like a precision drill team in perfect unison they totally ignored me and continued on with dog business.

Lucy was a foundling, mostly husky or malamute. I discovered her in the rain one night on Greenwich Street. Yes, she was barefoot and pregnant, I'm afraid. Eventually she gave birth to three pups. Tim, one of her two sons, was the runt of the litter. The pups were mixed with collie—I'm assuming the father's lineage? Very blond and tall, with a chocolate brown raccoon mask, Tim was a true gentle giant of a canine. We became a family shortly after my adored Lucy died and Timmy, bereft at losing his mother, turned to Egg for companionship. Dean and I looked at each other and shrugged. Why not?

We left Tribeca shortly after getting married and moved west: first to Chicago, then Santa Fe and finally to Los Angeles. When he was only eight years old, and with no warning at all, Tim died suddenly. It was horrible and sad—the stuff of nightmares, mine anyway. Then there was only Egg. As hard as that was, and as brutal as it was to lose all of my other adored animal friends, Egg was the hardest, as I always expected.

Egg was Marmaduke stepped off the comics page. He was an “in-your-face” dog. Every photo, every video—there’s Egg, front and center. He slept in our bed; he shared all the furniture. He also shared all the food . . . of course, I use the word "shared" loosely. He was truly a dependent in every way. He sowed his reputation from downtown Manhattan, to Chicago, to L.A. Everywhere he went, people and dogs knew his name and his penchant for holding three balls in his mouth. His leaving Earth wrecked our lives and we couldn’t deal with it very well. True, by now we had Greta, a mixed breed with a pinhead who turned up on our L.A. doorstep, but she didn’t do it for us. Dean didn’t want another dog. I did. I needed someone like Egg, or Tim or Lucy or Rodney (my incomparable cat).

So I went surfing and found Houston, an Egg-lookalike, on The point of this sad and meandering story is that though Houston may look like Egg, he doesn't act like him (he's much too gauche). Egg would never, ever run away. He was way too much of a baby and knew when he had it good. But Houston is part hound dog and thusly follows his nose wherever it takes him. Having experienced him backing out of his harness, jumping a fence, and running away in the time it takes to make instant oatmeal, and this on the second day I had him, I now had to take to walking the stupid ass on a leash every day. We have over half an acre of backyard and I still have freaking dog-walking duty. My God, but my life is ridiculous. And that is how I was bitchslapped with the knowledge that the townhouses located directly behind my property were actually part of a rehab facility for troubled young adults.

Cute story: I’m walking Houston (or as we fondly refer to him: You-stink) in my backyard when suddenly someone starts shouting from those ugly townhouses that he wants to do sexual things to my dog (not his exact vernacular). Ah, the local color had to be one of my motivations to move to a highly inconvenient but slightly rural region.

We took the abuse for another two years or so. Steve, our next-door neighbor, referred to their noisy sports gatherings as the delinquent Olympics. Two years later, when I mentioned this to the doctor treating these people, he laughed. He thought this was funny. Lovely man, this was a doctor treating people who suffered from substance abuse, addictions, among other things, and the man reeked of stale cigarettes. Now, I may be crazy but I found this to be a bit ironic. These “kids” were paying enormous sums, or so the lawyer I hired to make them go away told me, to this doctor to cure them of their addictions and he himself was addicted to nicotine!

But I get ahead of myself here. Once I started being treated to profanity in my own backyard, I didn’t automatically make the connection that there was a rehab center up the hill. In addition to the druggies, the center also treated people with severe personality disorders. That's right, little ones. Go outside and play in our backyard. Just steer clear of the axe-wielding neighbors. Sheesh. (A few years later one of their patients would decapitate his mother's neighbor and carry her head around with him. The facility would deny that they treated this person.) On one side a biker bar, behind us a rehab facility and throw in a busy road that encourages drivers to make swift turns in my driveway whenever they feel like it—even if I happen to be standing in it—and you begin to get an idea of the shape of my life at this point.

During my four years of living out west, people were so polite and considerate that I found it shocking to my toughened New York sensibilities. In L.A. there was the heavily made-up platinum blonde at Von's supermarket, who always asked me how my day was going and if I needed help out to the car. Back then I felt as if I had landed on another planet where the people were nice and smelled good. Granted, they didn’t dress as well as New Yorkers but you can’t have it all, right? I never felt put upon and never had any altercations with strangers. Now I'm back in the fray. Upon moving back east, it took one trip to the local supermarket in Tribeca where the cashiers wore buttons that said "I heart customers" but who would sooner rip out your eyes than smile, and I knew I was home. Now, I was on constant alert to protect my rights and my personal space, practically keeping my hands up in a defensive position. Did you know that some people in Manhattan have a sick need to pick fights with visibly pregnant women? Don’t ask me for the psychology behind it because I just cannot figure it out but it’s true. Just ask my husband how many times I came home crying to him, my hormones having got the best of me.

And while I'm warming to my subject, I might as well tell you about the denizens of Putnam County. It's one thing to have nasty New York City residents to deal with—at least they're thin and dressed well. But up here in Putnam County, you have the nasty without the panache. I'm talking about grossly overweight people with long lacquered nails (the women anyway), bad hair, and the most inconsiderate attitudes of anyone I've ever met, bar none. It is unbelievable. In addition to having to deal with the uglies, we had other issues. Aside from being thinner and better looking than other residents, we really didn't fit in that well. We happen to be agnostic, liberal vegetarians and we landed in a place that is very Christian (and by Christian I mean they go to church every Sunday, not that they're kind), blue-collar, conservative, and carnivore. Not that there's anything wrong with that . . . It's just that people are tribal (as our friend Dennis explained to us) and like to be around their own kind. And by own kind, I refer to people who think the same way, act the same way, like the same types of things, and who think intelligence and education are not dirty words to be spat out in political arguments.

By now you've got to be thinking: Why didn't they just move? Any sane people would have done just that and in short order. Not us. Here's the mentality behind it: Why should we give up a tiny, cute house that we'd quickly outgrow, that would bleed us dry of money, health, youth, and vitality, just because we hated everything about the region? By God, we would stay and fight to change everything about the whole county instead. As an added benefit, so far I've gotten in eleven years of complaining. Why would I want to give that up?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Love Thy Neighbor (fourth increment)

While we were hard at work planning and carrying out various renovations, shit didn't take a break and continued to happen. For example, in September, 1999, Hurricane Floyd hit the northeastern seaboard. It was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it mauled us but that didn't make a difference to our basement. Now, I've always wanted a swimming pool, but not in my basement and not filled with filthy, murky water, which is what I got. Three feet or so of inky black fluid—or so it appeared to my horrified eyes—flowed into the basement and ruined whatever was not raised off the ground by more than three feet. To me it was just a slap in the face--par for the course in my life. To quote my friend Peter Kirk, when faced with all the scary things that life outside of the city offers, "My God, in the city all you have to do is be a little leery on the subway!" Here there are biblical events to deal with such as floods and lightning strikes that burn your house down (not terribly up on my Bible--were there lightning strikes?).

It is especially terrible to look down into one's basement and see deep water—very traumatizing. But a particularly nervy friend (she returned a toilet bowl to Home Depot after using it for the better part of a year) told me to apply to FEMA for relief, since our region was declared a disaster area. FEMA sent over a nice man—pleasant looking in a nondescript way—who had a cup of coffee with me and surveyed the damage. All I expected was an offer of a low-cost loan but instead we got a check to cover all of our damages—so great. The coffee must have come out okay that day. That money went to upgrade the septic system that was compromised in the flood. I know, I'm spoiled rotten.

Chapter Two

Farewell to Orange

Summer, 2000

We finally had enough cash on hand to hire painters to eradicate the neon yellow-orange paint my poor house had suffered with for God knows how long. I like to think the house was embarrassed about its condition and thrilled when we moved in to restore its dignity and reputation. Dean, however, thinks differently. He often says that the house has fought him every step of the way. Well, maybe it's ambivalent? Or maybe just maybe Dean isn't as easy to get along with as he thinks he is. Perhaps the house is female and is tired of him nailing, screwing, and banging her, with no regard to the pain he's causing. Who knows?

Did I mention that though most of the house was the neon yellow, the part just under the apex of the roof was still a dirty, neglected white? Steve—our neighbor—told us that our friend Joe had painted the house himself, rappelling from the roof to paint the upper story. He either couldn't reach that one spot or he realized how stupid a method of painting it was. The thought of someone rappelling with a bucket of sloshing paint is almost unbelievable. One begins to understand why Mrs. Joe may have been . . . what's the politically correct way to say it? Oh right, out of her mind crazy.

We had spent the previous two years gleefully planning the colors we would use to give our little gem its woefully needed makeover. We loved the color of the Restoration Hardware shopping bags so whenever we went to look at paint chips the little bag came along. As it turned out, we weren’t the only ones who liked this color, called Silver Sage, and RH decided to sell the shade of paint in their stores. Since they only carried interior paint, we matched the color in a Benjamin Moore color catalog and set about choosing accent colors. Dean’s suave and handsome uncle Tony—who lives in craftsmen-dotted Los Angeles—suggested a shade of red for under the eaves. We both liked the idea so we found a nice hue—sort of a brick red with a titch more pink in it. The trim color we went with was a creamy off-white and the trio of hues looked so beautiful on the swatches that we couldn’t wait to make it happen.

You would think that if you needed to hire a contractor of some sort, a painter, a plumber, or an electrician, you would be the one in control, right? After all, you are the one writing the check. But in 2000 when we were looking for a painter, the housing market was yawing into the stratosphere and people were renovating everything that stood still long enough. Finding a painter proved very tricky and finding a good one close to impossible. The best way, I found, was through recommendation. Nosiness will tell you which houses have been recently painted and you can ask the owners about their painters. I happened upon an excellent one by talking to a parent of my son’s friend. The little boy's father worked with a painter from Connecticut and he promised me that he'd take on the house, because hiring a painter during that time was like going on a job interview. They had more than enough work so they were choosy.

My situation was also more complicated, because I didn’t want my house power washed; I wanted it prepped by hand. There was method to my madness: I was concerned about contaminating the soil with old lead paint. Any house built before 1979 almost certainly has a layer or two of lead paint on interior and exterior walls and power washing is not good (and not legal in some states. I soon learned that painters, like the military, have a don't ask, don't tell sort of policy when it comes to lead paint. As long as you don't mention the word lead, they'll just assume there is none, regardless of the age of the house. Why? Abatement is obscenely expensive as I was soon to discover).

When I look back at my naiveté, I arch one eyebrow and smile knowingly. Back then, I was a purist—didn't want to change the windows, the doors, the nothing. Restore, refurbish, reuse were words I tried to live by. Now I bask in the glow of gleaming new Marvin windows, new glass-paned front, back, and side doors, new anything I can replace. It's so much easier and it looks better too. My windows weren't original to the house anyway, as far as I could tell, and the doors were cheaply made and so deteriorated they would have required extensive lumber purchases and probably an entire summer to make them whole. I did leave intact the wavy-glass windows and transoms in the porch, for they were special and irreplaceable.

As far as lead paint was concerned, I was worried about it when we moved in. Any paint that alligators (i.e. when peeling, the paint resembles alligator skin) when it begins to deteriorate is lead-based paint. Back then I worried about poisoning my young children with lead dust from the layers of old paint—ha! I fondly remember our bank balance before the lead abatement team came a-calling to remove the peeling lead paint in the porch and remove the money in our account, not too long after we moved in.

Years later, I find myself occasionally getting dizzy and nauseous from sanding and scraping paint in the bedrooms. That clues me in that it must be lead paint; I shrug and get the HEPA vacuum. A few years ago this scenario would never have happened. Never. I would have had the house roped off by men in Tyvec suits and no one would enter until all traces of the lead paint were abated and hermetically sealed for disposal. Now, though, my children's brains are already formed, for good or for bad. And, by the way, if lead paint is in good condition it poses no health hazard. It's only when it is deteriorating, creating flakes and dust that it becomes unhealthy.

Anyway, stubborn tenacity helped me find a house painter from Connecticut who would comply with my wishes. He started priming the house in June. By the second week he had lost his crew—his crew being one other guy and a part-time helper— and it was just one lonely guy working on the house. Day after day, he showed up to paint through the long, hot summer. I plied him with iced tea, cold water, and conversation during breaks. He pet my dogs and told me stories. We talked about our dog Egg and how crippled he was becoming.

That summer was particularly hard on Egg as things started going wrong in some sick Domino chain of events. Fran (short for Francis) commiserated with me on Egg’s decline. Dean had built a ramp for the dog to get up and down the porch steps and Fran had to adjust it as he was painting that part of the house. Egg kept getting worse and his veterinarian was stymied. Climbing any stairs became impossible for him. Eventually, Dean began to sleep on the living-room couch because Egg couldn’t get upstairs to the bedroom and he’d be beside himself if he couldn’t sleep with one of us.

So I’d sit with the painter during his breaks and we’d talk about lots of things—dogs, his unfaithful crew who deserted him, and his wife and child who didn't. I knew I should shut up or my house would never be finished. But long conversations and all, by the beginning of August it was done. And when Fran was done painting, he washed the windows. I don’t know how he did it—he merely used Windex and my own paper towels—but those windows gleamed for months afterward. I’ve never been able to duplicate his success and I have happily stopped trying. (Dirty windows have become my friends. Think of the benefits: no one can look into your home, would-be robbers become discouraged by the lackluster glass and rob someone else, and your fabrics don't fade as fast for the sun's rays cannot penetrate the grime. When we bought the new windows, the rooms looked so different with the clean transparent glass—it was almost like a new house! Alas, they are becoming dirty again and Fran is no longer around. The best I can do is wipe away the nose smears from the dogs looking out to bark at anything making noise.)

The good news was that our house was now smoking hot, basking in the craftsmen colors that suited it to a tee. The new silvery green color complemented the gorgeous stone foundation so perfectly and I put up sheer ivory panels in the porch windows, leaving the translucent transoms unadorned. Finally, our 1927 Arts & Crafts colonial looked the way it was meant to look: charming, cozy and inviting.

Ah, but there was so much more work to be done: it begged, nay pleaded, for a new kitchen; there was woodwork galore that required refinishing; we needed to somehow squeeze a powder room in somewhere; soon we’d need a new roof . . . the list went on so long it made me weary. Whenever I would survey all that needed to be done, I'd usually take a nap. It was too much heat on the brain to stay conscious.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Love Thy Neighbor (third increment)

Chapter One

Renovation Begins: The 20-Year Plan.

In the fall and winter of 1999, having spent over a year living with the most hideously ugly bathroom, I had had enough of the grey and avocado shabby chic décor (and I use the term chic loosely). That's what I said, grey and avocado. My theory was that the house's owner—the guy who owned the house before our friend Joe—had renovated the bathroom and used avocado green fixtures, as the times apparently demanded of every good citizen. When Joe's wife got hold of the house she set about pinkifying it, and part of that process was introducing pink to the bathroom via the new grey and pink wallpaper (because who would think grey and avocado green go together, right?). My theory was predicated upon evidence: I found a shade of intestinal-pink paint under the most recent layer of white in the dining room, a color choice that told me that someone once had dire need of the HGTV color specialists . . . and perhaps some meds. I cannot, however, explain away the grey cabinetry. Did they paint that to match the new wallpaper? Thinking about it hurt my brain.

Luckily, Mrs. Joe was back in Brooklyn, having suffered some sort of mental breakdown—or so the neighbors told me—from living in Putnam County, and that I can certainly relate to. I heard this gossip about her from a friend of a friend I met shortly after we arrived. Her friend told her the woman who lived in the neon yellow house was a nut and my friend explained that I just moved in recently. Yeah, really, let me earn my own crazy cred, people. Just give me some time here in the suburban wasteland and I'll get there. Anyway, the offending bathroom and all its accoutrements had to be done away with, so a few days before Christmas and imminent holiday guests, I decided the time was right to begin renovation, starting with the odious task of removing grey and pink floral wallpaper.

As anyone who has removed wallpaper can attest, it is a sucky job. First off, if you’re lucky to get the paper off, you are still left with an icky, sticky and most unattractive glue residue. Unless you’re like my father-in-law, who can rework crap like that with a paintbrush, and make it look like a custom wall finish, well then you just have to wet, scrape, wet, scrape, drench, scrape, and so on. Eventually it will all come off, if you have obstinate determination and don’t value your fingernails. Hence my paper ultimately did come off in entirety about two or three months later.

Dean then set about doing the demolition work. The bathroom, though a 70s horror, was built well and expensively. Consequently, we attempted to spare the double vanity, well made with quality wood and hardware, but after storing it in the garage for the better part of two years, it ultimately went into the Dumpster. Afterward, I realized I should have donated it to Habitat for Humanity—live and learn.

It was satisfying to wreck the built-in linen closet, the avocado tiled “bath cave” and the dark wood spindles that finished the look. I ripped up the linoleum once Dean's demo was done, and eventually we had a gutted bathroom. There was one small problem: our house had only one bathroom. We had to replace the old with the new, like, right away. All the new bathroom stuff was piled in the small upstairs hall, waiting to be installed, including the tub.

We had ordered a refinished antique tub from a small company in Pennsylvania. When the married couple that owned the company delivered it, we had a nice chat. During this nice chat I happened to notice that my one-year-old looked oddly luminescent. He appeared to be glowing. “Damn, I make fine babies,” I thought . . . but wait . . . his skin was somehow reflecting light! Curiosity overcoming good manners, I excused myself and went over and grabbed him—and he nearly slipped right out of my hands. Turned out he had smeared an entire jar—large, as luck would have it—of recently purchased petroleum jelly all over his face and head. It was everywhere—in his hair, eyelashes, brows, ears and nostrils.

Grabbing a wet rag isn’t easy without a working bathroom, so I had to run downstairs to get one from the kitchen. I gave him a quick and sloppy clean-up and then walked the tub couple to the living room to see them out. Near the door we resumed our conversation until I heard Jackson yell down that Luca was sprinkling “some white powder” all over the place. I hurriedly said goodbye and raced upstairs to find Ajax scouring powder all over the newly purchased area rug and an ear-to-ear grin on Luca’s face.

Did you know that Ajax bleaches everything it touches? I began calling these the Luca facts: things I've learned from living with him. (I’ve also learned that coins in the cassette player foul up the workings, food in the VCR disrupts one’s viewing pleasure, and kittens in the refrigerator are unhappy, even if left for a mere few moments. It's interesting to acquire the knowledge that a two-year-old toddler can figure out how to stack the chairs to make it up to the box of donuts on top of the refrigerator and can also figure out how to open a childproof bottle of cold medicine that I had trouble with. He might also mistake a Kindergartener’s glue stick for Chapstick and smear it all over his lips.)

Back to the bathroom. We wanted what was then called a skirted tub. These days it’s more commonly referred to as a pedestal tub. At that time the only one available was a beautiful Kohler soaking tub but it was too wide for our room. Since we really had our hearts set on this type of tub we opted for the antique one, which was reglazed. Reglazing sounds so permanent, doesn’t it? But, in actuality, all it means is that the tub has been painted with automobile-grade paint.

As good a reglazing job as the guy did on our tub, it could not withstand the constant use it encountered in our home—despite fanatically meticulous care on my part. Ultimately we had to exchange it for a new tub but by that time we were able to buy the skirted tub new, in a smaller size. We thought a new tub would fare better than a reglazed one. It did not. Our hard water ruined the finish in just four months.

Hard is an interesting word to describe water laden with minerals. Perhaps because it's so very hard to live with? Since our home was sited nearly atop of what used to be a very profitable iron ore mine, you can imagine the mineral content of our water. It did not bode well for anything it might flow through or come in contact with, such as furnaces, washing machines, dishwashers—you know, things that cost a lot of money and that you need in a house. What I was interested in knowing is how those corrosive qualities affected the human body. I think if a substance destroys major appliances, it must have an adverse impact on say, a stomach? Time will tell, I suppose. At that time we spent five thousand dollars to install a water filtration system but the porcelain finish was already irrevocably damaged. Caveat emptor, apparently, because no one at the tub company told me about hard water ruining porcelain despite my calling them half a dozen times with questions about hard water stains and porcelain finishes. I guess I was just supposed to intuitively know this type of tub care minutiae—if you're buying a tub you better be damn sure you know all of the tub facts, lady! And I guess I was also supposed to know that water treatment companies rip off stupid people from the city who have never had to deal with bullshit like wells and water softening before (they just turned on the tap and lovely soft water sprang forth).

The overall look of the bathroom was finalized in our collective mind’s eye. We selected a pedestal sink and matching toilet from Kohler that looked as if they were made in the 20s, and we added beadboard halfway up the walls that we painted a creamy white. The upper walls were painted a cafe au lait and all the fixtures (save the shiny chrome antique-replica ones in the tub) were in satin nickel. Old-fashioned inspired sconces were mounted on either side of the distressed white-framed mirror, and glass shelves were used to hold toiletries. A small crystal lamp provided mood lighting and two shower lights brightened the bathing area. Where once there was a low ceiling above the tub, we now added three feet in height and installed a small skylight on one side of it, painting the ceiling a bright white. I refurbished some old shutters I found in a closet that fit the bathroom window, painting them the same shade of creamy white as the wainscoting and having ribbed glass inserted into the fabric panel part.

All in all, we thought we did a grand job of transforming the room, and we did. Only problem was the room looked like a page ripped from the Pottery Barn catalog and it looked like everyone else’s new bathroom, too. Surfing a local real estate Web site showed me many a home boasting the same bathroom as mine, right down to the Kohler sink and toilet. Sigh. Were we trendsetters or sheep? I just didn't quite know.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Love Thy Neighbor (second increment)

“Funny, I’ve never heard of Brewster before,” Dean said, as we were once again on the Henry Hudson, driving north. It was a beautiful spring Sunday morning and the New York Times was on my nearly gone lap and a cup of Starbucks—decaf—was in my hand. All was right with the world.

“Didn’t you ever watch That Girl?” I asked. “That’s where Ann Marie’s parents lived,” I said, referring to a sitcom from the 1960s, and instantly realizing I was dating myself and had to stop doing that, damn it. Time to start lying about my age or at least being less forthright about it. Anyway, it was just Dean and he already married me, fool that he is.

We were on our way to meet with still another agent, this time a pleasant young woman—Dawn—who worked with properties on the eastern side of Putnam County, as well as Northern Westchester. Upon our arrival, Dawn greeted us, and handed us about nine or ten property spec sheets she had prepared, based on our telephone conversation. It’s clear that young Dawn had no qualms about spending her Sunday with us, and I appreciated this commitment. The other agents were harried and not nearly as generous with their time. I scanned the sheets and tossed out two or three. Then we all got into the Subaru, and off we went.

“The sheet says it’s a bright yellow house,” Dawn said, shuffling papers, as we drove down a busy road. “It . . . should . . . be . . . somewhere . . . around here.” As we zoomed by I spotted an orange house with a FOR SALE sign out front.

“I think we just passed it,” I said in a disgusted monotone, fat and uncomfortable in the back seat. “Turn around.” We have seen about six houses already and none have been even remotely suitable. What were we thinking anyway? I mean, Putnam County is just too far—it might as well be another country. I never even knew it existed until a few weeks before. Dean maneuvered the car deftly and we slowly cruised toward the house.

“Yep, that’s it,” Dawn said, tapping the sheet. “More of an orange than a yellow.”

Indeed. I looked at the house. It was painted a neon orange-yellow, the hue similar to the stripes on roads indicating two-way traffic, only more vibrant and way more orange. Despite the initial shock, though, it was possible to see beyond this color faux pas, to notice that it had potential. The architecture was appealing, built in 1927—a fantastic year for houses I've since learned. It had a robust stone foundation and a gorgeous Magnolia tree in front. We pulled into the long driveway, parked, and climbed the stairs to the back door, rapping on the door lightly. A voice responded, inviting us to come in.

A young couple was busily painting the kitchen cabinets a glossy white while an older man greeted us. He was Joe, the owner of the house, and his brother and brother’s girlfriend were the hired help. Joe told us to feel free to tour the house. As soon as I managed to get past the hideous “country” kitchen, I was enthralled. Sure, there was a dirty brown shag carpet in the living room and the walls were sloppily whitewashed with cheap flat paint, but there was no disguising the good bones of the house. The woodwork was gorgeous, and in fairly good shape. The ceilings were ten feet high, with unusual detail. It was an Arts & Crafts Colonial, possibly a Sears Roebuck kit. As with many homes built in the 1920s, it was rich with architectural features. Fortuitously, most were intact and I whispered a thank-you to the gods of good taste that, somehow, this house was mostly spared from bad remodeling. Mostly, because I was soon to learn that the bathroom succumbed to the avocado-adoring 70s, but this only presented a challenge to us, This Old House aficionados.

“Would you like to see the rear of the property?” the owner asked my husband.

“Sure,” replied Dean, grabbing Jackson’s hand to take him along. They walked outside and Dean was impressed with the landscaping, which included a rock garden, a flowering dogwood (at that point I called it the pink flower tree) and some awe-inspiring giant pines. Joe told them the entire parcel was just over a half-acre, and pointed out the boundaries, some having pretty stone walls to mark them. Then Dean casually inquired about the wee pub we noticed immediately next door to the house.

“In ten years I’ve only had to call the police once. They’re pretty quiet and good neighbors overall,” our new friend Joe assured him. Oh? Only had to call the police on the neighbors once, you say? I had to remember to add that to my list of good-neighbor qualities.

Meanwhile, back inside . . . I turned to Dawn and said, “This is definitely my kind of house.” She looked mildly astonished at this statement, which struck me as semi-hilarious and I suppressed a giggle. I suppose to her it was just a shabby old house on a busy road; to me it was screaming with potential and it was cheap.

We exited, meeting up with Dean and Jackson. Our tour finished, we thanked Joe and company and got back into the car. Once on the road, we told Dawn we were going to make an offer on this house. She seemed really happy—turned out it was her first sale. The price the seller wanted was twenty-five thousand dollars less than the Garrison house. We offered him ten percent less than the asking price. After negotiations, we agreed on an amount: $158, 500. We’ve saved $31,500 over the price of the first house that stole our hearts. Woohoo! We had found our home!

On May 4th Dean's magazine folded, on May 5th the contract for the house arrived, on May 6th I went into labor. By the 7th, we'd lost our only income source, bought a house and had a second child.

We closed on the house in June and spent the next two months sanding floors and painting walls and closets, commuting from the city. On a Friday in early August, we finally moved in. In the evening I began to make our first dinner in our new house, sipping a glass of Merlot and feeling content. My new son, Luca, slept gently in his infant seat and soft jazz was wafting in from the other room. Luca's big brother was settled comfortably by the television, playing with his rediscovered toys, previously packed and part of the wall of boxes. Dean was quietly organizing our things.

Suddenly, a loud motorcycle revved up, shattering the quiet. The baby woke up, throwing his tiny fists into the air in a startle response. The deafening noise sounded as if it were right in our living room, so obnoxiously loud was the engine. Then another one started up. And another. Dean and I looked at each other, mouths agape. We were just served notice that the quiet little pub next door turned into a happening biker bar at night. The fun never seems to stop.

Our other inauguration as homeowners consisted of Jackson locking himself in one of the bedrooms. Each of the three bedrooms had a slide lock on the inside—apparently Joe's tenants had untrustworthy roommates— and Jack had managed to lock one for some reason. It got stuck and he couldn’t slide it back to open the door. Holding Luca in my arms, I frantically called Dean on the phone. Frantically, for I was sure that while Jax was locked in the room a fire would break out and I’d have to get Luca and the animals out of the house and Jax would be trapped. Dean picked up on the second ring. I quickly told him what happened. Could he come home and help? Should I call the fire department? Here was his supportive response: “Let’s not announce our presence just yet. Okay? Get him a hammer and slide it under the door.”

“Uh, Dean, he’s four, you do realize that fact, don’t you?”

“Just give it a try.”

I raced downstairs with Luca on my hip and grabbed a small hammer that a friend made for me. I ran back up and slid it under, telling Jax what to do. He tried, and then asked me for a decent hammer—his exact words. Dean heard this comment over the phone and laughed. Annoyed at Dean and his supercilious attitude, I ran back downstairs and got a larger hammer and slid that under too. The next thing I heard after a quick bang was the lock sliding back and I flung open the door. Whew, what a relief. After hanging up on Dean and his smug satisfaction, I plopped Luca down on the rug and, without taking my eyes off either boy, I backed into the closet and retrieved a screwdriver. The locks came off the doors then and there.