I will preface the following with this: we are lucky.  Beyond lucky- blessed, privileged, and in no way entitled to pity or assistance or anything like that.  People all around us have been literally devastated by this storm, and by bitching about our experience I in no way mean to trivialize what those folks have been through and are digging out from.

So basically our storm experience was that many of the old trees around our property came down, domino style, with one big old tree belonging to our neighbors falling and starting a sort of chain reaction that led to 6 trees in our backyard, and a 75ish footer actually on our roof.  We didn't flood since we are, thank God, far above the flood table, and we never really lost power.  The roof ended up with about 6 puncture holes from the tree that hit it, and of course we have tons and tons of lumber to clean up.  The Nor'Easter that blew in the following week did manage to get some snow in the roof holes, but the water damage wasn't too bad.

If I seem stilted in the writing of this it's that I can't put much of a spin on it- this thing sucked, you guys.  My Mom's house had 6 feet of water in the main living space.  My brother's rental house is likely condemned.  Two of my cousins are gutting entire floors of their homes. Many businesses in our town were destroyed and many people are still without power and heat since they have to be re-wired due to the water in basements where their junction boxes and heating equipment were.

Our own small inconveniences (the subways were closed and Gavin walked into Manhattan over the bridge to get to work, we weren't able to get gas for our car until three weeks post storm, etc.)  pale in comparison to those who lost homes, lost livelihoods, lost family.  But all of it combined to create the surreal atmosphere of actually walking around a literal disaster area, and the feeling of vulnerability to your basic sense of security that comes with that.

The lighter notes- we got most of our damage dealt with already.  The roof has been patched and looks as good as new.  We had to go the cheap route for the clean-up, since insurance doesn't cover removing debris (!), but the trees have been chopped up and stacked in the backyard for later disposal (some for our fire pit, some to help heat my mom's house, some to ultimately be chipped for mulch when we tackle the yard).

We've begun regaining some of the pre-storm momentum, and lots of work has been done this week in the (probably naive, but tis the Season, yes?) hope that we can still be moved in by Christmas.

Our main issue now is that the gas company is so inundated with issues from the storm that getting them to deal with us has been a challenge.  I'm ready to send them pictures of our kids looking into the camera with sad eyes at this point (maybe with a c-note in envelope) to get our gas turned on.  Heat! Hot Water! MAKE IT SO!!

So we'll see.  Cautiously optimistic.  I'll post a far more shiny happy blog next week...Spoiler Alert: Our FLOORS ARE GETTING DONE!!

Anywho, here's a Sandy photo- montage:
That big tree on top of the house? Yeah, it's literally on TOP of the house.

View from the master bedroom

This is usually our driveway...

Fitz and Fitz Fine Lumber Inc.

My Boy

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do was dig out my "baby book"- the little album where my mom recorded my milestones, stuck my hospital bracelet- all that parental jazz. My siblings each had one too, but with each subsequent kid, there was less in the book.  I now think I understand why- it was more than just a lack of time with each child or that a new baby is no longer novel after the first.  It's that when you are immersed completely in the day to day existence of not one but two or more small humans, after you finally tuck them into bed at night and wearily pick up the clothes, cheerios, and assorted tiny foot-killing toys scattered about your floor, you become, for a couple of hours before your own bedtime, YOU again- the individual you.  The you who goes to the bathroom in privacy, the you who swears (too much) and drinks a glass of wine and maybe has a couple of friends drop by to watch zombies eat people on tv.

It's not that this you loves your kids any less, or even that this you is any less absorbed in their every breath (I still sneak in to check on my 3 year old every night and lay my hand on her back to feel her rising and falling breath).  But being this version of you for a couple of hours is what re-charges yourself for the next day, for the next round of being a SOURCE for someone else; a source of comfort, knowledge, food, tushy-wiping.  You love giving to these little people- you love it more than anything you've ever been privileged to do, but if you don't collect and reassemble that essential you, there simply isn't anything left to divvy up amongst them.   Sooo...this is my long winded way of saying that some days the friggin' last thing I want to do post kid bedtime is write about them! But this has short-changed me.

My sweet, sweet Wes.  My darling dimpled little boy.  I feel like I have scrimped on the chronicling of his first year.  So to make up as much as I can for lost time, here's 10 things about Wesley:

1.  He cries inconsolably at the part in Lady and the Tramp where they yell at Lady, and the part where the dogs are sad in the pound.  His little shoulders begin to heave, and his lower lip quivers, and the next thing you know he's just in pieces and I scoop him up and cuddle him until the dogs are all happy again.  He's only 15 months old and I can see his good, kind heart just beaming out of him.

2. He is in love with a blue blanket square that has a bear head sewed on it that we call "Claude".  Claude came into being when Wes as a tiny infant would rake his little sharp nails over his face until he had something soft to rub between his hands.  I told Gavin to get him a "lovey" and he came home with our blue friend, who is called "Claude" since it prevents Wes from "clawing" his face.  Claude is carried around much of the day, and whenever Wes is feeling blue his holds it up to his nose for a quick "hit".  If I dare launder it (which we MUST do from time to time, as you can imagine how dingy this thing can get what with Wes dragging it through the dogs water, or the mud, or peanut butter and jelly) he gives it a sniff and throws it down in disgust and rejection (but not for long).

3. He poops like 40 times a day. What. Are we feeding. This kid?

4. He says "DADA!" when he's happy to see anyone come through the door having associated Dada coming home from work as a wonderful thing.

5.  He sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night to laugh hysterically, and anything I do to lay him back down and get him back to sleep results in more insane laughing.

6.  He knows many words.  I was told that since he's a boy not to expect him to be as verbal as Gwendy but he's really an incredible imitator of sound.

7.  He likes to walk around with a Matchbox Car in each fat little hand and hope you'll ask him about it:  "Whatcha got, buddy?"
"CAR! VROOOOM!!" and then he rubs said cars on his tummy.

8. He is huge.  Like wearing size 24 months at age 15 months.  Gavin's hoping for professional basketball. I'm hoping we can afford to keep him in shoes.

9. He loves to read like no baby I've ever seen.  He comes up to you with a board book and hits you with it repeatedly shouting "BOOK! BOOOOOK!" until you capitulate and then he chortles smugly as you settle him on your lap.  His current favorites are "Are You My Mother?", "The Story Of Ferdinand", and "The Best Book of Sharks".  That last one requires a lot of skipping around as it is a science book written for school age kids.

10.  I love him, in a completely separate yet equally mind-blowing way from the way I love Gwen.  I love Wes for Wes.  For his bravery and silliness and goofy reckless way of getting into things and his volcanic temper and his sweet shy smiles and for falling asleep while I hold him every so often.

So here's hoping I set aside some more chunks of time to chronicle my sweet kiddos, because when I look back over the past three years and read what I've written, it's a little terrifying how fast the time is flying.  I only get to borrow these children for a spell, before they become their own people and write their own stories.  While I get to be the author, I'd better write it down.


The Push

In early September my awesome sauce mother-in-law came out from California to watch the
baybehs so that Gavin and I could make a big push forward on the house.  Specifically the time had come (FINALLY!) to put up the walls.  A giant boom truck came to the house and delivered over 200 boards of drywall -half of which was flown in through an upstairs window via a giant crane (!) so as to save the epic shlep of the boys carrying it all upstairs.  I was mercifully kiddo-wrangling the day it arrived but I am told a great deal of man-power was spent carrying the downstairs boards in- they are heavy and awkward and yeah, I'm glad I was a good 30 miles away...

But once they were there the time had come to get them hung.  And I had like, a bizillion little (big) projects that had been nagging at me since we closed on this monster that I wanted to dig into, and having a sitter for a whole week was like a gift from God.

We got So. Much. Done.  The biggest impact was by far having those walls going up again- all that lovely white light filling up the place made us realize how dismal the gutted, brown-and-taupe of the exposed beams and insulation truly was.  It's so much easier to be optimistic when things look clean and new! My uncles worked tirelessly as always and as always I don't have words for how grateful I am for them. (BTW, I recommend clicking on photos should you wish to biggify them...)
Gavin and his new favorite toy: The Impact Gun
After walls!
Everyone pitching in- my friend Zac even took the train in from
Brooklyn to help- What a guy!
Overcoming my fear of power-tools....
And I finally tackled (and tamed) the hopeless kitchen floor. If you remember, we'd peeled up about three layers of old linoleum only to find glue and paper stuck to the hardwood.  The first day I tried a citrus-stripper and paint scraper to get it off but it was an endless, pointless nightmare. Seriously, that glue was so tenacious I wonder why they didn't just make the whole house out of the stuff... I slept on it and did some googling and finally found a method that worked- using my clothes iron and a wet rag I steamed section by section and scraped off all that nasty paper and adhesive bit by bit.  There is some discoloration and warping just under the sink but we will repair that and then stain the whole thing nice and dark so you won't see the flaws.
Ironing the Floor= Good Times!
OH! And the week before the big push my Uncle A put a major hurting on the bathroom.  He tiled the floor in my beloved penny round chosen and purchased months ago. Then he installed the toilet (THANK GOD!), the vanity and sink combo, and the wainscoting.  The difference between the bathroom now and the dingy nightmare-hole that was there previously gives me heart palpitations and every so often I look at a picture of it to give me strength.  My name is Nicole and I am addicted to my new bathroom (Hello, Nicole!).

On the very last day of the week off (on) Gavin and I decided to stay late and begin tiling the shower.  We had bought the subway tile a couple of weeks prior, and although we were intimidated, my Uncle A gave me a quick tutorial and off we were to the races.  I won't say it wasn't hard (or that I didn't have to pull down the first two rows and re-do them after noticing they were leaning a bit hard to starboard so to speak...) but we got a good start on it and I really felt so damn proud.
Harder than it looks...
Getting really late at night.  Much swearing at the tile cutter...

Not bad for first timers! Still have a ways to go though...
We ended the week sore and tired but so, so much better off than before it began, and with a true sense that things are moving toward completion.  The past couple of weeks have been spent "taping", which is the process of filing in all the seams between the drywall pieces with tape and spackle and making the whole thing smooth and lovely.  Gav's been dropping in every day off but most of this has fallen to The Taper (who is called that for a reason) and he's been there damn near every day working his magic.

On the bad news side, doesn't look like it's possible to keep the old kitchen cabinets. We had to tear them out to repair the kitchen wall which was one of the last bastions of plaster (now gone!) and needed to be bumped out a bit to accommodate the plumbing waste pipe.  Turns out the cabinets were kind of chintzy to begin with and many of them didn't fare so well during the tear out.  So...Boo! More money we don't have! And...Yay! New cabinets!  I have some truly lovely plans for that kitchen, y'all.  But that's for another blog....Mwa ha ha ha!!!

Still crossing our fingers for a move-in date before Thanksgiving- what a thing to be thankful for!  Updates a' plenty coming- things are moving fast-and-furious now!! But:
Remember all that potential? Coming back into focus....ONWARD!


Wide Open Spaces

And....two months later.  How is that even possible? Well, I'll tell you how:  In addition to having our regular lives to lead (kids, jobs, building this house) it also happens that Father's Day, our wedding anniversary, my birthday, both kid's birthdays, and the Fourth of July happen in the same 1 month span.  So summer is kind of crazy.  Wonderful, but also crazy.

But all sorts of doings! So first, the chimney did indeed come down.  Video to prove it, starring Uncle A, my brother Joey, and Gavin shooting film between knocking down brick:

Gavin and I spent an insane 2 days cleaning from attic to basement (there is always, ALWAYS a mess, not matter how much you clean) and stacking all the old remaining brick so we could save it for use outside in landscaping later (much later- currently our backyard looks like the jungles of Vietnam).  This was done in early July, since Gav's mom was out for our baby boy's first birthday party! See how we cram work and fun into one insane package?  Every mosquito in Long Island turned out to help us stack bricks.  Thank you, mosquitos.
Building the Great Wall of Fitz
Uncle A, the Taper, Gavin and Little Ol' Yours Truly (I got to use the pneumatic hammer! SQUEE!) built some temporary walls to hold up the second floor while they installed the new header beam; we did this on my birthday, and I couldn't have asked for a better gift!  Once the beam was in and the temps down it was nothing but a big, light-filled space and so clear we made the right choice in opening everything up.
Notice that poor Gavin is sweating like a goat at the beach...
The Taper

The only way to tell how huge this room now seems is wee Gavin way at the other side...
Some guys came and for literally less than the materials alone would have cost at Home Depot installed insulation from the second floor ceiling on down (since the attic is not heated we'll save that for later) in one day!  I feel a tiny thrill when I see all that brown paper insulation, since it's literally a barrier that prevents dollars from flying out through our walls.

And wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, the Taper done sheet rocked the bathroom!! WE HAVE A ROOM WITH WALLS! And even better, he took such pride in his work that I have the most flawless bathroom walls in the universe.
Gwendy came with me to check out our new walls!!
I walked in and nearly cried- it was so good to see stuff finally get put back rather than torn down! Uncle A plans on working on the bathroom during his vacation (cause that's fun) and it should be up and running before the end of the month! Imagine, peeing in my own house? A dream is a wish your heart makes...

And this week I call and order sheetrock for the whole rest o' the house.  We hope to have it delivered next week and (pleaseGodplease) have walls going up the last week of August!! FINGERS SOOOO CROSSED!


Wes is One!

Just a quick (late) post to mark the fact that my baby boy, my wee swarthy pirate, somehow managed to go and turn one year old in the 20 seconds that seemed to have elapsed since he came home.  We celebrated in fine nautical fashion at my Mom's house.  I did a red/white/blue color scheme since his birthday is so close to the fourth:
Mommy in a late-night-before-the-party crafting frenzy....
Sailboat cake!

The SS Wes Is One!

Gramma in from California!

By the end of his big day, all he wanted was to be down to his diaper, holding his lovey, "Claude", and get snuggled on by everybody.  A perfect 1st Birthday!


We Meet Again

Ugh...cannot believe that it's been more than a month since I last updated this bad boy.  My intentions were so good going in, but blah blah blah kids/work/life madness.  Where do I begin?

We are done with the electrical roughing in.  What a blessing in disguise needing to do that has turned out to be- seriously folks!  Not only is everything now safe and to code, but I got to dictate where to put outlets, light fixtures, and security lights.  I have never lived in a house designed in this century before and am the queen of sketchy multi extension cord wiring jobs to make old electric work for modern living. No more! I have outlets coming out the whazoo, people- places to plug in blow dryers and coffee pots and nary a concern about blowing fuses when I dare turn on 2 or more things at once.

ALSO! We made a MAJOR (at least to us) design decision.  It turns out that we will be able to do the conversion to gas heat after all, and that means our aforementioned janky chimney is no longer strictly necessary for venting purposes.  If you remember, we were looking at 2500 minimum to rebuild said chimney, and to spend that on something largely useless (we won't be burning coal in that fireplace any time soon) felt all kinds of wrong what with our shoe-string thread budget.  So how about knocking the whole damn thing down and making the kitchen/dining room an open concept sort of thing? DUH DUH DAHHHH!!! "But wait!", you say "What about your beautiful fireplace and all the charm contained therein??" Well, I tells ya what.  We could save the firebox and mantle and move the whole kit and caboodle to another wall, effectively making a new fireplace and still getting open concept ju ju! A lovely vista of being able to cook a meal without wondering if the kids were murdering each other or the dogs dances before my eyes! HUZZAH!

Enter the menfolk and a day of dirty, crazy hard work (is there any other kind in the Elephant?) chipping the chimney down from the roof through the attic, 2nd floor, and 1st floor, and carting the old brick out to be used in our landscaping future.  I was home kiddo wrangling, and lordy, my heart ached not being there to help them.  But Gavin took video and I was totally impressed with what they accomplished in no time at all.  Seriously, you can't tell at all from the roof that there was ever a hole, and the room downstairs is already so airy and full of light.

Next we have to put up some support beams to make up for soon-to-be-gone wall framing,  and figure out what to do with the awkward place in the hardwood that will missing.  Of course the dang floor was laid perpendicular to the wall making patching it a royal be-otch.  I'm thinking of just owning the imperfection and using Morroccan tile or parquet inlay or something cool rather than trying to disguise it...we'll see.  Also, we will be trying to reclaim some giant funky piece of furniture or other to make an island to separate the rooms.

We also (did I not tell you this??) decided that the teeny tiny bedroom upstairs would be better suited to being a walk-in closet/office for the master bedroom since the OG closet in there wouldn't fit more than a pair of pants.  Seriously, it was the smallest closet I've ever seen.  Allow me to revel in pure feminine glee for a moment at all that closet space.....GAH!!! Plus gutting the place let's me put in super useful features like a hatch in the closet wall so dirty clothes can just drop right into the laundry room below. Now if only we can find a spot for a secret passageway...

In other news (and in other rooms) blessed Uncle A continues to fight the good fight in the upstairs bathroom.  It took a couple of tries to make the new plumbing synch up with the old drainage, but we now have complete rough-ins, a new waste pipe and GLORY BE! A BATHTUB! Things are starting to look like things again.  Tile should be going down shortly and then....a dream come true: a toilet the handle of which I shall not need to jiggle.  It will be the flush heard round the world.   Got a great quote on insulation for the whole dang house, so once the ducts are re-attached that will be the next step and then....WALLS! WAAAAALLLSSS!!!  I am well and truly sick of seeing every room all at once.

This whole process has crawled on since we are all working around our various making-ends-meet-living-life schedule rather than just throwing money at some pricey builder types (Har de har har! Like that's an option!), but there is so much love being put into this place by so many amazing, generous souls that the house just feels happy, dust, and all, every time I walk in there.  Every bit of progress is a gift in every sense of the word, and the delays only make those baby steps sweeter.

Not much in the way of pictures but I'll see if I can't get some chimney-killing video up here soon:
And lo! It t'were a bath tub!

What's up, waste pipe?


Chim Chim Cheree...

I check on Gwendy every night before I go up to bed.  Last night when I first walked into her room I noticed her basket of hair accessories spilled on the floor, and as I squinted in the dark room I could see something black was smeared all over and around it.  "Oh God, please don't be poop!" was my first thought, but no, upon closer inspection it was a small plastic tray of greasepaint leftover from some Halloween years ago or a scene study from school or something.  I had (stupidly) left an old makeup bag in Gwen's room from having painted her nails and she had climbed up to get it and smeared said greasepaint all over the rug:

With a sigh of resignation I bent down to start cleaning up.  And suddenly it occurred to me that I hadn't actually looked at Gwen yet.  And when I did, this is what I saw:

You guys, I couldn't even be mad-  I was laughing so hard I nearly peed my pants-  but now I had the problem of what the hell to do.  I couldn't very well leave her like that, but I knew full well she was not going to take kindly to be awoken at 11:30pm to wash up.  Well first, I got the camera.  Because, come on?  I then took a baby wipe and started cleaning her face, and eventually she woke up enough to go with me to the bathroom for some bigger intervention (the baby wipe was a bit like fighting a forest fire by waving a towel at it):
after wiping her face a bit...making progress....
enjoying this way too much.
When we got into the bathroom, I began running the water to get it warm and figured I'd show her what she'd done.  "Look at your face, baby!" I told her as I held her up to the mirror. "AHH!!! NO!!! I SCARED OF THAT SCARY THING!!"  She refused to accept any explanation I offered that it was actually her own face that she'd seen and once I'd gotten her settled and somewhat clean she still kept mumbling "Makeup is scary, Momma" every so often.

I had to change all her bedding and I'm still not sure what to do about the rug- my attempt to clean it has made a giant black vortex a la "The Ring".  And even after several washings Gwen has a distinct swarthy look today, kind of like Captain Jack Sparrow:

...But every so often, your kid does something that you just know will go into the Legend of Her.  And this one, this one's for the books.  Well played, my little Chimney Sweep.