Finding the perfect jeans.

SO.  There I was, minding my own business, walking home w/ my family.  We’re strolling down Baltimore Ave, as we are wont to do, when I spy a box on the edge of the sidewalk.  FREE STUFF.  As I never miss a bargain let alone a freebie, I mosey over and take a peek.  The box was small w/ just a few t-shirts sticking out the side, but right there on top was a pair of jeans.  Hmm.  They looked good.  New even.  Ignoring my husband who told me I was going to get fleas – or WORSE – I snatched them right up.  While John stood watching and yelling at Maddie to PUT DOWN THAT T-SHIRT, I unfurled the jeans.  WOW.  Abercrombie & Fitch low rise flares. Sweeeeet.  And not only were they new, but they were NEW! AND also just happened to be my size.  My EXACT Size.  SHA-ZAM!!!  At 5-10 I have a tough time finding pants long enough when I’m actually shopping and paying real money for them – but to find a perfect pair of $80 jeans just sitting there for the taking….??!   I TOLD YOU I WAS LUCKY.

As soon as we got home I shot to the bathroom to try them on.  I couldn’t BELIEVE IT.  Even after I zippered them up and took a gander in the mirror.  I marveled at my good fortune.  Finding the perfect jeans.  Literally.  What are the chances??  And yet, If I’d followed my husband’s warning about CONTRACTING A COMMUNICABLE DISEASE these plums would’ve passed me by.  If I gave a crap what other people thought of me as I trash picked, I would have missed a GRAND OPPORTUNITY.  Not to wax too philosophical on the point, BUT

Life is what you make it.  DON’T LOSE OUT.

Hello? Leroy?

In less than a month, my family and I will be marking a momentous occasion. On June 20th, it’ll be 7 years since we moved into our palatial West Philly estate. WOWZA. 7 years! Where does the time go?

This event is especially significant b/c we purchased our home through a special University of Pennsylvania guaranteed mortgage program, created for people like us: well-educated family types who work hard for the university but are otherwise too young (read poor) to undertake homeownership w/out some help. I know a lot of people in West Philly fault or praise Penn for all sorts of things. Gentrification (or PENNtrification, depending upon perspective), the UCD, drunken college antics, and what have you. But we’re nothing but grateful for the university’s assistance when it comes to our home-sweet-home.

7 years ago, the PENN mortgage program generously provided us with $15,000 to settle w/in specified boundaries of the neighborhood – a loan which would be forgiven IN ITS ENTIRETY, were we to remain as principal occupants of our residence for (you guessed it) 7 years. We got our letter in the mail recently alerting us that as of June 20th we have fulfilled our promise. Were we to sell our house June 21st, we would not owe Penn one red cent. Not that we are thinking of moving, but it sure feels good to have that psychological burden lifted. In addition we have our beautiful house, which 7 years ago cost us $115K, and today is worth 3 to 4 times that. Life is good.

So, who – pray tell – is Leroy? How could we have reached the 3rd paragraph already and not have a bloody clue WHO this guy from the title is?? Well. To be honest, I am thinking the same thing. Who is Leroy? And I am not talking about some existential debate here people, I am wondering WHO THE HELL IS LEROY?? And WHY for the past SEVEN YEARS have people been calling here looking for him????

Hello? Leroy? Hi, Leroy? Hey, is this Leroy’s Variety? I have gotten every possible variation on this theme. On the other end of the line is often an Indian man or woman, going by the name of Sue or Bobby or Pat, with an accent so thick I could cut it with a knife. I have been answering the phone time and time again to inform all of these people, phone solicitors, lawyers, rental agents, snack machine vendors, product salesmen and anyone else who wants to KNOW that Leroy’s Variety IS NO MORE. The past 7 years. Yes, I am polite. Nowadays I am often laughing. But, I tell them, I am not the Business Owner. For THIS is a residence. Now that my husband’s email address has somehow mysteriously become associated with this Leroy, I am finally putting out the call. HEY LEROY, IF YOU ARE OUT THERE, I HAVE A FEW THOUSAND MESSAGES FOR YOU. Send me your number. I’ll make sure you get them.

The money pit – part two.

The other day I wrote a post on YE OLDE MONEY PIT, and my pal Curly requested photos. So I went to work. I would have preferred sharing pictures with better perspective, but as our palatial West Philly estate is really only a *twin* and only yay deep, I did what I could. SO… for all you housey types out there, BEHOLD, a post for YOU.

Some background. We live in an old house (100 years) which had been semi-converted to accommodate rental – 1st/2nd floor as a single unit and the 3rd floor as another. The previous owner had removed doorways from the 2nd and 3rd floors, apart from those at either end. My husband rectified the situation by sledge-hammering his way through the walls on the 2nd floor opening up the previously-enclosed doorways. And there you have it.

Here is the 2nd floor hallway. It used to be a solid straight wall on the left where there are now 2 DOORS. YAY!

My younger daughter’s room. We still have to finish the baseboard and above the door where the electricians had to rewire, but otherwise done. The wall on the left (the shadow behind the door) used to house the old doorway to the bath.

This is what it looked like before. You can see the doorway in the corner, looking straight through to the front of the house.

Our new washer/dryer unit sits in the newly-formed alcove next to the bathroom. Previously I had to haul everything up & down 3 flights to the basement. The new set up brings convenience. Plus, it seems to be warming the upper part of the house (at least psychologically) and makes the whole 3rd floor smell fresh.

The BIG DOWNSIDE: The washer uses a lot of water. When this water drains, it has only one means of escape. The pipe is too small to drain quickly, so the water backs up into the tub, leaving a filthy layer of lint, dirt & repulsive residue behind. Since my 2 kids need a bath at least occasionally, I am now forced to wipe up after my laundry. So, in short, my machine cleans my clothes, BUT now I must clean up after my machine. IS THIS BETTER? Time will tell.

WELL.. at least it is fun showing off my house. You really should love your house when you have dumped as much money into it as we have. And we really do love ours. Since you are here, would you like to see more?

Okay. BUT please wipe your feet because you KNOW how I feel about cleaning. Gracias!

The house looks a little different now. These photos are from 2006. That’s when I went temporarily insane and decided we were going to move. I do not know why, but I think that’s why they call it going insane. So I took a whole lot of pictures for the MLS and we put our house on the market. I think it went well because we got a full-price offer within 48 hours. But then I changed my mind and took it off the market again a day later. Why? I am still not sure. but I think that’s why they call it going insane.

This is a picture of the front of my house. It looks very pretty. We don’t have those ewe bushes anymore b/c my husband hated them and tore them out. In fact, he tore almost everything out, so now our front yard looks like a dirt pit. At least that’s what the neighbors tell me. Also, our house used to have a lot of chipped & hanging-off paint. It was voted second-ugliest house on the block. So once we saved up enough money, we paid my brother-in-law to paint it. He did a very nice job. Unfortunately he is not yet desperate enough to install our insulation. Hopefully he will be one day soon.

This is what I see when I walk through my front door. What you would likely see would be teeth, those of our enormous 150 lb dog who likes to say HELLO and make sure you are friendly. He may hump you if he likes you a lot. And BOY did he really like one of our plumbers last week. We tease him that he is our ‘big gay dog’. But he also likes women, like my sister, so I guess he is our ‘big Bi dog’. You must be o-kay with that. Did you bring me my Dutch oven?

Yes, you do look nice. But please stop admiring yourself, we have more rooms to see. OH! You’re just staring AT the mirror – sorry, I thought you were just being vain. Yes, it is lovely, isn’t it. It’s the reason we bought the house. No seriously. The House itself, well – it’s really just a place to hang the mirror. Okay, through the double doors to your right, here’s the living room.

We don’t have that couch anymore – we actually gave it to some friends and it looks better in their house. They have a couch that’s almost identical and they look really nice together. In addition, they have only one kid and NO dogs – WELL – technically they will have 2 kids soon, as my friend is almost 40 weeks pregnant. She is giving birth at home by the way, but I do not think on the couch. Anyway, we have (as you know) 2 kids and 1 dog. Our big dog used to like sleeping on that couch more than life itself. I know it sounds awful that we took that pleasure away from him, but you see it was not a cheap couch from the thrift shoppe. It was an expensive couch that we bought for a LOW LOW price at the Outlet. But he also started doing THINGS to it – sort of unspeakable things, and so we gave it away before we had to throw it away, if you know what I mean. I miss that couch. It was such a nice looking couch. I am glad it is at my friend’s house. I will be over there this weekend, and I will make sure I remember to sit on it. Ahhhh.

and Here we are in the dining room. We like food, so we of course dine a lot in here. Our big dog sleeps in the corner too, so watch out for his toys. He may try to use you as one if you get too close. OOOPS! Sorry, my mistake. Just threw that one in to make sure you weren’t sleeping -WAKE UP! That’s the dining room from the cruise ship. Here’s OUR dining room.
Not quite so spacious, but it’s home. WATCH THE DOG.

Ohhh, okay – no problem, right through that door.

I’ll wait for you in the kitchen.

Dum, de, dum… La la la……… Oh, no problem. Glad you’re feeling better now. Soy always does that to me too. Well, what say we head out back and have a nice cool drink in the yard? Shoot the breeze, and talk about our inner-most hopes & dreams. Okay, just cut through the sunporch,

and let yourself out the back door.

It IS nice out here.  WHAT? OH yes, I HAD completely forgotten that it’s a dirt pit out there right now too. AND that it’s 20 degrees, with an inch of ice on the ground. OH WELL. So sorry ’bout that. A girl can dream after all…. Hey, pass me that wine, won’t you?

The money pit

Do you ever get the urge to open up your front door, step outside and scream “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!” to the WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD????!!!!

I am having one of those days.

We’ve had a lot of work done on our house the past few weeks. And as you know, Skilled work = EXPENSIVE WORK. We had the electricians rewire the whole basement & 1st floor. Last week they installed a special 220 volt outlet on our 2nd floor. It’s for a new stacked washer & dryer we’re putting in an alcove outside the bathroom. And this is a very good thing. For it will mean we (mostly me) will no longer have to go down three flights, up and back, carrying load after load of laundry in a never-ending quest to stay atop the mountain of smelly dirty socks and underpants which accumulates unceasingly at the feet of our beds. But convenience doesn’t come cheap. Total cost, including appliance, almost $5000.

Last week my husband also invested $1000 in insulation for our basement and attic, which he single-handedly went out, bought and hauled home in a rental van, and then (mostly) carried up 3 flights. If that does not earn him HE-MAN status, I cannot imagine what would. Especially since I just tossed my bundles down the stairs into the basement. Not quite the same level of work.

He enlisted me last weekend to begin the installation process – and talk about gruesome. Nasty piece of work, fiberglass. We both had on respirators (just the flimsy paper kind, mind you), but they make the skin around your mouth itch and sweat. The condensation feels so gross, and you just want to rip the stupid thing off your face, but you know it’s the only thing keeping the crap out of your lungs. UGH. Then the poinky fiberglass dust gets into your eyes, and I couldn’t keep my glasses on b/c they kept getting fogged up. ARGH! So we’re jamming this sh*t in above our heads, my husband’s rolling it out, squeezing and pressing it between the joists, and I’m tamping it in with (of all things) a metal mop sans sponge – which by the way is a really effective tool for this particular use. My husband could only find one utility glove, so his other hand’s getting coated in the insulation. He’s itching and I’m bitching. What a hoot. We managed to put up a single roll (out of 20) before we both looked at each other and said ENOUGH. THIS is why people hire OTHER PEOPLE to do these jobs. It’s not that you can’t necessarily do it yourself, it’s just that you do not want to.

We also finished a project on the 2nd floor which involved closing off two doors and opening another two into the hallway. It sounds complicated but think of the old BBC drama Upstairs/Downstairs. We live in a circa 1900 Victorian in which all of the rooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors are connected through a series of inner doors, completely separate from the hallway. There are openings at either end of the hallway, but up until now, absolutely no way to access any of the other rooms directly – including private bedrooms as well as baths. This isn’t an issue on the 3rd floor where my husband and I reside, because we get our own very private suite. But the 2nd floor where our kids live is a whole other drama. It gets old having to wind one’s way through a labyrinth to get to a room, but add the challenge of refereeing between two kids over “so-and-so’s cuting through my room again!!!” and it gets OLD REALLY FAST.

So last year (or perhaps it was 2006?) we began the process of rectifying this situation. My husband sledge-hammered his way through the wall from the hallway into our younger daughter’s room. Fortunately there had once actually been a doorway there, so it was at least framed minimally. We went out and bought a gorgeous solid oak door, which my husband hung, and thus it remained for the next 8 months or so. The door worked fine, but the wall surrounding it was still completely unfinished. And people – whoever came over – would inevitably ask “so what’s the deal with this?” I couldn’t have cared less about our friends saying this, but when my folks started commenting we knew action needed to be taken. My husband did not want his in-laws thinking he was not properly caring for their beloved daughter and grandchildren. And yes, it did look bad. You could see into our daughter’s room through the uncovered plaster around the door. The baseboards in her room as well as the hallway had been removed, and plaster would fall out from the bottom onto the floor. It was messy. PLUS we still had the issue of “so-and-so cutting through my room.” b/c the second doorway into the bathroom remained.

So finally, just before Christmas, we hired a friend to come seal off the extra doors, shutting them off forevermore. And he did a really nice job. Then my husband sledge-hammered his way into the bath from the hallway (a process he again enjoyed very much), opening up the doorway that used to be there. So now it was open, but it was minimally framed and we wanted it to look really NICE. So we paid (through the nose) to have authentic woodwork cut to finish the whole framing process. To do this we had to have a unique “key” cut to reproduce our existing woodwork. Fortunately we have an excellent carpentry shop just around the corner, where they did it all, including staining the wood (and our new door), cutting everything to specification and hand-delivering it. Then we hired a second friend to come and install everything, and he did a terrific job too. Once I repainted my daughter’s room, as well as the hallway, it was FINALLY DONE. Now it looks just like it did back at the turn of the century, but at everyday modern prices. Total cost: over $2200.

The plumbers were here all day yesterday, refitting, replacing and generally repairing the pipes leading from our 2nd floor bath into the alcove for the new washer/dryer. Additionally they installed a plastic pan beneath the unit equipped with a high tech sensor which will shut off the pipes if the thing starts to leak (saving us serious amounts of money were the thing to fall down into our dining room). Out of this deal we also got a new faucet and taps for the tub, as well as a new drain plug. All of which are shiny and new. And look way better than the ugly old corroded ones we used to have. But now they are so new and shiny they make the rest of the bathroom (especially the mismatched crappy caulked-up tile behind the tap) look even worse. The plumber recommended a tile guy he knows. But we haven’t gotten the plumber’s bill yet. SIGH……

And so finally last night, I went downstairs to get a bottle of wine. It was after all Survivor AND Lost all in one night of unbelievable television. So, I went to get some vino out of the Haier, our little glorified wine rack, and was struck by the fact that we now have some sort of furry little fungi friend growing in the very bottom of it – right next to the pretty glass door. Which means the thing is now so NOT COLD that it’s begun culturing wildlife. The stupid thing isn’t even a year old. I followed my husband’s advice and just unplugged it. It may not look as nice, but our wine will stay colder if we just stick it out on the back porch. And I think I’m going to need to keep drinking. heavily.

I *heart* Stonyfield Farm

Last month I got a very unexpected email from the marketing coordinator at Stonyfield Farm yogurt informing me I’d won their Recipe of the Month contest. WOW! I didn’t even know I’d been entered, but apparently when you submit a recipe (something I did), they enter you automatically. Coool. So I was super excited to hear I’d been chosen as one of three winners for the month of November (an honor in and of itself), but even more psyched when I read that I’d also be getting… a PRIZE! Now, I don’t know if you can tell from my online persona, but sometimes I can get PRETTY EXCITED, and this was one of those times. A goodie bag of yogurt wonders ALL FOR MY VERY OWN!!! WOOHOO!

So I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of my precious yogurt box, and late last week I began wondering where it could be. I worried about it a little bit. You see, we have issues with our mail delivery here at our palatial West Philly estate. Indeed, our postal service has become so erratic that we’ve had to open a PO Box at the main Philly branch in order to ensure we actually get some of our mail. Unfortunately when you miss a payment, businesses do not care if it was because you never ever got the bill. That’s simply NOT an excuse. And when we do receive mail at our house, it’s often sampled or heavily used. Like our bank statements, which come open and pre-scrutinized. Or our magazines, which arrive so dog-eared we know what the mailman had for lunch. We also routinely receive mail for other people, blocks away, which I dutifully walk over and place gently through their slot. But who is getting my mail? And why aren’t they kindly returning the favor?? Yesterday my 94 year old grandma called to say she’d gotten my recent card, but someone had slit the envelope down the side and removed the rest of its contents. It made me SO MAD. WHAT IS WRONG WITH SOME PEOPLE?? HAVE THEY NO SHAME?? DO THEY NOT HAVE A GRANDMA~?? DO THEY NOT REALIZE GOD DOES NOT LOOK FAVORABLY ON THOSE WHO STEAL FROM 94 YEAR OLD WOMEN LONGING FOR PHOTOS OF THEIR GRANDCHILDREN??? As my husband would say, may God smite them. Painfully.

So you see, I was beginning to think my beautiful Stonyfield Farm prize might have been delivered and stolen off my porch. Like the time my husband ordered something from Apple, and UPS delivered it to some deranged woman 12 blocks away, who called us demanding money for its return. Or the time my neighbor ordered books from Amazon and found the open package three blocks away in the street. So this weekend I contacted the very nice marketing coordinator, explaining my concern, and YIPPEE! she told me that my package was on its way …. and finally, yesterday, my beautiful box from Stonyfield Farm arrived. 🙂

Let me tell you, it was even better than I’d expected. No expired yogurt at all. Instead I got coupons! Always great when you consume lots of healthy yummy delicious STONYFIELD FARM YOGURT like I do (*wink to camera*)! And not only that, but I got a bunch of awesome cooking stuff – a super thick Stonyfield Farm logo oven mitt,

heavy-duty pyrex measuring cup and double-spoon AND spatula. PLUS a yougurt cheese maker – which looks like a hairnet,

but actually makes you YOGURT CHEESE. Doesn’t that sound delicious??! I confess it does not sound all that delicious but I bet it is delicious if it is made with STONYFIELD FARM yogurt, because IT is the BEST. And not only did I get all of those amazing things, BUT I also got a cute cow-emblazoned magnet, a brand new pencil AND a Stonyfield Farm Cookbook, with tons and tons of recipes and ideas for using their delicious healthy yogurt, complete with scrumptious-looking color photographs. This book was written and tested by the CEO’s wife, so you know it’s got to be good. And last but not least, is my brand new beautiful Stonyfield Farm tote bag, with the SF Farm logo on one side and the Brown Cow logo on the other. My husband asked me who the Brown Cow is and I have to say I have no idea, but he/she is cute and that’s all that matters. I even got to USE my tote bag last night when we went to the library. I proudly displayed my yogurt preference to all and sundry and I know everyone was GREEN WITH ENVY. It’s lucky the library is so darn close to Whole Foods, because I think I left a trail of yogurt-hungry people all waiting for a quick release.

So, in conclusion, I urge each and everyone of you to go out and buy some wonderfully spectacular Stonyfield Farm yogurt today. Then you should go home and create a magnificently delicious recipe and send it to Stonyfield Farm, so that you too may be as happy as I am right now. Sitting here with my new potholder on my hand and my yogurt cheese maker on my head.