Thursday, December 5, 2013

Movin' On Up

I've mentioned a couple of times now that we've been super busy this autumn. The main reason was that we moved! We're still in Pittsburgh, but in a different part of it now. Let me start our moving story with a bit of a flash-back. Three years ago, we were living in a super small/dark/generally-crappy basement apartment far away from everything (except a job I had left long before).

The entire living room from the front door, and the entire kitchen from the living room

Our friends, Ben & Anne, owned a lovely house in a down-and-out neighborhood. They were passionate about helping to revitalize the area. They shared it with her mom and his brother. When Mom decided to move out, they offered us her room. The rent was very low, so we could use it as an opportunity to catch up financially. We said yes.

The house on move-in day, and Shane in our tiny bedroom wearing a hat
(Incidentally, the picture on the left is the reason I don't wear pants in public anymore.)

We stayed for two and half years. In that time the brother moved out, Ben & Anne themselves moved out, and three more friends moved in. Our friend Dylan bought the house next door and filled it with people in a similar way. We had a little almost commune happening. It was great! And it was very hard! Looking back, I see that it was also very good for us. We grew a lot there.

Our steampunk Halloween party! (sorry for the blur...)

Then Shane and I went on vacation. When we got back, it became clear to me that it was time to be just the two of us again. I talked it over with Shane, and he agreed. I spent the next week cruising Craigslist in my spare time. Shane called half a dozen of my leads on Friday night, and we spent Saturday apartment shopping. One of the wonderful things about this move was that there was no time limit. We knew if we didn't find anything right away, it would be OK.

The first place we saw was just like our old apartment. It even had the same ugly green carpet! We couldn't leave quickly enough. We spent some time in a comfy little coffee shop double-checking the listings. Then we went to another appointment. This one was more promising. The walls were yellowed, and the carpet awful. But the landlord said he would put down new hardwood floor and paint.

From the Craigslist posting. Taken before the previous tenant moved in.

We told him we'd think about it, and found one more place across the street. We called the number on the sign, and a salesperson from the management company was there in a half-hour. It was much more expensive, and not much nicer. That night, Shane Googled the management company and found out they have a terrible reputation. Of the three places, we had a clear winner, but was it worth jumping on? We gave it a few days of thought, and decided it was. The next Saturday, we went back to sign the lease. The floors were already done!

Shane and the landlord looking over the lease, with new floors and seriously scary walls.
And my excited-to-have-a-new-apartment face at the train station afterward.

We waited until the middle of October to move. (The first two weekends of the month were filled with parties!) I spent a lot of that intervening month going through boxes. Because the house was fully furnished when we moved in, most of our things had stayed in the attic. I went through everything we owned looking for things to get rid of. I found a ton! We have learned a lot about living simply in the last few years, and it shows. I was surprised by how many times I thought "Why do we have this?". Once I was satisfied, we moved everything to the front porch, and asked the VVA folks to come pick it up.

The work in progress filling the dining room, and later on the porch: ready to go away

Shane booked the pick-up online Sunday night, and they came by Monday while we were at work. The way all that stuff disappeared seemed like magic! Still, some of my childhood things were hard to get rid of. I took pictures to remember them by, and tried to keep in mind how I felt at the end of Toy Story 3.

When moving day came, we had tons of help! YAY FRIENDS!! Matt and Brandi (and Elie) and Al helped us load the truck. Neil helped us unload, and Beth helped with everything. I didn't think we'd be able to get it all done on the first day, but we did! When we took Neil and Beth to dinner, we discovered a fantastic Indian restaurant just down the road. The next day, we had still more amazing people who wanted to help us. Jenn and Derek assembled our Ikea bed and wardrobe (and more). Kira washed most of our dishes and then helped us drop off the truck and run to the grocery store. After the weekend was over, we felt super tired and very well loved.

The living room: still too much stuff, and the Ikea parts and wardrobe manual.
(I found them days later. The incredible Jenn and Derek flew without a net!)
The wardrobe name is appropriate because that's what assembly makes you feel like: a DOMB├ůS.

I can't wait to show you how the place looks when we're done putting it together! We're mostly there now. I cleared out the last of the boxes a few weeks ago, and spent a good deal of my Thanksgiving weekend hanging things on walls. I even put up the Christmas tree! I think the apartment is really starting to feel like it's ours. That really means a lot to me. It's a feeling I've been chasing for a long time now.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Vacation - Part 5: Gettysburg

This is my last vacation post! I will try to keep it brief. It's a shame, really, because I remember being super excited to write about this final part of our trip. But a lot has happened since early September, and I am sick of waiting to write about it all. Hopefully, the pictures will help to do the talking.

We spent a day and a half exploring Gettysburg, PA. I think two would've been perfect. We were camping again; this time at Cunningham Falls State Park in Maryland. The park was wonderful! I hope to return someday just to explore the hiking trails. However, a word to the wise: the campgrounds got very busy on the weekend.

The first morning, we drove straight to the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center. It is a big, beautiful building with lots of parking. We booked a personal tour in advance. I highly recommend it! For almost the same price as two bus tour tickets, we had a delightful guide drive our car around the park for us. His name was Ted Gajewski, and we loved him! His delivery was polished, but he paused often to ask if we had questions. His enigmatic presentation made the battle feel real and immediate to me. When he concluded the tour on Cemetery Hill, I had to resist the urge to applaud him!

Included with the tour was admission to the visitor center's museum, video presentation, and cyclorama experience. If I had a do-over, I would check out the indoor stuff first. We breezed through the museum before our tour, which gave me the background I needed to truly understand the story our guide walked us through. But I would've liked to have had a closer look. We saw the video/cyclorama presentation after our tour. The video was terribly redundant at that point, but the cyclorama is spectacular! It is a giant wrap-around painting accompanied by a recorded light and sound presentation. A voice-over talks about the battle with gunshots and explosions in the background. Sadly, I could not stay in that room for very long. After our immersive tour, it was too much for my poor emotionally spongy self to handle.

Me & Abe outside the visitor's center

After the battlefield, we took the free trolley from the visitor center to downtown Gettysburg. I was impressed by how non-commercial the place was (esp. compared to Williamsburg). It didn't seem like a tourist town so much as just a small town which happens to have some tourist business.

There was a house museum on my agenda which advertised a look at everyday family life around the time if the Civil War. I figured it would be a nice break from all the upsetting battle talk. Boy was I wrong! Please don't misunderstand; the Shriver House is a great place. The tour guide was nice and competent, and wore period clothing. But I was not going to avoid sad stories there. The Shriver family had it rough! Granted, most families in Gettysburg did. The battle left behind something like 15-20 times more wounded, dead, and dying soldiers than there were local civilians. Essentially, every building became a hospital in some way.

After all that sad, we went to Hunt's Battlefield Fries for dinner. It doesn't look like much, but the reviews online were great. They were right! We enjoyed awesome cheese-steak, and super friendly service. Also, they had more bottled craft soda than I've ever seen in one place.

We were beat after dinner, so we called it a night early. On our second morning in Gettysburg, we packed up the tent and drove downtown. We found good coffee at the Cafe Saint-Amand, but the wait time for food was super long. That was a bit of a problem because we had an appointment for our photo to be taken. The experience we had with Victorian Photography Studios was great, though. Check out our awesome wet-plate photo:

I plan to use it for our Christmas card! (Nothing says "Happy Holidays" like a picture where are heads are being held still by metal brackets, right?) Incidentally, I'm still trying to come up with a good caption for the card. Something like "Party like it's 1859", but you know... good. Please tell me if you have any ideas!

After the photo session, we got delicious ice cream from Mr. G's Ice Cream, toured the Gettysburg Foundation's headquarters/free museum called the Rupp House, and hit the road for home. It was fantastic to take a whole week off! We saw family, explored history, and enjoyed the great outdoors. I ticked two places off my "Travel Dreams" pinboard, and discovered another destination that I liked even better! I don't know when we'll have another chance to take a vacation like this, but I hope it's soon.