Monday, March 30, 2009


Those of you who live out west — and by that I mean anything farther than, say, Ohio — will NEVER EVER EVER have this problem. But maybe you'll still laugh about it with me.

I finally did laundry today, after ignoring the growing piles all last week, and laundry around here is an all-day experience. (There's the lugging of overstuffed baskets down from the third floor to the basement, for starters, which I figure is worth at least five pounds of weight loss a year, but I digress.) It's been chilly outside, too, so the heat has been on all day, and every time I've tromped down to the basement the boiler has been roaring away.

I love love love love having steam heat. Having a nice toasty radiator to put my toes on in the middle of the winter (preferably while I'm reading a book and eating a stack of cookies) is one of my most indulgent pleasures. The gentle gurgle-pop-hiss and creaking floorboards when the steam comes into a radiator is a warm, reassuring sound. The air in the house doesn't get quite as dry as it does with forced hot air. Plus, radiators just look cool. And ours are spray-painted silver.

Of course, this means we don't have central air conditioning in the summer, which isn't a happy thing. It also means we have to monitor the water levels in the boiler — there's an automatic system shut-off and an automatic water fill that kicks on if not enough water is in the system, but it's a good idea not to have to use the safeties. We also have to flush the system once a month or so during heating season, which involves turning off the heat, waiting an hour or so for the steam to condense, opening a spigot to drain the disgusting rusty water into a bucket, carrying the bucket up the basement stairs, emptying the bucket down the driveway, and repeating the spigot-bucket-driveway routine until the boiler is empty — three or four buckets — before shutting off the spigot, opening the fill valve to refill the boiler, and turning the power back on to the heating system.

The whole boiler arrangement looks like it belongs in a dark dank cobwebby Depression-era cellar: pipes and pressure gauges and levers and switches and safety valves, along with a deep roaring noise when the heat's on high. But really, most of it's less than ten years old (except for the pipes). We use natural gas instead of fuel oil, so there's no spilled-petrochemical smell, and the basement is well-lit and relatively clean. The girls love the system-flushing days — they come downstairs and ride their tricycles around the basement while I lug buckets of water up the stairs. And I feel like I know some elusive secret about the inner workings of the house. (Do you know what a Hartford loop is? Right.)

So back to laundry day.

I went down to the basement at about 5:30 to switch loads of laundry, noticed that the heating system was off — hooray for slightly warmer weather! — and checked the water level in the glass tube on the side. It was a little low, so I moved the lever to open the fill valve ever so slightly (don't want to shock a hot boiler with a gush of cold water) and left it open while I put in another load of laundry. This is something I do pretty often, and after the laundry is taken care of I check the water level again and turn off the valve and go back upstairs. Today Scott happened to come home while I was downstairs, and he brought his gym clothes home with him, and he came down to the basement while I was doing laundry, and we started talking, and then we headed back upstairs.

Fast forward an hour.

We've eaten dinner, we've talked about the day, and we've moved into the living room to have family home evening. Scott mentions that he turned off the radiator at the front door downstairs because the valve was leaking, and we should add that radiator valve to the list of valves to replace this summer.

And then I hear a drip, drip, splash...drip, drip, splash and go to investigate, and the valve on the radiator in the dining room is leaking too. I run for a towel, clean up the smallish puddle, get a bit grumpy because I can't turn off this radiator — the shutoff knob has long since broken off — and then I realize that I left the water on downstairs.


The little trickle of water from the open fill valve had filled the boiler and crept up the steam pipes all the way to the second floor.

You know how I said it usually takes three to four buckets to drain the boiler? I lost count along the way, but it was at least thirteen buckets. And the water pressure was high enough that by the fourth or fifth bucket the drops that had splashed out had made quite a sizable puddle on the basement floor.

The kiddos thought it was great fun to have the whole family in the basement together. Rode their tricycles around, rocked tandem-style on the rocking horse, asked lots of questions about the vast quantities of water that were sloshing around in various buckets. Beth was so inspired by the festivities that she went upstairs to go potty not once but twice in a span of about 40 minutes.

And yes, we finished our family home evening. The lesson was on repentance: When we make a mistake, we say we're sorry, we do our best to fix it, and then we try very hard not to do it again.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Come look, Mommy! I made Paris!

Left to right: a jungle gym, the cheese shop (with a piece of cheese), the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre (the small triangle-shaped building — think the pyramid entrance) and the Eiffel Tower.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bethism #11

Beth's preschool class is doing full-immersion Dr. Seuss this month. It's simultaneously charming and vertigo-inducing. Everything is Seuss — art projects, math workshops, food creations, and of course the books at circle time!

I was parent-helping last week, and had Beth on my lap during circle time. Her teacher told the kids that Dr. Seuss was the author and the illustrator of the book. "Who can tell me what the author does?" she asked.

Beth, very softly: "He makes it rhyme."

(This month especially.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sarah, with attitude

Love this picture. Really, I do.

Now if I could just get her to leave the ponytails in for a few minutes at a time....

Welcome Miriam!

Yay for the newest baby in the family — and hooray that she's another girl for my kids to play with and adore — welcome to the world, baby girl!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sisterhood of the Ladybug Pants

Probably the best-ever kid-clothing purchase I've made: the pink pants with embroidered ladybugs that I bought the weekend before Beth was born. (On sale, even.)

Beth loved them. Really, truly loved them. Insisted on wearing them. One of my favorite Beth moments was when we were walking along Walnut Street in Shadyside, Beth proudly showing off the ladybugs to anyone who would pay attention. (One college-age girl told Beth she's like to have them in her size. Beth beamed.)

Sarah, now that it's her turn, adores her "gaygeebug" pants. Thanks to our fondness for classic Sesame Street sketches, she's spent the day singing the "Ladybug Picnic" song: at breakfast, at the bank, in the car. Sadly, she's outgrowing them. They're just about the right length for her, but the waist is getting oh-so-tight around her little middle.

Thought the magical pants were supposed to fit everyone, all the time. Bummer.

(Oh, and Sarah peed on the potty today! Hooray!)

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


(No, no, I'm not channeling TAMNers. Really. But oh how I laugh at that blog!)

Thanks to a kind-of-under-the-wire comment on Markie's blog, I'm going to be receiving a surprise handmade gift at some point in the next year. (It's not quite like living three blocks away and getting to hang out with her all the time, but it's still awfully nice!)

Now it's my turn: Be one of the first three people to comment on this post, and I'll send YOU a handmade gift at some point during the next year. I get to choose what it is, but I'll at least entertain requests. I'm nice that way.

But there's a catch: If you win, you have to pay it forward. You can do this by putting a similar post on your blog...or posting a note on your Facebook page...or even e-mailing a whole bunch of friends to see which three reply first. Which means you have to be willing to give three other people something handmade in the next year.

And speaking of handmade...check out the Etsy shop if you haven't already. I'm having way, way too much fun with this.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Beth the stand-up comic/scientist

For months and months and months she's regaled us with knock-knock jokes that have completely random punch lines:

"Knock knock!"

"Who's there?"


"Banana who?"

"Banana pineapple car!"

She's upgraded recently. Her new favorite, which she repeats over and over and over in various forms, is this:

"What did the window say to the other window?"

"I don't know, Beth. What?"

"Silly Mommy! Everyone knows that windows can't talk!"

At least we're laughing at her jokes now. In fact, I still laugh at that one. Her delivery is pretty good, and she gets such a kick out of the joke! (She also gets a kick out of coming up with different inanimate objects to put in the joke, and I can see her working on the analysis.)

She's also head-over-heels in love with the PBS show "Sid the Science Kid." Don't let Beth's fondness for anything pink and princess deceive you — she loves things that move and grow and do things too. I've had a lot of "why" questions recently, including some really annoying not-right-now-Beth ones: "Mommy, why is the toilet clugged?" (Yes, "clugged.")

Science, though: We spent quite a while launching her stuffed sheep around the living room with a lever made out of building blocks, and a few days ago we built a makeshift pulley (basket, string) to lift things up to the top of the playroom jungle gym. The sharing time activity at church yesterday was planting beans in little plastic cups, so we talked all the way home about how a plant grows and that plants use sunlight to make food. And she's been begging me to go back to the Museum of Science, so we're going to have to plan an outing. Dinosaurs were mentioned, but let's be honest with ourselves: there's a good chance we'll end up watching the baby chicks hatch again.