Monday, May 31, 2010

A Mother's Release: Permanent Solutions

When weighing our lead-abatement options, we had a county lead inspector come and look at our house. According to his findings, none of the interior paint was a problem. The only issue was the old windows and exterior paint on the house and garage. The soil right next to the house and garage was also contaminated.

Replacing the rest of the windows was a given—that we would find a different contractor was also a given. We also needed to do something about our 4 exterior doors, and then make the big decision: whether or not to install vinyl siding.

The two doors in the living rooms have gorgeous, beveled glass panes and would cost a fortune to replace. We tried to find someone who would strip them and repaint them, but didn't have much luck. While we continued to look at our options for those doors, last Fall we went ahead and hired someone to replace the two doors that don't face the road and that weren't particularly attractive.

It was a miracle! It was only a small job, but the contractor showed up on time, kept the work area very clean, and finished in a timely manner. So when it came time to get quotes on the rest of the replacement windows and possible siding or repainting, that contractor was at the top of the list.

We found all of our contractors on the list of state-certified lead abatement contractors. It was a pretty random, frustrating process. I'd search on the state's database for contractors with current lead abatement licenses. I'd get a lot of results that were irrelevant: contractors from all across the state (I couldn't figure out how to narrow it to just our area), or contractors who only did inspections and not actual abatement work. I had a goal: every week or so, I'd call 5 more contractors. Of those 5, 2 might never answer or call me back. Two might talk to me on the phone, but never get around to actually coming to the house. If I was lucky, 1 would actually come and look at the house and give me an estimate.

The estimates ranged from under $2o,000 to over $40,000. In the end, we did decide to get vinyl siding over our original wood siding. We preferred the look of the natural wood, but it was just not cost-effective or particularly safe to stick with the lead-painted wood. We would have to repaint at the very first sign of cracking, which meant a recurring cost every 3-5 years, instead of 5-10, which we had originally planned on. Plus, it would need to be lead-safe painting, where the painters put drop cloths on the ground to pick up every paint chip that falls so that it doesn't further contaminate the soil. The paint can't be dry-scraped, because that would also release lead dust, so the whole process would be much more time-consuming and, of course, costly. It just made more sense to get the vinyl siding now and be done worrying about it.

We also hadn't realized that we would need to replace our garage doors and windows. The garage and the doors were painted with the same paint, and any friction surface creates lead dust, so that added on to the total, too.

Unlike the first window replacements, everything became much simpler once we made our choices and hired a contractor. We used the same contractor who had replaced the two doors, and again they did an amazing job. They worked diligently, cleaned up every night, and the job was done in a few weeks. So although we've had some very bad contractor experience, at least now I feel like I have one contractor that I would want to call again!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Mother's Torture: Cleaning

Before Eleanor's elevated lead levels (ELL), I had never really cared about dusting. Keith would notice if things were dusty before I would. I just never saw the dust gathering, and, therefore, certainly never did anything about it.

That particularly held true for the first year after Eleanor was born. I was wearing myself out, trying to keep up with everything, and enjoy time with Eleanor, AND get some sleep, too. Something had to go, and I made the conscious decision that housekeeping would be it. So there were tumbleweeds of dog hair blowing through the living room on occasion. So what? I just needed to stop running myself into the ground and let the house get a little messy. No one ever died from a little dust, right?

But post-ELL, everything changed. Suddenly, we were bombarded with information about how to clean our house, from top to bottom, and do it repeatedly. Once again, I felt overwhelmed with new information and incredibly frustrated. Why did I not hear anything about this before she tested above normal? Prior to the testing, anything I'd ever heard or read focused on incredibly expensive fixes—replacing windows and doors, installing vinyl siding over lead paint, removing tainted soil down to 2 feet and filling in with clean soil. We did what we could afford and what we thought was most urgent when we replaced the majority of the windows. But we couldn't afford to do all of it at once, so we stopped and kept our fingers crossed.

But just now, at this point, I'm learning about all of the low-tech solutions? Why the hell wasn't this info available before?!? If I had realized that the solution (at least a part-time one) could be so cheap and easy, of course I would have done it! Again, I blamed myself for not being well-informed. Somehow, I should have known this.... but now, nearly a year later, I wonder. I have an MA in English. I and my web developer husband spend a lot of time online. In my prior hours of searching for lead poisoning prevention, if I had never really come across this information, then surely it's not just me?

And thus, our cleaning purgatory began. In the short-term, we closed all of the old windows, never to be opened again. We forbid wearing shoes in the house, since they could track in lead-contaminated dirt. That patio project last August? That was to cover up the bare ground outside the house that was Beckett's landing spot off the back porch, because bare soil is a big "no no." We took down nearly all of the blinds in the house, because blinds hold a lot of dust. The only blinds that are still up are in the bedrooms, and those were washed and re-hung.

While we started looking at all of the expensive long-term solutions mentioned above, we cleaned exhaustively and repeatedly. At first we were advised to use Dawn powdered dishwasher detergent because, for some reason, it picks up lead dust particles better than your average cleaner. So we did use that for a few weeks, but then switched to our regular cleaners based on the advice from the lead inspector who said it wasn't necessary to keep using them on a regular basis.

The cleaning schedule went through many revisions. At first, we tried to clean the house from top to bottom, every week. This takes a serious amount of time and effort. Think of every knickknack on every surface of your house. If you have kids, picture all of the toys on every floor. Now imagine handling every single one of those items, carefully washing them down to get rid of any possible dust ... doesn't leave much free time, does it?

Additionally, we stopped sweeping because sweeping could kick up lead dust, and instead we started used our HEPA-filter vacuum everywhere. The main problem with this switch is that it meant we couldn't clean while Eleanor was sleeping. We could wipe down surfaces, but the vacuuming would have to wait and, therefore, so would the mopping.

A few times, Eleanor spent the night at my parents, which gave Keith and I a whole day to clean. It felt like the only way we could get it done. By the end of the day, we would be exhausted and frustrated. Was it even doing any good?!? We had implemented so many changes—how could we know which ones were effective? Was it really the monotonous cleaning, or was it simply the fact that we closed the old windows, and all of the cleaning wasn't really necessary? There was no way of knowing, and we didn't want to take any chances.

It quickly became apparent that we couldn't keep up with cleaning the entire house on a weekly basis. Plus, it was pretty hard to believe that a significant amount of lead dust was entering every floor, all the time, especially once it got colder and we closed all the windows. By this past Spring, the cleaning schedule had changed to:
  • The first floor vacuumed and mopped every week
  • One other floor vacuumed and mopped each week
  • The additional floor also has all hard surfaces wiped down
So one week we might vacuum and mop the first and second floors, and then wipe down everything on the second floor. We moved from basement one week, to first floor the next, then to second floor and attic. That meant each floor was getting extensively cleaned once a month. We felt like it was a decent compromise between our original, massive amount of cleaning, and a more reasonable schedule that still left us feeling like our home was relatively dust-free.

Of course, all of this was just an interim solution while we figured out what the long-term solution would be, and how we would pay for it.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Mother's Confession About This Old House

If you were looking carefully at the landscaping, you might have noticed some other changes around the house.

When buying an older home, we knew that lead paint could be an issue. But what did that mean, exactly? Where was the lead paint? How much of an issue? Since lead has been outlawed in paint since 1978, surely it had been resolved by now, right?

And then, when we were painting the nursery, we used an at-home lead paint tester and discovered that all of the old windows were testing positive. This completely threw me off balance. At this point, I think I was already 7 months pregnant. There was no way we could figure out a solution and have it implemented before the baby was born.

We did our best, but I felt completely overwhelmed. No matter how much research I did, I still didn't feel like I really understand what was needed. I kept trying to get companies out to test everything around the house and tell us our options, but it didn't go well. Some refused to do any residential work. Many just didn't call me back. One company sent a guy out who looked around, told me we should probably replace all of the windows, took a soil sample, and never called back.

I felt underinformed, in over my head, and like I was swimming in a sea of knowledge and experts without actually having a clue about what was useful, relevant information.

We did the best we could. We found a local contractor to replace the majority of the windows, and took out two loans to do it.

He was horrible. I've already blogged bitterly about this experience here and here. It was just such an awful experience, and it dragged on for over a year .... which was, of course, the first year of Eleanor's life.

And then, after Eleanor's one-year well visit, we found out that she had an elevated lead level.

When we got the phone call with the results, I was so shocked and horrified. And, instantaneously, so very, very guilty. This was my innocent baby that, through shoddy, ineffective parenting, I had allowed to ingest poison. I think I spent the next week in tears. It was constantly weighing on me. Everyone knows that lead is a hazard; how could I not have known exactly what to do to protect her? How could I let this happen? What kind of defective mother am I?

So yeah, you can understand why it's taken me nearly a year to admit it publicly, that my daughter had an elevated lead level (ELL). It's been this deep, dark secret that I carry around with me, that I think about every time someone compliments me as a mother. I smile and nod, but inside I'm thinking, "You might think I'm a good mother now, but if only you knew the truth ..."

Here's the good news: Eleanor is okay now. A normal blood lead level is <3 micrograms of lead/deciliter of blood. What is concerned the "Action Level" by the CDC is 10mg/L or more. At it's peak (that we know of), Eleanor's was a 7. So she was in the "warning" stage, and wasn't actually considered poisoned. A month later, she was down to a 4, and by her 15-month appt, she was back at the normal level.

The bad news, and what I will always have to live with, is that we are not meant to have any lead in our systems at all, and there is no safe level. We will never know how even that brief exposure has affected her brain's development. If she ever has a learning disability or even is a particularly unruly teenager, it could be caused by the lead. I'll never know.

And we'll never know what caused the elevated lead level. Were the original windows the culprit? Or did replacing them make things even worse? Even though we made it clear to the degenerate window contractor that we were doing this because of lead paint concerns, I know now that he didn't take any of the precautions he should have to prevent lead dust from contaminating the work environment. You know: Eleanor's nursery, playroom, living room--all the rooms where she spends the most time. Is it his fault? Or is it our fault, because we didn't replace all of the windows? Did she just chew on some defective toy from China? We have no idea.

All we do know for certain is that her level was elevated, and there will always be a risk with that. We didn't do enough before she was born. We've done everything we could since to remedy the situation (but I'll get more into that in the next post). I am now fully aware of how impossible it is to be the perfect parent. No matter how hard we try, I have to believe that some failure is inevitable. A letting down of the guard here or a misstep there. I can only hope that I do enough things right to make up for that.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Landscaping Project: After BONUS!

So the main project was definitely the backyard, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much better the front looks, too. Both in back and in front, we've been working slowly on making changes over the years. Here's what the house looked like when we bought it:

First, Keith took out the overgrown bushes by the steps. My Mom gave me some irises which have filled in the space nicely. My sister gave me some amaryllis bulbs; they really need more sunlight that they get by the big bushes, but they are surviving. We tore up the weed barrier and got rid of the large wood chips that were down‐I much prefer living ground cover to a blank canvas. Therefore, I've been trying to coax myrtle to cover the planting beds, with limited success so far.

We put railings in for safety purposes, because the front steps are really too tall to not have a railing, but they also added a bit of visual interest to the entrance. Finally, this year, we split our enormous hostas to take them to the back, but also kept a few of the new plants to even out the front. Lucky for us, our neighbor was also thinning out his daylilies, so we grabbed some of those, too. Here's the new and improved version:

We still need to cut the bushes on the right way back, which has been part of the problem all along. There's no symmetry between the two sides, because those bushes on the right just totally overwhelm the smaller hydrangea bush on the left. I don't want to move the hydrangea and risk killing it, so I'm thinking of adding some height to that side with a small, ornamental tree.

Anyway ... I do like that gardening is an ongoing process. We're certainly not finished yet, but I like what we've done so far!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Landscaping Project: After

After a solid two days of work, I do humbly declare that our deck/patio area has been transformed!

We've talked about this for such a long time and I'm really excited that it's actually done. Now I'm just paranoid that the plants that we put in are going to die and we'll be back at square one. It is a bit more of a gamble than building with inanimate materials or slapping on some paint.

One of the nice things about this project is that we bought a few plants, but a lot of them were just transplants from the front. We had one ridiculously large hosta (the green leaves edged in white) that I've been meaning to split for years. So we finally did, and every hosta plant in the pictures above with white-edged leaves is from that ONE original plant. We turned it into 9 separate plants, total, including two still in the front of the house. Then we split another blue/green hosta into three plants, and completely took out a second blue/green hosta, split it, and used that, too. So every hosta now in the back came from the front garden.

My parents helped immensely; my dad drove the mulch-transportation truck and helped shovel, and my mom kept Eleanor busy so that we could finish everything up. We owe them some hard labor! There's no way we could have finished any of these projects without help from my family. It's a good thing to live near family.

Now we'll just have to have a fabulous backyard cookout to say "thanks!" And of course, there's the rest of the yard .... worry about next year.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Landscaping Project: Before

The summer projects have started! For Mother's Day, Keith took me to the garden center and we picked out some plants for the backyard, right behind the house. It's always been a wasteland; I don't know if it's too shady or that we've been working out there, but it's just packed dirt. Nothing grows there!

When we first moved to this house in June 2006, there was REALLY nothing in the backyard:

Just some patchy grass and a small flower garden next to the garage. But behind the house: nothing.

In August 2007, Keith and my Dad built the deck:

Of course, it looked a little odd because it wasn't actually attached to the house at all. Between the deck and the house is the air conditioner, so it wasn't even really an option to put it against the house. So last summer, we added on a patio that connected the deck to the house. It really helped tie everything together.

At that point, the major building portion of backyard landscaping was complete. Everything we'd really talked about wanting was done. It was just the total lack of plantscape that we needed to focus on.

So this past weekend, we did! Here's the "before" pictures. You can get an idea of how it's going to look, because we had placed some of the plants around the deck, in their future homes:

And of course, you'll have to wait until tomorrow for the "after" pictures, because I like the suspense and anticipation.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sugar-Free Again. Maybe.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I'm really trying hard to cut down on the amount of refined sugar I eat. I want to be healthier, have more energy, spend less money on junk food, and be a good role model for Eleanor. And if I should happen to lose weight in the bargain ... it's all to the good!

It seems like a no-brainer, but of course it's been very challenging. This isn't the first time I've tried to clean up my eating habits, although I'm still hoping it will be the last. I have a serious problem with weekends, and special plans. I always feel like, "It's not every day that I have a birthday party/go to a baseball game/go on a date with Keith/etc," so I feel justified, in this one instance, to treat myself. But then the one instance turns into 2, into a day, into the entire weekend, and then I spend the next week struggling to get back to where I had been the week before. Most of the time it feels like one step forward, two steps back. Or, more appropriately, one pound lost and two pounds gained.

So why am I writing about this again? Do I really have anything new to say?

What is new is my perspective. I am acknowledging that this is a long-term process. And I'm probably going to have cheat days or binges or fall off the wagon many times. But I am going to keep trying. Because I do think that it's an important change to make, for me and my family. I'm not going to see myself as a failure because of one bad weekend, or week, or fortnight .... and one day, I will stop writing about my eating habits because there will be no more angst there!

(Probably not too soon though, so don't get your hopes up.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

On the Road Again

After months of staying close to home, this weekend we're heading back down to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky for Keith's brother and sister-in-law's baby shower.

The long car trip is another checkmark in the "vastly improved" column. The first trip down after Eleanor was born was such a nightmare. She was less than 2 months old, I think. I know that I was still breastfeeding, and we had to stop all the time for that, and she cried and didn't want to be in her carseat.... those kids, that magically fall asleep every time they're in a moving car? Eleanor has never been one of those. She might sleep for a bit, but not the whole time. The roughly 4-hour trip took at least 6 hours the first time.

Then we started trying to drive at night, when she was ready to go to sleep. At bedtime we would put on her pjs and buckle her into her carseat. It worked as far as the actual driving part went. But it also meant we got there at 1 or 2 in the morning and, as soon as the car stopped, her eyes popped open. She was AWAKE! And didn't want to go to sleep anytime soon. So even though the drive was shorter, we ended up more tired and crabby than before.

Finally, maybe in December?, we gave up on trying to fit the trip around Eleanor's schedule and just drove when it made sense. Keith might take a half-day or skip lunch and leave work an hour early. We leave Cleveland mid-afternoon, and get to Keith's parents' house in time for dinner. Eleanor sleeps for part of the time, and part of the time it's my job to entertain her.

I think Keith really likes this part of it, because he has been the main driver for the entire time we've been together. I used to sleep, listen to a story, knit a little bit .... but he was doing the majority of the work. Now, sometimes it seems like driving is the easy part!

So yes, I may be making a fool out of myself in the backseat. But it's worth it. And it's so much easier to keep Eleanor entertained now; she actually seems to enjoy the ride! (For 15 minutes, at least.)

When I was thinking about it this week, I was shocked to realize that I wasn't dreading the trip, as I used to. Even before Eleanor, it felt long and incredibly boring. Anyone who has driven I-71 through Ohio will agree that it's a long, dull stretch of highway. But the regular 4ish hour trip doesn't seem so long anymore, compared to the nightmare 6+ hours of her babyhood. Plus, call me crazy, but it actually feels like a little bit of family time. We're all hanging out together. Keith and I get to talk quietly while she's sleeping, which doesn't happen too often. Eleanor can't order him out of the room, as she's won't to do sometimes in the evening when she's fussy. It's the three of us, together, in our own little moving world.

I think this means it's time for a family roadtrip!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mother's Day

Keith really stepped up his game for Mother's Day this year. I was impressed last year when he gave me the Willow Tree figurine, but this year was even better.

Of course, he let me sleep in—standard operating procedure for Mother's Day! I could only stay in bed for about a half-hour, though, before the sounds of Eleanor and Keith's talk and laughter (and Eleanor yelling, "Mommy, come!") lured me downstairs.

Keith cooked a delicious breakfast and we all played together in the living room. After a while, though, Keith looked at the clock and said, "We should probably get going soon."

Going? We were going somewhere?!? This was intriguing.

Eleanor and I got dressed and we all hopped into the car. Keith assured me we didn't need any diaper bag or snacks for Eleanor, which concerned me. Leave the house without the diaper bag?!? But I listened to him and, what do you know!, he was right.

He drove us around the corner, to the local garden center. He said that he knew I'd been talking a lot (A LOT) about wanting to plant in the flower bed behind the house and around the deck. So he decided to make it happen!

I love that he listens to what I actually want. I'm not really a chocolate and jewelry kind of woman, and he knows that. When we had been dating for a month, he gave me a teddy bear for my birthday. I smiled wanly and thanked him, because I appreciated the thought. But when he gave me a Dayplanner for my birthday 3 years later, I knew we'd come a long way.

Thanks for a wonderful Mother's Day, Keith!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

10k Playlist

For the race the other weekend, I waited until the last minute to put together my running playlist. Even so, I tried to avoid using too many songs that I'd used before. With so little foresight, I was surprised how well it worked out. The Heartless Bastards song came on just as I ran past the Southgate House, where we saw the Heartless Bastards perform last December. And Spoon's "The Underdog" gave me a push up and over the final bridge. (Damn those bridges!)
"Ping One Down" by Gomez (okay, I had to keep some tried-and-true favorites!)
"I Always Knew" by Jem
"Witch" by Maps & Atlases
"Be So Happy" by Heartless Bastards
"Quiet Dog" by Mos Def
"Folding Chair" by Regina Spektor
"Dying Is Fine" by Ra Ra Riot
"Bombananza" by Bob Schneider
"Something, Somewhere, Sometime"
by Dear Companion
"Ghetto Rock"
by Mos Def
"The Underdog" by Spoon
"I Got Mine" by The Black Keys
"Boli Panieh" by DJ Rekha
"Morris Brown" by OutKast
"Hamoa Beach" by Gomez
"Bicycle vs. Car" by Bob Schneider
"Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy" by Glen Hansard
"Jesus Walks" by Kanye West
"The Calculation" by Regina Spektor
"Crazy" by Jem

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Music: Maps & Atlases

As promised, here's another music update:)

Last night Keith and I snuck out after Eleanor was asleep to go to the Maps & Atlases show. The headliner was actually Frightened Rabbit; Maps & Atlases played second of three bands. We would have liked to stay around for part of Frightened Rabbit's set (if just for the Scottish accents!) but the first band didn't even start until 9 o'clock, and we're old.

We first saw Maps & Atlases when they opened for Ra Ra Riot last Fall. We had never heard of them and weren't expecting much, but they blew us away. I'm glad we had a chance to see them again so soon. Their first full-length album is coming out next month. Check it out!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Race Day Success!

It was a good, wet weekend. I finished the 10k in 1:06:10, which is a 10:41 pace. Especially considering that it rained the entire race, I'm very happy with those results. Happy to have made progress, and also encouraged to shoot for getting a new 10k PR by the end of the summer. Madness, you say? It just might be. But I'll give it my best shot!

The clouds hovered but didn't open up for Eleanor's race on Saturday afternoon. After running around the house all morning, she fell asleep in the car on the way to the race and was completely out of it. I thought I was going to have to carry her, just to get her stinkin' medal! But she did consent, at the last minute, to standing on her own and ambling the 25 yards. To her, the best part was the balloons at the finish. Balloons!

Keith and Karen also had a great, soggy race on Sunday morning. Keith wanted to finish somewhere between 3:30 and 4:00 (obviously, the closer to 3:30 the better), and finished in 3:42:51, which is an 8:30 pace. Karen just barely missed her under 5 hour goal, finishing in 5:06:42 (11:43 pace).

Congrats to all of us, and everyone that participated!