Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Smoke Art: A Tour

For those of you who have yet to see inside our house, I thought I'd show you something, that for all it's damage, is really quite beautiful. 

 This one looks like flowers. (living room)

It's crazy to me that the same smoke could create such a range of patterns throughout the house. (entryway)

This one looks pretty scary. (who knows where)

It's fun to try to find images in the smoke patterns, I see a monkey fighting a lion. (Morgan's room?)


 So cool.

This one looks like a gorilla head or something. (library)

 And so creepy. I think these are handprints of the firemen. (hall)

This is the wall that all our couchsurfers signed, sad to see this wall go. (bathroom)

Sometimes the smoke left silhouettes of the things on or near the walls. This is the couch in the library and some things on the walls, can't remember what..

This is a paper box that was on a shelf. Neat, right?

This is a silhouette of my clothes, stacked in piles, and sitting on shelves.

Check this one out. You can see the clothes that were hanging in my closet!! Pretty crazy looking.

And maybe the coolest of all, this was a tapestry draped on a wall in Kyle's room.

The weather is getting nicer, in fact it's beautiful! As we gear up for more housework (can anyone say spring cleaning extreme?), we may be organizing workdays here and there, so if you're interested keep your ears open!

All for now,

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The tale of the demolition letter and the building permit...

Okay ladies and gentlemen, this update is a bit overdue, but it's the best bit of progress we've had in quite a while. And so begins the tale of the demolition letter and the building permit....

As many of you know we've had a lot of trouble engaging the inspections and building permit departments of the city of pittsburgh. I don't put this down as the fault of any individual, it seems really to be the result of a poorly organized system that is in no way designed to accomodate someone in our position and with our goals. This is frustrating because 1) it SHOULD be able to accomodate us and 2) this difficult to navigate system likely holds some of the blame for WHY there are so many abandoned properties in the city. We got conflicting answers, unreturned phone calls, and a lot of dead ends. We knew that not having a building permit (which we'd been unable to obtain) by the end of August would put us on the city's demolition list. While it stressed us out we knew that the city's demo list is miles (and 7 years) long, so we thought we had time.

One Sunday (the one day of the week we're currently able to make it to the city) colin was working around the house when a man stopped by:

man: "oh! are you working on this place?"
colin: "yeah"
man: "hmm..well we didn't know that... you know the city is taking bids on the demolition of your place, right?"
colin: "what?! no! i'm working on it, i've tried but haven't been able to get a permit. can you PLEASE tell what i need to do to stop this??!"
demolition guy (formerly the man): "well the papers are being processed right now. you'll need to call my boss, and...blah..blah blah.... (the details aren't interesting) ............"

With the help of demolition man we went back into the office and (YAY!!) got a building permit. We majorly lucked out on this one, it was a very close call. What if colin hadn't been there when demolition man stopped by? We could have gone home to our families for Christmas and come home to an empty lot. (Actually we did eventually receive a demo letter in the mail so it wasn't like we would have had no warning, but we likely wouldn't have known how to deal with it - and imagine how that would ruin Christmas..) But we have the permit now, which means we are officially off the demo list. We are required to make continual progress to maintain the permit (so we'll be continuing to work through the winter) but we can handle that.

Look at this beauty:

We breathed a sigh of relief when it was posted in our window...Thank you demolition man!!!!!!!

And the moral of the story is: Sometimes the demolition guy is the good guy, so be nice to them, don't yell or anything, and maybe they'll help you. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Fairmount 5K

Our wonderful friends Emma and Neil Orbin (above) organized a 5K run/1mile walk race in support of us and to help our fundraising efforts! The 2nd annual Emmathon was also named "the Fairmount 5K" in our honor, and it was a blast! Thank you both for a wonderful day.

We ran this past Saturday at Highland Park, I hadn't run that far in quite a while so I took it nice and slow - I like to use the excuse that my dog is not in good shape.. the above photo (courtesy of Karlene Thompson) is of the three 1st places finishers in the women's category, Emma, Melissa, and Jen. Yay!
Warming up afterwards with coffee and goodies!
A really big thanks to everyone who came out, we had a great time and are so thankful for all the love and support we continue to receive!! Thank you so much.
We lucked out with perfect weather for a run
the walkers - Colin's mom, Neil's mom, Emma's mom
And Jazz..the 5K was probably her longest run ever, but she ate muffins afterwards so she didnt mind too much.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sunday November 20th 2011

Sunday November 20th 2011, Jill Albright and Carina Kooiman break a hammer while tearing up bathroom flooring - what can I say, we don't know our own strength. This is the highlight of the day. Second highlight of the day? I match the hammer. Both were accidents.

Friday, November 18, 2011


I'm posting a Frequently Asked Questions section because we've been asking (and you've been asking us) the same questions. The catch is that apparently there are many many answers to the same questions.

FAQ #1: Can we go into the house?
A: No. Not ever. It's condemned, end of story, tear it down, move on.
A: Not until a certified city inspector walks through and determines that it is safe. That can wait until Monday. If we find that you've entered without permission we will press legal charges.
A: Technically no..but it seems totally safe.
A: It's your house, do whatever you want! It's not like we can stop you!!

FAQ #2: How bad was the fire?
A: Terrible, you're lucky no one was hurt but the house likely won't be save-able
A: Not bad at all, there's no question you'll be able to renovate

FAQ #3: How can I get a permit?
A: Submit an indepth report including everything needing done to the house, a complete list of all required materials for each of these projects, and an accurate price estimate for each material. In addition you'll need to list the contractor you intend to use for each project. The price of the permit will be determined based on the total cost of the project, the pricier the project, the pricier the permit.
A: Oh..you need to talk to ________ and there not in today, try again later! thanks and bye.
A: Oh..you need to talk to ________, let me transfer you.....(dead line)
A: You can't have one.
A: Getting a permit is easy. Don't ask any questions, just go in and ask for one. They'll give it to you.

FAQ #4: I plan to use as much used/salvaged material as possible. This will make estimating my costs much more difficult, how accurate does my estimation need to be?
A: Very accurate.
A: Accuracy is less important than the list of projects and materials.
A: Oh...let's estimate your total costs to be say...$4. Sound ok?

FAQ #5: Once I acquire a permit, what is required of me?
A: A permit lasts 6 months, you must complete all renovations within that time (yikes!).
A: You must work on it continuously, if not we will revoke your permit. (This means vacation=no permit)
A: After 6 months we reevaluate your case. If you have not made sufficient progress we will revoke your permit.
A: So long as you make SOME progress we'll keep your permit activated. Even if it's just a little progress it's ok, so long as it's steady. We want to work WITH you. And vacations are ok, just notify your inspector first.

FAQ #6: Can we do the work ourselves?
A: Yes.
A: No.
A: Mostly.

FAQ #7: What happens if we don't get a permit?
A: Nothing.
A: We'll put your house on the city demolition list, demolish it, and send you the (very big) bill.
A: We'll put your house on the city demolition list and demolish it....in 15 years.

FAQ #8: Given all these answers, how do we know what to do??!
A: ?
A: ??
A: ???

Now you all have an idea of why we've been so frustrated lately. it's all crazy. just crazy. crazy crazy crazy. i'm going crazy...

Saturday, November 12, 2011

a glance at our progress..

one hole patched! (the photos are MUCH less excited once the holes are fixed, but every fixed hole is cause for much celebration)
colin doing the patchingthis is the biggest hole..6ft high by 8ft across..firefighters punched it out of the highest part of the roof. that's one big hole to fix..here he is at work, first board going in! (don't worry i'm making sure he's being very careful)and here is that same hole all covered with wood and just needing tar paper and shingles..and by now it's finished! no more water getting in there (that's 40+ ft off the ground!)the turret is still left to do, that'll be the trickiest oneand then there's the hole stuffed with a pillow...i worked on the backyard last time i was there, this is the before picture. ...and....the after picture looks pretty much the same. but it's actually better, really.special thanks to emma and neal for cleaning up the front yard, it looks SOO much better!and another thanks to kyle for shoveling off the back porch. that's quite an improvement!

and a big thanks to everyone who's stopped by the house to help colin with the roof. we thought it best that he only be on the roof when there's someone else around, so anyone who's stopped by has been a HUGE help in getting things done as quickly as possible. (ben nof, denman, the orbins, kyle..and the prouds for letting us use there electricity/porch!!)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Reclaimed Materials: Maybe Less Convenient, But Definitely Worth It

Several months ago we made contact with a great guy down near Ohiopyle who finds, saves, and sells old lumber. Everything about his work makes sense to us: Reused materials means less resource harvesting (and yes, recycling does create jobs just like natural resource industries do); This lumber costs us half as much as new lumber and yet is slightly superior in quality; Rustic style that is undeniably cooler than plain new clean off-the-shelf stuff. Besides, our whole house is build entirely around "true dimension" lumber (a 2x4 is 2x4, not 1.5x3.5). It will be much easier to fit replacement wood into our framing if it matches sizes. Also, while I know that modern lumber is perfectly fine and more than strong enough to hold very large, heavy, complex buildings, I will still feel better about my floors sitting on 2x10 oak than on 1.5x7.25 fir/pine with some shims. Yesterday we took a trip down to get our first load from one of his work sites. We weren't picking up anything major, just rafters for patching the roof, but it turned out to be a very encouraging day. In addition to finding all we needed, seeing what all he had turned on some dreaming juices in our brains. Especially some incredible planks that would make quite the unique flooring or furniture, with dimensions up to 1x20! I'm not sure where I'd even find that new around here. Below are some pictures of the day. Here's to finally moving forward with some more work on the house. Everyone help keep us rolling through the years of project(s) ahead of us!

foundation of the barn and some major joists

both the drive down and the view while there was extra spectacular. fall foliage was in peak there (it's now past peak where we live) and the setting was perfect. also, my dad is in good enough shape by now to accompany us.

most of the wood is in covered stacks by dimension beside the foundation

picking through the 1x planks. those top ones are some of the wildly wonderful ones mentioned in the post.

we brought a little picnic to enjoy the sun and setting on a beautiful october day - perhaps one of the last of its kind this year. (don't let our faces fool you. we were loving the moment. i'm just expressing how i feel about taking a picture myspace style)

Friday, October 21, 2011

..and a month and a half later....

heya friends!
yikes it's been quite a while now..sorry about the extreme lull in communication.. most of you likely know that our abrupt shutdown in blog-writing was due to a sudden family medical emergency.

colin's dad suffered full cardiac arrest on sept 7th, which put off all other concerns/obligations/etc.. the brief overview is this: he was helicoptered from greensburg (where he lives, 45 min from pittsburgh) to the university of pittsburgh medical center (upmc) completely unresponsive. there was no apparent cause, (which is why they sent him to upmc, it's a top hospital) as there was no sign of heart attack or stroke. he spent the 1st week in a medically induced coma while they cooled his body temp, the next 3 weeks were spent in the hospital, before being moved to a brain injury rehab center called harmarville (a nationally known spot). so the short of it is, despite brain damage (8 minutes w/o oxygen), memory loss, loss of strength and some coordination, he is in the ~3% or people in his situation to survive and regain consciousness. we all feel very lucky. at every step doctors have been excited by how well he's progressed, and he continues to improve.

there is no definitive cause for the cardiac arrest. (no heart attack, no stroke, no blocked arteries they're all clear, his heart is healthy and strong, he was in good shape and healthy in general - all this is good for his current recovery) there are 2 theories:
-theory #1: "it's something genetic" this leaves things very open ended, as there are hundreds of thousands of genetic issues, most of which aren't even discovered so there's no way of testing
-theory #2: "it's a long-term-side-effect of the radiation he had many years ago" apparently radiation can cause an elongation of a certain part of the heart rhythm, which can put you at risk for your heart to sort of trip and shut off - who knew? he had a lifetime max dose of radiation back in his 20s

on to what that means for us now. colin's dad was released from rehab last week thursday, and while he's doing very well, he still is unable to live alone. this means colin and i are moving to greensburg to live with him. this is probably temporary, but still indefinite. we are halfway moved, meaning that colin is living there and i'm still in pittsburgh (today is my last day of work!)

obviously work on our house was interrupted by this turn of events. the new goal is to have the house sealed to the elements before winter weather hits. this means boarding up windows and patching the holes in the roof. this is essential for the preservation of the house, whether we keep it or sell it. if we are able to seal it, we will be able to let the house sit for the winter, focus on his dad, and revisit house issues come spring. hopefully we are able to find the time to take care that!

thanks to everyone for the love and support. it know this was brief, just hit me up if you have questions :) much love to you all,

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

summer-y summer-ize

well it's the last day of august, so the end of summer is in sight. we still have most of a month left but i know as always that it will go too fast. beginning of every summer i decide i'll make the most of this one, and by the end i'm never quite satisfied with the amount of summer-y things i've done. and this summer was no different. this summer was to be filled with hiking, biking, ice cream, camping, garden veggies, picnics, movies and concerts in the park, farmers markets, etc...all these lofty plans were certainly put on hold be that inconvenience of a house fire..

but i was able to get some summer-y things in before the flames struck :) i made my first ever homemade batch of ice cream with mint from the garden, and all sorts of other things with that field of mint (some of which survived the fire btw) we made the rounds during wedding season, ate gazpacho, frozen yogurt, and bbq, got to ride my new bike (which also survived, yay!!), hit up some west coast hot springs, peach pie, blueberry pie, peanut butter pie, apple pie! etc.. so overall i really haven't had a bad summer, but i'm endeavoring to summer-ize the remainder of my summer the best that i can. i think between working on the house and summer-izing my summer, i think i'll keep quite busy!

and it starts today!! if all goes according to my non-planned plans, colin and i will be heading out on a group bike ride after work that ends..AT AN ICE CREAM SHOPPE!!! 6:30 pm tonight, give us a call by 5:30ish if anyone wants to join..we may still be looking for a ride......

also on the end of summer list:
-we're joining a 62 mile bike ride later this month, yikes! my max to date is 20 miles, wish me luck!
-make a risotto
-and maybe another pie (lemon meringue?)
-thinking about holding a yard sale/lemonade stand..i love a good yard sale (and this has fundraising potential), look for info coming soon!
-and the big one: music fest and bonfire at the farm. we are excited about this fundraising event, can you think of a better way to end the summer?! definitely look forward to more information on this one!!!!!!!! we'll be hoping to see you all there!!

a happy last day of august :)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Holding in the Light

Hello friends!
It's been a slow week, we haven't posted in a while as it seems there just isn't too much to say. Things are moving so slowly, and after the break-neck speed of the first few weeks I'm finding myself quite frustrated with the plodding slowness with which we've been moving of late..It's true that I probably should have expected this. After all, I can't race through each week like I did the first few. As invigorating and satisfying as it was to make such daily visible progress, it's just not sustainable..and at some point we need to take the time to crunch numbers, talk, research, crunch numbers, talk, decide, research, etc...but these things always take so much longer that I would like. I know it's best to take one's time to do these things correctly, but the reckless side of me would rather just dive in, hammering and smashing and fixing. Apparently I'm not as patient as I thought I was...

News from the city: Many of you have surely heard of the recent flooding in our area. (of course our house was not hit, luckily we're at the top of a hill) Record rainfall (3-4in) in the area caused flash flooding Friday that resulted in 4 deaths. Add to that the little earthquake felt yesterday (no damage) and we've had quite a season of natural disasters. A good friend of mine refers to something she calls: "holding in the light," an expression I really appreciate. Whatever that may mean to you - good thoughts, prayers, solidarity, love, etc...please hold us and our community in the light today.

But I can't publish all these glum sentiments without pointing out one huge positive. I'm not sure if there are 4 other people in the world I'd rather share a 1 bedroom apartment with! These guys are awesome. Seriously.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Winds of Change

Amidst this tempest, old paint has been washed by the wake, revealing true colours. The bright hews of my brothers and sisters have shown quite clearly through the mist, bringing hope of a new dawn. I sit here in this loft above Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community, where we will be through the next month, assesing our situation over the past few weeks. I cant help but feel ALIVE! All patterns completely broken, revealing something new over each horizon. I have no doubt that the winds of change will continue to blow around us, and that we will set our sails accordingly with each shift. I really don't have much to say other than Thanks! Thanks to all of you that have been our insurance.
May peace be with you in all that you do, -Kyle

Monday, August 15, 2011

separate parts coming together

Part One

Frank, bagging up insulation and debris.

            This post has two parts and they are (quite simply) shots from two different days. Part one covers a work day from about two weeks ago. On this day we had about 5-10 people come out to help or stop by. Our goal for this day was to fill the dumpster before it was taken in the morning and then clean up the work site. I don't have much to say about this day, other than thank you to all who came out and helped. I do want to give a specific thank you to our friend Frank. Frank has come out, I believe every Saturday when we had a work day, and has helped us out a great deal. He focused on the attic and bagged up a significant amount of insulation, while ignoring my camera for numerous shots. Frank, I have a confession to make. Remember that day that a zip-lock bag of old dreadlocks flew out of the window and hit you on the shoulder... that was me, and it was a semi-accident. I was intending to hit Dylan as he passed by. Hair is a tricky thing to throw. You looked up to my old room's window in the house, but I was in Colin's. I slowly backed up to avoid your gaze and succeeded. Colin was in the room with me and I asked him if I should reveal myself and apologize, but Colin replied with a chuckle, " He's an old hippie, I doubt that's the first bag of dreadlocks that's fallen on him."

           Thank you also to Catrina, Jackie, Jill, and our missionary friends for coming out and helping on this day. Our Mormon friends really worked hard filling up the dumpster and moving a substantial pile of wood. Also thank you to Sam and LuAnn Mudrak for bringing us an excellent lunch. I guess that's all I have to say about this day. Dylan is going to write Part Two, which will be further down.

      Morgan J.

On his way back up to the attic after dropping off a bag.
Dinning room.
Group meets for a break.

Part Two

Matthew & Colin discuss roof preparations.
            We've had a pivotal month in our lives pass us by. It was a month and a day ago that the fire changed a lot. we've had blessings and joys, and also rough times digging through all the uncertainty
 of our futures. all in all we've been cared for and held in the hands of an amazing group of friends and family as we try and figure out what steps, small and big, to take from here. Each day
 has it's own worries and joys, and each night has it's own dreams and nightmares. i wrote in my journal this morning about how i feel currently, and i feel i can share that in good honesty with you.

            "Life is this beautifully awesome mess. The type that is made when you create something wonderful. All the supplies and materials are sprawled about in a chaotic dis-assembly."

          I feel we had a pretty productive weekend, despite the fact that we didn't have a big planned-out workday like previous weekends. My brother Mathew came up and shared some of his insight on the condition and possibilities for the house. He's an architect for a State College based firm called Envinity and he specializes in green/ energy efficency architecture and planning, or something like that. His work usually goes over my head with it's fancy physics and math, something I never followed too well as an artist in school. I was really blessed by the encouragement of his presence on site. We still got to figure out some big things this week as we toss around what would be needed for a building permit.

          Colin and I are heading out now to clear the scrap metal from the front yard. we hope to get a pretty penny for some of it, I guess were at the mercy of the scrappers. well, here goes nothing. every dollar will help lessen the load. thanks all for your help and contributions, we wouldn't be in the good place we are if it were not for all of you. peace and blessings


Matthew taking a look at roof supports.
Group discussion in attic.
Group from different angle.

Spread The Butter/Love Around Some

Dear Readers,

If you've talked to me in person over the last few weeks you've probably heard about all the events that happened within a block or two of our house the same week as our fire. It simply was a time of tribulation for many people in our area. One of the other events was another fire, about the same scale as ours (big and bad), but in an 11-unit apartment building, at 5:30 in the morning with everyone there, asleep. There were a few injuries as the tenants escaped, but thankfully nobody died.

We've made a connection with one of the people from that building who does not have the resources offered to them that we have. So we want to pass along to this person some of the donations that have been offered us, since they are going through the exact same situation at the exact same time. They are moving into a new apartment this week, but have nothing with which to furnish it. Therefore, we are looking to make a BIG PUSH to round up everything they need and surprise them with a fully furnished apartment. We think it would be a great way to turn this person's difficult situation around into a positive experience for them, just as all the support we've received has done for us.

We've managed so far to round up a twin bed and frame, a desk (my old desk that survived our fire), a coffee table (also survived our fire), toiletries (extras from our donations), some food, and some clothes. A list of what we still need is as follows:

~Linens for bed
~A small love seat style couch (very small apartment)
~A microwave!!!~Kitchen ware (pots, pans, place settings, etc)
~A small kitchen table and chairs
~A TV (dang! we gave our extra to goodwill before we knew someone would need it!)
~Perhaps a computer - we're testing ours to see if any work that we don't really need

If you are able to get any of these things for free, please let me know ASAP! I'm trying to have everything rounded up by wednesday.

Thanks much for reading, we'll see you at our next posting!


Friday, August 12, 2011

the hair-raiser: dew-ing good.

     I just wanted to give a big giant thanks to Lena Loshonkohl and the hair-crew, Christina and Alaina,  for putting together an awesome and creative fundraiser for our situation. They planned the "Hair-Raiser" event at Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community and directly after their gathering on Sunday morning there, A long list of people came to get a trim. It was a suggested $10 per person donation and they were able to raise almost $500 in such a short time! Thanks again to all of you who came out to get their hair did and to HMBFC for letting us use their space. We are so thankful for all the work everyone has been doing with and for us. We are so humbled by the community, family and friends that surround us. I can't say thanks enough. Thanks and thanks!