Asbestos Roofs, Passover Cleaning, and Other Things You Learn to Love

Note:  That’s not our roof!

Tomorrow night Pesach begins.  I know…I should be cooking right now, but, instead, I’m taking a break from work to update this blog and think about all the cooking I should be doing.  Happily, we have invitations for most of our meals for the first 2 days of Passover!  It’s a good thing, too, because the house we are renting is once again full of boxes…much like it was last Passover when we were showing the house and hoping for a buyer so that we could move from Alaska to here.  Now, we are once again navigating the roller coaster of buying a house and our lives are being packed away into more cardboard boxes.

I have high hopes that next Passover we might actually be unpacked…maybe.

I’ve “done” Passover for 7 or 8 years now…I guess it’s probably 8.  That first Passover, I didn’t even know which nights the Seders should be on.  I made a brisket for Mr. Safek, but got the night completely wrong.  He gave me points for the thought and the effort and by the next Passover, we were deep into trying to have a kosher Passover from top to bottom.  I learned how to kasher a kitchen and clean to a level I never quite thought possible.  While I have always enjoyed Passover itself, I’ve had to work to enjoy the craziness that leads up to Passover.

Just like I’ve had to work to love our new roof.

The listing said our roof was slate.  When I got out of the car and looked up at this new prospective house (after the disappointment of our contract on the first prospective house fell through), I immediately squinted my eyes and looked at Mr. Safek.

“That doesn’t LOOK like slate.”  I quipped.

“Ok…calm down.”  He immediately went to soothe.

Our realtor checked with the seller right away.  “It’s slate,” was her reply.  We moved forward with buying the house, which is a duplex and a fixer upper.  You can imagine my face when first the chimney inspector said, “Well, repairs are going to cost more having to work around that ASBESTOS roof.”  Then the general inspector again mentioned the ASBESTOS roof.  We called a roofing contractor for good measure.

ASBESTOS.  Just the word itself is enough to drive most sane homebuyers running for the hills.  Of course, most sane homebuyers also haven’t camped in bear infested woods or visited the North Slope of Alaska in winter, so…we keep researching and learning more about asbestos and in particular asbestos roofs.  Our roofing contractor shrugged and said, “Repairing the roof won’t be that expensive, and, it’s actually not that bad of a roofing material.  If I had to have asbestos in my house, I’d want it on my roof.”

But…do we really HAVE to have asbestos in our house at all?

At the time, asbestos roofs seemed like a really good idea.  In the case of the house we’re buying, the original roof is still there, underneath the asbestos shingles are cedar shingles.  Sometime after 1912, most likely in the 20’s or 30’s, some owner decided that they’d had enough of replacing and painting wooden shingles to last them a lifetime and so they invested in what at the time were marketed as “century roofs.”  You can still find the old marketing materials extolling the virtues of asbestos shingles.  They’re more fireproof than the wood that was there and never need to be painted and rarely replaced.  They’re more watertight.  They could be cut to mimic more expensive slate roofs, hence our seller and realtor’s (possible) confusion.  To a homeowner in the 1920’s, this would have seemed an easy choice.  Not much was yet known about any health concerns regarding asbestos.

Even now, if you have to have asbestos in your home, roof shingles are one of the safest places for it to be.  Asbestos roof shingles really are mostly concrete with about 13% asbestos fibers to hold the shingle together and make it lighter.  They make replacement shingles out of fiberglass and concrete.  The asbestos in the shingles is very hard to get into the air and most people don’t sniff their roofs.

After some thought and an estimate to repair and keep the roof…Mr. Safek and I decided to embrace our asbestos roof until we can pull the shingles off ourselves (it’s way cheaper than hiring it done and relatively safe).

So what does this have to do with Passover cleaning?

I have found that the more I resist Passover cleaning…the more down I get about it.  When I finally get started, I begin to love it.  I begin to see how much nicer the home is when I’ve done that kind of cleaning, particularly in the kitchen.  Passover cleaning forces me to inspect areas of my kitchen I usually neglect and really clean them well and I enjoy the results the entire rest of the year.  Once I begin, I even get into the process of Passover cleaning.  I usually turn on some music and my favorite are cheesy Passover parodies of popular songs.  The more groan-worthy they are, the better.  I turn over the kitchen and delight in how squeaky clean it all is.  Once I just let go and get carried along by Passover cleaning, I look back with satisfaction at all I’ve accomplished.

Once I let go and stopped hating our (soon to be) new asbestos roof, I could appreciate why it was a good decision for the owner to put it on there.  That roof has probably been there almost 100 years, living up to its name “century roof.”  According to our roofer, if we only invest a small amount of money to replace a few shingles, it could stay on there longer than we stay in the house.  Is it perfect?  No.  But it does have a certain charm that asphalt shingles don’t and some people might even mistake it for a fancy slate roof.  Now, I can look at it and see the good in it.  While I was just resistant to even buying it?  All I could see was what I didn’t like about it.

Resistance has a way of bringing out the most negative view of whatever it is that we’re resisting, whether it’s asbestos roofs, Passover cleaning, or Presidential candidates.  However, taking a step back and letting go of that resistance can often shift our perspective to something much more positive.  I don’t have the money to immediately rip the roof off our new house.  I don’t have the money to go on a Passover vacation or hire someone else to do my Passover cleaning.  I also don’t get much say in who runs for President on either side.  I can, however, take these things and shift my perspective so that I can see the good in them and enjoy them for what they are, rather than wishing they were something else.

That’s where my power does lie.

As I enter my first Passover as a Jew, I look forward to reading the Haggadah with a fresh perspective, really as the history of MY people rather than the history of a people I’m longing to join.  I’m no longer on the outside looking in, but it’s still important that I keep working to keep my perspective shifted to focus on the positive.

And we won’t talk about the plumbing issues until after Passover.

2 thoughts on “Asbestos Roofs, Passover Cleaning, and Other Things You Learn to Love

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