Saturday, November 22, 2014

How our starter home became home

Earlier this week the community manager at real estate platform Urban Compass contacted me about writing a post on my starter home. 

Now, there's only been a handful of times (and by handful I'm mean, like, two times*) that a business has reached out to me asking if I could help promote their product on my site. I never know how to respond to such requests, because, well, I'm just small potatoes here and product promotion or reviews seems the stuff of much larger potatoes. 

But, if you hadn't already noticed, I'm a total sucker for sentimental walks down memory lane. And, since I just wrote about my 10th anniversary living in York, it only makes sense to reflect on the five year, eight month anniversary of moving into my first house, right? 

I love this house. In fact, I tell that to Brad on a regular basis. I imagine to the rest of the world, it's just a nondescript brick rancher.


Here it is when we moved in back in 2009.
We've since added more shrubbery and flowers to the front
(many of which I run over on a regular basis while backing out of the garage). 
... In fact, it's so nondescript that even people who have been to our house multiple times often drive right past it, which is why this past spring we painted the front door:


People often assume that our 4 year old picked the color.
Brad's a big fan of purple and he made a strong case for Grapelicious. 
To be fair to our visitors, we live in a neighborhood full of cozy little 1950s-era brick ranchers and cape cods. A place where families get their start and retirees go to downsize. 

When Brad and I were house hunting, we knew we wanted to stay relatively close to the interstate -- neither of us are from York and we frequently travel to visit family and friends in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and northeastern Pa. I wanted a yard for a dog and Brad wanted a garage. We were both wary of having a major fixer-upper, but figured we could handle some basic home improvement. 

We'd looked at some pretty rough houses before our real estate agent took us to see this house, which I didn't want to fall in love with because it was at the top end of our budget.

But there it was on this street lined with huge, old sycamores. Convenient to everything, in a great school district, with its garage and fenced-in yard just waiting for a dog to run around in it.

We were still determined not to fall in love with it. 


Here's is just one of the 11 (11!) closets in our house.
This does not count the giant pantry and
amazing built-in storage cabinets throughout the basement.
I still giggle thinking about the person
who wanted to ensure each shelf was amply lit.
We barely said a word to each other as we toured the house. Made no comment about the awesome sunroom; the hardwood floors; the bright, cheerful living room with its huge picture window; the endless basement that featured an entire hall of well-lit closets; or the towering oak tree in the back that I was already imagining hanging a tire swing in. 

When we left the house, we both sighed. What a beautiful house, but we probably shouldn't. Newlyweds on a pair of journalist's salaries should probably play it safe.

We thought we might put an offer on another smaller house we'd just looked at. It was within our price range, probably a more responsible choice. But we both knew our hearts weren't in it. 

So we decided to put an offer in. This totally shocked our agent who didn't even think we liked the house at all given how quiet we were while walking through it. 

I'd like to say we drove a hard bargain and got the price down to a number we felt comfortable with, but we didn't. We probably overpaid (OK, we definitely overpaid -- a fact that became abundantly clear when I started following the deeds listings and watched as the home prices in our neighborhood plummeted. It didn't help, either that we were both furloughed for a week within a month of moving in. Stupid recession. Anyway, we made good use of that week off by painting a 70s-era wood-paneled basement bedroom). 

All that seems like a distant memory now though. I have no regrets about buying the house we wanted. I knew it was the place for us the minute we stepped through the door. And over the years we've tackled projects both major and minor to make it our own.

The first, what we still jokingly refer to as our "Weekend Tiling Project" (it ended up taking us more than three weeks ... ahh how naive we were), was to tile the sunroom. 


I feel this picture doesn't really do this massive expanse of floor justice.
It was a big undertaking. My knees and wrists still ache thinking about it. And I was even responsible and wore knee pads:


I can tell this was a before picture because I
 still look blindly optimistic about the whole thing.
Also, the lack of tile on the floor.
We didn't own a truck or SUV, so when we needed to rent a tile saw, we rolled up to the Home Depot in the vehicle best suited for hauling heavy equipment:


I still pine for you Lime Green Beetle.
The final result was feline-approved.


Peanut Butter takes a load off after a long day of trying
to walk on wet grout, escape to the back yard and knock over water glasses.
If I remember correctly, after the weekend tiling project, we avoided projects for awhile. We probably painted a little. Maybe hired someone to install carpet in part of the basement. Added some insulation to the attic. Planted a few flowers that I promptly killed.

When I left work to stay at home with Lily three years ago, I became fixated on what would be our next major project. Transforming our kitchen and its dated, dark wood cabinets and bile-colored countertops. I'm not being overdramatic here, see:


How much more crap can they fit on their counters? You're no doubt asking yourself.  So much more stuff! 
After I found out I was pregnant with Jovie, I figured, what better time to start renovating? So without exactly asking Brad about what timeframe he had in mind for updating the kitchen, I started patching the cabinets which were covered in worm holes (somewhere, some worm hole enthusiast is sending murderous thoughts my way). The worm hole patching took months. Next, we painted the cabinets ... which also seemed to take forever. 

Then, just a month or two before Jovie was due, we buckled down. Brad's parents came down for a weekend and we finished painting the cabinets, had the new solid surface counters installed, and Brad and his dad tackled the glass tile backsplash. We also put new hardware on the cabinets and painted the rest of the kitchen. It was glorious.


No, the counters are not normally this empty. Also, don't look to closely at the floor.
Or the throw rug for that matter. Just do me a solid and don't zoom in .
I love our kitchen. It's brighter, cheerier and so much more us.

Our house isn't perfect. The pipes are prone to backups. The basement gets damp when it's monsooning. The wood floors are newborn-waking creaky and in desperate need of refinishing. The layout of our bathroom is infuriating, especially when tired parents are attempting to wrangle slippery, spazzy children post-bath. Our home is quickly being overtaken by large, plastic playthings. 

But even with two adults, two kids, two cats, an obnoxious hound and a hefty colony of house centipedes, I don't feel like we've outgrown the place. In fact, I kind of like the idea of allowing our little brick rancher to dictate the amount of stuff we actually need. I think life might be simpler that way.

It's not just the house itself either. I love watching the girls chase the dog around the oak tree in the back yard. I have big plans for the little garden shed out back that needs a new coat of paint. Same goes for the bathroom. I love anticipating the noise and silliness that comes when my siblings and parents and nieces and nephews crowd into my sunroom-turned-banquet hall for Thanksgiving. I love our neighbors and our neighborhood and all its quirky residentsI love that we have the perfect spot to watch the day go by ...




... And a place to hang our stockings (with care) ...



I suppose that technically it's our starter home because its where my family started. I prefer to just call it home because I can't imagine us anywhere else. 

The folks at Urban Compass specialize in helping New Yorkers who are apartment hunting find their ideal neighborhood. I'm no expert in New York real estate, but I can say that you won't love your house if you don't love where it's located. It does't matter how many well-lit closets there are or how many new appliances it has, you'll never truly feel at home if you don't open your heart to the people and experiences around you. 

*Back in October, a PR sort from a company called MorphSuits asked me if I was going to be posting anything about Halloween costumes, and if so, if I was interested in having them send me a costume. Here's what a MorphSuit looks like:


The world isn't ready for me (or anyone in my family, for that matter) to don a MorphSuit. Though, come to think of it, I have I have at least one nephew who, given the opportunity, might wear one of these on a daily basis. Anyway, I declined the offer.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Here's why you need to do your One Thing

When I finished the first draft of my novel, I basked in the warm glow of that success for, oh, a week or two, before I realized it was hardly finished. Not by a long shot. I mean, even as I typed the "The End" at the end, I knew it wasn't what I wanted it to be. But you ignore the prospect of editing and revisions just for a minute. You look down and admire the view on the portion of Everest that you did climb, so as to not be beaten down by the dizzying heights of the summit. Still so far, far away.

In case you think I sunk into another depressed, "why bother?" stupor, I didn't. As I've learned with this project, when there's momentum, you have to keep going. Otherwise. Well, otherwise, you'll be stuck at base camp forever.

And luckily, I've found some amazing sherpas who helped guide me through the next phase. The advice and feedback from the first two readers has been invaluable. So I'm still out here climbing. Sentence by sentence. 

Thus concludes the extended metaphor portion of this post. 

Throughout this process I've been both amused and flattered by the people who look at the mere act of finishing the extremely rough first draft of my manuscript as an amazing feat. 

Amused, because for all they know it could by 70,000+ words of drivel that Snacks could've written by accidentally pawing the keyboard while trying to lick the insides of my nasal passages (which, coincidentally, he tried to do while I typed this).



He was unusually clingy this afternoon.
Or maybe he was just looking for errant chin hairs...
And flattered, of course, because for me it was an enormous feat. But I recognize that I'm just unremarkable me in my little speck of the world who set out on this undoable project because I needed this One Thing that was just mine and mine alone. It seems strange to be complimented for such a selfish act.

But there it is. 

Anyway, for those of you who desperately crave that One Thing. Who have that persistent voice in them urging them to just do the One Thing already (you know who you are, and you know what the One Thing is), then just do it already, will you?

Seriously. There's nothing inherently "special" about me. These things don't happen by magic. You'll never be visited by an ethereal muse who whispers the words or paints the strokes or plants the garden or bakes the cake or composes the music. Never. That part is all on you. Sure, you might have the briefest of flashes of inspired phrases that seem to materialize out of the nothingness, but even that isn't magic. That's all part of the work. The seeds you planted way back when you first set out on the journey to accomplish the One Thing finally ready to be harvested at the right moment. In the right paragraph in the right chapter in the right book.

And here's the other thing, unless you're Amy Poehler or The President or you're kidnapped and held captive by fundamentalist drifters, nobody is going to ask you to do the One Thing. Not ever. Frankly, a majority of the world probably won't even care about the One Thing. And that's just fine. 

What you do is you find the people close to you who will care about the One Thing because you care about the One Thing and you whine to them about it. A lot. And then they pat you on the head and tell you to keep going. And you do. Then you whine some more. And they roll their eyes and placate you some more. Just enough so that you keep going. And you keep going.

You should also find some people who are pursuing their own Thing successfully for inspiration. They don't have to be famous, celebrity sorts. In fact, it's better if you know them, that they're like you, because then it will make the One Thing seem more possible. 

If you're really lucky, you'll find yourself a Brad who not only listens to your endless self-doubt and grousing, but also tolerates the fact that you spend most nights chained to your computer instead of doing other things, like watching sports or talking about life or doing the dishes.

Never do the One Thing in the hopes that it will get you noticed by someone else. That you'll make your millions from it. The only person who really needs to care about it is you. 

And don't wait, either. Because there's never a perfect time for One Thing doing. Never. They'll always be more work to do. Kids to raise. Floors to wash. Dogs to walk. Dinner to make. Friends to catch up with. Oil to change. Seasons and seasons and seasons of shows on Netflix to binge watch. There will always be the next thing that needs to get done until your very last breath. 

You're the only one who can make all the breaths before it count a little more. 

Do the One Thing already.

In an interview with EW about her book "Yes, Please" Amy Poehler offers this fantastic little note on artistic process:
"I always had the fantasy that I would rent a cabin in Big Sur and that I would dress for writing and I would talk to magazines about how I'd like to turn off the phone and wear comfortable sneakers! The reality is, when you have little kids, and when you're shooting a TV show, you hack away. I wrote it when I could. I had to let go of the idea that creativity comes out of stillness. I find creativity usually comes out of chaos."
Yes! 

This guy, when asked by a photographer from Humans of New York what he felt most guilty about, said not finishing his novel.
"I've already built the room where I'm going to write it at my house in Sag Harbor. The walls of the room are painted Venetian red. It has shelves filled with every book I ever read. There's a scallop striped Victorian chair. A little pine desk - two feet by three feet, with all my pens lined up, and an 18th Century sang de bouef vase lamp. And there's a French door with a step that goes out onto the roof so I can look at the clouds. I have everything I need. Except the time."
If you picked out paint and furnishings and lined up the pens, well, you have time to write the novel. 

And after I write all this motivational blather,
Brad pointed this out to me. Touche sign.
Both awesome and appropriate.
You can buy it here
Don't wait for your sang de boeuf vase lamp or your little pine desk. You do the One Thing with the tools you have (in my case, a laptop, kitchen table and modestly sized brain … nary a sang de boeuf vase lamp to be found!) and with the time you squirrel away from all the other nothing activities that fill a day.

I say all this with no pretenses that I'm an expert on life or art or anything really (except for maybe yelling at the kids to, for the love of god, stop screaming at each other over  whether we'll read bedtime stories on the bed versus the couch. I'm pretty good at that). If the frumpy, fur-covered, stinky-talking* stay-at-home mom from York, Pa. can finish her One Thing, well, then you can, too. 

All you have to do is stop telling yourself that it's pointless, dumb, silly or selfish to do it. Ignore your inner Stewies. Ignore all the people you imagine rolling their eyes at you. It's not for them. It's for you. Don't worry about how long it will take you to do or whether it's any good while you're doing it. You're the only person setting a deadline. You're the only critic. 

Drown all the naysaying voices out.

You only get one life in which to do your One Thing.

So just do it already.

*Lily has taken to guarding herself each morning from what is, apparently, terribly offensive morning breath. She's told me that I'm making her nose stinky and that she doesn't want to listen to my "stinky talk." So. That felt pretty good.