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Day 86: Unwelcome guests

June 22, 2013

Homeownership is no walk in the park. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by several people who are willing to lend a hand. The inability to fix problems on my own, however, has left me with a pretty lackluster attitude toward this homeowner experience. But I found just the think to check that attitude: my new patio set. A table and chairs are all I need to make up for the leaky roof, the burst pipe, the broken underground sprinkler box — every last bit! From this point on, I can finally spend every minute possible outside, amidst the fresh air, sunshine and lightning bugs. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, reading, writing, working, thinking, you name it. If I’m sitting, I’ll be here!

At least that’s what I thought until I caught site of a skunk waddling out from behind the shed. And from that point on, every little rustle had me bracing myself for the spray. Luckily, I had Sara to help take my mind off it. But an hour later, there he was, an innocent little explorer, uncomfortably close to my deck.

Great. The neighborhood skunk family is back. The woman next door had mentioned them last fall. Apparently they’d made my shed their living quarters, but, she told me, they had successfully been taken care of. Guess not. Murphy’s Law strikes again. So much for my peaceful evening oasis.

Anyone know how to keep these pesky creatures away?

Day 85: I wish I was a renter.

February 10, 2013
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I should be dancing with Cinderella and taking photos with Mickey Mouse in the warm Florida sun. Instead, the Northeast blizzard wreaked havoc on flight travel. While I waited at the Disney World resort, my mom, brother and son waited in Atlanta, hoping for a flight that wasn’t crammed with people chasing their destination via an alternative route. Bad weather and standby plane tickets are a terrible combination. After the fourth flight to Orlando left without them, they boarded a plane back to Michigan.

Prior to coming down to Florida for the conference, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the cost of this trip. After a few hours wandering the Disney boardwalk, however, the ‘magic’ got the best of me; I couldn’t wait to shell out nearly $400 for the theme parks (no sarcasm, really). I couldn’t wait for Calin to be down there, too. He was going to love the funny magicians and tricksters and musicians.

The cancelled trip left me crushed, to say the least.

After sharing the story with a woman I’d met at the confrence, I joked that I hoped the money saved wasn’t an omen for a house-related financial matter.

I should have knocked on wood.

Back home, I twisted the living room lamp switch and noticed a drip down my wall. I’m surprised I haven’t noticed this before, I thought. I ran my fingers across the wall, expecting to feel the hardened lump of dried paint drips.

But my fingers were wet. Slow streams of water were leaking from the ceiling. Paint bulged, hiding a pool of melted snow.

My son Calin sat on the couch. “Hey! I just got rained on!” Three feet away, a little droplet clung to the ceiling beam. Another foot away, water glistened between the cracks of the pine ceiling planks.


“This is not good. This is not good.” I repeated.

“Oh, shit, shit, shit,” said my five-year old. With big, blue eyes full of concern, he said, “that’s what you say when things are very bad.”

Oops. He learned that one from me.

Fortunately, the previous owner kept diligent records, and I found the paperwork for the five-year old roof. It has a 25-year warranty on it.

Cross your fingers there aren’t any other surprises. I’d like to see Cinderella yet this year.

Day 84: The celebrity you’ve never heard of

January 22, 2013


Two words describe Calin: dramatic and surprise. Since his surprising debut in 2007, his existence has been nothing short of dramatic. And his fifth birthday is no different. Upon revealing a February trip to Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, it was silly to expect jumping and shouting and hugs and kisses. You know, typical kid expressions. Instead, he pretended to faint. Overcome with gratitude, I presume.

At his Electric Cheetah birthday dinner he asked me to try a pickle. I’ve tried pickles twice in my life; both times they wind up in my napkin. They disgust me. But I took a tiny bite to appease him. This time, to my surprise, it wasn’t so bad. “See, Mom. It’s like I always say. You never know if your taste buds changed unless you just give it a try.”

Like you always say, huh? Sounds like you’re good at memorizing other people’s lines, buddy. “Think about that next time, okay?” he suggested. Stifling my laughter at his sugary-sweet I-care-about-your-wellbeing mom tone, I thanked him for opening my taste buds to the world of pickles.
His birthday celebration wouldn’t be complete without dessert. So we headed to Joel and Molly’s for chocolate chip cookies. If you spend much time with Calin, you know he sings Hey Soul Sister daily, often with accompanying dance moves and goofy voices. Since I don’t own a copy of the song, it’s rare that it becomes a sing-along.
Tonight it did. When the Pandora station filled the living room with Train, my little boy, who can rarely keep still, transformed into what appeared to be a choir singer. Hands straight at his side, not a wiggle moved through his fingers or toes, while his lips formed exaggerated shapes to enunciate the words. The subdued act was a surprise coming from my boisterous kid. He humbly accepted the clapping with a smile, but I could tell he was beaming with pride on the inside. He told Molly a minute later that he’s a pretty good singer. But that profession will come third to being a football player or traveling animal doctor, per the evening’s dinner conversation. He’s just barely five, but I don’t think on-stage performance is too far-fetched. 
That’s my five-year old: a daily dose of dramatics and sweet surprises. If only there was a word to describe this type of parental emotion; love just seems too simple. Happy fifth birthday to my charismatic little man.
(In the spirit of by blog’s theme, home is where the heart is, right?)

Day 83: Melted snow is my favorite snow

December 26, 2012

Powdery white snow billowed across the pavement. A slick sheet of ice fought the tires of my rental car. Mine won, but those of many nearby did not. Cars slid into one another left and right. Tension knotted my back after the nearly two hour drive from Ada to Rockford to Southeast Grand Rapids tonight. It’s days like these I wish I could close my eyes and dream the winter away. Bears and caterpillars have it good.

I force myself to think about the positives. Cross-country skiing is good exercise. Snow-covered trees are a beautiful sight to see. Snug in my home, the window overlooking a deck trimmed in white is rather cozy.

It only works for a moment — the thought of shoveling the driveway brings me back to reality. Is it too late to hire a plow service?

Some people like this stuff. I'm not one of them.

Time to find time to shovel!

December 25, 2012

The Earthbound Report

In the past, most things that you owned were built to last. Household goods were expensive, and you looked after what you had, repairing things and maintaining them. In the early 20th century, new industrial processes and new materials – plastic especially – began to change that. One of the first and best known examples is the Dixie cup, invented in 1907 in response to a health scare about shared tin cups used at public water fountains. Vending machines with paper cups were a much more hygienic solution. Today, we get through billions of paper and plastic cups every year, 146 billion in the US alone.

It’s a funny thing, disposability. One-use items are often more convenient. You don’t need to wash them and put them away, or worry about breaking them, and they’re more hygienic, especially for medical equipment. On the other hand, it’s far cheaper to own…

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Day 82: Crashing into Christmas Eve

December 25, 2012

I’ve decided to get back to my blog’s roots and ditch the house talk for today. Those roots started with The Grand Rapids Press MyGR6 contest last year. Describe Grand Rapids in six words was the goal. Mine were unfolding the story of my life, which spurred the title of this blog. The subheading says chronicles of my love affair with Grand Rapids. Those chronicles quickly fell by the wayside as I became wrapped up in my house hunt.

All my stories, however, seem to come back to home, and that’s where the story of Grand Rapids’ public transportation begins.

Calin buckled himself into his booster seat while I  set my beautiful bowl of fruit in the passenger seat. I didn’t bother to secure it; the bowl must weigh at least five pounds. This baby wasn’t going anywhere.

As we pulled out of the driveway, Calin was singing his excitement about going to see our Eastown neighbors. Our sleepy litle street spits out onto Eastern, a block from a (relatively) busy intersection. Tonight, like many other nights, traffic was backed up well beyond our road. I clicked my blinker to turn left. A woman in a silver SUV motioned for me to go ahead. So I pulled out, looked to the right to make sure the northbound lane was clear and that’s when I heard a horn.

The next few seconds proceeded in slow motion as I realized the woman hadn’t checked the turn lane before waving to me. My jaw dropped in disbelief. There was nothing I could do but stare at the headlights disappearing into my car. I don’t remember attempting to brake or turn the wheel, screaming or even feeling panicked. I’m sure the colliding metal roared, but I didn’t hear it. Calin had whipped forward, hitting his chin on the passenger seat. But I don’t remember feeling the impact (though my neck and back tell me otherwise today). All I remember is watching helplessly, thinking, you’ve got to be kidding me (I’d have expected the F bomb or other profanities to fly out).

Once everything was still, the sweet scent of strawberry wafted through my car. For a moment, I was perplexed, wondering what sort of fluid was leaking in my engine. And then I noticed the mosaic of berries, bananas and watermelon strewn across the floor. Should have secured that bowl.

I looked to the backseat. Calin was wide-eyed, straining to see what had happened, but he seemed ok. He said he was ok. I stared across the library parking lot stunned, until I saw the other driver hurrying to my door. That’s when I realized I should do something other than sit. I hopped out not having any idea what to say to him (“Are you ok?” would have been a start). He was kind and apologetic, concerned that we were ok. And that’s when Calin started sobbing, a result of both fright and pain (it’s a harsh crimson scrape today).

My headlight hung by a wire. The pavement glittered with shards of my car. Chunks of my bumper were strewn across the road. The police arrived; I got the ticket. Ninety minutes later, they were surprised my car started. I put it into drive, but instead of rolling forward, the front end of my car lifted up.

Teary eyed, I asked the police to call a tow truck. I called my Eastown neighbor. A still-hysterical Calin (turned angry, turned hurt, turned grateful, turned sad) and I needed company. She was on her way. A loaner car was mentioned when we arrived and my spirits were suddenly lifted. I had forgotten about rental coverage with my new insurance policy!

Unfortunately, the rental places aren’t open Sunday. But we still needed to get to Meijer to prepare for our Christmas Eve feast. No time like the present to finally take a ride on The Rapid! There’s a bus stop just a block away. The trip would take about 45 minutes, according to the website. I’m not sure why that number didn’t trigger logic in that moment. We live less than two miles from our destination. My brain must have been rattled in that crash. We got off the first bus, walked a few yards to the transfer and realized the next bus wasn’t coming for 42 minutes. Thank god we’d bundled up. Instead of waiting, we trekked down 28th Street and made our way to Meijer.

Trekking down 28th Street on a blistery, cold day

Trekking down 28th Street on a blistery, cold day

Once we got close to completing our shopping list, I checked the bus schedule. Damn. We’ll have to wait 25 minutes after the exchange to grab the number four. We could have walked, but with three heavy bags of groceries, an increasingly pained neck and a tired four-year old, I caved and called my mom. My dad swooped in to the rescue and scooped us up at the bus stop.

I guess I slightly glamorized our little city transit system, as if these buses were the subways of New York or Barcelona. Not quite. It takes a little planning – but they are much cleaner. Now that I’ve got the first step out of the way and a paper map to study, I’ll definitely feel much more comfortable riding The Rapid again (they drivers were so helpful!). Experience, once again, is the best teacher. I’m grateful to live in a city that has public transportation, especially in times like these!

Day 81: Homemade nutrition

December 16, 2012



The longer you put something off, the harder it is to start. I constantly remind myself of this lately.

And this blog is no different. It’s been a few months since I’ve posted anything. I’ve written a few posts, but they never make it live, thanks to perfectionism rearing its ugly head. So, instead of writing an update of the past few months as a homeowner, I decided to dive in and just do it.

Today, before I get to cleaning, laundry or Christmas shopping, I’m making my own butter oil supplements. Last weekend, an email from The Healthy Home Economist was delivered to my inbox about naturally curing cavities. This was on the heels of really bad news from my dentist. I need a $3000 procedure that my insurance won’t cover (unless I choose the other option which would require the same procedure every 10 years and has a higher risk of affecting other teeth; completely illogical cost-wise). After reading the blog post, I spent a few days researching and realized it’s just a step deeper into my health philosophies. Why not? I decided. It’s worth a shot and maybe I’ll save $2944.

  • I cut sugar out of my diet (my tooth is no longer throbbing).
  • My fermented cod liver oil supplements arrived in the mail.
  • I picked up organic pasture butter from Harvest Health.

The last step is to make the butter oil, otherwise known as ghee. I had closely followed this YouTube video, until pop! My bowl full of expensive butter burst; glass was all over the stove top and the floor glittered with shards. Apparently the Sarah’s glass bowl in the video was much more flame resistant than my Pyrex bowl. Luckily, the butter block hadn’t fully melted so I transferred it to a Calphalon pan and finished melting it.

With the butter oil now encapsulated, today marks the first day of the self-healing experiment. Wish me luck!

And after a three-month hiatus of blog posting, hopefully this was just the kick start I needed to quit putting it off.


Day 80: I finally understand move-in ready

September 16, 2012

Calin sat outside, a sliding glass door keeping him from me and his brand new, hand-me-down box of Legos. Moments before, tears rolled down his cheeks while he begged, “but I can just wear a face mask,” like he’d seen my mom do days before. Now, he just sat there, stony faced and silent, sleepily staring in. I felt horrible forcing him to stay outside all by himself.

But my grandpa was coating the wood floors with polyurethane. It goes straight to my head, inducing a throbbing headache and nausea. The smell seems to stick to my nostrils for hours. I can’t imagine what the fumes do to my lungs – so I protected Calin’s four-year-old body and asked him to play outside in our (amazing!) fenced-in backyard. Meanwhile, I Rug Doctored the carpets to prep for the furniture move and contemplated the meaning of “move-in ready.”

When I started my house hunt 14 long months ago, I was firm on buying something move-in ready. Over the course of the hunt, I wobbled, thinking a $60k home and a renovation would be fun. Luckily, I always snapped out of it, returning to my move-in-ready notion.

Every once in a while, however, I felt a bit snobby, maybe lazy, whenever I mentioned I was looking for something that didn’t need work. To me, a ready home included wood floors, a decent kitchen and aesthetically-pleasing wall color. Basically, I wanted something that was updated in the past decade and didn’t need any major work.

My new Alger Heights home swept me off my feet. The yard, the layout, the updated living room: it was perfect. I looked past the wallpaper and carpeting. Suddenly, the move-in ready definition transformed into clean, well-maintained and sturdy. What’s a little wallpaper and carpet?

As I’ve discovered in my two weeks of homeownership, move-in ready definitely got its spot in real-estate jargon for a reason. Tearing down wallpaper sucks. You tear, you steam, you tear some more, you spend hours peeling glue. And it’s still not over. Next, the walls need to be washed and primed, edged and painted. Then you realize all the glue you steamed off is now stuck in the carpet which will take another few hours to pick out piece by piece. With the paper now out of two rooms of walls only half covered, the thought of removing the entry/hallway/stairwell combination makes my stomach queasy. There’s quadruple the amount of wallpaper hugging those walls.

The kitchen in all its wallpapered splendor


The lime green dining room walls were a bit too loud for my liking.


Paint sampling


A near-finished paint job, thanks to my mom and grandpa.

Fortunately, we discovered nearly perfect hard wood floors hiding beneath the gluey mess I created in the carpeting. My McNabb parents spent hours picking out staples. My grandpa showed up with sandpaper and polyurethane to shine Calin’s bedroom floors up. He did the same to my kitchen floor and is now working on the dining room (my ambitious mother tore out the dining room carpet).

If it weren’t for my family with years of do-it-yourself experience and my handy, painting-pro grandfather, I’d still be sitting in a lime green, carpeted dining room, staring at the kitchen’s purple floral wallpaper, wondering where the heck to start. Thanks to them, the hardest part for me was picking out paint colors (don’t even get me started on how difficult this was).

So move-in ready for a single mom? Move-in ready for anyone? Um, yes. No need to feel lazy or snobby (or maybe that’s just me). While the “minor” cosmetic updates turned out to be more work that I imagined, this really was the perfect house for me after looking at more than 100. You can’t help what you fall in love with!

Unfortunately, poor Calin has had to endure my choice of purchasing a not-so-ready-to-move-in home. For him this means lots of play dates with friends, a mom too busy to play and an extra-late bedtime for many consecutive days.

Instead of a story and snuggle time that evening, he was staring through the sliding glass door at bedtime. I caved to his sad eyes, turned off the Rug Doctor and called it a night. He fell asleep snuggled into my arm moments after I started reading his favorite book.

Day 79: Messages from home

September 11, 2012

I think the universe is trying to tell me something. As I swept away the last bits of my life in Eastown tonight, I found a story of the previous renter (whose mail I received regularly) hiding beneath the refrigerator. Amidst love notes, dusty photos and inspirational notes scrawled on the backs of receipts, there was this Sanskrit proverb.

Read it.

When I got home to Alger Heights, the first thing I saw was this fortune sitting on my counter. I have no idea where it came from, but the message is the same.

It is now, and in this world, that we must live.

Day 78: Saying goodbye to Eastown

September 7, 2012

A neighborhood dotted with Reb Roberts’ artwork, even Eastown’s utility boxes reflect the neighborhood’s vibrant personality.

Tuesday was my final day of being an Eastown resident. I texted my friend Molly to see if she wanted to help me live it up and go for a walk to one of our neighborhood’s many amazing restaurants. There’s Gaia, Harmony, Marie Catrib’s, Little Africa, Wolfgang’s, Trillium, just to name a few. In my new neighborhood, there’s Real Food Café. That’s about it. At least everyone seems to know about it, which must be a testament to its goodness.

I’m acting like I’m moving to Antarctica, I joked, pointing out my sorrow-filled parting with my neighborhood of nearly three years. I’m only moving three miles away, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout this house hunt, it’s that each Grand Rapids neighborhood definitely has a personality. And I fell in love with Eastown’s personality.

Tattoos, dreadlocks, billowy Bohemian dresses and bicycles are aplenty in Eastown. Seeing bare feet pad against the pavement doesn’t surprise me. Neither do walking fiddlers. Sidewalks are filled with runners, cyclists, dog walkers and Funky Buddha patrons carrying their yoga mats. Curry mingled with pepperoni wafts through the evening air, thanks to Bombay and Domino’s, a block away from my house. Noisy college students fill the sidewalks by night. Children fill Wilcox Park by day.

As I texted Molly, wallowing about missing the free-spirits, hipsters and artists galore in my neighborhood, tears sprung to my eyes. Leaving this place is like moving away from a best friend.

Last summer I flirted with the idea of moving to Forest Hills, you know, for the school district. But the thought made me queasy. (Seriously – strong emotions conjure physical reactions: tears, queasy stomachs, a punch-in-the-gut feeling… J) At one point, I realized every time I drove through the green arrow off Fulton and onto the odd angle of Lake Drive, I was consumed with happiness. It got stronger as I hit Diamond and saw the East Hills Center of the Universe sign, drove by Mangiamo and the mammoth hundred-year-old trees. It was literally a feeling of I’m home. This is when I knew I had to stay in Grand Rapids. Fortunately, I discovered Montessori and the rest is history.

Unfortunately, I can’t afford a decent home in Eastown or East Hills, but after getting very familiar with many of Grand Rapids’ great neighborhoods, Alger Heights was a close runner up.

So there I was, saying goodbye to Eastown. To celebrate (or mourn), I roamed the streets of this amazing neighborhood, paying homage to the local establishments. I met a wonderful artist in Gallery 154, otherwise known as Unpredictable Gifts. He sent me on my way with an origami elephant. I chatted with the owner of the new Syndey’s Boutique (Sydney is her daughter’s name). And last but not least, met the amazing Patrice of the home décor store, Elements. Decorating is not my forte, and I envy those who can do it well. (Seriously, if you haven’t been in her store, it’s incredible!) During our 30-minute conversation, I was dying for a pen and paper to write down all her little words of wisdom, like her philosophy on solid colors, purple plates, layering and ideas for using painter’s drop cloths, flanges and pipes. Fortunately, the value was two-way, with my little bit on Airstreams.

The tears are definitely justified; Eastown sure gave me a lot to fall in love with over the past few years. As I move into Alger Heights, though, I’m already beginning to experience the charming personality the neighborhood has to offer. I can’t wait for the moment when I’m hit with that particular landmark feeling of This is home.

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