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Day 77: The house hunt is officially over.

August 27, 2012

My realtor, Dan Rabourn, my mortgage guy, Jon Arnold, and the end of our little adventures together. I’m going to miss these two!

I’ve claimed this twice before, but the house hunt is absolutely, definitely, 100 percent over. Today, I scribbled my signature line after line across a blur of legal documentation.

My realtor, loan officer and the title company agent joked and laughed with each other. I, however, concentrated on calming my shaky hands. I was a nervous wreck. Stacks of papers sat in front of me solidifying that this is it. I’m about to be a homeowner. I’m moving away from Eastown. What if this is the wrong choice? What if my neighbors are mean? Five digits on the certified check stared back at me; I could almost hear the mocking laughter, just wait ‘til you add up what you’re about to dump into your new digs. And then, just like that, it was over. The last paper signed. The last words exchanged with the seller, my realtor and loan officer. Closing was done. I am a homeowner.


Just a few years ago, I imagined the course of life as a completely different chain of events. You know, the traditional path: marriage, then house, then kids. But as it turns out, I’m two for three in the reverse order. Fine with me; I prefer to be unconventional when possible.

After leaving the title company, I got started on my to-do list: transfer gas, electric and water, make appointments with the moving company and carpet cleaners. I should have done this before, but I didn’t want to jinx the good luck I was having with this offer.

I picked up Calin from school, and we headed to the new house. I am so glad I waited for him to open the door for the first time. He hasn’t been thrilled about this new house; he loved the Ottawa Hills home. It was chock full of hiding places, a playground and a neighbor his age. Each time I mention the big move is getting closer, he looks at me with the saddest eyes.

A large part, I think, is due to leaving our neighbors. He enjoys weekly chats with Valerie and her family – from our second-story window as they work in their yard below. But each time he hollers out the window, his eyes sparkle with excitement at his unconventional means of conversation. He thinks he’s quite clever.

On the other side, he has five-year-old Susannah and her three siblings. Calin adores their family, and much more so after he spent the summer swimming and painting with her older sister Sophie (his babysitter).

We walked up to the front door of our new home. I put my key in the lock, but it wouldn’t budge. Calin wandered away while I played with the door knob. Finally, it unlatched. I went around to the back to find Calin climbing a fence! Apparently he was checking to see if a back door was unlocked. His quick thinking and capability was amusing. I don’t know where he learns this stuff. And I didn’t even know he knew how to climb a fence.

He came back around front, sincerely overjoyed as I held open the front door. “This is it, Mom. NOW, we are homeowners.” He surveyed the yard and with a big grin, announced that he’s happy, that he never wants to leave this house. “Wanna know why?” Of course. “Because this place is filled with the most beautiful plants.” Indeed, it is, my little nature lover.

My heart melted as we ran into the house, jumping up and down in the living room – together – to celebrate our new home. I’m so relieved he’s happy. Delighted by the backyard bench he found nestled between two mammoth trees and hidden behind the yard’s overgrown shrubs, he had the grand idea to eat dinner back there. So we took our greasy pizza and breadsticks and chowed down, secluded within our very own secret garden. And that’s when all my worry vanished. This was definitely the right decision.

Falling in love with our peaceful backyard

Day 76: 5 things I learned while packing

August 26, 2012

Knee deep in packing tape, cardboard boxes and dust, I spent my Friday evening wishing I was doing anything but packing. It was a beautiful summer evening, my son was at his dad’s, it’s Restaurant Week, and here I am cooped up inside, bored to tears by the daunting chore ahead of me.

However, since wishing the task away was impossible, I attempted to make it a little more tolerable with a glass of wine and my Brandi Carlile Pandora station turned up to a respectful volume (someone lives downstairs). I dug through the inventory of my relatively short adult-life, dreading the collection I’ll have 10 years from now, which brings me to the first thing I learned about myself while packing:

1) I am a pack rat.

Throwing something out is like flushing memories down the toilet. For instance, I found a miniature ‘paddle’ engraved with the Greek letters Phi Sigma Phi. For about five seconds, I enjoyed a trip down memory lane. (And there’s no better lane traveled than one that leads to Central Michigan University.) The crisp, fall air buzzed with the chatter of Zetas. If you got close enough, the sickeningly sweet scent of raspberry-flavored Burnett’s burned your nose. And I was vying for the attention of a guitar-playing, cinnamon-scented troublemaker. College parties… those were the days.

I burst out laughing as my thoughts led me to the reason why I have this paddle. It was one of several ‘souvenirs’ my friends and I had collected during our CMU escapades. From O’Kelley’s to the Blackstone to Marty’s to Copper Beech, our nights were never dull. While I have zero use for this tiny object five years later, I know I’ll love reliving these memories when I’m 50. How else will nostalgia be prompted, if not for these little objects? As for the magazine collection dated 2009, well, those made it into my recycle bin.

2) Organization of tangible items is not my strength.

As a former graphic designer and writer, you’d think the skill of organizing information would trickle into my physical-stuff space. But it doesn’t. My plan was to simply pack by room, but it turns out there’s no simple about it. I like to blame my disorganization on no closet space and only 700 square feet, but really it’s an innate characteristic I haven’t yet figured out how to reverse. Nonetheless, boxing by room required me to walk from room to room to room to fill a box. I’m holding out hope that this skill is simply dormant, waiting to emerge when I’m a homeowner.

3) I work well under pressure.

While I’ve gotten a good start on filling boxes (31!), it won’t be until I unlock the door to my new home that I’ll really feel motivated to get a move on. Friday, for example, was three days ‘til close, and I felt more invigorated than I was Tuesday. Thus, I finally jotted down a list of goals to achieve in the next week. Had I gotten an offer to go dancing, however, I would have changed out of my t-shirt in a heartbeat, scrapping my to-do list. The good news, though, despite my short attention span fueled by boredom, I’m absolutely confident I’ll achieve each goal as planned.

4) Everything inspires a story.

Amidst my pausing to dance to good music or refill my glass of wine, I fought the urge to run to my computer and write stories. Countless times, I was struck by an emotion that I wanted to capture for a future novel or an idea for a blog post. Had I given in to each one, I’d have been planted on the couch for hours.

So I took a lesson from my son. Setting a timer keeps him on track and looking forward to a reward, whether it’s playing outside or having enough time to read two bedtime stories. So I set myself a timer. Turns out I can get a lot done in 20 minutes! Then I set it for another 20 to do something enjoyable.

On Friday afternoon at my improv session with Mary Jane from Fishladder, I hung my head in shame, claiming I’m no good at storytelling. Turns out I was wrong. Everything inspires a story.

5) Everything is more enjoyable with good music.

– Despite not wanting to ever be at home, if music is playing, I never want to leave.
– I can’t wait to not have a neighbor living below me so I can turn it up as loud as I want.
– My ultimate housewarming gift would be a Jambox. Maybe I’ll treat myself.

Day 75: Tips for packing

August 22, 2012

This times three hasn’t even scraped the surface…

Just in time for my week of moving madness, Zillow’s tips for packing popped up in my inbox. I quickly scanned the list, nodding in agreement with a few, when suddenly, I felt a pit in my stomach.

I plan to tear down some wallpaper, paint, maybe peel back some carpeting and then move my stuff in over the course of two weeks. I numbered the rooms in my house and have labeled the boxes accordingly. Overall, I’ve felt quite relaxed about the whole process. The Zillow list, however, is screaming at me to be anything but relaxed. Or maybe it’s my guilty conscious. I haven’t tossed much. I haven’t purchased a moving app. I haven’t over-prepared. Shit. Am I totally unprepared? Suddenly, I realized it’s T minus five days until I have keys to my home in hand.

There is so much to do, despite the fact I’ve been packing in little bits since November. My dining room wall has been studded with nailheads for nearly a year because I packed away all the photo frames hanging from the wall. It’s ugly. It makes me hesitant to box up my life, considering my success rate for actually moving is zero for two at this point.

This time, however, everything with this Alger Heights home appears to be in the clear. And despite my momentary turmoil over the Zillow list, I have lots of boxes (could use more!), my mom took the liberty of creating vital lists for me (I’ve been referring to her as hubby lately) and I do have three donate boxes started so far (lots of toys for lots of babies popping up all around me lately!). Pit gone; my calm returned.

I guess the only thing left to do now is to shut this computer screen and keep packing. If you’ve got any words of wisdom on the big move (or boxes), send ‘em my way, please!

Day 74: Third time’s a charm

August 3, 2012

My latest almost-home

An eight-house shopping spree found me inside a bright green dining room; a kitchen canvassed in oak; floors sprawling with carpet; and walls hugged with paper. Wood floors and paint are more my thing.

Knotty pine planks adorn a vaulted ceiling in the living room, meeting serene, turquoise walls. Huge windows overlook a secluded, beautifully landscaped backyard. And two trees toward the back are begging for a hammock to be hung. A brick wall in the dining room holds a fireplace and driftwood mantle. The roof is a year old. The windows are new and double hung. And, albeit small, there’s an attached garage. This layout of this place has everything I’ve been looking for. ‘Twas love at first sight!

I walked through the front door of this Alger Heights home a few days after breaking the dreadful I’m-backing-out-of-your-Ottawa-Hills-house news to Mimi. I couldn’t believe it. Putting an offer in would be impulsive, I told myself. But my mom quickly reminded me that I had 100 houses under my belt; if I knew, I knew. (Not to mention, this finally beat out her favorite: the Sinclair street home on the Northeast side).

After going through it two more times over the next two days – another evening, a mid-day trip and a morning drive by – I put an offer in. We countered back and forth a bit. I was getting stubborn, ready to say take it or leave it. But the slide-out cabinet shelves, the new windows, the landscaping, the finished basement and the overall quality feel of the cute little Cape Cod got the best of me. It’s not easy to find this goodness wrapped all in one! So we came to an agreement and scheduled an inspection.

My third home inspection found mildew in the attic and a poorly installed bathroom vent; I started to get a little nervous. What if she wasn’t willing to take care of it? After getting price estimates, I was relieved to find out we still had a deal! Hallelujah! The final addendum was signed yesterday. I’m filling out my loan application today. The appraisal is next. Closing to come!

I’m so excited to fulfill a lifelong dream of reading a book in my very own bay window seat, I can barely contain myself.

Day 73: Breaking up: part two

July 17, 2012


The house hunt and dating are, once again, bringing to mind major parallels. You prowl the market, test a few out, then find a keeper. Getting comfortable with long-term commitment trickles into life’s little details: taking the house’s layout into consideration with every home goods purchase, taking another’s perspectives into consideration with every decision, even if it’s just dinner.

When it suddenly comes to an end, acclimating back to solo life is a bit awkward. No need to go to garage sales or look at paint samples. No need to check my phone with anticipation of a text message.

The similarities between my house hunt and dating life over the past six months have been downright uncanny. Right around the time I found the Ottawa Hills home, I met my (now ex) boyfriend. I spent the next several months dancing through a fairytale. But fairytales are usually too good to be true. This turned out to be the case for both of my “catches.”

After months of waiting to call Ottawa Hills home, the delay turned out to be a blessing in disguise. While I adore the house, I couldn’t ignore the elephant in the room any longer. The dollars beyond the purchase price were piling up in the thousands. My car is also on its last leg. And what if the furnace goes out? What if a tree falls on the house? What if the plumbing goes awry? I was suddenly struck with the harsh grip of reality. Separating my emotional attachment, I realized, yes, I can do it, but it would definitely be unwise financially.

Breaking the news to Mimi, the homeowner, wasn’t easy. But she was kind and understanding. After that phone call, a weight suddenly lifted off my shoulders: one I hadn’t realized I was carrying. That told me I was making the right decision.

When I said my final goodbye to the house, I stood inside the big, empty living room; collected the memories I’d already started making inside those four walls; and shed a few tears for what could have been but will never be.

So now it’s back to square one: searching for my happily-ever-after in the ballpark of $20,000 less and tall, dark and handsome.

Day 72: Home inspections aren’t cheap, but they sure are valuable

June 23, 2012

I reunited with Branden from Buyer’s Home Inspection this week. Thanks to him finding a few damaged goods in the Alger Heights home, I’m on the cusp of closing on an amazing home in my dream neighborhood, Ottawa Hills.

After a thorough three hours of poking, prodding and patiently answering my billion questions, I’m one step closer to being a homeowner. Among many things, he reported a high-efficiency furnace; a water heater that’s working 15 years past its life expectancy; an orphaned water heater; two mammoth spiders hanging beneath the three-season room (let’s hope Calin never finds this secret hiding place); tips to improve the non fire-hazard electrical work; decent insulation; a solid overall structure; and most importantly, a major discrepancy with the roof inspection last week.

In commenting on the twelve spots needing repair on the roof, he retracted his statement. “Let’s be real, there’s way more than a dozen spots that need fixing.” Proof is in the pictures, whereas, the roofer last week asked me, “So, why did you want me to come over here?” but NEVER climbed on the roof!

Now, let me defend my lapse of judgment (ok – sheer stupidity). Roof Inspector 1 was at the house in January inspecting a few noticeably damaged areas. I assumed he’d done a thorough inspection of the roof back then, which is why he didn’t climb up on the roof last week to check out the questionable areas I’d noticed during my months of home stalking. He’s the roofer; what do I know? And he’s the one making money off his recommendations; if he’s not suggesting further repair, he’s essentially turning down income, right? I must be overreacting about these rippled shingles, I told myself.

Turns out, my gut was right.

Seven months ago and now, my gut (and my dad!) also tell me that Branden provides a thorough and trustworthy Grand Rapids home inspection.

Closing is on pause, but the story continues: we’ll see what a second roofer has to say next week.

Day 71: Nice to meet you, neighbor.

June 17, 2012

I met a neighbor today. Driving past the house to show my friend Anya, we found a woman standing before the irises.

“How kind!” I exclaimed. “A friendly neighbor is tending the landscaping of a vacant house.”

Noticing the trowel in hand, Anya wasn’t quite as trusting. “You better put a stop to that.” So I pulled into the driveway, startling the gray-haired woman.

Sure enough, Anya was right. We caught her red-handed stealing plants! The first words out of her mouth: “I’m a master gardener.” As if that makes her behavior tolerable. She even had the audacity to describe how beautiful the uprooted irises were that were held hostage in her filthy little hands. “They’re a deep, velvet purple,” she said.

Her voice shook with embarrassment as she tried to divert my attention from her dishonest behavior. She’d discovered the root rot of iris borer, pointing out that her sticky fingers were actually doing me a favor. And picking up on my ignorance of all things gardening, she kept talking and talking, until Anya piped up with her flora know-how, saving the day once again.

Fortunately, Calin and I got off on the right foot with the family living between the plant thief and us. Their seven-year-old daughter gave me flowers.

Day 70: Decorating = anxiety; memories = happy

June 12, 2012

A packet of the shingles that adorn my roof were hiding amidst last fall’s leaves.

I got the roof inspected at the Iroquois house today. All is well, except for the damage we already knew about. My stepmom and I lingered around the house after the roofer left; she was seeing it for the first time.

Standing in the living room, I took it all in. Instead of uncontrollable excitement electrifying every cell in my body – which is what I expected after getting a passing grade on the roof – I was overwhelmed with the emptiness surrounding me. The walls are empty. The floors are empty. The rooms are empty. Paint, photos, art, plants, rugs, tables, furniture: so much is needed to fill the space. And I am so not good at this kind of stuff.

On the other hand, that’s all material. I can’t wait to fill the emptiness with life. This is the first house Calin’s fallen in love with in our 90-house search. He gave my cousin Laura a tour yesterday (cute, since she grew up visiting her grandma in this house). He squealed in excitement with every discovery of a hiding spot. He hugged his new four-year-old friend and next-door neighbor, Ari. He told me later we should live here forever. I can’t even begin to imagine what will unfold inside these walls, the stories they will hold, the secrets they will keep, the memories they will display. Which part of the house will Calin love most? Where will his secret escape be? Which parts will be his fondest memories?

For me, most of my memories of growing up revolve around my home. My parents probably hated the unfinished basement, but I loved it; the cement was perfect for rollerskating!

The top landing of our staircase was the perfect spot to “spy” after I was supposed to be in bed. My friend Sara and I kept a Super Duper Snoopers diary and logged clues like: Kara’s mom is slowly turning the page in her book. I’m not sure what mystery we were trying to solve. One time, my cover was blown when I spotted a mouse scampering across the carpet.

I spent many hours hidden away in the attic. Stacks of baby books, photo albums and my mom’s high school yearbooks were like buried treasure.

My brothers and I had five acres of land to roam around. Floating on my back in the swimming pool surrounded by the peaceful still of a moonlit sky while everyone else was sleeping except the bats is a vivid memory. I loved climbing trees; I’d leave boxes of books, notepads and snacks tightly nestled snug in between their branches for a later return. I had wild dreams of turning the adorable baby raccoons into pets, too, but my mom wouldn’t hear of it.

Although I do remember decorating my bedroom, it was finding another girl’s messages scribbled behind the wallpaper we tore down and writing my own that made the experience memorable. She said, “Joe’s a squirrel” and a number of other claims about boys.

So I guess that’s that. Turns out it’s memories that make a home. And decorating the interior will be one part of creating those memories!

Next step: home inspection. Then the excitement can officially begin (I learned my lesson last time)!

After showing me stunts I never knew my four-year old was capable of (hanging upside down from a clothesline), Calin smiled happily for his first new-home photo.

Day 69: I’ll have to learn to think like Ken

June 11, 2012

I haven’t even closed on the house yet and I’ve already managed to break things.

I met Mimi (that’s Grandma Ruth, the homeowner) to get the keys tonight and do a walkthrough of the house (to make sure Tim the Tenant had really left with all his things). Mimi’s friend Ken swung by, and thank goodness he did!

The water pressure was low in the master bath – and it was tinted orange. He found a screwdriver, dissembled the showerhead, tinkered around, and voila, the water pressure was fixed.

The light in the closet was rigged to turn on when opening the door, but it didn’t seem to ever turn off. I stood in the closet while he switched the breakers from the basement. Number eight controls the bedroom; now it won’t waste energy while the house is vacant. I never would have thought of that.

I’ve mentioned before that a house fire has been my biggest fear since I was a kid; maybe Ken’s been reading my blog. He pointed out that I’d want to change the locks in case of a fire. Otherwise I’ll be fumbling around for keys to get myself out both the front door and the garage door. You lock yourself in at night with a key instead of simply turning a deadbolt. That’s definitely a priority change before my first sleepover!

Speaking of keys, on our way out I locked the front door, and SNAP! The key broke in half! What on earth am I supposed to do now? Luckily, no one had pulled away. Handyman Ken to the rescue! Ingenious thinking (but so simple) got the door open again. He’s meeting me tomorrow to finish the job (it was way past Calin’s bedtime).

Yikes, what am I going to do without a Ken around? I’ll learn on my own, I guess. Who knows, a year from now I’ll have learned to be so resourceful, this blog name might just change to Miss Fix-It. Either that, or my hair will be gray.

Who knew it’d be so thrilling to see my car parked in the driveway?

My favorite room in the house. It’s on the main floor, just off the living room, leading to a screened in patio.

Day 68: A look inside the house – finally!

June 9, 2012

The renter is out – but not without one last jaw-dropping hurrah. He was supposed to turn the keys over Memorial Day weekend, then it was June 1, then he needed the weekend. My entire maternal family showed up to finally see a vacant house, but the keys were nowhere to be found.

A while later, I found my uncles unhinging the porch door (without much luck – but a memorable moment, indeed) when Tim the Tenant suddenly appeared on the other side, INSIDE THE HOUSE!

The house was a mess. Excuses poured from his lips. “My car started smoking on the way here two hours ago. We need three hours to finish packing.”

I stared at him in utter disbelief. You’ve had FIVE MONTHS to pack. You were supposed to be completely out DAYS AGO! And three hours to get all this junk out? Try THREE DAYS!

Of course, I kept silent, but I’m notorious for my face being a dead giveaway of emotion despite trying to keep a straight one. (Clearly, poker is not my game.) I hope he saw this written all over my face. At this point, his laziness doesn’t affect me, but I’m shocked by his cunning and disrespect toward an 88-year-old woman!

On a brighter note, he left and we finally got to peruse the home in peace. I can’t wait to call this place home!


Look at all that junk! This is a view into the living room. The dining room is off to the left, with a doorway into the kitchen. The entry way and stairwell upstairs is to the right.


Love this doorknob!



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