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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.

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.

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