December 08, 2004

Vitamin C for the eyes

We've moved, and for now that's enough.

I'll spare you the moving company horrors and just say that I was frustrated and furious by the time I walked into our new home late yesterday. And then...

...I saw the orange walls in our living room and was instantly cheered.

We weren't sure when we picked the color whether it would be too bold. And just yesterday Gary was saying we'd have to go with something else. But when I walked in and felt my spirits lift, that all changed. We're sticking with the Vitamin C walls. I could use the extra protection.

We managed to have a very nice first night of Hanukkah. We lit the candles and the best part was saying the Shehechyanu, a blessing that means "Thank you God for enabling me to reach this moment." Thank you very much.

And thank you all for the extra good wishes. I know they helped.

December 08, 2004 in Searching for Home | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 05, 2004

Taking stock

I think I'm having the meltdown now. The packers come tomorrow, then they move us on Tuesday. And in spite of Gary's tremendous work, and my tremendous anxiety, the house is not "ready," by which I mean: the walls are not yet painted, the cleaners left more dirt than they removed, and I anticipate weeks of no place for anything and nothing in its place.

More painful, though is this realization: even with many more months of preparation, the house would never have been "ready" by my standards, because I would have just continued to add things to the list. Which is why I will never catch up. I will never be without "to do"s or the nagging sense that I'm falling behind. This is my Sisyphean rock.

Meanwhile, the apartment we've been living in for two years is also a mess, partly because we've been neglecting it lately and partly because I've been sorting through old clothes, old journals, and old memories -- taking an unintentional emotional inventory.

Which is how I realized what's really upsetting me: a childhood memory.

I was about 8 years old the first time I ever moved. That day, my father was shuttling our belongings from old house to new when my then-teenage sister and my mother started yelling at each other, as they often did. As the fight escalated, my sister threw a small brown paper bag at my mother. The bag happened to have a picture frame in it, which cut my mother's forehead, which sent her to the hospital for stitches and caused my grandmother (who was a bystander, like me) to faint.

Somehow, I guess we actually moved from 416 Beverly Drive to 110 Carriage Way, but I don't know how.

I know my mother and sister spent several weeks at the same psychiatric hospital just after moving day, and while I'm sure at some point the four of us all lived in the new house, I don't remember it.

I remember my mother breaking her leg in a car accident a few months later and taking me with her to Florida so she could "recuperate" (actually, she and my father separated). I remember hearing that my sister had moved out of that house and into the city. And I remember my parents fighting long distance for years about their divorce, whether to sell the house and who would get the money.

It's no wonder I hate moving. And no mystery why I make lengthy lists. It's a form of optimism, really, that things can be better -- things will be better -- if only I can stay one step ahead of the insanity.

December 05, 2004 in Searching for Home | Permalink | Comments (12)

December 02, 2004

Moving meltdown

It was bound to happen, and today it did. As Colter was starting to do his homework (35 minutes of writing about his holiday plans), he screamed, "I don't want to move. I never wanted to move. I didn't want to move from North Carolina and I hate my school and I hate my life!"

Just moments before he was telling me how much he loves his life, so either (a) he's bipolar with rapid cycles, (b) he really hates doing homework, (c) he's worried about moving, (d) all of the above.

I'm going with (b) and (c) for now; (a) is a possibility I can't even consider at the moment.

We talked for a while about why he hates this particular homework, and it turns out his teacher had him read a previous writing assignment to the class yesterday and they laughed at it. Colter -- like me -- doesn't enjoy doing things he doesn't do well, and he feels like he's a bad writer. So, he avoids it, which is tough since he's assigned 30 minutes of writing a week.

He's also starting to realize we're really moving, and this is the second time in two years that we've done so over the holidays. I didn't even consider the effect that would have on him, and if I had, I might have moved at a different time.

Plus, last year, I told him we would "be here" for the holidays. I meant here in Florida, that we wouldn't be traveling to North Carolina or Chicago. In his mind, he heard, "We'll be here in this apartment for the holidays," so he also believes I've broken a promise.

On Monday the moving company will come pack our lives into boxes. On Tuesday they will move us a few miles away to our renovated house.

Meanwhile, what do I do for my son?

December 02, 2004 in Searching for Home | Permalink | Comments (8)

November 15, 2004

Not home yet

On Sunday, we excorcised in our new house. Well, not really, but I did ring bells throughout the house and light incense and do all kinds of voo-doo I don't normally do. As Gary put it, it isn't that we want the spirits to leave, just that we want them to find peace.

Unfortunately, we know way too much about the house's previous owners and even though we're knocking out ceilings, pulling out carpet, and painting practically every surface, some bad vibes remain.

So, in addition to communing with the spirits yesterday, I also hung out in the sun room and read a book while Gary worked on the house.

Slowly, it is becoming ours. And quickly, we will be moving in.

What did you do to make your house a home?

November 15, 2004 in Searching for Home | Permalink | Comments (7)

November 08, 2004

Take a number

There are some addresses and phone numbers I cannot get out of my head. Like, "Write Zoom, Z-double-O-M, Box 350, Boston, Mass, 0-2-1-3-4" ... or "588-2300, EMPIRE."

I can still remember the address of the house where I grew up: 416 Beverly Drive. But I can't remember my childhood phone number. Or the phone number after that (110 Carriage Way), or the phone number after that. My stepmother recently moved from the home we lived in for 20 years, and I can't get that phone number out of my mind or remember her new home number.

I was thinking about this because I just learned that when we move in a few weeks, we'll have a new phone number. Which means Colter will need to learn a new home number and address.

It seems like such a small thing, but when I told him, he was really upset. More upset than he's been about anything else related to this move, so far. And in a way I can't explain, I understand.

What is it about some numbers?

November 08, 2004 in Searching for Home | Permalink | Comments (5)

September 24, 2004

Post-Traumatic House Disorder

After months of looking, falling in love, falling out of love, offering, counter-offering, countering counter-offers and general misery, we actually closed on a house yesterday.

Time to celebrate, right?

Not exactly.

I think the stress of the experience finally got to us. While we should have been happy, Gary and I both found ourselves snapping at Colter, who seemed to be particularly annoying. Which makes perfect sense if you think about how incredibly tense we had been all day (it looked like they might not get out of house by closing), and how tense that must have made him. And yet, it felt so awful.

To help us recover, we ate a Marshall Field's Frango Mint Chocolate Cheesecake. Definitely a recipe for recovery.

September 24, 2004 in Searching for Home | Permalink | Comments (9)

September 02, 2004

Hurricanes, houses, hormones, and hives

Well, the inspection of our new house was this morning and -- surprise! -- there was some unexpected bad news (excess moisture in two sections of wall, and more termite damage than we thought). Plus, there's a hurricane bearing down on the state of Florida again.

As I was talking to my wonderfully caring and sweet husband this morning, he sensed my stress and said, "Well, you are about to get your --"

I interrupted him before he could give me grounds for divorce. "No, you are not about to say that! You're not," I said. He asked, "Are you smiling?" I said, "Yes. I'm smiling, but I'm also blogging in my head."

Now, I have hives. Really. I got the first batch yesterday just after lunch, and today just after lunch, they are rising again. Help?

September 02, 2004 in Hurricanes Happen, Searching for Home | Permalink | Comments (4)

August 22, 2004

Bananas in the backyard

Thanks to all of you who told me the right house would find us, it did -- yesterday -- and today we are officially under contract.

What sealed the deal for me: the combination of location (within walking distance of downtown Safety Harbor) and charm (terrazzo floors and lots of beadboard trim).
What sealed the deal for Gary: the extra space (it's three bedrooms plus a study) and the price (it was $30,000 less than anything we'd seen).
What sealed the deal for Colter: a banana tree in the backyard with almost-ripe fruit on it that the seller told us makes great smoothies.

We are one happy family.

August 22, 2004 in Searching for Home | Permalink | Comments (27)

August 19, 2004

Third time is not the charm

Have I mentioned we're looking for a house? I hear you groaning. To update you, we submitted our third offer on a house earlier this week and it looks like this one isn't going to lead to a signed contract, either. I'm becoming a bit paranoid and gun shy, so I asked our wonderful realtor if this is typical here (we've purchased two other homes, but in another state). She wrote:

I think you have had some unusually bad luck because I definitely know it's not that you are ... being difficult to please. I think all of your offers have been very reasonable and you've been flexible with the sellers' needs. Odds would say you should be packing boxes right now, but you've just had some rotten luck.

Are you superstitious? If so, what do you carry with you or have or do that you think brings you good luck?

August 19, 2004 in Searching for Home | Permalink | Comments (12)

August 15, 2004

Frustration insurance

Would anyone care to underwrite me?

I know that my situation is not tragic, especially when compared to people who have lost loved ones, homes, everything this week. And yet, I wish life would let up a little.

Instead of removing my family from harm's way, I ended up placing us there when we evacuated to Orlando.

Then, on our way back home yesterday, the air conditioning in my car died.

This afternoon, we found out that the sellers whose house we had a verbal agreement to buy decided to take it off the market. They didn't sign the papers Thursday because of the hurricane; then, they worried there'd be too much hurricane damage to fix by the closing date so they didn't sign Friday. Then, they worried all the contractors would be busy repairing hurricane-damaged homes and wouldn't be able to complete the repairs they'd decided to make before selling, so they didn't sign Saturday. Today, they told their realtor they've decided not to sell at all.

We suspect they may have planned to move to a mobile home park then reconsidered after seeing such places flattened by Charley.

If I could file insurance claims for frustration, I'd be rich from reimbursements!

August 15, 2004 in Hurricanes Happen, Searching for Home | Permalink | Comments (6)

August 10, 2004

What kind of house am I?

This search for a house has taught me a lot about myself.

When we first started looking earlier this summer, we found a place that was exactly what I wanted. It had location (across the street from a park), charm (a 1940s home with the original wood floors, a fireplace and lots of built-in bookcases), and space (extra nooks for the piano and a small study). Unfortunately, we weren't quite as prepared financially as we thought we were, so someone else bought it before we could get our down payment together. I learned that my financial slackness can cost us.

We put the search on hold for about a month then recently resumed. Almost immediately, we found another place that was very close to what we wanted. It was also an older house with wood floors, near the same park as the first one (not across the street, but within walking distance), with a little more liveable space. Unfortunately, that space was created without a permit, and I couldn't bring myself to buy it. It was too risky. I learned that I'm more cautious than I knew.

We found another house, one that Gary really liked. It was a little further north in the county, on a larger lot, with a healthy dose of space and not too much charm. Although I could see the value in it, it was too suburban for me.

This all lead me to wonder: what kind of house am I? I'm not risky. I'm not suburban. And sadly, I'm no longer as urban as I was in my youth.

I have become a cozy, small-town house with little extra space but lots of charm.

Last night we put an offer on just such a home and are waiting to hear back.

What kind of house are you?

August 10, 2004 in Searching for Home | Permalink | Comments (9)

August 07, 2004

A house, a house, my kingdom for a house

Actually, it was "my kingdom for a horse," but I don't want a pony, just some prime real estate.

We've spent the last few weeks on the verge of either buying a house or going insane. Driving around Kumquat Court and Pineapple Boulevard in search of Avocado Drive will do that to a person. And that was after we made an offer on a house on Saturn St., amidst Jupiter and Mars. What happened to naming streets after trees and dead presidents?

This morning it appears the fates have finally joined hands with our Realtor. There was a house that was in the neighborhood we wanted, the price range we needed, with the features we have been afraid to hope we'd find (fireplace, ceramic tile, french doors, a workshop for Gary). But before we could see it earlier this week, it was placed under contract. Our Realtor asked that we be notified if the contract fell through. Last night, it did.

We go see it this morning, and with any luck we'll live on Suwanee Street.

How important is your street's name to you?

August 07, 2004 in Searching for Home | Permalink | Comments (10)

June 18, 2004

Adventures in househunting

We started seriously looking for a house last weekend, so I've been absorbed in that this week. It's been interesting to see what appeals to me, what appeals to Gary, what appeals to Colter, and where the overlap is.

So far, we've found two houses that we all loved. One of them we saw last Sunday and have been mulling over. The other we saw last night and are trying to figure out what we can offer, given that it's a 1941 bungalow (we want something old with character) and needs lots of work. I hope we buy it, but I know that the two times we purchased homes previously there were lots of setbacks and false hopes.

Meanwhile, I feel as Geneen Roth describes: I am homesick for a place I have no recollection of visiting.

June 18, 2004 in Searching for Home | Permalink | Comments (7)

January 23, 2004

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

My husband and I are house-hunting -- again. This time it will be different. This time, we'll meet our new neighbors before deciding whether to make an offer on a home.

The first time my husband and I looked for a house together, we had several real estate agents search the listings on our behalf, and we gave no thought to who would live on either side of us.

We spent most of our free time going from townhouse to farmhouse in our quest to find the perfect home. And we found one. Every weekend. And every time, someone else bought it. We were a little too late with our offer, a little too low or a little too unlucky.

Just before we ran out of energy and interest, we lucked into a two-bedroom, 2.5 bath place with only one flaw -- all the walls were the color of smoked salmon. We bought some paint, then we bought our first home.

Three years later, we had an infant. Suddenly, the sunken living room and long flight of stairs weren't romantic; they were dangerous. And the patio overlooking the golf course wasn't going to work as a back yard. So we called an agent.

Because we had a child, we didn't just look inside the homes we considered; location mattered. We focused on local schools, convenience to weekend activities and our commute times.

We weren't looking for a neighborhood like the ones we grew up in: affluent, suburban, segregated. For the first 10 years of my life, most of the kids in my neighborhood were white boys. I certainly didn't want to subject my son to the same homogenized lifestyle.

Still, I was less concerned with our neighbors than I should have been. On a street with six houses, we were surrounded by two elderly women, two married couples and one rotating rental.

The couple down the street had two daughters and the couple who lived next door to us had a little girl. All the kids became good friends and, later, the adults did, too.

But over the years it became clear that one of the elderly women was really unfriendly and the other was racist. It was also clear that my son was facing a micro version of my childhood dilemma; just as I had been surrounded by boys, he was surrounded by girls.

Before we moved to Florida last year, I spent every weekend I was here driving around, determined to find the right school and a neighborhood full of boys who attended it.

Rather than buying immediately, we opted to rent, and the revolving door in our apartment complex swings both ways. Our stability has made our home the neighborhood gathering place, which Colter has loved. And he has not lacked for young company.

Before the moving van arrived, Colter had met the two boys who lived downstairs: a fellow first-grader in the classroom next door to his and a third-grader who shared his love of Pokemon and Yu-gi-Oh!

Since then, Colter has developed friendships with other kids who live here, and the little boys downstairs have moved out. Our new downstairs neighbor is a scary woman who is bothered by the noise a 7-year-old makes when he hops off the couch, practices karate or plays piano.

So, once again, we've started looking for a new home, with the help of some friends who live in a quaint town nearby. As desirable as their very lovely street is, there's a bully who lives there, so their kids stay inside much of the time.

When real estate agents say location is everything, they aren't just talking about property values and traffic and crime. They know that when I say I want a cozy fixer-upper within walking distance of the elementary school and the bookstore downtown, what I really mean is that I want there to be plenty of good kids for Colter, with parents whose company Gary and I will enjoy on those long summer nights when we're all outside.

They know I'll pay them a hefty commission because they've got inside information that's critical to us: it's the neighbors who make -- or break -- a neighborhood.

What do you look for in a home and neighborhood?

This LifeFiles column originally appeared on about 70 TV station websites managed by Internet Broadcasting Systems.

January 23, 2004 in Searching for Home | Permalink | Comments (2)

November 23, 2003

You can't go home again... and yet you must

One of my aunts e-mailed me over the weekend to let me know that my childhood home had been torn down and a McMansion had been built in its place. I hadn't seen our old brick two-story on Beverly Drive in years, but still, knowing it's gone is really upsetting. I think in some tiny back mental room, I thought maybe I'd live there again someday.

I loved that house, and the few good childhood memories I have were made there. In many ways, I think I've been looking for that house ever since we moved into the slightly tonier neighborhood that became a violent backdrop to the explosive end of my parent's marriage.

So, when I return to Chicago tomorrow after another year away, it will be to a lonelier landscape that no longer includes my childhood home or my father. A landscape that looks a little more bereft because yet another possibility has died.

It makes me feel old and more certain that even when you go home again, you don't.

November 23, 2003 in Searching for Home | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 29, 2002

A moving decision

Sometimes what appears to be a blessing can turn out to be a curse.

At least that's how I felt when faced with a momentous decision that my accommodating husband willingly left in my somewhat shaky hands.

I had lived in North Carolina for almost 15 years, and my husband had lived here almost 25, when we were unexpectedly faced with the opportunity to move to a large city close to the beach. I grew up in Chicago and still missed the urban atmosphere. My husband grew up in a small N.Y. coastal village and still missed the water.

It seemed like an easy choice to make, except that it wasn't.

Not only was I evaluating our future prospects just days after my father's death, which made the idea of any dramatic change terrifying to me, but I was engaged in the process not just for myself, but for my husband and my son, with little input from them other than, "I love you and I'll do whatever you want," and "Disneyland's an hour away, let's go!"

After two visits and tremendous trepidation, I finally decided that finding a new school for my son and a new home and community for my family was too overwhelming while the foundation shifted under my feet. I decided that rather than move immediately, we would stay put until I felt ready to choose a life that felt like it would include some comfort along with new challenges.

And then I was given the gift of time. After unwrapping and savoring it, I realized that standing still was not the solution. I was able to make lists of the pros and cons, gather more information about our options, and eventually reach a second level-headed conclusion: accepting this new job and moving would be ideal for us as long as we could do it on our timetable. I was fortunate to have a future employer who agreed.

Nevertheless, we are in for some frightening moments -- the final hugs from friends who have nurtured and supported us, some for decades; saying goodbye to the home that has trails of our memories embedded in the pine floors; crossing the state line for the last time as a resident and settling in new territory.

This process has reminded me of an essay by Joan Didion that I discovered as a high school student. She was writing about self-respect and described a scene from the old West that exemplified how a self-assured family reacted to its home being invaded by American Indians. She said that people with self-respect go into a situation with their eyes wide open, knowing that Indians (as she referred to them) are a given. In one form or another, she says, they always are.

I have no doubt she is right. And there will, no doubt, be many tear-filled transitions: the first day of school, the first weekend without plans, the first failure that finds me flopping around emotionally because my safety net is gone. But I know I'll create a new safety net, a new life with new plans for myself and my family, a new beginning, because the most important things we take with us will not be packed in the boxes the movers will bring. They are inside us, and they go wherever we do.

This LifeFiles column originally appeared on about 70 TV station websites managed by Internet Broadcasting Systems.

August 29, 2002 in Searching for Home | Permalink | Comments (0)