Home Ownership Lesson #12: If it’s not the painter, it’s a thief

If it isn’t the painter, it’s a thief.

I try to do everything at once. It is just who I am. I can’t just watch TV, I have to watch TV and write emails or read the paper. I can’t just talk on the phone, I have to clean the house while doing it, or play solitaire to try to stay in the moment with the person on the phone. This same nonsense applies to the important things in my life as well.

IMG_3211I decided about six or eight months ago that no amount of new flooring or painted cabinets was going to make me happy in my old (first) house. The location of the house had grown inconvenient for my life and I was tired of not knowing any of my neighbors. I think the latter is a symptom of the welcome to my garage subdivision culture. We pull into our garages, close the doors and never see anyone. So, after months of looking at every house in the sweet little non-cookie-cutter/non-subdivision neighborhood I found my house. It is on the street I’ve wanted to be on and is super close to the nicest park in town. Winning.

Here’s is where the problems start. In the month of July and first week of August, I closed on two houses, moved out of one, started renovations on another, had significant renovation delays and drama, stayed temporarily in another house, took a trip, turned 40, and finally moved into the new house.

Turns out some painting contractors (or maybe all contractors) don’t actually do what they say they will do. This can result in starting 5 days late, doing a sloppy job, sending the same guy back 3 times to fix the problems he created the first time, and finally fixing the problems 3 weeks later. Then we discovered crumbling concrete under the carpet we removed from the basement. I say “we” here but I really mean someone far handier than me. The kitchen flooring had to be reimagined and is now vinyl instead of tile. The master bath shower is unique – meaning waiting a long time for a special door. And I won’t even talk about the half bath faucet that won’t be in for another 28 days.

Despite all of this I moved into the house this week. It is lovely and I am remarkably not annoyed by the paint issues that remain. It must be love.

The first night I slept in the house some friends came over to celebrate. I went to bed, slept great and woke up feeling at home. I started my day with a dog walk and as I passed my neighbor’s house she came outside and informed me that her home was broken into overnight.

IMG_3210Naturally, I went back to my house and locked the door and glanced at my car. It was unlocked in the driveway. Sure enough, the thieves had stopped at my place too. My car was a mess – compartments open, papers everywhere. I immediately noticed my change cup for tolls was gone – $15 dollars or so of quarters.

It instantly felt awful. I have never been robbed before. I let the neighbor know and then continued my dog walk on the phone with the boyfriend. I returned home and called the police to report it, ate breakfast, worked some and then hopped in the shower. A bit later as I was drying my hair it occurred to me that my garage door opener was in the console. I dropped the dryer and ran to the car. It was gone. Along with my iPhone charger. Some random people either have unfettered access to my garage or my garage opener is laying in a neighbor’s yard. I didn’t know which.

I lost it. Whatever tears wanted to come earlier were unstoppable now. All of the time and work, so many houses, the careful planning, the inspections and offers and counters and bargaining, the cleaning and packing and unpacking, rolling with the changes because this was my house on my dream Fort Wayne street, coupled with a milestone birthday. All of that and now I just wanted to feel HOME, to not have to keep on doing everything at once. It seemed totally unfair. I immediately called the garage people and the kind man at Raynor felt sorry for my weepy self and sent someone over the same day to reprogram my garage door openers. Not the welcome to the neighborhood I wanted.

After a day of crying and fixing and praying, I am back to normal. I love my little house and street. I have great friends that helped me to put up all my first-floor curtains, make sure my motion light works, and call/email/text me to make sure I’m okay. And, of course, I’m now locking everything all the time and keeping the car inside the garage. And in the process of the crying, fixing, and praying the house feels a little more like a home and a bit closer to finished. Although, I wish that activity hadn’t been driven by a welcome-to-the-neighborhood theft.

Just when you think you are doing all you can do at once, life throws something else at you.

At the end of this and most importantly I was reminded and will more often think on the truth that “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalms 4:8 (NKJV). I’m grateful for that because if it’s not one thing, it’s something else.

Why Asking for Help is So Hard

I just never know when the next ah-ha moment will happen.

Weed Eater

The man from the landscaping company came by to talk to me about some rocks.

We surveyed the backyard together. As we did, I apologized profusely for the condition of the grass along my fence line; as if the condition of the yard was some reflection on my character. I was embarrassed and explained that I had run out of weed eater string and was working on how to replace it. I assumed this would be the end of that conversation.

I do not know how to replace weed eater string. In fact, I did not even know that the string was designed to destroy itself. Yard work is not one of my gifts.

He smiled sweetly and said “I’ll do it for you.” I, of course, said something like “oh no, no I don’t want to bother you with that.” He insisted.

I stood and watched, uncomfortably, as he laced the string into the weed eater. I apologized for using his time to do this for me. I apologized for not knowing how to do it myself. Really, though, I was apologizing for needing help; I was worried that he would judge me because I could not do this myself. I explained, apologetically, that this is the first house I have lived in where I was responsible for the yard. In the past I hired someone to do it and growing up my Daddy always took care of the yard. As I gushed, needlessly, I wondered why I needed him to know why I did not know anything about weed eaters. Why would I?

He repeated sweetly and genuinely that he did not mind. He said that he was happy to do it and that “it makes us feel needed.”

It makes us feel needed – I thought about that comment for a couple of days. He did not care that I did not know anything about weed eaters; he did not expect me to and did not judge me for it. He enjoyed helping.

He liked being needed as much as I did not want to be needy. It’s clear to me now that when I refuse to ask for help when I need it I am depriving someone else of the opportunity to feel the joy of being needed.

Turns out, needing help is not a character flaw either. It is an opportunity to give someone else the gift of being needed.

Home Ownership Lesson #12

I am no Suzy Homemaker.

I do not enjoy housekeeping. I know people who love it. I have enjoyed having had roommates who love to clean. I have friends who enjoy the satisfaction that comes with completing a task or enjoying the break it provides from their normal routine. These things do not appeal to me.

I am neither good at cleaning nor do I wish to make time to do it (I work at work, I don’t want to work at home – I want to read and watch more episodes of The West Wings on Netflix). When I mop it seems that there is always something left lingering on the floor. My “clean” house never seems to look as good as other people’s “clean” house. I clean because I must. I clean to maintain a reasonably healthy home and to prevent dog hair, laundry and gluten-free crumbs from swallowing my house. Or, guests are coming over. Guilt is an effective cleaning motivator.

I am very grateful for my dishwasher.

I am very grateful for my dishwasher.

People have asked me why I don’t just hire someone to take care of it. Why? Because I am a walking contradiction. I hate to clean, but I am ashamed to hire someone because my house is so small. It seems spoiled of me to have someone else come clean my 1600 square feet that I live in with only a dog, especially since I really only use about half the house. So, I cleaned.

Recently, much to my delight, a friend was looking for some side work cleaning. This was perfect – I wasn’t so much trying to pawn off my work on my little house, I was helping a friend! No shame in that, right? I quickly let her know I’d welcome the help. Everyone wins.

Then, after the deal was done, I started thinking. Actually, obsessing might be a better word. In order for her to clean she would have to come into my house. Usually visits are preceded by me dusting, vacuuming, and clearing all the flat surfaces of laundry. The situation begged the question: should I clean the house before she comes? Of course, I would pick up the dirty clothes off the floor, put away the laundry hanging out on the dryer, and clear the door handles of bras and jackets. But should I really clean before she comes?

I surveyed the house. It needed dusting. The floor needed a sweep. The mirror in the bathroom was dotted with toothpaste splatter. The windows had not been touched since I bought the place. I reasoned that these are the very things she is coming to clean. This is normal. Then, I thought of the microwave. Ahh, the microwave.

I do not buy paper towels (I prefer using cloth rags). Also, I do not own one of those little domes to cover food in the microwave. Now take a moment to think about what the condition of the inside of the microwave might be when you use it for months, without covering food up, or cleaning it. My mother is cringing with embarrassment right now. I hope my Brother-in-Law is sitting down. It was not good.

It took me two days to decide whether or not to clean the microwave. In the end, I decided that I would prefer to endure the shame of someone seeing the inside of it rather than cleaning it myself. Telling, huh? I just hoped that my friend would pray for me rather than judge my housekeeping skills (or lack thereof).

The cleaning day came and went. I arrived home super late that day and was welcomed by the smell of cleanliness (lemon scent with a touch of Clorox, very nice). It was wonderful. The house looked great, including the microwave. I checked it first since I needed to know if she knew.

In a note to my friend later thanking her for the help I apologized for the state of the microwave. Yes, I was fishing to see how awful she thinks I am now. I am just a wee bit of a people pleaser. I am sure you could not tell. To my apology she responded “I actually said ‘woah’ out loud when I opened the microwave!” I thought for a moment of asking how hard it was to clean but I decided to spare myself more self-induced humiliation. I had kind of hoped she would say it was not so bad; clearly, where the microwave is concerned I do not live in reality. It was bad and I knew it. But, I am very happy that it is clean now and that I did not have to do it. I think my cleaning age is around 17.

The lesson? Until I can make it to a box store to buy one of those dome things I am using a paper plate to protect my microwave from my dinner. Promise!

If you are no Suzy Homemaker it is best to just get help.

Home Ownership Lesson #11

The amount of the subdivision annual assessment is directly proportional to the effort expended to treat the subdivision’s streets. In this instance less is not more.

In the mountains, more specifically the holler, there was no “authority” responsible for treating the roads when it snows or is icy. There are no subdivisions back home. You either live on the mountain or near the river. Flat land is at a premium. Usually, Cousin JW would whip out the four-wheeler with a snow blade and clear off what he could. The road to my family’s house is one-lane between a steep hillside and the creek. When traveling it Daddy’s advice was “ah, go on, just go slow and aim for the ditch line, not the creek. You can only slide so far if you are going slow.” So we went.

Here in Indiana, the flattest place on earth, subdivisions are the rule. So, for the first time I am living in one. When I moved into my soul-less garage with three bedrooms in suburbia I knew that I was responsible for my driveway (and that is another lesson altogether). However, I figured that my annual assessment would cover a scraping and little salt for the streets in the subdivision. It, after all, is around $200. That should cover some salt, right?

Wrong.

Two weeks after the last snow fall we still have a few inches of ice on the primary roads of the subdivision. I have slid to a stop at the turn for my street several times. When passing a vehicle going in the opposite direction cars nearly have to stop to do it safely. Not cool.

Icy Road

At the time I bought the house, I specifically remember thinking that the annual assessment for my little starter neighborhood was very reasonable. Some other neighborhoods with more expensive homes had much higher assessments. Now I realize that the more you pay, the more services you receive. I am not sure how this got by me. This was my first time, cut me some slack. Lesson learned.

I regret that I feel a little bitterness when I drive by the grown-up neighborhoods and see their nice clear and dry streets. Sad. However, I am somewhat comforted by the fact that most other folks I have talked to are dealing with the same thing. It seems that my situation is the rule and not the exception. Of course, that does not stop me from being annoyed and indignant about it.

It looks like until upgrade one day, I will be driving slowly through my neighborhood. As you know, you can only slide so far if you are driving slowly.

Home Ownership Lesson #10

Shut up, accept and be grateful for help.

When I bought my soulless house in my little subdivision I never expected that it would see a real holiday event or celebration. Why? As I have said many times, holidays only happen at my Mommy’s house. Turns out, that is not true any more.

Sister, Brother-in-Law, The Princess, and the Benevolent Dictator decided that they would spend Thanksgiving 2012 in Vegas. My parents opted out of Vegas and instead they packed up half my Mommy’s cooking supplies, various ingredients (bring your own homemade cranberry relish), a giant sack of canned goods, and the dog and came to Fort Wayne.

Have canned beets, will travel.

Have canned beets, will travel.

On the surface this was the perfect plan. The parents still get to do a little traveling but we get to have a home-cooked traditional Thanksgiving feast (including a 17 pound turkey for 3 people). For me? I get to not drive to Virginia until Christmas. Everyone is happy. The devil, however, is in the details.

Five days, three people, two dogs, a small house, and no cable. Do you see where this is going now?

The dogs missed cable as well.

The dogs missed cable as well.

The key problem here, upon reflection, is the lack of cable television (meaning no Thanksgiving football). This forced us to talk, walk the dogs, burn things, then we resorted to rummy. I think the rummy could have gone on longer had I not beat the parents unmercifully and bragged about it (a trait I get from my father). As the rummy showdown wrapped up I went to the bathroom. When I returned my father was standing in the kitchen with the ladder. That is how long it takes. Why? He bumped his head for the second time (gasp!) on the low hanging light fixture in my kitchen. It was too much – he could not take it any more. By “it” I mean not having anything to do, but he probably meant the ill-hanging light.

Winning!

Winning!

Enter gratuitous holiday home improvement.

Now, in my family every group project is an opportunity for a fight. I am surprised my parents have remained married for 43 years. This little project lived up to those low expectations. I was irritated because I really had not planned for electrical work and this was not my idea. Mom went along with it, my guess, because that is easier. I have not gotten that smart, yet. So, at this point he is frustrated because I am irritated and not helpful. For instance, I refuse to go turn the power to the lights off because I don’t want to do it wrong and electrocute my father. I’m a total grown-up.

Me being unhelpful. Note my Mommy's little feet standing on my kitchen table.

Me being unhelpful. Note my Mommy’s little feet standing on my kitchen table.

Daddy the electrician

Long story short, 30 minutes later – after having to redo the entire wiring once because someone (who shall remain nameless) forgot to put a washer back on – the light is up and working. The end result is a huge improvement – no one can hit their head and it looks better (even though the fixtures are ugly and I want rid of them).

So, who feels like giant a@! now? Me. But you know what, it was a holiday and somebody has to be “that person.” Might as well be me. Hopefully I won’t win that prize at Christmas too.

Thanks to my Mommy and Daddy, who still love and are willing to continue “raising” their willful, independent, short-tempered, and high-strung 35-year-old child.

Happy Holidays!

Home Ownership Lesson #9

Buying a new dishwasher is kind of like having a baby. Once you get the new one you conveniently forget the pain (cost) of getting it.

It was a lovely Tuesday afternoon, sometime between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m., when the Sears installers arrived. They promptly pulled out the old, gross, and mineral encrusted dishwasher. As they did, installer #1 let me know that they did not include the mandatory “install kit” with my order. Um, okay. I looked at him, with what must have been a face of panic, because he responded “don’t worry we keep them in the van.” Super. Oh, but it’ll be $15.00. Of course. Fine. What’s $15.00. Then they carried in my brand new shiny Kenmore Elite dishwasher. A beacon of freedom from using the same three dishes and one cup over and over again and soapy water.

I wrote installer #1 a check, to him (which was odd), signed the installation form and said farewell to the fellas. Note: they were very good, clean, respectful. Then I had a moment with my new equipment.

It is a beautiful thing and its arrival could not be better with Thanksgiving next week. As I gazed at the shiny stainless front, new adjustable racks, stemware holders, and removable silverware tray the thoughts of the cost of such a luxury slipped away.

My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance. —Erma Bombeck

Home Ownership Lesson #8

It is mine and I can do whatever I want to it.

The last two days have been a cleaning frenzy in my little corner of suburbia. Thursday was the screened in porch, Friday was the kitchen, Saturday was everything else. I love a house filled with the smell of Clorox.

I noticed that cleaning my master bath is tough because of the door situation. The bathroom closet door is right behind the bathroom door into my bedroom such that the door handles will bang against each other. In order to get into the closet I have to close the bathroom door. This makes sweeping, vacuuming, and mopping a huge pain. It also encourages me to leave all my products out on the counter so I don’t have to get into the closet for everything. Contrary to what my parents will say, I like to be neat, but my closet won’t let me. It is not my fault.

Since the bathroom was clean, all my bathroom stuff was in the closet in its proper place. I want to leave it there in an effort to be the neat person that I like to believe that I am. So, as I prepared for an evening out on Saturday night I got irritated at my bathroom. I rolled my eyes and closed the bathroom door and opened the closet door. Again. I thought to myself, I wish I could get rid of this closet door, it is a waste of space. Then I closed the closet door and opened the bathroom door and continued on with my primping.

Then, I realized, wait, this is my house. I can get rid of that door.

And that is exactly what I did. In party clothes and freshly coiffed hair (my impulse control on such issues is clearly lacking) I snatched a Phillips screwdriver from my cardboard box of tools and proceeded to unhinge the door. Ten minutes later the door was is in the garage and I have unfettered access to my closet. Ah, it is the small stuff that makes me happy.

Now, I wonder if I should paint the inside of the closet? It never ends.

“A good home must be made, not bought.” Joyce Maynard, “Domestic Affairs”