Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Bending, dunking, straightening.  Climbing the ladder I craddle the roller so as not to let random paint droplets sprinkle the floor.  Roll one coat up, roll a second coat side to side over it, finish this two foot square area by rolling down.  Repeat.  And repeat and... repeat... until cream covers green, eggshell covers pink and white covers caca-colored brown.  Why anyone would paint a bathroom caca-colored brown is beyond me unless they had a permanent diarrhea problem.

Painting gives me an achy back, sore arms and the discovery that maybe I do have muscles.  They are very latent but they exist, otherwise I wouldn't feel this excruciating pain more befitting of an 80-year old woman.

No pain no gain.  After the last few days of painful painting, we have gained a better house.  Or at least one we can live in now.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Neighbor 1

This morning I ate my first breakfast in the kitchen; it was the best singed toast ever. Then I skedaddled out to the driveway for work.  Yes!  We have a driveway!  Big enough to park two cars in!  So long metered parking, street parking, parallel parking.  I won't miss ya'.

Climbing into my car Harold stops me.  He's our next door neighbor, a retired engineer who wears running shoes with marathoner arch support and knows the skinny on every man woman and cat within a five mile radius.

He tosses out a nonchalant wave and says, "You're the fifth couple in that house in six years."
"We'll be here longer than them."    
"Let's talk again once you start working in it.  You got a lot to do."
"We like the challenge," I said feeling my chin jut out.
"Uh-huh, welcome to the neighborhood," he said turning into his garage.

Welcome indeed.  Harold, the challenge is on!


Thursday, August 25, 2011

First Night

It's 1 AM and still 95 degrees, the house is full of boxes and I can't find my toothpaste.  I put clean sheets on the mattress and crawl on top of the duvet.  Mr. Wonderful joins me.  We're going to sleep in Our House for the very first time.  No more neighbors with shared walls, or landlords who change contracts, or gross rent increases.  We're home in Our House.  I look at him and kick my feet like I'm at an all-girl sleepover.  We laugh and laugh and laugh.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Moving Day

Moving “Day” is a total misnomer.  It took me two months to inform the world we were moving, three months to find the right boxes, and four months to pack.  Nothing happens in a day, especially moving every one of your life’s possessions from a rental apartment to your first house.
For our actual move, Mr. Wonderful and I went local.  I called several Los Angeles-based companies and got price quotes for our in-town move.  This shopping around proved invaluable because 1) I discovered the going rate to move a mere 10 minutes/five miles away; and 2) I learned we wanted movers who communicated with us.  Of the companies I called one was unavailable, one’s office number was disconnected and several others never bothered to return my voicemails.  I know, how demanding, old-fashioned and just plain silly of me wanting a business to call me back to discuss me giving them my business.  Get with the times, Girl!
In the end we chose a company who called us back and could move us on the date we wanted.  Finally someone was speaking our language.  Actually they didn’t speak much of our language but they were fluent in Russian.  Our moving crew consisted of a Muscovite, a Ukrainian and one Kazakhstani who had immigrated to the City of Angels just one month before.  I only know one thing about Kazakhstan so I asked our mover if he knew that crazy Kazak reporter, “Borat” and his tour of America.  Right about then the Kazak broke my grandmother’s picture frame.
After that I decided to stop asking stupid questions and get out of the movers’ way, which definitely helped because they finished loading the truck without breaking anything else.  As the sun climbed pushing the temperature close to triple digits, these men from a region of the world where Siberia is a vacation destination and “summer” is a foreign concept, were visibly wilting in the Southern Californian sun.  To offset the heat they gulped down a bottle of water for every five boxes they put on the truck; in other words 732 water bottles.
Driving his car Mr. Wonderful led the way out of our noisy rental neighborhood, which lay in the middle of the Burbank Airport flight path, to The House.  The moving truck followed him while I took a detour to pick up a dozen sandwiches from Subway.  By the time I arrived the driveway, kitchen and patio looked like a World War II depot had vomited boxes.  Then the Kazak approached me with panic in his eyes. 
“Wh- where restroom?” he said shifting his weight from foot to foot in a universally understandable jig.
I steered him to the room off the kitchen then joined the others schlepping box after box after box.  Boxes labeled “living room”, master bedroom” and “random junk I should have thrown out” soon filled the rooms.
Inside I bumped into the Kazak holding a box labeled “bathroom”.  
“Where I put?” he asked.
I steered him to the room he already knew located off the kitchen.
“No,” he shook his head, “That ‘restroom’.  This go to ‘bathroom’,” he pointed to the label I’d written.
“Bathroom means restroom.”
He tilted his head like a Terrier.
“They mean the same thing, they are the same thing,” I said wiping the sweat from my brow.
“Two words for same thing?” he grimaced.  “So not practical.”
Practical?  He’s talking prac-tical!?  I looked around: the place was littered with boxes of stuff I didn’t need, a long scrape now ran across the whole wall of a freshly painted bedroom and our solid oak dining room table suddenly had two wobbly legs.
He’s right!  It completely impractical to pack up all your life’s possessions, cart them to a new house, which you don’t fully own but are borrowing from a bank and for the next twenty years and must spend every month paying back.  Packing, moving and not breaking anything in the process are absolute impracticalities I never should have embarked upon.  Turn back!  I want to shout to Mr. Wonderful.  I’ve changed my mind!  This is too impractical, messy and disruptive for me!
“Excuse me—”
“What now?!” I wailed.
“The truck is empty,” Mr. Wonderful said.  “You hungry?”
With the movers I pulled together a couple random chairs in the back yard and laid out the Subway sandwiches and drinks.  The sun shone, a gentle breeze rustled our palm trees, a mockingbird perked on the fence and sang his melodious repertoire.  I didn’t hear an airplane, or a truck not even a motorcycle.
The Kazak grabbed a turkey sandwich on focaccia bread and announced, “This good.” 
I looked at the stacked boxes pouring out of the rooms like a disaster zone.  I saw all the work we had to do just to make a cup of coffee.
“Yes,” I said looking at our first house, “It's very good.”

Friday, August 19, 2011


Here's the pool BEFORE--on the day we first saw The House.  It was filthy gross and looked like the home of the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Here's the pool AFTER it was drained, cleaned and refilled.  Ahhh, the power of a good scrub and a shock of chlorine.

The pool was built in the 1940s by a swim teacher who used it to teach swim classes.  Even today it's a joy to swim in--long and wide.

Chimney BEFORE and AFTER the Ivy

Here's the Chimney BEFORE when it was overrun with ivy.  It was so covered we didn't know what state the chimney would be in...
And here it is AFTER we ripped out the ivy to reveal a beautiful, intact chimney.
I'm looking forward to the winter to roast chestnuts over an open fire.

Monday, August 15, 2011

We Got The House!

The day we “closed on The House”—in other words the day we promised everyone from the bank, seller, realtor, insurance agent, title company and Chinese traveling circus that we would spend the next 20 years paying for it—we got the keys. 
After work I stopped at our apartment, picked up a bottle of chilled bubbly then rendez-vous’ed with Mr. Wonderful at The House. 
“You do the honors,” he said handing me the keys.
Odd, they felt light and inconsequential in my palm.  Yet these thin pieces of metal were moving us into a new chapter of our lives—from renters to first-time homeowners; from hunters and gatherers to stationary farmers; from a devil may care couple dropping all garbage into the apartment dumpster to Dang!  These devils really care about sorting paper and plastic from watermelon rinds and coffee grounds. 
I put the key in the lock and turned.  The door swung wide and we stepped into the cold emptiness.  The night’s darkness masked the dirt on the floors and the garish paint on the walls letting me momentarily forget about all the work this House needed before we could move in.  With a flashlight I walked into each room imagining: here’s where we’ll eat, where we’ll sleep, where we’ll Google kitten videos on Youtube. 
I opened the French doors and set up two folding chairs by the pool whose still water was bathed in moonlight.  Mr. Wonderful popped the cork on the bubbles and poured it into two coffee mugs, one chipped and one with “Elvis!” blazoned across it. 
“Congratulations,” I said toasting us with my King mug.  Sipping I watched the blinking lights of planes passing in the inky distance and wondered what city—or far away country—that plane was going to and—
The champagne bottle pierced the placid surface of the pool and broke my traveling reverie.  The green bottle bobbed in the water like a buoy on a choppy sea, the rings of waves rippling out from it like the endless embrace of parentheses.  Surprised, I turned to Mr. Wonderful.
“They christen boats,” he shrugged.  “I just christened our pool.”  
Let the plane go where it will, let the passengers wander the world, I’m staying here and putting down roots with this man in Our House. 
Champagne never tasted so good.  

Monday, August 8, 2011

Master Bedroom--BEFORE--with the Green Painted Walls

Because you wanted to see it...  BEFORE: this is how the room looked when we moved in--green paint applied to the walls with a sponge...


This is how we covered the green walls--with one coat of white and two coats of cream.  It was a lot of painting but now the green is history!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Parlez-vous Escrow?

Once the seller accepts your offer to buy the house, you enter a 30-day period known as “escrow”.  In these four weeks you hire electricians, plumbers and chimney specialists to inspect the house and all of them tell you 101 reasons not to buy it.  The roof needs repair, the foundation isn’t bolted, the property sits in the middle of a flood plain/earthquake/iceberg zone. 

If finding the house with a realtor is like falling in love with a guy, escrow is like meeting that guy’s friends who tell you all the horrible things he does, has done and may possibly do again.  So if you decide to go ahead and marry him don’t say you weren’t warned by the specialists!  Escrow only ends when you accept a house’s imperfections, hold your nose and close the deal on it anyway.  They make it official by recording your name on the house’s title, which you can’t see unless you pay for a copy.  Paying people money during escrow is as easy as taking candy from a baby.  You walked in the house, that'll cost you $125.  You breathed in the house, that'll be $125.  You "thought" of the house, fork over $200.  

For most homebuyers 30 days of escrow is all the time you get to make the single biggest purchase of your entire life.  But 30 days is all you need because a house “For Sale” is a house that someone wants to get rid of. 

Or at least that’s how it used to be.  Things have changed since the housing market meltdown.

In the case of The House with the green bedroom walls and pool that Mr. Wonderful and I wanted to buy, our escrow lasted three times that—three very long months.   Just when we thought we’d close “this week”, the seller would call asking to extend escrow for another seven, 14, 30 days.  The seller requested the extensions for one reason: the house could not be sold.

According to official records, The House had sat vacant for 18 months during which time it racked up violations with the city that had to be amended before it could be sold.  The violations included “mow the lawn”, “trim the hedges”, “fence the backyard”.

Mr. W. and I prepared to take a weed wacker to the front yard but Thelma stopped us saying since we didn’t own the house, we couldn’t cut a blade of grass nor rake an unruly palm tree leaf.  That work was to be done by the seller.

Meanwhile the bank that was lending us the money for our loan was tired of waiting and threatened to increase our mortgage rate if we did not close by the end of the third month.  Trapped between a lazy seller and an antsy lending bank, we did the only thing we could: we went looking for another house. 

On the theMLS.com I found a two bedroom, two bath in tip-top, turn-key shape with a huge yard without a pool.  Mr. Wonderful and I went to see it during its open house and we liked it.  We called Thelma and told her to remove our offer from The House we loved and put an offer in on this new house we liked.   

“What?” Her voiced bellowed over the speakerphone.  “I thought you wanted that fixer upper with the green walls?  That you were going to make it beautiful?”
“The seller isn’t serious about removing the violations, so we can’t buy it.  Besides you called us idiots for wanting to buy that house and apparently you were right.” 
“Everyone who buys a house in this market is an idiot.  The process turns you into an idiot.”
“Thelma, we just can’t wait forever.”
“I’ll call you back,” she said and hung up.

I don’t know who she called or what she said but by the end of the month, the lawn was cut, the papers were signed and our escrow ended.

Finally The House belonged to us idiots!  

Monday, August 1, 2011

Finding "The House"

Mr. Wonderful and I first saw “The House” in late December.  

Let me be more specific, Mr. Wonderful is my husband and he’s just that, awesome.  The day was December 26th when the excitement of Christmas, Santa and receiving gifts is a daily expectation.  And “The House” was a one-story with chipping paint, overgrown lawn and a tilting “For Sale” sign wedged in the front yard.  

We peeked in the windows.  It was filthy, in disrepair and covered in ivy, which had grow up, over and into the chimney so thickly you’d need a blowtorch to remove it. But the house had some things going for it like an open floor plan, a large kitchen and a pool!  I was in love.

The best part though was the sale price, which shockingly, was within our budget. 

I called our Realtor, a woman with a florescent white smile and bottle blond hair who insisted on wearing sensible shoes.  Thelma removed the keys from the lockbox and swung the door open.  We stepped inside The House. 

“It needs a lot of cleaning,” she said sniffing the air.  “And fixing.”  She entered the master bedroom and shrieked.  Mr. Wonderful and I raced in to find her staring at the walls.  

“They’re… green!”
“We know,” I said.
“Lime green and forest green together, which some colorblind fool applied with a sponge--”
“We know.”
“Which makes this the ugliest bedroom I’ve seen in 30 years of being a realtor." 
“We want to buy it.”
“This house?  Absolutely not.”
“It has a pool.”
“Which is empty and might not even hold water.”
“We like the kitchen.”
“I wouldn’t let my daughter cook in that kitchen, not to mention enter this house!”
“We can afford it,” I said.
“Because it’s a dump and needs serious help.” Thelma crossed her arms and shook her head.  “No way.  I won’t let you buy it.”
I looked at Mr. Wonderful.  Could we buy this house and fix it up while living in it?  He nodded and smiled. Yes, we can.

“You're right, Thelma,” I said, “This place is a dump but we can repair it, we can make it beautiful.  We want it.  So will you help us, or not?”

Thelma's sensible shoe tapped on the wood floor while she looked at the green bedroom with disgust.  “Fine, I’ll do it."
"Thank you!" I hugged, then I embraced Mr. Wonderful.
"I can’t decide about you two," Thelma said. "Either you have major vision or you’re complete idiots.”

I didn’t realize how prophetic her words would be.