All posts tagged: Home

A Porch of One’s Own: The Perils and Pleasures of Building My Happy Place

For 20 years I dreamed of a place where I could just “be” at my house: feel the breeze, watch the trees, hear the birds, avoid the bugs. In my mind, this place would be shady (I’m allergic to the sun) and serene. I just wanted a quiet spot where I might read a good book, with a simple table where I might eat a tuna sandwich.  But each time I brought up the subject of constructing such an oasis with my husband, there was a more pressing project that bumped it down the line.  Sometimes, the house needed painting, or the barn burned down, or the pond had to be dredged. Granted, these were all valid and important, but they certainly weren’t transformative for me.  Then, a year or so ago, we had some room in my construction schedule. It was my turn, and we decided to build a screened-in porch. I’d already stopped working full time, and had generally deferred to my husband’s vision as far as expenditures went. But, going into the …

Up in Smoke: A Renovation Nightmare

After a couple of years careening back and forth between considerations about where to live, how to live and what we want to do with the next 50 years of our lives, my husband, Dave, and I finally committed ourselves to a big renovation project. It included an expanded living space, hardwood floors, new doors and windows, a new kitchen, new heating and cooling…the whole nauseating enchilada. Exactly four months ago, we broke ground, planning to be back in our home in time to host Thanksgiving in our newly-expanded dining room. But that was before the fire. Allow me to back up a bit. The decision to renovate was not an easy one. When we bought this house several years ago, the home inspector looked at its crawl space full of decaying joists, its attic full of black mold and the varmint hole as wide as a dachshund dug under the kitchen floorboards and shook his head and said, “Well, I can see why the price is so low. But listen. Do not invest any …

Ovarian Rhapsody: A Little Self-Renovation

Around the same time I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, we were scheduled to renovate our apartment. My husband, an architect, had started to sketch out the designs. We’d enlisted his favorite contractor, Slavek. Our plans were to update the kitchen and the bathroom and to turn an unused half bathroom — really, our cat’s bathroom that featured an easily accessible hole in the door, left from the former owner — into a full bath with a shower. Our kitchen was Brady Bunch-era wood-and-probably-formaldehyde paneled situation: The refrigerator sat in the living room and we had a non-working washer/dryer combo machine called a Comb-o-Matic, circa 1975. Floor tiles were loose and scattered around the bathroom floor. We’d been saving up cash and waiting to do this project for a good seven years. It was time. So after processing the news of my upcoming ordeal, one of the first things I said to my husband was, “But we still have to renovate, right? We can’t stop the progress!” “Um, no,” he said. “That’s not happening now.” …

Welcome to the Smelliest Time of Year

I love fall. It’s my favorite season. And I know what I’m talking about: I grew up in New England and live in Upstate New York, which makes me a bona fide autumnal expert. It is the most glorious time of the year around these parts. It’s also, unfortunately, the most intensely scented. I’m not talking about the natural scents of sweet ripe apples waiting to be picked or smoky leaves crunching underfoot. I’m talking about the olfactory assault of artificial fragrance that fills pretty much every public space from September through November. Normally I avoid stores that specialize in home fragrance or perfumed lotions, but this time of year, the scents spill over their normal boundaries and I have to steer clear of entire wings of the mall. Craft stores display fragranced candles and incense at the front end; bookstores sell autumn potpourri on racks near the checkout. Even my local grocery store has a display of seasonally scented wreaths by the entrance. And the most pervasive seasonal scent of all is Pumpkin Spice. …

Yes, You Can Be Creative in the Suburbs

Everybody knows the suburbs kill creativity. At eighteen when I was running away from them, I absolutely knew it to be the truth. When I first moved to the suburbs, I was twelve. For months, the whole family headed out after supper once or twice a week to watch a bare lot transform into a concrete basement, then a skeleton of wood, then a house with rooms and windows. It was built exactly like the model, only with all of my mother’s specifications. She chose dark green sculpted carpet and gold-threaded linoleum and green appliances, all the rage in the seventies. All through the spring, we peered through the windows, marveled at the shutters and the enormous, dead-empty backyard. The anticipation was nearly unbearable. We moved in June, right after school let out. In our old house, my sister and I shared a tiny room at the back of the house, barely large enough for our full-size bed and the dresser we shared. In the new house, I had a room of my own. My …

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Ode to the Yellow Couch and Other Thoughts on Napping

The yellow couch. (Photo courtesy of Amy Barr) I’m thinking about buying a new couch. The one we have has served us well for a decade or so, but the fabric is faded and the stuffing is mostly dead. Here’s the problem: When I mentioned my plan to my family, they pitched a collective fit. “Noooo,” they whined. “We love the yellow couch. It’s the nap spot.” This couch is not particularly long or deep. Napping on it requires bending your knees or propping your feet up on an arm. Yet, when I brought up the possibility of replacing it, you would’ve thought I suggested murdering Grandma. As far as nap spots go, the yellow couch isn’t my top choice. It’s in a high traffic, sometimes noisy location. You’re on display to anyone traveling from kitchen to bathroom, and, depending on which end you rest your head, your ears could be next to a giant speaker. But my husband and sons love it, so for now I’ve capitulated. The yellow couch stays. Apparently people are …

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Death of a Salesman’s Samples

Back when I was growing up, we didn’t call it clutter. Or hoarding. It was just “the basement,” and most people thought of it as our subterranean treasure cave. When relatives came over for holidays or my friends visited for play dates, they’d be delighted to be invited downstairs. They’d make their way down the matted, pastel-colored rainbow steps to the lower level of our New Jersey ranch house. This was where my salesman father stacked his towers of cardboard sample cartons. My father would ceremoniously open one of these boxes with a utility knife. The thick strapping tape unfurled and revealed a mind-boggling array of wholesale items wrapped in brown butcher paper. He sold miniature antique dollhouse furniture. Cloisonné jewelry from Taiwan – necklaces with miniature scaled fish in every color. Almost everything came by the gross, which was not gross at all but, rather, the magic number 144 – a dozen dozen. My friends and I dove into grosses of faux birthstone rings, a dollar a dozen. They winked on our fingers, glass …

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Cluttered Apartment, Clear Mind

Most people pare down when they move. Not me — I just move my stuff to an entirely new place. The bright side to my separation was that it decreased a different kind of clutter, the kind that lived in my brain. The kind that questioned me every day: “Will today be the day that he foregoes late night TV and comes to bed with you?” or “Will today be the day that you grow a pair and tell him you can’t go one more day without being touched?” Seven years is too long to live in a comatose marriage. I tried envisioning my future if I stayed in this marriage and my future as a single mom. I could see the former very clearly — it was more of the same. The latter, although fuzzy in its composition, showed a riskier but much more rewarding path. I did all the analyzing I could possibly do until I finally felt strong enough to make the decision. I walked out of my old claustrophobia-inducing house and …

Manage Your Money, With Feeling

(Graphic: Kat Borosky/TueNight.com) A few years ago, I dreamed of quiet, tree-lined streets, quality neighborhood public schools, a car, a dog, and a yard. My husband and I had had it with city life, so we began hunting for homes in New Jersey. We must have looked at fifteen homes over the course of a year. But after all that, we decided to move just a few neighborhoods over in Brooklyn, where we could get at least 80% of the things we wanted. (We still don’t have the yard or dog. Some day, perhaps.) I always find it interesting to hear why people make homeownership decisions. Some people do a cost analysis and decide that it may be cheaper to own than rent, or predict that it will be a better long-term investment. Some people buy simply because they like the idea of home ownership and they’ve always imagined themselves as a homeowner. Unlike many other types of financial decisions, such as how much to contribute to a 401(k), owning a home is a deeply …