Notes from house-shopping, 2011 version

Here’s an upgraded version of my house-hunting tips post from 2006, with helpful advice for sellers in this newly dismal housing market. I’m no real estate mogul, but I share these in hopes they can help someone:

Even if all you succeed in doing is falling in love with a house out of your price range, house hunting can be more than just a quixotic diversion from praying for your own house to sell. There are valuable tidbits to be learned:

  • If you think your house smells like a Chinese restaurant – it probably does.
  • It’s possible to post photos on the Internet which entirely obscure the fact that your front yard is composed primarily of concrete.
  • A lot can be configured to adjoin as many as five other lots in the back yard alone.
  • Even though it seems like everyone in America watches those “home staging” shows and the entire enterprise is, therefore, pointless – there are exceptions to this rule.
  • Probably rethink answering the door in your bathing suit when the realtor shows up. In fact, consider instituting a one-hour “fully clothed zone” prior to every showing.
  • Toile covers a multitude of sins, but it does not obscure aggressive wolf spiders.
  • Painting the ceiling purple just might impact resale value. (I forgot about this one!)
  • The dogs next door will leap the fence in the middle of a showing if you don’t have it repaired.
  • That whole “leave out a pitcher of ice water and glasses during a showing” may seem like overkill when you read it on the website, but it sure would be nice if more people tried it in the 100-degree Carolina heat.


  • Consider giving the litter box a quick once-over, if it’s been a week or so since you last emptied it out.
  • Eschew potpourri
  • Use of wide-angle lenses to create impression of spacious rooms on realtor website will only trigger homicidal rage when the prospective buyer enters the actual room/closet, as it were
  • Update the kitchen? Yes. Paint the cabinet doors shut? Perhaps not.
  • For buyers: If a listing says “there is also an additional climate-controlled room off the garage,” but there is no pictorial evidence of said room anywhere on the otherwise abundantly photographed listing, consider that a sign that the ceiling is caving in and the carpet smells of pee-pee.
  • If you’re going to leave a note about a dog shut inside a room, be consistent. Don’t warn us about, say, the Pekignese in the master bedroom while forgetting to mention the Labrador retriever in the office. It’s like a bad game of Clue.

Your turn, gentle reader!

I Finished a Project: King-Sized Headboard, from cabinet doors

I’ve been meaning to post this for ages – ages, I tell you! (And I also am compelled to state that the colors are prettier and less shiny in the real world.)

Click! I made a Tutorial slideshow, should you wish to see the steps.

Last summer, we finally bought a bed, having shared a hand-me-down mattress for the first decade of our marriage.

You know, beds? Not cheap. Sheets, pillows, comforters, blankets…the budget was tight.

We were looking for answers. And I wanted more color in the room, to contrast with the omnipresent Realtor Taupe.

I’m kind of a big deal, stalking-the-Habitat-thrift-store-wise, so they were kind enough to make an alternate suggestion when I mentioned needing a huge old door to turn into a headboard. Five cabinet door panels and a trip to Lowe’s later, and we had ourselves the making of a plan.

Budget: about $30 for the cabinet doors. I suppose you could buy them somewhere brand-new, but why? $5 or so for lumber to create the mounting strips on the back. $7 for blue housepaint, $8 for fancy gold paint, and $50 for a stencil, although you can certainly find them more cheaply elsewhere. So…around $100.

Oh, wait – spackle. I had to buy spackle. And I primed the cabinet doors beforehand, so there’s that. Most Americans have a half-used gallon of primer sitting around somewhere, I’m sure, so let’s not even include that in the estimate.

Time: Seriously? Have you never read this blog before? (in which case – welcome!) I am not the person you want to ask about how long a project takes.

“30 minutes!” I guessed before starting. In reality, two months of sporadic effort, during which time the garage was unusable due to cabinet door panels scattered about. It made our marriage all the stronger. A moderate estimate would be: eight hours, including the time to mount the headboard, and it can be completed in steps.

Here’s some instructions on “dimensional stencils” with plaster or spackle.

Stenciling with spackle

I bought the stencil years ago from the Craftsman Homes Connection, for another project that never materialized. I love it that the stencil is named “Sanctuary,” because wouldn’t it be lovely if our room were a sanctuary? Right now, it is more like the Laundry Consulate. You can get nice stencils anywhere nowadays – Lowe’s carries a few, and Hobby Lobby is another good source. The important thing is that the stencil be somewhat thick so that it can stand up to repeated spackle-smear-lifting action.

The one thing I wish I’d spent a little more time on was filling in the holes with wood putty where the hardware had been. I was initially going to use the front side of the panels, which had a beveled insert, but then I changed my mind – the end result being that it’s kind of gnarled in places due to my sloppiness. Oh, well. It’s finished, anyway.

Like: Cleaning Club

My friend and soon-to-be birthday girl, Shannon, is part of a group of friends who rotate weeks at one another’s houses, helping out with whatever cleaning/organization project is most urgent for the hostess that week.

Can I just say that I am totally, madly in love with this concept?

Follow the adventures of her Cleaning Club. Be inspired.

I am inspired, but it seems like all of my friends in my current location are much, much more organized and neat than I am. My feelings of inadequacy have thus far held me back, although I think it would still be fun to try to form a group here. Plus, I’d probably be even more inspired each week by exposure to good role models. My oldest child is actually a great role model of organization, but that just makes me feel more inadequate and confused as to his genetic heritage.

I do buddy up with a friend each month to work on a quilt project, and we really enjoy one another’s company. We’ve agreed that it is our regular appointments that keep us both from putting off this hobby.

Shannon also blogs about homeschooling, family, and lots and lots of books here.

Open letter to myself from a potential future self, re: organizing guest room

Dear Sir or Madam: (everything comes to “Mr. Dorian Speed” unless it’s from someone who knows me)

First of all, it’s unclear to me what you are doing at the computer, since you are exactly at the halfway point of this little “weekend project.” We both know what that means.

It means that all of the stuff that was shoved into the crannies and nooks of the guest room is now splayed across every flat surface and several convex ones (like the dusty, half-deflated exercise ball).

I know this is the point where you usually cut and run and decide you need to “finish some curtains” or “pay some bills” or “fold some laundry” or read your magazines. But a future potential version of yourself begs you: Seize the potential for change. Make the transformation. Do not go gentle into that good night before you at least put the papers back in the boxes from which they came.

SIT DOWN while I finish. You were about to go look for the camera, weren’t you? You decided the most urgent thing to do right now is go find that stupid camera, which means finding the batteries, which means going to Walgreen’s because they’re dead, of course, and all of that so that you can take a picture of the “before” thinking you’ll be soooooo happy to look at the “after.”

Well, let me tell you this: the cycle has to be broken. You do not want to still be unpacking moving boxes a year from now, only to discover that all they contain are some over-the-door hooks, blank recipe cards, and cracked dollhouse furniture. Yes, these boxes are the ones the movers packed at the very end of the process – the ones where they went from room to room in search of little odds and ends that couldn’t possibly be left behind, even though they’d been hiding underneath beds or behind the sofa for years before the move.

JUST THROW IT ALL OUT. Throw it out. If you do not know what is in the box, ASSUME BROKEN CRAYONS.

It’s your choice, Saturday night self. Toss it all, or spend another year making sure the door to the guest room is hermetically sealed every time company comes (which begs the question, “how could this possibly be considered a guest room?”)

About the papers. I know you think they need to be filed. You’re remembering how your mom came out to visit you back when you were single and she set up that nice little filing system for everything you could possibly need. You think that’s what you need for all these things you’ve been saving.

Well, I tell you what. I may be only a potential version of yourself from the future, but I can assure you that there hasn’t been a MacGyver situation that would require you to locate the maintenance records on your totalled Volvo in thirty seconds in order to neutralize a terrorist threat. It is okay to just put it all in a box labeled “OLD PAPERS” for now. Or forever. A box with a label is far better than a series of piles scattered throughout the house and car.

There’s more I could say on the subject, but we both know it’s time to get back to work. Or have you forgotten that the garage also needs your attention?

UPDATE: WHY did my future self not tell me it was stupid bleeping DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME?

One small step for organization, one giant leap for procrastination

My mother is coming out for a week in April so that we, the parents of the small children known as “crumbgrabbers,” can travel outside the confines of our home to another location. A location later to be disclosed, after we get our tax refund and buy a new air conditioner. (So, in other words, the location may be Whataburger).

Let’s all pause a moment just to contemplate the wonder that is a mother who will stay in my house for a week with my children.

(Cue montage – kids and grandmother singing Motown hits, baking cookies, throwing flour at one another, ending up in a heap of laundry and cookie dough).

As you were.

My mother’s offer of babysitting has reminded me of how utterly non-duplicatible I have made myself. And I’m not talking about the unique bond cultivated through attachment parenting and babywearing. I mean that I am the only one in the house who knows where the thirty-seven different types of towels and washcloths go.

The towels for Mommy and Daddy’s bathroom.
The towels for each of the children.
The towels for guests.
The beach towels.
The towels for storing under the sink, in case of plumbing disaster that requires triage.
The small white washcloths for kitchen counters.
The slightly larger microfiber cloths for ghetto Swiffering and other heavy-duty tasks.
The barcloths.
The vintage dishtowels for decorative use, when we remember that we own them.
The crummy cloth napkins.
The nicer cloth napkins.
The really nice cloth napkins that need to be ironed and are consequently neither used nor put away, languishing in “ironing limbo” until I give up and rewash them.

And don’t get me started on all the sets of sheets.

You would never, ever walk into my house and mistake it for a homebuilder’s showcase. Yet I have these elaborate storage systems in place that are the workings of my Type-A subconscious, struggling to come up for air under all the wacky piles of projects. I have to leave the room when someone helps fold my laundry. It’s too great an occasion of sin. “The hand towels are folded in thirds. It’s the bath towels that are folded in fourths!” Such is my lack of perspective.

So, today I made a small, significant step, aided by my dear friend and life partner: The Label Maker. I took everything out of the linen closet and created reasonable piles. For example, I eliminated the “Mommy’s special pillowcase she made when she was five,” “son’s extra pillowcase that accidentally got burned on one edge somehow,” and “handmade princess pillowcase from Grandma” piles, and consolidated them into one, neatly labeled “Standard pillowcases” pile. And, in keeping with my Lenten challenge (40 Bags in 40 Days), I found linens to pass along to someone who will really appreciate them.

You know what triggered this, in reality? It wasn’t my mother’s visit two months from now. It was the fact that our priest was coming over for dinner, and in my orgo-disabled brain, it somehow became of paramount importance that I organize the linen closet, rather than, say, pick up stuff off the family room floor AGAIN. So in the long run, the end result may be that it’s a little bit easier for me to accept help when it’s offered. But let’s not kid ourselves. This happened today because I didn’t know where to put the combination of game pieces, Lego carcasses, and princess drawings that make up the daily detritus of my home.

Maybe I need some more of that label tape.

Seven quick takes

It’s Friday!

1. In the words of Austin Lounge Lizards: “Texas is a big state, north to south and east to west.” While my husband was investing in the Las Vegas poker infrastructure this weekend, I took it upon myself to do a little bit of road-tripping. To San Antonio on Sunday for a family birthday celebration, then to Austin on Monday to meet up with stars of the Catholic blogosphere – MrsDarwin, Melanie Bettinelli, Dom Bettinelli, and Jennifer Fulwiler. We dined in the shade of a giant McDonald’s play structure and then adjourned to MrsDarwin’s house, the one with the lovely hardwood floors.

2. Then I drove through Luling to Gonzales, where the fight for Texas liberty began, to see a friend from college – WHICH WAS NOT THAT LONG AGO despite the fact that each of us had babies to show off and memories of life before cell phones.

3. Then, on Tuesday, I – you know, Tuesday is really a blur. When I’m doing the massive driving across Texas, it doesn’t seem that bad. My new trick is to check out stories from the library for the kiddos to listen to while I plug my headphones into my Blackberry and call up Pandora for music that has bad words or features disaffection with our modern world and its demands. I actually don’t mind listening to stories with the kids, but the soothing rhythm of the spoken word is a poor accompaniment to solo driving through backwoods Texas roads.

But the day *after* massive amounts of driving is always when reality sets in and I realize that I actually do need more than five hours of sleep to function (the baby sleeps horribly when not at his own house). And that coffee-crackers bender I went on while behind the wheel leaves me dehydrated and delirious the next day. It’s just like how it is for musicians, minus the roadies – and I could really use some roadies around here.

Anyway, so I think I spent Tuesday with my even better friends, Excedrin and the couch.

4. Thanks to my supremely generous friend whose children are in regular school, I finished a project I started back in December: the painting and recovering of my dining room chairs. It really didn’t take that much time, cumulatively, but what made it difficult is my never having large blocks of uninterrupted time. So I’d finish step 4, for example, and then despair of ever being able to complete the remaining seventeen steps.

5. My friend has impeccable taste and a neat French manicure, so I enlisted her as a hand model for the photos I took in the hopes of someday writing up a more thorough tutorial on “recovering chairs when you’ve chosen an insane geometric print and have no prior experience with upholstery.” Surprisingly, the little video I found where the lifestyle guru recovers a chair in four minutes flat was not relevant to my own experience.

6. People are talking about this Lenten challenge of 40 Bags in 40 Days, in which you remove a bag a day of “stuff” from your house – trash, stuff to donate, stuff to recycle, stuff to hope your children won’t notice has gone missing. I am certainly a candidate for this challenge. I am hampered by the number of things in our house that were gifts from other people and the fear that someday I’ll be asked how that such-and-such is working out for us and I’ll have hurt feelings by freeing the such-and-such to live in a more appreciative home.

7. My husband is listening to the new version of “We Are the World” in the other room. I am forcing myself to type even though I want to scream every time I hear the blatant Auto-Tuning. There is also the fact that I’ve recognized about 10 of the voices. THIS IS SO HORRIBLE I have to stop typing I must leave the room now time to drive drive drive FAR AWAY. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA