A Productive Day …

I am having a productive day today. And yesterday was a good day, too, in terms of “getting things done”. It sounds like a tiny thing, when I type it out loud. “Today is a productive day.” Or “I’m getting things done today.” It almost sounds like nothing at all. I mean, loads of people get tons of stuff done each and every day. I’m sure they’re out there: People who are organized and have all their life-shizzle together and have a checklist for their day and actually check off things from that list as the day progresses.

I am not one of them. I feel like our society (or culture or whatever you might want to call it) values those people. They are the “go-getters”. They are the entrepreneurs. They are the people we all look up to and admire. I wish I was one of them. I used to be organized and together and all of that stuff, but it wasn’t really ME. It was a way that I coped with my own anxiety and nervousness. It was a masquerade, of sorts. Everyone around me thought it was real. On some level, I even thought it was real. But, once Life and Depression caught up to me, I realized this is not me.

Basically, I am a mess. Depression has made me forgetful and disorganized. I don’t write things down or make lists like I used to. I have all the best intentions, but I don’t seem to get things done like I used to. It makes my poor, long-suffering husband crazy. He was used to overcompensating, super-organized me. I don’t think he knows quite what to make of the squidgy mess of a person I am now.

So … this is all a lot of background to lead into my productive couple of (so far!) days. When COVID roared into our lives and our state told everyone to stay at home, I thought, “Okay! This is the perfect time to get some things done!” We are nearly a year in our house here in Illinois, and we still haven’t finished hanging pictures or arranging things in all the rooms or clearing out the bits we no longer need. My office space, in particular, was a huge mess, with things tossed crazily onto shelves and nothing put away. This was mostly because I never took the time to find places for all the things.

I went into stay-at-home at the end of March feeling a little bit eager and excited about the possibility that I would get some of my “home” stuff done. And from the end of March to the end of April, I managed to accomplish … basically nothing. I did get my closet done, because the installers were considered “essential” in our state and were able to keep the appointment to install the shelving and drawers. If not for that, my closet would still be a mess. But that’s a post for another time. The closet happened at the end of April.

From the end of April to now, nearly the end of May, I have, once again, accomplished … NOTHING. Seriously!! Every night, I went to bed telling myself, “Tomorrow, I’m going to …” You can fill in the blank with whatever household task comes to mind. And every morning, I got up feeling stressed and anxious and depressed and completely unmotivated. After each day spent binging British crime shows on Amazon Britbox, I would go to bed feeling horrible and useless. Depression sucks, you guys. It gets you coming and going, and it makes you feel like an ass both ways.

But no more!! At least, not for now. Because yesterday and today, I tackled the shelves in my office. They started out much like the above, only imagine less books and more clutter and dust. It wasn’t pretty. Just looking at them made me want to cry and run off somewhere to hide. I’d been doing more than my fair share of that since we finished moving into the house, so I told myself to suck it up. Start from the beginning, I told myself. Take it one step at a time.

Because that’s the way of any task, isn’t it? No matter how overwhelming it might seem or how unpleasant, if you start at the beginning and take things one step at a time, you will eventually make progress. It feels so much easier breaking things down into smaller bits. Before you realize it, you’ve done all the bits and the entire task is accomplished.

Yesterday, I started at the top of one side of the shelves and worked my way down. I gathered up all the little decorative doo-dads I have collected over time. There are a LOT of them! I love them, but they are horrible dust catchers. I found display cases to corral all my miniatures and fiddly toys and small anime figures. These are awesome, by the way. I love having these display cases. I dusted everything. I put up racks to display my dragons. You guys know I have a thing for dragons, right? I’ve mentioned that a time or two in here. I shifted things from shelf to shelf so that they made visual sense to me.

Today, I dusted some more. I brought books from the library downstairs to store up here on the shelves. I’ve decided to put my manga in here, instead of taking up library space for them. I took out the things that don’t need to be in here any longer. I arranged all the books and looked for book ends to prop them up. I found a decorative basket to hide away my power strip. Because power strips are ugly, aren’t they? I put up my fun little stained glass signs. I untangled my wind chimes and hung them in the windows.

It’s not done. Not yet. I know I have one more box of books in the basement that need to come in here. I need to find a couple more book ends. I still have a few small pictures to hang up here and there. I know things will have to shift around to find the “best” spots. There is always a lot of fiddling and finessing to do before shelves are settled and done.

But that’s okay. I am on the way and nearly done. I had a productive day — two days in a row! And you know what? It feels pretty darn great.

Moving to Illinois … Sold! And the Long Good-Bye

You guys!! My house is SOLD!!

Well, not officially, because closing hasn’t happened yet. But our buyers signed off on the last of the contingencies yesterday morning, which means our contract is now locked-in. The appraiser is coming tomorrow, and we will do the termite inspection later this week. After that, it is just a short slide to the official closing date, when the buyers will sign their half of the documents. My husband and I are planning to sign our part early, so we can pack up and head to our new state. Let me just say right now: With an overstuffed SUV … towing a trailer … and two dogs … We are going to be traveling Beverly Hillbillies style! I’m kind of dreading it. But I’m also kind of looking forward to it. Just the thought of it makes me laugh. It’s going to be frustrating as heck but also fun.

So, of course, this means the start of our long good-bye to our current house. I have so many emotions right now, and they are all jumbled together in a clump around my heart. I am happy and relieved that the house sold. It was a crazy and exhausting push to get it ready to go onto the market, and another crazy and exhausting push to get it sold quickly. It didn’t sell as quickly as we had hoped, but we still sold within 3 weeks of listing. This is not bad at all. I will take it! I feel almost giddy with relief that we are so close to “done” on this part of our new adventure. Our buyers are a cute young couple. I say “young”, but they are probably in their early to mid-thirties. They remind me of my husband and me when we moved in here. It makes me happy to know the house is going to people who love it and are excited to live here.

At the same time, everything feels bittersweet to me. And tinged with a healthy dose of guilt, as are most things in my life. I swear, I am a guilt magnet. We’ve lived here for almost sixteen years. There are a lot of memories tied up in this house. It was weird, this Spring, to think about how this would be the last year I would look out of my front windows and watch our cherry tree blooming. That has to be one of my favorite memories from this house: standing at the window and watching the petals float down to the ground like clumps of pink snow. I love watching the huge bees bumble in and out of the tree’s leaves and flowers. Often, they come right up to the screen and bump against it.

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This house welcomed our new baby daughter when we came home from the hospital. It has been her only home — her whole world, really! — for fifteen years. She learned to walk in our upstairs hallway. She learned to talk in her bedroom, while we were reading books together. She used to stand in her crib in her room and listen for me to walk out into the hallway, so that she could call out to me. Because she knew I would always come for her.

This house held us close and sheltered us every winter when the snow piled up outside and the winds howled around the windows and doors. It gave us a perfect spot for our Christmas tree every year. We made hot chocolate in its kitchen and laughed together as a family in this house. Sixteen years can hold a lot of laughter. Sometimes, I feel like I can hear it echoing against the walls, even now. In the Spring, we planted flowers on the deck (in spite of my lack of a green thumb!), trimmed back the roses, and blew bubbles in the front yard. Our daughter learned to ride her bike in our driveway and the parking lot in front of  our house.

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My two goofball dogs grew up in this house. They learned to play and trust and guard within its walls. They changed from puppies to grown dogs, almost in front of my eyes. They raced and play-fought and had zoomies in the back yard, even though it was small. They sat with us on the sofas during movie night, trying to steal popcorn out of the bowl when we weren’t looking. Nothing brings joy and laughter like goofy dogs.

Of course, there were sad times, too. Because life isn’t perfect. This is the house where my beloved dog, Tex, crossed the Rainbow Bridge. And the same with our sweet Sister Kitty. And this is the house where my husband had a heart attack, followed by quadruple by-pass. This is the house where I learned to live with depression. And it is the house where, in many ways, my creativity died.

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This was our first house. I still remember the excitement and slight terror that came with that first set of keys. We learned a lot about ourselves in this house. We learned a lot about “us” as a family, too. Some of those lessons were fun. Some were horrible and painful. But all of them were good and valuable.

I feel like this house and I never got along — not really and truly. I don’t know why. Maybe I expected too much from it. Maybe I couldn’t get over the fact that, when I dreamed of the type of house I wanted, this house never approached that ideal. And, to a certain extent, I feel I gave up during the years we lived in this house. I relinquished my creativity and my desires. I never finished any of the projects I had planned when we moved into this house. I had big, big plans at that time. But then, life happened. I got sad. And I retreated. For the most part, I never even started my house projects. Yeah, I think it’s fair to say I gave up.

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For many  years now, I have felt trapped inside this house. I wanted to love it, without reservation. I wanted to give myself over to this house and work to make it into what I had dreamed and hoped after for such a long time. And yet, I couldn’t see my way out of the morass of negativity into which I had sunk over the years. I couldn’t find the light that would lead me out or that would let me find a path forward. In some ways, I blamed this house. Which is silly. It is an inanimate object. But there you go. Human emotion isn’t rational. And I came to realize this house would never be what I wanted it to be, but that problem wasn’t with the house. It was with ME.

Now, I find myself in a weird place. I am looking backward and seeing all of these sweet memories. And I am also looking forward and seeing our new house in my future — a house that comes very close to what I dreamed of all those years ago. And I find my heart is filled with love for my “old” house. Because it taught me how to be a homeowner. Because I learned how to be a mom here. Because it taught me about myself.

But mostly, because of this: For sixteen years, this place wasn’t just a house. It was HOME. And you can’t place a value on that. Not ever.

Moving to Illinois … The Staging

We are coming down to the bitter end of the first part of my relocation saga. I say “first part”, because I haven’t even left Virginia yet! I’m still in our same house, waiting out the end of the school year with my daughter and the very most basic of basics in terms of furniture and clothing. And my computer. Because, you know … I’m not an animal! At this point in my tale, we have gone through the packing and boxing. We have watched our stuff get loaded onto the trucks and carted away. We have done the painting and the flooring. We have fixed the backyard, both the patio and the grass. And I prettied up my deck with my flower container gardening adventure, supervised by my pups — of course!

All the basics were done. It was time for the final little touches that act like the icing on a very pretty cake: the staging. I have never sold a house before. So I have never been through the staging experience. I love decorating and home stuff, in general, so I went into this experience thinking it would be amazing and fun. In my mind, it was like a little reward after all of my hard work coordinating the rest of the background stuff and doing all the cleaning and clearing away.

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The reality of it didn’t match up at all. Isn’t that the way it often seems to go in life? You think something will be incredible, and it turns out to be anything but. It’s not that the stager did a bad job or anything. Her work was nice, and she made the spaces in my house seem large but cozy at the same time. I think she is great at her job. She kept it pretty simple, as you can see from our family room, in the above photo. I like the eclectic mix of furniture she chose. And I like the earthy-toned colors she used. I think they fit nicely with the paint and carpeting colors. You can’t see it in this picture, but we finally — after almost sixteen years! — uncovered our fireplace. It’s nice to see it as part of the room now.

This room is laid out strangely in that the fireplace is on one side and the outlets for the TV and other electronic equipment are on the opposite side. Our family is big on movies. It’s one of our main forms of entertainment, and my husband is mad for his television and stereo equipment. I always wanted to rearrange this room so that we could have the fireplace and the TV at the same time. But I never did it. I never did anything to this house, honestly. I mean, we made some changes. But I never did anything as far as decorating or putting my own style into the space or making it into something more than what it was when we bought it. I’ve been puzzling through why that is, and it will probably be fodder for another post later on.

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I really like the little conversation area the stager created for our second floor sitting room. This space is right across from our dining room. We always put our Christmas tree in front of the window where the palm tree looking plant is now. And we had a sofa, a large armoire, our piano, and some reclining club chairs in this space. I originally had a cowhide rug, but I had to take it up once my cat got old and cranky. Because she decided she had to pee on it. Constantly. Poor cowhide.

You can really see our refinished flooring shine through with the sparse and elegant staging selections. And looking at what the stager did with our spaces makes me realize I never had furniture that was the right size for this house. I was used to bigger spaces and a different flow when we moved in here, and I don’t think I ever adapted. Instead, I continued buying large furniture. I love large furniture. It’s a weakness of mine. But large furniture doesn’t work well for a townhouse. Lesson learned on my part.

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This is our dining room. For the first time since we moved in, it has returned to its original purpose. We never had a formal dining table and chairs in this house. My mother-in-law has promised us a beautiful, Asian-style cherry table and chairs. This was years ago, and we never brought them into the house because they seemed too big, overall. I’m not sure if she will remember her promise or not, but we shall see. On our watch, this room was a playroom for our daughter during her younger years. After that, it was an office space for my husband. In reality, it ended up being a cluttered mess. It looks so much nicer now.

But here’s the thing about the staging process. It makes the house look nicer and more elegant. I can’t deny that! But it is painful. It is a painful and frustrating process. Our stager hated that I have dogs. She wanted me to get rid of them for the duration of the staging. How am I supposed to do that? Where are they supposed to live for a month? Initially, I intended to have them in the house with us, albeit not on or around the stager’s furniture. The stager hated that idea. She told me she could not use her nice furniture because of my dogs. So, basically, I have the crappy second-hand furniture in my house. Which I don’t really care … because, sadly, it probably still looks nicer than my own furniture. In the end, she needn’t have worried. After the new carpeting went in, I realized the dogs would have to live out the rest of our time in this house in the garage. I hate this, but it’s the only way to keep the carpeting nice and dander-free.

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The office was an easy room to stage, since there wasn’t much that needed to happen in here. She basically left the room empty. This is my desk and chair and computer. The stager added some “inspirational” pictures and a fake plant to hide my routers and such. I miss having my bookshelves and “stuff” in here. But I have to admit I enjoy this sparse and clean look.

Once all the staging was in place, I quickly realized how much I disliked our stager. In the beginning, I was just mildly irritated with her and her attitude. But I was willing to overlook it and put most of my annoyance off to me being overly sensitive about my dogs. After all, the woman was just doing her job. And I know a lot of people don’t like dogs. I sometimes find this to be a major character flaw. But what do I know? I am a lover of all things dog. And I am certain some people consider that to be a character flaw on my part.

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This is my daughter’s room. She hates what the stager did in here. My daughter is fifteen, and this room is fit for a six or seven year old kid. One who is super girly, which is not my girl at all. Luckily, my daughter loves the color pink. Otherwise, it would have been torture for her to live with this for a month. It is cute, overall. I like the paintings the stager used on the walls. There are two of them, both city-scapes done in tones of green, blue, and pink. And I like how she used the space on the shelves behind my daughter’s bed. My dad built all of those, as well as the cute little desk beside the bed.

Back to my story about the stager and how mild annoyance grew into active dislike …

I came home to my lovely and elegant-looking house thinking all was well. Until I  needed to wash my hands and discovered there was no soap. None. Anywhere. The stager had taken away all of our soap. And she had put other soap in its place. But here’s the thing: You can’t really use the other soap she added. It’s just for show. Because … staging. I guess I should have known this when the stager told me, several times, that they usually only stage houses that are vacant. But, you see, my house is not vacant. I am still living here. And I need to wash my hands. And shower.

In the end, I found soap. But the stager had hidden it in weird places. So, basically, I had to continue hiding the real soap while the fake soap sat out on our counter. Before the stager came, I had cleaned out my drawers and medicine cabinets, leaving only the very basic things we use for every-day life. Apparently, people who live in the magazine houses don’t use basic things for every-day life. Because the stager took all of that stuff away. In its place, she left seashells and starfish inside our medicine cabinets. Oh. And more fake soap. It’s like she’s mocking me with the fake soap. I have to admit I rebelled a little by putting a bar of bath soap and the non-skid rubber mat back in my daughter’s shower. I hope no one tells the stager, though. I am certain she will come back to take it away.

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This is the master bedroom. That, of course, is not my bedding. Because my bedding was not good enough for the stager. Instead, she had to bring new bedding. She did this in my daughter’s room, too. But she actually liked my daughter’s comforter and left it underneath the staged comforter. My bedding didn’t make the cut at all. She wadded all of it up and stuffed it in the back of my closet. The bed is ours. It’s the queen-size bed that is destined for our guest room, once we eventually make it to Illinois. The bedside tables are mine. And the lamps are mine. The stager didn’t like any of these things, but she was forced to work with them. Poor lady, having to make do with my ugly and substandard furniture.

I used to have Alexa in this room, along with a clock, a phone, and a noise maker. The stager unplugged all of my electronic items. Every single one of them. In this photo, I had snuck my noise maker back onto my nightstand. Shhh! Don’t tell! Shortly after this, I put Alexa back, too. I need her because she is my alarm clock every morning. Also, she can tell me what time it is, since, apparently, people who live in fake magazine world don’t own clocks. Or care about time. They are dirty, smelly people who are perpetually late.

I guess fake magazine world people don’t have phones, either. Because the stager unplugged all of our telephones. And when I say unplugged, I really do mean “unplugged”. She managed to wreck our entire phone system, so I now have no home phone and have to rely on my mobile for everything. I say “everything”, but I do have one landline that still rings in the kitchen. I can never get to it in time to answer, but at least I can check voicemail now and again.

And the final thing fake magazine world people don’t have: trash cans. The stager systematically went through our entire house and removed every single trash can. She stashed some of them away in places where I found them later. There are a few I still haven’t found at all. And I ended up having to put my kitchen trash can into the garage. I am making do with a white trash bag hanging off a drawer knob for now. Because, yeah … that’s so much more elegant and lovely than the stainless steel trash can I originally had.

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In the end, the stager and I will not be friends. And the staging, overall, is difficult to live with. No soap … no trash cans … towels we can’t use or touch … furniture we can’t sit on … and the need to keep everything hidden and picture-perfect all the time. Did she make my house lovely? Yes. She absolutely did.

But she also made me really sad. Because my house is now just a house. It isn’t a home any longer. It isn’t comfortable or inviting for us. It’s just where we live … not where we LIVE. All of the memories are there, but, for now, our house has become a place where my daughter and I are marking time until we can move on to the next step in our journey. I guess this is the first step in saying good-bye. And good-bye is always hard.

 

Moving to Illinois … The Renovations & Repairs

When we last left off with my ongoing moving saga, I had gotten through the packing and loading. We had boxes stacked to the ceiling in pretty much every room of our house. We had stuff that was boxed but that we were going to move ourselves tucked away in closets and corners. We survived having almost all of our worldly belongings loaded onto trucks and carted away. And we were left with an empty, echoing house. As a quick aside, it is kind of crazy how “dead” a house feels once all of your belongings have been removed. In the span of a few days, it goes from being “home” to being a “house” and nothing more. I’m sure there is another post in there somewhere, and, perhaps, I will find it at a later time. For now, I just wanted to add the thought in somewhere, because I feel it is important.

At the end of this whole process, we were left with the following furniture: a queen-sized bed (mattress, box springs, and frame), a twin bed, a desk, a desk chair, and my computer. My daughter and I kept back about 2 weeks worth of clothing, a few dishes, and our basic bathroom stuff. In addition to these things, we have boxes that contain my nail polish (which the movers would not take), my anime cel collection (because I was afraid they would melt on the truck), my jewelry, and some garage-type stuff. Basically, we had an empty house at this point.

Once the house was as empty as we could get it, it was time to start in on the renovations we wanted to do. Because we found a house on our Bloomington trip, we were on a tight, tight schedule once we returned home to Virigina. We got back from the trip on April 19. The packers came on April 22. The painting, which was our first renovation, started on April 27. Needless to say, this was a time of endless activity. For every one thing we did, we discovered about twenty more that needed doing. We couldn’t really be inside our house, because we were in the way. We had to keep the dogs out of the way, which is easier said than done. This was not a fun time, and, even though it was, in reality, a short time span, it felt like it lasted FOREVER. My husband left for his new job on April 26, which means it was just yours truly, our teenage daughter, and two dogs left to deal with the painting and the rest of the work on the house.

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When my realtor, who is also one of my dearest friends, and I went through our house, we planned to paint about half of it. For the most part, the paint looked decent, although somewhat worn. We felt we could get away with cleaning it up a bit and repainting or refreshing only the areas that absolutely needed it. Keep in mind this was before the furniture was gone. And before the packers and movers got hold of my rooms.

Once everything was out of the house, we were faced with stark, bare walls. The movers and packers had done some damage. Not on purpose, but stuff happens when you are hauling large furniture down narrow stairwells. Our painter had seen the house before the movers came through. He went through it again once everything was out, and it came as no huge surprise to find out I needed to repaint everything. And, of course, it was twice the price he originally quoted. I wasn’t thrilled with this, but it seemed fair. He was originally going to do about half the house, so he basically just doubled that quote. It was still decent for the amount of work they were planning to do.

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Of course, having the painters inside the house meant I couldn’t be inside the house. And neither could my dogs. So we all hung out in the garage. For DAAAAAAAAAYS. The painting took about four days. Other than ducking inside to use the restroom now and again, I spent every moment of those four days in my garage with my dogs. I had my Llama-tastic chair, which I found on sale at Wal-Mart. I had books to read. I had my iPad, which worked quite nicely once the painters stopped unplugging my internet.

We had a string of fairly warm days, so I rigged up a fence from some cardboard boxes and Velcro strips. It’s not a strong fence, but my dogs are scared of the blowing cardboard. So as long as it stayed stretched across the opening, they would not go near it. This way, we had natural light and fresh air. I put the dogs’ crates in the garage, as well as the one bed the movers left behind. When I purchased my llama chair, I also picked up a couple of cheap dog beds, so bedless dog had an extra place to rest that wasn’t the hard floor. I brought their food dishes and made sure to keep plenty of fresh water available for everyone. It wasn’t the Ritz, but it wasn’t half bad. We survived, although it was a pain knowing I couldn’t go in and out of the house whenever I wanted. As soon as I realized I couldn’t go inside the house, I thought of a dozen things I NEEDED to get or do. Isn’t that always the way of it? At night, I would carefully herd the dogs upstairs for sleeping, and we lived with the paint smell for a few days as it dried and cured.

The panting finished up, for the most part, on April 30. I feel the painters did an okay job. It was a big job, overall. They did some nice repair work on walls that had been damaged during the move. At the end, they started to take shortcuts. They started showing up an hour or two later than expected in the mornings. They started leaving only a skeleton crew to finish my job. I’m sure this is because they were moving on to other jobs, which I totally get. But my job wasn’t done yet!

As we got to the bitter end, I had to argue with them to get them to finish out some of the trim. And they tried to add about $500 onto their bill. I am a little bit ashamed to say I didn’t argue with them very much at the time. By the time this happened, I was so tired and emotionally stressed that I complained but I paid them. Luckily for me, my realtor was on the ball. She was really unhappy with this tactic, and she got the money back for me. I would be lost without her!

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Now that painting was done, flooring could happen. I needed to put in new carpeting. I needed to get my wood floors refinished. The flooring work started on May 1. Basically, as I was waving an unhappy good-bye to the painters, I was also saying hello to the person who did the flooring. And, of course, this meant more days of hanging out in the garage with the pups. And my llama chair. And my ratchet cardboard fence.

I didn’t manage to get carpeting pictures, but the wood floors turned out beautifully, as you can see above. Also, the flooring work went much more smoothly than the painting. The person who did them was incredibly professional and kind. I appreciated him very much.

Our last major house job was fixing the back yard. We have a stone patio coming off of our first floor into the back yard. It had worn down over the years and was in pretty rough shape, but we had gotten it repaired before we left for Bloomington. I wish I had thought to take before and after pictures, because it looks beautiful now. Our handyman did an amazing job on it, and it looks like a brand new patio!

In addition to the patio, our back yard was in pretty terrible shape. We are on the end of a slope, so water runs off toward our yard every time it rains. We don’t have trouble with water around our foundation or anything like that. But it tends to puddle or marsh in one corner of our yard. When we first moved into the house, my dad and I rigged up a drainage system of sorts by running a pipe across the back corner of the yard. We dug a bit of a trench to set the pipe, but we never buried it all the way. Over the years, our pipe got brittle. The yard people ran over it with mowers. And so on. Basically, it was wrecked, which meant our marshy, muddy corner was back.

I have two dogs, and my yard is small. There were places where the dogs had worn paths through the grass from running around the fence. There were other places where grass stopped growing altogether because of how the dogs used the yard. Keep in mind I pick up the yard every day or every other day. I don’t leave “stuff” (we all know what I’m talking about, right?) sitting out in the yard or on the grass. Even so, two medium-sized dogs are hard on a tiny yard.

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So we had landscapers come in to lay sod. They also fixed the drainage by installing a new, properly buried pipe. In the beginning, I wasn’t too thrilled with the landscapers. They are both odd guys, and it was like pulling teeth to get a quote from them. It was also really difficult to get them to commit to a starting date. I think they are creative, outdoor people, and time didn’t have as much meaning to them as it did to me.

In the end, I am thrilled I went with them. They came when they said they would. They did all the work in less than a day. They did a fantastic job with putting in the new drainage. The sod looks gorgeous, and now, about a week later, it is already rooting in beautifully. As a bonus, they even hauled away some old flower bed curbing for me, at no extra charge.

And so, that brings me to the end of this part of my tale. At this point, everything was happening in a whirlwind of activity. My head was spinning, and I was exhausted. I hadn’t truly been inside my house for any length of time since we came back from our Bloomington trip. But I was also feeling pretty positive about the future. And I was happy we were almost ready to go onto the market.

Truthfully, the work we did on our house wasn’t a lot. We were lucky that we didn’t have to do huge renovations or repairs. I don’t know how people do it in those situations. I guess you have to remind yourself (often!) that it is a temporary situation. But even that gets difficult after the first couple of days. I think, as humans, we look for a “normal” or a “constant”. But, when you are in the midst of something like this, “normal” and “constant” don’t exist. And that is mentally and physically taxing.

The Junk Drawer

There is a neighborhood near where I live. I love this neighborhood. I’m not sure exactly what it is about it that attracts me so, but the attraction is undeniable. There is something homey and lovely about this neighborhood. It’s not exactly old, but also not exactly new. It’s a grid of sidewalks and broad streets lined by well-kept houses with beautiful yards. It is full of bird song, and, sometimes, I even see bunnies or deer, if I walk in the back parts of the neighborhood, where it connects with a city park. There is something that’s just so … “Norman Rockwell” about this neighborhood. The houses, for the most part, aren’t big or fancy. Some have been added onto over the years, expanding to settle in and fit on their lots. Some seem to have been unchanged since the day they were first built. It’s not the kind of neighborhood you would drive through to ooh and aah over the houses. It’s just a normal, everyday neighborhood where people go about the business of living their lives. They go to work. They come home. They tend to their yards. Maybe they drink coffee on the patio and watch their kids play. Realistically, I know there is nothing special about this neighborhood. Nothing at all.

And yet, this neighborhood never fails to give me happy feels. This particular little spot on the map calls to me on a soul-deep level. It’s not too much of one thing or another. It’s just a whole lot of “normal”, and I think this is a big part of why I love it so. I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood like this. I’ve always wanted to have a cute, not-too-large and not-too-small, house. I’ve always wanted to have a beautiful yard full of flowers and budding trees and birdsong and the buzzing of happy bees. In my imagination, there would be a porch in front and a patio in the back, both perfect for sitting quietly to enjoy a cup of tea and a book. Maybe, if I were lucky enough, even a nice spot for getting busy with my writing. My kitchen would be warm and welcoming and homey. My closets, table, and hallways would be uncluttered. My floors would be honey-colored pine, and they would always be clean. I would be organized and good about putting things away. In short, I would have all my shit together. And life would be the most perfect kind of beautiful normal I could make it.

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I’ve never lived in a house like that. Or in a neighborhood like that. I grew up in the country, so we didn’t really have neighbors. I mean, neighbors existed, but we never saw them because everyone lived far from each other. We might as well have been all alone. There were no sidewalks. There were no manicured yards or perfect flower beds. Not that I regret the way I grew up. I don’t — at all. I had horses and cats and dogs. I was able to experience fresh air and nature and hard work, all of which are beautiful and wonderful things. At night, I could sit on our front porch and watch the stars come out while listening to the scurrying night sounds of life around me. I loved growing up this way, and a part of me wishes I could live in the country, even now.

But the other part of me, the realistic part, knows that I will never live in the country again. My husband is a city person. He needs activity and things around him. He doesn’t like being alone with his thoughts or with the quiet of nature. He gets bored easily. So, that part of me — the part that knows I am destined to be a city dweller for the rest of my life — has wished for a plain little house with a big yard and beautiful flower beds in a quiet, welcoming neighborhood. Instead, I have a townhouse. It’s in a teeny cul-de-sac neighborhood with six other houses. My house is too tall and full of stairs. The closets are too small, and my family tends to hoard things. Seriously, we never clean out our junk. My house is laid out in a way that is aesthetically pleasing, but it isn’t practical. It lacks storage space. The kitchen looks large and inviting, but, in reality, it is too small for more than one person to be in there at a time. It’s hard to find a place to put the Christmas tree. There isn’t enough space for an office and a guest room. My flowerbeds tend to be overgrown. I’ve found I’m not good at weeding them. They don’t seem to have enough dirt, so planting anything is difficult. All the front lawns have to look the same; it’s an HOA rule. Our backyard is smaller than a postage stamp, which means it is constantly muddy and torn up from our dogs.

But, really, the only thing wrong with my house is that it’s not what I wanted. It’s not the kind of home I ever imagined having. It’s not the kind of house I wanted. I was so excited when I moved here and we started looking for houses. My excitement lasted exactly five and a half minutes, because that was about how long it took for sticker shock to set in where property values were concerned. Even so, I was pregnant when we moved in, and I was ready to nest. I wanted a home I could put my heart and soul into, a place I could LOVE. But we had a long-term houseguest when we first moved in, and I quickly discovered my husband didn’t want to do anything new to the house. And I was too pregnant to do any of it myself. And then, I had a baby and a toddler and a little kid. So, life just kind of zoomed by me. I think I gave up. I gave up on the possibility of loving my house. Instead, this house, in my mind, is the compromise my husband and I made. We never planned to stay here. It was a “temporary thing”. We have now lived here for almost 15 years, partly because the economy unexpectedly tanked and partly because my husband hates change. And I am beginning to believe this is the only house I will ever have.

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This is where that neighborhood I love so much becomes dangerous to me. Even as I enjoy my walk through there, taking in the smells of flowers and the sound of birdsong, I feel this aching longing inside of me. I am proverbially standing on the outside and looking in, just inches away from what my heart wants. But still impossibly cut-off from those hopes and dreams. It makes me sad, sometimes. And, sometimes, I can feel my depression creeping in on me.

And that’s when I have to remind myself about the junk drawer. As I walk these sidewalks and look at these houses, it’s so easy to think about how perfect and beautiful they look on the outside. When I see the swings and the toys in the yards, I think about happy children running and playing and screaming in delight. When I see the flowers blooming all over the neighborhood, I think about quiet cups of tea on a perfect patio. Each house looks kept and loved and beautiful on the outside. It’s easy to think that life on the inside must be perfect, too. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that all these people have everything figured out, that they have managed to do what I seem to have failed at in magnificent fashion. In contrast, my mind thinks about my own unmade bed, my overgrown backyard, my overstuffed closets sorely in need of a good clearing-out.

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But, if I think about it, really hard, I bet every single one of those perfect-looking houses has a junk drawer. I bet they have at least one place where all the flotsam and jetsam of life ends up collecting. One place where they put all the things they can’t manage to toss or all the things that don’t seem to have a place. And, if there is a junk drawer, maybe there is also a cluttered table top. Maybe there are times when the people who live in that house can’t get along. Maybe they sometimes yell at each other, or they are late for dinner, or they forget to put gas in the car. Maybe their kids have problems in school. Or maybe they are sad over the death of a relative.

And then, I feel a little better about my own life. Because, maybe, my life looks perfect from the outside, too. I know my bed isn’t made. I know my kitchen table is cluttered. I know I have an overflowing junk drawer. But no one else knows this.

The point isn’t that I’m happy thinking about the potential unhappiness of strangers. I’m not. I actually hope the lives of all these unknown people are as perfect on the inside as they seem on the outside. The point is this: None of us has a perfect life. We all have to compromise, here and there. We all have to make the best of things. We all have to learn how to be happy with what we have. We all have to learn to count our blessings. But, in spite of not being perfect, life is beautiful. My life is beautiful. I have a husband I love. And he loves me back. I have a daughter who laughs with me and plays Pokemon Go with me. I have two dogs who love to snuggle with me. I laugh, every day. I love, every day. So, yeah, it’s not perfect — not on the inside, and not on the outside, either. But this life is mine.

And, once I learn how to cherish that idea, maybe I can start learning how to fall in love once again — with my beautifully imperfect life and with my unexpected house, too.