Thursday, February 19, 2015

There's No Place Like Home

I Guess That This Must Be The Place

Well, we returned home from our Florida adventure.  We rolled back into town on Sunday afternoon, and after taking the requisite three days of recovery after our three days of travel, I figured I should get back at it.  Thanks for your patience.  There will be plenty more musings from our excursion that I'll try to work into some upcoming posts.  Believe me, the material is there.  And it's pretty good.

The return trip was, thankfully, pretty uneventful.  Our biggest surprise came Friday afternoon just outside of Atlanta.  We were able to meet up with one of Jess' friends and her family who were on their way to Florida to essentially do the exact same thing we just finished doing in a different location.  We rendezvoused at a kid's bounce place named Monkey Joes, where we attempted to impart any words of wisdom we could offer them over the blaring Kidz Bop music.  While we were there, and the kids were bouncing themselves into a bliss-filled oblivion, I got a call from our neighbor who had been keeping an eye on our house while we were away.  They stopped to check things out, and noticed that they could see their breath inside the house and the thermostats were reading a tepid 35 degrees.  Being the amazing neighbors that they are, they contacted the local HVAC company who was able to come out and remedy the problem.  We considered turning around and heading back to Florida at that point, but decided against it. This visit from the plumber marked the third time in the last month and a half that they had paid a visit to our house to address a heating issue, and the service tech has deemed us the "lucky ones".  It was Friday the 13th so we should have seen it coming.      

When we were house-hunting for our first home a few years ago, the last thing we (mainly, me) were looking for was a fixer-upper.  I am the antithesis of handy.  I once used the word "utensils" to reference my pitiful excuse for a tool set.  I've long accepted that I am not good when it comes to working with tools (especially those that require power), and I have no desire to improve.  In middle school, I actually convinced one of my buddies to do all of the cutting for my projects in our mandatory shop class, while I wrote a few papers for him in return.  I wanted a move-in ready house, and I wasn't that picky either.  I had lived in, too put in kindly, some "shit-holes".  They contained such luxuries as metal spiral staircases, carpeted doors, registered sex-offenders as neighbors, and four grown men sharing one bedroom.  Well, what did we end up with?  Of course a fixer-upper.  Oh, but it had so much character and potential!  Still has plenty of potential.

When we were searching for our first house, I thought about how different the experience probably was for my parents when they were looking for their first home.  Nearly every house we went into, if it was "move-in" ready or not, we always identified things that we would need (read: want) to redo.  We got a pretty good deal on a foreclosure that needed some serious updating, but at the same time it seemed a little strange (and somewhat narcissistic) to being considering some of the enhancements - a brand new kitchen with granite counter-tops and stainless steel appliances, an addition, new flooring (that scratches like crazy) - we felt were needed in the first home we ever purchased.  Granted we were at a different stage in our life than my parents when they bought their first house, and the housing market has changed drastically in thirty years, but I'm sure they didn't walk into a house and see everything they could redo.  They were probably just happy to have a house that they could afford.  To be out of their parent's basement.  Who cares if the wallpaper print was a hideous floral and the carpets were shag?  They were living the American Dream.

It's also an interesting concept to see how the average size of a single-family home (in square footage) has doubled since the 1950s, while the average size of a household (in number of people) has steadily declined since the 1970s.*  Bigger houses with fewer people occupying those houses.  We are no exception, as we have a larger than average house.  We also now have a larger than average household size (we figured if we had the space we might as well fill it with people).  But it does, at times seem like more space than we need.  I often joke about our overabundance of couches.  We have four, which means that everyone in our house that can walk can lay on a couch at the same time.  Over the last few years we've finished our basement (meaning we paid professional contractors a handsome sum of money to unfinish our existing basement and refinish it to a layout that better suited what we wanted) and redid the deck on the back of our house (again, paying professionals).  Once those projects were completed, I found myself somewhat baffled that we hardly seemed to use them.  But at least they were done - if there is one thing I dislike it is an unfinished house project.

The increase in the house sizes, and decrease of people in those houses, obviously means more space to clean/upkeep and fewer hands to do it.  When we were both working full-time, my wife would occasionally make a comment that she wanted to look into hiring someone to clean our house.  I was adamantly opposed.  After reading Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel & Dimed a few years ago, I told myself I would never hire someone else to clean my house.  I thought if I couldn't keep my own house in tact, my priorities were out of whack and I likely needed something more manageable.  I've probably softened on this a little since we've had kids, and the invisible toy monster comes through every 30 minutes to vomit toys all over every room.  When you have kids your time at home tends to fall into the cycle of: make a mess, clean up said mess, make another mess, leave that mess to the morning in hopes that it will magically clean itself up.  Despite my wife's accurate assessment that we have different definitions of "clean", I'm sticking to my guns - no professional house-cleaners in our house (unless they are fluent in foreign languages and can teach piano-lessons too).

One of my good college friends and his wife just returned back to Minnesota after spending a few years of living abroad for his work.  While they were away, they rented out their home in Minneapolis.  After returning, my friend commented that they had at least a year's worth of various house projects to get the place back into the condition they wanted.  I quipped with him that it seems ironic that we often spend so much time (and money) working on our homes but so little time actually enjoying them.  Figure your home will likely be your biggest financial investment in your life, and the inanimate object that require the most work to upkeep.  Each week has 168 hours.  If you work 40 hours/week and sleep 8 hours/night, that consumes over half of those hours.  Factor in time for meals, commuting, your "recommended" daily physical activity, and the actual amount of time you park your ass in front of the TV,  and it doesn't seem to leave you a lot of time to enjoy the fruits of your labor.  
Now that I am home more with the kids, this has certainly been something that I've enjoyed.  Feeling like we are actually making use of the space we have spent so much time, money and energy to create.  I also think we've been able to keep the house a manageable disaster (you can ask my wife for her real opinion).  After some strategic rearranging of our rooms, I feel like we have our house in a good spot - everything seems functional and usable to its own degree.  We now eat regularly at our dining room table instead of piling it up with laundry in transit from the bedrooms to the wash.  We go in the basement much more frequently because it is the only place in our house with carpet, and I didn't get any knee-pads for Christmas (see 12/18/14 blog post).  I've also come to enjoy the opportunity occasionally tune-out and do something mind-numbing like wash the floors while the kids are napping.  This usually involves me throwing in the ear-buds and cranking up my jams to a volume level where my phone likes to tell me that "listening at for long periods may cause hearing damage."  Heaven forbid I wake the children from their peaceful slumber.

As much as I sometimes despise this house, and the amount of disposable income it has drawn from our bank account to fix its issues (essential and cosmetic), I feel very fortunate that we are blessed to have a roof over our heads and a place to call home.  We've had the opportunity to make this house our home, and I'm glad it was still standing when we pulled up last Sunday.
"The Money Pit"
We bought a house in the same city where we went to college - a quintessential college town.
Despite the way it looked upon purchase, we assured our friends it was not one of the houses that we frequented on weekend nights to consume keg beer in the basement.  To the best of our recollection, at least.

*I know I should cite a source here, but I recall reading this in a book somewhere and am too lazy to go back and find it.  I have couches to sit on.           

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