Thursday, January 29, 2015

Where We Started

House number 40 in the sea of 43 homes we saw in the span of three weeks caught our eye. The combination of a turning housing market and our lust for both charming imperfection and instant gratification drove the frantic search…and both of us nearly insane, but it was our first house. We weren’t settling.

I remember sitting in jury duty of all places while a slight offer/counter offer war was waged, my sweetly bearded not-quite –husband-at-the-time repetitively texting and calling in the details. By the time I was released, we had a house and we were off to celebrate one of the largest purchases either of us had ever made in our lives.

On closing day, we ran by our little apartment to pick up our dogs in a spring snowstorm and headed straight to our new house. Built in 1963, it was only new to us. While the mid-century ranch was basically fully updated with the 1960s details still intact, we had some painting to do, the hardwood floors needed some love and the layer of somebody else’s filth that was draped all over everything made me squirm, but I couldn’t stop smiling. It was ours. I loved it and I was about to jump out of my skin. While the dogs flung themselves around their very first backyard with glee, we popped open some champagne in the kitchen and drank it straight from the bottle, the bubbles shooting up my nose. I still have the cork tucked away in a drawer.

The next three weeks tested our bank accounts and interior decorating skills. Suddenly we had to furnish a house…one with five bedrooms and two whole entire bathrooms plus a living room that was far larger than the postage stamps of our past. I had never even owned a real couch. If you couldn’t tell by the number of alan wrenches in my junk drawer, all of my previous furniture had come in pieces and was assembled one slow, patient quarter turn at a time.

Despite the hit to the wallet, running around the furniture stores and picking out all the fully assembled pieces was far more enjoyable and less curse word inducing than the wonderful task of painting. This house finally gave me a studio – a designated place to write and create – but unfortunately Buzz Lightyear had exploded in it at some point.

We slapped some soothing and trendy minty green paint over the purple walls, which wasn’t so bad, but then I started on the built in shelves. I wanted to do a homemade chevron pattern on the back of the shelves and used silly, foolish words like “fun” and “easy” to describe this project based off online tutorials I had perused. One small detail I missed was that all these tutorials were based on flat walls, while my project was confined inside a box…To think, this minor oversight turned “easy” and “fun” into my eyes bleeding and non-stop f-bombs echoing off the empty walls of the house, but I finally got it done. Now, it’s my favorite room in the house.

Also, were you aware there are trends in baseboards? Apparently, your house is embarrassingly unfashionable without the latest five and a quarter inch flat white baseboards with top beveled edge according to the guys who refinished our hardwood floors. Never wanting to be totally lame and out of style, that’s what we got, along with a fine layer of sawdust on top of the heavy layer of grime already in place on absolutely EVERYTHING, floor to ceiling. We were so thankful we had heeded the advice of many to wait to move in until after the floors were done.

This sawdust-y detail made me hire my first cleaning lady. I’m going, what am I doing and who have I become? I don’t hire people to clean my house. Who do I think I am, a Kennedy? But, it was just the best thing to do. Along with hiring the electricians, floor finishers, baseboard painters, acrobats, jokers, smokers and midnight tokers, we also had worked ourselves weary. We ended each day sweaty, with paint in our hair and dirt under our fingernails face planted in bed before 9 p.m. We single-handedly kept Home Depot in business during that pre-move in period buying new outlet plugs and covers, furnace filters, paint, light fixtures and ceiling fans. The house made us its bitch and I enjoyed every second of it, but even the things you think you can do on your own, like cleaning sawdust out of every minute crevice, are often best left to the professionals.

Soon after the clean sweep, we finally moved in and a week later, our new, polished home played host to my 30th birthday – a choose your own decade party that rivaled even the best college date parties.

Many parties followed that first one. That first glimpse of the original vintage bar in the basement made us feel as though it was our duty to fulfill this house’s purpose:  To be a fun gathering place where people laughed and loved; to be home.

Many decades of memories were made within this old, well-loved home long before we made it our own. I love this little time capsule on the back patio from some point in the home's history:

As the epitome of home, we soon added our chapter to this house’s story:

  • Our exploding farmer’s market in the backyard:

  • Drinking whiskey and dancing barefoot in the kitchen to Wagon Wheel, which became our first dance song at our wedding. There’s been so much drinking and dancing in this kitchen.
  • Practicing said wedding dance while the dogs barked ferociously. Dogs hate dancing.
  • Trying unsuccessfully to change the light bulb in the bathroom, then admitting defeat, duct taping the hanging fixture to the shower rod and calling the electrician. Please know that we were wearing matching headlamps during this fiasco because our style doesn't stop at baseboards.

  • When the bearded one took me to the ballet then demonstrated the ballet run down our hallway and Andy, our Jack Russell Terrier jumped up and bit him in the ass like a cartoon character.
  • Laying in bed and preparing for our European honeymoon by putting hilariously inappropriate phrases into the translator, playing it and laughing hysterically.
  • That remarkable, nothing-else-like-it, newlywedded first year of marriage.

We talked about our future and having children in this house. Our little house with its perfect mix of mid-century charm and modern updates; scalloped edges and leaded stained glass intertwined with stainless steel and sleek track lighting that just worked in the most wonderful way.

Then, just shy of two years in, we celebrated one of the last memories in our first home:  The bearded one’s promotion and our impending move to Dallas, Texas.

The plan was to keep our house in Denver and rent it, but news that it fell through and we would have to sell came on a particularly stressful day wandering around Dallas looking for the new neighborhood we would want to call home. I remember wishing it was easier:  Leaving the old home, yes, but finding the new home, too.

Finding your place in a new neighborhood and a new city is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to navigate. The eccentricities of one neighborhood to the next can either intrigue you or scare you away and you really don’t want it to surprise you after you’ve already put down a deposit or down payment.

In my hunt for a little peace in relocation, I ran across a site called Urban Compass that matches your tastes with neighborhoods and the homes in those neighborhoods…in New York City. There is a neighborhood guide section with detailed descriptions providing the daily vibe, things to do and what you should and should not expect. Basically, exploring this site and connecting with its agents is like doing what we just tried to do in Dallas without the stress of traveling or wandering aimlessly. If only I was moving to New York…

But, I’m keeping it in my back pocket because at the rate of promotions the bearded husband is getting (two in eight months) our next move could very well be to New York. Oh, and if anybody from Urban Compass happens to be reading this, other large cities and weary, crazy relocators desperately need your services.

As the countdown to moving day begins, yet again, I know this move is going to be different than any of the ones that came before it or any of the ones that will come after it. This house made me a homeowner for the first time, something I never thought I would be, and the pride attached to knowing I earned that unique privilege makes me feel like I could burst. This is where we started and while having to leave it behind breaks my heart, it’s time to move on. But, wherever we go and whatever we do, I will always miss and be desperately in love with number 40 in the sea of 43; our little eclectic starter ranch; the first place we called home together.

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