I’m dizzy from looking at homes on the Internet. I’m finding there’s a sizable gap between what the advertised assets of the property are, and what, in truth, they actually are. If the ad says “airy, spacious family room with a rustic hearth, perfect for animal lovers”, this could actually mean the back wall was whisked to the next county in a recent tornado and what remains of the chimney is now inhabited by a family of barn owls. At this point, the two words “fixer upper” put the fear of God in me. After what I’ve seen of the leads they seem to think are not in need of fixin’, I can only imagine what the ones are like where they actually admit they need “a little TLC”. Probably one termite short of demolition.
Having moved thirty-seven times, house hunting is not a new vocation for me. At one point I moved four times in one year. Finally, after packing up all my household goods for the fourth time, I put them in storage in Florence, Alabama and, as it turned out, didn’t see them again for ten years. As my other half regularly points out, I could have bought a new house with the money spent on storage payments.
One nice thing about not letting a lot of grass grow under your feet is that, if you’re lucky, you add new names to your address book as you move along. I have gathered many forever friends and some who I enjoyed for the time I shared with them. I valued them all.
For three years I lived in Massachusetts. I worked in Boston during my time there as an Area Director for a well-known non-profit organization. My job divided my time sixty percent on road work and forty percent behind a desk. Often, as the states are smaller in the area, the road work took me to adjoining states such as Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and even on occasion as far afield as New York and Maine. This afforded me the luxury of associating with people in field offices along the way as well as those in the main office in Boston.
I established an acquaintance, and later a friendship during my visits to the New Hampshire office with the young woman hired to put a “new face” on the interior of the building. Chris, a woman in her twenties such as myself, a talented decorator, married to a talented decorator, was living at the time in a heavily forested countrified area of the state with her husband’s parents, two toddlers and a behemoth animal appropriately named Polar, who was a Newfoundland by breed. As the family expanded the shared quarters were getting, to say the least, a bit claustrophobic. Finding that she was expecting her third child, Chris’s mother-in-law retired from the child care business and suggested they find new digs.
It is interesting as you travel across the country how the architecture of the houses shifts and changes with the region. Coming from California, Southern California in particular, homes were often built out of stucco or adobe and at the time leaned towards sprawling single level ranch style structures many with cactus gardens on palm lined trees. The east coast, to me, presented a far different feel. Neighborhoods were made up of older, well-lived in homes, with seasoned gardens and neighbors with a shared history.
Faced with the prospect of moving, Chris solicited my help. Originally planning to build a new home, after much discussion they settled on finding and restoring an old Victorian. For them this was a dream project incorporating both their enviable design skills. I joined her on one scouting trip. The ad read “lovely old Victorian home in shaded downtown area, convenient to shopping and public transportation. Needs a little work”. It had probably been in the downtown area when the last nail had been hammered in, but downtown had since moved about twenty miles north and left the old neighborhood to fend for itself. As for public transportation, there was the rusting carcass of an old truck sitting in the side yard. After years of abuse, the garden had run wild, nearly covering the steps leading up to front porch. The steps themselves had partial boards missing leaving gaping holes and the vines around the front porch were so thick they gave the appearance of trying to strangle the front of the building.
Guarding us to watch our step, the overly chirpy real estate agent, went on to stress the potential beauty of the old home, while cheerfully avoiding the obvious pitfalls. The stained glass window in the front door had been smashed and repaired with a hasty duct tape patch. Support beams were akimbo in the bony structure of the porch and a hole to the right of the door showed exposed wiring where there had formerly been a porch light.
Opening the large door dust shimmered in the beams of sunlight we brought with us. Inside was worse than outside. Once lovely hardwood floors were dulled with lack of care and large black stains appearing to be ground into the wood covered several spots in the living room. A staircase with an ornate wooden railing led upstairs.
It was light, despite the discolored windows, with high ceilings and glimpses of crown molding could be seen above the peeling wallpaper despite layers of dust. Considering when it was built, the rooms were generous. Off to the right of the living room was a formal dining room and behind that a huge kitchen. In the corner of the kitchen was a vintage stove in a faded turquoise color with a rusty sink perched precariously on top.
You had to have imagination to picture this as home, and Chris did. They returned the following weekend and made an offer on the fixer upper which was gleefully accepted. After nearly of full year of sorting through wallpaper swatches, flooring samples, appliance choices, installing new windows, repairing woodwork and replacing flooring, with the new baby in tow she took me to see the finished product. To say the transformation was miraculous would be a gross understatement. It was as if the old house was smiling by way of thanks and shortly afterward they all moved in and are there to this day.
So today I’ll resume my search. Our home is out there somewhere.
This is an interesting way to cook cauliflower. My other half is from Egypt originally and his English grandmother made cauliflower for him as a child similar to this recipe. Not only is it delicious but it looks pretty on the plate. Enjoy!
1 large head of cauliflower
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. lemon infused olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter, softened
1 clove garlic, pureed
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Trim stem of cauliflower until nearly flush with base of vegetable, removing all leaves. Rub all over with olive oils and garlic. Place in ovenproof skillet or foil lined baking sheet. Bake for 45 mins.
1 Tbsp. salted butter
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1 cup vegetable broth
2 Tbsp. stone ground Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Dash of paprika
Pinch of dill
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Whisk in flour. Cook over med.heat for 1 min., stirring constantly. Mix in the dry mustard. Gradually whisk in the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to med-low and simmer until sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Stir in the mustard, and seasonings.