Monday, August 5, 2013

From Trash to Treasure: My Dream Closet

It seems pretty common for people to have some form of a junk drawer in their home.  You know, the place that seems to catch eclectic odds and ends such as phone chargers, random bills, and extra keys.  However, my junk drawer soon became a junk room.

Now before you start to think I'm a hoarder, hear me out.  I am typically a very tidy person.  In fact, some people (ahem, Micah) would even say I have OCD tendencies.  But this spare bedroom was the perfect spot to stack my boxes after moving...and store the tubs of out of season clothes...and then other various items I wasn't quite sure where to place just yet.  Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, and finally Micah said, "Holly, you can only use the 'I just moved' excuse for so long."  It became a joke about when I would finally clean out that room.

A few weeks ago, I decided to turn my nightmare into a dream -- a roomy walk-in closet.  I ordered an industrial grade wardrobe rack on wheels and got to work.  After a few hours of throwing out various items, attaching a mirror to my dresser (which was not so easy to do solo), and organizing all my clothes and shoes, I was left with this:

And this:

And this:

Micah built the awesome necklace display above my wardrobe rack.  He made it with a ledge so that I could display the postcards I collected during my time abroad in grad school.  The shelving in the closet where I keep my shoes was already there.  I decided to use a rolling wardrobe rack because I thought it would be nice to have something I could maneuver around, as well as keep from putting more holes into the walls than necessary.  Small pieces of regularly worn jewelry are cradled in antique porcelain saucers on the dresser.  I would like to paint the room, add a pretty little chandelier, and a chair, but that will all come in time.  For now I will enjoy my space and continue to spin in the middle of the room, arms extended fully in glee.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

We're Painting the Roses...Pink?

I have lived in my house for seven months now, and in those seven months my boyfriend Micah and I have painted four rooms.  Considering there are only seven rooms in this house, that is pretty significant.

But for now, I would like to talk about my kitchen and dining room.  Because I love the pretty pinks associated with Charleston, South Carolina's Rainbow Row, I was inspired to paint these two rooms controversial shades of coral.  I say controversial because each time I tell someone I painted my kitchen pink, their response is a polite silence with wide eyes and a nod that says, "You have really bad taste."

It definitely hurt my feelings at first; especially when I invited my brother, John, over for the first time and he exclaimed, "I hope you aren't looking to sell your house in the near future.  This color is terrible!"  After spending two full days painting, this was the last thing I wanted to hear.

When Micah came over later that evening, I told him about my brother's visit, looking (I imagine) very deflated and pitiful.  He rubbed my back and asked, "Do you like your kitchen?" I nodded.  "Then that's all that matters, Holly.  This is your home, not his."

While this was a very logical and simple statement for Micah to make, it was liberating for me to hear.  Since I have purchased my home, I have been very reluctant to invite people over. Not because I am anti-social or ashamed of what I have, but because I want my house to be "perfect" before anyone sees it.  But I have realized that perfection is in the eye of the beholder.  Not everyone is going to like what I have picked for my home and probably no one will notice or anticipate the additional progress that I think needs to be made.  Curating a home takes time and is highly personal.  Who cares if someone doesn't like your aesthetic?  What matters is that you love where you live and how it looks.  For me, this has been a freeing revelation.

As for my brother?  My sweet sister-in-law decided to surprise him with a freshly painted kitchen recently.  She chose a lovely shade of beige with a noticeably pink tone to it.   

Thursday, July 25, 2013

From 16 to 26: A Reflection on Teenage Expectations

My twenty-sixth birthday is in just a few days, and I keep thinking about something I said when I was sixteen.

I remember I was part of a conversation about life in ten years with my youth group at church.  All the girls said something very similar: they would like to be married and have a baby.  I don't particularly remember saying that I wanted to have children at twenty-six, but I did expect to be married to a hot husband, have a cute apartment, and be a successful lawyer.

This conversation has been cycling through my thoughts lately.  As I get ready in the mornings, I wonder what my sixteen-year-old self would have to say about the person that I am at twenty-six.  Teenage Holly would probably be impressed with the fact that I own a house, but disappointed that I don't have a pool and my bedroom isn't painted purple.  She would think that my boyfriend is ridiculously good looking, but wonder why there is no ring.  She would be disappointed that I became a teacher, especially considering she vehemently argued she never would.  She would be happy that I'm not overweight because that was always one of her biggest fears, but she would be disappointed that I rarely paint my nails.

I think about who I was a sixteen, and I wish I could tell her that one day she will come into her own.  I would advise her to not view life so superficially.  Explain there will be hard times, times where she will severely doubt herself, but eventually everything will fall into place.  I feel grateful that I did not become the person I hoped I would; that "dream" person was designed by someone who didn't understand what was to come.

I think the older I get, the more open I am to allowing life to just happen.  That doesn't mean to let go of responsibilities, but to stop agonizing over what might be and what could be.  Simply try to enjoy the moment for what it is and adapt to life's fluctuations as they come.

I may not fit the mold that I once created for myself, but I feel proud of who I have become.  I have a career in which I can help others grow, a loving and supportive family, a boyfriend who is abundantly patient and unwavering, and friends with hearts of gold.  I am far more successful than I could have ever imagined.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Yard Ambition

I may be a first-time homeowner, but this is not my first house.  Last year I lived in Lebanon, a very small rural area in Kentucky that is an hour away from my hometown, Lexington.  I rented a cute little ranch with a very big and hilly yard. 

I figured I would just hire out the grass cutting and yard work, completely na├»ve of how expensive that would actually become.  After paying my landlord a ridiculous amount for him to do a poor job of mowing, I finally caved and fired up my own lawnmower.

And I’ll be honest, it was hell.

Lebanon must be the center for every species of disgustingly huge bugs and spiders.  They would fly into my face and cling to my legs as I wrestled my mower up and down hills, past chain-link fences, and around ditches.  I had never seen a tick in my life until I found one on my hip in the shower after doing yard work one evening.  I felt like I was going to be sick.  I had great resentment toward doing yard work at my rental home.  So when I bought this house, I figured my feelings would be similar.

A few weeks ago, I finally started work on my post-WWI trenches front yard.  My attitude was poor as my mom and I planted grass seed where the ditches had been dug back in the winter. 

But then things started to change a week later when little fringes of green started to peek out of the dirt. 

This sweet little sign of life made me feel proud that I had been responsible for the renewal of my lawn, making me want to do more.  So I put down some mulch (something I was familiar with from my house in Lebanon), dug up the huge roots of old shrubbery (which caused me to completely break my shovel in half), and mowed the rest of my lawn.  Thankfully mowing is much easier here, as my yard is smaller and completely flat.

Then came the game changer: my mom bought me the most beautiful cherry tree.

Granted, I did not plant it myself, but I feel even more excited about my yard than ever.

Now I’m strategizing how I will complete the landscaping in the front of my house, compiling information about different types of shrubbery.  This will not come until the fall, but in the meantime, I’m so proud of how my yard is shaping up.

A few tips for my peers who have never done yard work before:
·         When mowing grass, I have found through trial and error that it creates much less of a mess if you mow around the yard twice with the grass blowing into the yard (clockwise), and then change directions (counterclockwise) to mow the rest.  That way you don’t blow grass all over your street and driveway, but you change directions in time to not cause grass clippings to clog your mower (believe me, it is not fun to try to unclog a mower).

·         If you need to plant grass, make sure you level the dirt first so it is even with the rest of the yard.  Use a rake to loosen up the dirt and then sprinkle it with fresh soil.  Sprinkle the grass seed generously over the entire area and then sprinkle more fresh soil over the seed.  Water liberally every day.  You should see the grass begin to grow within a week.

·         If you are mulching for the first time, go ahead and pull all of the weeds out of the area (use gloves and have a spatula on hand for the weeds with particularly strong roots).  Once you have done this, sprinkle Preen over the entire area. Do not skip this step!  If you don’t want to have to keep pulling weeds all summer, Preen is a must.  Then pour the mulch (I usually buy it in bags) into a mound in the area you wish to cover and smooth it out with a rake.  To get a perfectly smooth border, I use my hands (again, use gloves).
I plan to get started on my backyard as soon as we get a weekend that is not rainy.  I have many holes to fill (courtesy of Piper) and many weeds to pull.  Wish me luck!



Sunday, March 31, 2013

Penny-Pinching Paint

Let’s talk paint. 

One of the first things I knew I needed to do when I bought this house was paint just about every room (and touch up paint in the one room that had a decent color).  So I’ve been dreaming with color swatches for the last few months.  Deciding on a color scheme was not that difficult.  I love corals, pinks, ocean blues, and beiges (think more golden beige, not the drab “greige” that has become so popular all of a sudden).

My mother already had a color swatch booklet from Sherwin Williams that I started flipping through.  While they had great whites for trim and the perfect gold-tinged beige, I could not find the vibrant yet soft shades of coral and ocean blue that I was looking for.  And this was such a pity because Sherwin Williams was running a sale for 30 percent off total purchase. 

One day I decided to go into Benjamin Moore and check out their swatches.  I described the colors I needed and they immediately directed me to the perfect shades.

“Are you having any specials?” I asked hopefully.

“Nope,” the salesman quickly responded. 


Then my mother (who has become my partner in crime in many of my home improvement/shopping escapades) whispered, “Take the swatches and see if Sherwin Williams can match the color.”


And you know what?  They had the exact same colors in their data base, saving me over $50. 

So what can we learn here?  Paint is expensive, especially when you’re needing  several gallons, so check out the major brands to see who is having a sale (you can find this information by looking on their website).  Once you find a sale, gather up your dream swatches, regardless of brand, and have them match the paint.

And feel no shame.  When you’re a new homeowner and you’re broke, you have to be resourceful.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Slightly Ambitious Tinkerings

After my last post, life got extremely crazy very quickly.  I am a teacher at a local high school and I took on the task of directing the senior class play.  This required hours of extra work each week, leaving me frazzled, exhausted, and very behind on housecleaning.  Not to mention poor Piper, who had to be saved from her kennel each day by my mother after work.  To top it all off, I became very sick during February, so when I was home, I did not do much beyond lie on my couch and watch Mad Men (I cannot wait for the new season!).

In the last two weeks, however, I have made some accomplishments on the home front.  I found the dining room set of my dreams: rustic, southern, and quality.  One beautiful Saturday afternoon, my mother and I stumbled upon this beauty while meandering through a local consignment shop:

I knew it was exactly what I was looking for, and it was much less expensive than anything I had found online or in stores.  The solid pine table was a measly $150, while the chairs were $295 for all six.   So for those of you who are “ballin’ on a budget” like me, check out your local consignment and antique shops.  While that type of shopping can be hit or miss, you never know when you are going to happen upon a true treasure.

I also managed to (get someone to) hang curtains in the living room.


My pilot boyfriend, Micah, found himself with a free Sunday last weekend, so I quickly gave him a few “honey do” tasks.  He did not seem to mind too much—after all, it did involve a cool power tool.  Check out this manly shot I caught:

Between the windows I also added a painting that I purchased last summer while in Boston and Cambridge, MA.  I was exploring Harvard’s campus when I came across a painter selling his work.  I purchased this painting of trees from him for just $10 and had a nice conversation with him about his art.  He even signed the back of it for me.  When I got back, I had it framed, which cost seven times what I paid for the painting itself, but was well worth it for an original piece of art.

 While I have not had time to be very ambitious with my house in the last month, I have grown to really love my home.  This place has suddenly turned into my safe haven.  It is my place of calm at the end of a hectic day, and I know that once I close my garage door, I am okay.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Puppy Drama

I don’t know about you all, but winter sure does put me in a grumpy mood.  The gray skies and frigid air immediately sets my bones to aching, as if I were an old woman.  So you can imagine my delight when the temperatures randomly hit nearly 70 degrees last Tuesday.  I could not wait to get home and walk my one-year-old puppy, Piper.

However, when I arrived, I found this:
You see, Piper has had a difficult time with the move.  She seems frightened of every little noise and the slew of plumbers who entered my home during the pipe incident did not help with her paranoia.  Piper has always hated the kennel, so I thought I would try leaving her out in the house to make her more comfortable.  After all, she has calmed down and is starting to become an adult dog.  I did a test-run first, leaving her out of her kennel for only a few hours at a time while I ran errands on the weekends.  The trial was a success, so I continued to leave her out all day while I was at work.  She did a pretty good job, only pulling a couple throw pillows into the floor here and there.  No harm done, right?  But then one day she happened to get a hold of a pen, shredding it into a million little pieces, and got ink all over one side of a sofa cushion.  Even then I didn’t get upset, and just flipped the cushion over. 
But on this beautiful Tuesday, I immediately knew something was up when I walked in from the garage.  Rather than stand up on her hind legs to greet me, Piper crouched low to the floor.  Oh, crap was my immediate thought.
I moved into the living room to find all the cushions of the sofa disheveled with stuffing EVERYWHERE.  I mean, all over the sofa, the floor, the coffee table.  Then I saw the massive hole in the cushion on the floor, the same cushion that had ink all over the other side.
I immediately called my mother in a panic.
“I just can’t catch a break!  What am I going to do?” I desperately asked.
“Get some OxiClean and I’ll be right over.”
We spent over an hour soaking the cushion cover in the OxiClean solution, but only a little ink was coming out at a time. 
“It’s not working,” I pouted.  “Let’s just give up.”  It was getting late and we both had to work the next morning.
“Let me take it home with me, Holly.  Don’t worry, I’ll get it out.”
And that she did.  After soaking the cover in the solution for another hour or so, nearly all of the ink came out of the fabric—an absolute miracle.
The lesson learned here?  First, don’t let those sad puppy eyes fool you.  While I still feel guilty about putting Piper in her kennel, I know that it is best for her safety and the safety of my home.  When the weather looks up, I plan on building her a dog house so she can roam around the backyard while I am at work.  In the end, we both win.  Second, buy some OxiClean immediately.  This stuff really is a miracle in powder form.  Third, don’t be afraid to call your parents for help.  I have found that being an adult means you need (and appreciate) the help of your family more than ever.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Day I Almost Divorced My House

I knew my house was “the one” before I ever stepped foot inside.  It was perfect: stone exterior, attached garage, hardwood floors throughout, updated bathroom, a private landscaped backyard complete with a swing, and charm galore.  I made an offer the next day and the house was mine a month later.  This was true love, I just knew it.

And then, much like the harsh reality that sets in once the initial phases of love begins to wane, I was faced with the proverbial skeletons in my house’s closet.  One week into homeownership, I turned on the kitchen faucet only to find a small trickle of water coming out.  So I did what any independent woman would do, I called my daddy:
“Oh, Holly, just wait a few hours and see if it comes back on.  If you call a plumber every time you think some little thing might be wrong, you’ll stay broke.”
“Well, I’m pretty sure I hear water running in the bathroom wall.  I don’t think this is a little thing."
“Oh, that’s not good.”
Indeed.  A huge hole in the wall later, my handyman discovered that the water was not running in the wall, but into my crawlspace.  The main waterline coming into my home had burst and the space below was filling with hundreds of gallons of water at rapid speed. 
A certified plumber came to my house that day and gave me an estimate of $4,000 to repair the waterline.  Yes, that’s right, $4,000.  I had just spent my life’s savings on buying this house a week prior and I was suddenly expected to pay thousands of dollars to fix a pipe?  I was devastated.

“Is this what homeownership is going to be like?” I tearfully asked my mother.

“Yes,” she replied, half chuckling, “but at least it’s yours.  It won’t always be this expensive or troubling, but there is constantly something that needs to be repaired when you own a home.”

“Great.  Just great.”
I called a few more plumbers and prayed that someone would take pity on me and offer a lower rate.  I eventually found a plumber with a great reputation to fix the pipe for $2,300.  A week and a half later, my pipes were repaired and I was left with this:    
I felt as though my house and I had just suffered a horrible breakup and I was being forced back into the relationship.  This was not at all the fairytale I had imagined.
The following Saturday, I spent a couple hours in the afternoon picking up sticks.  As I bent and broke them into smaller pieces, my dog Piper pranced around the yard and fetched smaller twigs.  Once the yard was free of litter, I sat on my swing and observed my winter lawn—so many types of flowers and bushes just waiting for the first signs of spring to blossom.  In that moment, I began to reconnect with my house, picturing summer barbeques and friends gathered around the fire pit I intend to make.  I remembered why I fell in love.
So, my friends, please learn from my experience and keep these things in mind when buying a home:
·         Investigate the plumbing pre-purchase.  I had no idea that galvanized plumbing could burst at any second once it ages.  Had I known this, I would have reconsidered the price I was paying for the home.  If you find that you do have old galvanized plumbing, get it replaced as soon as you can afford it.  Although it may not be a fun way to spend your money, it is necessary—trust me.
·         Have a financial cushion.  When you buy your house, make sure you have some money left over for emergencies.  I am so thankful I did this.

·         Get more than one estimate.  Should you find yourself in a home improvement pickle, make sure you get more than one estimate.  It can be the difference of thousands of dollars.  And don’t forget to check references!

·         Say “no” to slab.  While my home has a crawlspace, there is a small portion that is on slab.  Unfortunately for me, this is where the waterline entered the house, making it an expensive repair.  Save yourself the headache and search for a home with at least a crawlspace.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Search

When looking to buy my first home, I was very particular: it must be in a certain area of Lexington, it must be an older home with plenty of charm (think Mad Men era), it must be at least a semi-open concept, and it must have a fenced-in backyard for my dog.  Some people thought I was being too picky; I saw it more as having standards.  You see, much like dating, you have to have some idea of what you’re looking for when buying a house, considering price, location, and aesthetics.   Otherwise you’ll end up looking at an endless number of houses, all willy-nilly and never satisfied.  To help narrow your search, this is what I would advise you do first:

·         Figure out how much you can afford and speak with a financial institution.  Before you ever start looking at homes online or touring open houses, you have to know what kind of budget you are working with.  Find a mortgage calculator online and start punching some numbers in.  Get an idea of what you can afford monthly (considering your other financial obligations) and you’ll have a better idea of what kind of home you can purchase.  After this, make appointments with a few different financial institutions to discuss what kind of loan and interest rate you qualify for.  I say to contact more than one financial institution because different places offer different kinds of loans and rates (and believe me, you want to make sure you get the best loan for your needs—a 1% difference in interest could be the difference of $100 on your monthly mortgage).  Also, don’t forget to include taxes and insurance in your calculations.

·         Decide on location and type of home.  Once you have a better idea of what you can afford, you can begin to look around for locations you would like to live in and the type of home you would like to have.  My advice here?  Decide on a location and do not give up until your dream home in that location comes on the market.  You can always change the house, but you cannot change where it sits.  Also, being that we are in our twenties, it would be wise to consider resale.  We probably will not live in our first home forever, so it is important to make a smart investment.  Stray away from areas with houses that seem to sit on the market for months (or even years).

·         Get a realtor. This was probably the smartest decision I could have made.  It was no cost to me because the realtor split the commission of the sale with the selling realtor.  When looking for a realtor, make sure it is someone willing to listen to your wants and needs.  If you find a realtor who will only show you their listings, it’s time to find another realtor.

·         Make a move.  When you find the house that is truly perfect for you, make the offer.  The same weekend my house went up for sale, I made an offer along with a few others.  I had to move quickly, but I did not question my decision because I knew it was perfect.  Much like meeting the right man (as they say), when you know, you know.  But do not make your first offer your best offer—allow some wiggle room for negotiations.

The search is probably the most fun part of buying a first home.  It is important to be patient during this process and take your time—the last thing you want to do is rush into a mediocre home and then be stuck with it for years.  Approach your home search much like you would dating: set your standards high and never settle for less.