Going Incognito at the Open House

My grandmother’s house went on the market this past week. Angie and I have been driving by it almost religiously since September when we found out that my dad and uncle sold it to a real estate “flipper” to settle the debts of my grandmother’s estate. (She had signed the house over to the nursing home to pay for her care.)

My grandparents bought the house in 1962. My dad lived there as a teen and I grew up playing hide-and-seek in the closets, racing Hot Wheels across the hardwood floors, and dreaming about turning the attic into a secret hideaway. I can still see my grandma sitting in her recliner by the front door talking on the phone – a black rotary phone with a 25-foot cord – or making popcorn in an iron skillet on the stove. A lot of memories were made in that house and for a moment, we entertained the thought of buying it, both as a way to preserve those memories and as a place to make new ones.

Granny’s House 2018

The thought of buying a house wasn’t purely sentimental though. Our little town is experiencing a bit of a boom right now. Unemployment is really low (4%) and jobs are plentiful (at least in the manufacturing and service sectors). We’re only 25 minutes from downtown Nashville and it seems everyone wants to live here (except maybe us). I recently read that 270 people move here every month. And because of that, rent has gone through the roof!

Handrail outside our apartment.

Our apartment complex was built in the 1980s. I remember because I was still in high school and had friends who where among the first to live in the “new luxury apartments” of Village Green. Today, the sign out front is about the only thing left that still says luxury. For $859 per month we get the honor of living in a 1-bedroom apartment where there are circles in the ceiling from a prior leak, windows that are so poorly constructed that icicles form on the interior when it’s cold outside, and you can’t hold the handrail coming up the outside stairs because they are caked in bird poop (that’s been here as long as we have). And this summer, our rent will go up to the current “market value” of $919.

Just two short years ago when the house next door to my mom was for sale (for $82,000), we ran the numbers and found that purchasing it on a 15-year mortgage would have made our payments less than $600 per month. It was a newly renovated 2-bedroom home built in 1994 on a 1-acre lot and we passed on the opportunity. My grandmother’s house is also a 2-bedroom home. It sits on a 0.13 acre lot about a mile from the center of town, in a neighborhood that has long since passed it’s prime. I mention this fact for one very specific reason.

The realtor held an open house yesterday, so Angie and I stopped in to see the renovations. Once again, we stood dumbfounded by the shoddy workmanship that people here seem to pass off as acceptable. The drywall seam was showing in the bedroom. There were paint drippings on the floor and corners of the ceiling that had been missed completely with the paintbrush. The brand-new appliances were all scratched up. The countertop was cheap laminate and the carpet in the den was the very same one my dog peed on when he was a puppy (in 1989). The asking price for my grandmother’s house…$169,900.

We nearly passed out in the “newly renovated kitchen” when the realtor handed us the flyer.

Area comps via Zillow. The yellow dots are recent home sales in Granny’s neighborhood. Not a single one even comes close to $169,900.

It was at that moment that I decided not to introduce myself as the grand-daughter of the previous owner; which led to a delightful conversation about the history of the house.

Did you know,” the realtor asked, “that these are the original hardwood floors and they have never been stepped on? The woman who lived here covered them up with carpet. Can you believe that?

You don’t say.” (Funny, but I distinctly remember getting in trouble for leaving black rubber scuff marks on these same hardwood floors when I was a kid, about 20 years before the living room was carpeted. But I didn’t argue.)

And she lived here for something like 25 years.” (More like 50, but again, I didn’t argue.)

And the neighbors all keep their yards really nice.” (Did you see that dilapidated swing set next door? Or the pile of brush the size of a small car in the yard behind us?)

And it’s walking distance to town,” she added, as if that very fact alone might sway us to pay the 112% markup in price over what it sold for in September.

To this comment, I just had to respond. “Have you ever tried walking to town from here?

Well no, but I clocked it on my car and it’s less than a mile and this is a low traffic area.

I shook my head in disbelief and refrained from asking what planet she lived on. My grandmother’s house sits on one of the busiest connectors in the downtown area. Everybody and their brother drives down this road to get to the other side of town and the always busy Department of Electricity is at the end of the street! There are no sidewalks either, and last time Angie and tried walking anywhere from here, we nearly got hit by a car.

Incognito at the Open House

We left the open house with 2 new ink pens, a 2018 calendar, and the very real feeling that the Universe was once again trying to send us a message. Whether for sentimental or practical reasons, buying a house is not what we really want to do. I know this because, if you handed us $169,900 today, we would not buy my grandmother’s house. We would be more likely to opt out of traditional housing altogether and convert a shed into a tiny house or hit the road (again) in a RV.

The buy vs. rent debate is one that we think about often, especially on days like today, when we are waiting for maintenance to fix the kitchen sink. Last night, the sprayer handle shot off and flew across the room when Angie turned on the faucet and we’ve been without water in the kitchen all day. It’s frustrating and frustration (in my opinion) motivates people to make poor financial decisions. Buying a house is not necessarily a bad financial decision but buying a house in a town you hate to avoid paying rent on a place that’s not worth the price definitely would be. We don’t need a long-term solution to a short-term problem. We just need to practice patience, as my mom loves to say.

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One Very Distracted Week

This has been a particularly trying week. Angie came down with the same cold or flu that I had last week. My mom had a meltdown over turning 68. My niece moved back in with the father of her child, leaving behind a brokenhearted new boyfriend, a devastated roommate, and a confused best friend…all of whom called me to vent. And Caesar still has worms!

But…I’m not letting it get me down. Life happens, and other people’s problems don’t necessarily have to be mine. (That’s me giving myself a pep talk.)

Despite the illness and drama, I managed to finish two books this week, Van Life and The Minimalist Mindset. From the latter, I picked up a couple of tips on managing interruptions (like worried friends calling during my work day to talk about my niece) and focusing on one’s own priorities over all else. Of course, these aren’t new concepts, but they were timely this week, so they really hit home.

To manage the interruptions, I downloaded an app called Nights Keeper that allows me to set “quiet hours” on my phone. During this time, no calls, texts, or alerts can come through, except for the ones I want. My co-workers, my mom, and Angie are all on my daytime “white list”. Anyone else who calls or texts between 8 AM and 4 PM on weekdays receives a polite message that says, “I’m at work right now and can’t respond to your message. I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”

Once upon a time, such messages were not necessary. People respected boundaries, especially boundaries associated with work. The fact that people are now inseparable from their cell phones has eliminated those boundaries and we’re expected to respond immediately to someone else’s wants or needs. I for one, do not like this. As a writer, it’s imperative that I have uninterrupted quiet time to concentrate on the creative process and the best way that I can manage that is to start treating the phone as a phone again. I don’t have to answer it when it rings, beeps, sings, tweets, screams, or buzzes at me. Answering the phone is not a priority.

Getting my work done is a priority. Taking care of myself is a priority. Spending time with family is a priority. Even doing something fun is a priority.

To walk our own talk, we made Wednesday our “reboot” day. We decided to forget about all the negative things that had happened during the past week and concentrate instead on doing something spontaneous and fun.

I started the day by taking my mom to Michael’s. It’s been on her to do list for a few weeks now. While we were shopping (for one ball of yarn), Angie made lunch, which we all sat down and enjoyed together. After lunch, Angie and I went to the park. The birds were really happy to see us.

On the way home, we stopped by the grocery store to pick up some healthy snacks. We even made our first visit to the bulk aisle. Shopping bulk is something that we’ve toyed with for a while now but have never tried (mostly because we didn’t quite know how to get the tare weights for our own containers). An awesome sale on oats prompted us to learn. We did not have a container with us yesterday, so we used one of our produce bags. It worked perfectly, and we got nearly 4 pounds of oats for 87 cents.

After the grocery store, we made a quick stop at our favorite dumpster and it paid off big time! I have no idea why they would throw out perfectly good toilet paper, but we rescued 38 rolls (most of them still in the package). We also took home 3 long stem roses and a quart of strawberries, which might have been the set up for a romantic evening if it weren’t for the cat.

Though diatomaceous earth is a great product, it wasn’t quite curing Caesar of his worm infestation so we had to go with a prescription medication. We spent $27 for 3 pills. The first dose was wasted, literally. We tried to disguise it in Caesar’s food but he wouldn’t eat any part of it. I agonized a bit over the thought of having to force feed him a pill, imagining every scenario from being bitten to having him puke up the last remaining dose of this very expensive medication; but in the end, he swallowed it like a champ. And poof, no more worms!

So our rough week actually had a happy ending.

What this week taught me was that even the most focused individuals lose focus every now and then. Distractions are a part of every day life and we have to learn to manage them before they manage us. I’m hoping that the Nights Keeper and my own commitment to a distraction-free work day helps me to do just that. And if not, I may just have to channel my own mother. When we were kids, she used to tell us, “Do not call me at work unless you are dying. If you do, and you’re not dying, you will be when I get home.” 😊

How do you deal with distractions during your work day?


Food Waste Update

  • Wasted Food this week: 5 ounces
  • Total Wasted Food in 2018: 9 ounces
  • Found Food this week:  9.75 US pounds
  • Total Found Food this year:  63.17 US pounds

Keep up with our food finds in real time by viewing our Food Find Gallery.