Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I'm Polivoracious

While we wait for closing day I can't help but toy with ideas on how to spend the "fun money".

"Fun money" is the kind of money you spend on fun things such as paint and fabulous fixtures and furniture and, oh, say window treatments (Has anybody ever wondered why it's called a window treatment? As if a window is a kind of disease that you have to treat ...it just strikes me as a weird choice of word. Oh well ...)
and other decorative touches to turn your house into your family's nest as opposed to the kind of "serious" money you have to spend on rough plumbing, drywall, rewiring your entire house or - God forbid - structural repairs *shudder*

For a visual person like myself those magical "mood boards" are just a great invention. Combine that concept with internet gadgetry and - voila! - enter Polyvore !

If you haven't tried it, go check it out! Fair warning: it's a fantabulous time drain.

I ... ahem ... whipped up 2 sets toying with 2 ideas for the entry hall of our potential new old home. Yes Sirreeee! Our house will (once we remove a 2.5 ft wall section not original to the house that separates the downstairs from the upstairs to create 2 separate apartments) have an actual entry hall. Not a squarefoot of tile, not a door mat sized space of dirt-catching carpet, no, an actual entry -hall-. How stinkin' cool is that?

And before you start wondering why I'm so excited about an entry hall. Up until moving here I had taken them pretty much for granted and never knew how much I appreciate them. When you enter a house or apartment in Germany you set foot into an area that is clearly designed as an entry area. You do -not- step right into the living room (and yeah, since we're already touching the subject, I'm not a big fan of the whole "open floor plan" concept, nuh-uh, not at all.) The Ugly Duckling being an old-fashioned house designed when a house wasn't "fair game" to just about everybody who rang the door bell has ...or had, at some point, a semi formal entry hall with a stair case going up to the second floor, an archway possibly with french doors to the living room and another door leading to the little hallway between library and dining room.

It's saaa-weet!

Well, it will be once we're finished loving on it. Which brings us back to Polivore and mood boards as I continue to daydream and brainstorm about just how it could look when we're done. Generally hubby's and my taste can be described as "traditional Farmhouse meets NYC loft" ... hehe. I'm the country farm nut, hubby the NYC lounge-about. So here goes ...

Entry Hall - Design Orange:
After years of renting and existing alongside the colors "builder beige" and "swine" we decided we'd love some color. What prompted us to go "Orange!" I have no idea but we're warming to a nice golden spicy orange. Antique travel trunk and type writer are 2 of our collectibles and will be coming with us and we'd love to show them off much more nicely than we do now. Simple white sheers and dark matchstick shades on the windows, a sleek simple drum shade for the light fixture and for a little quirkiness and impact we love the idea of adding a zebra rug.

Hallway - orange

Entry Hall - Design yellow-grey
During those short moments when I wonder if orange might be a little overwhelming for an entry hall I always fall back in love with the rather hip combination of yellow and grey. Here's my other take on an entry hall look using batten and board against a soft warm grey on the walls, a sweet crisp yellow and white fabric for window treatments and a fun and fabulously inexpensive grey rug from IKEA.

Hallway - yellow/grey

So, what do you think? Yay for the grey and no for the orange-glo? Yes for orangeness and nay for grey?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Break out the Champagne!

The Ugly Duckling passed inspection!

The inspectors [2 - one for the usual stuff, the other for WDO aka termites and friends] didn't uncover anything unexpected and had plenty of great affirmations for us: the Ugly Duckling has a solid foundation, no structural issues and everything else is pretty much "cosmetics". There is some old termite damage but then again it's a 91 year old wooden house in Florida - 'nuff said.

Our inspector was literally beaming with pride when he realized what we'd learned from our first experience with him and the Triplex. Hearing him repeat the phrase "So much better than ..." when poking and prodding the Ugly Duckling made me grow an inch or two as well - we did good this time! It is possible to be excited about a property and still be open to noticing all those pitfalls that can indicate trouble with a capital "T":
  • rolling "waves" in the floor
  • lopsided stairs
  • doors that don't close
  • doors that close but leave uneven gaps between the frame
Don't just brush these things off with a nonchalant "It's an old house" or call it "character" or "charming". The are signs that your house's foundation is out of whack - been there, done that - lesson learned! So wear those flat shoes and crawl underneath your house - it's worth it!

The Ugly Duckling has a sound foundation and no structural issues. It needs some electrical and plumbing repairs and updates and a lot of love which is to be expected for an almost 100 year old house with a couple of years of delayed maintenance.

The most important thing is that it's healthy and that we're one step closer to making it truly ours! Woot!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Get your gobble-gobble on

Have you already started cooking up a storm for Thanksgiving? Is your house a pre-feast disaster zone? Guess what? Thanks to hubby's crazy holiday work schedule I get an extra 2 days for preparations!

That's right! We'll be postponing the annual ravishing of the turkey until Saturday (hubby is slated for work on both Thursday and Friday and we both don't feel like squeezing it in into the short late dinner slot of regular dinner time). That means this time I'll have to wait 1 year and 2 days until my extra favorite American treat: Thanksgiving Dinner. Ugh!

Not being of the American persuasion, I had my first ever Thanksgiving dinner after moving here with the hubby, 3/4 of a year into my life as a legal resident in the US. We never had any of that "your mother's or my mother's stuffing recipe" strife but instead lots of amusement on the hubby's side when I bought a "Thanksgiving 101" book to prepare both mentally as well as practically for the most typical American holiday. If there's anything more loaded with tradition than Thanksgiving I have yet to discover it; even Christmas doesn't get close.

So, what's on the menu (which shall not be trifled with unless it's pre-meal appetizers served around lunchtime)?

  • Turkey, brined, basted and stuffed to perfection (hubby takes care of The Bird, mainly because I'm stumped when confronted with handling a 26 pound bird which we usually have. I'm also too short to handle it effectively)
  • gravy
  • stuffing made according to hubby's Mom's recipe (I'm not crazy about sausage in any way, shape or form but her sausage stuffing is K.I.L.L.E.R!)
  • steamed broccoli and/or green beans
  • cheese sauce and/or browned butter for veggies
  • mashed potatoes
  • homemade Cranberry sauce
  • mixed winter salad with a light vinaigrette
  • variety of pies, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream for dessert
Hubby handles The Bird, start to finish, and I take care of all of the side dishes and for the past years it has worked beautifully! Yes, we do aim for left-overs and embark on a turkey tour through the cuisines of the world for almost a week after Thanksgiving before we can't stand the idea of eating turkey anymore. Then we're happy to know that there're still some containers with stuffing and turkey and gravy in the freezer for those cold drear winter days when we need a touch of comfort food again.

Is it Saturday yet?

Wishing you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving with countless blessings!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Biding time

While waiting for the inspection and trying hard not to get too attached and too excited about the house just yet (lesson learned, thank you very much) there's not much else to do than browse tempting web pages about interior design, landscaping and every DIY project under the sun.

And since shared joy is twice the joy I thought I'd share with you :o)

25 DIY projects under $25

Apartment therapy: Homehacks 2010

And if you enjoy following home renovation blogs as much as I do you'll get a kick out of this collection

99 home renovation blogs

Monday, November 22, 2010

A whirl of a week

Being under contract feels good. It's one step closer to our goal of making the Ugly Duckling our home. Next thing on our to-do-list is the inspection for which we have a window of 7 days. Now, usually that doesn't prove to be too much of a problem. In our case though it presents a fount of chaos for this Thanksgiving week. Hurray!

Not enough that this is Thanksgiving week cut short by one holiday smack-dab in the middle of the week and with a lot of people unavailable the day before and the day after, no, our Ugly Duckling has been vacant for more than 6 months.
Which means that the electric company requires a separate inspection of the electric of the house before turning on the electric (for the inspection).
Which means you need a licensed electrician to come out to review and test the electric wiring of the house.
Which means the aforementioned electrician needs to get a permit from the city.
Which means that 7 days present a really really small window of opportunity if those 7 days are cut short by one of biggest holidays (save Christmas) in the US.

We're in for quite a ride this week.
So if you could spare a moment to send a good thought or two, a prayer or any other good vibes our way, we'd appreciate it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Signed and sealed!

We are under contract!

Finally, after much back and forth and quite a bit of limbo dancing, we are now officially under contract for the house we have affectionately dubbed the "Ugly Duckling".

Let me 'splain -that- : our possibly future house is the outmost right house of a set of three nearly identical houses. House 1 and House 3 ("our" house) are almost identical and House 2 appears to be a mirror image of House 1 and 3. While House 1 and 2 feature fresh bright exterior paint jobs, however, House 3 boasts a muted grey-blue exterior offset against a darker grey-blue around the windows making it appear smaller and droopier than its 2 siblings in their Sunday best. The color itself isn't bad bad, but it could definitely use some sprucing up. A little paint, some fresh blooms in the front yard and a good scrubbing.

We're so stinking excited!

After submitting it to all our newly acquired knowledge and having a contractor poke at it in regard to our desired before-move-in projects, we are fairly confident it won't surprise us too much during the inspection. Yes, it is a fixer-upper, but one with reeeally nice potential and as far as we know good bones.

Right now it is chopped up into an upstairs and a downstairs apartment which we plan on rectifying immediately turning it back into a modest single-family-home of a nice 2185 sqft (that's 203 square meters for you European type readers) with an entry hall, livingroom, diningroom, library, kitchen, half bath and laundry/mudroom downstairs and a hallway, 2 bedrooms, a bathroom and a master suite with walk-in closet and its own bathroom upstairs. And there will be a yard :o)

Please please, all mighty Inspection Gods, please be good to us this time!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Get your Advent Calendar on

This year is one of the precious rare years when we will be staying home here in Florida rather than traveling the world to visit grandparents. Let's hear it for Christmas in Florida! Woot!

As somebody who grew up with sub-zero temperatures, snow and lead winter skies let me tell you that I can get into the Christmas mood just fine without the aforementioned three, thank you very much. All I really need is the crisp scent of a real fir tree, a dash of cinnamon in the air and the Ratpack having a Christmas ball on the stereo and I'm all set.

Advent, the 4 weeks preceding Christmas, is my favorite time of the year (and how cool is it that Thanksgiving, my favorite adopted holiday, perfectly heralds the season as a kick-ass kick-off event?). Counting down to Christmas using an Advent calendar is an old tradition in Germany and of course we have to have at least one every year too. Currently our advent calendar consists of little plaid bags filled with goodies that are tied to a garland but browsing the bloglands I have come across so many cool ideas that I'm tempted to craft a new one.
How about this one here? How whimsical and sweet is this lollipop tree?

[Found at Garnet Hill]

Or if this is just too much candy for your taste, then how about this alternative Advent tree with small bags waiting to be filled with treats of all kinds (including notes, trinkets, toys, etc.)

[found at SnickerdoodleCreations]

Now if you live in a house with a fabulous staircase and have a thing for that rustic Scandinavian flair aren't these vintage buckets the cutest? I bet it would work just as fabulously with shiny new tin buckets and some bright trim for a bright pop of color or a more contemporary look ;o)

[found at The Little Scandinavian]

This adorable baby sock advent calendar is both classic and whimsical and just really hits a spot for me. The crisp green, white and red color scheme and the whimsy clothes line with wooden clothes pins is really right down my alley (and again, it's a concept with loads of potential to make it match your decorating style)
[found at Martha Stewart online]

feel the need for a bit more bling? Are you looking for a more adult approach? Maybe you have a persnickety teenager who doesn't want to be left out? I really like these pyramid shaped boxes turned advent calendar a lot - using fancy scrapbooking paper (Damask patterns, anybody?) and beautiful beads, this version of an advent calendar might be just what you were looking for:

[found at Rubberstamping.about.com]

And last but not least this little number here. What a great excuse to hop over to the craft store to pick up some sweet scrapbooking paper and other supplies to whip up this cute Advent calendar? I might just try it this year ...

[Found at Splitcoaststampers]

Do you use Advent calendars in your family? What does yours look like?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Steep learning curves

Boy, were we in for an eye-opening experience once we began our househunting adventure!
With most of our knowledge regarding house hunting and house buying courtesy of HGTV we quickly learning that the sun does shine brighter on TV! A lot brighter!

Oh, how we envied those couples who had a love-on-first-sight experience! How we marveled when a seller's response took just long enough for your latte to cool down!
How there wasn't really an audible super sonic boom when Sandra whipped out the signed contract!
Now, we weren't and aren't really miserable throughout our house hunting. For the most part it was and is an exciting experience, an adventure, and more often than not it's really my not-so-patient nature that creates a certain frustrated tension.
You know, you wanna get'er done!
So you can get to the fun bits!

House hunting, however, has kept me fairly preoccupied through the past months. In lieu of crafting and painting I spent hours browsing MLS listings and reading books and webpages on home buying, loan options and home inspections, Husband and I can now talk fairly intelligently about financing and have added new words to our vocabulary. We can decipher abbreviations such as WDO, etc. We are no longer afraid to get down on our knees and crawl halfway into the crawl space of a house. Aaaand we know where -that- smell comes from when a house hasn't been winterized properly.

We wear sensible shoes with thin flat soles to feel our way around a house for structural issues and give the geometry of space between floor and doors a critical eye. And we're still in love with the old homes, the historic details and the undeniable charm of our neighborhood.

What have you learned from your own househunting days? What was the biggest lesson you took with you?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Between naps: quick ottoman slipcover

Sometime earlier this year I hitched a ride on the crazy drop cloth train. I made drop cloth curtains for the living room, drop cloth faux roman shades for my little man and reupholstered my rocking chair and its ottoman with left over bits of drop cloth. I'm lovin' it! I'm really digging the neutral oatmeal color and the texture and my frugal heart beats a bit faster over the little price tag.
I just wish it were dirt and stain repelling *sigh*

Two boys and a cat can wreak havoc quickly on light colored fabrics and while window treatments are safe from them my little ottoman wasn't. For a moment I was going to reupholster it with a fresh piece of drop cloth - I was already armed with the staple gun - when I decided to whip out the sewing machine and give a slipcover a try.

I cut out one squarish piece for the top and a long narrow piece for the apron, then decided I didn't like it -that- plain and added a ruffle for a bit of understated cuteness (not too much - I'm not a frilly kind of girl, really).

Before: little rocking ottoman complete with hot chocolate, green play dough and other assorted nasty stains ... yuck!

After: All dressed up in her brand-new slipcover that can be taken off and thrown into the washing machine !! Woot!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Nomen est Omen

Within days of taking up the house hunting torch I was scouring the internet for promising listings. Frankly, I was kind of like this:

"I'll find those (listings) stairs. I'll whip their butt too. These (listings) stairs won't know which way they're going ... Take drastic steps. Kick it to the curb. Don't mess wit' me. I'm the (listings) Stair Master. I've mastered the (listings) stairs. I wish I had a (listing) step right here, right now. I'd step all over it ...?"

I've gotten so familiar with properties on the market that I can take you on a drive around the 'hood and point at for sale signs, giving you listing price, number of bed and bathrooms and probably other tidbits of househunting trivia. Pre-occupied, remember? And a little obsessing, I guess ... heh. All for a good cause though! Pinky Promise!

Anyways, I learned quickly that telling husband about the "house on 59th" (yes, yes, we did look outside of the 'hood, shame on us!) or the "4-bedroom on Walnut St" didn't help a lot. Addresses didn't mean anything to him unless I connected them to some stand-out feature of the property. That day the idea for nicknames was born.

Instead of referring to each listing by its address we ended up touring

- the "stinky pink"

- the "80s wonder"

- the "english country cottage with a pool"

- the "blue house"

- the "triplex"

- the "exploded cottage"

- the "Termite Temple"

- the "grey barn"

and many more.

So, tell me, which funky properties did you tour? Did you use nicknames to keep track of houses? Or are we just weird that way ...?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Killer projects: Door to Trumeau mirror

This has got to be one of the coolest projects in blogland ever:

Suzanne over at "Meridian Road" took an old door and turned it into a classy antique Trumeau mirror. Check out her tutorial here:


Trumeau mirrors were all the rage in 18th century France and generally hung between two windows to bring in more light into dark rooms. They are usually rectangular with the mirror at the bottom and a highly decorated ornate top with friezes and other ornamentation.

Low price trumeaus usually sell for about $500 - $900, the next price group ranges in the $2,000 - $4,000 range and can go as high as $20,000 for a rare antique in excellent condition.

Here's a neat one I discovered on Etsy in Dakotas Vintage store and it's a steal at $75!

[picture Dakotas Vintage]

And here's another one found at Ruby Lane - Caroline's Collectibles for just $150 - love the very French garland ornament at the top

[Found at Ruby Lane]

Now all I need is my own house with an entry hall to house such a delectable piece. Or maybe it could go into the bedroom ... ? I might just go hunting for a door once this stupid cold wears off.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Our first offer: The Triplex

The house hunt continues ...

After looking at a number of different houses we finally felt comfortable and excited to put in an actual offer on "The Triplex".
Then a single family home, now chopped up into 3 apartments we were excited about the vast potential we saw: turning it back into a single family home we could keep the smallest of the three apartments (the one that came with its own entry at the side of the house) as convenient in-law-suite or possible rental suite to help pay our mortgage of more quickly.

It came complete with original fireplaces, gorgeous gleaming pine floors and simply massive closet space.

The fact that some scumbags came and tore out the ac compressors even worked in our favor as the seller dropped the purchase price to make up for us having to buy new ones. Every morning on our way to the bus stop we would wave good morning to our house.

Until the inspection ...

What a sad day in (the) history (of our house hunting endeavors). The inspection revealed a staggering list of issues. Serious issues, not just peeling paint or clashing color schemes. Ever seen the movie "The Money Pit"? Well, that's what the inspector called the triplex.

However, we didn't bail right away. We knew we're in for a ride buying a historic home, a house that could easily be our grandparent. You know, topped with that whole deferred maintenance issue when considering buying a REO. But this, this was just too much. Too many big ticket items, not to mention any secret surprises it might harbor, that even with our rehab loan we just didn't feel up to.

So we walked. With a heavy heart.

Would we ever find a little old house to have and to hold?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The House to haunt me

Here's the baby that started it all, back in April. Ain't she pretty (all solid oomph on the outside and sunny brightness on the inside)?

It had everything we could have asked for: charm, wood floors, porches upstairs and downstairs, plenty of bedrooms and enough yard to keep us busy.

So what went wrong? Why - in all those months - have we never ever gotten even close to putting in an actual offer? (Shocking, I know!) And why is it always coming back to flaunt its assets, teasing and tempting, before walking off with the other guy again?

When we first stumbled across it we were charmed, swept off of our feet and madly in love with it (for my husband, it was a first time kind of thing even). Yet, before we could nail down funds, figure out paperwork involved it went to auction and appeared to have been auctioned off right from under our nose. Oh the sadness! Meh :o(

Encouraged that there might indeed a small historic house out there in our fabulicious neighborhood that we could actually afford we teamed up with the bestest real estate agent Mrs T and kept looking. And looking. And looking. 3 months passed and while we'd finally found a property to move to our No 1 spot we hadn't yet committed to it. You know, that whole property virgin "there's got to be The One out there" feeling was holding us back from putting our money where our mouth was.

Then, one morning, there it was: the house! THE house. The house that started it all, it was back on the market at an even better price. I literally bounced from computer (I'd been browsing MLS listings when it showed up as a new listing again) to husband's side babbling like crazy. The excitement! Maybe we had another shot at it!

Yeah ... this lasted for all of an hour before we were told it was already under contract.


Thee houzz, eet sold again.

To an investor. Who is renovating it. So he can put it on the market again.

Gah! I can't help but wonder just how many more times it will come back to haunt me? Somebody should tell it it's bad form to tease like that. Seriously.

Anyways, we have moved on even if we occasionally drive by with wistful sighs and bittersweet smiles. It did set us on our path and we still love it, but it's quite obviously not meant to become our house.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Blogging's what it's all about

Shortly into our quest for a home of our own we realized that watching HGTV doesn't really (unfortunately) prepare you for the crazy world of house-hunting home-buying realities.

Nuh-uh, it doesn't.

While I still love to watch HGTV's house-hunting shows I must say that our experience so far has been quite unlike anything we've seen on the screen: a seller's response in as little time as it takes you to finish your latte? I don't think so. The horror of having to wait 24 hours? Try waiting a week! Or two! Ugh!

Either way, recording our adventures in the real estate jungle for posterity (and our family's amusement) sounded like a fun idea. Plus, it'd keep me busy and distracted while having to wait for the slo-mo response of a seller's bank, for example.

Busy is good.
Can't get into trouble when busy.

Right! Sign me up!

Now, between family, work, home, Cub Scouts, househunting and upcoming holidays I'm not so sure how much time I can dedicate to updating daily. That probably isn't gonna happen, probably being the magic word.

So I thought about aiming for 3 posts a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday. That's not saying there won't ever be Tuesday posts, Thursday rants or Sunday musings but I'm really not one for making promises I can't keep. Once this whole thing gains momentum or even achieves bad habit status, frequency might change but in the beginning I'd rather keep it low profile. What do you think?

Worth a shot?

And in the beginning was the word

Actually, it was more of a crazy idea than a word. Then again, most things start with a crazy idea, right?

One crazy idea had me falling head over heels in love with an American reporter, way back, when I was a German living in Germany. Hamburg, to be exact.

No amount of backpaddling got me out of his clutches and here we are, 8 years later, living in Florida with a 7 year old son, a cat, three guinea pigs, 2 hermit crabs and another crazy idea.

For most of these nearly 8 years we have been living in the same historic neighborhood. To us and our neighbors it's the best place in town: fabulous historic houses, old oak trees, green parks hinting at former grandeur and the coolest people in town living here. Granted, there are a few pockets around that still need some cleaning up, some houses that are hoping with bated breath to escape the bulldozer and wrecking ball and a few corners that are still too attractive to stragglers and hoodlums and wayward ladies than we would like but all in all The 'hood has come a long way and we're madly in love with it. So madly in love that we'd never consider moving unless we're leaving the state.

Moving to Springfield was a crazy idea but not the craziest yet. The craziest idea was born one day in spring when - innocently browsing Craigslist - I stumbled across a real estate listing.

  • In our 'hood.
  • For a cute historic 2-story home.
  • For a ridiculously low price.

Since it was April 1st I giggled maniacally and emailed the listing to my parents. Maybe they felt like investing in real estate in Florida? (reporters unfortunately don't make oodles of money, nor do part-time translators/administrative assistants most of the time). I really didn't expect anything to come out of this idea, really! Imagine my surprise when my parents did declare interest! Bah-hah?!?

To make a long story short: while this house deal fell through (it went to auction shortly after we discovered it and paperwork does take longer than expected) it definitely set us on our current quest for a little old house for ourselves. This blog is to share the adventures along the way, good and bad, the learning experiences and the angle of our learning curve, the dos and donts and hopefully, one day, the renovation stories and decorating mishaps of our first home.

Wanna come along for the ride?