Hey girl, you’re kinda sexy when you’re taking apart the toilet

hey-girl-dont-be-afraid-you-can-do-this-thumbSo what exactly is the deal with this blog? What am I here for, and why am I asking you to come along for the ride? Because I need to vent? (I kinda do, at least sometimes.) Because I want to share my love of looking at paint chips? (I DO have an unhealthy fascination with color names.) Because I have a wealth of tips to share on the subjects of home repair and debt consolidation (sadly, I do not).  Because I can show you in 10 easy steps how to freshen up your kitchen with a coat of white paint on those gross, disgusting pickled oak cabinets of yours, and you’re so going to want to save my beautifully staged photos to Pinterest? (Um, I wish.)

You may be asking, why does it have to be “The Year Before Hartford” instead of “Let’s Unload This Baby Now Before Mortgage Rates Go Up” or “Next Weekend” or “Whenever My Credit Score Hits 750”? Well, I’m an editor by trade, which means I work best when I have a concrete deadline to light a fire under me. BUT, having been an editor for so damn long, I also know the importance of speaking up early when you don’t think a deadline can be met even though you needed that paycheck yesterday. If you go to edit that book written by someone whose native language is Mandarin, you can usually tell pretty quickly if it’s going to be a laborious task. You better be realistic about how long it’s going to take. Oh, and while I’m on the subject, the fact that I’m an editor and Jerry is also an editor means that we aren’t exactly rolling in dough.

Sure, I would love to just go get a home equity loan, drop 10 grand in the kitchen and another 5 grand in the master bath, and then call a Realtor to figure out the asking price for our HUD house, er, I mean, spacious condo lovingly updated, including new A/C. But that’s not the best move for us right now, for a variety of reasons that I’m sure I’ll detail later. Instead, I’m going to do a little thinking out loud. Try to prioritize the unglamourous-but-have-to-be-done” jobs with the “I-want-to-do-this-now-but-will-it-still-look-new-by-next-summer” jobs. Do some shopping around.  Hopefully find some deals. Get some opinions. Figure out what I have the time and patience to do myself.  MAYBE consider asking friends to help with the rest (friends with more power tool skills than I have).  Work on raising my credit score. Publicly wage the battle in my head between “I have to live here for a while longer, so I want this to look like me” and “I’m not staying so I need to appeal to the masses and still recoup my investment.” Get some more opinions.

Now, I have to be brutally honest with you for a minute. If you’ve come here hoping to find one of those bloggers who loves to share feel-good stories about how she planted a container garden and made some fresh gazpacho to eat after she finished tiling a backsplash in one day and now she’s so tired she’ll have to skip her CrossFit workout until tomorrow, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. Don’t get me wrong…I love those blogs, and I do find them inspiring! I’ve gotten some fantastic recipes from blogs like that, and I have at least 7 Pinterest boards devoted to projects (and workouts) that I think I could accomplish if I felt so motivated. But I don’t think I can muster that kind of enthusiasm…not for this house that I really don’t want anymore and would list today if I could. Maybe our next home will be a big fat Pinterest opportunity, but right now, I’m just looking to motivate myself and, hopefully, motivate you if you’ve found yourself in a similar situation. Anything I learn along the way, I’m excited to share. Anything I cross off my to-do list, I will most definitely celebrate with the most shareable pics I can capture with my little Canon PowerShot. And I’ll even share our epic fails, if you promise to laugh with me and not at me.

Are you still with me? I hope so!


Calgon, take me away!


Perhaps I could get more use out of my garden tub if I could multitask like Joan Collins.

Truthfully, I can’t say that Jerry and I decided to wait to sell our condo. More like, circumstances told us, “uh, yeah, you better get comfortable because you aren’t going anywhere for a while.” The housing market tanked, and other condos in our development were hanging on the market for months, even years. Owners resorted to renting out their units, which resulted in us having some rather, um, interesting neighbors over the past decade.

Of course, we weren’t just sitting home twiddling our thumbs as the years passed. Jerry worked at building his freelance business. I tried, with limited success, to help my parents as they coped with old age and failing health. Ryan moved from daycare to preschool to elementary school, and we soon found ourselves spending our days at soccer fields and baseball fields and flag football fields. And birthday parties and play dates and ice cream socials and mother/son dances.

Meanwhile, the old condo started losing a lot of the charm that we saw when we first moved in. Remember the garden tub? That garden tub that called my name on our first walkthrough was now mocking me every morning when I stepped in to take a shower. You see, unlike a real house that might have a garden tub and a shower stall, our master bath has a garden tub and shower combined. You might ask, what’s the big deal about that? Well, the big deal for me is that cleaning out a garden tub feels like trying to scrub soap scum out of a SWIMMING POOL. Since I don’t have time to clean a swimming pool daily, the soap scum accumulates. Come the weekend, I see A SWIMMING POOL FILLED WITH SOAP SCUM, and it’s really the last thing I feel like dealing with. In 11 years, I’ve soaked in my garden tub exactly twice.

And so it goes, through nearly every room in the house. When we had our pre-settlement inspection done, the home inspector told us our window seals were bad. We thought that meant the weatherstripping was bad, but no, he explained, the seals inside the windows were bad. And what does this mean? Energy loss, I’m sure, which I guess I see in our gas and electric bills. There’s that, and then there’s the moisture that collects between the double-paned glass, then evaporates (leaving dirty spots). Every time the temperature changes, every time the New Jersey humidity goes through the roof, more moisture collects. We tried unsuccessfully to convince the original sellers to kick in some money to replace the worst windows (including our patio doors), so on DAY 1, we began a list of “Things to fix when we have money someday.”

Now we’re up around Day 3,991 and, not surprisingly, the list has grown exponentially.  Sigh.

How did we get to where we are now?


The somewhat random motivational force behind our 1-year-plan.

So what is Hartford, and what does it have to do with us? And what’s happening a year from now? Well, to answer those questions, I have to give you a little background on our hometown, Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and how we ended up here.

Mount Laurel is a sprawling chunk of suburbia across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Developed on orchards and farmland, Mount Laurel was a spot on the map that neither Jerry nor I really knew 16 years ago, but we began investigating the area when we were looking for our first apartment together. I was living and working in Philly, while Jerry was outside Trenton. Mount Laurel was middle ground for us, and it had a fancy new apartment complex with a pool, a gym, and crown moldings. We didn’t know anything else about the town, and I couldn’t even find a grocery store or a pizza place when we first moved in. Did I mention that it was sprawling?

Anyway, fast forward to 2005, and we found ourselves trying to buy our first home in the midst of a ridiculously insane housing market. With prices through the roof and a pitifully small savings account for two grownups, we realized we were going to have to either buy a house needing crazy amounts of work, or a condo needing far less work. Lacking the time, tools, and resources for a lot of home improvement, we went with the condo. And its fat HOA dues. And its irritating rules. And its shared walls. But on the plus side, it had a beautiful view off the deck. And a soaking tub! So our Realtor told us that, if we liked it, we needed to move fast. Bidding wars were common back then, and this unit hadn’t even been on the MLS for 24 hours. We put in an offer at $2000 less than asking price, and the sellers countered….with their asking price. But we loved it, or at least we liked it more than any of the other places we had seen at our price point, so we accepted that we had to cough up the cash.

Fortunately, in hindsight, we didn’t go with one of the adjustable rate mortgages that were in fashion at the time. We went with a 30-year fixed, but still went in with the mindset that we’d sell the place when we had kids, hopefully in 3 to 5 years. Yet here we are, 11 years and one child later, still in that condo. Bursting at the seams and dealing with a lot of the types of repairs and upgrades that we were trying to avoid when we bought the place. And even fatter HOA dues on top of lower property values. And the irritating rules. And the shared walls. And now, the confines of the school district’s bus sending areas, which are as sprawling as the township’s boundaries.

In Mount Laurel, there are 6 elementary schools for kids through grade 4. Our son, Ryan, attends the school situated at the far northwest edge of the district. A couple years ago, we contemplated putting our condo on the market but realized that, by doing so, we would then have to find another home in his school’s sending area (meh) OR change elementary schools (no!) OR petition to drive him to school every day (do I have to?). Our current development is HUGE, containing not only condos but also townhomes and single-family homes, all carrying the fat HOA pricetags. But moving to one of the other developments that bus to his school would tack even more time on to my already too-long commute. So, what to do?

So, we opted to wait. Wait to sell until Ryan is ready to move on to fifth grade, when he would switch over to the enormous intermediate school that serves all of the neighborhoods in Mount Laurel. HARTFORD School. That would free up a lot of real estate for us to consider for our next house hunt! We’d only have to wait until 2017 to put up the For Sale sign.

Which puts us where we are now: The Year Before Hartford.