Thursday, October 8, 2015

Living in the City vs Residing in the City

It is one of those crisp October mornings that begs you to be grateful for living in New England.  The air smells good...the sky is beautifully blue and people walk with pep in their step.

This is our first Autumn as citizens of Boston, so I am excited to see what unfolds as the days grow shorter and cooler.  Already, I've noticed that Reilly's and my walks are longer...more leisurely.  We are veering off our familiar routes adding this side street or that...lingering longer in the Public Garden.  It may not be the most cardio-driven exercise, but I feel the benefits all the same.

Now those of you familiar with Reilly the Wonder Dog know that she is an Ambassador Extraordinaire.  No exaggeration, daily we are stopped by locals and tourists who need a little Groton Terrier love.  The students over at Suffolk, at first reticent about asking, now look forward to seeing her and some even seem to to be waiting on the corner of Temple and Derne for their dose of Reilly enthusiasm.  It is because of Reilly, I think I have hit the fast track of Boston living...I'm out several times a day with her...I challenge myself to meet new people, face my trepidations and discover something new as often as possible.  We have a fine mix of routine and revelation.

Over these past months residing as renters and now homeowners, I have observed something interesting.  Those who reside in the city, do not always "live" in the city. I have met neighbors who have a place to put their heads a night, but come daylight they are off to work and on the weekends they leave the city...they never hang around to enjoy our Hub.  I get needing a break...I learned that lesson in Paris...just about every six weeks or so, Bill, Reilly and I would hop on the TVG and head outta, Paris...but in Boston, the urgency to do so hasn't been quite the same.  Perhaps it is because we are still in the new nest phase...but too, I think Boston has so much to offer me that the city walls have yet to close in on us...also, we are from around here....we've been there, done the desire to reach beyond the city limits has tamed for us...but back to those folks who flee...and it is not just here and there...we are so surprised at how many people leave Boston for weekends and holidays...good for us, I guess...more parking spaces.  I chuckle when city folk ask us,"so what are you doing this week/weekend?", and they are surprised when I share an event, location or quest that is readily available to anyone willing to peruse a local neighborhood newspaper, The Improper Bostonian calendars or any number of social media outlets...speaking of The Improper Bostonian, it is delivered at least monthly... and when I rented I loved getting it...four copies would be delivered and we were the only ones to pick up a copy...insert frowny face...after a few months of copies piling up in the foyer, I would recycle them on trash days...such a shame to ignore free knowledge...

I have noticed that our transitional populations...students and medical residents mostly...seem immune to Boston...I live across the street from Suffolk off campus housing...and seen that many, too many, students dash out their front doors, ear buds firmly implanted, and never looking up or around...never saying hello to neighbors.  It strikes me as odd that given the great blessing and privilege to be a college student in a world class city, in a stunningly beautiful and historic neighborhood, that they're not so keen to be immersed in their neighborhood. Perhaps the sense of transiency stifles their connection to the 'hood.   Alas, I've witnessed uncomely starts on about 3pm...the students return to their residences with cases and bags and boxes of alcohol...stocking up for a weekend of drinking...the delivery services frequent the Hill regularly from Thursday through Sunday too...people at the freest times of their lives squirreled away in their apartments...tsk, tsk...they reside...they occupy a place...they don't take ownership of their space and time...and this is typical across the city...I wonder if helicopter parents dampened the ability or spirit in their kids to be out in the world...they certainly can be oblivious to common courtesy...apparently a value not thoroughly shared with many of today's GenZ.

The example that comes to mind to is trash admittedly, I am a bit of a fussbudget when it comes to refuse.  I have yet to meet I rat I like and I will continue my crusade to make our neighborhood as rodent repellent as back to trash...I have noted that my young student neighbors do not get the concept that tidy trash closes down the all they can eat rat buffet.  Boston has very specific and necessary regulations about trash disposal.  And from the moment I set foot in this city, I have made it my goal to have curbside trash that makes my neighbors envious and a pleasure for our hard working sanitation engineers to remove.  The college kids on the other hand are gross.  They dispose of their garbage with no care...I will spare you the disgusting details...but I've learned a lot about these youngin's and their parents' failings to teach them about sanitary living...pardon me while I gag and shiver a little...What gets my goat though is not matter how, when or why you share perspectives on proper trash gets the  you're worried about trash?  Someone in the city will fix it...and if I get a ticket for not following the biggie...the building management will pay it...isn't that what I pay rent for?...grrrrr....Although there are times when the city heroes...rule the day.  Boston City Hall brilliantly developed an app called 311...using which allows citizens to report problems from potholes to improper trash disposal...and the city sends out inspectors to address the problem...I have noticed a remarkable difference in our rodent problem and it is because Inspectional Services gets right on it and corrects be warned if your trash is out on the wrong day or time...these urban warriors have no problem tearing into your bag and finding the paper with your name, or other identifier on it and make a special, educational visit to your door.

I love it too when Karma visits...there is a young lady across the street who gave my neighbor Ted a bit of lip when he placed her ill timed trash  back in the lobby of her building.  He politely explained the scheduling and reasons for the rules and she told him to mind his own business.  He retorted that because he lives on the street, it is his business...she left the trash in the lobby...he continued on his walk, stopping to share his experience with a group of us, who were meeting to discuss the plan for fall plantings on Hancock.  Later in day, the same said young lady plopped her trash out on the curb...too early...just as the city inspector was walking up the sidewalk...he whipped out his ticket book and fined her on the ifs, ands or second chances...Karma baby.

I gripe about trash day because with a wonder dog, one cannot be too careful.  Fridays and Mondays are trash days...pick up for us is always between 7 and 7:30 am...awesome!  But in many cases, the garbage has been sitting curbside since 5pm the night before...stewing and attracting when the trash truck comes by..if there is a hole in the bag or if the homeless have rooted through it...and stuff is strewn about...the sanitation workers may or may not clean that up, thus leaving a mess for residents to address...and you know that college student isn't going to clean it when I have to walk the dog early on trash becomes a tug of war so Reilly won't scarf down the oogy pizza crust or worse...remember I said I wouldn't tell you?, well, I still won't....shiver, shiver..

Shifting gears, thankfully, right?  I guess city living and residing in the city are states of being...we consider ourselves citizens of Boston...invested in the city...engaged with our neighbors, however they may come...we choose to embrace the culture, the history and the quirks of Boston.  I find that every day I become a bit more urban and hopefully urbane.  We moved to Boston to become Bostonians.  Here's to the journey!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

What's Wrong With People?

For those of you who bless me by reading my stuff, you know that I can find humor in just about every situation...from dark to silly, slapstick to sentimental, I can find the funny.

I have been sitting on this recent experience for a couple days now and it just ain't funny.

Let me tell you what happened, and you can share if you think I'm getting too thin skinned in my middle age...once upon a Tuesday night, Bill and I hosted dear friends from Paris and their traveling companions to dinner in the North End.  As this was their first time in Boston and earlier, I ran them ragged about the city, giving them my insider's tour,  I was excited to bring them into this quintessentially comforting section of our fair city and a guaranteed delicious meal.

I am a foodie...I know quite a bit about wine, food service and the hospitality industry, so my choice of restaurant was calculated...can you sense the foreshadowing... I won't reveal the name of the restaurant, yet, as I am waiting to hear back from the owner or management...but I am getting ahead of myself.

As I often do when we have more than four people in our party, I booked the reservation on Open Table.  It gives the restaurant a heads up, I can make changes or notify them of special occasions, allergies and food I did for that evening because there were both...a vegetarian (who enjoys fish) and a nut allergy...I got my confirmation and we were good to go.

Like I said, I had run these folks ragged on a humid afternoon, up and down the cobbled hills of Beacon Hill, on through the Commons and Public Garden up and down Newbury Street and Boylston...I was jazzed to share the sights and sounds...they were pooped.  So, once we sat down and our waiter came to the table...he was very handsome and charming...we ordered ice water and I introduced our guests from Europe...Berlin by way of Paris and Geneva, also by way of France.  I ordered a bottle of Prosecco for the table so we might toast the day.  What I failed to anticipate was that for some in our party from France, drinking Prosecco is akin to drinking a wine cooler...but they raised their glasses and we talked about sparkling wines...being wine snobs and so on.  We had fun with it!

We ordered our appetizers and my friend from Paris/Berlin asked if one of his companions might do the honors in selecting the wine...this is usually my territory, but I deferred and this very knowledgeable woman selected a 2009 Nebbiolo...and we all got excited...but our excitement tempered when a large party of 9 or 10 were seated next to us.  They laughed a little too loudly and attempted to have conversations over each other and across the tables...insert eye roll....I found that when folks at my table seated across from me were speaking, I had to lean way in to hear.  Culturally, Europeans tend to converse  tête-à-tête...quietly, need for your neighbors to know your business. Our neighbors on the other hand wanted the whole world to know just how jolly they were.  Irksome.

When our charming and handsome waiter returned to the table with our wine, he poured  some into our expert's glass...without presenting the bottle for her inspection.  After smelling and tasting the wine, she asked politely, in her best English, to see the bottle and I knew something was up.  He brought a 2011 instead of the a couple of points here...this lady knows wine!!!!, and whenever an establishment has a wine list and they do not bring the wine listed, it is common courtesy to first let the patrons know of the substitution AND tell you what the price of the bottle being offered is.  This is where things start to go south, as I say.  Waiter Charming tried to explain that the year doesn't matter...(wrong)...that they sold the last bottle of 2009 YESTERDAY (bullsh*t)...he has no control over pricing the wine (then bring me the person who does)...what he did do right was offer to bring the wine list back but seeing how he handled the situation and crankiness setting in, we opted to drink the wine offered.  Okay...a hiccup, right?

Our neighbors, in a very short amount of time had cocktails and wine in hand and were making quick work of it all...and refills were at the ready.  In the restaurant biz, the bar and wine list are huge profit centers...which is absolutely fine...but when restaurants over becomes a big problem.

With our appetizers presented, Charming asked if we wanted to place our entree orders...ironically, he had to ask the ladies at the end of the table twice what they wanted and he confirmed the entire order with me as I was seated at the end of the table closest to him, because even he couldn't hear us due to the cacophony coming from a foot away.

At this point, I sensed I had "put a puss on", as I had direct line of sight to the gesticulating loudmouth couple who just had to laugh harder and screech louder, as being the center of their world was all important.  My face must have read like a book because a man seated next to Mr. Devil May Care, said, "Come on... they are gonna kick us outta this place."...which made Mrs. Devil May Care shriek with laughter and get louder.

Pretty much all conversation ceased our table...we actually started texting with each other...and I NEVER text at the table...I, to my discredit, checked in on Facebook with a snarky comment about our neighbors, something about them being " Massholes"...and later posted and apology...I was not myself in that situation...Our neighbors seemed to be on the same course as us so when their appetizers arrived, the noise decreased to a dull roar...a bevy of biddies at the end of the table started up a a normal decibel but Mrs. DMC wasn't seated near them, so she kept hurling, "What? WHaaat? WHAT!?" at them...

Our dinners arrived...everyone got what they requested, thank goodness...and as this is an Italian establishment,  cracked pepper and Parmesan were proffered, accepted and... forgotten...our waiter never returned to the table...he was having too much fun taking selfies, bringing complimentary Grappa and Limoncello to the obnoxiously loud party.  We had finished our bottle of wine and were never asked if we wanted more...we did get constant refills of water from the bus man, even he rolled his eyes apologetically... but once Waiter Charming started joining in the fracas, laughing and taking selfies with the others, I had to do something...he took a group picture of both parties, us and the beginning of the problem right...but when he is having so much fun that other patrons are neglected...that's when I had enough...I was so upset, I was becoming ill.  I was embarrassed before my guests and ashamed that people in Boston would behave this way and infuriated that the restaurant would allow such boorish, invasive and down right rude behavior to continue...and with free drinks... to encourage it.

I excused myself from the husband asked where I was the restroom was the response and the truth...BUT on my way back I asked to speak to a manager.  Lo and behold, there was no manager on that night.  The bartender asked me if she could help and I explained my plight.  I assured her that I understood that the restaurant is not responsible for the content of the character of their patrons, but they are responsible for the comfort and enjoyment of all paying customers...not just those who think they are having a private party with puzzled onlookers...she noted that others had left because of the ruckus but because she was behind the bar at the back of restaurant she was not aware of how loud things this point Waiter Charming sees me talking to the bartender...although not Italian, I do speak with my hands...he got the point that I wasn't swapping cocktail recipes.  He came over and before I could say anything...asked me why if we were so uncomfortable with the noise...didn't we say something sooner...he would have moved a table two feet away from the loud party...BIG MISTAKE...the bartender started to speak...but I put up my hand and with other, gently placed it on his arm...and said...I am speaking up now...if you had bothered to return to our table with cheese and pepper requested, I would have said something then, but you were having such a good time taking selfies and over serving alcohol to our friends there...I found that this was most opportune time to speak to someone.  I get that you want everyone to be make a living doing this...but this one large of group is not paying for all your need to attend to every paying customer with the same pleasure.  Please do not blame me for your lack of attention.

I went on to state that this is their restaurant...they set the mood...they cater to the clientele...all clientele...and if you are happy that half of your clients are being disturbed and ignored...then you've met your goal.  I think the owner or manager may have different goal.  To which Charming asked..."So what would you do?"  I said," I'd be happy to tell, but shouldn't you be asking your manager that question?"   Off he went to call his manager...the bartender asked me what would I do...and I said, "I'd go over to the table and tell them I am happy they are having  such a good time, but the excitement is overwhelming our small space and would they like some coffee or tea as they make their conversations quieter?"  No need to say anyone is need to scold anyone...just create the meantime...Waiter Charming becomes a tattletale...and goes over to Mr. DMC to say I am complaining...I go back to my seat only hear our rude neighbors shushing me as I walk by...and in stage whispers...oh no we have to be waiter also belatedly brought cheese to our empty half-finished pasta was removed from the table while I was gone, and he had the temerity to ask my guest why didn't he speak up...he should have said something earlier...the waiter was blaming my guest for the situation we found ourselves husband said enough...he went off to pay for the meal...just as we were getting up, Waiter Charming runs over and throws dessert plates forks on the table and plunks three pieces of cake saying that the table next to us was sorry we were upset (bullsh*t) and bought us dessert...I said no thank you...he said it's free...I said we're done...he walked away leaving the dessert and not bothering to offer coffee...and Bill was still waiting to pay for our meals...The women at our table refused to eat the offering, as we were insulted by trivializing our discomfort...the two seated gentlemen felt refusing the offering would be an they ate it...even if I wanted to, I would not have been able to eat as there were nuts in it...we then left...the food was delicious but the night was ruined...our tab was over $350...and the tip was sufficient, not the normally generous 25% we leave...we didn't want to not tip as there were some people who actually did their was a way to show our dissatisfaction.

We walked along the waterfront and my gracious friends looked around at the gardens and architecture and talked of returning to Boston again...the tension slowly lessening...the city soothing the citizens...

I couldn't sleep...I wrote letters in my mind...practiced the discussion I might have with the owner...outline the blog I would write...practiced the review I would write on Open Table..  I woke from the fitful night with a "post wedding reception" sore know the kind you get from shouting over the band at a function hall...and my stomach was still upset...poor me...I contemplated my complaint  over a cup of hot tea.  Before I did anything, I first touched base with my brother-in-law, a chef/owner down in Newport News, VA and asked him how would he prefer a patron to communicate about the less than expected dining experience...I knew the answer before I asked him, but I wanted to cool down before acting and I wanted perspective...I got very good I am waiting for my call to be returned...

So what do you think?  When did being rude become an entitlement?  Should I have said something to the offenders?  And, if you have ever found yourself in a party of Devil May did you handle it?  Discuss!

Thanks and cheers!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Maddening March

It is no secret that March is my least favorite month.  I've written poetry, blogs and opinion pieces about this miserable 1/12 of the year.

March is cruel.  It teases and taunts you with longer days, brighter sunshine and hints of warmth.  The sun is at about 41.5 degrees above the horizon during the day...its rays just strong enough to brush your cheeks with a kiss of warmth...but powerless against the bitter cold running through the streets of the city...a meteorological middle finger from the North.

I bundle up...pull on my boots...and leash up the dog for our afternoon recreational constitutional.  She is as anxious as I to get out into the fresh feel the imagined warm caress of the early spring sun.  As we trot up Bowdoin, past the State House, a slight sea breeze blows, nipping at the tips of my ears.  It is not enough to register a wind chill...but a chill registers nonetheless.  Reilly, lowers her head and steels herself to move through the concrete and brick wind tunnel, heading toward Beacon Street.

The sidewalks to this point are clean and clear with some slight puddling from the run-off of melting snow upon the State House lawn... the sad, sad, grimy, gray-green turf is still too weary from this winter's beating to even try to absorb the gift of solar is too, is sick of March.

The illusion of Spring has brought more and more groups protesting or informing about their cause or ideology.  They stand outside the wrought iron fence, huddling for warmth...their faces cover by scarves, muffling their words, their ideas.  Passersby are more determined than ever to keep their heads down and move quickly keep warm or to skirt the issues under the cool guise of being too cold?

As we broach the corner of Beacon and Park, our destination...our refuge, The Common, lays before us.  We cross diagonally across the intersection and down the stairs into the park, the wind lessens significantly...not having tall buildings to channel the gusts into buffeting blows.  The sun feels warmer and the walkways are wetter.  Here we find more trash and dirt and yuck...the snow banks now barely a half a foot high are tinted with soot and grit. Park benches are still somewhat buried; they beckon for Bostonians to sit and lunch or read or raise one's countenance to the sun, eyes closed dreaming of warmer breezes and the sting of the sun...not the bite of the wind.  Alas...they are unreachable and unappealing among the icy remainder of winter's historic spewing.

Beyond the snow mounds are what will someday soon be grassy they are plots of mud and gunk...littered with paw prints from the park's denizens and visitors seeking renewal.  The squirrels are no worse for the wear...fat from gorging on tidbits found in the many trash bins.  The rats did not seem to fair as well...I counted three corpses among the snow banks...chalk that one up for the winter. Boston pups romp in the designated doggie parks...leaving deep impressions in the snow and mud... taking dirty souvenirs of their excursion home on their paws, coats and be bathed away in a near daily ritual of the season.

As we meandered up and down the crisscrossing paths, I noticed that much like Parisians, Bostonians prefer to wear black in the winter...occasionally,  a toddler might be sporting pink or blue...but many kids are wearing the darkness of winter as well.  I, on the other hand, have a bright magenta pea coat. With my rose colored shawl, draped chic-ly over my shoulders, I stand out like the proverbial sore thumb.  This is by design of course...people remember the lady with colorful coat and cute dog who promenades about Beacon Hill each day.  The Park Rangers at the State House and the police on the Common notice and say hello, heads nodding, implying...yeah, I know her...she's a regular.

When we reached the center of the Common...I experienced what I reckoned to be a "Schindler"s List" moment...there we in my bright, deep pink coat...among the black and white of the cold, cruel month of March...the paths were faded gray...the snow mounds gray with dirt, dust and detritus...the puddles were dark with mud and the people, in every direction looked like dark shadows...and there I was, like the little girl in the red coat...alone in the monochrome of the landscape.

But then,  I looked up and saw the beauty of the bluest skies...nowhere else in my travels have the skies looked this is one of my favorite things about New England.  My eyes wandered to the trees...gray-brown limbs outstretched against the bright blue...and there at the tips of the branches, was a hint of yellowish green...and over there, the buds were deep purple-red...mimicking the hue of my coat...and unlike the ill-fated red coated girl in Schindler's List, I felt hope, because, in a week and a day, March would be but a memory.

We took a last turn about the Common and headed back up the stairs to wander among the brownstones and trip over the cobbles...I strained to feel the heat radiating from the city's iconic bricks...but not yet...March still grips the city.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Moving Stuff

It is hard to believe that I've been living in Boston for over three months now!  The time has gone by in the blink of and eye and in the heart of an historic winter!  What a way to begin the next chapter of our lives..."It was a cold and snowy winter on Beacon Hill".  But now, the state of being busy has calmed a bit and we've adjusted to a downsized life.

As I sit enjoying my morning coffee, I can reflect on what the heck has happened in the past year! Since returning from Paris in 2010, Bill and I have talkedseriously about living in Boston... and in 2014, our nest was truly empty...our 3200 sq. ft. house sitting on just about two acres was more than we needed and starting to be more than we could handle.  I mean, really...dusting and vacuuming three bedrooms that remained empty most of the time...our family room in the basement had become a catch all for stuff...stuff we'd outgrown...stuff we'd inherited and were too sentimental to toss...stuff that spoke of a different stage in our lives...and was becoming the stuff of spider webs, dust and wasted potential.

The house too, which we had lovingly customized to our needs and wishes over the course of our first five years in residence, was starting to show signs of fatigue...I replaced the cooling unit in my Sub-Zero refrigerator drawers...the gaskets of the burners on my Wolf range needed annual replacing and tightening...granted I used my dear range to a fair the well...walls needed painting...carpets replacing... our gorgeous landscaping was maturing and in need of refreshing...and as these tasks mounted, we thought...heck...if we are going to do this, let's get everything up to snuff...clean up, clear out and downsize with the goal of getting out of Dodge (aka Groton!) and start living the next phase of our adult lives.

Last spring, we started researching what needed to be done to make our home sale-able and market ready...and all for the most bang for our buck!  First on the list was...insert dramatic dun,dun, dun...the septic system...Title V... the bane of all my home-owning experience.  Upon inquiry, we were told that with a system approaching 30 years old, it would be highly unlikely that our currently fully functional septic system would pass the regional Board of Health we hired engineers, contractor and laborers who installed a brand spanking new system.

After tearing up the back yard, it was now time to refresh and restore our garden oasis...and open the pool...about 6 weeks later than expected!  Walls deconstructed so heavy equipment could traverse our lovely sloped side yard had to be reassembled...the ten year old blue spruces were worse for wear, enduring the biting winds of winter's Polar Vortexes...out they came...replaced by rhododendrons.  New grass seed...a bush here, a shrub there...when all was said and was once again paradise.

Our faithful, 15 year old hot tub just didn't want to work for anyone one else...and two weeks before we listed the house, it died.  It took some finagling and about $400 to have it carted away and discarded just don't plunk a 6 person spa on the curb for trash pick up!  On the plus side, the brick patio upon which the hot tub sat made for a lovely sitting area and we brought our trusty fire pit up from the pool area to create a cozy spot for toasting marshmallows and telling ghost tales!

As all this work was going on from May to September, I was busy inside tackling closets, cubbies and cartons.  My strategy was first, have a deadline.  I knew that our town's Boy Scout Troops held an annual Labor Day Yard Sale and I was bound and determined to donate as much useful stuff as I could to the cause.  I hated the thought of trashing perfectly useful things which no longer fit in our schemes and dreams.  From kiddy board games to the old pots and pans I retired when I went all gourmet in my kitchen in 2004...these things still had purpose and my hope was they would make other families happy and offetr the stuff of new memories.

With my deadline set, I went about sorting things in each room...there were storage totes and packing boxes of things we would continue to keep or sell...bags and boxes of things to donate...and in what I considered a stroke of brilliance, a rented dumpster out next to the garage...if it was to be tossed...then let's toss it and take it away.  We had the dumpster for 5 another deadline to keep me motivated.

In addition to donating to the Scouts, I had to find outlets and resources for things they couldn't mattresses, upholstered furniture, clothing....and for those things that I thought might bring a financial return.  Welcome to the (unregulated) world of Estate Sales and Consignments...I researched a number of companies that specialize in clearing houses of goods...mostly from homes when folks passed away and grieving families couldn't or didn't want to cope with the disposal of their history, but empty-nesters, downsizing or moving were becoming a greater client base.  I checked our companies through the Better Business Bureau...I got references...I did drive-bys of estate sales...and so on....but dealing with that level of cleaning out was a long way off...or was it?

The tricky part to downsizing and refreshing a place was juggling a schedule...which comes first, storage units or the estate sale? The sprucing in the house or waiting until setting the stage to sell...what if color trends change?  what if the hot water heater goes..what if, if , if ?  I favored having the sale first so I made the executive decision...sell what can be sold... Why move stuff multiple times to accommodate painters and the rug guys...alas. their schedules and my executive-ness  did not align.  It worked out in the end...and when the time came, the estate sale folks took great care to cover the new wall to wall carpets and  freshly painted walls.

So in September, we had several rooms repainted then the new rugs went in...the landscaping was completed...the pool closed...and we had just started looking at rentals in the city.  What an eye-opener!

Our plan is to rent for a year, maybe two, learning about city life...exploring the neighborhoods we thought would set the stage for our as yet unwritten future.  Working with the best real estate agent, who "got us", we set upon finding a new roost...but back in Groton, I needed to find someone who'd honor our legacy...and find the family who would call High Oaks Path home.

I interviewed three real estate agencies and based on the first two interviews, my heart dream nearly shattered as the news about the market and comps failed to live up to our expectations.

The first agent, who in all honesty was the person I thought had the best reputation and success rate asked us, based upon her research which she had sent over earlier, what we thought the house should go for...and upon hearing our number told us that if we expected her to sell at that price, she'd have to walk away.  !!!!   When we asked where she'd price the house, it came in about $100,000 less than our figure.  She said she'd try it at $40,000 higher than her price point, but we should be prepared for lots of underbids.  I was not a happy camper.

Two days later, we met with the next broker and her firm assessed our house at $30,000 more than the first agent's price...but less than the number Agent 1 begrudgingly laid out as our high point. Agent 2 told us that is was foolish to "test" the market and that she was sure we could only get that price at which she'd listed the house.

At this point Bill and I were seriously questioning whether we could and or should move now...but darn it...we were ready...we had one more agent to interview.  If she came in around the same price point, we were prepared to wait at least until spring to reassess...but man, with all the work we'd done and funds invested, we were so ready!!

Agent 3 arrived on a Thursday and yes because of the disappointment of the previous two meetings, I opted to celebrate Champagne Thursday...a toast to hope.  The painter was putting the final touches in the bathrooms...but the house had been staged by me to show a home where life was lived and lives loved.  She walked around, measuring...asking questions...seeing what we saw...seeing a home that would make somebodies very happy.  We talked about strategies for marketing and selling the house...she explained the services her company offered and then...she recommended we sell the house for just what Bill and I expected...whew!  She actually came in a little higher than we thought...but our valuation had taken a beating and when Karen Earnest came in higher...oh...what relief.

Our apartment hunting was not going easily...we have a dog and for some reason, dog loving Bostonians are reluctant to rent to dog owners...but our intrepid rental agent dogged it out.  On October 11th, we found a cute place in the South End and filled out an application...which was promptly accepted!  YIKES! We expressed our preferred move in date of Dec. 1, but the owner wanted a November 1 date...we  countered Nov. 15th...our house wasn't even on the market yet...and although we could swing the mortgage and the rent...why should we?...we had time.  So when the apartment's agent...who lobbied really hard for us because he thought we were the perfect tenants...came back that the owner was holding firm to the Nov. 1 move in we let it go.

We talked it over with Betsey, our rental agent, and thought perhaps we should put our apartment hunting on hold until later in November or us a chance to get Groton on the market...and if there was no interest, we might have to revisit the whole process in the spring real estate season. Betsey understood and gave us encouragement that more rentals would be available with Spring's warm keep chins up!

In the mean time, Karen set about marketing our Groton  home.  On October 15th, the professional photographer came in and took amazing pictures for the RE/Max website and by Thursday afternoon, the interactive house tour of High Oaks Path was live! The page had nearly 50 views by noon on Friday.   Karen scheduled appointments for Saturday 10/18...and five interested parties popped by to see the house. One couple asked if they could return with her mother and the kids on Sunday...and by 9 am on Monday, we had an offer for above our asking price!  We were moving!  But wait! where...oh stomach was flip flopping...things got turned over to agents and lawyers and we needed to find a place to live with an early December move-in...we were set to close on December 8...what once looked like a bleak situation now turned into a feeding frenzy of emotions, appointments and new scheduling which, if my hair weren't already gorgeously gray, would have turned it so!

A storage unit was rented...home inspections schedule...legalese abounded...and as we approached November 1...we needed to find a home.  Much to the chagrin of my very patient real estate agent, I became a real estate app junkie...constantly filling in profiles and setting filters...but it paid off!

Very early in our apartment hunting experiment, on the last sunny Sunday in September,  Betsey took us to see a Hancock Street apartment on Beacon had just listed that morning and yes, it was $1000 above our budget and stated no pets...but it was open to see, so we popped in.  It was lovely...had parking...was 2 unit laundry... a workable kitchen, and so on...but being way over budget and the first apartment we looked at, we said good-bye.  We looked and looked until the South Boston find...that fell through and thus began my feverish obsession with Zillow, Trulia, and Redfin!

On October 31, as I was making a pass of updates on Zillow, a familiar address popped up...the first Hancock St. apartment was still not rented and the rent was $500 lower! Now, what I had come learn was, there is rental season in the city.  Generally apartments are leased from September 1 to August 31...that window had come and gone for this unit...and in general, if rentals are not leased by 11/15...the owners or management companies let them go dormant until the spring...I called Betsey and asked her to inquire about Hancock Street...ask about the dog...she's small...seeing that it is late in the rental season...maybe they'd drop the rent another $500...can you imagine my teeth gritted grin!?!...What a ballsy risk!  We were a month from being homeless...not in a tragic way...but no roof over our heads in sight...and glory be...they bit and took our offer...we immediately filled in the application and sent over a deposit...all based on the first impression of the first apartment I saw months before...I guess somethings are meant to be and lessons need learning...(foreshadowing for another blog).

With a future address in sight, I set about the final stages of leaving High Oaks Path.  We contacted and contracted with a terrific moving company, one that is comfortable with the peculiarities of  moving in way streets...on street parking...permits...street sweeping.

The estate sale company came in mid-November , pricing and staging 30 years worth of belongings...the beds my kids slept in...the Beanie Babies they collected....36 place settings of Pfaltzgraff Yorktowne dishes and accessories (I owned the pattern and then inherited my mother's and mother's -in-law sets) and frames...arts and crafts houseful of stuff...a grandfather clock...windchimes...jelly jar glasses...STUFF!  And on a warm, sunny Saturday...strangers came and bought my things.  Thank goodness I wasn't home...the manager of the estate sale highly recommended we leave...pets in seeing and hearing how others regarded your stuff could be sad, infuriating and weird.

The sale went well.  We got a little more that was estimated and somethings we hoped and prayed would sell did...and we were surprised at what didn't...the bedroom suites, the dishes....not a bite...but those Flintstone jelly jars from the nineties, which had been boxed up when we moved from Billerica 15 years ago...(they sold for $1 each)...found a new home!

As I examined the aftermath of the was a bit of organized chaos...I wondered what I should do with the stuff that needed new families...and lo and behold, a message popped up on the Groton Google group...the PTA for one of our elementary schools was looking for books, DVDs, CDs, and games for their annual holiday Craft Fair and Book Sale...I contacted the organizer and told her we had a large assortment of all those items and would she like to come by and take what she wanted...she took it all...and she told us it was the largest donation (single or otherwise) the PTA ever had...and that the funds would go to help with library, playground and music programs...hallelujah!

I contacted the outreach services and food pantry at Devens... they took 6 bags of clothing, toiletries  and some of the pantry items I wasn't sure I wanted to bring to the city...who needs a case of black beans when there are only two of you?

The remaining items found an outlet through an agency called HGRM, located in Acton.  They gratefully took our donations of furniture, linens, curtains, all those Pfaltzgraff dishes !  The mission is to provide gently used...well loved items that will help homeless families transition from shelters into a new, private home.  The clients can "shop" in their warehouses for items that they need and develop their vision of home...I am most satisfied with this decision for our stuff.

In the end just about everything found a new place to call home...and so did we!

We moved into the city on December 2...sold the house on December 8...never was homeless...thank goodness...and now with about 6 months left on our lease, we are exploring the awakening real estate market in the still my heart...and here goes my stomach, flip-flopping again...will we rent again...renew our lease...or is the next dream home to own out there waiting for its new family with a new story and memories yet to share?  I'll let you know.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Living With the Things You Use

My goodness, it has been some time since I have put my thoughts in any order, never mind writing them down!

The last time I took a moment to write, I was strolling down memory lane amid piles and boxes, mementos and gee-gaws.  I found a poem from my childhood...discovered long lost letters from my mom...sorted through the myriad of stuff accumulated over 30+ years as a homeowner.

It is funny how we surround ourselves with stuff...the stuff of legends (in our own minds)...the stuff others give us...and sometimes the right stuff...the stuff that puts the polish on one's character and nature.

As I began the process of organizing and plotting our downsizing, anticipating a move into Boston, a funny thing happened,  I stopped needing so much stuff...not just emptying a nest...but a real sense of need versus husband said it best recently, "Live with the the things you use."

For nearly three months now, we find ourselves in a very nice rental apartment on Beacon Hill...2 bedrooms, an office...a serviceable kitchen and a parking spot...yay!  We still have a bit too much stuff, but as we live in a smaller space and look for a new property to purchase, we are learning about what we need...what we like.  For example, being who we are, we each have our favorite coffee mug...mine is a roundish black and green mug from Duck Donuts that I picked up a couple of years ago from a happy little doughnut place in Duck, NC.  It is just the right size and fits my hand well...I like the roundness of it...I can wrap my hands around it...take in a deep breath of fresh brewed aroma...warm my is just what I need for my morning coffee..I wash it out after each use so it is ready for the next cup later in the why in heaven's name did we have roughly 100...yes you read that correctly...100 mugs packed away in boxes in the attic?  I'd say that 95 of them were gifts from thoughtful folks...they didn't know that other people had given Bill and me each, a pithy mug...mugs that said thanks in multiple mugs...floral mugs...mugs with mice ...cartoons...sports logos...corporate logos...who doesn't need a mug, right?  As a former teacher, PTA volunteer and CCD teacher, I got mugs...and candles...and tea towels...see where this is going!?!  Now please don't get me wrong.  I loved the thought behind each gift.  I appreciated the validation that I somehow made an impact in someone's life...and I will always own that...the experience has shaped me...directed me to who I am and where I am today...and God willing, I will always know that...I don't need a trinket to remind me...that intersection of our lives has moved me down a path of a life well lived and loved...hopefully with many more miles to go...but now I hope the markers of that journey are not in things accumulated, but in the direction others go along their life's journey...that each encounter leaves someone happier, smarter, affirmed...a kind act, word or smile suffices to cement our connection in my being...but if you come over for coffee...fear not, I still have a lovely mug or china cup for you too!

I have had the same discussion with many people as of do you can you cleanse yourself of the things that you've owned for a lifetime?  Won't you miss this or that?  Won't you forget?  For me, the answer is that although an item might bring to mind a doesn't own the memory...that has and always shall live in me.  Bill and I have come to a point in our lives where we'd like to see our stuff build lives and memories for others.

As we sorted through our stuff, it became necessary to designate our piles...keep...donate...sell...recycle...and I did my research for each of these designations.  One resource/outreach service that brought joy to our goal was HGRM in Acton.  We were able to donate much of our furniture...all of which we offered to family first with no takers, wah, this organization that affords families transitioning from homeless shelters into new housing furniture and household goods.  Clients of HGRM could "shop" for items that would make a new space their home...and I feel certain that the history and essence of a happy family that surrounds our stuff will fuel the memories of the new owners...and we find great comfort, happiness and purpose in that as we let go.

I'm looking around the dining room, where I've plunked down to write this post...and I see tulips in a vase I bought in favorite vase...the only on I need.  In my china cabinet, I see the Limoges dessert set that was my mother's and her mother's before her...I use it almost every day now...I have owned it for 26 years...but have only now started using with it...some cute champagne flutes from Sayda...I use these to celebrate Champagne Thursday... a crystal bowl from my maid of honor...I use it as a side dish for dinner...every day!  Many of the items I have around me, have been in my possession for a long time...but now, I use them...I live with them...they have new life as we embark on a new chapter of our lives...I guess what I am saying is...these are the things I need, and to some extent...they connect my history to my day to day life...spelling out more history I guess.

Now, just so you don't promote me to sainthood yet...with a few exceptions, most of the stuff that surrounds us now will not be moving to our next home!  I'll keep the Limoges...and a few of the other fine things accumulated over the years...those things yearning to be unpacked to be used in our future lives...but after thirty two years, my husband and I are different creatures...we are older, wiser, snootier empty nesters...we do not need a serviceable couch ...I'd like something that says something about who we are NOW...I don't want the kitschy lamp set that we could just barely afford from JC Penney's 20 years ago...I want something that sets the stage for the next act...that details and reflects us...the new us...ok...what I am about to share is corny...but it seems appropriate...I guess this rental apartment on Beacon Hill is our chrysalis...and in a few months, we will transition into our new place surrounded by the things we want and need to live each day...but that highlight who we are, where we came from and most importantly...who we hope to be as we find new purpose and adventure in this stage of our lives!