Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The heart behind the wood and nails

My hands are clammy. My mind is racing. My heart is doing little jumps inside my chest. I’m checking my email every five minutes, waiting for that message from our Realtor saying our offer on a house was accepted. “Don’t get emotionally invested in the home buying process,” everyone says. Easier said than done!

Home buying, like other major life milestones (choosing a spouse, college, etc.), requires lots of planning and rational thought, and The Hubs and I came at the process with that in spades -- complicated Excel spreadsheets tracking our budget and spending, lists of our “must-have” and “would-like-to-have” features in our future home, a list of a handful properties we’ve been eyeing that we handed to our Realtor. We took a first-time home buyer class and did lots of research. When we showed up to look at houses (eight!) last Saturday, we each had a clipboard, a camera and our own checklists and questions to ask -- and some Power Bars and bottles of water, to fuel the search. Would you expect anything less from this Red Binder Girl and a detail-oriented engineer?

With a clear idea of what we wanted and how much we could spend, it didn’t take us long to find the one. A few hours after touring houses, we emailed our Realtor to say we wanted to make an offer. Monday night, we made an offer. Tuesday, the sellers countered, and we made another offer. It’s not a done deal yet -- the sellers still have a little under six hours as I write this to accept the offer and sign the papers -- or say no thanks. Thus, the sweaty palms, frenzied mindset and stomach flips -- did I mention the stomach flips yet?

Despite all our lists and spreadsheets and practicality, our bodies know this is an emotional process, especially for a right-brained girl like me and a guy who, despite his outward appearance, is pretty sentimental deep down. We’ve been trying hard not to get attached to this house, but it’s hard to sign your financial life away for a piece of property without envisioning how you’d live there -- what your furniture would look like in it, what great dinner parties you’d have, where you’d put the Christmas tree. Without this thought process, every house is the same -- wood and nails. There's a reason why they say the home is where the heart is.

Keeping my emotions out of it was hard while we toured houses, especially those currently occupied. It was weird to see pictures on the refrigerator, clothes in the closet and water droplets in the tub. The reporter side of me wanted to observe all the details and learn more about these mysterious people.

In the house we’re hoping to buy, U.S. Navy memorabilia decorated the walls. The documents signed by the sellers showed the wife signing for her husband. I couldn’t help but start to form a picture in my mind -- a husband in the Navy, shipped overseas or transferred to another base, his family in Maine left to sell what had been their home for six years. Who knows if any of this is true, but separating out the family from the house was harder for me than I thought it would be.

It made me think about when my parents sold my childhood house when I was 12. I remember being angry we had to leave, even though the new house was bigger and better (to smooth things over, my parents promised we’d get a pool -- and 13 years later, that still hasn’t happened. I’ve given up on that dream). What made matters worse is that our new house wasn’t finished when we had to move out, so we spent three months living with my aunt and cousins. My pre-teen, angst-ridden self enjoyed telling people I was homeless, as if I spent every night in a cardboard box outside the 7-11 instead of in a perfectly nice house (okay, I had to share a room with my parents, but still). In my head, I thought of all the terrible things the new owners were doing to the place I grew up. Who were these new people in our house that made us leave even before we had a new place to go?

Now, I wonder if maybe the kids living at this house we want to buy feel the same way about me. While it’s a happy time for The Hubs and I, it’s likely a sad time for them. But I try not to dwell on that, or else I’d never make it through this process.

Instead, I think about our own kids, and the memories they’ll have in this house, if we do buy it. And someday, if we decide to move, it’ll be the place our kids remember as their first home. It’ll be the house, like The Hubs said, that our kids will drive by with their boyfriends or girlfriends, going real slow to see how it’s changed, saying, “This is where I grew up.” How are you not supposed to get emotional thinking about that?

But, if someday we do make the kids move, we will not pull that pool trick. That’s just mean.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Notes on a nuptial

The wedding is now nearly two months in the past, but I’m still thinking about it -- mostly because it was one of the best nights of my life and I would love to relive it (minus spending all the money).

It sounds clichĂ©, right? One of the best nights of my life -- really? Hey, I’m surprised too. I imagined stress, drama, unforeseen disasters: buffet lines that never
moved, drunken and rambling toasts, an empty dance floor save for one guy doing the sprinkler.

But instead, the greatest thing happened. We walked back down the aisle, husband and wife, and as soon as we got out of view, we wrapped our arms around each other and laughed in utter exhilaration. There are few pictures of me looking serene, contemplative or poised. I’m smiling or laughing in all of them. I’m impossibly happy.

During the reception, as we sat there at our sweetheart table and looked out over everything that had come together so well -- all the people in our life who meant the most to us, the people who had cheered our entrance as M
r. and Mrs. so enthusiastically -- all the stress and doubt fell away and this great big feeling of happiness settled over us. I don’t remember all the moments of that night -- it’s true what they say, it flies by -- but I do remember that feeling.

We worked hard to make it to that feeling, and may never have it again, at least not quite the same way. Short of reliving it via a magi
cal time machine, the next best thing is to talk about it. Share the wealth. Pay it forward. Irritate people with unsolicited advice. Let it commence!

Be the red binder girl (or guy):
In other words, be organized. My red
binder was not just a fanciful collection of centerpiece ideas. I had contracts, questions to ask vendors, budget information, and lists and lists of things to remember, ponder and mull. I had maps, and phone numbers, even a calculator. I printed out pictures of our venue, which allowed me to show the DJ where he could set up and the photographer where she could shoot. Pictures and swatches of the dresses gave the florist clear ideas for coordinating colors.

Do not let people convince you this is being a bridezilla/groomzilla. Being
thorough is not the same as screaming obscenities at your caterer for serving cantaloupe instead of honey dew. There will be people who throw out that terribly offensive word as soon as you open your mouth with, “I was thinking…” These people either got married 30 years ago when your parents still planned the whole thing, or are insanely jealous of how on top of things you are. At least that’s what I liked to tell myself.

Be thick-skinned:
Your BFF will whine about not having a date to bring. Your in-laws will pressure you to have your wedding the same weekend as Nana’s birthday. Your fiancĂ© will not care about favors, flowers or what color shoes your bridesmaids wear (but will, inexplicably, have strong opinions about what kind of tie the DJ wears and which Beastie Boys song is most appropriate for a wedding reception).

Do not take any of it personally. Human beings in general are selfish creatures -- it’s that whole survival thing. Many people’s immediate reactions will be to focus on how the wedding and its various details affect them. Don’t worry. It’s only a matter of time before you become that annoying friend who responds to news of a friend’s wedding date with, “
June really doesn’t work for me…maybe you could do it in May instead?” (Oh, and the best Beastie Boys song? “Fight For Your Right (to Party).” Duh).

Screw etiquette:
Don’t tell Emily Post I said that. But seriously, there are lots of antiquated rules w
hen it comes to having a wedding -- what you should wear at what time of the day, who should host the shower, what color your cake should be. Only a few of these rules really serve a practical purpose; most serve to help people sell wedding planning books. Take all etiquette rules with a big (margarita and) grain of salt.

Case in point: After lots of agonizing debate, we decided not to have kids at the wedding, except for The Hubs’ niece and nephew. All the etiquette books said to simply write the parents’ names on the invitation and spread the news word-of-mouth. “Writing ‘Adult-only reception’ is tacky,” they said. Big fat flop. Our RSVP cards were full of write-ins, and we probably ended up hurting some feelings. Those three little words that would have been like Kryptonite to Miss Manners probably would have been well-appreciated by our guest list.

Make it count: Remember, you will (in theory) only do it once. Many people use this as an excuse to spend $200 on trivial things like monogrammed cocktail napkins everyone crumples up anyways or $1,000 for a three-foot-tall cake with frosting that looks like plastic.

What it really should mean is that you should make it what you want. Ignore what the magazines tell you about which colors go well together or what’s “in” for centerpieces this year, and do what makes you happy. Want a bouquet made out of aluminum wire? Sounds good. Want Mario-themed invitations? Go for it. Want to get married in a Taco Bell? Hey, whatever floats your bo
at. Want to get married dressed as Wonder Woman? Why not?

But seriously. A wedding is a big investment no matter how much you spend, and there’s no point in going through the whole shebang if at the end of it you feel like a cookie cutter.

We skipped the costumes or fast-food locations, but we did our
best to inject our own personalities. Hey, we turned 13 pounds of strawberries into homemade wine! Not too shabby.

(Wine photo by Clare Norton)