The long nightmare is over

I no longer own a big, beautiful, old house.

I hope it’s the house of the new owners’ dreams; that they appreciate its beauties more than they mind its shortcomings; that they love the oak floors, the inlay in the floors around the fireplace, the gas fireplace itself with its marble surround, built-in bookcases to either side of the fireplace and in the room that was Sir John’s study, the light from its many windows (most of which we had to replace), the closet space, the outdoor fireplace and the garden. On the ground floor, some doors have clamshell hinges that were only made for a brief period around 1913-16, which is the sort of thing that appeals greatly to some people. The second floor is an addition from around 1990, so it has large rooms and big closets, as well as two more bathrooms.

Besides those things, it had a narrow, cramped entrance at the front, a chilly, awkward set of stairs at the back, bad traffic patterns and airflow (running the fireplace sent heat straight up the stairs, so that it heated the upper hallway, where the upstairs thermostat was located, keeping the heat from coming on and thus making the bedrooms freezing), and it had settled considerably over the years, making the floors and trim crooked to various degrees in different rooms. It had structural problems due to a badly done cathedral ceiling in the master bedroom, which we corrected, but the additional weight of the tie beams made the house settle a little more. Having grown up in an earthquake zone, I wasn’t bothered by this from a safety point of view, but aesthetically the crookedness irritated me, and Sir John couldn’t stop worrying that the house would fall down (since he hasn’t had the benefit of experience with condemned houses that I’ve had). The basement was dank, with cracks in the concrete that let in water during heavy rains. It flooded twice before the city replaced the storm sewers; after that, no more floods, but it was still damp. Some things stored there were ruined in the floods. Others just got musty from being down there. The garden turned out pretty well after I spent years digging out the creeping bellflower, but since it infests many other neighborhood gardens, it’ll be back unless the new owners are also vigilant.

Within about six months of moving in, we wanted to sell it. But Reasons meant we couldn’t get it on the market as fast as we hoped to, so we missed the top of the market. When we did put it on the market, it took three years to sell. In 2018, we had some viewers but no offers. In 2019, no one even came to look at it. In 2020, the first people to see it, bought it. Go figure. We sold for less than we paid for it, never mind all the work we did to it, but now we get to Move On.

The relief is profound. Modern suburbs, here I come!

An Academic Lady house-hunts, 8

Finding our range:

Agent sends us new set of links. Sir John and I both like the look of the first one. We make appointment to view it, and three others in same town.

Option one: split-level (not one of the standard models we’ve seen before), medium size, good layout, well-maintained. Nice tiled foyer, with closet. Attached garage. Neighborhood feels very rural: enormous yard, no sidewalk in front of house, mailbox across street. My urban soul quails.

Option two: split-level, quiet street very close to major highway (can hear traffic noise), strange fireplace open to three rooms on lower level—would have to fence it off to keep cats out of chimney. Skylights in dining room and kitchen. Am suspicious of skylights: nice idea, but potential for major problems there. Attached garage. Feel very iffy about this one.

Option three: ranch, a few blocks down street from option one. Yard even more enormous. Detached garage; driveway in bad shape. Sir John thinks recently added front porch looks very rural (not a plus). Nicely rehabbed and staged inside. Beautiful kitchen. Three bedrooms above ground. Entrance to living room, but with coat closet and space to use bookshelf or other furniture to create entry way. Odd bit at back, clearly once a porch, now enclosed, but in such a way that is basically enormous mud room, not really usable living space for us (might work for small children to ride tricycles in). Full basement . . . with standing water. Outside, mold or algae or something green is growing below windows of enclosed former porch. We’ll pass.

Option four: split-level, attached garage, once again with entrance to living room but with closet and could use furniture to create entry way. Sir John does not like screened front porch but I do. Yard manageable size. Three bedrooms up, family room and office down. Interior shutters, which we like. This one is rapidly moving to top of our list when I look up and see crack in ceiling, clearly already patched at least once and now re-splitting. Crack runs directly under center line of roof. Due to our past sad experience, house plummets from top of list.


Time to fish or cut bait: do we make offer on something we have seen, or start trying to find rental from which to continue searching?

Gentle reader, I will not keep you longer in suspense: we offer for Option One of this post.

(It reminds Sir John of house lived in by hot girl he dated in high school. Query: can I live up to associations? Answer: probably; he married me, not hot girl.)

Negotiations over dowry price not unduly protracted.

My urban soul is going to have to adapt itself to the suburbs.

An Academic Lady and the Suburbs

I’ve lived my life in cities large and small. I characterize the small ones as “small towns,” since I grew up in a major urban area, but I have to recognize that they are cities: population in the tens of thousands (low tens, but tens), choice of grocery stores, multiple stop lights, a hospital, county administration buildings, multiple restaurants and other amenities. They have downtown areas. Even Our Quaint Village is really a small city.

(Love reading about English villages. Do not consider self fit candidate for true small-town life, American-style.)

What I have always wished to avoid is the sort of suburban development with acres of houses built to two or three floor plans (maybe four or six if you allow for mirror reflection), with miles of lanes that spiral round culs-de-sac and parks but have only one or two outlets to actual roads that go somewhere, the sort of development in which a car is a necessity, and even then, driving takes you through miles of strip malls before you arrive at anything resembling a town center (probably two or three towns over). Bedroom communities. I had a friend in college who grew up in this sort of suburb. He said he once came home drunk from a party, went to bed, and woke the next day in the house two doors down from his, which had the same floor plan, and an empty bed in the room that corresponded to his.

We viewed our current too-old, too-big house when Sir John had just got to the point of suggesting extending that search to the suburbs, and I panicked. House does have its points, and it met most of our then-requirements (have learned we are Not Old-House People, full stop). He should have stressed shortening my commute as an inducement.

At any rate, when I caught on to that notion, and to the idea of living somewhere new(er)*, I started exploring some suburbs, and selected a few that had been towns in their own right before being swallowed by the encroaching city, places with downtowns.

Option one: high desirability had already driven prices beyond what we could afford.

Option two: a wider variety of price points, friends living there; discovered that affordable houses were all too small (adorable ranch #2), or too broken down (the Brothel, several of the fixer-uppers).

Option three: various possibilities including the one with gunk in the garret, the Gambling Den, the Dance Studio, the first adorable ranch, and possibly a few more that I have forgotten. We concentrated here for a few weeks, but as more houses came on the market and then were deemed unsuitable, we had to widen the search.

We could expand geographically, or we could consider suburbs not on my short list.

Geographical expansion would lengthen my commute again.

So we discovered the siblings of the Dance Studio, the Time Warp, the International Geophysical Year House, and . . . I forget what else. We went back to Town Option Two to look at a house in an excellent location. Large house, small yard, detached garage. Carpet over hardwood floors. Exposed brick in the foyer (very 70s) and also in the smallest bedroom (very WTF?). Evidence of structural problems in basement: nope.

Began to consider putting all our belongings in storage and moving into Sir John’s brother’s basement.

*I think I have read too many novels in which houses are an index to character. The characters one is supposed to admire live in beautiful, noble, old houses with hardwood floors, shabby rugs originally of excellent quality, and ancient windows; the characters mocked by the narrator live in modern concrete boxes with fitted carpets and all modern conveniences. OK, I’m a prole at heart, I admit it. Now can I have my comfortable modern box?

An Academic Lady is Picky about Houses

“Features” that are Not:

Vaulted/cathedral ceilings (put stress on walls).
Low water bills due to own well.
Fresh paint in hideous colors.
Hot tub.
Jets in master bath.
Bay windows (usually poorly installed, badly insulated, prone to damage).
Double sinks in bathrooms.
Farmhouse sink in kitchen.
Ceiling fans (I know most people like them but I hate being blown on).
Screened porches.
Close to schools (when this means next door, across street, or backing onto schoolyard).


Six on Saturday, heavy on asters

I should know better by now. Anything pretty that pops up by itself is likely to be a menace, spreading aggressively. While I am pleased when the clematis and columbine seed themselves, I’m now regretting not having yanked out the few tall white asters that appeared last year. Just look: they’ve surrounded one of my pots of torenia plus purple alyssum (there’s also a pink impatiens in there but you can’t see it).

Here, they’ve joined the coreopsis and oregano in choking out the sorrel, salvia, and pansies that I planted last year; all those came back by themselves and were doing okay till this lot got going:

#3, they do look pretty surrounding the red rose (which is how they got away with this invasion):

All those were in the front, but they have even made it into the backyard bed, where they appear with this clump of three hostas (two variegated, one a solid blue-green). Oops, I should have gathered up that little pile of tiny apples that the apple tree has been shedding into the lawn, and which I left on the patio.

#5 is a different invasive, the dreaded Bishop’s Weed, illegal to plant in several US states and Canadian provinces because of its spreading qualities. Also known as Snow on the Mountains, it is pretty, but spreads like mad. I’ve managed to confine it to this bed, which is surrounded by concrete, but I do have to keep an eye on it:

Let’s just go back to clematis for #6, so charmingly well-behaved and grateful for its trellis (there are some sweet peas muscling into the picture, just the leaves, no blooms yet):

Six on Saturday is hosted by the Propagator!

More fairy gardens

I found a new one on this morning’s walk, a whole fairy village of at least half a dozen houses, complete with central square, fairy picnic, fairy farm, and a decidedly mundane model moving truck (with a Bekins label) parked outside one fairy house. I couldn’t tell if fairies were moving in or out. But why do they need a moving truck? What happened to waving a magic wand to make the hard stuff just happen?

Or are non-magical critters like Borrowers moving in?

There goes the neighborhood.

An Academic Lady House-Hunts, 7

Bats in the Belfry, Mold in the Mind:

Large, attractive split-level. Excellent location, near station and with good highway access, within walking distance of Sir John’s mother, also of groceries, library, other amenities. Perhaps larger than we need, but room for studies, guest room, and storage (keep having to remind self that split-level generally means no proper basement). Make appointment to see house a second time, inspect carefully while wearing gloves, masks, liberally using hand sanitizer. Some windows new, some will need to be replaced. Minor damage to kitchen countertop. Too much carpet. Roof will also need to be replaced.

However, we have experienced removal of carpet and replacement of windows before. Roof at least external, replacement no doubt noisy but does not require moving furniture. We make offer, low to allow for work to be done.

Sellers drop their price by 5K and give laundry list of reasons house worth much more than we offered, including location (doubt they know how close they are to Sir John’s mother) and money recently spent on GFCI outlets, carpet cleaning, and mold abatement in the attic.

Wait, you said mold abatement?

We instruct our agent that we will not negotiate further.

Sellers get roofer to inspect their roof, send us report. Roof needs to be replaced within three years, bathroom fan vents improperly into attic. Source of mold thus revealed.

Am unable to understand why sellers don’t replace roof, then raise price of large, attractive house in desirable location.

Weeks later, house still on market; sellers have dropped asking price by $2500.

Six on Saturday: roses and clematis

They’re the main events, and also the only photos that came out well. I meant to get out early in the morning, but that didn’t happen, and too near noon, it’s very easy to cast unattractive shadows across whatever I’m trying to photograph. Maybe next week!

So, the first two are a sort of time-elapse on the Sterling Silver rose, one taken but not posted last Saturday, the second today:

Then I have two red roses, one backed by a fancy day lily I put in last year (also pinks), the other by a volunteer aster:

And finally, the two clematis that share the trellis; the big purple one is B I G now:

Six on Saturday is hosted by The Propagator: go over and look at everyone else’s pretty pictures! Lots of people actually know what their cultivars are!

No man is an island, entire of itself

Every man is a part of the continent, a piece of the main (wrote John Donne).

My obsession with houses sounds very tone-deaf, after recent events, both George Floyd’s death and the following protests. (This business of selling and buying a residence is a bit like pregnancy; after a certain point, you’re committed, and it gets to be hard to focus on anything else, the more so after labor pains actually start. The only way out is through).

I keep thinking of my students. In English, students skew female, but I’ve taught some African-American men who added so much to my classes, and who had gone through a lot to get there. One had bipolar disorder and a phenomenally creative mind; he wanted to write novels and screenplays, and to study English literature so as to learn his craft and help him create order in the stories that flooded his thoughts. Another was a programmer who wanted to use elements of the Mabinogion in a video game. One was a musician, so depressed and grief-stricken after his grandmother died that he couldn’t manage to do any work, but he was still a good kid.

I don’t know where any of them are now. LRU, even in these demographically challenged times, is a large regional university; it’s easy never to see a student around campus, and I often miss graduation because of the big medieval conference at Kalamazoo. I hope they’ve graduated or are on track to graduate, and make themselves and their families proud. I hope they find challenging and stimulating jobs, and do the creative work they feel called to do. I hope they have good lives.

I hope they have lives.


And if these men had not been talented and deserving students, if they had been clods? Let’s go back to John Donne: If clod be washed away by the sea, [America] is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls:

It tolls for thee.

An Academic Lady House-Hunts, 6

The Time Warp:

(Does it seem like this series is going on forever? Try being the people hunting down a house during a pandemic with a closing date staring you in the face.)

Ranch house, built in 1980 but feels like 1950s. Layout reminds me of my parents’ last house. (NB, this means I can have no opinion of this house but must rely on Sir John’s judgment as engineer. Any house that reminds me of any familial dwelling warps my judgment, as proved by house we are moving from.) Two bedrooms near front of house would do for studies. Cathedral ceiling in living room and master bedroom: have learned to be wary of these, but there is no sign of cracking. Lower level enormous: rec room with wet bar, Coke machine, pinball machine, other amusements, plus office and storage.

Unfortunately, house is on heavily traveled road, no doubt once quiet country lane, but now sorely in need of a speed trap. Though urban at heart, do not care to have front door open onto major highway.