Home Ownership: Accepting “As-Is”

In 2017, we bought a house. It wasn’t the perfect house, because the perfect house doesn’t exist. It wasn’t even my favorite house, or the house where I could “see us” most easily, or anything like that. But it was a house that we had a good feeling about, and it felt like the universe conspired to make sure that we moved into it, despite a flood of other offers and a housing market flooded with buyers.

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We’ve been living here for a full year now, and I have completely fallen in love with this place. Here’s what I like best:

  • The location. We live downtown, just a block from a central street full of shops and restaurants. Our neighborhood is full of beautiful old houses, wide sidewalks, cute parks, and gorgeous mountain views, and our street doesn’t have much traffic.
  • The size. It’s cozy at about 1400 square feet. The average American home is now over 2600 square feet! Our yard is also just 0.10 acres, a little postage stamp that’s easy to maintain. The proximity to parks makes up for less outdoor space, although we do have a great front porch and two full patio areas.
  • The price. We went under budget on our house, and it’s been great making an easily affordable mortgage payment every month.

We’ve already done a lot to the house. Before we even moved in, we had the electrical system updated, all of the carpet replaced with laminate, one of the bedrooms painted, and all of the kitchen cabinets repainted. Since then, we’ve replaced the dishwasher, bought dining room furniture, hung things on the walls (although not as much as I’d like), and are in in the process of replacing a side door and having concrete landscape curbing done in the front yard.

But for me, owning this home is an exercise in accepting things as they are. As a constant “doer,” the number of changes, updates, and additions I would like to complete is insane. Some of them are extremely practical, like repairing and painting parts of the exterior. Some are functional, like rearranging the living room for a better layout. Others are totally superficial, like replacing the kitchen countertops. And still more are total pipe dreams, like finishing the attic space and installing a staircase to access it (in my dreams!).

I’m someone who likes to do things now. I hate putting things off, procrastinating, or waiting. Unfortunately, unless tens of thousands of dollars suddenly falls into our laps, home improvements absolutely have to wait.

At the very least, I like to have a very precise plan for exactly how everything will proceed in the future, and that’s what we’ve been working on lately. What’s an immediate priority and what’s just a “nice to have”? What could we afford to do now without any hardship and what do we need to save up a cushion for? What would dramatically improve our quality of life, and what would help to preserve and maintain this very old house? Which is more important? There’s a lot to balance. Sure, we could replace the kitchen counters right now, and they would give us a lot of pleasure every day, but in the long run fixing the gutters is more important.

It’s like investing in anything: the immediate investment of time or money can feel like a drag and garner you exactly ZERO reward or thanks, but you reap what you sow later on. Or at least that’s the hope.

Here’s my attempt at a prioritized list of home improvement projects:

  1. Finish and pay for side door work.
  2. Finish and pay for landscaping work.
  3. Small batch of interior repairs and replacements (handyman).
  4. Repair and replace problematic parts of siding, fascia, soffits, and guttering.
  5. Paint spare bedroom, master bedroom, hallway, baseboards.
  6. Install kitchen shelving and living room bookcase.
  7. Paint full exterior.
  8. Repair and re-coat concrete front porch.
  9. Replace kitchen countertops and add backsplash.
  10. Replace guest bathroom pedestal sink with vanity.
  11. Replace master bathroom pedestal sinks with double vanity.
  12. Re-do weird back porch.

Whew. Yeah. It’s a lot. And all of that has to happen in the midst of the usual house stuff to be accounted for: appliances breaking, toilets backing up, roofs leaking, basements flooding.

I’m working hard on accepting my home as it is, and accepting the limitations on how much and how fast we can turn it into the perfect space that I know it can be someday.

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Saying “No” Professionally

Over the past year, since coming back from my (short) maternity leave, my professional life has involved taking on more and more and more and more. Between a full-time job, a promotion, my dissertation completion and defense, and the huge merger my company went through, I felt like I was always adding a little more to the pile.

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Once my PhD was wrapping up, I figured, why not add a freelance position in its place? I always like to be busy, I thought. I could make some extra money, I thought. I could fill all of my time productively, I thought.

Yeah… that went well. For about 6 months. Then I started to feel overwhelmed.

This freelance position involved completing four full 350+ word articles each weekday, in a specific content management system with research and images to go with every piece. On days when my full-time job was slow, it was fine. But on days when my job was busy, it could barely be done in time. What finally put me irreversibly behind was taking a trip to Florida for my dad’s birthday: it was easy to get time off from my full-time job, but my freelance position didn’t take kindly to the idea.

I’m not entirely proud of what happened next. I tried to keep up with my articles, but I quickly fell behind as my family (rightly) took precedence. I tried to catch back up, but I felt more motivated to watch my parents enjoy their grandchild—and even more motivated to let myself relax!—than I felt motivated to make more money.

And after the trip, I got an email that wasn’t entirely unexpected: my freelance contract was terminated because I had turned in too many assignments after they were due.

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tried to feel upset about it, but I also knew that it was for the best. I just felt a little ashamed that I hadn’t stepped up and quit the job before I gave them cause to fire me and put them to the trouble of re-assigning articles and replacing me. I should have listened when my mind and body told me that I was overwhelmed with work.

I also shouldn’t have fallen into the trap of thinking that time not spent working was “wasted.” I shouldn’t have made myself feel guilty when I enjoyed an evening with nothing hanging over me. I should have embraced a season of relative respite in my life instead of rushing to fill it with work. I should have sought something fun and fulfilling to add to my life, not something stressful and overwhelming. Lesson learned!

The good thing? This newfound wiggle-room in my schedule will give me the opportunity to pursue two things that have fallen by the wayside despite their personal importance to me:

  1. Podcasting with my good friend L.A. Fields, and
  2. Contributing to a local food blog that I love.

Maybe neither of those things will add to my bank account, but they’ll add to my everyday happiness and they’ll even help me remember that writing isn’t just a job, it’s my hobby and my way of life. It’s fun. It’s integral to who I am. It’s something that should bring up feelings of happiness and anticipation, not stress and dread.

So, like I said: lesson learned.

Moving Into 2018

2017 was a huge year for me. I had a baby, bought a house, got a promotion, and finished my PhD. I’m definitely hoping for a less eventful 2018! This past year was wonderful in so many ways, but it was also pretty hectic, and I’d like a calmer one this time around.

Last year I did a “live your values” exercise for the year, but a lot of the habits I had hoped to establish in January got derailed when our baby arrived a few weeks early, so I’d like to do it again for 2018.

I worked through a long list of potential values, narrowed them down to around 20, then grouped them into 5 groups that made sense to me. I then chose the value from each group that I felt was most representative. I ended up with these:

  1. Peace
  2. Thankfulness
  3. Relationships
  4. Growth
  5. Simplicity

I have a January goal associated with each value, and hopefully I can keep up with subsequent goals for the other months of the year.


I think we’ll be spending our first New Year’s Eve alone together tonight! We have always gone to a party or had friends over, but this time we’re eating pizza and drinking champagne at our place. In Provo all of the fireworks were scheduled for Saturday and not Sunday, so I hope some neighbors will set a few off.

Here’s to a great year!

Successfully Defended

I successfully defended my dissertation and am finished with school! It feels amazing to be done, and my defense went even better than I expected. My co-supervisors were Alan Friedman and Neville Hoad, and committee members were Mia Carter (who first introduced me to Christopher Isherwood), David Kornhaber, and Michael Charlesworth (from the Art History department).
Photo Oct 20The defense was much more like a conversation than like a question-and-answer session (or a roast!), which made it relaxed and enjoyable. I wasn’t given any significant revisions, but I was given some amazing ideas for adapting this project and turning it into something bigger and more interesting, which I’m very excited about. Even though I’m probably leaving academia—or at least not making a career of it—I don’t want to put this project completely behind me. It has been too interesting and too influential to be left behind.

I also got to spend a few days in Austin catching up with my grad school friends and with my college friend L.A. Fields, who I hadn’t seen since 2012. She lives in Dallas now and came over to Austin to see me.

The best thing about completing my PhD is the feeling of getting closure on the “school” phase of my life without leaving behind the relationships I built at UT or the project that made me want to finish the degree. What I’m most looking forward to now is adapting my dissertation and reading more! I want to revisit my favorite Isherwood works without the pressure of the dissertation, and I want to start reading my London Reviews again, not to mention catching up on the backlog of fiction and non-fiction books on my “to-read” list!

Dissertation Defense Scheduled

My dissertation defense is scheduled! I am so excited to be

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Japanese Gardens at the Huntington, 2015

wrapping up this interesting chapter in my life. I haven’t updated much about the process of completing the project because I’ve been so busy with work, a new house, and a new baby.

I’ll be in Austin for a couple of days, and I’m looking forward not only to wrapping up my grad school experience but also to catching up with my friends and professors. I haven’t seen them in person since April 2016 when I flew to Texas for a brief visit.

Wish me luck!