Thursday, June 21, 2007

Wrinkles in my elbows?

That's Calin, one of our seven grandsons. Calin spent a few days with us last week because he had a week between getting out of school and the start up of camp.
It was a great opportunity for some one on one conversation with this seven year old wonder, who like most kids his age, holds nothing back.
One morning he was passing through the kitchen and came across some hand cream I keep on the counter. "Sugar," he asked, "do you put cream on your face to make the wrinkles go away?" Thinking I must be looking too young to be his grandmother, I said, "yes, I do and I think it's working, don't you?" "Yep, I think it is . . . but I think you need to put some on your elbows cause you're gettin' lots of wrinkles there!"
Later that night, I wondered into the living room to put him to bed and found him watching a murder/detective show. As he reluctantly left to go brush his teeth, he announced, "I've never been murdered in my whole life!" "Well, as a matter of fact, you haven't," I said. "Because if you had, we wouldn't be having this conversation." "No, I'm not kidding," he insisted. "In my whole life, I've never been murdered!" Rather than scare him with the realities of murder, I just agreed, kissed him goodnight and thanked the good Lord I am alive and able to enjoy conversations with a 7 year old.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The realities of renovation - crunching the numbers

And so . . . we made the trek over to Fort Sumner, New Mexico, where our oldest daughter and her family live to take a look at the grand old house she'd sent us photos of. And believe me, she was a grand lady in her day. A big Spanish style home with a red tile roof and a lovely litle courtyard out front (where the chimney was falling away from the house). Years of neglect have taken their toll and while she's still very much redeemable, the purchase price doesn't support the redeeming.

In the beginning, we made up our minds to forge in, rip and snort and bring everything up to date. It's what we do, what we've done for years and what we love. It's easy to get caught up in the fever of breathing new life into a place until you start looking at the numbers. When the cost to make a house merely inhabitable combined with the purchase price equals an amount greater than the overall value of the property - well, you have to draw the line.

We had to draw the line. As most renovators know, older architecture quite often translates into huge expense when it comes to modernizing an older home; like putting in a central heating and air conditioning unit. Because of the partial flat roof, the cost to add CH/A to this place was nearly $15,000. All new wiring and all new plumbing were another $15,000. Then and only then could we start the new floors, paint, new kitchen, etc. You get the point. We'd be in so far over the value of the property that it just wasn't a good financial decision.

We were so bummed. The owners live out of state and purchased the property as an investment - they're not motivated to sell and since they can't see the deteriorating condition of the home, they're not willing to budge a dollar on their asking price. While we could afford it - it wouldn't be smart so we had to decline.

So with our house sold and scheduled to close on July 30th, we're on the hunt again. We've got our eye on a couple of nice places around here and will take a look at them tomorrow afternoon and Friday morning.

We would have loved to have moved closer to Staci and her family but at the same time, we would have been sad to leave the lush beauty of the hill country. We were deflated for about fifteen minutes; we got a glass of elderberry wine, sat on the big old porch and drank in the beauty that surrounds us here. Then, we were over it and ready to move on.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Renovation of Us - a clear new day

I picked up a book a few weeks ago called "Gringos in Paradise" by Barry Golson. Golson wrote an enchanting article for AARP about the many boomers who are moving to Mexico where their retirement dollars handily provide for a much richer lifestyle in a laid back, climate friendly area. Golson and his wife fell in love with a little village on the Pacific coast of Mexico while doing the research and ended up moving there in their own journey of reinvention.

The book appealed to me because I'd read Golson's AARP article and was intrigued that so many fellow boomers, now in their fifties, were on a quest for a simpler lifestyle, re-inventing themselves, so to speak. It's a topic Mike and I have discussed repeatedly over the last few months.

We've really struggled with finding a new home; one with ample space and at least some character. We're hopelessly addicted to home renovation so if it needed work and the price was right, all the better! However, in our part of Texas, everything in our price range needed a fair amount of work and the price was never all that great. The payments and reno costs were manageable on our income but only if we kept up our current workload so we could afford it long term.

One morning a few weeks ago, our discussion came down to the bottom line. What, exactly, did we each want in a lifestyle. After a contemplative silence, our unrehearsed and candid answers surprised us both. It was an epiphany, of sorts.

We admitted that we wanted a nice home with room for visiting friends and grandchildren sleepovers and one with ample space for each of us to work. But the prospect of taking on another long term mortgage, not to mention the ever escalating Texas property taxes, was daunting. Stifling and stagnating, actually. The more we talked, the more we realized we needed to make a major change in our home search.

We both longed for more time to stretch ourselves creatively and tackle projects we'd stuffed away, shoved to the back burner for lack of time. For instance, Mike has some awesome outdoor sculpture designs that live in his sketch book for lack of time to do them. He's also been dreaming of painting a few oversized, really large paintings and has great ideas for some innovative home decor lines he'd like to develop.

I have all kinds of articles and book ideas shoved to the back of my brain like a squeezed shut accordion just waiting to be released. So many that it would take me a week of frantic pondering to figure out where to start if I actually had a week to ponder.

Mike has written a wonderful children's book, "Gimli," about a young Canadian goose with a broken wing who is cared for by a multitude of delightful farm animals over the winter. It sits waiting for me to edit and for Mike to illustrate - for several years now.

The reality is, right now we must commit to a certain amount of commissioned work in order to pay the mortgage, the utilities and property taxes, which leaves no time for the heartfelt creative work we long to do. Make no mistake - we're both enormously grateful we have the long standing, active contracts that do pay the bulk of the bills. However, what time is left from those commitments ends up dedicated to other jobs, both large and small, to supplement our income.

Suddenly, it seemed so clear to us; we're actively selling ou r house so moving on is a given. But, we don't have to jump right back into the same situation we're in now -a big mortgage and high maintenance house. We started rethinking our strategy and ended up with a major overhaul. A reinventing of us with new priorities . First, we would look for a place with lower property taxes, lower monthly maintenance (payments, insurance and utilities) and something reasonably near family. Because I was raised in a children's home, having a home, not a mansion or a castle, but a nice home is important to me. A fixer upper is fine as long as it can honestly be fixed up!

So okay . . . I think we found it. Or actually, it found us. It's a lovely old Spanish house (which was secretly what I had been hoping for), complete with a red tile roof, a large courtyard, an extra building for a studio and a detached garage. It's been vacant for a few years so it's in dire need of serious fixin' up but that's okay. It's so affordable, we should have enough left over from the sale of our current house to totally gut and renovate this place with very good quality materials. It's 2200 sq. ft with an additional 918 sq. ft. basement (wine cellar) AND even with our modified, conservative housing budget, we can pay it off entirely in 7 years.

We're headed out Tuesday to take a look see in person - and no, it's not in Mexico, but this photo of it sure makes it look that way. We also have photos of the ceiling falling in, the wood floors buckling and a ton of peeling plaster - but I'll save those for a renovation blog post, should this all work out. It's bad but believe it or not, we've renovated much worse.

We're excited - every bit as excited as we were about the Mullin place. And that feels so good.