Thursday, October 28, 2010

Downsizing... a moving experience in more ways than one

Home Sweet Home!
Whew! Thanks to my new neighbors, Jack and Eric the physical moving went off without a hitch. Well... not much of one any way. I rented a U-Haul truck, but it wasn't near big enough, so we had to make 2 trips. Jack is the husband of the listing agent of the house I bought, which just so happens to also be my neighbor. Eric is Jack's son. I owe my life to those 2 guys!!!! They moved EVERYTHING!!

I know I brought way too much stuff to the new house. Downsizing and all that... but I had to move out so quickly that I was afraid I would leave something important behind. At least I can throw out the stuff from here that I don't want... but am secure in the knowledge that I have everything I really want.

Speaking of trash and throwing out stuff... The trash removal around here is AWESOME!!! At the old house we had to pay for a private company to haul our trash. They came once a week. Larger things like box springs, old rugs and such needed 'stickers' that you had to purchase from the company, making this an expensive proposition. Once a year the township held 'dump day' where you could bring your larger items to the dump... IF you applied for the special resident dump sticker, stood on your head and asked politely.

At my new house the trash gets picked up TWICE a week!!! And large items can go on the curb every other Wednesday. AND... here's the kicker... this service is all included in the TAXES!!!

As a matter of fact... I was used to having trash removal included in my taxes. I remember when I moved to the old house there was a note on the kitchen counter stating trash had to be on the curb every Wednesday night. So... we took the trash out every Wednesday night. One morning 3 years later while standing at the school bus stop with the kids I heard my neighbors complaining that trash removal costs were rising. If I were really paying attention I would have realized then that we were supposed to be paying for private trash pick up. However, being brain dead... I just smiled politely and wondered to myself why they would even care about the prices going up. Were they afraid of their taxes increasing?

So imagine my surprise 4 years after that conversation (having lived in the house for seven years now) when I received a phone call in the middle of the afternoon from a guy named Nunzio from Raritan Valley Trash Company. He asked if we were a customer of theirs, because it seems they have been picking up our trash and he didn't see our name on his customer list. Hmmmm... it started to make sense to me now. Long story short... Nunzio said his job was to keep track of all the new people moving in to the area and sign them up as customers. I explained that we weren't new... we have lived there for 7 years. Nunzio FREAKED!!! "We've been picking up your trash for seven years, and I didn't know it"? He asked. "You can't prove it", I replied. Nunzio was afraid he would be fired if his boss found out about the seven years... so we compromised... I paid for a year. THAT was the day I learned that not all trash removal is paid for with tax dollars.
My lake view

Back to the new house... It's my HOME. I fall asleep to chirping crickets and wake up with squawking ducks... and a smile on my face. The old house represented my past... raising the kids, taking care of an ailing husband, running the parent/teacher association, girl scout leader and all the rest. This new house represents my new life, my future. Sewing, baking, calm lake water and breezes, walks on the beach just a few miles away. Learning to fit all of my belongings in a space one third the size that I'm used to.

Trying to get my kitchen under control, I began to unpack some boxes the first night I was there. Much to my surprise, I never once gave a thought to where things would go. I grasped my wok close to my chest and spun around realizing there was absolutely no space large enough to hold it. This house is over 90 years old. They didn't have woks back then. There isn't a space for a wok. Come to think of it, I didn't see a pantry either. I started to panic. What was I thinking??? This house is way too small!! Look at the refrigerator... it too is small. AAACCCCKKKKK!

"Calm down", my friend said. "You don't have a need for a larger space or refrigerator, you are downsizing, remember"? "Are you disappointed you bought this house?", he asked.

I had to really think a moment before I answered. My life as I knew it, was rapidly changing... almost overnight. Was I ready for this? Part of me is excited about it all... yet another part is extremely sad. I miss my kids. My house is quiet. Not enough commotion. Who will I discuss how my day went with? Who will console me when I'm upset? How in the world do I only cook for one? I see a lonely future ahead. It's time to learn a new way to live.

"No, I'm not disappointed. It will just mean a different way of thinking on my part".

The next morning was a new day, with a new attitude. I went downstairs to the kitchen, took a deep breath and started to put things away. So I didn't have a pantry any more, so what... I had a whole bank of narrow cabinets along one wall that would work well. Things would only be one deep so I could easily find what I was searching for. And snacks could be put on top of the refrigerator, the dog food fits nicely in the basement landing. Using my many years of jigsaw puzzle experience I found new places for everything so far. Deciding it was time to take a break, I thought it would be nice to bake some brownies for my daughter Lauren. The move had been tough on her and maybe the waft of sweet chocolate and the familiar brownie smell will make her feel more comfortable.

Now... where are the mixing bowls? Damn... they aren't unpacked yet... but I know where the wok is! So, on my first morning in my new house as I begin the next chapter of my life I made a batch of brownies using a wok (bowl), fork (wooden spoon), and coffee mug (measuring cup). You know what? The brownies turned out just fine. I will be just fine.
Some critter is munching my pumpkin!!

Friday, October 15, 2010

One Sleep and a Wake Up...

And I'm OUTTA HERE! I BOUGHT A HOUSE!!! A cute little house... on a lake... with a fireplace... about a mile from the beach. It is 90 years old, but has had a face lift. Vinyl siding, new windows, updated bathrooms, fresh paint, new hot water heater and kitchen appliances, granite counters and hardwood floors. Mold, mice, sagging floor, rickety basement stairs, unattached-unheated-no-electric garage (future art studio for me), very ugly entrance and front door, cracked cement driveway, and poor grading too! Oh, and the best of all is... every one of my outlets are 2 prong (in a 3 prong world)... YIPPIE!

The process of buying this house has not been a smooth journey. For one thing, I have to move in BEFORE I have the funds to purchase it. The owner is very agreeable however, so we worked it out. Considering I had to surrender my home, my credit history doesn't look all that wonderful... the seller has agreed to not run a credit check... I agreed to not make a fuss over the items in the house that have not been updated. It's an agreement we can both live with... and one that the lawyers are having heart attacks over! It's 18 hours before I start moving and the lawyers are still faxing papers back and forth, each trying to protect their clients. So far nothing has stopped me from moving and I doubt anything will. The seller and I see eye to eye and I am confident it will all be fine.
The listing agent just so happens to be my new next door neighbor... and we get along fabulously. Her husband and step son are helping me with the move... they are the 'muscles'. AND... the seller has his mother's furniture in the garage and told me I can take whatever I want!! How cool is THAT???

I grew up in this area of New Jersey. My classmates were from here... and a lot of them are still here. It will feel like 'old home week' as I bump in to them at the grocery store or around town. My mom lives 5 minutes away and a high school friend is a few houses down the road. Another classmate is the local veterinarian... so I am already comfortable that Darla will get the best care if needed.

Packing is difficult. I know I'm taking too much with me. In the end a lot of it will be thrown away or donated... but I'm having troubles making too many decisions at once. The dining room of the old house is already over stuffed with items to be picked up by charity on Monday. As I go through the house and pull things to donate I feel so FREE! Then I make another round and pull more things to put in the donate pile. Like a snake shedding it's skin, I'm growing in to a new person. It's LIBERATING and SCARY at the same time. Look out world... here I come!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

On The Move...

Listing items for sale on craigslist, packing up 27 years of belongings and finding a place to move were the main focus planned for last weekend. The Somerset County Sheriff's Department agreed that 6 days was not enough time to gather my things and move, so I now have until the 19th. However, I didn't get very far on my list. Why??? I am so glad you asked.

My daughter, Stephanie called Friday in a panic which changed the entire weekend for me. She runs her own business, Kreative Events... wedding invitations, favors, 'day of' co-ordination, photography, and so much more is basically what her company is all about. Any way... one wedding this weekend was desperately in need of another worker... not to mention that she could also use help making 35 caramel apples. The only project I absolutely HAD to do that Friday was to sew samples of a fabric tote for another wedding she was doing. Of course I said I would help. Starting with dipping apples at Stephanie's on Friday night.

Dipping caramel apples is much more difficult than you would imagine. The apples need to be cold and dry, the caramel hot. Quick dip... then set on a cold surface so it doesn't pool much. We encountered so many problems... the sticks pulling out too easily, caramel sliding off the apple, pool of caramel too large around the bottom, bubbles forming, waxed paper sticking. UGH! We persevered and ended up with an acceptable looking display. Stephanie is now ready to tackle the 120 apples for next week's wedding.

Saturday I had to be in Delaware at 11:30am to catch a ride to my wedding assignment... helping Heidi (Stephanie's sister-in-law) with a 'day of' co-ordination in... SURPRISE... Baltimore! It never dawned on me to ask WHERE the wedding was. I guess it wasn't really important after all, I was going to help out no matter where it was. 

Next time you attend a wedding, look around. You just have no idea what happened in that room before you arrived to make your celebration a FABULOUS event. Let me run it down for you...

We arrived at The Belvedere (a beautiful old hotel turned condo) around 1pm. Unloading the van and hauling everything up to the 12th floor ballroom was first on the list. Heidi hastily ran down the list of things I was responsible for... then took off for the ceremony. Thank heavens I'm an adult and don't need much direction. I unpacked everything and ran around the gigantic ballroom setting up the tables with centerpieces, menus, table numbers, CDs, candles, and such. Checking the table diagram making sure the correct number of places were set at the tables. Wouldn't it be embarrassing if there were 10 people expected at the table and only 8 places set?

Filling the center vases with water was the hardest part believe it or not. I only had one pitcher and 24 vases to fill... with the only water faucet way far away in a place called never land. I kicked off my shoes and began the trek back and forth. On the third trip I spied a large bucket, looked around to see if any one was around to ask... nope... so I grabbed it. Ahhh... ingenuity wins again... Now I can fill 4 vases at a time... once I figure out how to haul the heavy bucket around the ballroom.

The cake arrived... it was pretty, but plain. "Here's the photo... who has the flowers"? the delivery man asked. Uh-oh... Heidi is bringing the flowers back with her from the church. I had no clue that finishing the cake was part of the job. SURPRISE... again.

Place cards laid out in alphabetical order on the main entrance table, flowers added to the tables, number of seats checked again, move the extra chairs to the back room, hide our empty boxes, decorate the table for the presents and cards, pick up litter from the carpet, ask George to wash the sticky dance floor, figure out how to turn on the lights at the other end of the ball room, wash spilled cosmos off 2 chairs, replace a cracked centerpiece bowl, and then the band shows up. An eight piece band... not the DJ the floor is set up for. SURPRISE... again. Presto change-o... room for 8. Light the candles... and stand back as the Bride and Groom gush over the beauty of the room.

Once the Bridal Party arrives and is introduced I feel my job here is done. My feet ache, my knees forgot how to bend and my lower back is crying for a heating pad... and my stomach is growling. Food... ah... sweet food! A wonderful buffet is set up in the end room for the band and other workers. Yum! I sit down to relax... that's when Heidi tells me we still have work to do. We need to keep an eye on things... make sure the Bride and Groom don't get hung up talking too long with someone they can't seem to break away from... check with the band to schedule all the speeches and toasts... not to mention the Bride's parents anniversary dance. Keep an eye on the box with the checks, make sure people know to sign the photo board, get paper towels for the men's room, give directions to get home, sew the Bride's dress when it falls apart... and on and on and on it goes.

When the party is over we charge back in to action cleaning and packing up... AND dropping off the gifts and envelopes to the Bridal Suite... in another hotel. Finally got back to Delaware at 1:00am. Tired, sore, and happy. All in all it was a huge bit of fun. Here are the photos:

Place cards 
Decorated Cake

Table #9
Beautiful Ballroom

Friday, October 1, 2010

Good Old Days?

It's beginning to feel like 'the good old days'... and I don't mean that in a good way. Wednesday was a day off from work. It began well... I cleaned the kitchen, sorted through the accumulated junk mail that cluttered the counter, washed dried up, crusted ice cream from the bowls in the sink, sorted, washed, dried, and folded 2 weeks of laundry, and was just thinking about whipping up some chocolate cupcakes when there was a knock on the front screen door.

Knock! Knock! Knock!
"Mrs. Hunter?" "This is the Sheriff's Department".
UGH!!! Even though I knew this was coming, dread filled every pore of my soul.

You see... My husband Stan passed away 3 1/2 years ago from ALS. We spent so much money on his care and then had to deplete our savings, retirement, and investments before we could qualify for Medicare... which left me with very few dollars to live on once he was gone. Silly Stan thought for sure I would re-marry with in 2 years... so that's all he provided for. I guess he didn't believe me when I said I would never go through this again for ANY ONE... except the kids and my mom of course. Living frugally allowed me to string out a few extra months. In reality I thought I could pull out another year... however my car didn't like that idea and decided to cause me trouble, and Scott moved to California and needed help, then the economy took a dive and the store sales slid off the charts, not to mention the legal fees I am paying for the lawsuit. Any way... times are tough all over... and I couldn't afford the mortgage payments any longer. Hence the knock on the door from the Sheriff... it's time to move out.

Nothing ever goes the way it should when I get involved it seems. I called the mortgage company back in early April about the lack of money and we agreed to have me surrender in lieu of foreclosure. That is the information I based all of my decisions on. However, the short, round faced man standing in my doorway is telling me that actually my mortgage company purchased the house on April 13, 2010... the sale was finalized on August 25, 2010... and that I had to be moved out by 10am October 5th. Yes... in 6 days! I ask you... how can any one possibly move 27 years of a life out of a 4 bedroom, 2 story center hall colonial in just 6 days??? The little froggy faced man now has the audacity to tell me that he was here a few weeks ago to serve me the papers, but no one was home... I would have had more time if I were home that day. What??? Because I was at work I get penalized 2 weeks? What's going on here? Who I can I talk to about this??? Frog face points to the lawyer's information on the back of the paper. As if this wasn't enough frog face proceeds to 'walk me through' what will happen at 10am on the 5th. A moving van will pull up to the house and remove anything that's in it... the sheriff will escort everyone off the property that doesn't belong there and then padlock the door. Oh... sounds like fun! He leaves.

Hey! Wait a minute! If the mortgage company owned the house back in August... then why have I been mowing the lawn?? Why did I spend $50 on weed killer to kill the grass growing in the driveway? Why didn't anyone notify me?? Why did I pay for homeowner's insurance if I'm not the damn homeowner? UGH!!! And another question... more importantly, who paid the IRS tax lien of $47,000??? I am left standing at the door with so many unanswered questions.

Ring! Ring! There goes my bleeping cell phone. I snatch the phone and bellow, "Hello".

"Ms. Hunter? This is Dave from Princeton Volvo"... Oh here we go again... Ding, ding, ding... round three! Princeton Volvo are NOT my favorite people right now. My car was towed in on Sunday because the turbo charger blew. Three weeks ago I brought the car in because it was making a high pitched whining sound. I always thought a policeman was coming after me. One of their service managers test drove it... told me it was a turbo charger going... it would cost between $2500 and $3000 to repair... not to worry I still had about a year before it really became a problem... and it was OK to drive. He gave me a list of things to watch out for and sent me on my way.

One year in his time warped mind was only three weeks in mine. Just as the service manager predicted... my car would turn into a fog machine and the check engine light would go on. It took 3 seconds to pull to the shoulder of Rt. 18 once the light went on. I knew the routine well. Speed dialed AAA... again, this was the fourth time since May that I have needed my car towed to the dealer. The tow truck driver argued that the lot was gated and he couldn't tow me to the dealer. I reassured him that my car has it's own reserved space by now and that it would be OK. Thank heavens for fabulous friends that don't mind being called at 10:30pm to make a 3 hour round trip drive to help a damsel in distress... in the rain.

Any way... Dave, the service manager called on Monday to say that the repair would cost $5500!!!!!!!! No way!!! I began to dispute it... then realized this would best be accomplished in person. So, on Tuesday I dressed in a 'power outfit' and went face to face with him about the cost. By the end of the conversation he said he could knock the bill down to $4400, but that was the best he could do. In a clear steady voice I told Dave that left me no choice... my next move would be posting all of my repair bills up in my store window for all to see... plus I would wear a pin saying, "Ask me about my Vovlo". Dave prudently decided it was time for me to speak with his manager, Norm. In all fairness, Norm was pleasant and truly seemed to want things to work out... however he had an appointment he had to keep, and asked if he could call me later that day.

The phone call never came. I waited 24 hours... then called them. SURPRISE! Neither Dave nor Norm were there to take my call. Now... minutes after the sheriff dropped a bomb in my lap... Dave returns my call. UGH! We negotiated a compromise... and the car will be ready on Friday for pick up... and then I'm putting the damn car up for sale!!!

Now I focus on the date of October 5th. Certainly that can't be correct. I punch the numbers in the phone for the lawyer on the back of the paper. Long story short... this guy agrees that is not enough time, he will look into it and get back to me, and NO he doesn't know the answers to any of my other questions... particularly the one about the IRS lien.

Ring! Ring! There goes my phone again. Normally no one calls... all of a sudden I'm Miss Popularity.

"Mrs. Hunter? This is Glen from the congressman's office". Ah yes... I applied for VA benefits last April since Stan was in the military. To date I have received a letter every other month stating they are still processing my request because they are so behind. Since April!!! 6 months!!! So I wrote to my local Congressman to see if he could speed the process up in some way. Glen was calling to tell me that he contacted the VA and yes... I qualified for benefits... but they are so far behind it would still be another 4 months before I heard anything. REALLY??? Four more months??? I replied to Glen that if I didn't need the money to purchase food I wouldn't be so pushy. With that he hastily said he would see what he could do and would call back... Click.

Ring! Ring! Geesh... NOW who???

"Ms. Hunter? Dave at Volvo". NOW what? Oh... sure... it would be no problem at all to return the rental car to replace it with a loaner... today... 40 minute drive one way... ON MY DAY OFF!!! UGH!

Ring! Ring! AAARRGGGHHH!!!

"Yes!", I bark in to the phone.
"Mrs. Hunter? This is Glen just calling to let you know the Congressman faxed a letter to the VA asking to expedite your request. Please let me know if you hear anything and I will do the same so that we are all on the same page at the same time."

Ahhhh..... finally a responsible, proactive person. What a nice boy :-)

From the moment the sheriff knocked on my door... to the time I hung up with Glen was a matter of 1 1/2 hours.


Yesterday I had a nice conversation with the local Sheriff Department. They also agreed that 6 days was simply not enough time to move out and extended the date by 2 weeks.

October 19, 2010 is my official move out date.

Calgon... take me away!