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Homeowner Blog Editors on StageofLife.comRead below for a welcome message from our Home Ownership editors: Warren, Amy and Jay. While thousands of writers and bloggers contribute their stories and essays to StageofLife.com, we work closely with our homeowner editors who are here to comment on your blog posts, lend a helpful voice, and answer your questions about StageofLife.com. If you would like to meet all of our Editors working on the Stage of Life initiative or apply for an Editor position, please check out our Staff page and Contact Us.

Weekly Message from the Editor

Home Owner Editor's Welcome: July 16th-31st, 2013

Keep It Clean

By Warren Phillipson, Home Ownership Editor

Whether you rent or own your living quarters--room, apartment, condo, house--you, of course, spend hours keeping it spotless. I invite you to share your cleaning hints here on Stage of Life. Today, for example, my editor’s welcome will be about vacuuming.

Wait! You’re reaching for pen and pad, smartphone or tablet, preparing to take notes about the ins and outs as well as the arounds and unders of vacuuming. No need. This is really about cats. It’s just that when I vacuum I think about cats.

Vacuuming with Cats

Lassie was our son’s first family cat. As cats go, Lassie was cerebral. The first time I approached her with a vacuum cleaner pushing decibels she started to panic. Raising my hand, I shouted over the noise, “Stay! You’re ok.” From that moment on, she never panicked. If I told her she had to move, she did.

When Rex, the cat unseen by anyone beyond the family, joined us, there was little change to my vacuuming. No matter what Lassie did, the moment Rex heard me carrying the unplugged vacuum cleaner, she disappeared. Oh, I would be a little careful vacuuming where I couldn’t see, but we rarely discovered Rex’s hiding places. Those we found were inaccessible by vacuum cleaner.

When Boss, the cat of lesser intelligence, joined Lassie and Rex, vacuuming became a challenge. One never knew what Boss would do at any time, much less when the vacuum cleaner was operating. Lassie’s demeanor wouldn’t calm Boss. Lassie would watch, thinking, There she goes again. Hiding with Rex was forbidden by Rex; besides, staying in one place, however safe, wouldn’t suffice. So I would vacuum carefully, expecting the worst. As I advanced, I would repeatedly glimpse Boss speeding elsewhere.

When our son’s cat Henry came to haunt us, evicted from our son’s college apartment, Boss was our only resident pet. Because Henry was intrigued by Boss, as he would be by a mouse or catnip, the cats had to be kept separate. That was accomplished while vacuuming by closing Henry in the basement.

Henry enjoyed vacuuming the basement with me. He was neither afraid nor a problem, though he was adept at being everywhere. Turn around, he was on a table. Turn again, and he was sitting in front of me.

Eventually, it was just Boss. I hesitate to say she got smarter, yet she began taking advantage of the entire house when I vacuumed. If I was on one floor, she walked--not ran--to another. Learning to do that was a major achievement for Boss.

 

Maybe I’ll learn, too. After so many years with cats, when I slide the vacuum head under a chair now, I have to remind myself that they’re all gone.

As you can see with this example, we’re interested in your cleaning secrets, but we’re flexible. Any clean story you might wish to share would be appreciated.

Don't forget to enter our Home Owner Writing Contest.

Home Owner Editor's Welcome: July 1st-15th, 2013

Fights and Figs

By Amy Mullis, Home Ownership Editor

I paused in the doorway to admire the new rug, a beautiful name-brand made-of-expensive wool area rug that was almost as attractive as the basement-level price I paid for it at neighborhood consignment shop. It’s not that I’m cheap, but I was pinching pennies long before we found out Abraham Lincoln was a vampire hunter.

I grinned. “It’s beautiful.”

“I know.” Bill’s voice came from the kitchen. It’s nice when the man of the house notices the little touches you put in place to make a house a home.

“It just goes to show that if you’re willing to wait, you’ll eventually reach your goal.” I haunted this shop for months waiting for the right floor covering to go with my century-old hardwoods.

“Absolutely.”  Bill sounded distracted, but how long can a rug, even one with a dashing reindeer motif, hold the attention of a man who can open aspirin bottles without help.

I turned to see him staring dreamily out the kitchen window.

Just outside the window is the reason the Head of Household made this particular household his castle.  A beautiful, bountiful fig tree burst with gorgeous green leaves and a fresh array of fruit. There were hundreds of tender, young figs waiting through sun and moon, rainy days and sunny ones, for the perfect moment when a fast-moving mockingbird did a fast fly-by for breakfast. 

The War of the Roses never got as bloodthirsty as the War of the Fig Tree, although Roses probably had more sophisticated weaponry.  The ground under the fig tree bore signs of sponges and scrub brushes that flew shy of their target.

Just then he threw the window open with one hand and drove the broom neatly through the center.”

“Excuse me, but are you in training for the Olympics?  Is Broom Jousting the new Basketball?”

A noise drifted in through the window. It was kind of a cross between a chirp and a tweet, as if somewhere an ill-mannered early bird was trying to sing around a mouth full of worm.

Bill side-armed a brand new bar of Ivory soap out of the window and the birdie sounds halted abruptly.

The thing about owning a home is that you have to learn to take care of issues that crop up suddenly around the house.

That’s how we ended up with a front-yard village of bird feeders full of enticing and distracting treats, a twenty-foot net that could install discipline in Lady GaGa’s hairdo over the fig tree, and a happy husband whose soap slinging days are over.

Don't forget to enter our Home Owner Writing Contest.

Home Owner Editor's Welcome: June 16th-30th, 2013

Home Invaders

By Warren Philipson, Home Ownership Editor

When I was working at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico in the 1960s, one of the scientists and I considered living offsite. He heard about a vacant place, got hold of the key and we went to check it out. As we opened the front door, air and sunlight rushed in and 2,532 cockroaches scattered.

I mention this, not to justify our bypassing that lively residence or elicit your Ewww! I am simply trying to inspire you to write about your experiences with bugs or other home invaders. I’ll illustrate further with a recurrent family theme.

A decade after Arecibo, a peaceful evening in the living room of my former home in Upstate New York was disrupted by an unannounced, uninvited, suddenly appearing bat, circling at heights varying from near ceiling to where my head would be if I dared stand. Though I owned no net, a broom was nearby. Cautiously, I shouldered the broom as I once held a baseball bat. With perfect aim and timing, I brought down the intruder with my first swing.

I was hugely relieved to rid my home of this frantically flying mammal. I was also proud that I hadn’t lost my ability to swing a baseball bat, albeit a broom. Since the trespasser’s funeral, however, I’ve felt increasing remorse. Who knew of the ecological and economic importance of bats? In those years, Batman dressed the part, yet Dracula was their only spokesperson.

My repressed regret burst forth a few years ago when our son, Noah, then a college student, acquired Henry, the alpha cat. I learned about Henry in a phone conversation with Noah the day after Henry leaped to Noah’s defense, eliminating a bat that had somehow accompanied their move into a new apartment. When Noah reached to remove the vanquished bat, Henry scratched him, playfully of course, but that’s a different adventure.

The final family episode occurred a few weeks ago. According to my daughter Rachel, a bat materialized in their home just prior to bedtime. It’s not as if Rachel actually saw the bat. She and her two beagles hid under a blanket. Beagles hide from a bat? No. Rachel’s husband was a tad raucous.

You may be thinking, If they only had Henry. Well, they have two cats. One sat under a table watching amused. The other was too busy to assist, or as Rachel described it, that’s not how the relationship works. In time, her husband slowed the bat with noise, humor or a broom and carried it to freedom with a towel--finally, a happy ending.

So tell us. When you saw that cute little furry mouse scoot behind the stove, did you poke, buy traps, call an exterminator or move? How about wasps, termites, ants, even raccoons or chipmunks? We’re anxious to read your story, especially if it has a happy ending.

Don't forget to enter our Home Owner Writing Contest.

Home Owner Editor's Welcome: June 1st-15th, 2013

From Paula Deen to Prince Charming

By Amy Mullis, Home Ownership Editor

Moving into a new home fills you with mixed emotions: anxiety and panic.  But aside from the positive aspects, it also sneaks in an evil twist: the creative factor.  Scientists have yet to narrow down the gene that reacts immediately upon exposure to a beige wall, but the will to paint exceeds the force that made chocolate chips in cookies seem like a good idea.

Our vintage mill house had obviously worn with pride more styles and colors than Joseph’s Technicolor Dream Coat. Painting seemed like a good idea at the time.  So many shades of gray had gone on before me, how hard could it be to turn the living room into a sunny yellow sitting room that would be the social center of my new home?  My mind conjured up pictures of Disneyesque bluebirds fluttering in cheerful circles around my head while I whistled a happy tune and wielded a paintbrush like it was a magic wand.

Turns out I paint like I cook. I don’t follow instructions, I add a little bit of this and that, and in the end everything looks like the contents of Paula Deen’s garbage pail. Luckily with cooking, everything can still taste good.  With my painting, nothing even resembled good taste.

Luckily I have family that came to my rescue and, just like Tom Sawyer’s whitewashing buddies, they had the job done in record time. My living room is the sunny haven I dreamed of.

And, thanks to Bill, I even have a handsome prince who can cook.

Don't forget to enter our Home Owner Writing Contest.

Home Owner Editor's Welcome: May 16th-31st, 2013

Empowered!

By Warren Phillipson, Home Ownership Editor

Last March, I revealed the homeowner’s plumbing curse that haunts me, and I invited you to write about any home plumbing troubles you’ve endured or witnessed. In that editor’s welcome, I mentioned that, while I had no fear of plumbing, that was not the case with electricity, which I find unfathomable. The past week in our new old-building apartment validated my electrical concern.

With little warning--my computer did flicker--the electrical power failed to our bathrooms and my office area, plus lesser areas. (OK, my wife wouldn’t consider her closet a lesser area.) Finding nothing amiss in the fuse box downstairs in the garage, we called one, then, after a night of flashlights, candles and no response, another electrician, who would come that same afternoon.

On arrival, Jeff, the responder, mapped how the fuses divided the apartment into four autonomous sections. He then proceeded to systematically dismantle sockets, switches and light fixtures to power-check the wires in the affected section. After most had been examined--Hallelujah!--the lights came on!

Jeff wasn’t sure which of his expert tweaks did the trick, but why argue with success? Unfortunately, his humble response to our reverential praise was warranted. Two days later, for no apparent reason, the power went off again. We called Jeff. Two hours later, for no apparent reason, the power came on again. We canceled Jeff.

Only I, with my engineering and scientific grasp of such phenomena, could conceive the full range of possible causes, from ghosts--my wife’s family, of course--to jokester mice chewing wires, which would ultimately cause a fire and get us better acquainted with the other ghosts.

Saturday evening, we arrived home to discover the power was down again. We voice-mailed the news to Jeff on Sunday, emphasizing there was no emergency, just darkness.

On Tuesday, Jeff called and came early. He began exactly where he had left off and quickly found the real culprit, an improperly wired overhead light fixture in my wife’s closet. (Yes, I know.) The bathrooms and my office area are now bright and cheery, and the apartment is happy again. (I know better. We still have indoor plumbing.)

There’s still time for you to share a plumbing experience with Stage of Life readers, but please don’t hesitate to move right onto an electrical story. Licensed electricians would be most welcome.

Don't forget to enter our Home Owner Writing Contest.

Home Owner Editor's Welcome: May 1st-15th, 2013

Boxing Match

By Amy Mullis, Home Ownership Editor

The worst part about moving to a new home isn’t deciding which set of silverware to keep or whether you can give Aunt Margie’s fringed lampshade to charity without getting caught. It’s finding the stuff you packed away with loving care into one of 6,000 identical boxes. The boxes that are carefully marked and coded so that you will know exactly where each one belongs.

This morning I had to use a GPS and a topographical map to find which box my underwear was in. I wouldn’t mind living out of boxes if every one I opened didn’t contain a trail to more work for me to do.  It’s like a scavenger hunt extravaganza using Martha Stewart’s to-to list. Everything I find leads me on a hunt for another household item.  At present I have 3,672 coffee filters, but no coffee maker. I also have an industrial-sized bucket of kitty litter but no box to put the litter in.  The cats are beginning to send urgent messages to the Fresh Step people.

“What does CDS mean?”  Blood rushed to my head and made my eyes bug out like a surprised cartoon character as I hung by my heels from the chandelier to read the writing on the bottom box in the stack.

Bill climbed down from a cardboard Mount Everest marked NEW.  “I thought it was Christmas Cards. I put it in the Amy Will Keep Anything With a ZIP Code stack.”

“Very funny.  I found your phone charger,” I said, pulling on a cord like I was reeling in an ocean-bound Marlin. “I remember now. CDS stands for cords. This is the box of cables we need to connect the iPods, your Tablet, my laptop, the DVD player, all three video game systems, the eReader, the lawn mower, the slow cooker, and our pedometers to a power source.

Bill climbed over more boxes to help me unearth the treasure chest full of power cords. “Hey, here’s one marked LTR.  It’s the litter box!”

So now we’re all happy. We found our lifelines and the kitties don’t have to think out of the box.

Don't forget to enter our Home Owner Writing Contest.

Home Owner Editor's Welcome: April 15th-30th, 2013

Volunteering

By Warren Philipson, Home Ownership Editor

Are you volunteering? Have you any volunteer experiences you might write about and post here on Stage of Life? Your post can be short or long (not too long), make us laugh or cry, teach us something, urge us to volunteer, or just tell us about you. We’re easy. We just want to hear from you.

I’m inviting you to post here on the Homeowners stage of life--volunteering is contributing to your community, but pick whichever life stage you wish. Last October, Suzanne, one of the editors of the Empty Nest/Retirement Stage wrote an editor’s welcome about “Volunteering during Retirement.” That’s probably where I would post.

Before I retired, I was sure that my schedule wouldn’t allow volunteering. Oh, I could squeeze in something on a weekend, but, heck, my weekends were devoted to home stuff and recovering and maybe a little play. I didn’t realize how much volunteering could recharge me or how much the other volunteers would inspire me. (Don’t wait!)

After I retired, I started helping out in one, then two and finally three different volunteer programs. That sounds like it’s much more than it really was.

My contribution to one program was only to help people get their credit reports. With report in hand, they would sit down with a volunteer financial planner. Overall, it was an extremely valuable element of a multifaceted financial literacy program, even if we sometimes spent more time waiting in vain for those who signed up than we did assisting.

The second program, an after-school program, kept me hopping, assisting 2nd to 6th graders with homework and reading. The kids were super, all bilingual, ranging from “B”- Bengali to “S”- Spanish, and all ready to excel.

Is volunteering always going to be rewarding? Maybe not. For my third program, I volunteered to assist an adult learner who was working toward the equivalent of a high school diploma. Given my years of teaching, I thought it would be a breeze; yet I failed. It wasn’t that I couldn’t help with the subject, in this case, math, or that our sessions didn’t go well. I just couldn’t accommodate the adult learner having to continually change the meeting date and time and arrive late, very late. Paired with a learner who could better control his or her schedule, I would have loved to go all the way to a GED diploma.

If you haven’t or aren’t volunteering, why not try it? If, for some reason, one program doesn’t work out and you’ve given it a fair shot, try a different program. There are so many ways we can all help. If you have volunteered or are now volunteering, how about telling us about it here on Stage of Life?

Don't forget to enter our Home Owner Writing Contest.

Home Owner Editor's Welcome: April 1st-15th, 2013

Loan Distance

By Amy Mullis, Home Ownership Editor

Now that I’m three boxes of giveaway mismatched cups closer to moving, I’m beginning to understand the difficulty of moving two decades of living across our small town to a new home. For once, my to-do list is longer than my kids’ Christmas list and I can’t take important things like chipped paint and attic stairs for granted any longer.

My husband and I are country dwellers; things like garbage pick-up and remembering not to venture outside in shocking outfits are as alien to us as checking the mail in Grumpy Dwarf pajamas would be to my new neighbors.

In the country, our nearest neighbor is not surprised that our Lab mix, an exuberantly friendly Dalmador Labmation, comes Trick-or-Treating for snacks every day at the crack of snacktime. He’s an extended member of their family, like an old uncle who always stops by at the drop of a biscuit.  Luckily he knows his manners and when to say “Please” and “Thank You” with a lopsided grin and brisk tail wag, so I’m hopeful he will fit in when neighbors are close enough to say “Bless You” each time you sneeze.

I, on the other time, can’t be trusted to park in the right place or shout out a cheery greeting any time before noon.  I mean well, but my inner grump stays awake way past her bedtime.  And looking over the things I need to accomplish in the next three weeks, I’m afraid the inner grump may spill over into the outside world.

First there’s packing to do, and why in the world did I keep that broken lamp in the first place and am I required to take along every picture the kids drew in grade school, even the one with the alien bug surrounded by waves of super energy?  Easy enough. Toss the lamp and pack up the pictures. Then there are all the horrible Christmas gifts we’ve kept to be nice, the broken recipe box and shot glass collection, even the one shaped like a shark. I’m vowing never to buy another souvenir. But all the packing fun will soon give way to the “How Shall We Change The New House” phase.

The house that was “perfect, just perfect” a few months ago needs to have carpet ripped up (there’s hardwood floors underneath!) and wallpaper removed (SO seventies) and front door changed (the neighbor’s makes ours look plain).  You may as well say, “come up with a fuel-efficient teenager (how can they eat so many cheeseburgers?) as Do-It-Yourself to me.  My last project merely required me to write clever sayings on a cup and was a dismal failure.

But all of this is as easy as feeding a Labrador compared to one thing: staying patient while waiting for the loan to go through.  I may have to take up a hobby in the meantime.  Maybe I’ll leaf through some Do-It-Yourself books.

Don't forget to enter our Home Owner Writing Contest.

Home Owner Editor's Welcome: March 16th-31st, 2013

Plumbing--Tell Me About It

By Warren Phillipson, Home Ownership Editor

Have you ever changed a leaking faucet washer? How about a dead hot water heater? Did your basement ever flood? Has a pipe ever burst? Please don’t try to tell me that you don’t have a plumbing story; something that happened when you were growing up or visiting or renting or owning? Why not write about it and post it here on Stage of Life?

I thought of this topic because we’re in a new home and my plumbing curse--yes, curse--is continuing. It’s not like electricity, which I fear and find unfathomable. Plumbing doesn’t frighten me. You can look at it and know what’s supposed to happen--water in, water out. For me, though, the water often comes out when and where it’s supposed to stay in. Or it doesn’t go anywhere. Or, to really test me, it goes everywhere.

I’ll shorten my saga of kitchen-faucet geysers, sump-pumped basements, failed shower drain seals, and fiber optic probes of toilet drains and get right to the house we just sold. It has three and a half bathrooms, each of which had well-functioning though visibly well-used faucets. In my spruce-up-the-house-before sale spree, I thought, Why not replace the faucets?

Hearing no negative response, I scheduled a highly recommended plumber who suggested that I buy the faucets myself, which I did--four excellent faucet units with solid brass bottoms.

In his 30 years of installing faucets, the plumber had never encountered a faucet base too short to reach through the counter tops to connect with the locknuts--i.e., the curse.

My New Home

Our new garage apartment was built as a barn well over 100 years ago. I accepted that there must be plumbing somewhere, yet I would not have had the close encounter if my wife hadn’t mentioned an old clothes washer and dryer downstairs, whose slightly overflowing floor drain Nelson had checked.

I had never met Nelson but she assured me that he understands these old structures and their plumbing and electrical systems.

If it weren’t for the windows, the “laundry” room could pass for the boiler room of the old ship, where the crusty engineer vows, “I don’t know how, Captain, but I’ll get it going.” Rusted pipes, dials, large tanks, gurgling drain…it’s all there, along with farm equipment and the hardtop of an old convertible.

The clothes washer has no control for load size or water temperature (as if I needed controls); and though the drain overflowed, it was mainly soap suds. The dryer has lots of controls and it worked fine.

Transferring the laundered clothes to a basket, I was brought back to reality. I noticed dripping from the ceiling. Once I had narrowed the source of the leak to a toilet, I relaxed. I felt wanted but protected. “Yes, Curse. I’m here!” I shouted. “But so is Nelson.”

Now, how about your plumbing story? Or do I have to get Nelson?

Don't forget to enter our Home Owner Writing Contest.

Home Owner Editor's Welcome: March 1st-15th, 2013

Toss Up

By Amy Mullis, Home Ownership Editor

Old rock band Tshirt?  Toss.

Old college sweatshirt with frayed cuffs?  Toss.

Jeans that don’t fit and have holes in all the wrong places?  Toss.

“What’s up?” Bill’s been whiling away time on the computer while I’m sweating and sacrificing and getting ready to move.

“I’m cleaning out closets so we don’t take things we don’t need to the new house. What have you accomplished?”

Ratty tennis shoes?  Toss.

“I’ve been researching the best way to refinish the kitchen cabinets that you want.”

“And you can install the dishwasher and the new counter? And the china cupboard with the glass doors?”

“Just call me the Kitchen Whisperer.”

“I’ve heard you in the kitchen when the soup’s on.  Those sounds have nothing to do with whispering.”

Old gym shorts? Toss.

“Just wait til you cruise into that kitchen and everything you need to make meatloaf is right at your fingertips.  By the way, you’ve got quite a stack there. Is that the stuff you’re giving away?”

“Yep.” Poison Green Hawaiian floweredy shirt? Toss.

“You know that’s all my stuff, right?”

“Sure. I thought this would be a hard job, but it turns out that cleaning out the closets isn’t so bad after all.”

“How come?”

“You just need to start with somebody else’s closet.”

Don't forget to enter our Home Owner Writing Contest.

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