Friday, October 18, 2019

Struggle Sweet Struggle - Our First Two Weeks as Homeowners

I didn't think that I'd be googling how to coil a hose or measuring Plast-O-Mats to size for kitchen cabinets right now.  In the span of two weeks, I've learned some fun facts: the tree of heaven is really the weed from hell, distant earthquakes can mess up your sprinkler system, laying down a tarp before staining a fence is a good preemptive measure, and keeping your grass green makes car maintenance seem like a piece of cake.

I must confess that there is a lot of unsexy stuff that goes into moving into a house that you bought.  It's not like starting a lease where you sign a contract with a definitive end, you've got definitive rules to follow, and you've got a landlord to call if something breaks.  The irreversible prospects and infinite list of things to do when it comes to owning a home is what scares me.  I knew that there would be a lot of repairs because we did buy a house that is nearly a century old, but I didn't see certain emotions coming.  Homesickness, frustration, helplessness, and self-inflicted pressure, all descended upon me after the glow of the first two days faded.  It was wonderful to drive up the long driveway and stare across the front yard for a little while, but then the driveway starts filling with fallen leaves and the yard begins turning an embarrassing shade of yellow.  Things that came up in our inspection report started to creep into my mind and scare me, like those cracks in our foundation, our outdated electrical box, and the roots intruding our pipes.  I wondered if that musty smell emitted by the crawl space would ever go away, and we discovered that there was a dead cat down there with mounds and mounds of its dried up excrement.  Then, the breaking point for me was when I realized that all of the numerous "bushes" in the front were really hugely overgrown invasive weeds (the "tree of heaven" that I mentioned) that were too hard to remove by myself.  There were even more of these weeds throughout the yard (and ugh, are those rotten orange remnants?), and you'd be shocked too about the random shit that I dug up from the ground while weeding - one of them was a really huge bone... The thought of ever gardening back here was literally disgusting.

Rewind to about two months ago, when we first laid eyes on this house.  We were on our way home (to the apartment) from dinner or something when Wes told me that he wanted to swing by a house that he had been eyeing on Redfin.  I shrugged, sure.  We drove over as the sun was setting and parked on the street in front.  Our first reaction was our astonishment at the size of the front yard, the big tree with trailing leaves, and how deep everything went back.  I remember thinking, wow, that's pretty ideal.  Little did we know that we'd be the lucky ones in escrow a few weeks later, after watching it go from open, to pending, then back on the market, and finally pending again, but this time it was pending to us.  I think back to that moment to remind myself that this was truly what we wanted.  I admit that I let all of the appreciation and excitement fade away when we started to unpack and focus our energies on learning the ropes of homeownership.

I went from not understanding what anything was at a hardware store to being more or less comfortable with its industrial-like aisles.  As of now, I think we've been to three different Home Depots at all hours of the day, to buy "essential" things like a string trimmer (they were running a good deal on it), a huge leaf blower (his brother got him hooked), a paint sprayer (because we realized that using a paintbrush to stain over 200 feet of fence was not wise), multi-purpose home insecticide (with the fun spray gun attached), Nature's Miracle (cat...shit...).  We are also now frequent customers of the Container Store, Ace Hardware, and OfferUp (you know it).  Advertisements that appeared on my Instagram seemed to transform overnight from trails and trees to rugs and pillows.  I'm not even kidding.  The whole idea of "splurging" skyrocketed to a new level--the fact that everything we buy must have permanent value makes it fun to entertain really nice things, but also it's a lot of pressure to make a final decision that you can't go back on.  And if you know me, you know I can't stand that.

In addition to the stress of endless spending and feeling like life as we knew it had slipped through my fingers, I felt (and still feel) very incompetent and pretty much like an imposter with all of this homeownership stuff.  Who am I anymore??  I went from being sure of my abilities and always having a plan to second guessing everything, and worst of all, comparing myself to my star of a husband, Wes.  I have to say that he is just kicking ass at all of the lawncare, large appliance installment, repairing, burglar-proofing, window treating, etc... while I am mainly in charge of organizing and handling things that a middle-schooler could probably do.  I find myself wondering if I am contributing enough and doubting my intelligence and worth.  It's sad, however, I do feel that it's important to go through times like these in life.  As I approach my 30th birthday soon, I am grateful for this opportunity to reexamine myself and grow from this discomfort.  As much as I would like to fast-forward through all of this tension and state of limbo, I am starting to think that there is no better way to spend the final months of my twenties.  It's still a work in progress, but as the house develops, so do I.  As Wes always says, "Stop being so hard on yourself."

With that being said, I am so unbelievably proud of Wes, who has taken on any project with genuine devotion and with a burning desire to get it done right.  This guy never cut corners to begin with, so I'm not surprised, but I still am very impressed with his skill, resourcefulness, patience, efficiency, and willingness to jump into the unknown.  And on top of that, he never expects any help or acknowledgment.  I bet this paragraph is making him cringe, so I'll stop.

Here are some tidbits that we captured (on our phones) of our first two weeks as homeowners!

Our real estate agent from Redfin took this photo for us!  She wanted to be there to share in the happy moment, even though we could technically unlock the lock box to get our keys. 

First things first, install the security cams and change all of the locks.

Wes was so ready for this - he ordered everything ahead of time, including this fancy retractable ladder that he saw our home inspector using and immediately copied.

It all felt super real when we found ourselves in there at night.  All previous visits were with our agent during regular working hours.  First things in: Roomba and Dyson.

Haha, installing more cameras.

We still had our apartment at this time, so I made Wes's favorite salmon fried rice over there and brought it over while he worked on installing all of the cameras!

Nothing like a homecooked favorite as our first meal together in the house. Yup, I even packed the bowls.

And got him a cup of boba.  Too bad we won't be walking distance to boba anymore, but we aren't far away!

First thing going on the wall: Samsung Frame TV.  He made it a priority.

We disassembled and brought the grill over next, so that Wes could make food on-site for our Fourth of July family party, literally two days after we closed.  

Our first guests!  Niece Madison and Aunt Barbara.

My mom brought sausages to the barbecue!

Family Go-Pro photo!  Missing my brother and his girlfriend and my uncle's family.  Hmm maybe punctuality (or lack thereof) is genetic...

The first feast was a really good one!  Wes even hurried to install the stove by himself to make sure that the oven would be ready to use.

And we got soaked by Madison after!

First lesson in gardening from my Mama.

It's an orange from one of our trees.  It didn't taste that great.

Little did I know when taking this picture that this tree is EVIL.

Eating leftovers for dinner and basking in the joy of having family over for the first time!

Had to get an extension pipe for our dish washer because our dish washer hook-up is farther from the sink than what's standard.

Hydrojet and rooter complete.  A little scary how many roots in our pipes they had to bust.

Pre-treating the fence for our first big project: staining this sad-looking wood.

Hosing it all down to get it nice and thirsty.

First tools in the mancave.  Yeah, the garage was destined to be Wes's mancave from the start.

Big giant leaf blower vs. Dyson vacuum

Wow, all of the debris that Wes blew out of the garage with that leaf blower.

Treating the perimeter of the house with this insecticide, because.. many bugs...

Our first lunch - very fitting and comforting for a quick getaway from the yard work.

Realized that wood stain clogs the garden sprayer and so I decided to hand-paint...

Took about an hour and a half to just do like... an eighth of the whole fence hahaha!! Time to figure out something else.

So we just bit the bullet and bought an actual paint sprayer.  It got everything done in less than an hour.

And then we realized that this sprayer dyed half of our driveway a tint of brown, ha!!  So... had to get out the pressure washer. And had to buy concrete cleaner.  Goodness.

Ombre looks nice on hair but not on a driveway.

Removing paint droplets that were apparently all over the floor everywhere (not our doing).  This was annoying and seemingly endless.

Yay, fence is done, and driveway back to normal!

String trimmer - necessary if you have a lawn, I guess.  And I thought that all we needed to do was to hire a gardener.

This was the first time Wes tried to use the string trimmer.

Lol. Ended up using it again to try trimming around the sprinkler heads (yes, while they are running) because the grass was getting overgrown and blocking the water spray.  Hey, it's not our fault that the gardener we hired never showed up or returned any of our messages.  Wes ended up taking on the role of gardener and ordered a lawn mower.

Apparently the Ridgecrest earthquake from July 4th banged up one of our sprinkler pipe, so when the sprinkler came on, there was a chaotic jet coming out of the grass.  

Wes made an emergency trip to Ace Hardware to get the necessary parts.

Wes dug down to find the problem and figured out how to repair it himself!

I was really uncomfortable with the fact that our inspection revealed that the house foundation had three cracks, so we paid an arm and a leg for heavy-duty foundation repair and earthquake retrofitting.  Fortunately the seller covered part of it.

So many tools that I can't name.

Yup, we have a lovely crawl space.  These are three of the many that were added.

They added supports around the perimeter of the house, in the middle of the house, and to our fireplace.  It was intense.

Wes's creepy photo of the foundation workers.  He stayed home on the day that they came.  We highly recommend Golden Retrofit, by the way.  Great work and very detail-oriented.

The stairway to the not-to-be-seen depths of this 1920's house.

Mounting the mailbox.

And this picture was lovingly captured before I realized how much we'd be paying for our monthly water bill!

Wes is sawing off some very overgrown tree branches and even downright chopping down some of these "trees of heaven."

I don't even know how we fit this all into our green bin... I think we borrowed our neighbors'.

Such hard work but he made it look easy.

I think he felt like a legit outdoorsman today.

Got sandwiches from the local sandwich shop, a place that has been around and owned by long-time Altadena residents.


Lining all of the cabinets.

Yuck. Wes had to suit up for going into the crawl space... to pick up... a billion pounds of dried cat shit.

Officially moving all of our stuff in, thanks to a group of four superhuman Russians.

Boxes...waiting to be opened and unpacked.

Our fridge stuff made it over nice and cold.

Nice to see a familiar appliance in the new space.  We brought our fridge with us!

Welcome home!

The piano made it in one piece, whew! And the guitar.  Neither has been played for ages... hopefully this will prompt me to get back to it.

Well, here we are.

Dang, the most exciting thing about having a house is having your very own washer and dryer!!  No more sharing with other tenants and waiting for people to remove their things.

Another priority - blind installation.  Ordered blinds ahead of time (man, choosing between the 20 shades of white was sort of excruciating) and now Wes is covering up the front-facing windows.

Putting all of those tools to use.

Bins of rice on the left.  Boxes of who-knows-what on the right.  Wes on a ghetto folding chair drilling holes over our windows.

First load of laundry: sheets and pillowcases!  I made the bed so that we could get in there as soon as we wanted to.

That light and those poofy, clean sheets!  But something still felt oddly strange about crawling into bed here... it just wasn't home, yet.

The blinds are super nice.  Knock-offs of those fancy Hunter Douglas ones - we got them from and saved money on installation by doing it ourselves.
Went outside to  check out how the blinds turned out.  Thumbs up - privacy has been secured for Night #1!

Ugh, can't even see from one side of the room to the other.

First morning.  Wes's first words when we woke up was, "We survived."

Haha, this couch.

Walked to the local coffeeshop.

It was really good!  Looking forward to sourcing our beans from here.  They do roast their own, and they have solid barista drinks, too.

Ugh, after running out of Plast-O-Mats, had to calculate more precisely.  I was really not used to doing so much math.

I was standing on our countertops.

Wes was testing out our security camera angles and where to mount the solar panels.

There's the little solar panel.

And this doorstep surprise really made my day.  Our next-door neighbors dropped off a card and homemade cupcakes while we were out!  They moved in not too long ago, too.

This is NOT GOOD.  Look at all of those scary WEEDS that we thought were just bushes.

AND they grow along the fence!!

They even were growing straight out of the concrete, EW.  I tried so hard to get rid of them but it was not working out.  I think I cried this day.

I would say that a good 50% of our belongings are related to food.

Cool rack, eh?

The frame TV!  Wes was trying to put a photo of us in it, but the dimensions were being weird.

Simple eating. Ain't nobody got time for big cooking projects :(

Wow, I seriously love this dish washer.  The top rack for utensils is amazingggg. And it's super roomy inside!  It fits everything!

Cupcakes.  Homemade cold brew.  First TIME magazine sent to this address.

Stopping to take photos of the big tree that we love.  Figured out that it is a Chinese Elm. 

Wes's mom cooked for us and brought it all over in a large cardboard box.  She made so much that we ate it for three meals - and oh was it all delicious and so comforting to have!

We had to plug the microwave randomly into this outlet on the side to heat it up.

It works for now!
Receiving this letter from my parents (late because it got lost in the mail) was wonderful.  They were so thoughtful and encouraging!

Less and less boxes in the living room, hooray!  Also, we hung some of our framed things onto the existing nails and it did help it feel more like home in here.

I randomly made this because Wes's mom gave us a ripe mango and we had everything else by chance.  And I figured, why not divert myself?

We joked about ordering these phone stand toilet paper holders... but then they became a reality.
Wes insisted on installing these soft-close toilet seats that we found at Costco.

He also had to replace the hose bib, randomly... because he noticed that it was constantly trickling and the bees were for some reason really attracted to that.  Now, no more bees.  It's the littlest things!

Nooooo whyyyyy

The inside of our sprinkler controller.  It still doesn't make much sense to me, but Wes ended up installing the Rachio Smart Sprinkler system, which is proven to help people not kill their grass using realtime satellite data about your location.  Fingers crossed that it'll work.

Made a pretty good lamb arrabiatta pasta with curried cauliflower.  Cooking was the way to destress.

Brunch.  Did I mention that the new stove is super powerful and amazing?!  It has been, all in all, a joy to cook in the kitchen.

I never knew that batteries could be THIS big.  We got an electric lawn mower (so we don't have to fuss with gas and maintenance) and all we need to do is to charge the battery and switch out the blade when needed.  This battery alone cost $350 on its own!!  We got the lawn mower (that came with the battery) for $370, refurbished, and an extra 10% off the final price.

Lawn mowing - he swears that he likes it!  Buying the equipment is surely an investment, but it should pay off if he can sustain this habit without ending up hiring a gardener!

We also picked up some solar-powered post lights from Home Depot.  We realized that our house looked like an abyss at night on one of our post-dinner walks that we've been taking around the neighborhood, and one time I was backing out of the driveway in the dark and got really disoriented.

And Wes custom-cut some squares from scrap wood that he had already, painted them black, and drilled them to the posts so that we could attach the lights to something.

Upon looking back at what we've done so far (some not even pictured), I think that we have accomplished quite a lot in the first two weeks.  I am so happy that we get to do this stuff together and grateful for having a place to call our own, even though it's given us more of a headache than anything else right now.  Nesting here has been a blessing, and being married to Wes is the biggest blessing of all.


  1. Great job!! You've both done amazing. There will always be something so don't despair. It already looks like a great home.