house-hunting lessons

As I mentioned in a previous post, Allyn and I have been planning to move into a larger space. For the past two years, our one-bedroom apartment has been the perfect cozy little home for our growing lives. But now, it is feeling cramped. We’ve known for a while that when our apartment lease is up this March 1, we want to move. So, aiming to give ourselves plenty of time, we began our house-hunting journey the last weekend of January.

We started out that Saturday full of energy, excitement and optimism. We were going to find Our Perfect Home in Our Perfect Location and we were going to Find it Immediately! Yet, by the end of that first day, we were both feeling a little disappointed. The first house we saw was in a lovely location, but the house itself was pretty run-down. The kitchen was tiny, and we’d have to buy a washer and dryer. The second house we saw was easy to cross off our list: not the best location, and in even worse condition than the first house. The third place was our favorite — we loved meeting the owner, and the house itself was cute and seemed well cared for, plus a washer and dryer was included. But the location was not ideal for us.

It was a classic case of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” No house was perfect. We joked, driving home, that all we needed to do was move House #3 to the location of House #1 and we’d be all set.

The next weekend, we made appointments to see more possibilities. The townhouse was less expensive, but we weren’t sure if we wanted shared walls — something that has been problematic at times about apartment living. Another house was very nice and had been recently renovated, but they wanted tenants to move in immediately, and we were hoping to move at the end of the month. Another place was on the corner of a busy, noisy street. The kitchen was gorgeous, but the bedrooms were tiny.

House-hunting revealed so much of how our brains work and the games they play with our emotions. First of all, we quickly realized that there is no One-and-Only Perfect Home out there waiting for us. {Or, if there is, we aren’t willing to put in months of house-hunting to find it. We need to move out in March.} Every place we saw had its positives and negatives. And our brains — my brain, at least — loved to go into comparison mode. Each house we saw, my brain would worry itself over the “flaws” and less-than-perfect components, comparing this Actual House with an Imagined Ideal House that existed nowhere other than my mind. My brain loved to insist,

But wait, what if Imagined Ideal House does exist somewhere in the real world? What if it is the next house around the corner, the one we will find next week, or the week after that? What if we give in and sign a lease, but then our true Perfect Home pops up on Zillow and it’s too late?

It was a prime example of Fear Of Missing Out. The lure to continue searching reminded me of gambling — always hoping to win bigger next time. Allyn and I could have kept house-hunting forever, searching for that elusive ideal. But, as the saying goes, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” We also didn’t want to hedge and hesitate on applying to rent a home we really liked, and miss out when someone else swooped in and rented it before we got our act together.

That happened to us with one property — which, looking back, I do not think would have been the best fit for us — but, when we found out it was no longer on the market, it was amazing how quickly all of those “flaws” disappeared and our FOMO was replaced by panic that we would never find any home to rent in time, that everything was being scooped up and we were too late. It is so easy to fall into a scarcity mindset. We had to remind ourselves to take deep breaths and have faith that we would end up in the right place for us. That the pie is big enough for everyone to get a slice.

My brain can contradict itself so fitfully. In the direct opposite of insisting that there was always a Better House Out There, waiting in the next Zillow email, my brain also loved to immediately get emotionally attached to each house we saw by imagining myself living there — only this was not Actual Me, this was Ideal Me. I would focus on how much I wanted the huge yard of House #1 so I could plant an enormous garden, because my Ideal Self is an avid gardener, even though in reality the only plants I seem able to keep alive are succulents. Or, my brain would fixate on how the townhouses had a pool, and we could go swimming there all the time, even though our current apartment has a pool and I have used it approximately three times in two years, because in reality swimming is not my favorite activity and the pool is always cold. Or, I would think about how House #4 was right by a nature trail, and I could go walking there every morning before I start my work. Which is a lovely idea, but not the most important factor in choosing where to live. Because what if there are a lot of bees on the nature trail, or I find a yoga class I love and decide I want to do that most mornings instead?

It is true that I can think about my Ideal Self and use this vision as inspiration. In her book about habits, Better Than Before, Gretchin Rubin writes about how a big life change — like moving — is the perfect time to start a new habit or let go of a habit that is not serving you. Moving is like pressing the “re-set” button on your habits because your environment is changing, so your daily routines are also ripe for change. Maybe I will begin with a small vegetable garden in our new backyard and see how it goes. Maybe I will try going for a walk in the morning, before I dive into my work. Maybe I will shop at the farmer’s market; quit processed sugar once and for all; meditate in the afternoons; banish the clutter.

Allyn and I made a list of the aspects for our new place that we find most important: in our price range; a safe neighborhood; close to public transit for his commute and close to the freeway for my commute; spacious enough for us to have a little room to grow. All the rest would be icing on the cake.

When we first toured the house that would end up being Our Next Home, we didn’t see fireworks the moment we stepped in the front door. We didn’t look at each other with knowing smiles that said, “Yes. This is The One.” We didn’t immediately tell the owner, “We’ll take it!” We followed the owner through the rooms, noting and nodding and smiling, asking questions and ticking off boxes in our heads. We talked about it on the way home. And the more we talked about it, the more we liked it. No, it is not a Perfect House. But it is pretty darn near perfect-for-us, right here and right now, in this chapter of our lives.

When I think about life in our new house, I imagine getting to know our neighbors in the cute, quiet cul-de-sac. I imagine dinners al fresco out on our back patio. I imagine cooking meals in the bright kitchen and writing in the back bedroom we’ll convert into an office and hanging our stockings on the fireplace mantel in the living room at Christmas time. I imagine hosting game nights with friends, hosting my parents and my brother in our spare bedroom, hosting dinner parties and birthday parties and summer barbecues and holiday gift-exchanges. I imagine a home filled with stories and laughter, good food and good company, warmth and comfort. I imagine a home filled with love — love in every room, love in every wall, love in every nook and cranny and crevice.

I guess that is the final, and most important, lesson I learned from house-hunting. It was actually something I already knew — something I said in my wedding vows — just something it can be easy to forget in the striving and dreaming and hustle and bustle of this life.

The truth is, I could be happy in pretty much any of the houses we looked at. Wherever we live, we will make it into our home with our care, our spit-shine and elbow grease, our personal touches — and, most important, with our love for each other. As excited as we are to have a bigger space, the reality is that we could stay another year in our small apartment and I would be content. As long as I’m with Allyn, I’m home.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” about the following questions:

  • What are some lessons you have learned from the experience of searching for a new place to live, whether buying a home or renting your first college apartment?
  • Think about your “Ideal Self.” What are some differences between this ideal version of you, and your actual routines and behavior? Why are these traits “ideal” for you?
  • If you could magically adopt a new habit or drop an existing habit tomorrow, what would it be and why?

red-rimmed, clear eyes + full, broken hearts {part 1}

For the past couple years, Allyn and I have been slowly working our way through all five seasons of Friday Night Lights, which is perhaps my all-time favorite TV show. We are on the last disk of the fifth and final season, drawing out these remaining episodes slowly, like savoring the final bites of a rich dessert. I love Friday Night Lights because of the nuanced, complicated characters; the vivid small-town setting; the dramas of high school and relationships and football. I also love Friday Night Lights because it makes me think of my mom.

My mom is a huge sports fan, particularly football, and she is the one in our house who first started watching Friday Night Lights. When I was living at home with my parents for a year, after I graduated college and before I moved to Indiana for grad school, she watched the show religiously. That was the fourth season. I started watching it with her and, before I knew it, I was hooked too.

When I moved away, I bought the first three seasons on DVD and, throughout those lonely and cold months when I missed my parents with a breathless ache, I methodically worked my way through the episodes. Even though I have never lived in Texas, I felt a bit closer to my hometown as I watched the familiar characters move around onscreen against the flat, dusty land and big blue sky. Eventually, I bought season four on DVD, and then season five. By the time I watched the fifth season, I was combing the plotlines and analyzing the characters, searching and searching. As if the episodes of this TV show could give me answers. As if it could help me smooth and mend the tangled mess of my own life.

In the fifth season of Friday Night Lights, I remember a particular scene when two of the characters got ready to go out to dinner, the guy holding the door open for the girl, the two of them heading outside together, smiling, an ordinary everyday happiness, an easy comfort that seemed so elusive to me at the time. I remember the quiet desperation that settled within my ribcage. I was jealous of these fictional people and this fictional relationship. I wanted to jump inside the television screen and escape my life.

During that time, I was ensnared in a deeply unhealthy relationship. Somewhere within my gut, I knew that it wasn’t right. I knew I had to get out. But I was scared. I kept searching outside of myself for answers, when really the answer was in my heart, beating right there inside my chest for every moment of every day. The answer wasn’t really elusive. It was effusive; it was everywhere. Still, for a while, I ignored it. I thrust my head into the sand. Until one day I realized I was choking, and I yanked my neck up, gasping for air, blinking the grit out of my eyes, staring at the world like it was an entirely new place. Which, in many ways, it was. When I found the courage to leave that relationship, my world opened up again.

There are some seasons in your life that are shockingly terrible and shockingly beautiful at once. This was one of those seasons for me. It has crystalized in my mind as a period when I was living purely. My emotions were raw and my needs boiled down to the bare essentials: eat, drink, sleep. Teach my classes. Honor my commitments. Finish my graduate degree. In some ways, I was learning to live all over again. Uncoupled, I was learning to live for myself again. It was painful and it was cleansing.

When I think back on that time, the days seemed so long—so empty and so full at the same time. I remember walking up the big hill to campus from my friend’s apartment, where I was subleasing a room for the remaining six weeks of the school year. I remember soaking in the early spring sunshine and the cold breeze on my face. I remember long evenings, binge-watching the Hulu show “Battleground” and reading until I felt tired enough that I could maybe fall asleep. I read so many books in that period—nearly a novel a day. I remember sorting through my accumulation of papers and possessions, trying to create something out of the scraps: making baby blankets for some friends; writing cards and mailing them; donating bags of clothing to Goodwill; cooking strange recipes out of the random assortment of nonperishables in my pantry.

It is a strange time of my life to look back on with fondness. But I do. I was a butterfly emerging from my chrysalis; a phoenix emerging from the ashes of my previous life. I was my whole self, and nothing but myself. After a long time of ignoring that deep inner voice, after a long time of lying to myself, I was finally living my truth.

 

This story will be continued on Friday. See you then!

a tour of our apartment

Hello, friends, and happy Monday! Hope your day is off to a marvelous start. I am heading off soon to my favorite yoga class, but before I go I wanted to share with you some belated photos of the new apartment I moved into a couple months ago with my sweetie! We have finally gotten everything unpacked and all of our artwork hung up on the walls.

{Real talk: I snapped some photos right before we had Allyn’s mom and sister over for dinner, so this is a bit more tidy than it typically is! But we are trying to keep things relatively neat & clutter-free!}

If you were coming over for a visit, here is where you’d begin…

outside of our apartment

… you’d pull up to the outside of our apartment complex and park in one of the tree-shaded spots. Then we’d come out to greet you and lead you inside!

When you walk into our apartment, there is a short little hallway with a coatrack my sweetheart so handily installed, a hall closet and a linen closet, and our little bathroom. Over to your right is our kitchen…

Why hello there, pineapple on the counter!

Why hello there, pineapple on the counter!

… which leads directly into our dining area/big living room, plus my workspace off in the corner by the window.

bookshelves

One thing both Allyn and I really liked about this apartment from the first moment we saw it is the open layout. It is so nice to be able to prep dinner in the kitchen while still talking and visiting with people out in the living room area. And I think the openness makes our little one-bedroom apartment seem a bit bigger, too!

Here’s a close-up of the bookshelf we ordered off Wayfair and put together ourselves {so relieved it seems to be holding up all right!}


Our living room area leads out to a big balcony {which currently holds not much except for a few empty pots waiting for plants and Allyn’s bike.} When the weather gets warmer and spring fully arrives, I’m excited to get planting a little herb garden out there and maybe setting up an outdoor table and chairs for some al fresco dining!

The only room we have left to show you on our tour of our new apartment is the bedroom… as you can see, I snapped this photo when my sweetheart was working {his desk is there in the corner}… hi, honey!

our bedroom

The thing I love most about our apartment is that it feels like us. It is not the fanciest or biggest place, but it is homey and cozy and filled with reminders of the people we love, and our love for each other. Speaking of which, I haven’t even shared one of my favorite decor items…

LOVE sign

… our LOVE sign! Haha, I know it is corny, but I just love this sign so much. I found it on sale at Michael’s after Christmas and scooped it up, and then my sweetheart kindly installed this floating shelf so it can be displayed in all its lit-up glory. It always makes me smile!

And I would be remiss saying goodbye without letting our beautiful new fern plant say hello. His name is San Fern-ando and he was a housewarming gift from Allyn’s sister, Allyson. Did you know that Boston ferns are wonderful natural air purifiers? Plus they are so cheerful and green and easy to care for. We love ours!

San Fernando

That’s it for now! Thanks for stopping by our place. 🙂

Questions for the day:

  • What makes a house a “home” to you?
  • What are your favorite things about your home?
  • Do you have any apartment-living tips? Please share!

goals + meal-plan for the week of 8/18

Happy Sunday, friends! Wow, I can’t believe it is already mid-August! There’s a part of me that wants to hold onto summer as long as possible, and there’s another part of me that has that pre-autumn excitement in my belly! {I LOVE autumn!} The excitement might also be due to the fact that I’m moving in less than a week!! Yep, on Friday I will be driving my little prius up to the bay. This week has already had some “lasts” of the summer: my last Friday volunteering at the Food Pantry; my last Friday Happy Hour margaritas with my parents; and this morning was my last sermon at my amazing hometown church until I’m home for Thanksgiving. Sadness, but also gratitude for the memories and joy for new adventures about to begin!

Of course will miss my family & this little guy a TON!

me and murbur

Here’s how I did on my goals from this past week:
finish rough edits on first half of YA manuscript draft
complete the #yearofkindness challenge
get together with two friends
create a flyer advertising my tutoring services
– clean out my email inbox {I’ll consider this one half-done}
volunteer at the Food Pantry
work-out/do yoga at least three times

And here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– complete the #yearofkindness challenge
– visit with three friends before I leave
– finish cleaning out my email inbox
– tie up any lose ends at home before I leave
– work-out/do yoga at least three times {including my Weds. zumba date with Emily!}
– have a safe & successful move up to the Bay Area!

Here are some recipes I’m looking forward to making this week:
– rad rainbow raw pad thai via Oh She Glows
– veggie-filled gluten-free lasagna via A Happy Lass
– peanut butter chocolate granola via It’s Progression {perfect road-trip snack!}
lemon bars for my Gramps
shrimp & sausage stew

What are your goals and menu plans for this upcoming week?

MPM-Spring
This post is linked up with Menu-Plan Monday!

goals + meal-plan for the week of 7/28

Happy Sunday, friends! How is your weekend going so far? Fun and relaxing, I hope! Mine has been full of sunshine and battery-recharging after a busy week! We moved my wonderful brother down to Los Angeles on Thursday; he is starting business school at USC. I’m so proud of him, but I miss him so much already. The house is quiet without him — not that he’s a really noisy person, it just feels emptier when it’s just me and my parents at home. I’m definitely planning to visit him a couple times before I leave for the Bay Area in August!

Before he left, we went out for brunch at our favorite local spot, Allison’s Country Cafe, per our tradition. I love my little bro!

me and gb summer 13

Another highlight of the week was going to a local hot air balloon festival with my parents. It was a beautiful warm evening with good food, music, wine, and great company. Here’s a photo my dad snapped of me and my mama in front of one of the balloons:

me and mom balloon festival

Fun times!

Moving on to goals, here’s how I did on mine from last week:
– finish YA manuscript first draft {this got delayed again … I’m SO close, yet I don’t want to rush through the final couple chapters I have left … hopefully this week!}
complete the #yearofkindness challenge
help Greg move into his new apartment
– volunteer at the Food Pantry {got de-railed this week because of helping to move Greg to Los Angeles}
– read & respond to all submissions in my queue for Sycamore Review
get in touch with 3 friends and make plans to get together

And here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– finish YA manuscript first draft
– complete the #yearofkindness challenge
– transfer all my jotted-down writing notes to the computer
– volunteer at the Food Pantry
– finish craft project that I’m making for Greg {& post about it on here!}
– work-out/do yoga at least three times

Here are some meals I’m looking forward to making this week:
– blueberry buckle via The Pajama Chef
– zucchini bread oatmeal via Oh She Glows
– honey avocado mango salad via Chew Out Loud
– spinach artichoke lasagna via Two Peas & Their Pod
bbq pulled pork in the crock pot

What are your goals and meal plans for the week? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

MPM-Spring
This post is linked up with Menu-Plan Monday!

year of kindness challenge: week 17

year of kindness button

Hello from California! I have moved back to my home state after finishing up my last semester of grad school, and it feels so nice to be back home in the sunshine with my family!

Last week flew by as I tried to get all my stuff packed up, my furniture sold on Craigslist, my apartment cleaned out … not to mention saying goodbye to the wonderful friends I made at Purdue! I was glad that the kindness challenge this past week was to focus on smiling at everyone you meet, because I was sad about having to say goodbye to people I love, and the extra smiles were a big boost that got me through an emotional week.

with friends

Saying goodbye to some friends at one of our favorite restaurants, an Irish pub

fiction friends

Saying goodbye to MFA friends Natalie and Tiffany.

My mom was so sweet and took off work the whole week to stay with me and help me get ready to move. We worked hard all day and in the evenings had a great time cooking dinner to use up the food left in my pantry, drinking wine and watching marathons of Friday Night Lights. I am a lucky daughter!

Here are some other kind acts I am grateful for that happened this past week:

  • my friend Terrance helped carry carried all by himself two heavy boxes of my stuff to ship home via UPS
  • my friends Shavonne and Tiffany gave me rides to the store and a professor’s goodbye party after I had sold my car and didn’t have transportation
  • my aunt Annie left a sweet message on my voicemail just checking in to see how I was doing
  • a group of students on Purdue’s campus were passing out free popcorn to boost spirits during finals week
  • I received a nice email from one of my students thanking me for “being a great teacher”

The Week 17 Kindness Challenge is to fight back against the litterbugs! Go on a walk at one of your favorite spots, bring along a plastic grocery bag, and pick up every piece of trash you see. Another option would be to challenge yourself to pick up at least one piece of litter every day this week. Or do both! 🙂

As always, blog about your experiences and include your links in the comments section below, or feel free to send me an email at dallaswoodburn <AT> gmail <DOT> com.

Have a wonderful week!
Dallas

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year of kindness archives:
– week 1 challenge: donate items to those in need
– week 2 challenge: leave quarters & note at laundry machine
– week 3 challenge: write & send a kind handwritten note
– week 4 challenge: give hot chocolate to someone outside in the cold
– week 5 challenge: do something kind for a neighbor
– week 6 challenge: deliver valentines to a nursing home
– week 7 challenge: donate to a food pantry
– week 8 challenge: donate toiletries to a shelter
– week 9 challenge: post a kind note in a public place
– week 10 challenge: do something kind for a child
– week 11 challenge: thank someone in a genuine & meaningful way
– week 12 challenge: deliver baked goods to a fire station
– week 13 challenge: give someone flowers
– week 14 challenge: donate books
– week 15 challenge: reach out and spend time with people
week 16 challenge: smile at everyone you meet