Wednesday, August 31, 2016

First Grade and Spaghetti Corn-Bonara

Hooray! School is back in session! They start about a week earlier down south than they do in NJ and NY. In NJ, I drove Lily to and from school, or sometimes walked her weather allowing since we lived so close. But, this year, she’s taking the bus, and she’s loving it!

Today is her third day, and I’m at home right now, awaiting her return but also happy for the peace! Her first and second days were a success, as she came home all smiles and declared, “I loved it!” when we met her at the top of our driveway.

We met her teacher together last week at an open house, and she seems very nice and fun. The school is also way bigger than Lily’s little primary school in NJ was; the elementary school she attends here has grades K-5th, while in NJ her school only went up to 2nd grade.

We’re looking forward to new experiences and challenges with this change, and meeting them all with a positive attitude!

For her special first day dinner, she requested this interesting yet crowd-pleasing dish that I adapted from Better Homes and Gardens, “Bucatini Corn-Bonara”. I made it in July a couple weeks after we moved in, and everyone liked it! I used spaghetti instead of bucatini, though, because I didn’t find any at the local grocery store, so you can use whichever if you try it.

Spaghetti Corn-Bonara


1 lb spaghetti
4 corn cobs, shucked
1 cup cream or half-and-half (I tried it both ways, taste best with all cream!)
2 egg yolks
1 tsp cracked black pepper
10 oz. bacon (classic, turkey, or other sub works just as well)
3 cloves minced garlic
½ cup shredded or grated Parmesan
¼ cup sliced scallion (optional)

For the corn, you could cook it one of two ways, I tried both: you could either cook the cobs whole for about 5 minutes on high, allow to cool, then slice kernels off the cob, OR you could slice the kernels off first, then cook them for about 5 minutes on high. I just recommend you absolutely use fresh corn rather than frozen as long as you are able to get your hands on some, which shouldn’t be hard since it is currently in season. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti according to package, reserve about ½ cup of pasta water then strain the rest, and put aside. Add a little olive oil to keep it from getting sticky.

Next, start cooking the bacon on medium-high in skillet. While that’s cooking, you can go ahead and combine the cream or half-and-half, egg yolks, and black pepper in a small bowl to have ready for the sauce. Once bacon is done frying, place on paper towel-covered dish to dry, and then drain the pan of all but about 1-2 tbsp of grease, depending on how fattening you want it to be. Return pan to stove on medium-low heat and fry the garlic in the bacon grease for about 30 seconds while stirring, then mix in the reserved sauce mixture to pan, plus the ½ cup of grated parmesan cheese. Once it starts to bubble, add the corn and crumbled bacon, and extra pepper if so desired. Stir together, remove from heat and add to pot of pasta to combine. Serve immediately topped with extra Parmesan, ground pepper, and/or scallion.

A totally delish and filling, yet light-tasting dish for these late summer days. Also, fairly easy despite the amount of steps and ingredients involved, so those who are more novice chefs should not be deterred!

I hope everyone is still enjoying what remains of summer, and also enjoying getting these kids back in school!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Ups and Downs of Homeownership

It’s funny, I work as a real estate sales agent, and help other people find their new homes, but now the shoe is on the other foot. You’d think I’d be an expert at it, but it still comes with all those “unexpected surprises” and “bumps in the road” I warn my clients about. No matter how much you prepare, there will always be those things that you weren’t anticipating, or thought was under control, or thought was nothing for you to worry about…

And for the most part, our relocation has been very smooth. We made up a sale contract and completed all of the financial goals we agreed upon, we made it down here- on our own –in one piece and without damaging anything major in the process. All being under one roof with 3 different generations of people from very different backgrounds hasn’t been a total battlefield as I had feared it might end up being. The house didn’t implode on itself, yet…

But, yeah. It hasn’t all been perfect, and we never expected it to be.  One of the things I am sort of wishing we did, which Paul and I did discuss, was getting a home inspector to review the property. Normally, when advising a client who is buying a new home, I always tell them to get a home inspection before they are under contract. ALWAYS. But, since this was a unique situation, with us moving in with the current owner and doing a rent-to-own, we decided Grandma would be able to walk us through everything better than any inspector would be. However, old age has really crept up on her, and she simply doesn’t remember things, or remember them correctly or in full.

Case in point: she told us that although the central air unit is pretty old (as in, over 20 years old), that she had it looked at last season and was told it’s in fine shape and the heat pump still works fine, and that although it will need replacing soon, it shouldn’t be for another year or two. Well, on one of the hottest weekends of the summer so far, it just stopped working. I asked Grandma what she thought, and she suggested we change the filters, as she wasn’t sure when they’d last been changed. Sure enough, the filters were gross, but luckily we found a couple of new filters in the garage and changed them out.

However, changing the filters did not do a thing to make the hot, hot house any cooler.

We contacted the last person who looked at the unit, and who as done all repairs and maintenance to it. He took a look and saw that a patch job he’d done on the a leak in the Freon tank was not holding up, and that all of the Freon had leaked out. Yay. He told us not only would it not be worth us getting another patch job done, but that the type of Freon this unit uses is out-dated and more costly than the new, more environmentally-friendly type they use now. We’re talking a price difference of about 500%.  Furthermore, he told us he’d already Grandma all of this info, and told her that the patch job wouldn’t hold up, so I guess she just forgot that part. So…we are without central air for the time being, because getting the entire unit replaced would could us thousands, which we do not have right now.

Fortunately, it has cooled off, and we have plenty of fans and window units. The joys of home-ownership. We also had a leak in the upstairs bath, and right after we got that fixed with the help from our next door handyman, the kitchen sink faucet started acting up (luckily, I figured out how to fix that all on my own, and was rather proud of myself!). So, there are these little things that pop up, but we should just learn accept this as “normal”.

Paul enjoying the ride-on mower

A piece of our big yard

Wanting to help Daddy

Besides, part of the reason we moved out here was to get more rural and eventually learn to live mostly if not completely off the land and of our own accord, in order to not only live a more economical and ecological lifestyle, but also keep the bills down. Dealing without our air conditioning and managing our own plumbing are all valuable adaptations and skills. So far, we have a few solar panels installed, we’re working on growing some of our own food, and raising chickens for eggs and livestock experience, possibly food (although, I have to admit, I fear the thought of having anything to do with killing and prepping a hen!).

With one of our new Guinea hen chicks

Enjoying our neighbors' trampoline

We have a HUGE yard, and lots of trees and plants, and wonderful neighbors. We have so much to be grateful for. Plus, getting to spend time with my Grandma in her later years…such an occurrence is truly beyond value. I’m also so glad my daughter gets to know her better, and so is Grandma. We know we’ll make it, and it will all be for the best. Sometimes I still thinking I am dreaming…

Here’s to cool thoughts and a positive attitude! We continue to do as much fun stuff as we can, which I’ll share in the next post!

Lovely helps us keep cool by throwing shade

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Big Move

The decision to move from New Jersey to North Carolina, was not an easy one, although in the end and after much discussion, it just made sense.

Early summer 2015, my grandmother made the decision to sell her beautiful, 2000 square-foot home in North Carolina, because she simply could not manage to take care of it anymore. Living alone at her age, it was just too challenging and she needed to downsize. 2 years prior to that, she had said the same thing, and various members of our family had travelled to her home to help her pack and clean-up the place, a tad disappointed when she did not end up selling.

There was nothing wrong with the house per se, however, most buyers who were looking for their new home at the time wanted something more modern and updated, and my grandmother’s abode, although very well maintained, is not that. So, after having it on the market for a brief period of time, she pulled it, thinking she’d cut her losses and try to ride it out a little longer. She spent more time out of the house and visiting family in the 2 years following that, so remaining alone in the big house would be less daunting.

The first time she wanted to sell, I remember feeling upset, not wanting to see my childhood second home become unavailable and enjoyed by stranger instead of my daughter, as I had enjoyed it growing up, and the rest of my family. But, there was nothing I could do. I could not afford to buy it from her, and she didn’t want to just give it away to any single member of the extended family, fearing the rest if her grandkids would deem it unfair. She wanted to sell it and use the money she received from it to live off of, and then put the rest in savings to dish out to us whenever she passed.

So when she didn’t sell, I was very much relieved. Over the next 2 years, I went from a struggling jewelry designer to a realtor, and real estate ended up looking like it just might be my calling. After laboring for so long to make ends meet with Paul after I lost my job in late 2013, I started making money again once I found I was doing okay with selling real estate, and we actually were able to have extra spending money for the first time in over a year! Soon enough, a big sale for me came under contract and my husband, Paul, was waiting for a sizeable payout from a retired pension plan, so when Grandma announced she would be putting her home on the market again, the gears and cogs in my mind started turning and the tiny flicker of a plan to purchase that home became alight.

You see, Grandma’s health was on the decline, so she was either going to get a small apartment or move into a 55+ community. She really could not be in that big house alone. Not only had it become a struggle, but a risk as well. So we worked out an agreement for my family and me to move in with her on a rent-to-own contract, and she could either stay with us for as long as we were able to take care of her, or move out on her own to wherever she chose to that made sense for a woman of her age. After negotiating and stewing on it for the next 6+ months, we ironed out the details, then Paul and I made the down payment to her the spring before we moved in. Everyone who had been worrying over her in her wide circle of family and friends were thrilled because now the responsibility of looking after Grandma would be on our plates instead of theirs! They were also very happy for us to finally have our own house and not continue renting. In the current NJ real estate climate, it is very difficult to find a decent affordable house with a mortgage, and unless we saved for a few more years, there was no way we’d be able to do that anytime soon in an area we’d like to live in.

After packing for weeks, we still weren’t quite ready the week we got the U-Haul. Luckily, we have amazing family and friends who came to help us finish up at our “packing party”. We got the truck on the 1st of July, and had planned to be on the road by the very next day, however, things do not always go according to plan, and we ended up getting on the road early July 4th afternoon, our tearful dear neighbors waving to us as we hunkered down the road in a hulking 20’ U-Haul with auto transport attached to the back, pulling my silver PT Cruiser behind it.

The journey started out surprisingly smooth, but that smoothness didn’t last: after about an hour and change into our trip, a heavy down pour hit, and didn’t stop until the wee hours of the following morning. Another part of our moving plan that we feared would now get foiled was camping somewhere in Virginia overnight. We’d imagined finding a nice shady spot near a lake or river to relax by the morning we woke up on the second day of our journey, then leisurely continue our trip to our new home, not getting soaked in the rain while trying to set up camp in the middle of the night. After discussing it, Paul, and I decided that even though it was raining and we were very weary, we would find a camp spot anyway, seeing as our tent was waterproof. The next morning was supposed to be sunny, so at least we could wake up to a beautiful post-rain sunrise the next day.

We found a rest stop with a camping area after realizing that the camp spot we had made a reservation for was still nearly two hours away when we were ready to call it a night. My darling husband set up the tent in the rain while Lily, Ogum (our malti-eski-poo pup), and I waited in the truck. After running to the tent and getting more than a little damp, we all snuggled under a blanket and soon fell asleep.

Unfortunately, it turned out that the tent wasn’t 100% waterproof; the rain was coming down so hard, the tent started to leak…right above me. And, I was starting to feel dampness beneath me. Lily and Paul were knocked out, but I am not such a heavy sleeper.

After tossing and turning and searching for a drier spot to no avail, I literally broke down in tears from exhaustion and agony. Paul awoke and I told him I couldn’t bear it and would be sleeping in the cab of the truck where it was dry. Luckily, Lily was in the only spot that wasn’t getting wet, and she was so sound asleep, I left her with her daddy and slept in the U-Haul alone. I got maybe three hours of sleep before the blaring sun in the windshield woke me up.

At least we woke up to sunlit wildflowers

We cleaned ourselves up, let our chickens out of their cage in the trunk of the car for a bit, then found a Denny’s to have breakfast at. Afterwards, we got back on the road, started making good time…until it started raining. Again. We were almost to NC by that time, but on top of driving a heavy load while navigating hilly roads, the rain slowed us down tremendously, and we arrived at our new home about 2.5 hours later than expected.

My thoughtful, sweet grandmother had been thinking ahead once she realized we would not make it there in time for supper, so she had ordered pizza for us which was waiting there when we arrived. Hallelujah!

We hit the sack after showering, then spent the next 2 days unpacking before getting the truck back to U-Haul. Fortunately, they gave us the rental for 2 more days at no extra charge due to a mix-up on picking up the truck in NJ. We are truly blessed and looked after.

It’s now been 47 days since we moved in, and adventure abounds each and every day. I started this blog to document that experience, I hope you’ll stick around to find out how a Yankee family’s move to the Country changed our lives and those around us for good.