Tag Archives: Written by Susanne Kessaris

The Spooky House: Part Three of My Own Fixer Uppers

My husband and I moved to Georgia for a city job with a zoning department. It was a meager salary but was enough to live on. We were thankful for work after a long season without it.  We found a small rental house in a decent neighborhood where we felt our little family would be safe.  It had a circular driveway and a nice front porch. The neighbor’s friendly cats liked to hang out and perch on the front window sills. This  delighted our little daughter who loved animals.  There was a large prickly cactus by the front curb. We remarked that we would have to avoid going near it for it was at eye-level for a small child. The house literally had no yard for our daughter and dog to play in but there was a nice-sized deck overlooking some woods. Our daughter was still small so we felt the deck had adequate room for a sand box or kiddie pool. Since she was still a toddler, that was all she would need.

One negative feature of the house was that the laundry room was outside the kitchen in a covered shed.  I had to take trips back and forth through the back kitchen door to do laundry while trying to keep an eye on my daughter. I learned that to keep her safe, I had to leave her in her gated bedroom playing whenever she was out of my sight.

I began potty training her in this house. It was fairly successful  when using M and M’s, or “MMM’s” as she called them,  as bribery tactics. One time she got hold of a red crayon and began drawing a “picture” on the wallpaper in the bathroom before I could catch her.

We were living in this house when Hurricane Hugo came through the southeast.  We had some rain and fairly strong winds during the storm.  My husband and I were in the living room watching television when we heard a cracking sound then loud thud.  We raced into our daughter’s room where she was sleeping and saw that a tree had fallen in the yard next to our house and had come within inches of her bedroom window.  We were definitely grateful and astonished at God’s protection over us.

During that winter, we had another freak event of nature. It snowed in our area of Georgia which almost never happens. We had no snow shoes or boots for our daughter so we put plastic bags over her tennis shoes so she could walk around outside and enjoy the snow while it lasted.

When our house in North Carolina sold, we felt a financial burden lifted and began looking for another house of our own. We found a house in foreclosure near the affluent section of town.  We got permission from the bank to go in and begin cleaning up the property before the sale went through. We had a strange feeling about this house because we were told someone had died in the house by suicide. It had been for sale for a long time as no one wanted to go near a house that was potentially haunted. We prayed over it as we began to haul away debris outside and clean its very dirty floors and carpets. Perhaps, we were desperate for a home of our own and were willing to overlook our misgivings.  However, God had other plans for us. Before we signed the final papers, my husband found out that his  job was going to be phased out…..again.

 

 

 

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The Hill House In The Cove: Part Two of My Own Fixer Uppers

We moved to the central Carolinas when our daughter was six weeks old. We found a rental house which served little more for us than storage for all of our  belongings.  It was a split-foyer so we used the entire lower level for boxes that we never even bothered to unpack. We began a quest to find a new home right away. After much deliberation, we decided to build a house in a subdivision with a two-story one garage plan. We chose a sloping wooded lot above a creek at the end of a cul-de-sac which offered us more privacy in the backyard.

Being in a builder’s subdivision, there were a lot of things about the home that were predetermined. On the outside we got to choose the color of the siding, shutters and front door. On the inside, we got to choose the carpet, floors and light fixtures.The process was fairly stress-free and time went by quickly as we made one decision after another. By the time our daughter was six months old, our house was finally ready and we got to move in.

To place our personal stamp on the “hill” house, we did some minor things to it. One of these was some landscaping.  We planted shrubs and trees in the front yard. Our decorating budget became drastically reduced, however, during that first year when my husband’s job was phased out. We managed to scrape together enough funds to finish off a small corner of the oversized garage for a home office. This gave my husband a private space to draw maps and sell real estate so that we could pay our bills for a while.

We ended up moving to northern Georgia for another job and sold the house. We did not make a profit on it. In fact, the economy was in a downturn. Though we considered renting it out, we finally  accepted a low offer to keep from having to pay two house payments. We found out later that the people who bought the house after us, fenced in the back yard only to lose the fencing later during floodwaters in a heavy rainstorm.

In this house our daughter celebrated her first birthday. She had her first sugar rush with cake and ice cream. She took her first steps and spoke her first distinguishable word, “fluffla”or flower, in our front yard.  She climbed out of her crib in the middle of the night, frightening us so much that we ended up putting her mattress on the floor.  I locked myself out of the house one day while she was asleep in her crib and had to borrow a neighbor’s phone to call my husband to come home.  She fell down the stairs here learning to climb them and cut her lip.  She got her head stuck in the railings dividing the kitchen from the den. The house was memorable in many ways but mostly for milestones associated with our daughter’s first year of life. 

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My Own Fixer Uppers

After visiting Waco, Texas and the famous Magnolia Market, I have reflected on my own “fixer upper” experiences. Through the years, my husband and I have taken on a few real estate remodeling challenges.

As a child, I remember my parents fixing up two houses. My grandparents did the same.  I guess when you don’t have a lot of money to buy your dream home, you make lemonade out of lemons, so to speak.  It takes a vision for what it can become.  I have learned   that this is the fun of home ownership.

Every home we have ever owned, has been a work in progress. We have scoured, stripped wallpaper, painted, and changed each place to improve it and put our own personal touches on it to make it ours.

In 1983, we owned our first home in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. It was a townhouse.   I will call our first home “the  blue barn house”.  It had all the space that we needed for a starter home. There were three levels. Three tiny bedrooms and a bath were on the top floor. A kitchen, half-bath and living room were on the main floor. There was a walk-out basement on the lowest level. What was interesting and sold us was that the basement walked out to a fenced garden space with raised beds and a small barn-like storage building. We had the end unit next to a playground so had more gardening space along the side of the house. I ended up planting flowers in the back yard and vegetables along the side yard. Our laundry area was downstairs along with another half bath. The area was heated by a wood stove which made the space very cozy.

In the kitchen, the previous owners had put up some nice tile as a back splash along with real barn board along one wall.  The style then  was country so this lended itself well to the decorating trend of the time.  All we needed to do was a little painting and decorating to make the house feel like home. We ended up painting the orange basement walls yellow. We had to live with the brown shag carpeting throughout the house. I made some cute rust colored curtains with ducks in the design in the kitchen to match my duck  theme throughout the house.  I stenciled a flower design along the ceiling of the bedroom walls and a rocking horse border in the baby’s room when I became pregnant with my daughter.

  All our hard work paid off for when we listed our house for sale, after only three years of ownership, our house sold in three days.

 

 

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Being A Servant

Matthew 23:11″ The greatest among you shall be your servant.”

Servanthood is becoming a rare commodity in our present “do-it-yourself” world.

I still remember when going to the store was a rather stress-free experience.  There were plenty of department store staff willing to help you find your item, find your size and  make sure you had a perfect fit. A transaction was not complete until the customer was fully satisfied.

Finding shoes was one challenge that sales persons helped make less frustrating. First, they measured feet with a sliding metal device. Then they searched the back room for the selected shoes. In Cinderella’s footman style, they kneeled to slip shoes on customers’ feet. They had to use extra care to avoid causing pain to their customers.  Sometimes a shoe horn was used to slip the shoes on. For children, they had to master the skill of assessing “room to grow” by mashing the end of the big toe allowing an inch of space from the shoe tip. I sometimes was embarrassed for shoe salespeople as they inevitably encountered customers with smelly or calloused feet that were not too appealing.

Finding a bra in the lingerie department was another ordeal that became fairly painless as salesladies made numerous trips back and forth from the dressing room to be sure a style was chosen  that properly fit chest measurements. They had to learn to be discreet and complimentary no matter the proportional challenges of the customers they assisted.

At gas stations,  attendants stood in line ready to pump gas, clean windshields and check fluid levels under hoods.  In addition, all states made it mandatory for vehicles to pass a maintenance test in order to be driven each year. It was uncommon to see cars broken down by the side of the road in those days because of the level of service every automobile owner received.

I have rarely received such extraordinary service in my current day shopping excursions or auto repair work. When I do, I am sure to let the salesperson or mechanic know of my appreciation. Servanthood is a quality in the service industry that is greatly missed.  However,  it is something that we all can make a conscious effort to try to exhibit to others at whatever station in life we find ourselves.

 

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Let Little Birds Fly

I have revisited an important lesson in the last few weeks.  I have been having difficulty letting go again.

My mother had a heart attack two weeks ago.  She had been to a doctor’s appointment that morning. She wanted to go alone but something told me to go with her.  I saw her walking up the sidewalk to the front entrance as I pulled in the parking lot. It was good for me to be there to be an extra set of ears for her as she has become hard of hearing. It gives me peace of mind also to converse with the doctor myself concerning my mother’s health concerns.

Lately, her blood pressure has been elevated and when they tested her blood, she was anemic. The doctor prescribed an iron supplement which we were going to fill after getting a quick-lunch.   We went to a local Panera Bread since Mom likes their soup. She was feeling fine until we sat down. Suddenly she started feeling dizzy and put her head down. She started going in and out of consciousness. Her left arm started shaking.  I tried talking to her. She told me she needed to use the restroom then wanted to go home. I walked with her to the restroom. As soon as she got to the bathroom stall, her legs buckled and she began falling. Fortunately, I was there to catch her and break her fall. I laid her head down on my purse so that she did not hit her head on the floor.  This was the first miracle. The second miracle was that I had passed two police officers at a table just outside the bathroom. I grabbed them and had them call “911.” The paramedics came within minutes.  They took her to the hospital.  I phoned my husband and met him at the emergency room.  The EMT’s met me at the door and told me my mother had a heart attack. They were working on her.  We waited for about an hour to find out the prognosis.

The time in the waiting room seemed like an eternity. Some candy-stripers offered us some snacks to eat that had been provided by a church. I looked down and noticed that the bag of chips I had chosen had a scripture verse taped to the outside. I marveled at how God must use this wonderful ministry to provide comfort to distraught family members in the hospital waiting room.

As I nervously sat with my husband, I noticed a lady sitting alone across the aisle from us. I struck up a conversation to try to console her as well as myself. Her husband was having heart surgery. He was only 49. She said he had a condition known as “the widow-maker.” As worried as I was about my mother, I wanted to offer a prayer for this woman. I asked her if I could pray for her and she was happy to oblige. Somehow, praying for someone else in the midst of my own crisis made me feel better.

Finally, after an excruciating wait, the doctor came out to talk to us. He took us into a room and showed us an image of my mother’s heart.  He said he had put a stent into an artery that was 99% blocked and that she should recover well but would need to stay in the hospital at least 3 days.  We were told in the ICU that she was very lucky! She still has some challenges to overcome.

I have been caring more for my mother as she has gotten older. I try to convince her to do things to take care of herself as she gets stubborn sometimes. She almost refused treatment in the emergency room. If my husband had not been there to coerce her, she might not have signed over to let them work on her.  Try as I might, I have to keep giving her back to God.  He has given her back to me this time. For that I am grateful.

I find myself revisiting the old lesson that God keeps trying to teach me to let go. As I left the hospital during one of my visits when I struggled convincing her that she must stay a few more days and abide by the doctors’ directives, I felt the Lord saying to me “Let little birds fly.”

 

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The Hope of Spring

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whenever faced with a difficult season of life, it is good to start planning ahead for something in the future as a way of relief or light at the end of a tunnel.  Whether it be a trip, an outing or some fun activity, it is a way to help us muddle through whatever situation we currently find ourselves.

Gardening has been a way that I have found hope for the future, especially during particularly dry spells. There is something exciting about seeing signs of life stirring in a dormant winter garden.  New green shoots that protrude through the ground from crocus bulbs, Lenten roses or cheery yellow blossoms on forsythia bushes are often the first signs of spring that I spy in my garden during late January or February on warm winter days. It is always uplifting to my weary soul.

This year,  I am more eager than usual to find the ever-comforting signs of spring to offer me hope for my current winter doldrums.  I especially need a little boost of encouragement from my plant friends since my mother’s recent heart attack and health challenges.

 

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An Idyllic Mountain Vacation Setting

Recently my family and I took a much-needed trip to the mountains. As on most vacations, we never know what our accommodations are going to be like as I reserve lodging spots sight unseen. It is a little easier with the use of the internet. However, as each owner makes their own rental sound simply amazing and breathtakingly appealing, it can be somewhat misleading and we never quite know what we are going to get until we arrive at each vacation destination. At a certain price point, we can be pretty assured that it will be acceptable. However, one never really knows what awaits. Will we be out in the sticks, miles away from town and unable to find grocery stores, restaurants and shopping? Will everyone be happy with their designated bed and/or room? We have rented houses in the past through real estate rental management companies and have recently discovered vacation rentals by owner. Most often, we have been happy.  One time, our house was up a very steep hill that left us all scared to make the ascent each time we would go to and from our rental property. We have been far away from civilization and were exhausted each time we had to find a grocery store to gather our supplies for the weekend. We have had rustic quarters where someone had to sleep on a cot, a sleeper sofa or worse, on the floor.  We have stayed in what we refer to as “the elf house” that was literally so small that we could barely turn around. We had to make up the couch/bed and push aside the kitchen table each day in order to have a spot to sit down or eat.

The story that tops them all is when we stayed at a “resort” in West Virginia. I use the term lightly as this is how it was advertised. Little did we know that it had been a former women’s prison in the early part of the 20th century.  We stayed in a room that had been the infirmary. The bathroom had no updates and I got an uneasy feeling about the sanitary condition of a place that must have treated contagious diseases and all sorts of ailments. Even worse, the twin beds in the room seemed like they were original to the prison.  We could barely sleep with imaginations of what prisoners had stayed in the room before us. However, what was unnerving were the eerie sounds in the building and particularly in the floor above us throughout the night. Upon closer examination the following day, we discovered that there were still cells and bars on the windows in the upper rooms. It was a space that was rented out each Halloween as a haunted house. It was equipped with a coffin, skeletal figures and other ghoulish apparitions. We could not leave that vacation spot quick enough.

We have been on the other end of the spectrum  when we knew we had spent too much for our rental and the space was so too nice that we couldn’t really relax for fear that we would mess something up and would forfeit a rental deposit. One time our children marvelled at the sight of a refrigerator in an upscale hotel room.  They took treats out of the refrigerator all through the first day of our stay before we realized it. Of course they did not know that those candy bars and sodas were not free and were attached to our already expensive bill at then end of our vacation.

I guess this is part of what makes vacationing an adventure.  Our family always has a ball together. We laugh at each other until we almost cry. It is a much-needed break from our hectic life and we love times that we spend together.

This year’s fall mountain trip offered us one of the best accommodations yet.

We scheduled to stay in a house in a lake community that was built in the 1920’s. From the pictures, I could tell that it had a nice front porch with a view of the lake.  There were plenty of bedrooms and bathrooms for everyone.  It sounded nice enough and since it was in an area where we had never stayed before, we decided to take the risk. It was not far from town, so we figured there would be plenty to do if our house was not quite to our liking and we wanted to venture out.

We arrived in two cars. My mother, son and I arrived earlier in the day. My husband and daughter arrived later that night. We found the house to be better than we had imagined.  It was old but charming because it reminded us of a grandparents’ house. It was furnished in craftsman style with oak wooden floors and moldings.Wallpaper from another era was still on bedroom walls. The bathrooms were not modern.  We found cast iron tubs  in two baths upstairs. There were quilts and rocking chairs throughout the house.  The lack of updates added to the appeal by taking us back to a simpler time. There was only one television in the lower downstairs bedroom. We discovered that we were actually relieved to do without modern technology. It was good to be coerced to unplug for the weekend. We played card games, communicated a lot with one another and  found interesting reading material amongst the many bookshelves throughout the house.

The community was private and quiet.  There were walking trails around the lake.   Canada geese waddled by the lake’s edge. Other water birds could be seen floating  in the distance.  Among them were ducks, swans and loons. These birds were delightful to watch even though they made quite a racket and disturbed our sleep by their constant honking throughout the night.

My daughter took the opportunity to go for a run each morning and made it all the way around the lake.  She explored the neighborhood and brought us back to see a cross at the top of the tallest hill and a bridge that crossed the lake at its narrowest point. There was a feeding area for the swans and a couple of gardens that were maintained by residents throughout the year.

The weather was balmy the first day. My son and I took the opportunity to sit out on the porch and read for a while.  It was good that we did for it rained the next day and turned colder.  We had no choice but to take an indoor shopping excursion and a car tour of the area. The night before we left, the temperature dipped into the 30s. It caught us by surprise forcing us to bundle up as we packed to leave. We started to see snow flurries on our departure and even heavier snow fell along the mountain roads as we travelled home. None of us cared because we had a wonderful time and fond memories of out trip to the mountains.

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