Okay, so this post is a couple of months late, but that’s because there was no way I could share any pictures until my home had all the furniture I ordered, actually in it. 🙂 Plus, there’s a lot I learned about the “joys” of homeownership, that I’d be remiss not to share.
45 Days of Impatience
As you saw in previous posts, on my home buying experience, if there’s two things I don’t have much of, it’s patience… and eyeballing measurements. When I put an offer on my home, and it was accepted, it took 45 days for closing, which is a short amount of time, compared to the standard (60 days). This meant I was moving out of my apartment a full two months early, which meant breaking my lease (guess who won, financially, from that situation – hint: wasn’t me). It also meant having two weeks to pack up as much as I could, trying to sell almost all of the furniture that wouldn’t fit (note: I sold more than I needed – who doesn’t like new stuff anyway), and buying all of the paint I needed to begin painting, the minute I had my keys in-hand. Being a planner, it was the most painful experience, having to wait close enough to closing, to make absolute sure all of the financing went through. If you don’t have thick skin (mine is still in development), you’ll end up with a few breakdowns, panic attacks, and bouts of “I want to buy that couch before it’s gone, oh my god, it’s gone”) impatience.
To add to this, the last time I got to see the place was one week after I put the offer in, which meant the proper thing to do would be to take great measurements and pictures. In my excitement, my handwriting was chicken scratch (with the notes I took anyway), and no photos were taken because at the time, I though “I can totally eyeball this”. Thank God for the MLS listing, and being able to save the seller’s photos!
If there was any time to have a reality show, it would have been “moving week”. First, I never should have said the words, “Watch it, it hasn’t snowed all winter, and it’s gonna snow the week of my move.” Guess what happened? Second, I grossly underestimated the amount of time it would take to paint extremely old walls. My house was built in the 40s and while cozy and charming, the layers of paint, spackle, divots, holes, and bumps, were no match for my paint rollers and brushes. (The upside, going up and down ladders for days, made for a tighter glutes.) And while I was cursing up a storm, getting paint everywhere, my saint of a boyfriend underestimated the time/strength it would take to move my stuff in simultaneously (which he thought he could do alone). After some reinforcement was called, and everything was in one place, we survived the following:
- Snow, ice, mud
- One back injury
- One old knee injury flare up
- A few hundred man hours of moving help
- 16 hours of painting
- 8 coats of paint
- A lot of junk food consumption because the kitchen wasn’t unpacked
- One sad pup who was passed off to family for a week, coming “home” to a different place than where he started
That Moment When you Realize You’re Responsible…. for Everything…
I knew that when I bought the place, I’d be responsible for anything that broke, needed maintenance, renovating, etc. However, like anyone that brings home a baby, a puppy, or anything else delicate for the first time, everything freaks you out at first, and I mean EVERYTHING.
When is a Leak a Catastrophe?!
Week two and I find a tiny drip coming from the hot water heater, and you would have thought I thought it broke. “What if that slow drip turns into a bigger leak? And, what if that leak turns into a puddle, which turns into a flooded basement?” Were the questions I asked to my mom, before getting the name of her plumber, and calling my dad. My dad (who is the BEST Mr. Fixit), took one look and said, “You just need to tighten it. Go buy the wrench and some Teflon tape, just in case.” After I got over the shock that I didn’t even think of that, I took my ninth trip to Home Depot in two weeks (side question: When do they start customizing carts for repeat customers?), bought what I needed, and fixed it. I was proud of myself for being responsible (and now having enough tools to be the community’s handy-woman).
I Hate Bugs, No Seriously…
One and a half months in, and it’s spring, which means unwelcome “visitors”. Anyone ever seen a Centipede? Anyone see one RUN on 100 legs, about 5 feet from your bedroom? Yep… mama Centipede was squashed (by my own personal hero, my boyfriend, because I ran to my room and shut the door, screaming) but it turns out… she had kids, which when I found one in our bedroom, it went something like this:
Thank God my sister is my Realtor, and she could hand me the name and number of the Pest Control Inspector (Pest Now) we used for inspection. They have become my own personal heroes. For $89 a quarter, Pest Now is coming out and spraying because God knows I don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night with a scene, straight out of Arachnophobia.
Realizing If You Break a Window, You Have to Pay For It… So Move Furniture In Gently
If I was renting this place, I’d never give a second thought to popping out a window, in order to move furniture, in. I’d chalk it up to being part of the deal with moving into an old house with tight corners, and if it broke, no big deal. BUT, since this is MY place, I’ve twice had to enlist the help of three people to carefully remove the windows, so two couches could come in through it… which begs the question of why I never thought to do it, while moving…
P.S. I’m pretty sure two sets of furniture delivery men hate me now.
The Fun Part…
Regardless of all the money you “bleed”, the sweat, tears, swear words, ripped/stained clothing, and physical pain you go through, to start turning a house into a home, it’s so completely worth it! I’ve already got renovation projects and small touches, on schedule for the next two years (take note of boyfriend’s total patience and encouragement, here).
In the meantime, while still a “work in progress”, I’ve managed to make our house a home. Below are before-and-afters of the rooms I’m sharing for now. Stay tuned for the myriad of decorating ideas, renovation projects, and any mental breakdowns that will come with this 🙂
Guest Bedroom to Chic Office
Design Notes: Still searching for just the right artwork to complete this room. The paint is by Behr in Island Aqua, lamps from Safavieh, rug from Houzz, desk from Overstock, bookshelf from Overstock.
Drab Bedroom to Cozy Bedroom
Design Notes: Pain by Behr in Espresso Martini, nightstands form Pottery Barn, lamps from Home Goods, bedding from Pottery Barn, fur throw from Z Gallerie, area rug from Home Depot, artwork from Home Goods.
Comfortable Living Room to Cozy Chic
Design Notes: Floor lamp on order, followed by two side tables, a mirror, and centerpiece display. Pain by Behr in Perfect Taupe, Dryden couches custom made by Crate and Barrel, coffee table, drapes and rug from Z Gallerie; painting by Maggie O’Neill, media console by Z Gallerie, travel books made by me on Shutterfly.
Multifunctional Dining Room to Dedicated Space
Design Notes: We are refinishing this dining room wall with stone next year! Table by World Market, dining chairs by Pier One, artwork by me, candles/candlesticks by Pottery Barn.
Outdoor Functional to Chic Outdoor Space
Design Note: Next year there will be flower pots! Outdoor set by Houzz.
I had a couple of messages this morning, asking me if I stopped meditating, since I’ve not posted in close to five days. I’ve definitely had my morning practice however, I did not finish the 21-day Meditation Challenge. So much of what I shared, over the last 2 1/2 weeks, was already shared. I felt as though a bit of it was too repetitive and thus, I’m not comfortable writing a blog post if I can’t give unique, applicable content. So instead, I’m going to show you proof of what “hope” looks like…
This past weekend (includes Thursday) was filled with celebrations of love, new milestones, and great friendships. It’s one of those rare weekends that I was constantly on the go, but so happy to share in the joy in so many other people’s lives. Below is a peek into my weekend, and what I am most grateful for because of it:
Thursday: A New Year, and New Connections
My “weekend” kicked off with the birthday of my BFF, and a date auction. (Yes, I’m taken but I also happened to throw a male friend up there, and wanted to be there for moral support.)
I am so grateful for my girlfriend (pictured below). While I have so many amazing women in my life, she’s seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. We often joke we’ll be living together at age 80, watching Star Wars movie marathons, while knitting. Thus, a year hasn’t gone by where I’ve not celebrated a birthday with her. In fact, it’s also the anniversary of when we met!
For her celebration, a bunch of us girls took her to Cafe Milano for dinner (complete with a firework slice of cake). (If you have never been there, I HIGHLY suggest it! It’s home of the power dinner, where the “who’s who” goes to dine. It’s also home to some of the best gluten-free pasta and rosé in D.C.)
While her own personal celebration had concluded, we weren’t done with the evening. We all headed over to Capitale for our friend Sher Mathew’s date auction. She is in the running to be LLS Woman of the Year, and she’s knocking it out of the park with about three events A WEEK! It was there it felt like one, big friend reunion, complete with stage takeover to sing my friend Happy Birthday!
Photos, courtesy of Vithaya Phongsavan
Friday: Celebrating My Most Favorite Person in the World
My other half is seriously THE BEST. Between the move into our new home, my compulsive behaviors to get everything unpacked, put away, and decorated; AND putting up with my work schedule, he’s a complete rockstar. Thus, I wanted to surprise him with a dinner outside (check out Cactus Cantina if you want some great Mexican food and drinks, on an outdoor patio with a view of the National Cathedral) and a quick stop at a private Tiffany’s event in Chevy Chase, to buy him something he’s always wanted” a Dog Tag.
Saturday: Celebrating New Beginnings
Last year, my mom, sister, and myself held an annual Bags, Baubles, and Bubbles fundraiser at Westwood Country Club, to raise money for the Stroke Comeback Center. I wrote about the Center last year when we were getting ready to hold the first annual event. It’s a wonderful place for Stroke and Trauma victims to rehabilitate, and certainly, there have been some amazing comeback stories because of it!
This year was bigger and better, with a private fashion show, hosted by Bloomingdales; hundreds of auction items, a beautiful luncheon, and even more attendees! I was so grateful to be a part of it again!
When it was over, I was down for a quick nap and then onto the last event of the evening: Saying goodbye to one of my close friends and her husband (plus pending baby), as they are moving to San Antonio!
It couldn’t have been a more perfect evening, atop the Watergate Hotel (I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you check this out), with the sun setting (everyone was grateful for being able to witness the most perfect sunset from the best view in DC), being surrounded by good, close friends.
Sunday: Celebrating Love
To cap off the weekend, we were grateful to be able to celebrate two amazing people who are the absolute epitome of true love. It was so special to be amongst our close friends, and both the bride and groom-to-be’s respective families, in one of the most beautiful historic homes in D.C.
It’s weekends like these that make me thankful for the friends, family, support, and love I have in my life! Stay tuned for Mother’s Day weekend, when I take you all down to Williamsburg, VA with me!
Last Tuesday, I saw a home that I fell in love with. It’s bright, warm, cozy, and cheerful. It’s the perfect first place for me and I was “sold”. When my sister (who is also my real estate agent) dropped me back off at my apartment, we agreed I should make an offer on the place. Within just a few hours of submittal, the offer was accepted.
When you get that call to say your offer has been accepted, it starts out with total relief and excitement… followed by “oh shit…” (depiction of reaction below)
Real estate agents, mortgage brokers, and title companies exist for a reason – it’s because unless you’re hybrid real estate agent/lawyer, there’s no way you can navigate your way through the various tactics in which your final monthly mortgage payment, closing fees, and repairs/credits from the home inspection, come about. After my offer was accepted, I spent Wednesday morning hunting down and sending the following:
- Two years’ worth of W-2s
- Two months of pay stubs
- Two months of bank and savings statements (which put the fear of god in me that someone was going to see my addiction to iTunes)
- My picture ID (which I had to casually explain why I looked like a serial killer)
- My blood type
- My dog (aka first born child)
(I’m kidding on the last two… I also went out for a large glass of wine and double Jack and diet that night.)
And that wasn’t it… then you have to start signing the checks/wiring the money.
- $475 inspection fee (by the way, if you live in the DMV, Romano Pietrobono of The Building Inspector of America is the best!
- $4500 in earnest money wired
When all that’s done, you’re still not. Then comes the:
- Paperwork from the title company (five forms)
- The actual loan application (100 pages – thank GOD for Docusign)
- Securing home owner’s insurance up front (USAA made that super easy on me)
- Reading the HOA manual, to know which utilities you have to set up
- Getting a home inspection (must be done within two days of offer being accepted)
- Re-negotiating any repairs with the seller and signing the final docs
While all of this seems easy enough (since you’re not doing the heavy lifting), the emotions that come with it are not. Why? The first two bullet points do not include ACTUAL numbers but instead, numbers that are estimated. The title company included things like Title Insurance (which are not needed if a seller is in good financial-standing with the home), which elevated the closing costs, past my budget; and although my Mortgage Broker did put an emphasis on the closing costs being estimated extremely high, they were jaw-dropping enough that after a long day, my head was spinning and I broke down.
This last part is what EVERYONE goes through when they buy their first home (or so I’m told). And, it’s common to set a budget and get it blown out of the water. SO… I’m going to give you some tips on how to avoid (as best you can) the emotional pitfalls of parting with your money/being financially prepared for something like this.
- A mortgage broker is worth their weight in GOLD. Mine has been amazing, treating me as though I’m family (you can check out his contact info here). It’s his job to run all of the numbers for you but…
- Be incredibly honest about your financial situation. Mortgage Brokers are not here to judge you but instead, get you the best possible deal on closing costs and a mortgage. What this means… give them the bottom number of what you have saved for the entirety of this purchase. This includes money down (3.5% for FHA loans and 3% for conventional – assuming you have great credit), closing costs (averages around $6K) , any current home fees you will have to pay at the same time (I have one month of paying for two places), and inspection fees ($300-$500 for a modest home).
- Know your bottom number for money down and closing costs, and then… add 30% for safety’s sake – this is probably the biggest tip I can give you. Granted, there are all sorts of credits mortgage brokers and real estate agents can give you, to support your closing cost number. However, it’s important to still understand what the reality could be.
- Communicate/understand timing of first payment – This is also something a lot of people forget about. Since I’m in an apartment, I still have rent to pay every month until my lease is up. I have one month where I’m paying for both places. This is in addition to two utility bills. It’s not ideal but I had to account for that.
- Read all of the paperwork – especially the numbers sheets, and ASK A TON OF QUESTIONS!! It’s okay to question everything, especially if there is something you don’t understand. This is one of the biggest purchases you will make in your life and it should never be taken lightly!
By the end of this week, I was emotionally (and financially) spent. However, I’m still so excited. For me to be able to afford a place on my own is a huge life achievement, and one that I would never trade in for anything else. Now off to start planning my decorating, while I wait for settlement mid-March…
In my last post I announced my intent to find a permanent home to keep my stuff, touching on budgeting tips and the different types of loans in existence.
Since doing the leg work on what it was going to take financially to do it, I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster of trying not to get overly excited.
Home shopping is a lot like meeting a “match” online. You get to know the person through their profile, you look at their pictures a million times, you reach out to the person and maybe secure a first date; only to be stood up, turned down after the first date, or creeped out. And like all other dating stories, it eventually has a happy ending.
I got stood up by my first “love”…
My first “love” was a great townhouse that was a PERFECT fit… at least from its online pictures. We ran all of the numbers, made an appointment to see it, and 20 minutes before we were supposed to be there, the realtor said they had a ratified contract (meaning the offer was accepted and it was onto next steps). I was bummed out for a couple of days, wanted to give up, but picked myself up and move on.
I made it to date one and then…
While you can’t swipe left or right on real estate listings, you can favorite. So I told myself to be patient because the perfect home for me was out there. Each day, I went through the different listings on a few different
dating real estate apps, favorited ones that I thought could work, and in the middle of that, found a condo that had been remodeled with me in mind. It had almost everything I was looking for: turnkey with sleek, modern enhancements; more than one level, and potential to add some personal touches. We got along great with the owners, it all seemed positive (I maintained little expectations), and I decided to put an offer on it. Unfortunately, someone else put in a much higher, more attractive offer (above asking price) and thus, I had to move on.
When you meet someone and you just know they’re creepy…
In the area I’m looking in, it’s generally older homes because most of the area used to be military back in the day. While most of the homes are renovated, there are some that clearly haven’t been touched since at least the 1960’s. In one such home, it was as though the previous owner was in the middle of doing minimal updates when they just disappeared. The minute I walked into the place, I was faced with a child-height closet that looked like the “victims” were kept there. In the basement, some of the light fixtures were dangling, the floor was a sterile color tile, and the walls were a dark charcoal gray. Upstairs, the bedroom fans were on and were wobbling back and forth, while the paint looked slapped on in a hurry. I really couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
A Perfect Fit
A few weeks ago, I
swiped right favorited a townhouse that had potential. It wasn’t my first choice but I kept coming back to it (stalked it) over and over again. I flipped through the pictures over a dozen times, I ran the numbers that seemed to good to be true, and finally decided I needed to meet this place in person.
On January 31st, I went with my sister to see it. From the minute I stepped onto the stoop, I felt a sense of calm. It was lovingly cared for by a woman who was called overseas for work and couldn’t rent it out. It had warm wood floors, plenty of light (both from the windows and from the newly-installed lighting), and plenty of space to entertain. While it needs small amounts of updating, it didn’t really matter. I could tell this would be a place I could call a home. So, we put an offer in… and it was accepted.
My Tips for Home Shopping
- Make your list of must-haves and nice-to-haves ahead of time but keep an open mind! I started out wanting a garage, fireplace, and back patio but ended up with none of those things. Yet, I’m totally happy!
- Know what you can’t change. Sometimes, we get so sucked into a timeline of finding place that we might concede on major things, such as location and structure (condo, townhouse, house). If you see a neighborhood or type of home you like – start there. You can’t change those once you buy a home.
- Much like any other big purchase or life event, you just ” know” when certain things are a fit but…
- NEVER get attached. Real estate moves very fast – at least in major cities and their surrounding areas. If you don’t get it (because the home had competing offers) or you weren’t quick enough to put an offer in, it means something better is out there!
- Someone will almost always offer more and that’s okay. I always liken this to people who speed past me on the highway – let the cops catch them so I can go on my way. The person that pays over market price is doing you a favor by setting the new price trend. At the same time, if there are other homes in the neighborhood going for less, during that timeframe, you get in at a great price and then watch the value rise! The person that offered way over value on the first place I put an offer on, did me a favor. I paid market price for mine, which allowed for built in equity. It was a far better move!
Stay tuned for my post on the
marriage closing process… on March 16th!
Growing up, my Barbie owned a home (see example pic above), an RV, a Corvette, a company, and more fancy outfits, shoes, and jewelry than Imelda Marcos (she also had a hot boyfriend named Ken). She was also a master chef, a lead singer in Barbie and the Rockers, and a beauty queen (but I digress). I know that in this day and age, Barbie seems somewhat controversial but back in the day, she was the epitome of showing girls they could be anything they wanted to be.
In more realistic life, my parents always encouraged complete independence – that we could be (and do) anything we wanted to. They wanted my sisters and I to always have enough means to not depend on someone else, teaching us the meaning of working hard and saving what we could, so that we were always okay.. Each of us had bumps in the road with that but those lessons she taught us, stuck, creating “overly self-suffiencent and independent” women (writer’s note: My mom also blames herself for doing so well in this department that she has no grandchildren).
I’ve definitely had my share of bumps in this, moving across the country and back again not once, but twice; choosing luxury cars and vacations over purchasing a home; and general reckless spending to go out and have a good time. I regret none of these decisions but at the same time, it’s also pushed out my “adulting” timelines by eight more years than it should.
In the middle of 2016, I wrote a post about giving into wanderlust and if it was irresponsible. At the time, I was hell-bent on traveling more and saving less. I felt that seeing the world would bring greater joy than being a home owner. This was a week after I renewed my lease, believing that renting was all I could ever afford. About two months later, something smacked me upside the head – what if I could do both?
I always believed that buying a home was something pretty unachievable for one person to handle – the down payment, closing costs, insurance, titling fees, inspection fees, any renovations, decorating, etc. But as it turns out, I also missed out on tax breaks, as well as saving myself from increasing rent prices and moving costs. This lead me to realize I hate having to determine if I’m going to spend another year re-negotiating my lease on a small space with little storage; or if I will have to move again to keep rent prices down. Plus, the appeal of being able to paint walls, change out lighting fixtures, etc. to make a house a home, were all huge to me because most rental properties strongly advise against it (plus, I’m not one for paying to have something changed back before I move).
So, I started online “window” shopping. This quickly turned into an onslaught of questions to my sister (who is a real estate agent), which turned into a couple of conversations with her recommended Mortgage Broker. The gist of this is that I should have bought a home years ago for the tax breaks alone BUT now that I’ve taken the first step in acknowledging that it’s time to purchase one, I had some things to do to get to step 2: Actually shopping.
For those who are contemplating buying a home for the first time, I’d encourage you to do a lot of homework: Talk to live people – friends who have been through the process, a trusted mortgage broker, real estate agent you know, etc., to get as educated as possible. I’ve learned that trying to educate yourself online will lead you down a lot of false paths, spammy phone calls and emails, and a ton of stress and headaches.
Below is the process I’ve completed so far. I hope this can help one or two of you in starting your own path to home ownership!
Budgeting Questions to Ask Yourself
- Take a look at your current rent and any other fees attached to it. Are you comfortable paying that or a few hundred more?
- Take a look at your overall debt-to-income ratio- would you be able to sacrifice going out to eat/drink a little bit to pay down your debt a bit, or at least not amass more debt?
- Take a look at your savings – These days, a conventional loan requires a minimum of 3% down and an FHA (should the home be under $500K) requires a minimum of 3.5%. Would you be able to afford that?
In my case, the answer was “yes” to all of them but it took some work, soul-searching, and “adulting” to make it happen – this included getting rid of my expensive car lease, saving me money on a car payment, gas, and insurance. (Being car-free has its challenges but overall, I’ve been able to breathe a lot easier.)
Differences in Loans – Doing My Homework
There are SO MANY different kinds of loans out there and with every article I read and every professional I talked to, my head seemed to swirl a little bit more. In my case, I’m focused on two:
- FHA Loan – Simply put, you’re paying mortgage insurance to the Federal government to protect the lender against bankruptcy. This is actually a great option for first-time home buyers who don’t need to borrow above $500K. It requires a 3.5% down payment (unless your credit score is less than 550 and then in that case, it will require a 10% downpayment). So if you were going for a $500K home, you would need $17,500 to put down. In addition, if you need to make improvements on the home, you can apply for a 203K, which can give you up to $35,000 for the improvements, which is absorbed into your loan. The drawbacks with this loan:
- The list of bank lenders becomes a lot smaller
- You are paying two mortgage insurance premiums – one is up front ($1,750 for each $100K you are borrowing) and one is annual (about .85% of the loan).
- If the home price is more than the actual worth, FHA will reject the request to purchase the home. The home price must fall on-par with or under the assessment price.
- Conventional Loan – A conventional loan can be many things. The main difference is that it is not backed by a government agency and instead, purely by a bank or other lender. It requires a minimum down payment of 3% (with a great credit score), and can include a fixed APR (also dependent on credit score). The drawbacks of this loan:
- You are paying Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for down payments of less than 20%. With good credit however, it can sometimes cost less than FHA.
- The max of the loan will be less than FHA – it’s typically $417K for most areas and $540K for those in more expensive areas.
- Your credit score is the driving factor – the lower your score, the more you pay
Getting the Pre-Approval Letter
As of today, my application was submitted to my Mortgage Broker and I was pre-approved! Taking all the necessary budgeting steps, helped tremendously in getting me there. Now that I know my max spending number, I’m ready to start house shopping! Stay tuned for the fun part 🙂
Over the last week, some really fun and amusing posts have come out. SO – you are welcome for the Friday distraction!
- 50 People You Really Wish You Knew in Real Life
- This is What Happens When You Photoshop Celebrities into Your Holiday Party
- 12 Ways to Achieve the Very Best Glamour Shot
- 16 Montages I’d Love to See
Fun with Legos!
My friend Wolf (amazingly) summed up what she saw during her lifetime: “World War 1 in full swing at her birth, the Golden Twenties around the corner, the Great Recession worldwide and subsequent Dark Brown Ages in Europe while she was a young adult, China’s long march, the entire length of the Cold War, the Western World becoming affluent and complacent throughout the fifties and sixties, McDonald’s broiling its first burger in IL, Sputnik while she was around our age today, “one small step…, on big step…” when she was 42, the peaceful intentions of Flower Power, “I have a Dream”, women like her starting to become officially liberated, etc. etc. It sure must have been an incredible, fulfilling, scary, yet stimulating life experience that we all can only dream of replicating and mastering for ourselves. May she rest now, and may your sadness be lightened by having had the opportunity to participate through her in the extraordinary details of life and humanity.”
My Yia-yia (grandmother)
My grandmother was born in Thessaloniki – one of the biggest metropolises in Greece – in 1917. She joined two older sisters: Eva and Ida.
My grandmother told her story to me long ago: “As a young girl, my father disappeared – my mother explaining he must have died in the war. As a result, we, especially my sister Eva, were un-marriable, as there was no male figure to present a dowery when the time came. After seven years of my father missing, it was long enough to declare him dead and my mother moved us to the United States (Nashua, NH), where we worked as seamstresses. One day, my father came back – he had been living with a mistress and my mother, who had known all along, turned him away….”
Many details of her teenage years are fuzzy to me but what I do remember is the story of when her and my grandfather met, “I was living in Arkansas, going to school there, and I was at a barn dance. I met this handsome man named Milton and he had asked me to dance. I had told him no. He said to me, “Out of all the women here, I want to dance with you.” We dated, got engaged and got married.”
My Papou (grandfather)
My grandfather, Milton Devolites, was born in 1916 in a small village in Greece. This village had no running water, electricity or any other amenities most of us have today (and still didn’t have even 15 years ago). Escaping the war, his family moved to Nashua, NH and opened a sandwich shop. He was 14 at the time and did not read, write or speak any English. By the time he was 18, he was accepted into Harvard and coincidentally, was first round lottery pick for the draft (mind you, this is before the Army and the Marines split). Fast forwarding through the details of his life, he got his doctorate and was working with the US Army Medical Service when he met my grandmother.
Col. and Mrs. Devolites
My grandparents created homes with their children (3 boys and a girl) at various military postings in the United States, Caribbean, Europe, and the Mediterranean, from the early 1940s into the late 1980s. After 22 different cities and 31 years of service, they retired to Arlington, VA. My grandfather was a Colonel in the Army when he retired, became a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE), and Professor Emeritus in Health Care Administration at The George Washington University in Washington, DC before he died in 1986.
I remember those years in the 1980s – my parents would drop my sister and I off on weekends. My grandmother would teach us to sew, make us matching outfits, and for our Barbies as well. She taught us to garden (I loved planting the onions and picking the cherry tomatoes); she let us eat whatever we wanted and we stayed up late watching TV (MTV wasn’t permitted at home). We loved to camp out in the living room so she made us a table cloth tent to sleep under. We’d paint our nails, drink milk and sugar coffee out of dainty tea cups. My grandfather would teach us how to draw shapes and he loved riddles – one of his favorite being, “What runs around a yard and never stops?” (A fence). He taught me how to stuff whole fig newtons in my mouth, much to my grandmother’s scolding. She’d sneak us money when we left the next morning. It was so much fun going to their house. I can still remember the smells, especially of spring there: mulch, azaleas, mothballs, coffee, toast and her Greek meatballs.
I was devastated when my Papou passed on.
Just Vicky Devolites
Shortly after my grandfather’s passing, she moved into a condo complex called the Encore, right by Tysons. It was the first of its kind in that area and she bought one as construction was happening. My sister and I would come to visit her but it would be different. She’d sit in her reading room, rocking in her chair, laughing at the Golden Girls (I actually became obsessed with watching that show for a bit). But, just a few more years later, when I was around 13 years of age, she announced she was moving to La Jolla, CA and eventually Cardiff by the Sea. She spent a little over a decade living in a retirement community in a bungalow-style house, over-looking the ocean. It was there I’d go to visit her and hear some of her best stories:
“At my age… you get whatever men are available. I’d invite the nearby ladies over to my house for poker, tell them it was casual, put on a traditional Greek wedding dress that I’ve altered to be a summer dress and secretly invite their husbands over.”
” Your Yia-yia has up to three boyfriends at a time. One of them was in a World Series once… all he ever wanted to do was watch baseball. At that age, it’s all they want to do.”
“Your grandfather used to tell me, “Vicky, there are a lot of pretty nurses where I work. When you get ready in the morning and come downstairs, I realize I have the most beautiful woman in the world.”
Seven years ago, she decided to give up her freedom when she started to forget things. She got in a minor accident on Camp Pendleton and agreed it was time to live with assistance near family so she moved to Minnesota. All of her possessions – the furniture she had had since she moved to Arlington was now sold or given away. She would eventually forget she owned it.
About four years ago in August of 2006, we had a family reunion. Although she was diagnosed with dementia, she at least knew who the grandkids were. She thought she was always on vacation but would often repeat what she just said over and over again. It never bothered her – she was happy to be surrounded by family.
That was the last time I saw her. Four years later, it was her time to pass. Instead of mourning her loss, I am happy. I am happy that when it was her time, she passed on peacefully. I am happy that she has been reunited with my grandfather in an eternal place. I’m thankful for the stories and joy she and my grandfather brought to my childhood.
We love you, miss you and will never forget you.
(Writer’s note: I might be a little “off” in some of my historical facts and therefore, look to my family to provide any corrections. My grandfather wrote the whole family history in a book before he died. It sits and my dad’s and I’ve yet to read the whole thing. All memories come from stories told by my family and by my grandmother and grandfather, and I’ve tried to relay as much as I can to the best of my ability.)