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25 August 2005
  Prologue
In 1995 we were living at the Chateau DeVille Apartments in Smyrna. This was a great place when we moved in in 1991, but had gone steadily downhill. At first we had great apartment managers, then a management company that financed it with HUD bought the place out. They weren't allowed to turn anyone away, even if they had bad credit or didn't meet the minimum income requirement. Every time we had a complaint, it was "we can't do anything about that." They couldn't do anything about the kids throwing rocks on the roof, the torrent of water that poured between the sidewalk of the building and the cars when it rained hard (it was at times strong enough to knock you down), the rats at the dumpster, the men living in the back throwing bottles at the dumpster and urinating off their balconies in public (in front of one of our neighbors and her small daughter), the people shooting guns off back there, the ants in the upstairs (!!!!!) bathroom, etc.

Our next door neighbor wouldn't let the exterminator spray in his apartment and his kitchen backed on to ours, so we had roaches running around our counters, sometimes a dozen in one night. It was sickening.

Plus our downstairs neighbor would get drunk once about every two weeks and turn up his stereo so loud that pictures were literally vibrating on the wall. We were afraid to complain about him because he was also the apartment maintenance manager and had unrestricted access to our apartment. More than once we found things that weren't ours in the apartment and once a rusty fishhook was left buried in some papers on our dining room table, and we had some books stolen. We were worried about Leia and Bandit being hurt.

Our friends the Elders had just found their dream house in 1995 and were selling their smaller split level home. We really didn't want to purchase at that time and were hoping to grit it out at the apartment for another year to save up more money. I was a GS-05 back then and James wasn't making a lot at his store job back then and we couldn't afford most of the houses on the market. We had even fallen in love with a small house at a place called Swallows Landing, but the monthly mortgage payment was $800. No way.

So the house we are living in now was kind of a godsend. It was small, but the converted garage into a den was quite homey and the neighborhood was nice. We took it and ran, and it has been good to us, with the usual homeowner's frustrations. We did fix some things, but have still left major things undone like removing the peeling wallpaper in the kitchen and hall bath. I have painted rooms, cleaned out attics, scrubbed floors, and done all sorts of dirty jobs, but the idea of removing wallpaper just flummoxes me, especially since the wallpaper wasn't put on the walls of the house properly anyway: they did not prime the walls before they put it up, but placed the wallpaper directly on the drywall. I have no idea what would happen if you took it off!

Over the years we have made certain improvements: painted all the rooms, vinyl sidings, a new HVAC system, new roof, guttering, new kitchen faucet, new bath insert, the closet organizer in the master bath, etc., but the house is just getting too unweildy. The trees in the back yard are too much work. We are bursting at the seams with books and kitchen utensils and crafts materials, even though both of us pare down several times a year and have brought many loads of things to Goodwill. The house is laid out awkwardly for our living habits: James is isolated when he cooks and the disadvantages of sleeping upstairs was brought sharply into focus when Mom was staying with us and eventually ended up totally confined to her room because she couldn't make the stairs any longer. It goes down to minor irritations: we don't see the Christmas tree most of the holiday season because it's in the tiny living room and we're in the den where there's no room for it.

Besides, I feel we could remodel this house forever and never really get it to look attractive. I know I'm not much of a girl...I lost my taste for dress-up long ago and I'm more comfortable in sweats and sneakers, but I'm still one at heart and for once in my life I would like something...pretty. I don't need the fol-de-rol from HGTV with the $93,000 dining room makeover and crown molding and furniture from Haverty's and the cut crystal my mom always longed for. I didn't used to care, but I'm getting old, and my mom's death has just hammered into me that I'm pushing fifty and for once I want something nice for myself. I remember how she always wanted a dining room and cut crystal and a china cabinet and now I know how she felt.