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HGTV’s House Hunters comes to Detroit

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Jeff and Michelle Bortnick, left, and Louis Bitove, right, with the filming crew of HGTV’s House Hunters

 

 

It is hard to believe that it has been  almost three years since I was in the shoes of this young couple, looking for a house in the Detroit area. Of course, our house hunt, and our whole relocation, was unplanned. And I never would have dreamed of inviting the camera crew  of House Hunters along, but this brave couple did! The real estate market is heating up as fast as the weather here in the Motor City. Here is my story that was published in the Arts & Leisure section of the Detroit Jewish News last week.  

Jeff and Michelle Bortnick were quickly outgrowing their Northville condominium.

For the first years of their marriage, Jeff ‘s former bachelor pad suited the couple nicely, and it was walkable to many of the town’s trendy amenities. But now they were a family with a toddler taking her first steps and needed a home with a backyard in a neighborhood with other kids.

Michelle, who grew up in West Bloomfield and is a teacher at Hillel Day School, wanted to move closer into the nexus of the Metro Detroit area’s Jewish community. So the couple narrowed their focus to neighborhoods in Huntington Woods, Berkley and Royal Oak.

Because Michelle grew up watching her father and grandfather constantly tackling projects around the house, Michelle had her heart set on an older home that she could customize with a bit of TLC.

“I love older homes,” says Michelle, 30. “I love the wood floors, the character and the charm. I’m not scared of taking on a fixer-upper.”

“I love new,” says husband, Jeff. As a co-founder of New Home Experts Realty, a realtor for buyers of new construction homes, Jeff and his partner, Louis Bitove, know their way around an architectural blueprint.
“You can still have charm in a new house,” Jeff adds.
Curious to know what they chose? Tune in to HGTV on March 18, when the couple’s home-buying experience will be featured in an episode of reality- TV show House Hunters.
A guy who didn’t even like being in front of the camera at his own wedding, Jeff was cajoled by Michelle and Bitove into sending in an audition video to House Hunters.
“We made a video of us showing off my expertise in new-home construction — plus our personalities” says Jeff.
“There was some friendly squabbling to show off our differing opinions and tastes in what we want in a home,” says Jeff.
“Lou was also included to be my ally in trying to convince Michelle that she wanted a newer home.
Within days, I couldn’t believe it, but they called us back to tell us they were sending out a filming crew from L.A.”
Jeff says he appreciated his business partner tagging along forthe filming.

“Lou was the voice of reason,” says Jeff. “He kept asking Michelle if she was worried about mold in older homes, and wouldn’t she like a shiny new home much more?”Michelle said that bringing a camera crew along for three weeks last August while looking at homes was not always, “but mostly a lot of fun.

“They took a lot of time adjusting their equipment to get just the right kind of light, but the crew was a lot of fun and they kept us laughing.”

Although the timing coincided with one of the worst floods in the area’s history, “the flood did not become part of the episode,” says Jeff. “To stay true to the feel of House Hunters, where sometimes you don’t even know what city or town a show is shot in, the focus is always on the characteristics and qualities of the property.”

With experience working for new-home builders, including the Toll Brothers and Centex Homes, Jeff can look past a bad paint color to determine a home’s worth and livability.

“I think we were chosen to be on the show because I can look at a home’s structure. If I don’t like a layout, I [know which walls] could come down [to create] a more open plan.”

Michelle’s favorite part of the experience was the fact that the camera crew filmed her daughter’s earliest forays in walking.

“We now have this time capsule of our daughter walking with a big smile through our empty new home.” Jeff and Michelle Bortnick’s episode of House Hunters debuts 10 p.m.

Wednesday, March 18 on HGTV. Visit hgtv.com for a complete schedule of additional airings.

 

Pressing Times in Michigan

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We lived in Michigan for about two minutes (okay, I’m exaggerating…. 10 minutes) when people we met started talking about apples. And cider mills.

“What? You haven’t been to Franklin Mills? You HAVE to go for the doughnuts and CIDER.”

Like Blue vs. Green football. Like old-time souped up roadsters, come the fall, apples are a big part of the culture here in Michigan.

I thought I would be missing the sweet, hard crunch of my favorite fruit when I left New York. Not to worry. It seems Michiganders are just as boastful if not more than New Yorkers about their apples.

Though fourth in the nation in apple production, the state grows many varieties and nearly every supermarket sells the red, yellow and green globes picked from orchards less than 100 miles away.

Then there are the cider mills. It seems the granddaddy of them all around these parts is the Franklin Cider Mill. It is named for this tiny town in which it is located, a bucolic village that somehow dodged the suburban bullet in which it is surrounded. The mill is only open from Labor Day through Thanksgiving, so all it’s business is pressed (no pun intended) in these short months. But they do more than okay. Check out the line on a recent Sunday to get cider and Donuts:

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And they have a huge press:

20130915_160734For some lucky folks, like some new friends we have made, apples are no further than their own back yard,

A few Sundays ago, these friends invited us over in the early evening to press some cider. Now, they had invited us to do this twice before and we just could not fit a press into our crazy early fall schedules. But the night was crisp and cool but not too cold, so why not? We went over to hang out and learn about pressing apple cider.

Several years ago, our friends purchased a small press. After realizing how much they were into making cider, and had an ample supply from several apple trees on their property, they decided to invest in a larger press from the Happy Valley Ranch Co.

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Now, after marveling at this hand-cranked, Amish-looking contraption, I thought the evening was over. It was a school night, after all.  But oh NO. This was not a mere social call, we were about to get put to work! We happily obliged because we know we would be treated to the freshest cider one could gulp at the end.

In advance of our arrival, they had cleaned and cut away bruises from apples they were storing in their garage.

20131013_18295920131013_182855 This has been such an ample season of apples that they seriously don’t know where they are going to put their cars!

We started throwing the apples into a wood hopper that fed the apples through a mill fitted with some sharp teeth.

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That’s me cranking some apples, the pulp getting caught into a wood bucked lined with a cheesecloth like sack. Hubby also took some turns cranking the apples. (Note that from his cap and sweatshirt, he has not changed his allegiance to Michigan teams):

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Already, without even turning the crank, juice stared oozing out of the pulp to be caught below in a pitcher. Luckily, it was too cool that night for the bees:

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Then, the pulp is pressed and pressed by a hand-turned crank. A whole bucket’s worth of apple pulp is compressed to the thickness of a manhole cover. The result is homemade  freshly pressed cider, the best I’ve ever tasted.

I will work for cider any time and hope we’ll get invited back soon.

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Howd’ya like dem apples?

Four apple trees in my backyard are causing a big mess.

Boston, Bedbugs and Ballyhoo – Another guest post about transplanting

These days it’s hard for me to figure out which end is up – even from all those moving boxes that actually say on them “this end up.” 

I want to focus inward and unpack and make this new house truly my home. 

I want to focus outward and see how I can make this suburban, manicured and perfectly landscaped property a little less perfect. A little more me. Outward more still and make some new friends and maybe even land a new job. 

Then there is the business of keeping my son entertained and occupied in the weeks he leaves before camp. 

It’s a good thing I can count on some great guest bloggers who have transplant stories of their own. 

The first in the lineup is Maya Rodgers who blogs at Pets and Pests. Originally from New England and with roots in the Boston area (a place we considered moving before we chose Detroit), Maya is excited to experience more of Raleigh, N.C., and would like to return more often to visit old friends in both Atlanta and Boston. She spends her days helping people exterminate bed bugs, palmetto bugs, and other crawly creatures for Terminix . I for one hope to never need her services, but if I do, I hope she has some connections in Michigan! 

Here is Maya’s tale: 

Part of the reason exploring new places is so wonderful is because it acts as a distorted mirror. It reflects you in a different light than you’re used to, and it teaches you important and silly things about yourself.

After college, I lived in Boston for a few years. New England had always been home, and Boston still hasn’t quite stopped being home for me. Like anywhere, it has its positive and negative aspects. I loved being able to walk almost anywhere, and if I couldn’t walk, I could take the T, or a combination T-and-bus route. I whined and complained about the public transportation when “switching problems at Park” led to long delays, but I loved it just the same.

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Boston T sign courtesy of Paul Downey

I also loved splurging on expensive ice cream once in a blue moon at Toscanini’s in Central Square, and riding shotgun in a friend’s car for a late-night trip to Richie’s Slush (the best Italian ice ever – I highly recommend the lemon).

I haven’t lived in too many other places, but there seems to be something very special about the seasons in New England. Flowering trees in the gorgeous springtime, absolutely frigid temperatures in winter, and too hot in the summer, but fall was always my favorite season. The weather cools off, the mosquitoes start to go away, the air feels fresh and clean, and, of course, the leaves start to change color. One of my favorite places, the Boston Common, is wonderful in any season.

commonsBoston Common courtesy of Timothy Vollmer

The best part of any place, though, is the people. The friends who help you chip winter’s ice off the sidewalk, and the ones who wander around the North End with you, looking for some interesting-looking new restaurant.

I think that’s what’s hardest about moving. Not just gathering up your stuff, but leaving your loved ones behind while you go someplace you know almost nothing about and try to put down new roots.

After Boston, I moved to Atlanta for work. The biggest change I noticed initially was the pace of life. There were certain big-city aspects that went at light speed. For example, despite crazy Boston drivers, I’d never been tailgated quite as aggressively as when driving in Atlanta. The Perimeter (the road that circles most of Atlanta) has a posted speed limit of 55mph, but it’s five or six lanes wide each way, and even if you’re going 70, you’re the slowest person on the road. Out of their cars though, people move more slowly and demonstrate more politeness. People were sociable in stores, starting up friendly conversations at seemingly odd times.

I’ve always been much more of a walker than a driver, and although there are sidewalks on many of the roads, there are rarely pedestrians on them. The most people I ever saw outside was when the power went out in my neighborhood. Suddenly there were couples, families, and individuals like me, wandering around, enjoying what had become (after a quick pass-through storm) a beautiful evening. Perhaps something about the Atlanta heat means that people spend much more time in their cars no matter what the weather, but enjoying a walk after work, or strolling to the bookstore or coffee shop on the weekends, became an almost eerie experience, with everyone else racing by in their cars.

The bugs were another large shock. Palmetto bugs are much bigger than any roach I’d ever seen up north, and while they weren’t in my Atlanta home (that I knew of), they’d come out in Atlanta’s long summer, wandering around now and again on the pavement near my home. Needless to say, I kept my place meticulously clean in an effort to ward them off.

Moving from Boston to Atlanta changed me in a lot of ways. I became a more aggressive driver, for one, which partly meant that I stopped caring when someone tailgated me. I walked less, but took up jogging – even ran the Peachtree Road Race! I found a favorite bookstore (Peerless Book Store in Johns Creek), and browsed its shifting stock whenever I could. I also discovered air conditioning (which I’d never really had when living up north), and learned that I loved painting when I signed up for weekend painting classes. My speech patterns even changed a little bit. At first, I’d say “y’all” somewhat ironically. I’m not sure it sounds natural now, but it is more convenient than most other alternatives.

Perhaps most importantly, I stayed in touch with my friends in the Northeast – even became closer with some of them – and made quite a few Southern friends, both in and out of work. Having a dog makes for an instant socialization opportunity, especially if you visit the dog park at regular times.

garybrownMy dog Mindy, during a not-so-recent beach trip

I’ve recently transplanted once again to Raleigh (this time with a family in tow). So far, we’re all just figuring out where our favorite restaurants are (to date, the Irregardless Café is far and away my favorite), and discovering new things about ourselves.

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When I get to Detroit, I’m shopping here

We found that house! Still, I will miss the oldness of my old house. So that’s why, on a whim and a search, I found a great blog www.reclaimingdetroit.org

Not only can those old glass doorknobs and beautiful old hardwoods be found here, lovingly rescued from crumbling buildings, but the organization provides much needed jobs and training to Detroit’s population.

I’m putting this on my list of places to check out just as soon as the last box is unpacked:

putting the love back into your older home?.

Got a Garden? Let me live horticulturally through you this spring!

This is going to be a weird spring.

For 13 winters something has been growing in my basement.

Now don’t be frightened, especially if you are a potential buyer of my house.

The things that grew were my seedlings. All through the winter. Under grow lights set under timers.

Trays and trays of seedlings growing in plantable peat pots.

Annuals. Perennials. And Herbs.

All legal herbs, that is.

From the tiny seedlings grew the fully grown plants that populated my garden each year.

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zinnia2 ZinniaEnvy genovese-basil

This Burpee "raspberry lemonade" zinnia did not make much progress under grow lights. Zinnias need heat to thrive

But this spring, the spring of transition, the only thing I’ve planted has been this:

change

The only gardening I’ve done is the kind where you weed while kneeling on a gardening pad and watch the bulbs you’ve planted from previous years emerge from the ground.

So, this gardener without a garden needs your help.

Won’t you write to me with your gardening plans – especially if you live in my current town of Rochester, or better yet, if you live in  Detroit, tell me what the gardening scene is like in the motor city. Write to me where you find my contact information and I will feature you as a guest blogger right here.

So, get your green thumbs out of the dirt and onto that keyboard and write me!

A Woman’s Mad Mad Thoughts within a Hot Hot Housing Market

Last night, in a frenzied attempt to make me fall in love with a house he saw in Michigan, my husband tried to email me a video of a property he walked through yesterday.

He wants me to fall in love with this house, because by the time I get to Michigan next week to begin our house hunting  in earnest, this house, with the right square footage in the right neighborhood in the right school district, may already be sold.

After the video failed to arrive in my email inbox, and our Skype call kept freezing because of a poor connection, we gave up and said good-night.

I shut my laptop. As I tried to get to sleep alone again, against my yoga teacher’s teachings, some thoughts entered my head.

Pizza dough.

I have to use up the flour in my cabinet before Passover.

I also have to use up that jar of tomato sauce so making Pizza for tomorrow night’s dinner would be the perfect way to use up both flour and sauce.

But that means I will have to mess up the perfect feng shui of my empty kitchen counters.

Kitchen counters usually littered with – appliances like toasters and electric can openers, of all things, and a FRUIT BOWL.

And now I want to clutter the pristine emptiness of my vast kitchen counter space with a

BREAD MAKER

of all things?

I mean, who keeps things on their kitchen counters?

Everyone, unless you are selling your house.

Who makes their beds each an every single morning??

No one! Unless you are trying to sell your house.

(And my mom.)

Today, if the sun stays behind the clouds, as it does on most Rochester days, my realtor is coming to take photos for the listing.

But, after the National Public Radio report I heard this morning – the first thing that entered my ears after waking from my fitful sleep — I’m wondering how hard we really have to work at this house selling thing after all.

To sum up the report – houses are selling insanely fast. So fast that if you want to find that house, you may find yourself checking your Zillow alerts at 2 a.m.

Guilty as charged.

Oh yeah, spring has sprung today and that means it is the very beginning of house hunting season. This year, the spring house buying/selling frenzy started weeks before the calender heralded the March 21 arrival of spring, even as the snow keeps falling.

I write this as I wait for my realtor to come take those fantastic photos of my house that has floor-to-ceiling 1920’s charm.

I write this as I wonder if I am going to find a house in Detroit that will speak to me, that will make me fall in love with it hook line and sinker as I did with the house I am dwelling in right now.

Or, am I going to have to settle. Because it is in the right school district. Because it was all that was on the market. Because, unlike the casual looker who is looking for a bigger house in their same town, we HAVE to move.

Tonight, I am going to try my hardest to listen to the sage advice of my yoga teacher and let my breath be louder than my thoughts.

The Moving Blues

bluesThis week is my husband’s final week in town. Next week begins his new beginning in Detroit but the beginning of my family’s long drawn out departure from Rochester as we yet again become transplants.

The sentence I have repeated hundreds of times to well-meaning family, friends, and acquaintances is finally here:

“Craig moves in March, I stay through June.”  ‘

March is tomorrow.

As the move to Detroit moves closer, uncertainty clogs my brain and there are daily reminders that we are leaving Rochester. We know what we have here, we don’t know what we are getting there. It’s that simple.

But then my nine-year-old taught me a valuable lesson. However small, finding one certainty, one thing that will be a known each day might make this whole transplant thing a bit easier.

On a drive to school the other day, my youngest declared he did not like his current room. It was boring.

And he might be right on this one. His room was never intended to be a kids’ bedroom but a spare guest bedroom. It remains the same since we moved in 13 years ago, way before he was a glimmer in our eye.

It is beige.  It is very plain.

But (AND PAY ATTENTION POTENTIAL HOME BUYERS) it is brightly lit, private, and has its own bathroom and a huge closet.

He continued to petition his case for a more exciting room in our future unknown home from the back seat.

“My room is really boring, mom, so I am excited to get a new room when we move that is NOT beige. And I want my room to be blue.”

“But there are so many kinds of blues, how will you know which one to pick?” I asked from the front seat.

“I don’t want aquamarine, or turquoise, or teal. Just original, plain blue. Like the blue in a Crayola box, the kind with only 8 crayons.”

And there you have it. One bit of certainty in this very uncertain time.

My son’s new room in our new house in our new town

will be

Blue

Merry Christmas From Staten Island

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The news from Staten Island, it’s not all bad.

For the most part, everything seems – SEEMS – like it’s back to normal after Sandy, the worst storm in Staten Island’s 300-year history.

The stores are hopping with Christmas shoppers.

The streets are typically jammed with traffic.

The noisy holiday revelry in local restaurants with present opening, reindeer antler wearing patrons lay on an extra surreal layer to this island that everything is okay.

Last night, my husband and I ate at Euro-trendy Alor Cafe. As we dined on crepes and roasted Barramundi and sipped our Riesling and Merlot, we listened to a trio of flamenco guitarists:

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All this normalcy takes place above “the Boulevard.”

Hylan Boulevard.

Drive below the Boulevard, in the neighborhood where I grew up and my parents still live, things get strange.

Everywhere, there are subtle and not so subtle reminders of how Sandy reaffirmed for many Staten Islanders why  the Island’s South Shore has the dubious distinction for being named  “Zone A.”

First, you notice the inspection postings that dot a front window on nearly every residence:

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Then, there are the police cars that are out on nearly every corner. All day and all night:

CedarGrove12 035 CedarGrove12 036But go even closer to the water. Look into the field out my childhood window and you see further evidence of the storm:

Sandy12 125A tiny house. In the field. Where there is not supposed to be a house. Never was there a house there before. Until Sandy took it off its foundation.

And on the other side of the field, some more harsh evidence of Sandy:

House on Fox Beach, still decorated for Halloween.

House on Fox Beach, still decorated for Halloween.

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On the other side of my childhood neighborhood are the eclectic bungalow-lined streets of Cedar Grove. Though I didn’t know anyone who lived here, I am thankful for the peacefulness these streets offered me in my teen years. These are the streets where I felt safe riding my bicycle. Many of these streets now have RED inspection stickers which mean that most of these houses are no longer safe to inhabit.

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Even the neighborhoods makeshift 9/11 memorial had been destroyed by the storm surge:

the site of a local 9/11 memorial. There used to be a statue and a plaque here, all gone.

the site of a local 9/11 memorial. There used to be a statue and a plaque here, all gone.

As I walked these streets in the low December sun, I thought to myself: Am I a disaster tourist? Am I just a gawker?

No. No I’m not.

I couldn’t bring myself to take photos of the most badly damaged homes. The ones reduced to rubble. I felt by taking photos of these homes, I would be just be further violating the homeowner’s dignity. FOX news and CNN took photos of the worst, only to chase the next big news story and forget about this place just weeks later.

In this tucked-away corner of Staten Island, I’m not a tourist, though I no longer live here. I want to show the world these secret streets, to show them in their continued state of misery. Even though the media has moved on.

Don’t forget this strong and dignified neighborhood, however modest their homes.

Still there are signs of hope. This beautiful  Spanish-mission styled church still stands:

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Outside of a makeshift relief center where residents can get food, drinks and even Christmas gifts, there is this tree, with a sign of hope and resilience:

CedarGrove12 027 CedarGrove12 028Merry Christmas to the people of Cedar Grove, Staten Island. I won’t forget you. I won’t be satisfied until you are rebuilt once again.

To Plant or to uproot? That is the question.

Brace yourselves, my dear blog devotees (mom, you already know)

but this blog is about to get a whole lot darker.

Scarier.

And that’s not even because Halloween is coming.

The universe has thrown my family a curve ball and the research facility where my husband works, the whole reason why we were plunked down in Rochester, is closing.

Once again, we are faced with the possibility of becoming

tranplants

The next few days and weeks will be hard. Getting transplanted has many implications, big and small, on almost every facet of one’s life.

Take my passion for gardening, for example.

For nearly 13 years, I have continually worked in the gardens around my house. I’ve battled invasive creeping ivy; clearing it out to create a shade garden of hosta and ferns  and Solomon Seal in my back garden.

I had yews removed to create a perennial garden in one of the only truly sunny spots on our property. Over the years, I’ve planted peony, roses, lavender, and countless other varieties.

After over a decade, the garden is finally looking established.

And now, I guess I’ll have to leave it all behind.

So, faced with the very real possibility of moving. what do I do now with the crocus and tulip bulbs I bought

BEFORE?

Before we got the news that has pulled the rug out from my family’s feet?

Do I plant bulbs this fall that I may not get to see bloom in the spring?

I know that as my family faces the monumental “ifs” of moving, the subject of some stupid bulbs may seem – stupid. But at this point of the transplanting game, it’s about all I can handle.

About 11 years ago, in another event that changed EVERYONE’s lives forever, I had similar thoughts about bulbs.

We were all still reeling from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In October, the War on Terror had begun with strikes in Afghanistan. There were reports of anthrax being spread through the mail. Remember how everyone was stocking up on bottled water and duct tape in case of a dirty bomb? Or a bio weapon of mass destruction?

No one knew what was coming next.

That fall, I watched and listened to way too many grim reports from the media.  It left me in a serious blue funk.

So, I planted bulbs. They gave me hope, they gave me some sense of control of what I could be certain of for the following spring.

So now, in this one miniscule detail in the mountain of details one faces on the prospect of moving, I’ve got two bags of bulbs.

I can plant them for either me, if we stay here, or the new owners of my house.

Or, I can give them away to friends for them to enjoy.

If you knew you wouldn’t be around the same town to see your garden in the spring, what would you do?

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