Home wasn’t built in a day! – Part 3

My parents had a wild streak in them… and I’m pretty sure that’s where I get it from. When I was 2 years old, they decided to move to Africa. I still remember the house we lived in… there was a tire swing in my yard and our neighbor had a farm! I would jump across trenches with the neighborhood kids to steal eat peas from his farm. It was a surreal time. When I was 4, we moved back to India. When I was 10, they talked about moving to the Island of Seychelles or Guyana or Australia, but we never did. Our home in India was grand and it became the hub of the entire family. We had a constant stream of family and friends visiting us weekly… Oh what fond memories I have of those halcyon days!

My parents had a sense of adventure and when I was 14 they decided to come to America, and we’ve lived here ever since… We moved around a lot during the first few years in America, and by the time they were ready to put down roots, I was off to college. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that not having a home- a sense of permanency and stability- in my adolescent years has had a lingering effect on my adulthood.

When my partner and I decided to buy a home, I knew that I didn’t want a starter home. I wanted a home that would grow with us… a fixer-upper with loads of potential. Some place where we can put down roots and belong to a community. A piece of property that is large enough for the whole family, yet, small enough for the two of us. This house fits all of those requirements. I often find myself saying, I’ll never move again, and, that’s a great feeling!

So, as promised, here are the before and after photos… I hope you can get a sense of why I love this place so much!

Living Room- This room was in fairly good shape. We removed the a/c unit from the wall and gave the room a soothing coat of paint- Tranquility from Benjamin Moore and it’s one of those colors that changes from grey to green with the light. You can’t see here, but the floors were stained a cool shade of grey and the dhuri rug from Amazon was a great find! We like a lot of color, so there is an explosion happening here, but somehow it all goes together.

Downstairs Bathroom- Oh, what an eye sore this tiny bathroom was with the blue tub and toilet and mismatched vanity.  I shudder just thinking about it. A fresh coat of Benjamin Moore Weston Flax, really livened up this small bathroom. We professionally refinished the bathtub and changed out the toilet and vanity! How many people can say that they’ve installed a toilet? We feel especially proud of this makeover.

Kitchen/ Dining- The biggest transformation was seen in this room. I have fond memories on my 38th birthday ripping out that ugly wallpaper and I promised myself, I will never consider wallpaper for any of the rooms ever! We took down the closet, which completely opened up the dining room and gave us a place for that gorgeous hutch. It was a hand-me down from a family friend and a few coats of paint and distressing later, it’s my favorite piece of furniture in our home. That lovely blue carpet was next to go and beneath it was beautiful hardwood floors which we matched to the living room grey color. When we first moved in, I was adamant about wanting to change the blue Formica counter tops, but after all the changes, somehow they just blend in now. The walls are Benjamin Moore Palladian Blue and it’s a crisp blue color that pulls the whole room together. The edison bulb “Spider” chandelier was another neat find on Amazon. It adds an eclectic touch to this traditional room.
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*Disclaimer: the entire upstairs was done with a help of a professional.

Master Bedroom- Holy wood paneling! It’s amazing what a coat of paint will do! Benjamin Moore- Angelica is a soothing pale purple with a touch of grey. It’s not too feminine and gives the room some much needed softness. We ripped down the shelves and made room for our king sized bed. The drop ceiling was next to go, revealing those wonderful beams. Once I saw them, I couldn’t let them go… so we painted it white to blend in with the ceiling. Our bedroom feels like tree house. The $50 mosquito netting from Bed Bath & Beyond transforms an otherwise ordinary room into a delightful retreat! The builtin desk in the nook, makes this room functional at the same time. If I could, I would never leave this room. It really is my dream bedroom!
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Upstairs Bathroom- You can’t see it here, but his bathroom was beyond gross. It was smelly and grimy. We chose Benjamin Moore- Sanctuary for this room. I had read that it was the color most used in spas, and it really does give a spa like feeling in that tiny bathroom. It is a greyish lavender but it’s more sophisticated than any lavender I’ve ever seen. It’s such a lovely color! We updated all the fixtures and the updated pedestal sink gives it a nice vintage appeal.

Bedroom #2 – A fresh coat of paint Moonshine by Benjamin Moore gives this room character. It’s another chameleon color mixed with grey, green and some taupe. We exposed the ceiling in this room too which gives it an airy feel.

Bedroom #3 – Benjamin Moore to the rescue, again. This time the color was called Going to the Chapel. It is a pale green with grey and yellow undertones. This is currently set up as our guest room. The queen bed is a steal for $200 on craigslist and it comes with a pull out trundle bed and memory foam mattresses. It can sleep 3 easily and fits perfectly in that little room.

There you have it… our charming cape cod! Our total budget for all the professional work was around $10,000, which included all the fixtures and labor. But, the hours of work, advice and support given by our family has been priceless. We couldn’t have done any of this without their help and we’re so grateful!

Home is not a place… it’s a feeling! Our home has a special feeling and we hope to love here for a long, long time!

Share your before and after pictures in the comments and tell us what you think of ours!

Home wasn’t built in a day! – Part 2

ScarsWhen we made the decision to buy a home, we were somewhat naive about everything. We told ourselves, that we weren’t in a rush. We still had 6 months left in our lease and besides, it took our friends months to find their dream home.  We agreed that we would make good use of the time we had by researching where we wanted to live, what type of home we wanted, save more money etc.  Boy, were we wrong!

Enter Jennifer Castellanos, the powerhouse of real estate agents!

Jen: Do you think it’s fair for me to show you several houses and not make a commission if you bought one of them from someone else?
Me: Do you think it’s fair to expect us to sign a buyer’s agreement without knowing what type of agent you are?
Jen: Well, this is my livelihood. This is how I make money and you’ll see I’m very good at it.
Me: But, what if I don’t like you?
Jen: Don’t worry, you’re gonna love me!

This is how our relationship started. I had done extensive research, pouring through countless reviews online to find this woman, and she had already put us in touch with an excellent mortgage broker, Ron Contrelli. We were pre-approved, so, naturally we expected things to go well, but we didn’t want to be pressured into working with someone we didn’t like.  Jen was aggressive, but not in a mean or nasty sort of way. We respected and were impressed by her hustle. She was confident and we loved that about her from the start. So, we agreed to a 1 week contract Alchemistwith the option to extend for a month if we liked each other. We made plans to meet early the next Sunday morning.

It was late October and the cool fall temperatures were already settling into our bones. We took the LIRR to meet Jen at an ungodly hour at a previously agreed station and she was waiting for us. As she picked us up, she casually mentioned that she has 36 listings lined up for us. We were floored! 36 LISTINGS IN ONE DAY?! Can it be done? Sure, if you have someone like Jen, who isn’t interested in wasting time. She had pulled every single listing from Wantagh to Smithtown within our price range! On the way to our first listing, she asked tons of questions about our must haves and deal breakers. She listened attentively, picking up on our preferences and was extremely enthusiastic- all excellent qualities in an agent! Let me tell ya, this woman was a real-estate machine. Her energy was contagious and soon after our first showing, I knew I was in trouble. I had to tell her how I really felt before things got any further.

Jen: Do you like me yet?
Me: No… I LOVE YOU! (smiles awkwardly)
Jen: I told ya!

wpid-img_20150126_144329.jpgA dozen houses later, we found our dream home. It was an old, dirty cape cod that needed work lots of work! The upstairs was a total gut job, every corner, every last inch needed some extra TLC. The previous owners were a charming old couple whose grandfather built the house back in 1941. The old man had grown up in this house and you could see that he loved it so much. It was everything we had ever dreamed of and the more he spoke to us, the more we fell in love with its charm. Like with every thing in love, the heart knew before the mind. Houses speak to you and this one called out our name and luckily, we heard it.

The next series of events were nothing short of divine intervention. We went for a second showing and made a verbal offer. It was accepted on the spot. We called for a home inspection and they were available the very next day. Shocking. Everything checked out and within a week we were under contract. Phew! If that wasn’t a whirlwind, our loan cleared and in a record breaking 5 weeks we closed on our house without a hitch. In the meantime, our landlord let us off our lease early without a penalty and we became official residents of East Northport on Christmas Day, 2014, exactly 2 months since we made the decision to buy a house.

For my 30th birthday, my dad gave me his copy of The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo and in one afternoon, my when-you’re-on-a-journey-to-fulfill-yourlife was changed. I didn’t know it then, but my heart’s deepest yearning would be fulfilled in ways beyond my imagination. I was going through a rough time and those were some transformational years in my life. As hard as they were, I’m grateful for their lessons, for I wouldn’t have a genuine appreciation for what I have now.

It’s been almost nine months since we’ve moved in and we’re ready to show you what a little creativity and elbow grease can accomplish! We’re proud home owners and we’ve loved every minute of it every minute has been worth it! I look at this life that we’re building together and how far we’ve come in such a short time, and I can only attribute it to the power of good intention. Every day, we do a little bit more for ourselves and each other. Every night, we dream a little bit bigger… It’s both exhilarating and petrifying at the same time. But, we wouldn’t have it any other way!

Stay tuned for before and after pictures in our next installment… It’s quite a transformation, if we say so ourselves. Here’s a little sneak peak…


Happy Birthday, India!

28india1This Saturday, August 15th, will be India’s 68th Independence Day! Though a naturalized American, lately, I’ve been feeling deeply patriotic about Indian affairs. I read try to read the news regularly. I’m especially interested in the dichotomy between her growing cultural influence world-wide and the internal identity struggles at home. Sometimes, I forget what a young nation she really is… I know many people older than her!

When my family immigrated to the US, I too went through a similar identity crisis. As a young adult, I felt trapped between a very Indian household and a very American world around me. I attended temple, watched Bollywood movies before it was a fad, wore Sarees and actively participated in cultural events. My sister and I performed at various Indian festivals in full ethnic garb. While I enjoyed the cultural aspects of the eastern culture, my personal identity was being shaped by a very western world.  And, I hid most of my feelings from my family. The problem with living a double life is that eventually they catch up with each other. And, as you get older you realize that it’s simply not worth the trouble of keeping up a façade. While parts of my identity are authentically Indian, I’m a product of two opposing cultures. That, in itself, can explain my life’s story.

indiaRecently, I read a book called “The Argumentative Indian” by Nobel Prize winning economist, Dr. Amartya Sen. It was an eye-opening account of India’s journey through a series of essays examining India’s long history of heterodoxy- a rational argumentative tradition that has been crucial in the development of India’s secular policy. “Challenging the notion of the West as sole originator of liberal values, the book—which ranges over subjects as diverse as India’s ancient calendars, nuclear arms policy, relationship with China, gender and class inequality, representations in the Western imagination and the competing national visions of Tagore and Gandhi—bears forcefully on contemporary debates over multiculturalism, secularism and postcolonial identity.” I highly recommend this to anyone wanting a dispassionate and intellectual read. Sen argues that the world, including most Indians, have forgotten India’s long and deliberate “argumentative” tradition which fostered democracy and advancements in science, math and engineering long before the British arrived. However, in the post-colonial era, our identities were still battered from the British oppression that we were (are) unable to regain our memories. It goes on to challenge many western viewpoints about India and there are some parts that I do not agree with, especially Sen’s views about India’s nuclear ambition, but as with any book one must arrive at their own conclusions.

When I think about my own journey, it’s not so much about looking backwards as it is about remembering who I am. It’s about finding my authentic voice and learning to speak, argue, criticize and reason, intelligently again! It’s about identifying with a culture- my culture- rooted in pluralism and diversity and promoting those very principles wherever I am. As I listen to candidate after candidate running for president talking about the US being a Christian nation, it is important to remember that religious dogma doesn’t have any place in political ideology… That is a post for another time, and, I digress.

This Saturday, August 15th, is India’s 68th Independence Day! I can’t wait to celebrate my diverse heritage! Will you join me?

Green. Grass. Green.

Him: Babe, I’ve set up a manual sprinkler system. Do you mind turning the water on before you leave in the mornings?
Me: But, the grass doesn’t look that bad. It’s been raining a lot!
Him: It’s preventative. I’ll set my alarm to remind you in the morning.
Me: Grrr%$#?!grrr?!%$


The conversation went something like this between us yesterday. The temps have been hovering near the 90’s for the past couple of weeks and this suggestion wasn’t unwarranted. Some of our grass *has* started to brown already, yet, I felt my resistance mounting for this idea. Surely, I wanted a green lawn that was the envy of the neighborhood and I definitely didn’t want to pick a fight over something that’s not my domain. (We had an agreement from the start- he owned the outside and I owned the inside.) But, as the day went on, my uncomfortable feelings only grew and I just couldn’t shake them off anymore.

Fact: Nearly 97% of the world’s water is salty or otherwise undrinkable. Another 2% is locked in ice caps and glaciers. That leaves just 1% for all of humanity’s needs-all its agricultural, manufacturing, community, and personal household needs.

Growing up in Southern India, water conservation became part of my consciousness from a very early age. The word drought entered into my vocabulary well before I learned to spell. My family had a well in our backyard which pumped water throughout the house. We were the lucky ones; still the water levels would get so low so often that the pipes would run empty. My dad, being a resourceful man, installed a secondary pipe that connected to the municipal water line. We kept that faucet open at all times. Most of the days, we had no running water, but suddenly in the middle of the day (or night), you would hear the gush of water through the pipes and the entire neighborhood would clamor to get their week’s storage.

Fact: If everyone in the United States flushed the toilet just one less time per day, we could save a lake full of water about a mile long, a mile wide, and four feet deep every day. If US citizens averaged only four or five flushes per day, it would amount to more than 5 billion gallons of water down the drain. That’s enough to supply drinking water to the entire population of Chicago for more than 6 years.

When I was in college, my anthropology professor boldly announced to the class that she showered twice a week in order to conserve water. Gasp! Having lived outside of the US, she too had witnessed firsthand what a precious commodity water really was and how little is available in most communities. She said to us, I do what I can… and if every person thought this way, what a difference we could make! That really stayed with me. I started skipping showers on days when I felt clean. Obviously, I’m not advocating for bad hygiene, you know your body better than anyone. But, if we all skipped one shower a week or showered the “Navy Way” (because fresh water is relatively scarce on ships, sailors were taught to just get wet, and then turn off the shower while soaping and scrubbing, and turn it on again briefly to rinse off.), think of how much water we could conserve collectively. We’re also a big proponent of flushing less frequently in our household. Use your judgment on this one folks; I shouldn’t have to spell this out for you.

Fact: If you have a lawn, chances are it’s your biggest water gobbler. Typically, at least 50% of water consumed by households is used outdoors. Inside your house, bathroom facilities claim nearly 75% of the water used.

The world is experiencing a water crisis like never before. 1 in 9 people on this planet don’t have access to safe and clean drinking water. These people would line up around the block to drink the water I’m feeding my lawn. So, NO, I don’t feel bad if my grass is brown; watering the lawn everyday feels like a total waste of precious resources. Yet I understand, as a homeowner, I have an obligation to keep a well maintained property. I turned on the water this morning, reluctantly, but, I don’t think I can do it again tomorrow. Do I water every other day or twice a week, perhaps? Do I limit the time to 15-20 mins a day or 45 mins every 3 days? What is a happy compromise that will make me sleep at night?

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