Friday, November 14, 2014

Just Moved Away From Family? It's Friendsgiving Time!

I'm hosting Thanksgiving for some family members and asked my friend Lynn if her daughter would like to come. Her daughter recently moved to San Francisco and I thought she might be "stuck" here for the Thanksgiving holidays. There's no way I could enjoy scarfing down my ninth deviled egg and third piece of pumpkin pie, let alone squirting the whipped cream directly into my mouth, if I knew that somewhere in my city was a young woman eating take-out alone in her apartment.

No, Lynn said. Her daughter will be hosting a Friendsgiving for her friends and coworkers who are also "stuck" here.

What a great idea!, I thought. And then: More whipped cream for me. No! I did not think that.

Thanksgiving is the toughest holiday if you've just recently moved away from your family. For Christmas or Hannukah, your school or employer will most likely give you enough time off to travel back home. Same with Easter and other major holidays. But Thanksgiving? You're lucky to get the day before and the day after off work. Best case scenario, you're traveling to and fro on the busiest travel days of the year. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after are brutal if you're traveling by car and even more horrendous if you're flying. Personally, I'd rather eat haggis alone in a dark, damp Turkish prison on Thanksgiving than negotiate the San Francisco airport on the Wednesday before the fourth Thursday in November.

Two things

Two things make being away from family tough on Turkey Day: One, no matter what your race, religion, beliefs or lifestyle, Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrated by every American. It's for all of us. It's also why we are the most gluttonous, flabby nation on earth. Our big national holiday is centered around a fat, giant bird filled with carbs. I use an average of five sticks of butter to make a typical Thanksgiving dinner. God bless America.

Two, it's not like you can celebrate it remotely. Thanksgiving is all about sharing one big meal with those you love. You can send Christmas gifts and Easter baskets through the mail, but you can't overnight the mashed potatoes that your family loves. Well, you could try, but the gravy would ruin the box.

So here's what you do

If you're just recently moved away from home, you've been put through the wringer enough. Adjusting to being away from family at the start of the holiday season is doubly difficult.
So find yourself some friends, take these tips that I found on the Internet, crack open that box of wine and have a Friendsgiving to remember!

Make it potluck

Hosting a Friendsgiving is different than hosting a real Thanksgiving. For your friends, let everyone contribute what they like to make. Divide up the duties, too. Put one of your guests in charge of music, another in charge of setting the table, and designate another as bartender.

Have something to do

When you're with your family, you've got that crazy uncle to entertain you.  He won't be with you this year, so you're going to have to come up with your own entertainment. Games - card games, board games, drinking games, memory games - are the answer. Or take a walk or a hike. Don't go Black Thursday Night shopping; you'll bum everyone out with that suggestion.

Now's your time to break tradition

Back home, Grandma is making butterhorns the way she's been making them forever, Mom is cooking a turkey the way she's been cooking it forever, and Dad is serving Manhattans - not spiced wine, not beer, not a new, fun drink - but Manhattans, because that's what we do every year; it's a tradition, dammit, and that's what Thanksgiving is all about! But that's not what Friendsgiving is all about. You get to break all the rules, make it up as you go along. Shoot, you can serve lasagna if you want. Be sure to brag about it to all of your relatives. Have fun pissing off your aunts and uncles.

 More Friendsgiving ideas

Orphan Thanksgiving: How to Host the Ultimate Friendsgiving If You Can't Go HomeDon't obsess about duplicates. "So what if three people bring a green bean casserole? They're all going to be different, and they're all going to get eaten."

Why Your Friendsgiving Is Always Better Than Your ThanksgivingBecause a Friendsgiving is so much more than just expensive dish-ware and 18 pound turkeys… It’s boxed wine, instant mashed and one too many stories; it’s laughing until you fall out of your chair and fighting over who does a better moon walk.

Nine Tips for Friendsgiving: A Foolproof Guide for Thanksgiving With Your FriendsDon't overplan. Once the date arrives, let the dinner and the festivities flow naturally and just have fun! 

10 Reasons Why Friendsgiving is AwesomeYou're allowed to drink as much as you want. Seriously.


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

4 Ways Realtors Can Help Their Home-Buying Clients

1. Listen to us

and try to understand what we're going through
Moving is hard. We have a lot of balls in air, a lot on our plate, and all the other cliches you've heard. In addition to looking for a new house with you, we are packing, planning going-away parties for our children, switching bank accounts, finding new doctors, selling our old house, arranging for turn-ons and turn-offs of utilities, and praying that our mail doesn't get lost in space.

When our buyer's agent knows all this and understands, even helps to keep us calm and focused on the task at hand - finding the perfect house! - both of our jobs get easier.

My favorite Realtors were the ones who spent a lot of time listening to me ramble on about what I liked about a house or a neighborhood. Even my seemingly meaningless chatter helped her to get to know me better and help me find the house of my dreams.

2. Respect our needs, wants & budgets

even when they don't make sense to you
We want a back yard, but we don't care if there is grass in it. We need a fourth bedroom, but it doesn't have to have a closet. The master bedroom, however, must have his and her closets.

Hard to keep up with, eh? All of your clients are different, not just in their price range and family size, but in their lifestyles. They're all coming from different types of homes in different parts of the country, and this move means something different to each of them.

You'll get extra brownie points with your clients if you stick to their budget and refrain from showing them houses just out of reach. True, most of your clients may end up eventually raising their price limit, but let that come from them and not from you.

3. Be our first friend in town

you're all we've got, man
As our real estate agent, you may be the only person we know in town - in the entire state, in the case of some of my moves. I was one lonely new girl in town, so when I needed to know which newspaper I should subscribe to or where the closest Joann Fabric store was, I needed to pick up the phone and call my Realtor.

If you've always lived in the same place, it's hard to imagine how little someone could know. But many of your clients are clueless, confused, and probably lost on the wrong highway exit.

Stick around after closing and be a friend.

4. Help our children adjust

help your community one new kid at a time
This one is important. As a parent, our #1 moving job is to see to it that our kids are adjusting to the new place. But we're new, too. You can be a load of help, by clueing our kids into the ins and outs.

If you know kids at our bus stop, mention that there will be some new faces there and ask that they be a friendly, welcoming face. (Or whatever age-appropriate thing they do.) Same goes for the lunchroom. If you know kids in the same grade, let them know there are some new kids coming.

The best Kid Welcome Wagon is the child or teen who has recently moved. And who knows who those kids are better than you. You placed those kids in homes in the last few years. Now's the time to hit them up and have them return the favor and welcome the next newcomers.


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Interview With Heather Maisner

As anyone who has ever moved knows all too well, one of the most difficult aspects of moving is getting the children to accept the changes and settle into their new home. Heather Maisner's children's book We're Moving has been a godsend to parents who want to explain an upcoming move to their young children in terms they can understand. Here, Heather talks with us about her writing and the children for whom she writes. 

Tell us something about your background and writing career.

I grew up in a lively household with two sisters, a dog, a cat, two budgerigars, too many visiting aunts and uncles, and over 20 cousins. I used to hide away in the lavatory, making up stories. I wrote a novel (unpublished) when I was 12
, and won the Daily Mirror Children’s Literary competition out of 35,000 contestants when I was 16. I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I began writing for children after my son and daughter were born.  I’ve now written over 30 children’s books, translated into eight languages.

Recently, I became author and publisher of Dinosaur Douglas Books. The first title Dinosaur Douglas and the Beastly Bugs, featuring the very naughty Dinosaur Douglas, encourages children to look after their teeth.

What led you to write the book “We’re Moving?”

The stories I write for the very young are often based on real-life situations. When a publisher was looking for an author to develop a series about the everyday events in a young child’s life, several authors wrote samples. Happily, mine was chosen. “We’re Moving” is one of four titles about Amy and Ben.

In “We’re Moving” you zone right in on exactly what causes preschool-age children anxiety about moving - leaving friends and familiar surroundings, missing the flowers they planted, the emptiness of the new house at first. How did you get that insight into the mind of a child?

I teach creative writing to children in schools across the borough of Hammersmith and
Fulham, where I live. I am also Author in Residence at two local schools. In this part of London, there are many transient families. I visited schools and asked the children how it felt to move house and what they missed most from their old homes. I spoke to many children and parents and, when I had written the story, I read it to the children, too. I felt it was really their story.

All children handle moving differently. What are some of the more common responses to moving that a parent can expect?

During and after the move, a child’s behavior can suddenly change: They may become withdrawn or irritable. They may start having tantrums; their sleep can be disrupted and they can become fussy about eating - or not want to eat at all.

Is there such a thing as being too young to be anxious about a move?

It is never too young for a baby to be anxious. A psychotherapist friend, who works with mothers and babies in a neo-natal intensive care unit, says even premature babies can be anxious, as they pick up their parents' stress.

What advice do you have for parents who are moving children and want to alleviate some of that anxiety they’re going through?

It’s a good idea for parents to prepare children in advance. You should visit the house a few times, if possible, and talk about what is going to happen; get the children to draw the house or their new bedroom and plan some exciting things they might want to do when they get there. On the day of the move, children can help pack their belongings, and it’s important to let them keep their favourite toys safe beside them on the journey.

On arrival, make sure their bed is made up as quickly as possible and put up some pictures or hang curtains from the old house in their room to make them feel at home. Spend time as a family  – go for a walk, go shopping, enjoy the new surroundings together. Naturally, parents are frantically busy trying to get everything done but it makes a real difference if you spend as much time as possible with the children, too.

When you’ve settled in, remember to visit the old house and keep in touch with friends. If you have moved far away, children can draw or Skype or look at photos, so that they don’t feel they've dropped off the end of the world or that something bad has happened. Above all, spend time with your children: listen to what they have to say; go for walks and explore the area together, so that everyone gets to enjoy this new adventure in a new place.

~ ~ ~
In addition to We're Moving, Heather Maisner has written more than 30 children's books. More about Heather and her books can be found on her website at


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

4 Things to Remember About Your New Home

My husband and I are typical homebuyers. After long, drawn-out house-hunting excursions, we finally find the perfect house - we love everything about it. And then when we land it, we suddenly decide that we have to change everything about it.

While that's pretty common behavior, it's also indicative of the roller-coaster of  emotions that surround moving from one house to another. No matter how excited you are to start over in a new place, perhaps with long desired features, there's always at least a little pang of regret about the changes.

1. It's not your old house

My Realtor friends say this is a common scenario: Client says they want to find a house that's smaller than what they have, because they want to downsize and they want less outdoor maintenance. But every house they look at, the client says, "The living room is smaller than ours."  "The bedrooms are smaller than what we have and there are only two of them." "There isn't much of a yard, is there?"

It's hard not to compare a new house with your old one. Why? Because change is hard, even when it's for the better. One blogger summed it up quite nicely: "My emotions about the new house are playing ping-pong and I don't like it."  Moving is an extremely emotional experience and you should expect to change your opinions about your new home.

Remember, regardless of where you're moving from and where you're moving to, there's something - at least one thing - that's better than your old house. Focus on that, play it up. And when the negative feelings start to creep up on you, remind yourself of all the benefits of this new house. The power of positive thinking wins out every time.

2. It has a history and it's probably not a simple one

When we bought our 100-year-old Edwardian house in San Francisco last year, I was a little put off by the features that were not in keeping with the period. The house had undergone major renovations in the 1980s and it showed in the brass fixtures, mirrored walls, and built-ins.

My first thought was to rid the house of these dated features and restore the home to its original 1913  look. But then I thought: This house has more of a history than the first year it was built and the first owner, the builder and the architect. Its history includes a slew of owners, who put their personal mark on the house.

So we got rid of some elements of that history - the shiny gold fixtures in what we now call "the Donald Trump bathroom," the greenhouse that was obviously used to grow non-medicinal marijuana, and the mauve, plum and gold-leaf exterior. But the rest we'll keep as a record of the history of the home. We're hoping it will come in handy for the big '80s parties we'll throw!

3. There will be surprises, good and bad

You know the honeymoon with your house is over when you realize that the jacuzzi - you know, the main thing that made you buy the house in the first place - has a layer of dust on it and you haven't used it since the day you moved in, two years ago . . . That "must have" fireplace in the family room has never once been lit . . . The bonus room that you planned to use as an office is as cold as ice in winter, and as hot as Hades in the summer . . . and the room you chose for the baby is the one that gets all the noise from the neighbor's yard - you know, the neighbor who loves fireworks.

On the other hand, that weirdly shaped corner in the dining room that you thought was "stupid" ended up to be the perfect spot for your funky reading chair, giving new purpose to an underused room  . . .  The formal living room you thought you'd have to learn to tolerate is now your favorite space in the house . . . and the adjustment from two bathroom sinks to one isn't ending up to be a problem at all.

In order to be pleasantly surprised by your new home, you're going to have to keep an open mind, be open to change, and be willing to learn to adapt. A friend who recently moved from a big home in Texas to a condo in California said she was at first upset that none of their "big Texas furniture" would fit in their new digs. "But then I thought, it's time for a change for us anyway." She and her husband love their brand new sleek, streamlined, modern furniture, and are surprised at how easy downsizing was.

4. You can make it your own without changing its character

Today's decor and design choices make it so easy to make your new house the perfect living space for you and your family, but still keep it in its best light.

* Don't over-decorate the more functional rooms in the house, such as kitchen and bathrooms. Make these rooms "function over form" for convenience.

* Embrace an eclectic decor, and your antiques will go well in your new contemporary house, and your modern art will look fabulous in your 1880 farm house.

Remember, you live in your house now. Make it livable and you'll love it!


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Stage Your Own Home: Secrets From Expert Stagers

Make no mistake: Home staging is an art and a skill. It’s proven to be worth the pricey fees charged by professional stagers and decorators.
But if paying a pro isn’t an option, can you stage your own home to improve its marketability? And can your own DIY staging efforts translate to more real estate sale dollars in your pocket? The answer to both is an emphatic yes!
Remember, staging  goes beyond the normal cleaning, decluttering, lighting up, and sprucing up that all houses need to go to market. Staging goes one step further. Some pro stagers remove every piece of furniture and artwork in a house, put it into storage and fill the house with sleek, neutral furniture. Throw pillows are placed just so, and knick-knacks are placed sparingly and strategically. Stagers know what a buyer wants to see when they walk into a house and what will make your home look its marketable best.
You can do your own “staging lite” on a budget, by following the advice of professional stagers.

1. Make “less is more” your mantra

Too much clutter, too much furniture, and too many things on the walls will make the rooms in your house look smaller and less enjoyable to live in, according to San Francisco home stager Christopher Breining, in a staging advice article on HGTV’s Front Door.
“People tend to line their walls with furniture, one piece after another,” said Breining. When pro stagers enter a home, they often take away about half of the owner’s furnishings, making the house look “miles bigger.”
“While you’re doing this sometimes-painful pruning, remind yourself that every square foot you free up is prime real estate.”

2. Make living areas neutral and appealing to the masses

Why do you think bland, neutral furniture from Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware is used so much in staging homes for sale? Because it’s lacking in any extreme style and appeals to a large number of people. Even if a prospective buyer has more adventurous decor tastes, they’ll be able to picture their own furnishings better in your home, if your furnishings are understated.
Stephanie Barnes a Realtor with  Fingelly Real Estate, Southport, Conn., on, advises home-sellers to remove furniture and artwork that stand out too much. Don’t leave anything that steals the show from the actual house.

3. Paint your front door for instant curb appeal

A fresh coat of paint is a generally cheap and easy way to make every room of the house look more appealing. If you can’t paint the entire house inside and out, paint the front door.  Get advice from your favorite paint store on a color that will showcase your home the best. Remove holiday decorations, door wreaths and other front entry brick-a-brack for a clean, bright look. This advice from Debra Gould in HGTV’s This Old House.

4. Repurpose rooms

You may use the study in your home as a play room. And you may have converted the dining room into a family room. When selling your house, you’re going to have to get into the buyer’s head and think about how most people would use the rooms in your home. And then  repurpose those rooms before your house is put on the market.
Gould advises giving every room in your house a clear purpose, one that will appeal to the greatest number of potential buyers. Make your house more traditional and more buyers will be able to picture themselves there.

5. Think classy, not decorator-y

That’s an awkward way to put it, but I think you know what I mean. Virtually Staging Properties said it best in its Staging Secret #5: “Don’t let the same fabric in one room of the home be in another room, match-matchy is not allowed.  You don’t want it to make a room look too decorator-y. (Decorator-y is now my favorite word.)
When staging your home, your goal is to make it look like you spent a fortune but in the most understated, unostentatious way.
Read more about staging your own home and advice from the experts on how to stage your own home at:

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Get Your House Show-Ready in 5 Steps

When your house is on the real estate market, it’s almost impossible to live a normal life and showcase your house. Putting your house in its best light requires some work before you list your house, a daily effort while it’s on the market, and some last minute sprucing up when you have an open house or a showing appointment.

Here’s how to keep your house show-ready in 5 easy steps.

Before the house hits the market

Before you put that For Sale sign in the front yard, dig deep in preparing your house to look its best. Concentrate on these 5 things:

1. Spruce up your curb appeal. Repair any big cracks in walkways or stairs. Scrub down porches, patios and outdoor furniture. Wash windows inside and out. Repair loose shutters, gutters or anything else that’s in less than perfect shape.

2. Clean your house like there’s no tomorrow. Hire a professional, if possible. A super good cleaning of your house top to bottom will make it easier to keep up with the everyday cleaning you’ll have to do to keep your house show-ready.

3. Organize the insides of closets, cabinets, built-ins and anything that stays with the house. Imagine a prospective buyer is opening your cabinets - does it look like there is plenty of storage for a typical family

4. Fix what’s broken. Loose knobs, crooked curtain rods, leaky faucets all need to be repaired and in tip-top appearance and working order.

5. Neutralize your decor by removing throw pillows, afghans or anything else that makes the room seem busy and cluttered. If necessary paint key living area rooms in neutral colors to appeal to more buyers.

While your house is on the market

Keep up with cleaning, organizing and maintaining your home on a daily basis, so you’re not scrambling to get the house ready for showings.

1. Keep the grass cut, trees trimmed, and bushes and shrubs trimmed.

2. Keep up with mail and paperwork so all desks are kept free of piles of papers. Remove everything from the kitchen counter, except for the things you use on a daily basis.

3. You may love your pet, but prospective buyers aren’t necessarily animal lovers. Pet dishes, beds & toys might be a turn-off. Move your pet’s things into a discreet area of the house.

4. Remove family photographs or anything else personal that you don’t necessarily want strangers to see. Put jewelry & other valuables in a locked area until your house is sold and off the market.

5. Keep the house generally cleaned up daily. Make the beds first thing in the morning, wash dishes & put them away as you use them. This will keep to a minimum the time you’ll have to spend when you “get that call.”

When you get that call - “I’ve got a buyer who wants to see your house.”

Here’s where your hard work pays off. Because you’ve prepared, you can feel confident in telling your real estate agent that you can have your house ready to show in less than an hour.

1. Broom-sweep the front porch, stoop, steps & walk. Start at your curb and walk to your front door. What’s the first impression your home makes?

2. Do what my Midwestern mom used to call “redding up” the house. Make the beds, put dirty laundry away, put away clutter, gather up newspapers and magazines, put away DVDs, pick up toys, and empty the trash cans.

3. Do a quick light cleaning. Run the vacuum, wipe a Windex paper towel over glass and laminate surfaces, and lightly dust the wood. If you’re keeping up with the cleaning this shouldn’t take more than a few minutes, depending on the size of your house.

4. Let there be light! Open up all the blinds and turn on every light in the house. Overhead lights, lamps, counter lights - it doesn’t seem natural but buyers expect it.

5. Smell up the joint - A clean house shouldn’t smell like anything that needs to be masked, and you’ll want to avoid artificial air fresheners or potpourri smells. Pop a loaf of bread in the oven (keeping some frozen bread dough thawing in the frig when you’re likely to be showing your home) or bake some cookies, if you must. Most importantly, be sure there aren’t any bad smells in your home. Check out Smells That Sell.


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Very Best Housewarming Gifts

Welcome Wagon is a thing of the past, and the neighbor with the plate of brownies doesn’t happen all that often anymore either. If you have friends who have just moved and are settling into a new house, your housewarming gift could make a big splash if you think outside the box. 

Here are 10 ideas for unique, best housewarming gifts:

1. A living, growing gift


Help the newcomers bloom where they’re newly planted by giving them a tree seedling, a basket of herbs that can be planted in the yard, or a basket of seeds for wildflowers. The best part? They’ll think of you every time they look outside.

2. A welcome mat


‘nuff said.

3. A homemade wi-fi password QR code display


This one is a guaranteed one-of-a-kind gift. You’ll definitely not hear, “Oh! Thanks for the wi-fi password QR code display, but I already got one, so is it OK if I return it?”

Here’s the story of how - and why - to create one of these for a friend as a housewarming gift.

In a nutshell, with this framed on the wall of their home, your friends won’t have to give out their wi-fi password to guests. They can just scan the code with their device and get Internet access.

4. Tools


Key toolbox items (like a wrench, screwdriver set and hammer) and some less common ones (super glue, twine, work gloves and a level) will be much appreciated. Even if the new homeowner has tools, an extra toolbox in the kitchen or garage will come in handy. Get creative and put the tools in a fun, colorful container.

5. Tickets


If they’ve moved to a new town, every new homeowner appreciates a local music or cultural event. Help them get to know their new town with tickets to an upcoming show or concert. Or spring for a year membership to a museum.

6. Return address labels or a stamp


With the quick turn-around on printed items now, you can order personalized return address labels with your friend’s name and new address and have them printed and delivered within a week or two. Or give a stamper that allows the recipient to order his or her own choice of stamp.

7. Personalized Christmas ornament


You may be able to find one that looks similar to the new house or building. Add a hand-painted name and you’ve got a keepsake.

8. A meal for the freezer


Some of the best housewarming gifts I’ve received were the ones that took some work off my hands. A casserole, lasagna, or one-dish meal that can be fixed anytime or popped in the freezer is a much welcomed gift for the person who has just moved and has a long list of things to do.

9. Takeout menus from local eateries


Here’s the least expensive housewarming gift of all: Gather up takeout menus from local eateries, put them in a notebook or tie a ribbon around them. A nice added touch would be a gift card to one of the take-out restaurants and a DVD. You’ll be sponsoring a quiet night in for the newcomers.

10. A book about moving (ahem)


Let me shamelessly plug my book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves. It’s a collection of funny stories from my many cross-country moves with my family. Order from Amazon,, or get a signed copy directly from the author through


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.