A Tense Process (Adventures in Grammar #3)

Almost nine years ago, my husband David and I bought our first house. A sturdy, brick “kit house,” built in the 1920s in a quiet, blue-collar Pittsburgh neighborhood, our new place had decrepit bathrooms and a semi-finished attic with camouflage-print shag carpeting.

We loved it.

To be fair, our first house wasn’t the first house we had tried to buy. Other buyers had outbid us on two different Victorian four-squares across town, and another deal on a fixer-upper had fallen through after a failed plumbing inspection. When we finally found our house, we looked at it with weary eyes (I can only imagine how our unbelievably patient realtor’s eyes felt).

As we looked around at the original glass doorknobs and worn-out hardwoods and plastered walls, though, our excitement for the house hunt returned. This was a diamond in the rough, and we felt ready to give it all the TLC we could muster.

We really had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into—we merely had the confidence and energy of mid-twenty-somethings in love, access to do-it-yourself tutorials on Youtube, and just enough money to keep going. If necessity isn’t the mother of invention, then it is certainly the mother of learning. It’s incredible what you can learn to do when you can’t pay someone else to do it.

When our contractor vanished after move-in day and left us with a half-finished bathroom and piles of tiles, David and I hung plastic sheeting around the bathtub for a week or two while we learned from the Internet how to tile a tub surround.

Once we had finished, we tiled the bathroom floor, too.

When we realized, as new parents, that hiring a contractor to remodel the powder room was beyond our budget, my Eagle Scout husband ripped the tiny bathroom down to its studs and built it back up again. I ventured into a herringbone pattern for the powder room floor, then I got bold and replaced the entryway’s chipping linoleum with a mosaic.

When a subcontractor replaced one of the old radiators with a newer wall-mount variety and left behind big square holes in the hardwood floor, David took the salvaged floorboards from under the old linoleum and asked, “OK, Google, how do you patch tongue-in-groove flooring?”

David learned to build radiator covers. I sewed curtains. He installed baseboards. I learned to mow the lawn. And together we learned, again and again, how generous and helpful our family and friends were. Inside and around the brick walls of our beloved kit house, we kept learning and learning until we had our home exactly the way we wanted it. We poured ourselves into its nooks and crannies with every new project.

That’s where we are now. We have loved this house for nearly a decade.

We love it.

And now, it’s time to move.

The babies we brought home to this house are now ages six and almost-three. We want to give them (and our dog) more space to run around. We are getting ready to start our older son in kindergarten. And as much as we love our house, we are ready for a new adventure.

After massively de-cluttering, touching up paint, and finishing a few final projects, we signed the listing paperwork. Last Saturday, while camped out with our kids and dog following a scheduled showing, we agreed to a contract with an expecting couple who fell in love with our house. In two months, it will be their house.

I hope that they will love it, too.

Even so, as I guided our six-year-old up our refinished stairs last Saturday night, after we had accepted the offer and returned to our house, the words slipped out of my mouth automatically:

“Let’s brush teeth and put on jammies. Isn’t it good to be home?”

As he continued up the stairs, I stopped halfway and burst into tears.

Were we doing the right thing? Was it too soon to leave this house behind? Would we regret letting it go so quickly? Even with everything we had learned so far, about houses and about ourselves, was this too great a leap to take?

I took a deep breath and wiped my eyes. When I lurched into our bathroom, our son was pushing his stepstool across the tiles I had laid. He climbed up to reach his toothbrush. I wiggled his loose tooth for him when he was done brushing, and we walked hand-in-hand into his light-green bedroom. As I tucked him in, recited our bedtime prayer, and sang him a Mister Rogers ditty, I wiped my eyes again.

We love this house. We love our home. And we are utterly privileged that, for almost nine years, they have been the same place.

It was good to be home. It is good to be home.

And when we move, wherever we move, it will be good to be home.

Homebuying is a tense process almost by definition. Buyers have to balance their needs and wants for a home with their budgets, commutes, taxes, and other prosaic details; sellers have to balance their future plans and wishes with their financial and logistical obligations. There are contingencies and allowances, clauses and deposits. All these things remain in tension with one another.

Alongside that meaning of “tense,” I thought I could lay out a quick definition of common verb tenses from this personal reflection. Past, present, and future are central to my thoughts of home, so they emerged as natural guideposts for me as I wrote about my feelings and memories of our first house.

With that in mind, here is the grammar topic for the day:

How do you use simple and perfect tenses to describe past, present, and future?


Verb tenses are used to clarify and give context to our actions. “I went,” for instance, has a very different meaning from, “I will have gone.” There are many verb tenses in English, but today we’ll quickly review two of the most common: simple tenses and perfect tenses.


Simple tenses are used to show things like completed actions in the past, regular or scheduled activities in the present or future, facts and theories, and feelings.

The past simple changes the predicate (verb), usually by adding “-ed,” so that it describes a completed action:

  • We learned from the Internet how to tile a tub surround.
  • He climbed up to reach his toothbrush.


The present simple conjugates based on whether the subject is singular or plural, and it shows a fact, feeling, or scheduled/habitual event:

  • We are ready for a new adventure.
  • It is good to be home.


The future simple uses an auxiliary, or helping, verb (“will”) to bump the action into the future:

  • I hope that they will love it, too.
  • It will be good to be home.


Perfect tenses use auxiliary verbs as well—sometimes more than one. Perfect tenses are used to place actions or states in time relative to other things.

The past perfect illustrates a past action that was completed prior to something else. It uses the auxiliary verb “had” along with the past participle, a different verb form:

  • Other buyers had outbid us on two different Victorian four-squares across town.
  • We really had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into.

(That second one is tricky! The first “had” is simple past. You can tell because it’s not followed by a participle.)


The present perfect shows an action that began in the past and continues into the present. It uses the auxiliary verb “have/has” along with the past participle:

  • We have loved this house for nearly a decade.
  • For almost nine years, they have been the same place.


The future perfect illustrates a future action that will be completed in the future. It uses two auxiliary verbs, “will” and “have,” with the past participle to place it in time:

  • By the time we move, we will have packed countless boxes.
  • The buyers will have requested their home inspection by the end of the month.


I hope these examples have helped to clarify how the simple and perfect tenses are used. When you’re sorting out your verb tenses, think about the chronological order of your actions or states, as well as whether they are completed or continuing.

What other questions about verb tenses do you have? Let me know in the comments section, and check back on April 30 for our next Grammar Adventure.

In the meantime, happy reading and happy writing!



Sixteen Things to Tell My Sixteen-Year-Old Self

Today is my 32nd birthday, or as I’ve been thinking of it, my “double-sweet-sixteen.” And that’s gotten me thinking about my first sweet sixteen: who I was (and wasn’t), what I knew (and didn’t), and what I would tell myself if I could go back to February 2002.

With that as inspiration, I’d like to share the following list. Here are the sixteen things I would like to go back and tell my sixteen-year-old self:

  1. Be kind to your siblings. You will develop stronger bonds with each of them, especially when you just let go of the need to be “right.” And you will always need each other.


  1. This summer, you are going to have the experience of a lifetime: a month studying in France. Your mother is letting you fly around the world by yourself at age sixteen. If you ever doubt that you have a cool mom, just remind yourself of that.


  1. You won’t have weird white spots on your teeth when they take off your braces. Stop worrying about it.


  1. Try not to be discouraged when you don’t get the high school choir solo or role you had hoped for. There is so much wonderful, heartening music ahead of you, and you will learn the beauty of collaboration.


  1. Hold onto all those good friends in your birthday photo. Through living in different towns, different states, different seasons of life, you’ll stay close in different ways—but you have a fortunate habit of finding good, kind people.


  1. Appreciate the heck out of your exceptionally well-funded, well-staffed, safe school.


  1. The Columbine school shooting happened less than three years ago. 9/11 was six months ago. There will continue to be times when the world seems irreparably darkened, like cruelty and division will win. Keep looking to those who are helping others, who are giving of themselves, who are fighting hatred with love to make the world brighter. You will always be able to find those people, and you can always keep trying to be one of them.


  1. Treasure this time of living with your wise, gentle grandma. She is one of the best friends you’ll ever have. And you’ll keep wishing you could ask more questions of your grandpa, but even when you can’t literally “ask” them, they’ll keep getting answered.


  1. You will become a parent. It will be so, so different than you think it will be. It will be ten times harder, but a hundred times more joyful. It will make you think differently and more deeply about your own mother and what she means to you. It will make you a better person.


  1. You think those “going into labor/OMG, can we even make it to the hospital?” scenes in movies and sitcoms are humorous? Oh, just wait.


  1. Anxiety will happen to you. It will fold you up like a sheet of paper, and you’ll think it’s going to tear you in half, but you will remain whole. And as you learn to appreciate being whole, you will grow stronger.


  1. Don’t limit your beliefs. Study them. Ask questions of them. Grow in them.


  1. Keep writing. Keep reading. Most importantly, get better at listening to those who are different from you. If you’re going to be a storyteller, you must be a sincere listener first.


  1. Don’t worry; Hanson will keep making records. You maybe won’t keep chatting about their music on AOL Instant Messenger, Mmmbop5916, but you’ll keep on loving it—on CDs, on mp3finder, on iTunes, on Youtube, on Spotify… and on whatever comes next.


  1. You’re not going to find “the one” in high school like every single millennial teen movie insists you are. Calm down. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. (And P.S., in about two-and-a-half years, you’re going to meet “the one,” at a college you’ve never even heard of that will end up being one of the best places you’ve ever been.) Be patient with fate and true love and all of it, and don’t settle for anything less.


  1. Be patient with yourself. It will take at least another sixteen years before you really start to get better at this, but try. Keep going. You are not yet the person you are meant to be. And that’s good, isn’t it?