Monday, April 26, 2010

Random Crap: April Edition

So much going on, with three little ones and a house to sell and a house to buy.

- Michaela lobbied to start getting an allowance this past week. She made up a list of ten items that she will do daily, my favorite of which is, no kidding, "Don't argue with Mom." It has made my life infinitely easier, since instead of arguing to the death on every point from what she's going to wear to school to whether she can have a playdate, all I have to say now is, "you're not arguing with me, are you?" and she clamps her hand over her mouth, those big brown eyes as big as half dollars, and stops. She gets one dollar a day for five days during the week, and gets her money at the end of each day because she needs the instant feedback. Now on the weekends, she basically has to do the same things but is not paid for it. She did not quite grasp this end of the bargain. So this Saturday, she said, "Oooohh! It's Saturday! That means I can argue with you today!" with the joy and glee and smile of a top athlete playing her favorite sport. Because verbal jousting is clearly her best event. But alas, her little hopes were dashed as we firmly responded that it is not the case, and she did pretty well anyway.
She has made up three envelopes: one for money she has to save, one for money she has to give away (she's chosen to donate to a Haiti relief effort) and the rest she can spend.
Overall, the arrangement has worked well and much better than the last time we tried this, when we made up the list and she declared after three days: "Keep your money... this is too much work."

-Jenna is officially registered and screened for kindergarten. She did great on the screening and was excited to see her new school for the first time. We contacted the school to get her screened for possible speech therapy and her evals are next week. I think she'll enjoy the therapy... what middle child doesn't love a little extra attention?

- Alec is officially seven months old. Where did that time go? He is sitting up like a trooper, growing out of his car seat- we're in the last few weeks of it- and clearly doesn't want to be a laying-around-baby anymore. He's a big boy now. He's really enjoying his food and is eating breakfast, lunch and dinner with us. I am starting to fantasize about the end of $20 formula canisters every week and buying $3 gallons of milk instead. His goopy eye problem, aka a narrow tear duct, has thankfully cleared up on its own without any medical intervention. Alec is sleeping pretty well, not through the night but occasionally pretty close, but his naptimes are a bit brief for my liking. He seems pretty sensitive to noise, as was Jenna, and someone is always waking him up. Come September, when both girls are in school all day, he can have a nice afternoon nap uninterrupted. And so can Mommy. He continues to be a very easy, very pleasant, funny kid, all snuggles and love and social, though has shown the signs the girls did of stranger anxiety about 10 months too early. (Stranger anxiety isn't a stage for my children... it's a way of life.)

- Michaela has her state exams in English Language Arts this week, and I tried my hardest not to make a big deal out of it while still encouraging her to do her best. They did lots of practice tests in her class so I think she'll be fine. I hope. This is permanent record kind of stuff.

- The love affair with cheese balls continues in my house. We are branching out to Cheez Its. In a pinch, we'll do Ritz Bits with cheese.

- Dan's softball starts this week, as does Michaela's soccer season. She is thrilled with her team and so are we. Jenna made it crystal clear that she did not want to play soccer again: "Sah-ter?? I HATE sah-ter!!" I'm stocking up on easy, quick meals for this week and the next 8 weeks.

- I got horrible news this week that a friend of mine has advanced breast cancer. Talk about perspective building. I have prayed a little harder, loved a little longer, and cried a little more since I found out as a result.

- We had the inspection done on our house without incident and the inspection done on the new house, also without incident. We were able to go back into our new house and look around and fall in love all over again. We signed our lives away on the mortgage application on Saturday, and after the bank appraisal is done, are in good shape. No firm closing date has been set yet. Last week I spent on the phone with all the mortgage people, asking a million and one questions, but it all paid off: low closing costs and a great rate for the next thirty years.

- I took a bunch of pictures this week of our current house coming into bloom: the maple leaves coming in, the peonies shooting up, the hostas standing tall and straight like little soldiers. The lilac bush is getting ready to burst out in purple glory. The good news is the new house already has everything I love except the peonies. And there are plenty, and I mean PLENTY, of places I can plant some. I am still a little sad about this being the last spring in our house.

- The girls and I went to a garage sale in my parents' development- soon to be our development, too!- and the girls each got some treasures. Michaela bought (with her new Spend allowance mony envelope) a cute painted wooden box with dragonflies on it, and since it was 3pm, got a little figurine of two birds in a nest for free. Jenna got to pick out a free stuffed animal, which is great because the 20 plastic garbage bags of stuffed animals iwe already have isn't enough, and she picked out a little snowman, whom she named Snowy. She has brought Snowy with her everywhere: the store, school, and church. But this is better than the 3/4 inch tall rubber hamsters each girl has bought from our local bookstore and of course lose, and then we have to tear the house apart looking for something the size of my thumbprint. Seriously.

-We have had lots of fun starting to plan where we're going to put furniture in the new house; how the rooms will be arranged; even stupid things like where does the Christmas tree go and where will we put the garbage can has been discussed. Dan loves thinking about the littlest details and and planning things out, and most mornings he leaves me with his Declaration of the Day: his thought on some aspect of the house. While I want to kill him for waking me up in the morning, usually his Declarations of the Day are pretty fun.

- The girls and I read Charlotte's Web aloud, two chapters a night, for the last few weeks. We'd all get our jammies on and snuggle into my bed together and I'd read, the magical moments only interrupted by Michaela occasionally correcting a word I'd misspoke. (She strives for accuracy.) It is really nice, a quiet time at the end of the day to go into another world together. I think we were all sad when we finished it. Onto the next book.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Great House Fiasco of 2010, Part 4a: The Search is Over.

Our new 72 days from now

I am the proud holder of two signed, official, attorney-reviewed contracts: one to sell my house and one to buy another house. I can hardly believe it.
Apparently a couple came through our house to see it while we were at church on Sunday as the new roof was being nailed on the house. I told the roofer to pay close attention to who they were, and he gave us the full report when we returned. "They stayed a real long time," he said, "and they walked all over the back yard." This gave me hope because in the seemingly hundreds of open houses and house showings I've been to, only a few times have I ventured outside, and they were only at the houses I was very interested in. Well, by Monday night we had an offer on our house from them. We spent Tuesday counteroffering a few times and by about 2pm, it was a done deal.

(Let me interject and say this: if one more person gave us this feedback- "Great house! Shows beautifully! Is on our short list! A real contender!", I was going to strangle someone. Seriously, at least four people told us our house was "on their short list." I told our realtor we were feeling like always the bridesmaid, never the bride. We would get so excited by the positive feedback and then we'd never hear from them again. The up and down emotional rollercoaster was killing me, and I started feeling like we'd never leave this house. I even got so crazy as to let my feelings get hurt... why don't you like my house? What's wrong with it? Why don't you want to buy it? I love my house! It's a great house! Sure, it's not terribly sexy, per se, but it's solid and strong and has sheltered us from many, many storms. And it has a new bathroom. Argh.)

So Wednesday dawned and we had two showings of very strong contenders scheduled for that evening: a house near my parents' development that we had seen online and looked very good and a house in my parents' development that was not on the market yet; we had been told it was getting ready for sale by our realtor, who know the owners, and we had driven by a few times to check it out and really liked it. (I swear that the first time I saw it, I had an emotional reaction to it, sort of like the first time I saw Dan, and my heart kind of fluttered a little.) Dan and I drove over to the first house, the one we had seen pictures of, with nervous anticipation. I had a strong feeling one of these houses would be The One, and was very hopeful that one of them would be The One since in about 78 days we would, essentially, be homeless. And I wanted to find the house that worth leaving our current house for.

And guess what? The first house certainly wasn't it.

It was okay from the outside. But as we entered and walked room by room, the negatives started piling up. Rooms needed painting. The living room floor was a different hardwood than the dining room and hallway. The kitchen was very cheap looking. The cabinets didn't close right. I hated the countertops. The back stairway had been refinished and done poorly. Upstairs, someone had put down hardwood floors and nail holes showed. The planks went in different directions in each room. And, in one of the final blows to the house, we walked into this eight-year-old home's main upstairs bathroom and found gray particleboard paneling on the walls.
With gold fixtures.
Yeah... I didn't get it, either.
So we went back downstairs and I stood in the kitchen, looked around, and imagined myself for the next 20 years in this space. And I said, "Dan, I can't do it. I can't live here." And I almost started to cry.
Our realtor quickly said, "Let's go see the next house."
On the way to see the second house, we started panicking. "I wasn't nervous before, but now I am," Dan said. "Stop saying that!" I told him. "You're freaking me out, man!"
And I could hear, in italics, the thoughts going through both of our heads: What if this house is bad, too? What have we done? Where are we going to live?
We pulled up to the second house, the one in my parents' development, and walked up to the front door. Our realtor opened the door, Dan walked in first, and I followed. And I swear, when I walked into the foyer, it was though the spotlight from Heaven shone down on us and the Hallelujah Chorus started playing in my head: it was awesome and I knew that we were HOME.
Dan darted off to explore the house like a kid on Christmas morning, and I just stood there, stunned, looking around, not able to move or take it all in, gasping and exclaiming and sighing and saying, "Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness!" because it was just quite possibly my favorite house I've ever seen. It was warm and open and friendly and beautiful.
So we spent the next hour looking room by room, top to bottom, and thoroughly fell in love. It is a 12 year old, four bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom colonial that is .5 miles from my parents' house with a two story foyer, a vaulted ceiling in the family room, and plenty of living space for all of us. The kitchen, eating area and family are all open to each other and spacious. The bedrooms are a good size, there is a first floor study, and the basement is framed and ready to be finished. There is also plumbing in the basement to put in a full bathroom. There is a deck off the family room, a deck off of the basement, which is a walk-out, and a hot tub outside. It is on a cul-de-sac, which reminds me of the house I grew up in and loved, but the backyard is large and completely private. It is full of nice touches and good finishes and whoever picked the paint colors knew what they were doing. The only thing we have to do to it is change the kids' bedrooms from blue- they have three boys- to the colors the girls pick out.
Dan LOVED it.
We couldn't believe we could live in a place like it.
Our realtor very wryly smiled and said, "Hmmm... I think I'm hearing offer talk."
So, the next day we put an offer together, they counter offered, we counter offered, and they accepted. Done deal. We close at the end of June.
Today and yesterday I have spent mortgage shopping, talking interest rates and closing costs and loan to value ratios and amortization tables and basis points and terms and locking in and extensions. Our current house was inspected and did fine. A lawyer was hired. An inspection of the new house was scheduled. The girls were re-registered to their new elementary school. Property Disclosure Statements were written and reviewed. Good Faith Estimates were gathered. And meanwhile, regular life went on: the kids and the house and the cooking and the laundry and the cleaning and everything else.

I am exhausted but extremely happy.

More than once in the last few months, I have thought to myself: What are we DOING? Maybe we should just stay here. Where do we belong?
And this house was out there, all along, just patiently waiting for us to find it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Great House Fiasco of 2010, Part 4: The Climax

We got our house!
Remember that post I wrote about selling our house a few days ago? This house makes me feel LOTS better about leaving.

The negotiations started at about 4pm, had a counter offer and another counter offer, and we found out at 9:55pm that they had accepted our terms. Besides the house, we got all the appliances, a washer and dryer (yay!), a hot tub (double yay!), and four stools that Dan and I loved that fit perfectly at the breakfast bar.
Oh, yes... there's a breakfast bar. I've ALWAYS wanted a breakfast bar. And I've got to tell you, I am really psyched about getting those stools.
We close on or before June 30th.
We are elated, overwhelmed, incredulous, and really, really excited about living in that house for the next, oh, 30 years or so.

The Great House Fiasco of 2010, Part 3a.

So we've placed our offer and have recieved a counter offer. We placed another counter offer and are awaiting a response. We are super close, and are beginning to think it might be a possibility.

The waiting is agony.

The Great House Fiasco of 2010, Part 3

We have found our dream home.
The offer goes in today.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Great House Fiasco of 2010, Part 2

We sold our house today.

The house we have lived in for 10 years. The house we brought all three of our babies home to. The house that hosted Christmas, birthdays, Thanksgivings, Mother's Days, Father's Days, and backyard get-togethers. The house we bought, fresh faced and full of excitement about what the next decade would bring to us, never in a million years guessing how blessed our years here would be. The house that we've painted, carpeted, fireplaced, ripped apart and put back together, built a deck onto, put a water heater and furnace into, re-roofed, re-seeded, re-graded, re-applianced. The house we delightedly discovered on the day of our closing already had hyacinths and lilacs and then we planted our peonies, our forsythia bushes, and our hostas. The house that has two of the prettiest, most majestic maple trees you've ever seen in the front yard, maple trees that have marked the seasons for the last 10 years.

The house that has been our home for a whole decade of our lives.

I know- I truly do- this is a giant leap forward for our family, but in this brief space of selling our home and not yet finding our next one, all I feel is sad. Sad about what I'm giving up, leaving behind, will never do again. I went for a walk today with Jenna and Alec in the middle of our offer-and-counteroffer dance and felt overwhelmingly sad about future walks not including the familiar sights of our street. I know my neighbors, know their stories, know what they've done to their houses, know their families; I know the road and the potholes and sewer drains and trees and gardens along our familiar route that we've walked with all of our kids. What if the new people do something to my house? What if they re-side it, or, worse yet, re-side it in a color I don't like? What if they rip out my side garden? What if they- I can hardly bear to think of it- cut down my maple trees???

Will they love my house? Will they take care of it? Will they host parties and show it off and have kids to run around and laugh and squeal in the yard?

I have lived in the same square mile since I was 10 years old. Except when I went to college and lived in three different apartments with Dan when we were first married, I have made the same turns to get home and gone through the same intersections for about 20 years. When we bought this house, it gave me intense psychological pleasure to turn off the main road onto the same one I had turned with my parents for 8 years.

Turning onto Orchard Street meant I was coming home. And now, it won't.

A few years ago, my mom got us a precious gift: a pen and ink drawing of this house. We immediately hung it up and love looking at it every day. I am so glad that we can bring that with us wherever we end up, a reminder of where we started, the house that we used to eat dinner every night pre-kids at the coffee table in the living room, sitting on the floor, watching tv, and ended up, ten years later, sitting every night at the dining room table, a family of five, even little Alec sitting tall and straight and proud in his booster seat, all eating and laughing and talking at once about the best and worst parts of the day.

We have lived, loved, and laughed in this house and it will be part of our history forever.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Locavore Wannabes.

I just finished reading one of my favorite books of all time: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. It completes my personal trilogy of far left, liberal, commie-socialist-pinko, environmentally wacko books I started reading last year about food and life style choices that propose these radical ideas: eat real food, eat food that has been grown locally as best you can, minimize chemicals/preservatives/additives in your food, and eat meats that are responsibly and humanely raised.
I know, I know: it's CRAZY talk.

But this book and the others have changed my ideas and goals of how to feed not only myself, but the three little people in my house whom I am responsible to nourish. (Dan has to go along, too, or buy/cook/cleanup after his own meals.) It makes wonderful sense, is incredibly healthy and non-restrictive, and encourages kids to get into the process of choosing and preparing meals. And, yeah, it''s good for the environment.
I could go on and on about how it's changed me, but I won't. What I will tell you is that the book is about a family's goal to grow as much of their own food as possible for the year and how it all worked out. It contains great recipes, inspirational explanations of why they chose to do this, and tells hilarious stories of being totally overwhelmed by zucchini and tomatoes in August and how they dealt with it as well as answering the question: if you grow your own food, what do you eat in February? It is funny, touching, real, and makes you really think about what you feed yourself and your children.

It does not propose that you plant a huge garden, become vegetarian, or give up sweets. But... you can frequent farmer's markets, buy meat from local family farms, and make your own goodies.

I am planning to incorporate some of these ideas into our daily eating life and will update you throughout the summer on my attempts. In the meantime, get the book from your library and enjoy a great read.

Seriously, get it out. Like, today. It's AWESOME.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Yesterday was a particularly challenging parenting day, filled with lots of energy and chaos of playdates and somewhat obnoxious attitudes and bad behavior and threats of consequences and Long Talks in Cars About Future Behavior While Trying to Maintain A Normal Speaking Tone of Voice While the Other Person is Crying.

Yesterday was the kind of day that I said to Dan, "I worry about how Michaela and I are going to get along in about 5 years or so."

His reply: "Me, too."

Yesterday was a day in which I asked myself a hundred times, What would my parents do? What would they have thought if this were happening to them?

Yesterday was a day that Michaela told me for the first time, "I'm not speaking to you!" with as much vehemence as she could muster, then about 20 minutes later asked me to lay down on my bed and read to her. Two picture books.

Yesterday was the kind of day that I worried that I am not doing my job of raising a full-spirited, whole-feeling child particularly well. Yesterday I worried that I was- at the same time- doing too much and not enough. Then I stuck to my guns and felt like I did the right things.

Yesterday was a day that I was glad to have my Ace in the Hole, should I ever have to use it: a spare bedroom at my parents' house.

Yesterday was a day in which I wasn't sure if I'd send Michaela to use that bedroom... or take it for myself.

Yesterday was a tough parenting day. But we got through it. And it certainly won't be the last.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A letter to the Easter Bunny.

Date: Easter Sunday, 2010
To: Mr. Easter Bunny (aka Cottontail, Peter)
3647 Bunny Trail

Re: Easter Baskets, 2010

Dear Mr. Bunny:

It has come to my attention by my eight year old daughter, Michaela, that you may have chosen our home to be "the last one of the night" that you visited. This was determined by said eight year old by the relatively weak contents (her words, not mine) of her Easter basket: (1) DVD of Alvin and the Chipmunks Squeakquel; (1) small-sized Russell Stover bunny rabbit, chocolate, and (7) M&M funsize packets, which she has declared that "I don't even really like."

Mr. Bunny, this is unacceptable.

We left out carrots AND ranch dip for you on our hallway table.

Everyone is aware that though Easter is actually a religious holiday that our family embraces for its holy meaning, it is clearly an opportunity to celebrate Christmas-type gift giving in April. Yes, the DVD was a nice touch, but really: no other gifts? No stuffed animals? No large chocolate rabbits? No clothing, jewelry, dolls, books, pajamas, art supplies, etc?

At least you could have brought candy that my daughter actually likes. Sure, she has several thousand dollars worth of orthodontic work in her mouth right now that limit what she can eat, but come on. Throw the kid a bone here. Or at least a peanut butter cup.

It's bad enough that her mother spent the last few weeks running around, planning and packing for five people to travel halfway across the country and back, coordinated Easter five outfits, wrote out and sent Easter cards, and attended six weeks worth of Lenten church services, all while caring for a six month old, four year old, and eight year old while also keeping the house clean and neat in case a potential buyer came along. (Rumor has it that she was crawling up in the attic at 10pm on Saturday, looking for the Easter baskets that you should have filled more generously.) We depend on you, Mr. Bunny, to pick up the slack here and a modest basket just isn't going to cut it.

Please contact your schedulers to move our house up on the list for next year. We will refrain from any further action this year, though it was disappointing, but you leave us no choice should this weak showing occur again next year.

Cheryl Libutti

Friday, April 2, 2010

Spring has Sprung.

Ahhhhhhhh.... Spring.
Our forsythia are juuuuuust about to bloom.

Alec took his first ride in our swingset and couldn't decide if he loved it or just wanted to get out and take his morning siesta.

Notice the scratches on his face? Mother of the year here was carrying him on her back yesterday and misjudged how low a tree branch was at Michaela's school and clocked him... right in the face. Yikes. Luckily, he doesn't seem to be holding it against me. (I do think I get extra credit Mom Points for walking down to Michaela's school to pick her up with him on my back. I swear Alec was a Native American baby in a past life... there is nothing he loves more than being in that backpack, like a papoose.)

I love how Jenna copied Michaela's outfit as best she could... pink shirt, rolled up jeans, hat and sandals. I adore that kid.

Who am I kidding? I adore ALL those kids.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Independence Grove.

One of my favorite things we did this past weekend at my brother and sister in law's house was visit Independence Grove. It is a mammoth-sized park, with every possible outdoor fun you can imagine. Want to take a walk or bike ride? They've got long, winding, paved trails to explore. Want to play on a playground? The huge playground there has multiple play stations, a cave for kids to explore, a gentle rock wall to climb, and it's all bedded underneath by the recycled rubber mulch... super squishy and soft. You can also swim in the lake, relax on the beach, boat, fish, grab a bite to eat at the cafe, sit on one of the hundreds of benches, or enjoy the fountain in the summer. I can hardly wait to go back.

"Who pays for all of this?" I asked my brother. It's run by the county he lives in, which has a commission whose specific purpose is to buy up land and preserve it as open space... fun open space.

I was astounded at who nice it was, how well-thought-out, and the sheer size of it.

I also thought that if you wanted to give families a great option to be together, enjoy the outdoors and exercise their kids and themselves a little, this would be the perfect spot to do it. Places like this could cure a whole lotta ills this country is wrestling with.