Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Magic of Imagination

My dear sister Jessica recently wrote about imaginative play. Here is my favourite line of her post.

"A book taught my children about Vesuvius and Pompeii and now they can excavate my back yard, unearthing the magic of knowledge wedded to imagination."

Now if that doesn't whet your appetite for the whole thing, I don't know what will.

I enjoyed it so much, I just had to share it with the three of you who read my blog who don't already read hers.

Find it here.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A New Decade

It's my birthday today.

I'm officially thirty-something.

It was a great day.

My mom took me to lunch. We went to The Dodo and I had their famous turkey sandwich with delicious, savory, and unbeatable barbeque dipping sauce.

I haven't been out alone with my mom in AGES. I always have Tiny and Squeak along, so I have to be "Mommy" the whole time, and not just me. I miss grown up time. I miss my mom. Even when I see her frequently, it's just not the same as when we have one-on-one time. Our lunch today reminded me of not only how much I love my mother, but what a wonderful friend she is. How many women can say their mother is also their friend? I'm so grateful that I can.

Then she bought me a present.

Isn't it beautiful? I love it. I've been giddy about it all day.

Then this evening Brent took me out to dinner at Mazza. You would not believe how unbelievably delicious everything is there.

We took the kids with us and they were so good. James was happy and smiley the whole time. Jenny was pleasant and charming and didn't throw a single tantrum or whine even a little bit.

We finished our meal up with baklava, and then we walked next door to The King's English. Brent kept the kids entertained while he let me browse to my heart's content.

When we came home he gave me this:

It's called the Vixen necklace. I don't know that I'm much of a vixen, but I like thinking that I could be one if only I had the right necklace. Oh wait, I think I do!

The day was also filled with emails, messages, and calls from many friends and family.

Perhaps the nicest message I received (though all were sincere and very much appreciated) came from my brother-in-law. He said:

"Things I like about you:

your kids,
your laugh,
your style,
your cooking salmon,
your book recommendations,
your burps,
your singing,
your and Jenny's voicemails,
your being so great to my brother and family,
your husband,
your appreciation for pirates,
your blog posts,
your Christmas bread,
your opinion,
your southern drawl,
your prof. Trelawney,
your license plate frame,
your Jane Austen-ness
your breakfasts,
your political musings,
your Bubba Clause,
your preference for opaque fruit snacks,
your overall wonderfulness.


Isn't he the sweetest? I have to admit my Professor Trelawney costume is pretty good and my children and husband are fabulous. I am fairly opinionated, and yes my political musings might get me ostracized from the neighborhood if they were more widely known. (I've got you wondering now, haven't I?) However, my license plate frame was a gift from Roane, and while the idea behind it was mine, the execution was his. I'm not sure what Bubba Clause is (perhaps my African-American Santa Claus tree topper?). And while I do love opaque fruit snacks and all things Jane Austen, I don't really appreciate pirates. I merely tolerate them. I have to. It's either tolerance or kicking against the pricks. I choose acceptance and resignation over chronic pain in my toes.

Thank you Roane, for the love you show to me.

Thank you all my dear friends and sisters for your friendship and love.

Thank you Brent, for the beautiful necklace, for our amazing children, and for being so loving toward me all the time. Thank you for working so hard to provide for our family and facilitating and supporting my desires to stay home with our children. Thank you for making me panzarotti and cheesecake. Thank you for remembering the little things, like how I prefer raspberries to strawberries, dark chocolate to milk, and how Cold Duck is my bubbly of choice. Thank you for watching chick flicks with me, for liking Sydney Bristow as much as I do, for not complaining when I ignore you for hours when I'm sucked into my latest novel, and for being the best kisser in the universe.

But mostly, thank you Mom and Dad for giving me life. Mine is so blessed, so happy, and so full of love. The two of you gave me a delightful childhood where I was nurtured, taught, loved, provided for, and given My Little Ponies. You also gave me numerous siblings who were perhaps my torture 25 years ago, but have since become my best friends in life. You prepared me for life as a grown-up, making the process of growing up less scary. You helped me become the wife and mother I am today.

I owe you everything.

The Great House Hunt Part III

Sometimes things just feel right.

After our second showing of two properties, we knew which one we wanted. It was clear. It had the edge ever so slightly in terms of amenities, plus is had the zing.

We made an offer the same day. Last year the property was listed for 125K higher than its current listing price. Of course, that offer was totally inflated, but still, 125K is a HUGE drop. We offered 15K below their current asking price, which they accepted.


So not only are we getting a great house, but we're getting it at a good price. The seller's accepted our purchase price, but they wanted to quadruple our earnest money. It seems they were jerked around quite a bit by the buyers they were previously under contract with. They were very pleased with our "clean offer", as their agent put it.

It just felt like it was meant to be. Within four days we went from despair, to seeing the house twice, to having a signed offer. After months and months the actual deal seemed to happen rather quickly.

It's not the 100% perfect dream house. But it's awfully close at maybe 90%. It's a rambler, not a two-story. It's in South Jordan, not Cottonwood Heights. (Although the more I learn about South Jordan the more excited I am to be living there.) It means a 25 minute commute for Brent rather than his current 8 minute commute. It was built in 1985 instead of 1905 or 2005 (at least it's not 1975. I've had enough of that decade's architectural design.)

However, it IS red brick with light mortar, black shutters, and black front door. It is on .99 acre which will give my children all the room they could want to frolic, plus have room for a big garden, chickens, beehives, fruit trees, a pool, a miniature golf course, and a putting green. Maybe even a shooting range.

It has a shed the size of an airplane hangar. We can't decide whether to turn it into a pool house, a music studio, a casino, a bowling alley, a spook alley, or a dance club. Or we could just buy a boat, some ATVs, snowmobiles, a trailer, and a few trucks to store. Since after we get our new mortgage we will be able to afford all these things, I'm thinking we somehow make a combo of a swimming pool beneath a sport court, like in "It's a Wonderful Life."

The house has main floor laundry. It has a huge kitchen. It has a walk in closet. It has a tiny formal dining room that we're going to convert into an office. It has a small formal living room that we're going to turn into a music room. It has a great family room off the kitchen. It has a big brick hearth and mantel that houses an old fashioned stove. It has a big blank wall where Brent can have some built-in bookshelves for his leather book collection.

It has a game room decorated in a grey, black, orange, and chrome Harley Davidson theme. It's awesome. I'm definitely keeping the chrome paneling.

But the best thing about the house is that it puts me in a position to bless others. It will be a place to gather with friends and family. We'll be able to have people over and have the space to socialize comfortably while the children run amok in the yard. I'll be able to have my children and grandchildren over, the house overflowing with love and affection. I can't wait to start making memories there.

We close at the end of March.

So. 4th of July barbeque at my house. Who's coming?

Oh, and did I mention that the shed has a moose weather vane?

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Great House Hunt Part II

Read Part I here

We have been looking for almost a year and have toured countless houses. Our realtor's file on us is about an inch and a half thick, stuffed with the property reports of all the houses we've seen. (He's been a very patient man.) We were being picky. But we knew what we wanted.

Then we found it. The house! Ah, it wasn't perfect, but it had the vibe. It had the zing. I could SEE my family living there. It had beautiful, dark, exposed beams in the living room. It had a cozy family room off the kitchen. It had a gorgeous yard, a nice deck, a nicely planned kitchen.

Well, we made an offer on that house.

The owner's agent pulled all sorts of manipulative shenanigans on us. He lied about having a second offer on the house to pressure us into making a fast and high one. He called our agent with stories of the owner's wife in tears about leaving, and just another 10K would make her feel so much better about things. Apparently she had talked to so-and-so and so-and-so and THEY were SURE that the house was worth more than we were offering. Seriously? Like I care what so-and-so said or that the owner's wife was crying?

Plus, they were always past deadline whenever responding to us and extremely unwilling to concede anything to us. In protest we became rigid in our negotiations. After having given them all but one item on their counteroffer, we made our best and final offer. Then their agent decided to just ignore us. No formal refusal. Not even the courtesy of a phone call. Just silence.

Needless to say, we didn't get the house. In fact, when it did finally sell it was for only 4K more than our offer. A measly four thousand!! In the grand scheme of house prices, that was nothing. We were disappointed. Ah well, onward and upward.

Months went by as well as many more houses. Onward and upward became onward and status quo, and sometimes distinctly downward. Keep in mind that we were seeing 3-5 houses nearly every Saturday. We were getting burned out, but nothing seemed right.

Then we found it. The house! It was a beautiful 2 story with a most delightful floor plan. And it had plantation shutters throughout the house. The basement was unfinished and the yard wasn't ideal, but the location was great and more importantly, I could SEE us there. So we made an offer.

The owners countered. They came down a measly 4K and threw in their grand piano. Well, a grand piano is nice and all, but come on, meet us in the middle here! Sure we low-balled them, but honestly this house had so many red flags in its history (such as having recently sold as a short-sale for 150K LESS than its current listing price) that we didn't want to offer the inflated asking price. So we countered back. We came up a hefty amount.

Then silence. Again. We were being blown off AGAIN. Can't you people have the decency to return a phone call? An email? Crikey, how about a text? Don't you people want my money? Our agent finally called their agent's principal broker (and have I mentioned that this agent has a reputation in the industry for being difficult to work with?) and Mr. Boss Man blew us off and said that he was certain the agent was being professional and would do everything possible for us and would definitely return our calls.

Nothing. No response.

Then our agent's principal broker called their agent's principal broker. Come on, people, talk to us. Don't you WANT to sell you house? Why on earth did you list it if you're not willing to enter into negotiations with interested parties? Well, finally the agent called ours. He gave a price that he thought we should offer but couldn't say whether or not the owners would find it acceptable. Hmm.

Back to the search.

Discouraged. Disheartened. Tired. Sick of it all. Time running out as the deadline for the tax credit looms ever closer. We went out with our realtor again. All the houses were lame, lame, LAME! We were depressed.

Not quite ready to give up hope, we scheduled another tour. The day before the tour the house we thought had the most potential cancelled our showing. The owners of the house had accepted an offer the night before. Grr.

Wanting to fill the time slot, I picked a house to see that I remembered finding online months ago. It had been under contract last fall, but the sale fell through. It had only been relisted for ONE day. Last summer when I saw the house online I crossed it off the list because of its location. It looked like a great house, but it was too far away. Of course, by this point in the hunt we were much more flexible on a little thing like location. Once we saw what was available in our area of choice and realized we didn't like anything there, we cast our net a little wider. Or a lot wider, depending on your point of view, I suppose.

With less than 24 hours notice, the owners decided to let us see their house. After the tour that day we had two properties we wanted to see again.

Faith renewed. Energy back up. We were FINALLY excited about a couple of properties again. In fact, we liked them both so much we had some serious deliberation to do. We weighed pros and cons. We made a matrix. I assigned a point system. We evaluated every tiny detail of the houses and our lifestyles. It came down to six on one side and half a dozen on the other.

The second showing would break the tie.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Great House Hunt Part I

It's no secret that I've never loved my house. It has some flow and functionality problems that just cannot be fixed with a remodel. I have thought and rethought and mentally configured and reconfigured my floorplan. I just can't solve my major complaints with it without creating others.

So when the housing market crashed and interest rates dropped, Brent and I started looking. We don't need to move, certainly not now anyway, with only two children. Our current house has all the square footage we would ever need. But I dreamt of a pantry (ooo, a pantry, she said with a sign) and a mudroom (oh, a MUDROOM, she wistfully thought). The call of upstairs laundry (UPSTAIRS LAUNDRY she swooned) was in my heart. We desired a backyard for our children to roam in that was bigger than a handkerchief.

We made a list of what features our dream house would include. You know, like when you were a young teen and your youth leader had you write a letter to yourself to describe your ideal husband. If you write your ideals down they will serve as a guidepost during your search for the perfect companion, and help you weed out anyone unworthy, however alluring.

That list has guided us during our hunt. There have been houses that were so full of charm and coziness that I was ready to sacrifice a lot of function just to call that charm my own. The list and Brent's ever present practicality vetoed that house.

The list has also included things that I do not want. There have been houses that Brent has liked but that were a little too hoity-toity and vacuous for me. The list of nots and I vetoed.

There have been houses that look great on paper. They have everything we need, nearly everything we want, close to perfection, but lacking that zing, that vibe, that feeling of home. Just like in my single days when I'd date a guy who had it all, but we just didn't click for whatever reason. I held out for the zing in a spouse, and after much patience and many unpleasant blind dates, I got it. I was confident I could find it in a house as well.

I thought that finding the house would be the hard part.

Turns out I was wrong.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Amen and Amen

"I could never love anyone as I do my sisters." ~ Jo March

I read this post on a favourite blog and had to share it.

Check out Blog Segullah.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Finding My Stride

It's been just over seven months since Squeak was born and I think I've finally hit my stride.

About a year ago, waddling around hugely pregnant, I was frustrated that I had to keep putting Jenny down. She ALWAYS wants to be held and sit in my lap. At the time there was no room for her in my lap and I wasn't strong enough to stand up holding both her and myself up. I began to worry that I wouldn't be able to take care of both my kids simultaneously. I had a hard enough time already, and the baby was still on the inside.

I quizzed the multiparae of my acquaintance. I got a lot of nonspecific answers that gave me no wisdom whatsoever. Answers like "Oh, you just sort of figure it out as you go along" or "You just do the best you can."

Yeah. That much is pretty obvious to the uninitiated. Give me some tips here, people. Give me the inside scoop into how you run your day and tend to the needs and wants of two tiny ones and yourself and your household. I wanted the logistical lowdown.

For some reason, it was hard to come by. At first I thought that these women were being selfish. Why wouldn't they share their experiences with me? Is this some sort of hazing ritual, where you're only allowed full membership into the mommy club after you struggle on your own until you "figure it out"?

Now I've come to realize that the reason they weren't more specific in answering my questions is because they've blocked it from their memories. It was so traumatic for both them and their children that the emotional scar tissue is too hard to see through. They just don't remember how hard it was because either they stopped having children and things are so much better now, or they have had more children and now their lives are even worse.

When lamenting to my favorite sister-in-law who is more sister than law, she gave me the key. She gave me the brutal truth, unadorned, ugly.

"Sometimes," she said, "you just let them cry."

This was a new thought. I believed that my entire mission in life was to prevent my child from any discomfort at all cost, and that included crying.

My mother is the best baby-tender in the world. She taught me how to be conscious of the tiniest discomforts and threats to my child. She drilled me until I knew to contort my arm so that the car seat was positioned just so the sunlight never hit my baby's eyes. She taught me to inspect the inside of clothing to make sure there were no restrictive elastic bands that might leave a red mark on baby's skin. She taught me to immediately respond to slight whimpers so baby never cried. She taught me to always have a toy (or kitchen implement) handy to give to baby to hold, lest baby becomes bored and fusses.

My mother molded me into an excellent mom.

For her tutelage I am truly grateful.

So the idea that "sometimes you just let them cry" was horrific to me. Because as we all know, a crying child is evidence of an incompetent and unloving mother. Right? Well, according to my beloved sister Jessica (homeschooling mother of three), sometimes I'd have no choice.

She was right.

The first few months of my son's life were rough on all of us. Well, on all of us but Brent. I was still recovering from a bad tear and cracked nipples and doing so while sleep deprived. I got better, but balancing the needs of my children didn't get much easier for a while.

I learned I could usually keep at least one of them happy. Occasionally and miraculously they would both be happy at the same time, but I knew that was just grace of God and had nothing whatsoever to do with my mothering.

But every once in a while (meaning a couple of times a day) I found that I couldn't get either one soothed and content. They would sometimes both be inconsolable. Their hysteria working synergistically to bring me to tears also. There we'd be, the three of us: the infant (who has every right to cry), the toddler (who can't help her developmental level of constant emotional overload) and the mother (who ought to be the grown-up but who can't control her emotions when her stress levels blow through the roof), all crying together in a huddle.

Well, a few more months have passed and I'm happy to report that both of my children are usually pretty content most of the time. We still have our moments of grief and pain, but we're basically all happy.

So before I block it all out and am unable to pass on my experience and wisdom to the next questioning mother, here's how I do it.

1. Allow the toddler to watch Disney movies and PBS kids more than is good for her.
2. Take deep cleansing breaths while child A or B is screaming and you can't get to them right away. It doesn't help much, but at least it will prevent you from screaming "shut up!" at your children.
3. When the baby is content, tell him (in the toddler's presence) that he has to wait because right now it is the toddler's turn to be held. This makes the toddler very happy to be the chosen one. Then when the baby starts to cry, you can tell the toddler that she already had her turn, and now it's the baby's turn. It won't make her like it any better, but at least it feels fair.
4. Don't worry about bathing or dressing your children. It's a hassle, inevitably one or both will end up crying, and in an hour's time they'll both look grubby again anyway.
5. Forget about the housework. Your home will not be tidy again for about 20 years. Focus on the bare minimum to keep things running relatively smoothly: dishes, meal planning, laundry. That's it.
6. Release the guilt you feel when they cry/scream/throw tantrums. You'll intervene/soothe/rock/hold/kiss-it-better as soon as you can (like as soon as you wash the raw chicken juice off your hands). A few moments of screaming is better than getting sick with salmonella.
7. Focus on the awake child when the other is napping. Don't be lured into doing housework or wasting time on the internet in the few moments of peace you may find.
8. Frozen chicken nuggets (for the toddler).
9. Chocolate (for you).
10. When the husband comes home, greet him with a kiss, let him change his clothes, then hand him both the children while you hide out in the bathroom for an hour. There you can take your first shower of the day, read a magazine or novel in the tub, cry and scream into a towel, or catch up on your sleep.

Good luck, and may the force be with you.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Things I'm Wondering

Why are people inconsiderate, inflexible, and unprofessional? Don't they want my money?

When battling my bossy almost-three-year-old, why do I sometimes have difficulty remembering that I am the grownup and act accordingly?

When I know it's good for me, why don't I do it?