Saturday, July 31, 2010

the crazy, wild vent

Yo. Hey. What's up?

I'm having a nervous breakdown.

No, seriously.

The owners of House A came back today to tell us that they were not moving off their first counter. Charlie was afraid that we'd insulted them with our 3% increase after they'd come down some 14%. As for me, I think that they are totally delusional to think that they're going to sell their house at such a high listing price, as-is, when it needs so much work.

The ball is now in our court and we're debating what to do.

To be perfectly honest, the longer I think about House A, the less 'cozy' I feel about it. The bathrooms are SMALL. Smaller than our bathrooms in California. The closets are SMALL. Smaller than our closets in California. And while I can certainly live in a small space and make concessions - I was hoping that this move would be a step up for us.

Not lateral, and certainly not down. Because paying more for a house, that is less of a house than your current house, is rather depressing. (Does that makes any sense, probably not I think it's 2AM.)

Right off the bat, we can tell that the house needs a lot of work and that's before we put a professional inspector on the job to decipher what else might be wrong. So, I'm extremely hesitant to go up anything more on our offer, until I know EXACTLY what we'd be getting ourselves in to.

Also, I think it's worthy to mention that after reading all the e-mails from people who told me that they'd be wary of the liability with a creek in the backyard, I started to rethink the idyllic vision I had of that and wonder if it's actually a BAD idea to have a creek that drains to the Chesapeake 200-feet behind our unfenced house?

So while all those thoughts are swirling around our minds, we drove out to look at House B. And we had such high hopes for House B because the pictures looked so beautiful and our Realtor had driven us through the tranquil neighborhood at an earlier point and we were just sure that this would be the house. But then, we saw the house and didn't even bother getting out of the car.

I'd never heard, or seen, until I came here this thing called a Pipe Stem. A Pipe Stem is a road (or more like driveway) that is built off a main road, where several homes are constructed. And although I've seen a few homes on Pipe Stems that look very nice, the driveway leading to House B, was a through fare on a Pipe Stem to another house, that was directly next door.

This was the most "congested" Pipe Stem I've ever seen.

Worse than that, the driveway leading from the street to the house was at an angle of approximately so high, that you couldn't even see over the front of your car as you were driving up it. So not only would this bite in the winter when there is snow and ice to deal with and you have to park your car on the street and walk to the house because the drive way is way too steep, imagine during the warmer months ... when you've got your garage door open and you're out washing your car and your children are playing in the driveway, and then your neighbor comes home and RUNS THEM OVER because they don't see them out there playing.

Now, before I go on, I want to take a quick moment to thank all of the awesome people who live in this area and who sent me detailed descriptions of events to do with the children. Your kindness has given me reason to believe there are some GOOD people around here.

Having written that, I'm really sorry if I offend anyone, but Virginia has got some of the WORST drivers I've ever seen. Or, at a minimum, the rudest.

Yesterday, we were driving home from looking at houses and in the lane next to us, was a minivan with South Carolina license plates. There were luggage racks on top of the car and the driver and passenger were fumbling with a map, clearly trying to figure out where they were going. The light turned green and within a half second, the car - directly behind them - was LAYING on the horn. Not a polite, "beep! beep!" the light has turned green notification, but a ...

HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONNNNK!

The map went flying in the air, the travelers were waving their arms apologetically and they gunned it, through the intersection, and almost nailed a pedestrian who was in the cross-walk.

Today, as Charlie and I were out AGAIN looking at homes, and as we were merging on to the highway, we were stuck behind a big truck, whose rig was blocking the over head signs. It wasn't until we were almost directly beneath the sign that we realized we were heading east, when we needed to be heading west.

No Big Deal.

Slow down, put on your blinker, change lanes.

Although if you're here, on a Virginia highway, and you slow down on the on-ramp and put on your blinker, the car behind you acts like you peed in his child's Cheerios. The hysteria - the horn honking - the screaming - the gesturing - the OH MY GOD - stop, before you give yourself an aneurysm!!

Unfortunately (for me), I don't respond well to that kind of behavior. Despite the fact that I put my head between my knees and prayed to God for patience and silence, the devil immediately overtook me and I was climbing OVER my husband's lap and flipping off the offender while screaming, "ASS WIPE!" as loud as I could, along with a bunch of other things that I don't want my mother reading.

We have CALIFORNIA plates on our car. While you might think that an out-of-state, from the opposite-side-of-the-country license plate would be grounds for some compassion, you'd be wrong. YOU ARE EXPECTED to know exactly what you are doing around here and God Help Your Sorry Soul if you don't. There is no tolerance at all whatsoever.

As for the driver? He was totally oblivious to my conniption. He had his outburst, and now, his attention was directed to text messaging, while driving.

Later today, as I was driving back from the store, I saw a FIVE car pile up on the freeway. With the exception of a multi-car crash that I witnessed in the Sierra Nevada mountains, in the midst of an ice storm, I have never in my life seen a five car pile up in perfectly sunny weather. But I did today and the reason is because people around here drive like aggressive lunatics.

Over the past few weeks, I have been a less than stellar role model, so it should be no surprise that tonight, my five-year-old showed me how she can flip the bird.

For the past several months, we've had a tremendous amount of uncertainty. It feels like we've been chasing something ... and now that we stop and look around, we realize that we're totally lost. At this point, we feel like we've made a huge mistake coming to the east coast.

After house hunting yesterday morning, yesterday afternoon we took the metro (train) in to Washington, D.C. We figured that the children could use a break and we definitely needed one, too. What I quickly discovered is that while on the metro, no one talks and no one makes any eye contact. It felt like for the 45-minute ride in and the 45-minute ride out, we were surrounded by robots. Our smiles were met with blank stares.

As we were riding the metro back out of the city, a woman sat down next to me, and commented on our large number of small children. We chatted for a few minutes, and I started to think that I was over-characterizing the people of this area and jumping to conclusions, way too soon.

Just then she asked if I lived here and I told her that we had just moved from California and were in the process of looking for a new home. She smiled brightly and said, "We're here on VACATION from California!" And I almost burst in to tears and asked her to pack us in her suitcase and bring us back to where the sun always shines and the people are friendly.

We had a beautiful house in California. In a beautiful environment, within walking distance to just about every store you could possibly imagine and a wonderful school, that is ranked extremely high. For the most part, we could drive on roads and if we had to change lanes - we didn't feel like our lives were in danger. We are now in escrow to sell our beautiful house, for a fraction of what we believe it is worth, so that we can "trade up" and buy a house that isn't nearly as nice, for twice as much, so I can be in an office all day and battle traffic so bad that on some roads, there is congestion at midnight on Sunday.

We have considered rentals - and checked out a few. We have also looked at no less than 200 homes in the past two weeks. Whether on line, or driving past, or walking through, we have seen almost everything in our price range. Our price range that has gone up by 20% since we've been here, because we realized what little we could get for such a large amount. And even with the 20% increase, we're still seeing homes that make our house in California look like paradise.

SO WHY ARE WE HERE?!

We had a GREAT life in California and since we've been here, our emotions - our health - our sanity and everything in between has been suffering. Add to that, our children have been suffering because they are constantly shuttled from one place to the next and although they'll rebound, I don't see any end to this crazy.

To say we are extremely frustrated would be a gross understatement.

We feel like we should have come out in June to do house hunting, because if we'd come out then and had an opportunity to see what was available, we never would have made the decision to uproot our family and take this plunge. But the reason we didn't come out in June, is because I was wrapping up my former job, we were getting the house ready for sale, and I was still under the care of a doctor ... with strict instructions that I shouldn't / couldn't leave until my numbers had stabilized. My numbers finally stabilized a WEEK before we left, and even though my doctor released me, I still don't feel 100%.

Speaking of numbers ... I'd be midway through my pregnancy right now if it hadn't been ectopic. I'd be sitting on the couch with my feet up, eating a bowl of ice cream, gestating a baby and not staying up all night worrying about our future.

While I know that sometimes it takes a little time to find the right house to buy, WE DON'T HAVE TIME. We have three children who are due to start school in one month and we have no idea where that school will be. For the past three weeks we've been living in various hotels and it has taken it's toll. Our good attitudes wore off about four hours ago, and since that time, Charlie and I have been pulling out our hair to try and figure out a way to get out of our escrow in California so we can move home and pretend this whole thing never happened.

Tomorrow (now today) is Sunday.

I think we need to go find a church and get ourselves some religion.

Friday, July 30, 2010

how to buy a house: part iv

Yesterday, we made our first offer on a house (House A) for 27% below the list price.

The owner's came back today and dropped the price by 14%.

Our first counter-offer was for 3% more.

There is currently 10% separating us.

We estimate that tomorrow, they're going to come back and suggest that we split the difference, so that we each take a 5% hit. Tonight, Charlie and I created our most elaborate spreadsheet yet scrutinizing the numbers. What we've determined is that House A needs approximately 25% of the value (assuming we meet them half way) in repairs and upgrades.

All of those things do not need to be done right away, but we've got in mind what we want our home to be like and although the renovations might not happen immediately, very soon, they'll definitely be necessary.

Now. Approximately three miles away (and approximately three miles further from work), we have found another house (House B). The listing price is similar to the original listing price on House A. However, the listing price on House B has actually dropped 12% from what it was listed at approximately two months ago. It is located on a similarly sized plot of land, in a similarly nice neighbor, in the same exact school district, and has the same number of bedroooms and a half bathroom extra. The closets and bathrooms look like they are CONSIDERABLY larger and actually have double vanities, which would be especially useful for our masses of children. House B also has a study and a beautiful screened in porch, both of which are lacking at House A.

House A does have a beautiful creek. But when we were there the other day, as much as the children loved it - they were EATEN ALIVE by mosquitoes. Elizabeth had so many bites it looked like she had the chicken pox, and William had one bite on his forehead that was so huge it could have had it's own zip code.

Although the kitchen and bathrooms are somewhat dated in House B, the house is 20 years younger than House A, which means that it isn't quite as pressing to have updates completed. House B is also approximately 1,700 square feet larger than House A.

What that means is that OUR ENTIRE California house (plus another 100 square feet) could fit in the difference in sizes between House A and House B.

(Excuse me for a minute while I calculate how long it will take me to vacuum.)

(I think I'll need to bring a snack and wear a Camelbak.)

(Or, get a Roomba with a solar battery pack.)

We estimate that our mortgage payment would be approximately the same for the two houses, because although House B is more expensive than House A, our loan amount for House A would be approximately the same as House B so that we would have money for upgrades and repairs.

The question is: do we buy the smaller sized House A that requires a lot of work, but when that work is done the house will hopefully be beautiful? And do we even know what we are getting in to - buying a house that NEEDS so much done?

Or, do we buy the larger House B that won't necessarily be as nice as House A (once we get all the upgrades completed) but is more "move in" ready? And how much will those additional three miles, per way, driving to the office effect me everyday? What exactly is my tolerance for commuting an additional 1,440 miles per year?

Tomorrow, we're going to look at House B, again. And then we're going to smother the children in deet and go "kick the tires" on House A to make sure it's as great as we think it is especially since it's being sold 'as-is.'

And then, I have no idea what will happen.

I'm just preparing myself that at this rate, we very well might be cooking our Thanksgiving dinner on our itty bitty hotel stove.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

how to buy a house: part iii

I hope no one is turning to us for advice on how to buy a home because we really have no idea what we're doing in all of this.

That being said: we presented an offer today. An offer that was approximately 27% below the asking price, but an offer that we believe is reasonable and fair based upon our thorough and detailed comparative market analysis. The absolute last thing I would ever want to do is try to buy the home for considerably less than what it is worth, but I believe that we genuinely put forth an offer that is appropriate for a house that was SIGNIFICANTLY overpriced.

Now, we just hold our breath and see what happens.

If things go the way that we hope they will, we will be closing in 21 days and moving in approximately two weeks before the children are due to start Kindergarten.

By note to Steve: Guy and I are discussing at length the things that we'll need to have done, first and foremost. If it works with your schedule, we'll be sending you a plane ticket. Maybe you can come celebrate your birthday with us (and for that matter, the entire month of September) knocking down walls and installing new cabinets?

By note to Mark: We might need you, too. How's your calendar look?

Today was a long day for us, driving around and checking out other potential properties before we concluded that no other property remotely compared to the one we (and our children) had our hearts set upon. And for those who asked, the house is situated at an elevation of approximately 40 feet higher than the creek, so it does not appear likely it's in a flood plain, but we'll be looking at County records to confirm.

Since Charlie's laptop is still in the shop being fixed, we picked up a portable DVD player for the children to watch a movie while we signed all of the contract papers. Several hours later, we treated everyone to hot fudge sundaes for dinner and concluded that moving and buying a house with four children makes things like planting them in front of a DVD for several hours on end and feeding them hot fudge sundaes for dinner, a perfectly acceptable thing to do.

Our schedules and systems are so out of whack, if we don't get back on to a routine, we'll soon be approving sword fights while Mommy and Daddy look at just one more house.

Following our busy afternoon, we came home and jumped in the hotel swimming pool. After a few minutes, I retreated to the hot tub and three of the four children followed me. This felt like the first real FUN that the children had all day, and while we sat there talking, the lifeguard came over and informed me that children under the age of 10 were not allowed in the hot tub.

WHAT?

WHY NOT??

She pointed at the sign above us. I looked up at the warning sign affixed to the wall and it read that it is highly recommended children under the age of 10 (along with the elderly, pregnant women and those under the influence of alcohol or select prescription drugs) not use the hot tub.

Not only have *I* received my lifeguard certification, we have spent an exorbitant amount of time in hot tubs over the past few years, and I'm very cognizant of what my children can tolerate. So although I thought her request was ludicrious, I did not want to challenge her authority in front of our children or all of the other hotel guests, so I obliged and asked my children to please sit on the first step and keep only their legs in the hot tub. Despite the fact my children weren't fully submerged, I still managed to get the evil eye from the teenage lifeguard.

Less than 10 minutes later, the lifeguard returned to tell me that *I* needed to get out of the hot tub because I had been in long enough and she was afraid I was going to pass out. While I appreciate her concern for my well being, the hot tub wasn't even 100 degrees and was almost cool to the touch. It honestly surprised me, that I was able to hold my composure and thanking her, climbed out of the hot tub, gathered my children, and returned to the room where I gave everyone baths and put them to bed.

But now, that I'm sitting here, updating my blog and sipping a glass of wine ...

I'm tempted to go down to the front desk and tell the clerk that at the outrageous rate they are charging for us to stay in this establishment, per night, I should be able to SLEEP in the hot tub without a peep from ANYONE.

We are so DONE with living in a hotel.

Dear God: Thank you for this beautiful day, our beautiful children, our health and the opportunity to bid on a beautiful piece of property. Please, let our offer be joyfully accepted - or if there are any further negotiations - please let them go peacefully and quickly. And please, Lord, let us close escrow in 21 days and be in our own space. Until then, please give me the patience to not choke the breakfast attendant who would not bring out any milk for our cereal, or articial syrup for our waffles this morning, because we arrived less than five minutes after the breakfast station had closed. Please also give me the patience to not choke the 16-year old pool Nazi lifeguard at our hotel pool who has successfully and swiftly managed to crack the code to driving me nucking futs.

In Your Holy name we sincerely pray.

Amen.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

how to buy a home - part ii

Today, I drove around with our Realtor and looked at all of the homes that I had selected and all I can say about that is YOWZER.

Has any one ever seen the television show Hoarders?

I need to write a post about how to SELL a home and distribute it to 18 of the 22 homes that we saw today. While I'm fairly good at "seeing past" some one else's belongings, it's hard to do when you can hardly walk through a house because there is so much stuff on the floor.

Stuff like ... say ... a half eaten cheeseburger from McDonald's, still in the wrapper.

Are the homes really in such high demand in this part of the country that people can STOP cutting their grass once their house goes on the market? Because seriously, I felt like I needed a weed whacker to get to the front door on several properties. And once inside one of the homes, I quickly had to block not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE cats from darting out past me. At another house, the owner greeted us at the front door smoking a cigarette.

A large part of the reason it took Charlie and I several days longer to leave California than we had expected, is because when we pulled out of the driveway for the last time, our house was absolutely spotless. So to see homes in such terrible condition to me is downright baffling and disgusting. But it also helps me to better understand how we've now received five offers on our home in two weeks time.

Suffice it to say, the strategy I employed today for finding THE PERFECT home was met with zero success. But that's alright because as far as Charlie and I are concerned, we found the perfect home this past weekend. Thus far, nothing even comes close to comparing and we're ready to feel settled and slightly afraid that if we don't jump on it, it will be sold out from beneath us. Even though the bathrooms are a little small and Charlie and I will be sharing a closet ... I don't wear half the clothes I own, anyway.

So we're putting in our very first offer, tomorrow.

Now here's the thing.

We've never put in an offer on a home before. Because the first (and only) home that we've ever purchased - was bought directly from a builder, so there wasn't much (any) negotiation.

We were feeling a little intimidated as to how to even determine an appropriate offer and so we have opted to apply the same approach of how we established the sale price for our California home. While we trust our Realtor, we really wanted to come up with a value in our own minds that we believe is acceptable, before we sit down and talk with her about drawing it up.

First, we asked that our Realtor send us all of the comparatives for similar sized homes that have sold within the neighborhood within the past six months.

Second, we reviewed all of the comps. And we crafted yet another spreadsheet, that captured the listing price, sales price, square footage of the home, square footage of the lot, other features such as garage, attic, basement, fireplace(s), and any improvements.

Third, we calculated what the average sale price per square foot was in the neighborhood and then we compared that to the listing price of the home we're interested in. And what we discovered is that "our" home is listed at approximately 50% over the average square footage sale price for the neighborhood, despite not having a single update since the 1960's. While we suspected that the home was overpriced before, we now have concrete evidence to support our lower bid.

Fourth, we came up with what we consider to be a reasonable offer and compared that value to the estimate on Zillow (http://www.zillow.com).

Fifth, thanks to the advice received from so many of you, I wrote a short letter to the family, expressing our gratitude at having an opportunity to present an offer on such a beautiful property - and excitement at the prospect of living in such a wonderful home. It wasn't my intention to write anything sappy, but rather, to let them know a little about the young family that would thoroughly enjoy living in this space. I'll ask our Realtor take a look at the letter and if she thinks it's acceptable, we'll include it with our offer that we'll be submitting tomorrow night.

Sixth, we'll be keeping our fingers and toes crossed that this all works out. We took the children to the house today and they spent the better part of an hour playing in and around the creek. That house, while it definitely needs some work, is without a doubt, a child's paradise.

Seventh, we'll definitely be hiring a private inspector. But I have no idea when that will happen. We're totally figuring this thing out as we go. Also, there are A LOT of homes out there and the deal's not done until the check has cleared the bank. So whatever you do, don't allow yourself to get too emotionally attached.

Oops. Too late.

I love it there, oh my good heavens, I LOVE IT SO MUCH. Today, while I was standing in a sunbeam on the bank of the creek - and Henry was tossing in rocks, and the triplets were trying to catch an alligator, a bright yellow monarch butterfly was circling my head.

It was a magical moment.

I really hope we can have a hundred million more just like it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

how to buy a house: part 1

If you've ever moved in to a new area, where you know absolutely nothing, it really helps if you buy a BIG map. And then, once you have a BIG map, it really helps to spread it out on a kitchen table. For a few days, you might continue to stare at that map and talk to people about where they live, what they like and dislike about their community, and see if you can decipher the traffic flow patterns and the proximity to your work environment.

AND THEN. If you have children, and even if you don't have children, it helps to learn everything you can about the school districts. Because the value of a home, is linked very closely to property value. And while it sometimes might be an unfair parallel, I believe you can typically draw some very good information on the quality of the community, from the quality of the schools in it.

Or maybe not.

I'm new to all this.

But last week, I really didn't feel like we had much of a clue and were shooting in the dark about where to live. While our Realtor has been doing this for 30+ years, she wasn't working the kind of magic that I had hoped for, so over the past few days, I've been devising a strategy.

First, I asked myself - what is important to us in a new home? As they say: LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. For us, the best location is one where we feel we are surrounded by a good community, within an excellent school district, that is an easy commute to my office.

Second, I tried to create a quantitative and yet, qualitative way of capturing those things that are important. It seems that when ever I get overwhelmed, I build spreadsheets. For example, when our triplets were newborns, on or about Day 2 of having all the babies at home, and we were suffering from extreme sleep deprivation and couldn't keep track of when they were eating, sleeping, or pooping, I developed a spreadsheet in Excel. Almost instantly, I felt like I had assumed some control because I could see when things were happening, when they were due to happen, and a pattern emerged that I could easily track.

So this past weekend, when I felt like jumping out of our first level hotel room window, I instead sat down and devised a multi-tiered, color-coded spreadsheet about possible homes in Virginia. And suddenly everything was right in my world.

This was my tactic:

Part 1: I logged on to Great Schools (http://www.greatschools.org) and I sorted schools based on the County where we want to live. Then, I sorted the schools by their ranking and recorded the name, address, and what I considered to be necessary information about any school programs, parental comments, student/teacher ratio, condition of the buildings, etc.

Part 2: Using those schools that ranked within the top 20%, I entered the school address in to Google Maps and determined the exact distance to my office. Any school that was greater than a certain mileage fell off my list because if my children cough, I want to hear it. Or, more appropriately, I'd like to be close enough to at least have the option of volunteering in their classroom over lunch.

Part 4: I e-mailed my Excel spreadsheet to my Realtor and asked for her to do a housing search within those specific school districts and within a certain price range. Once she sent me the listings, Charlie and I looked at each of the properties via Red Fin (http://www.redfin.com) and tagged all those properties we'd be interested to see in more detail.

Part 5: While looking at property on line may potentially cause us to reduce a great home from our listing, we believe that a lot can be gleaned from taking a first pass and looking at houses on line. We know that there are certain characteristics we want our next home to have. If the homes we're looking at don't possess at least two, it's dropped. Tonight, we whittled our possible home list down from 75 to 25. And over the next few days, we're going to see them all.

I'd like to interject that it in the process of buying a new house, it really helps if you have an excellent boss who tells you to take the next week off and for the love of all that is good in the world, find a new place to live.

Since we've been in town, we've looked at approximately 40 homes. Of course, sometimes "looking" involves nothing more than driving in to the neighborhood - spotting a man working on an El Dorado in his underwear - turning around and driving back out. But we feel like if we trust our initial instincts and rely upon this new strategy we have in place, we'll be able to make some very good progress this week.

Although it's important to note that any home that we see over the next few days is going to have to be really amazing to shake our want of the house that we saw this past weekend. We don't want to commit to one location so soon in the game when we really feel like we need to see what else is available, but at this point we cannot stop thinking and talking about it.

And golly gee, our Christmas tree would look so beautiful in that bay window! And our stockings would look so regal suspended from that solid wood mantle! And the brook! And the tire swing! And the this! And the that!

So while we're trying to take our time and seriously look at other possible homes, we're also feeling emotionally connected to this other house and are in the process of formulating an offer because if I believed it was possible, we would both swear that old house and the happy spirit of it's deceased owner told us to BUY IT when we there on Saturday.

Monday, July 26, 2010

our migration to the east coast

Did I ever tell you how we decided to move to Virginia?

It's a funny story and goes something like this...

The Tuesday after my first methotrexate treatment, when my hormones were all over the map and I was crying every 10 minutes, give or take five ... I called my boss and told him that I couldn't take the job in Virginia. Even though it appeared that I now wouldn't have a newborn at Christmas (sob!), I did have four small children and the thought of being away from them everyday was debilitating (sob!).

He suggested I call three separate people who were in Virginia and ask their opinions before I made my final decision. One of the women was on maternity leave (sob!), and the other two were unavailable so I left messages. That night, as I went to bed, I told Charlie that REGARDLESS of what the people told me, I thought that it was - without a doubt - the absolute best choice for our family if we STAYED in California (sob! sob!).

Although, yes, sure, a bigger space would be awesome and being closer to my family would be fantastic, I wasn't ready to work in an office every day. And while he didn't come right out and say it, I could tell that Charlie was disappointed. Because he - perhaps even more than me - had high hopes for a new chapter in our lives.

Then, I went to sleep on it. And much to our surprise, when I woke up, I still wanted to stay in California. Since my mind changed every 15 minutes, I was more convinced of it then ever. So while Charlie ran off to Starbucks to buy a big cup of coffee and a few bags of French Roast whole bean, I set about getting ready for the day.

A few minutes later, the phone rang.

One of the people who I had called for advice was calling me back. The man was someone who I trust - and admire. Seeing as he has run the Boston Marathon in under 2 hours and 49 minutes, he simply inspires me.

So I gave him the full scoop. I was offered the job, I accepted the job, I found out I was pregnant. (Wow. Do you guys have any other hobbies?! Congrats! That's great!) Then I continued by telling him that my pregnancy was nonviable, I was undergoing treatment (sob!) and now I'm faced with the decision of what to do?

He told me, "GO FOR IT. You'll love it here. You'll do GREAT in this new job and since this area has some of the best school districts in the country, the timing is excellent since your kids are about to start Kindergarten."

I don't know what happened (crazy raging hormones gone wild?), but during those less than five minutes that we spoke, I totally and completely felt like he was absolutely right and my decision was flipped 180 degrees. I thanked him for calling, we hung up, I ate a half bag of Dove chocolate squares, cried some more, and two seconds later - my boss called to get my FINAL decision.

There had been so much back-and-forth, people needed to know once and for all.

Was I coming to Virginia, or not?

Just as I was about to give him my answer, the front door opened - and in walked Charlie holding a bag of coffee, and sipping a Grande. I was staring in to my husband's eyes as I said the words, "YES. I'll accept the job in Virginia. What next?"

Coffee shot out of Charlie's nose.

Then he said something like, "Woman, you are CRAZY!" and he walked in to the kitchen, laughing. I finished up my conversation with my boss and rejoined my husband. He had a sparkle in his eye and a spring in his step to match the sparkle in my eye and spring in my step.

While there is no doubt that we loved it in California and our lives were very comfortable, deep down, we both felt like we needed a change. We needed to MIX things up a bit. I, especially, felt the overwhelming need to be closer to my family.

Life is short. What better time than now?

That was just over two months ago and while we haven't waffled in our decision, and are both VERY HAPPY that we made the move, I must admit, this entire process of getting our house in California ready for sale, moving cross-country, living in a small hotel room with four small children, settling in to a new (highly challenging / highly visible / highly time consuming) work role, all the while searching for the "perfect" and yet "affordable" house, hasn't been easy.

Why ... it often feels like my hair is on FIRE.

Although, I have been doing my best to enjoy the experience. If you can look at it, with the right type of perspective and faith, the excitement is unbelievable.

That being said: Our house, which hasn't been on the market for two full weeks yet, has received two full price offers and two slightly less than full price offers. That's a grand total of four offers.

We're currently in escrow.

Going in to this, I really felt like the sale price that our Realtor had suggested (and which I begrudgingly accepted), was too low. I brought it up, countless times, but was consistently told that "similar" models were going for a certain price - and we couldn't ignore the comps. But in my opinion, our house is anything but "similar" to all the other models and I don't believe that our house can be compared to others, based solely on size. When we bought our house 13 years ago, it was already higher than the comps based on the location and upgrades. And that was before we unloaded a small fortune in to it for even more upgrades.

Whenever I mention to someone that we're already in escrow, they all tell me how "incredibly lucky" I am. Maybe I'm confused, because the one that I see as being "incredibly lucky" is the person who is going to buy a beautiful house, in a beautiful community, within walking distance from excellent schools, for a 10% discount. And believe me, that 10% would REALLY come in handy right now, considering the homes that we're looking at are approximately 100% more.

(Keep in mind: I know nothing about real estate, so am quite likely overly emotional.)

(Also: the house that we saw over the weekend has been on my mind nonstop. I have no idea if we'll end up putting an offer in or not because it really does need A LOT of work and they'd have to drop the price by about 30% for us to even consider it. But we'll see what happens. I kind of hope that it works out because I think that the "good spirit" there was touching all of us.)

This morning, I had to be in the office for a meeting that started early.

The children were all still asleep, but just before I left, Henry toddled in to our room and rubbing his eyes told me that he "want to go home." Then he took me by my hand and led me in to the kitchen - opened the small refrigerator and said, "HOME!"

Tonight, when I came back, the children were already in their pajamas. While I was off working, Charlie spent the day with them in Washington, D.C. checking out the sights. I'm very glad they had so much fun - but beneath my joy for their exciting adventures - I felt a pang of sadness and frustration, because yeah.

Although it's only been a week, this arrangement of me leaving before they are up and coming home just before they go to bed, isn't going to be sustainable for an extended period of time. My kids are more important to me than any career.

My mantra has and always will be: I work to live. I don't live to work.

While I don't want to rush in to anything, and I want to be absolutely certain that we're finding a home that is just right for our family (preferably larger and warmer in the winter than a refrigerator), we really need to get settled soon. Because I don't feel like I can get in to a good routine, and manage the work-life balance, until we ARE sufficiently settled.

With any trace of luck, we don't commit financial suicide in the process ... or I'll be running my fastest pace ever when I chase down the marathoner who convinced us to move here.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

halloween might be especially spooky

Charlie and I found a house that we really liked today. It was built in the 60's and hasn't had a SINGLE upgrade. But, it's situated on over an acre of beautiful land, on a beautiful street, with a babbling brook cutting through the back portion of the property.

As Henry traipsed around through the grass, and darted past mature maple trees, I could just imagine our children perched on rocks with their fishing rods trying to catch dinner from the brook, or squealing in delight as a tire swing, suspended from one of the solid branches, curved out over the expansive lawn.

This is the exact kind of space we want. So thank goodness our Realtor finally came around because we were ready to find a new one on Monday.

Now although we both like this house, these are a few points we're pondering...

1) It's at the upper end of our price limit which means that if we bought this house, we'd have to live with the almost 50-year old wall mounted oven that's the size of a toaster and baby blue bathrooms until we could scrounge up enough moola for any replacements. Of course, if we were to buy this house, we'd try not to dwell on these components as being significantly outdated and instead, consider them cool vintage.

2) It was evident that the person who lived in the house had been older. And it was obvious that people had been packing up and cleaning out the house, organizing piles of things to possibly keep, possibly donate, and possibly haul off to the dump. As soon as I walked in the front door, I was struck with a feeling of sacredness. It was difficult to shake that feeling as I was walking through someone's home and imagining where I would put my desk, amid their life time of memories. When I went downstairs in to the finished walk-out basement, and saw the stacks of dusty trophies and an antique baby cradle amid a box of stained photographs, I got totally choked up.

My father has been in an assisted living facility for the past 18-months, and soon, his home will be going up for sale. Very soon, my siblings and I will be sorting through his belongings, and life time of memories, discussing who wants what and what goes to charity. I know that it will be challenging for me because so many of my father's belongings I will distinctly remember him using. And yet, just because I distinctly remember him using, or touching, or storing something, is that enough of a reason for me to want to take it to my own home? In a way, it feels like by keeping my dad's belongings, he will always be with me.

Sorting through a loved ones possessions is not easy because in doing so you are definitively dividing up what was once whole. As you disassemble a collection of that person's treasures, you are continously reminded that time has passed, those days are over, and an era has ended.

As I stood looking over the belongings in that house today, I said a little prayer for strength for the family of the owner. Moments later, I was joined by Charlie who was walking around and nodding in agreement that this space might work for us. But then, without even so much as exchanging a single word about the "feelings" that I had, my husband turned to me and with wide eyes, held out his arm and said, "OH MY GOSH. Jen, check out my arm! I'm COVERED in goosebumps!" Despite the hot temperatures, not only were his arms covered in goosebumps, his legs were too.

He pulled his arm back in, scrunched his shoulders up and very quietly whispered, "Someone died here. I can feel it." Then he slowly looked around the room and up at the ceiling while murmuring, "Respect. Respect. Respect."

We stood for another moment, wondering if the space might be haunted, until the silence was broken when our Realtor called out that Henry had stripped off all his clothes and was running around the upstairs, stark naked.

Either he heard the spirit tell him, BE FREE!!

Or, he'd had enough of being fully clothed in 105 degree temperatures.

Tonight, I came back to our hotel home and Googled the owner's name. Within a matter of seconds, I confirmed that Charlie was correct. He died in the house, just a few months ago. My husband was almost unnerved, and told me this could be a deal breaker for him.

Consider Charlie's mother passed away in his family's home in Santa Barbara. A few years ago, one of his nieces went to knock on the door and see if she could walk through the house where she had created so many childhood memories. The new owner let her come in, and then wasted no time telling her that they totally felt the spirit of the woman who had died there, 18 years ago.

So my question to you internet is two-fold:

1) Would you buy a house where you know someone had died?

And...

2) Would you be worried that you might be haunted if you put in a low bid on a house where someone had died because it really is crazy expensive and totally outdated and how in the world does someone cook in an almost 50-year old wall mounted oven that's the size of a toaster?

Friday, July 23, 2010

at which point it helps to have a VERY good attitude

So. Today.

We met with a Realtor.

It didn't go so well.

But wait, before I go there ... let me back up.

Charlie and I decided that it would behoove us to hire a baby sitter for the triplets since dragging four children all over Northern Virginia to look at ridiculously overpriced homes in 100+ degree temperatures would go well for about twenty seven seconds.

As luck would have it, one of my co-workers has a 14- (almost 15) year old daughter who loves to baby sit. And she was available today. So we called her, hired her, and Charlie drove over to pick her up early this morning.

(If you consider 8:50 early. Which we do, because our bodies are still on Pacific Time.)

Although her name is "Becca", our children insisted on calling her "Sarah" for reasons that I do not understand, but I think are hilarious, nonetheless. We'd practice with them by saying, "Guys. This is Becca. Let me hear you say BECCA BECCA BECCA BECCA BECCA."

They'd repeat it, verbatim.

"Her name is BECCA BECCA BECCA BECCA BECCA."

Then I'd point and ask, "What's her name?" And they'd look at her and very casually say, "Sarah." So we left our five-year-olds with Sarah and carted Henry off with us to the Realtor.

Imagine our glee as we plugged her address in to our GPS and began the drive to her office which is located approximately 10 miles north. After driving 15 miles, we realized that we were heading west, not NORTH, and wha....?!

Note to self: It might have REALLY helped if we'd had our six-year-old dash mounted GPS updated before we moved in to an area that makes me feel like we're navigating a noodle in a messy and construction ridden bowl of spaghetti.

We arrive at the Realtor's office an hour late. She shows us a few properties on line and then we take Henry's carseat from our van and put it in her beautiful and spotless BMW X5. Henry proceeds to kick the living bejeezus out of the bottle fed cow leather hide driver seat while I try to distract him. She drives us through one neighborhood after another. All told we looked at 15 homes today. Only one showed a remote hint of promise. The drawback(s) are that the kitchen is approximately 25% the size of our California home kitchen, the layout is crazy funky, and when you stand in the backyard, you can clearly hear the never ending traffic on the 66 freeway, which is approximately 500 feet away.

That was the BEST home we saw. And, to buy that home would give us a mortgage payment approximately TWICE what we owe each month in our California home. Not including property taxes. Good times.

We drive back to the hotel. We pay our 14-year old babysitter $100.00 for watching our children for 8.5-hours ... because the going rate is $10.00 per hour and Charlie was generous enough to offer her $12.00 per hour ... even though the pool is closed until 5 PM, so the kids did little more than watch movies on Charlie's laptop, tune in to PBS Sprout and eat an exorbitant amount of yogurt. And whatever, they were safe and not out being dragged through 15 houses in 100+ degree heat, so it was worth it.

After she left, I logged on to Charlie's new Mac laptop to "electronically sign" the offer papers that came through for our California house. As I'm logging on, I notice that the keyboard is sticky. And there is some kind of liquid (?) on the screen. I call the kids over and ask them what they know about this. William looks at me very sheepishly and says, "Do you promise you won't get mad if I tell you the twooth?"

"Of course I won't get mad, Love!" I reassure him.

"Well, I spilled a little bit of lemonade on it today."

Since the computer was firing up, I thought that maybe whatever lemonade had been spilled was quickly wiped up and all would be well. And then, midway through my electronic signing session, the computer made a popping noise and the screen went black. A puff of smoke came up through the keyboard and I instantly smelled something burning.

I dashed out to tell Charlie what had happened and he immediately went in to shock because ALL of his work information is on that computer and he has a report due to his primary client, yesterday, and his computer hasn't been backed up since we left California.

Charlie runs off to the Apple store, while praying fervently that whatever is ailing his computer is covered by the warranty while I try to cook the children dinner. TRY being the operative word because we have no butter in our tiny apartment and so cooking a cheese quesadilla in a stainless steel pan on a tiny electric stove with NO lubricant didn't go so well. To the point that the smoke detectors went off and I was afraid that the hotel sprinklers would activate.

Just as I'm serving the children strawberries! and bananas! and uncooked flour tortillas! (i.e., any food I could round up that doesn't require cooking), Charlie calls to tell me that when the computer technician opened up his laptop, a small river of lemonade poured out. And oh, as it turns out, liquid damage is not covered by his Apple Care Plan, and his computer (and hence any of his work activities and my ability to upload photos to my blog) will be delayed by approximately seven days and that will cost $1,300.00 thankyouverymuch.

Not included in that is the $200.00 to repair Charlie's iPhone which I inadvertently dropped and SMASHED during our trip to South Carolina.

I'm not entirely sure why Sarah didn't mention that a cup of lemonade was spilled on the shiny new laptop. I definitely need to bring that up tomorrow when she comes back to baby sit the triplets and take them to the hotel pool that will be open at 10:00 AM. Thankfully, they are fantastic swimmers and there is a life guard on duty or we would undoubtedly be dragging them through 100+ degree heat looking at another 15 homes. Once again, it will only be Henry accompanying us. I just need to remember to make sure he is wearing non-mark soles.

Now I must go since I've got a really nice bottle of wine waiting for me.

Where is that straw?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

the house hunters

Charlie and I are on the hunt for a new house, because while the continental breakfast here is awesome, we've both decided that we don't want to live in a hotel forever.

(Especially if the pool doesn't open until 5:00 PM.)

Meanwhile, in California, our house which hasn't even been on the market for a whole week, has received two offers, including one for the full asking price.

This should be good news. Right?

For the past two days, I've been in the office all day preparing for a meeting that I'm scheduled to lead, tomorrow. While I'm at work, Charlie and the children have been driving around the area and looking at all of those homes that we had tagged as "favorites" via online MLS listings.

The criteria for our house is relatively simple - or so we thought. All we want is a nice house, in a nice community, close to my office that doesn't cost a million dollars.

Late this afternoon, I went with Charlie and we drove around all of the neighborhoods we'd been researching and for one reason or another, houses dropped like hot potatoes off our favorites list. As it turns out, those homes which looked SO PROMISING on line, lacked any appeal when we actually saw them.

As of tonight, we have no favorites left.

The final "favorite" home on our list tonight was located on a very narrow road. There were cars parked up and down both sides and there were at least two cars and one janitorial supply truck parked on a front lawn. When I saw what might have been our next door neighbor standing in his driveway working on his El Dorado in his underwear, sans shirt, holding a wrench in one hand, a beer in the other, and a cigarette dangling from his lips, I actually started to cry.

Charlie banged a u-turn and pulled in to a pizzeria. We ordered a large carafe of wine for us and a pizza for the kids. While the children sat chomping down their dinner, we sipped our wine and contemplated our options. As it stands we can:

1) Buy a house directly next door to a car dealership, or comparable, and take on a mortgage approximately twice what we currently owe;

2) Move far away and I face a monstrous commute every day;

3) Pull the plug on the east coast dream, repay my company whatever will get us even, and move back to California and in to our adorable and comfortably affordable little house;

4) Charlie pursues his career at Starbucks while I tap in to the not yet discovered market of selling hand knit scarves on southern California beaches.

We really want to stay here. We love the lush green trees and the idea of being close to my family. We're particularly enjoying the weather (humidity and all) and at least FIVE of the people we've met have been very nice. Of course, there was the one totally deranged lady yesterday that screamed profanities at my husband (and children) and attempted to swerve her car in to his when Charlie didn't see the sign that indicated he could turn right on red ... but I suppose there are nuts everywhere.

The fact is: we're not willing to accept any offers on our house in California, until we can find something suitable in Virginia. And we don't mind a fixer upper. We just don't want to spend half a million on a house that needs a whole new kitchen, bathroom, roof and floors.

While I am all for branching out and trying new things, I'm also very much an advocate of not compromising your ideals. Our ideal is to have an affordable and pleasant home in an equally pleasant neighborhood, close to the office, so I don't spend an exorbitant amount of time five days a week, away from my family.

We're scheduled to meet with our Realtor on Friday. Tonight, I sent her a note recapping our impressions of those homes and neighborhoods that we'd driven past. I told her that we are both feeling very discouraged and we're looking forward to meeting with her and having her turn our frowns upside down. Surely she is going to show us some hidden gem.

Surely one must exist?

At this point, I'm beginning to think that it would be highly beneficial that in addition to her numerous realty credentials, she also possess a PhD in Magic.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

view from the front seat

As we made our way from the west coast to the east coast, I tried to snap off pictures along the way. One of the most incredible things to me is that every time we would cross over from one state to the next, you could immediately tell that the landscape was slightly different.

If you scroll through these pictures quickly, you can experience the same phenomenon.

California.

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Arizona.

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New Mexico.

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Texas.

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Oklahoma.

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Arkansas.

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Tennessee.

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North Carolina.

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South Carolina.

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North Carolina. (again).

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Virginia.

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While getting here took a long time, I'm so glad that we drove. I've driven across the country five times now, and in my opinion, there's no better way to see this beautiful land. Nor is there a better way to appreciate just how much our forefathers have accomplished. Consider, it was less than 200 years ago that people were risking (and losing) life and limb in an effort to make it from one side to the other. It might take years for them to make it all the way across the continent ... if they ever made it at all. And yet, we covered that entire distance in less than a week while watching movies, enjoying an air conditioned car, and learning how to text message.

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We live in an amazing country ... in an amazing time.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

our first day

After taking a brief detour to visit South Carolina on Saturday, we arrived in Virginia late last night. By the time we were checking in to our hotel, it was just past midnight. All four of the children were wide awake because they were so excited about finally being here that they could hardly contain themselves. This morning at breakfast, we received a lot of smiles from fellow-residents who said that they heard us thunder roll in.

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Once upon a time, not long ago, that might have bothered me that we made such a ruckus upon arrival that people heard us at midnight. But over the past few years, I've managed to drop any pretenses about how "perfect" children should behave ... and instead have acknowledged that my children are indeed children and children tend to make noise. Especially after being cooped up in a car for seven days straight and traveling more than 2,800 miles.

The truth is, I was so darn happy to finally be out of the car - and cease living out of a suitcase - it might have actually been me that our neighbors heard whooping and hollering.

And possibly running up and down the halls screaming WE'RE HERE! WE MADE IT! LOOK AT THE MAP! HALLELUJAH AMEN, MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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We'll be staying an extended-stay hotel type place until we can move directly in to our new house. Which we haven't yet found. Which we haven't yet even started looking for. But which we plan to begin searching for in the next few days, once we have a better feel for the area and where we'll want to live for the long term.

Until then, we are in a two-bedroom fully furnished suite.

Included in our living space is a petite kitchen.

Isn't our little stove cute? It makes me feel like we're living in a doll house.

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(Or boat.)

(Or RV.)

All four of the children are sharing a king-sized bed in one of the rooms and so far, we are very happy with our temporary living arrangement. The only drawback that I can see, is that our pool doesn't open until 5 PM, because apparently, there's a law in Virginia that every public pool must have a lifeguard? While I can certainly see the benefit of that, it makes the hours between say, 6 AM and 5 PM rather challenging since the children have asked no less than 20 times per hour, "Can we go swimming now?"

"How about NOW?"

"What about NOW?"

My response was consistently, "No, you may not go swimming. But you can take a NAP!"

Seems no one liked that idea.

(Except me and Charlie. We liked that idea VERY much.)

This afternoon, I ventured off and found a Trader Joe's. And there was much rejoicing. Then, I stumbled upon a Talbot's Clearance Outlet. And there was even more rejoicing. Since I've been working out of a "home office" for the past 10 years, my best work attire always seems to be my newest black exercise pants and some exercise top that has a built-in bra. So I went shopping for some new "work" clothes. It wasn't until I was checking out, that I realized just how fortunate I was to stumble upon this store. Because everything that I bought, which had already been marked down to crazy reduced levels, was reduced an ADDITIONAL 50 to 75%.

For example, I bought a cashmere sweater that was reduced from $125.00 to $12.00.

TWELVE DOLLARS!!

(That alone was worth the drive from California.)

On my way back home, there was an awesome rainstorm which left the world feeling soft and wonderful. After our first full 24 hours, it's definitely safe to say that everyone is so happy to be here with the leaves and the trees and the GREEN and the clouds and the weather and the incredible excitement of new things to explore.

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Mostly, though, we're just happy to finally be out of the car.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

tales from I-40

We left for Virginia this past Monday. Because I've had little to no internet access on the road and/or no mental capacity to sit down and update my blog once we've finally stopped driving, I've been posting small updates on Twitter via our iPhones.

(It's amazing how those things work!)

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Our first stop was Phoenix, Arizona to see Charlie's Dad, Alex and his wife, Kathleen. We had a great time. Fabulous time, in fact. Because Kathleen had called ahead and had hired not one, but two nannys. So by the time we arrived, after our seven-hour drive from San Diego, and the weather was 115 and everyone was hot and tired and feeling a bit punchy, the children were greeted by a professional nanny and carted off to a swimming pool in the backyard while Charlie and I sat back and sipped chilled wine and ate brie.

(I had to pinch myself several times to confirm I was not dreaming.)

The fact that Kathleen's eight-year-old grandson, Ian, was there to play with the children was just icing on the already AWESOME cake. And then, as if it could get any better (for them or us), the next morning, we went off to a quiet breakfast with Alex, while a second nanny came in and took the children to Chuck E Cheese for games, McDonald's for lunch, and then, more swimming. AND THEN, Alex and Kathleen sang, "Happy Birthday" for Henry and threw an impromptu birthday party where clothing for the guest of honor was entirely optional.

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Everyone received the "royal" treatment, which helped offset whatever misery we might endure for the next 1,700 miles of being strapped in the car.

Thankfully, it hasn't actually been that bad. Although, I don't remember quite so much TALKING when we drove our 7,000 miles cross-country (and back again) in 2008. We're just a tad over 2,000 miles on this trip, with another 700 remaining to Virginia, and it's difficult to fathom driving three times that distance with the children at their current age.

Are we there yet?

How much further?

Where are we on the map?

Where are we on the map, now?

Is this Virginia?

Well how about now?

IS THIS VIRGINIA?

WHAT ABOUT NOW?

WHEN WILL WE BE IN VIRGINIA?

WILL WE EVER GET THERE?

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We're taking I-40 most of the way, and thus far, we've traversed Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. The scenery has been spectacular, because we live in an absolutely beautiful country, but ever since leaving San Diego, it's been very hot and yesterday, we were swarmed and bitten by red ants at a picnic area just outside Oklahoma City.

Every day, we've been driving between 8 to 10 hours, which works out to 400-500 miles, except on Wednesday, when we stopped early in Amarillo, Texas so Charlie could eat at the World Famous "Big Texan" restaurant which is home of the 72-0unce steak that you get for free.

IF you can consume it (along with a salad, shrimp cocktail, baked potato and dinner roll) in less than an hour.

The world record holder ate it all in less than nine minutes. And some one who must be part wolf ate two of those meals in less than an hour. When we arrived on Wednesday night, Charlie saw some guy trying unsuccessfully to take on the challenge and once he could see just how big a 4.5 pound steak really is (approximately the size of our front door mat), he opted instead to split a 12-oz steak with me.

All that being said ... my advice to anyone attempting to drive long distances with children is:

1) Make sure you have lots of snacks, books and a portable potty chair;

2) Make sure you have a DVD player and a large selection of movies available; and

3) Make sure that you end each day at a place with a pool. Triple points if that facility also has a free continental breakfast, locks that work, convenient parking and toilets that flush. Also, if the toilets don't flush, it's best if the front desk staff doesn't gag and run away screaming - never to return again. (Obviously that clerk never had children.)

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Nothing beats the monotony of a long car ride like a refreshing swim. We haven't had the best luck with choosing hotels on this trip and have managed to stay at a number of dives. Even so, the pools have almost completely alleviated whatever issues we have with the rooms, facilities or customer service.

Thus far, our favorite pool was at a hotel in Russellville, Arkansas.

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We're currently at a rather seedy hotel in the middle of Tennessee, but they've got a huge slide in to the pool, so as far as the children are concerned this is (and I quote), "The bestest hotel ever in the ENTIRE whole wide universe!"

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I genuinely appreciate that our kids are so incredibly easy to please. If only I could get past the unusual basement-like odor and odd stain in the middle of our floor, I might agree.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

things i'll miss about san diego #15

While I've already written about 14 separate topics, there are still so many things that I could write that I'll miss about San Diego.

I'll miss the abundance of year-round fresh produce. I'll miss the beautiful and huge cumulus clouds that develop over the east county in the summer. I'll miss the palm trees. I'll miss sitting in our backyard and watching the sunset with Charlie.

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I'll miss our church. I'll miss the eastern sunrise that floods our home with soft light. I'll miss the view of a blooming hydrangea from our bedroom window. I'll miss apple picking in Julian in the fall. I'll miss taking the train up and down the coast. I'll miss camping with our good friends.

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I should have started this in reverse order, counting down to the #1 thing that I'll miss the most about San Diego. But when I started, I had no idea how many "things" there would be, although I did always know what would be on the very TOP of my list.

This past week, as we were wrapping up the final details (that! never! seemed! to! end!) at our home and preparing for our drive cross-country, the doorbell and telephone rarely stopped ringing. Much like a funeral, there was a steady stream of people coming to say goodbye and it was very difficult. Much more difficult than I expected.

Thankfully, I didn't cry.

(At least not in front of anyone.)

(Because it's unlikely I would have stopped.)

(And I'm not really a "quiet" crier.)

Over the years, while Charlie and I have lived so far from our immediate family, we have developed some very close friendships with a number of people. People who would come to our home on all of the big holidays - and gather around our table - or invite us to sit around theirs.

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People who would offer to watch the children so we could go see a movie, or spend some quiet time regaining our senses. People who would drop in with pizza and wine. People who would offer to help move large pieces of furniture, install cabinets, or watch the house while we were out of town.

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People who welcomed us in to their lives and hearts.

I will really miss people like our soft-spoken neighbor, Sydney.

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And our fun and encouraging neighbors, Tom and Dawn.

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I will miss the inspirational Wheelers.

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And the awesome Pultoraks.

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I'll miss the wonderful Fousts.

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And Virginia, who has become a surrogate mother and grandmother to our family and always came to visit, with a pie or cake in hand.

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I will also miss my friendship with my fellow triplet moms and the people in their lives.

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I will miss the extra hands and abundant cheerfulness of Grandma Shirley and Stevie.

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While I've been fortunate to connect with a lot of incredible triplet families....

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The relationship that I have developed with three triplet mothers in particular, who have children the same exact age as ours, is almost beyond words.

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While I'm sure I would have survived the first five years of my children's lives without their friendship and support, they have made this special time in my life much so much more fun.

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The four of us have been getting together routinely for play dates since our children were infants - and over the years - we have forged a bond that I never dreamed possible.

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With 14 children between the four of us, we have celebrated countless birthdays together.

(Actually, it's been about 15 - give or take a few w/o parties).

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We have toured all over San Diego County in search of adventure.

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We have participated in home school studies together.

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And while our husbands were home with the children, the four of us have consumed our body weights in much-needed sweets (and wine) at some of the finest restaurants in town.

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Jeanmarie...

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Jessica...

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And Debbie...

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Thank you (and your wonderful children) for everything.

Thank you for your friendship and your camaraderie. Thank you for listening and often, howling with laughter, at the stories I could never write on my blog. Thank you for talking and sharing and for at least those times we're together, making me feel normal.

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Thank you for being a part of our lives and helping to develop such wonderful childhood memories for our children.

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Thank you for sharing the fun with us.

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Thank you for opening your homes to us.

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Thank you for working so hard to keep our friendship(s) alive and strong.

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Of all the things that I'll miss about San Diego, what I'll miss most of all isn't a "thing." What I'll miss the most are the friends and neighbors that over the past 16-years, have become our family.

Friends are the family that we choose for ourselves.

- Edna Buchanan.

Now you know our door in Virginia is always open and we fully expect you to come visit, right?

Okay then. We'll see you in January.

Don't forget your mittens.