Monday, January 30, 2006
A Helping Hand
Ellen was in the Peace Corps in the early 90's for 2.5 years. The book, When I was Elena, is a memoir of that time and her experiences in Guatemala. Some early reviews have come in for the book, and they are glowing:
"When I Was Elena is a powerful and passionate memoir by a gutsy stranger in a troubled land. You will weep for Guatemala and be deeply moved by its women's voices as the author stuggles to understand adn then to be loving and strong and helpful in an impossible situation. This is a very rich and disturbing tapestry that I hope will make you think about life outside of our privileged bailiwick in those lands where most of the planet's citizens live" - John Nichols, author of The Milagro Beanfield War
"Women's stories so need to be shared, particularly women's hero stories, and that is what When I Was Elena is. We need authors who give us our wings; Ellen, as Elena, give women the notion to take flight. She is a brave and gifted writer with a grand story to tell." - Susan Chernak McElroy, author of All My Relations
When I Was Elena is an extraordinary account of a young American woman's sojourn in the guerrilla-infested mountains of Guatemala. Shattering the concept of a typical memoir, the author's personal story is interlaced, chapter-for-chapter, with tales told from the perspectives of seven indigenous women she encountered during her journey. At once a coming-of-age adventure and a haunting history of the struggle to overcome oppression - both personal and cultural - this genre-breaching work heralds the arrival of a daring new talent in American literature.
At age 22, Ellen Urbani Hiltebrand left behind a classic Middle America upbringing, moving from a Southern sorority house into a scorpion-infested mud hut in order to live, work, and immerse herself in the culture of Guatemala's poorest villagers. There she encountered seven local women - among them the wife of a political martyr, a twelve-year-old incest victim, and an escapee from house arrest - whose experiences unexpectedly illuminated her own. Told with unflinching honesty, disarming humor, and an astonishing ear for dialect, this is a work of such atmospheric accuracy that the scent of fire-roasted tortillas virtually wafts from the pages as this tiny country - and the women who occupy it - bursts to life.
A paean to friendship and the resilience it lends to the human spirit, When I Was Elena joins a host of disparate voices into a composite of masterful storytelling. It echoes as a work of singular achievement.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Sounds good, doesn't it? If you think so, too, you can do much to help this author, a friend of my friend, by buying her book. If you're part of a book club, please suggest it as a book to read collectively. You can read more about the author as well as this fascinating book at her website. Please, do yourself a favor and buy the book (just over $18 for hardcover here), while at the same time helping out a fellow writer. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
Home - Less
I probably toured 9 or 10 houses on Saturday in a 4 hour time frame. It was a marathon of getting in and out of the car and going in and out of houses. During very stormy weather, mind you. It was a crappy, crappy day. But, I live in Oregon and it's January - it's simply how it is here. The first house I saw I liked. It would need some updating in the kitchen, and the bedrooms would all have to be painted, but that was minor. What I couldn't get past? The incredibly loud freeway noise deafening you when you were outside. It's not like the house was next to the freeway or anything - au contraire - yet you could hear it. Loudly. That was a deal breaker. If I have to raise my voice in my own backyard to be heard over the traffic? No thank you.
This is the house I saw next:
Nice, right? Yes it is - from the street. And really, inside, too, if you don't mind being really cramped. Everything just felt really compact. The kitchen? Nice, if you only ever want to have 2 people in there at the same time. And the yard was a postage-stamp at best. And yet sadly, it would prove to actually be decently sized compared to the others I would see that day. Newer developments are like that - they cram in as many houses as physically possible, yards be damned. See the front yard? Yeah, that's bigger than the back.
Then it was on to this house:
Lovely, yes? And it was, lovely, pretty much everywhere. I liked this house very much when I saw it and when I went inside. I like the floorplan and the separation of space. It has all the features I wanted. It's 2300 sq. ft. It has a (tiny) formal living room, a (tiny) formal dining room (you could maybe fit a table that seats 6-8 and a hutch but no more), a nice den on the main floor, a sweet glass-brick window in the stairway, and upstairs laundry (!), a nice master bdrm with walk-in closet and double sinks, and a huge kick-ass bonus room above the garage. AND it's in our price range ($358,000). And the weirdest coincidence? The family living there has a 5 yr old boy named Nicholas AND a dog named Abby. It was bizarre. I was really excited about this house.... until I paid closer attention to the kitchen and yard. OMG, the yard. It really didn't exist. None. This house is the biggest fishbowl EVER. The backyard is exactly as big as the width of a swing set. That's it. The family has a wooden swing set in the back yard and it nearly touches the house on one side and the fence on the other. It's that small. Less than 5000 sq. ft. More like 3500. And all the other houses around it are spitting distance and you can see them and they can see you. I could be spending time on the throne, open the window, reach out and shake my neighbors hand while they are on their throne. The houses are that close. And the kitchen. At first glance it's nice. It's white and clean and what's not to like? Until you realize that the pots and pans on the stove are clean and they're still on the stove because there is no place to store them. The kitchen really didn't have much counter space and cabinet space. It wasn't that functional. And no, you couldn't really solve the problem with a cute pot rack or something because of how it was designed. I don't know about you, but I tend to LIVE in my kitchen. It's the heart of the house. And this kitchen was sub-par. It would be a big problem if we lived there. I was trying to figure out creative ways to overcome the inherent problems with the kitchen until I remembered that there was no way in hell Mr. Chick would ever go for such a miniscule yard. No way. So the kitchen problems were really just the nail in the coffin. Too bad, because the rest of the house was a winner.
We saw a few others, which were nice but yet didn't work for various reasons. Nothing horrible, but nothing that reached out and grabbed me. Mr. Chick called me during this time to tell me he was looking at houses on the internet and found this one:
It's in one of the toniest parts of Portland called Lake Oswego. Lake Grove, actually, which is a section of Lake Oswego. So nice, desirable area with great schools. Mr. Chick went to L.O. schools for Jr. High and High School - he's a little biased. So my realtor and I went to look at it. L.O. tends to be a pricier area just for the address and this house is being listed for $325,000 for just under 1800 sq. ft. We drove up and I really liked the area. It's older and more mature. The lots are bigger. This house has a lot that is between 10k-15k. THAT'S more like it. A yard, not a postage stamp. Big, stately trees. Nice, right? Except this house has only ONE bathroom. One. At least in our little house now we have 1.5 baths. It has 3 small bedrooms, but the floors are really nice hardwood. The living room is ENORMOUS. Those two windows to the left of the front door? That's ONE room. It's like 28 feet long. The dining room was small-ish. The kitchen - OMG, the kitchen - ! Tiny and cramped and slightly gross. Old. The appliances are brand new stainless steel, but who cares when you have hardly any cabinets and nearly no counter space? When the cabinets you do have are icky? Sure, they put in nice appliances and new vinyl, and they even put on cute hardware, but the cabinets themselves are nasty and the kitchen is TINY. It would require a full remodel that would involve pushing out the entire wall. And then you open the door that goes into the garage only to discover that it's not a garage anymore. It's a strange hybrid of utility space and storage space because a new den or family room or something was built inside the garage space. Not the entire garage, mind you, but a room within the garage. Big, but yet odd. One of the biggest requirements from Mr. Chick is that a house have a 2-car garage. By all outside appearance, this does, but yet it doesn't. So no, right? I thought so, too. I quickly dismissed this house. But last night, after describing everything to Mr. Chick, we were both sort of strangely attracted to this house. We can't put our finger on it. The area is exactly what we're looking for. We're not really "fixer-upper" people, but we're both discussing what could be done to make this house work. It would require probably $75,000 AT LEAST to make this house work for us. The kitchen being priority one. Bump out the outside wall to enlarge the kitchen and make it awesome. That would also then increase the strange family room/casual dining area that currently exists into a much nicer, usable space. We'd HAVE to add a 2nd bathroom, possibly by re-working the small master bedroom and going out, again off the back, and remodeling that as well. THEN we could tear down that strange room in the garage area and bring back the garage as a garage. We'd have to live in sub-par conditions that weren't really working for us and endure a MAJOR remodel, but it's appealing. I dreamed about it last night. The worst possible house is the one I keep coming back to. I think it's because there is potential there. It would require a LOT of work and a LOT of money, but it could be really cool in the end. I doubt we'll go for it, but the whole thing surprised me. Clearly, I'm nuts.
So the search will continue. It's so hard! I even went and toured a FSBO on Sunday before driving back home. It was nice, but again with the fishbowl effect, although less dramatic, and a "great room" layout, which is all the rage but I'm not a huge fan of. I just don't want to have to eat and entertain in full view of the kitchen. I want to be able to kick the kids out of the kitchen while I'm cooking. I want to sit down to a nice dinner with friends or family, and not have to look at the piles of dirty dishes in the sink. I want to have friends over and not be tripping over kid crap. I want a separate place for them. So that house, while darling and practically right out of a Pottery Barn catalog (she had fantastic taste and I loved her color choices), just wouldn't work.
The house I most wanted to see - it had a gorgeous kitchen right out of a magazine and a really pretty yard and seemed to have a great use of space - went off the market (pending sale) just on Thursday. I was so sad to hear it. I'm secretly hoping the sale falls through so I can have my shot. In the meantime, I'll have to just wait until another potential home comes on the market and then make a mad dash up I-5 to see it before someone else snaps it up. There just aren't many homes on the market right now. I'm sure we'll eventually find something great, but I'm impatient.
And if we don't find something in the next few months we'll have to move in with my parents and I just don't know if we would survive that.
Friday, January 27, 2006
Mad Rush To Finish
The parents-to-be have more willpower than I - they have the gender of the baby IN THEIR POSSESSION in a tightly sealed several-times-over envelope, and haven't peeked. I couldn't do that. I either know outright, or have no possible way to find out. The lure, the temptation, of that juicy little fact being in my home would be far too much for me. As a result of this impressive display of restraint, the nursery is being done in pale shades of green and yellow, as you would expect. As luck would have it, they are big UO fans, and we all know the team colors are green and yellow. Bright green and yellow, but yet the same. So this color scheme is working well for them. That's why I chose to make this blanket (called the Heirloom Blanket) in white and used a varigated ribbon with shades of both green and yellow. The ribbon edge has a bit of sparkle to it, just to jazz it up. Couldn't resist.
The baby blanket I made for the strange shower tomorrow. Can't you just picture a baby snuggled up in it?
A close-up of the corner detail. Can you see how the ribbon color changes?
I hope she/they like this blanket. It took a fucking long time to make, but it's perfect. As a cautious mom myself, I always used a handmade, knitted/crocheted blanket to cover my kids when they were little and slept in the crib. I liked the fact that those types of blankets had holes in them in case the blanket ever ended up covering their little faces they wouldn't suffocate. I have no idea how my friend will use this blanket, but it's my hope that she does USE it. I want it used. I hope it's barfed on. A lot. I hope it ends up stinking like breastmilk. I hope she has to wash it often. Because then I'll know that the time and effort that went into making it wasn't wasted. I didn't make this to be a "show piece". It's not sheer decoration. It's cute and pretty, and functional. I enjoyed making it for her, and I kept envisioning her holding her first precious newborn baby (that I strongly suspect will be a girl. Just a strong hunch/intuition) wrapped up in it. I hope that image comes true someday and the blanket doesn't end up folded up and put away "someplace safe" or "someplace special".
Now to abruptly change gears: I'm stoked because for a few hours before the baby shower I'm going to be going out and looking at homes with our realtor. I LOVE looking at houses! I think I might have been a realtor in a previous life I like it so much. I've been doing a LOT of research and looking at a LOT of homes online, but that's just not the same as walking into the house and seeing it with your own two eyes. Really experiencing the space. I don't expect to find THE house on the first tour, but you never know. Mr. Chick and I are pre-qualified for a mortgage and have our fat down payment ready, so if I do find the most perfect home ever, I can put in an offer immediately. That's heady stuff for me. But even better? I'll get to hang out with my girlfriends both at the shower and afterwards at our annual White Elephant gift exchange/girls night out and throw back some cocktails and talk about the houses I saw with them. They'll be good sounding boards and keep me in check so I don't get too ahead of myself. Mr. Chick is staying home with the kiddos, so not only do I get to go look at houses all day long, I get to go out with my friends, too. And sleep in the next morning if I want to (or need to!). Yes, it's going to be a VERY good Saturday indeed.
Monday, January 23, 2006
It's My Potty & I'll Cry If I Want To
We had a monumental evening around here last night. Lauren, after months of "practicing" with no success, finally managed to pee a few drops in the toilet! And I do mean few. But they counted so I'll take what I can get. It was exciting to say the least, and the whole family witnessed this miraculous moment. I'm not sure she appreciated the audience, but I figured it's all fair game - I mean, she watches me in those most-private of moments, so quid-pro-quo.
It was Mr. Chick who gets the glory for making this big event happen. We had all been out in the hottub and I left first. He got the kids out and decided to sit a very naked Lauren on the throne before getting her into her diaper and pajamas. Thes stars and planets must have been aligned because it worked. And I would have thought that there wouldn't have been any urine left in her after being in the hottub. I just assumed she would have peed in there. Shows you how much I (don't) know. We made a very big deal out of her leaking out a few droplets, and I think it made her outwardly shy but inwardly pleased as hell. Because she tried again (with her pj's on) a couple of more times that night.
I wanted to reward this positive behavior and ran to the cupboard to find a little treat for my suddenly big girl. I was thinking of a chocolate chip. I used to give those to Nicholas when he was potty training and I ALWAYS have chocolate chips on hand. But wouldn't you know it? No chocolate chips. Damn this "eating healthy" thing! So I had to settle for a Tic Tac. Lame, I know, but it's the best I could do in a pinch. Lauren had never had a Tic Tac before (choking hazzard and all that), but it must have come across as a very big deal to her because she really enjoyed it. I wish I got that much pleasure and satisfaction from one little Tic Tac.
Nicholas was part of this whole potty party. He even told Lauren that he was proud of her. But then he got solemn and went to his room. When he's upset he crawls into his bed and pouts. I think his bed is his sanctuary, like all good beds should be. Turns out he was feeling dissed because Lauren got the special treat and he didn't. So much drama over a stupid Tic Tac! Mr. Chick and I had a little talk with him and he was feeling better enough to get out of bed and ask for ice cream. Which we gave him. Because it was a Potty Party!
I'm not delusional enough to believe this is the beginning of potty training for Miss Lauren. It's not. It's but a mere baby step on the path of potty training. But I'll take what I can get and celebrate every damn milestone along the way. I'm looking forward to the day when I can be done with diapers forever, and last night I saw the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Hooray!
Friday, January 20, 2006
I Rocked The 80's
Don't laugh too hard - you KNOW you have photos like this in your albums, too.
This is me as a sophomore in high school (and my date - a SENIOR! You know it - I rocked). The year was 1986 and I was 15 years old. Check out those shoulder pads! I did Dynasty proud with those suckers. They look so totally awesome! (said in my best Valley Girl impersonation) I think they added an extra FOOT of width to my already formidable shoulders. Like I needed it or something. And that dress - ! I felt like a top model in that red geometrical dress. It was "designer", don't you know, so it HAD to be cool, right? RIGHT!!? This was pre-perm. That came later, in, like, 1987. So totally rad.
OUCH! Don't get burned by my hotness here. Or get your eyes poked out with those ENORMOUS poofed sleeves! This was me in college - sophomore year. I believe 1989. And my boyfriend right before meeting Mr. Chick. He was nice, but a total geek and I got bored and outgrew him. My dress, however, will live forever. I mean - black satin with silver lame thread?? And the poofiest sleeves ever created? Worn with long black gloves? Does it GET better than that? It was my prom dress and I was determined to wear it again. So I did. In college. At my sorority's winter formal. And I promise it was the last time. I loved that dress. My mother hated it. I'm not sure who was right about it to this day. It still holds a special place in my heart because I simply thought it was the most beautiful thing ever when I picked it out to wear to prom. So even now, despite better judgement today than when I was 18, I still sort of like it. For what it represents. And please take note of the perfectly curled bangs that defy gravity and the permed hair. It was my signature look back then.
The year: 1988. High school graduation. What I notice most about this photo is the hair. So much hair! My bangs literally curled over the top of my cap! And my best friend - she had some rockin' hair, too. We should have bought stock in Aqua Net. We'd be rich women today if we had.
And finally, I leave you with one of my senior portraits. This was taken in 1987 (the 88 is there to denote my graduation year, but it was taken in the beginning of the school year). Right before the perm look was conceived. Back when I was fighting my natural curl and spent over an HOUR blow-drying my hair straight every morning before school. And THEN curling my bangs JUST SO with a curling iron. And then applying massive amounts of hair spray to lock in the look. Note the supreme height of my bangs - 80's perfection! Today, I think I can shower, shave my legs, dress and dry my hair in under 30 minutes. And I only do THAT every other day. Who takes over an hour a day to get ready anymore??! We were such silly girls in high school, weren't we? Or maybe it was just me?
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Today was Nicholas's first dance class. It's just an intro to dance (Dance Sampler I) class for kids aged 3-5 offered through our city's Recreation programs. It's once a week for 45 minutes. These babies are going to learn, or at least be introduced to, tap, ballet, and creative movement. It was the cutest damn thing I've seen in a long, long time! Nicholas has always been attracted to dancing. He dances around the living room all the time. He leaps, spins, does this crazy Flashdance quick stepping move I don't dare try to replicate, and uses his whole body to move with the music. He tends to prefer classic music and chooses those CD's first. Or lately a jazz CD we have of kids music (if you've never heard Old MacDonald done in jazz you're missing out). So enrolling my son in a dance class seemed very appropriate. Plus, most girls will tell you, a boy/man who can dance (and is willing to!) is cool, attractive and sexy. There's a reason a lot of Americans watch Dancing With The Stars. A man who can dance well is HOT.
Nicholas was SO EXCITED for his class. Waiting until 11:10 to leave was like a slow water torture for him. "Is it time to leave for dance class YET??!" was asked 523 times. At least. The class description said that if your child did not have their own ballet slippers they could dance barefoot and that tap shoes would be available. I did not rush out and buy Nicholas ballet slippers, preferring to let him go barefoot and see how this whole dance class thing plays out before buying the "props". I had him wear "danseur" attire, modified for what his wardrobe contains. In lieu of black dance tights he wore black sweatpants. Instead of a tight-fitting white t-shirt he wore one that fit loosely. It was the best we could do. And barefoot. We get there and he's the ONLY boy in the class filled with little ballerinas decked out in leotards, tights and skirts/tutu's. Many had brand-new ballet slippers and a few even owned their own tap shoes. The girls were darling and my son didn't seem to care one iota that he was the only boy. He was too intent on making sure he was following the teachers instructions and was in the right place. He's all about the rules, my son.
The teacher, who had a pair of ballet slippers tattooed on her lower back (to prove how SERIOUS she is about dancing, I suppose??!), had the kids stand in a row. Each had a strip of tape to show them where they should be. She then went through some stretching and warm-up's. The parents all had to hide our smirks and giggles watching these little people stretch. Rounded bellies, bent knees, and arms that don't go very far past the tops of their heads make for comical stretching. They did the "Head Shoulders Knees & Toes" song/dance, which Nicholas knows well, and the "Hokey Pokey", which he also knows but very few of the girls could do. I guess their parents aren't geeks like I am.
When it was time to find some tap shoes I had to really contain myself because, wouldn't you know it, but all the tap shoes were for girls. Not that it really matters at this age, but still - ! Here's my son trying to find a pair of black patent leather tap shoes, complete with a big ribbon tied on the top. They screamed GIRL SHOES from across the room and beyond. I had to try to keep a straight face when I told him the shoes were for everyone, including boys, and it's just how tap shoes looked. He cut quite a dashing look standing there on his piece of tape with his sweatpants and shiny shoes all tied up with a big fat bow. It was a proud, proud moment. I'm just glad Mr. Chick wasn't there - I'm not sure how he'd have handled it. He would have cringed harder than me and probably wouldn't have been able to hide it well. He already fears that Nicholas will end up being gay. The teacher had the kids tap their toes, then their heels. Nicholas did fantastic! Better than most of the girls, thankyouverymuch.
Then it was on to ballet. The teacher showed the kids how to put their feet in first position (heels together, toes pointing out) and plie. This is where the giggles and chortles from the peanut gallery were the loudest. Watching these kids trying to control their little bodies was hilarious and precious at the same time. The teacher is telling them to keep their backs straight, like a big stick is going from their heads to their bottoms, and then to bend their knees. Don't stick your bottoms out! OMG - the gyrations of these kids were going through trying to comply with what the teacher told them - ! At one point it looked like Nicholas did a robot/breakdance move as he was bending his knees because then he remembered to keep his back straight, which he tried to do, and then he tried to keep his butt from sticking out, and the effect was like a ripple went through his whole body. Amazing to see. And freaking hilarious!
After the plies it was time to leap across the floor. The teacher had made "pools" out of tape that the kids were supposed to leap over as they went from one end of the room to the other. They all did this with various degrees of success and grace. Then she asked the kids to do it in pairs. "Pair up, everyone! Find a partner to leap with." And here is where my heart broke. The girls all immediately gravitated to each other and poor Nicholas is just looking at me, very pointed and with a hint of despair, because he's not sure what to do. No one is asking him to be their buddy. The teacher paired him up with a girl who pulled away like he was the foulest creature ever. "He doesn't bite", the nice teacher said. But the little ballerina was not buying it. Clearly a strong case of Boy Cooties if there ever was one. I wanted to pop up and volunteer to be his partner so badly! That's my son there, feeling bad because he's the only boy and no girl wants to be near him suddenly. The nerve of these prima donnas! And yet, I understood the girls' point of view. At that age (although I would have thought we wouldn't be dealing with this for another couple of years...) boys ARE icky. Don't you remember how it was? I mean - ewww! Boys - they smell funny, they act strange, they're different. Girls were way better. But now, as an adult and a mother, I had to repress my urge to protect my son from this. Finally, the teacher told the girl "you don't have to touch each other." and that seemed to work. She was then willing to leap across the floor next to him. But she didn't like it. That was crystal clear. Thankfully, Nicholas seemed oblivious to her displeasure and was just enjoying the leaping part. Boys, they can be dense. And then, redemption! The teacher switched up the partners and the little girl she asked to be Nicholas's partner was more than willing to leap across the floor with him. So willing, in fact, she held his hand the whole time. My own heart swelled with gratitude for her for being so innocent that the fact that he was a boy didn't matter - yet. It will someday, but not today, and that made me happy.
I was so proud of Nicholas today. My little danseur. He did so well! He listened to his teacher. He tried everything. He demonstrated some aptitude. He had fun and was proud of himself. What more could I ask for? And as we were leaving another mother commented to me that she thinks he's the best of the class. Did you hear that?! The BOY outperformed the girls in dance class today. Whooppeee!! Go Nicholas! So much for stereotypes. I'm really looking forward to next weeks class. It's the last one I'll be able to watch before the parents are kicked out and forced to wait outside in the lobby until the final class when the kids will "perform" their new dance skills. I suspect his interest in dance will serve him well in his lifetime. At least, I hope so!
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
I know this part of the world is known for it rain. I've lived here my whole life - I'm used to it. But it's still hard to get through sometimes. I know, in my logical brain, that it's because of the rain that this area remains so green and lush and beautiful year-round. I know this, and yet, I'm sick of it. It's just so damn gray outside - unrelentingly gray. Drab. Not a hint of sunshine anywhere. Just endless gray clouds which diffuse the light. Shadows? What are those? Don't attempt to use the sun as an indicator of the time because it's impossible. Is it morning or afternoon? Who can tell!? It's the same overcast light all day long. And then it's dark. So the only colors I see are gray and green. Oh yes - lots of gorgeous green. But you can only admire it from the indoors because it's too damn wet to go outside and marvel at it's lushness. Plus, my deck is now covered in a nice green slimey algae or something from all the fucking rain so it's rather nasty to go outside anyway, even if we did see the sun for a rare minute. (and it's very slippery, too, which makes going out to, getting in and out from the hottub a rather delicate operation. The kids have both slipped and fell on their naked little butts more than once). Have I mentioned how sick I am of this cursed rain??
People who aren't from here since, say, birth or at least early childhood often can't handle the climate. They often make the mistake of assuming it's because of the copious amounts of rain, but it's not. It's the lack of sunshine. It's the gray-factor. People can handle rain, but they miss the sun. It's the sun that gives us energy and that makes everything look so beautiful and sparkly after a good rainshower. We get that, too, but right now it's the omnipresent gray, and it sucks.
And yet, despite the ocean of water that's falling from the sky, I'm still getting out of my warm bed at the early hour of 6:15am and putting on my running clothes and going out for a run. I'm not the Wicked Witch and don't melt in water. But at that hour it's still dark outside and that makes it really hard to dodge the gigantic puddles that form on the sidewalks, paths, and streets. Forget about dry shoes and socks. There are puddles today that weren't there yesterday, and they keep growing. I slogged my way through 3 miles of endless puddles this morning, and ran past a swiftly raging river that is normally a peaceful, rather slow trickle of a stream. The current now present in this little unimportant backwater is fearsome. All the ducks and other creatures you could normally see floating and swimming around have long gone - they can't handle the current. I got soaked to the bone. I wore a baseball cap in a feeble attempt to keep the rain out of my eyes and my hair as dry as possible. My cap got SOAKED. My running tights had to be peeled off my legs. My reflective windbreaker jacket might as well have been plucked from that river it was so wet. And the shirt underneath. And my jogging bras under that. It's like I stepped into my shower with all my clothes on. The run felt great once you got past the wetness. You sort of got used to it. And, as an added bonus, you get to use different muscle groups when you attempt to leap over puddles and have to do quick sideways lurches to avoid pools of standing water. Not that any of that helps to keep one inch of you dry, mind you, but you have to try.
The bright spot is the temperature. It's not cold. Just wet. I think we'll hit 50 degrees today. Very mild. We're getting good snow in the mountains, but here in the valley we're drowning. At least we're not freezing, too. But come summer, thanks to all this rain, the Pacific Northwest is going to again be gorgeous and it is then that I'll remember why I love living here so much. Because nothing beats Oregon in the summer and fall. Nothing. It's spectacular. But until then, we'll have to endure the gray, soggy winter for a few more months.
Spring break, anyone?
Monday, January 16, 2006
A Little Blah
Instead, I'll discuss the rather bizarre baby shower invitation I received. It's for a good friend (well, the guy is one of Mr. Chick's best friends so we wives have bonded, too) who is having her first baby somewhere at the end of February or first part of March. I started crocheting a pretty baby blanket before Thanksgiving, but had to put it on the back burner when I was scrambling to make all the gifts for Christmas. So I get the invitation and I'm perplexed. You see, it's an OPEN HOUSE format. For a baby shower. Not hosted by the mom-to-be, yet it's at her house. It's not just me, is it, who thinks this is mighty odd? It sort of says, "stop by between the stated hours and drop off a gift. Thanks." Soooo, depending on when you get there you might be the only guest, which could be strange, or you could one of a crowd. I guess you get to graze on some snacky tidbits, but that might feel awkward, too, depending. And having it at the mom-to-be's house is unfortunate because now the poor woman has to clean her house for the party - pregnant. Ewww - that's no fun. The upside is no godawful games. To make this event more enjoyable for all, I put the call out to my other girlfriends I knew would also be invited and made arrangements for us all to go at the same time. That way, we'll be there together and it will be more fun for everyone. I think the open house is from 2pm - 6pm, so we're meeting there at 4pm, and from there we're launching into a fun girls night/annual white elephant gift exchange. So get through the shower in the best possible way, and then go enjoy some cocktails! Lemonade out of lemons, I say.
I'm also dovetailing my time in the Portland area with a meeting with our realtor and our first foray into actually looking at houses in the area. It's time. Mr. Chick won't be with me on this first go-around, but that doesn't bug me. We've bought both the houses we've owned and lived in without the other one present at the time of offer. I was travelling for business when Mr. Chick found our first house and I agreed to buy it based on his description, and I found our current house and he agreed to it the same way. It works. And while I doubt I'll find something on the first trip out to see homes, it's nice to know that if I do, he's good with my instincts and trusts my judgement.
So that's it in a nutshell. I've been so busy, yet strangely have nothing compelling to discuss. I'm sure I'll snap out of this slump - they never last long for me. My apologies for boring you to death! I'll work on being much more entertaining in my next post. Deal?
Sunday, January 08, 2006
Off To A Good Start
* I originally set the alarm for 6am but this is my compromise. I feel better getting even just those extra 15 minutes of sleep. Oh the psychological games I play - !
When I go for my run in the morning it's still dark. Pitch black, actually. I've gone as far as to carry a flashlight with me for safety. It's so others can see me more than for providing illumination. Because it's impossible to hold a flashlight steady enough to be of any use when you're jogging. Try it - you can't do it. I'm still digging my new running shoes and kicking myself for not getting them sooner. What a difference a fresh pair of decent running shoes can make! There is a new spring in my step when I run in them. Probably just psychological again, but hey, it's working and that's all that matters.
I'm not weighing myself. I have a scale that is both my friend and enemy, but right now I'm giving it the cold shoulder. I don't want to get obsessed about the number. It's not healthy for me, and really - what difference does it make? Either I'm feeling good and fitting in my clothes better, or I'm not. So I have no idea if stepping up my exercise this week has made any difference in my weight or not. I'm also proud of myself for my eating this past week. MUCH better. I'm making small changes that I'm hoping add up to big results down the road. Stuff like portion control and cutting out nightly desserts. I must confess to one "diet" sort of thing: I'm eating a Lean Cuisine for lunch instead of making myself a sandwich or whatever I used to have. It's part of my plan to get used to smaller portions. Plus, I save the plastic containers and use them as plates/bowls for the kids. I usually prefer to eat a "hot lunch" in the winter and having a Lean Cuisine, as crappy as they are, is better than a huge bowl of pasta as I was prone to do before (my kids are freaks for noodles). And I'm sticking to one helping of dinner. When my plate is clean, that's it for me. And I'm skipping dessert most night. Not all - I still have to enjoy my life - but it's not a nightly thing for me anymore.
Don't you think there HAS to be some difference after all that? I would think so. Maybe I'll just weigh myself once a week. The temptation is strong. I can't deny it. But man! Do I hate my scale. It's evil.
I've found that I feel good about myself for making the effort and sticking to it. Mr. Chick is impressed, too. But I've been OTR* this week and no amount of exercise can completely take away the occasional bitchiness that comes with that. I've been more tired in the evenings, too, because of my earlier mornings and extra exertions, but I'm feeling strong throughout the day. I think what I'm feeling most is less guilt. I always feel guilty when I don't workout enough. What I'm finding is that the hardest part of this is actually getting out of my warm bed and going for my run. I'm always glad I did it, but it's hard to get rolling. Sort of like sex. I may not feel like it at first, but I'm always glad I did it afterwards. I have to keep that in mind if I want to keep it going. And I do.
* On the rag. My period. Aunt Flow. Menstruation. Whatever you choose to call it.
I'm off to shower. There is nothing attractive about the copious amounts of sweat I produce when I exercise. I'm like a dude that way. I'm downright salty. Thanks for those genes, Dad!
Saturday, January 07, 2006
CSI: My House
Today I used my fancy new KitchenAid mixer. I made a batch of cookies. I cleaned my kitchen yesterday, but it was a total wreck again when I went to make these cookies. So, I set to work cleaning as the cookies cooled. That's my life in a nutshell: cleaning. Just call me Alice.
Anyhoo, I needed to figure out where to put my sassy mixer, which started me re-working the placement of other small appliances, which got me looking under said appliances, which led to thoughts of CSI. (btw, I HATE having too much shit on my kitchen counters. I abhor clutter. As much as I love this new mixer, it bugs me to have it sit on the counter. But it must as I don't have sufficient storage tall enough to accommodate it anywhere else. Damn!) Back to CSI. In those shows there are always these teams of smart, attractive scientists who swarm all over a home, or crime scene, and start poking around. They undoubtedly make small comments about what they perceive the people who live there to be like. I get to wondering what a team of hot CSI's would think about me and my family based on what they found if they scratched the surface of my home. Actually, I don't wonder so much as shudder at the thought of what my home might reveal about me/us.
"I see a strange sort of goo here on this chair. Let me swab it." would be overheard by the guy in my dining room. Testing would likely prove it to be some crusty peanut butter and honey mixture slimed there by my daughter. The floor under the table is a petri dish all on it's own. Food drops, dog licks, crumbs accumulate, milk spills and splatters - yeah, it's real sanitary under there. Don't look too closely.
"I found a hair! Actually, lots of hairs. White and black, mostly. I'll collect them and see how they look under the scope. Maybe we can pull some DNA from them." say the pretty female CSI in the living room. Testing would show that we live in a house covered with dog hair. They would then wonder how many dogs we have and surmise it to be many. Nope, just one who sheds volumes.
"This floor is very sticky. I'll bet we can lift some shoe tread prints from here." comments the tech in the kitchen. Yeah, I don't get around to mopping much. Unless you count sliding around the floor with a Lysol wipe under each foot mopping. It works in a pinch. At least, I used to think so.... And that strange smear on the edge of the counter? Yeah, that's just from my son licking there for God-knows-what-reason. Nevermind that.
"This room back here is a wreck! A burglary maybe? Maybe the perp tossed the room looking for something valuable." calls the cute guy from the master bedroom. Sadly, he would be mistaken. Our room is just that messy.
"I noticed some interesting splatter here in the bathroom. I'll swab it and take it to trace." That would be the ever-present spraying of kids toothpaste, which happens nightly, when we try to get a 4-yr old and a 2-yr old to brush their teeth. Mayhem usually occurs and the mirror, counter and walls take the brunt of it.
This is the running commentary I had filling my brain as I was cleaning up the kitchen. It made me clean much more thoroughly in a lame attempt to be a model home for the CSI's to investigate. I could envision the looks on the actor's faces as they took a Q-tip and ran it behind the faucet of the kitchen sink and it came back with dark ooze dripping from it (I cleaned it and that's what I found - ick!). I thought of the judgements that would be made as they gazed upon the chair in my living room that my dog likes to sleep against and is usually covered in dog hair. I wondered what they would think if they analyzed the contents of my vacuum bag and saw how many leaves I have to suck up every day (how I HATE the leaves that come into this house!) and how many pounds of dog hair there must be in there. They would probably conclude I'm a nutcase who vacuums her driveway. I would much prefer comments along the lines of, "wow, this place is spotless. I'll bet it's even clean under the refridgerator!". Or, "swabbing won't help. There aren't enough germs here to tell us anything." Instead, my house could tell tales.
Happy tales, for sure, but not tales of spotlessness. No. We live here. It gets messy. I have a 4-yr old who has marginal aim when he pees and for the life of him cannot remember to flush the toilet when he drops a load. I have a husband who likes to wrap a particular Alpaca blanket around him when he watches TV, and the fucking blanket (which I find to be itchy but he thinks is so soft) sheds even worse than the damn dog. I have our microwave located in the garage to save on counter space (the door to the garage is essentially in the kitchen so it's not like it's very far away), and the door to the garage is opened frequently, which blows in leaves and other crap from the outdoors. It's all tracked into my house. My carpet, here when we bought the place, is a light champagne color. MURDER to keep clean with a family and pets. It's the bane of my existence. I do battle with that carpet - spot cleaning, vacuuming, the full steam cleaning every quarter - but I'm losing the war. The carpet always seems to have spots all over it. Our computer is in the master bedroom and the kids are always climbing on our bed and getting into everything. It's a total disaster. Not to mention we're not the best about hanging up our clothes at the end of each day.... And the toys! Dear god, the toys that scatter from one end of the house to the other! I get a workout just picking up the damn toys. Dishes pile up in the sink. I feel like I'm constantly doing dishes, and yet there are always dirty ones in the sink. It's a mystery. Maybe the CSI people could solve THAT one for me.
So CSI would be in for a shock, I'm sure, if they ever had to investigate a crime at my house. I do what I can to stay on top of it, but clearly there are areas in which I could dramatically improve. But just the thought of CSI investigators ever coming into my home has made me step up my housecleaning game a notch. I feel like I should spray the whole place down with bleach. It freaks me out to think about what they would find.
I'm determined to not let the walls do the talking. But I still won't likely be making my bed or picking up my clothes every night. There ARE limits. Let them figure it out.
Friday, January 06, 2006
Sign, Sealed & Delivered
On the upside, we did pretty damn well with this house. We rode the real estate wave during our law school years and turned a pretty profit on this place. The property appreciated more than 50% in 3 years. Plus, the buyers found us and eliminated the need for us to spend one red cent on marketing or commissions (sorry to all you agents out there. We buy with a real estate agent, but we sell FSBO). The property funded yesterday and Mr. Chick went to pick up the biggest check he's ever held with our names on it. So big we can't put it all in one bank account because it exceeds the limit of federally insured funds. How cool is that??! Mr. Chick took it to the bank to deposit it and told the teller he wanted to cash it and get the bills in $10's and $20's. He's funny like that. He said the teller was even handling the check delicately and nervously, nevermind us. It's not very often a check this big comes walking into a bank around here, I guess. For the moment, we're RICH! And earning 4% interest on it while we're renters. We're talking of going to Vegas and betting it all on red, Indecent Proposal style. We'd have to take our chances on the tables because I doubt any Fat Cat would offer us a million dollars to spend one night with me like they did in that movie. I'm cute, but no Demi Moore. Maybe in my dreams...
Sadly, every penny of that money will have to be rolled into the down payment of the next house because of the high cost of house prices in the areas we're likely to move to. Oh well - easy come, easy go. And I know it's not like we're losing the money if we use it for the next down payment, but it won't be enough for us to buy anything super-impressive. It's not like we're jumping into the neighborhoods of the rich and famous. Just the 'burbs of Portland (did I mention the job in Bend was offered to someone else with 15 years experience? No? Well, it was. We're disappointed it didn't work out). We are a single-income family making it on less than full-time hours. Mr. Chick is earning a decent wage, certainly, but that check is much, much larger than his annual salary (that's why he went to law school, to change that fact). He's working 3-4 days/week. That's it, folks. So we're not going to be able to float a huge mortgage or anything. That's why we're going to need the full amount of profit we got out of this house to fund the next one.
Anyway, the deal is done and the search for the next home has begun in earnest. The market for business attorney's SUCKS ASS in Oregon right now, but Mr. Chick is doing all the right things to find a job. So, in the absence of a job we're setting our sights on moving closer to Portland - home again, essentially - to make his current commute of 1.5 hrs each way shorter, and to get us closer to the biggest city in the state. The place where he has the best chance of landing a job. The place where we have friends and family nearby. The place where homes are out-of-control expensive. On par with the Bay Area, CA, all things being equal. The Portland area is in the top 10 most expensive places to live. We're targeting spring for moving.
I look online at houses listed in the areas we're interested in a few times a week. There aren't many on the market right now. Slim pickin's. But since we get to choose where to move, I'm selecting areas based on schools. I want the best possible schools for my kids. Since I get to choose and all. I don't care if it means we have to live in a crappier house if the schools are the best. I value education higher than I do the square footage of my house. So, that narrows things down quite a bit. Nicholas will be starting kindergarten in the fall. It's time to look very hard at the schools. On paper, I'm a fan of public education. We'll see how it plays out in reality. I want to be in the best-rated schools and school district (sue me!) for public schools. If that ends up being a sub-par option and we deem the public education lacking, then we'll consider private schools. Hopefully, the public schools will rock and our kids will thrive. I just want to increase the odds of that happening. So I'm trying to look at our upcoming move as a huge opportunity to get settled in the best possible place for our kids since WE control the move. We're not moving somewhere random because of outside factors. We're in total control of our location. We can choose anywhere in Portland. We can choose to stay where we are (just a different house - the lesbians own this one). We can go to the southern part of the state. Or Bend in the middle of the state. It's our call. And that kind of freedom is very, very nice. Liberating, even. We have the luxury of deciding what is best for our family instead of trying to make the best of things. See the difference? So we're in a really good place, and I'm grateful. Plus, we have the luxury of time. We don't HAVE to move for 6 more months. We get that long to find the best house we can afford in the area of our choosing. We have that time to truly make the best decision for us. It's uncommon to have such flexibility and we're going to make the most of it.
Wish us luck! We're going to need it. There are big, big changes ahead for our little family and it's going to be an exciting ride. I hope we all survive.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
In the Spirit of Generic Resolutions...
I'm very good about maintaining my weight. It's been pretty stable for a long time now. I'm good at stable. What I'm not so good at is losing it. It's like I'm most comfortable in a size 12. 10 makes me happy, 14 makes me cry, but I'm generally a 12. I want to be an 8. To be an 8 again, I need to drop about 25 lbs. Less than 20 doesn't sound daunting. More than 20 makes me shudder. I have more than 20 to lose. Hence, the tired and boring resolution to do so.
My favorite forms of exercise have always been running and swimming. For a few years, swimming was tops for me. Back when Mr. Chick was a student and we had access to the gorgeous student rec center with a gigantic pool perfect for a lap swimmer like myself. But now? No such luck. So I'm back to running. Running, which I can do in my neighborhood for free (if you don't count the cost of shoes). I've never been much for gyms. I get bored in gyms. Treadmills and weights and aerobics classes bore me. I like the solitude of swimming and running, I guess. I like to sweat in private. And speaking of private, I'm not one to embrace working out to tapes, either. I just get bored with them, too, and never stick with it for long. Sure, they're good if the weather is truly bad, but as the main form of exercise, I'll pass. Since I'm back running more frequently, I finally purchased some new running shoes (see previous post). Bad shoes can cause injury, and my old shoes were just asking for that to happen. I'm still a casual runner, only going about 3 miles, on average, 2-3 times per week. Again, the maintenance plan. Good for keeping me stable, but not doing much to help me shed the chub. It's time to step it up and shed that chub! I'm oh-so-tired of being a "muffin top".
And so, here it is at 8:30pm and I'm getting ready to put my children to bed, and I've already set my alarm for the shockingly early time of 6am. I've always found that I am a morning exerciser. It wakes me up and gives me energy. If I work out in the evening it keeps me awake. Plus, I'm lazy and only take one shower a day (if that, truth be told, but always if I've exercised). If I work out first thing then I only NEED to shower in the morning. It's my plan to go for a 3.5 mile run first thing in the morning before Mr. Chick needs to shove off for work. Or, in the unusual situation we have tomorrow of needing to be at the Title company to sign the papers closing the sale of our house at 8am. Either way, I'll be exercised and fresh for the day. And then I'll try to do it again the next day, and the next, and the next. On Sunday I rest.
I've already committed to do the "Rainier to Pacific" race in the summer. It's an 11-person relay team that runs something like 180+ miles (from Mt. Rainier in Washington state to the Pacific ocean). It takes over 24 hours to do. Each team member runs 3 legs of 3-6 miles each (approx.). It's fun! I did it the first time in 2002. Mr. Chick has done the bigger, more well-known version called "Hood to Coast" for 5 years now. I need a goal to keep me motivated, so this is it. I'm sure I'll sign up to do a few fun-runs along the way - summer is a long way away. A few 5k races, maybe an 8k or even a 10k. I've done the marathon - that was great. My new ultimate goal? A mini triathalon. I think a triathalon would be a blast! I just need the courage to actually do it. And the funds to buy a proper bike. Mine is waaayyy too old and heavy to be of any use in a race situation. Riding to a football game with the kids in the trailer in the back? Sure. A race? No way in hell. So the triathalon idea will have to wait a bit. Instead, I'll just keep my eye on the relay and train for that. More than just being able to go the distance, which I already can, I want to train for the hills and for speed. I want to be faster. I have a lot of work to do. And hopefully, by working towards the goal of the race, I'll lose a few pounds in the process. If weight loss isn't my first goal but more of a pleasant side-effect, I won't be constantly thinking about it.
6am is going to come awfully early.....
Bye Bye Baby
Yesterday we had a family shopping day. Those are rare, but fun. We hit Costco - the biggest of all family shopping destinations for us. Then we went to the running store so I could buy brand-spankin'-new running shoes. Asics, naturally (although I'm also a fan of Saucony). I hadn't purchased new running shoes since I was training for the marathon in 1999. Yeah, that long ago. My old shoes were practically vintage - at least according to the oh-so-young and skinny sales girl. Asics had come out with 4 new iterations of my shoes since my last purchase. I'd say I got my money and mileage's worth. My new shoes are awesome and my first run in them yesterday rocked.
After the shoes we hit Bed Bath & Beyond since it was in the same shopping area and decided, on the spot, to buy the bedding we needed for Lauren's bed. We had sheets for her (purchased at Costco - my all-purpose shopping destination these days), but needed a bed skirt and comforter or bedspread or something. Lauren's room, even though we're closing on the house tomorrow and will be moving soon, is lavendar and I wanted to get her bedding to match. I'm planning on her next room being lavendar, too. It's her signature color, dahling. BB&B had a bunch of stuff on clearance and we found a simple lavendar flannel comforter - SO SOFT! And a cute white eyelet bed skirt. Then I found a "bed in a bag" combo that I liked the look of, too. But a quick touch-test proved that the "bed in a bag" sucked for quality and comfort and the simple, plain flannel comforter with separate bed skirt was a better option. Plus, they matched the sheets I already had. So we bought them and I was suddenly excited about moving Lauren out of the crib.
That night it was time to make the switcheroo. The crib came apart with ease. I surprised myself with feeling bittersweet about it. I'm not sure why, but the crib has always been a very sentimental thing for me. I'm planning on keeping the crib. I've sold or given away just about every other baby-related thing, but the crib I just can't let go of. High chair - gone. Exersaucer - gone. Baby toys and clothes - gone gone gone. But the crib? The crib is special. I will put my grandbabies to sleep in that crib. It will come with us to each new house and will be cherished always. And people? There's not a lot I'm sentimental about. Infancy and babyhood are not my favorite ages in childhood. I've always been glad to see my kids get older. So my strange attachment to the crib boggles me just a bit, but there it is.
The crib came down and the bed went up. Lickety split. We had to do some minor rearranging of the room to accommodate the larger bed. Lauren seemed sort of non-plussed by the whole thing. Mr. Chick and I each layed down on her bed, and it's NICE! It's probably the best bed in the house. Just the right blend of softness and firmness. We bought it from some friends who purchased it for their spare room. It was used a couple of times before they downsized and moved into a small apartment and had to dump it. Practically new. So we picked it up - mattress, box spring, and metal frame - for $75. Not bad! I put all the new bedding on it and it looks pretty. There isn't a headboard or footboard, but it's soft and fluffy and feminine without being frilly or overly girly-girl. Because neither Lauren or I are girly girls.
And last night? She slept in it all night long without getting out of bed ONCE! That battle of wills I mentioned before? I think we have a truce. It really wasn't much of a battle after all. More of a minor skirmish.
And I seem to have emerged victorious.