Saturday, April 7, 2012

Year 2: April 7, 2012 ~
Expanding The Family

My husband and I are looking to expand our family of five.

We're looking to adopt... a house.

Yes, we've had houses on the brain lately.  Our property clocks are really ticking.  We're thinking and talking about homes all the time.  We've even given our kids 'the talk'.

"You know... sometimes it's nice to make a change, even when that change feels scary.  We know how happy you have been in many ways since we moved to this neighborhood, and that makes us really glad.  We have some news though - mommy and daddy are hoping to buy a different house for our family this year."

"Our own house?  Will it be our house or a house that somebody else owns?"

"Well this would be our own house.  We would need to pay for it every single month, the same way that we pay rent, but it would actually be ours."

"You mean we could paint on the walls?"

"Yes, when we own our own house we can probably paint something cool on your bedroom walls."

"Because YOU KNOW, mom, that our little sister really likes to draw on the wall."

"Yes, I do know that."

"And YOU KNOW, Mom, don't you - that there are already things drawn all over our bedroom wall right now?"

"Yes, I know that too."

"Well, the things on our wall right now are a lot of scribble scrabble, Mom.  If we paint something at our new house, I would like it to look cool."

"I want a rocket!" shouts his little brother.

"I dwaw a wabbitt!" chimes in their naughty sister. "I make a wabbitt on da WALL!"

She then scampers off to draw a stick figure with a big circle head, two big circle eyes and two long thick loopy feet on a paper.  "A wabbitt!  Look mommeeee a PINK WABBITT fo' my WALL!!!"

It seems that we are all excited about having our own house.

* * * *

I've tried to prepare the kids for the kind of changes we'll experience with a new house in our price range.

"So, we probably won't have this huge back yard much longer," I've mentioned.  "You boys should take advantage of it right now, while you still can."

The yard in our rental home is truly magnificent.  At about 8,000 square feet it resembles a small park and has been the light of our family life since we moved here one year ago.

When my boys are fighting, as they often do, it has been such a relief to shoo them out the kitchen door into the yard.

"Out!  Go out and get some fresh air.  Run around!  Play soccer!  Play hide and seek!  STOP ARGUING and GO HAVE FUN, for Pete's sake!"

They nearly always jump at the bait, our yard being a mecca of roly poly bugs, dirt to dig in, trees to climb and bushes to hide behind.  The soccer balls fly around until one of them inevitably hits our house somewhere close to a window, and then I urge them to move on to some new activity like riding bikes in the driveway or drawing with chalk.

* * * *

I've tried to prepare myself for the change of having a new house too.

Honestly, it makes me more than a little sad that we can't stay in this small but perfect (perfectly old, perfectly shabby, perfect for us) home that we've loved for the last year.

We did offer to buy it.

The owner politely declined.

Seems that after 60+ years in his family, they want to keep it in their family.  The owner grew up here as a child, attended the local elementary school and visited his mother here until her passing.  He is now 69 years old.  He loves this place very much, and is loathe to part with it.

Especially in today's market - a buyer's market for sure. 

So we weren't surprised when he declined our hopeful offer...

Nonetheless, I bawled when the rental agency told us he wasn't interested.  Cried for a full hour.

"It just fe-ee-eels like h-h-h-home," I wept to my husband.

"I know.  It would have been really cool. I love this place too," he agreed. "But we'll find our place.  And we'll be happy there too."

* * * *

A few days later I saw notice of a foreclosure in our neighborhood.  I liked the general area and street, and noticed that the property had two of the most important criteria for me:  sidewalks out front and a generous back yard.

"I think we should check into this," I commented to my husband.

"Sure," he said.

When I called the bank listed on the MLS foreclosure page, the woman I spoke with explained that the property was not actually theirs but just one that they had a partial stake in financing.  She told me to go to our local county office holding records and find the last known deed of sale for the foreclosure.  Then, we should call her back and they could research the property to find out about its actual owner for us.

I mentioned this to my husband on a Sunday afternoon.

The next day, after a doctor's appointment, I decided to drop by the county office with our little girl.  The boys were in school and it seemed like a nice time to get the ball rolling.

We pulled into a parking space right in front of the county office and I jumped out of the car to put together her diaper bag and stroller.  Noticing that I'd missed a call, I recognized my husband's number on my cell phone.

I called him back.  We chatted amiably for a few minutes and then he said, "Well hon I've got to get back to the office for lunch.  I'm just here at the county office - I'm going to pick up the records for that house."

"What?  You're at the county office?  Where?  We're at the county office too!"

He began to laugh.  "You're here?  I'm in the parking lot in front of the building."

Pulling our daughter out of the car I looked around. 

"I don't see you.  Maybe you're on the other side of the building from where we are."  I settled my daughter and began to walk toward the offices.

My husband began to laugh harder.  "I see you.  Turn around."

It turned out he was parked just one car over from us.  We'd been chatting on our cell phones from just ten feet away.

So, we went together to get the last known deed of sale for the foreclosure and walked hand in hand into the county office.

That is how I knew that buying a house this year was meant-to-be:

We are on the same page.  We want the same thing.  We literally arrived at the same place at the same time to pursue this house... completely unaware of each other. 

(Our lives have actually gone in parallel like this since we were little kids... this is one of the many reasons I continually know that my husband and I are destined for each other.  We seem always to be walking the same path in life, or if not on the same road... walking parallel to one another.)

* * * *

After getting the last known deed, things started to move pretty quickly.  We jumped through all the hoops to get prequalified for financing.  We got all of our tax records together and figured out.  We scanned about a hundred pages of documentation, emailed them off, and within a few days were approved.

Now we're just waiting on the house.

"Our" house, whether it turns out to be this particular foreclosure or not.

Right now, even though the foreclosed house is owned by the bank it is still owner-occupied.  We found out through the records at the county office that the owner hasn't paid a dime on the house since 2008.

I was a little in awe of this kind of brazen negligence.  "Wow hon," I commented to my guy, "Think of how much money we would have right now if we hadn't paid rent at all for four years."

The mortgage on that house has got to be more than $3000 a month but I calculated that at $3000 a month x 12 months x 4 years, the owner would have saved $144,000.00.  A small fortune.

Not knowing why they've chosen not to pay their mortgage, I feel very badly about waiting on their house... a little bit like a vulture.  What if their family has fallen on hard times?  Or had health troubles? 

Still, the owner is taking horrific care of the home and grounds and it makes me sad when the kids and I walk by and see the way all of the foliage in the yards have browned and died; the trash on the front lawn; the broken fences and windows.

That is a house that needs and deserves some major TLC and energy cleansing.

Our six year old son pragmatically put it like this:

"Mom, if we get the house from the bank - it means that even though the people have acted so bad to the house it can still be a happy place for us.  If we don't get it, it means the energy was so bad it couldn't be fixed."

I like that.  I think he's right!

Still, no movement yet.  Who knows when they will finally vacate, or if we will be able to afford the price the bank will ask at that time.

For now we are ready, waiting for that right property - wherever it is - to pop up so we can make a real offer.

* * * *

Keeping this in mind, I sit quietly on the back steps of our lovely rental listening to birds singing in the tall trees around us.

On a telephone wire above our slate blue garage I see one lone dove resting, perhaps waiting for her mate. 

Then she lifts off, and suddenly she is gone.  One day soon, we may fly away from this sweet place as well.

It makes me a little misty.  Still...

Owning a home of our own at last, it's such an exciting prospect!

Despite the recent uptick of residential burglaries in our neighborhood (more on that in a different post) it is truly a beautiful thing that we're hoping to do.

Expanding our family of five to include one fixer-upper with a back yard near our amazing elementary school... it really feels right this time. 

We're ready to open our hearts and lives to a home of our own, one that can be painted as wildly as we like with rockets and rabbits.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Year Two: March 20, 2012 ~
Slow Like Honey

There's a Fiona Apple lyric I particularly like:

Slow like honey, heavy with mood

which particularly sums up how I've been feeling about life this week...

...although I can just about guarantee that Fiona, one of my all-time favorite singer-songwriters, was singing about love or something similarly heady and passionate.

I'm not.

Even though this lyric has been dancing in my head for days, it doesn't have anything to do with birds or bees, roses or hearts.

Instead, I feel like her words perfectly encapsulate how I've been feeling about our family life in 2012.

Lately I feel like we are running in taffy; so much effort is going into every little step yet we've not really gotten anywhere yet.

The exercise feels so slow.

The main things my husband and I have been trying to accomplish for our family are large ones:

Buy a house.
Plan a life-changing family adventure - a year abroad!
Get all 3 kids into school.
Become a two-income family again... I'm heading back to work.
Keep our kids healthy, happy and active.
Get (the same) kids to STOP FIGHTING WITH EACH OTHER.
Keep up my health on a long-term basis.

Oh... and spend time together!  

I'd say these are pretty normal things for a couple in their mid to late-30s to be working toward... and even though I don't actually *know* if our friends are working on figuring out similar things, I'm betting that lots of them are.

I don't know why, but everything just feels so slow right now.

Maybe because the end of babyhood is finally in sight?  If this were a race, I'd be ready to rev up and sprint to the finish!

Yet, we can't rush the next six months.  They need to happen, and we can't waste a single moment of our lives together by wishing the days away.

So, we're working on it.  

Every day we take little steps toward our goals.

For example, today I turned in my packet of forms to become re-employed with a local school district as a substitute teacher.

This does not guarantee me steady work OR a paycheck; but it is a good first step.

An opportunity to step into teaching again for a large district and see how it fits... a chance to dip my foot back into the water and see what the temperature is like.

(Not that it's a good time to look for teaching work... on the contrary... more than a thousand teachers in our district just got pink slips, including one of my dearest friends who has been a loyal and outstanding teacher for the same school for 10 years!  The California education budget is just a disaster.)

Anyway assuming I can even get substitute work in today's economic climate, I've taken the first step.

The process just requires so much PATIENCE.

The truth is, it's hard to be patient when you feel like you're waiting for your "real life" to start.

I have to remind myself not to waste the moments right now.  This IS my real life.  Being a stay-at-home mom.  Loving my kids.  Taking them places, grocery shopping, doing laundry, watching their practices and picking them up from school on time.  Coming to their class presentations and parties.  Taking them on stroller walks.  Changing their diapers.  Singing to them. Cracking dumb jokes to make them smile.

I have a life... and this is it.

Working and owning our own home will not necessarily equate to having a better life than the one we currently inhabit.  It will just be different.

Different sacrifices, different trade-offs.  There will be other tears shed... in moments when I have to miss an important school performance or milestone because I am already committed to teaching that day.  Mornings where I awaken cursing the alarm because I've been up all night with a sick child and still have to go to work.  Times when I'm jealous of the flexibility of my husband's schedule and job.

I know it will be like this, because it *was* like this.  Five years ago it was exactly as I've described... I had a vibrant career and great difficulty finding balance in my home life.  So many sacrifices had to be made every single day.

I'm ready though, after five years at home... I'm ready to take something BACK.  Something that is mine.  I'm ready to reclaim some piece of my independent self.  It doesn't have to be a big one.  Just a start.

At the age of 36, I'm still young enough to make something of myself as an individual.  Motherhood of course is non-negotiable; my children still come first and always will.  They are the core of my planet, the solid hub around which I spin.

With all three children at last in school though I'll soon have this incredible opportunity to rediscover myself as a professional; to unleash my brain and hope that it still knows how to think.  To reignite a part of my spirit that has been waiting quietly and patiently under cotton covers... always believing that one day it would again be allowed to flourish.

I'm so excited to take the plunge into this second phase of parenthood:

Modest independence.

Modest independence for my children, and for me.  I don't know how it is going to go... it could easily suck.  I could hate every second and start oozing desire to return to the life of a stay-at-home mother.  (Don't laugh - it could happen.)

I can't wait to get started though!  I can't wait to try.  


To slightly adapt another line that I love, this one from "When Harry Met Sally" -

When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life [doing something special] you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible. 

So here I am,


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Year Two ~ January 11, 2012

When I was a little girl my mother kept two wicker suitcases on the top shelf of her closet that were filled with beautiful children's clothing.

Each blouse, dress, skirt or pair of pants had belonged at one time to my sister and brother who were, respectively, 12 and 10 when I was born.

My mother had saved these articles of clothing for many reasons:

- They were beautiful
- They had no stains
- They brought back important memories
- She had sewn many of them by hand
- Someday, there might be another baby who would wear them (me!)

A talented seamstress, my mother took great pride throughout my childhood in crafting much of our clothing from fabric she'd selected herself, made according to patterns that she'd picked. Mom's love of what she did elevated sewing into an art form. She envisioned beautiful things and then brought them to life.

It was exciting to watch.

As a little girl then, I loved to see her take down each wicker suitcase and unlock them - sorting through the piles of carefully preserved garments to see what might look good on me or fit me soon.

It became a sort of ritual for us, my rite of passage.

"I think you're finally ready to wear that blue skirt," she might say - and I would twirl around holding it in front of the mirror in her dressing room, thrilled that at last I had grown big enough.

Wearing clothes from my sister and brother didn't make me feel dowdy or sad... I honestly never knew any differently, so it didn't bother me. Instead, I remember sometimes feeling that if I wore the clothes of my cool older brother and beautiful big sister, it might make me look cooler and more beautiful.

I also felt very connected to my family while wearing their old clothes.

I guess that sounds funny, but it's true.

Even now, thirty years later, I still wear clothes given to me by my mother that once belonged to my father and though I know I probably look pretty frumpy in his old flannel shirts or jackets - I don't care.

Wearing my dad's clothes makes me feel closer to him... especially in light of his death two years ago. I can remember Dad wearing these shirts and sweaters, and it makes me feel like he's still with me when I throw on one of his cardigans on a chilly morning.

* * *

Possibly due to my genuine comfort with hand-me-downs, I began thrift shopping a few years ago for myself and our kids. I was turned on to thrift store shopping by my mother-in-law who is gorgeous and frugal. She always looks amazing with the most beautiful clothing, and a great deal of what she wears was found second-hand.

My mother-in-law views thrift store shopping as a treasure hunt and doesn't see why she should pay a gazillion dollars on a blouse or skirt when she could find a perfectly lovely outfit for around $5.

She's also blessed by that invaluable gift: aesthetic good taste. She knows what would look good on her, and what would look good in her wardrobe. She always manages to look stylish and pretty and has her own unique style.

Inspired by her success with thrift stores, I "got over" my squeamishness about heading downtown to shop next to bums and (dare I say what I often suspect?) prostitutes. Of course, over time I've discovered that lots of other interesting folks are thrift shopping too! Soccer moms, grandmothers, career women, mothers with huge broods of children underfoot... and yes, they're mostly women.

I don't have the same aesthetic sense as my mother-in-law but my kids usually manage to look clean, neatly matched and (I'm biased) pretty darling. Almost every time my mother says, "Wow, I really love that dress my granddaughter is wearing today!" I grin widely.

"Thanks! Isn't it cute? $2.00... I got it at the thrift store! It hadn't even been worn before, the tags were still on!"

She never fails to be surprised.

* * *

All this to say that historically I have always loved hand-me-downs. They rock!

Recently, a phenomenon has occurred that I honestly never expected though... I've begun to be given hand-me-downs by my beautiful nieces.

These girls could not be more talented, intelligent, sweet, athletic or awesome.

I am uber-proud of both of them!

They've both become gorgeous and at the ages of 19 and 16, it's fair to say that they're very nearly grown up. Technically I suppose that one of them really is an adult.

And quite honestly, they both have great style! They dress in their own individual ways.

So it certainly isn't a bad thing that my cherished nieces are giving me hand-me-downs. Frankly, I look a lot better thanks to their generosity. Between the two of them and my (still-beautiful) big sister, my wardrobe is becoming nicer all the time.

It's just... well, a little different.

I guess I never imagined that someday I might grow up to wear clothes given to me by children fifteen to twenty years my junior!

I think this may mean two things:

(1) It's probably time for me to get more of a job so I can afford to buy my own clothes and develop my own style again...


(2) I'm getting old.

If the darling baby girl I fed mashed squash in a high chair when I was already sixteen years old is now a college student handing me down her super-cute clothes, I can't avoid the surprising truth:

I'm middle aged!

36... hard to be anyone's baby. Even though I've *always* been the baby of my family.

I'm not even just a full-blown woman. I'm a woman with wrinkles and white hairs sprouting up, closer to fifty than I am to twenty. Wow.

How did this happen? (Smiling as I type, but still wondering...)

Yesterday I was a little girl looking forward to growing big enough to finally fit into my big sister's high school homecoming dress.

Today I am a mother with three children, still wearing hand-me-downs. It isn't exactly what I thought I'd be doing at 36. Thirty years ago I thought when I grew up I'd be an attorney wearing expensive black suits and high heels.

I was going to be Carrie Bradshaw from "Sex and The City" (before I knew who that was)... a woman with impeccable taste and unmistakable style.

Clearly, my life veered in a different direction than I'd anticipated... I ended up in stay-at-home mom town.

With genuine contentment and humility, I'll now reveal that today I'm wearing a pair of khaki pants leftover from my first pregnancy with a fabulous stretchy waist ~ SO comfortable! I'm also sporting a thrift store sweater (azure blue) and a matching hand-me-down azure blue t-shirt.

Fancy, fancy.

* * *

As the years pass I am beginning to realize that part of adulthood is accepting yourself and your life as it is, and looking for all the things to love about WHERE you are and WHO you are.

So here is what I love, as I fold and put away a stack of lovely new shirts and blouses from my sweet nieces - which I did accept with gratitude.

I love my family... incredible people who are generous to a fault. If they had only one pair of shoes they would still give it to you and walk barefooted.

I love my nieces and am so proud of the thoughtful and insightful young women they have become. They are really fun to be around and I'm so proud of them both! My sister has done a phenomenal job as their mom.

I love beautiful clothes, first or second-hand. A lovely blue dress that hangs just right is a true gift and I'm lucky to have clean, pretty clothes! Lots of women around the world have one outfit or two... I must have a hundred.

I love that I can FIT into my high school and college-age nieces' clothing. Wow! Considering that I have been alternately too plump and too thin over the past five years, it's really a joy to have reached a normal size and weight at last.


I love hand-me-downs - especially when they come from people that are close to me with good true hearts. Just one more way that I can stay connected to my family and friends, blessed by their kindness.

* * *

This post stands in lieu of
March 31, 2011 ~ Day 112
A Lost Day

Monday, January 9, 2012

Year Two ~ January 9, 2012
Bright New Year

I was so tired yesterday evening that I fell asleep on the couch fully dressed, with the lights on, and awoke around 3am with just enough lucidity to move to an actual bed.

Surprisingly, this worked out in my favor.

Thanks to the chaos of our Monday morning "get the kids back to school" routine after a fun weekend out of town, we were all running late.

I felt certain that there would be no possible way that I would actually have time to walk our son to his school 8 blocks away... thanks to a variety of four year old tantrums and one naked six year old running around the house whooping and hollering with joy. He gleefully refused to put on his clothes ~ until I explained that I would be taking him to school even if he wasn't dressed.

(Amazing how fast he was able to put on his clothes after that suggestion!)

In any event, I was positive that ~ after packing two school lunches and making three breakfasts, plus supervising the dressing of two very fidgety little guys ~ I would end up missing out on my morning walk and have to drive my elder son to school. Then, I realized that despite my own lack of showering or breakfast, I was actually already dressed quite appropriately for a walk!

"The neighbors will never know that this is what I wore yesterday!" I laughed, and went to throw on shoes to match the shirt, sweater and corduroy pants I'd fallen asleep in.

So there you have it - true confessions of a stay-at-home mother with three small children. Sometimes I find myself walking my kid to school wearing yesterday's clothes... and you know what? It still feels great to get the exercise. Showering after a walk and breakfast is not all that bad.

As I pushed my daughter in her stroller and enjoyed the beautiful January weather I began to think about the year we've just entered: 2012. A lot of things have been said about this year, many of which foretell some kind of gloom and doom.

I feel exactly the opposite though! Whenever I think about this new year, I feel a potent surge of energy and happiness. I really believe that 2012 is going to bring many great things and that we have much to be grateful for and excited about. It feels like a special year already.

Many fantastic things have already happened, or are about to happen!

For example, we're looking forward to an upcoming trip to Arizona to celebrate the baby shower for my childhood best friend who is expecting a little boy soon. I'm so excited!

Back in our high school days this same friend predicted that she would be the last out of four of us who were very close friends to have a baby, and I countered her by betting that she would be the first of us to have kids. I'd better bring $5 along with my shower gift, because she won the bet!

I've been waiting a long time then, to celebrate the birth of her darling child. The first time I saw her pregnant, I had a really strong instinct that her baby would be a little boy. It's rare that I get that kind of intuition, but in her case, I felt it 100%.

Sure enough, months later the ultrasound showed that the baby was indeed a boy. I feel like I know this little guy already and I just adore him. I can't wait to lavish him with auntie love. He's going to be one adorable kiddo.

As it turns out, a handful of our dearest friends are expecting new babies in the next month or two. This is just a wonderful thing, such a blessing. How could 2012 be anything but beautiful when it heralds the arrival of such treasured and highly anticipated little souls?

* * *

My husband believes that this will be the year when we at last purchase our 30 year home. The one we retire in... the one we stick to and build our lives and family around. I'm so thrilled about that too!

Also, there is just a huge light beaming at the end of the tunnel right now as my daughter - our youngest - will turn 3 this summer and begin to attend preschool in September. Wow! All three kids in school!!!

As a stay-at-home mother this opens up my future! I could potentially go back to work this year! Or work part-time! I've been thinking about substitute teaching (flexible, fun) at local schools along with my private tutoring. I'm so excited to have many options on the horizon, many possibilities. This will be my first time in seven years without being either pregnant or having a young child to care for in the house.

I'm jazzed!

Lately the kids have gotten to be more and more fun to be around. They've become so interested in the world outside of our home... up for biking, hiking, sports, playdates, games. They raise interesting questions and really think subjects through ~ starting to draw their own conclusions. Even the two year old is dazzling us with the rapid expansion of her vocabulary.

"Mama! Look! I see a bird! He is a black bird! My bird is hungry! I cook for the bird in my pink kitchen! I make him some lettuce!"

She is growing like a weed, tall and sturdy. Capable of knocking both of her brothers down if they try to harass or tease her. I love her sass and her humor! She's quite a girl.

* * *

Lastly, I'm just so darn happy and grateful to be here in 2012. Pretty healthy, too!

About 18 months ago in 2010, I was told by a doctor that I might have a pretty awful autoimmune disease called scleroderma. I had a positive ANA test and my esophagus had stopped working correctly. They referred me to a rheumatologist for further testing.

As I waited for my appointment I read up on scleroderma. The first thing I learned about the illness was that if you get the "worse" diffuse variety, your projected lifespan will range from about 2 to 5 years. Understandably, I was devastated. I tried to imagine what I would be able to accomplish in just two years that would leave an indelible mark upon my children and the world. I dug in my heels and set about looking for answers.

Along the way I learned about the relationship between infection and autoimmunity (e.g. - Lyme disease and scleroderma). I was shocked to come up positive through lab tests for high antibodies to many different kind of bacteria, and three different viruses linked to chronic disease. I read voraciously (still do) and began to learn how to take better care of my body through diet, exercise and supplements ~ including the antibiotic doxycycline.

Nearly two years later, it's remarkable how much better I am feeling! Happily, all bloodwork for scleroderma remains negative (nor have I developed symptoms of that disease). I still have a lot to work on in terms of inflammation and my thyroid but overall I'm doing great! I feel better than I have in years and I'm starting to look like my old self again. I gained a full five pounds in five weeks and no longer look like a skeleton! Yay!!! Back to the old college weight of 119 lbs. Hurray!

* * *

When I read sensationalized headlines on newspapers and magazines about the end of the world in 2012, I have to laugh.

For me, 2012 feels like the BEGINNING of the world. A whole new, clean, beautiful year in which to thrive and succeed. (Even if I end up celebrating the bright days by walking my boy to school in yesterday's clothes...)

I'm thrilled about 2012!
Can't wait to spend it with our family and friends.

If you're reading this (wherever you are and whenever you do) I hope that this beautiful new year brings you health, productivity, happiness and LOVE!

This post stands in lieu of
March 30, 2011 ~ Day 111
A Lost Day