Sunday, January 30, 2011

Is a beehive the same as insulation?

About ten years ago I read this article  from The Onion.  If you don't feel like reading the whole thing (and I think you should), it's a point/counterpoint that contrasts an entitled little twit of a teen who is "so starving" because she ate junk food for lunch and has to wait for dinner to be ready and an impoverished child in a third-world country who is "so starving" because, well, because he is starving.  She is fortunate beyond his wildest imagination, and she has zero appreciation for that fact.  It still makes my stomach hurt when I read it, even though it's technically funny, and it has inspired me ever since.  Yes, lifelong inspiration (and entertainment!) from The Onion.  I tell you all this because many people lately have suggested that we are brave for what we did and are doing, or wonder at how we can stay positive through this whole process, and all I can say is that whenever I start feeling frustrated or hopeless or exhausted, I remind myself to be grateful for our many, many gifts, because while we may sometimes be "starving" we are never, ever so. starving.


Now we're all at the house and we can flush the toilet and turn on (most of) the lights, so clearly it is time to have a dinner party.  Oh wait- we're scared to go into the kitchen.  See, there was this mysterious odor coming from that room, some of it from the floor, which was very soft right there when you put any weight on it.  And there was mildewed wallpaper peeling off the walls...

and when I looked under the sink "to see what we're dealing with", I found (deep breath)  a snake skin.  The skin from a snake, which was no longer on that snake, but which had previously been on a snake, a snake who had grown too large for the skin and so had shed that skin...UNDER MY KITCHEN SINK.  And do you know what Tommy had to say to that?  Do you?  DO YOU?!?!  "Well" he says calmly, as he is wont to do right after I have just found a snake skin under my kitchen sink, "that's probably why we haven't seen any rodents."  

Yes friends, that is approximately when we decided we had to gut the entire kitchen instead of just slapping some vinyl tiles over that rough patch on the floor as I had originally intended.  Oh, and also when we realized there were no electrical outlets, except the one for the fridge, the wires for which were run up from the basement through a hole in the sub-floor and linoleum on the outside of the drywall.  Now if you are one of those lucky humans who has no idea what those words mean in that order all smashed together in the same sentence, just know that it was bad.  Bad and wrong.  BADONG!

After spending an obscene amount of money (at least to my frugal sensibilities) on stock cabinetry and counter tops from Lowe's, which made me second guess this whole gutting business, we then proceeded to discover that we had no insulation between the studs on that exterior kitchen wall but instead did have a beehive. 

And TWO actual, live snakes.  Who were kind enough to leave, allowing Tommy to blockade their little "door".  And I second-guessed no more.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Calculus: it's easier than you think

Tomorrow morning my husband is taking our two oldest girls with him on an impromptu business trip to Toronto.  This post isn't about how great of a dad he is, although I am gonna go ahead throw that in there, real quick-like.  What it really got me thinking about is how being in the middle of everywhere is a lot different from being in the middle of nowhere, and that fact is one of the many reasons we chose this location.  Hold on while I find out the average list price for homes in our town..... (cue Jeopardy theme music)


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Now by doing some elementary calculus I have been able to discern that $27K is less than (this is the little symbol you'll want to use: < ) $156K and a whole lot less than (as signified by this symbol: <<<<<<!!!!!) $399,851.  Bet you didn't know I was such a math whiz, did you?  So I says to myself, way back when before we bought a house off the internet, I says "this house seems like a pretty good deal".

Then, of course, I got out my trusty map (okay, that's a lie...I looked at Google maps online) and would you believe it....the house is exactly halfway between Chicago & Detroit, less than 2 hours from South Bend, IN (helllooooooo, Notre Dame!) or Ann Arbor (hola, Univeristy of Michigan!), and just one hour from Lansing (bonjour, Michigan State!) or Grand Rapids (!).  And Kalamazoo is right over there, and Battle Creek is right over there....but we'd get to be in the country, on a dirt road.  With dogs!  And chickens!  But with wireless high-speed internet access!   And no mortgage.

Dude, hold the phone- I just decided to draw a circle around our house, the radius of which is the distance that Tommy will be driving tomorrow to get to Toronto.  Do you know what is inside that circle?!?!?  Everything.  Okay, not everything, but lemme just say that it includes....wait, I'll show you!

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Don't lie, you know you're impressed by my amazing graphic design skills.

So basically what you're telling me is that we could drive to any of these places for a weekend trip?  What is that, like, 7 states or something?  Pittsburgh?  Cleveland?  Louisville?  Indianapolis?  Milwaukee?  Chicago?  Detroit?  St. Louis almost made it in there even!    Man, America is cool.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bathing in the sink of the public restroom at McDonald's

How to Make your House Habitable in 3 Easy Steps

1. Come up with a bunch of crazy ideas and demands
2. Have an awesome (AWESOME) aunt who invites you and all four of your children to stay at her house
3. Have summertime fun in Grosse Pointe whilst awesome (AWESOME) husband sleeps on the floor and does all the work.

Voila!  End of blog.

Just kidding.

Well, I'm not kidding about having an awesome aunt (who CHANGED OUR LIVES the day she told us to stay at her real house and eat her real food and bask in the glory of her real air conditioner in her real fabulous neighborhood in Grosse Pointe Woods.  Aunt Alicia, if you are reading this, you were Jesus to me that day!) or that we abandoned Tommy.  Poor, poor Tommy, who stayed back alone, and slept on an air mattress in the living room in a house with no air conditioner (and no electricity and no running water) in the middle of July.  Who had to drive to McDonald's to eat and to "bathe" in the sink of their public restroom.  Poor Tommy, who had never lived in "the kuntry" and so was not prepared for the chorus of noises that a herd of frogs and crickets can make in the middle of the night, which you can hear quite clearly when you have to have the windows open because you have no air conditioner (and no electricity and no running water).  Who had to learn how to rewire a house because the electrical system was so f-ed up (excuse my language, but it's the truth)
that even a professional electrician was not willing to risk his life working on it.  Who ran new lines for plumbing even though he hates plumbing with the burning passion of a thousand suns.  Who had the shockingly disgusting red shag carpet (the padding of which harbored a certain order that was distinct from, but as gross as, the stench emanating from the kitchen)
removed from the west side of the house and replaced with brand new, baby-friendly, wonderfully-boring beige, upon which children can safely build lego monuments to Harry Potter... 

No, I am not kidding about any of that.  What I am kidding about is that that was the end.  Really, that was just the work that needed to be done so that we could start doing the work.  So for five days I wallowed in the joys of family whilst Tommy wallowed in the agony of narrowly-avoiding-death-by-electrocution, and when we returned, we found a house that, although a thousand miles from perfect, was totally sleepable.  We flicked a switch: lights!  We turned on the faucet: water!  We plugged in the microwave: popcorn!  What we had so easily taken for granted before, we now reveled in.  Who gives a flying fartnugget what some celebrity said to another celebrity or which purse is more awesome than the purse I already have or which professional sports team has bested which opposing professional sports team?  WE HAVE INDOOR PLUMBING!  

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mexican food and the BIG Dos Equis

What would you do if you were in a new state with four kids, had no idea where you were going to stay or how you were going to fix your house and there were a million phone calls you needed to make and several thousands of dollars you needed to spend at hardware stores?  Yep, that’s what I thought: have a beer.  So that’s what we did.  We found a real Mexican restaurant, owned and run by real Mexicans (I’m only saying it like that because that's another thing lots of people told us: you'll never find good Mexican food in Michigan!) and promptly collapsed into a booth. 

Server: Whadaju like to dreenk?
Tommy: Do you have Dos Equis?
Server: Da bottle or on da draft?
Tommy:  Ooooooh, draft?  Yes, draft!
Server: Da beeg one or da….
Tommy: BIG!

Oh how I wish you could have seen the sparkle in that man’s eyes when our darling waiter rounded the corner carrying his trough of amber deliciousness.  Mexican food and the BIG Dos Equis cures what ails ya, even if what ails ya is a house with no plumbing or wiring and a suspicious odor emanating from the floor in a room that we suspect was once used as a kitchen.  

 That night we stayed at our pre-booked hotel in downtown Battle Creek and made the hasty decision to find an extended-stay hotel for a week (well, 6 days.  Just six days.).  The only semi-affordable option with a 6 day vacancy available starting the very next night was the “Staybridge Suites Kalamazoo”, located very conveniently on the absolute opposite side of Kalamazoo county, 

image source

a mere 51 minute drive from our house (each way!) taking the quickest construction-season route, tucked neatly behind the dumpsters stored at the rear of McDonald’s, adjacent to the pristine parking lot of a Save-a-Lot Foods.

Aha!  Blessing number 3,623!  Because we would never have picked this place if we had had the choice, so thank God we didn't, because it was awesome.  Clean and updated, with free breakfast every day, free dinner almost every night, unlimited use of the free laundry facilities (that one deserves its very own hallelujah), gym, and fabulous indoor swimming pool and spa.  We had our own kitchen and TWO televisions.  We don't even have two televisions in our own house!

But despite the relative awesomeness of our sleeping situation, we did still have to drive 51 minutes each way to a house that had no functioning toilet with four kids, one of whom was immobile but could not be placed on the floor for fear that she would fall through it.  And therefore, at the end of those six days, I was starting to feel a little frazzled...

Monday, January 24, 2011

"Hmmmm, maybe we should look at a map."

"Hope you got your own snow plow.  You're gonna need it!"

If I had a dollar for every time someone said this to us when they found out we were going to move to Michigan, I would have at least $217.  At least.  But guess what?  It's just not true.  It really isn't.  It is the end of January and we are in Michigan and we have not once needed our own snow plow.    Now I totally get it if you want to have your own snow plow, because we gots a bunch of snow 'round here and stuff, but you don't need oneNo really, they have city and county services here that plow and salt the roads for us.  I know, it's the craziest thing.  Plus, and this will probably come as a shock to many people as it did to us when we finally looked at a map....we are not that far north.  It's true!  We are totally not in the greater Juneau, Alaska metro area.  In fact, I have acquired a map to illustrate my point, that point being: there are parts of 17, seventeen!, (18 if you count Alaska) states in this great country that are north of our house, not to mention the entire country of Canada.  Observe...
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I know!  I totally freaked out when I saw it too!  The map in my brain had Michigan right next door to the Yukon Territory.  And when I was a kid, I used to live here.

Okay, I thought, if I was totally wrong about our relative location in this fine country, maybe I should now take a gander at a map of the world (prepare to have your mind blown again!).
image source

Holy mackerel, Andy....almost the entire. continent. of. Europe is north of my house.  Europe!  Where people go on fancy, expensive vacations!  If I said we were moving to London, would anyone inquire as to the brand of my snow plow?  Well next time maybe they should.

What I'm getting at is this: don't knock a place just because of its location.  This state is awesome.  We get to enjoy all four seasons.  We've got beautiful beaches.  We've got great schools and fertile soil and wonderful people and ample rainfall.  And we are south of Paris.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I guess sometimes Jesus wears polyester shorts

How do I make seeing the light of Christ entertaining? That's what I've been wrestling with in my mind all night and all morning. I can't just say "When we moved here, we basked in the light of Jesus" and then stop. No one would ever read this blog again. I can't even say "and he had a white beard", because most people imagine Jesus with a beard, and so it's still not funny. How about this: When we moved here, we saw the light of Jesus and He was wearing polyester shorts. Also He was a woman with red hair (who we'll get to on another day).

After we closed on our house but before we had left California, Tommy had the brilliant idea to call our one and only neighbor, ostensibly to introduce ourselves, but really because we were scared that the reason our house had been on the market for so long was that it shared a fence with some kind of psycho, like an axe murderer or an amateur metal-band guitarist. Much to our relief, the littler white house is owned by a single, retired army officer who does genealogy reports for families and is the music director at his church. He told us that the storm door on our house was broken and that there were a lot of walnut trees. Whew! Another bullet dodged! And we would have been perfectly content had it ended there, but it didn't.

Flash forward to Mike Tyson-punches-you-while-you're-in-labor-and-have-food-poisoning. Here comes Gordon, his elastic-waist, polyester shorts neatly pressed, white beard trimmed just so, his arms filled with love and kindness. The minute he got off the phone that day with Tommy, you see, he started collecting things for us- event calendars, family activities lists, local newspapers, coupons to nearby restaurants. In another basket was a coffee mug filled with Hershey's kisses and mints and a wooden pen that he had carved by hand after he found out that Tommy was a woodworker. And rolled up neatly with all the other goodies was this amazing list that he had put together just for us, filled with all his trusted service-people and friends, in case we needed anything when we arrived.

As you can see, this beautiful list has been used and abused and loved and is still absolutely indispensable to us on this journey, all because of the kindness of a stranger. And to top it off, as if all that wasn't already enough, we found out that he had his entire congregation praying for our safety and happiness as we drove our silly selves across this great country. Hundreds of people that we didn't even know had been thinking, hoping, praying that we, a little family from California who they might never know would make it safely to our new home. The light of Christ shown brightly on us that afternoon and we knew everything would be okay.

Friday, January 21, 2011

How much does it cost to build an outhouse?

If you've ever been in labor, then it'll be a little easier for you to appreciate what those first few days were like for us. And when I compare this experience to labor, I'm not talking about the pain. The pain I can deal with. Three of my four children were born sans epidural and I can say with certainty that the pain is not the hardest part of labor for me. No, the pain's like a challenge, and boy do I love a good challenge. I mean, tell me that other people have done it, but it's really hard, so probably I should just not consider it, because, you know, it's hard and stuff....well, those words are a first-class ticket to Get Ready to be Impressed Land. But along with this love of challenges usually comes a propensity to be a little controlling. And my husband will tell you that by "a little controlling" I mean "an absolute control freak." And that, the complete lack of control, is the hardest part of labor for me. I can't decide when it starts. I can't decide when it ends. I can't decide how or for how long or what the results will be. There is no pause button, and there is no. going. back.

The plain truth is that what we wanted that first day (and the second, and the third and the tenth....) was a big ol' rewind button, or at the very least an anesthesiologist ready to administer a delicious Life-epidural. We really and truly wanted to get back in the van and drive 5 days, 36 hours on the road, back to our old life and pretend none of this, this insanity, was happening. But then we looked at their sweet faces...

all full of trust and hope, the younger ones so sweetly oblivious to this disaster, the older ones silently pleading with us to make it all better, to make it the beautiful home and the wonderful life that we had promised. So even though we had no idea where we were going to stay, in a brand new city in a brand new state, and we were pretty sure that we would be cooking our food over a fire in that rusty barrel and using our savings to build an outhouse in our jungle, we knew there was no. going. back.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Put your hands in the air and shake your...

Just so you know how big of a dork I am, I'll admit that I googled "average price of car" before I started this post because I was pretty sure that this house, and the beautiful land it sits on, cost about the same as most vehicles, but I didn't wanna just say it and have some wise-acre comment something like "Actually (wise-acres love to start comments with the word 'actually'), according to the FTC....blah, blah, blah". So I did, and I was right. But also wrong. Because it cost us less than the average price of a new car. I am seriously (still) not making any of this up. Yes my friend, this "fixer", which made me cry in front of the whole internet yesterday, cost us all of $27,000. No, I didn't forget a zero or accidentally write a 2 instead of a 9. Less than the cost of one Toyota Sienna.

I'll give you a second to pick up your jaw.

And despite how bad those pictures look and how absolutely helpless we felt that first day (and the second, and the third and the tenth....) we have been totally living here ever since that lil wirin'-n-plumbin' debacle got squared away. Which means we have a real house, with walls and floors and a fireplace and what we discovered was a new roof and....


OhmylordyJesus, I still get giddy when I say those words. I mean, helloooooooo retirement at 50! Who would have even thought such a thing was possible? I am 30 years old folks. THIRTY. Now if that is not something to rejoice about, to throw your hands up at and do a big ol' booty-shake-in-thanksgiving, then I don't know what is. Why don't we all just take a moment to do just that, shall we?

.....shake it....shake it....shake it....SHAKE IT!!!!

Oops, got a little carried away again...

And so when I look at the dirt-colored, textured 70's linoleum that still holds that coveted place directly in our entry-way, or I get my sweater snagged on yet another useless nail that was pounded into the wood paneling at just the wrong height by the same ridiculous person that wallpapered the closet doors, I say "Hello disgusting linoleum...I OWN YOU!" and "Yes Mr. Nail, I do believe you have just breathed your last, for I AM YOUR MASTER!". Then I throw my hands up and give the ol' tush a little jiggle.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Has Mike Tyson ever punched you in the gut?

This is the part where it gets really hard for me, and I'll tell you why. I have this problem, wait...disease, that makes me really good at sharing joy but very terrible at sharing sorrow. Even when you think I'm telling you something bad, it's really only so that you can feel good, or laugh, or I can end it with a punchline, and then you feel good, or laugh. But when it comes down to the real stuff, the other side of the happy-happy-joy-joy, well, that's when things get sticky. 'Cause it's hard for me to imagine a frown on your face or worry in your heart because of what I just said. What I'm trying to say is this: I hate bein' a downer. But in order for you to really appreciate this miraculous (and by "miraculous" I mean MIRACULOUS!!!!!!) journey, I'm gonna have to go there, so brace yourself.

Imagine driving for 5 days, 36 hours on the road, with 4 kids, two of whom are still in diapers, and two of whom are choking back tears at every turn, everyone looking forward to what they pray will be the most amazing, fun, adventurous summer of their lives and then, when you put the car in park, being punched in the gut. Really hard. By Mike Tyson. Yeah, that's how it felt when we got here, only it was worse. Like if Mike Tyson punched you in the gut when you had food poisoning while making you listen to someone rub two huge pieces of styrofoam together.

It was the middle of July when we crossed into Michigan, not too hot, but very humid (something we were sorely unaccustomed to coming from the inland region of southern California). All of us were coated in that long-road-trip grease and had that I've-eaten-too-much-trail-mix-and-Doritos feeling in our stomachs. And at least three of us had to pee. Reasonable people would have gone straight to the hotel (which we had booked for ONE night) , but reasonable people would not have bought a house off the internet in a place they'd never been, so let's not make any assumptions, shall we? No, we went straight to our house. The one we'd never seen. That was a "fixer".

And someone had broken in and stolen all the wiring and the plumbing and the guts of the air conditioner to sell for scrap, so we had no electricity and no water and it was hot. You know how they say difficult things bring you closer to God? That's the day I got God's cell phone number.

And I cried.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why Michigan?

It's not all that overwhelming for me, apparently, to imagine moving and renovating and having four kids simultaneously, but knowing where to start with all of....this, the story-telling business, has got me in a little bit of a tizzy. I mean "I was born in Los Angeles...." might be a little too far back, but eventually I'll probably have to go there for you to fully appreciate the intricacies of my neuroses. So for now, I'll start with the number one most-often asked question: Why Michigan? Or should I say "Why MIchigan?!?!?", asked in approximately the same tone as you might ask your son why he had just eaten a gigantic pile of dog poo. Frankly, I'm surprised some of them didn't spit after saying the word just to get the foul taste of it out of their mouths. Visions of a frozen tundra besprinkled with tagging-obsessed youngsters, freely gutting stolen vehicles right in front of helpless law enforcement personnel danced in their heads. To them, Mad Max has got nothin' on the-entire-state-of-Michigan, it seems. So before I ramble on about the beautiful change of seasons or the copious spring fed lakes or the thousands (literally) of miles of coastline or our close proximity to excellent universities or the CHEAPEST REAL ESTATE YOU'VE EVER SEEN IN YOUR LIFE (oops, sorry. Got a little carried away with that part. Whew...), let me share a few photos of the scenery on and around our property...
the view across the road from our front yard

the roof of our barn and ice covered branches

our road in late summer

a boy and his dog take a stroll

big sister and little brother read under the shade of their maple tree

from our backyard, looking into our woods at sunset

a late-afternoon dip in the clear waters of Gull Lake

the road home

Now, I know that scenery isn't everything, but I gotta tell ya...when the kids are arguing about which episode of Thomas and Friends features which celebrity voice and the dog has eaten your shoe and you discover that there is no insulation in the exterior wall of your kitchen, it sure does help.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hope Trumps Fear

It's been six months since we packed up all our earthly belongings (which weren't many since we sold them all on craigslist and ate dinner off of cardboard boxes for several days...but I'm getting ahead of myself) and drove our ill-advised selves and our unwitting brood of children, the youngest of whom was a fresh three months old, from California to Michigan to start this crazy adventure. And by "crazy" adventure I mean "absolutely insane/no one in their right mind would ever dream of doing that/you people must be smoking some serious crack to even consider such a thing" adventure. And that absoluely insane/no one in their right mind would ever dream of doing that/you people must be smoking some serious crack to even consider such a thing is that we bought a house off of the internet...without ever having seen it. Oh yes we did. No, I am not making this up. And it's not just a house, no sir. It's a "fixer". Oh yeah, I know. I KNOW.

Hopefully, every ridiculous, mind boggling, holy-cow-that-cannot-be-true thing that led up to today and whatever strange, amazing things lie ahead of us will eventually be layed out here in black and white for your general amusement (with the side benefit of making you feel like an absolute friggin' genius in comparison to us goobers) but for now just know that it worked. Somehow, it is wonderful. Not everything is great or happy or clean or pretty all the time, but it doesn't have to be. It just has to be Good, which it is.
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