Monday, August 31, 2009

back in the saddle

I just pressed send on the fax machine for paperwork accepting another offer on the house. We've received a few offers over the last few weeks, but none of them even remotely close to anything we would accept, so I haven't even mentioned them. For the last 3 weeks, though, we've had a family with whom we've been going back and forth, and last week they sent me a lovely letter that finally pushed me over the edge. What can I say? I'm a sap! I want my beautiful happy home to go to a beautiful happy family.

Plus, frankly, I'm ready to be done with this. I'm tired of the showings, tired of the perpetual cleaning, tired of this in-between stage where I don't even want to look at preschools for next year because I have no idea where we'll live. I'm still in that same limbo stage, especially since we are looking at 5-6 different towns, all over the map of Massachusetts, but at least I am doing something. Even if that something is staring at the computer screen and willing more houses to come on the market. Sigh.

Thursday morning is the inspection, and next week is the purchase and sale. I'll be keeping fingers and toes crossed, and probably my eyes too, considering how many MLS searches I've been doing, hoping that the perfect house is going to appear on the market any day now. Annnnyyyy day now.

Please please please let this go through.

cleanliness is next to... oh whatever

I've mentioned many times before that I (we) tend toward the very messy side of things. Most of the time, there are messes in every single room of the house, a fact that drives me CRAZY because really, why is our dining room messy? We never even use it, so how can it possibly accumulate junk?

Having the house on the market has been a huge wake-up call. I simply cannot allow the house to get in a serious state of messiness, particularly since we could get a call for a showing at any moment, and lately potential buyers have not been giving me much notice. I've actually had to cancel plans at 11:57am because a buyer wants to come by at 1pm and I need to frantically pick up toys. It has been a struggle, that's for sure.

I have learned some serious lessons about keeping the house clean, though. Some of them are easy, others impossibly hard, but certain tips have improved my life drastically, so I figured I'd share.

1. Get rid of half of your stuff.
I know, I know, it sounds ridiculous, but this is the absolute top of the list of what worked for us. Those toys your kids never play with? Sell them, give them away, get rid of them somehow. You know all those books you have that you may someday possibly read? Chuck them. Or don't chuck them because throwing books away is a mortal sin in my book, but give them away to your friends or sell them at that used bookstore in town and get credit to buy new books you really are going to read! I cannot tell you how much this helped. We got rid of countless pieces of excess furniture, clothes, toys, books, dishes and cookware- all things we hadn't looked at in years and were just holding onto for some imaginary future point in time. Just declutter the heck out of your house, but make it a huge sweep. Look at everything, chairs, couches, extra tables, whatever. Be ruthless.

2. Only keep enough stuff for your house today.
My worst sin was saving stuff for our future home or yard or bedroom that might be bigger. I couldn't throw away stuff that was perfectly good but didn't fit our home now, because what if we move and have a bigger home? I had 5 bookshelves worth of books, but only one bookshelf in this house. Fit your stuff to the space you have today, not some imagined amount of space you might have tomorrow. Unfortunately, this meant we had to get rid of books and cds and empty binders and folders, because this is how much space we had today, not tomorrow. If we do move and do have more space, well, I'm sure it won't take me long (unfortunately) to accumulate more stuff.

3. Find a place for everything.

It sounds obvious, but this one blew my mind. Rather than making piles of junk mail and magazine articles and items that didn't fit anywhere- find or make a place for all of these things. Just take the time to do it once, and it will change your life. It turns out that whole "a place for everything and everything in its place" is true! Who would've thunk it? Now, when the mail comes in, I don't throw it on the table, I toss the junk and then sort the rest into its respective place. The toys in the living room get placed into the appropriate basket and the clothes get put into their dresser drawer or closet spot. No more piles sitting in laundry baskets indefinitely (at least, not every day).

4. Don't make extra work for yourself.

If you are carrying a plate to the kitchen anyway, don't toss it in the sink. Rinse it and place it in the dishwasher. Sure, it'll take 5 extra seconds right then and there, but you won't have to look at the piles of dishes throughout the day, you won't get fruit flies, it won't stink, and you won't have to take 5 minutes to wash them at the end of the day. Don't throw your clothes on the bathroom floor where you'll have to pick them up anyway, just throw them in the hamper. This one has been a tough one for us, because the mental energy we have to expend to stay on top of keeping neat is difficult, but worth it when I don't have to walk into the kitchen at 10pm and find piles of extra work you still have to do.

5. Hold open houses every Sunday so you are forced to clean up. Set up a weekly time to do a quick sweep of the house.
It is amazing what a few minutes on Saturday night will do for your sanity and tidiness. Josh and I do it together and race through the house with the intention of getting through it quickly and settling down to watch a movie. I find this step the hardest of the ones listed above, because this takes actual motivation when you are feeling tired and lazy. It really does take no time at all, and once it becomes a habit, it makes a huge difference.

6. Purchase a basket or laundry basket for different zones in the house.
I went to Target and bought 4 laundry baskets, all the same, for each of the 4 members of our family. The laundry baskets are on the smaller size, so they don't take up too much space, and they are all exactly the same so I can stack them when they are not in use. When I do laundry, I fold each person's load straight into their respective laundry basket and then carry it up to their room. When I do a big clean up also, I use those laundry baskets to get each person's stuff back in their room too. So Gabe's cars, trucks, and trains all get piled into his laundry basket and placed in his room. These laundry baskets are small enough to fit on our closet floors, so if I can get to it to put away his toys and laundry- great! If not, I shove the basket into his closet and tackle it tomorrow when I'm getting him up or dressed or playing in his room. In a pinch, I've even shoved these baskets into the car when we have a showing and I don't want the closet to look crowded. 4 smaller baskets feel much easier to tackle then one heaping pile of clothes. Also, what do you do when you need your child's clothes at the bottom of the pile, and tons of clothes are sitting on top? This way, I'm hoping I'll even be able to teach Gabe to put away his clothes relatively soon. I'm also keeping better track of everyone's clothes because all mismatched socks or loose toys all get put into one (or four) central spots and I know where to find them.

I'm by no means an expert, but as a messy person who has now kept the house neat and clean for 2+ months without a major slip-up, I feel like I have learned some valuable tips for changing our life. I've also been shocked, honestly, at how much easier it is to keep the house clean when it is all picked up! It takes me no time at all to dust and vacuum and wipe down surfaces when I don't have to spend 2 hours beforehand picking up toys and clothes. That being said, I'm anxiously awaiting the day when I don't have to keep the house in this perfect state every day and we don't have any more showings. But I know I won't let it get to the same point it was before, that's for sure.

Any other tips that are helpful to you?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

my work here is done

This evening we walked into a fabric department store where they had already set up several aisles of Halloween decorations.

Gabe ran from the front door straight toward a display of ghosts, witches, and skeletons, before loudly exclaiming, "Mommy! Look at this! I LOVE HALLOWEEN!"

And folks, I honest to goodness almost cried right then and there. This may be one of my proudest moments of parenting thus far.

Monday, August 24, 2009

rinse and repeat

Am I the only person that finds playing with toddlers to be mind-numbingly boring?

I feel horrible saying this, but the repetition is killing me. Of course, I sit there anyway and smile and nod and encourage him to turn that puzzle piece one more time, no the other way, no the OTHER way, no seriously, oh forget it. But there are moments when I want to jab my ears with a pencil.

I do love the playdoh, and the coloring, and I certainly love the cute things he says, like pressing two trucks together and calling them a truck sandwich, or telling Josh he loves him and he is his best friend. Still, though, I sit and play and itch to turn on the television or start lunch. I keep reminding myself that not so far from now he'll be a teenager who won't even want to look my way, much less spend his mornings playing with me on the floor. That should buy me ten more minutes of patience, at least.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

better than ice cream, definitely

I have rediscovered the library. No surprise there, I guess, since everyone is trying to save money these days. I do think it is surprising that I ever stopped going to the library, however. I am a huge lover of all things having to do with the library. I loved the feeling of being surrounded by bajillions of books. I loved to study there in law school, would do most of my work there in college, even some of my earliest memories of childhood take place in libraries.

My mom used to take me to the library in downtown San Francisco on a weekly basis, and I can remember stomping up and down the stairs in the sweeping entrance. I would climb to the top of the staircase and then slide down the smooth surface under the banisters right next to the steps. If I think hard, I can almost feel the coolness of the dim hallways, hear the way my feet would make echoes as we walked from room to room. She never gave me a limit on how many books I could take home, and I would obsess over my choices, filling up a huge bag that we would tote to the checkout.

I really love libraries.

It is different with a toddler and a baby, of course. My trips to the library are rushed and hectic, trying to manage the task of picking out books for Gabe and Josie, and then running quickly through the adult section with only 30 seconds to pick out books for myself. I hit the gold mine this week, though.

I am one of those people who cannot put down a book, even if I don't like it, even if I think it is terrible. I have to see it through, find out how it ends, give the author a chance to redeem herself. When I find a book I love, I am almost an addict. I can't stop reading; I stay up late to get through one more chapter that turns into ten more chapters. It is terrible. Sometimes I even force myself to take a break from reading and that never-ending draw of the novel on my nightstand.

This book, though. Wow. This book is so good, I don't want to stay up late reading it, I want to draw it out. I want to make it last all week rather than rush to find out how it ends. A book like this is, well, I don't know. I won't say it is better than sex, but it is close.

Tell me you've read something this good this summer, please. I'm not done yet, but I'm already feeling how disappointing it is going to be to close these pages and slide it into the library return slot.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I admit, I'm a lunatic

Josh's aunt agreed to babysit the other night so Josh and I could go out to dinner (!!!) with a few of Josh's colleagues. Although I would have loved to have a night alone with him, I was happy to get the chance to spend a bit more time with colleagues because I try desperately to stay connected into his work life and his time away from us, especially since I am staying home with the kids for now. I don't want my one and only topic of conversation with him to be the kids, so I'm always interested in his work gossip and new projects. Or at least, I pretend to be interested, you know?

Anyway, we were driving home from the restaurant and decided to split up and try two separate routes because we disagree on the fastest way to get home. My route, I think, is faster because I don't have to cross through this messy traffic circle, but it does take me through a not great area of a neighboring town. Not terrible, but not great.

I pulled away from him and started down the road, following a black Honda Civic as we sped through the dark streets. A few minutes later, the Honda Civic pulled up to a stop sign, on a street full of untended homes and packed with parked cars. In an instant, he'd stopped the car, opened his door, and started to walk back toward me. I had a moment of total confusion- why was he stopping his car, why was he walking toward me, what could he possibly want- before I reacted.

I slammed my hand down on the car door locks, threw the car in reverse, and started to back up faster than he could walk toward me. I groped with my other hand for my cell phone, ready to call 911 if he came any closer.

I don't know if he could see my face and could tell how frightened I was, or whether he reacted from his own realization that I must have been afraid, but he put his hands in the air, the way you would do if someone was pointing a weapon at you. As he came closer, I saw that he was young, maybe 19 or 20, blond, dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, looking like a local college student.

"Your headlight is burnt out!" he yelled through the closed window. "What?" I yelled back. "Your headlight, one of them is out! I just wanted you to know. Sorry!" I felt a rush of embarrassment, but I still wasn't getting out of the car, or letting him get any closer. "Oh, thanks! Thanks! Sorry!" He quickly ran to his car, put it in gear and drove away.

I spent the rest of the drive feeling sheepish, and wondering what the world is coming to that I thought a good Samaritan was trying to car jack or assault me or something. But really, what else could I think? The alternative, waiting like a sitting duck for a strange man to approach my open car window on a dark street? That doesn't sit well either.

Truthfully, you still never know, I guess. My headlight was burnt out, but what if you got out of the car to look and it was all a ploy to get you to exit your car? I don't know, I guess this is my mind going to dark places, but unfortunately, I do think you have to be careful these days. I'd like to think the whole thing was a misunderstanding on my part and he was just a nice kid who wanted to tell me about my broken headlight. Would you have done the same thing? Was I overreacting?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

maybe comcast will deliver freshly popped popcorn and sodas

Last night I was watching television, some new crime show I'd never seen before, and I couldn't help marveling at the camera work. Shots that panned in and out, close-ups and dramatic zooming- the whole thing seemed remarkably artistic. Combine the fancy camera work with high definition, and it felt more like being at the movies than watching a regular tv on a week night.

I couldn't help thinking that we never could have anticipated this, even a decade or two ago, when a sitcom consisted of a camera watching people chat in a living room, or a coffee house, or on the street. Nothing special, nothing out of the ordinary, the show was simply about the interaction with the characters on the screen, nothing else. Last night's show was about far more than just the conversations on the screen. It felt like I was watching this carefully choreographed dance between the scenery, settings, and the people.

I wonder what television will be like when Gabe and Josie grow up. He already lives in a world without commercials and without having to wait for a show to come on (thanks to DVR). He doesn't believe me when I say a particular show isn't available on tv, he'll just hand me the remote and tell me to find it on the tv. What do you think? Maybe holograms? Maybe everything will be 3-D? Maybe we'll have movie theaters in our house?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

and a new school wardrobe too

It's funny, I was so ready to be done with college when it ended, but whenever August comes around, I feel this pang of wishing I were shopping for folders and bedding and posters and planning for roommates and classes and all of that. I miss that excitement and anticipation of a new school year and new teachers and new things to be learned. All this knowledge lying in front of me, and no expectations. At that point, I wasn't sure what I'd do or where I'd go or what I'd become. The sky was the limit.

Not much has changed, in truth. I still don't know what I'll do or where I'll go or what I'll become, I guess, although now I do all my imagining with two kids and a husband in tow.

I do miss those new folders, though.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

maybe a vacation from my vacation will do the trick

We're back from our vacation, and everyone had a good time. My in laws rented a house for the week, and except for some typical frustrations when you are sharing a house with 6 other people, we had a fantastic time. The weather was (shockingly) great, all the kids got along famously, and it was lovely to spend quality time with family. Add into that mix lots of fried fish and ice cream, and it was almost heaven. We even made a one day trip out to Nantucket, and I promptly fell in love with the island. Wow. Talk about charming! I was ready to sell our house to the lowest bidders and move to a shack on the edge of town.

We were staying in Harwichport, a cute town with a cute town center, in a great location in the middle of Cape Cod. We were able to easily visit several of the other towns, like Chatham, Wellfleet, Provincetown, and Hyannis. A few years ago, Josh and I stayed in Chatham in January, and seeing it during the summer was obviously dramatically different. The Cape in the winter is beautiful, but it is clearly in its prime in August. The crowds! The sun! The yummy food! Sigh. I wish we were back already.

We've only been back for a couple of days and I'm already reacquiring the stress from this whole house-selling situation. I don't want to seem ungrateful, because clearly we are incredibly fortunate to even be considering a move to a larger house and obviously no one is forcing us to move and I should probably keep my trap shut about my complaints, so let's get all of those statements out of the way. That being said, selling a house is HARD. Selling a house with two kids less than two years apart who have a lot of shit is hard. Selling a house with two kids and two dogs is also very hard. Keeping the house spotless all the time because people ask for showings on almost no notice is ridiculously hard. Having people CONSTANTLY ask for showings in the middle of naptime is enough to make you want to tear out your hair.

As we were getting ready to leave for the beach, I literally had to wait until 7pm on Friday night to start packing because we had showings scheduled until 5:30 on Friday evening. The only thing I could do was make a pile of clothing that I shoved into a garbage bag and then shoved that bag into the attic since I didn't want to make a mess in the house, and I also didn't want to advertise that we were going out of town (for obvious reasons). Then the house had to be left in perfect condition since we had open houses and showings all week.

I haven't even fully unpacked the car since I can't just unload everything into the house until I can actually put it away, lest I make a mess and have someone ask for a showing. Suffice to say, the process is EXHAUSTING. Add a business trip for Josh into the mix, and I am ready to raise the white flag of surrender.

Again, I'm totally grateful and I know this is exciting, and we are so fortunate, but seriously, I am tired. I'm almost ready to take the house off the market and deal with a small house for another year. Only the prospect of doing this again a year from now when I have TWO mobile children keeps me from pulling the plug. The thought almost makes me want to cry. So we'll stick it out for a little longer and hope someone comes in with an offer we like. We've had 3 more offers so far, each lower than the last one. One of the offers seemed promising, and we negotiated back and forth for quite a while, but they finally refused to come up and they refused to come down, plus they kept throwing in silly demands, and we finally rejected the whole thing. It kills us to do that, but if we have to lose a ton of money, it just isn't worth it for us to sell right now.

And... wow. Look at that. 5 minutes in and I've already depressed myself. On to happier topics!

The kiddos are totally awesome, by the way. They were amazing during the vacation and slept in their stroller or the car when we needed them to, they even shared a room in the Cape house (which they'd never done before) and except for some minor hiccups, it was great. Gabe is fearless and funny and sweet and says the craziest things. He gave me a whole play by play about what would happen to a crab on the beach if he tried to touch it. It would bite him, he would cry, the crab would go in time-out because the mommy crab would get angry because the baby crab wasn't listening to her. Hmm, sounds familiar, can't imagine why.

He still eats everything (still surprising to me) and I mean everything- brussels sprouts, salmon, couscous, soups, meat, you name it, he'll eat it. Although the two year old thing is kicking my ass, I still find him to be relatively reasonable on most things. He doesn't throw many tantrums, and our major complaint is the lack of listening. I'm wondering if two year olds suffer from some kind of hearing deficiency or something.

Josie is desperately trying to crawl, up on all fours, rocking and scooting backward. She is also making a decent attempt at talking. She will look right at me, and if I say "mama" to her, she will repeat "mama" right back. But does that count as saying a word? I feel like it doesn't, but Josh thinks it does because she will also scream "MAMA MAMA MAMA" when I put her down in her crib and she wants out. Gabe's first word was this very deliberate, looking right at me when I walked into the room, arms up, "mama". This seems more random, but who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth?

She is also delicious adorable, and frantically tries to make eye contact with people and then grins and bats her little eyelashes and shakes her head from side to side as if she were saying no. I think she is imitating people who walk up to her and shake their heads saying, "Oh, aren't you a cute little thing?" and now she thinks that is how you communicate with people. It is pretty funny.

I took approximately 89,372 photos on the trip, and I will upload shortly and share. And that's all the news for now. Oh! I also finished a quilt for Josie while on vacation! Well, a quilt top. I will take the quilt top to be quilted to the quilt bottom this week and then it will be a real quilt. I'll take pictures of that too.

How is summer going for you?