Monday, May 30, 2011

House Hunting, Part II

Towards the end of our search, as we started broadening our parameters, narrowing in on locations and (of course) upping our price range, we found more houses that were "agreeable."  Not perfect, not even fantastic, but would definitely work.  And I think that's one of the big differences between our experience and that of some of our other recent homebuying friends.  We weren't looking for our forever home, or even for a while home.  We were looking for a place that could fit our family for the next three years and, more importantly, sell easily after that.  So we were trying to look for the same kind of house that everyone else is looking for.  Turns out, that would be a two-story colonial with 4 bedrooms and 2+ baths.  They're the most popular house on the market.  And they can go fairly quickly.  The interesting part about this whole house search was that while we were going into it as homebuyers, first time ones at that, we were constantly trying to see each house as a future seller, always trying to juggle both views.  For us, the scariest thing about becoming a homeowner is the fear of getting "stuck" with a house when we're restationed in a few years.  Although it would be awesome if we could make a little money off our home when it's time to sell, we'll just be more than happy if we can sell quickly and break even.  It's a risk, but we feel it's a good time for us to make it.  And we're pretty excited.

So during our final days of searching, the days when everyone was dealing with a stomach bug and Jude threw up in my hands in the car on the way to the realtor's office.  The days when I happened to have a change of clothes for the poor kid but not a way to get the aromatic barf scent off my own self.  The days when we always ended up dragging Jack away from some cool toy, mud puddle, slide, etc. kicking and screaming because he didn't want to get in the car and go to the next house.  Those days.  We came across a few "good ones."

One of the houses was a blossoming little cape cod in a sweet neighborhood that was not only a superb location (and close to Jon's work) but also happened to have boat access and a community beach.  Double score!  The landscaping and gardening around the house were bright and cheery, but the house itself left a bit to be desired.  The layout and design made it appear dreary and confusing.  The carpet was brand new, which is nice if you like carpet, so we had to wear special little bootie things over our shoes so as not to track dirt.  According to the listing description the kitchen was updated.  But if that was updated I'm curious to see the original!  We're willing to make necessary changes but the difficulty with this kitchen was the layout ... and the fact that the washer and dryer were located under the kitchen countertops. :( 

The house had four good-sized bedrooms, but they weren't all on the same floor (which I would find annoying with little kids).  And the central air unit, or whatever it was hiding in the hall closet, was so loud my brain was rattling by the time we left.  Despite it's quirks, we couldn't deny the fact that the house had great bones, a charming yard and was in a perfect location!

The second list-topper was a delightful little split-level in a highly-desirable neighborhood.  (Do I sound like I could write MLS listings yet?).  While small on space, it was big on charm.  And we do love some charm in this family.  Original hardwood floors, crown molding, a fireplace, and loads of natural light.  It wasn't a colonial, and it technically didn't have 4 bedrooms.  Instead it had a "theater room" and a garage that had been converted to an office.  But the backyard was a little boys' dream.  Swings, slide, clubhouse, tree stumps to climb, dirt piles to dig in and lots of ground to explore.  And trees.  Big, tall shady trees that will just dump loads and loads of leaves on the ground this fall... that Jon will have to rake up. 

Even though it was about 500 square feet smaller than our current place, we really liked the rooms and layout.  The only major hang-up was the kitchen.  It wasn't updated, which is okay with me.  I'm no chef, I can totally work with older appliances.  But it was also rather small.  As in, very few cabinets and even less counter space.  If we ended up there, I would definitely have to be creative with storage!  We also knew we would need to do a kitchen reno if we wanted a quick sell in a few years, and that's no small task!

The house was on the higher end of our price range, even though it had just been reduced that week.  But we thought it was a good value and our realtor agreed.  Since we were interested, she did some investigating for us and found out the house had been on and off the market for several months and that at least one contract had fallen through in the past.  We were surprised to hear it was because the house had appraised for less than their offer.  Way less.  Our mortgage lender has a strict policy against taking out a mortgage for more than the house is worth, and we wouldn't want to do that anyway.  So as much as we liked the place, we just didn't know how we could make it work.  We kept it on the list just in case.

Another favorite was brand new construction. It was a bit of a drive from Jon's work, but was in a water community. Which meant a dock for our someday-dream sailboat, and a little beach for the kids. And by little I mean maybe 50 yards wide. But hey, sand and water! The house was so new the builder was still finishing up a few things, and because of all the rain the yard, which was just dirt at the time, was a total mess. It was a large lot and backed up to acres of woodland. I could just picture my little guys exploring and building forts in the trees. But while there was plenty of space outside, it really lacked storage on the inside. And creativity. It was basically an L-shaped box. And a completely open concept. So the living room was wide open to the den which was wide open to the dining room which completely flowed into the kitchen which opened up to the garage... okay just kidding, the garage was the only space with a door. Now I know a lot of people like this kind of thing, but when you have loud kids sometimes you just want to go somewhere and shut the door. Especially if you're a work-at-home mom. Plus I had a hard time picturing how we would set up our furniture in there.

So the downstairs was big and open, but the upstairs was tiny and cramped. I don't mind tiny bedrooms, but in order to have an office/guest room combo, the boys would have had to share one of the smaller rooms. And since there was no place for a toy room on the first floor they would also be sharing their room with all their toys. And I didn't even know if that would be possible. But the kitchen, oh the kitchen! Gorgeous cupboards, stunning granite countertops, all new appliances. A woman's dream. Except ... there was no pantry. Clearly designed by a man.
This place reminded us the most of our old Virginia Beach neighborhood. A little spotty, but some real winners here and there. Like, there were two new houses next door, but across the street was a cement block number with a chain linked fence and huge, menacing barking dog. There was a community park, which I appreciated, but I didn't notice a lot of friendly people about either. Then again, it was new construction. Which meant, depending on our offer, the builder could work with us to make some changes (like a pantry perhaps) and we didn't have to worry about replacing big ticket items in the near future. Definitely one to think over.

So which did we choose?  The needs-some-work but in a perfect location cape cod, the charming but tiny split-level or the new construction with beach and dock?  We chose ...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Our Story, Part IX: The Summer of Our Discontent

The other "Our Stories": Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII.

You knew it was coming.  The "bumpy road" part of Our Story.  Every relationship has one.  Or maybe not.  I can think of a few couples I know whom I quite positive have been on an 8 year honeymoon.  But that wasn't us.  I'll explain.

I held down a handful of jobs while in college, one of them was with the admissions office.  My boss liked me and offered me a summer job, full-time, decent pay, free room and board.  And since the campground where I had previously been working my summers had just been sold, I took it.  Jon was hoping to get a summer deployment in Baltimore so we would actually get to see each other occasionally.  Instead he got sent to Miami ... and Panama, Ecuador, Columbia, Costa Rica, etc.  While he was working on his tan down south I was giving campus tours and getting carpal tunnel from competing for data entry records.

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We had a few days together before he left for the summer.  Jon came out to visit me at school and we decided to take a day trip to Cape May, which is one of the places Jon was thinking about putting in for after graduation.  We got to spend the whole day together and then the whole drive back to Central PA - which is a lot of face time for a couple who averages about 5 visits a year.

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That early summer was glorious.  I was in love with "the most wonderful man" who was "so perfect for me."  I "loved every minute we spent together" and was ready to "skip the next two years and just marry him!"  And a lot of other goobly gook I wrote in my journal that I won't mention here.  But after that things started to get hazy.  We knew we both liked each other and wanted to be together.  But we also didn't know what the future held, when we'd see each other again, whether we should make our relationship "official" or continue to (try to) keep things at a friendship level.  We would spend fantastic weekends together and fall more in love, and then I'd go back to school/work and we'd argue, miss phone calls, go days without speaking.  I went from wanting to jump ahead to a wedding to realizing that maybe there was a chance Jon wasn't the one for me after all.  And feeling torn every minute of the day.  And that's pretty much how things went the rest of the summer.  Except after Jon left for Miami we couldn't have these kind of discussions in person.  And after he got underway we weren't even able to talk on the phone.  And after he got really involved with his patrol the emails grew fewer and farther between.

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It truly was a pitiful summer. I wrote in my journal, "Maybe someday I'll look back on this and laugh at how it all plagued me. Maybe someday I won't."  Well 7 years later and I'm not laughing.  But it certainly is a good reminder of how far we've come.  Sometimes I get to reading old journals and thinking about our past dating days and I miss all that fun and anticipation, the excitement of falling madly in love for the first time.  And then I remember the Summer of 2004 and I'm so relieved I don't have to live with that that kind of stress anymore.  Don't have to wonder if the man I love is going to call me back, don't have to worry that I'm making the wrong decision, don't have to constantly second guess what's really on my heart ...
But back to then.  We weren't the only ones confused.  Rumors started going around our little circle that we were engaged, or broken up, or I had changed my mind.  Everything.  I mean, I had no idea where we stood, but everyone else seemed to know exactly what was going on.  And they were all wrong.  By mid-summer things were just plain frustrating.  Jon said I had him in a "holding pattern" and I didn't know how to respond when someone asked me about my "relationship status."  It got to a point where I stopped telling Jon how I really felt because, either way, I didn't want to reget it a few days later.  And eventually opportunities stopped arising.  We went from "thinking about you every day" to "forgetting to return your phone call." 

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Jon got back from his deployment and had a few days at home before heading back to school.  We hung out a little but it wasn't quite the same.  A few days after he left I realized I didn't miss him as much as I used to.  A few days after that I finally worked up the courage to do what I should have done months earlier.  I called Jon up and told him it was over, we couldn't be together, we couldn't even be friends since we weren't very good at that anyway.  It was a long conversation and Jon didn't really agree with what I was saying, we'd argue more, then agree on one thing, then argue again.  I cried a lot.  And a few days afterwards.  Okay I cried for a few weeks afterward.  It wasn't until it was all over that I realized how much I really did love the guy.  But I felt it was for the best.  I canceled my plans to watch him play football at the Academy the following weekend, told him not to expect to hear from me again for a long while, and hung up the phone.

A few weeks later I was on a plane bound for England.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Jack's Top Ten Day

Growing up I used to label certain days in my journal as "Top 10 Days" because, as someone with a non-committal, indecisive personality, I was afraid of saying that just one day was the best one ever, but wanted to make sure my future-self realized how fantastic the events of that day really were.  A little later I believe I increased it to "Top 20 Day" because, yet again I didn't want to limit myself to just a few super, incredible days.  I'm sure I've had more than 20 wonderful days in my lifetime.  But now that I'm older and learning to be more assertive, I think it's safe to say there's a 3-way tie for the VERY BEST day of my life.  And those would be March 25 - our wedding, October 12 - Jack's Birthday, and April 20 - Jude's birthday.  And I have a feeling we'll be adding another day to that list come this fall.

But Jack is still young, hasn't yet married the love of his life, hasn't yet experience the thrill of parenthood, and really can't even communicate that one particular day is better than another.  So I'll do it for him.  I'm quite positive that, in the past 2.6 years of his life, this past Saturday (or the weekend as a whole) was a "Top 10 Day."

As I said before, the boys and I went up to Pennsylvania for the weekend to give Jon a nice, quiet study break.  I was a little nervous about the 230 mile drive by myself but it actually went quite well.  There were a few difficult moments, but really much better than expected.  We made it up and back with only one stop each way and in just around 4 hours.  Definitely two of our better road trips.  But anyway.  One of the main reasons I came home was to partipate in my parents' neighborhood yard sale.  And we actually made out quite well.  It was the most I've made in a yard sale yet (which isn't saying that much but still good)!  Of course, I managed to spend half of that amount on some adorable baby girl clothes, but our kids' clothing budget is one of the reasons we have a yard sale so it worked out quite well.  And I'll just say that my mom and I had a grand time picking out dresses, bonnets, bloomers, flare-legged jeans and floral patterned shirts.  It was so good that I went back to the same sale a second time since I was up half the night just dreaming about all the cute clothes I saw.  But enough about Baby Girl, this was Jack's "Top 10 Day."

Anyway, rather than try to manage running a yard sale with two boys underfoot, Nonnie volunteered to take them overnight and watch them in the morning.  So Jack's weekend started off with a slumber party at Nonnie and Poppie's.  Jude's been having some sleep issues lately and since Jon and I both were up with him the night two different times this past week ... well, he got rejected for the slumber party.  Which was fine with him, he tends to prefer to be within slapping distance of his mama these days.  So I hugged and kissed my firstborn goodbye for the night.  I saw a little bit of something in his eyes when he realized I was leaving and he was staying there, in his pajamas, with plans to sleep in the "big boy bed."  But it was only there a second before he was off to chase the cat one more time.  My tough guy was fine the whole night and next day, and had a great time with his Nonnie.  I do believe there was one lamp-shattering incident (unfortunately Jack's second this year at Nonnie's) which involved Jack locking himself in a room with shards of glass.  And resulted in a sliced finger and blood-stained carpet.  But other than that all went well.  And Jack was all too proud to show off his boo-boo, which just so happened to be on his middle finger, to anyone who cared to notice.

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The rest of the weekend we spent at Marmie and Poppa's, where Jack's favorite activity is jumping on the trampoline, with Poppa of course.  He's like the energizer bunny on that thing, just keeps going and going and going. 

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Even the rain didn't deter him.

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But the one thing that Jack may like even better than the trampoline is fishing.  And Poppa had big plans for Jack's first fishing experience.  Jack was so excited he could hardly finish his pancakes.  Just mentioning the words "fishing clothes" had him jumping out of the chair, clapping his hands.  He knows his boots are for jumping in puddles, but the hat is what really got him going.  I don't think I've ever seen Jack keep a hat on that long before.  But he knew it was for fishing and that's what he wanted to do.  And then Poppa brought out the fishing rod.  A real, bona fide fishing rod.  Just Jack's size (because it's really for ice fishing.)  It took a few panicked "No, no-ing" before he finally figured out he's not to touch the hook, but he was one proud 2.6 year old. 

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The sad part of the story is that the fishing derby Poppa was planning to take Jack to was canceled because of all the rain the previous day.  But, knowing he couldn't disappoint his grandson after all the morning's hype, Poppa took him to my great-aunt's farm where there are several ponds with starving fish that bite at anything you throw them.  Perfect for a little boy's first outing.  Sadly, I could not be there.  I would have loved to snap a few shots of our proud little guy holding up his first fish - or should I say first 20 fish!  It was a very successful day!  But I was working the yard sale.  And honestly I don't have the patience to stand outside in the sun all day baiting worms and unhooking fish.  And it was a long day.  Because everytime Poppa asked if Jack was ready to go, to see Marmie, to get some lunch, to get a drink of water!! ... the kid refused.  He just wanted to fish.  What can I say, he's a die-hard angler just like his grandfather.

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Photo Credit:  Poppa (and his cell phone)
After several hours of no food and drink, Poppa finally dragged him home for lunch and a nap, oh and a few more minutes on the trampoline.  Which was all followed by yet another highlight of the weekend, an evening at Knoebels.  Now, I've mentioned this place of "fun, food and fantasy" on my blog before.  I used to be shocked when I met someone that had never heard of it.  But then I realized that there's more to the world than Central PA.  Of course, Jack doesn't know what the word "Knoebels" means either.  So we just told him it is a really fun park.  And that's what he's called it ever since - the "fun park."  And I love that I have a child old enough to just start enjoying all the "fun park" has to offer.

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You know Poppa was having just as much fun as Jack.


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He learned how to get the helicopter up in the air right away!

Seriously, he's just a baby.  I can't believe they let him on these rides!

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A thunderstorm rolled through while we were there and unprepared for rain.  But after a break for pizza the skies cleared again and we had time for a few more rides.  I love how timeless this little place is.  I have memories of riding these same cars as a kid myself.

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He really thought he was driving ... too bad he couldn't even see over the steering window.


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I can't wait until Jude is on there with him!

Needless to say, Jack was on Cloud 9 all night.  Like most people, I've always said I'll never spoil my kids (I try to leave that to the grandparents) but now that I actually have some of my own, it's easy to see why people do.  I LOVE seeing my boys happy.  I LOVE watching them enjoy life.  I get a little Mommy high whenever they smile, giggle, wiggle with sheer joy.  And it's a good thing Poppa had a pocketful of free tickets leftover from last year because I would have shelled out big bucks just to watch my little guy soak up one of his "Top 10 Days."  I guess I'm just a sucker for happy kids.

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I think he thought it was a race, he kept looking back to make sure he was still in front of the kid behind him.

We thought we had worn them out.  We thought the fishing, jumping, scorching sun, torrential downpour and "fun park" activity would have them knocked out as soon as we reached the car.  We were wrong.  Jack and Jude spent the entire trip back to the grandparents yelling, jabbering, kicking, throwing things, and head banging their carseats.  Marmie and Poppa had forgotten what traveling with kiddos is like.  But now they remember.  So what's my secret to surviving travel with two littles?  How do I keep my sanity after 4.5 hours on the road?  Food and binkies.  I just keep handing them back there as the volume rises.  Oh, and having a DVD player helps. 

And so we are home.  Or "home."  I don't even know what to call it anymore.  This temporary place that holds all our stuff.  And of course our husband/daddy, whom we missed greatly these past few days.  Our home for now.  For the next 20 days and counting.  And then we're off to the new home.  And the making of new "Top 10 Days."

Friday, May 20, 2011

Mama needs a time out

Would someone please tell me why my children seem to act out in crazy ways a few days before a Pennsylvania trip? I think it's because they know what's coming (even though I purposely did not mention anything to Jack this time around) and are hoping that if they drive me batty enough, I may decide to leave earlier. Whatever it is, this week was no exception.

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This is not a puzzle, it is a drum.
And the rain, oh the rain. I love spring rainstorms but this is getting a little out of hand. I mean, whatever happened to April showers, or did Mother Nature miss the May memo 20 days ago?  My garden pots are flooded and my husband has been mowing the lawn like a mad man just to keep up with the grass.  And my boys, well they are just plain sick of being cooped up indoors.  We're back to puzzle-mania around here.  Thank heavens I found a stash of our favorite wooden jigsaw puzzles at Big Lots earlier this week, because we were all getting a little tired of the same old, same old.  Of course, Jack's already mastered them all in just a few days time.

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He likes to give himself a little applause when he gets a piece right ... all 24 of them. 

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Jude's really into puzzles lately too ... dumping them.  His favorite activity is crawling up to the shelf, pulling himself up onto his knees, pulling each puzzle off, and flinging them onto the ground one.by.one.  Then he smiles and bobs up and down like he's just accomplished something huge.  Yes, Jude is totally in the "destructive phase."  He cleans out my cupboards, dumps baskets of toys, swipes books off the shelf ... and Jack's really impressed.  So impressed he's been doing the same.  I caught him the other day just picking up toys and throwing them all into a pile in the corner of the playroom - trains, puzzles, trucks, play food, the work bench.  Just tossing them, WWF style, onto a pile.  And then he gets busted and I go into my little schpiel about not being too rough with our toys ... or our brothers.  And then he's off again to find something else to destroy.  Like Wednesday, when he literally ripped a painting off the wall.  Tore the nail right out.  Picture lying on the couch, gaping hole in the wall.  Daddy was not happy. 

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Speaking of the main squeeze, he spends most of his day at the computer typing up his final thesis.  It must be nice to be able to do work in an office, with a door, that locks.  Some of us have to type emails while sitting in a toddler-sized folding chair, lifeguarding over Littles throwing toys in the playroom.  I digress.  Anyway, he's got a little over a month to wrap this 100-something pager up and finish his Master's program.  But since there's a move right smack in the middle of this endeavour, well I'm just a touch nervous.  So the Mini Distractions and I are headed to Pennsylvania.  Even the thought of a 4.5 hour drive by myself with the boys can't curb my enthusiasm.  I need a break.  The grandparents need some grandboy time.  And Jon needs some peace and quiet.  Ahh I feel better just thinking about it!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tickled Pink

Happy Halfway point baby!  It's hard to believe we're so far along already.  It feels like that fateful day in January was FOREVER ago, and yet I still wonder if this pregnancy hasn't fully sunk in yet.  And I don't even want to think about how fast this last half is going to go.  But alas, I realize I never debriefed you all on our feelings of having a girl.

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Don't ask me how I feel about the "princess" balloon.  That's not really how I roll, but it was all the Dollar Store had apparently.

See, our little family found out last Wednesday, but since Jon's parents were out of the country until Friday, we decided to keep it a little secret.  Well sorta, we did allow ourselves a few spills just to get it out of our system.  We had thought about not telling until this coming weekend, when I'm in Pennsylvania to share the news in person, but well, we didn't feel the good news could wait.  So we made up a little video and sent it out to our family the moment my in-laws feet hit American soil.  Okay, so we sent it out to my family.  Someone else's family was too anxious to wait and so they were told immediately over the phone. 

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Jack LOVES the video by the way.  He asks to watch it every day.  Several times a day.  I've resorted to just putting it on repeat.

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He's calculating how having another sibling is going to cut into his "special treats."

Anyway, we're very excited.  Jon especially has been wanting a little girl.  And Jack, well he's very protective of his balloons, which are still flying high in the playroom, under his watchful eye:  "No Jude, no touching Sister Ballons!"  Poor Jude.  After Jack goes down for his nap I let him play with the strings to his heart's content.  And naturally, our families are very excited.  Nonnie and Poppie finally get an "east coast grandaughter" and on my side, I just realized on Friday, I'm about to officially be ousted as the "only girl in the family" for the past two generations.  But that's okay, some things are nice to share.

And I think that's what I'm most excited about, sharing.  Sharing my favorite girly movies, reading Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie together.  Teaching her the sacred family recipes.  Giving sewing lessons.  Finally having someone to pass on all my dolls to (see I knew it was good I held on to them!!).  But I know most of this is a long way off.  It's just nice to know that will happen for sure ... or at lesat with 80% surety. :)  In the meantime I'll just busy myself with learning how to french braid and preparing her nursery.

Ah the nursery.  I've only been thinking about it for years now!!  So of course, the opportunity finally arises right when we're going to have another half million house projects going on.  All I've wanted since we've been married is a room of our own to decorate without asking anyone else's permission ... well starting in June I'll have several!  After our announcement and celebratory dinner at Cracker Barrel, I convinved Jon a trip to TJ Maxx was in order to hunt up some little girl treasures ...  Instead we walked out with a cartload of nautical things for the boys' room.  Hmm this is going to be tougher than I thought!

In an effort to stray from the stereotypical pink or purple, Baby Girl's room is going to be Tiffany blue (or Robin's egg blue, however you like it) and red.  I'm a little leery of blue, just because I already have two boys with lots of blue stuff, but the red is a must.  Since there will no longer be a playroom in the new house I needed a new home for my favored red and white polka dot rug and the red curtains.  Plus we'll be moving the changing table to her room, and that has red bins.  Since we are using blue, I'm trying to make this as obviously feminine as possible.  Which means flowers and birds and butterflies.  And since I haven't seen any kind of crib bedding that resembles what I have in mind, I'm going to try my hand at sewing my own.  This oughtta be good.  Here is our little girl's "inspiration pile":

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And I would just like to mention here that I have not bought a single article of girl clothing yet ... ever!  And that's saying something since I have a number of friends, with no girls, that already own at least a box of "dream clothes."  I've been holding off until I can hit some good yard sales.  But, in some sort of strange twist of fate (or angel delivery perhaps), Jon found an entire garbage bag full of pinkish clothes on the road outside our house the very day we found out baby was a "she."  Apparently it was just lying in the middle of the cul de sac.  It appears to be leftover from the community yard sale we had last weekend, but the weird thing is there were no yard sales on our street, nor are there any baby girl neighbors.  And there's no reason for anyone to drive down towards our house unless they live down here.  So anyway, we left it out by the road for 3 days and no one came back for it.  Score one big bag of clothes for us!

Trust me, I'm just aching to get out there and by some hair bows and bloomers.  But it's been busy in our house.  Big changes are coming, not the least of which is the addition of a bit more estrogen.  But there is so much to get done before then and not as much time as I'd like to sit and dream about our sweet little one, already practicing ballet on my bladder... now off to pack for the weekend!

Monday, May 16, 2011

House Hunting, Part I

Growing up, I LOVED houses.  I would grab "The Real Estate Journal" everytime we stopped by the grocery store, and pore over local house listing just for fun.  My friend's mom was a real estate agent and used to give me old copies of her MLS listings, simply because it made me happy.  I was checking out Better Homes and Gardens magazines from the library by the time I was 12.  And while many of my peers were catching up on episodes of "Saved by the Bell" after school, I was busy picking up tips from "Trading Spaces."  Yup, I was a fan long before Paige Davis hit the scene. 

But then I grew up, got married, had kids, and realized owning and decorating a home took major moolah ... and time.  I still held on to a few copies of BHG, and every once in a while, on a slow day at work, I'd check in with the local Pennsylvania listings to see if I could find my parents a new house.  But for the most part, my "house love" had slipped below the surface.  Until recently.

Jon and I were almost sure we were going to rent again when this next move popped up.  We weren't positive, but one night over dinner we decided it was the best and safest route for our family at this time in our lives ... and the economy.  I had even found the most perfect, ancient farmhouse on 18 acres on the water for rent on Craigslist, and was busy dreaming of my boys running barefoot across the field as I hung clothes out to dry.  And yet, for some reason, we applied to get pre-approved for a mortgage "just in case."  And then kept checking the for sale listings "just in case" and after discovering that my "perfect" farmhouse was perfectly rented, and after several weeks of hunting for a rental, and coming up empty-handed each time, we decided maybe it really was a good time for us to buy.

But now I'm jumping too far ahead.  We've known we were probably going to move since the day we arrived here.  There was always a chance we'd get restationed here, but a move was most likely.  We just didn't know where.  We also knew we had a list of our top 10-15 choices, unofficially labeled a "dream sheet" in the military.  We thought we'd get one of the choices on this list, but you just never know.  Jon has always gotten his first choice (that's my guy!), but his detailer had kinda prepared us for the worst this time around and made it seem like his first few choices weren't going to be in our future.  So we tried to "plan for the best, prepare for the worst."  In the preliminary days, we relied mainly on Zillow.  And although we focused mainly on our top choice, we tried to get an idea of the market in other areas as well.  Of course, we were very excited to find out we would once again be getting the #1 job on "our" list.

I say our list since these moves involve the whole family, but really these are Jon's top job choices.  We all know my list would go something like:  Central PA, Eastern PA, Southern PA, Northern PA and England.

We tried to be really smart this time around, especially after this last move. We learned a tough lesson in January when our house was burglarized, and we didn't want to make that mistake again.  Sometimes having a nice house, in a nice neighborhood, just isn't enough.  So our goal was to fully research and truly understand each and every town we considered.   I was actually really surprised to find out later that our realtor couldn't provide us with any neighborhood information.  I had always assumed real estate agents were also "relocation experts."  But apparently it is now against the law for them to advise us on neighborhood demographics, crime rates, schools performance, etc. because this is considered "leading" and is purely conjecture.  It all makes sense now, but at first I was a bit disappointed to hear we were on our own!

Thankfully, we live within driving distance of our new stomping grounds and we both know a few people from that area.  So we asked questions.  Lots of them.  If I even overheard someone was from such-and-such an area I was stopping them for advice.  I even called up a stranger, a relative of a friend of a friend, to ask some questions.  We searched all sorts of different websites for measurable information: crime stats, school stats, sex offender registries, median incomes, median home prices, median ages, education levels.  One website, http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/, which I love, even provided a write-up on the personality types of people who reside in specific neighborhoods (not just cities).  My favorite part of this website was that you could input one of your current favorite neighborhoods and ask for it to find similar places within a certain mile radius of a new location.  Golden!!  Yeah, I had a lot of fun with that one. 

In the end, we were able to narrow our seemingly hugantic search area to 3-4 specific towns.  By this point, our referral program had assigned us a realtor and, after months of searching the web, we were finally ready to get boots on the ground.  So anxious, in fact, that we went to check out the area on our own that first weekend, even though our realtor wasn't free. 

We went to an open house for a new construction community and of course fell in love with the place.  But when we tried to go back a few days later it had already been sold.  Yikes!  We took it as a sign that it wasn't the right place for us anyway and made an appointment to look at a few more with our realtor the next weekend.  Thankfully, my parents were down visiting Uncle Jared that weekend and offered to take the boys off our hands for a few hours.  Otherwise I don't know how we would have ever made it through 6 houses that day.  It didn't seem like a lot at first, but even without towing kids around, I was exhausted by the end of the day. 

Our first real day of house-viewing was a big disappointment.  But I suppose it was just a necessary part of the learning process.  We looked at 6 houses, only one was worth considering.  My favorite part of the day was the house that we literally ran out of at the end.  Floral wallpaper, pink carpet, crumbling kitchen ... I could look past all that.  But the sticky linoleum and plug-in-air-freshener-hiding-the-faint-scent-of-dog-urine was just a tad too much.  Even sitting on over an acre wasn't enough to make me think twice.  And the fact that it was slightly over our price range, well I almost wanted to cry (instead we laughed, even our realtor thought it was funny).  But nothing says "realty check" like discovering you can't even afford a borderline dump in certain areas of your location. 

The rest of the day wasn't much better.  The sellers were still in two of the houses we tried to look at (some sort of miscommunication), and both stories involved people in showers.  Awkward.  There's nothing more uncomfortable than walking through a house and there is still steam on the bathroom mirror.  Or trying to comment on a kitchen when the owner is sitting right there checking his email.  Or not being able to see a house at all because the owner doesn't feel good and can't leave.  Um, motivated much?  We didn't have time waste on unenthusiastic sellers so we crossed those three off the list really quick.

The other thing I wasn't expecting was the "creepy" factor.  I've been in dirty houses, houses that need work.  I get that.  I don't mind it.  We're not house flippers ourselves but I love those kind of stories.  But I just wasn't prepared to be totally, completely creeped out by some places.  They looked totally normal on the outside, were fine on the inside, but just plain felt weird.  And I'm not the only one.  There were 3 houses that we looked at that, both Jon and I agreed, were just "off."  I don't know if it was the house itself, or the people who lived there, but we just couldn't get past it.  Dude, you can't renovate creepy.  Those got crossed off the list pretty quickly too.

But there was definitely one house that felt so absolutely perfect, so us, so HOME.  Or at the very least like a friend's home.  And THAT was the house that got our attention.  But as this is post has reached uneccessary lengths already, I'll save that story for another time...

Sorry, no pictures.  I don't know about the legalities of posting pictures of other people's homes.  Although I WISH I could share with you some of the things we saw during our hunt!!

Friday, May 13, 2011

It's a ... (gender reveal post)

We hit 19 weeks on Wednesday and had our anatomy ultrasound!  I went by myself and Jon stayed home with the boys.  After a long, full-bladdered wait, I finally got to see our newest little one, who made sure to give mama a wave during all the investigatories.

I had a great tech this time around.  I think she thought this was my first because she was explaining every little thing to me.  She definitely had a "teacher's heart" and I didn't want to cause any problems so I just kept nodding my head and saying "uh huh" or "Yeah, now I see the two femurs" "Ohhh, wow look at that placenta."  When really, it was just a load of black and white fuzzies to me.

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But I did see the heart, all 4 chambers.  And it was beating.  And I saw all the parts of the brain.  A nose, lips, a yawn, fingers, toes.  A perfect spine.  The tiniest ribcage.  A perfect little hiney that was pointed in the air.  Wow, life is amazing.  Baby is about 8 oz., the size of your morning cup of coffee, and moving like crazy.  I've never felt this much movement this early with either of my other two, let's just hope it doesn't mean anything for the future.

She had me turn away at the end so she could do the between-the-legs check.  This is when I told her I had two boys at home and a lot of people were rooting for a girl.  "No way!" she said, "Mean you've done this before?!"  Sure, but it never gets old!  She put the results in a sealed, cardboard envelope and sent me on my way.

Now I was pretty sure we were having another boy.  But she threw me for a loop when she said (a) the heartrate was 163 (a little on the higher end, especially compared to last week and (b) she was 80% sure of the gender.  80%!!  How am I supposed to plan with those kind of odds!  The techs for both boys told me they were as certain as they could be, and I think that's because boys are a bit more obvious.  It's a lot easier to look for something than to look for the absence of it.  So now she had me all confused.

Later that afternoon Jon took the envelope and a big box to the Dollar Store and told the nice little balloon cashier that we wanted her to open up the envelope and fill the box with pink balloons if the results said "girl" and blue balloons if the results said "boy."  He ran across the street to the store while she loaded up the box and sealed it shut.  Then he brought it home and I wrapped up.  We somehow managed to accomplish all of this without error so that neither of us knew what we were having until the moment we opened the box.

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Since this was just a family affair we had to work with limited recording devices, i.e. two cameras on tripods and a remote control shutter ($4 on Amazon, get one!!).

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Jack, look at the new baby!

So unfortunately, Jon is a bit cut off at the top in the video.  Also, since we had to keep the box taped shut, there was a good amount of (aggravating) downtime right before the big moment.  And yes, I got a bit of sun this weekend.  I decided to sit outside and read my Kindle while the boys napped on Saturday.  Let's just say, Sherlock Holmes is a fascinating read and the boys took a really long nap that day.

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And now, for the big reveal:

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Haha, gotcha!  I guess you'll just have to watch the video.



Evidently the Dollar Store didn't have any plain-colored balloons.  But the substitution worked well.

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Jack is pretty excited about his baby sister, er I mean, "sister balloons."  He's probably thinking, "Dude, if all sisters come with balloons I'll take 10 more!"

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We've had the balloons in the house 3 days now and he keeps asking for "sister balloons."  He's also asked to watch the video of the reveal several dozen times.  "One more time, Mama.  One more time!"  I finally  just set him in a chair and put the video on repeat, and I was able to cook our entire dinner without interruption.

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So yes, we're having a GIRL!  Can you believe it?  I honestly thought this was a third boy.  I was totally surprised.  But now that I've gotten over the inital shock, I'm excitedly planning out a sweet little nursery for our new baby girl.  And dreaming of tea parties and frilly dresses.  And having someone to share all my favorite books and movies with.  Of course, 80% isn't much to bank on, good thing I'm well-prepared should we need a back-up!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother's Day 2011

Mother's Day this year started out just like any other day lately.  One of the boys was up earlier than he should have been.  (Why can't they coordinate their wake-times a little better!!).  Jack started yelling that he lost his Monka-binks a little after 6am.  I did my best to ignore him, which didn't make any difference since it's hard to sleep with your toddler yelling in the next room.  Finally Jon went to get him a little before 7, plopped him in bed next to me, and then promptly fell asleep for another hour.  (How do men do that?!)  Jack, on the other hand, was ready to play and decided Jude should be too.

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I love that my boy brings me flowers now!
And breakfast was just like most mornings lately.  I put Jude in the highchair and give him a banana to keep him quiet until I can get something around.  This lasts about 5 minutes.  Yes, Jude typically eats an entire banana in about 5 minutes.  And then starts yelling and banging his tray for more food.  Jack requested a smoothie, like usual.  And was already pulling the blender our of the closet.  But before I could even get the ingredients out he was in the fridge retrieving leftover pancakes.  And then he couldn't understand why I wasn't producing a smoothie out of thin air while also magically re-heating, cutting and preparing pancakes ... all at the same time and all immediately.  While Jude continues to yell and bang his tray because breakfast is taking too long. 

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Finally, everyone has food in front of them that they are happily devouring.  I just sit down with my own breakfast and usually Jack drops or spills something, Jude is finished eating and pushes his sippy cup off the edge to get my attention and when that doesn't work he poops.  Because no mama can fully enjoy breakfast with that smell wafting over her shoulder.  So I push my plate aside, clean off Jack, plop him in front of the Disney Channel, and whisk Jude upstairs to get change and cleaned off.  And then a few minutes later Jack has to go potty and wants to change his clothes.  Thirty minutes later I finally come back downstairs.  And, if my husband is home, the kitchen is magically cleaned ... and my unfinished breakfast in the trash.

And that is my typical morning.  Except Sunday was special because the morning ended with a lily from my boys for being their mama.  Sunday was also special because Jack was being his crazy, wild self ... times 10.  I realize my kid is on the active side, but it's days like this when I realize that it could be much, much worse.  For instance, he could be like this every day.  He could be caught pulling miles of floss out around the bathroom one minute, climbing the pantry shelves for a snack the next, and jumping off his bed only a moment later.  I'm just barely stopping him from one thing before he's off to another.  Even gating him up in the playroom doesn't keep him from throwing balls in the general direction of Jon's still-wet living room paint job.

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So Jack was just a little excited this day because I made the mistake of telling him that morning that we would be going to a farm and picking strawberries later that day.  He didn't stop talking about it until long after we got there.  Note to self (again):  Stop telling Jack about big events until approximately 5 seconds before they happen.  He literally did not stop jumping/talking/moving until we got into the car.  And then he kicked the back of my seat for 15 minutes until we pulled in the long, dirt lane and spotted some cows.

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So yes, the strawberries at our local farm came in-season this past week.  I knew I wanted to take the boys picking but also knew I couldn't do it without Jon's help.  So I pulled the "it's Mother's Day we're going to do what I want" card and next thing I knew we were enjoying a picnic out by the fields.  It's amazing how well the boys eat when we're outside, they have a pre-packed lunch ... oh, and they starving because lunch is an hour later than usual.

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Then we hit the fields.  This was more of a for-fun activity but after we realized how quickly and easily one can pick a gazillion strawberries, we got serious.  We just figured we'd "fill up the box" and figure out what to do with them all later.   All I can say is, "Wow, a box of strawberries goes a long way!"

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Jack ran laps up and down the field.

It was interesting with Jack.  He was oddly drawn to either green or rotten strawberries.  So I'd try to point a good one out and then  he'd pick it and put it in the box.  And then he'd get all excited and start jumping and strawberries would start rolling out of the box... 

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Poor Jude, he just wants in on the action!

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Always trying to keep track of what big brother is doing.
He soon got tired and wanted to go back and see the hens.  Jack loved the chickens.  He got down on his haunches (at a safe distance) and made his own chicken noises and said "hello" a dozen times.  And then made sure to say "See ya later chickens!" when it was time to go.  And I loved it.  I love that right now, he thinks chickens are cool.  I just don't ever want him to grow up!

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I was hoping the fresh air and sunshine would wear my boys out, one in particular.  And I was right.  Jude was practically in a trance the whole way home, and Jack kept saying he was tired and ready for "nigh nigh."  We made a quick stop for gelati's at Rita's, which temporarily woke them right up.  Jon's lucky.  He's the driver and just keeps his gelati until we get home and he can enjoy it in peace.  I, on the other hand, end up splitting mine three ways amongst two little birdies constantly chirping "my turn, me bite" from the backseat.

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The boys went down for naps as soon as we got home and I set to work making strawberry jam and strawberry shortcake.  Jude was up a little later to give me a hand i.e. pull all the pots and pans out of the cupboards causing me to about break my neck a few times.  Four batches of jam, one strawberry shortcake dessert, and two little boys with wandering fingers later ... and we still have about half of our strawberries left.  Next on the list:  strawberry bread, strawberry ice cream, chocolate covered strawberries and lots of smoothies!!

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Jude gets his first sample.

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Ooo he must've got a tart one!
Jon made a delicious steak on the grill and we had dinner al fresco.  Which we've been doing a lot lately with this fine mild weather.  Let's just say, outdoor eating makes after dinner clean-up with two little boys much more desirable.  Jon just hoses off the patio!  And then he finished off the day with the most perfect Mother's Day card a girl could ask for.

This is my third Mother's Day, and it was wonderful.  Even though my boys don't understand a thing about it yet (although I did spy Jack reading through Martha Stewart's Kid's Guide to Mother's Day) I love to celebrate with them.  I love being a mom, and I love my boys (all 3 of them!) for giving me the opportunity.  I can't wait to share the mama-love with this next little one!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

It's guessing time!

We hit 18 weeks on Wednesday! And that means soon we'll find out if #3 is a boy or girl. I'm not saying when my big ultrasound is because we're going to have to keep the results a secret for a "a little while" until we have an opportunity to tell our frineds and family. And the last thing Jon needs (or myself for that matter) are phone calls and texts trying to eek it out of us!  Just plan on us making an announcement in about two weeks.

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This is technically 17.5 weeks.

But before we get to that, I FINALLY had a doctor's appointment this week. This is my third appointment. The first was just an ultrasound to determine the due date and the second was just a big waste of time (over an hour wait for someone to check my eyes, ears and throat??).

After that experience I decided it was time to move on from military healthcare.  Mainly because I can right now.  Our area currently has a program where you can continue to use your full military benefits at certain civilian clinics.  Who then, in turn, can you give you a referral to a civilian OB and wa-la!  I now find myself at a Birthing Center.  Woo hoo I'm so excited!  Jon isn't as thrilled, but I'm sure he'll come around.

So after a lot of paperwork and referrals and driving to Annapolis and back and waiting for appointments, I finally got in to meet my midwife yesterday.  And then I had to wait over an hour since there was a birth going on upstairs.  Which isn't a big deal, I'm sadly growing more and more accustomed to hanging out in waiting rooms for long periods of time.  So basically we just talked a long time about history and this pregnancy.  The center offers tours/orientation once a week so hopefully once we move and find a babysitter Jon and I can make a visit to fully understand the process, but for now I'm just happy to finally, FINALLY hear this baby's heartbeat.  Even though I've been feeling some kicks and flips for a few days now, I just wanted to hear that sweet sound.

It took a while to find, and once she'd find it baby was off moving again.  This same thing happened with Jude too, you can actually hear the baby swishing and moving, which is kinda cool.  But at the same time I really just wanted him/her to lay still so we could catch a few beats!  We finally did, a strong 155 bpm.  EXACTLY what both my boys were at this stage.  And precisely what my trusty website, http://www.babybpm.com/ predicts to be a boy:

babybpm fetal heart rate gender predictor

So now I have to wonder yet again:  Is this heartrate thing really accurate or just a fun game?  And even if it isn't, does the fact that both my previous boys had the same heartrate mean anything?  Or will all my babies be fairly consistent with one another?  So really, I'm just left with more questions at this point.  And that's fun, it's all part of the anticipation building.

And anticipation it is!  The midwife asked if we were going to find out.  Yes, we are definitely finding out this time around, because the results could potentially rock our world.  Ok, so maybe not that dramatic.  But if this baby is a sweet little girl, mama has some clothes to buy and a cute nursery in our new house just waiting to be decked out.  And since I'm the only one with kids in my family (and my mom's the only one with kids in her's), a little girl would be somethin' special.  And since, out of the 8 grandchildren in Jon's family, only one is currently a little lady, well we all know what they're hoping for. 

Then there's our little family.  Jude has no opinion.  Jack used to say he was getting a "sister" but lately he's switched that to "brudder."  Jon thinks/hopes it's a girl.  And I just can't make up my mind.  At first I was thinking girl and just for kicks I'm already planning out her nursery and scanning Etsy for little treasures.  But about halfway through my first trimester I started feeling like it was a boy.  If I had to go with my gut, I'd say boy.  But now I'm wondering if my gut is just too worn out from two other boy pregnancies and can no longer read the signals.  And everytime we're around our family I think it's a girl because that's mainly what we talk about.  There's not much to say about a third boy except (1) my grocery bill is going to be killer in a few years and (2) we'll save some money on weddings.  Oh and (3) WE HAVEN'T GOT A NAME!

You'd probably think I was at least hoping for a girl right now.  But actually, I think I'm split about 50/50.  I mean, a boy would be terribly convenient.  And if God intends for me to have 3 boys I'd much rather have them 3 in a row.  But that would mean that we'd have at least a 4th child ... or maybe a 5th! :)  Which leads to my next point.  If we have a girl, hubby wants to call it quits.  And honestly, I'm just not ready to make that decision.  I certainly don't anticipate having another baby 18 months after this one, but to never, ever experience this again.  Ah, I shudder to think of it.  Of course, I may change my mind in about 6 months, but I'd like to cross that bridge when we come to it.

So what's your guess?  Vote on the poll in the upper right column and we'll find out in two weeks who is right!
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