Friday, December 27, 2013

This Christmas...

I've been trying to come up with a word for this Christmas. So far I have:

Almost Didn't Happen
Sick (and not in that ridiculous way Californians talk to mean "cool")

Shit, I'll just use all of them.

I realize I'm leading with that, but our Christmas was also:

Relatively Un-Stressful

While Christmas was all of the good, it was hard not to notice that it didn't resemble anything we've gotten used to, or have done the last several years. One major difference this year was that Zoey and I couldn't keep our heads out of the toilet. Well, technically, that happened last Thanksgiving, too, so maybe we're starting some new, horrible, family tradition. Obviously, the new, FABULOUS thing about this year was that we celebrated Christmas in our NEW house! :-D It still very much has the just-moved-in-look but since Zoey and I threw up all over it, I'd consider that well broken-in, wouldn't you?

We unearthed our tree and tubs of Christmas decorations, Christmas movies (even though Jacob tried to hide them), soaked in all of the TV specials and really did make an effort to get into the spirit this year. For Jacob's part, he did very well. Me, I tried - I really did - but found myself seriously lacking in the Energy for Christmas department. I even tried to get pumped by making homemade Christmas cookies.

 Can't make Christmas cookies without Holiday Wreaths!

 Breaking in my new kitchen island with gingerbread cookies.

 Decorating, dumping, same thing.

 She had quite the assembly line going.

 Daddy joined in the fun too.

A fraction of our finished product. We actually wound up with a lot of undecorated cookies, not realizing this can be a lengthy, back-aching process. They were worth it, though, and very tasty. Santa even ate them all despite Zoey biting into them first. With all of the sugar-free, gluten-free, taste-free Styrofoam floating around disguised as "treats" these days, I'm sure Santa appreciated knowing a kid would eat his cookies.

While I refuse to decorate or acknowledge Christmas until the weekend after Thanksgiving, shopping, of course, doesn't count. I usually start ordering presents online around Halloween but ALWAYS manage to never have it all done on time. With not working, theoretically I should have had all the time in the world to get gift-buying, decorating, food-preparing, and shipping taken care of long before it became stressful and *still* host book club. But if college taught me anything, it was how to procrastinate. Throw in being sick and you have a recipe for Christmas pretty much being a no-show. Well, it would have been, if not for Jacob.

Early one Sunday morning, Jacob was chomping at the bit to get a vacuum cleaner belt so he could get to work sprucing up his newly traded-for Jeep Cherokee. He left shortly after 8:30 and as the clocked clicked closer to 10:40am, I had an image of him wandering Wal-Mart with a cart load of stuff. He came home shortly thereafter hauling in the bulk of the toy aisle and giving me the I-know-you're-going-to-be-mad-at-me-but-please-go-easy look. I was a bit shocked but then not all that surprised since he goes shopping alone so rarely and this is pretty much what always happens. And, in the end, I was glad he did it; he gave Zoey a wonderful Christmas when I couldn't participate.

As he unpacked the bags, he suddenly realized, "I didn't get vacuum cleaner belts! I got one thing on my [3-item] list!" Ahh, the story of Wal-Mart.

The weekend before Christmas was when Zoey and I hit the skids. Our Christmas was already going to be different because Jacob had to work all Christmas Day. He was off Christmas Eve so we were planning to go to his parents and exchange family presents, but as Sunday came to an end and since merely someone looking my way made me nauseous, we thought having an activity-laden day might not be the best. We also didn't have our usual Christmas Eve of opening gifts from my parents (did that already in AZ over Thanksgiving) or the big dinner. Instead, we ate random things we could find around the house and opened our Christmas presents to each other throughout the day.

 The Little Mermaid success! (And Flashlight Friend. Jacob wants everything he sees on TV so he understands when Zoey does too...) Truth time: Jacob got her her first Barbie-like dolls. He also got her The Little Mermaid movie, which I insisted on watching since it's been over 20 years. I was surprised at how much of the songs I knew.

 This child will amaze you in her puzzle-doing. She loves them and knocks them out like, 'cmon give me something hard. It'll be awhile before she's able to tackle this 1000-piece Christmas-theme, glow-in-the-dark doozy, but Jacob thought it would be fun to do as a family and work on throughout the holiday season.

 Jacob glammed me up this Christmas! Sparkly slippers, pearl necklace and earrings, faux fur infinity scarf, a vintage lantern for the house, and a bag showcased on Good Morning America. He knows just what I like! (Or is trying to tell me he'd like me to shower more...)

 Zoey and I got Daddy a wall clock to glam up either his Man Cave or garage. We also got him an ice cube tray in the shape, and a reusable water bottle that reminds him to "Stay Classy." He also got a present with a warning from Santa... ;-)

 I think the dogs have gotten used to when there is a tree in the house and we rip apart paper, there is usually something in there for them. Just in the TA-DA nick of time, Santa Donahue mailed their doggy stockings. I kinda think they were a little relieved.

 Given what Mr. Snowman has heard from his relatives, he pretty much saw this comin'.

 Ball's done!

 Snowman's Done!

Once it became dark, still clad in our jammies, we piled in the car on the hunt for Christmas lights. I had never actually done this before, driven around specifically to gawk at incredible light displays, but it was absolutely the coolest thing to do. Jacob got an e-mail at work about the best displays and we made sure to hit them all. I regret not taking any pictures but I seriously doubted if any of them would have turned out. I'll just say that if you ever have the opportunity to drive around in search of lights, take it. It's so cheerful and heartwarming that people go to such great lengths to create something just for others to look at and enjoy and feel the holiday spirit. Neighborhoods are packed with cars driving with only their fog lights on, and traffic jams wind around the city just because a neighbor dressed as Santa is handing out candy canes.

Santa managed to find us come Christmas morning, and Zoey did a surprisingly remarkable job of waiting alllllll daaaaaayyyy to open presents. She could wait no longer, though, and dove in seconds after Jacob got home. Sidenote: Her face was absolutely priceless as I showed her that Santa ate the cookies and drank the milk she left for him. Like that's all it took for her to become a believer.

 The Great Post-Christmas Assemble.


Santa didn't forget about Louis, either. He's become rather crotchety rather quickly so Santa got him a new bed. Who doesn't understand that better than Santa?

Since we have yet to see Jacob's parents, we're like divorced-kids and have a third Christmas waiting in the wings, which we'll do this weekend. By Christmas Day, Zoey and I were feeling much better so took advantage of the assumed quiet post-Christmas shopping to finish up some *cough* gift shopping. Although the news declared it yet *another* "busiest shopping day of the year," Montana is different. It was the least-busy, most pleasant Wal-Mart experience I've ever had (maybe because literally everyone I saw were in their Christmas jammies).

It's sort of crazy that Christmas is over when it never really felt like it arrived. But nothing to be disappointed about. We were - and will be - thoroughly spoiled, got to spend extra time together, watched all of our Christmas movies, ate good food even if it was mostly from Applebee's, and had a generally stress-less holiday. It doesn't even matter that our Christmas tree still sits, lit, and completely undecorated.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Trippin' for Turkey

We typically take advantage of my parent's Arizona/Mexico snow-bird status come April when we're ready for some sunshine and change of scenery. But I decided I really wanted to be in Arizona for the Thanksgiving holiday and my reasons were two-fold: a) I haven't spent a holiday with my family since I moved to Montana, specifically a Thanksgiving holiday since before finishing college; and 2) ASU always plays U of A the Saturday after Thanksgiving and I hadn't been to that game (or *a* game) since leaving Arizona. My mom, eager to cook the Thanksgiving feast for more than two people, was more than enthusiastic. The timing in the end, however, worked out a little wonky as the scheduling of our house-closing happened the day before leaving for Arizona. We joked this would be the worst vacation ever since we'd just be antsy to get back and set up our new home, but after being so busy since October, the trip turned out to be a nice way to relax before diving head-first into yet more busy.

Our flight out of Billings didn't leave until 8pm so we at least had a day to enjoy our new place. I'll admit, when it was time to leave for the airport, we were sad and didn't really want to do it, and vaguely worried throughout our vacation that the house was a-flame, or under 8-feet of water. But once we were actually in Arizona, we were able to relax.

 Some of us more than others... (eating Jicama (hick-a-ma) in Grandma's bed)

 Cheering the Packers to a...tie?

 No one can make eating bacon cooler.

 And she knows it.

Catching some rays after raining the first three days.

 Since it was close to Christmas and my mom is always saying she misses seeing our faces as we open up her presents, she sprinkled some Christmas in between Thanksgiving. Zoey is modeling a few of her presents - one of two Disney dresses and one of six pairs of high heels.

 No lessons required.

 She got some Princess shades to round out the ensembles and I needed to document the moment.

 The resulting photo.

I got some things, too. :-D

No, there aren't any picture of Jacob and I; we, almost literally, did absolutely nothing. There were several days when we didn't even leave my parent's condo. Zoey and her grandparents were the busy one's, Zoey taking full advantage of their undivided attention and them loving how popular they were. She had specific things she liked to do with each - cuddle with Grandma in the morning, followed by splashing in her bathroom sink, snooping through her closet, and general inside-oriented play. With grandpa it was walking around the complex, trips to the pool, and playing in the garage.

 The Dynamic Duo.

We did leave the house but only for the grocery store, book store, and restaurants.

Cute picture. Not so cute when she does it. Zoey is a great child, and while having her bratty moments, is the furthest thing from a brat. Spending a week being spoiled by your grandparents and being given a certain amount of leeway by your parents is bound to have an affect on anyone, though.

We opted out of traveling to Mexico this time because my mom wanted to cook the Big Meal in Arizona so the trip would have been too tight. Zoey and I ended up having a few days where we didn't feel well so I don't think we were quite up to it anyway.

Thanksgiving dinner was great, just as I remembered from my childhood. We were pretty comatose by 8pm so, even if we wanted to, any sort of Black Friday shopping was out of the question. Pretty soon they'll come up with a way people can eat their Thanksgiving dinner *while* shopping (and by "shopping" I mean shooting, stabbing, and slugging each other over parking spaces, televisions, and game consoles).

 My contribution to the Thanksgiving feast was breakfast. Growing up, Mom always got bakery or something equally easy because she was too busy to make breakfast, and it would have hogged valuable stove and/or oven space. I offered to whip up my Crock-Pot Breakfast Casserole this year, which cooks for eight hours over night, feeds an army, and will keep you full until the next massive meal of the day. Mom was worried we'd have too much food but she ended up going back for thirds. ;-)

 Using what I got my dad for Christmas last year - a toaster that toasts your team logo on your bread - we tried to invoke Packer voodoo. It didn't work. Magic is no match for Aaron Rogers.

We didn't do the other thing we had planned, either: go to the ASU/UofA game in Tempe. It landed on a day we weren't feeling too great, and it was sold out, so not the complete end of the world. I'll make it to a game one of these days...

After having a tight schedule in the beginning, it was just the same as we headed back home. While Billings had fair weather the entire time we were gone, temperatures were scheduled to drop dramatically and start snowing only hours after we were due home. While our flight was on Travel Advisory - up for re-route, delay, or cancellation due to weather - we lucked out and made it home with nothing more than a minor delay. We landed just as the snow got heavy and got home just as the temperature went from 26-degrees to 7. 

The rest of the week, temperatures never got high enough to reach zero so it was perfect that we didn't want to leave our new house anyway.

 Since the terrible weather - and subsequent icy roads - started within moments of us being home, it was too cold and nasty for us to drive up to Columbus to get the dogs, or for someone from there to drive them down here so they spent a couple extra days at their Grandparent's house. Once they came home, I guess I didn't need to worry how well they'd adjust.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Signed, Sealed, Delivered, It's OURS!

I've mentioned it a lot before, that our summers tend to be filled with a lot of ups and downs. One of the ups came in late July after my townhouse in Tallahassee had been on the market for just little over a week.

Having known how the market was, specifically how the Florida market was, the house had been leased since I moved to Montana in 2009. Itching to get into our own house because we were equally itching to expand our family, when the lease ended this year, Jacob and I decided it was time to bite the bullet, put it on the market, and see what happened.

The realtor I chose was recommended by the Property Management Company, Coastal Properties Services Inc. (Meg Hilaman with Coldwell Banker) and she was confident the house would sell in six months. A little over a week later, she told me there was a possible offer coming in, and thirty minutes after that, I had the offer in my hands and the go-ahead to accept it by all people qualified to solicit such advice (realtor and father).

By the end of August, the deal was finalized and Jacob and I were finally on-track to look for a house of our own. Unfortunately, our attempts sputtered and petered out more often than not, leaving us to respond to, "Isn't house-hunting fun?!" With, "No, it's not!" It is an....experience, that's for sure.

First, we had to learn the terms. "Contingency," is a not-good thing. And "Active," might be an out-right lie. More than once, we'd arrive at a place to view only to learn it had just been sold, some from our own realtor's firm (not dissing the company, that's just how hot the market is here; Montana generally avoids the shambles of the federal government). Second, if a seemingly great place is at an unbelievable price, there is definitely a bad reason why. A short driveway off a major highway, across from foaming reclamation ponds, and an active train-track in the backyard being one example. About 3-inches of separation between the foundation and wall being another, which is what lead us to another important lesson.

The pictures on the internet aren't worth crap. And it's not so much the pictures they are showing you as much as the pictures they're *not*. We saw a bevy of houses and discovered that as we looked, what was important to us changed or became more so. Some basements looked like there had been ritual sacrifices performed in them and/or hid several bodies (I don't even want to know what the floor-to-ceiling carpet-wrapped poles were for), and laundry rooms that looked like a step up from dungeons. Laundry already feels like purgatory, why does it have to look like it, too?

We put two and two together and quickly learned people who design houses are on crack. I was amazed at how many houses we considered to be possibilities that required piecing together bits of it to make a Master Bedroom (refer to my previous note regarding what was/became important). We found a particular set-up in which Jacob and I would occupy the entire basement as a sort of Master Suite (Laundry Purgatory included, of course) but discovered the house was on an easement with the electric company that essentially gave them complete control over the property, and had an electrical tower in the yard that Jacob was pretty sure would cause our future children to be born with three arms.

So after the creepy basements, the cigarette-smoker's paradise, the Master closet that was more a coat closet, the one we'd have to haul our own water to, the pine-wood-everything, the over-priced house that looked straight off a movie set, the one that was sold, the one that was rented, the one that was literally swarming with stink bugs, and after being sure house-hunting was going to be the true test of our marriage, we stumbled upon The One.

We were scheduled to see four homes with our realtor one Sunday and I had originally passed on seeing this particular one. But after the first three appointments left us pulling our hair out, we decided, what the heck. We were viewing it during an Open House so we were immediately turned on by the fact that no definite offers had been made.

When we walked into a house, we waited to see if we got that...feeling. The feeling that we just wouldn't be able to live without it. We had felt it once before but an offer was being made and accepted as we were seeing it for the first time. For me, The Feeling happened just as we walked through the door of this place; it was just what we were looking for, even if we didn't realize it yet (two and A HALF baths, why wasn't that on my initial criteria? Floor-to-ceiling wine-rack in a cedar closet, why didn't I demand that sooner?!). I could always tell when Zoey liked a house because she'd decide which room was hers and she did that immediately. We walked around several times, subconsciously not wanting to leave but we eventually told our realtor we'd talk it over and get back to her later that afternoon.

As we drove around the neighborhood, not wanting to let it out of our sight, Jacob and I had butterflies and hurriedly talked about everything we liked, things we didn't, and how those weren't on our deal-breaker list. Then I told him that when I was in the backyard with our realtor, I heard another car pull up with people to also look at the house. I heard a man say, "So you don't want to look at it, then?" Then all the doors slammed and they drove away. Jacob exclaimed, "That was God telling us, 'This is yours! I drove those other people away for you!'" As all this was taking place, Phillip Phillips' song Home was on the radio and, really, how could we ignore that?

We drew up the offer that afternoon, had an extremely nerves-ridden lunch at Beef 'O Brady's, and despite our realtor's prediction that the offer would come back with some changes, learned around 7pm that it had been accepted as is (new washer and dryer, and bar-stools for me, yay!!). The house "passed" inspection and things moved toward closing relatively smoothly. So smoothly, we closed and completely moved in the day before we jetted off on Thanksgiving holiday in Arizona.

For as frustrating as the actual hunt was, getting everything in order was rather painless. Things actually came together better than I expected, the cable company calling to ask if they could do my job four hours EARLY when moving day came around. Having time to go through everything and keep organized, I packed up our rental house that, come moving-day, required three trips. There was one glitch, however: the day before we could move in, the weather was in the 60's so, naturally, the next day it was 14-degrees and blizzard. But nothing could take away our warm, comfortable feeling of home...

Signed, sealed, delivered, it's OURS!!!

 Welcome home, kids!! (The dogs weren't nearly as happy about the flooring as we were.)

 Tearing around their new backyard.

The blizzard just got going as the first load pulled in. By the time this was all unloaded, there were several inches of snow on the ground but that doesn't stop Montanans.

I have to say, I lucked out in the moving department. A HUGE thank you to Meredith and her husband, Mark, for letting us borrow their truck and trailer while they were at work. And for texting me utility company phone numbers since I spent most of the day at the new house waiting for service men, running errands, and picking up lunch and dinner. Another MASSIVE thank you to Jacob's sister, Rachael, her fiancee, Todd, and Jacob's friend, Nick, for kicking some serious ass and getting everything done between 10:30am and 5pm. Truly amazing. The only other display of moving awesome-ness I've witnessed was when I moved into my apartment in Tempe with two trucks and four Mexicans. It took 30 minutes, including travel-time.

 Making forts out of the boxes is a dirty job but someones got to do it.

 Just what I need, another dog...

We spent one exhausting night in our new house then flew off to spend Thanksgiving with my family in Arizona for the following 12 days. To say it feels like we've been trudging through cement to get to this point (officially *home*) would be an understatement given that we felt this was "home" since the end of October. For finally being here, being able to live, and for so much more, we are so thankful, grateful, and relieved. We can continue on with our lives, in whatever way that means, with the most amazing sense of security money can buy (literally). As my good friend, Ali, and my mother taught me, everything happens for a reason. I wanted more than anything to believe that all of the road-blocks we encountered was just the Universe leading us to The One. We are so thankful to be right!