Wednesday, April 30, 2008

1,451 Miles Later, We Have Rented a House

The play-by-play:

On Friday morning we got in the car and drove to Shaun's folks' house outside of Portland. As Shaun put it, "the boys were just like they always are." To him this was perfectly satisfactory. To me this was a wretched way to spend a day. But they truly did very well.

On Saturday morning we left the boys out at the tree farm (under the excellent care of their grandmother) and we ventured into Vancouver, WA, for the first time. I was armed with a small pile of rental possibilities gleaned from craigslist, so we set out to see those, stopping at various "for sale" and "for rent" signs along the way.

By the end of the day we hadn't found a house that we actually felt like moving into, but I was more encouraged than discouraged, because I felt like I would actually be happy to live in Vancouver. The Uptown Village neighborhood is similar in age and feel to our neighborhood here in Boise, and is more affordable than comparably nice neighborhoods in Portland.

We also liked the very small town of Camas, 12 miles east of downtown Vancouver. It's known for its good schools, and it reminded me very much of a miniature Bellingham, WA, where I visited my dad a lot growing up. It's very very green, of course, and the whole town is built on a slope down to the river, resulting in spectacular views. On the day we visited the sun was shining and the community was out watching a little league game in the park. It was ridiculously picturesque. Really. Like snort-eliciting picturesque.

All of this wonderfulness resulted in a whole mess of conflicting goods which rendered me out-of-sorts and very emotional. Even the farther out suburbs of Vancouver were more pleasant than I expected. Big comfortable house in the suburbs? Quaint smaller house in the downtown area closer to Portland attractions and grandparents, not to mention year-round farmer's market? Ultra small-town living with good schools and lots of charm? Aaaaaack. And I was all the while feeling grateful but guilty that I was viewing having so many GOOD things to choose from as a problem.

After striking out with craigslist, we bought a newspaper on Saturday evening and checked out the classifieds. We made a list of properties to check out the following day. One of the factors complicating our search (and the reason we didn't just rent in a complex to save money) is that we didn't want to be tied to a year-long lease. This eliminated a lot of properties.

Sunday we spent driving around and viewing our prospects. On Monday we found out that one of our top choices was already taken, so we went to see this house:

It was the cheapest of everything we looked at, and we soon found out why. Though it had a few nice features, like hardwood floors and a stone fireplace, it also had a very dungeon-like basement with extremely unsafe steps. Seriously creepy. It was in an "up and coming" neighborhood which still had a way to go, but was close to downtown.

Next we looked at a very nice house that I found it very hard to get excited about. That probably had something to do with the neighborhood (totally fine, but very uniform and packed in) and the wallpaper fruit border in the kitchen. It had a beautiful (though small) and meticulously landscaped backyard...the kind which would have required much policing to keep the boys from destroying. This house was in the suburb of Hazel Dell, a short freeway drive north of the city center.

So, we were done looking at houses for the day, and, as far as we knew, for the trip. I was morose. The house we most wanted to see wouldn't be empty until Thursday, and we were planning to leave on Tuesday morning. The management company said that the tenant had refused to show the house before, but they would try. Late that afternoon we got a call. Would we like to see the house tomorrow at noon? Would we! We still didn't know for sure if they'd let us rent it for less than a year when we met an agent to see it:
The tenant had decided to let us in to see it and turned out to be a very friendly fellow, giving us tips on how to get our furniture upstairs and filling us in on the neighbors (police!)

You'd be forgiven for thinking this is the house we currently live in from this photo. Except the rental has PICTURE RAILS! Hooray!

The yard is huge and park-like, in the German unkempt park sort of way. This photo is of a camellia tree that's as big as the house. I didn't even know they grew that big. We also have an entire planting of peonies, my very favorite flower.
Here's the neglected garden area. We heard a lot from the tenant about the buckets of grapes he harvested last year. That's the Columbia River in the background, with access at the end of our street.
This house is in a really unusual spot. 164th Ave is a main drag at the eastern edge of Vancouver that resembles nothing so much as Orange County. New housing developments, strip malls with upscale chain stores. But take the street all the way south across the freeway, and you're in a different world. The Evergreen Highway is a beautiful old road, and there are a few grand old homes mixed in with the new mansions that have gone up along the river. There is a very old, small cemetery a block from the house, and a fish hatchery down the road. The railroad tracks also run very close, and the house is very close to the Portland airport, so you see lots of planes flying low over the Columbia. To some people these things would be drawbacks, but to a family with two little boys, they're a bonus!

We filled out an application on the spot, (they didn't require a lease) and were told we would hear the next day or so. We got a late start on our drive home but figured it had been well worth it. It was something of a miracle that we'd gotten in to see the house when we did. We were a few hours into our drive home when we got a call from Natalie, the agent. She had done the paperwork unexpectedly early and we were approved. She actually said, "I'm so excited!" In the middle of the call there was a huge bump, thud, and shudder. We had hit some sort of large game bird, like a grouse or a pheasant. If I hadn't been on the phone, Shaun might have had the presence of mind to go back and get it for dinner ("who's going to pluck it?" I wanted to know), but he didn't think of that until later.

So, there you go. The unnecessarily long story of how we found a place to live. We won't be saving money like we'd hoped, but we will be having an adventure. Please come and visit and have an adventure with us. We have room. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that the kitchen has five gas burners and two ovens! All newish. So we can cook for you, too. Or, Hillary, you can cook for us.

And, yes, with the drive to Oregon from Boise and back, and into town every day from Shaun's parents' house, we put 1,451 miles on the car. And Shaun drove every one of 'em.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Moving Forward

Shaun decided, as I think we all would, that the perfect way to celebrate his new job was to come home from a long day at work and make cioppino for the first time.

He was disappointed with the results, but I couldn't help but enjoy a dinner that contained clams, mussels, crab, salmon, halibut, shrimps, and scallops.

My dad and stepmom came for the weekend, and we had a grand time. If by "grand" I mean sampling almost every dessert in the Boise Co-Op's specialty bakery case. And I do. The boys loved all the extra attention, and we enjoyed getting to celebrate my dad's 60th birthday. Now all that remains to remind us of their visit is a recycle bin full of empty Diet Coke cans and half of a 5-pound chocolate fudge cake from Fred Meyer. We should have photos soon.

The eating of baked goods was our primary activity, but we did venture out to the Boise Art Museum as well. While we were enjoying an exhibit of boats constructed from found objects, an over-zealous security guard asked my dad not to point at the boats. That's right. No pointing. Then he told Juli, who was holding Willem up so he could see, not to get so close. Then he forbade Shaun to take a photograph of WILLEM looking out the WINDOW, flash or no.

Had any in our group sensed a true concern for art underlying these comments, we probably would not have been prompted to make barely sotto voce observations of our own, such as:

"The LOUVRE lets you take pictures," and

"Please do not look directly at the art. Gaze PAST the art and view the art only in your peripheral vision." (Shaun)

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and the grandparents headed back to their home in Bellingham, WA on Monday.

I spent yesterday and today online, looking for possible places to rent when we move. Shaun's first day of work will be May 19. We plan to drive (gasp, gulp) to Shaun's folks' this Friday and spend Sat-Mon trying to secure a place to rent. I'm now somewhat familiar with the map of Vancouver, but of course I don't have much idea of what things are like in the different neighborhoods, apart from what I can glean from our books and Google street view (one of the handiest Internet innovations ever.)

So! Tomorrow is Shaun's last real day of work. And it will be a doozy, as he has a 7:30 am meeting at which he will hand off his work to the Indian workers he's been training to replace him. On Friday morning he will drop off his badge and pager at (his old) work on our way out of town. We will need to leave the house open-house ready, as there will be one in our absence. Hopefully the cat won't throw up.

So, now you're all up to date. We'll let you know how the scouting trip goes.

And the drive.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

THAT Wasn't Very Long

About 30 seconds after I published the previous post, the phone rang. It was Shaun telling me he got the job. So much for my attempt at creating a little dramatic tension in all of your lives.

The company is RevQ in Vancouver, WA, and they write revenue collections software for government agencies. Sounds exciting, right? Shaun assures me he will be doing work that interests him and that will develop his skills.

We're not sure about the timeline, but we think we will have at least two weeks from Shaun's last day at Micron on April 25.

So there you have it! One major life question answered. Now if only the house would miraculously sell...

Let's Wait and Wonder Together, Shall We?

I think it will more fun this way.

Shaun had an interview yesterday for a job in Vancouver, WA. It was his first in-person interview of this job search (his candidacy survived the phone interview), and it's right in the area we were hoping to move to. (For you non Pacific-Northwesterners, Vancouver, WA is part of the Portland metro area. It's just across a bridge from Portland, OR.)

I considered not writing about this until we knew one way or another, but that hardly seemed sporting. If it makes you feel better, this company has been very good about communicating in a timely fashion, so we all ought to know pretty soon!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Figuring Out the Plural

Both boys have just been buckled in to their car seats.

Willem looks over to his brother a few times and then back at me, smiling with satisfaction.

"We two guys-ez," he says.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Latest

On Friday Shaun and I took Willem to the hospital for his echocardiogram. Normally he would have gone to the pediatric cardiologist's office, but her machine doesn't have the same recording capability that the one at the hospital does.

Now, the technician in the pediatric office is some sort of crazy kid-whisperer. He knows EXACTLY how to deal with kids. I think he might be magic.

The poor hospital technician, on the other hand, did not know what to do in the face of a two year-old's full-blown temper tantrum. She was so nice that I felt awful as I watched her face fall when Willem ignored the cartoons on television and settled in for some good screaming. I knew he'd be fine once we had a moment to work it out, but she had no such assurance. I could tell she thought there was no way she was going to be able to successfully do her job.

Another staff member heard the shrieking and came (she thought) to the rescue, proffering a handmade bear that had been lovingly sewn by kind volunteer ladies. I'm sure the technician's worries were not assuaged when Willem reached out to take the bear and then hurled it across the room with a howl. I was a little horrified but still had a hard time not laughing.

Of course Willem eventually settled down. (Though not before we had to pin his arms to his sides to restrain him from peeling the stickers off his chest.) We turned the channel to Public Television. Thanks be to God, Sesame Street was on. I sat back on the bed and Willem stretched out on me, and he was good as gold for the entire procedure.

I have been really busy working on my "don't worry about things you can't control" attitude, so I was actually taken a bit off guard when the cardiologist reviewed the results and said that it may be time to go ahead and do surgery. She will present Willem's case to a group of surgeons and they will get back to us with a recommendation within a few weeks.

This should not have surprised me, but I felt disoriented for the rest of the day nonetheless.

Friday was a big day overall, as Shaun had a phone interview with a software company in Vancouver, WA that afternoon as well. He's so well-adjusted compared to me. He sat in our home office for the interview, asking "Did you hear that?" when he was done. Had it been me, I would have gone out to the car rather than let anyone hear a snippet of anything I said. His well-adjustedness paid off well enough that they are going to talk with him further.

Those are the big things. There have been smaller things as well: we had another unfruitful open house; Nels got a common childhood virus called Fifth Disease which makes him look like he's been slapped in the face; my boys and I got stood up for a playdate this morning (the mom and the kid forgot); and we took a trip to Baskin-Robbins to ease the pain of it all.

Here's to little boys and ice cream.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Let's See...Where Was I?

Ah, yes. Last week I went out. After much whining and "I don't really feel like getting out and talking to people I don't know tonight"-ing my longsuffering husband INSISTED that I go to the event which I had dog-eared in the latest edition of the Boise Weekly.

So off I went to the Rediscovered Bookshop to join the the Boise Non-Fiction Writers Group in hearing a presentation entitled "Writing for a Living." If I had to grade the evening, I would give it an "exceeds expectations."

First of all, the kind of people who show up for a non-fiction writing group seem to have a lot more going for them than your average wanna-be writers. Aspiring fiction writers remind me of community theater actors (I know that of which I speak) in that there are many many many of them who hope to become famous and successful and think that all they need is a lucky break or the right agent and then the world will know how wonderful they are; but, in fact, very few of them are talented. (There ARE a few of us who just do these things just because we enjoy them and not because we think we could ever make a living at it.)

So, the non-fiction writers were an interesting bunch. There were people there who actually had JOBS as writers. There were medical writers for Health Net, and a land-use writer. There was a man writing a book about the year 1955, and another man who brought his just-completed manuscript on the use of creative writing in therapy. In a group of 20, there were THREE people with British accents, none of whom knew each other. And this was in Boise. The speaker was really late, so we got a chance to chat and then introduce ourselves. I sat next to a woman about 15 years my senior named Elizabeth. She had the loveliest accent and had written a children's book based on her childhood with her brother Jack. I had to suppress a nearly irresistible urge to invite her home for a cup of tea. I would have, if I hadn't known that we're not long for Boise.

Nor did the speaker disappoint. Her name was (and is) Jill Kuraitis; she is the Idaho editor of, and her bio is worth a read. She is a corker. While we couldn't be farther apart ideologically, she was a font of useful information. She told us where the money is. Where is the money? Not in memoir or fiction or personal stories. It is in magazine articles 3-5 pages in length, packed with data. The money is in information. To make a living writing, one needs to be putting out about 3500 words (or 4-5 articles) per week.

She told us what she hates as an editor: grammar and punctuation errors, and boring pitch letters. She told us, as a successful non-fiction writer herself, what she writes about and how she pitches stories. It was an utterly fascinating look into a world I have no interest in joining but always wondered how it worked.

In all, it was an invigorating night. The world being the place it is, there were of course a few downers. One woman was looking for a publisher for her really tragic and spiritually creepy memoir. One man (in his late sixties?) had written down his life story and throughout the talk asked many questions which showed that he had a hard time thinking about anything but himself. He seemed to lack any basic understanding of what we were even talking about.

After the talk wrapped up, I chatted with a few people who were curious about my name. As I was leaving the store, the older clueless man engaged me in conversation. I might note that I was wearing an argyle sweater and was dressed very conservatively.

"So, your parents named you Gypsy. You don't look like a Gypsy."

"Well, you know how it is. The next generation rebels against what came before, so I had to be a conservative instead of a hippie."

We were in the parking lot, and I was heading for my car.

"I hope you don't take this the wrong way..."

I tensed, waiting for the comparison to an old-timey movie star. Oh, wait. That only happened when I had platinum hair.

"...but you have such a pretty face. You don't have to put THAT THING on it to try to make it prettier."

(In case you haven't seen me in the past two years, he was referring to the tiny tiny diamond I pierced my nose with. I was surprised he could even see it.)

He sounded so genuinely grieved and disgusted that I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. Ah well.

Taking a deep breath, I said, "Oh...well...I guess I don't really think of it that way."


I could tell he was disappointed by my failure to immediately disavow my nose piercing.

"It's your smile," he said as he walked away. "It's your smile that does it."

I got in the car and drove home. It really was a good night. I met some people whom I would have liked to get to know better. I found out that no one indents any more. I learned that I'm really thankful that, while I may feel like writing something some day, I don't ever want or expect to make a living at it. And, honestly, I really never did think about the fact that some people would find a nose piercing (ok, it looks gross in writing) not only unattractive, but downright repulsive. After the weeks of exile in toddlerville, all that food for thought was a good thing indeed.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Poor Waiter

No, I am not referring to an impoverished or unfortunate or subpar restaurant server. The poor waiter, I've discovered, is me. Some people are poor losers. I'm a poor waiter.

(I guess I'm a poor loser too. I was furious when I lost the 5th grade speech contest to Donald Burr. He kept his note cards two inches from his nose for the ENTIRE speech and WON, even though one of the categories we were evaluated on was "eye contact." I thought the judges cut him way too much slack for being legally blind.)

Anyhow, it's been a while since I posted anything here. That's not because I've had a lot going on. Quite the opposite. I've been mostly bored and discouraged. Not fun to experience, not fun to write about, not fun to read about.

For the past few weeks, I've felt something like this: someone has pushed the "pause" button on my life, and I have no idea when the button will be pushed again and life will resume. Shaun started applying for jobs like mad and...nothing. I sat at home and waited for news. Even a "thanks, but no thanks" would be welcome.

Having closely observed Shaun's last job search, I know that companies take their sweet time getting back to applicants. Even if they want said applicant. Still, every day seemed like an eternity of nothing happening.

There were, of course, a few events to break up the tedium. Willem's fingernail finally fell off. We'd been carefully tending to it since he smashed his finger with a rock several weeks ago. The boys got colds, got over them, and got new ones a week later. The new and improved cold featured the appearance of a hacking cough in the wee hours of the morning.

Also noteworthy: we received a lowball offer on our house, our first and (to-date) only offer. There were a few nail-biting days of negotiation before the offer-makers walked away altogether.

Somehow I've managed to be extremely bored and extremely tense at the same time. Imagine how my poor family has suffered. Finally, God in his mercy saw fit to relieve us all of the tyranny of my mood.

So! This past Sunday night we WENT OUT. WITH FRIENDS. WE HAD A BABYSITTER. I crawled out of my swamp of dejection and had a lovely time out in the world. The Hamiltons secured their babysitter and brought their baby over to be sat with our kids. Not just any babysitter, I tell you. Her soft voice and too-good-to-be-true love of children had me checking over her shoulder for bluebirds or any assorted woodland creatures which might have been following her charming self about. The boys were good, though I would not have been surprised to receive a doctor's bill for the reattaching of the dear babysitter's ear after Nels finally stopped talking to her.

Occasions which have long been anticipated have a way of letting one down. Not this time. (Did I mention the mercy of God?) We had a delicious dinner downtown. We had inexpensive drinks at an old-timey bar. We saw Vampire Weekend (it's a band, mom) at a smallish bar/club, and every moment was jolly good fun. Even when it started snowing.

I guess I'm on a roll now, because I ventured out again tonight and had a very interesting evening. I'll tell you about it later. If you've stuck with this post this far, you're obviously related to me or a much dearer friend than I deserve.