Sunday, September 30, 2007

Living Large...or Not

Normally I use my blog as a place to post newsy stuff about our family. This is not that kind of post. If you are looking for Silly Melanie, go away and come back another day. I need to write today for cathartic reasons and I’m hoping the power of the pen can override the equally powerful pull of the birthday cake sitting 10-feet away from me in my kitchen. I rue on a daily basis that prayer alone does not inspire serotonin release because it seems that all involved would benefit from that particular equation.

I am married to a guy who would have been a fabulous a real estate agent. This to say, he spends a ridiculous amount of time keeping up with housing trends several neighborhoods of interest (DC, Charlotte & Southern California mainly). Periodically we toy with the idea of moving back to DC or Long Beach, both of which pull at our hearts in different ways. More often we consider upgrading to a larger home right here in Charlotte. Recently, the house hunt has taken on a rather frenzied pace. It started about 2-weeks ago when Jeff found a large, extremely undervalued house on a ½ acre in Concord, NC. There are two very appealing things about living in Cabarrus County; their property taxes are lower, and their schools are significantly better than ours here in Mecklenburg Country. This worries me since Carter will be starting kindergarten in less than a year and my hopes and dreams for him do not include educating him in the worst public school system in the state. Also, living in Concord would not increase Jeff’s commute into town. That’s important to our family. We like having him around. So Peyton and I drove by said house a couple of times and decided that although the subdivision wasn’t a real improvement over ours, perhaps the sheer size and layout of the house would over compensate for it. Alas, when Jeff called the agent, he discovered that there was already a contract on the house.

An opportunity lost? I’m not even sure, but what it started was a frantic search for a bigger and better home.

As an aside, I should say here that there is nothing desperately wrong with the home we are living in right now…except that we are growing out of it. Our playroom is great for Peyton, but for 3 kids it is way too small. And currently, we have bodies in every bedroom which means that guests are difficult to accommodate. Prior to moving Peyton into the nursery, Griffin into Carter’s room, and Carter into the guest room, we had a guest room/office. But in order to get Peyton out of our room so that we could get some sleep, and put the boys in separate rooms so that they could sleep, we had to move the office to the living room making us a candidate for HGTV’s Designed to Sell. I can just see Donna Freeman standing in my living room asking, “Is this a living room? Is it a home office? Is it a music room? Is it a playroom?” It’s functional, it’s not ideal. But it’s a lot better than keeping the office in the guest room because I was beginning to dread having anyone stay over. In a perfect world, I’d have Carter and Griffin share a room, but we’ve tried that and it doesn’t work for us. Even if we put them down at 7:30pm, they don’t go to sleep until 11:00pm, which means they are cranky, irritable, and belligerent the next day(s). And afternoon naps, which they both still need, are a complete no-go. We’ll probably try again when they are older, but right now since we have 4 bedrooms, we’re using them all every night.

It’s a buyers market here in Charlotte and Jeff has finely honed his house hunting skills, so he had no trouble finding several other 5 bedroom, 3 bath homes that might work. We even went to see a couple of model homes that we could have built - which would have given us time to finish renovating our current home and sell it before it having to move in. We didn’t like those. But we found one we did like almost immediately. And no need to covet because in my own mind I ALREADY OWN IT and AM LIVING THERE RIGHT NOW.

It has everything Jeff and I have ever talked about wanting in our next home and more; a transitional floor plan with great flow and lots of natural light, the requisite number of bedrooms and bathrooms, beautiful landscaping in the front yard, a side load garage, and a huge lush, flat, fully fenced yard with an irrigation system. No one is lugging sprinklers around this community, that’s for sure. Best of all, it has an enormous basement that is unfinished, but is already framed, plumbed, and the current owner spent $8,000 installing an HVAC system down there in anticipation of a build-out. It lacks only drywall a few doors, fixtures and some paint. I see a huge playroom, a private bedroom and bath for our guests, a spacious storage room, and a shop for Jeff down there. So really, it’s a 6 bedroom, 4.5 bath house, with a bonus room. That is a lot of house. If feels exhilarating just to be in its presence.

The dream house has just one teeny tiny drawback and that is the cost. But we decided we could swing it if we were willing to do one of two things:

1. Liquidate each and every asset we have and reallocate it toward the down payment. I know people do it, but we moved to Charlotte because of its affordability. We don’t want to be house poor. But for the right house, apparently, we’ll consider all options. Even bad ones.

2. Stop tithing and giving charitably. I was horrified when Jeff first suggested it, but he was right. The difference between our monthly mortgage now and what the mortgage would be on the perfect house was almost exactly what we are giving each month. Coincidence, I think not?

To our credit, no matter how small, we considered the first option longer and more seriously than the second. The second option was so disturbing that it effectively shut down the new house idea entirely. Even when the agent called with some pretty attractive incentives. But the whole experience gave me cause to contemplate the value of our giving. I have heard more sermons on tithing where it is preached from the pulpit that God doesn’t need your money, He needs your obedience. Blah, blah, blah. I get that, but I prefer to believe that the missionaries we support actually do depend on our willingness to prioritize them in our budget. That lives are changed at WOW JAM because we gave. That the children’s ministry at our church runs a little more smoothly with our financial support. That it really will matter to not just 8 lives, but an entire community, if we don’t get around to building the orphanage in Kenya because the Freshours were otherwise consumed with building out their basement so they could have a 4,000 square foot house. And no, they hadn’t had any more children. They just wanted it. Thought they’d be more comfortable if they didn’t have to drag sprinkler hoses around their yard anymore. That it would be nice to have an actual laundry room, an expansive kitchen, and a family room with built-ins.

I hate to turn this into something more spiritual than it is, because I prefer not to even acknowledge the forces of evil (so easy to ignore in America), but I really feel on some level that I was set-up. The transition was just too effortlessly made from the big house we could readily afford (in Concord) to the dream house we could not. I was fully and completely seduced by the possibility of owning it and making it our home. The dead giveaway was when our tithing came into play and I felt internally asked if I was willing to give up the Embu orphanage for a new house. In the grocery store, no less. Such a casual environment for such a loaded question. It was more disturbing than I even have words to express.

So now I’m just angry that I was so easily drawn in. That I allowed myself to be put in a place to even entertain the question of our tithe. That I was such EASY PREY. Especially now. We’re really in the ditches with our African Children’s Project at the moment. It is an arduous task to try to set up a non-profit in the US and an NGO in Kenya and then try to coordinate them. Filing for tax exempt status in the US alone has been incredibly time-consuming because you have to predict your budget 3 years out. It’s a valuable exercise, but sometimes I come away from working on it feeling like I have just counted out 3,000,000 individual grains of rice in order to predict our annual rice expenditure - I’m not even the one who has costed it all out. But this I know without a shadow of a doubt. As grueling and frustrating as our African Children’s Project becomes sometimes, I am not selling out for a new house. Nor am I selling out our missionaries or the other organizations and people who depend on our "obedience".

Okay, I’m done now. What took you 15 minutes to read, took me 6-hours to write. And I do, indeed, feel more organized and sorted mentally. So I guess this worked. I’m not necessarily looking for dialogue here. Prayer, however, I could use. There are at least 8 kids out there counting on our ability to stay focused with our eyes fixed on the prize. Clearly, I am weak and easily distracted, both of which I find deeply humiliating and an awful testimony to my faith. Hence the reason I have no desire to dialogue about it. If what I am writing resonates with you and you simply can’t keep yourself from commenting, write a note and mail it to me. Alternately, you could send us a big, fat check for our orphanage project. We have to raise $10,000 this year in order to file everywhere we need to file in the U.S. and get the logistics worked out in Kenya. We need to raise $60,000 by this time next year in order to start building. These are just the facts. I, in the meantime, will be fighting off my purely imagined claustrophobia…confidently believing that by this time next year, I’ll be wholly celebrating the sacrifice of my dream home. I'm claiming that in advance.

I’ll be back later this week with my usual mundane drivel. I know you'll all be looking forward to it.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rockers with Walkers

After a 22-year hiatus, Van Halen reunited right here in Charlotte tonight. Not surprisingly, Jeff and Cousin Patrick were on hand to Dance the Night Away.

This is a before concert picture. You can see Patrick is unashamedly excited. Jeff, on the other hand, is trying to look all cool about the event. But I will tell you this, he complained about my driving the entire trip into town which is a sure sign of his being wound up as well. Amusingly, Jeff is scheduled to play the bass on Sunday. I eagerly await to see if young Wolfgang Van Halen leaves his mark on our overall worship experience. (Somebody give me an AMEN.)

Sadly, I will not be posting an after picture for fear our church will revoke our membership.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Get Thee Behind Me Hobby Lobby

So I was sitting at our local Urgent Care facility yesterday afternoon and was thinking to myself that maybe I should consider throwing our first annual Freshour holiday party right here in the lobby. They just opened in January of this year so the furnishings are in excellent condition, significantly better than our home which has had the tar beat out of it by three kids (my next sofa will so be vinyl). There is plenty of parking out front, and I know they have a great caterer because the coffee is always hot and the lollipops plentiful. We could give away Bob the Builder and Spiderman stickers as party favors. I think it'd be festive. Best of all, I'm there so frequently and my visits last so very long, that I've really developed close, meaningful relationships with the staff. There is Carolyn at the front desk, Sandra the nurse, and Dr. D. I love him. He is not at all loopy. I think he actually rivals our pediatrician in terms of child-friendliness. Which is good because Griffin had jammed a shiny red craft bead so far into his left ear that it was not visible to the naked eye and it was Dr. D's job to get it out.

When I picked Griffin up from preschool, there was actually a question as to whether or not he had anything in his ear at all. We all thought he was saying he had a bee in his ear and figured a bug of some sort had flown in there while he was outside playing. We buzzed and fluttering about, peered into his ear, and saw nothing that resembled a flying object. But Griffin was becomming a bit desperate, so he ran inside the classroom and found a blue bead on the floor. He brought it out to us and ever so earnestly asked, "Doctor get it out, Mommy?" It's a landmark day when your 2-year old can tell he has done something that is even beyond his own mother's power to rescue him.

So off Griffin and I went to Urgent Care. Actually, we made a quick stop by the house first where Jeff was packing for a trip to Virginia Tech to proselyte Wachovians. He was scheduled to leave in an hour. I was hoping the combined efforts of my friends at Urgent Care could liberate the bead in less than that so that Carter and Peyton would not have to be home alone. (Please people. Like we'd ever do that. But we did not exactly have a plan beyond hope when I left with Griffin.)

We got in pretty quickly. It helps that we're in the system and I'm on a first name basis with Carolyn and Sandra who have started reserving a time for me on Tuesdays. Dr. D came in and confimed the obvious. He also let Griffin play with the irrigator and light up his fingers with the otoscope.

As an aside, I totally just googled "Fisher Price Medical Kit" to figure out what this lighted thingy is called. I googled that after I googled a bunch of other really intelligent medical sounding words that garned me nothing. People say I'm smart. I'm not really. This proves it. I am, however, creative. But I am not crafty. I rebuke crafts and the multitude of teeny tiny bits and pieces that are required. For obvious reasons.

Also, I feel I should make note, that we found a babysitter in the middle of the afternoon for Carter and Peyton so Jeff could leave. It was something of a Tuesday miracle.

The irrigation by Nurse Sandra went okay. It wasn't working, but Griffin was pleasantly tolerating the process...until the bead rotated in his ear allowing a direct stream from the gun to go through the hole in the bead to his ear drum. He was much less agreeable after that. Dr. D tried once to hook it with some instrument but stopped mid-try because Griffin, despite being held down by Sandra and I, was squirming and crying so violently that he feared poking it down in deeper or worse. It was traumatic. At one point Dr. D left the room to call our Pediatrician and when he came back in Griffin said through his tears, "Please don't hurt me, Doctor." He got a yellow lollipop on the spot. And a festive holiday party favor.

The Pediatrican tried once to hook it and then decided an ENT could be of use right now. Dr. D found us one - and made us an appointment for 3:30pm. But that sounded great to me, because if you've tried something and failed for almost two hours, you probably do need a specialist. Off we raced to the ENT, only to sit there for 45 minutes before we met Dr. B. He took one little look at Griffin's ear and said he'd have it out in 2.2 seconds flat. He did not say it would involve a straight-jacket, screaming, and gnashing of teeth. I tried to tell Griffin the papoose was like a sleeping bag, but he wasn't buying it. It took less than 2.2 seconds to get it out. (That's Jeff's finger, not Griffin's).

Sometimes all you need is a guy with the right tools. Vacuuming up all the water from the irrigation and cleaning out the ear wax took a little longer, but now at least we don't have to worry about swimmers ear. And, he can hear a lot better now. Out of BOTH ears.
The bead we're saving for his baby BOX. Just in case he wants to get crafty and make a necklace one day.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Carter May Have To Get His Own Blog

I know. Two posts in three days. It's a personal best. But once again, Carter has done something truly sensational, and I feel compelled, COMPELLED, I say, to update the world on yet another Freshour folly.

As part of their preschool curriculum at the YMCA, Carter and Griffin have swimming lessons once a week. After changing back into his clothes yesterday, Carter was reaching for his necklace...that's right, I said necklace. He made it in KCZ on Sunday. It has beads on it that read P-O-T. If anyone can tell us which passage of scripture or theological doctrine P-O-T could possibly refer to, please let us know. Anyway, as he was reaching for his necklace, he lost his balance and hit his knee right on the edge of his locker, slicing it open not unlike he did with his head back in May.

Now I'm not a certified medical professional by any means, but over the last couple of months I've picked up some basic wound assessment skills due to the near constant practice at our house. This particular injury looked pretty deep to me. So off Peyton, Carter and I went to Urgent Care to have him checked out. Griffin I wisely left in the hands of his own preschool teachers where he was giving them a run for their money. Let's just say a terse note was sent home detailing his abhorrent behavior yesterday. I wish I had a scanner because it was priceless. Does Not Listen was circled and underlined, and a near tome was written describing his many transgressions of the morning. There was so much naughtiness to share they had to run over onto the back side of the page.

Sure enough, Carter needed stitches. Three of them. Stitched by an older Doctor who seemed a bit loopy. His nurse had to kind of walk him through the procedure. Would you like some wound wash, Doctor? Would you like some Lidocaine, Doctor? Would you like a suture kit, Doctor? That sort of dialogue does not exactly inspire confidence in a mother. Guys, while you discuss exactly how sutures are to be executed, I have a pretty nervous little boy on the table, a baby on my back and WHERE THE HECK IS THAT NUMBING STUFF THEY USED IN THE ER PRIOR TO INJECTING THE LIDOCAINE LAST TIME HE HAD STITCHES? FOR THE LOVE OF PETE, HE'S ONLY FOUR. That, I did ask, but a little more nicely. Over the screams of Carter who was trying so very hard to be good while they injected lidocaine directly into his wound, and the screams of Peyton who was wailing in sympathy. The nurse kind of shrugged her shoulders and gave me a look that clearly said the Doctor had missed a step and now 2 people in the room knew it. The Doctor mumbled something about it not working for this sort of wound. Please. Even if it's only a placebo, placebos work like a charm on a preschooler. And it does work, you loopy old man. Next time, and I have no doubt there will be a next time, I'm stopping them in their tracks on that one.
Carter lived to tell the tale and we got out of there with our lollipops in the nick of time to pick up Griffin...before they auctioned him off to the highest bidder.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Conservation's Finest Hour

In case anyone is wondering, we’re not going to make it to the beach in September. As it turns out, we’re on the 5-year plan as far as vacations go. In 2002, we went to Williamsburg, VA. In 2007 we went to Gaitlinburg, TN. Maybe in 2012 we’ll finally make it to Myrtle Beach, SC. We’re like highly conditioned athletes in that we don’t want to get too relaxed and possibly risk losing our edge. Or gaining our sanity. Right now we don’t really comprehend how tired we actually are. And we’d like to keep it that way. Also, we came home from vacation last month to a minor predicament. Apparently, one of our sprinklers had been running the entire time we had been gone. That’s right. Five solid days of water being flung gaily back and forth through the air by our oscillating sprinkler, hour after blissful hour.

It was the garden’s fault. It looked so pitiful out there shriveling away in North Carolina's triple digit summer that I knew I HAD to make sure it got a drink while we were on vacation or it would surely die. So the day before we left I ran over to my friend, Ace, and picked up a couple of water of which failed. Obviously. But I didn’t know that until we got back because I was frantically hooking them up in the sweltering heat as Jeff was buckling the kids into their car seats to leave on said vacation. Frantically, because I had just taken a shower and wanted to stay out of the heat and humidity, not because we were late leaving. Just wanted to make that clear. When Jeff sets a deadline in our house, we are never even a fraction of a minute late. Because he is the head of our home and we honor his committment to the minute hand. When I'm in charge, however, you can almost guarantee some form of tardiness. But I'm okay with that. Really, I am. There is something about constantly looking frazzled that appeals to me. Just so you all know.

Our grass loved it. Everything else drowned. Contention ever so briefly transpired. Understandably, I’ve been on the look-out each day for the little white mail truck to make sure I get the bill before Jeff . So in case it really is the $500+ he expects, I can talk him down. Kind of like making sure I got the mail before my folks did when I was expecting a demerit in high school. Ah…sweet memories. There is something so precious about reliving the past well into your thirties. Anyway, we got the bill this weekend and it was only $181. Of course, it’s usually around $70 but I think it was offset by our lack of usage on vacation. Also by the fact that the week after we came home, Mecklenburg County issued mandatory water restrictions. Probably because our family had single-handedly drained Lake Norman the previous week. But I didn’t worry. Because our green grass was(is) still drying out.