Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Zippy, The Awkward Spider

Every time we have come to TX for a visit over the last five years it seems a different kind of wildlife has won the race for that year to be the dominant bug here in the country. I think different climate conditions favor different populations. Last year's drought brought millions of grasshoppers. This year there aren't so many, perhaps because this year's ample rainfall has been good for the spiders. Fortunately, the rain has also allowed the scorpions to keep more to themselves, so we have not seen so many of them, either. The spiders are the best and most welcome (except the widow and the recluse) because you know they are keeping the insect population under control. Don't get me wrong I am not ready to let one walk on my arm, but they are a very cool part of living in the country.

There are always some here and there of all kinds of spiders: Green garden spiders the size of a quarter, bold jumping spiders, wolf spiders with furry legs, little ones that look like crabs, leggy ones that are striped like a zebra. I know that may make you shudder, but they are so large and predictable that they get to be familiar, not scary because really, you are thousands of times bigger than they. They will spin their web and park in the middle of it for days at a time, trapping their food until the web gets too torn up and it becomes time to spin a new one. As long as they stay in their place (outside) and out of the way (not where I want to be), they are fascinating to watch.

Among the spiders, the ones that seem to have won the survival race this year are gigantic leggy yellow and black garden orbweavers, some as large as 5” from leg tip to leg tip. I kid you not, they are big enough to be pets, if you are into that sort of thing. They are just everywhere: on the shrubbery around the pool, hanging from the eaves of the house, anyplace they can spread a net to catch unsuspecting bugs.

So this is a story about a yellow garden spider. We'll call him Zippy. I first met Zippy one windy afternoon last week when we were trying to bring in some toys and other items to shelter from the impending storm. One of those items was a large cooler parked about 18” away from Justin's car (recently named “Hey Kool-Aid!” Oh Yeah!). As I reached for the cooler to wheel it under the breezeway between the house and the garage I suddenly realized one of our large arachnid friends (Zippy) had spun himself a web between the cooler and Justin's car. After admiring him for a moment, we wheeled the cooler, Zippy and all, to the protected breezeway and went inside to weather the storm. Later we came out to check on his status. We tried to help him climb up the wall to build a web up high out of the way, but it appeared one of his legs was damaged from knocking around during the windstorm. So we directed him around the corner into the shrubbery.

Later that evening, Justin came outside to find that Zippy had returned and had spun his new web—right across the doorway leading into the garage. Not really a convenient spot, even if you don't mind cohabiting the outdoors with spiders. So he encouraged Zippy off the web and around the corner, again.

The following morning, he had spun an even more beautiful web—across the doorway leading to the music room above the garage. This is right next to the door leading into the garage, and also in the breezeway. Still not so convenient! We chased Zippy around the corner a third time, hoping he might get the message to avoid that part of the house.

Well sure enough, a few days later, Zippy, gimp leg and all, had gotten the message. He moved 20 feet away, over to the pool! On my way out to the pool one morning I happened to look up and behold his newest creation (with him on it) about 7 feet above the ground, as if it were the crossbar connecting the bushes that grow on either side of the gate. I felt a little sheepish being bothered by him but went to get Justin anyway, with the words, “there's an awkward spider...”

By the following morning, when we found him AGAIN, this time completely blocking the pool gate, we just had to laugh at seeing our friend again. It doesn't seem right to call this spider awkward. Perhaps the better way to describe him is, “The Persistent Spider.”

Zippy just keeps doing what God created him to do, and doesn't worry too much about the rightness or wrongness of his placement. When his web gets destroyed, he just gets back up and builds another one. When he gets pestered and chased off, he just gets back up and builds another web. No crying, no sitting in a hole and complaining that life is so hard. He just keeps trying. There is definitely something I can learn here. I want to strive to live my life with as much persistence as this little dude.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Ten Years!

As you may know, two days after arriving in Texas we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary on August 15. As a special gift for this road-weary couple, we were treated to 2 nights at a local bed-and-breakfast, complete with a Texas-sized surf-and-turf dinner in our cabin, our own Texas flag to fly... wherever, and 48 hours of babysitting by Justin's parents.

On our anniversary each year we try to take time to stop and reflect on our journey thus far, and look ahead to what the next 10 years might bring. Having our special day fall when it did this year, and having it be such a significant one, really seemed to mark the end of one chapter and the beginning of another in our marriage.

In the first ten years of our marriage we lived in Southern and Northern California, Michigan and Utah. We have owned two homes and seven cars, and added two people to the population of the Earth. We worked in the film industry, for a company that won two Academy Awards while we were there. We helped start a church, and both of us have started our own business. Along the way we have made lots of friends, many of whom helped us to stretch our view of people and the world. All of our brothers have gotten married in that time, and one has made us aunt and uncle two times already. It sure felt like we squeezed a lot into that time!

About six years ago we sat down for one of our reflective sessions and asked ourselves where we would like to be in five to ten years. Our answer included horses, family, and Christian ministry. Five years ago we began thinking we might like to move to Texas. We got a head start on the ministry part when we joined the team in Salt Lake a few months later. But despite having made that significant (and worthwhile) side trip along the way, somehow here we are five years later, with two days to spare!

It's funny, this anniversary brought such a sense of completion of goals, that during our special dinner we found ourselves unable to discuss any goals for the next ten years. This year, we just savored being at the finish line of one big goal. The only goal I have right now is to stay in one place while the kids are growing up. I believe the rest will unfold as we get settled in to our new home town.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Texas Wildlife

I realize that this entry will probably ensure some of you never come visit me. All I can say is, I will miss you! If you do manage to make it here, I promise to do my best to shield you from whatever you don't want to see, feel or know about. But today, I simply must share the adventures of country living here in Texas, where everything really is bigger.

I would say I have spent a total of about 8 weeks in this house, covering 2 summers, early fall, and early winter, before coming here to live. In that time I have encountered my share of wildlife, but there seems to be something different about this year. In the first 24 hours I was here, I got intimately close with the wildlife in ways I had not before! The first evening I went out to the pool to collect a water cup I had forgotten half an hour earlier; when I came back inside I thought I felt a hair hanging on my arm. Before I could find it, Justin gave me a horrified look and reached out for something on my shoulder, then threw it quickly to the ground. Turns out I had collected a spider rider at the pool, and although harmless it was large and green. I don't mind them on their webs but not on my shoulder!

A little later I decided there were a couple of boxes I didn't want exposed to the bug population in the outer garage. I grabbed my sewing machine box and carried it inside. After putting it down in my closet and making space for it, I turned to pick it up and saw a scorpion stowaway sitting on the top of the box! It was a tiny thing, about the size of the first knuckle on my pinkie, but it had already moved into my sewing machine box and was a little put out at the change of scenery. Of course finding it in my closet was unnerving.

The next morning we were all lounging in the pool when I reached out to pick a blade of grass out of the water and thought it didn't quite look like grass... Upon closer investigation, I realized it looked more like a nightcrawler (worm), no make that... an 8” snake?! My already elevated adrenaline level propelled me to haul the kids out of the water and jump out myself before asking any more questions. Later I discovered it was simply a garden snake that had fallen in the water. I learned that day that snakes with blunt noses are generally harmless, and also that there is a picture map of poisonous Texas snakes in the house.

I don't think I will soon forget the adventure of my first day as a Texas resident. The rest of the wildlife I have seen has been at a more comfortable distance. Other than the scorpions and the widow spiders, I do intend to enjoy what wildlife I see, as long as it stays off my shoulder, out of my boxes, and definitely out of my swimming water!

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Exodus

It would be really easy to describe our trip as a LOT of driving, with a few hours of mountains at the beginning followed by days and days of driving through the plains. And by the end it was just hot. But there is actually a little more to it than that. For example, the late afternoon scenery on the way out of Utah was breathtaking, and the plains were thick with endless fields of sunflowers, waving at us as we passed by...

Seriously, our caravan consisted of the 26' Penske truck towing the red car, and the Explorer carrying the kids. Justin's dad and brother came along to switch off driving the two vehicles with Justin and me. While we didn't worry too much about keeping together on the road, we did work out a rhythm within the first day. As it turned out, the Explorer could travel a 150 mile stretch about 20 minutes faster than the truck, but the Explorer usually got a late start on a given leg due to resetting the stage for the kids: clearing out trash, moving snacks to the front, setting up a movie, or even actually making a potty stop in the middle of the leg. So both vehicles usually ended up at a stop within a few minutes of each other.

Our late start on Friday meant that we arrived at our hotel in Cheyenne at midnight instead of 7pm; but by the next morning we were back on schedule and made good time to Hays, KS. Along the way Jesse pointed out every blessed thing that moved on the prairie by shouting “Horsie!” or “Moo!” We also were made aware of every truck, train tractor and airplane that passed within half a mile of us. It's funny how much is out there that you tune out until a child reminds you that it is notable. My favorite thing that we saw was completely missed by the children because they didn't know what they were seeing. Several times we passed groups of flatbed trailer trucks carrying what looked like one or two windmill blades on each. I know the windmills are pretty big; but I guess I always see them from so far away that I didn't appreciate their size. I just could hardly believe the fan blades were the same length as a trailer, which I believe is something like 52' long. Yeehaw.

Sunday was our longest day, 12 hours from Hays to Dallas. But the hotel breakfast was great fuel to drive on, the kids were miraculously fine, and after swimming in the hotel pool that night we all completely passed out from being so tired. Our stop that night was just 4 hours from our destination. I noticed that about an hour north of Dallas is an exotic animal sanctuary, including something like 130 tigers, the nation's largest collection. That is definitely on my list of places to visit on a weekend trip next summer!

Monday was the day of our arrival at the Red Boot Ranch, as the Burdines call their 4 acre lot at the far end of a windy country road outside of College Station. When we pulled into the driveway, we were welcomed by Grammy with her camera, two exuberant dogs, and a brand new swingset complete with Texas flag! We came inside to find a huge welcome banner painted by my Utah- friend- turned- sister-in-law- turned- new- housemate, Whitney. Thanks, Whit! She and Momma Dawn had worked hard to prepare us a nice space to call home while we are here. We are in the red guest room: I have always thought it would be fun to have a red room, and I was right! The kids are in their own room together, and we all use the main floor bathroom which funny enough is actually bigger than my old master bath! The only thing I miss is having my own bathroom in my bedroom; but I can definitely live with this arrangement for as long as I need to. Seriously, it could hardly be any better considering that three households live under this roof.

I think it was about 100 degrees the afternoon we arrived, the same as in Utah the week we loaded the truck, but the humidity here is so heavy and palpable that it is almost alive. That evening, while unloading the truck with some true friends from the Burdines' church (thanks Scott, Thad, Britt, Andrew and Josh!) we were all so soaked with sweat that we looked like we had just come straight from the pool without bothering to towel off. The good news is that there is a pool, and we have tried our hardest to use it at least once a day!

The other good news is that the Burdines have a 30' x 40' workshop behind the house and they graciously cleared it out so that we could store our belongings there as long as we need to. Saves on both money and frustration, since I think of at least three things a day that I need or would like to have from my pile. We rearranged everything a few days later so that boxes are sorted by area of the house, and piled in rows so that we can reach almost everything if we need to. It is really a work of art in its own right, which is why I mention it!

All in all, we are getting settled and feeling closer to equilibrium every day. I have most of my “important things to keep with me,” with me. And most importantly I guess, I seem to have found a sense of ease that has been missing for months.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Tetris Mania

Wow was I carried through the last few days in Utah by the friendship of my Salt Lake friends. We had a really nice barbecue on the Sunday before departure (August 5th), that was attended by about 50 people including the kids. Thanks to all who came; it was really nice to feel the love that everyone expressed toward us.

The rest of the week we also had our Texas family, as well as local friends come each day to help with a different project. Packing the garage, packing the kitchen, cleaning the corners, finishing up the last minute details of the house that constantly needed more attention. Salvation Army came on Monday to pick up the bulk of our furniture that we knew just wasn't going to fit on the truck.

Wednesday the 8th was loading day. What ended up to be the friends we have been closest to while in SLC were the ones that showed up to help load the truck. In two hours they had loaded probably 80% of everything. We had a nice pizza party to refuel and thank everyone for participating.

Thursday we had a lot of work left to finish that last 20%, in addition to continuing last minute repairs to the house. All I can say that I remember about it now is, it felt like an incredibly long day. When our friends the Ecksteins showed up at 5, I could not believe how the hours had flown by, and how much was left to do. But we worked together for a short while then all went out for dinner at our favorite hole-in-the-wall Chinese place. No matter how hard you have to be working, you still have to take a break sometimes.

Before bedtime Justin and I took the kids to the Build-a-Bear Workshop to pick out a new friend for the trip. Jesse chose a huge furry brown bunny, which he named “Boing” but calls “Bunny.” Maren found a Husky, which she interpreted to be a Coyote. Of course she did, since I suddenly remembered that at Preschool graduation she was given a special award for being the Coyote Pack Leader. Apparently every day at recess she would gather all the other children and climb to the top of the slide, and they would all howl at the moon together. What a riot! She started to name her coyote “Baby Howler” until I showed her part 2 of the present, a tiny pup designed to go with the bigger one. The girl was speechless with delight. Man it is so fun to do special things for those kids when they are appreciative!

Friday was truth day, and was the hardest day of all. The final 2% had to be fit into the truck like a game of Tetris gone horribly wrong. We started unpacking boxes, bagging the contents, and stuffing them in the cracks. As it ended up, we had to make some choices about what to take. I had to choose between my refrigerator and my mattresses. Not sure I did the best thing, but I chose the refrigerator and gave the mattresses away. There are a couple other things I think I regret leaving, but it's hard to say what else would have been left if I had included them.

We left behind all of our computer chairs, a dresser, and several other things I probably won't even fully realize the impact of until we move into our next house. That was hard, but I have had to console myself with the reminder that trying to hold on to material things in life is sort of like trying to hold on to sand that flows between your fingers. It's not really mine anyway, and there are no guarantees from above that I get to keep any of it even through my life. The important things, my family members, came with me. Other important things, photo albums and keepsakes, wedding gifts and other treasures, made it too. Lots of other slightly less important things, like computers, clothes, hard-to-replace items, even made it. And the most awkward piece to survive this move, my glass top table and chair set, was graciously provided a spot on the truck as well. It will probably take years and thousands of dollars to replace the total of what we donated and gave away, but we will be okay. And the people at the Dream Center, who will receive the final items that just wouldn't fit, I pray that they will be blessed by receiving these things that felt more like a sacrifice to me than the first load of donated items.

By Friday the 10th of August, at 2:30, less than 5 hours behind schedule, we closed and locked the truck, waved goodbye to Maren's neighbor friend Kyra and her dad, and were on our way.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Three Crazy Days

So I just have to share the story of three days last week. As I was living it, I knew I had to tell the story before I forgot the details. I could just hear my Nana's voice, telling me I needed to write it all down. It's just too unbelievable....

Wednesday , July 25, was our day to finish the basement before the carpet installers came on Thursday. Our friends were coming at 9:30 am to pick up the kids for several hours so we could work on that project.

At 9:28, the phone rang. The realtor called to tell us we had our first showing that day at noon. You've got to be kidding me. So after the kids left we kicked it out cleaning and preparing the house for that showing. Then we went to lunch. 5 minutes after we got home, our friends showed up with the kids--so much for working on the basement for awhile! Once our friends left something else came up, and pretty soon it was dinner time. By the time we started on the basement it was 9pm. We worked like dogs until 3:30 am, and got it done. Whew! what a day!

Thursday, July 26, I was up early because I didn't know when the carpet layers were coming. Also early, a truck came with sod that I had ordered a week earlier and that just happened to be scheduled for delivery the same day. Pretty soon the carpet guys were also here and working on their job. The sod was left on the side of the house to wait until Justin got home from work.

While they were laying carpet, I decided to call the plumber to come take care of the leak in my master bath. He ended up coming right at the end of the carpet job. He diagnosed the problem as being something Justin had already fixed 2 times but it hadn't fixed the leak. But I went along with it, knowing he would also discover this after he too tried that fix. After leaving to buy a part and coming back, he realized that there was indeed a different problem, and could he come back the next day to finish the job? I said of course, just FIX it.

Thursday night we went to dinner before coming home and putting the kids to bed. At 9pm we were finally ready to get to that sod. Not five minutes later, the heavens opened up and buckets of rain poured and poured and poured--the FIRST time it has rained in at least three months. What in the world! I am pretty sure I saw the ark floating by. We ended up laughing like children as we manhandled 50 lb rolls of grass into the wheelbarrow, around the house, and onto the soil. Instructions were to water within 15 minutes of laying each piece, and to thoroughly water until "squishy-wet" when we were done. Thanks to God in heaven, we were able to lay the sod in 20 of the wettest, dirtiest minutes of my life. I think it would have taken an additional 2 hours to do it otherwise! We ended up pre-showering in the runoff from the downspout by the garage before going in through the garage and stripping down there so we could run up through the house to take a real shower. Thankfully we got our new blinds installed last week.

So ha ha, we went to bed thinking, that's 2 nights in a row of hard labor before bed, but boy will the realtor be impressed when she comes in the morning! Little did we know that there was more craziness in store....

Friday morning, July 27, the realtor was indeed impressed. I think she was here about 10 minutes looking at the basement, the new sod, and a few other things we had finished up. A little later, we realized that some rainwater had come into the basement from that torrential rain. Our brand-new carpet, not even 24 hours laid, had already been introduced to water in a basement that has never leaked in 2 years of living here. Well we figured out the problem was some rocks we had moved away from the house had allowed all that rainwater to just go right down the side of our house. We can fix it, it's not a big deal. I rented a rug doctor and spent the rest of Friday sucking up water from the spot about 4 feet wide and 1 foot from the wall in the basement. It's now dry and fine, but oh my goodness what in the WORLD?!

Meanwhile.... the plumber had returned with a friend. They spent the afternoon fixing the bathtub leak. I think they left around 4pm. Whew! what a crazy episode! I need to get out of this house before anything else needs to be fixed. I think it's the curse of the For Sale sign: the minute the sign goes up, the house starts to fall apart. My friend Chris got to be here for Friday's drama, she had come over to help me organize my garage. After the plumbers left, we took a little break for some Otter Pops. And it turns out the craziness wasn't over yet...

A few minutes later, I went looking for Jesse who was very quiet. Then I saw him actually inside our chimney firepit. Haha, at least I had just washed it out so it was just funny and not messy. I told Chris to go out and look.

When she came back, she kinda laughed a funny nervous laugh and said, well actually, I don't think the firepit is your problem right now. There's another issue, Maren has scissors.

Holy cow. Tell me it isn't true. Yup, it's true. Maren has just shorn herself. WHAT in the WORLD?! On my mom's birthday (happy birthday, Gramma!). A month to the day before starting kindergarten. Insert stunned silence (followed by numerous other responses) here.

Well we dropped everything and went to Great Clips to see what we could do to, well, to soften the damage. An hour later it was better, but oh wow just wait until you see her handiwork! Then we went to Target to get her some new hairbands, see how to work with the new do (and make mommy feel better by getting to spend money). By the time we got home around 7pm, Justin had already come home from his last day of work, hung around for us, then left for his final poker night. He didn't even eat my wonderful crockpot dinner that had been cooking all day. But that's not even the whole story...

So Chris and I served up the kids and sat down on the porch to assess what we should do for the rest of the evening. And wouldn't you know it, the phone rang, it was my realtor. Someone wanted to see the house in half an hour. I about dropped a brick!

After a wonderful effort getting the house ready, Chris left for a party and I took the kids to the park. We waited a long time and then came home to find out that the power had been out while I was gone. WHAT IN THE WORLD?! I could not tell if anyone had ever even shown up to look at the house. I found out later that they did indeed come, and the result from that showing as well as the one on Wednesday was that they liked the house but found another one that same night that they liked better and decided to put an offer on. For those of you that want to know. Maybe the third time will have that special charm, I can always hope.

Well come Saturday morning, Maren and I went to a birthday party, and when I got home, nothing had happened. Thankfully. Nothing exciting has happened now for three days. And while I just wanted to cry over some of those events, I have to choose to laugh. It's the only way I am going to get to the finish line.