Apr 30, 2008

The Move: Days Three and Four

Sunday: We spent a good chunk of the day arranging furniture, rugs, lamps, etc., all the while pleading, "Move, Grady -- I mean Brace." (If that little voice in your head ever tells you something is probably too heavy for you to pick up, listen to it.) We didn't have a refrigerator yet, since that little detail got lost in the flurry of paperwork, packing and procrastination, so we were subsisting entirely on food from a HUGE gift basket from our friend and realtor, Deborah. Who knew Jelly Bellies could give you such energy? They should be their own food group.

At some point our doorbell rang, and a neighbor from down the street was waiting on our front porch with his adorable little girl and A PLATE OF CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES. John and I must have looked like idiots, standing there with our mouths hanging open, so I explained that our first encounter with our old neighbors had to do with the weeds in our garden. That is why this is one of the happiest pictures I have ever taken:

Monday: Very first thing in the morning, I dashed out to my car to look for something and locked myself out of the house. With Grace inside. At this point I had met the neighbors on either side of us, and they had yet to see me in anything other than pajamas or a combination of pajamas and street clothes. The guy to the south let me use his phone to call a locksmith, and the guy to the north suggested that if I was going to make a habit of this, I might consider giving one of them a spare. I hadn't had any coffee and hadn't showered since Saturday morning, and Grace was inside wailing (a little melodramatically, I think), unable to get off the couch and OPEN THE DOOR FOR MOMMY, but I kept my cool. The locksmith was there in ten minutes, and I so wish I had taken his picture. He looked like a combination of Dennis Leary and Keith Richards, dressed all in black, with a silver chain on his pants and lots of silver rings. His tools looked nothing like those of other locksmiths who have come to my rescue, and I got the distinct impression he had decided burglary was just too risky these days and he might as well go straight and get paid for breaking into people's homes.

Later I went to buy a refrigerator, which I was dreading because the opening left by the builders would require a smaller than average fridge. But here I learned an important lesson: the fewer options you have, the easier it is to make a decision. I settled on one in less time than I've taken to pick out wine. Seconds after I got home, the truck pulled up and voilĂ ! Isn't she pretty? Now we can have our Jelly Bellies chilled.

Apr 29, 2008

The Move: Days One and Two

Friday: We were lucky enough to get into our new house a day before we had to vacate the old one. I spent the ENTIRE DAY cleaning every nook and cranny (construction dust -- ick), fixing leaky plumbing (freakin' plumbers) and generally loving every minute of being alone in our brand new, empty, totally awesome soon-to-be home.

Saturday: The movers arrived right on time (it's Portland, after all) and did a fantastic job loading everything we had packed. Emphasis on everything we had packed. For some reason I will never understand, I decided to save the kitchen for last so we wouldn't have to worry about packing everything carefully enough to withstand professionals handling it. We thought it made more sense to bring dishes, glasses, pots and pans, etc. in our cars and try not to hit any bumps. It's the "etc." that did me in, though. Long story short, I had finished packing leftover odds and ends upstairs and was just about done vacuuming when our buyer's realtor showed up. I had not even started on the kitchen, so imagine my reaction when he told me the new owner would be there in five minutes and they were having a party half an hour later. He helped me move everything from the kitchen to the garage and told me it would be cool if I just worked out there. As far as I'm concerned, he earned his commission then and there. But OH. MY. GOD. We have a LOT of stuff in our kitchen, some things I couldn't even put a name to. And all I had to work with were two big plastic bins and packing paper. I looked at the mountain of crap in the garage, called John (who was supervising the unloading at the new house) and said some things I'm not proud of. He showed up as the new owner was arriving and smoothed things over with her, then we spent HOURS haphazardly packing a ridiculous assortment of kitchen gadgets that we have no business even owning.

To make matters worse, there was still food in the fridge and a load of laundry in the dryer, so I had to join the party a few times to bag the food, clean beet juice from a produce bin (which looked like blood and totally freaked out a few guests, I think), and check on my clothes. Here's the beauty part, though: everyone was so nice. One man heard me mutter something about how I could use a snort of Jameson, and the next thing I knew I had a whiskey in my hand that tasted like Jameson but is apparently made in Pendleton. When I ventured inside, the new owner and her friends chatted with me about the house and what a great job we'd done with it, among other things. And one woman alerted me that I'd missed a drawer of stuff in the bathroom -- my glasses, contacts, toothbrush and toothpaste -- stuff I'd actually miss really soon. We ended the night hugging Barbara, the new owner, and having our picture taken together.

Grace spent the day with Julian and his parents, Justine and Steve. They went to the park, napped together (Grace and Julian) and when I called Justine to let her know we were finished, Grace was sound asleep for the night. Her first sleep over -- with a boy.

How cute are they?

Apr 23, 2008

I did NOT see this coming.

When we left our old house on Schuyler, I knew it would be awful. It was our first house, and we forged lifelong friendships and created countless fun, sad, hilarious, beautiful memories during the eight years we lived there. Dutchie died there. A few months later, Brady made herself at home there. We lived there when Grace was born. That's what did it, actually. I got tired of picking ants out of her hair when I was nursing her (gross), and the mouse poo in her bedroom closet was the final straw. But that last day, when I was cleaning the empty rooms, I cried -- no, sobbed -- the entire time I was there. I drove by today, and the garden I planted in front was in full bloom and beautiful. I thought, That's MY garden.

I never expected a twinge of anything other than pure joy leaving this place. But last night I was going through mountains of Grace's baby clothes to bring to a clothing exchange, trying to limit myself to one box of really, you know, meaningful pieces to keep. And suddenly I was having a panic attack and feeling weepy. We never connected with this community, and we've made more enemies than friends. Still, this is where I last nursed Grace. This is where she finally began walking at fourteen months, as if she'd been doing it forever (below). I remember thinking, when we took our first walk outside, her little hand in mine, I could die happy right now. She started talking here (and may never stop). Lots happens in two years when your baby becomes a toddler and then a little girl. Grace won't remember this place, but there are some things I will try to remember for her. I'll tell her about the ducks, geese, blue heron and egrets that make the Columbia Slough their home. I'll remind her of our summer walks, stopping to pick dandelions, collect pine cones and smell every flower. I'll leave out how the police shot and killed a neighbor last year just because he was waving a rifle at them. And we will NEVER AGAIN SPEAK OF THE HOMEOWNERS' ASSOCIATION.

(No, I don't know why I sound like I'm from Minnesota.)

Apr 17, 2008

What mid-life crisis?

This is my late dog, Dutchie. I adopted her when I was a junior in college and loved her like crazy for fifteen years. The day we put her to sleep was, to date, the worst day of my life. I miss her.

I've been swimming in nostalgia lately, dreaming a lot about high school and college and the indignities of those awkward years. I've been thinking about the person I was and the person I expected to become, and trying to reconcile both with who I am now. I've been making some clumsy efforts to reconnect with people from my past, I suppose hoping to find some objectivity, a lens without any filters of cynicism or disappointment. I think the changes going on in my life right now are forcing me to look back in order to move forward. I'd like to think I'm on the right track, that I'm continuing my journey to be a better person. Maybe I'll know once I'm not stuck in neutral, spinning my wheels and waiting for my real life to start.

Apr 16, 2008

Not too great at picking my battles.

If you're anything like me (and I hope for your sake you're not), you'll see this picture and wonder, "Who put together that train wreck of an outfit?" I really expected Grace to be three, maybe four before she cared about what she wore, but we've been... negotiating about clothing for quite some time now. Today she was still in her jammies at nap time (NOT my call), but she'd gotten jam all over them at lunch and I had to change her, you know, so the ants wouldn't get her while she slept. I let her pick out her shorts, figuring she'd go next for her favorite orange t-shirt that's too big for her because she knows I think it's too big for her. But she wanted this one. I pretended to misunderstand her and pulled out a solid pink shirt, but she started wailing as if I were trying to pull a shirt of thorns over her head. So I said, "Grace, what difference does it make? You're going to be napping!" I wish I could say she looked me square in the eye and replied, "EXACTLY." But that little voice was in my own head. So I put this shirt on her, and I felt like we both understood what just happened as I put her in her crib.

If you're normal, you're perhaps wondering why she's climbing from couch to couch like a dog. And the obvious answer there is that this is how Brady does it. At least she's not barking.

Apr 15, 2008

You want me to what?

Grace's expression here captures perfectly how I feel about packing. Every time we move I swear it will be the last time, but I get bored quickly. Also, I knew when we moved into this house that I needn't unpack the barware, so at least that box is ready to go. It's not that we didn't like the neighborhood, it's just that we hated the neighborhood. Unfriendly, isolated and unique in its close proximity to both a correctional facility and a school for emotionally disturbed, violent adolescents. Oh, and the Air National Guard. I dig military pilots as much as the next middle-aged hausfrau, but their daily maneuvers rattle the house, and I'm not sure Brady can take much more stress. And then there's the homeowner's association and their rabid pursuit of perfection and homogeneity among the houses and yards. Basically it's everything Portland is NOT, which we probably should have figured out before we moved here. So although I don't like packing, and Grace will be no help whatsoever, I'll be whistling while I work.

Apr 13, 2008

And then there were two.

The two literary agents who requested partials of my novel have bowed out, which leaves two who are considering the full manuscript. I'm becoming less sensitive to rejection, but what kills me is when an agent chooses to forego the form letter in favor of a personalized note extolling all that is good about my writing, characters, story, etc. -- then informs me my project is "not right for them at this time". This "It's not you, it's me" explanation is frustrating, because what I really need is feedback on what might make the novel more appealing to them. I suspect it's the genre, which means I'm screwed unless I want to transport the story to 18th century Poland, or the planet Erusserp a hundred years in the future, because that's what sells. Stupid readers.

Apr 12, 2008

Be careful what you wish for. Seriously.

These are mushrooms growing where brick meets siding on the balcony off our bedroom. This shouldn't be surprising to anyone who lives in Portland, or who has read Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion. While some may find our aggressively verdant climate oppressive, I'd like to believe we're being embraced, rather than strangled, by our flora.

So... WE SOLD OUR HOUSE! We went about things kind of ass-backwards, and stumbled upon a new house we just had to have before ours was even on the market. So we did the whole contingency thing, fully expecting it to take months to sell our place, losing our dream home in the process. Alas, every now and then the stars align and karma smiles down on us. The first person to call made an offer before our "For Sale" sign was even up. The catch? She must be in here on the 26th of this month, leaving us two weeks to vacate. We'll go directly from one closing to another, hoping both lenders have their shit together and things so smoothly. So much for waiting on THAT front.

The new house is totally cool! More on that later. I hesitate to talk about it for fear of jinxing the deal. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

Apr 9, 2008

While the dog's away, the cat will play.

Brady has a crew of buddies she goes to the dog park with every Wednesday afternoon, courtesy of Jodi at See Spot Run, easily the best dog walker ever. We also have a neighborhood cat, Floyd, who is so friendly, I'm not sure he knows he has claws or teeth. So while Brady was attempting to sniff and pee on every square inch of Normandale Park today, we let Floyd in out of the nasty weather. He went EVERYWHERE in the house. He even tried to rub against Grace, but although she'll walk up to a hundred pound Rottweiler and giggle, she was afraid of Floyd. Eventually he grew bored with us and sat staring at the front door until I let him out. He sauntered off without so much as a meow or a tail twitch of appreciation, and I'll admit I was a little put out by his sense of entitlement. Anyway, try to picture Brady coming home and running all over the house, nose to the floor, no wait -- the couch, no wait -- MY WATER BOWL?!? I thought her head would explode.

Apr 8, 2008

Where did J. Po go?

One of my favorite people in the world was in town this weekend. Jon and his partner lived next door to our old house, and for a few blissful summers we both worked from home, meaning we usually ended up drinking wine on one of our patios by three o'clock. Then OUT OF NOWHERE Jon accepted a job in San Diego. He took me to a trendy restaurant to tell me he was leaving so I wouldn't make a scene. (Ella was long gone, and another couple down the street had recently split up and moved to new neighborhoods, so yes, I was beginning to think it had something to do with me.) I promised Jon I would stop using my key to their house for emergencies, like running out of wine or Diet Coke, but he insisted that wasn't it, and that NOT EVERYTHING WAS ABOUT ME. Please.

A few months after he left I was pregnant with Grace, so they've met only a couple of times. She fell in love with him this weekend, and quickly picked up his nickname, J. Po. Once he was gone, she kept asking, "Where'd J. Po go? Where's J. Po?" I took this opportunity to teach her an important life lesson: never get too attached to anyone, because eventually they will abandon you and break your heart into tiny little pieces.

Apr 5, 2008

I never stop learning from some teachers.

Sometimes when Brady is sleeping, she whimpers, growls, yelps or wags her tail. The tail wagging cracks me up, and I can't help but wonder what she's dreaming about. Chasing a squirrel? Nibbling on something rotten? Wait, I know — her perfect life before Grace was born.

I had a dream a while ago that I was graduating, not from school, but moving from one phase of my life to another. I was my current age, but the dream was set in my old high school (why not?). I went to say goodbye to one of my teachers, and I was crying because I was afraid of what the future held. He encouraged me to stop trying to do everything perfectly and to focus on the things in my life that matter most to me. He said it was fine to let the rest be just okay. I woke up thinking this was probably some of the best advice I ever received. And then I put it to good use. I decided I could be a better, more present mother, wife, friend, daughter, person. I also started working like crazy to finish my novel. Now, quite a bit later, I feel a stronger connection with my family and community, and three agents are considering my novel. All because of some timely advice IN A DREAM.