Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Vacation in Pictures -- Day Ketchikan

Our second full day at sea, we set our alarm for 5:30 am so we could get up and watch the cruise ship pull into the port at Ketchikan. It’s bizarre, to go to bed at midnight when it’s still light outside, sleep in a pitch-black room (thank you the inventor of dark-lining hotel curtains) and then wake up just a few hours later, when it’s already light outside again.

According to Princess, we would arrive in Ketchikan at 6:30am so I thought getting up an hour early would give us a great view as we pulled into port. But obviously what it meant was that we would be docked and ready for people to get off the ship by 6:30, because by our 5:30 wake up, the ship was already pulled almost all the way into the harbor. So much for my great view, but it was still exciting to be arriving at our very first port.

Blaine and I got dressed, then went downstairs to have breakfast (again) in one of the dining rooms, (again) because we are lazy and like for people to wait on us. Then, we got off the ship with Keith and Renee and walked around the town, window-shopping and sight-seeing while we waited for time for our first excursion.

Ketchikan is definitely a tourist-y little town, with almost every storefront selling souvenirs, jackets, jewelry, sight-seeing tours, etc. Picture it just like some of those little Mexican markets, only without the straw sombreros and island hair braiding. Flannel --- lots more flannel. But we loved it.

Despite Keith’s concerns, this was pretty much as close as we got to a bear the entire trip. He has a serious paranoia about bears. Although he assured us that it was NOT in fact paranoia, but a healthy fear and respect for wild, insane, savage animals who would just as soon rip your face off as look at you, with their fangs and claws and rabid attacking frenzies, and who see you as nothing more than an appetizer (or in the case of some of us chubby people, perhaps a whole meal) ……. a healthy fear, he explained, born from growing up in a state where they actually still have wild bears, and the occasional wild bear attack. We just rolled our eyes and stroked our little polar bear friend here some more.

After buying the requisite t-shirts and flecks of gold in a bottle, it was time for our excursion -- flightseeing over the Misty Fjords. Holy cow, doesn't it sound exciting??? In fact, I’m excited again just remembering it!

We were met at the cruise ship dock by a representative of Island Wings, the company with whom we flew. They drove us to their dock, about ten minutes away, where we waited for the floatplane to return from the tour before ours. Our pilot, Michelle, was amazing …. And quite simply, we had the time of our lives. (Or at least *I* did, maybe I shouldn't speak for everyone else. But I definitely did.)

First, Michelle had us get in and made sure we were comfortable and everyone could see. The floatplane is equipped with some kind of communication radio-thingy (I’m sure there’s a technical term, but I have no idea what it is) so we could all hear her, and talk to one another on the flight:

“No, I’m not a pilot. Not do I play one on TV. In fact, Dear God, please don’t let the pilot have a heart attack because I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea what to do!!!”

This was the first time Blaine or I either one had ridden in a float plane. It was such a weird sensation, to know you were floating on the ocean, and then to see the water going past as she gathered speed, then to lift into the air so very gently. Leaving, we got a great view of the cruise ships in the harbor:

We could hear Michelle communicating with the tower (I guess? *somebody* was talking to her, I don’t know) and in between, she had beautiful classical music on. She said the weather was idyll --- slightly overcast, which meant the warm air was lower so we would have less turbulence …. Again, with the scientific weather talky-talky, I have no idea …. All I know is it was amazing!

As she flew us around the Misty Fjords, she had an vast knowledge of the scenery, landmarks, history, animal life, plant life, etc, which she shared with us as we flew. She encouraged our questions and was quick to point out sights of interest below us. We saw seals, mountain goats, bald eagles …. Quick, two bears!!

What, you don’t see them? You don’t see those two little specks, which are basically bear BUTTS, since we scared them by flying overhead and they were turning tail and running for the woods. Here, take a closer look, I'll help you by circling them:

And once again, I laughed inwardly at Keith for being scared of something so very, very far away.

The views of the glaciers and fjords were amazing … something I’ll never forget:

But the highlight of the flight was when we made a smooth, pristine landing on the ocean .. which totally looked like a lake, and I had to keep reminding myself that it was actually the ocean. We got to get out of the plane and walk around, exploring for twenty minutes or so. It might have been the most beautiful place on earth:

And we enjoyed posing for pictures in front of our cool ride:

The setting was simply heavenly and I could have stayed all day. We spotted another bald eagle, and a seal as well. This might very well have been the most peaceful twenty minutes of the entire cruise, as far as I’m concerned.

We loaded back up in the plane, and she flew us straight back to the harbor … a feat I found amazing because from the sky, it all looked exactly the same to me. I couldn’t tell one glacier or fjord or mountain or waterfall or stand of trees apart, and I have no doubt I would still be flying in circles, trying to get my bearings. And yes, before anyone asks, this was basically the exact same flight that the people were killed on a few weeks later .. taking pretty much the exact same tour, just with a different company. My condolences to their families, and the family of the pilot. But I can tell you that I would go again in a heartbeat, it was so beautiful.

After we returned to the ship, we *just* made it to the dining room in time for lunch (whew! Heaven forbid we miss a meal!) then went back to our cabin to sit on the balcony and watch as we pulled out of Ketchikan. It was a fabulous day, weather wise, and I just sat on the balcony for a while, enjoying the fresh air and gorgeous view.

Dinner that night was in the Pacific Moon Dining Room; it was Italian, which was good, but probably not my favorite. We hung out for a while drinking wine in the Wheelhouse Bar after dinner (might as well chase good calories with bad!) then headed to bed … another big day at another port tomorrow!

Speaking of legs ...

OK, commenting on the comments ---

Leeann, thanks for the compliment; I ordered the duster from the JC Penney plus-size online shopping site. It is crinkedly-crushy velvety-like, and I love it. Already had the crinkedly-crushy velvety-like pantsuit, so they went perfectly together. And ok, I'll confess, the pantsuit is a maternity pantsuit I bought for a fancy Christmas celebration one year while I was three months pregnant. I figured I could just cinch up the waist real tight for the cruise and things would be fine. Sadly, by the end of the cruise, there was no cinching necessary.

No, my legs are right there .... but you're right, a little hard to see due to the white pedestal I'm sitting on in front of a white background, and the fact my black pants and shoes are directly in front of Renee's black dress. But I swear, they're there.

Tomika, I certainly do remember you and am glad to hear from you! You didn't include your personal e-mail anywhere, but if you'd like to e-mail me privately (kristieokc@cox.net) I can connect you directly to Blaine ... you guys (sadly) have quite a bit in common. He hasn't used anything for dry mouth until recently but does struggle a lot, especially while trying to sleep. I guess the rest of us take drooling on our pillows for granted! Actually, after the evening of my 40th birthday, ah, "celebration" (code work for drunken karaoke fest) I woke up with the worst case of dry mouth ever .... felt like my tongue was permanently attached to the roof of my mouth and someone had poured sawdust down my throat, and I was pretty sure I would never have enough spit to swallow again. Then, suddenly realized, *this* is how Blaine feels every night and every morning. Quite depressing, actually.

His biggest recommendation is to drink Gatorade by the bucketful, and he gets up every night in the middle of the night, several times, to drink more. And then wonders why he's not getting any rest. His doctor recently put him on Salogen (sp?) and he says he doesn't notice any real improvement, but he's going to keep trying it and hope for more. I'm serious, though, if you want to talk to him, just e-mail me.

And as far as my skin cancer goes, things are fine. Just the one excision, which left me with an impressive scar, and which sadly took away my enthusiasm for tanning beds. Since tanning is the non-medicated method that best keeps my dry skin/eczema under control, I'm not sure what I'll do in the future. Give myself skin cancer from tanning, or mutilate my skin with my scratching and clawing until I bleed. Which is the lesser of two evils, I wonder?

As far as books .. I read a LOT this summer. The book store at the mall was having a buy three get one free sale, so in between that and the box of books my friend Lisa sent me, I've been in reading heaven. I actually enjoyed My Sister's Keeper, although had I read it earlier in Kendrie's treatment I think the subject matter might have been harder to take. I love anything by Jodi Piccoult and read The Tenth Circle on vacation, along with ...

The Mermaid Chair (didn't like it) but did like The Secret Life of Bees by the same author (Sue Monk Kidd)

Happiness Sold Separately by Lolly Winston

Shoot the Moon by Billie Letts

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich (which I am scared to tell all of you that I didn't like because everyone here loves her so much ...)

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella (enjoyed it)

Um, HP6 and 7, of course, and a bunch of other I can't remember since I left them all behind in OK for my mom. Basically, no-brainers that were intended for light-hearted vacation reading and served their purpose wonderfully.

I'm still using the reading list I compiled from all of ya'lls suggestions earlier, want to thank you for them again, and I'm always up for a new, wonderful read if you have another one to recommend.

And, speaking of legs .... in all seriousness, please visit Tyler's Page as today is a huge day for him. (Pam, I had gotten behind in my Caringbridge trolling since vacation, so I appreciate the reminder!) Tyler is a fellow-Georgia cancer patient that we met through some of the various social organizations in Atlanta. He's a great kid, and has the heart and strength of a lion. Today, he is having his leg amputated in an attempt to improve his quality of life and hopefully rid himself of cancer forever. What a huge thing for an 18-yr old to under go ..... please visit his site and leave a note of support for Tyler and his family!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Vacation in Pictures -- Day One on the Boat

Our first full day on the ship was a sea day. I don’t know if it was the time change, or pure excitement for whatever lay ahead, but we were up and out the door by 8am, even though it was one of our only opportunities to sleep late, without little-people interruption, in, oh, I don't know, something like Ten Years. We went for breakfast in the Vivaldi Dining Room; I know some people like the expedience and choice of the buffet for breakfast, but I’m all about letting someone serve me, and take my plate away, and refill my beverage, and put my napkin in my lap with a wave and a flourish, no matter the time of day, so we enjoyed the full-service dining room.

They had advertised a Bridge Tour that morning, in the schedule of onboard activities for the day, and I thought Blaine would enjoy seeing the inner working of the ship’s bridge with a tour … so I encouraged him to go, and Keith joined him. Unfortunately, it was a class on how to PLAY bridge …… um, my bad.

So, instead, we walked around the ship for a while, orienting ourselves. It was misting, so not a lot of people out on deck, although we did have a great dolphin sighting off the side of the ship. Then, simply exhausted from all this activity … I mean, seriously, just think about it …. I had gotten out of bed, gotten dressed, eaten, digested, walked around, held down a deck chair with my backside, digested some more, and spent quite a bit of time POINTING out to sea at the dolphins … well, I was pooped from all that strenuous activity and went back to the cabin for a well-deserved mid-morning nap. (Gah, I know! I’m pathetic!)

The rest of the day was spent doing more eating, and drinking, and eating some more. Did I mention eating??? I gained fourteen pounds on this cruise, and I think I know the reason why, since every time I turned around my mouth was open and I was shoveling something into it.

This was the first of two formal nights and I thought Blaine and I, and our entire group, cleaned up pretty nice, if I say so myself.

We had dinner in the Vivaldi Dining Room, and had what was without a doubt, hands down, the best crab quiche I’ve ever had in my entire life. Well, ok, SURE, it was the only time I’ve ever had crab quiche … but I’m not even kidding. It was to die for.

After dinner our group split up, and I dragged Blaine to the ship’s performance of “The Piano Man”, a fabulous medley of singing and dancing numbers to the songs of Elton John, Billy Joel, Barry Mannilow, Liberace, etc. It was really, really good --- so good, I went again the next night, also. But once again, we went to bed early because we knew the next day was going to start early, as we were due to arrive in Ketchikan at 6:30 am.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Not the brightest crayon in the box.

So, my kids watched “Max Keeble’s Big Move” for like, the eight BILLIONTH time this afternoon on Disney channel. They figured out how to work the DVR and now I’m basically screwed. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it’s about a young boy who has to stand up to bullies, both of the middle-school, and adult, variety. It’s a story about getting picked on, and getting even, etc.

This evening, my son, my nine-year old son, who, can I just add, was selected to be in his schools GIFTED program this fall, asked his ten-year old sister to give him a swirly.

For fun.

And so she did.

Because she could think of no good reason NOT to submerge her brother's head in the toilet and flush.

And they laughed hysterically.

What the hell is wrong with my children?

Vacation in Pictures -- Day Vancouver

After our fun night in Seattle (thanks again, Heidi!) we got up early the next morning and left the hotel, driving our rental car to pick up Keith and Renee, who had stayed in town the night before. I felt a little cruel and heartless, being so anxious and excited to get on the road, as their two boys cried and protested they didn’t want their parents to leave. Sorry, boys, we’re OUTTA here!

We made the drive to Vancouver, enjoying the sunny weather. Our biggest problem on the drive wasn’t getting across the border with no passports, or the Canadian money exchange (what the heck is a loonie???) or even those pesky metric equations (although I did about have a cow before I remembered the difference between miles and kilometers and thought we had missed the exit for Vancouver.) No, the most difficult part was finding someplace to buy wine to take onboard the ship with us -- and believe me, we hit quite a few exits, searching for booze, looking like the alcoholics we must be.

Once we finally found a liquor store in Vancouver and got properly stocked up (which just makes me laugh -- I don’t even DRINK wine, but there I was, buying two bottles to take with me because heaven forbid the SHIP MIGHT RUN OUT OF BOOZE!!!) then we headed to the cruise terminal to drop off Blaine, Keith and the luggage. Renee and I returned the rental car and took a cab back to the terminal, where it wasn’t until later we realized that the driver probably thought we were a gay couple, as we were practically giddy with excitement and kept talking about “our” cruise and the cruise we were taking “together”.

We made it through security, customs, and check-in in about half an hour, then headed to our rooms. Blaine and I had splurged (well, at least I considered it splurging for two cheapskates like ourselves) and booked a mini-suite with balcony. We were very happy with our room, and the larger-size balcony made the entire trip worthwhile, as I envisioned watching the scenery pass by from the balcony chairs, with flannel blankets and hot chocolate in my gloved hands. We started unpacking, panicking only slightly about the fact all our luggage had shown up except for the carry-on bag with the computer, phone chargers and camera chargers in it.

We met everyone for lunch in the Horizen Court Buffet, and the first order of business was purchasing one of the “All You Can Drink For One Price” soda cards. They might not have had Diet Dr. Pepper on the ship (pretty much the only thing wrong with the entire cruise, if you ask me) but I can still drink my weight in Diet Coke, so the card was a great deal for me.

After lunch, we went up to Deck 14 to view the ship taking off out of Vancouver. I have to say, we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. It was sunny and warm, probably in the low 70’s. People were walking around in shorts and t-shirts (although weenie-me had a jacket on) and there were even people jumping in the pools already. I assume the ship was waiting on a few late passengers, as push-off was delayed from the planned time of 4:30 until almost 6pm. In the meantime, Blaine and I had snagged two deck chairs and enjoyed the band that was playing outside, and the beautiful views as we pulled out of Vancouver.

The six of us met for dinner in the Santa Fe dining room and settled in to enjoy our first restaurant meal on the ship. We had two waiters, both from Thailand, both of whom claimed their name was "Woody". They told us to call them "Woody 1" and "Woody 2". Hmmmm.

Anyway, between the group, we ordered quite a variety of menu items … favorites for the evening were the mushroom soup, halibut, and prime rib. Stand-out item was a (disgusting looking, if you ask me, but hey, Renee said it was fabulous) pina colada soup, served in a drink glass with a straw.

After dinner, we went for the Welcome Aboard Show, then back to our cabins by 11pm, very relieved that the bag with our computer had re-surfaced. Apparently the name and room tag had come off and they were holding it at the customer service desk, waiting for it to be claimed. Can you imagine me, going ten days without a computer???

It had been a long, long day and we were pooped. So, first night on the cruise ship, with gambling and entertainment, and drinking and dancing, all at our fingertips, and we were in bed by 11pm. Wow. Such party animals, aren’t we?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

And so it begins ....

I know, I know, you've been dreading it, and probably hoping I would just forget about it, but here comes the Great Uncle Earl episode, where I bombard you with photos of our recent vacation ... where you nod politely, and murmur “oh, how nice” in a low voice, all the while wondering just how many hundreds of pictures I’m going to parade in front of you and how endless it's going to seem and questioning if it will EVER end.

Hey, “parade”! We saw a parade in Skagway! Want to see some pictures!?!?

So, first, to give you a sense of where we were and who we were with, this is the boat we were on:

It’s lovely, isn’t it? Mainly, I was happy that they never ran out of food, and it didn’t sink. The vacation was a success, right there.

This is a photo of Blaine and I, the first night out on the deck. For all you people who said it would be warm in Alaska in July, well, two words for you: Gloves and coats. Or maybe two better words would be "big weenie" because that's apparently what we are.

Here we were on the first formal night … much much happier inside, with climate control.

And here’s my dear friend Renee who, along with her husband Keith, and two of her friends from back home, came with us. Judging by the looks on our faces, by this point in the evening, there might have been alcohol involved. Maybe. I’m just saying.

It was neat to see the decorations and work that went into commemorating our travel on the 4th of July …

…but what I didn’t get a picture of were the almost-exact same decorations that were up a day or two before, to celebrate Canada Day. I suppose they would have decorated New Zealand Day, or Guam Day, or anything specific, so as to make all the passengers feel special. I would have felt MORE special if I had figured out where they were serving that cake later, though.

While it was definitely cool on the deck in the evening, I was surprised to see that the pools, even the outside pools, almost always had people swimming in them during the day. Sure, the water was heated, but it still had to be a pretty brisk walk back to the cabins when these crazy fools adventuresome people got out of the water, don’t you think?

Oh, thank goodness, if I fall overboard, someone can toss this to me so I can float. Never mind that according to science, the average human can only survive twenty minutes in water that is only 45 degrees. I’ll be a frozen blue Popsicle, but I’ll be a floating Popsicle.

And yep, here we go, the requisite “King of the World” from Titanic …… but I think she’s much cuter than Leonardo DiCaprio, don’t you?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

You Think, and Then You Know

You *think* it’s time for summer to be over when you tell your children that you are going out to lunch with friends (your friends, not theirs) and they whine about how boring it will be.

You *think* it’s time for summer to be over when you haven’t been seated two minutes before they are fighting over who is kicking who under the table and who is stealing whose crayons and who is taking up more table space than the other ones.

You *think* it’s time for summer to be over when the whining and complaining reaches its peak and you look around the restaurant for gypsies to sell the kids to.

You strongly, strongly suspect it’s time for summer to be over when the words “Stop acting like an ass and embarrassing me in front of my friends!” hisses out of your mouth at the table.

You KNOW its time for summer to be over when you overhear one of your table-mates whisper to another table-mate, “That’s exactly why I didn’t bring MY kids.”

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

One good thing to come out of it ...

Kristina in Ohio, it’s funny you mentioned how you love to read, but you’ve simply never gotten into Harry Potter. I can tell you that I used to feel the exact same way. I wasn’t ANTI Harry Potter, I just couldn’t imagine what all the fuss was about. A boy? Who becomes a wizard? Or warlock? Or something like that? Whatever. I watched Bewitched when I was little, I can’t imagine it’s much different than that.

Sci-fi, which is what I assumed it was, has never held my interest. Even now, as much as I love HP, I have no desire to read LOTR, or anything else in the fantasy genre … Star Wars, Star Trek (yawn). I’m so uninterested, that I can’t even think of any other examples. I’m not saying they’re not good, so all you Tolkien-loving readers out there don’t slam me. I’m just saying it’s not the genre for me. Except for totally-hot-Jamie and Claire and the Outlander series, which is more in the fantasy-adventure-historical-romance category than the sci-fi category.

Anyway, back when Kendrie was on treatment, near the beginning, we had a day of specific chemo scheduled for the clinic and I had written it down wrong. I thought it was going to be one of the quick days, in and out, when really, she needed a chemo infusion. Which meant we would be there for hours, she would be pre-medicated, and would sleep through the whole thing. Probably just as good, since I was ill-prepared and had brought NOTHING -- no snacks, no drinks, no pillow, no blanket, no stuffed animal, no games, no dvd player, and nothing to read for me or her. This was back at the beginning of her treatment, before the new Scottish Rite clinic was built and before patients got their transfusions in private rooms (and parents could stretch out and sleep right alongside them, not that I would know anything about that, ahem.)

So there my four-year old lay in her stroller because patients didn’t have their own beds or chairs or tables, hooked up to her chemotherapy IV, and sleeping off the Benadryl and Tylenol. And there I sat in a chair … twiddling my thumbs … with four or five very long, very tedious hours stretching out in front of me. Bored out of my mind already, and needing to be quiet so she could sleep, I wandered over to the rolling library cart to check out what books might be available. Unfortunately, since the cart is intended for patient use, my choices were somewhat limited to those along the lines of Berenstain bears, Biscuit Goes to the City, and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? I rolled my eyes and groaned inwardly … how on earth was I going to pass the entire afternoon without going insane with boredom??

Then, I saw a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on the cart. I thought to myself, “Are you kidding me? This is all they have? What about the poor teenagers who are treated here, what on earth do THEY read?” But I figured if it was HP1 or nothing, at least it might pass some of the time.

So I sat back down in the chair, propped my feet up, opened the book …. Read the first few chapters …. And that was all it took. I have been a bona fide HP fan ever since.

I didn’t have time to finish the book that afternoon before Kendrie woke up and we finished up her chemo appointment. So I, uh, “borrowed” the book from the library cart and brought it home with me. I don’t even remember where JK Rowling was in the series when I started …. Fall of 2003 …. But I know I whipped through the first several books as quick as I could get to Target to buy them.

And wondered, why on earth had I waited so long? This Harry Potter kid totally rocks! And yes, I might be 40 years old, but secretly I wish I had gone to Hogwarts.

So I guess if I’m being even more honest, I have leukemia to thank for introducing me to Harry and Ron and Hermoine. It’s one good thing to come out of it, because I doubt I would ever have read them otherwise. I’d probably be sitting back, snorting under my breath in my snobby way at all the weirdo-s who were so obsessed with the 7th and final book just released, instead of being the obsessed weirdo that I am today.

PS. So, considering I couldn’t have been more wrong about HP, should I give LOTR a shot?

PPS. Yes, I returned the book at our next visit, just in case you were wondering.

PPSS. So if you’re still reading, you must be a true HP fan. In which case, go here: The Escapist.
And read all the way to the end, including pictures. This site was referred to me a few years ago by a friend, and it is just as stinking funny now as it was then.. Ha!

Still laughing!

PPPSS. If you're not a HP fan, don't despair. I promise to shut my yap about it already.

Done now.

Except still laughing at The Escapist --- ha!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

An Open Book



Natalie, Marie, and anyone else who hadn't read HP7 before reading this journal entry .... um, my bad. I'm really sorry. I was so careful previously, and then just PLOPPED that information here without any kind of warning. Please, please, please don't let it ruin any part of the book for you .... and if anyone else is reading, but hasn't finished the book yet, for goodness' sake, skip the next few paragraphs!


One of the really cool things I enjoy, a lot, while blogging about the mundane parts of my life, is that some of you actually care enough to leave comments and ask questions. Which I think are fun. And interesting. And which lead me to believe that you and I have an honest rapport going here, and that you’re genuinely curious and caring about the sometimes boring and sometimes not-so-boring things that seem to happen to me and my family …. That, or I’m doing a really crappy job of explaining things and you have to ask me for clarification on a lot of things.

Um, either way’s good with me.

So, as I gab here about all our happenings, and for the most part, lay it all out there like an open book …. here are the answers to some of the recent questions:

Speaking of open books, yep, I read both HP6 and HP7 last weekend, and I’m so glad I went back and reviewed, otherwise I don’t think I would have understood, nor enjoyed, HP7 as much as I did. And let me just say, I DID. As it was, I had to go back and re-read the last few chapters again, just to make sure I fully understood every bit of the ending. My I-told-you-so was in regards to me correctly guessing that Snape was a good guy. Although technically, I don’t think he was a good guy, just that he *was* aligned with the right side, although they sure left you wondering until the very end, didn’t they? And can I just say, you GO, Neville, with your bad self, and the snake, at the end of the book!

Kim, you said you stopped at HP4 and wondered if it was worth going on. Well, my knee-jerk reaction, after I finish gasping in shock and wonderment and picking my jaw up off the floor that you actually STOPPED half-way through the series ….. is ….. OF COURSE YOU HAVE TO KEEP READING …. But, much as I hate to say it …… perhaps I should admit that if you had no desire to go on to HP5, then maybe it’s not the series for you. I can tell you that of all the books, 4 was my absolute favorite. The International Quidditch Cup, the Weasleys trying to get past the underage rule on the Goblet, the Triwizard Tournament, the Hungarian Horntail, Victor Krum and the Yule Ball, that awful Rita Skeeter, etc, etc. So the thought of stopping there and not having any curiosity about what happens next, well, that’s foreign to me. But I can also tell you that of all the books, HP5 was my least favorite. To me, it was the darkest, slowest, most plodding of the stories. But 6 and 7 were both wonderful, so well worth reading 5. I’d be curious to hear from other HP fans about which they liked best and least out of all of them, and why. Anyone? Anyone?

KimB, I’m envious that both JimMac and Betsy were fighting you for the book. My three all like to read, but none have gotten into HP like I have, despite my urging. Our rule here is they can’t see the movies until they’ve read the books -- and for the record, especially after watching HP5 in the theater last week, let me just say that the movies, wonderful though they are, cannot even begin to hold a candle …. not a flame … not a teeny tiny flicker of a flame … not the sulfur at the end of the match … to the books. Anyone who skips the books and just watches the movies is totally, 100 percent, without question, cheating themselves.

Also KimB, the days of my dotphoto white border glory are behind me. It suddenly stopped happening so I called to ask why. They said they got a new system for developing and the border was no longer an option. The csr did say they had had complaints so hopefully they would change it ….. still stinks, though. Big fat frown-y face.

Three handprints, I use Photoshop to edit my pictures. It’s the photo editing program that came with my camera, and it’s the cheap-y Elements version. I keep intending to upgrade to the “real” Photoshop, but never seem to get around to it. I crop my pictures more than I do anything else, and lighten occasionally, and sometimes will straighten or color-ize if a picture needs it … but for the most part, as far as what I consider “manipulating”, the pictures that you see on this site are as-is out of my camera. Of course, I only put up the pictures I like best, and for every good picture, I’ve probably taken twenty or thirty or a hundred crappy ones. That reminds me, it’s about time I re-sized those Alaska pictures and shared them! ::collective groan::

Pam in Michigan, so AWESOME that you’re getting a Sonic nearby! It will change your life like nothing ever has. I rate it up there with indoor plumbing, the discovery of electricity, and the birth of baby Jesus. A few of my menu favorites? Well, to be honest, 90 percent of what I buy there are drinks (one very specific drink and you darn well know what I’m talking about) but as far as food items ….. they make a very good egg and bacon breakfast burrito, the mozzarella sticks are pretty good (but make sure you get the marinara sauce, they seem to forget it a lot for us) and their onion rings are fabulous! I don’t think their grilled chicken salad is that great, and I'd much rather have an order of Tator Tots, which is to be expected, considering it’s more of a greasy spoon, and which explains the size of my ass. The kids love the Slushies, Kellen’s personal favorite are the fruit smoothies, and Brayden gives the Reesee’s Blast two big thumbs up. Be sure to let me know what you have first, and how you like it --- enjoy!

Sarah, yes! There is a Sonic close, perhaps not walking-distance-close, but within a mile or so of our new house. Although not as big a criterion as the school itself, I won’t pretend it didn’t make me happy to know that. Alas, it's a fifteen minute drive to Target, but I guess we can't have it all. (sigh)

Snappz, your comment about personally driving up my site counter was funny. To be honest, the site counter is moving more slowly, and I’m getting fewer comments these past few weeks. Either everyone else is busy reading HP7 as well, or I’m antagonizing (or boring) people much more quickly than I used to.

And finally, thanks to all of you for your well-wishes and congratulations on the house. I’m still holding a little bitty tiny part of my breath until the final “t” is crossed and “i” is dotted and we’ve signed on the bottom line, but I suppose this is the part of the process that seems to drag on the longest, isn’t it? I just want to finish it and finalize it and know that it’s mine, mine, all mine, and as soon as we sign the papers, I can go over and dance naked in the living room if I want to because it’s ALL MINE! But of course I won’t do that because the renters will still be living there, so they might see me …. And … just, ewwwwwww. But you know what I mean.

I probably do sound a little OCD about this school district, don’t I? I’m sure part of it **is** sentimentality, seeing as how pretty much every single person in my family for the last three generations has gone there, so I want my kids to go there, too. But I think also, the proof is in the pudding, in that if so many people are transferring their kids into the district that they had to shut down the transfer program to control student population, that just shows that either we’re all a bunch of idiots, or it truly is a good school and lots of people recognize that and want in.

Yes, George, you must physically live in the district, owning a rent house doesn’t count. (Don’t think we didn’t try that route!) And yes, you’re correct, those of you who mentioned my kids won’t be in elementary school much longer, so why am I so uptight about it? This year will in fact be Brayden’s final year of elementary (5th grade around here). The beauty of where we’re going, or at least what *I* loved about my old school, is that it’s what I call a stand-alone school district. I’m sure there’s a more scientific-educational term, but what I mean by that is there are no “feeder” schools. The elementary school is next door to the middle school, which is next door to the high school. At the end of the school year, the outgoing 5th grade students simply walk across the street and start middle school all together. Same thing for the kids starting high school. It’s not like most places, where you have two or three elementary schools merging together for middle school, and then two or three middle schools merging, and then high school graduating classes with three or four hundred people. Around here in Georgia, depending on district zoning, you might go to elementary school with this group of kids, and then they can re-zone the district, and you start middle school with a bunch of kids you don’t even know. Plus, the area is developing so rapidly that they're building new schools and constantly re-zoning, so kids who were zoned for our elementary school one year are re-zoned for a different elementary school the next, even though they live in the exact same house. It's happened twice to kids in our elementary school in the five years we've been in Georgia.

The school our kids will be attending in OK, you start at, and stay at, unless you move or decide to transfer out. The majority of students, however, once they start, stay there until they graduate. It even has something called a “Twelve-Year Club” for the kids who’ve gone to school together from the first through twelfth grade. And, the class sizes are small. Not Amish-school small, where the entire school fits in a one-room schoolhouse, or anything like that, but about a third or fourth the size of your average high school. My graduating class had 70 kids. Of those 70, 20 of us had been together since first grade. Of the remaining 50, probably half had been there since some point in elementary school. I don’t think there are many opportunities in life to forge those kinds of long-term friendships …. I’m 40 years old, and I love that some of the coolest people in my life, besides my family, have known me since I was five or six years old. Some kids hated it, to be sure, but I loved it and hope my kids will love it too.

So, blah blah, enough about that.

Oh, but Rita, you were right on about the cost of real estate in that part of the country. If you combine the total cost of our Georgia house, plus the cost of the yellow OK house, PLUS the cost of the house we just bought … it STILL wouldn’t be as much as what our friends recently paid for a single family home in Northern Virginia. So it’s all relative, right? And I’m sorry you feel stuck there, but we visited on Spring Break, and it’s really a lovely part of the country you live in. (Does that make you feel any better? At all? No? Well, sorry, I tried.)

Ok, so, I think that’s it. For now, anyway. No more open-book baring of my soul, at least until I feel like sharing a little bit more. Unless the site counter and comments continue to go down in the meantime …. Then I’ll know .. Sharing = BAD.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Home Sweet Home, the Finale. At least for now, until I find a reason to complain and whine some more.

So there we were. Owners of a home that wasn’t itself in bad shape, but in a neighborhood we hated with the intensity of a thousand burning suns didn’t like, and which was probably too old for us to afford to modernize and enlarge the way we wanted. Not willing to sell, because as far as we could see, it was the only chance we had for getting the kids in the district. The best option we could envision would be to re-build from scratch and try to get what we wanted, since after spending that much money (again, with the non p.c. talking about money) we’d certainly be living in it until our dying day, pit bulls and section 8 neighbors included.

So, to that end, we contacted Habitat for Humanity about the possibility of donating the structure (as opposed to demolishing it, which just seemed … well, wasteful.) In fact, we had even gone so far as to make an application video for “Extreme Home Makeover” but frankly, the house wasn’t run-down enough, so I never worked up the nerve to mail it in. We figured we would just bite the bullet regarding cost, donate the old house, get it off the lot, and start fresh. Whimpering every time we opened our bank account, but fresh nonetheless.

All along we’d had three goals: our kids in the school district we wanted, a nice house, in a nice neighborhood. Sure, we were going to be in debt until we were ninety, and would probably have to feed our kids canned beans forever, but hey, two out of three wasn’t bad, right?

Then, we came back from Alaska, and something funny happened. Not funny as in ha-ha, but funny as in proof that God has his hand where we need it, when we most need it. (I know! Un-p.c. talking about money and religion, all in the same journal entry! Let me somehow work in my disdain for the Clintons, and it’ll be a bonus trifecta!)

A little history: I have a childhood friend, who I’ll call J. for the purposes of this journal entry, since I didn’t take the time to ask her permission to talk about her here. She and I went to school together our entire lives, and she and her husband did pretty much the exact same thing Blaine and I were planning to do …. They gave up a brand-new home they had built, outside the district, to move into the district so their kids could go to this school. She, however, had managed to find a home in one of the “older, but better maintained” sections of the district, and was a very good sport, lending a sympathetic ear to the e-mails I would send to her, whining about how much I hated it down on the end where we had purchased.

Well, in a nutshell, when I got back from Alaska there was an e-mail awaiting me from J., telling me of a house that had recently gone up for sale in the district, that she thought I might be interested in. An home that a couple had bought so their son could get in the school, then tore down to the studs, then re-built newer and bigger (hmmm, does any of this sound familiar?) The boy had since graduated; the owners were considering down-sizing, and looking to sell the house.

I immediately looked at the date of the e-mail ---- dang it! It was a week old, and since I didn’t have e-mail service on the trip, I was just then finding out about it. Me and my paranoid tendencies, I just knew that if the house was decent at all, it would already have been snatched up by someone just like us. I drove by to look at it that afternoon, and it looked very promising from the outside. Best of all, there was no “contract pending” notice on the For Sale sign. Blaine and I made an appointment to see it the next morning and decided unless there was something drastically wrong with it, like asbestos hanging from the ceiling, or black plague mold on the walls, or a dead body still hanging in the closet, we would most likely attempt to buy it. It was as big as we wanted (actually, bigger,) on a much nicer street, all the work had already been done, and best of all …. It wouldn’t cost us the equivalent of donating a house, just to get in it.

I lay awake in bed that night, my mind racing. Could this actually be the answer to my prayers? Could a house have become available, the very week we were home on vacation, which would suit our needs perfectly? IN OUR PRICE RANGE??? It really seemed too good to be true and I tried not to get my hopes up (Although, you know of course they were ….. totally were. Higher than Pamela Anderson’s fake boobs. )

The next morning we met the realtor there with my mom and kids …. I walked in the front door, stood in the entry way, looking through the living room and dining room into the kitchen …. And I knew. This was the house for us. I could feel it in my gut. It certainly helped that the current owners had tastes and decorating style almost identical to my own (we even have some of the same pictures on our walls) so we certainly felt comfortable there immediately. It had been (re)built only four years ago so everything was shiny and fresh and new … and I knew.

We made our offer on the spot.

The realtor told us the next day to be glad we acted as quickly as we did, as they had received another offer later the same day.

We found out two days later that they accepted our offer. I cried. I literally cried, I was so happy. And as any of my friends can tell you … I rarely cry. So that should tell you something about how much this situation had been stressing me out.

There’s a little bit of work we’ll need to do, not because anything is wrong with it (in fact, we had the inspectors there last week and they were hard-pressed to find anything wrong) but simply because they were a family of three, and we are a family of five, so our needs are a little bit different. Mainly cosmetic things, minor things. But overall, the house could not be more perfect for what we wanted.

I practically have bruises on my arm from where I keep pinching myself, it’s so perfect.

Best of all, Blaine loves the house and feels good about this, which is a huge relief to me since I had bullied him into the yellow house …. Which we can now keep as rental property and consider an investment.** So really, a win-win situation. Well, except for the poor people at Habitat for Humanity, who thought they were getting a house donated to them. Um, yeah. Sorry about that.

And I’ve sat back the past week, feeling as though I’ve lost a hundred pounds (which honestly, I could stand to do, considering how much food I ate while on vacation … is there any law against LIVING in sweat pants?) and daydreaming about moving in, and where the furniture will go, and how I can walk the kids to school because it is just around the corner, and they’ll be able to ride their bikes up and down the street because it’s not a through street like the other one ……

Yes, my children. It’s all for them. All the decisions, and sacrifices, and hard work that goes into making their lives as golden as possible. The opportunities we want them to have. Best of all, they’ll be in the school I’ve always wanted for them …. A school where the teachers and staff will be kind to them, and supportive, and welcoming.

Ahhhhh. Sweet relief.

Um, wait a minute. Excuse me, Ms. Realtor? What did you just say? The other couple who made an offer on the house? The same day as us? The couple who, basically, we snaked the house right out from under, but hey, all’s fair in love and real estate, and if you snooze you lose? What about that couple?

He’s the PRINCIPAL of my kids’ new elementary school?

Oh, crap.

**It's a legitimate question, about how someone with our income could afford three houses. Truth is, we've had renters in the yellow house since the first of the year, and the current owners of our new house will rent it back from us until we move there, at which point we will sell our Georgia house. Hopefully the dual-mortgage payments won't overlap for more than a few months. So, *technically*, three houses, but not really three mortgage payments. Hopefully that clears up any wrong notions about our nation's military servicemen and servicewomen being somehow overpaid.

Spoiler Alert


Told you so.

It took me slightly longer to finish than I anticipated because I got a wild hair yesterday and decided I needed to re-read HP6, before receiving HP7 in today's mail.

But I'm done. And it was totally worth the crick I'll have in my neck tomorrow from being hunched over for the last day and a half.

Totally. Worth. It.

(PS. Danielle, Daniel, whatever. Although that *would* put a whole new spin on things, wouldn't it?) :)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Congratulations, Matthew!

Straying for just a moment from the beaten (like a dead horse) saga of our new house, I'd like to ask all of you to pop on over to Matthew's Caringbridge Site and offer him your most heartfelt congratulations ... today is the day he has officially kicked cancer's butt -- not once, but twice!

Pediatric cancer treatment stinks; relapse protocols do more than stink. Matthew (and all the relapse kids just like him) have an amazingly tough row to hoe, and sadly, not all kids make it, as we were unfortunately reminded this week over at our All-Kids family.

But today is Matthew's final day of treatment, and he's going out on a high note with good blood counts, and an appropriately tearful mom (Nancy, you know I'm just like you, so it's teasing with love!) :)

Please hop over and leave a note of congratulations for Matthew and his entire family.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Home Sweet Home, Part 2

Yeah, so tonight after bunco, I had the choice of rushing home to finish this journal update, or going to see a late showing of the most recent Harry Potter movie. I love you guys and all, but bottom line, the story of our new house is just no match for the quintessential, classic battle between good and evil. And did I mention that Harry Potter totally rocks??? Also, don’t expect many updates later this week because I just got e-mail notice that my HP7 book is shipping tomorrow and I will NOT be on this computer one single solitary second until the book is completed … and if I find out Snape is indeed a bad guy and Harry doesn’t make it to the end, I will quite possibly be so crushed that I never journal again. About anything.

So, where was I?

Oh, yeah. The house. The crappy little house that we had just bought. Or, as we referred to it, “The Yellow House”, because it was indeed painted sunshine yellow, and we thought the term might be catchy and cheerful enough to lift the unease we felt over buying a house we didn’t love, in a neighborhood we hated. You think I’m kidding? Our neighbor in one direction breeds and raises pit bulls, and the house in the other direction is up for rental as a Section Eight. The house across the street has tinfoil in all the windows, and it sits on a through street for the neighborhood which means lots of traffic back and forth at all hours. The longer we owned it, the more we began to suspect we had made a mistake. A big, impetuous, what-the-hell-were-we-thinking kind of mistake.

::administrative notice:: OK, a few rules I make it a policy to follow here on my blog: No discussing politics or religion, and talking about money is normally in bad taste. But I’m going to go ahead and talk about money … vaguely …. for just a few minutes, manners be damned.

We contacted a company about remodeling and updating the house, hoping to add some square footage and modernize what was already there, but come to find out, it is darn expensive to do that. And while Blaine makes decent money and we’re not exactly in line for the free government cheese, we ARE military, after all, which means we are far from having unlimited building funds. We discovered that remodeling pretty much costs the same as building new, and the core of the house would still be seventy years old and Lord only knows what kind of plumbing, foundation, electrical, etc., problems we could have run into trying to merge the old with the new. Even the builder agreed it could potentially have been a way bigger and more complicated project than we wanted, or could afford.

So then we decided fine, if it costs just as much to build new, then that’s what we’ll do. It’s actually been done a few times in this school district already. Builders buy old crappy houses, tear them down, and then build new houses on the teeny tiny lots. We figured if they could do it, why couldn’t we? And remember, we had a lot and a HALF! So we began plans to do that very thing. Our lot wasn’t big enough, even with the extra half, for my original dream-house floor plan to fit, but we figured we could shrink things down and make a few concessions, and still get an ok house out of the deal. And, it would be new. By golly, we can make this work! (rah-rah, sis-boom-bah, blabbity-blab-blah-blah-gag)

This was about the time of my April-epiphany-I-have-seen-the-light-moment, and I tried to view building a new house in an old neighborhood as “making the best of a bad situation” or “the end justifying the means, in order to get the kids in the school” or any of a dozen other corny catch-phrases, all intended to make us feel better, none of which did. But I was determined that having my family, healthy and whole, in the house together, was more important than the view of the shitty neighborhood out the windows. And if worse came to worst? Blaine’s suggestion was that we just build a really big fence around the whole thing and then we wouldn’t have to look out the windows at anything.

Tearing down a house, just to clear a lot so you can build new? Um, yeah. We found out real quick that is an expensive thing to do. In fact, it’s a huge opportunity cost, right off the bat. And our builder wasn’t very encouraging, to be honest. We wanted to build a house that we could live in and love, and he was trying to keep us {relatively} in line with the rest of the neighborhood. In fact, the exact phrase he used, on several occasions, was “we don’t want to build the Taj Mahal in Dog Patch, USA”, which didn’t exactly endear him to me, because it made me feel that he felt my expectations were unreasonble, when I didn't think they were. We weren’t looking to build a mansion, for pete's sake, just a new house with some nice amenities.

But, he had a point. When builders tear down old houses and build new, they are doing it for cost and then selling for profit. In order for us to do it, it was looking to be way out of our price league. We were going to go ass over elbow in debt, to build a house, in a neighborhood we hated, which we could NEVER hope to get our investment out of because we were outbuilding all our neighbors.

Real estate in Oklahoma is reasonably priced … very reasonably priced, compared to our neighbors on the East and West coast. For what we *would* have been spending, we should have been building a wonderful home, most likely on a huge lot in a gated community with a pool, clubhouse, etc. … not a normal-sized house, with a postage-stamp yard, in a run-down neighborhood, with freaking PIT BULLS on the other side of the chain link fence. (And please lets not get into the whole "As long as you don't raise them to be mean, they are wonderful dogs" debate. When was the last time your heard about someone's pet beagle ripping out the throat of his neighbor's kid???)

Regarding the potential cost of this house, we had made a grave error. I knew it, and Blaine knew it, but thankfully, he was gentleman enough not to rub the “I told you so’s” into each conversation, since he never wanted to buy this house to begin with. By the time of our most recent meeting with our builder, the week before we went to Alaska, I had to acknowledge that I had talked him into a big money-pit mistake, and I had no clue, short of winning the lottery, how to fix it. We vowed to go to Alaska and just enjoy ourselves, and worry about this situation when we got back.

To be continued … again …. I know you guys think I do that on purpose, but I don't. I swear. I'm stopping because it’s after 2 am and maybe I’m the slowest typist in the world but I’ve been working on this update for over an hour and I’m going to bed now people …. BED! Where I will possibly dream about Harry Potter because although it might be a little Mrs. Robinson-ish of me to say, that Danielle Radcliffe is getting better and better looking in each movie.

Joann re comment: Joann, you were right on with your guess, but I deleted your comment and wanted to explain why. I’m making a concerted effort not to have the name of my kids school on this blog …. Not that we couldn’t be tracked down if someone wanted to easily enough, but I figure no need to just post it right out there and make it available. So no offense …. And great guessing!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Home Sweet Home

(because really, any excuse to throw some 80's rock up on this site is a good one, don't you think?)

Disclaimer: Very long post. All about me. And how the world revolves around me. Imagine that.

Now, that’s really funny that some of you would wonder if we bought a home in Alaska. I mean, I know I’m impulsive, but really? Alaska? I mean, there’s "normal-people impulsive", and "Kristie-style-impulsive" --- sure, I make travel plans at the drop of a hat, and don’t think twice (although I certainly should) about spending a hundred dollars on a great pair of boots … on second thought, maybe I’m not *impulsive* as much as I am *compulsive* … or maybe I just have a spending problem, as evidenced by the fact I NOW HAVE THREE MORTGAGES HOUSES!!! And by "I", I mean "Blaine", since, um, yeah. I don't work. At least not at a job that pays me anything that would allow me to make a mortgage payment.

Um, anyway. Going to Alaska on vacation and buying a house there would rate as "over-the-top-impulsive", even for someone as impetuous as me. Although I will totally confess to yammering at talking with Blaine, while on the shuttle bus at Mendenhall Glacier, about the fact if only we had skills in high-demand career fields, like maybe computers or nursing, we could totally move to Juneau and live there. And maybe I even tried briefly to convince him to go back to school and become a nurse so we could do that very thing. ... "because look how beautiful it is here and can you imagine living in nature’s majesty like this there’s a glacier here for pete’s sake, and hey, look, there’s another bald eagle, ooh, and a beaver’s dam, and they even have a Wal-Mart alas no Target but a Wal-Mart is better than nothing and we could totally make this work if we were both nurses!!!” but unfortunately, he shut me down. Cold. Turns out he’s completed all the graduate school he intends to. (sniff) Whatever.

No, we bought a house in Oklahoma. Remember my post awhile back, where I alluded briefly to the fact we were having a problem with our retirement plans, and then I pretty much dropped it? Because although I knew I was being a whiny brat, and could hear the whiny brat-ness in my own head, the act of actually putting the words to paper and doing the real-life, actual whining about our situation make it even more clear to me just how whiny and bratty I was being. Truthfully, I sort of hoped the whole situation would simply go away if I ignored it and pretended like I never mentioned it, and then you guys wouldn’t know exactly how whiny and bratty I really, truly am. Bloggers’ remorse, I guess you could say. Whiny, bratty, bloggers’ remorse.

But now? Now that our problem has (for the very much most part) resolved itself and I feel like singing again and spinning around and around in happy circles with my arms flung wide? Now? I’ll go ahead and fill you in.

But I promise to give you the Cliff’s Notes version, so as not to bore you to tears.

Wait. Who am I kidding? Cliff’s Notes version isn’t even a possibility with me, and you darn well know it. Hence the disclaimer about the very long, and very self-absorbed post. Which they pretty much all are, so why am I even mentioning it?

Like I mentioned in that previous post, Blaine and I have always, always wanted to move back to our hometown and have our kids go to the same school I attended. I attended, and my sister, and my mom and dad, and aunts and uncles, and cousins, and grandpa, etc. It’s not a private school, but a small public school, and I loved it growing up. I was one of those obnoxious teenagers who actually enjoyed junior high and high school. A small school, in a small town, close enough to a large city that we’re not missing anything, but overall, definitely a small-town atmosphere. Same classmates from kindergarten on .... I’m sure my rose-colored rear view mirror is painting a much more nostalgic picture than is completely true, but for me, the whole scenario was very Norman Rockwell, and I wanted my kids to have the same thing. It’s certainly not the environment that works best for everyone, but I liked it and have always, always, always wanted my own children to go there, too.

Because it’s a small school, that means it is located in a small school district. One that is land-locked, so no hope of ever getting bigger. One where 99.9 percent of the lots in the district have been occupied for years, and have houses sitting on them that are at least fifty or sixty or seventy years old. Or older. Not cute-quaint-charming-farmhouse old, but tiny-crappy-rundown-old. And small. And did I mention old? Within the district, there are “older, but well-maintained” areas, and there are “hovering between rental and hud property” areas. Just to give you an idea.

What generation after generation has done, and what we planned to do as well, is buy or build our “forever” house (you military people know just what I mean by that phrase, don’t you?) outside the district and send our kids to the school as transfer students. My parents did it for me, my friends’ parents all did it for them, my sister is doing it for my nephews, and many of my high school friends are now doing it for their own kids. It’s the best of both worlds --- decent homes, in decent neighborhoods, and a small school setting. After moving around for twenty years, often living in military housing, the thought of getting to build a home of our own, and actually live in it for more than two years, was wonderful.

To that end, Blaine and I purchased an acre of land several years ago, about fifteen minutes from the school, had contacted a builder, had sketched and planned the floor plans we wanted, and were ready to build as soon as he got close to retirement. We had our military retirement decided in concrete --- we had a plan of action, we had been committed to the same plan for many years, and we were sticking to it, by golly. In fact, I think we were so committed to our plan, that we weren’t able to entertain any other possibilities, and our (my) inflexibility is what came around to bite us in the ass later.

So, continuing with the story, a year or two ago, we ran into a glitch. A pretty big glitch. Apparently, so many people were following the same plan on action that we intended, by living outside the district and transferring their kids in, that the school filled up. As in, there was no room for any new students. The school is legally obligated to take in-district students, so in order to control student population, they simply shut down their transfer program. As in, no more new transfer students accepted.

Period. End of story.

And there Blaine and I stood, with the deed to our land in one hand, our floor plans in the other, and most importantly, our TWENTY-YEAR, WE'VE BEEN PLANNING THIS FOR TWENTY YEARS PLAN firmly in place --- none of it doing us any good at all. There was no grandfather clause, no alumni preference …. Nothing. No way to live where we planned to live, and get our kids into the school we wanted for them. We were stuck. Or at least it felt that way. And, to be honest, we felt cheated. For all those years we had been moving around the country, people had been doing exactly what we wanted to do -- setting up house where they wanted and getting their kids into our alma matter like they wanted. And once in, students stay in. But by leaving our hometown twenty years ago, and moving around with the Air Force, we had missed the window of opportunity to do the same thing, and it felt as if we were being penalized. In case you haven’t guessed, I do NOT do well with change, and really resented the school’s transfer policy being changed in the middle of my game.

So, first I pouted. For quite some time. I do that well.

Then, decided we had two options. One was to go ahead and build our dream-forever-home on the acre we bought, and send our kids to *that* school. The other option was to somehow move into the district of the school we really wanted.

Option A: We really loved the addition our acre was in, and I was more than in love with the floor plan for our house. I had spent twenty years day-dreaming about building the perfect house, and was excited to put those plans into action. And, to be honest, it was in a good school district …. Just not the district I wanted. I’m sure my kids would have been fine going there. It’s just not what my gut told me was right for us. This, however, was the option that Blaine wanted.

So, over-riding Blaine's opinion and going with Option B: Getting into the old school district was priority number one; number two was finding a house that would be suitable for our family for the next fifteen or so years. This is the part of the story where I sound like a spoiled, snobby brat. See, a great number of the houses in this district are tiny and old and run-down. The ones that have been maintained well don’t go up for sale that often, and it’s especially hard to keep your eye on the market when you live a thousand miles away, in a neighborhood where the “good” houses are often sold by word of mouth.

Last summer, when we were home for my dad’s funeral, a house went up for sale in one of the older, more run-down parts of the district. The house itself was ok, but small, and old.

{I know I keep harping on the old thing, but you have to trust me. I'm not talking about "a little elbow grease and hard work and I bet we'll find beautiful hardwood floors under the carpet and the antique architecture is actually quite charming" kind of old. I'm talking "cracks in the walls and smells like your grandma's musty basement and window unit air conditioners and paneling on the walls and all the kids will be in one bedroom because the entire house is only 700 sq feet" kind of old. NOT exactly what we had been dreaming of, and aspiring to, for the last twenty years.}

It was actually one of the nicer homes on the street --- which should tell you something about what our potential neighbor’s houses looked like. The good thing was that it sat on a lot and a half, so we felt like there was some potential for re-modeling, or enlarging the house. Blaine didn’t like it, and I didn’t like it, and the whole thing was very discouraging, but it seemed like maybe the best we could do. We would drive up and down the street, and the sinking feeling in my stomach got bigger and bigger …. We were giving up the opportunity to build a brand-new house … in a brand-new addition … on an acre of land ….. for THIS??? But it did have the few extra feet of lot in its favor, and I convinced myself that it was a sign from above …. Since we were home for Dad's funeral on the exact day it went on the market, it was a sign that it was meant to be. So we ignored our misgivings, and bought it.

To be continued …..

(not because I enjoy the suspense, but because I’m truly lazy and still haven’t finished the laundry from vacation and if I don’t do it soon, no one in the family will have clean underwear for tomorrow …)

Monday, July 16, 2007


Well, I was going to blame my absence from the computer on the reunion with the kids, who were very well-behaved upon our return, and seemed to genuinely miss us, and who impressed me greatly with their behavior and cooperation, until I found out their grandmother had promised them money if they acted nice for a few days. Somehow, I feel getting PAID for being pleasant takes a bit of the sincerity out of it, but whatever, I’ll take it. Then I was going to blame it on the 17-hour car ride home this weekend, which we did straight through. Although around hour 14 my butt was really complaining, it was easier than messing with another “pets allowed” hotel, plus, once you reach the point of “home” being less than four or five hours away, it seems worth it to just plug on, so we did. Home sweet home never looks as good as it does at 2am, after three weeks away.

Yesterday, I unpacked and started the mountains of laundry, and spent the majority of my day on the computer, downloading, editing, cropping, organizing, saving, uploading, and burning to disc the 1,037 photos that I took on vacation. Believe it or not, I still had a 1 gb flashcard that I didn’t even use ….. so I’m a little surprised at how FEW pictures I took. As soon as I get some of them re-sized and uploaded to my storage site, I’ll share more of the vacation with you …. I know, just what you were waiting for, right? I promise not to be like your old Uncle Earl, with his five-hour presentation of slides from his trip to Africa you had to sit through when you were young ….. A few of the best pictures of each day with a recap, more for me than for you, if I’m being honest, since I can kill two birds with one stone and use those stories in my scrapbook as well.

No, the real reason I wasn’t online the past week was because of souvenirs. The thing to remember, when taking a big vacation like the one we just took, is that if you’re the type of person who likes to buy souvenirs, which we are, then you’re going to need room in your suitcases to bring those souvenirs home. Now, things worked well for Blaine and me, because we had one suitcase we took ON the cruise ship full of consumables …. Gatorade and Boost for him, bottled water, DDP, and yes, I even managed to get a Styrofoam cup all the way from Oklahoma to Vancouver, wrapped gently in a towel. Don’t even pretend you’re surprised.

We kept those things in our stateroom and hotel rooms for convenience sake, and at the end of the trip, used that space in our suitcase to bring home the souvenirs we bought for the kids and ourselves. It actually worked out very well.

Renee and Keith didn’t have quite as much luck as us. She had the forethought to bring an empty suitcase with her on vacation, which was smart considering she bought souvenirs for every single person in their entire extended family (Me? Not so generous.) But, she left that suitcase at her in-laws, where their boys were, intending to pack the souvenirs there. What she didn’t consider was that she’d have to get her souvenirs from Alaska TO her in-laws somehow …… and, that when I reserved our car in Whittier, that I wouldn’t realize there are different sized SUV’s. And when you rent a “mid-size” SUV, that is NOT the size SUV you are accustomed to seeing around town. A "mid-size" SUV is really not much more than a puffy car with the trunk inside. Which, when you start out traveling with four adult people and eleven suitcases …. Which then turns into TWELVE suitcases because she had to buy another one in Whittier to fit all her souvenirs in it, well, although it’s sexist and stereotypical, let me just say thank goodness Blaine and Keith were there, in all their manly, organized, analytical, structured-like glory, and they were able to fit all twelve suitcases in. Because if it had been just Renee and me, we’d still be in the parking lot, cursing and shoving and being frustrated we couldn’t find room for all of the dang suitcases, so which one of us, exactly, is riding on the hood? And let’s not even talk about the cost of fed-ex-ing 90 pounds of fish home ….. let’s just say that around the Escoe house for the next few months, halibut will be the equivalent of Kobe beef.

So besides the fish, what did we bring home? Well, the requisite t-shirts, ball caps, a fleece coat for my mom, coffee mugs, pajamas, and those little bottles of Alaska gold flakes suspended in liquid that the kids are certain will make them millionaires. All things we could fit in our suitcase.

Renee, well, I can’t begin to list all the cool stuff she bought, but I think the kicker, the items that necessitated the purchase of the extra suitcase, were the rubber boots she and Keith both needed for our fishing trip. Thank goodness for Ace Hardware in Whittier, is all I’m saying.

Oh, and a house. Blaine and I bought a house this week.

That’s the REAL reason I wasn’t online, we were busy with walk-throughs and contracts and meetings, all done in a rush because we only had two days. Some people go on vacation and buy the typical tourist items, the state spoons, or figurines, or “So and So went on vacation and all I got was this stupid T-shirt” t-shirts. We go on vacation, and we buy a house. Funny, when we went on summer vacation last year, we bought a house then, too.

And dang it, no matter how much I looked, I couldn’t find a suitcase big enough anywhere.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

MLCV - Day Anchorage Airport

So, we're just sitting here, waiting in the boarding area for our plane to arrive {doing my normal paranoid praying and mumbling and crossing fingers and hyperventilating that we actually arrive in one piece at the end of the flight} and I was just thinking, for no reason, not anything specific, nothing at all prompted this, but I thought I would take an informal poll. Just for fun. Not because anything happened. No reason. Or anything. So please take a moment and answer the following questions, posting your responses and any additional comments you feel are appropriate in the comments section. Thank you.

1. Do you believe there is a difference between REAL cheese and "pastuerized processed cheese FOOD" ??

2. Assuming you DO believe there is a difference, do you think that cheese FOOD is:

a. Disgusting
b. Fake
c. Slimy
d. All of the above

3. If you were in an airport deli, and you asked the deli worker if the cheese they use was real or fake, processed, and he said there was no difference, and then showed you the slices of cheese FOOD he wanted to put on your sandwich, would you:

a. Snort
b. Consider him an idiot
c. Cancel your deli order
d. All of the above

4. If after canceling your deli order you requested a Cinnabon cinnamon roll instead, advertised as "HOT", and after receiving your Cinnabon cinnamon roll you discovered it was not actually "HOT" as advertised, but more of a room-temperature-to-lukewarm, would you consider it rude to request the worker heat it up in the microwave? And for how many additional seconds should it be microwaved to reach optimal, buttery, gooey wonderfulness?


5. Do you imagine during this scenario your husband should stand by you in a show of support, or with an embarrassed look on his face, mutter something under his breath about "high maintenance" and slink off, dragging his carry-on behind him?

Thank you for taking part in our short survey. Your honest opinions and answers are welcome. (As long as they agree with mine. The rest of you are welcome to answer, but please know in advance that you are wrong. Thank you. Good day.)

Monday, July 09, 2007

MLCV - Final Day in Seward

I had one of those life-altering moments today ... you know the kind, a once-in-a-lifetime-moment, when whatever it is you are doing or seeing or hearing all comes into focus, just swings around and comes clear and sharp in your mind, and you realize you are experiencing something that not everyone has experienced, or at least that you yourself have never experienced before. And you want very much to commit that moment to memory, to sear the colors and sounds and images into your brain, since you also know there is a very good chance that even if you repeat the scenario, you might never be able to perfectly duplicate this exact situation, no matter how hard you might try.

I had that moment today on the back of the sightseeing boat upon which we were taking a tour of Resurrection Bay in Seward and the surrounding glaciers, fjords, and wildlife. And although the weather today was overcast, and a little misty, we actually had a brief second where the sun shone through the clouds, and I was watching the ocean spray up on the craiggy rocks, with the dark green trees coming out the tops of the rocks, and there were hundreds of white gulls circling in the sky, and puffins in the water, and the spray from the boat was splashing up alongside us .... and I had my iPod on, and Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Beethoven's Last Night" was playing, the most heartbreakingly beautiful music, and I realized that this, THIS, is one of those moments. One of those moments you need to take a deep breath, and close your eyes, and say a prayer of thankfulness for this amazing scenery and the opportunity to visit it firsthand ..... that God himself put such beauty on this earth for us to ......

OK, who am I kidding? You want the truth? You want me to say it out loud? ----

I was SO out on the back of the boat because so many of the weak-stomached land lubbers who had booked the same tour as us were getting sick all over the boat, and vomiting over the side, and anyone who knows me knows that I am a sympathy-puker, and there was NO WAY I was going to sit there and watch it or listen to it and perhaps even wind up needing a barf bag myself.

No stinking way.

But the first two paragraphs of this journal entry are completely true. So in a sick and twisted way, I suppose I should also be thankful to the pukers, who with their gagging and ralphing, drove me out to the back of the boat, so I could peer intently at the horizon so as not to see them barfing, and put on my iPod with the volume turned up as high as it would go, so as not to hear them retching, and who made the whole spiritual moment possible.

Plus, the seas were so rough they had to re-route our tour, so we actually got a very decent refund from the tour company, and the four of us treated ourselves to a fabulous seafood dinner tonight with our unexpected cash.

Surprisingly, we didn't see any of the pukers in the restaurant. Guess maybe they opted for the Sprite and Saltines dinner, instead.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

MLCV - Day Arrival in Seward

Reasons I was sad today:

1. The cruise ship people made us get off the boat in Whittier this morning ... something about a whole herd of people getting ON the boat, going the other way, and how we had only paid for seven days in our cabin and now someone else was getting it for a vacation of their own, so we had to vacate the room, yadda yadda.

2. When we went to lunch today, no one put my napkin on my lap for me.

3. When we got to our hotel room this evening, the bed wasn't turned down and there were no little mints on my pillow.


Reasons I was happy today:

1. We arrived in Seward and still have three days of Alaska vacation left!

2. The weather here is unbelievable and sunny and beautiful and even local people are commenting on it and it makes me feel lucky and blessed and like God himself is smiling on us.

3. I hiked to a glacier today! (OK, yeah, the hiking part not so much .... but if you overlook my sweaty flushed face and panting and gasping for air on the trail, and holding my hand to my side and pretending to stop and enjoy the view when really I was just trying to work up the strength to keep going, well besides that, everything else was beautiful.)

4. I had lunch in a town called Moose Pass, Alaska. MOOSE PASS --- does it get any more Alaska-ish than that????

5. Best of all, for the first time in three days, we had cell service and could once again call home and talk to the kidlets. Despite the novelty and bliss of seven whole days, with no one tattling or whining or crying (unless you count me on that glacier hike today), I still miss the little rugrats. Not so much that it's going to spoil the three days we have left, but I admit that I am getting excited to see their shiny little faces again, and hug them and squeeze them and tell them how much I love them and missed them.

Anyone want to take odds on how many minutes pass after our airport reunion before one of them ruins it by complaining about the souvenirs we brought?

Updated: OK, so maybe it took 24 hours to actually update this site .... "wireless" in Alaska is not quite as dependable as "wireless" anyplace else in the world. Or at least as dependable as my office in Georgia.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

MLCV - Day Skagway

What I have done today:

Watched a 4th of July parade in small-town Skagway, Alaska, complete with bagpipe pipers marching, and home-town floats, and kids on bikes with streamers, and veterans and color guard, and the firefighters flinging candy to the kids and squirting the crowd from the parade, and snow-capped mountains in the background ... about as Northern Exposure-ish as you can get. Fabulous way to start the day.

Then, I rode in a HELICOPTER, to the top of a GLACIER, where we went DOGSLEDDING, across the GLACIER, did I mention in a DOGSLED?!?!?!? Pulled by actual SLED DOGS?!?! Then, we got to hold one of the puppies at the dog camp, before flying in a HELICOPTER back down. One of, if not THE highlight of the entire cruise. Pictures, including one of me and Blaine and Renee, all with big goofy smiles on our faces because we are having such a great time, being pulled in a DOGSLED, across a GLACIER {in case you didn't catch that part about the glacier} to follow.

Then, ate fish and chips in an Alaskan bar.

Totally. Perfect. Day.

Dear Post Office Man, please forward all my mail, and personal belongings, to Alaska. I will be living here from now on. Thank you.

That's what I've done today. What have YOU done today? Ten bucks says I had more fun.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

MLCV - Day Humble Pie

Today, Juneau. The capitol of Alaska (I think? Or maybe Fairbanks?) Anyway, another really cool day in a really cool city. We took a whale watching tour, which was great, and where I took over one hundred pictures that all look exactly alike .... the back of a whale, as it dove and came up again while feeding. We actually saw several different whales, but unless you can tell a difference by looking at their backs, you'll just assume it's all the same animal from my pictures. Probably not one of my lifetime photography highlights, but neat, nonetheless.

Then, we went to Mendenhall Glacier and decided to take an "unsanctioned" trail to reach the waterfall next to the glacier. I had on hiking boots, so didn't mind crossing a few small waterways and getting my boots wet ... in fact, it felt decidedly athletic of me. We walked paths that were slightly overgrown and hiked along a beach, and could hear the roar and see the spray of the waterfall. I had worked up a slight sweat and was quite proud of myself. Then, we reached an area of granite rocks that we had to climb over and around to reach the fall ..... and I was stretching, and climbing, and jumping from rock to rock (I have photos later I can show to prove I actually did it) and in fact, I was feeling downright proud of myself and my hiking accomplishment. I am woman; woman with good boots, hear me roar. At least, until I looked over, and I swear, an old man with a cane was making better progress over the rocks than I was.

At first Blaine pretended not to notice, then he said, in an attempt to make me feel better .... "Well, he only has a cane to hold onto. You're trying not to drop your camera in the water, right?"

Um, yeah honey, thanks. I think it's time for me to hit the sundae buffet again.

PS. Jeanette, nope, Keith wouldn't hike to the falls because the trail was unsanctioned and they had seen bears already this week. How funny is that? (Although, it goes without saying, if I had been eaten by a bear today, that would not have been very funny.)

Monday, July 02, 2007

MLCV - Day Ketchikan

Well, just a quick update while we actually have cell service here in the port of fabulous Ketchikan. Wireless internet service here on the ship is something like 75 cents a minute, so I'll have to update whenever I get a quick, free minute. One in which I'm not busy at the sundae shop or buffet, which is where I seem to be spending most of my time. I guess it beats the bar.

Things have been great so far:

dolphins- check
bald eagle - check
seals - check
whales - check
bears - check

However, you people who said it would be warm here .... who mocked me for searching for ear muffs and bringing a winter coat because "it's summer here in Alaska, for goodness' sake" ... well, either my Georgia blood is thin, or you've never stood on the front of a cruise ship traveling across icy waters pretending to be that chick from the Titanic.

So, send blankets. And money for internet. Otherwise, I fear you might never hear from me again.