Friday, August 20, 2010

Showing and Smoke...

While on vacation last week, I received a call from my realtor that someone was interested in seeing our house. This was great news since we spent all day that Saturday cleaning and packing and cleaning just in case this happened. When we got back, we found out that the couple had been considering the communities of Byron Center and Ada / Cascade. Unfortunately, they chose Ada / Cascade. They did say that they liked our home and that the price was good. This made us happy because now we know the work has paid off and our price is in a good range for the market. Now we just continue waiting.

On the flip side, I found a house that I was interested in. It was in our school district and about 2 miles from where we now live. The lot was big at almost 1.85 acres and entirely wooded. The house was a decent size with a big deck and heated, two stall outbuilding. I had Joe schedule a showing and we visited the house on Wednesday evening. When we arrived, Joe was waiting for us in the driveway. I could tell from the look on his face that there was something wrong. We walked around the house and viewed the property and it was as I expected it to be; needed some work but nothing insurmountable. Then we opened the front door to walk in when a blast of the stale scent of cigarette smoke punched me in the face like a left hand upper cut from Mike Tyson in the early 90s. Instantly I became sad. I had such high hopes that this could be an option. I had already dreamed of playing in the woods behind the house with the boys, making bike trails and forts and camping. All those dreams now destroyed by the bad habits of the homes owners. All I could do was shake my head the rest of the time we toured the house. It was in good shape and it was decorated reasonably well. The owner had finished the basement himself. The construction was a bit shoddy and in one instance Joe grabbed onto one of the door jams and was able to wiggle it about an inch in both directions. Even with that I would have considered the home as I know those things are “fixable”. But the bowling alley stench that infiltrated our clothes, hair and nasal passages was just too much to bear.

I don’t understand how people can smoke in their home. Over time the smoke ruins everything in the house. There is no amount of money that could make me live in that house. By the time we got home, I started getting a headache from the smell. It was a horrendous experience and one I fear will not be the last on our house hunt.

On another note, I bought two of these storage closets so we could clean out our winter clothes from our closets and make them look bigger. They are working out fantastically.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Back in the saddle...

Wow, it's been a whole week since my last post.  I've been on vacation and found out how hard it is to blog when you are chasing 3 young boys around and relaxing.  Anyway, we had a great time in Brasstown, NC.  We were visiting Beth's Godmother and her husband.  They retired several years ago and moved to a rural farm where they built a house and now enjoy Appalachian country living.  We enjoyed it too.  It is a much slower pace, especially in the summer when it is 95 degrees every day.

After "The Drive", Beth and I took a day and recovered.  Short naps and wine helped and by Monday last, we were raring to go.  We spent time catching up with our hosts and got the lay of the land.  It has been 4 years since we visited them at their home and it was almost what I remembered.  Time can do many things.  I found that my memory of the place was about 90 per cent of what it actually was.  I think I was most excited to see the cows.  They have an arrangement with a local gentleman that allows him to graze his cattle and in return, he keeps up the fences in the pastures.  It's a win win.  There is nothing like waking to the soft drone of mooing cows.  Moooooooooo....

We also spent some time visiting the neighbors.  Dave, who lives down the road and lower in the canyon, has a beautiful pond that is stocked with fish.  We went to see Dave and to feed the fish on Tuesday.  I didn't expect what we saw.  As we walked up to the pond, all the fish swarmed up to us.  There were cat fish and another smaller fish that I don't know the name of.  The cat fish were about a foot long and when we threw food into the water, they would raise their whole head out of the water and gobble up their lunch.  One time Magnus dropped a whole hand full of food in the water right at the edge of the pond.  The fish swarmed the pile and splashed so much that water went flying and soaked Magnus's shirt.  It kinda scared him a little and he didn't do that again.  It was pretty amazing.

The next day, Wednesday, we went to visit Doug who lives up on the ridge to South of Dave.  Doug has some laying hens that he bought early in the spring.  There were several different  species and he let us feed them.  At first, I didn't think the boys would let the chickens eat out of their hands.  Magnus decided that he didn't want to try.  But after I did it and told them what it felt like, Nolan gave it a go.  He put some chicken feed into his hand and slowly lowered it down so Georgia the chicken would come over and take a bite.  He was very still until the first peck when he jumped back with fright and proceeded to throw the feed at the chickens.  After a minute and when the fear wore off, he thought it was funny but didn't want to try again. We also got a tour of Dave's garden.  He was growing beans, heirloom tomatoes, Okra and several other veggies.  His heirloom tomatoes were beautiful.  I think I'll grow some next year.  What really caught my eye was the Okra.  I've never seen how Okra grows.  It is a very unique plant and I'm glad I learned a little about a Southern vegetable.  The coolest thing we saw at Doug's was some bear scat.  The night before, there had been a rain storm and the wind had been blowing.  In the morning, Doug and his wife discovered that their bird feeder had been knocked off the cable it was hanging from.  Although Dave's wife insists that the wind had blown it down, Dave thinks that a bear climbed up on his deck, jumped off, and grabbed the bird feeder (about 20 feet in the air) and broke it off the cable and ate the bird seed.  I wouldn't have believed him, but when I saw the broken ring clamp, and the blackberry laden bear scat on the ground, I couldn't disagree.  We took a stick and poked around in the scat and it was blackberry all the way through.  It even turned the stick purple!  This bear had gorged himself / herself on so many blackberries that it had the blackberry revenge.  In a few days, it will have the sunflower seed revenge too.  Poor bear...

On Thursday and Friday, we visited Fires Creek picnic area.  If you ever get to the Western part of North Carolina, I highly recommend visiting Fires Creek.  We had so much fun looking at rocks, skipping stones, swimming, jumping in the small pools and walking down the creek, we just had to go back.  There was a small waterfall that we climbed up and sat under and a section of very slippery, smooth rock that we used for a slide.  The locals have moved the rocks around to create a chute down the creek where kids can ride inner tubes for about 50 yards.  At the end there is a man made pool and you can get out and run the trail back to the starting point.  I tried to float down the lower section of the chute and, while it was a good attempt, I caught about 6 rock up my rear and about 4 in my back.  Next time I'll try an inner tube.

Probably the most exciting experience was when I lost my wedding ring in the pool at the beginning of the chute.  Oh yeah, I freaked!  I had just jumped into the water and worked my way to the side to empty my sandals of sand and rocks when I notice that it was gone.

Wine timeout...  Yeah, I need more wine to calm my nerves...

So I stand up, raise my arms and say "everyone stop!"  Magnus and I had been playing with 4 other kids and jumping off a big rock into a small pool of water.  The kids all looked at me with a nervous eye wondering if they had gotten in trouble.  I told them that I had lost my wedding ring and needed help finding it.  To my amazement, they all started looking for it.  It was like a treasure hunt for them.  Where I had emptied my sandals, I moved the rocks aside and the kids searched the water but found nothing.  The bigger kids were looking in the pool of water for the ring, but the water was rushing so fast that it was hard to see the bottom.  I called to Beth to let her know of my predicament.  She joined in on the hunt and quickly left to see if she left Magnus's goggles in the car.  I continued searching in the rushing water.  After finding nothing, I climbed back up on the rock to try to determine where I would have landed on my last jump.  I picked a spot and walked into the water.  It was rushing fast and I needed to figure out a way to see into it's depths.  I turned my body into the stream so that my wide back side would settle the water.  Then I put my arms on the top of the water and made an enclosed area where the water was calm.  I bent over and put my face as close to the water as I could.  The bottom of the pool was visible, but I couldn't find anything shiny.  After a bit of searching, I turned my eyes to my feet and was surprised to see a shiny circle of Gold just in front of my left toe.  I almost screamed!  Now I had to go get it.  Very slowly I submerged myself in the 65 degree water and tried to feel my way to the ring.  This didn't work and I wasn't able to grab it.  The next time, I got down under the water and opened my eyes just long enough to snatch the ring and quickly place it on my finger for safety.  I jumped out of the water and yelled "YES!!!".  All the kids were stunned at first and then they all yelled.  They were happy that they could play again.  I walked down to the car to tell Beth that I found the ring and she and I gave each other a big hug and kiss.  It was such a relief.

That night we were having dinner when it started to rain.  It was in the high 90's with high humidity so I decided that a little rain shower was in order.  I pulled off my shirt and stood on the edge of the deck to enjoy the cool shower.  Soon thereafter, Grayson was crawling his way across the deck.  He was getting soaked and I was getting a little nervous because there was lightning and thunder all over the place.  I stripped him out of his wet clothes and put him under the overhang of the house to keep him dry.  Grayson is a bit strong headed and immediately started walking back out into the rain.  I followed him and we ended up playing in the rain for the next 45 minutes.  Magnus joined us after stripping off his shirt.  It was amazing!  The rain was probably 75 degrees.  It literally was like taking a shower.  I was surprised at how Grayson had no worries and would just crawl around the deck in the rain.  He loved it!

On Friday night we took a jeep ride down into the pasture to see the cows.  This was an up close and personal trip.  There were several different species and some brand new baby calves.  At one point, we came close to a big bull.  I started mooing at it and he became irritated.  Lou reminded us not to look a bull in the eye and we quickly turned around and headed away.  After we were about 30 feet away, Magnus says to me "I looked it in the eye." and then he smiled and laughed.  One day he'll learn...

Since I grew up on a "farm", I figured that I would jump out of the jeep and try to pet the cows.  I soon found out that cows don't like the attention of unfamiliar humans.  Every time I approached a cow, they would slowly retreat and then turn and run away from me.  After about 10 minutes, I figured that I wasn't going to be able to pet a cow and jumped back into the jeep.  As we headed back up to the house, the sun was setting over the ridge and the sky was lit up with stars and a bright crescent moon.  What a beautiful way to end an evening.

I can't explain how beautiful the Appalachian mountains are.  You wake up to a foggy mess only to be relieved by a clear sight in the mid morning.  A beautiful blue sky and a slightly hazy and cool evening breaking to a black night dotted with the twinkle of diamonds in the sky.  I didn't get to spend much time outside after dark, but I bet it was a phenomenal site.

Thanks for reading.  I'll post pictures when I can.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Drive...

Saturday started early.  We were leaving for North Carolina that evening and we had plenty to do.  First was to clean and prep the house for showing.  This took the majority of the day and the boys were cooperative and let us work.  They knew that we were leaving in the evening to drive to NC and were very excited to go.

By late afternoon, we were done prepping and turned our attention to packing and bathing the boys.  No one wanted to cook so we headed out to Monellis for dinner.  By 7:30 we were on the road.  The car was packed to the brim but the boys looked comfortable.

Shortly after this picture was taken, Grayson decided he was unhappy.  He spent the next 90 minutes screaming and crying regardless of what we did to soothe him.  It was a difficult 90 minutes.  Nolan spent most of the time plugging his ears and saying "Grayson is hurting my ears Daddy."

We were close to Ohio when most everyone was sleeping.  Magnus was still awake and wanted to stay awake until we were in Ohio.  After that, he was out like a light.  When we stopped for gas in Ohio, all the boys woke up.  Unfortunately, the bathrooms were in less the desireable conditions and, if you know what it's like to take a child to the bathroom in a public toilet, it was a horrible experience.  I don't know about you, but my children tend to touch everything despite my warnings of germs, disease, etc...  After a thorough washing in the sink, we were ready to forge on.  I continued driving the sleeping beauties all the way to Lexington, KY.   The last hour or so was touch and go.  I was very tired at that point.  Beth took over so I could try to get some rest.

If you've ever ridden in a Mazda 5, you know that there isn't a whole lot of room.  My knees were touching the dash board because we had to stow some stuff behind the seat.  I couldn't put the seat back because Nolan was behind me in his car seat.  I did fall asleep, but it was an uneasy rest.  After about two hours I came to with a sore back and neck.  The boys were still sleeping comfortably and that made me happy.

Beth was doing well despite an uneasy sleep in the car.  We decided to stop at Hardees for breakfast in a small town called Tellico.  It was about 6:30 AM.  I have never been so disappointed in a breakfast.  Fortunately, we don't eat fast food on a regular basis.  We choked down our biscuits and hit the road.  We were now on the Cherohala Skyway.  This is a scenic mountain road and there are may switchbacks as it winds along the tops of the smokey mountains.  Unfortunately, it was still quite early in the morning and we couldn't see very well through the fog.  Magnus was sitting in the back and he started to get motion sick.  We stopped briefly and let him get out and walk around.  I decided to switch places with him so he could watch out the front window and get some fresh air.  For the next hour and a half we drove and stopped, drove and stopped and finally when we were about 2 miles to our destination, Magnus emptied his stomach on the side of the road.  Fortunately, this made him feel better and he didn't cry or complain.

So, we arrived at Barb and Lou's home and unpacked the car.  It was 8:30 AM.  13 hours of driving through the night had come to an end.  Beth and I took turns napping during the day and called it an early night.  More fun and excitement on Monday.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Garden Fresh Inspiration and mini Soutapalooza...

So my garden is really producing a LOT of food.  My tomatoes are abundant and bursting with flavor!  I've been giving away about a pound of tomatoes per day.  When I came home from work yesterday, my neighbor Brenda had made some salsa with the tomatoes that I had given her the day before.  It was delicious!  That evening my cousin Tim, who is visiting from Switzerland and is on his way to Japan for the next two years, came over for a night of beer tasting (more on that later) and good food.  He brought over a pot of red beans that he had made with andouille sausage and beans from Louisiana.   I put some rice in the cooker and we feasted on red beans and rice topped with fresh garden salsa.  I was extremely close to food coma.

Brenda had explained how she made the salsa and how easy it was to make, so tonight I decided to give it a go.  I picked up some cilantro and a lime from the grocery store and proceeded to make my version of salsa.  It went a lot like this:  Chop a bunch of Roma tomatoes, finely dice any peppers that I had pulled from the garden (only 1 jalapeƱo, 2 green peppers and 2 of another kind that I don't know the name of), finely dice a small onion from the garden, squeeze the juice of one lime, coarse chop the cilantro, a dash of vinegar and olive oil, add some sea salt and pepper and stir.  I tasted it right away and it was good.

We had plans for dinner with our other neighbors, the Fielders, and I brought the salsa and some El Matador tortilla chips (The best chips ever!) over to their house for us to enjoy.  I was pleasantly surprised when I took another bite and the flavor had gotten even better!  Everyone loved it and I was forced to leave the leftovers for our friends to enjoy.  Good thing I've got more veggies growing.  Next year I think I'll do a salsa garden with different kinds of tomatoes (think heirloom varieties), assorted peppers, cilantro, onions, etc...  That would make for an interesting summer.

Back to the beer tasting.  My cousin Tim and I are both beer connoisseurs and every time he comes to visit we make a journey to Founders Brewing so Tim can experience what the West Michigan beer scene is all about.  Sunday night we did just that.  After enjoying their new IPA, Endurance Ale and a few Bourbon Apple Cream Ales, we were ready to get some food.  Unfortunately, there isn't much open late on a Sunday night.  We ended up at Steak and Shake for a Guacamole Burger and fries.  

Last night, along with our red beans and rice, we whipped together a mini Stoutapalooza.  The original Stoutapalooza happened over three days this past December.  We tasted about 55 beers over the course and it was an amazing experience.  Last night I tasted my first World Wide Stout by Dogfish Head brewing.  It was full of flavor and has definitely landed in my top 10 favorite beers.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and at 18% it really hit home! I knew it was good when I started having trouble seeing the ball on Wii baseball.  What a successful and wonderful evening.

Note:  My new camera should arrive tomorrow!!!  Then I can take pictures of all the good things I eat and drink.  Also, coming up next week, we'll be in North Carolina visiting family so look for some good stories to come.