Musings from Home

Archive for August, 2012

Mountains Take Me Away

After spending the first part of the summer moving and traveling back up to Virginia for 10 days of activities for the kids (during which time we stayed in a hotel), Jim and I had not planned on a family vacation. In our minds, we had spent the vacation money on other adventures. The kids mentioned wanting to take a trip a few times, but we explained that moving and the Virginia twirling competition and the theater camp up there were our vacation for this summer.  Understandably, that wasn’t what they wanted to hear. After all, we usually spend at least two weeks of our summer on family vacation(s). Time that is dedicated to togetherness and fun.

A few weeks ago, Emerald mentioned to me again that she really wanted to take a family trip. Just as I was about to give her the “I understand, but this year . . .” answer, she continued to say that it was important to her to have a vacation before she started school, “even if it’s just a couple of days at Great Wolf Lodge.” That stopped my response on my lips. She wasn’t asking for an extravagant trip. She was asking for two days not an hour away. I told her I’d discuss it with her dad and we’d see, but it seemed like something we might be able to do.

Jim’s response was the same as mine. We can do that. When we progressed to discussing when, he mentioned that any of the few weekends before he started back to school or the one after he started, but before the kids came back would not be good ones to be away. He knew he’d be stressed about starting a new teaching job and might need that time to get more prepared. He also didn’t think he’d be much fun on a vacation any of those weekends.

But there was one weekend after his students returned before Emerald went back to school, so we decided that was the one to plan on. Next, Jim had a thought of another destination. He got online and researched mountain cabins for rent, then mentioned his idea to me. We asked the kids if they would like to go to the mountains (for our first visit to the N.C. mountains) for a weekend instead of Great Wolf Lodge. They cheered and hollered. We had a plan.

This past weekend was that weekend. We left Friday afternoon almost as soon as Jim got home from work. As luck would have it, we ran into a bit of traffic right off the bat, but three hours later, we pulled up to this lovely cabin.

We spent the next hour playing Go Fish and Old Maid. Then we hit the hay to rest up for our next day’s adventures (and slept soundly to the sounds of the babbling creek just outside our walls).

We had a leisurely Saturday morning, drinking coffee, talking, and listening to the sounds of nature. About mid-morning, we left the cabin and headed up to Grandfather Mountain for Sapphire’s first ever real hike. [The last time we took a family hike, she was riding on my back in a baby backpack and Emerald was six.] Although she was very excited, I wondered how long it would take before she was bored and complaining about how much further.

With this lovely trail (about 20 minutes each way; it was like walking up stone steps),

and with these views

that time never came.

In fact, the kids were enjoying the hike so much, they asked me to take their pictures.

At the top, both kids conquered their fears of this suspension bridge.

And we were greeted with even more spectacular views.

We also discovered what a little mountain goat Sapphire is. Jim and I each heard, “I got this” from her as she scrambled over rocks.

We even have a fun family picture, taken by a very nice lady we encountered at the top of the mountain.

And a cute one of the girls.

On the way down, while the rest of us carefully made our way down the rocky path, Sapphire literally hopped from rock to rock (despite my repeated directions to walk not jump). That kid is a little too confident in her abilities for her own good, but she did well and didn’t come close to slipping.

Along the way, we climbed into a small cave.

After getting back to the parking lot, we grabbed some lunch, and visited the animal habitat exhibits*,

the fudge shop, and the gift shop.

*I joked with the kids that we should say that we saw these bears in the wild, since you can’t see any fences. We might have even been able to pull that off with the cougar.

We then headed back to the cabin to play in creek.

And on the hammock.

That evening, we (the “royal we”, meaning Jim) built a fire in the fire pit. Emerald and I boiled hot dogs and heated baked beans on the stove, to prepare for our roasting party over an open fire.

We roasted hot dogs.

And then for dessert, marshmallows.

To make the best S’mores any of us had ever eaten.*

*After the hot dog roasting, the kids and Jim went back up to the cabin for the S’mores fixin’s. They came back in parade formation, doing a little cha-cha and ended with a flourish.

After we put out the fire, we headed back inside to play a game of Sorry before bed.

I posted on Facebook that it was the perfect family day. And it was.

Sunday was fabulous, too. We spent part of the morning at a gem mine.

When we were all done, the staff at the mine helped us sort out the gems from the just plain rocks. They placed them on sheets identifying the stones for us. Here is one (out of five) of them.

We had a fair number of sapphires, emeralds, and amethysts.  We also found a few smokey quartz, several tourmalines, a handful of aqua marine, some rose quartz, iolite, garnet, and citrine. We took the gems over to the on-site jeweler (who is also the owner of the mine), and he helped us design a pair of earrings for each girl (amethyst for Sapphire and verdelite tourmaline for Emerald) and a sapphire ring for me. We should receive the jewelry in a couple of weeks, in time for Sapphire’s and my birthdays. We also found a geode, which the jeweler cut in half and mailed to us. So cool! All in all a perfect first mining trip.

After a bite of lunch and a short game of billiards at a very family friendly billiard hall/restaurant, we strolled down Main Street, Blowing Rock and headed home to get ready for Emerald’s first day of middle school.

We have all dubbed this the perfect way to spend our one true vacation of the summer. We’ll be going back, maybe before too long.


All I Can Say is Awwww

Emerald started middle school this week. This new (to us) school really has it going on. I have never seen my girl so excited to go to school and so happy when she returns. She can’t say enough good things about her teachers and she’s already made “a lot” of new friends. I am so happy things are going so smoothly.

I am also thrilled that Em’s Language Arts teacher is starting them off with a lot of writing. That was one area I was less than pleased with at her old school. In two days, she has had two writing assignments. The first was a paragraph about the jitters she had regarding starting middle school. Yesterday’s assignment was to complete a sheet of “getting to know you” questions or statements and then to pick one of them as a prompt for a paragraph.

The statement Emerald chose was: “The person I most respect”.

And here is her paragraph:

“I respect my mom the most because she is always there for me. She is the one who taught me cursive. She is the one who taught me how to cook baked beans and cakes. She is the reason I’m here today. Thanks, Mommy.”

Rather than writing this and quietly slipping it into her backpack, she couldn’t wait to share it with me. She wanted me to know what she’d written and she greatly enjoyed the joy on my face as she read it. Jim and I have a very sweet girl in our midst (two of them actually). I knew that all along and I knew that my kids love me, but to hear one of them say she also respects me is just wonderful.

This paragraph brought forth another realization, as well. I spent a lot of time Sunday night and during the day on Monday worrying that my shy girl would have a rough start in her new school, in her new town. I was afraid she would get upset if she had trouble finding her classes. I worried that she would eat lunch alone. What I had forgotten in all that  worrying was that she has grown into a mature, independent, and even confident young lady. And tonight I was pleasantly reminded that while she is growing up and starting her own path, she is still my little girl. Okay, maybe not so little, but still my girl.

That makes this growing up thing a whole lot easier on Mom. That, and the fact that I’m seeing that while Jim and I are surely making a lot of mistakes, we are raising two fabulous young women. We must be doing something right. For that I am truly thankful.

Dreading the Pool

My girls have been begging me to take them back to the pool. After all, they have only been swimming a couple of times this summer, which seems kind of silly considering that we belong to the pool in the adjoining neighborhood, which is not more than a mile from our house. I’d been telling them “not tonight” for too many nights in a row, telling myself and them that I was too tired after our very busy day.

Yesterday morning I decided I had put it off long enough. I knew I was likely to decide I didn’t want to go if we waited until the evening, which is generally our preferred time to swim. So I planned to surprise them with an afternoon pool excursion, as soon as the workman was done fixing our audio issues with our tv. In the meantime, we practiced baton, rode bikes, and generally had a fun morning/early afternoon.

A little after 2:00, the repairman finished up. The kids and I were still outside riding bikes (well, they were riding; I was supervising :)). I suggested we go inside because I had another idea of something we could do. They had lots of questions, but did as I asked. When we got inside, I told them I had something I wanted them to do for me. They seemed to get a little suspicious that I was going to assign them a chore, but they played along and asked what. I asked them to please go upstairs, put on their bathing suits, and grab their beach towels.

Well, I’ll tell you, those girls were over the moon excited. They asked me if I was serious, then ran upstairs to get ready. I was happy, too, just seeing them so happy.

That is until I started to get ready. Then I got all kinds of grumpy. I actually hate going to the pool. I hate putting on a bathing suit that makes me feel like an elephant, and exposed at the same time — two very confidence-shaking feelings. I hate that the water washes off the make-up I use to enhance my otherwise thin/sparse eyebrows. I hate that I will look my worst when we meet new people, which was one of the reasons for joining this pool in the first place (meeting people).

So I got ready for the pool, but I wasn’t happy about it. I tried to remind myself that the last time we went, I was dreading it just as much, but once we got there, I had so much fun. The water was so relaxing and playing around with my girls was heavenly. Yeah, but it won’t be today, I thought. It will be much more crowded in the afternoon. It will be hotter. Etc. etc.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm, we gathered up our bag of towels and snacks and headed to the pool. I felt very self-conscious as I walked across the pool deck to get in the water with Sapphire, while Emerald headed to jump off the diving board. Then I got in the water and all that floated away. I forgot how much I hated this whole thing and how bad I felt I looked. I played with my little Sapphire, then with Emerald when she joined us.

Emerald also made me one proud mama (as both of my girls usually do). So far, we have met a few kids Sapphire’s age here in our neighborhood, but we haven’t met anyone Emerald’s age, so she has been longing to make some friends. At the pool yesterday, we noticed a girl who appeared to be close to her age pass by us and smile at Emerald. I suggested my shy girl say “hello”. She did and the other girl said “hello”, but that was it. Later, after the girl had passed by us a few more times, always with a smile in Emerald’s direction, I asked Emerald if she wanted to go over and tell the girl her name and that we had just moved here this summer. She seemed interested, but hesitated. I explained to her that if someone smiles at you every time she looks your way, she’s likely to be friendly if you speak to her. That did it; she approached the girl and introduced herself.

From then until the swim break (or adult swim, as they call it at this pool) I only saw Emerald from across the pool. She chatted with that little girl and her friend, both of whom turned out to be 8 years old. And she had a smile on her face a mile wide. There was no touch of shyness visible. My little girl is growing up.

We spent the rest of the afternoon having a great and relaxing time at the pool. Since I was cooking dinner in the crock pot, we were in no rush to get home. Jim joined us after work and we whittled away the rest of the day, as one should on a lazy, end of summer day.

You may be wondering if I learned anything from this experience. Yes and probably not. I’m sure I’ll dread the next pool day for the very same reasons. But next time, I’ll try harder to remember just how much fun it is actually being there and how all the anxiety washes away the minute I step into that water, AND that I am building happy memories with my precious girls. And if I can’t convince myself, I have this post to remind me.

Happy end of summer to you all.

Moving Adventures, Part II

When I left off the story last week, we had found a new house and put a contract on it, but we hadn’t even begun to sell our house. To say that this was a little concerning to two worrywarts would be a great understatement. But within a few days, our house was listed and we just prayed for a quick sale.

We had five showings, two of them second-viewings, and after a week on the market, we had an offer.

Here’s where I’m going to interrupt the story for a moment. I have said a few times on Facebook that this was a quick, but far from easy, sale. Every day during the month and a half that we were under contract, I wanted to blog about how difficult it was, but I didn’t want to risk jeopardizing the sale (either with those buyers, or if that deal fell through, with whomever came next), so I planned to blog at length about the experience after it was all said and done.

But then, the stressed out, frustrated, worried me gave way to the relieved, relaxed, grateful me and I decided that it could have been so much worse. I need to be happy and thankful that it all worked out so quickly and that we’re not either a family divided now while we try to sell the house in Virginia (and while we pay two mortgages) or at the very least a strapped family wondering how long we can keep this up.

So instead of going on and on about the difficulties of the sale and the doubts we had, I’ve decided to focus on what I’ve learned in the process. Warning: This will be long, because I’ve learned a lot. 🙂

1. First and foremost, I have learned the importance of having a realtor that you trust. I completely understand the appeal of saving that commission, but the realtor’s role goes so much further than finding a buyer. Our reliance on our realtor’s expertise started with the offer. The buyers were planning on getting a 100% VA loan and wrote into the contract that they wanted a carpet allowance paid directly to them in the form of a check at closing. While this struck us as odd and concerned us for some unknown reason, we had no idea that this is actually illegal with VA loans. You cannot give cash back to the buyer. Then, when things got difficult, our realtor kept us informed and advised us of our options. Through the entire process, I had lines from Kenny Rogers’ song The Gambler, running through my head: “You have to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.” Our realtor helped us know when to negotiate, and when to draw the line. She listened to our concerns, let us know when things were pretty common, and when she’d never seen this before. She gave us her opinion when asked, but never tried to tell us what to do or pressure us to accept a condition.

2. Timing is everything. It’s a cliché, to be sure, but one that is based solidly in fact. Just a few days after we were under contract, and just as the deal was starting to appear in jeopardy, our local school district announced that is was bankrupt and wasn’t sure it was going to be able to open the brand new, $70 million high school. It was the lead news story for days. It was all we could do not to panic. We had been told that our buyers’ kids went to private school, so these particular buyers may not have been too concerned by this untimely piece of news, but we were certain that if the deal fell through, most other buyers would be. In fact, our realtor told us (when we voiced a concern about the news) that she had heard many realtors say that they feared they had sold their last house for the year. She wasn’t going that far, but she did feel that the market in our county was about to slow WAY down. This issue certainly colored how we viewed the deal we weren’t sure we should have taken. We were most definitely afraid to rock the boat, so to speak. [In the end, the school system and the county were able to settle the issue and proceed with the planned opening of the high school.]

3. The demeanor of the inspector the buyers’ realtor hires can make a huge difference. When Jim and I saw the inspection report on our 16-year-old house, we were quite pleased. There was nothing that struck us as disastrous at the time. There was a mention of finding something that “may be mold” in the crawl space, but that wasn’t alarming to these two biologists. We figured we’d hire someone to come out to determine the microbial nature of the growth and go from there. We had no idea at the time that the inspector had gone through the house telling the buyers things like, “You never know how things can snowball on you,” etc. These buyers, who may have never purchased a home before (they were renting at the time) must have left the inspection feeling like they were buying the Money Pit, from their actions following (which I won’t go into). None of these warning statements the inspector offered to them was on the written report and none of the things he noted (except for the crawl space) was found by anyone else to be major or unexpected for a house of that age. [We did have the crawl space inspected by a remediation company and it was indeed mold, so we had to have it remediated for a pretty penny, but when they were done, you could’ve had a picnic down there.] Our realtor mentioned later that most realtors in the area don’t use that inspector anymore because he is known to be an alarmist. The buyers’ realtor apparently didn’t know that and he was the only one who was available that day.

4. I now realize how important it is when buying a home to remember that this is more than a business deal. The house you’re looking at is likely someone’s beloved home that they have put a lot of themselves into. While you certainly want to get the best deal possible (who wants to overpay?), you don’t want to make the sellers feel like you view their home as a piece of junk you’re offering to take off their hands. Balance is key and also difficult given that you are dealing through agents and not directly with the other party. I learned this from both sides this summer. We had fabulous realtors in both locations and both were looking out for our interests. Our realtor in N.C. had worked for several years as an appraiser and raised the concern that he didn’t think given the comps in the area that the house would appraise for the listing price (which as I said earlier had recently been lowered significantly). He suggested we go in with what I’m sure seemed to the sellers to be a very low offer. They responded by coming down about $100 on their price. The negotiations went along this way for a couple of rounds before they really seemed to take us seriously. We have learned that there may have been some posturing by the realtors as they had dealt with each other on the purchase of this same family’s new home, but it has also occurred to me that we may have offended the sellers. They had a very nice house and they had done some beautiful renovations. They may have felt that we were acting like their home was less desirable than it was, when in fact, we loved the house. We felt the same, from the other side, with the sale of our Virginia house. We had lived there for twelve years. We had both of our kids while we lived there. We had renovated the kitchen, the bathroom tile, had rebuilt the deck and added a patio, had replaced the siding with HardiPlank, etc. This was definitely not a “fixer upper”, but we were getting the impression (from what we heard third-hand through our realtor) that the buyers weren’t viewing this house as a dream home, but rather something, again, less desirable than it was. Their attitude, as perceived by us (in addition to some of their actions) caused us to stiffen and be less willing to give. We really didn’t want to sell our house to them, but by the time we knew this, we were locked into a contract. We had several discussions about refusing to budge at all and letting them walk away. We may never know what they really thought of this house that meant so much to us, but our realtor did mention that their realtor had told her that this family had been looking for a house for a year and this was the first house they really loved. That love, or even a small piece of it, just didn’t come across to us. In the end, we did sell to them, and we hope they are as happy there as we were.

5. Which brings me to: Unless you sell to someone you know (which has its own risks), you don’t really know what your buyers are like “in the real world”. I spent so much time disliking these people and feeling bad for our neighbors that we were bringing these people into the neighborhood that I never really stopped to think that I didn’t know them at all. And I failed to teach this point to my kids, until much later. Emerald heard from a good friend of hers in our old neighborhood that the buyers of our house had sent a note to everyone in the neighborhood introducing themselves, a very neighborly thing to do. When Emerald told this to me, she seemed very confused. “I thought they were mean,” she said. I have to say, this action by them was totally incongruous with my impression of them, too, which just showed me how completely limited my impression of them was. They could be the sweetest, most reasonable people in the world and they may have totally legitimate reasons for the moves they made in the buying process. I don’t know them at all, just as the sellers of this house don’t know us at all.

6. In any future moves, I will always, always call the moving company to confirm the dates. When the salesperson (as they call him) from the moving company came out to give me an estimate, he mentioned that since this was a fairly large move, the movers may want to come out on the Saturday before the Monday scheduled date to load the truck, but if not, they’d be there at 8:00 a.m. Monday morning. No problem either way. My mistake was assuming they would let me know if they decided to come on Saturday. We had asked that the moving company pack our large pictures and lamps, so we got a phone call about a week before the scheduled move that the packers would like to come out on Friday morning. Fine. I continued to pack up our other stuff while the very nice packing ladies packed pictures and lamps, while entertaining Sapphire along the way. That evening, I took the girls to a birthday party of one of Sapphire’s pals, while Jim stayed home to pack up electronics. He was beginning the freak out about how much we still had to do and was in no mood for a party break. I on the other hand had had my blood pressure checked at a routine doctor’s appointment that afternoon and was in need of an enforced break to avoid a potential stroke (I exaggerate, but my blood pressure is usually 120/80 on the nose and that day it was around 159/90-something — stress anyone??). While we were at the party, Jim called and asked me if I knew anything about the movers coming the next day to load the truck. WTH??? He had just received a phone call from the moving company saying that they were scheduled to come out the next morning to load up, but the packers had returned saying we weren’t anywhere close to being ready. Well, duh, we weren’t expecting the truck until 8:00 a.m. Monday. Jim told them that we hadn’t been informed they were coming on Saturday, so no, there was no way we’d be ready. The woman seemed annoyed, but said they’d be there first thing Monday morning then. Well, they weren’t, and the reason they gave is that they had to scramble because we weren’t ready when we were supposed to be. They wound up moving their arrival back a day. It all worked in the end, but it involved rescheduling a lot of other things (both for us and for the movers). If only we’d confirmed.

7. Murphy’s Law is the most accurate law I’ve ever heard. Our mishaps continued, the biggest one being that the moving truck broke down in our driveway. We had no idea when they’d be able to get the truck moving again. We were closing the next day and needed to be gone by early morning, so the buyers could do their final walk through. As it turned out, the truck was towed away to be repaired, and the trailer was picked up by another truck late that evening. The truck arrived in N.C. on Friday, rather than Wednesday as originally scheduled, but it arrived, and all of our stuff was present and in good shape.

8. There’s often a silver lining. The upside was those extra two days allowed the painters to finish painting our new house before the moving truck arrived. And boy was it nice to move into a newly painted home, with your color scheme already on the walls. The girls were thrilled with the colors they chose for their new rooms, and it made walking into the new house, more like walking into your home, whether the furniture was there or not.

9. And last, but not least, another cliché: All’s well that ends well. Now that it’s done, all the stress and “trauma” of the move seem far removed from our lives. We are so thankful to be moved. Jim started his new job late last week. The kids start school in the next two weeks and we’re off to new adventures.

Now we are watching the realty websites in Central Virginia, hoping our friends who are trying to sell their houses have luck soon.

I have one more part planned in this series, an interesting adventure we had with a colorist and the fun results. And then we’ll leave this move and see what other happenings abound in North Carolina.

Moving Adventures, Part I

I took a long hiatus from this blog while we moved, partly because we were so busy with the move itself, and partly because it was all I was focused on at the time, so the blog would’ve been alternatingly me freaking out and me being redundant. Neither of those would’ve been particularly interesting. So I have chosen to cover the entire move in a multi-part retrospective.

We were on such a condensed timeline when Jim first interviewed for this job, because his contract at his prior school was due in just a few short days. So when he came down here to N.C. to interview, the girls and I came with him to look around and see if this seemed like a place we could be happy. The four of us also met with a realtor recommended to Jim by the head of the school at which he was interviewing. By the time we actually met with the realtor, Jim had received an offer of employment, but we hadn’t had the chance to discuss the possibilities, so we didn’t know if we were moving here or not yet. We decided to use the opportunity to look at neighborhoods, rather than focusing on individual houses, so we could get a sense of what was available for the money and how far from the school we’d have to live to get what we wanted in our price range.

When we returned to Virginia and decided we were going to move, our realtor set us up on an interactive online search service in which he had entered our search criteria. The service would automatically send us updates, so we could largely search online.

We approached the search rather casually at first (this was in March), as our house wasn’t even on the market yet and we couldn’t move until Jim’s and the girls’ schools were out for the summer anyway. Our initial search criteria were pretty straight forward: We wanted 4+ bedrooms (we were pretty insistent we wanted a guest room in the new house; we didn’t have one in the old house), 3+ baths, and initially a basement (until we realized this city doesn’t have many houses with basements and we had to drop that from our “must have” list). The other “must have” was a good school district. We were also hoping for some architectural detail.

The next step was to ask each family member to name his or her very top “wish list” item. We explained to the girls that we weren’t likely to be able to find everything everyone wanted in a house in one place, so we’d focus on the top thing each of us wanted. Even that may not be possible, but that’s where we’d start.

Jim’s top item was proximity to school. He had been commuting an hour each way for eleven years, so he insisted he did not want to be further than 10 minutes from school. Mine was an updated kitchen. We renovated our Virginia kitchen 5 years ago and while we loved the result and had a kitchen that was pretty much customized to our needs/wants/style, the process was difficult and I didn’t want to go through it again. Emerald wanted what all tween girls wish for: her own bathroom. She would settle for a Jack and Jill, if necessary. Sapphire’s biggest requirement was a backyard big enough to put a play set in. We were moving from a place in the country, with three acres, to a city. This one was more of a challenge than it sounds.

With these four items in mind, I scoured through the online listings. I made notes on some of them, which our realtor could see and respond to. He noted if the house was in a poor school district or a good one, if the house was on a busy road, etc. — all the things we couldn’t possibly know being unfamiliar with the area and looking online.

When I found a house that looked promising, I would MapQuest it to see how close it was to Jim’s school, before I looked at the listing in too much detail. There was no point wasting time on a house he wouldn’t even consider.

After wading through seventy or eighty listings, I began to get really worried. This was late March, early April, so we still had time. We weren’t ready to buy a house yet, but there was nothing that came close to meeting our criteria within 10 minutes of Jim’s school. There were amazing houses in our price range 20 minutes from school in very good school districts (I did eventually start peeking at those to see what was available). There were a few great houses in bad school districts (a definite no-go). There were smaller, but very cute, houses close in. There were also many, many houses with tiny yards. And still others with a pool in the back that took up the entire yard. Unless something else popped up in the next couple of months, it looked like we were either going to have to move further out or adjust our expectations.

At one point, I mentioned to Jim that while I completely understood his want to be close to school, it was looking like something was going to have to give, either in distance from school or in the house itself. I’d give it a while longer, but we may have to have a discussion on where we can compromise, so he should be thinking about that. That wasn’t what he wanted to hear, but he said he would think about it. At leat he wouldn’t be blind-sided when the time came.

Then in early April, I noticed a house that I hadn’t seen before. It wasn’t a new listing (it had been on the market for 3 months by then), but I don’t know whether it hadn’t been on our search before or if I’d just missed it. I did my usual MapQuest search of the address and found it was 12 minutes from Jim’s school. Twelve, not 10 or less, but close. I figured I might be able to talk Jim into 2 minutes more, so I cautiously looked at the pictures and the listing info. This house had 5 bedrooms, 4 1/2 baths (one of them being a Jack and Jill between two of the bedrooms and the other bedrooms each having its own bath), a recently renovated kitchen with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, and a fairly private 1/2 acre lot. We were cooking with gas.

I told Jim that I had found an interesting prospect and asked if he would give me two more minutes on his commute time. He said he thought he could do that. After showing him the listing, and getting a positive reaction, I wrote a note on the listing to our realtor asking about the schools and mentioning that this house had all of our top wish list items. He replied very quickly that the schools were very good and that he expected the price on this house to drop rapidly because the owners had a contract on a very expensive house, closing in a few weeks, so they would want sell this one soon.

I wrote back and asked him to let me know if I need to hurry down to N.C. to see it because I didn’t want it sold out from under us before we’d even seen it in person. He replied that he could get me into it as soon as I wanted. I took the hint and we scheduled a trip down to N.C. the next week (which luckily was the kids’ spring break). Meanwhile, we watched the listing for a price drop. It never occurred, probably because they had just dropped the price $19,000 and wanted to let that ride for a while. The new price was also comparable to other houses on their street.

The house across the street from theirs was also for sale, for exactly the same price, so we figured we’d look at both, although we were primarily interested in the one I’d seen online. We liked the main room better and our realtor had mentioned a ditch in the yard of the other house.

We toured the house we were interested in, and while it wasn’t perfect (it had a weird division of rooms upstairs and an odd angle on the backyard), it was still much closer to what we were looking for than anything else we’d seen. We walked around it several times, looking in every room, every closet, walking around the yard. The kids fell in love and although we were trying to be cautious, so did Jim and I. We decided not to look at the house across the street; instead we started talking about the offer we wanted to put in.

On the way home to Virginia that evening, we were excited, but also nervous. Our house wasn’t even on the market yet, although we did have a realtor up there as well and we were almost ready to list it. But given how few houses fit our wish list and how this house had Every. Single. One. of the main items, we decided to gamble.

It took a little back and forth, but within a few days, we were under contract. We had a closing date of May 31st. Soon after we signed the contract, our house in Virginia went on the market. We crossed our fingers, and we prayed. We still had so much that had to come together.

To be continued . . .


It all started with a Living Social deal.

We have moved and were busy unpacking, planning to explore our new area as soon as we got completely unpacked and set up. We had a short list of places we wanted to visit, and hoped to learn of more as we went.

Jim checked his e-mail and called me over to take a look. He had an e-mail from Living Social offering an animal encounter for four at a small zoo not too far away. He checked the web page of the zoo and learned that you could spend an hour with the baby animals they had at the time. The site mentioned a baby kangaroo, a baby zebra, baby wolves, and baby tigers. The Living Social deal for $50 off expired in October. We were sure we’d be done unpacking and be ready to go by then, so really it was a no-brainer. We bought it, but we waited to tell the kids until later, as a fun surprise.

A couple of weeks later, we finished unpacking (yay!) and scheduled our cub encounter. Still, we didn’t mention it to the kids.

Sunday night, we told them our plan. We would leave late morning, spend a few hours touring the zoo, and then we’d have one hour with the babies. We didn’t know which babies we would get to see, but we were all super excited.

Yesterday, we left here around noon and slowly made our way north. We stopped for lunch and arrived around two o’clock, all ready to have some fun.

The zoo itself was right out of “We Bought a Zoo”. We had been to zoos like this before and they have always been fun, but we had never been up close and personal with baby wild animals before.

When we checked in and paid for the small cup of seed each kid would carry to feed the animals, we were instructed to join an already-in-progress tour, which would run in a circular path. We could stop when we got back to the place we joined in. On the way to meet up with the tour, we saw a baby ring-tailed lemur:


And wolf cubs. We then joined a tour in the barn, where we got to see and feed goats and llamas:

We also saw a horse, ponies, and donkeys. This poor baby was rescued and is totally blind.


These cute ponies lead him around, when needed:


The zoo’s rule is if the animal has two toes, you may feed and pet him. If he has a single hoof or more than two toes, you may not, so we did not touch or feed the horses, ponies, donkeys, zebras (at least for now), or the birds. [They also ask that you not feed the ostriches, even though they have two toes, because they peck hard and could hurt you.]

The tour left the barn and headed around the corner to the camels:


Then on to see a bull:

More goats:

And alpacas:

The tour continued on to animals we could see, but not touch.

Emu and ostriches, a Scottish Highlander:


And a kangaroo:

After that, we saw macaws, including one that likes to nibble on the toes of people in sandals and flip flops while singing opera (luckily we were all in closed-toe shoes), tigers,

one of whom became very interested in a little Bichon-looking service dog in our tour group:

I felt so bad for the mother, who was pushing a wheelchair, while holding the frightened dog. I offered to help, but she certainly had it all under control. I was in awe.

We also saw servals:

A prairie dog housed with about 10 guinea pigs, tortoises, lizards, snakes, a ferret, two different species of porcupines, a skunk, coatimundi, and several other animals I can’t remember the names of.

After the tour returned to the barn, where we had joined it an hour and a half earlier, we were hot and thirsty, and still had an hour to wait before our cub encounter at 4:30. After feeding the rest of the feed to the always-hungry goats and llamas, we took a break to get some water, hang out in the main building, and pet the resident cat.

We also looked again at the lion cub in a cage in the main building (we later learned her name is Nala). Now she was totally sacked out and completely adorable. I was dying to pet her.

At this point, we still had 45 minutes before our scheduled cub encounter, so we found shade and a place to sit under a tent, where Sapphire and Jim entertained themselves on i-phones, and Emerald and I took in the sights and sounds around us, and people-watched. Fifteen minutes later, a yellow jacket chased us from our perches and we began to walk around to see the animals again. As we were coming out of the barn, a very nice man approached us and asked if we were the 4:30 encounter group. We told him we were and he replied that they were ready for us early. We could come along. Yippee!!

As we headed to the room where we would meet the babies, the man commented tongue-in-cheek that he hoped we didn’t mind air conditioning. He said he could turn it off if we didn’t want it. As if . . . 🙂

We were led into a room with bleachers on one side and were instructed to sit on the bleachers until the vet tech came in with the first baby.

The staff (there were two people in there with us the entire time, and at one point the owner of the zoo joined us) informed us that we would be able to hug the baby zebra and pose for pictures with her only while she was drinking from her bottle, which gave us about 60 seconds, they said. After that, we could pet her, but she wouldn’t let us hug on her.

We then bid the baby zebra goodbye and then they brought in the next baby for us to meet.

Next, they brought in the puppy:

Akela, a very sweet, very playful wolf pup. [Most of the animals in this zoo are named for Disney characters].

As you can tell, the kangaroo and Akela were quite comfortable with each other. When I commented on this, they told us that when Akela was a tiny pup, the kangaroo (I wish I could remember her name) used to go up and lick him. For the most part, while we were there, they left each other alone. At one point, Akela started chasing the kangaroo a bit, but was easily distracted with a toy.

After we had played with Akela for a while, Sapphire started asking to see a tiger cub. The vet tech hesitated, then explained to Jim and me that she had planned to bring in Simba (a very little lion cub) instead of a tiger cub, because their tiger cubs were now fairly big (35 lbs) and very rambunctious. The vet tech was afraid the tigers would scare our girls and that they wouldn’t have as much fun with them. She explained to Sapphire that the tiger cubs would jump on her and may scratch her by accident. She also said they most likely would bite. They would also chase her if she ran from them. We also learned that you can’t pick up a tiger of any size, because they are afraid of heights and freak out.

In contrast, she explained, Simba was very small and cuddly, and would be a lot more fun to play with. Sapphire was momentarily disappointed as Jim and I decided to go with Simba.

But that disappointment didn’t last long at all (maybe just a millisecond), because we all melted the minute we laid eyes on the little ball of fluff.

As promised, he curled up in our laps, let us play with him, and was a sweet little love bug.

If you put your fingers straight into the center of his mouth, he would suck on your fingers.

He also nibbled on knees

And hair

And the vet tech’s jeans

But he still has baby teeth, so everyone was unscathed. 🙂

He was just the rascally, fun kind of cat we all love:

And he even did the perfect Simba pose:

Sapphire commented that she wanted to take Simba home and they told her that she would bring him back in two weeks when he got rambunctious, pouncy, and bitey. The vet tech told us they go through a period where they are a real pain to deal with, then they go back to being sweet for a while. She said Nala (the other lion cub) is in the not-so-fun stage right now and Simba will be in a couple of weeks. They also told Sapphire that she would probably bring him back even sooner than two weeks, just as soon as she had to help him go to the bathroom, as he can’t do that on his own yet.

We all decided that this was a really terrific day and we would be content to hang on to the wonderful memories, rather than the cub himself. And who knows, maybe someday we’ll come back to visit and see an adult lion enclosure, with Simba and Nala, and we’ll remember the day when we cuddled this sweet little cub . . .

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