Virtual House Hunters

Earlier this week I dropped a bomb on you when I let you know that we are moving back to Washington this weekend. I left you with a bit of a cliffhanger as to where exactly we will be moving back to so, as promised, here is Part 2 of The Great Peterson Moving Saga.

One of the biggest draws for us moving back to Washington (Besides our family and the liquid sunshine, obviously.) was the fact that we can actually afford to buy a home there. Living in the Bay Area and dealing with ever-increasing rent prices and the instability of having to move every time your landlord is murdered (True story, this actually happened to us) made us realize that renting was not for us. We needed to buy a home and make it our own. So began the quest for home ownership.

Now, this was not just any ordinary housing search. This was a housing search that had to be conducted from a different state, with a very tight time frame, and with a budget (a budget that we started off thinking was excellent, and ended up realizing was completely insufficient. But more on that later).

When we bought our first house in Washington 11 years ago, the housing market was…ahem…a bit different. Then: two 23 year-old BABIES, buying a house with stars in their eyes and a zero-down loan in the bank. Now: a family of 5 with a dog, buying a house in one of the fastest-growing real estate markets in the country.

We went into this housing search thinking that it would be like it was back in 2006 when we went out to look at a few houses, made an offer on the one we liked, and bought it after we’d thought it through and made some decisions and felt ready. So, we booked ourselves a quick weekend trip up to Seattle to do a whirlwind housing tour, sure that by the end of the weekend we’d pick out the house of our dreams (which, with our budget, we were sure would be any darn house we wanted), and move on merrily with our lives.

Our good friend, Rob, is a real estate agent (the best there is) and he spent the whole weekend with us driving around looking at houses and neighborhoods (Meanwhile, the grandmas and grandpas came and played with our kids at our hotel). When all was said and done, I think we visited about 30 different houses over the course of 2 .5 days. It was a LOT.

But it was all good, because the very first house that we saw on the very first day was THE ONE. It was the size, location, and style that we were looking for. It was within our budget. It was a beautiful neighborhood. It. Was. Perfect. So, we made an offer–a really strong offer that was over the asking price with no contingencies and a pre-inspection completed. We were 110% sure that this would be our house. We flew back to California with our offer on the table, and we knew that we’d get the good news that the house was ours by the end of the week.

Well, the end of the week came, and so did our news about the house. Only, it wasn’t the news we’d expected. There were several other offers made on the same house (OUR HOUSE), and we weren’t even in the top 3. If we wanted to increase our offer by another 10%, they told us, then we’d at least be competing in the top 3 offers (so very generous of them to allow us the opportunity to compete even further). Since we’d already offered all that we had, however, we couldn’t offer more (remember, there’s this thing called a budget and this other thing called a loan…and they kind of have to line up if you actually want to buy a house.)

We were devastated. Both of us felt so, so sure that this was going to be our house and our happy little ending to our story. After all, everything else had already lined up perfectly, so why didn’t this? As I discovered, this was just another opportunity to trust God and follow him–after all, we had prayed that he would close doors where we weren’t supposed to be, and this was just another closed door in a series of closed doors.

In the end, this first home-offer experience was a reality check for us. The housing market had changed, and we were the unlucky participants. So began phase 2 of the house hunting process: online house hunting.

We wouldn’t have another chance to fly up to Washington for in-person house hunting before we actually had to move there, and Jon’s company would only pay for 30 days of temporary housing once we arrived, so our options were becoming more limited. Even if we found a house that we wanted to buy on the day that we moved to Washington, we wouldn’t have time to close before our temporary housing allowance ran out. And if your temporary housing time runs out, that means you have to move. AGAIN. And since we really, really, REALLY wanted to cut out the number of times we’d have to move during this transition, we decided to suck it up and try something that we were initially very uncomfortable with: trying to buy a house that we wouldn’t get to see in person.

Over the course of the next few weeks we sent our friend-agent Rob and Jon’s parents out to look at several more houses with us remotely via FaceTime in the craziest housing market I’ve ever encountered (possibly even crazier than the Bay Area, which is saying something). The housing market in Seattle works like this: Houses are listed on Thursday, they do open houses Friday-Sunday, they accept offers Monday-Wednesday, they review offers on Wednesday afternoon, and you know by the end of the day Wednesday whether you’re an offer winner or an offer loser. When you make an offer, you need to offer at least 10-20% over asking or you won’t even be in the running. An all-cash offer is much preferred. Then, to make your offer stand out you need to remove every contingency, include a personalized cover letter with a cute photo of your family, and then offer more money. Because, really, the few sellers that there are just want more money.

So, we followed all of the crazy Seattle-area homebuying rules and we made offers on 5 houses. None of them were accepted.

I was getting to that point that I get to when I think our family is going to be homeless (or have to move a gazillion times before my children finish kindergarten). I started researching Craigslist ads for rentals in the area and I had them send over some applications. Time was running out, and if we weren’t going to be able to buy something then we’d better figure out a Plan B.

While I was sorting out our rental options, we had one final offer on the table. It was a great house, but we were so discouraged at this point that we really didn’t expect anything to happen with it. And just then, when I thought nothing would ever happen, IT DID. The Wednesday review date came up and THEY ACTUALLY LIKED OUR OFFER!!! We got the house! Our closing date is scheduled for May 11, so before we know it this will be home. I honestly could not believe that after all of the searching and rejections and stress of being so far away we were actually going to get our happy ending after all.

So now, friends, do you want to see it?! Do you want to see the house that I hope to call home for a very long time (or, as Jon says, “Long enough to let the ink dry in their address books.”)? Of course you do!

I now present to you, OUR NEW HOME!!! (note the “Pending” tag on this photo. Best tag EVER!)

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Here’s a quick run-down of the stats (To the best of my knowledge. Remember, I still have not actually seen this house yet):

Location: Downtown Woodinville (For those of you not familiar with the area, Woodinville is about 30 minutes northeast of Seattle and is best known for it’s  charming small-town feel, wineries and farm-to-table restaurants). This will be about a 15-20 minute commute for Jon (or he can ride his bike less than 10 miles on a trail to work).

Size: 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms (approximately the same size as 3 Bay Area homes combined)

Yard: AMAZING! Half an acre that backs up to a former golf course…it basically goes on forever. There’s a garden (that I will surely kill by the end of this summer), a fire pit, a dog run, and oodles of space for little boys and their dog to explore together.

Schools: Top-rated and close by. David is going to finish out his Kindergarten year at his new school starting the first week of May, and Jacob will begin Kindergarten there in the fall (!).

Parking: Plenty for our guests who will come visit 😉

There are so many reasons why this house will be perfect for our family. It has space for each of our kids to have their own rooms. There is space for Jon to have an office so he can finish work at home if he needs to and not have to stay late at the office. The neighborhood is quiet yet close to all of the shops and activities that I need to shuttle between during the day. We will be close enough to our former church that we can reconnect with our friends who are still there. We will be mere minutes from all of our family in the area. My favorite winery is just down the street.

I could go on and on, but the point is that we are just so stinkin’ excited about this! Being able to buy this house is the answer to a thousand prayers, and we can’t wait to see how God uses us in this new community where we are being planted. Please come visit us soon, friends, and in the meantime here are a few more photos of our home (wow, it feels good to say that!):

 

WE’RE MOVING!!! (Yes, Again.)

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Well, friends, it’s spring time, which means that it’s time for our family to pick up and move. It seems like every year during this season we seem to move…and, quite frankly, it seems that way because it’s true! Not to brag or anything, but this will be our 11th move in 11 years. I’m pretty sure I should earn a badge or something for this level of expertise. Or at least a pedicure when this is all over.

Now, the question you’re all wondering: WHERE IN THE WORLD WILL YOU BE MOVING TO THIS TIME?!

Drumroll, please…

Answer: Washington state!

What the what?! You’re coming back to Washington?! Yes, yes it’s true. We’re going back to where it all began, good ‘ol Washington. And SOON. Actually, we’re moving THIS WEEK (Saturday to be exact). WHAAAAAAAT?!?! I know. What can I say, we do crazy well around here.

So, that’s the short answer. The long answer, however, is a bit…well…longer. Taking the advice of my pal Maria in The Sound of Music: “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start…”

Jon and I both grew up in western Washington, just south of Seattle. Our childhood homes were only a few miles apart, but we didn’t meet each other until we were in undergrad at Western Washington University in Bellingham. We met and fell in love in Washington (read the whole story here, but bring your Kleenex cuz it’s a real tear-jerker). We started our family in Washington: David and Jacob were both born in Seattle and, although they don’t remember any of it because they were so itty-bitty, we became a family there.

We’ve moved several times over the years–some moves have been small (a mile across town), some have been big (Ireland). Through it all, though, Washington has always been our home base. For the past 3 years we’ve been living in the San Francisco Bay Area which, interestingly enough,  is the longest period of time that Jon and I have remained in one geographic region since we’ve been married.

California has been so, so good to us. We love our community, our friends, our church, our kids’ schools, Jon’s job, his co-workers, THE SUNSHINE. And we will miss all of those. Dearly. So why, then, would we abandon it all? Why would we leave the people, the places and THE SUNSHINE that we love?

Quite simply, we will be leaving because that’s God’s plan for us. I recently heard a quote that summarized my perspective on this pretty perfectly:

“Go where you are sent, stay where you are put, and you give what you’ve got until you are done.” –Jill Briscoe (If you haven’t heard or read Jill Briscoe’s work, stop what you’re doing right now and go look her up. She’s chock full of gems like that). This quote sums up so well why we are moving right now–and why we have always moved, and likely will continue to move–throughout our lives.  Go where you are sent, stay where you are put, and give what you’ve got until you are done.

We went where we were sent, we have stayed where we were put, we’ve given what we’ve got, and now we are done (at least right here, right now). God is sending us somewhere new, so “Go” is our next step in the cycle. That being said, as our kids enter their school years we also want to set down roots. Somewhere.

For about a year now we have been intentionally looking for a more permanent house–we currently rent, and we’re kind of over it. We are at the point in our lives where we want the permanence of ownership, not the transitory nature of renting. We want to unpack all of the picture boxes and hang everything up on the walls. We want to get away from the mentality of “I’m not going to buy that because I don’t want to have to move it in a few months or a year.” I want to set up a nursery for my baby before she’s no longer a baby.

Last summer we started praying for direction about what this feeling of needing some permanence would look like for us. Our prayer was that God would open doors where He wanted us, and close them where He did not want us. That, and that we would have the wisdom to listen to Him when He opened and closed those doors. And patience. Lots of patience.

Last summer we began searching for a house here in Silicon Valley and it was…interesting. We’d spend our weekends going to open houses for million dollar homes that were built in the 1950’s (“mid-century architecture”) and falling apart (“charming”) and tiny (“cozy”). And we tried to find one that we liked–we even got a very nice local real estate agent to help us–but in the end, we couldn’t stomach giving all of our money, blood, sweat, tears, and sanity to a million dollar piece of junk, even if it was a charmingly cozy piece of mid-century architecture.

So we went back to praying. And waiting. And right about when my patience for waiting was wearing out (approximately 5 minutes later) we were presented with an incredible opportunity. The opportunity was born out of a tragedy, but it was an opportunity nonetheless. Some dear friends of ours from Washington had a family member pass away, and they needed to sell her house. Her house happened to be about 10 minutes down the road from us.

We spent a couple of months working with our friends to see if the logistics would pan out for us to move forward with the purchase. I started dreaming about what life would be like in that house once I unpacked the pictures and hung them on the walls and painted my baby’s nursery. I was certain that this was God’s answer to our prayer.

In the end, however, we couldn’t find a way to make it work. It was no fault of anyone’s, it just didn’t work out. I was heartbroken at first, but then I remembered our prayer: Open doors where You want us, and CLOSE DOORS where you do not.

Ugggh. Why do you always have to answer our prayers, God?

So, that door was closed. We went back to praying. And waiting.

And, again, when my waiting-patience was starting to wear out, God presented another opportunity. Another door to knock on, if you will.

Throughout this whole process we had never once considered the possibility of leaving the Bay Area. Yet the next door that God presented was exactly that: leaving. One day Jon was casually looking at some job stuff (he likes to keep up to date on what’s happening in his industry…kind of like how I keep track of when new Starbucks locations are opening up near parks and library play groups for purposes of my own career advancement.) He noticed that there was an incredible job that quite literally described him and his skill set (a skill set, by the way, that is quite unusual and even more unique). As we has reading the job description he kept muttering under his breath, “This is me…this is me!”

So we decided to see if it was him, if this job was the right fit. That night Jon applied for the job, a few days later he did a phone interview, and the following week he flew up to Seattle for the in-person interview. By Friday of that week he had the job. The whole process was insanely fast and smooth and perfect. When God opens a door, he opens it WIDE.

There was no question that this was the open door we’d been waiting for, so here we are. Jon’s new job will be working with a company called Oculus in Redmond, Washington. (Side note: The change of companies is why we couldn’t tell anyone we were moving until today. Apple, if you haven’t noticed, is super-secretive and they don’t exactly want their employees sticking around after they give their leave notices…so we had to wait until now to spill the beans).

Jon’s new job will be leading an engineering team working on cutting-edge virtual reality research. Cool, huh? Oculus is a smaller company, but it is a subsidiary of Facebook–this means he gets to work in a startup-type environment with the backing of one of the largest tech companies in the world. Kind of a “best of both worlds” scenario.

And the part I’m most excited about is that this job should give Jon a more sane work-life balance.  As incredible as Apple is, that level of expectation and perfection comes at a price. Jon loves his work, but it comes with a lot of long nights, after-hours conference calls, and business trips to the other side of the globe. This new job is in research–not getting hot new products to an insatiable market–so the timeline should be more manageable and his schedule should be more normal. We are hoping that this shift will allow Jon more time at home during our kids’ waking hours…and hopefully a bit of a reduction in the ‘ol stress department.

Then, on top of all this, we get to be home.

No matter where we go in this great big world, Washington has always felt like home to us. All of our family lives in Washington–our Grammy and Grandpa and Nana and Papa and Aunties and Uncles and dear friends who are like family are there.  We are so excited to once again be physically close to the ones we have held close in our hearts all of these years away.

And, as excited as we are to be moving home and on to the next adventure in this crazy life, there is also some mourning. We have invested ourselves here in California, we have made incredible friends, we have truly enjoyed our work and the little life that we’ve carved out for our family here. We have “given what we’ve got”, and that makes leaving incredibly difficult. I think that means we’ve done it right, though. If we’ve truly given of ourselves, then it should hurt to leave that part of us behind. It’s a painful goodbye, but we are better for it.

So, in a not so little nutshell, there is the “why” to the question of what the heck we’re doing. There’s another whole amazing part to this story about where we will be living once we arrive in Washington, but that’s going to warrant a separate blog post. For now, we are facing the bittersweet reality that we will be trading one home for another, one life for a new one.

Today we choose to walk courageously through this open door, following the One who opened it for us. Catch you on the other side, friends!

A Day In The Life of 3 Kids

img_0204I have a few friends who are currently pregnant with their third child. This, of course, has spurred many-a-question about what this mystical/maniacal life with three children actually looks like. It’s hard to say exactly what life is like with three kids–it’s the most wonderful and most busy my life has ever been! Perhaps the best way to demonstrate what life is like with three kids is to SHOW you what life is like with three kids.

Here is a typical day for our family, with our three kids aged 1, 4, and 6:

6:00  Wake up to an alarm. Forget the days of getting to “sleep in” until the children wake up on their own, because now that you have three children at least one of them is old enough to be in REAL school (i.e. a school that takes attendance and administers tardies to late parents). Which means you have to get your tired bum out of bed before the true chaos begins so you can get a head start on the 1.3 million things that must be done before 8 AM.

6:02   Go to the bathroom in peace. Savor this moment, because it is the only time you will pee without an audience today.

6:05   Prepare coffee/tea/install IV line of caffeine

6:15   Get out the lunchboxes that you started packing last night. Finish filling them with the “fresh stuff” that you didn’t want to get moldy and/or soggy overnight.

6:20   Greet the early bird (Kid 2) and offer him a banana on the couch so you can start making breakfast.

6:21   Start making breakfast

6:22   Hear the baby (Kid 3) waking up on the baby monitor

6:23   Nurse baby, change diaper, dress baby. Make a mental note to savor these last few months with a baby who snuggles into your arms and can’t talk back.

6:35  Return to the kitchen to resume making breakfast. Pause briefly to scrub crayon off the couch where Kid 1 decided to practice his modern art skills while you were otherwise disposed with the baby.

6:39  Dog is whining at the door and crossing her legs. Grab the leash, put the baby in the stroller, and take the dog out for a quick walk around the block.

6:50   Warm your coffee back up in the microwave while you resume the breakfast preparations.

6:51 Realize you’re out of eggs, and scrap the breakfast preparations. Pour bowls of cereal instead and call it good.

6:55  As you’re carrying the cereal bowls to the breakfast table, you hear squeals of “Moooooooooom!” coming from the bathroom. Kid 1 did his business, and needs help cleaning up. The only problem is, he started trying to “clean up” himself, and now we need to scrub and disinfect a large portion of the bathroom and unclog the toilet that just had an entire roll of toilet paper flushed down in a single go. Do what needs to be done.

7:07  Wash hands. Thoroughly.

7:08  Re-heat your coffee in the microwave.

7:09 Pour milk into the cereal bowls on the table and call the kids over to eat. WHERE IS KID 1?!?!

7:10  Go wake up Kid 1, “The Teenager”, who likes to party with his stuffed animals all night and sleep all morning.

7:13  Rush Kid 1 to the breakfast table and tell him to shovel that cereal in his mouth as fast as he can, because we have to go, Go, GO!

7:15  Sneak back to your bedroom to finish getting ready while your kids are busy eating breakfast

7:23  Hear a loud crash coming from the general direction of the breakfast table. You don’t hear any crying, so just ignore it.

7:25 Re-heat your coffee in the microwave

7:30  Wash dishes from the failed breakfast preparation and encourage kids to PLEASE EAT FASTER BECAUSE WE STILL HAVE TO GET DRESSED.

7:35 Go change baby’s post-breakfast diaper.

7:38  Help kids clear the breakfast table and return to their bedroom to get dressed.

7:40  Argue with a 4-year old about not wearing shorts and a t-shirt when it’s 40 degrees outside. Tantrum ensues.

7:48  Start the shoe hunt. Find multiple sets of shoes that actually fit your children and have both shoes from the pair happily residing together. Celebrate this victory by throwing fictional confetti in your mind.

7:53 Re-heat coffee in the microwave, and transfer it to a travel mug for the remainder of the morning.

7:54  Kiss your husband goodbye.

7:55  Put on coats and backpacks and head out to the minivan (You have 3 kids. You definitely own a minivan.)

8:00  Strap baby into her car seat while the big kids whine about who touched who and why they can’t buckle their own seatbelts.

8:10  Bring Kid 1 to the elementary school. Chat with parents about the news of the day, or nothing at all…it doesn’t really matter what you talk about, you’re just excited to talk to an adult who doesn’t hold you captive while regaling you with stories about Angry Birds or PJ Masks.

8:25  Do your special handshake and kiss goodbye with Kid 1 (He’s still young enough to let you kiss him goodbye. Remind yourself to enjoy these moments.).

8:30 Drive Kid 2 to preschool.

8:45  Give Kid 2 his special handshake and a kiss goodbye, because you still have a solid 2 years where that will still fly.

9:00  Stop at a trail on the way home so you can squeeze in some much-needed exercise (And by exercise, I mean push your baby in the stroller for a few minutes while she screams and angrily throws Cheerios at you.)

9:45  Drive home and get baby ready for her nap

10:00 NAP TIME!!!!
Do 3 loads of laundry (This is only today’s laundry. There will be more tomorrow.), empty the dishwasher, prep dinner, vacuum, pay bills, return phone calls, contemplate cleaning the bathroom but decide to save that one for later. Pat yourself on the back.

11:30 Wake baby up early from her nap because it’s time to start school pick-ups.

11:45  Shove a sandwich in your purse to munch on in the car while you’re driving hither and yonder.

12:00 Pick up Kid 2 from preschool.

12:15  Stop at the grocery store to stock up…for the third time this week. Three kids eat all the food and no matter how much you buy, you are always out of something.

1:30  Drop off groceries at home and feed Kid 2 and baby a snack.

1:35  Change baby’s post-snack diaper.

1:40  Back in the car to pick up Kid 1 from school.

2:00 Pick up Kid 1 from school. Feed him a snack in the car while you drive to swimming lessons/soccer practice/dance class/science club.

3:30  Feed all 3 kids their post-swimming/soccer/dance/science snack and drive back home

3:31  Baby falls asleep in the car because this is supposed to be her nap time, but since she is the third child she never gets proper naps. She will probably develop life-long sleeping problems because of her erratic baby nap schedule.

3:59  Pull into the driveway and pull your key out of the ignition. Baby wakes up immediately, and she’s ANGRY. She will stay angry until bedtime, because car-naps ruin life.

4:00  Unload kids and one gajillion THINGS from the minivan. Things breed and multiply in the minivan/house/yard/laundry pile when you have 3 children.

4:30  Read and do homework with Kid 1 while Kid 2 runs circles around you and baby screams at your feet.

5:00  All the kids are totally losing their sanity and self-control. This is the perfect time to start cooking dinner, so do that.

5:30 Pour yourself a glass of wine so you can finish making dinner.

6:00  Dinner is served! Watch in exhaustion as all 3 of your children proclaim their utter disgust at what you have prepared and claim that they are not hungry. They don’t eat a single bite.

6:30 Clean up from dinner and wash dishes while the baby pulls out and licks all of your Tupperware.

7:00  Bath time! Your 3 kids will splash so much water out of the tub that you won’t need to scrub the walls or  floors after all.

7:30  Make piles of pajamas on the floor and tell the big kids to get dressed while you get the baby ready for bed.

7:40 Come back from getting the baby ready for bed to find the big kids running around the living room partially dressed–they are wearing underwear. On their heads.

7:45  Wrestle the big kids into their pajamas and park them in front of the TV so you can put the baby to bed.

7:55  Muster up an ounce of energy to read a bedtime story to the big kids.

8:00  Lights out.

8:02  Fall onto the couch with a bar of chocolate and Netflix.

8:03  Pass out on the couch with a bar of chocolate and Netflix.

9:00  Feel your husband nudging you, and realize that you fell asleep on the couch again. Get up and finish your “night chores” (pack tomorrow’s lunches, run the dishwasher, fold the laundry from earlier today, sign the homework folder, re-stock the diaper bag).

10:00  Get into your real bed and call it a night.

10:01 Dream of a beautiful life that is full of joy and challenges and love.

6:00 AM   Wake up for a new day, and realize that your dream is actually your reality with 3 kids.

The Storm

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The Short Story (Because brevity is bliss):

We had a storm last week and it was craaaaaazy.

The Long Story (Because I want to remember the whole story so I can tell it to my kids some day when all they remember about this ordeal is that they got to stay up late and eat ice cream in the dark after we’d already brushed teeth. And because I suck at brevity.):

Last Tuesday, January 10, actually started off quite fantastically. We have a tradition in our neighborhood that whenever a child from our community has a birthday, we gather at their house in the morning for a celebratory breakfast before starting the day. We had one such birthday on Tuesday, and I’m not one to complain when I’m served sizzling meats and birthday cake before 8:00 AM. After dropping the boys off at school, I took Hannah to her first baby-and-me music class. Also wonderful.

There was no problem at all until I got home from the music class and realized that the “atmospheric river” the meteorologists had been warning us about was reaching it’s max capacity. We were in the midst of one of the biggest winter storms I’ve ever witnessed, and that’s saying something.

Now, I grew up in Seattle. I know rain. I’ve seen every manner of rain and lived to tell the tale. This rain, however, was different. This was dark, brooding skies, incessant sheets of rain, and strong gusts of wind. Making matters worse, we live in a narrow mountain canyon, literally on the edge of a creek (and by “on the edge” I mean close enough that the boys pee off our back deck into the water, and by “creek” I mean that the storm had turned it into an insanely full, about to spill over, raging river.).

By the time I picked up the boys from school in the afternoon, I could tell there would be problems. Tree branches littered the streets and a few large rocks had rolled down the canyon walls outside our house. Things were getting wet and wild, and I cancelled our afternoon plans in favor of hunkering down inside our safe, warm house.

That night Jon had to work late, so I put the boys to bed and went upstairs to begin a night of bingeing on all of the shows Jon refuses to watch with me on the basis of “risks to his masculinity” (Call The Midwife and The Crown were on the agenda). I was about to cut into a pan of brownies when there was a loud crashing sound, followed by darkness. Utter and complete darkness.

It’s hard to describe the kind of dark that it gets in our house when the power goes out suddenly in the middle of the night during a storm. Since we live in a canyon, there’s already no external light–no distant streetlights, no ambient light from the city, not even moonlight reaches the canyon floor. In those first moments, it was so dark that I literally could not see my hand in front of my face. Thankfully, I was prepared for a power-outage (we’d already had one for a few hours 2 days before when the storm was just getting started), so I fumbled my way over to the kitchen counter where I had stashed a few flashlights.

I turned on my light and went to check on the kids, but the loud crash had woken the boys up and they were already on their way upstairs. Since the boys were awake and now WIRED, I decided to let them stay up and play for awhile so I could try to figure out what to do. My first instinct was to leave. After all, we live in a narrow mountain canyon with a quickly rising creek in the middle and steep muddy walls on either side–not exactly the ideal place to be during a raging storm with a power outage.

I set about packing overnight bags for us and called Jon at work to let him know what was happening (read: I called Jon to freak out and completely lose my mind.). I was about to go wake up the baby for our great escape when I got word from a neighbor that no escape would be possible. That loud crash I’d heard? Yeah, that was a mudslide and the only road out of the canyon was now blocked by a ginormous downed tree, splintered power poles, and live electrical wires. There would be no leaving…for awhile.

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The mudslide damage on our street in the canyon

For the next few hours I attempted to look calm and excited about our little “adventure” in the storm while I continued to fret internally at the possiblity of our house either (A) Being wiped out by another mudslide (B) Having the roof crushed by another ginormous tree making its way down the hill or (C) Being washed away by the raging river outside our back door.

The boys loved that I let them stay up after bedtime to eat all of our ice cream…after all, I didn’t want it to melt during the power outage and go to waste. When people ask the boys how the storm was or what we did all week, they always answer the same thing: Ice cream. The only thing they remember about this whole crazy week was that we ate ice cream in the dark.

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Eating ice cream in the dark

I finally gave up on the idea of trying to get out of the canyon that night and realized that we were just going to have to lay low in our own dark house. I made myself a bed on the floor of the boys’ room and laid down with them until they finally fell asleep around 11:30.

Shortly after, at about midnight, Jon made it home and I got my first report from “the outside”. There was another mudslide on Highway 17, the only road we can take to get to our mountain, and he’d been stuck in traffic for hours before he finally snuck past the barricade during the workers’ break. Once he got to the canyon, he couldn’t drive down our road because of the downed trees. He parked about a mile up the road and walked in…in the total darkness, with no light, and stepping over the (hopefully no-longer live) wires that were strewn across the road.

We got our first glimpse of the damage once there was daylight the next morning (Wednesday). Several men from our community were already out in the street with chainsaws working to clear the downed trees off the road. The power company, PG&E, arrived on scene a bit after 8:00 and began to assess the damage. In total, 7 power poles (including the one directly in front of our house) had been knocked down and needed to be replaced. This would not be a quick fix.

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Power pole down in front of our house.

Since Jon’s car was already parked on the other side of the mudslide, he was able to walk back out of the canyon and go to work on Wednesday morning. I, however, was still trapped at our house. David’s school was cancelled anyway, so we just hung out inside the house reading books and sitting by the fireplace.

Wednesday afternoon we got word that the trees had been cleared off the road, and anybody who would like to have access to the world outside the canyon should move their cars out of canyon now before they closed the road again to begin electrical work. Since there were still mudslides on Highway 17 that were intermittently closing down the road, I decided to just park my car outside of the community but stay put.

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Walking back home from our car–we had to park about 20 minutes (at kid pace) away from our house.

Even though being stuck in a house without power isn’t ideal, it still beats being stuck on a Highway with a car full of kids for hours on end with no way to get off the highway (this has happened to us before, and it is a scene from a horror movie that I do not chose to ever repeat.). Turns out this was a good call–most people I know who left the canyon took 3-5 HOURS to drive the 3 mile stretch on Highway 17 between the last exit in town and our exit. No thank you, very much.

We spent the rest of the day Wednesday staying out of the way of the PG&E crews that had taken over the street, visiting our neighbors (some of whom ended up in the emergency room with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning from the fumes coming off their generator), cooking meals on our BBQ, NOT using water (because our community water pump doesn’t work without power = no filtration, and no way to purge sewage…ewwwww….), napping (Hannah) and going completely bonkers from being stuck inside all day (Boys. And me. Mostly me.). With the mudslide commute, Jon got home around midnight again. The rest of us were already asleep huddled around the fire in my bedroom.

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Our home within our home…sleeping bags around the fireplace.

Thursday was pretty much the same as Wednesday. Still no power, still no way to get off the mountain.

By Friday we still didn’t have power, and I was starting to lose it. We’d all been living, playing, eating, and sleeping in one room, because that one room was the only room with a fireplace…and heat is a good thing when it’s 35 degrees outside. Since we were all sleeping in one room, that meant I was doing very little “sleeping” and much “tending to children who woke up in the middle of the night” so that they wouldn’t wake up the rest of the room. Plus, I was still nervous about the whole tree-falling-on-our-house-or-washing-away-in-a-river possibility. After 3 straight nights of no sleep, I was SPENT. Like, really, really over this whole storm adventure thing.

By Friday morning they seemed to have the mudslide situation on Highway 17 under control, so I made quick to get the heck off of our mountain. I was beyond excited to finally re-enter civilization! My cell phone had been perpetually out of battery for the last 3 days (which is a bit disconcerting when it’s your only link to civilization and emergency help should you need it), and the only way I could charge it was to go plug it in to my car for a few minutes at a time. On the agenda: finding a place where I could charge my phone and get something warm to drink.

As soon as I dropped the boys off at school, I drove over to the closest Starbucks ready to get my charge-and-drink on. When I walked in, however, my dreams of recharging disappeared. Every single chair, booth, and table was already full. I even asked a few different people if I could sit at their tables, and I got denied each time. Under normal circumstances I would have just brushed this off and moved on with my day. But this?  This was not a normal circumstance.

I’d been scared and stuck in a cold, dark house for almost 4 days with 3 young children. I needed a warm place to sit and charge my dang cell phone. Nobody would make room for me. I’d just been through one of the most stressful weeks of my life, and nobody cared. Nobody here even seemed to notice. It was, shall we say, the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I burst into tears and stormed out of Starbucks (baristas, by the way, love it when their customers grab their drink, randomly burst into tears, and then storm out of the store.).

Then I did what any rational adult would do in this situation: I called my mom. I was done being the “strong” grown up, and I just needed to cry with my mommy. I have no regrets. She totally talked me off the ledge and made me feel like someone really did care (because, really, people do care). She (and my dad, who had been called in for reinforcement) offered their love and support, then convinced me to go home and take a nap. It was sound advice, and I took it.

I tried to take the nap, but my brain wouldn’t turn off–I was trying to figure out how to get the heck out of here. I couldn’t stand one more night in the cold, dark house with everyone huddled around the one, small fireplace. I sent out a plea of desperation on Facebook, looking for someone who might have room for us at their house for the weekend. After a few minutes I had so many responses from friends offering to help us that I had to take down the post so we wouldn’t break the internet (Thank you, friends, you really are the best!). See, I told myself, people really do care.

In the end, we decided to make a break for a warmer locale. My sister lives in southern California, and we figured this would be the perfect excuse to visit them for the long holiday weekend. I don’t know if my sister had been tipped off to my pleasant little phone call with my parents earlier in the day, but she and her family bent over backward to accommodate us. Her family moved out of their house for the weekend and stayed with her in-laws so we could have her whole house–and, most importantly, all of their beds–to ourselves.

We had a great weekend playing with my niece and nephew, swimming, eating out, hiking, and feeling very loved. When we went to church with them on Sunday morning, though, God got the last laugh: the sermon was on why God allows natural disasters to happen. Seriously. I took copious notes, and I left church that morning realizing that God’s grace can override anything and everything–even a storm. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

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Hiking with my sister and her family in sunny southern California–no storm here!

By the time we got back home after our weekend away, the streets were cleared and the power had been restored. All’s well that ends, well…I guess.

So, that is the story of the storm.

I know that I’ll remember this adventure for years to come, but if you only remember one thing about my story, remember this: ice cream is not worth sacrificing. If your power goes out, just start eating all the ice cream. At least then your kids will have a story worth telling.

My Best of 2016 Awards

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As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed today I noticed a recurring theme of “2016 has been the WORST year ever…” in my friends’ posts. Venerated celebrities have died. A controversial presidential election took place. The worldwide refugee crisis and slavery have reached historical highs. Brexit. Just a lot of weird, terrible, confusing, heartbreaking things went down over the past 365 1/4 days.

It hasn’t all been bad, though. In the midst of the crazy town that has been 2016, there have been many rays of light. This year has taught me to be grateful for what I have and to embrace the blessings in my life. So, let’s turn that frown upside down! Here are some of the highlights from my year:

Best Loss:
Excess Busyness.
This year I made a point of not over-scheduling our family. We had been running into a lot of burn out, and I decided that enough was enough. I limited the boys’ extra-curricular activities to one activity at a time, that they could both do together. No more shuttling kids back and forth and back and forth. I said no to some invitations that I would have liked to say yes to. We cut back on our travel and adventure-making. We just needed some time to chill out, and it’s been good for all of us.

Best Addition:
Hannah!
Oh my goodness, I can not say enough wonderful things about this child. Born in February of this year, she has changed our family for the better–she’s taught us to be more loving, more generous, more protective (and more lenient…third child problems, I guess). The boys care for Hannah and teach her. Jon and I love cuddling her and hearing those sweet baby giggles in our home again. Even the dog loves licking the floor under her high chair.

Best Academic Surprise:
David’s kindergarten success!
I have struggled with making school decisions for our kids every. Single. Year. It’s complicated, and I just want what’s best for them. The problem is, sometimes I don’t know what’s best for them and we just have to make a decision and pray for the best. That’s kind of what happened this year with David starting Kindergarten, and we’ve all been blown away (in the best way). He is thriving like I never expected could happen in my wildest dreams. The kid loves school so much that he cries when it’s the weekend BECAUSE HE WANTS TO STAY AT SCHOOL. When this year is over, I’m sure I’ll also be crying BECAUSE I’LL WANT HIM TO STAY AT SCHOOL.

Best Over-coming:
Jacob starting preschool.
Poor little Jacob had literally never been away from me or his brother until this year, and it was a rough start for him. When he first started preschool he was nervous and timid, but all of that has changed. He’s making new friends and learning new things. He’s brave and kind and excited to learn. We are so proud of our little guy!

Best Husband:
Jon!
Yeah, yeah…I only have ONE husband…but he’s a KEEPER! Each year that we’re married (and there have already been 11 of them) I fall more in love with this man who I have chosen to do life with. He’s kind, caring, hard-working, Jesus-loving, and unfaltering in his dedication to our family. He snuggles babies and wrestles boys. He cooks the most amazing steak. He even sends me out to do “whatever I want” (a nap in my car) on the days he’s home from work. Love you forever, Jon!

Best Adventure:
Our trip to Arizona.
This spring we took a pilgrimage back to the land of my birth: Arizona. While there, we visited my grandma, aunts, uncle, and cousins–family who we hold dear in our hearts but don’t get to see in person nearly often enough. I got to introduce my kids to the joys of polliwog hunting in G.G. Sandy’s creek, the smell of creosote in the desert after it rains, and why we don’t touch the owie trees (cactus). We got to see one of the Wonders of The World (the Grand Canyon) and we discovered the place we’re going to retire so we can hike and visit day spas every day (Sedona). It wasn’t a lavish vacation, but it was one of the most impactful adventures we’ve had in a long time.

Best Yes:
MOPS.
Two years ago I was asked to step into leadership at our church’s MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group, but it just wasn’t the right time. Last spring they still needed someone to take over the group, and I said Yes. Leading and praying for the moms in our group has been one of my greatest privileges this year. I have a huge heart for moms in the trenches, and I love that I get to spend my week ministering to them now. Plus we get brunch at MOPS, so what’s not to love?

Best Surprise:
My sister Jessica showing up on my doorstep for Thanksgiving.
While I love most parts of the life we’ve made for ourselves here in California, I will always miss my friends and family who are far away. This year we hosted my parents (from Washington) and sister Erin’s family (from Southern California) for Thanksgiving at our house, but my other sister Jessica couldn’t make it. She had just started a new job and couldn’t get time off work to fly down from Seattle. As we were sitting down to dinner on the first night of everyone’s arrival, however, there was a knock on our door–it was Jessica, and she’d flown down after work to spend the weekend with us. I know that it was a huge sacrifice of time and expense on her part to be here, but it meant so much to me. Love you, Jess!

Best Accomplishment:
Running the Big Sur Half Marathon.
I’ve been a runner for most of my life and I’ve run more half marathons than I can even recall, but this one was special. I ran it in November, just 9 months after giving birth to my third baby (via C-Section…my THIRD C-Section. All of you C-Section mamas know what a big deal this is.). It took a lot of focus and sacrifice to fit in the training, overcome injury, and make this race happen. My dad flew down from Seattle to run the race with me, and it was the most breathtakingly beautiful course I’ve ever run. Absolutely one for the memory bank.

Best Accidental Joy:
The benefits of random acts of kindness.
This year I wanted to help spread kindness, and to get my kids in on the action with me. We’ve done everything from baking treats for new neighbors to bringing hand-made Christmas cards to our fire fighters. And while the kindness is always appreciated by the recipients, the lasting joy those acts give me and my kids is by far the best benefit. I’ve made special friendships and precious memories through our random acts of kindness, and I intend to keep it up.

Best Realization:
God’s got this.
You guys, it doesn’t matter what’s going on in the world around us. There will always be pain and injustice and nuts-o politics. This is a broken, hurting world–it always has been, and always will be. That’s why God sent us a Savior, and He is bigger than all of this. When you feel discouraged or confused or angry, put your trust in Him, because He’s got this. And that. And everything else, too. And when we change our calendars next week, that truth will always remain. God’s got this.

Now, as we enter yet another year, may you experience the blessings all around you.

Welcome, 2017!

Bring it on.

Dear Kindergartener

  
Dear Son (Who Is Now A Kindergartener),

For the past 5 1/2 years I have alternated between dreading this day and pleading for it to arrive: your first day of kindergarten. And now it is here. The day I had been anticipating and wondering about and preparing you for and praying over is actually really truly happening. Tomorrow is the big day. In the morning you will wake up a new person, a Big Kid Kindergartener. Not my baby or my toddler or my preschooler, but my school kid. And I couldn’t be more proud.

You are an amazing person. Did you know that? God has created you to be uniquely you, and you are utterly and perfectly who He wants you to be. He made you to be loving and passionate and feisty and strong. He made you with Big Feelings. He gave you a deep desire to fiercely protect the underdog. He made you to be curious and creative. He made you to run and jump and climb like an American Ninja Warrior. He made you silly. There is no other you, and you are wonderful.

The world is full of incredible people and incredible moments, but it can also be harsh. So, when the world starts to tell you that you isn’t good or isn’t good enough, remember how amazing you are. Keep your head up like the warrior that you are, and be confident in the you that God has created. Up until now you’ve been under the shelter of my wing, but now it’s time for you to spread your own wings. As you venture out into the world, you will become more and more independent each day. Carry on strong as you make your own mark in the world, because I can’t wait to see what that mark will look like!

So when you wake up tomorrow morning (probably tired) and you refuse to eat your breakfast (because you hate eating in the morning), I hope you are at least a little bit excited. Excited to meet your teacher and classmates and new friends on the playground. Excited to find your seat at the table and sit in circle time (it will be a lot of sitting…just try to enjoy the rest).  Excited to play in the science corner and the art table and the dramatic play center. Excited to learn more about reading and numbers and telling your own stories. Excited to listen respectfully and take turns and be a good sport. Excited, most of all, for the grand adventure you’re about to begin. Because this year? This year is the beginning of one of the greatest journeys of your life.

Enjoy the ride, my not-so-little boy.  I am so very proud of you and I am 100% for you. Be kind, be happy, be attentive. Sometimes (if the teacher isn’t looking) be really super silly. Be you. Because you is amazing, and

I.

Love.

You.

XOXOXOX,
Mommy

P.S. If you see me tomorrow morning and my face is extra watery, just know that it’s a common condition that all kindergarten mommies undergo on the first day of school. It’s a love leak. It will likely reoccur during many of your milestones, including but not limited to: Any and every graduation (kindergarten, High School, College, Masters Degree, PhD, Doctorate, etc.), losing your first tooth, winning a participation trophy in Little League, every time you give me flowers,  getting your drivers’ license, seeing you in a tux on prom night, whenever those dang Facebook Memories pop up and I see you as a baby, and your wedding.

 

The 10 Stages of a Family Road Trip

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Each summer our family completes a pilgrimage to our homeland. Like our great forefathers Mary and Joseph, we cast away the comforts of home and journey forth to the place of our birth. It’s a daring adventure that covers thousands of miles and that brings us closer together as a family (Literally. We’re stuck in a car within poking distance of each other for days on end. We’re very, very CLOSE.)

Seeing as we are currently smack dab in the middle of The Great Homeland Pilgrimage of 2016, I have noticed a pattern of stages that occur during the course of a family road trip. It goes a bit like this:

Stage 1: Anticipation
Hooray! We get to go on a road trip!  I can’t WAIT to see the country and make precious memories with my family! This will be sooooo much fun!

Stage 2: Preparation
You neatly pack and organize all of the essential items. You package your childrens’ color-coordinated outfits into Ziploc baggies for ease-of-dressing on the go. You pack a NoseFrida and baby Tylenol (and a little Melatonin), just in case.

You hone your “I Spy” skills and research the latest fads in travel games. You create customized road trip bingo boards with interesting sites and trivia for the places you’ll be driving through (you laminate them for good measure, because they’re going to get SO MUCH USE!!!).

You stock up on healthy snacks and go to the dollar store so you can buy little trinkets to surprise the children with while you’re on the road.

You map out the stops along the way that include really cool parks and indoor play places for “wiggle breaks” while you’re on the road. You book a hotel with a pool and research family-friendly restaurants.

You make sure there is a fresh oil change and full tank of gas in your car.

You are totally, absolutely 100% road trip ready.

Stage 3: Departure
You load up the car the night before so you can make sure that Tetris puzzle of luggage and toys and dog crates will fit snugly and safely in your vehicle. You put the kids to bed early the night before so you can rouse them at daybreak and get out of town before the other drivers crowd the roads. Everyone is slightly groggy from the early start, but they are still totally, absolutely 100% PUMPED for the adventure that is about to ensue.

Let’s hit the road, Jack!

Stage 4: Road Trip Bliss
You sing songs as you pull out of the driveway and laugh with excitement as you discuss the interesting places you’ll be driving through today. The kids play happily with the dollar store trinkets you surprsied them with this morning and your oldest child reads a book to the younger children. The dog curls up peacefully at the childrens’ feet and drifts off to dreamland. You sip your coffee contentedly. It’s almost like Heaven, but in a minivan.

(This stage lasts for approximately the first 5 minutes, or 2 miles, whichever comes first)

Stage 5: Road Trip Hell
You notice that the car is making a strange sound and shaking every time you press the brakes. Whisper a silent prayer that you don’t have to use the “runaway truck ramps” when you drive down the mountain passes.

The kids are super tired and they’re already bored with the toys and games you have prepared for them. They are now using your beautifully laminated Bingo boards to play Sword Ninjas.

You hear a scream from the backseat, quickly followed by the second-most-awful phrase that can be muttered during a family road trip (“HE STARTED IT!”). You look back to see your 4-year old clutching his bloody nose…but it’s not that big of a deal because the dog is already licking his face clean.

You decide to pull over for lunch so you can handle The Situation and mend your childrens’ tears with chicken nuggets and milkshakes. Thankfully there’s a Burger King with an indoor playplace at this exit (*Gold Star* for researching this stop during Stage 2!).

You walk in the door to Burger King and your kids are PUMPED to play on the playground and eat the chicken nuggets and milkshakes that you promised them in the parking lot. When you walk in the door, however, you get a strange feeling. The lobby is full of very disgruntled looking customers who are holding receipts and staring daggers at the pre-pubescent fast food employees who are supposed to be microwaving their lunch. A lady sitting at a table leans over as you walk in the door and hisses, “I’ve been waiting here for half an hour. For a cheeseburger. This might not be for you.”

You’re right, disgruntled Burger King customer, this is NOT for us.

So you leave the “restaurant” and walk across the parking lot to the only other eating establishment: Taco Bell. Only, your kids are not at peace with this decision to leave chicken nugget-milkshake-playground-happy-place, and they are becoming quite vocal and violent in their protestations. When you suggest that they eat a cheese quesadilla they fall to the ground like a heap of writhing, screaming fish out of water.

You order them the cheese quesadilla anyway and  kindly escort them back to the minivan where they can fully express their disapproval in a constructive and productive manner.

By the time your husband brings out the cheese quesadillas, you have put on a movie, re-buckled the children and nursed the baby. All is quiet and right with the world. You calmly pass the now-comatose children their cheese quesadillas and hope they won’t notice what they’re eating since Chase from Paw Patrol has lured them in with his hypnotic acts of heroism.

You start the car right as child 1 takes his first bite of the quesadilla, only to hear a violent wretching sound and shrieks of “IT’S SPICY! IT’S SPICY! BLEHAHEHALJALTKHAADHGKLJADSHFPOIUE;LKFASDGKHADG!!!!!!” coming from the backseat.

Fast food restaurants: 2   Family trying to eat a quick meal on the go: 0

You sic the dog on the spat out quesadilla and throw an applesauce squeezie and a bag of Goldfish crackers to your child. You turn the movie back on and pray for the next 13 hours to please go quickly if you love me and these presently-unharmed children, sweet Jesus.

Someone from the back seat utters the first most-awful-phrase that can be muttered during a family road trip (“Are we there yet?”), but you barely hear them because you’ve already put in your ear plugs.

Stage 6: Arrival
Where’s the bed and the mini bar?!?!

Stage 7: The Destination
You see all the places and visit all the people.  You take the car in to the shop and spend $700 of your vacation fund on new brake pads and rotors (at least you didn’t have to use the runaway truck ramps on the mountain passes). Your children act like lunatics escaped from an asylum because they’re off of their well-honed routine. Nobody sleeps because the baby is teething and your children aren’t in their own beds (They’re not in their away-from-home beds, either. They’re in your away-from-home bed, and at least 30% of the time one of them pees in that bed. Good thing you pre-packaged clean clothes into Ziploc baggies, because now you need to use the baggies to stuff pee clothes into until you can find a suitable place to wash them).

This, my friends, is what memories are made of.

Stage 8: Returning
After tearful goodbyes and a careful re-working of luggage Tetris, you load up the car and begin the journey back home. Everyone basically skips straight to Stage 5 and you just pedal-to-the-metal into the sunset.

Stage 9: Home
YOUR BED!!!!!
(and unpacking)
(and laundry)
(and grocery shopping)
(and locating that funky smell coming from somewhere downstairs)

Stage 10: Reminiscing 
You look back at your Instagram photos and Facebook posts from that trip and you remember the road trip glory days. You remember that quirky roadside attraction and that glorious  view along the Sierras. You think back on the lazy days you spent with your family and long-lost friends, and you yearn to be back.

Hooray! Let’s go on another road trip!  I can’t WAIT to see the country and make precious memories with my family! This will be sooooo much fun!IMG_4911 3