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Archive for July, 2008

I have changed my househunting priorities. It took some doing to get me to this point — six months of fruitless searching and some rather pointedly straight talk from family and a few friends — but I have finally got it through my thick head that what I am looking for doesn’t exist in this area. Or at least, if it does, we don’t have time to look for that needle in a haystack anymore. We need to find a house and soon, and I need to keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be our forever-house.

This breaks my heart a little… a lot… We made this move mostly because we simply couldn’t afford to live in Britain anymore — we were sinking into the red month on month — but also partly because there was no way we could get on the property ladder in the UK. In my late 30s, with a young family and a growing need to get on with the business of settling down, I wanted a house of our own so badly… We left friends, family, and children, the life we knew, and nearly all our possessions in order to make that happen. We turned everything upside-down. And after all that, I am finding it a bit of a mental leap to think of buying a house with the intention of moving out of it again in a few years — living in this limbo for a few years more. I’ve been doing that for so long… I just want to settle.

But reality is what it is and time is running out, so I have changed my priorities. I am no longer searching for a house I like — I am now looking simply for a house that will be practically workable for our family, is in decent shape, in a safe area with decent schools, and is in our budget. I’ve thrown out every other personal preference (except one: no ranches (bungalows) — I do want the bedrooms to be upstairs). These new priorities take the househunt out of this walkable town that we like so much, and into the neighbouring areas where it’s necessary to use a car to get to anything. I ran the searches again in these neighbourhoods based on the new criteria and came up with a list of 17 houses to send to the real estate agent for starters. My mother was impressed, “Wow! You’re suddenly finding a lot of houses you’re interested in!” I pointed out that if you take out of the equation the matter of whether or not you like a house, then there will always be a lot more houses to look at.

The estate agent lined up eight of my new houses on Monday and off we went, him with an air of complete surprise at the list I’d given him and me with a newly opened mind. Eight houses fell flat on their faces — some because they were simply too small to be workable, one because it was a money-pit, a couple because the layout wouldn’t work (bedrooms in the basement)… But in every case, it was practical reasons that let them down, not one because of personal preferences. I had told myself I was going to find the house today and, as we headed home, I was bitterly disappointed.

As we drove back into the area that M and I like, the real estate agent suggested we stop by one more which he’d come across and thought might be worth a look. “Ok,” I said, unable to muster any more enthusiasm than that. But when he finally got the key to work and opened the front door, we both drew in our breath. It was beautiful. The hardwood floors were so shiny that he stopped to check they were dry before we stepped on them. The rest of the detailing was perfect: the crown-molding lovely, the walls spotless, the fixtures chic. The kitchen was brand-new and so striking, with granite surfaces and stainless steel appliances. The house was clearly a flip, and it had been executed beautifully. I went upstairs… and the bedrooms were twice the size of the houses we’d been looking at all day. I came over giddy and lent against the wall to steady myself.

It is priced right at the top of our range — perhaps a little more affordable than the one we decided against a couple of weeks ago, but still a scary stretch for us. Oh, I hadn’t want to be in this position again, liking so much a house I wasn’t sure we could afford! Still, it wasn’t my decision alone… I rang M and asked him to come round after work.

He doesn’t like it. Well, he does like the house, but he doesn’t like the way it is situated, and so therefore he doesn’t like it. That’s it — ixnayed. There is a small part of me that is relieved, because I was wary of the financial stretch it would require, but there is another, much bigger part of me that desperately wants to cry foul that, on a day when I toured a host of houses that I wasn’t allowed to reject simply because I didn’t like them, he rejected the only house I did like because he didn’t care for one aspect of it.

Never mind, I tell myself. It’s a blessing in disguise. Now is not the economically-wise time to be making big stretches to buy real estate. Prudence is the sensible path to follow. And so, next week, the estate agent and I will again pick up that new list of houses, and begin the hunt afresh…

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Today I am grateful for:

  1. The fact that I am not sitting up sleepless, worried about my children’s health as so many other parents are tonight.
  2. That I know my husband loves me and that I love him.
  3. That I have the support of my family to call on, and that they are always happy to answer that call.

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Today I am grateful for:

  1. The fact that the operation to remove my mother’s cancer today went well (I think… she didn’t elaborate much).
  2. That she and I (and the girls) were able to meet for a coffee afterward and a nice walk around town.
  3. That she offered to babysit tonight so M and I could walk down to the bar to see the karaoke. The karaoke was not worth it, but the time together really was, and I am very grateful to her for doing it.

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Today I am grateful for:

  1. That this house has not sold while we continue to look for a place to live.   I am hunting like mad, I am lowering expectations and widening my criteria by the day, but still we’ve not found a place.  I’m no longer looking for someplace I like, just for someplace that will work — we need to find a home soon.
  2. That when I went back to bed this morning after feeding E2, I just suddenly thought to poke M and ask what time he was getting up.  He rolled over sleepily and looked at the clock, then jumped out of bed and said, “30 minutes ago!  I forgot to set the alarm!”
  3. The chance to spend a little time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, even if I managed to do nothing the whole time but try in vain to keep my daughters quiet.

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Today I am grateful for:

  1. The support of my husband when I am feeling weak.
  2. A mid-afternoon nap to make up for lost sleep.
  3. That the morning brings a chance to begin again.

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“I’ll just go out and pull the truck up onto the driveway,” was what M said this afternoon, as light and breezy as anything. He was feeling much better now that he had his van. When he rang me from work yesterday, his voice was decidedly shaky — part uncertainty, part irritation, part plain old fear. Up to now, he’s not worked on his own in this country — he is learning the ropes of the new systems here and so has always been partnered with a more senior tradesman — but he’d just been informed that the guy who was on call for the weekend would not be available Saturday night and they had no one else on the normal rota who could cover it, so M would have to. From 5pm Saturday to 6am Sunday, any emergencies would be up to him to figure out and solve — and that unnerved him mightily.

But he was also fretting about the logistics. So far, he’s not been issued with his own van — he’s just taken our car to work and then gone out with whomever he was working with that day — but he’d need one for any call-outs he might get. Because they hadn’t told him ahead of time that he’d be on call, he’d taken the car to work — I could hear his mind racing and his thoughts beginning to jumble, the way they always do when he gets something unexpected sprung on him, and his words came faster and faster — and now he had to drive a van home, but he couldn’t leave the car there, so if he took the car home, he’d have to drive to work to pick up the van in the middle of the night if he got a call, which would add an hour onto the job…

The answer was simple and I gently pointed out the wood he was missing for the trees: he would drive the car home and, in the morning, we would all take him up to work so he could drive the van home, ready the his night on call. He stopped jabbering — “Oh yeah!” — and his calm returned.

In the end, my father offered to run him up to work, to save me the trouble of having to get the girls up and out of the house. M returned an hour later, triumphant, and driving an absolute monster of a truck. And with wonderful news — this is his truck to keep. Finally he has a truck — a real feather in his cap for him and, at long last, the joyous freedom of having a car for me!

The girls were beside themselves with excitement. “Mummy, look! Look! Daddy has a truck!” E1 yelled, as if I could possibly miss the thing. It is as big and boxy as an ambulance — maybe bigger — and, when he parked it on the street outside the house, I wondered if the cars would be able to get past it. It’s so big that it will block the driveway completely, so we left it on the street when we went out in the car. This town has an ordinance making it illegal to leave vehicles on the street overnight, but it’d be fine parked there during the day. We ran our errands and then stopped for a coffee and, on the way, discovered two new houses for sale that looked rather promising. The mood was happy, relaxed, and hopeful by the time we got home. I went to look up the houses on the computer and M went to move the truck onto the driveway.

A few minutes later, E1 came running in to me, excited. “Mummy! Daddy goes back and forth,” she said in sing-song as she made the motion with her hand. “Ba-ack and fo-orth!” I went to the window. The driveway for this house is angled particularly steeply and it’s easy to scrape the bottom of a car as you move from the pitch of the driveway onto the flat of the road. M was indeed going back and forth, trying to reverse onto the drive, only to have the back the truck grind into the pavement before the rear wheels had even met the start of the driveway. He pulled forward and tried another angle — no joy, and that awful sound of metal against concrete — and then another and another. I went onto the porch and yelled over the roaring engine for him to try going in forward. He did and, as soon as the front wheels lifted up onto the driveway, the back bumper scraped loudly into the road. After about 5 more minutes of this, we both realised the truth: this truck was not going up on that driveway.

What was he going to do? I could see his mind begin to race again: he couldn’t leave it on the street — he’d get tickets! And not just him, it would be the firm getting the tickets — his new firm, his second chance, the one he can’t mess up… And it wouldn’t just be the tickets, it would be the neighbours… they’d be ringing up to complain… ringing up the council or perhaps even the firm itself… His calm disappeared and all his fear and uncertainty rushed back in.

I rang my dad for ideas, but he had none we hadn’t tried. I looked up the road and then down it, at the neighbours’ driveways all so much flatter and more agreeable — would any of them let him park on their drives? — before realising the utter folly of it. We know none of them. Who is going to let M park his huge, rusting, working-man’s truck on their pristine drive outside their lovely house day after day? Oh, it was useless! What were we going to do with this truck? Whatever would M tell his boss? How ridiculous would this make him look, to not even be able to park his truck after all this time of asking for it?

But looking at the neighbours’ drives sparked a thought in my mind: our landlady’s church is at the top of the road and is only a five minute (brisk) walk away. Perhaps they’d agree to let him leave the truck in their parking lot overnight? He rang the church office and spoke to a lady who sounded helpful but… dubious. She’d have to ask someone in charge and have them ring him back. We waited ninety nervous minutes before M tried again. This time he got through to the Parish Director. I heard him explain the situation… then explain again that it was only overnight… assure the man that he would move early every morning and return it only late each night…

And then he turned to me with a huge smile of relief. The man had agreed — was happy to help, in fact — as long as M sticks to the times he said. I could see poor M visibly relax at the realisation, the tension releasing from his shoulders. Oh, oh, what a weight off his mind!

And so the truck is parked in the church lot, safely off the road during its curfew hours. M is sleeping soundly and in the hopes that he won’t get called out in the small hours of the night. And I… I can hardly believe — hardly believe — that I have my freedom at last. I can put these girls in our car and GO PLACES!

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Today I am grateful for:

  1. The kindness of strangers when we found ourselves in a pickle.
  2. The forgiveness of my husband when I didn’t handle the stress so well and snapped (quite badly) at him.
  3. The healing of an apology and a kiss, and the fact that my daughters witnessed it as a lesson.

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