Thursday, July 28, 2005
The "Family" "Reunion"
You know, I really hate visual quotes, but sometimes they're just necessary.

Every summer, Willem's family has a reunion. But it's not really his whole family, it's just a small branch of his mother's side. And it's not really a reunion, because it's the same 18 people every year (4 of whom arrived in my vehicle) and every year it is precisely the same excruciatingly boring experience. Hence, it's neither true "family" not true "reunion."

We didn't go last year, given my bedrest and all. Someday they will forgive me for that. Someday I might even care.

No, not likely.

This year, we weren't plannin to go, again, given that it was scheduled for July 16 and we bought our house on June 28. Especially since we had to do some unexpected traveling at the end of June, so we really didn't start to move in until July 1. But Willem's uncle has been retired for a few years, and has decided to take out his excess energy on poor, unsuspecting trees - that is, he's a woodworker. And a truly fabulous one, I must admit. He's done some really nice projects, and what's more important to me, he really seems to enjoy them. His most recent was a wooden, motor-powered boat, which he decided he would launch at the reunion. So, fine. He's always been good to us, this is important to him, so we'll go. Fine. Not thrilled about it, but we can manage.

Willem's mother, incidentally, never actually bothered to call to find out if we were going, thereby GUARANTEEING her a way to be cranky at us. Either, we don't go, and she doesn't know in advance, so she can complain about that, or we do go and she doesn't know in advance, so she can complain about THAT. How smart is this woman?!? Seriously, I'll never be able to get ahead of her.

The reunion is held at Aunt Barbara's house on Long Island. Why? Because she has a gorgeous house with enough chairs and no one else has ever bothered to arrange anything different. But the problem is, other than sufficient chairs, her house has NOTHING TO DO. There's a TV in the basement, which all of the men gravitate toward just to pretend they're watching The Game (the specific sport doesn't seem to matter). And there's a swimming pool, but it's sized such that by the time you get three children - Emily, her 14-year-old cousin, and cousin's inappropriately dressed friend of the year - into it, it's too crowded. And c'est tout! No cards, no board games, no yard games (because it's all on a hill), no structured anything.

Which, you might think, would be okay, given that we only see these people once a year. We should have PLENTY to talk about, right? HAH. I am able to dredge up about 10 minutes' worth of interesting conversation over the course of the day, if I am generous and include the discussions about where to find the soda. Apparently, listenting to other people is a big no-no in that family. So, after five years of marriage-membership in this clan, no one knows what I do for a living - they ask, and then immediately are stricken deaf. Willem has already abandoned me for the television, so I am left sort of aimlessly wandering between groups of people who don't listen to me and who don't say anything different from last year.
For instance:
AUNT BARBARA: Oh, hi, Kate, how are you?
KATE: I'm good, thanks.
AUNT BARBARA: What have you been up to?
KATE: I finished school and we bought a new house.
AUNT BARBARA: Oh, that's nice. Done anything new lately?
KATE: I finished school and we bought a new house.
AUNT BARBARA: Oh, that's nice. I'm still teaching at the same school. Still teaching fifth grade. My sons are still America's leading outstanding citizens, although they don't seem to be feeling very sociable today. Hmm. I wonder where they are. [PAUSE] Oh, Kate, I meant to ask, what's new?
KATE: I finished school and we bought a new house.
AUNT BARBARA: Oh, that's nice. Excuse me, I'm going to go find my sons, they really should be socializing more. They are just wonderful boys, you know.

Actually, I don't know, since they do a fantastic job of showing up for the first ten minutes and then evaporating for the rest of the day. Smart kids.

It took us about 6 hours to get there this year - three to drive to the ferry, and then the 1-our ferry ride took 2 hours given the heavy fog, and then another hour on the oher side. We stayed for three hours, and then it became apparent that Willem's uncle had forgotten to research what sorts of permits and permissions one might need to launch a boat in a private marina, so he wasn't allowed to actually put his boat in the water anywhere. Well, gee, Phil, we had a fantastic time checking out your boat in your garage last Thanksgiving, whaddaya say next time we just look at those pictures again and skip the drive, huh?

So, a wasted trip. I ended up throwing a small but effective tantrum onto Willem's head, so that instead of staying overnight we came home late the same day. Willem was concerned that his family might think it was rude. I doubt they even noticed we left.
Friday, July 22, 2005
Such a relief...
... to know that the neighborhood weirdo is not me!

We've been in our new house for three weeks now, and I've pretty well narrowed that particular little contest down to two. On the block behind our house, but close enough that we can hear her, is a woman who frequently goes outside and repeats a single word over and over and over and over and over again. I can't always make out what she's saying, but it's a name of some sort, like she's calling a child home for dinner but not bothering to change it up in between repetitions. So, the other night, we were on a walk around the block, and I was fortunate to be near her house when she came out and began her funky little chant. Turns out, she IS calling a name - the name of a cat. One of her cats. One of her ten cats. She has ten indoor cats who apparently didn't get the memo about their "indoor" status, so on a daily basis, one gets out. And that leaves Kathy with the duty of repeating their name for a while, until she gives up, goes inside, worries herself sick, and then, a few hours later, opens the door and magically finds a cat on her doorstep. I suggested that perhaps, given their track record, that maybe she could skip the worrying-herself-sick step, but she seemed pretty entrenched in the routine.

Contestant number two is my right-hand neighbor, whom I've semi-met but generally I've found that people are really happy to wave but are not very in-your-face here. Which is fine by me. Anyway, her name is Pam, and her grandchildren spend a significant part of their summer with her. I haven't learned all of the grandkids' names yet, but one of them is "MatthewJacobyouleaveyoursisteralonehowmanytimesdoihavetotellyou." Seems a little cumbersome to me, and with the number of times she has to repeat his name I'm thinking maybe a shorter name coupled with a remote electric shock device might work better, but who am I to say?

Overall, things are going great in the new house. My father and sister came out for the weekend, and he and Willem have spent all day long buying Manly Things like wallboard and screws, and doing Manly Things like ripping out cabinets and drinking beer, and saying Manly Things like, "Is that 2 and 7/8ths? Because I think we may need to brace that with a 2x4 and then drag it home by the hair." They're turning a room from bare cement storage to my father's bedroom, and it has involved all sorts of testosterone. I've done my part by running herd on the children and occasionally coming to stand in the doorway and flutter and coo, "Oh, it looks great!" *giggle*

Or something like that.

And the even better news is that my in-laws won't be visiting for another two weeks or so. Which reminds me, I never did write about the family reunion debacle of last weekend... not tonight, but I'll try to share that lovely, warm-and-fuzzy story sometime this weekend.

Till then...
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
The Saga of the Move... Part III (the conclusion)
Okay, let's see if I can't finish this puppy off before I completely forget. I'm already suffering from a similar phenomenon to Mommy Dementia - the pregnancy was horrible, but as soon as I gave birth to Jacob I started to forget just HOW horrible is was. Similarly, the move and closing at the old house was awful but I'm so happy with the new house that I'm having a hard time remembering just how bad it was...

So, we had the walk-through at the new house, and that went just fine. It's when I discovered that there are only two overhead lights in the whole house, but no big deal, that's what floor lamps are for. Willem was not able to go on the walk-through with me, even though he was also driving across the state... he was in a little U-Haul parade with his friend, so I passed them on the highway and did the walk-through on my own (well, with Jacob, but his real estate savvy is still pretty underdeveloped). Then I went to the U-Haul place to pick up Willem and his friend so we could all drive back to Keene for the night.

As soon as I got to the parking lot, I could tell something was not perfect. Maybe it's my trained, well-honed sense of interpersonal body language, or the fact that Willem was pacing a hole in the parking lot while gesturing loudly and breathing fire, but in any case, I got a sinking feeling. Turns out, Willem had gotten a call from our selling-realtor (from here on out known as Putz, because I don't want to use the *real* word that comes to mind when I think of this delightful clump of humanity), saying that the buyers were upset.

Remember how I said we'd had to leave a few last-minute cleaning-up stuff behind for the moment, because we just ran out of time? Well, Putz made it sound like the clothes hangers in the closets were going to be a deal-breaker, along with the fish tank paraphernalia on the floor. (Maybe the buyers were appalled by the idea of hanging up clothes or keeping domesticated fish in a tank, who knows?) He also mentioned that they wanted the fire pit and woodpile gone by the morning. If every single movable personal item wasn't out of that house before the closing the next morning, they wanted us to put money in an escrow account to cover the cost of clean-up.

They wanted $2000.


I still get a little kick of adrenaline just thinking about it. Because I totally, totally understand them being unhappy that we hadn't finished "broom-cleaning" the house, and I can't blame them for being upset. I can, and do, blame Putz for not explaining our situation to them and passing on our plan to go back to the house that night or the next morning to deal with those remaining details. But the fire pit is an entirely different matter, because it wasn't just a cute little pile of bricks - it was a poured-cement base with cinderblocks all around, thereby a permanent structure of the house, just like the shed and driveways. And it's not like we somehow hid it for the three months that it was under contract. No weird faux scenery canvases, no smoke-and-mirrors, no deep snowdrifts, no "Hey, look, what's THAT over THERE?!?" to distract them from the fire pit. It was always right there, in plain sight, in our quarter-acre, treeless backyard, just sitting there, minding its own business and being really visible.

Twelve hours before the closing is NOT the time to say, "Hey, I don't like that, can you get rid of it?" And it's REALLY not the time to say, "Hey, if you don't get it out of there in some bizarre and magical way, we want an exorbitant amount of money from you so that we can remove it and overcharge you for it, or we just won't buy the house."

Adding insult to injury was the fact that the woman who bought the house worked with my husband. She was a secretary at his school - his mailbox was in her office. So they saw each other every single day, often chatted about the house, and she never once mentioned, "Hey, what are your plans for that fire pit? 'Cause I don't want it."

So, we talked about it the whole drive back, and after dropping his friend off (who, without any prior warning, refused to let us pay him a dime for helping us for 11 hours that day - it was almost enough to restore my faith in humanity), we went back to the house and finished the clothes hangers and other stuff. We looked at the fire pit, and swore a few times, and made sure that we removed every single movable item out of the whole house and property. Then we swore some more, looked at the fire pit, and went to another friend's to sleep, crashing around 2:00 a.m.

The next morning, we returned to the house, carted off the garbage to the dump (except for that which we had already contracted with the disposal company to take - which also irritated the buyers but there was nothing they could do about it), and talked to Putz. It was at this point that we found out that it wasn't ACTUALLY the clothes hangers and fish supplies that upset them - they listed off that stuff just to be snotty, but what really bothered them was the fire pit. We repeated our unwillingness to remove a concrete slab with no notice and our extreme unwillingness to put a single dime toward its removal, he called their realtor to pass that along, and we spent the next hour NOT getting any phone calls letting us know what was going on.

So we walked into the closing at 10:30 that morning, still not knowing for sure if we were actually going to be closing on the house. The buyers were waiting for us, as was Putz. He announced, "These beasts [okay, no, he didn't say that, he used their names] have accepted your cleaning job, but they still want the fire pit out, so they've decided to drop the amount that they want from you to $750."

Oh, my heart could just break. I mean, they "only" wanted us to pay $750 to do something that they should have asked for three months ago. Just makes me all warm and gooey inside.

But Willem and I had talked about it beforehand, and we had decided that we wouldn't give another dime to them. We had already come down on the asking price of the house and contributed toward a new roof, and we were done making concessions. If the sale went through it meant we couldn't buy the next house, but we could survive that - and we could not survive allowing these people to extort us for another dollar more. Just for self-respect's sake.

So, we said, as politely as we could, "Thanks for the offer, but no thanks." And the woman FREAKED OUT. Red in the face, all sweaty and breathing hard, eyes all big and bugged way out, swearing at us and saying things like, "UNBELIEVABLE! This is unbelievable! I can't, I just, I, this, I can't, this is unbelieveable!" My husband, meanwhile, reverted to teacher mode, and was trying to explain to them WHY we weren't interested in negotiating; I was trying to convince him that they weren't listening to a word either of us said. At one point, the woman snarked, "So, that's it, you want to call off the deal then???" I said, "No, not at all. But we won't agree to your most recent demand." And finally the room sank into the most awkward, tense silence ever, save for the occasional noisy glare and huff from her. (Her husband was the quiet, belligerent type, so he was cranky but not in a tantrum-y way.) It got even better because Putz got up and walked out without a word, leaving the four of us to conspicuously not look at each other.

After somewhere between ten minutes and six days, Putz returned to the room and said that he had decided to pay for the removal of the fire pit out of his own pocket, just to keep this deal from falling through. Now, lest you get all warm and gooey about HIM, let me just say that I had not had a single conversation with him in over two months because we had one bad conversation in which he called me names and told me I was the nost inconsiderate person he'd ever worked with and I never paid attention to his feelings or needs - even though he was the realtor and I was the client, and it wasn't my job to make him feel loved, and so on. So, I firmly believe that his decision was not out of the kindness of his heart, but out of a desperation to get rid of me as soon as possible, because if this deal fell through then he'd still be our realtor.

After some posturing and glaring and huffing and puffing, the buyers agreed to his offer. The woman looked at me and said, "He shouldn't have to do that," and I said, "I TOTALLY agree." In female-language, I think that was the moment when we agreed to never go shopping together.

After that, things went more normally, closing-wise. Lots of paperwork and signing things. Willem and I started to get a tad giddy, given our lack of sleep and overload of stress and adrenaline. So, at one point, the lawyer doing the closing said, "Oh, I forgot, here's one more thing to sign. Sorry, I know, it was a lot of paper before and now it's one more thing, like the straw that broke the camel's back, ha ha." And this struck us as outright hilarious... we were like a pair of eight-graders, whispering back and forth to each other about the poor, broken-backed camel, sitting in a wheelchair somewhere holding a metal cup, taking collections for Paraplegic Camels Anonymous, and developing a phobia of straws. We snickered and guffawed and generally looked idiotic, but all that adrenaline has to go somewhere, and I was loooooong past caring what these people thought of me.

When the last paper was signed, we got up and walked out of the room. No shaking hands, no "good luck," nothing. In fact, the night before, we had left a plant on the kitchen counter as a "congratulations on your new house" gift, and before the closing we had gone back and taken the plant back. (And they did know that we took it back, because it was there during their walk-through.)

Just awful. It doesn't seem so bad to me in the writing of it now, but again, I don't know if that's trauma/dementia related or just that I blew it way out of proportion in the moment. We did, after all, survive it, and it provided us with a new inside joke: every once in a while, out of the blue, Willem or I will say, "Two thousand dollars." And the correct response to that is, "Unbelieveable."

The good news is, the closing on the new house went beautifully, with handshakes all around. We wanted to hug the sellers, because they were just so great in contrast with the buyers of the other house, but we figured that might freak them out.

Too further add to a stressful week, in between the two closings we found out that my great-grandmother had died the previous evening - so we got all of our stuff off the U-Hauls and into the new house that Tuesday evening, and on Wednesday morning we turned around and drive to New York for the funeral. We got home late Thursday, so we were finally able to start unpacking on Friday, July 1.


So, that's it. The horrible move saga is done. I wouldn't have considered myself a wide-eyed innocent before this whole experience, but I'm a whole lot more worldly after it.
Friday, July 08, 2005
The Saga of the Move... Part II
Now, where was I?

Oh, yes, slogging through heat and humidity and such on Sunday. I started getting little warning blips on my radar that the next day was to be more stressful than it should have been, because my phone didn't ring all morning. U-Haul was, in theory, going to call me to verify my reservation and tell me exactly when and where to pick up the truck and trailer. (Truck for all our stuff, trailer for Emily's swingset, nice and simple. Hah.)

I gave in and called there in the early afternoon, and began what was to be a short but intense relationship with Andi. We had several conversations that day revolving around a few simple facts: (1) Andi did have our reservation in her computer; (2) she did not have my 26' truck on her lot; (3) she had no idea where one might be; (4) she had no idea how on earth she might possibly even begin to find out where one might be (because apparently U-Haul trucks simply materialize onto the lot when the employees aren't looking); and (5) she was good and confident that we would get our truck the next day, first thing in the morning. I was all warm and gooey inside at her confidence, but somehow I still managed to cling to some bastion of anxiety, given the preceding three facts. By the end of the evening, I was checking the side of my neck to make sure I hadn't started bleeding from the ears, and Andi's initially questionable customer service skills had degraded into outright snottiness. ("You'll GET your TRUCK, OKAY???")

So, Monday dawned hot and humid and miserable once again, and there were no trucks of decent size anywhere in the area. And when I say "area," I mean I would have driven an hour in any direction to get one, had there been one to get. But, no. Finally, by 9:00 a.m., we switched plans and got two 14' trucks instead. Which are shorter in height as well as length, but better than nothing at all. We also got to play a fun little game called "Let's Make Kate's Eyes Explode," whereby Andi directs me to a truck with a small, enclosed trailer on the back, I gently remind her that we actually needed a flatbed trailer, and I am rewarded with a blank stare.

Actually, by this point, I had handed all the U-Haul duties over to Willem, because I KNOW it wasn't Andi's fault that my blood pressure had reached a point where you could divide it and get numbers greater than 2, but I wasn't confident I could prevent myself from taking it out on Andi. So he got the blank stare, instead. Lucky guy.

Midway through the day, we made a fascinating discovery: our stuff would not fit into two 14' U-Hauls. Not even close. We ended up having to rent a THIRD truck. Such fun!! And we still threw out a ton of stuff at the end of the day.

Now, way back in May, I had reserved two big, strapping employees of a local moving company to help Willem load the truck(s). I knew I'd be of inconsistent usefulness, depending on what the kids were doing, so I called for backup. Lo and behold, somehow our reservation got bumped for another customer who was willing to pay for them to drive and unload, too. I still can't figure out how I had the audacity to be surprised when I found out, but, whatever. Willem ended up getting a friend of his to help, which was a wonderful thing, but instead of taking 4-5 hours to pack the trucks, it took 7. We had to call our realtor and push back the buyers' walk-through to 7:30, and even then we barely got out of the house in time.

So we had left a few bags of garbage on the deck, and some clothes hangers in the closet, that sort of thing, and we had told our realtor to remind the buyers that we'd be back that evening to grab the last remaining stuff. We all got into various vehicles - Willem and his friend each drove a U-Haul, and I had Jacob in the car with me (luckily Emily had a friend to stay with; they fought and bossed each other around all evening but apparently this is fun for them, since it's all they ever do - she would have been miserable in the car). And we drove the two hours to drop off the U-Hauls and do the walk-through on our new house.

And on that note, I'll end for tonight... because during the drive home, we got the phone call that REALLY sent things downhill.
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
The Saga of the Move... Part I
I can tell in advance, this is going to be a several-part effort. Just thinking about the past week or so makes me tired and a bit loopy. More so than usual, that is.

Let's see...

When we last heard from our intrepid heroine (that would be me), I had just gotten back from a day trip to New York to visit my great-grandmother. That was Friday.

Saturday dawned hazy and hot and humid and miserable. 95 degrees with a dewpoint of 106, give or take. We weren't actually moving our stuff until Monday, but we had to get rid of our fridge and stove, and in order to get them out we had to move other stuff, AND since we were only looking to hire movers to load our U-Haul rather than paying them to drive it to the new house, too, we got dropped for higher-paying customers two weeks before the move. ("Um. Oh. Sorry. We, um, must not have written that down right. Can you move on the 23rd?" "No." "Oh. Um. Oh. Sorry.") So we tried to get as much done in advance as possible. My husband spent most of the day moving stuff from the house into the garage, for easier moving on Monday, and by this point I can't even remember what I did all day. I'd guess that I did a lot of sitting on the couch, eating bon-bons and watching soap operas, except that by that point we had no fridge to keep my bon-bons cold and no cable to keep my brain numb, so that can't be it.

By the evening, we were ready to take out the fridge. Not mob-style, though in retrospect that might have been appropriate. Instead, we wanted to move it from the kitchen out onto the deck, so that the guy who was buying it the next morning wouldn't have to vault over boxes and babies to get to it. Turns out, it takes a certain minimum level of testosterone to move a fridge, and I don't quite meet that requirement. So we asked our neighbor to come over and help - he's the kind of guy who needs tools to open his toolbox, just to counteract all of the manly, machine-intensive fluids coursing through his body. He and Willem made the appropriate grunts and scrapes, and got it out. He then trudged out into the dark and manly night.

Leaving us with a constant drip under the sink from where the icemaker had been. No big deal, right? Just clamp it off, right? HAH! Maybe in YOUR house. In MY house, my husband has this weird thing with plumbing - he is compelled to try and fix it ("How hard can it be?") and he is completely unable to do magical plumbing-related things. There were several occasions in the past in which Willem would reduce the kitchen sink down to individual drain molecules, and then we'd shut off the water, and the next day he'd go to work and I'd call for help. The plumber for the old house had our address preprogrammed into his little car-GPS thing.

So, there was this little drip. Not a big thing, maybe a gallon overnight, but not the kind of thing you want to leave for new owners, right? (WRONG!!! In hindsight, I wish we'd hired vandals to flood the entire basement after we moved out!! But by this point, I hadn't reached my current level of hostility yet.) So we got to overuse technology for the evening - I was down in the basement with the cordless house phone, Willem was in the kitchen with the cell phone, and we had conversations that went like this:
ME: Okay, I'm in the boiler room.
HIM: Okay. Turn on the water supply.
ME: There it goes.
HIM: TURN IT OFF, TURN IT OFF! Mother of God, where is all this water coming from?!?

We did end up fixing it, but not without several such conversations. Great fun, that was.

It's also embarrassing to admit how many times I tried to rinse off my toothbrush that night - even though I KNEW the water was turned off, AND I had a bottle of water IN MY OTHER HAND. I had to awkwardly swing the bottled water off to one side in order to reach the faucet, and I still tried three times to turn on the water.

On one of my husband's plumbing-related trips to Home Depot that evening, I decided to try and be useful by taking the downstairs door off its hinges so that we could get our full-sized freezer outside to begin defrosting before the move. Pinched my left index finger to the point where I believe I was swearing, not only in several languages, but in alternate universes.

Later, I literally collapsed on the front lawn in hopeless giggles after watching my husband dance with said freezer. We had a sharply sloped driveway, so he was uphill from the freezer, sort of rocking and swinging it up to the lawn. I did my part by following behind and emitting a series of hysterical "Oh my's" and "Dear Lord's" and generally behaving like an idiot. A useless idiot, at that. At one point, he came within about an inch of smashing off my car's side mirror with it. The thought of that particular insurance claim struck me as even funnier than the sight of my husband swing-dancing with a major appliance.

We let the kids watch far too much television during the whole weekend, which succeeded in letting me get a bit more done around the house. We discovered that Jacob loves Sesame Street but is TERRIFIED of the Yippers.

Similar stuff on Sunday, more idiocy and stress and heat and humidity. We had a neighbor stop by because he thought we were having one serious mother of a yard sale - it took a lot to convince him otherwise, and he did end up buying our baby cradle.

The real fun happened on Monday. But it's late and this is getting long, so, for now....