Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Thursday Thirteen - Strange Packing

Life in the Stroller Lane
We are leaving tomorrow first thing, so we needed to pack today. If TSA checks our bags, they may wonder a bit. Our suitcases are a strange mix of items. In honor of our luggage, here is a Thursday Thirteen of the crap we are packing.

Thursday Thirteen - What's In Our Luggage
  1. Full Winter Gear. This includes hats, gloves, and my heavy ski jacket. It is what I always envisioned packing for a trip at the summer solstice.
  2. Bug Spray. Enough of it to kill a bear. Rumor has it that one week enjoying the Alaska mosquitoes will redefine my definition of bug problem.
  3. One Fodor's Alaska Guide Book. For regular folks, this would be normal, but I just love guide books. Constraining myself to just one is a minor miracle.
  4. Enough Books & Magazines to Fill a Bookstore. My constraint with in the guide book department was lost in the pleasure reading one. With two young kids, reading (other than Dr. Suess) is a distant memory. From the looks of my carry on, I am assuming that I can make up for four year's worth of reading in 10 days.
  5. A Cell Phone. I am not really sure why we are bringing this. The state is 570,000 sq. miles and a population of only 670,000 people. That is almost 1 sq. mile / person. How do you think coverage will be outside of Anchorage? My cell is my security blanket and I don't care, I am bringing it along.
  6. Plastic Pants. Technically the pants are made from some fancy fabric, but they feel like plastic to me. It turns out that when it isn't snowing it is raining, so even more than in the lower 48, one must be prepared (sadly foregoing stylish).
  7. Clothes that Wick. Poor, comfortable, economical cotton has been thrown aside in favor of these new, fancy, pricey fabrics. I guess as a society we are still allowed to sweat, but with these new materials it is no longer allowed to touch our bodies.
  8. Impaling Devices. Technically, they are hiking poles. But, when they are folded up and you only see a handle and the sharp tip, they look a bit scary. Just for the record and for TSA's sake, these will be in our checked luggage.
  9. No Laptop. Scott is banned from bringing his laptop. For the first time in over five years, he is not bringing his laptop on vacation. It shows true love and devotion to me (or maybe just this trip when you see #11).
  10. Bear Bell. It was still sitting around from our days hiking around California. I don't really think it will save us from a grizzly, but (good news) we don't plan to be hanging out close to them anyhow.
  11. Flannel Pajamas. Nothing says romantic anniversary trip, like flannel pajamas. I am from Florida and I only do the cold from the protection of cozy flannel. Sorry Scott.
  12. Binoculars and a Camera with a Good Zoom Lens. When we went to Yellowstone we had neither. I vowed then and there I would never go to another National Park without both. This time - problem solved.
  13. High Heals. Most of the stuff above is silly, but packing heals is just plain stupid. I don't need heals in Alaska. In fact, they may be banned from most national parks. But, I wasn't going on a trip for our 10th anniversary without bringing at least one dressy outfit. I am already guessing it will stay in the suitcase the entire trip.
Nana arrived last night and we are outta here tomorrow morning. Have a great day and catch you in July.

That is life in the Stroller Lane. Lots of love.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Owner's Manual

Life in the Stroller Lane
Scott and I are outta here! We cashed in all of our frequent flier miles and all of our "grandparent" miles. We are headed to Alaska - just the two of us - for 10 days. Why 10 days? Because we have been married 10 years (almost). This trip is in special honor of our upcoming milestone anniversary. After 10 years, much has changed. Our family of two is now a family of four, life in the city is now a life in the suburbs, and our two-bedroom apartment is now a four-bedroom house. About the only thing the same is our cat, Buford. He, like Scott and I, is in it for the long haul.

Nana is arriving tomorrow evening. Scott and I depart before the birds on Friday morning (6/20). Mid-week, Mimi and Poppa are trading spots with Nana. Scott and I return with the owls on Sunday evening (6/29). I will definitely bore you with all the trip details upon our return, but today is about the preparation.

We all know that raising kids is hard work. Heck, many (me) call it the toughest job of all. It turns our that the only thing harder than raising your own kids, it having someone else do it for a week.

It isn't about ability. Nana, Mimi, & Poppa all have several decades of high quality parenting experience. Just look how well, Scott and I turned out.

It is about logistics. It turns out that managing Sarah and Jaley is tremendously complicated. There is what to bring to day care, which is different than what to bring to Spanish Class. There are maps and directions to get around the winding Cary streets. There are the keys for the house, the car, the pool, the day care, and the code for the Spanish Class Door. There are the dates and times and schedules. There is the list of TV channels, because my girls can not live without Noggin and Preschool on Demand. There is the list of play places - indoor and out - because being stuck in the house is the definition of cabin fever. And of course, there is the list of doctors, dentists, and neighbors - just in case. As well as, the list of where we will be - again just in case. And more, and more, and more.

As I started to write this stuff down, I realized what was really required. It is the OFFICIAL SARAH & JALEY OWNER'S MANUAL. There is no information on actually how to care for the girls. As I said, they are going to the most capable hands. Instead, it is an entire packet of how to shuttle the kids for 10 days.

The Sarah & Jaley Owner's Manual

Included inside are lots of instructions, but no guidance on how to correct sticker overload.

Have a great week. We know we will.

That is life in stroller lane. Lot of Love.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I'm Unemployed

Life in the Stroller Lane
As of 5PM today, I am unemployed. I was fired from Harrell & Harrell Properties today. Don't shed any tears, I own the business and I fired myself. No one has ever been happier to be fired than I. Maybe someone has, but not very many.

The saying goes that the two happiest days of a boat owner’s life are the day he buys the boat of his dreams, and the day he sells it. It turns out that rental real estate is exactly the same.

Today, we sold the final rental house!!!

So with no rentals left, I am without a job and proud of it. Champagne is in the fridge at the ready. The sitter isn't available until Saturday night, so that evening I am living it up. This is something to celebrate.

To sum it up quickly, in this escapade we bought three houses and we sold three houses.
The buy & sell cycle is around 3-6 months, so I spent the better part of 3 years working on one or the other. In between, we had eight tenants - 1 horrible, 1 really bad, 4 rather bad, 1 OK, and 1 excellent. Most of the people were fine (though there were three individuals that were way off their rockers), but mostly the families kept buying houses of their own and breaking their leases with me.

And in honor of my friend Di (Live & Let Di), I will put together a Thursday Thirteen of three years and two real estate licenses worth of my insights.
  1. Things only break at night and on the weekends.
  2. To receive absolutely amazing help and advice at Home Depot, wear a skirt.
  3. A good plunger is a landlord's best friend.
  4. A good CPA is a landlord's other best friend.
  5. Find a good handyman and put him on your speed dial.
  6. Repair companies are always late.
  7. Repair companies always negotiate their price.
  8. Good tenants are hard to find.
  9. Sometimes the check really is in the mail.
  10. There are a few great real estate agents, the rest deserve the reputation.
  11. Craig's List and MLS are the only ways to advertise.
  12. Always stage a home before you sell it (Stunning Solutions). It is worth the money.
  13. And if you give your two weeks notice to Harrell & Harrell Properties, it takes two years to sell the houses and leave.
Though I am more than thrilled to be out of the rental real estate business, I am proud to have given it a try. Experts say that 50% of businesses fail the first year, we lasted three and made a profit. We won't be retiring (Jan & Mike are, but that doesn't count), but our bank account went a bit north. Plus I learned a ton of new skills - from accounting to zoning - and just about everything in between. My picture won't be on the cover of Business Week, but I did start and manage a small business. It's something that I always wanted to do. From Janitor to CEO, I did it all.

Now, like so many kids, I plan to take a summer vacation. I have 10 weeks, to sit back and enjoy. Then, at the end of summer, I want to start something new. What will it be? Please send me your suggestions, because I haven't a clue.

I bid adieu to our rental homes:

Unit 1 - In the family 6/23/05-6/12/08

Unit 2 - In the family 9/22/05-5/20/08

Unit 3 - In the family 4/20/06 -8/2/07

That is life in the stroller lane. Lots of love.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Picnics, Perspiring, Pig Tails, Playing & Pain

Life In the Stroller Lane
It is hot here. A beautiful spring ended and a very hot summer began this weekend. Hot to the tune of 102. So unless you live in Arizona (where hot has a whole different scale), it is hot, really hot.

What do you do when it is hot? Go for a picnic, of course. And to make it all the more sweltering begin the picnic at noon, so you get the most heat possible.

This Saturday was the annual picnic for Sarah and Jaley's school. We missed the fun event the past two years, so we (I) were determined to attend this year. We arrived just as things got underway. We hid in the shade of the trees for a few minutes, but then ventured to the playground. The playground equipment was literally "burn your skin" hot. One poor child found out the hard way. That was when we decided that if we had missed the past two picnics, what was one more. We left our appetizer for the others and went to a place with AC.

And that place was not our home!!! Our upstairs AC is broken. OK, it is working a little bit. The upstairs does cool down to about 80 degrees by 2AM. As the sun crests in the morning, it gets hotter from there. I called the repair folks today. It turns out we aren't the only ones with AC troubles - surprise, surprise. The forecast stays around 100 degrees for the rest of the week; they can squeeze us in Friday. The week will be just perfect (for Scott who is in CA until Friday) and perspiring (for Jaley, Sarah, and I)!!!

This blog isn't for bitching (OK, sometimes it is), it's is for bragging. I will do just that. Do you remember the Hair Cut Disaster of 2007 (when Sarah cut her own hair)?. I am SO PROUD to write that after a year of growing and a colossal amount of patience, Sarah once again has girl hair. On Saturday, for the FIRST TIME IN HER LIFE, we put her hair in PIG TAILS.

Such a momentous event, could not go unsupported, so Jaley and I donned pig tails, too.

Since, our lives have been all work and no play recently, Scott and I both indulged this weekend. He went out on a guy's night out Friday and Stephanie and Sarah treated me to an evening out on Sunday. Since my birthday evening out was canceled eons ago, we celebrated my 34 1/4 birthday. Then we vowed to celebrate each of our quarter birthdays, meaning that we would have to have a girls' night out at least once a month.

While Scott and I were playing, don't think Sarah was left out. She hosted her first spend the night on Friday evening. I didn't get the girls down until 11PM, but otherwise it went amazingly well. No tears and no middle of the night phone calls. Nina and Sarah have earned their spend the night stripes and are cleared for another as soon as we can find a free weekend.

That only left Jaley out of special play time. Saturday night we tried to rectify that by taking her and Sarah to the mall for playtime at the inside (and heavily air conditioned) play ground and a special dinner out at Chick-Fil-A (that is 5 star in kid-speak). Unfortunately, not five minutes into our playtime, I hear Jaley crying and see Scott's face. He didn't speak a word, his face said it all. She was hurt and not the Dora Band-aid kind of hurt. She was screaming and pointing to her little left arm. We weren't sure what was wrong, but knew it required more than Dr. Mom. Lucky for us, it was 5:55. We called a nearby pediatric urgent care (sorry to say they are on our speed dial). They were closing at 6:00, but said they would wait for us. Her arm was swollen and we feared a break. The doc came in and said that it could be a break, but it was more likely a dislocated elbow. With Jaley in the stroller, she "took a look at the arm." Next thing I know Jaley lets out one cry and the doc says it fixed. Just one quick twist by a trained professional and Jaley was healed in under a minute. She was playing with toys a minute after that. And by the time five minutes had passed, we were out the door and off to dinner. Jaley acted as if nothing had happened. Scott and I said a word of thanks that it wasn't more serious, vowed to make sure we were more careful with her, and took a count of the new gray hairs.

That is life in the Stroller Lane. Lots of Love.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Life Interrupted

Life in the Stroller Lane
I swore that June would be all about fun. But I forgot about one detail - regular life is still in high gear. Yes, the plan was for a whole month of fun, but the laundry, the dishes, and the bills aren't cooperating. In fact, they didn't get attended to for much of May, so they are now in a full fledged revolt. That plus the real estate stuff, acting as executor of my dad's estate, catching up on all my columns for the newspaper, and my "little" job as mommy, are leaving me playing more roles than a one man show doing a five act play.

Here was just one twenty minute span this afternoon:

  • 12:00: I start to put together lunch for the girls.
  • 12:02: My cell phone rings. It is the plumber at the rental asking questions for the water heater permit (yes, in Cary replacing a water heater needs a permit - go figure).
  • 12:04: House phone rings. It is the attorney's office in Florida about starting the (horrible) probate process. I put them on hold.
  • 12:05: I finish up with the plumber on the cell.
  • 12:06: I continue with the lawyer. One of the documents that I sent earlier in the week is the wrong one. I need to resend...
  • 12:08: Jaley has dumped the peaches I put out for lunch on the floor. I look up and realize the girls are still waiting for the rest of their lunch.
  • 12:09: I find out what I need to send to the lawyer, and hang up before saying good-bye. Jaley is on the verge of making a giant mess and Sarah is looking to start a hunger riot.
  • 12:10: I put together a little more of the girls.
  • 12:13: My cell phone rings. I see it is the real estate agent from the house we sold two weeks ago. I have been waiting to hear from her on a final detail and decide to take the call. She tells me she is only calling to update me that there is no update. She'll get back to me next week.
  • 12:14: Back to lunch.
  • 12:15: The door bell rings. It is the UPS man with a think envelope of papers the bank has sent about my dad's estate. I throw that 2 pound document on my desk and reside that it constitutes about 2 hours of work for later.
  • 12:16: I put out the last of lunch.
  • 12:17: The girls have feasted on the first two courses and aren't hungry anymore. I start to clean up the lunch dishes.
  • 12:20: The buzzer on the dryer goes off and my cell phone rings. I ignore both.

I like to do things one at a time, but all this stuff is urgent and happening simultaneously. I just bounce from thing to thing. Right now, I think I am trying to juggle more personalities than Sally Field in Sybil. Yesterday, I asked the handyman about estate documents. That was when I decided I it might be time to call it quits for the day.

So I am still swearing that June is about fun. But, I have decided that fun means I just have to enjoy this ride. The closing is in a week. Once I get the final documents to the lawyer, probate is in the slow moving hands of the courts. And, in just two weeks is vacation. It will all get done. But this afternoon, the mercury says 97. We are setting up the baby pool under the shade of our one big tree and calling it quits early - it's Friday.

That is life in the Stroller Lane. Lots of Love.