Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Best Gifts

Maybe it's because I'm suffering through a loss this Christmas season (from experience, I know the first year is always the hardest) or maybe I'm just feeling nostalgic because I miss our old house and neighborhood, but I have realized recently that the best gifts I have ever received aren't tangible, hold-em-in-your-hand presents.  They're way better.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time (well, it seemed like a lot to me) helping my Grandma Anderson (Dot) bake, especially at Christmas.  I learned the proper rolling technique for buckeyes; I learned that making a red cake was really hard (and you better only request one on your birthday); I learned that everybody makes mistakes and burns a batch or two.  These lessons were truly gifts - gifts of time well spent with someone I love.


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After Nick was born and before I was pregnant with Dylan (so, yeah, a very small window), I asked my Grandma Elliott for a special birthday gift. Must've been for my 32nd birthday.  Now, given her married name (Elliott), you probably wouldn't guess that she's 100% Italian (her parents were both off-the-boat - her maiden name was Nuzzo).  You may also not be able to guess that she was the best cook in the whole world (sidenote: I typed "is" instead of "was" and had to take a little break to shed a few tears.) :( She made a lot of awesome dishes but, hands-down, my favorite is her meatballs and sauce.  I set aside an entire day so she could teach me...and she did.  It wasn't easy - I had to guess on all of the measurements because, frankly, I'm not sure she owned a measuring cup (this would also be why she was a fantastic cook...but just a mediocre baker).  I have that recipe typed up and saved in multiple places.  I even sent it to my Elliott family with my Christmas cards one year!

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At our Slippery Rock house, we had wonderful neighbors - all of them!  But the family across the street BECAME family to us.  We attended their youngest daughter's graduation party and all of their children kept saying, "Dad's bringing out the pizza any minute!" "Dad's pizza is almost ready!" And on and on.  In my head I was thinking, "Seriously?  Is it DiGiorno or what?" And then I tasted a bite.  Sweet Mother of Abraham Lincoln, it was amazing!  Like, restaurant-quality.  Came to find out that at one point it WAS restaurant-quality!  They used to own an Italian restaurant.  Makes sense - I would have driven across town for a slice.  One fall day, they brought over pizza out of the blue.  I sent a quick thank you email that read:  If you give a neighbor a pizza, they eat for a day.  If you TEACH a neighbor how to make a pizza, they're grateful for life!  That year, on Christmas Eve, they taught me how to make it.  Every Friday night, I think of them while I'm rolling out dough.  It's a gift that was given to me and that I pass on to my children in the form of memories.



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Obviously, all of my favorite non-tangible gifts involve food (I swear, it's my Love Language!) but EVERYONE has something they can pass along.  This year, I would encourage you to give an experience.  A lesson.  A memory.  It's a way to stay a part of someone's life even when you're not anymore.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Grandma Elliott

A lot of people will talk about their grandparents in a distant manner - like it's someone they barely know or who they are/were required to see on special occasions.  Me?  I seriously hit the grandparent lottery.  My dad's parents lived about a mile away (as the crow flies) and we saw them almost daily growing up.  And we genuinely adored them - they were fun, fun-loving, and dependable.  Like a second set of parents.

My mom's parents lived a bit further away (like, 12 miles).  Her dad died when I was 10 and since her mom, my Grandma Elliott, didn't drive we didn't see her as often as my dad's mom but that didn't mean she wasn't a huge part of my life, both as I was growing up and when I became a mom myself.

When we lost my dad's mom unexpectedly at the age of 62 (she died during the blizzard of '93), it was maybe the most difficult thing I had gone through.  Losing someone that way - it shatters you.  Eventually, you put the pieces back together but you are never, ever quite the same.

Watching someone suffer isn't exactly a picnic, either. We went through that with Greg's mom.

But the way my Grandma Elliott left this world - just last month?  It was a beautiful thing - if death can ever be described as such.  I hesitated to tell this story.  One, because it's not really mine to tell and two, well, it might seem a little woo-woo.  But her birthday is just a week away and I'm missing her SO much right now.  If the story can bring peace to others who have lost a loved one, well, it's worth it.

 
 


A little background (I realize this post might get a little long-winded so if you want to get to the important part, feel free to skip ahead):  My grandmother was 95 when she passed away and she lived - really LIVED - up until the very end.  It's so hard to describe what she was like unless you knew her.  Child-like in her excitement over the littlest things - a blooming crocus, a baby's smile, a hummingbird - she was very rarely in a dark mood (unless a Pittsburgh sports team was having a losing season!).  She grew up without much and because of that she was SO appreciative of everything she had - and she made sure you knew that YOU should be appreciative, too! 

Her biggest activity was gardening.  People would stop and look in the spring when her tulips were in full bloom.  She loved flowers and getting her hands dirty.  And she was SO independent!  She mowed her own lawn until she was well into her 80's - over an acre - and some of it with a PUSH mower!  My aunt (JoAnn) lived with her but she was unsteady on a ladder, so my grandmother also always put up their outside Christmas lights (I think one of my cousins might help now?  I hope?).  She asked for a CHAINSAW for her 80th - or was it 78th? - birthday (and she still never really forgave us for not getting her one).  She was forever trimming the hedge fence out in the front with her electric clippers (as evidenced by the fact that they were covered in electrical tape patches).  One of the things I will miss most is being able to call her and ask what to do about a landscaping debacle or how to repot a certain type of plant. :(


She came from a HUGE family and she was very close to her siblings, most especially her sisters.  She talked with them all the time on the phone, although they didn't see each other often.  Her older sister, Helen, passed away several years ago and one of her younger sisters, Catherine (who she called Cat), died just last summer.  She missed them SO much - it was one of the few times I can say I saw her truly sad (I don't really remember when my grandfather passed).

She never lost any part of her mental capacity as she aged - she was keeping her own checkbook in July of this year.  The only physical things she had wrong were her hearing (it was BAD) and some issues with her eyesight (some macular degeneration, although it never progressed).  When this last series of illnesses knocked her down we all fully expected her to recover.  She's not one to just quit.  But recently she'd been telling me how tired she was - tired of not feeling great, tired of being tired, just...tired.  This is why hospice wasn't called until the very end.

The day before she died, my aunt (her primary caregiver) met with a hospice worker to determine what, if any, help they could give.  Her main objective was to get a hospital bed.  At the time, my grandma was on oxygen and would wake several times during the night and call out for her.  As anyone who has had a newborn who doesn't sleep through the night knows, this wears on you.  You start to think you're hearing them even when they're NOT calling you.  With the hospital bed, my aunt could sleep on the couch next to her and be there instantly if she was needed but also know instantly if she wasn't.  Hospice brought the bed that very night.


This is the story of how she died.

At around 3am, she woke up and became a bit agitated.  She started yelling for my aunt. 
"JoAnn!  JoAnn!  I can hear!  EVERYTHING!  I can hear! I don't even have my hearing aids in!"

My aunt got her settled back down and she relaxed a bit.  About 20 minutes later she became agitated again.  She sat up a bit and was looking towards the bottom of the bed.

"Cat!  Cat!  It's you, Cat!  There you are!"
"Oh, look!  Everyone's there!  Everyone!"
"It's beautiful.  It's SO beautiful!  JoAnn!  Can you see? It's so beautiful."
"Yeah!  Yeah, I wanna come!  JoAnn, can you come, too?"

And those were the last words she ever spoke.  She was given a shot of morphine and breathed her last the following afternoon, surrounded by her children. 

I can't even tell you the amount of peace this gives me.  Do we all miss her?  Yes.  I've never doubted where she was going.  But the story of the end, well, it suits.  She would have absolutely been excited to get there.


Friday, September 16, 2016

Quick House Updates

Things have been so crazy with the house situation that blogging has (once again) taken a backseat to life.  Sigh.

The short story is:  The original sale of our home fell through about 25 days before close (the good pastor and his wife decided to separate; she didn't want to move from Michigan; I wrote them a note - several weeks later - wishing them well; good karma is important and really, it was a sad situation all around).  We did NOT end up in an apartment (which is REALLY, REALLY GREAT!) but we did end up making additional ($$) renovations to the house to get it market-ready (which is much less great).

I am a faithful person, but when things go wrong I typically freak out and worry.  For some odd reason, when this all fell through instead of worry I felt extreme peace - like I knew it was meant to be and would all work out.  That didn't come from me - that was definitely a God thing.

We re-listed our house and it sold again within 6 days. (!). The new house was now the unknown - would it be finished in time or would we, once again, be required to move twice? I still felt like it would all work out, but the unknown was making me a bit twitchy.  In the meantime, we had a pre-drywall walk-thru and I just felt like I was looking at a house - not my home.  Very weird.

After vacation (I'll try to write about that in my spare time - HA!), we finally nailed down a date - closing is September 29.  Closing on our current home is October 3.  We have exactly one weekend to move (which is PERFECT).

This is a very emotional time for all of us - Greg and I are both a bit crazy (crazier than normal, in my case) and the kids are not really themselves.  I'm not worried that it's the right decision (it is) but I am worried about how long they'll take to get back to being themselves, happy I guess.  I think they are very nervous - it's such an unknown when you've never done it before but we are SO lucky that they don't have to change schools.

We really can't talk about leaving our neighbors, tho.  We all cry (OK, maybe not Greg although he really loves our neighbors, too).  I just try to stuff those emotions back in and hold them close until the last day.  I already told the kids it would be OK to cry as we leave because I would be, too :( (And...I'm crying a little as I type this.  Sigh.)

Monday, July 18, 2016

DIY Disney Shirts

Disney vacations are not cheap (I know, duh!), especially when there are 6 of you making the trip.  There are TONS of ways to save a little $$ out on the internet (stay off site, pack snacks and waters, etc.). 

Dressing 6 people in acceptable attire is also a challenge.  We do usually end up with a few souvenir tees, but I like to have some to take with us as well.  I made shirts for our last trip and when I went to remake them this year (because, dang it, these kids GROW) I couldn't find the link.  Not on Pinterest.  Not in my bookmarks.  Nowhere.  I don't want to spend that much time searching again, so here we go:

What you will need:

Mickey templates (try Google for this), preferably printed on cardstock
Freezer paper
Fabric paint
Plain cotton t-shirts (washed and dried - no fabric softener)
*Not pictured: Scissors, iron, cardboard to place in the shirt, and something to cover your workspace.


Step 1: Print out your template, cut it out, and trace onto freezer paper.  You will need one freezer paper outline per shirt.


Step 2:  Iron the paper to stick to the tee, shiny side down.  You do not need to use steam but you will need relatively high heat.  I tried it with low heat and the paper just curled and didn't stick.


Step 3:  Place cardboard inside the t-shirts.  This is to prevent the paint from leaking through to the back.  I used a combination of a cardboard shipping box and an empty cereal box.

Step 4:  Spray with fabric paint.  You do not need to soak it - the outline will be obvious even with minimal paint.  Case in point:  I started this project using paint from two years ago and it only worked for 5-7 squirts (this is on the light pink shirt pictured further down).  I used this paint in asphalt and diamond sparkle (for the girls)(not an affiliated link).

 Black only:

 Black with sparkle (black first, sparkle on top):


Finished product (yes, even Greg agreed to play along this time):


Paint has to dry 4 hours before removing the freezer paper (it just peels right off).  Dry 72 hours before turning inside out to wash (per instructions on the paint).

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Still Waiting

Two weeks ago I posted that we were having our pre-construction meeting moved up and they were planning to break ground that week (the week of May 22).  Alas, we're still waiting for them to do so.

I am trying to be patient with the process, especially since rushing through building a house is NEVER a good thing, but it's not cheap to live in temporary housing when there are 6 people (like, it's more than our current mortgage!).

In the meantime, we've been packing like crazy...and yet it looks like we've still got SO MUCH LEFT to do!  Summer vacation is always a challenge in keeping up with cleaning and such so adding that into the mix isn't helping.  However, adding 2 hours to my day (that I don't have to spend driving back and forth to school) makes me feel like it's possible.  It's not going to be pretty, but it will get done.

The hardest part is making a decision about every ever-loving thing!  Everything has to go through the test - will I use it in the next 6 months?  If yes, it goes into the apartment.  If no, it goes into storage.  There's not a lot of room for storage in a 3-bedroom apartment (although this one does have a garage, which is SWEET!).  Unfortunately, we have too much CRAP. 

Add into the mix the emotions that are running super high for all of us and it's a recipe for disaster.  I am trying to tread lightly, with my own emotions and especially the kids.  This is the only home they've ever known so it's hard for them.  This is the house we built expecting to live here forever so it's hard for Greg and I, too.

However.

It's just a house.  A building.  It doesn't really hold the memories - those are inside of us.  At this point, it doesn't even look like our home anymore as there are boxes and bins everywhere.  I even had our realtor send me the photos he took because I wanted to be able to remember each room as it was (and then I cried when I opened them!).

I cried the day our kitchen cabinets were installed (remember, I was pregnant with Nick at the time - crying was pretty much a daily occurrence).   This is the photo that had me bawling like a baby today, though:


My kitchen.  Sigh.  I'm having a hard time picturing what my new kitchen will look like, but I can remember that this one was exactly the way I had pictured it in my mind.  Best.day.EVER.

Now, on to a (slightly) bigger kitchen in a (slightly) bigger house. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Building with Dan Ryan Builders

Since we sold our house accidentally, we knew we were going to have to make some serious decisions very quickly.  We had been in talks with Dan Ryan Builders for awhile but we hadn't committed because we just didn't think we would need to rush into anything (HA!)(HAHAHAHA!!).  We had to decided:

Which plan of homes we preferred (one with bigger lots but further away from civilization or one with teeny lots but VERY convenient location)
Which LOT in each of those plans
Which house/floor plan
How much we were willing to spend

The lot we decided on is great - over half an acre and relatively flat with NO trees (our current lot is 1.25 acres but we probably have only half of that which we actually use) BUT it also had a few drawbacks (not on a cul-de-sac; at the bottom of a small hill; next to a small pump house)(These were all negatives in Greg's mind - my mind said...???)

The process of building with a track builder is different than what we did in the past.  When we built our home, we utilized a "Build to Own" concept which meant that WE (meaning Greg) were the General Contractors - we took care of all of the scheduling and so that we could afford the house of our dreams, we did a lot of the finish work (with A LOT of help from family and friends) - flooring, painting, trim work.  This doesn't sound like much but HOOBOY, is it EVER!  We (meaning Greg) wanted wood trim so we had to stain and finish every.single.piece.of.wood.  Every door.  Every window.  Every piece of window trim.  Every piece of door trim.  Every piece of baseboard.  All of the quarter round (I didn't even know what that WAS back then).  SO.MUCH.STAINING! 

But it looked beautiful.

This time, we are going with a turn-key approach.  We want to do as little work ourselves as possible.  Because we BOTH remember what it was like.  However, we have never done it this way before and I feel the need to document it, both for us and for whoever else might be considering this process.

Step 1:  We signed the papers designating which lot and floor plan we wanted.  This was a "good faith estimate" based on very limited choices (Did we want Elevation 1 or 5? Did we want to add any upgrades?)(Here's a hint: Almost everything is an "upgrade").

Step 2:  We picked out everything else (this happens on a separate day).  This is - LITERALLY - everything else:  Cabinets, flooring, exterior colors and trim, etc.  And it took HOURS!  We had mostly decided what we wanted beforehand but then we had to put it all together using "samples" and decide if it was going to look right.  We had my SIL and her husband come and referee help. (Funny story:  The rep for DRB had been a sales rep at THEIR housing plan when they built THEIR house 12 years ago!)  Luckily, Greg and I have been doing this marriage thing for awhile now and we each had the areas that were important to us (Me: the kitchen; Greg: Everything else).

So far, things are going well.  Our Pre-Construction meeting was scheduled and has since been moved UP because they plan to break ground this week.  I will continue to update and probably reminisce about the only home our little family has ever known together. 


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Accidentally Sold

So.  We accidentally sold our house.

I'm sure that's not a common statement, but - for the most part - it's true.  How?  Let me explain...

We had been discussing moving closer to school/work for awhile (years, really) because we both commute over 100 miles a day (not counting anything extra).  That's a lot of time spent behind the wheel.  A LOT.  But in recent months we had ramped up from just "talking about" moving to "planning".  We had started making what we thought were necessary repairs and updates.  We were looking into possibly building a new home (This was more Greg - I have pretty vivid memories of building this place and while I absolutely love our house, I didn't want the drama that goes with building) and talking about finding a realtor to help us out.

I was, of course, training for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon.  In early March, I was out for a run when I just happened to pass by a woman taking photos of a house that had been recently listed.  I back-tracked and asked if she was a realtor.  She was and after telling her our current situation, she gave me her card.  I promptly took it home and put it on the door thinking that at least I had a local contact.

In the meantime, I worked cafeteria duty with a fellow basketball parent who is also a realtor (I didn't know this until that day).  He gave me his card and because it was someone I know and trusted, we decided that - WHEN THE TIME CAME - we would use him. 

I had started getting pamphlets and such from the first realtor (we'll call her Lisa)(because that's her name) but I ignored them knowing we were going to use a different guy.  A couple of days after Easter, while my kids were all still home from school on Easter break and I was hiding working in the computer room (diffusing Abundance oil, I might add), there was a knock at the door.  It was Lisa.  She looked genuinely surprised that I was home (she had a bag she had planned to leave with more goodies in it - pens, business card, etc.).  She asked when we thought we would be ready to list.  I stammered and hemmed and hawed and she just flat out said, "I have two people who would like to see this place.  One of them is only available THIS THURSDAY. He's the new pastor at my church and needs a place ASAP" (emphasis mine).  You guys.  My kids had been home for 5 days straight.  My husband had more "projects" going on trying to prep the house than I can count.  What I'm saying is HELL NO was I ready to let someone "show" it.  She asked me to give her a call if I changed my mind (FAT CHANCE) and left.

I called Rick (our actual realtor).  He felt that she was probably just fishing for a listing and there wasn't actually someone that interested but just to be on the safe side, he made plans to come up and take a look at our place and give us his opinion.  I mean, we've never done this before and we had almost no idea what our home was worth.  I should mention that I am really good at Pinterest.  I had my own ideas. LOL!

Rick did his job and we had plans and a timeframe and we were moving steadily forward towards listing in mid-to-late May. 

In the meantime I had casually mentioned to a couple of moms (after Mass) that we were starting to seriously think about selling/moving.  One of them hooked me up with the Prayer to St. Joseph.  You guys, do NOT mess with St. Joe.

Rick then called on a Wednesday and said, "Remember that pastor? He really wants to see your place!  Tomorrow..."

Now, Greg was out of town (Denver) and I was pretty sure that even if I didn't sleep there was no way I could have it show-worthy in less than 24 hours.  But you know what?  I've decided that I don't say "yes" to chance or opportunity nearly as much as I should.  So I played my favorite game:  What's the Worst that Could Happen?  If they like it, great.  Maybe we'll sell it without actually listing it.  If they hate it, we get feedback knowing that it wasn't really ready to be sold anyways.

I wore myself out trying to get everything cleaned up and ready.  I moved furniture.  I cleaned and polished.  I hid stuff in places that I STILL can't find.   I put Citrus Fresh in every diffuser.  And I showed a very nice couple my home.

They made an acceptable offer the very next day.

Holy $#@!  We sold our house.  With very little doing on our part.  Someone once told me that coincidence is God working anonymously.  This has the Hand of God all over it. 

We accepted their offer on my birthday - April 23, 2016. 

We signed the papers to build a new home on Greg's birthday - May 8, 2016.