Adventures in House Hunting Hell: A Tale From the Archives

Several years ago, Thomas and I embarked on our first house hunting journey. We had decided we had had enough of trying to cram all of our (kids’) junk into 1350 square feet (125 square meters for my non-American audience.) We figured if we didn’t act soon, we might be approached to appear on “Hoarders.” However, rather than get rid of unnecessary belongings, we decided to consider the more reasonable option  – buy a bigger house.

The first house we made an appointment to view was highly promising – 5 bedrooms, remodeled kitchen, pool, palm tree out front: the California dream. As we drove to the house to meet the realtor, I felt the excitement brewing inside me. Finally, we’d have space for all of our stuff, the kids could have their own rooms, I could float on a raft in the pool after putting up the Christmas tree – the day dreams were endless.

As we toured our dream house, we found a few things were slightly different than expected. The bedrooms were a little on the small side, except for the large downstairs bedroom which had apparently been “upgraded” into a bonus room. That was ok, though, since half of the garage had been converted to the fifth bedroom. It would have been helpful to see this garage/bedroom, however, this part of the home would have to be bought sight unseen; the occupant was taking a nap and could not be disturbed.

While I was wondering if the garage inhabitant was included in the price of the house, Thomas was being attacked by swarming gnats next to the pool. A quick look over the backyard wall revealed the source of the infestation – a massive storm drain. The owner, for her part, made a valiant attempt to convince us that in all her time living there she’d never been seen these kamikaze gnats. I have a feeling those gnats and their cousins in the front yard would be offended by that statement. Actually, the gnats weren’t the only backyard surprise. While some sellers entice prospective buyers with the scent of freshly baked cookies in the kitchen, we were treated to the smell of freshly laid dog poop. We decided to keep looking.

It turns out all was not lost. A few days later we found another home that looked like a good match: four bedrooms, new flooring, big backyard and no storm drain. As we pulled up, we noticed the extra-wide driveway.  This would be perfect for Thomas, whose true dream is to park a broken down RV in the driveway and use it as a “man-cave.” He came up with this idea after realizing that no room at home is safe from the girls and their Barbies. Now that I think about it, maybe we can both move into the RV and let the girls have the house.

Unfortunately our RV fantasy was not meant to be. All the pavement in the front and backyard of the house was severely cracked, meaning the RV would probably sink underground with the next earthquake. On the other hand, a subterranean bunker could be useful I suppose. As we entered the property, the realtor explained to us that investors who were flipping this foreclosure had put in brand new flooring.  These investors were definitely family minded – the carpet was a familiar color that can only be described as “Already Dirty – Gray”. This was a good trick to help the prospective buyer’s budget. After all, if your new carpet already looked like the kids had roughed it up, then there was no point in ever cleaning it, right? That’s how you stay ahead of the game.

The garage offered its own dilemma; not only was there room for only one appliance (leaving us to debate whether the washer or the dryer was more important) but the smell of gas was overpowering. It was so strong that I quickly ushered everyone out for fear any escaping remnants of our Cajun dinner might torpedo us to outer space.  The gnats were starting to look better.  Yet, before I could pitch the benefits of gnats and garage-living to Thomas, common sense slowly took over.  It looked like we would need to forget the RV for now. Thomas would just have to put up a tent in the garden.  Besides I had just gone through a labor-intensive move at work… from the coat closet I was squatting in to a full-sized office down the hall. I would need to recover before I could start thinking about packing boxes again.

EPILOGUE: Two years later we found the strength to once again attempt to find a house. This time, with a bit of patience, nail biting, anti-depressants, alcohol and good luck we did eventually find a gnat-free house without a gas leak or random dude living in the garage. More on that story to come later…

Corporate Mentoring Series: Conference Call DO’s and DON’Ts

When leading a conference call, it’s important to keep your goals in mind. If you work in Corporate America, then you know that you have two goals and two goals only: to confuse every participant, and to maximize the number of minutes you steal from everyone’s day. To ensure you stay aligned with these goals, here is a handy list of  DOs and DON’Ts that you can refer to during your next conference call.

1. DON’T tell people what the call is about or give them any background information. After all, it’s your job to keep folks on their toes.

2. DO give out an incorrect dial-in number. After 5 minutes of making everyone question their sanity, send around the correct number. To maximize effectiveness of this tactic, start the presentation on time, so that when people finally do dial in, they’ve missed several key points.

3. DON’T tell people which slide you’re on. This makes for good suspense. When someone finally speaks up and asks, make sure to tell them the wrong slide.

4. If you get the sense that the group is following along too well, DO throw in the term  “overcollateralization” a few times to ensure no one has any idea what you are really talking about.

5. DO concede, when challenged by one or more members of your audience, that your slides aren’t as precise as you led people to believe. When you think about it, you do have to agree that the phrase “formal proposal” doesn’t really mean “idea I had while on the toilet this morning.”

6. DO use the word “paradigm.” Since no one has used that word in over 5 years, you’ll reveal yourself as the douchebag you really are.

7. DON’T admit that you too are overcollateralized and have no idea what you are really talking about.

 

 

 

 

Trends I Hate…Yes, I’m Old

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In my last post,  I discussed Signs You’ve Hit Middle Age. I recently realized that I left out one important sign…namely, that you are irritated by stupid trends. The following ridiculous trends aren’t even new; they’ve just gotten on my nerves long enough that I finally had to vent my supreme annoyance.

  1. Healthy Juice Bars. Unfortunately for this country, “healthy juicing” has taken over. Goodbye Jamba Juice and your affordable, sugar-laden, strawberry smoothie. You have been replaced by Nekter, the detoxifying, cleansing juice bar and its prohibitively expensive foodie crap. One such example is the Tropical Cooler, which is billed as “a puree of spinach, kale, and flavorless gourmet tropical shit, for douchebags like you.” Having recently been a douchebag who tried the Tropical Cooler, take my advice here and save your ten bucks. Instead, throw 2 cups of grass and weeds from your front lawn into a blender with 3 cups of water from your pool. The result looks and tastes the same. (Party tip: When serving to guests at your birthday luau, pour into a Tiki tumbler for added authenticity.)

 

  1. Birthday parties…for dogs. What the heck is wrong with people? It’s not enough to organize a killer bash with clowns, ponies and a snow cone machine for your one-year old who will sleep through half of it. Now you have to put party hats on your pets?

 

  1. Sleeping babies. For some reason, I am the only parent whose babies didn’t immediately sleep through the night. In fact, my newborns both woke up every 2-3 hours for weeks on end, the inconsiderate little brats. I suppose it’s my fault, though. If I had been gluten-free when nursing, my kids would have been better able to digest the milk, resulting in a fuller feeling and hours of peaceful sleep.

 

  1. Starbucks in Europe. Americans have figured out a way to take European coffee, add some quasi-Italian words, reverse engineer the espresso making process so it actually takes three times longer, and then sell it back to the Europeans at a higher price. As disappointing as this is, I guess I can’t completely hate Starbucks  – not only do they bring us the eggnog latte, but they are probably responsible for making coffee across America drinkable.

 

  1. Gender Reveal Parties. Millennial friends of mine, I love you, but knock it off. Just go to the ultrasound, find out the gender of your baby and call your mom. No one else is relishing in the suspense as much as you are. If you have to be trendy and insist on making everyone you know digest something to find out whether you’re having a boy or a girl, give them a blue or pink Tropical Cooler.

British Airways, Will You Marry Me?

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British Airways (“BA”) you are one of a kind. Not many people are fans of the airlines these days, but you are special. Your beautiful spirit has captured my heart  (to the extent possible when one is crammed into a tiny seat with no legroom for 10 hours).

And how do I love thee? To quote Elizabeth Barrett Browning, let me count the ways…

1. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height   

Your Airbus 380 double-deck, wide-body, four-engine jet airliner is the world’s largest passenger airliner, with a body so luxurious and perfectly sized that I can fit in the  bathroom without having to suck in my gut and grease the door frame.

2.My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight   

When I leave my seat to partake in your luxurious bathroom and suddenly in my absence both my kids start throwing up simultaneously, you are there with a kind smile, barf bags, warm towelettes and garment stain remover wipes. You even escorted my third-class kid to privately vomit in the exclusive first-class bathroom. Suck it, United Airlines. Barfing isn’t nearly as fun with you.

3. For the ends of Being and ideal Grace   

You gave me wine that I didn’t even ask for. On both the initial and return flights! Doesn’t get more ideal than that.

4. I love thee to the level of every day’s most quiet need, by sun and candle-light

As it turns out, every day’s most quiet need is an inflight entertainment system with which every seat, even those in the Economy (aka “poor person”) section, is equipped. This fabulous private entertainment system not only includes dozens of free movies and TV shows but also modern versions of Atari game favorites like Space Invaders and Asteroids…not to mention the ability to instant message other passengers you don’t know and are probably sleeping. (This IM thing is a key selling point to Millennials and anyone sitting across the aisle from a dude who took off his shoes and needs to be gently informed that his feet are stinking out the cabin.)

5. I love thee freely, as men strive for Right

If my literary analysis is correct, this line has to do with willing and intense love, which is exactly what I felt when I tasted your delectable gourmet entrees including savory chicken, mouth-watering polenta and dessert pudding which, as correctly described on the package, was an “indulgent blend of milk and dark chocolate infused with fresh orange zest.” Again, people, I was in ECONOMY CLASS.

6.I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.

Pure British accents…need I say more?

7. I love thee with the passion put to use

I am so passionate that from now on I’ll plan my vacations around where BA flies. I may not even get off the airplane – I’ll just fly back and forth for a week.

So, BA, what do you say? Will you marry me?

 

Q & A With An Unsuccessful Blogger: Bad Answers to Your Good Questions

I like to pretend I have a blog. I say pretend, because I am not in the slightest bit successful. I only have about 20 followers, 19 of which are family members I force to read my blog under threat of no Christmas gifts. Over the year or so that I’ve been a “blogger”, my readers (aka family members who receive Christmas gifts from me) have asked me many questions about blogging. At the risk of breaking the Unsuccessful Blogger Code of Silence (UBCOS) and being banned from the world of bad bloggers, I will address these questions.

Q: How do you start a blog?

A: If you’re a Millennial, set up an account on WordPress.com and go from there. It’s intuitive.
If you’re from Generation X, get a bottle of wine, go to WordPress.com and pound wildly on your keyboard until you manage to launch a blog or are too drunk to care.

Q: Why do you write a blog?

A: lt’s simple. Since I have to live through this insanity, I had mind as well share the pain. Besides, I have to listen to your crap at the family reunions, so consider us even.

Q: Is your life really as nutty as you make it sound? (Only people with no kids and no job ask this question.)

A: Look, I can’t make this stuff up. If I were that creative I’d be making tons of money as a Hollywood screenwriter. 95% of what I write about I either experienced or observed. The other 5% is the result of hallucinations brought on by the alcohol my kids drove me drink.

Q: What inspires you?

A: It’s not about inspiration. Instead the name of the game is self-preservation, coupled with a strong desire to not go to jail. If I write about the neighbors’ obese, 11 year old, asthmatic Chihuahua, then I don’t feel as strong a need to throttle the thing when I find out that it’s the source of the rattling, wheezing noise every night that had me terrified I was going to be attacked by some kind of deranged science experiment cooked up in their basement.

I know that sounds mean, but in my defense, I pretty much had to keep my karate nunchucks at my side for a year. (In case you weren’t aware, nunchucks are proven to be the best defense against science experiments gone wrong. You don’t even have to know how to use them – just wave them around wildly to look intimidating. Note, however, that you should always wear a helmet when flinging nunchucks around wildly, as there is a 90% chance you will hit yourself in the head…and that hurts.)

Q: You work full time and have kids. How do you have time to blog?

A: It’s really not as hard as it seems. All you have to do is produce low quality, sub-standard work product and feed your kids cereal for dinner. By keeping people’s expectations low, I find I’m able to squeeze out free time for hobbies.

Q: How long does it take you to compose a post?

A: Anywhere from 2 hours to 2 weeks. I’m much faster now that I don’t have to carry nunchucks around and have both hands free to type.

How Well are you Integrating on Your European Vacation? Take This Short Quiz to Find Out.

In the past two weeks, I’ve written a few blog posts about our recent vacation to Europe to visit my husband’s family and our friends. One thing which has become abundantly clear is that it’s tough being an American in Europe. Sure I lived there for several years, but that was in the 1990’s and I’m clearly out of practice, not to mention old.

To help Americans figure out how well they’re integrating while on their European vacation, I’ve put together this helpful quiz. If you’re American, or just want to play along, then place a check mark next to any of the below things you’ve experienced or done. Once completed, total the number of check marks and read the result which corresponds with your score.

1. Every conversation ends up with a discussion of American politics. You’re slightly embarrassed when you realize most Europeans know more than you do about what’s happening in your own country. You quickly check Facebook for some talking points; if something has at least 1,000 likes then it must be true.

2. Since these European people seem to really know their stuff, you pull out your voters’ guide to the next elections to get their take on your local upcoming propositions. You feel like you’re doing your civic duty now, since you were just going to flip a coin. Let’s be honest people, it’s too hard to actually understand what you’re voting on!

3. Your Swiss friends complain that Americans think Switzerland is the same country as Sweden. Wait, there’s a difference? You probably shouldn’t have copied off your friend’s test in 7th grade geography.

4. You’re impressed by the different coins worth several dollars. In fact, you proudly tip the helpful bartender the biggest coin in your wallet. You later discover it was worth two cents.

5. You spend most of your vacation in London trying not to get run over. Why do they drive on the wrong side of the street anyway? Those wacky foreigners!

6. You get excited at the prospect of eating at a “real English pub.” Soggy peas are exotic, you know.

7. You have to go to the bathroom after eating all those peas, but you can’t fit in the stall.

8. You search your purse for your cell phone to find out what time it is; you forget you’re standing in front of Big Ben.

9. When crossing London Bridge you cleverly lead the family in a rendition of “London Bridge is Falling Down.” An elderly local man passing by gently points out to you that you’re actually on Tower Bridge. You try to convince yourself that you’re really right, since every bridge in London is a London bridge.

10. Even British people insulting you sounds sexy. Who cares what they’re saying, as long as they keep talking!

11. After you get back to America, you try to impress your friends by using British expressions. “Those pub peas were absolutely brilliant. It’s a shame I couldn’t fit in the toilet.”

Score

1-3 Check Marks: You’re a little nutty, but so am I. Overall you’re doing a good job of representing your country. Continue keeping your mouth shut and your ears open.

4-8 Check Marks: You need some help here. Consult a few reputable news feeds and a map before going back to Europe. To really fit in on your next trip, buy a pair of red shorts and ankle socks. At least you’ll look like a native.

9 -11 Check Marks: Call the government and have your passport revoked. No one this crazy should be let out of the country.

10 Signs Your Vacation is NOT Normal

I recently wrote a blog post entitled “Rate Your European Vacation – A Short Quiz.” Unfortunately, I quickly noticed that publishing that post was premature, since we were still on vacation and overwhelmingly subjected to further torture by the Vacation Gods. In pursuit of my mission to provide cutting edge (albeit clearly uninspiring and unprofessional) journalism, I feel it is my duty to continue on with this topic. Thus I present to you, my loyal readers, 10 signs your vacation is not normal (and has probably landed you in the Twilight Zone.)

1. The side of the hotel room’s shower/tub combo is so high, you have to hoist yourself up on the edge and roll over the top. You wonder if pole vaulting in would be easier. Good thing the Olympics are on – you can watch the professionals to learn proper technique.

2. The bedsheets are starched like nothing you’ve experienced since the 1970’s. At least you wake up freshly exfoliated. Now you can cancel that expensive spa treatment you have planned when you get back.

3. The TV is set up so you can only see it by looking into the mirror above the bathroom sink.

4. After running around the ruins of the nearby ancient Roman amphitheater, your kids relax by watching YouTube on their iPads.

5. The hotel furniture your kids are relaxing on is so old you suspect it too may have belonged to the Romans. You entertain yourself by inspecting it for Latin inscriptions.

6. You find some.

7. The horse you take a selfie with while visiting your brother in-law’s farm keeps nudging you until you show it the picture. You wonder if it wants you to tag it on Facebook.

8. You watch in awe as a wasp lands on your dinner, bites off a piece of meat and flies away with it. You consider trying to sic that wasp and its relatives on the hotel’s manager, who turned off your Wifi without telling you and then went to bed.

9. After watching the Olympics every night from his bathroom sink mirror, your English-speaking dad has managed to pick up enough German to fill you in on all the highlights. By the end of the first week, he starts correcting your German grammatical errors. You fear what will happen now that he’s switched to the Italian channel.

10. You spend every morning at the hotel breakfast buffet trying to figure out how many packs of hot chocolate you have to steal to make up for the outrageous cost of the room. On second thought, you might recoup your losses more quickly by selling the Roman artifact furniture on eBay. Your plan is foiled when you realize the manager still hasn’t turned back on your Wifi.