Coming Up For Air

rain in TX

The above picture was taken here in Dallas last week. This is what all the rain has done!

My last semester of graduate school is complete! After I take a comprehensive exam this summer, I will have my MA English diploma in hand!

These last few weeks have been a bit rough with all the writing and reading I had to get done. The boys actually started punishing me by destroying the house while I was studying! They are used to having my undivided attention, and the fact that I often had to shut myself in a room and write made them a little less than cheery. One night, they even stole all the batteries out of the remotes and hid them! Another, they re-arranged all the furniture in their room :/ Crazy little monkeys!

Fortunately for me, my husband is an English teacher (as am I, technically!), so when I needed help with editing my papers, he was more than the perfect for the job. I had a final deadline of midnight on Sunday to get two papers in, and my brain was so tired, it was like the words had dried right up. Jesse swooped in and saved the day, helping me talk through some of my finer points and conclusions so that I could fix certain spots in both of my papers. I got a real taste of what a great English teacher he is! And, in the end, I actually felt very confident about all the work I put in. In sports, they call that, “Leaving it all on the floor”, and I feel like I really did give it every ounce I had. I’m not even sure if there was anything I could’ve improved on, honestly! Turning in papers that you actually think are publish-worthy is a great feeling, especially after researching both topics and realizing that no one has written on your specific focus (here’s the part of the story where I could get extremely technical, talking about 16th century/Medieval England and Spenser’s Faerie Queene).

Any who, for the past few days, I’ve slowly been putting my life back together– tackling mounds of laundry, cleaning the bathrooms and kitchen, tending to my neglected garden, and even hanging out with friends. Sometimes I wish I could entrust all my house chores to the right house cleaners in the Hanover PA area.

Gregory in the garden 2015

Yesterday, I met a friend to go walking around White Rock lake. We had ALL 5 of our kids in tow, walked 3-4 miles pushing heavy strollers, and the weather suddenly got quite hot (ahem, 86 degrees!), so it ended with lots of sweat and crying, most of it from the kids 😉 Today, I had two old friends (one of whom just announced that she’s pregnant!) over for coffee and tea! Their kitchen remodeling tips helped me create the cook space I’ve always wanted. Just two days in to “freedom”, and I’ve already doubled my social life, ha!

The other task we are about to embark upon is a home renovation project. I mentioned a long time ago that our new house is just shy of 1100 square feet, which is not big enough for two growing boys. If we ever have a third baby or decide to start fostering kids again, more space will definitely be in order! We met with an architect last night to draw up plans for a large sunroom/family room off the back of the house, something a lot like this:

large-sunroom-plansWe also have a contractor coming out to give us a bid this Thursday as we need to get a basement renovation calculator to mark the estimates of the expenditure for the future. Once this room is built (hopefully sometime this summer!), we will use our current living room as our dining room, transform the dining room into a breakfast/sitting area,  and then use the new sunroom as a giant living room! A large L-couch someday would be nice for having a bigger family, and we definitely want a “homework” area somewhere in there. It’s honestly hard to picture right now, though, but Pinterest sure helps 🙂 We want the new living room to look something like this:

new living room idea

via Modern Organic Interiors

Once we have a bigger dining space, I am bound and determined to get a piano! We have a keyboard now, but I really want the boys to take lessons on an actual piano– I was a piano teacher for nearly 10 years, so I have some opinions about these things, yes?

Our summer is packed with lots of activities, complete with a vacation out to see family in CA, so even though Jesse soon begins his 3 month break (having a teacher for a husband is AWESOME!!), we will still be very busy. Hopefully I will have time to chronicle our home renovations and vacation here on the blog!

Our New Van

Our new van

This last Saturday, we picked up our new -to-us-van. Back in 2011, we made the choice to be a one-car family, and have been ever since. Our last 3 homes (2 rental, 1 bought) were less than 5 minutes from our teaching jobs, so it made sharing a car pretty stinking easy.

The only time things got a little tricky was 1.5 years ago when we took our two foster boys-– all of a sudden, there were 6 of us and we only had 5 seats! Fortunately we had really awesome friends pitch in and lend us their second vehicle for the 7 months we had the boys. It did mean we needed to drive two cars whenever we went anywhere as a family, but it was nice not having to buy a second car for the short term!

When we moved to TX, we sold our Rav 4 before leaving CA (our stuff was shipped in a crate to TX and we flew), used a temporary solution car that my gracious brother let us have, then decided to lease our Nissan Leaf around Christmas time. We were still living 5 minutes from Jesse’s job at the time in our awful rental situation, but when we bought our house 15 minutes away, we knew a 2nd car was a necessity on the horizon.

Luckily, I have been teaching online from home for the past year, so a 2nd car was something we were able to take our time about purchasing. Yes, there were days where I went absolutely stir crazy, because having the car for the day meant waking the kids up and driving Jesse in to work at 7am, which meant we were all tired and cranky (my kids and I sleep late!). We only took advantage of this option once or twice a month, as a result, because an outing usually wasn’t worth all of the effort.

Sometime in March, a friend of ours told us about a co-worker who was selling a 1999 van for their disabled friend who was heading into a nursing home. Despite the fact that it was 15 years old, it only had 56k original miles! The woman was the original owner, purchased it in North Texas, lived 10 minutes away, and just ran errands in it for 15 years! Despite a few minor cosmetic issues (a bit of peeling paint/rust on the top, too dark of a tint on the windows), it was in great shape.

And, given how old the year of the vehicle was, the Kelly Blue Book value was super low. We were able to pay in cash, without even using up the majority of what we had saved for a vehicle purchase!

The only catch was that we had to wait nearly 2 months to close the deal because the woman’s Medicaid application was in the works, and nothing was allowed to be bought or sold during that time period. We used the time to purchase the Carfax (just to be sure), test drive it, and wait.

Just this past week, we got word that the vehicle was ready, so we picked her up the day before Mother’s Day! This car really is perfect for our family– we didn’t want to spend too much, as I will only be using it once or twice a week to take the kids to the library or the zoo. I knew that if we spent a lot of money, I would feel super guilty about it just sitting in the driveway, day after day. Now we have the best of both worlds! And we can now pick up the boys’ friends, when necessary, without being maxed out for seats.

The major downside to all of this is the precedent that it set for Jesse 🙂 On my birthday, we ended our option period on our TX house, effectively sealing the deal. For Mother’s Day, we bought me a car. I keep joking that the pressure is now on for our 9 year anniversary! 😉

Tornado Shelter

watching the storms from afar

Well, everyone, my grad school classes are almost done, which is good because I don’t have stamina like I used to! Late night studying (it’s impossible to get work done while the boys are awake) is taking its toll on me, especially since all the material we’re covering is very interesting and makes my brain pump on all cylinders.

But let’s talk about tornadoes for a moment.

Tornados are terrifying. And awesome. And terrifying.

They used to be mostly awesome, and only slightly terrifying the last time we lived in TX. We even lived in a more tornado-prone suburb back then (and even had a couple F-0s touch down a few miles away from us one time).

But now that I have kids? The Momma Bear inside does NOT like tornados, I’ll tell you that much.

We’ve had a week or two of rough weather (technically, Dallas is right at the bottom of tornado alley) where I’ve been glued to the weather channels trying to make heads or tails of it all. I’ve been trying to get my “TX feet” back underneath me, reminding myself of the difference between tornado “watch” and “warning”, trying to remember that the weather people always act like they’re on Red Bull as they jump around in front of the screen saying scary things.

One of the things people who don’t live in a tornado-prone areas of the U.S. need to realize is that the odds of getting hit by a tornado are very rare. People don’t drop everything they’re doing every time there’s a thunder storm rolling through just because they can’t, otherwise nothing would ever get done. It’s rained here 12 of the last 14 days, and 9 of those days were thunder storms. That’s called “normal” for TX spring.

And it’s not even necessary to drop everything and run for cover, every time the weather “could” be right for tornados, because there are thousands of knowledgable people who are glued to those storms, watching for any sort of rotation in the upper hemispheres that could later produce something that would touch down. They are able to pinpoint those hot spots down to a few miles radius, and warn people ahead of time. I kid you not– it sounds something like this: “We see rotating clouds that could produce a tornado, it will cross 5th and Main St. at 7:32pm, Laurel and Main St. at 7:34pm,” etc.

And “the natives” aren’t stupid. They know which types of weather to be on the lookout for. And when the time comes, they all have a plan.

Part of our confusion this time around in TX is figuring out what our plan is now that we have a family and a house. Our house is built on a pier and beam foundation, and we don’t even have a window-less room or closet to huddle up in when the winds get strong. Heck, we don’t even have a garage to protect our car from hail! (we’re working on that one).

Most of the scary weather happens about 1.5 hours away from Dallas to the southwest.

Take, for example, this monster tornado that roared through a very rural town a few counties away from Dallas last week:

tornado southwest of Dallas

 

Or how about the softball/grapefruit hail this storm sent raining down?

softball hail

We didn’t get much action up here in Dallas, not even hail. It did, however, rain around 12 inches in just a few days! People don’t realize that Dallas gets the same amount of yearly rain as both Seattle AND Portland. We just get our rain in short clumps, where it’s dumped from the sky, deluge-style (but, on the reverse, we gets lots of sunshine in between!).

And yet…we just had a guy come this evening to give us a quote for putting a storm shelter in our backyard. If we were on a slab foundation, they sell really nifty “panic” rooms that are also tornado proof, and you almost don’t even know that they’re in your house, they blend in so well. But with a pier and beam, our only option is to pour a slab outdoors or go underground.

They’re kinda expensive, like buying a used car expensive. And although FEMA is now handing out money grants for folks to get them installed, Dallas is not on the list of counties eligible. But the company that came and gave us our quote does have 100% financing, and the monthly payment equals out to less than our car insurance.

And, when you think about it, a tornado shelter really is a type of insurance– you don’t want to have to use it, but you have peace of mind knowing it’s there, just steps away from your back door. Tornados are like a really crappy lottery– probably not ever going to happen, but if it does and you’re not prepared, you’re going to wish you were.

This is the model we were looking at having installed. It can fit 7-10 people, along with some supplies. It could also double as a root cellar, something I’ve always wanted! The technician today said that he’s been in these things during the hot TX sun, and it only gets to 60 degrees in there.

tornado shelter 2

tornado shelter 3

LS12-inside-view-from-side-of-steps

 

If we really wanted to go overboard, we could make it look like this! 😉

cool storm shelter landscaping

 

We’ll keep you all updated as we make our decision!

Our House: Front Yard Landscaping

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I’ve finally finished some front yard landscaping! When we moved in, the front garden/flower bed was a caked clay pancake covered in weeds. Keeping in mind the gardening service rates to be on the rise, it didn’t take much efforts for me to consider MyLawnCare Adelaide pricing & hire their services to deweed the space. So, enjoy a fantastic read!

Fuller House

We did have a few daffodils spring up pretty early on, which made me want to tackle the space almost immediately. If you remember our CA house, we were never really able to plant flowers (other than lavender) because we had 10-12 deer who marauded our yard daily. The prospect of FINALLY being able to have flowers was pretty exciting, not going to lie!

One of the first steps was to use a stirrup hoe (what I call them, anyways!) and till the soil. I thought Jesse was going to have to be the one to do this due to muscle strength issues on my part, but I waited a day or two after it rained and voila! Everything tilled nice and easy. I should admit I consulted landscapers near me as I was looking for some kind of professional advice.

I bought a few bags of gardening soil, spread it out, stapled down some weed-blocking fabric, spread the mulch/bark (you can see color variation based on the new vs. old mulch, since I ran out and had to go back to the store, but the sun should soon take care of that), then went with the boys to our local nursery to buy some plants that do well in TX heat and need very little water. After I placed them where I wanted, Jesse dug the holes and I planted.

Once everything was in, I went back to Home Depot and got supplies to construct my own drip system. We were lucky to already have a spigot sticking up in the middle of the garden bed, so it only took me a couple hours to get it all completed. At the same time, I bought cedar plank edging for a total of around $15 to finish the whole thing (and keep the mulch from spilling onto the walkway all the time).

IMG_6960

I chose not to spend the money on an automatic timer, but maybe down the road I will. For now, all it takes is me remembering to turn the water on for 5 minutes (sometimes, when I come home I turn it on, bring the kids inside and set down my stuff, then come back out and turn if off), let the sprinklers drip drip drip right at the base of the flowers and everything is happy and watered!

IMG_6965

I’m really happy to get this tackled right away because it’s right near our front door, where everyone walks up when they come to visit. There’s a second bed to the right of our porch that definitely needs attention eventually, but it’s not as noticeable. I’ll get to it later– once the semester is over and my graduate degree is done!

The next step is to take care of the backyard. I decided to find out more about GA Tree Company, as we have some old trees there and we definitely need to get rid of them.