Thursday, July 31, 2014

Facing a Goliath

Here's a little Texas trivia--Montgomery is the birthplace of the Texas flag. I learned that when I drove through there Monday morning...for a second time that day, on my way back from taking Jake to the Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, when his 3:30AM shuttle failed to pick him up.

That's right--I got to make an unplanned and dreaded trip to Houston. About 4:45AM, I woke up my four other sleeping children, carried them to the car with blankets, water and snacks so I could drive, in the dark, to a huge city I've only seen once, briefly as a passenger, and to an airport I've never been to. Anyone who knows me knows I'm severely directionally challenged. I get it from my Grandpa Cooper :) I lose my car in the grocery store parking lot (the car topper has been saving me these past few weeks!) For years, I had to have written step-by-step instructions on how to get to the Portland airport (take this exit, stay in this lane, pass this exit then immediately get in the middle lane, etc.)  about 45 minutes away, and even then it still made me nervous.

This wasn't just an errand I needed to run or someone I needed to visit. This was a HUGE, NEW city! This was a NEW AIRPORT! This was a TIME-SENSITIVE trip. This was SCARY to me!

With every fiber of my being, I did NOT want to make this trip. But I had to. Jake had to make his flight back to Oregon. The ticket was purchased by Wes and Bev McCullough so that Jake could experience his first High Adventure with the young men. It was the sweetest, most thoughtful gesture. One that has certainly helped soften the blow of the move for Jake. But...I've been stressing about getting him to this airport for months. There had to be a way around it. Maybe I could find someone in the ward to drive with me and help me get there. But a) I didn't know people that well yet and b) once I realized it was an early flight, I didn't want to put anyone out at 5AM. It's about an hour and a half to two hour drive each way. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed with relief when we found a shuttle option to take him. Granted, with a 4:30AM shuttle, he'd have to be ready to go at 3:30AM for a home pick up, but whatevs. I'd get up that early for a month as long as I didn't have to drive him!

I think, deep, deep down, I knew the shuttle thing wouldn't pan out. Perhaps Heavenly Father was preparing me. The night before, I had asked Jared if I could text him in case something came up. And boy, did it ever! I had been texting Jared--at 1AM Portland time--to ask his opinion about how long I should wait for the shuttle before bailing and driving Jake to the College Station airport to get him on the shuttle there. Jared said that even if I did take him to the local shuttle pick up, the shuttle might not be there because it was on its way to pick him up at our duplex. Good point. He and I both called the number on Jake's confirmation email and of course there was no answer. So we waited until 4:30. That's when I asked Jared what route I should take to the airport. He had been to the Bush airport once from College Station when he was returning from his interview in March, so he gave me the names of the three main roads/highways to take. I had to do this. It could not be avoided.

It wasn't so much a matter of would Jake make it to the airport, but at what hour?? I prayed and prayed that he would get there on time so that he would not be rushed or stressed or worried as he would be navigating the airport and flying for the first time by himself. I prayed to Heavenly Father that I would not get lost or turned around and asked that we could just make it to the airport without any problems. I also added in humble acknowledgment that IF I must get lost, PLEASE let it be after I drop Jake off.

Jake was navigating in the front seat with the atlas. There were a few times when he said, "Mom, I think we were supposed to turn off at Navasota" or "We passed the sign for 45 back there" or "Mom, the airport is on JFK Blvd, that's the exit for JFK." I was surprised by the fleeting doubts that gave way to unexpected confidence when I responded, "No, we get near Navasota before we turn off the 6" or "If that was the road for highway 45 South, it was poorly marked. I only saw a sign for 45 North so we'll keep going the rest of the way through town and see what's up ahead" or "Dad told me there are no toll roads this way and that exit for JFK leads to a toll road."

I am thrilled to report that after filling up with gas, we left College Station at 5:20AM and arrived at Bush Intercontinental Airport at 7:00AM in the smoothest, most uneventful drive to an airport yet. I turned to Heavenly Father for help and hoped in that trust and together, we did it!

This experience worked out even more beautifully because while this was a dreaded and nerve-wracking experience that I had to face, I find it no coincidence that the lesson I'm teaching in Primary on Sunday is about David and Goliath and seeking Heavenly Father's help in overcoming obstacles.

For some people, having to drive to a big city and to a new destination would be a welcomed adventure--one they'd embrace and no big deal. Clearly that is far from the case with me. I'm so grateful that Heavenly Father knows each of us individually. He knows our fears, He knows our desires, He knows what we need. I am His daughter and He knew that driving Jake to the Houston airport for the first time was no small thing. I needed His help to get through it because other people were depending on me. While I know Heavenly Father is constant and true, I am still amazed and grateful that I was indeed strengthened and more confident than ever.

Interestingly enough, I did get a little turned around leaving the airport. I was so focused on trying to locate 45 North, that I was totally thrown when I had to choose 8 Belt West or East. Under pressure, I went east. Immediately, I knew that was wrong. But, a thought came to my mind that somehow, I would run into 45 again and about 5 minutes later, I did. All was well! We made it back home with no issues or traffic by 9AM. Just about the time Jake was boarding his plane.

I haven't been able to conquer all of the driving Goliaths in my life. I've gotten lost plenty of times and missed many turns that, at least in Portland, were the point of no could not just turn around or backtrack the way you came. You had to have a whole different route to get you back home or to where you needed to be. I've been humiliated and embarrassed by missing appointments and leading others astray who were following behind me.

But, when considering any of the Goliaths in my life--some that I've conquered, some that I haven't--I think the key here is to keep turning to Heavenly Father. It's just plain dumb to try and face trials on our own. Heavenly Father didn't put us on earth to figure it all out ourselves. He wants to help us, but we have to have faith and trust in Him. If we're going to be successful, it will only be with Heavenly Father's help. Even young David knew the importance of this. "David said moreover, The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine" (1 Samuel 17:37).  Unfortunately, there are some Goliaths that aren't meant to be defeated when we ask them to be, even when we do turn faithfully to Heavenly Father. When those scary or dreaded or overwhelming personal obstacles can't be overcome during the timetable of our desires, I know that Heavenly Father will help us cope and endure by giving us added strength and by placing certain people in our lives to walk with us. We are never alone.

Jared called the shuttle service twice on Monday asking for an explanation as to why no one picked up Jake, who had a paid, confirmed reservation that morning. We weren't ever told what happened exactly, but the company took full responsibility, they refunded our money that afternoon and gave us vouchers for future shuttle service. Apparently, Jake wasn't the only one who missed the 4:30AM shuttle. I'm just grateful I was able to take him instead. There are some people, such as college students, who rely fully on the shuttle and don't have the advantage of getting a ride some other way, like Jake could.

The fact that Jake didn't have a shuttle on Monday morning actually paved the way for me to recognize several blessings--all of which came from facing one of my Goliaths.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hit and Run

Since returning to Oregon two weeks ago to finish working, Jared’s been studying for his DOT certification exam that he needs for his occupational medicine job in Texas. It’s been pretty brutal--boringly so. On Saturday, July 19th, his friend Hal Gordon, who is a fishing guru told Jared that his fishing club was going to be at Laurance Lake on the east side of Mt. Hood.  Hal couldn’t make the trip but told Jared he was more than welcome to join them if he wanted to. Jared was grateful for a break, especially if it involved fishing in his float tube! The lake isn't exactly close and it took about 90 minutes to drive there.  Jared was able to spend three hours on the lake. As he headed back to the make-shift parking area by the boat ramp with his gear, he noticed the area had exploded with people. It was packed. He had driven the Civic, but even in that small, zippy car, he was finding it difficult to back out of his spot with all the vehicles crammed willy-nilly in the parking area.  It was about an 80 point turn but he finally made it. And off he went.

Approximately 13 miles from the lake he noticed a Sheriff’s car had moved into the lane behind him. Jared double-checked his speed and he wasn't over so that was good! But then the police car lights came on. Oh boy. Jared couldn’t imagine what he had done, but dutifully pulled over anyway.
As is customary, the Sheriff asked Jared for his driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance. Well….it just so happens that we already switched our insurance coverage from Oregon to Texas since, technically, that’s where we reside now and Jared is just finishing up work. Jared explained this to the officer hoping it wouldn’t complicate matters. The Sheriff said it wasn’t a problem since the coverage was current. But what he said next, floored Jared.
“The reason I pulled you over is because you’ve been reported in a hit and run.”
WHAT??? Those are words you never want to hear from an officer of the law.
Jared was flabbergasted. “Excuse me?”
“There are reports that you hit a vehicle up at the lake and then took off."
Jared explained it was definitely tight but obviously didn't know he'd hit anyone. He wondered if it was a red truck because that was the last vehicle he saw when he was doing his mega back-out job. Jared admitted it might be possible he nudged another car because of how crowded it was and apologized. 
The Sheriff told Jared to jump out and they’d both inspect his car together. They looked all over the back end of the Civic and there was no damage visible. Not one little ding or dent--(better not be…we just had that fender replaced after Jared was rear-ended two months ago). Jared was very cooperative and told the officer, “Hey, if they’re reporting damage, let’s go back. I feel badly about this." The Sheriff said he wanted some more details before turning around. So he went back to his cruiser and made a call. Dispatch indicated that the reports coming in were saying there was indeed damage to the other vehicle. And then there was something about Jared not paying his day-use fee either. 
You’ve got to be kidding! Poor Jared. He told me that when he first arrived at the lake, he wasn’t quite sure where to go and had spoken WITH the camp host personally to get directions and the man never asked for a fee or indicated where to pay one.
So they drove all the way back to the lake. They located the vehicle Jared hit and then ran from. It was indeed the huge, red pick-up truck Jared wondered about with a big hitch on the back end of it. If Jared had hit the rear of the truck, backing up, he would have rammed that hitch right into the trunk of our car since the truck sits so much higher than the Civic.
The owner of the truck actually seemed surprised that they were there.  He said there was nothing wrong and an inspection from all three parties confirmed that. No damage. Apparently someone else camping there had seen Jared back up, “hit” the truck and then drive off (less than 5 miles per hour, mind you) out of the area and took his license plate number down.  Once the Sheriff determined there was no issue with the alleged “hit and run,” he said his job was done and left.
But Jared still had the “unpaid bill” he had to deal with.
He went back to the camp host and showed his annual wilderness fishing pass. It wasn’t displayed when he arrived, so he thought that was the problem. Well, that pass doesn’t cover this particular camp fee. So Jared asked how much he owed. The host said, “Five dollars.” Jared apologized and said he didn’t have any cash on him. The host replied, “No problem, we take checks, too.” Unfortunately, that was a problem, because his checkbook is in Texas with his wife. (I’m sure the camp host was thinking Jared was trying to evade paying his day use fee—it was reminiscent of some excuses I got when I was trying to collect money from patients at our office.) But Jared really was telling the truth.
Jared said, “Okay, I really want to pay this, but I don’t have any money on me. I think there was an ATM at a store down the road. I can go there and get some cash and come back.”
The camp host smiled. He said, “Don’t worry about it. You came all the way back with the Sheriff to clear up the situation with the other car. I give one freebie a day and you got it.”
Phew! That was one very happy, ticket-and-claim free ending!

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Hunt for a House

After Jared wrapped up his third and final interview with the administrators from the Madisonville, TX clinic the last week in March, we were 98% confident that he'd be offered a job. In fact, Lauren, the recruiter from St. Joes, said that he would get his official offer the following week as the vice president of approving such things was out of town. Of course.

With the job more or less checked off our MEGA TO DO list, we moved to the next big task. Finding a house. I'm really grateful that Jared, while he interviewed, was provided a realtor and was able to scope the area, looking in homes that, online, we felt would be a good fit for us, but in person were far from what we needed or wanted. Before he came home, he had already said the place he felt would be the best for us was in a subdivision south of College Station--Meadow Creek. They are building the last phase of the subdivision and while the largest house offered at 2600 feet wasn't as big as I was hoping for, we couldn't beat the price at $217,000! [To give perspective...our first home was a 1700 square foot, 3 bedroom, 2 1/2 bath ranch-style home that was built in the 1970s. It's been updated a little by previous owners and some by us, but we bought it for waay more than $217,000 over six years ago--enough to still make my head spin--and listed it at $265,000. It's pretty sad that we couldn't even afford to buy our own house]. As we looked online, were lucky to find anything listed for over 2300 square feet for less than $250,000. Unfortunately for us on the Oregon end of things, College Station is in the middle of a booming growth period and it is very much a seller's market. So this building opportunity seemed to be the best option for us size-wise and financially. Since we hoped to live in Meadow Creek, we had resigned ourselves to that fact that we wouldn't be able to have property like we were hoping for, let alone a yard. But "beggars can't be choosers." There IS, however, a subdivision pool which makes up for no yard. Jared also really liked this neighborhood because it's south of town, kind of out in the country away from things, so even though you're in a subdivision, you still get the country feel. Despite the fact the house will be more than we wanted to pay for a home in the south, it's still bigger than we've been in, it'll be brand spankin' new and it's still a cheaper housing market compared to Portland. I looked online and found a couple homes in the Beaverton area with the same square footage and number of bedrooms/baths as the one in Meadow Creek. Those cost, no joke--$350,000 to $385,000. So yeah, we're still coming out way ahead of the game there. The only negative (aside from the no yard) is that they haven't even started building this house so it won't be done until August or September. And we'd need to be in TX before then to get us settled and acclimated and because school starts the end of August. I told Jared, it'd definitely be a pain to live somewhere for a couple months, only to move again, but in the grand scheme of things would just be a minor inconvenience and sacrifice. One I was totally willing to make. We'd just live off the bare essentials and put the rest in storage.

Jared had actually tried to get something rolling with Stylecraft Builders when he was down there visiting. He was given some literature about the builder, including a piece of paper with the layout of the floor plan we were interested in and was told that we had to be in contract first before we could proceed. We had noticed too, that the base price of the house that used to be $217,000 went up to $219,000. Noooo!! Grrrrr.

The idea of a brand new home was really exciting to part of me. It also stirred up a little anxiety in the other part. We don't know much about the builder...would this be a cookie-cutter "Lego Land" house that's thrown together in a shoddy manner? Because of the seller's market in that area, anything else around 2600 feet would be out of our price range and we have to have at least 4 bedrooms. So with that said, I was willing to take my chances on a new build. I had studied that floor plan religiously to make sure it was what we needed, that I'd have a place for our furniture, etc. I loved that the cost of house included under counter lights and recessed lighting in the living room and kitchen. The only thing we felt it lacked was no door to close off the game room upstairs. Something needs to block the noise coming from that room. When Jared was there in March, he had asked the sales guy about that and he said adding a door would be super easy. Probably wouldn't cost much either. Considering this wasn't a custom home, it was cool that they were willing to do it for us.

Once Jared was home from his interviews, I asked him again what "being in contract" meant and he wasn't entirely sure. Did they mean we had to have a contract for the sale of our home? A job contract? Either way, we had neither, so we just had to wait. The weekend that Jared got his "everyone-in-Madisonville-loved-you-and-feels-you'd-be-a-good-fit-so-we-want-to-offer-you-a-job-but-have-to-wait-some-more-for-the-right-signature" thumbs-up, he told me, "Let's just fill out the preapproval application anyway and fax it over to the Stylecraft lender and see what happens." So we did, using our current financial information, which was more than it would be once we moved, but was all we had to go on.

On Monday, March 31st, the same day Jared got the official job offer and he officially accepted, I got a call from, Jane Gregg, the lender in TX asking me about our projected income in College Station. I took a deep breath, braced myself and told her. She asked if I'd be working, I said no. She thanked me for the information and said she'd be in touch. I hoped the fact that we'd be making lots less annually wouldn't keep us from building the house. The other perk to the new build scenario...they were offering 100% financing and only wanted $500 down. We can handle that. We'd have much, much more after selling our house, but that was nice to know in case we couldn't make the 20% down goal we were shooting for.

The next day, Tuesday, April 1st, I got an email from Jane telling us "Congrats! You've been preapproved to build one of our homes." Whoa, really? She mentioned two different loan options and I wasn't sure what those meant so I called her. She said regardless of how much down we put on the house, we were fine. We had a LOT of wiggle room. That was very encouraging since she ran the numbers using our new and smaller income. I asked her what our next step was, could we get the ball rolling now that we had been preapproved? I explained that Jared had officially accepted a job offer and we needed to start this process as soon as we could. She happily transferred me to Kelli Prichard in sales who asked me what we were hoping to do.

When Kelli found out we wanted the 2697 floor plan she said "Oooo, the big one." (Isn't everything bigger in Texas? :) She said that they had a certain amount of lots that could accommodate that large floor plan and her inventory indicated there were only three plats left. My heart sank. Only three???

Kelli emailed me a document that was a map of the final phase and highlighted the three lots that were available. There was one on a main road. Didn't want that one. There was another on a smaller road right across from a cul-de-sac. Eh...doable. But the one we wanted was the second house on a cul-de-sac at the back of the neighborhood. With our was a no brainer!

I spoke with Saundra McCulloch (pronounced just like McCullough), the realtor Jared had worked with, and she said she could certainly be our eyes and help us long distance but suggested I would feel much better about all of this if we just came down.

We had decided that the weekend of April 11th would be the best time for me and Jared to go to Texas and try and get this new build underway. That first weekend was General Conference, the weekend after the 11th was Jake's Eagle Court of Honor and we didn't want to wait too long if there were only 3 plats left. I started looking at airfare and almost vomited in my mouth. $1100 EACH ticket. Please, little frugal heart. Please try to survive the sticker shock associated with a very large move.

It only took a matter of minutes before I felt the impression that we just needed to go THAT weekend. Holy schnikey. What was I thinking? That was just 3 days away. Could we pull it off? I couldn't even imagine what THOSE tickets would cost. And a babysitter? Where would I find a sitter with so little time, someone who would accept the job knowing we just put our house on the market and had an open house the Saturday we'd be gone? Not to mention watching 4 sessions of conference with our kids? Oh my. [I felt like the world's biggest hypocrite for leaving over General Conference weekend. I've testified over and over to the youth of our ward and their parents and our own children of the power that comes from clearing your schedule and making Conference a priority and the revelation you receive when you watch it live. I ALMOST decided against leaving that weekend. I was really bothered by my decision to go away. Fortunately, my practical parents talked me off a cliff and said that taking care of my family and making sure we have a place to live is a pretty big priority too and that they were confident the Lord would understand. I'm sure He did. But let the record show, I haven't been as spiritually lifted these past several months as I could have been. It just hasn't been the same].

I asked Kelli what we could do to hold the lot since we were coming in a few days. She said it would cost $500, but would only hold the lot for 24 hours. What? Seriously? That does us no good. So we just had to trust and hope the lot would still be there when we arrived on Saturday. Once Saundra heard we were coming down a few days later, she contacted Stylecraft and said if anyone showed interest in the lot we wanted, to please contact her first. Oh and during all of this, the house went up another $2,000. It's like they knew we were coming...We broke the was now $221,000. *sigh*

Clearly we were supposed to leave that weekend, because Jared said the tickets were MUCH cheaper...only $525 EACH person and I secured a babysitter, super willing to do everything I needed and wanted, after only two phone calls. It was a lot of work, but things came together. If being 20 minutes late picking up Karcyn from dance while she waited in the cold rain was the worst thing that came from all of that, I can't complain and sweet Karcyn didn't either :)

We left super early on Friday morning, April 4th. I hadn't had a chance to get the $500 from the bank before we left so we swung by on our way to the airport to get it. We couldn't believe how PACKED the long term parking lots were. Fortunately we were able to find a spot in the "O" lot, but just barely. We had an easy and painless trip through security and flight to Albuquerque, NM. Even though this would be a quick trip, we were alone...together! We found a place to eat a very expensive sandwich and then noticed an observation deck on the 2nd floor where you could sit and watch the planes or sit on some comfy couches with wifi. We opted for chairs by the window where the sun was streaming in. It felt sooo good to just sit in the warm rays and watch the planes land and take off. Jake would have been super jealous.

We got to Houston Hobby airport (south of the George Bush International airport) without any issues or delays either. We just had carry-on bags so it was easy peasy. Jared had already reserved a car so we headed to the shuttle that would drop us off at the rental place. With two flights between Houston and Portland, it was already 5pm Houston time. It was a day of travel only. Funny how you can feel so tired when you've done nothing but sit and eat.

The car rental place took Almost an hour to get our car. I'm so grateful we didn't have children to worry about. If I were going to run that place, I would have a line for people who were making same day reservations or had claims to submit and a separate line for those who already reserved a car online--like us. Took us less than 2 minutes once it was our turn. Thankfully.

Jared did great getting us out on the freeway. I love that they have 5 or 6 lanes each direction. Even though we were driving right through Houston (which is a massive city and continuing to grow) during rush hour no less, we never stopped moving. That was awesome! Something we're not accustomed to at all in Portland. Almost getting taken out by a huge pick-up truck that was no where near us when Jared asked if he could switch to the next lane and I said yes after looking to verify the clear lane and fortunately Jared waiting a second before the truck blew by us at 80 mph--was not awesome. They are crazy fast.

When Jared was making the hotel reservation before we left Oregon, he said there was nothing available in College Station. Nothing cheap. Nothing expensive. So we checked the surrounding towns about 20-30 minutes out. Nothing. Seriously? What was going on? Was Texas A & M hosting some big sporting event? We finally got reservations in Montgomery...which was a town we were considering living in if Jared worked south of College Station in Navasota. It was an hour from College Station, on the Houston side. So at least we'd be closer to the airport before we left.

We checked in around 7pm, had dinner at a Chinese restaurant and called the babysitter to see if she survived the first day. Before crashing for the night, I realized there was NO complimentary conditioner. I had purposely not brought my hair products (didn't have time to transfer some from my mongo-bottles into travel containers) assuming there'd be some complimentary bottles at the hotel. My hair is gross if it's not washed but not having conditioner makes it unmanageable too. Especially after traveling all day. I didn't want to go back out either just to buy hair stuff I wouldn't be able to take home on the plane. I called the front desk and inquired about some conditioner. She said they were all out and had them on back order, but would check to see if she had any in the store room somewhere. I waited a little bit and when I didn't hear from her, I ran down to the lobby, in my jammies, to ask in person. She apologized, she had gotten distracted. She looked while I was there but couldn't find any. Ugh. At the last second, she checked one of the front desk drawers and voila! There was one bottle. Just for Jenn Hough :) I felt so blessed!

Saturday morning we were up super early. We were an hour away from College Station and had plans to meet Saundra at 8:30 at the subdivision where the lot was. Because we felt badly that we were taking off during General Conference, we packed our church clothes for Saturday and wore them so we could swing by the chapel and catch a session or part of one when we were done meeting with Saundra. In this time zone, conference is way later...11-1, 3-5...and Priesthood is 7-9!

Fortunately for us, we were able to take advantage of the continental breakfast at the hotel before we had to take off. Be still my beating heart....Texas-shaped waffles!! So cute and yummy.

We left the hotel at 7:30am and got to the Meadow Creek subdivision around 8:25. It is definitely out in the country. In fact, you wouldn't know there's a subdivision over there, if you didn't know where to go. Hopefully that means it's nice and quiet.

As we pulled up to the cul-de-sac, there, on the second lot in was a "SOLD" sign.

I just looked at it. Jared mumbled something. I didn't know what to say. I was actually texting Saundra letting her know we were there. I wrote, "Just got here and are looking at the sold sign sitting on the lot we wanted." She pulled up about 30 seconds later and in her southern accent, yelled out her Tahoe window, "Thay better be savin that for ya'll! I told them to contact me!"

I got out of the car (Brrr! It was windy and cold that morning--I was shivering in my light jacket) and introduced myself to Saundra. I told her not to worry about the lot--somehow it would all work out. I didn't want her thinking we were "those" kind of people who throw a fit and swear at the world when things don't go their way. Saundra said she'd be happy to drive us around in her car, but warned us that it wouldn't start the day before and today it had been "smoking." We told her we'd take our chances :)

We couldn't meet with Stylecraft until 10am so we drove around and looked at some other homes Saundra thought might work for us. We saw four. They were nice, two-story, all or mostly-all brick homes. Built in the 80s. They would all need some updating though from appliances to carpeting to paint. And I wasn't really impressed with the layout of any of them. I still had the layout of the new build occupying my mind and it seemed to make more sense than any of the other homes. The biggest issue with three of them (one was a foreclosure and more work than I would ever want to put into a house) was that when you were upstairs in the family room area, there was half a wall. When you walked to it, you would be overlooking the main floor down below with nothing between you and the floor! The first thing I envisioned was Calvin scaling down the wall or throwing things, maybe even himself, over the side. The second thing I envisioned was JJ doing the same thing. No. Those homes were not safe and didn't enchant me enough to want to consider putting in an offer and walling off those "open" areas. I appreciate that Saundra took me around to some other neighborhoods/homes so that we could make sure we really were doing what we wanted and wasn't missing anything spectacular out there. The other thing about these homes...with the exception of the foreclosure, they were well over $250,000. Too pricey. They would have needed to be a dream home for us to want to buy at that price. We were financially qualified, but aren't personally invested or interested in wanting to spend that much. The more I thought about it, the more I really, really wanted to build. Yeah, finding a temporary place to live for a few months would be a pain, but all the pros outweighed that inconvenience. We wouldn't have the headache of looking for a house (which we kind of already did and I wasn't super impressed), no offer negotiations, no inspection and negotiations, let alone the timing of it all. With Jared not getting annual bonuses anymore, which we often used on home improvements, we would have a brand new house with no upgrades/improvements needed. Plus we would be using the builder's preferred lender which meant they'd pay ALL the closing costs and fees.

Finally, Saundra had me walk through a comparable sized home built by Stylecraft with just a couple different things. First, it was a galley kitchen. Didn't like that. Also, while the media room was nice, the family room was up off the stairs with that half wall again. And, there was no study and I really liked that option in the plan we wanted. Additionally, this house was 4 bed, but only 2 bath. We were looking at 4 bed, 3 1/2 bath. Gotta have that 3rd full bath. As I walked through the house, I noticed that for a "pre-fab" it was a very solidly built home. It didn't feel cheap or shoddy like some I looked at when we were first buying homes in Oregon which was a relief to see and feel. That house also came with upgrades we wouldn't have (stainless steel appliances, tile, stone, etc.) but the bones of it were good to my very unprofessional eye. It was a smidge smaller than what we wanted to build and its price tag was a whoppin' $274,000! I realize location has a lot to do with it. It was in a nicer, established neighborhood, no doubt. But seriously, I was NOT about to pay $50,000 more just for location. We'll gladly slum it with the first time homebuyers! I'm totally down with that.

We jumped into the car to head over to Stylecraft. As Saundra started the vehicle, it started spewing black smoke. But it was running. Saundra was growing concerned. Jared asked about her engine oil level. She wasn't sure so he told her to run to a gas station and he'd check it for her.

We pulled into a Chevron and she went inside to purchase a couple of quarts of oil, while Jared checked under the hood.

Yup, out of oil.

Jared saved Saundra's day. And in his church clothes, no less. I wasn't concerned, but it wasn't my car either. I'd be worried too if my baby burb was blowing out black smoke, too. Saundra started up her Tahoe again and voila! No more smoke :) 

We headed over to the Stylecraft office to speak with Kelli a little after 10am. We introduced ourselves as the peeps from Oregon. We said we wanted to start the building process but the lot that we liked had a sold sign sitting in front of it. Kelli looked confused and said "Carriker Court?" She said she was pretty sure it hadn't sold and looked it up in her computer. Kelli said, "It's still available." Yay!! I knew it would work out. Saundra said that maybe someone put the sold sign there in good faith knowing we were coming in a few days. Possibly. We were just relieved. We would have taken the lot that was across the street from the cul-de-sac on the smaller road, but were grateful we got the cul-de-sac.

We told Kelli we needed to know where to begin. Kelli told us a little about Stylecraft first. The owner is a local from the area. We liked that fact. A small, in-state operation but he has a reputation to protect too. Kelli explained that in the 30 years he's been building homes, he's never been sued once. Not that things haven't come up, but they've always been able to work things out. That fact was actually pretty darn impressive to us. In this litigious society, you can do everything right and still get sued. So that was cool. Kelli then informed us that if we started the building process that day, the home wouldn't be done until October 5th, at the latest (6 months). She said it might be done sooner, but no later than 6 months from the current date. Hmmm, that's later than we were thinking, but there was no way around it. We said we still wanted to move forward.

Kelli said that we'd do some paperwork with her and then there'd be two follow-up meetings scheduled within the next week or two: the design meeting where we pick out granite, cabinets, flooring, paint, etc. and then the pre-construction meeting. I looked at Saundra who was across from me and then Jared and Jared said, "Yeah, we're here just for a few hours. We flew down from Oregon for the weekend. We leave tomorrow. Today is all we've got." I guess the fact that we said we were from Oregon hadn't full registered with her. Kelli was a little taken back and wasn't sure how to proceed. She said they've never dealt with buyers who weren't already in Texas. Saundra leaned in, smiled knowingly and said in her awesome southern accent, "Surely in this day of the cell phone, email, Facetime and Skype, we can make this work, right?" You rock, Saundra. Thanks for being our advocate!

Kelli hesitated a little, but said they could probably figure something out. So we moved on. (I guess we'll just be the Portland Trailblazers for this builder :) She said for the 2 story plan, it would be $1,000 down. Saundra piped up again. "We were told it was $500." Kelli apologized and said when she and I spoke earlier in the week, we were the first 2 story she'd worked with. But another one sold before we got there and after she collected $500 from them, the finance guys told her it's actually $1,000 for the bigger homes...$500 per floor. Ahhh, makes sense. I told her that was fine, we have the money but I only had $500 in cash (which of course, they wouldn't accept). We finally decided I would just post date a check for a week later and that would give me time to go home and deposit that money in our account. We were over hurdle #3. I swear it was after 11am by this point.

I whipped out my notes and Kelli provided me with a copy of the 2697 floor plan that I happened to leave at the hotel. At first glance, I knew there was something amiss. "Um, I notice there are no under cabinet lights or recessed lighting." Kelli said that there wasn't with this layout. I was confused. I studied that floor plan left, right, top and much as I could for a simple outline on a piece of paper. I knew for a fact that these things were on the plan Jared was given. She said not on this plan. I kind of pressed, as nicely as possible, that there were. The floor plan was almost exactly the same otherwise. That's when her light bulb went on. The sales rep Jared spoke with when he came down to interview gave him the 2697 plan. The "upgraded" plan. We would be building the F2697 and Kelli pointed to the F at the top of the paper she had given me. We decided that "F" stands for frugal because it doesn't have the under cabinet lighting or recessed lighting. Kelli explained the other things the plan doesn't have such as:

-a fireplace (which was actually GREAT with me...gave me more room in the living room for our furniture and I'm sorry, I hardly used my fireplace in Oregon, why would I use it here in Texas?)
-tile floors (kind of a bummer--they're probably nice and cool in the south)
-just one granite color throughout the house (I'm just grateful to get granite!)
-stone on the exterior...just brick (who cares?)
-molding in the closets (I'm not that prideful).

So really, it wasn't THAT big of a difference. I was bummed about the under cabinet lighting in the kitchen, but that was a super small thing. The recessed lighting though, was huge. After 6 years in our cave of a home in Oregon (did people just not believe in lighting in the 70s? Oh wait, was that the era of the big lamps?) we finally put recessed lighting in and I wish we hadn't waited so long. It was like a WHOLE new house. Seriously. It was as if we were seeing the light. Literally. I'm kind of kicking myself. But that was a mistake we wouldn't make twice.

So we asked about upgrades. Kelli explained that we could spend up to 2% of the purchase price ($4,400) in upgrades rolled into our mortgage. But beyond that, for appraisal purposes, we would have to pay for any other upgrades out of pocket.

I said we have to have recessed lighting in the kitchen and living room--$700.

We were getting ready to upgrade our kitchen in Oregon before the move came up and one of the things on my wish list was an under mount sink--$655. Seriously??? I might not have gotten one in Oregon at that price. It's a sink for crying out loud.

Because we were using their preferred lender, we would get some kind of deal on blinds and I was all over that. Seems silly, but right after we bought our home in the middle of the winter, when it was dark really early, I realized we didn't have any window treatments and I didn't like that one bit when we had to turn the lights on. So, for 13 windows--$585.

The only thing that gave me any apprehension about this whole new-build process, up to this point, do I know what to ask? I didn't want to assume anything so I wrote down every single question I could think of before coming, some of which Kelli couldn't answer because she was just sales, but how would we know what is or isn't standard on these homes so we could be sure to bring it up?

Our original garage door died on our Oregon home a couple years after we bought the house. We replaced it and with the new door we got a keypad on the outside which proved to be worth its weight in gold. It was a lifesaver for me when I got stuck running errands and the kids beat me home from school, for example. They could just punch in the code and go inside until I could get there. By golly, I was going to make sure we had another keypad.

I told Kelli, "I'd like a keypad for the garage door" and waited for her price. She asked "So you want a garage door opener?" I'm thinking, uh, yeah, I'd also like to have a garage door opener to go with the automatic garage door so I can open it from the car. But why would she ask me that. I looked at her with a confused expression and said, "I'm sorry, I don't understand." She repeated, "You want a garage door opener?" "Yes, I want the garage door to open. Don't they all open?" Jared and Saundra finally caught on and translated....yes, we want an automatic garage door. When I realized she was trying to clarify that, I exclaimed, "What? They don't all have automatic garage doors?? How else do you open them?" Kelli said matter-of-factly, "You lift them." I was horrified! Ohhhhhh nooooooo!!! No way. Not with my 5 kids and bags o' groceries. YES!!! We absolutely NEED an automatic garage door, and the openers, and the keypad to go with it. So the garage door was $425 and the keypad was only $40 more. Why on earth would a builder not just put an automatic door in? This is a perfect example of something I would never have known to ask about. If I hadn't requested a keypad, I would have been more than a little miffed that I didn't know those weren't standard. Of all the homes I've lived in during my childhood and adult life all over the country, I've NEVER had a garage door that wasn't automatic. Man. That made my heart pound at the thought of "what if?" Breathe, Jenn. Disaster averted and cheaper than a sink.

That's when I said, "Okay, I need to know what does and doesn't come with the house because I would never have guessed about the garage door." Well, there is no microwave either. Okay, we need one of those. A hood microwave--$345 and won't be nearly as cool as the one in Oregon we got last summer. *sigh*

There are no ceiling fans in the bedrooms. Yup...need those too! $720.

The only "custom" thing we were doing to the house was adding a door to the game room entryway. (Again, why wouldn't that just be there already?) No problem...price: $100.

We were basically at our limit. The house comes with a 6 foot privacy fence and gate and grass in the front yard. We wanted a covered porch, but not for $3,000. We did need sod in the backyard though. Jared wouldn't have time to put that in himself. So that was an additional $900 out of pocket. But...if the house appraises, we get that money back. So here's hoping!

Then we got on the topic of fixtures and such. Jared asked if there was anything we could look at and she said we could go on over to the design center across the parking lot so I could do my design picks. I am horrible at this kind of thing. I can't even coordinate my clothes (and if I do, it's because I got lucky) let alone know what kind of colors will look good in a house.

Fortunately, I only had a few choices of each thing. First, the granite. I had about a 3 inch square slab to look at for the different options. I didn't want all dark. Didn't want the super light one. The two options left were a yellow/brown or a black/pinkish granite. It was soooo hard to know what that tiny little square would look like magnified by 300 all over my house. I looked around. To the left of us was a small kitchen set up with dark cabinets and the black/pink granite. I pointed to it and said, "I like how that looks." Completely opposite of what I would have done in Oregon. But Oregon is gloomier outside than it is in Texas. I jotted down the names of the cabinet and granite and we moved on to the vinyl plank for the first floor. I liked the dark one. That was in the Stylecraft house we toured. Kelli offered that while nice, all you see is dirt. All the time. She didn't recommend it. I appreciated her tip. So she took one and Saundra took another and held them below the cabinet of the sample kitchen I was getting to help give me an idea of what they might look like and I decided I liked the one that looked similar in color to our flooring in Oregon. Not too light, not too dark. Done.

Next, carpeting. Something that won't show dirt or stains! I got a
multi-colored beige with dark flecks of something or other. I was hoping for some extra padding with the carpet but maybe their standard padding is a step above our 40 year old padding in Oregon anyway. I asked Kelli about it. She said it definitely didn't feel like there was concrete underneath which is kind of what our carpet felt like in Oregon. I'm sure it'll be great.

I don't really remember picking out the vinyl for the bathrooms and laundry room, but I did.

Next, interior wall paint and trim colors. What?? I think Kelli picked up on my spinning head because she said, "This khaki color for the walls and cream for the trim look REALLY nice together. I think you'll like it." Sold.

And I breathed a sigh of relief. Until Kelli said, "Okay, now the exterior." You've got to be kidding me! I've been doing smurf blue for the last 6 1/2 years. I haven't put any thought into this at all! Especially not under the gun.

We tried a few options, but nothing was jumping out at me. We had to choose an exterior color, a trim color, a door color and a brick to go on the exterior. The brick was what was throwing me off. Again, it's really hard to know what something's going to look like on a house versus in a small show room with mood lighting. And bricks vary anyway within the same type.

We actually settled on a color scheme that was already set up on a display behind us. Portabella for the exterior (top right square), macadamia (bottom right square) for the trim, a dark brown (bottom left) for the front door and prairie land for the brick. Sure, sounds good.

Then we went back to the sales office to draw up all the paperwork and read the disclaimers and leave our signatures on a handful of papers. And then Kelli's printer wouldn't work. By this time, it was well after 2pm. We were starving and we felt horrible for Saundra. I can't believe we were there for 4 hours. She had another client that afternoon and wouldn't be able to get lunch before seeing them. Fortunately we wrapped it up pretty quickly after that. Kelli said that we'd be contacted within the week to set up the pre-construction meeting. That's where they'd go over all the nitty gritty details.  We felt bad we didn't have our rental car at this point because Saundra would have to drive us back to the neighborhood. It wasn't too far, but far enough. We thanked Saundra for going above and beyond and parted ways.

We needed to eat. It was almost 3pm by this point. We swung by the chapel just to see it and maybe stop by, but there was no one there. It was seriously weird. It's the stake center. Only 2 cars were there. I know more and more people are using the internet and cable and such to view General Conference, but I didn't think THAT many were. The chapel isn't too far from our neighborhood which is nice. But not close enough that we can walk. It's off Deacon Avenue :)

We had two separate recommendations from friends saying we needed to eat at a place called Rudy's when we came. Our friends swore they have the best BBQ. I love the family style setting. Reminds me of a big church pot-luck.

Actually locals tell us that this is a happening place on Sundays. People go to church and then go to Rudy's for lunch. We, personally, don't go out to eat or shop or play on Sundays--you know, that whole "Keep the Sabbath Day Holy" thing. But I'm really impressed that people here at least go to church first!

The food was pretty yummy. I wasn't all that hungry though. My mind was still spinning from the design portion of our day. I kept wondering if I had "chosen wisely."

After we ate lunch, we wanted to drive up to Madisonville to see the clinic where Jared would be working. It's 40 miles north from College Station. 20 miles farther than we expected each way. But the drive wasn't all that bad. 75 mph roads help with that. It was a Saturday and very few cars were on the road. But Saundra said that Jared would be going the opposite way of traffic both times during the day so it shouldn't bog down at all for him.

It's a cute little building--he'll be on the right side of it :)

The clinic is called Health Point and is supported by St. Joseph.

When we first realized that in order to get a loan repayment job, Jared would have to drive 80 miles a day, we were disappointed to be sure. No one wants to spend any more time in their car than absolutely necessary. I calculated that it would be an hour drive there and an hour home each day. We timed it from the clinic parking lot back to our future cul-de-sac. 50 minutes. Not bad. Jared can listen to the scriptures or conference talks on his way up in the morning. Then, if he calls us when he leaves the office each evening and talks to each kid for 10 minutes, he'll be home! Then our kids won't feel like they need to bombard Jared when he comes through the door even though we'll still be glad when daddy comes home! Furthermore, Jared works 7am to 6pm in Oregon. He has to leave around 6:30am and doesn't get home until 6:30pm. If he works 8-5 in Madisonville he'd be leaving around 7am and coming home before 6pm. Better than what he's working now. So it'll be just fine! We wouldn't wish a commute any one, but he won't be working there forever, which is why our home needed to be closer to College Station.

When we got back to the neighborhood that evening, and drove past some of the Stylecraft homes, I saw a house that looked like it had the portabella color for the exterior. I gasped! It looked orange. There are some shades of orange that I like, but not on my house. That would need to be changed. But to what? We were leaving in the morning. Ugh.

I finally decided to do a swap...the dark brown color for the exterior and the portabella for the door. There. No complications like having to make choices about new bricks and colors for trim and door from an emailed picture. Hopefully. I'd email the design lady when we got home.

We made the hour drive back to Montgomery and packed up to leave. We ordered pizza in and crashed again. Our flights home were delightfully uneventful and we arrived home around 3pm in the afternoon to relieve our babysitter. She survived! The house was in great shape! Thanks to the McCulloughs they all had a place to hang out on Saturday during both conference sessions while the open house was going on. And the big kids watched every session, even took notes and Jake made it to the Priesthood session with friends. Jared and I were sad to miss it all but hoped we'd be forgiven under the circumstances. We had a house in Texas. It was still only a concept on paper but we were excited! That night, Jared called to talk to the Bishop of the College Station 3rd Ward to let him know of our move and to get some area details. I contacted the Primary president to let her know of our incoming crew so she could prepare herself and the kids' future teachers :) Ready or come the Houghs!!