In all this moving business, it’s the little things that throw the kids for a loop. Last night, we put Maia to bed in our room so we could work on packing her room. This morning, upon seeing his sister’s newly sparse habitat, it became clear just which details are most important to Noah. He was not discombobulated by the newly barren furnishings or by the utter chaos of boxes everywhere. My little go with the flow man only cared about one thing.

His most pressing concern?

“Someone took the gumball machine!”

The move is on

We’re in a purging and packing frenzy for the next week. Then an unpacking and getting settled frenzy for at least a week after that. I am therefore officially declaring a moving hiatus for this blog. I will be back when the boxes are unpacked and the computer is set up at the new place. Until then, feel free to keep yourself occupied digging into the archives here, and wish us luck in the big move!

This morning, I did something not very nice. But I had a change of heart, corrected my mistake, and am glad to say that this story has a happy ending.

Imagine, if you will, a full flight aboard a commercial aircraft, where you are contentedly settled in your choice aisle seat hoping, as the remaining passengers board, that the middle seat next to you will remain unoccupied. Further imagine that near the end of the boarding process, said middle seat companion not only arrives, but asks if you would be willing to trade seats with her husband, so they can sit together. The only catch is, you would be trading your cushy aisle seat for a cramped middle seat.

Readers, I was in just this situation this morning. Shamefully, I said no. I wanted my carefully selected aisle seat, which offered a bit more room to stretch out. So the passenger turned to the person on her other side with the same request, who responded pretty much as I had. And in that exchange I heard exactly what I must have sounded like with my lame excuses.

My conscience took over and I thought to myself, “Self, what is wrong with you? You’re no better than that self-absorbed jerk who thinks he is more entitled to the aisle seat just because he travels frequently. It’s a short flight. You’re skinnier than you used to be, so sandwiching between two strangers will be less tortuous than it might have been in the past. And for goodness sake, where is your Christian heart? This woman wants to sit next to her husband. You would want the same in her shoes. When did you get so selfish?”

So I mustered the courage to eat some humble pie and offered to give up my seat after all.

Want proof that God forgives mistakes and repays kindness? On the very next leg of my flight, I got upgraded to first class—for the first time since earning elite status last year. I’m convinced that was no coincidence, and I learned an important lesson. With kindness, everyone wins.

My sister claims we sold our house by accident. Maybe so, but technically, I maintain that we sold it at the bus stop. It certainly makes a better story.

Here is the full synopsis of dramatic events that have transpired in recent weeks. Only God could bring events together in such a timely manner. I really believe that He has put all the right conditions in place and is shoving our complacent behinds right out the door.

  • In late 2006, we decide that 2007 is the year to sell our house.
  • Within a month, Kent and I BOTH get promotions at exactly the same time, which confirms that financially, this is a good time to think about taking on a larger mortgage.
  • We know our home needs repairs and other work before we can sell it, so we call a couple of contractors for estimates.
  • Less than a week later, one of the contractors, looking for an investment opportunity, offers to buy our house “as is.” Our house was not even on the market yet. It’s a low offer, but we get excited about the possibility of a quick and easy sale with no hassles or headaches, combined with no out-of-pocket repair costs and no realtor commissions, and decide that’s worth something to us.
  • We do a tremendous amount of research to determine how low we’re willing to go on the sale price, and in the meantime we start house hunting as we negotiate with the buyer. We find a house that we fall in love with, in a nearby neighborhood which will not require Maia to change schools.
  • Throughout the process, we ask everyone we know for advice, including anyone who will listen at Maia’s school bus stop.
  • Apparently, I blab to all the right people. Just as we are about to come to a verbal agreement with the original buyer, one of the bus stop parents—who also happens to be a realtor—tells me that he might have a buyer interested in acquiring our home as a rental investment.
  • Our negotiations with buyer #1 go on hold while the neighbor/realtor inspects our property on behalf of his clients, who are not local.
  • Within 24 hours, an offer from buyer #2 comes in that beats buyer #1, with the added bonus that it is a cash offer with a significant deposit. They too agree to take it as is and make the needed repairs themselves.
  • It turns out that the new buyers happen to be the in-laws of the realtor/neighbor, who agrees to waive all commission in order to secure the best possible deal on their behalf and maintain family harmony.
  • We accept the deal. Who knew you could transact such big business at the bus stop? I sure didn’t!
  • Now, with contract in hand, we are ready to proceed with buying our new home. But there is a roadblock in that someone beats us to it and puts a contract on the house before we can present our offer. Shady ethics are involved on the part of the listing agent, who blocked our initial attempt to put in a timely offer in order to push through a deal for his own buyer clients, resulting in a larger commission for himself.
  • Our only saving grace is that the first contract is full of contingencies, with a “kick out” clause that the sellers can exercise if they get another acceptable offer. We spend several days negotiating said acceptable offer, after which time the other buyers have 48 hours to come up with additional cash and remove their contingencies or cancel the contract. We spend two nail-biting days knowing that the fate of “our” house is in the hands of our competition.
  • In a bittersweet victory, the other buyers cannot fulfill on the contract and must cancel. We were simply in a much better position to move forward quickly, but I feel a bit like a criminal, knowing that our gain was someone else’s loss. It did not have to be that way. Had the listing agent been more honest up front, we would have had the house in the first place and saved stress and disappointment all around. But the experience keeps us humble and reminds us that not everything is destined to always go our way.
  • Meanwhile, our credit is so outstanding that lenders are aggressively fighting each other to get our business and literally throwing money at us. There is certainly a lot to be said for the benefits of fiscal responsibility!

So we’re moving. Soon. Very soon. We have packing to do. We have furniture arrangements to plan. I think we need to borrow some of my mother’s graph paper.

Let’s be perfectly clear about one thing. Daddy never actually took the Mustang away; rather, he was the one who bought it for me. A brand-spanking new 1986 white Mustang convertible with a sporty red interior. License plate number AXC 76P. (It’s amazing, the trivial things the brain chooses to remember.) I wasn’t quite yet 16. I didn’t know anything about horsepower. But I knew I had a way cool car—arguably one of the most coveted vehicles in the Pirate parking lot. With those wheels, I should have been officially the coolest kid in school.

Yes, I was one of those privileged youth. Raised in a family that enjoyed a relatively high standard of living within the small town we lived in. I think, I hope, that I didn’t let it go to my head. The truth is, although we lived in a nice house, I didn’t have any more than my classmates in terms of flashy clothes or faddish trinkets or spendable cash. At school, the only obvious sign of my socioeconomic status was that car, and a prized possession it was, though I was careful not to show off too much. I didn’t want to be known as the spoiled rich kid. But the car spoke for itself and attracted new friends who were more than happy to hang with me as long as I would drive—in the way cool convertible, of course.

So the Mustang and I spent much quality time together with friends and, later, boyfriends, zooming all around town and beyond, top always down, with wind rippling through our hair. And all was blissful in Mo-land.

But as time wore on, I began to sense that some of my new “friends” cared more about being seen in the convertible than about being seen with me, while others resented my good fortune and really did see me as spoiled. Me, Most Shy, the girl who just wanted to get along. Still, a good-natured joke here, and a snide comment there, and before long it was clear that the cool car didn’t really make me any cooler. Or more popular. Though for the most part the teasing was harmless, and I took it as it was intended—in good fun.

Except it wasn’t always good fun.

I was sometimes teased by peers for not having to work. The implication was clear. I had the easy life, with everything—especially the fancy car—handed to me on a silver platter. The truth was, my parents placed much more emphasis on an education that would lead to a self-sustaining career than on a part-time job that would land me enough cash for the movies or the latest designer jeans. As far as they were concerned, unless I was making straight A’s, my time was better spent studying. Smart parents. Their push for long-term academic excellence in lieu of short-term “gotta have it” gain paid off.

Later, when I finally landed that longed-for first summer job as a waitress, eager to demonstrate a work ethic and establish an employment history, a catty co-worker, who also happened to be a classmate, informed me that my posh car was out of place in the employee parking lot. She then went on to say the thing that humiliated one sensitive and circumspect teen. She bluntly accused me of taking a job away from someone who “really” needed it. Typical, isn’t it, that the coveted dream car fed into an unjust stereotype and resulted in spiteful barbs?

Don’t get me wrong. I loved that car, which holds many fond memories, and I have long since forgiven the cutting remark, having attributed the scene to adolescent inexperience. But I still remember it clearly nearly 20 years later, word for word, because it taught an important life lesson that has stayed with me to this day. It taught me to appreciate the things I am fortunate enough to have, but not to bank my happiness or social acceptance on them. At the end of the day it’s just “stuff,” and only temporary stuff, at that.

Now, these many years later, my family and I find ourselves on the verge of buying a new home. It’s natural to want the best our budget will allow—the most space, the nicest accoutrements, a desirable neighborhood, a swimming pool for the kids. The suburban family version of “stuff.” Yet I find myself remembering the days of the Mustang, and reminding myself that our lifestyle is not about bragging rights or “keeping up.” It’s not about impressing our neighbors and friends or finding fulfillment in our accumulated possessions. It’s about wise choices tempered with modesty and respect, and remembering not to let the things we own define who we are.

And no, my kids will not be getting brand new convertibles when they turn 16. Pity them deeply, because their first cars will be big and ugly and safe. But they will still be the coolest kids in school, because their parents will have taught them it’s who they are on the inside that makes them stand out, not what they have or don’t have.

Lately, I’ve noticed my kids catching on to a new trick that my sister and I had once mastered ourselves. The art of convincing each other to approach Mommy with a question when the answer is sure to be “No.”

For now, this revolves around snack time, and I can spot the subterfuge a mile away. More than once recently, Noah has emerged alone from play with Maia, appearing before me in all his smiley adorableness to pronounce himself hungry or request a snack. I know my little schemers discussed it beforehand, because Noah always goes back and dutifully reports to Maia exactly what I said. “Mommy said not now, we just had lunch.”

Am I that fearsome that Maia is afraid to ask me herself? More likely, she believes the four-year-old stands a better chance of gaining access to the sought after yummy snack treats, since he is known to be irresistibly hard to deny. But once Noah begins to understand that his big sister has been goading him into doing her dirty work, I know he’ll start fighting back. I can hear it now:

“You ask her.”

“No, YOU ask her.”

“No way, it’s YOUR turn.”

Ah, the good old days of conspiring ever more clever ways to circumvent Mom’s expected “no.” What memories! I secretly enjoy watching my kids figure out the same tricks I used as a kid. Not that they work any better now than they did then, but it’s entertaining to see them try.

Wordsmithing

Don’t you hate it, really hate it, when you can’t think of a word that is right on the tip of your tongue? And the blasted thesaurus was no help, because I couldn’t hit on a word that was quite close enough to lead me to the word I was really trying to find. The closest I could manage was “selfless,” but that doesn’t have the right nuance of “no strings attached” or “nothing expected in return.” Plus my word needed to be more descriptive of the thing being bestowed, rather than the person bestowing it. And I knew that it started with “un-.” But how do you explain all this to Roget’s?

The word my brain was seeking, by the way, was “unconditional.” Now I can sleep tonight.

That’s Ms. VP to you

Late this afternoon, in between a series of endlessly tedious back-to-back meetings, I was unexpectedly summoned to our president’s office. When I arrived, he waved me in and motioned for me to close the door.

Wait, closed door meetings are never a good sign, are they?

The first part of the ensuing conversation went something like this:

Me (jovially): What can I do for you today, Mr. Prez?

Prez: Well, that’s not what this meeting is about. It’s about what you’ve already done for us.

Me: (unsure pause)

Prez: How would you like to be a vice president?

Me (very eloquently): Are you kidding me?!

Yes, it’s true. After nearly ten years of dedicated service to my company, I’ve reached the elite level of vice president. As it turns out, my job won’t actually change much. I’m still in charge of Research & Development, only now at a VP level, with a decision-making seat at the executive table. I’ll actually be losing an employee to another department as part of a reorganization, and I’ll finally be rid of the project that’s had me doing so much traveling (after finishing up some carryover during the next month or two). Not that I’m complaining, mind you. All those flights last year earned me Silver Medallion status on Delta and enough miles for a trip to Italy for Kent’s 40th birthday in March. But that’s another blog post for another day.

And it’s a far cry from my mood a few months ago, when, under our then-president (much despised by the staff at large), I was so discouraged by the low morale around our office that I was actually contemplating whether it was time to seek greener pastures. In the end, it was an industry colleague (a sage woman whom I consider to be my professional mentor) who gave me the words of wisdom that helped me hang in there. She told me that whatever I’m doing is the Lord’s work, and at the end of the day it’s not going to be anyone at my company writing my ultimate performance review. She also predicted that I’d outlast the tyrant whom no one could please. Wouldn’t you know, she was exactly right.

Ironically, at precisely the same time I was getting the good news about my promotion, a friend was penning a brief email to let me know about some really tough goings-on with his own job. That put it all in perspective and made my news immediately secondary. I’m really proud of my accomplishment—Mr. Prez says I’ve earned it, and I like to believe that’s true. But it’s not my job that makes my world go ’round. It’s God, and my family, and the connections I make with people every day.

The job is still a nice bonus, though, and I’ll appreciate it for as long as it lasts.

Happy New Year 2007

My track record of sticking to new year’s resolutions has been pretty decent during the past couple of years. Here’s the recap of my progress:

2005:

  • Resolution: Lose 40 pounds.
    Result: I lost 50.

2006:

  • Resolution: Keep the weight off.
    Result: Done, as far as the original 40 is concerned.
  • Resolution: Read the Bible.
    Result: I’m about 80% of the way there.

Not too shabby. I’m pretty pleased with this data. So much so that I’m going to be extra ambitious for 2007. Here are my new resolutions. What are yours?

  • Re-lose that extra 10 pounds.
  • Finish the Bible and then read it some more.
  • Work on my impatience problem.
  • Spend more quality time with my family.

PS: Happy 4th birthday to Noah, my new year’s baby!

Changes are a-brewin’

Check out my new look in progress! Yes, I’ve become bored with my former design, and frustrated that my blogging engine is sooooo slow at rebuilding my site whenever I make small tweaks. So I’ve migrated from Movable Type to WordPress, which shouldn’t mean anything to you unless you subscribe to a feed via Bloglines or another RSS reader. If so, you may need to update the feed using the “Subscribe” links over to the right in the new sidebar.

In the meantime, please bear with me as I learn WordPress. I’ve found a basic design that I can live with, but I’ll be doing a lot of tweaking to customize it to my own personal specifications. If you find anything broken as a result of my growing pains, please let me know!

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