Saturday, March 5, 2016

...And Then There Was a New House, Part 4

If you haven't read the previous installments in this little series about our new house, you can start here!

So once we had the wood dry - after a lot of work and irritation - we were finally ready to move forward! At this point it had been about 8 weeks since we moved in, and we were still existing in the cat pee smell 24/7. It was getting quite old!

We knew the next step was primer. The only way we would be able to seal in that smell and restore the living room to a livable condition would be to either tear it all out (including sub-flooring) and re-do it, or primer the snot out of it. We obviously chose option number two.

Poor Dave had already spent the better part of a day putting multiple coats of primer (Kilz MAX, which was advertised as very effective on such things) on the living room floor, back when we first started fighting with the pee-soaked wood in the wall.

You can see the wet wood area along that one wall, which at the time he could not apply primer to, because we were concerned the wood would then rot. No good!

The smell was still so strong in this room that poor Dave put something like 14 coats of primer on this floor, of course having to wait between each one for it to dry, and still working full time and doing all the normal day to day stuff. We were shocked and not pleased to find that the cat pee was still soaking through - both visibly and smell-wise.

So gross!! We were starting to wonder if primer was actually going to do the trick, or if we were still going to have to rip all the sub flooring (and maybe all the sheetrock?!?) out and start over. If it were to come to that, we would need to talk about filing an insurance claim, because the money just did not exist to pull this off. This was not a good feeling at all. We were really fighting the feeling that we had just made the biggest mistake of our lives by buying a true money pit. We really did all our research and all our due diligence in this purchase, or we felt we did anyway. As it turns out, those popular candle warmers and wax blocks can hide amazing amounts of stench.

The seller, who you probably remember was a coworker and a 'friend,' or so we thought, had long since stopped responding to any communication from us, so that wasn't really an option for help or recourse. We had people tell us to sue her, but that was most definitely a very last resort. Not only because we're not really sue-happy people, not only because we didn't want to turn this into a big legal fight, but also because wouldn't have been able to pay a lawyer! Even if we had, the legal route was never really the right answer to either of us. Though in some moments it sure seemed tempting...

By this time, Dave felt it would be okay to go ahead and patch the pee-soaked wall and - FINALLY - call in the flooring guys and the painters. We hadn't anticipated nor budgeted for the painters, however the walls were so dirty, dingy and covered in candle remnants and cat damage that we didn't have a whole lot of choice. Plus, as pretty as these blue walls were, the lower ones were cat-damaged, and the walls were so dark that they really made the room seem smaller, which we didn't love:

The other main justification for painting was that we felt like the smell might be living in the paint as well as in the floor, so we were really looking to stack the deck in our favor by having the whole living room re-painted. We actually planned to paint the whole house, but the living room was the one room we could not easily do ourselves, since it has a 17-foot ceiling, and a support beam that runs across. We don't have the equipment to handle all that and, let's face it, we are not in our 20s anymore. Ha!

We definitely still plan to repaint the rest of the house, not only to freshen it up and make it ours, but also because of things like this:

Yes, that is a burnt orange wall in the dining room. It extends into the kitchen. The color is - well, whatever - but my issue with it is that it looks like it was painted by a seven year old after two Mountain Dews. If you look around that window, it's... bad. There are also places where the second coat was missed completely, and all the edges of this color are just sloppy. But, these were low priorities compared to the cat pee issue, so it would have to wait.

Anyway, a-patching Dave went on the previously soaked wall, and I squealed in delight...

After that pink dried to white, he sanded it all smooth and then applied a bunch of Kilz to that area also. Sadly, it then became obvious that the Kilz was not cutting it. In desperation we began googling once again. We found out about this product (but in gallons), which is apparently completely amazing at sealing in cat pee smells, according to what we read online.

Unfortunately, we had already spent a lot of money on primer in order to seal that whole floor 14+ times, but we were about to spend a lot more on new flooring, and we just could not take the risk that we might be laying new flooring down on top of pee smell which would then leech out and we'd be right back at square one. So, back to the store we went, and bought two much-more-expensive gallons of this nifty new primer.


After just a couple more coats of this new one, the pee stains and the smell stopped seeping through. Yay! A couple of days after the final coat of the magical primer, we were able to proclaim that after over two months, the cat pee smell was banished from the house! The joy and relief that came with this was huge!

About this time, the new flooring we'd ordered came in. The flooring company delivered it to the house to acclimate for a few days.

We finally gave the painters the green light to come work their magic on the living room walls. We had agonized a fair amount about what color to use. We had samples taped up around the room and spent a lot of time using apps and websites that help you determine what will look best. I mut say that until this experience, I thought that "white" was, well, just white. No. Turns out there are eleven bazillion shades of white. Oh, dear!

Ultimately, we settled on this color, called Snowbound. Appropriate for an Alaskan house, no?

Dave stayed home with them while I took the kid out-and-about for most of that day, so that we would not be underfoot. Dave sent me pictures as they worked, which made me just so darn happy! I love fresh paint! It's a much better smell for our new house than urine! Ha!

Look at that difference! The paint that was there before, in addition to being dirty and past its prime (see what I did there?), was a cream color that we really didn't care for. This room is north-facing, which means it doesn't get a lot of sun. We wanted it bright! The difference was (is!) stunning. So, so pretty.

These two pictures (before and after the new paint) were taken under conditions that were as similar as possible. It's the same time of day (as far as darkness outside), the same lights are on and I am standing in exactly the same spot. Look at the difference in light! Just amazing. It already felt like a brand new house. Finally all our misery, stress and expense was beginning to pay off! It had only taken over two months!

A few days after the painters worked their magic, the it was finally time for flooring. What this room had before was that cream/tan colored semi-shaggy carpet which, had it been clean, would have been nice to keep. However, it was stinky and 'crunchy' as the kid called it, in the areas where cat pee had soaked it for years on end. (Gag.) We chose a nice wood laminate to replace it. The challenge with that was the new flooring would border three other types/colors of flooring: the gray stone in the hallway, the dark red wood laminate in the dining room, and the cream stone around the fireplace. It is not easy to find a color that compliments all of those! But I feel like we found one that looks darn good.

If you're an observant type like my husband (and not like me...) you may also notice that that far corner of this room, by the fireplace, used to have a weird little glass shelving unit attached to the wall. Those shelves held the monitor for the security cameras outside the front door. It was an old style monitor, a foot deep and 20 pounds, and it just had to go. That has been replaced with something much better, and Dave removed the ugly shelving, so that's now a nice clean corner. Love it!

And with that, the cat pee saga was finally OVER!!!! To say we learned a lot in this experience would be the understatement of the century. It was unpleasant enough that I don't know if I could honestly say I'd do it all again. But at the end of it all, we ended up with a beautiful living room that's basically new, the kid has room to play, the dogs don't feel compelled to try to cover up the old cat pee smell, and we just really love the space now.

Four months later, we are looking at painting the kitchen and dining room next, followed by bedrooms, and a bit of touch-up on the outside of the house, and I think we'll be done with paint for a while. Next up, whenever the budget allows, should be things like re-grouting both showers, and replacing the carpet on the stairs which has a lovely spot about the size of a softball that the stupid cats chewed and/or clawed through. We're also thinking of making some changes to the outdoor space and the driveway.

It's exciting to finally make a house our own!

Friday, February 26, 2016

...And Then There Was a New House, Part 3

(Reminder - you can click these pictures to make them larger!)

When we last visited this topic in my previous post, I was describing the horror of the refrigerator in the new house, and having to totally scrub it out and sanitize it as the movers were underfoot, unloading everything we owned. The whole process of having movers touching everything we own is enough to put my introverted self into overload anyway; add this little discovery, and I think I went into survival mode.

Eventually, we got the kitchen to a point that it was usable. The movers left once everything was unloaded and we were left there alone to reflect. The smell was so bad. So very bad. We weren't even sure where to start on making it better. We left windows open a lot and hoped that with every day the cats were gone, the smell would diminish. To a point, it did. But not nearly enough. Meanwhile, fall was in full swing, complete with chilly nights, so we were just wasting heat. Which kind of added insult to injury.

We didn't know it at the time, but this was the start of a two-month period of smelling cat pee. ALL. THE. TIME. First thought when your eyes open in the morning? Ew, cat pee. Walk in from work after a long day? Bam, cat pee. Step out of the shower? Ugh, cat pee. Flop into bed at the end of the aforementioned long day? Cat pee. It was awful. 

As I type this, it occurs to me that it might sound a little diva-ish. Let me assure you, I am no diva. My standards of cleanliness are not all that high, really. I grew up playing in the woods in Alaska. I'm okay with things being a little dirty or even a little smelly. But this? This was like nothing else I had ever experienced. Everything just felt dirty and gross. 

And quite frankly, moving into this house was supposed to cap off the whole experience of buying the house, which was not extremely easy or pleasant. I had to do a lot of footwork on things that were other people's jobs. There were a lot of things that fell through the cracks, that I ended up having to work double time to take care of, to make sure we could close before the seller left the state. The lender overpromised and underdelivered throughout the whole process. The title company completely miscalculated all the closing costs, which if I hadn't caught, would have cost us $8,000 we just didn't have. It was just kind of a stressful process, and what kept me going through all of that was that at the end of August, we should be moving into our beautiful new house and living happily ever after. 

Years ago, I had a therapist tell me that one of the most dangerous words in the English language is "should." She was right.

So, fast forward a few days from move-in day. We were in a place of deep regret, severe irritation and just generally helpless feelings. We were tired from the move and everything that goes with that, and unlike other moves, we didn't have the immediate payoff of basking in the glory of a new home right from moving day. Instead, we got irritated sinuses and burning eyes from the smell. We felt like we had just made the biggest mistake ever - which is not a good feeling alongside a new mortgage payment. We turned away family and friends that we had promised to invite over right away to see the house, even before we really unpacked. It was embarrassing even though we knew we didn't cause the problem.

We had exhausted most of our on-hand savings to pull off this house purchase and the move. We did not have the time, money, or desire to deal with trying to eliminate the cat pee smell. However, we were faced with a choice: figure out how to fix it, or smell it. Intensely. ALL. THE. TIME. Obviously, this was no choice. We had to figure out how to fix it.

We had used most of the vacation time we had left for the move itself, so for the next two months we spent evenings and weekends... dealing with this. Not ideal at all, but you do what you have to do, right?

Despite having just been professionally cleaned twice in a week, including being 'flooded' with cleaner and enzyme, it was obvious that the biggest portion of this problem was coming from the carpet in the living room. The appearance and smell of this carpet was pretty bad.

This is that stretch of four or five feet along the wall by the fireplace. Because it's so well-lit, it's not quite as obvious in the picture as it was in person. But you can see it's well-anointed... and this was after those cleanings.

The cleaning expert had told us to give it a few days for the enzyme to work fully, and that it should improve over that time. So we waited.

It did not improve.

Some days were better than others. If we kept it cool in the house, it wasn't quite as bad. If the sun happened to hit the floor in that room for a couple hours in the afternoon, it was like an oven effect. The smell became so intense that it was worth wasting all the heat to flush out the air in the house when we came home from work.

We tolerated this for close to a month while trying to develop a routine, mostly for the kid. He had changed preschools in June and then changed houses in August, so we wanted to quickly get his routine re-established. It was tough since we really couldn't put much in the living room due to the fact the carpet was destroyed. The dining room and kitchen were full of boxes and we ate our meals at a card table wedged into a walkway, but we survived. I had contacted the seller and told her the carpet was much worse than we originally thought. She processed that for an hour or two and then told me that when she reached her new home, she would be mailing us a check to cover new flooring. We were very grateful for that.

Hubby spent his birthday, which was a paid day off work that year only, ripping up all that carpet in the living room. He's the one who is allergic to cats, so this was an especially pleasant way to spend a birthday...

You can see all the cat pee stains on the backside of this carpet. It was a bit gag-inducing. We knew it was bad, but we didn't know it was quite this bad.

And you can see below the dirt that was under the carpet - and cat pee crystals mixed in. (Shudder.)

This next one shows the section that was along the wall (in the 'before' picture above). The holes from the tack strip are even stretched and distorted from being soaked so often, or for so long, or both. We're not sure.

Soon, he had all the carpet up.

Next he had to remove the trim around the base of the walls (which I have heard people call baseboard, but to my Alaskan brain, baseboard means a baseboard heater...), but remember that saturated stretch along the one wall? When he pulled the trim off, guess what he found behind it?

Soft sheetrock.

That's never good.

He pulled that off, and guess what he found?

Oh, yes. That is wood. WET wood. Wet to the touch. Saturated. With CAT PEE. The cat had been gone for over a month by this point. We were shocked and horrified. No wonder we hadn't been able to get rid of the smell. But the bigger issue was, how far did this go? If you've ever dealt with cat messes, you know it is very difficult to get this smell out. It takes replacing whatever is soaked, usually. This wood is at the bottom of a 17-foot-tall wall. How on earth do we replace that?!?

And so began five more weeks of a new kind of frustration. Dave covered the entire rest of the floor with primer to try to lock in the smell in the rest of the floor. It helped, but not much. Most of the stench was coming from this one problem wall.

We tried everything to dry this out. We ruled out the idea that it was rainwater or something leaking in from somewhere. It looked orange/brown like cat pee, it smelled like cat pee, and you could see the crystals on the surface of the wood. I contacted the seller again and told her what we had found. She replied, "sorry it's so bad, didn't know that" and then immediately and completely stopped answering any of my correspondence.

I wasn't kidding about five weeks. First we tried just letting it air out for about a week. No luck. Over the next month we tried heaters, fans, and everything else we could think of. We'd leave heaters and fans on it while we were home, then turn them off when we left for work (because we're both a little paranoid of fire). It would be dry to the touch in the morning, but by the time we got home, more of it would have seeped out and it was wet again.

This cycle was completely maddening. We'd been in the house two months by this time and we were still smelling cat pee, day and night. We don't have a dang cat!! Just really frustrating. The worst part was we were starting to wonder if we were ever going to get rid of it. If not, then what?!? We definitely did not have the option to rip walls out and rebuild them. The stress of the 'what-ifs' at this point was pretty intense.

In sheer desperation, after having been silent about this publicly for this entire time so as to not cause drama with the seller, who we used to work with and considered a friend, and who remained friends with people we still worked with... I finally turned to social media for help. I spent literally an entire evening composing a post that would be a request for help and suggestions without mentioning her at all, without it sounding like some kind of attack or insult, without any nastiness at all. I even ran this post past Dave, who is the world's greatest diplomat and protector of feelings. He approved.

I posted it. At first, I hid it from the seller, who was still on my friends list. I really didn't want to hurt her feelings, but I had to do something.  I was desperate for help and I have 300 Facebook friends, many of whom are connected to the construction industry. We were down to either calling a contractor, and possibly selling our truck to pay for whatever the fix would be, or asking publicly for help. A couple of hours later, I decided it was worse to hide it from her, not to mention that one of our mutual friends would more than likely mention it to her and she'd be even more hurt. So I changed the settings so that the post was visible to her.

The outpouring of support on that post felt really good and validated my feeling that we were not being unreasonable. More importantly, we got a lot of great suggestions and input. One of those suggestions was to invest in a dehumidifier. The very last thing I wanted to do was spend another $200 out of savings on this disaster, but I was also desperate to smell anything but cat pee and get my living room put back together. (At this point, the flooring was still absent obviously, and the living room was a construction zone. The whole area was cordoned off for safety, so anytime we were home, the three of us and the two Chihuahuas were coexisting in a space about 8 feet wide by about 15 feet long, with a couch, an entertainment center, a dining room table and a kitchen in it. It was cramped, unpleasant, and STILL smelled like cat pee.)

Dehumidifiers are expensive to buy, expensive to run, and noisy. Also, they are apparently magical. It took about a week of alternating the dehumidifier, fans and heaters, we were able to declare the wood in the wall DRY!! This was nothing short of a miracle. I cried. After two months of this ordeal, I just couldn't believe it.

Now what?!  To be continued...

(Next part of the story HERE.)

Saturday, February 6, 2016

...And Then There Was a New House, Part 2

If you haven't already, you may want to read my previous post, which is the first part of this story. If you already read it and you're coming back to read the resolution of this little cliffhanger, I'm not sure I'll get all the way to the end in this one post. We'll see.

So, after months of waiting to see this house empty for the first time, we flung that door open, and...


Right in the face. In the mouth. In the nose. Way up in the sinuses. Instant burning. A very strong and unmistakable odor.

Cat pee.

We glanced at each other in horror. This could not really be happening, could it? No.

The first room you walk into is the kitchen. I set my keys down and leaned on the counter, kind of in shock. I think my sanity preservation instinct kicked in. I remember saying, "we just need to get some fresh air in here, it'll be fine." We ventured into the dining room and then into the living room. We were horrified all over again.

The seller had mentioned that her cats had the occasional accident on the living room floor. In all our visits to the house, we mostly only smelled cat pee near the litter box, and even then it wasn't any worse than you would expect near a litter box. We did catch a couple of wafts here and there in other areas of the house, but nothing severe. Even with Dave being allergic to cats, we weren't concerned about it.

We honestly couldn't figure out what happened between those visits and closing day a few weeks later. Maybe the cats got upset about the move and started retaliating on the living room floor? Hard to say. All we knew at this point was that the living room floor was extremely soiled with cat urine. There was a basketball-sized yellow spot in the middle of the living room, where a table had been. (Remember, this was our first time seeing the house empty.) There was about a four-foot section of the wall by the fireplace that was stained dark yellow from what we thought must be years of anointing by the cats.

We were so in shock and so horrified that we just stood silently in the living room for a few minutes. All that kept running through my mind was, "what did we just do?!?" As we did that first walk-through of the living area and the backyard, the displeasure intensified. It quickly became clear that the "move-out clean" she had done was not at all what a move-out clean should be. The counters had dust and dirt on them. The stove had a bunch of crumbs and food remnants all over it. All of the art that had been on the walls was removed, but all the screws and nails holding it up were left in the walls and there were really dirty outlines everywhere. I don't think the walls had ever been cleaned.

That wasn't all. There was a whole laundry list of things that were not as we expected.
  • She had told us on two different occasions, without us asking, that she was going to leave the very nice patio furniture set and one of the fire pits in the backyard. Both were gone.
  • She told us she had power washed the (large) deck in the backyard. Technically she did, but it looked like it was done by a 4 year old - still filthy.
  • The garage door opener only worked intermittently.
  • The dishwasher was not attached to anything, so when you opened the door, the whole appliance flopped forward.
  • One of the living room walls was completely full of cat scratches - they were concealed before by furniture.

  • There were random items left around the house, like a cracked vase on the back deck and a carry case for a collapsible lawn chair, and in the master bathroom, a night light that looked like a cat climbing into a toilet.  (Oh, the irony.) I must say though, I was very grateful she left the shelving!

  • The windowsill in the guest room, which had previously been too full of junk for us to really inspect, was water damaged.
  • The kitchen cabinet shelves were missing support pegs, so they sagged in the middle.
  • Multiple sets of bifold doors had broken hardware/guides.
  • The walls in the master bedroom are full of cat scratches, holes, and dents/blemishes.
  • Two of the three bedroom doors don't close properly.
  • The motion sensor light on the back of the house, which she had said just needed new bulbs, was actually broken.
  • The front door has large patches of missing/damaged paint. (We always went in and out of the garage!)
  • The downstairs bathroom wall is damaged due to a broken toilet paper holder being allowed to scratch it all up.
  • The master bathroom doesn't have a door. There is an extra door in the garage, but it has no doorknob?
I guess you probably get the idea.

It's probably good that we didn't have much time to brood on this, as the moving truck was backing up to the garage to unload. And so began a day of chaos, with the new house filling up with our belongings as planned, however now I felt sort of sick about it. I wanted to hose down the whole inside of the house with Lysol before anything we owned was unloaded. However, there was no time for that.

While the movers unloaded at breakneck speed, our first priority was getting our refrigerator and freezer contents from the apartment to the new house. I flung the refrigerator door open in the new house, and immediately had to try not to gag. It was as if someone had set a bowl of cat pee in that fridge and just let it marinate for weeks. There was spilled food and brown crusty stuff all over all the glass shelves and in the drawers. It hadn't been even superficially cleaned in a very long time. I hate to say it, but I really wondered if it had ever been cleaned since it was purchased in 2007.

Dave and I began frantically pulling all the shelves and drawers out of the fridge and freezer to wash and sanitize them, and the whole interior of the thing. The smell was so horrid. Our eyes and noses burned, let alone the plain ol' gross-out factor. We took turns reassuring each other that this would all work out. The house just needed to air out, we thought. Let's open some windows and doors. Let's Febreze that living room carpet until we can replace it, months down the road once the dust settles and we can afford it.

Little did we know...

(Next part of the story HERE.)

Friday, February 5, 2016

...And Then There Was a New House, Part 1

Once upon a time, probably nine-ish months ago, a co-worker who was preparing to retire approached me and asked me if we were interested in buying her house. At the time, we had been in our "temporary" apartment for well over a year - longer than we'd hoped - and we were planning to wait another few months before we got pre-qualified and began house hunting, since we were in a lease.

When she first asked me, I laughed. She lived in a very nice, quiet neighborhood that was in our top three choices of areas (not including the spendy houses on the hill, that is!). I told her I would love to look at buying her house, but that I was pretty sure it was outside our budget, based on neighborhood alone.

And then she uttered some words that would live in infamy.

"Actually, I was thinking of selling it for the amount you said was at the top of your price range, if we can do so without realtors, since that would save me a ton of money."

Or something to that effect.

Of course, red flags went off all over the place when she said that. But, we'd known her long enough to not be concerned about any deception or anything. The concern was more about trying to broker the sale of a house by ourselves. It seemed daunting. We had already purchased two houses before, so we basically knew the drill, but still - who would swoop in and save the day if any complications arose?

If only I knew then what I know now.

Over the next few months, we visited the house probably ten times. At first we were just wandering through, and then as time progressed and we got more serious, we wanted to check out specific things about the house. We were trying to make sure we caught every possible thing that could be a problem, since we wouldn't have a realtor to do it for us. It was (is) a very nice house, only a dozen years old so no major repairs should be needed for a while, and the layout is exactly what the kid requested: living space on the ground floor, all bedrooms upstairs. That's kind of a funny story all in itself - I'm pretty sure he was asking for that because our house back in our hometown was laid out like that and I think maybe he misses it a bit, like his Mommy does...

A few weeks before the 'for-sure' date she gave us for a decision, we told her we were ready to move forward. Our pre-approval was ready and we both sat down at the kitchen table with the seller and filled in a blank "for sale by owner" sales contract. And so began a two-month-long process of fumbling through all the necessary steps.

The inspection went very well, though I admit we weren't thrilled when we arrived for the inspection and found the inspector (whom we had chosen) was apparently an old friend of hers. He turned out to be great, though. "This is a very clean property," the inspector said to us. The grout needed to be re-done in the master shower; Dave quickly volunteered to do that himself. There were a handful of other things, nothing major, and we all quickly agreed on who was going to take care of what.

The appraisal went well, too. It came in a few thousand over the sell price, which is ideal for a buyer. We were very excited. It seemed to be the final procedural hurdle. I was kind of having to micro-manage our lender's representative, as she just did not have a sense of urgency about anything, and also was missing a pretty important eye for detail. If not for my intervention, we would have been asked for a much higher amount up front at closing than we should have. I was annoyed for having to babysit the whole thing, but it was worth it. Despite some bumps in the road and some frantic phone calls, everything finally worked out and we went to closing. The seller was not leaving the state until the day after closing, so she had asked us if she could stay in the house that last night. Without hesitation we said yes.

That next day, around noon, she let me know that she was headed down the highway. We were busy with the movers packing up our apartment. When they got finished, somewhere around 3pm, we finally had an opportunity to go see the house empty for the first time. I was so excited when we pulled up, I was fidgeting in my seat!

Oddly, the first two things we noticed when we pulled into the driveway were a trash can next to the garage that was positively overflowing, and that the two flower baskets on the front of the garage contained dead flowers. Huh. Weird. But obviously those were little, tiny, not-worth-mentioning things. Just not the most charming welcome to our new house!

We opened the garage door to find some surprises. She left us the lawnmower as promised, which was wonderful. She also left various yard type things, like potting soil and pots and a seed spreader and just a bunch of random stuff. That was all fine, just unexpected. Then, with great anticipation, we approached the door to the house. I remember looking at Dave with excitement, taking a deep breath, flinging the door open, and...


Something slapped us in the face. Hard...

(Next part of the story is HERE.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

I Have the Urge to Write...

But I cannot get started. I still have two more days to cover from our vacation which was now nine months ago (what?)... but the pictures are tricky for reasons that are both too complicated and too silly to get into here and now. And what on earth is the point of a vacation post with no pictures?


So, two months ago, we bought a house. And so begins an extremely long story full of ups and downs. Well, I guess it actually starts about four months ago when we were approached with an opportunity to buy a great house at a great price.

Maybe if I leave myself that setup, I'll be able to write more in a day or two. I'm trying here!

Friday, June 5, 2015

First Big Family Vacation - Day 5

Here we are, already on the fifth day of our Seattle vacation , or as I affectionately call it, the day we learned that GPS's don't work well in a concrete jungle.

After spending the first four days of our trip driving all over creation to see various family and friends, we finally took a day to head to downtown Seattle and enjoy the touristy stuff. As a huge bonus, Dave's aunt (the one who surprised us with her presence on day two) decided to tag along for part of the day! We were all very excited about that, especially given the intense cold shoulder disappointment we experienced the day before.

We made our way to the downtown area after breakfast, with much excitement! Aidan had been begging for days to go to the Space Needle, and since that particular place is such a huge and happy childhood memory for me, I was dying to take him. But first, we were to meet our auntie at the Seattle Aquarium. I couldn't wait!

As we neared the core downtown area, I started noticing that Emily, the lovely British woman inside our rental car's GPS, seemed to be getting confused.  She wasn't sure where we were, nor which way we should go. The bigger issue was that her uncertainty did not cause her to stop giving us (what ended up being poor) directions. We got a bit turned around. She even told us to get out of the car once and walk the rest of the way. True story! We were not amused. Oh, and how about some road construction to further complicate navigation? Why not?

With all that said, though, I do love downtown. As a sheltered Alaskan kid, I'm always so blown away by the massive buildings. I think they're pretty.

We finally found our way with the use of two iPhones. We read there was a parking garage right across the street from the Aquarium. We found that and ventured in, only to learn it was cramped, damp, creepy and smelly. The smell of urine was a lovely distraction from the fact that the doors seemed to have locks and bars on them where they shouldn't have. By some miracle we made it out of there alive and wandered across the street.

While Aidan was totally captivated by the Aquarium, I was flooded (see what I did there?) by childhood memories of the place. It was just wonderful to be back there.

Did I mention it was a good time?  The Seattle Aquarium is actually not all that large, which might be my favorite thing about it. You can see everything in a couple of hours, and still leave feeling impressed and like you've done something to connect with nature.

After the Aquarium, we wandered down the boardwalk not-very-far, looking for lunch, and found the Crab Pot restaurant.  I thought the place was cute and I felt inexplicably compelled to buy a tee shirt there that said something like "I got crabs at the Crab Pot!" I talked myself out of it just in time.

After we filled our bellies and said goodbye to our auntie who had other commitments for the afternoon, it was time to tackle another attraction. Aidan first spotted the Great Wheel last winter in a skyline shot of Seattle during a Seahawks game on TV. He asked if we could go on it when we went to Seattle. To say he was excited about this would be an understatement...

I'm proud to say the kid had no idea that was really nervous about this! I definitely wanted to do it, but I'm not big on confinement nor being way off the ground, and on top of that I have balance/vertigo issues sometimes, so it was a bit scary. But we climbed into our lovely enclosed private gondola and off we went! It felt pretty weird at first since the gondola was rocking, but after the first couple times around, I got used to it and felt comfortable enough to enjoy it and take some pictures.

That last one has been the wallpaper on my iPad since the day it was taken! I just love it.

Any guesses as to what came next?!

YUP!  Finally!

It was like walking up to an old friend - except the whole area has changed so much from what I remember 30 years ago. Of course when you walk into the base of the Space Needle, you walk immediately into a giant gift shop, where I spent more than I should have but far less than I wanted to, so I call that a victory! Tickets to ride to the top are spendy, but really, how often would we get this chance? And I certainly could not deny my kid a trip to the top of the Space Needle he'd been begging to visit for over a year. So, up we went.

I had forgotten just how stunning the views are up there.

There's a little cafe up there and tons of info about the Space Needle and Seattle in general. I absolutely loved it, even if I felt a bit dizzy most of the time thanks to my oversensitive ears. I also am certain the thing kept swaying back and forth slightly when we were at the top, but Dave insisted it wasn't. I still think it was! At some point it occurred to me how much I would NOT want to be at the top of the Space Needle in a big earthquake. I quickly shoved that thought away and laughed at how my brain works sometimes.

After descending from the sky, we decided to hit one more attraction, even though we were getting tired and ready for some relaxation. 

My mom used to take me on the monorail in Seattle when I was a kid and I thought it was so cool! Naturally we had to take Aidan too. It's a short ride - maybe five minutes each way - but since he loves all things train-related, he loved every second. We had hoped to have time for a couple other fun things at Seattle Center, but it just didn't happen this time. 

In hindsight, we should have stayed there for just a bit longer, because our next adventure shall forever be known as 'that time we tried to get out of downtown Seattle at exactly 5:00.'  Oh my goodness, what a mess an adventure that was! I can't remember how much time it took us to get to Mukilteo, but I remember being quite frazzled by the time we did.

Thankfully, we had another opportunity to visit with not only my Grandma and Pop, but my uncle and aunt were there too, so we got to see them for the first time in about ten years. That was really wonderful! We had a great dinner together and I so enjoyed getting the chance to catch up with them. I adore them both.

That wraps up a very eventful day five! We truly had a blast. And once again I was grateful for the very nice hotel to go 'home' to that night. I was exhausted, and again, fell asleep in seconds.

Monday, June 1, 2015

First Big Family Vacation - Day 4

By the fourth day of pretty much any vacation, I am usually beginning to feel a little fried and ready for a mellow day. Thankfully, that's exactly what we had in store for day 4.

From our hotel in Mukilteo, we decided to head north a little to explore. My mom had told me repeatedly there was a quaint little town up by the water, with a little lighthouse. She was right! We saw Ivar's - though never did make it there to eat, unfortunately - and then found the park with the lighthouse and ferry terminal. 

Aidan loved walking on the beach collecting shells. It was a chilly, gray day - my favorite - but I had neglected to bring a jacket, and it was extremely misty out. It's unlike me to wimp out because of cool weather or rain, but this time I did, as I didn't want to look like a drowned rat for the rest of the day. The weather on our trip sure was a lovely contrast to what was happening back home, which was 6" of snow the night before we left, wind, and cold.

After exploring the waterfront area for a little bit, we headed south of Seattle to visit our company's location there. It is a regional service center type place, so we deal with the people there on a daily basis, but had never met most of them. We got a nice little tour, met lots of great people, and had a lovely visit.

At this point, we began trying to contact Dave's sister about the day's plans, as she lives right near the place we had just visited. She had told us the night before to text her in the morning and we'd hang out. We weren't shocked when she didn't answer right away, as that is fairly typical. So, we decided to seek out some lunch in the area while we waited.

For the 18 years we have been together, I have been hearing all about hubby's childhood fondness for a particular fast food restaurant in the northwest. I don't believe I'd ever been to one. So, what better time than right now? I googled it, then entered the address in the GPS. Within minutes we were sitting down.

Okay, yes, not the healthiest option in the world. Shush, we were on vacation. I must say it was rather delicious for fast food! I especially loved all the emphasis on recycling and not generating more trash than is necessary. I'm happy to spend a couple more bucks and not contribute much to the landfill. 

We left there with full bellies, and decided to explore the area a bit while waiting to hear back from Dave's sister.

I could tell you a long, frustrating, and sad story about how this whole thing played out, but I honestly don't feel like giving it the time and effort. I'll just go ahead and skip to the end. She completely ignored all of our attempted communications and stood us up. And my husband, who is much better at giving people lots of chances than I am, and who had his heart set on seeing her, wanted to wait around for quite a while hoping to hear from her. 

So, long story short, we blew half a day of our vacation wandering around her area hoping she would reach out. No dice. Super fun with a 4-year-old in tow, I tell you. Sometimes I don't get people. I was sad, but more ticked. I don't like seeing my husband crushed. It makes me very angry. But, I'm realizing that you can't make people give a darn about you, blood or not. Sad, but true. Thankfully we had tons of other people who DID want to see us, and we had great times with them instead.

On another upside, during this time, we found a nifty shopping center just chock full of stores that we don't have in Alaska. So, it was not altogether a waste, though we'd much rather have been spending time with family. I stumbled across a clothing store that I would give a limb to have in Alaska! It is very hard for me to find off-the-rack clothing, but this place was full of it! I spent an hour in there and $300. Oops. But so worth it! The clothes are fantastic and I very rarely buy clothing because I hate shopping so much. So that was great.

Dave finally gave up on his sister around dinner time. We'd seen a Sizzler on the way in, which I know is not exactly high-brow dining, but we used to have one back home and it closed many years ago. So it was a place that both of us had a lot of childhood memories. It was fun to go to the modern version. The food was good. After that, we headed the 45 minutes back to our hotel. I must say, I love the Seattle skyline! (Pardon the crummy moving iPhone pictures through car windows in the dark...)

I could stare at that night skyline for hours without getting bored.

My husband sighed a lot when he got in bed that night. I tried to hide my anger. Neither of us slept worth a darn.