it's a bit of a fixer-upper

If you haven't heard the story about the time Alex and I bought our first home at the height of the real estate boom and then tried to sell it--unsuccessfully, for two years--following the crash of 2008, there is an HGTV episode of "My First Sale" in which we chronicle our adventures. Although, being a "reality" TV show, it didn't exactly chronicle our real life adventure. Our takeaway from this experience was discovering that we are not lucky in real estate. At least that was our first clue.

Our second clue that real estate is not our bag came when we moved to Austin, a city in the midst of an enormous growth spurt, and learned that that the so-called "economic downturn" (the one where we finally ended up selling our house in North Carolina and owing money on the deal) didn't seem to have an effect on Austin. At least not when we moved here in 2011. Or 2012. Or 2013...or '14...or '15. Huge pro that the city is thriving; con that we wanted to get back into the home-owning saddle.

Last spring we were finally feeling settled. After living in our neighborhood for four years we were sure it was the right one for us. So sure, in fact, that we closed ourselves off to even thinking about houses in a different school district. We love the neighborhood and the school, so in a rare moment of confidence, we vowed to begin the Austin house hunt in earnest. Once again, however, Alex and I were clued into the fact that real estate and we do not see eye to eye. We found ourselves in a perhaps even bigger real estate boom--at least locally and, specifically, the neighborhood in which we want to plant our roots--than we were ten years ago.

If you haven't had the pleasure of searching for a home when there is great demand yet little inventory, let me give you a hint: have your sh** together; be ready to put an offer on a house after looking at the morning it goes on the market (even if your partner hasn't set foot in the house); and be prepared for a bidding war. That is what happened to us in June. The long and short of it is we did not get the house we wanted (we came in second) and I was sure we would never own a home again. At least not without moving 30 minutes out of town into the great wide suburbs. But then the summer flew by and kept us busy and school started, for both me and the children, and we had soccer and soccer and piano to keep us busy. The next thing I knew we were spending Thanksgiving in Disney World and getting ready for Christmas. We looked at a couple of houses here and there, but one reeked of cigarette smoke and another had walls so thin Alex almost shook them down with his bare hands. Besides, like I said, Christmas was coming and life was whizzing by us.

But then...

About two weeks before Christmas my realtor texted me with the address and a picture of a place that was going on the market shortly. After several drive-by stalkings on my part, I convinced myself this was it. This was the house we had been waiting for all this time! The reason things didn't work out in June was because this house was waiting for us to climb up its front porch stairs that need reinforcing. The only problem was, and it was a pretty significant one, we couldn't get inside. The owner had apparently fled town and left the house in disarray. The listing agent wouldn't let us in because she feared the mess would scare us off (obviously she was not aware of my ability to have houses "speak" to me as I see past the dirt and clutter).

Finally my agent convinced the seller's agent to at least send us pictures of the interior. It was dirty and it was cluttered, but we climbed up that platform and dove back into the real estate pool: we made an offer on the house without ever walking inside. Alex was out of town at the time. I sent him a text saying, more or less, "Our agent is sending you a contract to sign. Just sign it. We haven't been in the house yet. NBD. I'll explain later."

And then we waited. But not for long. The agent got back to us immediately saying the seller didn't want to look at the contract without us having been inside the home first. So he had called our bluff. But then we called his right back. Alex was still away, so our agent and I checked out the dwelling on a sunny Sunday morning and let the listing agent know our offer stood. We even bumped up the option fee for a little extra incentive. I should also mention that we offered above the would-be asking price because that's the market in which we find ourselves.

And then we waited; almost a week went by. And Christmas was three days away, and there was no word from the seller. And then we waited. And I was at Target on the 23rd getting stocking stuffers for the kids when my agent texted me that the seller had decided to wait until after the holidays to get the place cleaned up and "fully market it," which everyone knows is code for "Thanks but no thanks. I'm expecting multiple offers." Just like that, we were out of the game. Did I mention real estate isn't really our thing?

So we celebrated Christmas and our early New Year's Eve, and in the spirit of the season I forgave the guy who wouldn't sell us his house and resolved to move on in the spirit of a new year (but I really wanted that house).

Any guesses on what happened next? On January 2nd my agent texted me once again to say the seller had had a change of heart and wanted to go with our offer. True story. My theory is he watched some sappy made-for-TV cheesy Christmas program and his heart grew three times its size.

So that is what has been occupying my time the greater part of January 2016. Alex and I were extremely hesitant to even mention the we're-buying-a-house thing to anyone because we were (and still are) nervous that something would fall through and we'd be back in our rental house for the unforeseeable future. We're less than two weeks out from closing, however, and things have gone relatively smoothly--if you don't count the number of times the "underwriter" came back to us to verify employment and documents and funds and signatures and whatever else they could cook up to drive us crazy until we got the final "clear to close" last week.

After all this time (speaking specifically of the five-ish years I've been blogging), it looks like things have come full circle. When I started this blog, Alex and I were trying to sell our house in Charlotte, NC and hoping to stumble upon a fixer-upper where I could chronicle the ins and outs of making a dinky little house our home (or Sassy Shack, if you will). Obviously I am not a great soothsayer, but it turns out that we did find that sassy shack. It took us five years and the house is about 1700 miles away from Charlotte, but it's in an amazing town called Austin, TX that we love and has truly become our home. Stay tuned.


in a galaxy far, far away

I promise I took a picture today. Seven of them, in fact. I can't show you those pictures, however, because I deleted them from my camera after I thought I had uploaded them to the computer. I had not uploaded them, and once I realized I had inadvertently deleted them, the moment was over for me. I wasn't about to send Catcher and Alex back into the kitchen to stand side-by-side, adjacent to the outlet, faces aglow by the light of their electronic devices. Alex wasn't particularly proud of this techno-moment anyway.

Instead I deliver you snapshots from our weekend when we stumbled across Stormtroopers and Jedis-in-training at the Bob Bullock History Museum. The place was so crowded we had to pay $8 to park in the garage, which I'm fundamentally opposed to when you can find free parking on the street, but it turns out the fee was worth it when all three children arrived just in time for the last (FREE!) Jedi training session of the day.


begin again

For a brief moment this morning I reconsidered giving up on my New Year's resolution of "one picture per day." Inspired by a podcast about resolutions, I learned we humans are quite predictable. Apparently we are wired to break our resolutions because we view our past selves as inferior than our present selves. I can't remember how that played into the whole breaking of the resolutions equations, but it was reassuring to hear that the Sarah of January 19, 2016 onward can be more focused and determined than the old Sarah. There was also something about psyching yourself up by speaking in the 2nd or 3rd person. See what I did there?

There are some other key points I'm missing here, but the 24-minute podcast convinced me that it's okay to start your resolution again because of the whole humans being wired thing. We naturally gravitate toward starting things new/over at the beginning of a new year or on birthdays or the beginning of the month...or week. Sarah was feeling pretty good about herself and decided she would reinstate her new year's resolution starting today.

But then...

I got home from school with the children this afternoon and I was mentally exhausted. I had to input grades from last week's history test and prepare my lessons for tomorrow and the kids wanted a snack and Tillie fell over on the front porch and scraped her elbow and Scout was showing me all the scrap paper with her doodles that she brings home from kindergarten every day and Catcher was asking me to sign his homework...so I gave myself a break. I realized that--human nature and wiring and all that stuff that sounds great on a podcast aside--perhaps we break our resolutions because we're busy. Or tired.

But then...

I felt like I was making excuses, so I turned to our most agreeable child and asked her if I could take her picture on the front porch. Let me assure you that my momentary awakening on the resolution front in no way signifies I will keep it up for the remaining 347 days of 2016 (I had to use a calculator to figure that out, but I remembered to factor in this year being a leap year).

Side note: As I'm writing this, I realize Scout's shirt is speaking to me. May the force be with me indeed.


second grade science

Rarely, with children, do I find myself saying "Well...that went better than expected." But my first foray into the world of elementary school science fairs went better than expected. I had a strategy: have Catcher pick a topic that he likes and finds interesting and keep it simple. You see, Catcher and I do not have the best "working" relationship (see: the time(s) I tried to teach him to ride a bike, etc.). I knew I had to have a good plan or else the science fair would haunt me for the rest of my adult life (or at least the parts of my life where I have children participating in science fairs).

With my fool-proof strategy at the helm, we were naturally led down the road of paper airplanes--show me a second-grader who doesn't like paper airplanes. Catcher folded, tossed, measured, added and averaged. I was simply there for the documenting (and, yes, I do fancy my paper airplane photography quite stunning, and I admit that a small piece of me will be disappointed if there isn't a special award for art direction/photography this year).

However, photography abilities aside, I've already come to the conclusion that second grade is about where my science expertise taps out. Once these experiments need complicated charts and graphs and multiple points of data to test a hypothesis...I'm out. Catcher won't need my help anyway; and he'll probably think my pictures are dorky.


made to be broken

Obviously New Year's resolutions are made to be broken. Or else why would we make them? Isn't the fun in the breaking of them and not in the making of them?

I realize I overshot my potential this year in thinking I could actually take one picture a day for 365 days in a row. At first the challenge seemed doable--when we were all at home driving each other crazy and looking for new tricks up our sleeves during those waning days of winter break. But then life kicked back into gear, and the next thing I knew we had piano practice and play dates and preschool fundraisers and my classes to plan. I haven't even had to factor lacrosse and soccer practices into the schedule yet. There's also the big science fair coming up--actually, I have pictures of that, which I'll share at later date--so I'm letting myself off the hook early this year. And I'm definitely not beating myself up about a silly resolution that was made to be broken.

In a different world my children's birthday parties would be Pinterest-worthy,* and I would take one picture a day in 2016. However, in this world where I find myself residing, I'm lucky to make it through the day without tears from a three year-old and seven year-old sass. (The middle one gets a pass on this rant because she was particularly agreeable this past weekend.)

*Let's be honest--saying "Pinterest-worthy" is once again overshooting my potential. I don't even have birthday parties for my children. So it's more accurate to say that in a different world I would have birthday parties for my children.


vacation from my "vacation"

When I was a child, I thought of "Winter Break" as "Christmas Vacation." It was a vacation from school and your regular routine, and everything was awesome! As an adult, however, I realize that a two-week break from your regular, routined life can be a bit much when you're the mother of three little rascals.

True, the first week of our forced time together did fly by; and we breezed into the new year a day early without a hitch. But these last four days have lingered interminably. And who's idea was it to have the children go back to school on Tuesday instead of Monday following this ridiculous "vacation?" I think we're all excited to see faces not our own--or each other's--bright and early tomorrow morning.

Then again...those moments when the children played nicely in between screams and tears and tattles and jabs were quite sweet. It was also amusing watching the girls wrestle each other on the sofa every morning. And a part of me has to admit that the non-stop-princess-dress-up was pretty cute. It's going to be so quiet around here tomorrow.


the thinker

Last night was Friday, and that means--until further notice--Family Game Night at the Wheat House. In lieu of a game, however, the children and I decided to tackle an 850-piece United States puzzle. It's one that we've started before but have never managed to finish. Catcher dragged it out yesterday afternoon, and by 6:30pm (when it was about 1/3 assembled) we decided it would count as our game night activity. I had to put on the breaks at 7:30 to get the girls in bed, so it sat on our floor half-together all night.

It wasn't a bad idea, though. We woke up to a cloudy, rainy Austin this morning, and everyone* was eager to get back to work. Catcher, the thinking man, lead the charge and kept the troops in line until we finally finished the thing in the early afternoon.

*Tille was not so eager to get to work. She was more eager to put on her plastic mules and stomp around threateningly close to the puzzle and fingers of the puzzle workers. At one point she threw a fit and destroyed the Hawaiian islands, but Catcher stayed cool and got everything back in place for us.



Knobby knees and backward socks: my first portrait of 2016. The other night during our New Year's Eve Eve party, I stated my "resolution" for the year was to take one picture every day. I was inspired by a mom-photographer who made that commitment a few years ago, and reading her story propelled me to do the same.

For the record, that mom is a professional who takes amazing photographs. This mom (the one writing) has gotten lazy under the excuse of being "busy" the past several months, so I need the challenge to keep me on my toes this year. If I can pull this off, then maybe next year I'll vow to blog every day.