Thursday, August 25, 2011

The New Name

While knocking on doors somewhere in the greater Boston, Massachusetts area, I came across an interesting door plastered in bumper stickers. One of them stood out to me: Dead-End Roundabout. It sounds depressing initially, but it's not.

With our house plummeting in value, Evan working at a zero-growth-potential job, and my unemployment woes, we felt like we were heading downhill towards a dead-end. But we've taken a roundabout before hitting that dead-end. We'll see where it takes us...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mission Completion

The container is packed. We reserved 21 feet, and thanks to our awesome packer friends, we only used 15 feet. So we will be refunded $300. Not bad!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Packing Day

It's been a mad dash to box all our stuff up. The container arrived today. After searching and comparing quotes, we found that far and away the cheapest way to move yourself is through ABF U-Pack. They drop off the container at your door, you have three days to pack it up, they pick it up and drive it to your new door. Then you have 3 days to unpack. If we were to use the entire 28 foot length, it would be $2000 (I'm sure this number changes according to the distance traveled). So far, with about 99% of our stuff packed we have only used about 12 feet. If you don't use the entire container, they subtract what space you don't use.

Pack Rat and PODS were about 3 times the price for the same idea, and they don't discount you for the space you don't use. And we don't have to drive the container like we would have with Penske or U-Haul. I highly recommend the ABF U-Pack!

It was a hectic day. It started with Evan's surgery at 6 this morning. He had a lymph node removed that was bigger than it should have been (with no apparent infections to make it so) to test it for cancer. He's doing fine now. We'll find out the results later this week.

But when we came home from the hospital, my sister, who was supposed to be flying out early afternoon, couldn't find any record online of the first leg of her journey--Newark to Chicago. They only had record of her Chicago to Salt Lake. So after a bunch of calls and emails, and finagling with the airlines, we rescheduled her flight for tomorrow. Somehow they had just dropped her off the flight when they changed the itinerary. Very odd. But they were trying to get her to fly out of La Guardia, first at 2, then at 5. No way. Not on a day like today when Evan had surgery and the men of our church congregation were coming to help us pack up the truck. So luckily, because they had goofed big time, they allowed her to fly out tomorrow, instead.

I can't tell you how glad I am that she was here today!! She helped me out so much because Evan wasn't able to. And she cooked the pizza and organized the treats that we provided for those who helped. And she watched the kids while we were all busy. I'm convinced that it was an act of God, having her not fly out until tomorrow. I wouldn't have made it without her. THANKS, ANDREA!!!

Speaking of Andrea, I don't know what I'm going to do with her gone tomorrow. She's been with us for about 2 months this summer. I'm actually going to have to get my kids breakfast now. And lunch. And cut up their food for them. And I won't be able to just run to the store without my kids anymore. Want to spend every summer with us, Andrea? Maybe you should transfer to Northwestern and move in with us.

Anyway, a BIG thanks to the men from church, and the surprising number of men from Evan's work. I don't know if they came because they took pity on him because of the surgery, or if they would've come anyway, but I'm so glad they did. We got everything packed in two hours. There are a few things left, but not too much.

All in all, I'd say it was a successful day.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Our Flip Has Flopped

We failed. It's as simple as that. We bought our house hoping to flip it and make a profit (a meager one--we never expected anything huge). A year ago when the market really started taking a nose dive, we knew we wouldn't get a profit, but just hoped to break even--break even with the bank, not break even with all we've spent remodeling. This summer when we put it on the market, we knew we'd have to dish out some money, or at least do a short sale.

We never thought it would sit on the market for four months and never sell. We've had many, many showings. We are still having showings. And we've had so many buyers say they love the house and want to buy it. But we've stopped believing that anything will come of what they say.
So we're going to walk away. We stopped making payments a month ago. Our credit has officially taken it's first hit.

Our house is still listed as a short sale. We will keep it like that for another month or two. If it hasn't sold by then, we will hand our deed over to the bank--it's called "deed in lieu." Basically that's one step above a foreclosure. Instead of making the bank hire lawyers and fight us to take ownership of the house, which is what happens in a foreclosure, we are handing the deed over willingly. The impact to our credit will not be as devastating.

Sad, I know. (And that's the understatement of the year). We are forcing ourselves to become emotionally detached from all aspects of our house--how much time, sweat, and energy that went into it, all the money that we've spent, the care with which we chose the designs and products--everything.

Yet another life dream of mine has officially been squelched. The first dream died in 2004 when 7 graduate schools for architecture rejected my applications, with no acceptances. When I realized that I would never become an architect, I turned my attentions and dreams elsewhere--to flipping houses. I thought this would be something I could do every time we moved--buy a cheaper, crappy house, live in it, fix it up, sell it, and move on to another one. It would be my job, and it could be accomplished at home with my kids around me. But I've been shot down on the first try.

Needless to say, it's been a distressing summer. And now I need a new dream. Any ideas?

I also need to change the name of my blog. Our flip is officially over, and it has flopped.

We're heading on to new adventures. But I'm stumped as to what I should rename this blog. Any ideas????

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig

My dad used to say that whenever we'd pull into our driveway. I've said it a time or two with my kids, but I couldn't help laughing a little when Waimea said it the day after we got home from our Finland trip.

It is good to be home. But it's funny how some things can feel so strange after being gone for 3.5 weeks. Here are some things we noticed:

-The noise. JFK airport was a zoo. Everyone is talking, and everyone is talking louder than they need to. Do they really want you to hear all the stupid details of their lives. I sometimes think Americans talk just to talk. Are they really saying anything important? In public areas of Finland, I was constantly shushing my kids so as to not draw attention to us. I even asked them, "Do you hear how quiet it is? You really don't need to talk so loud." I'm calmer in public areas in Finland--there's no constant overload to the senses with all the talking and laughter.

No one honks in Finland. I REALLY miss that. I hate NYC and their obsessive compulsive need to honk when inconvenienced. Is it really necessary? Is it really solving anything?

The sounds of the A/C turning on kind of freaked me out. I forgot how loud it can be. I miss the sounds of nature from open windows.

-The water. It's disgusting here. I never thought so before, but after drinking pure Finnish spring water for almost a month, I can't stand the chemically-treated junk that comes out of the faucets here. And I actually do miss fetching it. It's too easy to turn on a faucet, and I find I waste a lot more water doing it.

-Laundry. My clothes aren't "crunchy" from hanging on a clothesline and air-drying. And it took no time at all to do. But it's still sitting in a laundry basket, whereas in Finland, I folded the clothes as I took them off the line.

-The heat--I forgot how oppressive the air is here. It was hot in Finland some days--even as hot as it is here, but there was a freshness to the air there that you cannot find here.

-Bathroom proximity. I must admit it's kind of nice not having to trek out to the outhouse in the middle of the night.

-Showers. I'm used to cleaning myself in the sauna using a bucket, dumping water over my head to rinse off. It's kind of weird to have a constant flow of water. Again, I waste a lot more water this way.

But, despite all this, it's good to be home.

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 24--Goodbye, Finland

The journey home turned out to be quite eventful. The three hour drive to the airport went fine, as did the 8.5 hour flight. It was driving home from JFK that gave us problems. More on that later.

First, though, while in the airport in Helsinki, I came across a few more things that add to the Finnish brilliancy.

Don't you hate trying to find parking in car garages? The Finns solved that by have sensors above cars, with an electronic system letting you know where the open spots are. When you drive into the garage, there is a screen that lets you know how many spots are open and in which direction. Then, when you drive down the aisle, the open spots are easy to see because they have a green light above the car instead of a red one:
If you look very closely on the right-hand side, you will see three green lights in a row. We found a parking spot in seconds.

Then, inside the terminal, we found this little gem:
Now, I know that there are family bathrooms in some locations in the US, but how many of them have little kiddie-sized toilets? And these things are everywhere. And look at the size of the room--you could easily fit a whole family in there, not like some of the places in the US.

And here's another stroke of brilliancy: toilets that have two options--a button that uses a little bit of water, and a button for when you need more:
Again, I know that you can find some of these in the states, but they are everywhere in Finland.

Now, back to our drive home from the airport. We were on the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn in stop-and-go traffic. At one point while we were stopped, our car gave a little shake and then died. We were in the far left lane, but luckily there was a grassy median between us and the oncoming traffic. So Evan and I hopped out of the car and pushed it onto the median while Andrea steered. Surprisingly no one honked. There we tried multiple times to restart the engine, but it just wouldn't catch.

So we called our emergency road-side service. About 40 minutes later, the tow truck pulled up, and we found out that they could only tow us to the next exit because it was rush hour. So then we waited another hour and a half for another tow truck (that was supposed to be there in less than an hour), and tried calling multiple cab companies to arrange for a way to get home. Most either did not answer the phone, did not have minivan cabs, or did not have any cabs withing an hour's distance from us. We finally located one that was 5 minutes away. The second tow truck finally arrived, and so did the cab, and thankfully, the cab driver knew of a good garage nearby that was open to 11 PM (our insurance company wouldn't pay for our car to be towed more than 5 miles because that was where the nearest dealer was to us, which was closed for the weekend. Otherwise we would have had it towed to our favorite garage near our home). We initially were just going to take the cab to Penn Station, and then catch the train home, but by this time, our kids were asleep and we had luggage to deal with. So we dished out the $160 cab fee to take us home. It was an annoying end to a long day.

Our car ended up needing a new fuel pump, and the garage that we took it to gave us a steal of a price, so long as we paid cash. At least it broke down when it did, rather than on our drive to Chicago next weekend.

Speaking of Chicago--they have direct flights to Helsinki on American Airlines. I think I'm going to like that. Our new house is only about a half hour away from the airport--much better than the 1.5 hour ++++ drive to JFK here.

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 23--Last Full Day

We were rewarded with a magnificent sunset on our last evening. The day started with rain and cold temps, but cleared in the afternoon. There was just enough clear weather to truly enjoy the last day.
Last sauna, last time eating Finnish food. I overate, of course--Finnish pancakes for breakfast, makkara and two cupfuls of yogurt for lunch, lihapiirakka and more yogurt for dinner. At least I have this loot to look forward to consuming while I'm away:
Here are some last pictures to remind us of our stay:

Playing in the sandbox:
The only place in the world where I will find my name on anything. Too bad it is bathroom products (the "N" at the end indicates a possessive case):
The mushrooms that were so plentiful in the forest, especially with all the rain at the end. This one is probably poisonous, but there are quite a few edible forest mushrooms:
Spencer never caught his fish, despite an astounding number of tries. Chance was just not on his side this year:
Waimea had a blast gathering wildflowers:
Goodbye, our Finnish heaven. Until next time....

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 22--Telltale Signs of a Blueberry Lover

You can tell when someone's been snitching too many blueberries. Their hands are blue, their clothes are stained blue, and my personal favorite:Blue teeth!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 21--Battle of the Elements

It was a crazy day, weather-wise. Sun and clear skies in the morning. Cloudy and still late morning. Rain and some gentle wind mid-day. Some clearing and patches of sunlight early afternoon. Hard rain and thunderstorms late afternoon, with patches of sunlight and clearing in the distance. Just when we thought it was clearing up, a huge windstorm came from the opposite direction, bringing more rain. An hour later it was clear and sunny. Just enough time for us to do sauna. And then more rain at the end, while the sun was setting in the distance.
It was interesting to watch the cross-currents of clouds throughout the day. When we had the huge windstorm, the wind was coming from the west, but the clouds were coming in from the east. I wish I knew more about Finnish folklore--I'm sure they have an explanation about who is battling it out on days like this. Ukko is supposed to be the god of sky and thunder, and thunderstorms are supposedly created when he drives his chariot in the clouds, using his stone hammer to create the lightning. He must have been battling it out with someone today. Suprisingly not Louhi, the goddess of the north. Nothing was coming from the northerly direction today.

I've never been one to be interested in myths and folklore. But it's interesting how you crave their explanations for changes when you are alone or nearly alone among the elements. At this time of year, most Finns are no longer taking their summer vacations. It's mid-week, and nearly everyone is back in the cities. We are the lone wanderers right now. We're in a small, two-room cabin in the woods on an island in the middle of a huge lake. No running water--we have to fetch it from the well. No bathroom--just an outhouse that we have to walk to in the rain or wind. No heat, except from fire, which we have to perpetuate with the gathering and chopping of wood. Needless to day, weather affects us. It's not like the nonchalance of living in town with everyone else, the weather being a slight nuisance, but still manageable. Here, changes in weather are noticed, and they affect our lives. And it would be nice to have an explanation for why it's happening.

Amidst all this crazy weather, I kayaked around the island. It's about 5.5 miles around. I've been planning on doing it sometime before I left, and time was running out. I left when the weather was cloudy and still. While I was gone, it started raining and the wind picked up. At one place, I turned a corner and was hit dead on with crazy wind, waves, and pelting rain for a good 20-25 minutes. But I still emerged triumphant--I knocked 4 minutes off my time from last year. 68 minutes last year, just under 64 this year. If it's clear again sometime before I go home, I will attempt it again and see if I can better my time.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 20--Outhouse Symbols

Have you ever wondered why there's a crescent moon on pictures of outhouses?

A few months back, I decided to make a crescent moon for my parent's outhouse and stumbled across the answer to that question.

It turns out that back in Colonial times, a good portion of the population was illiterate. So they put symbols on outhouses to differentiate between men and women's--crescent moon for women, a star for men. But because women were better at keeping theirs kept up, they lasted longer, while the mens fells into disrepair. Thus, only the outhouses with crescent moons survived, which is why we associate them with outhouses in general. Want to read more about the history of outhouses? Click here.

When I read this, I knew that I needed to make a crescent moon and a star.

Using scrap pine, I drew out the shapes, cut them out using a jigsaw and a coping saw. Then I roughened up the edges with a chisel, blackened them with my woodburner, and then applied some watered-down paint. Here are the finished products:

Definitely an American thing; Finns know nothing of the symbols. But I thought it would be fun, nonetheless.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 19--Two-Weeks Notice

Evan gave his two-weeks notice.

Many of you may know about this, but many also do not. Evan is going back to graduate school to get a PhD in the operations management side of business. He starts on the 29th of this month at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, just outside of Chicago.

This all started last year when I came home from Finland and Evan announced that he was going to take the GMAT. He's been reading business textbooks for years, and toying with the idea of switching careers. While I was in Finland, he had been studying and taking practice tests and doing very well on them. So he took the test last September and earned a 780 out of 800 on the GMAT. A nearly unheard-of score. Then began the months of applying for schools and ignoring requests from all the other schools that wanted him to attend.

And then the agonizing wait to hear back from schools. And then even more agonizing over which school to attend. Northwestern is what we ended up picking. We've had to keep it on the low-down so that Evan could continue working at his current employment. But now that the two-weeks notice has been given, there's no reason to keep it secret.

Last week, Evan flew out to Chicago and found us a house to rent. After our horrible experience in Jersey with trying to sell our house (it's still not sold, BTW), we knew we would be renting for the next four years. As soon as we arrive, I'll post pictures of the house Evan picked.

I have five days left here in Finland, and then four days at home to pack up all our belongings before the ABF container gets dropped off. Three days to pack it up before it gets picked up, and then we drive away the next day. It'll take two days to get to our new home. So, basically, two weeks from today, we will be pulling into our new home.

I'm ready for a new adventure.

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 18--Moving Rocks and Planting More Grass

The Finnish soil in these parts is more rock than anything else. With the area around the newly-dug well all torn up, we have had to move many of these rocks and fix up the area. So we've been terracing it, and making it so that we can have another grass area.

Many of the rocks were huge--requiring three or more people to move:

The kids joined in with the patting down of topsoil and spreading of seed:

Now is the waiting and watering time. A few more days, and we'll see sprouts of green.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 17--Construction and Destruction

My parents, being the remodelers that they are, are not content with things as they are. The cabin, when purchased, was not up to standards. They've slowly been remodeling things. One of the things that is fast becoming a priority is the front porch. They want to take off the old, warped boards, replace them, and then expand it to a deck twice the size. But they've been delaying working on it, finding other things to work on instead.

I forced the issue with my wanting to build a treehouse. I needed wood, and the warped front porch boards were just right for building the treehouse floor. So I tore them up. Half of the front porch is gone now: The kids have been super-excited about the prospect of their own treehouse. They have volunteered their services:

I found three trees on the property that would make for a fun, triangular-shaped treehouse. I finished the floor, and will hopefully get some walls in before we go back home.

The point nearest us in the picture is going to be a little "deck" and will house the entrance to the treehouse. The higher of the horizontal posts was going to be the floor level, but we decided that was a bit too high. So now we'll just use it for wall supports.

The kids are excited about it, but I think I may be more.

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 16--Town Trip

In Lappeenranta, there is a park that my kids love. Spencer went last summer, and has been begging to go back this year. We finally went. It was his first time in town this year.

What's so fun about this particular park is that they have these cars that move by pedaling like a bike. There are mini-roads that wind around, complete with parking areas, road signs, and playgrounds to stop and play at. The kids had a lot of fun. But I think Spencer was a lot more aware of the language barrier this year, and it made him a bit self-conscious around the other kids.

Then we made the typical stops again--Lidl and Prisma. We found some more funny-named cereals in Lidl. In addition to the "Special Flakes" and "Master Crumble" from last year, we found "Nutter Flakers" and, my own personal favorite, "Nougat Pillows." I wish I had taken a picture.

But I did get this great picture. Combine the bug-eye sunglasses with this picture, and you get this:

(Look closely--you'll see him with his reading glasses over the bug-eye sunglasses. I wish I had gotten a side view).

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 15--Treehouse

My kids have been wanting a treehouse and/or playhouse. A lot of cabins that we have visited of my relatives and friends have playhouses. They are quite common here. But Spencer really wants a treehouse. I started trying to build a playhouse and have a balcony attatched to the nearby trees, but it was just too much--I really couldn't envision it. So I pretty much gave up on the idea of doing it.

Until we visited my aunt and uncle's cabin and found a treehouse that hadn't been there in years past. Apparently it had just been built, and had only taken them two days. My kids fell in love. Spencer was in heaven. Waimea picked up the broom that was there, and started sweeping and singing.
So now I'm determined to at least start one before I leave. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 14--Fishing and Cleaning Fish

One of my earliest fishing memories is of being on a boat in the middle of this same lake with Jeremy and my dad. I was 6, Jeremy was 8. We went fishing a lot back then. At least it seemed so. I was never really good at it. I probably had never caught a fish. But it seemed like a lot of time was spent sitting in a boat, watching Jeremy and my dad fish.

This one particular memory I have is of watching Jeremy fish. He had gotten in the habit of casting his line, even though he hadn't completely reeled it in as far as he should have. And this time it hooked into his head. I vividly remember the panic, the rushing to the hospital (a good 45 minutes away), and the wait. They got the hook out, of course, and he was fine, but ever since then, I've been afraid of hooking my head or getting it hooked by someone else fishing in the same boat.

My dad is probably afraid of the same thing. (He'll never admit it, though). So he's extra careful with Spencer. We've taken him out quite a bit recently because he really wants to catch a fish, especially now that Waimea has caught one. I'm sure if we hadn't had the hook-in-head experience, we would think Spencer is doing just fine. But we're scared. So he stands behind my dad who rows, and I sit at the opposite side of the boat with Waimea (because she insists on going, too). Waimea is done after just a few minutes, so I use her miniature rod, while she takes pictures of us fishing. Here's my favorite: Here's the problem: Spencer never catches any fish, and I keep catching them. We're only gone for about 15-20 minutes, but every time we've gone, I've caught at least two fish. And Spencer has caught none. I don't know why--I never have that much luck when I'm fishing any other time, and with all the casting Spencer has done, surely he should've caught one by now.

Anyway, because I've been catching more fish than I ever have, I decided it was time I gut my own fish. I've watched it done so many times in my life that I know what to do. But I hate touching fish. Raw chicken or ground beef from the store--not a problem. Fish--no way. Time to conquer more irrational fears.

So I did it. I scaled it, with Spencer's help. That's his favorite part:Slit the gills, sliced the belly open, cut the head off and removed all the entrails, popped the "bubble," scraped away the brown stuff, cut off the fins, rinsed.

I'm loving it. Can you tell?

What I'm ashamed to say, though, is that I could not kill them. I was there, all ready to go, holding an almost dead fish, and I could not bring myself to do it. Jeremy had to kill them first, and then I was able to do the rest. One of these days...perhaps I'll be able to kill them, and perhaps Spencer will catch his own fish...

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 13--A Novel Idea

Outhouses with a view. What a great idea. Why do bathrooms never have good views? Or even windows? Where else in a home are you sitting with not much else to do?

Here are some views from the outhouses that we frequent:

Other great ideas from the Finns:

-longest paid vacations of any other nation--usually 4-6 weeks

-shopping carts for kids

-padded, rolling, swivel chairs for cashiers to sit on

-bike paths throughout cities w/bike racks in front of every store

-stores charge you for using plastic bags--it really forces you to recycle or bring baskets to carry groceries home

-stores require a deposit for using shopping carts--50 euro cents--that you get back when you return the cart

-public bathroom stalls that are more like rooms, complete with a sink and a hose with a spray nozzle (kind of like a badet)

-when buying produce or other items sold by the pound, you weigh your own items, enter the item number (clearly listed by the item), and get a sticker with a bar code and final price

-kid-sized potties in just about every public establishment bathroom

-sliding glass enclosures on nearly all balconies (so they can actually be used in the winter time!)

-extra-wide streets on country roads to ensure passing with less chance of accidents

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 12--A Visit from Louhi

A storm came in. But not a rain storm. A cold storm--from the North. Usually that means very cold, biting winds from the northerly direction, and temperatures in the teens (Celcius). We end up spending more time in the cabin, or working even harder outside to stay warm.

When these storms come in, the Finns often say it's Louhi, the Witch of the North, casting her spells of enchantment. Louhi is a character in the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. (You'll have to click on the links to learn more about these topics--I don't know much). But I do know that when these storms come in, it can feel menacing, and almost believable that these storms are intentional. How else could temps flip-flop from the upper 20's to the teens?

Finland is situated so far north--over 1/3 of the country sits above the arctic circle. The extreme changes of weather--windy, cold and menacing one day, then sunny, still, and peaceful the next, combined with the extreme changes in daylight--the midnight sun in the summer (in the northernmost part of Finland, the sun does not set for 73 consecutive days), and the lack of sun in winter (it does not rise at all for 51 consecutive days in winter in that same place up north), and you've got a pretty eerie place. The Kalevala seems to explain a lot of it. It's interesting to read about.

But alas, life continues. Just more of it is spent indoors. It's no wonder the Finns invented the sauna--it gives them something to do to stay warm during those crazy, sunless winter days, and something for us to do on cold, stormy summer days.

Thank goodness for lifetime supply of wood to burn.

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 11--Night Fishing

Spencer and Mea have been begging to go fishing. It's best to go around sunset, but that's usually when the kids go to bed. Spencer has tried during the day, but hasn't caught any. So we decided to try night fishing. I went with Pappa and the kiddos in the row boat, and the others went in the motor boat. Here's the sunset before we took off:Mea used Spencer's old "training" fishing pole--it's about 1 foot long. I cast it for her, and she reeled it in. I got distracted, watching Spencer, about 10 minutes into our fishing session, before I realized that Mea was struggling with reeling hers in. I looked over the boat, and there was a fish, a little pike. It took us both by surprise. Her first fish on her first fishing trip! When we got back, we found out that Jeremy had caught a mega pike:
Maybe we should go night fishing more often.