Sunday, September 28, 2008

Settling In? Ha!

It's been nearly two weeks since we moved into our new house and things have been going swimmingly. We've gotten most of the important stuff unpacked and have hung quite a few things on the walls. It's really starting to feel like home around here. By the end of last weekend, we were starting to feel as though things were really starting to settle down, giving us back our much-needed "life as usual" status.

Until Monday night.

As Todd and I were sitting down for a comfortable night of television when the phone rang. Caller ID said the call was from Todd's sister, Jill, and we, of course, happily answered the phone, anxious to talk to our favorite Anthropologist.

But Jill wasn't her usual perky self. In fact, she was downright upset. She'd just gotten off the phone with her mom and had gotten some bad news about her dad, Orville.

Apparently, my mother-in-law, Dorothy, had noticed some strange behavior from Orville in recent weeks. Withdrawn, lack of interest in favorite hobbies, etc. But Orville recently lost a sister, and his melancholy attitude was attributed to his loss.

But on Monday morning, Orville announced that it was time to go. When Dorothy asked where they were going, he said, "To the park. The kids are getting off the school bus." Now Dorothy and Orville's youngest child -- Todd -- is 40 years old and no one in their family (with the exception of Devin) has ridden a school bus for 30 years. Dorothy tried to question Orville about his expectations about this, but he couldn't give any details. He just knew they needed to get to the park.

So Dorothy made a call to the family doctor and got an appointment for Orville. When they got to the doctor's office, though, Orville offered to wait in the car while Dorothy went in and had her appointment. Dorothy had to remind him that he was the patient that day.

A test of cognitive awareness led to CT scans and those led to hospitalization. Turns out, Orville had a subdural hematoma. Essentially, bleeding on (but thankfully, not in) the brain. Pressure was building up and causing his confusion. The pressure needed to be relieved immediately -- using a drain -- and once it was, Orville would be back to himself.

That was the good news. The bad news was that Yoakum Community Hospital was not set up for this kind of surgery. Orville needed a neurologist and those aren't exactly a dime a dozen in rural Texas.

Because of the extent of the hematoma, Orville was life-flighted to San Antonio early on Tuesday morning. Todd got to the hospital just after he landed and was with his Dad until the surgery at 11:00 that morning.

The surgery was a success and I'm happy to say that Orville went home today. It's been a scary few days -- while we were assured that as long as the pressure of a subdural hematoma was relieved quickly, a full recovery was expected -- it's still brain surgery and those are words that strike fear in the heart of any family. God is good and has given us more time with Todd's dad. We're thankful that our prayers were answered.

So here's to another week, hoping that things will settle down for good and that "life as usual" will be attained.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Big Move Debacle

It's been a long time comin', but I've finally got a few moments to sit down and chronicle the craziness that has dominated the Pruetz family for the past month.

Grab a snack, folks...this won't be short.

So, back in late July, our house sold and we started looking for a new home in which to move. Within a few days, we had found the home we knew was for us -- four bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths, a game room, and a study, in a still-under-construction gated community. It looked brand-new, as though no one had ever lived in it and we jumped at the chance to put an offer in.

So we sat down with our friend and Realtor, Monique, and went through the whole process. The reason the house looks so new is because it's a foreclosure -- the previous owners moved in, never made a single payment and were promptly thrown out on their rear-ends. They barely had time to move in, let alone paint or hang picture. The house had been sitting vacant since May.

We were warned that buying a foreclosure could mean a long, drawn-out escrow process and that there would be lawyers and government agencies involved. We were told to expect stress.

We listened to Monique's advice, but behind closed doors, Todd and I looked at one another and said, "What could be so hard? A bank owns a house and needs to recoup its money. What's the big deal?"

Famous last words of a fool.

All went well for the first few days -- our offer was accepted and our former home did well during the inspection and appraisal. The inspection at the new house came back with only minor issues (the doorbell would "dong" but not "ding," etc.), most of which were still covered under the builder's warranty since the house is less than two years old.

With it looking as though the green light was on for all parties, we started to pack. Boxes upon boxes, upon boxes filled our home and we started to live with less and less.

We started discussing finalizing the closing dates for both houses and it looked as though all of the documents for both homes were ready to arrive at the respective title companies and be ready for our signatures.

Suddenly, though, there was a glitch. The deed for the new house was missing. It needed to be prepared by a bankruptcy lawyer (something that should have been done in May when the house was foreclosed upon), and then needed to be routed to Countrywide for signatures and then to Fannie Mae for signatures. After that, it would be sent to the title company for final recording and the closing could commence.

The process seems pretty simple, but going through a title company, two mortgage companies (one of which is run by the government!) and a group of high-priced lawyers in Dallas proved to be an experience we would not soon forget.

With the closing of our former home fast approaching, we had to so some fancy footwork and ask for a lease-back so that we could have a place to live if our new home didn't close in time. Luckily, the woman who bought our house was very accommodating and allowed us up to three weeks to lease the house from her.

For about a week, every day was a new story from the title company -- the deed is here, the deed is there, we don't need the deed, we do need the deed, what deed? who said anything about a deed? The list went on and on.

We were getting extraordinarily frustrated and stressed out. It looked as if we might not get this house, as time was running out. Monique spent countless hours on the phone with the title company and the Realtor for the selling party (who was on our side from the beginning, thankfully). She went to church and petitioned prayers on our behalf. We couldn't have asked for a better advocate.

But despite the nudging, arguing and downright ugliness, the deed was still nowhere to be found. It seemed that the title company, who is supposed to be the mediator between the two parties -- a unbiased third party who facilitates closings and the documents that go along with them -- was somehow connected to the lawyers, Nationwide and/or Fannie Mae. It was almost as though they didn't want this house to close because the longer it took, the more money they got.

One afternoon, though, it finally happened -- the deed was found. It was only an e-copy, but the bankruptcy lawyers all agreed that it would suffice to go ahead and close.

So we closed on our former home and went ahead with the final preparations to move out. We stayed in the old house for about five days and planned to close on the new house on the 11th.

Thursday, September 11 came around and an 18-wheeler arrived bright and early. It was a long, hot day as four men loaded everything we owned into a truck. The kids were upset at seeing their belongings go away, but we explained to them over and over again that they would be at the new house waiting for us. We were confident that we would close late that afternoon and move into our new home the next day (my sister graciously opened up her home to us!). We wouldn't have to live in a hotel for a week, as we thought we might have to do. And what a blessing! Hurricane Ike was heading straight toward Houston and a million people were trying to get out of its path...many venturing to San Antonio. There was not a single hotel room left in the city.

The morning turned into lunch and lunch into afternoon, and still no closing. We were starting to get worried. Around 4:30 in the afternoon, Monique showed up at our door. She did not look happy and was on her cell phone, having a very heated conversation with someone. Yikes. I would hate to be whichever client was getting screwed on this deal. Whatever it was, it was bad.

And then I realized the client of whom she was speaking was us. She got off the phone and said, "The lawyers have changed their minds. They want the original deed to be found before we close."

That was it. I completely lost it. Tears started flowing, as I watched my furniture, belongings, memories, clothing, keepsakes and personal items being loaded into a truck. Our lives where on hold with no way to move forward. Our kids were freaking out and we had no place to go.

As I was sobbing, Monique called the title company and demanded to speak to the highest-up person available in the office. She out-and-out accused them of taking some sort of kick-back, attacked the escrow officer's ethics and abilities and let a few choice words fly. And then, she pulled out the stop and did the ultimate...she handed the phone to me.

I lit into the woman on the other line. Tears of anger, frustration and exhaustion poured down my face as I gave her my sob story and when she had the audacity to tell me she understood, I ripped into her like I've never done. Don't you dare tell me you understand, when everything but the clothes on your back are on a truck and you don't have a destination for them. Don't you even venture to think you know what it's like to explain all of this to a five-year-old and two two-year-olds. I informed her that we had no place to go, that there wasn't a hotel room to be had and asked if she had any extra room in her home, because we needed shelter.. I invited her to come over and see our home for herself and experience our lives for one minute. I informed her that her company "would pay for this."

Once the woman could get a word in edge-wise, she apologized over and over again and said that she would right the wrong. She promised me that we would close on this house and that we would be in it on schedule.

After I got off the phone, Monique and I talked and I called ZZ to ask if we could stay for more than one night. In fact, we didn't know how many nights it would be. My wonderful sister and her equally as wonderful husband welcomed us with open arms, never asking how long we'd be there. At least we had a roof over our heads.

Monique had an event to attend that night, but informed us that she'd be back at the house later that night to help us clean. The movers finally left around 7:30 and I took the kids to my sister's house for baths and bed while Todd scrubbed the old house for its new owners.

After the kids were tucked in, I headed back to our former residence to help Todd and sure enough, at 9:30, Monique showed up, ready to scrub. How's that for service?

We were done with cleaning the house, though, so we took a moment to sit down (on the floor, of course, since the house was empty) and discuss what had happened earlier. Apparently, Monique had spent her whole event on and off the phone with the title company and the seller's agent. They were all burning the midnight oil after my little fit. She couldn't tell us when we would close, but she assured us that, for the first time since we'd started this process, she was certain that everyone was working on our account and not just giving her lip service.

So we loaded up the car with our final belongings and handed the keys to Monique. We said our goodbyes to our home of six years and tearfully drove away, exhausted and questioning everything. I sobbed the whole way back to ZZ's house. I needed a good emotional outburst and I got it.

Our night was fitful, to say the least and Todd left for work extra early, having barely slept a wink. I got Devin off to school and got the twins up and fed. I hopped into the shower, but checked my phone just after getting out. Sure enough...there was a call from Monique.

I listened to the message -- the deed was magically found and we were closing at 1:30. I called Monique back, talked to Todd and had it all arranged. It was really happening.

Sort of.

Around 12:15, I got a call from Monique, asking about our wire transfer. I informed her that I had authorized our financial advisor in Houston to send the wire to the title company the day before and that it should be at title company's bank. After a thorough search, though, it wasn't there. Our down payment had never made it.

So I called my financial advisor, thinking this would be an easy fix. That is until I heard her voice mail.

"Thank you for calling Morgan Stanley. Our office is currently closed, in preparation for Hurricane Ike. Please leave a message and I will respond as soon as our office reopens. Or you may call customer service."

Oh my this a joke? Can anything go smoothly for me? Our transfer never made it and the only person who can make the transfer happen has been ordered to leave her office building!

So I called customer service and explained my situation. I needed a large sum of money to be sent to my title company's bank ASAP, as we were closing in an hour. They informed me that they didn't know how to get in touch with our advisor and that maybe I should contact the nearest branch office for a cashier's check. I asked them to please look for any method of getting in touch with Julie, our advisor, while I called the only Morgan Stanley branch office in San Antonio on the other phone.

So they put me on hold and I called the branch office. I asked for their hours and directions to their offices. Just as I was about to hang up, I said, "Thank you for your help. I'll be there shortly, as I'll need to order a cashier's check."

I'm so glad I said that, because the woman responded, "I'm sorry. We don't issue cashier's checks at this location." Grrrrr! Another set back, but thank goodness I knew not to go all the way downtown to get a product that wasn't available to me!

Meanwhile, I was still on hold with customer service, who finally comes back on the phone and says that they'd located Julie and to please continue to hold. By this time, Todd had made it home from work and was walking in the door, ready to go to the closing. I explained the whole thing to him and we called Monique from the home phone to give her the update. She told us to stay on hold with the bank, but to get in the car and start driving to the title company for the closing, just in case we could get the transfer to go through.

So we did just that...while holding the cell phone for dear life, hoping to hear anything at all. Customer service finally came back and told us that Julie would be calling ASAP. We confirmed both of our phone numbers and hung up. Sure enough, the phone rang moments later and a very sorry Julie was on the line. She was in her car, heading toward the office. She had already called her boss who was going to meet her there because he needed to authorize the wire. They had to all but bribe the building security to let them in, but they got it done (and even managed to pull a few strings to get it though more quickly than usual).

By the time we got to the title company, everything was in order. We had a confirmation number for the wire transfer, the bank knew to send their portion of the payment and we while we were looking pretty ragged, we were ready to sign.

We walked into the title company's office and were greeted by the woman at whom I had yelled the night before. Fully expecting her to give me the cold shoulder, I was astonished when she greeted me with a hug and apologized again for everything we'd been put through. She assured me that she would be handling our closing and that the escrow officer who had been so difficult to work with would not be present. That escrow officer has no idea what she dodged in not being there, because I had more than a few words planned for her.

So we signed our lives away, as anyone who has ever signed for a mortgage understands, and walked out of there owners of a new home. It was hard to believe, considering all we had done to get to that point, but we had it. The house was ours. We just had to wait for it to fund and we could move in.

Because of Hurricane Ike, though, the movers weren't able to get us in that weekend, so despite the fact that we were fully funded within hours of closing, we didn't move in until last Tuesday.

We spent the interim days at my sister's house. It was quite an experience, as ZZ and Brian have four kids and Todd and I have three. And, of course, Presley's 6th birthday party fell during the time we were staying there, so that added an additional five six-year-olds on Saturday night. Oh, and ZZ's friend Tiffany had to evacuate from Houston and stayed there too.

Can you keep up with that? Let me help you.

5 adults
12 kids
2 dogs
2 fish
1 cat
1 rabbit
Total Chaos

It was a mad house, but ZZ and Brian never once complained. They were so accommodating and loving that we couldn't have felt more at home. Thank God for family. Thank God for good family.

Tuesday rolled around and again, the movers were here bright and early. The move in was much quicker than the move out and by Tuesday evening, we were all settled in our own beds, ready to spend the first night in our new home.

Since then, it's been a whirlwind of activity around here. Unpacking boxes, putting stuff away, wondering what happened to certain items (we didn't find our silverware until this afternoon!) and finding places for every little thing we brought with us.

It's tiring work, but there's something about setting up your new home. The kids are loving it and have already met some of the neighborhood kids. Devin has successfully ridden the bus to and from school and we're all settling into our new lives. We miss our neighbors and our old neighborhood, but this was a change that truly needed to happen.

Well, it's taken me over an hour to write this and if you haven't fallen asleep yet, then there must be something wrong with you. It's not exactly thrilling. But in 20 years, when all of this is a distant memory, I plan to look back, read this and laugh. I seriously doubt that the laughter will come any earlier than 20 years, though. I have a feeling we'll have a pretty bad taste in our mouths for a long time to come.

I'm off to bed. Nighty night...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Still Breathing...

Hi! I don't have a lot of time right now (of course, when do I ever?), but I wanted to give a quick update to say that yes, I am still alive! We finally got moved out of our house and into our new one and while we are happily here and loving it, the move was not without drama. As soon as I get a few minutes to myself, I'll be sure to fill you in on the details.

Thanks for bearing with me!

Friday, September 05, 2008

Our Neighbor's Weeds

Last night was the Kindergarten parent orientation night, so Todd and I went to Devin's school to hear all about things like core knowledge, D'Nelian handwriting, self-managers and how things are done at his elementary school. It was very interesting and I feel like a (mostly) prepared mommy of a Kindergartener.

On our way home, though, Todd and I had quite the encounter. As we were driving through our neighborhood, we began to smell smoke. As we rounded a corner, we saw a house on the main street that had smoke billowing from the backyard. I mean just pouring out of there. It was incredible.

Todd slammed the car into park and jumped out to run around to the back of this house. While he did so, I grabbed my cell phone and dialed 911. But as I was directed to the correct department, Todd came around the corner of the house, waving his arms as if to say, "False alarm." I apologized to the 911 operator and told her that no, indeed, there was no fire.

Todd got into the car and informed me that there was just a man sitting in his back yard, burning stuff in his chiminea. The man had told Todd that all was well, that there was no out-of-control fire and thanked him for checking on the situation.

So we pulled down our street and walked into the house (Todd's parents were watching the kids). We told Grandma and Grandpa about what had happened and Todd said, "There was so much smoke, I even reek of it!"

I walked over and took a sniff of my husband's shirt. As I sniffed, he sniffed too, and we both just sort of stopped and looked at one another. That wasn't just any kind of smoke coming from that backyard.

I am not, and never have been, a drug user. I've just never understood the allure and even through innumerable college fraternity parties, I never tried any sort of illegal drugs. I felt like a real wild woman when I bought a pack of cigarettes once. I'm pretty mild, to say the least.

But just because I don't smoke weed, doesn't mean that I don't know what it smells like. There was plenty of it at the aforementioned frat parties, as well as pretty much anywhere along fraternity (and even sorority) row.

And if I had never smelled it before, then I certainly smelled it a lot on our honeymoon in Jamaica.

So I am familiar with the odor and I knew what it was as soon as I took a whiff of Todd's shirt. Holy smokes (no pun intended)! That guy was totally burning out his entire backyard!

Todd and I laughed so hard that my hysterical spouse even went over to the next-door neighbor's house (who happens to be a police officer) to ask for his opinion. Billy confirmed that, indeed, that was the small of marijuana and suggested that this guy may have found the drug in his kid's backpack and was "teaching him a lesson" by burning it in the chiminea. In doing so, though, he was managing to get the entire block stoned.

I couldn't resist writing this down -- it was just so funny and so typical of something that would happen to us. Despite our living in suburbia USA with homeowners' associations, minivans and disposable income, we still manage to live a few houses down from the guy who believes everyone should be enlightened by the use of a controlled substance.

I'm outta here now...I have a sudden craving for Doritos.

PS - No, we haven't moved yet. I'll upload pictures as soon as I unpack the USB cable for my camera. It might be awhile, so don't hold your breath (unless you're sitting outside with my that case, take a deep breath and hold it in as long as you can).