Idol clatter

Oh Siobhan.

Can’t say I’m surprised she got the boot on “American Idol” tonight. She took on a big song this week with Shania’s “Any Man of Mine” and didn’t give it the umpf it deserved. … But, boy, did I stand up and cheer when she reprised her “Think” and busted out that mother note at the end once more.

Not that I care much about what happens on “Idol” anymore. Please, let’s just kick ‘em all off and cut to the Lee DeWyze/Crystal Bowersox finale.

I’m saying that and I haaaaaaated Lee’s performance last night of “Still the One.” He wasn’t enunciating his words. His pitch sounded all over the place. It was so cringe-worthy it had me thinking about changing the channel … Yet, it seems the judges are so in love with Lee that even the most nightmarish performance would garner praise.

Michael Lynche, on the other hand, whom I stopped being a fan of long ago was totally in the zone. … Seriously. It’s about time the judges recognized Michael’s similarity to Luther Vandross. People, I’ve been saying that since the first week I heard Big Mike. No other comparison comes close … Still, I thought the judges should have let him go instead of using the save. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t make the top three. 

The same goes for Casey James. Hello, Bob Seger!? (Ellen was listening to me again!) Every week I hear Casey’s raspy voice, it makes me want to flip on Seger’s Greatest Hits. But that doesn’t mean I expect mighty Casey to be competing in the final.

And then there’s Crystal Bowersox. Need we say more? Nope. She’s got it made, and I loved her take on “No One Needs To Know.” Totally got the Nickel Creek vibe last night (love them!).

As for Aaron Kelley … I got nothing. He doesn’t appeal to me and I don’t think he’s been consistent enough to be “Idol” material.

This season had been mostly dreadful to watch, but I love music too much not to check in from time to time. And the only thing that will make it all worthwhile is a Crystal Bowersox win.

Here's some good Idol reading ...
a American idyll ... This is a gem of a story about Crystal's roots in Toledo and Chicago.
a ‘Idol’ threat: In Boston, all eyes and ears are on Siobhan Magnus
a Judging the ‘American Idol’ judges
a Ellen, ‘Idol’ and the Power of Niceness


Sinking feelings

I’m pretty sure that tonight I’ve hit my lowest point in this adventure.

My refrigerator is nearly empty because I’ve barely had the time or money to go to the grocery store. I’ve been living off beef and cheese sandwiches …

Our bank account has taken a big hit, thanks to taxes and this whole house-hunting thing …

Things in my professional realm right now are -- shall we say, difficult. Some things have unraveled and I’m in a tough spot.

And I miss Kates and Phoebe terribly. I miss our house. I miss coming home to work in the yard. I miss K-town. I miss watching Cubs and Brewers games. I miss knowing that on any given weekend we could be going to a game. I miss Summerfest. I miss making plans to go camping.

Above all, the real estate market is making me sick.

None of the showings on our K-Town home over the weekend have materialized into offers. And if the feedback we’ve been getting from lookers holds true, we could lose thousands in any deal. All the money we’ve invested in our house these last six years -- a bathroom remodel, a roof replacement, a deck addition, landscaping. It hardly matters now, and heart-breaking doesn’t begin to describe our emotions.

Today, we looked at House Nos. 25, 26 and 27 … And No. 25 was ripe for us to make an offer. But the scarcity of offers on our K-Town home, and the prospect of a loss, is causing us to put the brakes on laying down any offers in The ’Ville for awhile.

The cherry on top of our heap came this evening when I checked my mailbox and found a greeting card from my parents congratulating us on our new house. They mailed it before the deal sank on Saturday.

Tonight is the first time since my first week here that I’ve wondered, What the heck am I doing in this place!? … I’m feeling guilty about influencing Kates and Phoebe to relocate here. About the mess we’ve gotten into with our house. About the impact all of this might have on Phoebe’s childhood. And I’m doubting whether we’ll truly be happy here.

Then I have to remind myself. Be patient. It’ll come. Everything will fall into place. And that we’ve accomplished the most important feat by getting Kates a job for next year. Everything else will come.

I have to remind myself of the reasons we wanted to take this leap of faith in the first place. That I’ve only been here a few months, and Kates and Phoebe will be here in a couple more. That there’s plenty of new opportunities waiting for us here. And that there are plenty of trips to Cubs and Brewers games, camping vacations and Summerfest concerts -- although, maybe not this summer -- left in our future. The world is more mobile now than ever.

Ironically, my mother e-mailed a timely passage to me this morning …

“I am certain that God will bless me, but I don't know how. When we think we know exactly how the One who made us is going to take care of us, we're apt to ignore the angel messages sent us along the way.”



Clearing my desktop and consciousness of stuff from the last few weeks that isn’t related to houses, work and our transition …

* * *

It’s been a gloomy, rainy, dark weekend in The ‘Ville …

Yesterday, we nearly had a tornado swoop in. The inspector and I were standing in the kitchen when, all of a sudden, the tornado sirens began to sound. It was an odd thing, we thought, because the temperature hadn’t been that warm and the sky didn’t look very menacing. Then again, 12:43 p.m. was an odd time to be testing the sirens.

It turned out a funnel cloud was spotted near campus, but it quickly dissipated. Check out this photo of the cloud that was posted on Facebook …

* * *

I stumbled on this video a couple weeks ago. Apparently it’s made its way around the Internet a few times, but this was the first I’ve seen of it. It might make you cry …

Watch CBS News Videos Online

* * *
A couple weeks ago, I clicked the “My Top Rated” playlist on my iPod, and haven’t moved from it since.

I have more than 5,000 tracks on that playlist and haven’t heard a song more than once in weeks. Talk about a no-repeat work day … I’ve kept it going at work, in my car, at home.

It’s been fun hearing songs I don’t hear as often as the songs I have on multiple playlists. I've heard lots of deep cuts and songs I forgot I had on my iPod.

We’ll see how long I can stay on the playlist until my desire to listen to The Shins, Guster, Death Cab for Cutie or one my other favorite bands becomes too overpowering.

* * *
We learned this week that “Mad Men” will return on July 25Can’t wait!

In the meantime, here’s a good bit from “Funny or Die” with John Hamm …

* * *
I discovered recently that I sent 224 text messages last month. Yikes. … A year ago, it was an incredible feat if I sent more than four text messages in a month.

With my new job -- in addition to taking advantage of the easy way to communicate with Kates when needed -- I’ve finally realized the benefits of texting. And I like it!

* * *

When the NCAA announced the other day it was expanding its basketball tournament to just 68 teams I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

As the plan was debated, I said several times that I’d be done watching the tournament if it expanded to 96 teams.

At least we’ll have a competitive tournament for a couple more years -- until the supposedly inevitable 96-team expansion.


One week

What a difference a week makes … Or not.

A week ago, I was lamenting our frustrating home search, when, on Sunday everything changed -- or so we thought. That yielded to a banner week -- or so we thought. But tonight we’re back where we were a week ago -- sort of.

Here’s how it went down. Literally.

While I was looking at what we’ll affectionately call Dud House No. 19 last weekend, I noticed a home a few houses down that was marked for sale and asked our realtor if we could take a look at it. Almost all of the houses we’ve seen have been on our realtor’s suggestions, but this one was on me. That’s how we found our charming little house in K-Town -- I stumbled on it one night and asked our realtor about it -- so I thought I might work my magic twice. …

It -- House No. 22 -- had all the makings of a great house for us. It was in our ideal neighborhood (we’ve looked at five houses there now), and it was very similar to the house we let get away (which is located just a couple blocks away). It had three bedrooms and three bathrooms. A finished basement. Two-car garage. A breezeway and a big yard.

When we got our first look inside the place during a visit Sunday afternoon, it quickly was apparent the house would need a lot of updating. The home was built in 1976, and frankly -- aside from the carpet that had been replaced recently -- it appeared as though the owners hadn’t changed anything from the day they moved in. The living room had a dark panel wall. The light fixtures were dark and dated. The walls were laced with dark-stained baseboard and chair railings. The appliances came in a classic ‘70s mustard color.

But all of those updates were cosmetic things I knew Kates and I could handle, and have fun doing. Those updates paled in comparison to the size, layout and living possibilities of the home. Kates would finally have the dining room she’s long wanted. I could recreate my man’s lair/baseball room in the finished basement. The house had plenty of space for Phoebe to roam and play, including a loft area on the second floor. And I was having visions of spending summers sitting in the breezeway and coming up with ways to landscape the yard.

On Monday morning, we placed a solid offer on the home … And that afternoon, Kates was offered a teaching position at the only public elementary school in town. That deal went down like this: While Kates was visiting The ‘Ville a couple weeks ago, my college roommate’s wife’s brother – who teaches at the school and knew Kates was looking for a job -- tipped off my old roommate that a position was opening. I relayed the message to Kates and she went to work brushing up her resume. After a whirlwind process of securing transcripts, letters of recommendations and submitting her application, she was contacted about an interview. The search committee interviewed her Friday -- via Skype! How cool is that!? -- and on Monday she was offered the job. It was networking at its finest.

On Tuesday morning, the seller returned with a counter-offer on the house. We countered. He countered again. We countered again. And he accepted what likely would have been our final offer. … By Tuesday afternoon, I was delivering earnest money to our realtor and signing papers. (And I was handling all of that while navigating one of the busiest days I’ve had in my new job at the University, coordinating a series of television interviews and a series of extensive interviews for a radio station that was working on a feature story about one of our programs.)

By Wednesday, we had made some adjustments to try speeding up the sale of our house in K-Town, and we were feeling like all of the dominoes were finally falling in our favor. The clouds were parting. The picture was getting clearer.

But some uncertainty about our home offer began seeping in Thursday and Friday. Heated phone conversations. Confounding e-mail exchanges … I prayed for some signs to what we should do.

This morning, I met an inspector at our prospective home. A storm was brewing in the sky, but the property couldn’t have looked better to me. While the inspector began to jot down notes, I started snapping pictures of the yard and all the color in the trees and flower beds.
Once we’d moved into the back yard, the inspector noted some drainage concerns along a concrete patio. He found some significant moisture damage in the windows. Almost all of the screens needed to be replaced. He found some rotted siding. He had concerns about the way the air-conditioning unit was attached to the home. He said the roof, which supposedly was just six years old, appeared closer to 10 or 13 years old from moisture and a lack of ventilation. And when he worked his way inside some bushes that were hiding the front of the house, he discovered the brickwork on the front porch was bowed and ready to topple from the bottom up.

The homeowners hadn’t just gone 34 years without updating the home. They’d neglected it, too.

Inside the home, the inspector began telling me stories about a reputation he had among some builders and realtors as “The Deal Breaker” because he was so meticulous with his inspections.

We found more moisture spots in windows and ceilings. Most of the windows were stuck and couldn’t even be opened. We found leaky and corroded pipes ... Yet, as the dollars on fix-it projects continued adding up, somehow the inspector came to a conclusion that those mustard colored appliances still had some good years left in them.

The real deal breaker came after we entered the finished basement. As the inspector and I were checking a storage room, I discovered the carpet in one corner was soaked with water. We opened up the adjacent door to the furnace room and discovered the floor was flooded. With some further inspection, we figured out the water draining from an upstairs bathtub was causing the sewer to back up into the furnace room. There also was mold on the walls … If that wasn’t enough, “The Deal Breaker” told me the type of circuit breaker was a known fire hazard and referred me to Web sites like this one.

Three hours after I was taking pictures of the yard and imagining our life there, I knew we had no choice but to terminate our offer. The number of repairs had gone beyond the money we were comfortable investing in the home and virtually killed any hopes we had for cosmetic updates … And frankly, I was relieved to come to the conclusion. “The Deal Breaker” had done his job, probably saving us thousands of dollars and hundreds of sleepless nights. God had given me the sign I asked for.

This afternoon, just a few minutes after I’d returned to my apartment from seeing Dud House No. 23 and Dud House No. 24, our realtor called saying the seller was at The Home That Once Seemed Destined To Be Ours, now known as Dud House No. 22. He wanted me to meet him to point out the problems …

As I drove back to the house, I thought, Hmm, this could be a good thing. Maybe he’s willing to fix the problems and wants to renegotiate

Not so. He insisted he had no knowledge of the problems, made no apologies for what we found and showed no interest in trying to retain me as a buyer.

The house hunting has officially resumed ... But Kates has a job!


Not home yet

Three more houses today.

That brings the number of houses we’ve toured in the last three weeks to 21.

Which I’m pretty sure is double the number of houses we looked at during our rookie search in K-Town six years ago. I recalled at least nine homes when I was trying to count them up this afternoon, and that search ran about a month and a half long.

We thought that was a grueling, frustrating search. At least we submitted offers on three of those homes in 2004.

This time, we’ve submitted one offer. It’s still pending, and if it fell into our favor, it’d be a miracle.

Having received some encouraging listings from our realtor late last night, I headed into this morning feeling good. There was a home with some promise available in our targeted neighborhood. Sure, it was another classic ’70s split-level, but it had sort of a colonial facade with tall pillars on the front porch. Looking at the interior pictures, I had hoped some French doors along the back porch, some new paint and a few more updates here and there could do the trick.

I was wrong again.

The current homeowners are smokers, so the house reeked of their stale cigarettes. The back yard also was smaller than I had expected, and it had a tree stump in the middle of it that must have been four feet tall and five feet across … On the bright side, the basement rec room and den area was everything I’d want in our next home. But that dang smoke scent was way too powerful and I knew there was no way we’d be moving in there.

The second home of the day was just built, and it sits in a newer neighborhood … But it was so plain and had such little charm, it was almost unbearable to stand inside. No basement. Tiny yard. The kitchen was huge, but it had just a few cabinets -- and there was carpeting in the kitchen. Who puts carpeting in a kitchen!?

The third house … Why bother. It was among the worst yet.

The day wasn't all bad. I stopped at a secondhand store today and secured a copy of "Juno" for five bucks. Awesome movie, thrilled to add it to my collection.


House hurting

So I looked at five more houses today.

None of them were worth considering.

Our realtor led me through two during my lunch break …

The first looked promising from the pictures we saw online, and it held some promise when we pulled up … Then we walked to the back door, and I saw that the back yard consisted of a small concrete patio between the house and the garage … The interior had some of the charms of a 19th-century house -- a big dining room, a grand winding staircase, a tall living room with plantation shutters -- but the home, like so many we’ve seen, also needed a lot of work. The flowery wallpaper -- so not our style -- was almost as dated as the house. The kitchen was tiny, and the washer and dryer were inside it. The floor was uneven, the ceilings and walls had large cracks. There was no basement …

The second home had some potential, but it would have required a second mortgage just to update it. The built-in oven in the kitchen appeared to be about 50 years old. The bedrooms had hardwood flooring, but the rest of the rooms had musty brown carpeting or vinyl flooring that was peeling up in the corners. The yard was decent, but the house sat on main road …

Next please.

We chose three more to look at tonight, the first of which had just entered the marketplace and a lot of people are wanting to see it -- or so we were told …

But it didn’t quite live up to the hype. It was a split-level -- the kind of layout Kates and I don’t want but can’t seem to avoid in our searches -- with an open floor plan and a large living area. But all of the updates appeared to have been done hastily, and they hardly fit our style. Plus the laminate flooring in the kitchen was bubbling, and the back yard backed up to the high school parking lot. If Kates and I went for the house, we’d likely spend just as much money redoing all the updates as we might have spent on improvements to an older house.

We moved on to another 19th-century home that looked promising in its pictures -- a wraparound porch, beautiful woodwork inside … I knew that one wasn’t going to work out the moment we stepped on the caving porch. The windows were in poor shape. The paint was peeling. The rooms were small. The upstairs was a sauna. The basement was a maze of pipes and hanging electrical wiring. The one-car garage was in total disrepair.

Oh, but we saved the best for last.

I decided to throw the final address into the mix for good measure. Kates and I had seen it listed for several weeks and weren’t overly impressed with it, but the pictures were intriguing and the yard looked nice. I thought it at least deserved a look … Bah! After we pulled up, our realtor warned me it had been student housing, and I was turned off the moment we stepped into the two-car garage -- which had been divided in the middle by a studded wall. One side of the garage was empty; the other had been transformed into a rec room with a pool table. And it reeked so badly of smoke and lord knows what else, I almost spewed. The entire house wreaked and the layout had no rhyme or reason. It was labyrinth of stairs and doors and rooms that seemed to go on and on and on. Which I supposed could be fun -- but not really.

This house hunt is starting to become torturous.

I've also been fighting a cold this week. I barely have a voice. The door of my dishwasher is jammed, so I only have a couple dishes to use. My refrigerator is nearly empty because I have't had time to go grocery shopping.

Everything's great.


Up and down

Another weekend trip down. Another week started. Two months to go … We think. We hope. We need to sell our house. We need to find a house.

Yesterday was Phoebe’s birthday. The Big 2 … So if there was any weekend I was traveling back to K-Town -- it wouldn’t have mattered if the University was hit with a freak April snowstorm that killed the power and toppled buildings, thus creating a media frenzy -- this was the weekend I was doing it.

Thankfully, the weather was gorgeous. All weekend long.

I set my alarm for 5:45 a.m. Friday morning, packed my suitcase and was on the road shortly after 6:30. I drove side-by-side with the sunrise, and it was so, so swell.

I made my one-time pit stop in Iowa City, at the same exit I’ve stopped at during every one of my road trips. Gas at the BP and lunch at the Arby’s across the street. Pretty soon I was crossing into the Land of Lincoln and I was pulling into our garage around 3:30 in the afternoon … The only glitch in my trip was some roadwork along the Iowa-Illinois border that detoured me past my old stomping grounds in LaSalle-Peru. I would’ve stopped to check out the old neighborhood, too, if I wasn't so eager to get “home.”

Back in K-Town, I could hardly wait to get outside to work in our yard … Those plans were shot when Kates called to say she was running late from school and needed me to keep Phoebe company at the daycare. So I went to the daycare to meet Phoebe, and kept her company, until Kates could come with the car seat.

Friday night, we ate together. We danced together. We watched our recording of the “Glee” kids on Oprah. Being back at our home had never felt better …

*     *     *

When Saturday arrived, I couldn’t get to work in the yard fast enough. All of us were up, and Phoebe was plopped on the couch for “Bob The Builder” by 8 a.m. But I was stuck inside for the first part of the morning to help Phoebe and Kates get ready for their regular Saturday-morning-coffee-clutch-playdate-meet-up thing … A few of the young mothers from our church meet up at one of the local coffee joints, and the kids -- all girls around Phoebe’s age -- get to play together. Phoebe and the girls have become best buds, and watching them giggling together and making faces at each other across the pews at church Sunday sort of made me feel guilty for taking Phoebe away from them.

By 10:30, I was escaping in my yard. My beloved yard. Clearing brush and yard waste left over from the winter. Picking and pulling weeds. Made a trip to the city dump. Mowed the lawn. Spread some fresh cocoa mulch in one of our flower gardens, and repaired a block wall that was sagging. I even laid some fertilizer Monday morning before I got back in my car to drive back to The 'Ville.

I tore up my hands from all the work, but it felt great. I was in heaven. It was wonderful … And agonizing at the same time. As I looked around our yard, I couldn’t keep from feeling sad about what we’ll be leaving. The daffodils along the deck, the crocuses and hyacinths in the front -- everything was growing and filling in the landscape. This was supposed to be the year that I was going to start to see all my years of hard work coming to fruition. Instead, I’m going to be starting over in a new place.

At one point I said to Kates, “Maybe we can just keep this as our vacation home?”

I may have a little buddy to motivate me, though, at the new place. One of the enduring images from my weekend will be of Phoebe sitting outside with me Saturday night. I was finishing up in the yard, while Kates started dinner, and Phoebe begged to come outside with me. So I took her little hand and led her outside along our deck. Then she sat sweetly and contently on the step, watching me while I finished some trimming.

*     *     *
Sunday was Phoebe’s day.

After church, and lunch, and naps, and a rush to wrap Phoebe’s presents and clean the house, we had both sets of grandparents to the house to celebrate Phoebe’s birthday. Great-grandma H. joined the party this year, too.

Given all that’s happening these days, it was a more subdued get-together this year, compared to last. Nor were we riding high from the exhilaration of an Easter service this year … No dinner. Just some cupcakes, a few birthday presents and a relaxing afternoon with loved ones.

Among Phoebe’s birthday take this year were some clothes, some books and “Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie” on DVD -- which has Kates and I just as excited to watch … Kates’ mother also rescued a tea set, and a small table and chair from Kates’ grandmother’s home. Kates had played with the set as a child, and her mother lovingly fixed it up with a red and white plaid pattern. Phoebe was seated at it in no time, drawing on her new doodle toy with one hand (a present from Grandma and Grandpa H.) while pressing the buttons on her new Fridge Phonics toy with the other hand and singing to each of the alphabet songs. Kates bought the Fridge Phonics on the recommendation of Phoebe’s caretaker. The toy is Phoebe’s latest interactive favorite at her daycare, and Kates and I have been listening to Phoebe sing the songs at the dinner table for months.

But the one present Phoebe couldn’t wait to open? A pack of Goldfish she got from Grandma and Grandpa H., who watched her down handfuls of them during their trip to The ‘Ville a couple weekends ago. For awhile, we couldn’t entice Pheebs to open any other gifts because she only had eyes for the Goldfish.

Phoebe’s final gift was a baseball tee set from yours truly … We took her to the backyard to try it out. But she was more interested in doodling.

*     *     *

All the fun and joy of the weekend made leaving Monday morning tougher than usual. I also didn’t leave town until 9:30 a.m., so my usual timing along my route was out of sync. I ended up stopping three times for gas, food and restroom breaks. When it comes to my kind of road trippin’ -- that’s amateur.

More frustrating, I forgot my cell phone charger when I left The ‘Ville, so I was practically racing to get back before the last bar dimmed on my phone. The cell phone won, going dead about an hour before I reached my charger … And then I had to wait a good 15 minutes for it to charge enough for me to even place a phone call.

Compromising the situation further, Kates and I were trying to submit a revised offer on a home we’ve fallen in love with … The short version of a long story is this: We submitted an initial offer a week ago, but got beat by another bidder. Still, we were led to believe that if we removed a contingency from our offer, the seller would accept it. That hinged, however, on the other bidder failing to get financing in place by Monday. Throughout my drive yesterday morning, I had been communicating with our realtor about the revision, so when my phone went dead it threw me into a tailspin of wondering what was happening with our offer …

I finally arrived back at my apartment, got my phone charged enough to call our realtor and met her at her office, only to find out the other bidder’s financing had been approved. We moved forward and submitted the revised offer anyway, but our chances of acquiring the house appear to be all but a sliver now.

It’s unfortunate that Kates and I dawdled on this one. Initially, we got caught up on the home’s bedroom layout, some concerns in the basement and some quirks in the yard, not to mention the market for selling our home in K-Town. It took us some time to realize all of those things could be easily repaired, that the home was really kind of a steal (Kates called the backyard an “oasis!”) in a wonderful neighborhood, and we could still deal with our house in K-Town.

Last night, I was devastated. I’m still beating myself up over it tonight. We were on the losing end of two home offers in K-Town before we won the bid on our third attempt -- which proved to be, by far, the best of the three. Still, I can't recall being so bummed about those early losses as I am about this one …

It’s like we have all the puzzle pieces laid out on the floor in front of us. I’m here, and finding success and happiness. We had a grand time being here together a couple weeks ago, and Kates now has a serious job lead. But the puzzle pieces aren’t coming together as fast as we’d like.

Ah, but music never fails to speak to me. As I drove to work this morning, thinking How are we ever going to find a house that tops that one!?, Jordin Sparks started blaring on the radio …

Now you're feeling more and more frustrated
And you're getting all kind of impatient waiting
We live and we learn to take
One step at a time
There's no need to rush
It's like learning to fly
Or falling in love
It's gonna happen and it's
Supposed to happen and we
Find the reasons why
One step at a time

Before I could begin to think about the cheese factor in all of it, the lyrics were pouring into my ears and causing a smile to break over my face.

One step at a time.


Manic Monday

There are significant, compelling, Tweet-till-your-thumbs-cramp days in the sports world where screaming headlines converge and sports-talk radio producers vehemently debate the right thing to debate on the air because so many polarizing choices exist. Then there is Monday. ~David Haugh, Chicago Tribune

What a day.

It was a Monday. It was two-Mountain-Dew kind of a day ... And I'm not going to even scratch the surface here.

I’m stuck on a Death Cab for Cutie kick. How great is the “Narrow Stairs” album!? (You want it? Buy it. Amazon.com. Look left. I'm listening to it right now.) Better yet, how sweet is the extended opening on “I Will Possess Your Heart” !?

Kates and I are still mulling our next move in real estate. My lunch break was dominated by phone conversations, texting and e-mails. To Realtor. To Kates. To the parents. To Builder. Back to Realtor. And back to Kates.

I spoke to a public relations class today. I love being in educational settings, always have. I hope the insight I offered was worth something to them.

The baseball season is officially underway. The Royals lost. The Brewers lost. The Cubs got killed … And I didn’t have time to watch or listen to an ounce of any of it. After the mentally exhausting day I’ve had -- unlike my rambling vow last night -- I’m not sure I care. After all, the excitement of that Sox-Yankees game will last me a couple days, and, hey, how sweet was it to see Neil Diamond serenading Red Sox Nation last night!? One of these days, I’ll get to Fenway.

I’d be feeling as ambivalent about tonight’s national championship basketball game if the Butler Bulldogs weren’t the most-intriguing and adorable Cinderella in the history of the NCAA tournament. After starting so well, my stake in the office pool has long been shot (I’m ranked No. 38 going into tonight). But if Duke’s up by 20 at halftime, I’ll be pressing the mute button and turning on more Death Cab.


A new season

What makes a dull, lonely and confounding Easter Sunday so much brighter?

Opening day baseball!

With Kates and Pheebs gone this weekend, my little apartment has felt largely empty. And after all of the excitement of having them here for five days, nothing else measures up.

Combine that with the revolving thoughts in my head regarding our next moves in the real estate game, I badly needed something to take my mind off things tonight.

Also, I've been thinking a lot about what we were doing last year.

All afternoon I was like an axious dog waiting for his daily walk. I passed the time doing some work.

When the clock struck 6 tonight, the music went off. The TV went on, and I turned the channel to "Baseball Tonight." John Kruk and the boys talking baseball. Red Sox-Yankees. Fenway Park ... Cue the angel chorus.

Tomorrow it goes full throttle, of course. And I can hardly wait for the nights of watching the Cubs on WGN, or tuning into the Cubs and Brewers radio broadcasts on the Internet ... This season, I'm feeling more compelled to follow my teams because they're no longer sitting outside my back door. Not that I ever took my proximity to them for granted, but my acces to them now is limited and I'll be wanting to take advantage of every chance I get to see them.

Who know? Maybe I'll reaquaint myself with the Royals, too ... Or maybe not.

Good reads ...


Finally, the uncertainty that has clouded the last few months is becoming a little clearer …

The snow has disappeared. Temperatures have reached the high 70s. And yesterday we were graced with a refreshing spring thunderstorm … The downfall is that today I’m dying to be working outside in a yard. Driving down Main Street this week and seeing the outdoor garden centers sprouting up in store parking lots has been killer.

We could be filling that void soon -- we hope. Just a couple more months.

Yesterday, I said goodbye to Kates and Phoebe once more, after a whirlwind week during which the three of us camped out in my one-bedroom apartment and got a glimpse of what our new lives in The ‘Ville might be like.

They arrived last Saturday evening with my parents, who had driven them from K-Town for a family rendezvous here. Joel, Stephanie and their little ones drove up from the Entertainment Capital of the Midwest and the nine of us partied in a hotel room at the Holiday Inn for the K-State/Butler game. Partied is a terrible exaggeration, of course, since we had two toddlers who spent the day in cars and Butler beat K-State soundly.

Saturday night’s dinner was at the neighborhood Applebee’s. While the mere sight of all of us sitting around a table and having good conversation was pretty awesome, the highlight came when we drew a free dessert. Our waitress mistook my mother’s hand gesture for a signal that it was my father’s birthday. So it was a complete surprise when the waitress showed up with an entourage of clapping birthday singers and a dish of chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream. We accepted the dessert and laughed it off while the waitress walked away red-faced upon learning no one at our table was celebrating a birthday.

After a late night Saturday, we somehow managed to pull ourselves out of bed and get to 9 a.m. church with my parents. For weeks, I’ve been attending the little brick church downtown and, like so many of my experiences here, I’ve been captured by the warmth of the people. Better yet, I’ve been excited by the church’s acceptance of its youth, outreach to visitors and members alike, and the contagious energy within the building -- church values that Kates and I have starved for in recent years. On Sunday morning, I was overjoyed at the sight of the children marching down the aisles and waving their palms, and the sounds of brass and handbell choirs. The music throughout the service was wonderful, and it was an energizing way to start the week.

For lunch, we bought some Subway sandwiches and headed to the university, planning to eat in the Union. We ended up around my office’s conference table because the Union was closed … I gave a tour of the office and we spent the rest of the afternoon at my apartment watching the basketball games.

On Monday, my parents headed south to stay with Joel and Stephanie. And it was back to work for me -- while Kates and Pheebs got started on getting to know the town. Kates drove me to campus every morning. Some days, they picked me up for lunch; some days I didn’t see them until my work day was finished. On Thursday, I spent the morning working from home and headed to the office for the afternoon. While I worked, they made trips to the library, shopped and played.

* * *

Our evenings were spent touring homes and searching for that perfect neighborhood. We visited six homes on Monday night, five on Tuesday night and two more on Thursday night -- in addition to revisiting four homes that we’d put at the top of our list during our Monday and Tuesday night visits. After building a list of homes we’d compiled the last couple weeks, Kates immediately started working the phone Monday morning and connected with a realtor, Merla -- or “Merwa” to Phoebe -- who graciously and patiently led us through each of the homes …

We saw all kinds. Older homes, newer homes. Homes that were beautifully decorated with modern updates. Homes that were covered with hideous wallpaper, and way too many homes with 1970s-style, dark, wood paneling. Some homes -- like one we saw on a huge countryside lot -- had enticing ground floors, but got scratched by nerve-racking amounts of water-damage in their basements. We also saw a 1905 farmhouse that had been beautifully updated with large rooms, a finished basement, a brand new garage and all the charm of The Farm -- but it sits on a busy, well-worn road in between two less-than-desirable neighbors. That home was one of the properties we revisited Thursday night, but when we got out of our car and heard the teenage daughter cursing a storm at her father -- inside their junkyard of a backyard -- it was no wonder the house was priced so unbelievably low.

I’ve said from the beginning, I’m looking for a neighborhood where Phoebe could comfortably ride her bike, we could take walks and I could enjoy working in the yard ...

We found the golden nugget in a two-story home that sits on the bend of a picturesque residential neighborhood, just blocks from the university. It was built in 1967, but it’s been completely renovated from top to bottom, inside and outside. The living area has hardwood flooring, the kitchen has been updated, the bedrooms are large, and it has an octagon window for Phoebe. The potential for the yard couldn’t be any more appealing to me -- Kates called it “an oasis” -- and the driveway is flat and situated in a way that I could finally have my own basketball hoop … There are some drawbacks, though they’re nothing we couldn’t fix -- like the island and cabinets placed awkwardly in the dining room, some water damage in the basement and some drainage problems in the backyard. There’s also a wall that was knocked out to expand the master bedroom, but instead creates an odd juxtaposition on the second floor.

The question looming now is whether we place an offer on that home, or we pursue the notion of building a home that’s customized for our family … Of course, all of this rests on the contingency that we sell our home in K-Town by June. And the prospects of that happening aren’t looking too good right now.

* * *

In the midst of the house-hunting, Kates’ job hunt also got a shot of momentum.

After mulling over a couple less-than-appealing options, a near-perfect opportunity popped up in the form of a text message on my phone Tuesday morning. A friend of a friend dropped a line to me, and that sent Kates into gear, compiling the information and documents she needed to apply.

With some key insights from a couple connections, she spent most of Wednesday and Thursday doing some research and perfecting her resume …

The timing of the opening, the connections and the job itself almost seem too good to be true. But it also seems to be another sign that all of this is meant to be …

We can only hope and pray it works out.

* * *

Phoebe could not have been more delightful to have around …

Ok, there were a couple tantrums that pushed our nerves. She refused to let us watch anything but “VeggieTales” and her Little People “Happy Birthday” DVD. Trying to look at houses with her wasn’t easy either; trying to keep her from touching things and staying off furniture was … ugh.

But nothing beat the moment I caught her eyes on Saturday afternoon. My parents pulled up, I opened the back door of the car and Phoebe, in her car seat, let out one of her signature loud shrieks at the sight of me … In that moment it hit me that now she’s truly a little girl -- a little girl that will be turning two years old in a week. She’s grown so much, and I’m saddened that I’ve missed so much time with her the last couple months.

Kates and I have seen it again and again. But this week, as we introduced her to new people and worked ourselves into a new environment, others reminded us of it, too … She’s smart. She learns words the moment they leave your mouth and her memory is sharp. Our ability to have conversations with her now is something we relish.

On Sunday morning, she bounced up from her crib and delightfully proclaimed, “I wake up!” … Every time, we went somewhere she waved and said “Bye Daddy’s ’partment.” … We had dance parties and we played blocks, two of Phoebe’s favorite past times.

When I came home for lunch on Monday, something triggered Phoebe to say “basebol!” So, having watched a lot of spring training baseball over my lunch breaks the last couple weeks, I turned on ESPN and found a ball game. Phoebe joined me on the couch, with my Cubs blanket, and contently watched the game for several minutes. It was bliss.

She runs. She jumps. She shouts -- oh, man, does she have a set of lungs. But her boundless energy and endless wonder with the world around her is pure joy.

* * *

The personification of our week may have been Wednesday night …

I had endured a stressful day of work, Kates had endured a draining day in the midst of her job search, and we were both eager for a night off from looking at houses. … So we accepted an invitation from my friend Gina to attend a community dinner at the church -- and we had a grand time.

Volunteers served up some great-tasting lasagna and salad, we connected with some new families and Phoebe charmed everyone around her. Kates and I went in feeling agitated and uncertain; we came out smiling and feeling as though we belonged. As we walked to our car, Kates sighed and said with a smile, “That was refreshing.” I seconded that emotion.

As this week approached, Kates and I were curiously nervous about how it might play out. After all, we’ve been living apart for three months, and she, understandably, feels like an outsider to this place. On the other side, I spent a major part of my life in this region and had friends from the day I arrived … I hardly need to mention our apprehension of moving to a much smaller town. Or my doubts about the three of us living in my small apartment for a week.

But we couldn’t have shared a better week. We got out. We met new people and interacted with the community. Bickering was a rarity, and we truly had a load of fun.

The view of what may lie ahead for us has become so much clearer this week. We’re halfway through the transition now. And I can hardly stand to see what the next three months have to offer.

The adventure continues.