Friday, November 20, 2015

Knocking opportunities

"So you say your home is Boston. What's New England got on all these Texas charms?
Have you ever seen a cactus Christmas tree? Come home to me."

We spent another weekend in Austin recently. It was a crime of opportunity. Neil had a work conference at the Omni Barton Springs on Monday and Tuesday, ending at noon Wednesday.

So it only made sense to drive up early on Sunday and look at retirement living options again.

Early for us just doesn't happen, unless there is a plane to catch, so with a stop at Buc-ee's, it was nearing 4 pm when we pulled into the Hill Country.

We went back and revisited Serene Hills - large lots with expensive homes, and Rim Rock - larger lots with less expensive homes.

We've been concentrating on the builder who built our home - which I love - but the none of the homes in the collections being built in Austin really impressed us. On the contrary, we were struck by things like the small size of the secondary bedrooms and a general sense that the model homes weren't particularly well designed or built.

So at Rim Rock we wandered across the street to another builder model. I'd seen one of their models here in Houston and really liked the design. Out visit coincided with that of a couple who had just purchased a lot and signed a contract to build a home. In fact, they'd decided to build the model design.

While the salesman was looking up the plan of the home I'd liked in Houston (which he said could be built in Rim Rock for a small additional fee), Neil had a chance to chat with the happy new homeowners.

The fellow was an engineer of some sort and he told Neil he'd looked closely at the way each builder's house was put together, opening cabinets and investigating crawl spaces. He said there were only two builders who he'd consider in the area. One obviously was the builder of the model we were standing in. The other was not the builder who built our home.

So, based on our impressions and this chance conversation, we've pretty much eliminated our current home builder as an Austin area option. I don't think we've landed on a certain replacement but we decided to look further at the two builders Neil's conversational companion had championed.

But first we decided to have dinner at the "world-renowned" Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood, Texas. I liked it. If you go, BYOB and cash. No credit cards are accepted. And they've been out of turkey long enough to have put stickers to that effect on every menu. We met my younger daughter and her boyfriend there, and that is always good fun.

On Monday, Chelsea had taken a vacation day to hang with me. Since our plans tentatively include a move to North Carolina and her plans include a move to LA, I told her I need to suck up as much Chelsea time as possible. She had the grace to agree. And she brought us breakfast pastries from Quacks. I love my girl.

We decided to drive out to Hamilton Pool Preserve and hike. The day was overcast but nice. When we arrived however, the gate was barred and there was a notice that the trails were closed due to recent heavy rainfall. We were bummed - but not as bummed as the party who drove up behind us. They'd driven all the way from Houston to hike there.

Astonishingly, out of nowhere a park ranger appeared. He said the trails might open later that day. I asked where else we might hike in the area and he suggested Milton Reimers Ranch, not far up the road. So we went there, paid our $10 entry fee, and got a map. It's a huge preserve, with several miles of frontage along the Pedernales River. Popular park activities, in addition to hiking and fishing, are mountain biking and equestrian trail riding.

We parked at the second parking lot and set off to hike a trail along the river. The river was low with a lot of sandy beach and I collected a few rocks for a project. The trail seemed to be fairly well marked, but it turns out that even with a map and an iPhone compass we got turned around and had to ask a random person which direction would take us back. It's quite a long trail and we could easily have gone miles out of our way.

When we'd had enough of the great outdoors, we headed into town and South Congress, a great little area of eateries and shops. Chelsea inherited my shopping gene and we spend some enjoyable hours browsing, with a stop for a little sustenance at Joe's Coffee. Chelsea had a healthy snack of hummus and veggies. I had a super-caffeineated Belgian Bomber, half Iced Turbo (super sweet) and half cold-brewed, unsweetened iced coffee. The sun even came out for a while and it was a nice respite.

Neil and Rob met us for dinner at 24 Diner. One thing is certain, there are a ton of nice non-chain dining options in Austin.

I had most of Tuesday to myself. I met Chelsea for an Indian buffet lunch at the Clay Pit on Guadalupe. See above comment about Austin eateries. We had a nice time but I made the mistake of bringing up a subject I knew better than to broach. Chelsea's closet in my house. It is filled with stuff that I don't know how to tackle and I asked it we could go through it when she comes for Thanksgiving and assess the contents as keep, donate, toss.

I'd already decided not to mention it, but she inadvertantly tempted me by telling me how her dad keeps giving her things as "gifts" that he really just wants out of his life. Things like boxes of old photographic slides. She tells him she doesn't have room for them, he insists, she takes them and tosses them out. Then he asks for something back and she's in a bind.

For a moment I thought of telling her to tell him that the item got destroyed by flood or pests, but I didn't want to suggest she lie. So instead, I raised the closet question. Predictably it hit a nerve and she said, why don't you just throw out all my baby pictures too.

So our lovely visit ended on an unfortunate tense note.

Afterwards I went back to South Congress for a little more browsing, then went to Sea of Beads. I don't need any more beads but since Houston doesn't have a respectable bead store, it's a tradition for me to visit one whenever I have a chance.

Neil and I dined at Kerby Lane Cafe, another Austin tradition. Neither of us was really hungry but it felt like we should get some dinner or we would be. Wednesday morning I stayed in and restrung some beads that I'd brought with me. Neil's conference finished at noon and we decided to visit a community in Dripping Springs where our new favored builder had a model.

Dripping Springs is even more remote than Driftwood but it has a claim to fame that trumps the Salt Lick. It's the adopted home of actor Kyle Chandler. I fell in love with him in Homefront, and continued to love him in Early Edition, but really haven't followed his career since. Anyway, Chandler and his wife and kids live on 33 acres in Dripping Springs. We stopped for coffee on the main drag in town before heading home, but there was no Chandler sighting. Sigh.

So home we've been, and for me that means back to my usual round robin of making beads, trying to sell beads and walking on the treadmill, which somehow swallows my days. Neil has been reading to me of course. We finished Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, about his stab at hiking the Appalachian Trail, interspersed with Nancy Drew and The Sign of the Twisted Candles. We've moved on to Bryson's earlier tome, Neither Here nor There, about his travels in Europe, because his earlier adventures with hiking buddy Stephen Katz are intriguingly referenced in the later book. We're mixing that up with The Chronicles of Narnia, which we are reading in story order, not the order in which they were written, so there.

Fantasy, mystery and non-fiction are keeping us well entertained.

On the Facebook front, sales have been painfully slow. Still, some artists sell everything they list. And for the first time I thought that maybe it's because they list sporadically, periodically, and not religiously, continuously like me. Of course I take time off when we are traveling but when we are home I treat it like a job. I always have from 12 to 20 listings that change every 24 hours. When I was selling on Etsy, I was happy with sales when they came but on Facebook I feel entitled to selling daily. And I do most days, but some days, like a couple of days ago, I had just two $20 sales. Both customers bought two $10 sets.

Then one of those customers asked, Any more bargains coming up?

And I said, Yes! Lots! I need to have a clear out!

And then I said, If you'd like, I can take a photo of some sets that would be $10 each.

And she said, That would be AWESOME! FANTASTIC!

So I did, and she bought six more sets. Then I thought, why not make the same offer to my other customer.

And she said, Yes please. And she too bought six more sets.

So yesterday, on a whim, I went through my trays and too some photos. I posted that I was having a pre-Black Friday sale of sets for $10 (regularly $18-$24).

Then the feeding frenzy began. It got a little hairy, with multiple people looking at the photos and calling dibs, but all told I sold 46 sets. Sets that had been listed and passed over and relisted and were still cluttering my trays. I didn't get what they were worth but you can't eat beads and $460 buys a lot of glass. Plus it gives me the best excuse to make more sets, especially dot beads, which I love to make.

So now I am planning a clear out of focal beads for $10. I have at least 50, probably more, that can go and won't be missed. I don't want to circulate group photos again, so I'm going to take individual pictures and create an album and it will be first come, first served. I'd really like to do it tomorrow, but I'd also like to get my nails done, and I have all the photos yet to take. And crop. And edit. No names, no descriptions, and I think no measurements. I'll take the pictures with a ruler or pen or something for scale. Quick and dirty. I hope it goes over as well as the set sale.

In the bigger picture, the time is coming for Neil and I to decide where we are going to move. Neil decided the best way to do this is to set the time he'd like to be in our new place, which is May 2017, says he. Backing up 9 months or so to build, that means a year from now we should have written a check and signed a contract.

Now that that's settled, we just have to decide whether it will be in Texas, North Carolina or somewhere else. If we are leaving, North Carolina is as good as the next place. I'm still very conflicted, but knowing that it's hanging over me, I just want to decide and then do it.

How we decide is the real tickler. Neil, unsuperstitious, scientific Neil, thinks there will be a sign. Me, I'm just clueless.

"I woke up to frost on the window
I'd been sleeping in a snow-globe town
Six inches on the ground
You said, I'd never see a white Christmas
Snow angels never make it to Texas
But you were wrong
They're singing Hank William's songs

If snow can fall in Austin
Why can't you fall into my arms?
So you say your home is Boston
What's New England got on all these Texas charms?

Dance on the ground
Upside down

Have you ever seen a cactus Christmas tree?
Come see

There's a snowman standing out on 6th street
With a hat, a scarf and a broom guitar
They're hanging mistletoe up in the bars
Do you remember that night at Las Monitas
Our heads were numb from frozen margaritas
Imagine how cold they would be now

Have you ever seen a cactus Christmas tree?
Come home to me
The snow's coming down
It's Christmas in this town."

(Ellis Paul)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Suspicious by nature

"Nothing's been long, nothing's been yes, nowhere's been home,
And I'm ready to be limbo no more."

It's been a bit slow for me selling beads on FB just lately. I may have mentioned that.

So, a couple of days ago I had someone buy 34 items from me. 30 or so were from my personal group.

I sent her all the descriptions and photos - and an invoice. That alone took more than an hour.

It would have been my largest single sale although over time I've had people buy that much and more from me.

And I'm so naturally suspicious, I kept wondering the whole time if she was just winding me up.

I've watched buyers on FB spend thousands of dollars in one day or one trunk show.

I've watched truly unremarkle beads sell for good money and amazing beads sell for stupid money.

So I know there are buyers for whom money is no object, or possibly who have maxxed out credit cards and addiction problems.

I just pretended that this was an everyday thing for me. I had to slap myself to stop from asking her, do you realize how much this is going to add up to, or, what are you planning to do with all these beads.

Then the waiting started. I was holding my breath until the invoice was paid. although I thought, maybe that's not such a good idea.

A day later, the customer paid me. Oh ye (me) of little faith.

A little back story on this particular customer. She did a buy-it-now on one of my bead sets a couple of weeks ago. Then she didn't pay for a few days. I asked, is everything OK? You haven't paid for your pretty beads.

That is my way of pretending to be all super nice and concerned while nudging the customer to make a payment.

She said, I spent the day in the hospital. I will pay but it might be a bit later tonight or in the morning - I don't need the migraine to be back.

I said, sorry you are ill. Tomorrow is fine. Hope you feel better!

Nothing that night or the next day.

I tried again. I said, if you can pay me today I can mail your beads before I leave for the weekend. With a little smiley face.

She said, I will check on that. What was the total so I can make sure you are paid correctly.

I guess it didn't occur to her to look at the invoice, so I told her.

The next day, I tried again. Again. I said, I still haven't received payment. ??

She said, Huh. I will get it figured out and done today, okay?

And then she said, I found it but need a regular computer so I will pay tomorrow when I can use my mom's computer. Talk to you tomorrow.

She did pay me the next day, but I was in Austin.

When I got home, I was ready to mail her beads. Only they were not there. In their place was a set of beads that another customer bought that I'd already mailed. Or so I thought.

So I messaged that customer and said, I'm so sorry. I sent you the wrong set of beads. I will send you the right set today. Would you mind forwarding the others to the person they should have gone to? I just discovered this because the other buyer was so late paying me. I'll refund any extra postage of course.

And she replied, No problem I would be happy to, just send me the address and when I get them I will send them on!

Long story short, she got the beads that day, said she'd forward them the next day and three days later she sent me a note saying that the beads had been forwarded. That was Oct. 22. The same day the original buyer went on her shopping spree.

I didn't tell the original customer about the snafu. I figured she'd been late paying, I'd told her I would be away, I'd explain if and only if she asked. But the timing was weird. She bought 34 more things from me before she'd received the first purchase.

So naturally I was skeptical. Dubious. Suspicious. But I played along and the game was definitely worth the candle.

I celebrated by ordering 12 jars of new frit blends. And two of the new Creation is Messy colors. And a bead. Because of course I did.

Neil and I made a short trip back to North Carolina. It was my idea. The North Carolina Renaissance Festival just happens to be held a few miles from one of the places we'd be most likely to move to, if we do. I thought it would be fun to go, and also to experience NC in a season other than summertime.

Plus, I wanted to exorcise the memory of our last visit, when I was so weepy and uncertain about moving somewhere that we knew no one, somewhere so much further away from my kids and grandchild.

Truthfully, I'm every bit as uncertain, but I was determined to be positive and cheerful. I mean, if we move there and it's not a good fit, we don't have to stay, although I can't imagine moving back to Texas.

And it is really nice there. The first day especially was sunny and mild. We visited two developments that we are considering. One is in Cornelius and is mostly built out. It has pretty walking trails and a little village with shops, eateries, a movie theater in walking distance. The other is in Huntersville, more rural, and still more or less 40 acres of partially graded clay soil. We tromped around and got lots of much in out treads.

I'm not sure either one will work with our timing. Whatever the hell our timing is. It depends on how much longer Neil is going to work. That could be decided for us by a severance package. It could be within the year. Or it might be as much as a couple more years without a package.

I don't like not knowing. I don't like being in limbo. I'd rather make a decision than have it hanging over me. Even making the wrong decision beats indecision.

How we make the final decision is anyone's guess. I told Neil he needs to make it, so if it doesn't work out it's all his fault. But seriously, deep down, I know I am going to be the one to drive the decision. I don't think Neil would decide that we will move to NC if he thinks that I will be unhappy and the only way I can convince him I'm happy to go is if I champion and encourage going.

I'd still rather move to the Austin, Texas area, but I don't want to regret not taking the chance, having the adventure. More than that, I don't want Neil to regret it, as he will every day for at least five months of every year when it is too freaking hot to enjoy the lovely outdoor living space that our new house is certain to include.

On Saturday, our second day in NC, we went to the RenFest. It was a gloomy gray day but it didn't rain so I'm claiming my weather luck record remains unbroken. The NC RenFest is quite a few years behind its Texas cousin, which has had flush toilets for years now, but nice enough, with a lampworker and a glassblower and lots of stages, similar refreshments, ample things to look at and buy, and even, incredibly, a Ded Bob show. Yes, Ded Bob is a franchise. Kills ya doesn't it? Yuck yuck.

On Sunday it rained. Of course it did. We went to Mint Hill to visit one more subdivision that we are considering. It's also more rural, in an area with less infrastructure - and less traffic too. I'm OK with that. We'd definitely get more land for our money and possible more house too.

When we built our house here in Sugar Land, we considered building several miles further west. We could have built the identical house that we live in now for 3/4 of the cost. But I balked. It was too far from town. I thought I wanted to be closer to things like shopping malls and moving theaters, to have easier access to downtown Houston with its cultural options, museums, the zoo.

But things change. Those things turned out to be less important to me. We rarely go downtown, or to the mall. I do most of my shopping online. We seldom go to the movies either, but a palatial multiplex opened out near where the other house would have been. Infrastructure materialized too. Grocery stores and shopping centers popped up.

If you come, they will build it. Or something like that.

Despite the rain, we had a nice day, looking at models and spec houses, ending with a pizza dinner.

Monday was a bit of a dud. It was still raining, our flight wasn't until 6 pm and most of the appealing activities were outdoor ones. We actually wound up going to the McGuire Nuclear Station and taking a self-guided simulated tour at the Energy Explorium. Because if you are considering moving to the immediate vicinity of a nuclear power plant, why not go see it up close and personally.

I'm sure it's quite safe and all that jazz, but if a big part of your (Neil's) moving criteria is to distance yourself from natural threats such as hurricanes, earthquakes, forest fires, and floods, do you really want to invite a manmade threat practically into your new backyard?

No need to answer that one.

"My house, my role
My friends, my man
My devotion to god
All amorphous, indefinite

Nothing's been clear
Nothing's been in
Nothing's felt true
And I've never had both feet in

Nothing's been long
Nothing's been yes
Nowhere's been home
And I'm ready to be limbo no more

My taste, my peers
My identity, my affiliation
All amorphous, indefinite

I sit with filled frames
And my books and my dogs at my feet
My friends by my side
My past in a heap

Thrown out most of my things
Only kept what I need to carve
Something consistent and notably me

Tattoo on my skin
My teachers in heart
My house is a home
Something at last I can feel a part of

Sense of myself
My purpose is clear
My roots in the ground
Something at last I can feel a part of

Something aligned
To finally commit
Somewhere I belong
'Cause I'm ready to be limbo no more

My wisdom applied
A firm foundation
A vow to myself
'Cause I'm ready to be limbo no more."

(Alanis Morissette)