Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Home for Sale

We are on the brink of putting our home on the market.  When we bought it, I knew that probably someday we would move somewhere else--time passes, families grow, people move.  Now that the inevitable move is upon us, I'm finding myself nostalgic and emotional about the place.  The Knapp men are known softies, and I'm no exception.  So, before we say farewell (and perhaps to further our marketing efforts), I thought I'd reflect on our five years at Merrilee Lane, the place where our family was born.

The purchase of the house on Merrilee in October 2007 was, in many ways, an endpoint to what had been a fairly vagabond existence for me.  For most of growing up, I split my time between two houses.  Both were wonderful--whether I was rocking to the Smashing Pumpkins on my sweet boombox and learning to make masterful apple pies at one house or greeting my then-toddler sister at 2 AM to watch the Lion King at the other.  But the back and forth was tough at times. College meant the usual constant moves from dorm to dorm, study-abroad program to study-abroad program.  Law school was more of the same, as I had a knack for moving into housing situations that were temporary such as my accidental move to a party house on a street I later discovered went by "McFratty Boulevard."

On October 14, 2006, Megan and I got married.  At the time we lived in an apartment of the future as perceived in the past--like something out of the Jetsons or the Soviet Bloc.  Modern stylings, loft-like living, cold and strange architectural details.  We started our house search in February 2006, put a contract on an old Tudor-style home in September 2006, and then, when our realtor, Brenda Sandoz, quickly perceived our contract was not going to work out, we visited just one more place--the house on Merrilee Lane.

In that first look, we could tell the house, which was built in 1948, had its issues.  We noted a hump in the ridgeline of the house and rotten French doors leading to a deck.  There was a carpeted mudroom that had been well-loved and seemingly well-urinated by the owners' dog. The owners' children had left an array of crayon sketches in unusual places such as cabinets, closet doors, and ceilings.

But we barely noticed these minor defects.  Instead we fell in love with a big backyard and deck.  The open floor plan and spacious rooms foretold great parties.  After bouncing through dorms and apartments, this house provided room to breathe, and we fell in love.  We celebrated our one-year anniversary eating Scalini's Pizza on the floor of the kitchen while we waited for coats of paint to dry.

Queue the montage of home improvement.  I spent about ten hours and four Home Depot trips on a beautiful Fall day replacing door locks. We painted nearly every interior surface in the house, some multiple times to get the color just right.  We ripped up the dogified carpet and added tile.  We installed gorgeous and shockingly expensive French doors to replace those that had rotted.  We added gutters to protect our shockingly expensive French doors.  We straightened the hump out of the ridgeline.  We gardened like fiends, turning a barren patch of clay soil into an abundance of flowers, herbs, and vegetables.  We had beers on the back patio with our plumber, a guy who has had a hand in replacing every water-related appliance in the house.  We hired a window cleaner named Keith to clean our windows, and then we repaired the windows when Keith accidentally sent his ladder crashing through a couple of them.  We replaced a rotting and warped pine fence with a beautiful cedar one.  When baseball-sized hail arrived this past summer, we put on a new roof.  We created a laundry room, and I spent many hours in the crawl space, wishing I were a much shorter person as I adjusted the dryer vent.

But it was so much more than five years of maintenance and hard work.  We hosted three semi-legendary (at least in our minds) paella parties.  We hosted wedding showers and then baby showers, sometimes for the same couples.  We hosted out-of-town family: aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, brothers and their girlfriends, cousins, college friends, and really anyone who needed  place to crash in Dallas.  We cooked and hosted our first Thanksgiving--which featured a turkey sheltered by a geodesic dome of pears. I grew and later shaved off two excellent mustaches.  Megan and I spent many hours together, just the two of us, with books or guitar or pottery wheel or conversation, a glass of wine or pint of beer, on the back deck enjoying the sunshine, the shade, and sometimes a summer rain.

We got a dog named Harper in April 2009 who changed the way we lived.  We became defenders of socks, and we spent hours walking him throughout the neighborhood just trying to expend some of his precious puppy energy.  In the process we met many more of our neighbors and wandered the shores of White Rock Lake, desperately trying to get Harper to overcome his fear of bridges and kayakers.

This year we turned the office into the guestroom and the guestroom into a nursery.  Miller moved into the house in April, and again our lives in this house were transformed.  In his earliest weeks, his cries could be soothed by a few minutes in the backyard where he would stare up at the big tree.  We rocked him for hours  and paced around the house trying to get him to sleep.  He and I watched a lot of Texas Rangers baseball--particularly when the Rangers were out West and the games ran late.  He peed on us a time or two (don't worry, future buyers, we cleaned up), and he transitioned from consuming small quantities of milk to craving bananas and rice cereal, avocados and sweet potatoes.

We love this house, but we know it is time to move on.  If you know someone looking for a great place to live, send them our way.  We'll be happy for them to look around and see the possibilities.  For now, as we have for the last five years, we'll enjoy beautiful Fall days on the back deck discussing the future while Harper chases squirrels and Miller stares up with wonder at the big tree.  

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Zanzibar Ferry

I just turned to BBC News to see that a ferry sank traveling between Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam.  Megan and I took this ferry during our honeymoon, and, based on that experience, I can imagine the terror that likely ensued in the lower part of the ferry.  Our thoughts go out to all on board.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Joys of Poop

Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of spending several hours with Miller while Megan was out the house.  My mother-in-law was also around, using her wisdom to help me avoid parental malpractice, but it resulted in more one-on-one time with the little guy than I have had since we left the hospital.

I gave him a bottle (of milk), which he greatly enjoyed, and afterwards held him, basking in the glory of fatherhood.  Suddenly, Miller formed a distinctly concerned and confused expression on his face.  His eyes locked with mine, his forehead wrinkled, his wispy eyebrows twisted downward.  If he could speak, I expect he would have said: "WTF?"  A groan, more facial contortions, and then, explosion.  I felt massive vibrations in my arm along with a splattering sound of epic proportions.  Miller's face relaxed.  Poop happens.  But, for us, these explosions still feel like little miracles.

Some my readers will have seen a version of this story I posted in a Facebook competition for Graham Brothers Jewelers in Amarillo. The story I posted for Graham Brothers has resulted in a lot of feedback from friends and family who were unaware of the ordeal, so I thought I would expand the discussion here.  In short, for months before Miller's birth, we were afraid poop wouldn't happen.

At a routine sonogram around the 20th week of Megan's pregnancy, the sonogram doctor noted that Miller had a "prominent" stomach.  In other words, his stomach was larger than average.  They noted no other major warning signs, but they decided it was important to monitor the condition.  This resulted in monthly sonograms that transformed from exciting glimpses of our child to dreaded events adding to our anxiety.  Month after month we had the same result: prominent stomach, no other warning signs.

We hit a low point about two months before the due date.  Megan received a call from the sonogram doctor around 8 PM one evening.  The doctor stated she was concerned about the latest sonogram findings and recommended an MRI in order to get more information about possible conditions.  Her concerns ranged from intestinal blockage to unformed intestines, to cystic fibrosis, to a whole host of other possible problems.  In the course of that conversation, our mild concern transformed into a hefty pile of worry.

We ended up rejecting the proposed MRI.  The approach would have required sedating both Megan and the baby and would possibly fail to provide any additional information.  Instead we waited, hoped and prayed for the best, and prepared for the possibility of needing to bring in specialists after birth.

Miller was born at 3:09 PM on April 26.  His birth, followed by a healthy-sounding cry was wonderful, but lurking at the back of our minds was his first poop.  We wanted a full, stinky diaper, and we wanted it as soon as possible.

The following hours flew by in a frenzy of nurses and family and other visitors.  We had Megan's recovery to tend to, and we also had to figure out how to take care of the little guy.  Hour after hour passed with no diaper filled.  By 9 PM, we were exhausted and needed some rest.  We asked the nurses to wheel Miller to the nursery for a few hours until he needed to eat again.  We both immediately fell into an exhausted deep sleep.

Around 11 PM, the night nurse brought Miller in for an attempted feeding.  I asked her, "Any chance you had to change a diaper?"

Unaware of our particular concern and potentially suspecting I was questioning her skills as a caregiver, she responded, "Yes, we changed his diaper."

At this point, I'm sure both Megan and I looked insane and desperate.  Megan's bevy of drugs had left her with a series of unusual facial expressions normally bordering on a vacant, droopy stare, but, at this time, transitioning to a hopeful, vacant, droopy stare.  My intense nap had left dried remnants of drool on my cheek, and my hair was a messy disaster.  I asked urgently, "Pee or poop?"

Apparently used to dealing with crazy people, the nurse responded: "Both."

Megan and I broke into huge smiles.  We hugged, we kissed, and I'm pretty sure we even high-fived.  I text-messaged family and friends who were equally thrilled to hear about Miller's first bowel moment.  About an hour later, I witnessed some beautiful pooping with my own eyes in real time.  In case the nurse didn't already think I was crazy, I was gleeful as the black muck oozed all over the changing table.

We are now three weeks in, and he's still packing diapers.  While my excitement at the dirty ones has died down a little bit, I am still thankful for every one of them.  I'm told this opinion will change when he moves to solid foods . . . but I'll enjoy it right now.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Miller Clay Knapp, Born April 26, 2012

He's here. I can't imagine a more transformative and amazing fourteen days than the weeks we have spent with Miller.  This time has flown, but here is the update.

This Ain't Sea World

Megan and I struggled to sleep the night of April 25. We celebrated our last evening out without needing a babysitter with a dinner at Bob's Steak and Chop House, but even the effects of excellent beef and (for me) delicious wine were unsuccessful at calming us in the face of such excitement.

The morning of April 26 was worse. We both wandered the house aimlessly picking up, organizing, reorganizing, creating meaningless tasks, and generally trying to prepare for the unpreparable (so maybe that is not a word, but it seems appropriate to describe impending parenthood).

At 12:30, we arrived at the hospital. Our anthem of the morning was the brilliant Andy Samberg/T-Pain collaboration, "I'm On A Boat." Specifically, as IVs were inserted, blood drawn, and heartbeats monitored, the lyric, "This ain't Sea World, this is as real as it gets," repeated over and over in our minds.  By 2:45, Megan was summoned to an operating room to have a massive needle inserted into her spine. I donned scrubs and joined her at 2:55.

At 3:09, we had a baby. Megan's doctor lifted him over the curtain to give me a first glance--and he was bright purple. I knew to expect a purple baby, but the sight was still shocking and disturbing. The little guy then let out a strong cough, shoved some fluid out of his lungs, and released a healthy cry that is perhaps the most beautiful sound I've heard.  Megan and I are very cool and tough, but we teared up at the sound.

Megan's view at this point was restricted to the curtain separating her head from the surgery taking place. I was able to peak around the curtain and see the nurses clean, weigh, and test the baby. A digital scale, complete with a panda and a sunshine-rainbow, announced his weight at 7 pounds, 7 ounces.

Tests completed, the nurses brought us Miller for our first opportunity to spend time as a family. By 3:30, we were headed to recovery.

The Learning Curve

Megan and I are overachievers to a fault. We collectively have about forty years of formal education, and we approach most new adventures through careful research and study. Before visiting South America, we ordered extensive road maps to assist in travels around Patagonia, studied multiple guidebooks, contacted local acquaintances for details, and arranged a sophisticated itinerary. Before getting a puppy, we studied dog training books from at least three different authors while also interrogating friends who had well-behaved pets regarding methods and techniques.  We've put poor Harper through four dog training courses (which has paid off splendidly, as noted below).

We approached having a baby with a similar methodology. We attended multiple classes: classes on breast feeding, classes on baby CPR and first aid, classes on general baby care, classes on C-sections and C-section recovery. We read books including What to Expect When You're Expecting, What to Expect the First Year, Bringing Up Bebe, Secrets of The Baby Whisperer, and So You're Going to Be A Dad. Megan joined multiple email lists that would circulate updates and advice on that stage of the pregnancy along with tips for preparing one's home.

As we got to the hospital, I got the sneaking suspicion that I had no idea what I was in for. Megan's anaesthesiologist highlighted this point by asking if we had read any books. We said "yes," to which he replied: "Good, so you know how to raise other people's children."

That evening, as our guests slowly left the hospital, and I found myself in a room with just Megan and Miller, I began to realize that the real education was about to begin. The nursing staff--particularly a night nurse named Erin with astonishing patience--provided great help, but it quickly became apparent that Miller would operate on his own schedule, learn to feed at his own pace, and, significantly, leave us having to identify problems through a cryptic series of seemingly indistinguishable cries.

A few weeks later we are getting much better in that department. He head-bobs like a raver at a metal concert when he's hungry. He has a fairly specific cry when he needs to burp. Once that burp comes, he sounds like a 40-year-old bratwurst eating champion letting out a triumphant victory belch. He is exceptionally talented at evading diapers. The wet and dirty ones don't seem to trouble him too much, but perhaps that is because he manages to distribute his expulsions well beyond the bounds of the diaper itself. We still refer to the books sometimes, but Miller has his own ways of working with us. We'll figure it out together.  

Our biggest adventure so far was Miller's newborn photo session. Having seen her amazing work for some friends, we hired Leslie Lane of Lane Portraits.  Before her arrival, Leslie shared the secret formula: keep the baby up for an hour before the shoot, turn the house to 85 degrees, and then feed him well right before the photos should begin.  For somewhere near 90% of babies (so I'm making up this number), this induces a coma-like slumber in which the little one can be molded into angelic poses and photographed for hours. 

Miller was not in this 90%.  Instead, the feeding made him want to feed more . . . and more . . . and more.  He went on a four-hour feeding rampage with brief moments of quiet in between.  During these brief moments, Leslie snapped photos until the peace would again be disrupted.  Fortunately, Leslie is a pro, and she managed to capture some gorgeous material with relatively few shots.  We'll post them when they arrive.  Unfortunately, Miller's prospects of employment as a baby model are now gone.

One of our biggest concerns was how Harper would handle being edged out as the baby of the family.  Harper is a great, if highly energetic, dog.  He loves to play with all creatures, and he greets most visitors with enthusiasm.  We feared this enthusiasm would result in him tormenting Miller.

Instead, his golden retriever genes seem to be kicking in.  He regards Miller with curiousity but has avoided licking or otherwise antagonizing the baby.  He seems perplexed by some of the sounds Miller emits, and he often dodges the crying by moving to the other side of the house to sleep.  Harper still looks at stuffed animals, pacifiers, and other baby possessions with a particularly hungry glare, but, for now, all is peaceful in human-canine relations.

We are also learning to use all the baby gadgets. In the photo above, Megan improvised a bottle warmer.   Since then we've mastered a more sophisticated bottle warmer device, which does the job efficiently and without implying that we are boozing our child.  We have bottle sanitizers, wipe warmers, baby monitors, swings, bouncers, strollers . . . all the tools of the trade.  Won't be long and we will literally be able to operate all this stuff with our eyes closed (and a good thing too, as we will likely be exhausted).

I will try to do a better job keeping new content on the blog.  We have some travels ahead--a San Angelo wedding in June, a trip to Amarillo in July, and a visit to Red River, New Mexico.  While Miller has enjoyed occasional brief outings, the road trip will be a new task entirely.  But I'm sure we'll have it all figured out by then . . .

Monday, April 9, 2012

Biggest Adventure Yet: Fatherhood kicks off in about 17 days

I've been a bad blogger. We've been amping up for the biggest adventure of our lives, and I've barely posted about it. My 3 loyal readers are likely wondering when I will catch up, and, realizing my already minimal blogging time is about to vanish, I thought I would do that now.

We're having a baby. In roughly 17 days, our small family of three (Harper included, of course) will welcome a permanent and particularly helpless visitor who will hang out for about the next 18 years. It is a big deal, and I have a hunch I won't really accept the magnitude of this transformation until I'm holding the little guy for the first--or maybe even the five hundredth--time. For now, I'll try to catch up on the preparation efforts, and hopefully I'll do a better job going forward.

The Pregnancy

I am in awe of Megan. She has handled this pregnancy with a grace and energy that I find truly impressive. She has strength through what appears to be physical chaos, and she has deep motivation to prepare our world for our baby.

Fortunately, we've also had some funny pregnancy moments. There was the night she desperately needed yellow cake. Nothing else would suffice, and it had to happen quickly. I found a recipe for yellow cake from scratch, tossed it together, and all was well.

Other cravings were beyond my control. These included things like E.L. Fudge cookies, mushroom risotto, "dirty" enchiladas, and Nutter Butters. Like a cheesy movie, the cravings arrived with monster force and had to be dealt with. I'm still waiting on the steak craving.

Between cravings, the pregnancy has not really slowed us down. We spent Thanksgiving in Breckenridge, figuring we might as well prep the little guy for high altitude early. We enjoyed a December wedding in Atlanta, New Year's in Santa Fe, a quick weekend trip to New Orleans, and a weekend getaway to Travaasa outside of Austin. We saw concerts from artists ranging from Radiohead to Max Stalling to Little Wayne, and we've hit up some great restaurants. We've had a blast.

The House

I do not think I was prepared for the "nesting" instinct--a primal urge that drove Megan to preparing a nursery, and our house in general, for the upcoming arrival. Ever practical, Megan anticipated that our enthusiasm for household projects would wane as our nighttime sleep schedule fell apart, so we have tackled nearly every project that has been on our to-do list for nearly five years.

To summarize: we've repaired old cracks, repainted a few rooms, equipped a nursery, replaced the fence, built a laundry room, built a storage shed, and taken Harper to remedial dog training classes (believe it or not, he's now AKC certified as a canine good citizen). The house looks great, is mechanically in top form, and we are ready to handle a mountain of dirty baby clothing and cloth diapers.

Ready or not, here we come

We've done our homework. We've read a stack of baby books, and we've paid close attention to family and friends with babies. We've received more advice--some solicited, some not--than I can possible remember, and we've had very generous friends and family who outfitted us completely through a series of baby showers. We've researched everything from day cares to college saving options.

Given this preparation, we now feel comfortable. We have a few small things to pick up around the house, and we still need to figure out how the car seats work, but we're pretty confident.

Now, in 17 days, we get to find out that we weren't prepared at all. And I'm pretty darn excited for that adventure.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Practice makes perfect

Megan poses at our "how to keep your baby alive" class at Presbyterian Hospital.
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