Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Anybody wanna buy a house?

By Deana Nall
The Baytown Sun

Published June 28, 2006

Selling a home is not for the faint of heart, I have learned. You wouldn’t believe all the wisdom I have gained just from having our house on the market for a couple of weeks.

For those of you who are considering selling your house, I’ve compiled this handy guide — based on our experience so far — called “House Selling 101” or “Hey! All the Dirty Dishes WILL Fit in the Freezer!”

1) Get your house looking really nice. Put it on the market.

2) Your husband will now leave town for a week on a “business” trip. You married no dummy.

3) As soon as he leaves, come down with a hideous sinus infection. Pass it on to your oldest child. Your toddler, however, will continue to feel fine and have as much energy as ever.

4) Lie around the house with a triple-digit fever while your non-sick child tears up the house. Answer the phone. It’s the realtor. She wants to show your house.

5) Down some Tylenol. Hide the messes in cabinets, under beds and inside major appliances.

6) Get your kids in the car and drive deliriously around the neighborhood while the realtor shows your house. Pray no one opens the oven and find the laundry basket full of dirty clothes. When the realtor’s gone, go home. Pass out.

7) Repeat this process daily for a week, until your husband comes home... sick.

I can only hope it gets better from here.

Maybe what we need is another family to live in our house while we’re trying to sell it. That may sound crazy, but Centex Homes is doing just that in one of their model homes in California. Except it’s not a real family. They are actors who pretend to be a family while prospective buyers walk through the house.

Members of the fake family hang out in the house, bake a “surprise” birthday cake for the fake mom, and occasionally yell out phrases that I’m sure all of us say when we’re home with our families, such as “I sure love these granite countertops!” and “Isn’t it cool having a washer and dryer upstairs?”

I’d rather show prospective buyers what life is really like inside our house. I’d hire a dad to accidentally set something on fire in the kitchen. And a mom who desperately wants to go to the bathroom, but no one in her family will let her. I’d also get a 7-year-old to periodically burst into tears, run to her room and slam the door. And I’d need a toddler to gleefully grind an entire bag of Cheetos into the carpet.

Maybe it could be like a running soap opera so potential buyers could come back every week to see what happens next. Will Mom make it to the bathroom? Is the 7-year-old headed for therapy? Is the baby headed for juvenile detention? Can this marriage be saved after Dad turns on the oven with the laundry basket of dirty clothes still inside?

Stay tuned. And somebody, please! Buy our house.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Jesus and Tequila

What's cooler than "O" magazine? Opening "O" magazine and finding Anne Lamott. Here's my favorite quote from her article in the July issue called "The Binge from Hell (and Back)":

"I secretly sometimes think that Jesus watches my neurotic struggles, and he shakes his head and grips his forehead and starts tossing back tequilas."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A sad celebration

By Deana Nall
The Baytown Sun

Published June 21, 2006

Six years.

That’s how long we’ve lived in Baytown.

During that time, we’ve watched our 18-month-old baby grow into a lanky 7-year-old girl. We’ve made friends. We’ve grown close to our church family. We fixed up an old house. We converted the “junk room” into a nursery for another baby girl. We’ve had wonderful times and tragic experiences.

Basically, we have made this town our home.

So how are we going to mark our sixth anniversary in Baytown?

By moving away.

My husband Chad has accepted a ministry job in ... well, I won’t say it just yet. It’s in another state.

There’s a “for sale” sign in our yard. We’re starting to pack things up. But in a way, it doesn’t feel right. In about seven weeks, the place where we always sit in church will be empty. When the new second- graders at Travis Elementary walk to school on the first day of classes, Julia won’t be among them. Someone else’s kids will be covering our driveway with sidewalk chalk. And this little strip of newsprint that I’ve occupied for almost four years will be filled with somebody else’s writing.

Julia, our 7-year-old, asked me the other day if she could go outside and kick the “for sale” sign. I said only if I could do it, too.

Where we’re going will be a great place to live. Over time, it will become home, too.

I realize this column hasn’t been very funny so far. So I’ll throw in some humor.


That’s where we’re moving. Little Rock, actually. I’m about to become a walking Arkansas joke.

So go ahead. Tell me we won’t have to pack any shoes. Ask me who my daughters will marry since they don’t have any male cousins. Tell me that 32 Arkansas women in one room make one full set of teeth. Remind me that Bill Clinton is from there.

Bring it on. I can take it.

The truth is that Arkansas is a pretty neat place. Tommy Watson assured me of this, and I found out for myself when Chad and I visited Little Rock a couple of weeks ago. (If you know Tommy, ask him about the time I made an Arkansas joke to him — without knowing he grew up there. Not one of my finer moments.)

Little Rock is a beautiful city, and a friend tells me they have something known as “winter,” during which little white things fall out of the sky. Must be a local custom. I also noticed a lot of indentations in the terrain. I understand they’re called “hills.”

There’s a lot more I’d like to know about Arkansas. Like what Little Rock residents are called. “Little Rockers?” I hope so. And why isn’t Kansas pronounced “Kan-saw?”

I’ve moved before, and I know how stressful the whole process can be. I figure I can either let it overwhelm me, or I can get paid to make fun of it. So I’ll keep writing my column until we leave.

And, during the next seven weeks, we’ll be packing up, saying goodbye and trying to sell our house. (Three bedrooms, two baths, nice neighborhood, great schools.)

So if the Kerrs or the Mundingers or any of our other neighbors see us outside kicking that sign, please tell them not to worry. It’s just therapy.

Deana Nall currently lives in Baytown with her family.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Another True Confession

You know how sometimes when you're at a store buying something and they ask you for your phone number? That's always bothered me.

So I decided to have some fun with it. Recently, when asked that question by some salesperson, I have given somebody else's phone number. A few weeks ago, I gave the work number of an editor of one of the publications I write for. Not long after that, I gave the phone number of an old boyfriend from junior high. (I have quite a knack for remembering phone numbers over long periods of time.) Just yesterday, at a great sale at Express, I gave the office number of our church.

I don't know what's worse -- the fact that I'm doing this, or the odd sense of satisfaction I get every time I do it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

It's Out

"It" being a big old honkin' secret we've been carrying around for a while. Tonight Chad announced to our teens and parents that he has taken a position with a church in Little Rock, Arkansas. We're moving the week of Aug. 7.

We feel so much better just knowing it's out there now. I nearly made myself sick leading up to tonight -- I even ran fever the last two days. We've all been grieving for the last couple of months, knowing moving could be a possibility. Then we visited the church in LR a couple of weeks ago and we know it's where we need to be.

We've lived in Baytown for six years. It seems like a lifetime, though. It's the only home our girls have known. We have loved this town and our church and the schools our girls have been in. We've loved this old house we bought and fixed up. Tomorrow morning there will be a sign in our yard. That's going to take some getting used to.

And there's a church family in Little Rock waiting for us. Julia already has a friend named Rachel who was more than delighted at the prospect of having a girl her age around. (The LR church seems to be inundated with 7-year-old boys.) There's a youth group who needs us, and who we need as well. I guess we're ready to go.

I remember something someone told me years ago. When God decides to work in your life, hang on. It's going to be a wild ride.

Haunting summer family fun

By Deana Nall
Baytown Sun

Published June 14, 2006

Summer is in full swing, and it’s time to pack up the family and head out for some camping, fishing and ghost-light hunting.

If ghost lights are your thing, Texas is full of them. You got your Marfa lights, your Anson lights and, right here in our corner of the state, the Bragg Road light near Saratoga.

Texas Monthly, one of my favorite reads, has featured the Marfa lights in this month’s issue. The Marfa lights are probably the best-known Texas ghost lights. Legend has it that James Dean became obsessed with them while filming “Giant” in the Marfa area during the mid-’50s.

Michael Hall, the guy who wrote the Texas Monthly article, has actually spent entire nights alone in the Far West Texas wilderness investigating the Marfa lights.

I’m a bit too chicken for something like that. The whole time I was growing up in Beaumont, I never once ventured over to nearby Saratoga to check out the Bragg Road light. I knew plenty of people who did, though. One guy who went to my high school said he was riding down Bragg Road in the bed of a pickup truck one night when the light appeared in the distance, zoomed down the road, and got in the truck with him.

I believed him back then. Not so much now.

But I have seen a ghost light. Somehow, when you’re in a car with a bunch of friends and a guy you’re crazy about, you tend to get brave. This is how I wound up going to see the Anson light back in May of 1993.

Anson is a town of about 2,500 near Abilene in West Texas. It’s a quiet town known for its ornate courthouse (built in 1910) and its rigid conservatism (“No dancin’ in Anson!”).

At the time, I was a student at Abilene Christian University (Go, Wildcats!). Abilene is a fine town for getting a college education, but, other than that, it doesn’t offer much excitement. It’s no wonder I met my husband there. I didn’t have anything else to do.

So at one time or another, most ACU students — out of sheer boredom — are drawn to a dirt road north of Abilene just outside of Anson. The road turns off of a highway, passes a cemetery (of course) and leads to a crossroads. When you reach the crossroads, you’re supposed to turn the car around to face the way you had come, cut the engine and flash your headlights three times.

That’s what we did. “We” being my roommate, a bunch of her relatives who had come to see her graduate, the guy I was going to marry in a few months, and me. We all sat in the darkness, which, in rural West Texas on a moonless night, is exceptionally dark.

Then we saw it. A tiny light appeared near the tops of the trees in the cemetery. It danced around a little, moving from left to right, and vanished.

We left pretty quickly, wanting to avoid the cops who patrol the area for ghost-light seekers since the dirt road is technically on private property.

And we were a bit spooked.

So there’s my ghost-light story. If you go out ghost-light hunting this summer, don’t let anything get you. Especially the cops.

Deana Nall lives in Baytown with her family.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Tragic fashion

I usually love all things Target, but this has got to be the most hideous piece of clothing I have ever seen. It looks like someone (I guess Tara Jarmon) went back in time to my grandmother's old house, tore down her kitchen curtains and made them into this coat. Just remember: too much of anything is bad -- even flowers.

This isn't to say I haven't picked up some wonderful things at my home-away-from-home lately. Saturday Julia, Jenna and I went there and got a cute butterfly backpack (we found it next to all the kids' gardening stuff that's SO adorable) to replace Jenna's diaper bag, which she was way too old for, anyway. Julia had made some money for writing my newspaper column for me last month, and she spent it on the latest Zoo Tycoon 2 expansion pack, "African Adventure."

And more excitement in the Nancy Drew department. Right now there's a 75th Anniversary Edition that has five -- FIVE -- games for what one game usually costs. And it came with a book Julia hadn't read yet. So we're going to be solving mysteries for a long time to come.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Ain't Gonna Happen

Due to circumstances beyond my control, my weekly column will not appear today.

Well, maybe it wasn't COMPLETELY out of my control, but the fact is that I was single-momming it last week while preparing for a trip on which we were to leave the day Chad returned from moving his mom. I sort of lost all ability to be funny or creative in any way. So I called up my managing editor and, in my most professional voice, told him that "it ain't gonna happen" this week.

Maybe by next week my brain will be functioning again.

I'll leave you with another one of my True Confessions:

I still love Chef-Boy-Ardee, and I got really excited last week when I discovered the return of "ABCs and 123s" with meatballs. When you're starving to death after an entire day in the pool, nothing -- NOTHING -- is better.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Letting go

By Deana Nall

We had gone through it every summer.

Since Julia was two years old, we have fought the battle of the diving board. During the last day of swimming lessons, the kids were allowed to jump off while a teacher waited in the deep end to catch them. Julia would cautiously walk to the end of the board, a look of terror would darken her face, and she would cautiously walk back and climb off.

"If you just do it once, you'll see how fun it is," we would tell her.

"No way," she would say.

Julia has always been a fearful child. She's been afraid of anything that moves (from coin-operated rides at Mazzio's to our friends' boat), loud noises (I didn't vacuum or blow dry my hair while she was home alone with me for several years) -- anything that makes her feel like she's not in control of a situation. While other toddlers rode around on their dads' shoulders, Julia stayed at Chad's side, too afraid of heights for him to put her up there. Her fear of dogs, and even our own cat -- who we've had since before she was born -- has nearly driven us crazy. At amusement parks, she's even afraid of the baby rides that she's too big for.

We admit that since she is a firstborn, we, and especially I, may have fostered these fears. Maybe not. Regardless of how they came about, they are here now and we try to focus on how to deal with them.

Julia is now seven. It's summertime and she's living the good life -- swimming lessons in the mornings and playing with her friends at our neighborhood pool in the afternoons and evenings. Yesterday we were there again, and Julia's friends Natalie and Meagan decided to head over to the diving board. They beckoned her to come along.

"No way," Julia said. "I don't like those things."

"Julia," I said, repeating the same question I've asked her most of her life. "How can you know you don't like it if you've never done it?"

Her friends continued to plead, and, caving to peer pressure, she agreed to go. I knew what would happen. She would get to the end of the board, chicken out, turn around and walk back. That was quite literally the story of her life.

Dragging Julia's 21-month-old sister Jenna in a float, I swam down to the deep end as the girls climbed out of the pool.

"Julia, you go first because I have got to see this," said Meagan, an exceptionally fearless child who has also been frustrated at Julia's hang-ups.

Julia stepped onto the board, and, in her water shoes, slowly shuffled down to the end.

"Come on, you can do it," Meagan, Natalie and I yelled.

A boy stepped onto the back of the board, waiting his turn. A big boy who would probably have no patience with a terrified 7-year-old girl.

"This could get ugly," I thought.

Preparing to yell up more encouragements to Julia, I noticed a change come over her face. She bent over the edge of the board and threw her arms back. Suddenly swinging them forward, her feet left the board.

My mind's camera took a picture of what happened next -- one of those mental snapshots a mother forever stores in her heart. In that sliver of an instant, against a backdrop of blue sky and amid the mixed smell of chlorine, hot dogs and Exxon fumes from the nearby refinery, Julia hung in the air -- suspended between fear and freedom. The sounds of playing and splashing kids vanished and the wind seemed to stop blowing. Everything seemed frozen except that girl in the air.

Her splash washed over Jenna and me, and, even though I had been one of the ones yelling "You can do it!", I hung on to Jenna's float in shock. After years of us encouraging, pleading and bribing, Julia had actually gone off the diving board.

Then she surfaced.

"That was great!" she yelled.

"Julia!" I yelled back. "Doesn't it feel good to not be afraid of something anymore?"

I don't think she heard me. She was swimming to the ladder so she could get out and do it again.

Julia ended up spending four hours in the pool yesterday -- much of that time perfecting cannonballs, mid-air twists, and other diving board techniques. That night, Natalie's mom dropped her off. As she ran up to the door, I knew she was a different kid. Part of growing up is letting go and jumping into the unknown. Julia had grown up that day -- right before my eyes.