Saturday, July 26, 2008

Charlotte & Elizabeth

The Estrogen level just went up by 2 bodies this past weekend. We are so excited to announce the adoption of Charlotte & Elizabeth. They are 2 month old baby bunnies from Wisconsin. They are very sweet and after only 4 days, we can see their individual personalities shining through. Elizabeth is extremely calm; we hold her in all kinds of positions and she is just so "chill." Charlotte is very cautious and jumpy and not to sure if she likes her new child owner, Riley.
Charlotte is a mini rex & Elizabeth is a lion head.

Did I mention how adorable they are?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Our New Ride

You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run!

Disclaimer: If you don’t like buying things and feeling you got a great deal, this might not be the post for you.

So our 2000 Grand Caravan with the Christian fishy never came back. Our insurance agent finally decided to settle and sent over an offer on Thursday. We were expecting to have to negotiate the settlement offer, but when we saw it, we were ready to sign, and I went into a car search frenzy. (* For those interested in my search process, see below)

By the time Friday night came, we had not seen any minivans yet, but we had a document with minivans that hit our criteria (<$8000, 2003-2005, <90k>

But snap out of it, we were not there for a Beamer, we were there for a Minivan that hopefully would cost as much as a Z4’s lease down payment. After a while, a 20-something Internet sales advisor named Matt appeared. I have to admit that he did not try to sell the car too much, and he didn’t try to sell me a BMW, or the Porsche Cayenne parked next to the Grand Caravan. It looked good, and it performed well when we took it for a test drive. But we needed to look at the other minivans. So when we got back, Monica returned the keys while I called the next guy on the list. Soon Monica emerged from the dealership with his offer to sell it to us “If we do it today” for $6500.

Pleasant surprise, but we went on to the next car, a 2005 Town and Country with 85K miles for $7990. Someone else was test driving it, and we had to wait until they came back. Then we realized it was the shorter version (like the Dodge Caravan), so we drove on. Unfortunately, the guy who we were going to see next, who had a 2003 Ford Windstar with 67K miles and an extended warranty listed for $7350 (and leather seats!), was upset that we had been delayed so long, and said that he had to re-schedule for Monday. What a bummer! I was really excited about the leather seats, and if it didn’t look good, I was ready to go back and negotiate over the Grand Caravan at Luxurylandia because the price was already pretty good.

So this was a little bit of a crisis since we had a pretty great "limited time" offer that might not be there in a few days (it was already below blue book trade-in), but had not really been able to compare it to our next best option. This is the point at which you need to rely on your friends, but the friends who you count on saying things like, "There are plenty of cars out there," “These salemen are trained in psychology. They know all the tricks. Do not feel sorry for them” and “Salesman are a different species.” So we returned home to student housing and went to get our kids from Mazhar and Ina Islam. Mazhar is from Bangladesh and he loves to barter. That’s the kind of friend you need to talk to when you buy a car. We rehearsed the whole story to them. Monica did the same by cell phone to her friend Roxane Hawton (quite a haggler in her own right).

Then Matt called again! He told Monica that he could drop the price to $6800 with taxes, title, and all fees (that would be about $6300 without the fees). Monica was getting excited, and Mazhar’s instincts kicked in. He said, “Tell them you’ll take it for $6200, with all the fees. Then you'll get it for $6500). I was thinking $6300, but I thought I’d trust in his experience, so this time I called Matt back. I made sure that we could have it checked out by a mechanic on Monday and still bring it back, and then said, "I'm wondering if you can sell it for $6200. I have another Ford Windstar with leather seats that I really felt like I should at least drive on Monday, unless I can get the price lower." "Well, we've already cut almost all of the fat out of the deal. I can't go that low." Doh! Long pause. "Okay. I understand. I guess I'll go see the other minivan on Monday, and we'll just risk you selling it on Sunday because I don’t do business on Sunday. I guess we’ll probably call on Monday."

I resigned myself to the defeat, but then as we were talking more with Mazhar and Ina, I realized that maybe Monica could broker the deal, since she had been the Sacajawea-ish the go-between the whole time. And since she didn’t want to go driving around more on Monday anyway, she could honestly say that she’d rather go for the Grand Caravan and get the deal done on Saturday. She didn’t want to call though. She kept saying, “Are you kidding?” “Do I have to do it?” Of course she had to do it! This was Matt's way to declare a win too(in addition to making another sale). Matt could save face in Beamer borough by saying that he was trying to prevent any damage to our relationship by getting the car sold at a price I was happy with, and with the speed Monica was happy with.

So back to the cell phone Monica went, pacing in the Islam’s kitchen. “Hi Matt, it’s Monica again. Hans and I have been talking, and if we don’t get the deal done today, Hans wants to go see this other minivan on Monday, but I’m happy with this one. I think it’s a good deal, but Hans doesn’t want to buy it unless he can get it down to $6500 total.”

“Well, I have to go with what my manager says, and I don’t think we can come that low. We’ve already taken it down pretty low. I guess we’ll just have to see you on Monday.” Long pause again. So after this emotional rollercoaster, we still had no car, and neither of us really looked forward to spending another 4-8 hours on this on Monday. But, c’est la vie! You win some, you lose some.

Then, at 5:55 pm (5 minutes before closing), Monica was at Roxane’s house telling the whole story and she gets a phone call. She jokes, “Maybe that’s Matt. Eeeeeh. It is Matt!” “Hi Monica. So your husband would put down a deposit today if we sold it for $6500 total.” “Of course.” “I guess a couple of hundred dollars is not that big of a deal. If you will put up a deposit over the phone, we can make the deal.” W00T.

Since we had not had the minivan checked out, I didn’t let myself get totally excited yet, but Monday morning we went to the BMW dealership and met Matt. He was pretty much all business, although Monica did get out of him that he drives a Z4 and his wife drives a Z3. The paperwork was pretty fast (One perk of buying through a dealership is that it saves the time at the DMV with transferring the title). He didn’t try to pull any fast ones. He even had the car totally detailed and the tank filled with gas! The price of the car ended up being $6004, and $6500 with all the transfer fees, just as he promised (which I really value).

As we were feeling great about this purchase and were signing away, Monica said, “Is that Kenny Rogers?” Sure enough, as we were signing, we heard the sage advice, “You’ve got to, know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run…” How fitting!

So after paying for the car, we went straight to our mechanic, who checked out the vehicle and said that it was in really good shape and that it looked like it had been serviced at the dealership (someone trading up to a BMW would likely have a little more to spend on maintenance then most, I guess. “A little higher on the food chain” our mechanic said). Then we could celebrate. And to top it off, when I got home, I checked my e-mail and found out that I had passed my written preliminary examinations, so I will be able to go on to the dissertation stage and finish my PhD. That was a pretty good day!

Small sidenote to the story:

Monica was driving Conrad to cubscout day camp on Friday (four days after buying the minivan), and 3’x 3’ sheets of steel started falling out of an oncoming semi-trailer. They hit our minivan, bent in the front driver-side wheel, and damaged the front quarter-panel and door. Monica and Conrad were okay, but the car is now in the shop, and we are driving a rental, once again. Today, the shop called with the repair estimate: $6000!

* But signing meant that we only had 72 hours left of our rental car coverage, so I started looking online, which kept half of Thursday, all Friday, and most of Saturday. I looked on,, ebay, and craigslist (I still like it the best). We even called our dealer friends in Las Vegas and looked into that. I was looking to get the best minivan for $8000 or less. The research ended up to be useful because I was able to feel comfortable with which prices were good. I eliminated the Kia Sedona (which often comes with leather seats (one experience I’d like, but have never had) because they get poorer gas mileage) with the help of the motortrend comparison function. I used carfax ($35 for unlimited car history reports) for the first time too, which helped to avoid the cars that had been salvaged, etc.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Our Whirlwind Tour of the Midwest - 2 Amish town

Amish town was not part of our scheduled "Tour," but I'm so very happy that we stopped by for a couple of hours that Monday afternoon. At the first sight of an Amish woman gardening with her young son, I felt like we were Conquistadors invading the natives. Our loud van with loud children, engine and DVD player seemed too much for such a peaceful community.

This is not a typical stop sign in Amish town, but Hans got a kick out of the idea.

Hans also liked the idea of new age alternative fuel, (Toyota Prius) parked next to the old.

Conrad was inspired in this town as well. He has decided to practice his future veterinary medical career in the Amish communities. He loves the idea of bartering his services for food and livestock. I say more power to him. He'll have his year supply of wheat in no time.

This was the 1st time none of us minded an exceptionally slow driver.
(I took this by just putting my camera out through the front passenger window, while we were driving. We were amazed when we looked at the picture on the computer that you can see the man's face in the side view mirror (click on the photo - it's great). I'm sure the guy was sighing and thinking, "tourists!")

I had a sense that they probably don't like the paparazzi (I found out later that the Amish do indeed avoid being photographed), so this photo was taken by me, through the car (as Hans leaned back and rolled down his window, all while we were driving by slowly and inconspicuously (as a Kia minivan in Amish country can get). We're amazed it turned out. This was the only shot we had!

These bird houses were everywhere. My thought is, the houses keep the birds out of the barn. Just a guess.

These lilies grew abundantly wild by the side of the road

As we passed by the many green fields & white homes, we figured Monday must be laundry day because the clothes lines were filled with white, black, & blue clothes, which blew effortlessly in the wind. It was all so tranquil to watch. This was the most thought provoking trip I've ever been on. The idea of rejecting modern day distractions, so that one has more time to focus on family, is beautiful.
Don't worry, I'm not going to convert, but I needed this experience to shock me back into caring more about people and less about things and myself. I am humbled by the Amish community and hope I can focus on what is truly most important. My family.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Our Whirlwind Tour of the Midwest - 1

This was such a great vacation. Hans is all about power packing our trips so that we can maximize our time. He Googlemaps the major stops (although we should probably get some better maps to deal with unplanned detours), prepays for every hotel and call in advance so that our friends and family know we are coming. This vacation was just a well thought out as the rest. Our 1st stop was Michigan to visit our dear friends, Rebecca & Michael Miller. We met them in France and to this day I swear Rebecca saved my life, my mind and soul during our stay in France. I couldn't have survived without Rebecca's refined femininity, Christlike kindness, and genuine sincerity. Michael is a hoot to say the least. The night we stayed with them we talked until the wee hours, just like we had done in France. We're so happy that he found a job that utilizes his many talents in philosophy, economic development, business, and humor (he works at the Acton Institute, a think-tank promoting Religion and Liberty). It was a perfect way to start our vacation.
Our next stop was Canada, to visit Jon and Jeanette McEachran. Jon and Hans were best friends in high school and have kept in touch pretty well through a group they formed called the BC (that's a whole separate post, but it would have to be encrypted since this blog is open to the public). Jon and Jeanette have built a wonderful life in Sarnia (a border town NE of Detroit). He is bishop of the local church ward and is busy building a warehousing and rail car-switching business to help the local chemical companies).
We had never been to Canada until this trip and were worried about culture shock :). In fact, Jon was able to translate for us and introduced us to the local exotic delicacy, "chips" which are actually "freedom fries" in Yankee country, but they are sprinkled (or sprayed, with a small hose - not kidding) with vinegar.
Conrad in Canada.
The bridge in the background links the US and Canada and was defaced by Riley, who could not "hold it" as we were ever-so-slowly advancing to the border crossing.

Amelia, Aunt Hannah & Conrad at a 4th of July BBQ
(What the heck are they looking at?)

Grandpa Allspach (97) with the boys.

Riley & Conrad in their new Cincinnati Reds ball caps.

Hans & Amelia.
(Yes Hans is wearing a pinky-peach tie)

I don't know why, but Riley really really loves playing chess, so on our Sunday visit with Grandpa the boys had a nice little scrimmage.

Hans' aunt Louis lives Trenton, Ohio and this... is her driveway.

Amelia looks so lady-like holding her skirt.
She's actually just trying to squish ants with her pink jellys.

Riley found a goose feather
(One might be thinking, is that sanitary? He's good at washing his hands & taking his vitamins. I pick my battles.)

Conrad, Conrad, Conrad...
(I know, no shoes at a barn, ie: tetanus. He's current on his vaccines. I pick my battles.)

Friday, July 11, 2008

leaves of grass

It rained a lot on our whirlwind trip through the midwest, but with rain come newness & beauty. If you look closely, you can see tiny hairs on one of the blades of grass. I think the hairs are called stomata.

When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer
Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Leaves of Grass. 1900.

WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick; 5
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

I first read this in 7th grade and it is still by far one of my favorite pieces of free verse poetry. (I even thought about embroidering it on a pillow.) I know this poem has nothing to do with my picture, but Walt Whitman's collection of poems are entitled Leaves of Grass, so I figured I could put them together.

St. Croix River

After Hans finished his preliminary exam he wanted to to some quality family bonding time. This usually involves nature. So off we went to Taylor Falls. We didn't see any waterfalls, but we did get to hike around the St. Croix River.

I think Riley was in the process of channeling his Chi

There is no better place for boys then among dirt, rocks and poison ivy.

This was actually a dangerous pose. Just below them is a 20 foot drop off. The sacrifices one makes for a great daddy daughter pic.

The St. Croix River.
In French, one would pronounce it "crwa" like trois (you know, un-deux-trois; the number three), but in Minnesota we pronounce it "kroy" like Troy. Don't ask me why, I'm not a native.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Anoka City

A few weeks ago, my 3 little tots & I had the chance to visit Anoka City, not much to see, but there was a great park right next to the Mississippi River.

You might think this magnifying glass is nothing more than a cheap plastic thing-ee, but little did you know that it is actually a WOMD. (Weapon of Mass Destruction.)

Conrad has recently become obsessed with burning things: twigs, paper, plastic, his Crocs, ants, caterpillars, and the subject in the picture is a duck feather.

Riley is such a cutie!
Yes, the spot on his forehead is a mosquito bite.

When we 1st arrived to Minnesota, we had to go the the dreaded DMV to get a new license plate. The DMV was actually a very happy place, with little wait, a play area and happy and helpful attendants. One man in particular saw Amelia and said, "Look at those Blueberry eyes!"

A very posed picture, that was too irresistible not to post.

My boys.

The 3 Rawhousers, in perfect sibling harmony.

Don't you just love static electricity?

The MISS-I-SS-IPP-I River.