Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Florida 2016 Part 3: A Tale of Two Houses

This trip was a looong time in the making!! In October of 2015, my sister Ruth and I were talking about wanting to plan a vacation for our entire family--parents, siblings, grandchildren, everyone. We really wanted it to be relaxing and beautiful and idyllic. As kids, we used to go to Sunset Beach in North Carolina every other year or so, and those were some of our best childhood memories--so much slow-paced time just hanging out with family and friends and having the time of our lives. My mom always talked about how great those trips were because they basically planned themselves once you arrived.

So we decided to try to convince everyone that we should do a beach trip (kind of funny because we had a whole-family Christmas get-together taking place the next month, but we needed a beach one in the future too--and we were trying to plan it early enough so that Rosalind and Chris could be there before they moved to Hong Kong, since we knew they would be gone for the next year. Unfortunately his start date got moved up at the last minute and they just barely missed the Florida trip!). We chose Destin because my little family had such a great experience there the previous year, and housing for a group as big as ours was more affordable on the Panhandle than both the Carolinas and California. And then we started working on finding some beautiful beach houses and convincing everyone else. 

Ultimately, we settled on this house. It checked all the boxes--a private bedroom for everyone, tons of bathrooms, enough eating space that we could all eat together, plenty of room to cook, an awesome pool, and a really cool game room. We booked it over Thanksgiving weekend and then we had ten very long months to wait!!

When we arrived at the house, everything seemed awesome--it was huge, lovely, beautifully decorated, and with gorgeous finishes and fixtures. The beds were super comfortable and the private bathrooms attached to each bedroom were enormously luxurious.

Ruth's family was the first to arrive, and I asked her how they were settling in as we were en route. "Pretty good," she said. "The house is gorgeous but it was a little dirty when we first got here...I ended up sweeping up a lot of crumbs. Not a big deal but kind of weird, and I found a bunch of dead bugs in the game room and trash in the fridge out there. And I can't find one of the pack and plays."

We searched the house, but couldn't find the pack and play, so we ended up calling the homeowner, who directed us to a tiny little closet in the guest house. I also mentioned that the hot tub wasn't turning on, and she told us that we hadn't paid for the hot tub heating. My mom assured her that we had, forwarded her an email confirmation, and the owner excused herself by saying that she often forgot to write down who had paid for the hot tub, but assured us it would be on that evening. I confirmed that she knew about the missing big-screen TV that was supposed to be out by the pool, and she muttered something that I couldn't hear and then assured me that she was aware of its absence.

We figured it was a one-off thing and settled down to enjoying the AMAZING enormous pool and all reveling in our reunion. It was so great to see each other again, but we were really missing Rosalind, Chris, and Addie (who are in Hong Kong for a year having their own adventures).

Neil and I went to the store with my dad to pick up groceries for the next couple of days. I was super excited to join everyone in the hot tub when we got back, but they were all inside when we started unloading our groceries. Total bummer--the hot tub wasn't working! We texted the owner, who said she would send someone out the next day to check on it.

As I was brushing my teeth that night, I noticed that the sink in our bathroom wasn't draining. "Weird," I thought. "You'd think that the housekeeping crew would have noticed that, but I guess it's not a huge deal. We can live with it and just get some Draino or something."

The next day was Sunday. As I was helping the kids get ready for church I noticed that the bathroom attached to the boys' room still smelled kind of iffy, which I'd also noticed the previous night. I flipped the fan on as I left the room and didn't think about it again...until it still smelled that evening. I mentioned it to Neil. He looked closely at all the rugs and said, "Oh my gosh--there is dried-up feces encrusted on that rug."

I was SO grossed out. And then I noticed a Q-tip buried deep within another rug.

I came downstairs and mentioned what I'd found--and then everyone started chiming in with the little things they'd been ignoring in their own rooms. Deep sand inside a dresser drawer. A used hairbrush in a bathroom drawer next to an old makeup palette. Towels with swipes of fresh makeup across them. Dark red stains on bathmats. A beach cart full of beer cans. A distinctly smelly/dirty fridge & freezer in the game room. A dishwasher that took forever to run because the heating element wasn't functional. Sheets that looked like they'd been slept in to the point that my sisters were washing their bedding before using it. And the hot tub still wasn't working, despite a visit from the pool guy.

After a lot of conversation and some very careful word-smithing, we emailed the owner with a list of our concerns. I went off to take a shower, and when I came out, she had arrived in the interim and was busy working down our list. We felt awful that she had come out on a Sunday night, but were super grateful that she was so responsive to our worries about the cleanliness of the house. She mentioned a few things that struck us as kind of odd--their family had come over to the house the previous week but hadn't actually stayed there, just used the pool, but then she did some really quick cleaning inside the house later and had maybe missed a few spots...(so much for the $600 professional cleaning fee, right?).

The next day was Monday. The pool guy arrived bright and early and tinkered around with the hot tub equipment before announcing that the heater was fried and a replacement part wouldn't be available until our last day. We were pretty bummed, as it was too chilly at night to swim comfortably without the additional heat, and the evenings in the hot tub/pool after the kids were in bed were something all of us had really been looking forward to.

We decided to make the most of it and spent almost the entire day in the pool, since there was so much seaweed at the beach that we were coming back literally coated in green slime underneath our suits (NOT a fun surprise when you head into the shower!). 

We were having a pretty idyllic day--snorkeling, diving, swimming, watching the fighter jets overhead--and then we started to smell that additive in natural gas. It got stronger and stronger, and we pinpointed the scent to the pool equipment. We called the owner, who sent the pool guy out again, and while we waited for him we evacuated the pool and the guest house (where my dad was working) which was directly over the equipment. The pool guy identified a gas leak in the hot tub line--it was not a very fun little interlude (especially when Neil quietly said as he walked away, "Um...that guy has no idea what he's talking about. That problem is impossible because of xyz").

Neil and I were in charge of food that day, so we headed in to make sure everything was set up for supper. As we started unloading the dishwasher later that night, I noticed that something black was coming off of the utensils and covering my hands, and it wouldn't come off without some serious scrubbing. I don't remember whether it was my dad or Neil who identified it as black mold, but it was due to the non-functional heating element that Neil had pointed out to the owner the previous day, which she had brushed it off as inconsequential. The mold was EVERYWHERE--coating utensils, dishes, baby bottles, etc. We decided to carry everything over to the other house to wash it in that dishwasher--and as we were going over there my dad tripped on the unlit steps by the pool and started gushing blood from his toe. 

When I came in and saw the blood all over the kitchen floor and my dad ignoring his pain and  working away at trying to sanitize the dishes to make sure his family was safe, I just about lost it. At this point I was so upset. I was exhausted after a long day (I got up early to run and then spent literally every minute swimming that I was not cooking--the kids were in bed by this point so it was pretty late). And at 8 months pregnant this was NOT what I wanted from a vacation--I felt like we were literally spending our vacation in enumerating problems with this house, and I was so tired of constantly going back and forth with the owner instead of just relaxing and enjoying this house that had looked so great online. 

My dad called the owner and had a pretty lengthy chat, the end result of which was that the owner told us that they obviously would not be able to make us happy and offered a full refund if we decided to move to a different house (honestly, we would have been happy with a new heating element in the dishwasher and a refund on the cleaning fee, but I think they were fed up with hearing from us). My dad said we would consider our options and decide as a family what we wanted to do. At this point, Elise and Paxton were at the grocery store, my mom was on a conference call, and Mary Beth was resting, so my dad, Ruth, Jordan, Neil, and I were all sitting around discussing what we should do--and then my mom forwarded a text from the owners telling us that they were going to rent to someone else the next day and we had to be out of the house by 9 AM.

So this is the point when I really did break down. Fortunately, everyone else was in their element--my dad, Ruth, Jordan, and Neil immediately started looking for new houses (I sat there crying). It was pretty amazing to watch them though--they were in their element and within 10 minutes we had a bigger house in a really coveted area, early check-in the next day, and a 25% discount on the new house that meant we would save literally thousands of dollars after receiving the refund for the original house. Everyone was super excited (I was still crying. I was just so worn out! And pregnant! And it felt like it took every particle of energy I had to prep everything for the trip and get my family the 12 hours down to Florida in the first place while also getting all of the schoolwork to pull my kids out for a week and clear things with my doctor so that I could go--I was in no shape to handle any curveballs). My mom came in and just held me for a long time until I stopped crying, and then everyone went to work like crazy packing up and within maybe half an hour we were set for departure the next morning.

I'm skipping over a lot of drama with the owners, during which we became 99% sure that they had no other renters coming in and they were just bluffing, especially given that we had booked ten months previously and who books "backup renters" when a hurricane is on the way?!...but we arranged to meet them the next morning at 9 AM for a full refund to be immediately handed over in cash. They were not thrilled by this, but my mom was pretty darn insistent and we have a couple of experts in contract law in our family which is handy. And since they were doing all of this via text we had an indisputable written record.

So we drove on over to our gorgeous new house, which was situated a mile from downtown Seaside, which is literally the most picturesque beach town you could possibly imagine. So picturesque, in fact, that we had driven over there the previous night because Ruth had read about it online (it was the filming location for The Truman Show) and we all oohed and aahed over it and wished that someday we could come back to stay. WELL WE DID.

And we had the best time.

The beach was amazing there--we were really bummed about giving up our super-close beach access at the other house but I honestly think this one might have been closer, plus the water was much clearer! (And it had a spray-off station at the top of the bluff which is super important in terms of not making a giant mess in the was positioned perfectly so you got all the sand washed off and then had time to dry off as you walked the rest of the way back.)

The house itself was fantastic--instead of being split between a main house and a guest house, we were all together. Instead of dividing our groceries between 3 different fridges in the house/guest house/game room, we had the most massive fridge I have ever seen in my life. Two dishwashers. A washer and dryer for both the 2nd and 3rd story. 6 king-bed suites with private bathrooms, two of which included a set of bunkbeds built into little tucked-away nooks. Private balconies on each level. A gigantic game room with foosball, air hockey, and arcade games. Two additional bunk rooms (six queen beds and two twins) with their own attached bathrooms. We actually felt like we were not maximizing this house because there was still so much extra space! And the hot tub heater worked, much to the joy of the general populace. :-)


I won't do a blow-by-blow recap of all of our days, but I do want to write down some of the things I don't want to forget.

First and foremost--just all of the TIME with my family. Such a luxury and so wonderful. My sisters and parents are truly some of my nearest and dearest friends and I can't even tell you how much I adore being with them. I love them to pieces and I am so grateful for the amazing men my sisters have married and the sweet children that they are raising.

The food--everyone in my family enjoys cooking and it was SUCH a treat to eat all of the outstanding food that everyone made! We divvied things up so that everyone was responsible for a breakfast, snack, and dinner on their day. We had tons of lunch stuff so that people could eat lunch at the house or go out on their own--no pressure and totally flexible.

You guys, as a mom I swear that 80% of my time and energy goes to feeding people. Do you know what an amazing vacation it is to not have to think about breakfast, snack, and dinner for a week?!

IT IS AMAZING. Honestly like heaven. As encapsulated in this picture.

 I loved waking up and coming downstairs to see what tasty treat was being served for breakfast, and lounging in the pool in the afternoon when someone appeared with a tray of snacks/drinks and put them in my hand so I did not have to exit the pool, or taking an afternoon nap and coming downstairs to find someone in the process of grilling up dinner.

It was amazing and wonderful and I miss it so much. And everything was so darn tasty!!

I'm just going to insert this photo AGAIN in case you missed that bit about lounging around in the pool.

And I really miss looking over and seeing a kitchen filled with these lovely ladies, who walked over and handed me a dessert fruit pizza about ten seconds after I took this picture. And then asked me if I wanted another one after I finished snarfing that goodness down.

I loved the evening when my parents babysat all of the grandkids and sent us out for a fancy adults-only dinner. They are the absolute best. And aren't they so gorgeous together?!

We were some of the first people at the restaurant for dinner and were among the very last to leave--we sat there for hours out on the patio under the bubble lights as the dusk came on and just talked and talked and talked while we ate our crab legs and ribeye and whatnot. Again--I love these people SO MUCH that I am lucky enough to call sisters and brothers-in-law!

And the babies--oh my goodness, the babies. Abigail confided to me yesterday that the day our baby is born will be the best day of her entire life--she can't wait to soak up more baby sweetness after having a whole week with these two.

They are seriously so darling--just little rays of happiness. They are a couple of months apart but I think they are going to be the best friends ever as they grow up--it was so neat to see them light up when the other one came into the room!

We had another great evening where my parents took us all out for delicious seafood. I ate hush puppies and crab cakes to my heart's content and had some of the most delicious shrimp one could ever ask for, which I had totally been craving...and then my mom bought a ton more shrimp a couple of days later and peeled it for me and made me sit down and eat it all and I knew I was loved. :-)

My kids were HUGE fans of the game room and the big-screen was their first experience with an old-school arcade machine (it had about 60 classic games on it) and they were in HEAVEN. We also let them all chill in their beds for an hour one afternoon watching their little individual TVs that were in every bunk and I think it was the height of luxury for them. Definitely not something they get to do every day--I found Abigail in her bunk with Evelyn cuddled up in the crook of Abigail's arm while they watched Paw Patrol together, all snuggled up under Evelyn's blanket. Too cute.

And all the hours of just hanging out together--so glorious. Especially since we spent 90% of our time in either swimsuits or felt so horribly hot to put on real clothes when we left Saturday!


Some more pics from the night before Hermine made landfall--the lifeguards had cleared out all their stuff from the mound of sand that constituted the lifeguard station and the kids were in heaven racing the waves to climb back up before they broke over the side.

We went crabbing a couple of evenings after dark--once with just Dad, Neil, Elise, Paxton, and me, and then another night with all the kids. SO FUN. So so so fun. We found some seriously huge crabs and just had an absolute blast, plus the sky was so clear and the stars so bright that we could see the Milky Way!

The morning after Hermine hit, my dad got up early and took Abigail, Isaac, and Caleb down to the beach to see what they could tons of shells and a big jellyfish with Isaac's foot for perspective! One of my favorite memories from beach weeks in my childhood are the early-morning walks with my grandparents and I am SO grateful that my children are able to have the same experiences. 

 And one of the really awesome perks to our second house was that it had 8 bikes (and helmets!) that came with the house. We made great use of those! One morning my mom and I biked 9 miles in and around Seaside (I probably drove my mom nuts with my constant comments about how gorgeous the town is!) and the next day Neil and I biked another 5 miles (not quite as fun since we no longer had the impending hurricane to cool things off, but I tell you what, the jump into the pool post-biking was the most amazing feeling EVER, and then Neil brought me a huge bowl full of Rocky Road ice cream, and...yeah it was heavenly).

We loved the vintage Airstream food trucks in Seaside!!! Seriously, this place is amazing.

 And last but not least, the view we saw every time we walked down the bluff to the beach. I miss it so much already!!! Such an amazing trip and so many great memories with such fabulous people.


Ruth said...

Hahah one afternoon they spent one hour watching tv in their that how we are going to remember it??!!

Rachael said...

You do realize that's what is going to stand out in their memories...😂😂😬

Rosalind said...

Thanks for writing this! I'm so sad I missed everything except the poop house. it looks like it was a wonderful week!!

Meghan said...

Such a great week! Thanks for organizing it--and there was something I thought about that you didn't mention, but now I can't remember it. Guess it didn't stand out that much to either of us. Thanks for an outstanding recap.

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