Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Story of Buying Our House

So yeah. Buying a house is a crazy, crazy process. Especially when you are first time buyers trying to learn the ropes, and a job change and interstate move is in play as well (mortgage companies don't love those things, apparently).

Anyway, my husband flew up to Kansas City in early April for some job interviews, and while he was up here he arranged to meet up with a real estate agent to look at a few properties and get a feel for the market. The week before his trip, our agent (Tina) sent us a link to all the listings in our price range and target neighborhoods, and told us to pick our top three for their outing. I was pleasantly surprised (thrilled really) to see just what kinds of houses we could afford. There were some seriously nice options in our price range, and it was hard not to start day-dreaming about what it would be like to live in one of these beautiful homes.

We sent Tina an email Friday night with a list of our top three choices, and she emailed back Sunday morning saying two of our choices were already under contract, so could we pick two new ones? We looked at all the new listings for that day, chose two more, and by Monday morning one of those was gone as well.

Basically, what we learned is that this was an extremely fast moving market. We didn't make an offer on any of the houses he saw during that trip (per the mortgage lender, we couldn't make an offer on a house until my husband had accepted a job and had an offer letter in hand), but we kept a tight watch on the listings. It became a morning ritual for both of us to pull up all the new listings over breakfast and try to guess which ones would still be on the market the next day. Anything that was half way decent was usually gone in a day or two, so this was usually an extremely depressing ritual. There were several houses that I would even have considered "dream home" status, and it was hard not to get hopeful or get my heart set on one.

Nathan had his own set of favorites. There was one house in particular that he really, really liked, mostly because of its location. This neighborhood was ideal as far as cutting both our commute times down to 30 minutes each, but it was a super nice neighborhood so most of the houses were well outside our price range. He was so excited to find a house in the area that was within our range (just barely). I did not share his enthusiasm for this particular house (which we called the Blue House for obvious reasons), because while most of it was lovely, it was a split level with a rather disappointing kitchen, two things I considered deal breakers. But these disagreements didn't matter, because this house too was off the market within a matter of days.

My husband received several offers from his round of interviews, and it took a few weeks of negotiating terms and weighing pros and cons before he finally settled on one and accepted an offer the first week of May. We had originally planned to wait to do our serious house-hunting until we moved up to Kansas City at the end of May, but I was starting to feel some pressure about making an offer earlier than that so we could get settled sooner. Also, the Friday after he accepted his job offer, there were two really, really awesome houses that went up, and just knowing that we could actually make an offer now meant I didn't really want to let them slip away. So we called Tina and my mother-in-law and had them run out to these neighborhoods to take a look at these two houses. The first one, while nice, ended up being quite a bit smaller than it seemed and also not in a great location, so we ruled it out, but the second house was amazing! My mother-in-law fell in love with it, and because we Face Timed through her tour, we could see how it was even better than the pictures showed online. The kitchen had been entirely redone and was simply beautiful. There was a large yard, a mud room, a formal dining room, four bedrooms with an extra sitting room/office off the master suite, builtin shelves around the fireplace, and it was within walking distance of the elementary school. There were a few things that weren't perfect (namely, location, it would've been a much longer commute for me), but everything else was so amazing (especially the price!) that I was determined to make it work. I convinced Nathan that we should make an offer, even though neither of us had seen it in person. So Friday night (the day this house went on the market), we submitted an offer.

To make a long story short, we ended up in a major bidding war for this house, and it was super stressful and overwhelming. The owners were supposed to pick an offer by Friday night, which turned into Saturday night, but come Sunday morning we still hadn't heard anything. The longer they kept the house open, the more offers they got, and the more pressure we felt to keep resubmitting higher and higher bids, which neither of us felt good about. Basically, it was turning into a mess, and we were both getting super discouraged. It didn't help that Tina kept telling us stories about how all her other clients were in bidding wars too. It felt like there were twenty buyers for every house on the market, and we were just never going to be able to compete.

And then!

Sunday morning Nathan was perusing the new listings (per our usual habit), and what should he happen to see but the Blue House! The one he'd loved so much that had been on the market a few weeks earlier. Apparently the offer had fallen through and the house was back on the market! But what to do? We still had an open offer on this other house. Plus, nobody had actually seen the Blue House in person. But there it was, back on the market the first weekend we can make an offer, and it was the house he loved so much. Also, for whatever reason, the house was relisted under it's old number, meaning it looked like it had been on the market for over forty days, which is kind of a death sentence in a fast moving market (if a house has been up longer than a week, something is wrong with it).

So, here's where the story gets really crazy (in my opinion). We're at church, still thinking about our situation and trying to figure out if we should pull our bid on the other house (which the owners were still showing, even though they had like twenty offers!) and try to pursue this Blue House, when Nathan sits down next an older man in our ward that he's pretty good friends with (they served in the bishopric together). This man, who shall remain nameless, happens to be incredibly wealthy. Like, billionaire kind of wealthy. And trust me when I say that we don't know that many billionaires (he's the only one, I promise). Anyway, this man leans over to Nathan in Sunday School and says, "Hey, I have a meeting tomorrow up in Kansas City. I know you guys are house-hunting right now, would you like to fly up with me on my private jet and take a look at some houses?"



I just don't even know what to say about this. I still can't believe it happened. I mean, what?

I remember talking to my mom on the phone that night and just being like, how do I even say the words that my husband is getting a free ride on a private jet? This is NOT the kind of life we live. This is SO outside of the ordinary for us. Also? Can we talk about timing? This house, this Blue House that my husband had been stalking for a while comes back on the market the weekend we are eligible to make an offer, and then that day! That very day! He gets an offer for a private jet ride just in time to see this house in person (from our billionaire friend who just happens to have a random meeting in the town we're moving to)? The signs just kind of felt undeniable.

I made him take a picture from inside, just so I could see. This is likely the closest I'll ever get to a private jet. And I've no idea who the man in this picture is, some random employee of our friend who was flying up for the meeting too.
Anyway, we pulled our bid on the first house (broke my heart, but it relieved a ton of stress), got Tina to rearrange her schedule, and Monday by 11 AM Nathan was touring the Blue House (while I Face Timed from Houston), and by Monday at 4 PM we had put an offer in.

By Tuesday morning, it was accepted.

No bidding war. No other offers. Just a simple miracle.

So I'll just say again that this would never have been my first choice house, mainly because I judge every house by the kitchen, and this kitchen was disappointing. Also, it's a split level, which is the most annoying floor plan ever (no offense if you live in/love split levels, but honestly, who thought this sort of house design was a good thing? How did it become so popular? I do not understand). But everything else about it is extremely lovely. The kid bedrooms are adorable, it is spacious and well taken care of, and honestly it is the least offensive split level design I've ever seen (it actually has curb appeal). After Nathan promised we could paint the kitchen cabinets white, I really couldn't come up with any strong objections. And after our offer was accepted so easily, I just couldn't deny how right it felt. This was our house. This was the house meant for us. This was the perfect house.

I didn't get to see the house until the very end of May, during our final walk-through before closing, and seeing it in person really sealed the deal for me. It's like Nathan told me, what the pictures don't show and what really makes this house great is the location. Our neighborhood is incredible. Like, just incredible. And as far as splitting our commute times, we couldn't have found a better location.

Everything about this story feels like a miracle to me. And every day living here has confirmed it even more: we are meant to be here. We are meant to live here.

It's amazing to me how everything has fallen into place. At the beginning of the year, Nathan and I felt so much anxiety about our future. There were so many question marks that had to line up perfectly, and everything felt up in the air. First I had to get accepted to grad school with funding, then he had to get a job, then we had to find a house. All of those things felt so huge and hard and uncertain, but each one just fell into place so easily. So miraculously.

Now the last question mark we need to figure out is our childcare situation. I still have no idea what we're going to do, but at this point, I'm just waiting for the next miracle to happen. I'll let you know when it does.

(Also, I'll post pictures at some point, maybe when we're a little more unpacked and settled.)

Friday, June 23, 2017

Five Thoughts on Living in Our New (To Us) House

1. I'm walking a ton more steps every day. This is a good thing, but I never really thought about this being a part of more space. I'm running up and down the stairs a million times a day, walking from one end of the house to the other, and moving so much more than I needed to when we lived in a little apartment. I guess most people who live in small apartments in big cities can walk everywhere they go, but Houston is definitely a driving city, so a small apartment plus driving everywhere meant my life there was pretty sedentary. But having more space means taking more steps, which can only be a good thing for my health, right?

2. Oh, the light! The light, the light, the light, the light! My biggest complaint about our old little apartment was the lack of natural sunlight. There were windows, but only on one side of the apartment, and there were big shade trees right outside so barely any light ever made it inside (we had to use inside lighting pretty much all day). But this house has big, beautiful east and west facing windows so there is light all day. Unfortunately, this means my children have been awake at the crack of dawn (which of course, is at it's earliest point right now) because of all the light flooding in their bedrooms windows, but I don't even care. My heart just fills with giddy, giddy pleasure every time I walk into a room and see the sunlight pouring in. I'm so excited to get to know how the light slants and changes in every room throughout the day and through the seasons. And now I can get me some houseplants that might have a chance of surviving!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

What It Means to Be a "Reader": Does Nonfiction Count?

Look, I love nonfiction. Nonfiction books can be amazing and informative and fascinating and gripping and wonderful. We did a whole Book Blab episode on all our favorite nonfiction books. Nonfiction is amazing, and I love reading good nonfiction books.


When someone asks me my what my favorite book is (impossible question) the answer is always and forever going to be a novel. A fictional story. That's where my true love lies. To me, literature is fiction. I remember reading a quote somewhere (no idea where, so sorry I can't cite a source) about how even the word "nonfiction" sounds like an apology, denoting its inferiority. It doesn't get it's own word, it is identified simply as being not-fiction. Because obviously, fiction is the best.

So when I took my "Teaching Reading" course in college, and the professor talked about how many (maybe even most) people prefer reading nonfiction, I couldn't really believe it. Who are these people? I didn't know anyone who actually preferred nonfiction over fiction. How could I even begin to understand someone like that?

Well, over the past few months, I've slowly been coming to terms with the fact that my oldest child is probably one of those people. Here's the evidence.

1. He picked an easy reader book out at the library called The Adventures of BB8 that he absolutely loved, not because he knows or cares anything about Star Wars or the story, but because the book told a fictional story in a nonfiction format. Every page contained it's own heading, and every other page or so contained informational graphics like all the categories of different droids, or diagramming a starship, or something like that. He was the most fascinated with the Table of Contents, and ever since reading this book, all of the stories he's written on the computer have contained detailed Table of Contents, including notes for indexes and glossaries. I've never met another five-year-old who does this.

2. He was recently gifted a book about space, which he loves, but he tends to ignore the main text and focus on all the captions and factoids presented in bubbles. He's apparently really drawn to the visual layout and bite-size break up of text presented in these kinds of texts.

3. And, the most compelling piece of evidence by far is the absolute love and devotion he's shown for his favorite book of all time: Maps. I mentioned how cool this book was when we got it last year, and here's a picture of it (from last year):

Then my son got super interested in geography, and this became his new favorite book, and one year later, this is what the map book looks like today:

Yeah, it's been taped back together so many times, the spine doesn't actually exist anymore. We really just need to bite the bullet and get another copy of this book, but I'm waiting until his geography obsession abates a little so our next copy has a chance of being enjoyed by the younger children.

Anyway, the point is, my kid's favorite book is about maps. Geography. Nonfiction that is light of narrative text. I'm not denying this isn't a cool book (it is a super cool book, and deserves to be obsessed over), I'm just saying that at no point in my childhood was my favorite book about maps. Stories? Yes. Maps? No.

And it's totally, totally cool that my kid likes nonfiction books, or at least books that present bits of information alongside graphics. These are great books. It's just that when I think about people who I would define as "readers" (and I want my children to grow up to be defined as "readers"), they read fiction. Novels. And as children, they read and devoured all that wonderful children's literature. They love stories. That's what a reader is to me.

My son does enjoy stories (remember this?). He willingly participates in our nightly read-aloud sessions, and he'll sit and read both picture books and chapter books on his own, but he reserves his passion and enthusiasm for these nonfiction books. And I'm trying to tell myself this is okay. Right?

Do you count as a "reader" if the books you pour over are maps?

I actually think this was one of the things my college professor was trying to teach us English-major-avid-reader teachers-in-training, that we needed to re-frame how we defined what a "reader" was. Kids who read informational texts are "readers." Kids who read graphic novels are "readers." My kid is a "reader."

He may not love the same books I loved as a kid, or love fiction the way I love fiction, but he still loves books, and I will encourage a love of books and reading in any form it comes. When it comes to family read-alouds, I will always choose fictional novels, because everyone deserves to be exposed to classic children's literature. But when it comes to his own personal reading, he'll always be allowed to read his choice.

And if that's nonfiction, that's wonderful.

Monday, June 12, 2017

My 5 Guidelines for Upsizing Minimally (or We Bought a House!)

No, this is not the house we bought. This is just a picture of Boone Hall Plantation outside Charleston, because every post is better with a picture.
So I mentioned this a couple of posts ago, but we bought a house. It closed last week so we are officially homeowners! The story of how we got this house is a whole thing, and I'll tell you that story some time, but today I've got other things on my mind.

Just over a year ago, I wrote a post considering the pros and cons of small living vs. more space. At the time, we were a family of four living in a smallish two bedroom city apartment, and I honestly felt like we were in a good spot space-wise. After majorly decluttering our stuff, I felt really comfortable in our place. We were living a comparatively minimalist lifestyle, and our "stuff" was under control. It felt good. Also, minimalism and small living is totally hip right now, and I liked considering myself one of the cool kids being counter-cultural and all.

But then we had another baby, and somehow things just started feeling cramped. She slept in our room, but all of her stuff and accouterments didn't have a real home. Her clothes stayed in baskets that rotated spots throughout the house, we were constantly tripping over her swing and boppy and Bumbo chair that seemed to live in the middle of the floor, and it just would've taken some major reconfiguration of our space to get her to fit in long-term. I started pining for more space.

Around this time, we started house-hunting for our move to Kansas. Based on our financial situation, we'd set a price range we were comfortable with and that we felt would get us a modest home, but I was surprised once we started looking at just how much house we could actually get in our price range (the Midwest, you guys, cost of living is sweet!). And once you know you can afford something bigger, it's kind of hard to hold back and stay small (especially when you're already daydreaming about more space).

So the house we got is more than double the size of our apartment in Houston. It wasn't the largest house we looked at or could afford, and it certainly isn't any McMansion, but it's still so much more space than we've ever lived in before. In fact, it's bigger than anything I've ever lived in before, including the house I grew up in.

At first, I was just giddily excited. The baby gets her own nursery! I get a home office! There are more than three drawers in the kitchen!

But then we started to make lists of all the things we would need to buy to live comfortably in this house. And the lists just kept growing and growing. This whole week it feels like we've been doing nothing but shopping: furniture stores and hardware stores, Walmart and Target and Ikea, and let's not forget the hours and hours online scouring Wayfair and Overstock and Amazon (and Craigslist, but you guys, scoring deals on Craigslist is an art form I do not have the skills, or patience, for). Going from renting to buying any size house comes with it's necessary purchases: washers and dryers and lawn mowers and hoses and all those things you're not responsible for when you rent. But then there's also all the furniture we need for these new rooms, and all these home improvement projects we're already trying to tackle (new carpet! new paint!). It feels like the list is endless.

And with every swipe of the credit card, my old anxiety flares up about all this stuff we are accumulating. It is so much stuff in so little time that it just feels overwhelming. There is so much stuff that part of me just wants to call the whole thing off. Let's just find an apartment and keep renting, keep living our minimal lifestyle, keep things small and simple so we never have to worry about replacing a roof or fixing the water heater or whatever million possible hassles we could face as homeowners.

But another part of me is still deeply excited by this new responsibility. Yes, this is a big house, and we will need to accumulate some more stuff to live comfortably here. Yes, there will be things to fix and a lot of work and a lot of money to keep it up. But this house is ours. It is part of this whole family thing that we are building together. It is a space that will give us room to grow and work and dream and build together as a family. Owning a home is an act of creation. We have here an empty canvas upon which we will create, decorate, design, build, work, clean, fix, arrange, and make it more beautiful. And we will do it as a family. I'm excited about this.

So while everyone else on the internet may be throwing up the virtues of downsizing and going minimal, we're upsizing. But there's still a huge part of me that will always feel drawn to a more minimal lifestyle, and so I'm working on creating some guidelines for myself on how to approach our accumulation of stuff. Here's what I've come up with so far.

1. Only buy what we need to live here comfortably. Just because we have more space doesn't mean we have to fill it to the brim. But we still want to make this extra space usable in the most effective way.

2. Take it slowly and be fiscally responsible. There are some things that we have to buy right away (like a lawn mower, washer and dryer, etc.), and some purchases we've budgeted for (like a new office desk and chairs), but other things we can wait on, like furniture for the front room, patio furniture, or decor items to fill up all this new wall space. We have some ideas of what we want to get, but we don't need them right away, so we'll wait until we've saved up or find the perfect item. This means things might look bare for a while, but I'm trying to be okay with that.

3. Buy less at a higher quality. We could buy a bunch of cheap furniture and decor to fill up the space, or we can buy fewer things that are slightly higher in quality. We're actually trying to take this approach when it comes to our home improvement projects too. There are a couple of rooms where I want to rip out the carpet and replace with a hard surface of some kind, but we decided to hold off on that right now and save up until we can afford to put in flooring that matches the hardwood already in the kitchen and dining area. We could've gone with a cheaper laminate or composite wood option, but hopefully by saving up and putting in higher quality flooring that matches through the whole house, it will increase the value of the home and help with resale.

4. Buy for joy and beauty. I never want to own more than I need, but I'm also giving myself permission to buy things that make our space beautiful or that make us happy (as long as it's in the budget).

5. Keep perspective and don't get attached. Just because we have the space now doesn't mean we will in the future. Should life ever throw us a curve ball, I want to be able to let all this stuff and space go and be able to downsize again. Maybe easier said than done, but I can try.

So, any other suggestions or nuggets of wisdom to share about how to upsize gracefully? I'd love to hear! I'm still feeling quite a bit of anxiety over all of this change, so advice is appreciated.

Also, you better believe there will be pictures coming, probably even whole before-and-after montages (I am the girl who posts about my over-thinking of holiday decorations, after all). But like I said, we'll be taking it slowly. We don't move in officially till next week (when the carpets are finished and they can ship our stuff to us from storage), and then we'll be drowning in boxes and chaos for a while, so don't expect anything soon.

But do get excited to hear the dramatic story of how we bought our house, complete with bidding wars, a private jet ride, and all the stress and anxiety of buying a house I hadn't actually seen!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Travel Log: Charleston S.C.

trees, road
Okay, I know, this is not a travel blog. But sometimes when you go somewhere completely wonderful, you just need a place to share (a fraction) of the beautiful pictures you took.

Here's how the story went. On Thursday (May 18th) the movers showed up to pack up all our stuff (well, all the stuff we hadn't already packed ourselves). On Friday the moving truck rolled out taking the vast majority of our possessions to a lonely storage unit. And on Saturday Miss Lily and I boarded a plane (her first time!) to Charleston S.C., bidding farewell to our boys for a week, and to Houston forever.

This trip to Charleston was a fun girls trip with my mother-in-law and three sister-in-laws to celebrate my mother-in-law's significant birthday this year (out of deference to her, the specific number of this significant birthday will remain unnamed). I can't remember who picked this location (Evy?) but I will say that before this trip, I was only vaguely aware that Charleston even existed, and had completely zero life plans to ever visit. But oh, my, goodness! Am I ever glad I got the chance! I had no idea that any city with this level of charm existed outside of Europe. Basically, the entire city is one picturesque photo opportunity. There was just not an ugly place to aim my camera. So, ready for a few pictures? Here they come!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Books I Read in May

You guys, I'm not positive, but I think I've hit a new all time low as far as books finished in a single month. At the end of last month I was in the middle of two books I was really enjoying, and in the entire month of May I managed to finish one of them! ONE! SINGLE! BOOK! In the whole month!

This is so embarrassing.

I've been scratching my head and trying to figure out why it was such a bad reading month, and the truth is, I'm just not sure. But here are some possible theories. First, it was a busy month. We bought a house (more on that later). We had a flurry of good-bye parties and social engagements. We packed up our apartment and moved to a new state (moving is the. worst. thing. ever!). And I spent the last week traveling. So things were pretty busy.

But I've had busy months before, and still managed to fit in a little more reading time, so I'm trying to figure out what else accounts for the slump. I was especially looking forward to the travel time, because I had five separate plane flights in which to read, and I thought for sure I was going to knock out some books there. But then, I was traveling solo with a lap baby who needed lots of attention on all those flights, so I think I ended up getting a total of thirty minutes of reading done in the air.

Honestly, I think that sweet baby is the major culprit for most of the reading slump. She has become extremely efficient on the nursing front. We're down to about five minutes a session which is barely long enough for me to check my phone before she's demanding to be burped and on with her day. So that precious reading time is all but gone. And I was trying to remember when I used to read, before nursing when there were just the two kids. I remember I used to read in the afternoons and listen to audio books while doing the dishes. Somehow, with three kids, that time just doesn't seem to exist anymore (not that there aren't still dishes to be done, it's just my husband seems to be doing them more because I'm occupied with one or the other of my needy children).

I think the real problem is that we just haven't settled into a good routine yet. The baby's nap schedule is still all over the place, so my days just aren't predictable right now. And then of course, we moved. Nothing more disruptive to one's routine than packing up and moving. Without my solid routine in place, I'm struggling to find my reading time. It doesn't help that I'm just exhausted all the time (once again, the baby's fault, I just can't get her to drop that pesky 4 AM feeding) and I'm in this brain-foggy place that makes focusing and mental activity (like reading) difficult.

Anyway, it's probably a combination of all these things. Hopefully this next month is better. Now, without further ado, let's get around to talking about that one solitary little book I finished. At least it was a really good one.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

In my further defense, this was quite a long book. But you guys, it's totally worth all the hype. This really was such a good book. I can't count how many times I've heard it compared to Unbroken, with most people saying that Unbroken is better. And yeah, when one is the story of a guy who nearly dies in a plane wreck at sea only to be rescued by the Japanese enemy and sent to a POW torture camp, the story of nine college boys who win an Olympic medal seems tame by comparison. But I think I fall on the side of people who think that this book is actually better (not that it has to be a comparison, they are both extremely good). At the very least, I found this to be a more enjoyable reading experience, because it was so inspiring and uplifting (whereas Unbroken was quite a depressing slog for most of it). Brown is an extremely talented writer. I was just amazed at his ability to imbue these rowing races with drama. I was on the edge of my seat through every single race description, especially the final one when I knew the outcome! It was just really, really good writing, and a very inspiring story. I highly recommend.

Have you read it? Agree or disagree about the comparison to Unbroken? Any other thoughts?