Monday, April 7, 2014

Starting Over

We've moved 7 times in 7 years of marriage. Well, this Saturday will be the 7th.

At the end of the summer of 2007 I was 23, Joe was 28. We were newlyweds - married for 3 weeks - and we packed up everything we owned in a moving truck and drove across the country. We were excited for the new adventure of graduate school, a new state, and starting a life together. Joe drove the truck and I wrote thank you notes for our still-in-boxes wedding gifts in the car. We drove through cute Midwestern towns and miles of cornfields and we filled with optimism about our future.

Three hours outside of our final destination we stopped for the night. We couldn't get our keys at 2am, so why not stop in Indianapolis and finish the last few hours the next day. The next day we came out of our hotel room to a parking lot with no moving truck. We thought it had been towed. It hadn't. In the few hours we slept someone had hot wired it, driven it off, stolen what they deemed of value, put a rock on the accelerator and drove the van in to the river.

It ranks as one of the absolute worst moments in my life.

For months we struggled to recover financially (insurance didn't cover all of what we'd lost) and emotionally. It's hard to explain how violated you feel when something is stolen. And to have everything stolen during the newlywed phase of marriage was somehow ten times worse. I felt like our happy newlywed phase - that optimism and sense of embarking on adventure - was stolen and we were thrust into an awful nightmare. Those early months of marriage and grad school were painful for both of us.

And while many miracles happened in the aftermath, and many people reached out to us to help, it has been a long road to recovery. Financially, it has taken us years. And emotionally - well no one can every give us back that stolen time in our life or replace our journals, scrapbooks, and photographs. They're gone forever. And we have almost no sweet sentimental household items lovingly chosen and gifted to us at our wedding. That hurts too.

People told me at the time I'd laugh about it someday ....well almost 7 years later and I'm still not laughing. Some things just remain a heartbreaking part of your past. You move on, and recover, but thinking back on them is still painful. I'm sure many of you can relate, even if the source of our hardship is different.

Today we closed on our first home. Buying a home is - for anyone - a big milestone. But for our family - who had everything material ripped from us - it's a particularly big day. At times it felt impossible.

For 6.5 years we've hardly been on any vacations, I've had hardly any decent haircuts and only one - very minimal hair color job, we spent a year as a one car family, and even now we drive two quite old very practical cars. We've spent the past 21 months living in a cinder block apartment with a tiny kitchen and closets that grow mold in the corners; before that we lived with my mom for a year. Joe has almost always worked more than 40 hours a week and I have spent a lot of time working outside the home and making spreadsheet after spreadsheet strategically planning debt payoff and savings goals.

So buying this beautiful house today is a huge milestone and a big relief. The culmination of hard work and, for us, a moral victory over a very rough beginning. We're really excited to start over, to move in and to settle down. And we're pretty emotional too.

Also, it's just a pretty house and the dishwasher is amazing. Plus - two words: counter space. And this little person feels right at home there too - which makes my heart happy. Come visit soon friends and family, we'll be here a while.



Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014: Settle

I just finished re-reading my 2013 goals. A few were tackled, many were not. Rather than such a long list, this year I wanted to have a theme for my life this year. I saw this, about having "one little word" as your theme for the year and letting decisions/actions flow from that. I brainstormed a lot of words - deliberate, adventure, new, beginning, etc...

But in the end I arrived at one word that fits what I really want for this year. And some of those other words can be tabled for a future year.

So the word I chose was: Settle.

Not as in settling for something, but as in settle down, settle in--be more peaceful and settled.

Basically since Evie was born (and the ensuing sleep craziness) and since I returned to school for my masters degree - our family schedule has been hectic - too hectic. This last semester in particular has been more insane than I ever want my life to be again. These years have been filled with many happy and exciting moments, but we're ready for a change.

I'm ready for our family to settle into a more systematic, less hectic, more peaceful and predictable routine. Evie sleeps now (mostly) and soon my night classes will be over - making a settled routine more possible.

I also like the word settle because, since our marriage in 2007, we have moved 6 times. This next move, into our first home, will be the seventh. We are ready--really ready--to be more settled. We hope that life might allow us to stay settled in this home for a VERY long time.

But I still like goals, so here are the things I have in mind that I want to work on to achieve a more settled life.

Home:
  • Close on the home
  • Move in
  • Unpack everything (or stash storage in basement)
  • Begin planning organizations / systems
  • Hang art and photos
  • Plant a small vegetable garden
  • Plant herbs in pots
  • Plant a tree (or two)
  • Plant raspberry bushes
School/Employment:
  • Finish last semester
  • Graduate
  • Start a new job (meaningful, interesting, with a good schedule and the right location)
  • Get Evie settled at a new school
  • Figure out commute routines (Joe - by bike, me - hopefully by bike/transit)
Physical:
  • Establish more systematic meal planning / shopping routines
  • Fall into a regular exercise schedule again (at least 3 days a week)
  • Make a habit of taking Evie to neighborhood park or on a bike rides most evenings spring/summer
  • Find opportunities to be more active together as a family
Financial:
  • Rebuild savings
  • Pay off the rest of both cars
  • Buy appliances for the new house
  • Make savings plans for future vacations & home renovations
Spiritual/Emotional:
  • Keep teaching at church
  • Write in my journal more often
  • Finish reading "Daring Greatly"
  • Read Sheri Dew's new book "Women and the Priesthood"
  • Read more regularly in general (with school reading out of my life!)
Social:
  • Restart a Book Club with friends
  • Host a house-warming party
  • Host Evie's first "friend" birthday party
  • Meet/greet new neighbors
  • Deliberately schedule girls nights, lunches, and other meetings with friends
In general I want 2014 to be the year we remember as the year we settled in and really began living the rest of our life in the manner we've wanted to for quiet some time. For our family there has been too much limbo, too much change, and we are ready to settle in to living the life we've been dreaming about. Finally buying our first home is really symbolic of that. I know I won't achieve everything, but overall this list seems doable. It makes me happy. And I hope as we begin to accomplish it that my family will feel a calmness, peace and increased happiness enter our home. 

If you chose one word for your theme for 2014 what would it be?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Building a House - Structural Upgrades

Confession: I have a fear that blogging about this house building process will jinx it and that something will go wrong. I have this major paranoia that all this work and money will go into it and in the end the bank will say "here's a crazy rule, we can't close your loan." Have a mentioned our credit, income, and savings are fine and that this worrying is irrational? Okay. Well, disclaimer out of the way, here's a little house related blog post.

Currently our house looks like this:


Ha ha. They are digging the hole end of next week.

But don't let that think nothing is happening! The builder has been hard at work with permits. And Joe and I have been hard at work studying upgrades and debating debating debating.

You guys this upgrade business is stressful.

If we were building a custom home it'd be a different kind of stressful. In that case you bid out the cost of materials and labor and you have your general contracting fees (however that's arranged I'm not sure). But in the case of a builder in a neighborhood your choices are constrained. You go to a design center and choose from their choices and decide whether the upgrade is worth the fee.

Spoiler alert: most of the time it is not.

At least for us. We are DIY-ers at heart. So building does mean getting a lot of things we want. But it also means that $7,000 for hardwood floors sounds CRAZY when I know the cost of materials is about $4,000 and we can knock it out in a weekend of crazy labor on our own part.

So all this research determines what we do now and what we save up and do with cash and our own sweat equity later. This even comes down to gutting the kitchen and doing it ourselves later - I know, I know, but the cabinet upgrades to get tall cabinets in white was out of this world crazy expensive.

As a result, we are doing mostly structural upgrades and saving the cosmetic stuff for later. With a few exceptions. I'll talk about cosmetic upgrades another day, but I thought maybe it'd be helpful to tell you what we're doing structurally.
(Evie playing at the new park 2 blocks from our new house)

Worth it:
The following upgrades were worth it for us.

  • 9ft ceilings in the basement - $3,000: They change the entire feeling of the basement and it was one of Joe's only firm sticking points.
  • Digging out the crawl space - $4,000: The floor plan had about 2/3 of the basement dug out, and then 1/3 was crawl space. You can use that for storage. But for $4,000 they'll dig it out and rough in plumbing so we can put another bedroom and bath there down the line. Worth it.
  • Adding a covered side porch - $3,380. This adds a huge wide covered porch off the dining room. Our house is situated with this side facing the street, so we plan on putting some fun patio furniture and/or a swing and a fan out there and spending many summer nights relaxing and watching Evie ride her bike/scooter up and down the street.
  • French doors & stairs - $1500: We wanted access to the back yard from our kitchen and it wasn't in the base plan. We added 8ft french doors and 8ft wide steps into the back yard. The indoor-outdoor connection is a game change for us in how we'll use our yard and it brings in lots of light.
  • Bigger better lot - $3,000: We're building in a development that is very community oriented. The yards are not huge and for some of the less expensive houses there is almost no yard at all. There are a million parks (see picture below of Evie playing at one 2 blocks from our house), but we HAD to have private entertaining space in a fenceable yard. This lot is bigger/better than most. So that was worth it.
  • Bigger window in the master bath - I'm not sure on the final price, but something like $100. I like lots of natural light in the bathroom, makes doing make up easier.
  • Window in the kids bath. The kids bath is situated in a strange spot relative to the roofline, so I can see why they didn't include a window as-is on this plan. But I was determined to get natural light. Taking pictures of Evie in the tub as a baby/toddler has been a nightmare with my SLR and no natural light. Also I think rooms with no natural light feel cavelike and depressing. No way. $200 well spent to get a small window above the shower. 
  • Rough-in plumbing in laundry - $750. The builder obviously includes washer and dryer hookups. They are typically side by side in this closet with doors upstairs in hour house. I asked them to stack the hookups (which they did free of charge) but I also wanted plumbing roughed in on the other side so we can add a sink. I really want a sink for doing delicates /soaking out stains/washing muddy kids shoes. We'll add a cabinet/sink/faucet on our own later after we save cash. But the plumbing rough in will save me calling a plumber and ripping out drywall.
Not worth it:
Obviously some people would choose these, but we didn't.
  • Cold storage - $3,000: I'm not a huge canner. I'll have some food storage, but we can keep that in other storage spaces in the basement, adding dedicated cold storage was just not needed for us. And as far as general storage goes, I'm a believer in keeping some seasonal decorations, and a small number of sentimental things, but if I'm not using it I want to just get rid of it, not store it.
  • Vaulted ceiling - there was a small vaulted ceiling option in the dining room. The ceilings are already 9ft and it just didn't seem worth it or necessary.
Things we wanted and can't have
  • An additional window in the basement. I'm nuts about natural light. Our basement has one window. But the other place we could/would add a window is too close to the property line so it isn't allow. Sad! But windowless great rooms make for good TV rooms. :) And the window is in the bedroom where it is needed so that's an okay compromise.
  • Skylights. I would have wanted one in the kids bath, maybe one in the master bath. And one in the upstairs landing (which has no windows because it is surrounded by doors to bedrooms/laundry room/bath. But the builder said they are a major pain warranty wise (probably leaking) and they absolutely refused. I may still add one down the line if I get brave...
Anyway, I hope this is helpful to others if you ever build. I'm a major overanalyzer so I think through things a million times, make notes in my building notebook (which maybe I'll post about soon, it has been the best way to organize all this craziness) and debate things. Trying to avoid as many of the "I wish we would have..." scenarios as possible. We'll find out after we move in how well I did. :) Would you make these same choices? Different ones? Does the thought of building overwhelm you or seem exciting?

As we left our lot the other day from a visit we saw this amazing sunset. I could not stop taking pictures. It was amazing. 


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sometimes I get crazy

You guys, this has to be quick, because I must be a crazy person who thought it was a good idea to make my crazy life even more crazy.

Because on top of trying to be a good wife, mother, and friend while getting a masters degree and working I thought we should also build a house this winter. Yikes!

The good news it is a great house. And we have a great builder and agent we're working with. And we're getting a great deal and found an amazing lender to help us.

However, I'm a bit freaking out. I'll feel better when the loan is totally through underwriting and someone hands me the keys and says "it's yours!" but unfortunately that moment will not come for MONTHS. So I'm a bit freaking out that something will go wrong - I'm a worrier, so sue me. Still, so far things are looking good.

We're building an almost perfect house. Almost perfect layout. Perfect location. Perfect sized yard. Right price. No wasted space; a functional but not enormous home. Energy star rated. And totally cute.

What's interesting is that for some reason when you build people say "how fun, so you can get exactly what you want," to which I want to say "yikes, so I get to make complicated trade offs since we have this pesky thing called a budget."

So I'm pinning on Pinterest like crazy. Researching things like "gas versus electric dryer" and debating with Joe the benefits of a sink in the laundry space. Also debating "to upgrade the sink now or wait until we upgrade the counter tops in a few years" and "can we re-use that carpeting when we finish the basement if we rip it out of the main floor to put in hardwood 12 months later?" And "how much do you want to charge me if I add french doors here and a drawer here in the kitchen versus cabinets?" And "can you add a window in this bathroom and move this window in this bedroom to that wall so it'll get southern light?" And "tell me again why I can't paint my house seafoam green?!"

In short, building a house is awesome. And to do it right, with as little waste, and maximizing savings, and upgrading now what can't be changed later while still saving some DIY projects for sweat equity means lots of research, lots of painful decisions, and lots of scary plunking down money. I'm busy researching and asking our poor lender and builder endless questions so we makes sure both the build and the financial process go incredibly smoothly and we get what we want. So far there have only been a few small hiccups and we're really happy with our decisions.

And did I mention that we're 2 blocks from a giant park where they'll be adding a pool next summer - free pool access, hooray! I've gotta keep the end in mind to survive the crazy times over the next six months.

Anyway... if you're in the mood to talk kitchen design, inane details of home building, and listen to my endless worrying about the financial black hole that appears to be the mortgage and underwriting process - lets do lunch!

Also, when we are all done I'll probably post a few tips that we learned building...hopefully it will help someone. For now, if you are a pinner - my "dream house" board is very active :), also I can't recommend enough the Houzz website for inspiration (my profile is here), and I found this book really fascinating and eye opening in thinking through how big of a home we really need as well as which features make a home feel good and have character.
So there are exciting big changes in store for our family. While it is a stressful and time consuming process (that I don't exactly have time for right now...), we are optimistic about how this investment will impact our family's life. And we feel really lucky that our hard work paying off debt, saving, and getting promotions at work has paid off and coincided with interest rates and prices that remain relatively low. We missed the bottom of the market, but it's still a great time to buy/build. In other good news, we'll have a guest room when we finish the basement so hopefully some of you out of town loved ones can come visit us soon, yes? I promise we'd have fun and eat well while you're here. ;)


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Life Lately

Oh friends - does anyone still read this little blog? I hardly ever write on it. Mostly that is because my life is CRAZY to the max. Partially also because I'm starting to enter the professional world again and be more cautious about what I put online. But for myself, mostly, and for anyone who wonders -- this is what my life is like these days. A day in the life if you will.

7am - Get up. Joe has usually been up with Evie for 30 minutes (sometimes more - today it was 5am wake up for poor Evs who fell out of her toddler bed and could not get back to sleep). Shower. Grab breakfast and join Evie on the couch.

7:30am -- Eat breakfast while skimming things on my phone if Evie's watching some TV or if she's not I'm multitasking breakfast and reading her books or lately - playing Candyland, she's obsessed! Joe leaves around this time too.

8am -- Bribe Evie into getting dressed, dress myself, make sure we both have lunch (pack it if I was too lazy the night before) and get us out the door by 8:30

8:30am -- This used to be the time we'd grab a bus. But a week ago we got a second car. Life got to crazy to rely on transit this year so we bought a car. But a cheaper one than our one we sold a year ago and we are still about $200 a month better off than we were under our old 2 car budget. Phew. I am loving having a second car again - feels so luxurious!

8:30-9:00am -- Drive to out schools while Evie reads a book - lately she really into counting so this means listening to her count all the objects in her library books. I get Evie to school and then I head to work.

9:00-3:30 -- Work. I work doing policy research with really smart and interesting people. It is a dream job for me. Sometimes I have tedious tasks, but overall I'm working on contracts and projects on a variety of topics, all of which I care about and am interested in the outcome of. It's a great job and is a great move for us financially this year.

During this time I also go co-op at Evie's preschool or meet with school groups, but generally I work.

3:30 -- Pick up Evie - best part of the day. She's always excited to see me and usually has some cute art projects to take home since she's obsessed with coloring and painting.

3:30-5:30 -- Depending on the day I take Evie to the library, zoo, park, run errands, or just head home for some relax chill time. I'd love if she wanted to be engaged and playful this whole time, but sometimes she's burned out and just wants to veg or she crashes in her car seat. Either way, I'm happy to see her.

5:30 -- 3 days a week I head off for school, one night a week we have our date night. One night I get to stay and play...maybe, if I don't have a school group. I try to make sure every night that my family has dinner (leftovers, something in the crock pot, etc...) before I run out the door.

6-9: Usually I'm in class. If I'm not in class I'm meeting with groups, hanging with my family, cleaning the house, prepping dinner, doing laundry, getting in a workout. It's always busy. Always.

9-11: Hang out with Joe and feel guilty about not doing my homework. I am so behind on reading and homework. I try to do it, but mostly I want to see my husband, decompress, and watch TV. While multitasking laundry, lunch packing, dinner prep and cleaning. As due dates and tests pile up more nights will be spent up late finishing papers or prepping for tests.

11-12: Collapse in bed and fall asleep almost instantly.

So there you have it, life.

It's certainly more scheduled than we've ever been. And I'm grateful we will not always be so busy. Even if I work full time I would get to pick up my kids from school and go home and be together as a family - not heading out again at 6pm. The duality of work and school makes my life crazy. But on the weekends I'm grateful to spend nearly every second with my family - having fun, getting stuff done, and generally slowing down the pace. Sundays are blissful that way.

It's going to be a crazy year. A fun year. And when it's over I'll be both relieved and sad. Relieved because I don't think it's good to live at such a crazy pace for years and years. And sad because the things that fill our life right now are so good and happy and I know it's a phase of life we'll always look back on with fondness.

So if you email me and it takes me weeks to get back,  if I'm never at those girl's nights or group parties over the next year, or if I forget your birthday...this is why. My life is crazy, but not in a wear me down make me lose my mind way. Just in a never-been-busier-or-more-scheduled-ever kind of way. If google calendar goes offline I might lose my mind.... :)

Hope you all are well!

-Anna

Monday, June 3, 2013

First Date Anniversary

Seven years ago I went on my last first date.

With this man.


It was good.

We've been together ever since.

Lately when I think about Joe I think about this poem by Shakespeare. We've been through a lot of tempests (and sometime I think I am a tempest myself); one of the things I love most about Joe is that he is "never shaken." He makes me feel loved, attractive, safe and secure every single day.

He's just what I needed. I'm so grateful he asked me to go hiking with him seven years ago. And I'm so glad I said yes.

Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never write, nor no man ever loved.

Monday, May 20, 2013

It Gets Better

I'm not sure who out there still reads my seldom updated blog, but in light of May being Mental Health Awareness month I wanted to write a little post.

It's not exactly a secret, but not really public knowledge I suppose, that I struggled with depression and anxiety for nearly a decade. The years of my 20s were supposed to be filled with fun, adventure, figuring out who I am, enjoying singledom. And they were. But all of that was clouded over with the haze of depression and anxiety. It colored my decisions and made my life much much harder than it should have been.

I tried everything to fix it. As a type-A overachiever I of course read, consulted experts, and experimented with all manner of "fixes" with nothing working. Things helped, made my life easier, but there was still a haze of sadness over my life. It's like doing everything in your life while wearing those exercise resistance bands -- everything takes more effort to do and you are constantly exhausted.

I took medicine. I saw counselors. I tried to exercise. I tried herbal remedies.

All of those things helped but nothing made it better.

And then one day, I got pregnant and things first got worse (the first trimester was terrible and I really regretted getting pregnant)...and then suddenly in the 2nd trimester, better. For me, it was at least 75% hormonal. And the cycle of pregnancy reset my hormone levels somehow.

I no longer need medication. I see counselors only rarely if there's an issue I want to work through (as I think all healthy people should -- professional help can help you work through things faster and come to a better place whether you have diagnosed mental illness or not).

When I have a bad day (or string of days) I do feel depressed at times. And it freaks me out. And then I make changes (like I tried to for all those years before) and the difference now is that those changes help. I feel better. I can break out of those depressed funks. Exercise helps control my anxiety. And life has it's normal ups and downs and I no longer feel like each day is a total struggle.

I share all this for three reasons:

1) As a reminder to those who have known me, but not known this that you never know what someone has been through or what they are coping with. We all can do well to be kinder and more patient with each other.

2) If you know someone who struggles with depression the best thing you can do for them is be a listening ear. Show empathy and give them a hug. As with other trials - like infertility, for example - they likely already know all the things they can try that might help. What they need from you is understanding, acceptance, and withholding of judgment. And maybe a night out to a movie. Or a walk in the park. Or surprise flowers from Trader Joes.

3) If you yourself are struggling with an unshakable sadness, a foggy haze in your life you just can't power through, or abnormal worrying, guilt, fears, or anything else that could be described as a chronically unhealthy mental state - know this - it can get better. Even before I got pregnant and the hormonal shift really 'cured' things for me I saw major improvements in my life from seeking professional help. I hope you've sought help too.

And if you've sought every help you can find and still you are slogging through in a time of sadness and you just need a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, and some sympathy. Call me. Text me. Email me. Or come by my house. I get it. I totally get it. And I'll remind you that things are hard now, but they do get better. And I'll show up at your house randomly later with flowers, because I love you and I want you to know I'm thinking of you.

So that's my message for Mental Health Awareness month: It gets better. Even if it takes a long time, hang in there, it gets better. Way better.


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