Wednesday, December 26, 2012

We Had a Holly, Jolly Christmas!

I can't believe that Christmas Day has already come and went!  Where HAS this year gone?!  

Like many people, Christmas isn't just one day of the year for us...but rather, the celebration starts weeks ahead as our church enters the Advent Season.  As the big day draws closer, the festivities begin!

Just like years past, J-Money and I jumped in the car and went around town looking at Christmas lights...this time around, we had some friends join us and it made it that much more fun!  Especially as we turned into one of the higher-end neighborhoods and all of a sudden, there were 4 deer next to my car...and they weren't part of the light show!!!  Talk about a bit of a surprise!!!

As we began to pack our bags and prepare for Christmas at my parents', I received an offer on one of my listings...I was extremely concerned that we weren't going to get the deal brought together, but as luck had it, negotiations went well and the house sold!  It was a VERY welcome omen for my sellers as they needed to sell before the end of the year...and we made that happen!

We ended up doing our gift exchange a bit early this year--I bought Justin a Craftsman tool chest for Christmas, but then realized I couldn't get the crazy thing home in my car!!!  Fortunately, the guys at Ace Hardware were kind enough to hold it in their backroom for me, but that meant we wouldn't be able to pick it up on Christmas it was a good excuse to open presents before we left town :-)  Thankfully, J-Money was actually excited about it!  Now, we won't spend 30 minutes trying to chase down a screwdriver that might be in the hardware basket in the hall closet...or in the bucket in the basement...or on the bench in the get the point ;-)  Now, we'll be organized!

I have to admit--Justin really surprised me this year!  Not only was it the first time that we didn't buy a joint gift for the two of us, he actually wrapped the present, too!  If you follow me on Facebook, you might have noticed that I found out he bought something at Best Buy, thanks to our award card being linked to my email account...whoooops!  I had a variety of guesses for what he purchased, but he bought me a Kindle Fire!!!  I have been wanting an e-reader for quite a while now, but I'll also be able to use it just like an iPad when I meet with clients...and at a fraction of the cost!  I love that my husband understands my appreciation of a great deal ;-)

But, it was finally time for some fun with family and friends...I had spent a snowy Thursday preparing homemade tamales.  They were fairly time-consuming, but super easy to make.  If you know your way around a kitchen, you can certainly make tamales!  Just make sure to have ALL day to spend in the kitchen.  And plus, considering how AMAZING your kitchen will smell, you won't want to be anywhere else!!!

I'm always up for a culinary-challenge, but a party with our good family friends was inspiration for the tamales...Growing up, our friends, the Jacksons, used to host a HUGE Christmas Eve buffet at their house.  As everyone grew older, the Christmas Buffet slowed down.  A few weeks ago, some of us gathered at their son's graduation from K-State and Marly suggested we all get together over Christmas...and before I knew it--or before my brother knew it--I had organized a party for the two families at my brother's house!

My brother and his wife have an awesome space for hosting crowds.  It's an old detached shed that has a kitchenette, bathroom, wood stove, you name it...deep down, I'm a bit envious!  Anyhow, I told my brother we were getting together with the Jacksons and we were doing a Mexican potluck at his place...Fortunately for us, he went for it and next thing you knew, "Feliz Navidad" was in the making! 

We ate tons of homemade Mexican cuisine, sipped on Cranberry Margaritas, Lime-a-Ritas and Corona...and then the beer pong table went up.  Usually, that would mean a big UH-Oh, but we were a pretty responsible group that night :-)  Christian and Justin had a great time teaching the parental units how to play beer pong...and turns out, my mom is a pretty good shot!

You may have to click on the picture to make it large enough, but check it out--Oriental Trading doesn't seem to spell-check their banners!!!  At least, 2 out of the 3 banners were spelled correctly!

The following night was Christmas Eve at my parents.  Growing up, we always had Christmas Eve at my mom's parents, then we'd come back and spend Christmas Day with my dad's family.  After Mom's mom died, Grandpa started traveling our direction and Christmas Eve was then spent at our house--and that's still where we spend it!

This year, the baby of the family was able to take in her surroundings!  Last year at this time, she was only four weeks old and would just lay in my lap and sleep, sleep,'s crazy how much things change in just a year!  When we started to open presents, she was still a ball of energy, but she quickly slowed down and nestled up in her Aunt Bri-Bri's arm.  That little girl just has a way of stealing my heart and I cherish every moment I have to spoil her with love!!!  The addition of a baby--well, now toddler--definitely changes a holiday celebration...but it was also a good reminder that without a certain baby, we wouldn't even have something called Christmas to celebrate.

And finally, Christmas Day was here!  It was time to pack the bags, pack the presents and head back to the Little Apple.  It probably wasn't the most "Christmassy" movie to watch, but we caught the opening of Django Unchained.  Anytime Quentin Tarantino makes a movie, you know it's going to be good!  And he did NOT disappoint!  Jamie Foxx did an awesome job, and Leonardo DiCaprio did an awesome job.  There were a few times I had to close my eyes...and a few times I caught J-Money squirming in his seat...blood and gore aside, it was definitely worth waiting in line for! 

All-in-all, it was another holly, jolly Christmas.  It's always a blessing to spend time with family and friends, and spend time reflecting on why we celebrate the holiday.  Now, it's time to change gears and start preparing for a new year.  2012 brought many changes to our household and frankly, I'm quite ready for some monotany! 

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Dirty Thirty

I have officially been initiated into the Dirty Thirty club!  Almost two weeks ago, I hit the big seemed that many people expected me to experience a mid-life crisis when that birthday hit.  But I have to say, so far--so good.  No mid-life crisis...just yet!  Unless you count investing in massive amounts of anti-wrinkle eye cream and anti-cellulite cream...but that started a year ago ;-)  Prevention, baby.  Prevention.

It was quite an exciting birthday week, to say the least!  On the actual night of the big 3-0, Justin and I went to the KSU v. North Dakota Men's Basketball game.  As you can see, there was hardly a crowd...and our new coach is not nearly as entertaining to watch as Frank Martin was.  To be honest, it wasn't as exhilarating as other games we've been to, but it was nice to have some time together and watch the Cats play ball!

Earlier that day, we made purchased a significant birthday gift...well, sort of.  We swapped Justin's commuter car for another truck.  Why, you ask?

Well......things with the railroad weren't what we expected them to be.  When Justin first started, he commuted 1-hour each way and had an excellent Foreman.  Two weeks later, the Foreman accepted a position in another yard, so there was a major change in leadership.  And when I say major, it was like a night-and-day difference.  Justin tried his best to bite his tongue and wait it out until he could transfer to another yard.  But in the meantime, his yard was relocated and he had the option of commuting 3 hours every day, or living in a hotel all week long.  Some days, he commuted and worked 12-14 hours days.  If he didn't have anything that had to be dealt with back at home, he'd book a hotel somewhere and stay there all week.  In the meantime, he struggled with the new leadership.  With each passing day, he became more and more upset.  Lo and behold, just two days before his new-employee probation period ended, it became clear that the railroad was not meant to be.  Justin called his old boss at Asplundh and was enthusiastically returned back to his Foreman position.  I have to admit, I was a bit freaked out.  And in tears.  There was so much potential with the railroad and the benefits are amazing (if you can stick with it)...but I just had to trust that the good Lord knew what he was doing by keeping a position open for Justin at Asplundh.  Because, really, who am I kidding?  If Justin left Union Pacific to find himself unemployed, I would have had a very, very hard time understanding Jesus' sense of humor.  The last thing I would be okay with is a stay-at-home husband because, well, that means I wouldn't get anything done at work.  You see, Justin doesn't entertain himself very well when he's at home.  Every 30 minutes, he's calling..."I'm bored...what are you doing?  Oh, you're working?  Well, guess what just happened in this movie I'm watching?!  It was the craziest thing ever!"  Blah, blah, blah...Love him to death, but he can't be a stay-at-home husband :-)

That said, there was no need for the commuter.  Ironically enough, a local dealership had the exact truck that Justin had been looking for earlier this Summer.  We were able to swap out his itty-bitty Hyuandi and he brought home his new manly, beastly truck!  To be honest, I was really worried about how Justin would handle the realization that something he wanted so badly, and for so long, wasn't meant to be.  But you know what?  He's happier than I have seen him in a loooooooooong time.  He looks forward to going to work, he's happy (but still tired!) when he gets off work and he can step-up his freelance tree business again!

But back to the, my 30 birthday was off to a good start.  No mid-life crisis, a basketball game, Justin was home (which, is a big deal considering he's been gone in years past) to celebrate, things were going really well.

The part that I was really looking forward to, though? Some time with my girls!  The night after my birthday, it was Girls' Night and we all met up at our local Jamaican joint for dinner, then we crashed Jennifer's place to watch the K-State football game and have a drink...or two!
The following weekend, was even MORE girl time!  I'm telling ya, I go for what seems like forever without seeing my friends, then it all comes at once--I love it! This time around, I was able to celebrate with my college roommate! Jill and I lived together during our Sophomore year at Creighton, then we were going to live together again our Junior year--but then I decided to transfer to K-State and ruined the plan.  In the past 11 years, we've pounded the pavement from Manhattan to Omaha to make sure we get to see each other.  In my opinion, we don't see near enough of one another but with work, family, etc it just gets chaotic at times!

Anyhow, we managed to find a weekend that we were BOTH available!  Nov 17, 2012...and yes, we had to start planning waaaaaay back in July.  See, I told you it's difficult to get together!  Jill was going to be in Kansas City for a race and I didn't have any commitments.  Thus, it was deemed "Girls' Weekend" and we would celebrate our 30th birthdays together!

The big weekend was finally here.  We both pulled into Kansas City just before bedtime on Friday night.  After a long week at work, we both crashed.  The next morning we got up and went shopping with Jill's sister, Megan, and a former co-worker of Jill's, also named Jill.  It was great to see all the ladies and catch up!  Another gal joined us for the day of shopping, a movie and a steak dinner at the Hereford House....yum!

The next morning we were up bright and early so that the girls could run their race!  Jill, Jill Deuce and Megan decided to run the 5k due to some recent injuries...and Katie ran the half-marathon.  And what did I do?  I stood on the sidelines and cheered them on!  It was the PERFECT way to experience a race and celebrate my Dirty Thirty :-)

Friday, November 23, 2012

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas!

Today's Black Friday...and you couldn't pay me to go stand in lines during all hours of the night, just to get a good deal.  Granted, I am all about getting a good deal, but it's more enjoyable when I'm fully awake and not getting trampled by the masses!
So today, we're decking the halls and it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
The outdoor Fall decorations are coming down.  Lights will be hung, wreaths hung on the windows and garland draped across our porch.  The one thing I enjoy about having a very traditional home style is that it's very easy to decorate it for the holidays! 
This morning we were greeted with very chilly temperatures.  Until it warms up enough to work outside, we're (well, just myself, really!  Like I'd let Justin do any interior decorating!) busy bringing decorations up from the basement and making it feel a little more like Christmas!
As much as I'd like to have a house that looks like Christmas threw-up in every room of the house, that just doesn't happen.  One, that's a lot of work!  And two, you know how much that would cost?!  Yeah, right!
But there are three must-haves for decking the halls.  The nativity scene MUST be set-up.  My console table must be decorated.  And the Christmas tree must go up.
Ohhh, the dreaded Christmas tree.  I have always wanted a tree that looked like it came from a Department store.  In college, I had miniature trees and they were fun--but not spectacular.  Then Justin and I bought our first tree together at Ace Hardware.  It served us well for several years and I even tried to jazz it up a bit.  Last year, I created an "urn base" for my tree...but I think it just made it look even more lame!  Oh, and it didn't help that our Black angel was disproportionately too big for the tree, either!!
For me, a Christmas tree isn't a place to put presents.  In fact, did you notice that there was not a SINGLE present under the tree?!  Told ya so...Instead, as I spend time decorating the tree,  I'm allowed some time to stop and reflect on the holiday season.  What it's really about.  And how thankful I should be for everything that is given to me.
But that still doesn't stop me from wanting a BEAUTIFUL tree!  lol...I guess it's my way of paying homage to our Good Lord.  I'm not good at coming up with prayers, devotions etc to share praise, so I just express it in a way that's comfortable to me!  And if it means using my creative outlets, then so be it :-)
Last year, I stalked the JCPenny after-Christmas sales and scored a $300+ tree for about $80.  I was ecstatic!  The tree finally arrived, I opened the box to make sure that there indeed was a tree in there--and once that was verified, it went to the basement for the next 10.5 months.  All the while, I just hoped that the tree would be decent once it was set-up!
Earlier this week, the tree came upstairs.  Decorations were purchased.  And I would sit back and wait until Friday to decorate it.
Yeah, riiiiiight.
By Wednesday night, I couldn't hold back.  The tree went in last year's urn.  Decorations were opened.
It was all over. 
And I justified it by saying I needed to "get it out of the way" so we could spend Friday decorating outside!  Ha!
After it was all said and done, I must say that it's the best Christmas tree I've decorated yet!  I used lots of gold, silver, white and champagne colored picks, ornaments and beads.  I was worried about the monochromatic theme because, well, I love color.  But it actually worked really well--it's a great balance to our turquoise walls!
Now, it's time to wrap up the rest of the decorating.  Next weekend begins the Advent season and I'll be able to sit back and truly enjoy (and reflect on) what the season's all about!

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Past 3 Weeks...

Man, I feel like such a slacker lately!  My posts are becoming fewer and farther between...I prefer to keep my posts short and sweet (ha!), but that would also require me to be by a computer--with free time--on a regular basis...and that's obviously the problem!
October continued to be an extremely busy month for us--and I knew that it would be waaaaaaaaaaaay back during the first part of September.  And honestly, things probably won't slow down much until after Thanksgiving...but it is what it is!
Several weekends ago, Justin and I took our Youth Group to a local pumpkin patch for a bonfire roast and flash-light lit cornmaze.  I had no idea what we'd be getting ourselves into, but it turned out to be a gorgeous evening full of fun activities (beyond turning marshmallows into flaming balls of fire or scaring yourself to death in a dark cornfield!)
When we arrived at the pumpkin patch, there was the most incredible sunset! 
And a super-huge slide that the kids loved going down while it was still light out... 

And we even managed to talk Big J into going down it a time or two!
Speaking of Big J...this picture cracks me up! 
 By the time we wrapped up the Pumpkin Patch, I was exhausted...after all, I made an impromptu appearance EARLY that morning for The United Way of Riley County and had to get dressed-up on my day off!  I do love me some clothes, but I highly dislike waking up, putting on dress clothes and doing my hair if I don't have to work!  But in all reality, I'm very honored to be the Campaign Chair for the 2013 United Way Campaign and look forward to talking with numerous businesses about supporting the United Way and the local agencies that benefit from the funding!
The home-improvement projects seem to continue on...the roof and new guttering is done, so it's time to tear something else up, right? :-)  We had a contractor come by to look at the bathroom...and the garage...and the ventilation in our dormer...Now we're just waiting to see how much the damage will be...eeeeeeeeeek!  I really don't want to part with our money but we will be in our house for several more years, so we might as well change out the things we can't stand!
Oh, and speaking of money--we ended up trading in my Altima...for another Altima!  The heater in my old one wouldn't turn on until the car had been driven for at least 10 minutes and cosmetically speaking, the body was getting BEAT UP!  The goal was to hold onto it for another year or so...but it was going to cost more to repair everything than what the car was worth, so we swapped it while it still had some value.  Fortunately, we timed our decision just right--the new body style is now on the market so they were running some good deals...AND Justin's discount with Union Pacific saved us about another 10%.  Even though his schedule may suck a times, there ARE some benefits :-)

So, I know this part is absolutely, insanely, riduculous--but we bought Mitzi a car seat for the new car!  At least, it will keep her little nails from tearing up the leather upholstery :-/  Oh--the even better part?  It keeps her in one spot, too, while I drive!
Speaking of Justin's chaotic schedule, we have learned one lesson about working for the railroad.  DO NOT schedule things for weeknights.  Earlier this summer, it was announced that Dr. John and The Blind Boys of Alabama were coming to McCain in October--we bought the tickets as our 2-year wedding anniversary gift to each other and looked forward to the concert all Fall.  The problem?  The concert started at 7:30pm.  Justin got home from work at 10:00pm.  On a Friday night.  Happy belated-anniversary to us...NOT!  But, at least we still have each other.  And a local store that carries Dr. John's newest album on vinyl :-)
On a happier note... :-)  Mom had my niece for the day a few weeks ago and they made a trip down to the Little Apple.  I watched Marcella (in reality, we had our own little dance party!) while Mom ran errands and then went to lunch together.  Is it bad that I would kidnap the little girl if my brother and his wife let me?!  Marcella melted my heart on Day 1 and I still can't get enough of her--she's constantly growing and learning so much new stuff!  Oh, and she still is crazy about Mitzi :-)

Speaking of babes, our friends David and Joyce gave birth to a beautiful baby girl a few weeks ago.  Justin and I went out to their farm to deliver meals and meet baby Elena--and much to our surprise, David cranked up his "toy" tractor and let Justin behind the wheel!  Justin LOVED driving it!  Thankfully, we have nowhere to store one here in town, otherwise I imagine Justin would be on a tractor-kick!

Then, last weekend, we headed to Kansas City to celebrate the marriage of our friends, Jabin and Natalie.  Justin and Jabin lived together at K-State and to this day, they're still friends.  In fact, all four of the roommates are still friends!  Maybe it's a guy thing because I'm not sure if I know of female roommates who still ALL talk to each other, and stand up for each other in weddings.  Regardless, they all have a great friendship and it's always crazy when they're together.  They're like giggly 7-year old boys trapped in the bodies of young men :-)

Tying the knot--literally!

The brothers from a different mother!  Okay, not really...but it seems like it!
It's nearly impossible to get a "normal" picture of the guys when they're all together!

Guess who looks tired?!?!
Seriously, this is my most favorite picture(s) of Justin and I...EVER!  Pretty much sums up our interactions with each other :-)

And, FINALLY.  HALLOWEEN!!!  I love decorating for Halloween...if you can't tell ;-)  I was disappointed, though, because this year the doorbell only rang 3 times.  At 8:40, I called it a night and shut down the house...only to find out 20 minutes later that our friend tried to bring her 3 kids by!

So I kid you not--I told them that if they came back over last night, I'd give them all the candy!  And guess what?!  At 7:00 last night, I had a bumblebee, football player and Captain America standing on my front porch.  I LOVED it!!!  I'm pretty sure the people driving by were confused, but whatever :-)  Heather and the kids were game for it, and I thought it was great!  Oh, and it got all the leftover candy out of our house!!!

Friday, October 19, 2012

4-Months In

It's kinda hard to believe it, but I'm nearly 4 months into my new career as a Realtor!  As I expected, the learning curve was HUGE and I continue to learn something every single day.  One major thing I've learned is to ASK questions.  About the time you think you know something, you suddenly realize you didn't even know the half of it! 

Fortunately, not being scared to ask questions has worked to my advantage.  Not only have I learned the necessary information, I've also managed to discover additional information that I wouldn't have known otherwise.  Thankfully, all that extra knowledge has allowed me to become fairly competent at my craft :-)

So, what are some of the things that I have learned about real estate?  Here they are, in no particular order!

1.  SHORT SALES.  Even though the housing market in our area has remained even (ie no positive or negative changes), MANY sellers end up facing a short sale.  In fact, more often than not, the sale ends up coming up short...Meaning, that once all the fees, taxes, commission, etc is paid out, the sellers have to dig into their own pocket and bring money to the table just to sell their own house.  Getting a proceed check after selling your house?  It's almost unheard of!  Especially if a home equity loan is taken out or the home is ownly owned for a few years, that proceed check rarely exists!
2.  CLOSINGS.  When I started my training classes in the first of June, only about 50% of home sales were closing on time.  Appraisals are taking longer than expected, final loan approval has become incredibly tight.  The combination of the two will realllllllllllllllllly impede the closing process.  However, by the first of August, only 30% of home sales were closing on time.  If you're looking to buy or sell your home, make sure you can be flexible with your closing date :-)
3.  DIGITAL MEASURING TAPES.  When I list a property, one of the things I have to do is measure the rooms and list the dimensions.  Not that hard, until you imagine yourself fumbling around with a metal measuring tape, all by yourself in a vacant living room!  Thankfully, someone was smart enough to develop a digital laser measurer--and they only cost $13.  Seriously, it's probably the best $13 I have ever spent!


4.  FORECLOSURES.  Most people like getting a good deal...that's human nature.  People especially like getting a good deal on a home and that's where Foreclosed properties become very, very appealing!  But did you know that the government loans generally REFUSE to finance a foreclosure???  I didn't!  That said, most buyers have to have a minimum of 20% down in order to buy one of these properties.  Or cash.  Good old cash will always buy you a foreclosure!
 5.  TIME IS MONEY.  During my first 3 months, I literally worked around the clock.  I was going into the office at 7:30am on Monday morning, shutting down around 11pm, and doing that every week day.  Saturdays were full days of showing houses--Sundays were Open House days AND a lot of times I managed to schedule showings before and after those Open Houses.  How many hours a week was I working?  I didn't even count.  I knew better than to do that!  Working with buyers is time-consuming.  Managing a listing is time-consuming.  Coordinating a closing on a house that's under contract is time-consuming.  Fortunately, I was no stranger to long work weeks so the demands of real estate was very natural...that was, until I gave myself a concussion when I was trying to juggle too many balls.  I'd never managed to do that at my previous jobs :-)
6.  LOAN OPTIONS.  By the time Labor Day weekend was here, I had 5 houses under contract...and of those pending sales, the buyers were using 4 different mortgage loans.  We're talking VA, FHA, Rural Development and First Time Home-Buyer loans.  Before I started real estate, I knew there were different down-payment requirements for the various loan options.  However, I had no idea HOW DIFFERENT each loan can be, the various requirements that they have, even exceptions from "the standard" requirements, the paperwork involved, etc. ... But if I was going to learn the ins-and-outs of all the loans, I might as well do it at the very beginning :-)  I'm just glad I'm not a banker and have to figure out which mortgage option best suits the borrower!!!
7.  A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND "CALLS". It's worth the money to have a decent head-shot!  Keep in mind, I absolutely HATE my picture.  My face looks fat, my eyes appear tiny and beady (one of which is even lazy in the picture), my hair was in dire need of a cut,my jacket was too big, the list of dislikes goes on and on.  I can't stand it. Had I not had my business cards printed right away, I would have had a new picture taken.  Looking back, I'm soooo glad I didn't.  Apparently, other people seem to really like it as it has driven a significant amount of interest and business my way.  In fact, it's a running joke in our office that when somebody I don't know contacts me, it's because "they like my picture."  And uh, usually it's true.  Guess I have a head-shot for the rest of my life ;-)
7.  AN AGENT VS. A REALTOR.  Who knew that not all real estate agents are Realtors?!  This is something that's briefly covered in our home-study book, but once you get your license, you really figure it out!  Essentially, an agent is an individual who represents another person in a transacation.  Anybody who acquires their Real Estate license is an Agent.  So, what's the difference? A Realtor is an agent who joins their local Association of Realtors and pays significant annual dues each year to belong.  Through this, they have access to the Multiple Listing Service (aka The MLS) which allows all the other Realtors to view all the listings within the Association's geographical area.  A typical real estate agent does not have access to this service and thus, information sharing can be difficult in larger communities.  The other big difference that some Realtors like to brag on, is the fact that Realtors are required to adhere to a Code of Ethics.  Personally, the real estate agents that I have known are just as ethical and successful as the Realtors I have been around.  Thus, I really don't consider that as something that sets us apart.  However, because of the Code of Ethics, only Realtors are able to use the term "Realtor" and we have the fancy little "Registered" symbol after our title!