Monday, August 20, 2012

Justin's a Workin' on the Railroad!

Finally!  I can say something!  For the past several weeks, we've been on pins and needles around our house.  We've never been the type to jinx something, so we've been keeping our lips sealed until the information from Justin's interviews, physical exams and physical agility tests had been processed and deemed acceptable.  But now, I can finally spill the beans!  Justin has a new job!  AND a new ride, too :-)

As I mentioned sometime ago, my husband has always wanted to work for the railroad.  A few years ago, though, he got really serious about getting on with either Union Pacific or BSNF.  So, he started stalking their career websites.  Every few months, he'd apply for a job, only for his application to automatically bounce back.

This Spring, he noticed an opening had come available for a train crew position about an hour south of us.  He submitted his application and for the first time, he was called for an interview!  This was a big deal considering every other time he had applied for a job with them, his application was always automatically denied.

He went to the interview and didn't pass the first test.

As you can imagine, he came home devastated.  

After failing that early into the interview process, Justin was pretty much ready to wave the white flag.  But after the disappointment wore off, he was back to stalking the Union Pacific Career site.  And good thing he did, because a few weeks later, another position was open.  This time it was for a track laborer about an hour northeast of here.

Fortunately, he was called for another interview so he headed up to Marysville for the day.  He made it through the test and it was eventually time for his face-to-face interview.  And he came home elated!  The interview committee and HR rep LOVED him...but now he'd just have to wait another week or so until they announced the candidates to fill their 3 open positions.  

The phone call came in and much to Justin's surprise, he wasn't selected for the job.  They told him he was #4 on the list and if anything ever came up, they'd keep him in mind.

Yeah, riiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

After having his applications denied numerous times, just to finally get an interview (or two) AND get turned down (twice), Justin finally accepted that the railroad was not for him.  He loved his job at Asplundh but he had been promoted as far as possible--and he had maxed out on pay.  The next best thing was to stay with his company, but he would just really focus on growing his side business so he could help support us as I got started in my new career.

We spent June and July looking for a different work truck.  His Chevy got the small jobs done, but the size of trees were steadily increasing and he needed something with more power so he could take on the bigger jobs (and bring home bigger money!).  I just wanted a nice truck that worse case scenario, I could haul clients in--but it would need a big enough engine to satisfy Justin's hauling needs.  And much to our surprise, we saw the perfect truck in Dallas while we were down there for the 4th of July.  We took it for a test drive and LOVED it!  The only problem?  We hadn't sold the Chevy so the truck wasn't coming home with us.

2004 Dodge 2500--isn't she perrrrrty?!

As July progressed, Justin continued looking for trucks closer to home.  Nothing satisfied all our needs--or price range.  But we had already placed his Chevy in Wheels-4-You and sure enough, it sold the very day the magazine was published!  That said, he still had to have a truck to do his tree work.  The next morning, Justin called the dealership and told them he was making arrangements to purchase the truck we saw almost a month ago.  And he had it all figured out--his buddy would take the truck to a mechanic for an inspection and then he'd fly down to Dallas to grab the truck.  And we'd finally be able to expand his tree business!

Justin's 2001 Chevy Silverado.  While it had been good to us, it just wasn't getting the big jobs done!

The "big" day was finally here.  Justin's friend, Isaac, picked up the truck and took it in to be looked at. A short while later, the mechanic called and said the truck was in need of about $1500 worth of work.  "The pants in the relationship" told Justin that the price would have to be renegotiated if they expected him to buy that truck...we weren't about to dump money into a vehicle we just purchased!  If they chose not to renegotiate (which we fully anticipated), the truck would just stay on the lot.

Before Justin could call the dealership back and start the negotiations, his phone rang and it was Union Pacific.  Remember how they had said they would call him if they had a spot come open?  Well, sure enough, they weren't kidding!  They were offering him the track laborer position--but in a different yard than he had originally interviewed for.  Being this one was still about one-hour away, he had talked himself out of commuting two hours a day with gas at $4 a gallon.  Plus, he had already started working on growing his tree business (hehehe, no pun intended!).  And NOW they're calling him to work?!

Here we sat.  Justin no longer had his truck because in just 2 days, he was flying down to Dallas to pick up his "new" ride.  The Caddy was still in the garage, but there was no way he was driving that thing 100-miles every day.  Much to my surprise, he told the railroad people he wasn't interested, but he was appreciative of the offer and would apply for future jobs when the timing was better.
The 1980 Caddy!  It's a fun car, but nothing you'd want to commute in every day!

Three hours later and it was time for the guys to wrap up work.  Justin and the crews reported back to the yard, only to find out 50% of our electric utility's tree crews were getting laid off.  And it was possible that even more people would get cut in the coming weeks. This time, it wasn't the "typical" lay-off of one or two weeks that we had come to know.  Instead, it was for 3 months.  And you were getting shipped out to Connecticut to work for their utility company.

As you can imagine, Justin picked up the phone and immediately called HR back.  Much to his surprise, they had already entered his name in the computer as accepting the position!  If that isn't divine intervention, then I don't know what is!  All within three hours' time, Justin realized he probably wasn't getting a new work truck after all, his company was getting hit with significant lay-offs AND he receives a job offer from one of the best employers in the country!  All I could think was, "Is God watching out for us or WHAT?!"

Justin went ahead and formally accepted the job offer with Union Pacific--but we still had to figure out a vehicle for him to drive!  We had looked at cars one Sunday afternoon after his first interview, but it was hard telling which cars would actually fit him when they're all locked!  The whole idea of finding a fuel-efficient car to accomodate a 6'10" man seemed daunting, but it had to be done.

We looked at a Prius.  He didn't even begin to fit.

We looked at a Civic.  He wasn't about to fit in that thing, either.

We have an Altima that Justin fits in really well and we seriously considered getting another one.    However, the Altima's gas mileage wasn't quite as competitive as other cars on the market and we wanted to explore all the options.  Soooooooooooooo...

We checked out the Ford Focus, but again, he wasn't going to fit.

We went to look at the Hyundai Elantras and discovered they get 40+ mpg.  And he *comfortably* fit in the car!!!

After doing some research, we discovered that a used Elantra was only about $1000 less than a brand spankin' new Elantra.  BUT, when we discovered that Hyundai offers a 100,000-mile warranty and 5-years free roadside assistance on new vehicles, we couldn't justify buying a used model just to save $1000!  At a minimum, Justin will put 25,000 miles per year on his car so as you can imagine, we need a car with as few miles as possible :-)

Will he fit?!

It's hard to believe, but he DOES!

So, the big question--what EXACTLY will Justin be doing for Union Pacific???

Like I would know!  And I'm not sure if he even knows what his job will entail!

He will be starting as a Track Laborer...when I think of people working on the actual rail roads, this is what I think of:

And of course, you have to have the cowboy music playing in the background--such as this tune ;-)

In all reality, new age laborers look a bit like this:

But with less standing around, I'm sure :-)

To be frankly honest, neither one of us care what his exact job responsibilities will be.  But what we do care is that he got his foot in Union Pacific's door and with having a college degree, he should be able to rise through the company! 

It's just crazy to think that in the matter of two months, the two of us have started new jobs.  And not just jobs--but careers!  Things are going very well with real estate--I've gotten 4 houses in escrow (ie "under contract") and I'm working with additional buyers.  Justin's dream of getting on with the railroad is coming true and his degree will provide for upward mobility.  Another great perk of his new career--when he eventually retires from Union Pacific, I'll automatically receive a retirement check worth half of what his monthly check will be!  That's right--I don't have to do anything but put up with his crazy schedule and they pay ME a retirement check :-)  All smugness aside, the retirement benefit is HUGE for us.  As a Realtor, there is no retirement--unless I set up my own fund and if anyone reading this pays attention to current rates, you know a 401K is a worthless investment right now. 

But on a sappy note--I feel like we've already made a huge investment and it's starting to pay off.  Once we decided to journey down the road of Holy Matrimony, we prayed to God every single night that he would lead us down a path that would provide for us in our old age together.  Making a leap into real estate during a down market is crazy.  Leaving a job with great pay, plenty of overtime and setting aside your small business to commute 2-hours a day for a new company is risky.  Craziness aside, we put our faith in God's hands and told him we would follow his lead...and so far, it looks like He's taking us down a great path!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Friday Night Fun

I've always been a firm believer in "date nights"...but I've also realized that so-called "date nights" aren't always possible, either.

After we got married, we set the goal of having one date night a month.  In our minds, we would pack up, head out of town for the night and go do something fun--maybe a concert, festival, a new restaurant, shopping...just something that we could do together.

After the second month, real life set in.  We were lucky to have a weekend evening where the both of us were around AND we hadn't already committed to something.  Eventually, "date night" started to fall to the wayside and we just started going through the motions of married life.

Finally, by this Spring, we realized we really needed to have date nights again.  As mentioned earlier, we were going through the motions but not really, truly enjoying time as just the two of us.  We had plenty of time with OTHER people, but as just the two of us???  Not really!

Thankfully, we were in the midst of the Lenten Season when we came to this realization.  For most people, that doesn't mean anything to them--but for us, that means we forgo meat on Fridays during Lent.  And in order to get my husband to eat a meatless dish, it's gotta be hella good...

And that brought our date nights back to life!  We would pick a new meatless, semi-gourmet meal to cook on Friday night...then, we'd spend the evening preparing the meal, plating it up and then just really sitting back and catching up.  It was so nice to have a conversation that went beyond who paid the water bill, if the laundry needed switched out and what errands had to be taken care of the next day!

But one thing was still missing.

The music!

Granted, we have music channels on our tv--but you can't control what they play!  And you just don't want to risk throwing off the flavor of your food because of bad tunes ;-)

As the months progressed, we tried to make due and use the time in the kitchen to talk and catch-up...but I knew we could still have more fun than that!

The other day, we ran to the movie store and by the door they had the best thing ever--a Crosley all-in-one player!

I have wanted one ever since we bought our bungalow.  They look like they're something straight out of the 1930's or 1940's--but rather it has all your modern features, too.

Well, mostly modern.

It has your AM/FM radio, mp3 port, CD player, cassette player AND a record player!

I knew we would like having a radio and cd player in the living room--but I knew we would really, REALLY enjoy having a record player for our date nights!

We picked up the Crosley player, unpacked it and set it up right away.  It was a perfect fit for the top of our china cabinet!

The next night was Date Night.  After work, we ran to the grocery store to pick up some appetizer stuff (more on that in a moment) and then we stopped in at our local music store in the heart of Aggieville.

We had a BLAST!  My parents collected records growing up so it was fun to pull the albums that they used to listen to.  They also had a bunch of the music that Justin grew up listening to--and all on vinyl!

Before we knew it, we had already killed an hour just looking at all the different albums available on record.  Justin grabbed several records and they were only $6 a piece!  I decided to put all my eggs in one basket and went for the new Norah Jones album--on WHITE vinyl, nonetheless!  Isn't it a beaut?!

We hurried home and put the first record on--we knew right away that we had found the missing piece to our date nights!  Some people would disagree with me, but there's something really great about hearing a song on vinyl, versus CD or mp3.  And heck, it's just kinda fun to watch the record go round and round!

Now, I can say our date nights are finally complete!  Good grooves, good food and good company--can't get better than that :-)

Oh--and about good's the recipe we tried for our appetizer!  It's very inexpensive, super easy and quite filling.  We made it again the following night and Justin added pepperoni because, well, he could!  For those of you who know your spices, you'll appreciate that it came out of a Penzey's catalog!

Jenny's Tomato Bread
  • 1 loaf French bread, sliced lengthwise
  • 3 TB. butter (Mary uses unsalted)
  • 1/2-1 tsp. GRANULATED GARLIC POWDER (to taste)
  • 3-4 fresh tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp. KOSHER-STYLE FLAKE SALT (use 1/2 tsp. if starting with salted butter)
  • 2 TB. olive oil (I used grapeseed oil with great success)
  • 8 oz. sliced Mozzarella cheese

  • Preheat oven to 500°. Spread each slice of bread evenly with butter. Sprinkle with GARLIC. Line the tomato slices down the center of the bread. Note: if using juicy garden tomatoes, let the slices sit on paper toweling for a minute before using. Sprinkle with salt, olive oil and OREGANO. Top with cheese slices and place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 500° until the cheese melts and the bread begins to toast, about 5-10 minutes. If you wish to brown the cheese, put the oven on broil for the last minute, and watch carefully. Slice the bread into 4-inch sections and serve.

    Prep. time: 10 minutes
    Cooking time: 5-10 minutes
    Serves: 8

    Sunday, August 5, 2012

    My New Addiction--Thrifting for Clothes

    I feel like I finally have to come clean.

    I have a new addiction.

    I've always liked clothes--well, in fact, I've always LOVED clothes.  My roommates in college used to tease me about playing "dress up" before going to class, a special occasion, you name it.  And if you were to ask my husband, he would have no problem confirming that I still do that!

    But really--I don't think I'm the only person who can go through at least 5 outfits before finally settling on something to wear!  At the beginning of the summer, my "dress up" time was starting to become really complicated--and frustrating.  Once I decided to go into the world of business, I started buying more business-casual clothing.  However, I had no clue it would be 100+ degrees for weeks on end and the clothes I had purchased just weren't cutting it.  Frankly, I'm not sure what type of clothing is suitable for temperatures in the triple digits.  A few weeks ago, I heard a radio segment explaining that the best way to dress for the heat wave was to wear nothing at all...and the guy was dead serious!  While I could totally understand where he was coming from, I'm pretty sure that wouldn't fly at the office!

    To the drawing board I went.  I HAD to find affordable clothes that I wouldn't die in.  It's not uncommon for me to spend 4-5 hours at a time, wandering between houses AND on top of that, showing houses without any air conditioning.  Trust me--if I could, I would personally pay those seller's AC bills just so I don't have to sweat to death while showing their property!

    During a state of desperation, I swung by the Goodwill store in Topeka while making a Sam's run.  I figured it was worth a shot and if anything, I might get a good laugh out of the stuff at the store!  Lo and behold, I was sooooooooooooooooooo wrong!  And in a good way :-)

    The store ROCKED.  It had most all the typical labels you could imagine--GAP, Banana Republic, Express, Limited, Ann Taylor, H&M, J.Crew, Apt. 9, New York & Co., the list goes on.  It took some time digging through the racks, but I found tons of great name-brand items that were in excellent shape (lots of the clothing still had tags on it!) and in style.  The only catch--it wasn't always the right size.  But for a person who's working--and incurring expenses just to work--with the first paycheck being months away yet, I was sure grateful for my finds!

    A few weeks after I hit up the store in Topeka, a Goodwill was opened up here in our community.

    Can you spell trouble?!

    It was on.  I stopped by the store one day after work and found TONS of stuff!  I found clothes for the summer--and clothes for when the weather cools off.  I put all my stuff (or crap, as the husband would say) in my cart and went to check out.  When it was all said and done, I had 5 bags FULL of stuff--and it cost just $80, including tax!

    I never should have stepped into that store because I'm convinced my brain is permanently re-wired now!  On average, a bag full of stuff from Goodwill runs me about $30--give or take.  Go to the department store to buy a shirt and that alone will cost at least $30.  Why on earth would I do that?!  Especially when I have to build a more professional wardrobe while lacking a paycheck?!  Even if we end up with all the money in the world (ha!), I'm not sure that I could ever go back to paying full-price for stuff from the department stores.  Well, with the exception of pants and shoes!  After all, there is a reason I'm nicknamed Taddy-Long-Legs ;-)

    In all reality, there is a thrill to the thrifting.  You never know what you will find!  One of my girlfriends found a Halston caftan that would normally retail for $300-400...and it cost her $1.14!  Fortunately, I enjoy combining different pieces of apparel to create my very own outfit--I've never seen the point in buying the outfit worn by the mannequin in a window!  After all, you could end up in a room with another person wearing the exact same thing!  

    I realize that for a lot of people, there's a stigma associated with wearing clothes from a second-hand store.  But being the second daughter in our family, I wore TONS of hand-me-downs and thought nothing of it!  In fact, I always loved going over to the neighbors and getting to pick out clothes that Rebekah had outgrown...she had the GOOD stuff and I felt pretty cool getting to wear it :-)  And to this day, if I have friends getting rid of clothes, I have no problem buying stuff from them!

    So--what have I found on my thrifting adventures???  Below are some of the pieces that I have worn over the past week or two.  And trust me, based on the the number of bags I have brought home, there's more to come!

    Merona Skirt--$3
    This is what I get for asking Justin to take a picture!  Maybe I'll buy  him photography lessons for Christmas... ;-)

    Yay for Listing Consultations!  Express blouse--$4, GAP bubble skirt--$6

    Axcess Skirt--$6
    Ann Taylor LOFT Skirt--$5, Next Edition Eyelet Blouse--$4

    GAP Denim Skirt--$2, GAP Tee with flat pom-pom trim--$1
    Apt. 9 Blouse--$4, Ann Taylor LOFT Capris--$1
    Headed into the office to sign paperwork!  Apt 9 Chinos (rolled into crops)--$1