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Selling and Buying

A lot has happened in the last nearly 2 1/2 years since my last post. School got crazy and life got busier. Basketball happened (for both boys, on two different teams) and took over our lives. Then others things took control. Finally we decided we needed to move closer in to where life happened. It seemed all we were doing at our house was sleeping.

Last spring, we got our house ready and put it on the market. Since it was a seller’s market, it sold in no time. The house was in a good location and was in really good condition. It was a remarkably easy process! We had received one offer before it actually listed, then two offers came in just a day apart after showings began. Within a week, we were working out details over offers and counter-offers. We were starting to feel the pressure to find something for ourselves.

Our realtor had us wait until we had an actual contract on our house and were past the options period (where the buyers could no longer back out without a large penalty) before we actually looked at anything. While we waited for that step, we watched the realty websites like hawks, finding dream homes only to have them go off the market within days. It was so frustrating – but that was nowhere near what we were about to experience!

The first day we were actually able to go look, one of my friends texted me a picture of a house down the street from her that was just about to go on the market. She called the realtor, I called the realtor, I sent my realtor the picture. We wanted to see that house! But they weren’t ready to start showing until the next day. My husband’s boss also lived down the street from that house, so they talked about it and he gave high recommendations on it.

The realty site listed photos that night and we made a split decision to make an offer, sight unseen. It felt right. The sellers agreed to consider our offer, but they still wanted the house to show to see if there would be other offers. They wanted a week.

They next day we were able to see the house – along with about 3 other groups at the same time. That was awkward because we felt like we couldn’t really look at things critically or discuss anything with our realtor. We didn’t want anyone to overhear anything we said and maybe gain an advantage. 

Still, we loved it! It was the one we wanted. We just had to wait… During that wait, we both spent a lot of time praying about it. 

Our realtor stayed in contact with the sellers’ realtor over the course of the week. Things looked good one day and bad the next. Up and down, all week long. We decided to go the next weekend and look at some others houses we were interested in. Since things were looking bad for the house we really wanted, we decided to make an offer on our second choice. If they both ended up being accepted, we would choose the first house and only lose a small amount of earnest money on the second. It would be worth that to not be left with either – and our time was running short. The closing date on the house we were selling was getting closer.

The offer on house two was declined. We were back to waiting to hear something about house one. They had decided to show for another week because there was a lot of interest (nice house and a prime spot on a golf course) and they had gotten several offers. Things were not looking good for us. Still we prayed.

Things got blurry after that. We kept finding houses online that we liked, but they came and went quickly. Nothing looked to be going in our favor. Then we heard that the sellers were still considering our offer – and one other. They countered our offer and we countered back. We waited to hear. Things looked bad again. We were at the point where we were ready to rescind our offer and start over with looking elsewhere. It was too stressful and there was no longer any joy or excitement in the process. We felt like we were being toyed with. We told our realtor that whatever answer they gave, we would not counter again. We would either accept or walk away. My prayer had changed from Please let us have this house to If this house is meant to be ours, You will work it out; and if it’s not, it’s because You have something even better for us. At the time I couldn’t imagine what that would be because the house, the location, the neighbors and friends there – everything about it – seemed like the perfect situation for us.

We got the call on a Thursday night, right in the middle of our sons’ school play. I returned our realtor’s call at intermission with a knot in my stomach. She knew how frustrated we were with the whole thing, so she immediately said, “It’s good news!” Our final offer was accepted. They were going out of town for the weekend, but they would sign the paperwork their realtor was planning to send them, then overnight it to us for our signatures. For some reason, that didn’t happen. We had to wait until the next week. Doubts were beginning to creep in again. 

With all the offers and counter offers and new contracts being written and rewritten and taking so much time in between, our closing date with our buyers was just around the corner. The closing date on the house we were buying was still a month away. Thankfully our realtor had the foresight to insist on a clause with our buyers for a month-to-month rent-back policy. And our buyers were very gracious in letting us stay in our/their house a month past closing – rent free! They were also willing to allow a second month if needed, but we would pay rent for that.

Thankfully we only needed that one month. We closed on our new house in early June and started moving in the following weekend.

I’m just glad it’s all done – and that we got the house we wanted. It’s neighborhood we wanted to be in. It’s close to our church, where I also work. It’s closer to the boys’ school and to my husband’s work. The boys already had several friends in the neighborhood, and now it’s so easy for them to be able to hang out at one house or another. We knew more than 15 families here when we moved in. We’ve since found out others we know live here, and we’ve met some new families. 

Our experiences with buying and selling were so different! And our experience with buying in a buyer’s market in 2009 was so much easier than our experience with buying in a seller’s market in 2016. We learned a lot and, while our hope is to be done with moving – at least until we are no longer able to physically manage things there, we can be better prepared mentally for the next time.

Our house from the back, from the edge of our property line.

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Fall Garden Update

Catchy title, right? It’s been a while since I’ve blogged and I’ve missed it! We’ve just been so busy I haven’t had the time to write. Now that January is well under way, I seem to be finding my groove again…

On to the garden… My last post was about how pitiful our fall garden looked. It was sad. Really. My father-in-law suggested covering the garden with a sheet. Genious! I took an old sheet and clipped it to the garden cage with some clothes pins. It was perfect for keeping the hot sun off the plants. The ones that looked like they were about to die seemed to make a comeback. Of course, I had to check frequently. Where we live, there’s a lot of wind. A lot. (In fact, one of our trees is forever bent toward the northeast because of the near constant wind.) Every half hour or so, I’d have to go back out and replace the sheet because the wind would have caught it and blown it out from under the clothes pins. Some days the wind was light and I didn’t have to do much replacing, but on really windy days I had to forget it altogether. Once our weather finally cooled down, I was able to do away with the sheet. By then, the plants had gotten strong enough to withstand any hot days.

We planted broccoli, cauliflower, mustard greens, spinach, turnips, and garlic in late September, right at the end of the recommended fall planting season. Nothing ever came of the mustard, spinach, turnips, or garlic. I don’t know if the seeds, which I purchased from a local nursery, were bad or if we didn’t do something right (which is probably more likely the case).

By late October, some of the broccoli and cauliflower plants looked big and strong and I was hoping they’d start producing soon…

By late November, one of the broccoli plants had grown a small stalk.

By mid-December, I could see it from the dining room window! You wouldn’t believe my excitement! As for the other plants, nothing was happening.

After Christmas, I went out to see how the broccoli had fared since we had been out of town. It was going strong. I decided to peek inside the center of the cauliflower plants and was surprised to see one of them had a small head growing!

I did some research to see when I needed to cut the broccoli and decided it could stay on the plant a little longer. I put off researching the cauliflower because the head looked so small and I thought I had more time…

Last week When I went out to check the broccoli, I noticed the florets were starting to open. Oops! I almost waited too long! I cut off the stalk and hoped I’d get around to cooking it before it went totally bad on me. (We’ve been so busy with basketball and church activities, I haven’t been home to cook. Sandwiches are getting old…) I peeked in at the cauliflower and was so disappointed to see it had turned brown. I never did read to find out if when I should have harvested it. I need to do that so I’ll know in the future – even though none of the other plants are making.

Last night I made broccoli cheese soup – with our broccoli and a larger, fresher stalk I got from co-op. It was tasty, but you could see the difference between our broccoli and the co-op broccoli. Our florets were larger, on the verge of opening. One lesson learned. It’s time to learn about cauliflower.

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I haven’t even finished this year’s list-making for the boys’ gifts (or the rest of the family, for that matter – and I know, I’m running out of time…), but I’m already thinking about next year. The gifts I’m thinking of, though, are not traditional Christmas gifts.

First, I’m going to be preparing the boys all year long to be more responsible and self-sufficient. I got the idea from a book I bought at Mardel several weeks ago – Cleaning House: A Mom’s 12-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement by Kay Wills Wyma. I’m just now getting around to reading it, and I’m thinking about reading a chapter each month, then having the boys follow through with their new training during the following month. So this month, after reading “Introduction: The Epiphany”, I’ll read chapter one (or Task One, as the author titles it) – “Operation Clutter Control: Starting Simple: Beds and Clutter”. Then for the month of January, they’ll work toward mastering making their beds daily and keeping up with the clutter in their bedroom. It’s a daily battle right now…

Subsequent “tasks” and areas of improvement are kitchen duties (including meal planning, list-making, shopping, cooking, and cleaning up; yard work; money-making jobs (something Jacob is always looking to do…); scrubbing their bathroom (YAY!); doing their own laundry; basic home maintenance and repair; hospitality and party planning; group effort; running errands; service to others; and manners. As much as I’d like them to get it down quickly and move on to the next task, it makes so much more sense to devote each month to learning a new skill and forming a new habit. ๐Ÿ™‚

By Christmas 2013, they’ll be able to give me the gift of their help in more everyday ways – and I can rest assured that they know what they’re doing. They’ll also be more mentally prepared for my other plans for Christmas gifts…

The boys have so much stuff – and it seems they’re always getting more. Then Christmas comes around and they get swamped with more stuff from grandparents and aunts. Every year it’s harder and harder to find things to add to their Christmas wish lists, then separate all that stuff out into three separate lists for everyone – without duplicating items. I’ve recently heard of families who have toned down their kids’ Christmas gift experience by having them fill out a specific list: one thing they want, one thing they need, one thing to wear, and one thing to read. I like that! I’m thinking they could fill out one list for us, one for each set of grandparents, and one for my sisters. That would still give them plenty of things to unwrap without overwhelming them (and us!) with stuff, stuff, and more stuff.

There’s something else I read that I’d like to incorporate into next year’s gift giving. A young teenage boy was discussing Christmas with his mother. He said that Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birth, but we give gifts to each other instead of to Him. That family decided that they would look through catalogs for Compassion International and other outreach groups and choose things to purchase to improve the lives of those less fortunate as their way to give gifts to Jesus for His birthday. You know the verse. Matthew 25:40 – “…I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.” (NET) I feel like we need to take the focus off ourselves and what we want and put it instead on others and what they need. (My dad already does this – and has for a few years. He asks that we use the money we would spend on his Christmas presents and instead use them to help someone who is needy. For his gift, he’d like pictures and a card or letter explaining what was done. We haven’t done that before because I just found out about it last year, but I’m planning to do that this year. He’ll still get a more personal gift from us, too, though. :))

Maybe those changes will make next year’s Christmas season less rushed, less stressful, and more enjoyable.

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I know I’m several days late with this, but since I recently joined a produce co-op, I’ve taken an exciting new interest in meal planning again. We pick up our fresh produce every other Tuesday, so that dove-tails nicely with my two-week planning (but only one week posting at a time…).

Monday, July 23
grilled cheese sandwiches
chips

Tuesday, July 24
blackened tilapia
sauteed spinach (co-op item)
Sour Cream & Onion Noodles (which used some of my green onions from the co-op)

Note: This was not a great combination. The flavors all worked together well, but they all cook so quickly. I didn’t have time to cook them simultaneously, so the spinach and the noodles ended up being served on the warmish side, while the fish was hot because it was fresh out of the skillet.

Wednesday, July 25
sandwiches (church night)

Thursday, July 26
hamburger steak (with some Holy Cow beef a friend gave me)
sauteed mushrooms and onions
mashed potatoes
steamed broccoli (co-op item)

Friday, July 27
out

Saturday, July 28
chicken fajitas with red peppers and onions (co-op items)
fresh guacamole (co-op item)
roasted tomatillo salsa (co-op item)

Sunday, July 29
leftover buffet/sandwiches

I still have sweet potatoes, new potatoes, carrots, and some green onions to use in next week’s meal planning. ๐Ÿ™‚

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I haven’t been following through with the challenges weekly lately, but hopefully I’ll get back to that soon. I don’t know what’s got me distracted. Life is the same, as far as I can tell.

My next challenge is one that I feel like I’m an old pro at – though I am always looking for ways to improve: menu plans and grocery lists. I’ve been doing this for years, even though I do fall off from time to time. Overall I’ve learned that planning our meals at least a week in advance is extremely helpful. Not only am I prepared for each day’s meal, but I save money as well because I’m not running out here and there picking up necessary items or ordering out.

When I first started meal planning, I did it weekly. I’d print out a monthly calendar, then fill out each week with what we’d be eating as well as where we’d be going (church, out of town, etc.). I used that format for years, but I wasn’t thrilled with it. First, the squares were really small and often I’d only have room to write the main dish. I never prepared for sides, and often I was left wondering what I’d put with our meal to stretch it and give us some more nutrients. Also, I hated wasting ink and paper printing out a new calendar each month – though that was a minor detail. One thing I did like about it was that when I prepared for the new month, I could look back and see what we’d already had so I wouldn’t duplicate it too soon. We’re not on a 2-week recipe rotation by any means because we love so many different foods, but we also have some favorites that are also quick and easy when there’s a time crunch. Those are always easy to slip in here and there. The current biggie in that category is black bean quesadillas (which we’ll be having Friday night…).

Not too long ago, I made my own 2-week menu plan template. Most importantly, the boxes for the days are longer, so there’s plenty of room to write our side dishes along with the main dish. We’re now eating more veggies at each meal than we had been, and that’s a huge benefit of better planning. I also found some page protectors in an old binder. Now that I’m using my planner inside that, I can write on it with a dry erase marker and wipe it off with relative ease. (It’s not as easy as glass or a surface made for dry-erase products, but it works.) The bottom third of my “calendar” is where I list the main dishes I have all or most of the ingredients for. If I find something is missing, I’ll put an asterisk beside it, then add the missing ingredient to the “grocery” column to the far right.

Finally, because my grocery shopping tends to be erratic, planning for two weeks at a time makes more sense. I prefer to shop at a grocery store in another town, but I try not to have to drive over there right now for errands more than once every two weeks (except for going to church on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday evenings – none of which are convenient for grocery shopping). I also try to plan my grocery trips around payday, though that doesn’t always happen. And sometimes I end up making the trip over two or three weeks in a row… When I’m able to stick with my ideal plan, I might run to the local Wal-Mart to pick up something I need – or to Brookshire’s if they’re having a really good sale.

When I’m ready to make my grocery list, I grab my iPhone and add my items to my Grocery Zen app. It’s probably not the best grocery app out there, but it works for me for now. One day I may look for a better one. Or not. The thing I like best about Grocery Zen is that it’s customizable. I can add whatever items I want to the list, grocery or not. (For instance, if I’m at Wal-Mart and I need to remember to get some yarn…) And if there’s something I typically buy from a specialty store (like fresh pita or tzatziki), I can put that store’s name instead of the aisle category. My least favorite feature is that I can’t organize the aisles on the app in the same order they are in my store. (If that feature is available, I haven’t figured it out yet…) I seem to constantly be scrolling up and down my “Shop” list, marking off things as I get to them. I have been known to forget items at the top of the list when I’ve clicked something at the bottom of the list and then all I see are my crossed off items. I just need to remember to scroll up and double-check.

The two features I have no interest in using are “Recipes” and “Share”. I don’t want to take the time to input my recipes. The ones I use frequently enough are already stored in my head anyway. And I really don’t need to share my shopping list with anyone. I do the bulk of the shopping, but if I turn it over to Billy, I give him a list or text him the few things we need. He doesn’t really have a need for that app on his phone. Hmmm, maybe I do need to see if there’s an app that suits me better…

While my system isn’t perfect, it’s what works for me right now. I’ve tried having cutesy themes for each day of the week (not my style) and specific patterns for meals (I always forget…), but I’m more successful with planning what I want when I want it.

Oh, one last thing. It’s important to be flexible! You never know when something might come up and you need to rework your plan. Having a plan in place makes it easy to just switch a few things around without going into panic mode.

Case in point: Yesterday we had tornadoes all around the area. I was monitoring the weather all afternoon. We have friends all over the DFW area and I was worried about their safety as well as our own. Once the system started moving closer to us, I spent my time prepping the closet for a likely visit. Instead of making sure my ground pork had thawed or getting my salad made, I was moving bicycle helmets, cushions, pillows, blankets, flashlights, cell phones, Crocs, and my laptop to storm central. My adrenaline rush peaked when I heard the meteorologist mention a tornado in the town just a few miles north of us – and almost simultaneously our community tornado siren started sounding. The boys and I rushed into the closet. As soon as I shut the door, I heard hard rain, strong winds, and hail. I was scared and shaking – and trying to make sure the boys saw strength instead. I’d peek out the door every so often to see out the bathroom window during my 20-minute stay in the closet. (I made the boys stay in there for probably closer to 30 minutes while I checked the skies out front and back and studied the radar.)

By the time everything was over, I was exhausted – mentally and physically. Cook supper? What’s that? So long, dirty rice, broccoli, and salad. Hello, mac & cheese from a box. With hot dogs cut up and mixed in. No fruit. No veggies. Just a (small) bowl of comfort (without hot dogs) and my rocking chair. (I am trying to lose weight and eat healthier…) The dishes are rinsed and piled in the sink because I didn’t have the energy to unload the dishwasher first. I was so tired, I couldn’t even knit or focus on playing Words with Friends or Draw Something. I dozed in my chair until bedtime.

So this morning, I think I’ll wipe off yesterday’s supper plan and move it to a new spot. No big deal.

Do you have any meal planning/grocery list making tips to share? I’m always up for something new!

Next challenge: create a simple address book and organize contact information.

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This time last year, I was burned out. It was mine and Caleb’s 7th year of homeschooling; Jacob’s 4th. (We started when Caleb was 4.) I honestly didn’t see how I could stand to do all the research, planning, preparation, teaching, assessing, etc., for another year. It might have been easier if I had a history curriculum I was happy with. We’d been through 3 already, and nothing was looking very promising. It didn’t help matters that history is my least favorite subject…

This time last year, I was hoping to find an available teaching position at a certain private Christian school so I could afford to send the boys there, but nothing came of it. It’s probably a good thing, because the school is a 30+ minute drive away, with a few road construction sites along the way. That and the continuously rising price of gas makes that whole scenario unappealing. I probably would’ve gotten tired of it quickly and regretted my decision.

As the current school year was coming near, I started scrambling, trying to figure out just what I wanted to do. I don’t remember how it happened, but I do remember researching history curricula when I came across K12,ย an online public school organization that supports state charter schools where children get a public education at home. I’m not totally against public education. I don’t like the current classroom situation, where teachers “teach the test” to keep a job and have to deal with all sorts of mental, emotional, and discipline problems they aren’t qualified to handle. I do want to know what they’re learning so I can guide them in keeping with the Christian values we’re working to instill in them.

The K12 website was fairly informative, but I had questions. I filled out an online form requesting a call-back, and I got one within a matter of days. I was really undecided about the whole thing until I talked to the representative. I had several questions, which she was able to answer quickly and to my satisfaction. Before I hung up the phone, I had registered the boys for the upcoming school year (which began just a week or so later!). A few days after filling out all the paperwork and submitting it to them, we were accepted.

I’ve enjoyed the year with K12, or more specifically TXVA (Texas Virtual Academy). The boys’ online teachers have been helpful and the online school format is great! Caleb’s middle school classes are independent and self-paced, though all students have a minimum requirement to reach. The students have to master each lesson before moving on to the next one. If he has trouble with something, I am able to go over it with him, reteach what I need to, then see that he does understand it before retaking an assessment. He’s also able to take more classes than I was teaching through our homeschooling. He’s got math, literature, language arts, science, and social studies, all of which I was teaching, but he also has P.E., health, art, Study Island (math and reading skills checks), and Latin (my choice for his foreign language this year) – things I was too tired to get around to doing.

Jacob’s elementary classes are good, too – though he thinks there’s too much work involved. Most of his subjects are guided by me, but I don’t have to do all the prep work I used to do. In addition to his core subjects, he’s taking P.E., health, art, Study Island, and music. (Parents can opt for students to take a foreign language instead of music.)

As soon as I was able, I registered the boys again for next year. I have a little paperwork still to do, but since they’re returning students, they won’t be wait-listed like new ones.

So, what’s the whole “skin of our teeth” about? I received a letter this morning through our K-mail communications about new enrollment requirements. Because of some recent legislative action (from 2009), anyone who wishes to enroll a new student in TXVA for the upcoming school year is “now required to show proof of previous enrollment in a public school…. What this means is that if the sibling of a current TXVA student was homeschooled last year, we regretfully are unable to accept an enrollment for this child.”

Whew! If we hadn’t enrolled for this current year, we would not be able to participate in TXVA next year. If Jacob were any younger, he wouldn’t be able to participate at all. (TXVA is for students in grades 3-12.) Thank you, God, for leading me to K12 and TXVA last year!

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As evidenced by last week’s post, things are always subject to change. ๐Ÿ™‚

Monday, March 26
leftover spaghetti and bread
fresh Caesar salad

Tuesday, March 27
OUT, I hope! Billy mentioned wanting to go to Cristina’s for some more tacos – and kids eat free on Mondays and Tuesdays…

Wednesday, March 28
hot dogs/sandwiches

It’s Zumba night for me and youth Bible study night for Caleb, so Wednesdays are quick and easy – and very light for me.

Thursday, March 29
grilled porkchops
roasted rosemary potatoes
corn on the cobย  peas
homemade bread salad

Friday, March 30
pancakes
bacon
hash browns

Saturday, March 31
grilled cheese sandwiches
chips
fruit

baked potatoes stuffed with lentil chili, sour cream, and cheese

 

It’s home team night, provided we can find a sitter or it’s at our house, so we need something quick and easy. We couldn’t find a sitter so we stayed home.

Sunday, April 1
hot dogs/sandwiches

On AWANA nights, we get home later than we typically eat, so it’s something quick and easy. Again.

It’s an easy week for me, but kind of boring food-wise. Maybe I’ll plan to cook a new dish (or two) next week – which should be easier to do now that I’ve reorganized my recipe box and cookbooks!

Check out other menu plan ideas at I’m an Organizing Junkie.

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