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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Finally.. making our house a home

Sorry for the long absence, guys. It has been really busy around here lately.. and let's face it, in our downtime, we've been watching the second season of Bates Motel on Netflix. I can't give many details, but Graham has to go out of town for training for his new job. So, we've been trying to maximize our family time as much as possible.

Anyways, as a continuing part of the "Starter Stories" by Compass, I'm blogging about how we started to personalize our home when first starting out. There were a couple of things I wanted before we moved in: a new dining set that would seat more than four people, counter stools for our kitchen's breakfast bar, and a painted, stenciled wall in our master bedroom. We couldn't afford to do all of the things we wanted to do, so we had to prioritize what was most important to us.

First, the stencil we got was the Sophia Trellis Moroccan stencil from Cutting Edge Stencils. It looked relatively simple and a better alternative to wallpaper or a plain accent wall. So, we did two different colors in our bedroom with a varying color for the accented stencil. Our walls were a horrible yellowish beige from the builder, so we needed a more cool-toned color scheme to match our current espresso furniture and bedding. Here are the photos:

 Graham was our master painter.

 Here's the accent wall. We ended up painting the ceiling as well.

Finished stencil. It actually looks better in photos than in person because you don't see all of the small mistakes. But, it still looks fabulous. I will have to post another picture with our furniture and bedding in front of it.

So, the furniture we picked was from Target, Cost Plus World Market, and Pier 1. Since we had a breakfast bar, dining stools were a must. We needed a new dining room table because Graham and I both have large families that visit often, so we needed a big table to seat 8+ people. I have an older modern, espresso-colored buffet from West Elm that also needed to match the table set. I thought about getting the matching dining set from them, but it would have been too matchy matchy for the look I was going for. I had my heart set on a dining bench for the kiddos, too, so that was on my list. We also have a unique feature in our dining room--an electric fireplace--so we needed to have furniture that would work around this.

 Here are my Avington counter height stools from Target. Excuse the lime green color of the place mats. They are a little bright, but look great with the navy blue Fiesta dinnerware we own.

 Here's our Francine dining bench from World Market with the Garner extendable table from World Market. The bench and table don't match exactly but you can't really tell.

Here are the accent dining chairs from Pier 1. You can also see our beautiful Moroccan style rug we got at Costco ($80-90 for an 8x10 rug!!).

So, this is how we started to make our house our own! We couldn't afford to do much all at once, so it's definitely still a work in progress. I have some other projects that I'll share later as well. Our next big items are a fire pit in our backyard (currently in progress), a new sectional for our TV room, and paint in our dining room and downstairs family room.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

We didn't mean to buy a house...

So, ours may not be the typical first-time home buyer story.. The story where the couple has scraped and saved for years for a down payment, or where the couple is newly married, or the one where the married couple is expecting a child and want to move into a house before the baby is born. I wanted to blog about our process to help others along the way and give you a personal insight into first-time home buying. I was also contacted by a company called Compass that is starting a project called "Starter Stories" to feature stories about real people who are starting in their new first places, whether they be apartments or homes.

First of all, I'm 32 years-old, my husband is almost 30.. We have been married for 7 years. We have a 4 year-old kid. I have been in my career for over 6 years, and my husband is just starting his. We have LOTS of student loans to pay back.. Enough to choke on. And, we have consumer debt that we've been slowly but surely paying off with some major setbacks (remember, we also had to buy a car earlier this year too?).. So yeah, we were not exactly the best candidates to buy a house either..

So anyways, since we decided to move on from Graham's schooling and start looking for a career that didn't require a bachelor's degree, we had to adjust our expectations for a house. First of all, we wouldn't be able to afford as much as we thought we could. Second, I couldn't get everything I wanted in a house (i.e. a great big kitchen, big master suite, and lots of space for guests). Third, we had to decide which house features were the most important to us. Our list of wants included the following:
  • an affordable house in general, 
  • a big backyard (Graham's request--not mine), 
  • a spot outside where Graham could put a basketball hoop, 
  • a kitchen with enough space for more than one person to cook in, 
  • good schools nearby, 
  • a room where we could exercise without restraint. 

Finally, we had to re-think about where we could actually buy a house that met our requests. The different areas in our county vary widely in price, depending on the proximity to the ferries to Seattle, or waterfront properties. The first thing we did was finding a geographic region in the Puget Sound area that has affordable houses yet is in a good school district. Certain areas were out, because the high schools were awful (yes, we are thinking that far ahead), or the neighborhoods were spotty. So, we finally settled on an area right outside the county lines. Oddly enough, we are moving to the same town my ancestors settled in after moving from Iceland and Canada. It is a beautiful area of land, on a peninsula on a peninsula (you'd have to look at a map to know what I'm truly saying--Puget Sound is kind of complicated). You have to cross a land-bridge to get there, so it feels like you're going on a vacation when you cross it just to get home.

Anyways, after semi-deciding which area we wanted to look for houses, I signed up on the Redfin app, and saved some of my favorites. Of course, the website/app is smart enough to send you reminders when new houses in your desired area and price range are put on the market. In November, I noticed a house that was newly remodeled and had an open house that weekend. I showed it to Graham, and casually mentioned the open house. We went after church and fell in love with this house. Of course, it's not perfect (who can afford a perfect house the first time around anyways?), but we started asking the real estate agent what to do if we were interested in the house. She recommended contacting a lender she works with that is located north of Seattle. So, from there.. we got started.

We were almost positive we wouldn't qualify for anything as we thought our debt to income ratio would be too high. So we said to the lender, "We're not sure we can qualify for anything, but we want to run some numbers just to see if we can.." I don't know how many of you are familiar with USDA home loans.. I for sure wasn't before moving up here. Much of the land up where we live is considered to be "rural" and qualifies for USDA home loans. First of all, there are income limits for family sizes (which luckily, we meet), and most importantly, you can put 0% down on a house with no PMI. That's the biggest thing. If you cannot save up 20% of your home purchase price, you need to pay PMI (mortgage insurance), which jacks up your monthly payment a couple hundred dollars. So, USDA loans are amazing if you qualify for one! It would've taken us forever to finish paying off our debts and save up 20% for a down payment at the same time.

So, the loan process was the worst part. Daily, we got e-mails like, we need this paperwork filled out, we need an explanation of why your income isn't at high as it should have been, what are your daycare expenses and why don't you have any, etc. We also had to explain old collections from like 2008, like when Graham had an unpaid speeding ticket that we didn't remember and an old lost library book. I was like I have no clue what this $108 collection bill in 2009 was. Plus, since Graham didn't have a job for a bit while he was in school, we actually had to obtain his transcripts to prove that he was in school and to provide somewhat of a "work history" during that time frame. It was form after form after form. Luckily, the mortgage company people were very helpful and had timely communication with us.

Then, the appraisal came in slightly lower than what we had offered for the house. USDA loans won't pay for much more than what the home is appraised at, so that was a problem. Thankfully, the seller came down to the appraisal price, which was pretty fair in my opinion. Then, the USDA loan paperwork had to be processed during the holidays (it was put in on the day after Christmas), which set it back a couple of days. Now, we are approved, and ready to close on January 20th. I know we have a lot more papers to sign with escrow and all that, but other than that, everything is set to go. The entire process has been exhausting, crazy, mind-blowing, and full of anxiety. The crazy thing is that everything has all been working out for us, and our mortgage will only be ~$50 more than our current rent payment (yeah, I know there are extra expenses like taxes and insurance, but still).

I am still in shock that we are going to be homeowners after what seems like forever. I see all these young 20-somethings buying houses and I'm all like, really? You're ready for that?? This has been our dream for a long time, and we are getting most of the things we want. Plus, there's room to grow and improve. Our life is finally moving along its course. Finally. We are set to close today!

FYI, I did not receive any compensation from Compass to blog about my story. I just wanted to be a part of their project!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Childish Argument

So, Carter and I got into an argument on the way home yesterday. Carter will often correct Graham and I or will argue against us, so this isn't an abnormal event. Carter got pretty upset and was in tears by the end of it.

So, we have a rule in our house that if you get hungry between daycare pick-up and dinner, you can eat fruits and vegetables as a snack or just wait until dinner to eat. We don't make many exceptions to this rule..

On the way home from daycare, Carter asked for a snack. I knew what he was thinking of--Wheat Thins. Of course, he would fill up on those and not eat dinner, so I reminded him of our rule of eating fruits and vegetables as a snack instead. He quickly got upset and started yelling that fruit "is NOT a snack! Fruit is for breakfast and lunch--not a SNACK!" I didn't back down, and asked him to stop yelling and settle down.

Then, he finally admitted what he really wanted--chocolate chips. His explanation: "Daddy gives me chocolate chips as a snack all the time. I just want to eat chocolate chips any time I want!"

My answer, knowing that that is likely not true: "Well, Daddy was being naughty if he was giving you chocolate chips for a snack because chocolate chips are a treat."

His response: "Daddy was not being naughty! He was being nice!"

So, I got out of the car to fill up the gas tank at the gas station. It had problems accepting my card, so I was out for a good 5-10 minutes before sticking my head back in, when he yelled at me, "Fruit is not a snack!!"

Oh, Carter, don't ever change.. Or do change and stop arguing all of the time.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2014: Year in Review

I'm a little late on my yearly review, I know.. But I thought I should still share some of my favorite or most memorable moments from the year.. I'll link old posts if I have them..

--I know most of you won't care, but I found my soulmate perfume: Balenciaga Rosabotanica. I had a Sephora gift card and I bought it on a whim without ever smelling it after reading an online review. I have some old favorites, such as MAC's Turquatic and Stella McCartney's Stella Sheer, but I wanted to try a new one. It smells a little rose-y, floral-y, spicy, woodsy, all in one. It lasts forever and I love it like no other. It is very strong, so you only have to use one spray, and it doesn't work for all seasons (it's a little strong for summer, in my opinion). This perfume is not for everyone, either.. Some may think it's too much or too "mature", but I am in love.

--I went through some major drama at work. It's been a year since it all went down, but I can't really say things have improved much with this previous friend of mine.

--I organized my makeup collection!

--I celebrated my 2 year anniversary of fitness.

--Graham got 3 jobs this year--and starts his new job/career path next week. Yay!!!!

--We also made the decision for Graham to stop pursuing an engineering degree. Best choice we ever made, and I wish we could've done it a long time ago (and a lot of dollars ago).

--We bought a new car because Graham's old POS Civic broke down.

--I went through old journals and blogged and vlogged about some old entries.

--We went camping with Carter for his very first time.

--We went to Hawaii and had the best time.

--We did our advent calendar again, which was awesome.. but the best thing about it was caroling at people's house who were having a hard time with financial or medical problems. It warmed my heart.

--One of the best things I saw this year was that the family we "sold" the Civic to (we don't know if we'll ever get the money back, which is ok) have completely fixed it up and made it their own (they removed the peeling tinting job, removed the dents, and put on a family sticker on the back window). It honestly made my day to see that we were actually able to help a family in need even though I don't feel like we have a lot of extra resources floating around.

Anyways, Graham is starting basically his career on Monday, our home loan application is being processed, and we are packing up our house. 2015 should be another great year, full of different challenges and trials.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Seven Years

So, today, it has been seven very eventful years of marriage to Graham.



I seriously cannot believe that it has been that long. Cliche or not, the past seven years have flown by (or crawled by in some instances). I swear, it was honestly yesterday that I was saying yes to marry Graham (we don't say "I do" in the marriage ceremony in the LDS temple).

I remember bawling my eyes out yet also listening to my stomach growl embarrassingly loud during the 3 PM (? is it weird I don't remember the actual time we got married) sealing ceremony.

I remember my panic and anxiety attacks pre-engagement.

I remember our first kiss in a church parking lot after seeing Spiderman 3 with friends.

I remember our first real date during the Cinco de Mayo festival on the Portland waterfront.

I remember saying I love you for the first time under the stars on the Oregon Coast.

And so many other moments in the meantime.. But I'm not going to go through all of the high- and low-lights of the almost eight years we've been together. I'm here to talk about what I've learned and felt.

Seven years is really not that much time in the long-term perspective, but in a 30-something's life span, it sure seems like a lot, especially considering that I got through college and grad school in the same amount of time.. And I changed and learned a lot during that time of my life. Although I gained a substantial amount of knowledge during my college years, I still lacked understanding of relationships and love. Marriage is one of the best teachers and motivators of change for personal lives (as long as you're willing to learn and change).

Graham has taught me, intentionally or not, about the power of forgiveness in personal relationships. Sure, there may be instances in which a personal relationship should be ended when offense has been given, but forgiveness can be utilized even in situations where irreparable harm has been done. Forgiveness has been given to us by God to truly free us from entanglements and resentments. When exercised to its full potential, we can move on, be free again to love others, and not be weighed down by our past. I never considered myself to be a particularly forgiving person, as I clearly remember when people have hurt my feelings or did wrong against me. But, after all I've been through, I feel like I can forgive people of their trespasses, little and big. Someone called me a "saint" for getting back together with Graham, but I don't even come close to meeting that description (HA). Marriage is fraught with interpersonal conflict, hurtful things done/said, and little annoying things that build up into big frustrations. By holding on to old hurts, pains, and resentments, it can cloud your view of your spouse and forever taint anything good or new they ever do. If you're always looking at your spouse with poop-colored glasses, you'll just forever be dissatisfied. Nothing your spouse will say or do will ever be right. Without regular acts of forgiveness, true love within a marriage is not possible.

Graham has taught me about honest, true love, and what that means as a married person. It does not mean that we will be blissfully happy and walking on clouds every day/month/year of our life. It doesn't mean that we will always be able to make each other happy. Sometimes, our relationship will feel more like work than love (or more work than fun). I don't get butterflies when my husband enters the room (I saw someone post that and I kind of rolled my eyes a little). Sometimes I want to wring his neck for doing something stupid. But, you know what actually makes me happiest and makes me love him the most? Serving my husband.. Doing something nice for him that he doesn't expect. Doing something for him that he truly appreciates. Giving him space to enjoy the things he loves (i.e. sports), no matter how much they annoy me. True love to me is when Graham wakes up early to start my car outside in the cold every morning.. without me ever asking. Love is feeling like home when I'm with him, no matter where we are. Of all the guys I've ever been with, I've never wanted to be with someone so much.. All day. Every day.

Graham has taught me how to be honest, in a hard way, I guess. I needed to learn how to be truthful to myself and to others about my feelings and intentions. It wasn't only with his issues, but mine as well. I am not a saint, nor will I ever be. I am trying every day to be a better person, and to be true to who I am and who I could be. When you're married, you can no longer hide your flaws and only put your best face forward. Your spouse can see everything about you--your weaknesses, frailties, your strengths, your kindness, your mean streak. And yet, they still choose to love you even though you are just a human.  Honesty is being you, the whole, imperfect yet still lovable you.

Graham has to taught me to be kind, and not just to your spouse. I never knew anybody like Graham that could be so nice to other people and yet still be able to understand my sarcasm. He has the empathy that a kind person has, and yet still can tease people. He offers to help people all of the time. He is nice even when I don't think he should be. He is such a good example to me of someone trying to be Christlike and loving to others. I was definitely not blessed with that trait, but I'm glad I married someone who did. His inherent kindness has even tempered my sarcasm and cynicism, something I never thought possible (me--the sassy teenage girl who once bragged she could make fun of any one at any time).

Anyways, marriage is slowly helping me become a better person by learning to forgive, be honest, and to truly love others. It's been a learning process, with some major growing pains for sure. At times, I've seriously questioned if he really was the right one to marry, especially considering the trials we've been through. And really, now that it's been done, why does it matter if it was the right decision or not? I've made the commitment to God, to Graham, and to my family, and now I need to live with my choices, for better or for worse. I'm not unhappy with my choice..in fact, right now, I am pretty damn happy with my choice. I couldn't have picked someone better for me. He loves me, and I see it whenever I look into his eyes. And because he has loved me, I will never be the same. (Oh boy, this is now teetering on the edge of being totally corny. Now busting out Celine Dion: I'm everything I am because you loved me.)



Here's to another anniversary and many more..

Friday, December 12, 2014

Mortifying Myself #2: Building my self-esteem

So, I was pretty insecure as a teenager, as many girls were. This has remained with me even throughout adulthood. Anyways, my junior high years were rough because I never felt like boys liked me, even though I did have a "boyfriend" at a different junior high in the area in 8th grade. So, in high school, I got a little more attention from boys, especially since I was a cheerleader (probably what I'd been hoping for). Every time I thought a boy was looking at me, or thought I was cute, I would write about it in my journal. That's how important it was to my self-esteem. I became friends with an older boy who played basketball on the varsity team, so we talked a lot and he would tell me some of these things..

Me at 15-16 years old:




2~8~1998
"Well, Friday nite, I found out more guys think I'm cute than I thought. Tom and Josh do, and so does Keith (since he always stares at me) and so does Peter.. (Ben probably does too, because he looks at me too.)"

2~12~1998
"Several guys on the varsity basketball think I'm cute, and I think I will be a babe when I'm older. Boy, I can't wait!"

2~14~1998
"He said he, Keith, and Ryan were talking about me at the basketball game. They were talking about how nice a body I have, and how great it will be when I get old. He said I was 'well made'."

3~7~1998
"Well Sadie Hawkins [a girl-ask-boy dance] was last night. Everybody else was excited, except for me. I didn't wanna dance w/ Doug! I ditched him on a couple of songs. Rian kept trying to freak with me and stuff, and I did for not very long, and I think Doug saw us. Maybe that should be a hint Doug!...All of the seniors said hi to me tonight. I just attract the older guys! Also, I didn't get to dance with Ben, so that was pretty bad. But, Aaron pinched my butt and I think Dustin likes me, so, Gottsta go. C-ya."

3~13~1998
"Well, I have found some more guys who think I'm cute, Doug ___,baby! He is such a babe!"

4~17~1998
"P.S. Josh said he doesn't like me; we are just friends. That doesn't mean he doesn't want me!"

5~25~1998
"I can't believe my freshman year is over!! I liked being a freshman. The year has gone by so fast!! The best part was the 2nd half, when I realized I was cute, and people would like me if they could."

Anyways, that's all I will torture myself with right now. You get the idea: I was obsessed with boys, and learning that I am actually attractive to the opposite sex.

Next installment: learning how to flirt as an awkward teenage girl.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

God will never let me be successful..

I don't know how many of you are as big Seinfeld fans as we are, but we know many quotes and watch the whole 9 seasons at least once per year. One thing that always makes us laugh is Graham's likeness to George Costanza in many ways. Graham may not be stocky like George, but he has other similarities (**cough cough balding cough cough short**).

--Graham has eaten out of the trash like George.
--Graham has to do the opposite of his natural instincts sometimes, like George.
--Let's not forget that Graham had to move back in with his parents for a little bit, like George.
--He also has had many many things go wrong for him, like George.


Related to that last one, our married life has often been a comedy of errors, with everything seeming to go wrong for us (like the day when Graham wrecked someone's ATV and I also washed his new Blackberry in the washing machine).. Or in Hawaii when Graham left his cell phone at the Dole Plantation, I left my cell phone at Sephora, and Graham went swimming/snorkeling with the rental car key in the pocket of his swim trunks.

And now, things are actually going suspiciously well.. Well enough for Graham to say something to the effect of, "God will never let me be successful", like George said in Seinfeld. It's not like we actually believe that, but our luck has never been great (related to coincidence or choices, I guess)..

We have several bits of good family news:

--Graham got a new job. And in fact, it's not just a new job--it's actually a career. He is currently going through a very strenuous and intense hiring process. I won't give too many details, but it's a stable government job, with lots of benefits and potential. It doesn't start out at high as if Graham has been hired on as an engineer, but definitely better than where he's working now. There are some negatives, but we will deal with them as they come (more on that later). Anyways, we are beyond excited for this opportunity. However, this does mean that we will pretty much live in this area forever.

--The even bigger news. This has been my dream for the longest time.. We are officially in the process of buying a house! Once we decided Graham wasn't going to finish his engineering degree, we had to be a little more realistic about where we could afford a house. That limited our selection a bit more, especially when it came to finding a house in a good school district. The schools around here are awful (well, maybe not all of them), so we found an area we like in a good school district a bit farther away.. The bad thing is that it will make my commute to about 25-35 minutes each way. Graham will be able to do a Park-and-Ride parking lot with a bus ride to work. So yeah, we are getting a USDA loan with an amazing deal on a renovated semi split-level home on a cul-de-sac. It has mostly everything that we were looking for, and I am so happy to finally have a place to call home. We should close by the middle of January and be moved before February 1st.

We are just sooooo happy that things are going well for us--FINALLY. Pray for us that everything goes well for Graham's hiring process and our USDA loan approval.