Answered prayers and a new home

Last year, the owners of our beloved townhouse rental decided to sell it as soon as our 2018 lease was up. We began searching for a way to buy it, as this home has served us well for many years. But as the months passed, it became clear that while staying would be the easier short-term option, it wasn’t the best long-term decision. However, we had no idea what that better decision was. As the weeks passed and the Seattle housing market became increasingly more challenging, the solution became even more elusive.

One day in January, I drove out to an open house in the next county on a whim. Asking prices, bidding wars, and taxes weren’t as bad across the county line; it was worth a peek. This particular open house was in a town some friends lived in, but I’d never really visited before. As I got closer, I realized it was in a huge, planned community that was still growing. Multiple builders building houses, schools, parks, hiking trails, and eventually retail, commercial, and dining spaces. The whole place felt right, like I belonged there. I loved the house itself. I started exploring the grounds, feeling more comfortable with every discovery. I Googled the address of a dear friend, laughing out loud when I realized I could literally see her house from my parking spot. I sent photos and descriptions to my husband who agreed: we would fit well there. This could be the answer we’d been searching for.

There was only one problem: most of these houses were enormous – far more square footage than our small family of two would ever need – and priced accordingly. I took this photo of Mt. Rainier from the neighborhood coffee shop that afternoon in January as a sort of heart’s prayer with absolutely no idea how to actualize it.

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We began a whirlwind of researching, networking, scouting, and praying. For months, nothing happened; it felt like a losing battle. Prices were climbing further out of our reach with every passing week.

And then, an unforeseen opportunity: a smaller builder wanted to test the market to see if there was any demand for smaller houses in this highly-coveted neighborhood. They announced a limited number of smaller floor plans for smaller price tags. The response was fierce. These homes started selling lightning-fast; 12 lots sold in a single day.

But all that networking we’d done months prior? It paid off. Within a matter of hours, we got multiple phone calls from realtors we’d never even met. “Drop what you’re doing and get down here RIGHT NOW.”

So we did.

On Wednesday afternoon, the builder announced 19 new lots. We had no broker, no secured financing, and no realtor. By Friday morning, after a sequence of major life decisions in what felt like a split-second, we had a broker, the best financing we could’ve hoped for, an entire team of realtors, and a house. We were under contract for the 16th sale, with two couples literally standing around the corner, poised to strike if we changed our minds. The remaining three lots sold within the following two hours.

Our builder recently broke ground on our foundation; we close in the fall. It’s the perfect size for our small family, and we get to choose all our finishes. Our friends are right down the street. The timing works out better than expected, and by some miracle, it fits into our budget.

I’m still in shock; this is more than I even dreamed.

Believe me, we are under no delusion of the degree to which our lives are about to change. From becoming first-time homeowners, to the extended and unique challenges of new construction, to prepping our townhouse to be listed this summer, to the adjustments of moving to and commuting from a new county (neither of us is leaving our existing jobs). I plunged into an overwhelming case of Buyer’s Remorse for about a week afterward.

But once the clouds parted and I was able to face my fears with reason and faith, my outlook shifted to one of immense gratitude. We both have a profound sense of peace for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Any place we could have chosen would have its own pros and cons; this particular pro/con list fits us well. We’re ready for this next chapter. Sometimes the thing that scare you the most end up being the most worth it.

Stay tuned, because I intend to document this entire crazy journey. I have grand long-term plans for the interior design of our new home, but so many other aspects of this endeavor will be brand new to us. If nothing else, it should be greatly entertaining. I mean, we high-fived each other after we recently bought our first ladder, so…

Home-ownership, here we come. Here goes nothing!

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Holiday card tips

Let’s face it; sending holiday cards is fun in theory, but actually doing the work can be exhausting and stressful, especially in the US, where we have a shorter Christmas season. By the time the Thanksgiving dishes are done, we’re already running out of time to get it all completed by Christmas Eve. And that kind of holiday stress just isn’t any fun at all.

However, I still adore sending Christmas cards. So I figured out a way to do it without much stress at all. The key: start early! Since sticking to this timeline, the task isn’t stressful; in fact, it’s rather fun. And being one of the first things I do for my favorite season of the year, they never fail to get me excited for what’s to come!

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Late September: take your photos

Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to take and edit your own photos, if you so choose. Whether you hire it out or shoot them yourself, just remember to allow enough time to do any necessary edits in post-production.

  • TIP: A great option is a mini session with a professional photographer, in which they dedicate an entire chunk of time to shoot multiple shorter sessions at a staged location for a smaller price tag. Some are in apple orchards or tree farms, others are in studios with beautifully wrapped packages and Santa costumes. If you decide to go this route, start looking in the summer, as many of these highly coveted sessions sell out before fall even starts.

Early October: design your card

I use Tiny Prints (now owned and operated by Shutterfly). Other options are Minted, VistaPrint, even PicMonkey has cards nowadays. Each of these companies offers literally hundreds of design options and price points. Designing can take me awhile, as I have to shop every possible option and play with placement like the designer I am. I give myself a couple weeks to get this part done.

  • TIP:  There is no rule in which you have to get all of only one type of card. If you love more than one design, order more than one! We typically order at least two options: a traditional card for family members and coworkers, and a more whimsical card for close friends.

Mid-October: place your card order

By ordering early, you’re ahead of the rush, so your order usually shows up quickly. This year, I placed my order on Monday, and they were delivered to me by the following Friday. And I didn’t pay any extra for faster shipping. My goal is always to have my cards, envelopes, and postage in my hands no later than October 31st.

  • TIP: Online printing companies always – ALWAYS – have sales and promotional offers running. Sometimes, it’s as simple as adding your email to their email list, but it’s super easy to get a percentage off your order. Bottom line: never pay full price. If there isn’t a sale now, there will be another soon. Pay attention!
  • TIP: Pay a little extra to have the company print your return address on the envelopes. The cost isn’t very high, and it’s definitely worth the extra sanity and hand cramps later.
  • TIP: Consider splurging on the custom photo stamps. We always do this for two reasons. A) People LOVE it! It’s the thing we get the most feedback on, and it’s so easy! And B) No having to remember to get postage at the grocery store or standing in line at the post office. This way, my stamps are shipped directly to me. DONE.

The first three weeks of November: stuff, stamp, and address your cards

By breaking up this time-consuming task over several weeks, it never seems too daunting. This year, we’ll send a total of 80 cards, but I will only stuff, stamp, and address 5-6 cards each night, giving myself a break over the weekends. That small handful takes me fifteen minutes a day, tops, which I usually do while I’m relaxing after dinner anyway. It barely feels like a to-do list item at all.

The day before Thanksgiving: send out all your holiday cards in the outgoing mail

This timing means your cards will arrive to most of your recipients on the first day or two of the Christmas season. Not only will they be a pleasant holiday surprise to your loved ones, but YOU’RE DONE! You haven’t even served the Thanksgiving turkey yet, and your Christmas cards are completely finished. It’s a great way to kick off the season ahead of the curve!

Now, if only I was any good at hand lettering…

Fall is in the air

Autumn is slowly creeping up on Seattle, which means it’s slowly making its appearance throughout our house. Decorating for fall is one of my favorite pastimes, mostly because it means it’s only a few more months until Christmas!

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Guest room 101

Hubs and I are rather introverted, meaning we don’t have many overnight guests. For that reason, our “guest room” consists of an empty office, a Coleman air mattress, and two $5 IKEA Lack tables. That does not mean, however, that it can’t be comfortable and inviting. It’s all in the details!

Tip #1: invest in a variety of quality bedding. Some people like it warmer, some like it cooler. Offer layers of blankets: some thinner, some thicker, so people can mix and match to their liking. This goes for pillows, as well. We have a pillow menu: (2) firm, (2) medium, and (2) soft.

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Tip #2: snacks and medicines. Staying at someone else’s home can make the acquisition of a midnight snack or pain killer feel like a hunting expedition. For this reason, we have a station of easily accessible items one might want in the middle of the night. Healthy snacks, bottled water, nighttime tea, ibuprofen, antacids, and sleep aids. Our guests get their own hot water kettle, as well as several bowls, spoons, and mugs.

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Tip #3: be generous with quality linens. As a guest, I hate being given a single ratty towel, as if I were taking part in a Dickens novel. We have a set of high-quality towels reserved only for guests. When someone stays over, we make sure towels, blankets, washcloths, and sheets are clean, plentiful, and easy to find.

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Tip #4: bathroom toiletries. It is so easy to forget your toothbrush, and wet shower poofs are hard to pack. Offering a small basket of these items can go a long way to a traveler. My guests always get their own hair dryer. I make sure the guest bathroom is stocked with extra toilet paper and Kleenex, just in case. I also like to include a few pampering items, like Shea butter hand cream and a pair of spa socks. Menstrual-related items for the surprise arrival of that pesky monthly visitor can be greatly appreciated, as well.

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Tip #5: details. The little things can make your guest feel truly cared for. A stack of magazines of your guest’s personal interests on the night stand. The printed instructions and password to access your WiFi. Ear plugs to sleep better and an alarm clock that is easy to set. A night light, because a new environment in the dark can be disorienting. Hooks on the wall for coats and bags. A space heater and fan for better personal temperature control. If my guest is someone who struggles with homesickness, I’ll frame a photo of their family and set it up on the nightstand. This room is their temporary home; the little things are what make it feel welcoming and peaceful.

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The best part: all this folds/rolls/packs away to take up only a few square feet in our home when we’re not using it. And I must admit: I get warm fuzzies when I see my guests posting on Facebook, “It’s like staying at a hotel!”

Decorating in winter

One of the saddest days of the year is the one in which you pull down all the holiday decor. If your home is anything like mine, it goes from warm and full to looking astoundingly bare in the space of a single day. The cold weather outside doesn’t help the psychological effect, either.

To combat that sense of bummer, I decorate deliberately for the winter season. Shiny silver candlesticks, frosted pine boughs, clean white snow globes, and most importantly, incorporating tiny white lights in many of the places Christmas lights used to be. I find it helps the transition as we all patiently await longer and warmer days ahead.

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My holiday binder

 

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It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I adore the autumn/Thanksgiving/Christmas season. After Labor Day, I kick into high gear, keen on squeezing every last moment of seasonal fun out of the next four months. If I’m not careful, this fervor can easily turn into overwhelming burnout by New Year’s Eve. How do I manage it? My trusty Holiday Binder.

The idea came to me through the many organized homemakers on YouTube. Every homemaker’s Holiday Binder looks different, organized specifically for the person using it. Some of the things inside mine are:

  • An at-a-glance calendar of all four months, with annual events I want to attend and deadlines I can’t forget, like when to order Christmas cards.
  • Tips and notes about what did and did not work in years past. Reminders of what not to forget, and warnings about the things that failed gloriously.
  • Favorite recipes, tried and true menus, and their respective ingredient shopping lists. These have saved my hostess/cook butt on more than one occasion.
  • My personal inventory of the seasonal things I love to buy every year, like hand soaps, candles, and candies. Things that are easy to overbuy in seasonal excitement.

Other common holiday binder components include budgets, gift lists, and a sheet on which to track Christmas card addresses.

I can’t recommend this idea enough! By updating my binder every January, I’m able to hit the ground running every September. It breaks up an enormous to do list into smaller, more regular deadlines, each with its own early reminder. It keeps me just ahead of the curve, so I’m able to pause more often to relax and enjoy my favorite time of the year.

If making your own lists seems intimidating, check out Etsy for beautiful printable holiday binder pages to get you started!