New House

I think the rock trolls from Frozen could sing about it better, “So it’s a bit of a fixer upper, so it’s got a few flaws…”

We bought a fixer upper, mind you, it’s actually in good shape for being abandoned for two years (or three or five, depending on which neighbor you asked).

  • It’s overrun by weeds (and still overrun by weeds despite our efforts, holy wow).
  • We hired an arborist to take out 11 dead trees.
  • The grass has also died, but we spent a pretty penny to fix the 20 solenoid valves and only last week has Dr. H fixed the electrical to get the grass watered on a schedule. I hope our neighbors are giving us a little grace with the landscaping!
  • We have the plans drawn up from our architect to fix the broken/buckling circular drive.
  • The interior was fine (some clogged drains, missing/broken toilet paper dispensers, burnt-out light bulbs, leaking dishwasher, loose door handles–all fixed within a few weeks after we moved).

The kids still refer to the house as the “new house,” but when I make a meal in the kitchen or step into the master bedroom at the end of the day, I realize that the newness has worn off and it’s just “the house.”

And…we bought a baby grand piano! WHAT?! It was a bit of a gamble. I found the listing on Facebook Marketplace and went to the woman’s house to play it. Not only was it in terrific shape, it played well. The thing is, we hadn’t closed on our house yet, so if anything fell through, I’d have a very large instrument and no where to put it. She luckily agreed to hold on to it for a little over a month and it now graces the piano room (or, the conservatory when I’m feeling fancy). We still haven’t located all of our piano books after the move, but the songs we do play sound amazing.

We’re testing out Modsy for some interior decorating (as I don’t have an interior decorator bone in my body). I hope our rooms reflect our tastes well and are inviting to guests.

The stress that comes with selling and buying property has subsided–whew (that was late winter and pretty much all spring). As August approaches, I’m excited because Dr. H starts his job soon, H will officially be in preschool (!!!), and A will go to a new daycare provider whom we think she’ll thrive with. As for me? I’ll hopefully go part-time and enjoy this season of life. It’s all in God’s hands and for that, I’m grateful.

-M

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Three Cal Newport Books Later

We Like to Read

If we ever got into a conversation about books, Dr. H would tell you he enjoys fiction while I like non-fiction. I might gasp with feigned indignation, but if you saw my book list these past two months, you’d agree with him. I weaved in some fiction (The Seven Wives of Evelyn Hugo and The Island of Sea Women), but a colleague recommended books by Cal Newport and now I’m a changed woman.

Almost.

I read his Digital Minimalism, Deep Work, and So Good They Can’t Ignore You (I’d recommend all three) and have tweaked my personal and work habits (kaizen, folks). Dr. H watched The Social Dilemma, and based on what he tells me, it aligns well with Digital Minimalism. It’s easy to do some mindless scrolling on the social media platform flavor of the day, but if we really wanted higher-impact socializing and being more present with our friends and family, it’s finding real-world opportunities to nurture those connections. Newport doesn’t say that technology is bad, but argues that we need guardrails to make sure it doesn’t devolve into mindless dribble.

With Deep Work, especially in the information economy (my line of work), he tells us that it’s important to find uninterrupted time to achieve high-level work. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve found in this past year-especially now that I’m a full-time remote worker–that my ability to stay focused has gone out the window. I hear the dryer finish and I stop what I’m doing to fold laundry. I feel hungry so I stop what I’m doing and head upstairs to grab something from the pantry. I see an email and I get the urge to answer immediately. All of this isn’t bad, but instead of giving into these impulses and disrupting work flow, I can schedule blocks of time for the uninterrupted work and then allow myself these breaks to complete these other tasks.

Lastly, with So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Newport says that “following your passion” is bad advice. At first, I was like, “No way, dude.” But as I continued to read, it made a little more sense that in order to get something that is rare and valuable, we need to offer something rare and valuable in return. Additionally, people may not know what their passions are, and even if they did, these passions may not provide a sustainable lifestyle. So, instead of trying to find this ambiguous dream job, he focuses on developing career capital (job skills), which then opens doors that get you to a job that allows you to have control of your destiny.

In Other News

We successfully sold our house! The buyers arrived 10 minutes late to the closing (which was nerve-wracking–were they backing out???), but as we saw them pull up, we ambled to our car (COVID-19 precautions didn’t allow us to be in the same room as them, so we signed first). We arranged a free month-long rent-back agreement and are about three weeks away from closing on our new house.

Remember how I told you about being careful with lifestyle creep? Well, I think our new house will be a testament to that. The rule of thumb with buying house is that it should only be (at maximum) three times your salary. We’re well within that number (it’s a little over 1x), but there are some updates that we’d like to make in about a year once we’ve saved up. I did allow for one treat yo’ self moment: we bought a new-to-us baby grand piano! Holy mackerel! The previous owner took great care of it. It was buffed and polished and truly a beautiful thing to behold. I can’t wait until it’s in our new home.

This home doesn’t come with a washer/dryer, so any recommendations on a top-loader would be great. We’ve heard good things about Speed Queen and MayTag.

We went to an outdoor mall area this past weekend and though we wore our masks, there was a semblance of pre-COVID-19 normalcy. The kids played in the play areas, we ate lunch on the outdoor benches/seating, we saw street performers, and just had a great family day. It was one of those memories that might fade, however, that true contentment FEELING is one that may just endure, kind of like how even now, I still feel some child-like anticipation for Christmas.

-M

Surprisingly Stressful

We’re getting closer to the finish line of selling our home.

And I couldn’t be more grateful.

Because as exciting as it is, it’s also stressful!

Getting Ready for Professional Photos

This was like a two- to three-week process. We hired professional painters to paint the living room, hallways, stairwell, two bedrooms, and the master bath. Gone are the days of off-white and Dijon mustard accent walls (seriously, not sure why we didn’t do that sooner)!

I also thought we had a decently clean and tidy house, but boy were we wrong. I couldn’t tell you the last time I’d dusted off the bookshelf, nor could I tell you how long some of those spider webs were hanging in the laundry room. I think we were making trips to the donate STUFF every other day. And I gave extra tips to our garbage truck guys because of all the things we realized could be tossed (for a couple weeks there, it was A LOT).

Our realtor sent over a home stager, who gave us advice about what we should do to get our house show ready. Using mostly what we already owned, we were amazed by the simple transformation, however, I hope that’s the one and only time I’ll buy that many fake lemons and limes to grace my kitchen table and countertop.

Then for three hours on a snowy Friday morning, two photographers went around the house and flew the drone to capture the essence of our home.

Tours

A few days after we received the photos and virtual tour back, we packed up the family and spent almost an entire week with my parents, mostly because we didn’t want the kids to mess up the house (what is it with clean windows and their need to lick?!).

Since the putty/silicone smell from the new window pane was strong (AHHH!), Dr. H and I came back every night to turn out the lights and run a few air purifiers in the family room. We’d also sweep, wipe things down, and move anything that had been moved back to its proper place. We’d then return every morning to turn the lights back on and remove the air purifiers.

We had 47 showings from a Thursday through Sunday afternoon. And boy were we glad when our realtor told us we could return to our house.

Choosing the Winning Offer

Though our house is in the “starter house” category, it wasn’t a feeding frenzy. Our realtor believes we didn’t receive as many offers because of the additional flood insurance that buyers would need to purchase. And if you’re in our neck of the woods, you’ll find that flood insurance costs are increasing–yikes! It’s one reason why as much as we loved the creek in the back, it’s one less cost for us to worry about moving forward.

Choosing the winning offer and deciding on a back-up offer wasn’t difficult. The following day, however, we had to extend out the acceptance deadline because the buyers had a minor hiccup at their bank (luckily resolved, but still–whew).

Inspection and Appraisal

We had no qualms about the appraisal (and neither did the buyers). What they did take issue with was some of the issues raised from the inspection.

I get it. Our house is by no means new (it was built in the late 1950s) but the location is pretty desirable. We hired an environmental company to test some insulation for asbestos (result: none) and brought in an exterminator to take care of a rodent issue (result: there wasn’t an issue at all, and that’ll be $400 to confirm that). Hooray for an overly ambitious home inspector?

Our buyers played some hardball, and in the end, Dr. H and I conceded to their last request. I think this would’ve been fine, but they waited until close to the deadline to submit and sign, which was a real nail-biter for me.

Smooth Sailing Ahead?

Goodness, I sure hope so! For a few weeks there, we had to keep our house show ready (and with young kids, that’s nearly impossible). We’re ready to close this chapter and start a new one in our new place!

-M

Lovies

Did you have a lovie growing up?

My older sister never really had one. My little sister loved a blanket that flaked (what?!) and was falling apart when it saw its last days. I had a pillow that I finally threw away when I was 21. I’m pretty sure it was a biohazard, but oddly enough, I miss it a little.

My children have lovies. H adores a stuffed bear (a baby shower gift from a coworker) and A has taken to a cute little flamingo (a baptism gift from an aunt/uncle) and a cloth doll from Etsy. I’d say each developed an attachment to these things close to the year-and-a-half mark.

Veteran parents gave us this advice: “Buy an extra in case the original gets lost.”

Guess who didn’t take their advice?

I thank my lucky stars that Beary, Nai-Nai, and Baby haven’t been lost, or at least not lost for long. I really only remember panicking once when we left H’s lovie at daycare and our daycare provider was leaving on vacation the next day. I drove out that night to retrieve it before he knew any better.

Recently, I checked online to see how easily I could replace one of these lovies should any go missing.

H’s Gund bear is about $20 and can be purchased off of Amazon or even at Bed Bath & Beyond. On the other hand, A’s flamingo seems to have been a limited time offering by The Manhattan Toy Company. It was part of the Petit Pomme collection and the only listing of it that I could find online was for $28.54. And that’s not all. That ONE listing also said that it’s out of stock. Ahhh! Someone put a tracking device on that flamingo, pronto!

Her baby came from Etsy. It was a limited time offering (again), but at least we could contact the seller and see if she could whip up another doll similar to what she made before.

I have no idea how long they’ll dote on these things, but I’m grateful they each have something they can turn to for a little comfort.

Just a mom musing,

-M

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Don’t Break the Window

Because, I broke the window. Nay, I SHATTERED the window.

A little less than 24 hours before professional real estate photographers were set to arrive, I was in a window well cleaning one of our family room windows. Armed with a cleaning rag and a bottle of Windex, I put (normal) pressure against the window; it leaned in.

Hmmm. Okay, we know that these specific windows tilt inward, so no biggie, right? I put (normal) pressure against the window to start wiping away the dirt and grime…when it suddenly made a funny grinding noise…and then dropped inward…that’s five feet to the floor…oh no…SMASH!

HOLY SH*T, YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!

I clambered out of the window well and ran inside. I pretty much flew down the stairs, and when I came upon the wreckage of the window and the shards of glass everywhere, I laughed in disbelief. Of course it had to happen the day before the house was supposed to look good (and be in one piece).

I just have to say, thank goodness for glass companies and B. He had our window back in with new, CLEAN glass about five hours after the incident, and I’m happy to say that after a few more hours of cleaning (my little sister and brother-in-law pitched in too), the house looked pretty decent for its close-up.

A day later, I tried opening another window in our family room; upon hearing me struggle a bit, Dr. H called out, “Don’t break the window!”

Hot Real Estate Market

If you’re a buyer in a housing market that’s booming, I feel for you, though it sounds more competitive now than it did six years ago. Before Dr. H and I landed this home, we lost out several times because another buyer would bid all cash AND over asking. We just couldn’t compete (Dr. H was in his second year of residency and I was still building my career).

I cried many tears over the houses we toured and lost out on, mostly because my dreams about hosting family dinners in the dining room there or waking up in the master bedroom there or playing with our kids in the backyard there were dashed. Two months after we started house hunting, we finally got this one.

I think we were incredibly lucky back then, and we’re lucky as sellers now. My little sister and her husband have been on the hunt for a while, most recently bidding nearly $60K over asking and letting the sellers stay rent-free for 60 days after closing. Guess what? Someone ELSE got the home. Sigh.

The only thing about selling is that once our house is under contract, we’ll be joining the fray as a buyer.

Wish us luck this week!

-M

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I Bet He’ll Have Dark Eyes

I read this from the TODAY.com website:

“‘I feel like that was heartbreaking to hear, that she felt like she was in her own family — her own family thought differently of her,’ Jenna said.”

This was a reference to Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah and how there were concerns about the would-be color of Archie’s skin. Meghan didn’t say who within the royal family said it, but you can safely assume that there wouldn’t be “concerns” if Meghan were not biracial. I think we can all agree that we can celebrate differences, but sometimes, implicit biases make people say or do things that might make one pause.

What I Still Remember From 4+ Years Ago

Sometimes it’s not about what someone said, but about how they made you feel.

In a sing-song voice, “I bet he’ll have dark eyes!” I smiled politely and said I agreed. After all, my family hails from SE Asia, and I have dark eyes. Though the comment was said innocently enough, I was a little put-off because of the sing-song aspect and the fact that this wasn’t the first time I’d heard it from this individual.

And later, “I bet he’ll have dark hair!” I nodded and smiled again. I have dark hair and so does Dr. H; genetics might throw a curveball, but yes, our son will probably have dark hair.

Sigh. No one “bet” anything about the offspring of the Caucasian couples. There was no, “I bet they’ll have blue eyes!” None of the, “I bet they’ll have brown hair!” I’ll be darned if someone had said, “I bet they’ll have white skin!”

Essentially, all of my insecurities about my physical appearance in a predominantly white-Caucasian community came to light: dark eyes/hair/skin are inferior to the lighter shades. This is the implicit bias.

I hate that I feel this way sometimes. It’s not that individual’s fault (I actually received a phone call with an apology, that brown eyes and black hair are beautiful too). But when I read that sentence from Jenna Bush Hager, I was like, “Oh my goodness, I identify.”

H has lighter skin than I do, but there’s no mistaking he’s part Asian.

A has dark brown hair with some lighter brown highlights, but if you looked at her, she’s my mini-me.

Dear Lord, I hope my children are more confident in themselves and what they look like than I ever did.

-M

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Two is Enough

That’s what my paternal grandmother told me when she met our daughter. In her native Vietnamese, she told me that because we had one of each (a boy and a girl), we didn’t need to have any more children. More children = more work.

While I don’t disagree that H and A know how to get into mischief and press ALL MY BUTTONS, my grandmother was clearly speaking for herself: she had seven children, six living into adulthood. Raising children (however many) can be challenging. Some take to it like a fish in water. Others may need a little more help from the village. And if your village gets disrupted by, say, a war waging in your backyard, I can see how that might color your advice, no matter how well-intentioned it is.

As of late, however, I’ve been considering the whole, “two is enough.” Not because we feel like our family is complete, but because it just may be that our family is complete. We’re 50/50 with carrying babies to term (9-week and 10-week losses). For those of you who know me IRL, no, I’m not pregnant, but should it happen, I’m incredibly aware of the likelihood of miscarriage. When we went in for the first scan with A, I actually covered my eyes (I’ve seen enough ultrasounds of yolk sacs and no visible babies/fetal poles to haunt my dreams). When they finally found her with her tiny heart beating, the NP and Dr. H had to assure me more than once before I even glanced over to see.

I love my children dearly and wouldn’t trade them for the world. I’m also approaching this next chapter of life more que sera sera.

“Que sera sera,
Whatever will be, will be,
The future’s not ours to see,
Que sera sera.”

-M

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Preschools and Daycares

In my earlier post, I mentioned how we met with H’s pre-school teacher for the upcoming school year. It exceeded my expectations, and I had HIGH expectations. I can’t tell you how happy I was after we received the call that he got in off of the waitlist (I think I danced it out in the kitchen while I was on the phone with her).

When it came to finding THE ONE, I started with your basic Google search: public/parochial/private–so many options! And when I found this one, I was immediately intrigued; it was similar in format to a pre-school we were considering if we were staying in the area. Of course, I did my due diligence: other families who went through this pre-school had such amazing things to say about it.

Folks, I reached out in November of last year for H to begin in August of this year. And after we toured the place, we actually put A on the list for 2023 (she got the last spot).

I understand that pre-school isn’t a requirement (neither Dr. H nor I went to formalized pre-school and I think we’re doing fine). However, for parents who decide to have their children attend, it seems (to me, at least) competitive to get into a good one. Is it this way in your neck of the woods? I mean, A isn’t even two-years-old yet, but spots are already reserved for 11 other families at this particular location.

If you’re pregnant or have a new babe and are looking for daycare, your options could be even slimmer. My friend M had a son six months before we had H. Her advice to me (before either of our children was born) was to find childcare ASAP. It’s tough finding a reputable place for children under age two in daycare centers (and even in licensed in-home daycares). We actually had a nanny watch H for a few months there as we were trying to cobble together affordable childcare.

Luckily, A will be out of that tricky age range when she attends her new daycare (we’re happy with this one too). I just hope that if you’re a working parent, you find what meets you and your family’s needs.

-M

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Remembering to Stay Here and Now

Any time there’s a life change on the horizon, I have a tendency to daydream, usually through rose-colored lenses.

The months leading up to our wedding? Most definitely. Nearing the due dates of both of our children? Oh my goodness, yes. An upcoming trip? You betcha.

Dr. H finishing up his medical training this summer? One thought: AHHH! (In a good way.) Zillow has been a delightful distraction. We’ve cleaned out two huge closets and our unfinished storage area to prepare our current house for the real estate market. I’ve been researching the different activities our family can do in this new town. We met A’s daycare provider and H’s pre-school teacher for the upcoming year, and I’m so EXCITED about both. I’ve thought about tending to a more robust garden than what we have now. I’ve imagined holding family dinners and other gatherings with space for grown-ups and kids alike. When I started imagining a dog in the mix, that’s when I knew I’d have to come back to the present (not only do we NOT have a dog, we’re not even sure if we even want one!).

It’s fun to think about what’s about to come, but there’s a saying that life happens when you’re busy making plans. I’m working on staying grounded and giving gratitude for the life that is here and now.

-M

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Guilty Pleasure

Do you have a guilty pleasure? I’ll let you in on mine: Goldfish crackers. And not just the plain cheddar ones. I’m a huge fan of the pizza-flavored ones. It’s like I saved a corner of my stomach to the whims of an 8-year-old. I discovered this delicious snack when I worked at my first job out of college and life has never been the same.

The only thing about guilty pleasures is that you don’t necessarily feel FANTASTIC after it’s all said and done. I’m honestly trying to be healthier in terms of what I put into my body, but the recent “Buy 5 items, save $5” promotion got me while I was grocery shopping. I was purchasing Goldfish to make these cute Valentine’s Day snack mixes for the kids to take to daycare when I realized I could toss another into the shopping cart and meet the criteria to save $5.

My brain went, “YES!” My body went, “Can you please eat foods that might be less inflammatory?”

I’m not kidding about the last part. I’m looking for anti-inflammatory recipes or blogs if you know of any.

-M

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