A Day in a Life of Gratitude: An Exercise

At first, I thought it was silly.  I knew I had a great life and I didn’t think keeping a Gratitude Journal or having an “Attitude of Gratitude would make any difference.

So if you were thinking the same thing after reading my post last week, I don’t blame you.

I’d tried several times to start a Gratitude Journal, but that intimidating blank sheet of paper stared at up me every night. I couldn’t take the pressure. 😀

Usually I was too tired to think, couldn’t think of anything, or I felt like I was writing the same things over and over: health, family, husband, dogs, blah blah blah.

The big things are important, yes. But those little things that go unnoticed in your day really have Big Power to change your perception. Most of these moments end up as fleeting thoughts running through your head with everything else that day.

A common thread in every book I’ve read, whether it be Joel Osteen, Dr. Wayne Dyer or the Bible is that if you want more of the good things, you need to be grateful for everything you have now.

I find that I have greater success in any endeavor if I start by taking small steps forward, because we all know that progress, even slow, is still progress.

My first baby step was noticing these moments and acknowledging them with a simple “Thank you God!” (Of course you can modify this to fit your personal beliefs.)

To demonstrate the power of this exercise, I chose a random day to write down every Gratitude Moment as I experienced it in a small notebook I always carry in my purse.

As it happened I picked the perfect day: I was cranky.

I want to be very clear: you can STILL be cranky and grateful and positive at the same time. I do not enjoy being cranky, and certainly no one else in my family does either! 😉

The beauty of this whole exercise is that at some point you realize you have so many little things to be grateful for that you aren’t cranky anymore.

If you’re having a rough day or a difficult time, this exercise is even more important. It’s easy to get caught up in negative thoughts and forget there are good things that happen too.

So here’s what else happened that day:

  1. There was a beautiful, hushed quiet of falling snow outside in the darkness of 1 a.m. (I had a foster dog who needed to go out or I would have missed this moment of peacefulness!)
  2. My yard was a winter wonderland in the early morning daylight. The dusting of snow on everything including the trees was gorgeous.
  3. I love the way my Yoga class stretches my body, increases my flexibility and hushes my thoughts.
  4. The shop office had a cleanly swept floor and I appreciated my husband sweeping it for me.
  5. I parked in the very first non-handicapped parking space at Walmart!
  6. My lunch plate made an unexpected beautiful and colorful presentation.
  7. The excellence of a single piece of decadence in a single piece of dark, rich soft chocolate with mint.
  8. The heated towels of the body wrap softened my sore muscles and skilled hands of my massage therapist worked the kinks out. What a special treat!
  9. I noticed the sun’s rays peeking through the clouds on my way home. It was such a contrast to the clouds above it!
  10. I received great news after a routine medical test.
  11. It feels SO good to come home at the end of the day, turn on all the lights and light a good-smelling candle. And it was Friday!
  12. I didn’t have to go out in the cold anymore that day!
  13. My handmade pottery soup bowls I’ve collected over the last couple of years at a local arts fair looked so pretty holding a bowl of my husband’s homemade chili.
  14. It felt so good climbing into bed blissfully early into freshly laundered flannel sheets and a heated mattress pad.

As I read over this list, I don’t even remember that I began the day tired and crabby. I read this now thinking what a really awesome and blessed day it was. And it’s all because of a simple little gratitude exercise.

We all have a choice: we can choose to remember the challenges, or to look at and appreciate the special moments in our day that might be lost otherwise.

Give it a shot and see if it works for you.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

Here’s How I Stay So Positive

Unless you’ve been living under a rock  you’ve learned that the world is a very negative place.

Between the news, social media and negative or critical people, it’s easy to believe that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. That’s real encouragement to want to get up in the morning, eh? 😉

The great news is that most of us have the ability to make choices. Unless you have a medical issue or chemical imbalance, it IS possible to become a more positive person and become less influenced by the world around you.

I know this because I’ve done it. 

Like happiness, being positive is both a choice and a habit. Most of the times it comes pretty easy, although there are times I have to work harder at it. This summer I went through a dark period and I knew I needed something else.

That’s when I discovered Joel Osteen and his book, Every Day A Friday. As my friend Joe says, “He’s sort of a cross between a motivational speaker and a pastor.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

If you’d like to feel better about your life every day, here are my proven strategies for maintaining a positive outlook and enjoying each day to the fullest.

  1. Tell yourself when you wake up that it’s going to be a great day. 
  2.  Start your day with something uplifting. Whether it’s cat videos on the internet or an inspiring, motivational book, spend your early morning hours with something that makes you feel good. One of my bucket list items is to read the Bible in its entirety, so I began reading it and a daily devotional each morning. If you have to, get up 30 minutes earlier than everyone else in your household. I love having my tea and the quiet of my living room to meditate and read. My morning routine gives my day a centered, peaceful feel and just kicks it off right.
  3. Practice an Attitude of Gratitude. Annoying frustrations happen to us all, every day, and it’s easy to focus on those things. Look for opportunities for gratitude in the small things that happen in your day. Were you blessed with a prime parking space? An unexpected treat? Did you miss having a fender bender? Lose a pet and find it again? Catch a great bargain on a long-desired item? This morning when I got my daily smoothie I noticed someone had stamped a motivational message on my $10 bill. How cool is that?! Those little things, all worthy of gratitude, add up and before you know it, you’re starting to watch for them!
  4. Minimize social media time. While I love the way social media allows me to keep up with long lost friends and family, there are aspects of it that I don’t love either. It can be a time-sucking habit. Unfollow, unfriend, delete, and block if you need to. We aren’t in second grade anymore and so what if you don’t get any gold stars? Ain’t nobody got time for that! Dirty laundry belongs in your hamper, not shared on social media. And speaking of sharing, make it a point to emphasize the good news minimize the bad. Sure, we all go through times we need extra encouragement. Don’t be Debbie Downer!
  5. Avoid or minimize exposure to toxic people. I know this is easier said than done if you work with or are related to “shine blockers”. We all have those folks in our lives who can bring on the buzzkill faster than it takes coffee to brew. My personal toxic favorite is the Smiling Digs, otherwise known as Negative Humor. Because we all know if they are smiling, they are just kidding, right?! (insert eye roll here) If you are related to a toxic person it’s more important than ever to avoid the ones you have a choice about and to build yourself up. Unless it’s constructive and your job depends upon it, ignore critical people; the problem is usually within them. You don’t have to be rude, but you don’t have to accept every invitation either.
  6. Reprogram negative thoughts. Delete those negative tapes in your head that criticize you or try to hold you back. Replace every negative thought with a positive one. Our brains like to trick us and make us believe things that aren’t true: no one will like that, no one wants to hear it, blah blah blah. Reprogram those thoughts! I promise you that if you make a conscious effort to reprogram, that inner voice will get quieter over time.
  7. Spend a little time alone every day. Some of us need more time than others, and I know it’s harder if you have the chaos of a busy family. Try to carve out 10 minutes to meditate, read, take a hot bath, or Just Be. And try to quiet your mind while you’re doing it. This is why I’ve found yoga so addictive…it quiets my mind while I’m stretching and strengthening my body.

And yeah, I’m still working on trying to quiet my mind. We’re all a work in progress, friends. 🙂

Cheers!

How I Know My Mom is With Me

On this Mother’s Day, whether your mom is in heaven or clinging to this life, this post is for you. If you know someone who is still grieving the loss of their mom, please feel free to share.

I’ve heard her say my name at least twice.

My mom went to heaven in October of 2010, 2 years and 346 days after my dad.

As a kid, I was extremely shy, sensitive and introverted, and in grade school, I remember clinging to her when she would visit my classroom.

As an adult, I had the good fortune to spend a lot of time with, and enjoying, my parents. For that, I am grateful. Like all family relationships, it wasn’t always pretty, but life never is. You don’t appreciate the good without some of the bad.

Years later, my parents’ health declined and they moved off the farm and into the town I lived in. After my dad passed away, my mom relied on me even more.

I don’t regret this. Even though it may exhaust your patience, it is time you will never get back.

Grief is very complex and personal, and unfortunately, it’s not a subject many people know how to talk about. And however you choose to experience your journey: it’s okay. If you have an ailing loved one or one who has recently passed, you may want to read my post about grieving the loss of my parents: Grief Is a Personal Journey 

I was working in the kitchen a few years ago and heard my mom say my name.

It was so clear and audible that I looked behind me to see if she was in the room. This wasn’t the first time I heard her voice.

Another time I was cleaning out the basement. I had a bin of household bills from 2005-2006 that belonged to my parents. My mother was one of those people who grew up very poor during the depression and saved EVERYTHING, so these things would probably have been important to her.

I grabbed a chair and the bin and sat in front of the fire pit. I sorted through a few things and tossed them in the fire, where soon it began smoking with the new fuel.

The smoke wafted in my direction, so I shifted my chair and repeated this process. Again, the smoke drifted in my direction. This scenario repeated itself over and over, until I had moved six times and arrived back at my starting point.

It was both funny and exasperating at the same time. I stood up and said out loud, “Okay mom, you’ve made your point. I’ll put this away.” 😀

As a creative person, you have to be open to inspiration and ideas. Signaling inspiration is like putting a huge antenna out in the Universe and trying to tune in Tokyo. That’s really the best way to explain it.

And, just like a TV antenna, sometimes you get weird stuff that comes in along with the ideas. When I get stumped, I reach out to my friend Bess, who’s been trained as a medium.

Bess isn’t her real name, but Bess prefers to remain incognito about her skills, which is perfectly understandable considering the rural nature of where we live.

Bess told me that my mother was hovering because she was concerned about me, and described how she was making her presence felt.

The moral of this story is you don’t need someone else to tell you how your loved one is with you. It’s not like those who have gone before us can have a conversation.

Whether a dream, a drift of smoke, a beautiful sunset, a snippet of song or a beautiful flower…your loved one is there. If you haven’t felt it, don’t worry. Your loved ones are looking over you now, and will be waiting to greet you on the other side.

Slow down, open your eyes, and breathe in what this life has to offer. Little gifts come our way every day, and sometimes the hardest thing to do is to take the time to notice them.

Happy Mother’s Day!

“Don’t Die With Your Music Still In You”

I read this quote several years ago in a book by the late Dr. Wayne Dyer, and thought “Whoa.”

It still strikes me even now. And it struck me even more when it dawned on me that I had more years in my life BEHIND me than in front of me. Now there’s a sobering reality.

And just like that, I began to embark on an extended period of change. A “transition.” You know, one of those words similar to “learning experience.” A word or description that typically indicates a tumultuous period of ups and downs, whether we’re talking about life or the weather.

In my case, it brought about a career change, learning new skills, health concerns, the painful end of one professional relationship and the beginning of another, and oh yes, lest I forget, a hurricane. (insert eye roll here.)

During all of this, I didn’t feel like myself. I began to question everything, especially my safety.

I began to worry about things I’d never worried about before: my personal safety, my family’s safety, flying, not flying, driving, blogging, not blogging, my health, hurricanes, dogs, politics, people, approval, social media, blah blah blah blah.

The irony of all this is that most of what weighed me down was out of my control anyway. And it was a waste of precious energy.

So back to the question of music.

I think the hardest question for all of us to answer is, “What IS my music?” We are all gloriously different, thank goodness, so each of us have different “music” to offer the world.

Writing has always been my music, and when blogging came along, it really scratched my itch. But then life got in the way, as it often does, and I began to overthink things.

Prior to my…ahem…”transition”…I began to worry. Am I writing what people want to read? Is anyone out there? Does anybody really care?” I feel like breaking into song. 😀

I lost the joy of making my music.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during this period (today, actually) it’s that your music is at its best when you do it purely, authentically and joyfully from the heart, with no attachment to any outcome. That’s when it’s YOU.

On the drive back from Florida this year, a thought popped in my head: “Maybe I should start blogging again.”

A few weeks later, I ran into my friend Johnna and her husband at Colton’s.

“Are you still blogging? I loved your blog!” she said.

There’s my sign. 😉

So, I’m back.

I really have no idea where this is going or what’s going to channel onto the page. And that’s the fun of it! I’m just the equivalent of a writing pen for an intangible, unnamed creative source.

I hope you enjoy it, and if you don’t, that’s okay. Because I’m writing for me. So hang on, this may be a bumpy ride! 😀

Cheers, friends. Make it a great day.

 

 

The Gift Not Given by Julie Bauer Cook, guest blogger

Julie Bauer Cook grew up in the suburbs of El Dara, Illinois and remains her father’s daughter. She is intrigued and comforted by the ordinary in her days.

In the modern age, I assume that nearly 13 years of service is a good lifespan for a crockpot. We’ve recently suffered through a few rounds of scorched spaghetti sauce and soup to get to this point, but I’ve not been able to let go of the stainless steel model that has nourished our family’s bellies and my soul since early 2004.

I bought the crock pot whilst in a fog at the newish Farm & Fleet in Muscatine, Iowa, on a whim, with a howling newborn in the cart and a sad toddler in tow. My initial plan was to muster all the strength I had that day to return the Christmas presents I had bought for my dad, who had died on December 26, following an expeditious and aggressive illness after 67 years of exemplary health. The morning began with a mournful unwrapping of each brightly wrapped package and stuffing the contents that were Art’s characteristic plaid shirts and favorite gloves into a sack, lacking a receipt for exchange.

The Midwest farmer and his daughter ready to depart for FHA Dad's Night Out circa 1984.

The Midwest farmer and his daughter ready to depart for FHA Dad’s Night Out circa 1984.

Over the howling newborn, I learned that despite the unfortunate circumstances, I would only be afforded store credit based on current pricing. Chased by the questions of the sad toddler, I raced the cart through the home goods section to grab something to which I could apply the store credit. And, with that, I grabbed the stainless steel crock pot, which at once symbolized all that I had lost that Christmas and all that I hoped to gain by putting one foot in front of the other.

The well-used crock pot bought with the store credit from Dad's Christmas gifts not given.

The well-used crock pot bought with the store credit from Dad’s Christmas gifts not given.

As I healed my soul, I slowly returned to a new normal and slow cooking food that would bring a smile to the sad toddler’s face and cease the howling of our family’s second baby boy.The slow cooker produced food that comforted us through post-trick-or-treating dinners, cold winter nights, soup day Sundays, and freezer meals following my own health hurdles. While no one else knew, each time I washed and dried the crock by hand, I was reminded of the comfort I felt in being Art’s daughter—the gifts I was unable to give to him that Christmas nourished me for all those intervening years.

So, as I retire the stained and dented silver slow cooker, it is yet another act of putting one foot in front of the other.

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Moving on. Aqua makes me happy, and I’ve decided that happy is a good thing to be.

What Would Happen if You Let Go?

2016-01-24 18.12.32Because I spent about 40 years going to school, I think of a New Year beginning in September rather than January. How can you get excited about turning over a new leaf in the middle of winter?

Anyway, the “Back To School” time of year always gets me excited. Time to start a new year, new energy, new changes, new stuff, new adventures, a new opportunity to re-invent myself!

A necessary part of that Re-invention is Reflection: the pursuit of evaluating your life and looking at what’s working, what’s not, and where do you want to go with what you’ve got?

“They” say with age comes wisdom. And that wisdom eventually brings the realization that suddenly, without being quite sure how it happened, you wake up one day and there’s more life behind you than in front of you.

Wow. Heavy, eh? That’s exactly what happened to me.

I began to examine my life, the way I was living it, the things I filled my time with. While many of those activities were enjoyable, and at one time even satisfying, had I simply kept doing them without thinking? Like I was on auto pilot?

Suddenly I felt like I was wearing a pair of shoes that had grown a little too snug. While they didn’t exactly hurt, they felt…constricting. Uncomfortable. And SO  last year! 😉

When you realize there’s more of your life behind you, what’s in front of you becomes precious. 

This doesn’t involve leaving my husband, either, just in case you were wondering. 😀

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What do I want to do? What am I good at? What brings me pleasure? What endeavor brings me so much joy that it doesn’t feel like work?

Tom Corley, author of Rich Habits, said in a recent newsletter: “Your job is to figure out what your superpowers are, your strengths, and then figure out a way you can use your superpowers to add value to the lives of as many people as possible. The money will follow when what you do for a living adds real value to the lives of others.”

Ok, great! But what does that mean for me?

While I haven’t totally figured out the answers yet, it’s really made me slow down and think. How can I add value in this lifetime? What does the world need? What should I do differently?

Of course, there’s always the issue of time: Do I have enough time? How will I fit this in around my work? (Because after all, we all have to earn a living!)

I began to take a serious look at how I spent my time. 

I began to take stock of everything I was involved in; what rewarded me? What brought me satisfaction? What did I enjoy? What fit into my life’s mission? (Whatever that is!) What felt meaningful? What did I look forward to?

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On the opposite side of the spectrum, which activities that, once enjoyable, now felt like an obstacle course? Where did I feel like I was exerting enormous amounts of energy only to see minimal or no progress?

It’s human nature, especially as we age, to want to avoid change. Yet sometimes change is necessary on a personal or organizational basis in order for us to grow, and none of us embrace it or realize it at the same pace. Neither right, wrong or indifferent, that’s just the way it IS.

And then suddenly, you wake up one day and realize that you’re wearing those ill-fitting shoes that I referred to earlier. If you’re very involved, it can feel as if you are trying to drag a lumber wagon up hill. Both ways. It can be exhausting and frustrating at the same time!

WHAT IF…I opened up my schedule enough to leave myself time to think. What if I started all over again: freed up my schedule outside of my work and opened up blocks of time.

After all, if you want good things to come into your life, you have to make room for them.

My niece and I were just talking about this very topic today. (Funny we were on the same wavelength!) What new ideas, projects or opportunities might come my way if I opened up some space?

Inspiration is a necessary ingredient for creativity. And it’s impossible to be inspired with a packed schedule and a long ‘To Do’ list.

At first, the thought was kind of scary. In some form or another, anything we’re involved in has a reward of some sort. Whether it’s public recognition or the simply the good feelings of having made a positive difference, that reward is why we keep doing things.

The first thing I had to do was let go of the need for the reward. And that, my friends, took some doing. I’ll be honest.

But now that I’ve taken that step and let go of some things, I find I’m looking forward to my days again. I’m enjoying my work, enjoying my daily round and that peaceful feeling of contentment has returned. And with it, inspiration. For myself, and for others.

I have no idea where this adventure will take me, and that’s OK. That’s part of that beautiful mystery of life. We’ll see what opportunities come along and see where it takes me.

What about you? Are you on auto-pilot? Are there things you’re doing still that you no longer enjoy?

Cheers, friends!

The Tale of the Black Dog Saloon

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 Photo credit: John McMurry, McMurry Studios.

 Once upon a time, there was a not-so-young couple who, for ten years, had planned to finish their basement. They talked, they pondered, they speculated, and they saved. Over the years, several messy projects happened, inherited stuff kept coming along, work or other things interfered. They wondered if it would ever get done!

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They wanted a bar and a family room where they could have people over. She wanted a guest room, where their guests would be cozy during the winter months, vs. staying in a winterized RV.

And, of course a bathroom. If you look close, you can see me waving. Helloooo! Oops, I meant her. I had a tense lapse.

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And her laundry was in there now too, a much handier place than where it originally began…now located behind the barn doors.

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 Photo credit: John McMurry

Could they, would they, be able to come together with a vision for a space that worked for both of them?

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She had a vision for it, as a warm, rustic space with a great deal of character and personality. She knew he would love it once it was done: they both loved rustic things, a casual style, and dog-friendly.

Because their life had pretty much gone to the dogs.

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 Photo credit: John McMurry

While overall progress went smoothly, a few speed-bumps popped up here and there, as happens between two strong-willed, stubborn people. Finally, she assured him: “You’ll love it when it’s done, I promise.”

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And he did. And does. Although there were parts of the construction process he didn’t like, such as procuring the barnwood from the 3 now extinct barns on her family’s farm.

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Can you say, “Raccoon poop?”

444Or constructing the concrete counter tops.

Construction seemed to take forever. Like watching a pot boil. But of course it’s one of life’s bittersweet ironies that the more you want something, the longer it takes. While progress was slow though, her vision never faltered. If anything, it only got better. Like fine wine.

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“We need a name for it,” she said.

“Why?” he responded.

“To give it personality. To express US.” she answered.

That’s a great idea!” he said.

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“Oh.” he said. His needs were simple. He just wanted to drink beer there. 😀

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And then one day, she knew what the name had to be.

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They were advocates for those who couldn’t advocate for themselves. Because black dogs everywhere had a huge public relations problem.

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Black dogs, particularly the large ones, are usually the last to get adopted. They linger in shelters and rescues everywhere, waiting, waiting, waiting. Is it because they are intimidating?  Mean to children and old people? We know they don’t photograph well, and their appearance is….well…simply generic.

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You can read more about Black Dog Syndrome here.

This not-so-young couple had, of their own doing, assigned themselves the unofficial role of Champions for Black Dogs Everywhere.

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 Photo credit: John McMurry

So it seemed perfectly fitting that their new basement bar should be named the…

DSC_0149Before they knew it, the bar was complete. Their friends began to come over. One friend gave her the coolest birthday gift ever! Their very own logo.

In a moment of inspiration, they had shirts made.

2014-09-06 17.46.23Inspired, she began to put together creative auction baskets and fundraising events for a local rescue, to help all homeless animals, not just the black ones they loved so much.

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Her rescue roots run deep.

You see, every dog that she has ever had in her life, except for one, have been rescues. And every dog she has every had except for 2 have been black. Some came through the rescue, some through friends, some were simply roaming the road and she invited them to stay. And it was she who introduced and converted him to the plight of the Big Black Dog.

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The Big Mags

 

 

 

 

 

Since they both love rustic stuff, junk, Big Black Dogs, and beer, it was a no-brainer.

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To this day, it is well-attended by black dogs. 😀

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Photo credit: John McMurry

Friends have given them meaningful gifts, such as this painting of her parents’ old house done in reverse, behind glass…

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Or the wonderful shadow box with ribbons from her great aunt and uncles’ years of raising hogs, showing them, and serving as judges at Fairs across the country.

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Speaking of her great aunt:

DSC_0153 Each person who visits the Black Dog Saloon leaves their own mark…

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Or fun memory.DSC_0056

And each dog who has gone over the Rainbow Bridge still has a place.

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The Saloon is full of memories, gifts, sentimental things and attachments.

Yardsticks from businesses that no longer exist.

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A grandfather clock which was handed down from Jimmy’s ancestors (his great-grandparents, I think).

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 Beers and NASCAR-related gifts.

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NASCAR memorabilia.

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Most recently, a spring from a tractor seat that is 99% likely to have come from her dad’s old tractor.

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There’s so much fun and quirkiness in the Black Dog Saloon it’s impossible to talk about it all. She jokes that they did exactly what she advises her clients not to do when they own a house. Because how can you put a price on it, and how would they ever leave it behind?

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Most weekends find them hanging out in the Black Dog Saloon with black dogs and friends. Recently, after a hard afternoon working in the yard, he told her: “You owe me a drink!”

“I know this great little bar,” she said.

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And that, my friends, is the tale of how the Black Dog Saloon came to be: a place that’s the most well known yet mysterious bar in Kirksville. 😀

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Photo credit: John McMurry

If you’ve been there, what’s your favorite thing about the Black Dog Saloon?

Cheers, friends!

5 Things Someone Should Have Told Me When I Was 18

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It’s graduation time! I remember those days like they were yesterday, instead of 13,140 yesterdays ago. Give or take a few days, that’s when I joined 27 other classmates in the right of passage into adulthood.

There are certain things you learn as you go through life that you think, “Gosh, it would be helpful to have known that.” I like to think that I might have been forward-thinking enough to plan a little better and not be caught by surprise by nature’s cruel jokes. 😀

Personally, I think it’s nature’s way of ensuring that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. How else can you explain some of these things?

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1. You will always have zits.

Really? I was lucky enough not to have a ton of them at the same time. Oh, no, the kind that I had was the occasional huge festering pustule which seemed to linger for weeks. Like a beacon signaling a ship to shore,  they were especially fond of the tip of my  nose, graciously appearing before a major social occasion.

They still pay me the occasional visit, only with age I’ve become more resigned to them and better at ignoring them. Kind of like a familiar friend who overstays their welcome and you’re relieved when their gone.

And if you are one of my friends reading this, I promise it was never you. 🙂

2. You will always pee your pants.

What a bittersweet irony that something really funny can be such a curse. 😀 (It’s okay, you don’t have to tell me if you peed just a little reading this.) Or, OH NO HERE COMES A SNEEZE IF I SQUEEZE MY LEGS TOGETHER REALLY TIGHT WILL I BE OKAY….Nope. Dang.

Mom and Dad

3. Men really don’t want to hear it.

Thanks to Cinderella and all those Princess stories, we grow up thinking that our handsome Prince is out there, life is beautiful and you talk about everything with the man of your dreams.

I remember very clearly a young woman I know well, having fallen madly in love unexpectedly, told me “I can tell him everything!”

I remember thinking at the time, “Whelp, that will be the death of that relationship!” And, eventually it was. (Of course she has gone on to bigger and better things and is happily married now.)

We all think this though, and I remember my former boss’ wife who finally broke the news to me after listening to me gush, “Men don’t want to hear everything. They really don’t.  My husband and I have a very shallow relationship, but it’s worked well for 26 years!” (That was over 25 years ago, and they are still happily married.)

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4. A key to staying happily married is deciding what your definition of clean is.

When I was younger, I was nearly neurotic about keeping a tidy, spotless house. In order to do that, you have to make lifestyle choices that support that goal.

Because my lifestyle choices included multiple large dogs and a husband  whose life mission is not tidiness, it was an unattainable goal. Working towards that goal was like spinning my wheels on an icy road and going nowhere. If I did achieve it for 20 minutes, I can’t say I was ever happy. How can you be when you’re exhausted and crabby? 😀

So, my solution was to redefine my definition of ‘clean.’ In other words, what can I live with?

Nowadays, I can have a foot of dust on everything, but if my floors are reasonably clean and the house is mostly picked up, I’m a happy camper. 🙂

I remember very clearly the picture below. I felt very awkward, walking in front of the crowd. Because people were looking at me! What if I trip? What if I stub my toe? I never realized it was so far during practice?!!!

Stage Processional

5. Like sands in the hourglass of time, friends will come and go in your life. And that’s okay.

Another thing I wish someone would have told me when I was 18  is how my friendships will evolve over the years.

If life were a carnival, I think of the sphere of our friends as a ginormous Bumper Car Ride. We all go and go and go on our own route, working on our own stuff and goals and families. We may have started out with one group of friends, but we all went our separate ways as our individual decisions zinged us down different roads.

Many of us still meet occasionally, which is awesome. We wave, hug, laugh, catch up, and happily enjoy every moment before we’re zinging down our separate roads again. (Can’t you just picture it?) 🙂

And all of that is okay. Sometimes friends cycle back into  your life, sometimes they don’t. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them anymore, it just means you’re on different paths. It is part of the color and fun of this big, beautiful thing called life.

Group shot

What do you wish someone had told you?

Cheers, friends! 🙂

A Southern-Style ReDo

DIning Room Inspiration

What I love most about helping people fall in love with their houses again is purely nothing less than instant gratification.  I love seeing change happen quickly.

Sometimes there are those projects who, for one reason or another, must age like fine wine. They happen over time, which makes them taste much sweeter.

It’s even more gratifying when you go on a wing, a prayer, a Pinterest page, and 3 pictures. Well, really two pictures.

Inspiration for the Living Room

I’ll explain.

The homeowners had moved from another state, sold most of their furniture, rented a house, then bought a new house that they really liked but didn’t feel like home. Except for two pictures, which she loved. And a Pinterest page with  ideas for their future dream home.

Tammy said, “My husband says I’m a brown and green girl, that all I ever pick out is brown and green. So I want to do something different than brown and green.”

“Oh, and I want two statement lighting pieces: one in the Dining Room, and one in the Master Bedroom.” She was very demanding. 😀

“I can work with this,” I said.

And so, one sunny afternoon, I brought my fan deck with all my paint colors and sat in their empty living room with those two pictures to get to know them a little better. (When you pick paint colors, it’s best too choose them in natural, bright daylight to see their full effect.)

Living Room Before

 This would be the empty living room.

The pictures and I hung out and stared at each other for a while. After a time, colors seemed to pop out. After all, when you have great art, you want the colors to POP. Otherwise, why would you have it anyway? But I digress.

Home should be a sanctuary; a place you come to at the end of the day where you can regenerate, recharge, refill your batteries, and prepare to be Your Best You the following day.

Here we had a busy executive and a stay-at-home dad with two small toddlers. What that said to me is the house needed to be warm and soothing yet also child friendly. Tammy wanted it to have a Southern flare, so they all felt at home. And it needed to be neutral and have appeal for resale, because they knew they wouldn’t be in Kirksville forever. And above all…it needed to be easy to clean.

Living Room

Since we knew they’d be moving and the likelihood of them finding a home JUST LIKE the one they were in were pretty much…well…zero…I tried to choose as many pieces as possible that would multitask. Meaning they could be universally used in other rooms in the house.

And did I mention it needed to be child friendly? With easy clean fabrics that would endure the many critical moments in a toddler’s life when they HAVE to leap with a single bound from that chair/step/insert whatever here or build that fort or race with the speed of light?

Believe it or not, they do make such things. 🙂

Living Room Statement Ceiling Mount

The only lighting in the living room room were meant to be floor lamps attached to plug ins. Soft lighting such as what comes from lamps is wonderful, and a very important part of the Cozy Factor in a home.

However, insufficient light is a common problem in larger rooms, so we added that beautiful crystal ceiling mounted light.  (It’s the kind of light that makes  you want to play with the crystals, so it’s probably a good thing I can’t reach it. I have simple needs.)

We centered the light between the fireplace and the bay window.  Can you visualize the street view with beautiful light fixtures in the living room and entry sparkling through the windows and door? Breathtaking!

Fireplace Focal Point

Fireplaces are typically focal points in a room, and with it’s location opposite the bay window, we arranged the furniture so guests can enjoy both. The ottoman can function as additional seating, and if Shane wants to have the guys over to watch a game, he can easily move the TV on top of the buffet and bring in extra chairs. Shazam!

We also added to the fireplace’s functionality as a Focal Point by accenting it with a fabulous mirror and mother-of-pearl lamps. The lamps can easily be moved over near the chairs or love seat for task lighting,  and the best part is these items will also go with Tammy and Shane when they move. Literally, these lamps could be used in any room!

When you have a room that is working in perfect harmony, it is like a piece of pie: until it’s whole – or complete – it feels like there’s a piece missing.

(Speaking of pie…if you’ve never had Southern cooking, you are missing OUT. I’m just saying.)

Dining Room Before

Here’s the dining room before.

And, here’s the after. When it all comes together, you have a WOW.

Dining Room

We swagged the light fixture to move it out of the center of the room and to allow for better traffic flow between the adjoining rooms. That fabulous buffet from Surroundings (yes, really!) provides lots of great storage but doesn’t overpower the room or interrupt traffic flow.

We chose this beautiful table from Pottery Barn paired with the durable and easy-clean slip covered chairs that are dressy enough to function as additional seating in the living room, and this room is ready to go.

High End Chandelier

Shoot, I’m not even Southern and I love this room. (But then I’m biased, of course.)

Those of you who are mathematically inclined (which would not be me) may have realized that I mentioned THREE pictures earlier in my post.

Well…the den was really basically finished before the third picture was purchased, which was the inspiration for the whole room. I had Shane add sconces on the back wall which match a wrought iron chandelier. We added a COOL trunk-style bar cabinet and desk from Pottery Barn.

"Wheatfield" by John McMurry

When Shane and I were talking about his vision for the den (his Man Room, as every man should have), and he mentioned an awesome picture he’d seen at our local Red Barn Arts and Crafts Fair.

I knew exactly which one he meant, because I drooled over the same one.

My friend John McMurry of McMurry Studios is a terrific photographer who specializes in landscape canvases. His Wheatfield print was perfect for a guy who’s a night owl with a rustic western style.

New Desk and Chairs

The key to having each of your rooms harmonize with each other is having paint colors from the same color family or that have some commonality and having one element in each room that ties them together.

Kitchen BeforeThe kitchen had been updated and, while very nice, was a little on the bland side for this homeowner. It lacked Wow Factor.

Beautiful Stone Kitchen Backsplash

New paint, a beautiful stone backsplash (which is not green as it looks in the picture) and a very neutral, textured laminate counter top gave it pizzazz.

Kitchen Cabinet Before

The glass front cabinetry offered lots of great display space, as you can see in the Before picture, above.

Background Panels with Fabric

Because this homeowner didn’t have a lot of colorful collectibles, we chose some colorful fabric which is wrapped around foam core (or a similar material) for an attractive background which really sets off the items she has. And…it’s easily interchangeable!

Shane also added counter top lighting, which really added to the space. (Fortunately, he’s an electrician by trade, which came in handy in this house!)

The large master bedroom offered a huge closet, negating the use of a dresser or chest of drawers. So we were able to focus on the Master as a real sanctuary. Pictured is the south wall of the bedroom before.

Master Bedroom Before

For those of you who can’t imagine a bedroom without a ceiling fan, you should know that the fan wasn’t positioned above the bed. That opened the door for the beautiful statement lighting piece, with matching sconces.  (The wall paint is a creamy white, and not yellow as it looks in this picture.)

Statement Chandelier and Sconces

A reading nook in which to relax or cuddle toddlers among favorite things is a perfect way to end, or begin, the day.  Of course busy parents need a place to relax in the evening, so Shane installed a TV on the center wall, which is actually the fireplace chimney. (They had it drywalled to cover the brick to make it child friendly.)

Elegant Master Bedroom

A soft, restful gray-blue color accent wall makes the headboard and bedding POP and helps unwind and soothe, which is a necessity for restful sleep.

Last, but not least, we updated the Guest Room.

Guest Room Before

It’s now a welcoming, spacious place for guests to stay. We were able to use several pieces Tammy and Shane already had, re-purposing them here and making the space cozy.

Bathroom 3

 

They planned to use the sun room as a playroom, so this space needed to be fun, child safe, and still coordinate with the rest of the house.

 

Sun Room Before

 

I think we succeeded. New drywall, paint, lighting, and easy-care carpet squares gave this room the new life and durability it needed. The light blue ceiling gave the space an airy feel.

 

Sunroom now Family Room

 

That’s the beauty of what I do: giving a space new life, helping you – and the room – live in harmony with each other again, where ever that is. 🙂

Cheers, my friends!

How to Buy A Home in A Seller’s Market

2016-03-26 11.26.08

Spring Market in Kirksville is in full swing, and it’s proving to be a bit of a different…uh…egg…than the last few years.

Do we know which came first: the chicken or the egg?

Perhaps this train of thought was brought on by my recent shopping experience for chickens at Tractor Supply. Or not. But I digress.

That’s the question that rattled around in my head as I debated which perspective to write this post from: sellers or buyers?

Our market is changing this year, and because it’s so early in the Spring Market 2016 season, we don’t know where it will take us. What I know for sure is that listing inventory is low, home prices will increase, and many sellers will have the opportunity to choose the strongest buyer. 

This is great news for sellers and a big difference from market conditions of much of the last decade.

What it means for buyers is that you’re going to have to take a different strategy if you want to be successful. And by successful, of course, I mean in getting a property under contract.

1. Think Like A Seller.

In a seller’s market, you need to assume that you WILL have competition for a property. You don’t even need to know anything about specific buyers or terms of an offer to do this, because all buyers will have certain characteristics that will define the strength of their purchasing ability.

Think about it. If you’re a seller, what do you want? You want a fair price, you want to sell it to a buyer who’s qualified to purchase it with as little hassle as possible.

So to get that done, you want to make sure you choose the strongest buyer: the buyer who has the best opportunity to close the deal, right?

Hands down, the strongest buyer is a cash buyer, especially one with a short closing time.

That doesn’t mean that the seller will automatically choose the cash buyer every time, because there are other factors involved and people are, of course, all different.

In today’s world, buying a home is the largest purchase most people will make. And most of us finance our properties, so it’s very common place.

Buyers with conventional loans, or those requiring a down payment of up to 20%, is typically perceived by sellers to be the most solid of the financed buyers.

And of course last but not least are the buyers who are getting government loans, such as the no-down payment loans that many first-time home buyers will get. Will a property need repairs? What will buyers ask for during the inspections? All these are huge unknowns for sellers.

2. So, Get Your Financing In Place.

Before you even start looking at properties, visit your lender to get a pre-approval or pre-qualification letter.

I HATE it when buyers start looking before they’ve been to the lender. Because that usually means they are going to end up being disappointed once they find out they were looking in the wrong price range.

Go to your lender like, yesterday. At the very minimum, get a Pre-Approval letter from them, which will tell you what price range you should be looking in. And make sure you know when that letter expires, because most of them do.

While most agents have been encouraging buyers in recent years to get pre-approved, in today’s market, it’s a necessity. It’s going to be the difference between having your offered considered…or not.

3. Be Willing To Compromise On Your Priorities

Keep an open mind. Fewer properties on the market means there might not be a property which means ALL your criteria. What do you HAVE to have? What can you live without?

Do you really need that 4th bedroom simply to use as an office, or can you set up an office elsewhere in the home? Do you HAVE to have a 2-car garage? Perhaps you sacrifice the 2-car garage for a second bathroom.  Can you sacrifice the stainless steel appliances in order to get a more spacious, affordable property that you can modify later?

It often pays off to make a short-term sacrifice in order to get ahead long term. Consider looking beyond the cosmetic improvements a property needs, and making your own improvements over time.

For instance, it appears this season that homes on a small acreage is the darling. If you’re a first-time home buyer, are you in a position to be competitive? Maybe your best option is to instead look for a good, solid home with great re-sale potential until the market adjusts to a more affordable level for what you want.

Everything goes in cycles.

4. Bring Your Best Offer.

If you’re interested in a property which has multiple offers coming, it’s no time to make a low ball offer. You want your offer to stand out and be noticed! You want the seller to pick YOU to negotiate with. You need to get their attention.

You need to Bring. It.

If it is not a multiple offer situation, then make a thoughtful, well-justified offer. I never recommend low ball offers, as all they do is anger the seller. There are still many people out there who are still under the impression that they get a better deal. I can’t say that I’ve seen it, but to each his own.

5. Be A Buyer Who’s Great to Work With. 

Excitement, enthusiasm and sharing your love for the property will gain the support of the sellers, encouraging them to be in your corner. We all like happy endings, and sellers are no different.

Be gracious. Be thoughtful. Be respectful. You attract more bees with honey. 🙂

Disclaimer: This post is a cumulative expression of real estate experiences in my career, shared by colleagues, and knowledge gained through reading trade material through various sources. Any similarity to current or specific buyers is purely coincidental and unintended.