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.


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?


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!

Before 1

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.


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

pup (16 of 37)

 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?


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.

pup (7 of 37)


 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.”


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.


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.


“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.


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

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.


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.


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.

pup (13 of 37)

 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.


The Big Mags






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


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

pup (36 of 37)

Photo credit: John McMurry

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


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.


Speaking of her great aunt:

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


Or fun memory.DSC_0056

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


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

Yardsticks from businesses that no longer exist.


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


 Beers and NASCAR-related gifts.


NASCAR memorabilia.


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


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?


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.


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. 😀

pup (14 of 37)

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


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?

Recessional 1

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.)

Grad lineup

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

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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. 

How to Make Homemade Noodles

DSC05531Nothing says “I Love You” more than homemade noodles.

If you grew up in the Midwest, you know I’m talking about the homemade noodles like your mom or grandma used to make. And, to be very clear, homemade noodles are NOT pasta.

No, homemade noodles are wonderful comfort food goodness, best eaten with a roasted chicken or turkey. Some like to pour them over mashed potatoes, and some prefer to eat them as a stand-alone part of the meal. I may, or may not have been known to eat them for breakfast.

I prefer to make them thinner, like my mom made. Or, you can make them a little larger and call them dumplings. Like chili, the making and consumption of noodles is a personal, individual choice.


And with that last sentence, I decided I had to make some RIGHT NOW. 😀 Sorry about the less than stellar picture quality. Turns out my kitchen lighting isn’t so good for cooking on cloudy days. :-/

Learning how to make homemade noodles is a talent passed down from older generations. You still have time to practice and impress your family!

You almost can’t screw them up!

The keys to this recipe:

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You need a really, really sharp clean knife.

Use flour liberally. And then use more. Like, you can’t really use too much.

Cut the noodles as thin as you possibly can.

Here’s the recipe, along with some play-by-play info. 🙂 Even the eggs are happy to be made into noodles. 😉

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Mom Gunnels’ Noodles

3 eggs

2 Tablespoons milk. Whole milk or 2% is best, although when I made this last batch, I had to borrow 1% from my neighbor. Other than a slightly different texture with the dough, we couldn’t tell any difference in flavor.

Salt (I use kosher, probably about 1/2 teaspoon)

1 1/2 Cups Flour

2 Tablespoons chicken bouillon granules

2-3 LARGE cans chicken broth I usually buy reduced sodium broth, since the broth granules have  quite a bit of sodium in them. You can always salt them more, but not less!


Mix together all ingredients with a fork, adding more flour if necessary until you have a stiff dough that’s too stiff to stir.

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Divide the dough into thirds, adding flour if needed to make it less sticky and easier to handle.


Some of these pictures are from last year, when I taught my friend Peggy how to make noodles. Her husband is from Pittsburgh, so we enjoyed introducing him to the glory of homemade noodles gently spooned over a mound of mashed potatoes.

Using 1/3 of the dough at a time, place it on a large, liberally-floured cutting board.

Adding more flour as you go (see what I mean?), roll it it out very thin, as if you were making a pie crust.

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(I think I’ve made pie crust like, 3 times in my life. But I’ve seen it done. ) The best comparison I can think of would be a large flour tortilla.


It’s very likely you’ll need to keep adding flour, as it may get sticky as you roll it out.

Once the dough is rolled out flat and nice and thin, pick up one side and fold it over in half. Add more flour if necessary.


Then fold it in half again, so it’s 1/4 of its original size.


Starting from the side with the fold, gently roll the dough up.


Holding the rolled dough gently in one hand, start slicing thinly from one end (like 1/8″ thick, or as thin as you can get them.) I typically use gentle sawing motions in order not to squish the dough.


Once the rolled dough has been sliced, add some flour and toss the mound of noodles gently within the flour until they are broken apart and in a loose pile.


Slide to the corner of the cutting board, and repeat these steps with the other 2/3 of the dough.

Once all the dough is sliced and tossed, add more flour and toss it all together, then spread out across the cutting board in a thin layer.

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They will look something like this. The  noodles do best if they’ve had some time to dry. Typically, I cover them with paper towels and let them dry overnight. If I’m going to cook them the same day, I leave them uncovered.

When I was a kid, I used to love to eat raw noodle dough. My grandmother, horrified, always told me not to eat too many because they would plug up my butt. 😀

Oh, the memories.

Two or three hours before you plan to serve them, heat up two large cans  (like the size you’d buy canned juice in) of chicken broth in a large dutch oven along with the chicken broth granules. You don’t want this to boil, you just want it to heat up so the granules dissolve.


Gently scrape the noodles into the dutch oven, and stir to break up any clumps. Turn the heat to a low temperature; ideally, you want these to barely simmer. Too hot and the noodles will stick to the bottom of the pan.

Stir frequently during the first half hour, and periodically after to make sure they don’t stick to each other or the pan. Leave the pot uncovered, letting the steam rise, and the noodles bubble ever so gently.


Simmer until the broth reduces and the noodles have a gravy-like texture. If your noodles are bigger, you may need to add more chicken broth during this period to ensure the noodles are fully cooked in their own gravy.

When you can no longer keep your family out of them, you know they are ready. 😀


My husband’s favorite way to eat them is drizzled over turkey, dressing and mashed potatoes. Or chicken and stuffing. Or by themselves.

How do you like to eat your noodles?

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

Living in the Shadows, Part 2

2015-10-05 10.22.49Now where did I stop in Part 1? Hmmm..

Ah yes, my epic meltdown.

That would be the one where I irrevocably dented Ekko’s poor food bowl.

We were both different after that, in a good way.

I began to actually embrace our walks, and felt a wealth of patience and love. I knew that we’d both passed a milestone; now that we’d both found peace. It was time, he was ready.

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Shortly after Buckley came to the Rescue, we received an application from a potential adopter named Lauri from Seattle. Gordie, her aged Gordon Setter had passed over the Rainbow Bridge earlier this year. From her half-acre lot with a creek to her love of dogs and rescue experience, she was perfect!

I was optimistic, but Seattle was oh, so far away, and it was a long way to come to get a dog and then find out he didn’t fit in. We began corresponding regularly via email. I gave her detailed information and honest descriptions of our ups and downs so she would know what she was getting into. (Okay I might have glossed over the whole meltdown thing.) 😀

In turn, she confided that she wasn’t completely sure she wanted another dog. Her long-time boyfriend, also named Lori – his family is Scandinavian, where that is a man’s name – has Alzheimer’s. She thought Buckley might be a bright spot for both of them as the disease progressed, something they could simply enjoy with no remembering needed.

She surprised me with a ‘care package’ of coffee for the 5 a.m. walks and dental chews to help with his teeth, which needed cleaning.

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We seemed to have a lot in common as the weeks and emails, which now included video and pictures, passed. My reaction when, focused on shooting video, I ran into a stick dangling from a tree and gouged my forehead was just a bonus. 😉

Around the end of August, about 5 weeks after we began fostering Buckley, I received an email from Lauri:

“I wonder if I found the reason that you didn’t give up on Buckley.  Without you providing updates and info on exactly what Buckley is like I might not have continued to have interest in him, because of the distance.  As it was the stories kept me thinking.. hmm,maybe.  Well last night I showed my boyfriend the photo of Buckley looking at the printer and the photo of him standing on a leash looking at the camera with his head cocked.  I’d shown them to him before but he didn’t remember.  Anyway, this time he looked at the first photo, and looked and looked.  I reached to take the phone to bring up the 2nd one but he held on to it a bit longer.  Wanted to look some more.  When I showed him the second one he did the same… lonnng look…  with a dreamy-eyed smile.  It made me think, whether *I* need Buckley or not, I think my boyfriend needs me to have him so he can enjoy him.  It was a look I hadn’t seen for a very, very long time.  

The photos came up in conversation because I’d sent them to a trusted friend.  I told her I was considering adopting and asked if she wanted to ‘talk me down’.  Her reply;

Lauri, you can’t say no now, this one needs you and you need this one, just look at this face,  he needs your love!!!!!!!!!!!  (Not much help, am I?)”

I was too moved by Lauri’s email to respond right away. It brought tears to my eyes.

Lauri and Lori must be incredibly special people for God to weave his handiwork to bring Buckley into their lives.

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If we had never lost Harley, who was a boisterous handful, we would have never been able to take in Buckley. And if I had refused to listen to my inner voice and given up on him, this adoption would not be happening.

From that point forward, things began moving quickly. I began things to prepare him for his new people: we stepped up the car rides and increased our leash training.

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Labor Day weekend Lauri surprised Lori with a drive to the airport; she told him they were flying to Minneapolis, renting a car and coming here to pick up Buckley. He was overjoyed.

My friend Jenny suggested wisely that we get him an Adaptile collar, which emits ‘happy’ pheromones to calm him for the transition to a new home and a cross country car trip. I placed the collar on him as they pulled in the drive, hoping that he would associate the ‘happy’ feelings with seeing them.

It worked like a charm! See? 🙂

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Lauri and Lori were as nice as I knew they would be. They had planned to stay for an hour or so to get to know him, but thanks to the ‘happy collar’ he took to them so quickly that it seemed they were here only a few minutes.

Off they went on an epic road trip back to Seattle, venturing through the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore, visiting the Corn Palace in Mitchell and the famous Wall Drug among other highlights. 2, 552 miles later, they were home safe and sound.

Buckley is now Bo, and is settling nicely into his new life.

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He has some challenges: he still needs work socializing with other dogs,  and he still hates being crated and left alone. But he’s learning to play, and he’s getting love and patience from people who have plenty of it to give.

“And Lori.. well he’s totally enjoying Bo.  Loves to watch him run in the yard, the way he hunkers down and walks low when he hunts, the way he sits so tall and watches for squirrels and birds in the trees, the speed Bo has when he takes off on a dead run (after who knows what), his playfulness when we throw toys for him in the house and he fetches and prances around.  (another video I need to get).  He calls him Gordie 90% of the time and it makes me think that not always, but sometimes, Lori thinks this is Gordie.  Has this allowed him to go back to when Gordie was still with us?  Wouldn’t that be wonderful for anyone.. to be able to go back in time, before a loss, as if it never occurred?   What a gift that would be.  Sometimes I’ve thought it might be too confusing to have gotten a dog that’s the same breed as the one we recently lost, but maybe for Lori it was exactly the right thing to do.” 🙂

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As for us, Bo gave us a new appreciation for our sweet little girls we have. Sometimes it’s easy to ‘want’ instead of appreciate what you have. It reminded me how precious time really is and how you shouldn’t squander it on things that don’t matter. And, thanks to him, I have a new friend.

It’s an amazing demonstration of God’s work that a sweet little boy who spent the first years of his life living in the shadows should accompany a man as his life’s journey takes him deeper into the shadows of Alzheimer’s.

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Thank you for helping all of us grow into better people, Bo. Have a wonderful life. You deserve it. 🙂

Living in the Shadows

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I really wouldn’t have believed this had I not lived it myself. It just goes to show how God’s plan for us is so much bigger than we can ever conceive.

I almost gave up on him.

He was a mess.

Dogs tell you a lot about their former lives through their behaviors. Buckley was a timid and sweet but nervous, un-socialized ball of fur who’d lived on scraps supplemented by dog food. He didn’t know how to play with toys and had never had treats. He’d never had a collar much less walked on a leash and most likely his only bath had been right before he came into the Rescue.

It’s not like people tell you “Basically I had this dog in my backyard, I fed it and occasionally he got to play and that’s it.”

Buckley was the product of an accidental litter between a Gordon Setter and an Irish Setter. His parents were breeding stock, and the only time in his 5-year life he’d been out of the backyard was to go to the vet. He saw the same people, the same dogs, and did the same thing every day.

It’s like he lived the first part of his life unseen: he lived in the shadows.

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His previous owners were not bad people. They were very nice, former breeders who had simply had grown older and out of the business with several dogs they had never placed. Life is busy, and time had simply slipped by.

One quality I’ve observed about breeders is that most of them think of their breeding animals more as livestock. It’s not a mindset I understand nor share, but that doesn’t make them wrong and me right; it just IS. And that’s why we live in America. 🙂

There’s obviously a need and a place for breeders in the world. I have friends who are good, responsible breeders and are huge advocates of rescue. Not all breeders are bad. (Some are, but that isn’t what this post is about.)

Buckley 2

The reality was that we had so little information about him when he came in that we didn’t realize Buckley had all these issues. It’s very likely his owners didn’t either. After all, he had lived in their backyard all his life where everything was comfortable and familiar, and since they didn’t spend any time with him, how would they know?

“What was I thinking, fostering a BIRD dog without a fenced yard?”I ask myself now.  😀

And yet, he taught me more about life in the 6 weeks I’d had him than anyone else ever had.

He was full of nervous energy, unmotivated by treats or toys, hated being crated with a passion. My friend Jenny, very knowledgeable and wise about these matters, offered wisdom and crate toys to prevent boredom. Unfortunately, he wasn’t treat or toy motivated.

For the first week or two he was here, he would wail constantly when I left the house, no matter who was home. My poor husband, who is notorious for being impatient, was wonderfully patient. He was much more gracious than I would have been after listening to him wail for 45 minutes.

After several battles, Buckley and I finally came to a mutual understanding: I would agree to stop crating him, and he would agree to stop wailing every time I left.

Everything was new to him. Sounds, mirrors, dog beds, television.

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He hadn’t yet learned healthy outlets for his nervous energy, such as chewing on a bone or toys. So, we walked. And walked and walked and walked.

I walked my yard more in the 6 weeks I had him more than I had in the last 15 years. When I look back upon that period, I feel like it was spent walking Buckley, with short stints of productive activity in between.

And we walked.

In the rain. In the heat. In the dark.

I prayed daily that he would be adopted, and yet in my heart I knew he wasn’t ready.

I had grown to care about this sweet little boy who deserved a life and a loving family. And certainly no one would be willing to take him on at this point; I could barely do it myself.

Something inside me just kept telling me to hold on. “Don’t give up on him! Don’t give up!” the tiny little voice said.

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And so I kept plodding along. Get up, walk Buckley. Work out, walk Buckley. Shower, walk Buckley. And so it went.

One hot, miserable summer day my increasing frustration bubbled over. I couldn’t take it.

I had an epic meltdown.

Fortunately, only the dogs were here to see it. It involved yelling, screaming, and repeatedly banging poor Ekko’s food dish on the kitchen counter top. It has a nice little dent in it to remind me of that day.

And then, it was over. I was exhausted, and but relieved. I felt lighter.

Sitting at my desk a while later, I realized something that was so profound, I wrote it down in my notebook so I would be sure to remember.

“I’m focusing on the wrong things for the direction I want to go.

Spend time working on the activities that get you where you need to be.”

Time is a precious commodity, and life will always be busy. I needed to spend my precious hours between Buckley walks working on the things that are really important. The big things. The things that matter. And my family, the parts of my work that really matter, those are the things I needed to be focusing on, not the busy work of scratching things off a list.


And just like that, I let the “To Do” list go.

I still make notes  and write down things I’m afraid I’ll forget to do so I don’t have to carry them in my head. That list just matters less.

Most people have to get sick or suffer a loss to come to these conclusions. All I had to foster a difficult dog. I am truly blessed.


2015-09-03 19.52.31This picture is blurry, but it still makes me laugh.

“What, momma? Is there more?”

Yep, there sure is. I hope you’ll come back for the rest of the story, because it’s awfully special too. 🙂

How About Some Grilled Meatloaf?!

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I’m here to tell you that grilling your meatloaf is a total game changer. In fact, I’m not sure I will put it in the oven ever again! Unless it’s pouring rain or blowing snow, which might convince me otherwise.

Grilling meatloaf transforms it from a cold-weather comfort food into a refreshing change from burgers. Not that burgers aren’t great, mind you. But change is good. Especially when it involves the grill!

That’s what happened to me…bored with the same old thing, I wanted to shake things up a little. Adding a little char to a comfort food favorite adds a whole new dimension of smoky flavor and texture. Oh, my!

In fact, I’m eating the last piece for breakfast right now. Except there’s not as much left now as there is in this picture. 😉

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When Jimmy and I first got together, I must have tried at least 8 different meatloaf recipes before I found one we both liked. This really versatile recipe for Market Meatloaf calls for cumin and finishing it off under the broiler with cheese and green onions. Sometimes I do that last step, but most often I just pull it out of the oven and serve.

It is NOT spicy, although I think a dash of Tabasco would be really, really good and give it some kick.

The recipe came from Leanne Ely at SavingDinner. About ten years ago or more, I was really going through a cooking rut and subscribed to her service, Menu Mailer. Every week I received an email with 6-7 entree recipes and a shopping list. Most of the recipes were really good, made with normal ingredients, and I ended up with several that I still use to this day.

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Here’s the recipe in its entirety if you prefer not to grill; grilling instructions are in italics. This way you can prepare it either way!

Market Meatloaf 

(Serves 4)

1 pound ground beef (I actually had 2 pounds and doubled it so if it looks like a lot, that’s why)

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup oatmeal

1 egg, slightly beaten

3 tablespoons milk (I have used coconut milk before and even mayo as a substitute when I was out of milk and there’s no change in flavor. But Shhhh, don’t tell my husband, he things he doesn’t like mayonnaise.)

1 tablespoon ketchup

3/4 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup green onion, thinly sliced (optional)

1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees or pre-heat grill to between 350-400 degrees.

In large bowl, combine meatloaf ingredients, ground beef to salt and pepper, mix thoroughly and press into an 8 x 8 or 9-inch square pan. If you’re grilling, saute the onion first until soft with a little bit of char on the edges before mixing it with the rest of the ingredients. 

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For the grill, I used a cast-iron griddle pan, then just sauteed the onion in it first. If you don’t have a griddle pan, I imagine a cast-iron skillet would work just as well. 

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Bake 20-25 minutes, or until no longer pink and the juices run clear, then carefully pour off drippings. Sprinkle cheese over the top and broil 3-4 inches from heat source for 3-5 minutes, or until top is lightly browned, then sprinkle with green onions. Cut into 4 big servings.

For the grill, press it into the same pan in which the onions were sauteed and let it sizzle away. I have no idea how long I kept it on the grill because I was hanging out with Jimmy in our bar downstairs. HA! So just grill it with the lid down and, like you would a large burger, check on it periodically until it looks mostly done and has some nice char on the bottom. 

Cut the meatloaf into pieces wide enough to flip and cook on the other side. Mine ended up approximately 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide. Because I was…ahem…multi-tasking, I flipped all the pieces then simply shut the grill off and went on about my life. When you’ve decided it’s done to your liking, remove from the grill and serve.

This would be fabulous with a slice of Pepper Jack cheese melted over it! Or for a breakfast variation, how about an over-easy egg sitting prettily on the top?

Or how about a slice of Colby Jack, some grilled onion strings and on a bun? YUM!

Or simply with ketchup. Or without, since I’m out. 😀

Whatever way you eat it, it’s bound to be good! Give it a try this weekend, and give me a shout out if you tried a different variation. 🙂