This past weekend, we turned the country music up loud in the truck and sang along to some of our favorite lyrics. We ate ice cream cones, took naps and cast the fishing line into the lake. We enjoyed a Michigan sunset while on the maiden voyage of our new fishing boat, and docked the boat happily drenched from a downpour. We celebrated a new addition with friends, went on a family bike ride with Maizy and finalized a baby name.



To some, none of this would seem significant or important- merely just another weekend in the summer. To us, this was everything. This was the feeling of getting our lives back.

It was the mark of being finished with 2 years of residency, but moreso, being finished with second year itself. The most difficult year of residency is now behind us!

Neither one of us realized just how difficult the past year had been until we sat at Zingerman's, enjoying pork butt and collard greens. It felt as if a huge weight had been lifted, the fog cleared. As if we both were trying so hard to get by and survive for months and months on end. Only to fueled by the few times we were able to rejuvenate ourselves from something as simple as going out on a date night to our favorite tavern.
Now, we have the opportunity to do things together- again. Honestly, to feel a little normalcy again.

I'm so incredibly proud of how hard my husband has worked this past year. He has sacrificed more than most people know (and sometimes more than I knew.) Because he is not one for complaining, I knew he was feeling worn down when he uttered comments that reflected his exhaustion. Yet, there was no solution. Just to endure. It was just a tough year, plain and simple. For both of us. I could count how many dinners with friends or social outings we were able to go to together on both hands, and would probably loose count at the ones we had to miss. I could tell you about endless nights of falling asleep on the couch waiting for him to arrive home, to be woken up at 2:00 am with a phone call that he was finally on his way. I could, at length, describe how fitting in time with friends, family and one another was exhausting, frustrating and heartbreaking because it felt like someone was always sacrificing. I could share how seeing my husband exhausted was painful in itself, and how I was exhausted from just trying to keep everything together. I could tell you how many times I'd talk to my family and be on the edge of a downpour of tears simply because I missed my husband, separate from the 20 minute dates in the hospital cafeteria when it took 20 minutes to park in the first place. I could talk about how many times my work travel overlapped with my husband's one weekend off. But life continues to go on, despite someone's work requirements. In between those long call shifts and work travels lay the moments that kept us going.

It takes effort to make life meaningful and intentional. I can tell you that those difficult times are just a part of the story. Because in reality, no matter how challenging it's been, it has forced us to make what we were given- good. Very sweet lemonade out of some rather rotten lemons, if you will. We've had countless things to celebrate and be grateful for over the course of a work year that hasn't been quick to warrant time for either. We learned how to care for one another, better. We've overcome some incredible heartache and shared first-time joys and experiences. We found strength in ourselves and one another that we didn't know we had. We've been cared for by friends and family and haven't been able to do much in return except say thank you.

Sure, it's been challenging. But what a shame it would be to define this year as simply that.
After all, we are expecting a wee one in 10 short weeks.

On Friday evening, we were driving to the store, making a list of what we needed to get for our fishing boat. Kyle was on cloud 9, giddy about just the thought of being able to sleep in and spend the next day on his new baby. In the middle of discussing how a ladder would be necessary if I ever wanted to get back on the boat (this pregnancy belly really does get in the way sometimes!), these lyrics ran through the speakers and we looked at one another, held hands across my growing belly and smiled.

I've got a ways to go on this ride
But I got a hand to hold that fits just right
You make me laugh, you make me high,
You make me want to hold on tight


Couldn't have said it better myself.



You may not have known this, but over the past two years, not only have I been working as a program manager and photographer, I also added landlord to my resume.

At times, this may have been the most stressful of all of the jobs.

I didn't apply. I didn't interview. I landed right in my lap.
Here's how it all came about:

When we moved from Charlottesville, we did not sell our home there. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances (mainly, the buyer backed out of the contract just as we crossed the Ohio border in the large Uhaul truck, complete with all of our belongings to move to Michigan.) Yes, unfortunate and stressful it was. I remember sitting in a Biggby coffee shop, searching for property management companies in Virginia. Kyle sat across from me and we'd trade calling them to discuss potentially hiring them to rent our property. We had no idea what we were doing, but we learned quickly. That specific coffee shop still conjures up the memories of those first few days in Ann Arbor, as not only our hearts but our home was in a such a bittersweet place- left in C'ville.




At that point, our realtor didn't think it was wise to list the home again, so our only option was to rent for a year then try to list it again the following Spring.

Without being convinced we found a management company that wouldn't rob us of every penny possible, we decided to list the home on craigslist for a week, just to see what happened. Thankfully, we found a great couple who took decent care of our home for almost a year and half. Our realtor had sent us rental agreements and legal information so we had all of the proper paperwork to move forward on our own.
After our first renters moved out, we decided to rent for one more year and found other tenants who were equally great. (Between those two years, the market wasn't back up to a point that we wanted to sell, and since we didn't have to sell, we decided it wouldn't hurt to see what market would do in one year).

Overall, it worked out well. The rent more than covered the mortgage payment, the tenants were trustworthy, and we just kept paying down the mortgage. It became an income property (temporarily). We also had tenants who could really enjoy the house like were able to years prior! Win win!

Now, I'll give you the flip side. Since owning a rental property certainly isn't that straight forward, and lovely!

Here's the reality:
No matter how trustworthy or kind your tenants are, they are still tenants. They don't own the home.

Sure, this may be obvious. And we knew this was the case, but you don't know it really...until you are hiring contractors and hemorrhaging money.


At the end of the day, your tenants are not there to care for your home. They will move out. YOU are responsible for any and all that they left behind. Fun is not how I would define hiring a handyman to fix a wall that the movers destroyed with a couch, or finding someone to do landscaping who won't lie to you with how much has to be done, or finding out the dishwasher is now broken ("suddenly") or there is a leak in the kitchen ceiling or the washer and dryer appear to not be working....and the list continues. This is all very basic home maintenance (the home was built in 2008).

Bottom line- unless you can make multiple trips to the location of your rental, you are relaying on other people's opinions and insights. And guess what? Each one of those comes with a price tag. Sometimes, a pretty hefty price tag.

The rental income you have can easily be put right back into the home when you are ready to list it. (Assuming you cannot be there to do anything yourself)

For example, one board on the back porch had begun to warp and started to bend one piece of vinyl siding on the home. The inspector wanted it fixed. So, we paid hundreds of dollars for someone to go to the home and measure, go to the store and purchase the goods, order ONE piece of vinyl to replace the small area, remove one piece of wood from the porch and nail a new one down. It's almost funny how ridiculous it is. This story repeats itself in minute ways and not minute dollars over and over again.

The difference is, if you owned and lived in the home, you'd take care of things as they arise. You do landscaping and care for the exterior. You'd power wash and clean the gutters yourself.  You wouldn't let a dog stay for a weekend and eat through a banister. You would fix appliances or scruff marks, or repaint when needed. You naturally would keep things tidy and kept up. You're invested in the home and you care for it continually (welcome to home ownership, right?).
I should mention that if we would have hired a company to find renters and collect rent, they may or may not have done any of these things either. It would have completely depended on the contract we had with them as to how involved they would be in home maintenance vs. just being a collection agency. But again...the price tag would have kept increasing with the more responsibility we gave a property management company.

Maintenance is necessarily and unavoidable.

Outside of the basic maintenance, you are also tacking on other costs such as increased home insurance, as once your home becomes a rental the insurance companies love to hike up your price, or paying the utilities between tenants and the fees associated with transferring accounts.



Let me reiterate that our only experience is from being a landlord from far, far away. 12 hours away. Where you don't have access to check-in at random times, and fix things yourself at the drop of a hat. The rental market can be quite profitable if done as a business, but obviously I'm not jumping at a new business opportunity here.

Whew!


If you are thinking of renting your home in a state that you do not currently live in, and do not have the availability to continually visit that home numerous times a year- be prepared (and errr..forewarned).
Here's some questions you should think about :

- Do you have the resources to cover your current housing situation (rent or mortgage) if you also had to cover your mortgage at your rental property? How many months would you be able to do handle both?

- Is there someone in the location of the rental property that you can call and trust to make decisions on your behalf? (And represent you, as the landlord, to the tenants in a professional way)

- Are you willing to sort through tenant applications, call past landlords and ask difficult questions of future tenants?

- If the rent payment does not arrive on time, what systems do you have in place to collect payment in a timely manner? (aka how do you not get taken advantage of?!)

- Do you have the resources to maintain the home: Could you buy a new washer and dryer if it breaks? What is the crawl space needs to be relined? Ice machine is broken in the refrigerator? All of these can range from one hundred dollars to thousands. Remember, it's still your home.

- Will the rental income impact your income taxes? You have to claim rental income as income, and you can only write-off mortgage interest. Depending on your annual income and what you are charging for rent, this could change your tax bracket.

- Is the rental market in the city advantageous for you? Could you cover your mortgage with the rental fee? Are you looking to make money from the rental cost? (For any profit made monthly, a percentage should be saved to cover basic maintenance)

- How long do you want to rent for? Is it for income or necessity or to wait out the market, or all?!

- When you eventually list the home, are you prepared to pay the mortgage (it's very difficult to have renters while showing the home), pay the fees and contractors, cover unexpected costs (such as paying for your lawn to be mowed each week) and then, have a backup plan if the home doesn't sell.

- When you do sell the home, at what price will it make it worth having rented the home for an extended period of time? Are you looking to make money, break even or are you okay losing money? If so, how much?


Despite all of the items listed above making renting seem like a huge debby downer, having a rental property has advantages as well. Ours was a bit trial and error, but we were very blessed to have great tenants and friends in the city who stepped in when random things came up. All along, we made money and paid down the mortgage (thus establishing more equity). In doing so, we were able to hold off on listing the home until the market was healthy enough to ensure we wouldn't be losing a lot of money from the investment. <-- all great things!

We listed the home this year at the suggestion of our realtor, as the market had gone up so much that it was a wise decision  to try and sell it now. In all honesty, this is where the majority of expenses come in - preparing a home for the market after two years of renting it.

Our realtor has been amazing and a HUGE help. She recommended the best contractors, got estimates for us and helped be our eyes and ears on site. One of our great friends took on the "landlord" role, did the walk-throughs with our tenants, and made very detailed lists for us to look over. If it weren't for either of them, either Kyle or myself would have needed to fly down to Virginia for at least a week to do everything ourselves and coordinate contractors. Honestly, neither one of us could have taken that time off of work to do it this time of year. (And frankly, my helpfulness levels have declined since carrying a human!)

Despite a lot of phone calls, using up an entire check-book, multiple estimates, "now what" conversations, and a few hiccups along the way, we still made the right decision two years ago when we decided not to re-list and to rent instead. We have learned a lot in the process and all in all, we have no crazy rental horror stories to report (huge sigh of relief!).

I'm am happy to report that after all is said and done, we will be closing on our dear home in C'ville in less than two weeks. Oddly, it feels bittersweet! There is a wonderful couple who is purchasing it as their first home. It's really fun to know that our first home is going to bless another family as much as it did ours (even if it's a little sad to let the little adobe go).


 (celebrating our first anniversary with a cookout in the old backyard...okay, now I'm just getting sappy)




My second trimester looked a whole lot different than my first, but that's not a bad thing. A lot of exciting (and interesting) things have been happening.
Now that we are officially in the third trimester, the second one seems a bit like a blur. It has flown by! I can't help but think "9 months doesn't seem all that long!!" (Except I may not be echoing that same sentiment come August) This whole year has quickly disappeared into memories (is it really June already?!!). Makes me realize the baby will be here in no time at all.



March, 2014.

Darling baby,

You spent the month of March traveling on planes from one coast to another. We entered the 2nd trimester together while in San Francisco, then headed to Bahamas for a nice little getaway. I thought my bump as so large then. (If I had only known....) It wasn't so much of a bump you were forming, more just rounding me out, making this momma feel and look extra plump. Your grandpa liked to joke that my belly could easily be mistaken for a beer belly - but I think the fact that I was continually touching it made it more obvious that you were growing inside of there.


I'd respond, "how is it NOT obvious!" I digress. Looking back, it wasn't that obvious. A stranger asked me when I was due at the end of March, and my face just lite up! I replied "September 7th" in the proudest way, then reported to your dad the news... "Finally! I just don't look like I ate too many burritos and can't go the bathroom!" He responded, "not quite, you could still pass as just really needing to poop."

We've been receiving the most thoughtful cards from family and friends who are simply smitten with the news of your life. Any day that seems overwhelming is made better when I look at our refrigerator door and see sweet notes from loved ones, sitting beside your ultrasound images. You are already so loved. You looked so, so tiny in those images, then I look down at my belly and it becomes unmistakable you are growing like a weed!


April 9th,

Today was the big day. I didn't know it, but your father was as nervous as could be. He hid it very well.
Today was the fetal survey. The big ultrasound where we get to see all of the ins and outs. 10 toes, check, 10 fingers, check. The doctor measured your fingers, toes, heart, spine, body length, brain, organs...all of it. With each new angle and screenshot, your dad crept closer and closer to the screen, making sure you had all four heart valves and every other small intricacy. (Sometimes it's possible to know too much). He gave multiple smiles and sighs of relief with each minute that passed. I sat in utter amazement, squeezing your dad's hand and exclaiming, "wowwww" about every five seconds. You looked so cozy in there, but you are certainly a squirmer!
Then the chance came to see if you were a boy or a girl- and we COVERED OUR EYES!! We kept smirking at one another from behind our hands, "should we look," "no, don't do it!"... "wait, maybe we do want to know!"
The day of your birth will be full of surprises. Your sex, your name, and if you happened to get my "twin toes" or not. (The ultrasound was not able to conclude one way or the other since your little foot was smashed against my uterus wall.)

We were in the exact same room, same bed, viewing the same television, as we were when we learned the news that we had lost your sibling. Last year, I had nightmares about this exact scenario. It was incredibly bittersweet, and yet redeeming. To see where we were to where we are now, God knew this entire story and how it would play out.
The following verse kept running through my mind as I laid on the table in awe of the picture displayed on the dark wall in front of me:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (Psalm 139:13-16)

You are wonderfully, fearfully made. You're already known. Every single part of you is being knit together in my womb.
Sometimes there are just no words.


Baby VK says HELLOOO :)


I drove from our ultrasound appointment to the airport, another work trip was calling my name to Washington DC. I spent the week cooped up in a hotel, waiting for the moment to get outside and enjoy the cherry blossoms and sunshine. Just to feel that warm, fresh air and taste the arrival of Spring- completely rejuvenating and worth another week of feeling ill while traveling. I'm hoping you enjoy traveling much more outside of the womb than you have inside of it.

Your dad also has a new nickname for you. For the past week, you have been called "Ricardo." I wish I could give you a rhyme or reason but it's just your nickname. And it has stuck. I'm sorry.
(and just for good measure, sometimes in "Ricardarina" in case you're a girl) Again, I'm so sorry.


April 13th,

At 19 weeks, I am loving this bump you are giving me. I am no longer looking super chubby, but instead, I popped. I thought I had "popped" a long time ago, but now I get it when people use that term. It's taken a bit to get used to, this ever-growing thing. This stomach-is-starting-to-get-in-the-way thing.
We've had a few other 'bumps' along the road the past few weeks. Apparently one can develop allergic reactions while pregnant- which I had the opportunity to experience...all.over.my.body. That's right, you and I spent yet another Sunday afternoon in the ER after my airway began to close. Neighbor Jim drove us to the hospital (I think he is just about as excited for your arrival as we are!) I told your dad it was our way of getting to spend some quality time with him while he was on call. Lovely dinner from the hospital cafeteria and all. Praise God all is well, you are healthy, I'm healthy and steroids served to keep me from catching my eyeballs out of my head.
Safe to say we learn something new everyday.




April 20th,

Hey you,

Today, we celebrated your dad's birthday, hitting the halfway mark in our pregnancy, 7 years since we began dating, and Easter! It was one of those days I will never forget. There is so much to celebrate on a day like today. All of these life celebrations that bring smiles to our faces and warmness to our hearts are anchored in the story of what Easter represents to us - the single reason we are able to celebrate LIFE. What a beautiful day. My heart is overflowing.


Cousin Hannah Rose loves talking about you. "Baby Cousin come play," she says. She'll pat my stomach and whisper shyly, "baby cousin in there." Melts my heart thinking about how much fun you two will have together. You'll learn so much from that little genius. (Including how to "secretly" feed Maizy treats).



May 4th,

Ricardo,

A few weeks ago, all of the new furniture arrived at our home that you would soon be yours. All of the nursery furniture looked so beautiful, I got teary-eyed just looking at it. Although we haven't had time to rearrange the furniture or put your crib together, just seeing the gorgeous white pieces sitting in your soon-to-be nursery makes everything very real. Today, I found Maizy sitting in the dead center of the room, looking around. She is trying to figure out who exactly all of this fancy stuff is for.




May 11th,

Today is 23 weeks, I started to feel your flutter. OH.  MY.  GOSH.
At first I thought it was my digestive track. Nope, it was definitely you. You are moving and a groovin' in there. All times of day, you are punching and kicking and stretching out. Sometimes I'm not really sure what you are doing, except just saying "hello, I'm hereeee guys." I've been attempting to eat sugar right before your dad gets home, so that you would be a bit more lively in order that he could feel you. It may be a wivestale, because it hasn't worked for a week...until....


May 15th,

This evening, we were laying in bed and I started to feel you kick on the outside. I grabbed your dad's hand, put in on my belly and whispered, "just wait." He lite up like the forth of July. 

In other news, I'm learning how to roll myself off of the couch, how much I love the body pillow, and how difficult shaving my legs is going to be in the months to come. My belly is protruding enough that Maizy is none to thrilled with getting her spot taken up by this stomach during snuggle time. Her solution? To put half her body on my belly and half off, complete with the head and paw spread across my belly like it's suddenly a comfy pillow of sorts. She's say hello to you.


May 20th,

You already have a built-in buddy! This isn't new news, but you got to "meet" him.
Cousin Elichia and I grew up very close. From weekends on the lake, driving the train around the lawn, playing teacher, snowmobiling up north, jetsking in the bay, playing soccer together and multiple vacations (one in which we had crab every.single.night for an entire week on the east coast and another where climbed Diamond Head in Hawaii..)...we have lots of memories from childhood. Amazingly enough, we were both pregnant at the family Christmas party and didn't know it.
You are going to have a baby cousin, a boy, who is expected to arrive two weeks before you. I hope that our labor and delivery will be as amazing as hers have been (take after your cousins child!).




May 22nd,



My feet are beginning to disappear.


May 27th,

Babes,

This being pregnant thing is awfully limiting. Apparently growing a human can put some restraints on what you can and cannot do. I know you're having a ball in there, but out here it's taking some adjusting. I'm not sure if it's called denial or being completely naive, but the past week I've become shocked at what I can no longer do. It's a frustrating experience knowing that lifting a bag of mulch will prove to be a painful for days to follow. This body is just not my own right now...it's your home and I'll try to make it as warm and cozy in there as possible (even if that means no longer moving drywall down the basement stairs)

Aunt Jessica came to visit this week and cried when she saw the belly bump that you have formed. She talked and talked to you and even felt your kick! Together, we finished our landscaping- because that's what our family has been doing for months- stepping in and helping like crazy. I'd like to say that you will be spoiled, but the reality is we have been too. As I try to care for you, each of them has cared for us. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but goodness, I'd say it has taken one to prepare for you!



June 1st,

Ricardo,

Mom and dad put your crib together today. We rearranged the furniture in your nursery, tested out the rocking chair numerous times (it's comfy) and began to fill the drawers. I pass your room and peak inside. It takes my breathe away thinking that a little one will be occupying that crib by the end of summer. Sometimes it's those very small, seemingly insignificant moments that remind me that our entire life is about to change. We are both frightened beyond belief and excited beyond belief. It's safe to say that this Fall will be a rather long period of trial and error for us three (Four, if you include Maizy, your bestie)

On another note, your father's reaction to my growing belly is quite entertaining. Neither one of us can fathom how much it changes every single week! About once a week, I catch him just looking at it in disbelief. I asked him if it's weird to see me like this and we both agree that it is...by the time we get used to it you'll be in our arms. Lately, he will kiss me on the forehead when he leaves in the early morning, while I'm still half asleep, and then kiss my belly and tell you he loves you. There's nothing better.



June 8th,

It's a gorgeous, sunny day and you and I are entering the last trimester of this journey. Your growth has been stretching the round ligament pain to new levels, I'm feeling a bit more tired than normal and the feet...oh the glorious feet - sweet mother of swelling.
I suppose if that's all I have to complain about, I certainly can't complain at all. I'll treasure those times you kicked so hard my entire stomach moved like jello, and the constant need to always know where the nearest bathroom is (oh please never let me get stuck without a restroom in site!).

Keep the swelling, bloat and "please don't let me pee my pants" pleas coming. It's the only time in life where those things are ridiculously beautiful.



I'll admit it: I have left my photography blog high and dry this year. But it's been for good reason- it's getting a major facelift (along with my website too!) I haven't abandoned my little biz, although it may appear so if you look at the last dates of entry. Just do me a favor and don't look at the dates ;)

Spring is always a busy time with family portraits and preparing for summer, which is wonderful! What family doesn't want pictures in gorgeous weather, gorgeous light and fresh blooms all around?! Especially here in Michigan where everyone is dying to be outside after a harsh winter. Although I haven't been updating the blog with every session lately, here are just a few of Noelle Sophia's 6 month session (aka, her discovery of the great outdoors!)

I know, I know. THOSE CHEEKS!! THE BOW!!
(and the apparent dislike of grass!)





It seems as if the last time I've written a "life post," if you will, we've gone from snow on the ground to a hearty 80 degrees outside. My body looked very different, and one of our of bedrooms was not full of furniture suitable for a little baby. Our "finishing the basement project" was just getting underway, and our maple trees showed every sign of a harsh winter. Heck, our living room even looked different!

Alas - a lot has changed in the past few months!
(including some lovely swollen ankles)

Although I'll attempt to circle back to all of those things in the next few weeks as I reenter this lovely blogging world, this post is mostly for selfish needs, a good reminder of sorts. I want to look back in a few years and not think that I was hiding under the covers for the past few months. (Although, that somewhat seems accurate if we are talking about those winter months) Not only do I want to deny the accusations of becoming a hermit, for my own sake, I need to remember what the Lord has taught me through these months.

This cycle of events seems to be the theme of our lives right now: super busy with plenty to be thankful for. It's like I'm a broken record, replaying the same song over, and over again. We are just those people with a lot going on. One day, I hope that changes. Right now, I hate it and love it at the same time. It leaves me wondering if the hustle and bustle is what I need to learn how to be thankful...over and over and over again. It's all too easy to spend time on what you are convinced is urgent, rather than what you know is important. This busy body has a problem dedicating time to the former, disguised in the names of deadlines and commitments. So what on earth does this have to do with learning to be thankful? Stick with me.

Here's what has had me pondering this continual cycle of busy, busy, stop, breathe, busy busy, stop, breath:

The last two months have been...interesting. Along with the little life growing inside of me, we've endured one heck of a bad schedule. In the last post you may have read my few sentence rant so I will spare you the details. Bottom line- it's been challenging. Our schedules haven't coincided, we're trying to do 1000 things at once and connect while passing one another out the door or at 5 am for the 10 minutes we are able to get together each week. It's not exactly how I would categorize a super fun, enjoyable time.

We've both been in survival mode.
But in some strange way, I find myself being thankful for it. Humbled by it.

It's showed us that it's not the kind of life we want to live.
It has strengthened our faith.
It's humbled us as our family and friends have taken great care in loving us to no end, even when we have been unable to immediately return the favor.
It has reiterated that serving one another when it's utterly inconvenient matters greatly.
It has reminded us that we have to make time to have fun together.
It's drawn the difference between effort that is futile and effort that is eternal.

It has taught me to give thanks for every.single.moment.

This season of busyness, it seems, has turned from being a culprit to a mechanism of growth. God truly makes from all things.




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