Saturday, February 28, 2009

Digging out from debt

Today we got some exciting news I thought would be fun to share.

As I've mentioned, we've been working really hard towards buying a house in the past few months. The thing holding us back was needing to pay off some debt in order to qualify for the loan. Back when Matt was in his care-free 20-something job-less phase, he made a string of poor financial choices. This particular phase didn't last very long, but it had some strong and long-term effects. We've always known it was there, just sort of avoided it because it was far too overwhelming to deal with.

Last spring I attended a first time home buyer's class. When we began working with a mortgage broker who helped teach the class, it felt pretty hopeless that this was anywhere in our near future, but figured it wouldn't hurt to find out what he had to say. We shared with him our credit reports and after he reviewed it all, the news was good and bad. The good news was, we could buy a house! We made enough money and would qualify for a loan even with a really, really poor credit score (yay for FHA!). The bad news, which was made very clear to us, was that we needed to pay off all of the bad debt we had. Okay, how in the world could we even begin to do that?

Well, we had been starting to pay things off since late 2006, so that was a start. At that time I had just read Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover and set up our little "snowball" spreadsheet (which is a way to order your debts so that you can more effectively pay them off). It was sobering, but every month we threw a few hundred dollars at it, little by little things started to get paid off and ceremoniously crossed off of the spreadsheet. Then came the day we met with the mortgage guy. He recommended a law firm that would help us clean up Matt's credit report even more. We worked closely with them while we continued to put even more money towards our debt.

So that brings me to today. When the mortgage guy came he showed us Matt's credit report. His score had gone up well over 100 points since we began this process. We have one thing left. One thing, it's a pretty big one, but that's IT. Once that is paid off we will have our pre-approval letter in hand and will start looking for our house.

Mr. Mortgage Guy said we had the most complicated profile of any people he had worked with, but that we had worked harder than other people have to fix it. That he had seen other people give up, convinced that they would never fix it. That he had used us as an example of where you can get with a little hard work.

Needless to say, we're really proud of the work we've done. Matt and I like to joke that with his money-earning abilities and my ability to work a budget, we'll be okay. Certainly if our roles were reversed, we'd be screwed!

We think we'll be in a house by June. We hope so. I want to be in one before Iris's birthday on June 18th. That's sort of best-case scenario, though, which we try not to put too much weight in to since nothing about this process has really gone as quickly as we would have hoped.

I am mostly sharing this story because I hope it inspires someone else. We can hardly believe we were able to accomplish what we have. It's pretty exciting :)

Monday, February 23, 2009

The tours begin

Tomorrow is the first kindergarten tour I am doing. So many people I have talked to about this are totally unaware of how the process of public schooling in Seattle works, so here's a little break down: each child has a reference school, which is the school the live closest to, and resides in a cluster, which is a group of schools within the whole city. Clusters have around a dozen schools in them and are named "northwest" "north", etc etc. A child can go to any school within the city, though if the school isn't in your cluster, you have a lower chance of getting in than a child who is. Most people I know are touring a handful of schools in their cluster. Come registration, you put down your top three choices for schools and they try to get you in to your first, if not, your second, then lastly, your third. If you either don't choose any schools or none of them have space, your child gets sent to any school in your cluster (not necessarily your reference school, which makes me question the need for them?). We also have alternative schools here, which have a little bit different set of criteria for their system of getting in to them. The biggest one being, any child from anywhere in the city has just as much chance of getting in as any other, no matter how close you live.

So, that's a very broad overview of the system. It's taken me a loooong time to understand all of this!

The school I'm going to see tomorrow is one such alternative school that we so happen to currently live close to, within walking distance if we're feeling extra athletic that day! I have NO idea what to expect. How many parents will be there? What will the classrooms look like? How will the teachers be? Will it seem at all a good fit for Iris? Iris told me to ask if they have art, books and blocks. And she wants a nice teacher and to have nice classmates. And a playground. Sounds pretty good, no?

I have seriously been thinking of sending her to half day kindergarten, until I realized that half day is something like 2 3/4 hours. Even the kids at preschool go for longer days than that! So your choices are just under 3 hours or more like 6 hours, for a full day. I want a 4 hour day choice. Where is that? So now I'm back to thinking about full day. But full day. UGH. FULL DAY. Really? Should my freshly five year old be in school 30 hours a week? I know millions of children do full day kindergarten, or geez, full time preschool or even day care, without incident. My mom likes to remind me of this, that the families she has worked with in Head Start send the little kids to full day school, after school child-care, you name it, it's not an issue. But this is MY kid. We are lucky to live in a city that has soooo many schooling options. The kids don't just get bussed to the local school without question and stay there all day before being bussed back home. The options here are, as I like to say, a blessing and a curse. I wish it was as easy as sending her to the closest school, because that is the only option. I also wish we had all of the time and money in the world to research schools, shell out the big bucks for private school, and be fully entrenched in our children's education. Surely we will find the happy medium between those two worlds.

Anyways, I'm rambling now, but all this to say, my first tour is tomorrow. Wish me luck.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A wonderful week

We had a truly wonderful week last week. It was mid-winter break here for the Seattle Public School system (which the girl's school follows) so we were all left to our own devices last week.

Luckily we had beautiful weather and got outside quite a bit. The girls got along well, I wasn't at all stressed, everything was great. Now that Iris has to go back to school again tomorrow I'm just dreading the busy week ahead of going, going, going. Iris is, too. Well, she hasn't really wanted to go to school for a little while now. I hate sending her to school when I really want her to just be at home with me, especially when she doesn't even want to go! I do know it's the right place for her to be right now, however, as most weeks aren't as fun and effortless as this past one was. Usually we are driving each other crazy in our tiny space and I am just flipping on the tv so I can get chores done, and feeling guilty for every minute of it.

Not too much has changed on the new house front. I think we're much more back in the "buy" category vs. the rent category. We have always thought that if we could find a rental cheap enough in a neighborhood we love, we would rent it, because we can't really afford to buy in the neighborhoods we love. However, nothing is coming up that is right for us. So we're doing some stuff this week to give us the clear picture on what it will take for us to buy like right now. We'll see if we can!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Temper, temper

I am feeling really stuck. Really wanting to make some big changes, but still stuck. I am trying to temper my deep desire to make these changes NOW with what is going to best for our family, and match closely with our family's vision. But being in the middle of the storm of my brain, I can't sort any of this out.

I've written on the blog quite a bit about our search for a new home. A ways back it was just wanting to move to a new apartment (or house!). Then, last summer, we decided to get the ball rolling to buy a house. It feels like over the past seven months or so we've been inching ever closer. We're getting some debt stuff in order so that we can qualify for an FHA loan. Then the market started really tanking. Ooo! Good time to buy! But oooo! Scary time to buy, too, because the whole world's economy is falling apart!

A few weeks ago I just thought, you know screw it. I'm done waiting to be ready to get this loan and just want to be in a house NOW. So we started looking at rentals. And the first day of looking found the most amazing rental ever. EVER. The rent on the house was less than we would pay on a mortgage and was a much, much nicer house than we could ever afford to buy. We thought, oh, wow. Why would we buy a house when we can live in an awesome one for less money? We wouldn't be building the equity, but all of our hard-earned money would stay in savings and we wouldn't be completely screwed should something happen to Matt's job. But we didn't get that house. And seriously, I cried. Cried. I never do that, but it felt like this chance to be in a great house in a great neighborhood for a very affordable price was dangled in front of us and then ripped away. We have looked at house after house after house since we saw that one. None, not one, has been right. All except for one had rents even more expensive than our initial favorite.

So now I wonder, is this really the right choice for us? I want to be in a house NOW. No, I want to be in a house pretty much yesterday. Our apartment is safe and cheap and decent, but way too small, we are way too loud for an apartment building, and there is no yard access or close places to play outside. We are on a month-to-month lease and can leave whenever we feel like it, which is really nice. If we move out in to a rental house, we'll be tied in to a year lease. Maybe we could just buy then, instead?

On the other side, we can just use our savings up to remedy our debt issues so we are eligible for our home loan right now. Then we have no savings, a hopefully decent house and a grand mortgage. We had always intended to move out of our current apartment in to a house that we purchased, but we didn't completely understand what we needed to pay off in order to make that happen and how many hurdles we would need to over come.

I wish there was a clear answer. Or I don't know, maybe there is? Maybe there is and I just don't see it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

New post

Lots of new stuff up over at Iris's art blog!

I scanned a bunch of things last night and will be posting more over the next few days.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

An art show!

Today Iris and I started talking about having an art opening to display her artwork for her friends and family. She is an incredibly prolific and talented artist, so this should be a really fun way to take it to that next level. Maybe we can start doing one a year or something? Anyways, that's jumping the gun, first we need to figure out how to do the very first one.

So far we only know this: we need to let everyone know about the art show and serve people food and drink while they are there.

The rest I'm not so sure about. I had started getting all of these grand ideas in my head and was telling Iris's teacher about it, drawing on my experiences of having attended many openings when my brother, a painter, had openings I was able to attend in Milwaukee. Iris's incredibly smart teacher's response was that maybe I could ask Iris how she would like her art to be displayed. Uh, yeah. Clearly I was making it too much about my expectations. I need to follow Iris's expectations, instead.

But anyways, we don't live in an art gallery. We live in an apartment. How could we even display artwork here for public viewing? We do have several white walls, but exposing them would require a rearrangement of our furniture. I also thought about stringing clothesline across the room and hanging the artwork from it. I definitely want to make sure the art is arranged and visible to people. One of Iris's suggestions was having a place for people to do their own art when the opening, which we would need to find a place for. Of course, there is the whole matter of us trying to move out of our apartment sooner rather than later! Would the opening be here or in a new place?

I also don't know much about what to do with the piles of papers Iris has amassed. Should I try to mount or frame them? If so, how exactly? Yikes. There is alot to figure out! Maybe we'll aim for an April show. That will give us time to get it all put together.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Another weekend down the drain

Holy crap, I can't believe the weekend flew by so fast. I woke up this morning with the familiar low-level anxiety I live with every single Sunday. It's not that I hate the weekdays, I just really, really love the weekends. They're always so much more relaxing.

We have been kicking around the idea for the last few weeks about renting a house instead of waiting it out in our crappy apartment until we can finally buy one. Yesterday we went to look at a house and oh, wow. It was PERFECT. Just perfect. Perfect house. Perfect location. Perfect everything. We hit it off well with the couple that was renting it out, or at least I thought we did. They had two young children, their son was a week old! We came home, filled out the application and I emailed the guy renting it out to ask when we could bring it by (we didn't have his phone number or I would have called, and also, he told us we could just slip it in the mailbox, but I thought it would be nice to talk to them again). I didn't hear from him by late this morning so I sent Matt over to leave the application in their mailbox. I emailed the guy again just to say Matt dropped it off.

THEN I find out that they pulled their rental ad off of Craigslist. I am just freaking out. I still haven't heard from them. Why not? Why did they pull the ad? I know we were likely the first people to see the house. I'm just so worried we aren't going to get it. I've literally checked my email hundreds of times today to see if I have a email from them.

Besides that, we've been low-key this weekend. Our good friends came over for pizza night last night and that was really fun. They have boys the same age as our girls, which is nice but also a challenge sometimes. You know who was the big pain last night? Eloise! She was scratching the boys. Ugh. Another reason we need to move-- more space for kids to play when they come over. Or at least more room to lock Eloise away from the other kids!

We found out Matt's mom is coming to visit next weekend and she asked us if we'd like her to watch the girls so we could go out on Valentine's Day. Of course we are thrilled! We haven't been out ON Valentine's Day since we had children. Actually, you know, we were only together one Valentine's before Iris was born. So, hmmm, that was our only Valentine's date! Funny. Matt burned me CDs and put heart stickers on them. I got him some things that were very tame from the Erotic Bakery.

Signing off to watch the rest of the Grammy's, pack Iris's lunch and get to BED!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

All about Iris

The past week and a half has been all about Iris in this house. I wrote a bit about last week, with her big fall. This week it's been about the hard time she is having at preschool. It's so rough, for her, of course, but also for the rest of us.

I've written a bit before about the trouble she's been having feeling excluded from some other children's play at school. It's kind of reached a breaking point this week. Iris had a very hard time at school on Monday, refused to go on Tuesday-- something I agreed to, not knowing whether or not that was actually the best choice, had no school on Wednesday, then there was today. She agreed to go today after we talked about it quite a bit. Her teacher has been working on some of the issues on the school side, I've been working on some of the issues with Iris. So we get to school and she FREAKED out. Screaming and crying, she didn't want to stay at school. She did end up staying, but it was so hard. I wanted to sit and cry with her. When I got back to pick her up she was doing great and had had a fun day. I am hoping that having more fun days like that will help her regain her confidence in school. Of course, tonight she still declared that she was never going to school again.

Part of me thinks, you know, so don't. You don't have to, you're four years old! Then the other part of me thinks, you know, you won't fix your problems by running away from them. These are tough, but necessary, lessons. I just don't know.

That has been the hard stuff, but there has also been some really great stuff, too.

It's always been clear to us that Iris is extremely artistic. The past little while her creativity has really blossomed to a whole new level and she literally works on art projects from the moment she wakes up until the moment she falls asleep-- her bed is strewn in papers, crayons and tape. It's really incredible. I am trying to figure out the best way to foster her creativity when it comes to what school environment would be best for her. I would love for her to go to a school that has a strong arts focus, but I am also interested in supplementing her schooling with separate art classes. The main reason I am wanting to do this is just so that Iris has the opportunity to be exposed to things she can't be at home, including different mediums and also participating in group projects. So we'll see. I'm really excited for her. I'm excited that there is something she loves so much that she is so good at, and of course I can really relate to it being that I grew up in an artistic family! If she was turning out to be, say, a mathematician, well, I would support her but not relate to her so much-- ha ha.

This whole kindergarten thing, well, I swear, that deserves many of it's own separate posts! It's alot of stress. Every person I talk to with a child Iris's age, we always start with "what schools are you looking at?" It's worse than getting in to college, I'm not even kidding. I have put FAR more energy picking the right kindergarten for Iris than I did picking a college for myself. It doesn't help that I am still vacillating between public school, private school and homeschool! Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

I will survive!

Okay, I actually did survive. What I survived was four days and three nights with no Matt last week. He was out of town for a work trip. I have major, major anxiety leading up to his work trips and this time was certainly no different. I always pray that the trip will be cancelled (hey, every once in a great while it is!) but the biggest thing is, I never have faith in myself that it will be okay. That the girls and I will not only get through it, we'll actually have a fun time with just the three of us.

In all honesty, our time without Matt as really nice. Besides Iris's face-plant on Tuesday, we didn't have any other major mishaps. No one got sick. I don't even think there was a single time-out given while Matt was gone. The girls stepped up to the plate, as did I. We all put our best foot forward and truly had a fun few days. What really helped this time was that I pre-planned some help with the girls. One morning Eloise went to the babysitter's house while Iris was at school and one night they both went to a friend's for dinner and play time while I went out for dinner and drinks with a dear friend.

By the time Matt got home we were very, very ready for his return. Of course, what always happens upon his return happened again this time: the girls went from being sweet, amazing, children to complete, well, hellians. It's been a trying few days for us. Matt and I are both looking for extra rest time after a tiring few days but the girls require much more patience and attention than ever. Oy. When I get really good at this whole thing with Matt travelling I will plan for how to deal with this stage as well as I plan for the time he's away.

Case in point: today. We met a few families from the girl's preschool at a sledding hill for one of the children's birthday parties. It was sledding! Snow! Kids! Laughing and fun and joy! But not for Iris. She screamed and hit and called names and was just generally a really, really rotten kid to be around. It was such a bummer to have her acting this way during what should have been a really fun time. We didn't know what was up with her. Matt thought it might have been something about getting along with one of the other kids there, but you know, even if it was, why the monster explosion in being so hideous? I don't know. I didn't have the energy to deal with it. I just wanted her attitude to go away. I really wish I was better at dealing with this kind of stuff.

Despite Iris's terrible attitude, we did have fun and got tons of great photos. Click on the one below to see more from our day!