Sunday, November 29, 2015

Guide to Home Selling - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 48

This week for the 48th week of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I read The National Association of Realtors Guide to Home Selling.

There were some tips in it that my brother, sister, and I found useful back when we were preparing our parents' home for sell after my mom died in August.

One of the sections was on staging. It said, "You should spend money that is only going to make you money, make your house sell faster, and get multiple bids, if possible."

Some minor staging expenses that we did that were listed in the book were:
- fresh paint in a trendy color
- powerwashing windows and doors

Medium expenses that we did included:
- new carpet
- fresh paint throughout, inside and out (we did this in two bedrooms and in the storage room)

We chose not to do any major expenses since the new owners will - most likely - have the discretionary income to update the home to fit their needs and preferences.

The author noted that everyone wants a clean home. Your home must:
- appear clean
- smell clean
- feel clean

Some basic tips included:
- get rid of stale orders by opening windows, putting boxes of baking soda in the refrigerator, and put real charcoal in areas that absorb smells such as garages and kitchens. Be careful of perfumes, potpourri, wall-plug scents, or other masking products that could offend people with allergies.
- clean fireplaces thoroughly.
- keep countertops and table tops as clutter free as possible.
-  put away family photos and other personal memorabilia

There was a section in the book about how to get the most money for your home. This is more for thinking about my own home rather than my parents' home. To achieve the best asking price:
- don't use your home as an ATM. If you take money out of your home in the form of a loan, make sure you make improvements to the home that keep it current by today's market standards.
- keep your home in top condition. All homes show signs of wear, but keeping your home in good repair means you can sell at a moment's notice without a make-ready period, and fetch top dollar for your home.

There were some suggestions about how to speed up the home sale:
- Price it right. Set a price at the lower end of your property's realistic price range.
- Get your house market-ready for at least two weeks before you begin showing it.
- Be ready or the offers. Decide in advance what price and terms you'll find acceptable.
- Don't refuse to drop the price. If your home has been on the market for more than 30 days without an offer, be prepare to lower your asking price.

There were suggestions about ways to make your home irresistible at an open house. We did some of things listed like:
- Add new guest soaps to every bath.
- Buy a fresh doormat with a clever saying. (Ours just said, "Welcome." Nothing clever...but a pleasant message.)
- Take one or two major pieces of furniture out of every room to create a sense of spaciousness. (We did more than this. Some rooms are completely empty except for lamps.
- Depersonalize the rooms by putting away family photos, mementos, and distinctive artwork.

What is an acceptable offer?
- Is the offer at or near the asking price? Is the offer above the asking price?
- Has the buyer accepted the asking price or something close? Has the buyer then buried thousands of dollars in discounts and seller costs within tiny clauses and contract additions?

As a side note, we did have a purchase agreement presented to us within a month of my mom dying and before we had fully prepared the home for sale. Both these conditions noted above in terms of what an acceptable offer is were not met. It almost bordered on an offensive offer - one that was aimed at taking advantage of people who were grieving. As our current realtor said, "It sounds slimy." And it did. We're happy that we didn't accept the offer the buyers were proposing.

The book said, "If the buyer seems to be demanding too much, or asking for repairs or replacements that you don't feel the price of your home justifies, you should think carefully about your need to sell to this buyer."

One thing I didn't know was that at closing we each need to receive a HUD-1 statement, which itemizes all the costs associated with closing. We will need this statement for income tax purposes and for any taxes owed when we sell the home. I'm not quite sure how this works with an inherited it's something that will need to be determined when taxes are done next year.

There was a list of six items to have on hand for the new owners:
- owner's manuals for items left in the home.
- warranties for any items left in the home.
- a list of local service providers - the best dry cleaner, yard service, and so on.
- garage door opener.
- extra sets of house keys.
- code to burglar alarm and phone number of monitoring service if not discontinued.

When closing out the home, we need to:
- contact gas, electric, oil, water supplies; telephone, cable TV, or satellite TV; an trash collection companies for service disconnection. Also ask for final readings.
- request refunds on unused homeowner's insurance.
- notify the gardener, snow removal service, and mowing service.

Guide to Home Selling was a useful book and had many practical ideas - from preparing for the sale to closing out a home.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Nature Photo of the Week - Week 47 - Sunshine

For the 47th week of the Nature Photo of the Week challenge, I chose the theme of "Sunshine." 

At first glance, this appears to be an abandoned paper wasp nest. However, there is indeed sunshine. 

It's particularly significant because we have had rain this month more than we have had snow. I'm not complaining - because it is so much easier to do outdoor chores when there is no snow on the ground.

The flip side is that the ground goes between being hard, and being soft and squishy. The latter is rather difficult for the horses (and us) near the barn.

At any rate, the sun was shining on this particular day, and I removed the wasp nest from one of the trees in the horses' pasture. The rain had taken a toll on the exterior of the nest, but it is still intact enough to get an idea what the structure of the nest was like.

Sophia will be doing a 4-H project on the differences between wasps and honeybees for her entomology project this year. This wasp nest will, more than likely, be a part of her project and/or display.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sell Your Home in Any Market - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 47

Since mid-August, my sister, brother, and I have been getting our parents' home ready to sell. After an intense eight weeks of clearing out almost every item in the home from August through October, it went on the market on October 15th...ironically two months after my mom died.

The reason for the rush was that the real estate agent wanted to get as many open houses in during the late-fall when the colors were still changing and the weather was nice. Sales of homes generally go down in the winter - especially in Minnesota - so these nice, warm days are essential to us in terms of getting people to see the home.

I checked out some books from the library about selling homes. One book, Sell Your Home in Any Market by Jim Remley had some helpful ideas. Most of the information in the first part of the book seemed written for an agent or someone wanting more technical information about selling. I was looking for more practical advice for what home sellers can do.

There was a list of 20 last-minute things to do just before a showing including:
- mini-mop-ups
- dust the furniture
- clean off counters
- beds made
- garbage cans empty
- carpets vacuumed
- lights on
- load the dishwasher
- load the washer
- pick up every room
- turn on soft music
- set the temperature between 68 and 72
- freshen it up by putting a drop of vanilla on a lightbulb in each room of the house
- clean out the entry
- pick up the front yard
- move extra vehicles
- open all rooms
- turn on fireplace (this applies to a gas fireplace)
- display photos (ones of the home different seasons)
- display flyers

Since this is an estate sale, not all the items applied. We did and do what applies in our case.

There were ten reasons to list your home during the winter (which may happen in our case):
- fewer showings
- less competition
- homes show better during the holidays
- January is the biggest transfer month
- timing (this applies to the seller needing to meet moving goals more easily which doesn't apply in our case)
- more time to get top dollar
- great time to shop (again, geared to a seller who needs to find another home)
- more advertising
- more attention (from agents since they don't have as much inventory)
- the market (meant for sellers who are looking to buy a new this doesn't apply to us)

Ultimately, the author said, "The best time to list your home is when you're ready to sell." Honestly, that would be never. I don't want to sell the home. However, my brother, sister, or I aren't in a position to hold onto the home or buy one another out of our portion of it. It would be nice if we could...but that's not the reality of our lives.

The other section that was helpful was the five essential "must haves" you need before accepting any offer:

- a substantial earnest money deposit
- a preapproved loan
- time limits for condition and contingency removed (e.g., disclosure review, financing and appraisal, pest and dry rot inspection, whole house inspection, title approval)
- clearly understood terms of sale
- progress benchmarks (e.g., buyer must submit a loan application by a specific deadline; buyer must approve inspections or reports by a specific date)

When thinking about a counter offer, reflect on Is it really worth a counteroffer? In other words, is it worth losing a sale over? Perhaps an extra five days to move is worth a counteroffer, or perhaps not - the key is to understand the risk versus the reward.

Once the home sells and is closed on, the author suggested that the seller leaves the buyers a housewarming gift. This could be as simple as a plant, a bottle of wine, or a dinner for two at a local restaurant. "Be creative, the buyers will love it!"

I don't remember any seller doing this for us. However, I remember an agent giving me a pie to celebrate the purchase of land in Grand Marais (which I have since sold). That was a nice way touch.

The author also said that once a year he and his wife take a home tour. They don't look at new homes. They look at their old ones - the homes that they have owned over the years. For them, it is fun to look at their life in the context of homes that they have owned.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Nature Photo of the Week - Week 46 - Silhouette

This week for the Nature Photo of the Week challenge, there weren't a lot of options still available. Out of the remaining seven prompts, the closest I could come to this one of the swans was "Silhouette." Although a reflection and silhouette are completely different things, this was the closest prompt I could "justify" as using.

I wanted to include the swans in this year's challenge because they were such a magnificent site. There were about a dozen swans in a medium-size pond that we see on the way to Sophia's harp lesson this week.

With the unseasonably warmer weather we've been having during November, the water has not frozen over and it seems like migration of some waterfowl are later than normal.

Sophia, Olivia, and I watched the swans from the car for quite a while. As we were parked on the side of the road, many cars and trucks passed us. Everyone seemed in such a hurry to get somewhere else, unable to stop - even for a moment - to enjoy the beauty of the swans at this time of the year.

It's not something you see normally in this area...making it even more important that we took the time to stop and enjoy what we were able to see that afternoon.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Midlife Orphan - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 46

This week I finished reading Midlife Orphan - Facing Life's Changes Now That your Parents Are Gone by Jane Brooks for the 46th week of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge.

This book is perhaps one of the better ones that I've read so far about the subject, and captures many of the feelings I have and am experiencing now that both my parents have died.

Some of the key points that resonated with me include:
- Who is ever ready for death? Maybe the best we can do is to say "it's time" when a loved one's suffering is too painful to watch. This allows us to let go of the physical presence. Letting go emotionally is much more complicated.
- Recognizing that you are now an orphan is one of the issues that is unique to the loss of the last parent.
- What really defines an the loneliness, the sense of abandonment, and the constant longing.
- There's an aloneness like you've never felt before when your last parent dies. These are the people who cared about you beyond anything you can imagine. It's just like the way you care about your own kids. Once your parents are gone, there's nobody else who will ever be there for you like that, not even your spouse.
- We are grieving for our family of origin - the last attachment to our childhood.
- The second half of life is to refocus our life around a new set of values. In contrast to the more materialistic, extroverted values of earlier years, these are values that are spiritual in nature.
- In the face of the deadline brought to our attention by our last parent's death, we find ourselves turning outward with renewed purpose and vigor. After all, there is much to do and no time to waste.
- Ars Moriendi - a model for "the good death."
- After the last parent dies and the public mourning ends, adult orphans tend to turn inward to deal with this unique loss. We find ourselves mourning privately, reflecting on our parents and our childhood but keeping our feelings and thoughts largely to ourselves.
- We stop looking back with longing and instead begin to examine who we are now - minus parents - and where we're heading. Altered indelibly by the loss of our parents, we have grown up. And with that growth, we begin to assess our legacy, the inheritance that goes beyond money and possessions. We sift through the legacy of values, memories, and traditions.
- In our initial grief over the loss of the last parent, we don't have much energy for relationships. if the family doesn't make an effort to reach out to us, we are likely to let the relationship go.
- Midlife orphans will navigate through uncharted rivers of change until we find peace with our parents and with ourselves. As we step to the helm, this becomes our course.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Nature Photo of the Week - Week 45 - Inspiration

As I looked around the farm, there are still some milkweed seeds in the pods waiting for the wind (or a person) to lift them in the air and help them find a new home.

To me, it's inspiring when I look at the seeds. Each represents a new plant...a new place for a monarch to find food and a home for a new generation of butterflies.

For the past two months, we have been working on trying to get approval for planting a pollinator habitat plot on public land that is about a half a block away. Our 4-H club received funding for the project, and we have enlisted the help of three community members who have been invaluable in terms of meeting with the Parks and Recreation Committee and City Council.

Hopefully the project is approved soon so that we can move forward and start planning for the educational and planting day that will be in Spring 2016.

Until then, my focus is on continuing to all the majority of land on the farm to be wild and to let the milkweed take root wherever it can. Anything to help the monarchs have more food and shelter in the future.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Inspire Me Monday

Over on Create with Joy, there's something called "Inspire Me Monday." It's "a place to share your creative inspirations, sharpen your creative vision, and showcase your creative talents." The goal is to write and share a post; and - in so doing - you "inspire others and nurture your creative spirit."

Inspirations and Delights

This past week, some of the youth and parents from our 4-H club went to WE Day in St. Paul. It was an inspiring day filled with speakers and performers. 

One of the speakers was Mae Jemison who was the first woman of color to travel in space. As an American physician and NASA astronaut, she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor on September 12, 1992.

Before doing that, she served in the Peace Corps from 1985 to 1987. She was selected by NASA to join the astronaut corps. She resigned from NASA in 1993 to form a company researching the application of technology to daily life.

Another speaker who had the 18,000+ members of the audience laughing and engaged with his message was Henry Winkler. He is an American actor, director, comedian, producer, and author. Most people my age and older know him best as "Arthur Fonzarelli" or "The Fonz" in the 1970s sitcom Happy Days.

At WE Day, Mr. Winkler  spoke about having a dyslexia, which was not diagnosed with he was 31 years old. That was the point when his son, Jed, was diagnosed. During that process Winkler realized that he’d had similar learning challenges.

But Winkler says he did not get much support as a student. “I was only told I would never achieve,” Winkler proved the naysayers wrong.

He said, “You are all powerful. Every one of you."

What has been rewarding for me to see this week also is the impact of attending WE Day on the youth. At the Club Banner Committee meeting, the youth came up with this preliminary design for our banner based on an image they saw at WE Day. 

They will develop this idea and then create a 3'x5' banner that we will display at our club meetings as well as enter in the County Fair. If it places well, it could be shown at the Minnesota State Fair.

Today, Sophia and I checked on the bees. We put some winter patties and 2:1  sugar water in the hive for the bees. They are still active and foraging, but there's really not much (if anything) out there. We need to make sure they have enough honey to last them through the winter.

On the way back inside, I looked at the pasture. The milkweed pods have burst open. For the most part, the seeds have been dispersed by the wind. However, there are still some clinging to pods...not quite ready to let go yet.

It reminded me of how - when the girls were younger - they would run through the pastures and on the nature trail in the back part of the farm with the seeds in their hands. Their fluff (comas) would carry the seeds in the wind when the girls let go. We would watch the seeds float off to find another area in which to settle and grow. 

An Idea that Inspires Me

A friend suggested that we dissect (or at least cut in half) this abandoned wasp nest. A couple of weeks ago, it was perfectly enclosed, but we've had some weather that taken a toll on the nest, so I brought it inside today so it doesn't get damaged any more.

I've never seen the inside of a paper wasp nest, so even seeing a peek inside one section is - to me - fascinating. To think: that from nothing, insects created this structure.  

Music that Inspires Me

There is a song that I like called "Meditations on Breathing." It was sung at White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church a couple years ago by the choir and congregation, and it was one of the most beautifully sung pieces I had heard because people sung the lyrics at different times and at different levels (e.g., soprano, alto). 

I haven't been able to find anything like it on the internet, but there are two versions of the song available on YouTube. Here's the first:

Here's the second version:

The other song that I enjoy listening to is called "Kyrie." It's on the CD Illumination . Richard Souther has original compositions and arrangements based on the work of Hildegard von Bingen. Here it is:

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Zero Debt - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 45

For the 45th week in the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I chose Zero Debt - The Ultimate Guide to Financial Freedom by Lynnette Khalfani.

This book was geared for those who are in some serious super scary levels of debt. As I read it, I ended up skimming through parts of it since it didn't apply to what I was looking for when I found the book at the library.

Nonetheless, there were a couple of appropriate things that I'll follow up with:
- Call 888-5-OPT-OUT to get of credit bureaus' databases for pre-screened mailings.
- Contact to get off mailing lists

The author included a pledge which would have been helpful to me when I was in college and learning how to manage credit cards. I was receiving credit card "invitations" in the mail and I thought it would be something I needed to do as a young adult. In retrospect, I should have asked my parents about what I should have done when I received these mailings.

At any rate, this pledge would have been helpful at the time as a good reminder each time I was contemplating a purchase:

I, insert your name here, realize that I am in a financial hole. Therefore, I hereby vow to stop digging myself further into debt. I acknowledge that I can never be free from money worries if I continue to spend excessively, for the wrong reasons, or on unnecessary things. From this day forward (insert month date and year) I will be more conscious of my spending habits, being careful to keep my behavior in line with my desire to reduce my debt and achieve financial freedom.

Another tip was to create an effective filing system including:
- banking records (including checking and savings accounts)
- bills paid
- budget (for itemized listings of all your expenses, income, and assets)
- credit cards
- insurance (auto, health, life, and property insurance)
- investments
- mortgage
- receipts
- taxes

The author also suggested saving money at a credit union that's far away from your home. Have a "hands off" account where it's somewhat difficult or inconvenient to access your money.

One last tidbit: If you save/invest $150 a month, earning 10% here's how it will grow:

            Actual  Your          $ with Interest
            Money Saved         at each year-end
Year 1 $1,800                     $    1,980
Year 2 $3,600                     $    3,967
Year 3 $5,400                     $    6,267
Year 4 $7,200                     $    8,808
Year 5 $9,000                     $  11,615
Year 10 $18,000                 $  30,726
Year 20 $36,000                 $113,905
Year 30 $54,000                 $339,073

Friday, November 6, 2015

Nature Photo of the Week - Week 44 - Furry

This week for the Nature Photo of the Week I chose the theme "Furry." It is quite fitting since the horses now have their winter coats and have a lot more hair than they did during the summer.

Hoss resting in the sun.

According to Penn State University, "Many may ask why the horse’s coat covering is called hair and not fur. Animals with a coat covering that is denser were utilized in garments, hence those coat covering were called fur. The horse’s coat covering is not used in wearing apparel and therefore it is called hair."

PSU continued, "In normal conditions a horse’s hair coat protects them against the cold temperatures in winter and is replaced in spring with a lighter coat that is more easily adapt at drying out if the horse becomes over heated and sweaty.

"The horse actually has three different hair coats. A summer hair coat and two winter coat growths. In the fall the summer coat sheds out and as the horse’s body prepares for winter it produces the two different winter hairs. One is a short, thick layer, while the other is long hairs that will stick up and provide air spaces that serve as an insulating layer against cold winter temperatures."

Monday, November 2, 2015

Inspire Me Monday

Over on Create with Joy, there's something called "Inspire Me Monday." It's "a place to share your creative inspirations, sharpen your creative vision, and showcase your creative talents." The goal is to write and share a post; and - in so doing - you "inspire others and nurture your creative spirit."

Inspirations and Delights

I've been looking at recipes in preparation for the "healthy snacks" session I'm teaching the 4-H Project Day on Saturday. Came across a recipe on Eats Well With Others for a four-layer Mediterranean Tabbouleh-Hummus Dip

I've been planting lots of flower bulbs during the past week with the hope that in the spring and early summer that parts of the front- and backyards will have lots of vivid colors.

One of the gardens I planted on Wednesday will be all red and purple tulips. 

Other gardens are pink and purple flowers; yellow lilies with multi-tulips; and purple and yellow flowers. 

The bulbs are in addition to the hosta, fern, and bleeding heart gardens under the pine trees; the new rose bed I planted with roses from my parents' home; and peony garden. 

An Idea that Inspires Me

I've been thinking a lot about my parents over the Halloween weekend. This was the first holiday without both of them. (Dad died in 2012 so there have been 4 Halloweens now without him; and Mom just died in August 2015 so this was the first one without her.)
Mom, Dad, Sophia, and Olivia
The last Halloween that we spent 
at my parents' home (October 31, 2010).
The following year, 
my dad was at the nursing home.
We used to go over each year and enjoy dinner together and 
then go trick-or-treating.

I came across a website called The Living Memories Project. On the page about them it said, "Sooner or later – if we live long enough – we will suffer the loss of a loved one. Be it a parent, a spouse, a favorite cousin or an old friend, we will feel a painful emptiness where once there was something tangible and pleasurable.

"Sometimes that emptiness simply does not go away. 'Prolonged grief disorder' – grief that lasts at least six months after a death – may affect more than a million people annually. (New York Times – 9/29/09)"

The website continued, "To help ourselves and others, we undertook the writing of this book as a way of learning and sharing how others have kept alive, in both practical and spiritual ways, their loved ones’ strength and inspiration.

"The Living Memories Project details, through interviews, anecdotes, essays, poems and photographs, the many ways that both ordinary individuals and celebrities incorporate the presence of their loved ones into their lives. Some who have shared their stories describe encounters or occurrences in which they strongly felt the loved one’s presence, while others have drawn upon rituals or recipes or created a tangible memorial."

In the pages of their book, readers can find inspiration and solace from others’ experiences.

You can even share your story here: Your story may be included in the next edition of The Living Memories Project.

Music that Inspires Me

On Sunday, I saw the video of Stairway to Heaven sung by Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, along with Jason Bonham, playing Stairway to Heaven as a tribute for Led Zeppelin on December 2, 2012, at Kennedy Center. 

The choruses and orchestral elements make this a song that I enjoyed listening to several times.

The video below came across my Facebook feed last week. It's a young girl - Angelina Jordan - who sings "What a Difference a Day Makes." At only nine years old, her voice is impressive and sounds much older than her chronological age.

According to Wikipedia, Angelina "is a Norwegian singer who shot to fame after singing classic jazz pieces, including Gloomy Sunday and Fly Me to the Moon, which went viral on YouTube.

She won the 2014 season of Norway´s Got Talent, better known as Norske Talenter in Norway. After the Norway's Got Talent win in 2014, and with more than 40 millions combined YouTube views, she was featured in People MagazineTime, and other news outlets all around the world."

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Garage Sale America - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 44

Back in August, after my mom died, my sister, brother, and I had considered having an estate sale. After meeting with several estate sale companies, we realized that there simply weren't enough items to make a sale profitable or worthwhile.

My parents lived frugally and had what they needed to furnish a home and live comfortably. Between my siblings and I, we divided the items between our families based on who needed and/or wanted items.

When we were done, we had a lot of items that no one needed or wanted. That's the nature of having a home for 41 years...and of growing up in during The Depression. Our parents kept a lot of things convinced that they would need them again one day.

With the remaining items, we considered having a garage sale. Ultimately, we decided not to go ahead with one. Rather, we are boxing and donating the items to three different non-profit organizations that have thrift shops. The proceeds from the sale of the items will be used to support the programs that benefit people in need. This would have made our parents happy.

During the time when we were considering doing a garage sale, I checked out a book from the library called Garage Sale America by Bruce Littlefield. I thought it would have some helpful tips about having a garage sale and how to set one up. Rather, it was a book that documented the author's coast-to-coast tour of America's garage sales.

It had information about garage sales, how to get deals when you go to garage sales, and what to look for when at them. It was more of a buyer's book than seller's book. So, if someone were passionate about going to garage sales and finding deals...this is the book for her/him. For my purpose, it wasn't what I was looking for at this stage in my life.

What I did find interesting - and what reflected what I was going through at the time - was the following passage called A Table Full of Stories. "The stories here are, at surface, of the pursuit of objects we adore, but as people talk about those objects - whether with fondness or good-riddance - we get a vivid snapshot of the life of the beholder. Looking at a garage sale - its objects and its citizens - is like visiting an art gallery filled with detailed self-portraits."

As I read that and reflected what my parents had a lot of surplus items of, I could see what was important to them beyond their core values: holidays (especially Christmas and Easter) and entertaining (for family and friends).

As people described my mom after she died, they talked about her gracious hospitality....memories of Christmas parties and open houses at her home...and delicious meals. It seemed fitting, then, that there would be quite a few items that were these categories of possessions that belonged to my parents.

So, although this book wasn't what I was anticipating, it did give me pause for thought as I reflected back on the many memories of holidays that my parents made magical and special for us kids and for our own kids; and for the many times we gathered together as a family to share a meal and celebrate a meaningful occasion...or simply just enjoy being together.