I’m almost done reading Happier At Home, the second “happiness” book from Gretchen Rubin. Her first, The Happiness Project, I enjoyed reading, but found a bit dull at times. This book I’m enjoying much more for some reason. Maybe I’m in a different place in my life? Perhaps it’s because I’m at home most of every single day playing mommy and wife and squeezing in Vemma and writing and real estate? Perhaps I’m simply enjoying it more because the book is just a bid more casual and laid back. Who knows.

Anyway. I haven’t been underlining passages in this book, something I do in almost all non-fiction I read, but a line I read earlier this week caught my eye. I actually got my almost-seven-months-pregnant self up from the arm chair, walked to the desk, grabbed a pen, and walked back. The quote was actually not from Rubin herself, but from another author she was referencing:

“My mind works in idleness. To do nothing is often my most profitable way.” – Virgina Woolf

How true is that!?! I practically said AMEN when I read it.

My mind. It *totally* works in idleness.

I get my best creative ideas in the shower.
I do my best planning while outside on a walk.
I can visualize and strategize like a pro when I’m driving down a lonely interstate. (Carefully, of course, Mom. Very carefully.)

I often get out of the shower or get home from a walk or hop out of the car and run like a crazed chicken to my laptop or journal or scrap piece of paper in an attempt to save some of the amazingness that just ran through my mind.

I am seriously productive when I’m not doing a damn thing. No cell phones, laptops, dishes, to-do lists, or energetic toddlers.

Are you like this? Do you let your mind sit idle often enough? Even though I know that I can be incredibly “productive” when I’m not doing anything, I know I don’t do it as much as I should. I definitely don’t plan it very often, if ever. However, a shower and a walk and a drive aren’t planned idle times, really.

Can you plan idle time?

Sitting on the porch by myself with nothing to read or look at or distract me is hard to do, at least for more than a moment or two. Even then, if I did accomplish it, the fact that I could immediately change my surroundings and grab a distraction kind of ruins the whole affect. After all, I’m pretty sure the productivity that comes with idleness only occurs when you let your mind fully relax and run where it wants to. One hour into a three hour road trip, where there’s no turning back or getting out, accomplishes that.

So that piece of this equation still needs a little sorting out. The chosen idleness part. The planned part.

Until then, I think I’m going to try and embrace the forced idle times a little better. Sometimes mind-wandering truly can be so worthwhile.

Don’t you think?

Do you get your best ideas in the shower too? I wrote the entire text of my children’s book, the idea of which had never occurred to me before then, in the shower last May. BK Boreyko came up with the idea for a crazy healthy energy drink, now the product behind a more than 100% growth in company-wide sales over the past year, in the shower a few years ago. Nowhere near as major, but I did some great strategizing a few weeks ago while on a road trip with my punkin.

Psst…quote from page 138-139 of the hardcover version of Happier at Home.

Your thoughts?
Am I the only weird one?
Do you think fabulous stuff while driving? Or working out? Or, umm, bathing?

Sending great and weird thoughts your way,
AS

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This is gonna be fun! Here we go, a few gift ideas for those in your life that are…

Book Geeks:


Kindle Paperwhite
Dude, the price tag on this thing is ridiculous at only $119, and with CNN’s stamp of “the best e-reader ever” you know you can’t go wrong. The no-glare, the lightness, the multiple-week battery life…I’m not sure why I don’t have one of these myself. Guaranteed to make your book geek recipient one incredibly happy camper.


B, by Sarah Kay
Sarah Kay became a sensation when she performed her poem “B” vocally at a TED conference in 2011. It’s beautiful, moving, and awe-inspiring. Seriously. This book version would be a lovely gift for mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, or even a best friend.


Hogwarts House Metal Bookmarks
True book geeks love Harry Potter. True book geeks will GEEK OUT over these book clips. (Click the link to see better photos.) They will also put way too much emphasis on which house they choose to mark which book. (Not enjoying that book? MARK IT WITH SLYTHERIN.) But that’s the fun in it, right? And that is what makes us geeks. The end.


Jonathan Adler Elephant Bookends
Umm, yeah, these might be the cutest things ever. Plus, with JA’s line of home decor items at Barnes & Noble, you get a touch of his trendy design without the three- or four-digit price tag. Bonus.

Food Lovers:

Williams Sonoma Tortilla Soup Starter
Is there anything more fun than tortilla soup? It can be made a bajillion different ways, and almost all of them are delish. Add chips and your meal is complete. So many of the Williams Sonoma starters are worth the price, and this is one of them.

Gingersnap Boulangerie Jar Candle
Your house will smell like Christmas cookies, without having to clean flour out of the cracks in your countertop. What more can ya ask for?

Hammond’s Old Fashioned Christmas candy
Who else received these in their stockings as a kid?! Love love love. Such an enjoyable throwback.

Coffee Lovers:


Classic Sweater Mug
These are all the trend right now, but seriously, can you blame the trendsetters? These mugs just beg your hands to wrap around them and sip something hot and steamy. Bonus: they’d make a darling pen holder for your desk.

Dunkin Donuts French Vanilla Ground Coffee
Dunkin Donuts = Best Grocery Store Coffee Ever. Amen.

Writers:

“Be Filled With Joy” journal
Such an artsy and colorful cover. Use it for a daily journal, recording the witty things your children say, or to finally start jotting down that novel you’ve been meaning to write.


Seven Year Pen
I’m not sure about you, but I have a couple nice pens, and they’re so lovely that I find myself not using them very often. Instead, I do the majority of my journal writing with plain black Bic pens. Nothing against Bic, but wouldn’t something a little funkier be nice?

Why We Write, edited by Meredith Maran
I read this book last spring, and it remains as one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever read. It was eye-opening in that it was…realistic. Why We Write is a peek behind the scenes of some of the worlds most successful authors. In their own words they describe, well, why they write. And how they write. And, often, the fascinating stories of how they determined that pulling their hair out while writing books was what they wanted to do with their lives. This would be a thoughtful gift for aspiring writers, bloggers, self-published authors, or anyone looking to make a mark in the large, large world of books.


On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King
I haven’t read this one, but if you Google “books about writing” it always tops the results. A Memoir of the Craft is Stephen King’s famously candid account of how and why he writes. Any SK fan, writer or not, would enjoy this amazing look behind the curtain of one of publishing’s most prolific and successful authors.

Busy Mama:

Banana Republic slouchy beanie
The stocking hat that doesn’t ruin your outfit, while still disguising the fact that you haven’t washed your hair in two days.

Vemma Bod-e Burn
Natural caffeine, check. Protein, because heaven knows we don’t eat enough, especially for breakfast like we’re supposed to, check. All of the vitamins and minerals we need for a day on the go, check check and double check. Plus, a bit of carbonation to make us feel like it’s a special treat, got that too. A gift guide wouldn’t be complete on AS.com without a Vemma product, and while our Verve energy drinks are all the rage these days, the product I cannot.live.without is Bod-e (pronounced like body). You’ve gotta try it. And gift it. Today. The end.

Black & Grey Comfy Winter Cardigan
Perfect winter addition to the Mom uniform of a fitted tee or tank, leggings and boots. (The secret to scoring great clothing finds at Target? Raiding the mens department!)

Burt’s Bee’s Tinted Lip Balm
Lip balm and gloss in one. No need for both. Twofer. Use one get one free. Two products, one application. Do you need me to keep going?

Vintage bud vase set from Red Envelope
Because it’s rare that we’ll buy ourselves an entire bouquet as we walk by the display at the grocery, but prettying up our table with a small bud from the backyard is quick, cheap, easy, and a guaranteed way to make us smile every time we walk into the kitchen. Don’t make us put them in a juice glass.

Wohoo! Double high-fives for gifties. Hope this helps generate a few ideas for the lovely folks on your gift list this year. Or perhaps adds a couple things to your personal “totally gonna buy this with my Christmas money” list.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Hugs,
AS

Psst…a few, but not all, of the links above are affiliates. None of the products I was paid to mention, they’re just things I truly love. Over and out.

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I took a road trip with my punkin last weekend. We spent 14 hours total in the car, just the two of us, and somehow we made it home in one piece. Well, in two pieces. Her and me. I mean, but we were each in one piece. (Huh?)

What I’m trying to say is, we didn’t kill each other! Even though we both wanted to. A few times. Like, a lot of times.

Anyway, during one of the calm moments (read: when she was sleeping) I dialed up a recorded conference call from a few days earlier that I hadn’t yet had a chance to listen to.

And it knocked my socks off.

I don’t know if it was how quiet it was in the car, or the fact that I was driving solo down the interstate in the middle of Midwestern farm country, or perhaps I haven’t had a plethora of alone time to just veg and think lately, but I was overwhelmed with the message of the call.

The gist of it was: the time is now.

I had one of those moments where you hear something and immediately start processing it and formulating how you are going to use this newfound knowledge-slash-motivation-slash-determination to better yourself. I was day dreaming while listening and visualizing the results while formulating the plan to get them. I had a specific game plan before I even had the conscious thought of, hey, maybe I should make a plan!

The details of the call don’t matter (this one was specifically about Vemma), or even that it was a call instead of an event or a video or a conversation or a great book.

The point is that I 1) took the time to focus on it, 2) let it sink in, and 3) made a plan of action immediately after, or in my case during, the call.

Lemme expand on those a bit:

1) Discipline. I swear the ability to truly focus on something all comes back to discipline. You have to prioritize. Rearrange. It’s NOT easy to do to sit down and truly focus on only one thing at a time. Ask any working parent. Ask any stay at home parent. Ask any entrepreneur, period. But once you start, as with many things, it’s easy to finish. And you feel fantastic after you’ve truly focused on one thing with all of your attention for a while.

2) Just as important as prioritizing the time to focus singularly on something, is taking a few moments after to, well, stop. To pause. To process what you just did or learned or experienced. If we too quickly move on to the next distraction, we probably didn’t do ourselves much good, am I right? Take a breath. Let your brain cells absorb what they need to.

3) Motivation is temporary. It’s lost within days – hours and minutes even – of happening. (I think there are even studies on that? Right?) If you don’t make a plan to implement whatever new knowledge you gained or inspiration you picked up, you aren’t going to make any progress. You essentially wasted your time. And when we just took all that time to focus and process, what a shame to not follow through and make a game plan.

So that’s what I was thinking about driving up Interstate 35 towards Minneapolis last weekend, a sleeping punkin in the back seat. Focus, breathe, plan. Fun stuff. Simple stuff.

Let’s do this!

Have a fantastic weekend, all.

Hugs,
AS

2 comments

1. It’s our punkin’s half birthday today! 18 months. Wow.
2. The fall colors this year have been so stunning. I’m not sure if it’s my viewpoint that has changed or that they really are more brilliant this year, but either way, stun-to-the-ning.
3. I have not read a lot lately. I must remedy that. ASAP.
4. What should I read? I feel out of the loop.
5. Should we just sell our rental properties already?
6. Ugh.
7. No. No we shouldn’t. Keep repeating that, Annie. No no no no no.
8. Why won’t she sleep?
9. Why is the dog snoring so loud?

10. Who have I not shared Vemma with this week that I should have?
11. Stay in the game. Stay in the game stay in the game stay in the game.
12. What if everyone thinks my children’s book is dumb?
13. What if no one buys it?
14. What if a ton of people buy it and then expect me to write another one?
15. ACK!
16. I love our new house. It has a huge kitchen desk, plus a lovely office.
17. I love our new house. It has built-in bookshelves out the wazoo.
18. If more people were able to see into the future and see themselves and their lives if they took that risk today, would more of them be willing to do it? But would that even be considered a risk? I guess not…
19. Last year at this time, I was typing like mad and on my way to completing NaNoWriMo 2012.
20. I still have yet to open the file of the manuscript that I wrote last November for NaNoWriMo. Like, not even once. Me scared.

21. If I drink another Bod-e Burn this afternoon, will we run out before my next order arrives?
22. Annie, bump up your next order of Burn so that you don’t run out. Amen.
23. Oh! The baby just moved! Hello, little lovely lady.
24. Hey, little lovely lady, what is your name? Would you mind telling us? We’d really appreciate the help. Thanks so much.
25. My God am I grateful for my Vemma business. Sometimes if I think about it too much, about how it has affected practically everything in my life today, it overwhelms me and spins me into one of those mind meld type situations.
26. You totally know what I mean when I say mind meld, right? Like, think about space and how it goes into infinity. See? Mind meld! That’s what I mean.
27. I wonder if John Grisham’s new book, Sycamore Row, is any good?
28. I wonder why that children’s book, The Day the Crayons Quit, is a bestseller? I kinda sorta maybe didn’t care for it when I read it in B&N the other day.
29. I wonder if Sheryl Sandberg is going to write another book? Man oh man did I love her first one.
30. Umm, I totally want to read this. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.
31. Can I add another hour into the day so I can spend it sipping coffee with vanilla creamer and reading in the sunroom?
32. I can?! Yes! Thanks so much.

Whoops, that was 32.

Hugs, ya’ll. Have a GREAT weekend!
AS

What’re you thinking about today?

2 comments

Dear Babygirl,

Hey hey, precious peanut.

I haven’t written you a letter in a while, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Did you know that you’re going to have a sister? I still can’t believe it myself.

Two baby girls. Two girls. Sisters! How special.

My mom always told me the story about how she cried right before I first met my little sister, your aunt. They returned home from the hospital, snuggling their second bundle of joy, and as I walked in the door with your Grandpa, after having been retrieved from the babysitter’s house, she looked at me and was overwhelmed with how much my life was about to change. I had no idea what was about to happen, and it made her all teary.

I look at you now, only one month younger in this process than I was with my sister, and I think a lot of the same things.

Do you have any idea how things will change?
(How will things really change?)
Would you always feel like something was missing if you never grew up with a sister?
Will you feel like you have a built-in best friend?
Will you love her? Adore her? Despise her? Annoy her?

I look at you now, and I think all of these things. Simultaneously. They are good things and worrisome things and I-just-can’t-help-but-think-about-these-things things.You’re going to have a sister. You’re going to be a sister. And it’s going to be great. So very, very great.

Even when it’s…not.

You better lock up your favorite jeans now, girl. Trust me on this one.

Can’t wait to welcome you into the I Have a Fantastic Sister club. It’s an incredibly honorable place to be.

Love you so much,
Mama

For more in the Dear Babygirl series: Letters to my Daughter

1 comment

We purchased our first rental property in November 2010, and our second during the fall of 2011, which means that we’re coming up on our 3 year anniversary of being real estate investors.

Umm, what? How that much time passed so quickly, I have no idea.

We have learned a ton during that time, and I could probably ramble on for ages about what we didn’t know and what we learned and oh my gosh what we’ll never do again. But what I thought I’d address today, because it’s something we have been talking a lot about lately, is buying and holding for the long term.

Before we bought both properties, we ran all the numbers and made absolute sure that we could cashflow positively. Immediately, we wanted our investment of time and money to pay off. We took loan payment, taxes, insurance, and property management fees into consideration, subtracted a large percentage for future repairs, along with utilities and lack of rent for when the home would inevitably be vacant. We then took all of that out of the average rent for comparable properties in the area. If it wasn’t a positive number, and if it wasn’t at least $200 or more, we didn’t even offer on the home. (Once again: we didn’t even offer on the property before calculating ALL of this.)

While there was a lot of focus on cashflow, we never forgot our second, and arguably most important, intention with these properties: long term value. The tenants pay us rent, then we pay the mortgage on the property with that money. Said another way: the tenants pay for our mortgage. So we have two investments that pay for themselves, and then when the note is paid off in 15 or 20 years (depending on the loan details), you have just about an infinite return. All rental income, minus taxes and insurance, is profit. A house renting for $950 that is currently cashflowing around $250, suddenly leaps to cashflowing $850 to $900 a month. That is college tuition money. That is retirement money. That, my friends, is value. Huge value.

So, the immediate focus was cashflow, the long term focus was infinite returns after the tenant essentially pays off the mortgage. During the last six months or so, we forgot about the latter.

IMG_2464We were hit this past spring with a couple major repairs, then summertime presented us with two vacancies at the same time. The houses were quickly rented again, but still, it was frustrating. We have these properties up and running and it should be smooth sailing, right? Shouldn’t we just be able to sit back and enjoy the several hundred dollars per month per property adding up and up and up in our account? Sometimes, yes. Oftentimes, not so much.

Those frustrations had us talking about possibly selling one or both properties. Wouldn’t it just be easier?, we asked each other. Surely there’s a less I’m-gonna-pull-my-hair-out way to invest, right? Let’s just dump ‘em and be done with it.

We sought out advice from certain friends and family that have much more real estate investment experience than we do. We weighed our options. We watched our account just sit there. We pinged our (stupid, frustrating, but that’s another story for another time) property manager daily about the status of the marketing on the then-empty properties.

And then we started packing up our personal home and preparing for our move, and both properties signed leases with new tenants, and conversations about the rentals got shoved to the back burner.

We had a great conversation about investing with the realtor who helped us sell our personal home and purchase our new one (although my real estate license is still active, this mama was too distracted with other work and being a mama and a wifey to wade through those I barely-know-what-I’m-doing waters and represent us myself) while lounging in our new house during the inspection. She also has rental properties, and was telling us about a multi-decade investor that she recently was fortunate enough to have lunch with. His number one piece of advice? Hold. Hold hold hold hold hold. If the property isn’t costing you money to keep, and assuming everything else in your financial life is safe and smooth, hold. Most properties that aren’t primary residences are financed with 15 or 20 year mortgages. In the grand scheme of things, 15 years can pass by pretty darn fast.

It was exactly what we needed to hear.

We are approaching three years on one property and two years on the other. Both are financed with 20 year mortgages. We plan to shorten that timeline to at least 15 years with slight overpayments every month. 3 years. 15 years. We were strongly considering throwing away what could eventually be a huge lifestyle change for us when we’re in our mid to late 40′s just because we felt like we weren’t earning “enough” in the short term.

I can guarantee you that if we sold those houses and took the money and invested it elsewhere, we would be hard pressed to find something that in 15 or so years had the capacity to earn us upwards of $1600 a month. (Approximately $800, give or take, cashflow per property per month. And that’s conservative, as it doesn’t take into consideration rental increases due to inflation.) I’m not sure about 15 years from now, but today, if my math is correct, you would need $329,000 and a 6% interest rate to generate $1600 a month.

Uhh, yeah, we have a *little* less than $329,000 in cash invested in these two properties. Like, times a bajillion.

So we were reminded about our true intentions and reinvigorated to hold both properties. Because that’s what we originally planned to do. Immediate cashflow was the bonus. The icing on the cake. We wanted to make sure we would have it, which we did, and do, but it’s not the true goal.

Maintain properties that pay for themselves and before our kids are even beginning to think about college or post high school plans, the properties will be cash cows with huge returns.

Sign me up.

For more on about our real estate (mis)adventures, check these out:
5 Ways to Mess Up Your Real Estate Investment
Lessons Learned from Investment Property #2
On Flooded Rental Property Basements and Not Having to Deal With It

How are your rental properties going? Do you have plans to hold for the long term? Or are you more of a flipper or short term property owner?

I’m sure tons of you disagree with our philosophies about this, please weigh in!

Hugs,
AS

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