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

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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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So, we moved last week. It was crazy. And fun! And crazy. And long. But fun!

Due to an unfortunate glitch in customer service, we didn’t have an internet connection at the new house for 5 days. Or a functioning television. Our withdrawal symptoms were not pretty.

But our internet provider problems aren’t what I wanted to share. (coughAT&T stinkscough)

I’ve been thinking the last few weeks, as we boxed up our entire household and then moved it across town, about all of the business-related milestones that took place within its walls.

A lot happened during the six and a half years that we lived in that house, both business-related and personal. We moved in as boyfriend and girlfriend, adopted a canine baby, got engaged in the living room, opened our wedding presents in the same spot, brought home our first child, and found out we were expecting our second. We updated just about every surface in the entire place, including many behind-the-scenes surfaces, and poured our heart and soul and pocketbooks into making it a comfortable, modern, cozy space that was updated yet still true to its 1930′s born-on date. We loved that house. Personally and emotionally, it meant so much to us.

I thought I would be sad about leaving the house that became our family home, where him and I became we and where we became three. I thought I would be sad about leaving the beautiful built-ins that Hubz built for Addy. I thought I would be sad about leaving the neighbors and the large, tree-lined street and the core-of-the-city location.

I didn’t expect at all to be thinking about the tiny corner room that was our office for the majority of our time there.

A lot happened in that house in general, but a lot happened in that office, too.

(My desk wasn’t always, umm, neat and tidy.)

We set up multiple dream boards and inspiration boards above the desk. We wrote and re-wrote and calculated and re-calculated our goals on the giant whiteboard against the back wall. After working a full day at my corporate job, I would sit at the desk late into the evenings, Hubz long-since gone to bed, working on my Vemma business, social media, and blog posts, dreaming about the day that I would be free to do such things at 8am, or 1pm, or any time of the day I chose.

When we realized that all of our Before Annie Retires goals had been met, and therefore we would be comfortable with me putting in my two weeks anytime, we were sitting in the living room. (I wish I had a photo of the joy/fear that was on my face at that moment.) However, I remember walking into the office shortly thereafter and standing in the middle of the tiny room, staring at the bookshelves. It was like I was in a daze of what we had just accomplished, fascinated and scared about what was ahead, and I had to surround myself with the contents of that room in order to get through the moment.

Once I retired, I embraced that office with gusto. In the mornings I would set up my water bottle, coffee, cell phone, cell charger, laptop, notepad, pen, and sweater for when I would inevitably get cold, and I would get excited about the possibilities of the freedom of camping out in there all day, working on whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.

Months later, deep into the spiral of figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, now that I had the ability to do so, I sometimes resented that space. Walking in there would make the butterflies rise in my chest and trigger a deep breath or two, the only auto response I knew at the time to make myself temporarily feel better.

(Because I often *did* feel delusional. Art from cartoonist and author Hugh MacLeod.)

Soon, after finally placing a finger on my enjoyment of writing, and the importance of continuing to build Vemma in order to help others make the same types of realizations, that office became a part of me. Comfortable, expected, and my home base during the day. I had a newfound vigor for accomplishing big things, big goals, big dreams. Walking in there, I had the same feelings I used to have back when I was still in the corporate world and dreaming about my someday future. I would get excited about the possibilities of the work I could accomplish at that desk. I would dream up silly scenarios about how I would tell my grandchildren about sitting in that chair and writing the bestseller that paid for their college education. I would stare at the business, personal development, and non-fiction books on the shelves and remember reading them, remember the tiny shifts they made, remember the impact they had. I would stare at those books and want to talk about them, with anybody, with somebody.

I had good days in that office, when the self-motivation and discipline was high, and the productivity soared. I had bad days in that office, when the deep realization that anything that was meant to be was completely and solely up to me, and no one would notice or care if I did or didn’t do it, overwhelmed me. It would freeze me like a block of ice, leaving me unable to type a word or make one call or think anything coherently. It was in that office that the realization hit me (or was sent to me, you decide) that hey, maybe I should actually do something about this anxiety you have rocking through your system. Like, figure out what you want to do with your life. Or, you know, go see a therapist or get a message or accupuncture or something. (I chose accupuncture, by the way, with brilliant results. But that’s another story for another time.)

The office in our old house was a cozy 10 feet by 10 feet, at the most. It overlooked the back yard and was in the very southwest corner of the house. It held our books, desk, and dreams for a long time.

I’m ready to move on – we’re embracing this next chapter with open arms – but I’m going to miss it. In a business, and arguably a personal and spiritual and emotional sense too, I became who I am today in that space. I struggled and triumped in that space. I grew up in that space.

I’m going to miss it.

The joys of moving. :)

Hugs,
AS

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The laptop bag story

October 10, 2013

When I first left my corporate job, I almost immediately purged my house of everything that reminded me of it. I went through and threw away almost everything that came home with me that final week in boxes – the old stress toys with vendor logos and the multiple faded, branded drink mugs, especially the one that the corporate cafe would give you 25 cents off of your soda for using if you brought it in instead of using one of their disposables.

I shudder to think about how much soda I drank during my time there. Yucko to the max, man.

Anyway, I didn’t keep anything around. I was incredibly grateful for that chapter in my life, but once it was over, I wanted to move on. No reminders.

I was digging through our coat closet a few weeks ago before we started packing the house and realized that I wasn’t completely diligent on that task.

I still had my laptop bag.

Once I saw it, I realized that I had known that bag was still in that closet, smooshed and folded into the far back corner on the floor, between the vacuum and a hair-filled chair cover we used to use for the dog, for months now. Years even. But I didn’t do anything about it. I left it there.

That bag has been with me a long time.

I bought it at The Limited shortly after I graduated college. I think I was shopping for “professional” clothes and eyed it, sitting atop a rack of clothes and displayed with several other bags and purses. I reached up to turn around the tag, preparing to wince at the number, as it would surely be way out of my price range. After all, it was large and black and had two red leather stripes that ran up the length of it and connected to the medium black looped handles. In my naive 22 year-old opinion, it was the very definition of professional. It was plainly not meant to be a purse, but a stylish take on a briefcase. It was rectangular and vertical, not horizontal. And it wasn’t boxy or canvas or just plain black.

I had to have it. I remember looking at the price tag – it was more than $40 but I remember it being less than $50 – and nodding. I can do that. I can totally do that. I thought.

I didn’t buy it that day, but I planned for it, and a couple weeks later I went back and made it mine.

$40-some odd dollars on a briefcase that I didn’t need was a big deal back then. I had just graduated and had a great job in front of me, but extra cash was something I did not have in excess.

The first week of work that July, in my week-long corporate-wide introductory course, we were assigned our laptops. (Or “devices”, as the company called them. Why they couldn’t just call them laptops I have no idea. Moving on.) With that device assignment came the gift of a standard issue black canvas laptop bag. I accepted it with a smile and tucked it neatly underneath my chair. When I would later be introduced to my permanent team and assigned a cubicle (shudder), I tucked that briefcase into one of my overhead bins, closed the lid, and rarely, if ever, opened it again. Standard issue canvas? Ha. Ha! Ha ha ha ha ha.

I carried this black and red bag every day to and from work, carrying my laptop, charger, and notebook. Every morning I would pick it up from my entryway at home – lug it into work alongside my purse, place it on my desk, unpack it, and then 9, 10, 11, 12 hours later I would reverse the process and take it home. Every day, every week, for six and a half years. The same bag. Over and over and over.

So I guess you could say that that bag represented something. Even in writing all of this (let me keep it real right now and say that I’m not really even sure why or how I have written so much about this silly bag), I’m not sure why it was such a big deal. Perhaps it represented the little bit of me that I tried to keep afloat while I was drowning in corporate normalcy. Perhaps it was my effort to stand out, or to notice the little things during the day that could make me smile amongst the so many things that were making me unhappy. Who knows.

But I carried it. Twice a day, every day, for six and a half years. And then one day without much flourish, I carried it home empty, threw it into the closet, saw it every few days but didn’t “see” it, and left it there for over 3 years.

It’s weird what you keep. And it’s even weirder when you keep something that you can’t really even describe why you’re holding on to, you just know you aren’t ready to let it go.

I finally let it go. I guess it was time, because I finally saw saw it sitting there scrunched up in the closet, picked it up, dusted it off, smiled at the memory of how much it was used and loved, then swiftly walked it downstairs to the donation pile.

The final final piece of the corporate chapter of my life, done. Wrapped up. It was time.

And there you go, almost 900 words on the cheap, odd piece of my past corporate life that I inexplicably held on to for way too long. You’re welcome! Ha. Sigh.

Have you ever held on to something that was a part of your “past” life? What finally triggered you to get rid of it? Do you think it represented something important to you?

Have a great week, all.

Hugs,
AS

P.S. I had photos of this alleged bag but they up and walked away, and I spent way too long digging for them in the mess that is my iPhoto. Sorry!

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I’ve been thinking about meaningful work today.

Addy went down for a nap, the house was quiet and all I could hear were the whir of the AC and the deep breathing from the dog snoozing in the chair in the corner and the cicadas in the trees outside. I felt itchy in that “I need to be inspired” type of way, so I launched my Kindle for Mac and clicked on one of the so-cheap-they’re-practically-free essay collections I downloaded from the guys of The Minimalists.

And I started reading. And it was just what I needed to hear.

(Love when that happens.)

They were talking about finding work that means something to you. They challenged that no one would have to worry about work life balance anymore if they would simply make their life’s mission their work.

It’s closely related to the “find work you love and you won’t have to work another day in your life” cliche, but it still resonated with me. And it got me thinking about the work I do that means something. Means something to me, and others. Maybe even the world.

How much work do I do in any given day that means something? Yeah, doing the dishes and taking our unworn clothes to Goodwill and sorting through emails and returning phone calls is meaningful. Sure, reading to Addy and teaching her new words and connecting with her face to face is meaningful, you bet. I’d never argue differently. But what about meaningful work?

Today is Wednesday. How many times this week have I taken five minutes to spread the excitement and life-changing possibility of the Vemma story with someone new? The answer: two. So far. That is soo not enough.

How many pieces of original writing have I produced? Something that I could eventually share with others or consider part of a legacy for my children? My community? My answer this week: one. Maybe two if you count the slightly-lengthier-than-normal journal entry I wrote last night. Perhaps three if you count the essay you’re reading right now. Not terrible, but not great.

It’s only mid day on Wednesday, so the week is no where near over. But still.

It’s such a great feeling when you read something random, then realize that there might have been a reason that you were led to read that very thing at this very moment. Do you ever have those feelings? Best.Ever.

Anyway, I don’t really have a strong conclusion to all of this. Other than to perhaps consider “living a meaningful life” to mean productivity in home, relationships, parenting…and work. I think I sometimes let the first three cloud my awareness of the fourth. Take that back, I know I do.

Wrapping this back around to work life balance, if I’m fully present and intentional in the way I spend my days – no fluff, no time-wasters, no doing something simply for the sake of laziness or inactivity towards something else – than balance shouldn’t be an issue. It can’t be.

Right?

What do you think? Would love to hear your thoughts.

As for me, I’m off reach out to two people I met last week about Vemma and squeeze in an edit of my children’s book draft. The naptime clock is ticking, and I’m determined to find that meaningful work before my meaningful parenting side kicks in again.

Sending hugs,
AS

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…was The New Kid On the Block, a collection of poems by Jack Prelutsky and drawings by James Stevenson.

You need to have an iron rear
to sit upon a cactus,
or otherwise, at least a year
of very painful practice.

Classic.

Does anyone else remember Bleezer’s Ice Cream? Or I’ve Got an Incredible Headache or My Mother Says I’m Sickening? What about the twist in the last line of the titlesake poem The New Kid On the Block? Man, I loved those poems. Still do.

My well used and slightly tattered copy is resting high, high on a shelf in Babygirl’s room. It’s been a couple months since we last picked it up and read a few pages together. I’ll have to fix that!

What’s your favorite book from when you were a kid?
Do you still have a copy of it today?
When was the last time you read it?

Please share! I’d love to hear your faves.

In childhood book geekery,
AS

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“It must be nice.”

Followed closely by: “Oh, you’re so lucky!”

It’s kind of like working tirelessly for a decade (or two, or three) and being branded an overnight success when you suddenly make it big.

It kind of reminds me about my journey towards becoming a writer, too.

I’m lucky? Okay. Sure. Call me lucky, just as long as you remember that the four-leaf clovers are found in the late night work sessions and the weekend hours and the extra phone call I made every day that you didn’t.

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
~ Lucius Seneca

And it is nice, that’s for sure. But nice wasn’t free, and it doesn’t imply that I was handed this lifestyle on a platter.

Hard work, people! It’s what creates the most lucrative of luck.

Off to generate more four-leaf clovers…you with me?

Hugs,
AS

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