Blonde moment

And the silver spoon.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Home buyers journal take three…

As most of my friends and family know, I don’t give unsolicited financial advice. I’m not licensed to do so, and I can’t offer a professional opinion. When I’m asked to provide economic research, budget input, and COLA research for friends and family, I do so with the above disclaimer and I give people a bunch of options rather then say, “This is what you should do.”

So, here is the longer version of Josh and my home buying journey. It’s what Josh and I have done, not necessarily what you should do. And odds are good you probably won’t be able to do what we’ve done because people have different tolerances for certain situations, and get themselves in trouble at different stages.

It is the universally accepted truth that buying right this minute is always preferable to renting right this minute regardless of the financial circumstances of the people you are talking to. I don’t buy that universal truth.

Shelter is a basic need. And shelter is provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial financial transactions. The above listed universal truth does not consider that renting may be beneficial in some circumstances.

When Josh and I got married, we did not want the mortgage we would qualify for, nor did we want the shelter such a mortgage would provide. So, we rented in a “dive” apartment. We rented and lived cheaply so we could aggressively pay off our debt and save. For the past couple of years, we’ve actually rented in a more expensive apartment, but that was more for my safety during the deployment then anything. But, we still aggressively paid off debt and saved.

Let me restate that. We had a goal in mind; get a starter home that we actually liked. Not our dream home, but a home that is not a money pit. And we knew where we were starting, so we needed to take the steps that would get us to our goal. Kind of like a flow chart or Shoots and Ladders or whatever.

Our steps were: rent cheaply, aggressively pay off debt, and aggressively save. Then, when it came time to apply for mortgages, we chose the option that would allow us the most financial flexibility (turns out to be a VA loan, but that is neither here nor there). Other choices we made before we met helped, but for the most part, those were the basic steps.

A friend of mine said, “But Liz, you’re missing out on the equity you could have built.” OK… but we didn’t want the house we could have afforded five years ago. Furthermore, we don’t have debt. So, for Josh and me, it was the right choice to do what we’ve done. We priced financial freedom higher then the several thousand in equity we could have theoretically had. And we are financially free to pursue the type of house we had in mind when we pictured a starter home… and actually, due to the current market conditions, probably a nicer house then we had in mind.

Again, I can’t give anyone advice; and if most of my friends asked me to help them with serious financial issues, I’d refer them to my financial advisor. But, if you’re about to start college or are freshly out of it, do yourself the favor and think: Where do I want to be when I’m thirty and what am I willing to do to get there? Odds are good that excessive debt will hinder you as you work for your goal. And odds are good that the ability to save money will help you as you work for your goal.

Home buyers journal part two…

OK, so here’s a lesson for real-estate agents in a buyers market. RETURN YOUR PHONE CALLS. When shopping for agents, I had four leads, all from friends who had recently purchased houses and one from my aunts who recently sold my grandmother’s house. The agent who worked with my aunts took a FULL WEEK to return my phone calls. (I'm still waiting to hear from two agents.) And, only after we had been really busy looking at houses all weekend, did he call on Sunday. We just didn’t have the energy to talk to him and we didn’t have the time, frankly. So, he called again on Monday.

Basically, I had to tell him the frank truth: It’s a buyers market, and people who aggressively want to search for a house look for other representation fairly quickly. I told him who we went with, why we went with this agent, and that we had already looked at ten houses.

His response, “I probably lost out on $6,000 in commission because I didn’t return voice mails.”

Lesson to sellers: Does your agent return your calls promptly? Furthermore, if a potential buyer were to call your agent how quickly does he return THEIR calls?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Home-buyers journal, take one…

So, Josh and I have been good children. We spent five years aggressively paying off our debt and saving money. And we got pre-approved for a mortgage. So, one would think real-estate agents would call me back considering:
1. I want to buy a house and said in my message that I was already pre-approved
2. I want to look aggressively.
3. The Wall Street Journal says no one is buying, but everyone wants to sell what I want, an existing home.

It’s my day off. I called four agents that I had leads for and left messages. Then I went to run some errands for a few hours, ate lunch, took a long nap, and realized, hey, no one has called me back. What’s the story? (See above points.) I had two missions this weekend: buy a farewell gift on behalf of our office to a colleague who is leaving for better opportunities and set up a meeting with a real-estate agent.

There is a logical way to handle such a situation (note to real-estate agents, it is a buyers market, and if someone really wants to buy, they will find someone who really wants to sell). Most real-estate companies have handy-dandy search property functions on their sites. And Josh and I, as part of our research process, have been looking to see what is out there. So, I went through, found listing agents of houses we were kind of interested in at least looking at, and the first agent with multiple listings (meaning someone who does this for a full-time job) to answer their phone won.

You’re saying, “Um, Liz, listing agents?” Sure. A motivated seller of homes is going to be really happy to point you in the direction of someone who helps out buyers. Within five minute of a phone conversation with a listing agent, I was on the phone with an agent who is a buyer’s agent. And we meet with someone on Thursday evening for a consultation.

Maybe I’m just too used to good customer service. My insurance agent calls me within an hour when I call him. We had slight problems reaching the person we took our mortgage from, but his voice mail greeting said there was a death in the family, and we were pre-approved that week.

Lesson: if you are selling a home in the south Minneapolis suburbs, you might want to check in with your listing agent to see if they promptly return calls from people who really want to buy their first home.

Friday, February 15, 2008

To all parents…

Some day, before they turn 30, the odds are good at least one of your children will say the words, “It may not seem like it, but I tried to follow a lot of the advice you gave. I followed most of it, you were right, and I’m glad I did. Thank you.”

Take it from a kid who just said those words to her parents and keep at it.

I am basking in the joy of knowing God provided me with parents who give sound advice and knowing that when one follows sound advice, sometimes things work out *really* well.

That is all.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Not that I’m pro-choice…

But there really MUST be a more sanitary and less destructive manner of obtaining an abortion . I mean, come on women, REALLY?

All joking aside… to all family members who are contemplating whether or not to celebrate Easter with me… I am indeed pregnant with child, and not with shrapnel. And I like showing off my ultrasound pictures as evidence.

As a warning, I do not promise to exhibit either bladder or tummy control if my belly is rubbed too hard.

That is all.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

This week in the life of Baby….

We started playing a new game during church. Well, I’ve been trying to get Baby to play this game for a couple of weeks, but this is the first time I’ve felt Baby’s active participation in the game. Baby started moving during church, so I gave my belly a rub… and then Baby started moving more! So, during the sermon, which was on John 14:6 (yes, I was also paying attention it was a very good sermon that briefly touched on the doctrine of free will and justification), Baby and I reacted to each other, and it was fun!

Anyway, we are at the half-way point. So, Baby is about 10 inches and 10 ounces! Baby’s skin, hair, and sebum is forming vernix, that white goo that is on the baby when it is born. I would imagine that if I were submerged in fluid all the time, I’d need some goo to protect my skin, too.

I’m also starting to feel better, in general. I have a problem with motion sickness, so I’m not so keen on car trips beyond 25 miles. But, that’s OK. I’m also starting to be able to eat more like normal, and that makes me happy!
As always, from

So, about that doctrine of free will…

Reading The Irrational Atheist really caused me to think about the doctrine of free will, and whether or not we are indeed involved in our own salvation, and if so, to what extent. It seems to be the nature of mankind to want to “do” something. Buddhism is a very active sort of religion, as is Islam, and just about everything. Furthermore, our religious beliefs tend to be tainted by our political beliefs. For example, someone with socialist leanings will find a calling in the charitable work of Christianity. Someone with social conservative leanings will find activism defending what is right. Someone with libertarian leanings will find freedom in choosing to follow Jesus and an explanation why people aren’t saved.

There is, I believe, nothing wrong with having a “mission.” And I don’t necessarily think being mission sighted has to involve spreading the gospel to the forbidden corners of the 10-40 Window. I also don’t think being mission minded means social or political activism. I’m married to a mission minded man. For some reason beyond my comprehension, he finds satisfaction in his mission through military service. And, his particular MOS involves blowing stuff up, which is certainly not what one would call socially or politically constructive. (And as his MOS no longer involves jumping out of airplanes to do the blowing up of stuff, it is at least less personally destructive.)

So, back to free will… it is foreign to our human nature to have someone “do” for us. We want to do for ourselves. This is what I have a problem with in what is popularly called “decision theology.” People often say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Not that I know a great deal about farm animals, but it seems to me some instincts may need adjustment. A baby calf has a sucking instinct and its cow has the nursing instinct. But what of calves who lose their mom? Certainly, for a while, a farmer or rancher’s wife will bottle feed the calf, but eventually, they need to learn to drink from a bucket. The stuff in the bucket may smell like milk, but it doesn’t have the proper equipment a calf is used to receiving milk from. So, a farmer will push the calf’s nose in the bucket to get the calf to lick its nose clean and discover a new way of drinking.

When regarding free will, we need to discover a new way of thinking about spirituality. Is it possible that there is nothing we can do to actively participate in our salvation? Is it an acceptable thought that we are just receivers? Is there anything wrong with receiving?

And more food for thought… ever wonder if the phrase, “I lead them to the Lord,” is inappropriately removing credit for salvation from God? More on that another time.

Marriage advice…

Not that I know a lot about being married, but I have a reputation to uphold. According to guys who were in the high school youth group when Josh was a volunteer, I am the coolest wife ever (I got tickets to a Cardinal’s baseball game… in Houston… and the seats were pretty good). When I was at Camp Shelby for our four day pass and Josh came back from town with all sorts of new toys to keep him occupied in Iraq, some guys were jealous that their wives wouldn’t do that. (Since Josh doesn’t drink much or smoke much or engage in other vices popular among his soldiers, he gets to spend his vice money on electronics and baseball.) Anyway, I have a reputation to uphold.

Thinking about getting married, young woman? Become conversant in your husband’s hobby of choice. And then, find yourself someone who deals in your husband’s hobby and is an honest broker. You will then be the coolest wife ever.

Guard weekend…

You know, now that Josh’s National Guard duty has returned to “normal,” I really am starting to feel that the deployment is over. In reality, National Guard duty is a pretty good deal. Or at least, in Minnesota it is. It is marginally inconvenient, but no more so then a husband having to work over an occasional weekend or work late sometimes. One thing that makes things so nice for me is that my family is pretty supportive of the entire thing. Sure, it is important that his family is also supportive, but my family is here, Josh’s is in western South Dakota.

So, why posting so early on a Sunday? Well, it is Drill Weekend. This is why life is “normal” again. In regular time, we go to Sunday school and late service except on Drill Weekend. On Drill Weekend, we go to Saturday evening service. So, we had our normal Drill Weekend routine, and I like having it back. Well, that and it is *really* cold outside. Josh’s truck sits outside, and my car is in our heated garage. When Josh got home from Guard last night, I said, “If we go to late service, you can take my car tomorrow.” He said, “Won’t that leave you stranded.” I thought, ‘right, like I’m going anywhere in this weather,’ but I said, “Yes, but it will take less time to warm up.” Josh said, “I’ll just take my truck.” But, by the end of the evening, he conceded that it was too cold outside to take his truck to Drill. So, I am at home, in my nice warm apartment.

I like Guard weekend.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

$24.99 well spent

Not long after I graduated from college, Josh decided it was time for me to learn to cut his hair. So, he spent $24.99 for a set of clippers. I tell you what, ladies, if your husband likes high and tight or buzz cuts, it is money well spent. With the exception of the 22 months Josh was gone, I cut his hair since then. So, let's just say 60 haircuts... that's about $0.42 per haircut!

Oh, and it really doesn't take that long to figure out how to use the clippers. The nice thing is, if you screw up, you can just shave his hair all off and it will grow back in less then a month. (I haven't had to do that since 2002.)

Monday, February 04, 2008

Comparing Apples to Apples…

I find it unfair when people compare Paul’s ministry to modern American church ministry. There is no comparison. Perhaps I sound a little harsh when I remind myself that there is nothing that would normally attract us to Christ and that the message modern preachers share is different then what the disciples preach… perhaps.

In my economics education, I learned we should compare apples to apples. So, the price of an apple at Cub verses the price at Rainbow verses the price at the local whole foods co-op. (Note to Pianomosicle… this is another economic thing I’ve seen you do intuitively.)

When I hear people talk about a purpose to life or what drives me to get out of bed in the morning or whatever, I try really super hard to be polite. And I agree that if one follows the teachings in the Bible and have a unifying theological document (in other words, let’s say Josh and I agree that difficult theological issues are resolved by the Book of Concord instead of Josh’s interpretation of scripture and Liz’s interpretation of scripture), sure, our marriage will be unified and better and stuff like that. But, would I dare preach the message that following Jesus makes ones earthly life better to someone in the 10 40 window (I’m operating under the assumption that the people reading this are familiar with missions).

So, let’s compare apples to apples. Who are the “leaders” in American Christianity… Billy Graham? Rick Warren? Joel Osteen? Greg Laurie? Are any of them in risk of, as Josh likes to say, “Having the crap kicked out of them until they almost die,” or loosing their lives due to anything other then old age? No. Who are the “leaders” in the church in China, Kenya? Are their physical health and well-being at risk? I don’t know, and probably so. What about the disciples? Seems to me, they were all tortured and killed.

I’m not saying those not in danger aren’t “real” Christians or whatever. But we need to compare the ministry of the disciples in its proper historical context. What drove the Apostle Paul and the other disciples wasn’t a religious philosophy that would make people feel better about life. No. When Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me,” they experienced the literal fulfillment of this message. What drove Paul and the other disciples was that man is in danger of the fires of Hell.

What’s the good news? The good news is, Christ died to pay the price for your life. He didn’t drop a bag of his blood at your feet and say, “Buy yourself out.” No, he paid for it himself. And he forgives your sins and restores your relationship with God so you won’t go to Hell. The price is paid. Repent of your sins. Live in Christian freedom.

Remember that, when the Apostle Paul had urgancy to share the Gospel, his urgancy was he might not live to see tomorrow. Our modern definition of "purpose" is not what the Apostle Paul experienced.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

So, what is the meaning of it all…

A philosophical question, to be sure. But one of comfort and hope. Greg Laurie picks on Tom Brady . In an interview, Brady contemplates the meaning of life. Laurie goes on to contemplate the question, “What is the purpose of life?” Laurie believes that we can learn from the example of the Apostle Paul who believed his message could, “give people a purpose for life, restore marriages, build families, shatter addictions and bring unprecedented hope, balance and happiness to men and women all over the world. He couldn't wait to get up in the morning to tell people about it.”

OK, let’s cut to the chase here… the Super Bowl is on and I have some baby afghan making to do. Buddhists believe the same thing, as do Hindus. And hey, there are good people out there who are passionate about AIDS or cancer research or feeding the hungry or performing other good and charitable acts, but some of these people aren’t believers in Christ. And I would argue that these people have “purpose.”

What is the message of the Apostle Paul? The Apostle Paul tells Timothy a good and sound rule, I am the worst of all sinners. The message Paul had, according to Jesus, could tear up marriages and families. And what is this message, “Christ crucified for our sins arose” and “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” and “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus for the Law of the Spirit for life in Christ Jesus will set you free from the law of sin and death” and “Contentedness next to Godliness is great gain.”

What good is it to have a “purpose” or a “greater calling” if you’re not going to share the Gospel message with your kids? No, the best people I know were not missionaries or pastors or in the ministry. They help their neighbors. They taught their kids to read the Bible. And they got up every day in contentedness finding enjoyment in something in life. And, in fact, they do a lot of that stuff without the help of the church.

The disappointment about Laurie’s article is his failure to live his purpose as a Pastor and preach the message of the Cross. Perhaps Greg Laurie needs his chi adjusted.

As an aside... does Rick Warren get royalties from Greg Laurie? Perhaps he should.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

This week in the life of Baby…

Josh announces that his two week training is from June 7 through June 21. Good thing my due date is June 29th and I have HG and Mom nearby… and Dad too, but my guess is Dad wouldn’t be too keen on being in the delivery room, nor would I be too keen to have him there, no offense.

Josh will just be three hours away, and I’d rather him get this over with early in the summer as opposed to later. Just my preference.

And besides, my situation is nothing compared to what others in my FRG group went through. I mean, one gal induced so she could satellite (VTC) the delivery to her husband while he was in Kuwait for a few days. A VTC involves a low level enlisted person being in and out of the room monitoring the VTC equipment, adjusting the view for the expectant dad, and other such things. We’ve had gals ask to web-cam deliveries over Skype and IM. Josh will at least be in the same state as me when I deliver. Hopefully in the same room, but if not, it isn’t the end of the world. As a wise person once said, “The sun will go on rising and setting, if I fail at geometry or not.” And, no, I did not smash a slate over Josh’s head when I found out.

OK, so what’s going on with Baby…

Well, as discussed last week, we decided not to find out Baby’s gender until Baby is born. I’m pretty excited about that. Baby should grow to be 8 ounces. Also, permanent teeth are already forming behind the baby teeth. And baby will begin to get little hair called lanugo. Also, if Baby is a girl, her ovaries are already forming eggs!

As always: from