The. Elf.

elf2When my kids were barely more than toddlers, a family member gave us a present. It was a gift set keepsake box: a Christmas-themed book and accompanying figure. The book was cute—nice watercolor illustrations, fun story—but the stuffed, footless, plastic-headed toy looked like a creepy doll from the 1940s. We all now know him as the Elf on the Shelf.

The kids, inexplicably, named ours Keeko. At the time, I had no idea it was becoming a worldwide phenomenon. I just thought it was a fun idea, albeit a tad disturbing. Now almost everyone we know has their very own elf, with names like Jingles and Ralphie, and it’s a tradition that kids love (despite the pretense that he is used to manipulate them into good behavior)—and one that parents torture themselves with each year.

Come to find out, the story was originally written and self-published in 2004 by a stay-home mother and her two adult daughters, based on her own family tradition growing up in the 1970’s. After several years of self-promotion, it won numerous awards for best toy and book of the year. The Elf himself (giant and inflatable) appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2012, skyrocketing the book to the #1 spot on the USA Today Bestseller’s List the following year.

The doll was closely modeled after the “Knee-Hugger Elves” and/or “Pixie Elves”, interestingly from 1960s US-occupied Japan. The modern-day elf, much like its predecessor, has an mishchievous expression on its plastic head and lightweight felt body, making him easy to set him up wherever you so choose. (I will say, however, a little wire would have been a nice addition for posing him.) Some parents really take it to the next level, having him get into all sorts of imaginary trouble with the most elaborate set-ups, but I’m lucky if I remember to move him at all.

The elf is essentially a delightful parental crutch, used to threaten children who behave badly. He or she allegedly sits around and spies on the kids, then flies home to report to Santa each night. When he returns the next morning, he sits (or hides) in a new spot—IF parents remember to move him. If not, we say “he really must like that spot”, or “he doesn’t go to the North Pole if there was nothing good to report”, or “the weather must have made travel difficult”.

The daily search to see where Keeko ends up is what my kids seem to enjoy the most, and it’s helpful getting them out of bed in the morning. Sometimes they talk to him, mostly about their Christmas list, expectant that he will relay the messages to Santa. Or ask him if he knows their friend’s elf. All the kids and their friends are abuzz with talk of their elves: when they appeared, if they brought gifts or wrote notes. I might have to step up my game. According to the kids’ friends, their elves came earlier than our own. My son insisted that Keeko would appear as soon as we put up the Christmas tree, aelfnd dragged our fake tree out of the crawlspace to set it up himself.

And what do you know…it worked. We had our tree up on November 27th, before we had even recovered from Thanksgiving. But Keeko was there the next morning.

TBD on whether or not the surveillance/behavior-modification will be as effective.

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To Thanksgiving Decorate or Not to Thanksgiving Decorate

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It seems like the heat of summer was moments ago, and boom! October arrives and stores everywhere explode with both Halloween and Christmas gear. I always wonder why Thanksgiving gets completely skipped over. I mean, aside from a few generic autumn pieces of décor—a leafy harvest wreath, a gourd-filled cornucopia, a cheesy cartoon turkey—Thanksgiving really doesn’t trigger the same commercial hysteria as the big October and December holidays. Turkey Day just doesn’t get the same attention. 

In a way, though, it’s pretty nice. Thanksgiving provides a retail boom in the massive amounts of food purchased, but otherwise is regulated to the private sphere. I really appreciate how un-commercialized it is. It is all about family and food—out-of-town relatives and heirloom recipes and everyone getting so full and sleepy that you all take naps in your stretchy pants. No pressure to buy everyone gifts that they probably don’t want, or to make all the snacks look like various monsters and body parts and things that they probably don’t want to eat. Only to make enough delicious food to feed a small town, and then annihilate all of it with ten people.  

Of course some fall décor is nice, but not expected. You can totally have a Thanksgiving without that pumpkin and corn centerpiece, but if you threw a Halloween party without ghosts and jack-o-lanterns or a Christmas party without lights and a tree, your friends and family might disown you. Thanksgiving is really just about relationships—and food, of course—two wonderful things to be thankful for!  

Still, if you feel compelled to celebrate beyond those two factors, keep it simple. A warm, earthy colored tablecloth with a classy little centerpiece is plenty—like white candles and fall berries, or an antique silver pumpkin filled with autumn-colored flowers. If you need a little inspiration, Pinterest is chock-full of it. For general ambiance, have some cider on the stove or in the slow-cooker for that amazingly inviting smell, perfect for a Thanksgiving gathering. Hot mulled wine is incredible for that same reason, and also adds to the spirit (pun intended?) of celebration. In my opinion, you can spice up pretty much anything with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and it is instantly and deliciously festive. Even a pork loin baked with fall spices and apples is a marvelous alternative (or addition) to the traditional turkey.  

However you celebrate, be it a “Friends-giving” or huge family reunion, enjoy it. Enjoy the people, enjoy the food, and take a moment to really consider all that you are thankful for. Appreciate Thanksgiving as one of the more relaxed holidays—save the stress and commercialism for the next day: Black Friday. And, of course, don’t forget to wear the stretchy pants. 

DIY Art

I wrote a while ago about a friend of mine and how her home decor changed over time. She put together some information for us on how you can create your own home art. Thanks, Sarah!

Many of us don’t really know how to approach the concept of artwork in our homes. Most of us can’t afford to cover our walls in original works of art from internationally acclaimed fine artists, but we can still have an element of gallery elegance if we make the right choices.

For example, when my kids were 2-5 years old, I’d give them a canvas and some paint, and…voila! Instant abstract, modern art with a personal touch. Just paint the edges black and you don’t even need a frame. (Pro-tip: use fast-drying, water-based paint, one color at a time. Let it dry between colors so it’s not a grey-brown muddy mess.)

For those of you without small children, I highly recommend trying your hand at the acrylic pour. No artistic skill required, and you will have a beautiful, colorful abstract piece of artwork in a jiff. You can even choose the colors to match your couch. Plus it’s a lot of fun. (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwbgfEitYztRWdayz2ZQksQ or https://acrylicpouring.com/beginners-acrylic-pouring-tips/)

If you aren’t into DIY, I suggest finding a local co-op of artists. Typically their prices are lower than other galleries because the commission structure is different, and you can score some gorgeous original artwork for less. Most of the time they’ve already chosen gallery-worthy framing, but if you buy an unframed piece, get a black or gold frame with a simple white matte for the gallery look in your own home.

Framing is key to the way you display any artwork in your home. However, many paintings on canvas don’t require frames, especially the “gallery-wrapped” ones, which have a deeper edge. Typically the image wraps around the sides in those cases, or, as mentioned above, will be painted black. Prints and photographs should be matted and framed behind glass. Even a greeting card with nice framing becomes fine art on your wall.

The way your art and other décor elements work with your home should be a reflection of your own personal style. Similarly, I’ve found that interior design rules often reflect the rules of fashion. Fans of the show “What Not to Wear” have heard Stacy and Clinton’s elements of an outfit: color, pattern, texture, and shine (not unlike the artistic principles of design: line, shape, color, value, form, texture, and space). While this subject alone could comprise a novel, it’s something to keep in mind while you decorate. Looking around my living room as though it were an outfit on WNTW, I see that the ornate brass mirror provides “shine”, the striped rug is “pattern”, the velvety couch gives “texture”, and our old red duck supplies “color”. Of course, there are many other things in the room that could stand in for these design elements, but the point is to have things of varied interest that work together as a whole, whether your style is eclectic (like mine) or more minimalist. Try selecting things that complement each other but still represent your family’s style and personality.

Hang your children’s paintings or your own acrylic pour art in a group like a gallery; frame your snapshots and arrange them like an art wall. Have some fine art next to them, and then a funky mirror, and then a large empty wall. Don’t feel too restricted by color scheme or subject matter. Western art in brown next to a vibrant abstract? Do it. Your home, your art gallery. Have fun with it!

BBQ Maintenance

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), more than 160 people are injured each year in BBQ mishaps. That doesn’t sound like a lot considering the thousands of people who flip burgers on their backyard grills each year. But, you certainly don’t want to be one of those injured!

The best way to prevent fire and injury is maintenance. Remarkably, few people are even aware that BBQ maintenance is necessary. But, it is.

Every spring, experts say you should clean out the venturi tubes. Those are the little metal pipes that carry propane or natural gas. Pipe cleaners work well, although hardware stores also carry specialized tools for this purpose. The goal is to clean out any built-up dirt and debris. Don’t be surprised if you find spider webs inside a venturi tube!

Your BBQ grills should also be cleaned with soap and water each year. Just scraping them before barbequing isn’t enough. Fat and oils from cooking can build up on grills and harden. If you’re getting a lot of flare-ups, this may be the cause.

Finally, make sure nuts and bolts are tightened regularly and replace any rusty hardware. Regular use, heat, and weather can loosen or weaken bolts, particularly on the frame. Several fires each year are caused by BBQs tipping over or collapsing.

Indicators it’s Time to Sell

There are many good reasons to put your property on the market. Some examples include a relocation, the kids leaving the nest, the need for something bigger or smaller, and the list goes on and on.

Here are some you may not have thought of:

Your Property is no longer a Good “Fit”

Your home may have been perfect for you when you bought it. But things change. Families grow. Needs evolve. For any number of reasons, your property may no longer be a good fit for you. If that’s the case, it makes sense to at least take a look at what’s available on the market. Who knows? Your next “perfect” home may be for sale right now — within your price range!

The Neighborhood is Changing

You may have been in love with the neighborhood when you first moved in. But, over time, the characteristics of any area can change. Those changes don’t necessarily mean the neighborhood is getting worse. In fact, it may be changing in a positive way; perhaps adding an HOA. But, “an HOA” may not be what you want. So take a look at the direction your neighborhood is heading. Ask yourself, “Do I still want to be living here in two years?”

You’re Ready for Your Dream Home

Remember when you purchased your current property? Did it have every feature you wanted? Was it your dream home? Or, did you have to compromise on a few things, such as the size of the kitchen? If you had to make some tough choices back then, it might be time for you to finally get the home of your dreams.

Those are just three indicators it may be time for you to make a move. Of course, there are many others.

If you’ve been entertaining the idea of selling your property and finding your next dream home, give me a call. I can show you what’s available on the market, and keep you informed of new listings that match what you’re looking for. Contact me anytime.

Planning for a Successful School Year!

ACK! Is it already that time again? If feels like we JUST went to the last day of school ceremony. On the other hand, it feels like ages since we had any type of schedule beyond breakfast at noon and way too much video gaming. The hot days are individually long and slow, but the months themselves are a flash. Suddenly it’s time for registration and back-to-school nights.

Maybe you’re the type of family that is so busy with summer camps and activities that the coming school year is a reprieve of your summer schedule, in which case, good for you! Preparing for back to school will be a cake walk.

The rest of us need to get our lazy-yet-chaotic summer selves into school mode. Here are five things we can all focus on:

  1. Supplies: Make it easier on yourself by getting your supplies early. Many times I’ve been a two-days-before-school-starts shopper. Picking through the dregs of the supplies isn’t fun for kids or parents.
  2. Clothes: Purge. Your kids have probably either outgrown or destroyed most of last year’s wardrobe. Plan out the basics of what is needed for the new year—a few pairs of pants, several shirts, a new pair of sneakers, and of course some new socks and undies—and let your kids pick out that one special outfit for the first day of school.
  3. Re-schedule: A few weeks before going back to school, we all need to start re-adjusting. Go to bed earlier. Get up earlier. Get plenty of sleep. Eat healthy food, at regular mealtimes. No more pizza for brunch and ice cream for dinner, or board game marathons until 1am. Sadly.
  4. Get involved: Show your kid that school is important. Be present. Even if you dread that back to school open house, go. Volunteer to help in the classroom, even a little bit. Get to know their new teacher(s) as well as other parents. Even if they don’t say so, kids appreciate it, and it demonstrates that we value school…so they will too.
  5. Goals and organization: Think back, way back, to last year—what did and didn’t work in terms of homework and studying. Discuss with your children to give them some responsibility and autonomy. Formulate a plan and maybe some goals. Get a study space ready, somewhere distraction-free.

Best of luck! But don’t panic. Even if you can’t fully accomplish these steps, you’ll be fine. Your kids will be fine. Even a chaotic first week of school will smooth itself out, at least into a slightly less chaotic school year routine. And you’ll always have your fond summer memories of midnight games and ice cream to keep you warm when the snow falls.

Art and Homes – An Individual Choice

A friend recently told me about her experience registering for wedding gifts over a decade ago; scanner-crazy walking through the stores. As well as the needed kitchen gadgets and bathrooms towels, she scanned a definitely not “needed”, but much loved red wooden duck. She also scanned artwork.

One piece was a print on canvas, except it was that cheap, plastic-y, fake canvas; it was during the height of popularity for Italian-themed landscapes in orange and red. It had black silhouetted trees and dramatic shadows and was clearly painted in 5 minutes (if a real, human artist even painted it) and mass-produced to beautify thrifty shoppers’ homes for years to come.

Over the years, her décor has evolved in a number of ways. Now walls are adorned with kids’ art, family photos, ornamental mirrors, and a few original artworks. She still displays the large, yellow wall clock from her Target registry, but the tree print is in the basement somewhere. They’ve struck a balance between classy, adult design and homey, personalized design that fits them.

It made me think of how we evolve in many areas of our lives, including our homes. The small apartment I lived in when I was single compared to the 3 bedroom house with a pool that we bought in Arizona after getting married. Our 2 story colonial on a tree-lined street in Virginia is vastly different from our contemporary home here in the mountains.

We learn, grow, and change over time. Those experiences alter who we are and what we want. My friend’s taste in art has changed. Does that mean she was wrong then or now? No, they are just what she desired at the time. Was my apartment or colonial home wrong? No, they were right at the time.

Looking for a home is personal. Having a realtor truly listen to what you want and help you find that gem is important. When you are selling, it is equally important to have a realtor that can help you understand what buyers want and how to stage your home to meet those needs. Just like that orange silhouetted tree artwork will bring my friend back to 2007, avocado green and harvest gold will leave a buyer feeling like your home is outdated, no matter how much you love them.

If you are looking to buy or sell a house, I would welcome the chance to listen to your wants and needs and help guide you to what is right for you in this stage of life.

Dads: Red Fish Blue Fish

As parenting roles have blended over the last few decades, dads aren’t just responsible for “bringing home the bacon”. Sometimes moms are the bacon-bringers and dads are the primary caretakers of the kids and the home. Usually, however, it’s a mix, which I think is better for everyone involved.

I’m pretty sure playfulness is a universal dad trait. I suppose that’s part of why “dad jokes” are such a thing now. Even the most serious, masculine dads often get to be the “fun parent”, cracking a terrible pun with a wry smile. While Mom reminds the kids how to correctly brush their teeth, Dad splashes them with sink water. While Mom has a heart-to-heart at bedtime, Dad becomes the tickle monster. These roles reverse often, but for many families, Dad likes to think he’s just one of the kids.

This is in stark contrast to the career-oriented dad, who is all about performance and work and planning. This dad works long hours and expects the same from kids regarding schoolwork. He is very driven and goal-oriented and probably wants his kids to go to Harvard. He wants the best for his kids, like all of us, but might not be quite as playful as other dads.

Some dads are very casual in their parenting, very free-range. “Eh, he’s fine!” is this dad’s mantra as his toddler goes headfirst down the slide and face plants in the dirt. Others are the distinct opposite: the helicopter dad, the safety dad. Whereas the “whatever” dad shrugs off suggested car seat regulations, helicopter dad has his 14-year-old in a five-point safety harness.

Then there’s the emotionally tuned-in, sensitive dad versus the stoic, man’s-man dad. One says “let it out” while the other says “be strong”. Both love their kids to the moon and back, but one prefers tough love and the other wants to discuss feelings. And let’s not forget Mr. Fix-it, who is both handy and athletic. He can build a deck and install a light and then go coach soccer. He’s a bit of an overachiever, like career-dad, but with A.D.D. He doesn’t know how to relax, but he’s really excited about it.

Of course there are countless combinations of these dad personalities in each individual, and lots more types of dads than I can list. Dads are fun, dads are strong; dads are strict, dads are loving. Some are quiet, some are loud. Some are silly, some are serious.

To quote the great Dr. Suess…

“Some are thin. And some are fat. This one has a yellow hat. Some are fast. And some are slow. Some are high and some are low. Not one of them is like another. Don’t ask us why. Go ask your mother.

From there to here, from here to there, Funny [dads] are everywhere.”

No matter what, if you have a dad that loves you, he’s doing his best, so take this holiday to express love and appreciation to your special, unique father (aka fish).

Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

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You know how people say, “This is why we can’t have nice things”, usually pertaining to their pets or children? Well it’s also true for us. Yes, our pets and children ruin everything constantly, but we are no better.
A few years into owning our first house we got new appliances. A whole. New. Set. It was a very exciting moment. Yet we, the responsible adults, each ruined a new appliance the moment they were installed. Thinking he was handyman of the year, my husband messed with the door on the new dishwasher and broke it. I used Goof Off on the new microwave to remove sticker residue, permanently damaging the shiny plastic. This was THE FIRST DAY we had them. But that’s not all. I also managed to MELT aluminum foil in the bottom of the oven, and crack one of the plastic crisper drawers in the refrigerator when I closed the outside door on it. I’m officially worse than kids and dogs.
 
I also went about repainting some walls and trim, and accidentally poured half a can of white paint on the carpet, which was a lovely dark shade of plum. I always thought how great it would be to get rid of our purple floors, but I knew the moment we installed beautiful new carpet, it would get trashed. As far as I know, the purple carpet lives on to this day with the new owners, for the same reason: pets and young children. I can’t imagine the adults are as bad as we were, but who knows.
The good news is that carpet can be replaced. Appliances can be repaired. One day we’ll get new furniture and update the house; maybe even one day we’ll have a clean house. In the meantime I’ve learned to forgive myself, ignore imperfections and enjoy life through the mess…and blame it on the kids and pets while I can. 

Moving, Market Swings, Remodels, and Raising Kids

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We moved into our first home a month before our son was born in 2009, at the height of the recession. We had looked at countless trashed foreclosures before lucking into that “needs work” HUD home with purple carpet. We were able to buy it dirt cheap with first-time home buyer incentives. It was on two dry acres of middle-of-nowhere prairie where the kids could drive their little electric cars (once they could reach the pedals). My sister and I rolled out a tiny patch of sod one summer so the kids could have a lawn, but they still always found mud to play in. My husband finally built us a magnificent new deck… right before we moved out of it.
It was the house where they grew from newborns into kids that read and write. It was the house where we worked and cleaned and painted and mowed. The house where we screamed and yelled and laughed and cried and played as a family. I hated the prickly weeds, how far we were from things, and how the neighbor’s dogs never stop barking, but it was our home.
 
When job changes prompted us to move after seven years, it was such a crazy mixture of excitement, sadness, and fear. I found some consolation in the fact that the couple that bought our house loved it. They had a baby boy of their own. They also had horses. We listed our house for sale on the *same day* they got out of a problematic contract with another house. I’m told that the wife said something to the effect of “everything happens for a reason…this is the one”. Our house sold in four days, over asking price, with a bidding war. The market had more than recovered from the recession at that point.
 
Even though they gave us two months of rent-back, we still ran out of time and had to settle on a house in the suburbs—not in the mountains west of Denver that we had originally wanted. It was a 1970’s trilevel, like every other house in the neighborhood, in dire need of updating. It still wasn’t cheap. We scraped popcorn ceilings, ripped up carpet, tore town unnecessary half walls, put in new floors, painted the entire thing—inside and out—and that was only half of what needed to be done. The yard was tiny, but it backed up to a big, beautiful park: our connection to country living. The kids, much bigger at that point, still played in the mud. They enjoyed the fact that there were trees to climb. We enjoyed the proximity to work, shopping and school, but it didn’t feel like home.
 
A year and a half later, we were able to move to the mountains. The market was still nuts, but our city house sold instantly and we lucked into the place we’re in now, only because we were able to see it before it was officially listed. We had made maybe 5 failed offers on other places before that; we offered on it before I even saw it. Outdated and overpriced, it doesn’t have a coat closet or a guest room. The property is steeper than we’d like, but it has amazing views and a great little barn. And most importantly, it feels like home.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from these moves, it’s flexibility. Flexibility in search criteria, including location, price, and even closet space demands. Flexibility in your timeline–even if it means living in town for a year or two. (Also, kids are way more flexible and adaptable than you might realize.) Patience, faith, and a willingness to work on the property have come in handy too. 
Just remember “everything happens for a reason,” and one day you’ll find yourself saying “this is the one”.