No, you can’t “Have it all”

I truly think I’ve never been so exhausted in my life as I am after these past four months.

I’ve been living apart from my husband during work weeks while we transition from Houston to Dallas, forcing me into “single mom mode” with our infant daughter. Studying for the Professional Engineering exam took a huge toll on me considering the fact that the only math I’ve done the past 2 years has been calculating down payments for home loans. Mom and I embarked on a crazy journey to train for and ride the BP MS150 which nearly killed me this past weekend. (You try hauling yourself up a super steep hill with 15mph winds against you. Oh and training meant that Saturday mornings I was riding my bike instead of catching up with my husband who I hadn’t seen the past 5 days.) I dove straight into “just another kid with divorced parents” in the midst of the holidays and am still “not over it.” And last, but certainly not least, I’ve actually been working my real estate job somewhere in between all of that mess.

I’m not sure there’s ever been a time in my life where I’ve had so much going on at the same time.

In January, as this was all starting, I really felt like “I had it all.” I would finally be able to prove that I could be everything I needed to be – Super Mom, Wife, Engineer, Realtor, Cyclist, Maid, Cook, Friend, Daughter, Sister, Encourager, Listener – no matter what painful things I would have to endure as well. I could handle the temporary separation from my spouse and I didn’t need to get involved in my parent’s business. I just needed to focus on doing my own thing and accomplishing my own goals…. right?

Well, as I rode the last few hills into Austin this past weekend at the MS150, I started to cry a little. I wasn’t crying because I was excited to cross the finish line. I wasn’t crying because my hamstring felt like it was going to snap. I was crying because crossing that finish line meant that this season in my life was finally coming to an end.

PE Exam…. check
Weekly bike rides….. check
MS150….. check
Putting our house on the market…. check
Settling into a new job….. check
Move to Dallas in sight…. check

What I didn’t realize is that in the midst of trying to accomplish so many things, I forgot how much I was aching inside. Trying to “have it all”, all by myself, was way too exhausting. The only way I made it through these past few months has been through consistent prayer and petition to a God who is much greater and stronger than me. Throughout my life there will always be something to worry about, always something to be upset about, and always something that can rob my joy. The only way to prevail is to have someone helping me through who will never fail me. And guess what? That person is not my husband, my parents, my friends, or even my dog. That person is Jesus.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave, nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

I heard a song on Air1 Radio the other day and I sobbed in my car listening to it. This song completely describes this season of my life. I may not be able to “Have it all” on my own, but I can sure try by keeping my eyes on the One who can give me everything I need.

“No matter what I have, your grace is enough. No matter where I am, I’m standing in your love. On the mountains I will bow my life to the one who set me there. In the valley I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there.”

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The Truth about Motherhood

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July 19, 2016 arrived much sooner than I expected. Anna was in the breech position the last half of my pregnancy, and despite my efforts at the chiropractor to have her flip, I scheduled a c-section for the morning of the 19th in case she decided to be stubborn and keep her head up against my rib cage. Well… she was stubborn and she came into the world on a schedule (catering, of course, to how our family operates: on schedules.)

I clearly remember Anna’s delivery. I remember being in pre-op and the “nurse in training”, who was supposed to fix me up with some IV’s, did some digging and clearly wasn’t a master of needle-sticking. That was the most painful part of my delivery. Interesting, right? The epidural didn’t hurt. The surgery didn’t hurt. And the recovery wasn’t even that bad. I was up and walking on my own within a few hours post-op and I could even do all of my bathroom duties without any pain! (Ladies who deliver naturally, you are the true heroes.) Even with the pain of the initial IV, the annoyance of nurses coming in to check on me every hour, and the discomfort for anyone who stays in a hospital bed, the scariest part was that I now had a small human being who I would be responsible for the next… forever years.

No more leaving on a wim to go on vacation. No more sleeping in until 10am. No more fun….

…. at least that’s really how I felt the first couple of months.

I vividly remember spending most of the first 2 weeks crying. Breast feeding hurt a lot – so I cried. Anna wouldn’t stop crying and it’d been 6 hours – so I cried. I felt so tired yet sleep wasn’t an option – so I cried. Johan wanted to tell me how great of a Mom I was – and then I cried. Everything made me cry!! Friends, family, and doctors tried to warn me about baby blues and postpartum depression, but to everyone reading this, you really can’t understand either of those two things until you’re a new mom. Not only did I cry the first 2 weeks, but I had numerous thoughts of “why did we get pregnant?” and “I wish I could go back to last year” and “When will she be in kindergarten?” It pains me to admit that, but to other moms who had similar thoughts: I understand you and I feel for you. There’s a percentage of women who don’t immediately fall in love with their children and that’s okay. Everyone’s story is unique and that’s what makes this thing called Motherhood so amazing.

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So what is Motherhood?

Motherhood is really really really hard.
Motherhood brings a level of joy you’ve never felt before.
Motherhood makes a marriage struggle.
Motherhood invokes a new kind of communication between Mom and Dad.
Motherhood takes away your independence.
Motherhood causes you to reevaluate your priorities.
Motherhood introduces many sleepless nights.
Motherhood gives you a good reason to be up at 3am.
Motherhood means your house is now a laundromat.
Motherhood demonstrates sacrifice and pure love.

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I struggled in the beginning and I questioned our decision to have kids a lot. There were highs and lows and while so many of my mom friends consoled me and reassured me that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, I still texted them numerous times per day asking about the same things over and over again. I’m blessed with people in my life who were patient and loving to me in that trying time. Now that Anna is just over 6 months old, I get it. I finally understand that there really is a light. I continue to learn things about our new family dynamic every day. My hope is that moms everywhere will be comfortable sharing their feelings even if they don’t line up with the image portrayed on television or on social media. And if you know someone who may be struggling, don’t let her cute Facebook pictures with super positive captions fool you. I posted enough of those as tears were hitting my keyboard and I hadn’t eaten in hours.

Tips that saved me

  • Your birth story is whatever you want it to be
  • Don’t plan to do any actual work at the hospital
  • Don’t be worried about using the nipple shield – it literally saved the integrity of my nipples
  • Get someone to watch baby the first night you’re home from the hospital (even if you’re breastfeeding, he/she can bring the baby to you to feed then put him/her back to bed) you’ll need the sleep!
  • If you have a generous family member or you have the $$ to hire someone, having help at night the first 2 weeks will make you a completely different woman
  • Get an Amazon Prime account
  • Keep track of feedings/diapers in a notebook or an app at least the first 4 weeks
  • If you’re going to be scheduled-oriented, the notebook is also helpful to keep track of baby’s sleep patterns
  • Read 12 Hours Sleep by 12 Weeks Old by Suzy Giordano – it worked perfectly for Anna!
  • Get out of the house as soon as possible, even just for a quick trip to the grocery story (We took Anna to Costco when she was like 1 week old and it felt amazing.)
  • Let baby cry sometimes
  • Let yourself cry sometimes
  • Take a shower every day while someone watches baby
  • For the first 3 months, have lots of plain onesies
  • Take a daily walk up and down the street with baby
  • Ask for help as much as you want and as much as you need
  • Vick’s infant chest rub is great for baby colds
  • If baby is super stuffy, shower steam works miracles
  • Formula feeding? the Baby Brezza is a must
  • Don’t let Dr. Brown’s bottles intimidate you – they’re harder to clean but they’re a lifesaver for colic
  • Those amber necklaces aren’t just for teething, they’re for spitting up too!
  • Yes, baby can sleep in his/her crib from day 1 if you want
  • Your demeanor will most definitely reflect on baby’s behavior (stressed Momma = stressed baby)
  • There is power in prayer
  • It really does get a lot better after 2-3 months
  • If you’re comfortable, let different, trustworthy people watch baby (Anna goes to the church nursery, stays with neighbors, and has a few different babysitters and it’s helped her be okay with separation)
  • Take lots of pictures
  • Breathe

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“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5

I’m not pregnant anymore!

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Anna Kathryn Petterson – born 9 lbs, 21.5 inches on Tuesday, July 16th.

Most of you already know this either because you saw Facebook, I texted you, my mom told my aunt who told her daughter who told you, or you may have even had the pleasure of meeting our little peanut already. What most of you don’t know is my experience leading up to her delivery.

Props to all of my first time pregnant friends and moms. I always heard someone say, “If men had to have babies we would all be one-child families.” But seriously… that’s so true! As I remember it, pregnancy was very easy for me the first 20 weeks. Morning sickness? Psh, I eat what I want! I felt great. The only aversion I had was coffee and that didn’t last long. Belly getting huge? Yeah… um… I don’t think anyone even knew I was really pregnant until around 30 weeks.

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Me around week 20

Like I said, the first 20 weeks were a piece of cake. I felt her moving and kicking a lot. (Johan got really excited when he could feel it too.) My regular clothes pretty much still fit and I was just starting to buy the really cute maternity clothes that you look forward to wearing and then secretly end up hating because they still fit when your baby is like 6 months old.

I was on top of the world and I was so excited for the next 20 weeks… until the next 20 weeks came….

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? Check.
Shoes don’t fit? Check
Feet hurt all the time? Check
Popping acid reflux pills every day? Check
Baby getting heavier making it hard to walk? Check
Peeing 3 times a night? Check
Sweating indoors? Check
Can’t sleep with any covers? Check

I could go on and on about the different things I was feeling physically and emotionally. I would hear women say, “Oh you must be loving this time. I really wish I could have another baby just so I could be pregnant again.” Seriously everyone, after hearing this, the look on my face must’ve been priceless.

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I was thinking, “Who in their right mind would wish that upon themselves?” One of my friends said that God should’ve made pregnancy only last 8 months because it’s the last month that’s the hardest. Even the women who apparently “love being pregnant” would probably agree with this. Now don’t get me wrong, if you’re one of these women then all power to you! I still would postulate that you’ve just forgotten some of the negative things about your pregnancy – but maybe not. I stand corrected if it was as amazing as you say it was.

The reason that women have multiple children must be because of the emotion once they get here. During delivery, the minute I saw Anna I started crying. That little miracle came from Johan and me and I carried her for 9 months (without having more than a couple of glasses of wine the entire time I might add) and it was worth every sleepless night, every pair of bigger shoes I had to buy, and every pop of Zantac when I thought my throat was going to catch on fire. Our daughter is the best thing that’s happened to us and our life is definitely looking a lot different these days.

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“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Ephesians 5:1

Lessons Learned from a Rookie Agent

This past year in real estate has been an absolute whirlwind and the past few months have proved the most challenging. Luckily, through the sleepless nights (mostly because of the pregnancy but also because of work) I’ve survived it all and come out on top. Whether I make $10,000 or $400, each transaction is different and presents its own challenges. What are these challenges and why are they causing me to lose sleep? To be honest, I’ve thought about starting a book. Some of these things I can’t make up, and when you read about it, you’ll probably say, “WOW, how can someone act that way? Or treat you like that?” Well friends, take note – when you’re in an industry dealing with people, crazy things happen. I’m just glad I’ve gotten through most of these situations unscathed.

The seller who I’m convinced doesn’t actually want to sell

This person has been the single most difficult person I’ve ever dealt with probably in my entire 26 years of life on this earth. And the funny thing is that she wasn’t even my client! I was representing the buyer and the seller decided to take it upon herself to make my life a living hell while trying to make it through the option period.

[Option period: The 7-10 days (average) the buyer has to do thorough inspections of the home, negotiate any repairs, and make sure he/she actually wants to move forward. You pay the sellers around $100 (average) for the privilege to do this and then your money is refunded if you follow through and buy it.]

Since my buyers were out of town, I had to meet the various inspectors at the house and I was maliciously confronted each time by the seller.

Lesson #1: Always keep it professional

Seller: “Why do you have a plumber out here? There’s nothing wrong with our hot water heater.”
What I wanted to say: “You know what? – there’s actually a lot wrong with your house. Do you all even know what the word ‘maintenance’ means? You’ll be lucky if my clients even want to buy this house after these inspections.”
What I said: “Well ma’am, my buyers have the right to do more thorough inspections and our general inspector pointed out we should have an expert take a closer look at a few things so that’s what we’re doing.”
Seller: “So you’re telling me that your first inspector sucked so bad that he couldn’t just tell you what was wrong in the first place?”
What I wanted to say: *SLAP*
What I said: “Okay ma’am, you’re being very rude and confrontational right now. If you have a complaint, please take it up with your agent and she can speak with me directly. But I will not be talking to you anymore.”
*End scene as I continue speaking with my plumber and then get in my car and slowly drive away.*

Lesson #2: Use your knowledge of contracts

The listing agent decided to confront me about having a few other inspectors go out to the house as well. She also thought it was “overkill.” (Mind you, we had our general inspector, a plumber for the hot water heater, an electrician, an A/C inspector, and a pool inspector. I could’ve had 20 inspectors out there if we wanted to – it’s in the contract.) So I decided to send her this:

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Then I clearly explained that her clients agreed to permit my buyer and myself access to the property at reasonable times with inspectors to make inspections. Not one inspector… but multiple inspectors if necessary (something her 9+ years experience hadn’t taught her). Glad we cleared that up.

Lesson #3: Be firm and don’t back down (as long as your clients allow)

I’m not a CNE (Certified Negotiating Expert) but I use my common sense and I’m pretty firm when it comes to others’ needs. Real estate is all about negotiating. Everything is negotiable. So after our inspections, we decided to ask for about $6,000 in total repairs to the home before buying it. Most of the time you know you probably won’t get everything so we expected to meet somewhere in the middle at the end. Long story short, the seller wouldn’t negotiate at all. In fact, her response was that any home warranty company would cover all of the problems we pointed out. *cough FALSE cough* So we walked. The listing agent said, “You’re really going to walk now after all this time and money has been invested?!” My response? “Of course! Good luck selling that house.”

In the end we didn’t have to deal with crazy people anymore and my clients found a much better house the second time around – better price, well maintained, easy repairs negotiation, and sellers who left us mimosas when we did our initial walk-through. That’s more like it! Watch out for my next blog post for Lesson Learned from a Rookie Agent Part Deux .

“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Matthew 5:22

 

Licensed Realtors vs. Amazing Realtors

I’ve had multiple friends/acquaintances ask how I became a Texas Realtor. I’ve made the mistake of only giving the short answer:

  • Take and pass 6 different real estate classes including things like Real Estate Finance and Principles of Real Estate (either in-person or online)
  • Submit an application to the Texas Real Estate Commission
  • Take and pass the final licensing exam
  • Go have your fingerprints taken
  • Find a broker to sponsor you
  • Start practicing!

Seems pretty simple, right? I mean I was still working for HNTB while I took all of my classes and the exam so technically you wouldn’t even have to quit your full-time job if you wanted to have your license on the side. My mistake is not explaining how you become a valuable, reputable, reliable, and out-of-this-world Texas Realtor. After sitting through the licensing classes and taking the exam, I found it scary how many people are able to obtain a license – how many are able to actually help people make the most important investment of their entire lives – how many probably don’t take this job very seriously and are just looking to score some extra cash.

That’s scary.

When you buy or sell your home (or commercial building, ranch building, etc…) you’re basically trusting someone to cross your t’s and dot your i’s with a transaction that’s costing you thousands of dollars. Wouldn’t you want to use someone who you know will be meticulous with the contracts, negotiate well, be organized with everything, and genuinely care about your well-being? I know I would. And some of you are probably thinking, “Well Kate, you’re only in your second year of practicing, so how can we trust a newbie like you?” and I definitely understand when people have this misconception.

Truth: I’ve interpreted contracts correctly in a class where another agent who’s been practicing over 30 years didn’t even know what I was talking about. (This comes from keeping up with continuing education.)

Truth: Just because someone has been doing something for 20 years does not mean that he/she is someone you would want to use, much less refer to others later. (When your clients continue to refer you to their friends/family, you know you’ve become a reputable agent.)

Truth: As an agent, being sponsored by a broker who is available and can advise and answer questions can make the biggest difference when working through a transaction. (Using an agent who works without any other consultants can be a red flag.)

Truth: No transaction is exactly the same so technically the 1-year agent could be learning the same lessons as a 10-year agent. (It can be important to use an agent who’s consistently closing transactions throughout the year and keeping his/her head in the game.) 

My hope is that all of you will think long and hard about the agent you want to represent you in your next real estate transaction. Whether that’s me, your neighbor, your friend’s father-in-law, or the woman you read amazing reviews about on HAR who seems to dominate your area with her yard signs. I encourage you to go here and search the agent’s name to see how many education classes he/she has taken lately. Ask your friends/coworkers/family who they would recommend. Getting your Texas Real Estate License is a pretty simple process, but being a successful agent is a whole different story.

The Story on Credit

When Johan and I sold our house last year and bought a new house, we knew we’d have to get the new loan in his name since I had changed from salary to commission-only which greatly changed my financial history. We had confidence in his credit for various reasons and figured the loan process would be smooth and easy. But that’s when this happened…

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Flashback 2 years ago, Johan moved out of his apartment and they hit him with an extra bill. Not only did they keep his deposit, but they were trying to charge him more money to fix things in the apartment “caused by dogs.” It’s funny because he never had a dog in his apartment and everything they were claiming was bogus.

Long story short, we refused to pay thinking that small amount couldn’t possibly hurt his credit and then we were hit with the truth. Fast forward almost 3 years – trying to buy a house – and his credit was hit hard by that “small amount.”

Warning: Don’t ever let anything go to collection at those credit bureaus, no matter how “unfair” the charge. Pay it and dispute later.

I’m going to share a few lessons we’ve learned along the way about credit and how this translates into making a large purchase, like a home.

Keep an Updated Address
A lender told me once that the thing that hurts peoples’ credit the most tends to be medical bills. And it’s not even that people refuse to pay them – it’s that someone moves, forgets to update their address with the hospital and/or their insurance, the bill gets sent to the wrong address, it never gets paid, and it goes straight to credit collection. How is this fair? Exactly, it’s not. There are lobbyists for this issue trying to change its effect on credit but unfortunately there’s no solution right now. So make sure that if you’re going to get billed by anyone, they have your updated address.

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“Debt-free” Isn’t the Best for Credit
Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying you need to rack up a bunch of credit card debt and never pay your student loans. What I’m saying is that you need to be using credit in order to build a credit score.You’ll want to go slap some congressmen after hearing this but it’s actually not good to pay off all debt and live on cash-only. We actually just applied for a new credit card so that Johan could rebuild his score faster. Make sure that each month you’re always paying your minimum balance (at least), you don’t spend more than 30% of your credit limit, and you’re consistently paying into 3-5 different accounts.

Example:
Car payment = $250/month
House payment = $1200/month
Student loans = $300/month
Visa card (limit is $10,000) ~ $2000/month
American Express card (Limit is $5000) ~ $1000/month

This is 3 revolving accounts where you’re consistently making the minimum payment and 2 revolving credit card accounts where you always pay the full balance and you don’t spend more than 30% of the limit. This is great! Even if you pay off your student loans quickly, you’ll still have 4 revolving accounts which is wonderful for your credit. I know I know, it’s crazy sauce that you have to maintain some form of “debt” to prove you’re good at handling money. But who thinks the government is perfect? Yeah…

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Pulling Credit Will Not Hurt Your Score
Lots of my clients are worried about talking to lenders because they think if they get their credit report pulled too many times that it’ll severely hurt their credit. All I can say is, “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.” Did you know that any inquiries made within a 45-day period count as one? So 10 different people can pull your credit at one time and it’ll show up like one person pulled it 1 time. If you’ve got a really good score, this may drop you 2-3 points total, so it really does not “hurt” your credit. Some people have even seen their score go up as a result of this. If you have a low score and you’re still worried, just mention it to the lender before starting the process and he/she can give you the best options.

Talk to a Lender 6 Months Before Buying
This one is really important, especially for young people just out of college or people worried about their credit. If you’re thinking about making a home purchase then it’s really good to get with a lender 3-6 months ahead to see where you stand. I know a lender who said he had a client fresh out of college and she literally had no credit score – she didn’t have any history! So he told her to get a credit card and become an authorized user on her fiancé’s card, and then BAM, her score went up to 720 within 3 weeks. Crazy huh? That little change made a huge difference and that’s what lenders are for. They can coach you on how to raise your score and things to stay away from so you can qualify for the best possible rate once it’s time to buy. Trust me, don’t wait, they’re there to help.

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So folks, those are the biggies. Hopefully you know a little more about how credit works than before you read this post and hopefully you can all go out and start working on those scores. Most lenders will tell you they’ve never seen someone with a perfect score, but there are ways to get there. Why don’t we all try? 850 here I come!!

“For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.” – 1 Cor. 3:11-14

Where do you find satisfaction?

I have a couple of friends from high school and college who I almost always call whenever I’m feeling down in the dumps and need solid, spiritual advice. I remember calling one of them a few months ago and talking about how I wasn’t feeling satisfied in my new job – I had been working so hard for months and the money coming in just wasn’t reflecting that effort. I kept thinking, “Yeah, I mean I quit my other job for a reason but at least I was making a steady salary back then. Maybe I’m only happy when I’m contributing financially to my family.”

And you know what she said? It went something like this…

“Kate, if you think that earning money is going to satisfy you, you’ll never be happy. God calls us to worship and serve him in every aspect of life.” No matter what season of life we find ourselves in, we’ll never be satisfied if all we’re chasing is things.

And we’ve seen this in society in general, right? Famous people going to rehab for drug problems, the rich committing suicide from depression, women thinking the only way to find love is to go on a reality TV show and fight for a complete stranger, and the list goes on and on. I mean I understand if you’re not a Christian and you’re saying, “Well I don’t believe in God and I’m doing just fine making it in this world on my own. I’m not like those other people. I got this.” But look back on your life and tell me that you haven’t had struggles. Maybe you haven’t struggled to the point where you’ve found yourself putting chemicals into your body or bankrupting your family or losing it all; I can guarantee, though, that there’s been a time when you weren’t sure who to turn to or you didn’t know how you’d be able to make it on your own. I’ve felt that numerous times in my life – a friend’s ultimate betrayal, rejection from a sports team, a lonely break-up. How do you dig yourself out of those holes all by yourself?

You don’t.

In this season of life, I need that friend telling me the truth. I need that friend reminding me that I’ll never be satisfied if I keep chasing money and security and more things. Luckily, as a Christian, I know that I have a Heavenly Father who will always satisfy my needs. He’ll always accept me for who I am, He’ll always provide me with what I truly need, and He will never leave or forsake me. The more I seek Him and the more I remember that there are more important things in life than just making money, the more satisfied I become.

I urge all of you my dear friends and family – don’t look to yourself solely to fight well through this life. If you do, you’re sure to be destroyed emotionally and/or physically in the end.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9

Goal Setting for the New Year

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It’s officially 2016 and that means it’s the time of the year for everyone to make their new year’s resolutions.

resolution: a firm decision to do or not to do something.

Usually my resolution comes down to health – “I’m going to lose 20 pounds this year” or “I’m going to finally start hitting the gym at least 3 days every week” or “I just want to feel healthy again.” But this year I think we all need to be realistic. Let’s stop saying we’re going to go join a gym and go every week when we’ve only been to the gym twice in our lives. Let’s make real, attainable goals for our 2016 and then celebrate as we achieve them.

Resolution #1 – “Get in shape”
Let’s change this into a real goal by breaking it down a little bit more. How am I going to be on my way to getting into shape?
– Drink at least 3-32oz cups of water every day
– Eliminate all sodas 
– Limit to alcoholic drinks only on weekends
– Take dog on at least three 30 min walks/week
– No snacking after dinner
This is a list of small goals that will get me on my way to getting into shape.

Resolution #2 – “Stop using my phone so much”
I’m guilty of saying this statement every year. I know that I’m on my phone way too much but how can I limit my use without being completely unrealistic?
– Leave phone in the back of the car when driving
– Keep phone on silent when out with friends/family
– Don’t take phone into bedroom at night
These three things could make a major difference in my phone use but won’t eliminate it. My point is that I don’t want to stop monitoring social media or stop texting – I just want to be more present in the times where it really counts.

Resolution #3 – “Get right with God”
This is definitely a resolution that gets brought up throughout the entire year, especially in my Christian circles. But sometimes it’s overwhelming to think we’re disappointing God because we work too much or spend too much time with friends.
– Get involved in a small group/bible study
– Try to bring up your faith at least once/week with coworkers, friends, family, etc…
– When in town, try to attend at least Sunday school or your church service (if not both)
– Keep a small Bible in your car as a reminder to read whenever you can and as a witness to your passengers
Many of my friends have said they’re going to start reading the Bible every day or have 30 minutes of prayer time each night, and that’s great! But that’s very hard for some of us to achieve in the beginning. Make your goals achievable and then work up to the big stuff.

Resolution #4 – “Stop watching TV”
Sometimes I hear my friends say they’re addicted to TV and they wish they just didn’t watch it at all. Do they honestly wish they never watched it? No, but limiting it would be better. So what’s the best way to do that?
– If you’re not actively watching the TV, turn it off
– When one episode is over, go do an activity like taking a walk or doing a load of laundry before watching the next episode
– If you want a snack, eat it away from the TV so you have a break
– Cut off certain channels or streaming sources so you’re literally not able to watch it at home
Johan and I cut our cable and now we only have Netflix or Hulu (and a couple of local channels.) So we don’t even have much choice of what to watch anymore. This definitely helps us to limit television use on the weekends and during the day.

So my friends, I wish you all a Happy New Year and a wonderful 2016 filled with changes and hope. Make your resolutions. Write down your goals. And remember that they belong to you and you have the right to choose how to achieve them.

Easy Chicken Risotto (Kate’s Knock Off Risotto)

IMG_5023I went to visit my brother and sister-in-law in New York last spring to visit my 2 month old niece. Charlotte Ann “Charlie” Emery was born in February and Johan and I were very eager to meet her. She is super cute and we can’t wait to see here again this Christmas!

One thing my brother and I have in common is our love for cooking. Most of my friends know that I’m pretty rustic in my kitchen. I throw things together – casseroles, quick dishes, whatever I can find in my pantry – and call it a meal. I can get creative and fancy sometimes but usually only for special occasions. If you know my brother, you’ll know that when he cooks it’s like you’re in a gourmet kitchen. We use ingredients I’ve never heard of, utensils that I’ve never imagined buying, and techniques that I would think you would only learn at the Culinary Institute. So when I told him, “Let’s cook risotto tonight. I have this awesome risotto recipe,” we were definitely on different pages.

A “real risotto” is cooked slowly – you slowly add chicken stock to the rice so that it doesn’t get too mushy and you end up with more of an al dente dish that’s flavorful and texturally advanced. My risotto? You cook it fast (more like you would cook normal white rice) and it does end up a little more mushy but I like it that way! Needless-to-say, my brother taught me how to make real risotto that night. But as once famously said on YouTube, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” So here’s my fast and easy risotto recipe.

Enjoy!

Easy Chicken Risotto
2 medium chicken breasts (thawed)
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup chopped mushrooms
1 handful raw spinach leaves
1 cup Arborio rice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
6 garlic cloves (sliced)
juice from 1 lemon
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
1 Tbsp. butter (optional)
Parmesan for serving
pesto for serving

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Next you’ll get out a medium sauté pan and heat the oil with the minced garlic on medium. Once the garlic starts to brown a little (about 2 minutes), add in the rice and stir through. Make sure you keep watching the rice and as it browns, keep stirring so that it doesn’t burn.
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Once the rice is slightly browned (about 2 minutes), add in the chicken stock. If the stock is room temperature, that’s better. I’m usually in a hurry so I’ll pull it directly out of the refrigerator which is fine too.
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Give the stock with the rice mixture a quick stir and then turn the heat to high until it’s boiling. Once it starts boiling, turn the heat to medium (or low-medium if you stove is pretty hot) and then cover and let sit about 16-20 minutes.

Now that you have the rice going, it’s time to cook the chicken and veggies. (I originally found this recipe using shrimp so you can really put in whatever you want. I like getting my vegetables incorporated also.) So first I took 2 thawed chicken breasts and cut them into slices and seasoned with salt and pepper. Then I put a little olive oil on a small sauté pan, turned the heat to medium, and then added the chicken after about 1 minute.
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Watch the chicken and once it looks like the slices are about halfway cooked through, turn them on the pan and let them cook the rest of the way through. They should end up a little browned like the picture above. Then you can either put the chicken in a separate dish or go ahead and throw in some veggies with the chicken.
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Add the spinach and chopped mushrooms and cook alongside the chicken. Season with salt and pepper. Once the spinach is wilted and the mushrooms are soft, turn off the heat and put to the side.

Once the rice has soaked in all of the chicken stock and it’s not watery anymore, turn off the heat and add in the chicken and veggies mixture, both cheeses, lemon juice, and butter (optional).
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And then, of course, a little pesto and extra Parmesan never hurt anyone 😉
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So that’s it! Super easy! Prep time usually takes me about 5 minutes and then cooking time total takes about 25 minutes. So in 30 minutes you have a dish that looks professional. Don’t stress on a week night – go make this meal!

“If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.” – Isaiah 1:19

What’s on the Houston ballot this year?

Some of you may have already voted (like me) but most of you probably still have yet to hit the polls. First I’ll say: GO VOTE! It’s a right that our ancestors fought for so that we could have in say in certain areas of government. And please don’t think your vote “won’t even matter.” Republican? Democrat? Conservative? Liberal? Who cares. Everyone has a voice so make it heard.

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I don’t want you all to be confused once you get to the voting booth. We’ve had lots of commercials in Houston about our local Prop 1, candidates for mayor, etc… but we haven’t heard much about the state-wide action. So here’s a quick explanation of the state propositions and what they mean.

Proposition 1 (SJR 1)
If you own a home and it’s your homestead, then your tax break is going to be increased from $15,000/year to $25,000/year starting in the tax year beginning Jan. 1, 2015. Schools will be protected because money will be appropriated differently by the legislature to make up for these lost funds. Also, it’ll prohibits taxes on real estate purchases. Better tax breaks? No real estate taxes? The schools still get $$$. It’s a win-win for everyone!

Proposition 2 (HJR 75)
If a veteran died after 2011, his/her surviving spouse could claim an exemption on taxes on the veteran’s homestead as long as that spouse didn’t re-marry afterword. This proposition extends that tax break to surviving spouses who lost their loved ones before 2011. Let’s take care of our war heroes’ families and give them the tax breaks they deserve!

Proposition 3 (SJR 52)
Currently, state officers must reside in Austin, TX. This proposition would repeal this requirement (except for the governor). I think the comptroller should be able to live in San Antonio or Houston or Dallas or wherever he wants as long as he can get to Austin when he needs to be there. Don’t you?

Proposition 4 (HJR 73)
Do you want professional sports teams’ charitable foundations to be able to conduct charitable raffles? The only caveat is that those foundations will be able to use some of those proceeds to pay for reasonable advertising, promotional, and administrative expenses. But maybe more advertising means more people will buy raffle tickets! You decide 🙂

Proposition 5 (SJR 17)
Right now, a county with 5,000 people or less can construct and maintain private roads. This proposition would increase the population requirement to 7,500 or less. It also says they must impose a reasonable charge for the work so I’m not sure why this would be considered a bad thing. What’s 2,500 more people?

Proposition 6 (SJR 22)
This amendment is all about hunting and fishing! But wait, it still maintains the fact that we need to preserve the sanctity of our wildlife. It imposes hunting and fishing as the preferred method to manage and control wildlife (which is pretty much how it’s always been anyway, right?) So basically we won’t get overtaken by rabbits and deer. I was a little worried about that…

Proposition 7 (SJR 5)
Let’s help the construction and maintenance of public roadways and pay off that transportation-related debt! This will dedicate a portion of revenues from state sales and use tax and the tax imposed on the sale, use, or rental of a motor vehicle all to the State Highway Fund. Can I get an “Amen!” from all my civil engineering friends out there?

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So there you have it folks – all 7 state-wide propositions explained so that you can go to the polls and feel a bit more empowered. Personally, I voted “Yes” to every single one of these. No matter what your vote may be, please educate yourselves and make smart decisions.

Now GO VOTE!

“Choose for your tribes wise, understanding, and experienced men, and I will appoint them as your heads.” – Deuteronomy 1:13