Making a Home, Part 1- Buying

Buying a house can be such a fun, exciting, scary, hard, lengthy process! As some of you already know, my husband and I purchased our first home together a few months ago. The process of buying a house was completely new to us, and there are several things that we learned (good and bad) over the course of the few months we searched. I’ve decided to make a mini series of what I am calling Making a Home, so that I can post little snippets of our long list of to-dos, and projects that we endeavor in over the course of time. Naturally, for “Part 1,” I thought I would take it back a few months to share some of my experiences in the home buying world, and things I have learned along the way!

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Expectations vs. Reality

Months (even years) before my husband and I purchased our house, I dreamt of what our house would be like. Pinterest helped me formulate my perfect dream home, complete with the craftsman build on the outside with the white shudders offsetting the pretty gray siding, and my little imaginary mud room on the inside. I was so excited to plan these things out and imagine our family living in our quaint little craftsman suburb! Let me tell ya, I make a darn dreamy Pinterest house.

When it came closer to the home search, we started browsing Zillow and a few other real estate websites. Quickly, very quickly, the reality of a 25 year old couple living on one income’s budget hit us pretty hard as we realized: we ain’t gettin’ no mud room. As a matter of fact, we weren’t getting a mud room, OR the pretty gray and white craftsman build, for a couple of reasons. One being, what is on the market when you are ready to buy greatly determines what kind of house(s) you can purchase (i.e. no craftsman houses for sale, no craftsman house for you). Secondly, our first time home buyers’ budget could not accommodate such fine splendor of the custom cabinetry and beautiful built-ins. No, no. We were looking at the houses with pink shag carpet and hunter green sinks, and trying to imagine what they would look like if we bought some big area rugs and slapped ’em down on top. I say this all light heartedly, because, if you are in the same season of life as we are (20 somethings, figuring life out, living on a prayer), then the first reality of home buying I’d invite you to join in sharing is this: It will NOT be your dream home. This was the saddest reality slap in the face for me, and quickly we began to think more realistically. After we came to terms with what our budget would buy, the search became easier, because we quit looking at the heart breakingly good looking and expensive houses that put us into a pity party, and began searching for what could become our home, with a little bit of tlc.

Another thing we learned about buying a house, is that it takes time! From start to finish, we were in the process of home buying for 3 or 4 months. Saying that now, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but when we first decided to buy, we were ready right then and there! We expected finding and buying to be a much faster endeavor, but we realized there is a waiting period in every step of the process. Talking loans with the banks (sidenote: I’d highly recommend shopping around different banks for the lowest interest rates, and what they can offer you), searching on the web for houses you would like to see, walking through some of these houses, putting an offer in, going back and forth between your real estate agent and the seller’s agent on said offer, and even closing on a home. By the time we had gone through all of these steps, a few months had flown by! With this process being brand new to us, we were not prepared for all of the waiting periods. Another important thing to remember is: it’s ok to wait if the right house isn’t out there for you yet! You will regret it in the long run if with all of your eagerness you jump into a house simply because it’s for sale and in your price range. Make sure it’s something you could love! When you buy it, its yours…the reality still hits me some days that this house is all ours, and not to be afraid to put some big ol’ nail holes in the walls, and to fix the fan on our back porch, and to replace that dang ugly dining area light fixture (my list goes on, but I’ll spare you). Being a home owner is a lot of responsibility, so be sure you love what you buy and if not, be okay to wait for one that you do!

Location is another big part of buying your first (and every other) house. We spent the first month and a half debating on where we wanted to be! I wanted to be in my hometown that is adorable and small, and comfortable. My husband wanted to be in his hometown, in which I pictured smelling manure and chicken plants. What helped us decide was sitting down one evening and making a list of where we go the most often; work, church, shopping, eating out, etc. After seeing this list, we realized my hometown, though I may still be a tad bitter about it, was just not practical. My expectations were to be in a small town with a downtown, historical feel, but reality was that our family needed something more central to our daily schedule! We settled on the edge of his hometown and about a 5 minute drive to one of our largest cities in NWA (which was a great compromise for me, because I spend a lot of time here). And so far, to my surprise and delight, I smell no cow manure and no chicken plant! Win-win. Other things to consider and ask yourselves with location in mind are: What school district would we like to be in? What is the neighborhood like? What are the near-by homes selling for? What is the neighborhood next to?

All of these questions are some that we hadn’t even considered until our real estate agent started asking us. Especially if you will consider your first home as your starter home and not your forever home, like we do, these factors can add value to your home or take away value, so take time to think about these things and be selective!

Before we totally dove into the home buying process, we hadn’t realized the extra costs, aside from the actual house. Most loans require a down payment of some degree (3-5% for first time home buyers normally). On top of this, there is usually a fee of a couple thousand dollars to even take out the loan. When we learned these things, we thought it was crazy talk! Why they takin’ all our money?! Most loans also have closing fees, for the real estate part and the title ownership part. This can also somewhat determine what price range you can afford, as you don’t totally want to wipe out all of your hard earned savings (that’s a lot of pb&j’s and canned bean dinners over the years in order to save back a few bucks a month-some of you know what I’m talkin’ about). After doing some number crunching, we did a lot of research and found a route that works best for us. Be aware of the reality of financial obligations of buying a house, as there is a lot to it aside from the sale price on the house! Do your research and talk to a few loan officers to see what works best for you, and it doesn’t hurt to compare rates and fees that different banks will apply!

Lastly, after we purchased our home and moved in, we realized there were a lot of blank walls and some empty square footage that made our house feel bare. And to be honest, it’s been about three months of living here and we’re still there! What we have learned in this stage, is to allow your house to slowly be filled with the right pieces, and the right touches. You don’t have to rush out to hobby lobby for that 40% off coupon just because you have a space on your wall that is bare! Part of making a house a home is imagining and creating a space that is uniquely yours…that can’t be done overnight! Don’t be afraid of a little project or two, whether big or small. The time and love invested into your spaces will make a special bond in your house for your whole family. Even if it’s not your forever home, or your dream home, it can still be your special home! I am so excited to make plans for our kitchen, and some other spaces in our home that will truly make it feel like ours. Granted, it may be a ways down the road, it’s fun to dream and plan, and I’m looking forward to sharing our home with you over the course of the next several months!

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Look at this beautiful space! All of my pics in this post are from this site. They have some great inspiration!

 

I hope my insight on first time home buying was able to encourage some of you who are thinking about or starting out in this journey! Even though our first house may not be what we see for our family long term, a house is made a home by the people you invite into it, and the memories shared there. I am excited to share some of our memories in our new house with you! Keep up with me and Oak and Earth happenings by following me on Instagram (@terapianalto). We love to hear your feedback, advice, stories and love getting to know you! If you share any O&E experiences, please hashtag #oakandearthblog so we can share it with you!

Peace and Love-

Tera, xo

Make Christmas Memorable for Your Family While Keeping it Simple

Merry Christmas season, readers! It’s Tera here on Oak and Earth today. This time of year is by far my favorite, for so many reasons! It is a time for family, a time of giving, a whole season of yummy foods, a time for Christmas lights and hot chocolate, and most of all a time to celebrate and remember the true reason for the season: the birth of our Lord and Savior! I have the most special memories of the holidays from my childhood years, and the excitement and fun my family had during the Christmas season has most certainly carried on in me into adulthood!

 I was reflecting recently on Christmas time and my own little family, and I tried to think of ways to make this a memorable time of year for Norah (and us), while keeping our main focus on the true meaning of Christmas and not getting wrapped up in the common mindset of, “more is more.” I want to instill meaningful and treasured memories into Norah’s core for Christmas time that teach her what principles are important to have and to pass down, and that will tug her heart strings (in a good way) for years to come. Simple moments that create a lifelong impact. So, I have created a list of some simple things you can do as a family that will make great memories, give quality time, and can respect even the most frugal holiday budget. I’m sharing my list below, and I hope you can be inspired for your family by some of these ideas! ‘Tis the season!

1.   Christmas Lights Outing  

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Downtown Siloam Springs, AR

This is an easy way for you and yours to have some fun during the Christmas season! My family would do this every year after our Christmas Eve service, but this is something you could do any time during December! Many of your local neighborhoods will have some fun light displays, or your downtown square (for us NWA folk, the Fayetteville square, for example). Some houses even connect their light displays with one of your local radio stations, and it’s really fun to see the lights flickering to the rhythm of the music! Your kids would love it if you all dressed in your comfy, festive Christmas pj’s, whipped up some hot chocolate, and hopped in your car together for a ride around town to see the pretty lights! It’s a nearly free activity (minus a little gas), and the kids will love starting this tradition with you!

 2.  Trim the Tree as a Family 

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My Christmas mantle in my pretty new house!!

Another fun memory I have from my childhood is helping my mom and siblings decorate our Christmas tree together each year! We would all get a new hallmark ornament every year to add to the collection. My own Christmas tree now is full of all of these ornaments (plus Jeremy’s and now Norah’s). There is something super special about those homemade ornaments and little hallmark collectibles that make a Christmas tree so sentimental and nostalgic! Pick a day where the whole family can be a part of this; and if you want to make a whole afternoon of it, visit a local tree nursery and choose a real tree to take home and decorate! The prices are usually very reasonable and it’s a fun and neat experience for the family. Set your tree up, stick some cookies in the oven, and choose a favorite Christmas movie to watch while you all have fun decorating (our tradition is The Polar Express). Let your little ones have a role in making the tree pretty! You can “touch up” some bare spots after they go to bed and disperse the ornaments that are stringing around the bottom half of your tree up and throughout (they’ll never know the difference), but, in the meantime, let them feel special and like they have an important part of this Christmas tradition! They’ll grow to love it, and their decorating skills should improve over the years ;). For the teeny tots who are still trying to grasp what a Christmas tree is, and from whom you’d like to spare some of your favorite glass ornaments from the game, “throw it on the floor,” try purchasing a mini tree and some plastic ornaments and set it up next to the big tree. We did this for Norah and let her decorate her special tree while we did the big tree and she loved it, (and we purchased her tree for $8)! Until they can better understand the concept of the ornaments and the tree, this is another way to get the littlest tots involved, and they’ll have their own special tree to decorate!

3.  Do an Advent Series Together 

Make some time during the month of December  for everyone to reflect on the ‘reason for the season’ by doing an advent series together. There is nothing more important that you can instill into your children’s hearts (or your own for that matter) than the love of Christ. Make sure in the hustle and bustle that your family stays grounded and that you make some quality time for this! I realize we are already part way through December, but this is something so important that I am adding it anyway to encourage you to do! You can play a little catch up, or just pick up where you are! It will help your whole family remember what matters most during Christmas, and you will instill this most important thing into your kids’ lives–and this is something you can’t put a price tag on! I am linking a great advent series for the whole family to partake in HERE. If you want to save money for budget purposes, there are some great online resources to pull verses and stories from to read each night as a family. Try doing this at a time where everyone is always together, like at the dinner table either before or after a meal (while everyone is still gathered). Making a routine like this is a good way to keep from having to try and squeeze it in at the end of the night while kids are dispersing to bed, or forgetting to do it altogether! After a long day at work or school, this is a great way to end each evening this month and will be so impactive on your kids’ hearts!

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My sweet little family at our church; New Life Church, Fayetteville

Free online resources:

4.  Christmas Cookie Decorating 

You can’t go wrong with a fun day of baking and decorating (and eating)! Tune in on your favorite Christmas pandora station, and you have a festive party right in your own kitchen! Google or Pinterest some easy sugar cookie recipes, pull the sprinkles from your pantry, and check Target’s Christmas aisles for some adorable (and cheap) Christmas cookie cutters! This is something you can do whether you have two or twelve people, and have fun doing it without breaking the bank! Take it to the next level on your baking day by trying a salt dough recipe and making some homemade ornaments that the kids can decorate and hang on the tree! This is a low stress, low cost way to get festive and celebrate the holidays, and will be a fun tradition the whole bunch can look forward to each year.

Fun cookie cutter set HERE ; Delicious sugar cookie recipe found HERE ; adorable and easy salt dough ornament recipe HERE !

5.  Christmas Caroling            

This is an outing to get your extended family and friends involved in! Take a big group around the neighborhood and sing some popular and well-known Christmas songs together! My family has not ever done this, but I think it sounds like a super fun way to spend an afternoon, and would love incorporating this into our yearly festivities! The more the merrier for this activity, so a little planning may be required to get the group together, but it would be well worth the effort, and would create fun memories for the whole family! End the night with some hot chocolate and a nice fire (because you can’t go wrong with hot chocolate)! This is a free way to lift people’s spirits and put a smile on their faces. If you want to go the extra mile this season, look into caroling at your local nursing home and share some love and Christmas cheer with our beloved elders…no one would love and appreciate it more! This is a totally free and fun way to get the whole family involved in some fun times together, and share some great memories!

6.   Gingerbread House Contest

  Nothing like some friendly competition to make for a fun night! You can purchase gingerbread house kits for fairly cheap at the store; why not buy two and make a friendly contest of boys vs. girls and have some fun?! You can have as small or as big of teams as you want, and that makes this activity super universal and accommodating to any family size! Spend the evening dressing your gingerbread houses up, and have some friends be the judge (without them knowing whose is whose). Let the winners choose the next Christmas movie for movie night, or spice it up with a bigger incentive for the winners! This is a tradition that your kids will want to repeat next year, and they’ll cherish their memories!

7.  Downtown Parade (or your town’s Christmas festivities)             

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Aren’t my besties totally adorable holding children?? 😉 We were able to enjoy the downtown parade together this year!

Going to our annual downtown Christmas parade is a tradition my family has held for years. It’s always a fun night of warm bundles, a hot drink in hand, and lots of pretty Christmas floats! Check your calendars for your town’s holiday festivities and make it a family affair! Bundle up, grab some extra blankets and a warm beverage (you know what would be great for this? Hot chocolate), and share some laughs together. If you missed this year’s, make it a goal to try it next year and start a new tradition together!

8.  “Christmas” Game Night

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“Louie” themed socks and hot cocoa are my secret to winning 😉

Here’s another fun idea for the entire family and even some of your friends to join in on! For the last few years, my husband’s side has done a fun game night together for our Christmas tradition, and it has been a huge hit! You can find some Christmas themed minute -to -win it games for your inspiration on Pinterest, or even google, and most of them look super fun! Get the group together, share some yummy snacks (and maybe some hot chocolate), split into teams, and let the laughs begin! What’s nice about these games, is that any supplies you may need can most always be found at the dollar store, so you can stretch your dollar and enjoy lots of games. Make your prizes as big or small as you want, or nix them all together and play just for the fun of it. There will be guaranteed a ton of laughs, and with or without the prizes, everyone will look forward to next year’s annual game night! Here are a few links to some very fun minute to win it ideas you can try:  Here , here , and here !

9.  Christmas Angels

Teach your kids the importance of giving during this holiday season. Magnify this and make it a higher priority than being on the receiving end. If we are honest, most of our kiddos who live in a warm and safe home do not really need much for Christmas! I’m not saying our kids don’t deserve gifts, or that we shouldn’t let them receive any. It’s so fun to watch Norah open her gifts and seeing her face light up! But, the more important thing we can give them is to teach them selfless love and share what we have with those who go without. Go to your nearest Christmas Angel tree and choose a couple angels to give a nice Christmas. Let your kids have a big part in choosing the Angels and the gifts. It’s important to show our kids that there are some big needs in our communities, and that they can have a part in making Christmas special for someone who otherwise wouldn’t have the same experience. Partake as a family in spreading love this season, and make it a tradition to give to others in a very tangible way every Christmas! If you don’t have Christmas Angel trees in your area, research some places that you can donate items and help make Christmas special for someone else!

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Here is our littlest angel, to give you all the feels!! *sigh*

10.  Wise Men Gifts

One principle we really want to keep incorporated into our Christmas as a family is simplicity. The excessiveness that is so common during this time of year we believe takes away from the specialness and “sacredness” that simplicity holds. Keep your gift giving simple with your kiddos this year by trying the Wise Men Gift method. This is a concept I first heard from Oak and Earth’s Bethany, whose family started doing this several years ago. Whether your budget is $3,000 or $300, this is a concept that you can easily incorporate into your family’s traditions. It’s very simple: each kid (and/or spouse) would receive just three gifts, and their stockings. You can arrange them however you choose; two smaller gifts and one big gift, three small gifts, one “Santa” gift, and two from you–there’s no method to it other than keeping the number simple with 3. We loved the idea and decided to start this tradition with Norah! It’s an awesome way to keep the sweetness of Christmas time by not drowning our kids (and our finances) in “more.” Our little ones will expect only what they are used to when it comes to gifts, so why not start this tradition now and keep your gift giving sweet and simple. 

If you want more ideas for gift giving methods, here are a few others you can try:

  • Do the “4 gifts” (something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read)
  • For older kids (this is what we do for my husband’s side), draw names and each person gets one person a gift or two.
  • Sock exchange (buy your kids some christmas socks and fill them up with goodies, much like a stocking), or just their stockings!
  • Encourage your kids to read and grow their imaginations by giving books for gifts!
  • If you are opting for “no gifts” this year, try donating to a charity in honor of each of your children. It’s a great way to give back and will be a special way to honor your kids.

I absolutely love getting to start new traditions with Norah, and I’m excited to start with some of these ideas together as a family! Keeping our holidays sweet and simple by focusing more on the memories and fun, and less on the “things” will hopefully create a special place in Norah’s heart for this time of year, much like it did for me! I hope I have given you some ideas that you can start incorporating into your family festivities each year too! No matter how you choose to spend the holidays, try to do some fun things as a family that will make it memorable for everyone!  If you want some fun and creative date ideas to do with your special someone, make sure to check back in a couple days for Bethany’s “12 Dates of Christmas” post coming soon! Also be sure to keep up with Oak and Earth this month, as we have several holiday inspired posts that we can’t wait to show you!! Follow me on Instagram @terapianalto if you don’t already, so you can stay informed on all of our blog happenings, and make sure to hashtag any Oak and Earth experiences you have with #OakandEarthBlog. We love your feedback and would love to know what you would like to see us write about on here! We’ll do our best to try out your ideas! Wishing you the sweetest and merriest Christmas yet!


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Happy Month of December, and Holiday’s best,

Tera (with Jeremy and Norah, and Louie)   -xo