Thursday, August 28, 2014

What I Know About Marriage Helped Me Buy A Home

Our family just hit our third year anniversary in this home we live in.  Three years ago, my husband and I went through the grueling process of house hunting, and the process was even further complicated by the fact that it was going to be an interstate move for us.  Staying put was not an option because of my husband’s new job.

We knew we had to face the process head on and there was certainly no room for ambivalence.  We were ready, dead serious, and determined for a successful search. 

The more I got immersed in the house hunting process, the more I realized that it wasn’t any different from finding your mate or getting married. What you know about one can be applied to the other.  Given everything we went through and lessons I learned as a home buyer, here are my realizations and advice to anyone investing in real estate…or preparing for marriage.

1.  You have to spend a LOT of time looking before you find THE ONE.  And when you find it, you'll know.  You will feel right about it and be very comfortable about taking a leap of faith, in spite of certain fears. It is a commitment after all.  

2.  The process always has to start with your self and not with what's out there. You have to know (and I mean really know) your finances, your budget, or what you're pre-approved for if you're taking out a mortgage. You cannot begin the search if you don't even know what you can afford.  You have to make sure you don't set yourself up for great disappointment by looking at houses that are totally out of your league.  In the 
event that your financial capacity only affords you houses that are unacceptable to you and totally doesn’t match either your taste or your basic requirements, then there's only one thing to do.  Wait and save up some more.  Work on your finances and get better at it.  Otherwise, you just have to be realistic, accept that the pool of choices will always be limited for most of us, and accept what's realistically available out there for YOU.

3.  If you're not in love with it, don't 'marry' it. Remember, you'll have to live with it and in it for the rest of your life.  Okay, maybe not the rest of your life but a significant number of years.  My mother always told me to marry someone whose face I won’t mind seeing first thing in the morning when I open my eyes.  It’s the same with a house.  You’ll be waking up to it every day and you have to feel good about seeing it and being in it when you do.
4.  Once you've made your decision and it's all locked in place, you have to stop looking. There will always be something better out there.  There will always be a bigger house, a nicer lawn, bigger closets, more modern kitchens, or better flooring. Remember that the grass will always be greener on the other side.  But you have chosen and at least at this time of need, this is the intersection of what you want and what you can afford, so be at peace with your choice and commit to it.  You can't have buyer's remorse. It is a house after all, and not a pair of shoes you can return. 
5.  No house will ever be perfect.  What's important is you go into the search process with a list of non-negotiables and stick with them.  That being said, it's also very important that you are willing to compromise.  Be clear about what things you can and cannot change, and what you need and value most.  
6.  Your non-negotiables better be the REALLY important stuff and not just a bunch of aesthetics.  You can always change certain things such as counter tops, flooring, paint color, cabinetry, etc.  However, you cannot change (at least not very easily, or not at all) such things as square footage, location/neighborhood, structural soundness, layout, monthly costs for mortgage payments, and property tax.
7.  The house needs to fit YOU, and not the other way around.  You can't purchase a home just because you're attracted to some bells and whistles when the bones of the house and its basic characteristics don't really fit you. It’s never wise to commit to something feeling that you need to adapt to it in significant ways, rather than have the house fit YOUR needs, YOUR existing patterns.  Yes, some compromise may be required, as I mentioned above, but not to the extent that you are sacrificing yours and your family's fundamental preferences.  You can't let the beautiful spa-like bathroom, or the ultra chic kitchen make you forget that the house does not have the minimum square-footage you absolutely need. Or that this one only has 1.5 bathrooms for your family of six, and that this will take you two hours to get to your work place.  You may really be attracted to this eye-candy, but if the real substance isn’t there, it really isn’t worth falling in love with and definitely undeserving of your life savings.

8.  Timing is everything.  You may be ready, but the house you're envisioning is not available in the market.  Or the house may be there, but 
your finances and other circumstances may not allow you to purchase just yet.  You need that 'magical' synchronicity, the confluence of all those forces, to make something happen.  
9.  Unless it's a new construction, each existing house has a past, and I'm a believer in trying to know as much as you possibly can about that past.  Everyone has ‘baggage’ and the only question is if it's something you can live with.  Has the house experienced flooding before? What is the age of the house and has it ever been remodeled? It's all about making a decision that's as informed as possible, which leads me to #10.

10.  There are always risks.  The question is, is this one worth it, worth all the risks you're aware of?  You will have cold feet. You will question, evaluate and re-evaluate. You will take pause and do everything to delay as much as you can. However, ultimately buying a home is much like any serious commitment you make in your life.  You can't possibly foresee everything, can't plan for everything.  All you can do is bite the bullet, and be as prepared for contingencies as you possibly can.

So you see, committing to a home isn't all that different from finding a partner.  You can always have someone set you up, have a matchmaker (i.e. your real estate agent), but ultimately, it will be your decision and the success rests on how much you know your self and what you’re looking for.  Self-knowledge is key because frankly, I’ve never heard of a marriage that succeeded and ended blissfully when it was based on too much settling or entered into blindly. 
Buying a home is a huge commitment that needs to be taken seriously. It takes a lot of hard work and a solid level of maturity before anyone can finally bravely say, "With this key I thee wed".

*Author's Note:  The list on this post was originally published on Catharsis with the title "With This Key I Thee Wed".  Parts of it have been modified for the current publication.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why I Remain A Devoted Fan Of The Handkerchief...

Who knew a piece of square fabric could cause quite a stir among kids?

Normally, I'm the one who asks my son, Noah, how his day went and there are days when I have to try harder in probing for the highlights of his second-grade life. But this time, it was different.  All the eagerness came from him and I couldn't wait to hear what the excitement was all about.  

"Mama, know how we play outside for recess, right?  It was so hot today and I really got so sweaty!"

Then I just responded with my usual, "Uh-huh...", waiting for him to give me the clincher.  

"Well, when we went back to our classroom and we were all seated, I pulled out my hankie and then one of the boys said, 'What's that?!'  So then I said it's a handkerchief. And then right after that, someone else shouted, 'What ds'it do??!!'"  

What was so striking was how my son tried to copy, as best he could, the sense of awe in his classmates' voices.  It was as if they had just seen something completely magical and alien!

Naturally, I had to ask, "So, what did you say?"

Then my son said with a matter-of-fact tone, "I told them 'I use it for wiping my sweat, or in case I get a nose bleed, etcetera'.  But it was weird 'cos when I looked around, I saw that there were about 10 kids looking at me and my handkerchief!"

Since this conversation with my son happened with caffeine already in my system, and way before my brain connections got shut down by too much stress, I had enough sense in me to ask him the most important question: "And how did that make you feel?"

He said, "Nothing.  I just thought it was weird that they were all looking at me and that they didn't know what a hankie was."

I was relieved and proud after hearing my 7-year old say that.  I knew he felt 'different', and maybe even a bit scrutinized like a strange specimen.  But from the way he retold this story to both me and my husband, we can tell that there was a part of him that either didn't really care, or was even maybe proud of this sense of difference.  He didn't feel shy or ashamed about how he stood out. I'd even go so far as to say that he felt special for seeming like the only one who knew what a handkerchief was and has one in his pocket every day of the week.

To him it was nothing to fuss about.  Ever since he started kindergarten, I've always had him carry a fresh hankie in his pocket every single school day.  I am doing this, just as my mother did the same to me and my siblings growing up.  And frankly, it's very likely that every single Filipino (who grew up in the Philippines) has this same habit as well. My son knows this; knows that his familiarity with the humble handkerchief has a lot to do with his ethnicity.  

The hankie is a very practical thing to carry, in my opinion.  And in the Philippines, with warm and humid weather prevalent almost all year through, it just makes sense to carry this so you have something to easily and quickly pull out when you need to wipe beads of sweat off of your face.  It also comes in handy when you need to cover your nose so you don't end up breathing in all the urban pollution that assaults you when you're taking public transportation.  (I would never use it though for blowing gunk out of your nose.  I  think that's just too gross).  

It's an accessory that is very common among Filipinos that when you go to the department stores, or any store selling clothes and accessories, you are bound to find these square cotton fabrics in a variety of designs --- plain colored, checkered, striped, floral, and every other cute design you could think of.  And the material, in my opinion, is far more absorbent than the ones I find here in the States. This is why whenever we have family members who visit us here, I always make sure to ask them to buy some for us. It's probably even cheaper too!...(as long as you don't factor in the airfare).

My husband and I both found this incident amusing, but more importantly, took it as an opportunity to explain to our son the cultural reason behind his friends' lack of knowledge regarding the hankie. It's not a matter of smarts, but rather simply a matter of familiarity and preference.  We explained to Noah that handkerchief use is probably not as popular here in the U.S. than it is in the Philippines because of the cooler climate which means you rarely sweat profusely.

We explained that he uses it because it was also how I was socialized as a child and it was part of my daily routine dressing up for school.  

We explained that some people view it as old-fashioned or unhygienic, and don't see the need for it, given that they could just use disposable options such as paper towels, tissues, or wet wipes.  

My husband also pointed out that a lot of the times, other kids just use their shirts to wipe off their sweat.  I'm sure when he said this, he also found an excuse to interject that 'Mama is too much of a neat freak to let you just use your shirt to wipe off your sweat'.

After all is said and done, I have to admit that I now have a deeper level of appreciation for the humble hankie. I really think that it has not only strengthened my son's confidence, with him not backing down in the face of scrutiny and feeling different; it has also given him a greater sense of pride about our ethnicity and the kind of socialization experience our cultural background opens up for him.  He knows differently (maybe more) than his peers not just because Mommy's a neat freak.  But because Mommy insists on still practicing some of her old Filipino ways.  And there really shouldn't be any shame in that.

I know some people don't like hankies because they think they're not hygienic, or are too old-fashioned.  Others love it because it's a 'greener' approach.  What are your thoughts?

And, are there practices rooted in your childhood (or your ethnicity) that you now find yourself passing on to your children, that somehow makes you unique and gives your child-rearing practices your 'personal stamp'?  I would love to hear your point of view!

Friday, August 22, 2014

I Hate...

I hate that I can't write.

I hate that what I write I don't love.

I hate that I love what I can't or shouldn't love.

I hate that I 'should' myself.

I hate myself for worrying too much.

I hate that I worry about what others think.

I hate that I think too much and become incapacitated.

I hate that I incapacitate myself with thoughts of negative outcomes.

I hate negative thoughts that become self-fulfilling prophecies.

I hate that I'm right.

I hate that I'm wrong.

I hate that my life feels constipated at times.

I hate those times when I hate.

But I love the kind of Hate that's pregnant with fire and creativity.

I love that this hating opened me up today.

Today, flow is possible.

Possibility is to be loved.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Are You Suffering From Social Media Overdose?

Original Photo by:  Rayi Christian W

I'm a HUGE fan of social media and am one of those who rely heavily on it to get my work done.  As a blogger, being active on social media spells a universe of difference if I want to get the message across that what I'm doing is less of a hobby and more of a business and brand development.  The fact is, if I want to grow my audience (and my business), then keeping an active social media life is imperative.

Admittedly though, there are days when I just hit that threshold where I feel I need to step away from it all because it's just too much already.  It's when I begin to notice too much of my social media life bleeding into my real, face-to-face interactions.  It's scary! 

It's also when, after scrolling through my Facebook, G+, Pinterest and Twitter updates, I end up feeling dizzy and ready to throw up, which I realize is mainly from the non-stop eye-rolling that I've been unconsciously doing. One can really only take so much of certain things on a daily basis.  

No matter how much I love social media, I know all too well that I get sickeningly overexposed to it.  So yes, I claim expertise regarding this topic insofar as my observations in my own highly social media-saturated life afford me.  And I'd like to share these observations with you so that maybe you can diagnose your own overexposure and still be able to do something about it.

So here is my list of signs that indicate you may be suffering from a case of social media overexposure or overdose. Please consult a certified healthcare professional for future treatment, if necessary.  Either that, or you can just try to muster enough strength to unplug for a while, get into other hobbies, and step out more into the real world!

You are suffering from social media overdose when...

1. Your daily conversations with your significant others (spouse, family, friends) are always prefaced with, "Did you read that news article circulating today on Facebook / Twitter / G+...?" This just means that your primary source for current events and main link to the outside world are articles and videos posted on social media sites.  Who needs the television, newspapers or internet news sites when someone in your network will likely post the hottest events of the day, right?  

2.   You can't look at, or hear birds without thinking of Twitter and  having visions of its logo.  

3.  You find yourself stressing over a 140-character limit even as you're just writing notes for your child's teacher, or co-workers and clients.

4. Seeing farm animals or pastures makes you see the world in Farmville mode. By the same token, the sight of jelly beans and brightly colored candies trigger thoughts of Candy Crush.

5.  While in the middle of a remarkable experience, good or bad, your thought process gets interrupted by your compulsion to create #hashtags.  For instance, while enjoying a romantic dinner with your spouse, the image "#bestdateever" just floats around in your stream of consciousness.  Or while in the middle of ziplining, all you can think of is #YOLO.  Or perhaps while disciplining your teenage daughter who's throwing an age-inappropriate tantrum, you zone out and think #dramaqueen.  

6. You experience inexplicable nausea when you see yet another of the following:  jump shots, duckface- / mirror- /  post-workout-selfies.  As a result, you end up wanting to inflict unspeakable violence toward the perpetrators, even though these are supposedly your 'friends', or even family!

7.  Anytime you think you look 'nicer' than usual -- a little bit more dressed-up, lost some weight, or had an awesome haircut -- your first impulse is to take a selfie, as if it were the only natural thing to do.  You've gotten so used to seeing a gazillion selfies that you now believe there is no other rationale to looking great other than being able to share it with the online world and be complimented with 'Likes' ad infinitum.

8.  You can't have meals at nice restaurants without pulling out your camera to take photos of your food and drinks even before you and everyone else at your table touch them.

9.  You find that when trying to accomplish normal, day-to-day tasks such as cooking, making your bed, or putting your make-up on, you suddenly break out into monologues giving step-by-step instructions, as if you're being filmed for a YouTube tutorial.

10. Your first thought when encountering the word 'viral' is that it's something you aspire for, rather than something to avoid.

11.  While attending a religious service and your priest/pastor/minister utters "Be a follower of Christ", the first image in your head is that of clicking a 'Follow' button.  Simple as that.

12.  In speaking with your family or friends about your day's highlights, yours always center on exchanges or interactions you've had via social media with your strictly online friends, people you have not met at all in real life. Nothing much is happening elsewhere in your life.

13.  While doing addition flash cards with your child, all you can think of is how many +1's your most recent post has garnered on Google.

14.  You feel passionately convinced that there should be a "National No-Food-Is-Special-Today Day"!! For the love of God, enough already of the stupid pseudo holidays posted on social media, celebrating anything from every type of pastry or dessert to the most common pantry essential.  (Yes, there is actually a National Bicarbonate of Soda Day-- Dec. 30).  Jeez!

15.  You're beginning to second guess yourself with regard to the correct spelling of the word 'clout', thinking it's with a 'K'. (If you don't get what I mean, then you're probably not overexposed yet.  Great job!)

Is there anything else you'd like to add to this list?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Mom's 'Back-To-School' Depression

I can't believe that in two days, summer break is over and my son will be back to school again.  

I still remember that as a student, I always felt quite conflicted about the end of summer. Sure, I was excited about having all the brand new school supplies and I loved the smell of all the new books and notebooks that my Mom would carefully arrange in our new bags, all kept inside her closet. However, it also spelled out the end of relaxed mornings, abundant play- and tv-time.  All those good times coming to an end caused a bit of sadness, but honestly, never really enough to outweigh the excitement about what lay before teachers, friends and experiences.

Now as an adult, I know that the common sentiment among parents, especially for working mothers, is that the start of school can't come any sooner.  I've spoken with several moms and it's been consistent. With the thought of the beginning of school being just around the corner, their faces light up, almost as if they couldn't stand the delicious thought being served to them, and the sheer excitement and sigh of relief just can't be contained. 

When I see this type of reaction, I realize that there's only one acceptable scripted response from me: Smile. Agree. Nod.  Even though deep down, I'm completely feeling the opposite.

Yes, I'm a rare mutant mom.

Instead of relief, I feel trepidation at the thought of summer break ending.

Instead of excitement, I feel sadness and sentimentality.

Unapologetically, I admit that I love having my son around.  Maybe it's easy for me to say this because he's an only child and I don't have to go through the incessant noise and fighting that goes on in most households with multiple children.  Or maybe because he's quite low-maintenance in that he's pretty self-sufficient and well-behaved for the most part.  Or maybe I'm just really extremely attached to the cuteness that I think he still has, that I want to be around it as much as I could before it all disappears!

It could be all those reasons but I'll be very honest.  I think it's mostly because I'm a control freak.  With him around at the house (mostly), his environment and exposure are more or less controlled.  Let's face it.  Schools are giant Petri dishes filled with just about anything that can make one sick. And for every illness my son goes through, a little bit of my sanity goes down the drain.  It's exhausting!  And at least the summer break gives my paranoia some needed break as well.

Now, I'm not about to home school my son.  I don't think I'm quite prepared for that kind of responsibility.  And besides, when I jokingly broached the idea with him, he gave me a line courtesy of what he picked up from watching 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes'.  With an undeniably adamant tone, and while clasping both my shoulders tight, as if to make sure he's leaving no room for misinterpretation, he said, "Mama...I need to be with my kind."

What else can a parent possibly say to that?...(Except maybe, "Alright, be with your kind. But remember to always wash your hands and don't let anyone sneeze at you!")

So in my resignation to the coming end of summer break, and the inevitable act of further loosening my grip on the reins that bind my son to me, I'm confronted by the obvious realization that time flies by so fast....too fast, in fact.

I had grand plans before summer break started.  And with its end just a few steps away, I'm forced to admit just how much of a slacker I'd been.  Where did the time go?  What have I been doing?  Who have I become?

I was supposed to work on three scrapbooks.  One of those will document my son's first year of life.  Did I mention that he's now seven?

The other one will contain highlights from our 'recent' trip to Disney World. That was in 2012.

And then the third was supposed to contain selected school work that I deemed worth preserving from the past school year. Well, at the rate I'm going, and with the new school year almost here, I think those projects and mementos will all just get thrown into some store-bought, pre-decorated box. Don't judge! 

In my mind, I also had fantasies of going out on lunch dates with my son and enjoy interesting conversations with him.  In real life, it was either too hot and we both got too lazy to go out, or he told me he'd rather play Minecraft and have some chicken nuggets and apple sauce.

I've always been a planner and an organized person.  But my summer break with my son doesn't seem to be a testament to that identity claim.  

But maybe I'm a better Mom for ditching all my plans and fantasies.  Maybe, just maybe, summer is really for spontaneous fun, chillaxing, and the mundane activities that seem to always highlight simple joys.  

The truth is, I enjoyed the few trips we had to the supermarket.  He was always patient and I loved getting him surprise treats.

I loved that every time we went to the local library, I got to see the eagerness in his eyes as he selected books to take home.

I loved the conversations we had in the car whenever we drove together because they always gave me insights into how he thinks, what he worries about, what he remembers with joy and looks forward to.

I loved the countless times he just suddenly approached me to sit on my lap and hug, simply because he either felt tired, needed to relax, or just because.

These sweet, simple things are what I'll miss most with the end of summer break. More than ever, I'm realizing that my 'back-to-school' blues stem from the thought that another summer ended also translates to another step towards a greater sense of independence for my son; my 'baby' needing me less, wanting my hugs and kisses less.  

Every new school year may bring excitement to him, (and even to my rational side!).  But what he doesn't really see is that it crushes a little bit of Mommy as she does her best to slowly...Let.  Go.