Daydreaming on National Plan for Vacation Day

Did you know that today is National Plan for Vacation Day? I didn’t either until two days ago (thanks Sarah!). According to Project: Time Off, “individuals who plan are more likely to use all of their time off, take more vacation days at once, and report greater levels of happiness in every category measured.” I know that I am happiest when traveling and thankfully, my adventure-mates are too! Looking back, we’ve had some wonderful trips and even those that we deemed busts at the time make for some great stories after the fact. Over the years, we’ve dined on chicken feet with Chinese mobsters (we think…) in Montreal, gotten sick on the Staten Island Ferry, hiked to secluded beaches in St. John, ate reindeer in Alaska, been woken up by drunk groomsman in kilts in a remote village in Scotland, caught lobsters off the coast of Maine, and so much more.

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Unfortunately, Clay’s current position prevents him from taking more than a week of leave this summer but as of yesterday, Clay blocked out his leave so we can partake in National Plan for Vacation Day – hip hip hooray! He won’t be around much until then so we want to make sure that this vacation hits the spot without breaking the bank.

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We’re 99% positive that we will not be moving this summer, which will make it the first summer in four years that we haven’t had to plan a trip around a PCS. This is cause for celebration in itself. Woohoo! We’re currently trying to determine the magic number of what we can reasonably afford for our big vacation in addition to our smaller trips planned thus far. While we’ve never regretted spending money on vacations, the reality is that Clay is the military, I don’t work full-time, and we’re not independently wealthy so a trip to Fiji is simply out of the budget. However, some places that we’ve tossed around this year include…

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Acadia National Park, Maine. Four years ago, we took a 10-day vacation to Newport, Rhode Island, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Ogunquit, Maine. We look back fondly on our little tour of coastal New England. We were unable to squeeze in a trip up to Acadia National Park that year and we’ve been talking about going there ever since. Perhaps we could combine our time in the park with a trip to Mount Washington, New Hampshire or Boston or take the car ferry over to Canada. A plus is that we’d be able to drive, which will help keep the cost of the trip more reasonable.

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London, England. We asked the kids where they’d like to visit this summer and Weston was quick to say London. He has been wanting to go for years and to be honest, the rest of us want to go as well. Unfortunately, it just isn’t in the budget for the four of us to go to London this year. Sorry kiddo!

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Disney World. Violet’s contribution to the conversation was Disney World. While we had an absolutely fantastic three days at Disneyland last spring, Clay and I have no desire to go to Disney World during the summer months. There is something about being in Orlando in July that sounds utterly unappealing. Therefore, Disney World will not be happening this summer. Sorry baby girl!

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St. Thomas and St. John. When Clay and I spent a week in the USVI a few years ago, we left the kids with my parents. We’ve been wanting to go back with the kids and I love the idea of putting money back into the economy after the destruction that Hurricanes Irma and Maria left in their wakes. I’ve been following updates about the progress of the repair and restorations on the islands and time will tell if this is the year that we go back with the kids.

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Nova Scotia, Canada. The CAT runs from Portland, Maine to Nova Scotia in 5.5 hours so we could spend the day in one of our favorite New England cities before setting sail. Clay and I have always wanted to travel to Nova Scotia by sea and perhaps this is the summer to do it! We could also hit up Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. Once in Nova Scotia, we could spend our days whale watching, hiking in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, kayaking in the North River, catching lobsters, and more.

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Colorado. Even though we haven’t spent a ton of time in Colorado, every time we visit, Clay and I leave feeling like we belong there. It’s far too early for us to think about where we want to settle post-Army life (we change our minds way too much) and the thought of putting down roots somewhere is absolutely terrifying. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up in the mountains of Colorado. Perhaps we should vacation there this summer. Boulder? Breckenridge? Ouray? Estes Park? The possibilities feel endless when it comes to vacationing in Colorado.

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British Columbia. Sigh. Have I ever mentioned how much I love Canada? Clay and I spent a lot of time there during our Fort Drum days and we’ve been wanting to visit British Columbia every since. We could spend time in Vancouver and then head to the mountains. The Canadian Rockies are consistently on Most Beautiful Places in the World lists – maybe this will be the summer we finally get to experience their grandeur in person.

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Where are you going this summer?  Please share so we can all travel vicariously through your adventures! Are you celebrating National Plan for Vacation Day? While I think we do a fairly good job at vacationing on a budget, I am always open to tips and tricks of the trade so feel free to pass them along.

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Old Windmill Farm

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that if the kids have a school holiday when Clay is TDY or deployed, we’re happiest taking advantage of the break and getting out of town if our schedule allows.  So when I realized that the kids has off Friday and Monday and Clay was going to be TDY, I made plans to visit my sister, Megan, outside of Philadelphia. We brainstormed outings and when we learned that the Herrs Factory did not give tours on Saturdays (boo!), Megan suggested Amish County and came across Old Windmill Farm after a simple Google search. My sister communicated with Jesse, the owner of the farm, via email to coordinate our visit so when we arrived at 1:00pm, he was waiting and ready to give us a tour of his family’s working farm.

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Lancaster County is known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country. The rolling hills are peppered with horse and buggies and non-electric working farms. The Pennsylvania Amish of Lancaster County are the oldest Amish settlement in America and the area is known as a destination for visitors wanting to step back in time and experience a slower pace of life.

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Seeing as how it is January, the landscape wasn’t as lush as it may be for those who tour the farm during the other three seasons, but we still throughly enjoyed our visit learning more about the Amish way of life.

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Daisy, a pygmy goat, followed us around for the duration of the tour, much the delight (and terror!) of the kids.

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Jesse was the perfect tour guide, maintaining a low-key presence and answering all of the questions we had about his farm. The amount of work that goes into maintaining the land and his family’s way of life is astonishing and the tour gave us real appreciation for their dedication and astonishing work-ethic.

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We held roosters.

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We milked cows.

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We held 10-day old piglets.

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We collected eggs.

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We visit turkeys.

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And we chilled with some horses.

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This farm is totally worth a visit and after experiencing it ourselves, it is obvious why it is so highly rated on Trip Advisor and Yelp. Whether you’re local, driving through, or visiting Amish Country, be sure to check out Old Windmill Farm. It’s a great family-friendly activity that gives you a glimpse into the Amish way of life. And you may leave wanting a pygmy goat. Like me.

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How We Became Accidental Landlords

We often joke that we know a lot about the home buying process and very little about selling a home. Since that cold evening thirteen years ago, when we publicly declared ’till death do us part in front of our family and friends, we’ve shared ten addresses together (I’d like to offer my apologies now to said family and friends who constantly have to update their address books on our behalf). Of our homes over the years, the majority we have rented, one was on post, and two were homes that we own. And still own to this day. Because life sure is a lot more fun with two mortgages <insert eye-rolling emoji>

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We bought our first home in a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina when Clay ETS’ed from the Army when we were in our mid-20s. This house is what we thought we wanted – a suburban life in a new construction house with four bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms. We lived in an apartment during our time at Fort Drum, New York and logged many House Hunters hours. We knew what we wanted. At least, we thought we did. Our Raleigh home is a lovely house but we quickly learned that we wanted something different out of life than what we were experiencing at that point in time in Raleigh.

Long story short (and boy – is it a doozy of a story!), Clay became active again soon after we bought this home. Clay deployed to Afghanistan for a year shortly after our son was born and when he returned, it was time to move again. While we didn’t purchase this home at the top of the market, the odds weren’t in our favor when it came time to sell it. We put it on the market briefly but when people began to ask if it was available for rent, we crunched some numbers, and quickly realized that it made better financial sense to put this home on the rental market.

And here we are seven years later with no plans to sell because it has become a great investment over the years. It helps that we have a fantastic property manager and the Raleigh market is booming once again. It is doubtful that we will ever call this house home again, but it will likely be a part of our lives for quite some time.

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We also own a home in Lawton, Oklahoma. We didn’t love our time in Oklahoma, but we absolutely love this house. It was built in 1983 and is on a large corner lot with trees, which are a precious commodity in southwest Oklahoma. We love ranch homes and the floor plan is everything we want in a house – it isn’t large by any means but at 2000 square feet, it is more than enough room for us. We had only lived in it for 8 (!) months until we were given surprise orders to Washington, DC, so it was in our best interest to rent it out when we left. Additionally, when we were looking to buy a home in Lawton, we did so with the idea that it would eventually become a rental property so we looked for certain features. We just didn’t think it would be so soon after buying the house!

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The backyard even has the most adorable playhouse, which makes this place perfect for young family. Sigh – I really do love this house. Our experience with being landlords to this house hasn’t been as positive as our Raleigh house (older home = more things need attention) but we are not losing money on it, so we can’t really complain. We’d like to sell this house in the near future because we’d like to eventually buy another investment property elsewhere and we’re just not comfortable owning three homes at this point in our lives. Unfortunately, we’re not that baller. Like at all.

When people discover that we own multiple properties (neither of which we actually live in), we are often met with a handful of questions regarding our situation, such as…

Did you use a VA loan to purchase both houses? No. We used a conventional loan for our Raleigh house and paid points to knock the interest rate down. We had the money for a sizable down payment and we could get a better rate with a conventional loan. We did use a VA loan for our Lawton house because we purchased it when rates were extremely low and the rate the VA offered was competitive with the conventional loan market. However, we do not have near as much equity in the Lawton house and looking back, I wished we put more down initially. But alas – shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Do you plan on living in either house again? Short answer? No. Long answer? I’ve learned over the years to never say never. However, both homes are in locations that we would never choose to live again ourselves but who knows what Uncle Sam has in store for us down the line.

Why don’t you sell your Raleigh house since the market is booming again there? Our mortgage is low, we are able to charge a nice amount for rent, and years ago we refinanced to a lower-year mortgage so the house will paid off well before we hit our golden years. In the future, we may revaluate but as of right now, we’re happy keeping it as a rental.

Are you going to sell the Lawton house? Eventually. The market is more volatile there so we are considering our options. Ideally, we’d like at least a week or two to spend there between the tenant moving out and putting it on the market. There are some projects we didn’t get around to before leaving that we’d like to do before making the listing live. If you know of a great Lawton real estate agent that is willing to explore some options, let me know!

What sort of issues have you dealt with over the years? Thankfully, nothing major. We’ve had plumbing issues, fence replacements, air conditioner repairs, furnace repairs, painting that need to be done as well as re-staining of the deck, an oven door fell off and shattered, an over-the-range microwave exploded, and little small jobs that a handyman addressed. Some years are better than others and there are many months where we don’t clear a profit due to maintenance issues. But that is all part of the home ownership game.

Will you buy a home where you PCS next? No. It is very unlikely that we will buy a home (instead of renting or living on post) as long as Clay is active duty for the simple fact that we won’t live in a place for more than 1-2 years from here on out. Some military paths offer more stability in one place but that is not in our cards, which we are totally okay with…because if we weren’t, we wouldn’t be doing this whole military thing and would likely be living in one of our two homes! Ha.

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Wichita Wildlife Refuge – Lawton, Oklahoma

Who else out there consider themselves to be accidental landlords? We didn’t plan on this when beginning our home-buying journey as young twenty-somethings but like most things in life – it’s best to keep an open-mind and see where the road takes you. After all, I never would have thought I’d live among buffalo and longhorn steers in the prairie, let alone own a house there. We’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way and I’m not going to lie – sometimes it can feel a bit overwhelming to have such a large chuck of our assets tied up in real estate. But what in life is worth doing without at least a little bit of risk? Now if you excuse me, I have to answer an email that just arrived from one of our property managers (not even kidding!).

The Good Place – It’s Forking Amazing

Last Sunday I found myself cheering for the Jacksonville Jaguars over the New England Patriots – not because they’re my favorite expansion team nor because of #deflategate. I was emotionally invested in a Jacksonville win solely because of Jason Mendoza.

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The Good Place is the best and most clever comedy on television right now. Hands down. Additionally, the show is literally filling the Parks and Recreation-sized void within me by featuring insanely smart writing, thought-provoking philosophical questions, and some of the best visual humor on television. Not to mention the seemingly limitless supply of food puns.

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Currently in it’s second season, the best way to describe The Good Place without revealing major spoilers is that is a sitcom about the afterlife – specifically about the adventures of the four characters below. Ted Danson is absolutely hilarious, Kristen Bell as adorkable as always, and D’Arcy Carden as Bad Janet is everything I don’t want my daughter to become. Like most Michael Shur comedies, there are astute observations about the irritating nuances of existence and no shortage of pop-culture references. And yes, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback, Blake Bortles, is heavily referenced. BORTLES!

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My love for The Good Place leads me to excitedly talk about it whenever I’m asked about what I am currently watching. I’m not a fan of the traditional comedies currently on television (e.g. Big Bang Theory, Modern Family) so I’m thrilled that The Good Place continues to gain a following. Everything about the show is well executed and every episode seems to feature at least one shocking admission or mind-bending twist.

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So if you’re not watching The Good Place, you’re missing out. It is absolutely crucial that you start at the beginning, rather than jump right in with the current season. Netflix and Hulu both currently have the first season available for streaming. Embrace the weirdness of the pilot and stick with it. It pays off, I promise. So grab yourself an Arkansas bagel, some frozen yogurt, and watch The Good Place. You may even end up with your own Derek!