RESILIENT HOUSE- suburban homestead options 4 & 5 lost to cash buyers

HOW DOES THIS MAKERESILIENT?

Being a home owner of a house that lets us produce something gives us more options than just renting. We have more options and more opportunities by owning a home-we just have to find one that will allow the opportunities to happen and not hinder it. No HOAs, reasonable city regulations and some land.

This is a short update on 2 homes we bid on and both lost. Both properties had at least .25 acres and we lost both of them to cash buyers.

______________________________________________________________________

Checklist from the previous post:
Our approach is more of a suburban homestead solution. We’ll live in a suburb in the Dallas area, I can commute to work and grow some of our own food. So far, I have whittled down my requirements to the following:

  1. good solar orientation for growing food
  2. good solar orientation for cold weather
  3. freedom within local laws to have some livestock
  4. space in the yard to grow food (preferrably in the backyard)
  5. space in the yard to grow something for market/sale
  6. fireplace for heating
  7. brick exterior preferred
  8. parking for 2 cars to protect us from hail (which we are still dealing with in one vehicle)
  9. distance from any facility/farm that can cause health concerns or dangers
  10. not if a flood zone

House no.4

This house was perfect from both mine and my wife’s reqts except that it did not have a garage. Best condition of all homes we saw built around that time. Any updates to it were done with great care and with good quality work. The yard was perfect, the layout was perfect. We even met the owner on the day we left after seeing it and totally connected with them.

House no.5

We saw this house on a listing on a Friday, drove the neighborhood on Saturday and luckily was able to see the house later that same day. It was seriously outdated on the interiors and needed lots of cosmetic work. However the structure seemed solid. There was a comprehensive list of previous repairs and maintenance done on the house, contained in 2 binders we saw during the visit. The backyard was tiny, but if fenced off for privacy I can do some things there.

suburban homestead


We bid on house no. 4 and 5 last week. House no.4 was ideal, no.5  I could make it work based on some ideas we came up with for House no.3-the one in Sachse. Monday afternoon we lost both bids. We were informed that both homes picked cash buyers. We were put up as back up buyers on House no.4 but that was as close as we got.

On both homes we were outbid by cash buyers. I can imagine a few reasons for this:

  • Investors are buying up the best deals
  • These may be from families who are being relocated for work in TX by their companies
  • Homeowners who are using delayed financing, paying from their other assets initially

If investors are purchasing like crazy in this market, I hope I do not continue to be a renter for the next few years. I can only imagine how expensive the rents would be then, and in these neighborhoods, as years go by. It is tough to be competing with these investors in this market, but then it will be tougher if I remain as a renter in the next few years to come.

On families getting moved by their corporate companies, it just shows how much economic growth is coming to Texas. I am not an economic expert, but there has been a lot of coverage on the news about how companies are relocating to Texas that I do not need to be an economic expert to know this anyway. I have met some people who were moved here and I heard how sweet the deals were for them when it came to their companies helping them purchase a home.

We have lost a few bids on houses. I did not immediately realize the emotional toll this has on my family. I have encouraged my wife to not get too emotionally attached to a dream home until we win and move into it. Still, despite the ridiculous competition, I have strengthened resolve that we need to get into a home sooner than later. If we stay as renters, it will only be tougher to purchase a home later on. It will also be more expensive to remain as a renter.


MakeResilient aims to help build a more resilient lifestyle and family. I believe that we need to be ready for big changes coming to our current way of life (more info at the Concerns page). I am intentionally leading my family so that we can adapt slowly over time for the changing future. I’m no expert on all things, but I am acquiring the knowledge and skills of new things that I need.

 

RESILIENT HOUSE- suburban homestead 3

HOW DOES THIS MAKERESILIENT?

Being a home owner of a house that lets us produce something gives us more options than just renting. We have more options and more opportunities by owning a home-we just have to find one that will allow the opportunities to happen and not hinder it. No HOAs, reasonable city regulations and some land.


We are still looking for a property in the Dallas area that is suitable for a suburban homestead approach. To summarize what I am looking for in general, here’s a quote from the last post:

Our approach is more of a suburban homestead solution. We’ll live in a suburb in the Dallas area, I can commute to work and grow some of our own food. So far, I have whittled down my requirements to the following:

  1. good solar orientation for growing food
  2. good solar orientation for cold weather
  3. freedom within local laws to have some livestock
  4. space in the yard to grow food (preferrably in the backyard)
  5. space in the yard to grow something for market/sale
  6. fireplace for heating
  7. brick exterior preferred
  8. parking for 2 cars to protect us from hail (which we are still dealing with in one vehicle)
  9. distance from any facility/farm that can cause health concerns or dangers
  10. not if a flood zone

I also use this great link from www.backyardchickens to do a quick check if the house I am looking at is in a city that allows chickens

http://www.backyardchickens.com/atype/3/Laws

After doing a quick check thru backyardchickens.com, if the city is okay with chickens, then I go and read the rest of the city’s regulations by searching these 2 keywords in Google – “municode” and the name of the city.

backyard chicken city regulations search

Doing this gives me a quick preview of the city laws and how laid back or how controlling the local regulations might be.

As an example, this week we ventured farther South of Dallas into Mesquite. Mesquite promotes itself as the “rodeo capital of Texas”. My wife explored several homes there which I mapped out from closest to furthest. She loved it and still raves about the great homes. However, that night after exploring the homes in that city, we did the search noted above and we learned that Mesquite does not allow chickens. You even need permits for horses in some cases. Honestly I found this hypocritical for a city that promotes itself as having freedom. So, just like that we crossed out hypocritical cowboy suburbs from our options.


HOUSE NO. 3

We were blessed to find multiple homes today that worked. We found one in Sachse and a few in Garland.

I will focus on a house we found in Sachse.

Suburban homestead 3

 

It has been really difficult finding a house which has at least 0.20 acres. After that frustrating day in Mesquite my wife zeroed in on several properties with the right lot size and found this house in Mesquite. It met most of the requirements above but the yard was in the wrong side of the house from growing something. The rear yard was facing east and was covered in trees. The front yard was a lawn facing the west side.If I was going to grow food and have chickens in this front yard it was going to take some work. Mainly because it would be too hot and the front yard because of the western sun and with chickens it may mean I need to make the coop more “attractive”.

 

Driving there I was glad to see several neighborhood houses that did not have a manicured front yard. Old cars parked on the front for repairs, unmanicured lawns- these are good signs for me as it means you can do what you want and the city will not bother you.

The house did not look that interesting on the outside. It was a real downer the first time I saw it with the front lawn eating up all the space.


INTERIORS

We went inside the house on Saturday-they had a scheduled open house period. The interiors was all done up. All we had to do was move in our stuff and I could get straight to working on my exterior improvements. The house price obviously reflected this, but the main benefits to me were obvious:

  • save time on improving the interiors ourselves
  • save time and get ahead on improving the exterior and I may get my garden up this season
  • all the new things installed are working and have warranties
  • wife is super happy about the house and this will keep her happy for a long time

The disadvantages for this are:

  • we pay for the big bump up in the house value due to the improvements which we can do ourselves (we also pay the interest on all of that)
  • we do not have any memories on doing the project
  • I will have to be creative with my exterior improvements
  • the rear yard still is not a great size and is not the greatest for solar orientation

We asked a ton of questions on this house while the agents were there. Got lots of answers too. I finally got to see the backyard as well during the day and looked for some spots for a potential garden. I ran a scenario in my head how we could make this work:

Given that the house is close to the price range we would pay for the other options we were willing to make offers on, I accepted the price. We would not be making money from this house when we sell it later-at least not as much money if we did the renovations ourselves.

My wife would love the home, and would keep her inspired and give her a feeling of contentment. She might get started on her hobbies as she gets inspired by the house. This would be great as life is amazing when your spouse is happy.

suburban homestead privacy bamboo
An example of bamboo screening for privacy

My wife suggested enclosing the front yard with bamboo. I liked the idea. This would take time and probably be about 2 years for there to be enough bamboo density for me to work with. Given that I will likely spend the 1st year just finding a spot for a long term garden, the 2 years should go by fast. I can focus on other projects til the bamboo is ready.


THE REAR YARD-MY SPACE FOR POTENTIAL PRODUCTION

The rear yard can hold my chickens. The ground is sparse. This is a sign that the yard does not get great sun-at least I think so. It is like my current house in Plano. This might not work for a garden. I did pick out a corner which had some good sun when we were there. The question was how long that sunlight would last through the day and throughout the year. I saw it in March, where would this shade be in August when it fries my garden?

suburban homestead
Sketch of a creek behind the rear yard

The rear yard is adjacent to a creek. I imagine this might have some bugs living in it andI can have my chicken coop right up against the fence. Any bugs wandering into the coop would add to my chicken’s diet. They would need to be in a coop in pretty much all the cities we looked at. This would also protect them from any animals coming from the creek. The creek was also in an easement-I would use this distance as part of the required clearance from the coop to the adjacent homes. I can make this work I thought.

The property has a line for natural gas. It’s not hooked up to the stove, but at least I will only need to extend plumbing to other appliances from the fireplace. Natural gas as a utility is a very resilient system and great for saving utility bills. You can connect them to a generator with some work, and they can provide you with good cheap heat even when you lose electricity.

The rear yard would also have space for a rain water storage solution and a great place for a small aquaponics set up. Both of these sound attractive to me because of previous failures growing in the ground.


CONCLUSION

The house was very attractive and turns out had already picked up 10 offers in that one Saturday. I imagine the competition was very high for it because of the interiors and because of the price for that house in that city.

Even though I had some ways planned out in my head on how to make the poor solar orientation and lot layout work for me, I think me and my wife both agree we should not offer on the house. We will put in our work and improve the interiors and we can pocket the savings and the profit. We also would have to raise the price high to compete with the other offers. This house is just a bit too hot for us to get. And, even if we offer high on it, the appraised value may not work for the seller of the house and us having to come up with the remaining balance.
The great thing though, is instead of just relying on finding a house with the correct lot layout, going thru this house made me realize I have quite a few options to make the lot work. I can be creative with my solutions and if I have enough land with no regulations hindering me I can still make it work. This is a valuable lesson learned which I am applying to the other homes we are still looking at.


MakeResilient aims to help build a more resilient lifestyle and family. I believe that we need to be ready for big changes coming to our current way of life (more info at the Concerns page). I am intentionally leading my family so that we can adapt slowly over time for the changing future. I’m no expert on all things, but I am acquiring the knowledge and skills of new things that I need.

RESILIENT HOUSE 1-Selecting a house that can adapt some homesteading

HOW DOES THIS MAKERESILIENT

If the house needs to match the lifestyle, then the house must be able to accommodate our plans for becoming resilient.


We have been on the lookout for a home for a few months now and one of my main considerations is how the house can make us resilient for the future. By this I mean I look for  a few things for the house:

  1. PRICING-it must be easy for us to service the debt in the event of a job loss or if cost of living just rises
  2. LOT SIZE-I will have a garden for food so this is critical for me
  3. SOLAR ORIENTATION-must work well for growing a garden
  4. FIREPLACE-something I want so we have flexibility for heating
  5. LOCAL REGULATIONS-the city must not hinder me from having some form of livestock, be it chickens or rabbits. If there are too many regulations then that is a bad sign
  6. BRICK FACADE-This is in case of hail
  7. PROXIMITY TO GMO FARMS-obviously an issue but since we are likely going to be within the city suburb limits this should not be an issue
  8. PROXIMITY TO INDUSTRIAL FACILITIES-we’ve lived in areas close to manufacturing/industrial zones and my son has health issues with it. Plus, it’s just not a good idea.
  9. NOT IN A FLOODZONE-insurance and risks I do not want to pay for

The wife’s requirements added to these would be:

  1. Proximity to places that they frequent-these would be groceries, stores and places to keep the kids busy.
  2. Safe neighborhood

Some exclusions:

I doubt we will find a house that has a basement. They are not that common in my area so I will put this off to the side. If it so happens we have it, then that would be great and ideal.

Same thing goes for a 2nd story level, it’s common enough but not for my price range. It will not be a deciding factor for me.


THE LATEST HOUSE (MAR 5)

This last weekend we found a house that fits the above list.

resilient house front

The exterior is pretty normal which is great. I won’t go into the typical things you look for a house but will focus on my concerns relative to this blog. The front door does not pose any security issues more than the typical home does. I might want to add a cctv or light out there later. The main thing I looked at is that it has no weird angles or corners which would be a good place for criminals to hide in-at least nothing significantly worse than your typical house. I can deal with the bushes by interplanting them with some thorny bushes and cutting them lower. The corner by the front portion of the house, I might want to add a cctv to deal with it if I don’t want to bother looking out from the other windows every time I have to open the door.


SITE PLAN

 

resilient house

Here’s the site from above. I am not that happy to have all the lot square footage given to the front yard. I’d rather have that in the backyard  and then have a smaller front yard. The plan was to focus any gardening on the backyard, but in this case I might want to do it at the front too. I will need to check if the city has any laws on what you can do at your front yard.

It has a 2 car garage, which is great. In the event of hail I can pull both cars into the garage. This is a real concern for me as my car right now still has some hail damage. It happens, more regularly than some people might think.

I’ve got a side yard here as well which I can put to good use. Always good to have a couple of ways around the house. However, I do need to secure this. Currently it is a big opening for criminals to get in the house.


REAR YARD

resilient backyard gardening

The rear of the house shows promise too. it is not a great size, but it faces the right way for solar orientation.

What can I do with this backyard? Here are some ideas:

  1. grow a garden
  2. harvest solar power
  3. build a solar dehydrator
  4. build a fire pit and barbeque pit
  5. training space for airsoft
  6. grow some rabbits for meat
  7. grow chickens (the city has restrictions on this)
  8. Add a small shed for an outdoor workshop and storage

The fact that the rear fence is not made of wood and allows air and views in and out can also work to my advantage. Typically I would want lots of privacy at my backyard. However, this yard faces a huge empty lot for about a block. People will be driving by it to park their cars and pick up trash, but that should be about it. This might mean a cool breeze in the summer.


CITY REGULATIONS

The city website publishes it’s code and regulations online so I am making this part of my research for every house. I thought this city would be very laid back in terms of regulations but it turns out it has quite a few that I don’t like.

The city has restrictions on owning chickens. You can only have 2 and your coop has to be 50′ from your neighbor’s homes. I can check if the neighbors can sign a waiver and allow this in case we don’t meet the 50′.

There are some restrictions on rabbits too but they are not intrusive to me. It did not put a restriction on how many and the size of the hutch. It did require that the rabbit poop does not fall directly to the ground (which is stupid because rabbit poop makes for great compost without cooking). Not an issue, I can work with this.

The city also has restrictions on parking long term on the road in front of your house. THis becomes an issue if I decide to have a trailer of some sort. I would need to move this to my garage and then build a carport to protect the car from hail.


FUTURE PLANNED DEVELOPMENTS

How does one consider the city’s planned zoning changes and developments in regards to their home purchase? I checked deeper into the city’s plans for this house. Being that this city appealed to both me and my wife-which has been hard to find-it was worth the time to research further as to what the city has plans for. In this case I found quite a few things. It turns out that the home is pretty close to an area that the city is pushing to develop into apartments and commercial areas. I am just short of the development limits by a few blocks.

This can work in my favor. Long term I would not want this because I don’t want to have a house too close to an area full of apartments. I want to be neighbors with homeowners who are vested in the community and will have a longer stake in the area. Renters may not have that because they are still transient for the most part.

During the interim while the development is new, this would bring an influx of activity to the area. It will suck during construction periods because it will cause local traffic and destroy local roads. Once built, it will raise my property values and will make the area too crowded for me to want to stay-both will incentivize me to leave smiling.

Our plan is to stay in this home for abut 5 years, so perhaps this won’t be a big issue. Maybe it won’t even see zoning approval during our stay here. If we stick to our 5 year plan we will likely not even experience any of the construction going on. At least not in full swing.

This planned development will significantly change the areas character-which is something we currently like about it.

Right now, this planned development is just information I am keeping in my back pocket. I don’t have much use for it yet, but I can use it as we plan longer term goals. If we move to a different house in 5 years for example, maybe we can rent this out until the property values make sense to sell it.


CONCLUSION

This house (House no. 1 for this series) will work for our long term plans. I am praying that we can get this house and then I will just modify some of my plans so it works with any city regulations. I may not get my ideal home and location, but this is a healthy compromise so I get to do what I need and keep my family happy.

(UPDATE:

At the time of this post, this house is under contract with another family. They beat us to it by an afternoon. It was available in the morning, then by the time we had arranged for a 4pm appointment at lunch it was under contract. We will continue looking)


MakeResilient aims to help build a more resilient lifestyle and family. I believe that we need to be ready for big changes coming to our current way of life (more info at the Concerns page). I am intentionally leading my family so that we can adapt slowly over time for the changing future. I’m no expert on all things, but I am acquiring the knowledge and skills of new things that I need.

Sickness = diet & lifestyle changes

Short personal post here. This week was a rough one filled with all sorts of minor ailments. I could not keep to my schedule and could barely meet my obligations at work due to it. Reminds me how the small things really affect us, but since they don’t make up these glorious stories in our lives we tend to forget them and deal with them preemptively. These inconveniences do happen and are pretty significant inconveniences at times. Read more “Sickness = diet & lifestyle changes”

Dealing with tantrums

I have been teaching my son how to control his frustrations for some time. It has been an issue for us and it has mellowed down quite significantly over the years. Still, it needs some work. I understand how hard it can be for his teachers in class when he bursts out on occasion-we’ve had to pull our hair out as well. Here are some example scenarios:

My son falls of some cliff for the 4th time in the video game he is playing. He’ll throw down the controller and burst out yelling “I am never going to get this!” and runs out to the bedroom to wail. After about 8 mins, he comes back pacified. I ask him if he is done, he says “yes” with a pouty face. And we have a short talk about how we will not buy a new controller if he breaks it when he has his tantrums. Previously, something like this meant a 30minute floor session making dust angels.
Another example is when he is putting on his seat belt. Sometimes he has a hard time getting his seat belt on. Lately it has worsened when he is wearing a thick jacket, or when we have junk laying in the car seat that bury the latch he has to get to. He will struggle and will resort to pulling it repeatedly-then with one last strained pull and a grunt as long as he can push for-he tries one last time. If it still does not click in, he will burst out screaming “dad I can’t get in in,it’s just so hard”. (This is partly my fault, as I will hurry him to buckle up because we are late for his school. I get stressed and I pass this onto him. I have since worked on this and am still, but he also has to deal with it as a separate issue.)
604270003_b0214893c4_z
Photo credits: Typical tantrum by SKXE (Flickr)
I know these are menial things, but these are examples of small things that can happen to us on any random day. Small things like these can ruin the mood for an entire weekend. It also makes us upset and sometimes we end up yelling even more. None of these are great for enriching our family experience. Here are some steps we’ve been making to deal with the issue.

FIXING IT

I am building myself a mental/emotional buffer

The buffer is made of non-emotional, monotonous and stoic response. When he freaks out about a game, I respond with a very dry and boring “okay let’s just stop playing the game if you cannot have patience to learn it”. This sometimes works, and I am adjusting it based on the situation. Maybe this is not a great example, but the point is for me to not reciprocate the tension he puts out. I respond calm and intentionally empty of feelings, with a mental hint of a consequence to his actions.

I interrupt it

I interrupt it before he peaks the tantrum. As he frantically tries to buckle his seatbelt for the nth time, he will start to speak in a tensed up voice. It will sound like “dad, i…just…can’t…find this…”and before he can even finish the sentence-which also is the peak of his patience after which he will burst into tantrum once the sentence is finished-I will calmly interrupt his sentence. I will blurt out “Oh I think I know how to help you fix that”. This response is not as dry, and  has a smile in the words I use. It breaks his pace and buys us time to talk him down and try it slower. In this situation I am interrupting his build-up, then redirecting his energy downward so that we can give him the support to do it himself.

 

Simulating the frustrating scenario

I’m contemplating on an exercise we can do to more proactively deal with this character trait. I will set up a situation where he will face a task designed to get frustrated. I will inform him that the exercise is for me and him, and should help both of us with the tantrums and frustrations. We would then go and do the exercise and repeat it until he really does get frustrated and learns to detach from it emotionally. When he does, we can either end the exercise or I can help him solve the problem. Depending on the exercise, this will also teach him the value of practicing a new skill and being humble. After the exercise is done, we will talk about what he went thru and learned, much like how we have mini-talks about lessons from small things. He loves to learn, and these talks work well for him.

Building our buffer

On our end we have to accommodate some of his traits. He will be distracted with some thing so we have to remind him until he has learned how to prioritize certain tasks (i.e. first thing to do when you get in the car is to buckle up). We also add extra time so we have a buffer against stress. If he still does get distracted, or if we miss reminding him, then we have time to redo it and we do not immediately get stressed out.

zeno_of_citium_pushkin
Credit: Shakko (Wikipedia)

Reacting is not effective

After doing the reactive thing for some time, I realize it is extremely not efficient. By reactive, I mean reacting to his tantrum by out-tantruming him sort of. Not only do we both end up upset, but the situation escalates. I hate myself when this happens-I feel I should be more in control of myself and at least not reciprocate. For this, the more stoic response worked out better in the long run (by this I mean that same session). I reciprocate with a non-emotional response and we de-escalate the drama. If he escalates the yelling, I continue to respond non-emotionally but remind him that there are consequences he will face (i.e. we are not going to X store as we planned to, or no this or that when we get home).

I am by no means an expert parent. I have a lot of bugs that need to be fixed, and these are my ways of working thru some of them. These work for us because of how we are and what our individual characteristics are. Every parent has to adapt their ways to how the whole family is. Every parent has to adapt to their kids. That is why kids never come with an instruction manual-there’s just too many factors that affect it. One key thing though, is to be observant of how we react to each other and base the solutions on that. In my case I feel I am the one who adapts easiest, so I adapt to my family and I try to coach them to find better ways to deal with issues. It is partly a burden, but also a gift.

I hope this has helped you think of some ways to deal with the tantrums. Keep in mind, you need to make the decision on how to deal with it before it actually happens. Always try to de-escalate it first. The goal is always to improve our lives for the long term and sometimes we need to take small steps to get there.

Finding a house fit for resilience

My family and I have been planning on buying a house and hope to do so in the next few months. There are a lot of things to consider in buying a house,these are some of the more unconventional considerations I have. These may rage against what your broker will say, but then again, these are unconventional ideas for unconventional times.

strawberry-manion-high-school

I do not get too hung up on the school district.

My wife hates this, but I do not believe the public school system will be as prominent in the future. The flaws in the school system has been made more obvious with the surge of entrepreneurship-and people are realizing that school only teaches kids to be wage slaves. There is a massive growth in alternative schooling and public schools are being shut down all over the country.
If your home value is tied to the local school district, then your value goes down when they do. BUT your taxes will probably remain the same.

farmers-market-17

The city should have a good local, robust economy

We are not looking at distant cities, but just those around us. We scouted some ideal locations a few weeks back-however after checking out the city info, it turns out they have a couple of large universities in the area. This is not an issue by itself, but this may mean the local economy is tied to the college (probably is). My issue there is the future of the university as a thriving institution. Fore more info, Google “student loan bubble”.
A few other considerations are:
  • is the area dependent on manufacturing jobs which might be automated? 
  • Are there large retail areas which are showing signs of decay? 
  • Are there signs of rezoning for apartment construction?
  • How much land is still undeveloped?
unique-backyard-garden-clawfoot-bathtub-planter-box-eclectic-landscape-by-melissa-mascara-design

The city should not have regulations about homesteading

A few cities in my area-including my current one-have restrictions to owning livestock in the backyard. If we are not purchasing a large lot, if we are staying in the suburbs, I at least need to be free to have some type of livestock. As an example, it turns out that most cities we looked at only allow 2 chickens.
This ties to my plans for gardening also. I plan to have a good sized, producing garden in my yard. I do not want any restrictions on rain catchment or water storage or where I can install a trellis. These things don’t sound important-until you realize that you cannot build them.

No HOAs

I do not want to be burdened by my neighbor’s preferences. I do not want to fund their authority to dictate to others or to myself. Do not talk to me about property values-I plan to address those from a higher vantage point that does not need the HOA as an excuse to exist.
rinspeed_16x9

Distance is not as big an issue

Travel distance is still an issue but it may notbe as big. With the predicted arrival of autonomous cars, it will be easier to commute a 20 mile distance to the office. Plus the fact that telecommuting will be a more common part of most jobs in the future. The 20 mile commute may even be a very pleasing experience, where one gets to escape from the humdrum tasks and focus on personal leisure-like writing or reading. You will of course still need to consider the time to commute, as that would be time away from the family. But, with robocars and telecommuting you have a lot of options compared to how things used  to be.
So there you go, a short list of things I consider when we look for a house. These may sound contrary to most advice from real estate professionals-this is just my list. You will need to do some research on the concerns above. You can read more of it here but I really suggest doing your own research as new information comes up on these issues on almost a daily basis.
Do the research, form your opinions and discuss it with your family. What are your goals for the home in the next 5 years? In the next 10? To me, a few of the items above are critical so I need to be prepared to talk about it with my family.
Do you have other suggestions? Please help a guy out in finding that home he can really set roots in.

Family safety tips for long distance traveling

The holidays are upon us, and like most families, we embark on a long drive to visit our loved ones. In our case the travel is from Texas to Kansas, approx 450 miles. We’ve gotten better at getting organized for these trips (we typically have a few every year). As we learn more about these trips, they get easier and more comfortable. I actually look forward to these nowadays. Here are some things we did on a recent Thanksgiving trip. I hope you find some of these ideas useful.

Vehicle prep

Days before the trip itself, I slowly purge the vehicle of any clutter. On the day of our trip, when we are loading, the vehicle is ready and you basically start with a clean slate. The trunk is empty, the glove compartment and the console between the 2 frontseats is empty. This gives me a psychological boost and a countdown to the day of the trip. It also helps me to visualize what is needed in the car.
Check the vehicle for any maintenance needed. Depending on vehicle upkeep you may need to do more. In my case, I needed to air the tires. Others to check for are wiper fluids, oil and coolant. The vehicle we used for this trip was a lease so it was pretty well maintained.
oil_change21
Fill up the gas tank ahead. I filled up the tank on Wed night, since we were leaving early AM on Thursday. This saves me from having to gas up at 5am and have to worry about how safe the gas station might be. It also makes our trip more fluid when we leave. Small disruptions during the first 2 hours of the trip really slow us down as it prevents us from building momentum.

Family stuff for the trip

We planned days earlier on what we were bringing. We had agreed on easy to cook meals so that we save prep time at our destination. This meant we allocated a big cooler for all frozen food we were taking with us. We had a separate cooler for our meals during the trip-this is super helpful if your kids have specific diets like ours do. This cooler does not go in the trunk, but is kept within reach of the passenger seat.
We pack enough supplies so we are self sustained during our trip and while we are at our relatives’ place.
We rely quite a bit on ipads and phones to keep our kiddos busy on the road. Having phone chargers and a way to charge multiple devices are important. We have an inverter in our vehicle-which allows us to charge usb, 110 volt items, 12 volt devices (like GPS). We also saved some videos onto our devices, in case internet is slow or unavailable.
qantas-samsung
Inflight entertainment
We load the vehicle while it is in the garage with the garage door closed. We do not want to show passers by in the street that we were leaving on a big trip. We woke up early for any last minute preps and loaded up. Kids woke up last and were the last to get loaded in the car-this lets them sleep thru the first few hours of the trip.

Weather check

This goes without saying-check road conditions before the trip. Usually we drive thru one or two thunderstorms every time we go thru Oklahoma. Our return trip would be rainy. We get dressed for this so when we take bathroom breaks we are ready.

Home security

Before we left the house obviously we double check that all doors are locked and no appliance is left on that is not needed. For security, we leave the porch lights on. I also set up lights and a radio so that they turn on at night so as to simulate activity in the house. I use an appliance timer I got from home depot and to this I plugged in lights for a bedroom-so that it is seen from the front yard and street. I also plugged in a radio so that it can be heard throughout the house and when you approach the front door. From the backyard, one can see light within the house from the bedroom.
porch-lighting-1a1
If you have a paid home security service, that works too. However I like the idea of making my house seem occupied with or without a security service. Also, I have heard some rather disappointing stories about how these systems work. They are more passive than active basically. I consider my lights+radio on timers more of an active deterrent.
Update:There is also a product called FakeTV which makes your home seem occupied with somebody watching TV. I have not personally tried this but folks have said great things about it.

Bathroom breaks and stopping for gas

During the trip, all doors are always locked and windows are closed. Particularly when we stop for gas or food, doors are always locked. If I leave the car for gas, I ask my wife to stay alert and keep the doors locked (our vehicle automatically unlocks when the driver leaves the car so she has to manually lock it).
I cannot emphasize this enough. I have seen way too many car jacks because the victims
https://youtu.be/OLXf4mdVHcs?t=5m57s
We are careful when we stop for bathroom breaks. There are way too many truck stops on our route and we sometimes end up in undesirable areas. In general, these stops have risks to them because it is very easy for a child to be lost/abducted and taken away. There are too many strangers just passing by and there are vehicles leaving the area every second.
When my wife goes to the bathroom she makes sure to have her phone and her pepper spray with her. I take note how long she is gone. When I take a break I have my phone and ccw with me. Since having my pistol with me on these trips, I feel way better equipped to protect my family in case something bad happens. I highly advise being armed when traveling. We are working to get my wife her ccw permit also, but for now at least I am prepared and provide this extra layer of safety for the family.
Since we travel with kids, I try to have an empty bottle of water ready for those super emergency bathroom breaks for my son. Sometimes we do not make it to a rest stop. This allows us to just stay in the car while being pulled over somewhere (safe and away from the highway please).
When we stop for gas, I try to pick a spot that is favorable to my safety. No dark areas, away from other vehicles and preferably a spot that lets me get a good view of my surroundings. This does not mean isolated areas, just something that allows a good vantage point. Sometimes this means avoiding the middle pumps at the station and trying to be on the outer side. I do not stare at the pump while filling up, but I am aware of what’s going on around us.

Navigating safely

Over the years me and my wife have learned to work together as driver-navigator. It is nothing complicated, but she knows to use her phone and check for traffic ahead. She knows to look for alternate routes as well. This took some practice but we learned it during one long trip and has since proved beneficial. Our dedicated gps does not adjust for traffic, but her phone app can show us real time traffic conditions. When she drives, we trade jobs and she gets these info on demand from me.
img_74051
No traffic in Dallas at 2:19am
This also helps us to pick locations of restaurants if we are getting food. We can pick ones that are along the way and not have to take long detours. She can also confirm weather on our route ahead. For example, we saw it was supposed to rain by lunch time in OK, so we set a goal to get past certain cities before the rain came. Passing thru cities, the highways get slower and denser, so having that behind us before rains started would make for less stress.

Last bits of advice

With relatively small planning, these long trips have become quite relaxing for us. It gives me and my wife time to just sit and talk while the kids are sleeping and strapped in. Sometimes we drive a route that offers better views than the interstate-if we are making good on time or if we are early. Initially these long drives were quite stressful, there was always some big thing we had not prepped for. We kept mental and written notes of previous issues and future trips have become easier. The main thing for us is to be self sufficient during the trip. This means food, water, gas, portable bathrooms even, and inflight entertainment. If we have these and if we set them up for comfortable access then half the battle has been won. If there are external factors that are unlikely-we can pick a different route, or we can stop somewhere.
Take some time to plan the trip and think things through. Make a list of both big picture things and small details. The biggest improvement on this trip of ours was that I had a ccw and we felt safer knowing that I was armed. The best changes that made the most noticeable improvements were the food preps and entertainment.
I hope these ideas prove useful for you. If you have other suggestions please add them in the comments. I am constantly learning and I am always open to ideas.

Robocars are a real thing – in full by 2021

I posted about Uber and its autonomous cars here. This quick post is about Michigan opening up it’s state laws governing robocars. Basically, autonomous vehicles with no backup human drivers can now drive on public roads.

The state is host to around 75% of the companies leading this technology. To stay ahead of the surging autonomous vehicle curve, they have issued their own laws regarding robocars to incentivize these companies to stay.

It is of particular note how Ford says they plan to roll these out in full by 2021.

Here is the full article:

https://www.wired.com/2016/12/michigan-just-embraced-driverless-future/

miav

2016 End of year family resilience review

With the year coming to a close, and with things slowing down for the holidays, now is a good time to reflect back and review what goals you achieved this year. Every day is a chance to step towards the lifestyle that you want, and me and my family listed goals at the beginning of 2016. I am preparing a summary for my family so I can show our progress. Seeing numbers and results quantifies the efforts and sacrifices we have made. It also reminded us of the mistakes we told ourselves we were going to fix-and how we fixed them. I wanted to share some of our goals and which ones we can check off our list.

Reduce debt

-credit no. 1 – auto parts store
-credit no.2 – bank credit card
-credit no.3 – bank credit card
One of our big goals was to reduce debt. I went thru Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University at our local church and learned a ton. With adjustments to our current budget, and with the debt snowball plan, we have made a good dent on our debt. We paid off credit no.2 and 3 above and are working on the rest of them. We knocked out others not listed above. We made the above list in early 2016 and it turned out other debts were easier to close-so those got paid off too. We also paid off our Jeep-which is one of the biggest debts we had. There’s still a few, but it is empowering to know we paid off a few debts last year.
We are still adjusting our budget as we go, and we are still learning discipline so we stay within budget and can know way ahead if there is a big purchase we should plan for. Listing things down really helps. Having them in a notebook somewhere rarely helps, because we never really see that note again. What I’ve done that has worked, is to gather any actionable items I add to the notebook into a spreadsheet. Google sheets work well for this, as I can review and update it wherever I am. The items on the sheet become a schedule on a calendar or a purchase adjustment we will be preparing for.

Reduce clutter for home relocation

-eliminate junk
organize
We still have a bunch of the junk. We are slowly selling them online though, and my wife has made some money off of them. We’ve also done a bit on organizing, and our seasonal clothes are currently organized in the garage. I would say these both move as ongoing items in 2017.

Dad

CCW permit-get my ccw permit
PDC-finalize design and submit for review
Microgreens work flow-establish a routine for the business
CCW
I got my ccw early last summer and have endeavored to carry every day since. It has been a learning experience, one that I hope to write about at some point and share my thoughts and mistakes about. This has been a goal for quite some time, and I am glad I have finally checked it off my list
img_6014
PDC
As for the PDC (permaculture design course), I have been sitting on a design which is about 60% done. I have not made much progress on it, but I will be revisiting this for 2017.
Microgreens work flow
I worked hard on this and did establish a good workflow. I had a schedule all week. Some days and times are set for cold calling restaurants. I had days set for planting, harvesting, maintenance and some days for research. In the end however the urban farm selling microgreens was not profitable for me. I could hardly find restaurants willing to pay for the premium local produce. I ran out of steam around October and a few days ago in December I officially closed the operation.
img_5079

Mom

Take real estate classes
Mom has been making progress on this. We made adjustments to our schedule so I can get home sooner and her locking herself in a room away from any distractions to study. The schedule has been a struggle, but we both agreed we will work towards this goal. She has completed her classes and passed the trial exams. She is now studying for the actual test.

Kiddos

set their own routine and run through it
in the morning, to wash up and get dressed
at night, brush and clean up
Learn to focus

My son and I are still working on this. We’ve set alarms on our phones with a separate ringtone so he knows it is pertaining to his tasks. We have an alarm for breakfast,getting dressed and getting in the car to go to school. We have a few distractions (a lot) but we are making progress.

Summer goals

Fishing-learn to fish or start to learn to fish
Camping-go on at least 1 trip with family
Backyard pool – kids longing for pool fun
Beach trip-see the dang beach!
Fix girl’s room-organize a room for E’s stuff
Gardening-grow 3 select veggies we usually eat
Fishing– we went on a couple of fishing trips South of Dallas. We did not have much luck but we had a pleasant experience. My hope is we can do this more often and find some spots closer to home. I did not push the family to go fishing. I tried to make it as casual as we could, if at some point we got bored from waiting, we went on another adventure along the way. I think this is useful so that the fishing trip is tied to a positive experience that day. Maybe we did not catch any fish, but the family bonded and did some other cool things together.
We plan to keep working on this in 2017. I really want to learn to fish and supplement our diets thru this pastime.
Camping-we went on our first camping trip this year. We’ve been  wanting to go for sometime but had to wait til our kids were old enough. It really helped that we had other friends with their kids who wanted to do this. In the end we and about 5 other families went on a group camping trip and had a great time. We shared gear and that helped with the cost. One of the main hindrances was the cost of certain gear, but I had been slowly purchasing most of it even before we moved from NYC.
Recently, we scored a ton of camping gear in a garage sale. We should be able to camp more comfortably in the spring with a heater and our own cooking gear.
Backyard pool
Yup this was easy
img_6235
Beach trip-since moving to TX we have not seen the beach. In the summer of this year, we finally went to the coast and spent Independence day together at the beach. It was one of our best Independence day weekends ever and hopefully we can make this a part of our yearly tradition.
IMG_5916.JPG
We did fix my daughter’s room but I can’t say it is complete. We are doing something about it one of these weekends.
The garden effort this year was very poor. I know I wanted to do a few things, but I think I only got to 50% of it. I forget what took over my time during the fall planting season. I wanted to plant and learn to use automated irrigation and understand how to survive in TX heat. I don’t plan on starting a lot in early 2017 as we hope to move to a different house, but gardening is a critical skill and I will have it again as a goal in 2017-maybe in the fall.

Those were the big items on our list for 2016. Obviously other big things happened but these were the ones that we put on a list and said “we will get these done”. I feel good seeing we achieved about 75% of them. It really helps having the goals listed and thus reminding us to make plans to achieve them.
2017 will be another 365 days to work on the life we want to have. Each day seems to go so fast and looking back it did not feel that long. The day to day struggle to get thru the work week seems to be a slog to get thru. However, if we have other goals running parallel to the workdays, slowly we eek out a lifestyle which we will be able to live fully in the future. The days have more meaning. At the end of the year we can say we started back there and now we have made good progress.

Gifts for family resilience

Christmas is here and I am trying to avoid cramming last minute shopping for gifts. I would like the gifts to have long term meaning for me and my family. Aaand since I encourage my family to live a better lifestyle-I am always looking for gifts that will lead us to resiliency . Here are some cool ideas for both parents and kids. Please note I have not tried out all of these, but they are some ideas I am considering for my own family.

For the kids:

  1. $$ A subscription to kid activities that will entertain and educate them. Some products that come to mind are Kiwicrate.com and Mystembox.com. Both these sites provide you with a kit that teaches you about science and technology.chromatography_current
  2. $$ Select apps that will educate your kids. We have Toca Builders and Minecraft-both allow my son to create in a 3D world. I plan to supplement this and increase my sons spatial skills
  3. $$ Ebooks-these are great for bedtime stories and road trips. Be selective and find stories that inspire critical thinking and problem solving.
  4. $$ Legos are always good as it helps kids imagine and build. However, sometimes their excitement for these have already worn out and you might need to raise the bar to the next one-which just might mean….
  5. $$ Robot kits-be age appropriate or you will be dealing with a few tantrums. There are options as to how complex the kit is. Some start from the smallest pieces (like Lego EV3 robots) and some have bigger pre-assembled parts. Most kits allow some type of programming, and all kits come with instructions(Hooray!)robot-kits-for-adults
  6. $$ A martial arts class that will focus on character building, respect and discipline. Some parents are wary of martial arts class for kids because of potential damage to their softer bones, but there are options. Most kids are interested in martial arts at an early age-mostly from movies and cartoons. It would be good to channel that interest into something productive. They may make friends and learn respect and discipline.
  7. $$ BB gun-if you feel comfortable and if your kids are old enough you might consider a bb gun. Use this to teach them about gun safety and respect for the tool. It will encourage being in the outdoors and teach the value and results of practicing. If your kids are younger, consider lower powered bb guns (check the “feet per second” or “fps” on the box) If your kids are younger still, maybe a Nerf gun is appropriatered-rider-daisy-tin-1000-web
  8. $$ Books are also a great option and some focus on topics that promote resilience. You will need to be selective to find the right book. Most sites provide book reviews to help you. Perhaps you can find books that help deal with frustrations, facing challenges or learning new things.

For the lady of the house:

  1. $$ Martial arts classes – We have been planning on my wife getting martial arts classes, this way she can start it in January after the holidays (this works for the man of the house too. I am mainly listing it here because I’ve had some already and my wife is next in line to get some training.) She was always hesitant to this until we went to an all woman’s starter self defense class. The sensei was very informative and gave actionable ideas which got her interested.
  2. $$$ If we had the money we would get her CCW permit-then again this is not restricted to Christmas. This for us is really more of a budget issue than it is a timing issue.
  3. $$$ Bike, running shoes or exercise gadgets (a Fitbit)to get her started on her exercise routine. Sometimes people are looking to start new things and need a push, an excuse or inspiration.surge-2016-0fd2880053305928cdaf399527734bcf
  4. $$ My wife likes to knit and sew, a gift card to one of her favorite hobby stores is a good idea. It puts her in the creative mood and it always comes back to the home. The idea is to nurture a productive hobby. I find that this is sometimes better (and easier) than getting her an actual item from that store-unless I really know what she is looking for.
  5. $$ An online class-there are month long classes and there are mini-classes. The price range varies, but there are classes for just about anything. You can find some cool classes on sites like Skillshare, Smallfarmacademy.com or if you have a profession she is already interested in you can check those out also.
  6. $$ A dutch oven might be a good idea if the lady loves to cook. It lets you experiment with a whole new set of recipes and later on is an alternative way to cook without your oven.flamedutchoven
  7. $$ to $$$ Gardening supplies for spring-never too early to plan for that spring garden. These can be tools, seeds, trees or even a bird bath to encourage habitat.
  8. $$ An indoor herb planter-it skips the slow stage of starting up an herb garden but lets you jump right in to learning to use and appreciate the herbs you have. Stick to some herbs you know you are likely to use.

8591159slate_002ve_lechuza-lechuza-herb-planter-strawberry-planter-14x9

For the man of the house(I will try to not go crazy on my wish list):

  1. $$$ Additional firearms training (this works for the lady of the house too)
  2. $$ Gardening supplies for spring. In my case, this would be an irrigation system, but this varies. Mom has her list and so do I.847976f2-9565-4ff8-a585-fb56bdaae6a1_1000
  3. $$ Credits for audiobooks for learning new things-Audiobooks have been a great source of learning for me. I like books, but due to time restraints I have moved to audiobooks which allow me to listen to them during my daily commute.
  4. $$ Outdoor cooking gear – a camping stove and propane tank. This doesn’t need to be the latest charbroil high end grill+smoker combo. But if you don’t have an alternative way to cook other than an indoor stove, this might be a great add to your home. It brings everyone out of the house and sparks a time to bond over a  meal. (Obviously using this will need to wait til the weather gets warmer) This is also a great backup if your house relies on electricity for cooking. In the event of a blackout, you will be able to save the food in your fridge and still stick to your diet.
  5. $$ Powertools! I almost forgot but this is always a good option if the husband is inclined to building. Sometimes, the tools are just fun to use that it gives you an excuse to try to build something.61pwvgiefkl-_sl1500_
  6. $$$ A First aid class (basic or advanced). Everyone should know CPR and ways to treat wounds. Usually the schedule for this needs to be worked out, but with some planning it an be done. A budget to build your own kit is also useful.
  7. $$$ A good self defense knife-having a knife is a given in my opinion. It gives you options in a defensive situation. Hopefully you will never need to use it, but if you ever do it should be reliable.
  8. $$ A small utility knife-sometimes your self defense knife is just not worth cutting up packaging and gummying it up with tape. A utility knife can be one that fits into your keychain or can be a neck knife.
  9. $$ Bread maker – if the man likes to cook, perhaps a bread maker is a good option. It reduces the mess and makes baking bread a bit more convenient.

 

Some of the items listed are not very exciting-like the audiobooks for example. But, as they purchase the books through the course of weeks, they will be glad to have those credits. The benefits will be long lasting and is really a way to invest in one’s self.
If you have noticed, some of the ideas are not specific. These are not gadget specific gifts, these offer more of an idea on what gift types can promote learning, improving oneself or gain a new skill. The ideas are also interchangeable between mom and dad depending on interests or current skills.
Also, livestock did not make it in the list. I mean, winter is just a bad time for starting it anyway right?
If you have other suggestions or gifts you wish your spouse thought of, please feel free to post it below. I can definitely update the list as I know I probably missed some really good ideas.