...because home doesn't happen overnight.

surprise DC trip

In the fall of 2011, I surprised the boys with a road trip to Washington, D.C. (Technically, Mabrey went too, but she was just a bump. Can you see her?) I was still working as a pharmacist at the time and managed to get a rare Friday off that coincided with a long weekend for the boys. A few weeks prior, I had called my sister (who lived in Fairfax, Virginia, at the time) to see if she’d be interested in having some visitors. She quickly said, “Yes!”

On the Thursday before the long weekend, while Layne and Everett were at school and daycare, respectively, I packed their bags and loaded up the car with snacks and pillows. I picked Everett up from daycare then we drove home and waited for Layne to get off the bus. We didn’t even get out of the car. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces when Layne climbed in and I revealed my secret. They were so excited! They couldn’t believe we were up and leaving in the middle of a perfectly normal afternoon. The wonderful part is they were more excited about being surprised than actually going on a road trip.

surprise DC trip

Years later, they still bring up that mini vacation. The thing they remember most is me surprising them – not seeing the Lincoln Memorial or riding the Metro.

Have you ever planned a surprise vacation? Would you ever sign up for a surprise vacation? (Apparently, it’s the new way to travel.) Do you even like surprises? I like surprising my kids with trips, but I don’t know if I could give up complete control of vacation planning! We’re leaving for a little family vacation tomorrow. The kids know we’re driving somewhere and will be gone for a few days, but Steve and I haven’t told them where we’re going yet.

P.S. – That one time I was wifenapped.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

bedside book

My kids are out of school next week. Spring break always sneaks up on me! Initally, we hadn’t planned on going anywhere, but at the last minute I booked an Airbnb rental. We’re excited to explore a new area and spend time together, but it looks like the weather is going to feel more like winter than spring. We’ll take what we can get! If nothing else, it will be a great excuse to cozy up with a pile of books.

I just finished When Breath Becomes Air and it was beautiful. I can’t stop thinking about it. Steve is reading it now, and I can’t wait for him to finish so we can discuss it.

If you’re interested, here are a few books I’ve read and/or reread over the past year and would highly recommend…

book recs

Habitat: The Field Guide to Decorating


Simple Matters

Cabin Porn

Big Magic

The Big Tiny


The Inner Game of Tennis

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Not shown, I borrowed it from a local library after my favorite librarian told me it changed her life.)

As you can see, my personal library tends to be heavy on the non-fiction. While I enjoy it, I think I need to spice things up with more fiction. We’re loading up on books before we leave, so here’s my question for you: Do you have any book recommendations? Have you read any books recently that have stuck with you? Feel free to share fiction and non-fiction suggestions. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks in advance!

P.S. – Good reads for home lovers.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

family 2011-4

FYI – This photo was taken in 2011 shortly after we bought our current home and discovered we were unexpectedly expecting a third child. We had just started a gut renovation and were living in an interim, two-bedroom apartment. It was the beginning of our downsizing journey. The boys look so little!

Our decision to downsize was heavily fueled by our desire to become mortgage-free by age 40. We’ve always been conscientious about money. Steve is the person whom creates and studies spreadsheets whenever making a big financial decision. I’m the person whom must have her checkbook balanced to the penny. When I was working full-time before we had kids, half of my paycheck was allotted to savings and investments. (To this day, we haven’t touched that money. We pretend it doesn’t exist.) We also worked diligently to pay off school and auto loans. Even with scholarships and employment during college, we graduated with >$50,000 of school debt between the two of us. (That probably sounds like a lot to some and not much to others.) We buy and drive used vehicles. To this day, Steve drives the same pickup truck he drove in college. #dangerranger

exterior 2011

Five years ago, we bought the worst house on the street in a modest but respectable neighborhood. Our plan was to use the equity from the sale of our previous home to fund a gut renovation then plug away at the mortgage. It helped that we purposefully bought below our means. The dilapidated house cost way less than what the bank/realtor/society said we could “afford.” We were able to pay for the renovation in cash, and we’ve been hacking away at the principal ever since. Earlier this month, we made our final payment. The act itself felt both momentous and completely run-of-the-mill, but it’s official…

We’re mortgage-free! (For the record, we’re 37. We beat our goal by three years. We celebrated by making a list of things to sell on Craigslist.)

We feel equal parts grateful, proud and free. We’re grateful for good educational opportunities, job stability and our health – all of which were necessary to see our goal come to fruition and none of which we take for granted. We’re proud of ourselves for hatching a long-term plan and seeing it through even when obstacles blocked our path. We’re free. Without a mortgage looming overhead, not only do we feel as if a weight has been lifted, but it’s exciting to think about where we go from here, financially speaking. The possibilities are various: more saving, more donating, more vacationing, more investing, more traveling, more renovating (in a different house), more chilling out, more stuff we’ve never done, etc. Our initial thoughts run the gamut.

workspace 2

Even though we consider ourselves financially stable and responsible, we’re interested in trying out a more efficient way to track and budget our money in order to set and achieve new goals. You Need a Budget (YNAB) is a web-based app that simplifies budgeting by syncing with bank accounts and credit cards to keep you up-to-date on your expenditures. If you’re a visual person like me, it’s helpful to see where the money goes.

YNAB combines easy-to-use software with four essential budgeting rules: 1) Give every dollar a job. Before any money comes in, you already know what it is going to be spent on or saved for. 2) Embrace your true expenses. Paying for stuff – from essential things like groceries, shelter, transportation, utilities, doctor visits and medications to less crucial things like date nights, new windows, killer jeans, gifts or that dreamy leather sofa you’ve had your eye on – is part of being an adult. Being honest with yourself and prioritizing your needs and wants allows you to treat larger, less frequent expenses like monthly expenses. 3) Roll with the punches. You’re human. You make mistakes. You change your mind. Life throws you unexpected curveballs. Your budget should be flexible enough to change with you. 4) Age your money. Your spending should be based on money you’ve already made or saved, not money you’re expecting to make in the future. That’s how you stop the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle and get out of debt.

Without really knowing, we’ve been following these rules on our own. Last year, rule #3 was especially important. We had to move money around to cover unforeseen expenses related to Everett’s accident. What was already a traumatic and stressful experience could have been compounded by unpayable bills. Having a flexible budget allowed us to focus on what mattered most – promoting Everett’s full recovery and getting back to “normal.” We’re still working on it. Some days are more difficult than others, but I can’t imagine the added stress of unpaid bills.

If you’re interested in giving YNAB a try to achieve whatever financial goals you may have, you can get three months free by clicking here. YNAB is free to all students!

For fun, here are several ideas we’ve been tossing around now that we’re mortgage-free…

*Finally install those shade sails we first mentioned here.

*Buy a vintage camper, fix it up and road trip with the kids while they still think we’re cool.

portland guest house

portland guest house 3

*Fly out west to see the redwoods and hit up this sweet guest house in Portland while we’re at it. (Those backsplash windows!)

*Buy a fixer upper and flip it. (Spoiler alert: We’ve been looking at distressed properties for months.)

*Buy a forever home in one of our dream neighborhoods and make it ours over time. Or just build one from scratch. (Spoiler alert: I’ve been looking for years.)

*Open an online shop.

new zealand airbnb

new zealand airbnb 2

*Visit New Zealand and live the ultimate indoor-outdoor life.

*Invest in a new garage door.

We would be completely happy bringing one or two of those ideas to fruition within the next year. Although we aren’t opposed to taking on another big project if the right house came along, in all likelihood, we’ll probably sit tight and savor our just right house for now. I think we have some braces to save for anyway. Whatever happens, I’ll continue to share our journey and the things that inspire us. I hope you’ll stick around to see what happens next.

Have you set or reached any financial goals recently? Do you have any tips for budgeting, saving or becoming mortgage-free? Talking about money can be so personal, but it’s important. Steve and I have witnessed our families stress over finances for decades, and we vowed early on in our marriage to minimize that stress in our relationship as much as possible. We aren’t perfect, but we do believe that consistently living within (or even below) our means has set us up for financial (maybe even marital!) success. For us, it’s all about prioritizing what matters most then making a plan and executing it with room for course correction along the way.

*This post sponsored in part by You Need a Budget (YNAB). Don’t forget to sign up for a free three-month trial here. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog and our financial endeavors!

images: 1-3) Dana Miller for House*Tweaking 4-7) Airbnb