Thursday, January 31, 2008


I granted approval for this outfit only because Justin is too young to retain any memories of ever having it on. But once he is old enough to remember, then this blog entry will be eradicated and such displays of Clemson allegiance will be forbidden in our household. From that point on, I will be sure to infiltrate his closet with copious amounts of Morehouse and Georgia Tech paraphernalia and teach him the way of the "Maroon Jacket". In the meantime... yeah, ok... so they look cute in their Clemson colors and matching gear... so what. I am so not jealous.

Actually, truth be told, I don't hold enough allegiance to either of my alma maters for it to matter much either way. The boy could turn down a full scholarship to Morehouse and go on to crush Georgia Tech 72-3 in a national championship college football game.

Just don't be a Red Sox fan.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Milestones, pt IX

At 7 months and 1 day old, Justin Alexander has been saying MaMa over... and over... and over again. I think this started about a week ago... and the better he gets at it, the more concerned I get that my wife is going to lose her mind from smiling so hard. Granted, he doesn't know what it means yet, but that makes absolutely no difference to his proud momma. We may as well have hit the lottery.

He is also officially on the move. Last month, I talked about him getting around with the walker, and he has gotten much better with that. But this month he added two more components to his repertoire: full rollovers (i.e., from back to stomach and vice versa) and his version of baby crawling. It's kind of a G.I.Joe Army Commando stomach crawling thing he's got going on. But the bottom line is that our son has turned into a 16 pound inchworm and is now officially independently mobile. I'm not sure if I'm ready for the level of baby surveillance that this is going to require... but oh well.

Here's Justin on the move:

As an aside, I have to admit it's almost odd and surprising that he still isn't walking. But then I have to remind myself that he is still only 7 months old and wasn't supposed to be doing all of that standing and getting around to begin with. The thing is, he's been such an anomaly since birth that now it's easy to lose scope of what he is and isn't supposed to be doing at his age. I almost want to ask the doctor, why isn't he walking yet? But I know the answer will be "DUHHHHH... because he's 7 months old, stoopid!" The babycenter milestones have "walking" listed at around 12 months for 50% of the population. But then according to them, he is also not supposed to be "standing while holding onto something" until 9 months... and that definitely seems absurd.

A lot of times V and I find ourselves saying that we can't wait to have another kid just so we can get a better idea of what is "normal" and what isn't. For example, we often hear that he is "such a good baby" (he smiles most the time, sleeps well, doesn't cry when he wakes up, content with strangers, etc). But as first time parents we obviously don't know any different so we just shrug when we hear these things. Which means that child number 2 might be very interesting if (s)he tries to make up for all the good fortune we've had with child number 1.

Hmmm. Maybe we'll wait a while.

Anyway, Justin Alexander also...

• caught a stomach virus last month which set him back a little in weight (down to the 10th percentile)... but he's recovering nicely.

• got his first hair cut (at home)

• absolutely loves peek-a-boo

• laughs at almost anything

• still has no teeth

• is releasing his first exercise video next month

• Loves to bang the daylights out of anything he can get his hands on, especially tabletops and keyboards. The only thing he won't bang on is the little Infantino drum that he is supposed to play with (why, of course!)

• has learned what his toys look like, and as a result will often refuse to play with anything that looks age-appropriate. He might whine if you hand him a supercolorful squeezy thingamajig that makes noise... but a plastic cup and a paper towel will keep him busy for days.

• has discovered the hair on his head (amongst other things that mommy won't let me write about). It's hilarious and inexplicably weird to see him sitting in his swing just twirling his locks as if he is contemplating the Cuban missile crisis and it's affect on present-day North Korea. [No more CNN for Justin]

• has pretty much abandoned bibs since becoming such a neat eater

• is totally psyched about the Giants going to the Superbowl next week. I tried to get him equally excited about the Knicks winning 5 of their last 7 games.. but he was quick to point out that they still have the second worse record in the Eastern Conference.

For a 7 month old, he can be so pessimistic sometimes.

Anyway, here are the latest video clips of Justin doing... well... honestly... nothing really.


Winter Training

For those who have seen the birth video, you may remember that Justin has been pretty adamant about health and fitness since birth. First it was his obsession with rock hard abs at the tender age of 2 days old (see video clip here). And now with baseball season and Spring training right around the corner, he has added push-ups to the routine and is determined to take Jeter's spot as the Yankee's star infielder.

He's been doing these push-ups for about a week now, and it's pretty doggone hilarious. He doesn't go anywhere. He just goes up... and down... and up... and down. But for the most part, he just stays in that up position the whole time.

Unfortunately, neither one of us have the heart to tell him that he's gotta learn to walk first before he can try out for baseball.

He'll figure it out eventually.

Either that, or he'll surprise us both and actually make the team.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Rental Roller Coaster

Snapshots of our tenant search for Rental Property 1:

Potential Tenant 1
"We would be interested in looking at the rental however we must be upfront, we are not interested in providing banking history, references, (income verification, credit information) etc."
UM.... OK... NEXT!

Potential Tenant 2
Me: "Do you have any pets"
Them: "No... just a labrador retriever".

What?! ok... see... ma'am... here is what "no" means...
As it turns out, I was willing to compromise on the "no pets" rule, but things didn't work out with them for about a half dozen other reasons. Nonetheless, in the end I still had to ask myself, would I really want a tenant who has that much trouble with a simple yes/no question? I can see it already:
Me: Did you send me the rent for this month?
Them: Yes, I certainly did. I will put in in the mail next week.


Potential Tenant 3
With a verifiable six-figure salary, this tenant checked out perfectly and we were just an hour away from meeting to sign a lease... until I received this phone call: "I'm going to have to come by and sign the lease in the morning instead. My dog is at the vet with a really bad tooth ache [sidebar... what is up with the dog stories?] and the vet just called. He needs me to come by right away."

The next morning he doesn't call. So I call him by noon, and sense the panic in his voice right away. I proceed to get a dramatic story about how his top manager has quit on the spot and his business is suddenly falling apart. "I have to move back to North Carolina. I'm sorry but I've gotta back out of our deal."

Good grief. If his business is truly in tatters, then I feel for the guy... But I still cannot believe that I was a dog's tooth ache away from at least having a $1200 security deposit to hold onto. Geez Louise... a dog tooth ache? Come on.

Potential Tenant 4
"... we love it and we have $500 to put down today. We'll have the rest of the deposit and first month's rent by February 1." And so I run the application, credit, and profile check. Here's what follows:

Me: "turns out, based on our calculated ratios, you guys have insufficient income for the required rent amount" [... oh... and then there's the thing you alluded to in your application about building car engines on the front lawn. But of course legally I can't hold that against you.]

Them: "Insufficient income? That's not a problem. We'll be running (an unlicensed and therefore illegal) daycare out of the home once we move in. [Worried about being sued for accident liability? You should be. And nevermind section 14 of the lease that forbids running a business out of residence...] This will bring in another $1200 per month easily. I would've told you before but, you know, it's under the table. I don't claim it on my taxes or nothin."

Yet, they could not understand why I couldn't base the application acceptance on money that can't be claimed and "doesn't really exist." Um... NEXT!

Potential Tenant 5
OK... this happened like 2 hours ago, and has me on the verge of including an IQ test with the rental application. This past Saturday, this guy checked out okay and proceeded to sign a lease and pay a "hold fee" to secure the home until his move-in date. Seemed like a nice enough guy and I would've bet my paycheck that we had us a superb tenant for at least the next 2 or 3 years. So for 3 days I'm on cloud 9... ready to finally turn my attention to Rental Property 2 and put this circus to an end. Until this morning's conversation:

Note: the following must be read with thoughts of the most overly drawn out southern slowspeech accent you can possibly think of.

"This past weekend my daughter disrespected me and my wife, which is her step mom... and so they got into it. And then I got into it too. Then her mom came into town from (different city) to see what was going on... and we got into it too... then I ended up beating up on her mom (admittedly not his exact words... but hot dog... that is pretty doggone close to what he said) and so now my daughter is moving out again and I'll have to pay $600 in child support all over again. So now I have no more money and need to get out of the lease if you'll let me."

WHAT?! Talk about being blindsided. After dealing with 1000 crazy people over the past 3 weeks and thinking I finally found the sane one of the bunch, my heart just dropped while I tried to process what he was telling me. I wouldn't have seen this one coming in a million years. I promise you, I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. And this doesn't even scratch the surface of the countless number of bizarre people that never even make it past the first phone call or email. Man, YouveGottaBeKiddingMe.

Who signed me up for this twilight zone episode? How did I get such a good seat on this Bizarre Rental Roller Coaster? And when (oh when) do I get to get off?

Good grief.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

All That Glitters

In March 2007, I wrote an entry about my distaste for the 1/2 dozen house flipping shows on television and how misleading they can be. The tendency is to paint a picture that, simply put, ain't very realistic. At the end of the show, we are often left with a shot of Mr. and Mrs. WeCanFixIt and a graphic that says they profited about $80,000 (sales price - purchase price - repair costs). But dive a little deeper and you'll realize that the producers politely overlooked about 4 dozen "hidden details" of the transaction... details that could have easily brought their make-believe profit of $80,000 down to about 23 dollars and 68 cent, give or take a nickel. The moral of the story was that when the truth is told, house flipping is typically not as glamorous as many will have you believe.

With that said, when V and I first dove into the Pennsylvania flip property, I promised that I'd come back in the end to divulge the numbers. In doing so, the goal is to hopefully be informative, and provide the next guy with some information that may be helpful towards planning similar endeavors. I guess the secondary (inadvertent) goal is to provide more numbers for those nosey folks out there trying to keep score and fervently figure out how much money we do or don't have. [Nooo... I'm not talking about not you. I mean the guy sitting next to you]. So lets see what we have...
First, here are our pre-flip TLC television studio numbers:
Expected sales price: $176,500
Purchase price + expected repair costs ($118,000 + $20,000) =
Potential Profit: $176,500 - $138,000 = $37,800

Whoohoo... we're gonna be rich... right?

Well, not exactly. Sometimes the difference between potential profits and actuality can have a lot of zeros behind it. Lucky for us we were smarter than that, and with a little reading and experience we were able to anticipate about 95% of the expenses we actually incurred... Giving us a much more realistic picture of what to expect. In the end, we were dead on with our pre-purchase repair cost estimate and were smart enough to budget for the house to be on the market at least 6 months prior to sale (it actually took 8). However, the biggest thing we did not anticipate was the drop in sales price that would be required to sell. With mom potentially being the agent at the selling end of the deal, we also didn't know what expect in terms of realtor fees. But luckily we budgeted for that as well. As for the remaining untold expenses, watch and learn as $38,500 dwindles to enough money for two pairs of shoes and a can of soda. Here are the four major expense categories:

Estimate from Contractor $17,745
Additional Repairs $350
Additional Painting $575
Chimney sweep 95
Merry Maids $170
Misc Purchases $150
Home Depot (cleaning supplies) $64
Lowes (cleaning supplies) $50
Gratuities (nondeductible)$25
TOTAL: $19,223

Miscellaneous expenditures + Operating Costs
I guess some people call this carrying costs. Basically, it's all the stuff you have to pay to maintain the house until you sell it. These include...
1-year home owner's insurance policy $653
Website dedicated to propery $17
Telephone Calls $47 (I went over on my minutes)
Mortgage for 8 months (1106.15 x 8) $8849
Water bills (Apr - Dec) $639
Electric bills (Apr - Dec) $518
Paper for flyers $11
Mail to Realtor $4
Lawn Service in July $40
Interest paid on $20K borrowed for repairs $724

Selling costs deducted at closing table
Realtor Fees (5%) $8,395
1% Transfer fee (tax stamps) $1,679
Recording Fees $41
Title Co. Overnight Fees $20
Title Co. Deed Preparation $100
TOTAL: $10,235

Selling costs outside of closing
USPS (mail contract) $4
Notary Fees $50
Express Mail Charge $30
Resale Certification$125
Repair Lists $750
More Notarization $20
Mailing of Final Docs $16
TOTAL: $996

Combine those categories with a final selling price of $167,900 and here's what you have the following:




Sale Price$167,900
School Tax Credit+1,956$169,856
County Tax Credit +53$169,909
Homeowners Association Credit+82$169,991
Mortgage Payoff-112,332$57,660
Selling Costs at Closing-10,235$47,425
Title Co. Refund+41$47,466
Homeowner's Insurance Credit -593$48,058
Escrow refund+1,303$49,362
Mortgage overpayment - final PMI payment+60$49,421
Operating Expenses-11,502$37,919
Seller's costs outside of closing-996$36,924
Recoup 5% down and initial closing costs-7,112$10,589
Project Management Pay -500$10,089

Not $37,800 (duh)... but still more than we had 8 months ago. Either way you slice it, in the end we were none-the-richer: Two weeks later we turned around and dumped every penny of it (plus some) into the purchase of rental property #2, which is scheduled to close in about a month. Not the most provocative way to spend 10 grand, but at the very least it provided us with a little fuel as we stumble along in this marathon called retirement planning. Don't get me wrong, we are eternally thankful for the opportunity, and would do it again if we could. But we thought you should know that we're not exactly about to be on the cover of Forbes magazine discussing our killer profit and the joys of flipping properties.

All that glitters ain't gold.

But then again a little silver never hurt nobody either.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


After 3 days of house arrest, Justin was ready to break loose.

Collectively, the three of us have been a mess over the past 5 days or so. It started with Justin Alexander's mysterious wheezing on Tuesday. His breathing sounded bad to the point where a doctor's visit was warranted. I was hesitant since the only doctor available was one that I felt (from previous visits) was on a personal crusade to diagnose every baby in America with asthma... and as always V said it showed all over my face. So anyhow, by Tuesday night Justin had his own personal nebulizer (i.e., fancy breathing machine) and prescription for new meds. By Wednesday morning, the projectile vomiting marathon began as did Justin's 3-day house arrest with daddy. Quarantined for 72 hours. Oh what fun.

We still haven't a clue where the vomiting came from. At first I was sold on it being a side effect of the meds. But on the other hand, it was hard to ignore the fact that his daycare provider spent all of Tuesday "cleansing her system" (that's fancy talk for throwing up left and right). Her best guess was food poisoning, which makes some sense since no one else in her house got sick... but who knows. Either way, by Thursday Justin had dropped at least 1/2 pound (which by my calculations is the big-people equivalent of 5 pounds) and by Friday V and I suddenly didn't feel so well either. I fought off stomach issues all day with a bottle of pink stuff, while V wasn't so lucky. By friday evening, she joined Justin in the projectile marathon, lost 5 pounds of her own, and the circle of love and sharing was complete. Hey... we do everything as a family.

Somewhere in between all of that and in no particular order, Justin played hooky from daycare for 3 days straight, I fielded what seemed like 4000 calls for our vacancy at rental property 1, Justin's appetite came and went (and is finally close to normal again), his vomiting stopped, the wheezing improved, we changed his meds, my stomach settled while my throat got itchy (ugh), and V now seems back to normal. At the moment, I'm at the computer sipping Theraflu, Justin is asleep with minimal wheezing, and V is in the living room tutoring Geometry like nothing ever happened.

Never a dull moment.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


V is part of a "New Mommies" discussion board and recently CC'ed me on an email that she sent to the group. Long story short, the email was so well written and provocative that I felt compelled to publish it on the blog for permenence. But first, here is my editorial lead-in.

The truth is, it can be argued all day long as to which is the greater sacrifice for a mom: leaving gainful employment (that you actually enjoy) to be at home full-time with your family, or being home only part-time in order to fulfill additional callings that God has pressed upon your life. In V's case, those callings include having the passion and ability to uniquely educate and essentially raise other people's children as a high school math teacher. Fortunate for her, God has blessed her with a supportive enough life partner (hooray... that's me) to where she is able to do both (work and raise Justin) successfully. And with that said, here is her original email, plus or minus some name changes but otherwise unedited.


Elizabeth - I, too, am glad for you and your husband that things are working out in terms of making provisions while you stay at home raising DJ. Shamika, as you mentioned, once you are aligned with God's will for your life - God will provide (whether that's financially or otherwise).

I remember that going back to work was a very difficult decision for me and I went through a variety of emotions (both positive and negative) before I got total peace about our decision. Shamika probably remembers some of the discussions that we had during that confusing time for me. It actually wasn't until I went back to work that God confirmed in my heart that I was supposed to go back to work (at least for this season). Maybe He was trying to confirm it sooner, but I was too caught up in feelings of guilt to realize it.

In the midst of working through all of that, one of the biggest lessons that I learned is that not every mother is supposed to be a "stay-at-home" mom (and vice versa for that matter). If that were the case, you, Elizabeth, would not have any clients as a childcare provider because somebody has to work in order for you to have work - LOL! Seriously, though, it's easy to judge others based upon our own personal convictions, so I've learned to be mindful that God's will for my life may not be God's will for my Christian sister "next door." Within my circle of Christian friends and family, I have some that were/are stay-at-home moms and others who went back to work, and I really had to check myself to make sure I was not judging them either way.

This is why I can (now) easily rejoice with you Elizabeth and you Shamika (and potentially you, Persephone) about staying at home . . . because I am not on some kind of crusade to convince new moms to go back to work - LOL! That seems ridiculous, I know, but it happens (usually in reverse, though). Who knows if I will be working (outside of the home) or if I'll be a stay-at-home mom when the next child arrives, or even sooner for that matter?! Only God knows - and I'll be ready and willing either way.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

In a Nutshell

Between Stanley Johnson's takeover in December and the hustle & bustle of the holidays, a number of events have passed that I didn't get a chance to blog about. Some of them at least got captured in the photo archive, but here are all the others that I never got around to mentioning:

A Done Deal
The Pennsylvania flip property is finally a done deal. We closed sometime during the first week of December and wrapped up all of the loose ends by year's end. More details to come in a subsequent blog entry.

Step Two
We used the proceeds from the PA flip to start working towards our second rental property. How's that for not letting money collect dust in the savings account? I think we got to admire the inflated numbers in our savings account for about a week before we signed a contract to fork over every penny of it. More on the new rental as the details develop.

The front view of Rental Property 2

Landlord Aches and Pains
Our tenant from Rental Property 1 moved out without notice. If you're looking for cheap thrills and ways to make your heart drop, try rolling up to your own rental property to find all the furniture gone and the place cleared out without notice. It just goes to show that you can do all the background checks in the world and think you have a good feel for someones character (we were just about ready to give him the Tenant Of The Year Award)... but you still never know a person as much as you think you do. What a deadbeat he turned out to be. But hey, at least Ruben and I now have a good story to tell about the "Law and Order" shake-down routine we reenacted once the deadbeat tenant decided to resurface. Besides that, there's nothing more to do but to regroup and move on. And so the search is on for tenant #2.

In brighter news, at the age of (am I allowed to say?) ...V's mom earned her undergraduate degree from Southern Wesleyan University in December. Congratulations, Elena, on achieving a worthwhile milestone and exhibiting a fine example of determination and perseverance while working towards your goals.

Post-Graduation Family Portrait

Free Food
V is still pumping and breastfeeding Justin as she has done throughout his life. However, as of Christmas Eve she officially achieved her goal of keeping Justin exclusively breastmilk-fed for a minimum of six months. During the process, I learned through observation that for a working mom, keeping your baby formula-free is extremely hard work and takes way more dedication and sacrifice than I could have imagined. I'm extremely proud of you, V, and you should be proud of yourself given how important that was to you. Man, the time goes by so quickly... it's almost hard to remember the frustration, the tears, and how overwhelming and painstakingly difficult it was when we first started the whole process... If I had to sit and talk with one more lactation consultant....! But look at you now, a walking milk machine. Granted, we have no room for food for our freezer anymore, but I think Justin has enough milk to last him until high school graduation.

Full House
Also, my parents came to visit after Christmas and stayed until New Year's Day. We tried to put them out sooner but Justin actually enjoyed their company, so we let them stay. Then again, it could have been bribery given the absurd about of clothes and toys they came with. But then I guess that's what grandparents are for... (but don't even think about it... we are still putting you two on restrictions next year).

Old and Gray
When you get old enough, you start needing to actually do the math or use hints and clues to remember your age (funny... and sad... but true). Me, I use jersey numbers. And so with that said, a few days ago I gained "Patrick Ewing Status" and turned 33 years old. V sang happy birthday and Justin gleefully smashed his hands into my birthday brownies. Tonight we'll head to a local college b-ball game as our official birthday outing.

As an aside, my mom was amazed at how much gray hair I now have in my beard these days... to which I of course replied, "Wow... how old must you be if your son has gray hair already"... ha ha ha ha ha ha.

And that's when I learned that I wasn't too old to get a whoopin'.