Saturday, January 7, 2017

2016: Year in Review

Well, 2016 was quite a year and I did a very poor job of documenting it, especially after the first few months! Guess it's time for a quick recap of the things I forgot to write about:

Meezy and I went to Vegas for our 10th anniversary (actual anniversary date was in June, but this was when we were able to take the time off). We go there often, so it wasn't a new destination for us, but we always stay at the Palazzo and have a great time. This trip was slightly different by the fact that I won a couple nice jackpots on slot REALLY good ones. No point in keeping it secret since the IRS already knows about it. Ha!

Jude suffered from ear infections every other month, so we made the decision to get tubes in his ears. We were so glad we did! He hasn't had an ear infection since and has been much more consistent about sleeping through the night.

As President of our neighborhood HOA, the big chunk of the responsibility for the community 4th of July parade falls on me. It's a huge undertaking that entertains hundreds of people, but luckily everything went well and I was happy when it was over! One of Meezy's sisters and her family stayed with us over the holiday and Dutch had a great time playing with his cousins.

Later in the month, Meezy and I went on a really fun date night to a Rangers game. We got seats right behind home plate and thought it was pretty amazing! We had a little more visibility than we planned on (see below!), but the game ended in a walk-off win, which is the best kind!

Meezy and I took a quick trip to Austin to visit our friends/former neighbors who had just moved there. The husband is an executive chef, so of course we had to try out his restaurant. We invited another couple we're friends with, who also live in Austin, and made a night of it. Before we headed out of town the next day, we stopped by to see the wife, who wasn't able to make it to dinner the night before. I enjoyed this quick getaway and chance to catch up.

We took the boys to Amarillo to visit Meezy's family and were able to take some professional pictures while we were there. There wasn't much pre-planning or coordination done ahead of time since many of us were coming from out of town, but I think they turned out wonderfully!

Later that month, we went to a friend's wedding in Granbury. The setting was beautiful and we got to spend time with some of our favorite people!

We bought a house! Not for ourselves, but for my parents to live in. They had been telling me for months that they wanted to sell the home they'd lived in for the past 19 years and downsize and become renters so that they didn't have to keep up a house. Well, I wasn't about to let them rent from a stranger, so we became their landlords! We found a really cute house that was nearly move-in ready, less than a mile from my house. We bought it, replaced all the ductwork and reconfigured the HVAC setup, and then they moved in. It's so nice to have them within walking distance, not to mention adding a great house to our porfolio with the most reliable renters we'd ever be able to find!

Early in November we got to celebrate the nuptials of an old friend who we share a lot of mutual friends with. Love those weddings because it means a night of fun partying with our favorites!

Something quite disappointing happened a few days later in November, but this is all I want to say about that:

Over Thanksgiving break, we took a trip to Vegas with my parents. We brought the kids along, and my mom volunteered to be our in-hotel babysitter each night. It was so convenient! We found activities for the kids to do each day, but I wouldn't recommend bringing kids along if you want a stress-free trip! Thank goodness we had a fantastic suite with a connecting room to my parents' suite. It definitely made things a lot easier on us to have a separate dining room, living room, extra seating area, and extra half bath, and then my parents' room nearby so Jude could nap in there.

My sisters and mom and I attended a VIP movie screening of Three Days in August at Studio Movie Grill. I had met the Director (Johnathan Brownlee) before through unrelated circumstances, and one of my sisters knows him as well, so it was cool to see his work on the big screen. We thoroughly enjoyed the movie and got to participate in a Q&A afterward with the Director, the lead actress (Mollie Milligan), the woman the movie was based on, and one of the writers. That was followed by a casual reception where we were able to chat more in-depth with the lead actress and the Director. Such a fun night!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Marcum Fall Fair 2016

A couple months ago I contributed to a Kickstarter campaign for a local Belgian waffle food truck. First of all, waffles with goodness on top are some of the best things ever. Second, I liked the idea of helping a company get off the ground. Third, waffles remind me of my heritage and I remembered how good they tasted whenever we got them on our trips to Europe. Anyway, the big perk associated with my sponsorship level was the privilege of having the Press Waffle Co food truck come to a party and serve 50 of our friends. I had not planned to host any large parties when I made this contribution, but you can bet I started planning one right away!

The big talk around DFW in September/October each year is the State Fair of Texas. That seemed like a great idea for a theme, so I got to work planning carnival/fair games, food, and decorations. Luckily I already had a lot of good supplies at my house for games, and the food truck would be the main attraction, so the rest involved filling in the gaps. I found some great printable signage on this site and ordered other supplies from Amazon. Here are the results:

Basketball toss and football toss, with cornhole in the background (all games we owned already)

Can't go wrong with a bounce house (owned already)

Frisbee toss (Discs and target owned already)

Mini golf (kid putters and targets from Party City; "putting green" carpet from Home Depot)

Hook and Ring game (purchased from Amazon)

Ring Toss (rings from Amazon; empty bottles from Homebrew Headquarters)

Rollercoaster (borrowed from a friend)

Eating and viewing area (projector owned already; "black-out" white fabric for screen bought from Jo-Ann)

Pumpkin Tic Tac Toe (mini pumpkins purchased from Amazon, labeled with black marker; white duct tape used for board)

Various bins of prizes (stuffed animals and party favors mainly purchased from Party City)

Photo Op (straw bought from feed store; decorations from At Home; chalkboard from Hobby Lobby; chalk markers already owned; artwork by yours truly)

Guessing Booth (candy corn and lollipops in jars)

Concession stand included fruit, animal crackers, and pizza

Not gonna pretend I came up with this idea on my own, but I drew faces on the fruit cups and filled them to look like ghosts, jack o lanterns, and frankenstein

 Popcorn (containers purchased on Amazon; popcorn machine already owned)

The inspiration behind it all!

I know your mouth is watering.

They are truly as good as they look.

We had a steady stream of waffle lovers, but the guys at Press are efficient and made sure everyone was happy and didn't have to wait too long!

Because I love them so much, I had to include this adorable pic of my parents!

The majority of the attendees were clients of mine and the rest were friends and family (which actually includes a lot of clients too). I very quickly hit 50 on the guest list, and certainly didn't get to include everyone I would have liked to, but hopefully I can make this a yearly event and book the food truck for a larger party next time. Marcum Fall Fair 2016 was a success!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Big Savings on our Electricity Bills

I'm in a Facebook group for my neighborhood and earlier this year someone asked for recommendations on which electric company to use. I glanced at the responses because I knew our contract was coming up for renewal with TXU. One neighbor mentioned having success with Energy Ogre. I had never heard of that company before, but the respondent said they had saved significantly after switching. Normally I don't place a lot of stock in things I read online, but this was a neighbor I actually knew in real life, and a couple other neighbors piled on and mentioned similar savings. I was definitely intrigued. From what I gathered, you sign up and pay a subscription fee and Energy Ogre analyzes your electricity usage from the past year. They take that info and review all the plans available to you and figure out which one will be the most affordable, based on your historical usage. So, your electricity service will come from someone else, but Energy Ogre is responsible for making sure you're on the best plan possible. I was skeptical at first, because I thought I had done a good job of reviewing plans through sites like on my own in the past. Did I really need to pay someone $10/month to do that for me?

Our electricity bills go sky high in the summer. We have a 4,200 square foot house, an inefficient setup for our two zones, a less than stellar-ly insulated addition, a husband who is perpetually hot, two adults who work from home, and we have a pool. There is A LOT of usage going on in our house. I figured it was worth a shot to see what this company could do for us. When our contract with TXU ran out, I signed up with Energy Ogre. Based on our prior usage, they found a plan with Reliant that they believed would save us money. We made the switch and held our breaths.

I wanted to let a few months go by before seeing if it was worth it and before sharing the scoop with my friends. I don't like making recommendations unless I can personally attest to them first. Well, this is my official endorsement. The results have far exceeded our expectations. Here are our bills from last year versus this year for the summer months:

June 2015 - $343.99                            June 2016 - $179.18
July 2015 - $450.86                             July 2016 - $217.34
August 2015 - $484.92                        August 2016 - $216.30
September 2015 - $405.14                 September 2016 - $218.43
Total: $1,684.91                                  Total: $831.25

I'm in shock. I can't believe that our bills have been cut in half. It was absolutely worth the money to use this service. It's not going to work in an area where one electric company has a monopoly, or if you haven't lived in your current residence long enough. But, if you live in a deregulated city and have been in your place for at least a year, I totally recommend giving this website a shot if you think your bills are too high.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Dude, Suite!

Sometimes there are perks to being a Broker. I closed a large deal a couple months ago and the loan officer my client used offered me tickets in her suite at a Mavs game. I couldn't go to the one she proposed, so she offered to find me another game to attend. Well, the regular season quickly ended, and it was time for the playoffs. She was nice enough to offer me two tickets to one of those games, but of course it was when Meezy was out of town. Doh! I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity though, so I invited my sister along. It was as sweet as we expected it to be! Awesome spread of food and drinks, plenty of space to sit and relax, and great views.

For the past year or so, Meezy has been telling me that he wanted to rent a suite sometime at a Rangers, Stars, or Mavs game and invite our friends to join us. We never got around to it, but my visit to that suite at the Mavs playoff game brought it back to the forefront. It just so happened that my birthday is approaching, and the Stars are in the playoffs too. I got an email from the Stars that said they had suite rentals available during the playoffs. This seemed like the perfect time to pull the trigger! We figured it would be a cool way to celebrate my birthday, spend time with our friends, and cheer on the hometown team. I snagged a suite for last Friday's game and invited 10 friends. My sister and her son already had tickets to the game, so we just escorted them up to spend it in the suite with us instead of in their regular seats.

Pre-game lights show

Streamers to celebrate the win!

Some of the lovely ladies who were grateful for a kid-free get-together!

Some of my favorites, who happen to be huge fans!

It wasn't cheap by any means, and the food and beverage package added up quickly, but it was totally worth it. My sister-in-law had never been to a hockey game before, so that made it even cooler. You don't get a chance to do that very often and it became even more memorable than we expected it to be! After the game was over and the arena was clearing out, we decided to hang around the suite a little longer to let the traffic die down. After a while, my sister noticed that Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki was in the suite a few doors down. We all got star struck and thought it would be crazy to actually meet him. After pondering it for a while, we decided to just go in the hallway and walk down and see what happened. Well, he was in the hallway right at that time, so I asked him for a pic!  He was gracious enough to oblige and it literally left my friend Stari and I giddy with delight.

My nephew also snagged a pic with him:

You're pretty awesome, Dirk!  Thanks for making our night. Fellow Mavs player Chandler Parsons was also with him, but I was too slow to realize it and missed my chance to get a pic with him. Darn it! What a night, though. Maybe we'll get the chance to do something like that again in the years to come.