A marriage with finesse

Happy bride & groom – June 16,1979

Tomorrow marks 33years of marriage to my very best friend.  Since I’ve been featuring some of my friends each Friday, I thought this week would be a perfect time for you to meet the husband and get his take on our marriage.

Q: What’s the best thing about our marriage?

Special date – May 1978

A: Our deep friendship.  Since our first date we’ve been friends.  For over 34 years we’ve been able to sit and talk.  Sometimes one of us can say a word or a short phrase from a movie or sitcom and we both start laughing.  Only the two of us get the joke.  I love your laugh.  It always makes me either smile or begin laughing, too.

Dinner cruise – April 2010

Q: What’s the biggest misconception about our marriage?

A: That it’s always been “perfect” from an outsider’s perspective.  Those who’ve known us in the last half of our marriage aren’t aware of the bumps and collisions that have brought us to this very respectful and loving relationship. On the other hand, those who haven’t spent much time with us in the last half of our marriage are probably amazed we’ve hung in there this long.

Grand Canyon – March 2012

Q: What are your top three tips for a long and happy marriage?

1) Think of your spouse before yourself in every decision.  After all, every decision will ultimately affect your spouse.
 2) Listen.  We hear, but rarely listen as we should.  A lot of people appear to listen, but they’re really just planning their response.
3) It’s the small things and the unexpected gestures.  Be grateful for a smile, a kiss, a flirting wink.  Life is short and we never know when these little actions won’t always be available.  I appreciate each kiss before I walk out the door, the wave as I leave and the smile that greets me when I return.

Exploring the Oregon Caves – June 2011

 Awe – thanks, Sweetie! You’re the best and I’m looking forward to many more great years together!!


My marriage finesse level: 

Novice     Advanced beginner     Competent        Proficient        Expert      

What’s your marriage finesse level?

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Eating out on the cheap

We enjoy eating in restaurants, but don’t like the prices. Therefore, we have a few methods that take the sting out of the bill.

  1. We take advantage of restaurant specials and coupons. I know we’re not the only ones who do this, since most of the diners around us at Red Lobster the other night were ordering the Four Course Seafood Feast (for $14.99) and reminding the waiter about their coupon as they were paying the bill.
  2. We often take half of our entrée home. Restaurant meals usually come with HUGE portions. At Red Lobster we asked for boxes as our entrées arrived. Before taking our first bites, we placed half in the boxes for a second meal the next day.
  3. We split meals. At one local restaurant, their bacon cheeseburger and fries combo with salad is more than enough for the two of us. If we’re extra hungry, we’ll split a chocolate milkshake, as well.
  4. We order off the appetizer menu. Our local Mexican restaurant has an appetizer platter for about $11. It contains all of our favorites, but no rice or beans. Perfect! There’s more than enough food for both of us, and we usually take some home.
  5. We order one entrée and one appetizer, salad, or soup. I’m not a big eater so many times just a little something off the side menu is fine for me. The husband usually doesn’t mind if I steal a few bites off his plate.

For special occasions, we throw caution to the wind and go someplace crazy expensive like Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and we deserve it. However, for the times we dine out for convenience our money saving methods keep the bill reasonable and our digestive systems happy.

Can’t sleep without the husband

“I am WOMAN, hear me roar!” Remember that song? Well, last night I would have rather been singing, “I am woman, hear me snore!” I have a terrible time falling asleep and staying asleep when the husband is not next to me. I thought I was going to keel over from exhaustion when he worked the graveyard shift for 18 long months.

It’s rare that we aren’t sleeping in the same bed, but occasionally his work requires him to be away from home, as was the case last night. I rarely travel anywhere without him, but I have visited friends out of state alone, and did spend one night at work while waiting for a baby elephant to be born*.

A good night’s rest is essential for good health, even more so for me due to having chronic migraines. I try to keep a regular sleep schedule as variations can trigger a headache. The last time I looked at the clock last night it was after midnight, so I kept thinking, “If I don’t fall asleep I’m going to have a migraine in the morning.” Unfortunately, that thought process is not soothing or helpful.

Since I have such a difficult time sleeping without the husband, I’ve been surprised by recent reports indicating that couples sleep better alone and should consider separate beds or even separate bedrooms. Hmmm, even when the husband snored (before having his deviated septum fixed), I slept better with him than without. His presence is not only comforting, but necessary for me to feel rested.

So, I need some extra **finesse, and a LOT of coffee to get me though today. I anticipate a very early bedtime tonight!


*I was a media/public relations specialist with the Oregon Zoo

**finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Understanding expectations

The husband is not a great organizer when he has a limited budget. He just seems to lack the vision to see imaginative ways to create the desired effect without greatly affecting our financial bottom line. This is true regardless of whether he’s organizing his garage, or planning a celebration. It’s just not his forte.

It took me a while to realize he was not being thoughtless when he’d plan something lame and he was not being imprudent when he spent an extreme amount of money trying to make an occasion extra special. He was simply trying his best. Unfortunately, I didn’t hide my feelings very well, which caused him to have greater anxiety when planning the next occasion.

As our 30th anniversary approached, I decided enough of the unrealistic expectations. I was secure in his love for me and didn’t need him to turn himself inside out trying to do something spectacular. After all, this was his anniversary, too! I informed him that I was going to do all the planning and organizing, and to make it special for me, I was keeping our destination a secret. He just needed to drive our MDX and follow the instructions of the nice GPS lady. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him that relieved.

As we got closer to our destination, he correctly guessed we were staying in Seattle. As I’d planned, the hotel allowed us to check in early so we could make our brunch reservation at the Space Needle. We were fortunate to have great weather, so the view was amazing. Another highlight was a carriage ride through the park. We both had such a great time that I decided I should make all the plans and keep them secret every year. He didn’t object.

After our 32nd anniversary trip, the husband said, “I’d like to try organizing the trip next year.” He explained that he had a better understanding of my expectations, and wanted to surprise me for a change. I was a little shocked and a little fearful. However, as our anniversary approaches, it’s fun to watch him be excited about doing something special for me, and that’s the best anniversary gift of all.

Lottery dreaming

The husband and I don’t regularly play the lottery, but when the winnings reach into the hundreds of millions we sometimes go and invest in one ticket and begin dreaming. How would our lives change if we suddenly became millionaires?

First of all, we believe in giving to charity and do so consistently. Ten percent of our winnings would be divided among our favorite charities. Secondly, we’d put all those “to do” projects around the house on the fast track, and we’d probably resurrect those projects we’d like to do (a shop for the husband), but have been buried on the “not realistic in the foreseeable future” list.  Then we’d want to help our son and daughter-in-law rid themselves of college loans.

Okay, what’s next? It would probably be smart to set up some investments that would cover our living expenses for the next 40 years, (yes, I’m optimistic we’re both going to live a long life) and we’ve always wanted to set up a charity. Of course we’d want to be generous with family and take some trips, maybe upgrade to a newer MDX (mine is a 2007, but has low miles, so it’s not a priority). However, even after doing that, we could still have an enormous amount of money unallocated.

I don’t think we can even imagine how much a million dollars is, let alone hundreds of millions. How in the world do people who win big find themselves broke a few years later?

It’s highly doubtful we will ever have the personal opportunity to discover what it’s like to manage a large amount of winnings. However, we’d like to think that while our lives would change – that’s inevitable – fundamentally, we would not. Deep down we’re committed to enjoying the simple things in life that can’t be purchased, like the contentment of just spending time together. I’d say we’re already winners!

Real Estate: Is it time to buy or sell?

This week’s Friday Friend Feature is an interview with real estate broker and expert, Leslie Newberry. I’ve known Leslie since first grade – which is a long time – and in my opinion, she clearly exemplifies the meaning of *finesse.

Q: I’ve read about a decline of inventory in the housing market. What might mean for potential buyers and sellers?

A: In April, the Portland Metro area inventory was the lowest it has been since May, 2007 (see http://bit.ly/RMLS0412 and http://bit.ly/RMLS1209).  Those numbers vary from area to area and neighborhood to neighborhood, but overall it is a great sign that the market is healing.  Those of us in the real estate industry are seeing multiple offer scenarios in many cases. Bank-owned and short-sale inventory seems to be falling in certain areas too, but there is that ever-looming “shadow inventory” of foreclosures that the banks are sitting on.  We don’t know the exact numbers and we don’t know when they may hit the market.  Then there are sellers who haven’t had to sell holding off listing their homes because they don’t want to sell at or near the bottom of the market.  So those factors have created the lower inventory.  And the fact that interest rates are still awesome has created a bit of frenzy for motivated buyers understanding that the bottom may finally have arrived.  Or even if it hasn’t, it’s pretty close.  
It is good when buyers understand how inventory supply affects demand.  Competition can reduce their chances of getting a good home at a rock-bottom price when other buyers are also writing offers.  And it is good when buyers understand how mortgage interest rates affect their purchasing ability.  Based on credit, income and down payment, a buyer qualifies for a certain amount of payment, which is a percentage of their income and overall “debt ratio.”  If the rates are high, more of their monthly payment is allocated to interest than to principal.  If a buyer qualifies for a $1,000 monthly payment (principal and interest only), at 4% that equates to a $210,000 loan.  At 5%, it’s $186K. At 6%, it’s $167K and at 7%, it’s $150K.  So it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand there will be a great deal of difference between a home priced at $210K v. one at $150K.  (BTW, my husband and I bought in the mid-1980’s at 10.5%!)

Q: What’s the biggest mistake sellers make?

A: The typical mistake most sellers make is thinking that their home is “the exception” and it’s worth more than the other homes in their area and neighborhood.  I guess it’s possible but not so likely.  It is important for sellers to understand that the real estate market is now pretty transparent.  Price reductions, sale fails, permit history, sale history, even mortgage liens (showing last refinances, secondary loans), can be easily accessed online.  It is also important for sellers to understand that if everything is being done that can be (great internet exposure–hits measured, great photos, etc.), and other homes are moving as inventory declines and sales increase, they are simply overpriced.  The ultimate question that they need to ask themselves is:  Do we want to stay or do we want to move?  If they want to move, then it’s time to reduce the price. The market has spoken and they need to listen.

Q: What are your top three tips for selling your home?

A:1) When I sit down with sellers to talk about putting their home on the market, I talk about what I do as a listing agent, the analysis to price right, where the information goes online–that a great listing can’t hide, taking the best photos possible (I have been a photography nut since high school), etc.  But then I also explain to them what their responsibilities are.  And the first thing I suggest is to put on the “hat of a buyer” and walk around their house.  Do they see clutter, too much furniture in rooms, grass that needs cut outside?  Layout and flow is vastly important and even rearranging furniture or removing some can help a small house feel larger.  The focus on selling a home is making it the draw for the buyer, not the stuff in it.
2) Being clean is big too!  Empty sinks and counters, make beds and hang clothes up, keep toilet seats down (and flushed please!), etc. 
3) Make the entry at the porch pristine!  Buyers have to loiter there while their agent gets the key.  Wash the front door, replace the rusty lock/knob, shop vac the cobwebs out of the eaves, and plant some flowers if it is spring!  Curb appeal is important.  And well, location of course.

About Leslie: As a native Oregonian, I have lived in and around the Portland area my whole life.  I’ve been in the real estate industry for about 15 years, 13 as an agent/broker and two as an administrative assistant to an appraiser.  I got into real estate because I wanted challenge (be careful what you wish for!)and because I could roll my many interests into it.  I love to write.  I love math and analytics. I love technology.  I love photography.  I love architecture (my daughter is studying it at PSU).  And I love working with people.  I’m a mom and the wife of a retired Portland cop.  I love to play tennis, bicycle, hike, play Scrabble, garden, travel, and read.  I’m a “problem solver,” who thought math was fun all the way up through Calculus.  So whether it’s finding the right buyer for the unusual property or finding the right property for perhaps an unusual buyer, I’m ready for the challenge.  I’ve lived in the city and in the country, so I understand the differences between buying a condo in The Pearl and finding a couple of acres out of town.  And I know how to use a chainsaw and shoot a rifle, so I’m not easily daunted! 

Perhaps most important is, I’m a communicator but I also listen to my clients.  So enough about me; there is more at my website (www.johnlscott.com/leslien) if you’re interested.  Text or call me at 503-349-2727, e-mail me at leslienewberry@comcast.net and let me know who you are and what I can do for you! 

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Making the most of your miles

I love vacations! We get away to our favorite vacation spot, which is conveniently located about a two and half hour drive from home, three times a year. It’s nice to pack everything we might need for a week in the back of our Acura MDX and head to a place so familiar; it feels like a second home. However, once in a while we just want to mix things up a bit and fly away.

Like most people, we have limited discretionary income, so a vacation that involves an airline flight is not a yearly experience. However, with a little planning and a pinch of *finesse, we’ve managed to fly a family of four to Arizona for spring break, fly to family milestone events, and fly to visit family and friends without ever paying full fare. How exactly do we do that you ask? Frequent flier miles!

We’ve been members of the Alaska Airlines mileage plan since 1999. We don’t fly often, but our credit card and debit card purchases add miles at a pretty good rate. At first glance, we didn’t understand the program fully, but with a little research we learned how to make it work for us. Because our credit and debit cards are tied to the program, we rarely use cash or write a check for anything. If we’re going to spend money anyway, we might as well get a bonus!

We also learned the best way to redeem miles for a flight was not to purchase the full price of the ticket with miles. If you do that, you don’t get credit for the miles flown on that trip. We use a combination of miles and cash to receive a reduced fare. With Alaska Airlines, that doesn’t always mean you’re flying at half price, but it’s still a good value.

Occasionally it makes sense to use miles for the full fare, so I figure my flights based on two different scenarios. I check the price and miles needed for a round trip flight and compare it against two one way flights using all miles for the departure flight and a combination of cash and miles for the return flight. The one way flight scenario made more sense on my last flight. While I didn’t receive credit for the miles flown using the free ticket (well, almost free – I had to pay a $5 tax), it made more sense from a scheduling and financial standpoint. The round trip ticket was pretty expensive to depart and arrive at decent times without long layovers. Both scenarios required 20,000 miles so it made more sense to forgo the mileage credit on one leg of the trip in favor of a cheaper overall price.

I’ve flown three times this year already (a real rarity!) and have two more flights scheduled, so I’m beginning to feel like an expert. I’m also beginning to feel like that young man in local television commercials who declares, “We don’t pay full price for anything!” By the way, neither should you.

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Tennis elbow? But I don’t even play tennis!

I’m not an athlete. Outside of running sprints on field day in grade school, I’ve never really been an athlete (not to brag, but I did win quite a few blue ribbons!). I was a cheerleader, so I was active, but participating in competitive sports wasn’t and isn’t of interest to me. However, wanting to be healthy, I’ve been exercising on a fairly regular basis for several years. Nothing too strenuous, mostly fast-paced walking on the treadmill ramped up to a pretty good incline.

I felt my arms could use a little better workout than just swinging them back and forth while I walked, so I added some 2.5-pound weights while I was warming up. About three months ago, I started experiencing a little pain in my left elbow during these brief exercises. I’m thinking, “For goodness sake, it’s just a little weight. Buck up!”

I should have listened to the pain, but a little story I’d heard influenced me otherwise. According to the story, an older lady liked to sit in her comfy chair doing knitting, or some such activity. She had a side table nearby for her glasses, a cup of tea and a book. One day she reached for her glasses and felt a pain, so the next time she had family visit she had them move her side table closer to her chair. That was fine for a while, but before too long she reached for something on the side table again and felt a pain. As you can guess, her family moved the side table closer to her chair until the chair and table were nudged up against one another. Eventually, the older lady’s world was reduced to that chair and side table.

I’ve resolved not to be that lady. I want to be a woman of *finesse, so I ignored the pain and kept using the weights. When the pain persisted after exercising, I decided to make a doctor’s appointment. My symptoms provided the diagnosis of lateral epicondylitis, more commonly known as tennis elbow.

According to WebMD, tennis elbow affects 1 to 3 percent of the population overall and less than 5 percent of all tennis elbow diagnoses are related to actually playing tennis. It most often affects people between the ages of 30 and 50 (men more than women), although people of any age can be affected. It also affects athletes other than tennis players and people who participate in leisure or work activities that require repetitive arm, elbow, and wrist movement.

Two weeks after the diagnosis I’m still applying cold packs, heat packs, massaging the area, taking ibuprofen, and generally resting my arm. Next up, some physical therapy. From now on I’ll be listening to my body when it’s trying to tell me something.

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)


Just say no to baggage fees

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m unorganized by nature. Knowing this, I really work at being organized. I am, however, very frugal by nature, so it has become very easy to be extremely organized when packing for a trip involving airline travel. I do NOT want to pay the baggage fees, if at all possible.

A few weeks back I wrote about my struggle using a duffle bag as a carryon, and the need to invest in a good piece of luggage (www.femme-de-finesse.com/bags_got_to_go/). The carryon I purchased is great and holds a LOT! My *finesse travel rule is to pack everything I NEED first, then add the other items in order of importance. I was able to easily pack for my four day trip to Alaska with room to spare. I was even able to pack my hair dryer and bring home souvenirs!

A word of caution regarding the size of carryon luggage. During a layover, I watched one airline repeatedly tell passenger after passenger that their carryon didn’t fit their specifications. Before investing in a carryon, check the specifications of the airline you use most frequently. And understand that while your luggage may meet those specifications, those measurements may not include the outside pockets bulging, or the zippered expansions.

Most airlines allow one carryon plus a personal item such as a purse or computer case. I purchased a computer case that can double as a purse at Ross for about $20 (OK, it’s a large purse, but I’ve seen ladies carry larger). I purchased this particular one because of a good-sized zippered pocket on the outside, which could hold my boarding pass and identification. It also has several slots inside to hold my credit cards and a zippered pocket to hold travel receipts, lip balm, comb, etc. The padded side holds my laptop easily and safely, while the other side is larger enough to hold the plastic bag of liquids I need to show TSA agents, as well as any snacks I might want to take on the flight.

On my trip home, I arrived at the airport one hour before boarding. Not recommended, but Fairbanks is a pretty small airport, so I figured I would make my flight easily. As I approached the TSA agent in the security area, they were calling for those on my flight to move forward in line so they could make the flight. Maybe I cut it a little too close, but because I was organized, I was able to breeze through security and sit for a few moments before boarding. Now that’s what I call *finesse!

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Maintaining relationships

I spent three days last week in Delta Junction, Alaska. There’s not a good reason to spend three days in Delta Junction as one can see and do everything there is to see and do in a single day – two at most. However, my reason for visiting wasn’t about the place, but rather my relationship with friends who moved there more than two years ago.

When friends move, we always promise we’ll keep in touch. Before the internet we promised to write letters and call occasionally, but we felt we were doing well to send a yearly Christmas card. Now we promise to email and Skype regularly. However, life has a way of becoming so full of all the “need to dos” that we push off the “should dos.”

Me and the girls at the Delta Junction Visitor's Center. Mosquitos are apparently a BIG issue in Delta Junction!

When my friends moved, I promised to email and Skype – even visit, but the emails became fewer and it became difficult to schedule time to Skype. I found that when we did find the time to connect, their girls (ages 3 and 6 when they moved) had a hard time remembering who we were. This bothered me since we had spent a great deal of time with this family, and were even one of the first people at the hospital when the youngest was born.

 The truth was that I had neglected to properly maintain this important relationship. My husband wisely told me that I needed to visit and was going to visit, even if he had to put me on the plane himself. Knowing he was right, I made my plane reservations.

Seeing my friends face-to-face after two years felt as if no time had passed, but seeing how much their girls had grown made me realize how much I’d missed. Fortunately the girls are very outgoing and helped me catch up on their lives. They were only too eager to show me what they’d learned in baton class, and the oldest showed off her musical abilities on the piano (the song she loved to play is still going through my head!). The bonus was seeing all the amazing beauty and wildlife in their part of the world. I saw a moose grazing by the side of the road on my way from the airport, clear (and I’m sure very cold!) lakes and seemingly endless snow-covered mountains.  

It takes time (and a pinch of *finesse!) to maintain relationships, but it’s well worth the effort. I can assure you I will schedule more time to Skype with my friends, even if it’s just 15 minutes. Is there someone with whom you should reconnect? There’s no time like the present!

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)