Monday, May 22, 2017

REVIEW: Thin Stix 6pk of Neon Colors by The Pencil Grip, Inc.

We’ve had so much fun with all types of Kwik Stix and Thin Stix in the past that Haylee was very much looking forward to reviewing the Thin Stix 6pk of Neon Colors by The Pencil Grip, Inc.

 

WHAT IS IT?:

Thin Stix Neons 6pk picture

Thin Stix are a slimmer version of Kwik Stix solid tempera paint sticks from The Pencil Grip, Inc. These versatile paint sticks glide on smoothly without any water and dry within 90 seconds!  As you paint, you simply twist up more stick, just as you would with a tube of lipstick.

These are great for all ages and abilities.  If you can draw or color with crayons, then you can also do it with Thin Stix!

Thin Stix work great on lots of surfaces such as poster board, paper, wood, cardboard, and canvas.  I’ve even seen them used on rocks for a rock garden!

The bright, vibrant colors are fun to use and give great results every time.  This thinner version allows you to paint more details with greater control than the original Kwik Stix product.  Thin Stix also come in a variety of colors, including classics, neons, and metalix.

 

OUR EXPERIENCE:

My 12-year old daughter, Haylee, just loves to draw with Thin Stix!  She’s used all of the varietiesThin Stix Neons 6pk picture of Kwik Stix in the past, and we got a chance to review the Thin Stix 12pk back in January.  Haylee really likes the finer detail that she can achieve with the Thin Stix, and she likes to use both the original Kwik Stix and the Thin Stix in combination with each other, as well, since the Kwik Stix are great for filling in large areas quickly, while the Thin Stix are great for drawing and outlining.

She especially likes this awesome pack of neon colors!  They are so bright and colorful, and the colors really pop on the page!  They are great for so many applications, from decorating wooden picture frames to creating artwork for her bedroom walls.

What I love most is that they make absolutely no mess!  There are no dirty cups of water, paint brushes, wet paper towels, or any mess at all to have to clean up afterwards!  That’s the biggest bonus of all.  As much as Haylee loves to paint, I find myself generally dreading the aftermath, but not so with Thin Stix!  She can paint to her heart’s desire. 

Thin Stix are so easy to use that Haylee often sits and paints a stack of pictures at once whenever she gets them out.  And with all the color packs available, she can make lots of vivid creations!

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Here’s a basic picture that anyone could draw.

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This illustrates how the neon colors really “pop” with a black contrasting outline, but it also demonstrates how you can color in both large and small areas with the versatile Thin Stix.

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This shows more of those wonderful, bright, feminine colors in the neon set.  They are perfect for a sunshine-y, happy picture!

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Some butterflies!

I really wish my photographs could better depict how bright these neon shades really are.  The photos don’t do the colors justice!  They are about ten times brighter than they appear in these pictures. 

I’ve had some of my Kwik Stix products for a year and a half now, and as much as Haylee has used them, she has not yet run out of a single color!  They really do last a long time, and we haven’t experienced any of them drying out, either.  They store nicely in a plastic tray inside their original box, and they are so simple to use and put away again.  I highly recommend them for artists of all ages, and they make great gifts, too!

Take a look at what other Crew members had to say about the Thin Stix 6pk of Classic Colors by clicking the banner below.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

And the Deal Is On!!!

After an agonizing week of waiting for the sellers to bring in a structural engineer to evaluate the foundation and make a repair recommendation, followed by some back and forth on the details of the repair addendum to the contract, we finally have an agreement!

Thursday was a particularly stomach-churning, stressful day as we watched the final hours of our option period tick by.  Our realtor assured us at the end of the day that if we couldn’t agree on the terms of the repair addendum, that would give us another “out” if we decided not to proceed, so the option period became less important at that point. By Friday morning, we had a sound agreement.

Basically, the sellers agreed to get the pool and spa lights working, get the pool and spa propane heater working, fix the leak at the main motor, and reconnect the whole system to the ground wire.  They also agreed to do the foundation repairs recommended by the structural engineer and to complete the work before closing.  We knew that would be a condition issued by the VA appraiser once he became aware of the foundation problems, so the sellers worked it out with the foundation repair contractor to complete the work now but wait for payment until the closing.  The engineer settled on 21 piers being required and said that the house cannot be leveled.  The sellers also agreed to replace the glass in the library window that was cracked, as that would also be a VA requirement.

I got with my lender and turned in all of the signed disclosures, and he went ahead and ordered the VA appraisal.  My realtor expects to hear from the appraiser on Monday to set up an appointment for that. 

So there are still a few potential roadblocks to overcome.  One, it’s possible the appraiser won’t value the house for the selling price.  That would be an issue.  We can’t come up with the difference, so the sellers would have to be willing to drop the contract price if that were the case.  Two, the foundation work and post-inspection (either by the engineer or the appraiser, depending on what the appraiser requires) could delay the closing.  That would create a domino effect, as the sellers need to lease the house for a couple of weeks after closing in order to give notice to the sellers of the house they’re buying, so it would set off a chain reaction of delays for everybody involved, including us in Virginia as we make plans to move out so we can prepare this house for renting.  Three, the foundation repairs themselves involved using hydraulic jacks in the concrete pilings to hoist the house up to a reasonably level setting, and this can cause cosmetic damage inside the house to occur, such as cracked walls, doorways and windows that no longer align to close, broken tile flooring, etc.  If we discovered any new damage on the final walk-through, I’d definitely want those things repaired since the house would no longer be in the same condition that it was when we agreed to purchase it for that price.  That could again be a point of contention between us and the sellers.  So I’m still a bit on pins and needles about the deal going through and going through on time.  My lender was already asking us to consider moving the closing date out to the 15th of June from the 5th to compensate for the delay in ironing out the contract addendum and the staffing delays involved in the upcoming holiday weekend, but all the parties involved really need things to proceed as planned.  I’ve supplied as much documentation as I thought they’d need before they’ve even asked for it in order to speed up the process as much as possible.  Now we are just in the waiting game.

Steve drove past the house today after church and checked out the neighborhood and the surrounding shopping options.  He got to meet the preacher and his wife at the church we’ll be attending (they’d been traveling the last two weeks), and it turns out that they homeschool and have a 14 year old daughter.  She’s apparently a thrifty mom like myself, so Steve figured we’d probably get along quite well!  Steve said when he drove past the house, he just had a sensation of wanting them to hurry up and move out so we can move in!  LOL

I did a lot of research on the “seller’s market” climate of the DFW area this week.  Turns out many families spend a year or more trying to buy a house there, because there is much higher demand than there are homes available on the market.  There was a news story where one woman said she’d made 13 offers, many above asking price, over the course of a year and still hadn’t gotten one accepted.  She said at every open house, she saw the same 20 families who were competing with her for every house.  I can’t even imagine going through this process for that long with repeated disappointments.  What an ordeal!  So I guess that explains why our realtor was so shocked that the sellers took our offer right away, given that this was our first offer, it was at asking price, and a good value for the area.  I told Steve that if this deal falls through, I don’t think I’ll look for a house to buy at all and will just rent instead, particularly since we don’t plan to call Texas home for more than 10-15 years anyway.

So I guess to sum it up, we’re 2 hurdles down with 3 more to go.

I’m starting to get excited. Smile

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Follow-Up Inspections

On Wednesday afternoon, both the foundation specialist and the pool company went out to conduct more detailed inspections of the foundation and pool problems.  Our realtor met them both there.

The news was devastating!  The foundation guy said the foundation has shifted 4 inches from the front to the back of the house!  So if you set a ball down on the floor, it would just keep rolling!  Ugh.  They allow a variance of 1 inch around there and consider that normal, so 4 inches indicates a significant problem.  He said they would need to insert 24 piers/pilings to support the foundation along the whole front of the house, one on the interior, and two under the concrete of the pool decking, which would require them to break up the concrete of the pool and the interior floor and then repair that, too.  Then they insert a hydraulic jack to hoist the foundation and level the house.  The estimated cost was $11,000!!!

Oh, my gosh, am I ever glad I hired a home inspector! 

And the pool guy cited tons of problems with the pool and equipment.  He said the pool lights aren’t working, the pool heater isn’t working (and what good is a spa without a heater?!?), there was a leak around the main motor, the plumbing was bizarre, there are some loose and uneven bricks around the perimeter, it’s not grounded so it could cause electrocution in the pool, the covers on the returns aren’t safe (could suck someone’s hair in and cause them to drown), and the pool’s surface is at its end of life and will need to be resurfaced soon (at a cost of  $4,000).  The list goes on!

Obviously, we don’t want to buy a money pit, because we will have drained our entire savings by the time we pay out the cash to close and the cost of moving our stuff.  And I couldn’t imagine the sellers were prepared for this news, either.  So needless to say, I was more than a little bit stressed at the idea that this whole deal could totally fall through.

There were so many things wrong with this house that we decided to only ask for the major things to be repaired…things that would be deal breakers if they weren’t resolved by the sellers.  We expected there to be a bunch of smaller issues anyway, being as this house is 41 years old already.  So we asked our realtor to propose that the sellers will repair the foundation problems, repair the mechanical issues with the pool equipment, and replace the cracked library window (which wouldn’t pass the VA inspection).

I really had trouble sleeping that night.  I kept waking up.  In fact, I lost 2.5 pounds in 2 days from the stress!  But the next morning, our realtor called me firs thing with the seller’s response:  they will replace the broken window, repair the mechanical problems with the pool equipment, and on the foundation, they asked us to extend our active option period until Thursday of next week for $1 so that they would have time to hire a structural engineer to assess what needs to be done to the foundation at their expense.  So on Friday morning, the realtor sent us an addendum to the contract to extend the option period.  I got the impression that the sellers intend to do whatever the engineer recommends, so at this point, it seems we still have a potential deal here.

However, I’m holding off my lender until we have a signed contract addendum detailing the repairs they agree to make.  I have a bunch of signed paperwork I was supposed to get to my lender several days ago, but I’m delaying until our option period expires next week.  One of the forms is an intent to proceed with the loan for this property.  Once I turn that over, the lender will start ordering an appraisal and the VA inspection, and I will begin to incur costs from the lender that I’d be responsible to pay whether the deal went through or not.  So we’re in a bit of a holding pattern right now.  I realize that the delay will potentially/likely delay the closing date, but at this point, it just can’t be helped.

So if you think of us this week, please keep us in your prayers!  I really hope that everything works out, but in all things may His will be done!  I know He has a plan for us, and I anxiously anticipate where it will lead us!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Home Inspection…UGH!

So, bringing us down from our excitement like a lead brick, we got the home inspection report on the Fort Worth house on Monday afternoon. 

Ugh!

There were tons of items on the list, and it seemed like the inspector checked the “deficient” box in almost every section.  I felt sick in the pit of my stomach as I saw all the included photos of cracks in the bricks around the windows, indicating some concerning issues with the foundation.  We knew there had been some settling and that one section of the house had some sloping in the floor, but we hadn’t noticed the cracks on the outside of the house.  This is not good!

I had noticed when we were looking at houses in Fort Worth that so many of them either had current foundation issues or had just had repairs, so I asked the realtor about this.  He said it’s so common there because the soil is clay, and with periods of drought, it causes the foundation to shift over and over again if people don’t actually water their foundations.  So that’s a thing…to water your foundation.  He said they even make a sprinkler system just for watering your foundation nowadays.  Wow!  I had no idea.  We definitely don’t have that problem in Virginia Beach, where we have flooding all the time!  The realtor told us we should get a foundation specialist to further assess just how significant the foundation issues really are.  So we set that up for today at 3:30 PM CT.  After paying almost $600 for the home inspection that included a pool inspection and a termite inspection, I was glad to hear that the foundation specialist would give a free evaluation.

And then there was the pool.  ARGH!  I don’t know the first thing about pools or what to expect from them.  Heck, I can’t even swim for that matter!  The inspector took photos showing some thin cracks in the decking and said there is a visible leak at the main motor.  The pools lights weren’t working, and a breaker keeps tripping and can’t be reset, so we figured it’s related to the pool lights.  That doesn’t sound good, either. I talked to the realtor about it…he has a pool himself.  He said the pool might need some resurfacing, and then with the leak and the breaker issue, he said we should definitely have a pool company look at the issues more closely and give an estimate for repairs.  So I called the guy the realtor uses for his pool, and I set up an appointment for yesterday at the same time the foundation guy will be there so that the realtor can let them both in at once.  That cost another $150.

So yesterday was the big day.  I absolutely won’t budge on requiring the seller to resolve all foundation and pool issues as a condition in the contract, and I also want them to replace the cracked window in the library that the inspector pointed out.  There was plenty of other stuff…a couple of damaged roof tiles and some visible nail heads there (but the roof is only 1 year old), a missing closet door, a door that doesn’t catch properly, a door that needs to be fire-rated coming from the garage, some breakers that aren’t properly labeled in the electrical panel, etc.  My husband is a master electrician by trade, so we weren’t as concerned about those other more minor things.  It is an older home, after all (1976), much like our current home (1974), so we’re familiar with the things that just occur over decades of use.  I’m really anxious to get the foundation and pool reports and estimates for repairs so we can have the realtor propose them to the sellers as part of the deal.  We paid for an “active option” in the contract, so we have until Friday of this week to back out for any reason.  We’d be out about $1,000 that we’ve already put into having this home evaluated, so it’s not optimal, but I also don’t want to buy a money pit.

I have plenty of repairs that I have to make to my own house when we leave so that it can be rented.  I certainly don’t need to be forking out money on both houses at the same time.  I also got the disclosures from the lender, and it looks like we’re going to have to come up with over $6,000 more in cash to close, in addition to the $2,800 in earnest money that we already paid.  That’s a lot of cash.  And with the impending cost of the move itself, which could range from $5K-$10K based on weight and distance, that leaves us pretty much flat broke.  That’s really not how I wanted to be at the end of this journey.

Ugh.  If you think of it, please say some prayers for us today. We really need everything with buying this house to work out.  If we have to start all over again, then we’re going to have to live apart even longer, and we have to start paying for Steve’s temporary housing on July 1st if we’re not already moved into a house by then.

I will follow up on the weekend with the results of the inspections and whether or not we were able to negotiate the repairs with the seller.  If not, then this contract is dead on Friday.  Back to square one. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Welcome to Our New Fort Worth Home!!!

The reason I’m so late posting an update this week is because I was busy trying to buy a house!  My sweet husband was so sick with a stomach bug this whole first week at his new job, but he persevered and went to see any house I’d placed on our saved list at Realtor.com all of Sunday afternoon and every night after work.  He was such a great sport about it, and I know he was feeling really bad.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that none of the houses he’d seen really “did it” for me.  I mean, I just kept thinking “yep, that’s a house!”  But nothing really jumped out at me as being “the one” or even anything I felt excited about calling home, and I really didn’t want to settle for something that wasn’t going to make this cross-country move worth the effort and expense.

Then Wednesday happened.  I was up early, and instead of just following leads that came to my inbox from Realtor.com and Trulia.com, I decided to do a blanket search manually, and I didn’t put any restrictions on price.  Low and behold, the first house that came up on my search results was this fabulous, gorgeous, sprawling ranch-style home with 3,341 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 3 full bathrooms, 2 dining rooms, an office, a laundry room, a pantry closet, a 3-car garage, an in-ground gunite tiled and heated pool with attached spa, and all of it sits on a corner lot that’s 1/3 of an acre.  And it was listed for $280K!

4108 Toledo Ave, Fort Worth, TX 76133

Now that was more than I wanted to spend, but this house and property were so beautiful that I felt compelled to switch to a 30-yr. loan so we could still try to buy it!  I got in touch with hubby and asked him to please be sure to go and tour this house that same day, as it had just been listed about 1/2 hour before I found it, and I knew it would go fast, as most of the properties there do.

4108 Toledo Ave, Fort Worth, TX 76133

He worked out an appointment for that evening with the realtor and met him there.  When they arrived, some folks were already there touring the house!  It was abundantly clear that this was going to go fast.  I told him that if it even remotely looked anything like the photos in person, then he should try to make an offer as soon as possible.  He toured the house while I sat at my computer in VA watching the whole thing streaming on Facebook Live.  We were totally in love with this house!

4108 Toledo Ave, Fort Worth, TX 76133

It had every feature than any of us wanted in a new house.  It was all one level, it had a gorgeous kitchen with double ovens for all that cooking and baking that I love to do, and it even had a library that would make an amazing homeschool room for my kids!

4108 Toledo Ave, Fort Worth, TX 76133

4108 Toledo Ave, Fort Worth, TX 76133

The huge master suite has an exit door out onto the covered back porch that overlooks the pool, and it has a circular entry into the master bathroom to create a his and hers arrangement with the walk-in shower and built-in dresser on one side and the garden tub overlooking the pool and built-in dresser on the other side.

4108 Toledo Ave, Fort Worth, TX 76133

4108 Toledo Ave, Fort Worth, TX 76133

4108 Toledo Ave, Fort Worth, TX 76133

4108 Toledo Ave, Fort Worth, TX 76133

And there are lots of rooms with gorgeous floor-to-ceiling arched windows.  There’s so much natural light in this house, and I love that!

4108 Toledo Ave, Fort Worth, TX 76133

4108 Toledo Ave, Fort Worth, TX 76133

4108 Toledo Ave, Fort Worth, TX 76133

And there’s even a rec room with a wet bar!  The owners run a school of music for children out of this room currently.

4108 Toledo Ave, Fort Worth, TX 76133

And that covered back porch overlooking the pool, which can be accessed from three different parts of the house, is just a dream to me!  I can totally picture sitting out there with my tea in the morning when the house is still quiet and just relaxing and enjoying the nature sounds of early morning.

4108 Toledo Ave, Fort Worth, TX 76133

So Steve, realtor, and myself went back and started putting an offer together.  It took until nearly midnight the following night to get all the details and paperwork and signatures together, but we got it in on Thursday night.  Our realtor told us to go to bed and sleep peacefully, knowing it had been submitted.  He asked me to write a personal letter to accompany the offer about why we wanted the house, so I did that, too.  He promised to check with the listing agent the next day and give us a feel for how the process was going in terms of interest and other offers.

While I was out shopping with my daughter on Friday, the realtor called and gave me the news:  the sellers accepted our offer!  And they said they loved my letter.  As it turned out, that letter might be the only reason they took our offer without waiting for others.  They had a lot of interest the very first day with back-to-back showings, but they decided not to even wait for the busy weekend and just accepted our offer.  I was crazy excited!  Our realtor had not expressed much confidence that we had any chance at all.  He expected there to be a bidding war because this property was priced at about $15/sq. ft. lower than others in the neighborhood, and this particular community is highly desired and usually has properties that get sold within a couple of days. 

I feel so blessed!  I can hardly believe that I’m going to be calling this place home in about 6 weeks.  The deal is set to close on June 5th, but the sellers want to lease back and stay until June 20th while they prepare to get into their new home elsewhere, so I’ll plan to arrive on the 21st!  The timing works out well since Hayden graduates on June 13th, and it will take us several days to drive down there with two vehicles and two dogs anyway.

Wow.  The last couple of days have been a whirlwind!  The sellers sent us a very nice letter today to tell us a little bit about themselves and their home, and they were gracious enough to offer to leave us the custom bookcases in the library for our homeschool room!  That was so kind.  And as it turns out, they used to live here in Hampton Roads!  It’s such a small world!

So now the packing and purging are underway in earnest…

Monday, May 1, 2017

REVIEW: Entire Level III by ArtAchieve

My 12-year old daughter was quite pleased to review the Entire Level III by ArtAchieve.

WHAT IS IT?:

ArtAchieve is an online art instructional program for children and adults of all ages that allows you to teach drawing without any prior art background.  Kids learn to draw, paint, and create projects inspired by art from around the world!

Students can choose the delivery format that suits them best, whether it’s through step-by-step videos or a Powerpoint slide presentation.  Try a free art lesson and see if this program is right for you!

You can buy individual lessons, a bundle of 3 lessons, or an entire level to save even more money!  The prices vary based upon the level (I-IV) of the lessons.  For Level III, an individual lesson is $6, a 3-pack bundle is $16, or the entire level consisting of a total of 13 lessons is just $58.50.  When you purchase online lessons, you receive a license to access them for one full year.

 

OUR EXPERIENCE:

Haylee tried out the Level II lessons last year, and she really enjoyed them.  Our neighbor’s little girl even tried did some with her when she came over to play one day.  They really enjoyed them.  So Haylee was quite happy to try out the Level III lessons for this review!

I asked Haylee if she felt it was necessary to do the levels in order.  She said if you haven’t done a lot of art, then she felt like you should progress through the levels.  But if you’ve done a lot of art in the past, then she felt you could begin wherever you like.  She did say that the Level III lessons were more difficult than the previous level, but she didn’t have any trouble with them at all.

Just as in the past, she really enjoyed the projects.  She was familiar with the way the lessons were laid out already, so that saved her some time.  Each lesson begins with a mini-art lesson about the project you’ll be creating.  Then there is a relaxation exercise to help you prepare your mind for the work.  Next you do some warmup exercises that have you draw small portions of the finished project, just to get a feel for the lines and curves that will be required.  Then it goes into the drawing of the actual picture itself. 

The website is pretty easy to navigate, and everything you need to know or to have in order to prepare for a lesson is easy to find.  The majority of the lessons require only a Sharpie marker for the line drawing, plus whatever medium you like to use for coloring if you want to add color at the end.  Some projects suggest other items like glitter paint, but you can really apply whatever you like…it’s your project!

Haylee prefers the slide presentation to teach her the steps for the projects as opposed to the video with the teacher.  She likes it because there’s no talking to distract her, and she can move through the slides at her own pace.  There’s no need to pause a video while she performs each step in the project, and she can more easily concentrate on what she is doing. 

She tried out a variety of projects this time around, and I thought her work turned out really well.  She was quite pleased with how they turned out, and we’ll probably frame a couple of them for her bedroom wall.  She chose to add color to some of them, but a few, she chose to leave as line drawings.  They all look amazing!

Here’s a showcase of some of her work so you can see what even a 12-year old can do with this program:

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Lesson 1, The Hawaiian Frog

 

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Lesson 4, The Face from the Gambia

 

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Lesson 5, The Pacific Northwest Totem Pole

 

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Lesson 6, The Eastern European Firebird

 

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Lesson 9, The Nine-Banded Armadillo

 

In addition to the drawing and painting instruction, the program offers Cross-Curricular Connections to really expand your art lessons into something much more.  For example, on The Face from the Gambia project, the program gives you suggestions on how to incorporate social studies, food, science, writing, literature, and dance!  Many links are provided to this additional material so you don’t have to spend a lot of time researching your own resources to add this valuable material to your lessons.

Haylee has really enjoyed this program, and it doesn’t require a huge time commitment or an expensive list of supplies.  Everything needed is clearly listed for each project.  I would definitely recommend this program for anyone who feels intimidated by drawing.  It’s easy to follow, and the results are something you can feel good about!

Check out what other Crew members have to say about different levels of ArtAchieve by clicking the banner below.