Wednesday, April 27, 2016

NOLA Moves North

My girls' trip this year was planned for New Orleans, the weekend of April 22. When we picked the date, we didn't realize that was Jazz Fest weekend. Meaning: zero affordable hotels or VRBO's or AirBnB's. Nada. No place to stay. Sooooo. We moved our trip up a little north and spent the weekend in Chicago!

I loaded my car up and dropped my kids with their dad early Friday morning. Put the radio on the Prince tribute station and  got on my way. The thing with driving to Chicago? I had to drive IN Chicago. I was getting there around 2:00 in the afternoon so I didn't think I would run into that much traffic. 


It was kinda awful and my nerves were wrecked. But, hey, at least I had a nice view when stuck in traffic?!?

I finally made it to Mo's house ... D was already there. We ordered up an Uber and headed downtown to our hotel. (I didn't take my car to the hotel because NO WAY was I driving in that traffic again but also because parking at the hotel was $67 a night. SIXTY SEVEN. DOLLARS. A NIGHT.)

What is UP with my face?
This pic was taken Sunday, not Friday, and I need to mention that because Friday was COLD. There were no flip flops that day!

Anyway, we stayed at the Intercontinental on the Magnificent Mile and it was an amazing hotel. Very affordable, especially given the location, and the entire staff was extremely friendly. I would definitely recommend the hotel to anyone!

We were all pretty tired Friday so it was a low-key, chill night. We had drinks at the Michael Jordan steakhouse bar then made our way across the street to a tapas restaurant. I'll write more about the restaurants we ate at individually. We were in bed by around midnight. 

Saturday we started the day with brunch which means ... bottomless mimosas!

After brunch, we made our way over to Trader Joe's. I don't have one in Memphis so I had to stock up on cookie butter.  Our brunch was heavy (and yummy!) and we're old so we were all tired and headed back to the room for some rest. 

That night, we made our way to the IO Theater for an amazing comedy improv show called Whirrled News Tonight. I'm going to go so far as to say this show is a MUST if you're visiting the second city! The ensemble had been together for 13 years and they had amazing chemistry and were just hilarious. It was such a highlight of the trip. Seriously, go see it if you're in Chicago. After the show, we had a late dinner then decided to walk the three-ish miles back to the hotel. 

Our view from the hotel 

Sunday was GORGEOUS and in the 70's! Perfect for brunch on a patio then a water tour.

We did brunch (more bottomless mimosas, please!), bought some Garrett's popcorn, then made our way over to take an architectural tour of the city ... by boat. 

I think Chicago is one of the most beautiful cities in the country ... mostly due to the architecture. So, obviously, I thought this was an awesome tour. Our guide was funny and entertaining, kept it very interesting. And we got to see the beauty of Chicago by boat!


A shot of the new Navy Pier Ferris wheel ...

After the tour, we walked around a little more and might have even meandered into a bar just to use their bathroom ... then ended up having a couple beers. Oops!


Our fundal downtown stop was ...

We bought banana pudding and, I can assure you, it was southern grandmama good. 

We picked up pizza on the way to Mo's house then stayed up wayyyy too late talking and laughing on her deck. It's always such a good time with these girls! We had a blast. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

House Hunters: Break Out the Champagne

We are homeowners! 

It's funny how fast the whole process went. We first looked at a house (the foreclosure in which our offer was rejected) March 25th. By April 12, we had accepted a counter offer on a completely different property. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, we'll close on our house May 27th. Two months from, "hey, maybe we do want to buy" to homeowners!

And, man, do we love our house -- and the neighborhood. Honestly, the neighborhood is what sold me on this particular house (even though the neighbors have Trump signs in their yard ...) It's shady and beautiful, backs up to a horse farm, and there's very little traffic. Perfect for kids on bikes. 

The house was built in 1983 and will eventually need some updating. The master bathroom, for instance, has a rather ugly brown tub and counters. The "bones" of the house are great, though, and it's far from a cookie cutter. 

We have four bedrooms and a huge bonus room. The three boys will be in a bedroom and the bonus, with part of the bonus also being used as a game room. Mark's daughter will take the other upstairs bedroom -- it has a huge closet that's a teenage girl's dream. The other two bedrooms are downstairs. Mark and I will obviously take the master and K2 will have the other. It's the smallest room but, then, she's the smallest child. 

The house has three FULL bathrooms. Awesome! The eat-in portion of the kitchen is large. We also have a separate dining room but, let's be real, that's not likely to be used for dining! 

The outside pool area of the house is AMAZING! A true "backyard oasis." I can't wait to spend the summer out there. And our calendar is already filling up with people planning to visit. 

Another plus with this house is the school district. Right now, our kids are in Shelby County schools and they are a mess. I read an article the other day about how budget problems mean they're cutting back on special education, eliminating the gifted program, things like that. In the new house, our kids will be in a completely different school district. And a much, much better school district. 

We're so very excited! I can't wait to share more in the coming months as we actually move in and make it our home!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

House Hunters: Round Two

Our weekend pretty much revolved around house hunting. We missed the Overton Square crawfish fest which did not set well with my youngest son. "I haven't had crawfish in a whole year!" Yeah, I know, I want crawfish too. But you know what I want even more? A house!

We set out Saturday to check out four properties. 

House #1 - This was a four bedroom, three full bath with a bonus room in the nicest little neighborhood. The neighborhood even bordered a horse farm! K2 was ready to put in an offer as soon as she heard that. The rooms in this house were HUGE and the closet in one of the upstairs bedrooms was a teenage girl's dream. The pool area was beautiful and it still had a lot of yard outside of the pool. 

The cons: It didn't have a ton of storage and we'd have to put a shed in the back. The kitchen counter space was a little limited and the appliances were older. The way the bedroom/ bonus room was set up you had to walk through one to get to the other. Oh. And the neighbors are apparently Trump supporters. 

House #2 - This was a five bedroom contemporary that describes itself as "newly renovated." There was only one picture of it, the exterior, and it was FUGLY but we still decided to give it a chance. We noped out of this one fast, quick, and in a hurry. I won't even bother listing the cons because there were just way too many. The "renovated" interior was still a mess, it had such a weird layout, and it was just way, way overpriced. 

House #3 - This was a four bed, three bath that we had super high hopes for because it was only a couple blocks from Russell and Kathy's house. It had a really great pool area, the kitchen had been updated, and there were built-ins (Mark laughed every time I would get excited over built-ins but I can't help it. I love them!)

The cons: It was a little on the small side, especially for when we have 4/5 teenagers under our roof. There was a carport instead of a garage. And it was extremely overpriced for the amount of square footage as well as the work we'd have to put in it. 

House #4 - This was a four bed, 3.5 bath in a 'burb much closer to where we live now (but not in the same school district. Getting our kids out of SCS is our number one priority.) This house was AMAZING. The entire top floor was one huge bonus room that even had a bathroom with a shower. It was newer than any house we'd looked at, absolutely beautiful, and had so much natural light. It was also on the golf course, Mark was a big fan of that. 

The cons: It backed on to I-40. Womp, womp. It wasn't that loud in the house but outside was semi followed by semi followed by crotch rocket followed by semi. The backyard was a little weird and the pool was small. 

We got home Saturday evening and did a lot of this: 

Lots of pros and cons from our top three (houses one and four and one we looked at last Wednesday.) We would randomly look at each other and say, "where are we going to live?" just to see what the other would say off the top of their head. 

(By the way: see chickens/ pot bellied pig on that pro list? House #4 had a chicken run. Mark liked the idea of having chickens and told me I could get a pot bellied pig. That's true love, when a man says he'll get you a pig!)

Sunday, we decided to once again walk through house #1 and the one we looked at earlier in the week. 

And decided to make an offer on house #1. The sellers returned with a counter offer yesterday morning and we volleyed another counter back at them. Hopefully we'll know something definite very, very soon! Cross your fingers and say a prayer or two!

Friday, April 8, 2016

House Hunters

The day before Black Friday, Mark sent me a link to a foreclosed property at an amazing price. We made an appointment to go see it and kinda fell in love with it. More than that, it gave us the buying bug. We knew we wanted to buy a house.

Last weekend, we walked through the same house again and decided to make an offer. We were feeling really, really good about the whole thing. The house had been on the market over 200 days -- our realtor seemed to think the reasoning was the absence of an eat-in kitchen.  We really thought we'd find ourselves in an offer, counter offer situation. 

Monday morning, we found out there were multiple offers. We tweaked ours a bit, prayed, crossed fingers and toes. On Tuesday we got the answer: our offer was rejected. Some asshole took our house! ;)

That meant time to hit the ground running looking for properties. We have some fairly specific criteria. We only feel comfortable in three suburbs, prefer NOT to have our kids in Shelby county schools. We need a minimum of four bedrooms. And we want a pool. 

Here's what we've looked at so far:

House #1: We actually looked at this one last Saturday and it solidified our decision to make an offer on the foreclosure. It was a four bedroom, 2.5 bath. We liked the floor plan, the kitchen was updated. The porch was awesome! Totally a party porch. Aaaaand it had a pool house/ mother-in-law suite. 

The cons: The exterior is, well, ugly.  The house has two stain glass windows front and center. Honestly, I could live with it but I would want to paint the trim around the windows. The real con, though, was major foundation problems on the pool house. It would take big money to fix it or, eventually, we'd have to level it. There is no way we would pay asking price for the property. 

House #2: This one was a four bedroom, 2.5 bath with a bonus room. It has AMAZING built-ins. I love built-ins! The house also had some updates.

The cons: It had a weird layout -- as in, the bonus room was accessible by a whole separate set of stairs. The kitchen was short on counter space. The master bedroom was small and the master bath only had a shower. 

House #3: I walked into this house and almost immediately "noped" right on out of it. Pink tile! Avocado green walls! It did have a pretty cool outdoor area around the pool. The living room opened into the eat-in kitchen and that had a pretty awesome bar. 

The cons: Other than the pink tile and 70's walls? The entire house would need about $50k in updates to bring it into this century. Which wouldn't be a big deal ... if it was priced way cheaper. It also had only three bedrooms with a mother-in-law suite that was separated from the main house by a carport. No garage. There was also a flood plane issue that would have to be fixed immediately. I will consider every house we've looked at ... except this one. 

House #4: This one was a 5 bedroom, 2.5 bath with a bonus room. It was a flipped house and the interior, cosmetically, is basically brand new. The colors are neutral, it has brand new windows on the bottom floor, the laundry room is huge. The bonus room could double as a sixth bedroom and we could easily put two boys, possibly even all three, in there. 

The cons: The living room was a little on the small side and I'd prefer more counter space in the kitchen. It also has the kind of pool that's the most maintenance. It's also the highest priced house on our list.

Just in case it's not obvious, #4 is our current front runner. We both love the idea of having six bedrooms, it had a pretty awesome deck, and it's in a great school district. We're going to look at another one this weekend and see if that sways our direction at all. Right now #4 is looking pretty awesome!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Sixth Birthday Paw-ty

K2 could not decide what she wanted to do for her birthday. I'd throw out idea and idea and ... "No. Nope, no, no." Finally, about a week before her birthday, she told me she wanted a puppy cake. I got busy planning a "paw-ty!"

Let's talk decorations first. I found some cuts paw print balloons at Hobby Lobby but also bought regular balloons that we turned into puppies. I thought they turned out pretty cute!

We used sidewalk chalk to "decorate" the front and back walkways with puppy paws. 

I made stuff myself, with the help of Hobby Lobby! The little wooden puppies were about 65 cents each. I got the mini chalkboards for $2 for the four of them and the bigger chalkboard was $4. The little puppy decorations cost me less than $10!

I found dog bowls at Dollar Tree and thought they added such a cute little touch. 


We served pupcorn, paw-tato chips with puppy chow (dip), fetch sticks (pretzel rods), puppy treats that were leftover Easter jelly beans, and burgers and dogs. 

I ordered her cake from Kroger and also made cake balls with paw prints to go along with it. 

Now, the actual party. She had so much fun!

We ended up with 13 kids and five adults! I've learned that unless there's a set activity (such as bowling or skating), it's best to not have a lot planned for a party with that many kids. You know, "now we're going to pin the tail on the donkey then we're going to do this and this and this."

I let any kid who wanted to make "puppy ears" out of construction paper. I planned to paint their faces like puppies but totally forgot. 

Other than that, I just set out chalk and bubbles and let the kids do their own thing. 

After they played for a while, we ate burgers and dogs then it was time for cake and presents!

Her big present was ... a new bike! Mark wheeled it out to her so I could take pictures. 

The first words out of her mouth were, "oh, thank you!" Precious girl. 

She spent the rest of the evening going back and forth between bikes and Barbies. I think she had a pretty great paw-ty!