first family vacation

we were invited to a wedding in california in april.  we really wanted to go to the wedding, but weren't sure what we would do with wesley.  he was going to be about 10 months old, and the idea of flying that far away, plus a 2 hour time change, just for the weekend seemed a little crazy.  (when we were planning this, we were assuming we'd be in st louis, so we ended up adding another hour to the time change, and a longer flight since we were actually in ohio in april).  the wedding was just south of san francisco, so we decided to extend our trip and fly out the week before.  we thought that breaking up the long flights would be good for wesley, plus that gave him some extra time to adjust to the time change.  we were also excited to take our first family vacation.


our flight left ohio at 10 am on a tuesday morning.  we purposely picked our flight times to try to work with wesley's sleep schedule.  we had a layover in denver, and then continued on to san jose.  we were lucky and neither flight was full, meaning we were able to take wesley's car seat on the plane, and he was able to have his own seat.  he did fantastic on the plane.  we brought a few toys, and some food to try to keep him entertained, but he really liked just looking around at all of the passengers, and playing with the seat tray.  he also napped well, which really helped.  i think that having the layover halfway through was perfect - it was quick, really just enough time for a diaper change and to grab some lunch, but wesley was also able to crawl around for a few mins while we waited to board the next plane.

we arrived in san jose at 1:30 local time, and picked up our rental car.  after seeing how much stuff we had, we were talked into upgrading to a small suv.  i'm glad we decided to get a slightly larger car.  we tried to pack light, but traveling with an infant is difficult!  we had his pack n play, stroller and car seat, plus all of our clothes and luggage.  we headed south towards monterey - we rented an apartment through airbnb for the first few days of our trip.  we arrived at the apartment late afternoon and were pleasantly surprised with how nice it was.  it was a one bedroom, with a large living room, bathroom, and a little kitchen nook.  it was ideal for our family because mike and i could put wesley's pack n play in the nook, and then we were able to hang out in the living room area without disturbing him.  after unpacking, our entire family was hungry, so we decided to grab the stroller and walk to monterey to sight-see and find dinner.

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tuesday night we purposely kept busy until about 8pm california time, and then we headed back to the apt to put wesley to bed.  we had also tried to keep him up a little later each night in the few days leading up to the trip.  even though it was a 3 hour time chance, he really had no issues adjusting to the time.

on wednesday we were all up and ready to go pretty early, so we got in the car to find breakfast.  after a fantastic breakfast (with seafood!), it was back to the apt for a quick nap, before walking down to the monterey aquarium.  wesley had never been to an aquarium before.  the aquarium was one of the big reasons why we decided to visit monterey, so we were hoping he'd really like it.  he loved it - he kept watching the fish swim around, and laughed at the otters playing.  we were there for a large part of the day, and all had a a great time.

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we left the aquarium later in the afternoon because wesley was starting to look pretty sleepy.  we thought he'd fall asleep in his stroller while walking around, so we decided to visit some of the little stores in monterey.  we ended up finding a winery that had a nice seating area overlooking the ocean.  after tasting a few wines, we purchased a bottle and found a quiet seat near the windows.  wesley finally fell asleep in his stroller, and mike and i enjoyed our wine with a few appetizers.  it was a relaxing way to end our afternoon.

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since we weren't sure how wesley would do with dinner out that evening since he had such an exciting day and shorter naps, we ended up ordering in sushi later that night (yum!!).  

thursday morning, after enjoying coffee and pastries on our patio, we got in the car and headed south.  we stopped at point lobos state reserve, and spent the rest of the morning hiking along the trails.

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i was glad we brought the baby ergo (carrier), as the trails would have been difficult with our stroller.  wesley seemed fine with hanging out in the carrier while we hiked around.  after a few hours, we got back in the car and started driving south again towards big sur. we stopped along the way for lunch at hotel that overlooked the coast, it was really pretty.

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at this point, wesley had fallen asleep in the car, so mike and i took turns getting out to look at the scenery along the various look-out points on our way to big sur.  we drove around big sur for a little while, and then headed back north to carmel.

once we arrived in carmel, we walked around the various shops until we found a place that sounded good for dinner.  it was a really nice place and we were a little nervous about taking wesley to such a fancy resturant.  we shouldn't have worried, he quickly made friends with the couple at the table next to us, and was well behaved and happy the entire meal.  while in carmel, we walked down to the beach to give wesley his first experience with sand.  he hated it!  he didn't like it on his feet, and refused to be put down.

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hopefully he will learn to love the beach because we like to vacation near water.  on the plus side, we actually ended up at a dog beach and since it was dusk, many families were there playing with their dogs.  even though he didn't like the sand, wesley really liked watching all of the dogs play in the water.

on friday morning we cleaned up our apartment and packed up our car.  we needed to be in palo alto that evening for the rehearsal dinner, but decided to take a long route to palo alto, doing 17 mile drive and stopping at pebble beach along the way.

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we stopped again in carmel to grab lunch before heading on to palo alto.  wesley really did well at all of the restaurants that we ate at on our trip.  we were usually able to find something little on the menu for him to try, and we brought plenty of pouches and puffs for him to snack on.

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once in palo alto, we met up with my family and we relaxed for a little bit in the afternoon before dressing for the rehearsal dinner.  dinner that evening ended up being really late, but wesley stayed happy even though it was hours past his normal bedtime (not even including the time change!).  he quickly charmed all of the guests.

on saturday morning we enjoyed a big breakfast with the family, and then let wesley nap for a little while before meeting up with everyone to head up to the wedding site.  it was up in the mountains, so we all took a van to the location.  the wedding venue was beautiful, and the food was fantastic.  even though it was a long afternoon and evening, we had so much fun with wesley and our family and i was so impressed with how happy he was the entire time.  we brought his car seat along, thinking he'd want to nap at some point in a quiet corner, but he didn't want to miss anything.  he did fall fast asleep as soon as we got in the van to head back to our hotel though.

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i just love these photos of mike and wesley.  

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after such a late night, everyone was glad to sleep in a little before we had one last family brunch.  our plane left at 2 on sunday afternoon, so we left the brunch a little early to get to the airport on time.  unfortunately, our luck ran out and the first flight to chicago (which was the longest of the entire trip) was fully booked,  wesley had to sit on my lap the entire time.  he did fine, but it was difficult for him to find a comfortable position to sleep in. the last flight from chicago to columbus wasn't full, so we were able to use his car seat again.  except by then he just wanted to be held, i think he was ready to go home.

we didn't get home until after midnight and then mike and i had to get up for work the next day.  it was a little rough for us, but wesley seemed to adjust quickly back to his normal schedule.  i think that he was so tired from the trip, that helped him sleep longer the next morning.

we had a great vacation and were beyond impressed with how well wesley did with everything!  hopefully he'll continue to be as adaptable and easy-going as he gets older...

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our next house

we finally found a house that we were interested in, and after many lengthy discussions, we decided to submit an offer.  if you remember, the house was not yet listed for sale, so our process for purchasing the house was anything but normal.  the owners of the house were retiring and moving out of state.  prior to their move, one of them was having a major surgery that was going to require a substantial recovery period.  because of this, they were interested in finalizing the sale of the house long before they would actually be able to move.  we started talking to them at the beginning of april - making the entire process about 4 months until possession.

once we decided to move forward, mike and i prepared an offer (with the help of my realtor mother-in-law), and sat down with the owners to present our situation, and our number.  we explained how we could be a benefit for them because we had the flexibility to wait until august to move, and that even though our house in st louis was not yet in contract, we were confident that it would sell within their longer time frame.  they agreed with everything except for our price.  we went back and forth a few times until we agreed on a final number, and we were in contract.  we actually ended up signing the contract for the sale of our stl house the same day.

now would probably be a good time to explain a little more about the actual house. there are some of the things that we like, and the things that made us hesitate a little.  this will probably be a little long, so feel free to skip.  i mostly just wanted to get my initial thoughts down for future reference.  here's what we initially liked:

- it has 3 bedrooms upstairs, and 1 downstairs, although the one downstairs is really set up more like an office space.  this is exactly what we had hoped to find - at least 3 bedrooms, and the office on the first floor is a great bonus.  mike's new job allows him to work from home on occasion, so having a dedicated office space will be nice.

- it has 2.5 baths.  we really wanted to have a master bath, or the ability to add a master bath at some point, so this was a huge plus for us.  the master bath has kind of an odd layout and we will eventually want to update the finishes (this goes for all of the bathrooms), but for now we are happy to have the extra space and not have to deal with expense of trying to add a bathroom.

- it had a "renovated" kitchen - unlike our first house where the kitchen was unusable until we did some updates, this kitchen is ready to go.  it's also has upgraded appliances - gas cook top, double ovens, 42" fridge...  again, the finishes are not our taste, but certainly livable.

- it had a sun porch.  this was not something that we were necessarily looking for, but the little room off of the living room has great potential.  it even has heating and cooling, so with some new windows, we should be able to use it year round.

- closets!  our stl house had zero closets on the first floor.  this house has several on the first floor, a closet in each bedroom (2 in the master!), plus an extra closet in the upstairs hall.  and several built-ins!

- the yard is fully fenced except for the driveway, it has a nice patio area, and established landscaping.  although the actual grass portion of the backyard is smaller than what we had before, the overall lot is about what we had in stl, and i think it will be fine for our family.  it also has a nice 2 car garage.

- the house seems "solid".  the original house was built in 1947, and the addition was constructed in the early 2000s. everything is in good shape...

- everything is also upgraded/new.  the mechanical systems, while not all that new, were the top of the line when installed, and still are in good condition.  the house has a newer roof, all new windows (except for the sun porch), refinished hardwood floors, and a dry basement.  the appliances are all high end, and not that old.

- the location.  at the end of the day, i think that the location was the biggest selling point.  it's located in the more historic part of ua, and is walkable to both ua, and grandview.  we will also be near the elementary school and middle school that wesley will eventually attend, so he will be able to walk to school.  there is a nice library and a park just down the street.  we are really excited about the neighborhood and are anxious to start exploring!

and here's what had us hesitating at first:

- the finishes throughout.  while technically fairly new, the finishes just seem dated, and are not at all our style.  lots of fake "stone" tile, white corian counters with white distressed country style cabinets in the kitchen, gold/chrome two tone fixtures...  there is carpet in the master bedroom that is lavender, and the carpet in the family room is dark red.  i know that these can all be updated and replace (we certainly worked with much worse in our first house!), but we won't have a lot of extra money in our budget after our new house payment, and it also seems a shame to me to take out new finishes just because i don't like them.

- the layout - this was the biggest issues for me.  the original house was probably not very big - maybe 1200 sq ft total?  the current size is 2240 sq ft.  the house has a living room across the front, with a small dining room off to one side, and a sun porch on the other.  the stairs are in the middle of the house.  the kitchen is a galley style kitchen behind the dining room, and that connects the original part of the house to the addition.  this is also the main passageway to the back of the house and the family room, which seems a little odd to me.  you can also get to the family room through the office - i think that we will like having the office off of the family room, but i doubt guests will go through our office.  keep in mind that our stl house had basically 4 connected spaces on the first floor, so that probably makes the layout of the house seem even more disjointed to us.  upstairs, the layout seems to flow a little better, with the master bedroom at the back of the house as part of the addition, and the 2 other bedrooms at the front.

- it has 2 living spaces on the first floor.  i don't know that this is necessary a bad thing, especially now that we have a kid, and all of the toys that come with a kid.  but we are not "formal" living room people, so i hope that we figure out a way to actually use both spaces.

- the addition just has some odd things going on.  for example, they decided to make the family room one step down from the adjoining kitchen area, and the office.  there is an odd amount of extra space in the kitchen.  in the master bedroom, the windows and doors were placed in a way that makes the furniture arrangement very limited - in fact, i think our bed will end up covering portions of the windows.

- the dining room is very small.  so small, that i'm not even sure that our table will fit into the room.  this is the only eating space (with is good, i like only having one area for a table), and i was really hoping to be able to fit our table since we are also hoping to be able to easily entertain.

- the basement is on the smaller size and the ceilings aren't very tall.  there is only a basement under the original house - the addition is built over a crawl space.  mike really wanted to be able to finish an area of the basement, so that we could have a true family room (with tv, surround sound, toy storage).  i don't think we will need to the extra space, esp since we have both a living room and family room on the first floor.  the laundry is in the basement, so we might want to eventually do something to make that area a little more inviting, but we don't have any immediate plans to do work in the basement.

i think that overall the house has many of the items we had our on wish list, and i really think it will be a good fit for our family.  i think that the way we live in this house will be so different than how we lived in our stl house, because the houses are so very different.  i think that's probably the reason why we hesitated for so long (well, that and the price!)  i'm very interested to see what we think of the house after we've lived in it for a while.

since the previous owners are still living in the house for a few more weeks, i won't be sharing any photos of the interior until we have possession.  here's the front thought - it's a brick cape cod.  you can't see any of the addition, but it's in the back.  the sun porch is off to the side, and the driveway is on the other side of the sun porch.
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i should also mention that we had our inspection and were told that our house was in fantastic shape.  besides some chimney repairs, they couldn't find anything wrong with the house.

so now you're all caught up.  we closed a week ago, and are now just patiently waiting for our move-in date.

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finding our house

continuing on with our house search (see here for the beginning)

as we moved forward with our house search, we were mainly focused on one, high demand, area.  we also looked in a few other parts of columbus, but were getting discouraged with what we were finding.  houses that looked good online had weird floor plans with tiny rooms once we saw them in person.  or the "updated addition" was in need of major structural repair.  we continued to see houses that needed a lot of work, and were already at the very top of our price range.  for those familiar with columbus, here are the main areas that we focused on:

clintonville:  before moving, i was almost positive that clintonville would be where we ended up.  we looked at several houses in clintonville, and spent a lot of time driving around the area.  i think that the people in clintonville are probably "our people", but we were a little disappointed with the walkability of the neighborhoods, and we were having a difficult time finding a house that was the size and condition that we wanted, at a price that we felt comfortable with.  we were in an awkward "in between" range - we were ready to move past some of the great starter homes that the area offered, but couldn't really afford the few larger options.  it didn't help that there were really only 2 or 3 streets that we got excited about.  we also were concerned about the school district, and knew that we'd either have to move or pay for private school once wesley was out of elementary school - we weren't sure that this was something that we wanted to have to deal with.  this area stayed on our short list though.

german village / italian village / etc:  there are some great urban neighborhoods in columbus, with some really fantastic older homes.  but the houses can be extremely expensive, and aren't always in the best shape.  we actually looked at a few houses in german village, because i wanted the "character".  they had character, but we could only afford 2 bedroom homes with no yard, and realistically, that wasn't going to be a long term solution for our family.  plus, again, schools.

old worthington:  we loved the walkability of old worthington, and were excited about the restaurants, farmers market, and ice cream stores.  we had a difficult time coming to terms with what you got for your money (price per sq ft), and also found that the inventory for the historic houses was really low.  schools were not a concern, but we actually weren't even able to find a house to tour - the few that made our short list were in contract soon after listing.  it was also just a little bit too far north - we were really hoping to be closer to the city.

bexley:  bexley offered the character, good school distract, and walkability that we wanted.  mike was even able to tour several homes in this area.  we were a little concerned about the areas surrounding bexley (having come from a "pocket" situation in stl - a nice street surrounded by not-so-nice streets, we weren't sure we wanted to do that again).  and, our families live on the north side of columbus - we were worried that the distance between bexley and our babysitters might become an issue, especially since right now they watch wesley while we are at work.

grandview:  loved the location, good schools, nice character, expensive price per sq ft.  again, we had a difficult time even finding houses to look at because of the fast moving / low inventory.  also, some of the houses that we could afford were just too small.

upper arlington:  the house that got away was in upper arlington.  i honestly don't even know if i would have added this area to our search had it not been for that house.  mostly i think that i would have just assumed that we would not be able to afford anything in ua.  after touring the area, mike was convinced that ua should be the main focus of our house search.  specifically, he liked the south side of ua - which is more historic and closer to grandview.  there are some great mid-century homes on the northern side of ua, so i kept that in our search as well.  unfortunately many of the mid-century homes that we liked did not have basements, and we really wanted to have a basement.  as i mentioned in the last post, the area that we liked in ua had very low inventory and we knew that it would be a challenge to find something in our price range, even more so contingent on the sale of our stl house.

enter our realtor - mike's mom decided to take a more proactive approach in our house search, and instead of waiting for the houses to come onto the market, she decided to start seeking out the houses before they were listed.  targeting the small area that we were most interested in, she crafted a mailer that explained a little about us, our desire to live in the neighborhood, and some details on what we were hoping to find.  after these were distributed throughout the area, she had about a dozen calls from homeowners.  some i think were just trying to see how much they could get out of their house (way over our price range), some had more long term plans and didn't work in our time frame, and some just weren't a good fit.  but she found 2 that had potential, so we set up a time to visit:

house #1:  strangely, we ended up knowing the seller of house #1.  it was great to catch up with an old friend, but the house was giant.  really just too large for mike and i and our family.  the street was perfect, and the house had a great layout on the first floor, but it was a 3 story house with 5+ bedrooms.  it was also over our price range.  it needed work (long term), but was livable, and their time fame to sell matched well with our plan, so we keep it in consideration.  if nothing else, after talking to our old friend and hearing his enthusiasm for the neighborhood, we were both even more convinced that we wanted to try to live in the area.

house #2:  first impression - wow, this is a cute, but little house.  the house was a brick cape cod, so from the street it didn't look very big, but we found out it had an newer addition on the back.  it had nice curb appeal and a decent sized yard, and we loved the street.  we were hopeful, but we continued to be disappointed by our house search, so i don't think either one of us was that optimistic going in.  after we toured the house we were definitely interested - conflicted, but interested.  on paper the house met almost all of our "must haves", and most of our "nice to haves".  but there was something about it that held us both back at first.  after thinking about it, we went back and did a second tour - this time bringing all of our parents.  after our second tour, and a lengthy discussion, we decided to make an offer on the house.  we are currently in contract on the house, and will close next week.  we will not have possession until august 1.  it's been a long and complicated process, but i will try to do a quick summery, and include some details on the actual house in the next post.

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beginning our house search

a few of you have asked about our new house - the story is long and complicated, but if you are interested, here's where we started:


both mike and i are from the columbus area.  we grew up in a suburb north of the city.  even before i had a job in columbus, i was 90% sure that i would be working near downtown, since architecture firms tend to be located in more urban areas.  we also realized that one of the things that we really liked about our time in st louis was exploring the area, discovering new restaurants, and making it "ours".  we wanted a similar experience with our return to columbus - meaning, we wanted to try to live in a different area than where we grew up.  we also wanted to live closer to the city, and closer to our jobs.  i do not like having a long commute.

our wish list for the area included:
- walkable, we wanted to be able to walk to restaurants, parks, stores, etc.  along with this, we were hoping to find a neighborhood with sidewalks. 
- close to things that are "local".  while it is always nice to be able to get to target without too much issue, we tend to prefer local restaurants, coffee shops, and markets, and wanted to be near those types of places
- established neighborhood with older houses / interesting architecture / character
- mature landscaping and lots of trees, we loved all of the giant trees on our street in stl
- we wanted something safer than what we had in stl.  our stl street wasn't horrible, but we were constantly worrying about things being taken from our garage, unwanted people hanging out in the alley, or something happening to our cars while parked on the street.
- a good public school district, although we were willing to compromise a little on this if there were other options for school 

our list for the house included:
- must have 3+ bedrooms
- must have a garage, 2 car preferred
- must have nice outdoor space
- must have character
- must have curb appeal
- must have a good layout, or potential to have a good layout
- would prefer it to be around 1800 sq ft since that is what we had in stl, although willing to look smaller if the layout was right
- nice to have a 4th bedroom or office space
- nice to have a master bathroom or space to add a master bathroom
- nice to have more closet space and/or storage
- nice to have taller ceilings
- nice to have a basement that could be finished for a second living space 
- nice if the yard was already fenced for our dogs
- nice if some of the big things had been updated (like hvac, roof, etc)

we actually wanted another project house because we wanted to be able to make it ours, and didn't want to have to pay for someone else's renovation.  although mike and i had a very different idea of the type of "project" :)

mike's parents and brother are realtors.  while we were still living in stl, we sent them our list and they starting sending us potential houses.  we also kept looking online on our own.  to be honest, i'd been looking at columbus real estate on and off for several years, so we already had an idea of the areas we needed to look in to get the "character" that we wanted.  around this same time i found a house that was built in the 1920s, was actually in worse shape than our stl house (project!), and was a great buy for the area.  it was a big investment opportunity, but it needed a lot of work right away.  mike just happen to be in columbus for an interview around the same time, so he, along with his parents and my mom, went to see the house.  i followed along through facetime.  knowing that it wasn't going to be on the market much longer because it had just had a big price drop, we even talked about putting in an offer that day.  we were both excited about the house, which is saying a lot since i hadn't even seen it in person, and mike is usually more hesitate about house projects.  unfortunately, since we hadn't sold our house in stl yet, our offer would have been contingent on the sale of our house.  we spoke to the seller (also a realtor) and after finding out that he had other offers coming, we knew that ours would not be a competitive offer because of our contingency requirements.  we were bummed to miss out on the house.  but, from that experience we were able to learn that:

1) we were going to have to greatly increase our budget.  the houses in the areas that we wanted were more expensive, and we needed to come to terms with spending more on a house.

2) we needed to be realistic about how much of a project we really wanted.  how much could we do with wesley?  did we want to jump right back into spending all of our free time on the house?  also, since we were going to have to increase our budget to purchase the house, we weren't going to have as much flex in our monthly budget to finance big projects, at least not right away.

3) we needed to be realistic about the school district.  property taxes in columbus are high (at least compared to stl), which we knew from the beginning, but we were surprised to find that even in the areas within the not-so-great school districts, the taxes were still high.  high enough that property taxes + tuition for private school would have actually cost us more than just trying to get into one of the few older neighborhoods near the city that also had highly ranked public schools.  

4) we were most likely going to have to wait to even put an offer in on a house in columbus until our house in stl was in contract.  the housing market in columbus was just too competitive and we knew that in order to make a solid offer, we needed to try to eliminate that contingency.  this also meant that we would need to move in with my parents while we wait for our stl house to sell, and while we looked for our new house once we were in ohio.

5) we needed to be able to make a decision quickly.  unlike our first home buying experience, where we were able to look at 40+ houses over several weeks before making a decision, there was just not that kind of inventory in columbus.  we were only coming up with 1 or 2 houses at a time that were even a possibility.  so if we found something that was a potential fit, we needed to be able to make a quick decision.

i was willing to continue to look in a wide variety of areas, but after seeing the house that got away, mike had fallen for that neighborhood.   unfortunately, the area that he wanted to focus on seemed to be the worst for a buyer - it was a sellers market - so much so, that houses were gone the day that they were listed.  we were afraid that we wouldn't even be able to get in to see a house before it would be gone.  

up next, i will share our slightly unconventional strategy for finding our house...

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