Monday, May 30, 2011

House Hunting: SUCCESS!

Moving to Ohio means we'll be settled for four years.


I know it will go by in a blink, but after moving every 2 years for nearly the last decade, 4 years seems semi-permanent.  And as such, we decided to look into buying vs. renting.  Part of this is because we are all craving a little stability (4!  Years!).  And part of this is because of where we are moving.  Our new town has a small population, and this means that there is a limited market for both rentals and purchases.  Cheap housing can be found, but the condition and/or size of said housing is just not acceptable.  I have to keep reminding myself that we will be living on the edges of Appalachia & the standard of living is a little different from what we've been used to.  I am not saying that we will be surrounded by shotgun shacks inhabited by meth-smoking hillbillys..... but the extensive selection of throwing knives (with how-to guide included) found at a local convenience store speaks for itself.

Anyway.... we decided to use the extra long weekend and take the whole family on a house hunting adventure.  I've been in communication with our realtor for months & we had about 10 houses to see over 2 days.

I know.

Those of you moving to or living in larger cities are probably laughing right now.  Because 10 houses?  Not a lot.  But it was the best we could do in our price range.

What we saw ranged from the disappointing to the nightmareish.  We saw houses with leaky basements & moldy carpet.  We saw houses that had a new security system and 35 year old carpet.  We saw houses that stank of pets.  We saw houses cantilevered on 45 degree hills.  We saw houses that had been on the market for years.  We even saw a house that had so much junk piled up that I did not realize the room I was looking at was actually a bathroom (I thought it was a closet or storage room).

After nearly weeping with frustration by Friday afternoon, we saw IT.

Our last house of the day was not perfect, but it was close enough.  The lot is flat, the street is quiet.  The 4 bedrooms are big, and we have THREE full bathrooms.  There is space for guests, an inside laundry room, and even a kitchen that looks out into the backyard.  It does need paint (lots and lots of paint - unless of course you love the Browns and the Steelers), and new flooring in the Master Bedroom & hallway.  But otherwise, everything is solid and workable.  I may even be able to carve out a space for my own workout room! 

We were close to sure that this was IT, but we continued to look on Saturday.  We had to drive back home that afternoon, so we left a verbal offer with our realtor & then hit the Interstate.  The house had only been on the market for 18 days, so we had no idea what to expect.  Sure, it's a Buyer's market, but were they really eager to sell and be done with it?  Or would they sit on our offer and think they could do better?  We spent the entire drive offering and counter-offering, and were left hanging all night.  I'm not sure either of us slept.  Sunday afternoon we finally received the call that we are under contract!  

Let the packing begin!  And the planning!  And the mental remodeling!  I can't wait to start painting!

Oh yeah, and if you're thinking of a housewarming gift (or really, any gift for us in the next 4 years), I have three words for you: "Lowe's gift card". 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Michigan Bucket List: Mackinac Island

A few weeks back, we found ourselves with a free weekend.  Given that our days in Michigan are limited, we decided to cross off a must-see: Mackinac Island.

This is the Mackinac Bridge - the state of Michigan's single largest asset. 
(as viewed from the UP)

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse

The Bridge as viewed from Mackinac Point.
We took the ferry over to Mackinac Island, 
and walked over to Fort Mackinac which has been restored to its 19th century glory. 

No cars are allowed on the island (not even for locals), 
and everyone either walks, rides bicycles, or takes horse-drawn carriages.  

View of the Fort from Main Street

Weapons demonstration. 

Much of the Fort has been restored, 
and 14 different buildings show vignettes of a soldier's life in the late 1800's. 

The family as 19th century soldiers

The island as viewed from the Fort

And of course, we had to see the Grand Hotel.
Built in 1887, it boasts "The world's largest front porch".  

Geraniums are the hotel's trademark flower, and were even woven into the hotel's carpet. 

It is a very PROPER place.  

I'm so glad we made the time for this little getaway.  
The Island was quaint, the weather was gorgeous (the second day), and the kids were fascinated by the Fort.  Absolutely worth a visit if you're in the area. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

No Spending Wrap-Up

I know I am late with this, but everything got a little crazy at the end of April, and we ended up taking an impromptu trip to Utah.

Here's the recap, in brief:

Week 1: $0
Week 2: $8.09
Week 3: $26.45
Week 4: $8.50 + n/a*

* The $8.50 was for movie tickets on a Saturday morning.  This was a semi-class activity for Big Sis.  She & Daddy saw a show on African Lions (It was somehow related to Earth Day/ Week).  The rest of the week was $0 until we left for our trip on April 28.

OK, so the last week of the month didn't end the way I wanted it to, but I think that just shows that you gotta roll with what life gives you.  Even though we flew off for a long weekend (family business), I still trotted out some of my savvy spending tips and searched the web for great deals on a car & hotel.

The Positives:  I really enjoyed this experiment!  We saved HUNDREDS of dollars (I know!  Both embarrassing and amazing at the same time!) in unnecessary spending.  We also ate at home for the entire month, which encouraged me to try new recipes.  Without recreational shopping to fall back on, I read a ton of library books, did some Service, listed more stuff on eBay, and even gathered a bunch of boxes for the move.  Plus, I scored the box of All-Clad cookware, and it is truly AMAZING.

The Negatives:  Our grocery bill went up about 25%.  This was tough, but it forced me to get creative in using leftovers as well as being more strict in meal planning.  No spending was not always fun, and saying "No" to the kids got a little tiresome.  Even that faded with time.

Overall Impressions: This was fantastic.  We will absolutely be doing this again, probably several times a year.  It's made us more aware of our frivolous spending habits.  It also made us more appreciative when we DO treat ourselves to something - whether it's an ice cream cone, a new nail polish color, or new tires for the car, it feels much more "special" than before.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Day Out with Thomas

Big J has been obsessed with trains for months now.  I think it happened when we visited Grandma & Grandpa this summer.  A kind neighbor brought over some of her grandson's trains for him to play with, and he was hooked.  When we returned home, he took a keen interest in any Thomas the Tank Engine show on Netflix, and he began his train empire with a metal train from TJ Maxx.

He now has enough track to build the Transcontinental Rail twice over, and he takes great pleasure in lining up his trains throughout the living room every morning.  So when I heard that Greenfield Village was hosting a Thomas-centric event, I knew we had to be there.

His first glimpse of Thomas coming down the rails.

Waiting for our turn to ride with Thomas. 

He's coming!

So excited!

Riding the REAL Thomas. 

Meeting Sir Topham Hatt.

Riding in a vintage car.

Lego Thomas

Thomas tattoo

Thomas Storytime

As usual, I wish we could have stayed longer at Greenfield Village.  But after 3 hours, he was almost Thomas'd out. In addition to riding the full-sized Thomas, there were model railroads to see, live music, a Thomas gift shop, storytelling, coloring stations, bubbles, games, sidewalk chalk, and more.  This was in addition to the usual Greenfield Village goings-on.   If you have a Thomas fan in your family, I would highly recommend taking part in one of these events.  

It was so great to load him back in the car clutching his new Thomas lantern and his Thomas coloring sheets.  He just sat there and stared at his lantern, and then every once in a while he'd squawk about his tattoo, or Sir Topham Hatt, or riding the REAL Thomas.  You could just see him trying to process it all through his big brain and make sense of what an awesome day it was.  

I hope he will remember it for years!

Monday, May 9, 2011

I Love Free Stuff

I am digging the blog eighteen25.

I am using their Thanks-a-Latte printable for Big Sis' teacher, and am excited to send it to school with her this week.

I also appreciate their free subway printables.... as well as the suggestion to print them at Costco (why did I never think of uploading & having the prints turn out AMAZING instead of AVERAGE??).

Go check them out today.