Suddenly September

Some parents complain that August just drags on — seemingly endless summer days until school starts again, with frequent complaints of “I’m bored” from the peanut gallery.  That wasn’t our experience.  Between dealing with G’s broken leg and finalizing plans for my return to school, the month of August flew by.

In the first meeting of one of my dietetics classes, the professor asked us to go around and introduce ourselves by stating our name and the most fun/exciting thing we’d done over the summer, and I drew a complete blank.  A big ol’ nothing.  The two-and-a-half weeks since Gabriel had broken his leg were so intense and draining that everything prior to that (i.e., June and July) was just a blur, a faint and distant memory.

So here we are in September.  I am two weeks into the semester and feeling pretty good about pursuing dietetics as a profession.  I enjoy the material and the science and math that go along with it.

I am also enjoying the challenge of increased bicycle mileage.  I am pretty sure that I’ve been on my bike every day for the past 15 days (there’s one Saturday morning that I don’t quite remember whether or not I ran errands), for a total of 133 miles.  That’s quite a bit more than I’d been doing, and it’s apparently enough bike time that I’m now doing bikey things while OFF the bike, like almost using an arm turn signal when walking through a building on campus yesterday — that wouldn’t have looked weird at all, right?

We had another check-up with G’s surgeon yesterday, and everything looks good.  He’s been completely off of pain meds for almost a week now.  We are just over 4 weeks out, and G is finally starting to walk, with a lot of assistance/support (holding onto our hands plus furniture), though most of the time he still just scoots around on the floor.  He’s also enjoying riding his tricycle.

We go back for another check-up in a month, at which point the doctor might recommend some PT (depending on G’s gait), and we’re hoping to have the nails removed in December.

In case August didn’t have enough excitement, we ended the month with a bit of activity on the house-hunt front.  We made an offer on a house, but failed (so far?) to reach an agreement with the seller.  Then, last Thursday, I took a different route to school, and saw a For Sale sign in front of a [previously off-market] property that we’d been interested in for awhile.  It seemed like fate — I’d just happened to take that route right after negotiations on the other property had ended, and, as it turned out, just five days before bids on this property were due.

We soon discovered that this latest property was a bit of an odd-ball, not really set up for standard home buyers.  After a bit of back and forth with our Realtor and a third party, we figured out a round-about way to get our foot in the door on the bidding.  We have no idea how many people we’re competing against or what those other offers will look like, so now we just wait.

Adding moving to what already feels like a crazy next few months is not exactly my idea of a good time, but after house hunting for over six years, we can’t really pass up a good opportunity due to “inconvenience.”  Moving will likely be a pain whenever it happens, and we’ll just have to deal with it when the time comes.  And, in reality, there’s a decent chance that that time will NOT be now.

So, now that we’re in September, what’s the most fun or exciting thing YOU did over the summer?  Or what are you most looking forward to with fall approaching?

Allergies and busy bees

I feel like it was just Easter . . . and then I blinked and four weeks flew by!

Awful allergies
Seasonal allergies hit all three of us hard at the beginning of the month.  We took G to the doctor, thinking it was something infectious, but he said he’d been seeing kids like that all morning and it was allergies.  Our pediatrician prescribed a low dose of Claritin, which seemed to help.  (After feeling pretty funky ourselves, despite our regular Neti pot habit, Matthew and I jumped on the Claritin bandwagon, too.)

Busy bees
April was pretty crazy around these parts. The day after Easter, my MIL had a hip replacement.  Fortunately, it went well, though getting back to “normal” has taken a bit longer than she expected/hoped.  She is both Gabriel’s main caregiver (when he’s not at preschool), as well as Matthew’s main gardening partner-in-crime, so we really noticed her absence.

Matthew was really busy work-wise the first half of the month.  No sooner did things settle down for him than MY work kicked into high gear.  As a result, my meditation practice started to fall by the wayside (just when I needed it the most, of course).  But there’s light at the end of the tunnel!

And into May . . .
The first few days of May are giving April a run for their money.  On Friday, my eight-month-long bike hunt [kind-of] ended when I purchased a Kona Dew Deluxe.


And, for better or worse, I got my first-ever smart phone.  (Good news — it’s looking like I may be smart enough to use said phone!)

Saturday was a catch-up day.  A bit of phone learning and bike tinkering, though not quite what I’d hoped, because the rear rack from my previous bike didn’t quite fit on the newbie.

We ventured out early Sunday morning for a bike-by of a property that had an open house later in the day.  We confirmed that we did, indeed, want to make it to the open house that afternoon.  The trip was extra productive because the route we took on our bikes led to the discovery of 4-5 more letter-worthy properties (that we wouldn’t have found by car).

In the afternoon, we went back for the open house, and decided we wanted to make an offer.  And then things got crazy.  We seem to attract seller’s agents who like using the “give us your highest and best offer by X date and time” technique.

Sunday night and Monday morning were spent scrambling to figure out and put together a reasonable offer, all with our realtor somewhat out of commission due to injury and illness, and us dealing with Gabriel being ill, as well.  (Plus some work deadlines I had — crazy days, I tell you!)

Matthew took the day off work to be with Gabriel (another diagnosis of pneumonia, I’m afraid), while I dealt with the house stuff.  Our offer is submitted (one of at least three offers they received),  so now it’s just a waiting game.  I’m enjoying finally having a bit of space to breathe, especially because it might be temporary.

The seven year house hunt

Sometime in April of 2009, Matthew and I made our first offer on a house.  It was a low offer (but one we felt was fair, for an amount we were comfortable paying for the house in question), and it went nowhere.  It was by no means our “dream property,” and we didn’t want a starter home, so we shrugged it off.

Our house hunt it now entering its seventh year.  In that time, we’ve made a handful of offers, usually low offers on something that might have worked, but that we weren’t too sad to pass on.

It feels like we’re looking for a needle in a haystack (I thought there was a previous post outlining what we’re looking for, but I guess I need to work on that).  In the past six plus years, we’ve viewed hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of online listings.  The listings are first filtered through some of our criteria for price, lot square footage, location, and number of bedrooms.

If something looks interesting, the next step is to pull up a satellite view.  Sure, it may have a BIG yard, but is it a big, SUNNY yard?  Or does it have the potential to be a big sunny yard, i.e., are there trees we can remove, or is the shade coming from neighboring buildings and/or trees on neighboring lots?

On the maps, we also look at proximity to highways, train tracks, and other NIMBY factors, as well as looking at transportation options.  We’ve already limited our search to locations that would be bikeable [to current/potential work sites], distance-wise, but what would it actually be like to bike from Y to Z?  Is it at all convenient for public transit?  What about walkability?

The map test significantly reduces the number of properties that are actually worth seeing in person, but every now and then it happens.  Yesterday was one of those days, and the property in question even had an open house.

I like attending open houses because it means we don’t have to waste our realtor’s time with an official showing.  (I like the realtor we’re currently working with, and after over six years and at least as many realtors, I’d like to hang on to this one.)  With an open house, you just show up, pop in, and you’re on your way.

Of course, the last few years of house hunting have been with a little one in tow.  The hardest part of this by far is scheduling viewings around his sleep times; compared to that, the actual house tours are a piece of cake!  When he was little, we would just stick G in the Ergo and wear him while we toured houses.

Things are a little trickier now, but fortunately G is pretty flexible and low-key.  If we’re viewing a clean, safe property, we’ll sometimes bring a favorite toy or two and give him the option of walking around with us or plopping down somewhere with his toys.  (Dirty properties, or those with hazards, are a bit trickier, but we don’t encounter too many of those.)

Anyhow, I brought a couple of toys to yesterday’s open house, but G was content to walk around with us.  We had finished viewing the main floor, and Matthew opened the door to the basement.  In addition to an immediate view of some rather creative plumbing (I don’t think you ever really want to hear the word “creative” applied to plumbing), we were met with a special stench, which Matthew identified as cat pee (the owners had already moved out, so there are neither humans nor cats living in the house at the moment).

All in all, the basement was less than inviting, and Gabriel said he didn’t want to go downstairs.  I was also fine passing on that experience, so I suggested the two of us check out the second floor.  Now, Gabriel really likes cats, and I could tell that he was curious about Matthew’s comment.  In a quiet voice (so the realtor showing the house couldn’t hear), I tried to explain why we thought there had been a cat (or cats) in the house.  So we’re climbing the stairs up to the second floor, and Gabriel gets this really serious look on his face and says, “But what color was the cat?”

His non sequitur totally cracked me up, and now I feel inspired to use that line at random in conversations.  “Yes, I see your point, but what color was the cat?”

Unfortunately, after our quick walk through, we deemed yesterday’s house yet another non-starter — the location would have been great for both biking and walking, and decent for transit, and the house itself had some nice features, but the actual usable garden space wasn’t as big as we’d hoped, it was overpriced for the updates it needed, and we’re not sold on the school district.  It all added up to a big N-O.  And so the search continues . . . .

Previous house hunting posts:



House hunting by bike

Well, we’re back on (or still on? — not sure we ever really fell off) the house hunting horse, though conditions are questionable: inventory is really low right now, good properties are moving fast, it’s a seller’s market, etc., etc.  Not to mention that interest rates (on loans) are rising.  (What really gets me is that interest rates on borrowed money are going up, while rates on savings, like C.D.s and money market accounts, are still pitiful –grr!)

Anyhow, a new property of interest (let’s call is a POI) popped up on Monday.  What with properties moving fast, I was more than a little anxious, and we got in to see it by Wednesday afternoon.

I planned to meet Matthew there after work, and since I’d been a bit under the weather, my initial plan was to take the car.  However, Wednesday was rather nice, weather-wise, the destination was just over 3 miles away, and biking worked, timing-wise.  In fact, in making my plans to bike, I rather forgot that I was feeling sick.  I readied my bike, picked Sir up from childcare early, and we headed over.


The Good

  • Almost a third of an acre (12200 sq ft lot) with good sun for gardening
  • A decent kitchen rehab
  • A crazy master suite that took up the entire 2nd floor, and included a wall of windows looking out onto the huge front yard (i.e., the garden)
  • Decent location for bikeability
  • Closet space

The Bad/Weird

  • The 100+ year-old house had some additions over the years, which seemed rather random/haphazard
  • There was a small basement under part of the house; the rest was some weird combination of crawl-space, subbasement, and slab
  • In one of the crawl-spaces, they were using jacks and bricks to support part of the house.
  • The entrance to the basement was through one of the first floor bedrooms
  • The kitchen, living, and dining areas had been refinished with laminate flooring, which is known for off-gassing some nasty stuff
  • The paint (or other?) fumes — both my lungs and head were unhappy; I had to keep stepping outside to get fresh air
  • Potential plumbing issues

The “Eh”

  • Pretty dismal for public transit
  • Not particularly walkable
  • On the very edge of StL city limits, meaning we would have to deal with “the school” question

The basement issues made it a no-go, a decision we arrived at rather quickly.  As our realtor pointed out, lifting a house and adding a basement is neither an easy nor a cheap fix.

We biked home together, and on the way, I pointed out a house with a huge lot (assuming that it was, in fact, a single property) that I’d noticed earlier.  After dinner, a bit of house-stalking turned up that it was, in fact, a house on half an acre.


A-freaking-mazing.  And, distinctly NOT for sale.  Bummer.

Due to various timing and logistical issues, we’ve driven to most of the properties we’ve looked at over the past few years, which always feels wrong, since bikeability is one of our big criteria.  I have to admit that part of my motive in biking to this house on Wednesday was hoping to create some good house hunting karma.  Despite it not being “the one,” I really enjoyed seeing the house, and I think biking there helped my mood and improved the whole experience.

**Satellite images of POIs courtesy of Google maps.**



The house that was not

Remember that house I was excited about?  Well, we made a bid on February 7th.  On February 10th, when I was stuck in jury duty, we learned that the bank had accepted a different [higher] offer.

So that was that, and we were really okay with the outcome.  Of course, we had checked the “Seller may hold [our] offer as a back-up to accepted offer,” box on the HUD contract form, so there was always the chance that something could fall through with the other buyers.  Matthew more or less dismissed this possibility entirely.  While I was not hoping for it, nor even consciously thinking about it, I also didn’t think the case was closed until we found out how much it the final selling price.

Last Friday, exactly four weeks after we placed our bid, our realtor contacted Matthew saying that the contract with the other buyer had, indeed, fallen through, and the house was ours if we wanted it.  The timing seemed almost like fate — just when we decided we would be in this apartment for awhile, things shifted: 1) I finally took the moving boxes to the basement and 2) Matthew commented just the other week, when I bought furnace filters, that maybe we wouldn’t be here to use the second filter.

We more or less decided that it was a go, planning to meet with our realtor to walk through the house one more time on Saturday morning and then complete the paper work. We were going to buy a house.  In the suburbs.  Holy moly.

We both spent Friday night tossing and turning, getting very little sleep, in anticipation of the fact that we were really going to buy a house, with all of the good and not-so-good (hmm, we’re going to have to buy a lawn mower . . . and USE it) implications.

While the house appeared to be [close to] livable already, we already had a mile long (at least cost-wise) list of renovations/alterations to the property: tree removal (to improve sun for gardening) and possible terracing of the sloping yard, taking down a wall to open the kitchen to the front room, kitchen remodel, ripping out carpet and refinishing wood floors, installing a shed or lean-to for bike storage (no room for a garage), and possibly adding a door for direct access to the basement.  Probably at least $30k of improvements.

(Of course, somewhere in the two hours of sleep that I manged to piece together that night, I managed to make my neck very angry.  I spent the rest of the weekend in significant pain; pain that was undaunted by ice and ibuprofen.)

Saturday morning, we stopped by our credit union on the way to the house, to get a cashier’s check for the deposit we would submit with the contract.  We got to our the house, and I started snapping pictures of the kitchen, so we could start planning the remodel.


We had already been through the house with Matthew’s mom and her partner (a restoration carpenter), but Matthew’s dad had yet to see it.  When you’re making a decision/purchase as big as a house, the more eyes the better.  As I finished up the kitchen pictures, Matthew’s dad and his wife arrived.  And our “good enough; let’s do this” house started unraveling.

First, they noticed the musty smell and brought up mold concerns.  Matthew and I both have very sensitive noses, and we had noticed this before, but, with our rose-colored glasses on, we attributed it to the house having been closed up for almost a year now.

Then, I noticed that the most recent visit recorded on the sign-in sheet had “water on floor” as the reason.  I headed to the basement, which has some mostly finished space . . .


. . .  and found these water stains.  We had either missed them on our previous visits (would have been easy since the power was off and we were viewing by flash bike-light), or they were new.

Now, a little water in a basement is nothing new, but, since the upstairs living space is a bit cramped, we were planning to really use this downstairs [basement] area, as living space, not just storage.  It prompted us to really look at things.  While the house is not at THE lowest point on the block, it is not too far off.  There has been, and will continue to be, significant water running across the property.  Certainly not a cheap fix if possible at all.

We found possible evidence that the water pressure has caused recent shifting in the foundation, a big red flag.


And it all added up to this:

  1. It seemed likely that there were significant issues that would cost significant money to fix/improve (if it was possible to do so at all).
  2. With the offer we made, combined with the improvements we already planned, we did not feel like we could put more money into this house.
  3. Because it is a foreclosure, we could not adjust our offer to offset these additional costs.

So, we followed our gut and walked away.  While we feel we made the right decision, it still made for a rough Saturday, especially when combined with sleep deprivation, neck pain, and gray, chilly weather.

I admit to a temptation to call this whole thing off, and proclaim myself a renter for life.  But, since we want a large garden where we live, along with some other benefits of home-ownership, we will dust ourselves off and continue this slow, plodding search.