Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Big News!

A long time ago, I separated my personal and more publicly-themed blogs, and have recently decided to re-merge them. Everything here is over there now, and I will only be updating that blog from here on out. Cheers and thanks! Update your bookmarks!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Movin' on Down...

Well, it's semi-official: We put in an offer on a house, got a counter-offer, and accepted that. We're going for a long closing (60 days) and a lot can happen during that time, but it looks like we'll be moving early this summer. We're going to have some overlap because our lease doesn't run out until the end of July, and we also want to move slowly and only have to do the truck thing with furniture.

Here's a picture of the trees in the front yard on the very overcast day we saw the house. Beautiful, right?

So, here's the lowdown for those of you who are interested: The house is still in Austin, but further south. It is within a mile of a lot of stuff, but I'm not familiar with anything that's not already a chain in the vicinity. Getting to know it will be fun! There is a Chick-fil-A nearby... not as near as here, but with the added bonus of actually having a dining room and playground, which is important when you have a little kid and live somewhere it's often too hot to play outside.

However, speaking of that... the house is about 1100 feet from Dittmar Park and Recreation Center.

I think our son liked it! Our daughter didn't come with us to see the house this time, because we've been looking at houses for a while and she's kind of over it. Now, of course... well, I'll have her go with me Monday for the end of the inspection.

The location is great, if the commute is a bit further for my husband, but let me tell you something about him and about us to kind of introduce this domicile in all of its glory:

First of all, we are paying for the house 67% of the pre-approval amount we received from the VA. I love this about my husband, and think he loves it about me. We don't want to spend as much as some lender thinks we can afford. We want something reasonable and comfortable. There were several houses we'd see online that James would say, "This one is too hoity-toity for us." And he was always right.

Yesterday, my 13-year-old daughter Daphne asked me, "Are we going to decorate it all the same?" I asked what she meant. She said, "You know. Some places have decorations that match. Are we going to do that, or is it going to be like it is" (gesturing about the Nuthaus) "around here?" I laughed and told her we're not that kind of people, so probably a lot like here. Only not, because we'll have closets and places to put a lot of what looks like clutter but is really just our stuff behind closed doors.

So many doors.

Which leads us to the big thing: This house is weird. It makes no sense. It was built in 1984 as a three-bedroom house. The two non-master bedrooms are so small that Daphne is going to end up with two rooms: a literal bed room and a library/study. Also, the guest bathroom is in that area of the house, and I've promised her that she won't have to deal with a potty-training kid or a young boy in her restroom, so she'll basically have a wing of the house to herself. I'm pretty excited for her.

The house has been added on to in ways that boggle the mind. It looks like they enclosed the back porch to make the "fourth bedroom." You can access this bedroom from the master, or from the back of the house. Direct entry to our room makes this the shoo-in for Mal's room, even though it's probably the biggest bedroom in the house, because being that close to parents is not appealing to the teen, and because baby gear is huge. I'm sure it's much safer than the smaller versions we all survived, though, right?

The living area is in the middle of the house, kind of like a courtyard... except enclosed. It's literally a den. But I have some ideas about how to brighten it up.

There's a galley kitchen, boasting a "custom butcher block" that is a bunch of glued-down pieces of striped wood with a really pretty trim, that matches nothing else in the kitchen. Also, there is one row of tile in the middle of the rest of the counter, and why it's there, who can tell?

There's a "study kiosk" that has a bunch of cable outlets. There is a built-in desk there, but it's so oddly placed, also in the middle of the house, that there is no light, the room is the width of the desk and only has room for a chair, that unless you're a hermit who requires no distractions, working in there would be a little depressing. Fortunately, we have the perfect use for that room! James likes to brew his own beer, and it can ferment in the dark and climate-control in here perfectly!

Speaking of built-ins: They're everywhere. There are inexplicably "two" closets in Daphne's library/study (one closet, really, with two doors and shelving in the middle so you can't walk through) as well as two coat hook things. In the master bedroom, there is a chest of drawers built into the wall under a space built in for an old-fashioned TV and VCR. In the closet beside that, there is another built-in chest of drawers with a mirror over it. Oh, and the closet doors are mirrored. There are built-in bookshelves in the toilet room of the master bathroom. There is a big walk-in closet with built-in drawers and cabinets and even a shoe rack in the master bathroom. There are tons of shelves in Mal's room, that I believe used to be windows (more on that later), and deep shelves in a corner about which I have no idea. There is a "cedar closet" in that room with a bunch of pegs in addition to the hanging racks.

In the back of the house, there are two sun rooms. They both have lockable doors. One of them will be James' office... and there are hanging racks (like in a closet) there, too... but no closet. Cuckoo. I think those are the last add-ons because the house is almost at the drainage ditch (which Mal will know as "The Creek" after it rains) in the back yard.

The Realtor wrote this in the comments about the house after she showed it to us: "Very awkward property. Several different tiles, flooring, and countertops in every room in the house. No natural lighting in living area which is the center of the house. The additions look like recycled materials were used as well as several materials throughout."

Yeah. She pretty much hated it. She didn't even mention (because it's illegal) that the house across the street is a pit. But the owners latticed off the porch for that reason.

Suffice it to say that this is a very "unique" property, and I think that our unique family is the perfect fit for its oddity, and we will love it!

Now for the "fun" process of qualifying fully for a loan. Ugh. Wish us luck and patience and endurance and all of that!

Looks pretty normal from the street, right?!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

An update on the Nuthaus and its surrounds

Well, it's official. There's a lockbox on our door, and we're planning to move when our lease is up this summer. We're looking in town, so will still be in a pretty urban area... but it won't be the same. That has its good points and its bad points.

We love walking everywhere. The walking score where we're looking is nowhere near as good as here. But we'll get to walk a bit further, so maybe get more exercise. And we'll get to know a new area of Austin. This part isn't the only cool part, right?

Someone stole one of our flamingos last night, which brings the stolen flamingo count up to 4, plus the one someone took then abandoned in the alley, and I found it and put it back.

Also, last night our neighbors had a very weird domestic dispute right outside of our bedroom window (the house is like 4 feet from ours) when the woman came home and couldn't get into the house. She said, "Seriously? You're going to be like this? Let me in! I want in the house!" This went on for about 10 minutes before she went upstairs and started trying to get him to open the door up there. Reminding him, "I have a key!" and yelling his name and, "Let me in the house!" THAT went on for about half an hour. I was seriously considering calling 311 because clearly she needed some help.

Side note: She's very sweet. She's offered to help me with my baby, if I need it, but I think I'll take a big old pass on that one for now.

Anyway, the better part of an hour after it started, the guy's voice chimes in. It didn't sound like he came from the house, so maybe he'd parked and walked to a bar or something? He said, "Just a second. I'll let you in." (She was upstairs at that door, and he was down at the lower entry.) He then said, "I found the other key." And we didn't hear anything after that. Weird stuff.

Today, a guy was walking by, saw Mal and me sitting out front, and stopped to chat with us. That happens a lot. But he told me I had a "little blessing" in my lap and said he had gotten 3 packages of wipes and would bring me one, leaving it on the bench cushion outside. Oookay.

Finally, I'm sad to say the crochet guy has disappeared! After like a year! The last time I saw him, I took him some cookies we'd made at a cookie exchange just before Christmas. I figured I'd do that first, and then next time I saw him, ask him what he was making. Now he's gone.

I rode down to get cat food today, and I love this neighborhood. I got a little misty-eyed sitting out on the porch today. This has been a great two years.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Review: Austin's Baked by Amy's birthday party experience

Yesterday afternoon was cold and rainy, but my nieces, nephews, kids, sister, mom, and I had a fun time decorating at Baked by Amy's. Amy's Ice Creams is a long-time Austin staple, and last year, they opened up their first bakery on 183 in the iFly building (Anderson Mills exit at 183 North). It is conveniently located next to an ice cream shop and Phil's Ice House, which will be awfully handy if you consume as much sugar as we did, but we'll get to that part in a bit...

First of all, the nitty-gritty: Birthday parties at Baked by Amy's start at $200 and can accommodate up to 8 kids (or participants, as they were completely gracious to us adults, so I'm sure they wouldn't balk if you and your best friends showed up ready for some creative, tasty fun). Beyond that, it's $25 per person, and it includes invitations! We had booked last minute, and it wasn't anyone's birthday, so we didn't get the invitations, but you'll see why I feel like this was a great deal...

When we arrived, everything was set up. I'd told her there would be 6-8 of us, and there were 9 places set up, plus the one for the baker.

Oh, and it's in a bakery, so in addition to it looking awesome, it smelled AMAZING.

So, yes, we were set up in the lobby, in front of this deliciousness. We had participants from 5-15... or to 69, if you count the three adults. The youngest two made personalized "chef's" hats (they are really more like food-service or soda jerk hats, but I'm not splitting hairs about that). I'm sure the bigger kids could have done this, too, but the girl who hosted our party didn't pander to them.

Each setting had two cookies (one round and one with a flat end and arced end, both shortbread), two cupcakes (one chocolate and one vanilla), some gummy bears, a few Oreos, and a couple of spoons. There were different-colored icings in cups around the table, as well as some white icing, and a bunch of parchment paper piping bags.

When everyone was ready, the hostess got things started by showing everyone how to make a sunflower decoration on a cupcake.

Put some icing into a piping bag.

Um, mine looks vaguely like a flower, right?

Her leaves were much more precise.

Travis might have sneaked some icing into his mouth. Just maybe.

Some embellishments.

The hostess was so helpful, willing to show extra tricks and give us tips.

The next cupcake, she said to decorate however we wanted. A word of caution, though: tell your kids not to use up the Oreos (like I did!) because you'll need them later!

Next, she showed us how to decorate one of the cookies to look like an owl. Here is the pro's:

I'd used my Oreos (well, I used two and accidentally ate the other one), so...


Then we decorated the other cookie however we wanted to.

After we had all decorated our stuff, we got to head into the kitchen to see the professional do her thing!

She put together a Neapolitan cake for the kids' enjoyment (and ours). 

They even got to help plane the frosting.

She explained that sprinkles or cake crumbs or nuts can hide errors in the icing. Nice tip!

Next, it was time to write the Happy Birthday message, but since we weren't celebrating anything special, the kids had her write "lasagna."

This cake was HUGE. I guess it's a 10-inch cake, but it looks like a monster. Now, I've bought 6-inch cakes from bakeries before that were $80 (it did have a custom design, though), so when you think about the price of this party, and that it includes not only this cake but all of the stuff we made (which is boxed up and you get to take with you), then this is a very reasonable party, price-wise!

All of the kids loved it, from the 5-year-old to the 15-year-old. Each kid can decorate to their own ability, and have as much or as little assistance as they want.

My daughter has had birthday parties at a skating rink and at a gym, and I paid about this much for those facilities, still having to provide the cake and any gift bags we wanted to hand out.

But, as every parent knows, one of the best parts of having a party, especially a crafty party like this, anywhere other than in your own home, is that when it's over, you can just walk away from this:

The aftermath!

You can book your party via email or by calling the bakery (info listed on the website linked to above). A 50% deposit is necessary to hold your reservation.

To review: invitations; 1.5 hour party with dedicated host; chef's hat, 2 cookies, and 2 cupcakes per child; all necessary decorations; 10-inch cake;(the website says "lemonade," but they must have forgotten it in our case); and CLEAN-UP included at $200 for up to 8 kids, and $25 per person beyond that.