Tuesday, October 30, 2012

10th Anniversary Cruise! Part 1

So I know I've just been sitting around doing nothing for the last six weeks (or not), but it has taken me too long to get this post done.

Philip and I actually made it to our 10th anniversary still married and took a Mediterranean cruise in September to celebrate! :)

We flew through London to Barcelona, Spain, where we had a day to see the sites before we boarded our ship, the Norwegian Epic.  Our favorite thing in Barcelona was Parque Guel, which was designed by Gaudi. We loved it because it was free, there were lots of places in it to walk to, and the view from the top was fantastic!

Here's Philip in London with ALL of our luggage. :)

The view from the top of Parque Guel. The tall structure on the mid-left is the Sagrada Familia, the famous Gaudi Cathedral.

After boarding the Epic on Sunday afternoon, we had the evening and all the next day to just relax and enjoy the ship.  I think Philip's favorite things were the hot tub, water slides and unending sources of protein. Mine was the balcony in our room.

Check out those water slides!  There were three and they were really fun. :)

The whole ship...it was rather large.

Our first stop was in Naples, or as the locals call it, Napoli. We had a little bit of excitement (ok, a lot) meeting up with our tour group that morning, but once we got past that little bump, we had an amazing day.  Both our guides that day were fantastic, the weather was great and the sites were terrific.  First we went to Pompei and took a tour.

Outside Pompei's city walls

I think this was the courthouse

Street off the main square

Hanging out by the oven where I belong. :)

Cast of a poor soul trying to get clean air to stay alive in 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius

Following our time in Pompei, we headed south of a driving tour of the Sorrentino and Amalfi coasts.  They were just beautiful.  We also took a boat ride from Amalfi up and down the coast a ways to see it from the water.  This was quite possibly the highlight of the whole trip.

Town of Amalfi

WAY high up...so beautiful!

The next day we ported near Rome and drove in. We saw a lot that day, but definitely missed seeing many things that we would have liked to have seen.  And so it goes when you only spend 6 hours in a city the size of Rome!  We did, however, visit the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Plazza Novonna, the Pantheon, and Vatican City (we went to St. Peters, but sadly didn't have time to see the Sistine Chapel). I must say I did not love Rome (too crazy and crowded!), but certainly would take the opportunity to go back some day to take the time to see it "right." I really appreciated it for the incredible history of the place.

Outside the Colosseum

Trevi Fountain, surprisingly large and beautiful...and yes, I threw in a coin

The mammoth St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City

One of my favorite sites of the trip, Michelangelo's "La Pieta"

Ok, thus ends Part 1...getting too long. Next up: Florence!

10th Anniversary Cruise! Part 2

While the Amalfi coast was perhaps our favorite place, Florence was most definitely our favorite city! What a refreshing change it was after the 4 million people city of Rome to visit Florence, which is home to only 400,000. It was just beautiful.  We really enjoyed seeing the Duomo, the baptistry's "Gates of Paradise", Ponte Vecchio, the original medieval streets, the square full of statues by the Uffizi and more. Our guide told us some lovely stories, and coupled with the study the boys and I did of Michelangelo last year, it was just so neat to see history come to life. We also had some very tasty chianti and gelato here, as well as the best cappuccino of the trip. :)

The Gates of Paradise. These are actually replicas as the originals got damaged by a flood and after restoration were moved to a museum, but they are beautiful.

The Duomo, from the mid 1300's

The Duomo's dome: huge and amazing.

In Florence, the tradition is to put a coin in the wild boar's mouth and pet it's nose if you want to return, so we did. 

On Ponte Vecchio, which is full of jewelry shops. It used to be full of butcher shops, but the famous Medici family kicked out all the butchers because it was too smelly.  Philip and I tried to buy a piece of anniversary jewelry here, but we just didn't have enough time.

Living statues were all over Europe. This guy is DaVinci

Michelangelo chiseled this with his back to the wall, hands behind his back and without looking. 

After Florence, we drove to Pisa.  I was not expecting to be impressed at all, as all the pictures I've ever seen made it look like this dingy brown building.  The 1000 year old baptistry in the front of this photo is HUGE and amazing!  The church huge and beautiful and the tower was actually beautiful as well.  The white of the buidings, coupled with the bright blue of the sky made for a gorgeous place.  Wow.

Apparently it's all Philip's fault that it's leaning...

The last two days were spent in France. We went first to Nice, Cannes and Eze, which are in the French Riviera. I must say, the Amalfi coast was very beautiful in it's own way, but the Cote Azure (blue coast) of France....WOW. I have never seen water like this before.  Just stunning.  The french crepe we bought in Cannes, however, left much to be desired. On the beach behind me, Philip went swimming so he could officially say he'd be "in" the Mediterranean.  I was good with just sticking in my feet. :)

Driving along the Riviera

The medieval town of Eze (pronounced "Ehz", not "easy") was quite a ways up, and just on the other side of a hill from Monoco, which we did not visit.  It was a cute little place with some nice views, most of which you had to pay to get, which we did not. :)

Our last day, we ported in Marseille and took a half day tour to Aix on Provence. It was a beautiful little town with many buildings built in the 17th and 18th century. It was particularly beautiful because the because the rich people building homes were all competing for who could have the nicest house. We also stocked up here on our favorite European chocolates.

A church with the gothic entry, from the 14th century, on the left and the roman entry, from the 12th century on the right.

I wish I could have bottled the smell coming out of this bakery. AH-Maz-ing

It was a lovely way to end our trip.  That afternoon we enjoyed the amenties of the boat for the last time and the next morning we were back in Barcelona, ready to fly home.

There ya go, the gratuitous 10th anniversary kissing picture. I got my dress in Amalfi. By far my favorite souvenir. :) Although, the delicious chocolate we bought runs a close second...

It was a great trip.  We learned a lot about how to travel internationally, and about how to be by ourselves for nine days! First time for that since Caleb was born. :)  We are very thankful to Philip's parents for keeping the boys...and even homeschooling them...while we were gone! 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

What?! You're Moving?!

Yep. That's pretty much how we feel about it, too.  So what happened to precipitate this sudden event?  Let me tell you the story.

It all began last December when I felt God nudging us to consider the idea of moving to North Carolina in early 2013.  Philip and I immediately realized that if we were going to be able to easily sell our house here, we needed to renovate the master bathroom, which was original to 1986. Now, we had painted and changed out the fixtures in the bathroom (these pics don't show that, this was from when we bought the house), but let's face it, the tile (almond, octagonal!) screamed "1986" and was not going to sell well in this market.

So, immediately after returning home, Philip began gutting the bathroom.  It took six months of hard work on many nights and weekends, but it was worth it.  The bathroom is gorgeous.

Our bathroom turned out so well that it became even more obvious that the other upstairs bathroom was also stuck in the '80s.  Here's the before pic (from when we bought the house).  Again, we had painted and updated fixtures and it was actually a really cute bathroom, but it was still very clearly dated.

So, this summer, Philip began work on that.

Yes, we used the same tile...figured it was easier that way.  He refinished the vanity rather than replacing, and we left the original mirror, as well.  But even so, looks fabulous.

Ok, so enter early October (and mind you that neither the boys bathroom - above- nor the outer part of the master bath were totally done yet) and we had a conversation with some friends who God has dramatically moved out of the area.  It sparked some conversation between Philip and I about whether or not this house was going to meet our needs and vision for our family long-term.  We concluded short-term, yes, long-term no. We discussed whether we could make additions or modifications to the house that would allow it to meet our needs and concluded that while two of the issues could be rectified, they all could not.  But even so, we didn't plan to do anything about this at that time.

Then, a few days later I was at AWANA to observe a class and had some time to kill and wound up in conversation with a friend.  The conversation turned to remodeling projects and the possibility of us eventually moving.  I described some of the specific things we were looking for in a house and she said, "You know, my neighbor's house sounds similar to what you're describing and they are looking to move in the next few months.  Maybe you should come see the house."  As I said to Philip that evening, no one in my life has ever before said to me, "Maybe you should look at my neighbor's house," so on the chance that this was a divine conversation, I went to see the house the next day.

I could see that the house had the potential to be what we were looking for, but it will need some remodeling (especially the master bathroom), so I almost didn't even call Philip to have him come look at it because I just couldn't imagine that he would want to take on another project after we had basically JUST gotten our house the way we wanted it!  But, it was Columbus Day and it was slow in the office, so I called him, he came and looked and felt strongly that just maybe God had opened a door for us.

As previously mentioned, we had thought about moving out of state, but although Philip had spent several months checking the NC area where we were considering for job options, nothing ever opened up. We talked about whether or not we felt peaceful about staying in Northern Virginia, and specifically in Ashburn. We both did...do feel strongly that God has planted us here for a reason.

So, we contacted the sellers to let them know of our potential interest and to talk about pricing.  Neither of us would be using a real estate agent, which would save them a tremendous amount of money and if their price reflected that, it would not be a financial challenge for us to purchase the house, primarily due to the incredibly low mortgage interest rates right now.  They came back with a reasonable price, and while we didn't commit to buying the house at the time since we still owned our home and it was nowhere near being ready to show for sale, we had further conversation with them, but just let things lie.

We decided that if there was a possibility we'd be moving, we'd better get to work on our house fast.  We also began to specifically pray that if this was God's plan for us, that He would bring us a buyer before we had to list our home with a real estate agent. So Philip finished the bathrooms in record time and I ordered a storage unit so we could declutter the house.

During this time, I was really struggling with doubts about whether or not this house was really right for us, but God's message to me was 1. Trust and follow my husband (who was 110% FOR the house!), 2. Trust Him to bring us a buyer and 3. Trust that He was going to do something amazing if we just asked!

The weekend of the 19th, my in-laws came down and we four spent two serious days working and cleaning and the result was unbelievable.  Only God could have enabled us to accomplish what we did.

We had meanwhile listed the house on Zillow.com (without a realtor) and on the evening of Oct 21 we received a call from an interested buyer.  I spent the next day frantically finishing the cleaning and organizing and literally as he arrived at 4:30, I was dusting the last table.  He left in less than 10 minutes and we thought, "bummer, what a dud." Well, an hour later we received a call from his real estate agent who stated the man wanted to come back with his wife and the agent to see the house again and probably put in an offer.  We were stunned.  They returned and were serious about the house, but still deciding between property and one other, but we realized we should probably get our house on the MLS as quickly as possible to see if we could solicit any other interest.

By 9:30 the next morning we were listed on the MLS through an agent-free listing service and that afternoon another couple came through who really liked the house.  By 10:30 that night we had two great offers.  The next day, Wednesday, 5-6 more people came through and we got another offer.  On Wednesday, we also agreed to a purchase price and terms with the home we had looked at in Ashburn. After some countering between the first two we'd received, on Thursday morning, Oct 24, we accepted an over full price offer on the house.  We were amazed and grateful and back to being amazed.

The couple that is buying our home is the first one that came through and they had been looking for eight months. Ours was the first home that the husband liked. Wow. How cool.

In 2.5 weeks we had gone from having no clue we might be moving any time soon, to having ratified contracts for the sale of our home and the purchase of another.  ONLY God could have done that!

Amazing things about this process:
1. God brought the house to us; we weren't looking
2. He brought it at just the right time that Philip was able to quickly finish the bathroom projects.
3. He enabled us to get the house ready for sale in an incredibly short period of time.
4. The days we were prepping the house and had the house on the market were gorgeous and the boys spent most of their time outside (Instead of this week with rain and a hurricane!!!).
5. The timing of this coincided with Philip receiving a bonus from work that helps us get an amazing rate on our new mortgage.
6. God brought the buyer to us on the exact day we were ready for them and we had the house sold in less than 3 days.

God has already given us a wonderful home that we have enjoyed for the past 5.5 years and one that we have worked hard to make our own, but His Hand has been so obvious throughout this process, we know without a doubt that it is Him that is moving us to this home in this place. We have no idea what He's up to, but we trust that His plans for us are perfect and can't wait to see what He has in store for us.

We will close on both homes right at the end of November and then move into the new house on December 1.  We plan to do the move ourselves, so we are accepting all offers of help! :)