Becoming a Homeowner, Pt 3

Note: This post was written on August 26. If you’re following along in the series, this post was written after our meeting with the mortgage professional and after some refinement on our down payment number (not as huge as we once thought it would be but still a good number). It’s the third part in a long and rambly home buying journey. You’ve been warned.


So you know how window shopping is actually the worst because you see all the pretty things you can’t buy?

Yeah, that’s what open houses are like.

We’ve been to about 10 open houses by now in New West and Surrey. We popped into a couple around our neighbourhood and then scheduled out a weekend to see some in Surrey. So far, it’s been really informative. It’s great to get a feel for new neighbourhoods, see what is available, figure out what we like and don’t like, etc. When asked if we were working with a realtor, we’d say that we were just getting a feel for the market and were probably looking to buy in the new year. The selling realtor would praise us and our great decision to do some market research. Our parents were supportive and our mortgage professional thought it was a good idea.

So where did it all go wrong?

When we saw our dream house.

Okay, the outside isn’t that dreamy but I swear it’s nice in there!

During a late night scroll through my phone, I received an email alert that a new house had been listed in our Surrey areas. Curious, I clicked on the link. And I was intrigued immediately. It was a townhouse. The place was 10 minutes from the skytrain and mall, had an outdoor pool and playground, was three storeys and over 1500 square feet. Our current apartment is just over 500 square feet, so you can imagine how excited I was for the prospect of three times that!

I sent Colin (who was sleeping at the time) a message asking him to remind me to show him the place the next day. The next afternoon, I walked him through the listing. Colin was also intrigued. There weren’t too many photos so we were curious what the place really looked like. Was it actually three floors? Where did they put all that square footage?

So on Saturday, we rolled up to the open house. As we pulled into the abundant visitors’ parking across from a swingset, playground and basketball course, we began joking with each other saying, “I hope we hate it! The inside better not be very nice.”

But, it was really nice.

We had arrived a bit before the 2pm open house start time but were ushered in by the realtor. Arriving early allowed us to have the home to ourselves and we were free to ask the realtor all of our questions.

We walked into the living/dining room and were immediately impressed by how big it was. The photos online made it look way smaller. Next we checked out the good-sized back deck and discovered a shared, enclosed backyard where we could let Ellie roam free (if our neighbours were cool with it).

We headed upstairs to find two giant bedrooms. Seriously, such huge spaces! We were always thinking the second bedroom would be my office and when we have guests, we’d put a bed down on the ground. But with a second bedroom of this size, we would easily be able to fit a bed and all my office stuff at the same time. The bathroom upstairs was also giant and very modern.

One small corner of a very big second bedroom

The kitchen was updated and had pretty good cabinet space. We talked about where we might put a microwave and already I could see us living in the house.

Last, we went downstairs to see the finished basement. We were warned that it wasn’t quite finished but were pleasantly surprised. The space was huge! There was in-suite laundry, a half bath, storage and tons of space for hanging out.

Colin and I were getting kind of giddy. We started asking the realtor more serious questions such as the date for offers and when the current family was hoping to move out. We left with nervous smiles – what the hell were we going to do?

We sat in Colin’s parked car for a good 10 minutes just talking through the situation. Our original plan was to get our pre-approval in October and start looking for homes in the winter with a move-in date of Feb/March. We talked through the money situation and whether or not we could afford the $398,000 list price (or more if it goes above asking). And then we started talking about the logstics – could we get pre-approved fast enough to make an offer? Would our parents be willing to commit to down payments and get that money to us? Could we find a realtor?

ARE WE CRAZY?

The way I felt in the car is the same way I feel when I book a big trip. “Am I crazy?” keeps flashing in my mind. I’m nervous and I’m excited. I can’t stop smiling but I also can’t stop letting out exasperated breaths. It’s that feeling of taking a risk but knowing the outcome could be so good. I never thought I would feel that way about a house.

And best of all, Colin was totally on the same page. A part of me was scared that I would fall in love with the place and Colin would not be feeling it. Honestly, that might have been better because then he could have talked me down. But Colin was just as into it as I was. We both walked through the townhouse and actually felt like we were walking through a home. It felt like someplace we could live and be happy for a long time. We saw our futures there.

So after crunching a few numbers and assuring ourselves that it wouldn’t hurt to at least try, we decided to go for it. Could we pull this off? Remains to be seen.

Our first step was to talk to our parents. I texted my mom and called my dad – no reply from either. Colin’s mom had called us just as we were leaving the house to make plans for dinner – perfect. On the way to her house, we sent our mortgage professional an email asking if our crazy dream of getting the world’s fastest pre-approval was even possible.

Over the rest of the afternoon, dinner and dog walk, we talked to Margie about our dream home. I was so impressed and grateful that Colin totally took the lead on this one. He was the one who started using words like “dream house” and “we fell in love with it.” It made me feel so good to know that this wasn’t some scheme of mine I had pulled him into. Colin was just as into this as I was.

I also got to talk to my parents that evening. And to our surprise, all three of our parents were on board. Of course, they wanted to make sure we were doing our due diligence and asking all the right questions. But they were all super supportive. Colin and I kept expecting someone to say, “What? Of course you can’t buy a townhouse. Are you kidding?” But nobody did. We were expecting to be talked off the ledge but instead we were encouraged to jump.

So we emailed a realtor I had been communicating with to try and get the ball rolling. And we made plans with Margie to go back to tomorrow’s open house so we could show her the place.

When we finally got home, Colin and I were mentally and physically drained. Poor Colin had worked at 5am, so he was super tired. But I think our brains were also fried from all of the what-ifs and how-abouts of the day.

Lying in bed, Colin asked again, “Are we crazy?”

I mean, we probably are. It does seem incredibly fast. But there are also so many good points. I’ve been looking at homes for a couple of months now and I’ve never seen something this big, this nice, in this location for this price. And it’s the first one that has really felt like a home. There’s something about having multiple levels in a townhouse and not being able to see every square inch of your house from the front door that’s pretty cool. We asked the realtor about other units in the complex and he said they don’t come up often. The last unit to sell was winter 2016 – almost an entire year ago. So I’m scared if we don’t act on this one, we’ll lose out. And if this is a home we spend 5, 10, 15+ years in, will it really matter if we put in an offer two months earlier than we had planned? Doubt it.

But it still feels crazy. And maybe, even impossible. I’m trying not to get my hopes up. I know it is still such a long shot for this house to be ours. First, we have to hear back from our mortgage professional and see if she can help us out. Then, assuming she can, we’d have to get all our financial documents to her. Next we’re waiting on the lender and praying we get a good mortgage rate. Banking (pun intended) on a good rate and this place being in our price range, we then have to work with a realtor and come up with a good offer. And then there’s hoping that our offer is accepted over everyone else’s.

So yeah, we have a ton of hoops to jump through. Our mortgage professional could write us back tomorrow with a simple, “Yeah, you guys are nuts. You can’t get pre-approved fast enough and you’ll never be able to afford that place.” Or by the time we get approved, the place could have sold. Or if we manage to get an offer in on time, there could be a bidding war that totally goes over our heads. Or maybe some money bags will swoop in tomorrow and offer way more than asking and this will all be for nothing.

But despite this mountain of obstacles we’d have to climb, I’m still hopeful. I can’t deny that part of me fell in love with this house. Walking down the stairs, I actually felt like I was in a home – not just an apartment or a rental. It felt like someplace we could grow into. There were little things we’d want to change right away (like painting the very pink and very blue bedrooms) but nothing major. And there were still enough projects to keep us busy down the road (like re-doing the weird textured walls in the basement). I could see us cooking in the kitchen, Colin playing video games in the basement and me typing away in my office/second bedroom. I could see Ellie running around the backyard while Colin fires up the grill. And I could even see our future kid playing on the swings right next to our house and inviting his or her friends over to swim in our pool.

What was that about not getting my hopes up?

I know real estate isn’t supposed to be an emotional thing. But how can you not get attached to the biggest purchase of your life that you’ll spend so much time in? I can’t imagine buying a house I didn’t love. So since this one has already won my heart, I guess I just have to be prepared to have my heart broken…

… while still holding onto a glimmer of hope that we could actually end up living there!

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Becoming a Homeowner, Pt 2

Note: This part of the series was written in mid-August. Again, if long and rambly posts on home buying/life updates are not your deal, feel free to skim or skip!


So this has been one fairly eventful week. It all culminates in an update on the home buying front, but there are some other life details thrown in there, because buying a home isn’t supposed to be straightforward, is it?

At the start of this week, I was thinking it would be business as usual in our disgustingly hot apartment in New West. I figured it would be lots of working from Starbucks (I need their AC), wee pup walks and absolutely no travel or home updates. Clearly, I was wrong.

We actually decided to leave New West for a bit and headed out to Kelowna to visit Colin’s brother Kyle, his girlfriend, Corbie, and their brand new baby, Jordan.

I hadn’t been to Kelowna since 2012 when I went up for Residence Advisor Orientation at the UBC-Okanagan campus. To be fair, this should barely count as visiting Kelowna since we never left campus. I’ve been up to Kelowna three times before this and every single time I only saw UBCO. So this trip was a nice change.

It was a bit of a trek up to Kelowna, but we had our awesome road trip playlist, wee pup snuggles and a really good chat about life and money. I read somewhere that the best time to have serious conversations with a guy is when he’s driving. He’s in his element, he’s able to focus on the road, he doesn’t have to look directly at you and you’re not distracted by anything since it’s just the two of you. Turns out, that advice held true. Colin and I were able to have some really good talks about our money issues/goals, mental health, plans for the future, potential wedding ideas, etc.

Once up in Kelowna, we spent some awesome time visiting with Kyle, Corbie, Jordan and Kyle’s first son, Jaxon. Their house was awesome, as was the pool and the cute little cabin we got to stay in. Even without air conditioning and in Kelowna’s heat, that cabin was way cooler than our apartment. We got to try some great restaurants and visit Kelowna’s downtown.

Colin and baby Jordan!

We were super excited to meet Jordan and spend some time with Kyle and Corbie. I’m glad we got to go up and see them since they won’t be down in Vancouver until late September. At that point, Jordy will be almost 2 months old. However, we did feel like we were in the way sometimes. I really wanted to help out with the baby but it seemed like often, the best thing for us to do was just to give them some space.

All in all, it was a great trip. While in Kelowna, we also came across an awesome flight deal. And by “we” I mean that I saw the deal on Facebook and clicked through to the booking website, confirming with Colin once I had it all loaded up.

Colin and I have been wanting to get back to Europe for a while now. He visited in high school and I was there on exchange in 2014. We had talked about doing a big Europe trip in 2018. However, with all the talk of home buying, we assumed we’d have to postpone it.

But then, this amazing flight deal fell into our laps. Colin was a bit hesitant, but even he couldn’t argue with savings like this. Plus, it’s nine months away so we have lots of time to save and plan. So we officially booked flights to Ireland! We’ll be flying roundtrip from Vancouver to Dublin, April 9-19 for only $344 per person! How insane is that?

We’re stoked on the trip. Neither of us has been to Ireland before and we both have a bit of Irish in our bloodline. I would’ve wanted to stay for 2-3 weeks to see more of Europe, but I know Colin is worried about the cost. To be fair, I should be more worried about the cost so 10 days is probably the right move. We’ll spend all of it in Ireland and have an amazing time drinking beer, driving through the Irish cliffs and praying for sun.

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Can’t wait to see this in Ireland next April!

So we got Kelowna and Ireland – what more could we want out of a week? Oh, that’s right – something related to home ownership (the title of this post!).

Just before we left for Kelowna, Colin and I booked an appointment with a mortgage professional in Vancouver. I was excited about it because this is the first step we’ve taken in actually getting this househunt off of our internet browsers and into the real world. But it was also super scary. Colin remarked that we could be packing for Ireland from a new house that we OWN. Ahhhhh!

Another scary part of the mortgage meeting was filling out the online form and getting real about our finances. I’ve recently written about talking money with your SO and realize it’s something Colin and I are going to need to do if we are planning a future together. It was eye opening to see where we both were and what concerns we had.

There was also the controversy of meeting with a mortgage professional. In my research (articles I’ve found online and podcasts I’ve listened to), it seems that mortgage professionals are the way to go. They specialize in mortgages, have relationships with multiple lenders and can usually get you a better interest rate than you could get at your bank. Plus, like a realtor, they are free for buyers to work with. So what could be wrong?

Well, turns out not everyone is into that strategy. My mom immediately nixed the idea when I told her over text. She touted a friend of hers who had gone the same route and got screwed. After I explained my research findings, she softened to the idea a bit. She still wanted me to work with someone based on a personal recommendation. I get where she is coming from – it would be awesome to have a friend recommend a mortgage broker to us. But it might not be possible. We just don’t have that many friends buying homes. And personally, I prefer to go with the stats and research I am finding online over an anecdotal story from a friend who had a good or bad experience.

Colin’s mom also pushed back against the mortgage professional idea. She wants us to get a mortgage through a bank – specifically, her bank. Colin explained the research we had done but she still thinks her bank is best. And, seeing as she just bought and sold a home with them, I can see why. She has a great relationship with her bank and believes that she can use that to help us get a great deal. I’m less sure.

So all that to say, we are still meeting with our mortgage professional on Monday. But we haven’t signed anything yet and we’re not committed to her. We’ll likely take a meeting at Colin’s mom’s bank as well. It won’t hurt to try out a few avenues and see what is what.

And lastly, another big whopper on the house front: our down payment number changed. So all along, we have been counting on Margie (Colin’s mom) to help us out with our down payment. At first, we thought the money was a gift but now we understand it’s an investment. We still have to figure out all of the paperwork on that front. Our plan was to use her investment, possibly a bit of money from my parents, some of our savings and then the first time home buyers program to put together a pretty good sized down payment. 

Well, Margie just informed Colin on the phone that her contribution to our down payment was going to be more. Significantly more. So much more that we ran the numbers on some of our potential mortgage payments and they were laughable. I’m talking less than $600 for a monthly mortgage payment!

So obviously, this is a game changer. It’s way more money than we were expecting and it really could shake things up for us. Now, more than ever, do I want all of us to sit down and put this stuff in writing. Often, it’s Colin talking to his mom on the phone and then trying to relay as much of the information as he can back to me once they hang up. So it’s time to get things in writing once we meet in person. Of course, I want Margie’s investment to be protected. And I also want to make sure Colin and I are being fair to ourselves and our future. And I think it would be good to chat and get everything out in the open. It seems like the information we glean from her changes all the time – so it’s about time for us to be direct, sit down and talk like adults doing business.

We’re not quite sure what that sum of money means. Would she be signing the mortgage with us? Because if she does, we don’t qualify for the first time home buyers program. Is that bad? Or are we taking out a second mortgage with her? Colin said she mentioned something about a 0% mortgage we could do. How does this impact our other mortgage? How do we determine her investment pay off once we sell? Can we now start looking at higher priced properties because we have a larger down payment? Or should we continue looking at our current price range and just drive down our monthly payments/pay off the mortgage sooner?

So many questions! Basically, all of this new home ownership stuff has just resulted in a ton of questions. I’m hoping we can get most of them answered soon. I have phone calls planned with my parents for this weekend. I want to share all of this with them and get their opinion. Plus, if they were planning to contribute, as a gift or a loan or an investment, I’d love to know the number going into our meeting with the mortgage professional. Colin is also trying to get a ballpark figure from his mom so we have that information. He’s going to the bank with her on Tuesday but our meeting is on Monday.

And then I’m hoping everything else will get answered soon after that. I’m hoping our mortgage professional can answer a lot of questions at our meeting. And I’m hoping we can book a meeting with Margie’s bank this week and sit down with her to figure out all of the details. It’s scary! Things are really starting to move. The process is happening and the puzzle pieces are starting to fit together. Wish us luck!

Becoming a Homeowner, Pt 1

Note: This was written in early/mid August (I can’t remember exactly when) and is part of a lengthy, rambly series on our homeownership journey. Feel free to skip or skim if you’re not interested in homes! 


Image result for house hunters

No, we weren’t on this show. And no, we’re not buying a house on the water. But a girl can dream!

The first step to becoming a homeowner is deciding you want to become a homeowner.

Sounds obvious, right? Like, does this even count as a step? It sounds like it’s more of a pre-step.

But no, it is a bonafide step. At least, it was for us.

Home ownership was never something I gave much thought to. I grew up with divorced parents who would move everytime the lease was up. My mom finally bought a house when I was about 10 years old and sold it a couple of years later. My dad bought a house when I was 13 and actually still lives in that house. But by that point, I had lived in more than 20 homes between both parents so the stability of a mortgage over a lease didn’t mean too much to me.

When I moved out to Vancouver, I always assumed I would just be a renter. I liked the idea of being able to pick up and go. And I really loved the thought of moving abroad whenever I wanted.

Plus, if you know anything about Vancouver real estate, you know that buying here is a lofty aspiration. In fact, affording a home in Vancouver is more often the punchline of a joke than an actual reality.

But then we have Colin, my sweet, stable-home raised, boyfriend. Colin grew up in a single storey home in Surrey with his mom, dad and at least two pets at any given time. This is the only house Colin has ever known. He even has his height marked on the inside of a doorway. (Which, as someone who moved around a lot, is something I am so envious of).

Last year, after Colin’s dad passed away, his mom decided to sell the house. After many months of cleaning, donating items and taking truckloads of crap to the dump, the house was finally empty. Colin and I moved into an apartment in New West and his mom moved into a condo in Port Coquitlam.

The house in Surrey was no more.

Check out that stunning cherry blossom tree in front of the Surrey house!

But it lives on. We still talk about fond memories on the beautiful backyard porch. We remember the converted garage that served as Colin’s bedroom suite. And we even drive by every now and then just to see what the new homeowners are up to (they keep the blinds closed so we actually have no idea).

So that’s where we came from. I believed I would rent forever and that having a mortgage was too much of a commitment. The longest I had lived in one place as an adult was just over a year. Colin, on the other hand, was signing a rental lease with me for pretty much the first time in his life (he lived in North Van for four months during school but that barely counts).

We’re about halfway through our one year lease on our first apartment together. And naturally, the dream apartment we found in the middle of a snowstorm in December has begun to lose a bit of its charm.

The kitchen, which we loved because it was updated and had a dishwasher, is far too tiny. Two people in there trying to cook is ridiculous. The desk I bought from IKEA that we spent a few late nights spray painting and wallpapering has now become a glorified shoe rack.

Basically, our one bedroom has become too small. With me working from home full-time and our place being just over 500 square feet, this was only natural. It’s hard to make things work when my “office” is the dining room table which shares space with our TV, Colin’s desk and the couch.

This “dining room table” is now my desk

So, we knew we wanted two bedrooms in our next place. Being obsessed with research like I am, I got right to work looking up two bedrooms. I wanted to know what kind of places were available and how much more they would cost us.

I’ll be fairly open about our financials here. Our current 500+ square foot, modern, one bedroom apartment in a high rise in downtown New West costs us $1250/month. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is a pretty great deal. When we were first looking for apartments, we found that a lot of the nice new buildings in downtown New West were asking $1600+ for a one bedroom. And then the older buildings farther north had one bedrooms for around $1000, but we didn’t like the look or location. There was very little in the middle so I think we were lucky to find our place.

But my research showed that moving up to a two bedroom and still staying in our location was going to cost us. We were looking at places in the $1800-2000 range. The increase scared us a little bit. Before moving in with Colin, I was paying rent on a bachelor apartment in Kits (a steal at $850), so I was a bit more comfortable with the price jump. But I knew it would be a big change for us. Was it worth it?

I’m not sure how it happened, but I began to move my research away from Craigslist apartment ads and towards realtor.ca. I was curious! And the idea of homeownership had been dropped in my head. A friend of mine in Toronto was starting to look at the housing market with her husband (sending good vibes her way cause their market sucks like ours). And another friend and her partner had just purchased a place in Kelowna.

Plus, when we were looking for our rental last year, Colin’s mom had offhandedly mentioned that maybe we should buy instead. She was even willing to help us with the down payment, as she would have the money after selling her house. I was vehemently against the idea. I love Colin. But at that point, we hadn’t even celebrated our second anniversary. I had never lived with a partner before and Colin had barely ever lived away from home. I was not ready to sign a mortgage with him. Colin felt the same and after one morning of trying to look through house listings, we called it off and stuck with our rental plan.

But here I was, five months into our lease and looking at realtor.ca. What was happening?

I told myself it was just research. I just wanted to get educated. I was bored with the same old listings on Craigslist and I wanted to see something new. But was that it? A part of me that I hadn’t really acknowledged before was super excited scrolling through the home listings. And when I returned to the Craigslist ads, I was noticeably disappointed.

I spent a lot of my university and post-university years rejecting the ideas of traditional adulthood. I never really dreamt about settling down, marriage, kids, the mortgage and the minivan. I would’ve been just as happy travelling the world, moving countries every year and maybe having a partner by my side – kids were optional.

So I went out and I got those travelling experiences. I studied abroad in Amsterdam for five months. I volunteered in Swaziland for an entire summer. I travelled through Australia for a month. And I loved all of those experiences. But I also loved coming home. I loved decorating my apartment and picking out furniture. I loved having a neighbourhood sushi restaurant (my equivalent of having a local coffee shop) and house plants that I tried my best not to kill. I was craving a bit of a fixed life. I loved travelling, but I wanted a home.

And those home feelings definitely magnified when I met Colin. I got to see the world from his perspective, growing up in one home with both parents in the same place for his whole life. I found myself daydreaming about the fixed life we could have together. Slowly, the marriage, kid(s) and mortgage didn’t sound so bad – I’m still out on the minivan.

That’s not to say I completely gave up on all of my travel dreams the minute I got a boyfriend. It’s not like that at all. I was having those fixed life cravings long before I met Colin. In fact, I think things worked out with Colin because I was already in the mindset of placing some roots. And I haven’t given up travelling. Colin and I have gone on lots of trips together in our 2+ years of dating. And I even headed off to Vietnam for a month with a girlfriend while Colin stayed here. It was never and it will never be a matter of trading in my passport for a mortgage.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Sorry, I digress (again).

All that to say, I was looking at homes for sale and I was getting excited. And when I get excited, I have to start researching. So I started reading blogs about buying homes, what we could afford, what markets were hot and when was the best time to buy. I downloaded real estate podcasts and started sending questions to the podcast hosts. And, most importantly, I started talking to Colin.

Colin and I had already been talking about the move to a two bedroom. The idea of buying had come up but we thought it might be too expensive for us. These were all hypotheticals. And then, my research started to seep in. I would fill Colin in on everything I was learning, in small bite-sized chunks so he didn’t get too overwhelmed. Seeing as my previous obsession was talking about weddings, Colin was much more receptive to housing talk.

He started to get into it with me. I would call him over to my laptop to look through house listings. We would run the numbers together and see if we could afford it. We talked through neighbourhoods (more on this later) and sent each other links to relevant articles. Once the house hunt moved to Surrey, Colin got even more excited. We even spent one weekend in July going to open houses!

So, we were more than seriously considering it. We are more than seriously considering it. We are very much looking to buy a home when our lease ends in February 2018. We have crunched the numbers, gone to the open houses and started to reach out to realtors and mortgage brokers. We’ve started to discuss down payments with our parents and the state of our finances with each other. It’s happening! It’s kind of scary to admit but….

We want to be homeowners. We are planning to buy our first home in early 2018.

(Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Am I the only one freaking out? Typing that sentence gave me heart palpitations!)

Five Days in Frisco

Colin and I just got back from “frolicking in Frannie” – our trip to San Francisco!

We’ve been looking forward to SF for a while now. I bought Colin tickets to the SF production of Hamilton (our musical obsession) way back in December when they went on sale. I gave him the tickets for his birthday in March and we’ve been planning our trip ever since. Even though this was my third time to San Francisco, I discovered there was still so much to see and do. I love the city by the bay and if I had to move to an American city, it would probably be this one!

Here’s an overview of our five days full of Frisco!

Day 1:

We arrived on Friday after what felt like a full day of skytrains, getting through customs, flying and finally taking an Uber to our hotel. We don’t have Uber in Vancouver so we were psyched to use it in SF. Once we arrived at the Fisherman’s Wharf Marriott (we scored an awesome deal on Priceline), we headed right down to the wharf for a famous bread bowl of clam chowder. Colin LOVED the Boudin Bakery sourdough!

If you squint, you can see apx 6 sea lions behind us

After dinner, we walked over to Pier 39 to see the sea lions and the shops. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many sea lions in the summer. And then it was back to our hotel for a change of clothes – I still can’t believe how chilly it gets in SF! We were in California in July and I was freezing in long pants and a sweater. We put on our warmest and headed out for ice cream sundaes at Ghiradelli’s. We both forgot that we are pretty lactose intolerant so those sundaes didn’t sit too well.

Day 2:

Started our next day with brunch at a nearby diner. After that we headed to Pier 41 where the Alcatraz cruises depart. Unfortunately, we had not booked ahead and were informed that the next available tour wasn’t until August 20th (this was July 15). Whoops! So instead we headed for Coit Tower. Google Maps said it was a 12 minute walk. They neglected to mention that it was also 450 steps up to the base of the tower. My legs were DEAD! Luckily, to get up Coit Tower itself you take an elevator, so my legs got a break. The views were awesome! It’s a San Francisco landmark I’ve always known about but this was the first trip I actually went to visit it.

View from the top! With a foggy Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.

Coit Tower!

After taking in the view we walked back down the hill and hung out in Washington Square admiring a beautiful church while we waited on a table at Tony’s. 30 minutes later we were enjoying a delicious wood-fire pizza and a giant meatball. YUM!

We didn’t go for a ride but we did pose next to a cable car – that counts, right?

From there we decided to walk through Chinatown to Union Square, taking in lots of SF sights. We took a break at the Starbucks in Macy’s after doing some window shopping. Next was an impromptu wardrobe change when we went to Target and bought new outfits. And then we took an Uber over to West Portal where my friend, Robert, is a chef at a little diner. We had a delicious dinner there and then visited crooked Lombard Street before getting back to our hotel. It was a busy day!

Hello, Lombard!

Day 3:

Day 3 was our Golden Gate day! We started our visit on Baker Beach with awesome views of the Golden Gate Bridge. I wish we had thought to bring a blanket and a picnic so we could have enjoyed it more. Then we moved on to Sutro Baths, another SF first for me. These are the ruins of old public baths that existed in SF before the 1906 earthquake. There were also awesome lookout points, caves and Seal Rock (with sadly, no seals).

From there we drove over to Golden Gate Park (which is actually nowhere close to the bridge). We walked around Stow Lake and saw waterfalls, gardens and the California Academy of Sciences. We had lunch in the park and then walked out on the other end into The Haight. I love this unique neighbourhood of San Francisco. Colin and I both admitted that it was probably a little too cool for us, but we appreciated walking through nonetheless.

Back at the hotel, we got changed and then went out for dinner. We headed to Surisan, a Korean fusion place by our hotel. And it was DELICIOUS! Probably the best meal we had all trip. The atmosphere and decor were really cool and all of the dishes were so tasty. With full bellies (and light wallets), we headed back to our room for the season premiere of Game of Thrones! Yes, the Marriott had HBO!

SO YUM!

Day 4:

Day 4 was my birthday! I turned the big 2-5! Unfortunately, it was also the day that I woke up with an awful head cold. I had a runny nose and watery eyes all day – it was the worst! But despite my gross-ness, we trekked out to enjoy the day. We started with breakfast at IHOP and then took the ferry across the bay to Sausalito.

Sausalito is a super cute little waterfront town with lots of great shops. I’m sure if I was feeling better I would’ve enjoyed it more. We shopped around a little and then went into a fancy restaurant for drinks and an appetizer. We took the ferry back, picked up a late lunch at the San Francisco Ferry Building (awesome food options!) and then returned to the hotel so I could have a Nyquil-induced nap.

Colin woke me around 6pm and we made our way to the Giants baseball game we had gotten tickets for. I’m not a huge baseball fan but it was the only day the Giants were playing while we were in town and live sports games are always a good time. It was a fun evening, even though I was still sniffly and the Giants lost. Back at the hotel, Colin held up a video of a candle behind a mini cheesecake for me to make a birthday wish before passing out.

Day 5:

Our last full day in San Francisco was the reason we had come in the first place: Hamilton! We started off our day by going for brunch at Mama’s in North Beach. Mama’s is a famous brunch place that, according to the lady in line in front of us, is always lined up no matter what time of day and is Michelin rated! We waited 90 mins from the time we got in line until the time food arrived on our table. Colin even went to get us pastries to tide us over while we stood in line. The food was great but, if I’m being honest, not worth the wait.

Worth the wait?

After Mama’s, we had to lie down in the park for a little while to aid in our digestion. Then it was off to walk through some neighbourhoods and explore some more. We started in the Castro where we got to see the home and camera shop of Harvey Milk. Then we walked through the Mission and Delores Park. And then we took an Uber to San Francisco City Hall – the most beautiful building! It was so gorgeous and we got to see a few couples taking their wedding photos there.

How gorgeous is this building? The inside is even prettier!

We grabbed a beer and then a quick bite before it was Hamilton time! Colin and I (and everyone else in the theatre) were so excited to be there. Even though our tickets were for the very back row, the show was amazing. Everyone was on the edge of their seats – the energy was so electric. It’s the kind of musical where you cheer, laugh, cry and dance in your seat the whole time. It was 100% the best part of our trip and I would give my right arm to go see Hamilton again.

HAMILTON!!!!!

Leaving Day:

On our last morning in SF, we thought it would save time to get room service breakfast delivered to our room. Sadly, we didn’t read the fine print about service charges and delivery charges and ended up paying $81 USD for breakfast! Not a great note for our last morning. We checked out and then headed down to Anchor Brewing Company where we had booked a brewery tour. It was fun to learn about America’s oldest craft brewery and see how they make their products. But I’m not a huge beer fan to begin with, so I think all of the free samples were probably wasted on me.

After the brewery tour and one too many sample beers, we went across the street for sushi lunch. And then it was time to Uber to the airport and head home! We got through security with little trouble and were back in Vancouver before 7:00pm. And by 9:00pm we were reunited with Ellie and at home on our couch watching Parks n’ Rec!


An awesome trip to San Francisco for sure! We had a great time and were so psyched to finally see Hamilton after singing along to the soundtrack for the last year and a bit. And we’ll be back in SF for a day in September with my mom when we visit Portland and Napa Valley! But I think that’s it for summer trips for us – save maybe a couple days in Kelowna when Colin’s sister in law has her baby.

A Family Weekend At Pender Harbour

2017 marked my third year of going up to Pender Harbour with Colin and his family for their annual vacation. Every year, Colin, his parents and a bunch of other relatives spend the July long weekend at cousin Larry and Marnie’s property in Pender Harbour on the Sunshine Coast.

On one of our early dates, Colin told me about Pender and how he has spent every July long weekend of his entire life camping with his family there on the coast. I was blown away. I’ve gone on lots of trips and family vacations but never anything this consistent. We talked with family this weekend who have been coming up to Pender for 20, 30, 40 years! One cousin, Carl, who is probably in his 40’s has been coming up since he was in his mom’s womb!

On my third year up at Pender, I’m starting to feel like part of the tradition. I love the idea of this being an annual trip that Colin and I continue for the rest of our lives, bringing our own big tent (I don’t think we’ll ever be trailer or RV people) and kids one day. One thing I’ve done for the last three years at Pender is keep my phone off (save for a few photos!). They do have WiFi up there but I really love being able to disconnect for a long weekend.

Ellie loves belly rubs no matter where we are!

Firewood for our nightly campfires

This year was amazing! We had great weather: sunny but with a cool breeze. There was tons of delicious food – Marnie makes an incredible seafood chowder and Jackie brought out so many great snacks. And we got to bring Ellie, which was so much fun! There were almost a dozen dogs up there (and between 20-50 people depending on the day) so she had a great time running around and playing. We hiked through Francis Point Peninsula Park, swam in the chilly water, got warm by the campfire and read in the shade. And I didn’t have to participate in the horseshoe tournament, which I think everyone appreciated!

Happy Canada Day from Ellie!

And Happy Canada Day from Margie’s dog, Doodle!

One thing that made this year’s trip incredibly special was a boat ride we took on Saturday. We went out on Larry’s big boat, which I haven’t gotten to do in the years previous. He took almost 30 of us out and we got to see some amazing views of the bay. But the really special part was the tribute that Colin’s mom Margie had planned. Randy, Colin’s dad, loved Pender Harbour. It was definitely his happy place. And he loved nothing more than being out on the water with the guys, catching fish on Larry’s boat.

Living the luxurious boat life!

Colin and his friend, Connor, enjoying the yacht life

So to honour him, Margie brought some of his ashes up to Pender Harbour so we could lay him to rest in his favourite spot. Once we had boated out to a calm area in the open water, the ashes were distributed into little cups so everyone could get one. Dave said a quick toast and we all raised our cups to Randy while his favourite Adele song played in the background. We tossed his ashes into the water and threw some beautiful flower petals in afterwards. It was a really beautiful moment to be with so many of Randy’s favourite people in his favourite spot. You could definitely feel his spirit there.

Flower petals floating on the water

Pender Harbour was amazing! It was a trip both Colin and I have been looking forward to for months. We had a great five days on the coast and I’m already looking forward to going back next year. I usually hate repeating destinations because there is so much more in the world that I want to see and explore. But there’s something different about Pender Harbour. It’s a special place and I would be so happy to visit it every year for as long as I can!

Colin and Ellie at Francis Point Peninsula

View of the house from the dock

We ❤ Pender!

Camping at Weever Lake with Ellie

Last weekend, we went camping with Colin’s friends and our wee pup, Ellie, got to join us!

10 points if you can spot Ellie!

Growing up, I was never much of a camper. It wasn’t a huge part of my childhood growing up in Toronto. I do have one distinct memory of going camping with my dad, Ali and Jade. And we really camped! We had to portage in to the campsite, which meant carrying a canoe overhead with my dad who is 6’4″. And because there were no toilets, I decided to build one out of rocks. Jade also ended up getting spooked by potential bears, forcing us to share a tiny tent with our parents overnight.

And then two summers ago, Colin and I went camping with some of his x-ray friends. Except, it rained the entire time. Like, POURED! Our tent was soaked so we decided to sleep in Colin’s old beat up car where the seats didn’t even recline all the way back. I think it’s still the worst sleep of my life.

So suffice to say, I’m not huge on camping.

But this weekend was actually pretty fun. There were a few snafus, but on the whole it was a really great weekend. For one thing, the sun was shining and we didn’t have to deal with any rain. We were able to drive right up to the campsite and the outhouse was actually fairly clean, so no need for a DIY rock toilet.

Ellie & Colin singing along to our roadtrip playlist on the ride up

We spent our first night playing card games and drinking with Colin’s friends. Unfortunately, that meant I did have to wake up in the middle of the night and walk out to the outhouse, which wasn’t my favourite. It was also so cold at night! I always underestimate how chilly it’s going to be sleeping outdoors in a tent. My teeth were literally chattering.

The next morning was nice and relaxing. Colin played boardgames with his friends while I read my book and Ellie chased butterflies and chipmunks. Ellie loved running around the campsite, hanging out in nature and picking up food scraps that we dropped.

Hi Ellie!

Around noon, we all decided to head to the lake and do some swimming. Colin and I were under the impression that we would be going straight to the water so we brought Ellie, her life jacket and a bag full of towels and sunblock. But instead of walking the two minutes up the road to the rock beach and dock, we were led on a weird and winding 30 minute hike through the forest. And when we finally caught up with the group, we were super disappointed to find a sad little muddy trail into the water. Colour me not impressed.

Hiking through the forest

We headed back to the campsite with a few friends while the others carried on trekking around the lake. Back at the site, we ate some lunch, played some boardgames and then headed to the much better (and much closer) lake access point. The water was freezing! I only got in as far as my waist, and even that took me a good 20 minutes to achieve. Ellie was in and out in about 1 minute. She was not having the cold water. Colin was the bravest. He headed out to the dock and dove headfirst into the icy cold waters.

Ellie modeling her life jacket

She’s testing out the waters….

After swimming we hung out with the rest of the group, played more games, snacked and got firewood. Later in the evening, we headed over to the fire to cook our hotdogs. Colin and I weren’t horribly inventive with our camping menu. We came up with hotdogs, marshmallows (which we never even opened) and store bought muffins. But one of his friends packed the most impressive meals! She made spaghetti, chicken, baked potatoes, chilli and omelets all over a campfire.

We spent the rest of the night sitting by the fire, chatting with friends and giving Ellie belly rubs while she sat on our laps. It was a really nice evening. We headed to bed and this time I was sure to put on a sweater and grab an extra blanket.

The next morning, we got straight to work taking down our tent and packing up all of our stuff. One part of camping I really dislike is how you end up packing an entire carload just for two people and a dog to spend the weekend. But we did manage to pack everything up pretty quick. That’s also when we discovered Colin had a flat tire. The bumpy road on the way in must have popped a hole. We were a bit worried about it but luckily we were able to fill it up with air on the way home and get it repaired (for free!) the next day.

Our first camping trip of the year and our very first camping trip with Ellie was definitely a success! In July, we’ll be “camping” on Colin’s family property in Pender Harbour. We’ll sleep in a tent but will have access to bathrooms and a kitchen, so it’s not totally proper camping. Which, to be honest, is probably what I prefer. So we’re really looking forward to hanging out by the water, reconnecting with family and introducing Ellie to a new area and lots of other pups.

PS: Yes, I swear other people were camping with us but my phone only seems to come out to snap cute pictures of Ellie or goofy pictures of Colin and me! 

Finding that Work-life Balance

Work-life balance has always been something that I’ve struggled with. When I worked at Free The Children, they pushed the term “work-life integration” instead of work-life balance. Basically, the idea was that the stuff you do from 9 to 5 should … Continue reading

Welcome Home, Ellie!

For those not following my daily Instagram posts or Snapchat stories…

WE GOT A DOG!!!!

Please meet our sweet girl, Ellie!

Ellie naps 23 hours a day

Ellie is a four year old chihuahua mix who loves napping on the couch and giving lots of kisses. She’s 12.4 lbs (we just had her weighed at the vet) and has the most adorable little snaggle tooth. Ellie is still a bit nervous with all of the new surroundings but she’s already the sweetest thing and absolutely has my heart. Case in point: on her third night with us, she finally worked up the courage to come into our bedroom. For a good half hour she ran from one side of the bed to the other, putting her paws up and hoping one of us would lift her into bed. We didn’t want her up in the bed so decided not to lift her. And while I know that was the right decision and Ellie wasn’t negatively affected, I did lie there crying that she wanted up on the bed and we weren’t letting her. Poor Colin thought I was losing it!

Showing off her new name & collar!

So how did we end up with a dog?

About two years ago, shortly after Colin and I met, I began fostering a sweet anxious dog named Waffles. I was completely in love. But I knew Waffles wasn’t going to be a good fit for me longterm. She was very anxious, and needed someone with her 24/7. She would cry and paw at the door when I went to the bathroom. Luckily, I worked in a pet friendly office but I wasn’t sure if that would be the case forever. It was stressful to have a dog at the office and to always have to pass on after work drinks or activities because Waffles needed to go out and get home. I loved my month of fostering Waffles but was very happy when she found her furever family.

Look at that wink!

When Colin and I were looking for an apartment, we were ideally looking for something pet friendly, because we thought we might have to take in Colin’s family cat. But we quickly learned in Vancouver’s crazy rental market, you can’t be too picky. So we stopped prioritizing pet friendly places yet still managed to find one. Our building is completely pet friendly – there’s even a grass terrace on the floor below us perfect for Ellie’s walks.

So once we moved in together, we talked about maybe getting a dog as a Christmas present to each other. We both grew up with dogs and with me working from home, a dog could be a real possibility. We figured we should get settled first and then introduce a fur baby. But then we thought, it would be a lot more fun to get a dog in the summer when the weather is good instead of in the cold and rainy winter. So we were thinking about summer. But then I joined a bunch of dog adoption sites on Facebook….whoops!

In the first month of us living together, I was constantly sending Colin pictures of adorable dogs I was seeing on these dog adoption sites. The wonderful guy that he is, he put up with all of the pictures and would listen to me talking about the cute pups I was seeing online. We talked about fostering, but decided it might be too hard to part with a dog.

And then I saw a picture of Ellie (previously named Colleen). She was the perfect size and perfect age; we wanted a smaller dog since we’re in a one bedroom apartment and an adult dog so we didn’t have to worry about training. We also wanted a dog who was fairly low energy, since we’re not big athletes, and one who wasn’t going to bark or have any behaviour issues. Ellie fit the bill perfectly. I sent the photos to Colin and he agreed that she looked great. And then I took it a step too far: I posted on the Facebook page asking if she was still available and ended up chatting with her current foster mom. Ellie’s foster mom was telling me all of the wonderful things about her and I knew she was right for us. I sent Colin a screenshot of our conversation with the title “REMEMBER YOU LOVE ME.”

She loves her belly rubs!

Colin, who was only sitting in the other room, came over to my desk. I was hiding my face full of nerves, guilt and embarrassment that I had let it go this far. I nervously asked Colin if he would be okay if we put in an application for her and he, the sweet guy that he is, agreed. He knew how much I would love having a dog around when I’m home alone and saw how perfect Ellie would be for us.

So from there we applied, did a home check, visited Ellie at her foster’s house and then picked her up on Monday! We’re currently doing the foster-to-adopt program; we foster Ellie for two weeks and if it works out, we then adopt her. We’re 5 days in and it’s definitely working out. On her first day, Ellie stayed in her crate all day long and we struggled to get her out for a walk. But by day two, she was out on the couch with us. Now she’s next to us all the time, exploring the other rooms of the apartment and she’s even over her fear of the elevator!

We’re really loving having Ellie around. It’s been an adjustment for sure – I’m waking up much earlier than I used to and spending more time working from the couch so Ellie can sit next to me. As I type this, she has her little head on my leg, fast asleep. It’s the cutest thing! Once I publish this, I’ll have to wake her up for her last walk of the day. Fingers crossed she does her business and we don’t wake up to any surprises on our floor!


PS: We chose the name Ellie for a couple of reasons. First of all, we really didn’t like the name Colleen. Colin has an aunt named Colleen, I have a friend named Coleen, it’s very close to “Colin” and is just a strange name for a dog. We toyed with a few ideas and realized we wanted a more human sounding name (so no silly puns or naming her after food). We settled on Ellie in honour of two people: Ellen Degeneres, because both Ellie and Ellen are very kind and give lots of love, and Eliza Schuyler, one of the protagonists from our favourite musical, Hamilton. Of course, I almost never use her real name preferring nicknames like Smelly Ellie or Ells A Bells.

Night night, my sweet girl!

Welcome to Our Home!

It has been exactly one week since Colin and I moved into our new place in New Westminster!

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And I’d have to say, I think we’re doing very well for our first week together. We had the place all unpacked by Day 2. And in this first week we’ve managed to get rid of all of the empty boxes, go on multiple trips to IKEA and Walmart, grocery shop, clean, hang pictures and not kill each other 🙂

Our first night here was exhausting. We spent all day moving from my house, moving from Colin’s house, unpacking the essentials and cleaning. Luckily we had some awesome friends help us, but the 28th was still a very tiring day. We both felt like we were staying at someone else’s house for those first few nights. But now it is really starting to feel like home.

I love that our bed is finally not shoved up against a wall so we can both have nightstands. I love that we have photos of our friends and family on the wall. I love that we have giant windows which let the sun stream in (on the rare Vancouver spring day where we get sun). I love that we have fresh tulips on the table – a gift from Colin’s mom. I love that we take turn making meals in the kitchen and go grocery shopping together. And I really love that we have a garbage shoot on our floor so we don’t have to go outside to take out the garbage!

Okay, enough rambling! Basically, I am really loving our new home and living with my guy. I’m excited to finish up the last touches we need to settle in, have people over and explore our New West neighbourhood. Here are some shots of our place:

Colin’s desk and our stunning view of a construction site that will be a 40-storey building one day. Yay….

Kitchen table, bookshelf and some artfully arranged photos

Our second bookshelf, which is pretty much all Colin’s

Our collection of Funko Pop Dolls and shot glasses. Do we sound like an 18 year old boy?

Our kitchen! Check out that fancy fridge

The other side of our kitchen. Eventually we’ll get a dishwasher where those bags are sitting

You would not believe how much crap we have shoved into this closet

Our bedroom! Featuring Bear and the curtains that we struggled to put up

My little desk. Grainy photo but we spray painted and papered that desk ourselves

Tulips! I love fresh blooms in the house 🙂

Our bathroom!

Our closet. It was a work of art to get all of our stuff in there

Our couch with some new pillows and our first piece of “artwork” (a print from IKEA, but we like it)

Home sweet home!

In Defense of the All-Inclusive Resort Vacation

Generally speaking, I am not a fan of all-inclusive resorts.

What’s not to love about AI resorts? 

I have no problem with beaches, pools, buffets and all the margaritas you can drink. I love aqua aerobic classes and cheesy nightly shows. So why do I usually turn my nose up at AI resorts? Because I don’t think they’re real traveling. And yes, I acknowledge that this is my inner travel snob talking!

To me, traveling is discovering new places, trying new foods, seeing attractions, interacting with local people, learning more about the local culture and having genuine experiences in a new place. Most of that is hard to accomplish at the swim up bar of a resort. That’s not to say it’s impossible – you can always leave the resort, go into town and discover something new. But I think the problem is when people don’t. I know lots of people who don’t experience more of the world outside of their AI resort.

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So what changed?

My perspective!  I still don’t think spending a week at an all-inclusive resort is traveling. But, I do think it is a vacation. And those are sometimes not the same thing. In my opinion, a vacation is a break from your real life where you get to relax and recharge. On vacation you don’t have an itinerary and you’re not constantly on the move. It’s not always possible to fit in a lot of “vacation” time when you’re busy traveling through a new country. But an AI resort is all about the vacation!

Our trip to Mexico

Colin and I just got back from a week at an all-inclusive resort in Huatulco, Mexico. I was hesitant when this vacation opportunity first came up. I really didn’t want to spend money on a week at a resort. But the idea of ticking Mexico off my list (I can’t believe I hadn’t been to Mexico yet!) and spending time with my boyfriend in the sun, instead of alone in Snowcouver, sold me on it.

The view from our room!

The view from our room!

And I’m super glad we went! Things have been a bit stressful in the last month or so preparing for our move, Colin’s mom selling the house and trying to fit my freelance work and new job opportunities in where I can. It was really nice to take a break from it all. I originally thought I would bring my laptop and just do my freelance work in Mexico. But I wanted to have an actual vacation. So I worked hard ahead of time and spoke with my editors so that I could have a full week off. I still did a bit of work but I was mainly in relaxation mode!

Hola Senor Iguana!

Hola Senor Iguana!

I loved our routine in Mexico: sleep in late, head to the Mexico restaurant for breakfast, meet Colin’s family on the beach, grab lunch, switch to the pool, shower up, go to dinner, and then enjoy some music or entertainment outside. We mixed things up with some aqua fitness classes and catching some of the nightly shows as well.

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And we also did some non-resort activities. We took a cab into town one day and got to visit the local market, a church and a famous pizzeria. We also went on a snorkelling excursion, but I got seasick and came home early. And we did get to practice and use our Spanish, which was a really fun challenge. I loved using my limited language skills with the staff and learning new words en espanol! So we did get a dose of “travel” on our vacation.

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So really no complaints about lying under beach umbrellas, dipping in the ocean, grazing the buffet (there were churros!), dancing to a DJ and drinking way too many margaritas. But now we’re back to real life: packing, cleaning and working. While I don’t miss the constant sunscreen application, I do miss the waves, drinks, sun and chill vibes that you might only be able to find at an all-inclusive resort.

Adios Mexico! Hasta Luego!

Adios Mexico! Hasta Luego!