Becoming a Homeowner, Pt 4

Note: This part was written on September 1st. Currently, it’s the last in the series, but I suspect there will be a couple more parts coming. Those ones should be written and published in real time. While this one was written on Sept 1, I do my best to catch you up on everything that happened (SO MUCH) since part three. And yes, it’s as lengthy and rambly as usual.


Part 4: In which I, the incessant rambler and over-thinker, finally become a homeowner.

Welcome to our new home! We own it 🙂

That’s right: I AM A HOMEOWNER!

How insane is that? Even more insane, it’s not the townhouse we first fell in love with.

Let me catch you up, because so much has happened in less than a week.

So last Saturday, Colin and I went to see the townhouse and fell in love (part 3 of this series). The next day, we went back to the townhouse with Margie, Colin’s mom, and our realtor, Leslie. 

We pulled up as Leslie was just coming out of the house. She greeted us and then very quickly said, “Well, they’re definitely overpriced.”

I was intrigued. Did that mean we could get in for way less than we thought? Score! But then she continued to list some of her concerns with the house. Things we hadn’t noticed, like older appliances and a hole in the basement ceiling, came to light. Leslie also mentioned how busy the open house was, how the sellers had only lived there a year and how the realtor didn’t have any strata documents for her to look at.

To say we were deflated would be an understatement.

So we went to tour the house again and it was kind of painful. While Colin and I tried to point out all the parts of the townhouse we loved, Margie and Leslie continued to voice their concerns. There were the uneven floors, the heat in the second bedroom, the paint in the basement, and so on. It hurt to hear people talking bad about our house.

Despite the issues, Colin and I still felt that if we could get it for a good price, it would be worth it. We loved the location, the amenities, the space and the fact that a townhouse gave us three separate levels. But we were ignoring some of the issues. The complex is old – built in 1970. And there’s upkeep with a three-storey 1500+ squarefoot house. Plus, all the issues like ceiling holes and slanted floors we had missed the first time we toured.

So we drove off, feeling a bit less keen on our dream house but still holding out a bit of hope. We decided to check out another open house by Gateway station. We were in the neighbourhood, so what’s the harm, right?

As we pulled up, Colin and I noted how much we liked the look of the complex. The complex, Access, is right by the skytrain, but off on a quiet road. It was much newer (built in 2002), looked great from the outside, and was a four-storey condo complex, which we like much more than the high-rise condos.

We arrived intending to look at just one apartment but ended up touring three.  The first was a one bedroom plus den loft apartment. We knew that wouldn’t be enough space for us but the realtor was waiting outside happy to show the space, and we were excited to see a loft.

We loved the loft! It was awesome to have the levels and the super high ceilings. And there were even mountain views! Unfortunately, it was more of a home for one person or two people without much stuff. A two bedroom loft might be an option but we’d get priced out of that pretty soon.

The next was the apartment we had come to see – a two bedroom on the third floor for $375,000. While I loved the wood laminate in the living space, the layout was what I’m calling “skinny rectangle.” It seems to be the default condo layout. The skinny rectangle is when you walk in and it’s just one straight line of space for the kitchen, dining room and living room. Everything always feels very tight and would be impossible to try and put desks or even a proper table in there.

As we were planning to leave, someone mentioned that there was another two bedroom having an open house in the next building over (same complex). We figured while we were here, we might as well check it out. Funny how a fluke tip to check out the next building would totally change everything for our house hunt.

We headed up to the apartment on the second floor. We stepped in, and immediately we were all smiling. The space was big, it was bright and, most importantly, it wasn’t a skinny rectangle. There were multiple spaces, little corners and tons of windows. The bedrooms were a good size, there were lots of closets, and the floors were nice. The kitchen was good and the balcony was large. We were pretty impressed. Until we heard the price.

$409,800.

Well, that’s why we hadn’t seen this place online. I generally ignore everything over $400,000. I understand paying over four in New West but in Surrey – c’mon! But at the same time, we had never seen a layout like this before.

I mentioned to the realtor that she was priced over $30,000 more than the other two bedroom we had just seen, and she replied that it was due to the space. She also slipped in that they would be reducing the price the next day. I nodded politely, assuming this had been a wasted open house for us since there’s no way we could afford it.

So we emailed our realtor and casually mentioned that we were interested in this place and the potential price drop. We also sent a couple more apartment complexes that we were interested in, Ethical Gardens and Pacifica. Our realtor let us know that this unit in Access had actually been on the market for over 40 days, which was a promising sign. On Tuesday, they reduced the price from $409,800 to $398,000. Our ears perked up.

At the same time, we were dealing with all of our mortgage issues.

The main issue was our push to use the mortgage professional we had been working with and Margie’s reluctance. To do our due diligence, we agreed to take a meeting with her bank. On the way there, Colin and I agreed that we would keep open minds, but not sign anything. We wanted to be loyal to our mortgage professional who had been so helpful thus far.

To our surprise, the meeting at the bank went way better than we thought it would. Margie’s guy, Saj, was personable, knowledgeable and definitely looking out for her best interest. He broke down all the numbers, was able to offer us a great rate and was patient with any questions we might have.

To summarise a lot of back and forth, we ended up going with Saj and Margie’s bank for our mortgage. We felt bad that we couldn’t continue with our mortgage professional. But having Margie’s support was important for our mortgage. And for Colin and me, we wanted to make sure we were getting a good rate and working with a good person. We get both of those things from Margie’s guy at her bank.

During this time, we also let go of our townhouse dream. The age of the complex and the issues brought to light were starting to make sense to us. And the fact that both our realtor and Margie were against it wasn’t a good sign. Colin and I agreed that our next home could be a townhouse, but we could let it go this time.

So on Thursday, we arranged with our realtor, Leslie, to go back and visit the unit at Access again. We were excited to tour it again and liked it even better the second time. I didn’t let myself start thinking that it could be ours yet – I didn’t want to get disappointed. But I was definitely getting attached to the place.

Leslie really liked it. She pointed out how rare the layout and location of the unit in the building was. She understood why they were trying to price high but believed there would be some wiggle room. It was really reassuring to hear Leslie speak so highly of the unit as she’s had experience in that complex. She said she hadn’t seen anything like that one before. We got even more excited.

We also checked out a unit at Ethical Gardens. I could tell as we were walking through, Colin was already sold on Access. While there were some pluses about Ethical Gardens, like a super long kitchen, giant closets and proximity to the mall, there were some noticeable downsides. For one, the living space was tiny and likely wouldn’t hold a couch and a dining room table. It wasn’t the one for us.

Ethical Gardens. Lovely building, but not the right one for us.

So as we walked back to the car, Leslie gave us some more info and said to call her if we wanted to put in an offer on Access. We headed home to crunch some numbers but I think we both knew what we wanted to do by then.

We called and officially put in an offer.

And then that’s where the real drama and waiting by the phone began. There was a counter, and another counter. There were multiple contracts to sign. There were emails. There were calls with the realtor, with the bank and with each other. And there were rushed texts and constant inbox refreshing.

All to say, just over 24 hours after our initial offer, we were signing the final contract. We accepted their latest counter and we were officially buying a house. Ahhhhhhhhh!

Of course, there’s a little asterisk next to that. We have the next week to remove subjects which means we need to do the home inspection, appraisal and make sure all our financing comes through with the bank. If no red flags come up, we’ll pay the deposit next Friday and officially be homeowners. And then we pay up on October 5th and get the keys October 6th.

How crazy is that?

It’s insane to think how fast everything has gone. In the big picture, it’s a little crazy to look back and see all that has happened in a year. Next Friday, the day our subjects are removed and we officially get the house, is September 8th – a year to the day when Colin’s dad, Randy, passed away. I would have never believed if someone told me at this time last year that by now I would be living in a condo in New West with Colin and our dog, working fulltime as a freelancer, and now buying a home. Unbelievable! Colin joked that we might as well get married and have a baby this year just to get it all done.

And while it feels like I’ve been looking at homes forever, this part of the process went way faster than I thought it would. I’ve been looking online at homes for a few months. And in that time, we’ve probably been to about a dozen or so open houses. But I never would have imagined that we’d go to an open house, schedule a viewing, put in an offer, go through negotiations and have a signed contract on a house in less than a week. We saw the place for the very first time on Sunday and had a contract signed before Friday night’s dinner. Insane!

Colin and I were also saying to each other how lucky we got on this one. The very first home we put an offer in was the one we got. Of course, our first offer wasn’t accepted; we had to negotiate. But still – it was all with just the one home. And we weren’t in a situation with multiple offers where we had to outbid someone else. I always assumed if we bought a home in the Greater Vancouver Area, we would be searching for months, putting in offers on a few places before one worked out, competing with multiple offers and being forced to pay way above list price. But nope, none of that happened! Maybe that’s why people move to Surrey…

So yeah, that’s my life right now. I still can’t truly believe that we have a house – that we are homeowners. It sounds so crazy to me. I’m not sure it’ll feel real for a while yet. I wonder if it will feel the same as just renting in a new place. I hope not. I hope it’s different. I hope it feels like home. And I hope we’re happy there for a long time. Or a long-ish time.

And until then, my brain gets to be filled with all of the logistics and stuff we need to get done. For the next week, we hold our breath and wait while the financing, inspection and appraisal get done. We cross our fingers and hope that nothing bad happens and we can get everything finalized on Friday. My mom is also coming in from Toronto on Friday, so we get to bring her to the place, which is even more exciting.

And then there’s all the fun of moving. We have to tell our landlord we’re ending our one year lease super early and hope he’s forgiving about any penalties we have to pay. We have to switch our internet over, which was such a headache when we moved here from Kits. We have to cancel our utilities and start new ones in Surrey. We have to figure out home insurance. We have to pick paint and hire painters. We have to get boxes. We have to rent a uhaul.

I sort of feel like we just moved – which I guess we did, since it was only Feb 28 that we moved in here. So crazy that we’re going to be doing it all over again in such a short amount of time. But hopefully after this one, we don’t have to move again for a long time.

I’ve never lived in the same place for very long, and even less so in my adult life in my own homes. The longest would have been 14 months at my place in Kits before this one. So it’s interesting to think that this is going to be a long-term move. We don’t think this is our forever home, but it could be good for a long time. There’s enough space for us to be comfortable there as two with a home office/guest room and space to move the office into the main room, should we want to put a kid in the second room sometime down the line.

And it’s a move to Surrey, which is bittersweet. I know Colin is so excited to be closer to his friends and close to work. I’m excited for him. And I’m excited we’re by a skytrain so I can go and see my friends. And I know our neighbourhood is just going to keep getting better. The sad part is being just that much farther from Vancouver and leaving New West after such a short time. If we are going to be looking for more space for less money in our next move, it will likely still be in Surrey or even farther out. So New West isn’t really in the cards, at least not for a long time. Maybe we can come back here as retirees 🙂

But it’s all exciting! It’s nerve wracking and there’s still so much to do and wait on. But it’s exciting! We bought a house. We’re homeowners. That is just bananas!

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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!

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.

Image result for ireland

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!)

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!

***

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!

5 Fears of Freelancing

I am a freelance writer.

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That sentence on its own is pretty terrifying, to be honest. But it’s true! I am currently a full time freelance writer – meaning that my current and only source of income is freelance writing. I have been doing some freelancing on and off since 2012. But it wasn’t until I quit my job in October and took off to Vietnam for a month that I found myself freelancing full time. So it’s been two and a bit months now and so far, freelancing is a work in progress and something I’m learning as I go.  Overall, I have to say that it’s going really well! There are lots of aspects of freelance writing that I love and many I’m still getting used to. Financially, it’s also working out and I’m actually making a decent amount seeing as I’ve only been doing this a short time. But despite how well things are going, I’m still scared. These are the five things that run through my mind pretty often and what I’m trying to do to stop them.

5. I’m scared I will hate writing.

Sometimes I’m scared I will hate writing. I have countless unfinished stories and starts of novels on my computer that are proof that I can fall out of love with my writing. And I get those feelings again when I find myself working on an article that I’m not passionate about or not interested in. When writing was just a hobby, it didn’t bother me too much that I would start a story and not return to it. But now that I rely on it for my income, I don’t really have the luxury of hating my writing and not returning to it. I have to keep going. And that is scary.

The cure: I went into my freelance “career” (can we call it a career yet?) with this fear in mind. And someone pointed out to me that even though I may have dropped stories or given up on ideas over the years, I have always consistently wrote. Since penning a play in high school, I have always returned to writing in some form. That’s almost a decade of writing! I also have this Hemingway quote up on a board by my desk which reminds me, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now.”

Other things I’m doing to ensure my love for writing doesn’t burn out is splitting my jobs into smaller tasks, taking breaks, working on client projects that I enjoy and always having some fun writing that’s just for me to fall back on, like this blog!

4. I’m scared no one will want to hire me.

I think this one boils down to our universal fear of rejection. Most people in regular 9-5s don’t have the opportunity to experience rejection all that often. As a freelancer, the chance of getting rejected comes up almost daily. Especially when I was first applying to jobs, it was hard to grow a thick skin so quickly and get used to the idea that some people will not want me. This also relates to a fear of having no money, since rejections are closely tied to my income.

The cure: This is definitely still something I’m working on. One thing I do to help is look back at the jobs I have gotten. I have about six clients that I am currently working for and have been hired by more than a dozen in my time freelancing. That’s twelve people who wanted to work with me and enjoyed my writing. That’s something! I also have a list of all of my published work and accomplishments, which helps to boost me up when I do get a rejection. Another thing I want to put together is some positive responses to my work, milestones I’ve hit and things that inspire me to write to help me get out of any rejection slumps.

3. I’m scared all my current clients will drop me.

With freelancing comes instability. None of my jobs are guaranteed. This isn’t something I had to worry about working at UBC. There was no way the university was going to run out of money and eliminate my job. And if they did, my union would be working hard to get me a sweet pension. But as a freelancer, I don’t have any of that. I could wake up tomorrow and have emails from all of my clients saying they no longer require my servces. That’s the scary reality of being a freelancer.

The cure: The first step to getting over this fear is just accepting that instability is a risk of freelancing. If I want to freelance and work for clients on my own time, I have to be willing to take the risk that the work could dry up. Practically, I feel better knowing that I have something to fall back on. I have my savings and I am confident that I could pick up a job in retail or serving if I really needed to. This fear also helps to motivate me to always be on the lookout for new clients and opportunities for work.

2. I’m scared no one will understand my work.

I don’t mean that I’m scared no one will understand my writing because I’m writing incredibly complicated and deep stuff. I mean that I’m scared no one will understand the type of work that I’m doing. The idea of being a freelancer is foreign to most of the people in my family and friend group. I don’t think it’s intentional, but it feels like it’s looked down upon by some. I had some conversations over Christmas and it felt like I had to justify what I was doing to people who just thought I was taking a break from real work. Another issue I’ve run into is people not understanding my need to work. I don’t have an office I go to where I can put in 8 hours. I have my desk in my living room and I divide up my work time throughout the day. But I still need to put in that time. So just because I’m home, it doesn’t mean I can get up and do errands or hang out. I’m working! And if I’m honest, this is a part of my freelance job that I also need to get better at. I need to get better at creating those boundaries that respect my time to work and my space. Because when I don’t, I spend all my non-work time stressing. My job doesn’t end at 5:00pm so if I put away my laptop to do something else, odds are I’m still worried about all of my unfinished work.

The cure: I know the cure to this one lies in me. I need to be more confident in my own work. I think a lot of this fear is my own projection and self-doubt. At Christmas my family treated my job like it was fake because that’s how I introduced it. I was self-deprecating and joked that I was working in my pajamas all day (not a joke though, I do work in pjs most of the time). I have to ask for what I need and explain to the people around me what my work schedule looks like because it’s so different from what they’re used to.

1. I’m scared I’m not good enough.

This one definitely has to be my biggest fear. What if my dream career is something I suck at? It was easier when I was working at a job I didn’t care about that was easy to do. But it’s a whole new thing to feel unqualified or inexperienced at a job I love and want to make a lifelong career out of. I have this fear a lot when I’m applying to jobs; it goes hand in hand with my fear of rejection. It also creeps up when people make snide comments about the type of writing I’m doing. No, I’m not writing the great American novel or hard hitting journalism. But I am writing. I’m writing for a living. And I want that to be enough.

The cure: Again, the cure to this one definitely comes down to my own confidence. I need to get more confident in my writing. How do I do that? For me, it helps to look to my past work. I try to keep track of times when I’ve felt good enough and celebrate my small wins as a writer. It also helps to remember that I am new to this and can only improve from here.

***

All of these fears are legitimate and I feel them on a regular basis. But they don’t cripple me. It helps to have this blog as a place where I can explore these feelings and put them down on (virtual) paper. As you can see, I’m still working on these fears. I have some cures in mind but I don’t always remember to implement them. I want to figure out a better routine for my writing and work on keeping myself motivated.  I’m still learning!

But one thing I know for sure is that I am so much happier now working as a freelance writer than when I was working my 9 to 5 at UBC. I am excited about my work. I don’t wake up dreading the day and counting down the hours until I can go home – partially because I’m already home. I get to control my own schedule and do the work that I want. I get to write! It’s amazing and despite my big fears, I’m very happy to be doing it.

2016: A Year In Review

I think it’s safe to say that 2016 really wasn’t anyone’s year; I mainly blame Trump. But even though it wasn’t a stellar year, I still love to look back to recount the highs and lows and see what’s coming up for 2017.

***

I usually start my annual round ups by looking back at the previous year’s and seeing how well my predictions played out. Except, this year I took an accidental blogging hiatus from September 2015 until April 2016. Whoops! So I didn’t actually write a round-up for 2015. But I think I can safely say that my life is pretty different than what I thought it would be at this time last year. That actually seems to be a trend every time I write one of these reviews! Should I be surprised that my life is constantly changing?

So here’s a quick recap of my 2016:

January
In January, I had just finished spending my first Christmas with the Marriotts in Vancouver and had just moved into my new apartment. I was a month into my brand new job at UBC and was hosting Sophie, my previous roommate, on the couch in my studio apartment. Things were squishy but it was a fun-filled month.

Colin's birthday on the Canucks big screen!

Colin’s birthday on the Canucks big screen!

February
Sadly, Sophie returned to Ontario in February and I was roommate-less for the first time in a year. Besides that, February was business as usual as far as I can remember.

March
March was a busy month! My mom came to town so I got to enjoy lots of quality Moo time with delicious dinners and outings around Vancouver. We also celebrated Colin’s birthday and at the end of the month, we took off to LA!

April
We started the month of April in Los Angeles where Colin, his mom Margie and I spent 6 days thanks to a amazing flight deal. We packed in a lot during our short trip such as a basketball game, hockey game, city tour, beach day and visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Later that month, Colin and I celebrated our one year anniversary.

Venice Beach, California

Venice Beach, California

May
May was another busy month. We went to Victoria for Victoria’s Day, saw Macklemore and Matt Corby in concert, watched Billy Elliott and I started my new gig at the Allard School of Law at UBC.

June
If I thought May was busy, just wait until June! I spent the first couple of weeks getting settled in my new job. We also had Colin’s aunt, who had been sick, pass away, which was tough for the family. At the end of the month, it was off to Toronto for Colin and I where I got to be a co-maid of honour at my friend Kimberley’s wedding. We then took off for a quick couple of nights in Montreal. We got back to Vancouver, unpacked, repacked and left the next day to spend the long weekend in Pender Harbour.

Colin & I at Kim's wedding

Colin & I at Kim’s wedding

 

July
Our original plan for July was to do a roadtrip out to Calgary to visit Colin’s family and hit the Calgary Stampede. Unfortunately, with Colin’s work schedule, it didn’t happen this year. Maybe in 2017? But we did manage to get away to Harrison Hot Springs for my birthday weekend where we indulged in massages, courtesy of my mom, and a fancy birthday dinner. July was also the month where I got to see Newsies, Rock of Ages and a Vancouver Festival of Lights fireworks show!

August
In August, I headed back to Toronto where I was in yet another wedding. This time, I got to watch my best friend Andrea marry the love of her life. When I got back to Vancouver, my cousin Ryann and

Andy's wedding!

Andy’s wedding!

her boyfriend were in town thanks to med school placements that brought them out west. It was so fun to hang out with Ryann and Alex, go out to some great meals and experience Vancouver with them. Adding one more show to our year (we really see a lot of theatre!), Colin and I went to The Book of Mormon (his second time seeing the show, my fourth) with his good friends from high school.

 

Montreal

Montreal

September
Unfortunately, September was the big low of 2016. Towards the end of August, Colin’s dad Randy entered the hospital and on September 8th, he passed away. The short 11 days we spent in the hospital is still a bit of a blur and doesn’t quite feel real. Even though it’s been months, I still sometimes find myself waiting for Randy to come in from his workshop in the backyard when I’m staying in Surrey.

October
October was a month of a lot of changes, definitely spurred by the great loss our family suffered in September. I decided to quit my job, booked a fairly spontaneous trip to Vietnam and finally said out loud that I want to be a writer. We ended the month with my last day working a 9-5 at UBC (maybe forever!) and a complimentary stay on Granville Island thanks to a contest I had won earlier in the year.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

November
I started this month by living with Colin and Margie in Surrey for 12 days before heading off on a three week trip to Vietnam with my friend Emilie! It felt great to get on a long haul flight and check somewhere new off of my bucket list. There were definitely moments that I did not enjoy – when I was too hot and just wanted to lie in bed with air conditioning all day. But overall, I loved the trip! Highlights include our perfect day in Hoi An where we hit the beach, went to a cooking class and got dresses made, cruising beautiful Halong Bay, going on my own writer’s retreat to Phu Quoc Island and all of the delicious and cheap food we enjoyed!

Christmas light maze

Christmas light maze

December
I got back to Vancouver just in time for the most festive month of the year. I had a couple weeks in Vancouver where I split my time between my Kits apartment and Colin’s place in Surrey and tried to fit in as many social catch ups with friends as I could. And then it’s back to Toronto for Christmas. I didn’t get to go home last year, so it’s really nice to know I’ll be spending the holidays with my family and Toronto friends. But it’s also very hard to leave my Vancouver family behind, especially since they’re a smaller group this year after some pretty significant losses. December was also my first official month of what I like to call “fake employment.” I’m really giving this freelance writer thing a proper shot. And, a bit to my surprise, it’s working out. I’m not rolling in the dough, but I am making a decent amount of money from something I only got serious about in the last two months of the year.

I’m posting this on the eve of my flight to Toronto, so I assume the last 8 days of the year will be filled with chilly Toronto temperatures, lots of happy reunions with friends and family, all of the Christmas songs and decor I could want, and more food than one should reasonably eat in 8 days.

What’s next?
This is my favourite part! I love looking ahead and trying to predict what the next year will bring me or writing down some of my hopes and goals. I used to do resolutions; I’m not sure I’m going to make any for 2017. I like the idea of setting goals and having affirmations to guide me through the year, but I don’t want to rush to come up with a list just to meet an arbitrary deadline.

So what is happening in 2017?

Career: I would love if I could be a full-time freelance writer in 2017. It would be the dream to make my living just from my writing. However, that might not be realistic, especially since I’m just starting out. So I’m looking to pick up clients and get some steady gigs. But I’m also applying to some part-time stuff so I can still focus on writing but have something more steady on the side. I hope by the end of January/February, I’ll have that a bit more figured out. But if I could end 2017 confidently saying, “I’m a writer” when people ask what I do, that would be huge. I can’t even put into words how happy that would make me to be able to boldly say that.

Living: Surprisingly, I managed to stay in one apartment for a whole year (I can’t say the same about any of my jobs…). But as I shared previously, the plan is for me to give my notice when I get back from Toronto because Colin and I will be moving in together in March. We’re looking for a spacious, modern and affordable apartment in New West, preferably right by the skytrain. Any leads?

Travel: My first trip of the year will be in February. Colin and I are joining his mom and some other friends and relatives at an all-inclusive in Huatulco, Mexico for a week. I’m not usually a fan of all-inclusives but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit a country I’ve never been to, hang out by the beach with my boyfriend and escape a dreary Vancouver February. Other potential travel plans include a family trip to Europe in May with my stepmom’s side, a possible trip with my mom in September and a little surprise I’m working on for the summer!

Anything else? I think that’s all I’ve got planned for 2017 so far! I kind of love that the year is open and that I can take advantage of any opportunities that come my way. You know I can’t resist a good deal on a flight! But I’m really stoked for the things that I do have planned. I’m trying out my dream career as a writer and I’m loving every minute of it. I’m months away from moving in with my boyfriend and getting to live out my domestic fantasies in decorating a new place and maybe stepping up my cooking game. And I’ve got lots of exciting travel plans on the horizon. 2017 is sounding pretty stellar already.

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! All the best for your own stellar 2017 🙂

Ch-ch-ch-changes!

Whenever I go on a big trip to somewhere new I know I’m going to learn my way around a new place, learn local customs, learn a bit of the language and learn about a new culture. But I never count on learning about myself.

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My trip to Vietnam came at a huge point of transition for me. I had essentially quit my job to go on this trip and was/am forging down a brave new career path to follow my dream of being a writer. The trip was also exactly two months after the loss of Colin’s dad, which really put everything in my life into perspective. Vietnam was both me running away and starting fresh. Whenever my life is in flux, my instinct is to get on a plane. When I’m bored of filling out job applications, I look for flight deals or read through other travel blogs. Travel is always the answer, no matter what the question.

Except, this time it felt different.

A part of me was scared to go to Vietnam. After my disastrous trip to China last year, Vietnam was sort of a test. Could I do it? Was I still a traveler? Obviously this trip was a million times better than the China one, based solely on the fact that I planned it myself and I wanted to go. But I was still nervous. I think a large part of why I wanted to do this trip with someone was to help me really commit to it. If I had a China meltdown all over again, I had someone there to help get me through and as an incentive to stay.

Luckily, Vietnam was not China Trip Part 2. There was never a point where I wanted to throw in the towel and move my flight up. But some things did definitely change in my travel style.

The first time I noticed this was when we were having dinner with my friend Jonathan and a new friend of his he had met on his travels. We were asking her about her trip and she explained that she was travelling for 8 months through Asia, Australia and parts of Europe. My immediate reaction shocked me. As soon as she said that I thought, “No thanks!” Which is crazy! If you had told me two years ago that I would be turning my nose up at 8 months of travel, I never would have believed you. That was the dream! But I guess my dream has sort of changed. I’ve talked before about wanting to travel at a slower pace and not rush from city to city, which I think has a lot to do with my disgust at the idea of spending 8 months on the road.

This showed up in other parts of our trip. I’m sure Emilie would concur that it took a lot to get me out of the hotel room some mornings. I was having a hard time getting motivated to go out and see the city. The idea of putting on sunscreen and lacing up sneakers pained me. A lot of that had to do with the heat – I do not do well with humidity. But I think there was probably more to it than just hiding from the sun. As I’ve said before, I am a homebody who loves to travel. It’s a very weird dynamic and sometimes one wins out over the other.

Another part of this feeling was missing out on stuff at home. Even though Colin and I had lots of time to prepare for this trip, including the 14 days straight we spent together leading up to it, I really missed him. It’s hard to not be with the person you see and talk to all of the time. Colin was so great about messaging me and having a couple long chats on Skype but I still missed being with him. And I missed experiencing the trip with him. I have always been a huge proponent of solo female travel and people travelling without their partners. We met lots of people on the road who had left their significant others behind. I’m really happy that I got to do this trip with Emilie. And Colin was super supportive of me going. But all that being said, there’s still that part of me that would have wanted him there.

Another aspect of home that affected the trip was the pressure of my current job situation. As I wrote above, I quit my job a couple weeks before going on this trip. Thinking back, I still believe that quitting was the right decision. I was unhappy in that job and heading in that direction. This is the time for me to try something that I actually want to do and not be stuck in a soul-sucking administrative job. But it’s stressful! It was hard spending 3 weeks away knowing that I wouldn’t be coming home to a 9-5 or a vacation days paycheck. I was also keeping up with some of my freelance assignments, which was a bit to juggle at times. And anytime I took a break to watch a show or even write a post for this blog, I felt guilty that I wasn’t applying for jobs and attempting to figure out my life.

So yes, Vietnam was a very different trip from any I have taken in the past. I still had an amazing time and wouldn’t trade the experience. I’m so glad that I went (besides the horrendous jetlag I currently have; not so glad about that). I needed something to shake up my year and help me start this writing career track on a new foot. I think Vietnam was that. But it also has made me think about the type of travelling I want to do in the future. I don’t know exactly what it will look like but I want to find something that will make me happy. Or maybe it’s about accepting that travel, despite the perfectly filtered Instagram photos and adorable souvenirs, is not always fun. Sometimes you have a bad day, even when you’re living the dream and travelling in a new country. So maybe that’s the lesson I am actually learning: how to be okay with travel not always being 100% fun. Look at that! The lesson even changed from the beginning of my blog post to the end 🙂

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Speaking of changes, it seems that my living situation will also be changing soon. Colin and I are planning to move in together in the spring, hopefully into a nice apartment in New West. So if you hear of anything, let us know!