4.6.19

We're Moving...to Minnesota!

We are thrilled to announce our next big adventure: renovating our family farmhouse in Minnesota! This has been in the works for a little more than six months now, and we are SO EXCITED to get going on this next chapter!

Over a year ago, Phil's grandfather sadly passed away. This left the family farmhouse, which he lived in for over 50 years, empty and available. Phil's family understandably wanted to keep the property in the family, but were unsure who (if anyone) would be interested. 

Phil and I have always had an interest in remodeling or flipping a historic home, but it seemed like a distant dream living in Northern Virginia. We could barely afford a small condo in NoVa, let alone a historic home! So when we were asked about the farmhouse, we were absolutely interested. There were lots of factors at play though; could we find new jobs/keep our old ones? Would we be able to afford such a massive undertaking? Were we really ready to make a cross-country move to a state neither of us had lived in?

We spent a few months discussing all the variables. And after nailing down some of the hard factors (jobs, finances, etc.), we found that buying the property was absolutely a possibility. Though we had a rough 5-7 year plan for living in NoVa, as neither of us has much attachment to this specific area (aside from his immediate family living here). At four years in, we're a bit ahead of schedule, but couldn't be happier about the change of location. 



































This move has come as a surprise to many of our friends and family who were unaware both of our ties to Minnesota and of our interest in remodeling a historic home. Since we announced the move a few months ago, we've had a slew of questions crop up surrounding the decision and our plans. To satiate any remaining curiosity, I've put together our most frequently asked questions (and answers):

What's the story behind the house?
The house was built in 1890, and has had some minor renovations in those many years (most recently in the '90s). At over 100 years old, it has some quirks that give it lots of charm (and a few less charming features, ha!). In fact, the house was originally two houses that were combined! It's hard to tell in the picture above, but the left side of the house (with the three windows) was one house, and the right side (that extends out towards the big tree) was the second house. We actually verified this history when we visited in March, when Phil took a trip to the attic and discovered that you can see the roof and shingles from the second house inside of the attic of the first house. Kinda cool, kinda creepy, haha!

The two-house situation is fun, but it means the layout is pretty funky. There are three separate staircases, two that go upstairs and one that goes into the basement. The hallway upstairs is a bit zig-zagged because the two upstairs halls don't line up exactly. And we learned there are three separate chimneys (two are walled in). But these are the types of things we find incredibly charming, so we're excited about them!

Overall the house is quite big. I am unsure of the square footage, but it has five bedrooms (minding that they're historic bedrooms, so very small by modern standards) and two bathrooms, along with a large unfinished basement. A big difference from our little condo we've had for the last few years! We are looking forward to hosting lots of friends and guests at our home, and throwing plenty of parties to take advantage of the space.


What renovations are you planning?
TBD! We are excited to make some big changes, but at this point we haven't determined which we'll be doing. Once we live in the house for a few weeks it will become more apparent what we can make work and what needs to be renovated immediately. We are working with an architect and an interior designer to create new house plans, but the reality is it costs $$$$$ to renovate a big, old house with lots of big, old house problems. So we'll be designing a "Master Plan" for the remodel that has smaller projects we can do over the course of 10+ years to make the overall renovation more feasible.

The first line of action will be fixing things that are broken/outdated and then make cosmetic changes later. Unfortunately that isn't as fun (who wants to rewire a house/replace plumbing instead of designing a new kitchen?!) but we're doing our best to be responsible adults, ha! Thankfully we have a few close family members and friends who have experience in construction/carpentry and have volunteered to help with some of our projects. And we've watched like, every episode of ever show about flipping houses on HGTV, so we're practically experts ;)

In general, we want to keep the charm and history of the house intact while still making it livable and modern. We may move one of the staircases and a couple walls, but most of our changes will focus on finishing/updating rather than remodeling.


Is there property too?
YES. We will be buying 15 acres to go with the house, though there are about 100 adjacent acres owned by family we will have access to. On our 15 acres, there are six outbuildings: four barns, a detached garage, and a large shed. Most of the 15 acres are forested. There are two lakes (apparently one is considered a "pond" by Minnesota standards, but definitely qualifies as a lake to me) that are partially on our property. That is BY FAR the most exciting part to me! I have no clue how swimmable the lakes are, but even just walking to them and relaxing on the shore is amazing. In no world did I ever imagine owning property on a lake, let alone two!


What are you farming?
Our number one question, with a very boring answer: nothing! As mentioned, the majority of our 15 acres is forested. We have one larger open area that we plan on using for a personal garden, but nothing commercial. Historically there were corn fields that accompanied the farm, but these were sold to the neighbor a long time ago. So you can see a farm from our house, but it's not actually ours!

We also have no fenced areas, so animals aren't in the picture either. We plan on getting at least one more dog, but nothing else as of yet.


What about the winters?!
I'd rather have winters in Minnesota than summers in Virginia, ha! I've never lived in a "winter" state so it's hard to say how I'll handle the transition, but overall I think it will be a much better fit for both of us! I'm definitely not an East Coast gal, and mid-Atlantic heat and humidity have not been not my friends. The tradeoff for bitter winters is beautiful summers, and that is one I'm certainly happy to make.

Phil is super excited for all the snow we'll be getting. He is naturally inclined to snow sports having lived many years in both Switzerland and Colorado, and has a long list of winter activities he's looking forward to us taking up. I'm told we'll be trying out cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling... the list goes on. Having only lived in places that average fewer than 12 inches of snow each year myself, I'm looking forward to having a true winter experience (even if it does mean heavy coats and keeping the heat on for six months straight).


How do you feel about living "in the country"?
I think when I tell people I'm moving to a farmhouse in the midwest, they envision vast, empty fields and a small town with one stop light. While we will be living on a former farm, it's actually fewer than 10 minutes from the downtown area of our city (pop. 20,000), and only 30 minutes from Minneapolis/St. Paul. That's part of what made the farmhouse so attractive to us; it has plenty of privacy, but is in close proximity to multiple big cities.

The house I lived in growing up is more "in the country" than our farmhouse will be (and I never considered myself as living "in the country" growing up, haha)! So don't worry, we'll still have cell service and access to a Whole Foods.


What are you doing with the barns?
The barns are in some ways the most exciting part of the property! One barn was built with the house in 1890 and actually looks like a house - it's two stories, has a full basement, chimney, glass windows, etc. We are having an architect create plans for potentially turning it into a second house on the property to use as a vacation rental. The other three barns aren't as charming, but have lots of space and potential.

There is a running list of ideas of what to do with them: turn them into a wedding/event venue, rent them for RV/boat storage, turn them into studio space, create a holiday farm (pumpkin patch, Christmas trees, etc.), get animals... the list goes on! We are still considering all options, but are pretty far from deciding what to do with them. Feel free to let us know any of your ideas!


What are you doing for work?
I am incredibly blessed to be able to keep my job and continue working remotely from our new home! I work remotely already (as do all our staff) but we meet in person once a week for staff meetings. I'll be joining meetings virtually now, and will travel to clients/conferences etc. as needed.


Are you disappointed to be leaving DC/NoVA?
Not really! We have developed an amazing community of friends and family, but overall I'm excited about the change. Being 10 miles outside of D.C. is cool when you want to be a tourist, but most days it just makes traffic unbearable and everything too expensive. So while I'll miss the people, I couldn't be more excited to move across the country.

My personality is definitely one that thrives on change (as is Phil's) so neither of us has any qualms about making such a big move. Actually, I'm shocked I've managed to live in the same place for four consecutive years! Especially since I am decidedly NOT a city person. I've made living outside of D.C. (and London prior) work for my lifestyle, but I've been itching to get out of suburbia for a long time.

The nice thing about having immediate family and a job here is that we'll have plenty of opportunity to return and visit. So we are far from gone forever!


Do you know anyone in MN?
We are lucky to have lots of extended family (Phil's) living all around the state! We have several aunts/uncles/cousins all living within an hour, and several others living further away. Other than family, we're starting out fresh! New location, new friends :)


When are you moving? 
This week! We hope to be moved in by June 9, but it's a long drive from D.C. (20 hours) and we obviously don't control traffic or weather. We'll be leaving MN soon after we arrive for a few weeks of traveling, but we'll be back to get settled in by mid-July. It's a busy summer, and we're so excited!



We'll be documenting our home renovations and new life in Minnesota, so stay tuned for updates! Plenty more photos and stories to come.





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27.5.18

Four Corners in Four Days

About four years ago (yikes! Time flies!) Phil and I did a six week roadtrip around the US. Of the 18 states we visited, by far my favorite section was Four Corners. Encompassing Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah, Four Corners is full of grand, scenic views and incredible hikes and parks. I recently took a trip to Colorado and my love for the area was reinvigorated.

We managed to do the Four Corners region in about four days. Though tight, it is just enough time to see the best the area has to offer. If you're looking for a long-weekend roadtrip showcasing some of the best parks the US has to offer, I highly recommend the following:
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Dinosaur Tracks at Tuba City, New Mexico
North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Arizona
Zion National Park, Utah
Zion National Park, Utah
Zion National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah 
Day 1:
Mesa Verde, CO
Day 2:
Tuba City, NM
Grand Canyon, AZ
Day 3:
Zion, UT
Day 4:
Bryce Canyon, UT

There is much more to see in this part of the country, so keeping it to four days is tough! But this was the itinerary we went with, and I felt like we got just enough time in each place to feel satisfied. My personal favorite? Bryce Canyon. Absolutely gorgeous, plenty of easy + tough hikes, and beautiful views galore.

I'd love to do a longer version of this trip, with the addition of Black Canyon of the Gunnison park in Colorado, Antelope Canyon in Arizona, and Arches park in Utah.

Where's your favorite place to roadtrip to?

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31.10.17

3 Days in Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico City was a wonderful surprise after a lot of anxiety. I'm no fan of solo travel; I've done it several times and every time it either ends up a disaster or I'm bored and lonely. I avoid it whenever possible, but my trip to Mexico was bound to be solo. My well-meaning family and friends peppered me with "Isn't that dangerous?" "Should you really go there alone?" "Don't tourists get kidnapped there?". I'm no amateur traveler, and I've been to some dangerous places, but my ability to write off other's concerns was markedly absent. And so the night before my flight, I had a breakdown. I considered canceling the trip, or else finding a way to bring someone with me (forgetting that though I was flying alone, I would be meeting friends upon arrival). But my dear husband convinced me I was being dramatic and everything would be fine - more than fine, in fact, and that I would have a great time. And so I entered Mexico City full of anxiety, and left with lovely memories (and a stomach full of quesadillas). 
Phil and I are lucky to have friends living around the world, including a couple with a home in Mexico City. They picked me up from the airport, and took me to their favorite spots around the city. They fed me delicious food and let me borrow a (local) cell phone and were all around the greatest hosts I could possibly hope for. We spent my first day visiting the popular parts of downtown, and the remaining days while they went to their office jobs I wandered around on my own. Mexico City is huge, and easy to get lost in, so I didn't stray too far from the busy areas. But really there's no need to; there's so much to see and do downtown and in the big neighborhoods that I wasn't able to see it all in just three days. 
It's no surprise that one of the best things about Mexico is the food. And the best food I ate ended up being the street food. And no - I never once got food poisoning (calm down mom, street tacos are great). The most interesting thing I tried was Huevos Divorciados (pictured above) - eggs over fried cactus paddle with Chilaquiles between the two. I don't know that I'm a big cactus-for-eating fan, but I'm always glad to try *exciting new things!

*I mean, who's to say how exciting eating cactus is, but I was pretty stoked
High on the list of "coolest things to do in Mexico City" is visiting Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera's home, known as La Casa Azul (The Blue House). For anyone - the majority of people, my husband insists - who doesn't recognize those names, suffice to say Frida is one of the most famous female artists and feminist icons, and her husband Diego was famous artist and socialite. She had a tumultuous life and produced incredible artwork and poetry through it. Their home is, as the name implies, the most incredible shade of blue. Since their deaths, the house has been turned into a museum which showcases both of their artwork and what their lives were like. Definitely worth a visit, and one of my favorite things we did!
The architecture is beautifully varied across the city, from the ornate palaces and cathedrals to colorful stucco storefronts and homes. One of my days I spent on a hop-on-hop-off bus, and I took most of my time in a survey of the architecture. I'm now determined to paint my future home a lively, neon hue, with bougainvillea to match. 
One of the most surprising locations I visited was Chapultepec Castle - a glamorous palace on a hill overlooking the city. The castle grounds are also home to a botanical garden, zoo, and small lake with paddle-boats you can rent. It is a beautiful way to spend a day; there's more than enough to do and it's cheap to enter. For over an hour I wandered the park and didn't run into anyone, except the statues scattered throughout. 


Mexico City was a joy to visit, and I encountered nothing but pleasant people and interesting attractions. My anxiety was undue, and it was refreshing to be proved entirely wrong. If you get the chance to visit Mexico, I highly recommend a visit to the capitol city. My list of Must-see's include:
  • La Casa Azul
  • The Anthropological Museum
  • Chapultepec Castle
  • Palacio de Bellas Artes

Have you been to Mexico City before? What was you favorite thing you did?


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9.8.17

Lisbon, Portugal: The Alfama District

Lisbon: florid, effervescent, lovely. I recognized going in, Lisbon was a dangerous place. Dangerous for how much I knew I would adore it, how enchanting it's narrow city streets would be, how placid the city's personality. I wasn't wrong; I can say with certainty that Lisbon is one of my favorite European cities (and who is surprised? No one, I'm sure). We stayed in a sweet AirBNB in the Alfama District, the oldest part of the city. Our quaint apartment gave us ample access to the winding alleys, cobbled streets, cafes, and restaurants the area is known for.
If this photo of a sweet old lady feeding pigeons from her window doesn't embody the feeling of Alfama, I don't know what does. Everyone we encountered was friendly and helpful (a travel cliche, I know, but in this case true). We walked our entire stay in Lisbon, taking brief rides on the famous trams. The overall feeling of the area was unhurried; even the busiest street corners were relatively quiet, and we never experienced the loudness of cars honking or people shouting. As noted, Alfama is the oldest neighborhood of Lisbon; in 1755 one of the largest earthquakes in the world hit Lisbon (estimated magnitude of 9.0), and nearly the entire city was destroyed. Alfama, however, sits north on a hill, and remained intact through the disaster. This means that district is still dotted with architecture pre-dating 1755, which is pretty amazing. 
One of my favorite experiences was our first night in the city; I was exhausted from traveling, and Phil was enthusiastic about exploring the area. We compromised by wandering around the neighborhood for a few hours before choosing a cafe to eat an early dinner. As it turned out, the cafe selected was a venue for Fado, which is a traditional type of Portuguese ballad played with a 12-string guitar (listen to a sample here). The cafe was small, and it was early in the evening, so we were one of only two occupied tables. We got a private concert with two (very talented) guitarists and two (very talented) singers for nearly two hours. It was the perfect introduction to Portugal and the best way to start our trip (and end a long day). 
As you explore Alfama, you'll catch glimpses of the Tagus river, hand-painted mosaics and ceramics, and plenty of colorfully-painted homes. If you plan on visiting Lisbon, I highly recommend staying in Alfama; you won't regret experiencing its character first-hand. 

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