Monday, December 16, 2013

Our New House: Before

As you know, Hubs and I set out on an adventure this summer to look for a new house.  We had been living in my condo since we got engaged in 2010, and we just outgrew the cozy 928 sq. ft. floor plan.  Plus, with visions of future kiddos in mind, we thought that this would be a great time to find our first house.

We ended up finding the house in July, and we closed at the end of August.  Let me tell ya, buying my condo 8 years ago was MUCH easier than buying a house today.  We had so many hoops to jump through, but it all came together and we closed on time, on our original closing date.  Hallelujah!

The housing market here in Tampa is tricky.  There was some inventory in our price range but it fell into one of three categories:  1.) Total dump in a prime neighborhood; 2.) Good house that was move-in ready in a less-than-desirable neighborhood; 3.) Good house in a desirable neighborhood with work to do.  And by 'work to do', I mean that it's so bad that it would be considered a fixer-upper by many peoples' standards, but there are cosmetic changes and projects that many people would want to do to make it their own or a more current style.  We chose option 3, the great house in a desirable neighborhood with projects to be done.  And OH MY, have there been projects!

This house checked all of our must-haves:
  • Newer (built in the last 15 years)
  • In a specified part of town
  • Open floor plan with master bedroom separated from additional bedrooms
  • At least 3 Bedroom/2 Bath with an additional space for an office/2nd tv space
  • Large pantry
  • Screened in lanai
  • Nice landscaping in a medium sized yard
  • 2 car garage
  • Master suite with large walk-in closet
  • Lots of natural light and big windows
  • Ceiling fans/wiring for ceiling fans
Even though the house has these things, it still needs cosmetic work and TLC to make it our long-term home.  

Want to see the house?  We're going to start with some 'before' photos, then create a separate post for the post-renovation photos.  Here are some photos of our house, during the inspection, before the previous owners moved out...

Looks normal enough, right?

Just keep going...

Laundry Room
WOW, a fluorescent yellow laundry room!  Not my dream come true, but I did like that it was in the house and not in the garage.

Kitchen
Brown doors, brown trim, and faux-finished brown walls.  At least I didn't hate the cabinets or tile.

Breakfast area

More brown, ugly light fixture, and PEACH VERTICAL BLINDS.  Barf.

Dining Room (believe it or not)

Brown walls, gold trim, gold upper walls above plant ledge and another ugly light fixture.  And don't even get me started on how many speakers this guy needed for his entertainment center.

Living Room

The previous owners used the living room as their workspace for their internet business.  She made gorgeous but expensive decorations and toys for children.   As you can see, it had work lighting, faux-finished brown walls, and more peach vertical blinds.  They also hung curtains to block the workspace from the dining room/their living room area.

Master Bedroom
The previous owners had a huge bed with tall rails, so they had a very tiny little ceiling fan that barely churned any air.  The room was painted medium greenish-brown from top to bottom.  Those curtains on the left block off an addition they put on the master bedroom that contained an office, and they were gold.  There was different carpet in the addition than in the bedroom, even though the abutted one another and it looked tacky.  At least the ceiling fan in the addition wasn't bad.

Foyer
More dark brown walls, a gold door, gold trim and an outdated light fixture.  Good God.

The two other bedrooms were also quite colorful.  

Guest bedroom 1

This one was painted a medium aqua color and had gray vertical blinds flecked with pink and blue.  The trim was brown, and the ceiling, main door and closet doors were aqua to match the walls.  The ceiling fan in this room was great, so we ended up keeping that.

This house had decent tile and yucky off-white grid-patterned carpet throughout.  The carpet wasn't going to last with our dog, who has proven to be completely irresponsible with carpet.  Only hard surface floors for us in the future.

The second guest bedroom, not pictured, was painted DARK PURPLE from top to bottom (walls and ceilings), with brown trim and the closet doors were missing when we initially saw the house.  It was garish, so we required that they painted the room a neutral color when we placed our bid.  The next time we saw the house, at the inspection, the owner had re-installed the closet doors, and -- surprise! -- they were also brown.  Great, I thought.  More brown.  At least they painted the room white!

As far as the yard goes, this house had a decent yard.  The previous owner fancied himself a botanist, so where were some crazy plants and fruit bushes and trees that we'd have to contend with.  At least it was not in bad shape and had been reasonably maintained, unlike many houses we saw.

When I tell my friends about the house we bought and what we started from, they ask how we ever saw past the owners' mountain of stuff and the issues to think we could live there.  The answer is pretty simple.  We saw a lot of crappy houses, so when we saw one with good bones, we snapped it up!  We put in a competitive bid to (hopefully) beat out the other bidders right away and avoid a bidding war, which is exactly what happened.  We were happy that we didn't overpay, but we didn't get some amazing deal either.  We quickly learned that there really are no great deals out there right now in the parts of town where we wanted to live.  We were happy to find out current house and we know it will be a good long term home for us, especially after the work gets done. 

So there you have it.  The 'before' pictures of our new casa.  I will be sharing the 'after' photos with you shortly!  

What do you think of the 'before' pictures?  Could you have seen past the wall colors, light fixtures and mountains of junk to see the bones of the house?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Oxford Exchange & A Great Giveaway

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a holiday preview event at Oxford Exchange in Tampa. I'd heard about Oxford Exchange in passing from friends, but I wasn't able to discern exactly what it was. I heard it was a bookstore.  And a meeting and event space.  A restaurant.  A boutique.  A coffee shop.  An architectural wonder.  A gorgeous little slice of heaven.

After visiting OE myself, I can say that it's all of those things.

I truly believe that Oxford Exchange is the most beautiful building I've seen in Tampa.  It looks like a place I would have frequented in NYC or popped into in London.  Instead, it's right here in Tampa, in my backyard.

OE was gorgeously decorated for the holidays, and they introduced the local bloggers to their book shop, coffee bar, tea bar, retail boutique and samples of delish food from their executive chef, all while they plied us continually topped off our glasses of champagne.  It was super fabulous and I had no problem kicking back the bubbly after a long day at work.

OE's executive chef, Erin Guggino, created some lovely appetizers for us to sample while we enjoyed the evening's festivities.  The first was a dried fig topped with goat cheese and a walnut.  It was delicious, light and flavorful.  The second option was a butternut squash soup shooter, which was smooth and delightful.  My taste buds demanded more, but alas, I was not going to be a piglet and gulp down 5 more.  Though I could have, and probably would have if there hadn't been so many darn people around carrying smart phones and fancy cameras to capture said pig-out.  The chef was wonderful enough to give us copies of the recipes for these dishes, so we can recreate them at home anytime.  Perfecto!

Erin telling us about her nom-noms

After that, we stepped up to the tea bar, and sampled a delicious peppermint bark tea by TeBella Tea Company, a local, family-owned tea company.  They paired the tea with some yummy artisinal chocolate, which certainly didn't hurt.  It tasted just like Christmas!



From there, we had an opportunity to meet the ladies behind my favorite locally-based candle company, Seventh Avenue Apothecary.  I began raving about their candles to other bloggers, only to find that one of the sweet owners was standing behind me!  She heard me praising their products, and she told me that she thought I was only doing that because she was standing nearby.  OF COURSE NOT!!  I love, love, love their soy candles, which have a crazy-long burn time and come in a variety of unique, amazing scents.  My favorite is Tuscan Cypress and Fig... I have two of these sitting in my home fragrance stash as I type this, because I cannot live without it.

Pyramid O' Happiness

The lovely ladies behind Seventh Avenue Apothecary

We also had a chance to try a fabulous dandelion dark chocolate and Buddy Brew Coffee pairing.  I don't usually like black coffee, but this coffee was so flavorful that I'd drink it without my favorite cream and sugar.



After this, the hosts of the evening offered tours.  I was in tour group number two, so I browsed around the boutique to see what types of items they carry.  I was surprised at how gorgeous the store was and how it was filled with exciting finds for those hard-to-shop-for friends and family members.  I plan to visit the boutique in the upcoming week to purchase a few final Christmas gifts.

Here are a few pictures of OE's lovely retail space...










Isn't it gorgeous??  I want their interior designer to redo my entire house.

Next, our tour group was up, so we met upstairs and saw the meeting space, event rooms and work spaces for those with memberships to their club.  For $50/month, you get access to their work space room, complete with vintage-y desks, private phone-call booths, a copy center and servers to bring you beverages and food from the restaurant downstairs.  It's like working at Starbucks, but waaaay more chic and exclusive.  Here's a peek and several meeting and work space rooms at OE...



My, what a big table you have!

Workstation Room

Next, we went back downstairs to see the restaurant and conservatory.  Here's the beautiful conservatory, which features a fountain made from centuries-old Italian aqueducts and a retractable roof.



That's one purty roof.

Love this hallway between the book shop and coffee bar.

Overall, I had a stellar time getting to know the offerings at Oxford Exchange and seeing blog friends that I hadn't seen in ages.  Oxford Exchange is such a gorgeous venue, and would have been perfect for my Florida wedding reception a couple of years ago, had it existed at that point.  I look forward to going back soon to partake in their much-hyped brunch or one of their monthly bingo soirees.  This month's bingo event will be held on Dec. 19 with the theme of Tacky Holiday Sweaters.  You KNOW I'll be there donning my ugliest Christmas sweater!

I also am doing a quick and easy giveaway, with lovely items courtesy of Oxford Exchange.  Up for grabs is a lovey book, The Art of the Handwritten Note by Margaret Shepherd and a package of Sugar Paper letterpress notecards.


To win, just leave a comment on the blog telling me your favorite reason to send a handwritten note by Thursday, December 19.  The winner will be chosen via a random number generator.  (None of that fancy-schmancy Rafflecopter business this time around!)

Happy holidays!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Sound Off: Celeb Gossip

Have I ever told you how much I love celebrities and celeb gossip?  Well, I do.  I've always had a fascination with knowing everybody's business, which is (I think) what drew me to the human resources profession.  An extension of that is loving salacious celebrity gossip, and lemme tell ya...I follow this stuff in so many ways and have LOTS of sources for my "news".  Sometimes I feel like the mom in that Mike Myers movie, So I Married an Ax Murderer, who considers her favorite tabloid, New of the World, "real news"... except I can tell when a story is BS and when it's real  (most of the time).  Celeb gossip is silly and useless, I know, but it's good entertainment.  Even my girl-crush, Mindy Kaling, loves celebrity gossip and pop culture in much the same way as I do, and that's why I'm sure we'd be BFF in real life.

Anyway, I'd like to bring up a few burning topics.

First of all, Paul Walker.  R.I.P. Paul.  I'd only seen a couple of his movies, which were decent, and he was great eye-candy over the years.  I also love what a devoted dad he seemed to be to his teenage daughter, and I can tell that he'll be missed by so many people.  But... have you noticed how many people are proclaiming him to be this amazing, Oscar-worthy actor now that he's gone?  I mean, he was a passable actor, but did anyone see Snow Dogs or any of his Fast and Furious movies?  These were not what I'd consider to be Oscar-winning performances.  Fun roles?  Yes.  Did he look scrumptious?  Yep.  He did his job, but he wasn't setting the world on fire with his profound acting skills.  This kind of reminds me of when Michael Jackson died, and tons of people proclaimed him to be a genius and their favorite singer of all time.  And MJ was pretty awesome in the 80's, but he was also sort of an oddball later in life.  When he was alive, people berated him and spoke badly about his money troubles, odd lifestyle, looks and children.  He wasn't respected in life the way that he was been respected in death.  It's human nature to put people on pedestals after they pass away because we feel that the best way to honor them is to remember all of their positive qualities and discuss none of their flaws.  While it's wonderful to honor those who have passed on in a positive way, it's also disingenuous to say that they were so amazing when this was not shared or celebrated during their living years.  Now MJ is an extreme example, but it happens with many celebs who pass away, especially when the passing is tragic.  Paul Walker was a pretty good actor and very attractive to boot, but no one was beating down the movie studios' doors demanding to know when Paul would receive his Oscar or when they'd greenlight a sequel to Snow Dogs.  Anyway, Paul will be missed, and I'm sure we'll see him smiling back at us during his Oscars post-mortem video montage.  In the meantime, I'm enjoying the endless tributes being posted on Facebook, particularly when pictures are posted and stories are shared about his family and philanthropic ways.  He seemed like a good guy.

Next topic:  Miley Cyrus.  Miley is on the fast track to being the subject of an E True Hollywood Story about a seemingly good child actor who strayed into the dark, seedy underworld of Hollywood.  I liked her years ago, especially in the Party in the USA days, but began to get skeptical of her when she started dancing on poles at award shows at 17-ish years old.  Fast forward to today, and she's busy feeding the tabloids with her exploits with drugs, sex and broken engagements.  Her new music is just okay, and I don't think it's the timeless classic that she proclaims it to be.  And her high-thigh leotard costumes that are straight out of an 80's Jane Fonda workout video?  They've gots ta go.  Really, it all looks so desperate, particularly the incident where she lit up a joint on stage in Amsterdam and bragged about her favorite drugs to whoever would listen.  Not impressed.  I am tired of celebrities promoting/celebrating their drug use (I'm talking to you too, Lady Gaga and Charlie Sheen), and wish we had more positive role models (a.k.a. Jennifer Lawrence) for our young girls.  When Miley's got this much dysfunction in her life at such a young age, there's bound to be a celebrity sex tape in her future.  I just hope that when Miley's 50 she can look back on this experience and not feel humiliated.

Batter up!  Now it's a two-fer with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.  I used to like Kanye's music when he first hit the scene (his early stuff was great and Gold Digger is an anthem), but around the time that he interrupted Taylor Swift on stage at an awards show to proclaim that someone else should have won, I lost respect for the guy.  You don't mess with Ms. Swift!  THEN, he started getting cockier and ruder in the press, and my respect continued to dwindle.  With Kim, I always lacked a little respect for her because of how she became a household name:  From a sex tape with Brandy's little brother.  After watching Keeping up with the Kardashians, I started to like her more and felt like she got a bad rap.  She was cute and seemed sweet, after all.    Then, I found out she was dating Kanye, the super douche.  Ugh.  She swore that he was such a great boyfriend and then I realized that Kanye is one of those guys who's a dick to everyone except his girlfriend and people he wants something from.  To those people, he's a friendly, affable guy who'd do anything of you.  (I know this type because I dated one eons ago.)  Of course he's nice to Kim--she's hot and clearly has a way with men (Evidence: sex tape).  Then they had a baby and named her North... as in North West... because Kanye felt that this name meant "the top" and "over everyone else".  WTF.  Aaaand now I've lost respect for them both for picking a really dumb name and for douchey reasons.  My latest issue with Kanye is that he can't stop running his mouth about what a genius he thinks he is.  It's laughable at this point.  He gets upset with CEOs of major fashion labels won't meet with him to hear his ideas, because he thinks they should all give him the time of day.  Right.  Good luck with that, Kanye.  Most of the world does not agree that you're a genius.  Just stick to rapping, okay?

I'm done for now, but stay tuned for future rantings about celebs.  I love this stuff too much to keep quiet about it.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Rose Vox Box Review

Recently, Influenster bestowed up on me a Rose Vox Box and I was really impressed with the offerings this go-round.  Here's a view of the goods...


Clockwise from top left...
Kiss Gradation Nail Polishes
Rimmel Scandaleyes Retro Glam Mascara
Dr. Scholl's For Her Cozy Cushions Insoles
belVita Crunchy Breakfast Biscuits - Cinnamon and Brown Sugar flavor
Lindt Lindor Truffle - Milk Chocolate flavor

I had a lot of fun with this box.  I loved the effect provided by the Kiss Gradation nail polishes, but I kind of made a mess when I attempted this 3-step technique on my own.  It's almost Kari-proof... almost.  Next time my personal manicurist (a.k.a. twin sister) comes to town, I'm going to have her apply this properly so I can show off my pretty holiday nails.

I'd never tried belVita products before I tried these breakfast biscuits, but they're pretty tasty!  After trying these, I bought a box of belVita Soft Baked Biscuits in Mixed Berry, which I've been nibbling on during my commute to work each morning.  They're also delish and full of fiber and wholesomeness.  

The Rimmel mascara was my favorite item in the box.  I hadn't used Rimmel mascara before, nor have I heard anything about their mascaras.  I tried this about a month ago when my sister came to town, and I was really impressed!  It has a big fluffy, hourglass-shaped brush, and a formula that was neither too wet nor too dry.  It also lengthened and separated my lashes while coating them in the blackest, shiniest formula that came off easily with oil-free makeup remover.  Such a win!  For the $5.99 price tag, it's a great product!  I've actually opted to use this mascara over my tried and true Benefit and L'Oreal mascaras recently, so that should tell you that it works pretty well for me.

I tried the Dr. Scholl's insoles, and I had mixed feelings about them.  They are extremely comfortable, but they were very, very warm and they made my feet sweat.  They'd be perfect for fall and winter boots if I still lived in the cold, crisp northern climates, but living in Florida, where it's still sandal weather, they're just not as practical.

Finally, the Lindt truffle.  I've actually had this type of Lindt truffle before and it's safe to say that I'm a big fan.  I could chow down a whole bag of these truffles in one sitting if I wanted, but I won't.  I want to, but I won't.  (I'll just keep repeating that as reinforcement of my willpower over the Lindt truffle.)

Overall, this was such a fun Vox Box!!  Thanks again to Influenster for furnishing these great items and spreading the joy in their programs.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Tiny Prints Holiday Cards: Help Me Choose!

Now that Thanksgiving 2013 is a thing of the not-so-distant past and Christmas 2013 is barreling toward us at warp speed, I took this weekend to get myself in the Christmas spirit.  The time between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day is my favorite time of each year.  With all of the hubbub over our new house and family coming for Thanksgiving, I just don't feel quite as ready for Christmas usual.  I've only bought a few gifts and haven't put any thought into outdoor decorating, but I did several Christmas-y things this weekend:  I got out the Christmas decorations, listened to copious amounts of Christmas music and invested some time in finding great holiday cards.

I'm one of those people who have always loved beautiful, hand-written notes and stationery, and this extends to sending and receiving gorgeous holiday cards each year.  This year, I've browsed a half dozen or so stationery sites and found that the selection of custom holiday cards at Tiny Prints to be the most captivating.

Tiny Prints is an upscale, custom online stationery store that specializes in beautiful invitations, announcements, holiday cards, photo books, and much, much more.  I used their sister site, Wedding Paper Divas, for my Save The Date cards for my 2011 wedding, and got TONS of compliments on them.  The quality and feel of these cards are amazing, and they are definitely worth the money spent.

This year's Tiny Prints Christmas card designs are gorgeous, modern, and a bit whimsical -- everything I want my cards to be. Seriously, even the backs of the cards are pretty!  Even Hubs, who rarely cares about this sort of thing, is impressed with the styles and options available.  I really want cards that use just one picture, and Hubs requested that our cards say Merry Christmas.  I have used Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings and Merry Christmas cards in the past, so I'm totally up for some more Merry Christmas action.  Why the heck not? Hubs and I celebrate Christmas, so it's fitting.

Here are a few of my favorite cards from Tiny Prints the check off all of my must-haves...















Don't you just love them??? They're beautiful and simple.  Just my style.

I'd love it if you helped me choose my 2013 Christmas cards.  I want to make a decision by Wednesday, December 4, so please leave a comment here on the blog or via Twitter (@LaBellaVitaBlog) and let me know which card(s) you like best!

I've also pinned these to my Christmas board on Pinterest, so check that and my other boards out, too.

If you're interested buying your holiday cards or any other stationery from Tiny Prints, they are running some great deals through all of Cyber Week and the holiday season. Use code CB13 for 30% off your entire order!  This code is good through Tuesday, 12/4, at midnight.

Happy December, friends!!

My photo
Tampa, Florida, United States
I'm a wife, daughter and amazing twin sister. I'm a mom to my adorable dog, Bella. Loves: Shopping, cooking, baking, good grammar and Dave Matthews Band. I'm also a Bath and Body Works addict, a Michigan State Spartans fanatic, and an iPhone aficionado. I see beauty in simple things and little things make me ever-so-happy. Welcome to my world!


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