The House

The house…it’s been alluded to on here numerous times.  If you know us, you’ve likely at least heard about it.  If you us well, you’ve likely been several times during/after the project. 

From March 2017 when we started looking into the possibility of buying the house to March 2019 when we moved in, it consumed most of our free time.  I had to organize the financing, plans, permits, acted as contractor, and physically did a ton of the work too.  Alyce had to double up on everything at home since I was always busy; she also helped do some work too when available.

In this post, I’ll try to go over purchasing the house and making plans, the things we did, before/after, and thoughts after living in it for nearly two years.

Buying the house

We liked our old house, but we knew we would prefer a little more space.  I also had always wanted to design and build a house.  Additionally, we did not want to leave our neighborhood.  The last two items did not line up with each other as lot prices (really tear-downs) were high and going higher.

With that in mind, we started to expand our search to houses that would need renovation.  I don’t know we had in mind the full scope of renovations we’d eventually do, but we were looking for potential.

There was a house or two we looked at, but saw people working on the house at the end of the block for the first time in a while as I was walking James.  This was notable for several reasons…

This particular house was vacant since Katrina (12 years).  This was very odd, as the lot alone was worth a whole lot as it was an oversized corner lot and faced the lakefront and the Canal boulevard neutral ground.  The house had the potential for good curb appeal.  And while not a major factor, it did have some history to it in that New Orleans musician Al Hirt lived in it for a long time.

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2021 Planned Travel

I write this half-way through January with high hopes for the year.  But I also know that things could be all over the place.

Alyce has already been vaccinated.  I’d expect that makes it easier for her to travel as things open back up.  I have not, and I’m likely several months out (at a minimum) from being eligible.

We had to cancel Japan and Napa in 2020.  I’m looking to load up 2021 to make up for the lack of 2020 travel, combined with the fact that we were already behind on travel for the last several years with all the house related stuff.

Roatan (March) – This is a family trip with my parents and brother/his fiancé.  It will be the first trip we’ve taken like this in a long time (2005 was our last family trip – to Grand Cayman and without significant others).  I feel confident this one will happen.  Roatan has remained open since the fall and will likely do what they can to accept tourist.  We are currently experiencing a post-holiday uptick in Covid, but I’m hopeful that will settle down as we move away from the holidays and more people are vaccinated.

Hawaii (May) – We plan on spending 10 days in Hawaii with James: 5 in Maui and 5 in Kauai.  I looked into Hawaii a good bit for our fall 2020 trip, but it didn’t work out.  I wanted to get it in this year.  We will stay at a couple Hyatts, taking advantage of my status.  James should enjoy himself.  It’s technically a domestic trip, so I think it is more likely to happen.  It also fits in well with our longer term travel plans, which will have us more likely focusing on one longer trip a year.

Fort Morgan, AL (June) – This is an extended family beach trip.  We drive and were able to do it in 2020.  I’d rate it at likely to happen.

Japan (September/October) – Got this one scheduled for two weeks.  We currently have business class booked in both directions.  I may upgrade to First class if it becomes available on Japan Airlines.  We have stays booked on points at a number of nice Hyatts.  I’ll likely start working on restaurant reservations in a couple months. 

I’m also not that confident this one will happen.  With the vaccine, I give it a much better shot than I did a couple months back, but I’d think it’s still 50/50.  Good news is we’ve got 9+ months to go and things could be very different by then.  Bad news is Japan has been very restrictive on international travel with no plans to relax the restrictions.  We’ll see, as we really would like to go to Japan.

If not, the next place I’d look would be Europe (likely France) if open for international travel.  Should that fail, we’d look back at the national parks in the US.

Other – We have paid for a good portion of a Napa VRBO for the wedding we were supposed to attend in 2020.  I know our group would like to try to make that work at some point.

I currently have a promotional Southwest Companion Pass – not sure why.  It seems like it would be a waste to not use that.

That’s the plan.  As is the case with everything these days, it’s all up in the air as to what actually happens.

Cancun – November 2019

This trip came about because I had expiring frequent flyer miles (Singapore Airlines if I remember correctly) that I just noticed the night they were set to expire – I get an email notice…when it’s working.  Not wanting to let that happen, I searched for something in North America to book with the miles that was appropriate for November.  Mexico was one of the few options with availability for 3.  Also, there is a really nice all-inclusive Hyatt there.  Mexican all-inclusives are not usually our style, but this one sounded good.   Worst case, it is way better than nothing.

For this wrap up, I’m going to give a general overview.  Not much use in doing the day to day.  If interested, I can sum it up in a sentence: get up, eat, James goes to the kids club, we hang out and drink margaritas by the beach, get James for a little bit, snorkel, maybe pool, sometimes James went to dinner at the kids club, sometimes he’d eat with us….and if he was at the club, we’d make our way to the tequila bar.  Mix in some evening shows and multiple stops at the café, and you have it.  We did not leave the property, and that was fine.

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South America 2017

Well…I write this 3+ years after we took the trip.  The memories are not as fresh as they once were.  But, I have notes and pictures.  That should be enough to give a general idea of the trip.

As you may (or may not) recall, our 2017 trips were supposed to be Portugal/Spain in the spring, Charleston in the summer, and TBD for the remainder.  Buying our house changed that.  Portugal/Spain became a long weekend in New York.  Charleston stayed the same.  Nothing else was planned, but I wanted to fit something in.  In the fall, we found award availability in early December and made the call to spend a week between Chile and Argentina.

Why these destinations?  I had been wanting to make it to South America for quite some time.  Also, it is a relatively easy trip compared to Asia, Australia, etc.  And our last 3 international trips had been Euro-focused, so changing it up was not a bad idea.

We found business flights in both directions for the two of us (James would be staying home with his grandparents for this one).  There were a couple hotel options in Santiago, Chile – but we ended up in the Crowne Plaza. Points redemption was reasonable there, and the location was good as well. 

In Buenos Aires, the options began and end at the Park Hyatt.  We booked it with points through a friend who is a Globalist (formerly Diamond) member and received guest of honor benefits. 

For some customary intro stuff before I get into the day-to-day…Argentina and Chile are long countries (top to bottom) separated by the Andes mountains.  They are both Spanish speaking countries, and each had a more European feel than you might expect where we were – especially Buenos Aires.  Size wise, the United States has about 3.5 times the area of Argentina and 13 times the are of Chile.  Population – The US is about 7.5 times the size of Argentina and 13 times the size of Chile.

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Rex

As previously posted, we lost both of our beloved dogs in 2019.  After Moose passed, we thought we’d wait a little while to get a puppy.  Nope.

We loved our bulldog and mastiff.  Chunk was hilarious and had more personality than any other dog I’ve met.  Moose was one of a kind – especially in this area.  You just don’t see many mastiffs.  He was the sweetest dog and wanted nothing more than to make us happy. 

I highly recommend both of those breeds, but they do have some challenges – especially if you like to travel.  Sidebar: if you’re going to get a purebred dog, do your research and buy one from a highly reputable breeder.  It will cost more upfront, but you’ll likely save in the long run in money and heart-ache.  You can’t eliminate all risks with a properly bred dog, but there are several risks you can absolutely eliminate through proper breeding. 

Both mastiffs and bulldogs are known to have health problems and relatively short life expectancies (8-10 years for both).  They’re both pretty much full time inside dogs and each can bring some odor with them…especially the 200# mastiff, whose slobber all over the house was legendary.  They both can be loud (snoring, panting, etc.).  They both have high general care costs: food, vet bills, medication.  Finally, neither one was suited to stay in a kennel, go to friend/family member’s house, or generally do anything easy when we went out of town.  Basically, our only option was to have someone come stay at our house.

I don’t say all of that to discourage anyone from getting these breeds…again, we loved them.  Alyce is still trying to talk me into another bulldog.  But you should be aware of what you’re getting into if you want one of those breeds.

I also highlighted the above to give some background on our next dog choice: a Labrador Retriever.  Specifically, a traditionally bred show lab (as opposed to a field lab bred for hunting trials).  These labs are commonly called “English Labs.”  Compared to field labs, they are shorter, stockier, have a blockier head and an otter tail, and are generally said to be less energetic.

My family had a lab when I was in high school, so I was familiar with the breed and loved them.  Alyce was actually the one that read into them and brought up the idea.  After doing some reading and thinking myself, I agreed that this would be the ideal breed for this phase of our life. 

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Blog Update – January 2021

Admittedly, we’ve slacked on posts lately.  Our last travel related post was November 2017.  It is now 2021.  We had a couple dog posts in between now and then, but that’s it. 

There are several reasons for this lack of posts.  Most of them revolve around our new house.  I’ll have a post on that, but it pretty much consumed life between March 2017 (when we initially looked at it) and March 2019 (when we moved in).  As a result, we traveled less – though still some.  Plus, any free time I had was spent working on the house and not writing blog posts.  I also finally finished my (very) part time grad school program as well.

2020 was supposed to be our year to get back on the travel bandwagon…and we all know how that went.  I’ve got trips planned for 2021.  We’ll see how that plays out.  Big TBD there. 

The good news is I have finally caught up on planned posts.  Here is what I have worked up:

  • Introduction to Rex – our new family member
  • Trip Wrap Ups on:
    • South America
    • Boston
    • Charleston
    • Cancun
    • California and Texas
    • Disney
  • Post on the house project
  • 2021 Planned Travel (for posterity’s sake)

Hopefully our planned 2021 trips pan out, and I’ll have several more posts to write.  This time on a much more timely basis…

Moose

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2019 was a rough year for dogs in the Ittmann household.  Today, Moose joined his brother Chunk in puppy heaven.  He was 9 and a half years old (6/19/2010 – 12/23/2019).  Having been through this with Chunk less than a year ago, I thought we’d be better prepared, but telling Moose good bye still devastated us.  If anything, our 5 year old handled it the best.

Moose was the sweetest, kindest dog around.  His goal on earth was to make us happy.  For him, just being by us was all he needed.  Those were the traits I remembered from our mastiffs when I was young, and Moose lived up to it every bit.  He was loud and made a mess just about everywhere, but that was part of his charm.  There were several times friends would be over and would just start laughing.  I had no idea what was going on at first, but it turns out we were so used to Moose snoring in the middle of a room like a grown man that we didn’t even notice it.  Obviously, everyone else did.

Alyce flew to California to pick up Moose nearly a decade ago, but it seems like recent memory.  This was the first of many times his momma spoiled him.  He was in a travel kennel for the flight but managed to convince his mom to let him out on the plane to visit…only leading to a big mess developing mid flight.

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Chunk

Chunk Ittmann – November 14, 2007 – February 8, 2019.  He is survived by…Nope.  That’s not Chunk’s style.

If you venture over to our very out of date “about” page (I’m closer to being in my 40s than my 20s these days), you’ll see Chunk – our English Bulldog.  Chunk has been around for almost as long as there has been a Justin and Alyce.    Yesterday, we had to make the hard decision to put Chunk down.  He was 11 and meant the world to us.

We got Chunk right when we got engaged in early 2008.  We were just kids living with my brother in our college condo.  I was a 2nd year law student.  Alyce was working as a floor nurse.  That was 11 years ago, but it seems like only yesterday I was riding home with Chunk after his 90 minute delay arriving from Arkansas.

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