Saturday, December 21, 2013

Happy Endings

I wanted to finish the story I started here.  Last Saturday, my husband and I drove down to Berman's Jewelers in Ellicott City and picked up my brand new engagement ring.


I thought I would share with you all the story of losing my ring and replacing it.  I lost my ring last summer, on June 20th.  I put up missing flyers and I asked around and I checked Craigslist but my ring was not returned to me.

Eventually, we filed an insurance claim with our renter's insurance. Allstate was so great about our claim that when we had to buy homeowner's insurance and changed car insurances, I insisted we go with them because they were so easy to work with.  Eventually, I started talking to the folks at Green Lake Jewelry Works, because I have always loved their custom work, but the idea of outsourcing the ring to a company in Seattle just made me a little iffy, and the idea of picking a diamond on the internet was even more disquieting. We talked about a non-diamond, and I was on the fence, and so I stayed on the fence for awhile.  Eventually we decided to go with moissanite and were in the process of actually making decisions when my cousin called me and offered me my grandmother's engagement ring.

I was incredibly close to my grandparents.  My grandmother died shortly after we got married, and was too ill to come to our wedding, but we were very close and I loved her so much.  As soon as my cousin gave me her ring, I immediately stopped dragging my feet on the replacement.  We went to a couple of jewelry stores, and my other cousin recommended Berman's.  The woman who helped us looked at my stone, and then asked me what I was thinking about.  I said I wasn't sure if we wanted to resize or pick a stone off the rack or get something custom, and I asked if I could just try stuff on to get a feel for what I liked. She nodded and asked me about my tastes. She started with, "the halo settings are very popular".  I shook my head, because they're just not my style, and so we started pulling out other stones.  There was a pretty one with an antiquey etching look to it, which is a style I like, but it wouldn't sit flush with my wedding band.  I started to feel a little discouraged.  I was really starting to want to not go through the custom process again, for a number of reasons.  I nudged M. out of the way and started looking at the halo settings I had turned down earlier.  And then, there it was.  In the bottom of the display case was a ring with intricate metalwork, accent stones, and a leaf motif.

"That one." I said, urgently.  I knew before she even handed it to me that it Was Mine.  I proceeded to wear it for the next half hour while we discussed soldering my wedding band to it, while we discussed sizing, while she appraised my grandmother's stone.  She popped my grandma's stone out of the setting and put it in the ring and I smiled so hard I was concerned my face would break.

We opted to have my wedding band soldered to the engagement ring, which I was a little concerned about but looks great and keeps everything in place, which is important because it makes them seem more flush.
The ring is from Jolie Designs and they also make the same design in a wedding band with no center stone, which I think is cool.  It's white gold, but looks good with my palladium wedding band (especially after they shined the heck out of it!)  I'm still really surprised I was able to find something I liked in the store, because all of the other rings we looked at were so different from this one.  

Ultimately, I'm pretty happy with our decision to replace my ring, but I also think that if I had simply opted not to, I would have gotten by as well. I'd gotten very used to wearing my simple wedding band and it made life easy - I could wear it and do anything, which is nice.  My new setting is on the higher side, which I'm getting used to.  I also fought a lot internally with the idea I didn't deserve a new ring, which was why I was so grateful when my cousin offered me my grandmother's ring.  Somehow it felt different than simple vanity to get a new ring - it was a way to bring new life into something that wasn't being used, it was a way to remember and honor my grandmother on a daily basis, and it was more than just an engagement ring.  

Friday, August 23, 2013

Consumption

Nothing makes you evaluate the role you play as a consumer like moving.  As I stand, surrounded by boxes of shoes and clothes and toys, I think, "how do I own so much stuff?"  This makes me think back to Lyn's post, which is better than anything I will write on the subject.

Then we make another trip to Ikea or Target to acquire even more stuff, stuff we need.  And admittedly, we do need a new bed to house our new mattress that will hopefully alleviate back pain rather than cause it.  Therefore we need new sheets and a new comforter, in the appropriate size.

I try to make sure that I'm using the things that I own, and what I'm not using goes to a new home.  I also try to make sure that new home is a local shelter or organization that will use my items and make sure they are useful to somebody.  Most of my clothing goes to a local women's shelter, because I know that they sell some stuff through their consignment shop but they also provide clothing to women who have, for example, had their clothes shredded, bleached, or stolen by their abusers.  Our furniture that doesn't come with us and doesn't get sold on Craigslist will be donated to a local charity that furnishes halfway homes and transitional housing.

I would like, very much, to be a person who mostly thrifts all of her clothing, because reusing is the best way to reduce.  I would also like to be able to make my own clothing that is work appropriate (and perhaps extra cycling appropriate).  I do not do this because my finishing is not very good and everything I make looks handmade.  I would also like to be the kind of person who enjoys minimalism, who doesn't like having stuff everywhere (or at all); however, I haven't figured out how to be a minimalist without being a mooch.

For right now, the biggest help has been to sign up for an app called EEBA.  Because it turns out that what's best for our wallets is also what's best for the environment.  If I save my clothing budget for this month, then next month I can buy a more expensive, ethically made, higher quality item that will hopefully last a long time.  If we don't buy too much stuff, we have more budget to go out and enjoy life experiences, which all of the research says is the biggest factor towards determining happiness.  I take a lot of satisfaction in recognizing that while I have not always been very good about reducing my consumption, it's never too late to start, and the less I buy now, the less there will be for me to agonize over and hoard in the future.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

It's really hard to tell, when buying a house, if you are being penny-wise, pound foolish.  Meaning, are you trying so hard to save money in the short term it hurts you in the long run.  The biggest question for us right now is whether or not to buy a home warranty.

I'll start by saying that the big question a week ago was whether or not to join Angie's List - it's $39 for a year.  However, there is a 40% off coupon you can find pretty easily by googling, and we got an extra 20% off for using PayPal - so what was a $40 question suddenly got knocked down to $18 and became an easy decision.  So far, we like Angie's List - it's been great for reviews of moving companies, etc. but, according to the spouse, it is also full of negative reviews of home warranty companies.

We also solved a big question this week of what homeowner's insurance to get.  We got a few quotes, and then decided to go with AllState, which was not necessarily the best value, but we sat down, put all of the coverage into a spreadsheet, and then talked through what kind of coverage we needed.  On face value, there was one company that was a better value (there was a math ratio thing going on), but we talked through it and realized that we did not need $150k of coverage for our personal possessions.

I'm going to take a brief aside here and talk about the importance of renter's insurance.  First of all, renter's insurance matters because it forces you to sit down and list the value of all of your personal possessions early on in your furniture buying, and then you just have to upgrade certain categories.  Secondly, renter's insurance matters in case you get robbed, your house burns down, or you lose your engagement ring at the gym.  The entire reason we went with AllState, besides they were a good enough value, was that I was so happy with how they dealt with us when I lost my engagement ring.  From the time of filing a claim to the time of receiving a check was less than two or three weeks, the guys we worked with were really nice, and the whole thing was pretty easy.  Sidenote: insure your jewelry.  You can either get a rider for a specific piece of jewelry or you can get a rider that covers all of your jewelry.

I feel like with houses, it feels really difficult to make these decisions.  Everything feels so huge, so fraught, so "you are making this decision and it could cost you billions of dollars!" not to mention the part where you are spending all or most of your savings on this piece of land.  It's hard to get a grip on the bigger picture.  It's hard to take all of the advice you are getting into consideration.  Any more advice on navigating these issues?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Fireplaces

Now, I may be a grinch, but I'm not a big fireplace person. I love having a big roaring fire, but after our first fireplace-having apartment, which leaked heat out both fireplaces and let birds down them, I soured a bit on fireplaces.  So a fireplace was not a must-have in our house hunting, but since most houses that are old have them, we got one.  The heating and hot water heater both vent through the chimney though, so the fireplace is non-functioning.  And it doesn't have a mantle.

Which means I've been researching two things.  The first is how to build a mantle.  The second is what to put in our fireplace to make it still feel cozy without being able to burn logs.

The options seem to be:
Candle Holder 
Plants

Shelves  (I especially love this because the fireplace is right next to where my desk is going.  Hello, additional real estate.)
Wine:

Logs:

Whatever goes in there needs to be somewhat easily removed though, because we will need to regularly check the vents for the HVAC to make sure that it hasn't become disconnected, so the awesome custom wine rack and shelves are probably a no-go.  Right now I'm leaning towards the logs, because our friend has a giant woodpile that I think she would let us raid, and therefore it is the easiest and cheapest solution.

What's your pick?  Do you have any additional ideas for us?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Housing Around

So we bought a house.  I've been keeping it from you because well, I didn't want to be the girl who cried House if everything fell through.  I was going to tell you after closing, when all was said and done, because we were renting back and I figured you could all help with suggestions for colors and carpets then.  But then our seller cancelled our rent back agreement and we get to take possession immediately.  Um what!?!

So you might have some questions, like where is this house and how much was the house and how on earth will our 9 foot wide couch fit in an 11 foot wide rowhome?

The house is in Baltimore, we paid less than we planned, which is not because we got lucky and found the perfect house for under budget, so much as we found a nice house with some definitely weird quirks that had a parking pad and decided that we would make do with only one full bathroom and two closets and a partial unfinished basement.  House hunting has a lot to do with compromising and basically deciding what compromises you are comfortable with.  The house is missing a lot of features we would like to have, but we also feel really lucky to have found it. 

Whenever we talk about the house, I list all of the weird things first.  I don't know why I do this.  Inevitably people eventually say, "so why did you buy this house?"  To which I then go, "windows!" or "high ceilings!" or "an awesome kitchen!"

The dining room.  It's not an end unit, but the house cuts back halfway through and so there are side windows.  

The kitchen.  Which leads out to a mudroom.  Which leads out to our very own parking pad.

So we move in about 5 weeks.  We are lucky, because the place is pretty move-in ready - we are going to build a full bathroom in the mudroom, hopefully, and we have to replace a side door - and by "we" I mean "we are paying somebody to do that" - but generally the whole place is painted in colors I like (blues and greens and yellows) and already has things like ceiling fans and overhead lighting.  But my friend who has a house told me that all those things you put on your "we'll get to it eventually" list do not actually happen ever, so we're going to try to check off as many of those as possible - like maybe building a closet or two.

This is all of the closets.  They're not very deep.

For all the homeowners out there, what are the big things you wish you had taken care of before moving in?  And is the home warranty a good deal or not?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Louisville, Lexington, and other parts of Kentucky

The rain outside reminded me that I never recapped our Kentucky trip over 4th of July.  We headed down to Lousiville, spent a night in Lexington, and then spent the weekend camping in the Red River Gorge.  We came back to Louisville for a night at the end of the trip, and it was an interesting vacation.

We booked the trip because we had a free roundtrip flight on Southwest and it had to be used before the 18th of July.  The only destination available in a way that worked for us was Louisville, and we had been thinking about going there sometime anyway.

Lodging
- Hampton Inn Louisville Airport - nice hotel, super convenient to the airport, pretty close to downtown.  Louisville isn't necessarily a town where you really need to be in the middle of everything that is happening, and staying at the airport is significantly cheaper, so I would recommend this hotel.  The only problem is then you have to rent a car, but if the cost difference is big enough to cover that, you'll be okay.

-Hilton Lexington Downtown - this was a really nice hotel, although no free breakfast (but sometimes it's nice to go out for breakfast).  It was very close to where the fireworks were (we were in Lexington for the 4th) and very close to a bunch of gastropub type restaurants with yummy looking menus.

-Marriott Springhill Suites - If you are going to stay in downtown Lexington, this hotel is located pretty easy walking distance to the downtown park and the downtown working area.  It was a pretty easy walk to the river and was on the public transit rout.

-Natural Bridge Campground - this was a pretty good campground, but we stayed at site A-20 and it turned out we were right in the drainage canal for the entire rest of the campground, which became very obvious once it was pouring rain (which it did for most of the trip) so we actually had to unstake the tent and move it to higher ground.  We wound up leaving early to go back to Louisville just because the weather was so awful.

Dining
-Against the Grain Brewery (Louisville) - we really liked this place.  The beer cheese dip was excellent.  The bbq seitan wings were okay, and it's so cool to see vegan food on the menu.  Their drinks were very good.
-Eiderdown (Louisville) - the pretzel sticks here were great, decent beer/wine selection although no cider on tap.  Not as much tasty German wine as I was hoping for.
-Bluegrass Brewing Co. (Louisville) - tasty beverages, extensive tap menu, and really good sandwiches.
-The Village Idiot (Lexington) - this place was great.  I got the spring pea ravioli. Their menu seemed pretty seasonal, and they had an extensive beer selection.
-Doodles (Lexington) - we went here for breakfast.  It was amazing, and a fun little place, and the walk there was a nice walk through a cute neighborhood.
-El Camino Real 4 (Winchester, KY) - this place was gross, do not eat here.  Ever. The food was bland and even the Margaritas were totally tasteless.
-Miguels Pizza (Red River Gorge) - this place is a popular pizza spot in the gorge, and while I can see why, I wasn't terribly impressed.  The pizza was okay and the collegial atmosphere was nice - I would certainly camp here, but it was lacking in something.
-Red River Rockhouse (Red River Gorge) - had we known how awesome this place was in the beginning, I think we would have eaten at least four meals here.  They had board games, their homemade veggie burger was fantastic, they had other local fresh seasonal foods, the whole place felt cozy.  Highly recommend.

Drinking
-Buffalo Trace Distillery Tour (between Louisville and Lexington) - we are not bourbon people, but the tour was actually interesting.  You get free tasting at the end but the bourbon balls were the best part.
-West Sixth Brewing (Lexington) - any brewery that brews their own soda is a-ok by me.  They had pomegranate ginger ale. M. really liked their Amber ale and we had a really pleasant time there.
-Toasted Barrel (Lexington) - this place was a dive bar near where they did the fireworks.  The drinks were cheap, but it was pretty empty and just okay. If you are looking for a good spot to watch the fireworks from, they were a nice dry place, but otherwise, I'd skip this in favor of another bar.
-Country Boy Brewing (Lexington) - M. really liked this place, and I was just happy to be outside in the sunshine away from the rain that pounded on us in the gorge.
-Grimes Mill Winery (Lexington) - I really liked this place.  It was $5 for a tasting with 3 wines and you got to keep the glass, which I thought was steep but the tastings were pretty big - much bigger than standard tastings.  Be sure to look at the map on the website for directions, because the Google Map ones are wrong.
They had friendly horses at Grimes Mill.

-Talon Winery (Lexington) - I would pick Grimes Mill over this one.  Talon didn't anticipate that people would come by on the 5th, and they were just slammed.  We waited 30 minutes for their tasting, and then it took forever to actually get all of the wines we wanted to try.  Based on the reviews, they are not better organized when they have more staff.

Things to Do:
(Something you should know about Louisville: they close a LOT of stuff on the 4th of July.  I was surprised by this because I assumed people would come downtown on the 4th so stuff would be open. I was wrong.)
-Red River Gorge - the Gorge is really cool.  But if you have been there for three straight days of rain, it washes out.  By Sunday, the hiking trails were impassable at parts because of how much the creeks had overflowed, everything was slick, muddy, and possibly hazardous, and we were just tired.

There seriously was a trail there.  We couldn't find it.
 We managed to mostly hike in between torrential downpours, and we spent a lot of time driving the park loop and hit the visitor center and a number of overlooks.  It's all very cool and pretty, but I think you need to have good weather to spend more than 2 days at the Gorge.

-Shakespeare in the Park - we saw Twelfth Night in Louisville's Central Park by the Kentucky Shakespeare Co. It was free and well done, so no complaints.
-Walking in Louisville - we walked from Museum Row to Waterfront Park and back our first day, in the rain, which got somewhat dreary after awhile.
-21c Hotel and Museum - this was a free museum, and it was pretty cool.  It was mostly art, which is not appealing to me, especially not modern art, but some of the photography and artists they had on display were really cool, and they have these puffer things that we watched for a good 10-20 minutes.
There were three, and they would send out a puff of air at different intervals.  Fascinating.
-Big Four Bridge - this is a passenger bridge and it connects Louisville to Indiana across the river.  I mainly wanted to walk it because I thought it was cool to walk over the river to another state.  Watching the river after 4 days of downpouring rain was interesting as well.
The Big Four Bridge.


Overall, I recommend Louisville and Lexington as a long weekend destination, and I definitely recommend spending some time at Red River Gorge - it's beautiful and not too far away.  I think renting a car in Louisville was a good idea, and Lexington was definitely worth a stop.  Driving through horse country was also fun, at least for the first hour or so.

Anyone else have recommendations for Louisville, Lexington, and any other fun places in Kentucky?  Any other favorite restaurants?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Closets

I continue to consider the issue of closets in a home.  We've looked at a number of houses with little to no closet storage space in the bedroom.  We've discussed whether it is worth losing wall space or square footage to build out closets.  And we've discussed armoires.  And then I go on the internet and look for magical solutions.  I find things like this.

I do not understand the people for whom putting all of their stuff out in the middle of the room is a not-stressful solution.  Are these people not slobs?

Then I consider the fact that the very first thing I did when we moved into our place is took the doors off my closet.  I'm afraid of boogeymen and I hate sliding doors, so perhaps an open closet solution is not the end of the world.  My closet is also the least disorganized thing in my dressing area.  So the open closet thing...might work.

We actually already own a few sets of Elfa Shelving and one of them has a closet rod.  There are also some appealing options at Ikea.
(source - but all my things on the side would be more shoe racks)

Anyone have a good non-closet closet system?  What do you like about it?  If you don't have a closet, what do you do with your shoes?