Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Spare Room

When we moved into our current apartment, we deliberately moved into a place that had a little bit too much space for us.  This is because we hate moving and never want to do it again.  I'm serious.  We'll probably buy a house someday, but I'm putting it off for as long as possible because a) I hate moving and b) homeownership looks like one giant hassle after another.  You want me to spend my entire life savings on the privilege of maintaining a yard or waiting for somebody to fix the heater?  I'll pass, thanks.

Anyway, we recently purchased a couch and are trying to make our living room someplace well decorated and fun to spend time in.  We are also going to move our dining room table into the living room, to create one big "great room".  Which means that our entire dining room is pretty much "spare".

I'm torn between creating the hydroponic garden my husband suggested, a breakfast nook, a game room, or something else, like a home office.

The space looks like this:

What would you do if you had a spare dining room?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Where there's a will....

A number of people have asked me to write a post explaining why you need a will. I talk to people all the time about this issue, and many people tell me that they do not need a will - they either don't have children, or they don't have any assets.  So in the interest of explaining, in the simplest terms, to everyone, why it is that you need a will, the following is all I can offer you:

Someday you will die. 

So it's time to ask yourself - when you die, what happens to your stuff?  And let's just pretend for a moment that instead of dying from old age, you are killed in a car accident and there is a large insurance payout that goes to your estate.  Who gets that money?  Is it your spouse?  Is it your parents?  Is it your sibling?  Is it the state?  What if you and your spouse both die at the same time?  If you have a will, you get to say who gets that money.  If you don't have a will, you follow what is called "intestacy".  Every state has a system in place as to who gets your money - and it isn't necessarily your spouse.  Your spouse gets more of your money, but not all of your money, in some states.

If you have children, let me just relay to you the sad story my boss was telling me the other day about the children who went to Disneyworld and came home orphans because their parents were killed in a car accident on the way to dinner.  The parents surely had meant to get around to designating a guardian, but just hadn't done it yet, and the seven siblings of the parents went to court which resulted in an 8 hour guardianship hearing over who had the best interest of the children (and million dollar insurance settlement) at heart.

Now, I suppose you are going to tell me that wills are expensive.  That is true, I suppose.  But it is a lot less than your loved ones could spend on attorneys fees doing what they think you want if something should happen to you.  How much should you expect to pay?  Probably anything from $200 and up.  How do you find a lawyer? You start by talking to people you know that are lawyers - they may know somebody from law school that does estate planning.  Otherwise, call your local bar association and see if they have a referral service.  If that doesn't work, check in the phone book under "estate planning" or "elder law".  Ask for a ballpark price quote, and if it's too high, or they ask you questions that make you uncomfortable, keep looking until you find somebody you like talking to.  You should DIY your wills only as a last resort - and make sure you find a guide to what constitutes a will in your state - your local library may have some helpful resources, as might your local Register of Wills.  Please do not buy a plastic wrapped set of documents at Office Depot entitled "will" and then fill in the blanks.

Do you have a will? Is it on your to-do list?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Monday Marriage Matters: Joint Finances

I know we've talked about this some, but Mouse talked about it lately and we talked about it on Twitter and I wanted to offer my lawyerly perspective and explain what we did and why. There are basically four schools of thought that I have found when it comes to combining money.

1. Everybody dumps all of their money into a single account, neither retain personal accounts.  All spending and saving is joint.  Each partner deposits their paycheck into the joint account.
2. Each partner keeps their own checking (and possibly savings account), and have a joint account.  Each partner gets paid into their own account.  Both partners transfer an equal or proportionate amount of money into the joint account to pay joint bills.
3. Each partner keeps their own checking (and possibly savings) account, and have a joint account.  All earnings go into the joint account and all bills are paid out of the joint account, but partners still maintain "separate" money.
4. Each partner keeps their own separate accounts.  They divide all expenses equally or proportionately and each pay a share of them.

I think it is important for partners to maintain separate money, and for legal reasons, I think it is important to keep money you had coming into the marriage separate.  (This is NOT legal advice.  You should talk to a lawyer in your state about how to protect your money just in case you get divorced.)  In Maryland, as I understand it, money you had before marriage or inherit, it's yours as long as you keep it separate.  Once you comingle it, it becomes joint.  Marital earnings are inherently joint.  Knowing this, we went for option 3, which protects any separate assets we had, and made life much easier when we were living on a single income.

Many of my friends who worked before getting married went for option 2.  I think that both partners working prior to marriage creates a different mindset about money and people who have experienced autonomy and been self-supporting like to maintain that feeling.  I think between options 2 & 3, there isn't that much difference (but would love to hear if you think otherwise), it's a matter of personal preference.

Options 1 & 4 both concern me.  I know that there are people who it works for, but, especially if there is a big difference in earnings, keeping everything or nothing separate has definite drawbacks.  The biggest drawback of having no separate accounts is that if something happens to you and your account gets frozen (suspected fraud, actual fraud, bank malfunction, bank changeover, your student loan company makes a mistake and destroys your credit and the bank freezes your account - true story), you don't have any access to any money.  The biggest advantage is that if you die, it's non-probate and your spouse automatically gets it without having to open an estate.  This can be solved with beneficiary designations.  We'll talk more about this soon.

Option 4, in my opinion, sometimes leads to keeping score and an obsession with keeping things equal.  I think it is fine to keep some things separate, but when you do not share anything, it can be a problem.  If you do not want any joint accounts, consider a joint credit card for shared expenses that you each pay half the bill on (although you do not want to do this if one partner is irresponsible or likely to abuse the credit card).  We did this while we were living together but not married, because we did not want to share finances but we also didn't want to be constantly keeping score over who bought groceries, and it worked really well. Option 4 also leads to a potential mess in the event of a divorce, because you have potentially comingled marital earnings with non-marital earnings, which matters in some states.  If you truly want to keep your finances separate and not joint, you should really see a lawyer about a pre-nup or a post-nup, because you will not actually be protected in the event of a divorce unless you have something in writing.

Which option did you go with?  Is there an option that I missed?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Table Number Holders

The number one frantic tweet I see come up as people are going into the week before the wedding is, "bah, dammit, need table number holders!" 

You could go my route, and borrow them from your older sister (or the route of oh, 10 of our friends and borrow them from my older sister), and you can also go the sane route and ask the venue if they provide them.  Barring these two options, check Ikea first if you are limited in craftyness, and otherwise, turn to this Photojojo tutorial

I have a bunch of this florist wire left from trying to make my own flowers, so I'll be testing this out soon.  What do I need table number holders for, you ask?  Well, over the holidays, I was at my sister's house and noticed that on her mantle, she displayed the holiday cards, which we did as well - but instead of propping the flat cards up against the candles and vases and photo frames on the mantle the way we do, my sister was using her table number holders to hold up the flat cards.  It was one of those genius solutions that somebody with no decorative sense (like myself) would never think of, but seemed so obvious once I saw it. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

UU Sunday School

A discussion came up on Twitter about UU churches and UU Sunday School.  And I thought I would talk a little bit more about my experiences with UU Sunday School and why I think it is the Best Thing Ever.  For 12 years, I got up every Sunday, griped, and then went to church with a bunch of people I didn't really like, to talk about subjects I found fascinating.  So I'm going to write about why you should consider sending your kids to UU Sunday School, even if you are not religious.

The first thing about Sunday School is this: I didn't have any friends.  Everyone in my Sunday School class was extremely clique-y - and the boys wouldn't talk to the girls for the first ten years, which made it hard to become friends once we realized that boys and girls could be friends.  It turned out that all of the girls had parents who were friends who decided to send their kids to school together, so they wouldn't talk to me.  So friendship-wise, it wasn't a place that lasting friendships were made.  However, I will be sending my children to a  UU RE program, and if you are not a person of strong faith, or you are an interfaith couple, it is something you should consider as well.

UU Curriculum varies from school to school.  My church had a large Religious Education program, which followed a pretty standard format for UU RE.  Each year focused on a different theme.  My favorite years were the ones that focused on studying various religions, including the third grade year in which we studied "Holidays and Holy Days" and celebrated the holidays of various religions to understand them.  This included Chinese New Year, Sukkot, Guy Fawkes Day, Santa Lucia Day, and many others.  It created a lasting knowledge base for what the Jewish holidays my friends celebrate, or the Catholic holidays my uncle celebrates, that I have found infinitely useful, and it was incredibly, delightfully, FUN.  (Not a common word for Sunday school, I imagine.)

My least favorite year was the incredibly intense bible study year, in which you focus on bible study, have homework, and have to memorize all of the books in the bible, the 23rd psalm, and the Lord's Prayer.  It was also the most useful.  A working knowledge of the bible is incredibly important.  As is knowing the Lord's Prayer.  You say it at weddings, funerals, and regular person's church services, so I think it's important.

I will talk briefly about the Our Whole Lives Curriculum.  This is the Unitarian Universalist Comprehensive Sex Education.  This is fiercely important to me, as Abstinence-Only Sex Education is a Terrible Terrible Thing.  This was a full year of learning everything about health and human sexuality, including learning about same-sex relationships.  But the curriculum actually continues in high school, and that was where it got fantastic - we engaged in long discussions about what makes for a healthy relationship and how that is something we all deserve and should pursue.  We role-played how to have tough conversations about difficult topics with a significant other.

In between all of this was a LOT of studying what religion means.  The great thing about Unitarians is they don't tell you what to believe.  They taught us instead how to critically examine faith, how to ask the questions we needed, how to find what we were looking for from religion, and reminded us that above all, a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning" was valid.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day Traditions

My favorite celebration of Valentine's day is done by my friend C., who celebrates a holiday she and her husband call "ass day" in which you try to get ass from the person you love by buying them half-price chocolate. 

I'm bearing with whatever awkward comment my dad is going to make because I wanted to share that delightful holiday with those of you who dislike Valentine's day. In our household, we not only celebrate Valentine's day, we make a two-day celebration out of it.

We celebrate Valentine's day in part because we never ever remembered our anniversary while dating.  (That's a lie. I made a really big deal out of our 4th anniversary.  Which was weird.  We went to a movie and got Chinese food.  I believe I made it clear that we are not big spenders.)  So Valentine's day was a good excuse to be together and have fun. 

We always do the same thing, which is that we go out to dinner, but we go out either the day before or the day after, and on the day of, we stay in and make a ridiculously elaborate meal that normally we would never undertake on a weeknight.  Tonight is tapas!  We actually do this for Christmas Eve and our anniversary as well, because we enjoy cooking together, pushing ourselves to try or do something new, and generally feel superior for not buying into the commercial holiday, as we do not purchase flowers or chocolates for each other.  Gifts are optional, but always appreciated. 

Do you celebrate Valentine's Day?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday Marriage Matters: Relishing Routine

These posts have gotten difficult to write lately, mostly because our marriage has settled past the difficult beginning (oh, I'm supposed to put another person first?) or the sad fact that life is difficult (unemployment, death, and family drama have all taken their toll) and has now settled into what I thought marriage would be when I first decided that I wanted to be married.  It is mostly work, and coming home, and one of us making dinner, and laundry and cleaning and checking the budget to make sure we are spending and saving appropriately. 

If there is one thing I know from both our past and watching friends deal with their tumultuous twenties and thirties is to embrace the routine.  I choose not to complain that our lives are "so boring".  I choose to relish this time, these evenings spent together doing a whole lot of nothing, because when spring starts and my husband is gone all the time, or when I'm taking a more active role in professional associations and planning events and at meetings all the time, we will long for life to be quiet and "so boring".  Eventually the dues we are paying now for our careers will pay off, and routine will be a luxury. 

The nice thing about no longer being unemployed is that even though we have settled into a fairly dull routine, the fact that we do not go out for dinner every night somewhere exciting is because we don't want to.  It is no longer because we can't.  Our single-income status is no longer "holding us back".  It is simply that we choose to stay home and cook, it is that we don't really care for the bar scene, it is that we would rather watch one of the good Star Wars movies on our small TV at home than the terrible one in 3D somewhere else.  It is funny to realize that our life hasn't changed that much from a year ago, except that the illusion of choice gives us a happier perspective. 

Are you also relishing routine, or are you longing for life to settle down, or are you living an interesting and exciting life and loving every minute of it?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Guest Books

I found this when I was browsing Etsy this morning and I think it's really neat:
Your guests sign each balloon and then you frame the whole thing and hang it up.  We were having a discussion on Twitter yesterday about some people loving the idea of a Quaker wedding certificate but not wanting to appropriate it, and I think this could be a lovely way to have all of your guests sign their names in support of your marriage.  If you aren't obsessed with your tandem bike, you can always go with trees instead:
The only downside of these particular designs is that it's a PDF and you have to get it printed, but I think any copy shop can make you a big poster.  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Emotional Roller Coasters

So I've spent this week recovering from the Uwharrie Mountain Run, where my friend and I ran the 20 miler while another friend ran the 40 miler, and my spouse ran the 8 miler.  

The funny thing about running the longest-distance race I've ever run is that it is incredibly emotional, which I wasn't expecting.  I was expecting it to be physically difficult - the longest I had ever run was 14 miles, and our trail runs were beating me up.  Yet we made it through, and we made it through with smiles on our faces and our legs still worked at the end.  So why was I suddenly overwhelmed with this incredible urge to cry?  

It occurred to me, as I tried to process all the emotions of what I had done - achieving a goal that felt insurmountable, finally completing something that I had prepared for for months and dreamed about for years, finishing a race feeling really really good, that this didn't feel that dissimilar to coming down off the high from our wedding and our honeymoon.  I think it's simply a matter of feeling completely and totally emotionally spent.  I think it's also a little bit like what Kristen Bell describes when she is talking about her sloth-related meltdown, which is that your body doesn't know how to compete with all of the emotions that you feel when you do or face something really huge, so the answer is to just curl up in a ball and cry.  

I think the answer to feeling emotionally spent is downtime.  It's creating space to marvel at what you have done, what you have accomplished, it is allowing yourself space to rethink and overthink how you might have preferred to do things differently, and you search for more opportunities to feel the same way again.  (Seriously. The morning after the race I was researching trail marathons and 50ks, all the while wishing I had my heating pad for my aching back and wondering what the heck was wrong with me.)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Caramel Corn

Ever since meeting the CEO of Crunch Daddy Popcorn, I've been on a quest to make my own caramel corn (although if you are looking for delicious perfection in a bowl, just order some.  The sesame ginger crunch is fantastic.)

I wanted to make some for superbowl Sunday, because we have to make whatever we are bringing in advance this year, so I prepped some this morning.  I used this recipe from AllRecipes and even though baking isn't necessary, I'm trying it now.  I'm not sure how coated the pieces are supposed to be, but I often find caramel corn to be too sweet, so I went for half coverage.  Everything is more in clumps and stuck together - I think going in several batches for stirring might have been a better idea.

I also halved the recipe - and it made a GIANT pyrex bowl (thanks Paul!) full of popcorn.  So if all you have is a normal mixing bowl, just halve the recipe and you'll have plenty of caramel.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A few changes

For all bloggers, there comes a moment in which you wonder if you have put too much of your personal life online.  I've had a couple things come up this week and out of what is probably an irrational fear, I've made a large number of photos from the blog private.  I realize that once I've put them out on the internet, it's nearly impossible to get them back, and I'm not trying to.  But I am trying to protect myself, my family, and my career. 

So for the foreseeable future, photo links will be broken in a number of posts.  If you want to be able to see them, please send me an email and I can hook you up, or send you a specific picture if you want it for inspiration.  I'll be going through the archives to edit posts and include pictures that still make me feel safe, so bear with me while I trudge through 900+ posts.  (P.S. Happy 3 year bloggoversary to me! I mean, us.)