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?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Avoiding Hoarding

A lot of people joke about hoarding and they don't understand that hoarding is both a real problem, and very difficult to fight.

There are some resources out there on not being a hoarder, but most of them are really standard decluttering.  Standard decluttering is different than having bizarre emotional attachments to objects because they belonged to your grandmother, even though objectively you recognize them as junk.  Standard decluttering is different from the paralyzing inability to throw things away because you don't like the idea of wasting them and because they might be useful one day!  Standard decluttering does not take into account the fact that you are, for example, extremely worried about hurting your furniture's feelings.  This sounds insane, I know, but the sooner everybody realizes that hoarders are not normal, the sooner we can get tips and ideas that are actually helpful.

There are some actually useful tips out there.  For example, this article from About.com has some good points, like you maybe do not need to keep all of your old report cards.  For the record, not only does my mom have all of my old report cards, she has all of her old report cards, all of my grandparents old report cards, and probably some of my great grandfather's.  I was raised to believe there was value in saving old relics, and the worst part of it is that it's true.  I thought it was really cool when I found my grandmother's report card and my great grandfather's old accounting books.  So I don't know where the balance is of keeping just enough stuff that my great-grandkids think it's cool to see how things were way back when your report card was actually on paper, and didn't just come up on your internet glasses right after you took your test, but not having a house full of stuff.

So far the biggest tip I have in not becoming a hoarder is to employ the one-year method.  Recently, we went over to my sister in law's for lunch.  She opened the door wearing a really cute purple dress.  It immediately looked familiar, and I realized I hadn't seen my cute purple sundress in awhile, and because it's really awkward to say to somebody, "I think that's mine", I eventually just complimented it and she said, "thanks! I have no idea where it came from - Mom found it in the spare room when she was cleaning it out."  I laughed, told her it was mine, and told her to keep it because we realized it had been there since 2011 and I clearly hadn't missed it.  Whenever we move, we go through any boxes that we moved but didn't unpack because we didn't have an immediate need for them, which results in a lot of stuff being thrown away.  I haven't yet employed the method of turning all of my hangers backwards and then getting rid of anything at the end of the season that I haven't pulled out to wear and turned the right way around.

I'm still working out a way to deal with gifts.  I read something awhile ago that stated that if a gift comes with an obligation, like you have to keep it, or you have to put it in x place, or you have to keep it until so-and-so wants it back, then it isn't a gift.  The meaning of a gift is that you can do anything you want with the gift, which includes throwing it away if it isn't to your taste or stops being useful.  I'm not there yet on getting rid of gifts, but I'm working on it.  Anyone have any tips?

Are you prone to hoarding?  What do you do to work through your issues?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Decor

I would love to learn more about home decor so that I can have a house that makes me feel happy.  I don't really know how to do that.  We've bought a few pieces of art and furniture that I love, and we were gifted a few decor items that make me feel thrilled, but I don't know if I want to buy more like them or let them speak for themselves - for example, our dining room tablecloth was a gift from my friend C. It's brightly colored, with a green base, and tons of beautiful flowers but not in an old-lady way.  Do I take the fact that I like it as a marker of my "style" or do I recognize that too many brightly colored printed accessories will overwhelm each other?

Also, my mother has always embraced a philosophy of "matching" that things which look similar or are similar colors "match".  She likes prints.  She thinks solids are boring.  I'm trying to avoid a situation where I've got a living room full of too many kinds of prints in too many shades that don't actually go.

So Pinterest and Houzz to the rescue, right? I mean, it's like weddings.  You go through, you pin stuff so that you like here and there, and then eventually, you develop taste? Not really.

(via)

Apparently I like green carpets, brightly printed pillows, and our brown couch.  But I also like the blue carpet. 
And then I remember how much I liked the red and teal color schemes I saw.  And how great teal pillows would look with the exposed brick and our brown sofa.  And then I consider how much money we would be spending on our living room and that OMG I must make the right decision!    

And then, oh yeah, I'm married.  To a guy who doesn't really like bright colors or my taste.  And I'm busy.  We're busy.  We don't have a ton of time to shop for home decor.  Can you buy a living room in a bag the same way you can buy a bed in a bag with matching curtains?  And where do I get that?  

Anyone have any home decor resources that might help us out here?  

Monday, July 1, 2013

House Blogs

As we house hunt, I've been looking for new blogs.  Like a wedding planning blog, but with all of the irreverence and sass about the homebuying process that I used to enjoy from my favorite bloggers.  A number of my favorite bloggers bought a house awhile ago, and a number aren't planning on buying a house, and sadly, even more have stopped writing entirely.  Which is a route I sometimes consider, so I can't blame them.

However, when it comes to housebuying, I've found a few favorite blogs so far:
-Offbeat Home - I love this blog. It's all the weirdness and thinking-outside-the-boxness that I need in a blog.  However, it's mostly a mix of different articles, so it's not necessarily all relevant.
-Young House Love - I just started reading this blog and since they just bought a new house and moved into it, the timing is pretty good for us.  They are more ambitious than we are (installing my own hardwoods? I'd rather work all day doing things I'm good at and pay somebody else to do that, thank you.)
-Apartment Therapy - If you are looking at small space living, this is a great blog.  The problem is, it's totally overwhelming in my reader.
-Another Damn Life - Lyn is really funny and nice, and they are working on the whole house purchasing thing as well.

I would love to find a blog of somebody who is house hunting / living in Baltimore and taking on home decoration/renovation projects.  I'm also looking to figure out more about home decor so that we can decorate things in an affordable and personal way.  Anyone have any blogs to recommend?


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Downsizing

When we moved into our spacious apartment, we assumed that we would live here until we got tired of the city, moved out into the county, and bought ourselves a big house with a lot of rooms and a big backyard.

Then we realized we liked city living, that having a clean and short commute is something we value above almost anything else, and decided to buy a house in Baltimore, in spite of the financial stupidity of paying 2x the taxes of anywhere else.

The problem with our area is that parking is difficult, inventory is low, and the really awesome houses are out of our price range.  I hope to eventually write a post about some of the finances of buying a house, but one of the things I didn't realize is that the homebuying industry is set up to reward people for not having significant savings.  I assumed because we saved furiously for awhile, we would be able to afford any house we could put 20% down on, and that mortgages were all kind of the same amount.  Boy, was I wrong.  But that is a different post.

Anyway, we are looking at downsizing significantly to be able to buy in the city and keep our monthly payment affordable.  And the thing we are losing the most is closet space.  At our apartment, we have two coat closets, a utility closet, a linen closet, and three clothing closets.  SEVEN closets.  We have more closets than we know what to do with, actually.  So how do we downsize SEVEN closets into a rowhome?

For starters, we will have a basement.  A basement is a must-have in any house for us, so we know we will have storage.  Most of the camping gear and suitcases that are currently stored in a closet will move into the basement.  The cleaning supplies and costco bulk purchases, like extra paper products, can all move into the basement.

But how do we live without a coat closet? How do we live without a linen closet?  The linen closet seems to be the easiest solution, because we can keep extra towels on shelves in the bathroom and we can keep extra linens in a storage trunk in the bedroom.  I don't know about the coat closet.  Hooks, probably, and hope they don't end up looking too messy.

Obviously, Pinterest to the rescue.  There are whole boards of closet solutions.  I find myself wandering between houses, checking Pinterest to see what other people have done to deal with x issue or y problem.  As long as there are 2-3 viable solutions, the house stays on the list.  The same is true when we see a house where we would have to add a bathroom, or divide an existing large bathroom into to small bathrooms.  Then I go check out the tiny houses and remind myself that moving into 1300-1500 square feet is really not "downsizing."

Where do you live, how many closets do you have, and do you have any ideas for a freestanding coat closet?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tour Dem Parks, Hon!

Over the weekend, we participated in a Baltimore tradition that we have never been in town, not in finals, and not in a wedding for: Tour Dem Parks!

The event had record turnout and was pretty cool.  It turns out that a bike ride is different from a race, for several reasons - you can start anytime you would like, you go the distance you want, and you take 5-10 minutes at the rest stops to hang out and eat real food.  This ride is more organized that the usual bike party meetups we do, and featured awesome rest stops, cue sheets, arrows painted on the ground, and a post-race barbecue.



We rode our tandem bike for the race, and were dismayed to not find any other tandemers under 40.  There aren't a lot of us (we don't know why - tandem riding rocks) but we saw a number of tandems pull in as we left, so we don't know if we missed the memo that tandem riders should start at 9:00 or what.

I highly recommend the 36 mile course - we started on the Gwynns Falls Trail and headed over to the Jones Falls Trail, then looped over through Lake Montebello to Patterson Park and then through downtown to Federal Hill (where we got engaged) and then back to Carroll Park, where the ride had started.

I was concerned from the description that the ride was isolated and that we would be riding alone for a lot of it - this was somewhat true because we started at the same time as a lot of riders with a more casual pace, but we were never out of sight of other bikes, and we had company at most intersections.  I was also concerned because you are riding in traffic, and that concerns me.  I felt pretty safe though, because it was Sunday morning, I was generally surrounded and I also knew that M. wasn't going to get away from me very easily.  We opted to ride the tandem so we didn't lose each other in the crowd, which was a good decision - I can't keep pace with him and would have been pretty far behind him, getting to every rest stop to catch up tired and crabby.

Like the Baltimore Marathon, Tour Dem Parks attracts a large number of spectators, although many were just hanging out on their front stoops and thought the large number of brightly clad spandex wearers were an interesting phenomenon, but they waved and said hello, which is always nice.

The ride was also a very nice mix of serious cyclists and casual riders, and people like us who fall somewhere in between.  It was a pretty unintimidating group, so I would definitely recommend it to people who think that they are not serious riders but are interested in riding more, or maybe checking out some of the trails around Baltimore.

Yes, the course was pretty hilly - but it's Baltimore, so that should be expected.  There were only a few really really terrible hills, and the rest were manageable.  So if you are on the fence about Tour Dem Parks in the future, definitely sign up.  The more Baltimore gets known as a bike friendly city, the more bike friendly it will become.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bike Camping on the C&O

Last Labor Day, we went bike camping on the C&O canal.  It was pretty fun, so we decided we would try it again this year.  I really wanted to ride to Harper's Ferry, but it's a pretty long trip.  We got lucky when my cousin asked us if she could come camping with us sometime, and then offered to be vehicle support for us and drive us home from Harper's Ferry.  So we left on Saturday, rode up partway, camped Saturday night, and then on Sunday we met in Harper's Ferry, camped there Sunday night, and she drove us home on Monday.

If you are even thinking about bike camping on the C&O, please check this guide out.  It's awesome.  The only thing I couldn't quite figure out was why Google was telling me to take MacArthur boulevard all the way from my cousin's house in Glen Echo for 5 miles when the canal towpath was RIGHT THERE.  I was especially concerned because MacArthur is a really busy road.  It turns out Google knows more than I do, and there is a nice paved bike path that runs right alongside MacArthur and was perfectly pleasant.  It turns out that the reason you should ride to the end of MacArthur it is because if you try to get on the canal towpath from MacArthur at Lock 7, you have to carry your bike down a LOT of steps.  However, we did get to enjoy the section coming into Great Falls, which is my favorite part of the trail.

(Monocacy Aquaduct, near Mile 42)


We stayed for the night at the Mile 42 mile marker - the guide warned that the later mile markers were close to the railroad, so we opted not push past Mile 42, and it turned out that after 35 miles, we were pretty worn out anyway.  We were treated with some pretty nice views at our campsite.

A lot of people ask about gear for bike camping and how you haul all of your gear.  This time, we took the tent, two sleeping bags, two inflatable sleeping pads, a change of clothes each and food.  We have taken to camping stoveless, which is fine for an overnight camping trip - I enjoy the TastyBite Indian meals which are vegetarian, pretty good cold, and really easy to stuff in a pita.  For lunch, we knew we'd be eating shortly after getting on the trail, so we opted for prepackaged sandwiches from WholeFoods.  Everything we have fits in 4 panniers (2 each) and a hydration pack each - I carry all of the first aid stuff and M. has most of the bike repair stuff, like a pump and other necessities.  
My bike, all ready to go.

Our campsite
 There were a few obstacles on the trail - we had to carry our bikes over two downed trees, which is really challenging with my bike.  There were also a bunch of puddles and then there was the tall tall grasses that kept whipping at us.
The second day, we rode the remaining 17 miles to Harper's Ferry and went to our second campsite - the Harper's Ferry Hostel - this place was great for camping.  It's not a big commercial type campsite, and we were there on the less-busy night, so I don't know what it's like when it's packed, but it has a great view and the people are pretty friendly.  Technically they charge you per person for the campsite and for showers, if you want to use them, but they let me sneak into the bathroom to wash my hands and put in/take out my contacts.  They did a big group dinner but it took awhile to get everything on the table, so we kind of wished we had just ended up grilling on our own - but it was nice to hang out in the hostel where it was warm, instead of spending the whole night outside.  The only complaint I have about the hostel? It was uphill.  The directions warned us to be prepared for hills, but after two days of flat cycling, I was not ready for a mile hill climb.  I had a total meltdown and it was horrible.  Then we had to walk down and back up the same hill to get to town.  However, otherwise the walk to town was great - pleasant and scenic.  

I've talked to a lot of people who really want to bike the whole C&O, or who say that bike camping sounds fun, but worry that they are not in very good shape.  I'm not in particularly good shape, nor am I a particularly avid cyclist (I ride my bike to work .9 miles each way a few times a week), nor do I really like nature.  There were a LOT of spiders at our camp.  So if you are being held back by a lack of fitness or fear of spiders, please just go for it.  Your body is capable of awesome things, and it's worth it to take the leap.

Friday, May 24, 2013

This.

This article.  You should go, read, now.

"I knew we were right for each other. He did not know this. Until the moment he knew it. And from that moment on, I became a happy person. Not a person who thinks he’s happy, but one who actually is."  

Happy Friday.  Have a good weekend.  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Homebuying After Prolonged Unemployment

House hunting brings on a number of challenges, and one of the challenges is that there is a good chance your mortgage will be higher than your rent.  So the question is, how much can you swing as a monthly payment?

I think for a lot of people, they have been saving towards a house for a long time, and so their monthly payment is their rent + what they have been saving, so the idea of a higher monthly mortgage payment isn't crazy to them.  There are also people who are of the school of thought that since you are paying money into "your house", it's worth it and that your house is an investment and a savings of it's own.  Nobody has explained this to me yet in a way that makes me feel like my house is a savings or an investment and not a money pit of interest, insurance, and taxes.  But that's another post.

Anyway, we sat down to try to figure out what we were willing to pay in a monthly payment.  We started by asking ourselves what we were comfortable with.  Then we realized that what we were comfortable with was an unreasonably low number, so we moved on to "what can we afford?"  Which is a much harder question.  It's an even harder question when you come into it after a period of prolonged unemployment.  Because is it, "what can we afford?" or "what can we afford on your salary and my unemployment if I get laid off?" or "what can we afford if one of us isn't working?"

I didn't drink the kool-aid about BigLaw jobs and how I'd make six figures, no problem, but there's a lot of assumptions about non-profit jobs being easy to get, especially if you have a demonstrable commitment to public interest work, so when I graduated from law school, I fully expected to be able to find a job doing something that I liked, that I was good at.  As the months wore on, I expected to be able to find a job, period.  And I went on interviews and I sent out resumes and I wrote cover letter after cover letter and there was nothing.  The firms wouldn't hire me because I was too public-interest-y, the public interest orgs had no funding, the non-profit organizing jobs thought I was overqualified, and the retail jobs just threw my applications in the trash.  I was financially dependent on my husband during that time period, something which gave me endless guilt, feminist and otherwise, and we spent a long period of time living very strictly within our means.

Having come through that and out on the other side, it's not hard to recognize how lucky we are.  How lucky we were to not be depending on credit cards to get us through the rough patches, how we still managed to pay our bills, how we did not have to dip into our savings.  It's also a scary reminder for the future, because I'm keenly aware that if one of us loses our job, we might not be able to find another one quite so fast.  That prolonged unemployment is a possibility in this economy.

So how do you commit?  Not just to a big monthly payment, but to a monthly payment at all? Has anyone else done this?  Does anyone have any advice or how to tackle the uncertainty of finances?  Or do you just pretend everything is fine, everything is going to be fine, and life will go on?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Lately

I haven't written much lately, and it's partly because of this:
I KNOW!  I have a NEPHEW!  He is the BEST THING EVER.  So what little free time I have, I head down to my sister's place and hog the baby for awhile.  They grow up SO FAST.  He can even roll over already!

A few other things are going on around here.  It's gardening season, so we're breaking out our tools and have planted seedlings and are running a few grow lamps indoors until everything is ready to transplant.  I can already taste the fresh tomatoes and herbs and everything else.

We started house hunting.  House hunting is, it turns out, an extremely difficult process which makes you feel all kinds of confusing things.  For example, I look at a lovely two bedroom house and write it off for being too small.  And then I think, "gee, what kind of a person am I that I have so much stuff that a two bedroom is just too small for me already?"  And people say things to you like, "well, as you get older you'll make more money and you'll want a bigger house and nicer stuff."  While that is likely true, I am not sure that I am okay with it being true, and I'm trying to figure out how to fight consumerism and also how to deal with issues like gentrification and public schooling and public transportation, which are all issues to consider if we continue to live in this area.

How are all of you doing?  Is house hunting something you would like to hear about, or does it bore you to tears? (It bores me to tears, so no offense taken if you don't, but now that I'm in the process, I'm more interested in it.)  Any specific issues you have faced with house hunting?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Travel


I read this article, and then I felt a little annoyed.  Because I traveled with wild abandon when I was young. I snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef, I dove the Red Sea, I traveled by ferry through Norway and train in Amsterdam and cable car in Switzerland.  I took the Parisian Subway with shakey French and traveled by Safari through Kenya.  I saw poverty and concentration camps and people living on the side of the road in the desert.  I saw ancient ruins and fantastic new buildings.  I stood in Berlin after the wall came down and stared at the bullet holes and graffiti on the walls.  I rode a horse through Monument Valley and learned about John Wayne.  I whale watched on the Olympic Peninsula and went white water rafting in Alaska.  I climbed to the top of mountains in Greece and to the bottom of salt mines in Salzburg. 

I did all of this before I was 18 and my parents who were in their forties then their fifties were right there with me, telling me how much fun the slide in the salt mine would be, how the boat wasn't going to tip over, how the lions couldn't come into the safari van. It is something I will always be grateful for, and it's something that gives me pause whenever anyone acts like the only time to travel is right now and if you put it off, it will never happen.  

You can travel young.  Or you can travel always.  I plan, with all my heart, to make travel like this available to my children.  Because there is nothing greater than walking through the Louvre after reading The Second Mrs. Giaconda and there is nothing cooler than seeing 221 Baker Street when you just read Sherlock Holmes (and then stayed up all night completely terrified) and after a long unit on Greek and Roman history walking through the streets of Italy. It gives you all those things that the author of the article talks about - culture, perspective, and life being about more than just you.  Because every winter, we would sit down with a map of Europe and start throwing out destinations.  And my Dad would research plane tickets.  And we would decide where we wanted to go.  Life wasn't just about me, and life wasn't just about them, it was about us as a family, being a unit that worked together to plan and execute these trips.  My sister and I whined an acceptable teenage amount, but we also learned a lot about each other and about ourselves.  My parents learned to know and respect us as adults, rather than as children.  We packed our own suitcases, learned exchange rates, wrote notebooks about where we were going, wrote emails and letters to our boyfriends about the interesting things that happened to us.  
Travel with children is expensive, I will not lie about that.  We were extraordinarily lucky.  My parents prioritized travel over almost anything else, and made their careers work for them - we went to Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest for conferences, Egypt so my Mom could work with a hospital there, Chicago for an annual conference, Alaska because my mom had a colleague there and could put in several days of work.  My parents sacrificed a lot to give us these memories, and in hindsight, it was some of the best parenting they did.   

My parents worked remotely a lot.  Do you remember what the first laptops looked like? I do, because I helped cart them through airports.  Have you ever seen somebody dial up to the internet via a payphone?  My mom used to have a portable modem with adapters for every single kind of phone jack that existed around the world.  We stayed with friends and family and ate picnic lunches bought at the grocery store instead of at fancy restaurants. These days, that kind of travel is even more possible with sites like VRBO and AirBnB.  Yet we hear so often that traveling is something you should do when you are young, before life gets in the way.  And that's just the wrong message.  I think maybe people think children don't appreciate travel, that it is meaningless to them.  And before they are three, that is correct, but the Berlin wall came down when I was five.  And when I was in kindergarten and the wall came down and tickets were dirt cheap, my parents pulled us out of school and put us on a plane and my Dad showed me the bullet holes and the guard stations and talked about having to show his passport when he went from one side of the wall to the other.  I didn't put everything together until I was in middle school, paging through my history books, but it was powerful.  Seeing world history as you learn world history in school is incredibly powerful, and it's played a huge role in who I am today.

Please do not think I am blind to the incredible amount of privilege afforded to me by my upbringing, which follows me into my current life and makes travel possible, I'm well aware of that.  But travel is not limited to people with my upbringing, and it isn't limited to the young and foolish.  In fact, it isn't limited at all. Don't think that only fancy childfree people travel.  Don't think that you have to be "ready" to travel before you can make travel happen.  I have an extremely inconvenient job but I have traveled more in the last year than we have since college.  Some trips have been cheap, some have been expensive, but all have been worthwhile.

I don't think it's a coincidence that when I think about the life I want to leave, I would rather go on vacation than upgrade our TV to anything but "the one that came with the apartment."  That when I think about what kind of job I would like, it's something with reasonable hours and the ability to go on vacation without waking up in the middle of the night sick with worry.  I recognize now that it will be challenging to give our children the life my sister and I had.  Three week trips to Scandanavia and Alaska are probably out of the question given our career choices.  A month in Europe will likely be off the table.  But adventure doesn't come only in 3 week increments.  It does not require a 7 hour time difference.  It can, in fact, be planned into vacations to visit the grandparents or the aunts or the cousins.

This kind of travel is possible, it's just going to require us to make a lot of strategic decisions from very early on - trying to find the right company and stay at it to accrue enough leave time, actually using our leave time and making it clear that it matters that we be allowed, and supported, in doing that.  Just like we shape our priorities as we house hunt, we shape our priorities towards the life we want to live.  If you are also prioritizing traveling, and trying to shape a life where you can get up and go as much as possible, what kinds of things are you keeping in mind as you shape your careers and settle down?  What are things we should keep in mind while we are squirreling away money so that we can go to Spain and South America?  What is on your travel bucket list?   

Monday, April 22, 2013

Books

I was saddened this morning to read of the death of E.L. Konigsburg.  She is one of my very favorite authors, and even though she writes "kids books", if you have never read any of her books, or if the only one you read is "From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" you would do well to pick yourself up a copy of "The Second Mrs. Giaconda" and "A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver" and "The View from Saturday."

My mother read several of these books to us growing up, even though by the age of 10, we were voracious readers ourselves, it was a nice thing to do, especially on long trips.  She would also buy me Konigsburg's books for my birthday or Christmas, or sometimes just before long trips, along with a number of other oddly selected but extremely good books, and I say it like that, because my mom isn't really a reader.  But she seemed to have discovered, even in the nineties before Amazon was a thing, a way to select excellent reading material.  I think one of her secrets was to pick a few good authors, and buy all of their books, which is basically what I do as an adult.

I still have all of our Konigsburg books, because even as I have taken to cleaning out my bookshelf in recent years, I look forward to reading these to my own children one day, and I also deeply enjoy rereading them.

Are you a Konigsburg fan?  What is your favorite book?  You can pick your favorite four, if you need to. It is hard to narrow.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

New Orleans

Around the same time that we went to New Orleans, several other people were planning trips.  So I thought I'd make a quick travel guide.

Lodging
We stayed at the Prytania Park Hotel.  We loved it.  If you are an "off the beaten path" type, this is a great hotel.  It was extremely affordable, had tons of character, and was really close to the #8 bus (technically the streetcar line, but the streetcar was under repairs.  The bus was actually quieter and faster.)  It was also super-walkable to a bunch of really tasty restaurants and a nearby bike shop.  The Garden District is quiet and charming, and the main strip of downtown where all the fancy hotels are seemed to be pretty full of loud drunks and near high priced touristy food places to eat, though if you walked a few blocks, you got to some pretty nice dining.

Things to Do
We had some trouble with this one.  It turns out that 5 days in NOLA was a long time to spend there, and we somewhat ran out of things to do.  I would think 3 days would have been fine.  I would only recommend a 5 day trip if you know the weather will be good, or you are going during the summer, etc.  The weather was lousy for most of our trip, which put (literally) a damper on a number of fun things.

We went to the Aquarium of the Americas (which featured a ton of stingrays, including some you can pet, and sea otters, which were really cute.)  It was a small aquarium, probably not worth the entry unless you have kids or really want to pet a stingray (though they don't let you stay at the tank all day, sadly), but it was generally very nicely done - the exhibits were informative and interesting, though the oil rig exhibit that talked about how great oil rigs were for the environment which turned out to be sponsored by the oil companies, seemed a bit over-the-top.  However, it only took about 2 hours to get through.

We went for a daytime cruise on the Creole Queen, which was very nice, though a bit chilly, and went up to the battlefield where Andrew Jackson and his troops held off the advancing British soliders and saved the country from British rule (nevermind that a treaty was already signed, pretty much everybody left that part out.)

We hit the Presbytere and this one is highly recommended.  It has a fantastic Katrina exhibit that really goes through everything that happened and is quite interesting.  There is also a Mardi Gras exhibit upstairs which is a nice bonus, but was definitely not worth the price of admission.

We went on the free guided tour of the French Market/Quarter, which was fun but I definitely wouldn't plan your day around it.

We rented bikes and rode out to City Park.  This day, the weather was not on our side.  We had planned to do a long bike ride along the Levee trail but the wind was horrible that day (and not great the rest of the time, except the last day.)  If the weather is nice, definitely rent bikes and ride around.  It would be really lovely.  But we did a quick 2 hour tour, and the guy from A Musing Bikes could not have been nicer about being flexible with our rentals (though the shop did not open when it was supposed to, so call ahead.)  We also took the streetcar down to the Audobon Park and walked around there.  The streetcar ride was neat, because St. Charles St. has a bunch of really fantastic architecture and is also near Tulane, which was fun to see.

We walked around a lot - we walked through the French Quarter, we walked up and down Royal Street, which is full of awesome shops and art galleries, and is much slower paced than Bourbon St.  We walked up and down Bourbon St., which feels like a weird mix of Times Square and The Block here in Baltimore (or whatever your strip club district is).  It's also odd to feel like you are the only one not drunk, when it's 11am.

Dining
Green Goddess - We waited a looooong time for a table (we went at 1pm, so everybody who had come for lunch was still lingering) but the food was very good.
Crescent City Brewhouse - My sandwich was good but M's was better. (He got the Catfish Po'Boy).  He liked their beer.  They also have a walk-up bar outside.
Slice Pizza - pizza was reliably tasty.  Would be a good post-drinking meal after spending an afternoon on Bourbon St.
Three Muses - they have Angry Orchard on tap, live music, and delicious delicious food.  Tons of vegetarian options.  Highly recommend the feta fries, and everything else.
Filipe's Taqueria - a good, fast, casual lunching place, with a bar and a lot of space. It took a long time to get a burrito there, but it was a solid choice.
Mia's Balcony - near our hotel, very tasty for lunch.  We had a gift card and did several tapas.  Not necessarily worth traveling out of the city for, but if you are staying in the Garden District (and you should), well worth a visit.
Melange - we had a fancy New Year's dinner here, it was very nice.
St. Charles Tavern - this place was pretty good and open 24 hours.  We went for brunch after New Years, because we were tired of the hotel breakfast.
Cafe Du Monde - go at night, rather than in the morning.  The beignets are still delicious, and the people watching is even better.  Plus, the line isn't around the block.  Don't wear black.

Drinking
Pat O'Briens - If you are looking for a real bourbon street experience, in which you feel like a giant tourist and get really drunk really fast, this is probably the right place to go.  The patio is lovely though, and you can see why a lot of people might spend a whole day, and a lot of money, consuming large amounts of alcohol on the patio.  We had one drink and left, partially because it started to rain and mostly because I needed a nap.
The Avenue - this is a beer drinker's bar, and they had cider on tap.  The food looked good but we only went for "Crafty hour" which, sadly, does not involve drinking and doing crafts.
Rusty Nail - this is a smoke free bar, but because we are idiots, we sat outside.  Which meant we were effing cold, and we were where all the smokers were.  Once we went inside, we got to choose between the really loud front room and the super quiet loser back room.  Then a drunk girl tried to befriend us and things got really awkward.  It felt like we were doing a lot of work just to watch the Redskins-Cowboys game and so we eventually left and went to Slice Pizzeria, but their TV was tiny.

Do you have favorite bars, restaurants, or things to do in New Orleans?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Book Review: What Love Sees

I am a fan of Susan Vreeland, but I've mostly stuck to her books about art, such as the Passion of Artemesia and Girl in Hyacinth Blue.  So when Amazon had What Love Sees for sale for $1.99, I picked it up for the plane ride back from New Orleans. 

The book is a true story, but it reads like a novel.  It has a pretty fast pace, and it's really not a "romance", but a genuine kind of love story.  It's a portrait of a young woman whose life is difficult in some ways, yet also extremely privileged.  She becomes blind at the age of 12, in the late 1920s, and this story is fascinating.  Her parents continue to send her to regular school and she lugs around a typewriter to type her exams.  Her parents have the resources to send her to summer camp and finishing school and Europe, and they also have an interesting kind of snobbery, which Jean has to navigate.  Eventually she marries a man, who is also blind, and the two of them live on a ranch and raise four kids. 

Four kids sounds daunting anyway, but Vreeland does a great job of explaining why some things are so difficult for Jean and Forrest.  Things like changing diapers.  Which, having spent time with a screaming, squirmy newborn recently, seems impossible anyway.  But factor in cloth diapers, pins, and not being able to see what you are doing?  That is really a challenge.  Yet the hardest thing for Jean is that she will never ever see her baby's face. 

I loved this book for being a very genuine portrait of a marriage.  The couple tries to deal with each others shortcomings, manages each others tempers, tries to find time to spend with each other while working very hard, and also deals with the frustrations of four children who learn very quickly how to try to manipulate their parents. 

The book is also interesting history.  It starts in the Depression and goes into World War II.  Jean and Forrest cannot serve in the military, but still try to contribute.  It's also a great history of ADA issues and accessibility issues.  Jean has one of the very first seeing eye dogs, and the family also travels by airplane occasionally - to visit her parents, they have to fly cross country, which requires five changes and their six year old son to navigate through the airport. 

So if you are a fan of non-fiction, historical fiction, love stories, or good books, I highly recommend What Love Sees.  Have you read anything good lately?