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?