Friday, June 28, 2013

Mid-Year Resolution Update

With 2013 halfway over, I felt it would be appropriate to review progress on my projects/resolutions for the year.  It's hard to believe it is already summer!

1) Money - Deal with it

With our finances successfully merged and transferred to a credit union, things are so much easier.  I also created a huge shared spreadsheet in GoogleDocs that shows our monthly income/expenditures, as well as our budget for projects/miscellany.

I've currently paid down my student loans to half of their original balance.  I am making my usual monthly payments (which are split across four loans of varying interest rates) and making large additional payments to the loan with the highest interest rate each month.  I paid off the first of the four loans last month with a final payoff amount of $666.66.  As if we needed any additional proof that student loans are evil.  My quick and dirty calculations suggest that my loans will be completely paid off in March of next year.  Woohoo!

We also were able to afford a lovely trip to Seattle and San Francisco early in June - I spent some extra time with my sister and nephew, and J joined me for the last few days in Seattle and a nice 3-day jaunt in San Francisco.  We were able to have a lovely vacation and not break the bank by planning early, shopping some internet deals, and spreading the cost over several months by paying in advance for many of the big-ticket items (like airfare, hotels, and rental car).

2) House - Make it Better

Next week is the 2-year anniversary of moving into our home, and we have made some progress on house projects.  I purchased new bathroom exhaust fans that are lovely... And still uninstalled (to be fair, a friend who is an electrician said he could help install them this weekend, so hopefully that will be done soon).  My father is helping J with installing new built-in shelving in our living room next month.  We haven't done so great with getting rid of extraneous furniture/clutter, but we both went through our closets and dressers and donated two gigantic trash bags full of clothes, so that is something!

Living room:  As mentioned above, J and my dad are going to tackle the shelving project next month.  I found that it would be substantially cheaper and considerably faster to install a pre-made track system with custom plywood shelves, rather than making floating shelves, so we will have to see how it turns out.  Last weekend, I found the perfect vintage coffee table for our living room, and it is being shipped to us as I type!  It took a lot of searching and discussion, but I finally found something that fits both of our criteria for storage, aesthetics, and budget.  I also purchased new artwork for above our fireplace and TV, and added more items to the shallow shelves above our DVD storage.

Bathroom:  J has promised to address the shelving issue when he does the living room shelves, since he can buy the supplies at the same time.  The new exhaust fan should also be installed very soon - hopefully it will move a lot more steam/moist air out of our bathroom than the current, ancient fan.

Basement: Nothing has happened down here, although we have a dehumidifier running now.

3) Bodies - Make 'em Healthier

I've kept chugging along at the low-carb lifestyle with a few breaks (primarily for our vacation - there was no way I was going to San Francisco and not eating sourdough!).  My doctor is very happy with my progress and overall health.  Though the scale hasn't budged much, I have gone down two clothing sizes, so that is certainly something!  Additionally, my friends and coworkers have commented on how different I look - it's harder for me to see it myself, since I see my face every day, but here is some visual reference (December, 2012 - June 2012):

Friday, May 17, 2013

Outdoor Adventures: Where We Started & Where We're Going

This year, so far, has been incredibly busy and while productive, but has not been as visibly productive as I would like.  Case in point: the exterior of our townhouse.

For reference and posterity, here is where we started back when we took possession in April/May of 2010:

Note the dumpster in the front - this was when we were jackhammering up over 600sqft of 1980s-tastic tile.

When we moved in, I had surgery on my ankle that necessitated a long recovery (if I never see crutches again, I will be very happy), so the time/energy/ability to deal with the exterior just wasn't there.  Flash forward to last fall.

By fall of 2011, I was sick of the exterior of our house looking like a rundown something-or-other.  The bushes were half-dead, overgrown, and asymmetrical in a not-pleasing way.  There was nothing flowering, aside from dandelions.  Missing from this picture is the plantings directly across from our picture window - also half-dead, horribly misshapen evergreen bushes.  Also incredibly sad.  I had had ENOUGH.  With the permission of the other condo association trustees (J is one of them), we had our landscapers pull out the sad, half-dead bushes and we purchased several things from a local plant nursery.  And we planted.  Oh, did we plant.

Here is a diagram of what we did:

Not shown: flowering bulbs (I planted giant hyacinths and reblooming bearded iris), plantings at the side of the house.

So, there have been improvements in the landscaping department.  Especially since I worked with the trustees and "beautification committee" to hire a new landscaping company, so hopefully the bushes we planted will be better maintained than the ones previously in front of our house.  Things this year are slowly growing in and blooming - my hydrangeas have tiny buds on them, and the peony I planted has one single, solitary bud! - I have great hopes that next year, things will look even better.

Aside from landscaping, let us take a moment to appreciate the lovely lighting in front of our house:

Those lights by our front door? Rusted shut, haven't worked since we purchased the property.  The light to the right of the door is actually now hanging off the siding at an angle.  The post light? Works, but is battered plastic and incredibly sad-looking.   So we talked to the condo trustees, since the exterior lights are responsibility of the association.  And they decided to replace ALL of the exterior lighting for all of the units (hooray!), but it had to get pushed back until this year.

After researching practically every black set of matching wall lights/post lights available for purchase, the trustees finally narrowed the options down to three and put it to a vote at our most recent association meeting.  It has been a long process.  So, without further ado, here is what has been ordered and will soon be installed:

Along with new plants and new lights, the doors are also going to be repainted... Stay tuned for photos of the improvements in a few weeks!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Projects & Resolutions: 2013 Edition

My goal of 2012 was simply "get married, don't murder anyone".  Oh, and try to survive a gigantic re-org at my job.  I think I succeeded pretty well on all counts, depending on your definition of "survive" when it comes to work - I'm still adjusting to altered duties and new coworkers, as well as a new office space, but in general getting things done and being helpful to people, which is the basic principle of my job.

For 2013, work-related resolutions are to be more organized/juggle various duties more efficiently, and in the non-work related world, we have the following.

1) Money - Deal with it

J and I didn't combine our finances prior to getting married.  Partly because he uses an online-only bank and I didn't want to switch to that, and partly because I wanted us to begin using a credit union, which he would only be eligible to join after we were officially married.  I am still in the process of switching my personal accounts to the credit union, because it is NOT an easy process.

Aside from that, we want to pay down my student loans.  J managed to graduate with no student loan debt and land a high-paying engineering position immediately after college, whereas I was not so lucky.  I have paid down my total debt considerably since graduating, and thanks to the careful planning and foresight of my parents, my total incurred debt was much lower than many people's.  With an aggressive payment plan, we should be able to pay things off within 2 years.  We want to make sure my loans are paid off (or at least significantly paid down) before we start booking tickets for Babyville, so it's a priority for now.

I'm hoping somewhere in this mix we will afford a trip to the West Coast to visit my sister, brother-in-law, and their super-adorable-fantastic son.  I can't wait to meet the little dude in person.

2) House - Make it Better

In 2011, we bought a townhouse and pretty much gut-renovated the majority of the space.  Our renovations included new flooring in every room of the house (including attempting to level-out a floor nearly 3 inches off-level on the ground floor...), electrical repairs (culminating in re-wiring 1/3 of the house, including the all-electric kitchen), and a LOT of aesthetic updates.

Now, I am hopeful that this year we can do some minor projects, including decluttering the second bedroom/office, eliminating unnecessary items stored in the basement, and improving the overall storage in the living room and main bathroom.

Living Room:  New coffee table with more storage potential for cat toys/remotes/craft-related debris, new wool rug to replace the sad, stained synthetic one from my old apartment, and new floating shelves flanking the fireplace, to replace the sad, dilapidated bookcases from my old apartment.  I am also upgrading a free wood cabinet that I got from work during our office move to house our cable modem, router, and other out-of-sight odds and ends.  I am installing metal hairpin legs to the base, to allow better air circulation for the baseboard heater in that corner, and installing magnetic latches and cute retro-inspired knobs.

Bathroom:  Install shelving in awkward nook to maximize storage.  Originally, this was a linen closet with a door that stuck horribly and disgusting wire shelving that could not be cleaned. And it was painted some shade of fuchsia?  It was awful.  We took the door off and J installed a shelf 18" above the floor to allow us to put a litter box in the bathroom, and then had a freestanding cabinet in the nook.  However, the cabinet doesn't use all of the available space and we could really use additional storage for linens and other assorted bathroom supplies, so J suggested installing 3-4 shelves and nixing the cabinet.  I also plan to get some baskets or other organizational items to help the space look less cluttered.  We also need to do some paint touch-ups and additional groutwork in the main bathroom - J replaced the heater in the bathroom, which left a hole in the tile underneath, and promised he would fill it in with grout.  The baseboard molding next to the heater also needs to be replaced, since the new heater has slightly different dimensions.

Basement: In the long-term, we need to completely re-wire the space and install new lighting.  The previous owners of our house had ever-so-thoughtfully "finished" the basement by putting up drywall and installing potlights in the ceiling, but neglected to do anything properly.  There are open wire connections next to flammable insulation.  Basically a fireman's (or building inspector's) worst nightmare.  I don't think this will happen this year, but I hope to at least sell a few extraneous furniture items on Craigslist and donate some other barely-used items.  Down the line, I would like the basement space to become a playroom/media room, as well as a crafting space for my sewing projects and knitting storage.

3) Bodies - Make 'em Healthier

J and I have both been struggling with our eating habits for the last few years, especially since moving in together and coping with the stress of wedding planning and various job transitions.  In particular, I have been having some health issues relating to my blood sugar, and my doctor recommended doing a low-carb diet.  After a lot of research, I am trying out a ketogenic diet, and so far I feel fantastic.  It's probably a testament to how truly awful I was feeling before the diet - when you feel crummy every day, it becomes the new normal.  I thought I would miss carbohydrate-filled foods more than I actually do, and hopefully along with the diet change, I will see some other positive effects.  I am choosing to focus more on feeling better and taking care of my health, rather than just trying to lose weight - let's hope it brings more positivity to this year and beyond.  J will likely try something, though we're not sure what, to adjust his diet as well - he loves beer too much to do the same diet that I am, but we both agree that we need to make some changes.  I am also hoping that by potentially losing weight and making an effort to be more active, I can finally banish the plantar fasciitis that has plagued me since my ankle surgery in mid-2011. My ankle surgeon said I basically have exhausted all non-surgical treatments, so if it is not able to resolve after losing some weight and strengthening my calves, I will need to either live with it until it goes away on its own (which feels unlikely after 2 years) or have surgery.  J and I mutually agreed after weathering my ligament reconstruction that "no more foot surgeries" was a rule in our relationship, but perhaps my painful, painful heels have other plans.

4) Outdoors - Make it Prettier

Last fall, we removed several old dying/dead bushes in front of our unit and the surrounding areas of the townhouse complex, and planted some new bushes - we won't be able to see until the spring how well they weathered the winter, but if all goes well we will have a much prettier exterior.  I also want to plant some vegetables in our backyard area - J has promised to make me raised beds to plant.  I am primarily hoping to grow some herbs and lettuces, and possibly peppers and tomatoes.  The homeowner's association is also planning to replace the exterior lighting - which will be really nice, since the lights by our door don't work at all!

So, we will see how 2013 goes. Lots of small, little things to affect positive changes rather than the one big goal from 2012.

A Long-Overdue Update

On Sunday, December 16, 2012, we got married in a lovely, supremely geeky ceremony, followed by a classy (yet comfortable) reception.  There was laughter, and an incredible amount of hugging, and it was truly fantastic.  It's still kind of surreal to think that it was only a month ago!

Planning our wedding was no small task.  There were a lot of tears and frustration, excitement and tiny moments of joy.  I spent hours upon hours making paper flowers and our sci-fi/winter wonderland table centerpieces.  We came in grossly over our original budget, but within our means, and the happiness on the faces of our parents, families, and friends made it all worth it.  Plus the cake was just plain amazing.  At some point I will have professional photos to share, but for now here is an Instragram peek of our ceremony: