Tuesday, March 31, 2009

house update

Brad and I took ownership of our house on Sunday night, and life turned officially crazy at that time. We are busy packing and running all sorts of errands to prepare to move this weekend and next week, but I wanted to post a quick update. We both took the day off yesterday and met with a slew of contractors. We had our locks changed and set up security system with ADT. Those appointments were uneventful. The other three appointments were a little more interesting:
  • Does anyone else think that it's strange that a mason would show up without a ladder? Nine times out of ten, doesn't his job involve accessing the roof? We're first-time home owners, it's our very first day in the house, and he expected us to have a ladder already?
  • After hearing so many stories from friends about a major appliance or structure breaking within the first month of home ownership, Brad and I prepared ourselves for the same fate. A frantic phone call from the sellers on Sunday lead us to believe that the overflow valve on the water heater was leaking, so we hoped that that would be the extent of our unanticipated expenses. As it turns out, the plumber who visited yesterday could find nothing wrong, so we'll keep our fingers crossed on that one.
  • The second floor was covered in carpet, but we decided to rip it out and restore the hardwood floors underneath. We understood the risk involved in such a project because no one knew the condition of the floors, which are original to the house. We first learned that our third bedroom (which will serve as our office) must have been added later because its floors are only plywood, and not wood like the rest of the house. We will probably invest in some FLOR tiles and be set in that room. The floors on the stairs, and in the hallway, master bedroom, and second bedroom are red pine, which we learned is gorgeous, but extremely rare. Floor companies don't sell red pine anymore; they retrieve it from old houses when someone needs it, which, as you can imagine, is extremely expensive. The floors are in very good shape with the exception of about 18-20 boards that need to be replaced. Brad and I found out this morning that the retrieval and installation of only 18-20 boards just added $1,600 to our floor restoration bill!!! Thank goodness that we've planned for a few unexpected expenses! Now, let's hope that the hot water heater valve (and every other appliance and major fixture in the house) hangs in there!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

think pink

During my run on Friday morning before work, I noticed that the cherry blossoms are almost ready. It won't be long now, dear readers. The blossom watch feature on the National Cherry Blossom Festival's web site predicts peak bloom to occur from April 1-4, 2009, which would conveniently provide beautiful scenery for next weekend's race. If the blooms peak as predicted, I will be four for four as in terms of seeing blossoms on race day, which is pretty good considering that these blooms are so fickle!

If you live in the DC area, please get out and enjoy the blossoms! I know that tourists take over our beautiful city. Parking and traffic are wretched. It will take you an hour to walk around the Tidal Basin (when it should only take 15 minutes) because you have to dodge all of the strollers and people with cameras. But I promise that seeing DC all pinked out is worth the hassle. As frustrated as I feel en route to the Tidal Basin, that first glimpse of the cherry trees in all of their glory always brings tears to my eyes. I love living here. And I would not miss cherry blossom season for anything.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

the nerve

I've mentioned that an unintended consequence of working with college students includes writing hundreds of letters of recommendation for my wonderfully talented, exceptionally brilliant, all-who-strive-to-save-the-world-type students. Yesterday while I attended a sophomore team's thesis proposal defense, a casual glance across the hall to my office revealed one of my seniors lurking by my office door. I hadn't spoken to him for weeks. I had no idea that he planned to stop by or what he wanted. I was otherwise engaged with the sophomore team, so I ignored him.

I returned to my office an hour later to listen to a voice message from this senior student, advising me to call him immediately. After he answered the phone, this student launched into a five-minute monologue about how he was nominated for this student leadership award in his department, but ignored the application process because he thought that he lacked the qualifications to win, but "several faculty had sought him out and assured him that he was a strong candidate".... yada, yada, yada....

My heart sank. I knew immediately where this conversation was going. And to tell you the truth, I don't particularly care for this student. He's a bully. Often aggressive, rude, and condescending, he's a real treat to be around sometimes. I knew that I would rack my brain to find enough positive things to say about him to fill even the shortest, most generic letter. And I just didn't feel up to it.

I tried to play dumb. I finally interrupted him with, "so why are you calling me?".

He told me that he needed a letter of recommendation. And it "needed to be a good one". A "really solid, in depth letter that highlights my experiences with x, y, and z." And oh yeah, if "you can throw in something about a, b, and c too, that would be great". And by the way, "I need it in less than 24 hours."

To say that I felt flabbergasted is an understatement. Not only did he dictate to me how to write a letter (like I don't know!), but he honestly thought that he could demand a letter with less than 24 hours notice? Does he think that I sit in my office all day just waiting to drop everything and cater to students' needs? And what type of letter did he think that his atrocious behavior would solicit? Certainly not a glowing review!

I cut him off immediately and bent his ear for a good minute or two about his rudeness. And then I basically hung up on him with a quick "hope you find someone else... bye!" when he began to protest.

I've noticed in my nearly nine years of full-time work with undergraduates that they sometimes think that a frequent smile and a friendly persona means "easy" or "pushover". But I am no doormat, and the smart students learn that the first time they try to walk all over me. It takes a bit longer for the narcissistic ones to catch on.

This senior falls into the latter category. Although we've gone round and round before, he still hasn't learned who he is dealing with.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

the big leap

It's official: Brad and I are proud home owners! With a swipe of a pen, (or more like 40 swipes), we went from no debt to BIG debt in all of about 30 minutes this morning. How frightening that four years of savings can diminish so quickly! And part of me feels like we're just getting started. But I think that any big life or financial decision is always, at least in some small part, a leap of faith. Well, we leaped! And we are greatly anticipating the joys and challenges of home ownership.

The sellers are renting back from us for five days, so the fun will really begin next Monday morning when we walk through the house one last time with our Realtor and start preparing to paint and then move. We have a slew of appointments lined up for next Monday: locksmith, floor specialist, and potentially a mason for something that I don't understand that needs to be fixed on the chimney. We plan to donate a few pieces of furniture to SOME, and they are collecting their goods from our apartment next Monday afternoon.

We plan to have the second-floor carpet in the new house ripped out and the original hardwood floors refinished. This job should begin next Tuesday morning and conclude on Thursday. Brad and I are taking the day off next Thursday to begin painting. The house will be cleaned over the weekend, and then we hope to move a few light items after we run the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler on April 5th. The movers will transport our furniture and heavy boxes to the new house on Monday, April 6th. Our new dining and bedroom furniture will be delivered on Wednesday, April 8th.

Our first overnight visitors will arrive on Friday, April 17th. Before we knew about the house, Brad's parents planned to visit us over Easter, but they agreed to delay their visit for one week, as Easter falls only six days after we officially move and I expect that the house will still be a wreck by then. At least my in-laws' visit provides us a deadline to get our belongings in some kind of order quickly.

Now you know what I'll be up to over the next few weeks. Don't worry: I'll be sure to keep you updated with stories of our painting and moving mishaps.

Monday, March 23, 2009

a little rusty on the moving front

Before last week, I naively expected to pack our entire apartment in one or two days and then enjoy the rest of my spring break by shopping, reading, running, and socializing. After all, I never spent more than a day packing when I moved in college and before and after grad school. The last time I moved, right before I married Brad in June of 2002, I remember my not-more-than-one-day-long packing sprint and then the two hours it took us to transport my (meager) belongings from my place to his. Prior to last week, I neglected to consider:
1. I have never moved post wedding (meaning: I have never had to pack and transport all of the wedding gifts that we received including fine china, crystal, and flatware, in addition to myriad kitchen appliances that I didn't even know existed prior to marriage). Also, I don't recall ever packing a full set of dishes (let alone two) or pots and pans. Who knew that wrapping every single breakable item in newspaper would take DAYS? Or that I would go through so much newspaper and have to beg for extra (free) copies at stores in addition to every empty box they could find?
2. I have only packed for and moved myself, never me AND another person. Two people = twice as much stuff! Although I assume that Brad and I have fewer belongings than most couples our age, packing still takes longer than I anticipated.

I estimate that about half of our belongings are packed. The kitchen and guest bedroom and bathroom are pretty much done. All bookshelves are now empty. But I have yet to tackle any closet (yikes!), our two storage lofts, and our bedroom and bathroom. For the first time, we're hiring movers (hallelujah!), so luckily, we won't have to worry about hauling all of our furniture out of our apartment and down two flights of stairs. Now, if I can only finish packing....

I also struggle with finding too many items that I think that I can't pack yet or will just carry over to the new house myself. I have a newfound respect for couples and families who move across the country. How on earth do they do it?

Friday, March 20, 2009

another spring break, come and gone

At the end of yet another spring break, please allow me to reflect on a few highlights:
  • I refuse to pay for boxes for our move. Therefore, this week I have stalked Safeway and Schneider's and have successfully collected nearly 50 boxes (via 4 full carloads and 15 trips up and down our stairs to carry all of them into the apartment)! And about two-thirds of said boxes are packed, sealed, and labeled. I still have MUCH packing to do, but at least I've made a dent in it.
  • I have learned that wine and liquor boxes work best for packing purposes. They are small enough that it's nearly impossible to pack them too heavy. And they are a nice size to carry. I learned the hard way to avoid produce boxes from the grocery store. Most of the boxes contain too many holes and they kind of stink!
  • I enjoyed three lunches out this week, one with my wonderful husband and two with girlfriends. And I engaged in mostly window shopping before and after all of the lunches.
  • I did buy one thing while window shopping. I scored an awesome pair of designer jeans at a chic second-hand shop for only $34.80. And I've worn them every single day this week.
  • Wow, paint color options are endless.
  • I've written five blog posts this week. That must be a record.
  • Furlough was a welcome excuse not to read or respond to any work-related requests for a day. Of course, I may feel differently once I see my paycheck!
  • I truly appreciate my readers' advice and opinions on paint. Please know that I thoughtfully consider each person's comments and I've printed them for future reference.
  • I love my book club. Whether we have a large or small gathering, I truly enjoy the discussion and socializing with fellow readers and friends.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

glorious colors

I have stared at white or off-white walls for so many years as a renter that I'm tempted to go absolutely ballistic with color in the new house. I came home yesterday with at least 50 paint sample cards representing close to 200 colors! How will Brad and I ever choose? I also suffer from the need-to-make-my-own-mark mindset. The house boasts beautiful paint colors already. We really don't need to paint even one room. But I long to make the house our own, and because neither one of us are very handy and painting seems like one of the easier trades to learn, I suddenly want to paint every room in the house. Browsing paint options yesterday made me even more eager.

I understand that I need to prioritize because we won't have the time or the energy to repaint every room in the two days that we have free before we move. We plan to tackle the living room first. Although currently a brilliant blue, I fear that the addition of our red furniture will give the room an unintended patriotic feel; not that patriotic is a bad thing, it's just not my goal for the living room. So I am searching for a brownish earthy hue that trumps beige, but is not too dark. The dining room is currently painted a deep red, which I LOVE and plan to keep for now. I can't remember the wall colors in the kitchen and master bedroom, except that they are rather light, and unfortunately the wall color does not show up well in the pictures that I have of those rooms. The sellers agreed to repaint the second bedroom for us, as it currently screams child with bright blue and green hues and an under-the-sea themed mural that covers one wall. We will repaint the third bedroom eventually, which is currently an orange-yellow color.

The names of paint colors delight me, and completely sway my opinion of them. For example, yesterday I stumbled upon "ordinary yellow", which immediately turned me off to it. Who wants their walls to look ordinary? I found a shade that seemed like it would work for the living room, but it was named "brown bag", which sounds incredibly boring. And I feared that I would think of brown paper lunch bags every time I looked at the walls. On the other hand, I felt immediately drawn to colors that referenced Italy or plants that I love. For example, I have no desire to paint a room pink, but if I did, I would have a hard time refusing to buy a color named "cherry blossom". I also favored any name that included the word "fern".

Can you imagine holding a job where it was your sole responsibility to name the colors of paint? The fun! But oh, the pressure!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

furlough begins

The state of Maryland has struggled financially for some time now. For the past two years, all departments at the University of Maryland have been required to return a certain percentage of their annual budgets to the state in attempt to ease the financial strain. Luckily, except for a three-year period (2001-2004) when UMD salaried employees failed to receive merit and cost-of-living increases, I have been relatively unaffected by the state's financial woes. But this year is a bit different. Of course, all types of raises this year or possibly for a few years are out of the question. And now most state employees must take a certain number of furlough days before June 2, 2009.

I am taking my first furlough day today. And I resolve to not read even one work-related email today. I will take the rest of my furlough days at the end of May when Brad and I are in San Diego and I won't have access to a computer and therefore won't be tempted to check my email, when I may run the risk of reading and replying to work-related requests. Don't let my "out of office" automated email response fool you. As long as I have access to a computer, I typically still read and respond to work emails on breaks. The automated response is simply my excuse to put off time-consuming tasks until I return to work.

I am very thankful to still be employed right now. I can handle a few furlough days.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

paint perplexities

To say that neither Brad nor I are at all handy is an understatement. All of the tools that we own basically fit into one shoe box. My parents gave Brad a drill for Christmas a few years ago, but I don't think that he's ever used it. Moving into a house of our own where we'll actually have to fix things for ourselves will be a great adventure for both of us. I'm nervous, but also a little bit excited.

That being said, we're attempting to teach ourselves how to paint by relying on trusty old Google. But we could use your help. I welcome all advice, tips, and opinions related to painting in general as well as to the following questions:

1. Primer: Aye or nay?
2. Brand of paint: Is the cheapest brand at Home Depot sufficient or is it worth it to buy a name brand?
3. Type of paint: Flat? Eggshell? Satin? I'm confused!
4. Color: While I'm naturally attracted to vivid colors, they tend to make rooms look darker (which I want to avoid). Any colors that you thought would look great, but didn't? What paint colors do you love?
5. A poll: If you could paint your kitchen today, what color would you choose?
6. Any other advice on tools, paint, or techniques?

THANKS, Gentle Readers. Just to warn you, this post is the first of many solicitations to come.

Monday, March 16, 2009

when running and moving don't mix

I take full responsibility for talking Brad into running another marathon. Although he always appreciates these races much more after they are over, I definitely enjoy the training and anticipation more than he does. When we signed up in late January to run the San Diego marathon in May, we had no idea that our house would make itself known to us, and that on top of marathon training, we'd be packing, shopping, and preparing for home ownership so quickly. Had we known that, we might have made a different choice about the marathon. But because we've already paid for our flights and race registration, and have begun to physically and mentally prepare for this race, I refuse to cancel the trip. So much to Brad's chagrin, we are trying our best to make it all work.

Let me give you an example of what our Saturdays have turned into, though. This past Saturday, we ran 17 miles. Although we started early, running 17 miles still takes substantial time, so the preparation, run, and temporary recovery (stretching, shower, eating) took basically the entire morning. Right after lunch, we hopped in the car and visited about six different furniture stores all over Northern Virginia in search of a dining room set (we also spent most of a day on this same task two weeks ago). Fortunately, our shopping efforts finally paid off, and we ordered our set on Saturday, but we arrived home at 8:30 p.m., exhausted and barely able to climb the steps to our apartment because our legs were so sore from the run.

We haven't packed one thing yet. And our moving to-do list is at least a mile long. Does thinking about our myriad tasks on my long runs count for anything?

And here I sit, at the start of my spring break and week off of work, blogging instead of packing. I fear that I am overly optimistic about all that I can accomplish in a week off.

Friday, March 13, 2009

spring break....

... has finally arrived!!!

So long students! Farewell work! I have far more pressing commitments right now. Such as shopping. And packing.

Oh yeah, and some running.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

expected, yet unexpected

I recently received a message via Facebook from my old college flame. He was the one that I wanted to be the one before I met the REAL one (does that make sense?). We dated for three years when we were both in our early 20s. The relationship was invigorating, yet heartbreaking in all sorts of ways typical of some relationships during that stage of life. Although we've been out of touch for quite a few years now, I suspected that it would only be a matter of time before he surfaced on Facebook.

After I replied to his "how are you?" query with a brief update on what I've been up to over the past decade, imagine my surprise when I read the conclusion to his response:

"I know it has been a long time, however I wanted to apologize for how things ended and how I (mis)handled the situation. Not to mention my insecurities and actions while we were dating. While I had it together with most aspects of life back then, there were some obvious shortcomings on the maturity side of things. You were and are a wonderful person, and never deserved any of it. I'm truly sorry (Dr. Blondie)."

I believe that his words are sincere. Even twelve years late and when it no longer matters, they're still nice to hear. This exchange just reminds me that God knows exactly what He's doing and to never doubt His master plan.

Has anyone else heard from an old flame via Facebook? I'd love to hear your story!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

a discovery

A random trip to CVS just now unexpectedly resulted in my first Easter candy purchase this year. I had no idea that these delectable treasures were already available! I must say this before every single holiday, but I really do believe that Easter candy is my favorite.

I'm not much of a peep girl, but I can't resist any kind of Cadbury or Reese's egg. Creme, caramel, or peanut butter-filled... I love it all. And I will do almost anything for a chocolate-covered, marshmallow-filled bunny. I can't forget the jellybeans. I bought two bags because I intend to share one with Brad. Maybe. Or perhaps I'll just give him the black jelly beans out of both bags.

I fear that my stash will be gone by spring break, which begins in three days. It's already calling from its hiding spot in my desk drawer.

the irony

One of Brad's and my favorite features about our current apartment is the private, rooftop deck that affords us glimpses of the Library of Congress, Senate Office Buildings, Supreme Court, National Cathedral, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and much of the Capitol Hill neighborhood. We enjoy views of most DC sights from our deck EXCEPT for the U.S. Capitol Building. Well, until this past Saturday.

Decades ago, some smart person planted an evergreen tree on Tenth Street, NE, which just so happened to grow over five stories tall, and has stubbornly and perfectly blocked our view of the U.S. Capitol since Brad moved in over eight years ago. And because the tree keeps its leaves year round, the magnificent white dome eludes us in the winter too. You have no idea how much this has frustrated us over the years. We live so close to the capitol, yet on our roof we might as well be miles away because we can't see a speck of it. About four years ago, producers of the West Wing television show called our landlord to ask permission to film from our rooftop deck (they combed the area looking for the perfect Capitol Hill rooftop and discovered our place!). When our landlord called to give us a heads-up, we regretfully explained that we actually didn't have a view of the capitol because of the tree. Once they heard the news, the West Wing folks never called back. We couldn't blame them.

So on Saturday afternoon, Brad and I decided to enjoy a few minutes of the beautiful weather from our roof, as we will be moving soon and will no longer have this luxury. When I got to the deck and turned around, I was instantly stunned to see the U.S. Capitol AND the Washington Monument looming over me. They looked so close! Where did they come from? And then suddenly, Brad and I realized that the evergreen tree had died! It was still standing, but it looked completely dead. And the other view-blocking tree on Ninth street is, thankfully, deciduous and barren. We finally enjoyed the view from our deck that we always longed for.

And now we're moving in less than four weeks. Ah, the irony. But we plan to enjoy the roof and the view as much as we can until we turn it over to the next residents.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

catch up

The snow day last Monday, while an unexpected and much appreciated gift, turned an already jam-packed work week into one of those periods when you feel like someone is holding your head under water and you're fighting with all your might to gasp even one quick breath of air. I had meetings with over 20 different students on Wednesday from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. with only one 15-minute break that allowed me to visit the restroom and wolf down my lunch. My schedule on Friday followed a scarily similar format. And because Brad and I tend to overcommit ourselves socially, we went from busy work days to social plans every single night last week. But we did enjoy awesome fellowship with friends. Thanks John and Dawn, Jeanne and Christian, and Jack and Stacy! What a blessing that all of you lightened my cooking load last week. Brad and I will happily return for dinner and company any time.

This work week promises more of the same craziness. But I hope to be better about updating my blog this week. Several posts have been percolating in my mind for a few days now.

There IS a temporary end to the madness in sight. Only five more work days until spring break! Let the countdown begin.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

hyphen help: part 1

Today's post is really more for me than for anyone else. I mentioned recently that while I obsess a little about apostrophe usage (no, really?), hyphen usage sometimes confuses me. Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tip today spoke to me, so I wanted to pass it along:

"Hyphens and Adverbs

A few days ago, when writing the newsletter tip about ending sentences with abbreviations, I had to remind myself of the rule that governs whether you put a hyphen in the phrase "environmentally friendly punctuation rule." (You don't.) Here's what I relearned:

A hyphen is required when joining compound adjectives before a noun:

Blue-streaked cheese
Water-soaked man

A hyphen is not required when one of the two modifiers before the noun is an adverb that ends in "-ly."

Individually wrapped cheese
Happily soaked man"

Monday, March 2, 2009

(our new) home sweet home

Gentle readers, you heard it here first: we're finally taking the plunge! Brad and I are in the process of buying a house on Capitol Hill!!!!! Our contract has been ratified. The home inspection went smoothly. Assuming that everything else falls into place as it should, the lovely row house that you see in the picture will be ours as of March 24, 2009. As you can imagine, we are thrilled!

It all happened very quickly. We began calling lenders in late January to investigate loan options. Because of busy schedules, we couldn't meet with our friend and realtor, Carol, until February 18th. Carol sent us a few listings on Capitol Hill in our price range to review in the meantime (most of which, by the way, were extremely depressing). However, one house did stand out. And it just so happened to be open on February 8th, so Brad and I went to check it out.

Brad and I fell in love with the house immediately. We were certain that it would be gone the next day. But amazingly enough, when we met with Carol 10 days later, it was still on the market. We agreed to take one more look at the house with Carol, which we did the following day. We saw one other house that day with her, which was the exact same price, one block away, and a complete dump. Brad and I knew that we were leaving for Illinois the following day, and we decided that it was too risky to wait through the weekend to act. Carol came over that night and we wrote a contract, which she submitted on Friday after we left for Illinois. The sellers had another contract, but they decided to work with us. They countered on Saturday, and we came to an agreement on Sunday morning. After our horrible travel day, we headed straight to Carol's house at 10 p.m. on Sunday night to initial the changes to make the contract official!

After years of saving for and thinking about home ownership, how ironic that we buy something so quickly! But we're comforted by the fact that we've lived on Capitol Hill for 8.5 years. We know the different areas extremely well. We know the prices. We've nosily wandered through enough open houses purely for entertainment over the years that we even know the general layouts and space restrictions of most Capitol Hill homes. And when we walked into this house, our house, we knew that we had stumbled upon a true gem, especially for our price range, which honestly doesn't go very far on the Hill.

Now, about the house. Built in 1915, the 3 bedroom, 1.5 bathroom, renovated row home is located on G Street NE, in between 6th and 7th streets. It's closer in, but a little farther north from where we live now. The house is in phenomenal condition and has great space for a row house. The kitchen and bathrooms are new and the house has a decent size backyard that is already landscaped (and even has an herb garden... perfect for me!!!). The house also has two decks, as well as an unfinished basement that runs the length of the house, perfect for storage now and possibly finishing down the road. The only negatives that we can see are the house's proximity to the H street corridor (which could be a plus in a couple of years if the revitalization efforts continue) and its location right across the street from an elementary school (which is better than a middle or a high school). This area of Capitol Hill is still slightly transitional, but ten times better than where most of the other houses in our price range were located. We are guessing that these things kept the list price a little lower because the house is beautiful and has great space.

Brad is excited to have a shorter walk to the red line now and we're both thrilled that we can still walk to church and to all of our favorite neighborhood joints. For years we've dreamed of buying a historic home on the Hill, but had almost given up hope that we could ever make it happen. But, the Lord has provided for us, as He always does. And, Lord willing, we get to stay. At least for a little while longer. This Midwest farmer's daughter has fallen head over heels in love with the city.

Our Saturdays are now filled with furniture shopping, packing, moving, Home Depot trips, and the like. You know, tasks that can easily be accomplished after running.