Thursday, September 22, 2011

Life's little lessons

This month (well, the last month and a half really) has certainly been exciting. And frustrating. And rage-inspiring. And plain ole' inspiring.

After I wrote about life conspiring to get me, Steven was in a (fortunately) minor car accident, which while it did little to no known damage to him, it really screwed up his car. And really, I'll take that. Plus, we had been planning on getting a new car this month/next month so this really actually kind of sped up that process. My wallet was recovered. By the police. Because some old broad posed as me and tried to buy a ticket to Paris and board a plane. Thank goodness I reported every single piece of identification in my wallet stolen, along with my credit cards and the system came through.

We fixed a slew of other smaller, but equally as frustrating issues (almost every company that sends us bills on a monthly basis billed us wrong this month) and actually got to spend time with each other. Something that's been in short supply over the last two months. I've even managed to stay on top of school work and home repairs (though we'll see how long that lasts once I have my surgery). And on the topic of home repairs, we changed the paint in a few rooms, moved some furniture around and added a linen closet and suddenly the house actually feels like a home (more on that later this week/early next week).

Basically, I feel that life was on a rampage to teach us some important lessons about having a good chunck of savings in the bank, time management and spending good, quality time with each other. I'm still awful at putting money in the bank, and everytime I step into HomeGoods I blow my savings account (you know, the entire $30 that's perpetually in there), but I'm at least more aware and trying. Steven is trying too and that's all I can ask. As for time management and spending time together, we're getting there. I've always been good at multi-tasking, but I'm not good at being romantic or lovey-dovey, whereas Steven is better at being lovey-dovey than multi-tasking. Perhaps with our powers combined...

I've also realized how fortunate we are to have such good friends and family. Everyone has been so supportive over the last month. From just listening to us bitch, to invaluable advice, to going out of their way to help us out, we just have the best friends/family ever.

Now on a completely different subject, our 5 month anniversary is coming up in the house and I have tons of before/afters to share. You know, something on topic for once!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

When boredom takes over

Sometimes, someone special comes into your life and you know for sure they're meant to be your soulmate -- or at the very least, an addition to your harem. Unfortunately, sometimes they come with lady parts and that's really not what you're looking for at this time. One such friend is "Sally" (I've changed her name to protect her from all the other people who may try to steal her from me since she's so awesome).

"Sally" and I are both on the same pain killers, because we have the same doctor and he's being bribed to hand out the same non-narcotic pain killers. Like this is a fucking Torchwood: Miracle Day episode or something.

Observe what happens when you combine pain killers with crippling boredom:

Sally: I'd like to be a robot. Can I die and become a machine? Being human is overrated.

Me: No. Only because according to our medication we have to use care using machines, and you see how well that went with my iPhone.

Sally: Then don't use me! You're always trying to use me. If we were in a REAL relationship, this wouldn't be a problem. But NOOOOOOOO. It's always about sex with you. *Sob*

Me: Duh. Hey, will you automatically clean my floors when they get dirty? I could probably be ok with you being a sexy roomba.

Sally: I can get a roomba attachment to clean your floors.

*Thinking it over*

Sally: But I don't want to clean even if I were a robot.

Me: You'd have no choice. As your human overlord I'll run your prime directives, which means you're cleaning my floors. However, since I'm a benevolent overlord, I'll rub your tummy in exchange for you cleaning my floors.

Sally: Can I download a purr?

Me: Only if it's a tiger purr.

Sally: Best. Master. Ever.

Me: This is totally becoming a blog post.

I think this is where I say "drugs are bad, m'kay" but really. Who DOESN'T want to be a robot and/or robot overlord?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Say Hello to My Little Friend

Last night I came home from a day of training, sick as a dog to find that Klaus and Nyx (our beloved dogs) had ripped open a bag of whole wheat flour in the sunroom/my office. I of course, chose the responsible route and just collapsed on the couch without cleaning it up.

While I laid there basically comatose for a couple hours, waiting for Steven to get home from work, I started noticing that Klaus and Nyx would randomly walk over to the piles of powder and would sniff the flour and then lick it. Then they'd come back to the couch with their snouts covered in white power.

I started to wonder if I had gone back into the 1980s and Klaus and Nyx were really just extras in Scarface. Then I kept giggling at the thought of Klaus introducing Nyx as his "little friend".

And all of this without the aid of drugs.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Things overheard on the train...

Oddest pick-up line:

"I want to put you on The View"

I'm not sure if I'm mad or just impressed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I'm getting a little tired of life trying to bring me down. Over the course of the last month, without fail, at least one REALLY annoying albeit small thing (in the grand scheme of things) has happened. It's like life has decided to see how long it's going to take me to turn into a drooling crazy person.


But seriously. Just since Friday, I've had my wallet stolen by some cute old lady that had basically every form of ID I currently have. My phone's screen was cracked. My dog spazed and scratched the shit out of me, leaving big bruises that make me look like I should be going to a women's shelter, I got a ticket in D.C. for having an expired Virginia's inspection, my roof has a little leak in it, my basement has a little leak in it and Baltimore City just charged us $20 to dump off bad, gross, unrecyclable carpet even though we pay almost 30% our property value in property taxes and the dump should be free for residents.

So, I'm here to say, I'm going to stay in a perpetually happy mood and be one of those creepy people you always kind of want to kick in the shins and run away from, because they're so weird.

Fortunately, I also have my coworkers here to remind me it could be worse. Just yesterday one mentioned a guy he knew who had to break up with his girlfriend because she got just a little too friendly with Mr. Ed.

Perspective. I just got it.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A note about follow-through (possibly hygiene)

Follow-through, the right way:

Brittany: Hey, the asshat dog peed on this pillow. Can you go into the creepy basement and wash it?

Steven: Yes dear. I'll take care of that right now.

--small time elapse--

Steven: Taken care of!

Follow-through, the wrong way:

I'm pretty sure Klaus is in this picture just to mock me.

Update: I found the pillow on top of the washer, still unwashed. Time to get all stabby!

P.S. I would never actually stab Steven and write about it. That's just irresponsible.

Irony, aka Life's way of punching you in the teeth

I'm getting shoulder surgery at the end of the month and though I've been dealing with this for the last 7 years, I recently decided I'm a big baby and I need to take pain meds for this issue.

Well, because I have to work in a fairly professional environment, the doc and I decided to leave the narcotics for post-surgery. He gave me this other pain med that's supposed to allievate pain without making me a fucking moron.

But then he gave me muscle relaxors.

Tricky, tricky doctor.

I decided to read the labels for what he prescribed me and noticed this horribly written warning: "Use care using machines". Not heavy machinery, but machines.

Of course, I mocked this badly written warning with my dear friend Leah and we made Terminator references.

Then I took my phone on a trip to get Chipotle (Take that schemeing spouse! I'll be fat if I want!) and dropped it. Cracking the screen.

Life. Punch. Teeth.

Drugs are bad, m'kay.

Relationship Advice

When you ask your spouse to pack you a breafkast and some snacks (because they're awesome and pack you food), a cliff bar, a mutant orange named George that's completely inedible, and plantain chips oddly packed together with grape tomatoes does not equal a fullfilling breakfast/snack.

If you're going to do that, at least include a $10 bill for Starbucks.

Unless this is a hint that your spouse thinks you're fat and need to lay off the Starbucks.

But then if they secretly think you're fat, shouldn't they pack a well-balanced breakfast and snack so that you can eat well and lose weight? And why would they include a mutant orange? What does that mean?!

On the same token you probably shouldn't call your spouse in a malnutritioned rage and whisper into the phone "you're such a disappointment sometimes" and hang up.

Man, relationships are hard.

Monday, September 5, 2011

After a great evening out this weekend with friends, Steven and I came to the realization that we need to get out more. It has been almost 6 months (!) since we became home owners, and we've been pouring every extra bit of energy we have into the house. As a result, we've definitely become shut-ins. And not just any shut-ins, but the crazy kind of shut-ins; you know, the ones with hammers that desperately need a shower.

We both strongly believe that life should be kept in balance, and things should done in moderation. While we don't always succeed rarely succeed, we really try. Of course, as I'm writing this I'm going through a mental checklist of everything that needs to be done in the house (we're having our house warming on the 24th, (yeah, yeah, 6 months late) so I'm getting a little frantic).

But I really want to make a dedication to get things back in balance. I'm just not sure how to yet. School has started for the both us, and I'm getting shoulder surgery either later this month or next month, and we desperately need to start saving up money for the kitchen reno (in good news , we painted - yup that's right, painted! - the gross, disgusting subway tiles in the bathroom, so we no longer feel an intense need to renovate the bathroom. Just a minor need.). Plus, I want to stop sinking every bit of extra money into the house.

So, here are my goals:

1. Make school a priority and get all As. I love who I work for, but I don't love my job. I feel that with a masters I will be better able to jump to the job I really want. If nothing else, I can pretend I'm a brainiac.

2. Heal. I've dealt with injury after injury over the last year, from a torn meniscus in my knee to this shoulder issue. Granted my shoulder is an old injury (at least 7 years old) that's been festering and I'm just now taking care of it. Time to focus on resting, getting enough sleep and being healthy.

3. Blog more. I like love writing. I worked as a youth journalist at the regional newspaper for 4 years while in high school, took creative writing and actually get excited when I have to write really long research papers. I think blogging will help me kind of regain calm -- something I desperately need.

4. Get out of debt. I'm sure this is on everyone's list but I really want to do this. I want to live a life where Steven and I don't have to work to pay off bills and can focus on the things we want to do (travel more). It would also give us more freedom in job choices. Now I just have to curb my design/renovation habit and buckle down and do it.

5. Take more breaks. Steven and I are always running full-steam ahead on whatever project we're working on and it's really easy to lose focus and make bad, costly decisions that I regret later. We took the later part of July and the early part of August off from renovation to save up some money for our vacation and it was just too hot, and I feel that our decisions after we lived in our space were much better.

6. Get out more. Sometimes I feel like a hermit. It's become painfully obvious how much time I spend in the house. It's pretty sad.

So there you have it. My 6 steps to happiness. I just need to actually follow my own advice now. I think that's the hardest part.

I'll be back sometime soon with a whole slew of pictures from the house. Maybe if I write about it I won't want to do tons of stuff...

Yeah. Right.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chicken Fever

I'm a dirty liar. If you follow the blog I'm sure you've figured that out since I keep promising pictures and updates and I keep not delivering. In light of this, I'm going to try to make amends.

First thing's first. Chickens.

I know, I know. I promised the hallway make-over, but really, who's keeping track?

So anyways, chickens.

Long story short, I begged and pleaded with Steven to go pick up three chickens from a really nice lady way out in the middle of nowhere MD and on the day we closed we also picked up the chickens.

Their names: Banjo, Bacon and Grits. (We were going to go with Purdue, Tysons and Food Lion, but we felt Food Lion was too long a name and scrapped the whole thing.)

Banjo is a Nanick bantam (I think. Actually, I don't know. I don't even know if I spelled that right. But she looks like what I think is a Nanick so we'll go with that.)

Bacon is a New Hampshire.

Grits is a Leghorn.

I'm not going to continue with the technical details. I know you guys just came here for the pictures. Voyeurs.

Without further ado...

In sad news, my husband has taken it upon himself to build up Klout in Fried Chicken and post chicken recipes on his blog. We haven't told the girls yet...they'd probably feel betrayed.

Don't know what Klout is? Me neither, but Steven will explain here.

Please note he refers to the chickens as HIS chickens, despite his supposed dislike of them. He also now likes to make a chicken noise and "peck" (kiss) me.

Yup, for real.

Next-up, a post about the hallway. No really.

Ok, maybe.

Friday, June 17, 2011

How hard can putting up a fence be?

Sorry for the delay between posts. We've been going 100 MPHs in attempts to get most of the renovations done by the end of the summer. Expect updates and pictures over the next few days of our progress.


Sometimes, before we undertake a large project, I pray to the house gods for patience, luck and even more patience.

This past week, I prayed the hardest.

Considering our menagerie of animals and our extraordinarily loud and fairly obnoxious neighborhood kids (they like to try to open the garage door to check out the chickens), we decided that we would make our 6' privacy fence a priority.

We budgeted out $300 dollars, had it destroyed by extra necessary tools and supplies and after an hour and a half in Lowes (and a completely out-of-character and kind of epic fight regarding delivery) and $600 later, we walked out the door with our fence supplies.

I really didn't take many pictures, so I'm going to have to rely on old photos to explain what we did.

This is what our backyard looked like when we moved in:

First, we removed the old fence. Or tried to. The top pole and the metal mesh were easy. The base poles? Not so much. After it took an hour to dig out ONE, we decided we'd leave them there. Then that annoyed me so Steven, using our awesome concrete chisel (best $11 we spent) and a sledgehammer broke the base of the poles and we filled in the hole with some Quickcrete.

Then came the digging/sledehammering to get the fence posts in. We first started on the concrete slab that divides our property with our neighbors. Then we realized that it was a foot deep and after an hour of only getting 2-3 inches down I was like "Hey honey, let's shift 2 inches forward and see how that goes". SHAWAM, the slab was only 4 inches deep and after that it was pure post hole diggin' goodness.

We repeated this about 9 times. Honestly, it wasn't that bad, but it was slow going. It was even slower when we realized we didn't space the poles the right distance apart. So then we had to cut into the fence panels. Steven was pretty hesitant with the circular saw. It was his first time using it and I mean hey, SUPER SHARP objects that make loud, scary noises scare the beejesus out of me too. Eventually though, on day three, I got tired of doing the fence and took control and started slicing through panels like a madwoman. I wish I had done that from the beginning, but hey I'm way less tentative around saws now.

Steven wouldn't even admit he was impressed. Men.

We hand-built our gate too. This cost about $10 in lumber/fence panels to build. It would have been $50+ to buy it. I'm fairly positive we went the right route, but man-oh-man was it annoying. Night fell before we were even done building the stupid thing, so we ended up doing half the construction and hanging in the dark. We were using the chicken light in the garage to kind of see.

Somehow it came out ok. We'll eventually cut down a spare fence panel and fill in the gaps so you can't see as well back there. However, it's not a high priority.

On the last day we hung this panel and a quarter. The quarter is sticking up because it rests on a tree trunk that we didn't want to dig up because we're 90% postiive has a hornet's nest underneath it. There are several things I don't f' around with and bees are one of them. I wouldn't mind keeping a hive of bees (they work great with chickens) but that's only because I figure if they're mine they won't sting me. That's how it works, right? Ok, good. So we cut down as far as we could without causing a swarm and attached the last panel. I'll admit to hoping around like a girl and yelling things like "watch out for the bees!" and "JESUS CHRIST THERE'S A HORNET" (note: I saw two bees in total). Steven was completely non-plussed. This man also pulls out poison ivy by his bare hands. Meanwhile, I look at it and I'm a flaring red mess of itchiness. I think it's safe to say that Steven sucks.

After we completed the fence, turning our shabby patio to a sweet ass courtyard, it was time to buy patio furniture. As much as I generally dislike Ikea furniture, I will give them the nod for their awesome(ly cheap) patio furniture. This baby was only $150 and exactly what we needed in terms of price, scale and usability.

Because our courtyard is NOT big, we decided to make the table primarily a two-seater and use the bench as, well, a bench.

Sidenote: I love my garden. Those are all vegetable plants that are actually producing vegetables.

Back to the courtyard:

It was still looking a little underwhelming. Secretely we're New Orleanians (which is why we keep calling it a courtyard. I think it officially qualifies though) and that means we need green, lush courtyards. I convinced myself it was worth another $100 to get this effect. So off to Lowes we went!

Well, our plant discounts were AMAZING. I picked up a Crepe Mrytle, a couple of perennials, two hanging ferns, three large irises, three tomatoe plants dripping with tomatoes, and a large geranium.

Our total? $35

How you ask?

Lowes is awesome. First, almost everything we bought was on sale in the "where plants go to die" section. I love that section. It's my jam. I'm good at nursing back plants to life, so if they look a little gross at first, whatever. For $1.67 (the price of the overloaded tomatoe plants) I can be down with about anything. The irises were only $8, down from the $20 they were originally and the ferns were $3.33 a piece. Apparently this was a flub because we went back on Sunday and the sale price was gone. Whatever, cheap ferns are the shiz.

On top of the super discounts, the cashier forgot to ring up our crepe mrytle tree. How she missed a tree, I'm not too sure, but I'm all about integrity (and it's literally a requirement in my job -- that helps keep me honest) so we took it back in and told the manager what happened and he rewarded us with a 40% discount! Go Lowes!

Now the patio looks like this:

Can you say serene? Can you say lush? We ate Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner outside on Sunday and we'll probably do that from now on. It's just so relaxing. We just need to get some better outdoor lighting (or some at all) and maybe install some speakers for some tunes, but otherwise it's perfect. The chickens certainly love it.

And so does Klaus.

Ahhhhh serenity.

Note: I'll be putting up a post about our epic hallway make-over as soon as I rewrite the damn thing. SOMEONE deleted it. And assuming we get it all done this weekend, I'll be posting up a picture of the guest bedroom. It's so exciting having three bedrooms!

Monday, May 9, 2011

With the help of several of our awesome friends (one of whom drove 16 hours for the pleasure of helping us), scotch, Home Depot/Lowes and a crap ton of paint supplies, we survived the first week of home owning.

Because I had a derp moment and left my camera at my parent's house last night, I don't have pictures to post as of yet, but I'll break down what we did (what I can remember)...

Painting the living room: we left the panels up for the time being and are making do (sigh)
Painted part of the bedroom: Our bedroom is absurdly large and comes complete with an "alcove" that our whole bed and end tables fits into. We painted the alcove part.
Painted the hallway: It was yellow. Even the ceilings. And not a sunny yellow, a gross dirty yellow. The hallway now has a white ceiling and granny smith white (glidden) walls.
Started painting the bathroom and dining room - ran out supplies for one, not sure how we feel about the other.
Changed the light fixtures/fans in the living room, bedroom, hallway and bathroom.
Planted/mulched the front garden
Tore out the carpet from the sunroom, living room, dining room and stairs to reveal a beautiful hardwood floor circa 1928 (when the house was built).
Painted lots and lots of trim. And the banister.
Tore out the faux-brick paneling in the kitchen.
Patched holes in the plaster in the kitchen.
Removed the ceiling tiles in the living (woohoo asbestos free!)

I'm sure there's more, but that's all I've got for right now.

We also got our chickens! Bacon, Grits and Banjo joined us after we signed for the house on Friday. They're awesome. And a riot. We love watching them play. They're also intensely low maintenance to take care of...something I'm glad the books portrayed correctly.

All-in-all it was a really good, really long, really intense week. If you ever want to lose 10 lbs while eating horribly, buy a house.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hog-wild weekend

In 40 hours-ish, we'll be signing for the house! Assuming the underwriter gets everything back to the processor and the title company tomorrow, but they swear it can be done.

Still not sure why it takes 3 people to do the same job. They're worse than the government.

Oh and our loan processor is amazing. She told me she'd side with me against the horrible loan officer because, and I quote, "[she's] in a man-hating mood". She also told me today about her fear of dogs and told me how annoying the loan officer is. I kind of <3 her.

Anyways, so we sign on Friday and then tackle this first-weekend-in-the-house-we're-so-excited-and-want-to-do-everything list:


1. Run home, clean out garage, set up chicken coop.

We bought everything today! It really wasn't that expensive. With the chickens it's going to come in under 300. It helps that it's "chick days" at Tractor Supply so everything related to chicken raisin' is on sale.

Also, because we're buyin' chickens I have to take the "g" off of "ing" words. It's only right.

2. GO BUY CHICKENS. That's right folks, we picked them out today. We're getting two 6-week old hens, a feisty Leghorn, a docile New Hampshire and then a full grown hen that's about a year old. She's also the size of a 6 week old hen and super docile. I'll reveal the names when we get them situated.

3. Plant front garden (it's tiny, and I have all the plants, or most of them, so this should only take an hour. I also day dream about the placing of the plants in my spare time so I'm pretty sure I have it all mentally mapped out).

No really. I have all of the plants.

4. Play with chickens.

If we have time we're going to dig and set the posts for our new fence as well. But somehow, I don't think we're going to accomplish this.


1. Remove possible asbestos tiles on Saturday. We have the whole day blocked for this....I'm sooooo excited.

2. Play with chickens.


1. Tear out the two tiny garden beds in the back "yard" and replace with a newly constructed tall bed.

2. Plant the beds. The back yard is going to be purely edible plants. This will work especially well because chickens like to fertilize plants and eat bugs off of crops.

Look at all my greens. AND THAT HUGE BUTTER CRISP. THAT WAS $5 AT THE FARMER'S MARKET AND WE'VE ALREADY MADE 2 SALADS FROM IT. /end excitement. And I have about 30 strawberry plants. Steven had to forcibly stop me from buyin' more. Which is especially ridiculous given that this guy will buy a thing of strawberries and nom them all in a day.

Oh wait, that's not very manly is it? By strawberries I mean bbq. Ahem.


3. Play with chickens.

4. My wonderful parents are drivin' up to show us how to cut moulding, put in new light fixtures (already purchased a new ceilin' fan for the livin' room and chandelier for the bathroom). My dad is also lettin' me borrow a circular saw, jigsaw, powerwasher and givin' me a miter saw. He's kind of the best.

5. Power wash the year's worth of leaves off the patio and stick these awesome citronella candles we bought from the Crate & Barrel outlet into the flower beds.


1. Pack furniture from old apartment and move it to the new apartment.

2. Play with chickens.

So, as you can see, we're going to go hog-wild. I'm mostly excited about the chickens. I mean, home owning is cool but ...chickens!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Attack of the Chickens

I have officially hen-pecked (haha) my husband into submission. We're getting chickens!

I had thought this would be a battle of the wills, that I would have to whine and complain and use my best feminine wiles to convince Steven that chickens were the best thing since sliced bread and he should get over his dislike of birds. I had thought that it would be a lot tougher and take a lot longer than 4 days. Huzzah being wrong (for once)!

You see, this weekend we drove out to Shenandoah Valley with my fam to go to the Shenandoah Caverns and just spend some pre-Easter time together. We were actually supposed to go camping, but the forecast and work complications shut that down, so this was a nice compromise. We had lunch in Luray, VA and while talking my parents mentioned they wanted a goat. Their back yard has been overrun by poison ivy, and given that all of us except for Steven (who is abnormally immune) are extremely allergic, they wanted to find the easiest way to clear it out. Goats, it turns out, are perfect for clearing out poison ivy, so after lunch we took a quick detour to Tractor Supply Co. for my parents (my mom) to look at goat things and being the day before Easter they had chicks! Lots and lots of chicks.

With a minimum order of 6. Boo.

Baltimore only lets you have 4. Double boo.

This was probably a good thing anyways, because I had no idea what I was doing. So, while there I bought "Chick Days", a fairly excellent beginner's guide to raising chickens. Before we even got to the two hour mark on the way back I had finished it and had a huge frame of reference for raising chickens, what's involved and the chick to hen process.

Then I bought celery. Not really related but celery plants smells like heaven should smell. Seriously. I go outside and sniff them. Is that weird?

Anyways, so I read "Chick Days", then bought "City Chicks", which is basically a book explaining all of the benefits of chicken raising and I guess there's a how-to on raising them but I haven't gotten that far. Thus far it's been all about the benefits of having a chicken when you have a garden and composting. Interesting, but I want more chickens.

I guess all my excited jabbering has finally gotten Steven to the point where he's OK with it. It helps that the fence that we will need to put in is only about $400, as opposed to the $2000 we were thinking and Steven loves the idea of being self-sustaining and a couple of chickens is exactly what we'll need to get there. And after I explained how easy they were to take care of, he was a lot more on board.

Some cute facts about Chickens that you probably didn't know:

1. You can train them just like a dog. They can do tricks and will come if you call them.
2. Some chickens will fall asleep when you sing to them.

Some gardening facts about Chickens that's probably more helpful:

1. Their poop is the best manure soil can get, though it has to be done in doses otherwise the excess of nitrogen will burn the nutrients out. If you buy humus/manure mixes from Lowes/Home Depot, it is most likely that they've been mixed with poultry manure. When their waste is thrown into a compost pile, you get the best top soil imaginable.
2. They eat bad bugs and leave good bugs, so your crops aren't destroyed.
3. They'll eat weeds and leave crops behind. Although, I've read they'll nom on some tomatoes if given the opportunity.

To dispel some myths:

1. They only smell bad if you don't clean out their coop. Keeping your license in Baltimore is contingent on good coop hygiene, so we'll be pretty fastidious about cleaning.
2. They're not loud.

There's plenty more, but I felt those were the most important things. I've really gone chicken mad.

Oh, and we'll be making our own coop. That sweet-ass Nogg is 1700 dollars. SEVENTEEN HUNDRED DOLLARS. No wonder I had to email them for pricing.

More to come later!

Friday, April 22, 2011

I've always loved the idea of living off the fat of the land, roughing it in the wild and surviving like the kid in Gary Paulsen's Hatchet. So, of course we buy a house with a tiny lot in Baltimore City with little ability to do that. I've also always loved the idea of having a farm. Just a few acres to plant vegetables and a couple of chickens for egg producing. But again, buying a house in Baltimore City with a tiny lot.

However, thanks to Design*Sponge's excellent blogging, I might have found a way to have a little urban chicken farm after all! A clean, sanitary, not disgusting chicken farm, to clarify.

Assuming Steven goes for it.

He probably won't because he doesn't like chickens, but I'm sure I can bribe him.

Here's the nifty solution to urban farming:

It's a super sleek, all-cedar (for it's antibacterial and good smelling goodness) hutch that can house 2-4 chickens comfortably and you get the eggs out just by taking off the top and reaching in. I'm waiting to hear back about pricing, but I am excited.

Here's the website: Nogg

Since I saw this this morning, I've been negotiating with Steven on getting one and just one chicken to try it out and see how it would work.

So far, I think the compromise looks something like this: I clean out the garage, let Steven cut a hole in the back of the garage (there's no door leading into the backyard/patio area for whatever reason) for a door, and I (as in solely me) construct a 6-foot privacy fence around the tiny backyard so it buffers noise from our neighbors. Then we make the garage into a work area/chicken house. And I clean it every day so it doesn't smell weird.

Personally, I think I conceded too much, but Steven really doesn't like chickens for some reason. I'm also not too positive this will come to pass, but that Chicken Coop is sweet.

For those of you that might also be interested in chicken farming in Baltimore, here are Baltimore's rules on chickens:

1. No person may own, keep, or harbor any chickens without:
a. obtaining a permit from the Bureau of Animal Control; and
b. registering with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, Domestic Poultry and
Exotic Bird Registration Division.
2. No more than 4 chickens over the age of 1 month may be kept.
3. All chickens must be confined at all times to a movable pen.
a. No pen may be closer than 25 feet to any residence.
b. Each pen must be kept clean, free of all odors and materials that can attract
c. Each pen must be moved frequently to minimize turf destruction and the build up
of manure borne pathogens such as coccidiosis and roundworms.
d. Pens with feed boxes and nest boxes must allow 2 square feet per hen.
4. The chickens must be provided with shade during warm weather.
5. Potable water and proper feed must be made available.
6. All chickens must be provided with access to a well-constructed shelter that provides
suitable protection from inclement weather.
7. All chickens must be afforded veterinary care if they are known or suspected to be sick or injured.
8. Roosters Are Prohibited

Oh and our neighborhood made it into the newspaper for urban gardening! Go neighborhood! Looks like we're going to fit right in!

To continue the Earth Day goodness, here are my "Green Plans" for the new house.

1. Paint the roof white. This is super simple to do (especially because we have a large flat portion of our roof) and it reflects light back into the atmosphere and conserves energy, as it reduces heating and cooling costs.

2. Change out the toilet flush-thingamob (the insides. God, I'm bad at plumping)to a low-flow option. Basically, there are two buttons which give you two options: high flow and low flow. It allows you to kind of customize your flushing needs without installing JUST a low-flow toilet and is only $20.

3. Rain barrel - I learned how to make one of these today thanks to Young House Love. But the best source in Baltimore for recycled food barrels is no longer recycling their barrels so we may end up buying one.

4. Only use low-VOC paint. I prefer Olympic Paint anyways which is all low-to-no VOC.

That about covers my initial "greening". I plan on planting the back garden so it's sustainable and sustaining (i.e. edible plants), as well. I love me some fresh veggies.

Happy Earth Day!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Who knew that buying a house would take up so much time? Haha, that was a joke.

We're actually ahead of schedule on the closing process and might be able to close on Tuesday or Wednesday. Sure, two days early doesn't make much of a difference to most people, but I'm "eeeeee"ing inside.

We drove by the house this morning after a doctor's appointment to see what it looked like in full-bloom and to peek in to see if they had done the work to the house yet. And guess what we saw? All new outlets that are grounded and pretty! On top of which we have a gorgeous Japanese Maple in the yard that hands out underneath a towering tree. I was thinking that the lack of air conditioning would be a problem in the house, but there's so much shade already (Even without the gigantic tree fully bloomed) that it's definitely going to be cool during the summer.

There's also this sweet batch of blue and white ground cover flowers -- mainly on the neighbor's side of the lot, but we have a few. Unfortunately, we'll be digging up most of it for our epic gardening plans, but we're going to be replacing it with tons of flowering plants, so I feel it's a good trade-off.

I decided my priority is going to be the garden/outdoor space because my office will be overlooking the garden and I find flowers to be motivational.

Thanks to an excellent house warming gift from one of my Grandmas, we have a bunch of new flowers and later this evening we have a return trip planned for Home Depot. We found a ton of blackboard paint, Kilz 2 and some other items that need to go back. Since we can't save receipts to save our lives, that's $100 in store credit going directly towards more plants. Mmmm plants.

Just as a side note, last night, I got a kiwi plant. KIWI. Here's hoping it produces fruit. My strawberry plant already has two tiny strawberries growing. I think I might turn one of the back flower beds into a strawberry patch with some raspberry plants thrown in. I'm all about vertical gardening back there because the space sucks. I also saw some cool rain gutter hanging flower baskets on Apartment Therapy. Those will look cool hanging down from our 1950s awning.

I'll edit later with photos. I'm just feeling lazy right now.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

New Look

As you can see, I updated the blog and got rid of the pink. Trying to make it a little more "hip" as the young people like to say. I also had fun with fonts.

That's all for now!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Boys and Their Toys

I love my husband. I think that's a good way to start this post. Mainly because this entire post is going to be slightly-mocking to the aforementioned husband, and it's good to start with compliments.

That being said, my husband loves vacuums. BWAHAHAHAHAH. What a thing to love.

But seriously. He has favorites. He salivates over Dysons and he likes to wander the vacuum isle at Target. We bought a mini shop-vac a couple months ago and he hasn't stopped vacuuming things since. Then he kept complaining about not being able to vacuum his car out, so I bought him a pet-specific handivac (mainly because when the dogs ride in the car it looks like our seats have a fur coat-- can you say gross?). Now all he does is vacuum.

Exhibit 1:

Exhibit 2:

(Sorry for the super glowey shots. I realized the point-and-shoot somehow had a fingerprint on it's tiny lens a couple hours after I took these).

Now don't get me wrong. I hate vacuuming. Gravity has nothing on me when it comes to abhorring a vacuum. Every time I touch a vacuum it breaks. Then the house smells bad. Oh man. I hate it so much. So in short, I'm happy Steven has developed a weird obsession with vacuums, but it's very, very weird.

However, I do know what I'm getting him for Christmas!

But shhh....don't tell him.

Homemade Madness

Apparently, when I get stressed I get creative. Or at least that's what I think is happening. Could be I'm going through some odd domesticity phase. Either way, I've been a busy bee.

Outside of making the steamer trunk table and the towel rack the week before, I've been hard at work (.....yeah. We'll stick with that) on repainting this sweet book cart that I bought from a friend for $5 (no "before" photo. Whoops) and I've been engaging in a serious love/hate relationship with this tree trunk table I was going to make that was inspired (copied) from The Art of Doing Stuff.

I also saw neat map art that had me scrambling to Ikea/Target to put my spin on it.

Material List/Cost:

Map of Baltimore: $5 (Target. Who knew they still made paper maps?!)
Three picture frames: $5 each (Ikea)
An idea of a shape or cut-out to trace: Free


Step 1: Get really excited at the prospect of cheap art.

Step 2: Buy your supplies. Duh.

Step 3: Figure out what you want to cut out. I chose a raven because that's a very Baltimore thing, what with Poe dying here and the football team (I should mention I'm a die-hard Patriots fan).

Step 4 (Optional): Be lazy and find a silhouette of a raven, print it out and cut it out to use to trace. I'm going to say I did this for consistency, but the truth is I just didn't want to hand draw anything.

Step 5: Trace the shape on the parts of the map you want to cut out.

Step 6: Cut out shape.

Step 7: Unwrap Ikea frames, open them up and flip the insert over so you have the white background showing.

Step 8: Place the shape in the middleish of the frame, put the insert back in white side up and close up the frame.

Step 9: ART!

Part of the reason I chose to make a set of three is because beginning April 29, we will have lived in three different places in Baltimore. Each Raven encompasses an area of Baltimore that we lived in and I made sure that the exact location of our apartment/houses were in the raven. I lucked out in that the area that says BALTIMORE has our first apartment and the area that says MT WASHINGTON has our second. For whatever reason our new neighborhood isn't labeled on the map, but the park we live on is there, so that's good enough for me.

I think we'll even hang them chronologically. Although I do like the arrangement of labeled, unlabeled, labeled. Hmm...

I'm also diving into the world of homemade beauty products. Steven needs a pretty good back scrub and those can get pretty expensive. While flipping through Fresh Home I found a recipe for a DIY back scrub. To break it down, it's

1/2 cup Sea Salt
1/4 cup Baby Oil
1 tsp Vanilla Extract

And you just throw the ingredients in a bowl, mix them together and put them in some sort of container (I bought a .50 travel container from target that was the perfect size). I think all told, it cost $11 dollars and that's only because we were out of Vanilla Extract. From the looks of it we can make 10 or so batches.

Steven tried out the back scrub today so I'll post if he has some awful back outbreak, but he seemed to like it. Then we realized he was out of shaving cream and because my husband only cares about (me -- but that's not my point here) cars, shaving like "a real man", hats (because according to Esquire all men should wear hats -- really. That's almost a direct quote.) and vacuums (more on that later), his shaving cream is stupid expensive. To save some money, I offered to DIY his shaving cream. He rolled his eyes but agreed to try.


The ingredients are seeping as I type, so if all goes well then I'll post a how-to. So far the ingredients have been kind of a costly investment, but ounce-by-ounce it becomes significantly cheaper to make your own than buy. I'll try to put on my math hat and come up with a breakdown on DIY vs Buying. I will say, it would have been a lot of cheaper if I had amazoned the ingredients, but I was too excited and we live 2 minutes from a Whole Foods. I'll also have 90% of the ingredients to make homemade deodorant, so guess what's next!

To end with a bang, here's a teaser:


Monday, April 11, 2011

Plants: Art for the outdoors

Steven and I grew up in rural Virginia, surrounded by luscious green landscapes for the warmer months of the year. When my parents looked for housing, anything they rented/bought had to have a minimum of 2 acres and the house I consider my "childhood" home had a partially wooded, (eventually) beautifully landscaped lot of about 2 acres, but it was surrounded by 40 acres owned by the neighbors that they have fortunately never had any interest in developing. In looking for our own house, yard size was definitely a factor but we knew we had to be realistic since we were buying in Baltimore City. For those of you that have never been to Baltimore, traditional row houses are not exactly known for their yards (they usually don't have a front yard and at night, in a bad neighborhood, the rows and rows of stone and concrete houses look like something out of post-communist Russia).

One of the reasons we were drawn to this house is because it actually has a front, gardenable lawn and an "OK" back yard/full concrete patio atrocity that I'm ripping up. But more on that later. In addition to the yard, there's a gigantic, well-maintained city park across the street. We're definitely not lacking green spaces.

For the front yard, I have visions of a cottage garden, full of flowering plants and shrubs with a tiny meandering path to my rain barrel (that I already have picked out). I want lots of purples, pinks, whites with splashes of bold colors. I want big flowering herbs to add a splash of fragrance. I want hydrangeas or azaleas right underneath the windows for that extra splash of color.

Here's my rough sketch:

But the reality is that that cute cottage garden costs lots of money and I'm not sure we'll have the funds this year for it to be fully realized. But that doesn't mean I'm giving up!

Find cheap plants? Challenge accepted.

We received a $75 dollar home depot gift card for cashing in our points on our credit card, and though we went there with the intent to purchase a circular saw, we came away with plants and planters for the front porch/patio of our current apartment and those plants will be transferred into the front garden after we move.

Check out our basket of awesome:

While I'm not particularly a fan of buying my plants from Home Depot or Lowes, they are guaranteed for a year and you can take them back and exchange them if they die. It's hard to beat that. And their prices aren't BAD, they just have a lot of selection and I generally go plant mad when I'm there.

Remember my obsession with art? Plants are like outdoor art for me. I blame my parents (although my grandma is pretty big into the Garden Club of America). Their house is sooooo well landscaped and my sister and I spent many a summer out there, getting in their way and enjoying the yard/woods. We even got married in their back yard and did all the landscaping (they went a little nuts and put in a patio) so it has some sentimental value to me. We made Steven do a lot of the heavy lifting, so I'm sure he's a little less sentimental. But then, he brought it on himself. If wasn't so brawny, we wouldn't have made him do all that work. Right?

Obligatory wedding photo:

I was so pumped to garden yesterday I totally want to rework all my plans for the house and garden first. I think that wood paneling might trump a pretty yard though. We also realized that the ceiling tiles in our living room might be made with asbestos (they were installed after asbestos was discontinued, but given our penchant for second-hand buying we realize that these could have been a discount/asbestos filled buy), so that project has definitely moved up to the first or second place in our to-do list. I bought us toxic spore rated respirators (only $20 a piece on Amazon!!) and am picking up our asbestos removal suits today and have been reading extensively on how to properly remove the ceiling tiles (I'll do a post about how to do it when we get to that point). We may have to move back our demo party to make sure our friends aren't exposed to potentially toxic spores, which kind of sucks, but safety first!

Oh and 17 more days till we close! Huzzah!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

So, things have been busy here in our multi-named household. Last week was filled with loan officer and government shutdown drama (we both have the good fortune to be employed by the govt. in one fashion or another--normally that's not sarcasm) and after going to my best friend Sami/Darcy's (she recently changed her name and we haven't really changed with her. And BTW, when I say recently, I mean a year ago. Are we bad friends or what?) house warming party, we realized we close in 19 days. 19 DAYS! Time to get packing/cleaning/decluttering/crazy.

This is what the house looks like right now:

It's pretty bad. I don't think my living space has looked this bad since Freshmen year at UMass, and that's saying something. On top of packing, we're decluttering and having a yard sale next weekend, so all of those boxes in the foreground are boxes we're pulling from our super cluttered basement and Steven's sorting through lest I become emotional and sentimental about items.

In addition to just cleaning, packing, cleaning some more and packing, we completed a couple of DIY projects this past week.

#1: Steamer Trunk Table.

This was accomplished pretty easy. And here are the steps:

Step 1: Buy trunk. This beauty only cost $40! Since we bought it, I've seen mutltiple trunks, none of which are shiny and that big, for $175+. Apparently, overstocked, out of the way antique/junk/thrift shops are the way to go. And when I say, overstocked, I mean I could barely walk through the 1800+ sq foot space. I unfortunately left my camera home, so I couldn't capture the chaos, but next time we go (and there will be a next time), I'll take a picture.

Step 2: Buy Ikea legs for $10. One day, I'll rant about how much I've grown to dislike Ikea, but occasionally they still have things I want. Like, for instance, 10 dollar legs.

Step 3: Buy spray paint and spray paint the legs to match. I didn't do the best job of this. They match the handles, but not the metal on the front. I'll probably end up buying some gold Rustoleum (my new preferred spray paint of choice, for it's easy spray button. It's also supposed to reduce that drip effect you see in the pictures, but I'm bad at spray painting)

Step 4: Attach legs to trunk. We did this with four blocks cut out of a standard 2x4. And we had Lowes cut the four blocks for us, because we don't yet have a saw. The most terrifying part of this whole thing was watching the Lowes employ stick his hand down into the saw blade area to pull out the wood blocks. Apparently he's never heard of safety first!

Anyways, we took our four blocks, and put the legs on top of the block and marked where the holds should go. Like so:

Then we pre-drilled the holes into the blocks for ease of drilling. Steven then matched the holes on the inside the trunk and pre-drilled those holes as well. After that it was as easy as screwing in the screws. And voila! Trunk table. These things (usually without legs, but I wanted some height) run about $250. If you're Restoration Hardware, it's about $1000 (on sale). Ours cost $60 with trunk/legs/paint/blocks!

Yay DIY!

#2: Copper Towel Rack

For now, I'm going to just put up the pictures and do a "teaser", as they say in the biz. This was an incredibly frustrating project; it took about 3 hours of time, a really angry Steven and really specific tools. However, it looks amazing. Good job Steven! (I designed, he built. Isn't he the best?)

And we'll end with this over-exposed gem of a picture of Steven cursing the pipe gods.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Loan Officer Hell

I wrote before that there was a sacred trust between the person handling your mortgage and yourself. If you can't trust that person, then the whole process is going to be frustrating and to be quite frank, a pain in the ass. To further highlight this lesson, let me discuss what has been happening the last few days.

Our loan officer (L.O. from here on out) told us a couple weeks ago that the rest of our down payment, plus our closing costs would come out to a whopping $1200. Wee! That's great! Way less than we thought it'd be! But still, we were wary. The underwriter made some noise about wanting a specific amount in the account and our L.O. relayed on Friday that that amount would be $2800. Ok. We couldn't figure out why we needed $2800 when we owed $1200, and the best the L.O. could tell us is that sometimes they want a "reserve" of about two months worth of payments in the bank. So, whatever. We can deal.

Then Monday rolls along and we get the official approval back from the underwriter (yay!) but! He wants $3160 in our account. Now, while I feel that we have adequately prepared for this kind of scenario, being told two vastly different numbers in the course of 3 days is intensely frustrating, and if the L.O. wasn't confident in the first figure, he should have either expressly explained that it was just an estimate and in that case gave a worst-case scenario, or rather yet, kept his trap shut and waited until the underwriter came back.

My lovely husband, who is dealing with the L.O. for me because I can no longer maintain civility, expresses these frustrations and the L.O. promises up and down he will fix the issue. I'm still not satisfied, so I called his supervisor, who then calls our buyer's agent (whom he's friends with) and the L.O. to let them know what was what and that we were considering going with a new loan officer. This resulted in a slew of calls, the most annoying from the L.O. himself who called from the Oriole's Opening Day game, making it nearly impossible to hear him and after talking to me he called Steven, LITERALLY three times in a row until he answered to give the same platitudes he was trying to feed to me.

To interject -- we've been working with the L.O. for almost three months now, and he still pronounces Steven's last name wrong. This bothers me and I feel, is highly unprofessional. When you're working for someone, just a basic courtesy is to get their name right. But anyways....

Even our buyer's agent called and tried to convince us to give him a few more days, because by all accounts the loan itself is very tightly done and was done in a lot less time than expected.

Of course, if anyone in this situation bothered to listen, they would have understood that I just wanted options for what I could and couldn't do given that we close in less than a month. We had already decided we would get the L.O. until close of business today to get these issues situated.

So everything was honkey dorey. I was still unhappy with the L.O., but fine...I decided to give him one last shot. After all, third time's a charm...right?

No. It's not.

Turns out that $1200 the L.O. initially estimated for our closing costs + down payment remaining balance was grossly wrong. Despite iterating multiple times that we had 4% seller contributions he still calculated 6% into his estimates, coming up with that $1200 figure. So, the $3160 that the underwriter was looking for wasn't for a "reserve" in the bank-- no, it was for $2000 more in closing costs.

While I expected last minute, costly expenses to pop up, $2000 extra is ridiculous. Because we're not ones to sit idle and let a bank screw us over, through some haggling and intrepid adventures through the interwebs, we have managed to slice it down almost by a half, but most of that was by us finding deals on homeowner's insurance (my original topic for today) and by explaining for about the fifth time to the L.O. that our settlement costs are $200 less than originally quoted. The L.O. did manage to get us a discount of about $240, but to be honest, these would have been fees we would have negotiated down no matter what.

It's difficult to express how livid I am about this whole situation, and how out of control I feel. (And I'm keeping it in the singular here because I'm well aware that while Steven is just as angry, he maintains a much lower level of constant frustration.) There is no recourse for us but to switch L.Os, and even then, there's no guarantee that the next will be any better. And really, it all boils down to communication, listening and respect. If our L.O. had just listened when we talked to him, none of the disagreements would have happened and we would be better prepared for our closing. As is, I'm just thankful we over-saved because otherwise we wouldn't be able to close, given that we're beyond the thirty day period requirement for a loan from family for closing costs.

So a tip to all of you home buyers: if your L.O. is not communicating, seems unsure about any point in the process, or is a jerk about anything, switch to a different L.O.. Sometimes this can cause delays, and it sure is a pain, but the stress that our current L.O. is giving us with this situation is 15 times what it would have been if we had switched before the first argument when we started to get the feeling that he wasn't the best of the best, la creme de la creme if you will.

Our next post will be on negotiating insurance to for some bonus savings!

Bargain Hunting: Mortgage and Insurance Edition

I wrote in the previous blog that we've had a lot of issues with our L.O. and in getting a number pinned down for what we'll owe at closing. When we did finally get that number, it was $2000 more than we had expected and only by being anal-retentive did we avoid disaster (a small lesson there: over-save. You can never have too much money). However, through some bargain-hunting, we managed to get us back down to about only (only, pft) $1000 more than we had expected. While still mildly panic inducing, it's a whole lot better than $2000 more.

When you go to close, there's always going to be a list of items that the bank is charging that they don't actually need to charge for. For example: application fee, credit check fee, etc. All of those "administrative" fees are a way for the bank to pad their figures. They make more than enough money that they can waive those fees, and generally will if you request them to be waived. We saved $240 here, but sometimes these fees can be around $500-$1000. It just depends on the bank and the type of loan. With an FHA, a lot of these fees are already removed and, in fact, prohibited.

With our title company, we had the option to save another $500 by removing title insurance, which is insurance that covers us in case Uncle Joe Blow appears out of nowhere with a slip of paper written by drunk grandpa at a poker game who lost and signed over the house. This rarely ever happens, but because you can lose your 100k+ investment overnight because of something like this, it was worth the $500 to us. We may look at negotiating this price down though.

We DID get a discount though because of a lack of professionalism, and one we didn't have to fight for either. Our title company was recommended to us by the buyer's agent and when we called the woman was busy and accidentally misplaced our email address. When she realized she had lost it, it was three days (a weekend had passed) after we talked to her and to make up for not getting back to us when she said she would, we got $200 off. Just like that! Good, quality customer service is awesome.

When it came to insurance, this is where we, personally, saved almost $400. It would have been about $500, but I'm a strong believer in over-insuring. Could be my degree in homeland security and emergency management, could be I'm paranoid, but whatever. We paid extra for drainage back-up insurance (and after hearing horror stories from one of my friends about this problem, I'm quite happy with paying the extra $80). Insurance is one of those things that people don't realize they can get good deals, but it's easy to drastically reduce the price of coverage, especially given how many "big name" companies exist now-a-days.

However, it is time consuming. To get our $400 less insurance, we talked to about 9 companies -- and I do mean talked. While online quote generators are great for a base-line to get accurate, cut-rate quotes you have to call. We talked to Nationwide (I'll admit--it's just because their commercials are so superior to other insurance commercials), Geico (who we currently use for car insurance), Progressive (who we have our renter's insurance through), Erie, Liberty Mutual, and used the quote generators for All-State, Farmers, State Farm and a couple of others that at this point escape me. For Steven and me, we have two criteria: price and customer service. Chalk it up to a combined 10 years in retail, but I would much, much, a thousand times much rather pay $20 more for insurance and have a good experience on the phone than pay super cheap and hate the people we're talking to. Actually, this is how we feel about pretty much everything -- customer service really determines how we like a place.

So, we were able to knock out a few contenders right away with the online quote generator. As a general rule, home insurance isn't a huge addition to your monthly payments unless you live in a high risk area for natural/man-made disasters, such as Florida, but the cheapest price, without sacrificing quality, is always best. Once we narrowed down who we thought were the best contenders, we called them. On top of looking at home insurance, we're also switching our cars to MD insurance finally (or were, until we found out just how expensive it is to insure in MD -- thank god for my student status that lets us insure in MD), so we went through the process for two quotes, which was fine because that means multi-policy discounts. We also asked our friends and friends' parents that live in MD and own a house/pay car insurance for recommendations and many sent us their agent's information. Thanks guys! Once again though, our buyer's agent recommendation proved to be the one that saved us the most money.

I'd like to say, up until yesterday, I loved Geico. But Geico was knocked out immediately. While it costs us well under 1000/6 months to insure our cars in VA with Geico, just by moving 60 miles into the wilds of Baltimore, our premium bumped up to over 5000/6 months!!!!! Can you believe that? We couldn't (all of the sarcastic "!" marks should have been a clue) and laughed when they told us. Then when we realized they weren't joking and weren't willing to come down, we ended that conversation. I can't even remember if we got a homeowners insurance quote.

A note to MD residents looking for insurance: Geico apparently (and I say "apparently" because I do not have verification from Geico themselves) hates paying covenant fees to insure in MD and will drastically inflate their prices to discourage customers from using them to insure.

Nationwide hung in for a while. The guy was super polite and came up with a quote of $74 a month for HO insurance and 3800/6 months for car insurance. Still, way too much, but he apologized a million times for how high it was and worked diligently to get it down. He eventually did reduce the premium, but at over $450/month it was still too much for car insurance. Way too much. I was kind of sad. The guy tried really hard and I really love their commercials. Side note: I tried to find my favorite commercial to post on here, but youtube doesn't have it.

We called the Liberty Mutual agent that our buyer's agent recommended and while car insurance was still high, at 330 a month it was the cheapest anyone had quoted thus far and we didn't lose any coverage from switching from Geico to get that price. However, they really blew us out of the water with the homeowner's insurance: only $52 a month! At $627 a year, and the coverage/deductible being exactly the same as previous companies, we went for it. Definitely a no-brainer.

Here's a round-up of tips for people looking for insurance:

  • A burglar alarm is a good investment for safety and peace of mind, and gets you a discount on your home owner's insurance. Make sure to pay for reporting to the police station/fire department. An alarm does you no good if it doesn't alert authorities.

  • Even if it seems silly, let the insurance agent know every little thing that's been done to the house. A new roof, new electrical system, replacing the pipes in the bathroom, etc all lead to discounts.

  • Don't be afraid to haggle. Tell them it's not low enough. Tell them Geico quoted less. We looked at 10 large companies and there are thousands of small ones we didn't look at, at all, and other customers do that too. If the company wants your business, they'll go out of their way to make it happen.

  • Always call to get accurate discounts. The online system doesn't cover everything.

  • Car insurance is absurd in MD, and the higher premiums prove what we've been saying for years: Maryland drivers are awful and Virginians are far superior.

  • I think the biggest take-away is just that you should never settle in the home buying process for the sticker price. 90% of what you're looking at/dealing with is an inflated price that people are willing to come down on to secure your business. Always ask if a fee can be waived, and if it can't be, have them explain its purpose. I'd draw an analogy to a commercial about saving money, but the TV references are getting to be too much -- I can't wait to be able to exercise again.

    Sunday, April 3, 2011

    Lofty Goals

    With buying the house, we've had to step back and take a hard look at our spending habits and evaluate where we go wrong. Pretty much two things kill us: food and homewares. But mainly food. We love food. We work(ed --- I tore my meniscus in October, had surgery on my knee in December and after working out for about 2 months, well after when I was supposed to be able to, I have about a million more meniscus tears. So no working out currently) out obsessively so we can eat whatever we want, and Baltimore is chocked full of delicious restaurants. Just this weekend we went out to three different restaurants we've never been and we've been in the city for a year and a half.

    So, for the month of April, or rather the remainder of April, we have come up with a lofty set of goals to really buckle down and save money -- maybe even make money! And because everything we've read has said write down these goals, we've pulled out the handy dandy white board and put them down.

    Now, not all of these goals are related to saving money. Some have to do with moving and making Steven happy, but they're our "April Goals". I think from here on out, we'll sit down every month, make our goals and see how many we can meet. Since I love checking off things on a list, I'm fairly positive we can complete them 100%.

    Here they are though, not in my illegible handwriting:

    1. Go 31 days without buying food. I was reading Young House Love's blog posts on saving money, and this was one of the things they did. And it's genius. Like I mentioned, we love food. So we have two full cabinets, a full freezer, a couple of shelves and a full fridge of food. And we eat out all the time. So, we're buckling down and clearing out our pantry in the best way imaginable - by eating it all! I personally think we have more than 31 days worth of food, as we seemed to have been subconsciously hoarding for a zombie apocalypse, but I think anything more than a month will drive us bonkers.

    2. Clean out the basement - One of the reasons we rented this apartment is because it came with a nice size basement room for storage. Though we obsessively throw things out/sell things we don't want/need, we still have managed to pack the basement room with stuff. So we're going to spring clean and....

    3. Have a yard sale! This is a great way to save money and we're hoping to do it in two weeks time, just for extra cash right before we move and to clear out stuff so we don't have to take it with us. Plus we're in a prime location, what with all the yuppies around.

    4. Craigslist before yard sale - we're already doing this -- we're clearing out our guest bedroom of the "throw-away" ikea furniture we've stuck in there and starting fresh in the new house with a couple of big DIY projects. For one, we're going to build built-in shelves in one room to make a library and in the guest bedroom we're going to DIY a headboard and buy a full-size bed, since at this point most of our friends/family that stay over are in couple form.

    5. Make pipe towel rack - We have all of the pieces, so now we just need to do this. By building this ourselves, we're going to save ourselves about $100, since a similar one sells for a lot of moolah.

    6. Paint grill - this is all Steven. His grill has a rust spot and it's driving him nuts.

    7. Finish painting book cart - We have this nifty old library book cart that's dull and brown. So we started painting it a cheery yellow and we'll finish that this week.

    8. Primer walls - As a kind of "thank you" to the people subleasing our apartment, we're priming the walls so they can start fresh with their own palette. Isn't it nice having a landlord that lets you go nuts? We've certainly appreciated it.

    9. NO HOUSEWARES FOR 2 WEEKS - this should really be extended to April 29, but I'm in full on nesting mode, with gearing up to buy the house and I just want to get everything bought and ready for the house. But I'm going to stop -- even if I bargain hunt and haven't spent very much at all on housewares over the last month.

    10. NO ART TILL AFTER WE MOVE - Pretty much what I HAVE bought has been art. Though I still don't think I have enough for 800 more sq. ft. I'm going to wait until we're moved in and reevaluate.

    11. NO EATING OUT - This is really 1. repeated. This is going to be the hardest for us, but damnit, we can do it!

    12. PACK - duh, a no brainer, we're moving. But like I've mentioned, we're notoriously bad about waiting until the last minute, so we will definitely get a head start on this.

    13. Fix BMW - Another thing that's all Steven. He has a few scratches and needs a gasket something or another replaced, so he's going to DIY the work and save us a bunch of money (since BMWs are really expensive to have any kind of work done on them). Personally, I can live with the scratches but it's driving Steven bananas.

    14. DECLUTTER- this goes hand-in-hand with the yard sale and cleaning out the basement. It's not that we have a lot of stuff, but we could still have a lot less. I think a clean house is a happy house, and part of being clean is not being packed to the brim. Plus, I'm secretly afraid we'll become hoarders, so this is my way of making sure that doesn't happen.

    I'm really hoping we achieve all of these goals. Especially the food related ones. Moving food sucks, so the less we take over to the new place, the better.

    Thursday, March 31, 2011

    The Most Exciting Blog Post Topic Evar!

    That's right! We're going to talk about packing!

    Steven and I are notoriously bad at packing. We've moved a bunch, so when it comes to packing we like the grab and stuff technique because we put it off to the last minute, which while it has never ended in broken items, it has resulted in a lot of stress. Fortunately, we have 15-30 days to move out of our apartment after we close, so we'll have plenty of time for last minute packing but we're trying to be proactive and be packed and ready to go before we actually move.

    Part of the packing for us is purging the unnecessary items we've accumulated. Usually per move we can get rid of at least two or three boxes worth of storage, but we're hoping for even more for this move. We bought a paper shredder and started in on our "important papers", which let me tell you, weren't so important. I found bills from 2008 in there and a pay stub for Steven from 2003. I think we're paper hoarders.

    Because bubble wrap is absurdly expensive, I had an idea to use the shredded paper as packing materials. Example one:

    It seems to be working so well. It condenses easily to provide stability for the items in the box and cushions those air pockets you inevitably get when packing items.

    We did end up buying the aforementioned absurdly expensive bubble wrap to wrap up our "fancy dishes". I will say, we have only used about a quarter of the bubble wrap, but I have a lot of breakable art to wrap and 175 sq. feet just isn't going to cut it.

    No really. We have a lot of art. This isn't all of it either. I left most of the art up in the bedroom because it looked so orange without it.

    Now we're going to spend the weekend primarily destressing, putting together some more DIY projects and I guess pack/declutter if we find time. I think I might try to convince Steven to go out to Leesburg where they have lots of excellent antique shops and a Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel outlet!!!!!!

    In the meantime, here's Neptune, our lady cat surveying the mess that is our apartment:

    Forget "Design on a Dime"

    We're designing on a nickle! We have this pretty horrendous bathroom in our new house. To refresh your memory:

    Ceiling fan? Lolwut.

    Sorry for the bad picture quality. Not only was it monsooning in Baltimore that day but we only had the iPhone because I left the camera at home.

    I know some people go gaga for the old bathroom look, and while I'm not a fan of brand new, soulless bathrooms, I pretty much hate subway tile and (at last that kind of) basketweave tile. For the time being though, I'm going to leave it alone (SIGH) and just concentrate on making it pretty, until we can invest a good weekend in just the bathroom.

    First thing, first: Paint. I've had about 15 different paint ideas for this room, and thankfully it's small enough that if we really hate something, we can easily change it. I think we have finally settled on a pretty mauvey-lavendar that we found for $5 in the cast-off paints at Lowes, my favorite place to shop for paints.

    Because there's so much black and white, we're going to try to go for the whole Hollywood glamor look. I have an aged mirrored mirror (I'm sure there's a term for this but I can't find it), that looks very glamorous, is about the right size for that room and was only $25! We're also building a copper pipe towel rack and I may spray paint it silver or gold. I guess it just depends on what it looks like when it's complete, and we compare it to the mirror and paint. From the extra bits we're going to build a hand towel rack as well.

    The mirror kind of looks like this, only it's aged with pewter not gold.

    Finally, we're going to bring West Elm into the loop with this beautiful, reasonably priced bathmat (sadly, replacing my beloved Anthropologie one that is just not the right color).

    We'll be getting black. With two dogs, two cats and two humans that don't mind getting dirty (did I mention we'll be gardening) it doesn't make sense to go with white.

    Unfortunately, there's no shower in the bathroom, so we're going to try this nifty extension that Amazon sells for $13. I have a feeling it's not going to be the best thing ever, but installing a built-in shower system is probably going to run us about $200 and we will probably wait a couple months.

    In addition, there's no storage. We found a cool under the sink storage system for pedestal sinks and we'll be adding in shelves. I have a fondness for West Elm's lacquer shelves but will probably splurge for the boxed mirror shelves to replace the medicine cabinet, reflect more light and get more storage. Because we'll have so much to do right at the beginning, the shelves will probably wait with the shower system.

    Also, that ceiling fan has to go. I have no idea what I want to replace it with, besides a chandelier. I'll probably craigslist one. Maybe something super girly to annoy Steven! Sadly, purple doesn't do the trick because Steven loves purple. It makes him feel royal or something. I guess, in the end that's ok though because I love purple just as much.

    So, if we break down the total costs of what we're buying/implementing right away it comes out to:

    Paint: $5
    Shower extension: $13
    Bathmat: $29
    Towel racks: $50
    Spray paint: $3
    Mirror: $25
    Under sink storage: $30

    Total: $155!!!!!!!!!!!

    Yay savings! And that's definitely a total I think Steven can live with, even if I'm dragging him to West Elm after work today to buy that beloved bathmat.