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Thursday, August 31, 2006

a social life? no! really?

This weekend I don't anticipate a lot getting done. Don does intend to get some more of the yard work done (he really just wants to spend quality time with his machete), but we will be, as they say, oot and aboot for a great deal of the weekend.

Tomorrow night you can find me at the Augustember Birthday Blogiversary Blogger Happy Hour, finding yet more things to celebrate -- and drink about -- with the Baltimore bloggers. All you local types, I expect to see you there.

Saturday we'll be over at Chez Brinkley for laundry and conversation, and who knows what else. Nerdy confession: before we head over there, we'll be sitting at our desks playing World of Warcraft, because there is a big guild event in the morning. Go ahead, laugh.

Sunday we'll be being nerdy again, playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends in Randallstown, while I try to get some more work done on various jewelry projects.

Monday, we're joining Lindley and her husband Raymond at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, where I plan to eat a great deal of food. On sticks. If you're going that day and want to meet up, let me know.

So all in all, not a very house-productive weekend -- but probably a lot of fun!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

king of juryrigging

We'll have a refrigerator like this someday. Until then?

Duct tape.

The bars keep falling out of our freezer door (followed in rapid succession by cornish hens, hot dogs, and a hot pocket). But we, of course, keep a well-stocked tool box (as you might remember from the upstairs bathroom), so Don has taken the gentleman's solution: liberal applications of duct tape. The cornish hens are safe once more. Phew!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

why i can't just sit down and watch 'indiana jones'

After the stunning revelation that I've never seen an Indiana Jones movie, Malnurtured Snay insisted that I ought to sit right down and watch one. Like, immediately. After some futile argument, I finally gave up and told him I would just post a picture of the reason I can't sit down and watch movies right now: my living room.

In case you're curious, that's basically all the furniture we own, crammed into the living room. There's no plopping down for a good DVD in this room for the foreseeable future -- even if it weren't insufferably hot since we still don't have air conditioning!

Monday, August 28, 2006

it's my birthday

My mom sent me organic roses and chocolates for my birthday. She always remembers that peach roses are my favorite!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

thankless yardwork

Don is determined to get a handle on the backyard jungle this weekend. He keeps running into snags, though. For instance, when he tried to dig up this baby maple tree (they're all over the place, thanks to the unchecked seeding of our giant maple for the last ten years), he ran into a mysterious disturbance.

We pulled it out, and it turned out to be three sheets of copper flashing. Who knows why it got buried in the backyard, but there it is.

Things like this make for slow going.

Friday, August 25, 2006

what you ought to do for my birthday

My birthday is on Monday. If you'd like to celebrate with me -- or celebrate in general -- I'd like to ask that you consider going out to dinner on Tuesday, the 29th, at a restaurant that is participating in Restaurants for Relief. Go to www.strength.org to find a restaurant which is donating a portion of its proceeds for the evening to Gulf Coast relief efforts, and have dinner out. Good food for a good cause.

And yes, I'm having my birthday dinner out on Tuesday instead of Monday for this reason. No, I don't know where I'm going yet. I haven't decided. If anyone has great things to say about any of the local restaurants on the list, feel free to let me know.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

it's a man thing

Don loves his new machete.

Me? Not so much.

Yes, I'm pointing pathetically to the one frail stem I managed to cut down after several minutes of energetic swinging. He, on the other hand, cleared off an entire section of the fence in the same amount of time.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

reader questions: yes, it worked

Several people asked how we got rid of our old garbage cans when we replaced them with armor-plated trash relocation vessels. The answer is simple, although I think it has a great deal to do with where we live: We put a note on them.

No, really. We took them all out to the curb, and Don slid one of the empty ones into the one with the dead possum in it. We were afraid they might not take it if they saw a furry corpse inside, so stacking the empty one inside it hid the corpse and made it even clearer that we wanted to get rid of the cans. Then I took a piece of notebook paper and wrote the following:

(we bought new ones)

I added a smiley face at the bottom, just to be sure. The smiley face always helps.

Don duct-taped the note to the cans (holding his nose the whole time, the dead possum was seriously stinky), and that was that. When we came home from work yesterday they were gone.

I am pretty sure this will work just about anywhere they have curbside trash pickup. My mom says she's done it, too, and she lives pretty much as far away from me as you can get and still be on the mainland. We do have pretty lenient trash guys (thanks, Baltimore County!), but I'm pretty sure that they would pick up trash cans with signs on them even if they didn't also pick up old rakes and furniture and pieces of tree and PVC pipe and giant pieces of styrofoam and ten-foot-long steel poles.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

houseguest update

It was a possum. A dead one. A gross, icky, dead possum.

So we decided to upgrade. Previously, we had three banged-up, lidless garbage cans -- one now full of possum corpse -- in this dirty, bug-filled trash area. We'd just left it the way we got it, basically, even to using the cans that the previous owners left.

Now, in our sparkling clean concrete alcove, we have these armor plated trash relocation vessels.

Baby steps towards being grownups.

Monday, August 21, 2006


There was something furry sleeping in our garbage can this morning.

I guess it's time we upgraded to the snazzy new model, the kind that... uh... comes with a lid.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


As of today, we have owned this house for six months. I think I expected to be a lot further along by now; but when I sat down and thought about it today, I realized that I'm not disappointed with where we are. We have this great big visible reminder, you see, that we have in fact Gotten Something Done: there is a big hole in our house.

The dining room and office are bare, practically a hard-hat construction zone (and definitely a wear-shoes zone -- I still keep stepping on staples because I'm a barefoot kind of girl). Most of our wordly goods are in boxes on the screen porch, or shoved haphazardly into the smallest of the upstairs bedrooms to be used in everyday work, as that's our temporary office. Our furniture is all in the living room. Literally. The dining room furniture is backed up against the treadmill which is tucked in next to the loveseat which is blocked by the coffee table which you can't reach without shoving aside a filing cabinet which is in front of two bookshelves which are huddling over several chairs. It's kind of hard to watch TV in there. The only furniture in the entire house which is not in the living room is in fact our bed and dressers, and our makeshift desks. To be fair, though, we don't have that much furniture. Definitely not enough to fill all of the rooms in this big house. Yet another thing to look forward to when the renovations are done: furniture shopping!

So we have this reminder of what we've done, in the form of a big empty hole in our house and crowded living spaces. There are other reminders, too; a second glance at the pool will reveal that it's just a shell -- drained, emptied, and liner-free, just waiting for us to rip it apart and recycle its aluminum walls. The ceilings upstairs are empty grids; we took out the drop ceiling tiles everywhere but the bedroom while the dumpster was still here, allowing us to glory in our all-over nine-foot ceilings.

Most of my baking pans and kitchen supplies are still in boxes, like my books and craft supplies. But the stacks of boxes don't seem like stagnant reminders of a lack of progress. They look like they're waiting. Expecting. Dreaming.

Just like me.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


One of the things I've been interested in for a really long time is lampwork glass. It's how you make those amazing glass beads with the interesting textures and colors; it involves melting glass in a torch and then winding it around a steel rod and then putting bits of other glass and sometimes other stuff into it and then cooling it all down until it's a bead.

When we bought the house, Don and I were really excited about the garage. Half of it is already set aside as a wood workshop -- Don told me the other day that he knew just how he was going to set it up. I stared and him blankly and said, "But it's already set up! Your grandpa and your uncle used that woodshop for something like forty years!" He rolled his eyes like I was an idiot and explained that his workshop had to be set up in a certain way. Whatever.

The other half of the garage is totally unfinished. It doesn't even have a floor. There's just bits of plywood strewn over dirt. It's full of random Brinkley detritus (including a school locker from when somebody worked as a janitor at Lansdowne High and... relocated... a locker to the garage for storage purposes -- last I checked it was full of old fluorescent light bulbs). Someday, this side of the garage will become a glass studio. Both of us are interested in glassmaking -- I'm more interested in the small, delicate torchwork, whereas Don wants to learn to blow glass and do larger kilnwork (think vases, bowls, and ashtrays, not beads). So it'll be a hobby that we can share without getting in each other's way. The studio is a long way in the future; obviously, both the house and the yard are higher on our list of priorities.

But I'm still interested in glass. And I'm thinking about maybe taking a lampworking course at Vitrum Studios. Maybe I can get Lindley to join me. Maybe I'll be able to find time in between classes and work and house stuff. Wouldn't that be fun?

For more stuff on glassworking in this area, check out the Mid-Atlantic Glass Beadworkers.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

the jig is up

If you think that the last several chatty posts have been a clever disguise for a horrifying lack of actual progress -- well, you're right. We are at a total standstill. But you can forgive me for that, right? I gave you good money advice! And I'm so darn cute!

Monday, August 14, 2006

making money work for us

It's terribly gauche to talk about money in public (unless of course you are a moneyblogger). But this blog, as I told Don when he got mad at me for posting embarrassing pictures of our backyard, is supposed to be about reality. And part of the reality of homeownership -- probably the biggest part, in fact -- is money.

We've been very lucky when it comes to money. Part of this is because Don is very, very good at managing our money (I'm trying to convince him that he ought to get an MBA instead of a JD when he goes for a graduate degree). Part of it is because we are fortunate enough to live in an area where jobs are relatively plentiful, and we were able to find jobs which pay very well, particularly for as young as we are. Finally -- and this part is nothing but sheer, dumb luck, no matter what Don tries to tell you -- we stumbled into a very hot market when we bought our first house, and were able to sell it less than two years later for double what we paid for it. So yes. Moneywise, we have been lucky. But we also do a lot to make the most of our money, and that's what we did this weekend.

The background:
We bought our house in January, with what's called an eighty-twenty mortgage. What that means is we actually have two mortgages. One is for eighty percent of the value of our house, and is a standard thirty-year fixed rate mortgage. The second is for twenty percent of the value of our house, and is a shorter fifteen-year mortgage. The second mortgage has a fairly high interest rate -- not sky-high or anything, but high. Having the second mortgage allowed us to have a much lower interest rate on the first mortgage. Our ten percent down payment paid off half of that second mortgage immediately, and we have had enough money at any given time that, if we needed to desperately, we could have paid off the second mortgage in full (we still have a lot of the profits from the sale of the house). So. The remaining debt from the second mortgage added up to about 22 thousand dollars.

Our next significant debt was for our two cars. Mine is a new car, and was a birthday present last year (my old car conveniently expired right in time for my birthday). We bought Don a lightly used car last month, when his car finally died. We bought used for him rather than new because this car is intended to be a commuter car, used heavily for five or six years until we can afford the BMW that he really wants. The debt for the two cars together adds up to about 32 thousand dollars.

Finally, we had some credit card debt. It was the remainder of the debt from our first large purchases as homeowners in the townhouse, a TV for him and a dining room set for me. They were purchases we thought out well, not impulse buys, and we planned out how to pay for them over the course of a period of time well before we bought them. The payment plan was interrupted slightly by Don's two months of unemployment earlier this year, but otherwise stayed on track. The remainder of that debt was about four thousand dollars.

The interest rates on all of these debts ranged between nine and twelve percent. Not great, although not exactly debilitating.

What we did:
On Saturday morning we signed off on a home equity loan. The loan lumps all of these debts together at an interest rate of 6.74%, saving us more than five hundred dollars a month. We make one payment a month, to the bank, instead of four or five to the various creditors.

The five hundred dollars we will be saving will be applied directly to the loan. Since we currently pay that much anyway, we won't exactly notice the lack -- and if we desperately need wiggle room, we have it, since any money over the minimum payment is our choice to pay or not. Don intends to add a little more to the payment as well, since he is making more income now than he was when he wrote the budget for this year. This will double our loan payment every month, and have our ten-year loan (which, remember, includes our fifteen-year second mortgage!) paid off in five years.

And that's how we are making the most of money management.

Friday, August 11, 2006


It is quite possible that having a temporary office is worse than having a temporary kitchen.

My desk makes it look like I'm a lot better at multitasking than I actually am.

On top of the desk is, in addition to the monitor and other computerly accoutrements, my jewelry-making supply tacklebox (don't laugh, it's a great way to store everything!), which is of course stacked with books. Under the desk are the computer itself (more books), the subwoofer, the all-in-one printer/scanner/faxer/breadmaker/dishwasher/whatever, and my 'business bag' -- which contains all of the things I could possibly need for anything I might do involving correspondence, plus important paperwork like grad school information sheets and things. And a couple more books. Behind that is a plastic file container which has all of my writing work in it, and on top of that is a little pink box with all of my photos in it. The blue bag on the floor is more jewelry supplies -- it's the stuff I'm currently working on, and I carry it with me to D&D sessions every Sunday. On the far right you can see Don's golf clubs. Those have nothing to do with me.

So. Now you know where AP comes from. And now you know why I can't wait to get the house done -- all of the activities represented on (and under) my desk will be done in separate rooms.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

we start young

Our less-handy friends often say things like "You're so brave!" and "I sure couldn't do the stuff you're doing!" or even "Gosh, that project seems like a daunting sort of undertaking!" (I'm just kidding, none of our friends would ever be caught dead saying 'daunting' in normal conversation. Or 'gosh', for that matter.)

What people don't seem to realize is that we've both been doing this for a very, very long time. How long?

A long time. Yep, that's me, painting what would become my bedroom in my parents' house in Tyler, WA. It was the original homestead of a large cattle ranch, and it was smack in the middle of a whole lot of pastures. And a whole lot of cows. There was a barn, and several outbuildings, and the house (yes, believe it or not, I grew up on a farm -- I can milk a cow, too). My parents bought the house and totally renovated it -- taking a couple of short breaks to get married (in their work clothes, at the courthouse) and to have me (not wearing many clothes at all, in the hospital).

For the record, the bedroom turned out quite nicely.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

on history, and family

I spent some time yesterday morning looking at the Ellis Island immigration records, and found the record of my grandmother's -- and great-grandparents' -- arrival in the US. It's here, if you're interested. I think the site requires a free registration but it's no big deal. The manifest shows that Freida and Kalman Solomianski and their four children -- Liba, Isaak, Sonia, and Gita -- arrived on the George Washington from Germany in 1923, former place of residence Grodek, Poland. They were sponsored by Kalman's brother, whose name looks like 'Honia Solomianski'. My grandmother -- Sonia Solomianski at that time, soon to become Sylvia Solomon -- was seven.

History is interesting, especially when it's personal. I spent a good portion of the day yesterday reading Bill Chapman's journal about his family's restoration of Enon Hall, their ancestral homestead. He's descended from the Hathaways of Virginia, who built Enon Hall on four hundred acres and lived there from the mid-1600s to the late 1930s. Talk about an ancestral pile! His house makes our undertaking look wimpy, although it's fun to see someone really taking the whole 'buy-your-ancestral-home' thing to its proper ending. See, my family on both sides are fairly recent immigrants to the US -- two generations back on my mom's side, three on my dad's -- so I don't have any real ancestral property in the US. I'm hardly a Daughter of the Mayflower or whatever those ladies call themselves. That's one of the reasons I jumped at the chance to have Don's family's house -- no, it's hardly a colonial home, but it was built three years before my grandmother arrived on Ellis Island! That's history, and it belongs to us. That's important.

Speaking of my grandmother, that's her in the pictures above and below. She's the cheeky-looking lass, hugging the sign above and on the right below. The other girl is her sister, my great-aunt Gus. I found these photos on a visit to my mom's house just after I settled in Maryland.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

machete quest

Does anyone know where you can buy a machete? Don checked Home Depot and they don't seem to have any, and nobody seems to know where to get one -- I asked a coworker and he said that his is inherited from his father-in-law! That seems to be the way one acquires machetes... perhaps there is some sort of Pratchett-esque growth phenomenon in the garages and workshops of the world, and I ought to go a-harvesting!

Don's goal is to get the backyard jungle chopped down to a reasonable level before winter -- not to actually do any real landscaping or clearing, as that's not really an achievable goal right now, but just to make everything... well, short.

For this, he requires a machete. (Yes, we have trimmers -- two pair. We used them to cut down the dreaded pokeweed, or at least a lot of it. But if we have to snip down the jungle stem by stem I'm moving to Brazil.)

Monday, August 07, 2006

hot pockets, here i come

Exciting news on the kitchen front: my mom got tired of listening to me whine and on her recent visit she bought us a microwave. This is quite thrilling.

No, it really is! See, Don is still in school -- and I'm going back to school, for reasons which currently escape me -- so our evening schedule can be awfully wonky, with classes and commutes and the like. A lot of the time, we simply don't eat -- since we didn't have a microwave, I couldn't make anything warm until he got home (nine PM or later, generally), and we couldn't heat up anything frozen or reheat any leftovers without using the oven. Which, in the heat lately, has not been an option. Plus, believe it or not, tupperware melts. I know, I was shocked too.

So now, I can make dinner when I get home, he can heat it up when he gets home, and if neither of us feels like doing it, we can have Hot Pockets. Or, in his case, Steak'ums. Blech.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

buy a house, i'll lend you a cup of sugar

One of the things I like about this neighborhood is that it hasn't really 'boomed' yet. House prices are still reasonable (okay, for Baltimore, they are, anyway -- I can buy a mansion in my hometown for the price of a townhouse around here), and the neighborhood is safe and quiet. It's the sort of neighborhood people actually grow up in and spend a long time in (hello, Don lives ten blocks away from the house he grew up in... IN the house his father grew up in!).

A mildly morbid family story: when Don's parents were looking to buy a house for themselves and the various children (I think Don's mom was either pregnant with him or just about to be, plus there were the two older kids and a younger one yet to come, not that they knew about her yet), they were living in a townhouse on the other side of the main neighborhood drag and both were members of the volunteer fire department (they actually got married in the firehouse). The elderly woman who owned a certain house passed away, and they were the ones who got the ambulance call to go get her (deceased already). That's how they found out that the house would be very shortly going on the market! So they were prepared and they snapped it up and still live there today.

Nowadays, you don't exactly have to wait for someone to die before grabbing up a house in this neighborhood, as it's in a bit of a transition. As the rest of Baltimore slowly booms, this neighborhood will too -- but for now, it's a great buy, if you're looking. And yes, many of the houses around here are built like ours. It's not a totally homogeneous neighborhood, but there's definitely a 'look' to it.

Check out some listings:

This one and this one are actually on our street, and both are under 200K -- you won't find anything but a townhouse in most of the area for that much.

This one is one block over from us -- I think we can see it from the front door. This is down the street from that one, and I believe it's handicap-accessible (several homes in the neighborhood are, as people spend their whole lives here! About ten or twenty years ago some of the original owners of these houses began to need handicap access).

I'm all about this one -- it's a full rehab, so you wouldn't need to do any of the work that some of the older homes might require (nobody really needs to do as much as we're doing, but hey), although if you wanted to there's a workshop in the back! And let me tell you, that price for four bedrooms is proof that this neighborhood is not on anyone's radar yet. For the record, this one is about three blocks away, towards the middle of the neighborhood. Very nice area.

This one is dead smack in the center of the neighborhood and looks huge. I've ogled this one in the past, although I did once see a chicken running around in the road in front of it. If you go to look at it, check for chicken coops!

If you want to talk about getting a lot for your money, check this one out -- pool AND game room AND some serious curb appeal! Try finding that for under 400K ANYWHERE. Seriously. If you buy that house, I will be jealous. It's really nice.

a seasonal comparison

To give you all a better idea of how the jungle has taken over our lives, here's a picture of the house from when we first bought it.

Now here's a picture of the house today, from approximately the same angle. Notice how the plants are trying to devour the house and all within.

Lest you say to yourself, "Pish-tosh! That's not all that bad! Why, it almost looks pretty! Summery! Like a veritable Garden of Eden with a California Bungalow in the middle of it!", here is a picture of the backyard. Hidden beneath the jungle, you can kind of see the storage shed and some of the pool. Kind of.

Incidentally, Don didn't want me to post this. He is afraid that the internet is going to find out that we are slobs. Oops.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

in the interest of photojournalism

I'm wearing a Holter monitor for the next 24 hours, and I look really silly.