Tag Archives: owning a home

Live Simply So Others Can Simply Live (Or, Why I Don’t Have a Smartphone)

It is part of my value system to employ a philosophy of simplicity in as many areas of my life as I can. In some areas (like the amount of debt I have), I shot myself in the foot early on because I haven’t always valued this particular philosophy, so now I’m just trying not to drown. But I’m doing pretty well in other areas, like the amount of “stuff” I own, the amount of money I spend recreationally, and the time I spend doing anything besides what I consider to be the purest of life’s pursuits, at least for me: reading or writing (and now, watching baseball).

Ever since I decided that I wanted simplicity to rule my life (which was circa late 2009 or, probably more accurately, early 2010), it has been fairly easy to make cuts and be choosy about what I spend my money on. For instance, I unplug everything in the house that doesn’t need to be plugged in at all times. That means right now, at this very moment, my major appliances (fridge, oven, washing machine, dryer, and dishwasher) are the only things that stay plugged in all the time. Everything else only gets plugged in when I need to use it. This includes my TV (that I never use and, therefore, never plug in), microwave, toaster (that I recently gave away because of non-use), hair dryer, straightener, computer, phone charger, and even internet. Yes, I said internet. I go so far as to turn off and unplug the power strip that hooks me up to the internet when I’m not using it. Obviously, that means when I leave the house and when I go to bed.

I also do my best to keep the cost of my utilities down by waiting as long as possible during the ‘between’ seasons to turn on heat or AC, from March to sometime in June or July, and from September to November or so. Even when I do turn them on, I put them at the lowest & highest possible settings that I can stand and still be mildly comfortable. And, of course, I schedule it to extremes for during the day when I’m at work, which I hope doesn’t adversely affect the dog too much. So far he is always alive and wagging his tail when I come home, so I assume that means he’s all right.

And don’t forget water. It’s a utility too. I do all the basic things that normal people do, such as not running the tap excessively when it’s not being used (while doing dishes, brushing teeth, etc.), not running the dishwasher for just a couple of plates, and not using the washing machine for only one garment. But I also shower every other day, give or take some frequency on either end. Sometimes I do it sooner than that; sometimes I wait longer. (It usually depends on my running and dating schedule. Dates usually get showers; running obviously does not – until after.)

People don’t believe me that persisting in such frugal use-of-electricity practices actually lowers my bills in the long run, but it does. I’ve seen the evidence firsthand. I’ve compared my bills side by side after adopting certain practices, and the differences are not only noticeable; they’re significant. Living alone goes a long way toward this being a meaningful practice. Not all of my roommates/housemates have shared or respected my philosophy of simplicity, although the one I had the longest (who, surprisingly, was a guy) was the best at it. Not sure if that was a coincidence.

The strength of my conviction and commitment to my values has been challenged recently, though. I have lately discovered that my financial frugality has thus far been an easy philosophy to uphold because I didn’t really have a choice. It was either live as cheaply as possible, or get foreclosed on/get car repossessed/accrue more credit card debt/overdraft the bank account, etc. My finances were stretched paper thin, what with a car payment, school loans, a dog, regular housing bills, a mortgage, and general other necessary expenses like insurance and groceries. Oh yeah, and trying to cover all that with a paltry, laughably small paycheck.

Well, the paycheck is still paltry, but it’s better than it was, and I have “enough” to get by (even after tithing!), even if I don’t necessarily have extra. Before, not only did I not have extra; I rarely even had enough. I overdrafted a lot, and I never tithed. Or went out to eat. Or bought people gifts. Or did anything besides pay bills. It sucked.

Now things are a little different. I don’t have a lot of money, but I sometimes pay all my bills and realize I have a good chance of making it to the next paycheck without overdrafting. I might even be able to go grab dinner with friends or get something fun at the grocery store – like Oreos. And, when that happens, I find it difficult not to maintain my discipline status quo. Which forces me to confront my stated conviction and philosophy and challenge myself about whether I actually believe it. And think about why I believe it.

A few years ago I read some study where they polled a large sample size of U.S. Americans and asked them what their philosophy of spending was, and the majority answer came down to this: If I can afford something, I have zero reason not to purchase it. Surprisingly, and discouragingly, the second-most popular response was this: If I can’t afford something but really want it, I buy it anyway, on credit.

Having “enough” money has caused me to have to make this decision more often. Do I buy Chipotle tonight just because I can? Do I get dessert at the grocery store just because I can? Do I get a pack of gum just because I can? These are very small things, but it’s true with the big things too. I could never previously consider getting a new garage door or new plumbing or a new roof (probably the three biggest things that could be fixed/replaced on my house right now) because the money just wasn’t there. At all. But now I can address the question: Should I start saving for one or all three of these projects, just because I can? Or should I save for something more practical, like traveling? Or retirement, for that matter. Of course, there are also medium-size considerations that I used to avoid because I couldn’t afford it but now am allowed to consider. These are simple life-maintenance things that add up after awhile – things like regular haircuts, oil changes, small house projects, even routine doctor visits.

Sometimes I think it was easier when I didn’t have to make these decisions. The answer was always no, so I never wrestled with the questions. But then I remember the fear and constant discomfort I lived in with never having enough money. If something happened to my dog, if something happened to me, if something happened to my house, my car, my computer, my phone… The list of fears and questions about how I would pay for routine maintenance situations that, for me, constituted emergency situations was endless. It is not fun to live in fear. It is not fun to live in emergency mode.

So, despite the influx of questions that having “enough” money brings with it, I’m not sorry to be out of constant emergency mode. Not that I’m very far away from it. I’m grateful to have my job because if I lose my job, I will likely be homeless within a month. And, luckily, not only am I grateful for my job; I’m good at it, and I like it. So I’m in a fortunate position right now.

But a slight paycheck increase raises the question too: What constitutes enough? I still don’t have enough to get a new garage door, new plumbing, or new roof. I don’t have enough to eliminate my credit card debt in one blow or my student loan payments in one blow, or my car payments. I don’t have enough to keep my dog on the regular medications that he technically needs. I don’t have enough to buy season tickets to the Royals or to take really any kind of vacation. Obviously, considering I’ve gone however many years without these expenses, they are not needs. So that’s fine.

But, once I get to a place in life where I have the ability to spend a little more money on pleasurable pursuits, or upgrades to my house, where will I need to draw the line? That’s what I’m wrestling with right now. How do I balance having enough money with continuing to live simply? It’s an ongoing struggle that I haven’t figured out yet. Especially because of the why portion of the question. Why do I believe that I should live so simply?

Well, the easy answer is in the title of the post. But what does that mean? If I’m living simply “so others can simply live,” what does that look like exactly? How do my choices affect other people? I guess I see it mainly as a consumption problem. If I consume excessively, I’m using resources that someone who can’t afford them now, because of my decision, cannot even access. This doesn’t seem like a problem on a small scale, but step back and look at the big picture – and the shrinkage of so many of our natural resources – and it becomes rather a huge problem. No, I’m not slipping cash under my neighbors’ front doors. No, I don’t regularly support a charity (other than the church, with my tithe). No, I don’t hand out cash to the homeless people I drive past on street corners. Largely I don’t do these things because, financially, I still can’t.

And that’s why I choose to live simply instead. Yes, consuming fewer resources is probably a good idea for the sake of the earth, but am I as one person really doing anything about the state of the earth? Not really, no. Living simply for me is more about solidarity. I am privileged. I know this. I’m privileged because I’m white, because I was raised middle class, and because I’m educated. These things do not make me better than anyone else; please don’t think I’m saying that. But they do afford me more opportunities. I own my house, I own a car, and I have a full-time job. Rather than exploit these advantages by consuming and accumulating as much as I am able just because I’m able, I want to do what I can to live as simply as I can so I can understand those around me who have fewer advantages and opportunities. In order to love people, one has to be able to understand and relate to people. I can’t relate to the poor urban populace if I seclude myself from them in luxurious suburbia.

Until a couple of months ago, my refusal to get a smartphone had more to do with inability to afford the phone bill than anything else. Sometimes I pedantically (and often sarcastically) said it was because I’m not materialistic, which probably hurt some people’s feelings or offended them. But the truth was, I just couldn’t afford it. Now I probably can afford it, and I’ve been trying to decide whether to get one. On one hand, it’s getting to be more of an inconvenience than not, simply because everyone just assumes that I have one, and they try to interact with me in ways that are impossible. This was never a glaring issue until my parents got smartphones and my brother had a baby. But now I miss a lot of shared pictures and videos and group chats because of my phone.

But I don’t want a smartphone because I go out in public and can’t even make eye contact with strangers anymore because they’re all tweeting or Facebooking or texting constantly. I know complaining about this makes me sound like an old person, but it really has gotten ridiculous. And I just don’t want to be that person. Who can’t sit through a movie without tweeting. Who can’t hang out with friends without checking social media. Who checks Facebook at every stoplight. Who posts online about how much fun I’m having with my friends although I’m not even interacting with said friends. I like the fact that, once I leave my house or my desk at work, I’m internet free until I get back home. I like that I have to learn the corners and secrets and ins and outs of my city streets because I can’t just pull up Google Maps on my phone. I truly believe that not having a smartphone makes me smarter. Or at least keeps me from getting dumber.

I did recently promise, both on Twitter and Facebook, to get a smartphone as soon as the Kansas City Royals make a roster move that takes Jeff Francoeur off the team. Knowing Royals management, that could take anywhere from another couple of weeks to the whole rest of the season, and it’s probably the latter. But I must admit, I do want to be able to view pictures and videos of my niece. And when I’m out to dinner by myself, it might be nice to be able to pull up an article to read once in awhile. And I love Twitter. It would sometimes be nice – if I’m out and about alone – to be able to continue to interact with my followers when they at-reply me, instead of finding out when I get home and replying four hours late.

I’m still trying to discern how valid some of my desires are. I’m mostly trying to wait on the smartphone thing until one of my major expenses is eliminated. In November my car will be paid in full. So maybe Thanksgiving would be a good time to make the switch.

Until then, go ahead and keep mocking me for being cheap or out of date, but at least now you know my decisions are intentional.

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Online Dating Is Not a Pit of Despair (Part 1 of 2)*

A few things have happened lately that have compelled the writing of this two-part post. The common denominator of those few things, however, is that I keep hearing horror stories centered around online dating, and my own experience does not quite match up with the stories I’ve heard, so I want to share a few things.

To begin, let me first shoo the hypocritical elephant out of the room (no, not Republicans; Republicans can stay, if they won’t get feisty). I’m talking about my own perceived hypocrisy about online dating. A lot of people have heard me verbally abuse the notion of online dating, spouting it as a venue for people who are insecure, lonely, and not good at social interaction. I’ve also talked about the superficiality of a connection made online and the impracticality of transitioning a relationship from online to in person. I’ve always ended my speeches with the concession that perhaps online dating works for some people but that, when I look into the future and see my own great love story playing out, online dating just does not have a role.

In some of these ways, I was wrong. In some ways, I was not. For instance, there are plenty of insecure, lonely, and socially handicapped people on online dating sites. But I can attest that there are plenty of normal, well-adjusted, even cool, people on there too. Hello, of course there are. I’m on there! I am currently taking my third stab at online dating, after being pretty secretive about the fact that I was doing it at all the first couple of times. I was always embarrassed to admit to people that I had an online dating profile. And I was pretty terrified by the idea of actually meeting in person a random stranger from a website. Furthermore, I always tell people that I crave a good how-we-met story, and “we met online” just doesn’t fit that bill for me.

So I never maintained my profiles for very long, maybe one or two months at a time, max, and I’ve only been on four dates total (this is over a span of three years since I created my first online profile, with long breaks in between while I pursued a year-long relationship in 2010 and another year-long relationship from 2011-2012; both were with people I met offline). I have never been willing to pay for online dating. As one girl put it when introducing me to her online boyfriend after telling me they met on Match.com, “I learned my lesson with the free sites. You get what you pay for.” I don’t know that I agree, but good for her. I’m glad she’s found someone.

But I’m no longer embarrassed about the fact that I participate in online dating. I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily loud and proud, but it’s at least not a secret anymore. I realized, after getting “matched” with a couple of people I know in real life, that you can’t hide much of anything that’s on the internet. Besides that, it’s 2013. If people can shop for houses, groceries, pets, and cars online, why not life partners? Though I must say, I continue to perform all transactions related to the aforementioned examples IRL (that’s in real life, for those debating whether to check Urban Dictionary).

A lot of married people who found their mates before online dating became the norm like to express their pity for those who choose to participate in online dating. While that is annoying, it’s actually not all that different from all the married people who have – since the beginning of time, it seems – expressed pity for those who have not paired up yet. They disguise their pity as empathy, pretending to remember how terrible the dating scene was, and then they moon excessively about how wonderful having the right partner is, before moving on to the patronizing assurances that we’ll find “that special person” and that it will be “worth the wait.”

Ironically, most people who use the phrase worth the wait have no earthly idea what waiting really is, since they got married between the ages of 18 and 25 and likely began popping out babies shortly after that. For anyone reading who is married, just so you know, from now on, the only people I will take the worth the wait platitude from are people who got married at an age older than whatever age I happen to be at the time, or people who are divorced.

What is with this universal assumption that single people need pity? A lot of people like being single. Most of the time, the lifestyle does actually suit me better. Maybe there exist single people who wish desperately not to be single, but that’s not me, nor is it true of any of the single people I know who have earned my respect. Besides, one thing that’s guaranteed in life is change. I have been in love. And, even if I never get married, I believe that I will be in love again at some point in my life, whether that’s six months from now or thirty years (but God, if you’re reading, please don’t let it be thirty years).

The truth is, though, every time I get contemplative and consider how my life would have turned out if I’d gotten married at a certain age or to certain people I thought I couldn’t live without, I end up feeling grateful that I haven’t yet gotten married. The older I get, the more I learn about how difficult a journey marriage is, and I have not yet been mature enough, selfless enough, or wise enough to make taking those vows worth it – putting aside entirely the question of the “right” man; because I believe that my individual health is just as important as my partner being the right one for me. If I’m not a healthy person to begin with, then there’s no such thing as a “right” partner.

As for the feigned empathy and reminiscences from married men and women about how awful the dating scene was or is, here’s the thing: Dating is what you make it. I have always enjoyed dating, for my part, although my ideas about how it should go have certainly changed and evolved over time, along with my personality and worldviews in general.

A lot of people who are no longer in the dating scene talk about the exhaustion of all the game-playing, the mind tricks, and trying to present one’s best possible self at all times. Well, thinking about dating in that context is exhausting, I agree. However, the last time I played games with someone or wasn’t my authentic self was back in college, seven years ago. And honestly, it wasn’t exhausting back then. It was stupid, yes, and completely immature. But that’s what college students are. They don’t know any other way to be, and that’s fine. Dating in that way, in that context, might have been stupid – or maybe unsustainable is a better word – but it was also a lot of fun. There was definitely a point when it stopped being fun to be coy, or to wait for days on end for a boy to call, or to pretend that, of course, I always went to bed (and got back out of it) looking like a beauty queen. So I stopped doing it that way and moved on to different methods.

The other infuriating thing about being pitied by married people for the stage of life I’m in (that is, partnerless) is the implication that I don’t have a choice in the matter. But don’t I have a choice? Haven’t I chosen not to continue certain relationships with certain people? Haven’t I initiated breakup conversations, and haven’t I told men that I’m just not interested in pursuing something deeper? Of course I have! Not getting married is a choice I have made, just as it’s a choice others have made to get married. And my worldview has evolved so much as to be able to believe that there is something very holy and pure and committed about my choice. I don’t mean holy and pure and committed in a convent or abbey sense. Because I’m not a nun, and I’m not committed to lifelong celibacy, though I deeply respect those who are. There is a discipline and purpose there that God did not instill in me.

But I am committed to respecting myself and the identity God continues to shape in me, and part of that respect is reflected in my decision not to get married to someone who isn’t a good fit. I am committed to loving and respecting myself to such an extent that I am not willing to get married based on a fluttery feeling or a fantasy involving a future mortgage and a baseball-themed nursery. Although, I admit, a baseball-themed nursery does sound amazing. It may surprise many, but I can’t even agree to marry someone who wants to don a superhero costume and travel the world with me, fighting crimes committed against grammar, in both French and English; yet, again, that does sound enticing.

But no. My dreams about marriage are different. They have changed. And I certainly hope they are more mature than they once were. When I dream about marriage now, a mortgage, a puppy, a career, offspring, growing old together – these are not the things I dream about anymore. I already have a mortgage, and I love my house – my home. I got a puppy 7 years ago, and he’s turned into my best companion. I am honing my career; I’m entering my fifth year as an editor and am continually mapping mental strategies for advancement and professional growth. I have not given birth or raised a child, but I am an honorary aunt to two wonderful young boys who make my heart burst with love, and I’m newly a biological aunt to the most beautiful baby girl I’ve ever laid eyes on; I’m learning about and getting to practice parenting vicariously through my friends, and seeing the Marvin family line carried on through my brother. As for growing old, I’m doing that too, albeit slowly, and I’m doing it surrounded by people I love. Besides, the longer it takes me to find a life partner, the more opportunity I have to gather stories for him so we’ll never run out of things to talk about! I am a walking, breathing testimony to the possibility of experiencing some of life’s greatest milestones without a shadow.

What I do dream about for a future partner has become more complex. Do you know the saying about marriage? Men marry women because they expect they’ll never change. Women marry men because they expect to be able to change them. Both end up disappointed. Or something like that. Remember that saying? Well, I dream about finding someone I can accept at the stage of life he’s at when I meet him, and can still imagine loving and accepting him two years (and many more) later, when all his cute habits are suddenly annoying, and even though he remains in the stage of life he was in when we met. I dream about finding someone who falls in love with me for my values and worldviews but understands after two years that the person I have become, though changed, is still a person worth loving and striving to understand.

I dream about finding someone who has ambitions and goals and motivations of his own, separate and distinct from mine. I dream about finding someone who understands the idea of sacrifice in terms of both/and rather than either/or. I dream about finding a man who is happy, self-sufficient, and productive without me…and yet greets me as if the only thing he’s been doing with his life since the last time he saw me was waiting to see me again.

I dream about finding someone who can control his tongue, thereby teaching me by example how to control mine (I’m talking about words here, not sex…in case there was any confusion about that). Although, while we’re on the subject of sex, I dream of passion too; raw, uncontained, unconditional, unapologetic, unashamed passion.

I dream of egalitarianism, mutual respect, mutual sacrifice – but a score that nobody keeps track of. (Side story: Once, I got a boyfriend tickets to see one of his favorite bands live. About three months later, he did the same for me, and I asked him flat out if he was doing it to keep things “even” between us. He said no, and I believed him [and still do]. But I dream of a relationship where a question such as that doesn’t even cross my mind.)

I don’t know. Maybe my list isn’t as mature as I’d like to think. Maybe those desires aren’t as complex and evolved as I tell myself they are. But those are, for all intents and purposes, the things I have learned I am looking for in a life partnership. And I have learned that I want them by being in relationships that had them, and by being in relationships that explicitly lacked them. I have convinced myself at various times that certain of those could be ignored, forgotten, left off the list. And yet, when it came down to it – pull the trigger and make the best of what’s there, or break up and move on – I’ve always moved on.

Perhaps that is the part that married people pity – the moving on part. But the way I see it, cutting ties and moving on is no harder on the heart than choosing to persevere through a sh*t marital situation. Pardon my language, but that’s the only appropriate word for the kind of situation I’m talking about. Because marriage breaks hearts too, just in different ways.

Is having to break up with someone worse or more painful than suspecting and confirming a cheating spouse? Is being broken up with worse or more painful than an emotionally distant spouse who refuses to have a meaningful conversation? Is ending a dating relationship worse or more painful than trying to reason with, accept, or even merely tolerate a mentally ill spouse? Is being alone worse or more painful than the constant effort of trying to love, be patient with, speak kindly to a depressed and unmotivated spouse?

I know these aren’t the only stories written in marriage. But neither are they the only stories written in dating. My point is that marriage is what people make it, and so is dating. Both can be terrible, horrible, no good, very bad experiences. Or, they can be fun, passionate, uplifting, and exciting experiences. The choice is ours, and I’ve made my choices, and they’ve been intentional.

That doesn’t mean I don’t still dream about the more superficial aspects of life partnership, though. Of course I do. I dream of someone who speaks French to me, someone who wants to go SCUBA diving with me, someone who loves public transportation as much as I do, someone who is as devoted to grammar as I am, someone who wants to travel to different baseball stadiums around the country, someone who wants puppies, puppies, and more puppies, someone who does my dishes and lets me mow the lawn, and, of course – the supreme nonnegotiable – someone who doesn’t have to be begged, cajoled, or persuaded to grow a freaking beard!

Until I find someone, I’m happy to wait, and to date – online or otherwise – in the meantime.

*I will write Part 2 about the actual mechanics of online dating.

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2012: Baseball, Home Decor, Solitude

These year-in-review posts might just be the most consistent thing I’ve ever done on this blog, or any of my blogs, for that matter. This will be my third one!

There are certain parts of my life that are starting to seem a little broken recordy, especially when it comes to the impressive number of ex-boyfriends I’m collecting, as if they’re vintage vinyls (cue wah-wah sound). However, it’s less fun to focus on my hardships, and since I beat myself up about those all the time in private anyway, I’d rather use public settings to focus on the positive parts of my life and personal achievements. Oh, and guess what? This edition – for the first time ever – has pictures!

So, even though 2012 included some pretty icky stuff, these are, in chronological order, the ten things I want to remember about last year:

1) Brad Paisley Concert
In January last year, I went with a friend to my first Brad Paisley concert. Brad Paisley is probably in my top five favorite country music artists. His songs are either really touching or really hilarious. He’s a fantastic songwriter, and his guitar skills are legendary, and I’ve heard he’s an even more quality guy. So Toni and I went down to Kansas City’s Sprint Center (which I always accidentally call the Ford Center first, which is Oklahoma City’s event hall) and saw him perform live. The show was everything I would’ve expected and more from BP. It was truly incredible watching him play guitar, and I don’t even know the half of it, I’m sure, not being a guitarist myself. The other reason this makes the list is that live music isn’t really my thing, unless I’m very familiar with the artist. So the mere fact that I express interest in going to live shows is memorable in and of itself, even if I never actually make it to the show. But I did make it to this show, and it was great.

2) Lady Antebellum Concert
So, of course it follows that my next fond memory is another country music show. Lady Antebellum is not just in my top five favorite country artists. They are the favorite. They came to Kansas City in the summer of 2010, and I hinted strongly to the boyfriend I had at the time that I’d love to be surprised with tickets to their show, but he didn’t pick up on that. (Never mind that I went all the way to Nebraska with him to see Dave Matthews – whom I hate. I guess that just proves who was the better partner in that relationship! Okay, kidding. Kinda.) Anyway, this time I decided that I would just go see Lady A myself, boyfriend or no boyfriend. And that’s what I did. Another of my favorites, Thompson Square, opened for them, although they are still pretty new to stage performing, and they didn’t do that great a job. But Lady Antebellum did not disappoint in the least. I opened 2012 with a whirlwind of live shows (yes, all two of them) and then didn’t go to any others all year long!

3) Individual Counseling
In May last year, I started going to some individual counseling sessions at the recommendation of a trusted friend. The whole endeavor made things tighter-than-tight for my budget, but I managed to fund it all the way into October, and when I told my counselor I needed to quit, she said I had achieved all the goals I set at the beginning anyway, so she felt comfortable releasing me. This was the first time I had ever gone to counseling as an individual (I have had some limited experience with couples’ counseling), and I was not prepared for how helpful and insightful it would turn out to be. I learned quite a lot about myself in those sessions with Vanessa, and if I could afford to keep up the weekly meetings, I definitely would still be going. I hope that sometime in the future my finances will allow me to start going again.

For the last 2+ years now, I’ve been a huge proponent of couples’ counseling for everyone, whether married, engaged, or seriously dating, but especially for married couples. I think it’s a mistake for couples to go to premarital counseling for eight weeks before the wedding and then quit, like that fixes everything. I think couples who find their first year of marriage difficult would discover it to be much, much easier if they went to counseling together. However, let me trade that soapbox for a different one: individual counseling. I am now a huge advocate of individual counseling in addition to couples’ counseling. I’m so glad the stigma around therapy and counseling has dissolved. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making every effort you possibly can to grow and become the best person you can be. You will discover things about yourself, your emotions, and your worldview that you had no idea were in there, and it will be so worth it. I promise.

4) Road Trip to Mississippi
Over Memorial Day weekend, I drove down to Oxford, Mississippi, famed literary town, to visit a friend and see all the literary sights. This was the longest I had ever been in a car by myself, and I thought I was going to be so bored on the drives to and from. But what I discovered was that I quite like my own company! I also discovered I quite like Oxford, and it was fun seeing my old college friend Amy again after several years. There were a couple of things that put a damper on the trip itself, the main one being my severe lack of knowledge about the copious number of authors who make or have made their homes there, William Faulkner, of course, being the most notable. I did listen to a collection of John Grisham stories on the drive down to prepare myself for the mood and southern culture. Amy was sure to take me to all the good places, including the Square (which holds the famed Square Books), Rowan Oak (Faulkner’s home), The University of Mississippi, and Faulkner’s grave, where we paid midnight homage to the author via the reading of a pericope from Absalom, Absalom! and the pouring of some Jack Daniels on his grave (to pacify the known alcoholic for intruding upon his peace at such a late hour, I guess; who knows). If only the moon had been full. It would’ve been so gothic and creepy.

See the liquor? That wasn't what we brought; they were there already.

See the liquor? That wasn’t what we brought; those were there already.

5) ROYALS BASEBALL
The only reason this one is all the way down at number 5 is that I made myself order the list chronologically. Otherwise it would be #1. It would also be #2-10 if I weren’t constrained by my other rule, which is: List different things. Seriously, though. Most of you know I got super into baseball last year for the first time ever, and since I live in Kansas City, the team I became a super fan of was the Royals. My transition to baseball obsession happened almost overnight and surprised pretty much everyone I know, including myself. But I went with it and spent the months from April to October attending somewhere between 20 and 22 games (I can’t seem to get an accurate count from my calendar) and learning more about the sport itself than I’ve ever learned from six months of consecutive study of grammar. But of course, that’s because I was born knowing everything I know about grammar. But, sudden or not, everyone I know accepts me as a baseball fan now, and I’m counting down the days until the season starts again (literally: 4 days until Royals FanFest; 27 days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training; 30 days until the full squad reports to spring training; 76 days until the first game of the season; 83 days until the home opener at Kauffman Stadium). How excited am I? THIS excited:

That's right. I'm Jeff-Francoeur's-crazy-eyes amounts of excited.

That’s right. I’m Jeff-Francoeur’s-crazy-eyes level of excited.

6) Custom Fireplace Bookcase
The number of DIY home projects I did when I bought and moved into my house in 2010 was exactly: 1. I painted my white fireplace a very bright orange. And I was quite proud of it too, and content for it to be the only thing I did to improve – or at least personalize – my living space. But, if I weren’t already calling 2012 The Year of Baseball Infatuation, I would probably call it The Year of Homeowner’s Projects – starting with the custom bookcase I made in July. I don’t really remember how or why the idea came to me to craft these shelves, but I had some wood scraps lying around, and I enlisted my friend Adrianne’s power tools along with my friend Kevin’s carpentry expertise, and what followed was approximately six hours’ worth of man (and woman) hours constructing these two shelves that now fit inside my fireplace. (Don’t worry, the fireplace itself is nonfunctional, so there will be no accidental Fahrenheit 451 reenactments occurring in there.)

The only problem with having such a bookcase was that I didn’t own enough books to fill it. Given that my 28th birthday was coming up a couple of weeks after I finished the project, I decided to throw a party and request that the guests bring books to help fill the shelves. The only stipulation was that the books had to have something to do with fire. The result turned out to be more successful than I anticipated, and the two shelves are now occupied by no fewer than 18 books that feature fire either in their contents, cover designs, or titles (and only three are copies of F451!). There is such a variety too: memoir, fiction, self-help, children’s, trashy romance, religious, family, classic. I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to reading them all (so far I’ve only read one: Stephen King’s Firestarter, though I have previously read Fahrenheit 451 twice, even if not from one of those copies), but I love how the project turned out nonetheless. Below are a few pictures of the construction process, finished product, and final display.

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7) #SoloVacation
In October, I took five days off work – the first vacation I had taken all year from my job – and spent six days on a mini-vacation, visiting a series of small towns just north and west of Kansas City. I went all by myself and Tweeted about some of my experiences using the above hashtag. I was sure I took my camera, but either I didn’t actually take any pictures, or the ghosts erased them all. It’s anybody’s guess.

I spent two days in Atchison, Kansas, which touts itself as the most haunted town in Kansas (and it’s totally true, thus the ghost reference). I took a haunted bus tour, bought and read a book about all the haunted buildings and stories associated with them, visited a couple of haunted houses/museums, and scared the living daylights out of myself spending an hour in a pitch-black park said to be haunted by the ghost of Molly, a girl who committed suicide there. I was there after the moon came out (because that’s the only time Molly screams), and there were no streetlamps or anything. I never did hear Molly scream, but a couple of feral cats walked up behind me and meowed in the dark, causing me to jump nearly out of my skin. (Oh yeah, did I mention I was there alone?) Other noted stops in Atchison included an afternoon visit to the lovely International Forest of Friendship, where I sat on a bench and read for two hours; a tour of the monks’ abbey at Benedictine College; a lunch at the locally famous Jerry’s cafe; a tour of Amelia Earhart’s childhood home; and a riverwalk stroll along the Lewis & Clark Trail that featured historical markers and placards about the explorers.

I left Atchison after two days (which was more than enough time to see everything, trust me) and went east a short way to Weston, Missouri, which was one of Missouri’s first settled towns along the river, and has a quaint little downtown area that has been restored to look pretty much like it did when the town first sprang up. I only spent a few hours in Weston, touring the downtown, eating lunch in their locally famous brewery, and perusing a small graveyard. Then it was off to a remote Catholic retreat center outside Leavenworth, Kansas, to spend four days in wooded Thoreauian fashion.

I stayed in a cabin the entire size of which was smaller than my bedroom at home and which had no air conditioning, no plumbing, no cell service, and no internet access. Since it was October, the weather was actually perfect, and there was no need for AC or heat. The lack of plumbing and running water was an interesting complication. I had a bucket for a bathroom and a gallon-size jug to fill twice a day with water I got from a pump a quarter-mile’s walk away. If ever you want to simplify, unplug, and retreat from the whole world, this is the place to do it. I spent four whole days doing nothing but sleeping, taking walks in the woods, sitting by a pond, and reading, reading, reading. This ended up being the perfect way to spend the week leading up to my half marathon, and as it happened, it also served to remind me (because I’d forgotten since my Mississippi trip) that I genuinely enjoy spending time by myself. (One of my favorite memories from the driving on this trip was making a joke out loud – to myself, of course – that made me laugh really hard.)

8) Running My Fourth Half Marathon
I know I say this every time, but: I can’t believe it myself, but it’s true. I have now earned four medals from running and finishing half marathons. This 13.1 stuff is getting to be no big deal. (Okay, not really. It’s a big deal every time!) Finding a place to put all my medals became part of another of my home-decor projects, and I ended up getting some adhesive hooks from Home Depot and hanging them from my fireplace mantel (much in the manner of Christmas stockings). (As long as we’re discussing home maintenance, this decor decision happened on the same night that I self-caulked my tub and replaced my furnace filter, which was a much bigger deal than it sounds…only because the filter I replaced was going on 2 1/2 years in the furnace, and apparently that’s a no-no.) Anyway, back to the half marathon. I convinced my good friend J.R. to run this one with me, and it was his first ever, so that was a fun achievement of his to be a part of. I also broke a PR for myself, finishing a minute or two ahead of my previous best time, so that was exciting too.

Kansas City Half 4 Kansas City Half 5

9) Becoming an Aunt
As with baseball, the only reason this one isn’t higher on the list is that it didn’t happen until December. But on the 11th of that now sacred month, my brother and his wife welcomed the family’s first grandchild into the world. Her name is Avery, and she was a delicate 4(!!) pounds, 10 ounces, at first weigh-in. I can’t even begin to describe how I felt the first time I met and held her, when she was a mere four hours new. It was a pretty magical day for our whole family, and she totally changed the dynamic of our Christmas celebration this year. Talk about bringing new meaning to the words anticipation and arrival on earth. Avery is nearly perfect, and I can’t wait to watch her grow up. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of her on my computer, since none have been taken with my own camera, but she’s plastered all over Facebook if you care to go digging into tagged pictures of me (she’s also featured prominently in my profile picture).

10) Painting My House
This was definitely the magnum opus of the homeowner’s projects for the year (although it bears mentioning that this was a week-long job that alternated with my final homeowner’s task of the year, which was winterizing 21 of my 27 or so windows; see what I mean about it being the year of projects?). I call it the magnum opus because it’s the only project (except for hanging the medals, which is pretty weak) that I did entirely by myself, with no help from anyone. For Christmas, I got some money to buy paint and supplies, and then my remaining vacation days combined with the way our holiday schedule was set up allowed me two full weeks off from Christmas until the end of the year, so I vigorously attacked the vision I had for my paint. In the end, I added three new colors to various rooms of my house, and I’m extremely pleased with how it turned out. The colors are called Cranberry Whip, Garden Glow, and Amazon Stone, and they appear respectively in the bedroom, the living room, and the room I have started calling the library, although it doubles as the front room.

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That’s it for me on 2012. I haven’t made any specific resolutions for 2013, but I’m gonna follow in Ross’s footsteps, go out on a limb, and say, “No breakups in 2013!” So far I’ve made it 15 days. I’m off to a good start.

Oh, and bonus picture showing the orange fireplace, the new gray paint, and the half-marathon medals on the mantel. (Just ignore the dog kennel, if you can; Soren and I had an extended-stay house guest during that time):

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Home Ownership Tales: The Dishwasher

Since the day I bought my house almost one year ago, I have decided to become Ms. Fix-It in every circumstance that I possibly can. This aspiration serves two purposes:

1) to save money (duh).
2) to empower myself and become indispensable to . . . myself, I guess.

So, in following that dream, I have home-remedy-fixed my dishwasher drain, my pipes under the kitchen sink (two different times; two different pipe sections), a doorknob, my doorbell, a dryer hose, and several drawer pulls. Along this same vein, I have also self-examined (read: involves some sort of disassembling or other action more involved than just staring at it) certain areas for potential fixing. These include: my bathroom-sink pipes, my gutters, my roof, and my attic. (The attic story you can find here, if we are Facebook friends.) I have used my toolbox tools more times in the last year than probably a lot of girls will in a lifetime. And no, they are not pink.

I quickly learned last summer that I made a poor decision when I chose my dishwasher. Brand-new appliances (that I got to choose), with installation, were included in the purchase price of my home. Because I was worried about going over the allowance, I was conservative when I chose a dishwasher, thinking I would not want to skimp on the fridge and oven. As it turned out, I had money left over when I finished, and I wish it had occurred to me go back and choose a pricier dishwasher. But it didn’t.

As a result, my dishwasher sometimes gets a little contrary and needs some encouragement and coaxing to keep performing well. Last week, I got a bit pushy with it and stacked the top rack too high. It hit resistance on that top spinny thing* as I pushed the rack in, but I persisted, convincing the dishwasher that making everything fit nicely would be in its best interest. (I may or may not have done this by shoving the rack the rest of the way in.) In protest, the top spinny thing popped off and fell down into the bay. Oops.

I picked up two loose pieces and tried to see if I could pop them back in place but no luck. A day or so later, I showed the pieces to my friend Danielle when she came over. She performed her own inspection, unscrewed a third piece of this contraption that hadn’t popped off with the other two, tried to put them all back together outside the dishwasher, and then handed all three pieces to me in defeat.

We spent a little more time examining the situation and decided that what I needed was a way for all three pieces to be held together. If we could just get them to hold themselves together, I could screw the whole thing back on and be good to go. Danielle explained that all I needed was a “clippy-pin-thingy” to accomplish this.

“Great,” I said. “Where can I get one?” She said any home improvement store.

So this week, I went to Lowe’s, cradling my three crippled dishwasher pieces and ready to accost the first employee I saw and explain my situation, hoping desperately that I wouldn’t come off as one of those customers. Anybody who has ever worked in any sort of customer service knows the kind of customer I am talking about – the kind who has in mind exactly what she thinks she needs, despite her lack of expertise in the field; the kind who will not allow the store employee to persuade her to purchase something more expensive than what she thinks she is looking for; the kind who only wants the store employee to point her in the direction of the aisle that contains the mythical, magical, fix-it-all item she envisions in her head. This was exactly what I planned to do and the exact outcome I hoped for. I just didn’t want to come across that way.

My hopes dwindled after I gave my speech to an employee who just stood there, looking dumbly back at me. Strangely enough, he didn’t seem to know what I meant  by “clippy-pin-type thing.” (What, is Lowe’s just hiring any ol’ dummy off the street now? Not even checking references?)

Then said store employee got a bright idea. “I think we should call John,” he said.

I said, “John? Great. Let’s call John. Who’s John?”

He held up his index finger to indicate that I should wait (and please hush) while he picked up the service phone to get John on the line. Then I stood there patiently and listened to his end of the conversation.

“John? Yeah . . . I’ve got a customer over here who . . . well, she has a dishwasher part. She thinks she needs [thanks for not disguising your condescension, buddy] something like a cotter pin or spring pin [so he did understand “clippy-pin-type thing!”] or . . . something, but . . . Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Okay.”

He hung up the phone and said, “We’re gonna go see John.”

I said, “Oh! We are? Wonderful. Where’s John?”

I was being cheerful and pleasant, so I don’t know why he smirked and rolled his eyes as he led the way to John. But I followed him, and when we found John in another aisle, I handed over my three pieces. I began to launch into my speech again, but before I could get to “clippy,” John glanced at the pieces, turned one of them over, and snapped the whole contraption back together, just like that. Turns out, I just had the linchpin piece upside down this entire time.

My reaction to John’s solution was a mixture of glee (that it hadn’t cost me any money) and humiliation (that, in trying to avoid being that customer, I had turned into this customer).

Still, though, the endeavor was a success. I returned home, screwed the contraption back into the dishwasher, and called it a day. Now my dishwasher functions at 100% again (except for when it doesn’t open the soap dispenser), and I still got to feel a little like Ms. Fix-It.

But my encounter with John made it clear that I have a ways to go. The question is: Is turning a piece right-side-up the key to cornering the fix-it market? Or just the tip of the iceberg? Maybe John will let me be his apprentice.

*Dishwasher spinny thing was one of the top search terms in the drop-down list on Google. So obviously, that’s the technical term.

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Memories from 2010

Since I haven’t exactly figured out what I’m going to be doing here on a regular basis, I thought a good way to kick things off would be to recap 2010. I’m usually pretty bored by these posts, so I promise I won’t hold it against you if you find this too mundane to read all the way through. It’s more for my personal record and introspection than for your entertainment anyway.

It would be melodramatic (a word that always makes me think of my friend Reese) to say that 2010 was a difficult year. I also think it would be a prematurely selfish statement to make. The truth is, 2010 was really just another year. It brought some emotional struggles, some professional struggles, some relational struggles, some spiritual struggles, some financial struggles, and some family struggles. And there were days that I cried pretty hard in 2010. But, as they say, time heals all wounds, and when I look back at the previous year, even though I’m glad to have it under my belt and have welcomed 2011 with open arms, I can also honestly say that it was a good year filled with good memories.

And thus, I give you:

10 Things I Want to Remember about 2010:

1) Joining a book club.
For a couple months at the end of 2009 and something like the first half of 2010, I was part of a book club at the library near the house I was renting. It met once a month and was a mystery book club, which meant that we read a lot of books I never would’ve picked up otherwise. I didn’t enjoy all of the books, but I always enjoyed the discussion sessions. I was the youngest participant there; it was otherwise full of retired old ladies, and they were a hoot. I had never been part of a book club before, and I was proud of myself for getting out and doing something new after just moving to the area. I stopped going when I moved across town and didn’t want to drive 20 minutes to get there, and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a comparable gathering at any of the libraries that are close to me now. But Georgia, Hazel, Dorothy, and all the others are people I’ll never forget.

2) Buying my own home.
If this isn’t an accomplishment, then I gotta tell ya – I don’t know what is. On March 26 of last year, I was handed the keys to a house, along with the words, “Congratulations. You are now a homeowner.” There are no words to describe how I felt as I drove away from the bank that day, knowing I had not only found my dream house but had actually purchased it. And you know what? I was swindled out of $40 the first night I spent in my new house (I let some guy convince me to pay him to pick up some sticks in my yard), and even that is a fond memory. (Especially since I’ve heard the retelling multiple times from my coworkers, who have probably ranked that story in their top 5 of ridiculously amusing things that have happened to me over the past year.) And no, the house isn’t perfect or without frustrations and flaws, but the simple fact that it belongs to me is enough to make me forgive (most of) its other shortcomings.

3) Painting my fireplace orange.
It’s no secret that I love the color orange. And the first thing I did as far as putting my mark on my new home was to paint the fireplace orange. And not just any orange but a very intense orange that is sometimes a little much, even for me. (Why don’t paint colors ever come out the way they look on the samples?) Not everybody likes the shade of orange I chose for my fireplace or even the fact that it is orange at all, but it’s one characteristic of my house that, when people see it, they say, “Yep. That’s Audra, all right.” And I love that.

4) Watching my brother walk down the aisle.
I didn’t think this would be an emotional event for me. After all, it seemed like just a formality for my brother to marry the girl he’d been dating for ten years. But on the day of the wedding, when I realized that I finally had the sister I’d been wishing for my entire life, I felt an unexpected swell of joy. My brother and I had a running joke about which of us could avoid marriage the longest, and I told him that he forfeited, but I don’t think he was too disappointed about it. My mom made the comment recently, “I think Cary was surprised by how much he enjoyed his own wedding day,” and I was surprised by the amount of beauty, profundity, and insight into my brother’s personality and character that simple statement gave me. My brother and his wife (my sister-in-law!) have maybe been in a relationship for more than ten years now, but he has grown up a lot since they first started dating, and I’m so proud of him, and I have so much respect for him.

5) Visiting my relatives Uncle Phil and Aunt June in Ohio.
When life hands you lemons, make lemonade, so they say. Well, this summer, I got handed the professional lemon of spending nine days in SmallTown, Ohio, my task being to represent my company and sell its products at a youth event. Sitting in a booth and being surrounded by rowdy teenagers was not my idea of a fun summer vacation. But as it turned out, my grandmother’s sister June and her husband, Phil, live in the same town where I was exiled this summer, and not only did they express an interest in wanting to spend some time with me while I was there – they opened their home to me and let me stay with them for the full nine days, which was an extraordinary act of hospitality that saved me from having to sleep in a college dorm (ick). They gave me my own bedroom and bathroom; they cooked for me; they took me out for dinner; they pointed me to an idyllic running path that I spent my early mornings on; they played games with me; and they served me dessert every single night. That week in Ohio ended up being the best week of my summer. In the wake of my grandma’s death in November of 2009, spending time in the presence of her sister – who looks like my grandma, talks like my grandma, and, in many ways, acts just like my grandma – was a salve to a part of my soul I hadn’t realized still needed healing. I ended that trip not wanting to leave Ohio, not wanting to leave Phil and June, and wondering when I would have the privilege of seeing them again. I still hope it’s soon.

6) Visiting Cedar Point, the roller coaster capital of the world.
I don’t even know how long Cedar Point had been #1 on my list of amusement parks I must visit. At least ten years. At least. I finally got to go this summer, and it was everything I had hoped it would be. My only regret was that the sheer number of roller coasters at the park prevented me from ride-repeating, but that day may just have been the highlight of my year. Screaming and flying across the tracks, standing in line with my cousins and aunt and uncle, laughing all day long, and getting soaking wet on the most ridiculous water ride ever invented – these are memories I will cherish for a long time.

7) Flying to Connecticut to meet and support Estevan Vega at his book release party.
Estevan was a dream author for me as an editor at Tate Publishing. Not only was he a joy to work with; his book was a fantastic read and so much fun to edit. Getting to attend his release party and see the fruits of all his intense labor – a very small portion of it having been my effort too – gave me a job-satisfaction high the likes of which I had never experienced. Besides that, it was worth it just to hear him call me out from onstage and publicly thank me for coming all the way from Kansas City to support him.

8) Running a half marathon.
I still can’t entirely believe that I actually did this. Nor can I entirely believe that I’ve signed up and am training for another one! Me. Audra Claire Marvin. I ran a half marathon. The reality of it is so absurd that I often have to look back through the pictures just to remind myself that I really did do it. This is perhaps my proudest accomplishment of the year. I tackled a feat I did not think I could do, and then I dominated it, shattering the goal I had set for myself to finish in 3 hours by finishing in 2 hours and 40 minutes. I think I’m going to be bragging about this accomplishment for a long time to come.

9) Writing a novel.
Okay, so I didn’t finish the novel in 2010, but I wrote 30,000 words of it, and if anything could compete with the half marathon for proudest accomplishment of the year, this would be it. Writing is my passion, and to tackle that passion with the fervor of creating two characters that have emerged with such depth as to make me feel like they are real – well, suffice it to say that it has been a lot of fun. I didn’t know I had it in me, and I’m proud of myself for having discovered it.

10) Adding Puppy Fagan to my furry family.
Acquiring a second dog (and a puppy, nonetheless) was not on my to-do list in 2010. But he swiftly melted my heart, and I’m glad I was incapable of saying no to little Fagan. He has brought such joy into my life, my parents’ lives, and all the lives of everyone who has so far had the privilege of meeting him. I’ve only had him 2 weeks so far, but already I can’t imagine life without him.

As you can see, 2010 was actually a pretty good year, and as I look back through these 10 descriptions, one word jumps out at me more often than any other: joy. It is clear that I have absolutely nothing to complain about. I’m convinced 2011 will be even better.

Happy new year.

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