December 21, 2012

Happy Holidays!

I am so excited about the holiday season this year! I can't wait to spend Christmas with my in-laws (!) and their extended family, and then celebrate my favorite holiday, ringing in the New Year, with my entire family.

Christmas / New Year tree 2012

Happy holidays! May the new year bring you love and health, and above all, happy times with your families.

P.S. The world did not end, which is good news because we didn't wrap all those gifts for nothing!

December 7, 2012

House Hunting: The Learning Process

When looking for a house, it's useful to sit down and make a list of your must-haves and nice-to-haves and talk about the neighborhoods and schools and price ranges. But it's not until you start going to open houses that you actually begin to figure out what it is you REALLY like and what you absolutely cannot stand. At least, that's what we are learning in our house hunting process.

We connected with a realtor at the end of September and quickly came to the realization (which I was mostly trying to be in denial about) that our $300,000 target price would not get us much in the neighborhoods where we've been looking to buy. So we cautiously expanded our price range to $350K, which was like a drop in the bucket in this real estate market, but at least some houses now appeared on our radar (though not many, and not very appealing ones, I assure you).

After upping our budget, we decided to start checking out open houses to see what we could actually buy for that money. The first house we saw was at the upper end of our range, and looked beautiful on the listing photos. That's because the owner of the house who took theses photos turned out to be a photographer (there was even a dark room in the basement). So the first lesson we learned was: don't trust the listing photos! Especially those taken with a wide angle lens in order to make tiny closet-sized rooms appear larger than life. This particular house actually had four bedrooms (we are looking for 3), but they were tiny. And it was during this open house that I realized how much I hate low, slanted ceilings that are unfortunately so common in this area. They make me feel claustrophobic. Also, this house boasted one bathroom and it was on the second floor. Which is apparently also not uncommon. This makes me wonder who designed these houses. Four bedrooms and ONE bathroom, on the SECOND floor?

I'm not even going to talk much about how this house (and numerous other ones on the market) boast as many different flooring options as there are rooms. It's becoming a familiar site to see hardwood flooring in one bedroom, disgusting carpeting in other bedrooms, hardwood in the hallway, linoleum in the kitchen, unidentifiable flooring in the office. Flooring does not bother me much because it's a doable project to replace carpeting with hardwood floors (which we love) that we can undertake ourselves. But I did learn right away that the layout of the house is very important. I would love to have a big, open space in the kitchen/dining/living room area, and in most of the houses we've seen so far, my first thoughts were usually about tearing down some walls.

Anyway, we didn't fall in love with the first house we saw (I was worried about that possibility for a while). This was partially due to the claustrophobic ceilings, but my biggest problem was actually with the neighborhood. It was in the more affordable part of town, and we were seriously considering it (and frankly, it's still on our list), but I did not feel safe walking around those streets, even in broad daylight on a Sunday. Which just goes to show you that the second lesson we learned was: take a walk around the neighborhood! You can assume all you want about the benefits of the urban environments and presence/absence of public transportation, but until your feet hit the pavement, you will have no idea about the actual vibe of the neighborhood, and how you feel about it.

This was actually a very valuable lesson for us because we decided to explore other neighborhoods that we had not previously considered. The next open house we went to was in a micro-neighborhood of a nearby city that turned out to be very charming. The house itself was within our budget, but it was a complete disaster. It was a true fixer upper in the full sense of the word. The house reeked of smoke, an odor that had been absorbed by the carpeting and the wallpaper over many years. There was water damage on the ceiling. The kitchen had not been updated in decades, which actually would have been totally fine with us if that was the biggest issue. It was not a big house, but it had three bedrooms and two full bathrooms, including, thankfully, one on the first floor. Despite all these flaws, the real deal breaker came when we took a look at the windows. They were... duct taped. We imagined a New England winter with duct taped windows, and I did some research on how much it would cost to replace them (we had no delusions about being able to DIY this particular repair), and we quickly realized that the cost of repairs necessary just to make the place inhabitable would be way too high. The fixer upper became unaffordable. So the third lesson we learned was: be realistic about your DIY abilities! We kept saying that we wanted to buy a fixer upper, but turns out what we really meant was that we would be up for putting down new hardwood floors and tearing down wall paper and making over the kitchen, but structural repairs were way beyond our presumed level of expertise (I say "presumed" because we haven't actually done any of these things, but we are willing to try). So maybe we should stop calling our future potential house a fixer upper, and agree that what we are actually looking for is some old-house charm.

And speaking of old houses and charm, we visited another house on the same day that we saw the fixer upper. The two houses were so different that I can't even compare them. The second house was semi attached (big minus in our eyes), which means that it shared one wall with another house. It only had two bedrooms and was too small for what we envisioned, but we chose to see it because it was in a different town where we normally can't afford anything, and this house was in our price range. Other than the somewhat outdated kitchen, the house looked fairly new compared to everything else we had seen so far. Again, it had one bathroom on the second floor. The bedrooms were tiny, but there was a nice-size basement with a workshop area. But our overall impression was... blah. The house looked like a bunch of boxes stacked together. We both agreed that we actually liked the duct-taped windows house better. I think it's something about the character of the old houses that tugs at our hearts.

Two weeks ago, I went to an open house by myself because D couldn't make it. This turned out to be very unfortunate because I fell in love with the house. I honestly did not have high expectations going in, as the house was somewhat above our price range and totally not in a neighborhood we had even been considering. But I was learning so much from these open houses that I figured it was worth the trip. Well. The house was pretty much perfect. And by perfect I mean charming and outdated in precisely the way that I loved. It was somewhat bigger than the other houses we had seen, with a great layout. Three bedrooms (all on the second floor), one and a half bathrooms (the half bathroom being on the first floor), and a humongous family room with high ceilings and lots of windows on three of the walls. Fire place in the living room, a window above the sink in the outdated kitchen, overlooking a recently added porch. A backyard with a Japanese oak tree and a large basement with space for a workshop (my dream). Tons of closet space everywhere, and additional storage in the attic. Not a slanted ceiling in site (except for the beautiful, tall ceilings in the huge family room). I looked past the wall paper and the carpeting, and I fell in love. A couple of days later, I came back to explore the neighborhood, which turned out to be more happening than I originally imagined. The sad ending to this story is that by the time D and I were going to take a look at this house together (just a week later), the seller had already accepted someone's offer. I am still trying to emotionally detach myself from this house. On the bright side, I discovered another potential neighborhood. I also started noticing other things that weren't on my radar before, but suddenly became important. For example, I noticed the spacing between houses - do the windows open into the neighbor's bedroom, or is there plenty of space to allow for some privacy (and therefore, a chance to actually keep the shades in your windows open)? Incidentally, this lovely house had plenty of space on either side of it, at least by urban standards. I also became more aware of the natural light and how it enters (or doesn't enter) the various rooms of the house. But I guess the biggest lesson I learned was: be prepared to make an offer when you find the right house! Unless the real estate market is completely dead (which it isn't around these parts), chances are you won't be the only one falling in love with your Mr. Right House.

We've learned a lot in the past few months while looking for a house, and I'm sure there are plenty more lessons coming our way soon. Can't wait for more open houses! (But not too many because we do want to find our future house sometime in the next several months. Here's hoping.)

November 30, 2012

Blog Design Update

I am currently taking a web design class (thank you, unemployment, for the gift of free time), and it has inspired me to make some changes around the blog. After learning a little bit about the concept of user experience, and then observing how I interact with some of my favorite blogs, I came to the realization that the design of my blog made it difficult to navigate it. Readers were finding the blog through links or searches, but it appeared that they were not finding other content that was relevant to what they were looking for, even though it does exist somewhere on the blog.

So, with the goal of streamlining the blog layout and making it easier to navigate, I thought about the changes that I wanted to make to the design, and I've since started implementing them. One of the first things I did was install Google Analytics to figure out where my readers were coming from and what they were reading once they got to the blog. I highly recommend doing this because the vast amount of information that the analytics service provided was truly eye opening. I confirmed that readers were indeed leaving the blog soon after getting here via a keyword search or a link, and this is probably because the design made it difficult for them to figure out where to go next.

Armed with this information, the first change I made was put social media buttons in the side bar, close to the top where they are easy to find. Before, I had one link to my Pinterest page near the top of the side bar, but in order to find a way to subscribe to the blog (either the feed or by email), you would have to scroll all the way to the bottom. Now, those links are all in one place and easy to see. And I now also have an Instagram page (which, for some reason, seems to be themed around food and flowers at the moment), so now you can see what I am snapping pictures of!

Even though I had an "About" page before, it was outdated and needed to be freshened up. I also noticed while browsing the blogs on my reading list that it was really nice to be able to put a face to the blog. So I put a little "About Anna" blurb at the top of the side bar, and now you know what I look like! The "About" page has been updated, so go ahead and check that out.

And while you are navigating the tabs up there near the header, did you notice that I added a couple more pages? I am very excited about the new DIY Projects page, which features the projects I have tackled since starting this blog, all in one conveniently visible page. I will be adding more projects to that page as they are completed.

The new DIY Projects page!

There is also now a "Contact Me" page which has my email address. Maybe one day I will figure out how to code a nice form onto that page that people can fill out to contact me.

Another little change I made was move my blog reading list from the bottom of the page to the side bar. The reading list used to be mostly for me to keep up with the posts that my favorite bloggers were writing, but there were a couple of issues with that setup. First of all, sometimes the feeds would not update for weeks, and I would miss some posts. Secondly, I would have to keep coming back to my blog just to see if anyone posted anything, and of course I once again missed some content, since only the latest blog posts showed up. So I decided to join the twenty first century and start using the Google Reader to keep up with the blogosphere. Let's just say that I already love that system so much more, and I have no idea what took me so long to switch over. First of all, I no longer miss posts because everything I hadn't yet read is waiting for me in the Reader. Secondly, I actually spend less time catching up on blogs now since I don't have to keep clicking to multiple websites to read everything. And I think that the "Reading List" in the side bar has a cleaner look to it than the blog list at the bottom of the page. All in all, I'm very happy with this update.

I still have a few more design changes in mind, which I will hopefully be implementing in the coming weeks. So stay tuned, and I hope you find the updated blog design easier to navigate! Feedback is always welcome.

November 21, 2012


New York City at night. From here.

Eighteen years ago today, my family landed in the JFK airport in New York, stepping on the American soil for the first time. It was a long journey, and I don't mean just the fourteen hour flight. The immigration process had started years earlier, with applications and interviews, stolen documents and pointless blackmail. But on November 21st, 1994, our bags were packed and we were ready to leave our lives behind and fly to the land of opportunity.

For breakfast, I had cottage cheese and cold cuts. I remember that meal so well because I spent the next fourteen hours throwing it all up. At least a decade passed by before I touched cottage cheese again. The vomiting was particularly bad on takeoffs and landings, and our layover in Helsinki did not help the matters. We arrived in New York amid darkness and downpour. Our plane attempted to land three times. To my stomach, that was three additional landings and takeoffs.

Mercifully, the plane finally landed, and we slowly made our way to the overcrowded Immigration and Naturalization Services room. The collective breath of immigrants-to-be sucked up the oxygen, and I was ready to faint. Eventually, we were called to the desk upfront, some questions were asked and answered, some papers were exchanged, and we were out of there.

One of our relatives picked us up in a van, which only had one passenger seat, and there were five of us. We sat in the back of the van on top of our falling-apart paper-thin plaid luggage as we made our way into Brooklyn. When we finally got to the apartment, we were greeted with brightly lit rooms and a table set with an enormous amount of food. Wow, they must be rich, I thought. (Turns out, I was wrong. Food and electricity were a given in this country, apparently.) Despite not having eaten anything for at least eighteen hours at that point, all I wanted to do was sleep. My sister and I headed to the bedroom and fell asleep in our new country.

Welcome to America.

Thank you for electricity and running water. Thank you for the abundance of food and food choices. Thank you for not discriminating against me because I'm Jewish. Thank you for the opportunity to attend the college of my choice. Thank you for giving my family the chance to live a better life.

Thank you.

October 23, 2012

Life and Death with ALS

Life and Death with ALS

She lifts her leg to step into the minivan, and is surprised to find herself falling backwards moments later. Her family hurries to lift her up, and everyone fusses and worries about the bump now growing on the back of her head. No one pays any particular attention to how she ended up falling in the first place - she is an elderly woman, it happens. But she is confused. She is sure that she lifted her leg high enough to get into the car. After all, she has done this many times before. She told her foot to lift, so why didn't it listen?

Three years and many symptoms later, she finally gets her answer when she is diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS. "Diagnosed" is a bit misleading, since there is no definitive diagnostic test for this destructive and unstoppable disease. ALS is particularly difficult to diagnose in the early stages, when there are virtually no visible symptoms. Not that it would do her any good - there is no cure and no effective treatment. Maybe it's even a good thing that she didn't find out sooner. At least, she has enjoyed her life to the extent that she could, given her increasing number of symptoms leading up to the diagnosis, without concerning herself with the horrifying details of the inevitable end.

ALS is fatal, the diagnosis is terminal. She and her loved ones live with the persistent feeling of helplessness. ALS is a rare disease, affecting only 1 or 2 in 100,000 adults worldwide, and yet here she is. Just like 90% of the people that develop ALS, in her case the disease is acquired, or sporadic. Only 10% of the ALS patients inherit the familial form of the disorder. For her, and the majority of people living with the disease, there is no known cause, no explanation, no discernible reason for their suffering. No cause-and-effect link has been established between any environmental toxins or infections and the development of ALS. In other words, there is nothing she could have to done to prevent ALS from destroying her body.

ALS is a disease of motor neurons, which degenerate and die over time. Motor neurons are cells that reside in the brain, brain stem, and spinal cord, and they control voluntary movement of the muscles. Damage to the motor neurons results in muscle weakness, which eventually develops into total paralysis and, finally, death. By the time she notices muscle weakness for the first time, the disease is already well underway. Up to 80% of the motor neurons could have died before any weakness is detected.

Ever since the first time she falls, she begins to slowly lose control of her body. At first, it's only her right leg that refuses to cooperate. She occasionally uses a cane to help herself get around. Several months later, she becomes fully dependent on her cane. During the holidays, her family buys tickets to a Broadway show, and it is only after they arrive to the theater that they find out that the building is so old, it does not have an elevator. She braves the steep stairs, one step at a time, holding on to the railing with one hand and the cane with the other. Crowds of theater goers rush past her, and she is embarrassed to be seen in public this way. Pretty soon, she will no longer leave the house, unable to face the looks of pity at her decaying body that houses a strong, independent, and fully-aware mind.

It is expensive to live with ALS, and every couple of months, her family purchases thousands of dollars worth of equipment in an effort to keep her discomfort to a minimum. But really, they are always playing catch-up. When her right arm begins to develop weakness, the cane is no longer enough to keep her mobile. She starts using her new walker, only to abandon it two months later when it becomes too cumbersome for her to hold on to. The walker keeps rolling away from her, and she keeps falling, unable to get up on her own. She is frustrated to tears with her helplessness while she waits for someone to come and pick her up off the floor. A fancier, more expensive walker is purchased, and it helps for a short while. There is a walker on every floor of the house, but she can no longer climb the stairs. A stair lift is installed, doors are removed, new doorways are created, ramps are put in place. The house resembles a medical center, but it's no use. Soon, she finds it difficult to even get to the stair lift. Eight months after her diagnosis, her family sets up the Thanksgiving table on the first floor, where she sleeps, because she cannot make it to the dining room upstairs.

For as long as she can, she holds on to her dignity. Even after the cane is abandoned for a walker, she continues to go to the bathroom on her own. Soon, the bathroom needs modifications: a high seat is installed to make it easier for her to get up from it, grab bars are installed near the toilet to hold on to. Eventually, the door is removed and replaced with a curtain to allow a wheelchair to pass through. When the walker is replaced by the wheelchair, her dignity goes with it as she becomes fully dependent on her family to perform the simplest of tasks. Someone has to help her brush her teeth, use the bathroom, bring the fork to her mouth when she is hungry. Her right hand becomes useless, and she tries to learn how to do everything with her left hand, but it quickly weakens as well. Her coffee and Italian bread-with-butter breakfast that she used to enjoy so much becomes a torturous routine.

As ALS takes over her muscles, I learn about what is going on inside her body, hoping to understand, to explain it to myself, even if I can do nothing to stop it. The degenerating motor neurons that are responsible for voluntary muscle movements are actually subdivided into two types, the upper motor neurons and the lower motor neurons, and they have different jobs to do. The upper motor neurons reside in the brain, the motor cortex region, and they send out signals via axons (nerve fibers) to the lower motor neurons. The lower motor neurons are located in the brain stem and the spinal cord. While the upper motor neurons are involved in the initiation of the voluntary movements, it is the lower motor neurons that connect, or synapse, with the actual muscles in the face, pharynx, chest and limbs. The lower motor neurons directly control the muscle contractions, allowing us to swallow, breathe, and walk. The upper motor neurons are involved in the maintenance of muscle tone, and when they are damaged, limbs become spastic and reflexes are exaggerated. When the lower motor neurons degenerate, muscles become weak and wasted, and reflexes may disappear altogether.

ALS nerve degeneration
Nerve degeneration due to ALS. Image scanned from this book on ALS.

To understand why so much time passes between the initial death of neurons and the diagnosis of ALS, it's useful to know how the motor neurons connect to the muscles. Each skeletal muscle, such as a hamstring or a bicep, consists of many individual muscle fibers, and each lower motor neuron in the spinal cord controls a number of these fibers. Large muscles, like in the trunk or the calf, could have one motor neuron connecting to over 1,000 fibers. In smaller muscles, like in the hand, one motor neuron could connect to about 100 fibers, which allows for the fine control necessary to perform small, delicate tasks, like holding a spoon or writing with a pen. The motor neuron connects to the muscle fibers through an axon (a nerve fiber), which branches extensively after it enters the muscle. Each nerve fiber branch is connected to and activates only a single muscle fiber. The group of muscle fibers that are controlled by one motor neuron is called a motor unit. The interesting thing is that the muscle fibers in one motor unit are not necessarily located next to each other in the muscle, and instead are grouped in such a way that each motor neuron has axon branches that reach out to many different locations in the muscle. When a motor neuron is damaged, as it happens during ALS, the nerve fibers that emerge from that motor neuron cannot control the muscle fibers that it connects to, and the muscle fibers shrink and stop contracting. If the nearby motor neurons are still healthy, they can regenerate new branches on the existing nerve fibers and form new connections with the affected muscle fibers. As long as this keeps happening, muscles can remain strong and retain their ability to contract. Because muscle weakness is not noticeable at this point, ALS can remain undiagnosed for years.

The doctors tell her that the disease is progressing slowly in her case, but I have to wonder what they mean by "slowly" because every time I see her, the rate of her disease progression accelerates. She does not seem to lose much weight at first, but as months go by, the pounds keep shedding. A year after her diagnosis, there is only half of her left. This is not the good kind of weight loss, she is losing muscle as she becomes more and more confined to the adjustable bed and the lift armchair, two of the latest ALS-related purchases.

Things take a turn for the worse when her breathing becomes more labored and swallowing becomes more difficult. Ingesting food becomes an ordeal, and the possibility of choking increases, as her diaphragm muscle weakens and she is unable to cough up the food that goes down the wrong pipe, which it inevitably does because her muscles responsible for swallowing have weakened as well. She now has a special apparatus that helps her clear the throat, but it cannot be used while she is eating food, so it is of limited use. Swallowing medication becomes increasingly hard as well. She loses more weight.

Meanwhile, her mind remains sharp. But she cannot do much with it, as she cannot read books because she can't hold them up. She cannot solve crossword and sudoku puzzles like she used to because she can't hold a pencil in her hand. So she resorts to watching mindless television, which irritates her. She spends increasingly more time sleeping as tasks that used to be simple, like eating, tire her out. She browses through photo albums, with assistance of course, turning her mind to happier days. She asks to look at photos of the wedding she never got to attend, reliving memories she never got to experience.

Less than a year and a half after the diagnosis, she stops eating altogether. For four weeks, she ingests almost nothing but water, which she sips through a straw. In most ALS cases, death occurs from respiratory failure, when the diaphragm can no longer maintain adequate ventilation and breathing becomes impossible. Mercifully, she does not reach this stage of the disease - her heart gives out first. She gasps for breath and whispers her last wish. Her eyes close, her head falls slightly to the left, and two small tears roll down her cheeks as she enters an eternal sleep.


If you would like to learn more about life with ALS, I recommend these books:

- "I Remember Running: The Year I Got Everything I Ever Wanted-and ALS" by Darcy Wakefield
- "Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: A Guide for Patients and Families" by Dr. Hiroshi Mitsumoto

ALS is so rare that it is called an "orphan" disease. Unfortunately, this means that there are very limited resources being allocated to research that is necessary to understand the mechanism of ALS and to find the cure for this devastating disease. If you would like to learn more about the current state of ALS-related research, or donate to the research efforts, please visit the following links:

- MDA/ALS newsmagazine
- MDA's ALS division
- Prize4Life
- ALS Therapy Development Institute

October 8, 2012

My Home Office Reveal!

Remember how back in April, I put together a post on what my dream home office would look like? It was full of images with West Elm's Parsons Desk (in white, of course) and white chairs with interesting lines. Well, after months of acquiring and rearranging furniture, I present to you my home office:

My home office!

As you can see, I am finally a proud owner of the white West Elm Parsons desk! And I have Craigslist to thank for it. At $350, buying the desk new did not seem like a viable option to me, especially since we were planning our wedding at that time and had other major expenses to worry about. I found this desk on Craigslist back in May for $150, less than half the price, and bought it immediately. Sure, it's not in a perfect condition - there are some scratches in the veneer. But for this kind of bargain, I am willing to overlook the imperfections. Especially considering that my office looked like this before:

That four-year-old IKEA desk had served me well when I lived in a studio with a small nook that I used as an office. And, admittedly, it was well designed - I could even fit a printer and a trashcan into its tiny footprint. But the usable desk space was lacking. If I wanted to use a laptop and a notebook or a calendar at the same time, I had to get rid of my mouse. The folding chair (trashpicked, by the way) wasn't adding any comfort or charm to this space either. My lovely bentwood chair that I made over two years ago is much more inviting!

There is plenty of space for a laptop, a notebook, a table lamp, some framed art, a vase of flowers, and even the mandatory cup of tea. I love the clean look of the Parsons desk, but I must say that it's not nearly as functional as my old IKEA desk when it comes to storage. The two drawers are fairly shallow (I even have to store my stapler on its side for the drawers to close), and so I had to get a drawer unit (from Target) to add some more storage space. The box on top of the drawer unit contains all the cables and power cords, along with our modem and wireless router. The printer has been relocated to the TV stand (you can see a peak of it on the right edge of the photo), which I will not show you because it is an old IKEA piece of furniture that has not withstood the test of time very well.

I am so happy with the way my home office has turned out! If only the rest of the room would cooperate... but all in due time.

P.S. That ugly wall unit air conditioner is the bane of my existence. It came with the apartment, and I can't do anything about but pretend it does not exist.

P.P.S. I got to use my tripod for the first time for the "after" photos in the post! It was a birthday gift from D, and I could not have possibly taken those shots without a tripod, as this room does not get much natural sunlight. I had to use slow shutter speeds to capture the room, and the tripod was the only reason those photos are in focus.

September 21, 2012

A touch of color

Life has been incredibly difficult this month, in ways I am not ready to talk about yet. So when I spotted these beauties while shopping at Trader Joe's today, I knew they were coming home with me. My life needs a touch of color right now.

A touch of color.

I have no idea what these flowers are called. They are bright red and fuzzy, and their stems remind me of bamboo. Whatever they are called, I am grateful to these flowers for making my day a little bit better.

September 17, 2012

Unemployment: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

A month and a half ago, I left my work office for the last time. It was not a voluntary departure - I was being laid off. The truth is, I suspected that my days on that job were numbered when phrases like "cost cutting" and "restructuring" were used in meetings to explain the massive layoffs that preceded in the months leading up to the end of the fiscal year. And if I am being honest with myself, it was time to move on from that job anyway. It's just that I had pictured the transition a little differently in my head.

I was somewhat mentally prepared for the diminished monthly income that was to follow. It was the emotional roller-coaster of unemployment that caught me by surprise. So here they are: the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of my unemployment.

The Good

I am not a morning person. The morning of my first day of unemployment was glorious - I slept in till noon, and there was no alarm clock in sight. Much to the chagrin of my early bird husband, within days, I reverted to my natural circadian rhythm of waking up late and staying up till three in the morning. And another amazing thing happened - I was no longer constantly stressed! Without the dread of showing up to an unfulfilling job haunting me every morning, it seemed I could actually look forward to my day.

There was lots to do in my free time. Little things that were put on the backburner during the crazy busy days of wedding planning and working two jobs needed to be taken care of. I finally started updating my name on all the accounts, and my eyes thanked me for getting new prescription glasses that were at least half a year overdue. With no one dictating my vacation schedule, I was able to visit my family for a week without worrying about using up those precious "personal time off" hours. In short, unemployment was wonderful and freeing. But it wasn't all sunshine and roses.

The Bad

Sure, it was time to leave that job, but I would have rather done it on my own terms. It stung to feel like I was being discarded because my services were no longer needed. The reality was much more complicated and economically involved, but the feeling remained the same nonetheless.

And then there is the issue of actual unemployment, which comes with no income. Suddenly, our budget had shrunk in half, and we had to adjust to a new lifestyle. It's nice to be able to talk proudly about bargain hunting when you are doing it as a hobby, but it's a whole different ball game when you can't even afford to buy those bargains because you have to pay the rent and put dinner on the table. And speaking of dinner, we came to the unpleasant realization that we could no longer afford to dine out, as restaurant bills apparently made up a significant portion of our credit card bills. We are still adjusting to our new financial situation, but there is another side to unemployment that I am having the hardest time dealing with.

The Ugly

When I became aware of the impending layoff, it was not the lack of income that concerned me the most - I knew that we could figure something out on that front. What really worried me was becoming a housewife, by default. I was so scared of this prospect that I had to have a talk with D about how just because I was going to be unemployed didn't mean that I would suddenly be responsible for all the house chores. He never did expect me to magically turn into a housewife overnight, the fear was mostly in my own head. But I had to make it clear nevertheless.

Doing laundry, cleaning the bathroom, cooking dinner - those are things that never appealed to me. I do not find doing chores a satisfying or fulfilling activity. And even despite my loudest protests, it just so naturally happens that I have a lot more free time on my hands than D, and so I end up doing a lot more taking care of the house lately than I normally would. But I can't say that all the chores fell into my lap. It's true, I cook most dinners lately, but D is still the one cleaning the floors and doing most of the laundry. This division of labor brings me some relief from my fears of becoming a housewife.

And yet. The latest ugly side of unemployment that recently crept up is extreme boredom. I have mostly finished taking care of all those loose ends that were previously put on the backburner within the first month of losing my job. Now, I don't know what to do with myself. I think it's time to come up with a daily or weekly routine to bring some sanity back into my world. I'll let you know how that goes.

Mostly, I just hope to find a job soon and put an end to this unemployment.

August 28, 2012

How DIY Saved Our Wedding Budget

Post cards for our guestbook

Shortly after we started planning our wedding, we were bombarded with the message that no matter how much money we decide to spend on the big day, we would inevitably go over budget. Well, last week we ordered our thank you cards, the last of our wedding-related expenditures, and I am happy to report that we actually came in under budget!

I admit that coming in under budget was one of my goals, but it was no small feat to get it done. It took a lot of careful planning and decision making over the year of wedding planning. But before any cost-cutting measures could be implemented, we first had to set our wedding budget.

Setting the Wedding Budget

After we got engaged, one of the first questions we asked ourselves was how do we decide what the wedding budget would be? Should we get some quotes from vendors in our area first, and then use them as a ballpark estimate to create our budget? But that sounded like a disaster waiting to happen – the quotes would range all over the place and wouldn’t bring us any closer to determining our budget. Then, we considered coming up with a number that we were comfortable spending and sticking with it. But looking at the budget as a single number, without having any clue as to what the money would actually be spent on, left me uncomfortable with any number we could come up with. No matter how many thousands of dollars it was, in my head I couldn’t justify spending that much money in one day.

Finally, we decided to look at our monthly income and expenditures, and calculate how much money we could both put aside for the wedding each month without modifying our lifestyle too much or derailing our long term goals. We then multiplied that amount by the number of months left until our wedding date (at that point, we had the month picked out, but we were flexible), and that would be our budget. We were both comfortable with setting the budget this way, and the number we came up with seemed reasonable to us (although it was astronomically higher than any other expenditure in our life, and significantly lower than the national average wedding budget).

After we set our number, it was time to take a stab at the budget breakdown by categories. Having little clue as to how much wedding "things" cost, I sought advice online. For what it's worth, The Knot was actually helpful in getting us started. Despite its amusing articles and wedding advice that seemed far removed from (my) reality, the website has a decent budget tool. We put in our total budget and the estimated number of guests, and out came a budget breakdown complete with an estimate of how much we could spend on each category.

You Don't Need All The Things

Some wedding "essentials" we eliminated right away. For example, we didn't need to worry about a wedding night hotel room because we were getting married in Boston and planned to stay at our own place. We also were not interested in videography or cake (and the accompanying cutting fee). (We had delicious cupcakes for dessert instead.) I wasn't going to wear a veil, and we drove my car to the wedding. From our numerous experiences with other people's weddings, we realized that favors are completely unnecessary, and so we removed them from our budget as well.

Our wedding day "limo"

Plated Wedding Dinners Are Expensive

We felt quite smug about removing entire categories from our budget, thus automatically saving money. That did not last long. The smugness evaporated when we discovered that some of the remaining wedding items that were quite important to us came with a steep price tag, and we had no means of dealing with those budget categories other than "throwing money at the problem". For example, we were adamant about serving our guests delicious food in the form of a plated dinner, and I would not even consider having anything other than an open bar. I am also completely inept at doing my hair and makeup, and I knew that trying to do this on my own would lead to lots of tears and expletives.

Understanding that we would have to shell out the money for some big-ticket items, we realized that we would have to save money elsewhere. You'd be surprised how small savings here and there add up to several thousands of dollars in savings. The first thing we did was a find a beautiful venue that we loved with a rental price that was within our budget and way below most quotes we obtained elsewhere. We were also lucky enough to personally know a photographer who was willing to give us a discount. I bought my wedding dress at a deep discount at Betsey Johnson, opting out of expensive bridal salons and numerous rounds of fittings. We did not include my shoes or D's attire in the budget, our reasoning being that we could wear all those items many times after the wedding. We saved money on alcohol by buying it on our own instead of going through the caterer, thus avoiding the 50% markup fee. (Note that we did NOT save money by buying too little alcohol. In fact, we overestimated by so much that we are still drinking our wedding beer and wine three months later.) To save money beyond that, we turned to DIY.

Our reception venue

How DIY Saved Our Wedding Budget

Decorations - The Knot budget allocated over $1,000 to decorations, not including flowers. We spent less than $200. I made the centerpieces, for less than $40 total, from yarn and mason jars. For our guestbook, I bought a box at Goodwill for $3, popped photos of us and instructions onto the sides of the box, and we provided New Yorker (our favorite magazine) post cards for people to sign and drop into the box. The wooden box that held the post cards, pens, and flowers (featured in the first photo) was actually a shelf that I trashpicked and turned on its side (after cleaning it, of course). Free decor, for the win! We also had a table with photos of our grandparents and parents on their wedding days - I got the frames from IKEA. While at the big Swedish store, I also picked up double-sided frames that held our table numbers, which I designed and printed at home. We decided to skip any decorations for the ceremony as it was held in an already beautiful outdoor setting.

Our guestbook box

Music - Having good music at our wedding was important to us. But having a DJ or a band was definitely not in our budget. So we put a lot of work into creating our playlists and then had a cousin "DJ" from our iPod. Creating the playlists took a lot of time and effort, but it was worth all the hard work. We split our music into five playlists: cocktail hour, dinner, first dance, dance party, and last dance. Instead of leaving the playlists at the mercy of the somewhat shoddy iTunes shuffle feature, we set the order ourselves. In reality, we had to do some adjustments in real time when the dinner went a little longer than expected and the dance party had to be cut short. But all the prep work made it easy to adapt on the fly. We did not have music at the ceremony because it was held outdoors in a public park, and no amplified music was allowed. (Contrary to my original concerns, this was not at all weird, and in that moment I did not even think about the music or lack thereof.)

Flowers - Because our centerpieces were non-floral, the only flowers I purchased were for the bouquets and a few stems for the guestbook table. D's grandmother also made us two flower arrangements for the guestbook table and the photos table. I spent $90 on the flowers and DIY'ed the bouquets with the help of our sisters.

Our DIY'ed bouquets, awaiting departure

Stationary - We spent less than $240 on all the wedding related stationary, including save-the-dates, invitations, wedding announcements, thank you cards, table cards, and escort cards. While we ordered our wedding announcements and thank you cards online from Wedding Paper Divas, we DIY'ed the rest. The costs involved mostly the purchase of supplies (paper and printer ink) and the hours we put into creating our stationary. I designed and printed our bookmark save-the-dates and did the same with our invitations. Instead of escort cards, I designed and printed a seating chart, and popped into an IKEA frame on the guestbook table. To make the table cards (aka place cards) for our seated dinner reception, I bought colorful place cards at the Paper Source, along with printable oval labels - no handwriting required! I even color-coded the cards by meal preference, matching them to the purple and yellow in our centerpieces.

Saving money on all the little things, like stationary, by doing them ourselves allowed us to have the seated dinner and the open bar that were so important to us. By adding up the small savings in the various budget category, we were able to come in under budget by a couple of thousand dollars. And that's no small change!

July 28, 2012

Our Wedding

Just married

D and I got married on June 9, 2012 in a beautiful outdoor ceremony in Piers Park, East Boston. During the days leading up to our wedding, the rain did not let up. Everyone was worried that our outdoor ceremony would be rained out. Everyone, except for me. I was convinced that the sun would come out on our wedding day - and it did!

Our ceremony in Piers Park

A long time ago, during our venue search, we came up with the idea of having an "urban beach" wedding. I would say that our wedding came pretty close - the ceremony was in front of a gazebo on a pier jutting out into the waterfront, with a marvelous view of downtown Boston. Also, I just realized that the roof of that gazebo kind of goes with my dress - surprise bonus points! And speaking of the dress, I ended up wearing a Betsey Johnson number that required exactly zero alterations. You know you got the right dress when it fits you like a glove.

We wrote the entire ceremony ourselves and it was exactly what we wanted - meaningful and brief. We got married in front of fifty of our closest family and friends, but there were several dear people whose absence I felt very vividly, especially during the ceremony. My grandparents could not make the trip to the wedding, and we tried to skype them into the ceremony. We did a trial run with my laptop a month before, and everything went smoothly. But on the day of the wedding, the internet connection refused to cooperate. It kept dropping the video call, and as a result my grandparents missed the entire ceremony. We knew for a while that they weren't going to make it to our wedding, and I thought I had time to prepare emotionally for their absence. Apparently, I was just fooling myself. But there was another absence that came as a complete surprise. Two days before the wedding, my best friend told me she could not come. She had an excellent reason, being almost nine months pregnant and unable to handle the five hour drive, and I know she really wanted to make it to the wedding, but it was like the straw that broke the camel's back. Just days before the wedding, I broke down crying, wondering what was the point of having a wedding at all if so many dear and important people could not be there. We proceeded with the wedding, of course, and I don't regret a single moment. But I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that my grandparents and my best friend did not see us get married.

Our first dance - salsa!

After the ceremony, we all walked four blocks to our reception venue, a converted firehouse with huge red doors. After the cocktail hour and dinner (with lots of toasts), came the part of the wedding I was looking forward to the most (besides the ceremony, of course). We hit the dance floor! D and I had been taking salsa lessons for three months before the wedding to practice for our first dance, and I think our guests were impressed. We danced for two hours straight before we had to vacate the venue, and I had a blast.


There were a lot of "traditions" and expectations that we did not include in our wedding. My dad did not walk me down the aisle - instead both D and I walked down the aisle with both of our respective parents. There was no long white dress, obviously. We didn't have a bouquet toss or a garter toss. There was no champagne (we don't like champagne, we served four kinds of wine and four kinds of beer instead), and there definitely was no cake cutting ceremony. The thing is, we don't really like cake! Oh, but there was delicious dessert - we had the best cupcakes ever invented. We still have a couple of cupcakes sitting in our freezer, and they tempt me every time I open that freezer door.

Our wedding was wonderful, it was very much "us", and it went by entirely too fast. Despite some doubts in the past and the stress of the planning, I am glad that we chose to share this day with our family and friends, and I am so happy with the way our wedding turned out.

All photos by Shane Godfrey Photography.

July 13, 2012

Improbability of Home Ownership

Yes, yes, I know I still have to write about the wedding (it was awesome) and the honeymoon (we loved it), but we are still waiting on the professional photos from the wedding, and quite frankly I want to talk about something else for a change.

Like home ownership. In the Boston area. Ha ha ha.

So, you've all heard about the housing bubble that burst back in 2008, right? Well, apparently, no one remembered to tell Boston about it. Not only did the housing prices in the greater Boston area neglect to drop, they actually continued to steadily climb in the most desirable neighborhoods. Which means that for the amount of money that can buy you a (deeply depreciated in price) 4,000 square foot McMansion in Florida, Arizona, or California, you can maybe purchase a run-down closet in Boston. Maybe.

But I didn't discover any of this until D and I recently started looking into the housing market in the area. We've talked about buying a house in the past, but it was more like discussing tentative plans in a far-away future. Now that we are married, we are considering the issue more seriously. (Not that we could afford a house right now, but it's good to be prepared in case we could buy something in a year or two.) In my usual fashion, I dove deep into research. So far, the results are none too encouraging.

Here is what happened. In my search for a potential house, I started with a few tentative criteria:
  • Urban environment (we are not big fans of the suburbs)
  • Good access to public transportation (this does not include the commuter rail)
  • Reasonable commute to work
  • At least three bedrooms
  • Around $300,000 price tag
  • Good schools

Right. Turns out I was kidding myself. First of all, some of these criteria appear to be mutually exclusive. A glance at the map of schools and their ratings shows that "urban" and "good schools" don't go together. As a former student of the public school system in an environment that is as urban as it gets (Brooklyn and Manhattan), I am completely baffled by this. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule called charter schools, but I haven't yet figured out what they are.

The next thing I discovered is that good schools and good neighborhoods go together. It's just that they don't go with urban environment or the $300,000 price tag. Alternatively, good neighborhoods go with urban environment, but not with good schools or the $300,000 price. And by the way, we are not even looking for a gem of a house. More like a diamond in the rough that we would be willing to fix up. Just considering the price tag alone, it turns out that all we could afford are crappy houses in crappy neighborhoods. That's a sound investment strategy, right? I was really hoping to stumble upon a rough-around-the-edges house in a good neighborhood, where it would worth investing time and effort (and money) to fix up the house. But those houses are being sold at around $400,000, even if they are foreclosures.

So, our tentative set of criteria is basically an impossible combination. In other words, something's gotta give!

June 28, 2012


Image caption:
In English: "Just Married"
In Russian: "Caution, newlyweds!"

As of June 9, 2012, D and I are officially married.

I drove us to the wedding in my car. Our sisters and cousins took the opportunity to decorate it while we danced the night away.

May 21, 2012

DIY Yarn Pom Pom Centerpieces

So, remember how back in January I made an ambitious plan for our DIY wedding centerpieces? Yeah, now that May is almost over, they are finally finished. I confess, the plan was so intimidating that it took me a while to get started. And because making the centerpieces was a multi-step process, it took me a long time to finish them. But the centerpieces are finally complete! Here is how it all went down.

If you remember, my plan was to take the cheap mason jars I bought from Kmart, wrap them in jute, and put pom-pom yarn ball arrangements into the jars instead of flowers. My reasoning was that yarn balls are way cheaper than real flowers, and I could make the centerpieces ahead of time (yeah, that didn't happen) and not stress about them the day before the wedding. I found my inspiration on Offbeat Bride:

My inspiration for yarn pom pom balls, found here.

First thing first, I bought my supplies:

Supplies for centerpieces.

Supplies included:
  • Mason jars (I used six of them)
  • Jute (to wrap around mason jars)
  • Pebbles/marbles (to fill the bottom of the jars)
  • Stem wire (to make stems for the yarn balls)
I had to make six centerpieces, so I used six mason jars (though they came in a pack of 12, which means I had extra left over for other decoration purposes). One bag of pebbles turned out to be sufficient for the six centerpieces, with some left over. I ended up putting five yarn ball "flowers" into each jar, and I used one long stem wire for each yarn ball - for a total of thirty yarn balls, I needed thirty stem wires. They come in packs of twenty, so I bought two. I had no idea how much jute I would need, so I bought several spools, which turned out to be completely unnecessary - all the jute I needed was left over from the wine and beer bottle vase project, and I still had some left from that spool after I was done with all the centerpieces.

Of course, I also needed yarn:

Yarn for the centerpieces.

Initially, I wasn't sure what colors I would use, but I definitely wanted to include white in the arrangements. That was the only yarn I had to buy, as I had the other colors left over from other projects.

With all my supplies at hand, I was ready to start making the centerpieces. The first step was to make the yarn balls. I followed the tutorial on Offbeat Bride, which is very detailed and nicely illustrated. My only tips would be to use good scissors and wrap more yarn around your fingers than you think you'll need. More yarn makes for denser balls, and denser yarn balls tend to droop less. And no, I did not have good scissors, so all the yarn cutting took me a bit longer than it would have otherwise, but it still worked out in the end. During this step, I also chose my colors: white, yellow, and purple. The yellow pom poms became the "flower" centers. For each centerpiece, I made one yellow, two white, and two purple yarn balls.

Pom pom yarn balls.

My camera was having a really hard time capturing the true color purple, so on my monitor, the previous photo (of the yarn supplies) has the more accurate depiction of the color.

With the pom pom yarn balls finished, I moved on to making the stems. Originally, I considered somehow gluing or otherwise attaching the stem wire to the yarn balls, but I ended up using an even simpler method. I simply stuck a stem wire through the center of the yarn ball, bent it in half, and twisted it around itself.

Stick stem wire through the center of the yarn ball.
Bend wire in half and wrap around itself.

With all thirty yarn "flowers" complete, I considered my options for their arrangement in the mason jars. Assembling five stems together and setting them into a jar resulted in a discombobulated mess. The stems just fell in all directions and did not stay arranged. I decided it was best to pre-arrange them before putting them into the jars. I started with a yellow yarn ball stem in the center, and added white and purple stems, alternating the colors. As I added each color, I wrapped the new stem around the stems already in the arrangement. Here is how the arrangements looked like when I was done:

Arrangement of five yarn ball stems.
All six arrangements complete!

The next step was to wrap the jute around the mason jars. Partially, I chose to do this because I like that look, but it was also a functional decision - the jute would strategically conceal the mess of stem wires wrapped around themselves. To wrap the jars in jute, I followed the same method I used to create wine and beer bottle vases. I simply used Elmer's glue to attach the jute to the mason jars - it creates a surprisingly strong and effective bond. Each jar took about half an hour to wrap, and I only wrapped them half way.

With the mason jars wrapped in jute, and the yarn ball arrangements complete, all I had to do was stick the stems into the jars and call it a day. But to make my centerpieces a bit more shiny (and to stabilize the stems inside the jars), I added the pebbles/marbles to the bottom of each jar, just filling high enough to reach the jute level. Then, I FINALLY put the yarn balls into the jars, and my centerpieces were complete!

A complete yarn ball / mason jar centerpiece!
All six centerpieces.

Whew! Those centerpieces sure saved us a ton of money, but they took a really long time to make. So if you are thinking about DIYing something similar, I would recommend budgeting your time wisely. As for cost, all six centerpieces cost me less than $40 total to make. Talk about a bargain!

May 15, 2012

Bargain Hunting: 1960's Round Wicker Chair

After literally years of craigslist hunting, I am finally a proud owner of the most awesome 1960's round wicker chair. And, no, I'm not insane. I just love bargain hunting. And chairs. And this particular chair has been eluding me ever since I spotted it on Young House Love:

The elusive round wicker chair in YoungHouseLove nursery.

After Sherry confirmed that this chair has remained comfy after a year of nursing, my desire to make this chair mine increased exponentially. Not for nursing, mind you, but because it is vintage, comfortable, AND looks so unusually cool.

Several times, I found this chair on craigslist. But they were all near-misses, as craigslist frustratingly tends to be - someone got to my chair first. But last weekend, my persistence finally paid off. We drove an hour to get this lovely chair for a mere 35 bucks.

1960's round wicker chair. I love it.

Side and back view.

The chair is in great condition. Other than a small tear in the wicker on the seat, there is no obvious damage to the chair. And, as Sherry promised, it's super comfortable. I can't wait to find the right place for it in our home. And once we buy a house with a backyard (wishful thinking) where I can spray paint things, I will probably paint this chair white, legs and all. For now, I think we will enjoy it as it is - lovely and comfortable.

May 8, 2012

DIY Floral Wedding Bouquet

We are going to be DIYing the flower bouquets for me and the girls the day before the wedding, so I figured it would be a good idea to do a dry run in order to figure out how hard it is to make a bouquet and how long it would take an amateur like me to do it. Turns out, it was super easy and only took about twenty minutes. Of course, it helped that I kept it real simple.

Back in October, I collected inspiring photos of floral bouquets and centerpieces that were beautiful, bright, and happy. But I'm not a pro, and flowers are expensive, and many flowers I was falling in love with would not be in season anyway. So I went back to my engineering roots and decided to follow the KISS principle (as in, Keep It Simple, Stupid). Sherry's bouquet from their YoungHouseLove wedding pointed me in the right direction.

Sherry's hydrangea wedding bouquet. From here.

Hydrangeas are perfect for keeping it simple. They are in season in June, each stem is very voluminous and has high visual impact, and you only need a few stems to make a substantial looking bouquet. Also, my dress is not the traditional white, but somehow, adding white flowers to the outfit felt bridal to me.

For supplies, I bought:
  • Six stems of hydrangeas ($16)
  • Green floral tape ($4)
  • White satin ribbon, 2 rolls ($8)
  • Corsage pins ($4)
I actually didn't have the corsage pins for the dry run, so I just used the two pearl head pins that came with my sewing kit. Note that after the dry run, I had plenty of floral tape and ribbon left over for all four bouquets that we will make on the actual wedding day. If you are counting, that means that each bouquet is less than $20. Talk about budget flowers!

I followed the tutorial posted on APW, which turned out to be super easy and self-explanatory. It was even easier for me because I didn't have to worry about putting together different kinds of flowers. First, I took three hydrangeas and wrapped floral tape around them. The bouquet actually looked pretty good with only three hydrangeas (that's how many Sherry used), but I figured I might as well use all six as long as I had them. In hind sight, I would probably leave it at three - six hydrangeas turned out a bit lopsided, probably because I'm such an expert at putting flowers together. After I had my three center stems wrapped with tape, I added one hydrangea at a time, wrapping it with tape to the center stems. After all six stems were covered in floral tape, I trimmed the stems and wrapped the white satin ribbon around the bouquet to hide the floral tape. To keep the ribbon in place, I used one pearl head pin at the top and one at the bottom of the stems.

Simple, six-stem hydrangea wedding bouquet.

I like how it turned out, besides the lopsidedness. D said it looks like broccoli. Good thing he doesn't have to walk down the aisle with it.

Another view of the hydrangea bouquet. Note the lopsidedness.

April 24, 2012

Miracle (re)growth in the kitchen

I had read somewhere (probably on Pinterest) that if you chop up the green parts of spring onions, but leave the white parts intact, you can regrow the green parts simply by placing the remainder of the onions into some water and leaving them alone for some time. Someone even claimed that you can do this repeatedly! Needless to say, I was a bit skeptical about this miracle re-growth, but I decided to do a little science experiment anyway, just to test it out.

After making a salad one day, I was left with the white parts of five spring onions. The onions came with their roots mostly chopped off, but some roots remained attached, which gave me hope. Here is the "before":

Spring onions, before.

I put the glass with the onions on the window sill that got the most sunshine during the day and left them alone for eight days. I didn't even bother changing the water. At first, there was no noticeable growth. But after a few days, some new green tips began to appear. It was working after all! But the growth was so slow, I thought that there was no way any significant amount of onion would re-grow in a reasonable amount of time. Turns out I was wrong. Once the green shoots started sprouting, they continued growing at a faster pace every day. Here they are, eight days later, tall and green:

Spring onions, eight days later.

It was truly a miracle in the kitchen! Of course, no science experiment is complete until you eat it test it. (Ok, seriously now, kids. Don't eat your real science experiments!) Sure, the onions looked real and quite green, but would they still taste like onions? I had to find out. I took a couple of my miracle spring onions and chopped up the green parts into a salad. They tasted like onions, alright! If anything, the onion-y taste was even stronger than in the original spring onions. As I was chopping them up, I also noticed that the onions developed some gnarly looking roots.

Spring onions grew new roots in water!

All in all, I am calling this kitchen science experiment a success.

April 21, 2012

Wedding To Do List Update

Despite the radio silence on the blog lately, we've actually made some progress on our wedding To Do list! Here is what it looks like now:

  • Find and purchase D's attire
  • Find and purchase D's ring
  • Let everyone who is helping with the wedding know what we are expecting from them
  • Have hair and makeup trial appointment
  • Have engagement photos taken while we are still legitimately engaged
  • Have a dry run for making bouquets (this one is a DIY effort)
  • Make sure the bridal party has something to wear (this has been proving to be oddly difficult to check off the list)
  • Make all the decorations (yeah, that's all on me)
  • Figure out our ceremony and vows (almost done!)
  • Make playlists for the cocktail hour, dinner, and dance party (work in progress)
  • Order alcohol for the wedding
  • Figure out where our guests are going to park (because our venue does not come with parking)
  • Get marriage license (rather important!)
  • Create a day-of schedule and panic after realizing how crazy it's going to be
  • Make a seating chart
  • Make wedding announcements
  • Figure out our first dance (we have been practicing!)

We finally bought D's suit! He looks quite handsome in it, and I can't wait to see it all done after alterations. D also already purchased a potential shirt, and I found him a tie that perfectly matches my dress. D also figured out what kind of ring he wants, and finally bought it. We were told that resizing will take up to four weeks, which makes me a bit nervous, but let's hope we get the ring on time.

The hair and makeup trial went really well, and we decided to take advantage of the opportunity and have our engagement photos taken the day I was all dolled up. We went to a park, and D's dad (who is a photographer) did the photoshoot. I've never had to "model" for an hour worth of photos before! It was tiring but absolutely worth it. The photos came out great, and we are hoping to use some of them for our wedding announcements.

I just did a dry run of my wedding bouquet using this tutorial from APW, and honestly, it couldn't have been easier. It took me all of fifteen minutes to make, and the result is a simple and pretty bouquet. I am very happy with how it turned out, and I'll post some photos of it soon.

April 4, 2012

My Dream Home Office: Inspiration

Apartment Therapy had a great post today about being a compulsive re-decorator. Finally, I have a name for my affliction. Or, as I prefer to call it, a "hobby". I am constantly talking about rearranging the living room or re-decorating the second bedroom. It's as if I can't leave this apartment alone the way it is - something always needs to be tweaked just so! Luckily, D is one hundred percent OK with me moving furniture around, and he half jokes about the fact that I will most likely be rearranging our home for the rest of our lives. I don't disagree with that statement...

We have lived in our apartment for almost two years, and I am still not satisfied with the state of our second bedroom. I will post photos one day, but suffice to say, it is a difficult space. Despite being a simple box of a room, it has its challenges. One wall has a door to the hallway. Another wall has a closet door. A third wall has a window in one corner and wall air conditioning unit in another corner. (Oh, how I hate that ugly contraption! The original A/C unit was broken when we moved in, but the replacement unit our landlord installed is smaller than the hole in the wall where it goes. Having a hole in the wall was just lovely during the Boston winters, as you might imagine. I finally plugged it up with some foam, which reduced the draft but did nothing to conceal the ugliness.) The last wall has a door that goes to the outside (our fire escape, I suppose) and a soffit-like structure that probably houses some plumbing or electrical wiring.

To add to the complexity, this room has to wear many hats. It functions as:
  • my home office
  • our TV room
  • a guest bedroom
  • bicycle storage
  • yoga room
  • occasional craft room

Yeah, this room works hard. And it is not a very big space (I don't remember the exact measurements, but I think it's something like 10' by 12'). So, naturally, it looks like a total mess. Adding to the pigsty, we also have wedding-related crap lying around all over the apartment, including a lot of stuff in this room. Since budgeting for the wedding doesn't leave us with much spare cash, I haven't been buying any new furniture for the room, but moving the existing stuff around instead. This is only marginally helping my sanity. Meanwhile, I like to daydream of a pretty and functional multipurpose room.

As long as we are dreaming, let's start with my home office. I've been collecting inspirational images on Pinterest for about a year now, and after organizing the home office photos onto a separate pin board, I discovered a pattern. Behold:

West Elm Parsons desk in white, IKEA Expedit shelves. From here.

West Elm Parsons desk in white, IKEA Expedit shelves. From here.

West Elm Parsons desk in white. From here.
Do you see it yet? I am completely obsessed with the West Elm Parsons desk, particularly in white! And, apparently, it goes well with the IKEA Expedit shelving units (great for organizing), also in white. In fact, I have been on a white furniture kick for a while now, which is odd because we don't own any white furniture. So yes, in my dream home office, I must have the Parsons desk, and it must be white. And I am now on a hunt for it on Craigslist (because the wedding is making me poor, and I am too cheap to pay full price).

Of course, every office desk needs an office chair. My problem is that I find most traditional office chairs unappealing. What I have in mind is something like this:

Love the lines on this white chair. Nicely paired with a Parsons desk. From here.

The bamboo detail on this (white) chair is gorgeous. From here.

See? Even my dream office chair must be white. And it must have interesting lines, and a colorful seat/cushion. I haven't seen anything affordable in stores that resembles these chairs, so that may be another piece of furniture to look for on Craigslist or in thrift stores in the future. But I'll take it one office item at a time. Next step - create a moodboard!