Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Don't Stop Me Now

After 17 weeks of training for the Marine Corps Marathon, I'm so glad to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have only one more absurdly long run left before race day (one more 20 miler) before we start tapering. I'm holding up pretty well, and I'll be proudly sporting my yellow DC Road Runners shirt (they call it a singlet), so keep an eye out for me.

I've gotten a lot faster, and my long runs have gone well despite a few nagging knee and hip pains. I don't know that I'll ever do another marathon--training has basically taken over my life since June--but I can't say for sure. I have an addictive personality and I tend to revel in doing things most people find painful and otherwise impossible. I'm addicted to being a badass. It was this tendency that led Elizabeth and me to train, in the weeks before senior prom, with countless vanity curls to hopefully be more muscular than our dates. Did we succeed? I'll have to post pictures and let you decide.

If I haven't seen you in a while, or if you doubt my reputation as a "badass mufu," then I not-so-humbly present you with this evidence, inspired by my scrappy ways and created by KB. Thanks, KB! I'd love to do a moon marathon someday.

And send me fast, uninjured vibes on October 25! If you're in DC, get in touch with me or one of my head cheerleaders (Elizabeth and Eric) to join in the hollering.

Friday, August 7, 2009

By Jove, We've Done It!

The past few months have been nutso for Talls and Smalls, so much so that I've forgotten to write about a huge development. It came about so fast, we haven't had much time to celebrate the victory ourselves, to be honest.


I don't mean to get all dramatic on you, but this has been the subject of 80 percent of financial conversations since we decided to "do the damn thing" and pay off 12 years' worth of student loans early. We were never really sure how early we could make it work--although the amount varied, we dedicated hundreds a month to eat away at the balance. With a lot of tough budgeting and sacrificing gift money to the cause, I'm thrilled to say that we took care of the debt in less than a year, faster than either of us thought we could do it.

Now that the loan is taken care of, we can't wait for the first few paychecks where the money we put away is money we eventually keep--even if it's in savings or investments. At least it's not going down the black hole at Citibank. Now I'm thinking of getting rid of our only remaining debt--my training-wheeled $500 limit credit card. Let's get all old-school with this money-handling.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Always Coming Back Home to You

The past few months have been a blur. Talls is now out of school and tenured as a Montgomery County teacher. He's spending his first day off in a blur of sleep, food and Pixar.

Meanwhile, I'm in quarter-life crisis mode, fighting off mad homesickness and boredom. What I need to do is write out my goals and stick to them. I've made it harder on myself by joining the DC Road Runners and beginning a marathon training program, which has basically taken over my non-work life, but I'm at least enjoying a chiseled exterior.

Hokay, so, back to the goals.

Study for GRE
Take GRE by August
Enroll for Montgomery College women's studies class
Practice Spanish
Run my marathon, simultaneously kicking ass
Get serious about my feminist blog
Apply for various grad programs at UMD, GW, UCLA, UCSD, UCSB, ASU, U of A
Get serious grad school funding lined up
Pay off student loans by October
Start a house-savings plan
Start an investment plan

All doable, I just need to get my shit together, and read the signs until decision time comes. I have to admit that after five years in DC, I'm starting to feel the pull to spend some time closer to my family. It's a hard thing to explain, but I think that some people need to spend some time independent and have room to fuck up and prove themselves. I feel I've done that, come into my own and had the five best years of my life in the meantime. But maybe it's time to go home, back West. Atmosphere knows what I'm saying. Check out the secret track after "Always Coming Back Home to You" starting around the 4:30 mark. Check out the opening track, too, because it's also awesome.

Some excerpts:

Roam if you must, but come home once you've seen enough
If you know this is where you want to raise your kids
If you can drink tap water and drink the air
(Well, not literally something you should do in Tempe)
If you're not gonna leave because that's where you're from

Monday, April 27, 2009

She Stole My Karma

Seeing Kings of Leon last Friday was the kick-off for a frenzy of a weekend for Talls and Smalls. We were pumped to see the Kings after we missed their Constitution Hall show last November. My trout buddy Chris introduced me to the Kings this fall, and they're my favorite new obsession, but I'm not the only one. They blew up this fall thanks to their good looks and lusty singles like "Sex On Fire."

They played all of my favorites, including "Charmer."

Saturday, we spent the day as local celebrities at Run Amuck, a 5K mud run, which we and 13 friends ran in costume as members of the Mario Kart pack. Eric and I were Toad and Toadette, complete with spotted hats (our bike helmets with shower caps stretched over them). Eric had the good luck to run into one of his students and her parents in full costume. Luckily, she's a good kid whose mom wrote to Eric the first week of school about how much her daughter loves his class. What can I say, Talls has it goin' on.

We wore cardboard cars and made quite a splash, literally through the mud and figuratively by the awesome reaction everywhere we went. Kids and adults wanted to take pictures with us and of us. Talls and I concluded that we've never been cooler in our lives.

Sunday hosted great weather for a rooftop goodbye to my friend and colleague Kate, who is off to Guatemala this week for Peace Corps work. It's such a cool opportunity, but I left feeling really down about the heaviness of growing up, moving on and moving apart. It's just depressing to face the fact that all of the people I want to see can't be in the same place.

Friday, April 10, 2009

F*** Bitches, Get Money

At a happy hour last night, Elizabeth admitted that in a recent run-in with an acquaintance , she responded to thusly to the question of what she'd been up to:

Fuck bitches, get money.

Although out of nowhere (and hilarious--I've resolved to give the same answer when the next unsuspecting person prompts me, unless it's my boss or my Nana) to my virgin ears, E took the response from a chart-topping hip-hop song. By the way, I love how the poster of this video--such as it is--censors "bitch" but not "fuck," the direct opposite of my headline instincts.

This incident is as good a segue as any to talk about money, honey. I've been increasingly interested in finance, inspired by several people: my dad, E, the woman behind Feminist Finance and a few authors.

Right around the time of our wedding, Eric and I started noticing how many houses were up for sale in our neighborhood. We started looking at houses once we were hitched, figuring that we should take advantage of the shitrendous market. We took a few months to look around, and ended up making offers on two different houses in Rockville, Md., before we decided to throw in the towel. It's funny, I remember our mortgage broker telling us in August of last year that we should buy a house quickly, because the market was going to turn around any day. Obviously, he wasn't the best fortune-teller.

So after two offers fell through, both because of shady sellers, Eric and I decided to do something that felt a little crazy. We put several thousand dollars of our savings toward student loans, and resolved to pay the rest of the debt off within a year.

But how did we become such debt Puritans?

Well, it started with years of indoctrination from my Dad, I'm sure, but I wasn't really paying attention until I was an adult. As he often does, my Dad asked for some bizarre favor as a gift for his birthday last year. He requested that all of his kids to listen to this quacky economy dude Dave Ramsey's audiobook. Eric and I listened, and although I disagreed with some disturbing points (God doesn't want you to have a Jaguar, dude), we did come away with some sound advice, some strategy and a plan to be completely without debt at 25-years-old.

You heard it here: I listened to my dad's advice. I have done that once or twice. Hi, Dad.

Basically, there are several steps you follow. The first few go something like this: Make a budget, start an emergency savings fund, pay off your debts one by one, starting with the smallest, including your house, and from there, invest a certain percentage of your income into retirement, college funds, Roth IRAs and the like.

We're obviously in the paying-off-debt phase, and the idea behind paying everything off would probably sound like a good idea to most people, but you'd be surprised what a radical step it feels like to put thousands of dollars against a debt that you usually pay off $60 at a time. The fact is, when you pay off your debt early (11 years ahead of schedule for us), you save lots of money in interest. It feels like we threw away all that money, because we didn't have anything tangible to show for its loss, but in reality, we had that much in debt to pay off eventually. It's a hard thing to wrap your head around at times.

If you can get past this dude's bizarre idea that God wants us to be rich, and the fact that he's a regular on Fox News, he has some reasonable advice and a pretty funny adjective that he uses for hard-core debt-payer-offers: gazelle-intense (as intense as a gazelle that's running from a cheetah).

So in addition to the big lump sum payment, we're basically paying as much as we can each month against the student loans, which were the biggest form of debt for us after minimal credit card bills and one side project. That means that we're paying three-quarters of a rent payment against the student loan every month, which is quite a chunk of change. As a result, we feel pretty cash poor for now, but we get really pumped up when we see the loan balance trickle. It gives me insane pleasure to do out the math to figure out when we'll have everything paid off (with some luck, maybe by the end of 2009).

Since we started this quest in September 2008, we have paid off over 65 percent of our debt. Every time we pass another incremental milestone, we get more inspired, and we've given ourselves at least one incentive to get to the end of the rainbow: We won't get a dog until we've seen this through.

So, no horribly spoiled devil-dogs like Ginger.

And no smelly-breath loving, either.

But when it's all over, we'll have a proper family band, like these peeps.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Viral Online Habits

In the days when I first moved to Virginia in 2004, I would often sit on Cindy's couch (Lisa and I rented rooms from a very awesome woman, who is still a great friend) with my laptop, bullshitting with my friends, who were spread all over the country at college--from Middletown, Conn. to Los Angeles, Calif. to Spokane, Wash. This was the dawn of the viral video days, the days of Schfifty-Five and the hilariously dumb answers to high-school test questions. I still need to study up, but this list is a good starting point to viral video history.

Viral video has become so pervasive that Current TV has a segment called Viral Video Film School, which covers internet how-tos, vlogging (video blogging), sexy tax advice and anything else that people take video of and post online.

Much as we still enjoy viral videos and sound clips, ridiculous, self-aggrandizing "quizzes" have also sadly endured in the present-day internet experience. Ten multiple-choice questions aren't going to make you any more similar to Bella Swan (Which Twilight Character Are You?) than you were five minutes ago, and they sure as shit won't make Colin Firth your partner (Which Celebrity Is Your Ideal Boyfriend?). It might, however, make me Paul McCartney (Which Beatle Are You?) circa 1979. I don't want to be the post-2000 McCartney, selling shitty albums at Starbucks. That McCartney I refer to as Mr. Jowls.

But I digress. The inspiration of this entire post was, believe it or not The Most Useless Quiz Ever. This was one of my favorite viral internet quizzes from my internet-use infancy. The quiz is true to its name, and I really enjoy the results. My first quiz back in 2004 revealed that I was "the macaroni protest movement," which came along with an illustration of angry elbow noodles. I've clearly grown up a lot since then. As you can see, I'm now "the attack banana." Other known results: a heart-shaped armadillo and a ladybug languishing on a throw pillow. Good times.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish

Hello my droogies,

It's been forever since I blogged atcha. I attribute the lack of enthusiasm (on my part) to a general "I'm sick of obsessing about my freakin' wedding, as awesome as it was" and also a months-long depression about our living situation, which happily ended March 1.

After a disappointing house hunt, Eric and I decided to just move from Takoma to a nicer apartment, and use the down payment money to pay down our student loan debt (more on that later). Thinking that it would be great to commute without cars, I had the bright idea that we should move to Rockville (known to us now as Suckville), which is the suburb in Maryland where Eric teaches. Long story short, we had a few financially irritating run ins with a moving company, a gym, and someone who I hope gets hit by a car while riding my bike. The lifestyle change from walkable, dense city (Silver Spring/Takoma) to soccer-mom, suburban wasteland was really, really depressing for both of us, but I was most vocal about it. The move added a half-hour to my commuting time, made it impossible to bike to work, and made me feel really isolated from our friends and anything we wanted to do in DC.

So after a lot of thought, we decided to break our lease with our Suckville apartment (which was a fine place, but rather small and we had to pay utilities separately) and move back to the Silver Spring area. Eric brilliantly found an apartment complex that was running a rent special that basically paid for the cost of breaking our lease, and we moved in March 1. Eric has to drive to work now, but his commute is pretty short, and I've suggested he try to carpool with his friend and fellow MoCo teacher, Grant.

We're so pumped with our new place, we already have it all set up. We never got all the boxes unpacked at Suckville.

Soon my new bike will join Eric's on our bike wall. It just came in the mail today!

Those lanterns are from the dairy farm where my mother-in-law grew up in New York. Try not to be too jealous, Mom.

We, happily, have a lot more room in our Silver Spring place. Enough room for a proper music corner, which makes it easier to jam on our keyboard and guitar (for me) and any number of instruments for Mr. B.

And our favorite new addition, our turntable chills under the fellas. The player was a wedding gift from my big sisters. Now Eric and I jam to Arlo Guthrie, Jackson Browne and The Beatles on vinyl, among others.

More on our debt later, because I'm really proud of what we've done in the past year. I just felt like I should draft a post, because I've been doing it a lot at work. Check out the blog I started for our magazine and leave your feedback, if you know what I'm talking about. Fisheries science can be pretty wonky.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Vendors: The Music

Husband here, blogging live from 2009!

Our first post of the year, and my first post in several months. As happened last year, once school started I fell right into an intractable school/band practice/recover routine that’s pretty hard to break out of for the time needed to write an interesting blog post. I recall that most of my more interesting posts last year were written between midnight and 1 a.m., but these days I spend that time dreading 6 a.m.

Things have been going well on my end. I’m having a really good year at school—whether sixth grade is that much easier than eighth, or whether one’s second year of teaching is that much better than the first, it’s certainly working for me. I’m tired a lot, but I’m much less worn out than last year and don’t feel as if I’m gasping for free time.

The wedding happened over six months ago, but it’s still fresh on our minds. We spent Christmas and New Year’s in sunny Arizona, not just for the holiday but for an awesome west- coast reception for Hannah’s friends and family who couldn’t make it out for the main event. It was a great time; I really feel like I’m part of the family now. My parents made it out, and everybody got along great.

So with all that in mind, it’s time to post my two cents on the two as-yet unexplored vendors from the wedding day: the music and the beer. First up: the music.

Wedding Music – St. Charles String Quartet

The music for the ceremony was always going to be a sticky wicket. Music is, of course, crucial to setting the mood at pretty much any occasion, but the thought of a giant pipe organ pumping the traditional wedding march as we walked down the aisle never really seemed appetizing. It’s not any big ballsy “anti-tradition” thing; the song and the sound of it never resonated with me. I mean it’s a MARCH. We might as well have used the Darth Vader march. That would have at least made shopping for my outfit easier.

The only acceptable use of a pipe organ in church:

Hannah and I were both after “pretty” music, but even that had its limitations. Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” is one of the mainstays that I actually really enjoy; however I can’t quite get past the fact that Pachelbel apparently stole the chord progression from “Hook” by Blues Traveler. Plagiarist hack.

We figured we could hire a pianist from UMD on the cheap. Their accompanists are so good that we could have tossed them some sheet music half an hour beforehand and no one would have known the difference.

However, the idea-that-was-so-cool-that-we-figured-it-was-unattainable was a string quartet. Hannah and I had discovered string music in a big way since we became a couple; neither of us had been into it before, but the music of Nickel Creek in particular shaped a lot of our tastes over the next few years and resulted in the surprisingly high concentration of country-esque music for the day.

I never really thought we'd get it to happen. I always envisioned string groups playing events where tuxedos were mandatory and guests used caviar as a condiment. We started looking, hoping to get lucky, but we were prepared to be told that we'd need to spend thousands of dollars to even think about having a string group play our ceremony.

A simple google search brought me to Gig Masters, which allowed me to read reviews and look over prices for several string groups at once. I was able to send a request for a price quote to a bunch of them with one click. And soon enough, I heard back from St. Charles String Quartet.

Even though I was expecting not to be able to afford it, Neil of St. Charles String Quartet immediately got in touch with me with a quote that was very very reasonable--a few hundred dollars for an hour and a half of setup, rehearsal, entrance music and playing. Both Hannah and I were impressed with the clips and song lists on their website, which were stocked not only with classical standards but with arrangements of dozens of pop and rock songs--including a huge Beatles selection (check out their site to hear samples like "Everlong" by the Foo Fighters, too).

Even more impressive was their willingness and ability to learn not one, not two, but THREE special requests specifically for our ceremony. Again, I was prepared to shell out extra dough to get them to accomodate us, but Neil and the gang had no problem arranging and learning the songs in time for our big day. They accomodated our every request--even allowing my bandmate Dave to record their music along with our ceremony.

I won't go too much into what songs we picked and why we picked them--that was covered in an earlier post. However, I do want to point out that, as much as I love Mark O'Connor's "Appalachia Waltz," I was worried that others wouldn't hear it the same way. However, when we were all scrambling in the minutes right before the ceremony and they began rehearsing, I watched my mother-in-law Tanya stop in her tracks and exclaim "wow, that sounds beautiful!" I knew we'd scored.

Being a gigging musician myself, I devoted a lot of mental energy to planning and envisioning the music for the ceremony. I was thrilled with how it turned out and how easy it was. I wish there had been more time to enjoy it; I would have loved to have been able to just sit there and hear them play, but maybe some day one of my other local friends will hire them and I'll have that pleasure. I certainly plan on recommending the St. Charles String Quartet whenever possible.

Reception Music – My iPod, among other components.
As I said in my song-requests post from a few months ago, the PA system was graciously provided by my bandmates in Lucky Day (we each bought the different components of the PA before a doing a short tour in 2007. I was a poor college student at the time; I believe that I purchased the cables).

Beyond that (admittedly very large) contribution, almost every other part of the "DJ station" was compiled from something in our apartment. I'm pretty sure that the only purchase I needed to make to get the thing up and running was a $5 cable.

I'm not sure how feasible it is just to rent the music equipment (speakers, stands, cables, and mixer), but if one could swing it, there's not a heck of a lot of reasons for paying for an actual DJ any more. For one thing, it's not really necessary, since music has gone digital. I was at my cousin Jessie's wedding in August, and their DJ was running more or less exactly what we used: an iTunes playlist. Granted, he was making up a lot of it on the fly, but in our case it wasn't too hard to acquire the music we wanted from various sources and throw it together into a pre-arranged playlist. Of course, it's impossible to predict exactly how the party will flow and when the various milestones (first dance, cake-cutting etc) are going to happen, but if you know anyone who can use a computer mouse, all you need to do is hit "pause" or drag the song you need to the position you want. It required almost no effort whatsoever. We even did DJ-like dedications ourselves, by using the simple Microsoft voice recorder. Then all we had to do was drag and drop the dedications in front of whatever song we wanted (like dedicating "Fake Plastic Trees" by Radiohead to Hannah's sister Rachel, to thank her for introducing Hannah to the band so long ago, or like dedicating "Play that Funky Music" by Wild Cherry to my dad, since his life partially inspired the song).

For the most part, Juan and I split up "DJ" duties for the reception--that's right, I DJed my own wedding. It added up to about 60 seconds--tops--of volume control, hitting pause, clicking and dragging, and telling Juan how to do those things. I put Grant in charge of hitting the "play" button while we were biking over, and that was that.

The end result was that Hannah and I had complete, 100 percent, total control over the music that was played at our wedding. We made a deliberate effort to make sure that there were plenty of recognizable hit songs that everyone would enjoy, but we were able to balance that with some songs that were personal favorites--for both us and some guests. iTunes even has a crossfading feature that, like a real DJ, is able to segue from song to song so that the music never stops. I recall that the transition from "Walk this Way" to "Stronger" was particularly awesome.

Of course, the best part wasn't just that we got to play music we picked--it's that people enjoyed it! We got lots of compliments on the music, and have burned a couple of CDs with the whole playlist after a few requests. If you feel like checking out what was played at the wedding, I exported the playlists to spreadsheets and uploaded them to Google documents, linked below:

Dinner Playlist
Dance Playlist

I think that the fact that our wedding was so homegrown and showed so much of our personalities didn't just make it more satisfying for us, but for everyone else as well. Whether your musical poison is classical/string music (St. Charles String Quartet), classic rock (Journey), hip hop (Kanye West, The Roots), country (Gillian Welch, Randy Travis, and Lucinda Williams), progressive rock (Dream Theater, Procupine Tree), indie (Weakerthans, Andrew Bird, the Format), or even schizophrenic Casio-keyboard rant-rap (Wesley Willis), our wedding had something for you.

All this, and on a budget!