Monday, August 29, 2011

Irene, our little hurricane

Irene wasn't a treacherous storm, but our little hurricane was exciting and a great learning experience. Eric stayed on board Clementine in a small cove near the National Harbor. He was protected by a hill, the bridge, and an island. (I stayed home with the pets and kept him company by telephone when the wind was at its worst.) So what did we learn?

Advance planning. Make sure you have enough food, water, and sleep before the hurricane arrives. Know where you're going to put the boat and get there early. Watch the weather. Know which way the wind will be blowing, what path the storm is taking, and what the current is doing. Protect your nylon rode. Eric wrapped cloth around all of the potential chafe points to keep the line from breaking and the anchor secure. Clementine is stout. With winds at 47mph, gusting to 58, Clementine yawned and went back to sleep. We both have complete confidence in her ability to take on the elements.

The following day was bright and sunny, yet surprisingly dry. It was like Irene had never even been there. When all of the bigger boats started coming home in a long line down the river, it was like a joyous parade. We even got to see John, our neighbor on the water, who abandoned his boat in good times but came through for her in bad.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Yesterday, we experienced an earthquake! It registered 5.9 on the richter scale and shook the ground all the way from New York to North Carolina! Eric and I were in DC for a doctor's appointment and couldn't get out of the city. When the quake hit, everyone left their offices and classrooms, filing out into the street. Museums closed down and so did the subway system. Traffic was at a standstill. What did we do? We walked home! It took us 2-1/2 hours to get from Union Station to Virginia, at which time we took a pizza break and then were able to catch a bus the rest of the way home.

And today, we have to think about how we can prepare the boat for Irene, a category 4 hurricane expected to hit the area this Saturday.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


A movie still from the book I am currently reading. Who can guess the title without looking at the photo caption?

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Island of Ibiza

Also from the Jordi Canosa website, this house is found on the Island of Ibiza and is called la Casa Es Vedra. Do you notice there are no lamps in any of these photos ... only wall fixtures, lanterns, and candles?

The Island of Formentera

These three interior shots are from the Jordi Canosa website and are of a house called Daisy on the island of Formentera. All of the furniture is lightweight and easily moved. There's no excess, not in style or in color. I find the space calm and inviting.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Resolution #2: Get My Financial House in Order

If there's a resolution #1, there has to be a resolution #2, in the same way you can't have a first annual event, now can you?

Resolution #2, Get My Financial House In Order, has made 2011 a tough year so far, mostly due to a big step I took in securing my retirement fund.

I started working at a local community college when I was just 20 years old. Part of my compensation package was that the Commonwealth of Virginia would pay into my pension plan 100%. So, having gone straight from my father's house and high school to my husband's house and night school, I found myself working full time and going to this same community college as a part-time student. After many years of sacrificing my social life, going through a divorce, and taking a few semesters off here and there, I was in my mid-30s and still working full time and pursing an undergraduate degree part time. I had transferred to a four-year university but was still plugging away one class at a time and getting increasingly tired. When my grandmother died and left me some money, I decided to take that gift and supplement it with my retirement fund which had accumulated quite a bit over time. I quit work and became a full-time student.

What I didn't plan for was going back to the same job I'd had before graduation and reaching the point where I am now with 28 years of service and only 13 years of retirement. Couple that with a very real economic fear of losing my option to buy back my retirement, I made the decision a few months ago to invest a whopping $42,000 into my future. In less than two short years, I can now "retire" at age 52 and will receive one half my current salary for doing absolutely nothing. I'll still have to work to survive, but one half my income will be free and without obligation. How can I pass that up?

But where does this big SMART move leave me today? Broke with no immediate savings and in debt to my mother for part of my investment and another $3,000 spent on medical bills for my cat who was suffering from hyperthyroidism. Throw in no pay raises for the last three years due to the economic downturn, a decline in my condo's property value, rising costs everywhere especially for food, and a potential major increase in my condo fee due to a window-replacement issue which seems to be going no where and I am suffering even more. I am downsizing everywhere I can in an attempt not to self destruct.

Here's my list of Top Ten Budget Cuts, including those accomplished and those yet to come:

1. Eliminate cable television and Internet service at home.
I was paying $80 a month for both only because to get Internet service alone was nearly as much as the two combined. The plan when I cancelled service was to tether my iPhone but unfortunately found out afterwards that the G3 doesn't have the capability to hotspot unless you jailbreak your phone and open yourself up to hackers. Hmmm, so no Internet at home right now and using up massive amounts of Eric's tethering service when he's here. (TY, Eric!) And no regular TV because I don't have and don't feel like buying a digital converter.

2. Spend less on books and movies.
Who knew the library was such a good option for books and movies? Luckily for me, I live less than two blocks away from Arlington County's largest library and it has every book I could ever want and a fairly decent DVD collection. This change has turned out okay.

3. Spend less at the hair salon.
Instead of going into Georgetown every month, I now walk down the street to a local salon. It's $20 less per month and saves me a lot of time. At first, I was pained by the change. Georgetown has a good vibe and the salon was beautiful ... hardwood floors, beautiful light, hip clientele. Now? Small, cramped, and the shampoo girl - as nice as she is - talks way too much but Joseph, my new hair guy, is quite intelligent and a lot more interesting than my old hair guy who was awfully cute but not that bright. Another adjustment that turned out okay.

4. Spend less on shampoo and cosmetics.
I was a bit shocked when I started looking at how much stuff costs, or rather, how much I was spending on certain items when other less expensive options were available. I've been buying a tube of mascara that costs $28 (!) when there are many alternatives out there for just $15. The cheaper version probably won't last as long but heck I probably won't replace it any earlier so the savings is still there. And the Bumble Gentle Shampoo I was ordering is pricey but the Seaweed version is a just a little bit less so and smells a whole lot better so no pain here.

5. Spend less on food, or more appropriately, shop more wisely.
This has been a tough one and I've made no progress in this area at all. I like to eat and I enjoy eating out. Harris Teeter, one of the most expensive grocery stores around, is one step outside my front door. I could walk down the street to the Spanish market in order to save money but I don't. I could bag my lunch at work but I haven't. I could give up convenience and cook everything at home but then I'd have to clean up and wash dishes and that just isn't me. I'll keep trying ... really I will ... right after Eric and I pick up our take-away salads from Marvelous Market on our way back from the library today.

6. No more Starbucks on my way to work.
I quit this habit a long time ago. $3 a day is a lot for coffee but the real reason for stopping the Starbucks trip was it's a 15-minute walk to the nearest store and I want my coffee hot right out of bed first thing in the morning. I still give myself credit, though, for making this switch because it wouldn't be that hard to pick it up again.

7. No more expensive clothes.
Actually, hardly any new clothes at all and this sucks. I don't like it. This has got to change. Thanks to my mom, I still get a little bit of a fashion fix, though. She gave me lovely Repetto ballet flats for my birthday and loaned me money for an Eileen Fisher black sweater I was able to get for a steal. Heck, the $9 stripey jam jam pants I bought in the check-out line at the grocery store are pretty awesome all the same and there are some fun treats out there even if they cost less. (Yeah, sure, keep telling yourself this, Leslie, and maybe you will start to believe it.)

8. No more taxi cab rides because I'm lazy.
I've been car-less for years but got spoiled when I started dating Eric. He'd drive me here and there and I got lazy. Now that he's car-free (since buying Clementine), we fell into the habit of taking taxi cab rides from the marina to the condo, and from the condo to the marina. The totals added up at $40 a pop but we are back on track with public transportation and are healthier because of it in the long run.

9. No more gym memberships.
I never go. I join with good intentions and then feel guilty for not going and develop an aversion to the whole thing. There are many good ways to get exercise without having to commit myself to a monthly fee and contract. Eric and I row the dinghy out to Clementine. I can sign up for a pay-as-I-go yoga class. We can run outside instead of inside on a treadmill. The key is in actually doing it but no sense in spending money in the effort. A financial investment does not make for an exercise commitment.

10. Sell my condo
Or better title, Get Out From Under My Mortgage. Home ownership is not all it's cracked up to be when you consider how much interest you pay and how little you actually get back at the end of the year. Owning a home ties you down to a certain geographic area; even if you decide to stay there, the noose is pretty tight, and what's the point when you can't afford to make any of the modifications you'd hope to make when you decided to buy the place originally?

So, in 2013, when I "retire," no longer have a mortgage holding me down, and my financial house in order, the whole world will be my oyster, insh'Allah. May my health and good fortune permit me the opportunity to travel. I may move back to Adams Morgan, or down to Old Town, closer to Eric's boat, or maybe I'll study a year in Spain and see all of the wonderful architecture I have been reading about this weekend.

And my promise for tomorrow?
Not to blog about such important stuff in such great detail. I have some great rustic interiors to show you from the Balearic Islands.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Celebration of Reading

Well, my book-reading binge has slowed down quite a bit. DCs oppressive heat wave has subsided - somewhat - and there's more to do outside. It's strange when a 90-degree day provides noticeable relief and we can all breathe easier.

So, the common thread in the books I've read so far is DRINKING, and lots of it. I started Strangers on a Train and the two opening characters were sloppy drunk and I thought, I just can't handle this right now. In Breakfast at Tiffany's, they drink for fun; in Gray Flannel Suit, they drink out of habit; and in Peyton Place, they drink in basements for weeks on end and only come up and outside when the alcohol runs out. We all know that drinking during meetings and at work was common during the 1950s but, interestingly enough, there was no alcohol at all in the UK's To Sir with Love. Sure, Braithwaite was a straight-laced kind of guy and all of the American writers were serious alcoholics, but what does this say about American culture in general?

To give the whole 1950s literature challenge a temporary break and expansion, I've picked up a book on architecture (Architecture of the Islamic World) and added the Cairo Trilogy to my reading list. All three books (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, and Sugar Street) were also published during the 1950s. I wonder if the characters in these books drink alcohol? I do know in Egypt you can't buy alcoholic drinks in restaurants but they will deliver alcoholic beverages right to your door and probably serve alcohol in clubs. What were the topics of concern during the 1950s in Egypt? We shall see.

So, in Celebration of Reading, I've created my own meme and hope you will link back and answer the questions. Please post a photo of your own bookshelf if you do participate.

1. Do you read for pleasure daily, in spurts, or rarely?
I read when I don't want to think. I've just realized that. I read three books back to back over one weekend when my grandmother died. I read quite a bit during the summer of 2008 when I didn't want to think about buying a condo, and I always like to read when I'm on vacation. I also read to pass the time when I have a long commute or bus ride. I don't have the ability, unfortunately, to read on an airplane. I feel too distracted by the fact that I am way too high up in the air and have a huge vacuum of space underneath me.

2. What kind of books and magazines do you like to read?
I like fashion and interior design magazines but will confess, I don't really read them. I read fictional novels and art books. I don't like celebrity biographies, how-to books, or modern-day horror fiction. I do like gothic novels, though, and vampires stories. I read crime fiction and mysteries when I'm tired. They don't require a lot of mental focus.

3. Who are your favorite authors?
I'm going to say Willa Cather and Thomas Hardy right now because I've read multiple books by both authors and, after a great purge of books, still have their novels on my bookshelf.

4. How do you organize your books?
By subject matter or genre, then by country of author or topic, and then by size (height and depth). One shelf - the top one - is all fiction, the next shelf is all cookbooks, the third shelf down is for art books, and finally the lower shelf is for history, including genealogical research documents, and Elle Decor magazines. I'm getting ready to move my reference books over to the top of my desk to make more room for art books and have stacks and stacks of books around my house right now in anticipation of another major purge. It's crazy that when I move I have one box of dishes, three suitcases, and 15 boxes of heavy-ass books. (Getting ready to move, you ask? Not this year, but maybe next. More on that in tomorrow's post.)

5. Have you made the transition from printed material to e-books?
No, I'm resisting it. It makes sense having all of my books in one place and portable, especially if I decide to spend a lot of time out on Eric's boat, but after having worked in publications for years, I like how a printed book feels. I like turning the page and touching the weight of the paper. For now, I'm sticking with traditional.

I am tagging Evil Pixie, What She Said, Vacant Lot, Shining Lotus, Siobhan, Kevin's Stills, Do These Shoes Match this Purse, and Tourist Cup. Remember to include a photo of your own personal library if you post! Let's see how far my little meme can travel ...