Saturday, January 30, 2016

Trees and Straight Lines

I read an article, "German Forest Ranger Finds That Trees Have Social Networks, Too" this morning, and was so struck by this passage:

Stopping to consider a tree that rose up straight then curved like a question mark, Mr. Wohlleben said, however, that it was the untrained perspective of visitors he took on forest tours years ago to which he owed much insight.

“For a forester, this tree is ugly, because it is crooked, which means you can’t get very much money for the wood,” he said. “It really surprised me, walking through the forest, when people called a tree like this one beautiful. They said, ‘My life hasn’t always run in a straight line, either.’”

My life hasn't always run in a straight line, either. I can't stop thinking about it.

I spend a surprising amount of time trying to get our plants to grow straight. Roger does the hard work of keeping them alive, but I find myself turning them, tying their branches to stakes, trying to get them to just sit up straight and not keel over from the heavy personal weight of themselves.

I've been spending so much time inside lately. Roger's mother texted me this morning, "Remember, there's a big world out there." I was defensive. (I'm always defensive.) Of course I remember there's a world out there. If I'm anything, it's aware that things are going on without me. The party I wanted to go to tonight. All the ex-pat living I'd thought I would have done by now. All the poetry contests I know I should be sending my book to. The life-work of being in the woods, of being with friends, of reading books and playing cards, of existing beyond a screen.

I'll get to it. After this project, after the GREs. After the wedding and the baby shower and another wedding and then what? After spring, after summer. After grad school. I'll get to it. Life doesn't always run in a straight line.

Friday, January 29, 2016

New Years in Montpelier, VT - Part 2

Thursday, December 31, 2015

On New Year's Eve morning, we headed in to a local coffeeshop, where we saw this adorable pumpkin and enjoyed breakfast sandwiches.

Cece and Owen drove up from New York and met us at the Coop to buy a few more supplies for the evening, and then we all hung out at James's house and waited for Christine and her sister Joelle to arrive.

We also did a little shoveling/playing with the snow:

Christine and Joelle, after digging their car out from the road near their aunt's house, arrived that afternoon, and we all met up at the Three Penny Taproom for lunch. They have a great beer selection and their cheese soup and grilled cheese were both delicious.

We all bought a ton of beer and cider, and spent most of New Years Eve drinking by the fire, playing games, and catching up. The whole group of Jeffersons hadn't been together since graduation in 2010, so it was pretty amazing to see everyone together again. We all talked about our goals for the new year and how 2015 had gone. It was a ton of fun.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and so did this amazing, restorative trip. In the morning, I snapped a few shots of my favorite people, including Emily, who somehow managed to not be in a single picture I took until this one:

This is one of my favorites from the trip. Back in 2009, Cece painting portraits of all of the Jeffersons to hang up in their dining room. After graduation, no one knew what happened to them, and I guess the last time we saw Christine, one of us mentioned it. Lo and behold, they were in Christine's childhood home, and she brought them to Vermont to surprise everyone. It was pretty magical:

It was hard to say goodbye, but there is a certain wedding coming up this summer where we'll all be together again. I can't wait to see everyone, because if it's even half as much fun as this trip (and I'm betting it will be double the fun!), then we're all going to have an amazing time!

Thanks for letting us ring in 2016 with you, James and Emily! This is going to be a big year for you and I hope we can celebrate many more New Years with you both!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

New Years 2016 in Montpelier, VT - Part 1

When I first learned that I get Christmas week off at work, I immediately knew we'd head north to visit Roger's old roommate, James, and his fiancée, Emily, in Vermont. We visited them about three years ago, shortly after they moved there, but hadn't been back since, and I hadn't seen them since they came to New York over a year ago. We were so excited to see them and to see the new house they bought, which is beautiful!

And, it turns out that, without even realizing it, we've spend half of our New Year's Eves since Roger graduated college with Roger's old roommate James and his fiancée Emily. We saw them in France in 2010, and they visited us in New York in 2011. It's sort of nice to have a little tradition like that!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

We headed to Vermont on December 27th. We stopped at the Yankee Candle Factory (and somehow spent almost an hour there?) because Roger's recently gotten into candlemaking and candle burning. We continued on to James and Emily's place in Montpelier and got there in the early evening. Dinner was some delicious soup at Pho Capital, and we hung out and chatted the night away in their gorgeous house.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The next morning, Emily headed to work and we were off to explore Montpelier with James. One of our first stops was the Hunger Mountain Coop, which was fantastic but less fantastic than our own Park Slope Coop. (New York: 1, Vermont: Still about a million).   

We visited James's gallery, The Front, and took a look at the show that was up there. I really liked everything on display, but I was especially taken by Janet Van Fleet's pieces. We wandering into and out of some of Montpelier's bookstores (there's more than one independent bookstore - not many NYC neighborhoods can claim that), and found ourselves at Down Home Kitchen for brunch. In a week of delicious meals, this might have been the very best one. Everything was perfect, especially the biscuits and corn bread.

We did some more wandering around town, and found ourselves at the top of Hubbard Park for some lovely wintery views of the capital building and town.

We made dinner that night and hung out by the fire, talking about magazines (thanks to Emily, I'm now a Fast Company subscriber and I might just subscribe to Yankee Magazine, too!), careers, and homeownership.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

In the morning, we woke to a bunch of snow, and experienced one of the joys of homeownership for ourselves: shoveling snow.

Seriously, though? People are always telling us how much we would hate shoveling and how lucky we are not to have to do it, but it was fine. I can imagine that after months of doing it every day, it gets pretty grating, but so is spending $24k a year in rent and knowing it could be going to paying off a mortgage instead. Anyway...

With the cars cleared off, I drove, white-knuckled, to Burlington, with a stop at the Red Hen Baking Company for my sanity some coffee.

In Burlington, we met up with Trisha for a delicious lunch at Penny Cluse Cafe, which comes in a very close second to Down Home for the best meal in Vermont.

We walked down to Citizen Cider, stopping in on a little art and antique gallery on the way. We each did a flight at the cidery. Dirty Mayor was definitely still my favorite, but it was fun to try the other varieties too. They were all delicious and it was a fun way to while away the afternoon.

That evening, we drove to Barre so James could go to his gallery's holiday party. Emily, Roger, and I walked around the main strip of Barre and then headed to Cornerstone Pub and Kitchen which was really nice. I had the Thanksgiving Pizza, which was pretty tasty.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

We had a pretty low-key day on Wednesday, and spent most of it wandering around Montpelier, checking out the antique stores (where we bought an oil lamp!) and getting food together for New Years Eve.

We also made avocado smoothies, inspired by James's order at Penny Kluse. They turned out pretty okay. I preferred mine with a little maple syrup.

And we made a dish that James taught me about three years ago, and that I've made pretty frequently since then: chocolate ricotta. It's pretty much the lazy girl's version of Moosewood's Chocolate Ricotta Mousse, which I'm pretty sure I'll try making one day, since that doesn't seem too hard either. For our version, you basically just stir melted chocolate into a container of ricotta. We used a leftover chocolate Santa from Christmas. It was delicious.

That night, Dave and Rob drove up from Boston. We all chatted until pretty late in the night. It was great to see them - I hadn't seen either of them since the HWS Reunion a few months earlier!

Next Up: New Years Eve in Vermont!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

8 Things You Can Do Now to Save Money on Travel

I really enjoyed this article from the New York Times: 8 Things You Can Do Now to Save Money on Travel. It gives some tips for travel savings that you can implement immediately, like creating a list of dream destinations now and seeing which ones are generally the most affordable, or installing the Honey browser extension to automatically check discount codes. (I'm going to do that one myself!)

I really believe that travel can be accessible to nearly everyone, and that we owe it to ourselves to get off our streets and into the world a little bit. Anything that makes that more affordable is good by me!

And, if you're interested, here's the same article from 2015 and all of Seth Kugal's Frugal Traveler articles in general.

H/T to Cat, who sent me this great piece!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Writer Wednesday - Revanche from A Gai Shan Life

I somehow stumbled on Revanche's twitter through Lauren, and instantly fell in love. Her tweets are a perfect mix of serious and irreverent, and her blog, A Gai Shan Life, is no different. I love how she writes about money in an earnest way, without it ever feeling like I'm getting a lecture. I've been trying to write more about money recently, and reading Revanche's writing is always inspiring to me. I hope you'll check out her blog after reading this interview!

Who are you? Depends on when you're asking. I'm a geek, a professional, a problem-solver. I'm mom to a canine and a human, wife of the best partner in all the hemispheres. I'm an advocate, an idealist, and a bit of a misanthrope. I want everyone to behave decently and bring some value to the table so when the world acts in strange and disappointing ways, I'm Toby Ziegler:

Where can you be found online? Do you have a blog or other online receptacle for your work? If so, how would you describe it to a stranger you've just met while on vacation? Remember, you're in a hot tub with them on a clear cold night, stars twinkling above you. They want all the details. If I were talking to a stranger, in the flesh, and they could identify me in a photo later? I wouldn't tell them about the blog at all! I've been a pseudonymous blogger for so long, unless I'm meeting a longtime reader or fellow blogger, my default is total denial: Blog? What is a blog?

For those in the know, I'm either on Twitter at @RevAGSL or at A Gai Shan Life. There, I'm the most authentic me I can be.

What inspired you to start writing/blogging? When did it happen? Back in ought-eight, no, ought-five, Blogger was (still?) the hot new thing so my cadre had all decided to start their own personal blogs, which quickly withered for lack of attention. But I, lone wolf that I am, stumbled across the earliest generation of personal finance blogs and for an English major with a serious addiction to learning about money, this was heaven. Between a series of bad decisions and terrible circumstances, my family had gone from head above water to several leagues under, anchored by debt and a business gone sour. I took great solace in the actionable advice from a community that was at least as aware of and usually in need of financial management as I was. It took me about a year before I actually ventured to write about my isolating circumstances and then several more years before I actually felt comfortable with writing. Now it's still about money but in addition to, not to the exclusion of, the other things in life.

Why do you write? This is a question I've asked myself. I originally envisioned a bloggery discussion with people about the same age as me and interested in money but many of those original bloggers disappeared while I stuck around. My blog evolved into a safe place to work out money in life problems, a place where I could vent about my frustrations with family without being a jerk who named names. I didn't want it to be a me against them situation, and there was no way to focus solely on the issues if identities were involved. It's cheap therapy, to boot! These days, it's still a learning experience but with fewer, but bigger, fumbles.

Your writing inspires me. Who inspires you? D'awww shucks! This one is a little harder for me, it's like being asked who my favorite author is. I can't pick just one. I take my inspiration like I do delicious foods: anywhere I can get it! A good show, an interesting person, a happy dog, gorgeous photos. Someone who keeps plugging away, despite obstacles; someone who has achieved, showing us the way; someone who finds joy in life in the most unexpected places; someone who learns to ask for help when they need it. (I'm terrible at asking for help.) Someone with creative flair and an eye for art - I've got exactly one ounce of artistic anything in me, that's enough to appreciate it but not to create. My dog's patience is inspirational, as is the stubbornness of my wee child, as is the thoughtfulness of my partner, as are the wonderful friends who show up for me when I need support. They all fire me up to be a better person, and write about it!

In keeping with the admittedly loose travel theme of Not Intent On Arriving, if you could have an all-expenses paid trip anywhere in the world, where would you go? Oh no, conflict! We've wanted to do New Zealand + Australia for AGES but haven't because I want to be there for two months at least and that's a lot of time and money. HOWEVER. I love (x1000) discovering small towns in Italy where the food is so wonderful. Or big cities. Or wherever in Italy - I've only ever had one bad meal in Italy and that was my own fault for having seafood pasta in a place called Eat 'n' Go. I bet they weren't even Italian. Or Thailand - oh goodness, we had so much good food in Thailand. Though, admittedly, I have a much higher incidence rate of passing out due to Oh-So-Spicy!! in Thailand than I do in Italy. Clearly, I travel on my taste buds.

What is your favorite place on earth? Home. Home home home. I love travel, I love discovering new places and new foods but I like being in my homespace so much.

Anything else you'd like us to know? Comic books are awesome, my Spanish is absolutely terrible, and I love perfectly crisp green beans.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Dispatch from Key West, FL

My friend Danielle went to Florida for a wedding over New Years, and treated herself to a solo vacation in Key West for a few days after that. Everything about it sounds glorious and makes me want to go back. I'm so glad to be sharing some her photos from the trip. If you have any photos you'd like to share in my "Dispatch From" feature, please email me and we'll get them posted! I'd love to see images of your recent or distant trips! 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Monthly Spending in December 2015 (And a Budget Comparison of 2014 and 2015)

Net Worth Change from Previous Month: +10.7%
Total Spent: $1,152

December wasn't great for spending, thanks to Christmas gifts ($510), but it wasn't terrible, all things considered. I tried really hard not to overbuy, and actually felt like I did a good job, but I guess it wasn't quite as trim as I'd thought it was. We'll see how I can fix that for 2016. I also spent about $200 on registering for the GRE (to take it in a month! Yikes!) and about $100 on vaccines for Virginia Woolf. I got a haircut at Supercuts for $25, and I actually kept my food budget to a normal $150, which I'm really proud of. Our trip to Vermont cost about $125 for gas, eating out, and the few things we bought while we stayed with friends. Overall, other than going a little crazy on the gifts, it wasn't too bad of a month.

And, for making money, it was a banner month. I've never made so much in one month before and it will probably be some time before I do again. I worked my butt off with freelancing, so I'm pretty proud that I saved up a pretty big portion of what I made. I put aside a third of it for taxes, and the rest went to finishing saving for our trip to India, and starting to really put something aside for our emergency fund. As a result, my net worth went way up, and it's been really nice to have some money in SmartyPig that I know won't go anywhere, even if the market is up and down.

I "used" that money to pay down the categories that I'd refreshed once or twice, which still show up as red in my "all time" view on's budgets. I eliminated both "Food" and "Home" and it feels to start over at $0 for 2016 and know that everything I budget from here on out is real. I stupidly did not "roll over" my tax and pet budgets into the next month (the way I use Mint to plan ahead), so when I make those big payments/purchases, I'll have to mark them as having happened in the past to keep it all clean. Silly mistake, and annoying, but Mint doesn't let you go back once a month is over.

For January, and maybe for all of 2016, I'm taking a new approach to the cash budget. I'm going to take out $75 each week, instead of $300 each month. It's just too easy to blast through all my cash at the beginning of the month, and then too tempting to take out more or use my credit card after that. This has been a good month as far as income goes, but it's back to normal in 2016, so I want to get back on track.

How's your budget going? Did you meet any exciting goals this month? Any resolutions for money in 2016?

If you'd like to see how my 2015 budget overall compared to my 2014, it's a huge difference! Click below if you're interested.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Redwoods on the S.S. President Johnson Menu

I was futzing about on the NYPL site, and found this beautiful menu cover. Turns out, there's a whole line of them, and a lot of history behind the boat where these meals were served. I love how small the little car at the bottom is, compared to the majestic trees. It makes me wonder what traveling as a passenger on the S.S. President Johnson in the 20s and 30s would have been like. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2015 Advent Calendar of Joy

This year, in lieu of an Advent calendar, I posted one thing each day on Facebook that was bringing me joy. Since today is Epiphany and the end of the twelve days of Christmas, I thought I'd share all of my posts here. If you'd like to share a thing or two that brought you joy this December, please go ahead in the comments!

December 1: Finding out I have one more tennis class left before the semester ends. A happy surprise!

December 2: Hearing a boat's fog horn off the river, drifting past the cars on the BQE and into my apartment. It was a rough day in some ways and the horn was a nice reminder that the water is never too far away.

December 3: The restaurant that allowed me to get pho AND bahn mi for lunch. And the great company I had while eating it. And, pork buns.

December 4: The way the sun hit a brick wall this afternoon, walking home from a coffee shop on a personal day. It was so bright that it almost looked like rose gold.

December 5: Eating some amazing latkes with friends this evening.

December 6: Having so many things bring me joy that I can't choose just one! (The warmth a good Jefferson email chain brings to my heart. Hearing Roger talking to the cat in the other room. Going to an Advent party at All Saints tonight.)

December 7: This very charming collection of classical holiday music. I love the "Indie Holiday" station on Pandora, too, but this feels a bit more festive to me right now.

December 8: Really, really fresh dried mango slices from the Park Slope Food Coop.

December 9: Rose-scented body wash.

December 10: Bumping into a dear friend on my way to work this morning.

December 11: The smell of boxwood.

December 12: Spending the afternoon with my favorite four-month old and her very cool parents.

December 13: Bumping into a friend from high school on the subway this morning. (I really love randomly seeing people. It makes the city feel a little smaller and friendlier.)

December 14: A lunchtime walk to do a little holiday shopping.

December 15: Putting together the Sarah Lawrence class notes and realizing how many amazing things all of us have done over the past few years.

December 16: A book club filled with wonderful, smart conversation (even though I never even opened this month's book).

December 17: How lucky I've been in my career so far, in lots of ways: universally intelligent coworkers, companies whose mission statements I believe in, salaries that have mostly let me live the life I want to live, challenging and interesting work of my own.

December 18: A lovely gift of Harney & Sons tea, which pairs really well with the accompanying b'day truffles from Milk Bar.

December 19: Composting in Red Hook. It was hard work, but also a lot of fun. And even better, picking our own lettuce, radishes, and beets afterward!

December 20: The Christmas Pageant at All Saints' this morning. It was the cutest thing I saw all weekend, and considering that I saw my favorite baby cousin on Saturday, that's A LOT of adorable.

December 21: Walnuts in maple yogurt for breakfast.

December 22: The influx of very sweet holiday cards I just got in my mailbox. So many of them featured beloved pets this year!

December 23: Meeting the newest member of my friend-family. It was a beautiful, emotional day.

December 24: Celebrating Christmas Eve the same way I have for all 29 of my Christmases: with family, love, warmth, and a lot of seafood!