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Archive for October, 2013

Now that we’re fully moved in and partially settled, Bart and I are trying to return to some semblance of normalcy in our daily routine. One thing that has been unusual and pervasive for us over the last half a year or more is eating out multiple times a week. We enjoy going out for a meal as a fun activity now and again, but we were relying on restaurants for food more than we typically do.

One reason for this increase in eating out was house-hunting; we would be out almost all day on Saturdays and Sundays and need to eat between showings. Another reason was my periodic lack of motivation and inspiration in the kitchen, which happens to us all at some time or another. Then, during the final weeks of packing one kitchen, moving, and unpacking into another one, we were forced to eat out with abandon as we had limited resources to cook our own meals.

Needless to say, this dining schedule begins to add up considerably in cost as well as health. It’s easy to toss a few twenties or your credit card at the check when you finish a meal without thinking, but when I stop to really look at the dollar amount of some meals, I can hardly believe I’m willing to spend that much on one meal, especially when I would balk on spending that much on an item I would use every day at home. Now, obviously we have to eat, and that does cost money, but I can cook so much cheaper at home, and most of the time it’s just as tasty. Also, we are used to eating pretty well when we cook, but when I go out for a meal, I’m definitely not ordering a salad with a side veggies. So, it seemed like November would be the perfect time to get back to our normal routine, but with a kick. To keep us motivated, Bart and I have instituted an Eat-Out Challenge for the month of November.

Here’s how it works for us. We set a budget for eating out the entire month, and we do not exceed that dollar amount by November 30 (with some flexibility for unexpected things, like guests or travel). When we did this previously in Colorado, we were able to meet or beat a goal of $100 most months, which for us translated in about one restaurant or casual dining meal per week. Here, things are pricier, and we think $125 is a good goal to shoot for. If I were brave enough to calculate an estimate of our eating out expenditures for October, I think I might faint over the difference in those two numbers, but it’s totally doable. Plus, all that money saved could be used for something else fun, like fixing up the house.

To kick start our challenge, we are instituting a mini-challenge of not eating out for an entire week. That will be more challenging if we have plans to be out on Saturday, but we can work around it. That will also make our next restaurant outing more special.

I also decided to incorporate one more challenge for myself this month. As we’ll be eating at home more, I’ll need some extra motivation for cooking interesting meals. So I’ve decided to try four new recipes this month, approximately once a week, to keep it interesting in the kitchen. Bonus points if my new recipes put my fancy Wolf oven and gas cooktop through their paces. If I come across a real winner of a recipe, I’ll be sure to share. We’ll also be in Raleigh with friends for Thanksgiving, so that would be a great opportunity to try a new holiday dish.

I’m actually looking forward to this challenge. We’ve been so scattered lately that doing something like a challenge means we’re settled enough to focus on a project other than unpacking. It’s also a nice twist that it naturally involves spending more quality time in our new home.

Do you have any goals for the new month? There’s never a better time to try something new!

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We were slow to get into the local Craigslist after we moved to DC, but moving to our new house has evidently opened a new chapter of steals and deals.

The day before we moved from the rental to the new house, Bart and I sold our Kirby vacuum cleaner to a couple with two mastiffs (aka 200-lb dogs). They definitely needed the suction power more than we do (we only have one room of carpet in our house). I was a motivated seller for the vacuum as I didn’t want to move it, so I listed it at a very competitive price. Initially, I got a handful of interested parties wondering if I’d do 50% less on my already bargain basement price. Um, no? I got emails from people with very poor English (and let me just say, you can be a native English speaker and have very poor English) and could barely understand what they were trying to say. I got emails asking if “the item” was still available; sorry, but my policy is to not deal with any bot or scammer who won’t call my item by name in the listing. But rather than pounce on the first sketchy email, I waited patiently, and sure enough, a reasonable person finally contacted me about it. Having that extra cash in our pocket was helpful for some initial purchases for the house.

Like, for instance, something off Craigslist.

Since we have two large outdoor living spaces and had sold all our outdoor furniture before we moved, we knew we’d be needing some tables and chairs and such in the near future. Bart was on the ball looking for patio furniture on Craigslist and saw a listing for a whole pile of chairs and tables for $100, which, if you’ve priced outdoor furniture lately, you know is a huge steal. The cushions were a little worn, but for that price we could still easily replace them and come out ahead. So we voluntarily made a trip west of town in the middle of rush-hour traffic to pick them up. Totally worth it.

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We decided to place them in our screened-in porch for now, as they will be covered from the elements during the winter and might get a little more use on pleasant days. But we’ll see what the future holds for them.

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Meanwhile, I can look for new cushions or get motivated to sew my own. I’m an okay seamstress, but that’s a big task!

Oh, and my little pansy pot doesn’t have to sit on the floor anymore.

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Have you scored any awesome deals lately?

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Waking up at 5:00 a.m. to go to work on your birthday isn’t necessarily what I would wish for every year; however, I guess my early commuting schedule means that I get to enjoy more hours of my birthday today. Although I distinctly remember achieving a similar effect in college by staying up until after midnight the day before.

For the second year in a row, my birthday has coincided with moving, and while Bart and I have tried hard to not let it fall by the wayside, it has inevitably gone a slightly different direction than usual. Last year, I did have my bi-annual costume birthday party, albeit amid moving boxes, as a final farewell to all our friends in Colorado. This year, I didn’t have anything particularly spectacular planned, however, in typical Taylor fashion, we essentially celebrated my birthday all weekend up through Monday. On Friday, I took an evening off from unpacking to attend the annual banquet for the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center. The event featured guest speaker Pam Tebow, who is a wonderfully sweet and sincere woman. Her son’s fame has given her an unexpected platform to speak in the last few years, so I was thankful for the opportunity to hear her story.

On Saturday, we had to run a few errands in the morning and plowed through a few boxes at home, but we did find time for some fun diversions. In the afternoon, we took an hour or two and drove a little ways out of town to look at leaves. The fall foliage hasn’t arrived in force in the DC area just yet, but I think that next weekend will be the peak here. Despite the lack of fall color, we had a great trip off the beaten path, explored some new areas, and even found a neat regional park we want to come back to later.

Sunday evening, my friend from work and her husband came over to see the new house. We’re excited to live a lot closer to our small yet growing circle of friends now, and this couple lives just a few miles from us. We went out to dinner in Shirlington and came back to the house for birthday cake.

Yes, what birthday is complete without birthday cake? I decided to try a new spice cake recipe in my Wolf oven. The recipe called for baking 50-55 minutes, but I took the cake out after 30 minutes and decided that I might have even overbaked it for a couple of minutes. I’m starting to be a believer in this convection oven thing. Regardless, the cake was still delicious. And yes, we may have already eaten two-thirds of it.

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Yes, it’s over half gone. Gotta get it done before the birthday is over.

And because (some of) you asked for it, here’s another piece of Cake for my birthday.

Yesterday, when Bart and I were driving to church, I noticed some strange rocks sliding out from under my car seat.

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I couldn’t figure out what they came from and decided it must have been something I put in my car during the move, even though I was certain we didn’t own rocks. Bart gathered them all up and took them inside, and I totally forgot about them until I came into the kitchen this morning to find not only the rocks but the amaryllis bulb and vase to which they belong.
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Evidently he bought the vase a couple of days ago, and they accidentally spilled in the car on the way home. He thought his cover was blown, but he played it cool and, in true Jennifer fashion, I was oblivious. I’m semi-obsessed with plants that grow from bulbs, so I am very excited about watching my amaryllis grow over the holidays. What a thoughtful birthday gift from Bart, who fretted that my birthday wouldn’t feel special since life was so hectic the last two weeks. Well, I guess those fears were unfounded, as it’s been as good of a two weeks as a girl could ask for.

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So far, we haven’t had much interaction with people in the neighborhood. In fact, I don’t see all that many people out in general, and it’s a bit harder to be seen when all the houses sit pretty far back from our street. Granted, it’s also hard to see and be seen at oh-dark-thirty when I leave for work, but I digress.

We see cars coming and going from the house next door on occasion, but it’s been pretty quiet so far. It has only been a few days, but I am hoping we can meet some good, friendly neighbors. We certainly want to be that to everyone else. I have visions of being welcomed at our door with fresh baked cookies and fruit baskets, but it’s possible that everyone is just waiting until Halloween to come to our door. In which case, they’ll probably expect me to be handing out the treats.

There has been one neighborly interaction, however. Bart was outside taking trash to the curb this morning when a man came up to him to introduce himself. He lives one street over and was out walking his dog when he noticed Bart coming out of the house. Evidently, he was the one who installed the wonderful screen panels on our very unique and fantastic front porch. He even told Bart that they are removable and described how to do it.

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He also said his son rented the house from the owners for a while, so it seems he has quite a bit of history with the place. It was very thoughtful of him to stop and say hello to the new owners, especially to give us a tip about one of its best features.

Our only other neighborly encounter was also yesterday, when Bart saw a fox run out of the backyard. According to him, the only thing the fox said was, “see you later.”

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As the old saying goes, the darkest hour is just before dawn, and this is evidently when I will be heading to work from now on.

Part of the deal I made to be able to move to Virginia was to adopt a shifted commuting schedule. Because of traffic and the flexible work schedule the Observatory allows us to have, many people here opt to come in early and leave early. I already went to work early when living in Maryland to edge out the heaviest volume of traffic in the morning. But now it is imperative to leave early for multiple reasons.

First, I now commute primarily by interstate highway, whereas I took normal streets before. There are good and bad parts to both situations: previously, I had 44 stoplights between my home and work, but I also had the option of taking alternate routes around side streets if the flow of traffic was better. Now, most of my commute is interstate, and I only have 6 stoplights the entire way. With normal traffic (which appears to be steady but not bumper-to-bumper) I’ve cut my travel time from 40 minutes on an average morning to 25 minutes, which is fantastic. But if anything at all happens on the interstate, I’m stuck on a five lane highway with everyone else. Leaving early reduces the chances of that, though days where traffic is already a disaster at 6:00 a.m. will surely be inevitable.

The second reason I leave early is because I now take Rock Creek Parkway, a unique roadway that ducks out of the hubbub of the immediate downtown area and snakes up through the district along Rock Creek Park. This park is actually part of the National Park Service and runs many miles up through the district and into Maryland; in fact, our rent house was just a few blocks from the northern end of the park, and occasionally we would walk through it. Rock Creek Parkway, as well as other roads that run through the park, offer some alternative driving routes through the city while avoiding the busy grid of downtown. If I take the parkway up out of Virginia, I cut out dozens of stoplights and smoothly exit onto Massachusetts Avenue a mere two blocks from the Observatory.

It makes for an ideal commute, with one huge caveat: the Parkway changes to one direction into downtown at 6:45 a.m. Unfortunately, my commute takes me out of downtown, meaning that if I don’t finish my commute by 6:45, I have to find an alternate route to work. While it’s definitely possible, it’s much preferable to do everything in my power to make sure I hit it before that. Similarly, it switches the opposite way at 3:45 p.m., meaning I have to wrap up my workday before too late or face being stuck in traffic on the West End or in Georgetown.

In reality, having a shifted work schedule is kind of great. I get done early in the afternoons and have time to come home and enjoy a large chunk of the day. However, it does have its obvious down sides. First, I am not a morning person. Period. I hate waking up early, but evidently I’ve proven to myself that I can actually do it. I just don’t have to love it. It’s also apparently going to be dark for my commute all but for one or two months in the summer. I guess this will be okay once I learn the route, but right now, while I’m still learning what lanes to be in and how to merge into traffic, it’s a bit tricky. It’s also bizarre to be at work when it’s pitch black, like I’m somehow working the night shift. On the other hand, in the dead of winter when it gets dark barely after lunch, I’ll already be home.

My first two morning commutes and my afternoon commute yesterday went relatively smoothly, and I’m grateful for that. I’ve improved my commute time both ways by around 10-15 minutes, though I’ll need a few more data points to get a good average. As I mentioned before, learning what lanes to be in when is key, and it’s going to take me a week or two to get those down without accidentally ending up in the Pentagon parking lot or at National Airport. I’ve been using navigation on my Google Maps app to make my drive as foolproof as possible, but she doesn’t really tell you which of the four lanes you want to be in. I also need to purposefully learn those alternative routes reliably, because it’s guaranteed that on the rare occasion I’ll be forced to come in later or stay later and will miss out on the Parkway. Knowledge is power, and being comfortable with alternatives will ease the white-knuckle terror I usually feel when I’m forced off a known path and into the bowels of downtown DC.

I’m thankful the new drive has gone smoothly so far, and I hope my new routine gets even easier as we get more settled into our new place. But now excuse me while I go stare bleary-eyed at the coffee pot in the lab and wonder when after 31 years I’m going to finally be forced to start drinking the stuff.

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As of this weekend, the Taylors have officially relocated.

While I was at work on Friday, Bart and my parents went over to clean the new house and get it ready for moving in. I ended up leaving work a bit early to finish up some last-minute packing on the other end.

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No matter how much you think you pack in advance, there’s always way more left at the very end than you expect. But after cooking dinner on Friday night, mom and dad washed and packed the last kitchen items while Bart and I sold our old vacuum cleaner to a couple from the area (first successful local Craigslist sale!). Then it was just a matter of packing bedding and toiletries last-minute in the morning.

Saturday morning we got the moving truck. There was a bit of uncertainty right off the bat, as they didn’t have the larger truck we had reserved. We compromised by getting a smaller truck and making two trips (which we probably would have had to do anyway), plus the smaller truck was easier to get around. The lady at the rental place was nice about it and helped us out on the mileage charges. With the online discounts I found with our reservation and the break on mileage, our move cost just over $100. That’s amazing! We’re so thankful for that working out Providentially in a better way than we had planned.

We had some friends from church help us with the loading and unloading, and between the six of us, we were able to make two trips and move 98% of our stuff all on Saturday. I don’t think any of us anticipated getting that far, but it’s amazing how much faster you can move with six people instead of just two. We even got settled enough that we sat down to share our first meal in the new house together: delivered pizza on real plates around our actual dining table. We’re totally indebted to my parents and to Jerry and Tracy for their help.

Now life is totally disorganized and chaotic, but we’re slowly piecing things back together in the new place. It’s a bit trickier because the kitchen, bedrooms, and bedroom closets are a lot smaller than we’ve previously had, so it takes more thought and creativity to figure out where to put everything. The best course of action seems to be stashing things wherever we can find a place for them and slowly finding the optimal organization as we live in the house for a little while. In the meantime, as long as we can cook and I can get dressed for work, I think we’re doing pretty well.

So, this is what our basement rec room looks like as of Day One:

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So many boxes….but eventually Bart’s office will be set up here. He still has a couple of days off, so he should have a functional work area by then.

We also have enough stuff unpacked in the kitchen that we were able to pick up a few groceries yesterday and cook dinner there last night. While we’ve tried to cook as much as possible instead of eating out every single meal, grabbing something convenient when your entire kitchen is packed is inevitable, and I haven’t been eating as well as I normally do.

In addition to unpacking, we’ve already jumped into routine housekeeping activities. Namely, I’ve already swept a metric ton of leaves off the front porch and our ridiculously huge back deck. We practically live in a forest, so moving in the middle of fall is not giving us any misleading expectations about how things are going to be around here. And this photo was after I’d already swept off the other half of the deck.

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You can barely see him, but Murphy was on the deck helping me. He was almost totally inconsolable during the move; he knew something big was up, and when we closed him in the basement of the old house to keep him from under our feet while we loaded the truck, he whined the ENTIRE time. Finally, when it was time for him to make the big move, he was so ridiculously excited. Poor little guy; he had no idea what was going on, and I’m sure part of him feared we were going to up and leave him. But of course we would never do that! He was so tired from being so wound up that he passed out in the car when I finally took him over there.

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I think he really loves the new place. It didn’t take him long at all to seem adjusted. I wish I could take everything in stride like dogs do; moving was just no big deal to him, as long as he is with us. He particularly enjoys his new backyard; it’s large and full of little nooks and crannies to explore. We’ve also discovered that we have big dogs living on both sides of us….just awesome. :p Oh well; those dogs bark, our dog barks, everybody’s dog barks. I will just not feel bad about it. Heck, maybe Murphy can learn to be friends with them…maybe.

So, all the Taylors are learning to adjust to their new surroundings. It’ll take a while to really get settled in, but it doesn’t take too long to get comfortable enough for normal life to pick back up. I can’t wait for the unpacking to end and the housewarming to begin.

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It’s official: we tied the knot with our house today, and we’re finally home owners again. The Taylors are off the market!

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