Decor Dilemmas, Part II

After a pretty heavy post on debt repayment, I thought I would write about something lighter: Apartment design!  Our 8th anniversary is coming up, and so we’re in the mood to upgrade some things around our apartment since our needs and tastes have changed.

One big need was a sleeper sofa.  Our sofa was looking a little worn out, and we decided that we want to stay in our 1 bedroom apartment until we’re ready to buy a house.  We decided to get the Friheten Corner Sofa Bed from Ikea in dark gray.

We chose it because we not only liked the look, but the functionality and comfort.  We love how you can pull a second cushion out from under the love seat part, and it pops up like a trundle bed.  It’s much more comfortable than the traditional sofa beds where you have that middle bar poking your back all night.  We like to make it into a bed so we can both put our feet up while watching TV.  We have had it since September and we’re in love with it.

However, it’s a lot more modern than our last sofa and chair set, so we’ve had to revisit some of our other design decisions to fit in more with the aesthetic.  Remember when I mentioned a year and a half ago that I wanted to recover my first step-grandmother’s antique chair?  Um yeah…about that…it’s still not done!

There it is, in it's non-reupholstered glory!

There it is, in it’s non-reupholstered glory!

I’m glad we waited because I’m afraid the Dwell Studio Vintage Blossom in citrine will clash with our modern couch.  I still want something fun and playful that will give a nod to the antique heart of the chair while still modernizing it.  So here is what I’m thinking for the chair:  Caitlin Wilson Textiles!  I love how many turquoise options she has, and I can incorporate them into pillows for the couch as well.

I’m torn between the Chinoise fabric in either mustard or navy:

 

I like how bright and cheery the mustard fleur is, but I think the navy fleur will hold up a little better over the long-haul.

As far as the couch goes, we still have our red and mutli-striped pillows that I want to make no-sew pillow cases for.  Here are the swatches that I’m thinking of using, also from Caitlin Wilson Textiles:

What do you think?  My taste has really changed, huh?

So that’s just a little of what we’re planning to do.  Hopefully I’ll be able to tackle those sooner rather than later!

XO ,
Laura

Conquering a Mountain of Debt

Like most middle-class babies of the 80′s and 90′s, Regan and I financed our college educations with student aid.  You name it, we accepted it: scholarships, grants, work/study, and the dreaded L-word, loans.  (Hey – it turns out, COLLEGE IS EXPENSIVE, Y’ALL.)  We graduated into the recession of 2009 with a total of 2 degrees each and overwhelming financial responsibilities ($70K worth of loans + $8k worth of credit cards and a car note) looming in the post grace-period future of student loan repayment.  It was intimidating, to say the least.

We were not alone.  According to the May 2013 article, “A Generation Hobbled By The Soaring Cost of College,” the Department of Education reported that nearly 2/3 of 2007-8 graduates financed their newly-earned bachelor’s degrees with some form of aid, whether federal or private.  Just google “crippling student loan debt,” and you’ll find several reputable news sources (The Guardian, Boston Globe, NY Times, and Salon.com, to name a few) with heart-wrenching articles about recent graduates with more than $100K in student loan debt who face either unemployment or underemployment.  It’s clear that there is a problem and plenty to be anxious about.

While our story contains plenty moments of doubt and anxiety, it also contains victory.  In June of this past year, we made our last student loan payment and are officially debt-free after 4.5 years!  Seriously, we paid 10 years worth of debt off in FOUR.POINT.FIVE.  It was rough, but I’m so glad that it’s over, and I want to share how others can do so, too.  There wasn’t a magic formula, though.  It took a lot of hard work, perseverance, and luck.  Everyone’s timeline will look different depending on your debt, earnings, and what you can and can’t sacrifice.  (I’ll touch on it here, but I’ll talk more about sacrifice in my next post!)

DO:

Your Research!
While I was in school, particularly graduate school, I read several personal finance articles, mostly on msn.com, about repaying debt.  It didn’t matter to me whether it was student loans, credit cards, medical bills, or a mortgage; debt was debt.  When we graduated, we moved to a suburb of Houston, and several members of our church were big into Dave Ramsey.  So, we bought his book “Financial Peace: Revisited.”  Which brings us to…

Embrace the Debt Snowball
Both Dave Ramsey’s book and the aforementioned articles encouraged us to do a “debt snowball” where you start with your smallest, highest-interest debt, and make aggressive payments on that while making minimum payments on the rest of your debt.  Then, when you pay that little loan off, you roll those extra payments onto the next and so on until you’re debt-free.  Sounds easy, right?  It was at first.  We each had a small loan of $1000, our credit card debt was less than $2k, and our car note was about $6k.  We started making $50 minimum payments on my $1000 loan while we were in school, so it was somewhere in the $700′s when we graduated.  We still had our grace period with our bigger loans, so it was pretty easy to kiss that payment good-bye in 1 big payment.  The rush was unbelievable, and gave us the motivation to quickly knock out Regan’s $1000 loan and our credit card.  The car note took a little longer, but we had that paid off by the time our student loans went into repayment mode.  Those were quite a bit more and took longer to pay off.  Which leads me to my next point:

Embrace a Marathon Mindset
One criticism that I do have about Dave’s program is that he encourages you to approach your repayment like a sprint.  That may work for some people, but we found that we needed to approach it more like a marathon.  I’ve never run a marathon, but the research I have done says that you need to slow your pace down.  While you want a fast time and a PR, it’s not reasonable to expect to maintain a 400M dash or 5K pace the whole 26+ miles.  You gotta slow it down a notch or two so you don’t burn out or hurt yourself.  However, much like the slow runner’s workout mantra “Whether it’s a 5 minute mile or a 15 minute mile, it’s still a mile,” you have to go the pace that fits with your race.  We actually wanted to pay off our debt in 3.5-4 years, and we had some personal things come up that affected our pace and resulted in us paying it off in 4.5 years.  There were times when we were able to sprint, and times when we were lucky to keep putting one foot in front of the other in a slow jog, so to speak.  So, keep that in mind when you get to the bigger loans.  It’s going to take you longer, and that’s OK.  However, do make sure to:

Set Smaller Sub-Goals and Reward Yourself (Within Reason) When You Reach Them
We got robbed 6 months after moving to Houston.  Thankfully we weren’t there when it happened, but it left us with a horrible, violated feeling.  True to form, we coped with self-deprecating humor, joking that they must have expected nicer things for the effort of breaking into our apartment.  We had one of those 14″ (that’s right, INCH) combo TV’s with not only a DVD player, BUT A VCR.  And yes, we still had the VHS tapes to go with it!  This was in 2009, by the way.  There was no flat-screen TV, blu-ray player, high-end gaming system, or Bose speakers to be found.  Just our severely out-of-date TV and VHS tapes.  So, after moving to a new apartment for our peace of mind, we celebrated paying off Regan’s loan by treating ourselves to a flat-screen TV and blu-ray player.  We saved by getting an older model of both, so it didn’t break the bank or anything, but it was enough to where we had something tangible for our efforts for the big pay-off of his loan.  Yes, it was slightly frivolous, but it gave us the steam to plow forward and make more big payments without feeling deprived.

Sacrifice, Sacrifice, Sacrifice!
We made A LOT of sacrifices to pay off our debt.  Some were little sacrifices, and some were rather large.  There were also things that we weren’t willing to sacrifice.  I’ll talk more about those sacrifices in another post.  I do want to leave you with the fact that the sacrifices, while hard, were definitely worth it in the end.

What about you?  What are your debt-repayment “Do’s”?

Where I’ve Been

Reflecting on the year...

Reflecting on the year…

I can’t believe it’s been OVER a year since I last posted!  Where did the time go?  I wish I could say it was because I was too busy living life to the fullest, but the reality is that it’s been a tough year.  For those of you who know me in person, some really cool things have happened this year!  We accomplished some major goals such as paying off the remainder of our debt, I got a full-time job that is actually related to my degrees(!!!), and we just got back from Maui with Regan’s family.

While I am very grateful for those positive things, the reality is that there were some very dark times this year as well.  I struggle with depression, and I’m afraid that it had the upper hand for the majority of this year.  Thankfully, I’m on the better side of it now and am in a place where I can live my life and maybe even write about it from time to time.  I’ll be back later this week with posts on what worked for me to overcome depression and pay off our debt, as well as some highlights from our trips and other happenings.

So thanks for sticking around or welcome back – whichever it is, I’m glad you’re here. :)

Day 3: College Station

Shocking, I know!  Why would two die-hard UT alumni want to take out-of-town visitors to their historic rival’s home base?  Nooo – it wasn’t to point and laugh at our rivals and throw rocks at the campus!  It was to visit the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.  My in-laws have wanted to visit the museum for their past few visits.  They do such a good job of making priority of what we want to do when we come to visit them, so I made sure to include this on our itinerary.

I’m a left-leaning moderate who isn’t really that into politics, but the museum was actually really cool!  I was just a kid when Bush Sr. was president, and I enjoyed revisiting the political events that happened then with more mature eyes.  However, my absolute favorite part was learning about his personal life from birth to post-presidency and learning more about Barbara Bush.  I am really into psychological theories of the individual, family, and society, and it was a nice reminder for me with the then-pending election that our presidential candidates are real people who are running for office because they want to do what is best for our country.  Oops, did I step on a soapbox?  I better get down before I get going!

After the exhibit, it was that awkward time between lunch and dinner.  We weren’t sure what to do, so we decided to check out the Messina Hoff Winery.  They were still serving lunch without the huge lunch crowd, so we got a prime spot to ourselves in the sunroom or the restaurant.

Cheers!

Once again with the sock-bun and the “evil genius face.”

Their wine is delicious and reasonably priced, so we got a bottle of merlot with our meal.  Afterwards, we went to the tasting room and bought a bottle of their tawny port since their port grapes are grown here in Texas.  Then, we went back to Houston to drink said port and watch college football together.

So there is my re-cap of the 3 days I spent with my in-laws 3 weeks ago.  It’s finished just in time for me to visit them and then recap my stay with them in the Portland-area.  {Don’t worry MIL and SIL – I won’t post embarassing pics of us in our pj’s with no make-up on while we hang around the house!}  I’m looking forward to yummy food, Oregon wineries, hiking, and of course, quality family time. :)

Post-Gym Smoothie

The gym I used to go to had cheap monthly dues and an in-house Smoothie King conveniently located by the exit. I got into a bad habit of working out really hard on an empty stomach, which made getting a smoothie a necessity for work-out recovery and getting home without an attack of hypoglycemic shock. Unfortunately, this meant that the cost of my smoothie habit was quickly surpassing the cost of my and Regan’s combined gym memberships!

As luck would have it, an even cheaper gym opened in our town and this one does NOT have an in-house smoothie shop. So, I bit the bullet and “invested” in a $20 blender from my grocery store and I’ve started making smoothies at home either for breakfast or post-exercise recovery. I actually feel a little better on these smoothies since I know what is going into them, and I use fresh fruit and high protien Greek yogurt vs. sugar-loaded frozen yogurt and fruit concentrates or juice.

I looked up recipes  online from a few popular smoothie places and they were total sugarfests! I don’t know if those were the actual recipes those chains use or just copycats, but still!

Here is my version of Smoothie King’s blueberry heaven smoothie:

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Very blue in my blue adult sippy cup!

1 handfull of ice
1 handfull blueberries
1/2 – 1 whole banana*
1 cup Fage 0% Greek yogurt**
Agave nectar to taste ~1/2 – 1 tsp.

Blend together and enjoy!
*I usually make this for after a workout, so I eat half the banana before working out and put the rest in my smoothie for after. Do whatever works best for you and your metabolism.
**I use the Fage 0% because it packs the most protien with the least sugar. Use whatever brand you want, but adjust your serving size of yogurt to the serving size on the container. This may vary the thickness of your smoothie.

Hopefully I will have some more modified smoothie recipes next week along with the recap of my College Station trip (mmmm….Messina Hoff wine….)

Have a great rest of your week!

Sock Bun How-To

I’m back with a sock-bun tutorial!  My friend Misty showed me how to do one during our Old Lady-Style Girl’s Night Out a few weekends back.  I tried a few times and couldn’t get it to stick until I saw this tutorial:

My problem: I was only using 1 rubber band and my bobby pins were too little.  Thanks to the youtube tutorial, I was able to re-create this while my in-laws were in town:

Ta da!

Yes, the band is showing and it’s sticking too far out from my head.  But, I DID IT!  (Remember: Done is better than perfect.)  It was a great way to keep my hair out of my face on windy days in the Port of Houston and seaside in Galveston.

For Lindsay’s wedding, I decided to go the sock-bun route again.  This time, I had more layers in my hair, so it was pretty difficult.  However, I borrowed some spiral bobby pins from Lauren, and got this result:

Slightly better…

It’s a little messier than last time, but I think it looks better sitting closer to my head without the rubber band showing.  {By the way, Lauren took that pic while we were on our way to the wedding.  She said, “Don’t crash the car!” as she was taking the picture.  So thankfully, I managed to crack one of those natural-look-I’m-laughing smiles instead of my usual head-back-cackle, which would have resulted in a bad picture at best and a fender-bender at worst.}

I also liked adding a cute elastic headband that I got from Target.  I found it in the cosmetic/hair care section and it came in a 2-pack for $5.  Here is a better shot of the headband and my friend Lauren, but not so much of me:

Cheers to A&L!

No those aren’t bruises; that’s just a shadow from the ambient lighting.  Also, why do I tilt my head like that?!?!  I like to call that my “Evil Genius Angle.”  Hindsight is truly 20/20 my friends…

Have a great rest-of-your-day and I’ll be back {later as usual} tomorrow with the recap of my trip to College Station, TX with my in-laws.  Until then, here is a pic of the lovely bride.  I think this one sums up the joy and love that fueled her special day:

Lovely Linds. :)

 

Day 2: Road Trip to The Houston Ship Channel and Galveston

On day 2, we got up bright and early to swing by Starbuck’s for some breakfast and then headed to the Houston Ship Channel.  More specifically, I should say that we went to the Port of Houston Authority.  You may be definitely are wondering why in the world I would take my in-laws there!  I can assure you that they wanted to go; in fact, it was their idea!  You see, the M/V Sam Houston does a FREE tour of the POHA.  {They also include free coffee and sodas!}  We went on the 10:30 tour.  A “cold front” blew through the night before, lowering the temperature from a high of 90 degrees the day before to 65 degrees!  Plus, it’s on the water, so it was very windy!  The temperature was pretty comfortable for MIL and FIL since they are from the northwest, so they stayed on the front deck for most of the tour.  Plus, they looooove the water.  I’m a water baby too, but living in Southeast Texas means I am even more intolerant to the cold.  No worries – I enjoyed people-watching and listening to the tour guide tell stories about the Texas Revolution and industrialization of Houston.  Nerd, I know.  Unfortunately, there were signs posted everywhere saying, “ABSOLUTELY NO PHOTOGRAPHS!”  At the very end of the tour, we learned that you could take pictures.  Or at least that is what a crew member told us!  So, sadly there were no pictures taken.  Also sad?  They are closed in November for annual maintenance.  So no tours for the next 30 days.

**Tip: There are several addresses for the Port of Houston Authority on GoogleMaps and other navigation systems!  Follow the driving directions on the POHA website to avoid getting lost in an otherwise sketchy area.**

After the tour, we headed south to Galveston.  We ate lunch at Willie G’s on Pier 21.  That is one of my happy places!  The food is delicious, and we got a seat by the window so you could see the water.  Granted, it was very industrial outside, but still.  Water!

Here are a few shots:

MIL and FIL. You can see the industrial water view in the background!

Husband and Me. :)

 

MIL and FIL on Pier 21.

After lunch, we ventured out onto Pier 21 and stumbled across the Ocean Star Oil Rig and Offshore Drilling Museum.  Husband looooved it because it involved DRILLS!  And OIL!  And PIPES!  It was pretty neat to learn how off-shore drilling is done since that is such a huge industry here in the Gulf Coast and in the Houston oil industry.  Here are a few shots from the museum and oil rig:

“What’s that? Is it another museum?!?!”

“Awkward prom picture” in front of a “Christmas Tree” (the green thing to our right). Houston-y Christmas card, perhaps?

MIL and I pretending to be “rough necks.”

 

After making a spectacle of ourselves at the museum, we walked around the Strand and then went to the Seawall.  Of course we took pictures on the beach…

Photobombing seagulls!

On our way home, we got caught in some awful traffic in Webster.  {Note to my MIL: I thought it was Baytown.  I was wrong.}  So we pulled over at a Texas Roadhouse and got some drinks and appetizers.  After a round, Regan {our abstaining DD} drove us the rest of the way home in slightly lighter traffic.  We called in a pizza and salad from Grimaldi’s and geared up for Day 3: Road Trip to College Station!

Sugar Land and Houston: Day 1

*Or, “What to do if you are stranded in Houston because of the hurricane.*

My in-laws got in pretty late on Wednesday night, so we decided to “take it easy” on our first day.  By that, we meant, “Not take any of the many day trips we had planned.”  Oh Lawd!  Note to self for future reference:  Don’t plan 2 back-to-back day trips for family members that have come from a long way away.  On our last day, my father-in-law asked if we were trying to kill them!  But I digress…

We met at our apartment in the morning for breakfast and then headed out for a driving tour of Sugar Land. Here are a few of the Sugar Land highlights that we hit up:

  • Oyster Creek Park
  • Sugar Lakes – a swanky-danky subdivision with pretty houses and LAKES!
  • The Imperial Sugar Mill
  • The Skeeter’s Baseball Stadium
  • Cullinan Park and Alligator Habitat.
  • Downtown Sugar Land (aka “Town Center’)

Here are a few shots from our Sugar Land tour:

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My MIL and FIL at the Sugar Mill

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Regs and me at the Sugar Mill! Merry Christmas card preview, perhaps?

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Coastal Texas, y’all.

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My FIL safely in the observation tower.

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Candid in Town Center

Since Houston is the fattest city in the US, I will also include were we ate!  For lunch, we ate a local Houston franchise called Escalantes.  They make Tex-Mex with a gourmet twist.  It’s a little pricey, but the portion sizes aren’t huge so you don’t feel totally disgusting afterwards.  They also have a lot of healthy and vegetarian-friendly dishes on the menu, with yummy margaritas to wash everything down.  This was my MIL’s favorite restaurant; I think it was my FIL’s, too.  {I can’t remember!}

Then, we headed downtown to the Med Center and Museum District.  We drove by Hermann Park, the Houston Zoo, Rice University, several hospitals {go figure} and historic churches.  Then, we went to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.  Cool insider tip:  Houston has weekly free museum days, as well as several free museums.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t check out all of them, but we made the Museum of Fine Arts Houston a priority because MIL looooves fine art.

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Iconic MFAH Sign

We checked out the Scandinavian, Indian, Egyptian, North American and European exhibits.  We saw lots of historical artifacts, as well as famous paintings by Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, and Picasso.  I don’t know enough about art to really appreciate it or have a defined taste as of yet, but my favorites were the old French paintings.  However, my absolute favorite part of art museums {or any museum for that matter…} is reading the history behind the display to learn what was going on culturally and/or politically, or how it relates to the personal story of the person behind the painting, invention, or exhibit as a whole.

After the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, we went back to Sugar Land to unwind for a bit at our apartment.  Then, we headed to Perry’s Steaks for my favorite thing of all time: Happy hour with good food prices!  We split the Polish sausage, pulled pork quesadillas, and beef tenderloin sliders.  June got the Lone Star margarita, which she deemed “the best margarita of the trip.”  Regs and I got their yummy pineapple ginger mojito and Steve got a martini with blue cheese-stuffed olives.  Yurm.

We ended the evening with some Kinect games at our apartment before MIL and FIL went back to their hotel for the night.

So there ya have it – several tried and true things to do while you’re in Houston {whether you meant to be here or just ended up here}.  Here are some of the things we wanted to do but were not able to do:

  • Houston Galleria and Water Wall {Hint: Canyon Cafe has good, cheap margaritas and cheap food during HH!}
  • St. Arnold’s Brewery
  • Beer Can House
  • Concerts at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillion or House of Blues – Houston
  • Sports! {Houston Texans, Astros, Rockets, UH Cougars, Rice Owls to name a few….}
  • Food and drinks on Washington Avenue {Max’s Wine Dive is a fave…}
  • Coffee, tattoos, body piercings, and funky resale shops in Montrose {Milky Ways at Empire Cafe are a fave…}

What about you?  What are some of your favorite things to do in Houston or your hometown?

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about and show pics of our first day trip to the Houston Ship Channel and Galveston!

Happy Monday!