Tuesday, August 30, 2011

An introduction to Our Home

Kitchen Before
Kitchen After

I have been so swept up in writing about travel lately that I have neglected writing about my blooming domesticity. While it's lovely to leave home briefly to see how other people live, at the end of the day I have a mortgage to pay:) And in making that kind of commitment to a building, I need to show it a little love, too.
Before I can start sharing posts about projects I am undertaking on the home front, I feel it necessary to introduce you to the history of my home. We moved into our townhouse in June of 2009, just over 2 years ago now. Of note, this was after living at a boarding high school for two years with about 25 teenage girls. During that time, we lived in the tiniest apartment on campus. The schedule and responsibility that came with our living arrangement paired with the tax rebates being offered for first time home owners made for a perfect storm to start a housing search.
 We chose the area we settled in for a number of reasons. Admittedly, the primary reason was that I wanted to be closer to my family and farther away from work. Although the commute is sometimes challenging, it's nice to be able to have the separation for both physical and emotional safety; I never run into clients I work with at the grocery store. While we may have preferred to be a tiny bit closer to work, all of the towns between the city we work in and the town my parents live in and I adore are big ticket towns. We either couldn't afford anything there or we could afford smaller, more run down places that would need more work. Therefore, a 45 minute commute was a compromise to have 1600 square feet, three levels of living, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a finished basement and an attached garage. In the MetroBoston area, that's a decent amount of space for folks not working with huge cash flows.
Our upgrades began in the kitchen. It looked old and had some drawers that couldn't even open due to the layout. There was also a stenciled/painted ivy motif near one of the windows which, I hope goes without saying, had to go! We used the tax refund we got to pay for new cabinets and counters. I found a great deal on Craigslist for stainless steel appliances because not all of the old ones matched the refrigerator was spoiling my milk.
It took until August of 2010 to start thinking about really decorating. Beyond what we brought from the tiny apartment that we tossed up on the walls, we didn't invest in items for the walls or other accessories until I took a week off in the summer. When it rained most of the days I planned to go to the beach, I watched a lot of HGTV and got some ideas and inspiration and ran around to craft stores, department stores, home goods stores, hardware stores, and even book stores to begin to fulfill my vision.
It wasn't until this past Spring that we finally put up curtains in the living room and master bedroom (don't worry, we had blinds so the neighbors weren't getting a front row seat to everything). And it's still a work in process!
Here is what has been done:
kitchen cabinets, counters and appliances
painting accent wall in kitchen, and both bathrooms
removed living room carpet and had laminate flooring installed
food storage area in laundry room created
window treatments in both bedrooms and living room
basic wall decor and accessories in both bedrooms and living room
Here's my wishlist to do:
new bathroom vanities
more pops of color
repaint kitchen
paint dining room accent wall
new faucets
new shower head
greater development of style vision in both bedrooms and living room
clean the garage out (we still have the original stove in there)
pull together the basement man cave/sports and movies room
paint stairwell banisters (they just started peeling!)
at least one piece of customized art
remove caulking from tub

I'm sure there are more projects but my brain just flooded.......

Friday, August 26, 2011

Here Comes Hurricane Irene

It's hard to believe that we are batting down the hatches up here in New England to brace for Hurricane Irene. This is what the sky looks like at the moment: beautiful. Supposedly, the hurricane is on track to overwhelm us on Sunday. The Olympic distance triathlon that is part of the series I am participating in tomorrow has already been canceled for tomorrow. No fear, I still get to do the sprint distance race early, early in the morning Saturday.  Church has already sent out an email to prepare for disaster and cancellation. Rumor has it that a state of emergency has already been declared. The meteorologist says that the storm is on track to follow a very similar path to Hurricane Gloria, which I remember from when I was 6 years old and my parents wouldn't let me stand on the front porch to watch the storm because they thought I would blow away. A friend left work early to get batteries and has since proclaimed that there are no D batteries in all of Metrowest County. That's really too bad for me because, although I have enough cereal and even powdered milk to keep me going for a couple weeks, I don't have any batteries and I am not sure if I have a working flashlight. Woops. For now, it's hard to worry when the sky looks so lovely.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Home Sweet Home with a Case of the Mondays

So many of my posts over the last six months have somehow related to travel. Neighbors and people at church have begun frequently commenting on my adventures and I'm happy and proud to have another activity with which to identify.
For the past few years, doing triathlons has been a big part of my identity and a source of pride. It's funny how quickly things can flip upside down as this year, without the aid of a team to train with, I feel woefully unprepared for the one sprint race I registered for. It's this Saturday and I have had a stomach ache all day in anticipation. 4 more days of this feeling??! Somehow, I need to convince myself to not worry about the numbers and just enjoy the event. We use to placate ourselves with thoughts of it being more than most people do but it's still hard not to make comparisons, if only with your former self.
Identifying with travel as my hobby of choice slightly softens the blow of not being proud of myself for triathlons this season. At least I have something else exciting to fill the void, right?
That was all a tangent, though. My main focus when I started writing this blog hours ago before I got sidetracked about 419 times was to write about the mixed blessing of coming home again. After another week away, I really wanted to be at home.
Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to spend 4 days at a friend's beach house on the Maine coast followed by 3 days at a different friend's Cape Cod house. Both were relaxing, filled with good company and conversation, and wonderful venues to follow my own volition; to choose how I wanted to fill my time instead of sticking to frantic schedule that is my normal routine. With one night at home in between, I found it hard to leave again. I wanted to spend time with Hubby, to pet the cats, to clean the house!
When I finally arrived home last night, it was welcomed as I enjoyed my familiar surroundings, my own comfortable couch and bed, the TV shows I had recorded, the husband and the cats. However, it also brought a to-do list both at home and, today, at work as long as the neck of a giraffe. After a week of ignoring responsibilities, it feels like they have reproduced Gremlin-style, seemingly exponential in growth.
This post isn't profound or even amusing but it was really cathartic for me. I just needed to "say" that I'm glad to be home and glad to have a break before my next extended stay away from home but also that this kind of stress that I'm returning to is exactly what makes me want to drop it all again and lay in the sun without a deep thought in my head.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Beach Life

I just felt like I needed to check in quickly. I'm at the beach this week and beach life is wondeful! I have lost all concept of time and obligation. I'm having travel epiphanies just from driving up the coast and planting myself within sight of the ocean. Aren't the clouds just AMAZING?!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Follow up on the Stress Less Initiative

I wanted to update you on the state of my Stress Less Initiative. Returned from my first trip to mainland Europe and deeply impacted by the cultural emphasis on enjoying life instead of rushing through it, as the focus seems to be in the States, I made a vow of sorts. Instead of "Vacation Maureen" making an appearance slightly before, during, and as long as possible after my trip, I would strive to incorporate some of her better attributes into my "real life".
While there are days that are setbacks, overall, I think I have been pretty successful in making a shift. Similar to the philosophy that it takes 21 days of a behavior to make it a habit, I have been hanging on to a more laid back take on life for over two months now!
Here's what's helping and working:
1. It's still summer. I love the sun, the pool, the beach and all other things summery. Even though I haven't had a full summer vacation since I was in high school, there is something magical about the months that schools are not in session. Traffic on my commute is lighter. My actual work load tends to be lighter. Summer week days and weekend days seem to have blurrier lines than other times of year.
2. I have been immersing myself in travel daydreams. One of my best friends, with whom I most recently traveled, is also obsessed with exploring new destinations and is committed to planning future trips. In addition to having two trips planned for September and one in November, I have a week off this month for some beach time. When I am not actually going somewhere or planning to go somewhere, I read about other people going somewhere and get excited.
3. There are lots of fun things on the social calendar to look forward to. Leaving home isn't the only way to have fun! The Boston area hosts restaurant week in August and I have some great dinner plans on the agenda. It's also triathlon season and my race date is speeding toward me far faster than I will be speeding across the finish line. There are pool parties to attend and weekend adventures to embark on. Life doesn't feel stagnant at all.
4. I'm listening to myself more. You know that part in Eat, Pray, Love in Italy when they are talking about the pleasure of doing nothing? Americans don't even have a word for it! I have been trying to pay attention both to the little things that bring me pleasure and doing them more often and also paying attention to when my mind and body need to slow down. I have broken plans because I needed a day of nothingness. I have resisted booking up all my free time so that I can decide what I really am in the mood for when the free time comes. I snuck in some sleeping late, a nap, and good reads. Sometimes I eat toast with nutella on it for dinner because I would rather eat that than chicken. This is just a small way I can bring the cultural component from Europe that I so appreciated home to my daily life.
What is not working?
1. I'm not getting enough workouts.  In summers past, I have trained for my triathlons with a group, which was a huge motivation for me. This year, there were not enough people to form a training team. About once a week I get together with some tri friends from the past and we do a group bike ride and I love it. I also have a class at the gym once a week that I am very dedicated to; the teacher is wonderful and it's a great workout. Beyond that, though, in following what I really want to do, it's often more about laying by the pool with a book than it is about going for a run. I'm getting so good at indulging myself, in fact, that when I went for a run over the weekend, after 2.75 miles of dripping sweat I decided I really didn't like running and, even though I was still 2 miles from home, I chose to walk instead!
2. I play on the weeknights and am tired for work. In pursuit of the things that bring me pleasure, I have met up with friends frequently on week nights. We have had some amazing times!!! Until the alarm goes off the next morning and I have to go to work.....Yawn!
3. I can't seem to let go of the stress that housework creates. I'm learning to take work in stride much more but house work? Not so much. I could go on and on about this one but, for your sanity and my own, I will leave it at that.
So, overall, I feel like Vacation Maureen is a much larger presence in everyday life. Do I need a new name? If she is here so often, does Vacation Maureen even make sense anymore?
And yet, I am still fearful that as school starts again work will get busy and as fall descends and the days get shorter, life will feel less like a vacation and it's still possible that I may lose my grasp on the Stress Less Initiative.

Monday, August 8, 2011

6 Reasons NOT to Travel Light

So I read travel blogs like priests read the Bible. Not being Catholic, I'm assuming that's a lot, right? If it is, then my analogy works quite well.
I have seen countless blogs that admonish travelers to "travel light" and pack just one pair of jeans and a couple of shirts. I rather enjoy the blogs that list out what they pack or show pictures. While cutting down the number of items you bring when you travel around the world for a year makes all the sense in the world, when you are traveling for just a few weeks, I think it actually makes less sense.
So, I'm calling BS on the pack light philosophy when it comes to short term travel.
Here's why I think you should pack more:
1. You can.
     With a shorter trip, you usually aren't lugging  your bags around too many places. On my last trip, we visited four cities. One of my traveling companions packed way too much and struggled each time we had move our bags; it actually became a real sore spot for her when people commented on the heaviness of her luggage, much to my amusement. I don't recommend traveling like a diva but one medium size piece of luggage, especially if it has wheels, is just right. I had zero issues bringing mine from place to place.
2. You will be taking lots of pictures.
     Ok, maybe this is vain and frivolous but it's also reality. On a shorter trip, where you are sightseeing most days, you are likely to get pictures of yourself in front of different landmarks each day. Aside from looking good in those pics, it's actually really handy to be able to remember what you did each day based on the outfit. Silly? Maybe, but it works! When you are seeing a number of sights in a short period of time, it can be really helpful to follow your timeline based on the outfit of the day.
3. You want to have the right outfit for each occassion.
    Again, if you are traveling for a year, it makes sense to make do with one dressy dress for assorted occasions. When you are traveling for 4 weeks or less, you can spare room for a couple dressier outfits. If playing dress up isn't your thing, you can also splurge by bringing your actual hiking boots instead of getting by in your sneakers.
4. You can be clean!
    Face it. We all know that tops get dirtier than bottoms. Your armpits touch your t-shirt but you have underwear on (hopefully!) to safeguard your jeans. Therefore, the key is to keep some things basic: just a couple of basic bottoms can be changed out with lots of fresh tops or just one pair of dressy shoes can be worn with both of your dressy outfits.Then you have plenty of room left for a different shirt every day!
5. You might not have a way or the time to clean and dry your clothes.
    When you travel for long durations, you are actually more likely to have time to wash out your skivvies and leave them to dry. When you are doing a shorter trip, you are likely trying to cram in more activity or to soak in the ambiance as much as possible. I think it's something about the impending return to work and stresses at home that makes you want to use up every inch of your vacation. For some people, that means as much time running around snapping photos, for some it's relaxing as much as possible. But ultimately, you are on the go.
6. To reiterate, BECAUSE YOU CAN.
    Laundry is what you do at home when you are wishing you were traveling.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Reading Is FUNdamental

When I really enjoy a book, which is almost every book I read otherwise I don't even keep going, it becomes an impediment to my daily functioning. I will ditch out of social activities, sit in my car before going into work meetings, and carry the book with me at all times in case I get a spare moment.

Being the New Englander that I am, loyalty and history hold more than their fare share of weight in most of my decision making process. The things I love in this world, I embrace with a passionate ardor bordering on fanaticism. I have long known this trait about myself and seen it applied to favorite foods and favorite bands but I just realized I do this with authors, as well.

This is what led me to the point, yesterday, of doing some Google searches on some of the authors that have earned my devotion. The list is small, as are the lists of favorite foods and bands; just as Massachusetts is famous for it's unfriendliness and "Massholes", we don't run around giving indiscriminate accolades to just anyone who writes a book, either. I went to the publishers' websites that represent the likes of Philippa Gregory and Wally Lamb to glean when I might get my hands on a new gem from them. I pretty much read every book my favorite authors create, as any devotee should. Not infrequently, I put release dates of books into my calendar so I can make sure to schedule a trip to the bookstore into that day.

It was during this that I stumbled upon an essay written by Wally Lamb that tied together his own life experiences with some of his characters. I knew little bits of his story before reading it but this essay really tied it together, appealed to my roots, and spoke to my psychoanalytic self about how greatly we are all influenced by the family who comes before us and the community in which we are raised. I have so much hometown pride that I thought the guy in the movie, The Town, had a stellar idea when he tattooed this hometown zip code across his knuckles. I have seriously considered doing a blog post about the top townie spots of my hometown but realized it would only really appeal to me. I might still do it for fun, just because it would make me happy:)

And with that, I want to share the essay I stumbled upon, Braided Cords, for your reading pleasure.

Monday, August 1, 2011

And the Winner Is........

I have been entering contests like squirrel hoarding nuts for a long winter lately. Maybe I should start playing the lottery, too, because I really have myself deluded into thinking that I stand even a slight chance in all of these sweepstakes. Want to name a cruise ship? YES! Want to win a trip to St. Croix? OF COURSE! How about a gift certificate to a local restaurant you have only been to once? SURE!

Actually, last night I even had a dream last night about scoring special privileges at a concert that started out as Counting Crows and morphed into New Kids on the Block. By the way, if they ever decided to go on tour together, the likelihood of me quitting my job to run away and become a groupie would be a bet you could be sure to make some money off, in case my name ever comes up in Vegas.

So does this all mean I am one step closer to an official crazy cat lady label? Am on the cusp of checking my mail every day to see if Ed McMahon sent me a check? (1. I've never actually spelled his name before! 2. Is he still alive and giving out checks, even? another dream dashed.....). Or is my stress-less initiative working so well that it has launched me into the realm of fantasy?