Monday, May 20, 2013

Too Much Nature

Fortunately and unfortunately, our lives are not all great food and fun travel. Sometimes normal nuisances are the most exciting part of our week. Last week we got to experience nature in a way that was a little too close to home, literally.

(I always think if the show Monk when I talk about "nature" in a negative way. We like Monk.)

First, for some context, we live in a basement apartment. So we definitely get more bugs than in our former, 3rd story apartment, but at least we can stomp around as much as we want without our downstairs neighbors complaining. So the first thing that happened last week was that one morning as Jason was opening the blinds he saw a baby bird in our window well staring back at him, chirping away. We figured it would fly out, but it was still there by the time we were ready to leave for work, and I started dreaming up scenarios of how it probably couldn't fly, and it would starve if we didn't do something about it, and maybe we should have a pet bird. Jason opened the bedroom window to try to pop it out the top of the window well when we realized that (1) dang, the little guy sure could hop fast and (2) there were actually two birds in there. It is kind of an awkward motion you have to make with your arms to simultaneously grab a jumping bird while trying to keep it from jumping into the house via the open window.

Long story short (or shortened since I have already dragged it out quite a bit), our initial attempts, though entertaining, were unsuccessful in the short amount of time we had. I was a little worried about leaving them. I mean, they were kind of cute, so i didn't want them to die, and let's be honest, I especially didn't want them to die so close to our house and make things smelly and dirty. They were still there when we got home from work so Jason opened the grate covering the top of the window well and scooped up the birds while the adult birds screeched at him rather violently. Baby birds rescued! (Ok, that was still a long story.)

Our second encounter with nature occurred the next day when I was home alone for a few hours. I was sitting on our couch when out of the corner of my eye I saw a mouse dart across the floor and run BEHIND THE VERY COUCH I WAS SITTING ON! Obviously I did what anyone stereotypical woman does: jumped onto the coffee table, called my husband, and then called my mom.

I kind of surprised myself with how afraid of this mouse I was. I've had them in our houses before, but I think this time was more unsettling since I couldn't exactly close the basement door and retreat to another level of the house. I even started to give myself a headache worrying about this mouse so much.

Jason said if I got traps from the hardware store he'd set them when he got home so I immediately went to our local Ace. I got the regular snap mouse traps and disposable latex gloves so we wouldn't actually have to touch the mouse once it was caught. The salesperson and a nearby shopper said in their experience the mice were too clever for the snap traps and resorting to the glue traps was the only thing that had worked for them. I did buy some just in case, and spent the rest of the afternoon in various stages of horror since googling "humane ways to dispose of mouse in sticky trap" was much more traumatizing than helpful.

Once I got home I saw the mouse scurry behind our TV stand and screamed to myself about it. I tried to think positively like how it was probably afraid of me too, and it is probably friendly like the mouse in ratatouille (well I guess he's a rat), and how it kind of looked like our neighbor's pet gerbil, all the while trying to keep an eye on it in the corner behind the TV stand. It's actually a delicate balance to try to get close enough to see it while staying as far away as possible. I decided I could not wait for Jason any longer and needed to take matters into my own hands. While wearing work gloves (because I was afraid of the traps snapping on my finger, obviously), I used peanut butter to set the traps. (Apparently cheese isn't actually as much of a mouse thing as cartoons make it out to be.) The mouse was still behind the TV stand so it made sense to me to put the trap as close to that as I could. However, I was really afraid if I got too close it would be startled into attacking me. I resolved this dilemma by using a pole to slide the mousetrap across the floor towards the TV stand. Somehow the mouse did not immediately jump into the trap as I was expecting, so the remainder of the afternoon I avoided any potential mouse attacks by standing on my kitchen step stool to do dishes and sitting on the kitchen counter.

Jason finally came home and witnessed the perpetrator zipping into the utility closet, so he thought that putting the mousetrap in there would be more effective. His idea was a good one, because when we got home that night, it had been caught. Jason emptied the trap and that was that.

So, it's not like I wanted the mouse to die out of hatred for them, but since there didn't seem to be any other options once this one knew how to get in our house (we suspect through a connecting walls we can't access) just bringing him back outside wouldn't solve the problem. I think for the rest of the night I interrupted our conversation every few minutes to express how relieved I was especially that we didn't have to resort to the glue traps. All the tension I hadn't even realized was in my back and shoulders started to dissipate. So that is the story of the mouse in our house. And with all this rhyming I'm thinking I could change the ending and make it into a children's story.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Meet Dillon

"Don't blink
 Just like that you're six years old and you take a nap and you
Wake up and you're twenty-five and your high school sweetheart becomes your wife
Don't blink
You just might miss your babies growing like mine did...
Trust me friend a hundred years goes faster than you think
So don't blink
- Kenny Chesney/ Casey Beathard

Meet my nephew Dillon.  He doesn't yet know how blessed he is to have the sweetest mama around, and I'm certain he's going to grow up to be this spitting image of his dad.  He's already got a strong pair of lugs and his cheeks are even chubbier now than they were during our photo shoot.  His sister loves him so much she can't be left alone with him because she'll squeeze him too hard.  She loves letting him "kiss" her and the first thing she does when visitors come to the house is point them towards Dillon.  Now to keep from blinking.



Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Maximum Utility

(The economic unit for measuring preferences or satisfaction is utility.  Each person's preferences are different, but I enjoy sharing things that have been impacting my utility lately.)

None of these things are too important or worth writing too much about, but I've always been one to appreciate good finds:

1. The Lumineers - I know this is really old news, but I've just started listening to their self-titled album, and I love it.  It makes me feel like I am on the beach... in California... wearing plaid.  I don't actually have any plaid.

2. Avocados in smoothies - one night in a fake attempt to be healthy I blended up some frozen bananas, milk, an avocado and chocolate syrup.  It was like a wonderful milkshake that still kind of made me feel good.

3. Zippered tote bag - My mom was right.  I need a bag with a zipper and with straps that I can sling over my shoulder.  Despite my mom's advice, I've accumulated a few non-zip bags because they were cute, but I never like using them, especially while traveling because I was afraid I'll get pick pocketed, stuff will fall or or sand will get in.  My usual beach bag does zip, but only has a short hand-held handle, and made it pretty impractical to carry that and a beach chair and a cooler.  (Oh my weak arms.)  I've been eyeing these for a while and finally sprung for the Banana Republic one in red when I got a 40% off coupon in my email.  I seems sturdy, has some inside pockets, and big enough to fit a few books and maybe even my laptop without being suitcase-sized.

1. ModCloth 2. Baggu 3. Banana Republic

4. Adoption - I know it's not a product but I have been encouraged recently thinking about what it means to be an adopted child of God.  I am also so excited to share in the joy of friends who have made adoption their life work and just adopted their first child.  Seriously, these pictures get me every time.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Freddie Awards

Fresh after graduating college, bright-eyed with dreams of making fast money buying and selling stocks, I bought stock in Freddie Mac and Washington Mutual Bank upon the recommendation of a friend in the industry.  A few months later, one of them was bailed out by the government and the other went bankrupt.  I have not bought stock since.  I kind of forget now where I was going with that story, but I think it is to say, I haven't always been good at managing and maximizing my return on investment, if you will.  It hasn't been until recently I've started to realize that I should be getting something for what I'm spending.  One big area I try to do that is travel. 

I usually used whatever airline and hotels were cheapest.  I thought the cost savings was better than keeping track of points.  However, the more I started looking into the potential for reward travel, the more I wish I had started sooner.  It definitely takes some time, but my favorite way to get help is by letting the professionals do the research and depending on them for special offer alerts.  In other words I follow The Points Guy blog.  "The Points Guy," whose real name is Brian, is extremely thorough in covering all the frequent flyer and hotel programs out there, alerting you to point deals such as lucrative credit card bonuses and providing solid analysis on what programs are worth (in terms of your money and in relation to the various options).  I can go into what methods I personally use later, but there is a story in all of this:  I've become an avid Points Guy follower, both of his blog and on twitter and sometimes even instagram, and in my constant quest to get free stuff I entered a contest of his and I won!

What did I win? Well, every year, there an award ceremony for frequent flyer and hotel programs called the Freddie Awards.  (Maybe that's why I started talking about Freddie Mac?)  Last year there was a contest for a reader to join The Points Guy for the awards ceremony, but it was in NY, and as fun as it sounded, traveling to NY on a weeknight sounded kind of stressful.  This year though, the awards were in DC (well... the tri-state area), so I entered and, along with four other readers, won!

I know most ceremonies aren't exciting to most people, but when you are as crazy about points as I've become, the combination of dinner, the chance to pick up some more travel tips, and meet someone who I basically online stalk, is definitely my cup of tea.  Actually, that's not entirely true.  It is true that I online stalk his blog and travel advice, but I actually get really nervous to meet people that are "celebrities" in my head.  (You thought I was going to take back the "stalking" part rather than the "meeting" part, right?  One time I met John and Sherry from Young House Love during a book signing and had to rehearse the one sentence I wanted to say who whole time I was in the book signing line.  "I always refer to you as 'my friends, John and Sherry' and my husband always has to remind me I haven't actually met you."  That was the line that was so hard for me to remember.  Although Sherry did reply, "Now you've met us.  You have this moment - forever." I think she had signed too many books and smiled for too many photos at that point.  I still loved it.)

So last Thursday, I found myself at the Gannett/USA Today building in Tyson's Corner, VA.  It's actually quite a nice building with a peaceful lake out front.  The only bummer was that it was only one ticket, so I had to go without Jason.  It was quite a pleasant surprise to roll up to valet parking and a red carpet.  Before we go any further, let's talk about this red carpet.  I think before winning a chance to go to the Freddie's, I had heard them described as the "Oscar's of the travel industry." So naturally when I won, I was totally unsure what to wear (#girlproblems). Maybe this was my chance to wear the long, formal gown I had bought for 90% off sale "in-case-of-emergencies."  (Quick! We need to attend this gala ASAP! It was during a lot of the inaugural balls, and it was cheaper than most normal dresses, so can you blame me?)  Alas, though the event was very nice, it was not quite Oscar-level formality, which meant I will save my dress for another day.

you can see the red carpet a little as well as our somewhat dry but pretty dinner

I checked in after my walk down the red carpet (no, no paparazzi). There was a nice spread of charcuterie and passed hors d'oeuvres.  Everyone was very friendly, though when introducing myself, I felt a bit out of place since everyone else was a points blogger, super frequent traveler, worked with an airline or hotel, or worked for one of the former. I chatted with a lot of people who were experts at the points systems. Some people were retired and traveled for leisure. Someone else lived on one coast and worked on another. Everyone was an expert on points.

Brian was an extremely kind host, so I got over my talking-to-"famous"-people-anxiety immediately. He was easy to find even before getting to my table since he's 6'7". I got to sit by him during the dinner and award portion of the evening and really enjoyed chatting with him and the other guests. It was hard to hear much of the ceremony, but the big winners for North America were American Airlines and Marriott.  At the end of the night there was a dessert bar and some goody bags to bring home filled with nice swag.  More free stuff!

The more I travel and read blogs like The Points Guy, the more addicted I find myself to the points systems.  Seriously, can I get a job planning travel for other people and managing their points accounts?  Because I love it!  I've started doing things like checking fares constantly, strategizing where and how to get elite status, and doing my best to maximize rewards any time we spend money (especially online).  Everyone's priorities may be different, so do what's best for you, but even if you travel a little, it's worth at least signing up for the free loyalty programs.  So now that I've become a travel nerd (I definitely track my points on a spreadsheet), and because you know I like free stuff, it was a fun evening.  And now I can associate the word "Freddie" with something way better than my Freddie Mac stock failure.