Tuesday, November 24, 2015

List of Unsolicited Advice

My niece on Jason's side turned 13 recently.  She is amazing, smart, and talented. I wish I had the confidence and ability to talk to anyone as easily as she does. She definitely doesn't need advice from me, but it got me thinking about advice I'd like to give my younger self. I don't know. Sentimentality turns me into an over-sharer I guess. It's not just advice for a 13 year old, and I'm not even going to pretend it's comprehensive.  Everyone is definitely allowed to roll their eyes at me and take this with more than a grain of salt, as even I realize I'll never actually be qualified to give life advice. 

1.  Use proper grammar.  I am not the best speller, so am a bit of a hypocritical grammar Nazi, but really, I just have so many emotions about the English language, education, and the state of society when I see such rampant disregard for the proper use of "your" versus "you're" and the like.  I know it doesn't seem like a big deal, but friends, I plead with you, it is.  I have heard stories of people who do not get recommended for a job because of poor grammar.  Ok - off my grammar soap box.  I think I just shot myself in the foot and will probably have a typo in every single post from now on.

2.  If you are asking someone "When are you going to start dating/ get married/ have kids?" then I hope you are close enough to that person to be in said wedding.  Some people really would love to be in that next stage of life and aren't, so questions about it can be salt in the wound.  I'm finally realizing how guilty I am of asking insensitive questions and the silly part is that I often do so simply because I can't think of anything else to say.  It takes a little more brainpower, but here's to more creative topics of conversation.

3.  Be nice to people who are new or without friends.  Don't just not be mean.  I often wish I had been more friendly to less popular kids growing up instead of being so concerned that I'd miss out if I wasn't with the cool kids.  When it was my turn to be the "new girl," even just a short conversation with someone could turn into the highlight of the day.

4.  Mom is always right.  My mom still supported me when I didn't make the choices that she recommended, but I can't even tell you how many times I've looked back and wished I'd done the harder/ less popular/ less "fun" thing that she recommended. I'm grateful I can say that too, because I know not everyone can.

5.  Jewelry and a belt are all you need to make most outfits look put together, although I usually just do one piece when it's big.

6.  If you have to risk being either overdressed or underdressed, be overdressed.

7.  Say thank you to those whose job it is to help you - teachers, train conductors, waiters, etc. If nothing else, it can only help to have a friend if you are in a jam.

8.  You can pick your friends, but not your family.  This means be careful to pick good friends.  It also means that if you can have a close relationships with your family, it is something to prioritize and treasure. 

9.  Don't say to someone after they break up with their significant other anything along the lines of, "I never liked so-and-so anyways... He/she wasn't good for you..." Two reasons why: First, if you had legitimate concerns or reasons to dislike that person, it is your job as a friend to share those concerns in the most caring way possible, as soon as you can.  What if the relationship continues, and they get married?  You'll be too late. Second, if your concerns aren't actually legitimate, then saying negative things about someone is never helpful, and can really come back to bite you if they get back together.

10.  Time is so precious.  Don't waste it - yours or others'.  Don't let others waste your time who don't actually care about you.  Don't waste other people's time if you don't actually care about them.

11.  I know a lot of these aren't necessarily specific to being any age, much less thirteen. But maybe the thing I wish I'd realized most at that age is that there is a big, huge world out there! There are way more friends, places to live, colleges to go to, people to fall in love with or jobs to get than just what you know now! I sometimes look back now and realize what a narrow view of things I had at the time. I made choices based on the few experiences I'd had or others I knew had. It's hard to remember in the moment, but I wish I had been less concerned about the small worries of the moment, spent less effort on being liked.  I wish I had been more willing to go somewhere I didn't know anybody, and more open to deviations in my life plan. Those deviations are probably the only thing one can count on anyways. You don't know what you don't know, but I suppose that isn't just a curse for the young.

So that's my list. I didn't even have 13 things for 13 years old, and I'm sure some things would have been different if I had different life experiences.  Not to say I don't have more advice - want to know where the best cupcakes in DC are? Want to hear about coupons? Ways to get motor oil off carpet? Just call me Ann Landers - but that's it for now.  I'll probably have a new list when my niece turns 21.  Probably the top recommendation would be, "Don't make lists about life recommendation." :)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

DC vs Suburbs

It's been a year and a half since we moved out of our condo in DC to the suburbs of Maryland. We were in DC for three years and loved it, but moved in with my parents when Jason's job required some long term travel. So there we were, in the same house I spent my high school and college years, living in my old room.

The first few weeks after moving, with Jason gone, it was a little surreal to be driving the same routes in the same car as I did in my high school/ college days.  It was like a time warp had erased the eight years after college.  I always felt like I should be listening to Blink-182 or early 2000's rock since it felt like I had regressed back to those days. The changes all seemed hard, and it was disorienting to be back at home, yet living a life so different from last time I was there. It's amazing how fast we acclimated though, compared to how agonizing the first month seemed. Now the 15 minutes we have to spend in the car to get anywhere seem standard. The hour plus commute is part of normal life. And the quirks of being so close to family are far outweighed by the fun.

After we moved a few people asked if we missed DC (yes!), but when they asked why, I had a harder time answering. Less commuting time, for sure. Long commutes equal death according to some studies (ok, that's my paraphrase), but that not actually what I missed most. So I started thinking about the differences between the city and the suburbs, and what I actually missed.

I most miss the walkability. We lived in a spot in DC with great walking access to all sorts of stores, restaurants, the library, parks, and public transit. Even though driving to the grocery store takes the same ten minutes as it did to walk there, something about not driving made it seem so much easier. I will admit, I'm not really a good or patient driver, and burning calories instead of gas is so much more appealing to me. I get that not everyone likes so much walking or even can, like if you've got kids. But evening walks through Adams Morgan became a habit for us especially in summer. There was always something new to see: construction progress, people watching, scoping out the next date night spot. Walks through our current neighborhood aren't as dynamic, but the bridge over the creek behind my parent's house is actually very scenic, and we've traded our walks for chats on the back deck.

The walkability and plethora of so much packed in a few square miles really had this effect of shrinking my world. When everything is in biking distance, there's not much reason to go farther. We left the confines of the city pretty regularly to visit family, and for our church in Arlington, but man, even going to another quadrant of the city seemed like a trek. Like you may as well drive to Massachusetts. One time I suggested driving to the nearness pool (maybe a 20 minute ordeal once you account for parking), and Jason literally said, "If we have to drive, we may as well go to the beach." That's how much of a mental hump it was to get in the car - driving 20 minutes was equally as painful as driving three hours. I should have suggested driving to get lobster rolls because then maybe we would have gone to Maine.

Speaking of transportation, I brought my habit of honking liberally back to Maryland with me. I just feel like more of a jerk about it because it seems like I'm the only one honking when traffic rules are not obeyed. I actually feel like it would be easier to honk so much if we still had DC plates on the car cause then people could be all, "Oh, she's from DC. So of course she is impatient and in a hurry." If I honk with my mom in the car, she locks the doors because she thinks the person I honk at will attack me in a road rage. (She also locks the doors when driving by the prison off the highway in case a loose convict carjacks her at 60 mph.)

I miss the grocery options. Within a mile of our house were 2 Yes! Organic Markets, a Whole Foods, and two farmer's markets (during summer). The organic section at my current Giant is pretty measly in comparison - plus I can't walk there. I will say though, in the burbs, we have better access to Costco and ethnic (specifically Asian) grocery stores. They were in DC, but we never went. Without designated parking, I usually walked, and since the Asian grocery was far enough away that I had to pass two or three other grocery options on the way, going that far never made sense, especially when it meant carrying things back...remember what I said about our world "shrinking?" There's a good example. When I have to drive to anywhere in the burbs, the extra mile or two matters a lot less.

It's not really that I hate driving, I just hate traffic, bad drivers, and parking lots. (Have you been to the Costco parking lot on the weekend? Case in point!)

This is probably a tic mark against DC, but I never knew what drugs smelled like until living there. I think it was simply because I wasn't around so many people before, topped with a scoop of naïveté and friends who followed the rules, but there you have it. I suppose now at least I know what various shops in Colorado are peddling by the smell.

I miss being a mile from Rock Creek Park. Marathon training was a whole lot easier when you have miles and miles of trails through the woods, along the Potomac, and past scenic memorials. The funny thing is, we've done runs on the Maryland part of the same trail, but the 15 minute drive to get there is a huge mental hurdle. The other funny thing is, I only used it maybe once a month on average, but I liked the option. I think it is like the "healthy" options at McDonald's. Of course everyone gets the fries, but complains if the healthy option isn't there.

So now that I've made myself sound like an entitled yuppie, let me tell you what's been great about the suburbs. We can get packages delivered to our house. No more notes from Fed-Ex that they couldn't get into the building, fear of stolen packages, or returned items that we were never home to accept. We also don't need to walk two blocks to drop off out going mail.

Without a bunch of buildings crammed into each city block, I've been able to see sunsets better. Granted, I'm usually seeing them from the train or the car, so it could be the extra time spent just sitting, rather than the change of topography, that gives me the opportunity to see more sunsets. Either way, stopping to appreciate the beauty of nature is something I want to do more.

I suppose it will depend on your routine (ie: whether you have kids who meltdown at bedtime) as to which is better, but I have noticed that the busy time for dinner in suburbia is closer to 6, whereas in DC it was more like 7-8.  "Lucky" for us, we spend over two hours a day commuting, so when you also have to drive to the restaurant, we still don't make it until closer to 8 anyways, but now don't often have to worry about the dinner rush.

Another thing I've had to laugh about is that despite living in close proximity to dozens of people in our DC condo building, we only knew the name of one of our neighbors. I mean, we shared a wall with people with whom our most personal interaction was a half-hearted wave. I think the "unfriendliness" had less to do with population density and more due to a culture of mutually ignoring other people.  Everyone is busy, on their phones, already has friends, or - the biggest risk of befriending a neighbor- they might actually need something from you. It was quite a contrast when we moved back into my parents' house, where walking down the street makes you feel like Jesus on Palm Sunday. Seriously, there is one lady whose name I don't know because my sister and I have always called her "the waving lady." I have never seen anyone go that much out of her way to wave to passing cars.  Even other suburban friends would comment on how many people waved as they enter the neighborhood. Never got to be in a parade? It's pretty much the same as driving down my parent's street.

Of course there are obvious differences - more biking, politics, and crime in DC versus cheaper drinks more strip malls, and huge lawns in the 'burbs - but my list is more about the things that affect my day-to-day life that I appreciate in each place.

So now a year and a half later, I do still miss the city, and I do still get frustrated at all the driving, but the last year has given us a chance to figure out our long-ish term plan. The final advantage of the suburbs for us personally, is that we have family there.  Plus it is the only place with somewhat close to public transportation that we can afford more than 1000sq ft and that didn’t have schools that were still “in transition” for future consideration. So yup, that meant buying a house in the suburbs. In the very town my parents live now. We close in about two months. I have a lot of feelings about the new place, which definitely deserves its own post. But there you have it.  Goodbye to carrying crock pots on the metro, Presidential motorcades blocking traffic, and contradictory road signs.  Goodbye to night time bike rides on the Mall, to the restaurant where the waitress knows us as the couple that orders three entrees, and goodbye to the ability to spontaneously go to a Nat's game.  Hello chain restaurants, SUVS on paved roads, and giant parking lots.  Hello to being close enough to see family (well, at least half is better than none) on a whim, a garage to store bikes in, and outdoor space for a grill.  Cue Ben Folds - "Rockin' the Suburbs" - yeah, from 2001.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

2014 Year in (Book) Review

If you read my post from last year, in which I had only read four whole books over the course of the year, you can rejoice with me in my slight improvement. However, summarizing so many more books took a long time for me and so February happened, and the "end of the year" theme isn't so relevant.  I would like to say my uptick in reading is due to a longer commute time, and it partially is.  But the real reason I am reading more is that I have rediscovered my love for the library.  You may recall that last year, I would go to the library unprepared, be overwhelmed at all the options, and walk out with nothing.  This year, I've started making a list of books to read. I add to the list when I get a recommendation, read an interesting review, or hear a good quote. This way, I go with a book in mind and often put it on hold ahead of time.

As I've grown more familiar with the shelves, I've started to get one book on my list and one that I picked up while browsing.  It really has re-sparked the love for reading I had as a kid.  Seriously, one year the only thing I got in trouble for in school was for reading during class time. I also had no friends that year, so there's that.

Anyways, I usually walk during lunch breaks to library in DC, since it's easier to fit in.  Going to the library gives me the same feeling that riding a bike around the city does: like an optimistic Mary Poppins throwing wildflower seeds at every patch of dirt, leaving a trail of beauty behind me. In my head, it is as if I'm waving to friends instead of avoiding puddles of saliva on the sidewalk, courtesy of the mentally unstable homeless that also frequent the library. I imagine myself toting a baguette and bouquet of flowers rather than a bag of dirty gym clothes, and heading to a picnic on a spring day rather than the alternating sweating or freezing that I experience in winter. This is how the library makes me feel.  Maybe that description of myself, will help you understand why I choose books that likely sound as much fun as taxes. (Oh my gosh - I realized after writing that that taxes are fun to me - what is wrong with me?)

Without further ado, the books of 2014:

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell.

Honestly, I love Malcolm Gladwell's books, and this copy is even signed! I went to an event at Sixth and I where he was the main star. I can't remember how they advertised it - "A night with Malcolm Gladwell" or something that evoked images of a nice fireside chat. That is kind of what it was, assuming your fireplace is in a synagogue with your closest thousand friends who took all the good seats (and we still got there a half hour early), and someone from Slate is asking the questions instead of you. I think the main lesson here is that if you want me to arrive early anywhere, tell me that Malcolm Gladwell will be there.

As per usual with Gladwell's books, I found this book fascinating. One of the big ideas of the book is that maybe the characteristics that make someone a "underdog" can actually be a strength that lead to unexpected victory. For example, someone with a reading disability may have to make up for it by becoming really good at memorizing, resulting in academic success. Obviously, this theory can't really be generalized, otherwise my lack of physical strength and coordination would have turned me into an Olympic figure skater. (Or maybe a gymnast. Not as cold and fewer sharp objects. Also less getting whacked in the knees.)

The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

I'm not sure what I thought this book was about - a violent crime that occurs on a farm?- but it was not about that at all. Though I still think a "catcher in the rye" sounds like a kidnapper. This book I loved. The rambling and angst and the absolute honesty. No wonder it's a classic. This quote is probably the perfect summary, "What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though." I wish I could have been J.D. Salinger's friend. I wouldn't have arrived a half hour early for him though, but it would be because with him, I wouldn't have to. Because what's the rush when you are just going to sip some sherry and comment about the ridiculous nature of people in the world? Although, really, he probably would have much cooler friends than me, so also that's why I wouldn't get there early - because I wasn't invited.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple

I bought this book right before a 4 hour bus ride.  I had finished my other book was afraid I'd be bored.  Of course, once I got on the bus I was either asleep or too motion sick to read anyway. This was kind of "meh." A fast and humorous read set in Seattle, it made me really want to go there, but the story itself felt slightly juvenile, though it was clearly for adults. Maybe this is why I'm skeptical of most modern fiction.  The best quote was this:

"'That's right,' she told the girls. 'You are bored. And I'm going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it's boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it's on you to make life interesting, the better off you'll be.'"

The Measure of Sucess: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home, by Carolyn McCulley and Nora Shank

Written by two members of my church, I found this book on "Biblical Womanhood" refreshing.  My only small complaint was that there wasn't a concrete takeaway, but the book was purposely broad, as each person's circumstance is different. Some background: I grew up in a conservative Christian church where the main focus for women's teachings was on having a "heart for the home." Even though, my parents and many others in my life always supported me in my pursuit of education, career, and graduate degree, it often felt like there was less support for people who weren't stay at home moms. So now that that can of worms is only cracked and not all the way open: I really like how this book went through the history of work, especially for women, pointing out how for most of history, the home has not been the refuge from a long day at the office it is now - no, it was the office, the center of business and economics for the family.  So when it says in Titus 2:5 that women are to be "busy at home," that doesn't mean to be constantly redecorating.  McCulley and Shank show that the idea of work can be applied to any calling, professional or not.

Sarah's Key (didn't finish), by Tatiana de Rosnay

I read the first couple chapters, then stopped. Then reread them a few weeks later. Then decided a story about kids and WWII concentration camps really sounded way too sad for me to want to finish no matter how beautifully it was written.

An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies, by Tyler Cowen

So I'm kind of wishing I had written this book. I mean, look at the name of this blog! Economist! That's me! Foodie! I don't like how pretentious it sounds, but I did complain about the temperature of red wine a couple weeks ago, so Foodie? That's me too! (And nerd! Because my heart is even now, beating faster at the thought of combining my two favorite topics!) If, like me, you like food, and like to get really analytical about your decisions, this is for you. Written by George Mason economics professor, Tyler Cowen, I loved that he is local enough for me to visit the places he recommends. I love his mindset towards food because it captures how I often feel, "...eating out while traveling isn't just about the food, it's also a quest. It's a chance to create an adventure, a memory, a connection to the local culture; and it's a chance to help define what your trip, and indeed your life, is about. Traveling can spur the realization that eating is a creative art."

The book goes through a fascinating history of food in the US, experiments in grocery shopping, and tips for how to find the best places to eat at. It gave me much more of a shove towards ethnic foods in less glitzy neighborhoods where the bang for your buck is likely to be better than most spots on the "best of" lists. I wasn't thrilled with his stance on some of the more political issues of food (ie: he claimed GMOs are ok because there isn't conclusive proof otherwise), but I enjoyed this book, if nothing else because it relieved some of the self-induced pressure I can feel to only eat at popular (and budget blowing) spots.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (didn’t finish), by Michael Pollan

One day on the train ride home my conversation with an especially chatty seatmate went something like this:

"Do you work nearby?"
"Yeah, I'm an economist - I studied math and economics in school, so I'm kind of a numbers need."
"What are you reading?" Motioning to this book in my hand.
"It's this book called The Omnivore's Dilemma."  I explained my selection, “ I just really like eating so thought it might be interesting.” 
"Wow, you like math and food. You're such an awesome girl!"

I think he must not have met very many people.  I then waved to Jason across the aisle and excused myself from further conversation so I could finish the book before it was due back at the library. I didn’t finish, but it might be a good book for you if you want the attention of someone who is way too easily impressed.  (Jason can testify that the downside of those two characteristics is that when grocery shopping, I take way too long calculating unit prices and going back and forth about organic vs. natural vs. conventional.)

Anyways, the part I did read was fascinating, though it certainly shows the ugly the food industry is when politics pervert the system.  For example, the part I read focused on the government corn subsidy. I read this a while ago, so may have details fuzzy, but the gist is: there was an overproduction of corn in the earlier part of the 1900’s. This drove the prices down, meaning farmers made less than they counted on, and so made up the difference the next year by planting even more corn, which lead to even more surplus, even lower prices, and a downward spiral. When the subsidy was first introduced, the government bought excess supplies of corn and stored them for years when production was lower, thus keeping the price of corn artificially high in years of plenty. However, food policy changed – I can’t remember when, 70’s or 80’s? – so that the government still paid farmers for the excess corn, but left the excess on the market instead of storing it. Long story short, cheap corn prices result in today’s issues: prevalence of high fructose corn syrup, use of corn for feed, and therefore hormones for cattle whose stomachs are not made to digest it, and over development of land for agricultural use. That kind of stuff is frustrating, but fascinating to me, and I’ll have to finish it sometime.

Joie de Vivre: Secrets of Wining, Dining, and Romancing Like the French (not finished), by Harriet Welty Rochefort

Really, I picked up the book hoping to learn the "secret" as to how France could be known for rich buttery foods yet filled with svelte, trim people.  (I was really hoping that lots of red wine would be the answer, but it was something far more practical: petite quantities.)  Like someone who uses twenty words when ten will do, it was entertaining but I didn't feel like I didn't miss much when the library due date arrived with 1/3 of the book left to go.  Perfect for the Francophile, traveler, or anyone who wants to put a finger on what makes the culture of the French so refined, the book definitely made me want to emulate parts  of French culture, and bumped Paris and the Riviera up a few notches on my travel wish - list.

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck

Beautiful and haunting, the characters of this story will stick with me for a long time. If Heller made me want to befriend him, Steinbeck made me want to befriend his characters. Like going on a hike rather than a roller coaster, the ups and downs of the plot were more gradual, but the details more marvelously studied.  A story of two families captures the wonder and brokenness of life with such vivid descriptions I wished this book was mine and not the library's so I could have highlight my favorite quotes.  It's not really what I'd call a "beach read," but still worth it.

Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu, by J. Maarten Troost

This guy is hilarious.  At least to me, and by now you know to be wary of using me as a litmus test.  The auto biographical tale of the author and his wife when they move to Vanuatu. After leaving an office job in DC, he follows his wife to the edge of civilization for her job. There he learns local culture, customs, and entertainment. But it's really his dry and witty sense of humor and commentary on society that I loved, especially since I have had the exact soul-sucking experience on the DC metro that hooked me at the start. The book was a fun way to learn about another part of the world, and his stories had me alternating between wishing I could live on a rural island and being glad I don't. I suppose the indigenous drug use would get it a PG-13 rating, but the titles of his books really are worse than the content. I don't support drug use. Disclaimer box is checked.

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think, by Brian Wansink
Books on food are a theme because, as I told the train guy, I love food. I also like being informed about what I consume and found this book fascinating! It's less of a diet book, more of a study into the psychology of eating. The author certainly cited various scientific studies, many of which he was involved in conducting, but it wasn't like a textbook. Wanksink talks about factors that frequently cause us to overeat and simple, healthy ways to eat better. One big point he made, which should seem obvious, is that we eat more when the container or serving utensil we use is bigger. This may seem fairly obvious, and you might even think you know better than to make that mistake. Amusingly enough, he performed this experimental on the very scientists studying this topic, and they still ate something like 50% more ice cream when using a bigger scooper! The very people who should know better! Even if weight isn't an issue, most people gain 1 pound a year, making it relevant to most.  This book helped me think about ways help me keep my family healthy, held my interest, and wasn't overly scientific.

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion (Technically, I started this in 2014 and only finished last week in 2015, but figured it was close enough.), by Elizabeth Kline

Do you ever get frustrated that your clothes pill after just a few washes? Do Anthro and J.Crew catalogs go straight in the trash because anything more than $10 at H&M makes you feel guilty? Do you have an overflowing closet but "nothing to wear"? Do lose your sunglasses every year? Ok that's just me.

Anyways, no matter your answers this book is for you! Cheesy sales pitch aside, I thought this book was really interesting. Seriously, the only downside is I felt like I should have been taking notes for work. I was shocked to learn that amidst skyrocketing prices for housing, education, everything, the real price of clothing has actually decreased in the last decade. This is largely due to the change in trade agreements allowing for a massive outsourcing of cheap, foreign labor. The result is not only cut throat prices, but a deterioration in quality, lost US jobs, poor working conditions, and a "fast fashion" consumerism that treats clothes as disposable. Of course, I'm not as quick to demonize those results as Kline is, as there is always another side to any argument, but they aren't good.  Trends that once changed every decade and now are changing monthly. It's definitely not a fashion guide, as the Kline makes it clear she had a lot to learn about style. (I wore black, brown and navy blue at the same time the other day, so I do too.) Her takeaway is not to necessarily spend more total money on clothes, but buy fewer items at a higher quality, as they'll last longer anyway.  I'm taking it as permission to buy nicer clothes because it's socially and environmentally responsible.  I'm hoping it helps with my dress addiction.

So, turns out reading more books takes a long time to write about.  If I lost you with all that, at least you have suggestions by better writers.  Hopefully you get some good ideas.  Have you read anything good lately? I'm almost ready for my next book - of course, after I do my taxes!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Christmas Letter

I have had all sorts of posts half written for a few months, but just haven't sat down to finish them all. Thanks to anyone who has read along this year. Just in case there was anyone who I forgot to mail our Christmas letter to, I thought it might be fun to share it here along with the photo I sent (taken by Liz Duren).  Some more details made more generic because I'm paranoid and don't like the exact place we live and work out there on the interwebs.  

December 2014

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, friend! 

We hope this letter finds you well.  This year has been full of the unexpected for us, and in case it’s been a while since we’ve actually had the chance for a face-to-face conversation, then let us fill you in on what’s been happening with a glimpse into a typical day for us:

Somewhere between 6:30-7am: Jason and I wake up for work.  Hold on, you’re thinking, Jason is there? I thought he was supposed to be on an overseas job? Well, yes, he was, but -surprise! - two months into it, he got the news that he got to come home.  So while it was a disappointment in some ways because Jason was looking forward to the job, we are glad it meant he got to be here most of the year.

7am-8am: Drive to the train station and commute from MD into DC.  One of the things we had done to preparation for Jason’s absence, was to move in with Sarah’s parents for the year, so she didn’t have to be solo.  So when – surprise! – Jason came home, it meant, - surprise! – we both get to live with Sarah’s mom and dad until we figure out what comes next.  We do miss our short commute that we had living in DC, but the train is still a better option than fighting beltway traffic.

8am-depends-on-the-day pm: Work at some Federal economic agency.  It’s hard to believe, but we’ve both been at our jobs for 8 years now, and we still only sit a few cubicles away from each other.  Although we don’t often work on the same projects, commuting, working, and living together sure is convenient, and makes us wonder how couples who aren’t always together ever get the chance to talk.  It also makes us wonder if we should get separate hobbies.  :) We’ll get to experience it though in January, when Jason is going to be on a rotational program with another related office.

6pm-7pm: Commute home. One thing we are excited about is that this commute will look different next year.  This is because we will be getting off at a different train stop and walking five minutes to our new house in MD.  For the past 8 years, the longest either of us has lived in one place is 18 months (about what our stint with Sarah’s parents will be), so we’re pretty excited to have a place that we are planning to be in for a while.  Part of me (Sarah) wonders if we’ll get bored and want to move anyways.  :)  This house was another thing that was a bit unexpected.  We’d been talking about various neighborhoods in the tri-state area (DC, MD, VA) for the past year, but didn’t really think we’d buy for another year or so.  Plus, we were really leaning towards going back to DC.  However, this opportunity kind of fell into our laps. It has the walkability to public transportation/shops that we loved in DC, plus nearby family, good schools, and a lot more square footage that we hope to grow into one day.  So again – surprise! – one week we aren’t even looking at houses, and the next we own a house that will be built this spring.

7pm-8pm: Depending on the day, we may be working out in preparation for the half marathon we did in November, attending an Alumni Association meeting (clearly this is Sarah – who else loved hanging out with her teachers so much?), and on the really rare occasion, we’ve actually been able to eat and be done with dinner this early (see next hour).

8pm-9pm: Some kind of dinner “event” occurs.  Sometimes it’s with friends.  Sometimes it’s with family.  Sometimes it’s just us.  Jason has been becoming quite the chef this year, especially when it comes to anything dough.  (Sarah has even taken to Instagramming his creations with the hashtag #doughmanstrikesagain, if you are into that sort of thing.)  He’s become quite the expert at homemade pasta, pizza dough, potpies, and of course, cookies.  The “dough man” has also managed to use up an entire 25-pound Costco bag of flour this year.  It’s been fun to make different parts of the meal together, but it’s not always fast, hence dinner becoming an “event.” We also try to make enough for leftovers, so we don’t have to do this every night.  In addition to dabbling in food, Jason has been starting to use grains to make his own beer.  The first attempt will be after Christmas, when Jason’s dad, the true beer-making expert, will be around to supervise.

9pm-10pm: In the summer, this was our favorite time to go to the local ice cream shop. Lately, it’s when we are making house-related decisions (usually involving spreadsheets and pinterest).   Often, it’s been the time we get caught up on our current TV series with Sarah’s parents.  Even though we set up our own space upon moving in, we retreat to it a lot less often than we expected, and have enjoyed the nightly ritual together.

Ok, so we usually get sucked into watching “one more episode” until later than 10pm, but we also don’t always just work every day either.  Our weekends have been packed with exploring local wine country, hanging out with our nieces and nephews at their sporting events/ orchestra concerts/ apple picking, and visiting with friends and family all over the country.  Sarah somehow used her 30thbirthday in August as an excuse to do fun stuff all year (think telling the waitress 3 months later). We also managed to squeeze in a ski trip to Aspen that we’ve been talking about for years right before Christmas (so if you are getting this after Christmas, that is why – sorry).

So that’s a glimpse into our day and year.  We’ve had both unexpected blessing and trials, but grateful for the redemption Christmas reminds us of, and the truth of Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of a man plan his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”  Catch up with our adventures throughout the year (or just on the rare occasion that Sarah updates it) at our blog, .  All of our love and blessings to you and your family!


Jason and Sarah

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Goodbye Summer

Tradition.  I like new experiences, new places.  They're exciting.  Tradition has roots.  One year when I was in middle school, our annual family trip was to New England instead of the familiar stretch of beach in Maryland. When we got home though, my sister and I asked my parents when we were going to go on vacation.  It just wasn't a complete summer without the beach.

This year we introduced the kids to the Ocean City experience. Dillon stopped to play with any ball he could find, whether or not the owner was using it. Claire's feet conveniently hurt halfway through her daily walks on the beach with my dad. At least that's what she told us from her perch atop his shoulders.  They loved running full speed down the boardwalk, only stopping for dogs (Claire) or bikes (Dillon). They loved it. I think it's in their blood.

Jason has come with me every year since we started dating.  The summer he was gone, my parents came with me.  I think we spent more time eating at our favorite places than actually on the beach.  I fill him in on my memories.  Here is where we always get subs.  Here is where we stayed when our friends came with us.  I can't believe my entire high school class all came for the day when we organized it.  This is where I stayed with friends when I was in college...feeling so responsible on our first trip without any parents.  Wow, that was a long time ago... this one time...we always...

Why did you always go here? he asks. It's not exactly the prettiest beach.  There were practical reasons, but I forget.

We plan out where we will go next time.  This spot will be good for when we have kids.  Blurry mental pictures.  Other years we've gone to other beaches but we still squeeze in a day trip to Ocean City.  Because we love the beach so much or just because it's what we do? 

We always underestimate the drive.  We stop at my favorite gas station.  I tell the same story each time. One time when it was just my sister and I we ran out of windshield wiper fluid but were too cheap to pay for more, so I tried to stick my hand out the window and splash water on the salt-covered windshield while traveling 50 mph.  None of the water got on the windshield.  All of it got on my face. 

We get donuts.  We get sand in the car.  It's crowded.  It's full of tacky shops.  Full of memories.  Pictures from the past.  Glimpses of the future.  Tradition carried on until next year.