The Summer So Far – A Blogpost Brain Dump

Every Friday I say to myself, “I’m going to write a blog post tonight,” because what else is there to do on a Friday night when you’ve already exhausted all your Netflix / DVR marathon options?  But I’ve come to learn that with our new home comes a never ending list of shit to do.  Laundry, vacuum, pick up Chunk’s toys, pick up all the other random crap lying around the living room, load/unload the dishwasher, weed the yard, shop for groceries, etc.  You might be saying, “Aside from the yard, didn’t you have to do all those things in NYC anyway, you gross slob??”  Well, yeah sort of, but not really.  We paid per pound to have our laundry done and folded by the laundromat down the street, cleaning up knick-knacks around our 400 square foot studio took all of ten minutes, and we rarely had to do dishes since we were almost always eating out of take-out containers.

I’m not complaining about the chores (OK, maybe I am a little). It’s just taking time to acclimate to our new home and our routine here.  We’d probably have an easier go of it if we did a little bit at a time throughout the week, but housework is about the last thing either one of us want to do after a long day and commute, so we leave everything to the weekend. It’s not that I’m a slave to my house (OK, maybe I am a little).  Life has been full of changes, large and small – I just haven’t had the time or motivation to put some cohesive thoughts together on them.  But a life not worth blogging about is a life not worth living, or something like that right?  (Just kidding, Instagram is what gives life meaning, not the blog, and I blow that ish up on the regular.)

So here we go, a brain dump of what’s been going on in Casa URB so far this summer (in no particular order because that would just be too much thinking right now):

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Vacating Apartment 1B

MIA again.  Dammit.  I was really on a roll there for a while.

There’s been a lot going on in my non-virtual life, the most notable of which is that we have finally, officially, there’s-no-going-back-now, moved to New Jersey.  Months ago we marked the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend as our move date, so we had plenty of time to sketch out our plan of attack.  The big ticket items were easy – we borrowed a friend’s Suburban and slowly but surely used our weekends to ferry our couch, media console, dressers, and other large knick knacks to New Jersey.  With our apartment pretty much empty in the week leading up to our move date (save for the essentials: our bed, folding chairs, folding tables, and TV), I was feeling pretty accomplished.  Just the small stuff remained and how long could it take to pack all that up?  The answer: THREE FRIGGIN’ DAYS.  I’d like to say I handled packing with grace and patience, but that would be a lie.  It got done of course, but not without a fair amount of whining on my part and occasional dramatic displays of throwing of myself onto our bed and yelling “THIS SUUUUUUUCCKS!”

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Three days worth of packing is way more impressive than this photo lets your believe. Also, if you were ever hoping for an apartment tour, this is it. Standing at our entry, the kitchen leads to the living room which leads to the bedroom. Craigslist calls it a “junior 1 bedroom.”

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Home Renovations: The Dining Room

The very first piece of furniture we put into our new house in the suburbs was my parents’ wedding gift to us – a seven piece dining room set.  For most people, a dining table and matching chairs are foregone conclusions, but living in NYC, a dining set is my symbol of adulthood.  Most people I know in the city who have a proper dining table (and I mean one that is out all the time and not folded away when not in use) also have children.  Mr. S and I have spent the last four years eating off of TV trays from our sofa and finally having somewhere to put place settings and serve family style dinners will be a marked change when we move into our new home.  I really hope we make good use of the wedding gift and don’t fall back into our old bad habits of eating in front of the TV.

Unlike the majority of our new house, prior to our renovations, the dining room was perfectly fine as is.  I liked the character of the arched opening to the living room, the room got plenty of light from two windows, it could comfortably accommodate a dining set and china cabinet, and I had no qualms about keeping the brass candelabra chandelier.

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Home Renovations: The Kitchen

By now I’ve told you all about how we leveled the floors, tore down a dividing wall, and painted every square inch of vertical space in our new house.  And while those were all major projects, by far the winner of Most Improved Room (and where we sunk a good chunk of our renovation funds) was the kitchen.  Rightly so, because when we bought the house the kitchen was the worst offender in terms of outdated décor and awkward layout.  Let’s revisit the yellow and orange vinyl, shall we?

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The cabinets wasted quite a bit of storage space by not fully extending to the ceiling and the gigantic refrigerator ate up a large footprint in the middle of the kitchen.  Additionally, the kitchen was completely closed off from the rest of the house, making it feel smaller and darker.

Initially, we toyed with the idea of waiting to renovate the kitchen.  There were so many other projects on our wish list (sunroom repairs, new windows, bathroom tile, etc.) and doing the kitchen meant all the other stuff had to wait.  Perhaps we could live with just re-painting the cabinets and slapping some neutral vinyl tile over the orange and yellow flooring.  But once we tore the wall down, it became obvious that the kitchen is the first thing someone sees when entering through the front door and it would always have been an awkward eyesore without some heavy duty fixes.  Resale value has been at the forefront of our minds throughout this renovation process, so we decided that it would be worth it to invest in the kitchen sooner rather than later, while we weren’t living there and the place was basically a construction zone anyway.  My sunroom art studio will just have to wait.  #wah.

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Home Renovations: A New Floor Plan, Floors, and Color Palette

Our intention for our new house was always to break down the wall dividing the living room, kitchen, and dining room.  Because leveling the floors in our new house caused some cracking in that particular wall, we decided to go ahead and take the entire thing down rather than repair it.  Our contractor also suggested squaring off the walls in the kitchen to make for a better layout (there was previously a curved wall which wasted quite a bit of space).

If you recall, this was the floor plan when we purchased the house (not to scale).

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And this is the new floor plan after removing the wall (also not to scale).  The dotted line is a kitchen island. Now that I’m looking at it, it’s actually more of a peninsula, isn’t it?

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The space instantly felt bigger and brighter and it was amazing that one wall could make such a huge difference.  For a while we thought we might need to add a post for structural support next to the kitchen peninsula, but in the end it was deemed unnecessary.  #yay

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Before…

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After! (Gory details on the kitchen renovation in a future post…)

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Thailand, Part Three: Bangkok

A one hour flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok got us to the capital city in the late morning and we wasted no time in exploring.  After getting settled in our hotel and grabbing a quick lunch, we set off to explore our hotel’s neighborhood of Sukhumivit – known to be a popular area for expats and teeming with shopping malls, hotels, and restaurants.

We chose this particular area and hotel due to its proximity to both the Skytrain and subway system.  Accustomed to the intricate maze of public transportation in NYC, I figured Mr. S and I would easily take to Bangkok’s more modern Skytrain and subways.  And we did.  Eventually.  Once we figured out how to pay.

To purchase tickets for the Skytrain, one must know which stop they are heading to.  That was easy enough, so Mr. S and I queued up for the ticket machine.  “Notes and coins” it said.  Good, because we had no coins.  Not good, because the machine kept spitting out our 100 baht bill.  We decided perhaps it would be better to wait in the line for the man behind the window.  When it was our turn, we played a short game of charades to indicate that we’d like two tickets to our destination.  We knew our fare would be a total of 84 baht so we handed the smiling man our 100 baht bill and he returned to us a handful of coins, which we assumed was our change of 16 baht.  We didn’t get tickets, but we presumed that since we paid the man directly, we could just enter through the side handicap gate attached to his little window.  So off we went, boarded the train, arrived at our destination, got off the train, and then…couldn’t exit the train station.  We looked to others around us for a clue and everyone had a ticket to put into the turnstile which would then open.  But we had no tickets.  We weren’t given tickets.  A very polite officer saw our confused faces, smiled at us, then wordlessly escorted us to the station’s window.  Again, the game of charades, except this time we didn’t know how to mime “We paid already but we didn’t get tickets.” In her broken English (and always, everyone, with a kind smile), the attendant said, “You pay now.”

“No, no we paid already.  We paid 100 baht and got change back, but no tickets,” I protested.  After fruitless miming and hand signals, I decided to pull out the coins we received as evidence of my claim.  Mr. S says he figured it out before I did…but I didn’t realize our faux pas until I saw that it required both of my hands to hold all the change I pulled from my wallet…  The first man in the window didn’t give us 16 baht in change.  He gave us 100 baht in coins so we could go back to the “Coins only” machine.  Ohhhhhh….. “Ok, yes, we pay now.”

The second time we had to take the Skytrain, Mr. S and I were ready.  Again, we had no coins (the “Notes and coins” machine was broken and just the “Coins only” machines were available).  We tagged teamed to cut down on our wait time so I stood on the machine line while Mr. S lined up at the window to get change.  We thought we were so smart, so Bangkok Skytrain savvy until Mr. S returned to me from the window with two tickets and 16 baht in change in his hands.  We’ll never know the secret to Skytrain success, but the moral of the story is to always have a ticket and always count your change.

So the Skytrain took us to the meeting spot of our first activity in Bangkok –  a guided night tuk tuk tour,  visiting some of the city’s landmarks via the infamous motorcycle tuk tuk.  Stops included  Klong San night market (to sample some street food), Wat Prayoon (where we got a glimpse of some monks in training), the Giant Swing, Wat Pho’s grounds, the 24 hour flower market, dinner at a local Pad Thai restaurant, and finally ending in Chinatown for dessert.  From living in NYC, I know that tourist attractions look and feel very different in the night time vs. the day time, so even though we didn’t have full access to some of the temples, it was still a really cool experience to be able to wander the grounds at night.

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Our view from our tuk tuk and some of our tour group friends up ahead.

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Wat Prayoon

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The flower market, open 24 hours a day.

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Thailand, Part Two: Chiang Mai

If Koh Samui was the part of our vacation where we didn’t do much, Chiang Mai was the part of our vacation where we did it all.

Upon our arrival, we immediately noticed the smoky haze that seemed to blanket all of Chiang Mai.  Turns out we were visiting during the time of year that neighboring farmers were burning off their crops.  We also noticed the moderate temperature – I mean, still hot, but not unbearable in long pants and sleeved shirts.

We checked into our hotel, U Chiang Mai, in the middle of the Old City and spent the rest of our afternoon touring the Wats (aka temples) that were in walking distance from our digs.  We had read in our tour book that one must be appropriately dressed when entering the temples, so that meant no shorts, short skirts, or sleeveless shirts.  I’d also recommend sandals or easy to remove shoes since most temples require you to leave your shoes at the door.

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Inside Wat Chedi Luang

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Thailand, Part One: Koh Samui

So I’ve been MIA around here.  Again.  Typical.  But, I’ve got some fun stuff to share, so hopefully you’ll give me a pass for being absent.  Somewhat recently, Mr. S and I returned from our twelve night honeymoon in Thailand, which included stops at Koh Samui, Chiang Mai, and Bangkok.

Our vacation of a lifetime started with a crap load of flying.  Awesome for me because I have an affinity for airplane food (it’s just like those TV dinners my parents never bought me as a kid no matter how much I begged) but terrible for Mr. S, who has an irrational fear of flying.  When we started making gigantic payments for our wedding, we opened a Chase Sapphire Preferred card to take advantage of the points system.  Our hope was that we’d rack up enough points to afford “Premium Economy” seats for the long leg of our journey to Bangkok.  I’ve been flying to and from the Philippines since I was a kid, always on economy, except for that one single, solitary, never-again-to-be-repeated, unicorn of a time that we flew premium economy.  Holy Jesus, it was heavenly.  There were foot rests, menus, space to stand and take a short stroll around the cabin, plushier blankets, bigger pillows with real fabric pillow cases (not that rough, disposable paper crap they give you in economy), and midnight servings of instant ramen.  I could have flown three times around the world in premium economy without complaint.

While I’ve been flying across the International Date Line since I was in diapers, prior to our mini-moon vacation to Mexico, Mr. S had never left the country.  And since I knew he wasn’t a fan of the friendly skies, I wanted to make his maiden long haul trip as comfortable as possible.  After all, his experience flying to Thailand would dictate how willing he was to make future trips to the Philippines – something I hope we do regularly in the future.  Plus, it was our honeymoon, and if ever there was a time to warrant splurging on an upgraded airplane seat, this was it.

Alas, homeownership has a way of unfairly robbing you of your disposable income, and when it came time to book our flights, we just couldn’t justify the $4,000 upgrade to premium economy when we had no kitchen, no walls, and no plumbing in our new house.  (I couldn’t even bring myself to look at how much business class seats cost.  Who are these people in business class?!  Why don’t they just buy their own plane and let the rest of us have a chance?!)

So it was economy class for us, and with our Chase Sapphire points, we paid a grand total of $700 for two tickets on Cathay Pacific to Bangkok by way of Hong Kong.  I guess it’s been a while since I’ve flown Cathay Pacific, but we were more than pleasantly surprised – the seats were roomy, the individual entertainment options plentiful, and we did get menus and late night cup o’ noodles. #winning

After our 22 hour journey to Bangkok, we boarded yet another airplane – this time a one and half hour domestic flight to Koh Samui.  The domestic carrier we used was Bangkok Airways and we waited two hours in their lovely free airport lounge complete with Wi-Fi and Thai snacks.

The airport in Koh Samui was rustic – a collection of thatched roof huts and open air waiting rooms.  We had a bit of a Mr. President and First Lady moment when disembarking the airplane via the long metal staircase.  Prior to leaving the USA, we arranged for an airport transfer to our hotel because after 26 hours of traveling, we didn’t want to have to think too much once we got to our destination.

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Home Renovations: Tile, Toilets, and Sinks – Oh My!

Disclaimer: My intention is not for this blog to be all about home renovations, but that’s where my head has been in the recent months, so that’s what manifests in my posts. Also, the house is the most exciting thing going on in my life right now and if not for all the renovations, I’d probabaly be blogging about my meaningless opinion of The Voice contestants and Chunk’s daily bowel movements. Consider yourselves spared of the gory yet riveting details…for now… 

The bathroom in our New Jersey home was a sight for sore eyes, but we knew that the bulk of our funds would be invested in the kitchen renovation (as it was a sight for sorer eyes), so any major overhaul of the bathroom would have to wait.  And by overhaul, I mean ripping out all that orchid and yellow tile and replacing it with something less Easter-psychedelic.

However, there were a few small changes that we could do now to make the bathroom more visually bearable.

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The NYC Bucket List

Now that we know our time in NYC is coming to an end, it’s time to get serious about our NYC bucket list.  I started the bucket list years ago – before marriage and homeownership were even blips on my radar.  It was meant to identify all the touristy, NYC-centric activities that we’d like to experience before leaving this great city.  At the time I had no idea when or if we would ever leave, so we tackled the list at a leisurely pace.  But with our house in the suburbs almost complete and an expiring apartment lease that is not to be renewed, it’s time to get crackin’ on this list.  It’s not as if NYC will be so far away that we can’t partake in these activities after we’ve moved to New Jersey, but we’ll likely be less willing to come into the city on a whim just to cross off one of these items.

So, this is the list as it stands today.  (I should probably give this its own page on the blog to hold me accountable.  We’ll see if I figure out to do that…)

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