Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 is almost done. What's on the horizon?

Blog friends! Hello there. I've been neglecting you big time. I always say I'm going to come back and post more, and then I fail miserably to follow through. But this time. I MEAN it! I'd like to start by sharing some reflections on this last year of my life:

There's the obvious: Wedding. Marriage. Awesomeness.
I'm probably the happiest I've been in life in a looooooong time. Recognizing that there is someone in your life so special that you want to stand by this person forever is a huge enough revelation in and of itself. But taking the step of verbally committing to that person in front of your closest friends and family is something so profound I can hardly find the words to talk about it. I don't know that having a piece of paper that says I'm now legally related to someone else has changed our relationship significantly, but I am still as in love as I was just over 6 six years ago when I first laid eyes on a tall, geeky blond boy in Belgian restaurant. I am so excited about our future and what we can accomplish together!

Then there's the money bit.
We spent a lot of it this year. On our wedding and honeymoon. While I generally have no regrets, I kinda wish we has spent less on the wedding. It was an amazing day - literally everything fell into place as I had imagined it. Everyone had a great time, and in fact, people are still talking about it. I have gorgeous photos (that I can't stop looking at). But lately I've been fantasizing about real estate, and there is so much affordable property on the market in our neighborhood (which we love, like, a lot, and never want to leave) right now it pains me to know that we just don't have the funds to capitalize on the opportunity. And the question lurking in the back of my mind is when we do have the money in a couple years' time, will we be able to find what we want and can afford? So next year, I think it may be time to institute some financial goals and go on a little post-wedding money diet.

The J-O-B...
Well, friends, this is the part I'm most excited to share. In my heart of hearts, I love what I do. Working in the museum world I think has ultimately made me smarter. And I've made some great connections. However, it's very cyclical and the kinds of challenges I like to handle are becoming fewer. But having to plan my wedding this year has unleashed this insane creative energy that I had no idea I really had in me. I've always been a creative, crafty person. But I was able to take lots of already-great ideas out there in the world of weddings and cobble them together with my own spin, feel, vibe, and creative touches. And I've never had more fun! My mind is still racing with with ideas, talents and skills I'd like to hone, but most importantly, the prospect of going out on my own. It's always been part of my long term plan to do my own thing eventually, but I just feel like I kind of have this momentum going right now, so why not harness that sooner rather than later? I have a pipe dream that I'll share with you later on, but I would like 2012 to be the year when I figure it out. What is it, of my many skills and talents, that I can offer that is special, useful to people, and at which I can successfully keep running long term and support myself? Excited to share some of my ideas in another post, but my goal is to do as much as possible! Ok, here's a little taste: it involves making awesome, interesting and beautiful things!

While 2011 brought together a lot of people, it made me realize that as time passes, I feel further away everyone. My local circle of friends is dwindling. On the one side, I was all over Facebook and discovered Twitter this year, and have gained a bunch of awesome virtual connections out there who I am excited to tap into for creative resources next year. But on the other, I realized that I need to make a bigger effort on cultivating some offline relationships. So as part of my longer-term adventure into becoming self-employed, I am going to be more social in 2012. I'm going to shut down the laptop more and stay at home a little less. Step one: I joined a Monday night bowling league! Don't rub your eyes - I actually just said bowling league! I used to play in a volleyball league here in NY pretty regularly, but a series of related and unrelated injuries kept me from re-joining. I may eventually go back to it when I'm feeling a little more in-shape, but bowling requires little physical involvement so I figured it would be a good place to start.

Last but not least, I'm going to work on my health. I was able to lose 20lbs in honor of looking fab in white dress for a day, but shortly thereafter, I took the road many newlyweds take. We've been eating out a lot. I've been buying my lunch every day. I've gone to the gym twice since the wedding. As of today, I've gained back about 10 of those 20lbs. No bueno! This year, I am going to return to healthier habits and keep it that way. So prepare yourselves for the occasional health/recipe/food amazingness posts next year.

As you may have already discovered by now, all of the above things are linked together! Having better job perspective and a goal to move toward means I can make more time to focus on those things. Which means more time to do healthy stuff like cook and go to the gym. And more time to do things that will help me be more social and launch my own business (flower-arranging classes, anyone?). Which means ultimately saving money and making money at the same time!

I'm not typically one to be excited by a new year. To be honest, I think I'm more excited about 2012 than I was about 2011. Seriously, I'm just bursting at the seams with all the ideas and plans and things I can do over the next 12 months. I hope you'll all still be around to watch and help and offer advice and perspective. I will definitely need it!

I sincerely wish you all a HAPPY new year and hope you find ways to celebrate all year round! I tip my glass to you! Until 2012...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Let me tell you a little story...

About why I support the Occupy Wall Street movement.

I feel compelled to write this because, for starters, I am so tired of people complaining about, of all things, how Occupy Wall Street is inconveniencing them. And because I have experienced firsthand just how much our system is broken. And I want to tell you about it.

In 2008, my now-husband and I moved into an apartment in East Harlem, out of desperation to escape our bedbug-plagued apartment in Queens (owned by landlords who had just moved to NYC themselves and had no idea what they were doing). The building had been participating in the Micthell-Lama program, but in the early 2000s (I think) it was bought by a developer who decided to stop participating in the program and make money off of its tenants' suffering instead. This is not an exaggeration (if you don't believe me, take a look at their HPD complaint list, here). Having few resources at the time and being lured in by the seemingly reasonable deal and having a terrace, we quickly signed the lease the minute we knew we were accepted. That was high point of our experience there. Long story short: nothing went right and in fact, was far worse than where we lived in Queens. There was never consistent hot water, and we had a mouse problem. The elevators were always broken, and in fact I got stuck in them 3 times in 2 months, and the first time, the PA system was broken and we couldn't even communicate with the security guard to get us out. About 6 months after we moved in, there was a 3-alarm fire on the 17th floor. Only 4 apartments were severely damaged, but because there was hardly any ventilation in the whole building, smoke and soot covered the walls and floor of the entire floor. It took the building at least 3 months to clean it up. I followed the proper channels: I called 311 and reported everything at least 7 times; I wrote 4 certified letters of complaint to the management company (as directed by and stated in our lease); I submitted claims to the state of NY for reimbursement for the rent we paid for living in an sub-par apartment; I wrote a letter to our city council member. NOTHING happened! The management company never responded to the letters. The city sent an inspector 1/2 of the times we filed a complaint, and only once we were actually home when the inspector showed up. I mentioned to him that we constantly filed complaints that were listed as "closed" even though we never spoke to an inspector and the problems persisted. I was told it would be reported, and sure enough, the complaint was closed a week later. We decided to stop paying rent in hopes that would be a wake-up call; we sure got a response that time - an eviction threat. Almost immediately after the legal time had passed to consider our rent late. Not a notice that our rent was late, with an opportunity to pay it, like every other business out there. But a straight up eviction threat, for tenants who, up until that point, had been paying their rent totally on time and in full.

For 10 months, we lived like this. But it was not just us. The building has 33 floors with at least 12 apartments per floor, and many of the tenants were on some form of public assistance. We had no money to pay a lawyer to go to small claims court. And our case didn't qualify for Legal Aid Society assistance. Continuing to not pay rent would have meant a HUGE scar on my husband's credit report, because he was the primary person on the lease. We had no other choice but to move out, despite the fact we could not really afford to do it. We broke our lease early, and did not get our security deposit back. We will never see that money. And hundreds of people continue to live there because they have no place else to go. They endure injustice because it's better than enduring what's unknown out there and because they don't have the means to fight back.

For this story, there are at least a couple thousand more like it. Why are people occupying Wall Street? Because they have nothing left. There is nowhere else to turn. There are no other alternatives. I have an acquaintance on Facebook who characterized to the protesters as "lazy, entitled whining hipsters." A recent news story reported that the former police chief of Philadelphia marched in the protest tonight and was arrested. Hardly lazy, entitled, or a hipster. What makes me angrier is that people like this have not, and will probably never understand what it means to be constantly faced with injustice. They will never understand the anger and frustration I felt just trying to live in a decent apartment in my chosen place of residence, for which I was paying for with my hard-earned money. Don't get me wrong: I am ALLLLL for amassing wealth. I have no qualms with the almighty dollar. I do, however, have a BIG problem when the head of a company makes poor, and probably illegal, business decisions unbeknownst to his employees, and will probably get away with a slap on the wrist even after a federal investigation (I'm looking at you John Corzine), while, in all likelihood, a majority of his employees' lives will never be the same again. Their lives are ruined. They can't sue to get their money back. There isn't any! They have no recourse. And if government keeps rewarding bad business practices with more assistance, who's helping the people who lost pensions, retirement funds (and consequently college and life savings) as a result? No one. It makes NO SENSE. The system is so badly broken that the people we have entrusted to make it work can't fix it anymore. The band-aids aren't sticking anymore, and the big gaping wound of our socio-economic situation isn't healing fast enough.

So I ask you people who keep saying the protest needs to end, there's no point, it's inconveniencing me, write some letters, etc. to consider one thing: your children, and potentially children's children are being robbed of a future right now. And pretty soon, you are only going to have yourself to blame. I'm not saying you have to agree with it. Just don't complain about people standing up for justice, something that, oh, at least 75% of the WORLD's population will never know. It's not just about you, people. Open your eyes. Try to understand where the 99% is coming from before you judge. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tales from the other side of the ring!

I'm back, and married, and probably better than ever!! It's been a long hiatus, friends, but I am officially a married lady... and officially again in possession of my body, my schedule and my own time again! It feels great! It's a journey I'd like to more properly document sometime, perhaps on another portal of this blog, but I will share a few nuggets from my experience in the short time before and the day of the wedding! But for now, I leave you with this... this about sums up the entire experience. Worth a least 2,000 words I think ;)

photo courtesy of my amazing, stupendous photographer, Jaymie Batoon over at J. Castro Photography

On Marriage (please forgive my rant)

*Editor's Note: This is being published long after it was written. Long after the Marriage Equality act passed in NY State. But I feel strongly this is worth publishing anyway :)

As I enter into the 2-month-countdown period before my wedding, I have begun to reflect on my relationship and what marriage means. We were recently asked by our officiant why we are getting married. I was kind of unsure what to respond, other than in our gut it just feels like the right thing to do. I suppose there is nothing necessarily different about our situation now vs. us being married: we have lived together for nearly 4 years, and maybe save for the joint finances thing, we do most things married people do. I consider us a very typical couple, and often take for granted our day-to-day existence, even in light of the fact that only 45 or so years ago, my fiance and I would not be allowed to marry because of the menacing anti-miscegenation laws on the books. But I was very recently given pause to think otherwise...

I was struck recently by a commercial I saw on ESPN that has since been airing during NBA playoff games. And it disgusts and saddens me. The commercial is a totally bogus attempt to persuade people not to support LGBTQ rights and marriage equality. Its premises are so totally bogus that it's even shocking to think this network can get away with airing it in this neck of the woods. And regardless of what the law says, let's face it: love is not a legal act and therefore people will love who they choose. Better said: In 1919, the federal government banned the production, sale, trafficking and consumption of alcohol. Did that stop people from drinking? Nope. And yet the LGBTQ community pays taxes to the federal government and to local governments, vote, fight in the armed forces, spend their incomes on commercial goods and services, collect garbage, travel and are tourists, volunteer and donate time to bettering the world. I could go on, but as much as any of the rest of us, the LGBTQ community are IMPORTANT contributing members of society that should not be denied such a basic right.

Stopping the LGBTQ sector of the population from marrying is not going change their orientation. Little Johnnies across the nation aren't going to suddenly decide that they prefer little Bobs overnight, simply because they heard that their math teacher is gay. Not. gonna. happen. If children, however, learn tolerance and acceptance from those who lead different lives than themselves as a result of exposure to the LGBTQ community, this is NOT a bad thing. I spent this past Wednesday evening at a fundraiser for community activism, where one of the groups involved was an organization dedicated to working for the rights of LGBTQ youth in NYC, for kids from low-income families or economically depressed neighborhoods that have been disowned by their families because of their orientation. And then I come home to watch what I think will be a benign basketball game and I am confronted with hate. Hate that EPSN has been paid who knows what amount to sell to its consumers. Rest assured, ESPN has been contacted and we have pleaded with them to remove the ads. Who knows if they will listen, but it felt good to stand up for what I believe in.

Anyone else seeing an increase in anti-marriage equality campaigning or activity recently?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Taming the Biggest Wedding Beast Yet: The Guest List!

This post is long overdue, and I know it's not going to be a revelation to anyone when I say it: Keep your guest list in check! It's been a rocky road for me & my fiance - and in fact, is one of the few moments in the whole process where I became a bridezilla. I wanted a wedding of 75-100 people (and closer to the 75 end than 100). I'm not getting it. It happened with the best intentions, but still brought me several ulcer-inducing moments. Believe me, sticking to your guns when it comes to your guest list is easier said than done, I know. So here are a few helpful tips I wish I had had in my back pocket for you brides-to-be out there:

1) Make a budget and stick to it! Whether you have a target number of people in mind first or a specific venue your hearts are set on, the first order of business you & your new fiance should address is making a wedding budget. The interwebs is a great place to do research, and many blogs I've talked about in other posts have forums where real brides all over post budgets or estimates for various services that can help you plan. Be realistic about what you can save and what your parents may or may not contribute. It may also be helpful to prioritize and have a wish list, in the event that you have some funds freed up and want to add on, or you choose to spend more on one thing you know where you can cut back on something else. Once you've decided how much you want to spend, do not go over. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. No matter how much your parents may want that ice sculpture. And if they want to give you money for that specifically if it's that important to them, fine. But we'll discuss that more in #2.

2) Know your limits. Have a serious conversation with your fiance about what's really important to you, and how you're going to pay for it. If either set of parents wants to contribute, make sure you and your fiance are clear about what that means. If you are ok with them participating or having a say in your decisions *because* they are contributing something, say so. Or if you prefer their contributions go to specific things (flowers, cake, transport, etc.) be very clear about that. Or, if you suspect that you may be bullied by the parental dollar, insist on paying for everything yourselves. It may mean you'll have a leaner wedding or something a little less extravagant than you imagined, but hey, you'll have the wedding you really truly wanted. And you can tell your parents to contribute to your honeymoon :)

3) Insist on priorities. If the parents have a set number of people they want to invite that you & your fiance deem reasonable, that's great. It can stop there. In most cases though, the sad truth is that your parents probably see your wedding as a way to show off their awesomeness to the whole dang world. I can't blame them for that. Translation: they will want to invite the far reaches of your family, their friends, their frenemies, their co-workers, their postal worker, you name it. Insist on having an A, B and even C list. The reality is that for whatever reason, not everyone on your A list is going to be able to make it. So if having as many people as possible at your wedding means a lot to you & your respective families, having backups are great. Not to mention that you have clear direction come RSVP time, and everyone is happy.

4) Set up artificial boundaries. If you want a target of 80 people to attend your wedding, you could choose a venue with a max of 85-90. Or, if you are dealing with a BYO-type place that you love, cost might also be a great deterrent. Say you want to have your wedding at a historic location that only allows tented receptions, which means you have to rent e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. This may bring your per person cost to, say, $250/person and you've decided that's awesome because it means you can only realistically invite 50 people. That way, you can blame it on "circumstances beyond your control." It may not always work, but it's something to think about.

I hope this is helpful. Your guest list affects almost everything else in your budget, and 10 extra people that you didn't anticipate or 10 people that don't show up can be equally nerve-wracking and stress-inducing. Save yourself a headache (or ulcer) and take hold of your guest list by the horns and be the boss of it. You'll be happy that you did!