Thursday, November 18, 2010

Our planned winter project --- A phased kitchen reno

When we moved into this house, I never thought we'd do a kitchen remodel. Our kitchen wasn't perfect, but it certainly got the job done. It wasn't too outdated. It had some hideous wall paper though. I figured we'd tear down the wallpaper and paint (which we completed recently). We also planned to replace the very old and mis-matched appliances (more on this below), but that was all of the vision I had for this space.

Rob, however, has always dreamed of replacing the thin laminate countertops. Earlier this year, he finally got me on board with the plan. Initially we wanted granite. We still want granite. But since our center island would require a huge slab of this spendy material, we decided to explore other options. We actually came up with a plan that we are both excited about. You see, we love the way professional designers always blend different materials in a room. Nothing is ever too matchy-matchy. So with that in mind, we decided we will replace our countertops with two different materials.

This area - the small space around the range and next to the fridge - will be replaced with granite.



We like the santa cecilia color.


Photo source

The best thing about putting granite here is that it will really make that wall pop, yet the granite itself will be very affordable. In fact, since these pieces are so small, we can hopefully pick up some discounted remnants and use those. We'll save even more money by installing it ourselves. This is where I have to be sure to say that I'm glad I have a very handy husband. He is so good at stuff like this, and it really does save us a lot of money. We purchased a used wet saw for Rob (here's that incredible deal) as an anniversary present, and he's saving his fun money right now to purchase the other necessary tools.

And then there's the center island.


Old photo, pre painting

We have a grand vision for this. I have always wanted a butcher block counter top, and this seems like the perfect material for the island. It will go hand in hand with the rustic vibe we've got going on in the rest of the house. And butcher block happens to be a really cheap material. Rob had actually suggested this a long time ago, but I was afraid it would be wood overload in our kitchen (which has wood floors and unpainted cabinets). However when I picture it with the wall of granite on the other side, I think the butcher block will be nicely balanced. Plus we will be getting rid of the wood floors (more on this below). Also while we really like our current cabinet color, we know that in a few years, it may need to be updated. At that time, we'll likely paint the cabinets white. White cabinets look awesome with butcher block counters. Check out this pic:


Photo source

Or:


Photo source

Also tying in with our slight rustic theme, we have decided to do a slate backsplash. We love slate. I mean, REALLY love slate. That's why we tore down the light gray backsplash and primed the walls already. We are ready to do some tiling. We actually picked up a few sample tiles at Home Depot to bring in the room and see how it will go with our And we're thinking about doing the floors in the kitchen too. The current floors are engineered hardwood and showing their wear. I think the tile floor would better suit a kitchen, and it would also define the space a bit more.

We already plan on doing a slate entry way at the front of the house and re-doing the tile around the fireplace to match. Having smaller areas of slate throughout the house will provide unity and flow and all that other good stuff. I'm excited.

Now I mentioned that we'd like to get matching appliances. I said "matching" rather than "new." We are not exactly new appliance kind of people. It's just not a priority to us at this stage of life. So we are going to scour craigslist and discount stores to hopefully find some good deals. We already have a black dishwasher and microwave. So all we need is a fridge and range. Rob also wants to put an under-cabinet microwave in, but I'm not sure if we have enough room above the range. We'll see.

Then we got to thinking, and we realized that if we are already replacing our counters, it would also be a good time to replace our sink. We have a white sink made out of acrylic, and I absolutely hate it. It is always dirty, no matter how well I clean, and it stains easily. So I suggested to Rob that we get one of these apron-front sinks. I like how they are a little bit country and a little bit modern at the same time. Plus they are not too expensive. We'd be installing this ourselves, of course.

It would look similar to this:


Photo source

So let's see what we've got here.

Paint + appliances + counters + new sink + backsplash + tile floors. Sounds like a kitchen remodel to me. How the heck did that happen?

The goal is to complete this project this winter, though it will be spread out in order to comply with our budget (and football season). Because I'm me, I'll no doubt be making a design board so that we can tweak and edit the plan before diving in. I'll share that, and stay tuned for other updates.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

New job, new savings

I mentioned this a few times already, but I just started a new job. Sorry, I'm not going to talk about it on the blog, but I will say it's totally awesome. Even more awesome is the fact that Rob and I figured out a few ways to save additional money (besides the pay increase that came with the position).

You know we're semi-obsessed with saving money (see Frugal Living page). And more savings means more house renovations. These are good things. If you are starting a new position anytime soon, I highly suggest looking into the following things. It could save you considerable amounts of money, friends.


I don't really understand this photo. Why is the money in the frying pan? Is this some kind of metaphor that went over my head? Oh well, it's a free image. (Photo Credit)

1. Consider transportation

At my previous job, I drove to work. I had a parking contract that cost $117.46 each month. Ouch. For the new job, I decided to enroll in my company's bus/lightrail program. For $55 a month, I get unlimited bus rides and lightrail passes throughout the metro area. Unlimited! Bonus - since I now work downtown, there's a limited stop route that picks up just a few blocks away from our house. The bus ride takes about the same amount of time as driving in the car (bus lanes FTW), so it's just as time efficient. I actually think riding the bus is very relaxing since I don't have to worry about traffic or weather (aka Minnesota winters). When I drove to work, I liked the flexibility of being able to leave whenever I wanted to. I actually don't need to sacrifice too much of that flexibility with the bus pass because buses come every 10-15 minutes during the morning and afternoon rush hours, and every hour during the middle section of the day. Not bad at all.

Money saved by switching parking contract to bus pass: $62.46 per month, $749.52 per year

But wait, it gets better. (I'm really geeking out right now.) Since I'm no longer driving to work, Rob can now take our small, economical car (a Nissan Versa) to work. He was previously driving our '99 Dodge Ram, which gets terrible gas mileage. His commute distance is not obscene, but it's long enough that we had to fill the truck's gas tank a couple times a month. The Versa gets at least twice as many miles per gallon.

Money saved by making the car switch (estimated): $75 per month, $900 per year


Another hilarious free image. Money doesn't grow on trees, but apparently... trees grow in money? Are they watering the tree with olive oil? I just don't know. (Photo Credit)

2. Evaluate benefit options

Next, we decided to re-evaluate our medical and dental benefit costs. We liked being on the same plan, but we wanted to explore our options. At my new job, my medical insurance monthly premium is pretty reasonable. But when I add Rob to the plan, it increases by $300. We figured out that Rob's work actually offers free medical insurance for employees, but it's also around $300 to add a spouse. So we decided that it may be slightly less convenient, but it made financial sense for each of us to use the medical insurance option provided by our respective companies.

Incidentally, the dental plan options were about the same for each of our companies, so we decided to just go with the plan offered by my workplace (for both of us).

Money saved by having 2 separate medical insurance plans: $300 per month, $3600 per year

3. Other misc. money-saving opportunities when starting a new job

The transportation and insurance changes are the big cash-savers for Rob and I. But there are many other things you should consider too.

  • Look into company discounts. Many people don't realize that they are eligible for special discounts through their place of work. Some common ones are cell phone service, Internet, cable TV, or childcare.
  • Flex spending. Save money by putting aside tax-free income for specific expenses. For example, If you know you will be needing new glasses this year, you should check if your company has a flexible spending account option and then start contributing to it.
  • Tuition and training reimbursement. Both Rob and I are fortunate enough to work for companies that offer reimbursement for additional training, courses, or workshops. This was something I took advantage of at my last job as well (earning a nearly free Master's degree).
  • Gym membership discounts. Both Rob and I (again) lucked out and get free gym membership from our respective employers. Rob has a university recreational facility at his disposal, and I have a shiny and new gym in my building. We both prefer to use our home gym (look for a future blog post on this topic), but it's still really nice to have the option should we want it.
Total annual savings for Rob and I = $5249.52

I'm not kidding about the geeking-out stuff. This makes me very happy. I hope these suggestions were useful to you too. And let me know if I missed any.

Long live geeky, personal fiscal responsibility!


Photo Credit

Sunday, November 7, 2010

One of my favorite photos

I'm a sentimental person.

Whenever I experience a significant life change, I get very reflective. On Monday, I start my new job. I had to say goodbye to all my former coworkers, my work family, my old office, and the campus that had become my second home. Hence, my sentimentality meter has kicked into overdrive.

So anyway, I was looking at some old photos... like ya do when you're being reflective. And I saw this in my wedding album. This is one of my favorite photos, ever.



This was taken on my wedding day at the church where we were married. In this photo, my dad is in the middle. He's talking to our best man (Thor, on the left) and my brother in law (Darren, right). He's telling a hunting story.

I love it because it's candid. My father is passionate about hunting. He gets a little animated when he recounts his hunting adventures. I think it's funny that you can instantly tell what he's talking about. This photo tells a story, just like my dad does.

I love it because Thor and Darren are holding my sister and my bouquets. I am not sure what Steph and I were doing at that time, but we must have needed to keep our hands free. I think that's both cute and funny.

I love it because it represents different parts of my life and different men in my life (besides my husband, of course). There's Thor, who is Rob's best friend, and who I know from my life in Minnesota. Then there's my dad, who is not a very formal guy at all, but he's dressed up and ready to walk his daughter down the aisle. My parents had come to town the day before, meeting Rob's family and my Minnesota friends for the first time. I was so excited to have them here. And there's my brother-in-law, who met my sister after I had already moved away, but he's since become a good friend and a much-appreciated supporter of both my sister and me. I'm so grateful he's in my life and couldn't ask for a better partner for my only sister. It's pretty neat seeing these three guys together.

I love it because I don't even know when this happened, before or after the ceremony... I was too busy with other wedding-day craziness. But without this photo, I never would have this memory.

And that's why I love photography.

Special thanks to my friend Nick Haupt for capturing this moment.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Odds and ends - Saint Croix River boat cruise

Like I said earlier, I have a lot to share but haven't had time to blog it. As I get caught up, I will be posting random odds and ends (and photos) that I haven't had time to document. So let's get started.

First, let's go back to mid August. After I presented my grad school thesis, Rob decided to reward me with an one-day getaway. Whatta husband! Here are some photos from our fun little overnight trip.

Note: These photos aren't too great because I was using my cheap point-and-shoot and didn't realize it has a bunch of goop on the lens. Oops.



After work on a random Friday, we drove about 45 minutes to the small town of Afton, Minnesota. It's right on the Saint Croix River. We stayed at the historic Afton house bed and breakfast.


Looks foggy, but it's my dirty camera lens. Sorry.

It was such a cool place! Everything seemed old and antique. Well, except for the jacuzzi tub in the room. That's not very antique. But it was definitely appreciated.

Our room:







Shortly after arriving, we drove across the river to Hudson, Wisconsin. We took a short walk through a park on the way to the boat dock.





It was a little overcast.



Once on board, I ordered a glass of wine. Much to our amusement, they gave it to me in a plastic cup. Here I am sipping wine out of a plastic cup on a large boat:



And there's my adorable husband:



We then ate some dinner:



And then I decided to go up to the top level of the boat to get a sunset pic.



While up there, I attempted a photo of the boat captain.



Unfortunately the glass was too dirty. But he'd spotted me! He waved us inside. I explained that I was just trying to get a photo of him. He replied, "Why don't YOU drive, and we get a photo of YOU?"

Don't mind if I do.



I did an excellent job driving, if I do say so myself. I don't even think those guys could tell I'd been drinking. I tried to joke around with them, asking if they'd ever hit any icebergs ala Titantic. They said no, but they did hit a canoe once.

Oh, and I did get one snap of the real boat captain before we left.



After that, we went down to the main level again for another foggy photo op:



Another couple then suggested we re-enact a scene from Titanic. So we did. It's very possible that everyone on the boat was laughing and/or rolling their eyes at us. I don't care. We're fun like that.



We then went inside to watch the comedy show. It was too dark to take any pics. But it was still a lot of fun.

The next day, we drove around Afton a little before heading home.



It's such a beautiful area. I wouldn't mind living there some day.

So that's our St. Croix River boat cruise story. But you know, I just can't blog about this excursion without mentioning that we got a great deal. You know we Whitmans are obsessed with good deals. Well Rob found this package (room + boat cruise + comedy show) on Living Social. He paid around $120 for the whole thing. Normally this room alone costs $180 a night, and the cruise + comedy show is another $80 per person. If you haven't checked out Living Social's daily deals, you might want to go sign up right now. Obligatory disclaimer: Not affiliated. Just like a good deal.

So we got a great deal. We had a great time. What's not to like about that? The end.

someone else's words

"Happiness comes when your work and words are of benefit to yourself and others." - Buddha



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