Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal Wedding Bliss and HVAC Woes

So who got up at 4 am to watch the Royal Wedding today? I wasn’t quite that ambitious but I did get up at 6 am just in time to see Kate (or Katherine now I suppose) get out of the car and make her way down that 300 foot aisle at Westminster Abbey to meet her Prince Charming. I thought she looked fantastic and I absolutely LOVED her dress. It was very elegant and stylish--not too frilly or poufy. I was able to watch until the coverage ended at 10 am because I had (conveniently) scheduled for the air conditioning man to come and pay the HVAC a little visit. Nothing like a Royal Wedding and a bill for air conditioning repairs to start the weekend off right.

So I wanted to have the A/C checked for multiple reasons, the main reason being that it just hasn’t felt cool in my house even though the thermostat has been at 76 degrees for the last couple weeks. I was putting off having it checked because I was fearing the worst but when the Starburst Jelly Beans I bought for Easter were melting together in my candy dish I knew something had to be done (if you have ever eaten a Starburst Jelly Bean you will understand the urgency).

My A/C man arrived right on schedule around 8 am this morning and didn’t leave until 11. He checked my furnace and changed the filter as well as looked at the ducts and of course the A/C unit itself. He informed me that I needed to have my ducts cleaned and that I should consider replacing the duct return system. He also told me my system wasn’t in the “best shape” but that he added some Freon and changed the filter so hopefully that would keep things cool for a while. $169 later he got in his truck and I left for work feeling a bit overwhelmed (a common feeling for me these past few weeks). It’s not like he informed me of anything I didn’t already know—the home inspector and various contractors have all made similar comments to me about the duct work and the HVAC system—it’s just that I am realizing I have no idea when these things will get fixed. If I had the money I would do it now but I don’t and that’s difficult for me. My house is like my child right now and I want it to run happily and efficiently but I’m beginning to think there is something to that saying “If ain’t broke don’t fix it.” I am realizing more and more that I’m just going to have to let some things go until they are really beyond repair and in the meantime just try and extend their lifetimes as long as possible with routine maintenance.  

But since this is hard for me to do I am already thinking of ways that I can make improvements while spending as little money as possible. For example, I am looking into having an energy audit performed on the house. These audits can sometimes be a bit pricey but thanks to the fact that my company is trying to help its employees stay green I am able to get a whole house audit done for $49 (Georgia Power, my electric provider, also offers a similar audit for free I think but the one I will be paying for is a little more comprehensive). During this audit my entire HVAC system will be checked, the insulation situation will be evaluated, and the company will calculate how efficiently my house is breathing (how much fresh air going in and out). The benefit of having this audit completed is that it will allow me to qualify for rebate programs offered by Georgia Power and the City of Atlanta’s Shine Program, and the company performing the audit will complete all the work I choose to have done and do all the paperwork for the rebates (up to about $3500 when you combine Shine and GA Power). Sounds pretty good right? My company is also offering a loan program where you can get a 0% interest loan of up to $5,500 if you are making repairs to increase the energy efficiency of your home. That interest rate stays at 0% for the life of the loan and the re-payment amount is just deducted from each pay check. Simple, easy, and tempting.

We’ll see though. I know I am definitely going to have the energy audit done so that I can understand the house a bit more even if I decide not to make any repairs at the moment. I’d rather be in the know this summer rather than being completely shocked and surprised when I open those $200 electric bills and am wondering what the hell happened when I’ve been keeping the thermostat at 80.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Couch Preview

Well, after 2 1/2 months of waiting patiently, my couch was finally delivered today! The delivery guys came early this morning and since I had to leave for work I only had time to snap this quick pic with my phone (apologies for the poor quality) because I knew there were some of you who were anxious to see it. I promise to post some better pics later once I pull out the Nikon so you'll be able to see the color a bit better. So far I'm really digging the touch of modern the couch adds to the living room and even though we haven't gotten to spend much time together yet, I think we are going to get along just fine!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Weekend 2011

I hope everyone had a happy Easter weekend—I know I did! It was busy but filled with lots of good friends and some family time. To kick things off, on Friday night I went with my best friend Lauren (we’ve known each other since we were 11), another friend Tedra, and Erik to a stand-up comedy performance hosted by Lauren’s brother Michael at a local Dave and Busters. Three comedians performed and we had some good laughs, some good food, and of course entertained ourselves with some games afterwards. And just to give Michael a plug, the show is called “It’s Always Sunny in Gwinnett” and happens every Friday night featuring different local comedians. So if you're in the Gwinnett area, check it out and support your local comedy!
Rockin' Dave and Busters--we won over 2,000 tickets playing a Wheel of Fortune Game!
Saturday I busied myself with yard work, attempting to trim back the bushes in the front of the house which turned out looking pretty good (if I do say so myself) and cleaning up my backyard and potting some plants. I didn’t take any “before” pictures of the patio but everything was pretty much yellow with pollen. The “after” picture below is definitely much nicer to look at anyways and features my wonderful porch garden all finished and potted up. This year I will *hopefully* have tomatoes, yellow bell peppers, fresh basil, and mint. I also bought a salvia plant and some impatiens to fill some of my little pots and to add a bit of color.

My Porch Garden. And check out my back door that my bro sealed and stained!
Saturday night Erik and I went to visit my good friends Heather and Edward in Peachtree City for a night of grilling out and playing games. Game nights like these with friends are some of my absolute favorite ways to hang out. First because they are cheap, second the company is always great, and lastly I am a board game geek and my friends always humor me by playing any crazy game I decide to bring over. This weekend was no exception as I brought one of my favorite games Settlers of Catan (which I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys a good board game) It takes a little time to learn which always makes people skeptical at first but in the end everyone always, always, loves it. Once my friends got the hang of it we definitely had fun and with the alcohol flowing there were plenty of laughs and a lot of heckling (we are a pretty competitive bunch).

The best board game ever!!
Sunday Erik had his first day off from work in weeks. He works for a company that builds and renovates pools, so as everyone is gearing up for summer he has been working 7 days a week to try to accommodate the company’s project load. He’s been working so hard in fact that some days he is working a full 12 hours (all without overtime pay). I know it’s been hard for him but I really admire his dedication for getting the job done. It makes me fall in love with him just a little more every day. Of course this schedule makes it difficult for us to spend a lot of time together because the only time we see each other is at night and he is usually so worn out that the most he can do is humor me with watching a TV show or two before passing out. So I was especially glad that he had the day off on Sunday and both of us were able to spend some quality time with each other. We spent the morning and afternoon lazing around the house and then headed up to have dinner with his family in Monroe, GA. His sister brought his nephew who is 6 months old and we had a great time watching him take part in his first family Easter (Easter Egg hunt included!).

Baby Aiden on the hunt! So precious!
All in all it was one of the best weekends I’ve had in a while. It was the perfect mixture of family, friends, and relaxation, and was just what I needed after a long week at work.

Oh and did I mention that the Easter bunny came and paid me a special visit?? Saturday evening I got a phone call from Macy’s saying that my couch was ready for delivery!! Yay, yay, yay! I should have it by Thursday evening so stay tuned for some pictures!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Finding Balance

I think the honeymoon with the house is officially over. I was looking over my bank statement for this month and realized, oh <insert your favorite curse word here>! I am poor. After painting, getting rid of mold in my crawlspace, cleaning up the yard, buying some new appliances, replacing gutter guards, and completing thousands of other mini projects the house slush fund has finally run out. Granted, my house is now in decent shape physically and mechanically (although I do have money in savings for that inevitable emergency that might pop up)  but there are still a million little things that I would love to do such as buy new lamps for the living room or buy a grill for the backyard. These things, I am realizing are just going to have to wait and this, my friends, makes me a sad, sad, girl. There is nothing more frustrating than having this new house and not being able to make it perfect right away.

And I am trying to be patient about that, I really, really am. Fortunately the bank seems to be helping me out in this department as it (as well as the good little angel constantly whispering in my ear) keeps telling me no.  Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of money to pay my bills, mortgage, necessities, and even a bit to put into savings but I am beginning to see that there is not much left over after that for, you know, “the fun stuff”. I know some of you naysayers may be snickering to yourselves and thinking “well, maybe you should have thought of that before you bought a house” (this would be exactly something my ex would say) but I really don’t think it’s the house that is the problem. When I made the decision to buy, I made it knowing that I was going to be paying as much or more than what I am making in mortgage payments every month to be renting in a decent place in a safe area. Yes, I probably wouldn’t have had to make a million repairs to a rental but then again at the time I was making repairs to the house I had the money to do it—it wasn’t like I was using credit. In a rental, I would still be facing the same monthly expense problems I am now and I would be paying a bunch of money to someone else instead of building equity for myself—something that just didn’t seem to make sense to me.

I think the real issue in my case is being on my own for the first time in several years and learning to balance my finances again. For the past three years when I was living with my ex, we were splitting everything 50/50 and it is much, much, different trying to handle all of those same bills on one salary. I’m definitely having to keep a closer eye on things like eating out for lunch during the week (I was doing this almost every day) and cutting back on buying things for myself like new clothes. I know that it’s probably going to take a few months to get used to this new lifestyle but once I get the hang of it I think I’ll be okay. It’s just the initial feeling of “oh god where is this money going” that has me a bit sick at the moment. Do any other new homeowners feel this way?? Surely they must…

On a side note, let me just take a moment to thank the universe for trying to screw me over in my attempts to be virtuous in my spending. Yesterday a new Home Goods store opened mere miles from where I work. There is already a TJ Maxx close by (my self-proclaimed Kryptonite) that gets used to get a good chunk of my pay check and it has been hard enough for me to stay out of there but now the cruel gods from above are offering me yet another discount home retailer??? <sigh>

It’s times like these where I remind myself how much I love my little house and how worthwhile it is to be a homeowner. “I love my house and am so lucky to have it..” and repeat.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


For many people springtime is garden time. Now that the weather is warming up I see all kinds of posts from Facebook friends and hear all my co-workers talk about planting all kinds of yummy veggies in their home gardens. First let me say that I am a big fan of gardening and buying locally grown produce. I think it’s really one of the best things you can do for your body and your community. I really admire people who can grow their own food because I am, admittedly, not a fantastic gardener and let me explain why. In the past my forays into homegrown veggies have been limited to a lonely tomato plant in a pot on my porch. Granted I was living in apartments so there wasn’t much space to cultivate much of anything but my tomatoes always thrived! So when my ex and I rented our first single family home (that had a ginormous backyard) we were pumped to try creating our own garden plot. With the permission of our landlord we began the process of prepping the ground by digging up the grass, testing the pH of the soil, and fertilizing. Once the ground was ready we picked out some of our fav veggies which included tomatoes, bell peppers, and squash. I even tossed some herb seeds into the mix just to see what would happen. After reading on the internet about the best areas of the plot to place each plant (apparently some veggies prefer the east and some the north) we carefully put our little garden together.

For a while it was great. We’d water every day and after a couple of weeks I started to see little shoots where I had planted the herb seeds. Then the tomato plants started flowering and then the squash. I was so excited and got busy telling all my friends about how much my little garden was going to produce and how I was going to be so inundated with veggies that I was going to have to give them away…

Famous last words.

The first misstep to our garden plan was unintentional on the part of the guy who would come over to mow our lawn. Even though the plot was clearly marked he ran over several of the sunflowers that I had planted at the edge of the garden. I was saddened but decided that since the veggies were okay it wasn’t a big deal. The second misstep was our underestimation of the squirrels in the backyard. Our tomatoes were growing but as soon as they would even begin to turn the slightest bit of red they were snatched up by our lovely rodent friends. Our solution was to spread cayenne pepper over the plants as we had read on the internet that this would naturally keep the squirrels out. The problem with this is the tedious-ness of it. After watering every day you pretty much have to re-apply every day and that is a lot of cayenne pepper.

Despite the squirrels and our rogue lawn care technician, the plants themselves seemed to be doing okay. The squash was flowering and so were the tomatoes and peppers so we waited and watched. And waited and watched. Eventually I started to notice that everything had stopped getting bigger and that the squash plants would flower but would never produce any fruit. I couldn’t figure out what the problem was—we had fertilized, watered and done everything possible to keep the plants happy so what was the deal?

At the same time as the ex and I were conducting our garden experiment we were also members of a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and we would split a box of fresh veggies every week from a local farm with a friend of mine from work. When I joined the CSA in the spring the boxes were hearty and plentiful with the last of the winter greens and root vegetables and I was promised that the summer boxes were even better (you had to pay more since they guaranteed more produce). I was excited—especially since my garden was turning out to be nothing more than a waste of space and time. But as the summer CSA progressed I noticed that the boxes were kind of puny as opposed to the boxes we were getting in the spring. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who noticed because several others complained about the lack of decent veggies. The farm responded that due to the unusually hot weather they were having a really tough growing season. I started looking into it (thinking maybe this was the reason my garden wasn’t producing either) and lo and behold discovered that a lot of the plants in my garden would not grow in extreme heat no matter how much water and how much fertilizer was used. I felt relieved in a way but still bummed that my garden had been such a failure.

So, although I learned some good lessons and will more than likely try having a home garden again someday, for now I am going to stick with what I know works—hello lonely tomato plant in a pot on the porch. And just for kicks I bought some bell pepper plants and a mint plant (because who doesn’t like some fresh mint in the sweet tea on a hot summer day?) that I will also be potting on my porch. So as far as fresh veggies go, this year I’m pretty much leaving it to the professionals. I would love to participate in the CSA again but unfortunately it is a little too pricey for my single family household budget so I’m going to stick with attending the plethora of weekend farmer’s markets that pop all over Atlanta in the spring. That way I know I am still supporting local farmers and still eating fresh.

In the meantime I will continue to listen as my friends tell tales of their springtime gardens and hope that their garden experiences will be better than mine. Best of luck and may your gardens be fruitful!

This year's "Garden"

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Beautiful Weekend for...Being Lazy

This past weekend was beautiful down here in the ATL. The weather was absolutely perfect—the epitome of springtime. There were so many festivals going on and everyone was out…it was just love all around.

Needless to say, with all that was going on in the city I hardly had the desire to work on the dozen + projects on my to-do list.

Yard work? Nah, no thanks.

Painting trim? Um, I think I’ll pass.

Fixing the attic for storage and moving all the junk from the outside storage shed into the attic? You must be joking.

I have to admit I felt a little bit guilty about doing absolutely nothing to the house but I reasoned that I needed a break and a weekend to relax and enjoy all the work I have already completed. And I must say it felt fantastic.

So my advice to my fellow Type A new homeowners out there? It’s okay if things aren’t perfect right away. It may take a few months (yes, I said months) for everything to get put away, painted, or fixed, but there is plenty of time for all those things to get done.  In fact, I’ve found it’s probably best to live in your house a little—move pictures and furniture around a bit, try paint swatches on the wall and let them linger for a day or two before you decide which to choose—it’s all part of the fun of learning the quirks and charms of your new place and what works best for the way you live. After all, you only own your first home once and you might as well enjoy all the feelings associated with it—from the thrill of decorating the way you want to the stress of asking what-do-I-have-to-write-a-check-for-now?

I still smile when I walk from room to room and think: “This is mine. I can’t believe this is all mine!” I feel like such an adult and I can’t help feeling so proud of myself. Owning a house is a life step that has been unexpectedly pleasing so far (should I knock on wood? I think so…just in case). And so I say, so what if I decide to take a weekend off? My house certainly won’t judge me. Hopefully we have a long, happy life ahead of us to get all the dirty work done.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

My Roomies

After looking over some of my previous blog posts I have realized (gasp!) that I have yet to introduce the other two residents of chez Ashley. So, without further ado, I introduce you to my two babies Zeke and Jezebel—my sweet, sweet kitties.

Jezebel is 9 years old this month and was a rescue from a church I worked at one summer while I was in college. When she was brought to me she was tiny (only about 6 weeks old) and had a busted lip and an upper respiratory infection. She was so pitiful and no one would take her in. I decided she should come spend the night with me and she never left.


Zeke will turn 6 this October and I also got him as a rescue from the Humane Society in Athens, GA when I was in grad school. Jezebel was a lonely little girl (she was used to living with 2 other cats when I decided to take her with me to grad school) and I decided she needed a companion. From what I understand, Zeke and his brother were brought to the Humane Society as feral kittens who were a little on the rough side. Zeke was seen as more “adoptable” (which I guess in Humane Society lingo means more apt to be tamed) than his brother so his brother was euthanized. The staff at the Humane Society worked with Z and when I strolled in one Saturday he couldn’t have been a sweeter and cuddlier kitten. And, even though Jezebel wasn’t too sure about the new addition they soon became good friends.


So that’s the background on my two roomies. If you know me you know that I have a huge soft spot for rescuing animals. Z and J were not the first animals I brought home and they have not been the last. Just check out these sweet little guys I (literally) found on my doorstep back in 2009:

It was very hard to not add them to my family but 4 cats would’ve been way too much (crazy cat lady anyone?) so I found good homes for them instead. Since I’ve moved people have been telling me I need to get a dog and I admit I have a decent house for a sweet pup and it would be good security...however, I have never owned a dog and am not sure how Z and J would take to a new addition right now. It’s definitely on the books for consideration in the future but for now I think Z and J deserve some time alone to get settled into their new home. Oh, and me too of course.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Beginning Again

So it’s confession time again and I’m going to get a bit personal. Although these last two months in the new house have been great they have been very, very hectic. There has just been so much to do and, being the over achiever I am, I have been trying to cram about 6 months worth of painting, yard work, house repairs, etc. into about two months. Because I have been so busy trying to make things perfect I haven’t even had the opportunity to enjoy the house or more importantly to take care of myself. Note to new homeowners:  late nights painting, making repairs, and taking multiple trips to Lowe’s do not leave much time for going to the gym or cooking healthy meals unless you make it a priority which I did not.

The fact that I haven’t been able to work out regularly has been very difficult for me. Many of the people close to me know that last year I was a member of a women’s Tae Kwon Do team at my previous gym here in Atlanta. For those who don’t know, this was no recreational team. We trained and fought hard to win gold medals at National competitions. When I was in training I was working out 2 hours a day at least 5-6 days a week (on top of working 40 hours at my job). During part of this time I was also teaching kickboxing classes. Needless to say I was in fantastic shape. However, once I decided to buy my house I knew that I would need to cut back on training for financial reasons  (membership costs were $250/month if you were on the team) which was very difficult because I LOVED kicking and I loved my team. My plan was to drop down to a regular kickboxing membership while continuing to teach and train and fight occasionally when I could afford it. Unfortunately due to some miscommunication and some highly unprofessional and immature behavior on the part of my coach and his girlfriend I never had that opportunity. I was forced to leave the team and the gym because I refused to continue giving money to people who couldn’t act their age and run a business in a professional manner. End of story.

Admittedly it wasn't an ideal time for me to be leaving my gym and trying to look for a new one with all that was going on in my life at the time (getting the house painted, closing, moving, etc) but I did. I tried to keep myself motivated in my gym search by trying out gyms my friends went to but I found I just didn't want to commit to anything. I became really involved in fixing up my house and eventually I gave up trying to fit it all in and quit the gym search altogether.

Needless to say I felt terrible. I knew I wasn’t eating right and I was drinking way too much. Add to that no exercise and boom—a 10 pound weight gain in 4 months. Talk about depressing!

But all of this guilt and depression I've been feeling about my body and my gym-less-ness is about to be gone. With my sister’s shower behind me and the house is in a semi-decent state I feel like I can finally get back to normal. Awhile back I bought a deal through Living Social for a month long pass to a gym near my office called Adrenaline Fitness and I have cashed that in beginning this week. I am also sticking to a 1500 calorie/day diet with the help of the Lose It App for the iPhone. The goal is to lose 20 pounds by 4th of July.

 So far, so good--although 3 days can hardly count for much but we all have to start somewhere. Erik is being super supportive (as he should be--he is pretty much getting a designated driver for the next 2 months since alcohol is too much of a diet buster to fit into my new plan) and has agreed to eat whatever low cal concoctions I decide to cook up (with advance warning that they may not taste very awesome).
So we’ll see how all of this goes. I feel pretty motivated and maybe blogging about it will help me stay motivated. After all, I have pretty much just announced to the world my attempts to lose 20 pounds in the next 12 weeks (that’s approx. 1.7 pounds per week for all you math folks). Eek. I guess it’s Onward and upward as they say—or should I say downward? Yes, definitely onward and downward!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Yard Update

Annnnnnd I'm back.

After a much needed vacation to the beach last week with two of my best girls I am back to the grind and back to blogging. Before I left for vacation I was in complete overdrive getting the house in order before the baby shower. One of the tasks I accomplished was hiring a lawn company to come and clean out my backyard--essentially removing all the tree, construction, leaf, and weed debris left after some years of neglect. The company I used was very reasonable (in my opinion). They charged me $325 for the clean-up which included hauling away the debris and they also offered to clean my gutters. Heck yeah!

 Of course in the process of cleaning my gutters they realized that they were chock full of dirt (again a result of neglect) and that the old guards just weren't doing their job. So they told me I would need to have new gutter guards installed for a price of $385. I was told by family and friends this was a decent price so I said okay because after all, cleaning the gutters was on my to-do list. Might as well knock it out.

Back Yard Before
Back Yard After
New Gutters!!
Long story short I came home to new gutters and a clean back yard and for a small price I can relax in knowing that I will not have to be breaking my back hauling a million yard bags to the curb for the next few weekends. Bliss!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Baby Shower Weekend

So I know its been awhile since my last post but I was uber busy trying to get the house ready for my family's visit last weekend and my sister's baby shower. The result? Success! We had around 14 people show up for the shower and managed to squeeze everyone in my small living room pretty comfortably. My sister got some really cute gifts and it was really great to spend some time with my family and see old friends.

Here are some pics for your viewing pleasure:

The Favors--it was a Jungle Theme

Guest Sign in

My sister scored on gifts

The yummy Publix cake

The table

I had to capture this one! : )

All the shower ladies

My mom, sister, and I