February 14, 2013

The Refinance

Feast Master Deconstruction

One of my big goals for 2013 was to refinance our house. The first thing I did was to reach out to our credit union to get an estimate on how much a refinance would cost and whether we could qualify. With assurances in hand and a bit of a steep bill, we started gathering the money we would need. One of the things the bank emphasized was that we should not have any unfinished construction projects.

Hmmmm…so what about that Feast Master? When we bought our house it had a swanky basement den, complete with carpeting, a shag lined bar and an in house bar-b-que, brand name “Feast Master”. The Feast Master did not vent into our chimney, but instead vented directly into the driveway. Our home inspector told us to never use the grill, if we didn’t want to have a house fire. As we learned our first winter, this also meant that cold air rushed through the vent and right into our house.

Last fall, SB started the demolition work to remove the Feast Master. It was hard, dirty work, breaking down the masonry and removing the bricks. Progress was slow and the priority was low, after all it was just our bonus basement room and not essential to our daily lives. However, it was certainly a construction project in progress. SB made a big push in December and January, breaking down the whole fireplace and hauling out the rubble.

Once we felt good about the Feast Master, I moved ahead with getting the home assessor to come in. I had no idea what to expect. He came in with the approach that any and every change we made to the house should count towards overall value and he also wanted to know if I had put together a comparable properties list. Had I known that I should provide him with a packet of improvements and comps, I would gladly have done that. I had been under the impression that the home owners were not supposed to influence the assessors with that type of information. I wasn’t even sure I would be allowed to talk to him.

The assessor poked around the house, asked his questions and made his report. In the end he determined that our basement den was now unfinished space, but that the total value of our house was still more than we paid for it two years ago. If we had left the Feast Master half finished, I’m not sure how that would have influenced the evaluation, if at all. How were we to know?

Yesterday we closed on our new home loan. Our old loan was a 30 year loan, at 6% with a 5 year arm. Our new loan is a 15 year loan, at 2.6% fixed rate. 2.6% !!!! Say what!?! Based on my estimate, over the length of the loan, refinancing is going to save us $258,000 in interest. Boom! Plus, we will own our home in 15 years, which sounds like an imaginable point in the future.

I’m really glad we moved ahead with the refinance. Now we just need to put some more time in to bring our basement den back to the land of finished, livable space. This includes, re-doing the stairs, replacing the windows, putting in new carpeting and painting the walls and ceiling.

Feast Master No More
February 1, 2013


This winter has turned into a great season for lake skating. I’ve been fortunate to get out on the ice a few times already and hope to go again this weekend. My mom shot this little video out on Lake Mendota.

I just bought the puffy coat I’m wearing and I’m totally in love with its downy warmth. When I have the hood up, I may look like a giant, dog devouring blob, or at least that’s what my dog thinks, but inside the coat I’m nice and cozy. Now if only I could find winter boots that I enjoy as much as this coat.

January 3, 2013

2012 in Review


2012 in numbers:
– 1,965 hours worked and 324 hours of paid time off
– 1,549 visitors to this blog. February had the most visits and The Stuff Beast was the most popular post of the year. The most referred search term was “gorilla bread”.
– 527 photos uploaded to Flickr
– 31 tweets (23 personal and 8 professional)
– 25 blog entries (24 personal and 1 professional)
– 23 books read (5 non-fiction, 16 fiction, 2 professional)
– 10 books sold on Amazon
– 9 cities visited San Francisco (x2), San Jose, Chicago (x2), Orem, Park City, Las Vegas, Boston, Seattle and Victoria BC
– 8 yarn projects completed (1 crochet, 7 knitting, 3 frogged)

My personal goal for 2012 was to bring out my writing voice through blogging and tweeting. I also had sub-goals that included going to concerts, vacation travel and house projects. 2012 was a two part year, defined in the middle by a huge work project that happened in July and August. From January to June I was on track, going to concerts, vacationing in San Francisco and blogging once a week. After June things fell apart. Starting in July, work became an all consuming stress ball. On top of that, July and August were the home insulation months, with contractors coming by and the culmination of all our insulation planning. I took another vacation in the fall to Seattle and Victoria and then slid into the holiday season, never regaining my writing or concert going momentum.

It feels easy to think of 2012 as a bit of a failure. Even though I accomplished a lot, the accomplishments were not the ones I set out to achieve. In addition to all of the above, SB had a very unhappy year at work. With his work situation up-in-the-air, we had a general unsettled and unhappy feeling most of the time. Questions like, “Would we need to move out of Madison?” and “What does it mean to have a career?” were discussed at great length. The uncertainty has been exhausting but I’m happy to report that SB has accepted a new job in town and we are starting off 2013 on much firmer and happier ground. Whew!

My personal goal for 2013 is to achieve more physical fitness. I’ve learned in recent years how satisfying it can be to be more financially disciplined. Now I want to apply that same self-control to my body. I’m thinking about this in terms of life long habits more than what I can accomplish in the next year alone.

Other things I’m looking forward to in 2013:
– Getting back to blogging and tweeting
– Going to concerts, plays and other events
– House projects including finishing the basement, crown molding, a bathroom remodel, a kitchen remodel and a home loan refinance
– Selling, donating and generally getting rid of more stuff
– Travel vacations!

I hope you are also looking forward to an even better 2013. (The photo is from our fabulous zinnia garden this summer. I’m particularly proud of our gardens this past year and am looking forward to even more success in 2013.)

November 19, 2012

Social Mornings

B&B Wallpaper

No one would call me a morning person. Nor could I be accused of being an extrovert. So why would I want to spend my vacation time socializing with strangers, first thing in the morning?

You can believe I was asking myself this very question on our most recent vacation, when we decided to go the B&B route for lodging. Bed and Breakfasts look so appealing from an architecture and off-the-beaten-track perspective. You get to check out someone’s fancy old, or new, house and whatever crazy furniture they’ve put into it. Plus, B&B’s tend to be in neighborhoods rather than tourist areas, so I can pretend for a few days that I’m a local.

We had fancy, rich breakfasts, with plenty of eggs and tomatoes, while we chatted with our fellow guests around a communal table. Sounds great, except I would dread coming-up with chit-chat before my coffee. After the social hour, those composed breakfasts would sit in my stomach like a lead weight, making our long days of adventure off to a series of rocky starts and irritability.

This post is more a reminder to my future self, than a particular story. Remember Marijka! B&Bs may not be the right place for us to stay. We’d be better off with an apartment rental like Air B&B or VRBO or even a regular hotel.

The photo above is the wallpaper in one of our B&B rooms. I’m still trying to figure out how I can hang some of that paper in my own house! Reminds me of the British Sherlock rooms.

November 6, 2012


Anguished Lion

I love this anguished lion statue, seen at Hatley Castle on my recent trip to Victoria, BC. The human eyes, the mouth gaping open, could it be more dramatic?

When I return from an unplanned blogging break, I feel I need to recap everything that happened since my last post. Besides working much to much this summer, my monthly music goal totally fell apart, I knit a couple things that I really hate and I didn’t even blog about it. How’s that for anguished confessions of a guilty blogger?

With snow coming down, this is a time for closure and looking forward to the beauty of winter. This weekend I dug up my zinnias and cosmos, replacing them with spring bulbs and poppy seeds. It was a wonderful summer of gardening successes, even with the hardships of draught.

Today I voted, marking the end of a perpetual barrage of political angst that has gone on for years. This is it, the final day. Tonight the results will come in and we can all move on. Holiday food and winter vacations can take over the space I’ve devoted to indignation and concern.

On Friday, the Department of Energy is coming for tea. I’ve been joking that Dr. Chu is coming to chat with me about physics. In reality, it is an insulation inspection, to see how the federal dollars were spent on our modest home. The final step in our Green Madison journey.

It feels good to blog. Why did I wait so long?

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  • Eating salted avocados with a spoon in Madison.
  • Blogging since 2003.