My head hurts.

I actually have a fun post coming (tonight? tomorrow? soon?ish…), but I had a thought I really just needed to share for my own posterity– if nothing else. Some day hopefully I will be moved well beyond the practice of law and whatever I am doing will no doubt possess its own share of good days and bad. I hope more of the former than the latter, but if ever I need a reminder of why I left this potentially lucrative if soul-sucking field, I would like to remember this one thing.

My whole job is about fighting. Every step of the process is a battle, and victories are few and far between (we’re talking months between, generally, at best). And some days, many days, I spend all day making phone calls and arguing with people. Arguing about the facts of what has happened. The fairness of what will happen, or what should happen, or what may happen. Arguing about what I did, why I did it, or why they did what they did. Why it was wrong. Why it was right. All day steeped in “I’m right and you’re wrong” and a sense of injustice and impassioned advocacy that you have to adopt to effectively advocate for your clients.

And it is exhausting. You know how they say that with happiness you can “fake it til you make it”? I.e. sometimes the best way to BE happy is to ACT happy and it sort of rubs off on your real live mood. I think it works both ways. And days where I spend the majority of my time arguing with people about causes which I’ve adopted as my own… it is hard not to end the day with a sort of bittered/angry attitude. Because words have consequences, even (especially?) on the people speaking them.

Days like today it takes a serious effort to snap myself out of my work-funk. I think it helps that I realize what it is. I realize I started this day happy. That I am happy. That my mood is not a reflection of my life but rather of the cultivated attitude that I needed to make it through my day and help (maybe?) my clients. But still. It’s hard to spend your days marinating in anger from every direction. And I won’t miss it.

 

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The Big Outdoor Upgrade

For basically as long as we’ve lived here, our yard has been a bit of an embarrassment. I detailed the progression last summer when I was looking for landscapers, but that really didn’t work out because I couldn’t get a company to simply email me back about the job! I did get a few quotes, but the only guy that seemed professional and reliable quoted us just over $2,000 to redo the beds with a retaining wall, good dirt, mulch, and some new plants. OUCH. (You might note in the post linked above we thought we had found a landscaper for a good price, just over $1,000— but he turned out to be a TOTAL FLAKE). We really just were not willing to put several grand into our flower beds.

Which meant our yard last summer stayed looking like this…. I mean, I like polka dots, but this is a bit extreme! lol

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This situation led to our getting a bunch of notices from our HOA in mid to late summer about the weeds in our yard. Which annoyed the crap out of me because I didn’t grow up in a community with an HOA and I sort of resent anyone telling me what to do with my own property, even if it does look like crap. Nevertheless, we hired trugreen to come out and treat our lawn and by this year the grass was looking a lot better. But the beds…. were not.

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Overgrown. Ugly bushes. No edging. It was a hot mess. And yet… we’re lazy. Especially because we really wanted to do a retaining wall (when we did something) because our yard slopes so much that we constantly lose dirt/mulch off the side of the bed. But that seemed really complicated.

So we probably wouldn’t have done anything at all (again) except that about a month ago my mom asked me what weekend her and my dad were coming down to put up a retaining wall and fix our beds. Say what? I guess she got sick of seeing the beds that way so she decided to take action. By forcing me to take action. By just assuming we were doing this. I love my mom haha.

Still, I wasn’t SUPER excited about the work ahead and yard planning is far outside my comfort zone, so I left the planning up to my parents (who actually sort of like planning this stuff out). I sent my dad some pictures of the bed and the length of the outer perimeter and set him on figuring out the wall. Then I told my mom that she could pick whatever plants she thought would look nice.

And this Friday afternoon, they rolled into town and….. well let’s just say that after over 10 hours of hard labor on Saturday my Dad did this…..

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And then we all did this…

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Who am I kidding? There will be more details than that! So here is how it went down. My dad figured out how many blocks we needed (a rough estimate) and I ordered them from Menards for 89 cents per block. He then found a local place who would deliver good soil and mulch to us. The deliveries came in Friday evening and Saturday morning– and holy crap. 8.7 tons (literally) of raw materials. That were going to be moved by hand. Yowza.

We all got ready, including B in his awesome allergy mask (because he likes breathing, and that is not generally possible when he’s outside for more than an hour in the Spring).

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And then we got to work. My dad dug the trench for the first row of blocks, which was definitely the hardest job. In order to make the wall solid, you have to make sure that the ground on which it is built is perfectly level. Once the bottom layer of blocks was laid, building the rest of the wall was shockingly easy— you just stack them on there! They have a little lip at the back that locks behind the block below them, and the dirt holds them all together. As the wall was getting built we were also shoveling out all the crap dirt (aka clay and rocks) and wheelbarrowing in good dirt. Lots and lots of this

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And a little of this (starbucks and cliff bar break).

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And like magic (or um… like 4 people worked their asses off for 10+ hours…) we got the trench dug, the blocks laid, the bad dirt hauled out, the good dirt hauled in, the plants planted, the beds mulched, and all the extras distributed (let’s just say– we may have ordered a bit too much mulch and our yard is now WELL mulched, as is the neighbor’s side bed and we may have also dropped off 5 huge bags of extra mulch up the street at Amanda’s house lol).

As for plants, my mom came down with a lot of ideas but we just went out the morning of to buy everything. I was very intent to NOT overcrowd the beds. Everything grows so fast and I wanted to give everything space to grow in and be awesome, rather than putting a bunch of stuff in now and having it look crowded in a couple of months. We ended up with this red bush thing that I can’t remember the name of– apparently it has pink flowers but it may be too late in the year for those to come..

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Five hostas, which I’ve always loved.

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Two hydrangea, which I am ridiculously excited about (I had assumed they were really hard to grow because they’re so pretty, but apparently not!).

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And this awesome mini tree, which I also can’t remember the name of (blogger fail).

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It won’t get much bigger than this, but it will get bushier. I love the pinky leafy looking flowers on it, and I just think it is super cute.

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We also kept the three ginormous spiky bushes that lived right against the house, but we cut them back severely. They grow really fast so they’ll be a bit bushier soon, but we had to cut them back a lot so we could get them dug out and moved (because with all the new dirt and soil, the beds are about 18 inches taller than they were before).

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Put them all together and you get…… ta da!

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A close up of the awesome blocks (can you believe these were less than a buck a piece??)
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I really can’t get over how much I LOVE our front yard now. It’s such a weird feeling to go from having an embarrassment of a yard to having one this gorgeous. We actually saw someone come take a picture of it on Sunday when we were eating brunch in the dining room! lol. I think I might actually have yard pride. Which is weird for me. But, I’m vowing to keep things nice this year. Now that the beds are level (no run-off), and everything is growing in good dirt with weed paper down (to prevent weeds), and a nice thick layer of mulch, it should be much easier to keep things looking nice and tidy. And I’m sort of counting the days until my hydrangeas bloom!

And just so you don’t have to scroll back up/down…. here is the dramatic summer 2012/spring 2013/after!

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front bed before

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(Stew photobomb for the win).

Anyone else doing yard work yet this spring? Anyone suddenly motivated to make a previously ignored area of your home awesome?

The Big Indoor Upgrade

So…. I lied about posting pics last Friday. Apologies, for real. But, I have an excuse! My parents came into town early on Friday and we completed the mother of all DIY projects this weekend that I can’t wait to reveal to you…. later. Soon though, promise!

But this is about floors. We got new floors!!! Almost a month ago I posted that I thought I’d made a decision on flooring, and in fact I had. It took a few weeks to get all the materials in and then get the floors installed— there was no DIY’ing a project this big an involved! So, let’s cut straight to the chase. The pictures.

The before. Vinyl throughout the entry/kitchen/breakfast/half bath area and carpet in the dining room.

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And the after… gorgeous distressed hickory.

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Love it!!!! Such a huge difference. Check out the close up view…. yum.

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Wood floors just make such a huge difference to the whole feel of the house. I feel like when you walk in it just looks totally different now, much more polished and custom.

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And perhaps my favorite view, I love the dark cabinets with the medium wood floors, the backsplash, the bright walls, and 12 windows visible from this spot.

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I’m so happy we finally decided to do this. It was a rare upgrade for us in that it was a pretty big chunk of money all at once, and it was 100% hired out. But the reason we DIY so much (aside from the fact that I like doing it!) is so that we can save money to pay someone else to do the really hard jobs.

And I think in the long run we’ll be thrilled we did it. We love our home for now but it is not our forever home and wood floors will really help when it is time to sell. We got a great price and I think we’ll more than make it back on resale.

The best part was, we got it done before my parents arrived for the weekend so we got to show it off right away! And I’m so super pumped to show you our weekend project (maybe tomorrow or Wednesday)! It was similarly huge and totally DIY!

Update on project “Save Electricity”

Last month when we did our budget, we decided to implement a few new cost-saving measures to see if we could figure out some ways to save some money that wouldn’t require much effort or sacrifice. Because we’re lazy like that. One of those things was deciding to make a conscious effort to use less electricity. 

Basically we did this in three ways: 

1) I bought a new smart power strip on Amazon for $15 which cuts off all power to our entertainment system every time the TV is turned off. Since we have a lot of gaming systems, and because they draw power even when turned off, totally cutting the power to them I thought might save us some money. 

2) We started unplugging things that aren’t in frequent use throughout the day. For example, I only ever make 1 cup of coffee a day, so why was I leaving my keurig plugged in (and turned on!) 24/7? I don’t know. The plug isn’t even hard to reach. Now I just plug it in and turn it on when I get downstairs in the morning and by the time I’m done making B’s lunch it is powered up and I make my cup of coffee, then I unplug it again. Same with our various stereos that get used on a weekly (if that) basis. We didn’t get crazy with it, I’m not crawling behind our dresser to plug/unplug our bedroom tv whenever we want to use it. But in general, if plugging something in will take less than 4 seconds, it got unplugged. 

3) Paying attention to turning off lights. I was HORRIBLE about this. And yes, it was me, not B. Especially with my working at home… sometimes in the mornings it would be sort of dark in the kitchen so I’d turn on the lights (there are 6 lightbulbs on 1 switch) and then somehow I’d just leave them on… all day. I’d leave the light on the mancave on if I was working down there even if it was really bright enough that that they were unnecessary. I’d turn a porch light on for a friend coming over and realize 3 days later I’d never turned it off. 

(We also switched electric companies, but that change has not yet taken effect). 

So, we just got our first bill since we started making an effort to reduce electricity and I have to tell you– I am floored with the results. We used less energy in the last month than we have at any other point in our 36 month history that is available on electric company’s website. 

We used 49.5% less energy this past April than we did in April 2012, and 48% less energy than in April 2011. So basically, HALF. 

A friend pointed out to me that it has been pretty cool here in Ohio this spring so it is possible than in April’s past we used our AC a few days (whereas we did not this year). Fair point, so I decided to also compare to some months that we definitely did not use AC. Compared to the last 3 months, we used 28% less energy than the average of those months. 

So what does this mean in cash? The average amount we have paid for electric the last three months was $118. This month our bill is $88. A $30 savings!! And like I said earlier— we haven’t even gotten our new electric rate yet! 

Okay so… I get that electricity usage and rates may not be that exciting to most but I have to tell you– I am (clearly) pumped about the outcome of our little experiment here. We really haven’t felt that putting a tiny bit of effort into regulating our usage has been overbearing at all, and the savings is well worth it to me. I’m so pleased that we’ve already more than paid for the smart power strip I bought, and we will definitely be continuing with our new habits!

Giving up, Getting out, and Guilt.

My struggles to figure out what I’m going to do with my life are no stranger to this blog. I sort of thought I’d have this figured out by the time I was 28, honestly. I graduated from college 8 years ago for godsake! 

Last summer I figured out that my little “hobby job” of photography was really what I wanted to do with my life. But I was scared. Nevertheless, I set a plan. 

Work my ass off trying to get photo jobs. Ask friends to recommend me. Start doing whatever free advertising I could (craigslist and facebook mostly). 

I was done thinking I could maybe make it work with law. I was giving up on the idea that I might have a long career as a lawyer, and starting to lean into the idea that getting out was a possibility. My goal was Spring of 2015. Build up enough clients to make enough money by 2015 that I could quit my law job and be a full time photographer. 

And I’m working the plan. I’ve got two weddings booked (one was last weekend and went great, the next this coming fall). I have a third couple who may book me soon (I hope). I just bought my first paid advertising on theknot.com and I’m about to flyer my neighborhood to book some family/baby shoots. I’m using my business facebook more regularly, I’m doing my photo blogging more regularly, I’m all in. 

I feel like I’m really doing what I can at this point to make my photography business a success. And I’m so excited at the possibilities. The idea of doing photography full time is like a dream to me, because its what my mind wanders to when I’m driving. It’s what I get excited about when I wake up at 2am with an idea. It’s what makes my entire day when I get a couple “likes” on an album I post on facebook. 

But as I work to make this dream a reality, I’m starting to get hit with the guilt. I would never say I regret going to law school because I met some amazing people and chances are, I would never have met my husband if I hadn’t done it. So I’m glad that I went, even if not for the actual law knowledge. However the going came at a steep price. And not just for me. 

B and I will be paying off my law school loans until 2028. The idea that we’re going to be paying off loans for an education that I’m not using at all (once I move to photography) makes me feel horrible. And maybe worse than that, the idea that my parents contributed to my education (they paid my rent/cell phone/car insurance while I was in law school) for three years and I’m not going to end up using it? Ugh. GUILT. 

I’m trying to give myself permission to just be happy. Everyone makes the wrong choices sometimes and it isn’t like I’m going to quit my job until I’m making enough that we will be okay financially with my doing so. So if law school and working as a lawyer for 6 years was just part of my journey to becoming a photographer, maybe the loans and the support were just a necessary part of getting there? 

I guess so. Regardless, I’m happy with the direction things are moving. I’m excited about my (career) future again for the first time in a long time. I think the guilt is just going to be one of the many hurdles I’ll face in my journey into a new career.