Friday, April 29, 2011

A Fairy Tale I Can Believe In

Like many women across the US, I woke up this morning at the ungodly hour of 4 am and proceeded to my Royal Wedding viewing party. OK, it wasn’t really a party so much as hanging out with my mom on the couch while we ooo-ed and aww-ed over the outfits, hats, Will and Harry, and of course, the beautiful bride. I watched in exhaustion, taking a brief five minute nap while I awaited their step onto the balcony and the fabled kiss. Still, I have to say, it was so worth it.

photo via
To get some things out of the way:
  • I loved Kate’s dress. I expected it to be a little bit more modern, but she looked amazing and classic in true Kate Middleton style. Plus, any nod to Grace Kelly is rarely a bad move.
  • Pippa looked amazing. Not many people can pull of a dress like that, and she rocked it.
  • James Middleton is cute! And did I hear he was 24? Hmmm….
  • Harry? Wow. Just wow.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, time for my slightly more serious analysis of the occasion:

I know that there are a lot of people who think that the royal wedding obsession is ridiculous, and to a certain degree, I agree. If I actually lived in Britain I might be a little ticked about the use of public dollars for this type of event the while government takes austerity measures. But politics aside, there was just something about this particular love story that had me captivated long before the engagement was announced.

When I was little, I heard all the Disney Princess stories. Frankly, a few of them were a little insulting. Why should girls wait around for their Prince Charming to come and rescue them? I don’t know about you, but I always thought of a relationship as more of a partnership deal. I’m all for a guy being protective or defensive when it’s necessary, but I prefer not to end up in one of those damsel in distress situations (no matter how many times I  wipe out in a pair of can’t-quite-handle-these-while-drinking heels).

I love this royal love story because it’s not a Disney Princess story. I love it because it celebrates modern couples. Kate and Will obviously have fun together and it seems as though mutual respect is a big part of their relationship. When Kate takes the thrown, she will be the first queen with a University Education. She and Will lived together in college as friends, and lived together as a couple prior to the wedding too. Kate helped Will stay at University and then pursue his career in the Military, and he has developed a very close relationship with Kate’s family.

It takes one confident woman to land a prince, and Kate Middleton made Will work for her. By now everyone’s heard the story where someone said to Kate, “You’re so lucky to be dating Prince William,” to which she replied, “He’s lucky to be dating me.” She was totally right. Their relationship would never work if they had the attitude that she should be grateful to be with Britain’s heir to the throne.

Kate admitted that she was heartbroken when she and Will broke up for six weeks in 2007. But she didn’t wallow in self pity. Instead, she joined a women’s rowing team, went out on the town, and let the paparazzi photograph her out with London’s most eligible bachelors. She took the opportunity to learn about herself and become stronger without her beau. To this day she says that while their time apart was difficult, she values it very much. When Will did come back, Kate was cautious but obviously moved forward from the break up and let the relationship grow stronger. Had their relationship ended right there, she still would have had her dignity intact. There isn’t a woman in the world that can’t learn from the way she handled that situation.

When Kate reached Will at the altar this morning, Will looked over lovingly and told her she looked beautiful. The couple shared so many knowing glances throughout the service and leaned in for private conversations throughout the very public affair. Even their kisses were short but comfortable, showing they love each other but don’t have to show the world through some smacker on the balcony.

photo via

One of my favorite parts of the ceremony was the Bishop of London’s sermon, which I watched attentively and read through a few times afterwards. The Bishop spoke of a deep love that is not the end but rather the tool through which we become the best version of ourselves and find ourselves most fulfilled. It was one of the most eloquent, realistic views on romance that I’ve heard in a long time, and a welcome break from the love story that we see so often in the movies.

A few phrases from the Bishop’s sermon that really resonated with me:

 "We stand looking forward to a century which is full of promise and full of peril. Human beings are confronting the question of how to use wisely a power that has been given to us through the discoveries of the last century. We shall not be converted to the promise of the future by more knowledge, but rather by an increase of loving wisdom and reverence, for life, for the earth and for one another.”

I probably just scared away all men potentially interested in me with this discussion of serious relationships and marriage. No worries guys, I’m not trying to get that serious right now. According to Princess Kate I have another 5 years to figure things out. But I hope you’ll respect me for thinking realistically about the way relationships work and knowing what I want from mine…eventually.

I knew I loved Will and Kate’s love story, but I definitely didn’t expect to be so moved by any portion of the ceremony the way the sermon moved me. I can’t say that I’m ashamed of my sappiness though, because I finally figured out why I love Will and Kate so much, and why they're such a big draw to other girls my age: They're mutual love and respect is the kind of fairy tale that we can believe in. It’s not that we all want to be princesses; it’s that we look forward to watching our own modern love stories unfold. And when they do, we can only hope that we’ll conduct ourselves with the poise and confidence of the new Princess Catherine.

“As the reality of God has faded from so many lives in the West, there has been a corresponding inflation of expectations that personal relations alone will supply meaning and happiness in life. This is to load our partner with too great a burden. We are all incomplete: we all need the love which is secure, rather than oppressive, we need mutual forgiveness, to thrive.”

“Faithful and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover this; the more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sarah's Guide to Surviving a Government Shutdown

Well, I guess it’s a good thing I saw the lion cubs when I did because there’s a good chance that starting Saturday those little guys won’t be on display to the public.

Yep, that’s right, we’re talking government shutdown today.

A little tid-bit of information about me: Like so many other 20-somethings living in Falls Church/Arlington/DC, I work for a government contractor that shall remain nameless. And I work exclusively on federal projects. Yesterday I received an email informing me that all employees working on contracts affected by the government shutdown would be forced to use vacation time throughout the duration of the shutdown, and that we would not be permitted to bill to training, general business development, sick time, or comp time during the that time.

Womp womp.

It’s cool, I mean I didn’t need that time to go on vacation with my family this summer or enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. But if I’m forced to take vacation hours, I would really rather spend them on, oh, I don’t know, maybe an actual vacation? Which got me thinking…why not take a vacation? I mean one of the greatest things about DC is all the free stuff there is to do here, and if none of it’s open, why not get out of town?

Tips for Planning Your Forced Vacation

You have to be very careful about planning your government shutdown-forced vacation. After all, it’s not like planning any other vacation. You have no idea how long this forced vacation will last, so you have to find an activity that you can get to quickly (to maximize destination time and minimize travel time), and that you can get home from quickly in the event that Congress magically comes to their senses and realizes that holding their hands to their ears and yelling, “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you!” is not exactly the way to reach a compromise.

The key is to use exactly the amount of vacation time you’re forced to take, but not end up in a situation where you have to take extra time because you can’t get back quickly enough. This pretty much eliminates the possibility of airplane travel, unless you are super lucky and have a family member that works for an airline and you can fly standby for free.  You also probably want to keep costs down since, let’s face it, you might be forced to take more vacation time than you have, which is also known as leave without pay.

Air plane art found here.
I recommend leaving tomorrow night if the shutdown looks extremely likely and taking what would amount to a weekend trip, but then extending it if you aren't allowed to report to work come Monday. So what are some good options for DC government employees and contractors? I’ve gathered some options that you might find useful.

Head to the beach. This option is probably a no-brainer, and one you’re itching to fit into your schedule anyway. If you’re like me, you’ve reached your palest point of the year. Even though we’re into spring, the weather hasn’t been quite warm enough to get you outside on a regular basis, and last summer’s tan is gone and gone. So head to one of the southern beaches and get a little sun. South Carolina is only 8 hours away! The more people you can pack into a hotel room, the cheaper it will be.

Weather in potential beach destinations this weekend and next week:

Ocean City: Kind of chilly honestly, in the high 50s – low 60s
Virginia Beach: A little warmer than Ocean City, mid 60s – low 70s
Nags Head: Mid 60s
Myrtle Beach: Low – mid 70s
Hilton Head: Mid 70s

Photo found here.
Go camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains or Virginia foothills. A bit of a caveat here: In order to go camping, you’ll have to find a place that isn’t run by the National Park Service because the National Parks will likely be closed along with the federal agencies. Still, if you can find a state or local park, grab a few friends, borrow some camping gear, and take a quick camping trip. You may also want to find a place where you still get cell phone service, since you'll want to know when Congress has finally passed a budget and you can go home.

Visit a friend In NYC. There are many express buses that run directly from DC to Penn Station in New York City. You can pick them up near Chinatown, in Union Station, and even in places like Rosslyn and Bethesda. The best part? You can get most of those buses for $50 round trip or less. And since you’re riding by bus, you can wait till the day of to schedule a reservation and be home in 4-5 hours.

Visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water. I’m a bit of an architecture geek, and I’ve been enamored by Falling Water since an art teacher showed my 6th grade class a picture of it. The architectural icon is only about 4 hours away, and you can order tour tickets online for $22. If you’re really trying to get adventurous, you can extend your trip to Pittsburgh, which is only about an hour and 15 minutes from Falling Water.

Photo found here.
Go back to college. If you live in Arlington, you and 10 of your closest friends all probably graduated from a Virginia state school, and a few of you probably still have a sibling in college. Shack up with them and party like you used to before this whole grownup nonsense set in.

Take the distance out of your relationship. Every one of my serious relationships has involved anywhere from 2 – 12 hours of distance at some point, so I know that this one might be dumb to mention because most of you that are in a distance relationship have probably already considered this option. Since you have the time off, take the opportunity to go visit your sweetheart. Even if they’re working, you can probably kill time by yourself during the day and still spend time together in the evening. Maybe you’ll even get married and be able to tell your children, “Hey, remember that whole week we got to spend together because of the 2011 shutdown?” It’s a beautiful story, isn’t it?

Just get out there. Some of you are probably thinking, wow, all of these options sound like so much fun, except that I don’t know anyone else that is forced to take time off. That’s a fair argument. But I’m banking on the fact that most people who will be forced to shutdown probably work for a company that’s pretty big, or a federal agency that has a large office. There’s bound to be someone in your boat that wants to go somewhere. Get some of your colleagues together that you’ve been meaning to hang out with outside of work and go somewhere.

Wherever you go, remember to keep your smart phone or your computer nearby so that you can access your office email and keep tabs on the latest updates from the Hill. That way you'll be able to have a better idea of just how long your vacation might last and plan accordingly.

Whatever you do, just don’t waste those precious vacation hours. Spring is the season of rebirth! Do something spontaneous and turn this forced shutdown into your adventure of 2011.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bringing in My Mid-Twenties Like a Kid

This post is, oh, maybe about two weeks late, but I just found my photos from it so I decided to post about it anyway.

I turned 24 a few weeks ago and spent most of the day acting like the small children surrounding me. First, I went to the National Zoo where I saw the 7 LION CUBS! People may knock the National Zoo, and maybe it’s not San Diego, but it’s free, and they had 10 LIONS there: 7 cubs, 2 mama lionesses, and one big badass lion. I literally power walked through the zoo just to get to the "Great Cats" exhibit. Then I stood there for probably 30 minutes, insisted on watching the lion cubs’ every playful move, and was totally enamored just watching them sit up on the top level and sunbathe with their mothers. I may have even stood on the little ledge that’s meant for children until I realized that I was actually blocking the view of the small children standing near me. Including the kid who was taking pictures with his Nintendo DS, which prompted me to remember that I was actually 24 and that the equivalent of that toy when I was his age had one little screen, was not in color, and had absolutely no photo taking capabilities. But I digress.

Quiz: Who is the most mature person in this picture?
Basically, the lions were AWESOME. I had to restrain myself from belting out every song from the Lion King. I love them. And, OK, yes, maybe it wasn’t the coolest way to spend the day, but I did inspire one of my friends to visit them on her birthday, and my office mate wants to see them before she moves out of DC. So apparently I was just paving the way for other nerdy animal lovers. 

I also saw some other animals at the zoo including the gorillas, elephants, and tigers, but apparently the panda was the only picture worthy one.

To continue my animal-adoring birthday, we left the zoo in time to get back to the PetSmart near my house and play with the dogs at the Lost Dog Rescue adoption event there. The puppies were so adorable and I gave serious consideration to bringing a dog home with me, which is still a serious consideration but one that I’ve tabled for the moment.

After PetSmart, I went out to dinner with my family to Anita’s, a local chain of restaurants that serve good cheap "New Mexico Style" Mexican food. I’m trying to find another good Tex-Mex/Mexican place near my house, so pleeeeaaasse let me know if you have any recommendations for Falls Church/Arlington.

Then I went out in Arlington with my friends, including 2 of my 3 roomies (roomie 4 was out of town unfortunately).

Maybe I spent the better part of my day celebrating like I was turning 6, but I don’t care because it was awesome. And I kicked off the 3 month birthday marathon in our house, so I have plenty more celebrating to look forward. May turning 25 be just as fun as 24!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Get Yo Groupon HG Style

I just got this glorious and oh-so-dangerous email alerting me that Groupon now has a special Home & Garden subscription. Yes please.

In case you didn't get the email, click here to subscribe to Groupon HG. Not signed up for Groupon? Been living under a rock for the past year? Sign up for a Groupon subscription here.

A Place to Hang Your Hat (or Coat) Up

We really lucked out getting a townhouse with as much space as we have for the price we pay. But the problem with having a lot of space is…well…it’s kind of an invitation to fill it. And no one can fill up extra space like four girls. So while we have a spacious coat closet right in our entry way, we found pretty quickly that there was no room for guests’ coats and some of our coats in the closet. So rather than continuing to pile up coats on the chaise lounge my roommate got out of her parents’ basement, I decided to make a cheap/simple/stylish fix.

The solution: a coat rack in the form of a rack of hooks that can hang on the wall. I came to this solution for a few reasons. First, we wanted something wall mounted, and we needed one that was 40”+ long. Those are hard to find and can be pretty expensive. Second, I didn’t want to put a ton of holes in the wall right there because we are renters and it’s always good to minimize the number of holes we have in a wall when possible. Third, I wanted to be able to customize the coat rack so that it was non-ugly, and so that I could hang it on studs rather than having to use wall anchors. And oh yeah, there was also the entertainment/fun value of me taking on another project.

I could've gone for ordinary hooks in this project, but I have a slight obsession with hardware. As in I have been known to go on trips and snap photos of cool doorknobs.

One of my many hardware pics. This one is a beautiful doorknob I saw on a house in San Juan, which is full of awesome hardware.
World Market has really cool anthropologie-esque hardware that I’ve always wanted to use in a project, so I went over there and snagged 8 hooks and knobs for about $27. I got three hooks (two the same color) for $1.99 each, a set of two glass flower knobs for $4.99, a cool blue knob for $3.99, and two pretty cool ceramic painted knobs for $5.99 each (they were a splurge, so they were just so cool!)

Once I bought the knobs, I took them home and laid them out on our floor. To give coats enough space to hang, I decided to hang the knobs about 6 inches from the center of each one. This made the space from knob 1 to knob 8 42 inches (because you multiply 6 inches by the number of spaces between knobs, which is 7, not eight). I then added 3 inches on either side of the knob and determined that I needed a board 48 inches long. I measured this length out on the wall I planned to hang it on, and it worked well for the space.

Because some of the knobs had screws built into them (as opposed to just running through them so you could remove it and use a shorter screw), the board had to be deeper than the screw itself in order for the board to lay flush with the wall. I measured the screws and determined I needed something at least 1 ½ inches deep. I went on an adventure to Home Depot and found a 2x4 stud, which is about 1 ½ inches deep, and had it cut to 48 inches. I used a medium grade 2x4 because I was worried that the nicer wood was too dense and therefore heavy to hang on the wall. Plus the medium grade was cheaper and it’s not like we’re attempting to furnish the White House here.

I measured the holes out on the front of the board and drilled holes large enough for each screw to slip through. That wasn't too tough. 

This is the part of my story where I tell you that a $15 drill from Target that you may have hanging out in your toolbox from college is not powerful enough to bore large holes in a piece of wood. Because I needed to wood to be flush with the wall but I also needed to secure the screws to the wood, I had to drill holes 1” in diameter into the back of the piece of wood. I went to Home Depot and got this drill bit that it supposed to do the trick, and would’ve, except that my drill wasn’t quite powerful enough. So I ended up starting with the drill bit, drilling a few random holes in the circle created by the drill bit, locking the drill and manually twist the drill bit in order to create the hole big enough for each screw to connect through with enough of the screw sticking out for me to attach a nut to it. I definitely recommend investing in a better drill for this, since my process took forever. After that battle, the rest of the process was pretty easy.

Since a stud is meant to be inside a wall and not hanging on it, the wood was pretty rough and had a few stamps on it. To prep the wood, I sanded it with 120 grit paper, followed by 220 grit. This gave me an opportunity to smooth the wood and off some of the stamps that were on the wood.

Once I finished my sanding and removed the dust with a damp cloth, I applied a General Finishes water-based espresso stain, which I had leftover from another project. I used a foam brush to apply the stain because I find that it goes on a little more evenly. I let the stain sit for a minute or two and then buffed the excess off with a piece of an old t-shirt (from my pile o’ t-shirts-they-handed-out-like-candy-in-college that I don’t wear anymore).

The great thing about water-based stain is that you can pretty easily apply it indoors. I started this project on a nice day outside, but brought it inside when I ran out of time to add another coat before it got dark. I set up my $19 pair of sawhorses and the drop cloth that my nurse roommate brought home from the hospital, and added the second coat in our basement/beer pong room. After I applied two coats and let them dry overnight, I covered the entire piece of wood with three coats of MinWax Polycrylic Protective Finish in Satin. I really wanted a matte finish, but Polycrylic is also water-based and can therefore be applied inside, so I made the sacrifice. I also don’t expect this thing to take a beating; otherwise I would’ve used a more durable oil-based finish.

After I let the protective finish dry overnight, I attached the knobs using a combo of a wrench and need-nose pliers to tighten each nut onto each screw. After securing the knobs and hooks, I used my handy dandy stud-finder (no, I haven’t used it to find a studly man friend, and yes, that’s a super cheesy joke) to find where the wall studs were closest to the end of the boards but within the 48” piece of wood (hehehe…get your mind out of the gutter). That way I could attach the wall-mounting hardware to my new coat rack so that I could screw the hardware into the studs, making the piece of wood hung sturdily (this just keeps getting worse) to the wall, and also preventing me from having to use wall anchors, which create holes that would be a major bi-otch to patch when we move out of our rental.

The hardware I used was the type that has one piece that you screw onto the thing your hanging, which you then slip down over the screw you’ve anchored into the wall. I know that is an incredibly confusing description, so just check out the picture below. Make sure that when you use this you hang it with the hole that the screw can fit on the bottom, otherwise the screw won't attach to the hardware.

Now we have a place to hang our coats and a pretty decoration right inside the doorway, which apparently doesn't get fabulous light as it appears in this picture.

This entire project only cost about $39, and a rack this size (ha!) would’ve probably cost a lot more than that in a store, if I could even find one I like. Here’s a list of materials I used: 
  • Knobs/hooks from World Market -- $27
  • 2 x 4” wood stud -- $3 (and I still have about 40” left over)
  • General Finishes Water Based Espresso Stain – had already, but you can find a small can of water-based stain at Home Depot for under $10, and have plenty left to tackle another project
  • MinWax Polycrylic Protective Finish (Satin) -- $8
  • Mounting Hardware – about $1 (can’t remember exactly)
Total for this project: $39
Next time you're looking for a quick storage solution, consider this one. It could easily be done in an apartment as long as you're cool with sanding in the bathtub and staining in your living room. Who are we kidding? In the spirit of this innuendo-filled post, you've probably done weirder things there before anyway.
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