Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Australian Itinerary

Last weekend, Jay and I spent our first free weekend in four months planning our trip to Australia. We also spent a ridiculous amount of time vegetating in front of the TV, but I think we deserved it.

I wish that we were able to leave on May 10th as we had originally planned, but our friends are getting married that day. I guess that I should be thankful that they’re getting married on Friday instead of Saturday. So now we get one less day in Australia and one more day in New Jersey. Not a great trade-off, but we do love Rick and Morgan.

So we will leave NJ/MD sometime Saturday morning (probably with quite the case of the wine flu) and head to Los Angeles for the day. Flights to Australia don’t leave until after 9pm, so we’ll have the better part of the day to explore the city and tire ourselves out. We’ll be in for 20 hours of air travel (after the flight to LAX), so hopefully we can get some sort of sleep on the plane. Ambien will be my friend.

We will arrive in Brisbane at 11 a.m. (Oz time) on the 13th, which is 15 hours ahead of EST. Let’s hope that I adjust quickly, because we’re going to hit the ground running. 

Our first day depends on my Aunt Nancy. I originally planned to get a hotel in Brisbane the first night so that we could acclimate to the time difference and visit Koala Pine Sanctuary to snuggle a koala. Now I’m thinking that to maximize time with my aunt, I’ll ask if she’d be up for picking us up at the airport and check out the sanctuary with us. After the sanctuary (or the next day), we will travel an hour south to SurfersParadise and Coolangatta.

We will spend the 13th-19th hanging out with my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Darryl in Coolangatta and Surfer’s Paradise. I’m really looking forward to it, as it has been ages since I’ve seen them – probably six years and they have never met my husband. It’s going to be a blast… I can see us getting into all sorts of trouble. So those six days will be spent eating, drinking and making merry. While we’re there, we’ll probably go to another critter sanctuary and whatever touristy thing Nancy suggests. I haven’t done much research into those places.

On Saturday the 19th, we will depart Surfer’s Paradise for another paradise 1200 kilometers north. We’ll fly to Airlie Beach, which is the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands. 

Why the Whitsunday Islands? THIS is why.....................

We’ve decided to book the Whitsunday Blue  for a 2 day, 2 night sailing adventure. From what I’ve read, a live-aboard boat is the best way to see the Whitsunday Islands. The Whitsunday Blue is a catamaran, which makes for a little less seasickness. This boat also has private cabins with bathrooms, which is pretty much unheard of for most live-aboards. It only takes 8 guests, so hopefully they'll be cool. We get along with most people, so I'm not too worried. We’ll be leaving on our adventure on Monday the 20th and will return to Airlie Beach on Wednesday the 22nd

No time to rest when we return to Airlie Beach on Wednesday! There are only 3 full days left of our trip and we need to make the most of our remaining time. We will be hopping in a rental car and driving towards Dimbulah, Queensland  (700-ish kilometers from Airlie Beach). 

Chances are high that we won’t make it all the way there and will have to rest for the night. This portion of our trip will be our Outbackish portion. Our final destination is not Dimbulah, but Almaden

Or maybe Tyrconnell. We’re not sure.  We're kind of winging this part of the trip. Hopefully there will be no international incidents. No tractors or kangaroos crossing our path. That kind of thing. I'd like to think that we learned our lesson after that tractor mishap in Ireland. 

Once we’ve tired of small town life, we will be on the road to Cairns, our final destination in Australia. We may book a reef trip while we’re there. This one  looks promising. They even have an introductory scuba, which I'd like to try.

We will be departing Cairns for Auckland, New Zealand on Sunday, the 26th. New Zealand remains to be planned, but we know for sure that we’ll be visiting Hobbiton and Waitomo Caves

More on New Zealand once we figure out everything we’re doing. Previously, I said that we were going to hike Mount Doom. However, it will depend on the weather and if we’re feeling up to it. I don’t know how much strenuous activity we are going to feel up to. It is vacation after all! 

Diet update coming soon – stay tuned!

Friday, February 22, 2013


The waiting is over!

I am happy to report that all of our hard work has finally paid off.

Our house appraised for $50,000 over what we needed. Now it may be time to do some rate negotiation, as our LTV is pretty significantly lower than we originally expected.

Tom Petty had it right

The waiting really is the hardest part.

 The good news is that we are officially approved for the refinance and the commitment letter has been signed. The bad news is that we are still waiting for the appraisal, which is a condition of the approval. As each day passes, I get more anxious about our home’s value. On Wednesday, our loan officer said that the appraisal was in the review process with the in-between company and that hopefully it would be released tomorrow. Gah!! Well, it’s Friday and the main thing standing between an incredibly fast closing is this stupid appraisal. The appraisal could make or break this refinance. If the appraiser wants to be picky, she could throw in a bunch of things like we have to install railings for our steps or repaint/cover the fascia and soffit. Or maybe she could throw in other things that I haven’t even thought of or noticed.

We’ve wanted to finish the fascia for quite some time, but didn’t know anyone who had a brake. We were not planning to repaint the wood yet again. The plan was to cover the wood with metal, which stands up to the elements much better than wood. It also stands up to birds much better. And squirrels. These critters love to gnaw and peck through wood and nest in our attic. We also haven’t installed railings yet because we are planning to get rid of the brick steps and replace them with wood. So obviously we will do those things, but we just have been busy with the inside of the house. So if we have to do those things first, it will probably put us out another few weeks with the refinance. We’ll have to get the work done and then the appraiser will have to come back out and confirm that those things have been taken care of. I would hope that she would be more lenient since it’s a refinance and not a new purchase.

Part of my relentless obsession over the dollar amount of the appraisal? How much was all of this work really worth? The blood, sweat, tears, stress and the amount of money that we actually put into the house. Will it pay off? Would it have been cheaper to tear the whole thing down and start over? Emotionally, I don't think I could have done that. This was the place I grew up and the place I want to raise my future family. We have put about $80,000 or more into this project, so I am going to be heartbroken if our appraisal doesn't equal the amount of money we put into it.

So… if the appraisal comes back today in the amount that we need with no “subject to” repairs or conditions, I will be a happy camper.

On to the more gooderer stuff!  I’ve been looking forward to this weekend for a long time - this is the first weekend since the beginning of November that we a) haven’t had guests b) have no plans and/or c) Jay hasn’t had to work. We are making a trip to the grocery store tonight and after we get home, our cars are not moving until Monday. I might make it to the gym sometime this weekend, but we’ll see. The Atkins diet is crazy hard, but I’ve had amazing results already. I lost 4 pounds the first week! I know that a few pounds might be water weight. However, I’ve been tracking my exercise and food using LoseIt, and according to that app, I should have lost at least 2 or 3 pounds last week. My clothes feel looser (hurray for less sausage legs) and even though it hasn’t been easy, the quick results have been worth it! I’m hoping that I can stick with the induction phase for at least a month. I do have some challenges coming up – wine and chocolates for the Women’s Club event next Wednesday,  a birthday shindig for a friend next Saturday, more festivities the following weekend. There are plenty of things to get me off track. My plan is that if I’m going to cheat in any way that I have to make up the difference at the gym. I’m going to try hard not to cheat and to stick to a single drink at each event – or have no more than two rum & diet cokes. Or club soda and vodka. Which is disgusting and makes me not want to drink anyway.

So that’s what is up in my world this week. What's up with you?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Before and After

We are nearly done. I am beyond exhausted and hurt all over.

There was a mad rush to get everything done this weekend - getting the porch painted to improve curb appeal, straightening the yard, painting trim in the house, straightening, dusting, sweeping, mopping, shining, staging. You would not believe how filthy the house was - and I feel like we just cleaned it! Constant construction = constant dirt and dust. Jay had to work yesterday, so I busted my ass from the time I got up to the time I crawled into bed. We had hoped to finish the stairs, but at 10 pm last night, I gave up. The steps still needed to be sanded before we stain and poly them and there was no way I had another 2 hours in me. Overall, we spent 51 man hours from Friday through Sunday working on our project. Jay spent 21 hours between Friday and Saturday, I spent 27 hours between Friday and Sunday, and my girlfriend Angela came over and helped us paint for about 3 hours on Saturday.

Why the mad rush? Our house is being appraised today for refinancing. When my dad died, I inherited a substantial sum of money. However, since he wasn't planning on dying anytime soon, the majority of the money was in an IRA. I don't think he knew much about how IRA's work, because the money that he had inherited from my grandparents was all in cash, which he converted to the IRA. Since I wasn't a surviving spouse, nor of retirement age, I took a HUGE hit on taxes, which left me with less than half of the original amount. I won't lie - I spent about half of the remainder on a ring to wear in my dad's memory, furnishing my Odenton apartment, paying the disparity in rent between what I was putting in to make up for my ex not making much money, Ann Taylor clothes for work (and good makeup & skincare products) and took some nice vacations with the ex (which was also mostly on my dime). The rest of the money went to dumpster rental and some emergency repairs with the house, mainly the roof and porch to the tune of $30,000. By the time I met Jay, most of the money was gone - so I had to take out a home equity line of credit for the actual rehab project. And of course aforementioned rehab project ended up taking more time and costing way more than what I took out from the HELOC. So that is the long story short of why we are refinancing. Once the new conventional mortgage is in place, we will be saving almost $500 a month - or more, if the appraiser gives us a better LTV (loan to value).

Add all of this work to the Atkins diet that I started last Wednesday? My body is screaming for more nourishment. I probably should have eaten more this weekend, but we were so busy. The thing that I've noticed about Atkins is that I'm not as hungry, and things with the least number of carbs suddenly tastes ultra sweet. We had green beans on Saturday and they tasted sugary to me. Weird! So that's going pretty well, but I need to force myself to eat more often. Today is day six and I feel pretty shaky this morning. I'm sure it's because I didn't eat enough this weekend and I put my body through hell.

Unfortunately I don't have photos of every room for the before comparison.

So, without further ado... I give you the final comparison (and some in-between) photos:

Not too shabby, eh? :)