For all of the traveling and sight-seeing we did before we moved to Los Angeles, you’d think we’d have ventured outside our little bubble of a city and explored the beaches, landscapes and sights in our new home state. Better late than never, right? We finally made a day trip to somewhere not in a 10-mile radius of our apartment and drove an hour south to Laguna Beach.
Laguna came highly recommended (5 stars, in fact) from our friend in Hollywood, who has been super helpful in suggesting awesome restaurants and things to do in SoCal. So on Sunday, we took off around 11 AM, breezed along the freeways listening to some Bob Marley, Edgar Winter and Coldplay and found ourselves in a beautiful and quaint little beach town with half the amount of tourists as Santa Monica. It was charming, fun, hip and we wanted to move there immediately.
We arrived just after 12 PM and grabbed lunch at a sweet cafe called Goko Cafe & Deli. Not surprisingly, it was flanked by three surf shops! Only in California… Ky got the Veggie Burrito and I got the Chicken Gyro and both were awesome. We took the food to go and made our way to The Aliso Beach, a beautifully quiet stretch of beach that ended with a weathered rock formation that stretched out across the sand and into the water.
Every time the big waves collided with the rocks, it sprayed a refreshingly light mist up onto the sand. We walked down to where the ocean met the land and let the waves of the Pacific rush over our feet for the very first time – and it was FREEZING!
We spent a solid two hours laying in the sand and reading in the warm May sun. IT WAS BLISS.
We left the beach around 2:30 PM in order to get to our 3:28 PM tee-time at the Aliso Canyon Golf Course and Resort. This place is siiiiiiick! The course and resort are located inside the Aliso Canyon, which has amazing views. Scenery-wise, this was definitely the coolest course I’ve ever played at. The course is a pretty easy, 9 hole, par 4 that had some fast greens and very lush fairways. We were paired with two great guys, Mike and Max, who only added to the enjoyment of our round. I finished the round 9 over par with four pars, 2 bogeys, 2 double bogeys and a triple bogey, but overall I think I played well.
We left the course around 6 PM and arrived back in Hollywood shortly after 7. I think it’s safe to say that we will definitely be revisiting Laguna again as soon as possible.
We celebrated three years together the first week of May. We never chose a specific date, or officially celebrated an anniversary, but this year we really felt like we needed to acknowledge this milestone in our lives.
Austin asked me out on a date for Friday, May 4. He wouldn’t tell me what we were doing or where we were going, despite my sneaky attempts to find out (“So…where did you say we were going on Friday?” “What was the name of that place you’re taking me to?”) Come Friday evening, I was so happy to have waited for the surprise.
After he surprised me at work with a beautiful vase and gorgeous flowers, we started the evening by heading down the street to The Cat & Fiddle restaurant and bar on Sunset Boulevard. I love this place, if only for the amazingly cool courtyard outside that’s covered with trees and lights and bistro tables. During a round of dirty martinis, Austin pulled out an envelope and handed it to me. And inside was….
We were going to the show in less than an hour!
From the moment Coldplay opened with a burst of fireworks, to the very last song (“Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”) concluded with another barrage of fireworks bursting from behind the Hollywood Bowl, we agreed it was the best show we had ever seen. Every one in the audience was given a bracelet, either white, pink, orange, green or blue, to wear as part of the show and every bracelet lit up and began flashing during certain songs. It was incredible to witness this massive sea of lights, moving to the music.
The only picture at the show we managed to get was a dark, grainy photo of us in front of the Bowl stage. It looks like an old, vintage shot, but really we just didn’t have a flash.
I loved nearly every one of the 21 songs they played, but one of the highlights was Chris Martin’s tribute to the late Adam Yauch:
What an amazing start to a fantastic and special weekend. Saturday brought Cinco de Mayo celebrations, which included take-out from El Compadres in Hollywood (pretty much the best Mexican food we’ve had yet) and homemade mojitos with a few friends. Sunday was reserved for a beach and golf day…post soon to follow…
Money can be a very sensitive topic. It is called personal finance after all. But there is something empowering about sharing your financial mistakes and milestones with others because, really, there is no shame in making a poor decision about money. It happens. My guess is that nearly everyone has made at least one financial decision they regret in his or her lifetime.
Over the last two years, I have become very open to the idea of sharing my story, experiences and goals with others. If at all possible, I want to help other people to avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made and get on track to becoming financially organized and successful. I wouldn’t consider myself a financial wiz or anything, but I’m certainly savvier with money than I was just a few short years ago.
Money Mistake #1
I am 23 years old and only very recently did I actually start to SAVE my money. I started babysitting when I was 10 and was hired at a restaurant upon turning 16. During my teenage years, making money meant instant gratification for me, whether it was buying my first car, going out to dinner or a movie with friends or shopping online. I had a basic checking account, but never did I think to put money away into a savings account to be left untouched.
Money Mistake #2
When I went away to college, I had trouble finding a part-time job that would enable me to keep up with my course load. I ended up finding seasonal work at a restaurant and then a clothing store, but neither provided me with very much of an income. The money I did make was put toward food, textbooks and sometimes take-out dinner during stressful exams. I never even thought about trying to put what little money I was making toward paying off the interest that was rapidly accruing on my student loans. To be honest, in the first two years of college, I barely thought about the fact that I had loans. Having to repay those seemed so far away that it wasn’t really important. I’m (literally) paying for this now, by having accumulated so much interest.
Money Mistake #3
Then I did a really silly thing and took out a credit card in my name to purchase an expensive laptop for school. I knew that I would need to make monthly payments, but my balance skyrocketed because I was sitting on about $3,000 worth of debt after a year of having the card. I also charged monthly expenses to this when I was out of money (this makes me cringe just thinking about it.) I was EXTREMELY LUCKY to get a refund check in my junior year of college and wise to pay off my entire balance and then cancel the card.
Money Success! #1
It wasn’t until I was in my senior year of college that I actually began to put money aside in a savings. I was offered a paid job at school that helped me earn a steady income while working toward my journalism degree. Most of the money went to groceries, gas for my car and a few extras here and there, but I managed to have a steady $100-$200 in a savings account just for emergencies.
When I graduated, I left with one bachelors degree, $65,000 in student loan debt and zero job offers. Luckily, I found a summer job to keep me afloat, and was then hired full-time with benefits, which I was very fortunate to find. At that point, Austin and I had already moved in together and we were planning to move to California within a year – something that required a huge savings account if we were going to be able to afford it. This meant getting serious about my finances and dedicating myself to setting aside money each week from my paycheck that I would not touch.
Money Success! #2
I started to track my expenses and compare this total with my take-home pay. I finally understood the importance of living within your means, and consciously thinking about where my money was being spent. When we set a goal of saving $10,000 in one year, we started to track our savings in a Google document, and saving became a really good feeling as we watched our balance increase week after week.
Money Success! #3
Six months after graduation, my loans were entering repayment and they were hanging over my head like a swinging pendulum. I hadn’t even taken a look at what I owed to each lender, nor did I know what my monthly payments were going to be. But I finally told myself that enough was enough and I buckled down one Saturday afternoon and signed up on each lender’s website to receive my statements and payment confirmations electronically and started another Google doc to help me keep track of my balances, interest rates, payment amounts, and to see my progress in paying down my loans.
I am proud to say that I am on track to paying off my loans WAY sooner than 25 years from now. I pay the minimum balance on each of my four loans every month and sometimes more if I can afford it.
A Small Triumph
The other day while updating my loan spreadsheet, I noticed that two of my loans (the biggest and the smallest) were both close to flipping…meaning that my $22,108 loan is soon going to be in the $21,000’s and my $5,297 loan will soon have a pretty manageable “4” in front of it. This may not seem very encouraging at all, but to me it means progress; my loans are decreasing and that is a huge motivator to keep going.
My financial transformation was mainly inspired by several important and influential websites/blogs that I found while researching about debt, student loans, and personal finances. Hopefully one or more of these sites will offer some useful ideas, experiences, information and advice if you’re thinking about making some changes in your personal money habits:
Would you look at that? It’s been exactly four months since we’ve posted on here. I know that’s not really good form for a blogger and I’ve probably left our readers in the dark, wondering what the heck Austin and I have been doing since January. In all honesty though, I think we really needed that time to figure out what we were doing in our new home of Los Angeles and try to make sense of our new lives. I don’t ever remember thinking this was going to be easy by any means; I guess I just didn’t count on it taking us this long to feel good about this life-changing decision.
So let’s recap, since it’s been so long! The first three months after we moved, things were looking pretty bleak (or at least they were to us). We had found an apartment, but finding work was another story. The jobs we managed to secure early on where infrequent and underpaying and Austin and I ended up having a very real discussion about whether or not we would be able to afford to stay in L.A. for very much longer.
By the end of January, we both had found full-time work that helped restore our energy and faith that we could indeed make it here. We focused on the positives in our lives and began to express our gratitude instead of sweating the small stuff. We started to climb out of that bottomless hole of fear and doubt and finally we can truly enjoy the place we’re in and everything it has to offer. I started volunteering with a great local animal rescue organization that coordinates dog adoption events and Austin found a pretty awesome driving range and golf course (one of his most favorite things) close by.
We’ve also found some really great things in and around Los Angeles that we just love: Runyon Canyon hiking and yoga, Black Market Yoga in Hollywood, Santa Monica and the Pier for a fun, beachy & touristy attraction, and some incredible, will-leave-you-speechless hot springs in Ojai, CA. On the weekends, we love to hike, bike and just enjoy the (almost) perpetual sunshine.
A friend gave us a travel list of places we need to visit in Southern California and we’re slowly crossing some of them off our list. This summer, we hope to visit Santa Barbara and San Diego for the first time and make a return weekend trip to Las Vegas. A little bit closer to us we have Laguna Beach, Malibu and Venice Beach to explore. We’re also starting up a savings fund again, so we can do a big travel adventure trip in the next couple of years (a week in Hawaii or a trip to Europe perhaps).
These last few months have been tough, but we’ve learned so much. We’re continuing to expand daily on our experiences, love and gratitude, and most importantly, our perspective.
We finally made it to the beach to see the Pacific Ocean for the first time on New Year’s Day. The ocean refreshes me, and after one long month peppered with difficult days, all I wanted was a relaxing afternoon on the beach, with a good book in hand.
In fact, I just started a good book by Ken Robinson, Ph.D., called “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.” I bought it after seeing his TED talks and connected with nearly everything he spoke about, which included his views on human intelligence and creativity, serious problems with our education systems and how most of us, as adults, have lost the ability to think and create freely because we have been “educated out of our creativity.”
What I’m most interested in is his idea that every person has a passion, something they innately excel at and love to do. I have some ideas of what this could mean for me, but I’m still looking. For 2012, my goal is to remain open and stay positive, accept whatever comes my way with grace and turn any negative experiences into opportunities to learn and grow. For all of you reading this, I wish you all of the peace, joy and love that this year can bring.
Happy 25th Birthday to Austin!
As you may have noticed, I took a hiatus from blogging for the past month, for the sole reason that I had no idea of what to write. I wasn’t inspired by the past month’s events, or even very hopeful for the next 30 days. If I’m being totally honest, I’ve been feeling pretty blue since the middle of November.
The end of December is two months since we moved here. Things have been somewhere in the middle of good and bad. We’ve made new friends and grown closer with old ones. We’ve discovered beautiful places that surround us and have felt the warm sun all throughout December. We’ve found part-time work, however unsteady and poor-paying it may be. Basically, we’ve been trying to make things work.
But we’ve also spent a lot of our savings – necessarily, of course, but still it’s difficult to see a year’s hard work and dedication dwindle down. What’s good: We found an apartment, subscribed to internet service, bought some furniture on Craigslist and went on grocery store runs to fill up our fridge and cupboards. What’s not so good: we have yet to find any promising job leads, which is pretty much the main reason we moved here in the first place. We’ve had at least 10 interviews between the two of us that have yielded nothing. And I’ve started to feel incredibly homesick and a little bit stifled and lost in a big city.
For months, I’ve been mentally and emotionally preparing myself for the holidays in Los Angeles, away from home. I knew I would feel a mix of emotions because Christmas has always been a really meaningful time for me, and to spend it in an unfamiliar place, in a city that barely gets cold enough for it to snow, would be weird. And it was.
Holidays aside, the problem is I don’t feel much of a connection to this place. I don’t feel grounded or stable and it feels like I’m on an endless, strange vacation, more than ready to go back home and resume my normal life. In the past few years, I’ve realized that I have very strong attachments to places, mainly because they are scenes where my memories are played over and over again, memories I’ve made with the people I love. No doubt, we’ve made some great memories out here so far and I am with my love, Austin, and our friends who I love dearly. But if I left this place tomorrow, I doubt I’d feel much attachment to it afterwards.
Austin and I have been riding the waves of each other’s disappointment, frustration, anxiety and fear, picking the other back up from mind-eating negative thoughts and moving forward. It’s all we can do for now. We are putting ourselves out there, working hard to get interviews, and searching for that sliver of an opportunity that puts us where we both need to be. For now, the road is certainly rocky, but it’s my sincere hope that it will smooth out up ahead.
We’ve been in Hollywood for three weeks!
I’ve definitely been slacking on keeping our blog updated ever since we arrived. It’s literally been a whirlwind; so much has changed so fast and we accomplished so much, and we’re still working on settling in. Here’s a quick recap of our last day on the road and our first few days in California….
Our last stop on the road trip was Las Vegas, which was absolutely incredible. We were able to snag a room at the Bellagio hotel (the one with the famous fountains!) and from the moment we stepped foot in the lobby we knew it was going to be a spectacular time. Our room was exquisite and the view of the fountains was a dream. We didn’t even have to leave the Bellagio grounds! We played roulette before dinner and ate on the balcony of Todd English’s Olives, overlooking what else but those fountains!
In the morning, we had coffee and breakfast in the cafe overlooking the pools and took way too many complimentary jelly preserves for the road. We milked our room for all it was worth and checked out right at 11:00 a.m. What an incredible and relaxing end to our journey.
It took under four hours to get to Los Angeles from Vegas. We were tired, yet so energized with the excitement of, “We made it!” And boy, did we need that excitement for our arrival. As we were rolling into Hollywood at 5:30 p.m., our friends were getting ready for Halloween night, where they shut down Santa Monica Boulevard and tens of thousands of people pour into the streets to celebrate. We drove less than a mile up the street to the costume store on Hollywood Boulevard to find something last-minute and joined the festivities. Needless to say, we will never forget the fact that we dove head-first into Hollywood from the moment we got here – and we haven’t stopped since!
We stayed with our amazing and gracious friends for about a week and a half until we found an apartment…on the same street as them! We are within walking distance to the grocery store, restaurants, shops, farmer’s markets, the library, Hollywood Boulevard and several parks. Our apartment building is pretty small with only three floors, but boasts a sweet rooftop with a heated jacuzzi. All in all, we lucked out in many ways, and are very grateful for our experiences thus far.
Right now, Austin and I are both working to find full-time employment. We’ve had a few interviews and will hopefully be able to find one or multiple flexible jobs that allow us to do what we want to do and enjoy living in this area as much as we can.
As the holidays near, we miss our family and friends back home dearly and it’s very strange to not wake up to a snowfall or feel the chill in the heart of a New England autumn descending into winter. Although things are going to be very different this year, we feel blessed for everything we’ve been able to do and for all of the amazing people around as at the moment.
Peace & love.
On our second to last day on the road, we headed west and then north from Santa Fe to the Grand Canyon. We drove through most of the day and early afternoon, finally embarking on a quiet and winding back road that wove through rural northern Arizona, chasing the sinking sun that slowly melted beyond the dark outlines of the canyons.
At 6:30 p.m., the Mather Campground on the South Rim was already enveloped in darkness, so we set up our tent and fire by lamplight. This time around, there were no gates to be locked; the Grand Canyon is open 24/7/365, with people coming and going at all hours of the day and night. A minute away from our campsite there was a short road that led to a huge general/grocery store and a trading post shop and cafe.
Our campfire was wildly successful and burned late into the night. We drank wine and beer and made s’mores with peppermint patties for chocolate. Despite the roaring flames from the fire, when we looked up into the sky, there were more stars than we thought ever existed and each one shone brighter than the next. Several carloads of new campers arrived after us, a comforting contrast to the desolate emptiness of Lake Norman campground in North Carolina.
On Sunday morning, we packed up our site early and drove a few minutes toward one of the overlooks to the canyons. The photos simply don’t do the landscape justice, but they give you an idea of just how vast and beautiful the Grand Canyon truly is:
We left the Grand Canyon with a sense of awe, feeling blessed for experiencing something so exceedingly beautiful. When you see a part of the Earth, a part of nature, that literally takes your breath, you feel small yet inspired at the same time: small for being so close to something so vast and immense; inspired to become as beautiful as what you’ve seen.
Our journey continued on.