October 29, 2012

Frankenstorm: Tracking Sandy

By now, many of you East Coasters are already feeling Sandy's effects.  Flooding, power outages and hurricane-force winds have been hitting the tri-state area for hours now.  I'll admit it, when talk of the hurricane first started, I was skeptical that we'd get hit hard.  Yes, our Caribbean vacation had been cancelled due to Sandy, but I was convinced that the storm would simmer down before it hit the coat.  Nevertheless, while we were grocery shopping on Saturday, we picked up a case of bottled water and some non-perishables.  Knowing our luck, I figured if we had the supplies then we wouldn't end up needing them.  ;)  Even until yesterday when they actually shut down NYC mass transportation, I wasn't too worried. But since this morning when meteorologists began reporting the storm as worse than predicted, I started to get a little nervous.  I've been keeping a watchful eye on Sandy since I woke up and I can tell you right now, I'm not a fan.

According to this side-by-side comparison, Sandy is going to be much worse than Irene:


If you're without a television but have internet connectivity, you can view live coverage from The Weather Channel on YouTube:

The Google Crisis Response Team has set up a site to track the storm.  Details about forecasts, public alerts, traffic conditions, evacuation routes, emergency shelters and more can be found right on one page:

I hope everyone stays safe!!!  Keep tracking the storm, follow instructions from emergency personnel and stay inside!  Good luck to all...

October 28, 2012

Frankenstorm: Preparing for Sandy

"Before anything else, preparation is the key to success."  ~Alexander Graham Bell

In preparation for Sandy's arrival we:
  • Brought in all items from our balconies.  Since we live on the top floor of a high rise apartment building, the wind is especially strong which means that any items left outside could turn into dangerous projectiles.
  • Closed and locked all external doors, and inserted towels into the tracks to pick up any water that may seep in.  We've had issues once or twice with heavy rain filling the tracks of our sliding glass doors, so we plan to keep an eye on them during the storm.
  • Filled our car's gas tank.  It's unlikely they we would/could evacuate by car since the roads surrounding our apartment complex often flood to form what I like to call a moat around our building, but a full gas tank doesn't hurt, just in case.  We also parked our car on the 6th floor of our parking garage in case of flooding.
  • Purchased an additional flashlight {which brings our total to 6 of various sizes}.
  • Checked our candle + match supply = plentiful.
  • Bought a case of bottled water.  {On sale for $3.33, woohoo!}
  • Gathered and bought extra non-perishable foods.  {I'll take any excuse to eat Nutella!}
  • Are keeping our cell phones on their chargers in case the power goes out.

I hope all you readers out there in blogland have your storm supplies ready, too!  Good luck and stay safe!!

October 26, 2012

Caribbean Escape (Almost)

Yesterday morning we awoke at 5am, sleepily got ourselves together, and headed to JFK airport.  We arrived in record time - no traffic at all and we were checked in, through security and at our gate more than 2 hours before our flight was scheduled to depart.  As we sat and waited, in came a flight from Fort Lauderdale, out went another flight to Fort Lauderdale, and as 8:40am approached (our scheduled boarding time), we were oh-so-excited for our long-awaited Caribbean escape to Turks & Caicos.


We've had this trip booked for about 5 months, but I've been dreaming of visiting the islands of Turks & Caicos for about 3 years now!  For the past couple winters, each time the winter chill really sets in, my frantic flight searching begins... which is usually followed by cursing and pouting as I realize I've (yet again) waited too long and the flights are way too expensive.  Well, not this year!  This year, thanks to a bunch of expiring frequent flyer points, Shep and I booked our Turks & Caicos flights back in May!  At the time, I thought it was crazy.  We are not the type of couple to plan so far in advance!  (We didn't even book our honeymoon flights until 2 months before our wedding!)  But our points were expiring, so we went ahead and randomly picked some dates and as the summer came to a close, I was so glad we did.


Despite our advanced planning, thanks to Hurricane Sandy the only Caribbean escape in our lives right now is the soap from Bath & Body Works.  :(  Which, by the way, if you haven't tried it, smells wonderful!


The good news is that we were able to reschedule our trip.  And, of course we're happy to be safe rather than sorry.  Luck is just not on my side when it comes to vacations!!!  A few years ago we went to Aruba, and although Aruba is practically never affected by hurricanes, one hit when we were there.  The whole hotel panicked and closed up the restaurants and pool for a day.  Then, in January 2010 an awful NY winter derailed our flight plans to Barbados, not once, but twice.  We eventually made it.... in March.  ;)

We've waited this long to visit Turks & Caicos.... we're willing to wait another few weeks, and I'm sure the wait will be well worth it!  We just hope that Hurricane Sandy calms down soon!

In the grand scheme of things, our rescheduled trip is only a minor inconvenience.  Luckily, our travel dates are flexible.  There were several people on our flight headed to weddings, including a best man of a wedding!  I feel so terrible for anyone whose wedding had to be cancelled, rescheduled, or held without loved ones in attendance due to the hurricane.  That would really stink.  :(

Did anyone else out there in blog-land suffer from rescheduled or cancelled vacation plans due to the hurricane?  

October 22, 2012

{Un}Real Estate

Have you ever seen photos of a home that made you drool?  I have.  One of my favorite pass times is perusing photos of well-manicured and expansive homes, most of which I know I'll never live in.  Call me crazy, but the more unrealistic the home the more interesting I find it!  {Here's an example I blogged about this summer.}  These homes are FASCINATING to look at, but totally unattainable for average people, so I decided I'd start a series dedicated to "{Un}Real Estate".  This series will be all about eye candy, so apologies in advance for the superficial nature of the posts if housing eye candy isn't your thing.  :)

And without further ado, let's take a peek at this GORGEOUS beach home located in Virgina Beach, designed by Emily Sheipe{Emily's website is the source for all photos below.}  This is a 3-floor, 12 bedroom, 13.5 bathroom, 9,000 sq ft oceanfront home with a 2,000 sq ft deck!  Wowzers.  And if the below pics strike your fancy, check out even more photos of this beautiful home on Siebert Realty's page here.

Thanks for stopping by to drool over {Un}Real Estate with me!

October 16, 2012

Cool Customers

{Disclaimer: This post is very delayed, but better late than never!}

This summer, Shep and I officially became "Cool Customers".  How, you ask?  Let me tell you!...


Our electricity provider, PSE&G, has a program called the Cool Customer Program.  The gist of it is that customers who enroll get a new fancy shmancy programmable thermostat installed free of charge AND a $50 statement credit.  Once you're enrolled, PSE&G has the ability to cycle your air conditioning compressor in order to minimize the impact of high energy demand on the electric system.  This is especially important to them in summer when temperatures soar and ACs roar, because the cycling ability allows them the opportunity to avoid blackouts.

Shep wanted to join the program for the free thermostat (he's been wanting to buy a new one since we moved in!); I liked the idea of $50 worth of free electricity (to help counteract my darling hubby's hobby of turning on, and leaving on, every light in the apartment).  But, the program seemed a little "big brother"ish to me.  I like being in control of my own home's temperature, thank you very much!  Plus, we didn't really need new thermostats; we already had programmable ones!  Shep's curiosity took charge so he called PSE&G and spoke with a service rep, who explained that it would be a rare occurrence (and pretty dire circumstance) for them to actually exercise their ability to cycle the system.  That put Shep at ease, but I still wasn't buying it.  So, I asked around at work and did a few minutes of online research to perform a quick cost/benefit analysis.  Before signing up, I wanted to ensure the pros of the program outweighed any potential cons.  Lucky for me, a couple of colleagues of mine had joined the program the previous year and confirmed that PSE&G had never to date adjusted their AC cycles.  This made me a lot more comfortable, so we took the plunge.  Well, to our delight we received TWO free programmable thermostats (which were installed very quickly and painlessly by a PSE&G representative) and a $100 statement credit, because we have 2 HVAC units in our condo.  Woohoo!  Double the benefits and no additional risk... that's my kind of offer!  ;)  Oh, and as expected, we didn't experience any compressor cycling at all throughout the summer.

In summary, I'd definitely recommend the program to anyone out there considering it!  As far as we can see, there's nothing to lose by trying it out!

Do any readers out there have any experience with a "Cool Customer" program?  I'm curious to hear about other power companies out there that have similar programs, so do share!

{I was not asked or encouraged by PSE&G to write this post; the views are my own and I'm voluntarily sharing them.}

October 14, 2012

Yard Sale!

Last weekend, we had a yard sale at my mom's house.  We originally hoped to have the sale at the beginning or end of summer, but you know what they say about the best paid plans and all.  Having been through it though, it's probably better that we didn't have it sooner because even though it was the first week in October and temperatures were cool the sun was strong and we were hot!!!  I think I would have melted into a puddle sitting out there all day in July or August!

Shep and I have been designating things as "yard sale" for what feels like a year now.  Each time we came across something in our apartment or storage unit that we couldn't find a place for or no longer wanted, we'd yell "YARD SALE!" (similar to how a granny would yell "BINGO!" in a game hall).  It kind of turned into a joke, and we'd giggle every time we designated something to be sold.  We did such a great job of "de-cluttering" our living space that we created a huge pile of items in the extra bedroom of our apartment.  Talk about counterproductive.  ;)  Eventually, we de-cluttered the yard sale staging area by driving multiple car loads of crap yard sale goodies to my mom's house, including a cargo van full of furniture and other crap treasures (huge thanks to my brother who helped out with that task like a rock star!).

Curious what we had for sale?  Here's a sample....

It was scary to see how much STUFF Shep and I had accumulated to sell, especially since we've only been married for 3.5 years, and we live in a condo!  A lot of our overage was due to having too many lamps, for example, after merging homes years ago and never down-sizing properly at the time.  Other items (like all the blue boxes above) were a result of recent upgrades in our new apartment to lighting and bath fixtures.

All in all, it was a productive first yard sale, and we made $231.35!  Not bad for a couple of amateurs!  Because knowledge is power, we created a tip list for any brave souls out there in cyberspace who will one day master your own first yard sale!

Lessons learned:
  • Advertise, advertise, advertise!!!  We actually took it a little light on the advertising since this was our first sale and we didn't want to be overwhelmed.  We also didn't have a need to sell everything at once though.  The Monday before the sale I put an ad on craisglist that included a description of the items I was selling, the time and date of the sale, the location of the sale (we included directions but not a street address for privacy reasons), and some photos of key items.  I also included a note instructing "cash only" and "no early birds".  Saturday morning, I refreshed my ad so it would appear toward the top of the listings and visible to those searching that day.
  • Have change on hand: People will pay for a $5 item with a $50 bill, and will also pay in quarters so it's a necessity to have change and small bills on hand.  Before the yard sale, we stopped at the bank and got approximately thirty $1 bills, several dollars worth of quarters, and about eight to ten $5 bills.  We had some $10 and $20 bills on hand as well, which came in handy to break larger bills without needing to give all our small bills away.  After the sale I had $50 in one dollar bills, which solicited a very intriguing look from the bank teller when I deposited the money.  I just smiled politely and handed the wad of ones over.
  • Price items reasonably:  This was probably the hardest part of the day for us.  Some of the items we were selling were either of great sentimental or monetary worth.  However, those shopping at yard sales are looking for bargains, not memories, so price accordingly if you truly want to sell your stuff!  I think we did fairly well in this category, but there is definitely room for improvement next time.  For example, I had about a dozen glass vases I was trying to sell for $5 each, which I think I'll mark down to $3 next time around.  One pair of grumpy old garage sale ladies actually uttered the phrase "YEESH!" while looking at some of our items.  I think at the time they were looking either at purses that I was trying to sell for $5 or a perfectly working and almost new cordless vacuum cleaner for $15, I can't remember.  But, both are pretty good prices if you ask me, so I'm not sure what they were "yeeshing" about!  I think they were professional pickers and generally grumpy, so I tried not to take it personally.  A gentleman proclaimed to Shep that we would "never sell anything at that price!" (that price being $3 for a hardcover book in excellent condition), so Shep invited the man to make an offer.  The man offered $2 and a sale was made.  Flexibility is key!
  • Staging is important:  Think of your yard sale as a department store -- group similar items together, arrange items in an attractive way, and ensure all items can be easily seen.  One thing we're going to do next time is rent or borrow a rack, to more easily display the many pieces of clothing we want to sell.  I managed to sell a couple shirts and a few hats this time around, which were folded nicely and placed in bins, but I think a clothing rack is going to make a huge difference next time.
  • Be ready for early birds:  We woke up super early and made it to my mom's house in record time; however, the items took a bit longer to pull out, set up and price that we predicted (rookie mistake) and one or two shoppers arrived before the official start time of the yard sale.  Even though I specified "no early birds!" in my craigslist ad, some folks arrived early so be prepared!
  • Have a plan for after the sale:  In this case, ours was to shove everything back into my mom's garage at the end of the day, where it will sit until our next yard sale in the spring!  It's hard to predict what will sell, so be sure you're not stuck with a bunch of stuff you have no room for when the day is done.  If you absolutely must get rid of all items by the end of the sale, start marking prices down in the afternoon and have transportation or help (or both!) on standby to help haul the items away to a local charity or drop-off location.  Many charities will accept used clothing, furniture, housewares, but some have strict rules so make sure you research ahead of time!
  • Buddy up:  It's good to pair up with at least one other adult.  At times, there were nearly a dozen people simultaneously perusing the items, asking questions, asking to pay, etc.  At other times, there were no guests, so we took turns going inside to cool off or grab a bite to eat.  I wouldn't advise holding a sale on your own -- it's a lot easier, and more fun, to share the responsibilities!
So there you have it, folks... Yard Sale 101 as told by Nicole & Shep.  :)  Any readers out there have any great advice to share?  We'd love to hear it!