Unpopular Opinion: Overplanning Your Vacation Will Make It Less Stressful


You’re in a new-to-you city and your stomach is growling. The tour you went on finished a bit later than anticipated, and your schedule for the day has been shifted. With not much to go by, you might slip into a tourist trap or shell out your hard-earned cash for a snack that hardly makes an impression. This scenario, however, is totally avoidable—if only you planned things differently.

A recent piece in The New York Times, written by Geoffrey Morrison, disagrees. Morrison’s premise, rather, is the exact opposite: He stipulates that overplanning is what’s making your vacations more stressful than necessary. I am here to suggest otherwise. See, it’s not about planning more—it’s about planning differently.

The best way to effectively plan a vacation is to do so in a way that allows just enough flexibility but doesn’t leave you with empty pockets of time that could otherwise be used to pop into that concept shop you’ve been wanting to check out, or grabbing a gelato from that place your coworker recommended. The secret is in your Google Drive.

That is, it’s in the Google spreadsheets, docs, and, most important of all, maps that you create to document your day-by-day vacation plan, your must-see spots, and every little thing that you hope to accomplish on your trip. It’s worth it, and it’s not as intimidating a process as it sounds, I promise.

Map it out

Google maps are the most invaluable things to have when you’re traveling, and that extends far beyond using the maps purely for directional guidance. When I’m traveling, I make a Google map of my destination, and from there, I make color-coded pins of my lodging and the museums, sight-seeing spots, coffee shops, stores, and restaurants that I want to visit. In each, I write a short sentence about what the spot is and why I marked it (it’s very easy to forget which museum had that cool new exhibition and which coffee shop is best known for its cinnamon buns, after all). Don’t feel pressured to get too detailed—we’ll get into that later.

The reason why the map is so crucial is because it allows you to navigate your destination in a way that maximizes your time. When you can visualize where things are clustered, you can better figure out a plan for your day, and when hunger strikes or you find yourself with a little extra time on your hands, you can actually make the most of it: Just open up your map and find something interesting nearby!

Create your own guidebook

Okay, now comes the detail work: If you’re anything like me, at least half the fun of traveling is eating. With plenty of research, it’s easy enough to come up with a list of restaurants that pique your interest. It’s in your own best interest to organize your findings in a way that makes things simple: in a color-coded Google doc that serves as your own personal guidebook.

Your map will help you figure out where to go; your guidebook will tell you what to do, eat, or see when you get there. Found some restaurants off a travel guide? Take note of any dishes it recommended. Saw a Yelp review that recommended a specific route through a museum? Write that down! The little things are what make vacations feel special; after all, you should take any tips you can get.

Slot things in an itinerary

Now that you’ve done your homework, you’ll be far better equipped to map out your day. Make a master Google doc itinerary for everyone on your trip that includes all your flight and hotel info (this will save you plenty of headaches) and a general outline of what you’d like to do each day.

Itineraries make it easy to figure out what shape your day will take, but they are by no means restrictive, as long as you take them with a grain of salt. At the very least, they’ll help you start each day with everyone on the same foot—and if you choose to change an activity or check out a different restaurant, so be it. Even chronic overplanners can appreciate a bit of flexibility. After all, they’re prepared for anything.

Originally posted by Written by Rebecca Deczynski, photo courtesy of Grzywinski and Ponz.

Just Because It’s Called Wallpaper Doesn’t Mean It Can’t Go on Your Ceilings


Look up: What you see is probably more boring than it deserves to be. Chances are your ceiling is plain and all white, or, if you’re a bit more adventurous, maybe it’s a solid color—but it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, we’re convinced you should put wallpaper on your ceiling.

Maybe you’re intimidated by the prospect of pattern right above you or you’re not sure if a bit of upside down florals is quite right for your space—fair enough! That’s why we’ve gathered plenty of inspiration to help you figure out not only what kind of wallpaper your heart desires, but also how to make it flow with the rest of your interior. After all, this look isn’t just reserved for the maximalists among us.

Whether you go crazy for floral print (groundbreaking, right?) or you want to look into some subtler options, we’ve got your back. Virtually any space can look even cooler with some wallpaper on the ceiling. You might even feel compelled to add it to every single room.

If you like things simple…with a twist

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If this Nashville office didn’t feature the bright pink floral wallpaper that makes it so special, it would be a pretty toned-down interior. All-white shelving and cabinets present a blank canvas, so you can truly go all out on a definitively loud wallpaper. If you’re adding this wallpaper in a kitchen, make sure your tile or countertop doesn’t compete with the pattern.

If you’re all about a retro vibe

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There’s something timelessly cool about a banana leaf wallpaper, but you don’t have to apply it for wall-to-wall coverage. In this entryway by Crystal Sinclair, it brightens up a boho-minimalist design and makes the space look even bigger. Consider this proof that large-scale patterns fare well in small spaces.


If you live for the drama

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There’s no need to tone down the rest of your space if you want to add a print to your ceilings, as artist Angela Chrusciaki Blehm proves in her Georgia home. Ultra-simple dash wallpaper looks coy paired with lipstick-red walls. Since this living room is rife with plenty of dramatic colors, a toned-down, black-and-white ceiling makes sense. It also ties together the graphic elements that fill the space.

If you like a gilded touch

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1810-13 081810-13 Charlotte Dining Room RemodelOctober 25, 2018 © 2018 / Meagan LarsenPHOTO BY MEAGAN LARSEN PHOTOGRAPHY

Business on the bottom, party on top: That’s how we feel about this interior by Bohemian Bungalow Design. Shades of gray (on the walls and upholstery) make for a pretty neutral space, but graphic, golden wallpaper and a contemporary lighting fixture are this room’s literal crowning glory. Consider this an easy way to amp things up in a low-key space.

If you’re a big Wes Anderson fan

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This living room by Corey Damen Jenkens looks like it’s straight out of The Royal Tenenbaums.A relatively simple color palette of pink and green appears even richer when several hues within that palette are represented. This small-scale floral wallpaper truly brings everything together: the light pink walls, the dark green sofa, and the watermelon pink accents.

If you’re intent on creating a soothing oasis

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Minimalists can have patterned ceilings, too! Rebel Walls shows here that its grayscale cloud-and-cherub wallpaper adds much-needed dimension to an otherwise all-neutral room. You don’t have to overthink this one.

If you’re not afraid of a little allover pattern

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GB, London, Apartment Filippo, Architekten: SAF Studio Alexander Fehre, Fertigstellung: 2015,mention of copyright, complimentary copy, FUER WERBENUTZUNG RUECKSPRACHE ERFORDERLICH!/ PERMISSION REQUIRED FOR ADVERTISING!COURTESY OF STUDIO ALEXANDER FEHRE

Hey, just because we think you should apply wallpaper to your ceiling doesn’t mean we think that’s the only place where you should do so. Alexander Fehre shows that wallpaper can be used to make your favorite nook even cozier when it’s applied to walls and ceiling. This technique is best done with a relatively simple print—and it doesn’t hurt to throw an accent color into the mix.

Originally posted by Written by Rebecca Deczynski.

The Benefits of a 20% Down Payment


If you are in the market to buy a home this year, you may be confused about how much money you need to come up with for your down payment. Many people you talk to will tell you that you need to save 20% or you won’t be able to secure a mortgage.

The truth is that there are many programs available that let you put down as little as 3%. Those who have served our country could qualify for a Veterans Affairs Home Loan (VA) without needing a down payment.

These programs have cut the savings time that many families would need to compile a large down payment from five or more years down to a year or two. This allows them to start building family wealth sooner.

So then, why do so many people believe that they need a 20% down payment to buy a home? There has to be a reason! Today, we want to talk about four reasons why putting 20% down is a good plan, if you can afford it.

1. Your interest rate will be lower.

Putting down a 20% down payment vs. a 3-5% down payment shows your lender/bank that you are more financially stable, thus a good credit risk. The more confident your bank is in your credit score and your ability to pay your loan, the lower the rate they will be willing to give you.

2. You’ll end up paying less for your home.

The bigger your down payment, the lower your loan amount will be for your mortgage. If you are able to pay 20% of the cost of your new home at the start of the transaction, you will only pay interest on the remaining 80%. If you put down a 5% down payment, the extra 15% on your loan will accrue interest and end up costing you more in the long run!

3. Your offer will stand out in a competitive market!

In a market where many buyers are competing for the same home, sellers like to see offers come in with 20% or larger down payments. The seller gains the same confidence that the bank did above. You are seen as a stronger buyer whose financing is more likely to be approved. Therefore, the deal will be more likely to go through!

4. You won’t have to pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

Simply put, PMI is “an insurance policy that protects the lender if you are unable to pay your mortgage. It’s a monthly fee, rolled into your mortgage payment, that is required for all conforming, conventional loans that have down payments less than 20%.”

As we mentioned earlier, when you put down less than 20% to buy a home, your lender/bank will see your loan as having more risk. PMI helps them recover their investment in you if you are unable to pay your loan. This insurance is not required if you are able to put down 20% or more.

Many times, home sellers looking to move up to a larger or more expensive home are able to take the equity they earn from the sale of their house to put down 20% on their next home.

If you are looking to buy your first home, you will have to weigh the benefits of saving a 20% down payment vs. the time and cost of continuing to rent while you save that amount.

Bottom Line

If your plan for your future includes buying a home and you’re already saving for your down payment, let’s get together to help you decide what down payment size best fits with your long-term plan!

2 Trends Helping Keep Housing Affordable


Two positive trends have started to emerge that impact the 2019 Spring Housing Market. Mortgage interest rates for a 30-year fixed rate loan have dropped to new lows, right as reports show that wages have increased at their highest rate in decades!

These two factors have helped keep housing affordable despite low supply of houses for sale driving up prices. First American’s Chief Economist, Mark Fleming, explains the impact,

“Ongoing supply shortages remain the main driver of the performance gap as the housing market continues to face an inventory impasse – you can’t buy what’s not for sale.

 However, an unexpected affordability surge, driven primarily by lower-than-anticipated mortgage rates, rising wages and favorable demographics, has boosted housing demand.”

Mortgage interest rates had been on the rise for most of 2018 before reaching their peak in November at 4.94%. According to Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey, interest rates last week came in at 4.20%.

Average hourly earnings grew at an annual rate of 3.2% in March, up substantially from the 2.3% average pace seen over the last 10 years.

These two factors contributed nearly $6,000 worth of additional house-buying power for median households from February to March 2019, according to First American’sresearch. Fleming is positive about the prolonged impact of lower rates and higher wages.

“We expect rising wages and lower mortgage rates to continue through the spring, boosting housing demand and spurring home sales.”

Bottom Line

Low mortgage interest rates have kept housing affordable throughout the country. If you plan on purchasing a home this year, act now while rates are still low!

 Originally posted by Keeping Current Matters, Inc.  

The Magic of Estate Sales

Estate Sale

We’re in a difficult moment for stuff. It’s become almost retro to admit you feel something for the buildup of quotidien objects that clutter your life. Thanks to the pop psychology of reality shows and self-help books, a moral hierarchy has emerged in relation to material possessions: It goes from hoarders, with their storage spaces crammed full of sadness, all the way up to minimalists, with their Buddhist non-attachment to anything that can’t be digitized. Most of us are between these two extremes, somehow with more stuff than we think we should have and also less than we find ourselves coveting. This is the true appeal of Marie Kondo’s lofty promises about tidying: “Out with the old” is a tacit permission slip for “in with the new.”

I’m not anti-Kondo, but you can put me down as a firm skeptic. I believe that the physical things you collect as you move through your life—even those that don’t make your stomach flip with joy—add up to something more than their individual utility or aesthetic appeal or heirloom potential. They aren’t just things, they’re your things. And if you remove yourself from the picture, the stuff you surround yourself with tells a story about you. It is a physical autobiography you write by living.

Which is why I love estate sales. The estate sale, unlike its close relative the yard sale, is not a selective culling of possessions. It’s a going-out-of-business event for one person’s life. “Full House Sale—60 Years accumulation,” boasts a local listing on A yard sale gives you access to the items that someone has decided don’t spark joy or that have gathered dust too long in the bottom of a closet. A thrift store lets you pick through items that are divorced from context clues about the person who gave them up. When you walk through an estate sale, though, you’re perusing the stuff that was integral to a stranger’s daily life. The mugs they drank coffee from every morning in this kitchen. The chairs they pushed into the soft sand of the beach every summer. The books they read repeatedly, and the books they kept on these shelves because they always meant to read them but never got around to it. The framed prints that faded based on how the sun hit them every afternoon in this den.

To walk through an estate sale and finger the wares—as I’ve been doing regularly since I was a teenager—is to commune with the departed. If you’re paying attention, you can put together a story about who they were.

You often enter an estate sale through the garage. This makes sense, because a garage is a liminal space between the indoors and outdoors, the least personal place to start. You peruse tables of grimy tools. Boxes of holiday decorations. Some dusty camping equipment. Gardening implements. Maybe a few plants. But things get more interesting quickly. Through the back door that this home’s residents probably used every single day, you enter the kitchen to find the contents of the cupboards piled atop the counters where they prepared thousands of dinners. Deeper, into the living room and the bedroom, you can sometimes even see the imprint their butts made on the sofa or the bed. In the bathroom, the unused toothpaste they bought in bulk. All the while, you’re building a narrative of who this person was, until you exit through the garage again. The jewelry and silver is usually on a table near the checkout, removed from its longtime context on top of the dresser or in the dining room hutch. It’s okay to skip it: The most financially valuable things are usually the least interesting.

And then, depending on the sticker price, you can approach the till and purchase a piece of this person’s story to bring into your own home, where it will become a part of the quiet narrative you are writing just by living. The tiny green enamel pots that hold the plants that line your windowsill. The electric-blue casserole dish you use to serve your friends at your 37th birthday brunch. The thick cotton napkins you dab at the side of your mouth while slurping soup in front of the television.

Do these things spark joy? Is the mundane supposed to spark joy?

Somehow, I don’t think that’s the point.

I find many estate sales thanks to an email list I subscribed to years ago at the urging of my coworker Zak. The list is run by Cynthia Abernethy, the so-called estate-sale queen of the San Gabriel Valley, who oversees the emptying of about 40 houses per year in Pasadena and its surrounding wealthy enclaves northeast of Los Angeles. She got into the business when her mother, who was a real estate agent, found herself without many good estate-sale companies to refer her clients to.

“I try to avoid having too much stuff in my house myself. I don’t like clutter,” Cynthia told me when I called her up late last year. “I understand that our society is driven to spend money. And most all new items are junk, made in China, or bad quality. Anything new you buy is basically disposable. People are wise to go to estate sales and try to find something a little older, back when they still made quality things.”

I do like quality things. But I like snooping around strangers’ houses even more. Last year I went to a Cynthia sale in Pasadena with my friend Sarah. In typical fashion, we entered through the garage, which had boxes of Christmas stuff but also wrapping paper with menorahs and stars of David printed on it. An interfaith marriage, perhaps? The kitchen had the usual jumble of pans and glasses. The bedroom had three closets packed with menswear—extra-long and -large button-up shirts in every imaginable pattern. This guy had been tall and unafraid to wear extremely loud prints. And in another closet, boxes and boxes of shoes, each with a description written in Sharpie on the end. “Taupe loafers.” “Black oxfords.” A single sequined cocktail dress hung on one of the doors.

We didn’t see any other women’s clothing—maybe the wife had died years earlier?—but I scooped up most of the collection of men’s pocket squares in green and black geometric patterns and bright-red solid silks, all in impeccable condition.

Next to the bed was a box of items cleared from the nightstand. It included The Gay Pillow Book and embroidered matching webbed belts: one that said “Stanley Stanley Stanley” and one that said “Joe Joe Joe.” Aha! So our clothes horse—Joe or Stanley—was a gay man. In the bathroom, among the beard trimmer and jumble of prescription sunglasses on the countertop, sat a large, ancient bottle of lube.

“In my will, there will be express instructions for my nieces and nephews to remove auntie’s sexy trove before the estate sale,” Sarah texted me later, reflecting on this bathroom tableau.

We moved on, peering at what was very likely expensive crystal in the dining room cabinets and some framed theater posters on the walls. When we got to the den, which was ringed with bookshelves, we noticed an abundance of old-Hollywood biographies, art books, Methodist texts, and a book about closeted gay men that was stored—you can’t make this up—on a shelf in a closet. The bar had some incredible glassware. I pictured myself as a dinner guest of Joe and Stanley’s, enjoying a cocktail in this cozy room and having a spirited conversation about Katherine Hepburn.

Then, in a walkway between the dining room and living room, I noticed a large family portrait, probably from the ’80s, of a man, a woman, and their young son. It was on the floor, leaning against the wall. Another piece of his story clicked into place: He had been married to a woman and came out later in life. I wondered if the portrait was sitting there because he was estranged from the son and ex-wife. It seemed like the kind of thing you wouldn’t leave behind if your relationship was good.

Some houses have a pall of protracted illness or old age, a mood of slow deterioration. You swear sometimes that you can feel the loneliness of former inhabitants, and then you find a new-ish baby crib tucked away and realize this person had grandkids that came to visit regularly. Maybe they weren’t lonely at all. Maybe you’re just projecting. Usually, you never find out. Which is why estate sales are the perfect hobby for people who like to make up stories.

But on a bookcase in the hallway, I found the holy grail of estate-sale snooping, the thing you never find: a stack of booklets from the memorial service, which contained a full biography of the deceased. Joe had died of cancer after decades of working in college administration. He was married to a woman for 30 years—and often created gowns for her, as he was also a hobbyist fashion designer—until he came out and met the man who would be his partner for the rest of his life. Stanley had also been married to a woman and had children from that relationship. “They both have loving relationships with their former wives and children, which enrich their lives,” the memorial booklet explained in the present tense of the still-grieving.

 I tucked one of the booklets into my bag and headed back through the garage to the checkout table with a set of rusty-red cloth napkins, the pocket squares, and an oversized button-up shirt in my arms. Sarah purchased an apron with the body of a naked man printed on it.

A few weeks later, I thought of Joe when I tied one of his silk squares around my neck. I decided to Google him. And I hit gold: Stanley had written a memoir titled My Two Wives and Three Husbands: A True Love Story. This allowed me to do something I’d never done after an estate sale: Fact-check the story I’d told myself about the people who once lived there. From Stanley’s book, I learned that he and Joe met when they were both approaching retirement age, after Stanley placed a personal ad in the Los Angeles Times: “Handsome silver fox seeks mature man for meaningful relationship. Theatre, tennis, travel.” They bought the Pasadena house—the one where the estate sale took place—after they’d been together a year. They were initially worried about how the neighbors would react to sharing their block with a gay couple, but they were welcomed right away. By Stanley’s account, they’d loved their home, their neighborhood, their life together.

Joe’s father had been a Methodist minister, which might explain the religious books on the shelves. And Joe had been 6 feet, 8 inches tall, which accounted for all those extra-long shirts in the closets. As for the single sequined cocktail dress? Stanley explained it in the book: “We were invited to a costume party at the home of a gay friend. To my astonishment, Joe announced that he wanted to go in a serious ‘drag’ outfit. ‘But, Joe!’ I sputtered, ‘in high heels you’ll be a giant woman!’” Undeterred, Joe bought a short-bobbed blonde wig, four-inch high heels (size 16), a brassiere (“with appropriate stuffing”), and pantyhose. After Stanley saw Joe’s long legs in those heels, he said, “Joe! You can’t hide those fantastic gams under a long evening gown. You need a short cocktail dress!” As a giant woman with great gams myself, I regret not trying it on.

One passage in Stanley’s book broke my heart: “Although Joe and I are both in good health, one never knows what tomorrow will bring… We appreciate each day in a way that younger couples rarely think about.”

Individually, the things you own are just things—usually, they’re not even the newest, most stylish, or even most functional things you could have. But what makes them special is that they’re yours. You’ve selected each item and used it every day alongside dozens of other objects. You’re the centrifuge holding all of this stuff together, the sun at the center of your universe of physical objects. You are what the Methodist books and the sequined cocktail dress and the pots and pans have in common. And when whatever magic you performed in this earthly life is over, your possessions are destined to become part of another human universe or to be sucked into the black hole of the landfill. I’d prefer the former.

Perhaps this is why the estate sale queen of the San Gabriel Valley is more than a saleswoman or a broker. Cynthia is a guard dog of these precious items that once made up a life. And so she is quick to pass judgment not just on the household goods and their resale value, but on her customers’ behavior while moving among these things. She includes in her weekly email, along with the sale’s location and noteworthy items, a roast of her customers who misbehaved at last weekend’s event. In a section she calls the “Hall of Shame,” Cynthia rages at anyone who dared to bring their children, ask for a discount, or do their business in the bathroom. In one memorable email from 2015, Cynthia writes about a guy who had the temerity to haggle with her over the price of some mini screwdrivers:

I tell him $4.00, he says “How about $3.00” this makes me turn to my trusty “I said NO pen”. For those of you who have not seen it, it’s a pen with a speaker at the top and a button you push and it says “No” about a dozen different ways. … I hit the button five times. He does not get it, so I have to spell out what is going to be happening if he does not fork over the $4.00 in about three seconds. So I boot him out without letting him buy anything. A customer says “hey did you see that guy giving you the finger?” No, all I see is the brake lights of a way cool mom van from the 90’s….Dork.

The tiniest transgression, like dropping a clump of houseplant dirt on the living room carpet, can provoke her ire, and often the column is not so much a lesson in etiquette as it is a window into her personal biases. “I was in the back yard when a guy from one of the ‘Machismo’ cultures comes up inquiring about a ladder that was in the garage,” she wrote in one recent email. (In some cases, when she knows the offender, she unsubscribes them from her list before she shames them on it. I can’t decide if that’s kind or if it’s essentially talking behind someone’s back.) “That hall of shame is a huge deterrent on doing stupid stuff,” she told me over the phone.

Pricing items is easy, Cynthia says. And the sales basically advertise themselves at this point, because her list has more than 4,000 subscribers. The hard part is dealing with the people, both the shoppers and her clients. The people who hire Cynthia to empty out their loved ones’ homes can have some unrealistic expectations about the process. “I tell them, your parents loved this stuff and now it made several hundred people happy with their purchases,” Cynthia says. “It’s a form of recycling. What made one person happy can move on and make hundreds of other people happy.”

Last year my parents, who were redoing their wills, mailed me a typed list of every item in their home they thought my siblings and I might want. Most of the list was family heirlooms: woodworking by my grandfather, quilts by my grandmother, cross-stitch and calligraphy by my mother. In other words, it was a list of items in my parents’ home that will never make their way into an estate sale.

So I found myself thinking about what will become of the non-heirlooms that have filled my parents’ lives for decades. I thought about the strangers who will walk through the rooms of their ranch-style house, scanning the Tupperware mixing bowls and soap dishes and remote-control caddies. I can’t quite picture the whole scene yet, but I know it will happen eventually. And when it does, I hope there is someone standing guard. And someone like me considering the merchandise, trying to figure out the story of how they lived, and taking a piece of that story home to become part of her own.

Originally posted by Curbed. Written by Ann Friedman, Illustrations by Maria-Ines Gul.

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