Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Hundred Dresses Project

The Hundred Dresses, for those of you who don't remember your children's literature, is a short "chapter book" by Eleanor Estes about a small American town and the new student who swears she has a hundred dresses, even though she only wears the same faded dress to school. At the end of the book she moves away (Katherine Paterson would have killed her off), and the other students discover that she has 100 drawings of dresses, all hanging up in rows in her former bedroom.

I don't think that I will ever own one hundred dresses; not at the same time, anyway. Still, I can't help referring to my "work clothes accumulation" endeavor as the hundred dresses project.

Why dresses? A few reasons. I've always liked dresses, ever since I was two years old and told my mother that I was going to wear only dresses, every day, for the rest of my life. (I actually managed to wear dresses, nearly exclusively, for most of my toddler/early childhood years. My parents had to trick me into wearing pants by doing things like asking my kindergarten teacher to tell me I was required to wear jeans to school.)

"Wear-to-work" dresses are also far less expensive than putting together work outfits involving slacks/skirts and blouses. If a dress costs the same as a skirt, it's idiotic (in my still-budget-obsessed mind) to buy both the skirt and the blouse when one can get just the dress and have the entire outfit done with.

Oh, and I can never find dress pants that fit me properly. Always too big in the waist, too snug in the hips, and too long in the legs.

Thus, dresses. ^__^

I don't have a hundred. Not even close. Right now I have fourteen. Nearly all of them are from Ann Taylor Loft, which has become my favorite go-to clothing store. (It is a testament to my provincial and/or shopping-deprived former lifestyle that, when I first went into ATL and they wrapped the clothes up in tissue paper before putting them in a fancy bag, it just about blew my mind. They never did that at Target.)

Four of these pretty dresses were bought this afternoon, and now I will show you pictures, because everyone likes pictures!

My favorite of the lot. So cute!

This one actually looks much better on me than it does on the model. Sometimes it helps to have actual curves.

Ditto for this one. I would happily model for ATL for free, if they would ever ask. (Since their clothes are designed for petite women, it would be nice if they actually had a photograph of a petite model in their stores. I volunteer myself.)

And there's the blue one. I always look good in blue. ^__^

No, I don't think I will ever have a hundred dresses. But it might be fun to cap out at 25. What's a little surprising to think about is that I'm more than halfway there. Forget 100 -- I've never even had fourteen dresses in my closet at any one time.

I love dressing for work. ^__^ And I can hardly wait to have all my dresses hung in my closet, organized by color, in my almost-there apartment.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Where Your Treasure Is, There Will Your Heart Be Also

Since for all intents and purposes it is the end of the month, time to tidy up the accounts.

During the month of August, I shelled out the following cash:

Food: $181.99
Toiletries: 44.12 (in my tally system I call this category "beauty," which makes me smile whenever I look at it)
Household-Related: 97.10 (this includes my bento boxes, my Madhur Jaffrey cookbook, and my papasan)
Metro: 130.00
Taxis: 108.00
Clothes: 45.00
Shoes: 22.00
Rent: 1290.00 (part of it being the security deposit on the dream apartment)
Bills: 318.11
One-time Supplementary Health Insurance Payment: 230.00 (my health insurance for the new job doesn't start right away, so I had to get a stop-gap)
Ashtanga Classes: 60.00
Entertainment: 13.64
Restaurants: 160.65
Gifts: 241.81

We should note a few things right away.

As soon as I move in to le dream apartment, the metro costs will plummet. As will the taxi costs, which were nearly all caused by my schlepping suitcases from one temporary stay to another.

Likewise, the restaurant costs should be cut at least by 1/3 as soon as I get back to a place which has a kitchen. (Ironically, if I had had a kitchen this week, I never would have gone to Amma last night, and never would have met up with Anna. I'd happily incur restaurant costs for that.)

Household costs, in return, are likely to go up next month. Rent costs will drop a little bit, and bills should stay exactly-the-same.

Interestingly, I spent more on gifts than I did in any other category besides rent/bills. ^__^

The most important thing, of course, is that for the first time in years I spent less than I earned, and by a considerable margin. I suppose that means I get to start saving for retirement!


When I started fantasizing about how I would want to furnish my dream apartment (and trust me, I've had a long time to fantasize about it at this point), I spent considerable time dreaming about my very own papasan chair.

Not one of those plastic "circle chairs" from Target, but a genuine, rattan, Pier 1 papasan.

Now, those things aren't cheap, and I (unfortunately) still am cheap. But fate has thrown me into a lot of different places as I've bounced around from bed to bed, waiting for this apartment eviction business to end, and at my last temporary sleeping place I made a new friend who also, coincidentally, happened to be selling a genuine, gently-used, super-price-reduced Pier 1 papasan on Craigslist.

I'm sitting in it now. I smuggled it into my hotel room through the back door. (I suppose there isn't any law against bringing one's own furniture into a hotel, but it still felt a little like I shouldn't advertise it.)

So now I don't yet exactly have an apartment, but I do have my first piece of real furniture. Not bad.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Why Haven't I Posted?

Crazy week, but really great too.

Met new friends, watched the DNC and swooned over both Obama and the surprisingly delicious Beau Biden, helped put together a giant project at work...

Am still not yet in the apartment. The eviction process has started. Currently I am in a hotel on the apartment management company's dime (which will in turn be charged to the evicted party, though who knows if they'll ever pay) and will remain there until move-in day.

But it's peaceful here, the internet is free, and I have fun plans for the holiday weekend. ^__^

Friday, August 22, 2008

The A Is For Awesome

So this apartment situation may be making me miserable, but my Ashtanga class is making me quite blissful.

Here are all of the things I like about it:

1. The instructor is only interested in the yoga itself. The physical activity of doing yoga. Yes, some of the other students have asked her about things like "will yoga bring me inner peace," and she's said that it can have a very calming effect on the body, but she is not the type of instructor who makes yoga all about the mysterious workings of the heart/soul/spirit/chakras/whatever. If a student is having trouble, it's because there's something wrong with their alignment or positioning or breathing, not because they aren't "letting go" or "feeling with their heart" or anything like that.

2. On the above note, she is also scrupulous about alignment/positioning/breathing. Ashtanga is known for letting students "find their way" into poses, which essentially means "even if you can't get your heels down in downward facing dog today, keep trying and maybe you will in a month or so;" but at the same time this instructor doesn't let us "find ourselves" at the expense of executing the poses incorrectly. She is more careful about form than any yoga instructor I've had before. (To be fair, most of my other yoga instructors have been theatre faculty who taught yoga in addition to their other classes.)

3. To continue with the above note: no mood music. I took a yoga class once where the poses were accompanied by a soundtrack of "mystical spiritual wind chimes over the ocean" music. It lasted for four months and I diligently went, but by the end I hated it. The instructor also rang a gong at the beginning and end of each class, which I thought was a bit much.

4. The challenge. Yes, I've done sun salutations and a lot of the introductory poses before, but now I'm learning how to do them in ways that are better for the body and (coincidentally) more challenging to perform. It's fun to have a daily challenge. Part of me feels like it's exciting the part of my brain which formerly got excited beating giant snake bosses in Legend of Zelda. "Can I swing this sword in the right way?" becomes "Can I maintain this pose and my breathing?" (Yes, I am a nerd.)

5. The way my body (and, possibly, my mind and my spirit) feels afterwards: awesome.

I Am Not Supposed To Be Here

Tonight was supposed to be the end of the first week in my new apartment.

Then it was supposed to be my first night in my new apartment.

And -- although I had a lovely evening otherwise -- I've come back "home" to this basement sublet in Arlington and am in more than a bit of a funk about it.

I am not supposed to be here.

I know I'll get my apartment in the end (and the landlord has said he'll put me somewhere Monday night if this person isn't out of my apartment by then), but I don't want to spend another weekend in suburban Arlington, 1.5 miles from the metro, 2 miles from the grocery store, and hours away from anything but rows and rows of houses.

I want my apartment!


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I Guess Someone Else Likes My Dream Apartment Too

I was supposed to move into my dream apartment on August 15.

On August 13, my landlord told me that the apartment wasn't yet ready for me and that I would be able to move in one week later, on August 22.

Naive as I was, I assumed the delay had something to do with the apartment getting cleaned up and re-painted, which the landlord had said would happen before I moved in.

Today I got another call.

Apparently I won't be able to move in on the 22nd either, because (wait for it...) the previous tenant has not yet moved out.

The landlord said that there was a delay on the apartment the current tenant was planning to move into, so she was squatting in my apartment until her apartment came through.

Which in turn means I've got to squat in my unfinished basement sublet.

My rent, which was already prorated for August, will be reduced for the time I'm losing, but it's still a highly undesirable situation.

Considering my past history of "having to pay out my savings when a roommate skipped town without paying rent," it's also disturbingly ironic that, even when I'm moving into a studio, I'm still getting screwed over by the person sharing my space.


(And no, the landlord is not obligated to put me up into a hotel or anything like that. Unfortunately.)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Quick Ashtanga Class Recap

The Ashtanga class did not kick my ass... yet.

We learned Sun Salutation A, which I had already been doing on my own for over a year (including the "extra" Ashtanga stuff like the yoga pushups -- for all the "this is unique to Ashtanga," I had definitely learned this sun salutation before). The instructor helped me with a few "modifications" to some bad habits that had slipped in since my last yoga class (January-June 2007).

One thing that amused me: the instructor's matter-of-fact patter through an introductory course that she has been teaching, twice a week, for the past five years. As a (former) piano teacher, I knew exactly where she was coming from. "Let's-find-middle-C-there-it-is-good-job!" etc. It wasn't that she wasn't interested in her students, or dedicated to what she was teaching, it was just... this is a class she has taught, twice a week, for the past five years. ^__^

Quick recap over. Time for bed!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ashtanga Tomorrow!

I take my first Ashtanga class tomorrow.

Am fully prepared for it to kick my ass. ^__^

Will provide details.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

What Blue Eats

Finally had the presence of mind to take pictures of my bento boxes before I left for work.

From the left:

Kiwi and whole-grain Cheerios (yes, I like Kashi much-much-much better, but was able to get the Cheerios in bulk for almost nothing, and I cannot resist a bargain).

Mung dal with spinach, paired with cauliflower and zucchini cooked with garlic, ginger, and red chilis.

More pictures as I remember to take them...

One More Comics Observation: Batuik, Where Are Your Flying Cars?

If Lynn Johnston's comic strip shows life at it's permanent "For Better," Tom Batuik's Funky Winkerbean shows life at its perpetual "For Worse."

Becky Blackburn gets accepted to Juilliard and then gets in a car accident and loses her violin-playing arm; lovable band director Harry L. Dingle goes deaf; and the strip's "heroine," Lisa Moore, begins the story as a knocked-up teenager and (after suffering many dismal life events in between) ended her arc last year when she died of breast cancer.

And then there was the whole "Wally Winkerbean in Iraq" subplot, which, while it was prescient and important, did not end happily for Wally.

Anyway. So right after Batuik killed off Wally and Lisa, he decided to "time-jump" the strip ahead by ten years. He said that he didn't want his strip to get stuck in "extended grieving," and he wanted to start writing about the lives of the original cast's children.

Great. So now he's writing about Summer and Rana (whose parents, before the time jump, were killed by land mines in Afghanistan) and Cory instead of Becky and Lisa and Wally (smart choice, since two of the three are no longer living).

But now his comic strip is set in a future ten years ahead of where we are now. And, aside from character ages, he does not reference this in any way.

And so I ask you this, Mr. Batuik: What happened with the Iraq War? Did Obama just finish his second term as president? What's the must-have technology that took the place of the iPhone? What about the recession and the energy crisis?

And where are the flying cars?????

Scratch That -- Reverse It.

Breaking News: FBorFW is not ending after all.

Not fair. I do not want to get emotionally involved with this strip again. It was all going to end on the 30th, gosh darn it!!!!!!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

If The Last Words Aren't "For Better Or For Worse," Some People Stand To Lose A Lot Of Money

The comic strip For Better or For Worse is scheduled to end on August 30.

Well, not exactly "end." Stephen Pastis summed it up best:

However, Lynn Johnston has confirmed that the last new strip will run on Aug. 30, five days after the August 25 "Lizthony" wedding strip which for some bizarre reason is taking place on the fifth anniversary of Anthony's first comic-strip marriage (to the ill-fated Therese), and spoiler-types have confirmed that it will be a lengthy "here's what's going to happen to the rest of the characters for the rest of their lives."

There is already all kinds of snark going around about what wonderful things Johnston has planned for her characters (Michael winning a Pulitzer Prize, April marrying Gerald). Ever since it was leaked that Johnston's marriage had fallen apart, people began noticing that her strips started centering only on the "for better" part of life, as if she were insisting her characters have all the fantasy happiness she wished she were experiencing herself. (Seriously. Read the link. It explains why she decided to pull a 180 and pass Liz off to Anthony instead of Paul.) That's all well and good, but it turned her strip from a tongue-in-cheek look at the ups-and-downs of daily life into a parade of unrealistic Mary Sue adventures, which, in turn... prompted all the snark.

Anyway. The thought of a "here's what will happen for the rest of their lives" ending focused entirely on success and happiness made me think of how another author, with equally beloved characters, handled a similar situation.

From Louisa May Alcott's Jo's Boys:

It is a strong temptation to the weary historian to close the present tale with an earthquake which should engulf Plumfield and its environs so deeply in the bowels of the earth that no youthful Schliemann could ever find a vestige of it. But as that somewhat melodramatic conclusion might shock my gentle readers, I will refrain, and forestall the usual question, 'How did they end?' by briefly stating that all the marriages turned out well. The boys prospered in their various callings; so did the girls, for Bess and Josie won honours in their artistic careers, and in the course of time found worthy mates. Nan remained a busy, cheerful, independent spinster, and dedicated her life to her suffering sisters and their children, in which true woman's work she found abiding happiness. Dan never married, but lived, bravely and usefully, among his chosen people till he was shot defending them, and at last lay quietly asleep in the green wilderness he loved so well, with a lock of golden hair upon his breast, and a smile on his face which seemed to say that Aslauga's Knight had fought his last fight and was at peace. Stuffy became an alderman, and died suddenly of apoplexy after a public dinner. Dolly was a society man of mark till he lost his money, when he found congenial employment in a fashionable tailoring establishment. Demi became a partner, and lived to see his name above the door, and Rob was a professor at Laurence College; but Teddy eclipsed them all by becoming an eloquent and famous clergyman, to the great delight of his astonished mother. And now, having endeavoured to suit everyone by many weddings, few deaths, and as much prosperity as the eternal fitness of things will permit, let the music stop, the lights die out, and the curtain fall for ever on the March family.

Alcott came this close to ending it with "rocks fall, everyone dies." ^__^ Which I have always thought was just fantastic.

We'll see if Johnston pulls off her denouement with half the class.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Only Cookbook I'll Ever Need

There's a sense of wonderful... ownership when it comes to finally getting something that one has wanted for a very, very, very long time.

No, not the job (though I love the job).

No, not the apartment (though it is a dream apartment).

Madhur Jaffrey's World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking.

Back in print, and now in my turmeric-stained little hands.

I have to say I'm not thrilled by the new cover design.

I was reading it while waiting for the metro and kind of wanted to hold up a sign saying "Seriously -- I know the cover art is mildly insulting, and I'm only reading it for the recipes."

But oh, the recipes.

When I first came to this country, I took on a job as a guide at the United Nations in order to support myself. This "support" turned out to be more than just financial. Every evening, we guides found ourselves gathering at each other's homes to have heated, informative discussions on international affairs, and to eat superb food. It was Amal, a Palestinian refugee from Beirut, who introduced me to tabouleh.

Now who wouldn't want to learn how to make their own tabouleh after reading that?

It's one of the only cookbooks I've ever read where the cookery is explained through storytelling, which I think is why I've been so successful using it. It's also a great motivator: Madhur Jaffrey lived (and is living) an overwhelmingly interesting life, from her start climbing the mango trees through her theatre and film work through her career as author and international food connoisseur to her current status as giant freakin' Obama supporter... and therefore, if I learn how to cook her recipes, I might have a fighting chance of turning out equally as awesome. ^__^

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The House of Seven Roommates

"Seven roommates!"

"You like roommates."

"Yes, but seven!!"

In the 24 hours before I saw my first and second dream apartments, I went to an open house for a "bedroom with attached sunroom" in a "classy Victorian" with seven roommates.

The price was considerably lower than my established 30%, and I like both savings and sunrooms. I figured I could deal with seven roommates if I had to. (Plus, I could always retreat to the sunroom!)

I was five minutes early and there was already a line to see the room. Mostly made up of students and interns.

The house was very classy from the outside only. Inside it was quite literally trashed, trashed as only a house with a rotating cast of low-paid students and interns can be.

Oh, and it was crawling with bedrooms. Every room was a bedroom. One of the potential "sunroom hopefuls" must have been an architecture student, because she kept poking her head into every bedroom and saying "that was originally the pantry" or "that was the formal dining room; see how it's attached to the parlor by a pocket door?"

Now the pantry was stuffed with an air mattress and covered with posters of half-naked girls and cars.

The floors were warped and the stairs were crooked and the attached sunroom was a dank, grubby little space which must rarely ever see any actual sun. You had to sign up to use the bathroom.

At the end of the tour, it was clear that most of the young hopefuls still desperately wanted that living space. I, on the other hand, turned and fled.

I'm not a student anymore. Thank goodness.

My Dream Apartment... Is Mine!

Those of you following my Twitter may have noticed that a few days ago I tweeted that I had seen "my dream apartment."

On the day I saw it, the landlord told me that he had given another potential renter 24 hours to decide whether or not she wanted it, and if she said no, then I was next in line.

She said yes.

When the landlord called to tell me that, he mentioned that he had another apartment available... but it was slightly larger than the unit I had seen, so it was slightly larger in price.

I politely declined, telling him that the price increase tipped the apartment above the "30% of post-tax income" budget I had set for myself. (He was mildly amused that I had done the math.) I said that I really liked his building, and if he ever had another unit open that was the same price as the "dream apartment" I had seen, I would love to hear from him.

In less than 24 hours he called back to let me know that he had a unit available: "It's a little bit bigger than the one you saw the other day, but it's the same price!"

I tactfully refrained from asking if he had simply lowered the price on the apartment he had mentioned before. ^__^

So I went and saw it, filled out the application form, and should sign the lease by the end of the week.

What is my lovely dream apartment like?

Studio, of course (I'm not making that much money yet!)
Hardwood floors
Loads of windows
Two closets
Full kitchen plus dishwasher
Washer/dryer in the apartment
All utilities included
A great view of one of DC's quirkier landmarks (naming it would irrevocably give away my location, so I won't)
Close enough for me to walk to work
No extra charge for my cat


It's on the same block as my sister's apartment! Which we both agreed is a little cool, and a little weird.

Pictures will come when I move in (on the 15th!!!). I would have taken some today, except the previous tenant was in the "messy" stage of moving out and there were half-filled boxes everywhere.

But YAY! I have an apartment, and it's everything I could want an apartment to be.

Now I'm going to go play fantasy decorator...

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Xootr

Oh, but before I start socking too much away, I want to buy a Xootr.

Seriously. Like every day I think "if I had a Xootr..." I would buy one right now except I don't have an address to which to send it.

What's a Xootr? It's kind of like a bike, but a lot dorkier.

(Blogger isn't letting me upload pictures right now. So imagine a picture of a really sweet kick scooter.)

Weighs 10 lbs. Folds in 5 seconds. Helmet not necessary. Can be used while wearing skirt. Can go onto subway. Can fold underneath a desk. Etc. Etc. Etc. It is the nerd's preferred mode of travel, considering both hovercars and the Starship Enterprise are fictional. (Not jetpacks, though; those are real now!)

NOT FOR KIDS. This thing is an adult toy. The kiddie ones are called Razors and come covered in pictures of Go, Diego, Go!

I walk between 3-5 miles a day. If I had a scooter, I could get around that much faster. And I could use the extra time to do more yoga or cooking or blogging!

You just wait. As soon as I get one, I'll give you all the full report.

Gather Ye Rosebuds and Get Ye Flask?

So Heather Havrilesky wrote an article in Salon (first in a series) about how she and her husband were never going to be able to afford to retire.

Specifically, she found out that to enjoy the same standard of living she is enjoying now, when one considers inflation and whatnot, she would have to save $47,000 a year.

(Her current standard of living, she notes, is not a particularly extravagant one. She claims to avoid eating out, seeing movies, and buying anything that isn't on sale.)

It gets worse:

Toying with retirement calculators was so exquisitely painful (and such a profound waste of time) that by the next day, I had upped the stakes with college savings calculators. How much should we be saving each year to send my 12-year-old stepson and 2-year-old daughter to public, in-state universities? One thousand dollars a month, of course. (Private schools would mean saving 2K a month.) Now let's see, let's throw that 12K-a-year minimum in with the 93K a year we're supposed to be saving for retirement, and what do we have? One hundred five thousand dollars a year in savings. Now tell me, who has an extra 100 G's lying around each year, aside from some of your more enterprising rappers?

And then she notes that even with all the savings in the world, one lost job or one medical emergency could wipe out everything she's set aside.

It's something I've been thinking about lately, as I try to figure out how much apartment I can afford and whether I can afford to live in a neighborhood that doesn't cover its houses in iron cages.

I've done the math. I can put 1/3 of my salary towards housing and live on the other 2/3 and put a few hundred dollars every month into a savings account.

But if I were able to spend less money on rent, I could have more money to save.

And what if the recession gets worse and food prices go up? What if something happens to my job? What if I have some kind of outstanding medical expense?

In short: how much savings do I need to have to feel safe?

I've had my savings wiped out twice before. Two summers in a row. Both times I managed to put $1000 aside even on my grad-school-and-temp earnings, and both times a roommate ditched me and left me to suddenly have to pay twice as much rent until I could find another person to share the apartment. (For those not in the know: when people share living spaces they do not generally get separate leases. If one party flakes, the other party is still required to make up the full sum of the rent. This protects the landlord but not the roommates, obviously.)

Of course, with that trend I should perhaps forgo roommates altogether and live in a slightly more expensive studio, bargaining less saving power against knowing for sure I won't have to spend it all paying for a roommate who's skipped town.

The other half of the equation is how much savings do I need to have to have fun?

To wit: my company gives people a very generous amount of vacation time. People take it, too; and because of the nature of the job, most people -- even the entry-level ones -- seem to use it to go abroad and educate themselves.

But I've done the math for that, too; and I'm guessing that taking a two-week trip abroad will just about eliminate everything I can manage to save during the year.

So. Rosebuds or retirement? Vacation or staycation? Start saving for the unexpected major expense that will undoubtedly happen in the next forty years, or accept that whatever you save still won't cover any, let's say, overwhelming medical bills? After all, a savings wipeout is a wipeout whether you've got $100 or $100,000. In the end you're still left with $0.

Meh. It's not an argument, unfortunately. I grew up on the idea of saving. And even though I kind of know Heather Havrilesky's right and my generation won't be able to save "enough" to retire (never mind college funds), I still want to put away everything I can.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


I have bento boxes.

From (where else?) The Container Store.

They have Japanese writing on them, but no pictures of Hello Kitty or Totoro. (Though that makes me sad, I am consoled by the fact that these bento boxes were much, much cheaper than the Sanrio ones.) They also have a sliding divider so I can keep parts of my tightly-packed lunch separate.

I am so excited about my bento!!!!!

The Thrill Of The (Apartment) Hunt

Now that I have the job I've always wanted, it's time for me to find an apartment.

The search has not been as easy as I had hoped.

My sister has a nice, if postage-stamp-sized, studio in a great neighborhood at a great price.

So when I started my apartment hunt, I started looking for apartments in that same price range. (Even though my sister has told me that her magical apartment is the only one of its kind in the city and I should expect to pay at least 1.5 times as much for something equivalent, I still had hope.)

This has proven difficult. I have gone to places where, when I told my office mates that I was visiting such-and-such neighborhood, they immediately said "don't go there." (To their credit, I didn't actually go all the way; while I was walking from the metro to the apartment I realized that this was not a good area of town and turned around.)

I went to one apartment advertised as a two-bedroom which was in actuality a studio with a curtain down the middle (and the young woman managing the no doubt illegal sublease told me she reserved the right to ask me to leave at any time), and another apartment which not only had bars on the windows, but was also covered in what appeared to be a giant iron cage.

Then there was the studio which, actually, was not bad; but it was located in the part of DC which one apartment reviewer described as "where concrete goes to die." I spent some time wandering the neighborhood and found zero restaurants, zero coffee shops, and zero stores; just a few aimless cars, block after block of Section 8 housing, and a lot of bored teenagers leaning up against walls.

My studio "tour guide" was a young woman who had to be barely out of high school herself; when I told her I wasn't interested because there was "nothing to do here," she looked shocked and said "But there's the mall! I mean, it's closed now for renovations, but it will be open again next year!"

Then she paused, and blinked her glittery eyelashes, and said "Don't you like to go to the mall?"

The truth is that if I came all this way and ended up living in a place where the biggest draw was a mall, I would have to consider this entire experiment a failure.

And then I ended up chatting on the phone with another potential landlord, a sweet old lady who gave me some very good advice.

"Honey," she said, "you're telling me you've got a job? And you make $XX,XXX a year? Go and get yourself a better apartment. Everyone I've had who's lived in my apartments has moved out the minute they got a job like yours."

I was trying, from the start of this apartment hunt, to spend less money on rent than the requisite 30% of my income; the more money I saved, the more I could save, after all. I would take on multiple roommates or dilapidated studios or less-desirable neighborhoods.

But the whole time I got the feeling that I was behaving idiotically. Yes, saving money is important. But my search reminded me of my adventures in "penny-pinching across Delhi," where my willingness to save costs landed me in an insect-infested hotel room, pitted me against an overly lascivious hotelier, and then there was that unfortunate choice of the overnight Sleeper II train to Amritsar...

There's something else this time, too. There's the need to be where my peers are. The majority of my workmates live in the Adams Morgan/Dupont/U Street triangle, and that's where I want to live, too. I've already been "the one who has to go home early because it takes over 90 minutes to get back to her sublet in Arlington at this time of night," and I certainly don't want to be "the one who has to go home early because she's got to take the metro to a skeevy neighborhood."

So I did the research, and it turns out that a low-end-but-decent place in a decent neighborhood costs... believe it or not... exactly 30% of my income.

I have no doubt that market forces aligned to make this happen. Like the potential landlord told me, as soon as young people get jobs they want a "decent" standard of living. Thus the market adjusts to make sure that "decent" is exactly the amount that these young people can afford to pay.

Long story short, tomorrow I'm seeing a potential roommate about sharing a nice two-bedroom off of Dupont Circle. Wish me luck.