Car Shopping
Jun 5th, 2010 by Mike

Somewhere in the back of my head, I got this crazy idea that I wanted to buy a new car.

Keep in mind that I’ve owned my condo for about three months. And I just put a nice chunk of money into putting a tile backsplash in my kitchen. (And it looks awesome!)

My current car is a 2007 Honda Civic, and she’s been really good to me. At three years old and just under 55,000 miles, there is a lot of life left in that car. That means a new car is a want and not a need. I know that.

Today, I walked into Colonial Volkswagen of Medford with the intention of test driving a new Golf TDI. If I’m buying a new car, I have two absolute “must have” items. First, leather (or faux leather) seats are essential. I have two Pugs who shed like crazy. Leather is much easier to clean. Second, I spend about an hour in my car each day, so satellite radio is absolutely necessary. These two items aren’t available in the Golf. Sure, I can get both items as after-marked installation, but I’d rather have them as factory or dealer-installed options. I also like that the Golf is manufactured and assembled in Germany. We Germans make good stuff.

I like the TDI because their turbo diesel gets really great mileage. This is not the diesel engine of 20 years ago. That’s for sure. Because the Golf doesn’t have exactly what I want, we took a Jetta TDI for a test drive. I think I’m in love. It has everything I want, including the bluetooth connectivity for my iPhone. This one even came with an iPod connector.

My challenge now is whether I should buy one now or wait for the 2011 models to come out. The 2011 Jetta is a whole new platform. The 2010 models have been dubbed (pardon the pun) Jettarollas because the back end looks like a Toyota Corolla. At the same time, as soon as the 2011 models come out, the 2010s will seriously drop in price.

For now, I’m going to sit tight. For now.

Two Weeks
Apr 2nd, 2010 by Mike


Originally uploaded by mikehillwig

Two weeks ago today, I became a home owner. I also took on a ton of debt. But now I’m sleeping in a place that is truly my own. This is a great little condo. Sure, it needs a little TLC. The up side to that is that everything it needs is cosmetic.

The day I closed, I packed up a few things in my little Honda Civic and invited some of my friends to the new place for a drink, to help me celebrate my new home. It was a great time.

For the first time in ages, I’m sleeping incredibly well. Reggie still bounces on my face first thing in the morning, but I’m actually not getting up in the middle of the night. That tells me I’m doing something right.

Shortly after moving in, my friend Tom painted a little bit for me. He did the brown in the living room and the red in the kitchen. The place has a lot of beige, so two big splashes of color really liven it up. The next room to be painted is probably the bathroom. I’m leaning toward a light sage green or a Tiffany blue. The Tiffany blue has the potential to be gorgeous. It also has the potential to be over-the-top gay.

If you want to see how things are shaping up, check out the photo set on flickr.

Reggie and I are doing a lot of walking right now. We’re doing three walks a day, averaging a little bit under 2 miles a day. If you use Runkeeper, add me, mikehillwig.

This weekend, I have one “must do” projects that I need to get out of the way, and that’s blinds on the window. Since I live at street level, I’m not a fan of people looking into my windows all the time. I did put up curtains in the front windows, but I don’t want them to be closed all the time. I just need to buy nice wood blinds that don’t look like cheap mini blinds.

Today, I did the walkthrough and handed in the keys to my place in Salem. It was bittersweet. I liked that place, but Salem was just inconvenient for me. Traffic was hell getting to and from work, and since I do so much in the city with the chorus and doctors, I was spending a lot of time commuting. Now, I’m closer to everything. Anyway, that chapter of my life has been completed and it’s time to write the next one.

Closing Time
Feb 25th, 2010 by Mike

If you follow me on any social networking sites, this blog post won’t have any serious surprises.

In my last post, I mentioned that I was going back to look at a property. Long story short, I made an offer, haggled a little on the price and we close March 19.

I’m buying a two bedroom condo in East Boston a block away from the Maverick T station. On a Tuesday, I talked to my real estate agent and we discussed some properties I wanted to see. On Thursday, he had confirmed appointments for me to see those properties. On Friday, the seller of the property I’m buying dropped the price, by a very large amount of money. Saturday, we saw said property. Sunday, I made an offer.

This whole process has been pretty intense, and emotionally, I’ve been a big old mess.

Here are my key dates:
March 5 – Mortgage commitment due
March 6 – I head to Disney for a few days with the family
March 19 – Closing
March 26 – Movers

Yeah, Disney. My parents decided they wanted to take the whole family to Disney as a Christmas gift this year. The kids are beyond excited.

House Hunting, Part Two
Jan 30th, 2010 by Mike

When I first started thinking about buying a house, I made the decision to use a realtor who knows and lives in the neighborhood where I want to buy. That may have been one of the smartest decisions I’ve made recently.

My friend Ulli and I went house hunting again today. This time was a lot more fun because I knew what I was approved to spend and actually knew what was in my budget. Yes, I sat down and figured out what I spend monthly and figured out just what I could spend.

We met up with Ryan, my buyer’s broker, at the big park near Ulli’s house. It’s close to where he lives and close to one of the properties he wanted me to see today.

Our first stop was a block from the Maverick T station. It hadn’t originally been on my list of places to see, but the seller dropped the price and it was worth seeing. It’s a two bedroom condo on the first floor with a great kitchen. The living room is decently sized and has a pretty big bathroom. The larger bedroom has a door that leads out to the back “patio” and a small yard. It’s new construction in the past three years. The price is in my sweet spot and remains a possibility.

Our second and third stops were lofts in the same building, an old bra factory. Seriously. We’ll call them 104 and 147. Having seen the pictures and drempt of the places, I have to say that I was incredibly disappointed. 147 had a private deck, but the mezzanine had terrible steps and couldn’t really be used because the ceiling was too low. 104 was better, but the kitchen needed a lot of work. Both of these have been eliminated as possibilities. They’re too much money for too little space.

Next came a unit in the building where I met Ryan and Ulli. It was a HUGE one bedroom with lots of storage and a ton of light. The kitchen had high end fixtures but terrible cabinetry. It was nice, but the asking price was too high. The location is great, but I would end up being “house poor.”

The fifth unit isn’t actually listed on the market. This was really neat because I saw it pretty much how the guy lives, including where his two dogs occasionally pee on the floor. I can’t fault anybody here because Reggie has been known to pee once in a while. 🙂 It had fantastic bedrooms but not enough living space downstairs. The back yard and deck were selling points, but the kitchen didn’t call to me.

The sixth unit was one we saw last week. It’s the one that’s open concept with kitchen at one and and the fireplace at the other. LOVE LOVE LOVE this unit. As much as I’d love to buy it, it’s at the upper end of my price range.

When we were done, we left Ryan and talked over lunch. And we did pros and cons. And we crunched numbers. When Ryan called me back a couple of hours later, I told him what I’m thinking. Stay tuned for details.

Lemon Grilled Chicken
Jan 29th, 2010 by Mike

The other night, I came home from work and needed to cook myself some dinner. I knew I had chicken breasts in the refrigerator, but that’s pretty boring. So I started looking around my kitchen.

I found the following: lemons, fresh rosemary, fresh garlic. That chicken was screaming to be marinated. So I zested and juiced the lemon, chopped the rosemary and garlic, and tossed it all in a plastic bag with the chicken, some olive oil, salt, and pepper. That chicken was getting happy!

While my chicken was marinating, I lit the grill. Keep in mind that I live near the Massachusetts coast and it’s the middle of January. By the time that chicken hit the grill, it was packed with flavor.

Chicken just might never be the same again.

House Hunting
Jan 28th, 2010 by Mike

If you’ve been following me on Twitter or Facebook, you may know that I’m looking to buy a home.

The lease on my condo in Salem is up, and I was not planning on renewing it. A few weeks ago, I was looking for a new apartment in Boston. For the first time in many, many years, a landlord checked my credit. Realizing my credit was better than expected, I pulled out of the process and stepped back, hoping it was time to buy.

Last weekend, I dragged my fabulous friend Ulli with me and went to a couple of open houses. One was really nice, near the end of the runway at Logan (which I like) and had a nice kitchen. The owner was also completely unrealistic in his asking price. I walked away from that without bothering to sign in. The second one, on the other hand is quite nice. It’s in a fantastic part of Jeffries Point in East Boston. The price was a little high, but it could be negotiated down.

During the whole apartment search phase, I had met a guy named Tom who is also friends with Ulli. We ran into Tom on Saturday, and he suggested I talk to a realtor named Ryan. Oddly enough, Ryan was the selling agent at the second condo we looked at.

On Monday, I called Ryan and asked him if he’d be willing to help me find a condo. (Buyer’s Agent) He’s happy to represent me and suggested I attend a first time home buyer’s seminar the next night at his office. It was time well spent. After the seminar, I sat down with Ryan, and we looked at a few properties on paper, and he has a pretty good idea what I’m looking for.

Saturday, I’m meeting up with Ryan again to look at some lofts. There is an old bra factory (yes, women’s underwear) that was converted into condos a few years ago. The pictures look really nice.

This whole process is incredibly exciting, terrifying, and stressful.

Passport Check
Jan 17th, 2010 by Mike

When I travel, I prefer to use my passport as ID instead of my driver’s license. I’d hate to lose my driver’s license.

When I got my passport almost ten years ago, I didn’t have the actual copy of my birth certificate. Because of this, the State Department only gave me a passport valid for one year. After I was able to order my official birth certificate, they added an endorsement page that made my passport valid for the full ten years. If you just look at my photo page, it would look like I have an expired passport.

Every time I fly through Baltimore, TSA fails to check my passport’s expiration date. Granted, my passport is valid, but they never question it or look for the page that extends the validity date. Today, for the third time, TSA failed to notice this. I finally spoke to a supervisor and pointed this out. He treated it as if there was nothing he could do.

This is a little frightening that they fall to do this with such alarming regularity. I think I might have to make some more noise.

Apartment Search
Jan 12th, 2010 by Mike

Several months ago, I told my landlord that I wouldn’t be renewing my lease when it was up in mid-March. I love living in Salem, but it’s incredibly inconvenient. With chorus rehearsal once a week and the doctors I see in the city, Salem becomes more inconvenient. That said, I started looking for a place in East Boston.

Some of my friends suggested that I move to other parts of Boston, but Eastie works for me. It’s close to so many things, it’s an up-and-coming neighborhood, and it’s really convenient to get to I-93. That was my big driver. If I get on I-93 heading northbound in the morning, it’s usually wide open until you hit the I-95 interchange. I’m thinking this will shave about 15 minutes off my commute each way.

On Saturday, my friend Ulli went with me to look at several apartments. One had a lot of character and was in an awesome neighborhood but had an electric stove. Ultimately, the lack of laundry facilities took that one out of the running. Another one was a nice condo with a dedicated parking spot and a HUGE bedroom. The cave-like living room, oddly laid out kitchen and less than desirable neighborhood took that one out of the running. That left us with three brand new apartments all in the same building. The third floor (including the fourth floor) was amazing but out of my price range and was more apartment than I needed. The first and second floors are identical except for the little office off the living room on the second floor. I’m going with the second floor. It’s nice, new, and has an nice kitchen with a ton of storage. The bedroom is small but has a really nice sized closet. It has laundry and a storage space in the basement. Best of all, it’s in the next block from Ulli and around the corner from the 303 Cafe.

Today, I filled out all the paperwork and did some negotiating with the agent. I will know tomorrow if everything will work out. Lets keep our fingers crossed.

Ringing in 2010
Jan 3rd, 2010 by Mike

They say that how you end the year is an indication of how you’ll spend the rest of the following year. If that’s the case, I’m in pretty good shape for 2010.

On Thursday, I took the Acela from Boston to Washington, DC. The Acela is a great ride, even if the whole length makes for a long trip. Still, with recent events in Detroit, I really didn’t want to deal with airport security at Logan’s International Terminal E.

Once I arrived at Washington’s Union Station, I took the Metro to Will’s place on the southwest waterfront. Thursday night, we went to see some of his friends for a New Year’s Eve party. It was a lot of fun, and the food was fantastic. Anderson Cooper must have been paid a lot of money in order to put up with Kathy Griffin. Sure, she’s funny, but she is incredibly annoying at times.

Friday, we did a whole lot of nothing. At one point, we did make our way to Pentagon City Mall where I picked up my new iPhone 3GS. This is a 16 GB model in White. My current 3G is having some pixel problems and I just came up for renewal. So I’m replacing the 3G and will send it back to be fixed. This is why I bought Apple Care on the phone.

Friday night, we met some more of his friends for drinks and then we headed up to Laurel, MD for game night with our friends Marc and Jason. They have this game called Killer Bunnies that is a lot of fun. We ended up being there way too late and just crashed for the night.

Come Saturday, the only thing we did was go out for dinner. We had plans to attend an event at my friend’s bar, but we both decided that we were too tired. On top of that, I had an early flight Sunday morning back to Boston.

When Will dropped me off at BWI this morning, I was met with a bit of a surprise–the lines. Southwest had thousands of people waiting to check in for their flights. In typical Southwest fashion, they moved that line incredibly well. I waited no more than 20 minutes to check in and check my bag. After that, airport security was a breeze.

I really only have one complaint, and that’s my own fault. I didn’t get Southwest’s Early Bird Check-in like I normally do. This left me with a B boarding pass. I’m used to getting a boarding pass in the low Still, I was fortunate to get a pretty good seat without having to play the MS card. I only do that when I’m having dizzy spells and don’t want to stumble while throwing my bag in the overhead. In this case, I only had my messenger bag that goes under the seat, so I was fine.

In Need of Music
Dec 10th, 2009 by Mike

The Boston Gay Men’s Chorus has a new CD called “In Need of Music.” It’s the first recording the chorus has done since I’ve joined.  Most of the pieces are from our March 2009 concert series, Outside the Box. One piece is from our December 2008 concert series. There are two pieces that are from series prior to my joining the chorus.

I bought my copies of the CD last night. It’s pretty amazing. Honestly, I had forgotten how much really great music we did for Outside the Box. My absolute favorite piece is track 7, Chad Weirick‘s brilliant arrangement of “A Love that will Never Grow Old” from Brokeback Mountain. We performed that with a string quartet and Chad at the piano. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

In listening to the CD this morning on my way to work, “What Matters” from the Matthew Shepherd story had me in tears. It’s fantastic. I remember thinking how difficult that piece was, and it came out amazing. It has a lot of syncopation, and with 150 voices, that’s not easy to do.

I think everything was recorded at Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory of Music. As I’ve stated before, Jordan Hall is a sacred place to me.

I could blather away for quite a while about this CD. Instead, head over the chorus’ website and listen to some of the clips yourself. And while you’re at it, buy yourself a copy of the CD.

After every concert, I say that I’m so proud to be part of such an amazing group of men. This CD has to be one of the proudest moments in my life. It feels absolutely amazing to be part of a group that has performed such stunningly beautiful music. Perhaps, I’m just a bit biased. If that’s the case, I’m perfectly okay with that.

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