What we’ve learned shopping for a home

We bought a car last year and it was basically the dumbest thing ever. Sure, we got a car but we felt swindled. The dealer didn’t take the time to explain anything to us and we ended up getting a good but no great deal.

So far buying a house has been different. We’re barely beginning in the process but we’ve learned a few things:

  • There’s a thing called a “jumbo mortgage” for really big expensive houses. They cost more and have higher rates!
  • Most houses out there are expensive enough for a jumbo mortgage (compare standard and jumbo searches on Zillow).
  • First time home buyers only need 3% for a down payment. And sellers should be OK with it, no matter what you put down.
  • Everybody talks about the down payment but closing costs are just as much, if not more, than the down payment. This includes things like appraisals, sewage system and home inspections, and fees paid to the lender.
  • We already knew we should shop around, but start with your credit union or local bank. Our credit union had great rates, and fairer closing costs.
  • The CFPB is an invaluable public service. (OK, I kind of knew this one already, too.)

There are a few other things we’re only starting to learn. One of those things is gentrification. One thing we’re looking for in a neighborhood is bike-ability. We really don’t want to buy a second car. We use ours right now primarily for one thing: Getting to the mountains. Without it we’d be spending money renting them or on a car share program and we’d probably be spending about a car payment every month. Anyway, we don’t want, or need, a second one.

The problem is, while Denver is a great city to bike in, some neighborhoods are more bikeable than others. Many of the neighborhoods we can afford are in West Denver, the neighborhoods west of I-25, and south of Highway 6. We biked through there this weekend and they are decidedly less bikeable than where we live now, just on the other side of I-25.

Two neighborhoods we can afford are Barnum and Barnum West. Taken together, they make up a 1.32 square mile neighborhood bounded by three streets that are dangerous, and one that’s illegal, for bicycling. Getting into Barnum from the east means riding on a narrow sidewalk, waiting at a long crosswalk, and then riding a sidewalk again once across. Anything we’d access on these streets we’d have to access by car. According to Google Maps, there is one grocery store accessible without crossing one of those streets.

A map of the Barnum neighborhoods showing the single grocery store in the center

Though it’s possible to access nearby places like Viet Hoa, or the Westwood Food Cooperative, both require car. The final option is to bike into Central Denver, adding two miles, and a steep climb, to the journey. The next neighborhoods south, Westwood and Athmar Park, have similar problems.

Grocery stores aren’t everything but the subtext here is that these neighborhoods are also poorer and that’s part of why the houses are cheaper. Gentrification brought more grocery stores, bike lanes, access to health care, and other amenities to neighborhoods like those just on the other side of I-25. It’s also what raised rent prices and displaced people who lived in those neighborhoods.

One of the attractive parts of living in Barnum or Barnum West is the opportunity to live in a majority hispanic community. Less than a quarter of the population in Barnum and it’s western neighbor are white people. We hope to have kids and hope those kids don’t grow up surrounded only by people who look like them but we also don’t want to be part of the problem of displacing people who have lived in this neighborhood for a long time.

How do we think about our privilege in a housing market like this? Moving to Barnum feels like we’re sacrificing some of our amenities on the bet that those things will show up soon. That feels like exploiting a system of housing discrimination that has existed for decades. Moving into a neighborhood that is actively gentrifying might give us the right balance between diversity and access to the rest of the city but feels like we’re part of the problem displacing families from a desirable part of town they can’t afford. Moving to an already gentrified (read, “desirable”) neighborhood feels like giving up. It’s also not something we can really afford.

Maybe displacement isn’t the right way to think about gentrification. Denverite’s Erica Meltzer notes that the link between gentrification and displacement is actually pretty hard to make.

Most neighborhoods that had high poverty rates in 1970 are still poor, and chronically poor neighborhoods have lost 40 percent of their population in the intervening four decades. That is, people who can get out, do.

(See also: Joe Cortright’s Lost in Place, City Observatory, which Meltzer cites.)

Part of our privilege is that we aren’t being forced anywhere, we’re choosing to buy, and we have greater than 1 neighborhoods to consider in that choice. We’re only scratching the surface now, but as we learn more and talk to people about their neighborhoods, we’ll be thinking about the social consequences of the biggest economic choice of our lives.

We go outside

About nine months ago, we finally moved to Denver. One of the first things we did was hit the trails, and writing down where we were going, how far, and what we were doing there. Starting with a hike in El Dorado Canyon State Park where our footwear didn’t quite fit the bill, up through our most recent trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. Eventually we decided to make a website showing off our progress, memorializing every trip online.

We’re keeping a log of everything we do together, even if someone else was with us, whether it’s a hike, a snowshoe, a backpacking trip, or a bike ride; no matter if it was in Virginia, Michigan, Colorado, or Wisconsin; nor if it’s a state park, national park, national forest, or national wildlife refuge. If it’s outside, and we did it together, its there.

The homepage is a slippy map with markers showing (roughly) the starting point for each hike. If you click through, you get a close-up on that area, or a path of the actual hike (if it’s available). Check it out, and if you like it, you can even make your own.

About the tech:

The site is generated with Jekyll. Each activity is listed in the _hikes directory with some basic frontmatter. An API is exposed with all the activities in GeoJSON format. The maps are powered by leaflet with tiles from Stamen. The repo needs a license file but it’s open source under an MIT license. Share and enjoy!


About 13 months ago we bought an SSL certificate for harmsboone.org. Recently we upgraded our SSL configuration for harmsboone.org and all our subdomains (except wedding.harmsboone.org, we’ll get there). Now you can browse Greg and Danielle’s blogs,and Danielle’s new writing project, 1000 Wednesdays, with confidence that nobody, not the government, not your internet service provider, not your crazy neighbor with a WiFi Pineapple is interfering with the words and photos your see on these pages.

We upgraded the base three, this site and the two blogs a couple months ago with certificates from SSLMate. You can get some sense of how I did it from my friend and colleague Eric Mill’s blog where he has posted an excellent walkthrough. You can also check our work at SSL Labs where we get an A+.

1000 Wednesdays I did this weekend, the same day we registered the domain. It was fully encrypted before we put any content on it at all. It, too, gets an A+,. We also snagged a cert for International Underground, with an A+ configuration, while we were at it.

Both of these last two sites are extra hip for being encrypted with a free certificate from Let’s Encrypt, a new non-profit, open Certificate Authority run by the Internet Research Security Group (ISRG). Their goal is to lower the barriers to entry for enabling encryption on web servers so that everybody can be serving content safely to everybody using the Internet. That means, even sites that are more or less dormant like International Underground can ensure that whoever happens upon it is getting content they can trust.

Things that were tricky about converting these sites over:

  • We migrated from a shared hosting environment to a virtual server on NGINX. Let’s Encrypt does not officially support NGINX yet, so we had to install them manually.
  • We had to solve some pretty big mixed content problems. For the most part they were ameliorated by changing the protocol in our various config files.
  • For International Underground, we had to patch a plugin that served a remote file over http. This may have broken the content (it’s a Flash video and I didn’t bother checking to see if it worked.
  • I missed the memo that Let’s Encrypt certificates don’t support the www subdomain by default and we (temporarily) lost www on International Underground and haven’t configured it for 1000 Wednesdays. I’m tempted to leave it that way, especially the latter never responded to www, but the redirect isn’t hard to set if you have the cert to cover it.

Overall, even though it took a few steps more than SSLMate, I was pretty impressed with Let’s Encrypt. For a public beta it is a great service that’s only going to get better. I hope to move all our sites to LE eventually but I’m going to get my money’s worth on the certs I paid for first.

It’s HTTPS, Dang it!

Inspired by some of the work I’m doing at my new gig where we are an all https shop, I took the $15 plunge and bought a ssl certificate this morning for HarmsBoone.org.

Honestly, given how easy it is these days on top of security concerns, Google giving preferential treatment to HTTPS sites, and the NY Times issuing a challenge to all news sites to go HTTPS by 2015, it only makes sense.

Now, whenever you browse this site you can do so with the comfort of knowing that all the communication between you and this site is private, secure, and authentic. I’ll be doing the same for the other HarmsBoone sites, and for International Underground in the coming weeks, but decided to get the flagship, the oldest and, honestly, most trafficked of our sites locked down and secure first. The next step will be going through the site and making sure that all images and script files linked on our blog posts are also done with https so you know that those are coming through uncontaminated, too.

And that’s about it.

The biggest thing you can do as a user is remember to type https when linking to any website. The worst case scenario is the site hasn’t configured it and you fall back to an insecure connection. For the most part, though, you’ll be sending your friends and family to secure, trustworthy locations on the Internet.

We got married!

We’ve had this site, HarmsBoone.org, for about five years, now. It started as an easy place to direct our families (the Harms’ and the Boones) for updates on our lives in Korea, then Hungary, but on August 2 we became the HarmsBoones after an incredible wedding celebration on Minnesota’s North Shore. We had a fantastic time with the friends and family who made the trip up to Castle Danger to party with us, and now we’re back in DC resuming our normal lives.

Below are some pictures we managed to take from the wedding (and a couple from our photographer). There are more to be found, for sure, but we want to quickly shout out a few people in particular who were crucial to making this weekend happen:

  • First, to our families for all the support they gave us before and during the wedding. We are endlessly thankful to have such wonderful parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, second and third cousins…you get the idea, couldn’t have pulled this thing off without all your support
  • To our many friends who came from far and wide to join us, and who reminded us of what we already knew: that we are beyond fortunate to have such a great network of friends.
  • A HUGE thanks to Laura and Galen, who drove all the way from Denver to transport a box of beautiful but breakables sculptures and more than one box of delicious but breakable Emperial Brewing beer. More big thanks to Galen for brewing that beer and to Laura for officiating the wedding as the best wedding captain known to humanity. The weekend would have been less ceremonial and decorative and hoppy without their skills.
  • Our amazing wedding party who helped with logistical and emotional aspects of bride and groom management.
  • Our photographer John Sharpe: seriously, not enough words for all the good things we want to say about him.
  • Lake Superior for being awesome.
  • Franky and Annie Scaglione for working incredibly hard to design and create gorgeously whimsical sculptures of the places we’ve been for us to scatter around the reception hall. Check them out below and soon at My Favourite Colour Studio. Okay, now the pictures.

Some highlights:

From the window of our beach house we could see waves lapping up at the shore and occasional geese and other waterfowl that inhabit the lake's chilly waters.
From the window of our beach house we could see waves lapping up at the shore and occasional geese cruising the lake’s chilly waters.
Early August and the lake was icy cold. We dipped our toes in, but they didn't last long.
Early August and the lake was icy cold. We dipped our toes in, but they didn’t last long.
Danielle's cousin Meghann made this delicious Norwegian Kransekakes for the wedding, and managed to track down flags from all the places we visited over the last few years to decorate it.
Danielle’s cousin Meghann made this delicious Norwegian Kransekakes for the wedding, and managed to track down flags from all the places we visited over the last few years to decorate it.
Italy, SolidState Sculpture from My Favourite Colour Studio
Our awesome friends Franky and Annie at My Favourite Colour Studio in Denver, CO made some amazing sculptures for us to use in our centerpieces. This one is Italy. Oh, and see those stellar flower arrangements? Those are by the lovely ladies at Saffron and Grey, in Duluth.
Washington, DC: SolidState Sculptures by My Favourite Colour Studio
Washington, DC
Danielle and Greg: pre-ceremony
It’s us! Photo by our amazing photographer, John Sharpe.
Photo by John Sharpe
Danielle, looking stunning. Photo by John Sharpe. Flowers by Saffron and Grey.
Photo by John Sharpe
Greg: post-wedding
Sunrise over Lake Superior at Castle Danger
The sunrise as seen from our beach house the morning after the wedding.
It's not really a book, but a map! All of our guests traveled to be with us. The shortest travel time was probably around 3 hours and the longest trips included guests who flew from every corner of the country and who drove from Idaho and Colorado to be with us. We are truly lucky to have so many wonderful friends and family who headed up north for the weekend.
It’s not really a book, but a map! All of our guests traveled to be with us. The shortest travel time was probably around 3 hours and the longest trips included guests who flew from every corner of the country and who drove from Idaho and Colorado to be with us. We are truly lucky to have so many wonderful friends and family who headed up north for the weekend.

The 2013 Chuncheon Makguksu and Dakgalbi Festival

Each year in August the small city of Chuncheon, about an hour by express commuter rail from Seoul, hosts a week-long festival celebrating two specific Korean dishes: makguksu and dakgalbi. Apparently this year the town decided that late June was a more suitable time for the festival this year, and thank goodness because we’re really glad we got to go.

Dakgalbi, a casserole made from chicken ribs, rice cakes, red pepper paste, cabbage, and a few other things depending on where you’re eating it, was one of the first Korean dishes we ever had and easily among our top favorites. It’s prepared on a giant skillet in the middle of the table and shared among everyone present. We had been craving it since the moment we got off the airplane.

Makguksu was new, at least we’re pretty sure we had never had it before. It reminded us of bibimguksu, except with buckwheat noodles and possibly a different kind of broth. It’s a chilled noodle soup with a radish, anchovy, or beef broth. I think we had the radish variety. Apart from the noodles, the soup was a lot of different vegetables, some kimchi, and red pepper paste.

Picking a place to eat makguksu was not hard, though it definitely could have been. The festival took place in a large field directly outside the train station that we understand was once a military camp. The food tents formed a outer wall for the festival, with banners above them alternating blue and red, for the soup and the chicken, respectively. Despite what must have been two dozen possible choices, we were so hungry we sat down at the first one we came across.

After eating we walked around the festival, but eventually the heat became too much to bear, and with a surprising lack of shade, we reluctantly headed to a cafe for iced drinks to plan the rest of our day. We wanted to see some of the amazing lakes and streams that Chuncheon is famous for but didn’t have the will to jump in a cab, so we headed to Gongjicheon, a small stream running between the lakes nestled into Chuncheon’s mountains. It always struck us as amazing how well Koreans do the outdoors. Gongjicheon, like so many other parks and wilderness areas was beautiful, with well maintained walking, running, and biking paths (this park had at least 12k of track along its rivers and lakes). We ended up having a our dakgalbi not at the festival, but at a little shop along the stream. It might have been the best dakgalbi we’ve ever had. The chicken was excellent, and the vegetable combinations were perfect. I guess that’s what happens when you get it from the source.

You’re Back? Retuning to Seoul, three years later.

It was about three years ago that we said good bye to the Land of the Morning Calm, a sad day I think both of us will remember for many years to come. For all the struggles of living and breathing Korea for that year, it was a place that we came to love more than any other place outside our own homes. When it came time to return this week, we found ourselves at a loss for all the things we wanted to do. There was so much we never experienced while we were here, and even more that we wanted to relive, but where to start? We decided on Ilsan. Continue reading “You’re Back? Retuning to Seoul, three years later.”

Sunset on Twin Oaks Farm

Sunset on Twin Oaks Farm
Tucking the baby chicks in to their coops for the night. Actually, the coop on the left is currently empty, but in just a few days a new generation of baby chicks will arrive and set up shop.

I first arrived at Twin Oaks Farm three years ago, on an evening long after the sun had set. I checked my directions for the dozenth time and confirmed that they did indeed say to turn off the well lit highway when I saw the pitch black playground, down the unpaved gravel road lined on each side by trees, and onto the first driveway on the right. “It’s a long driveway, so you won’t be able to see the house from the road,” the directions warned. As I flicked on my brights and turned down the unpaved street, my travel buddy and friend, Alison, showed the same raised-eye-brows skepticism I felt. This was beginning to feel like the plot of a horror movie: naive college girls want to play farmer and are never heard from again. Continue reading “Sunset on Twin Oaks Farm”

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs in Apples. CC Entertailion, flickr

Steve Jobs was a great man who invented some amazing devices that have changed the way we interact with technology. Today we’ve changed our look, (inspired by boingboing.net) to a retro mac theme in his memory. I never knew Jobs, and never thought I’d get the chance, but he was an inspiring public speaker, an innovator, and a businessman not afraid to make insanely great products. His genius, his commitment to greatness, near perfection and thinking different, left a mark on global technology and industrial design that will far outlast his mortality.

Thanks, Steve. Rest in Peace.

Stay Hungry.

Mount Vernon: An Ode to Dedicated Trails

A couple weeks ago Danielle and I joined a couple of my new classmates on a ride out to Mount Vernon. The beautiful trail winds its way along the Potomac from the Washington estate past Alexandria, where it is briefly interrupted, DCA , the National Cemetery, and Fort Meyers, terminating finally in Rosslyn at the Key Bridge. Almost all of it is off-street trail much like what I was used to in Minneapolis. In general it is quite a nice trail; smooth pavement, except for some boardwalks here and there, beautiful scenery (can’t get much better than the monuments), even a place where you can get so close to landing aircrafts that you can almost touch them. With all that, though, the trail lacks some surprising features I’ve seen other places.

Most prominently in Lake Park, Korea, exist speed-segregated trails. All the way around the lake were walking paths, “fast walking” or running paths, and bike or really fast running paths. Even when the paths converged, they did so only in that there was no physical barrier between the three; occasionally the walking and running paths would join forces. In a park as busy as Lake Park was, it was hard to imagine not having these trails separated out. Even during the slow periods there were dozens of people sharing the path with you, after all it was the biggest, and only real outdoor recreation area for a city of a million. Sure there were other bike paths, but they almost all pass through the park at some point, and if you are terrified of the traffic on the streets (as I should have been) Lake Park is the longest stretch of uninterrupted trail. The segregated trails exist back home, too, in Minneapolis.

Though not so rigid as the Ilsanite park, the Minneapolitan Grand Rounds Scenic Byway is almost all split into “wheeled traffic” and “biped” traffic. There are signs around the lakeshore bike trails telling walkers, “If you don’t have wheels under your feet, you’re on the wrong trail.” It’s a friendly convenience both to bikers and pedestrians. The trails are supposed to be speed limited to 10mph, but even at that speed, crashing into a walker or runner who can’t hear you shout “left side!” is going to do some damage to someone. Thus the separation allows bikers to only worry about slow pokes weaving around the bikeway in a carelessly unpredictable manner with iPods loudly obstructing their hearing, and there is almost always an opportunity to safely pass such nuisance bikers.

On the Vernon trail there is no segregation, a perfect union where all ambulation is created equal, with no special treatment or exclusion. Want to walk very slowly down the middle of the path with headphones on so you can’t hear people telling you to get out of your way? Go for it! This is America, you have that right. And so, I make my first argument in favor of segregation, but only as it applies to speed and mode of travel. It is not as though there is no space for a second two-way trail for walkers. Throughout most of the Mt. Vernon Trail there is plenty of room for separate trails, and the congestion certainly merits it. As an example of the benefits, I present my experience riding this weekend.

For some reason Saturday was the day everyone decided to wander aimlessly down the trail without really paying attention to their surroundings. I was coming up quickly behind a runner who had headphones on and shouted “left side!” from a good distance. Her reaction was to stop in her tracks and say, “where, what side!?” I’m not sure how she could be confused by “left side.” A reasonable person should assume the person saying it is behind (answering the “where”), and coming up on the left side (answering the “what side”) and then get to the right, or at least not be spooked by the biker whizzing past. To her credit, at least she heard me, dozens of others think it is perfectly acceptable to throw in the headphones and tune everything out, as the old Atmosphere line goes, “put my headphones on for this world I ignore.”

Bikers can shout “left side” at these people all we want but they won’t hear us, and sometimes will get spooked, and if they do something dangerous (like stop, or move to the left instead of the right) someone could get hurt. The point is, with segregated trails this shouldn’t happen, or is at least limited to the few points where trails merge or biped traffic meandering onto the wrong trail.

Washington and Arlington are great places to bike, but especially during busy times and around tourist attractions (which are everywhere in this town) the trails can become overly congested and therefore inconvenient and dangerous. I suspect it will be a long time before it happens, but I hope there are plans for expanding the trails around here to separate the wheeled from the non-wheeled.