We’re about to close

I’ll admit, I didn’t think we’d be sitting here less than a year after moving to Denver, preparing to close on a mortgage. I thought we’d be able to make it happen eventually, but I didn’t think it’d be this fast.

Before we go, I wanted to write up some thoughts about an invaluable resource throughout the whole process: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bureau gets a lot of attention for its enforcement actions mission, and while that’s an important one that’s provided relief for millions in the bureau’s short history, they also have an educative mission. They provide resources for navigating worlds that usually involve taking out several thousand dollars of debt like paying for college, buying a car, and owning a home, and transactions that help you and your family stay safe and solvent like planning for retirement, sending money overseas, and using prepaid cards. They explain your rights, what to expect, and what to watch out for, and break the process into discrete steps that correspond to how consumers actually approach these things.

When I worked there, the bureau was in the midst of their Owning a Home project and I knew the people working on it were doing tremendous amounts of research to understand all the terms and design an experience that worked for the American consumer. I remember how excited the team was to be launching something so impactful. When it first launched Owning a Home provided data and basic information about home loans, interest rates, and closing documents. Now it looks like this and, as it developed since 2014, became a comprehensive guide to the home owning process. I didn’t know anything about homeownership then but I knew about the financial crisis, and how people got talked into loans they couldn’t afford only to then have their home, brokers took shortcuts and took risks they should have known not to take, and the system was generally stacked against the consumer. Putting this information into the world would only help protect people and better know their situation up front.

Today, as we prepare to walk into closing and make a huge financial decision, we’re confident we can afford the house and the loan, confident we understand the terms, and confident there’s someone who can help if things get murky.

The CFPB is the killer app of the banking world. I know people lived without it in the past but I really can’t fathom how. If you know someone who is starting to deal with these financial decisions point them toward CFPB’s Consumer Tools. If CFPB has been valuable to your home buying process, write your Senators and Members of Congress and tell them. Then tell them your story. They’re doing an important public service over there, and stories like this reassure them that they’re on the right track.

Thank you CFPB, and all the brilliant designers and policy professionals you have working on keeping us safe and confident as we navigate these weighty and stressful decisions.

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!

Swept Away in Vienna

State Hall

There are thousands of century old books in the State Hall of Vienna's National Library.

As an English teacher living in South Korea last year, I developed a tired habit. Week after repetitive week, I mentally promised myself that I would really, truly contact local Wisconsin newspapers in search of one that might grant me the space for a column. I managed to deftly avoid 52 self-imposed deadlines, but I have finally broken the cycle of procrastination. It just took moving to Kaposvár, Hungary to finally get my act together.

Each month I write a column entitled New Beginnings: At Home and Abroad, for Sun Prairie, Wisconsin’s local newspaper, The Sun Prairie Star. This month I wrote a piece about that priceless moment in every good trip where you get swept away in a moment, and how I found that instant of genuine awe is Vienna’s National Library. You can read the rest of the article here, at the Sun Prairie Star’s website.

After a week of exploring Vienna, the moment I had been waiting for finally arrived. I was utterly swept away. The woody scent of books found its way through the chilled air to my nose as the soaring crescendos of Richard Strauss’s opera Der Rosenkavalier played in homage to its debut a century ago. Overhead stately figures in Grecian robes leaned over a balcony in a warmly painted fresco, and old globes with sea creatures poking out of seas begged to be spun.

Yet all of this decadent beauty was only a secondary compliment to this room’s main attraction: books. Lining shelf upon shelf stretching two stories up were the crinkled pages of books dating back hundreds of years. I was in the State Room of Austria’s National Library, one of Europe’s best, and among the books filling the shelves were pages churned out by the press over 500 years ago.

You can read the rest of the article here, at the Sun Prairie Star’s website. If you’re interested in reading more, rest assured, more articles wait just a click away. Like my October piece about the contrasts between building a new school in Sun Prairie and rural Hungary, or my December column, about spending Thanksgiving with a 30 pound turkey and a dozen ex-pats. And of course, there’s more to come next month.

Pusan International Film Festival

We took a trip to Busan (or is it Pusan, you decide!) this weekend for the annual International Film Festival. We’re told it is the largest in all of Asia and in the second largest city in Korea. We’ll have more on all of it soon including details and some photos from the Jagalchi Fish Market. Keep your browsers tuned here for all of it this week. As for now, we’re going to bed.

Cheers.