Sunday, March 20, 2016

New Chapter

After almost 2 years of trying, I finally closed on a house. It was a longer process than I thought, and more expensive, but also exciting.  I'm also starting a new job, after a longer-than-usual stretch between freelance projects (SO fun to be out of work when buying a house). On top of that, I am going to be an aunt for the first time, which seems CRAZY. It feels like a lot is happening right now. I haven't been writing as much, because it seems like there is too much to do in real life to sit down and write about it.

I'm going to try to get back into a rhythm, but I'm also not going to kick myself too hard about falling behind my writing goals. Life is kicking into a higher gear, and I'd rather be doing interesting things than writing about the interesting things I want to do.

Anyway, just wanted to put a little update out there to show I'm still alive. I'll be back.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Unexpected Costs of Buying a Home

I'm a first time home buyer. Well, almost. And I thought I was pretty prepared for the process. But let me tell you, it costs SO much. Even more than expected.  Here are some costs that I didn't know about (and that you, possibly, also don't know about):

- You have to prepay an entire year of insurance at closing. Thousands of dollars. You also then have to put a couple additional months into an escrow account in order to start socking away money for the following year's pre-payment. So in total, you are paying for 14-15 months of insurance all at once.

- You also have to prepay a couple months of property taxes for the same reason.  I think it's so you don't get a big bill all at once the following year.  You start paying it in advance instead and the mortgage company holds it for you in an escrow account.  But that means you really get kicked in the teeth at closing.

- All the inspections cost more than you think they will. Everything is so expensive. Expect, even on a cheap house, to spend $6-8K in inspection/title/misc fees for closing.  And if everything isn't perfect, you may need to have them come back for a re-inspection.

- Since you wait, wait, wait and then need to send checks ASAP to arrive the next day, or you need to wire money to arrive immediately, you end up paying money in wire transfer and overnight mail fees. I've spent probably a couple hundred dollars just on fed-ex and wire fees.

- If, like in my case, it's an investment property, everything costs more. Inspections and insurance included, in addition to a higher interest rate.

All this means I'm probably out almost 5K more than I thought I would be. Thank god I had a healthy savings account, but I'm feeling poorer right now than I have in years. I want to get someone in there renting ASAP and start building my reserves back up as quickly as possible. I just keep reminding myself it's a long term investment, not anything that will yield fruit in the next year or two.  I think buying is a great investment, but one that has a steep cost of entry, even steeper than many first time buyers expect.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


Has anyone else ever noticed how much easier it is to run other people's lives that to run your own? When friends or family ask for advice, I generally have pretty strong feelings on what the right path is. And yet, when it's time for me to make a decision about anything, I'm completely wracked with doubt. 

For instance, restaurant menus. I will sit there and go back and forth over what to order for 10 minutes, before generally getting the same thing I always get. Or I'll pick at the wording of an email until it bleeds. My latest indecision is house based. I am thisclose to finally closing on a house, god willing and the creek don't rise, but it is really bringing my decision making skills (or lack thereof) to the forefront. I have to buy appliances. Hard. I have to buy a cart for the kitchen. Surprisingly hard, though after polling about 10 people I think I finally settled on one.  Now I have to pick the paint color for the outside of the house and, oh boy, that is not easy. 

I mocked up a bunch of options (did everyone know that you can fake paint a house at the Sherman-Williams site? Because I didn't) and sent them out to be voted on, but everyone likes a different one. There are two I'm kind of leaning towards, but they have gotten the fewest votes. So I am in a fog of indecision, as per usual. 

I think I need to find someone to run my life for me, while I'm busy running other people's. That should work well.

Until I manage that, what do people think? Blue, green, dark blue, white, or yellow?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Ranking Accents

I can be shallow.  I like a guy with brains, kindness, a sense of humor...and who is tall, handsome, and has a nice voice and accent.  And while I like a lot of different accents, there are definitely some that can make me cringe, too.  There are some accents I love and some that instantly take a guy from a 7 to a 4.  I'm sure not everyone will agree with me - like everything else related to hotness, it's all pretty subjective - but here is my personal list, ranked best to no thanks.

Scottish - I am sure this is because I just visited Scotland, but Scottish accents are super hot. Think Gerard Butler in 'P.S. I Love You' or Ewan McGregor in 'A Life Less Ordinary.' If they were only 10 years younger or I was only 10 years older and a model...

Ewan McGregor, basically the prototype hot Scottish guy.

Middle Class British - Ok, I know there's a bunch of different "English" accents but I can't really distinguish them particularly well. But the standard British that a bunch of actors have is very nice. Very, very nice. I'm assuming it's middle class-ish since it's not quite as posh as how Prince William and co speak.

Australian - My first exposure to Australian accents was as a young, impressionable exchange student (in Europe, not Australia), and I briefly dated an Australian boy while I was there. Since then I have loved the accent. I think this may be because of how absolutely fun and energetic most Australian guys seem to be.
I mean...
Another guy who just elevated his accent.
Southern United States - I do love a nice southern accent. Not a hillbilly accent, because I also love proper grammar and people who say 'ain't' irritate me no matter where they're from, but a nice polite southern drawl. THIS particular accent may have originally endeared itself to me after watching Brad Renfro in 'The Client' approximately a hundred times. May he rest in peace.
My childhood crush.
Not his real accent, but he sells it on Hart of Dixie.
Basic American - a nice, clean standard American accent I think is very nice. I have been informed by an Australian/British friend that people over the pond don't actually much like American accents, but I do, so there.  Though it does break my heart a little that British guys don't appreciate my accent as much as I appreciate theirs.

Upper class British - I'm thinking a Prince William-ish accent, which I assume is as upper class as it gets. It's just a little more proper and formal than the middle class one, which knocks it down a few spots, but it's still very nice to listen to.

Irish - This one was hard to place, since the voice is particularly important. I've heard some Irish accents that were musical and sexy, and others that somehow just weren't.  Still, I'm going to give the country the benefit of the doubt and drop them right in the middle of my accent list. The nice ones definitely jump up above the basic American.
An example of a fine Irish accent.
Miami - Ok, this is not an accent that is objectively hot. I don't even necessarily find it hot. But I'm from there and it sounds like home, and so I have a soft spot in my heart for it nonetheless. Basically, everyone sounds slightly Latin and slightly Valley Girl all at once, whether or not they speak Spanish.

Midwestern - I had an internal debate whether to bump this below the lower class British accent, but I decided to be patriotic and put it right above.  I'm not talking a straight up Fargo accent, but a much softer version that kind of veers towards the Canadian. We are definitely getting lower on the hotness scale at this point though.
Why yes, I associate Midwestern with the Packers.
Lower Class British - I guess that would be a Cockney accent. It is still nice, though again much like Irish it varies greatly. I've heard some that are very pleasant, like Michael Caine for example, but some are hillbilly-equivelant. 

Canadian - Midwestern sounding but without the appeal of actually being American (sorry). Though I have met many Canadians I like, I just am not into their accent.

Trinidad and Tobago- A very good friend is from here, which bumps the accent up since her family is basically my second family. On a guy though it doesn't really help his hotness though. It might not lower it, but at best it's hotness-neutral.

New York - I live here now and should therefore like the accent, but I don't. I just really don't. Despite that, I'm a little sad it's on its way out.

South African - This is vaguely British sounding, but less appealing. Also, since I hear it pretty rarely it usually just confuses me, and I end up trying to figure out if the speaker is a foreigner who learned British English or if they're a native speaker with a weird accent. Obviously it's the second of the two, but I just don't like it.
Cute guy. Meh accent.
Indian - Despite a very fun visit to India a few years ago, the accent really isn't my cup of tea. It may be too many years of call centers warping my perception, which is unfair, but it's an accent that does absolutely nothing for me and probably lowers a guy's attractiveness for me.  Strangely, I think women wear this accent better than men. On a guy it's just kind of blah.

Boston - This is not all that different from New York to me, but even worse.  It's just...I don't know. It sounds strident and kind of belligerently ignorant. Which people from Boston are not. I'm sure many of them are lovely, even the Patriots fans. They can't help where they're born. But this is not an accent that will ever have me ripping my clothes off.
Two famous Bostonians. Cute guys made less hot by their accents.

So? What do you all think? What accents do it for you? And, British guys, WHHHHYYYY don't you like American accents???

Friday, January 22, 2016

These Are A Few Of My Most Hated Things

There are a lot of things that annoy me. One might even say they unreasonably annoy me. Many of them involve grammar. The rest can be lumped into the general category of dumb human behavior.  I'm trying to learn to ignore them, but I can't be the only who hates these things, right?

Men Who Always Squint

What is this? Why? I hate it. The guys who always look squinty but have wrinkled foreheads from raising their eyebrows are extra irritating.  It especially seems like guys in New York/New Jersey do this a lot, as I don't remember it being as prevalent elsewhere. I think they're trying to either look sexy or tough. It's not working. Below are two examples I found online - there are so many people who do this in real life, but it was actually hard to find photos since 'squinty man' doesn't really turn up the right results. I should just snap photos of random people throughout my day and call it a win.

Manspreaders Who Won't Take a Hint

I've started passive aggressively standing my ground when manspreaders push their legs into me on the subway. I'm tired of trying to make myself smaller just so I don't have to touch them.  I'm sorry, but no one's balls are so big that they literally need to make a V with their legs.  If they are, they should see a doctor. I think some of them may think I'm flirting when I push back a little, but I do my best to make eye contact and give them the flattest, most stone cold look I can manage before pointedly going back to whatever I'm reading.  If I have to be uncomfortable, I try to make them uncomfortable too.  Luckily, it seems the MTA is on my side with this one. 

OK Cupid Hypocrites

These are the guys who are heavy themselves but announce they'll only date someone skinny. Or the guys who say god is important to them, they believe women who have had too many sex partners are bad (a real question), and yet are "seriously interested" in a threesome. 

Or, and this one particularly irks me, they answer a question a certain way (there are a LOT of questions you can answer) but indicate they won't accept the same answer from a potential partner.  I don't get it. It's so annoying.  See below for some examples. Faces covered to protect the innocent (me).

So he wants to be rich and knowledgeable but I can't be? The hell??

Autoplay Videos or Ads

WHY does every news site do this? I've stopped reading any article but ones that absolutely fascinates me because the autoplay drives me crazy. I'm trying to READ here. If I wanted to watch the video, I'd press play myself!  Ads with audio on random pages are even worse. I usually have several tabs open, so it can sometimes take me a good 20 seconds to find and silence the offending ad. If I'm at work it's embarrassing. If I'm at home, it's still annoying. And you had better believe I'd rather cut my hand off then buy anything from those ads or click anything on those ads. I hope all those companies go out of business for being overly aggressive jerks.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

All My Favorite Authors Are Dead

Ok, maybe not quite all. I quite like Diana Gabaldon, for example. And Marian Keyes books are both entertaining and though provoking, in a stealth kind of way, and she is still very much alive. I'm sure I could also think of a few others who have yet to depart from this mortal coil. But, unfortunately, it does seem that MANY of my favorite authors are no longer in the land of the living. Selfish though it is, it makes me sad that no new books will update me on the lives of my favorite characters, and I will never again laugh out loud at some of the witty descriptions found in these books.

Terry Pratchett

I've been tearing through the Discworld series in the past few months and I'm almost at the end. Which is awful. The fact that Terry Pratchett was able to write over 40 books about the same world, with many of the same characters, without becoming stale or repetitive is an amazing feat. His stories are hilarious but still have this grain of truth within them, not to mention an amazing understanding of human nature. Yesterday I found out that he passed away recently, at a relatively young age, and I am already mourning the lack of new books even while still finishing up the stash I have. 

Elizabeth Peters 

I discovered her books when I was still in middle school, and have read every single book she's published under this particular pseudonym since then. While she also wrote books as Barbara Michaels, those books have a thread of supernatural spookiness running through them that I don't enjoy quite as much. Her Elizabeth Peters books are a triumph of comedic genius, however. They are generally mysteries or adventure/mysteries, but the witty and charismatic characters are what take center stage.  In particular, her Amelia Peabody Emerson books and her Vicky Bliss novels were extremely entertaining, and I've reread 'Street of the Five Moons at least 10 times.  Alas, no more books will be forthcoming, as she passed away in 2013 at the age of 85. I still feel sad about this, as I used to await her annual release for months in advance.

Mirion Zimmer Bradley

Another fantasy author I have loved and lost. Many people will know her for 'The Mists of Avalon,' but my favorite of her literary works was her Darkover series.  'Exile's Song' in particular grabbed me, and I reread it several times. I got news of her passing while living abroad, and had a minor existential crisis at the thought of no longer getting updates on the Alton family.

P.G. Wodehouse  

This author died before I was even born, much less had read any of his books. Nevertheless, I wish I could look forward to new releases. Like many of the other authors on my list, he had a knack for writing stories that combined dry humor and spot on characterizations.  I'm hoping he was somehow reincarnated and is just now getting ready to start publishing new novels. 

There are probably others I'm blocking from memory for my own emotional well being.  When an author dies, in a sense all their characters die too, so it's a mini genocide.  On the other hand, they are also immortal, as these books will hopefully be around for generations to come.  Regardless, no more authors are allowed to die. I don't think I could handle it.  

Monday, January 18, 2016

Furry Freeloaders - Cute Cat Edition

I have cats. Not a crazy cat lady amount, just two, but that is plenty in a small one bedroom apartment.  They are adorable. They sleep on my feet at night and purr in my face in the morning.

However, sadly, they are also freeloaders.  It has come to my attention that other cats pull their weight. I'm not even talking about Grumpy Cat, whose popularity seems to be due to a genetic fluke of nature. I can't hold my cat's inherently cheerful visages against them.  No, I'm talking about actual working cats.  I'm going to need to let my cats know that the free ride ends now.

For instance, my cousin recently brought Maru to my attention. Maru seems to be famous simply for liking boxes. Cardboard boxes that is. Now, my cats like boxes too but not in a particularly photogenic way.  Rather, they like boxes in a way that knocks things off tables or wakes me up in the middle of the night. They like boxes in the absolute opposite of a helpful way.

(Quick aside here to note that one of my cats just walked up to me and started headbutting me and purring. She's trying, bless her heart. I tried to videotape it, but she's all black. It's like a black shadow where cute is supposed to be. How am I supposed to work with that?)

Then there's Nala. I have to give her owner some credit for this one. The videos don't show her doing anything particularly spectacular, but they are nicely edited with music. I mean, my cats (if you could actually see them in videos) do basically the things this cat does.  But my cats do not have a twitter feed. Lazy.

Then we've got Chris Cohen's cat (a personal favorite of mine). It talks. I mean. My cats meow plenty, but they have yet to learn English, much less delightfully accented English.  I'm thisclose to signing them up for some ESL classes and hoping for the best.

Anyway, my cats are lucky they have good personalities. I've been covering their share of the rent for years.  Here is the failed video I took of my cat, if anyone wants to see a cat doing absolutely nothing.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Reimagining Risotto, Budget Style

I love gnocchi. And risotto. And polenta. And just about all the traditional Italian food that my parents would occasionally make and that I would gorge on when visiting relatives in Italy. However, a lot of it is a little bit time intensive when I'm cooking just for myself. I just had a cousin visit from Italy, however, and that's inspired me to get off my (figurative) ass and actually have something other than an egg burrito or aglio olio for lunch.

Happily, while a little time intensive, most traditional Italian recipes are also cheap. That helps. They are also flexible, and you can usually substitute some ingredients for others. I usually make risotto alla Milanese, since that's what my mom always made, but when my cousin was here he made a great version that used the veggies I had in my fridge and red wine instead of white. Very easy, and the most expensive ingredient was the arborio rice, which can be bought at places like Whole Foods pretty affordably.

Simple Risotto:

Chop up a stalk of celery, half an onion, and half a carrot pretty fine. Start to fry them up in olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of the skillet, but not cover the veggies).  Add a little chopped garlic if desired. If you have other non-mushy veggies in the house, throw them in too. Things like mushrooms should be added a little later, since they cook so much faster.

After a few minutes, add in the rice. I made enough for two people, which is about half a pound. Fry that up for another 2-3 minutes. This will allow the flavor of the veggies to really get into the rice.

Start pouring in whatever wine you've got. My cousin used some Trader Joe red wine, which was great because we were then able to finish the bottle with dinner. Add a generous splash, the equivalent of a large shot or small wine glass.  Measurements don't need to be precise.

Let that all soak in. Stir occasionally to keep any rice/veggies from sticking to the pot.  Now the rice will have flavor from the veggies and the wine.

Once the rice has absorbed almost all the wine, start to slowly add broth. My cousin used beef broth from Whole Foods. I made it again later that week and used vegetable broth. I'll admit the beef broth had more flavor, but if you jazz up some basic veggie broth it should be fine too. Chicken broth is fine as well - whatever your preference is.  Add a ladle full at a time. The rice should never be swimming in liquid. Stir every minute or two. If the broth is bland add some basic spices and salt/pepper. This is where the majority of the final taste will come from, so make it good.

After a few ladle-fulls of broth you should see that the rice is looking more cooked, and softer. Go ahead and try a small spoonful to check if it's ready. It should be soft and creamy without being mushy. If it's just a tiny bit al dente, that's ok too since when it's time to turn off the stove you can add one final ladle of broth and then let it rest a few minutes.

Grate some Parmesan cheese in. How much depends on how much you like it. Don't go too crazy though - if all you taste is cheese you won't taste the rice itself. Stir it in. You can grate a bit more on for decoration when it's time to serve.

And you're done! Like I said, the most expensive part of the dish is the rice itself, or maybe the wine if you don't already have some in the house. But since you only use a little wine there's plenty left over to drink.  Traditional risotto usually uses white wine but the vegetable risotto my cousin made for me with red was delicious. 

Not a usually food blogger - excuse the crappy photo.