Friday, July 27, 2012

Appraised and Closing

The Man and I have cleared one of the last hurdles on our road to becoming homeowners: our new house has been appraised.  Thankfully it appraised above what we're paying, so the bank is satisfied and will give us money to buy the house.  We might even be able to close a little bit earlier than we anticipated!

And the best part of all?  We get to give notice to our apartment complex within the next few days.  Of course, the notice I'd like to give them probably ought to be worded a bit more diplomatically than I have in mind.  I have to let The Man handle most of the correspondence with the management around here lest we be evicted for "intelligence unbecoming a resident."  Not that The Man isn't smart, he is, but he has an ability to make people think he's not speaking down to them.  I? am not good at filtering sarcasm around stupid people.  At all.

Case in point:

I was unloading some boxes from my car last night to take into our apartment.  The boxes are large copy paper boxes, you know, the clean ones with lids that are perfect for moving.  Our maintenance gang was out roaming the parking lot in their golf cart when they noticed me hefting boxes inside.  These goons have both been inside our apartment several times helping to "fix" things.  I've had lengthy conversations with both of them--more than enough to realize they don't have a whole lot going on upstairs.  "You moving in?" one quizzed me.

This was when my filter apparently broke and wouldn't allow me to ignore the response bubbling up inside, "Nope, just collecting boxes for the homeless."

"Oh, well, we have an empty apartment near yours if you'd like to use it to store the boxes for the homeless for a while."

"Uh, oh, oh good, I'll have to keep that in mind, thanks."

And you wonder why I want to move!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Disposable Single-Use Straw Containers for Flying

The Man and I are taking a vacation!  Well, we will be, eventually.  A couple months after we move in to our new house, we'll be taking off for somewhere warm and sandy, er..., um..., somewhere hot, dry, and no beaches in sight.  How did I get roped into going to Sin City again?

I've never flown anywhere, and with the super cheap flights from Eugene to Las Vegas, it makes more sense to fly than to drive.  Yay for my first flight!  We're hoping to be able to pack everything we both need into carry-on luggage in order to avoid checking any bags.  I've been reading up on all the rules for flying, and while I'm stoked that I'll be able to keep my every-handy nail clippers on my person, I'm a bit worried about this whole 3-1-1 liquids rule.

According to the TSA, one person is allowed to take one quart sized freezer bag with as many containers of liquid inside as will fit and still close completely.  The liquids inside must all be contained in 3oz containers or smaller.  Makes sense, but by the time you add up my toothpaste, contact solution, make-up, sunscreen, shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, we're talking quite a few bottles of liquid!

I could run out and buy a bunch of travel-sized pre-filled tubes of toothpaste, bottles of shampoo and conditioner, and tiny contact solution packs, right?  Easy peasy, right?  But that's expensive, and the flavors or colors or scents (or lack thereof) that I like most--or am not allergic to--don't come in travel sizes.

I could run out and buy a bunch of empty travel-sized containers and fill them with my own supplies, right?  Not quite as easy peasy, but at least I'd have some control over the ingredients. But then I have to deal with wasted space since not all of the travel-sized containers will be filled completely, and not all of them are shaped to play nicely in a single quart-sized freezer bag for maximum space saving.

So I've been thinking.  I'm a smart cookie.  There has to be a better way to pack all of these liquids without resorting to repacking expensive little containers that I only need this once.  There has to be a way to get five days worth of health and beauty products to all fit neatly into one zippered bag that is guaranteed to be leak proof, puncture resistant, easy to open, and TSA-compliant.

Cue straws, stage right.  I've seen this idea before, and I executed it for our homemade first aid kits for both of our cars.  We have little single-use packs of antibiotic cream, hydrocortizone cream, and other gels (although the burn gel wouldn't seal no matter how many I tried, grr) in our car kits.  These were super easy to make, durable, and pack very well.  If I ordered the bubble tea straws--really wide ones at almost a half-inch diameter--I could pack single-use straws of shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, body wash, you name it!  They open really fast with nail clippers or scissors, and they squeeze flat for dispensing.  I can write on the outside with a sharpie or color code them with labels to keep them all straight.  Due to their shape and not having any wasted space, I'd be able to pack probably a full week's worth in my little quart bag allotment and still have plenty of space for other things.

My only concern is that my shampoo straws might be mistaken for a contraband liquid.  Once opened to prove that the shampoo is shampoo, I can't exactly close them without a lighter--which is definitely not allowed on the plane.  I don't want to take the time to make seven straws of sunscreen, seven straws of shampoo, etc., and then get to the airport and find out my straws are not acceptable.  I am not breaking any rules, I'm just using a non-traditional container.  Who says the squeezy tubes are more or less of a hazard than my single-use straws?

If you were a TSA agent, would you let these onto a plane?  Why or why not?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Hop Festival 2012

The Man and I celebrated summer this weekend and visited with lots of his family at their annual reunion in Hubbard, Oregon.  We had a nice time watching the parade in the morning, dining on yummy hamburgers and hot dogs in the afternoon, and spending quality time with loved ones the whole day.

We only had one entry in the dessert contest this year as The Man was not interested in submitting a dessert.  I entered some chocolate-covered Oreos that garnered a second-place win, although the competition was pretty slim this year.  I didn't even have a plan until just a few days before the event.  Perhaps next year we could have a theme like "food decorated to look like other food" or "secret recipes" where people make their family's secret recipe desserts (not sharing the recipes, of course).  Maybe that will entice more entrants.

The beautiful summer day was perfect for my Great Idea of the Week.  I researched a little about how to paint faces last week, so after a trip to the craft store for supplies, I had everything I needed to make little faces much, much more colorful.  I had a very small and rather inexpensive set-up, but the quality of the paint was excellent, and the patience of my young crowd was fantastic.  I practiced painting my own face the night before just to test the texture of the paint and application feel, so my full-face painting of a skull was purely experimental.  The skull turned out surprisingly well, good enough that The Man was startled by my appearance.  He was a willing first subject on Saturday, so I gave him some extra thick eyebrows with curls on the end and a dramatic mustache with very long sides that hung down to his chin.  He wore the face paint for the rest of the day (earning quite a few stares when we went out to dinner later).  The girls looked through some pictures I'd printed of examples, then they each sat their turn while I dutifully recreated the image on their cheeks and foreheads.  Though I wasn't expecting it, I had a fantastic time doing their face painting!  And while I'm no where near a professional, I do have to say their designs turned out wonderfully.  I wish I had taken pictures for you, but I was having too much fun with them to stop and take pictures.

We had to hop south in the evening for dinner out with our close friends, and we also took them out to look at our new house (location, not inside the house as we aren't in possession yet).  They probably won't be able to see the house--or us again--until Christmas at the earliest since they live so far away.  We reluctantly let them return north and went on a stunning country drive on the back-roads as we went home.

Sunday?  I occupied a couch like my life depended on it.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Haters Gonna Hate

In my six years as a blogger, I've rarely had negative comments.  My readers, you, have been kind and thoughtful, and I appreciate just about every comment that someone takes the time to leave.  There are moments, though, when I receive nasty comments, and sometimes those ruin a day.

I read every comment I receive, no matter how old the post is or how cruel the sentiment might be.  The majority of the comments get posted right away, and I do my best to respond to them quickly if the reader had a question.  The few comments I do reject are usually because they are "confidential" responses from people who are responding "for my eyes only" (feel free to do that, by the way).  The really mean comments just get deleted.  I try not to take them to heart, don't feel bad about not posting them, and learn to let them go.

I received one such nasty comment recently and opted to not post it.  The reader "read" my blog page about my faith.  He or she then commented anonymously informing me that my faith was a sham brought about nothing other than my imagination and that my faith is akin to harboring imaginary friends.

Now I'm pretty comfortable with the notion that there are people in the world that don't believe the same thing I do.  Lots of people disagree what what I believe--and that's just fine.  I think other religions and ways of believing are deserving of respect, and I have a lot of fun learning about them.  However, opening up my own story was a very difficult thing to do online.  It's scary to put myself out there for the world to read.  Being part of this large Catholic and Christian community is a bit terrifying, but it's also necessary.  Keeping that dialogue open and creating a place where people can share ideas or discuss topics is important to me.

So imagine my delight when I received a comment that was neither respectful nor constructive.  Yeah.  Big ol' turd sandwich right on my faith page.  I reread that page wondering what set Anonymous off, but I just couldn't find the lecture or theology lesson he or she got stuck on.  I don't try to "win hearts and minds" or bash anyone else's faith.  I don't state that my way is the only way.  In fact, aside from inviting conversation, I couldn't find anything on my faith page that had anything to do with anything other than me! (Weird, a blog all about me is actually about me?! Go figure.)

I'm not going to defend my faith to Anonymous.  It's very clear to me that Anonymous is not interested in listening, let alone having an actual conversation.  I can't prove God exists anymore than Anonymous can try to prove God doesn't exist.  Receiving nasty comments is no fun, but unfortunately I can't stop them.  Haters are going to hate.  That doesn't mean I have to hate in return.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

New House Prioritization

The Man and I have been hard at work planning for our new house.  We've price-shopped dozens of items and become familiar with many objects neither of us have purchased before.  We scored a fantastic deal on a brand-new matching washer and dryer set at Home Depot (thanks to them price matching, offering a discount, and free delivery).  We're still making lists right and left of to-dos, to-buys, and to-gets.

This prioritizing has been harder than actually buying the house!

Do we paint first and then move?  Do we move in and then paint?  Of course it would be easier to paint an empty house, but our apartment lease ends very soon after we get into our house, plus having people to help us becomes problematic later in August, so we pretty much have to move and then paint.  But then we have to use more drop cloths, and it's just slower overall.

Do we run a cable drop into the "office" for internet, or do we use the "family room" as our "office" and the "office" as a TV-watching space?  I think it would look pretty silly to walk into a house and see desks and craft supplies in the main living area, but the layout is a little awkward for our furniture at this point.

Do we prioritize new floors over new countertops?  The floors are in good shape, but the carpet is likely to show wear sooner than later, and I'd really like to have a hardwood first floor.  But the countertops are tiled.  Mostly I just want to brain the people who think tile counters are a good idea.  It's not that I like granite or marble countertops--I really don't!  Laminate is just so much easier to care for, plus it's cheaper to replace.  Also?  Less mess.

If you were moving into a new house, what would your priorities be?  Cleanliness?  Organization?  Remodeling?  Painting?  Inside or outside stuff?  Sticking to a planned budget?  Just getting your stuff moved from point A to point B?

Monday, July 16, 2012

The American Dream Realized

The Man and I have been busy, busy, busy little beavers lately hunting for a house.  We have been working with a realtor for several months, and we've been saving for a down-payment since before we got married.  Unlike all of the "kids" our age that we know who own houses, we aren't getting a big hand-out from the government or assistance from our parents to pay for the house.  We're going at it the old-fashioned way, pennies in jars and dollars in the bank.  Getting to the point where we are has been a lot of work and some serious luck, and we're both feeling incredibly blessed.

About two weeks ago, we stumbled across a house that we'd previously turned down looking at even once. We decided to get an appointment and view inside the house.  Stepping inside that first time, we both instantly felt like we'd come home.  We learned early not to fall in love with houses too quickly, but this house sang to us.  It has all of the spaces we want and not much extra--especially with the tiny yard.  We really like the area, the schools, the neighborhood, everything!

We get a house! and a mortgage and bills and yard to keep and appliances to fix and walls to paint and responsibility for our own lives.  We get to leave behind a tiny, cramped apartment with management that is questionable and a maintenance crew that leaves everything to be desired.  We get to leave behind upstairs neighbors who--I kid you not--were going at it loud enough to be heard over our big-budget action movie that we had blaring pretty loud.  (At least she wasn't a screamer like some other neighbors I had once...)

Since the house we're buying is quite new, we won't have many upgrades to make right away.  We need to paint every room, but the carpets look pretty good, and the appliances are actually fantastic.  I'd love to switch out the tile counters for a laminate or Corian surface, but that's a ways off.  Our inspection went well, so we know the house is solid.  There isn't much left to do but wait for the bank to do their thing and the title company to do their thing.

The Man and I will finally be living our part of the traditional American Dream.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Waste Not, Want Less

I thought I was the one with a problem.  Turns out, not so much.

I admit to my own pack-rat tendencies, and, judging by my inability to toss out those 5th grade book reports, I have reason to need to admit those tendencies.  I still have my baby blankets.  I have most of my stuffed animals.  I have saved every ribbon, Student of the Week button, and scrap of a note from friends passed in class.  I have nearly every card ever given to me.  It has all added up to one very full closet in our little apartment.

When someone recently told me that I was wasteful for getting rid of things I don't need, I was pretty taken aback!  How am I being wasteful?  How am I getting rid of things I don't need when I have a whole closet full of things I'll rarely look at or use?  This makes no sense!

And then I learned what it means to be a hoarder.

I am, dear reader, not a hoarder.  I have kept some sentimental items in a tidy closet that can be opened and closed without fear of an avalanche.  My accuser?  Three rooms of what is arguably junk that must be saved because he "might need it someday."  I saw books from 1910, so far outdated and faded that they will never be read.  I saw box upon box of outdated office supplies, pens long dried up and pencils chewed to within nanometers of breaking.  Speaking of boxes, he had been hoarding empty boxes.  Just boxes.  Nothing in them.  In a pile.  I could have built a respectable box-igloo out of them, one large enough to stand in, lay down in, maybe even divide into rooms.

I'm all for boxes, especially when I have to move, but this was all too much.  My heart broke knowing that each one of those boxes probably held some sort of sentimental value (if a plain ol' cardboard box can do such a thing).  I realized that my pack-rat tendency was actually "normal" and that I am not being wasteful for discarding unused or unwanted items.  His idea that I'm "throwing everything away" is erroneous.  It is okay to donate old clothes that I don't wear anymore or that no longer fit (shrinking jeans, I'm looking at you).  It is healthy to purge kitchen gadgets that are broken, unused, or can be of more use to someone else.  I don't need to keep empty laundry soap jugs or milk cartons or tin cans.

Wasting not and wanting less is a good thing.

Monday, July 09, 2012

We're Baby-Q'n

I have wanted a grill for a long time, and I recently convinced The Man that we needed one.  Okay, so he wasn't convinced as much as I wore him down little by little until he caved.  Gotta do whatcha gotta do.

I researched grills for months.  I compared the benefits of gas and charcoal.  I studied the reviews on grills like I was going to be tested on it later.  I inquired as to what others liked and used.  I looked at different price points, sizes, finishes, and doodads.  I went into the store informed.

There was no sale, no great bargain, no steal of a deal: I paid full price.  But I did get a couple of free propane tanks from Dad since he doesn't like the little ones and has a big tank instead.  So that's something, right?

We ended up getting a Weber Baby-Q 100.  It's a no-frills grill that gets the job done.  Reviews were consistently fantastic, and while it is a little pricey for a small portable grill, it actually has quite a bit of grilling space.  We can easily do burgers for six on it, and I have no problem doing almost two pounds of chicken at once.  There are few hot spots (none I've noticed yet).  The grill is a snap to assemble.  Our only "upgrades" were the $50 stand accessory and a $3 grill brush, but the stand makes the grill even more portable (and easier to lock up at night outside our apartment).

I've made chicken twice already.  The first time I made very plain chicken breasts, just garlic and pepper.  They were so moist!  The second time was a bit more fussy with extra spices and a quasi-marinade made out of a little olive oil and lime juice.  After cooking the chicken, I cut it up into strips and made lime-pepper tacos.  Delicious!

I'll be grilling up some steaks this week, and I have lots of plans for more chicken.  Cooking outside keeps the heat out of our apartment, plus it's super healthy (if you use lean meat without added junk).  This could be one of the very best purchases I've ever made!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Creepy Drive

As The Man and I have been house hunting lately, we have learned that one question inevitably arises: where?  Some people ask because they are simply curious.  Some people ask because they don't know what else to say.  And then... then there are the other people.

"So where are you looking for houses?"
"Around town."
"Which town?"
"Uh... this town."
"Oh, north, south, west...?"
"All around."
"Oh, well where exactly?"

This question is even more annoying when someone doesn't know the area and still wants to know exactly where we are looking.  We have looked at several houses in North Albany, and most people are not familiar with that area outside of what they can see from the highway along the river.

"Where in North Albany?"
"North of anything you know."
"Well that doesn't tell me anything.  How close is it to Ray's?"
"North of Ray's."
"Well I don't know what's north of Ray's."
... *raises eyebrow*

My least favorite group of people to tell about our house hunt are the people that run straight to Google and try to find the houses on a map.  Worse yet, I've heard of people that actually drive by houses just because they know someone that lives there.  That's just plain creepy.  One step above stalking.  (My own mother does this and it drives. me. crazy!)

It's one thing if someone is driving around looking at houses, especially in an unfamiliar area.  I really like doing this at the coast where all of the houses are so quaint and beach-shack-y.  But to drive by a single house just because you know someone lives there or is contemplating living there (and you have no interest in buying it for them or for yourself)?  Why?

Does not compute.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Lemon Love

The Man and I are tech-savvy when it comes to our finances.  We manage our bank information online, handle our investments and watch stocks online, and keep a very detailed budget using both Excel and EEBA (which we absolutely love).  The only thing we don't do electronically is keep receipts.  At the end of every month, we gather up all of our paper receipts, compare them to our bank statement, and then file the pile in a folder.  As you can imagine, this folder isn't the most neat and compact.  Try as I might, it just ends up looking like I threw everything in there haphazardly.  It's ugly.  Also, do I really need to keep the receipt from Safeway showing I bought a donut, a box of Kleenex, and five apples last February?  Probably don't need it.

We researched high and low to find some sort of receipt scanning software.  The software that comes with the fancy receipt scanners costs a fortune.  There are some options that would allow us to use our own scanner, but that would take forever each month to scan all of our receipts.  Finally we landed on an app called Lemon that would allow us to take pictures of our receipts using our smartphones, "scan" them, and auto-fill our budget information.  However, unlike EEBA, the app can't be shared among users without paying for the service, and we can't make any reports without also paying for the app.  The receipts are difficult to read after taking a picture of them.  I still don't feel comfortable throwing away my paper receipts using this service.  And the Lemon service couldn't even read my receipt from a very large fast food chain.  I had the app on my phone a grand total of six hours before I decided it wasn't the right software for us.

Since I am a bit anal about some things, I didn't want to download the app, open an account, delete the app, and then have an account sitting out there open.  It's not like they even had any personal information, but it's
just a thing I'm not comfortable leaving out there. I tried to delete the account myself, but they wanted an e-mail telling them to delete the account instead. Below is the exchange between the very nice Lemon people and myself.
Hi Lemons,
Please delete the account associated with user "Jaggy." I have decided that your service does not fit my needs and will no longer be using Lemon to assist with my budget and financial planning. While our relationship was short--a one-night stand perhaps, know that I do appreciate your service and might refer you to friends that want a basic tool for paperless receipts. It's not you, it's me. You'll find someone better.
Squeeze on without me,

And the reply from The Lemon Team:

Thank you for trying Lemon and thank you for the very fun and thoughtful feedback. We really appreciate it. I have submitted your account to be deleted.
Apparently I have too much time on my hands...