3.31.2005

Week of Happenings

Purchase & Sale was surprisingly easy and fun, considering we handed over The Most Massive Check Ever. Goodbye, money! I had to sign my name about twenty times. By the end, I had a completely new signature, one with a lot fewer letters. We won't close and move in until late June, just days before our first anniversary, but it all seems good and gives us some time to shop for furniture, pack, and most importantly, look for that perfect mortgage rate. The one that cries out to us. "Pick me!"

Crumpled on the desk next to me is a page torn from a book.

"I know what you're doing, Chester, and the jig is up. That little bunny never hurt anybody. All he's doing is eating his own way. What do you care if he drains a few vegetables?"

"He's a vampire!" Chester snarled. "Today, vegetables. Tomorrow...the world!"


Just one page. P. 81/82, front and back, weathered and torn, yellowed but legible. The title? Bunnicula.
The day we found it, crumpled in the dirt on a playground? Easter Sunday.
Coincidence?

3.28.2005

Easter Weekend

Since I have no religious background (or foreground, from what I can tell), Easter is a wonderful spring holiday about nothing more than flowers and food. Especially chocolate, coconut, lemon and eggs, although I'm not exactly sure why. To honor this, yesterday was spent largely in the kitchen, cooking three new recipes (all from Joy of Cooking): Deluxe Chocolate Chip Coconut Coffeecake for brunch, Smashed Potatoes with Basil Pesto for a side at dinner, and Lemon Souffles for dessert, topped with a Lemon Sabayon sauce. I messed up, though. The coffeecake didn't cook all the way through and needed hours more of attention, and then it was too sweet to eat much of without feeling sick. If I made it again, I'd leave out either the chocolate chips or the brown sugar in the topping, and maybe even the pecans, which are wonderful but too rich. And then I mis-timed the Souffles, so that they were perfectly cooked but we had to eat them as an appetizer instead of a dessert, which was fine, but silly. Fortunately the potatoes were delicious.

Despite the kitchen misadventures, the weekend wasn't a total flop. We furniture-browsed on Saturday, getting all engrossed in the sofa we discovered and now hope to buy, even though it is truly yuppie. Does anyone use that term anymore? A.) It's European. B.) The material is "nubby," like a Chanel jacket. C.) It's modular. D.) It's called BoConcept. Giggle all you want, but they have some damn fine sofas.

Now to find some color theory for rooms; there must be a website on this stuff. Unique rooms with a unifying element; that's what we need. I'm so excited to finally have walls I can paint. And knock down at will.

Oh yeah, and I have to plan that trip to the desert. And get ready for Purchase & Sale on Wednesday. Phew. I need a nap.

3.25.2005

Car Wash: The Ideal Business?

Vaccumed out my car this afternoon at Randy's. Randy's is great. Looking past the chief reason I use it (it's close by), I always enjoy that it's called Randy's, which often leads to me making a series of lewd jokes for which I am the only audience. Plus, it's got huge vacuum after huge vacuum for only a buck and a quarter per 4-minute session.

Consider the Randy's business model. You pay $8, you can drive your car through the car wash; for about half that, you can wash your car down with their hoses. There's always plenty of business at Randy's, and people seem pretty involved in what they are doing. You don't see them complaining to the manager (what manager?) or daydreaming over their cars, or taking up valuable asphalt by standing around idly and chatting. Most customers aren't like me, waiting until the car has a fine crust of muddy salt on the outside and layer of lint and hair on the inside before considering a clean-up. In fact, most of the cars that pull into Randy's are already pretty shiny.

It's reminiscent of the website I manage, but only on its good days. It just runs. You pay one intern, who is represents the teenager taking the money of each car poised to drive through the wash, and he or she pens some pieces and helps the members through the process of creating/posting content online. Headlines, blog entries, articles appear because members are really into it and post content themselves. Then there are other days, of course, when it needs a full-time editor and help desk and designer, all of which are me. And if you want it to grow and develop at all, to reach a new audience or expand functionality, it needs even more than one full-time professional. That's why it needs funding.

Still, as I strive to think up good business ideas, I think of Randy's. A steady flow of reliant, satisfied customers who do most of the work themselves and leave happy. There's a real market for that, especially in a DIY age when we are our own travel agents, bankers and interior designers.

One thing we're not, however, is our own real estate agent, an anomaly Blue was pointing out the other night, and thank god. Our agent is great, and I can't imagine not having someone trustworthy and expert at your side when making such a tremendous purchase. The electrician cleared the way for our purchase yesterday, and I find myself making small talk with strangers in the store again, not wanting to honk at people, getting a pedicure and a new swimsuit, and otherwise enjoying life. It's amazing what a difference a good find makes. Of course, nothing's final until Purchase & Sale next week, but I feel optimistic and grateful.

Plus, this makes Blue's "amazing year" record: in the last year, we've gotten one Ph.D., one post-doc and one job for him, one job for me, one wedding for us, and soon, we hope, the purchase of one property. Phew.

3.22.2005

This Old House

It's hard to focus today. It's warm and sunny, and I have lots of work to do. We had a great weekend, going out to an excellent dinner with Tara and Joe, having (a different) Joe and Ann over to tell us about their recent 6-month voyage around the world (bringing the iBook to dinner is the new version of looking at vacation pics on a projector, but so much cooler), lying in the sun in the new grass at Mt. Auburn Cemetery, making our first chocolate souffle...and making an offer on a condo. I saw 13 properties over 3 days, and this one had everything we needed. The offer was accepted right away, and we were estactic. It's beautiful, nearby, and well-priced, but now we have to see beyond the yard, garage and untouched oak mouldings to get through the inspection process. Glenn took us around this morning and spent two hours teaching us how to take care of the beautiful old house. The wiring might be a problem, and so we have to hold our breath until an electrician can get in there. It's weird having to trust a series of strangers with this massive and personal purchase, but in the process, I'm meeting a lot of strangers I really like. I'd like to write more about it, but first I'd like to move into that marigold sunroom, my new writing room. I do hope it's fit to buy. I'm crossing my fingers that we'll make it to Purchase & Sale next week. And then it'll be off to the Mojave Desert!

3.18.2005

40 degrees

Oh, man...this week is all about the divine arrival of juicy, sweet California strawberries. And light whipped cream in a can.

Tonight I'm finally going to try my hand at Chocolate Souffle, from Joy of Cooking. I'm excited! Anything for an excuse to buy hunks of Callebaut from Whole Foods.

The cat is tearing around here like the devil in a lion suit.

Later, I will look at homes for sale. Always more homes for sale.

3.16.2005

An Atlas of Cyberspace

Woah....this site is great. We've just interviewed this guy for work, and love his digital divide map (router density!). I am also way into the long-haul submarine map, this wacky/scary animated satellite map, not to mention the artistic and conceptual offerings. I love maps of communications systems!
Tricky

A bunch of trying things have bubbled up recently. I think trying events seem to cluster in my life like little nodes, memes of angst. The househunting has me on edge, more than usual; I notice I'm faster to use the horn in traffic or have a second glass of wine. It's harder to be "in the moment" and takes more effort; usually my mind is wandering, turning something over and over. We reached a crescendo on Sunday when we sped home from North Adams in order to catch an open house we'd been excited about for days. It was cheap & tiny, a single-family home with a yard and garage and a pond and a bike path nearby. 80 people attended the open house, which made the small space feel tighter and more competitive. It was surprisingly nice inside, but something about it tore at us. In the end, after eighteen hours of agonizing debate, we declined to bid. With three hours to go before bidding started, it felt like a very difficult and uncertain decision. We'd didn't love it; I guess that was the bottom line. We could put in years of work and we weren't sure we'd ever love it.

North Adams is home to Mass MOCA, currently featuring an exhibit of an exploding car, which is fantastically demonstrated with nine cars suspended from the ceiling, as if it was one car flipping progressively through the room. It is astounding, awesome, inspirational. It's actually part of a four-part installation, each step of which blew my mind. I can't possibly recommend it enough.

We met my parents there, which was fun. They were just the right people to see Exploding Car with, being just as into it as we were. There, too, there were some stresses, and somehow Sunday and Monday just gathered steam with negativity in other reaches of our combined family. It's weird how just being related to someone makes you a natural target for their anger.

And now funding at work is dwindling, and it's the best job I've ever had, so we're all getting a little more nervous. I'm reeling a little bit; trying to get a new project off the ground quickly in case that will help.

At least the sun is out and the air is warm. Soon I'll see the desert in bloom.

3.09.2005

Beautiful Things

Yesterday, hanging in my favorite clothing store (Nomad, on Mass Ave), was an bright orange women's blazer with exquisite pale blue flower embroidered across the back. It was too beautiful to try on. It was also $470. The salesperson (my friend Raquel) told me of a woman who'd come in a few days before, found it, slipped it on, and casually said, "OK, I'll take it." I stopped my continual gushing long enough to start loudly pining away with envy.

I might spend that much money on a winter coat, but not a casual blazer, not now. Still, I do think that clothing 'should' be really beautiful, and in principal I think it's OK to spend that much for something handmade. In Budapest, I met an American who had lived in Paris and developed a taste for great clothing. We shared a crawlspace that served as our bedroom. She didn't have many clothes, but everything she had was cut from the finest, most beautiful cloth I have ever seen. I remember her draped in silk printed with orange and red flowers.

I think the most beautiful thing I own now is my red silk bathrobe. I'm very glad to have it, but I look forward to the day when the loans are gone and that blazer...well, it looks at least a bit more in reach.

*

I had to laugh when I read the reflections of my friend somebonnie yesterday...she asks why there must be "fake food" like Not Dogs and tempeh burgers, among other things. My mom feels the exact same way, although about slightly more grotesque things, like those fake ribs. I always think the argument about fake burgers is kind of funny because it makes me imagine "natural" burgers as if they grew on trees like coconuts, instead of actually having to be shaped out of a dead animal. It's like someone decrying the apple chip because it too closely resembles the "natural" potato chip.

Blue has a rule that I can't buy the fake ribs because it's too creepy, although my love affair with fake meatballs never subsided (despite their sudden disappearance from my grocery store!). But when I saw my friends eating fake ribs instead of real ribs, I really felt nothing but joy. Anything that gives people the space to eat fewer animals is good news in my book. No need to stop completely, but just eat fewer animals, support the livestock/slaughter industry a tiny bit less...hey, I applaud it.

Then there's the whole thing where I've never actually had a "real" hot dog or burger, so it's not a reference point for me at all. When we have delicious fake sausage on a Sunday morning, for my husband it's always, "Wow, this tastes just like real sausage," and for me it's, "Yum, links!" If it reminds me of anything it's when I was a tiny girl and my Dad would make a big loaf of "soysage," which is what we homegrown vegetarians had back before Morningstar made links. Even now, thinking of a soysage sandwich makes my mouth water.

Losing the point of reference in America has been an interesting subject for me for a long time, but I see it differently, where a burger has no connection to a cow....oh, never mind. Hampshire, you are so far away.

3.06.2005

The Highs and Lows

On Saturday we visited a condo that I was excited and hopeful about. I'd seen it on Thursday, and if Blue liked it, we might make an offer. It was the upper two floors of a two-family in a good location, with a house-like layout, front and back porches, a big yard and a detached garage. It was what you might call a fixer-upper, but we'd gone to Home Depot on Thursday night and priced new ovens (and settled on a lovely/affordable Maytag stainless steel), bathroom tile, kitchen tile, tubs and dishwashers. On Friday night we went to a bookstore and read everything we could on stripping and re-doing bathrooms and kitchens, refinishing floors and choosing colorful paint for each room.

On Saturday we realized that the seller is crazy.

So the thankfully-thorough Blue noticed things I didn't, like water damage on the floor underneath a suspiciously spray-painted ceiling, which screams bad roof. Then it turned out that we could have the garage, but not the driveway that leads to the garage, which would make reselling it a tad hard. He led us downstairs to the utilities, but to access our potential hot water heater we had to stand in the bedroom of a large Chinese family who apparently lived in the basement.

Anyway, it was going from bad to worse, and my vision of choosing new countertops and walking our future children to the highly-rated elementary school on the corner just faded away.

Next we looked at a lovely little single-family home, but the emphasis was on little. Four rooms just doesn't do it for two people who want to grow into more people, a dog, a cat, a bird, a 55-gallon fish tank, possibly a ferret, and so many bikes that they feel like part of the family.

Today it was two condos, the only new condos we could afford in the five-town area in which we're looking. I kind of wanted to make bids on both of them, but Blue is very solid, astute and focused, and suggested we hold back from one for now that needs a great deal of work and another that is on an especially busy street. I'm grateful for his strength on this roller-coaster, even though each time we decline to make an offer I'm worried we're just that much further away from getting a dog.

At least tonight we were able to drown our sorrows in some broiled shrimp in an astounding coconut curry sauce with fresh lime juice(Joy of Cooking), accompanied by coconut brown rice (Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home), salad and white wine.

Now it's time to watch Design To Sell on our new favorite channel, the totally addictive HGTV. I am the middle-class, hear me roar!

3.02.2005

Money Squeeze

A new sense of urgency about buying a home has begun to color this process for me. Since the monthly level of mortage we can pay is probably not going to change radically next year, I worry that we simply won't be able to get into the market next year. I mentioned this at breakfast this morning and Blue shook his head, saying that he didn't think home prices would increase that much. I wanted to believe him, but the voice of our mortgage guy echoed in my head: "Next year you may not be able to afford these properties." Then on the drive to work NPR reported that home prices rose an average of 11% in 2004, which will pretty much price us out if it happens again. My wise boss told me, "Just get in the game. Get in at whatever level you can afford to, but get in."

With luck, we'll buy a home within the next six months anyway, but now I feel....motivated.