Thursday, April 17, 2008


I have finally finished playing an online game that has been taking up my blogging time. My team won tonight, and now I can safely exit the world of the real-time simulated browser war game. Never to return again.

I am so ashamed, but I wasn't ashamed enough to stop playing, so take that for what you will.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Death and Taxes

Today I would prefer death to taxes. Well, not really, but man did they suck this year. Combine the fact that we sold our big deduction-stuffer with moving to a state where we have to pay 10% income taxes over and above the federal taxes, and they just were not pretty this time around. The sales tax is maybe half a percent higher in Texas with no income tax, so this was a rude, rude awakening. Where does all that money go? I can tell you it doesn't go into the highways. At least not the ones I drive on. I feel like I'm paying the state government for the good weather. I'm just going to assume that money is used on services that don't apply to me, which while not particularly ideal, makes me feel better than some alternative idea that some politicians or lobbyists are getting fat on my 10%.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

House Update

The pests have been exterminated, the rotted wood has been replaced, the deposit has been wired, and lots of other details have been figured out. I'm returning from Hawaii (another post to come) today, GB returns from his work trip Thursday morning, and we will be signing lots of paperwork that afternoon. Then I leave on Saturday for a week in Austin during which we officially become house owners in California. Nothing like cramming a few too many things into a few too few days.

Anyone have ideas for gifts for the many people involved in pulling this all together? My current list looks like this:

1. Our realtor -- Above and beyond doesn't begin to describe what she's done over the last seven months. Everything from updates during the nothing-is-happening part of this process to pulling strings to make a pest fumigation occur with 24 hours notice. She's gotten quotes on custom spindles for the front porch, and her contacts for various parts of the necessary renovation and repairs have been wonderful, professional people. I can recommend her whole-heartedly to anyone that needs a realtor out in this area -- just drop me a line! And some ideas on an appropriate gift!

2. Our mortgage broker -- GB and I are beyond financially risk averse. Any more afeared and we'd just cash our paychecks and keep the money in our mattress. Combine that with a sketchy mortgage market and a significant hike in real estate prices and you have a couple of nervous nellies that need a whole lot of assurance that we can really do this thing. He did more calculations and comparisons among different possible products and options and payments and craziness than any person should have to do. To make us comfortable with what we're doing would take superman, and that's what we got. (No worries -- we're not getting in over our least not too badly.)

3. The bank manager -- At the last minute, we needed to wire money from our bank account while we were in Hawaii. The bank manager, while indicating that she couldn't wire money without our original signature, came up with the alternate solution that we could do a cashier's check without said signature. Deposit crisis averted!

What great people we've had to work with through this process. Now I just have to figure out now to properly thanks them.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Recommended: Theories of Relativity

This was another book suggested for reading by James. This one was phenomenal. It was one of those books I was happy wasn't 1000 pages, not because 230 pages was enough, but only because I couldn't put it down. I've never been able to read 1000 pages straight, without sleeping. I could have easily gobbled up anything more that Barbara Hawother-Attard had told us about our protagonist's life. He was just that fascinating.

Dylan is a 16-year-old kid whose mom has decided he's inconvenient for the story she's telling the latest boyfriend. Dylan has to go, and she doesn't really care what happens to him after that. He's relegated to street life where he befriends good and bad while learning to navigate this entirely new world. There's no time for school, what with needing to beg for money and food and looking for places to sleep that won't end up with you on the wrong side of anybody. But he's a smart kid -- he wants to use that brain of his. As someone who's never lived on the streets, it seemed to be an appropriately alternating experience for him, from destroyed trust to hunger to opportunity to lost chances to self-discovery to rock bottom to second chances. I ached with him and rooted for him and found myself hoping desperately that he would find some sort of redemption through all of this.

Pick up a copy, and enjoying this journey of the human spirit. You might just find yourself volunteering at the local homeless shelter, and how can anything that makes you help your fellow man be bad?

Travel Crisis Averted

We had booked our next trip, a flight to Hawaii for an old friend's wedding, through Southwest on some airline no one's heard of. Said airline declared bankruptcy and ceased passenger operations this past week. Today I spent one hour, 16 minutes, and 37 seconds on the phone with Southwest as they worked to reaccommodate us on another flight. The rep on the line was so apologetic with the time it took to get it all done, but ultimately? Success! We have a flight out on Northwest and a flight back on US Airways. The timing of these flights aren't as nice, but what the heck -- I don't have to call the bride and tell her we won't be there, so that's a win-win in my book! Yay for reaccommodation!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Foolish Man Built His House Upon The Sand

Do you remember that old Sunday school song?

The foolish man built his house upon the sand.
The foolish man built his house upon the sand.
The foolish man built his house upon the sand,
And the rains came tumbling down.

The rains came down and the floods came up.
The rains came down and the floods came up.
The rains came down and the floods came up,
And the house on the sand went splat.

Something like that. And then there is a verse about the wise man building on the rock and doing so much better, but hey, that doesn't apply to us and our house.

After our offer was accepted, we went into inspection overdrive. We started with the physical inspection, which uncovered some concerns. So, we had a pest company, three electricians, a plumber, and four foundation experts come out over a two-week perios. We'd had the pest report done before when this process stalled out six months ago, so we knew what to expect there. The electrical review looked pretty much like we expected. However, the plumber found that our water heater under the house is incorrectly vented, so we are at risk for carbon monoxide in the living areas. I haven't keeled over dead yet, but I'm all for blaming any slow down in my productivity on low-level CO poisoning. :) Meanwhile, the foundation review was the most disheartening of them all. We knew that some retrofitting of the foundation had been done, but it was less that what was necessary, so we now need a full perimeter redo and some drainage correction (there was a lot of moisture under the house and rotting boards in the existing foundation). I guess this is common out here, but there's something about a repair that is half the cost of your last house that is downright depressing. But, we really like this house. So we put together our request for repair, and sent it to the owner who, shockingly, approved it.

At this point, we're targeting a closing for two weeks from now. With all the scare about mortgages, the lender won't give us a loan without a whole lot more paperwork, including the pest work being done. While we were in Oregon, they did the tenting and fumigation of the house for the flying termites that appear to get every house out here about every 10 years. This house had had them for a while, and there was also dry rot, so now we've got carpenters at the house every day working on replacing the rotted or eaten porch boards and siding areas and whatnot. They are expecting to be done next week some time, so the painter can get in and do his thing, so the pest company can say the house is pest free so the lender will give us the biggest debt we'd never imagined. The hoops, I tell you!!

In order for the fumigation process to be done, the gas company had to turn out the gas. When they came out today to turn it back on, they said they couldn't legally turn on the water heater because of the venting problem. They left us with no hot water. Ugh. We turned the water heater on anyway, but it's clear we're going to have to take care of that issue pretty quickly. With all the work we need done, all kinds of folks will be in and out of here with permits, etc., and it just won't do if they all complain about the heater.

Who knew that in addition to an unstable wreck, we were also getting ourselves into a death trap? We've been living here a year, and paying rent, and that just makes me grumpy. Soon enough we'll be able to take care of these issues and get the house back to where it belongs.

Oregon Trails

We returned last night from our long weekend trip to Oregon. We took the train up there...correction...We took the train to Sacramento, and then mudslides on the tracks required us to take a bus the rest of the way. The train ride was wonderful, the bus ride was cramped and awful. Let's just talk about the train ride and pretend the bus ride didn't happen.

The train runs along the coast from where we caught it in Santa Barbara up to just about San Francisco. You've got the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other, and it's like you're in this gorgeous mural. It just doesn't seem real -- the colors are too bright or something. The train was also very relaxing. We were just hanging out in coach, but the seats are like first class on an airplane with a nearly full recline, foot rests, and extra-wide seats. It makes it confortable for sleeping when you're on the train for 12 hours at a stretch. Then, you don't have to stay in your seat -- you can get up and walk around, sit at a dining table for lunch, or strike up a game of cards with one of the strangers you're traveling with. Very relaxing and almost luxurious travel. It's cheaper than flying, but takes longer than driving, so there's your tradeoff.

Once we got up to Oregon, we saw several plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. A Midsummer Night's Dream had been done in a 70's disco style, and was a lot of fun. High energy and happy people in the audience always make a play more fun to be at. We ended up seeing Coriolanus on opening night, and it was clear there was still some rust to be worked out, but it's a good story on class struggles that, while it's not one of Shakespeare's most commonly done play, is a good thought-provoking study. I'm sure this one will get better as the season progresses. Then we saw two non-Shakespeare plays, too. One was a play that had been commissioned for OSF called Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter. This was a different take on the war play, focusing on the difficulty of one returning vet to readjust back into civilian life after her experience. It was well done, with great little quirky characters to keep it from getting too heavy. Finally, we saw August Wilson's Fences. This is GB's favorite play, and I can see why. The characters have such powerful relationships with each other, and they're such good people struggling with the changes in the world, that the poignancy is strongly applicable to virtually everyone (okay, awkward sentence, but I'm moving on). When you have a play where three separate characters move you to tears, there is no way to get out of the theatre afterwards without everyone knowing you've been crying -- red face, puffy eyes, the works. But a great story, and really well done.

All in all, a great weekend. The kind that makes you ready to get back to work and hit the ground running. Time to get back to that!