Thursday, May 7, 2015

Making Space



Recently trying to clean up my sinkhole of a closet combined with my ever-disheartening search for a house have combined to bring you this blog post.

One of the biggest limitations in my housing search is the amount of storage space I require. I would happily live in a condo, never to mow a lawn or pluck a weed again in my life, except, compared to houses, condos offer around half the space for the same price. After looking at a couple houses and a couple condos, I am pretty certain I could not live in anything less than 800 square feet—and even that would be pushing it.

I don't want to be so high-maintenance. I care little about luxury, and I'm kind of embarrassed that I demand the equivalent of a penthouse suite for my day-to-day living. It's just that, between my boyfriend and I, we have a lot of gear. Way more gear than could ever fit into an apartment.

Originally, I was going to list all the things I own that contribute to my clutter, but that would take up almost as much space in my blog as it does in my home, so I'm going to practice the art of efficiency. The only thing that's important is how much space they take up (beyond  a few bookshelves and the cabinets and closets that come standard in any home), and that is as follows:

  • 2 standalone wardrobes
  • The area under my loft bed
  • A corner of the basement
  • A quarter of the shed outside
  • Under the front porch
  • The area around the access door to the attic
With my stuff scattered about the entire property like this, I feel like I need tons of storage space, but when I actually got out my tape measure and did the math, I could only account for about 600 square feet of living space and (very approximately) 200 additional square feet of storage space in use. 

In addition, there are plenty of things I own that I don't really need. If I were to vacate the premises, I'm pretty sure I could leave these behind without many regrets:

  • My dining table (pretty much spends all the time with the chairs stacked up on top of it anyway)
  • My soap-and-candle-making supplies (I'm pretty sure I won't want to invest in another block of glycerin once the ones I have are used up)
  • My airbrush (I love it, but when you use it only once a year, you begin to wonder if you couldn't just make do with spatter-painting when needed)
  • My holiday decorations and huge tub of Christmas lights (nice to have for parties, but really, who likes stringing up Christmas lights anyway? And wouldn't it be better not to waste all that electricity?)
  • My stockpile of containers (these take up a couple of 13-gallon tubs and a small bookcase. It's ironic that I require storage for storage, but you never know when a sturdy box or a lidded tin will come in handy! Nonetheless, in good time, and by the grace of Freecycle, all things come, empty containers being no exception)
  • My large collection of gardening supplies (kind of moot if you don't have a garden)
  • My exercise bike (it's a pretty regular part of my life in the winter, but many buildings have a gym, and I'd probably get more bang from my workout buck if I took up running, which requires no equipment whatsoever)
So could I actually downsize? Well, there are many other reasons not to live in a condo, foremost among them being fees, but the lack of bike storage coming in a close second. If, however, the price was right, and I could find a place to keep our bikes that wouldn't make me hate my life, I might survive. It's a scary thought, but if ever I still haven't bought a home and my housemates decide to move out, I might try to move out, too, into an apartment...just to see if I could do it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Rants and Raves

My last post on the things I love and the things I could live without was in September. Today, seven months later, I have another 7 of each.

Rants

People leaving toilet paper on the seat

I get it. You want to be hygienic, so you cover the seat with toilet paper before you sit your skin on it. I think you're being a little paranoid, but you have that right, if you insist. But are you so hygienic that you can't even pick up and flush the toilet paper that your own butt sat on, after you are done? You have to leave it for someone else to touch? Where's the hygienic in that?

Loud sudden noises 

My propensity for worming my way to the front row at concerts indicates that I don't really mind loud noises (the ringing in my ears afterwards indicates that maybe I should), but sudden noises are another matter entirely. They don't even have to be that loud, but if they are unexpected, unintended, and especially if they are inadvertently caused by myself, I just can't abide them. For example, there is something about glass plates crashing together when I'm putting away dishes that instantly trips my rage trigger.

People spitting on the sidewalk

Do I really need to expound on this one? That's just gross.

Satire "news"

This one has really only come into being since certain people started taking everything amusing they find online and posting it on Facebook. One thing that turns up there fairly regularly is some "news" story or other from an outlet like The Onion. These are completely fabricated stories that are supposed to be "funny." Except that usually they're not. And sometimes, they are right difficult to distinguish from a real story. I don't really have any legitimate reason for hating these stories, but I do. And sometimes lists of things that annoy me just have to contain things that annoy me. So there.

When my housemates cook bacon. And turkey.

Gosh, that stuff stinks up the whole house.

Syncopated traffic

You know what I mean by this? It's when you're waiting to cross a street and the cars just keep coming from your left. So many cars! Coming from your left. Finally they stop coming from the left, and you look to your right, ready to finally cross the road, and there's a new  whole line of cars coming from the right! This might be the world's worst form of teasing.

Feedback beggars on eBay

I buy and sell a lot on eBay, so I interact with all sorts of people on the site. By far the most annoying people that I've encountered are the buyers who message me shortly after I've sold them something, begging for positive feedback. I, like many sellers on eBay, think the buyer feedback system is a sham (you are not allowed to leave a buyer negative feedback), so leaving feedback after a sale is not very high on my priority list. Nonetheless, I do do it. Eventually. Maybe a month or two later, depending on how motivated I am. I just don't understand why so many buyers are so anxious to get their feedback right now! Patience is a virtue, and begging is not.

Raves

The smell of wet dirt 

I used to love thunderstorms. Living in a neighborhood where limbs fall on houses and the power goes out every time there's a gust of wind has kind of mitigated that love somewhat, but I still enjoy the rain's aftermath—the musty smell that seeps up from the soggy earth. It smells so fresh and clean! You can get this same olfactory pleasure from watering your houseplants, which makes it a very cheap thrill!

Being drunk

And now for a not-so-cheap thrill! It took me a long while to appreciate the benefits of alcohol consumption. I was a hard-core teetotaler until 2006, and was still pretty reluctant to drink the stuff for a good six years beyond that, but time and peer pressure slowly converted me. Turns out it's a lot less obnoxious being drunk than it is being sober around other people who are drunk—in fact, it's downright fun. And considering that a glass or two significantly relieves my crippling social anxiety, I don't feel bad at all that I have crossed over to the dark side...except sometimes the next day.

Exploring empty houses

When I was young, I lived in neighborhoods where new homes were being constructed left and right, and on the weekends you could waltz into any number of them in varying degrees of completion, walking through their skeletons, stomping around in the gravel beds that would one day be their basements, climbing their stairs without banisters, and standing on the second floor looking straight up into the sky. Nowadays, thanks to my (sort of stalled) search for a permanent home, I mostly find myself walking through completely constructed homes, but they are no less interesting. It's fascinating to open doors, discover all their nooks and crannies and little quirks, and imagine what it would be like to live there. Searching for homes is stressful, but touring homes never tires me.

Fitted sheets

So underappreciated are fitted sheets. People seem to get hung up on the conundrum of how to fold them (solution: roll them into a ball and stuff them in a drawer!) but can you imagine how life would be without them? Somehow trying to tuck a flat sheet under your mattress and have it actually stay there? Fitted sheets, your shape may be ungainly, but you will forever have my admiration!

Drush

The other day, I walked into my coworker's office and announced, "I hate working on a command line." Well, I take it partially back. One of my favorite tools for Web development is Drush, which allows you to do many of the management tasks for a Drupal website on a command line! At first, I was a little leery of it, but now that I actually know some commands, it makes everything so amazingly fast! I'm not much of one for graphic T-shirts, but if someone gives me a shirt that says "I heart Drush," I will wear it.

Warm weather

Well, here's a shocker for you. After numerous posts complaining about the cold, this time I'm going to flip the script and rhapsodize about the warmth. Every spring, there are a few days where the temperature suddenly rises from frigid forties to sunny sixties, and during those days, my heart is as buoyant as the pollen. As a bonus, I am one of what seems like only 3 people in the DC area who doesn't suffer from spring allergies...so there is no downside to this upshot!

The distant sound of lawnmowers

Since I love spring and summer so much, it should be no surprise to you that I get a little lift from a sound that goes hand-in-hand with them—lawnmowers! Mind you, now, I don't feel this same ebullience when walking behind a mower (I could write a whole post on how much I dislike mowing the lawn), but the sound and what it signifies are music to my soul.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Obsessed with the weather

I began to suspect I might be a little bit obsessed with the weather just about a month ago, when, whenever someone would make any kind of comment or passing speculation on it, I would respond instantly with a detailed forecast for the next two days, and usually state the current temperature to the exact degree.

I never for a minute think this indicates I should have gone for a career in meteorology. However, I do think it's a useful obsession to have, for all it stems from a comparably un-useful curse.

What curse, you ask? Well, the curse of my almost complete inability to maintain a consistent body temperature. I feel this makes me a rare breed, like some kind of magical unicorn of thermoregulation.

Some people are always hot. I feel a little sorry for them in the summer, but at least they're consistent. Some people are always cold. This was me until a few years ago, and, while I don't miss those days at all, it was predictable at least, to know that I was never going to get overheated no matter what I did.

Now, my comfort zone is all across the board.

Once again, they turned off the heat in our building as soon as it hit 70 degrees outside for one day, leaving us poor souls shivering in our shoes now that the temperatures have returned to April normal. The rest of my coworkers are handling it all right, though complaining. I, on the other hand, am running a space heater all day, wearing fingerless gloves, and still feeling miserable. I don't start getting warm until midafternoon, when all of a sudden my torso is sweltering in my blazer, while meanwhile my fingers are still sticks of ice.

On the other hand, while 65 degrees in the office is like 8 straight hours of torture by ice, just let me walk outside in the same temperature for 10 minutes, and I'll be stripping off layers like I'm in a sauna. Any small amount of exercise usually heats me up to uncomfortable levels—hence my careful choice of biking clothes—but all the same, my nose is still running and my hands are still frozen.

I live for the days when it hits 80 outside (about the only days when it's warm enough for me to wear sandals), but come 86, and I start feeling lightheaded.

When we ride together in the car in winter, my boyfriend and I both love to crank the heat way up, but while he can survive the whole ride in his puffer jacket without any sign of discomfort, I am always having to remove my coat and gloves (and subsequently losing them) after only a few miles. But then comes springtime, when all of a sudden he wants to drive with the window open. Naturally he's fine with the breeze, but it is enough to turn me into a blue-lipped popsicle.

I have calculated (by a scientific process of wild guessing) that I have a temperature comfort zone of approximately 5 degrees Fahrenheit...but that zone shifts by 15 degrees or more depending on what I'm doing, what I'm wearing, and whether it's sunny or windy.  Unsurprisingly, this means that I'm rarely comfortable. But it also means that I always make an effort to prepare for whatever climate I'm going to be in—and in the spring or fall when the climate is so unpredictable, that often means checking the temperature and forecast dozens of times a day.

I might be a slave to the thermometer, but it does have its upside. At least for my friends and companions, who can be confident that, no matter where we are or when it is, if they ask me, I will have a weather forecast ready for them.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Savings

I have a reputation for extreme thriftiness, but since Hansel's expensive accident, I have been making an extra effort to save money, which has of course gotten me thinking about all the ways I conserve my cash on a regular basis. Here are some thrifty tips that I hope you can benefit from too!

Target:

The Target Redcard is a credit card that allows me to save 5% on every purchase at Target. I don't know of any other store that offers such a consistent discount on their store card, and since Target usually has the best prices on everything, and I shop there regularly, it is pretty much a no-brainer. Those leery of holding another credit card can also opt for a Target debit card, I'm told. I am also a member of the Cartwheel club, which basically allows me to select coupons for a variety of products, usually the Target store brand, for a trifling discount (usually 5 percent). Plus, I have Target Pharmacy Rewards, which gives you a gift card after 5 prescriptions filled at the pharmacy. These loyalty programs aren't worth much—in the year and a half I've been a member of Cartwheel and Pharmacy Rewards, I've saved about 30 dollars, but every little bit helps!

Discover Card and Bank

All credit cards offer rewards these days, but my favorite is Discover Card, which offers a 1% Cash Back Bonus on every purchase. You can sign up for additional bonuses every quarter (if you remember, which I usually don't). Additionally, I have Discover Bank checking and savings accounts, which offer their own perks. I get a pretty darn good interest rate on the savings account, and a 10¢ Cash Back Bonus on every debit card purchase through the checking account. So I use my Discover debit card to make all my small purchases under 10 dollars. The only downside is that a lot of businesses don't accept Discover, so sometimes I'm stuck using my regular Capital One debit card or cash, which offer no bonuses at all!

Gift cards

 Last year, I learned that you could buy gift cards at several online marketplaces for a discounted price—I always start at Gift Card Granny, which scours all the gift card sites so you can find the best discount. I buy gift cards for all the stores I shop at frequently—Home Depot gift cards at about 8% off (for all my hardware, home improvement, and occasionally artistic needs), Joann Fabrics cards for around 15% off (for the rest of my artistic needs), and various clothing store cards at 10-30% off (for all my fashion needs!) are my favorites. And if I use my Discover card to purchase the gift cards, I get my Cash Back plus the discount on the cards!

Reward Points

In my free time (when I'm too lazy to be artsy or active), I try to fill it with brainless activities that also reap rewards. I'll fill out surveys for any number of companies. If you qualify, you spend a few minutes answering easy questions, and at the end of the survey, you earn points which you can redeem for prizes or cash cards. Sometimes the surveys can be painfully tedious, and it can be very frustrating when you submit a whole series of screeners only to find you don't qualify to complete any of the full surveys. But every once in a while, you'll hit the jackpot and get invited to participate in a product trial (a few months ago, I got 6 free cans of Diet Pepsi to try out and review, and I got compensated for it!). The points don't add up fast (I'd say I earn about a 25 dollar gift card from each company once a year, when I'm participating a few times a week), but it's easy to earn a few pennies instead of loafing around watching TV or playing computer games, so why not? If you're going to get into the survey-taking business, steer clear of the companies that only offer sweepstakes entries as a reward—you want a guaranteed compensation. My favorite is Ipsos i-Say, which usually gives you a few points just for trying, even if you don't qualify for the full survey.

Hand-me-downs

 If you have the time to wait, you can get almost everything you need for free secondhand. My couch (yes, the sagging disaster) was free. My guest bed, comforter, and one of its sheet sets were free. My toolbox (to replace the one I got as a gift at age 16) was free. Two of my nicest coats were free. A significant portion of my clothing was free. My dining table was free. Bike rack—free. Wardrobe—free. Dresser—free! Bookcase, bed, doormat—all free! The list goes on and on. How do I get all these good deals? Mostly from Freecycle, a network of local people who give away the old things they don't want any more. But also, because I have a reputation as a scavenger, other people I know who are not Freecyclers also give away their old things to me. When you're not paying a red cent for most of your possessions, you don't always get the cream of the crop, nor all the features you want, nor the best matched collection of anything, but you do get a lot more money to spend on the things you are particular about!

These things really only scratch the surface of my obsession with saving money, but they are some of the simplest websites and groups anyone can join, put in minimal effort, and reap the benefits! Happy Penny Pinching!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sticky Fingers sandwich cookie


I ate my first cookie from Sticky Fingers way back in 2011, just a little before I began reviewing Giant Cookies. It's taken me four years, but I'm finally getting around to writing up this vegan cookie from a DC eatery.

I want to love it and love a local business in the process, but sadly, I find it kind of lacking in flavor. Fortunately, this is not just any cookie—it is a sandwich cookie, meaning it's filled with decadent vanilla frosting that amps up the experience a bit. It also has a dash of saltiness here and there, making it a bit less boring.

The cookie itself is made with oats, which I always love for the texture they impart—this cookie is no exception, being good and chewy, and mostly passing the Crumble Test, although I lost some tiny bits of cookie here and there. Eating a sandwich cookie is never simple, apparently.

As for price, well, that's probably the worst aspect of this cookie.

It weighs 135 g (not much more than your standard single-layer Giant Cookie), but costs $3.25 (according to the Sticky Fingers website since I don't have a receipt to verify), adding up to 2.41¢ per gram.

The Bottom Line

Taste: 3 out of 5 stars
Texture: 4 out of 5 stars
Price: 2 out of 5 stars

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A series of unfortunate events

It has been a very unlucky fortnight for me, so this is one of those posts where I entertain my desire to just vent.

It started months ago, when the power jack on my laptop started to go bad. It only costs 3 dollars for a replacement jack on eBay, so I could even fix it myself...but...have you ever tried to open up an Asus laptop? Hahahaha—just replacing a hard drive took my boyfriend nearly a half hour with all the screws, panels, and wires he had to move out of the way. Getting at a component like the power jack would be even more work (and may require soldering, which I've never gotten the hang of), so I decided that, for once, I would just leave the job to the professionals. Last Friday, I called my neighborhood computer shop, got an estimate for 100 dollars, and planned to bring it in on Monday, as soon as I had posted all the photos from my Iceland trip.

Last weekend started off on a great foot. My boyfriend and I went to look at a couple of houses for sale, and after the visits, I was seriously considering making an offer on one of them, when all of a sudden disaster struck. We were driving to meet a friend in DC when we got in a small car accident. Small, but destructive! A big dent was punched into my poor Korg's right front side, and the headlight and grill were completely knocked off. Since the accident was our fault, we are responsible for all the repairs, which add up to...I don't know yet, but I'm sure it won't be pleasant!

Already I was thinking maybe this was a sign it wasn't the right time to buy a house, when, the next day, my rabbit got into a high-speed chase with a couple of dogs and somehow managed to break his leg (the day before Easter, poor bunny!). Not many vets work on rabbits, and none do orthopedics on rabbits, so the cost of rebuilding him was astronomical. All last week, I was dropping tidy sums left and right on his medical care. As of today, he's cost me $4,231.37 and still rising. I'm calling him the Six Million Dollar Bunny, but I really hope he doesn't come to that.

The fun didn't stop there, though. Last night, on the way home from the Cherry Blossom Festival, I somehow misplaced my phone (I say "somehow" like this doesn't happen every couple days—but this time, I wasn't able to recover it). I am nearly certain that I left it in the Uber car, but all attempts to call the phone, leave a message on it, and contact the driver failed. When I got home, I was able to trace its location to George Mason University (not anywhere near where I had been), so I'm confident that the driver had it and was ignoring our desperate pleas to get it back. So now my faith in humanity is shaken AND I'm out 200 more dollars! And I'm definitely never using Uber for all my transportation needs.

My boyfriend keeps telling me it will get better in the future, but every time he tells me that, another bad thing happens, so this time, I'm sticking faithfully to pessimism. The world sucks and I will never be happy again!!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Cosi white chocolate walnut cookies


If you remember all the way back to my first Giant Cookie Review, Cosi's white chocolate macadamia nut cookies were my ultimate favorite—pretty much the reason I started Giant Cookie Reviewing in the first place!

I kind of lost interest in them after a few years, though, when they replaced my beloved macadamia nuts with walnuts. I do enjoy walnuts in cookies, but they just can't compare to the crisp, splintering crunch of a macadamia nut.

However, a Giant Cookie Reviewer must not leave any cookie unreviewed, regardless of her feelings about walnuts, so I decided to take one for the team and give the white chocolate walnut cookies another try.

They were a little dryer than I remember, but basically the same soft-all-the-way-through texture.

The flavor didn't grab me, though, like it used to. Walnut just goes better with dark chocolate.

Usually when I re-review cookies years later, price is the area that's deteriorated the most. These cookies were $1.99 each and 105 grams, so I'm pleased to say that if anything, their value has improved since my last Cosi cookie review, because there was slightly more mass to the cookie, but the price hadn't changed. However, at 1.89¢ a gram, they are still within the 2-star range.

The Bottom Line

Taste: 3 out of 5 stars
Texture: 3 out of 5 stars
Price: 2 out of 5 stars