Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Acadia National Park chocolate chunk cookie


Most of my Giant Cookie reviews tend to be of cookies I acquired in far-off places. It is a truly special occurrence when someone else brings me a Giant Cookie they acquired in a far-off place! Such was the case when one of my friends went to Maine and returned with this Acadia National Park chocolate chunk cookie. I really hoped this would be the best Giant Cookie I ever tasted, since he went to such effort for me, but sadly, that was not to be.

In fact, it was one of the most disappointing Giant Cookies I'd ever eaten.

My first bite tasted weirdly sour, with a syrupy taste that seemed familiar, but I couldn't quite place it. It was still sweet, but not quite as sweet as you'd expect a cookie to be.

The texture was soft, which I usually like, but in this case, it was just too uniform. Even the chocolate chips felt doughy when I bit them. Usually a softer texture goes hand-in-hand with a little more durability (think the fable of the reeds and the oak), but this cookie began falling apart as soon as I took it out of the package!

The sour note to the taste, the soft yet crumbly texture...I began thinking that this cookie had all the hallmarks of a vegan cookie!

It is unusual for a cookie company to sell a vegan cookie without advertising it as such, but when I checked the ingredients list on the back, I found that it was, indeed, made with egg substitute (and actually manufactured by the Wildlife Cookie Company). That explains a lot.

You can't hold vegan cookies to the same standard as good-old egg-based ones, but to try to pass one off to an unwitting customer without making its "special" nature obvious, that's just asking for a disappointed customer!

In spite of being a gift, this cookie still had the price tag on the back, so I know that it cost 3.99$ for 114 grams. That makes it 3.5¢ a gram... or, a rip-off, even by vegan standards!

The Bottom Line

Taste: 2 out of 5 stars
Texture: 2 out of 5 stars
Price: 1 out of 5 stars

In spite of all my negative words about this cookie, I still appreciate the gift, and want to assure all my readers that if they were thinking of bringing me a new and exciting Giant Cookie, to not be discouraged by the possibility that I won't like it. Not liking things is what reviewers do best!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Equidigital

Today is the momentous occasion of my 33rd birthday. What makes it so momentous?* Well, all the digits in the number are identical! That only happens once every 11 years (or less, if you happen to live past 111), so it's definitely something to celebrate.

However, in searching for a word to describe such an occasion, I found that none exists! Really! None! In this world where we like to assign especial importance to some ages (e.g. 40) over others (e.g. 23), it seems astonishing that there's not a word to describe this special set of birthdays. Certainly, birthdays like 33, 55, and so on are palindromes (and many people make special recognition of palindrome birthdays), but so is 101, and that – though very impressive in many senses including its acknowledgment of sheer longevity – isn't a number where all the digits are the same. Although it has been suggested (probably by just one person trying to be funny) that we use the word "schnaplefest" for this type of birthday, that hardly seems to be common usage, and it still doesn't describe the number itself—just the celebration of the corresponding birthday.

So what is the word for a number in which all the digits are the same? As far as I can tell, in this vast and ever-growing language we call English, there is none! I am completely floored by this simple and fundamental gap in our collective vocabulary. But I have a solution. We'll make a new word!

And it's going to be "equidigital!"

In thinking about this neologism, I really got attached to the prefix "iso," which means "equal" and is Greek in origin. I originally decided on "isodigital," but "digit" is Latin-based, and my purism just wouldn't allow me to combine languages like that! Fortunately, "equ" is a Latin prefix, and means (unsurprisingly) "equal" as well! If you want to be really strict about it, most words with an "equ" prefix seem to refer to a sense of balance between two things rather than unlimited comparable identities, but in a strictly literal translation, "equidigital" means "having equal digits," and it has a better ring to it than other possibilities I considered. When you're making a new word, you have to make sure it's catchy and pronounceable, after all!

So, happy 3rd equidigital birthday to me! I can't think of any better present than a brand-new word!

*Another reason this year is momentous is that I'm exactly half the age of my dad! That only happens once in a lifetime!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

How not to replace your dishwasher

Here is a fun and cautionary tale of my first experience in installing a home appliance! If you are looking for valuable tidbits of advice and not an epic narrative, scroll down to the bottom for my hard-won conclusions!

I knew from Day 1 that the dishwasher in my new house didn't work. Fortunately, my house came with a home warranty, and I had high hopes that I'd be able to use said warranty to get the dishwasher replaced. Supposedly, after you pay a 100$ deductible per service visit, this home warranty pays for the repair of mechanical failures of appliances and certain other things. However, it rarely pays for what you need it to pay for, and I caught on to that pretty quickly after reading just a few reviews of the warranty company online.

So, I got a little insurance for my warranty: I bought a used dishwasher on Craigslist for 40 dollars. My plan: I would call the warranty company and have someone come out to look at the dishwasher. If the warranty wouldn't cover its replacement (not just repair, because this dishwasher was so rickety and rusty and horrendous that I didn't want to use it even if it could be fixed), then I'd ask him to install the new dishwasher for me.

Sadly, that didn't work out. He ran the old dishwasher, explained that the machine was working but not draining, that fixing the drain hose would not be covered by the warranty, and that he couldn't install the other dishwasher OR disconnect the old one unless I wanted to pay a couple hundred dollars for the service. I didn't. I sent him on his way, and resigned myself to learning how to install a dishwasher.

One of my friends, who had never installed a dishwasher either, but was inexplicably interested in the "learning opportunity," offered to help. So together, armed with an arsenal of YouTube videos and step-by-step internet articles, we began. For those who are as clueless about dishwashers as I was before I began this, the installation of a dishwasher is a theoretically simple task. It involves connecting 3 wires, one hot water supply hose, and one wastewater drain hose. We already had the supply hose and the drain hose from the previous dishwasher, so all we really needed to do was disconnect them from the old dishwasher and reconnect them to the new one. My friend was confident that we were going to be able to do it. I was equally confident that everything was going to go wrong. I'll let you decide who was more right.

Installation attempt 1

We had all the tools needed for a proper installation, except for electrically. Since I didn't have a circuit tester, we just had to trust that I'd actually found the right breaker down at the circuit box. My friend had lots of fun pretending to be electrocuted when he went to disconnect the old wiring. Ha ha. 

When we got the old dishwasher disconnected and went to put the new one in its place, we ran into some problems, some of which just involved annoying amounts of extra labor. This is going to be a long story, so I'll spare you all the agonizing details, but the most serious problem was that the drain hose that we had was too big for the drain outlet stub on the new dishwasher. There was a second, capped stub that was a better size, but we didn't know what to do with the smaller one of we opened that one. We tried a series of solutions including cannibalizing a bit of hose from part of the old dishwasher, which we thought could be used as an adapter. Unfortunately, all it did was come apart the moment we put the new dishwasher back into its space. I can't even remember all the things we tried to make this too-small stub fit the too-big hose, but I do know that none of them worked, and after a couple of hours monkeying away, we gave up.

At this point, I turned the water to the sink back on and noticed the flow had decreased dramatically, as if my house were deliberately rubbing salt in my wounds. Fortunately the flow spontaneously returned to almost normal after a few hours.

Installation attempt 2

The next week, I went to a plumbing supply store and bought two parts, at a cost of 18 dollars, to try and solve the problem. They didn't. But they did cause me to close my water shutoff valves a second time, and this time, the water never started flowing again! I waited a day and then reluctantly called the warranty company to get me a plumber.

Installation attempt 3

Surprise! The warranty didn't cover the cost of fixing the sink, but the plumber was nice enough to take some time to do it as an independent contractor. He even tried to help me with the dishwasher. He didn't have any trouble connecting the too-large drain hose (he just kept clamping it until it was snug—Occam's Razor in action!) but when we ran the dishwasher, we found it was leaking from someplace other than either of the drain outlets. Fail! Again! He advised me to just get a new dishwasher, because even if we could find the source of the leak, this one was old as the hills and probably not long for this world. 

So let's take a step back and tally what this dishwasher issue had cost me so far: 40 for the dishwasher, 18 for the useless parts, and innumerable hours (OK, probably around 4) that we'll never get back! Also 220 dollars for the plumbing work that wouldn't have been necessary if I hadn't been constantly fiddling with the shutoff valves while failing to install the dishwasher. We're up to 278 dollars. 

Installation attempt 4

Having thrown away 278 dollars, I was especially resistant to buying a full-price dishwasher and bringing my grand total to around 700 dollars, so I started shopping around for used dishwashers again, this time at actual stores that have a return policy. I found Community Forklift, which is a local store selling reused construction materials and appliances. They were having a 30-percent-off sale, so I booked it over there and found a large selection of dishwashers of various ages! One of them looked newish, came with both a supply hose and a drain hose, and was only 25 dollars, so I bought it for 18 dollars (after discount) and prepared myself for another round. P.S. I'm totally sold on shopping at Community Forklift for all my future home-improvement needs.

This time, having a new drain hose that came with the second new dishwasher, I knew I had to disconnect the old drain entirely. I had learned in the research phase of this project that there's a plug inside the garbage disposal, where the dishwasher drain connects, and it has to be removed before hooking up a dishwasher. Part of me suspected that it hadn't been, but I'd ignored the disposal end of things during my previous attempts because I felt like the disposal was too far back in the sink and would be hard to access. But I knew I couldn't ignore it any more. And, surprise! It wasn't actually hard to access at all. And, surprise again! The disposal plug was indeed still intact, meaning that we could have installed brand new dishwashers until kingdom come and they never would have drained. Sigh.

I read a couple of tutorials on how to remove the dishwasher plug from a disposal that was already installed, and, feeling confident that I could do it, followed the instructions. But then, once the plug had been knocked into the body of the disposal, I couldn't find it! I reached around with my hand, digging into the slime of disposed items past, and there was no plug. No bits of plug. Nothing. But when I ran the disposal, I could hear it grinding raucously like it was about to explode! Thinking that maybe the plug had somehow gotten into the motor of the disposal, I removed the unit entirely with the help of still more tutorials. I shook it upside-down. Nothing. I looked inside. Nothing. I looked inside with a flashlight. Nothing. I turned the rubber drain cover completely inside out, looked inside with a flashlight again, and finally found the little plastic piece of drain plug trapped between a blade and the wall of the disposal. Once I knew where it was, it was simple to get out—I definitely hadn't needed to remove the entire mechanism.

By this time, my partner in appliance installation had arrived for our 3rd joint attempt, so he helped me put the disposal back, and we set out to install the dishwasher.

Annoyingly, the supply hose that had come with the dishwasher was the wrong size for our plumbing, so we had to painstakingly remove the 90-degree fitting (that's a thing in dishwashers) from the second dishwasher, where we'd haphazardly installed it after removing it from the first dishwasher, and jam it into place on the third dishwasher. Of course it took several attempts to get that right. Fortunately we were old pros at hooking up the drain line by this time, so that part was a piece of cake. Then it was finally time to run the dishwasher. And it worked! It didn't leak! It drained! It seemed perfect! Except for one little thing. 

It wasn't secured to the countertop, and consequently fell out of its cubby whenever the door was opened too vigorously. And of course, it was a tad too tall, so when it was jammed into place, the door wouldn't shut any more. To make it fit, I decided to shave away some of the wood under the countertop. Since the dishwasher was already taking up most of the work space in that area, and there was no way I was going to unhook it another time, I had to find a way to do some extreme carpentry in a very small space. I ended up drilling a couple dozen holes into the wood, creating a line of perforations which weakened it to the point where my boyfriend could splinter it off using brute force and a screwdriver. It was messy. It was smelly (the wood burned when I drilled it). It took about an hour.
A closeup of our artistry
 And after all that work, I found that even though the dishwasher had some clearance under the counter now, the door still wouldn't shut when the unit was actually screwed into place! Forced to explore alternative solutions, I then discovered that the latch could be bent into a position that allowed the door to pass smoothly. Meaning I had just wasted half the morning mutilating my counter for no reason. 

The fruit of 3 weeks of labor
But after that, we were finally, well and truly, finished with the dishwasher. It works!
And I've learned a valuable lesson: Never try to install a dishwasher without professional help.

Haha, just kidding. I'd do it again...if someone held a gun to my head...but I'm sure it would be a lot easier the 5th time around, since I actually did learn some valuable lessons. Here they are.

Conclusions

1. If you're going to install a dishwasher for the first time, try to make it a new one that comes with a connection kit. When you don't know what you're doing, minor incompatibilities in parts can turn into total stumpers. And plus, if you are installing a new dishwasher, you can get phone support from the manufacturer.

2. If you are going to buy a used dishwasher, at least take the time to ask the seller some questions. Where's the drain hose? What size nut is on the water supply hose? What's this thing do? Sure, it can feel awkward to look like an idiot, but the awkwardness will be over soon, and you'll be much better prepared for the actual installation, which is the real hard part.

3. Don't assume something won't work without actually trying it. We never bothered to try to connect the drain hose to the small stub because I just assumed it would leak. But if we'd only tried that, the most obvious solution, from the beginning, we could have potentially saved ourselves hours of work and damage caused by repeatedly removing and replacing parts.

4. Likewise, don't assume something does work without testing it. If I hadn't been so afraid to take the drain hose off the garbage disposal right from the outset, I might have actually gotten the very first dishwasher to drain without having to go through Four Impossible Installation Attempts.

5. And lastly, if you're doing this installation in an old house, don't overtighten your water shutoff valves! Dealing with a little trickle of water during installation is preferable to having to replace your shutoff valves and faucet because you broke them.

Monday, August 1, 2016

House-poor

When I originally purchased my house, I had every intention of reaching a point where I could say everything was paid for, and then I would triumphantly share the hilariously large bottom line here on my blog. I thought that point would be as soon as I had settled in, cleaned up the mold in the basement and attic, fixed the broken dishwasher, cut an egress window in the basement bedroom; and I was living happily and comfortably with renters paying most of my mortgage for me—surely within the first month of owning the place.

I have come to realize that ... ha ha ha ... excuse, me, I can't finish my sentence because I can't stop laughing. If I thought I was ever going to be done fixing up this house, I was oh, so very wrong! Before I moved in, I knew there were a couple of flaws that I'd need to repair, but after I moved in, everything that I thought had been working suddenly stopped! The washer, the dryer, the garbage disposal—all were nonfunctional! A technician from the gas company came in to turn on the gas, deemed the furnace and the water heater to be safety hazards, and turned them both off! My house was a beautiful skin with no muscles inside! I spent a couple days crying on the floor, then I slowly got around to getting things fixed.

I realize I'm never going to be able to say I'm done paying, but I did promise that I'd dedicate an entire post to the financial side of my home purchase, so here goes, at least a fairly accurate tally of what I've spent so far!

The housing search alone was a significant drain on my finances. I paid for 1.5 home inspections, one appraisal, and one pest inspection on houses that I didn't even buy, which amounted to 1,290$ just thrown to the wind!

But that's peanuts compared to what I paid to actually buy this house. A glance at the final page of my closing documents reveals that the total amount spent at settlement was 292,252.96$. Some of that includes pre-paid homeowner's insurance and taxes, but most of it's the cost of the house itself (278,000) and fees. Of course, 15,000 of that sum is covered by the CPCUP home-ownership loan, which I never need to pay back, as long as I live in the house for 10 years.

I have always kept my money distributed in accounts at several banks—different banks offer different benefits, and it's nice to be able to do my banking wherever I happen to be. This has never caused a problem for me before, but it really threw a kink into my home purchase. In order make my down payment, I had to use money from 3 banks, each of which charged a different wire transfer fee or withdrawal fee. Although I neglected to tally the exact amounts, these fees cost me around 100 dollars in total. If I'd pulled all of my money from one bank, I probably could have gotten that cost down to just 20.

When calculating how much money I'd need to buy a house, I knew I had the cash for a sizable down payment, and thanks to the CPCUP loan, I'd even have quite a bit left over after the closing. What I neglected to consider was that, when your money is spread among three banks, two of which have minimum balance requirements of 5,000$ each, the actual amount of money you're free to spend is a lot less. By the time I'd finished paying the mold remediators (3,501.40$), I was scraping the bottom of my financial barrel. I have become one of those people who has to check their bank account before they buy anything—and that's a strange thing to be when 8 months ago, I could foot the bill for a 6,000$ vacation without batting an eyelash.

I've thought about closing one of my accounts or finding a different one with a lower minimum balance, but I realize that having 10,000 dollars that you're unwilling to spend (lest you incur an account maintenance fee!) is probably a good idea, so I think this annoyance might have been a blessing in disguise.

Annoyances—that's how I classify most of the major financial blows in the multiple thousands of dollars. They were pretty much expected, so they don't bother me too much. But now that I'm a homeowner, it's the ongoing nickel-and-diming (or the 21st century equivalent, which is more like twenty-dollaring and fifty-dollaring) that's really getting to me.

Within the first couple of weeks of living in the house, I had shelled out 300 dollars to buy missing home essentials (like fire extinguishers) and pay for minor service visits. This probably doesn't seem like much to most readers, but to me, it felt like being stabbed to death with tiny needles when it was spread out over 8 annoyingly frequent transactions. I'm trying to recoup my savings, not burn the rest of them on stupid things like a disconnected dryer!

On the plus side, though, I feel like I was blessed with a fortuitous influx of free things! When I moved in, I hardly had any furniture, and I expected that it would be a major struggle to get some. I was also missing several little things, like shower racks for the bathroom, waste baskets, and the like. However, free furniture basically fell into our laps, and I'm pleased to announce that most of the things I thought I'd have to buy, we have acquired at no cost. I even found an antique ladder in the attic that I was able to sell for 40 dollars, plus a dozen DirecTV signal splitters in the shed, which are going for a pretty penny on eBay, so I'm working my way to a net positive. Sort of. If you don't believe me, see the tally sheet below. I estimate I'll get back in the black shortly before I die of old age.

Item
Cost
Notes
3 Inspections
1380.00
590 + 590 + 200
Two appraisals
1000.00
500 + 500 
Wire Transfer fees
100.00

Cash to close
292,252.96

Mold remediation
3,501.40

Egress window
0
Not done yet
Lock for shed
8.00

Fire extinguisher
16.40
Two aerosol canisters
Dehumidifier
25.00
Used, from Craigslist
Miter saw
10.00
May not be usable
Remove 2 wasp nests
0
Ha! We got those wasps ourselves with a hose!
Extension Ladder
25.00
Used, from Craigslist
Fix disposal*
100.00

Dishwasher*
76.00
40 for a dishwasher, 18 for parts, 18 for another dishwasher 
Fix sink*  
220.00
* The disposal, dishwasher, and sink together make a story that is worthy of an entire blog post on its own. Stay tuned!
Fix furnace
0
Not done yet
Fix dryer
75.00
“Turn on gas supply to dryer” is more accurate
Sofa
0
4 lamps
0
shower caddy
0
Garbage can
0
Coffee table
0
Bookcase
0
Second wardrobe
0
Attic ladder
-40.00
DirecTV splitters
-26.33
298,723.43

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Valerie's Adventures in Cooking: Sweet Potato Kale Gratin

While visiting a farmer's market over 4th of July weekend, I ran across a vendor who was selling damaged produce at 50% off. Never one to resist a good bargain, I stocked up on all the vegetables that actually meet my dietary restrictions, one of which was a lone sweet potato.

Today, only 3½ weeks after purchasing the sweet potato, I got around to actually cooking it. Normally with a sweet potato, I'd slice it up, dip it in oil, and bake it, in the hopes that it would turn into sweet potato fries (usually it turns into sweet potato mush with crispy edges, but a girl can dream), but I have a bag of heat-and-serve sweet potato fries in the freezer, and I have confidence that those would taste better than any fries I could ever whip up myself, so it was time to try a new recipe: Sweet Potato & Kale Gratin.* Who's ready for an Adventure in Cooking!?

Sweet Potato & Kale Gratin (VAiC Style!)

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (Well, you already have a problem, because your lone sweet potato is only 6 ounces. Decide to just make a third of the recipe and round out that first pound with a regular potato.)
  • 1 large bunch (about 1 lb.) kale, tough stems removed and leaves torn into bite-sized pieces (A third of a bunch = well, just about all the kale you have—how convenient!)
  • 1 c. shredded Parmesan cheese (Lacking parmesan cheese, think back to another similar recipe you found that used white cheddar. You don't have that either, but you do have yellow cheddar, which is basically the same, right? Right! One third of that is...ah...we'll figure that out later!)
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream (Who keeps whipping cream in their house!? Plan on using a single-serving tub of yogurt instead, until you open it up and realize it's actually sweetened vanilla yogurt. Not going to fly. Instead, get out the last packet of dried milk in your pantry. It will have to do, even though the creator of the recipe is quite adamant that you only use real whipping cream).
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg (Nutmeg sounds gross in a gratin. Leave that out.)
  • 2 tbsp. Organic Valley salted butter, cut into small pieces, plus more to grease baking dish
Preparation:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Steam kale for about 3 minutes, or until wilted, in a large steamer basket set over boiling water. Nonsense! Dump that kale in a 2-qt casserole dish, pour some water on top, and microwave for 2 minutes! You just saved a minute! Pat yourself on the back. Squeeze out excess water.
  3. Place half of the potatoes in a greased 9 x 13 baking dish. Since you have drastically reduced this recipe, 9x13 is going to be far too much. You can do it in that same casserole dish you heated the kale in. You just saved yourself from washing a dish! Pat yourself on the back.
  4. Top potatoes with kale, then top kale with half of the cheese. Since you haven't actually measured out the cheese, just grab handfuls of it and sprinkle it on until it looks nice. Misread the previous instruction and top the potatoes with only half the kale. Place remaining potatoes in dish and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese (another generous handful). Top the whole pile with the other half of the kale.
  5. To make the milk substitute for whipping cream, pour most of the packet of powdered milk in a bowl (no need to be precise here; you never are) and dump a little water on top. Whisk together until it looks approximately like the consistency of whipping cream. Taste-test. Wow! It's super-sweet! You didn't remember that milk was so sugary!
  6. Whisk together the "whipping cream", extra salt to counteract the sweetness in the milk, extra pepper to do the same, and pour over casserole. 
  7. Dot with butter. By dot, I mean haphazardly cut a few chunks out of a lump of margarine that's been sitting in your fridge and wipe them clumsily on the kale, wishing they would be a little less attached to the knife. While you're wishing, wish you could use all of the margarine because you hate having partially eaten sticks of shortening lying around, but refrain because your cheese choices have already raised the heart attack quotient of this dish by at least 4 points.
  8. Cover baking dish with aluminum foil (haha! this is where using the casserole dish really pays off! You can just cover with the lid, and save a big old sheet of foil! Pat yourself on the back.)
  9. Decide that since your casserole has turned out pretty deep, you might want to cook longer and at a lower temperature. Reduce oven to 350 degrees.
  10. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove casserole lid and bake for 25 minutes more, or until potatoes are tender and cheese is golden brown. Allow to sit 15 minutes before serving, preferably while taking your obligatory photos.
 

The verdict:

Surprisingly good for an Adventure in Cooking! The potatoes turned out mostly tender, the watery milk mixture mostly evaporated away to an ideal thickness, the sweetness of the milk mostly wasn't noticeable, and the kale that I accidentally placed on top didn't burn but turned nice and crispy and delicious. In fact, my least favorite thing about the product of this Adventure was the one thing that was by design from the beginning: I wasn't really crazy about the sweetness of the sweet potato paired with the saltiness of everything else. It's a good thing I had to use a regular potato, because that enabled me to have at least a few bites that weren't sweet.

*The original recipe was found on the Oh My Veggies blog.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Racerback ≠ razorback

Usually I wait until I have several peeves all bottled up inside me before letting loose with a critical blog post on how not to use the English language.


But this time, the need is dire, and the critical post is coming right now, with only one case on the docket: razorback vs. racerback.

Racerback is a common term used to describe the backside of a certain style of tank top: to wit, one that is basically open around the shoulderblades, with just a thin strip of fabric running up the spine. I hear that this style of tank top (or swimsuit) got its name from competitive swimmers (i.e. "racers") who need to have a full range of motion for their scapulae.


The above pictures are racerback tops. Do you know what they are not? Razorback tops. 

I see the word razorback being thrown around all over the internet to describe this style of tank, from eBay to any number of fashion blogs. But they are all wrong. A razorback is a type of hog. It is not a type of shirt.

Please stop using it that way, and let the pigs keep their title!

two feral pigs in a grassy area

Monday, July 18, 2016

Welcome to my house


Most of those who read this blog will be invited to see its interior at some point. But the best time to see a house is right after its occupants have moved in and everything is willy-nilly, right? I wouldn't want you to miss out on that experience, so let's waste no time in going on a virtual tour.

Starting with the light-filled, maple-floored living room. 
 
 
The living room is the heart of any home, so we put extra effort into making it a warm and welcoming space. To create a harmonious atmosphere, we outfitted the (free! Thanks, Craigslist!) couches with mismatched slipcovers. The brown one is an especially nice touch, contrasting beautifully with the plethora of white and tan dog fur that has already made its home there. In the background, you can observe a traditional Chinese watercolor, partially obscured by an upside-down wardrobe. This piece of modern art symbolizes the struggle that faces so many individuals today—having too many clothes and not enough closet space.

As you look closer, you'll see we have adorned our furniture with a variety of useful items, ranging from a blender (always a good thing to have in a living room) to a box of home fixtures and fixatives, which will surely be put to use sometime within this century. 

One of the most useful things a home can have is a handyman, and you can see ours really showing off his skills on the couch. Notice the positioning of his feet. He has carefully arranged himself so as to avoid the second-most useful things a home can have: a dog. This dog (look closely, he's camouflaged by partially burying himself in the cushions) might look peaceful and asleep, but under that calm exterior, he is hard at work, busy shedding as much fur as possible over the beautifully contrasting slipcover we already mentioned.
 
 
Now on to the bedroom. Unonpened boxes dominate the decor here, but a keen eye may be able to spot the bed, which still lacks a frame.


Next to the bedroom is the closet/dressing/activities room, which has been designated as the place where everything other than sleeping shall occur. Contrasted with the spartan bedroom, it may look cluttered and chaotic, but believe me, it has a place for everything, and everything's in its place. Except for that second wardrobe in the living room. Where ever are we going to cram that?


On to the bathroom. This one features the spray bottle of ammonia that I was using to clean the reusable furnace filter. Sadly, years of cooking grease seemed to have coated that as well, so eventually I gave it up for lost, its only legacy being the clods of gunk that ended up adhering to the walls of the bathtub.
 
 
Next we visit the guest room, which is the tidyest and most Zen-like room in the house. Naturally, it goes unused as we can't have guests while the rest of the house is in such chaos, but sometimes we like to come in here just to enjoy a space that isn't cluttered with detritus and dogs.
 
 
The kitchen is one of the features of the house that always impresses visitors, as it was recently remodeled with a real tile floor, warm honey cabinets, and a cute backsplash over the sink. You can see that it has black granite countertops, which are what house-flippers put into a house when they want it to look posh. When I was house-shopping, I learned to associate black countertops with a property that was all show and no substance. Consequently, every time I look at my countertops, I have flashbacks to all the times I wanted to buy a house but it had been superficially altered to fetch an excessive price...oh, wait, that was this house too. These countertops are a constant reminder of how I bought in to the cosmetic housing sham. How could I have sold out my principles for a tiled kitchen and a polished wood floor!? Why, oh, why, didn't I place more value on the age of the appliances? Whyyy —Oh, wait, we're on a tour. So, yes, looking at this cute-as-a-button kitchen, you might notice the dishwasher whose front panel is removed, because I can't for the life of me figure out how to hook it up. I went out and spent my hard-earned cash to replace the travesty that was the original dishwasher, and still can't get the new one to function! Why, oh, wh—oh, right. Tour.


Let's look at the basement, shall we? As I mentioned in my last post, it has the distinction of being finished. But not in the sense of actually being finished, since it has become the dumping ground for all the furniture we don't know what to do with. 

See that open door? That leads into the room we have designated the storage room, where still more chaos reigns. 
 
 
At least we got a bookshelf in there to help the room get organized—No thanks to the unusually low ceilings, which forced us to return the first free bookshelf we got back to the curb.


The basement also has this blurry room, which will eventually be less blurry and will replace the guest room we have upstairs.
 
 
An unremarkable second bathroom, except to the spiders and cave crickets, which seem to think it's the best room in the whole house! Thank goodness there aren't any of them in this picture, or I'd be squirming in disgust rather than writing this pleasant description.


The basement also lures you in with a second kitchen. Don't be fooled by the shiny black oven—this kitchen is actually unusable as a kitchen because the oven's console is burned out, and we will eventually be hauling it to the trash without replacing it. But in the meantime, it makes a handy shelf for storing laundry products...
 
 
Because the laundry room is configured so that you can't fit any shelving into it, and your only storage is a couple of milk crates hung from the walls. It also has no lighting, which is why there is a table lamp on top of the dryer.

I've heard from certain musicals that the very beginning is a very good place to start, but I have turned that rule on its head by making the first thing you see in real life into the last thing that you see on this tour. (It's cause I wanted to save the best for last...don't quit now!)  
 
 
On the home's exterior, you can observe such marvelous features as the white add-on mud room, the bay window, the porch swing that came free with the house, and, what's that shadowy shape off to the left in the foreground? Let's take a closer look!
 
 
It's... a peach tree! Or maybe an apricot tree...or, in any case, some kind of fruit tree. Settling into this house has been a series of unpleasant surprises, but this arboreal beauty is probably the nicest thing home ownership has thrown at me. A free supply of future fruit? Don't mind if I do!