Wednesday, December 7, 2016

13 things men can darn well wear if they want to

I was a little bit outraged when I read this article, "13 things men should stop wearing." I'm almost certain (at least I'd like to hope) it was written as a backlash against patronizing articles (some even written by a man!) describing things women shouldn't wear, which have been making the rounds among my fashion/women's publications for as long as I've been reading them.

But really!? If the overwhelming consensus (as it seems to be, according to what I've read) is "Forget the rules! Women can wear whatever we want to wear and we need to stop letting society tell us we're ugly!", then how does turning the tables on men help the cause? Haven't we had enough with the negativity?

I have a different cause—absolute fashion freedom for everyone—and a blog post to go with it. Inspired by the original snarky article, here is a slightly different list...of things I think men should try wearing as soon as they can! Please read, enjoy, and pass it on to a man in your life (along with the shiniest shirt you can get your hands on)!

1. Deep V-Neck T-Shirts
Nothing wrong with that! If women are allowed to wear shirts that look like this, I don't see why men can't either.

2. Cute Graphic T-Shirts
If the only T-shirts it's socially acceptable for a man to wear are the ones that are emblazoned with macho imagery and sarcastic messages, that leaves very little room for self-expression. Let's expand the offerings so that men can wear pretty florals and kitty cats, and then there will be no need for them to settle for fake CBGB shirts.

3. Colorful Suits
Are you bored with black, brown, charcoal, and black? I am! I was looking through some catalog images from the 1970's, and was awed by the colors on the men's suits! We should have more of that!

4. Button-Down Vests...over nothing else
One of the sexist policies that really gets me going is the one that says women are allowed to show up to a nice establishment wearing short dresses and sleeveless tops, but men have to be fully covered in pants and sleeves. Not only does this perpetuate the belief that women are objects to be looked at; it's also needlessly restrictive to men. Men are the ones with the higher baseline body temperatures; they should totally be allowed to wear comfortable. breathable clothes, and show some skin at restaurants. Maybe the way to make this point is to wear dress vests as shirts. Maybe it's not, but I still think it's a fun idea.

5. Shiny Dress Shirts
 These were also derided by the original article. Once upon a time, I too, opposed shiny dress shirts for men. Mainly because they were associated with "those guys at the club who women warn each other about in the bathroom." Then I realized, if more upstanding gentlemen were to sport this style, it wouldn't have such a douchey reputation. There's nothing inherently wrong with shiny fabric; it's just the people that have always tended to wear it. Let's buck this trend! Sirs, go ahead and shine on the outside the same way you shine on the inside!

6. Vintage Shoes
Women's shoes are designed to last a year and then have to be replaced. Men's shoes are made to last for decades. If the square-toed dress shoes you bought when you graduated high school are still working for you today, don't be ashamed they're no longer trendy, be proud that you've saved countless cheap vinyl imitations from the landfill! But also, don't be afraid to wear pointed toes or even round ones if that floats your boat.

7. Baggy, High-Water Jeans...with cargo pockets!
There was a time when "mom jeans" for women were an extreme faux pas. And then, voila! All of a sudden mom jeans became the coolest thing in women's fashion. So men, if gender equality is real, then you are completely entitled to wear baggy jeans with high hemlines. Maybe you'll start a new trend! Or you can just go back to an old one and bring back cargo pants. If your pants mean you'll stop trying to cram your entire livelihood into my purse every time we go out, I'm 100% in favor.

8. Skinny Jeans
 The very opinionated writers of the original article seem to think you're not allowed to wear baggy jeans, and you're not allowed to wear skinny jeans. What's left? You might as well just walk around naked. Men, please don't walk around naked. I think skinny jeans are a very acceptable alternative.

9. White Jeans
Oh, and you're not allowed to wear white jeans either...says the snarkicle. But I say if that's the case, you might as well just give up on life and wear your bed sheets around town...or just never get out of bed at all. Honestly! With so many rules, no wonder men's fashion is boring! I don't have a problem with white jeans. Just make sure you can't see your boxers through the fabric. I hear this is a problem.

10. Jean Shorts
And why the heck not? ... The crickets are saying, "That's what I thought."

11. Purses
So cargo shorts aren't your style? I strongly suggest you give handbags a try. If you think purses are "too feminine," stuff the largest one you can find with things like samurai swords and electronic gadgets, and you can show off your strength by hefting your "manbag" around town. You'll be a purse convert before you know it!

12. Sandals that aren't flip flops
I can't remember any time when men were encouraged to wear any kind of sandal at all other than shower shoes. Go ahead and live a little! Let your feet air out, and flaunt those Berkenstocks!

13. Fitted Jerseys
 Sure, there are definitely better things you can wear than a sports jersey. More flattering. Less polyester. Less likely to get you beat up in the wrong city. Less...related to sports. My catty counterpart would have you believe that sports jerseys are unacceptable garb. But my realistic self recognizes that nothing can stand between a male and his wholehearted expression of his irrational love for his team. However, if you must wear a sports jersey, you can at least make an effort to look good in it. They make "girly" sports jerseys with a tailored fit for female fans, maybe it's time to start making similarly well fitting jerseys for male fans. Then you could flaunt your team spirit without sacrificing those good looks that I know are hiding just underneath!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Ginger Molasses Cookie from Amaretti Desserts


Over Thanksgiving, I took a trip to Jacksonville, Florida, and promptly developed a cold (of course!) I waited until my congestion cleared (temporarily, by virtue of lots of drugs, no thanks to my sluggish immune system) to try this cookie, and it was worth the wait.

I could taste the ginger! It was so gingery! The flavor, plus the sweetness, mixed in with no scanty amount of salt, made for a taste explosion!

The cookie was maybe just a tad too chewy, but I'll take that over crunchy any day. Bonus sugar crystals on top rounded out the texture.

I'm not certain of the price, as I bought several things from amaretti desserts, and the receipt I received was not itemized, but the three items I bought (a bar, a whoopie pie, and this Giant Cookie) totaled 10$. Since a cookie is usually cheaper than the other items, I'll round its price down to 3$. Not a perfect price for 115g, but quite a bit above average. I guess we can't win 'em all.

The Bottom Line

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

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Valerie's Adventures in Cooking: Zucchini Quiche

When faced with a lot of vegetables and nothing to do with them, some sort of baked concoction with lots of cheese is usually my answer. I may not like cooking, but I do like my quiche! My last Adventure in Quiching turned out solidly on the awful side, so let's see if I've learned any lessons.

For this recipe, you will need:
  • 1 zucchini, aged to perfection
  • 1 package of Pillsbury croissant dough
  • 1 package of refrigerated egg whites
  • 1 bag of shredded mozzarella.
  • 1 boyfriend
The boyfriend is necessary because he is the reason you have a whole zucchini, despite your not liking zucchini. He is also the reason you have a giant bag of mozzarella cheese that you still haven't used up almost 2 years after you bought it at Costco, 3 packages of Pillsbury croissant dough that have been sitting around for almost a year after you strongly advised him not to buy so much croissant dough at Costco, and the six cartons of refrigerated egg whites that he just recently bought at Costco.

But why, you are asking, is he the reason you have a single lonesome zucchini, which is surely not the kind of thing you pick up at Costco? The answer for that is his new Vitamix blender, with which he decided to make pureed soup. The original soup recipe called for zucchini, and you dutifully bought him a zucchini before he changed his mind and decided to go with a zucchini-free recipe. He said he'd find a use for the zucchini, but 3 weeks later, it is still relaxing in the fridge, so it is time for action!

Cut the zucchini into slices. Discard any parts that are too "relaxed."

Dump some mozzarella cheese into a bowl. The mozzarella should be frozen mostly solid, because naturally when you keep it around for years on end, you can't keep it in the refrigerator or it will go bad. Remove the mozzarella cheese from the bowl and hack at it with a knife until it has broken up into manageable clumps. Return the manageable clumps to the bowl.

Find the one container of egg whites that is already opened, and dump it over the cheese. This will hopefully be enough egg whites to make a quiche, because it seems wasteful to open a second carton. Mix until the clumps of cheese have mostly separated and are distributed uniformly.

Now it's time for putting the quiche into a crust! A serious cook would make a crust from scratch. A lazy cook would use a pre-made pie crust. But an adventurous cook would try to get rid of another thing that's been sitting in the fridge too long, and make her crust out of refrigerated croissant dough!

Open the package of croissant dough and separate it into its pre-formed little triangles. Arrange the triangles in the bottom of an 8-inch pie pan. They will not cover the pan neatly, so rip them to pieces as necessary until the pan is covered.

Then lay about half of the slices of zucchini in a layer on top of the crust.

Top the zucchini with half the cheese/egg mixture.

Lay the remaining zucchini slices in another layer, and top with the remaining cheese/eggs.

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.

At the end of 30 minutes, realize your crust is browning to a crisp, but the middle of the quiche doesn't look quite solid yet. No worries! You have aluminum pie crust protectors! Too bad you didn't think to use them at the beginning of the baking, but then again, they don't really fit over the handles on your ergonomic pie tin, so they probably wouldn't do much protecting in this precarious position anyway. Still no worries! Ornamental pie crust protectors are better than no pie crust protectors, and at least they will have the satisfaction of being used for the first time as they hover over the edges of your quiche for the last 10 minutes of baking!

(Bake for 10 minutes, or until the center looks solid and the edges are strikingly overdone.)


The verdict: Zucchini is not quite so unpalatable when buried in lots of browned cheese, but neither does croissant dough make an excellent crust. It got a little soggy, especially near that tricky middle. In any case, it's edible, but there sure is a lot of it! It's a good thing I have a little leftover boyfriend to help me finish it.


Friday, October 21, 2016

It's Whine O'clock!

When I last posted about my likes and dislikes in June, all I had was a list of likes. This time I'll turn the tables and round things out with some more dislikes.

1. Biking into a cloud of gnats

This item is at the top of my list right now, because, 'tis the season for clouds of bugs...apparently. Every year when it starts to turn cool out, I suddenly find my commute home beset by inordinately large numbers of fruit flies. Where's the fruit? I don't know, but its absence doesn't seem to be stopping them any! I don't begrudge these creatures their right to congregate, but if they could do it somewhere out of the path of my lungs, I'd be much obliged.

2. Foldover waistbands

It seems simple enough...almost irrelevant...among the many things fashion gives us, but I have several pairs of pants with a foldover waist (yoga pants are an especially common culprit, but a foldover waist has also "graced" my bikini bottoms) and every time I wear them, all they bring me is grief. Just try to keep the folded part folded in the right spot! It will invariably unfold itself and bulk up your midsection, or merely start to bunch up in an annoyingly asymmetrical way. The aesthetic benefit of having a band of fabric wrapped around your butt is surely outweighed by the annoyance of having to adjust it every two minutes.

3. Slideshow websites

The web developer in me must needs gripe about something website-related, and this time, it's those sites in which all their information is presented in the form of a slideshow. If you ever click on sponsored posts on Facebook (I've fallen victim to this trick more times than I can count!), you know what I'm talking about. Unfortunately (actually, probably fortunately), I can't find a specific example right now, but I can describe it for you. You view the first slide, and it has something informative about the subject you came to read about. If you're lucky, it has a whole sentence, but sometimes, the answer inexplicably drags out...





...Click the "Next" Button...






...to the next slide!

As if having to click 2 or three times to complete every sentence isn't bad enough, now imagine that every portion of the sentence you want to read contains a large image (usually only vaguely related to the topic) and is supported by approximately 3,026 ads. The agonizing slowness with which these fragments of information load is enough to make anyone go crazy.

4. People buying limited-edition things for the sole purpose of reselling them at a profit

This is one of those unfortunate and pretty-much-inevitable downsides to a free market economy. Anyone who can afford to buy something at any price is allowed to...and equally allowed to sell it at any price, even if that price is hundreds of times the actual value. But just because you can do something, that doesn't mean you should! This is a classic case of the haves (those with the resources and position to acquire something extremely rare) profiting from the have nots (the ones who only have the means to buy something on the overinflated secondary market. Perhaps I'm naive (and perhaps I'm still bitter about the house-flippers who made getting a new home at an affordable price way more difficult than it should have been), but I believe in kindness and sharing and making an honest living.

5. Weighted doors

After that "weighty" subject, let's go on to something weighty in a different way—doors that shut themselves. I'm not a fan. This kind of door has afflicted me too many times, mostly resulting in me getting locked out of a place because I stepped out briefly without a key and found it had swung shut behind me. That's the worst-case scenario, but weighted doors also give meaning to the saying, "Don't let the door hit you on the way out!" When you're trying to pass an overzealous door with an armful of stuff and don't have the momentum or the foresight to swing it wide open before you pass through, the door hitting you on the way out is exactly what will happen.

6. Cleaning up other people's hair

Whether you live with roommates, significant others, or random strangers who pay to stay in your home for a few days, you can be sure of one thing: at some point, you will be forced to clean up their hair. People seem to love to shed their hair everywhere, but especially in the bathroom. They shave and leave the cuttings all over the sink. They shower and deposit what seems like the entire contents of their head in the drain. Cleaning up these messes is disgusting beyond measure, and frequently, not even necessary. For those of you who don't know it, I'm going to share a little trick: Brush your hair before you shower. That way all the loose hairs will end up in your brush, not snaking down into the drain for someone else to pick up. Oh, and also, when you shave, it's not acceptable to leave your cuttings where they fell. I don't understand why it's still necessary to explain this to people, but apparently I'm one of only a few people in the world who doesn't enjoy all their surfaces studded with hair.

7. Tipping

Last gripe, and again it's a financial one: I hate being obligated to tip all the people who perform a service. I spent several years of my life working for 2 dollars an hour as a tipped employee, so I understand that not tipping is an unacceptable behavior in our current system, but I am angry that tipping ever got ingrained in the system in the first place. The vast majority of people who work for tips are paid by their employers. They shouldn't also be paid by their customers who are also paying their employers. For any industry, forcing your employees to live off the kindness of strangers is a scoundrelly practice, and forcing your customers to have to choose what's an appropriate payment for your employees is scoundrelly as well. Life would be so much simpler (and there would be so much less ill will between restaurant servers and customers, just as an example) if the cash only flowed one way.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Schmackary's Cookies: Red Velvet


In my second review of Schmackary's cookies, I admit I got a little lazy. (In my third review, I didn't actually bother to review them at all!) Because, to be honest, it was, as I wrote in my notes while chowing down, "nothing special."

That's not to say I didn't enjoy it or I didn't eat all of it, but I didn't detect any notes of anything beyond the usual.

The cookie was a bit too dry around the edges, crumbling a bit too much for my taste, but the middle was soft as I like it.

The best part was the cream cheese icing, because, of course, cream cheese makes everything better!

And the white chocolate chunks imparted a fun texture that – maybe, just maybe, took it beyond the usual after all.

The Bottom Line

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Schmackary's Cookies: Classic Chocolate Chip and Candied Yam

While on a brief one-day trip to New York City, I was encouraged to visit a cookie shop called Schmackary's. As a Giant Cookie reviewer, I couldn't say no, and, though I intended to only try one or two of its wares, my boyfriend and I ended up bringing home 5 varieties of Giant Cookie, plus two bags of macaroons. Schmackary's was selling all its cookies for the price of $2.75 each or 2 for 5$; they also had a box of day-old cookies that were advertised at a dollar each. From this box, I picked up a plastic-wrapped bundle of two "candied yam" cookies and a 2-pack of "red velvet" cookies. From the main case, I asked for the obligatory plain chocolate chip cookie, and my boyfriend rounded off the purchase with two more flavors.

The first one I tried, the day after I returned home, was the candied yam cookie.

Since there will be several reviews about Schmackary's I'll try to be brief, but I have a lot to say about the candied yam cookies! 

Schmackary's Candied Yam Cookies 

As soon as I began peeling away the plastic wrap, I realized that these were almost certainly the messiest cookies I ever opened. They were topped by marshmallow fluff, which adhered to everything around it like glue. But the mess was worth it, because I really enjoyed eating the cookies! I did it with a fork, and would not recommend anyone try these cookies without a proper utensil at the ready.

The marshmallow cream added a layer of flavor to what was already a quite tasty cookie. The sweet potato essence was strange for a cookie, but strange in a good way! I definitely wouldn't mind eating more cookies that taste like sweet potatoes.

As for the texture, well, it was gluten free. If you're not familiar with gluten-free baked goods, a lot of them tend to have a sort of powdery texture, and this one was no exception. The signature gluten-free-feel might not be for everyone, but I actually enjoy it. Beyond the powderiness, the overall consistency of the cookie was satisfyingly chewy. There were crumbs of nuts dispersed throughout to add a little crunch, and also bits of what I assume were the yams themselves. Of all the aspects of this cookie, I liked the yams the least, being just a bit too tough to really enjoy.
I'll be rating all of Schmackary's cookies on the 2-for-five price, which puts a single cookie (102 grams, based on the ones I weighed) at 2.45¢ per gram. It's a fairly high price, but what else do you expect for greatness?

The Bottom Line

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

Schmackary's chocolate chip cookie

I can visit no cookie shop without trying a basic chocolate chip cookie, but Schmackary's did theirs just a little differently (I can see that being different is a big part of their business model).

The first bite was pretty unremarkable, but it was followed immediately by a blast of salt. I'm guessing that they must have used coarse sea salt granules, judging from its sporadic, but powerful, appearance.

The chocolate chunks were everything you could expect from chocolate chunks, flavorful and firm.

I wasn't crazy about the flavor of the batter, but the chocolate chunks and the salt mostly made up for its lackluster cookie base

When I subjected the cookie to my crumble test, it snapped rather than bent (meaning it may be just a tad too hard for my liking), but held together and didn't drop a lot of crumbs, so overall it gets a positive vote, especially towards the center, which was thick and chewy.

The Bottom Line

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

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Pest Nest

Of all the problems that I've had with my new house, the worst thing one of many worst things about it is the cockroaches.

Cockroaches! I didn't see that coming. When I first visited the place in May, it was unoccupied and clean as a whistle (or so my selective vision told me). I saw no sign of a roach and didn't even stop to consider that pests might be an issue. When I moved in a month later, I did spy one cockroach, which gave me palpitations, but only mild ones—I'd seen a roach the day I moved into my last apartment, and nothing had come of that. Fast-forward to late July. It was a month after we'd moved in, and suddenly cockroaches were quite literally coming out of the woodwork! (Is that where this phrase comes from?)

This brings me to my moral dilemma. How does a vegetarian who cares for all creatures, great and small, deal with disgusting insects that are invading her home?

Well, every vegetarian has to draw the line somewhere. You can love all living things, but if they don't respect boundaries and they are a legitimate threat to your way of life, then your only recourse is to kill them. I've had to go through the same thing with bedbugs (no one can really blame you for trying to eradicate a pest that feeds on your own body) and ants.

The ants decided my desk at work was the best place for an ongoing party! After trying numerous times to dissuade them with various strongly scented oils, I finally had to resort to extermination. I am not a fan of using baits or poison. They seem underhanded ("Come here little buggy-buggy, I have a treat for you...it's death!") and sadistic (having suffered food poisoning before, I would never wish that kind of fate on anyone!). And the kind of sticky trap that causes animals to rip their own legs off in an attempt to escape is just cruel. Another option I might have mentioned before is diatomaceous earth, a long-established insect killer that works by creating micro-punctures in the animal's exoskeleton, causing it to lose too much liquid to the surrounding environment. I'm not sure death by desiccation is really much better than many others, but at least with a DE barrier, the bugs won't come to any harm if they just stay clear of it and out of my space! So I dusted diatomaceous earth around all the cracks in my window, and soon the ants were gone. Though I was sad about my murderous ways, I could not function at work with ants crawling all over me.

This summer, our house for some reason developed an infestation of flies. I was trying to ignore them, but I was so fed up by the time I went to the Fulton County Fair, I actually picked up a free promotional flyswatter so I could end the constant buzzing around my head. I never needed to put the flyswatter to use, as the flies had pretty much all disappeared by the time I brought it home, and I was relieved to not have to play executioner to countless insects just trying to live their short lives.

Roaches, however, are a whole different story.

This isn't my first brush with cockroaches—when I moved into an apartment for the first time in 2006, I not only met my first cockroach; I met thousands of them. Every night, the roaches swarmed out from the kitchen in droves. They nested in everything. They loved my roommate's laptop so much that they clogged its fan and made it chronically overheat. There were so many cockroaches in that apartment, you could smell them—it is true; they do have a smell. And it wasn't pleasant. It didn't take me long to learn to hate roaches with every fiber of my being—and to show cockroaches no mercy. If I were the type of person to invent mottoes, one of them would be "Thou shalt not suffer a roach to live." 

Since I was seeing roaches with more and more frequency as August drew to a close, I unwrapped a package of cockroach baits. With other insects, I think of baits as a dishonest way to trick a poor unsuspecting animal...but with roaches, I think baits are the only way to get rid of them before they've taken over your whole house. However, the baits aren't working. Not only did one of our stupid dogs find and eat one, causing a brief terror (later we learned that the roach poison is essentially harmless to humans and pets), but they didn't seem to do anything to rid us of roaches. If anything, their population has ballooned! 

In June, I started by seeing a nymph here or there, creeping around the bathroom or the kitchen sink...then it escalated to a nymph or two, maybe every other day...then I started seeing adults scuttling about. Now (especially at night) I find multiple roaches almost every time I enter the kitchen. One horrifying morning, I found three roaches of various ages, just chilling out in the bottom of a saucepan in the drying rack!

I've had to pull out all the stops for this tenacious population. No method of extermination is too gruesome—though I still prefer a good, honest, and quick demise like squashing them to death. That flyswatter has finally come to use after all; I now pick it up every time I enter the kitchen and prepare to do battle. Last night, I took all the contents out of the two cabinets that seem to be harboring the most roaches, and sprinkled diatomaceous earth along all the edges. And if that doesn't slow down the little vermin, my next step will be a combo treatment with borax.

After that? Well, my sincere hope is that it will be nothing. I hope I'll be able to get rid of the roaches and never see one again. Twice now, I've lived in a house where a new resident brought her own little cockroach collection from an infested apartment (one of those times I was that resident - yikes!), but I've never actually faced down an already-established colony of cockroaches. I can only hope that this isn't going to be a multi-month war like the one against the bedbugs.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Cohappy Cohabitation

Today, in an uncharacteristic moment of seriousness (oh, wait, we probably were only there for the animated GIFs), my boyfriend and I were discussing this article on Buzzfeed about things you should consider before moving in together.

Now, you should probably know that my boyfriend and I never really, officially, moved in together. We've been a couple for 3 and a half years. Sometime near the beginning of that era, my boyfriend invited himself over to my house and never left. Slowly, his collection of clothing and sporting equipment migrated from his former homes (he is the legal owner of his parents' house and had a lot of stuff there, but was living at his sister's house next door when I met him) to mine. I cleared off a space on my bookshelf for his clothes...then I cleared off a shelf in the linen closet...then I bought a wicker hamper for the clothes that were ending up all over the floor...then I bought him a wardrobe from Ikea.... Now, in the third home we've lived in together, he has his very own man-cave (his clothes are still strewn all over the room that he tells me is mine). But after all this time, his official address is still his parents' house in another city.

The aforementioned little tidbit is only tangentially related to the real subject of this post, which is things that couples should do/expect before they officially move in. We went through the list and concluded we're actually pretty good at living together, despite never having actively made a decision to do it. We fell into most of the habits listed in the article naturally. There were only a few things that really stuck out as something we have done differently or could still do differently.

4. You may fight more at first and that is TOTALLY normal.

Though we are very, very different, Al I, oddly, hardly ever fight. Of course, I whine and complain and occasionally get quite snippy when I've asked him to do something 5 times and his answer is always "I was going to do it." (When? 30 years from now?) But getting to the point where either of us is raising our voice, crying, or so frustrated we feel the need to run away, hardly ever happens. I can think of maybe only 3 times we've ever had a real argument. Does this mean we are just burying our problems? Does it mean that we don't take our relationship seriously? Or does it mean we're just responsible adults who know how to deal with our conflicts in a mature way? I think it mostly comes down to Al's being exceptionally easy-going...but I'm happy to take at least some of the credit if I can.

7. Consider opening a joint bank account and splitting the bills evenly.

Three years into our coexistence, we are still 100% financially independent. We have settled (mostly tacitly) into a system of sharing the expenses that seems to work for us. Sometimes we pay more and sometimes we pay less, but we always pay for the things that matter to us the most. I pay for our housing; Al pays for the utilities. I used to pay all the utilities as well, but when he started turning our home into an electronic wonderland and constantly wanted to fiddle with the thermostat, I asked him to pick up the utility bills (now I just pay for water). When we travel, one of us gets the airfare; the other gets the lodging. Al pays for almost all our food (since he loves to splurge on gustatory experiences), and I pick up the tab when we shop at Rugged Wearhouse and the thrift store (since I'm the holder of the loyalty cards). 
Keeping our finances separate keeps us from arguing. If Al wants to blow his whole paycheck on a slightly larger (already too-large) television...well, it's his money. And if I want to blow my whole paycheck on — well, nothing, because I would never do that! — but if I did, Al wouldn't try to interfere.

14. Get all your pet peeves out on the table ahead of time.

I'll admit it, I'm a peever. Everything annoys me. Everything.* If I had bothered to list out all my pet peeves to my boyfriend before we started dating, we'd probably still be having that conversation today. But today, when I asked him, "Do you have any pet peeves?" he was like, "Yeah! ... I just can't think of any right now." I reiterate, one of Al's best qualities is that he's so easy-going, which makes him a perfect match for someone as high-strung as me. So when I find something is annoying the dickens out of me, I try to remain calm, ask Al to do things differently, and usually he does. Or at least he tries.

17. Talk about your standards for what “clean” is, and figure out a plan for how things around the house will get done.

Cleaning is probably the number-two cause of conflict in our relationship (number one is our differing definitions of punctuality). I like everything neat and tidy and orderly, and Al just doesn't care. He throws his dirty clothes everywhere. He never grooms his dogs or cleans up their fur. I usually pick up after him silently, until the point where I feel like I'm working all the time while he's sitting like a lump playing video games, and then I have a minor fit. This doesn't count as an argument, because he doesn't try to justify his slovenly behavior, and he always makes an effort to clean up after that...but it always happens again. 
I have come to a sort of understanding about this situation—he will mow the lawn** and I'd better just expect to do pretty much everything else (or prepare to do a lot of nagging***). This is not an equal division of labor by far, but he devotes lots of energy and money to finding us fun things to do in our free time, so I have gradually come to the conclusion that in our relationship, I'm the one who keeps the home fires burning, and he's the one who keeps the party going. In fact, that was Advice Point #18: "And while it may be frustrating, don’t expect things to always be 50-50."

35. Last but not least, make sure to hide the Oreos.

This is a funny, trivial little point that was thrown into the article mostly for humor's sake, but oddly enough, it touches on one of the things that has changed in my life significantly since living with my significant other. To understand it, you must understand that I'm a very introverted introvert who's been living in group houses for much of my life. This means that I was fully immersed in a situation that made me uncomfortable pretty much every day. My only retreat from the constant communing was whatever little room I had to call my own. But sometimes an introvert gets hungry. And doesn't want to brave the social gauntlet that can be the trek from the bedroom to the kitchen and back again for some much-needed solitary snacks. So I got in the habit of keeping a stash of food in my bedroom, so I could eat whenever I wanted to without having to worry about seeing other people. When my boyfriend started living with me, he took the place of my housemates, and I very slowly got used to the idea of living with someone I actually felt comfortable with. It felt like kind of a victory when I recently realized I was keeping almost all my food in the kitchen instead of squirreling it away in the "snack drawer" that I still keep next to my desk. I am pleased to have ended up in a relationship where I have no need to hide the Oreos. It helps that my boyfriend seems to have no interest in Oreos.

* Originally this was going to be a post about my peeves, and somehow it has morphed into a dissertation about how my boyfriend and I live.
** On mowing the lawn: I've always held disdain for the way work around the house is divided into "men's" and "women's" jobs. E.g. women do the cleaning, men do the "handy" stuff like changing light bulbs and fixing dripping faucets...men do the mowing and women do the gardening. I always prided myself on being self-sufficient, and when I shared a home with a male housemate for 3 years, I did most of the mowing and almost all the repairs. Yet my boyfriend has taken quite an interest in the lawn (I'm pretty sure it has a lot to do with the shiny green Ego mower that cost me an arm and a leg). So I let him have his macho chore, because if he's willing to take the initiative to do anything without prompting (I still have to remind him, because he's a procrastinator), I'm all for it! But I still end up doing most of the repairs.
*** On nagging: Once upon a time, in my young idealistic years, I thought I would be the perfect girlfriend/wife—understanding, not demanding, and never the kind of person who gets referred to as a "ball and chain." When I saw women in movies griping things like, "the furnace has been broken for three weeks; when are you going to do something about it?" I cringed inside. If I wanted my furnace fixed, I wouldn't pester my husband to fix it; I'd figure out how to do it myself! Well, as it turns out, even if you can figure out how to fix your furnace yourself, that just means one more task that's been laid on your shoulders. Some task that you're going to do while your lazy other half does absolutely nothing. Some people (cough! Al!), I have learned, are not self-motivated. Some people need a fire lit under them. Unless you want to be doing everything on your own, you might have to be that fire, and learn to practice the fine art of nagging. Believe me, it's not easy. It requires a thick skin and lots of patience, but with a little effort, you can succeed in getting your sometimes-too-easygoing partner to be helpful.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Lenny & Larry's Complete Cookie: Birthday Cake


 Another day, another underwhelming vegan cookie.

Unlike my last vegan cookie, this one blared its list of special qualities right on the wrapper: no eggs, no dairy, no soy, non GMO...with so many "no's" on the label, it's pretty much a given that there will be "no" enjoyment as well.

But I bought it anyway, because it also boasted 8 g of fiber and 16 g of protein, which brought it into the realm of semi-healthy breakfast food, and anyway, I love a good Giant Cookie challenge. I might have also been reeled in by the appetizing-looking picture on the wrapper.

Sadly, the actual cookie was but a disappointing simulacrum of the picture on the package, with none of the visible texture, and even the sprinkles being flattened to almost nonexistence.


It did not improve with the eating.

My first impression was of a sour taste, rapidly becoming my clearest clue that I'm eating a vegan cookie. Since it was essentially a sugar cookie, there wasn't really any other flavor than that...but there was texture—a strange texture that was both dry like the desert and soft like a pillow (I'm having flashbacks to the Acadia Park cookie!). Come to think of it, pillows are dry, too, so that may become my new standard for a vegan cookie.

Show me a vegan cookie that doesn't remind me of a pillow, and I'll show you an impressed Giant Cookie Reviewer.

The Bottom Line

Taste: 1 out of 5 stars
Texture: 2 out of 5 stars
Price: I could easily check the price for this cookie, as I got it at Smoothie King just across the street from my workplace, but I'd rather post now and ask questions later, so you'll just have to wait til some other time to get my (doubtlessly unfavorable) assessment of the cost.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Glue Reviews / What Glues to Use

 
As a DIY-hard crafter, I have a pretty impressive collection of glues. My glue stash is so sizable that I have devoted an entire drawer in my plastic 3-drawer rolling cart to "Adhesives." This includes tape (of which I have the masking, the duct, the sport, and the packing varieties), and I've also thrown in a few other bottles of household fluids there because they don't fit into a better category—WD-40 (the exact opposite of an adhesive) and foam insulation. But the glues! I have become quite a connoisseur of glues over the years, and today, I thought I'd share what I've learned with those a little newer to the gluing game.

Hot glue

Probably the first glue I fell in love with (yes, we of the more geeky persuasion do fall in love with glues), hot glue first hit my radar at the young age of 7 or 8 thanks to my Girl Scout troop leaders. My fair share of finger burns later (I can't believe they trusted us with such a dangerous weapon in 3rd grade!), I was hooked. My mom purchased a hot glue gun for the family, and it has been in my arsenal ever since! Hot glue is useful when you want to glue two things together and have the glue set quickly. Because it is bulky and messy, however, it is not so great for gluing small pieces, or for use in places that will get a lot of scrutiny. It also fails to bond to the vast majority of materials, (including pretty much all non-porous ones), so any attachment you create with hot glue should be considered more or less temporary. I like to use hot glue for quick-and-dirty crafting—assembling Halloween costumes, for example. It's also great for when you need a big blobby lump of glue, to actually form an architectural element in your project.

Tacky Glue

Another crafter's standby, Aleene's Tacky Glue is tried and true for many applications. Like hot glue, it works well only on porous materials. Unlike hot glue, it takes a lot longer to set, but it can be applied with much greater precision. The "Tacky" in its name is its greatest strength—because it's a thicker glue, the items you are gluing are more likely to stay in position until the glue has set...and once it has, it forms a waterproof bond. I use Tacky glue mostly for projects involving fabric (it's not a fabric glue, but it works just as well).

Epoxy

Around the time I graduated from college, I learned, from a friend who built model airplanes, that epoxy was the glue of choice if you really wanted to glue two things together and have them stick. Especially if the two somethings were somethings like metal. At first, I was a little intimidated by epoxy, because you have to actually mix a hardener with the adhesive, but that actually makes epoxy an ideal glue to have around, because it will never dry up in the bottle! Epoxy's pros are that I've never found any two substances it couldn't bond, and it's tough and dries hard. Its cons are that it's a little inconvenient to use, in that you have to mix it in a separate container before you can use it, and if your mixture ratio is a little off, you will get glue that never hardens. I use epoxy for repairing metal jewelry, and as a replacement filler for molded plastic (it's currently holding the wheel of my office chair into its broken socket, and I've also used it as a replacement for the heel tip on oddly shaped shoe heels).

Gorilla Glue

When I worked at the grocery store, my colleagues swore by Gorilla Glue, which I had never heard of up until that point. When I finally did give it a try, I was underwhelmed, although it does have its uses. Gorilla glue's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness—as it cures, it foams up, expanding into any cracks it's been placed into. This is great when you need to fill gaps, but it's terrible for precision applications. My friend's mom once used it to repair a broken china figurine of mine—it came back with brownish foam protruding from all the cracks. I also find Gorilla glue to be less strong than some glues—do not use it in places that will be subject to a lot of torque. What is it good for? Large-area applications. I am currently using it around the house to hold pieces of wood to various other surfaces.

Spray Adhesive

You've seen spray adhesive come up numerous times in my other blog—I've used it to hold up my socks as well as to make various paper and fabric crafts. In all those projects, I was using an old can of spray adhesive that I'd had since graduate school, where we were advised to use the substance to affix our design samples to mat board for presentation. So I can thank my master's degree for my knowledge of the strengths of spray adhesive: it is excellent for attaching one large flat, flexible surface to another one. Spray adhesive forms a thin, even coat that is unlikely to bleed unless you really overdo it. Objects with spray adhesive on them can usually be repositioned a couple of times before the glue loses its tack. But a big downside of this glue is that it is messy! It's hard to keep the aerosolized glue from settling onto everything in the vicinity (my design school actually had a gluing room, which was sticky from floor to ceiling due to all the overspray!), so when my last can of spray adhesive ran out, I haven't been in a hurry to replace it. I think I'm going to settle for rubber cement in the future.

Rubber Cement

My first encounter with rubber cement was when my mom created her influential dining table Halloween costume. She used rubber cement to affix plastic utensils to her tablecloth, and I was amazed, because up until that time, my experience of glue was limited to Elmer's School Glue, which as we all know, does next to nothing. Rubber cement is pretty awesome because it retains a degree of stickiness even after it dries. It dries faster than white glue, and because it comes with a brush, it can be applied in a thinner layer. I prefer rubber cement for all my paper-attaching needs, and I'm experimenting with using it to hold my clothes up (temporary verdict: it doesn't work as well as spray adhesive, but it is easier to remove from your skin.)

E6000

I can thank Pinterest for introducing me to this second-newest addition to my Glue Gallery. All the crafters who post tutorials involving attaching rhinestones to anything always recommend using E6000 glue for the purpose. If you don't know much about rhinestones, generally they have a very smooth shiny back which can be quite hard to stick to anything. So, intrigued, I bought a tube of the stuff. It says right on the label that it's industrial-strength, which sounds pretty good to me. I haven't had a lot of opportunity to use E6000 for very many applications, but so far I've reattached a couple of shoe soles with it, and they haven't come apart yet.

5-Second-Fix

Normally, I'd be the last person to purchase something emblazoned with an "As Seen on TV" label, but recently I made an order that needed a few more items to qualify for free shipping, and the 5-Second-Fix was a pretty low price, so I threw a tube of the stuff into my virtual cart. So far, I can't say I regret my purchase. It seems to work the same way as dental fillers do (it might even be the same substance my orthodontist used to attach my braces!)—the glue remains liquid until you blast it with the attached UV light, and then it takes only 5 seconds to cure. For the limited amount of time I've had to try it, I have to say this glue is pretty awesome. Like hot glue, it dries fast, but unlike hot glue, it only dries when you're ready to dry it. Like epoxy, it bonds to a wide variety of materials and seems to form a strong, clear bond, but unlike epoxy, you don't have to pre-mix it and can use an infinitesimally small amount right out of the tube. My first and only use of this glue was to repair and reconstruct a couple of pairs of earrings, for which it worked like a charm—until the pair I repaired fell on the floor a week later and broke in the same spot... but I'll give the glue the benefit of a doubt—I might have just not applied it adequately. There are apparently lots of similar products on the market, so when it comes time to replace my 5SF, I might just look for a cheap generic.

Other options

I have other glues in my collection as well, but they are for really limited uses, but here's a quick rundown:
  • Elmer's glue stick (good for almost nothing except temporary bonds of flat porous materials like paper and fabric)
  • School glue (being water-soluble even when dry, it's only good for temporarily bonding things that you later want to wash out. I got it to use as a substitute for wax-resist in fabric dyeing, but haven't actually tried that yet)
  • Temporary Fabric glue (When sewing, you can use it for basting instead of pins, which fall out, or a basting stitch, which my sewing machine doesn't have. Fabric glue is a little tackier than traditional white glue, so it attaches things more quickly and securely)

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.