Wednesday, September 24, 2014

House Hell, Part 2

Where was I? Yes, when last we left, we were attempting to buy a home in one of the most expensive cities in the country (I mean, I'll compare Princeton prices with like a penthouse in Soho, and the penthouse in Soho will be more reasonable). Okay, so we bid on this other house, above asking price as we were advised to do, and the guy accepted our offer. Just to back up a little for those of you who haven't purchased property in a while, you can bid on a house, but you first have to be pre-approved for a mortgage, just so that nothing crazy happens later, like you find out you can't afford it.

We were so excited to have the house! It was adorable--two huge bedrooms with slanting ceilings upstairs and a bathroom there too, then another bedroom with an on-suite bathroom, and a square sun room and decent living room, kitchen and dining area. The basement was clean and dry with high ceilings and the appliances were good (all I cared about was that the refrigerator had a water system in it--that's my idea of luxury). We had the inspection--the second inspection of our house-buying adventure and then we had radon testing, and all came out okay. The inspector was the same guy we had for the other property and he agreed that this house was in much better shape. He found some leaks, but said it was sound overall.

This is not the layout of any of the houses we looked at. 

What we didn't realize is that, in Mercer County, if the house is sold above a certain amount, you have to put down 20% or you will have to pay mortgage insurance, which is like an extra $150 or whatever a month. The way the mortgage folks tell you about it is funny---they don't say, "You'll have to pay PMI for the next 5 years."  They say, "You'll pay PMI for 60 months." Sixty months doesn't sound bad at first.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. So, we got the house, and we had the inspection and we started wanting to tell Luke about it, because he was worried about having to change schools. We had these elaborate plans for how we were going to reveal it to him, but we were also cautious because we hadn't yet sealed the deal with the mortgage or gone to the closing.

Have to run. Stay tuned for the rest...

Monday, September 22, 2014

House Hell

Why have I not been writing more? I feel stuck and mute---in the middle of lots of change, and most of it has been turmoil of the domestic kind. It's weird how you think your situation is difficult, and then it becomes more difficult and you go, Hey, wait, that thing before? That was easy. I suppose there is a lesson in that somewhere, but I hope the lesson is not "It is what it is."

For the last four months, we've been trying to buy a house in Princeton, in part because that's where Luke has gone to school since he was in kindergarten and so we want to keep him with is friends, and in part because if I have to stare at this condo parking lot for much longer, I may go AWOL.

In case you are unaware of what the realty market is like in Princeton, the median range to purchase a home is around $750,000. I made that number up, and so it could be higher, maybe more like $1 million at the minimum. Just know that most of the houses you see are millions of dollars.

Here is an example of a house in Princeton that would probably be listed at $3,590,000

We found a house that was much less than that, still a reach for us, but not impossible. Then, we had the inspection, and the guy found quite a few things wrong; nothing calamitous, but we also weren't in love with the kitchen and would need to buy a dishwasher and to rearrange the room so that the oven and the fridge weren't touching and knock down a few walls and we would also be looking at sharing one bathroom and having no closet space and one bedroom with no closet at all.  The shared living space was small, and the floors were uneven and you could tell that he owned a dog. The basement was a disaster, rickety with low-ceilings, and there was no driveway. At the same time, two other houses came on the market for only $7,000 more than the original house, and these places were way better. Like, had actual dishwashers and parking spaces, sun rooms, extra bathrooms, nice basements, were built in the last fifty years and the roofs didn't need to be replaced. So, we got out of the first house and made a bid on one of the other properties. Our realtor said it was a competitive market and so we should bid above the asking price, but within our comfort zone. Since we were already outside of comfort zone financially, we should've said no, but we bid d$15,000 more than asking price, and they didn't take our offer. So then, we raced to bid on the other property, the cute little Cape Cod, and the guy accepted our offer!!! Yay!

I will write more about this tomorrow.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

#TBT: Middle School or the Seventh Circle of Dante's Inferno

Luke starts sixth grade in one week. Maybe it's different for boys, and easier somehow because they don't mature as quickly as girls, but I found almost all of middle school to be hellish. I was too young to do anything on my own like go to the Quick Mart, and too old to play with stuffed animals and dolls. Plus, I was losing that ability to forget myself in games I made up. Or maybe that happened in seventh grade. I do remember this distinct feeling of loss--losing the ability to be able to make up pretend stories, like when kids play house or imagine they are super heroes. When you're little and making stuff up, there's a part of you that believes it's real--you really are Wonder Woman or Batgirl or slaying dragons or running away from monsters--it's possible to forget that you're a human girl and imagine that you are more than that and the world has mystical things like dragons and if you concentrate hard enough, you might be able to fly or time travel. When you're younger, you can still capture that feeling, or maybe it's more about having the ability to not be self-conscious. Because somewhere around age 11 or 12, those feelings evaporate and you are concious of every single thing about yourself, your family, the car your mom drives, the way your legs are moving as you walk, your stomach rumbling in the middle of class, how nerdy it is to bring a bagged lunch and how your mom still writes your name on the front even though you've asked her not to--all of these things that didn't matter, such as how your arms hang at your sides, become painfully obvious and horrible.

Even the name of where you're going is bad. You are entering "middle school." It's like "middle age," this nebulous existence where you're neither young nor old, you're just in between and stuck.  For years.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Wherein All of the Eggs are in One Basket

The show always starts with this benign preview nonsense. We pick up right after the final rose ceremony where everyone is oh-ing and ah-ing over the fact that Michelle got a 100th chance for love on this journey. She literally went from going home empty handed to staying there with huge lines of black mascara running down her Barbie face. AshLee astutely observes that there is one less guy than usual, forgetting again that they always add extra people.

First date card goes to Robert. He better ask out the one-arm lady. He does, mainly because they want to show her jumping into the water with just the one arm. Michelle goes from thrilled to absolutely pissed and crying more in the bathroom. Graham knocks on the door to comfort her. Highs and lows! Dude, he didn't pick you in the final rose ceremony, he's not going to then ask you out on a date, AND let us not forget that you shouldn't want to go on a date with a guy who has just expressed disinterest in you. She's going to go for Graham now.

She is totally wrecking that white towel with by wiping tons of mascara and snot on it. "In the back of her head," she imagines that all of the guys know she has a daughter and so they don't want her. Not in the front of her head, but she knows this in the back lobe, near the cerebral cortex.

Michelle agrees to do Sarah's hair in a Swiss Miss braid so that she can go swimming and sailing with Robert. I hope a shark doesn't attack and take off her other arm. It feels fake and forced to me, but that might be my own prejudice. Is it so hard to believe that a Rob Lowe look alike (named Robert) would be into a one-armed lady?

Hey guess what? Cody has arrived and I couldn't be less happy about it. He is the WORST. Remember? Remember how big his muscles are and remember his stupid hair cut and total frat boy attitude and what Clare calls positive energy and I call cocaine? He asks out Clare, who hesitates and asks Zach what he thinks. Clare is not going to put her eggs in one basket if the other person isn't going to put all of his eggs in one basket, she tells him.
 Zach says, From the beginning, I have had all of my eggs in your basket. He said that, people. While Michelle curls her eyelashes, Clare explains how she feels. She is direct. And I like her again. None of these guys are interesting at all. Graham and Zach with their super shaved buff chests and snakeskin necklaces discuss it. Is Graham a war vet or did he buy those dogs tags at Urban Outfitters?

Clare turns down Cody, because he's a goofball, but she uses the excuse that she wants to see what happens with Zach. Oh, yeah, I forgot that Cody does this thing where he refers to himself in the third person like a caveman. "Cody knows what Cody wants!" Cody decides to give his date card to Marcus because he feels like a dog asking out someone else since it would seem like that person was second fiddle. Clare hopes she made the right decision by following her gut. She wonders if Zach is worth it as she realizes he always wears his baseball hat backwards.

Second date with Lacy and Marcus. She also looks like a Barbie. How long have they known each other--two weeks? One week? Marcus says Lacy looks beautiful and then he accidentally says, I love you for you are--I mean, I like you for who you are. Boring. I bet the producers are banging their heads against the wall, trying to figure out how to make this more dramatic.

Did Sarah and Robert get killed in a shipwreck? What happened to the rest of the date?

A new man arrives and it is...Caitlan, the walking brown-haired Ken doll. He says that he is looking for someone with boobs. Everyone hates him because he's been cast as a pig. I guess he told Emily on her season that her kid was baggage. He says he would like to motor boat the shit out of her boobs. They must have forced him to say it. That makes two full-on duds in this episode. He asks Jackie to go and she says no, and then he asks Sarah and she also says no. None of them like him and all of them say that they are zero percent attracted to him. He decides to go spelunking by himself . He has to comfort himself and his own fears by hugging himself and telling himself he's going to be okay. He says that he hasn't rappelled into a giant Mexican hole, but he has rappelled into a tiny Mexican hole. Hoopla! This guy cannot be for real. He acts out the date with himself and says all of the cheesy lines, which is moderately amusing. He decides to spend the rest of his life with himself.

Jessie, yet another playboy, shows up. That's all of the crappy men in one place. Does he or does he not have a beard? He can't commit to facial hair and so I doubt that he can commit to a woman. He asks out Jackie and Marquel immediately puts his hoodie on in distress. Marquel has very chiseled features as though he has been carved out of stone.

Jessie takes Jackie to a Mayan cave with stalactites. He says, If you don't look someone in the eyes when you say cheers, that's seven years bad sex. Jackie wants to know if he's strategizing to make sure that he gets a rose. He says yes, sort of. She can't be falling for all of this. Oh, no. A two person band in the middle of a cave. Guys, what am I doing with my time? Like, I can see how someone might want to watch this show the first four times--but then...It stays the same. It is always and ever the same. Time for a cereal break.

Conflict is brewing as AshLee disses Clare in the hammock to Zach, not realizing that cameras are capturing it, even though she is on a reality show that is meant to catch interesting conversations, a rarity. What's also weird about the show is that half of the people disappear at a time. Because they focus on certain narratives, others don't get told or wrapped up properly. It's another example of a fiction "don't." Don't have too many characters in your story. You should only have as many characters as you need to tell a story--too many, and it's confusing and/or watered down.

They all gather by the fire and then AshLee decides to face Clare, realizing that it will give her more air time. She says that she's not sure why Clare is mad and Clare says, You have no idea what this is about? They go back in forth wiht AshLee stupidly saying that she's not upset with Clare and Clare looking at her like, Oh, good, you're not upset with me? She tells AshLee that it was tacky and not becoming a woman of her fake character. Also, could she please spell her name normally? AshLee, misreading ever social cue that Clare is giving her, asks if they can hug it out. Clare says, No, I'm good.

All the girls have baby voices.

Final Rose Ceremony

We can guess that Cody and Caitlan will be going home, and from the previews, we also know that Graham will be conflicted about whether or not to accept a rose from AshLee. Oh, wait, I forgot that Cody gave Michelle a back massage and so she's falling for him. Gross! He is so bland and obnoxious at the same time. Jesse looks exactly like Chris who looks exactly like 100 other unshaven guys. They are accidentally catching the bartender guy on camera, who turns out to be a hot Hawaiian dude. Maybe Michelle should date him. The bartender doesn't know how to get out of the shot. Michelle tells Graham about how AshLee is full of shit. Graham says, If you can't be yourself, then you can't be who you are, because that's your true self. Too much vodka.

Wrap it up, already. Do you realize that there is an extra show tomorrow night? I am not 100 percent sure I can commit to it.

Graham is too drunk to know what he will be doing for this evening. I hope Marquel gets to stay.

Lacy gives the rose to Marcus. Is she a human person?

Clare gives her rose to Zach. Clare is wearing a fake ponytail.

AshLee offers her rose to Graham. Graham does not move!! He asks to have a moment to himself, hence the extra episode.

TO BE CONTINUED (they write in huge letters across the screen). Cut to singer from the cave.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Because of You, a Novel illustrating how annoying it is to use the second person

It's not written in second person, not really--what I mean to say is that the first person narrator spends most of the novel in direct address to a man who is stalking her. With sentences like, "You were waiting for me at the bus stop. Seeing you made my stomach turn over, like a fish was dying in it. You smiled, your perfect teeth reminding me of a wolf from a fairy tale story that ended badly." I made those passages up, but you get the gist. I only read about fifty pages before giving up.

 Look, I know it's fiction and we should maintain our willing suspension of disbelief, but I was annoyed that the woman didn't consider going to the police to report her stalker until well into the harassment. And when she did, the police were like, Has he hurt you? Threatened you? No. Then there's nothing we can do. That may be true, I don't know. But it's still annoying to read a book where the suspense created isn't because of an interesting story with compelling characters, it's because of a victim whose main action is waiting to be attacked again.

I should remember this problem for when I teach fiction again--we want our central characters to  be active participants in the story, not little lambs bumping around in their day-to-day existence, waiting to be slaughtered. Do something, damnit. I also was annoyed early on by the writer doing that thing where she describes the narrator by having her look at herself in the mirror: "She noticed that her brown shoulder length bobbed hair had become threaded with white and her cornflower blue eyes with the thick eyelashes were looking haggard and dull." Cheater!

I also started reading Madness, by that woman who wrote Wasted--she likes to put herself on the entire cover of her memoirs--here, I found myself annoyed by the over-dramatization of the story. I like my nonfiction writers a bit like Cheryl Strayed--flat and matter of fact, rather than overwrought. This woman's story is compelling because she's struggling with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, but again, there was something victim-y about it. It didn't help that she was from an upper middle class family and so money wasn't an issue in terms of her care; it was just that she wouldn't or couldn't stay still enough to get help, and the cash flow allowed her to get even more crazy--to drive off to Mexico and live on whiskey in bad hotels without fear of running out of money. Her writing is affecting in some ways--difficult to read as she's purposefully cutting her own wrist, not in a suicide attempt, but because she wants to feel something. But then she would have passages like, :"I am standing on the cathedral steps. I am flying. I am drinking a bottle of vodka, where am I? I wake up on the floor with a velvet cushion pressed to my head and take the little pill that has appeared before me and disappear again."

I must be in the throes of something myself, perhaps annoyed that I feel like a victim of circumstances I created, and so I'm doubly-irritated when I see that quality in others--this inability to find the door yourself, to figure out how to get out.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Rainbows and Condoms

I don't know what all this chatter is about. Has the show started or is this all a preview? Or is it a recap? Or a preview of the recap?

Elise says, "Through the storm, comes a rainbow. And I want Chris to be my rainbow." There must be a dirty joke there somewhere.

A semi-black girl named Danielle joins the group, just to throw in a little excitement and so they can make a gesture toward diversity. Her date card says, "Choose a man of your choice to go on a date." I guess that's written by the same person who came up with the rainbow line. "Pick a person who is picking a people's very first choice." Danielle chooses Marquel. It appears that nerd glasses are in.

Meanwhile, this other girl is upset, but you can't really tell because she's wearing a distracting Cleopatra head dress and a watermelon-sized turquoise ring.

Lacy is so beautiful that she's hard to look at. It's like she's this super cute puppy that you just want to squeeze until it pops.

Elise gets the next date card. She's been waiting for this for such a long time, she says. One week. AshLee is bummed because she wanted to go with Chris. Who is Chris? Oh, the jerk who looks like a date rapist. Elise sits on his lap and he says, "Hell, yeah!" Elise thinks she and Chris will make a beautiful rainbow together. She SAID that. Uh oh, he can't go because he sprained his balls. Or something. Serves him right, is what I say. I just know he's guilty of something.

Back to Marquel and Danielle in an unprecedented moment where there are two black-ish guests on a date together. This has never happened before because they never cast an African-American as the lead. Danielle confesses that she's had a crush on him. They keep smiling at each other. I think maybe they do like each other, a little. The wind picks up and so they decide to hop out of the hot tub and almost get killed by a lightning bolt. Should they take this as a bad sign?

Michelle is purposefully over-curling Elise's hair into a huge bouffant so that she'll look ridiculous. I kind of feel sorry for Chris now that he's sweating in pain from his torn ball ligament. Even though he just said, "She's hot, and she's got a banging body." She does have a banging body and it's enclosed in turquoise mesh.

I missed a bunch of stuff because I was eating ice cream. Hey, Sarah, you're going home. What did I not get a chance to write about? About Elise and Chris having two very different experiences. She's experiencing him as a true gentleman, and he's experiencing her as a hot piece of ass.  They go to the fantasy suite and he manages to push through his pain. Michelle and Clare couple up with two other guys and Sarah feels left out and like she doesn't measure up because of the one arm thing. Michelle firmly states that she has closed the door with Marquel and put all of her energy into convincing Robert that she likes him so she can get a rose.

Another hot chick shows up and all of the women comment about her amazing body.

Below, please find the choices for what type of body you might have. Mine, I believe, falls under the classical "full hourglass" shape. Do they have these same type of body types for men so they can decide what kind of Dockers to buy to look thinner?

Zack B. thinks the new woman is adorable. Who is Zack B? The new arrival also picks Marquel for her one on one date and Michelle accuses him of being a slut for saying yes to all of these dates. I mean, who cares? He's only gone out once with all of them. And anyway, what's the woman supposed to do when six of the seven available men are holding hands with a woman who is clinging to him like a burr? Did Graham go home? I thought everyone was into Graham.

Oh, speaking of Graham, he's complaining to Michelle about how AshLee glommed onto him and how she's way ahead of the curve. They haven't even kissed and she's acting like they're getting married. I find Graham to be kind of average looking. He has a great six pack, but an average face.

Marquel feels a lot of chemistry with Jackie in her short short short white shorts. I also don't remember Jackie from Sean's season. Marquel asks Jackie what her definition of love is. She says it's attraction, a feeling of comfort, and that spark. And a rainbow. Marquel thinks maybe she was the one he was "waiting on." He says he doesn't believe in kissing on the first date, but he'll make an exception for her and kiss her loudly on an Aztec blanket.

Elise describes her night with Chris as incredible, and then they rush him to the ER because he has over-extended himself and will now have to be in a wheelchair and become an Oxycotin addict. Aw, bummer for Elise, who goes to fetch ice. Meanwhile, Robert picks a zit on his arm.

Elise likes to take care of Chris and be his nurse and she can't wait to be his full time care taker for the rest of her life and possibly even be on Intervention with him due to his brand new pill-popping habit.

Sarah warns Elise not to be too into Chris. Elise says she isn't, she just can't help it that she falls in love so fast. Robert may be playing games with Sarah by casually putting his arm on the back of her chair, the arm that he just picked a zit on.

Clare is cuddling on the beach with someone who might be Zack B. She is missing her dad so bad, she says. Zack has really stepped up by listening to her and not telling her to suck it. Clare then snaps out of it by spotting a dying turtle crawling across the beach to perish alone in the water. She sees it as a sign of her dad, who also died after laying eggs in a sand pit.

Graham and AshLee finally have a date together. Why is Graham wearing a newspaper rubber band on his wrist? Graham warns AshLee not to put too much pressure on forever. AshLee nods in instant agreement and quickly stashes the Bride magazine underneath her tiny floral dress. They are offered two keys and Graham, who might be religious, makes it clear that he does not want to sleep with her on the first date, even though he knows she would totally give it up for him and Jesus. Did she really just say that she thinks they would have hot babies? Yes, she did. Graham is a dope. A dope in a wife beater under a denim shirt. "Later," he says when they part.

Chris Harrison shows up, dressed like Danny Terrio in a three piece suit with a vest. What is the goal of this game? I don't understand how these people are supposed to win. Sarah still has hope that Robert will give her a rose. He won't, unless Michelle totally blows it. And she might. I hope she does. Robert tells Michelle that he doesn't want to talk about the final. rose ceremony, and Michelle says she does. Maybe she should stop wearing such dramatic eye shadow and head dresses.

This is boring.

Final Rose Ceremony

I believe that Danielle will be going home. Marquel needs to pick either the glasses or the Hawaiian shirt. Both together make him look like a wacky radio host. Quiet please, we must begin.

Graham picks AshLee, even though he doesn't like her very much.

Zack B. picks Clare. Zack looks like a former football player who might become pear-shaped very soon.

Marcus picks Lacy. Neither have had much air time this show, because they are equally desperate to find someone and paired off thirty seconds after meeting. Mostly, they sit in beach chairs, holding hands and having nothing to say to one another.

Marquel will pick Jackie. Danielle thinks that her mind is racing. She's not sure. She definitely thinks that it is. He picks...Jackie.

Robert will pick Michelle. He looks a bit like Rob Lowe. Pick Sarah. Don't be a dick. He picks...Sarah. Wow, she gets to stay one more week! Michelle starts crying.

Chris could pull a total dick move and pick Michelle. THAT would be great, because Elise has waited on him hand and mouth. He picks Elise, but will toss her off for the next hot bod that comes along. WHAT, he can't give her the rose because he has to go home to Chi-town and he wants her to travel with him to continue to cater to his every need without pay.

Does that mean that Michelle can stay or do the two women have to arm wrestle for the rose? Elise mentions rainbow again. He gives the rose to Michelle instead. He is totally drugged up and can barely articulate his clouded thought process.

So, Michelle will stay and hope someone better comes along. Sarah must be pissed that she has to continue to vie for Robert's half-hearted attention. Chris and Elise limp off the set. Elise is limping too, because of her high heels.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Sort of Liked The Likeness

Just finished reading Tana French's The Likeness, the second literary detective novel featuring Cassie Maddox, a weary detective in Dublin. The first was In the Woods--I have no recollection of the plot, as I read it a few years back and the details have since fled my brain. Something about some missing kids, and she and her partner Rob end up finding one of them, but there's a bleak ending. Most of this I recall because it's referenced in the second novel.

In any case, this plot centers around a girl who is found stabbed to death near an old mansion outside of the city. The twist is that she's a doppleganger for Cassie, and she happens to be using Cassie's old undercover identity. It sounds a bit on the soap opera side, you know, like when an evil twin suddenly surfaces and wrecks havoc on things, but it doesn't read that way.

Cassie, who has transferred out of the undercover life and into the numbing hell of domestic violence, is persuaded to go back in undercover, this time posing as Lexie, the dead girl. The detectives are able to come up with some tale for her roommates about how she wasn't really dead---she may have appeared to be dead, but it was hypothermia and now she's in a coma. Cassie watches all of these old videos of the dead girl to get down her voice and her personality, and then she returns to the house where Lexie lived with four other odd graduate students from Trinity College.They've created this comfortable family life in this old but interesting house, and spend their evenings reading or working together to repair the house. Cassie immerses herself in their lives and they accept her. Meanwhile, she's trying to figure out who might have stabbed Lexie--could it be someone in this group? An angry ex-boyfriend? Someone who is actually after Cassie, but not Lexie? In the meantime, the detectives on the outside are attempting to puzzle together the identity of this mystery girl, without much luck.

Do you want to know who killed her? It does not come as much of a surprise. What's more interesting is how Cassie falls in love with this life that doesn't belong to her, and these people who are virtual strangers.There is a bit of a fairy tale-like ending, where Cassie gets engaged to her steady, good boyfriend, the case is solved, and she is able to reconnect with one of the members of the house later. And then, if I'm not mistaken, there's a bit of a mystery remaining as to whether or not they caught the right murderer, or if this person took the fall for someone else (here, I'm momentarily resisting the urge to Google what other readers thought of the ending). Overall, I recommend the book, but only if you are interested in reading a thriller that's got a slow burn, and focuses more on the psychology of wanting to be accepted than it does on the motive for murder.

#TBT. Travels to Italy

When I lived in Chicago, my friend Becky Wittenstrom (who I worked with at Northwestern), suggested out of the blue one day that we take a trip to Italy. I'd only ever been to Germany, and had never taken a trip with a friend, but she was a go-getter and found us tickets for a long weekend to fly to Rome and then take a train to Florence. Or maybe it was the other way around. She was an excellent travel companion, organized without being too bossy, un-fussy, and interested in both seeing the important sites (the Uffizi, the Colosseum) and walking the streets to just see what was happening.

Here is a picture that represents one of the happiest moments in my life, because all of my favorite things converged at one time--a shop dog named Crisso (I wrote his name on the back of the photo), a gelato, and an adventure in a foreign land with a good companion.