Category Archives: Home Stuff

Playing Catch-Up

The dinner table for Rosh Hashanah this year, at our house.

There’s been a lot that’s happened lately, and as usual, that means I’m not very good at keeping things up to date here. We had my Mom and grandparents over for dinner for Rosh Hashanah (picture of the lovely table Ben set at left). It was really nice to be able to have a nice family meal on the good dishes (which we had never before used!), with great company, conversation, and food. Standard delicious brisket, with carrots, apples, and kugel. Wine pairing: Dom Mousset Côtes-du-Rhone, which was fruity and bold and spicy and delicious.

The week before High Holidays, I just started a new job. This week, I hit one month of employment with them. I’m a wine associate at a local wine shop, and since starting, I’m getting close to 200 wines tasted. So look forward to more frequent mentions of wines around here.

The new job is full time, so I’ve had a lot less time sitting around at home. Ben, on the other hand, has been experiencing a slow down in the number of gigs he gets, which at least has freed him up to work on writing more. He just finished the first draft of Part 2 of the novel, so expect to hear more from him on that. Also, I will be prodding him to update here as I find less free time.

Nimitz has her first introduction to Very Large Vegetables, in this case, the Mighty Cauliflower.

I had Tuesday and Wednesday as my weekend this week. Ben had gigs on Tuesday, so I spent the day playing Minecraft. Wednesday, we decided we wanted to do something awesome, like visit a winery or a museum, but decided there weren’t any museums we were interested in this week, and we deal with a lot of wine at the moment. So instead, we went to Larriland Farm, to go visit a U-Pick pumpkin patch. On a rainy, rainy day. Oops.

They still had a bunch of already picked stuff at their Red Barn, so we got a crookneck squash for pie (like last year), a humongous cauliflower for $4 (see left), a bunch of decorative gourds, some chard, some apple cider, and some apples.

We saw some awesome looking gourds and squash. Ben made friends with the local calico, who proceeded to follow him around. It always amazes me how we can end up having so much fun with something as simple as shopping for veggies.


I’ve got work again this afternoon. Saturdays are fun, because I get to talk to a lot of different people. I like that I get to help them have a pleasant evening, to find something that will enhance their meals, or help them unwind after work, or impress their guests. I help demystify the World of Wine, and I show them that it doesn’t have to be all about snobbery; that it’s mainly about what tastes good, and what you find pleasurable to drink. I encourage them to stretch their palates, to learn wine-speak, and to try new things. And most of the wine I sell is stuff I’ve tried and just been excited about. “This was really awesome. We had it last night, and I’m really digging it.” Currently, my favorite grape is the Torrontes, and we’re working our way through trying all the ones my store sells. I’m debating whether or not it’s worthwhile to put mini-reviews of the wines we taste up here, or just stick to mentioning it occasionally. Any thoughts?

Cars, Part 2

I have been sadly remiss in updating on our car situation. April is a busy month for us. I’m not sure why, but it always has been. At any rate, late it might be, here is your update.

Ali was able to take us to the towing lot, where we ran into a family picking up their two cars. They were also renters in our neighborhood who’d had their cars towed away. We got our cars back, although the shady gentleman behind the desk was not prepared to give us a receipt until I asked. Cars (and set) thus retrieved, we returned home.

Did I mention the set before? Right, Ben’s current show (with the company Ali owns) is a two-actor tour where the actors each have half the set in their personal vehicles. Which meant that when Ben’s car was towed, so was half the set. Which was the other half of why Ali was so amazingly great in helping us retrieve the cars: she had a professional interest in the matter. The other half is that she’s just awesome like that.

So, now we had our cars back, we had to make sure they wouldn’t go wandering off on us again. That meant more phone calls to the landlord and the management company. I just want to state now that our landlord has been amazing and 100% supportive through this whole thing. When we moved in, she said they had been talking about new parking permits and would let her know when they planned to put them into effect. She even called them before they sent out the letter, and the management company gave us nothing.

Ben had an MRI scheduled with NIH that afternoon (part of a paid study, not a health concern), so I was on my own. Calling the management office told me that their physical office was in Wheaton, half an hour away. They said we’d be able to fill out a “reimbursement form” and pick up new permits that day. So I drove down.

The address was confusing, taking me to a high-rise apartment building, who told me what I was actually looking for was in a suite around the side of the building. Once I got in, the receptionist was friendly, but didn’t really have much information. The “reimbursement form” turned out to be a form for a letter of inquiry to the Board of Directors, requesting they consider reimbursement. I had three lines to describe the problem, and then the management company would represent my case to the board. Right. I filled it out and turned it in, then was taken to another desk to actually get our new permits.

I spoke to a wonderful woman who not only got the permits, but also answered my many questions. For one, our landlord had been told letters were sent to her and to us. The woman at the desk told me that couldn’t possibly be true since they did not have authorization from the board to spend the money to send out additional letters, so tenants did not receive notification. She handed me a copy of the letter that was supposed to have been sent to our landlord. It said that parking permits would not be mailed and were instead to be picked up at the community center on two dates. The community center that is across the parking lot from our front door. On two different days in March. And no signs were ever posted.

Ben and I lost a day of work each, $350 in towing expenses, a day of driving around and dozens of phone calls because the board of directors was too cheap to put up a piece of paper taped to a stick that said “New Parking Permits in effect 4/15.” Or “New Parking Permits at the Community Center 3/15.” Either of which would have caused us to call our landlord for more information, avoiding this whole mess. A piece of paper, a roll of tape, and a sharpie.

I’ll just let that sink in for a moment.

The other thing the management company told me is that the board meetings are in our neighborhood at the same community center across the parking lot, and the next one is May 10th. As a tenant, I do not have a vote, but I can attend and voice opinions. I have an outlet for this rage that is building inside me. The meeting is tomorrow night, and you bet I will be attending.

Oh, and the kicker to all this? Last week, we received a letter from the management company about pool passes. Apparently, they can find funding to notify us about the really important things.

Wish I Knew Where My Car Was

I woke up this morning to the sound of voices downstairs. Ben was having a meeting about a play he’s writing for next year, which I vaguely remember him warning me about. I got dressed, went downstairs and offered coffee, then started the brewing process. As the water was boiling, I glanced out the window and saw it was a beautiful day outside. I ground the coffee and cleaned out the grinder, but something nagged at the corner of my brain and told me to look outside again. Oh yes, that’s it. There’s an awful lot of parking spaces in front of our house and an awful lack of orange and red.

“Ben, where are our cars?”

We dashed outside (and then Ben dashed back in to apologize to Ali), and went over to the permit parking sign, which had a phone number. About an eternity later, a woman answered and I explained our cars were not in front of our house and I really hoped she had them: an orange Honda and a red Honda. She put me on hold and we went back inside.

(If you’ve never woken up to find your car missing, you may find it difficult to understand why the thought “Oh please, I hope my car was towed” is a good one.)

The lady came back on the line as I poured the water over my coffee grounds. “Okay, one of them was a Toyota?”

“Both Hondas.”

“Oh, right. And one of them was white?”

“Orange and Red.”

“Oh. Let’s see… Black Honda, Silver….. Ah yes, orange Honda. Silver… mumble mumble… And a red one. Yes, we have them.”

Relief. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t really think someone had gone through the lot and walked past the Lexus and the SUVs and decided to go take a 2000 Civic with a dent in the front and half a set, mostly consisting of pool noodles, in the back. But when you’re staring at empty parking spaces, the imagination wanders.

It turns out that sometime around the 15th, we were supposed to get new parking permits. They gave it extra time for everyone to get the new permits up, and then began towing last night. We had heard nothing about new permits except that they might be coming sometime soon and our landlord would keep us updated. Which she did not. I left her a voice mail, which she usually returns as soon as she gets out of work, so we’ll talk details this evening. Fortunately neither Ben nor I had work outside the house today, although he does have an appointment in Bethesda this afternoon. Also fortunate, Ali should be able to help us retrieve the cars.

What a way to wake up!

Up to Our Ears in Boxes

Lilit agains the green comforter on our bed

In the midst of all our packing chaos, Lilit finds a quiet moment in the sunlight. The bed seems to be the last clear space to stretch out.

Four days until we pick up the keys to the new place. Six days to the truck (Speaking of which, hold that thought while I call u-haul to reserve one…right). Our apartment has become a series of piles, boxes waist deep against every wall. The cabinets are emptying, and it seems like there’s this endless parade of Stuff.


Ever find yourself with an almost uncontrollable urge to just torch everything? Yeah, that’s sort of where I am right now.

The cat is beyond distressed. We’ve started making up new lyrics to old songs to help calm and soothe her. My stress-induced compulsion to list everything is getting out of control; even my lists have lists. Poor Ben is working nearly full-time in the middle of all this. Last week, I was too, at a new job that turned into something I couldn’t handle, too. After three days of work, I quit. Something has to give, right?

I’m exhausted, Ben’s exhausted, Lilit has pretty much given up on life. We’re coming in to the home stretch now, which is a great feeling, but it feels like it will never end. It seems so hard to imagine it was less than a month ago we first looked at the house! Just a little longer… just a few more boxes…

New House!

Great news! After a week of nail-biting, our application was approved, and we have a move-in date of Feb 17!

It’s a two-bedroom house, with about twice as much space as we have now. The kitchen is HUGE, with space for a window seat as well as a little table. Unlike some of the other places we looked at, it has all the modern amenities, including a dishwasher and electric heat. The location is fantastic — even easier to get to than where we are now, if you can believe that. It does put us in PG county, but we’ll be right up the street from the synagogue and around the corner from major shopping areas. We’ll even be close enough that we don’t have to switch our local Chinese restaurant! This is all VERY exciting for us. This week has been full of waiting, and to finally feel like there is progress… well, I can’t even tell you how happy we are.

Of course, all this means that we’re about to dive head first into packing and moving. The 17th is less than a month away, after all! Obviously, we won’t be moving all at once, but we’re hoping to do the major part of our moving on the 20th or 21st. The beginning of March goes crazy for us, but then maybe by April, we can start having people over for dinner and restarting the pot-lucks. We’ve really missed doing those, but it just wasn’t as feasible in this apartment. The new place will have enough space that we can start having real parties again.

Thank you all for bearing with us while we’ve been going slightly crazy with all this. Just a little longer and we’ll be all settled in and hopefully calming down a little!

Snowy Days and Broken Trees

I’ve been pretty remiss in my updating. “But your last post was five days ago, and for you, that’s really good,” I hear you cry. Well, I appreciate the encouragement, but see, the post from five days ago was random nonsense, which means it’s been ten days since the last post of any meaning. And furthermore, I must add, the past ten days have been, well, full. Full of stress, full of possibility, full of advancement, full of waiting. And I have been remiss, dear readers, in filling you in as I promised I would.

So to recap, when last we left our heroes, they were in the midst of finding a house. One had been located, and the garrulous realtor was, while not extremely helpful, not completely harmful. Yet. But oh how that was to change.

The story is long and potentially tedious. Instead of rehashing it here in full and glorious detail, I am instead going to copy from a conversation I had with a college friend several days ago. If it seems a little disjointed, that would be because Misa’s comments have been removed and I did a very half-assed job of editing. So without further denigration, I present you with the log:

Rosa, this realtor we never hired but somehow ended up with, was now representing us to the house we wanted. What seemed at first like an innocuous tendency to babble and often need things repeated, turned into an inability to remember much about us. We had a bunch of questions for the owners, like “how much of a security deposit do you want?” and “what is the application form?” and “what is the pet deposit policy?” Rosa answered “from her previous experience”, which once we finally got answers turned out to be mostly wrong. She emailed the other realtor, who has a preference for communicating by email. Rosa, by the way, does not like email and insists on talking for 20 minutes about something that can be covered in a text. So when she couldn’t get answers from calling, she called me and would tell me how it’s not her fault because she couldn’t get a hold of the other lady, who was, depending on your interpretation of Rosa’s thick Spanish accent, either “very busy” or “very bitchy”. And then I would get a reiteration of Rosa’s theories as to what the answers ought to be.

We finally emailed out the list of questions to Rosa, since she was incapable of getting them over the phone. She forwarded the email to Wanda, the other realtor, and then forwarded Wanda’s response to us. We had answers to most of our questions, but were missing major things like, oh, say, an application form. Rosa’s response was to “fax” us one she had in her office labeled “For Montgomery County, Maryland and Washington, DC”. The house we want is in PG County. Rosa insisted that the form said it was for Montgomery County (which is in MD), the entire state of Maryland, and Washington DC. She said all she had was that and a form for Anne Arundel County. But this one would be good. Also, it didn’t really matter which form you use because they’re all the same anyways and really all they want is your work phone number so they can verify income. Which, let me tell you, is very reassuring since we’d already told her we both freelance and therefore have nontraditional jobs, i.e. no work phone number. Her form also asked for things like bank account numbers and passport number in addition to driver’s license and social security number. When I asked about the passport number, she had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. She tried to not admit it but it was pretty clear she had no idea what was on the form.

Finally, she got the correct application from Wanda. She told me it was all Wanda’s fault because even though Wanda said the form was attached to the listing, it hadn’t been attached properly because of fear of viruses and so there was no form. Or something. At any rate, I was “fax”-emailed the correct form. (There’s this service that emails you a fax, with cover sheet and everything. I think you fax it to their number and then they email it to the address you specified.) I started to try filling it out. I had many questions.

So here’s the thing about all these forms: she sends them to me blank. Totally blank. So stuff like address of rental property, name of owners/agents, security deposit, terms of lease, all this stuff that’s supposed to be talked over with the people we’re applying to rent from, it’s all missing. And then there’s this big ol’ page at the back for a Pet Addendum, with big blanks for “Pet Deposit” and “additional Pet Rent”! Now, we pay pet rent for Lilit. That’s normal. But I’d sort of like to know what the pet rent will be before I go signing! The last place, we paid $15. Here, we pay $20. (She doesn’t work her little fuzzy butt one bit to pay for her share of the rent either, I’ll have you know.) But if they come back and say they’d like $100 a month additional, this place is no longer in our price range. Which is sort of important information to have before we drop a non-refundable $80 on a credit check.

On top of all this, Lilit had dental surgery Monday, so she’s on pain meds and sounds like a cross between a parrot and a frog. It’s pathetic. Fortunately, her medicine is liquid and she LOVES that she’s on a special diet of pureed boiled chicken and lunch meat.

Ah yes, Lilit’s surgery. We just went back to the vet and she got a clean bill of health, so everything’s fine and she’s a total trooper. But I’ll save that for a post all its own. Back to housing.

With some wonderful advice from the mother of a friend, we fired Rosa the Realtor. From there, we proceeded directly with Wanda, finally getting the answers we needed. The application was turned in last Thursday. Friday morning, they called to confirm that they had received it and would probably finish processing on Friday or Monday. So we waited. It was a very long weekend.

Tuesday, Ben called again to get a time estimate. The woman he spoke with sounded very positive, but couldn’t give us anything specific. She told us we should know by the end of the week. So again, we wait. At this point, I am so tired of waiting. SO TIRED. I’m also a little tired of sitting at the computer right now, so I’m going to get into snow gear and go take some photos outside. I promise I’ll finish the rest of the story this evening.

Seriously? Stop that.

I was browsing Craigslist this morning just to make sure there weren’t any new housing listings that popped up and looked interesting. As always, I peek into the free section to see if there’s anything that catches my eye. I find this:


House Hunting

What a day! Ben and I met with a realtor (Rosa) today and looked at five houses! There originally were 7 on the list, but one was only available as Rent to Own and the other had already been taken. So off we went on a tour of Laurel.

The first place is in the same neighborhood as our friends Nicole and Brent. It was nothing like their place. The carpet had been redone… poorly. We’re talking multiple seams in the middle of the room. Half the light switches didn’t work. The cable was run up the stairwell on the stairs. There was a razor blade on the window sill in the second bedroom. And the basement, when we finally found a working light, looks like a ski lodge. We moved on.

The second place was sort of a surprise. It’s less than five minutes from where we live now, but it’s just the cutest little farm house, off a long gravel driveway. It has a huge yard and a screened-in porch. It screams to be an awesome artist hide-away, and the yard would be perfect for some of the most amazing parties you’ve ever seen. This is a house meant for socializing. Unfortunately, we’d have to party on paper plates because there’s no dishwasher. The heat is based on oil, and the unfinished basement would suck all the heat out of the top level, driving up the utility costs beyond what we could afford. The final decision that this really isn’t the right place for us was actually rather heart-breaking.

With heavy hearts and questions like “how would you have a dishwasher installed in a kitchen that was never built for one?”, we headed on to House #3. It’s big – about 1275 sq ft. The kitchen is spacious, with room for us to add both seating and additional shelving. It’s got a great open floor plan, with a fireplace in the middle of the living room/dining room area. The stairwell has mirrors at the bottom and a great curve to it. Upstairs, we were marveling at how  big the bedroom was and that the closet was about the size of our current bathroom when Rosa (the Realtor) came in to tell us we were looking at the small bedroom. Okay, so the front door is backwards and the door to the back yard nearly hits the washing machine, but it’s got wide window sills, mail at the front door, and a cat door already built in to the interior basement door.

Excited, we headed to its sister property in the same development. Same layout, it was supposed to have a couple differences. The landlord had already said that if we had pets, we’d need a pet deposit (which we expected). But she also said she couldn’t possibly wait until March 1st for us; we’d have to move Feb 15th. We’re talking a place to live for the next 3-5 years and you can’t give us two weeks? Okay…
So we get inside the house. Same kitchen, only not swept. Pocket door near the fireplace. Fireplace is glassed in instead, so less heat radiates out. This one has a deck, which is awesome, but we’re warned “the patio is a little messy right now”. Translation: there is a three-foot high briar patch underneath the deck. Theoretically, there is a patio underneath. We head upstairs. No mirrors on the stairwell. And that fabulous closet in the master bedroom? There’s a fireplace right in the middle of it. You now have 2/3 less closet for a fireplace you can use twice a year. There’s a note on the thermostat saying not to turn it up past 55. The place is a wreck: dirt everywhere, a child’s sock on the stairs. There’s no furniture, but nobody bothered to sweep or vacuum even on their way out. We have to jump through your hoops, and all you can do for us is spray a little air freshener in the doorway? Even if the house were perfect, this is not a landlord we want to deal with.

Final stop is a bit down the road. It’s a little pricier than everything else and further south. Sort of a longshot anyways. We get there and it turns out to be a very lovely 2-bedroom one-floor condo that smells like cigarette smoke. It’s an apartment without the apartment management. Cute, but TINY.

Well, you can pretty much see where this is going. We were wrestling with the decision between the farmhouse and the third house. Despite how much the second house tugs at the heartstrings, we’re just not the sort of people who will be happy washing our dishes by hand and paying a fortune for oil every winter. So we’re moving ahead with the one with all the mirrors. Fingers crossed no one snatches it out from under us!!!


Our latest "butter" container, complete with problematic curl

Everyone has their funny little quirks, their little habits that they perform without even understanding what they’re doing or why. Well, eventually you understand what you’re doing, but you have to be way more self-aware than I am to figure out the why as well. I am convinced we all have these quirks. I know I have several.

There’s one that Ben and I share which has sort of gone to extremes this week. It goes totally unsaid between the two of us, but we’re both totally complicit in it. I’m talking about our butter* curl.

Smart Balance comes in the little tubs (for baking, we use Earth Balance, which comes in sticks and is great for baking but tastes like plastic on bagels). When you first open a tub of butter**, you are greeted with this beautiful liquid surface, nice and smooth with a slight dome to the top. And sometimes, a little tiny curl in the center where it was poured in. Looking at this curl makes me happy, so the first few times I use the tub, I get my butter from the outside ring, leaving the curl undisturbed. Ben seems to be doing the same thing; we don’t discuss this, it’s not a plan. It just happens. Usually, by the time we’ve gotten everything on the top, one of us has taken the curl and we move on with our lives with the rest of the tub, spreading it like normal people.

Close up of the... problem.

Well, this tub has gotten ridiculous. It was a beautiful, towering curl. So we were able to avoid it more easily. We’re now halfway through the blasted thing, and there’s still this big curl in the middle! And neither of us will touch it. It’s just… there. Staring at me, not quite perfect anymore, but not going anywhere either. And we’ve gone this far; am I going to be the one to move it? To disturb it? I couldn’t. So… now what?

*Okay, yes I know it’s not butter. If you’d prefer, I can say “Smart Balance Buttery Spread Margarine” every time. Or you can just hush and go along with my little fiction and we can use a short 6-letter word instead. With me? Great. So, butter.

** Or buttery-flavor substitute.

Dear Fedex

Dear Fedex,

Thanks for hiding the package you delivered!