Sunday, April 27, 2014

Fifty Shades of White

Our new house needed, ahem, some work. I had sold myself on the idea that the funky yellow-and-burgundy tile plus creamsicle-orange sink and bathtub of the downstairs bathroom was…. retro. The toilet that isn’t on a perpendicular axis to the wall of the powder room? Quirky and still decidedly… usable! The pink paint on the room off the kitchen? Barely noticeable… very pale pink indeed.

But I really couldn’t deal with a few things: the orange-and-green cabinets, the janky old oven that was fresh out of 1981, and the tile floor in the kitchen.

I knew kitchen renovations were expensive. But my favorite home improvement bloggers have taught me that paint is magic. So I decided the first thing we needed to do was to paint the orange and green cabinets. And by “paint” I mean “pay someone to paint.” Husband didn’t trust me with a paintbrush anymore, and cabinets seemed harder than walls, so I acquiesced.

But first, I needed to pick a shade of white.

Last time I painted, I was pretty chill about shade-picking. I grabbed a couple of the paint-color-sheet-thingies at Home Depot, looked at them a bit at home, said “Dolphin Gray it is!” and bought the paint.

This time I lost my mind over paint selection.

I first decided that we needed to get Fancy Paint. There was a time in my life when I didn’t realize that different brands of paint had different levels of fanciness.  That was a time in the past, from before I started reading home improvement blogs.  And once I learned that there were different fancinesses of paint, I knew that for our kitchen cabinets of the very first home we owned, we were going to get some DANGED fancy paint.

I quickly ran into the first problem with Fancy Paint. Your Regular Paint is sold at Home Depot, which is open whenever, and I know where it is and I just wander in and get paint and no one looks at me funny for wearing my paint pants and an old Mock Trial t-shirt covered in drops of Dolphin Gray. Fancy Paint is sold at Fancy Specialty Paint Stores, which have hours like 4 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the week of the month where the moon is waning. Painters must work at ridiculous times of day.

Not being an anthropomorphized Disney songbird, I don’t wake up with the dawn and I don’t wake up early enough to leave any spare time before work. So with all of the Fancy Paint Shoppes closed by the time I left work, lunch was the only time I could go get paint chips. So I drove into town to the Fancy Paint Shoppe.

I walked in and wandered to the paint chips section, where I proceeded to spend forty minutes staring blankly at a selection of approximately two frillion colors of white. It was mesmerizing. No, paralyzing. A woman offered to help me several times and I declined in mumbles. Finally I snapped out of it, grabbed every paint chip with something white on it, and bought three tiny sample pots of white paint.

a million white paint chips
the madness

The next few days I was a menace to all around me.

Liz: “Vanilla milkshake is definitely out, because it’s way too gray. I’m really going back and forth between Bavarian Cream and White Chocolate. I want something warm, but Mayonnaise is too yellowy.”

My coworker: “I’m starving. Do you want to get lunch?”

[the next day]

Liz: “I've tried a bunch... but I feel like Oxford White is the white I want, but none of the stores have it, even though it's listed on the paint company website!  And I feel like it is the IDEAL white!”

Mom: “Didn’t you say that about Mountain Peak White yesterday?”

[the next day]

Husband: “You promised you wouldn’t buy any more paint samples.”

Liz: “Well, technically I didn’t - they didn’t have this one in samples so I had to buy a quart of the actual paint. But I have a really good feeling about this one! It’s crisp linen!”

Husband: “Wasn’t the LAST one Crisp Linen?”

Liz: “No, that was Linen White! Totally different!”

[the next day]

Liz: “Did you get my text?”

Dad: “I did but… what am I even looking at, here?”


I finally settled on a shade of white: Cream Froth. It looked a lot like Mountain Peak White. It also looked a lot like Crisp Linen. But Cream Froth it was, and I was pleased to have selected one of the delicious-sounding ones.

We were finally a go with the painter.

It was so exciting the day we saw all the doors get de-orangified:

And it looked SO MUCH better when it was done….

In case you had forgotten how it looked orange…

Then all that was left was the installation of the new oven.  Poor Husband.  But that's another story.

Hopefully the improved cabinetry is worth all the paint-shade-madness I inflicted on everyone around me. I’ve hidden all of the leftover paint samples in the garage so Husband will hopefully forget about how I went crazy. And I had almost forgotten, too, until we went to Home Depot yesterday to look at some blinds* for the house. We had identified the kind we wanted when the guy asked us which color we wanted...

There was white white. Pure white. Silk white. Optic white. Chantilly. I started seeing spots in front of my eyes…

Husband: “Silk white.”

Liz (whispered): “Thank you.”

*None of the following should surprise you given what I have told you about this house:  There were blinds on the house originally, but they were tan-colored rusting metal mini-blinds.  The realtors apparently threw a fit about them and made the owners take them off before showing the home.  We found them in the garage after we moved in.  They were pretty gross.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Implausibly long hair, plausibly don't care

Upon re-reading yesterday’s post, I realized that it may be considered embarrassing for a grown-up lady professional to be measuring her achievements relative to Disney princesses. I don’t seem like the type of 28-year-old who you would expect to have a closet Disney princess attachment. I didn’t have the early signs: never really liked Lisa Frank, wasn’t a fourteen-year-old who insisted on having glitter pens and replacing standard tittles with hearts, etc.  Even now, my interests include sarcasm, college football, and manliness contests.

But I am not going to apologize for liking Disney princesses. And I do NOT want to hear how they are anti-feminist.  I do not want to hear it because in a world where women’s stories are marginalized and treated as less important, the Disney princess is in fact prioritized as the central character whose existence and actions motivate the whole of the narrative and who play an extremely positive role of simultaneous dynamic change and stabilization/civilization within the context of the film.  In other words, even when a different character is in charge of decapitating the villain, it's the princess who is making the good things happen.

Look, folks, I have an English degree and a fondness for pop culture. I once wrote a 30-page paper on feminine agency and power in Clueless. You don’t want to tangle.  Leave me my princesses.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Princess in Her Tower

Often when I’m at work, I’m just dying to get home. I’ll think about all of the things I need and want to get done at home and just know that if I didn’t have to be at work today, I could be so productive and pleasant, like Rapunzel in Tangled : cook, clean the whole house, paint some oil paintings, exercise, run a bunch of errands, and accomplish ten million useful and enlightening things.* Notably, I don’t dream all that big: I just want to be not in the office. I am actually daydreaming about doing the housework that Rapunzel is daydreaming about NOT doing.

But of course, the truth is that as soon as I get home at the end of the day, I have a lot more in common with Sleeping Beauty when it comes to personal productivity around the house. I share both her need to a ton of sleep (hey, sleep is good for you!) and also her sort of dumb tendency to just wander around and touch objects in the house for no apparent reason. She had the excuse of being enchanted (I think? someone back me up here) but I have the excuse of being tired after work and forgetting why . Of course, Husband and I have cleverly proofed our house to not have any fatal spinning wheels around the house, or spinning wheels of any kind. It’s best to be cautious.

And I also share some unfortunate tendencies with one Petite Sirene: instead of getting anything done, or learning an instrument such that I could jam with the band, I often find myself endlessly online shopping or browsing Pinterest. Which is obviously the equivalent of what Ariel was doing in her room full of random stuff she had collected: if that’s not a low-tech, undersea Pinboard, then I’m the Queen of the Atlantic. But of course, I’ve never made the same mistake Ariel did: I always read the fine print, always assume provisions in a contract will come back to bite me, and I never sign deals with sea witches. (You learn that day one of Contracts class.) Plus, I have to think she made a bad decision on giving up the ability to breathe both above-water and underwater: anyone with gills AND lungs would make an amazing Navy SEAL.

The truth is that if I can’t even muster the energy to clean the house, I really wouldn’t be up for, I don’t know, undergoing rigorous military training from Donny Osmond in order to defeat a large-scale invasion by one of the greatest military commanders in history. So I suppose it’s good my tower is just an office, that I can leave WHENEVER I WANT SERIOUSLY UM I JUST NEED TO SEND A FEW MORE E-MAILS, ahem, and that I’m not actually a fictional princess. Not least because if I had the power to iceify things and some expletive deleted had tried to kill Sassy and take our throne, I would put that expletive deleted’s whole kingdom (including his jerkwad, sociopathic-tendency-creating brothers) into a state of permanent popsicle. If someone tried to kill my only family, I don’t think I’d just let it go.

But just in case I am ever called to be such a princess, I took a highly scientific quiz to see which Disney princess I’m most like, because that’s a productive thing for a licensed attorney to do. And I got…. BELLE!  Who is my favorite anyway!  So I guess I’m downright regal after all - I forgot that constantly reading stuff to the detriment of real life counts as princessy if you throw some musical numbers in around it. Which, of course, I always do.

*I have never even aspired to be like Snow White. Think about it: her job was to keep house for SEVEN DUDES. I remember what Husband’s college apartment looked like, and he only shared it with two other dudes, and he and one of the other dudes were fairly clean. Snow White was living with SEVEN guys, all of whom had extremely dirty jobs, and bizarrely fixed emotional states which were extremely disparate (which could lead to fighting in the house) and do I also recall atrocious table manners?  I seem to.  #nothankyou

Monday, April 21, 2014

Functional Listmaking

When we told our realtor we wanted to make an offer on the red house, she was excited for us and supportive. She thought it was a good house for us and that we could get it.

So it just came down to the question that drives all economic decisions: how much? And unlike with buying a granola bar, the answer wasn’t a constant set by Safeway but the result of a multivariate equation. As I explained before, in this Very Special Real Estate Market, you have to pick a number you want to offer. And whereas in Normal Places, if the asking price is $p, you might offer $p - x where x is a function of number of likely other offers, amount of time the house has been on the market, and any repairs or renovations you might need to do.

‘Round these here parts, your offer is more like $p + y, where y is also a functional of likely other offers, plus some other stuff, like the fact that the weather was nice on the day of the open house and what the seller’s realtor’s horoscope will say in three weeks and then a fixed but unknown arbitrary positive number because it sucks to be you.

It feels like witchcraft and I don’t believe in witches. I do believe in negotiation. I hadn’t believed that I was going to need to negotiate with my own realtor.

The negotiation was precipitated by the fact that the $y I wanted to add to $p (we’ll call my number $yLiz, with apologies that I can't figure out how to get Blogger to do superscripts) was far lower than the $y she thought we needed to add to get the place (we’ll call that $yRealtor). In fact, rather alarmingly, her idea of what $y should be was almost twice as big as my idea of what it should be.

graph illustrating how wack that is

The disparity didn't surprise me. There is an inherent difference between her incentives and mine - while she was extremely helpful, it was never going to be coming out of her pocket at the end of the day. And there was the, ahem, additional factor that she knew that I hadn’t exactly been Ms. Cucumber while we were at the open house.

But I think she wasn’t aware of the fact that a lot of my enthusiasm was generated by the fact that unlike most sane human beings (who watch television shows like, I dunno, what are the cool kids watching these days? Mad Men? Man, how I loathe that show), I have inoculated myself against fear of renovation by near-incessant viewings of Property Brothers, Flip or Flop, Love It or List It, and other key HGTV renovation shows. In other words, I’m far less likely than the Average Jen to be scared of a little orange paint and a melange of 1940s tile jobs.

So I sat down to negotiate with my own realtor and redeem myself as a Collected Professional Lady in the eyes of my dear and beleaguered Husband. And there’s one skill I learned in law school (I think by accident - I don’t think anyone taught us this) that comes in handy more often than you think. It works like this:

Take out a yellow pad of paper. Take out a pen. and start making a list of all the problems your opponent has right in front of them. If you’re really good at this, you can make the list while still staring them in the eye. And as it happens, I’m really good. (It helps that when you fold back the pages on a legal pad that the person across the table from you can’t see if your list is cascading down the page sideways because you’re not looking where you’re writing).

this is how you list it

After I did that, she caved. She said that when she went to them with the offer, she could point out that we had really done the math and that we knew how much it needed ot be put into it and that our offer was very reasonable. And then she said she’d go draw up the paperwork.

Something that feels like a spa-level luxury to this lawyer: having someone else do the paperwork for you.
As she went to get the paperwork, Husband offered casually, “Oh, by the way, I’m going to be out of the country for the next week.”

She stopped walking and turned around. “You’re leaving the country while you try to put an offer on a house?”

Husband answered, “Yeah, I have work. Why? Liz will be here, she can handle anything you need.”

The realtor looked at him, then at me, then at the list on the table, then back at me with an expression I would describe as “retreating to a mental safe house.”

I tried to give her my best non-diabolical smile, but I think it’s gotten rusty.


We got the house.  Including an old ladder and some other old stuff that was in the garage, to the great delight of Husband.  It's the most grown-up thing we've ever done.


The start of the closing process was pretty straightforward, in fact. It did require signing each of our names to approximately twelve kazillion pieces of paper (each).  But we had a strategy for the rest of it, and by a strategy, I mean a happy accident:

“Oh, hey, realtor/title people/mortage people: we’ll be in Hawaii during most of the closing period.”

The resulting consternation was extreme, despite the fact that our realtor should have known we apparently don’t respect whatever secret rule exists that whilst purchasing a house, you must remain within 50 miles of said house for the entire process. Our realtor, mortagee, and title person all could not believe that we were going AWAY. To a FAR-OFF ISLAND. During the CLOSING PROCESS?!?!?!?!?!!!!!

“Well, what do you need us here for?”

What if you need to sign/see/hear/be talked at about/re-sign something?

“You can call either of us on our cell phone. Or you can e-mail us if we need to sign something. We’ll scan it back. They have Internet there. It’s America.”

...but! but! BUT…

“It’ll be fine.”

I don’t know if we were wildly lucky. I don’t know if normally everything does come crashing to a halt if you vacation during your real estate transaction. I do know that I did have to sign a jillion documents what felt like seven times each, and that I was signing and scanning like I was on a personal quest to endurance-test the scanner. But despite the fact that we left town for half of our two-week closing, everything was fine.

And we came back from our vacation to our very own home.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Seeing Orange: Functional Adults Aren't Scared of a Weird Paint Job

If Husband hadn’t already been sold on the barn-like appearance of the house I found on Zillow, he was sold when he saw how old it was. He has a noted fondness for old things. The older, the better. He gets really excited when we see, for example, rusty farm equipment somewhere. He likes things more the older they get. If you think about it, it’s a rare and excellent quality in a spouse.

So we headed off to the open house. Excitingly, Sassy was in town so she could come with us to look at it, which was wonderful since she has fantastic taste in all things. As we pulled up outside the house, we saw a young couple moving in across the street and the woman had on a shirt from our own dear Alma Mater University, so I was pleased already.

Before we got out of the car, I cautioned Husband: “If we like it, don’t show too much excitement. We have to stay cool or it could drive up the price.”

Husband, with a suspicious look that seemed misplaced: “Yes, I AGREE we should stay calm.”

I gave him the side-eye and we all went in.

And, dear reader, it was so great. It was 50% bigger than the house we had put an offer in. There were high ceilings with awesome beams.

It had TWO AND HALF bathrooms. It had a back yard with grass and a deck.

And I may have lost my cool a bit. I think I was beaming. Our realtor had to do damage control later when their realtors called her and said, “I think your client really liked it!”

Now, of course, it wasn’t all one-hundred-percent perfect. In fact, a person with lesser vision (and a person who hadn't spent two months of funemployment watching HGTV look easy) might have been scared off by, say, the orange kitchen:

… or an insane wood stove thing:

…. or a bathroom with a strangely angled toilet:

...or another one with insane tile:

No, those didn’t deter me.  Because I had decided this house was going to be ours. And when I get resolved on something, that’s when I come the closest to being a functional adult. Which was a good thing, since we were fixing to become homeowners - which is the third most mature thing I can think of (after parents and elected officials).

Sassy liked it too.  Husband liked it too (because it had a two-car garage he could fill with rusty car parts).

All we had to do was make the offer, get it accepted, and close.

(Yeah, I know, you see it coming too.)

Monday, April 14, 2014

House Hunters Dysfunctional: Why HGTV Didn't Answer My Casting E-mails

Looking for a house isn't like the other kinds of shopping one does in normal life. If I want paper towels, I go to Safeway. If I want a million paper towels for the low price normally associated with buying a thousand paper towels, I go to Costco. If I want a million paper towels for that said low price but want them delivered to an address I haven't lived at for six months - but on the very same day I ordered them! - I use Google Shopping Express.

This is stuff you know. But if you want to buy a house, there's no house store to go to. You have to run around all over the place and look at them, and you don't even get to know where they are. That's the province of the realtor, who is the keeper of all of the secrets of where the good houses are and the not-so-secret secret that you can't afford them.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, you probably want to know why I, who wouldn’t know General Responsibility if she saw him in a parade on TV, would think it was a good idea to own a piece of land.

For one thing, I wanted to be able to vote at last.* But mostly it was the mold. Most people, upon discovering their rental home has mold, would confront their landlord, or move out, or something. But the thing is…. our rent was really, really cheap. Like really cheap. Cheap like our three-bedroom rental house with a two-car garage was cheaper than a one-bedroom apartment in the dorms that the other law students lived in. And between my money-expensive habit (law school) and Husband’s space-expensive habit (systematically disassembling a 50s car with a retro space station’s worth of chrome on it), it made sense to stay. I may regret this when I die of a pulmonary disease in my 50s, but hopefully my estate’s lawyer finds this post and sues my landlord.

In any case, since at least one of us had finally quit our respective expensive habit, it seemed like it was time to move.

So begin to look for a house we did. I tried to go into the house hunting experience with the low expectations suitable to buying real estate. I've seen Property Brothers - I wouldn't be fooled into thinking I could afford my Dream Home (tm Mattel). We got ourselves a realtor - an excellent one who I think was helping me largely as a favor to my boss’s boss (who has a fondness for buying and selling houses that I imagine she appreciates).

Yet somehow I still managed to be shocked by the houses we ended up looking at. One was painted entirely pea green and, when you walked in the front door, practically dropped you right into the master bedroom. Another had an outdoor shower in the backyard right off the master bedroom, despite having a total absence of a pool, beach, Tough Mudder course, built-in slip-n-slide, or anything else that would justify a porch shower. One had a newly renovated kitchen but a bathroom so small that the sink was no wider than my index finger is long. Yet another had a frillion closets but only one bathroom.

So by the time we got to a house that was pretty good, it looked amazing. It was nice and clean on the inside; the kitchen was decent; it had two bathrooms. Sure, the backyard was a little small. Sure, there were no sidewalks on the streets. And sure, for being in such a dope school district, the house next door did look a lot like a crack house.

But we decided to put in an offer nonetheless.

Unfortunately, in the Very Special Real Estate Market we live in, you can't just offer the asking price. And apparently you really can't do what I wanted to do, which is a negotiation tactic I learned from watching Pawn Stars: whatever price they want, offer them a quarter of it. No, in this VSREM, you apparently** have to offer ABOVE the listed price to even have a chance of getting the property. And heaven help you guess just how much over you should go.

After a bunch of agonizing over the phone with Husband, because I was away for work and thus managing to leave all the annoying paperwork to the better half of our collective partnership, we decided on 25% over the asking price, which was already an ENTIRELY ridiculous amount of money.

Husband: There are a ton of forms I need you to sign tomorrow, though.
Liz: I will be trapped in a room I cannot leave all day.
Husband: Great.

As it turns out, our offer was but one of eight other offers on the property, which sold for around 150% of the listed price. I was grossed out. But we were both over it a few days later when we were hunting around on Zillow some more. And I pointed my laptop screen at Husband after I saw this house:

Liz: “We can afford this one!”
Husband: “It looks like a barn!”

We knew we were going to that open house.

* Come for the typical Millennial immaturity, stay for the American-politics-circa-1791 jokes!

**I'm sorry, but I just can't quit using sarcastic "apparently"s when discussing real estate; my disdain was palpable and has yet to wear off fully.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

If I had it together enough to always blog on schedule, I'd really be a functional adult

The extreme absence without leave is not to be excused.  But I offer these excuses nonetheless, all evidence that I am somehow both closer and farther to faking adulthood than ever.  In the six months of my hiatus, I have done the following:

1.  Bought a house
2.  Due to inability to properly clean said house, caused self to break arm rather horrifically,
3.  Worked at the same job for longer than a year and two weeks,
4.  Forgotten everything I ever promised about never painting a room again, and painted a room again,
5.  Said goodbye to my 20-year-old car,
6.  Built a pretty sick Lego car (no joke - it's really awesome:

But failing to update your blog for a really long time is not very functional at all.  I guess it's in keeping with the theme.  But as a bizarre attempt at redemption, I promise to write in later posts the tales of all of the above (except maybe the Lego car).  

[update: I'm not a total liar - I have at least begun to fulfill my promises.  Click the links above to see my grand excuses!]

And I give you this banana oat muffin recipe I made this weekend (tweaked from this recipe:, because it was pretty tasty:

1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats (standard Quaker oatmeal here)
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/5 tsp salt
1 egg
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ripe bananas
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (if desired)

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F and line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake papers.

1.  Mash up the two bananas in a bowl using a fork or a potato masher.  
2.  Combine dry ingredients in a bowl.
3.  In a large bowl, beat the egg lightly.  Stir in the buttermilk, melted butter, and vanilla.  Add the mashed banana and combine thoroughly.
4.  Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined.
5.  Using something like a 1/3 measuring cup, scoop the batter into the muffin tin.
6.  Top muffins with chopped walnuts (if desired).
7.  Bake for 18 minutes.