Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The joy of refinancing

Crap, I can't believe it's been a whole month since my last post. I decided it was time to refinance my 1st and 2nd mortgages plus a gaggle of miscellaneous debt around the middle of September. Around 3:00am one Sunday morning, I hung my hat out at Shortly thereafter several lenders started calling. Belatedly I called Wells Fargo (owner of the 1st & 2nd) to see what they could come up with. After a couple weeks of back and forth with the LendingTree contacts and Wells Fargo, I decided to go with an outfit named Metro Lending. I ended up with 6.5% 30yr fixed and 0 points, which was great for a stated income loan. You see, on paper my finances look pretty horrible but "somehow" I'm able to maintain a very good credit score. The loan's actually going to be serviced by Countrywide (scary, I know!), but I think it's gonna be okay. I was surprised Countrywide would even want to be involved, given their current state because of people just like me. Another surprise was the appraisal. It is difficult to comprehend how my house could be worth almost 2.5 times what I paid for it 8 years ago. Extra brownie points were given for my rockin' BlueStar range and the Vent-A-Hood, but were probably mitigated by unfinished painting areas and pet paraphernalia scattered here and there.

Speaking of painting, Jim's decided to get back into doing art after a long absence. He was hard at work converting his wood shop (which used to be a garage) into an art studio. He fixed up the taping, repainted, and reorganized his tools and hardware. And finally, I was able to talk him into putting some kind of wood subfloor over the nasty old concrete (he tends towards cheap bastard on most aspects of life). We found this neat subfloor tile product called DRIcore at Home Depot: it's a square of varnished OSB glued to a plastic sheet with feet, interlocking via tongue and groove. It wasn't too expensive, either, considering what would've been involved with installing a subfloor with 2x4s, plywood sheets and then something on top of all that. Jim actually liked the look of the plain OSB, so he just applied a few clearcoats for now. The lighting was a bit trickier. He insisted on using these ancient Lightolier halogen track lights, but the light was gross. There are two skylights, but there's not enough natural light to compensate for hot, orange-y halogen spots. He ended up having to put in several fluorescent fixtures with full-spectrum bulbs and now it looks nice, neutral and even. My experience with doing press checks helped a little: neutral gray walls (actually a special gray paint that's really expensive) and 5000K bulbs are the standard. Higher K is more blue, lower K is more yellow. You just need a shitload of bulbs.

The Smashing Pumpkins concert in Ridgefield, WA was awesome. The Clark County Amphitheater was a great venue - not large, with the back end open so it doesn't get hot or stuffy. The Pumpkins were freakin' LOUD. Thankfully I never go anywhere without earplugs anymore, but I remembered them a little too late. Hmm, too much of my youth spent loitering near massive speaker towers, I guess. The opening band was Satellite Party and I probably enjoyed them even more than the Pumpkins. I think I saw one other couple that may have been in the 50s and they were drunk. Well, I freely admit to being immature for my age, so there!

Looking forward to seeing Cesar Milan, thee Dog Wheesperer, here in Seattle on Nov. 4.

Busy at work doing one of my favorite things: screwing around with databases and writing Excel formulas... building our intranet and dreaming up new kitchen gadgets.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Last days of summer

I finally took a few days off last week, and plan to take a few more to get all those potted plants in the ground before the rain comes. When you become a working adult, the summer goes by fast and is just another season... albeit one without much rain, which is notable in Seattle.

My vacation was spent watching the Roomba work, getting some motorcycle practice in and perfecting my latest baking obsession: galettes. I LOVE crust, so I can't believe I haven't made them before. The best dough recipe so far came from Baking Illustrated, where they call it Freeform Fruit Tart Pastry. The addition of cornmeal is delicious and the dough is easy to work with -- unlike the pâte briseé recipes I've used. So far I've made peach, nectarine & blackberry and apple galettes, finally settling on the cornmeal dough and using basic instructions from Home Baking by Naomi Duguid. Her recipe puts a thin layer of toasted almonds, walnuts or breadcrumbs underneath the fruit and I think it really adds subtle taste and texture.

The other thing I needed to deal with was a funny smell that's been brewing in my car. I asked for a detailer recommendation when I went to order some new front tires at Big O, and somebody suggested Final Touch. They were able to fit me in the next day. Meanwhile, I took a closer look at the car. Since a seagull had bombed me on the viaduct a couple months ago -- thankfully while the top was up -- I assumed it was bird shit that'd gotten into the crevices. To my horror, I spied a can of cat food that had rolled off almost into the car's netherworld. The label was faded and falling off. The smell was sickening. Ewww. Jim, bless him, retrieved the dripping can and vacuumed out what he could, but not before wretching loudly. The next day the detailers revealed another unpleasant discovery: mice had been nesting there. Ewww! Yecchh!! They cleaned the car out but could make no promise that the smell or mice wouldn't come back. Since rodents love to chew wire, I also went to my mechanic, Eizo Matsuda of Apex Auto. He's in the process of garage remodeling, but he told me how to deal with the mice. His advice was to duct tape rat poison, the food kind, near the engine. I protested about mice dying inside the car, but he said, "At least the smell will go away. Not like if you have an electrical fire and die!" Okay Eizo, you've made your point.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Where's the congestion?

Dear WA DOT,

Thanks for taking the time to freak us commuters out over the whole I-5 construction business. For several months prior, you were all gloom and doom about this project being the straw (or the mint, if you're a Monty Python fan) for Seattle transportation.

Well, my commute yesterday and today was no different than any other day on E Marginal Way/SR-99. Maybe a few more trucks than usual getting off at Spokane, but THAT'S ALL. I still had to endure those teeth-rattling, ever widening expansion joints holding the viaduct together. That's because I have to drive fast over it, in case it falls down.

Why don't you just admit it? You're in cahoots with our mayor and city council. You really hate cars and the people that drive them. Your goal is to make life for car people as miserable as possible, if not set up the conditions where they might have fatal "accidents", like diverting an overload of traffic onto a earthquake-damaged bridge.

You bastards!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Say it ain't so, Kitty!

I can't believe what a lame idea this is. According to a NY Times story, a Bangkok chief of police wants to shame officers who break the law by having them wear these pink Hello Kitty armbands. Apparently a previous attempt using plaid bands completely backfired. Uhh, like this idea is gonna work?? If I was a young female deviant, I'd definitely want one. And on a man, it probably works as a powerful chick magnet. I'll bet you that supply of armbands disappears in short order. Stop thinking like George Bush, Pongpat Chayaphan!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Frida's no contender

After getting home around 8:00pm last night, I was shocked to see our cat huddled on the bed, as we usually attempt to corral her from the wild kingdom around midnight (or later). I went to pet her and, for the first time ever, she hissed at me. I knew something was wrong, which was confirmed by a small blood stain on the blanket nearby.

Thanks to a couple Humane Society brats that are on the loose, there have been some new whiskers in the 'hood. Frida's small and cute, but outdoors she can be a wild punk, a cold blooded killer. I believe Frida finally got her ass-whoopin' comeuppance yesterday afternoon. There were several small puncture wounds all over her, but the TKO was a deep chomp on one of her legs.

We took her to our new favorite 24/7 vet, Five Corners Animal Hospital in Burien to get fixed up. Verily, I cannot heap enough praise upon this vet, emergency or not. They were really great when we had to bring our aging, diabetic, blind cockapoo with broken leg here for testing. And they were kind and compassionate when we decided to euthanize.

Although Frida's outdoor days might be numbered, like her tough cookie namesake she'll be all right, especially with our regular vet, Four Paws, following up. I've been thinking about keeping the pets indoors anyway, since we have a regular coon visitor and coyote sightings have been made in nearby Beacon Hill and Leschi areas. The fact is, one of us - me or Frida - is going to go nuts.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Fine dining in Seattle

Jim's brother and sister-in-law had business here for the last few days, so we had an opportunity to eat our way through it. My pick for their first dinner in Seattle was the Dahlia Lounge. For me it was an easy choice. I'd been here a couple times before and the food was always very good - different enough to be interesting yet familiar enough to be safe. I ask you: What's not to like, ever, about pork chops and coconut cream pie? Jim ordered the halibut but got the crab cakes. Even the waiter said, "Well, if we're going to make a mistake that's the best one to make!" We agreed, especially since Jim also got his halibut very shortly thereafter. I was seriously tempted to try Serious Pie, Tom Douglas' newest venture next door, but tomorrow's another day. But instead...

The second night out, our visitors chose Cascadia. I'd never been, and fretted since I was going there straight after work (i.e., dressed like a slob). But hey, this is Seattle, right? Also, I seemed to recall chef Kerry Sear had a reputation for weird combinations and being kind of a Nazi about it. I also might have early senility. Anyway, I totally scored right away by finding a parking spot on Battery St. and arrived early. The hostess was nicely hospitable despite my attire. Once everyone else showed up, we were seated immediately and the cool, intellectualish waiter came over with recommendations for appetizers and entrees. I decided to test his mettle by asking about a couple entrees he hadn't suggested: the Goat in Some Kind of Strange Sauce and one I'd already decided on, the Squash Strudel on Seaweed. He did his best restaurant-speak about the goat. "People either hate it or love it... I'm not saying it's bad, I mean, everything's good here... it's earthy." To which I asked, "In other words, it tastes like dirt?" Now the goat intrigued me, because dirt is exactly what burdock root (aka gobo) tastes like... and it's delicious, albeit an acquired taste for most non-Asians. The waiter recovered quickly by waxing poetic about the strudel. And it was excellent, though I'm convinced if you put lots of butter - or bacon - on anything, it'll taste good. My companions safely ordered grilled Lamb Chops with Fries, and grilled Wild King Salmon on a bed of Lobster Mashed Potatoes. The appetizers we shared were grilled blue prawns, tomato-mozzarella salad, a basket of crackers (drizzled with balsamic vinegar and toasted) and assorted breads, and hummus with a kick. Dessert was small torpedo-shaped lemon sugar beignets and the chocolate "catch of the day": a dense chocolate tart complete with embedded angler and fish cookies. Every dish was beautifully presented. It was a marvelous dining experience for which I'm glad I didn't see the bill.

The last stop on our foodfest was good ol' Wild Ginger. We ordered crab cake and potsticker appetizers, Chicken Angor Wat and Kung Pao, Seven Flavor Beef, Baby Bok Choy w/Garlic Oil, and Duck with Steamed Buns. Our guests exclaimed that they wished there was a restaurant like this in DC. In the past, my opinion of Wild Ginger was that of a better-than-mediocre Asian smorgasbord; if you really wanted good versions of their dishes, you'd go to the country-respective restaurant. I still hold that dopey monoculture opinion, but on this particular occasion, Wild Ginger was perfect. Plus, I actually detected a hint of wok har (translation: pan tar flavor). If you entertain visitors who don't have good Asian restaurants back home, it's great. It beats PF Chang's and Big Bowl handily.

On our way home I proposed to Jim that we check out more new restaurants before the next onslaught of guests. Over the last few years Seattle's really added some interesting dining options. Tonight I scribbled a list of places to try and it was twice as long as a list from six years ago. Maybe it's because I don't find myself missing and hunting for New York-style pizza and authentic Mexican as much. Maybe it's all part of Seattle becoming a world-class city, at least in the restaurant department.

Monday, August 6, 2007

I Heart My Roomba!

About two weeks ago I caved in to my mom's decree that everyone needs a Roomba, especially me. She even offered to pay for it. I stumbled across a Big Lots in Renton quite by accident, and was reminded to check if they had any. They're selling reconditioned Roomba Discovery models for $149. My mom had picked hers up in SoCal.

Strangely, my Roomba was kinda skanky even for a reconditioned unit. It looked like they forgot to empty the dust cup and filter and there was hair and stuff wrapped around the brushes - ick. So, before charging it, I gave it a good cleaning and was all set to wait 16 hours for the initial charge. I got the green light after only about 3 hours and decided to see what my mom was so ecstatic about.

The Roomba went right to work, picking up small debris and the furballs that collect in every corner. Our thick doormats seemed to confound it -- is it a carpet or a wall? -- and it got stuck and got all balky on them. This is a good opportunity to note that it makes funny, early computer-game-type noises whenever its status changes (Clean! Stuck! Successful dock!). I started moving things around to suit the Roomba and followed its progress and mishaps (banging into furniture legs, getting stuck, pushing around the dog dishes, etc.) for the next hour and a half or so. It loved noodling into corners, under beds, wherever it could fit. When the power light turned red it waddled back to the charging dock like it was tired and drunk, which was the coolest thing. Then it played a little happy tune (not "99 Bottles").

I'd have to say I'm impressed with the Roomba. It doesn't take the place of regular vacuuming, but is great for in-betweens and tidying up. I'm thinking about getting the Scooba, which is the Roomba's floor mopping counterpart. Now if iRobot could come up with a robot that dusts, I'd be happier than a pig in a blanket.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Boeing tapped to make truck-mounted laser

I just saw this on the Sci-Fi Tech blog. How cool is that? How long before we can get one for home protection? It'd go nicely on the turret I have planned for the southeast corner of my house.

As a gadget freak, I like the Sci-Fi blog a lot. A more recent entry said the army was planning to implant RFID microchips into the troops -- just like our pets. I've been trying to keep up with RFID technology, as much as a layman can understand, because I'm STILL WAITING for a gadget that'll tell me where my cats are located. You'd think parents everywhere would be clamoring for a product like this. Already larger devices have been made for dogs, but cats and other small animals continue to be SOL. All of our pets have been microchipped, but the chips are passive and need a scanner (the right kind of scanner, BTW, which is another story). What we need is maybe an implanted solar-powered active or semi-active chip so the pet can be located if it's run away or been stolen. Yeah, just like our Powerbooks and iPods. The technology exists. C'mon, venture capitalists, pour some money into this thing.