Monday, November 29, 2004

Home again

I got back from California yesterday evening after spending a lovely four days with Mom and friends. There is so much to tell about these past few days that I'm going to have to do it over a few days, and probably not in chronological order.

Where to start? The flight out was uneventful, which is always how I like them (though I'm a sucker for turbulence -- I think it makes the flight more interesting and keeps me from somehow imagining that I'm sitting in a really uncomfortable seat in some small crowded room somewhere). The Thanksgiving crowd was very light at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, I imagine because most people left on Wednesday.

The flight back to Minneapolis was equally uneventful, though it was delayed approximately 20 minutes. I knew this, having checked my flight status before leaving Mom's house. When I got to the San Jose airport I wanted to get a Togo's sandwich for the flight since Northwest Airlines now charges $5-$7 for your in-flight meal. However, Togo's is now trapped in the secure area of Terminal C and you can only get to it if you have an Alaska Airlines ticket. Even though Northwest flies out of the same terminal, its boarding pass won't get you into the Alaska gate area. No Togo's for me. Lame!

I proceeded to the other end of the terminal to the Northwest gates and got in line for the security screening. I did the usual shuffle to get everything into a bin and empty my pockets and prepared to go through the metal detector. Just as I was about to go through the detector the TSA people said "We recommend you take off your shoes." Having been through many airport metal detectors with these particular shoes, I know that they don't cause any issues and so I never remove them. Saves everyone time and it's never been an issue. I walked right through the detector, which was silent, as the TSA person on the other side of the metal detector repeated "We recommend you take off your shoes."

I responded "Why? They obviously didn't set off the detector." and she responded, with a slightly exasperated look, "Well, let me see your soles." I showed her the bottom of my left shoe. She then repeated her statement, "We recommend you remove your shoes." I said "That's fine, I'm ignoring your recommendation then." To which she responded "Well, then you'll have to go through extended security screening, and you'll have to take off your shoes in that." I replied "Fine, let's do the extended security screening." I'm thinking, if she's going to be stupid about what the word "recommend" means, I'm going to be a pain in the ass regarding her "recommendation".

At that point she blurted out "Just take off your shoes!" Having been given a command, rather than just a recommendation, I walk back through the still silent metal detector, take off my shoes (after struggling with the knots, which of course under pressure immediately seize up into super hold triple knots), hold them up and say "Now what do you want me to do with them?" genuinely wondering. She pointed to X-ray machine and I dropped them on the conveyor belt. Meanwhile the people behind me were standing patiently, though one imagines slightly ticked off, waiting for my little show to be over.

I walked through the metal detector (which was still silent) once more, was thanked by the TSA lady, grabbed my bag, waited for my shoes to come through, and then walked away. As a silent protest, I walked in my socks all the way to my gate before putting my shoes back on.

Next time, I think I'm going to pack my shoes and socks and go through the airport barefoot. I briefly considered going through in just a Speedo, but I'm just too self conscious to pull that off. However, a few more incidents of TSA people being stupid and I might just get over my inhibitions.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Handy man

This weekend was very productive for me, unfortunately I was working on my coworker's house. Friday night I went over to hook up his new gas dryer and hang out. I had heard him calling around to plumbers trying to get one to hook up his new dryer (Best Buy will deliver them, but not hook them up). I told him that it was super easy to do and I could do it for him if he bought the parts. He also got a microwave with exhaust vent, a new garage door opener, and some mini-blinds that he wanted help with. Uh-oh, what did I get myself into?

Friday night I went over to his new place and hooked up the dryer. We had to run to Home Depot to buy a wrench set because with only the one I brought from work, I couldn't unscrew the cap on the gas valve due to the fact that neither the valve nor the gas line was bolted in place. I tried holding it with my hand, but only succeeded in putting a slight kink in the copper gas line as the leverage with the wrench was more than my bare hand could handle. It was at that point that I decided that we needed a second wrench. After that, everything went together without a hitch.

Once we were done with that, another coworker and his wife showed up and we all sat down together for a nice home cooked Indian (vegetarian) meal. After that I decided that we should read the install directions for the microwave vent and check out the existing vent to see what sort of tools might be needed for the install. One thing led to another, and before you know it we were installing the microwave. This was made reasonably easy due to the fact that the vent work was already in place from the existing hood and the fact that basically all you have do is bolt a plate to the wall and hang the microwave on it. Turns out that he didn't have a drill bit big enough for the toggle bolts needed for the drywall section, as well as some other random parts, so another trip to Home Depot was needed. Luckily, Home Depot is only about a mile from his place.

The instructions for the microwave seemed to be more trouble than they worth, and we just went with the template and the back bracket. We knew it had to bolt to the wall, and the template told us where to drill for the top mounting bolts. We lined up the vent hole on the bracket and the vent in the wall, bolted things in place and we were done. Once we tossed the directions it was smooth sailing.

I came back on Sunday to help him install his new garage door opener. It was less like helping, and more like doing, but that's OK. I'd never installed a garage door opener, but thankfully these instructions were much better than the microwave's. It took me only three hours and two trips to Home Depot to get it all installed. I can't believe that they didn't give you the bolts required to mount the garage door opener to the ceiling bracket! We substituted the bolts that attach the door to the vertical bar attached to the trolley (the bit that the garage door opener actually moves) to hold the opener to the ceiling, which meant that in the end, we were two bolts short for the final hookup! Argh, how lame! The last trip to Home Depot was just for those two nuts and bolts and some light bulbs. Lame. But, when all is said and done, the door worked great and I was quite pleased with myself.

By that point I was tired, and not up for installing his blinds. I showed him how they mount to the window frame and I went home to rest up because I'm getting yet another cold. Lame!

Friday, November 19, 2004

What is the definition of fraud?

Yesterday I took a closer look at my closing costs forms, wondering exactly why closing costs so much, and noticed that I was being charged $414 for a home warranty. I thought this was odd since my realtor knew that the house was still covered by the original builder's warranty, and I'm the kind of guy that would just fix anything myself anyway. I called him to ask about why that was there, and how do we cancel the policy to get my money back. He apologized for not having noticed it before I signed the paper work and told me he would get it taken care of.

Turns out that the home warranty company hadn't even invoiced the title company! So now I'm paying for a home warranty that I didn't want, and actually don't even have! So, tell me, what exactly is the definition of fraud?

I'm not going to blow a gasket over this, but once again, not instilling me with a lot of confidence in the paper pushers.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Landed Gentry

Yea! I'm now a home owner!

Everything went reasonably smoothly. The big complaints were that they made me sign everything with my middle initial, which is not how I sign my name, so that's a bit awkward. On the signature form that we send to assessor, we wrote my name in a second time, without my middle initial, so that I could sign that one the way I normally do. That way when I send stuff to the state I don't have to remember if I have to sign with my middle initial or not.

The big scare came when they asked if I had a cashier's check for all of the closing funds. A little freaked out, I replied that I had already wired that money into my escrow account, and then they just took my word for it. What, did they forget that there was already $80k in there? It seems slightly unprofessional to ask someone if they have a check for $80k and then take their word for it when they say that they already wired the money. Either you already knew the money was there, in which case you shouldn't have asked for it, or you don't, in which case you don't know how to do your job.

Then they asked me if I had the proof of insurance with me, and I told them no, that the insurance people had already faxed them that information. Then they go to check the fax machine and find that they had received the insurance paperwork from the lender before we even started.

For someone whose sole job it is to keep track of paperwork, they didn't seem to be doing such a great job. I wasn't too impressed.

But, in the end, everything worked out and I got the house. I still don't have the keys for it yet because the current owners need a few more days to move out. They expect to be out by this Sunday, instead of their previously planned next Sunday, so I might actually get to move some stuff before I head to California for Thanksgiving. If so, great, if not, no big deal.

The last issue is that I have to go to the county office and file my homestead claim by Dec 1, saying that I'll be living on the property, so that I get a break on my property taxes. Since I won't actually be done moving by Dec 1 that seems like a bit of a stretch, but everyone at the table said to "just say yes" when asked if I'm living there. Seems like it's a common issue and no one really cares if the house is empty for a few weeks while you get stuff moved about.

Exciting stuff! I'm sure there will be many more updates to come.

New house

This morning I go to the closing of my new (to me) house. Hopefully everything will go as planned. I already know that I'll have to write a check for $198.94 to complete the purchase, but that's OK since they let you write a personal check up to $1000. So much for the bankers giving me a high estimate on how much the closing funds would be before I wired the money into the escrow account.

It's interesting that in Minnesota the sellers show up at the closing at the same time as the buyers, as opposed to California where everything's done independently. I've already me the sellers, so it's not a problem, but I imagine it could very awkward for some people. I don't think I would have wanted to meet the people that I bought my first house from, for instance.

I can't actually move into the new place until after Thanksgiving because the current owners can't move to their new place right away. I'm being nice and not charging them any rent or anything, hoping that this will be some good karma in the bank, but somehow I really don't think the universe cares about karma. Bad things still happen to good people without regard to extenuating factors like genetics, healthy living, or altruism, but I guess I'm still hoping that somehow this will make a difference. I'm sure it helps them, and I'm hoping that they'll help someone else in the future, and maybe this will make the world a better place in the long run.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Bush's appointments

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of Bush, but I can cope with his reelection. However, part of the deal with being President is that since you can't do everything yourself, you need to place people that you trust in those positions to do the stuff you can't. This is part of the selection process for President, you want to elect someone that you trust to hire good, smart, people to do the actual day to day running of the country.

This is where I get bummed about Colin Powell leaving and Condoleezza Rice being talked about as his successor. Does she have the experience needed? Does she have the clout needed? I'm afraid that Colin Powell has some very big shoes that Condoleezza Rice is going to have trouble filling.

Time will tell, but my initial impression of Bush's appointments is disappointment; that he's not hiring the absolute best people that he can, which breaks the trust we put on our elected officials.

Monday, November 15, 2004


Yesterday I was planning on moving my trailer from the storage facility to my new house, along with my Miata and some of my garage stuff. I got to the storage facility and opened my trailer's storage box and found that it been broken into and they had stolen my winch, weight distributing hitch, and my floor jack (but not its handle). More stuff was missing, but this was just what I immediately noticed. I was bummed.

I looked around for the owner of the facility and told him what had happened. He said that the guy storing his car behind my trailer was now in jail for robbery and they thought that he, or some of his friends, might have stolen my stuff. He decided to cut the lock on that guy's storage unit so that I could see if any of my stuff was in it -- it wasn't.

I thought that I had my old hitch at the townhouse, so I drove home to look for it and called my coworkers who were going to help me move to tell them that I was going to be late. Turns out that I didn't have my old hitch at the townhouse, it must have been in the trailer's box as well. So I drive back towards the storage facility but make a stop at a local Fleet Farm store to pick up a new hitch and ball. The guys at their auto center were nice enough to wrench it down for me for free.

I got back to the trailer and made a list of stuff taken from the box which also included the tow straps, so I wasn't going to be trailering the Miata to the new house (luckily the Miata runs, but it's not tuned right at the moment, 1400 EGTs at 55mph cruise -- ouch!). Turns out that I also had a set of jack stands in the box that I didn't realize until I got back and started moving stuff from the garage.

The storage facility owner is going to call the Sheriff today to let them know what happen and give them my list of stolen goods so if they find the stuff maybe I'll get it back. He says that this is the first time that anyone has had anything stolen. There were plenty of open trailers with lawn mowers and stuff sitting out as well, so I suppose I was just unlucky. Bad things happen to good people.

I finally got the trailer back to my townhouse two hours later than scheduled so we were only able to make one run to the new house. I was able to get my two work benches down there, some tools, and of course the Miata and trailer. It all fits nicely in the third stall of the detached garage. I wish I could have moved more, but at least I was able to salvage some of the day so it wasn't a total loss (though it will cost me about $1200 to replace all that was stolen).

Saturday, November 13, 2004


Today I'm going out to the town of Becker (about 50 miles away), where Becker Furniture is located, to look at some gear for the new house. I need to get some furniture so when company comes over they have something to sit on or eat food on. Mom will be coming out for Christmas, and with a 5 bedroom house it would be a bit hard to explain why I don't have a spare bed, so I'll need to get one of those too. Not to mention the washer and dryer that I need to get (but I don't think Becker sells those).

A pool table or an air hockey table seems like a cool purchase too. I like air hockey and would love to have a table of my own, but pool is actually a game that I could play by myself. The tables are outrageously expensive, so if I'm only going to get one, it seems that pool makes more sense, but that doesn't stop me from wanting an air hockey table.

Only four more days until I close on my house! Yesterday I learned one more difference between buying a house in Minnesota versus California. In Minnesota, you need to buy your home owner's insurance before you come to closing and go there with a receipt. In California, the insurance company sends the bill to your escrow company and you pay for your first year's insurance out of your closing costs. Minor fiasco as I get the insurance agent to agree to bill the title & escrow company. This 11th hour stuff is getting old. Information I could have used yesterday!

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Death cold

Today I think I've finally recovered from the death cold I had. Yesterday I was in much worse shape than I've been in a long time. I'm guessing it's one of those "darkest before the dawn" types of things. Either that, or the infection released some sort of toxin as it dies, which apparently is a common bacterial tactic. Hard to say which it was, but yesterday I was a pathetic puddle of goo and today I'm feeling much better. Not perfect, but better.

Today I took a long lunch and went down to my investment company's branch to wire the money needed to close on my house, which I'll do next Wednesday. It was interesting how they wouldn't do it over the phone and needed me to fill out a form and get someone special, but not a notary, to vouch for my signature, then mail it off and wait a week for them to process it. But when I went down there in person, they didn't even ask for ID and would have it done by the end of the day. Lucky for me I'm actually me, and not someone trying to rob me blind.

Tonight I attended a class on purchasing investment property. It was reassuring and a little bit informative. Basically they reiterated the idea of leveraged buying and we were able to ask a lot of questions regarding the lending processes for investment property (which are quite different than those for owner occupied houses). It all starts with making up your mind to actually buy a property, and I've not quite done that, but I'm close. Buying before April makes the most amount of sense as property values are depressed during Winter, but having just bought one house, I'm not sure I'm willing to go through that hassle again quite so soon.

It looks like if you have enough for the down payment, that you can get a decent amount of cash flow while basically letting someone else buy your house for you. Making only interest payments, they figure that in a few years you'll have enough equity in the property to use it as the down payment on your next property. In a few more years you'll have two properties to pull equity from, and then four, then eight, and so on. Ten to fifteen years from when you start you should have a large quantity of properties and lots of positive cash flow. The one part I don't quite understand is why he recommends a 5 year interest only loan, figuring that he'll sell the property within that time, and yet he still figures he'll have 30+ properties in 15 years. Maybe you trade one property for two once it's got enough equity?

I definitely need to research things more, especially considering that earning 10% in the stock market is a reasonable proposition and getting that sort of return on a property is a mildly ambitious goal (unless you're in Silicon Valley!). However, it's a good way to diversify, so maybe I should look at it that way.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Birthday present

It seems that the birthday present I'll remember most this year is the head cold I got from my coworkers. Luckily it's not as bad as it could have been, but I still feel like garbage. Sore throat, runny nose, aches, weakness, fuzzy brain, the whole list. But that didn't stop me from making a trip to the Mall of America today.

Today was the last day of a Sears sale, and one of the things on sale was the aluminum jack that I had bought three weeks ago. They've got a 30 day price match, so I got more than $40 back. Yea for me! It seems I'm getting good at buying stuff right before it goes on sale. While I suppose it's not the best super power to have, it's not horrible. Still, I'd like to work on actually buying the item on sale instead of having to come back some time later to get my money back.

I did three laps around the Mall, one on each level, figuring that was the only exercise I'd get for the next few days, and to see what's actually in the Mall. The Mall's not that interesting. There's hardly any tech stuff in the Mall, it's mostly clothes and uninteresting stores. Sure, there's a Sears, a Bloomingdales, and a Nordstroms (and probably one other anchor store), but they're not that interesting, now are they?

Tomorrow I'll be going out to my cousin Mike's house in St. Michael, which is just west of Minneapolis, maybe an hour from where I live. I suppose that we'll watch a football game or two and in general get caught up with each other's lives. He's married and has a kid. That's about all I know.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

If I'd of known how to bake a cake...

Last night I got a chance to use my new spiffy KitchenAid stand mixer to make my birthday cake for today. It was an interesting experience with lots of wisdom to be learned. Where to start...

1) Just because the mixer isn't hitting a spot on the bowl doesn't mean that you can get a spatula in there. I couldn't just stand there and watch the mixer do all the work. It's like watching paint dry, only a little more frustrating when it's not hitting a spot on the bowl. I tried to poke my spatula in there only to have the mixer grab it out of my hand and then throw it back at me. Lesson learned.
2) Use more non-stick spray. Nuf said?
3) Freeze the second layer before attempting to put it on the first layer. In my defense, I've only ever made 9" round cakes, which are easy to palm and place on the layer below them. 13"x9" cakes are quite another matter altogether. And when they are warm and moist they require more than two hands to hold them (or flip them from their cooling rack) or else they'll break into 3, or more, pieces -- landing solidly off center of the layer below, but being instantly cemented into place by the icing below. Pushing a warm moist cake across cool icing is even harder than it sounds.
4) Buy 3 tubs of icing when making a two layer 13"x9" cake because running to the store at 10pm at night to buy a single tub of milk chocolate icing looks pathetic. Trust me on this. I had to explain that I was actually making a cake and had run out of icing. I was not, as first suspected, just going home to eat raw icing out of the tub in some manic depressive state. If you buy three tubs of icing while buying two boxes of cake mix, no one gives you a second look and there's a lot less explaining to do.
5) If you buy a really expensive cake pan, the cake rises level and you don't need that really expensive knife to level it after it's baked. Oh well, it's still a really cool knife.
6) Take a cake decorating class. Really.

Oh well, the only saving grace is that I doubt any of this changes the taste of the cake, and I found it all very amusing. Next time I'm sure I'll make a whole new list of errors, but hopefully that will be fun too.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Frost on the pumpkin

This morning I was greeted by a car covered in frozen dew. I saw it when I went to fitness center at 6:30am, but was hoping it would melt before I had to leave for work at about 8:30am. It didn't. No matter, I had my new handy dandy combination scraper & brush, and it worked quite well. The scraper is lots of fun to use, making nice long ice shavings. Instant snow! It took about 5 minutes to scrape all the windows. I found out that while the scraper is first rate, the brush is fairly useless. Maybe it will work better for snow, but it really just smeared the remaining ice shavings instead of clearing them. I let the car warm up while I was scraping, so I got in to a nice toasty seat (yea seat warmers!) and a car that was ready to pump out some, but not yet enough heat. In the 15 seconds it took me to back out of the driveway and turn into the sun, however, my breath and the remaining water in the air froze to the windshield and I was blinded as soon as I turned into the sun. Mental note, while warming up the car, turn the defroster on. I guess I'll be switching to the deicing windshield washer solution soon too. Too bad there isn't a drain to get rid of the existing solution. Maybe I can detach the line coming out of the pump and just pump the reservoir into a bucket so I can save the summer fluid. I'll have to give that a try.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004


I went back to the store that I bought my mixer at yesterday because I forgot to get a cooling rack for the cake I'm going to bake tomorrow, and there was also a coupon for a free cookbook with the purchase of my mixer that I forgot to pick up. On the door I saw an add for a 50% off sale for today and tomorrow and wondered if my mixer could be on sale. Yes it was! To the tune of $60 less than yesterday. This makes the mixer that I bought just 20 dollars more than its second class citizen that I almost bought, and wasn't on sale today. Lucky for me I hadn't taken the receipts into the house, so a quick trip back to the car and I was $64 richer. Yea for me!

I spent a couple of dozen of those dollars on a pair of medium weight gloves and a 4-in-1 style hat that works in various configurations of on and off your head/face. This seems like a good thing for the area since it can be reasonably warm in the morning, then cold in the afternoon, or just as easily, the other way around.

To drive that point home, it was nice and warm this morning, but it apparently got cold in the evening. The water that collected on the top of my tonneau cover was frozen tonight by the time I got home. Looks like I bought those gloves none too soon. I'm looking forward to winter. It's going to be fun.


Yesterday I went out to get that mixer, that I realized I didn't have, so I could make my birthday cake.

I decided to splurge and buy, hopefully, the only mixer that I'll ever need. The KitchenAid Professional 5 Plus Series Mixer. Of course I bought the blue one. :-) It's not the biggest and baddest mixer that they make, but it was the biggest one in the store. That counts for something, right? With a 450 watt motor, it's likely to be more mixer than I'll ever need, and that's a good thing. I'm getting closer to getting all the cool kitchen tools that I need, but I suppose like power tools, I'll never really have enough.

Monday, November 01, 2004

This weekend was a little disappointing because I didn't get to go for that ride I was hoping for. The nice weather didn't make it here until Monday. I was able to get some shopping done, however.

I went down to the Mall of America to get a refund on the sale price difference of the jack I bought a couple of weeks ago, only to find out that the sale doesn't start until Thursday. Argh. The last sale notice that Sears sent me got to me a day late, and this one a week early. Well, I needed stuff from the mall anyway. I got a cast iron skillet and a double walled cake pan while I was at Sears so that I can cook steaks and chicken. It's the next best thing to having an open flame (some even say better), which I gave up when I sold my house and its awesome Jennaire.

A quick trip to William Sonoma cost me $170 for a J.A. Henckel 10" carving knife and two icing spatulas. I thought I was all set to make my birthday cake but then I remembered that I didn't actually own a mixer. I guess I'll be shopping again tonight.

Halloween was fun. Maybe half a dozen trips up and down my stairs to give candy to about two dozen trick or treaters. I had bought about 12lbs of candy since there are a lot of kids in my townhouse complex. I remembered reading that chocolate is an acquired taste, and that many kids don't like it, so I had a bunch of sugar-based candy as well as chocolate-based ones. About 25% of the kids reached for the sugar-based candy instead of the chocolate. I'm glad I remembered that.