Happy New Years Eve!

I always kind of sucked at new years resolutions… but last year I really wanted to be different. So instead of the very general resolutions I always make like “get healthy” or “save money” I decided to make specific goals. Overall, I’d give myself a B. Let’s see how I did.

Resolution #1: 90 minutes of cardio every week
– I did pretty good at this for the first 8 months of the year. Especially after I started running in April, until the 5k in August… I kind of rocked. Of course, Since the 5k in August I’ve probably run less than 10 times…. not sure what is up with that.

Resolution #2: Eat more produce and less fried things
– Once again, I did pretty well at this for about 9-10 months. I was cooking at least once a week, grocery shopping almost every week, and I was generally consuming a lot of produce. Then I got busy and in the last 2+ months I think I’ve cooked a **real** dinner less than 3 or 4 times. Pathetic.

Resolution #3: Contribute to retirement every month
– 12/12– I rock

Resolution #4: Contribute to savings every month
– 12/12– double check

Resolution #5: Organize my office and keep things filed
– I did get my office organized this year (thanks to B’s help!!), but I haven’t done a great job of keeping it organized. I need a better plan on how to get things from my mail box to my filing cabinet.

So overall… I did a lot better than usual! Now comes confession time. Between January and August, I lost 20 pounds. Woohoo! Between August and now… I think I’ve gained it all (or almost all) back. Sigh. What happened? I stopped running. I stopped cooking. Really– that was all it took.

But now, I have motivation–A wedding (at some point)!! Stay tuned for my 2010 resolutions tomorrow or Saturday!

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On coming home…

Funny thing about me is, home is wherever I’m not. Or maybe, it is wherever I am?

I grew up about half an hour outside of Cleveland and moved to Columbus when I was 17 to attend school. I’ve lived here ever since, save for a summer internship in DC during law school. (Side note: I will always first type “lawschool” or “highschool” and have to see the red squiggly line to remember that those are two separate words. Every time).

Within the first few months of living here in Columbus, it was home. But still, so was Cleveland. On Fridays when someone asked me my plans I’d tell them I was headed home (meaning to Cleveland), and on Saturday when my grandma asked me how long I was staying I’d tell her I was going home (to Columbus) on Sunday. Even during my extremely fleeting time in DC, I recall coming home (to Cleveland) for a visit and remarking on the way to the airport that I wasn’t ready to go home (to DC) yet. Weird.

I drove home (to Columbus) tonight from spending Christmas at home (Cleveland). The traffic was terrible and so was the weather. It wasn’t snowing at all when I left but by thirty miles into the trip I could barely see a hundred yards in front of my car due to all of the snow. I just wanted to get “home” so badly and I realized that I really throw that word around. Long slow trips in bad weather give you time to think.

I wonder when, if ever, the transition will come in my mind where only Columbus is really home. It didn’t happen when my parents moved from the house I grew up in. It didn’t happen when I got a permanent job here and (finally, after six years) got a Columbus cell phone number. Now I’m buying a house and marrying a boy (man) whose job requires he stay in Columbus. This may be the first house I make a “home” (confession: I have lived in my current rental for 18 months and have not hung one photo or piece of artwork in my bedroom). Maybe this will finally flip that switch in my head. Or, maybe, everywhere is still home. And that’s okay too.

Photo Tutorial… why editing is important

Until Spring 2008, I was a die-hard film user. I thought digital photos were cheating… if you can’t get it right in a click you don’t deserve to have nice photos. Then I realized how much money i was wasting in film and how far digital cameras have come! Now I am digital-only and I’ve even given into editing. I still try to get a photo as perfect as possible SOOC (straight out of camera), but I think effects are fun.

Here is a fun (and SO fast) tutorial for macbook users. I do all of my editing right now in the free photo program iphoto. If you have a macbook and you don’t use iphoto effects, you are really missing out!! See what I can do with one photo in less than 60 seconds each.

Original:

It’s okay. I like the composition, I like the pose… but there is nothing special about it. Let’s crop a little (click edit, crop, and drag the box around the section you want to keep, then click “apply”)

Cropped:

Better. It is more centered and there is nothing in the photo except my subjects (who, by the way, are my brother and his fiance during the engagement shoot I did for them last month)

Now, let’s just make the photo pop a bit:

Edit > Effects > Boost Color > Edge blur, then Adjust > pull the exposure bar up just a tiny bit — that is it!! 30 seconds and the photo is so much better.

What if we want it to look antiquey and romantic:

(starting from original) Edit > Effects > Antique > Fade, then Adjust > pull up the exposure bar a tiny bit.

Or what if we want it to look REALLY old:

(starting from original) Edit > Effects > Sepia > Fade > Fade, then Adjust > pull up the exposure bar a tiny bit

One photo five ways in less than five minutes. Give it a try with your Christmas photos and see what you can come up with!

Why it’s worth it…

Finding a house was…. a whirlwind. It wasn’t hard, exactly, just crazy, busy, fast, and a little unsettling (to be making such a huge decision so fast!). The what-comes-after-finding-a-house has been a bit of a nightmare. There was the patio debacle. There was me having to lay the smack down on the financing chick (yet unblogged… but it will be after the holidays). Getting from contract to closing is a lot harder than I thought it would be, in all honesty.

But it is going to be so, sooo worth it. I went to see my (future) house again this weekend to take some measurements, and there are so many reasons I love it.

Vaulted great room with lots of windows

The fireplace with a mantel! (you can’t really see that it has a mantel because of the angle, but it does.)

The ginormous man-cave (this is really for B… but he’s so excited about it!)

The tub… how long its been since I took a bath!! I have a thing about sitting naked in a tub that anyone outside my family has owned… there just is no amount of bleach that makes it ok to me. I’m weird. Yay for a new tub!

The dark dark cabinets… I love dark wood

And the fact that it is GREEN… an actual color! Pretty much every other house we looked at was tan. My car is tan. My last car was tan. I need a little color in my life, immediately.

These are the photos that keep me cheerful about the whole process when I’m fighting with stupid people. I’ve just accepted that the month between contract and closing? Sucks a bit. And moving? Going to suck more. But once we are moved we are staying put for a LONG time and I love my new house!!

Snowballs: Oreo Truffles!

I still have lots more to say about house buying and venue searching and budget making… but it’s Christmas time and that means sweets! I got this awesome recipe from my hair stylist yesterday when I got my hair cut… although they sound a lot like a variation on Bakerella’s cake balls (which I tried to make for Easter and failed miserably at, by the way). Using what I learned the last time I tried to make something like this… the results turned out MUCH better this time (although still not as pretty as Bakerella… of course. Let’s get started.

First up… the ingredients. The best thing about this recipe (aside from the oreo-y goodness) is that it doesn’t require a ton of stuff, just three simple ingredients: Oreos, frosting, and almond bark.

My hair stylist told me she made hers with plain oreos and cream cheese. I LOVE mint though so I decided to go with mint oreos. Because I was using mint I thought cream cheese might clash and I used plain vanilla frosting (which is what Bakerella uses for her cake balls). It tastes great. Also– if you have a hard time finding the almond bark (which is just vanilla flavored candy coating) and think you can just use chocolate… don’t. I made that mistake when I tried to make the cake balls at easter and it was a NIGHTMARE. I couldn’t keep the chocolate hot enough to stay melty and cover the balls. It got all clumpy and hard. It made a ginormous mess. I have heard that some people are capable of pulling this off with chocolate and if you are– I’m impressed. But seriously, save yourself the trouble and use bark (it is in the baking section).

First things first, you need to turn the oreos into crumbs. Use a food processor or blender. It’s super important that the oreos are well crushed because if they’re not they’ll be all pokey and sharp when you try to roll them into balls.

I did a few oreos at a time and dumped them all into a big bowl.

Next up, dump a little more than half a can of vanilla frosting (or most of a block of cream cheese) into the bowl.

I started off trying to mix the crumbs and frosting with a spoon because I don’t love getting my hands dirty, but it worked a ton better when I gave up and just squished it all up by hand. (Note: because these will not be baked… it is ESPECIALLY important that you make sure your hands/utensils are super clean). You want to use enough frosting that the crumb mix will stick together, but not so much that the mix is too sticky.

Next up, roll the mix into balls. I started off making ones that were about an inch in diameter because I thought they were cute.

Try to avoid eating any of the oreo balls…. then fail and eat one.

After you get done doing 40 of the balls… realize it is taking you FOREVER and decide to finish the rest of the mix making bigger ones. (or maybe that’s just me)

Stick them in the freezer for an hour and wrap Christmas presents.

Now its time to coat the frozen oreo balls (they’re much harder when they’re frozen, so they’re easier to coat). I can’t believe how much easier this step was using the bark! I got a 1.5 lb package of bark and ended up using 10 of 12 squares.

Chop the bark up a bit so it will melt faster/easier.

Microwave the bark for 60 seconds. Stir. Then microwave it in 15 second intervals, stirring in between, until it is smooth and runny.

Take the oreo balls one at a time and drop in the melted bark.

Use a fork to make sure the whole ball gets covered.

Pick the ball up on a fork and tap it on the edge of the ball to get the extra bark off of the ball.

Scrape off the excess bark on the edge of the bowl.

And slide onto the cookie sheet

Now its time to try one. Soooooo good! (Excuse the fingernails… its been a stressful month and I’m a closet nail biter! eek!)

One great thing about the bark is that it dries super quick and I was able to make a pile o’ snowballs!

Also.. a note: If a package says not to use food coloring that is water based?

Believe it! It turned into a hardened pile of goo. I thought it would be really cute to make the leftover bark red and do a drizzle across the top of the oreo balls. Unfortunately I didn’t believe the packaging and thought a few drops of red food coloring wouldn’t matter. I was wrong.

So there ya have it! Three ingredients, no baking, super yummy mint oreo truffles that look like snowballs!

Ingredients:
1 package oreos (any flavor)
1 can frosting (use about 2/3) or block of cream cheese (use 4/5 of the block)
1 package almond bark (I used 5/6 of a 1.5 lb package)

Directions:
1) Crush oreos into a fine crumb
2) Mix crushed oreos with frosting or cream cheese
3) Form mix into balls and place on wax paper
4) Freeze for at least an hour
5) Chop up almond bark and place in microwave safe bowl
6) Microwave for 1 minute. Stir, then 15 second intervals until smooth
7) Cover balls in bark and place on cookie sheet
8 ) Attempt to not eat all of the snowballs yourself before you get them to your family and friends.

Step 8 may be the most difficult… 🙂

In which I wish I was a famous blogger… (or: the patio debacle)

Oh good lord… its been a DAY.

When we went in to sign the papers yesterday… I did something that shocked everyone in the room (except B)… I actually wanted to read ALL of the words on the pages that I was signing. I know, weird huh? Sure it took a bit longer… but honestly this is a purchase that will affect the rest of our lives so I think it was worth the extra hour of reading. Especially because I found a mistake.

After all of the haggling back and forth, we had a deal. Or so I thought. Let’s take a trip back to Friday… I’ll spare you the full text of each email but here is essentially what happened with all necessary terms in quotes.

1pm: Realtor faxes to Sales Rep an offer “xxx,xxx to include 10×16 stamped concrete patio”

3pm: Sales Rep to Realtor “no can do, we DO NOT NEGOTIATE on spec homes. We can do “the patio” but it would have to be at your cost”

3:30pm: Sales Rep to Realtor “btw, we can’t hold the house without $500, so if you want it held this weekend we need a check by 5:30pm”

4:30pm: Me to Sales Rep “we’ll pay the asking price if you throw in “the patio” for free”

5:05pm: Sales Rep to Me “it took some doing, but I got you “the concrete patio” for free if you can get the check here by 5:30pm”

5:06pm: Me to Sales Rep “on my way!!”

Easy enough… yes? Guess not. When we were going through the papers, the options sheet listed the addition of a 10×16 PLAIN concrete patio (rather than the stamped that we had asked for). I pointed out this oversight and the sales rep claimed that we had not agreed to the stamped concrete, but rather to plain concrete. After some checking of email and talking to staff the problem was discovered: sales rep was actually out of the office on Friday and her assistant had received and conveyed the offer to the sales rep and she had mistakenly told the sales rep that we wanted plain concrete. Their mistake. Not ours. I refused to sign the papers and the sales rep said that she couldn’t agree to do the stamped concrete without manager approval which she couldnt get until Monday.

We decided to reprint the options page as we had agreed to it (I believe) with the stamped concrete and I signed that. The sales rep said she would “try” to talk her boss into it the following day and email me the copy executed by both parties.

Then all hell broke loose. At 11am today I get an email from sales rep: we cannot do stamped concrete for you for free… and in fact we really can’t do ANY patio for you. Hows about we give you $1000 off the home price.

Um… no. 1) a stamped concrete patio is worth $2400 and 2) 1000 off my mortgage is not 1000 in my pocket towards a new patio.

We went around and around. I believe they agreed to a stamped concrete patio and if M/I’s sales agent made a mistake (especially one in which the price difference is less than $2000), M/I should really honor their commitment. 50+ (no really… it took that many) emails later B and I were just done. They were not budging and I had a headache… we needed to get this DONE. So… we very begrudgingly agreed to take $1,000 off of our prepaids and come in to sign a new options page.

The bottom line is: I’m pissed. At best it was an honest mistake of a sales agent resulting in miscommunication between employees; at worst it was bait and switch. Either way– M/I should stand by their commitments. This hard line “we don’t negotiate” stuff is bullshit. It’s a house, of course it is negotiable. The most frustrating thing is that they have us over a barrel… they know we love the house, they know that we’re not going to walk away from it over one or two thousand dollars, and they have no incentive really to stand by their word. Times like this I wish I the power of Dooce.

The “easier” search: pt. 4 (The exciting conclusion!)

Yesterday we put an offer in on the house. We heard from my parents and also from our realtor that even on new build/inventory homes… there is generally room for negotiation. We offered 10K less than the asking price and asked them to add a stamped concrete patio to the back of the house.

At around 4pm I received an email back from the sales agent telling me, essentially, that M/I does not negotiate on the prices of their homes because they are already priced to move. She said their asking price was their final offer and they would put on a patio– at our cost. I was also told that until we put a deposit on the house it was still on the market and she suggested I get a deposit in last night before her assistant went home– at 5:30. Now… I will agree that the asking price was already pretty fantastic, but come ON. I thought they should have moved a little bit as a sign of good faith to get the deal done.

After a flurry of calls between me, B, and our realtor… we decided that they really weren’t playing ball and that we really did think the house was priced well to start. So I replied to her email: We’ll pay asking price if you put in a patio at no cost… answer in the next 45 minutes and i’ll have time to get the deposit in and get this done TONIGHT.

It was a loooooong 45 minutes!! I was headed out to get dinner with friends and was planning on dropping the deposit on the way. I’d put on my eyeshadow… check my email. Brush my hair… check my email. Pick a shirt… check my email. You get the idea. It was finally the 0 hour and I checked my email ONE more time before I walked out the door… and… there it was!! A YES. I might have actually screamed.

I made sure I had my checkbook and I raced out the door. I was late dropping the deposit off and late to dinner… but I got the deposit in!! We are signing the papers on Sunday… but the house is OURS!!!

This has been a fast and furious few weeks. On Sunday when we sign the papers it will be exactly 3 weeks from the first time we saw a house. The crazy part is… when I wrote part 1 the house we’d “decided” on wasn’t the house we ended up buying! I guess its a good thing we bought before we had time to change our minds again. Honestly I’m surprised it happened this fast but I think we had a few things working for us. We knew exactly what we wanted, where we wanted, and how much we wanted to pay. More importantly… we were realistic about what was in our price range and what wasn’t. We knew this wasn’t going to be our “dream” home that was perfect in every way. This is our first home and we LOVE it.