Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King (Spoilers Ahead!)

Since college, one of my best friends has been attempting to get me to read The Dark Tower series. Late in 2016, I started requested them from the library and here's my take on the individual books after having read them for the first time. I have a feeling that this is the sort of series that you should read multiple times to really understand completely.  I didn't know that there was a movie based on the series coming out when I started, so that was just fortuitous timing.

The Gunslinger -  I started this in November of 2016 and it took me WEEKS to read it. It does a great job of scene setting and you could really feel the expanse of the world and the simultaneous closeness and claustrophobia of it. But it also goes back and forth in time, back in forth in location, apparently alluding to and foreshadowing events in future novels, but it was truly maddening to read it because I had no idea what was going on or what was important. Also, this is when I learned why people criticize King for his use of adverbs - he never met one he didn't like, that's for sure.

The Drawing of the Three - This book was amazing! The edition I borrowed from the library had an introduction written by King in it that summarized the first book and focused my attention on the main points of the first book.  And then there was an amazing and shocking first scene and the action and tension just kept rising from there. This one was a page turner and I found myself desperately trying to find five minutes here and there to read it.

The Waste Lands - I wanted to like this book, I really did, but I just didn't. I kept falling asleep to King's interminable descriptions.  I'll call it an educational experience, though, because I kept having to look things up (Hohner is a German company specializing in harmonicas, for the record).  Words I looked up: coruscating, exordium, skylarking, jade as in a "saucy jade," and drogue.  I also looked up the novel The Bridge of San Luis and the author Richard Adams. 

Wizard and Glass - I wanted to like this book, too. I think I will like this book if I ever read this series again. I imagine there's lots of foreshadowing and important details that will be important later on.  I'm positive that's the case. But as a first time reader, I just wanted to scream in frustration with every passing moment.  The book is essentially a flashback (I'm sure it's an important flashback!), but I just could not force myself to care about it.  But I acknowledge that I'm probably wrong and may someday come back and love this book.  (No. I'm never rereading this.)

The Wind Through the Keyhole - It took approximately six weeks for me to get a copy of this book from our library and when I got it, the pages reeked of cigarette smoke, so I just bought it on my Kindle for $8.99.  It was actually kind of nice because a number of the proper nouns in the book were actually defined within the Dark Tower world if you clicked on them for more information.  Anyway.  This book is sort of a stand alone flashback/story within a story within a story kind of thing and I really liked it. I'll credit King with some solid storytelling because I always knew where we were in the nesting dolls of stories.  As I write this, not having finished the series yet (May 2017), I'm not sure WHY I read this, in terms of the larger narrative, but I'm hoping there's some payoff at the end.

Wolves of the Calla - Things are finally starting to come together in this book.   I honestly still don't know what's happening in the overall story,  but some of the foreshadowing from earlier books is starting to pay off,  the characters' relationships are developing into more than folks sitting around telling tales by the campfire,  and there was an actual plot to this one.  Once I actually started to read this 700 page tome, it didn't take long to get into it. It's possible I stayed up late a couple of nights for just one more chapter. I'm quite excited to read the next one.  The mashing of genres here between sci-fi, western, horror, and fantasy is delightful and well done.  Thumbs up, King.

Song of Susannah - WTF did I just read? Stephen King is an egomaniacal piece of lint.   This stupidly slow novel of how Susannah/Mia is going to give birth to a demon child is over 400 pages and the actual birth is one freaking sentence and yet we get endless pages about King himself and his writing block. I No, no, no.  He lost his outline? He can't go on anymore? Well, welcome to how I feel about this stupid series. Ugh. One more to go. It better pay off or I'm going to sing from the roof  about how very overrated this entire series is.

The Dark Tower - I thought this book was okayish.  I mean, I liked the ending. The idea that reaching the Tower is his goal and once he gets there, he has to start all over again seems like a pretty good metaphor for life in that every time you get to a major goal in your life, there's something else out there to reach.  I don't mind that. Life is for the living and living is in the journey, not the destination. I do not mind the ending. I minded so many other things, particularly Stephen King's authorial voice and Stephen King as an actual character. It just reeked of lazy writing (why is that turtle scrimshaw used? because King put it there!); it seemed almost as if he couldn't come up with in-world reasons for things to happen, so he'd just randomly make it all about how the author's sober now. Stephen King thinks highly of himself, but I do not feel kindly towards him, if I'm honest.
So, here's my take on the series overall:

I finished this mid-August of 2017, so the whole series took ten months to finish.

I basically think of the triad of good storytelling as character, plot, and setting.  King does setting very, very well. I really feel like this mashup of genres is brilliant. I can picture Mid-World in my head and, while I don't want to visit there, it sounds like it would be a compelling place. I have images of Lud in my head and I think about those images frequently.   His plot is okay, although I must admit to wanting more signposts along the way. At one several points, I honestly didn't know why were going where we were going, but I just sort of went with it. King's characters are one-dimensional and mostly* forgettable.  (I actually think the Harry Potter series suffers from similar thoughts, so I'm not just criticizing King for this. Also, I can barely write a coherent sentence, so King and Rowling can go tell me, quite fairly on their parts, to shove it.)

So I didn't love this. I think it has promise, but I think the last two books were terrible for the most part and the rest of the series was dreadfully inconsistent in terms of writing and holding my interest. I think the whole story could probably be edited down to 1000 pages in total. I don't think I'll be recommending this books to anyone I know, but I'm glad I can check them off my bucket list.

I repeatedly wrote in my book by book reviews that I think this series would benefit from some rereading, but I will guarantee you that I will not revisit these books. But I do think that if I read these again, I bet those earlier books would mean so much more to me than they currently do.  So, if you want a rambling epic, this could be for you, but I make no guarantees. 

Now the question remains. Do I go see the movie that is getting such terrible reviews

*There are some exceptions. Oy, I'm talking to you, buddy.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Buying Our House, Part IV: Closing Happened, I Promise

Parts I, II, and III, if you're interested.

Last we left, the bank was off underwriting our loan, which I guess was just the bank checking to make sure we didn't lie about stuff or that our financial situation hadn't drastically changed since we were pre-approved? I don't know. It went through with no problem, so if you're having trouble getting your underwriting approved, I don't know what to do with that. Nine days before closing we received notice from our lender that underwriting had gone through.

At this point, we were pretty well done. We had a couple of electrical and plumbing items that we had requested the sellers fix after our home inspection. We had some difficulties in communicating with the sellers about what they were actually supposed to do, but eventually it all got sorted out.  We received copies of receipts as "proof" that the work was finished.

Two days before closing, on a Wednesday (again, how do 9 to 5 workers do this kind of stuff?) we did a final walk-through of the house with our realtor.  This was kind of tricky to do because the owners still had a lot of stuff in the house so it was kind of hard to see if things had been fixed as requested. As a matter of fact, the sellers had a huge piece of furniture blocking an electrical outlet that wasn't to code and it had been blocking there during the inspection, too, so it wasn't until we moved in that we realized we'd have to have the electrician* back to fix that outlet, among other things.  It was a tense time, but we tried to just go with the flow. It did not help matters that my mother-in-law was still quite ill and we really didn't want to be dealing with this stuff, but there we were, dealing with it.

Then we had to wire the remaining part of our closing costs to the title company and that was a bit of a hassle. The teller at the credit union didn't know what she was doing and neither did we, so that was a bit nerve-wracking, imagining all our hard earned money going to the wrong place, but it was eventually done and I called the title company every six hours until I was assured it had arrived. Our closing costs were $41,980.97, but don't forget that we had already paid $10,000 in earnest money, so we had wired just over $30,000.

The title company was located in a gorgeous space that used to be a church. Capitalism = religion.
Friday afternoon we drove to the title company and signed a fair number of documents, many of which we had already esigned.  They also told us a few things about how to pay the mortgage and things like that. Then we went into a room with the sellers (this was the first time we'd ever met them!) and signed a few more documents and then they gave us the keys! They also told us a few things about the house. The woman began crying when she talked about the birds** in the yard.  I was sad for her, but really was too excited to really feel too badly about this.
After an awkward parting, our realtor*** gave us a thank you note with an Amazon gift card**** and we went to our new house!
Next time, I'll do a brief rundown of everything we did in the two weeks in between when we had the keys and when we actually moved in. That will finish up this series before I segue into NOW THAT WE'VE MOVED IN THERE'S A BAT IN THE ATTIC series. 

*Our house is older, so the electrical system is from four different periods. The outlets themselves are mostly two-prong. The owners originally had a bunch of ungrounded three-prong outlets that weren't to code. The owners basically just reverted them all to two-prong. We then hired that same electrician to undo all the new two-prong and make them GFIs (Ground Fault Interrupter) because we couldn't have zero three-prong outlets in the room with our entertainment center. Anyway.

**I later learned through a woman in my book club that the seller is actually one of the most prolific taggers of hummingbirds in the state. I thought she was upset about leaving the HOUSE, but she was actually upset about leaving the BIRDS. She was right to be upset, too, because we immediately took down the hummingbird feeders because it is not my goal in life to have to clean those things out daily.

***She showed us TWO houses and other than a tiny bit of negotiation with the low appraisal, this deal was fairly easy. I bet she thinks of us as one of her easiest commissions ever.

****We used it to buy a lawn mower.

Friday, August 18, 2017

2017 CSA Week 11: Celery?

This week is going to be a tough one. 

Sweet onion
Summer squash (1 zucchini; 2 patty pan)
Cucumber (2)
Tomatoes (6)
Rainbow chard

Last week we managed to use a lot of the herbs by making a mediocre chicken dish in our Instant Pot (and I will detail why I hate the Instant Pot in a post in the near future - I do not recommend you get one), but I'm pretty much stumped about this week's basket.

The carrots and cucumbers I will eat with lunch. Maybe some of those tomatoes, too.  I want to make zucchini bread and I think I'll call dibs on that zuke for that. The lettuce is up to Dr. BB. We'll make an egg dish with the chard. And then I'm out.

We still have onions in the fridge from other weeks. Celery is disgusting. It's also the first time our farmers have grown it and I'm definitely making a note to tell them in the end of year survey that if we never get celery again it will be completely fine with me.  We got papicha earlier this year and never used it, so I don't know how that's going to change. 
I don't know. I think I'm just sort of giving up on the CSA this year. I'm no good at vegetable using, I guess.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Things I Love: LL Bean Blueberry Lip Balm

Last summer I was randomly at an LL Bean with my mother and sister. Because I have an addiction to lip balm, I made an impulse buy of a couple of tubes at the register. I don't actually think the lip balm works that well - if I'm being honest, my lips might feel a tiny bit dryer after I apply it - but it is delicious. I don't know that I've ever seen blueberry lip balm before and I adore the way it smells and tastes. I keep it my bag that is associated with my part-time job and when that bag is with me, I must apply it at least one every hour.  It's great.
So if you want to know what I'm going to be doing today, you should know that it's sniffing this lip balm and sweeping the floors. Let's call my life sooooo exciting.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Buying Our House, Part III: An Offer Doesn't Mean You're Done

Part I and Part II here.

So when we last left off, we had made a formal offer. The house was on the market for $235,000. We offered $205,000. The sellers countered with $215,000. We counter-offered with $210,000 and within two hours, they had accepted. We set a 60 day closing  period (30 - 60 days is pretty normal and we wanted a long closing because Dr. BB's mom was ill during all of this and we thought longer was better - you do what works for you).  All of the communication was being done through the realtors, so Dr. BB and I were anxiously sitting with our phones waiting for texts from our realtor during this process.  Yay!

I naively thought that we were done. Little did I know that there were still plenty of steps left in the home buying process during which the deal could fall through.

Earnest Money
First up, we had to pay "earnest money." That is basically money held by the title company during the deal itself.  It basically tells the sellers that the buyers are serious about the contract - that we, as buyers, weren't going to keep looking around for a better deal during the time that the contract was being finalized. If the deal does go through, earnest money is used to cover down payment and closing costs.  If the deal falls through, if it's not the buyer's fault, the buyer still gets their money back in full. We had 72 hours (or something like that) to get $10,000 to the title company for earnest money after we signed the $210,000 offer.

Then, there was a concern that despite the pre-approval, the bank could deny us financing. Our credit union required very little from us, but here is the list.

1) We had to complete a form called the "Escrow Option Form" that basically said we'd escrow taxes and insurance.  Escrow is basically a separate account that a little bit from your mortgage payment goes to each month to cover homeowners insurance and property taxes. I am not sure if you are legally allowed to buy land with a loan in the United States without escrow.  We esigned this form. With the exception of the very first formal offer on the house we made sitting around a table, everything we did was esigned.  Very convenient.

2) Copy of our most recent paystubs

3) Copy of our previous years W2s

4) A copy of our homeowners insurance and paid receipt for a full year

5) A copy of home inspection report

The first three were easy, but the last two items required more work on our part.

Homeowners Insurance
We needed to provide proof of insurance roughly three weeks before closing. We looked at a bunch of places and filled out various online forms (that took FOREVER) to get quotes.  I'm looking back at my records and it looks like we looked at State Farm (because it had been our current renters and automobile insurance carrier at the time), Prudential (through Navy Federal Credit Union because it was recommended to us), and a local independent agency in the town we were buying. The local agency was literally half the price and it gets comparable Yelp reviews, so we went ahead and did this.  This "research" process for homeowners insurance was probably the most time intensive part of the entire home buying process, I kid you not. If we had looked at more homes, maybe I couldn't say this, but we faffed about with insurance companies for a long time.  Be prepared.

We also switched our auto insurance at the time same time, but that's a separate post.

There was a slight problem when I had to do the final purchasing of the insurance without Dr. BB because he had to go back to Iowa (sick mom), but the insurance guy was able to esign for Dr. BB, so yay!  I had to write a check for the full amount of insurance (that gets tucked away in escrow). It was $505 for the year.

Inspection Report
Inspectors were crazy busy during the time we needed one!  I used one recommended by our realtor (turns out I probably should not have done this and used one I found independently, but I didn't know that at the time, so feel free to lecture me in the comments) and he was really the only one who could do it in a timely manner.  It cost $375 for his standard rate for a home our size, plus we paid $125 for a radon test because, well, I guess people do radon tests?  Anyway, we met the inspector and our realtor at the house one morning (during the week - I don't know how people with 9 to 5 jobs do all this) and it took us about three or three and a half hours to do the inspection. It was interesting and I learned a lot (including that there is indeed knob and tube* wiring in our house and that vermiculite insulation might make finishing our attic a challenge). The inspector took a bunch of photos during the inspection and put it all into an electronic report that we were then able to send to the bank.

The inspector actually did note some things that weren't up to code in the electric and plumbing work and essentially we stipulated that those things had to be fixed before we would close.  The sellers agreed to this.

Meanwhile, What's the Bank Doing?
While of this is going on, we're getting stuff to esign for the bank. Most of it is literally the same documents over and over again with slight changes. These forms are a loan estimate (there was an error once that we caught, so we did look at it fairly carefully), acknowledgement of loan estimate (lol), interest rate agreement, and escrow agreement. Over and over. By looking over my emails, I estimate we signed these things 10 - 12 times.

So I guess they're getting all this stuff organized, checking our credit, and all that. They're also getting the house appraised.

Lenders use third-parties to obtain unbiased estimate of the true (or fair market) value of what a home is worth.  Appraisers use all kinds of things to determine this estimate, including using comparable properties, information on the housing market, and the condition of the property. All lenders order an appraisal during the mortgage loan process so that there is an objective way to assess the home's market value and ensure that the amount of money requested by the borrower is appropriate.

The appraisal for our house came in at $205,000, which was $5000 less than our price (and, incidentally, our starting offer).  While I panicked a bit, our realtor was excited for us. Good news!  The sellers will have to come down to the appraised price.  And, after some haggling (at one point, I literally asked our realtor if the sellers were going to walk over $5000), they did come down to the appraised price.  Yes, I think the house is worth more than that. Yes, I think that the appraisers used some ridiculous comps of shitty modern construction in less desirable neighborhoods.  Yes, I feel kind of bad for the sellers. No, I am not sad at all that we paid less than we thought we were going to.

So once we got all this to the bank, the appraisal was done, we esigned one more document locking our interest rate in place, and our loan went to underwriting, a process I don't really understand, and then we waited. 

I know I said this was going to be a three-part series, but I lied! I think there are two more installments left. Come back next week for more rambling.  I swear that this will someday be useful to someone buying a house for the first time.  

*There are A LOT of horror stories online about how getting houses with knob and tube wiring insured is hard. I mentioned it to our insurance agent and he shrugged.  "It's been there for a hundred years without a fire. Can't imagine it's going to be a problem." 

Friday, August 11, 2017

2017 CSA Week 10: Halfway Through the Season

This week's basket is going to be a challenge, but we shall persevere. 

Aji hot peppers (2)
Slicer tomatoes
Green Kale
Dragon's tongue beans

I don't know. We had some lettuce on tacos tonight. Dr. BB is making a pinto bean kale soup and he'll use some of the kale in that. Maybe he'll use one of those peppers, but we already bought a jalapeno for that soup, so I doubt it. I'll eat the tomatoes raw. Those stupid beans are a problem - I don't really care for them and neither does Dr. BB. I've been eating them raw, but that A LOT of beans when you don't really love them.

I think I'll make a salsa verde with the tomatillos because I honestly don't know what else one does with tomatillos. 

The garlic will get added to the pile of garlic we cannot use.  The next person who visits our house will get loaded down with garlic and onions from our CSA because we just can't use them.

The parsley, sage, and peppers are quite problematic. If I'm being honest, they'll probably end up in the compost. But.  Maybe I'll attempt to dry the herbs.  That would be fun. I did end up using the basil from last week in a pesto (which was kind of gross, but I tried!). 

Not the best basket we've ever had, but forward march.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me, Sonicare?

I have a well documented dental regime. About five years ago, Dr. BB and I purchased a Philips Sonicare electric toothbrush on the recommendation of our dentist and it was a glorious thing. Seriously.  I loved that thing. 

We got the fanciest toothbrush because he and I have different dental needs. I need a setting especially for gum care and he needs...something else that is actually pretty standard on most electric toothbrushes, so really it's MY issue that forces us up into the luxury model of electric toothbrushes. ANYWAY. 

There are a few things to note.  First, the toothbrush heads are neatly stored. Second, there are TWO buttons (one for power, one to select the setting).
This is the traveling case. Note how the toothbrush heads are beautifully stored with their plastic caps.  (Mine is five years old and I definitely cleaned it after I saw how it gross it was in this photo.)

But we recently discovered that our precious beloved toothbrush was losing power. It had put in five years of good service, so we bought the newer version of the same toothbrush

And it gives me the sads. Why? Why did it LOSE functionality in the redesign?
The thing that bothers me the absolute most is how the toothbrush heads just sort of hang out in the cup.  I That is not neat and organized. I think this was probably designed with the idea that only one person would use the toothbrush and you could just store the toothbrush with the head on it, but we share this toothbrush. You'll also notice that this only has one button. It is both the power button and the way to choose the setting, but I can't figure out how to change the setting, so if it's on Dr. BB's setting, I just use that one. It totally defeats the purpose of why we got this and I want my second button back.
But who in the hell designed this travel case?!  The heads don't even fit in there!! Yes, you can fit them in there if you take the plastic caps off, but who does that?  You're going to get toothpaste and bacteria from your toothbrush head in your travel case! If you get a head that isn't one of the standard heads shown, it won't fit in the case EVEN WITH THE PLASTIC CAP off.  Yes, caps lock. This is how upset I am about this redesign.  This is...ridiculous. 

There are a couple of things I do like about the redesign. I like that the rubber is gone because our rubber was starting to peel back on the old toothbrush. I like that the travel case closes magnetically instead of with a plastic clasp; again, after five years of hard labor, our the clasp on the old case is no longer functional. 

But seriously? We purchased a $170 toothbrush that doesn't make me happy in every single way? That's not acceptable to me.
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