Thursday, June 26, 2008

An Open Letter to Real Estate Agents

Dear Real Estate Agents (Sir or Madam),

My husband and I recently bought a home. We looked at a dozen or so homes before making our decision. During the course of our search, I learned what it means to "stage a house" when trying to sell it. I had a range of reactions to different staged houses from "Oh, these people have a wine rack and drink Merlot. Would I drink Merlot if I lived in this house? I hope not. Red wine makes me sleepy" to "These people have no pictures on the walls and only two blue suits in the closet. This is really creepy. Would I only wear blue suits if I lived in this house?"

In fact, the house we ended up buying was entirely empty save the foam pillow-type-thing on one of the built in beds, a few random unused (as far as we know) lightbulbs, and this pin.

The second floor of the house was bought was only partially finished. When I say partially finished I mean there was some carpet thrown over two layers of linoleum, some drywall slopshoddily put up and painted what can only be described as the color a lilac bush might vomit if it vomited in technicolor, and a mass of electrical wires left to form a nest in the crawlspace. This is not to mention the built-in beds (of which there were two).

Needless to say, the decision to buy this house required the use of a very vivid and confident imagination. My husband and I had to imagine away all of the unwanted walls, the gross carpet, the tangle of wires. We had to imagine our way through months of blood, sweat, tears, and depleted bank accounts. We had to imagine a beautiful master suite and cozy second floor sitting area where my husband can study and I can write.

In fact, you, Mr or Ms Real Estate Agent, you were counting on a buyer like us to come along and imagine ourselves into this house. You, Mr or Ms Real Estate Agent, often count on having a buyer come along who's willing to see past the flaws and shortcomings and is willing and even hoping to buy a home where they can put their own elbow grease and vision.

Why on earth then, Sir or Madam, do you, when getting the house ready for sale, suggest to your client that all their house needs to see is just a "fresh coat of paint?"

Sure, you also advised them to pull up the carpet on the first floor and have the floors redone and we appreciate that. We might not have bought the house had we not known what condition the wood floors were in and re-doing floors is a serious investment of time and money.

The problem is that when you suggested that the owners just throw on a fresh coat of paint, that's exactly what they did. They went out and bought the cheapest thing they could find: giant barrels of white-out. They painted before they pulled up the carpet, meaning that all along the trim there are little flecks of carpet fuzz stuck in the paint. They painted high traffic friction areas like kitchen cabinets with the same cheap stuff so that now it peels off in giant swaths. They did such a haphazard job that now portions of our beautiful wood trim have drops of paint or even entire paintbrush marks on them. They did not sand. They did not strip. I do not think they even primed. They did not paint a second coat.

We're getting rid of or painting over most of it.

All the while, when we're picking carpet lint out of paint, when we're sanding off old cheap painting, when we're painstakingly removing the paint drips, we're cursing you, Mr or Ms Real Estate Agent. We're imagining all the things we hope go horribly wrong with your next home purchase. We're imagining you being attacked my a nest of hornets or, better yet, a nest of electrical wires. We're imagining you getting a technicolor stomach virus that makes you vomit lilac.

And we have pretty good imaginations.


PS Thank you for leaving these scenic vistas. They bring Glacier National Park right into our basement and allow us to give our overactive imaginations a break.

A Open Letter to Barack Obama

Dear Mr. Barack Obama,

Please return my husband's Swiss Army knife. I'm not sure what you wanted with such a tiny little knife (I don't think it even has a bottle opener on it), but one of your security thugs confiscated it on our way into your recent Xcel Energy Center event. Even the TSA does not confiscate it because they know that even tubes of toothpaste more than 3 oz do much more damage on an airplane. (Fresh breath means more mile high club action.) Mr. Obama, we have already willingly donated to your campaign and my husband has had many hangnails to cut and packages to open. Please contact me for an address where you can send said Swiss Army knife.



Monday, June 23, 2008

An Open Letter to The Current

Dear The Current,

Initially I thought that our differences could be resolved in a private manner. I sent you a personal note via your "web form", but as I have yet to receive a response and you clearly have not changed your ways, I have no option but to bring this out onto the "playground." By playground, I mean this blog where, I have no doubt, both of my readers will support me.

For some time now I have been listening, somewhat sporadically, to The Current. More recently, my husband and I have been working on our house and we've repeatedly turned to you, The Current, for entertainment and distraction during our drudgery. Because we have not yet set up an appropriate sound system, my circa 1994 boombox has been pulled out, dusted off, and digitally locked on 98.3. We have been grateful, The Current, for the beats, rhythms, and rhymes that you have provided while we work. Where else can you reasonably find The Police, Public Enemy, Gomez, and Mazzy Star all assembled in the same set? Where else can you find new artists next to the classics that inspired them? We have been even started to consider the possibility of one day maybe (possibly) donating to this listener sponsored radio station.

In the recent weeks, The Current, you have disappointed us. Time and again, when we turn you on in the evenings, we consistently hear two songs, often one right after the other, that makes us want to grab the closest screwdriver and plunge it in our our ears, puncturing our eardrums and freeing us from the auditory tyranny of these songs, which you have clearly decided ought to be the anthems for summer '08. I wish I were talking about Atmosphere's "Guarantees," but your three week period of incessantly playing that song has passed. I speak, of course, of two songs that might as well be by the same artists (and my husband and I were shocked to find that they weren't): The Cure's "The Only One" and The Black Kids "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend to Dance Like Me." Sure The Cure was fun when we were in middle school and high school and even into college when we were young and emotional and hormonal, but there are few songs that one can listen to day after day and "The Only One" is not one. "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend to Dance Like Me" even less so.

When these two songs come on, my husband and I look at each other and considering puking in our mouths just a little bit before we remember that puking a little bit in your mouth is totally '02. We also consider changing the station but our hands are often covered in paint or plaster. We debate just kicking in the speakers, but my radio was a 16th birthday gift, which means that it has both sentimental and potential ebay resale value.

Please, The Current, for the love of God and all that is musical, please resist the urge to play these two songs evening after evening. My eardrums, and vintage boombox, will be better for it.

Your sometimes loyal listener,

Friday, June 13, 2008

How to get angry like a lady.

Painting the walls in our house without music, conversation, or some other form of entertainment is about as fun as, well, painting walls. We keep The Current cranked on, but even they start to get a little repetitive and there's only so much Portishead, The Cure, and, yes, even Gnarls Barkley a person can take before it's time to crank up the podcasts. I've pretty much listened to almost every "This American Life" episode, so I've increasingly turned to WNYC's "Radio Lab" to entertain me while painting and to provide me with conversation points at later social events. For those who have never listened to "Radio Lab" -- it's a really great show where they explore one topic (like in This American Life -- although often more abstract at the same time as being more scientific or research-based.) The sound editing is amazing -- it's fast and musical and imaginative. It takes a few episodes to get used to, but it's great once you are.

A recent "Radio Lab" I was listening to was about the mind-body connection. In addition to a fascinating story about this guy who lacks proprioception (basically his brain can tell his body what to do, but his body doesn't communicate back to the brain; there are about six or seven people in the world who lack this sense), there was a story about how men and women argue differently. Basically, when we get upset at someone for, say, leaving the toilet seat up (and argument that fortunately, never happens in our house -- seriously), our body starts to tense up and our heart beats faster before our brains even process what we're upset about. Meaning that anger is a physical experience before it is a mental one. When anger passes, our bodies relax, our heart slows back down, and then our brains say, "it's OK" and we apologize. The thing is that this calming down process happens faster in men than it does in women. Ergo, women will sometimes keep an argument going for longer than a man will. Women will sometimes linger on an issue that the man feels is settled. Her body is still telling her that she's angry while the man's body tells him the moment has passed.

This show made me think of two things. First, sorry, Eric, for all the times I've dragged out an argument when you've clearly moved on -- like that one time that I sat through an entire, funny movie (The Darjeeling Limited) not laughing because I was still mad at you for some infraction that I can't even remember now. It was not my fault. It was my autonomic nervous system.

Second, "Radio Lab" seemed to have missed part of the bigger discussion about how men and women get angry and argue. They seemed happy to leave it at "this explains the stereotype of why women dwell on and revisit old arguments." If we just wait it out, the story seemed to suggest, our anger would pass and we'd all be on our way. But certainly even if anger is a physical response before it's a mental one (and therefore seemingly void of logic), doesn't it have some (evolutionary or otherwise) purpose? Like, for example, maybe anger is a motivation to change the world around us -- or at least the thing that triggered the anger in the first place? Is anger just a way to point out to our minds, "Hey, something here isn't working as well or as efficiently or productively as it could. Do something about it. Make him put the toilet seat down." (All right, I'm playing into the stereotype with that last sentence.) Doesn't that mean that women are more effective agents of change? I'm joking... but not really.

Radio Lab, I'm a little bugged with you and I will likely stay that way for a few days even though you are clearly over it.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Also, one more treasury

My small bag with cherries was featured in a treasury! Shout out to Two Left Hands for including it.

Brioche Craving Sated!

Every so often, especially on the weekends, I crave a light, delicious, buttery brioche. Time and again I have tried to find me a bakery nearby that has flaky brioche in single servings. Time and again, my craving has gone unsated.

At last, at long, long last, a purveyor of the French manna has opened shop. Michelle Gayer of Franklin Street Bakery fame (and Charlie Trotters in Chicago, which apparently means something BIG to some people), has opened The Salty Tart, her own bakery in the Midtown Global Market. We were dropping by to grab some lunch and had to stop by the new place. She had a kick-ass array of sweets and savories, including the beloved brioche. I tried a savory one with some olives, a little tomato, and some hard cheese on top (asiago, perhaps?). I almost cried when one of the large slivers of cheese fell on the floor when I pulled it out of the bag. Still, it was a lovely, airy, flaky brioche.

I can't wait to try more of her treats. I will weigh 300 pounds by the end of the month. It will not be pretty, but I will sate my brioche craving.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Don't Lick the Walls: Lead Paint Freak Out

A few posts back, Eric and I were sort of paralyzed by the realisation that our house might have quite a bit of lead paint. We knew it would have some -- as most homes built before 1973 do -- but we were afraid that the lead paint in our house stood between us and completing the painting and other projects that we want to do in the next few weeks before the contractors get in there.

After furiously searching the internets (which was predictably full of half-truths and misinformation), we found a program that Hennepin County offers to help with lead abatement. We started to get the gears in motion to apply for the program and tried to figure out what we were going to do about our projects in the meantime. We decided that our wallpaper removal could continue because we were doing it wet, which would keep any lead dust down and because it was the wallpaper, not the paint, that we were disturbing. We took precautions -- covered our vents, changed and washed our clothes and showered immediately after doing the work, and cleaned up using trisodium phosphate (lab nerd Eric was ALL over that) and a shop vac with a HEPA filter.

The first phase of the lead program was some initial dust testing. Two women from the Sustainable Resources Center did the testing and advised us on how to clean around the windows, the likely source of most of the lead paint in our house. Then we waited for the results.

A week later a phone call and a letter indicated that our window sills and wells were off the charts. There was some (although not as high) lead on the floors of the entryway and the hallway where my sister and I had just removed wallpaper. Ugh. Using a home stick test, Eric and I tested the front hallway wall where we had just removed wallpaper. Pink to red means positive to varying degrees. The stick and testing fluid were so instantly red, it was like our walls were bleeding. Bleeding with lead. If we were paralyzed before, we were turned to stone now.

I called the Department of Health and explained our timing predicament. The lead lady there (and the reason I will never bad-mouth Hennepin County and the Health Department) tried to get our process speeded up. When that didn't work out, she dropped by herself with this crazy gun-like lead tester. She spot tested the walls we were worried about. Praise God and the Department of Health, the walls we wanted to work on were mostly negative. Our positive dust readings are likely from the trim, the windows, the front hall and half of the bathroom wall (the half we don't need to touch).

Finally, we're able to charge forward with our plans to remove adhesive and paint this weekend. Sweet, sweet relief.

This isn't to say we're entirely out of the woods. We're going to do our best to contain the few walls that have some lead in them, but our windows still need some serious work to get our house to be healthy. The county is going to help us out with a lot of that. It's going to take some time, but it will be worth it when our lead readings go down after that.

Eric and I were really nervous when we realised that we might have a lead problem. We tried to inform ourselves as much as possible, but there seemed to be a lot of inconsistent information out there. The best thing that has happened during this whole process? Getting tested and getting our concerns answered. We're so much better prepared to deal with this problem now that we know what in our house is of concern and what is not. Before that, I practically didn't want to touch anything in the house and definitely didn't want my sister's kids over there. Now at least we know which walls they can and cannot be licking. I highly recommend getting tested if there's any concern about lead in your house -- testing alone won't solve your problem, but at least it will help you figure out what to do next.

In the meantime, the work in our kitchen has continued. There's probably lead paint on the window, but for now we're not touching that. We ripped off some wainscoting and mudded the tile adhesive covered areas underneath. We've done a few coats now and should be able to paint the kitchen this weekend. Here's Eric, feeling good about the mud and good about the lead situation:

Eric's family will be down again and we even have a little project for the kids to work on (my sister's kids, not Eric's brothers).

The garden is doing great. The tomatoes are getting huge. The radishes, beans, peas, and carrots are abundant. We're a little worried about the edamame (soy), okra, and squash (did the birds steal some seeds or did we get a bunch of duds??), but the melon looks good. This picture is from a week ago and things are already much greener this week. I'll try to post more current pictures soon.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Obama Baracks St Paul

On the drive along 94 to St Paul last night to go to the Obama speech at the Xcel Center, we passed under a pedestrian bridge where someone had hung a giant sign that read, "Nobody for President." We both agreed that it was a sentence. Sort of. At least it would probably be an improvement over our current situation.

We had the brilliant idea of going to the rally because we decided that we'd be happy we went later on because it was "history in the making." Turns out, more than 20,000 other people think in similar platitudes. The line wound through one and a half miles of downtown St Paul city blocks and the wait to get inside and then for the man himself was long.

It was sort of interesting, and yet not too surprising, to watch the crew get set-up for the evening. There was one guy in a blue buttoned down shirt whose job seemed to make sure that most of the people in the crowd who would be on camera had some sort of sign or an American flag to wave around. Those handmade signs that say things like "Women 4 Obama" and "MN [hearts] Obama" and "Barack the Vote?" They're made by volunteers and other behind-the-scenesters and then handed out to the crowd. No signs and banners of your own allowed.

While we were waiting, they played some of McCain's speech on the jumbotron and then the camera panned back and forth across the crowd. Attendees cheered when they saw themselves and stood up and waved their hands and signs. People like to be on a TV screen, even if it's just closed circuit. Eric compared it to looking in a giant mirror.

They didn't play any of Clinton's speech, although we could see when she was on in the little TVs in the luxury boxes. I would have liked to have known what she said and to see how that matched up with Obama's speech. Eric conjectured that they couldn't play Clinton on the jumbotron because they didn't want people to boo her. That would divide the party.

The speech, as everyone has read or heard by now, was amazing. No number of cliches can capture what a great speaker Obama is so I won't even try. I was grateful that his speech was on the jumbotron with closed captioning. Otherwise the cheers in the crowd were drowning him out.

It's true, though, what a lot of the talking heads are saying. I think Obama is great and I think that his ability to inspire people is just what this country needs right now, but at some point he's going to have to talk actual policy otherwise it's just a lot of people cheering every time he says, "universal health care." (And, believe me, I was one of those people cheering.) Fingers crossed that it doesn't turn into that Family Guy episode where Lois runs for mayor and everyone loves her because she says the words "9/11" over and over in one of the debates. I'm all for inspiration, but I'm going to need to know what I'm being inspired to do, even if it is just to pay more taxes to support more government programs. For this moment, though, it was exciting and invigorating to have been there, even if, sitting behind and to the left of the podium, this is mostly what we saw:

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Two etsy sellers donating to Burma

A few weeks ago, Lesley of Banana Pants Clothes, got in touch with me because she was compiling a list of etsy sellers donating to Burma. I've only found one other since then, but thought I'd go ahead and post them both here: Banana Pants Clothes and Mingus Designs. They both have super cute designs. Banana Pants are no longer donating (sorry, I forgot to post earlier!), but she was able to make a big donation in spite of having a massive textbook bill.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Good Thai Food Comes to the Twin Cities!

My husband and I have been on a quest for good, cheap, fresh, tasty Thai food ever since I arrived in the Twin Cities a year and a half ago. After months and months of being referred by websites, reviews, friends, and foes to Thai outlets that end up being overpriced, oversweetened, and overstale, at last, our quest has come to an end.

My friend Wai Linn moved to St Paul from Thailand a few months before I arrived here. (In the interest of full disclosure, my father was born and raised in Thailand and I lived there for three years as an adult. This, of course, gives me automatic and undeniable credibility. My credibility will not be denied.) A few weeks ago, we met up for a meal at Mai Village, the Vietnamese joint on University. "We should go and eat there," he said, pointing out the window and down the street to an unassuming white building with a strange smokestack-like pillar jutting out from its roof. "It's a new Thai restaurant," he explained. "It's real Thai food."

Indeed, this weekend, when my husband stopped by the new Thai restaurant on a whim after Grand Old Day, the sign above the entrance read, "real Thai food." At first, the "Bangkok Thai Deli" appears to be just another Asian grocery store. Past the rows of ramen noodles, lemongrass-filled produce aisle, and varieties of pickled vegetables, to the right of the checkout counters, there is a small cafe with a few booths and a few slightly unsteady-looking tables covered in red tablecloths under the dingy light of a few florescent lights. There's a sort of deli counter at the back and entering the cafe, my husband and I had one of those brief, awkward moments of "Do we order at the counter? Do we seat ourselves?" I got my Thai legs back under me and chose us a table. Awkward moments, cheesy Thai karaoke and soap operas on the TV, florescent lighting, tables full of SE Asians, totally dinky, completely ineffectual paper napkins on the table: all signs pointed to a tasty meal ahead of us.

We ordered a few standards, the dishes that we order so test whether a new Thai restaurant knows what it's doing or has adapted the dishes to suit what the owners perceive as American palates. The food was served on ordinary plastic dishes with a fork and a spoon, just the way it is in Thailand. The Tod Man (fish patty, as it's called in the menu), were small and freshly fried. They were served with no dipping sauce, but they didn't need to be; they were loaded with just the right amount of lemongrass. The fishcakes were chewy without being gummy. We were off to a good start.

We also shared the rad naa (stir-fried flat noodle with gravy) with beef. The gravy was thick (not gloopy) and well seasoned. The Chinese broccoli was just barely steamed, still crunchy and clean. The pad krapraw (stir-fried meat with basil) was served as it is at roadside stands in Thailand: with an egg fried in a wok in vegetable oil, just what's needed to balance the sweetness of Thai basil. The pad krapaw was spicy without overpowering the other flavors or making diners feel the need to brag about their spice tolerance. (Yes, sweaty tough guy, we know you can eat spicy.) Just enough heat to kick in a few endorphins and to make me suck a little air through my teeth and over my tongue a few times.

The total bill? Just under twenty bucks. Maybe not the cheapest of eats, but a great deal when compared to some of the other Thai restaurant options in the Twin Cities. Granted, they don't have a liquor license (they only opened seven months ago), but, frankly, who needs another Chiang Mai Thai?

We'll definitely be returning. More updates to follow.

Bangkok Thai Deli
315 University Ave W
St. Paul, MN 55103
651.224.4300 (take-out available)