Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 in Review and goals for 2014

I hope you all had a merry and bright holiday and have some fun plans for tomorrow night.  We had a good trip to Vermont, even though we only accomplished one out of my four goals.  We arrived just in time for 36 hours of rain which took away all hope of skiing, sledding and snowshoeing (just north of us was ice though, so I do consider us lucky that we all got there).  All that we accomplished was the drinking, and we sure excelled on that one!

Christmas itself was really calm and relaxed.  Santa brought my nieces a puppy so there was cuteness abound.  Here he is with "Jill":

My mom woke up sick on Christmas morning, so my sister, Kevin and I stepped up to cook dinner.  We had a really good time and it turned out really well.

My mom recovered in time to carve the bird.

We took the dogs with us but left Pippa alone (it's tough being a cat in a dog-people family).  She was pretty needy when we got back, and had to be cuddling with someone constantly.

Buy all the dresses you want sucker, we both know you won't wear them

Don't judge me for settling for Kinsey, I was alone for 5 days!
We celebrated with Kevin's family over this past weekend and also had a great time.  I am actually glad that our families live far enough from each other that it is not possible to split the holiday.  I get tired just hearing about friends who do Christmas eve with this set of family, Christmas morning with another set, Christmas dinner somewhere else.  I like that we spend the entire holiday with one side of the family and really get some quality time with them.

Overall 2013 has been a really good year for us.  We bought a house, Kevin changed his job and will likely be buying the business next month (!), we had a great hiking trip out to Montana.  I saw two good friends who live far away (I went to Omaha in January to visit my friend Sara and saw my friend Ali in Montana).  Despite depleting our savings to buy the house in January, we rebounded pretty quickly (it helps to have rents pay for 3/4 of your mortgage/tax bill).  The dark clouds were my grandfather passing (but at 90 it was not unexpected) and Pippa's seesaw health issues. 

I have several goals for 2014 - not quite resolutions, because those get broken by February 1.

(1) Get the downstairs of our house completely finished.  Kevin has a goal of February 1 for this (a year after we moved in) but I think we'll need a bit more time and am giving us the whole year.

(2) Compost.  Most of our trash is organic waste and it hurts my soul to send it to a landfill, so this is a high priority for me for 2014.

(3) Give more to charity.  We currently have a recurring payment to the Humane Society, Partners in Health, and NPR.  I feel like we are not doing enough for our community and I'd like to add some local charities (the food bank, the homeless shelter, the animal shelters) to that list.

(4) Prioritize exercise.  I tend to go in spurts where I exercise consistently for awhile and then fall out of it.  I'd like to focus on strength in 2014 as well as run a half marathon.

(5) Visit more far away friends. I have plans to go visit my friend Brie in January and I'd like to see my friends Sarah, Meg and Kelly from law school as well.

(6) Go on a trip with Kevin.  We tend to do a big trip once a year but I am a bit worried that with buying the veterinary clinic we won't in 2014 (I have a feeling Kevin will be working a lot).  Hopefully by the end of the year we will be able to carve some time out to go somewhere together.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Holidays!

I won't be posting next week - I'll be too busy skiing, snowshoeing, sledding and drinking (I <3 Vermont). I wish you all the very best holiday, filled with whatever activities you enjoy the most.

Santa Patrol means all the cookies are mine, fat man.
Santa Patrol in training
I call dibs on the Rudolph's carrots.  Suck it red nose!

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Drama Continues - Pippa

I'm back with a Pippa update, and it is not good news.  You can catch up with the Pippa story here and here.

We noticed awhile back that she was getting really pale again and she started licking the walls.  Both are indicators of anemia.  Kevin started her back on steroids and took her back to the clinic to run more tests. She tested positive for Feline Leukemia.  So for those of you following along that means she tested negative when she was a kitten in the shelter, positive in June when we first noticed she didn't seem quite right, negative in September when she seemed to be doing better, and now positive again.  According to Dr. Kevin (that is Kevin in his professional mode), this is all very unusual and he has no idea what is going on.  This past time he did send the test out to a lab who ran a really elaborate test (rather than the quick in house one that is standard).  Since the gold standard test came back as positive we are pretty confident in calling it - our cat has leukemia.

I haven't had that many emotions since finding out last week.  Since she had gotten pretty pale again and was licking the walls, the news was not a surprise.  I was pretty devastated when we got the news the first time and went through the gamut of emotions.  This time I went straight to acceptance.

I'm not sure what this means for Pippa in terms of her third class citizenship.  Last time we immediately promoted her to first class citizen and she got special treatment (outside time and lots and lots of food - so much she gained a lot of weight).  We haven't really changed our attitude much this time - maybe because I really don't want to put her on a diet again if it turns out she will in fact live for a long time (who knows at this point).  She was not happy with the diet we put her on when we thought she was recovered - and I don't want to have to put her (or us!) through that again.

Some recent photos of her:

She will drink water from one of our glasses pretty much every time we put one down.  She has fresh water available to her at all times so I'm not sure what that is about.  Maybe she doesn't like sharing with the dogs (we have one water bowl for the three of them)? If I surrender my water glass to her and go get another one - guess which one she'll drink from the next time?  That's right, the new one.  Brat.

Pippa loves Kevin, he is definitely her favorite.  I used to say that if both of our laps are free she'll pick his every time but that is not even true.  If he has the computer in his lap and my lap is completely empty, she will still pick his! I am over this (I'm still Kinsey's favorite) but it did take me awhile to adjust.  I was the one who wanted a cat - Kevin would have happily gone through life with just dogs.  He agreed to the cat as long as I took care of the litter.  The possibility that the cat would like him more AND I'd be stuck doing the litter never crossed my mind.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Adventures in Vegetarian Cooking: Lentil Loaf

I've been meaning to try this cranberry-orange lentil loaf for awhile now and decided to give it a whirl on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Here is what I did and what I would do differently:

I had most of the ingredients on hand, and subbed where I needed to.  I used my trusty super-pot to pressure cook the quinoa and the lentils.  I looked up how long to pressure cook lentils (9 minutes) but needed to double the time due to the amount of liquid the recipe called for (ended up taking 20 minutes to absorb).  I assume this was to make the lentils more mushy and "meatloaf" like, and it did work.

The recipe calls for you to sautee the carrots, celery and onions all at once.

I did this but wished I had started the onions in some olive oil earlier to carmelize them.  I heart carmelized onions but feel lukewarm about regular old onions, so this would have been an improvement.  Lukewarm is a big step up since up until recently I disliked regular onions and would only eat them carmelized.  I also don't really like celery so next time I would sub out something else or leave them out completely.

I used eggs instead of the chia seed mixture she uses in the vegan version.  I was smart enough to let the mixture cool completely before mixing the eggs in.  I learned this during the polenta crust disaster. If you add eggs to a hot mixture, they just scramble, which is not what you are looking for.

[I'm sparing you the picture of the mixture before it cooked - it did not look appetizing.]

I also used pecans instead of sunflower seeds and mixed regular salsa with fruit salsa.  We had some fruit salsa left over from our Gypsy Burritos but not enough to coat the pan completely.

It made a huge pan! We were eating this for a solid week. The first night I paired it with roasted brussel sprouts and left over mashed potatoes from Thanksgiving.

I liked it okay, and will probably make some variation of it again, but there was something missing. It needed more spices and I thought it too much on the sweet vs. savory side.  Between the orange juice, the cranberries, pecans, and the fruit salsa it was quite sweet.  While it is unlike me to say something is too sweet, I would stick to regular salsa next time.  I also might switch up the orange-cranberry combination and try something else.  What did the meat lover think?


He agreed it was okay.  Not off the "to make again" list but definitely won't appear on regular rotation in our house.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Small Time Landlords: Tenant Screening Process

We are just winding down our tenant search for the 3rd floor apartment.  We have offered it a couple and expect them to sign a lease later this week.  This was our third time through the process and by now we have developed a clear process.

1. Apartment ads are just about the apartment.  Being an owner occupied, less than four unit place we are exempt from discrimination laws but I still make sure we stay safely within them.  Our craigslist ads simply talk about the apartment.  Once people inquire I tell them our application process (below).  Sometimes this discourages them from taking further action (they do not follow through when we tell them we require the equivalent of two month's rent upfront and will be checking their credit).

2. Meet in person to view the apartment.  We haven't been targeted by offshore scams on Craigslist yet, but I have heard they are quite realistic.  Someone from overseas moving to the area and can't look at it in person. We require someone to come look at the apartment, if not the person themselves (preferred), a proxy.  And we certainly are smart enough not to accept a check for more than we agreed to from someone we've never met and wire them the difference (how the scam works).

We also go with our gut on applicants.  We try to evaluate the person, not in terms of whether we personally like them but if they'll be a good tenant. So far, knock on wood, our gut has been correct.  I was happy when one person who looked at the apartment didn't follow through and submit an application because I had a feeling she would be way too social.  I bet she would have had lots of parties up there which may or may not have been a nightmare for us. We picked the tenant who just vacated because he was socially awkward and we thought he'd be quiet and respectful.  We were correct, he was a model tenant until he ran into some health issues and needed to move back in with his parents. So our goal is somewhere between the two extremes.

4. Rental application.  Our rental application asks for:
  • References (needs to be a landlord within the past two years)
    • We also ask for their current landlord's name and phone number, as well as if the landlord knows they are looking to move.  Sometimes we call the current landlord if we feel like we are getting a biased or inaccurate reference from the one they list.
  • Employment status & salary
  • Pets and medical records
    • Kevin goes over these with a fine tooth comb.  We already have told one couple they could not have their cat because the medical records indicated inappropriate urination.  I am happy Kevin knows this information so we can keep our apartments in tip top shape.
  • Whether they have ever been evicted or threatened with eviction
  • Whether a landlord has ever sued or threatened to sue them
  • Whether the police have ever been called due to their activities
    • If police have been called because of a noise violation or worse, we'd like to know.
The application states very clearly that smoking is prohibited in the apartment and on the premises.   It also states that providing false information will be grounds for immediate termination of any lease and eviction so hopefully that prompts honest answers.

5. Income requirements. We require a take home pay of 1/3 the amount of the monthly rent. Since our target market is young professionals and/or graduate students, we accept salary or student loans as income.

So far we have not had anyone request to use public assistance as part of their income.  While right now it is not illegal in New York to not accept public assistance as income I anticipate it will be very soon.  (Governor Cuomo introduced a bill over the summer that will make it illegal for landlords to discriminate against public assistance funds).  Our apartments are priced well above the monthly stipend public assistance provides (2-3 times actually) so I am not sure we will ever have to address this.

6. Check the references.  We call the references listed and ask the following questions.
  • lease start/end date
  • rent amount 
  • did they pay their rent on time
  • any complaints or other issues
  • did they leave the apartment in good shape or was there damage
  • would you rent to them again
  • anything else they think I should know 

7. Check social media.  We always Google our prospective tenant and try to find their social media (Facebook, YouTube, etc) pages.  So far we haven't found anything alarming, except that the couple we just researched are republicans.  Republicans are not a protected class so we could decline them on this fact alone, but we won't.  :)

8. If everything is good up until this point, we check their credit. Experian has a service for this.  We register and promise multiple times that we are asking for a legitimate business reason.  We enter in their email address(es) and Experian contacts them seeking permission.  They grant access and pay a fee and we can view their credit report for 30 days.  This way we don't have to deal with storing social security numbers.

9. Require first months rent and a security deposit equal to one month's rent.  Since our apartments are on the higher end for our area this is a significant investment on the tenant's part. 

Here is the lease we use. I created it from a combination of leases we had been asked to sign in the past and general contract law.  Feedback is welcome!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

House Tour Part 4: 3rd Floor Apartment

I've mentioned repeatedly that our house is a multi-family with two apartments in addition to our living space.  One of the upsides of having apartments is the off-set in our mortgage payments due to the rents we collect.  The downsides are the amount of work involved and the turnover (we view it as a part time job).  Last month we had a tenant unexpectedly move out (bummer but to be expected sometimes).  We are working on lining up someone new but in the mean time I thought I'd take the opportunity to show you the apartment.

It is the entire third floor of the house, so about 1500 square feet. 



Dining area

Living room

Living room

A small nook



A look back into the entryway and kitchen
What I didn't get a shot of is the vaulted ceilings.  The ceilings are very high, creating a open-loft feeling to the space. One of our retirement plans is to turn our house into a formal bed and breakfast (rather than just playing at it).  I can imagine getting to the point were we use all three bedrooms in the main house as guestrooms and live up here ourselves.  I wouldn't mind that at all.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Adventures in Vegetarian Cooking: Beans and Greens Pasta

The night before Thanksgiving I wanted to make something simple and easy since we had spent most of the day cooking the side dishes.  I also wanted something vegetarian since we were going to have turkey the next day.  Beans and greens is one of my favorite things to order when we are out so I decided to try it.  Black-eyed peas have never really been on my radar but I've used them twice recently and really like them.

Beans and Greens Pasta:
1 T Olive Oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 garlic clove diced
2 T butter
3/4 cup vegetable broth, more on hand if needed
salt and pepper to taste
2 small heads escarole, chopped into small pieces
1 can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1 box pasta of choice, I used bow-tie
Parmesan cheese for the table

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Meanwhile sautee the onion in the olive oil over medium heat until just about carmelized, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes.  Add butter, vegetable broth, salt and pepper and let condense (about 5 minutes).  Add escarole and black eyed peas.  Cook until escarole is wilted.  Combine with pasta and top with Parmesan cheese.  You may need to add more vegetable broth to coat the pasta. 

Kevin said store bought broth was cheating but after all the cooking we had done that day I was fine with cheating.

What did my parents think?
Thumbs up! Definitely on the to make again list.