Monday, March 31, 2014

Location, location, location

So yesterday I actually went and looked at the cute house --- the outside and neighborhood --- and then took a long walk around the neighborhood until it started raining.

Sigh. The pictures of the inside look gorgeous --- a lot of the original vintage trim (check out the art deco black and teal porcelain tiling on the fireplace!) and built-ins still intact, the hardwood floors, and a realtor note that the entire wiring and plumbing systems had been redone since the last time it was sold (nice!) and the back yard is nice and sizeable for this neighborhood. I love the neighborhood, as it is an old working-class neighborhood built in the 20s/30s back when everything was designed to be walkable or busable and on a nice small scale.

But it is also a very transitional neighborhood, to use a word people often employ when talking about living in the multi-million dollar condos in the Tenderloin in San Francisco. Two streets over starts the downtown, and one street over all the old historic houses have been repurposed as law and dr offices. This is the first street starting the housing part of the neighborhood, and I wish all the people on the left side, with their beautiful restored houses and nice yards, good luck. The other side of the street has even tinier shacks, worth way less than the left side, according to zillow.

So I walked here and there and all about and was just really sad and regretful on the second or third pass by the house, when I came across a bunch of homeless people on bicycles smoking meth on the corner cattycorner to the house. (Side note: what is it with the homeless users and bicycles in this town? It is all of them. It appears to be A Thing, like how in LA everyone with a serious mental illness must be pushing a loaded-up shopping cart, as if by law. Strange.)

Also sad is how large numbers of the old houses have been torn down and replaced by small to medium apartment buildings from the ugly 60s era when everything was super boxy and ugly. And crowded. I ran into a lot of people outside doing their thing because there is no room inside the apartments, including playing music inside the building so they could hear it outside the building while working on their car etc. Hmm. As I walked back and up through the neighborhood I got further away from the apartment blocks and the streets seemed to be more single-family, owned by the occupants, type places. The houses spread out a bit and had more landscaped yards. The houses looked restored or very well kept, and were a riot of styles --- some craftsmen, some bungalows, some of those pointy gothic revival Tudor guys, some of the "California modern" and Spanish revival stuff from the 20s that I love, and the cars parked in the driveways went up in cost too.

Yes, I'm being totally classist. House-buying is a classist thing, and I'd want neighbors with a similar class outlook as immediate neighbors. Part of this I blame on living where huge gentrification took place and owning a teeny restored old house like these meant that you were a hipster wealthy professional, not a working-class person with no education. That does go against the spirit of these turn-of-the-century neighborhoods, I know.

Thing is, none of the houses in that area of the neighborhood appear to be changing hands. Probably a good thing for the neighborhood, but that might mean sitting around and waiting like 10 years to get a chance to move in.

Anyway, all of this tells me that buying anywhere near the downtown is a minefield and a very delicate matter. But there is a fairly decent house for rent in the area. I have til August or so on my lease, and if anything like that place is open then I'll think about moving and renting there. I have the feeling that I'm gonna want to walk around there extensively, really know every inch of the area and the neighbors before I make any sort of commitment.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Dammit, I found a cute house

Remind me not to look at zillow listings as a way of procrastinating!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

More house and apartment thinking

Ok, I have a huuuuuge pile of essays to grade. Therefore the last thing I want to do is grade essays. I am watching the rain and awaiting the arrival of a predicted thunderstorm, because I miss thunderstorms, especially on days when I don't have to get dressed and be anywhere.

On favorite way of procrastinating is research/pre-planning my various plans; in this case it means looking up and drooling over a zillion different ways I could spend my soon-to-be-here money. (I have, of course, spent all my current money on credit card bills.) One added benefit to this procrastinatory, hyper-over-planning, is that if I get totally sucked up into the researching of something, I put off buying it. I think I have not bought any nonessential purchases this month, leaving more for paying off those damn bills. This is especially good because I have been looking at things like cars and houses and probably wouldn't want to get both of those in a single month.

But also I have been looking at electric cars and hybrids of a more affordable variety and had the thought to check on rental law, and it seems like it is very difficult to rent or have a condo and get permission to charge a car/put in a charging station. The law has been on the side of the complexes thus far. Hmph. Sounds like you need to own a house to own a hybrid or electric. Grumble.

But on the other hand, I'm not sure I want a house here. Is it because of the news article where someone got shot in the face while using one of our walking trails? No, that's not even the bad story that would make us recognizable. Is it because of the dude who burned down a local hotel trying to make meth? Nope, that's not newsworthy compared to some of the other explosions we have had around here. The guy who sawed his parents into little bits? This is why I won't have children. (Also, not the worst story I could list from here.) Is it the number of break-ins and tweakers using on the streets openly near downtown? Actually, the article that really put me off was one lauding the great buyer's market around here, with lots of quotes and examples of people trying for multiple years to unload their homes with no offers. The comments on that article were really disheartening, as everybody and their brother who had moved away for a job chimed in to talk about how tough it was to sell, and how much hassle it was to rent out their old place with enough money to cover the mortgage.

On the other hand, that gives me an idea ---- maybe I could rent a house, instead of an apartment. Hmm. If I get me a used bike, or even a kayak, as I have been wanting one of those too, I don't have any place to store it* here at the apartment complex, and renting a house might have that space. On the other other hand, they don't put houses on the second floor (I was told it was harder/more work to break in to upper story apartments). My lease will be up in August, but really I have no clue what I should do. Other than go kayaking and biking as soon as it stops raining. But renting a bike or a kayak very quickly costs more than buying one. But then again, so does renting a house, I guess. But owning a house that you can never ever manage to sell again means that you can't ever move, and I'm not sure I want to commit to that.

I dunno. Maybe I should just buy chocolate. But not grade essays ---- that is never the right answer to rent vs buy.

*I am also researching trailers and roof racks because if I get a bike or kayak or something I will want to transport it places, and probably my current car will not work well for that. So you can see, the question of getting any of these little things means I need to think about big purchases like my car and some form of safe storage, so all of these decisions are all bound up in each other!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Where do you allocate your writing time?

Oof. It has hit the nasty, crazy crunch time of the semester. Just nasty. Why did I stay up super late, get up super early, and grade like a madwoman between classes and finish off this pile of essays if only 10 students showed up for that class today? Argh. Part of it is because I wanted to clear the decks of at least the major assignments before getting another big stack of essays tomorrow morning, and again on Tuesday. This is the stage where I can't fall behind because I'll be trampled by the mob and totally done for.

On Tuesday my students will do Peer Review, but before that I will ask them to do a little reflection writing on how they approached the essay and how much time, if you were to make a pie chart, did they spend on each of the writing steps? Then we will discuss.

As long as I'm thinking about this, though, I thought I'd ask you, two questions: how does your approach to the writing process break down in terms of time/slices of the pie? And how much time and emphasis do you teach/model/discuss/have students do in your classrooms? I think I have mentioned before how I liked teaching freshman comp on a three times a week 1 hour schedule, because I could have them do a thesis workshop and we talk a lot about brainstorming and organizing, and then they can go home and bring back a draft on Wednesday for peer review, and Friday turn in the final, polished draft. Now, with twice a week classes, I have basically jettisoned my thesis workshop activities and, I fear, given short shrift to the brainstorming and organizing part of the process.

But what about you? How do you allocate time to your writing process? And how do you break it down in the classroom for students?

Bonus: Here's a totally appropriate pie chart pic stolen from here:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Alarming car update

I love my little car, but once it was no longer cute and low mileage I stopped putting in small repairs. gashes and dings in the exterior? I am ignoring them. Interior fabric coming off the ceiling and hanging low over my head? Whatever. Button for the remote on my keys worn through?  Pffft ---- I can use the manual lock. Shorts in the wiring for my speakers, causing some of the speakers to stop transmitting sound, or the sound to migrate from left to right or front to back? Eh, pounding on the dashboard sometimes helps, and making short car trips means that there really isn't that long I am suffering through tinny music. Glove compartment latch broken? Meh, I didn't need to get in there anyway.

But this? Mmm. The last two days, I experienced a truly weird and alarming situation when accelerating onto the freeway: I pushed the gas pedal to the floor and it went into full roar mode, then when I lifted my foot, the pedal stayed down. This, honestly, was terrifying, and involved me slamming on the brake (and hearing weird noises as it tried to simultaneously accelerate and brake) and me hyperventilating and generally freaking out.

Since it happened again today, I got home and looked all around and didn't see anything wrong with that pedal, so I very carefully drove to my dealership and told them my problem. "Where's your floor mat? Is it catching up the pedal?" asked the dealer guy. Feeling kinda stupid and abashed, I said I didn't know. We went out to the car.

So the floor mat is worn and has basically ripped where the latch holds it in place in one corner, and it is kinda creased in a weird way that holds up the corner that is near the pedal, and, yeah, it probably was catching the pedal when I floored it. So the guy put it back in place and used the point of a key to tuck it back into the latch and pushed really hard down on everything and said that it would probably be fine from this point on, and I, feeling really really stupid and incompetent at this point, said thanks a whole bunch of times and drove home. Tomorrow I will see how it feels when I get on the freeway again.

Now I am looking around on the internet, saying, hmm, do I need a floormat? Maybe I should throw away this one and not use a floor mat at all. Do I break my "don't bother repairing cosmetic bits on this car" promise and get a new floor mat? You bet I am going to be getting out and inspecting the placement of the floor mat very carefully from now on. After looking around on the web though, I feel like I am justified in my freakout as there have been the occasional accidents and deaths with people whose gas pedal has become stuck in the full-on zoom position. I hope I don't go back to having panic attacks like I did a few years ago and/or become unable to drive.

So now I am looking at the whole car replacement question with a new eye. Yes, nothing major is wrong with it. But, I really don't like the feeling of unsafety or unreliability. It is exactly 10 years old but only has 80k miles on it, so I could still use it while saving up for a new car. But, I might be paying in stress rather than money. But on the other hand, I have the car and about a hundred bucks.  That is my current car fund, if I even have a car fund. And I have no idea what kind of car I would want.

Whimper. Maybe I will give up sleep, and walk to work every day. It's only about 5, 6 miles by freeway. Whimper.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

As long as I am making ridiculous financial plans...

I have been sending links back and forth with my engineering-techy nephew, and, after contemplating the shinyness of the Tesla sedan (especially the red one!), have decided that this will be my next new car.

But wait, you say... isn't it about 85 grand? That is a pricey car.

Well, yes. But my nephew has access to some rumors and thinks they will bring out a model in the 35/40k range in the next 5 or 6 years. At the rate I am going in my digging out and saving path, I will have saved enough for a down payment in about 10 years, and there should be a nice model out by then. If I haven't been fired and resorted to living in a cardboard box under a bridge by then. 

I hope the 2024 model looks this nice, since that's my goal:

Monday, March 17, 2014

A post in which I look at Apartment Therapy and become depressed

I have just been amusing myself perusing Apartment Therapy, the design website. At first, I was happy that they are doing a series of posts that is actually useful --- budgeting and planning and how to think about redecorating while *not* spending money. Alas, it is actually more fun to read them when they are on crack and assuming everybody should spend hundreds on updating their pillows every few months and reupholstering ugly Eames chairs and bringing in fresh store flowers every week. Then I can laugh at them and mock them, which is what I do best.

Instead, they are making posts about budgets and how much money they should be socking away in savings every month. These are things I should be doing, and then I get freaked out that I am not doing them.

First of all, they linked to (I'm tired and don't feel like showing you all their links, ok? Google 'er up if you've a mind to.) a website that suggested you need a 15,000 emergency fund. Awhaaaaa? ?!?!?!?! Ok, it has a slider bar; maybe I can have less. Let me slide this up and down a bit. Hmm. Ok, 6 months emergency funds is still a lot, no matter how conservatively you define "emergency funds." Another money planning site suggests that you build up a bare-bones minimum emergency fund of $1000 while you are in hardcore credit card paydown mode. I have ---- $100 in the savings account right now. Sigh. I guess that plus Operation Dig Out of Hole are all I can afford right now.

Then I guess it's build that EF up to crazytown levels (remember, as a grad student, 15 K was about my yearly salary. Having that much sitting around as accessible money is just insane to me). No wait, fuckit, I'm gonna take a small vacation trip this summer before building up the crazydown EF. Otherwise I will go mad. I will plan out a little budget and try to be as frugal as possible.

Then they have a bunch of posts about determining your retirement needs and nest egg (!! cue hyperventilation now!!!) and making the aforementioned monthly savings plan. (!!!!) Since I have a state plan and have been barred, as an employee in this place, from ever getting any Social Security (hahahaha fooled you lawmaker suckers; I have hardly put anything in! I've been a motherfucking grad student for 10 years!) I ... really have no clue about what that means and how much I should be planning to put away as extra or what. But I know I am doing something totally different than what they are saying about an employer 401k match. I thought I was doing good rolling over my old postdoc 401k into my IRA (lookit how well I throw around these acronyms!). I guess I need to move "go talk to the HR people about what this is" up near the top of my to-do list. Except for that bit where I had trouble with getting the HR lady, who is 23 and was hired at the same time I was, to fix a problem with my paycheck last semester. Ugh.

So I am reading down the page --- emergency fund: check! deal with it later! employer 401k match: check! figure out what the hell I have as a system later! --- and I come to some posts about talking with your parents about safety and accessibility proofing the house before they get too old and start to feel attacked by your every suggestion. Siiiiiiiiigh. Yes, this is so important and yes we all should be talking about it, personally, as families, as communities ... yeah. So, my dad has not been doing well at all, you might know, and he got pneumonia right after New Year's and has been on oxygen ever since, lugging around a tank outside and a very long cord inside. And his memory and cognitive ability have definitely gone downhill lately --- not to the point of impeding everyday survival but he is no longer logical or the brilliant man who was an engineering vp for a major company. And he didn't recognize who my niece was when I was last home.

So, in a nutshell: I am much better at mocking aspirational-living fantasy websites than dealing with reality on my own. Denial! It's a method of planning, in its own way. And maybe I would be better at confronting it if my big bro hadn't just turned 50. Gah. This whole getting older crap is bullshit.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Hole-digging update

 You might remember me complaining about digging myself out of debt not too long ago.

I am not positively sure, but I do believe I have now paid off the cost of my move out here to The Hot Place. Actually, that includes that major car repair and Christmas presents/travel and household expenses too, but it means that my credit card debt is now lower than it was when I first planned moving out here. That doesn't mean it is back up to zero, however. Not by a long shot.

This makes me happy, but, me being me, also makes me very antsy. Lookit how small and doable that payment is! Clearly I can go hog wild and buy all sorts of fanciness and stuff! Ooh, let me look at my replacement list and my wishlist and my Amazon wishlists and catalogs and stuff! Ooh ooh ooh!

You can see that this is a very dangerous moment to be in.

Now, I have been pretty good about still living like a grad student, for the most part, and buying one nice thing for the apartment every month (which is not how I lived as a grad student). So now I am trying to figure out what one thing I could get this month that would make me happy and that I should get before all the other things. This is tough! I want everything on my list, but not so much that I want it now. I am terribly indecisive. Plus, I am already starting to think about not decorating any further because what if I want to move?

That thinking is probably why my previous apartments all had bare walls.

Well, one thing I would like to do is actually redecorate my bedroom, with actual working new furniture and decorations. But that would really involve me saving up for a bedroom set; I don't want to splurge on something that big right now.

But do I want to start saving up for that project now? Maybe I want to start saving up for a new car now --- or maybe even a down payment on a house?

I have been thinking about the whole house thing recently, especially because there are houses in the area where the payments would be so much less than my current rent. Like half, actually. But then I realized that with a big pile of credit card and student loan debt and zero money saved for a down payment, I'm really not in any place to get a house any time soon. Grump. And I just read an article that they have tightened up on loans, which is probably good, but would make me getting anything even harder.

Ok, so start hardcore saving for a 5-year or so plan for a house? Hmm. I'm not sure I want that. Do I want to be here permanently? Is it possible to sell a house around here? I'm not all that excited by what houses even look like around here ---- old 50s and 60s tract homes, or brand new mcMansion type stuff. So I went and looked up houses in GradSchoolLand and cried a little at how beautiful and historic they were and how there was never going to be any way I could afford a multi-million-dollar cottage even with tons of saving for the rest of my life. Sigh. So now what?

I'm not sure there is anything on my wishlist in the hundred dollar splurge range. Hmm. Maybe I should go in a different direction and get me a basic old bike, like a cruiser. Would that be in the hundred dollar range? Hmm. Looking around I think I could get something used off craigslist for a bit more than that.

I dunno. I don't do plans very well. Any advice?