Thursday, February 23, 2017

Born to Run, Behind Closed Doors, SUSPENSE

I had a whole bunch of books lined up to read and I opted to pass two older books written by Christina Baker Kline, the author of Orphan Train.  I thought Orphan Train was fantastic but these two books have average ratings of about 3.5 stars.  Eeeeh.  I have seen high praise for her newest book which was just released this week.  I've added that one to my wish list.

I grew up listening to music of the '70s and '80s so naturally I know many Bruce Springsteen songs.  I don't know that I would call myself a fan - I've never seen him perform live and I don't own any of his albums - but his music was clearly a part of that time in my life.  You don't need to be a fan to read and enjoy Born to Run, Springsteen's autobiography.  Bruce (I feel like I can call him Bruce) details his childhood, early days as a musician and life up to the present time.  There's a lot of detail here and I felt like the book was quite lengthy.  It took me awhile to get through it.  Don't take this as a negative though - I really wanted to point it out in case you prefer shorter, not-so-detailed books.  I appreciated his writing style (you could call it lyrical) and openness in dealing with depression.  If you have an interest in the business side of the music industry, Bruce provides some fascinating details of his career.

Is this book for you?  If you like autobiographies/memoirs, detail and length, Bruce (don't have to be a fanatic), and music, then you should add this to your books to read list.

When I first started reading this book, I thought it was going to be similar to another I had read years ago about a controlling husband.  (I can't even remember the name of the book now but I believe it was made into a movie.  If it wasn't, that's scary because I can see it in my head like a movie.  You know what, I think it was a Nicolas Sparks book.)  Anyway, it didn't take long for me to determine that this book was different.  Behind Closed Doors is a page-turner but wasn't loaded down with outrageous twists.  I wanted to keep reading to see what would happen but I wasn't gasping in shock with each page.  The storyline was believable enough to me and I found it interesting how some reviewers thought the plot could never happen.  Do you read the news?  Have you heard about some of the craziness that happens out there?  If you like psychological, suspense thrillers, give this one a read.

This last book hasn't been released yet.  Someone was kind enough to lend me their advance readers' edition (thank you again!) to read.  Chevy Stevens is a new author for me so I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  I did pop online to check her out real quick and discovered that she's written several bestsellers.  Similar to Behind Closed Doors, there's a creepy husband but this storyline was much different.  I partially figured out the twist (very clever!) but not quite all the way.  This book was 400 pages long but a fairly quick read.  If you enjoy suspense, check this one out.  It's scheduled to be released next month!

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Three of everything

When the girls were much younger, I used to buy three of the exact same outfit when I shopped for them because it was easy.  If there was an easy way, I took it.  Sometimes I would find three items in different colors or three coordinating outfits but then it would feel like someone was not dressed in the cutest outfit of the ones that coordinated, or someone wasn't in the prettiest color and she must not be my favorite.  Okay, people.  There are no favorites!  The girls would usually started their day in matching outfits and then someone spit up or dump food on themselves and that would be over with.  I have to say too that when you are out and about with three little, little ones and they are dressed the same, it makes your life so much easier.

[Side note: Why are there so many discussions/comments over whether or not twins/triplets should wear identical outfits but no one cares about the families with kids of different ages dressed in exact identical outfits?  I never understood that.]

For the most part, I don't buy three of the same anymore.  I do here and there if I see something I know all three will like (and fight over) or if there's a sale that's too good to pass up.  It seems like more often than not, the girls are not with me when I'm shopping for them.  I wanted to check out a few stores at the outlet mall this weekend and no one wanted to go with me.  The girls have a few jean jackets that they like to layer over outfits in the winter and wear as jackets in the spring/fall.  Those jackets are tiny now but they still fit - sizes 5 and 6. (They are almost 10 years old!)  I wanted to size up to 7/8 for the upcoming spring.  "We'll like whatever you get us."

Anna likes to dress out of her sisters' closets and it drives them insane.  There are a variety of excuses as to why she does so but none of them add up.  (Personally, I think she just likes to push their buttons.)

I walked into Emily's room the other day to find a note on her bureau.



I know, I know.  Wait until they're teenagers. 

So who gets what when I shop?  I usually show them what I bought and they haggle with each other.  Sometimes it's civilized, sometimes not.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Our Cape Cod Cottage

Many, many months ago, after the official end of beach season, Rich suggested that we spend that upcoming Saturday down the Cape looking at properties.  For real.  Which means with a realtor as opposed to the Sarah way of scoping out cottages.  We had spent the summer doing drive-bys and peering into windows.  (Vacant homes on the market only, not in a creepy way!)  Owning a beach house on the Cape has been an adulthood dream of mine and it's something we've talked about and researched for more than ten years now.  Unfortunately, the best time to buy would have been when the market tanked after the girls were born but we were caught up in that downturn as well and not in a position to buy anything.

Why now?  Last year, we sold our first house that we had kept as rental/investment property and we wanted to roll that equity over into another piece of real estate.  I hated to sell that house as it held a lot of memories but antique homes need quite a bit of TLC and, unfortunately, that's difficult to do when the property is a rental.  The market in that area had finally recovered and we wanted to sell while we could.  You never know what the future will hold.

Cape Cod consists of many different towns and communities and it took us years to finally find an area we felt would give us a good investment and more bang for your buck, if you will.  I'd been closely following the market over the summer and while it wasn't as strong as the Boston area, good properties were selling within a few weeks.  I assumed that the process of finding a cottage that met our needs and our budget would take months and months of searching.  That Friday, the day before our excursion down there, I opened while I ate lunch and sorted properties in our area of interest by date placed on the market.

I am too Type A to call a realtor and say, "Here's what we're looking for.  Could you find some properties for us to look at?"  Today, with the internet, it is incredibly easy to search on your own.  Also, even though we had a wish list, there are always options outside the box that we'd be willing to entertain but it's quicker for me to make those decisions.

So what were we looking for?
  • Single family
  • Less than a mile to the ocean (would prefer less than half a mile)
  • Shingle siding, "quintessential Cape Cod" 
  • Three bedrooms (would be okay with two, if one was large enough to comfortably hold two sets of bunk beds)
  • No updates in the last 20-30 years
  • Quiet area (would prefer to be surrounded by seasonal properties)
  • Semi-private lot (if a kid runs from the outside shower sans clothing, what's my exposure risk?)
  • Outside shower

I'm looking through properties sorted by date placed on the market and the first one of interest doesn't meet that list above.  It has two units, which I'm open to because you can rent one side while keeping the other for your own use.  Or you can rent both for a bigger investment.  This place is about a quarter of a mile from the beach and slightly over the budgeted price we had in mind.  I mapped it out on Google and it didn't look very private but you never know until you see it in person.  I added it to the list of potentials.

The next property I came across, which had been placed on the market that week, was behind and diagonal to the first property.  Single family, completely outdated, short walk to the beach but well over our budget.  There was an open house that Saturday so I added it to the list.

I continued with my search and struck gold.  This was a cottage that had been placed on the market a week earlier, was very reasonably priced, appeared to meet our wish list and was under our budget.  Gah, my heart was racing!  From all the time I had spent researching I knew that properties like this did not sit for long.  I thought for sure the realtor would tell us that an offer had just been accepted, but no, we were in luck.  So we arranged to see all three properties the next day with GOLD first.

The next morning, we made the drive down and even before we arrive at the cottage, I'm in love with the street.  It's unpaved and quiet with sandy lots sitting under scrub pines.  We met with the realtor selling the property and I could tell immediately that he wasn't a bullshitter.  The cottage was exactly as described and what we were looking/hoping for.  The owners, an elderly couple, had passed away and the children had decided to sell it, which is why it was priced the way it was.  After looking through the cottage, we all went to the backyard and our question as to why no one had yet made an offer was answered.  Before I could even ask, the realtor pointed out that the septic system had not yet been inspected and he suspected that it was an old cesspool that would fail inspection.  If it did fail inspection, the estate would install a new septic system.

While we were in the yard, random people began appearing on the street out front.  There was a truck parked across the street and an SUV parked out front and two women on foot.  The realtor explained that sometimes people see the for sale sign and several cars in the driveway and assume that it's an open house.  We were just about to wrap up when the two women came over and apologized for interrupting.  They explained how they owned houses on the street and had seen all the activity and walked down to see if there was an open house.  They quickly realized that there wasn't but one of them had recognized the girls.  It turns out that she's a substitute teacher who lives in our town and remembered the girls from school.  Talk about a small world.  These two women were awesome.  They gave us all the information about the neighborhood (so much information!) which really sealed the deal for us.  They also confirmed what we knew - that it was priced to sell.  We thanked everyone and told the realtor that we would check in with him later in the week for a septic update.

At that point, we were so not interested in the other two properties but we looked at them anyway.  The one with the two units was somewhat unique but there was no privacy (people walking by on the way to the beach would be checking out your breakfast) and to really fix up the property to function well as one or two units would require a significant output of $$$.  At least $75,000.  No thank you.  We did go the open house for curiosity's sake.  This house was pretty much the same size as our golden cottage and in the same outdated condition but located about three tenths of mile closer to the beach.  The price difference for that three tenths of a mile was ridiculous.  Plus, there wasn't much privacy in the yard and I didn't like how the third bedroom was located directly off of the kitchen.

We drove around a bit before heading home and the whole time, my brain was chugging away.  I told Rich that no offers had been made because those interested were waiting to see the condition of the septic system.  If we wanted this cottage (and I really wanted it), we needed to make an offer as soon as possible.  We ran the risk of having the septic somehow pass inspection which would leave us with an aging system that would have to be replaced in the near future.  I'm far from a septic expert but I do know that replacing these systems is expensive.  We called the realtor that evening and made an offer slightly under the list price.  It was accepted the next day without negotiation.

Just as we hoped, the septic failed its inspection later that week.  We also began the search for our own inspector for the cottage.  Fall must be a popular time of the year for real estate transactions because these guys were booked for weeks.  Personally, I won't purchase anything without an inspection.  The only real issue that arose during the inspection was the condition of the beams under the house.  There is no basement, only a crawl space over sand.  Over the past 60 years, moisture had rotted those beams and they now need to be replaced.  He also suggested we have the roof replaced.  Visually, the roof looks fine and there are no leaks.  We had to extend the signing of the P&S as we negotiated our original offer to include these unexpected repairs.  This took longer than we liked - good luck getting a contractor to call you back, never mind providing an estimate.  Finally, both sides agreed to a new selling price and we signed the P&S.

Now we needed to wait for the septic to be replaced, which was not an easy task and pushed back our close date.  I wanted to write about this whole process months ago because it was really exciting but then I was afraid I would jinx the whole thing or that it would all fall through.  When we had to push back the close date, we were asked if we wanted to walk away.  We found out that they had a back up offer from a friend of the guy who owns the cottage across the street.  He had decided to wait to see how the septic inspection panned out.  But it's all good, we now own the cottage.  

This is getting really long so I'm going to wrap it up.  I plan on sharing more, probably much more, soon.  We have updates to make - some cosmetic, like painting, and some big, like the bathroom.  Oh, the bathroom.  Thanks for reading!


Sunday, February 19, 2017

The 35mm Documentary Project














If you follow along with my photography posts, you'll know that I'm mainly a prime lens (fixed focal length) user and I currently have a gap in my focal length coverage.  My walk around lens has been a 50mm and then I have a wide angle lens of 14-24mm.  What's funny with that lens is I'm always forgetting it's a zoom lens because I'm so accustomed to using a prime lens.  So anyway, I've been debating for a really, really long time over what lens to add to my collection to fill in the gap between 24 and 50mm.  I've also thought about whether or not I actually need coverage in that area or am I just drooling over new equipment, a common problem with photographers.  I did decide that yes, I need a lens wider than 50mm but not as wide as 24mm.

For some reason, I was focused/obsessed with the Sigma Art 20mm but that wouldn't make sense considering I already have a 14-24mm lens.  A photographer I follow had owned both a 35mm and a 50mm but stated that they were too much alike and he didn't feel the need for both.  I own a 35mm lens but it's for a crop sensor camera and my camera now is full frame, which is why I no longer use this particular lens.  Last week, I dusted off that 35mm lens and popped it on my D750 to see what would happen.  I was curious about what would fit in the frame as well as how images from a crop sensor lens on a full frame camera would turn out.

The only noticeable image quality was heavy vignetting - darkening in the corners, which is super visible in the photo below.


This is partly why I converted all the images above to black and white.  I also thought it gave them a documentary type look because, apparently, I was in a documentary type of mood.  I didn't even mean to take all those photos.

Here's a comparison between my 35mm and 50mm lenses.  I had looked up comparisons online and found them to be similar but I really wanted to see the difference between the two in my own space.  Interestingly enough, I also found a photography discussion online regarding whether or not there is a noticeable difference between 35mm and 50mm and most agreed that there is.



(Both photos were taken from the same exact spot.  No edits, straight out of the camera.)

I'm back on the 35mm train!  (But a full frame one.)  (I do still love that 50mm lens, but sometimes it is just too tight indoors.)

Equipment Details
Camera:  Nikon D750 (full frame)
Nikon 35mm f/1.8 lens (crop sensor) - a super affordable prime lens considering the quality
Sigma Art 50mm f/1.4 lens (full frame)

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Life Lately (with snow)

















We are up to two school "snow days" now.  The school calendar allots for five snow days and thankfully this winter hasn't been too bad but we still have to get through March.  In the past, some of our fiercest storms have happened in March.  I'll never forget that April Fool's Day blizzard I had to work through.  Tax Season must go on no matter what the weather!  Anyway, I sympathize with the school administration in having to make the call on whether or not to cancel or delay the start of school.  Either way, someone will not be happy with the decision.  If you don't cancel, there are complaints about the condition of the roadways.  If you do cancel, there are complaints that the roads were fine.  It's really about the safety of the kids who have to walk to school or wait at bus stops.  Unfortunately, the general consensus is that a bad call was made with this last storm.  Almost all the surrounding school systems were in the same boat on this one.  They canceled early in anticipation of additional accumulation and that didn't really happen.

For some reason, our street wasn't plowed during the last storm and it's been an absolute mess all week.  In the past, one of our neighbors pissed off a plow driver and we all had to suffer.  Not a smart move, buddy!  I'm overly cautious in dealing with them now.  Presumably the warmer weather this weekend will melt what's left because right now, it's like I'm driving on an unpaved road.

The end of the school day today marks the beginning of February vacation.  How is that possible?  This school year is just flying by.  Some of Rich's family are vacationing in Hawaii right now and it's simply killing me.  KILLING ME.