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Blog Closed, For Now…

After giving this a lot of thought, I’ve decided that keeping up two separate blogs is a bit too much for me right now.  Since my main focus (and much of my free time) is spent thinking about and practicing weight loss, Bella on the Beach is going to be the blog that I concentrate on.

As many of you can tell, I’ve been writing less and less frequently on this blog, and writing on an almost daily basis on the other one.  So, for now (until I’ve completed my weight loss journey, I guess) I’m only going to keep that one going. I’ll still leave this up so that new visitors can read the archives, and I’m sure someday I’ll be back.

This was the blog that started it all, and it will always be close to my heart.  This is my 327th post, and I’ve poured a lot of my heart out onto these pages.  I’ve also made some great blogging buddies, and I appreciate everyone who’s commented.

I wish you all the best, and look forward to seeing you on Bella on the Beach.

This was the first Thanksgiving that I’ve ever traveled, and what a whirlwind trip it was.  My uncle recently purchased a house in Niles, Michigan, and we wanted to go out and visit him before the weather turned too cold for us wimpy Californians.

His house is so cool, especially the 2-acre grounds.  I imagined huge garden parties in the summer, my nieces running with wild abandon in the backyard, and sipping cocktails in lounge chairs.  At least, that’s what I’d do with the place if I had it.  Not sure if my uncle has those same plans, but maybe I can convince him.

The city of Niles, Michigan is very quaint, especially the downtown area, which is peppered with funky stores, antique “malls,” and old-time businesses.  They city is so much smaller than the one we’re from, so it was very interesting.  My uncle seems to be making some friends which is good.  The main thing that I noticed is that the people are much more conservative there than they are in the Bay Area.  Then again, I think most small towns in middle America are much more conservative than the Bay Area.  ;)  The one example I have is that we went to a converted mansion in South Bend, IN for Thanksgiving dinner.  When we arrived in the dining room we ordered two bottles of wine – one white and one red – for the table of four of us.  You should have seen the stares!  The woman at the table next to us nudged her husband and sat there agape, as if we were slugging back wine by the gallon.  I looked around and saw that every other table in the room had either iced tea or water – no alcohol of any kind. So weird!

After a day and a half in Niles, we left for Chicago.  I had seen pictures, heard stories, but nothing compares to actually being there.  Chicago is a stunning, immaculate, architecturally gorgeous city!  I still think San Francisco is more beautiful, but I do love Chicago.  I wish we had more than two days in this fun, lively city.  I’ll definitely be back.

I could fill many more paragraphs with all of our adventures in the two day trip, but for now, I think I’ll let my 200+ photos speak for themselves.  I tried to get some artsy shots, so I hope you enjoy them.

Thanksgiving 2009 – Michigan & Chicago

Has it really been 20 years?

I know 1989 was 20 years ago, but from the constant hugs, huge smiles, and squeals of delight at seeing each other, you’d have never known it.  My 20th high school reunion was last night, and what a fun time it was.

Last year, when I first thought about going to my 20th reunion, I was quite anxious.  I hadn’t gone to any of the previous reunions, mostly because I didn’t think enough had happened in my life to warrant it.  I mean, at 5 years I was still in my credential program, so how much had changed?  At 10 years I was too busy working at Yahoo, and feeling a bit down about life because I didn’t have a boyfriend/husband to bring.  But I knew that I had to go to my 20th, because it would be so great to see everyone, despite feeling like I wasn’t looking my best.

Sure, it would’ve been amazing to have lost 140 pounds and look skinny.  But that wasn’t the case, and I didn’t want to let my weight stop me from attending what was sure to be a great night.  So, I joined the reunion planning committee, dealt with the “mean girl” syndrome that seems to have followed a few people into their adult lives, and made sure that we were going to have the best reunion possible.

As much as I had hoped to lose at least 20 pounds and feel even better about myself, it didn’t happen.  But none of that mattered as soon as I started getting ready.  I had a great dress that looked nice and was comfortable.  A fabulous necklace that added a funky flair, and shoes that put that much-needed splash of color into the outfit.  I’d gone to have my hair colored earlier in the afternoon, so my wild curls were blown out into a nicely coiffed ‘do.

As soon as I arrived, I knew it was going to be a wonderful time.  Everyone greeted me so warmly, gave huge hugs, and thanked me for helping to plan it.  The compliments flowed about everything – my makeup, my hair, my necklace, my dress – these girls had me feeling like I was a superstar.  I felt so confident and so happy, which was so nice.  It was really as if the 20 years hadn’t gone by and we were all back in high school just hanging out on a Saturday night.

Most of the girls (I went to an all-girls school) left their husbands and boyfriends at home, which made it feel even more like a night back in high school.  The few husbands that were there seemed to enjoy the hilarity of it all.  The old personalities soon emerged, and I’m sure it was wildly entertaining to see their wives the way they looked back in high school.

The best part of the evening was the slideshow of old photos from when were were in high school.  Other than a few inches in the waistline and a few cans of hairspray holding together our ‘dos, most people looked the same.  I was shocked to see that throughout my senior year as I was growing out a short 80s haircut, I seemed to be sporting a ‘fro.  Well, that’s what happens with curly hair, I guess.  Seeing all of us in our old plaid uniforms and penny loafers definitely brought back so many memories.

Outside on the pool deck as we sipped cocktails and enjoyed old stories, you could truly see that our sense of community hadn’t changed at all.  One of the husbands commented about how confident each of us looked back in high school, something that he never found in the girls who went to his co-ed school.  And it’s true; going to an all-girls school did instill in each of us a sense that we could do anything, be anyone, and accomplish whatever we wanted.  Nothing was off limits or too far out of reach.  And it showed in the great things that each of us has done with our lives.  We’re all still hugely confident women today, and we can thank our old alma mater for that.

The night passed by in a blur.  I think all greatly-anticipated evenings do, though, don’t they?  I wish I would’ve been able to talk to more people, caught up on more lives, and made my way through more of the groupings, but there just wasn’t time.  It was a fantastic reunion, and I’m so glad I went.

Here are a few photos from the night.  I wish I would’ve taken more, but I was enjoying myself too much.  Still, it’ll give you an idea.

My 20th High School Reunion

Lending Loser

012503_real_home_loan-1Ok, so the title of this post isn’t exactly positive.  Actually, my last few posts on here haven’t been positive, which is not normal for me.  I’m usually a really upbeat person, and even though life isn’t always sunshine and roses, I try to see the best in each situation.  And, well, I guess if you read through the posts, you will see that even on a bad date, I find ways to make it funny.  Or, when dealing with bad neighbors, I try to see the silver lining in starting the home buying process.  So that’s a good thing – turning a bad situation into something positive is still in keeping with the way I try to live my life.

Last Monday I had an appointment with a lender that a colleague of mine is using.  He absolutely loves this woman, and couldn’t speak more highly of her.  The list of documents that I needed to bring with me to the meeting was daunting, to say the least:

  • teaching credential
  • employment contract
  • 3 months of paystubs
  • 3 months of bank statements
  • 3 years of tax statements
  • 3 years of W-2 forms
  • rental agreement
  • social security card
  • passport

Whew!  I had to bring the teaching info because I was trying to get one of the special loans that my city offers to teachers.  I found an accordion divider that held everything perfectly, and was proud of how organized I was.  There was a slight moment (or hour) of panic when I couldn’t find my 2008 tax forms, until I realized that I e-filed last year, and had it all on the computer.  I tore my files and drawers apart looking for it, but hey, at least those are totally organized now.  LOL.

So I walked into the office very confidently on Monday, knowing that my credit score was good(ish) and that I had all of the necessary documentation with me. The office isn’t too far from school, and although they kept me waiting 15 minutes, I still felt good about the meeting.  CM greeted me and apologized for the delay, explaining that she had been out of the office a couple of days the week before, and was trying to catch up with everything.  Not a problem.

We headed to her office and began the process of filling out the loan application, reviewing my documents, and seeing what type of loan I could qualify for.  All of a sudden CM says, “girl, you make too much money!”  WTF?!  I have NEVER, EVER heard that phrase uttered regarding my income.  I’m a teacher, for God’s sake.  Is she nuts?  When I asked what she was talking about she said that I make too much money to qualify for the teacher home buyer loans.  How the heck is that possible?  Yes, I finally earn a decent salary, but I’m not making the top of the payscale yet.  Something seemed strange.  Then she mentioned that I also made too much to qualify for my city’s new home owner loans, as well.  ???  I had never heard that those programs were tied to money.  You’re either a first-time home buyer or you’re not, right?  What does money have to do with it?  Does  this mean that doctors and lawyers wouldn’t qualify either?  Because I can guarantee you that they make more than I do in the first few years of the profession.  Again, this info made me doubt her.

She did say that I could qualify for one type of loan offered through the teachers’ retirement system in California.  Ok, good.  They could give $55K, but it required that I had at least $3K of my own money.  Why?  I had already told her that my parent said they’d give me $10K if I really needed it.  When I asked if the money had to be my own, or if it could come from my parents, she said, “no, it has to be yours.”  When I asked her what difference it made, she said, “well, they’ll know if it came from your account or someone else’s.”  Really?  If it’s in my account, I think it’s mine, right?

Then we came to the part of the application where they were asking ethnicity. Her computer was set up in such a way that she had a screen that she could look at, but she had a 2nd screen that was facing me.  She began to check “Hispanic,” and I immediately corrected her saying, “I’m not Hispanic, I’m Italian.”  And she said, “well, maybe we should keep it as Hispanic, because you might get more money that way.”  I was FLABBERGASTED.  I told her that I wanted her to mark Caucasian, because that’s what I was.  I mean, here is the same woman who not 5 minutes before told me “they” would know if the money was mine or my parents’ yet she was now asking me to falsify my ethnicity to get more money?  Wouldn’t “they” also find out about that?  While we’re at it, why don’t we just put down “Native American,” since there’s probably even MORE money for them.  It’s ludicrous.

At that point she’d lost me.

She ran my credit, and the score was a lot lower than the one that I had run on myself.  I guess my car loan finally showed up, and at the beginning of any loan, it lowers your credit, until you establish a good payment record.  She said, “boy, I wish you’d talked to me before you bought that car because I would’ve stopped you.”  I told her that even if I had talked to her, I would’ve bought the car anyway, because my lease was up and I needed a new one. At that point I just wanted to see what the numbers said.

She  told me that I’d have to come with $20K of my own money and that I qualified for a $325K loan.  Now that may be a lot where you live, but in the Bay Area, that’s nothing.  Seriously, I can’t get a nice condo for that amount in any part of the city that I’d want to live in.  And I don’t want to downgrade where I live and find myself in an unsafe situation.  There are problems with where I live now, but at least it’s safe.  And I don’t own it, so there’s no long term commitment.  Plus, the mortgage payment would be $2100 (including $300 in HOA fees), which is a lot.  If I’m going to pay that much on a mortgage, I want to live in a really beautiful place.  After she told me this terrible news, she also said that because of my credit, I’d need to buy $13K in points to cover the closing costs.  Ok, so I have to come up with $33K of my own money on a $325K loan?  That’s 10%.  These days, people are putting 3% down.  Where are those loans?

I left her office telling her that I wanted to wait. That I didn’t have the kind of money she was talking about, and I needed to discuss all of this with my parents.  But really I just wanted to get out of her office.  She seemed so shady and I really wanted nothing more to do with her.  At all.

So here’s where I am: I’m going to stay here for the next several months and pretend that I’m paying $800 more in rent than I am.  I’m going to put that $800 in my savings account and save up some money.  Plus, it will mimic what my mortgage payment would be like, minus the HOA fees.  It will be good for me to see what my lifestyle will be like with that sort of mortgage payment.  I’ll be able to realistically see if I can really afford to buy something.  I know that by not buying this year I’m losing out on $8K in tax credits, but that’s the way it goes.  Maybe there will be a tax incentive next year, too.  And if not, so be it.  This is not the type of decision that I want to rush into.

By waiting for a while I’ll also be able to build up the credit a bit more, which will help with the amount a bank is willing to loan me.  I also want to consult a few other lenders/mortgage brokers to see if what this woman was telling me is accurate, or if she was out of her mind.  I want to make sure that I go to someone who is trustworthy and who has integrity, neither of which I felt in this woman.

They say that everything happens for a reason, and I think it’s better for me to wait right now.  I don’t want to move around the holidays.  Also, I just found out that I can’t get out of my 1-year lease, so I am stuck here until next October, unless I break the lease.  Which I’m totally willing to do, but I think I’d rather not have that added stress during the holidays either.

So, for now I’m still a renter.  Still dealing with noisy neighbors, but things have calmed down next door a bit, so I think I’ll be able to live with it, for now at least.

Bad Neighbors, Good for Me?

Music2Loud Ok, so let me say first of all that I don’t consider myself an old curmudgeon in any way.  I’m a fairly tolerant, open-minded person, but I do like to have a sense of orderliness and peace around my home.

Recently FavNeighbor and her hubby moved out because they bought a condo.  I was so thrilled for them, but so sad for me, because they were amazing neighbors.  We had similar schedules, similar expectations, and similar lifestyles.  We liked to keep our duplex neat and orderly and we were friends with each other.  We got along so well, and I guess I sort of forgot that it’s not always that way with neighbors.

The place was vacant for a few weeks, and I spent that time wondering who was going to move in next door.  It is important to like and trust the neighbors that you share a common wall with.  Not to mention the fact that our backyard is a common space, as is our basement.

Very few people had come by to see the place, and I was worried that the management company might start to get desperate to rent it out.  My fears were warranted, as it turned out. I should mention that the management company was anxious for me to sign the new lease to my house.  I was glad to do it, especially because I found out they weren’t going to increase my rent.  I was really dumb not to wait to see who was moving in next door, especially because my lease wasn’t officially up until September 30th.

Tuesday I arrived home after a “koffee klatch” with Ish, to discover a bunch of plants, a medium-sized dog, and a bunch of backpacking equipment in the house next door.  No people.  I wondered what was going on, since I hadn’t been told that anyone was moving in.

Later in the evening, two people arrived.  One guy in his mid 20’s and his father, who I found out was 45.  Both men had long hair and a bit of a hippie vibe, but I wasn’t judging them by their appearances.  They seemed like nice people, and I found out that the son was an artist from Santa Cruz who moved here because this city has more of an artists community than Santa Cruz does.  (I knew we had some great galleries in this city, but I didn’t know it was such a hub of artistic talent).

Anyway, the father then proceeded to tell me that he used to do drugs (as evidenced from his lack of teeth – he has maybe 7 in his whole mouth) and had spent some time in jail.  Again, I believe that everyone makes mistakes and everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt.  I also learned that they were going to leave at midnight to pick up the younger guy’s girlfriend and her dog.

So, just in case you aren’t following this, that makes 3 adults and 2 dogs living next door in a 1-bedroom unit.  Definitely a sign of trouble.

The first couple of nights went fine.  They were quiet, friendly, and I thought that things might work out.  Thursday night painted a whole different picture.

Thursday night they decided to start drinking, playing the music incredibly loud (I had all my doors closed and could hear it clearly), and were hooting and hollering.  They were hanging out on the front steps, and the vibe was just really low class and trashy.  I know that makes me sound snobby, but so be it.  I work too hard for what I have and care too much about my home to live next to something like this.

So, I wrote a letter to the management company explaining what was going on, how unhappy I was, and why I wanted to change my lease from 1-year to month-to-month.  Lots of my co-workers are in the process of buying condos or smaller houses since the real estate market is down right now, and I started thinking, “maybe I can afford to buy something, too.”

I got an email the next day (Friday) from the management company explaining that they had talked the the neighbors and assuring me that they would cease and desist with the noise.  The thing is, the noise was only a small symptom of a greater problem.  The main thing is that these new neighbors simply don’t know any different – they’re used to living like this and I’m sure they see nothing wrong with the way they live or the noise they make.  The fact that so many of them are crammed into a 1-bedroom unit should be an indication.  Plus the fact that the son is the only one with a job.  Now, I know that the economy is tough right now, but they don’t strike me as the hard-working sort.

The neighbors obviously realized that I spoke to the management, and that fact was confirmed when I heard the father say, “wow, she pretended to be so sweet, but she’s actually a fucking bitch.”  Nice.  It’s going to be just wonderful living next door to this, right?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I’m at the place in my life where I want to live in an area where everyone cares about their home as much as I do.  My area isn’t like that.  My area is full of traffic, homeless people, and down-and-out sorts.  I’ve made huge improvements to this place, and I love my duplex, but if I’m honest, I don’t live in the best neighborhood.  By any means.  So maybe it’s time for me to move on to something better, somewhere nicer.

My mom always says that everything happens for a reason, and maybe the reason these people moved in was to show me that it’s time for me to look into buying a condo.  It would be a stretch, but I could probably afford something small.  I don’t have any money for a down payment, but there are new home buyer and teacher programs in my city that may make buying a place more affordable.  Plus, this is the time to buy because prices are down.

I pulled my credit score on Thursday and was happily surprised to discover that it’s gone from “poor” to “good” in the course of 3 months.  My Experian rating is 706, which isn’t stellar, but isn’t terrible, either.  I’m starting to get a bit hopeful that maybe I can join the ranks of homeowner.  So, I’ve contacted a real estate agent, and I’m waiting for his call.  I’m excited to see what might happen.

Things might be a bit uncomfortable for me at my current home, but with the idea that I may be moving onward and upward, I’m feeling positive.

I’m not sure if I mentioned it on this blog or not, but a couple of weeks ago, I signed up for eHarmony (again!).  Third time’s the charm, right?  I paid for a 6-month subscription because I figured that I should give it a good shot this time around.

This first dating update is actually about a date I went on with someone an acquaintance of mine set me up with, so he wasn’t someone I met through eHarmony.  Our mutual acquaintance thought that S and I had a lot in common, similar backgrounds, etc. and thought we’d really get along.  She asked us both if we were interested in meeting, and we connected through Facebook.

That was back in April.  S and I exchanged a couple of emails, but he never asked me out, even for coffee.  I wasn’t overly thrilled with the idea of going out with him because he wasn’t attractive to me, based on the pictures he had of himself on his profile.  Also, he and I have different political philosophies, which is a pretty important thing for me when looking for a serious relationship. At this point I should mention that the acquaintance thought we’d have lots in common because we both went to the same Catholic grammar school, were both Italian, and both had weight issues.  The stuff great romances are made of, right?  I seriously don’t know if I should be insulted or not, because this guy is definitely not what anyone would consider remotely good looking.  Which  may be completely superficial of me, but while I have a ton of weight to lose, I know that I’m a pretty girl, and I’m not as desperate as this acquaintance seems to think I am.

But, regardless of the misgivings I had, a couple of weeks ago, right after I signed up for eHarmony, actually, I decided to contact S one last time just to see if there was anything there.  I sent him a quick and very direct message on FB asking him if he was still interested in seeing whether or not our acquaintance was right in thinking that we’d have a lot in common.  He responded fairly quickly to say that he would love to, and suggested that we meet for lunch or coffee sometime.

We met on Tuesday at a Starbucks that was close to each of our houses, because Starbucks is such a safe first meeting place.  A cup of coffee can’t last that long, right?  Tuesday just so happened to be my first day of school, so I thought that I’d have a few funny stories to tell in case there was a lull in the conversation.  Little did I know that there was no need for me to worry about adding to the conversation.

No, it’s not what you might be thinking – that we had such great rapport that we didn’t have any lulls to worry about.  It was that S talked and talked and TALKED the entire time.  I’m talking literally for 1 hour straight!  And not about something that was interesting, but complaining about family politics, bragging about how much money they had, how he’d had weight loss surgery (but still needed to lose about 75 pounds), and then saying that he was glad he’d never finished his undergraduate degree because he didn’t even need it.  Um, hello?  I’m a teacher. Do you think I might put a value on education?  Instead of impressing me, he was a complete turnoff.  The entire time he was ranting and raving about himself and his family, I just kept wondering how long I’d have to keep this up. I didn’t really say anything the entire time we were having coffee, which is incredible if you know me, because I can talk to anyone about anything, but he simply never stopped talking long enough to give me a chance to share a thing.

Then, just when we were going to leave, he said, “say, do you want to grab a bite to eat at that restaurant right there?”  At this point I think that something took over my mind and body because I actually said, “sure, that would be great.”  WTF?  Why the hell did I just agree to spend more time with this self-involved bore?  What the heck was I thinking?  I’m convinced it was penance for some past indiscretion I’ve committed.

We made it through dinner (which was way more calories than I should have eaten, and is probably the reason the scale showed a 2-pound gain this week), but not before he started bragging about his mafia connections.  For some reason he thought it would be impressive to say, “you know, in a snap of a finger, I could ‘get rid of someone’ if I needed to.  I know who to call to get it taken care of and I know just where to put the body so that it would never be found.”  Way to smooze the ladies, S.  Puleeze.  The thing is, my family actually had some organized crime connections, although we don’t really discuss that too often, so it was hilarious to me that this guy was such a poser.  I can almost guarantee you that he didn’t know any local mafiosos, mostly because my family knows who they all are.  In any case, there was absolutely no point to him saying any of that, whatsoever!  Was I supposed to feel safe that he could have someone “taken care of?”  I’m still not sure what his point was.

Now, beyond his looks, it was truly his attitude that left me wishing I could click my heels 3 times and teleport myself out of the restaurant.  He was smug, fake, a braggart, and one of those people who make themselves feel better by putting other people down.  Such a sign of insecurity.

So, the date finally ended with a quick hug.  I told him to have a good night and he mentioned that he hoped to see me at an Italian festival that was happening this weekend.  Ugh.  So he was obviously hoping we’d see each other again. And why wouldn’t he?  I was a great listener!  LOL.

When he called on Saturday to see if I wanted to meet him at the festival, I let it go to voicemail and didn’t call him back.  Rude, I know.  I felt a bit guilty this morning, so I sent him an email through FB letting him know that I was really busy yesterday and didn’t have a chance to call him back or go to the festival.  Then I told him that while I thought we had a ton in common, I didn’t feel the chemistry was there.  He responded saying that he agreed about the chemistry (right, man, that’s why you invited me to go out with you again), but that he hoped we could be friends.  I haven’t replied.

It was definitely one of the worst first dates I’ve ever gone on, and I’m hoping that the next date (whenever that happens) will be much better now that I’ve gotten a bad one out of the way.  There’s only one way to go from here, right?😉

amc0568l

Yesterday I had a fantastic Saturday:

  • Zumba in the morning
  • Headed to Los Gatos to pick up our latest wine club offering at Flemming Jenkins with Ish.  We stayed for a free tasting, just because.
  • Lunch at Willow Street Pizza to have their amazing summer salad special – skirt steak with peaches and goat cheese on mixed greens with a balsamic vinaigrette.  Yum!!!
  • A quick trip to Benefit to buy some new lipsticks.
  • A trip to Walmart to look for workout clothes – more about this on Bella on the Beach.

I was gone from 1:20pm to 6pm.  I was so tired when I got home, but as soon as I drove into the driveway, I noticed that my back door was open.  Not just unlocked, but OPEN!

At first I thought someone had broken in, so I quickly went through the duplex and saw that nothing was out of place.  (Well nothing that I hadn’t left out of place to begin with).

Which means that I left for hours without locking my door!!!  Stupid!!!!

I know exactly what happened, thinking back.  I was running late to meet Ish and I was trying to put the windguard up in the back of the convertible so that I could have the top down on the freeway without ruining my hair.  I couldn’t get the darn thing up (gotta read the manual) and I finally said, “F-it, I’m so late as it is, I need to go NOW.”  I remember putting the windguard in my little pantry area, and I thought I closed the door, but I definitely don’t remember locking the deadbolt.  One of the “tricks” with my back door is that it doesn’t close unless you really pull it.  I must’ve thought that I did, but I obviously didn’t.  When I looked at it, the bottom lock was “locked,” but that doesn’t really work unless the door is closed.

The thing is, I always lock my doors.  Always.  Always have.  Growing up, we lived in a really affluent area of the city with a very small crime rate, but we always locked the doors as soon as we came in the house.  Even in the middle of the day when we were all home.  I continue that habit at my own house, and always have.  Better safe than sorry.

Now what’s heart-warming about what happened yesterday is that even though my house was wide open and asking for someone to come in and steal the many valuable and expensive things I own, no one took a thing.  I live in a neighborhood that has a ton of foot traffic, much of it by homeless types who look like they’ve just gotten out of some sort of halfway house.  Some of them look crazy (literally), but they’re generally harmless.  Still, I make sure to keep things locked up, because you never know. It was such a relief to know that no one came in and took anything.  People respected the house.

I’ve always felt safe at home, and now I know that I truly am. That said, I still plan on locking the doors, just to be sure.

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