Sunday, March 20, 2016

My Favorite Dallas Restaurants

My friend Marc wanted some eating recommendations for his friend who is working in Dallas this week, so I worked up a list and thought I should post it here so that next time I can just send a link to this page...

We go to Dallas every November for BGG.CON and this is pretty much my to-do list every year:
  • Pecan Lodge - BBQ, but it's kind of far, closer to the heart of the city. If he goes with maybe 5 other people, he can skip the line and go to the front to the "big orders" register and order a trough, which is enough for about 6-8 people depending on their appetites.
  • Lockhart Smokehouse -  If they have it, get the bread pudding. Also, the beef rib, which is only made on Wednesdays and served until the run out, so get there early for lunch on Wednesday.
  • Meat U Anywhere BBQ  - A bit north of DFW. They open at 6 am with breakfast burritos/tacos made from BBQ. :-) Perfect for morning BBQ.
  • Damian's Cajun Soul Food -Iit's in Arlington, only open 11 am - 4 pm during the week, but delicious. I never miss it when I'm in Dallas. The peach cobbler and cakes are a must!! Prices are very reasonable.
  • Hard Eight BBQ - Also, not terribly far from the airport, maybe a little northeast... The worst of these amazing BBQ restaurants, but still solid.
  • Andalous Mediterranean Grill - Freshly made pitas, variety of meats/kabobs and about a dozen veggie-friendly options. The fried cauliflower is amazing. 
  • Babe's Fried Chicken House - Great fun with a group. You choose your meat and all sides are family-style with unlimited refills. The whipped potatos and corn are crack-tacular.  They have multiple locations, but we usually go to the one in Carrollton.  I usually get the fried catfish or chicken, but people love the smoked chicken.
  • Elotes La Esperanza - This is a cart in front of a Fuel City gas station. There is also a taco stand right next door to the gas station. I'd recommend both of them. The elotes cart is cash only.

Friday, July 31, 2015

New-ish House, New-ish Budget

We started budgeting in 2013.  It's worked out pretty well.  I feel like we're both on the same page with money and we have a common outlook toward our future.  -- I originally wrote these first couple sentences almost a year ago, but it still holds true.

We have a new-to-us house, which has changed our budgeting.We did a ton of remodeling and used savings plus some cash flow to fund all the renovations. In addition, my work-life has been turned upside down in various ways since last September. Right now, I'm working very part-time and it's kind of weird. I've been getting little projects done around the house, but it's just weird not having someplace to go every day. Thankfully, Jason is gainfully employed. :-)

On the plus side, I've been able to volunteer a bit more, exercise a bit more and cook more, so overall, it's been pretty positive. I haven't been pursuing a full-time job just yet because we're waiting to adopt. So I'm using this time as a time to get refreshed. I have no idea how long it will take to find children to adopt. We're adopting through the foster system. We got officially licensed in April and so far, we've only received one call about twin boys, but they fell through. I'm not sure why the process is so slow. Maybe bureaucracy? I have no idea.

Since 2013, we've been using, but last week I decided to try something else. The best thing Mint has going for it is that it's easy. It's a lazy man's finance tool. You enter all your information and it will automatically download your transactions. The bad thing is that the budgeting tool sucks. It's so hard to interpret. So last week I downloaded You Need a Budget. The interface doesn't automatically download everything, but I can download transactions in Quicken format and upload to the program. It also has mobile apps for iPhone and Android. August will be our first whole month using it. I'm excited to see how we like it. I already like how the budgeting looks WAY better than how it's formatted in Mint.

The next financial goal is to pay off the house early. We've been paying a little extra toward the mortgage each month. If we precisely followed the Dave Ramsey Baby Steps, we'd pay any extra we have in our budget toward the house after putting our 15% into our retirement plans. I'm not sure if we will follow this exactly. We will have to scrutinize the incoming funds for August to figure out how much is reasonable.

More of an update on You Need a Budget after I've used it for a full month.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Still going...

I was listening to Dave Ramsey a few weeks ago and someone had written in with a question about whether flipping houses was a good way to make some money on the side.  His reply?

He said there are three rules in real estate... (paraphrased)

  1. It will cost twice as much as you think it will...
  2. It will take twice as long as you think it will...
  3. YOU are not the exception...
I'm not flipping this house.  We're remodeling it to live in it.  And yet, this encapsulates my life lately.  Our original remodeling budget was blown out of the water.  Well, not "blown out of the water," but definitely more than we thought we would spend.  

We're delaying the AC installation until after we move in to help cash flow that expense. In a rare occurrence, procrastination has paid off!  The energy efficiency rebates offered by our city are doubled starting 9/1, so we'll get a rebate of close to $1,600!  Very exciting!

I've been my own general contractor and it's been fun, but a little stressful.  There are so many details every day!  Thank goodness I've been working part-time since May. It's given me plenty of time to meet with plumbers, electricians, inspectors, and and and!  It's rapidly coming to a close and I can't wait.  I'm ready to just chill out.

But it's good.  While packing, I found a card from my grandfather that he sent when I bought my first house in 2000.  I read it aloud to the new Jason and then filed it away and pretended that he sent it to me for this house too.  

Pictures to be posted soon!  This was rather disjointed, but it's the update. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

In Escrow

After months and months of searching, we are finally in escrow!  And, because I'm a procrastinator, we're actually almost all done with escrow.  We should be signing all the docs on Friday, the loan will fund Monday, and then it should be recorded Tuesday, July 1st, aka: The Day We Become Homeowners!

It's been a really bumpy road getting here, but I'm happy to report that since entering escrow with this home, everything has been going relatively smoothly!  No crazy real estate agents or weird sellers.

When we started looking, I told Jason, "I'd love to buy a house in Burbank..."  I didn't expect it to actually happen because:  (a) homes in Burbank are typically a tad bit more expensive than other areas, (b) the ones that are for sale (in our price range) are what we affectionately call "Frankenhouses" due to the illegal, weird room additions, and (c) the market is so crazy, we never expected to actually win a bid in such an in-demand area.

Well, what I thought would never happen is happening.  We are almost owners of a home in Burbank!  It's a 3 bed/2 bath house in the flat part of Burbank.  It's about 1,800 square feet with a spacious 2 car garage in the back.  And in true SoCal real estate fashion, it needs some cosmetic work, plus central air.  The sellers have lived in the house for the last 40 years without air conditioning.  Shocking, really...

We have a long list of things we'd like to do.  Once we get keys next Tuesday, we'll have to go and figure out what we "need" to do before we move in.

Here's a picture of the front of the house:

More to come!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Buying a House in Los Angeles

We've been considering buying a home in Los Angeles.  Actually, more than considering... we looked for a few months last fall, bid on a couple houses... one we really wanted, but didn't get.

Here was the situation:

The home was listed for $599K.  We really liked it and knew that they already had multiple bids, so we bid $631K.  The sellers put out multiple counteroffers for $640K, with the add-on of removing the appraisal contingency*.  We responded to the counter accepting the increased price and agreeing to pay up to $20K over the appraisal price in cash, if the home didn't appraise for $640K.  Well, the sellers ended up going with other buyers.  Who can blame them?  They chose the buyers who had ALL CASH.  Crazy.  Who has $640K in cash lying around to buy a house?  I can only assume people who just sold their own homes in this crazy market... And this is a fairly typical scenario in the Los Angeles housing market the last year or so.

After that, Jason's job was a little tenuous and we knew there was a very good chance the company would run out of money (being a fairly new start-up).  So, we took a break during Christmas to re-think everything.

And now we're back.  Starting to look at houses again.  When we're at these open houses, we see kids younger than us (get off my lawn!), browsing the same houses we are and I think to myself, how can they even afford this house?  We have a good down payment saved up and decent paying jobs and even then, we're like "wow, this is going to be a stretch!"  I just don't know how they're doing it.

I'm so tempted to stay in our apartment.  I have the added bonus of being the apartment manager and only paying $950 in rent!  So it's hard to imagine going from that to over $3,000/month with the mortgage, taxes and insurance.  I keep crossing my fingers that a 2 bedroom will open up in my building and allow us to move within the building (keeping the building manager discount).

As it stands now, we're looking.  It took almost three months last year to find one we both really liked, so who knows how long it will take this year.  We can bide our time, waiting for the right home to pop-up.  Or maybe that two bedroom apartment will open up... :-)  Either way, I'm going to enjoy my below-market rent while I can.

*Side note:  The appraisal contingency is there to "protect" buyers from overpaying.  If you bid $900K on a house worth only $500K, you can use the fact that it didn't appraise for enough to either back out or renegotiate your deal with the sellers.  And if you're financing the home with a mortgage, then you're pretty much stuck because the bank isn't going to lend you more than the home is worth and not getting financing is definitely a way to back out of a real estate deal because there are usually financing contingencies as well.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Food Challenge: Eating from the Pantry and Freezer

As I've been trying to take advantage of various sales, I've realized I have no room left in my freezer to freeze meat!  I pulled out a prime rib roast to cook this weekend, just so I could make room for something else.  My pantry is also pretty darn full.

And as a random side note, I hate the way my spices are in my cabinet because it's so hard to read.  I bought a plastic drawer thing that is *really* to be used as a filing cabinet.  It has two shallow drawers on top and then one bigger drawer on the bottom for files.  I'm planning on putting the spices in the top two drawers with the spices lying down so the labels will show when you're looking down. I'm thinking about putting the potatoes and onions down the in the big drawer.

So, back to the freezer and pantry... I think I'm going to try to start cooking my way through it.  And clean it out on an as-needed basis.  I need to make space!  We usually spend about $300/month on groceries.  So maybe I cut that budget in half for January and try to use up the stuff in the freezer/pantry?  With the holidays and actually being in-town, I think we'll need our full budget of $350 (added a buffer due to Christmas/New Year's).  

I think it's worth a shot! I'll bet I have things in my freezer that I've completely forgotten about!  What I really need is a better system for keeping track of what I have in the freezer to cook.  I'm going to research that and I'll post any techniques that work for me here.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Non-Baby Update

We've been trying for a baby all year, so far no luck.  So we decided to take the advice of Jason's parents to just get checked out and make sure everything is functioning properly.  We both went for some tests.  His was pretty simple. Meanwhile...

My tests included:
  • Pelvic ultrasound to check out the status of my fibroids (especially my biggest one which is now 12 cm all around!),
  • Vaginal ultrasound to then check for more fibroids - apparently I have even more in my uterine walls.  Some of them are near where the baby would implant, so I had to go for another test (HSG) to check the lining because he couldn't tell if the fibroids were disturbing the lining of the uterus around the implantation area,
  • Ovarian blood test - This tested a few different levels and everything here checked out normally,
  • Hysterosalpingogram (HSG) - to check the lining of my uterus and the status of my Fallopian tubes.  This test was to check the area around the implantation site to make sure those small fibroids weren't causing a bigger problem than the 12 cm one.  Turns out, the lining at the implantation site looked good.  And my Fallopian tube by the big fibroid is stretched out some, but it's not blocked or being squished.  
The bottom line is that everything appears to be functioning normally. So now we're just wrestling with the next steps.  My doctor is recommending taking Clomid for one cycle.  It's an oral medication that should make me "drop" 2-3 eggs instead of just one when I ovulate.  If that doesn't do the trick, then we can try injectibles which will "drop" several eggs instead of just one.  The Clomid is supposed to help my chances of getting pregnant like 10% and the injectibles like 20%.  

We're definitely not doing anything for November.  The time that I would be taking Clomid would be exactly when I'm at BGG.CON in Dallas and I don't want to be worried about having hot flashes and everything else while I'm around 1,000 of my closest friends.  So the earliest we would try the Clomid would be December.  And who knows?  Maybe I'll get pregnant by then?

We've also been seriously considering doing foster care, but I was informed by someone who deals with the foster care system that if we got pregnant during our licensing process, they would put us on hold until our child is one year old.  So, I think we're going to have to give getting pregnant a little more time (both naturally and with the pharmaceutical help) before we decide to follow through with the foster care process.  The foster care stuff requires its own post, so I'll save that for another day...

Saturday, November 02, 2013


I went out to lunch with my BFF Shane today. We met up to catch up and do a little shopping. While we were out, I looked up how much I spent at Maggiano's the last time we did a liquid Saturday lunch. This got is on the subject of and budgeting. 

Jason and I put all the money in a joint account and budget from there. She and her hubby (we each got married two weeks apart) have separate accounts and then put a set amount into a joint account to pay bills out of. 

I am not a huge fan of their method, at least not for myself, but it seems to be working for them. There are so many different ways to budget and I think they're like outfits. Each fits in a different way. 

The thing we can agree on is that we like Mint, which was not the case when I started using it. I hated it. There are certain things I still don't like but overall, it's been pretty great as we finish up 10 months of budgeting!  

I think having the monthly budget meetings has been good for our relationship. We do talk during the month about how we're doing, but having that monthly check-in time is good to make sure we're still on the same page. 

Friday, November 01, 2013

NaBloPoMo 2013

In theory, I'll post a blog entry everyday in November.  I'm this post at 11:45 pm on the first day of the month.   I'm not sure this bodes well, but it's worth a shot anyway. 

I may not post everyday, but I miss writing about the various events happening around here. 

Topics to cover:
Being married a year!
Pregnancy quest
Foster care info
The Great House Hunt

And given that BGG.CON is in a couple weeks... Games!!

Until tomorrow, aka: 9 minutes from now...

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How to Cancel NYTimes Crossword iPhone App Subscription

I'm not great at crosswords, but I wish I were!  A lot of my cool puzzle friends are also crazy-good at crossword puzzles.  I try to do them more often, which I'm hoping will lead me to be better at them.

Enter the NYTimes Crossword app for my iPhone.  I wasn't sure if I'd use it much, so I subscribed for a single month for $2.99.  It auto renews, but I thought I'd remember to turn it off.  I didn't.

I just spent at least 10-15 minutes trying to figure out how to cancel the auto renewal, so here's how to do it for anyone else out there in the same boat.

Open iTunes and connect to the iTunes Store.  Under the very small "Manage" at the bottom, choose Account and log into your account.  Pick Subscriptions and turn it to OFF.

The app developer MagMic makes it practically impossible to figure out from their "knowledge base" on their website.  Probably so they can milk you for $3/month.

You're welcome.