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Greetings from the Bronx Burrow!

Almost two weeks ago, we closed on our first home (yay!) and moved from happenin' Astoria to "where's that?" Van Nest in the Bronx. A day later, we moved. We spent the first few days cleaning and repairing the old place in Astoria and then I spent a few days mostly at church, so it's only the past three days or so that I've been hanging out at home and roaming around the neighborhood.

It's awesome.

First, the house. It's a two family with two nearly identical apartments (one over the other) with two large bedrooms, one small bedroom, big kitchen/dining room, big living room, lots of closets, and a bath and a half. The windows are big and there's lots of sunlight. The decor is outdated, but we're working on that a little at a time. The biggest different between the apartments is that ours (the top floor) has an attic and we have access to the finished basement (with laundry and half bath) and two car garage. We rent out the first floor to a lovely family who's been there 10 years and we have a yard neatly divided between grassy yard and a great sunny section for gardening. The house is brick and big enough that we can spread out and not be cramped, but small enough that it's not ridiculous for two people. And all my cooking friends who've seen it can confirm that the kitchen is set up really nicely and is a good and spacious and a joy for working in. That said, there's a lot to improve and it'll keep us busy for a while getting the place spruced up and modernized (we need a dishwasher!!!) and really made ours.

Then there's the neighborhood. Van Nest is near Morris Park and the Bronx Zoo. We're a quarter mile from the 2 train at Bronx Park East and a half mile from the Zoo. The neighborhood is historically Italian, though has become remarkably diverse. I don't mean diverse in the usual NYC way where each group has its own neighborhood so the city as a whole is diverse but individual areas aren't. This one actually is, though it doesn't show in the usual ways. While almost the only restaurants I've seen are Italian (albeit with the ubiquitous Chinese takeout places), the population is not just Italian. There are the Italian old-timers to be sure, but there's also a Polish club, a Turkish Cypriot mosque, a Spanish mass at one of the two nearby Roman churches, a West Indian Anglican parish, a few middle Eastern grocers, and a clear African American presence. Very near us is Conti's Italian Pastry Shop, which doubles as a coffee bar. The pastries are terrific, the coffee is good, the decor is delightful, and they have wi-fi. I've been there three times in as many days. Mambo Italiano is a nice Italian restaurant, family operation, open for about two months, with excellent bruschetta and ridiculously friendly service. Also, the $4 house red is surprisingly tasty!

We're right by the post office, the public library, the dry cleaner, two hardware stores, Dunkin Donuts, and a couple 24 hour bodegas. The nearest supermarket has a mostly crappy selection, but will do in a pinch, and does carry organic 1% milk. I'll generally compromise and buy non-organic anything else if I need it and can't get what I want, but I will not buy any but 1% organic milk. It's just too damn good to turn back! Sorry. Tangent.

The neighbors we've met have all been SUPER friendly. The good weather helps, no doubt, as it perks everyone up. Obviously, we have our awesome tenants, though we don't see them much. Two doors down are Carol (a teacher in Co-Op city) and her elderly parents; her oldest child (daughter) is exactly my age and just got married last year (on Mike's birthday). Rachel and Eric live just a little down the way and he works for the DOE Division of Transportation; Rachel is currently unemployed and volunteers at the animal shelter. There are lots of friendly dogs on the block and I'm going to start keeping dog treats around so when they come by, I can be friendly back. Carol was ecstatic to hear about the pdogs because she LOVES pdogs and is very excited to meet them when they're settled in and a little calmer. This definitely seems like the kind of neighborhood where people chill on the stoop in summer and might even share some lemonade -- or something harder -- and show up for a barbeque. I think that's amazing.

As for our furry friends, they're very happy. Pascal is learning to walk on a harness and is getting used to the yard. The others will follow after him. Meantime, their cage is by the window and they get loads of sunlight. They've taken to spending hours on alert and squeaking their happiness. The squeaking is the one thing we missed most when we were in Astoria and they wouldn't do it. Now they all do and we just couldn't be happier about it.

So, yeah, the commute is a bitch. It totally sucks that I'm now an hour from church. It should be 45 minutes, but the 2 train has been shit since I got here. But I'm trying to make the best of it by reading more and listening to music on my phone. Plus, the elevated portion of the ride is good for catching up on email. It would be significantly worse without my awesome little droid. I know people won't want to drag ass up here, but I'm hoping to throw a couple parties worth the trip and at the end of the day, it IS still in the city and accessible by the same $2.25 subway that got you to Astoria. And for those of you driving, the parking is way easier.

Meantime, Mike is calming down away from the psycho bitch upstairs and the asshole landlords. I'm calming down as he does and getting excited about painting the house and redesigning the kitchen and planting a garden. I'll have my own fresh herbs and flowers. Carol was this evening about to suggest how I ought to use my yard, so I told her exactly what I planned and she approved it totally. Now I just have to do it. :-)

P.S. A guy at my school grew up literally one block over. Isn't that wild?!

Update: The Polish club is an Albanian club. Also, there's a natural/organic grocer a half mile up with a fantastic selection -- I've basically moved in. Wallpaper is easier to remove than I expected! The commute's still a bitch, but I balance train and car days and seem to be working it out alright. Don't look at the time stamp, though; it will only get me in trouble.

house update

At the risk of jumping the gun....

We may have a house in a few weeks. Just after New Year's we found a place we love. It was listed for about 30% more than we wanted to spend, but it's really fabulous. It's a freestanding brick two-family with a two-car garage, a finished basement, and a nice little yard. We've had the inspection, we're in contract, the bank gave us a letter of commitment and did an appraisal. The sellers lowered the price to match the appraisal (we had overbid to grab the house away from another bidder) last night, so it looks good. Now we just have to clear the title and close.

Wow.

The place was built in 1962 and hasn't been redecorated since, so there's definitely work to be done. But I'm already plotting renovations in the kitchen (less expensive than you might think), though I haven't even begun to think about the bathroom. It's dreadful. Gray tile and pink fixtures with pink and gray wallpaper. There is much to be done in there. But at least for a start, I can take down the wallpaper and go with paint. It'll be a good start.

There are less exciting renovations to be done, too, like replacing the boiler, so that's a drag. But we might convert from oil to gas and ConEd will cover at least part of that cost and we can put the tenant on his own meter and not provide heat and hot water anymore. So we'll see.

Meantime, yay! No more psycho bitch upstairs. No more scuzzy landlord. No more storing shit in boxes in the hallway. No more bike dismantled and stored on a hook. No more alternate side tickets.

Also, because of the location, no more FreshDirect. So that's a drag. But compared to the rest? WHATEVER!!!

Snow Pdog!

A snow day put to good use.

house hunting

So.... it's been a while.

Even before, but especially since the frolickingman and I were married, we've been wanting to get a home of our own. There's a lot to be said for a small single family home, but we're having trouble finding such a place that also fits our other criteria: near the subway, near the Metro North at 125th or Fordham, and affordable. Yeah, that's a pretty small selection. But I want to do some more school stuff and I'm really looking at Yale and Fordham (for different things), so in a long-term way, it does actually make sense.

We looked into some condo and coop situations, but the maintenance and common charges that we were seeing were quite simply insane. So we decided those weren't really good options for us. That leaves us most likely buying a two-family home and renting out the apartment to help fund the mortgage. Okay.

I found a nice house with a crappy kitchen on a nice block 8 minutes from the subway and 4 minutes from the train. Perfect! It was sold already, but still listed. Bah.

So I found an amazing place listed below market value (short sale) just barely in our range. Gorgeous house, beautiful neighborhood, 4 minutes from the subway and 15 minute bike ride to the train. Worth it for a house that beautiful in such a lovely location. Amazing! It was in contract, but still listed. Bah.

After a couple days of moping, I started looking again. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

Then I got a couple leads. I emailed the one guy today since two days ago when I found it, there was no contact information. The other, we saw yesterday. Based on newly accurate numbers, we could probably just barely scrape together the necessary funds in a month or two and the mortgage would be about $300 more than we've been paying in rent. We'd also have to raid our retirement accounts and pay those back over the next 5-10 years, as well as liquidating some stocks we hold and clearing out our savings. But....

The house is gigundo. It's listed as 1958 sq. ft., but we think that must be only the first and second floors, not the attic (third floor, really) and basement. The attic is a really a full third floor and not just a little storage crawl space. (Do you know, my parents never in my life let me into the attic in the house where I grew up? To this day, I have no idea what it looked like!) It was built in 1910 so there are definitely old house quirks, but it could be very pretty. There's a little front yard where, with some adjustments to the porch, there could be a parking space. There's a decent back yard for barbequeing and growing flowers, herbs and vegetables. (How's that for buying local?!) There's a first floor apartment with one or two bedrooms, depending on how you look at it, full bath, eat-in kitchen, laundry machines, and yard access. There's a finished basement with laundry hookups, a full bath (weird), yard access, and lots of storage space. The second floor has a kitchen, living/dining room, bedroom and full bath. The third floor has two bedrooms and a half bath. Everywhere you look, there are closets.

But there are issues. In order to create the parking space, the stairs up to the porch would have to be moved to the center or other side, which is weird since the front door is on the side where the stairs are now. The yards are concrete, which we would have to tear up to put in dirt and plants. The linoleum on the first floor is ghastly and the floor felt a little weird under my feet in a couple places. The entrance now is into a common hallway, which means that the second and third floors are cut off from the basement by a common area, which would ideally be private. The second floor kitchen is barely functional and the floor tile throughout the second floor is mismatched. The whole place is kind of grungy with badly done paint in hideous shades and it smells like the pets have been peeing inside and the cat's litter box is not cleaned enough. There are separate meters for the first and second/third floors, but the basement where there are laundry hookups (which would ideally be for the second/third floor apartment) is on the first floor meters. The circuit breaker box for the first floor is in the basement and would therefore be inaccessible to the first floor tenants unless we gave them a key to the basement with our laundry machines and storage.

But.... There are a few key renovations that could make the place really nice.

1) Make the second floor kitchen functional. We think we know how it could be done, though it involves moving a wall(!) to get the fridge out of the way. With that change, we could actually make that kitchen small, but quite nice and very efficient. I've been designing kitchens in my head for ages, so I have a lot of ideas about how to make it work if there's enough space to get that fridge out of the way.

2) Change the meter setup so that the basement is on the second/third floor meter and move the first floor circuit breaker box to the first floor. Then cut a doorway from the vestibule into the first floor living room and seal off the doorway from that living room into what is presently a common hallway. Possibly seal off the door from the first floor kitchen into that hallway also, thus isolating the first floor entirely from the basement. Weirdly, I actually know how to do that and probably possess the basic saw, hammer, nail, and spackle skills necessary to seal off the wall where there are currently doors.

3) Get rid of the concrete in the yards. Add dirt; plant plants.

4) Replace the floors with hardwood throughout the house, starting with the second floor, then third floor, then first floor.

5) Paint. Nicely.

6) Make the half bath on the third floor a 3/4 bath. This would provide something like a master bath without taking up a lot of extra space (probably have to move a wall to do it, but worth it) and a shower stall would be good for cage cleaning.

The changes to get the first floor apartment really separated from the second and third floors would have to come first so that we could rent it out. I scoped out Craigslist and it looks like we could get something in the neighborhood of $1000 now, $1300 after renovations for that apartment. It seems like an awful lot of work, but it means that we could have an actually nice house in a couple years that we can afford now. And there's something to be said for that, isn't there?

Another bonus: the current owners don't want to move for another few months, which would give us time to scare up the $10,000 we're short to buy the place with the 25% downpayment the bank requires for a multi-family home....

Ay me, renting is easier. But this would be ours and we'd be free of scuzzy landlords. We could even be scuzzy landlords. Awesome.

Gracie's Tasty (Crockpot) Beef Stew

I recently met incoming new teachers who were looking for quick, easy recipes and it reminded me that I haven't posted any in a while, though I've been doing stuff. So....

1/2-3/4 lb beef stew chunks
1-2 tbs olive oil
2 potatoes, cut into chunks
3-4 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
1 onion, peeled and cut into chunks (optional -- I don't use them, but I bet it would be tasty)
3 bay leaves
beef broth
red wine

Brown the beef chunks in olive oil. Put the ingredients in a small crockpot in layers: potatoes on the bottom, then carrots and onions, with beef on top. Tuck bay leaves into the beef. Fill the crockpot halfway with beef broth and the rest of the way with red wine. Cover and simmer until beef chunks are soft, at least an hour (2-3 hours is better). Stir before serving.

Lamb stew variation:
Substitute lamb chunks for beef chunks and vegetable broth for beef broth.

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pics

Courtesy of Collabi and others.

Jun. 7th, 2009

We got married.

I'm quite happy.

Pictures will follow.

Kiwi strawberry smoothie

Most smoothies are easy -- just throw in fruit and yogurt and OJ in any combination and proportions and it does nicely. Not so with kiwis and strawberries. Proportions are tricky and because the berries and kiwi are quite tart, honey is necessary. So....

1 kiwi
6-8 medium-large strawberries
plain yogurt
milk
large dollop honey

Milk and yogurt are to taste and until the desired consistency is achieved. The large dollop of honey and the proportion of kiwi to strawberry are the key points.

wondering

Is it redundant to have an iPhone and a Kindle? I was thinking of getting one for Mr. B, but he's likely to get the other within a year or so. Kindle does have access to stuff that's still copyrighted, which ebooks generally aren't, right?

And then there's this.