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Monday, July 30, 2007


One of the many great things about Golden Retrievers is that they never seem to lose the desire to play. Sure, Angelyne has slowed down considerably now that she's nearly 11, but she can never resist the call of the squeaky tennis ball. When she goes to town on this thing, I think she may just be the world's most perfect mix of annoying + adorable.

(I didn't realize my music was so loud. Sorry, neighbors!)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Buying a new car? Salesmen still drool, but the internet rules

Buying a car can be quite the anxiety-inducing endeavor. Lord knows I've been putting it off for years. But my old Civic had really started to rattle (cracked CV joints) and hum (worn brake pads), so the matter had become more pressing: I needed to either put a few thousand into the old gal stat, or dive in and get something new. I opted for something new.

I braced myself for an ordeal (and maybe even a panic attack or two), but thankfully, things went relatively smoothly. In this day and age, car shopping can be—dare I say it—easy. Thanks to the Web, you can arm yourself with everything you need to know, including an acceptable agreed-upon purchase price, before you step foot into the dealership.

A couple things haven't changed over time: You still need to give yourself a lot of time to research, negotiate and noodle; and whatever you do, do not fall in love with a specific car on a lot.

In some cases (broken-down or totalled car, for instance), you might not have the luxury of time. So buy it. Two extra weeks with a rental car or a few more public transit commutes will cost a lot less than the money you'll probably spend if you're in "must buy now" mode.

With this time: Research, research, research. I was having a heck of a time deciding on a car, so I made a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves. Must-haves included room for my dogs, gas mileage better than 20 mpg, a price less than $25k and excellent resale value (the last thing I need is a loan that's worth more than my vehicle). Nice-to-haves were things like "cute," sunroof and availablity in a color I love.

I listed all the cars that met my must-have criteria (with the help of manufacturer Web sites and Edmunds), then checked the boxes under nice-to-haves. I was left with three cars: Toyota Rav-4, Honda Element and the Honda CR-V.

They say a car loses a significant amount of value as soon as it's driven off the lot, but not necessarily so with a Honda or Toyota. High resale was a must-have, but it also left me without the option of buying a used model with very low mileage for much less than brand new. Still, it's worth checking to see if you're better off with a used version of the models you're looking for.

You may want to test drive at this point, but I preferred to stay off of a lot (and more importantly, out of a sales office) until I was armed with every last fact at my disposal thanks to the beautiful, shiny internet. Okay, so I did stop by a couple of lots just to take a gander, and of course I got accosted almost immediately. I felt very sly for only stopping, though, when I had the dogs with me—a ready excuse for getaway. I'd like to think I slipped away quietly, but remember the rattling and humming I mentioned earlier? Yeah, even more fun when there's a bank of salesmen gawking as you thump thump thump and squeeeeeak out of the lot. Embarrassing.

Start getting your financing in order at this point. When that's squared away before you're at the dealership, you're negotiating like a cash buyer. You want to avoid talking monthly payments as opposed to the full price of the car. Once you've agreed to buy a car at a certain price, sure, you may want to see if financing through the dealership is a better deal.

Edmunds and Cars Direct are excellent sites for researching prices. The two most important numbers to learn are invoice price (you're doing well if you pay invoice) and the average that others in your area are paying. Keep in mind, Edmunds does not include the destination charge ($595 here, I'm not sure about elsewhere) in their invoice price, but dealers should be including that charge in their quotes (at least, that was my experience. Ask to be sure.)

You can also utilize Edmunds to start getting quotes from dealers—they have a handy dandy form that allows you to pick the make, model and dealers, then it automatically shoots an email off to the internet sales departments for those dealers. This part is great—you're in the driver's seat (figuratively at this point, of course), safely at your computer, a barrier of several perspective-maintaining miles away from the one car that you just have to drive home. You can scoff in the face of emotion. It's all about the numbers.

But here's the thing. It seems "internet people" like me are not exactly welcomed with open arms. We're sort of changing the way cars are sold. We know what we want, and we know what we should really be paying. We've already got our ducks well in a row by the time we're in the clutches of an actual, real live salesman. We're buying in droves, but we don't result in the same kind of profit margin per vehicle as someone who comes in "off the street" and pays $4000 more than they should. So don't be surprised when some dealerships don't respond to your inquiries. But some do have internet sales departments that are built to move lots of units, and they'll respond—I received enough responses to start pitting dealers against one another. At that point, it was easier to just move to phone, though there are benefits to having offers in writing. Just take the lowest quote from Dealer A, and call Dealer B. Ask if they can beat it. They never go down more than a couple hundred bucks at a time, so you'll want to call Dealer C and then start over with Dealer A. When it's clear you're not going to get a lower quote (and based on the invoice and average price paid, you know it's reasonable), get the quote in writing.

I say this because I didn't get my quote in writing, and I ended up in a situation where the salesperson tried to hoodwink me. He insisted he accidentally gave me the 2006 price for my 2007 model, and they'd sure work with me, but they couldn't go as low as he'd said they would. And he tried his darndest to get me to cave with several visits to a shiny, perfect number winking at me from the lot. Which, I have to say, made me feel smug for my resistant heart of steel. It helped that another dealer had agreed (a bit shiftily and again only verbally) to match that price, so after a couple hours test driving (and "negotiating") with Mr. Hoodwinker, I left, drove to the other dealer, found an internet sales guy and told him I was ready to buy if he honored the quote I'd been given. They went back on their quote as well (it was an unreal buy for a model that's in demand), but only by $200—better than Hoodwinker's Hondas. So I just shrugged and said okay. It was still a great deal. Presumably, though, if I'd received the quote in writing, I would have saved $200—and a couple of hours.

A friend of a friend got quotes by fax. He shot faxes off to several dealers, and requested a fax back with a quote. Good idea.

Some additional thoughts: If you have a trade-in, price it at kbb.com to make sure you are getting what you should. And for me, it's worth it to resist the hard sell for those extended warranties and clear coats, even if it means the salesperson goes away after the seventh sell attempt thinking you're mad at them, as mine apparently did. Ha. Ha.

Even when you've negotiated your price before you go in to buy, it's still good to know some of the "tricks of the trade" so you can see the ploys coming. I hate that it comes to that (salesmen are people too!) but hey, I'm not the one who made the rules, and I refuse to get screwed over. So, for instance, settle in with a book, and bring a snack and some water, because they might take their sweet time trying to get you nice and tired (and weak). Confessions of a Salesman is a great article by a writer for Edmunds who went undercover as a car salesman.

Buying a car really doesn't have to be quite the hellish experience anymore. Everything you need to know is right at your fingertips, and as the saying goes, knowledge is power. Technology rules.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Will wag for food

The dog shelter over at PAWS is bursting at the seams these days. I could hardly keep up during my volunteer shift yesterday. I try not to think about it too much, but damn, it can be really heartbreaking sometimes.

Gilmore, for instance, has been at the shelter for months and months. This guy, a big pit bull type, has ears cropped down to nearly nothing and a gianormous head perched atop such a skinny body that you wonder if he's going to tilt forward and get stuck. He reminds me of a big, bald, vastly and violently tattooed Hell's Angel that would stop in his tracks to rescue that shivering puppy in the gutter. Intimidating looking, but a big old teddy bear inside. He's a big, happy, galloping hunk of love, and whenever I visit him, he rests his huge head in my hands and looks at me with the most soulful eyes. There's got to be a home out there for him, somewhere.

I also got to hang a bit with Cody yesterday, a big chubby black lab mix who decided fetch wasn't nearly as important as climbing up on the park bench with me to lay on my lap and snuggle. Cuddly boy dogs are the best. (I'm totally in love.)

Oh, and Ginger! She's so adorable, a wiggly happy hound puppy. Her face is so very Lizzie-like. Looks like "hound" is on the confirmed side of Lizzie's pedigree possibilities list.

I'm crossing my fingers that a flood of adopters will follow this influx of homeless pooches.

(Gilmore, Cody, Ginger and countless others urge all to spay and neuter their pets. Mmkay?)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Junk(back)yard on a budget

I’m lucky enough to have a lovely view from my backyard. It’s a perfect, peaceful place to take in a book, enjoy dinner with a friend alfresco, or just to sit on the grass while the dogs enjoy a couple of Frosty Paws on a hot day. And the sunsets are spectacular. But lately I’ve avoided it, because I let it become an embarrassing jungle. Two of my plastic lawn chairs had grown mossy (who knew plastic could grow moss?) The arm had fallen off of my beloved Adirondack chair. Yes, there was dog poop. Really, truth be told, it was looking like an overgrown junkyard. See the "before" picture?


Clearly I wouldn't be bragging about this unless I decided to whip things into shape. And part of the fun, of course, is the challenge of keeping expenses low, often by repurposing used stuff and junk.

The landscaping

Most of the yard is a downward sloping hill—I'm on a sort of bluff. But there’s enough flat grass to set out some chairs and maybe even a table. I’d been dreaming about building a bit of a patio, but I’m just renting, so I didn’t want to make too much of an investment.

I’m next door to a vacant lot that’s not all that kept up, so I created a focal point at the corner of the house, behind what would be the grassy seating area. I did this by creating a roundish flower bed with shade-loving plants such as hydrangea and hosta, accompanied by a makeshift birdbath. I hung a pretty fuschia on the corner as another distraction. I think it works pretty well, though it seems the focal point ended up being the table and chairs. More about the furniture—and the birdbath—in a bit.

At the request of a friend who still believes in that lost art called “laying out,” I did my best to create a larger, flatter area in the one spot that gets a good dose of afternoon sun, by reshaping the border with the grass I excavated from the new flower bed. I weeded and thinned my little herb garden area, uncovered the little path that helps people round the corner to the backyard without taking a spill on the grassy hill (it's happened), planted some cute scabiosa (Scabiosa columbaria Pink Mist—a superb perennial) and a cool new rose bush, and things were shaping up nicely.

A note about the rose bush

I love roses. I hate growing roses. They get diseased and grow out of control and I don’t know when to prune them and when I try to prune them or even just look at them, the thorns jab and stab. But the lady at the garden center insisted I would not regret acquiring this particular rose bush. It’s quite disease resistant, you see, and the flowers are on the wilder, less delicate side and the thorns aren’t quite as murder-weapony as some. Plus it was on sale. So now I have a new rose bush. I like it so far, and I’ve only suffered one mild scratch while giving in to the temptation to sniff. Of course, all the flowers fell off after I planted it, so I don't even have a picture to post.

Furniture! Projects! Making Junk into Stuff!

The furniture

As I said before, the arm fell off of my favorite Adirondack chair. Tragic, seriously. But I screwed the screws back in and hopefully it’ll at least last the summer (and when it breaks again, I pray it’ll be when I sit in it and not a wineglass-wielding friend). I think I want to get another, and a couple Adirondack ottomans. Love those, but not sure if there's room.

Next I decided to create a little dining area, which would also serve as a nice place to kick back with a nice book (or, sigh, kick forward with schoolwork). I found these terrific rattan chairs at Goodwill (half price, even), but the seats were covered in hideous fabric.

Chairs, before. So very 1993.


I had a heckuva time finding outdoor fabric in a decent neutralish pattern, but finally found one with some subtle green stripes. It works. An hour with the staple gun, and voila! New chairs for $20. Well, $28 including the Scotchgard—better safe than sorry in the damp Northwest.

Costco has some great little bistro sets, so I picked up a table. Luckily my landlord came to my rescue when I was putting the thing together, because it was a nightmare. He insists he didn’t hear me swearing, but I think he was just being polite. He’s so nice—he didn’t even mind combing through the grass with me to find that stupid little allen wrench that I’d thrown in frustration. Anyway, the tables are only available in black wrought iron, so I painted it white.

I love garage sales. I found a neat big Starbucks-but-even-better green umbrella (with built-in little white lights!) and the coolest old white wrought iron umbrella stand for $25. Yay!

And, a few accessories...

A makeshift window box

I found a half-round black and gold metal shelf at a garage sale, painted it white, and installed it under the kitchen window. Voila, lazy window box! It holds three pots pretty happily, and it’s way easier to swap the plants than with a traditional window box.

Window shelf, only a dollar (including paint!)

The requisite fuschia and other planters

The corner was calling out for a plant. I bought the white iron planter at a garage sale for three bucks, the moss for a couple more (though I suppose I could have just peeled it off the plastic chairs), and a pretty shade-loving fuschia for $5.

I also picked up a tin hanging thingy (what do people really use these for? Mail? Plastic flowers?) that I stuffed with a cute little plant. I just tacked it onto the house. It’s cute, but sort of a pain to water.

Fuschia + metal planter

I kept a candle lampshade around for the beads, but as I was looking for a little pot to house a plant, I decided it would make the perfect planter. Lined with moss, it totally works, though it does dry out very quickly.

Candle lampshade turned planter

Fancy Victorian trellis

While wandering Salvage Studio, I came across this lovely metal thingy labeled “Victorian trellis.” Perfect! Well, perfect for... something. I just wanted it. I splurged and paid $15. When I got home, I noticed I already had a beautiful rare Victorian trellis—part of my screen door. Parts of screen doors all across the world. Oh well, it should hide my big ugly gas meter nicely once the morning glory takes over. The “trellis” is secured to the ground with a plant stake. It works (I think).

Oh-so fancy Victorian trellis (grow morning glory, grow!)

And finally, my birdbath!

While wandering a thrift store, I came across this God-awful powder blue lamp with one of those huge drum lampshades (groovy brown and metallic tassel, even). The price was a bit steep (considering), but I thought the base would make a neato birdbath pedastal. $8 and a fight with the checker later, I had an ugly lamp with possibilities.

So about that fight with the checker...

The fight (well, not really a fight per se) with the checker went something like this. Me: “Can I just buy the base? I really don’t want the lampshade.” Her: “No, all together.” Me: “No, I’ll pay the full price, I just really really don’t want that lampshade.” Her: “Must buy together.” Me: “How about I just leave the lampshade, and you can put it on another lamp and sell it?” Her, shaking her stubbornly smiling head: “No.” Me, quickly removing the lampshade and leaving it on the counter: “Oh hey, look, I’d like to make a donation! Have a nice day! Bye!”


I wanted to find the perfect basin for the bath itself. I looked high and low—thrift stores, garage sales, even Fred Meyer while feeling especially desperate—for a bowl that wasn’t really a bowl but wasn’t really a plate, and was big enough. Ultimately, I settled and bought a crystal platter that would do okay.
I painted the base white, and was going to wipe some dark green in the cracks to make it look a little more aged, but I got lazy. I still think I need to do something to it.

Unfortunately, when I took the lamp apart, the big rod thing that held the electric cord was literally cemented into the base. So I couldn’t exactly balance a crystal plate on that. I found a hollow mosaic candleholder that was laying around the house, centered that on the base and over the rod, and glued the plate on top of that.

Junk birdbath

So what’d this set me back?

Grand total: $294. A little more than I intended to spend, but I still think I did pretty well. I was able to reuse several things I already had, and bought some great cheap goods at estate sales and thrift stores.

And so, for just under $300, a nifty new backyard!

Now if only the dogs could relieve themselves somewhere else.

(Angelyne is not relieving herself in this picture)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Eagle is home in Seattle's new sculpture park

Eagle at sunsetIt is said that the setting in which a sculpture resides is as important as the sculpture itself. Newly placed in the most dramatic of settings as if ready to take flight over the Puget Sound is Eagle, the piece d'resistance in Seattle's wonderful new Olympic Sculpture Park, which opened in January.

In the new park, Eagle has finally landed in a place where its majesty can be fully appreciated. Perched on a bluff overlooking the vast blue water and snow-capped Olympic mountains, Eagle is home. Previously, the sculpture lived in Volunteer Park outside of the Seattle Asian Art Museum—prior to that, in Fort Worth, Texas. Both locations were widely considered inappropriate settings for the piece.

Eagle's maker, Alexander Calder (July 22, 1898 – November 11, 1976), was a third-generation sculptor with a background in mechanical engineering as well as art. Calder created Eagle later in his career, after he was already considered one of the world’s most important sculptors.

Eagle is 38 feet nine inches by 32 feet six inches by 32 feet six inches. It's painted entirely in a dramatic shade of orange-red, meant to convey velocity and energy. From four grounded "legs" the piece rises and curves to form shapes reminiscent of wings and a beak. Eagle gives the feeling of an object firmly grounded and quite stable, yet soaring without ever leaving the ground. Every curve and swoop is meaningful and dramatic, giving Eagle the feeling of light, flowing weightlessness.

It's just one of the pieces of art found in the new sculpture park located along the waterfront just north of downtown. And really, the Olympic Sculpture Park is a piece of art in itself. Don't miss it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

My Summer Playlist...For Now

I've been planning a grand entry all about how I redid my backyard on a dime... except that I spent several dimes (1200, actually) at the nursery yesterday (I needed plants! That rose was fabulous and supposedly impossible to kill! The hydrangea will be perfect! You know the drill, right? Or is it just me?)

But I've promoted lots of junk-with-promise and am very close to having the coolest little backyard ever. Well, it won't have a patio or a deck, which I'd love, but it is just a rental, so.

Anyway, I'm not done with that massive project so instead I'll do something completely unrelated. Want to know what my songs for this summer are shaping up to be? Yes? Great! Here's my celebrity playlist, except I'm not a celebrity. Yet.

My Perfect Songs for this Summer
Some are new. Some are just new to me.

Tugboat by The Submarines
I freaking love The Submarines. This cover is from their iTunes exclusive album.

Roll On by Dntel
I'm always happy to discover Jenny Lewis vocals. This is a great song if you can get past the parts that make you feel like you're losing your radio reception. Dntel = Jimmy Tamborello of The Postal Service.

These Days Nothing But Sunshine by The Clientele
A nice track by a nice band from their nice new album, God Save the Clientele.

New Routine by Fountains of Wayne
They sing about people who talk about real estate, prostates, Costco. A surprisingly fun line to sing. From their new album, Traffic and Weather.

Raise the Roof by Tracey Thorn
A great single from probably my favorite album of 2007 thus far (Out of the Woods).

My Eyes by Travis
So excited about their new album.

Sorry by Youth Group
Love love love this band from Australia, especially this bouncy number.

Caravan by Husky Rescue
For a month straight, I've been listening to this Helsinki band's single from their newest, Ghost is Not Real. I won't be stopping anytime soon. Oddly addicting.

Going to a Town by Rufus Wainwright
Just because it's a rather nice and interesting song--and I've finally forgiven him for boring me in concert a couple of years ago (but really, overall I think he's brilliant).

Lunar Sea by Camera Obscura
Okay, this was last summer's song too (and if we're being picky, the tune was released in 2004). Whatever. It's just so... mwah. I want to hug it.

Sealion (Chromeo remix) by Feist
Perfect for dancing while weeding the vegetable garden (I really hope my neighbors don't see me).

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Dog-Safe Dog Foods and Who Knew Dick Van Patten Was So Cool?

So, yeah. I had no idea most dog food was tested on laboratory dogs. Disturbing ingredients sometimes, yes, of course. But the recent Menu Foods pet food recall headlines opened my eyes wide to something I think I should have known all along.

And so the search for a new dog food begins. Lizzie, Angelyne, I know you love your Nutro Natural Choice, but they seem to be offenders, too. I know you wouldn't want to live in a cage and be poked and prodded so that other pooches out there can live the high life on pet food that has who-knows-what in it.

I worked from the PETA site IamsCruelty.com, which has a list of companies that do not test on animals.

Searching for a new favorite doggy dinner was a little more entertaining than one would think. I mean, people, come up with some better names! Burns Pet Health? Harbingers of a New Age? Green Tripe?! Though I have to admit I'm a fan of names like PoshNosh and Stella & Chewy's.

The coolest thing is the celebrity foray into pet sustenance. Newman's Own Organics now has a line of pet food. But, sorry, Paul. I think I'll have to pass you over for Dick. See, Dick Van Patten has a company called Natural Balance Pet Foods and he makes his food in his own kitchen! No laboratory dogs, no siree. Dick tests it on himself! The food is organic, has high-quality protein, and all that jazz. So now we'll just see if Angelyne digs it. (Lizzie is my Mikey. She'll eat anything.)

Oh, and the neatest thing about Dick's pet food is that if you save up your UPC codes and receipts and send them on in, they'll make a donation to your favorite non-profit animal charity. So he's not only cute, he's cool, too.