Excuses, Excuses

By | how did i just realize this?, kurt vonnegut is my hero, not ruling at life, skills | 2 Comments

I used to consider myself a writer — far from a professional writer, but at least a writer in my spare time. I sometimes wrote when I was happy, but mostly I wrote when I was sad. I wrote when I was mad. I wrote when I was confused or lost or conflicted. I wrote when I was completely apathetic. I wrote because I had no idea what else I wanted to do. I wrote because I was good at writing…and because I was good at a lot of things, but passionate about none of them. I wrote because my mind would race, and jotting down my thoughts would force me to at least slow down to the speed at which I could type. I wrote because I realized I could make myself laugh. And then I wrote here in this blog specifically because I realized I could make other people laugh, too.

I don’t really write anymore. I think about writing all the time, but I don’t really do it. I piece together funny little sentences in my head, and amongst the million and one other things swimming around in there at any given moment, I think, “I could write a blog post about that.” But I don’t. I used to carry around a pen and paper with me everywhere to jot down silly ideas and take them home and write about them. But I don’t do that anymore either.

I don’t remember when or why I stopped writing in this blog. I know I got really busy. I got nervous about literally the entire world having access to it. A lot of bloggers don’t understand that. But then again, a lot of bloggers started blogging exactly for that kind of attention. I started blogging because I wanted to make a website. I wanted to type instead of write with a pen. And I wanted a way to keep in touch with my friends and family without having to send the same email to all of them at once.

Maybe I stopped writing because I stopped feeling so sad. And mad. And confused and lost and conflicted. I stopped feeling apathetic. I found something I love to do. So maybe I don’t need to write as much anymore because, for the most part, I’m pretty happy now.

Or maybe I didn’t stop. I still write in emails and text messages. In Facebook posts and Instagram captions. Intermittent tweets and daily Chatter messages at work. Bits and pieces strewn haphazardly across various channels of communication that might all add up to something resembling a coherent thought or story or…maybe that’s a stretch.

But the thing is, I do still have a bad day here and there. Or a bad week. Or sometimes just a really stressful month. Or two months. Or hell, even three. And nowadays, when I’m feeling a little out of sorts, I don’t sit down and write. I sit down and read something by one of my two favorite writers.

And so it occurred to me today that I either need to snap out of my recent stressed-out funk or start writing again. Otherwise, I’m going to run out of material to read. Because one of my favorite writers is deceased. And the other one is me.

Six Tips for Giving Great Gifts

By | holiday fun, lifestyle, lists, shopping, skills, you might learn something | 3 Comments


For the last few years, I’ve put together a holiday gift guide, but this year, I thought I’d try something different. I’m posting these actual gift-giving tips for a few reasons: (1) because doing that scavenger hunt and putting together those collages takes way, way too much time, (2) because I can’t actually post any of the gifts I’m planning to purchase without ruining the surprise, and (3) because your friends and family probably want to receive gifts you picked out, not me. (Well, maybe not so much that third reason — I’m an excellent gift giver, and I bet your friends and family would love getting gifts from me. :))

I knocked out a big chunk of my Christmas shopping this weekend, and while I was at it, I made a few mental notes about how I choose gifts. For me, gift shopping is much, much different than shopping for myself, so most of the shopping tips I normally dole out do not apply. Obviously I’m posting this list in time for the holidays, but I think these ideas work for all occasions — birthdays, anniversaries, showers, weddings, etc.

Anyway, here it goes. How to become the best gift giver your friends and family are acquainted with (unless they’re acquainted with me):

1. Make a Budget

The first thing I do when shopping for gifts is figure out how much I want to spend on each person, and I write it down where I can keep a tally of how much I’ve spent as I shop. I don’t do this because I’m not generous — I do it because I am generous, and sometimes I go overboard. Shopping for gifts should be fun, and it shouldn’t put you in debt for months afterward. As I’ve become more financially stable over the last several years, I’ve gradually increased my shopping budget for my family members. For my friends, I do my best to stay within a reasonable dollar range based on previous gift exchanges with each person. I do this to make sure I don’t overextend myself, but also because the last thing I want to do is make a friend feel awkward, which sometimes happens if one person spends a whole lot more money than the other. If I do go over my budget for the perfect gift, I try to prevent any awkwardness by saying (or, even better, writing in my card) something along the lines of, “I saw this, and I thought it was absolutely perfect for you. I really, really wanted you to have it, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I think you will.”

2. Give Something Special

It’s important for gifts to be thoughtful and useful, but they should also be special. By special, I mean something that the person wouldn’t have necessarily bought for him or herself, perhaps because they would never have thought of it or because they wouldn’t have been willing to splurge on it. A gift is something shared between two people, and it’s a win-win if the giver appreciates the gift just as much as the recipient…because spending money on gifts you personally dislike isn’t very satisfying at all. It’s also good practice to focus on quality over quantity when gift shopping because crappy gifts have a tendency to turn into household clutter or end up in the donation pile. That’s best avoided by purchasing useful items of the highest quality possible in your price range.

Here are some examples:

  • I have a friend who sits on old bath towels at the beach. If I splurge on some extra cute, colorful beach towels for her, I know she’ll use them; they’ll remind her of me because she knows I love the beach; and they’ll also be something special that she wouldn’t have spent money on herself.
  • If I’ve got a $30 budget, I’d prefer to spring for a top-of-the-line $30 amazing-smelling body lotion in a gorgeous bottle, rather than purchase a gift set of three average body lotions for $9 each. The $30 lotion is more likely to be treasured, displayed on a dresser and ultimately used, whereas the $9 bottles are more likely to end up in the bottom of the bathroom cabinet, never to be seen again.

3. Do Some Research
Almost everyone has some kind of social media account these days. Pinterest is an especially good tool for doing a little investigative research prior to choosing a gift. Those who are easiest to buy for might have a “Wish List” board, but even those who don’t may have boards that offer up clues as to what they enjoy and what types of things are important to them. You might pick up on some favorite brands, favorite colors, favorite foods/wines/beers, etc. Facebook and Twitter might not offer quite as much insight, but it’s always worth a peek, and these two offer up the ability to private message a significant other, family member or friend of your target to see if you can get some hints about what he’d like.

Here are some examples:

  • Perhaps you notice on Facebook that your friend and his wife just exchanged anniversary gifts — he got her a beautiful red handbag, and she bought him a black wool coat. The perfect gifts for these two could be a pair of new winter scarves — one that goes with his black coat, and one that has a bit of red in it to go with her new bag.
  • Whenever I look at my friend Heather’s photos on Facebook, I remember that she always wears these multi-colored plaid rubber boots on rainy days. I might consider giving her a collection of cute umbrellas — one of each color in her boots. (No, Heather. I did not get you umbrellas for Christmas.)
  • Maybe you see that your friend keeps pinning bar carts to her “Home Inspiration” board on Pinterest because she wants one for her dining room. A book of cocktail recipes or a few bar accessories may be great gifts to compliment her bar cart once she gets it set up.

4. Localize It
Buying locally inspired gifts is a tactic I’ve been using a lot lately. Who doesn’t love being reminded of their home town, favorite vacation destination, alma mater or even a faraway place they’ve never been before? The key to making local gifts work is subtlety — as in, no “So-and-so went to St. Somewhere, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” apparel, and certainly no touristy key chains, shot glasses or other such nonsense (unless you’re trying to be funny or your recipient is into that kind of stuff). When done right, locally inspired gifts are always well-received because they’re very thoughtful.

Here are a few examples:

  • My parents brought back some 100% Kona coffee from their trip this summer, which would make the perfect gift for a coffee-drinking, Hawaii-obsessed person (hint, hint).
  • A bottle of wine I recently discovered in Napa Valley accompanied by a wine opener or a cheese board would make a great hostess gift.
  • I picked up some pretty flamingo Christmas ornaments and dish towels when I stayed at the Flamingo in Vegas. They don’t say Flamingo on them; they just are flamingos. When I give them, I’ll say, “I thought of you in Vegas and picked this up for you at the Flamingo — isn’t it adorable?” I like to think a gift like this shows recipient she’s important to me because I keep her in mind even while I’m on vacation.
  • A few years ago, I gave my best friend’s little girl a few Jersey Shore children’s books, and she loved them! People don’t often think to buy themselves mementos from their home towns, so they make great gifts.
  • I’ve found that college grads who may be too old to stick decals to their cards always seem to appreciate the subtlety of a license plate frame.
  • A framed map of someone’s home town who has moved away would make a nice gift, too.

5. Personalize It
If you don’t feel like your gift ideas are very creative, personalizing an otherwise mundane gift makes a world of difference. There are thousands of items out there just waiting to be embroidered, etched and customized with all sorts of monograms, names, dates, birthstones, colors, etc. These days you can personalize pretty much anything, thanks to websites like CafePress and Etsy. There are a few things to keep in mind when personalizing gifts, though. First, custom items can rarely be returned, so be sure to double check spelling and confirm dates, birthdays, etc. before ordering. This would be another situation where Facebook may enable you to contact a spouse or parent of the recipient to confirm a date or find out whether someone’s middle name changed after they were married. Custom gifts also take a little more time, so plan ahead, and be prepared to order a few weeks before the holiday.

Some of my favorite personalized gifts include:

  • Monogram and name necklaces
  • Custom iPhone cases
  • Calendars and photo products (Who needs those dog breed calendars? Last year I made a calendar featuring photos of Diesel for J, and he loved it!)
  • Embroidered totes, men’s shirts, linens, etc.

6. Give a Gift Card
Gift cards are the easiest, quickest, least risky gifts to get your hands on, which is why they seem to have a reputation for being the last resort gift or the gift that lazy people give. I don’t necessarily agree — I think gift cards can be great gifts. They say, “It’s the thought that counts,” and the key to successfully giving gift cards is just that. You still have to think before you choose the gift card. If you just grab the Target gift card at the register, it’s extremely likely the recipient is going to use it for groceries, cat litter and paper towels. If you want your gift to be remembered, try to think outside the box a little.

Here are some great gift card ideas:

  • Choose a gift card to a restaurant you visit regularly that perhaps the recipient hasn’t discovered yet. Include a copy of the menu with some notes on your favorite dishes and drinks and the best nights to visit the restaurant.
  • With books, music and movies becoming more and more digitized, gift cards are unavoidable when giving the gift of entertainment. Give an iTunes gift card, along with a list of songs that remind you of the person you’re giving it to. Or give a Kindle-lover an Amazon gift card accompanied by a few suggestions about what to read on his or her upcoming vacation.
  • Purchase a gift card to a salon or spa. If it’s one you frequently visit, and pass along the names of your regular facialist or massage therapist. Go a step further — let the staff know your friend is coming in, and tip ahead to ensure she receives VIP customer service while she’s there.

I’d like to end this post with one of my all-time best gifts ever. I can’t take all the credit for it because I think it may have been my mom’s idea. In 2006, I got my hands on three dresses custom-made for my grandmother years and years ago. I posed for a photo in each one, framed the prints, and gave them to my grandmother. It was Christmas, but her birthday is in December, too — I think it was a birthday gift. Either way, the prints are hanging up at her house, and the they top the list of my favorite gifts given, for sure. 🙂


If you’re still reading this, I hope you found this list helpful. This was a long post, and I really appreciate your dedication to becoming a gift-giving guru. In fact, I’ll make you a deal. If you read this far, and you still don’t know what to give someone, e-mail me, and I’ll help you figure it out. 🙂 (Or, you could always go back and check last year’s gift guides…)

Thanks for reading, and happy holiday shopping!

Peace, Love & Document Control

By | being a computer genius, e-mails, employment, skills | One Comment


I keep losing my work ID badge, so I finally decided to slip it into the lanyard with my Nerd Herd ID from Halloween and start wearing it around my neck. I don’t mind wearing my Nerd Herd badge all day because I’ve pretty much come to terms with the fact that I am, in fact, a huge nerd.

For example, last week at work, someone said to me, “I heard you’re really good at designing forms.”

I’m not really sure how I feel about this. Is that my claim to fame? I’m good at designing forms?

It is true that I designed a form that replaced six other sheets of paper that now accompanies every order that is processed in our company, but I was just trying to save trees.

I’ve always striven to be infamous for my overwhelmingly short-lived obsessions with random hobbies, rock star bangs and impeccable taste in music, purses and cheap champagne. At work, maybe my proposal management, writing, or mad computer skills. But certainly not my ability create forms.

Someone once said to me (right after I created the end-all-be-all of my company’s forms), “You should work for the IRS!” Oh, yes! Can I? I would fit right in there! 😐

Perhaps, though, it’s all the other things I’m good at that have culminated in my evolution as a form-creating genius. Examples:

  • Nosiness about what everyone else is doing = ability to create meaningful check boxes for more than five departments
  • Excellent writing skills = enthusiasm about paring down hundreds of words into clear, concise phrases
  • Graphic design tendencies = ability to fit more information than you’d ever think possible onto one sheet of paper
  • Appreciation for ISO 9001:2008 = dedication to continuously improving, updating, revising, and controlling the form in our document control system
  • Certain enjoyment about telling people what to do = the utmost in patience when I explain how to use the form to everyone who needs to use it
  • Diplomatic negotiation skills = willingness to incorporate all reasonable suggestions into future revisions of the form
  • Rockstar bangs = I’m cool even though I’ve pretty much just admitted that designing a form has been the apex of my professional career thus far
  • My sarcastic sense of humor = my witty e-mails to the entire company that say stuff like:

To: Everyone
From: Lisa
Date: Any Given Friday
Time: 4:59 pm

Subject: [Name of Form] Form Revision G

Hi everyone! Revision G of the [Name of Form] Form is now in effect. Please destroy all copies of Revision F. All orders turned in starting now must be accompanied by Revision G. I sent out several reminders this week, so please don’t call me in tears about your form, and have a great weekend!

Peace, love and document control,

Now that I think about it, this might be why people at work don’t call me to hang out on the weekends. Maybe.

Short Refi: A Status Report

By | condo, financial wisdom, hazards to my well-being, home improvement, mortgage, not ruling at life, skills, top notch communication blunders, you might learn something | 2 Comments

I’ve gotten so much feedback from my mortgage-related posts that I figured I’d post a little status update. I actually feel like my experience may be helping some of you or at least pointing you in the right direction, which is pretty cool because it makes me feel a little less like I’m wasting my time with this whole issue.

So the status is this: back on track for the short refinance. Quicken Loans ended up being much more intelligent than I initially thought. After about six phone calls, I managed to reach some super-efficient department in their company who processed all of my paperwork and had a conditional loan approval and a preliminary HUD-1 in my hands within three days. Sweet!

I thought the loan approval would be the downfall of this entire plan. It’s the paperwork that Wells Fargo was previously unable to provide. It turned out that Wells Fargo (and several other lenders that I contacted) were doing short refinances inside their own bank, but not outside the bank. Bummer for me, since my loan is serviced by a company that doesn’t write new loans.

Turns out, the trick to getting a conditional loan approval is this: they approve it conditionally for the new loan amount (the short payoff). What Wells was doing was trying to conditionally approve it for the current payoff amount, which left a huge chunk of money unaccounted for. Therefore, the underwriters couldn’t really approve it. Does that make sense?

What Quicken provided me with is a conditional loan approval with for a decreased amount of money (with a super low new interest rate), which I then forwarded on to LBPS in order to be reviewed for a short payoff. Unfortunately, LBPS can’t get their shit together, so they keep accidentally reassigning my account back and forth between Group 7 (their liquidations department) and Group 8 (their loss mitigation department). Group 7 handles short sales, short refinances and forclosures. Group 8 handles modifications (I believe HAMP, HARP, internal modifications and initial HAFA reviews).

So, as I write this, I’m back on hold with LBPS trying to get my account transferred back to the loan officer I was working with back in August. My biggest issue right now is that it’s pretty much impossible to get any representatives on the phone who understand what a short refinance is and how it works. I’ve been getting the run-around from these people for months, and they keep saying it’s because I’m current on my payments (which, coincidentally is a requirement to be approved for an FHA Short Payoff Refinance loan). Idiots.

If you’re trying to do anything like what I am, here’s my advice so far:

1. Be persistent. I’ve been trying to refinance my condo since late 2008. I didn’t discover the short refi option until August 2010, and I’ve been at it ever since.

2. Take good notes. Make a note of every single person you spoke with, their department, what they told you, and the date. If someone else tells you anything contrary to what that person said, refer them back to the notes on your account from the date and person you spoke with. I use Evernote to keep track of all my notes and documents related to this catasrophe.

3. Do your research. I spend about 20 minutes a day reading about mortgages, Fannie Mae and the options that are out there. I also read legal information about my rights as a borrower. I’ve spoken to several lawyers (free of charge), and I’ve also picked the brains of appraisers, brokers and real estate agents. The rules surrounding the federal programs change often, so I’m always looking for new information and new ammunition to light a fire under my mortgage company’s butt. I even had a 15-minute conversation with a guy who works for a company who changes locks when banks forclose on properties. That was interesting. Oh, and tonight I had to explain to a short sale officer how to read a HUD-1. So that was awesome, too.

4. Be assertive. Do not let a whole week go by without checking the status of your requests. Mortgage companies will tell you to fax things and check up seven to 10 days later. This is BS. Call three hours later to make sure they got it. And then call every day after that to see what they’re doing with it. Also, if there’s something specific you want noted on your account, ask the representative to type it in there verbatim and then read it back to you.

5. Get someone intelligent on the phone. Don’t waste your time talking to morons. When I call, I say, “Please review the notes on my account dated August 17, August 29, September 9, November 6, and December 17.” After they’ve read them, I say, “Can you briefly summarize what I’m trying to accomplish?” If they can’t, I thank them, hang up, and call back. I do this until I get someone who at least understand what’s going on, you know?

Anyway, I’ve had about enough for tonight. For some reason, my account is assigned to a woman in the wrong department who is in training all week and won’t be able to assign it back to Group 7 until next Monday. This is completely unacceptable, but I will deal with it tomorrow. I now have a fax number for LBPS that is completely dedicated to written correspondence. They’re required to answer any written request they receive in writing. That number is 877-371-7799, and I’m pretty much going to fax every single piece of documentation I’ve ever sent them to that number tomorrow.

Want to see the other contact info I have for them?

Main number: 866-570-5277
Fax imaging number (creates documents that are uploaded to your account in their system): 877-649-0723
Direct number for Group 7 (Loss Mitigation): 888-917-6004
Written request fax number: 877-371-7799
Rush fax number (not verified by me): 503-616-3604

That’s about it for now. Wish me luck.

This crazy trip has got me feelin’: over it
And I’m singin’ along to: Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey

HTML Tutorial for Sidebar Badges

By | being a computer genius, blogs, skills, you might learn something | 7 Comments

Back in the day (2003), I bought a huge book on HTML code and read about 29 pages of it to improve my blogging skills. I’ve recently been helping out several of my fellow bloggers via e-mail answering some simple HTML questions. I noticed on Twitter today that lots of bloggers were inquiring about badges after Linley’s success installing a very cute one (that I can’t wait to put on my revised blog roll very soon!).

At first, I wasn’t going to create this tutorial because I thought I wouldn’t have time, but it kept popping into my head all day that I should really just take a few minutes and type it up. Plus, after I responded to a few different e-mails with the same info, I figured it would be more efficient to explain it this way, right? Duh.

Turns out, I had to learn even more HTML to get these codes to come out as text for you all to see, so that was super exciting.

Anyway, here it goes.

Note: Where I use CAPITAL LETTERS in this tutorial, that’s the text you should replace with your web addresses.

Creating Your Own Badge

1. Create an image that you’d like to use for your badge. I’d recommend making an image that is larger than your average sidebar — that way people can resize it up or down without it getting pixelated or fuzzy. Then you can change the width in the HTML code when you post it on your blog.

2. Upload it to your favorite place to keep your photos – Flickr, etc.

3. Grab the HTML code for your badge. If you’re in Flickr, you’ll want to choose “Grab the HTML/BBC Code” from the “Share This” drop-down menu. Only copy the tag that starts with “img src=” as shown below in step 4. Outside of Flickr, you find the image’s location by right clicking on the photo wherever you’ve uploaded it and selecting “View Image Info.” See where it says “Location”? Highlight that text and copy it.

4. Add aText/HTML widget to your sidebar, and create the following image source HTML tag for your image. If you need the image to be a certain width in pixels, you can write that into the code. (For example, this code would size the image to 150px wide.)

If you copied HTML from Flickr, you may have additional text in there (like height) — you can delete all that to keep your code simple. Just keep the image source and the width. (If you leave the height, the image may become distorted.)

5. Hit Enter, and type something like, “Copy and paste this text to add this badge to your blog!”

6. Below that, put in the following HTML:

The HTML above will create a 150px wide badge for whoever copies and pastes it. I think that’s a reasonable width for most sidebars — it won’t be too big and confuse whoever is using it if they don’t know HTML. If they do know HTML, they can always resize it.

7. You can can customize the height and width of your text area box in pixels, just like with images. Like this:

Or you can customize the height and width of your text area box by inserting numbers for rows and columns in the tag for text area. You can fiddle with the numbers until you get the size you want. For example, the text area box below is 2 rows by 50 columns. But the HTML in it is for a text area box 2 rows by 20 columns.

That’s it! Go test it out and make sure it works. And then leave me a comment, so I can go check it out!

Adding Someone Else’s Badge to Your Page

1. Copy the HTML provided from their page.

2. Create a new Text/HTML widget (or add to an existing one) on your sidebar.

3. Paste the copied HTML code.

4. To change the width of their badge to fit your sidebar, you can either change the width provided or add one right after the link to their image location (inside the img src tag). For example, if you want their badge to be 150px wide, do this:

Good luck! Let me know if you have questions or if you found this tutorial helpful!

Want to see my badge? (It belongs to my other blog.)

Copy and paste the text below
to grab a badge for your blog!

This crazy trip has got me feelin’: smart
And I’m singin’ along to: Close to You – The Cure