In Which I Yell At (Most) Florida Republicans

I’m going to rant a bit. I spent a couple hours tonight brewing what promises to be a rather tasty IPA, and I’m tired. I sit down at my computer to do a little reading before bed, and this story pops up.

Okay, Florida…

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Let’s say, just for sake of argument, that I’m in a mood to be charitable with Florida Republicans tonight (Protip: I’m not, except for State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. He’s fighting this bill. I’m shocked, amazed, and quite pleased. That’s a conservative I can support! At least regarding this). At best, SB 1714 is a flagrant example of more burdensome regulations that they’re always decrying. At worst, it’s flagrant cronyism and pandering to special interests who’ve lined their campaign coffers with cash via PACs (beer distributors and large beer producers in particular).

It does not benefit consumers in any way whatsoever to force small producers like brewpubs to be forced to go through distributors. All it will do is force brewpubs to raise prices for consumers, to the detriment of their sales and bottom lines. In every other state that I’ve been to that has brewpubs, they’re allowed to sell their products directly to consumers on-site at said brewpubs. HOWEVER, if they want to sell in liquor stores, then they generally have to go through the same 3-tiered distribution system that every other producer uses to sell to the general public.

Personally, I think this system (being able to sell direct only from their own location) is just fine. They (the brewpubs) have gone to the trouble of setting up shop in-state, employing locals, paying local taxes and permit fees, etc. I think they deserve a bit of a break for that. Of course, if AB-InBev decides to build a multi-million dollar brewery down the road, then they should also be able to sell directly to consumers-at that brewery only. Distribution to liquor stores would still be through independent distributors. Here again, it’s only fair.

Republicans constantly claim to be the party of business, but also to be looking out for the best interests of their constituents. In this bill, their true colors are revealed. They certainly do care about their constituents. It just turns out that their constituents are the large corporations willing to pay big dollars to support their re-election campaigns. Ideas of fairness, equity, and the value of small local businesses over large chains doesn’t enter into their thinking at all. And their platitudes about the “free” market are as empty as the growlers in Florida brewpubs soon will be if this bill becomes law.

People of Florida, call your state reps and senators. Let them know that SB 1714 is unfair to local businesses, bad for the Florida economy, and bad for innovation in the craft beer market. If the big breweries are afraid of the little guys beating them out, maybe they should actually engage in, oh, I don’t know, making a better product instead of attempting to rig the system.

Because after all, isn’t that what capitalism is supposed to be about? Support fairness, Florida. Reward investment in local economies by small, independent brewpubs. Kill SB 1714. Keep craft beer flowing in Florida!

Skål!

P.S.- Someone go buy Sen. Latvala a beer. I don’t know much about his other political views, but he’s on the right side of this one in my book, and it seems like his heart is mostly in the right place.

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Thoughts on Brewing and Religion

GIMMEH TEH BALL

You see that Corgi? That look of pure, unadulterated joy and excitement? He knows he is about to be thrown his ball. He is excited for his ball. He wants his ball. He’s bouncing off the floor repeatedly, begging for his ball. “OH EM GEE GIMMEH TEH BALL!!!!!1!” he shouts!

That is how I feel this afternoon. Tonight, for the first time in quite awhile, I will be brewing beer. Not for myself, but with some friends. There will be beer made. There will be beer consumed. And there will be good times had.

For me, the act of brewing is almost a religious experience. It’s the same ritual every time. Sure, the exact particulars vary from batch to batch, but the overall steps are the same. First, the grains are selected and ground, then mixed with hot water and allowed to steep. Then, while the grains steep, more water is heated for sparging. The grains are sparged and drained to extract the sugar, and the resulting wort is put on the burner to boil. Once boiling, the hops are added at specific times, along with any other special ingredients or finings that may be required. Then the beer is cooled and the gravity checked. Then comes the most critical step: The Adding Of The Yeast. If not done right, this step can go horribly wrong and the beer will be bad. But, if done right, the beer will be wonderful. If every other step is done right, from sanitizing to hop additions, the beer will be at least drinkable (there is, after all, no accounting for taste).

I get a great deal of satisfaction from drinking a good beer, regardless of whether or not I made it. Knowing the care and work that go into making a good product, especially as an engineer, helps me to appreciate them on an entirely different level than I think I otherwise could.

Now, with all that said, I’m going to go home, make dinner, and then go make some beer.

Skål!

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Life Lesson: Don’t Close On A House In December

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Good news: I found a house, put in an offer, and had it accepted.
Bad news: It took 2 months longer than expected to go to closing.

You may be asking yourself why this is bad news. I had 2 extra months to save up for the house and get my finances in order. How could this possibly be a bad thing? One word: Taxes. Allow me to explain.

Because I did not have quite enough money saved up to put down the full 3.5% of the purchase price for an FHA mortgage, as well as pay closing costs, I decided to pull some money out of one of my retirement accounts. What was the harm? I thought. I’ll have them take out a bit extra to cover the taxes, and all will be well. I might have to pay a bit extra come April 15th, but that’s hardly reason to panic. Besides, I’ll get some deduction for my first month’s mortgage interest, closing costs, PMI, and the like. It seemed like a great idea at the time.

Then, of course, reality set in, and it set in hard. Despite all my careful planning, and assurances from the bank that they could have the mortgage fully approved in sixty days, a few days before my scheduled closing I received word that there was going to be a delay because HUD (Housing and Urban Development) had decided to audit my loan. Not audit me, but the bank’s loan process. Seems they do this to about 10% of all FHA-backed loans since 2008. This made everyone at the bank turn into panicky little squirrels, running around desperately clawing for any and all information they could possibly request from me, up to and including not one, not two, but THREE appraisals for the house I wanted to buy (I only had to pay for the first one).

This caused the sale of the house to be delayed until after December 31st. In fact, it was delayed all the way until Valentine’s Day. But none of the delay past the end of December actually mattered, because up until then I could have put the money I took from my retirement account back in and wouldn’t have had to pay ANY additional tax, since the contribution would have completely offset the withdrawal. I might have had to pay a few fees to the company I have the account with, but tax-wise I would have been fine.

However, the bank decided that they weren’t going to send my loan package off to HUD to be audited until they felt they had all their ducks in a row, which of course required the aforementioned 3 appraisals and a good bit of back-and-forth between the bank’s underwriters and the appraisers they used. The worst part was that they couldn’t give me an accurate date for when they would actually have the loan approved. This mean that I had to continually re-schedule the closing date. Six times. Yes, you read that right. Six times I had to move the closing date.

The first time it happened, in December, we (my real estate agent and I) didn’t even receive any communication from the bank until the mortgage commitment date had come and gone. Then he called the bank and found out what happened. This continued through January and part of February, before the bank FINALLY informed us that the loan had been sent to HUD.

Or so we thought.

As it turns out, the loan had only been AUTHORIZED to be sent. It wasn’t actually sent for another week after that. This meant another delay to the closing date (this was #6). At this point in the process, the seller we were working with (who had been remarkably patient, largely because they had 2 other properties in similar situations) started to get upset. Neither their agent nor mine had EVER heard of a situation where 3 appraisals were asked for by the bank, and both made this known. Fortunately, once HUD had the loan package it was approved within 5 business days and we got the closing scheduled for Valentines Day. I signed a bunch of paperwork, wrote a check for just about $7,000, and took the keys to my new house.

Fast forward to last week, through just shy of two months’ worth of moving stuff, hauling furniture, and installing appliances. I sit down to do my taxes. Pulling together all of my paperwork, and dealing with my change in jobs (and increase in salary, for which I’m very thankful), my eyeballs bugged out of my skull when I realized how much money I would owe the federal government. I was going to have to pay, and pay dearly, for taking money out of a retirement account early.

Before I panicked too much, I did some quick math. Fortunately, I already had more than 90% of my tax liability covered, so there wouldn’t be any underpayment fees. At this point, I made a very tough decision: I filled out the paperwork to file for an extension on my taxes. I’m going to take the extra couple months to make sure I’ve covered all my bases as far as deductions, credits, etc. are concerned, as well as save up the money I need to pay the balance of my taxes. I’m also going to have to pay interest on the tax that I haven’t paid up until now, but if my math is right, that’s going to max out somewhere around $50 by the time I have to file in October (and I hope to file well before then!).

The lesson here is that if you’re going to be doing anything that can have an impact on your taxes when you buy your house, and by that I mean anything other than buying the house itself, put off your closing until after the start of the new tax year if at all possible. That way, if your closing is delayed, you won’t take the tax hit nearly as bad, since the deductions from your house and mortgage will help offset. Of course, the better plan is to just have enough cash saved up so that you don’t have to do anything that will affect your taxes. I’m going to remember that for next time.

All that said, I’m still glad I bought my house. It’s been a wonderful experience these last two months, and having a place that I can truly call my own is something I wouldn’t want to give up. Now I just need to get my workshop finished, brew some beer, build more furniture, and…

Well, you get the idea.

Skål!

 

 

Postscript and disclaimer: I’m not a tax professional. None of this is tax advice or legal advice. Don’t take it as such. Financial professionals are highly trained people, and well-worth taking the time and spending the money on if you’re going to make a big purchase like a house. My financial adviser warned me about taking money out early, and he was right. So make sure you get competent advice! (This means not getting your advice from an angry engineer on the internet, mmkay?)

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Thoughts on Armistice Day

“In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard among the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from falling hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.”

Lt. Col. John McCrae, 1915

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Late Summer- The Need to Write Again

Well. Three months without an update isn’t too bad, is it?

Wait. Yes it is.

It’s been a really busy summer here in Delaware. I’ve been all over the country and all over the world, as a matter of fact. In the last two months I’ve been to almost a dozen different states and a foreign country, not to mention I’ve picked up a few new hobbies and found at least a dozen more houses I didn’t want to buy (and one that I did, but that didn’t work out).  With all that going on, my writing and blogging have taken an unfortunate back seat to the rest of my life.

You see, the funny thing about the need to write is that it sneaks up on you. So every so often I find myself in a funk. I feel grumpy, twitchy, and in a general sense of malaise. Then I remember that it’s been nearly a month since I did any serious writing and everything clicks into place. So I sit down at my desk and type, or lay down on my bed with pen and paper and write longhand. It doesn’t matter what, I just need to write. A paragraph, a page, a whole story. It’s a strange sensation, writing. You dig deep into your psyche and let what needs to come out come out. Everything I write has a small piece of my soul in it. So just remember that, when you read what I’ve stuck up here. You’re getting a peek into the inner workings of my head.

Feel free to run screaming in terror. Just remember to shut the door on the way back out.

All that pretentious B.S. aside, writing is something that’s intensely cathartic for me. I use my stories, poetry, and even these blog posts to talk about things that are very important to me, whether it’s about religion, politics, music, or my own issues that need to be let go.

There’s been a lot of that going on in my life recently. House hunting has taken more time than I expected, and it’s been a lot more stressful than I’d hoped. Work is enjoyable, but it’s also high-stress because of all the projects I’m working on and how high-priority some of them are. My health is always a concern, of course, and the fact that I’ve gained weight* again is certainly irritating, but that’s at least moving in somewhat of the right direction.

On the positive side, I’m working with a new non-profit organization, which is highly enjoyable and very rewarding (if somewhat time-consuming). I’ve started getting more into woodworking, which is in itself deeply satisfying because I actually have physical things that I can say I made. There’s a lot of pride that comes from actually having stuff, and nice stuff at that, that you yourself crafted. I’ve got some beer brewing (which will be ready soon!) and more to brew next month (PUMPKIN TIME!).

The thing that’s mildly aggravating about all of this is that, while I COULD be writing about it, I haven’t been. I’ve been spending my time doing other things, like all those things I just talked about. I have a full and fulfilling life, which takes up a lot of my time. But something I’ve learned about myself is that I have to actually take time and collect my thoughts now and again, or I start to get a lot of things in my head that really don’t need to be there. Doubts, fears, and anxiety tend to build up in large quantities. It’s not fun. So here I am, talking a little bit about that and letting some of the pressure out. It’s a thing that needs to happen more often, and that I resolve to do.

So I’m asking you, imaginary readers, to help me out a bit. Hold me to the fire. If I don’t write for a week or two, remind me of this post. Remind me when I said that I need to write for my own sake, and the sake of people who I interact with on a daily basis. Because really, no one wants to deal with someone who’s grumpy all the time, and I don’t want to be that guy.

Anyway, that’s all from me for now. More later (maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, but no later than next week, I promise!).

Until then, may your yeast always be happy.

Skål!

*I’m not bitching about 2-3 lbs here; I’m 20 lbs heavier than I was 4 months ago and haven’t really changed my eating habits, which is SUPER annoying. Must. Run. More.
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Hell yeah, it’s Friday!

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This has been a trying week. I spent a good bit of time looking for a car, and think that I’ve found one. I’m working on finalizing some of the arrangements for a second tour of the house that I want to buy, which should happen early next week. And I’m working on getting a few major things done for a couple of my projects at work. All in all, there’s been a lot to do.

But it’s Friday. I survived another week. I think that merits a feeling of accomplishment. Now I get to spend my weekend doing some fun stuff. Swimming, some woodworking, a bit of wargaming, and maybe even some brewing, if I can manage it. It’s been waaaay too long since I brewed anything. I’m getting antsy.

Well, I think that’s all for today. You have yourselves a great weekend, dear readers. I’ll catch ya on the flip side.

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House Hunt Round 1: Not Everything is Terrible (But Neither is Everything Great)

Yesterday I took some time to rant a bit about the house-hunting process, and to warn anyone out there who’s looking to make sure you take everything you see with a grain of salt. With that said, I also have to say that it’s nowhere near as terrible as it sounded yesterday.

The second house that we went to see was quite a bit nicer than the first. It was well-kept, had a nice yard with a small garden patch and well-manicured lawn, and was in a nice neighborhood. It was also a cape, which made my girlfriend very happy. She likes capes a lot for some reason. I lived in one for a couple years, so I don’t mind the style at all, which is why we went to look at it. After the travesty of the first house we stopped at, this one was very encouraging, at least from the outside. The inside, however, left some things to be desired. Not because of the condition, but because of the layout.

The house was built in the 1940′s. The front door opened immediately into the living room (which did have a fireplace, to its credit), with the stairs going up immediately in front. This led back to the eat-in kitchen (no dining room), as well as a hallway going to the two first floor bedrooms and first floor full bath. Upstairs, the two bedrooms were absolutely massive, going the full width of the house, with a full bath in between.

Thus far through the tour, I had been somewhat ambivalent about the house. It certainly was in nice shape, but the layout was a bit dated, there wasn’t much room to entertain guests, and the whole downstairs felt kind of small.

Then there was the basement.

I like basements. They make me happy. I have no problem disappearing into the basement of a house for five or six hours at a stretch to work on a project at my workbench, play board games around a dimly-lit table, or just sit back with a few friends and toss back some pints. But I like to be able to do all that without worrying if I’m going to hit my head when I stand up. This basement would not have allowed for that. While it did cover the whole of the footprint of the house, it was barely 6’6″ (2 m). I’m 6’3″ (1.9 m). I would have been constantly hunched over, trying not to hit my head. I actually *did* hit my head once on some low-hanging pipes while we were looking around the basement. That pretty much sealed the deal that we were not going to consider this house any further.

All things considered, it was a nice enough house, just not one that I could see myself living in and enjoying. I wasn’t discouraged, though. There were still other houses to see, and plenty of time to see them. I’ll tell you a bit about the next round tomorrow, including the house that I hope (very much so) to make my own.

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