Just Stephanie

Things I Learned From Forensic Files

Growing up, Unsolved Mysteries was a must-watch for a good night in front of the television. Who’s with me? And who still gets creeped out when they hear the theme song?

I credit those formative years with Robert Stack in making me a lifetime crime and ghost show devotee. I’ve probably watched all of them out there at least once and keep any series I like as good a go-to option for a restful evening.

Forensic Files has been one of those go-to shows for years. Even though we don’t have cable/satellite anymore, I still manage to catch the occasional episode while traveling – usually around 10pm weeknights. Does it reveal something telling about me that I can easily fall asleep with it playing in the background?

Then I realized it is available on Netflix.

Turns out, Forensic Files is also a spectacular show to binge-watch. I’ve helped myself to over 40 episodes* recently and think I’ve learned a thing or two about orchestrating the perfect murder.

DON’T take the victim’s name off of the mailbox the week they are killed.

DON’T get two teardrop tattoos on your face while in jail awaiting trial for two murders.

DON’T fall asleep at the victim’s memorial service.

DON’T make a list comparing the victim’s life insurance totals to your current debts.

DON’T toss out the victim’s belongings the night before they disappear.

DON’T spread the victim’s ashes by slowing down and throwing them out the window of your car.

DON’T mention facts about antifreeze poisoning randomly during casual conversation with friends and family.

DON’T put the victim’s dog to sleep immediately after their death.

DON’T claim suicide when the victim has been shot more than once. Same goes for a hunting accident.

DON’T grab a snack out of the victim’s kitchen.

DON’T make a to-do or shopping list for the crime.

And a couple of serious things that could have prevented at least 50% of the murders featured on the show: 1) Just be gay if you want to be gay. 2) Just get a divorce if you want one. Seriously guys, these are much better options than murder.

*Stop judging me. You know you love to binge-watch.

If You Come To San Francisco

There is no way I could go back and tell you about all of the things we’ve done while exploring our new home. Instead I’ll share a random assortment of photographs. Click play on some Scott McKenzie and let’s do this.

The beach at Christmas time.

Looking towards the bay from the top of the hills.

The Google.

Our new home.

Looking back at the city from Treasure Island.

The Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University.

The Palace of Fine Arts on a lovely evening.

Looking out into the Bay from tourist-central.

The famous Haight-Ashbury legs at the Piedmont Boutique.

Our new home – the view from the Leo J. Ryan Memorial Park.

And she needs no introduction. I love this photo – the bridge looks its best in the fog.

Death and Taxes?

I’ve already told you about the ridiculous housing market here in the Bay Area – about how my rent is 5x my mortgage and how my Arkansas house would be worth 12x more if it was in the neighborhood surrounding our apartment building. That isn’t real news, of course. You know those things before you move here.

Today, let’s talk about that other thing people “know” about California . . . the high taxes! I’m not trying to start a big political discussion here or even discuss whether or not any individual tax rate is warranted. Frankly, I don’t really care what you think about taxes; I just want to talk about the actual impact this has outside of all the theory. If you feel some kind of moral outrage when paying taxes, this post really isn’t for you.

First! The basics:
-Are California’s taxes among the highest in the United States? Overall, yes.
-Does this make any difference to me on a daily basis? No, not really.

Next! Some caveats:
-I don’t own real estate in the state of California, so I don’t have the same tax burden I did in Arkansas.
-My salary tripled when I moved here, so my comparisons are a bit apples to oranges. But it is interesting to compare what I expected based on all of the California-bashing to what I actually pay.

Do I feel the tax burden when I get paid? No.
I was fairly disappointed when I saw the net of my first check here. When I actually looked at the breakdown however, I realized that most wasn’t going to state taxes. In fact, the state taxes are fairly in proportion to what I was paying in Arkansas considering the salary increase. Where I’m really taking a hit is with federal taxes and an increase in retirement contributions to make up for some lost time when I was in my early 20s.

Let’s use my family as an example. We are talking about effective tax rate here (not marginal).
In California – we fall at 7.4% for state and 20.6% federal. In Arkansas – we averaged 4.8% state and 13.3% federal. When we are talking about money out of my pocket, our family income more than doubled and our taxes tripled – at both the state and federal level. Obviously you feel this difference when you are looking back over a year or more, but from paycheck to paycheck the increase is minimal. If you are paying attention and optimizing your finances, you can minimize it even more.

We consider this increase negligible for our day-to-day life, but important for lifetime financial planning.

Do I feel the tax burden when I’m at the grocery store? Yes.
The combined sales tax (state, county, city) for where I do my grocery shopping is 8.75%. For where we do the rest of our shopping (clothes, household goods, fun) it is 9%. In Arkansas, it was 6.5% where we did grocery shopping and 8.5% where we did everything else. So yes, higher across the board. Interestingly, the county and city tax rates were actually higher in Arkansas. Also interestingly, we shop for groceries in both Arkansas and California in a different city from where we do everything else. Just a fun tidbit.

I think it is pretty clear that we do feel that additional 2.25% in taxes on groceries. Mix that with the overall increase in the price of goods and it has made a big change in our monthly budget. Outside of the grocery store? Not so much.

Do I feel the tax burden when I’m renewing my car registration? Yes.
Oh my goodness did I hear some horror stories about how much it was going to cost to register my car. They were – across the board – highly exaggerated. But that isn’t to say we haven’t felt a significant increase here. It cost me $30 (that includes decal fee and online payment fee) per car in Arkansas. It costs $250 for my car and $300 for the van here in California.

The actual registration in California is $46. The rest is a whole host of various state and county fees. I’m not going to try to breakdown where our money actually went, but the DMV says this is the general breakdown:

Local government (cities/counties) 40.7%
California Highway Patrol 25.7%
DMV 13.9%
State highways (Caltrans) 13.0%
Air Resources Board 1.7%
Other state agencies 4.3%
State General Fund 0.7%

Do I feel the tax burden when I file my taxes? Eh.
On one hand, I didn’t have any surprised the first time I filed California taxes. We didn’t owe and we got a small refund, but nothing that would make me think I need to reevaluate how much money we’re loaning the government. On the other hand, this is where you see the full-year total and feel the difference of the higher tax rate. On yet the other hand (that is #3, if you are counting), what we get for our tax money here in California is all kinds of amazing. It is much easier to stomach the amount leaving your pockets if you feel like you are actually benefiting. Just to toss one more hand in there, our tax burden is offset a bit by the little man’s disability, medical costs, and services. So filing is a mixed bag, I guess.

So, that is the actually breakdown – massively simplified, of course – of what it is like to live out here in tax-land. The view from the ground, not from the political office. My takeaway? If you are opposed to a lot of the things that the government does out here in California? You probably wouldn’t be happy with your bill. If you are opposed to paying taxes in general? You probably aren’t ever happy. If you are anybody else? You probably will just adjust your budget and move on.

Arkansas – What I Miss

A little over a year ago, I told you all of the things I thought I would miss about Arkansas. Let’s revisit and talk about the things I actually do miss. Friends and family not included because I am cold and heartless (or maybe just because that is a given).

Here we go:

Food. Food. Oh so, much food. Seriously, that is #1-9 on my list. #10 is cheese dip. Yes, it gets – and deserves – its own number. I’d like to share something deep and profound about the beauty of home, but all I can think about is sitting in front of a smoker watching a big hunk of pig cook for hours. “Oh but Stephanie,” you say, “surely you can have this experience in the great state of California?” No, no I can’t. Apartment complexes kind of frown on you doing such things on your third floor balcony.

I miss pulled pork, biscuits, fried okra, sausage gravy, red beans and rice, bread pudding, and boiled peanuts. I can’t remember the last time I ate a boiled peanut, but I still miss them. I even miss sweet tea, despite the fact that I never drank it – and never knew anyone who drank it regularly – because it was too sweet. I miss the idea of sweet tea.

It’s not that these things don’t exist in the Bay Area; it’s that they aren’t very good. Or, at the least, no longer ubiquitous.

They don’t put paprika on top of deviled eggs here, people. In fact, we had an Easter potluck at work and no one even brought deviled eggs. Not one single egg! I very much dislike deviled eggs, but still. . . That has to be the only real moment of culture shock I’ve experienced. The lack of damn deviled eggs.

I miss local restaurants – David’s Burgers, Capital Grill, Shotgun Dans – and I miss chain restaurants (yes, even silly chain restaurants!) – Sonic, Newks, On the Border, Moes. I miss being able to walk into a grocery store to be greeted by my favorite iced coffee, ice cream, and iced tea (also moon pies – I’ve never purchased one, but would just like them to be around).

Oh yeah, I also miss Wal-Mart. Never saw that one coming. Target doesn’t have enough variety and is slightly more expensive for a necessity shop. I can’t do all of my shopping at any one store in my vicinity anymore.

I do miss a few things that aren’t so calorie-heavy. Namely – courtesy waves, snow, and my laundry room.

Okay, I’m done now. It is all out of my system. Sometimes I forget how stereotypically southern I am.

On My Bookshelf, December 2016-January 2017

Searching for John Hughes: Or Everything I Thought I Needed to Know about Life I Learned from Watching ’80s Movies by Jason Diamond (2016)

From “For all fans of John Hughes and his hit films such as National Lampoon’s Vacation, Sixteen Candles, and Home Alone, comes Jason Diamond’s hilarious memoir of growing up obsessed with the iconic filmmaker’s movies—a preoccupation that eventually convinces Diamond he should write Hughes’ biography and travel to New York City on a quest that is as funny as it is hopeless.”

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge
-A book involving travel
-A book with a subtitle

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: An American Hero by Ronald D. Lankford Jr. (2016)

Don’t let the playful topic, decorative layout, and colorful images fool you – this is a detailed historical study of Rudolph and his place in American history and culture. Probably not the best choice for someone looking for simple holiday nostalgia, but a great read for the history-buff. Lankford’s work is well-researched and interesting. Recommended – if you like that kind of thing.

From “Ronald D. Lankford has written the definitive history of this iconic and much-loved Christmas character. . . . The result is both a glowing tribute and a rigorously researched biography that will appeal to fans and lovers of classic American holiday culture.”

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge
-A book involving a mythical creature
-A book with a subtitle

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher (2016)

My husband got me this book for Christmas, not knowing how relevant it would be. I didn’t enjoy this one as much as Wishful Drinking, but I’m also not a Star Wars fan. Of course, just being a Star Wars fan is no reason to read this book. In fact, unless you already know about Carrie Fisher’s writing, you would probably be really disappointed. At its core, this is a coming of age story – more about a teenager struggling with the transition to adulthood than behind the scenes stories from the movie. It is a good read if you like Fisher.

From “When Carrie Fisher recently discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars movie, she was astonished to see what they had preserved—plaintive love poems, unbridled musings with youthful naiveté, and a vulnerability that she barely recognized. Today, her fame as an author, actress, and pop-culture icon is indisputable, but in 1977, Carrie Fisher was just a teenager with an all-consuming crush on her costar, Harrison Ford. With these excerpts from her handwritten notebooks, The Princess Diarist is Fisher’s intimate and revealing recollection of what happened on one of the most famous film sets of all time—and what developed behind the scenes.”

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge
-A book about an interesting woman
-A bestseller from 2016

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939)

This one I read for book club and it is absolutely not a genre I would typically pick up off of the shelf. Call me pleasantly surprised, I enjoyed it overall. Yes, I found the plot of the crime ridiculously tangled and the noir doublespeak ultimately cloying, but Chandler was clearly a master of his craft. And it turns out he didn’t write this first book until he 44 and unemployed during the Depression. Good for him! If you are a fan of this genre, you’ve probably already read this. If you aren’t, this is probably a good one to start with.

From “In crime fiction master Raymond Chandler’s iconic first novel, a dying millionaire hires private eye Philip Marlowe to handle the blackmailer of one of his two troublesome daughters, and Marlowe finds himself involved with more than extortion. Kidnapping, pornography, seduction, and murder are just a few of the complications he gets caught up in.”

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge
-A bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read

*This post contains Amazon Associate referral links.

Monday Morning You Gave Me No Warning

I wrote something. It was about Monica Lewinsky and body image and things we learn from television . . . but I’m not going to share it. For some reason, this one feels too personal. You’d probably disagree if you read it and compared it to some of the stuff I’ve already written about here. It feels different to me though. So let’s skip it.

To be honest, I’m finding it difficult to concentrate on anything else expect the increasingly bleak political situation in America. I don’t intend to write anything in detail about it. I like to keep my little corner of the internet light and there are plenty of people out there – liberal and conservative – writing about it much more eloquently than I could. In my everyday life, I’m just trying to help any little way I can. It is hard to know what to do, but at least I can contribute to history’s remembering of these years as “and the resistance never gave up the fight” instead of “why didn’t they do something?”

So . . . how about some humor? Let’s start with The Awkward Yeti showing the kidneys a little love in honor of my father’s successful kidney transplant (!) week before last.

Up next, we have Adam Ellis illustrating the plight of the introvert.

2016 Has Left the Building!

If the way you start the new year sets the tone for the entire 365 days, what do you think this says about me?

December 31, 3:00pm: I realize that I could watch the ball drop at 9pm my time then head straight to bed. West coast perk! The family doesn’t really support this plan.

December 31, 9:30pm: I close my eyes on the couch and tell my husband to wake me up when it is time to go to bed. We are in the middle of binge-watching Good Mythical Morning episodes we have already seen countless time.

December 31, 10:00pm: I throw in the towel and head to bed anyway. I cozy up and browse the web on my phone while listening to an episode of World’s Dumbest [Blank], as I love trashy television best.

December 31, 11:59pm: Hey, I’m still awake. Guess I’ll welcome the new year after all. This is the first time in a couple of years I’ve actually been awake.

January 1, 12:00am: Hmm. . . those people having the party next door didn’t count down. That seems like a waste.

January 1, 12:00:45am: Oh, there they go. Our clocks must be different.

January 1, 12:20pm: The husband comes to bed and we browse the internet together because we are boring.


My day started fairly early – I rolled out of bed at 7:10am to take my mom to the airport. She has been visiting us for two weeks. After sending her on her way, I grabbed one last peppermint mocha for the holiday season and headed to Target. Yes, Target. Where I shopped for very interesting things like trash bags, a 2017 planner for my kid, and 75% off Christmas candy (candy cane Hershey Kisses, for the win!).

My big plan for the rest of the day is to take a nap. So . . . what does all this say about my upcoming new year? Nothing. It doesn’t say anything. I’m a normal person who enjoys sleep and needs bags to collect her household garbage.

I do have some plans for the new year though. While I don’t bother to make traditional resolutions (too silly), I do sometimes identify something I want to focus on. This year I want to take more photographs of neat things, especially the neat things that we are doing. I could pretend that I don’t take photos because I’m trying to be in the moment. . . but that’s a lie. I much prefer to document what is happening, but I’ve just been too lazy to do it.

Practically speaking, I need to find a primary care physician/gynecologist/optometrist in the new local. I need to unbox the books cluttering up our bedroom and take the little man’s toys out of the moving box they have been in for six months. I need to sit down and refile all of the paperwork I’ve been ignoring since it was unpacked.

And I need to read more. I’ve gotten out of the habit.

*Let’s just all agree to ignore that I haven’t regularly posted anything to this site in months. The shared delusion only works if you all participate, people!

Is this blog dead? And other updates.

Let’s start with the first question – Is this blog dead?
Well, I’m honestly not sure. I’m not ready for it to be dead, but it has been well over a month since I last posted. Maybe I’m just delaying the inevitable?

When I started PlayfullyTacky, I needed a place to vent and decompress. I was working a job that stressed me out and left me feeling a little dejected when I came home every evening. On top of that, my home life isn’t exactly of the most stress-free type (hello, little man!). Writing here helped me control that stress – to a point, I’m sure my husband is rolling his eyes right about now – and gave me a creative outlet.

My current job doesn’t stress me out, it wears me out.* When I come home I want to sit on the couch with my kids and watch television. [Yes, still Bob’s Burgers on repeat.] When I’m not at home sitting on the couch, I want to explore this amazing area. When I have that magical combination of spare time and motivation, I spend it working on a personal research project.

So. . . I’m not sure. I won’t be going back to my three posts a week schedule, but don’t count me out yet.

Update #1: I’m picking up a seasonal retail job for the holidays. We are still paying the Arkansas mortgage (you don’t even want to hear the drama involved with that) and once you add in rent ($$$$) and other bills, there just isn’t anything left. Not a dime. We are cutting it very close every month. And sometimes worse – we have come up short a few times and resorted to taking from our already-nearly-empty savings. Yeah . . . that won’t work for much longer. I’m uncomfortable with our current financial situation, so I’m doing something about it.

I’m not thrilled – I absolutely live for this time of year. I am one of those ridiculous holiday people that you love to hate and being tied down at the mall will keep me from optimal celebration levels. But it is easier for me to pick up something extra since the husband is still working from home and hunting for a local position. He doesn’t need to be locked in to a weird schedule. I’m feeling fairly positive about it now, but check back with me the week before Christmas when I’m ready to gouge-out eyeballs.

Update #2: It seems I have volunteered for our school district’s PTA special needs committee. If you don’t understand how someone can just suddenly find themselves volunteering . . . well, you clearly don’t have a problem with over-commitment and do have the ability to say no when you are passionate about something. I’m a chronic volunteer-aholic. In a moment of clarity, I managed to turn down serving as chair, instead signing up for treasurer. I’m excited about this, but it is quite a commitment. I’m happy to be involved though. The goal is for this committee to eventually break off as a standalone PTA. I think that is extremely promising and really fills a need.

Of course I was going to volunteer. . .

Update #3: The new job is going well, I think. I feel like I’m settling in and hitting my stride. At least, I feel a lot more comfortable now than I did when I arrived in June. That is a positive sign. I won’t talk about the details – because you know I don’t do that here – but I’m pretty sure I made the right decision. Moving into a nearly-100%-administration job has been an adjustment (and I say nearly-100% just b/c I have the opportunity to still do a little bit of collections work in the future). I’m glad I took the leap though.

Update #4: Ya’ll, I can’t say I’ve adjusted to apartment living any better than I had last time we spoke. There are just people . . all over . . living their lives . . in my space. It doesn’t even fulfill the enjoyment I get out of eavesdropping, as most of the people who talk loudly enough to be heard through the windows are speaking in languages I can’t even identify. I really want to get over being cranky about this, but I’m having trouble moving on. I know that makes me a spoiled, first world problem kind of person. But geez. I’m too introverted to be around all of these folks all of the time. There are eight buildings in my complex with 24-32 apartments each.

And a lot of residents look at you like you have horns growing out of your head if you speak to them. Ha! That is a stereotype, of course, but – you guys, I’m not making this up – I confused one older lady so badly by talking to her in the elevator that she offered me a magazine before running off. She literally didn’t know how to handle me.

Okay, I’m being silly now. There are some things I like about our home, but all of the people around isn’t one of them.

Update #5: The Christmas tree is up and lighted [lit?], but not decorated. The husband made a deal with the daughter that she could put the tree up early if she dug it out of the storage closet. Of course, I’m sure you all know that he still ended up doing a lot of that work. My husband is extremely pro-Thanksgiving, so this is a big concession for him. And it appears to have worked – he told me a couple of days ago that he was listening to Christmas music while working. Oh how quickly he abandons his beloved Thanksgiving.

I’m not in any hurry to get ornaments on the tree any time soon. I’m picturing a slow build-up to full-on-Christmas-joy over the next few weeks. But the lights and tree and gorgeous. It looks too short though when compared to our high ceilings. I might need to upgrade when Balsam Hill has their January sale. There goes all that extra money from the second job. . .

Speaking of Balsam Hill, their first catalog arrived over the weekend. That signals the beginning of the holiday season for me. I don’t usually buy anything (our tree was absolutely worth the money, but that is about as much as I can invest), but just turning the thick, glossy pages makes me smile.

*I would just like to point out that this is a super-big-deal for me and the reason we made this 2000-mile move. Husband says my entire demeanor is happier and I do feel better. Success!!

RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 2, Episode 2

Yay! Another week, another episode. And this week is everyone’s favorite episode. . . SNATCH GAME! I’ll pause here for applause and cheers.


Let’s ignore Adore-gate and jump right in to rate some Snatch Game performances.

Best SnatchKatya as Bjork and Alyssa Edwards as Joan Crawford
Yes. Yes. Hi-lar-i-ous.

Best Accent? Hands down Katya as Bjork. I giggled every time she opened her mouth.
Honorable mention? Alaska as Mae West. She was on point, but for me it just didn’t surpass the other two.

Worst SnatchRoxxxy Andrews as Alaska and Tatianna as Ariana Grande
Bummer. The Ariana Grande impression fell flat. It was a poor choice of character – there just isn’t enough personality to roll with. And Roxxxy’s last minute switch to Alaska made me want to say “aw, bless her heart.” It could have been hilarious in the right hands, but just landed with a big old splat. Epic fail.

And we also have regular runway looks to admire. This week’s theme was Latex Extravaganza.

Best RunwayDetox and Katya
Amazing. I love it when they turn that corner and the outfit kind of takes your breath away. Detox looked like a feature in a 90s avant-garde magazine. Katya’s dress was so tight she had to wiggle down the runway and she even had a swimmer’s nose plug as an accessory. Attention to detail, ya’ll.

PhiPhiPhi Phi O’hara
And Phi Phi blows the runway for the second week in a row. It is a latex bathing suit with rubber duck necklace. Come on, you can do better. The wig sucks too. Boo!

Boring, but acceptable? Tatianna, Alaska, Ginger Minj, Roxxy Andrews

RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 2, Episode 1

I have been counting down the days until last night’s RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 2 premiere since the date was announced and I first added it to our family calendar. Yes, the family calendar. Drag Race makes me deliriously happy and the chance to see some of my favorites in action again is almost as good as Christmas.

Anybody out there love this show as much as I do? Tell me what you thought of last night’s episode and – if you have one – which queen who is your favorite.
Who am I rooting for? Still undecided. I’m starting the season torn between Detox, Alaska, and Katya. But I’m also partial to Adore and Alyssa Edwards. Every Friday in the near future I plan to share the best and worst looks from the show according to me. Clearly an expert in drag queen fashion, or just fashion in general. *

Put on those lace fronts and tuck your junk, ladies! Up first, the very special entering the workroom on the first day outfits. This is their first moment to make an impression and terrify the competition. Overall I was kind of disappointed. There wasn’t near enough wow.

Week 1 - Best Opening LooksRoxxxy Andrews and Phi Phi O’hara
Okay, this means a lot coming from me. I wasn’t excited about either of them being on the show again and I’ve pretty much never liked anything Roxxxy has ever worn. Or said. Or done. But man, when she walked in that room. With that hair. And that waist. Yas Gawd! And I love that Phi Phi kept it fun as the Riddler.

Week 1 - Worst OpeningGinger Minj and Coco Montrese
The bathing suit is blah and the robe she had on over it was absolutely awful. Massive shoulders much, Ginger? Hate it. And Coco isn’t bad, just boring. Very modern housewives out to lunch and ultimately forgettable.

Most disappointing to me? Detox for that horrible wig and Alaska for somehow making a huge trash bag dress seem boring.

And now for the main event, the runway looks. Oh wait, never-mind. We’ve got a talent show instead of a runway this week.

Week 1 - Talent BestTatianna, Katya, and Adore Delano
Yes. Yes. Yes. Tatianna ruled that runway. I loved Katya’s lacy take on the traditional gymnastic costume, complete with Olympic-style “Russia” jacket discarded before her routine. The panel ripped Adore apart, but I really liked it. I didn’t catch a full-body screenshot of Adore and couldn’t find one online before it was time for bed, so we’ll focus on the spectacular hair.
Best quote of the night? “Congratulations on your face.” Todrick Hall to Tatianna

Honorable mention: Detox for being almost naked, covered in splattered glow in the dark paint, and wearing a much better wig.

Week 1 - Phi Phi TalentPhi Phi O’Hara
The shape of the dress is off and she is missing a waist. It isn’t horrible, but it doesn’t stand up to the other all stars.

All images from Logo.