Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Drywall, Baby

Yeah, ok. Get off my back. I'm the den mother on a pirate ship and time for pleasure writing comes infrequently.

Here's what's going on with the house. We got the final permit. After being told by the city of Salinas that we had to jump through a number of ridiculous hoops, including sheer-walling the entire structure with a rare type of plywood available only three days a year in a jungle in Borneo, obtaining a letter from the owners who lost the place to foreclosure testifying to the fact that the existing sheer-wall had been installed correctly and then sacrificing a virgin up on the widow's walk (but only when the moon was full) we would be good to go.

Al and the All-Oaxacan Construction Team has been here for two weeks now, and finally, finally, progress is being made. They have insulated everything, there is drywall going up and the electrical is mostly being finalized. We drove to this very shady granite place on Saturday at the port of Oakland and picked out our slab. (How you know you've married the right person? You see a slab, he sees a slab, you both go "oooh" and it's the same slab. While we lack fixtures, we are having Christmas dinner here. If you're reading this and you're a) a relative to whom I'm actually still speaking or b) a friend lacking family nearby, you are welcome to come here. It's slightly less white trash than it used to be.

Pictures soon. I have to find the damn camera cords yet again.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

You Can't Kill the Rooster

To paraphrase David Sedaris, when shit (like a snail-slow architect who shows you nothing but disdain and a schadenfreude-ridden city building department that loves not giving you a building permit) brings you down, sometimes you just gotta say "fuck it" and sand yourself some motherfucking floors.

(The swearing quotient on this blog is about to go up. As of Oct. 27, I will no longer be working for the American City Business Journals chain, where I was once pulled into my editor's office and scolded for calling Pat Robertson a douchebag on Twitter after this guy read the tweet and ratted me out. I'm not sure what the "E" in his name stands for. I'm thinking "exceedingly earnest." Just so we're clear: anyone who says that Haiti got what it deserved when the 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit because the country once "made a pact with the devil" is a douchebag. And a journalist who rats out another journalist for saying so? Well I guess he's just a company man.)

But I digress.

About ten days ago we got the comments back on our second building plan submittal. There was a list of 30 things that needed to be re-done on the plans before we could resubmit. I'd say about 70 percent of this falls squarely on the building department, because they were decidedly unclear when they gave comments on the first round. But the other 30 percent, I'm laying at the feet of the architect. There were things that should have been done on the second round that he knew about, that were spelled out and that he still didn't do.

Chuck emails him and says the following: "Since these comments were all there the first round and you did not address them properly, I expect you to make the changes and overnight the plans to me at no cost."

The architect shoots back this: "As for my fees, my contract is with (the contractor) and they will be billed in accordance with my contract with them."

And this is the point where Chuck loses his mind. Because Chuck? He's the guy who does his job. And right now? Everyone else is pretty much the other guy.

As a result of us still not having a permit for the main house, it's safe to say Thanksgiving is fucked. I'm hoping that Christmas is not fucked as well. But having a new job at a paper where journalism still means something is reason to celebrate and damnit, I want to have people over for a soup party before I start.

We got some of our furniture out of storage and set up the dining room. Hung some lights, hung some art and polished up the dining room table, but the floor looks like hell. Underneath layers of grime and some type of paper-backing (because at some point apparently some idiot thought it would be a good idea to lay down linoleum on top of the pristine, clear redwood planking), there is beauty to be found. But it's going to take more than a wet mop to make it happen.

So yesterday, we rented a sander.

(to be continued ...)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Miracle of the Freecycle

Got this off of Freecycle:

So after we get it restuffed, what kind of fabric? Crushed velvet? Blue and white ticking?

Advice, please.

ETA: Blogger seems to give people problems commenting. So here's what some of the Facebook gang has to say:

Matt Hanner I like the red velvet idea but you'd have to have the little hanging gold dingleberries to pull it off.
On a serious note it's got a fantastic shape. I love the lines of the arms and the back.
10 hours ago · Like

Matt Hanner I bet a high quality zebra stripe would look good on it.
10 hours ago · Like

Patti Rosenberg I was going to suggest a leopard skin pattern, but zebra would be nice, too. Either way, in crushed velvet. Make sure it doesn't have bedbugs, though.
9 hours ago · Like

Joseph Divar Purple zebra or cheetah stripe.
9 hours ago · Like

Smadar Lieberman Meer Your big items should always be neutral. Accessories are where you bring in pops of color, like rug, side chairs, etc. Save the zebra/cheetah/leopard/giraffe for something smaller and less expensive cuz you will get sick of it
9 hours ago · Like

Michelle McGurk I can't see the ticking with those lines, needs to be a fabric with a little shine or softness.
4 hours ago · Like

Smadar Lieberman Meer i vote for a tone on tone cut velvet, with a modern pattern (not your grandmother's cut velvet)
3 hours ago · Like

Godzi Linda I'm kinda voting for the the OliverHair, could be velvet...
about an hour ago · Like

Pam Valentine sort of depends on what the rest of the room is like. You can bring home sample swatches and see how they look in your room. Would suggest doing that before deciding. However, the sofa is beautiful! Dont get someting that is dryclean only if possible. Velvet is very difficult to clean.
24 minutes ago · Like

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Tempest in a Long Island Iced Tea Pot

I'm taking this post off the beaten track. But before I do, a quick update.

Yes, I still want to kill our architect, or at least kick him in the shins until he cries like a little girl. He neglected to put something on the second round of plans the city told him he needed after the first round; when Chuck told him he needed to get his act together, put a rush on it and that we wouldn't be paying for him to correct his own mistakes, he responded: "I don't work for you, I work for your contractor."

Oh yes he did.

Here's the thing: the city, the architect, the civil engineer and even Al the Contractor seem to exist in this alternate universe where time has no real meaning. What should take a week in the real world takes three weeks in Bizarro Building World. Chuck and I, on the other hand, live in Deadline World. He writes and implements code. If his code isn't perfect and the implementation flawless, portions of a Fortune 100 company stop functioning. I write news. If I don't, I lose my job.

Which leads me to the point of today's post, construction, the Blue Goose Bar & Grill and the Montessori Learning Center. Our youngest son is a student at Montessori. He's a 7th grader, a foot-and-a-half taller than his teacher, he's rocking the beginnings of a mustache and I know for certain he is the only student who walks to and from school. Shrug. When he lived in Berkeley, he took BART by himself and that was almost two years ago.

Montessori is kind of special snowflake land, but it works for us and has for 11 years. Both boys are Montessori kids.

The Montessori building, along with a former restaurant around the corner, are owned by the same guy, Chris Evans. I wouldn't know him if he stepped out in front of my Mini as I went screaming out of the parking lot at a high rate of speed. I don't know if he's a good guy, a bad guy or a neutral guy. No clue. But I know he is trying to open a new restaurant around the corner from the school and this means one thing for certain: he's got a masochistic streak a mile wide. Anyone who tries to get anything done in the city has a masochistic streak, but it's especially true if you're going into the food business.

Evans and his partners (I guy I do know and like quite a bit, Todd Fisher) are seeking a full liquor license for the place, which shares a parking lot with Montessori. The school is freaked out because they have visions of Blue Goose customers running down the little Sams and McKenzies and Ashleys and McKennas at Montessori. The Blue Goose is freaked out because they've already invested a shitload of money in trying to get this place open (tip: never, ever buy your equipment first) and Montessori is standing directly between the restaurant and those 300 percent markups on liquor sales.

The local newspapers have gone out of their way to get the story wrong, or at least forgotten a small thing like fact checking. The students aren't gone by 3 p.m., for example. Evans may have put $1 million into tenant improvements of the Montessori building, but that comes back to him in a little thing called rent, as another example. And neither story noted the stop work/permit violation notice plastered to the future Blue Goose door. For more on that, read on.

The school had to battle to get a restriction placed on the liquor license that says no hard liquor sales until 5:30 p.m. And don't let anyone fool you--it was a battle. I seriously doubt any of our kids are going to get run over by a produce salesman on an afternoon bender, and Chuck thinks this is mostly a tempest in a tea pot. But given that Evans already has a stop work/permit violation notice on his door, a sign he's willing to ignore the law when it suits him, I feel better having the restriction in writing. He owns both buildings, he has a right to run a business and the school has the right, in accordance to its lease and generally accepted practices of running a school, to keep its students alive.

It could be a win-win situation. With booze.

The way the city works, though, the poor shmoes might never get open. But if they do, I plan on being there on opening day, ordering one of Todd's burgers and a martini.

But only after 5:30 p.m.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Meetcha in the Morning

Chuck's going to meet with the planning people in the morning and explain to them why it's no longer necessary for them to justify their jobs by making our lives more difficult. And then he's probably going to need to drink. I'll be at work writing a third ROP story because I move on to a piece on Prop. 23 for Thursday and a focus on the Irish Innovation Center on Friday. I also need to blog about alternative forms of payment -- I interviewed two great CEOs last week that work in the payment space but on very different models. Wences Casares of Bling Nation is working on mobile payments via a simple cell phone tag. Danny Shader wants to make it easier for the unbanked and underbanked to pay for goods and services with cash by facilitating the transactions at 7-11.

This weekend will be serious theater weekend at night and serious yardwork weekend by day. I'm ordering bulbs to plant in the bed along the front of the fence, where we also will plant rosemary bushes. I'm getting tulips to go along the retaining wall. I'd like to get one or two of these to hang on the wall, but they're fairly spendy and at 20-by-20, I'd need a lot of them to make any impact on the ugliness of that wall. I'm sure Perfectly Tasteful Grady has a better solution and will let me know when he reads this.

It's theater weekend because my son's show premiers at the Paper Wing Theater in Monterey. He's in the ensemble, but has a couple of great fight scenes and he dies beautifully after being shanked in the final scene. The play is "Repo, The Genetic Opera.' We'll be working the house at night this weekend ... come by and say hello if you read this.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

La Ciudad

Dear City of Salinas,

Between you, me and the flagpole, I think you could be doing better. How many construction projects do you actually have going on right now? And I'm not talking the illegal ones that you occasionally ferret out and red tag. I'm talking actual projects. With contractors. And homeowners willing to pay the permit fees.

It shouldn't take me a week to get a meeting to discuss your asinine water consumption and discharge issues with our landscaping. Is our permaculture consultant a little too hippy for you? I have to calculate down to the last tomato how much water I'm going to consume? Are you kidding me?



P.S. I'm having urban chickens. You can come by and red tag the coop.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Anthony Bourdain on Gordon Ramsey

Taken at a talk Bourdain gave in Santa Cruz a few years ago. Amuse yourselves with this while I figure out how to take a hit out on our architect without spending the rest of my life incarcerated. And also how to talk my husband out of one of the dumbest ideas in the history of dumb or ideas.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I Like Living Here. What's Your Excuse?

"You live where?" I get that question a lot.

Salinas. I live in Salinas.

I like it here. I just can't help myself.

It is hot here for precisely four days a year. Almost every afternoon, the marine layer rolls in off the Monterey Bay. We're seven miles from the coast, but there is nothing between us and the ocean--no hills--to keep the cold from coming in. I come home from work and drive through what we call "Chill Hill," that grove of eucalyptus on 101, and the temperature will drop 20-degrees in less than a mile. This means my cashmere and I stay connected throughout the year. That's the kind of weather I can get behind.

I like it here because although John Steinbeck was born and raised here, he saw all of its deep flaws and wrote about it accordingly. (According to stories from my husband's family, Steinbeck really only liked one person in Salinas, the Rev. Kemper, late pastor of First Presbyterian Church. When the government was sending Japanese-Americans to internment camps during WWII, the rev bought all of the farms owned by local Japanese Americans for $1 each and held on to them, selling them back when the insanity of those camps ended. That was an establishment guy Steinbeck could get behind.)

I don't know if the church would do the same this time around. They seem to be more of a 'round up the usual supects' group. But I hear they have a rather lively rock band on Sundays.

And while the establishment didn't love John Steinbeck in his life, they love him in his death, enough to realize when you have a Nobel Prize-winning author on your hands--bad attitude or not-- you capitalize it by building a museum and holding an annual festival in his honor. This year's events featured a dress-your-dog-like-Steinbeck (or a Steinbeck character) contest. My friend Carmela made her German Shepherds tuxedos, a la Steinbeck at the Nobel Prize Ceremony.

They're kind of cute in a, "hey, is that a German Shepherd in a tux?" kind of way. Carmela is the dog whisperer of Salinas. If you have a pooch with issues, she will tell you that your dog is fine, it's most likely you, the owner, who is the problem.

I like it here because you can buy potted orchids for a few bucks at the farmer's market, because the guy who thought, "Why not pot the orchids before selling them?" is from here. And now that he's made a fortune from his idea, he sends poor, smart kids to college.

The Sausage King of Salinas

I like that there is now a Sausage King of Salinas. Butch Francis, an upstate New Yorker who came here who knows when and now makes about 400-pounds of sausage each week. He also makes the world's best chili. Every Saturday, by the end of the Old Town Salinas Farmer's market, two crockpots of it have been emptied.

We've been doing a lot of trekking back and forth to Berkeley this summer, because Bobby is attending theater school at the Berkeley Rep, and Sam went to computer camp at Cal. We'll get off the 980 and head down MLK, past all of the fabulous Berkeley things--the yarn bombed signs and sculptures, the Arnieville tent city set up to protest Schwarzenegger's proposed cuts to Medi-Cal. The restaurants and stores we used to visit. Life's rich pageant. And I'll think to myself, "Why? Why didn't you like it here?"

And then some Trustafarian on a $4,000 bike will ride out in front of my car, flipping me off while doing it, and I remember. That's why.

Salinas is delusional in its own way. Right now the city is searching for a national agency to help it re-brand itself--there's no money involved, but the city is willing to share the proceeds of t-shirt and mug sales. I don't know how you rebrand something that wallows in self-loathing, but it's going to be fun to watch.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Before, After and Enduring

At one point, Roger the Painter got stuck on the roof.

Everyone was gone. He was working alone, and was moving between peaks when somehow his ladder slipped. He had his cellphone, but he didn't want to call 911. (I guess it would have been kind of embarrassing? but better than sitting up there for hours wondering how the hell to get down?) A guy riding a bicycle through the alley heard him call out for help and repositioned the ladder for him.

So for three days straight, after all of the sanding and prep work, they painted. Cream base, white trim and black accents. 15 gallons of trim paint alone. For an extra $100, Roger prepped and painted the stairs and porch a dark grey. The concrete bottom step is still there, but we eventually will build out the stairs and landing.

The painting is mostly done. Roger the Painter is coming back on Tuesday to sharpen the edges, razor blade the windows and finish some of the highest trim. Al is sending along one of his Oaxacan Faithful to install the water main, so it will feel a little bit less Clampettish. Right now we're getting all of our water from a hose.

The city finally approved our SPR-site plan review-the document that determines if we're complying with Salinas zoning regulations. This means we can now submit the for the building permit for the main house, which will be another month of my life that's never, ever coming back.

I'm a little grumpy right now.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Just This

Neither time nor energy for anything full blown right now. B and I are up at 5:45 every weekday morning so he can make the three-hour shlep to the Berkeley Rep School of Theater. I don't know where my SD card reader is, thus I can't post pictures of the fabulously painted house.

So until the weekend, I leave you with this:

We are living like the Clampetts, pre-oil strike.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

No No, Trust Me, It's Gonna Be Great!

I promise I'll be better. I post more. All of the witty things I think of during the day, I will jot down. Starting tomorrow. But for now, there's this.

I had a dream Friday night that Al, our contractor, decided on his own to paint the house purple. And when I begged him to stop, he said, "No no, trust me--it's gonna be GREAT!" and kept painting it purple.

I hate purple.

I'm reasonably sure he won't do this. His crew just spent three days sanding the entire thing by hand. All of the gingerbread-work, all of the cutouts, on ladders, by hand. I just wanted to give them all hugs, especially the one guy who managed to shoot himself in the hand with a nail gun last week (and then got shot in the same hand with a framing nail by someone else about the same time). But my grasp of Spanish is tenuous, and I didn't want to have to explain that the gringa lady wants only to bring them snacks and means them no harm. I'd probably end up speaking Russian mid-sentence and then none of us would understand what the hell was going on.

They're coming back at the end of the week to do the actual painting. I think Al is worried the result is going to be too austere--it's going to be white, cream and black, the stairs will be gray and the porch ceiling blue. Our friend Grady has declared the black is to be used sparingly. "Think of it as eyeliner for your house," he said. "But what if my house is kind of a slut and wants to wear too much make-up?" I asked him. "Then we should just paint the door come (expletive deleted) me red, and call it a day," he said.

I had coffee this morning with The Cuddly Hero of the Masses, Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue. (I'd like to trademark the Cuddly Hero name, but it dates back to the early 90s, when John Garamendi was insurance commissioner and I was covering civil courts in LA -- the Daily News reporter called him that, so it's not original.) Annnnnnyway ... as he and I were parting company, Chuck came up and asked him what we had to do to get an urban chicken ordinance passed in the City Council.

Because chickens? We're having them, ordinance or no. But Chuck, being the law-and-order type, wants to do it by the book.

Dennis flinched when we mentioned it.

"It will be easier to get a medical marijuana ordinance passed around here," he said, running away.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sometimes You've Just Got to Say, What the Cluck

One of the goals of living in this house is to produce as much of our own food as possible. There's enough space--really more than enough space--for an expansive vegetable garden. (My husband is a canning fiend-how many men do you know who have their own pressure canners and love to use them?) We've planted four citrus trees and four pomegranate bushes already, and have tomatoes, peppers, strawberries and corn going in some temporary raised beds we put in so we could feel like we were making progress while waiting for the permits. Once we move in this weekend, I'm going to clear out the bed that runs along the cinderblock wall separating us from the funeral home next door (yeah, funeral home next door. They held services for John Steinbeck there before his ashes were interred at a local cemetery) and start planting the berry bushes that eventually will cover the wall. I'll start the herbs going as well--I've gotten some good advice from the folks at Rocket Farms. The water department is coming next week to install the new water main, and once that's done we'll start working on the drip irrigation system for the beds that eventually will cover the entire front yard.

And we want chickens. Urban chickens. We got fairly spoiled living around the block from Fred Dodsworth, who along with his wife Linda has a very active egg operation going in their backyard. But urban chickens were no big deal in Berkeley; it wasn't unusual to see one that had escaped from its yard and gone wandering down the street. There were far weirder things to see in Berkeley.

Originally uploaded by Dave-F

(Photo used with permission under a Creative Commons' license.)

Fresh eggs are out of this world. Nothing compares, at least nothing you can buy in a store. And so it is with a heavy heart that I make the following proclamation: I am about to become an urban chicken outlaw. Because in the city of Salinas, there are no chickens allowed--at least not in my mixed-use neighborhood. (Meth labs? No worries. Illegal car repair shops? They turn a blind eye. Urban chickens? You're a scofflaw.)

I understand completely that noise and smell are concerns. We only have one living neighbor, Mike the Sprinkler guy, with whom we share a fence on the north side of the house. The three houses next to his are all empty and in foreclosure. On our other side is the funeral home, behind us is an alley, and across the alley is one restaurant and a bunch of shops. We're not planning on roosters, and fewer than a half dozen laying hens for eggs, with the coop positioned in the rear yard adjacent to the alley.

It's not a matter of "if you do it right, you can have them" as far as the city is concerned. We're going to seek out a conditional use permit, because I believe in following the process just to amuse myself. We'll lobby the city council, we'll seek the CUP, but in the end, we're probably going to become illegal chicken ranchers.

They're lucky Chuck won't actually let me get a goat.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

El Grupo, FMLN and You

This morning my husband and I drove our eldest son Bobby to San Francisco International Airport for a flight that will eventually land him in El Salvador. To the question, "Why is your son going to El Salvador," my standard answer is officially, "Because I am an idiot."

I guess the real answer is somewhat more difficult to figure out. My son has parents who are overeducated overachievers who way the hell oversheltered him for the first 14 years of his life. And then we moved to Berkeley two years ago and it all went to hell. Sort of. I think the best thing about Berkeley is that it's a great place to raise free-range children. Our youngest, Sam, started taking BART by himself when he was 11 because his best friend moved to the other side of the Caldecott Tunnel. We would drop him at our end, they would pick him up on their end. We armed both of them with bus passes and let them head off to Eudamonia in downtown Berkeley. Or to the ledges outside of Berkeley High where the skate punks gather. And every time they walked out the door, my heart would seize until they came home.

And then I moved them back to Salinas and pissed them both off.

I think I'm hoping Bobby will figure out his life during a few weeks in Central America. He's a low-ambition kid, a smart as hell, exceedingly eloquent 16-year-old kid who has no interest in performing for his parents or for his teachers. He always has a few books going, he loves theater and music and baseball. He thinks he wants to join the Peace Corps, but that could change by tomorrow.

Our friend Max has been planning this trip to El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize for months. His wife, Feliciana, needs to be in Guatemala for the next nine days to ... celebrate? mourn? the first year anniversary of her father's death. Max is going to take his boys, Bobby and a fourth teenager--the son of another set of friends--surfing and hiking and for Spanish lessions in El Salvador before they head to Guatemala on Thursday, where they will work at a clinic sponsored by Max's congregation and hopefully help out with any work that needs to be done at Feliciana's house. She was raised in the mountains, three hours away from electricity, and with both of her parents gone, the small farm and the house now are hers.

We met all of them at the airport this morning, where Dr. P, the mom of the fourth teen, asked me how I was doing with the trip. Because her husband (we'll call him RFM, for Really Famous Musician) was freaking the hell out. Dr. P will be joining them on Thursday, when I will start freaking out a little less.

"I'm freaking out too," I said. "Do you have your prescription pad? Can I have some valium?"

She didn't and I couldn't. But we sat in a lounge area while the boys got their boarding passes and talked about our worries.

Chuck: Dengue Fever. You're on your back for eight days and you can't take care of your own basic needs.
RFM: Nodding. Yeah, that's a bad one.
Me: I'm worried about kidnapping, illegal organ harvesting and Central American jails.
Dr. P: You can't be worried about organ harvesting. That's not a legitimate fear.
Me: It's my fear and I'll worry if I want to.
RFM: Condoms. I forgot to tell him about condoms.
Me: Yeah, we went over that one last night.
Dr. P, eyes widening: Condoms? You don't think ... really? Condoms?
Me: They're teenage boys.
RFM, sighing: I'll go tell him.

We lingered on as the boys and Max wended their way through the security line. I wrapped myself around my baby's neck and hung on until it was embarrassing for both of us.

And then I let him go.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Almost Maybe

The apartment seems so much smaller now that it has walls.

Small is relative, of course. But with two adults, two men-children (a 16-year-old and a 12-year-old who is almost taller than me), plus a smelly little Jack Russell, the accommodations will be at the very least cozy, bordering on, "Oh for God's sake, go outside and play catch until it's too dark to see the ball" as we prepare to once again live together in the basement at House226.

We'll be moving in next weekend. We were hoping for this weekend, but Chuck won't be able to start tiling until Friday.

What's good: the together part. We've been living separately (me and the dog at our friend Todd's, Chuck and the boys at his mother's), for almost three months, and everyone is going a little crazy. Bobby is leaving this weekend for two weeks in Guatemala and El Salvador, and lately when I go to see everyone after work, I'm getting frantic communication from my mother-in-law. He's been sleeping all day, she says, he hasn't eaten or drank anything and she's worried that he will die in Guatemala because of his heart condition. (He's been sleeping all day because he stays up all night, he's a teenager and he's on vacation. How that translates to death in Guatemala, I don't know. I didn't say it made sense. Work with me here.)

What's hard: the together part. I thought we were cramped in Berkeley (1,200 square feet, plus the rat-to-human ratio was against us) but the basement at 226 is about 800 feet. It should only be for a month or two, and the boys will be gone for about a month of it at various camps, but it will still be tight. It will give us time, though, to work on the yard more, get everything planted that I want to plant and possibly keep the hookers from invading the yard on Sunday mornings.

Or at least that's the hope of Dawn, the nice woman who owns the restaurant across the alley from our back fence. I met her the other day when we were there talking to Al, arguing over the carpeting he wants to put in the basement bedrooms. (It'll be nice, he said, a change from the rest of the apartment. Yeah, I said, it will be like traveling to a new world -- ooh, I was in Tile Land here in the kitchen, but I think I'll go to Carpet Land here in the bedroom. He won that round, because the carpeting is less expensive than the laminate. But if he thinks of suggesting carpeting for the main house, I will cut him.)

Anyway, Dawn saw us outside and introduced herself. She's so happy people are moving in-if we need anything, please let her know. And maybe people living there will keep the hookers from climbing over the fence like they do on Sunday mornings.

Whadda what?

"Why Sunday mornings? Why do you think they choose Sunday morning?" I asked her. "I honestly don't know, but here's the part of the fence they've broken down trying to get into your yard," she said.

Speaking of the yard, there's a new group called Sustainable Salinas that wants to transform people's lawns into vegetable gardens. They're looking for a yard where they can run a pilot program, and they want to talk to us about using our yard as a test case. I'm excited about the possibility--it's what we want to do anyway, and we have a small budget for the raised beds and irrigation--but this could mean some free manual labor too.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Losing It

I had a weird little week, almost all of it unrelated to the house until today.

Tuesday: Blew a tire on 101 while driving to work. End up being towed back to Salinas. No, I don't have a spare tire. It's a Mini-there's no place to put a spare.

Wednesday: Mostly normal until 5 p.m., when I got an invite from Gov. Schwarzenegger's office to attend the launch of the Green Products Institute the next morning at the Googleplex.

Thursday: Drive to Google. Trying to find parking when the driver of the Jeep in front of me stops, throws it into reverse and slams in to my car while trying to snag a parking spot of his own. It really was a slam, because his bumper rode up on my hood. (That sounds sort of dirty, doesn't it?)

Thursday, 15 minutes later: Go into initiative launch. YouTube founder Chad Hurley is adorably nervous introducing the Governator. What's Rosario Dawson doing on stage, besides looking chic? Google is like heaven, with dogs everywhere, bicycles everywhere, sand volleyball courts and free food. Green products, yay, green certification, yay, and then Arnold drops the bombshell that Toyota is going into business with Tesla to make Electric Vehicles in California. For the next 10 hours, I do nothing but that story.

Friday: Take the Mini to the shop to get the estimate from the guy's insurance company. As an aside, GEICO? I've never met a more on top of it company. They set me up with a rental. I head out, stop at Safeway to grab lunch and go back to the office. Somewhere between the grocery store and the office, my purse disappears, with my new driver's license, two credit cards and my new camera in it. Geico calls, $3 k in damage and they mostly have to replace the front end.

Saturday: Make a critical error in judgement in agreeing to see Magruber. Not only the worst movie I've ever seen, but possibly the worst movie ever made.

Sunday: Husband goes to the house and finds out that one of the contractor's guys has forgotten to lock the door, someone has broken in and thrown around a bunch of construction materials. I go to the Salinas PD to file a report and am told my the cadet at the desk that I can't file a report because I don't have ID. I tell him I don't have ID because my purse was stolen. He suggests that maybe I should call my husband. I suggest instead that I call the watch commander. Which I do. Extra patrols at night until we move in and the promise that the cadet will never do something that stupid again are forthcoming.


The watch commander sent over a patrol car. We were over there weeding and planting some berry bushes. The officer asked when we bought the house and whether we were going to have offices there. It's the second time this week that someone asked if we were planning on having offices there (because the previous owner was going to turn it into an office building) and it was the second time someone seemed perplexed that we were planning on living there.

I think there's a supposition that if you're a white professional living in Salinas, you're going to choose to live somewhere not Old Town. (Not true.) There's a supposition that if you're white, you probably think Old Town is dangerous (not true). If you think Old Town is dangerous, I believe you've never lived anywhere dangerous.

Salinas is a funny place. It's deeply screwed up, but it knows it's deeply screwed up. That's a mindset I can get behind.

Berkeley? Deeply screwed up and never really wanted to admit it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Meet Al

Originally uploaded by Mary Duan
This is Al.

Al is our contractor. And the fact that he is standing in my front yard means one thing: work has begun.

When we last left off, it was May 4 and we had just found out that our permit was approved. It meant that Todd the Barista could stop threatening the permit department with sudden denial of caffeine. It meant that I could stop crocheting a voodoo doll that looked strangely like the head of the planning department. It meant that work could start.

But Al had a job to finish in San Something or Other. San Rafael, maybe. I'm not sure. He came down last week to pay for the permit, purchase his Salinas business license and start figuring out the job site. (One thing he figured out almost immediately: his foreman would be sleeping at the house during the week so all of their tools wouldn't get ripped off. Some little rat bastards broke in a few weeks ago before we put new locks on the doors and broke a window and damaged most of the screens.)

Mike the Sprinkler Guy started installing sprinklers in the basement this morning, and plans to finish installation for the whole house by Monday. Al and his guys started working on installing the new water main today, and called for the rough plumbing and electrical inspection for tomorrow. He doesn't expect to pass; he is, gasp, an out-of-town contractor, and a city usually likes to flex their muscles a little bit with the new guys. (Do not make me start crocheting again, Rob the Planner.) Once the rough inspection is complete, I get to have walls--hopefully sometime next week--and shortly thereafter, I get to live with my family again. In the basement.

In the basement, because this permit is for the basement work only. Before we get the permit for the rest of the house, we have to finish the site plan inspection. We had to hire a civil engineer (I'm referring to him by his last name in the same tone of voice Seinfeld used to say "Newman!) for the parking area and curb work, and his plans just came in today.

Friday, we will hit IKEA to buy cabinets for the basement, and order the tile. The strawberry plants are doing well, as is Sam's corn, and the lemon and lime trees are full of buds. One of the pomegranate bushes also is thriving, but I'm not yet sure about the other two.

(As to why we chose a, gasp, out-of-town contractor: I needed one qualified and certified to do an FHA 203k project, and when we started this process, I couldn't find one in Salinas. There is one now, but his website just launched this year.) So for every Salinas resident who is a winner of the lucky sperm lottery (meaning your grandparent's grandparents came here 150 years ago and bought all the land, leaving their offspring with a grandiose sense of entitlement and very little ambition) and has shot me a look or questioned why we're using a, gasp, out of town contractor?

Now you know.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


After six weeks of begging and raging and begging and raging, as of this morning, we have a building permit.

Thanks to my housemate Todd, who as owner of the Cherry Bean Coffeehouse in Salinas has reminded the permit people every morning for the past week that if they want to continue enjoying their caffeine, they should move faster.

Expanded post to come later.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Stop Calling, Stop Calling I Don't Wanna Hear Anymore ...

First, watch this. It's incredibly charming and will put you in a mood better than the one you're in now:

Last Tuesday marked the one month anniversary of submitting our plans. One month, we were told by Plan Checker Joey, was about how long it was taking to turn the plans around between the three departments--planning, fire and engineering--doing the checking.

Joey finished in three weeks, with a list several pages long of changes the city required of the architect. Fire similarly was done in about three week, and we all know what they wanted. Architect Josh turned Joey's list in about a week, while also getting the proper cuts and drawings we would need to find a fire sprinkler company that would actually answer the phone when we called and not treat us like complete chumps because the think we have more money than we really do. (As an aside, those rumors about the economy making businesses more responsive because they need the work, and local government entities being more responsive because they've come to realize the value of a taxpayer base? Complete bullshit. But I digress.)

Where were we. Planning? Check. Fire? Check? Engineering ...

Where was engineering?

When I was freelancing full-time, I wrote one and sometimes two stories a week about Salinas. I got to know some of the city folks fairly well, including the head city engineer. So on Wednesday about 5 p.m., I called and asked to speak to said engineer and threw in my affiliation so he would remember me.

He was in a meeting, the very nice lady on the phone said. Would I care to leave a message?

I would, I said. I gave her my name, my number and asked her to write down the following exactly as I said it.

"Please tell him I said, 'You are sucking my will to live.'" I told her. She giggled and said she would pass on the message.

Two seconds later, my phone rings. It's another woman from the engineering department who in a very cautious tone asked what my message was regarding. I told her, 226 (street name redacted so crazy and not particularly bright stalkers have a harder time finding me). She said she would give him the message as soon as he was out of his meeting.

Ten minutes later, my phone rings again. Engineer: Hello, how are you, why am I sucking your will to live?

"226 (street name redacted, yada yada)," I told him. "Yes," he said, "I just got the draft last night, but the name on them is Chuck M(complete last name redacted, crazy stalkers, see above)."

"Yeah," I said. "I'm Mrs. M. And you're sucking my will to live."

Engineer said that completely unrelated to my call, he was taking the plans home that evening. They then would go back to the junior planner (not quite sure what she's been doing the past month) and if they were clean, they would be ready on Monday.

Which is good, because our living situation is becoming untenable. (Not mine, really, because Roommate Todd, a completely intense person when it comes to his professional life as a coffeehouse owner, is a most laid back roommate around. Feed him once in awhile and he's happy.) But Chuck and the boys, who are living with his mother owing to the cat allergy thing, are having a different experience.

I know it's not unusual for adult children to move back home with their parents due to the economy. I left for Northwestern when I was 17 and with the exception of a few weeks here and there, I never lived at home again. Chuck left for the Naval Academy about the same time, and with the exception of a day or two here and there, the U.S. government owned his ass for the next nine years, with me taking co-ownership halfway through.

That was almost 20 years ago. I know it's stressful going from living by yourself to suddenly having your adult son and two grandkids living under your roof. But the stress is getting to everyone.

Our friend Larry shakes his head at our situation. "Your life has become a sitcom. Professional woman moves in with gay roommate, her husband and kids move in with his mother, and your best friend teaches homies how to quilt." My life has become a sitcom--a really bad one.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Reality? Check.

By the time this is over, I'm really going to need sprinklers, because I'm going to need to build a meth lab in the basement to pay for all of it and I don't want a little chemistry accident to burn my house down. That's right, people-I'm breaking bad.

The city of Salinas, the California Water Services Co. and the state of California: I'd like 10 minutes alone in a room with you and a fire hose, because you people have quite the little racket going. Other people ticking me -- pretty much anyone exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen who has ever picked up a hammer, and anyone who lives indoors.

Since the Holy Week Sprinkler Debacle began, I have gotten conflicting messages from everyone. The fire marshal said the Redevelopment Agency told us we would need sprinklers; they most definitely did not. Someone telling you your project requires sprinklers is not something you just forget or blow off. Because had they said it, it would have been included in the scope of the work that defined the budget--the one the contractor drew up, the one the FHA consultant approved. The Fire Marshal told me to call the Water Company and request a flow test to determine whether or not we needed a new meter (kaching! that's another high four figure outlay!) and the Water Company guy laughed at me and said, you need a fire protection company for that! (And he said it with a "duh" in his tone. Nothing ticks me off more than someone giving me a "duh" tone. I've got teenage sons for that--I don't need it from a professional in the course of doing his work.)

So we started calling the fire protection folks last week. We plan on getting bids from three companies. What I've found so far is that they base their bids on the number of sprinkler heads required--one guy told me he averages $210 per sprinkler head, and another told me he averages $150 per head. The $210 guy gave a quote of $8,700, I need someone closer to $5,000. (He also said we needed 11 heads in the basement apartment--a space that is only about 700 square feet.) Nobody can give me an accurate quote until our architect (the only one involved in this I don't want to kill quite yet) sends the correct plans showing the side cuts and the lighting plan.

Why I want to take a fire hose to the state of California is mixed into the middle of all of this. A half dozen people so far have told me that installing a sprinkler system is something a drunk monkey can do. A friend whose husband is an undercover narc told me he spent his teenage years installing systems for his dad, a residential developer, and that her husband offered to show us how to do it in an afternoon.

The problem is that under state code, you can't hire a sprinkler expert to design a system and then do the installation on your own. Whoever designs it installs it. It's possible to find an engineer to design a system, I think, but if they're going to charge $3 or $4k for it, there seems to be no sense in having someone design it and not install it.

This house has been a complete and total blight on Old Town Salinas for more than a half decade. It's been worked on, foreclosed upon, bought, worked on, foreclosed upon, and on and on. It's boarded up and waiting for us to start work. If sprinklers are part of the work, so be it.

I want to get everyone--the planning folks, the fire folks, the FHA folks, the water folks--in one room and give them a message: We are going to do everything right on this to the greatest extent possible. But I am going to move into this house no matter what. The whole "better to ask for forgiveness than permission" doesn't apply here. I'm asking permission until they prove their unwillingness to give it; I am not going to ask for forgiveness. It's really almost time to get out of my way.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Water Water Everywhere ...

The highlight of my day: I flooded the entire front of my housemate's home with toilet water, tried running to the rescue (of what, I'm still not sure) and hit the slippery tile in my Born boots with such force that I plowed into my 6'3", 280-lb. husband, took him to the ground and knocked my head off the floor.

It was the highlight, though, because when the city of Salinas reviews your building plans and tells you that you're going to need to install a sprinkler system on a renovation project that has only a $140,000 total budget, you really can only go up from there.

I'm on vacation this week. I've been told vacation is supposed to be relaxing. For the most part, it has been. It started last Wednesday when my husband drove me to Mineta-San Jose International Airport, kissed me goodbye and sent me to the adult version of craft camp. I spent three-and-a-half days at Ft. Worden, in Port Townsend, WA, at "Artfest," run by the husband-and-wife team of Tracy Vaughn Moore and Teesha Moore. I made stuff. I hung out with women (and a few men) who also made stuff. I ate good Thai food. I nurtured my inner child-or some bullshit like that. Mostly it was fun; I learned a few things, met some great people and created some cool stuff. But I have trouble relaxing. I think I came pretty close though.

Sunday was No. 1 son's birthday. The little hosehead turned 16. I remember when he was cute and little and didn't talk back. Now the mothers of his female classmates refer to him as "delicious" and he wants the keys to my car.

But yesterday, the day of the Great Flood, we also got comments back on our plan submittal for House226. Chuck was reading along and then he came to the Fire Marshal's section, the one that said "you want to build three units, you get to install fire sprinklers." He asked the planning department about sprinklers before we even set down this road, and they said, not needed. (Apparently they were talking about some other plans, plans that exist in another dimension or something like that.) The fire marshal said the Redevelopment Agency told us we would need sprinklers--they most assuredly did not. But here we are and we need sprinklers before we can pull the building permit and get to work.

The fear factor came in yesterday when someone told us a system would run about $50,000. That is a show stopper, a mail-the-keys-to-the-bank show stopper. That would take one-third of a budget that's already up against the wall. We mostly sat around stunned last night, but Chuck reasoned that there are too many people with too much to lose on this deal--our FHA consultant, for one, and our contractor, for another.

The contractor bid, and the consultant approved said bid, without any consideration for sprinklers. The FHA consultant today? Less than helpful. Default is certainly an option, he said. And so is making sure his license is suspended, I thought.

We tried to figure out a way around it. What if we went down to two units? What if we made it a single-family? The city wants multi-unit housing, yeah, but it wants this house painted and fixed up and generally deblighted more, doesn't it? Chuck ate a valium the dentist gave him for an upcoming procedure, and followed that up with a beer. I made meatloaf and tried to be chipper, but then I flushed the toilet and walked away from it, only to find myself covered in toilet water an hour later. I woke up about 6 a.m. today and spent the next few hours panicking.

My husband could build a nuclear reactor out of spare parts in the garage, but this confounded even him. There was a lot of sitting around and holding his head in his hands today, as one unhelpful email after another came in. That's when I decided to visit my new hero, Salinas Fire Marshal Tom Wiley.

After going through the situation with Wiley, and being told the RDA had told us about the sprinklers (uh, no they didn't) I asked him how much we could expect to pay for the sprinkler system. He said $1.25 a square foot installed. Cheaper if we do it ourselves. "It's just orange plastic pipe and couplings."

"You mean, it's not $50,000?" I asked. And that's when he and his cohort, the plan checker on the fire side of things, giggled like teenage girls. "Who told you that? We're in the wrong line of work."

$1.25 per foot comes out to about $5,300. We can work that into the budget. I have to get plans to the various local fire protection companies and see what's what. I also have to get in touch with Cal Water Services Co. to request a bucket test and see if they can go off of our existing meter. I tried doing that today--they're supposedly open until 5 p.m., but the woman who answered the phone today said they closed down at noon today. And she giggled nervously when I asked to know why.

If they can't use our existing meter, it could be pricey, Fire Marshal Wiley said. But it's still doable.

"I wish you would have come and talked to me yesterday," he said. "We're not here to throw up roadblocks."

There is not enough sedation in the world to completely eradicate the suck that was yesterday. Chuck is still pretty grumpy, because we've gotten the royal runaround from everyone but the Fire Marshal. And we failed at the most simple thing, a thing you think we would have learned after our business debacle: always, always get it in writing.

But I'm not giving up on this one without a serious fight.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Citrus Heights

When you're dealing with a project of this scope, and waiting on plan approval from the city so your contractor can pull permits and start working, you take progress anywhere you can get it. Right now, that means working on the overgrown, oversized yard.

And it means meeting Berta:

We were unloading this morning's Home Depot run, the beginning of the guacamole garden: a lemon tree, a lime tree, a Haas avocado tree and (completely unrelated to guacamole) a pomegranate bush. The plan was to plant the lemon and lime trees on one side of the front walkway; when they're large enough, they'll be trained on a trellis over the walkway--it makes harvesting easier, and walking underneath it when the trees are in bloom smells fantastic. The pom bush (and another we'll buy) will go in front of the wheelchair ramp, an enormous concrete structure the previous owner put in so the office building he planned would be accessible. We're leaving it so the side entry and rear apartment also will be handicapped accessible.

But before we could plant anything, we had to deal with the weeds.

It's been raining in Monterey County for what seems to be a month straight and the weeds were out of control. I didn't want to spray them with weed killer and wait for them to die before we could start cleaning up, because the house already looks like crap and I didn't want to add to the blight. So the plan was to chop and wack and deal with murdering them on another day.

I dragged Grumpy the Teenager and his baby brother over to the house around noon. We were getting out of the car when this tiny, oldish Mexican woman wearing a hot pink "Flirt" t-shirt approached.

"Honey," Chuck said, "This is Berta."

(And her cicle! )

Berta lives a few blocks over and was out for her morning walk. She wanted to know if she could help.

I tried to explain to her that I had a couple of guys coming over shortly to do the heavy duty stuff, but she was fairly insistent. And given my Spanish sucks, I ended up asking, "Ok, how much?"

"Not too much," she said. I shrugged and said "ok," and for the next two hours, Berta hand-cicled the weeds from the side yard.

The boys and I were working on the side bed along the wall, where weeds with thick stalks and deep roots had taken hold. Bobby took the shovel away from me to work on the bigger roots and Sam wandered around in a sweaty little haze. Berta came over to help. At one point I turned around and she was gnawing on one of the weed stalks.

She must have caught my look, because she said, "No, it's ok, It's not bad." I asked her if it was sweet and she said, "No, but it has water in it." (D'oh!) I offered her a bottle of water and she took it with a grin. With a little Spanish from me and a little English from her, I learned her son works for the city motor pool, she goes to an Evangelical church, she does some housecleaning on the side and she's interested in renting one of the apartments when they're ready.

The comedy team of George and Tony (Jorge and Antonio to each other, George and Tony to their customers) came over to knock down the big stuff. They were working on a house near my mother-in-law's so I pulled over and asked them to come and take a look at the yard and give me an estimate. They just started doing yards because as George put it, it's hard to find a job right now and he's got kids to feed. They did half the yard today (equivalent to my remaining checking account balance after kids' tuition and tuition deposits for next year) and will come back at the end of the month to do the back half. They asked if they could take a picture of the before and after. ("My girlfriend won't believe we got a job this big," George told me.) Snap away, George, snap away.

Next week we'll do the layout for the actual vegetable gardens and lay out the weed barrier. We're doing raised beds in the front with tomatoes (cherry, paste and some heirloom), eggplants, peppers (sweet and jalapeno), cucumbers, zucchinis and strawberries. I'll take better and more frequent pictures as soon as I figure out where I put the camera charger.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Oh Bank of (Redacted), How Thou Dost Vex Me

Part One

Yesterday was not a banner day in our little quest to make this house a home.

Prospect Mortgage sold our loan to a large bank, which while understandable is still is sort of like having an intermediary sell your soul to Satan. We signed documents that had our first three months of payments built into the loan, meaning we don't start paying the mortgage until June 1 (when we anticipate moving in). But the bank in question thinks we're already three weeks late with our first payment.

I got this news via IM from my husband. I'm at work, trying to arrange interviews for stories, he's at work, where his group is undergoing a massive reorg that has him switching from a much beloved boss to a completely unknown entity.

Him: This is weird, I keep getting phone calls from a 1-800 number.
Me: Give me the number.
Him: 1-800-Yada Yada.

I call it, it's Bank of (Redacted).

Me: It's Bank of (Redacted).
Him: Huh, wonder what they want.

Massive fight ensues. Call them back, I say. You call them back, he says. I don't have the information I need to talk to them, I say. You have as much information as I do, he says. Repeat four or five times.

So I call. They want to know where their first payment is. I explain to them that we're not supposed to pay until June. They say, "As if!" (As an aside, it took me 45 minutes to get through to a live human being. The first time they hung up on me, the second time they transferred me into the void, the third time they hung up on me and the fourth time a woman looked up our account, said "You're late," and then told me to talk to whoever originated the loan.)

This is the point at which I felt like vomiting. What if we were wrong? Are we wrong? Did we sign the wrong papers?

Chuck reached out to the folks at Prospect Mortgage and they responded quickly, saying we were right and that they would fix the problem. I tweet to the bank's Help account that help is what I need and get a call from a very sympathetic Sharon about an hour later.

We don't have a resolution yet, but they're working the problem. Apparently the bank was in the middle of processing the payments and just decided to throw the fear of God into us for grins. Or something like that.

Part Two

Not knowing if we had screwed up on our end and were actually late on a payment and wrong about the documents is minor in the general scheme of things, but it added another element of uncertainty to a situation rife with it. Family-wise, we're split up right now, with Chuck and the boys living at his mom's place, and the dog and I living at our friend Todd's place on the opposite end of town. Someone commented to me today to "enjoy the vacation," but I miss being with the kids and I miss my husband snoring. I joined them for dinner the other night and ended up with hives the next day, probably from spending 90 minutes with the cats.

We're waiting for the city right now to either request changes to the plans, or issue a building permit so we can get started. Once we can get started, we're going to do the basement apartment first, because we can at least all live there while the rest of the house is being worked on. It's such a beautiful day today, and is supposed to be for the rest of the weekend, that we're going to work on the yard this afternoon/evening and tomorrow--lots of weeds to slaughter. Orchard Supply Hardware is having a 20 percent off sale on all living things, so we're going to check on their fruit tree situation and may start planting the lemon trees.

I had a personal day today because I need to renew my driver's license, only to discover that today is a state employee furlough day and the DMV offices are closed. I spent hours at the Cherry Bean Coffeehouse (my third place) making work phone calls and going through paperwork, etc. There was a little excitement--a run-by robbery. Guy came in, asked for a cup of water and then grabbed the bills from the tip jar and left.

He then came back an hour later and hung out long enough to be arrested, sans cash, of course. He had spent it on cigarettes.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Tautology in Five Parts, Or What Happens When You Let Your 15-year-old Pack His Own Belongings

Me: You packed your goddamned cell phone, Bobby?
Bobby: I didn't know I was packing it.
Husband: He is eligible for an upgrade.
Bobby: Cool, what upgrade can I get?
Me: You can get the kind of upgrade one gets when one packs their goddamn cell phone.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Color (Colors) Colors ... and Layout

Architect Josh is working on the site plan review, which is how the city determines that the usage of the property will conform to zoning standards. For example, since we have three units (two apartments and the main house) the site plan needs to reflect there is enough off-street parking. The site plan review is supposed to be ready by next Wednesday, and it may take a few weeks to get approval. While this is going on, though, we can submit plans for the basement apartment.

And that's good, because the bank that rhymes with Chase has finally, after 18 months of agony and runaround and all-around nastiness for our friends, accepted the short-sale offer on their place. Assuming it appraises at the offer level, it should close by mid-March. That's when we'll be homeless, so we need to move fast on the basement apartment. We could all stay with Chuck's mom until the apartment is done, but there's a little problem in that she has cats and I have the worst cat allergy imaginable.

Our contractor was going to show up on Feb. 22 to start exterior painting, but it's supposed to rain every day next week. He's going to wait until there's a three day window of clear weather and start then, which should be March 3. In the meantime, click on the picture and roll over to the notes on the pic to see what the colors will be and where the colors are going. We're going with Glidden, and Glidden's website doesn't make it easy to share stuff on a blog, but the three exterior colors are Dove White, Toasted White and Onyx Black for the trim highlights.

Below is the layout of the first floor. Architect Josh has some of the rooms mislabeled, but that's more a matter of our personal choice for where we want the rooms to be. What he has labeled as the dining room, for example, makes sense as the dining room, but it's where we're planning on having the family room. It's larger, has a fireplace and there's room for the hellaciously cheap (I mean seriously inexpensive) projection system we picked up off of Craigslist. (College kid won it in a golf tournament auction, college kid needed the cash for tuition more than he needed a projector and screen. And thus he sold it to us for a fraction of the original cost.) Lost looks awesome projected on a wall.

The area labeled Master Bedroom 2 is actually one of the apartments. The other apartment is a basement unit below that, with a separate entrance.

The room labeled as the living room on the plans will be a library/sitting room, and the family room will be the dining room. Next to the stairs, that weird little sink area is a pantry, with space for dry storage under the stairs. It leads into the laundry room.

Upstairs floor plan. The boys will take the two front bedrooms and share the middle bathroom. Oldest wants the turret room, of course; youngest will take the other room that doesn't have a turret but does have a gas fireplace. And we're in the back two rooms.

Oldest just commented: I really want to be living in our house. I know how he feels. It's been a long, strange trip to get even this far, and it's weird to own a house you can't actually live in. Yet, anyway.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Et Fin

So the email came today, wire transfer complete and title recorded. The house is 100 percent officially ours.

And even though it's pretty much screwed up the industry by which I make my living, can I just say, "Thank God for Craigslist?" Because thanks to Craig and his list, we are buying about $15k worth of appliances for about $2k -- 36-inch Thermador five-burner cooktop for $275; Thermador double ovens, only used twice and in pristine condition, victim of a kitchen remodel, $475; new in box range hood, victim of a client that changed her mind, $500; brand new JennAir refrigerator, from a new homeowner who changed his mind, $750. The frige alone goes for $2200 new, so considering our appliance budget is $3k, I think we're in good shape.

We need to buy a stackable washer and dryer set for the upstairs apartment, but I think we can find those used and in good condition as well. The upstairs apartment will get our current stove, refrigerator and dishwasher, and then we need to find appliances for the basement apartment.

Decorator Grady and the architect are meeting tomorrow to go over the kitchen design and talk about a few other things, including adding closets and a doorway in the master bedroom. Every room is overlit--since it was going to be an office building, they went nuts adding can lighting fixtures in every room, so they're going to talk about dialing that back a notch or two as well.

On Sunday, we choose exterior paint colors. I thought the contractor only included a single color in his budget, but it turns out he planned for three, which is great news because Chuck is afraid of heights, and I don't want to overtax the one friend who offered to break out his mountain climbing gear and scale the building. Grady is thinking cream, bright white trim and black accents, but I'm not sure. It's a big crazy house, and I want to make sure the colors are right.

So we're happy. There were so many times when I thought this thing was going to fall apart, and we finally made it to the finish line. The financial finish line, anyway--now comes the fun part.

My friend Jay keeps referring to the place as "the compound" and he's not too far off. It's big, but there are reasons for it. We want to be able to grow a lot of our own food, and there's room for that here. I have a sister 20 years older than me who for reasons I won't go into here is going to need to be taken care of after our mother dies. There's room for that here too. With the state of California's economy and the higher education system, I envision kids who are going to be living with me for awhile even after college. (Or maybe that's just wishful thinking. I left home when I was 17 to go to college, and except for vacations, I never moved back. I will miss my frustrating little hoseheads when they go.)

And if the zombie apocalypse ever happens, we're going to put our friend Kyle the Marine on the widow's walk with a .50-cal, and our friend Sean the Ex-marine on the perimeter.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Closer We Are to Fine ...

It looked like we were going to have to pull the plug on this earlier this week. The seller--Pacific Valley Bank--was running out of patience. There was a potential back-up buyer down at the planning department asking questions, wanting to know if he could turn the house into offices downstairs and living space upstairs. The underwriters for Prospect Mortgage found out the insurance amount we needed at close had been miscalculated and they weren't sure we had enough in the account.

Then Perfect Friend Terry put a wish in her Tibetan Wish Box, muttered some sort of half-Irish, half-Japanese incantation over it and told me to calm the hell down. (I made up that last part. She really handed me a valium, patted my hand and said, "there there.") And yesterday, after one more freak out with the insurance company, came the phone call from Prospect we'd been waiting for. You're CTC--clear to close.

Documents have been ordered, we sign on Tuesday and close on Friday.

We're in San Francisco for the night, the annual birthday trip to one of my favorite cities. Usually the boy children get left behind, but they got righteously indignant at the idea this year, for whatever reason, that I didn't want to celebrate my birthday with them. So after a lecture from their father ("We're doing everything that mommy wants and nothing that you want, so no complaining, no fighting and just deal with it,") off we went. Lunch at Delfina Pizzeria (good, but expensive), a walk to 826 Valencia and the famed Pirate Supply Store (San Francisco's only independent pirate supply store, of course) and dessert to go from Tartine's.

The skies opened up between the Pirate Store and Tartine's. Hopefully tomorrow will be clear, because I'd like to hit the farmer's market at the Ferry Building before we leave. I dragged everyone to see "Legion" at the Metreon-I'm a sucker for religious Apocalypse flicks. Everyone kvetched about how bad it was, but how can you go wrong with Paul Bettany in body armor?

So. Next Friday. We close and then the fun begins. It's an FHA 203K rehab loan, which means the clock is ticking on the contractor--he has six months to get everything on the list done, and he can't take any draws from the loan until he's hit certain benchmarks. We picked the kitchen, pantry and laundry room tile -- very simple, relatively inexpensive, easy to install and, as Grady says, it goes with everything.

I'll start posting more pictures as we progress. But for now, we're happy the light at the end of the tunnel isn't attached to a freight train anymore.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Welp. Hmmm.

Just when we though we'd given everything to the lender, got the reappraisal completed satisfactorily and were waiting for the closing documents to be ordered, the mortgage company emails to say it needs documents that we already provided to them a few months ago because, get this, "the fax was fuzzy."

We're on the clock with the bank. And I'm so tired of having the twice-weekly conversation with my mother about why we haven't closed yet. Today's conversation mostly entailed me saying, "I don't want to talk about it. No, I don't want to talk about it." I haven't explained the intricacies of what we're trying to do because it's more trouble than it's worth. But at least she's stopped asking me to explain the Internet to her.

If we lose the deal, we get our escrow money back. My birthday is on Jan. 31. If we lose the deal, I'm getting on a plane next Friday with my husband and we're going to Vegas for two nights so I can drink fruity drinks from the gigantic wall of alcohol-based slurpee machines at the MGM Grand, eat cheese, pay homage to Bouchon and lay in the whirlpool tub and cry.

And then we're coming back here and getting busy finding a new place.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Budget Items

I haven't actually sat down and gone over the contractor's proposed budget for the project item by item yet, because the project is still in a state of flux. We haven't even been clear on whether or not we need an entirely new set of plans-the bank didn't get the plans assigned when it foreclosed, and the previous owner is holding the rights hostage for an insane amount of money.

I hope they look nice decorating his walls. That's about all they'll be good for in another week or so.

Designer Friend Grady asked an architect friend to meet with the city to find out what it wants before we can proceed. According to him, the city wants a site plan review and all the mechanical drawings, but given that nothing in the exterior is going to change, we don't need to do all the elevations. The architect also said the city is "giddy" that we're doing three units instead of two. I've met some of the city folks--giddy is not a word that comes to mind.

Under the FHA rehab loan we're finally approved for (a few more i's to be dotted, then we're through) we can take half of the total of the house price for redoing the house. Here are some of the contractor's budget items. (This is by no means a comprehensive list.)

Gutters (repair damage and install downspouts): $1,265
Priming and painting exterior: $17,100
Dry wall installation, tape and texture:$19,480
Interior paint: $10,850
Tile (side entry, bathrooms and laundry room): $5,030
Bathroom vanities with marble tops: $4,265
Kitchen cabinets: $11,900
Pest fumigation (tenting the whole house before the work starts): $4,753
Permits, plans and fees: $11,427

A lot of this is going to change. We're going to do the interior painting ourselves, so the labor portion of that item will go down. I thought the bathroom vanity item seemed high until I started looking at vanities online. Grady suggested we hit the salvage yards around San Francisco, and another friend of ours knows a guy who knows a guy who knows another guy who does marble. What seems low is the kitchen appliances-$2,900, and that doesn't include a frige. I think we're going with IKEA cabinets in the two rental units. We had them in the kitchen of the guest house at our old place, and they looked good and functioned well.

Any suggestions on good salvage places around the Bay area?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Tales to Tell (No New)

Waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting. The loan is in underwriting, although it's supposed to be finished this coming week, and we're supposed to close on Jan. 8. Although we were supposed to close last Wednesday, but the loan was still in underwriting. And it's entirely possible they will have new questions or documents needed on Monday and thus won't really be out of underwriting at all.

In short, no new tale to tell. The bank that holds the deed has extended us to Jan. 15.

We made a decision on Saturday that seemed a hard one at the time, but now makes sense. We've decided, at least until the chimps are gone, to not go the B&B route and instead rent out both the two-bedroom basement apartment and the rear unit of the first floor, or what was to have been the master suite. It's about 700 square feet, and had the original owner finished the project, it was to include a kitchen. Now it will function as an expanded studio or small one-bedroom for someone, with a good sized bathroom, a kitchenette, bedroom and living room with fireplace. Our downstairs space will include the main kitchen, family room, dining room, laundry room and library. Upstairs are four bedrooms and two baths--we'll take one of the front rooms and the bath, and each chimp will have a rear bedroom and share a bath. The other upstairs bedroom will be a guest room or office.

Assuming we can rent out both spaces--the basement for $1,100 and the back suite for $800, a large portion of the mortgage will be covered.

So given that we don't own the place yet, there wasn't much to do over the holidays except dream. Our friend Grady Harp, who has better taste than all the rest of us combined (including you, dear reader), came over and made some suggestions--for example, the bizarrely placed powder room on the landing of the staircase will become a very large storage closet. The garage that Chuck badly wanted to knock down? Grady has convinced him to keep it, because it will cost less to jack it up, pour a new foundation and put a new roof on it than knocking it down, carting it away and building something new. (I don't think the garage was built with the house in 1890, but it does have a cold-storage room for canned goods. Given that Chuck's canner is usually in use, it's a good room to have.)

And we spent a lot of time walking the yard, planning this and that. Rather than fencing in the front, I'm going with box hedges. The potager will go in the front yard on the left side because it gets the most sun. The urban chickens will go in the back yard along side the alley, and the croquet course will go along the yard opposite the potager. I've been told that goats aren't allowed in the city limits; we'll just have to see about that.

More pictures are posted here.