Saturday, December 3, 2011
2. Nothing says Happy Holidays quite like a restraining order.
3. Speaking of a lack of restraint, I paid a service an exoribitant amount of money the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to have someone come in and clean the house. It's mostly stuck, or at least it seems to have made keeping it clean a little easier. It might just all be in my head.
4. Which is kind of stuffy right now. The wind had been blowing all week and my eyes have been extra irritated.
5. This is my favorite thing to listen to right now, and the video is also quite charming. My favorite thing to eat right now is a soft pretzel, from the batch Chuck made this afternoon, with mustard.
6. Al the Contractor, the one I believe is in witness protection because he goes by two different last names and I can find no evidence of him online (that's just not normal), recently messaged Chuck and asked him if we had any "before and after" pictures of the house. He can't find the ones he took and he'd like to have some for his portfolio. I'm thinking I might take pictures of the bathroom faucets. The ones where I can only get hot water. Or maybe the kitchen faucet, where I can't get any hot water. Or maybe the light switch in my dining room—the one that's too hot to touch.
I know. First World problems. I'll stop complaining about stupid shit now, I promise.
6. In the spirit of Blackbird and her recent "What I Wore" post, today I am wearing battered yoga pants, a white tank top and a grey cardigan from Target that is spattered with white paint. And Dansko Mary Janes.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
The snoring, the snoring is setting my teeth on edge .... Chuck is on call all weekend, which means we can't leave the city.
He's going to start baking dozens upon dozens of batches of Christmas cookies instead. His mother's cherry-filled, oatmeal cookie will be one, and chocolate chip of course has to be another. Other than that, he needs a good shortbread, maybe a ginger molasses and maybe a whoopie pie? Not sure.
We're putting our Christmas lists together. I have Chuck's and he wants various kitchen things: some glass measures, some silpats for our new baking sheets, some silicon bowl scrapers and and a new pan. I've asked for a new sweater (this one, http://www.softsurroundings.com/P/Calida_Cardigan/) in grey; a new pair of socks, also in grey, from the cool sock place in SF and a new stash of Nava pencils from PH Design in Texas. I don't really need much of anything, but it's nice to have something to unwrap come Dec. 25.
Monday, September 5, 2011
It started with the tomatoes. A little basil, some thyme, a pair of chickens flattened under a brick and Chuck's homemade fries. It ended with my esophagus seizing up about three bites into it. It happens a few times a year, and usually when I'm under great stress--I'll be eating and the esophagus will just stop working. Sometimes I can clear it on my own (you DON'T want to know how) and sometimes I need a trip to the ER following by a surgical procedure in the morning. No ER, but it's going to be a long night.
Thursday, September 1, 2011
Painted one dining room wall in chalkboard paint... yeah, yeah, I'm a good three years behind trend. But the boys kind of love it and so do we. (My mother-in-law's comment: A chalkboard in a dining room is just not normal.) To the left in the picture is the door that leads into the side foyer; on the other side of the chalkboard wall is the studio apartment, about 700 square feet, with gas fireplace and separate laundry. Flooring is newly installed, frige is new and bathroom is tiled, with a bathtub along one wall, then a separate shower. We hope to find a friendly, gardening-happy and dog-loving tenant by Thanksgiving.We're happy to provide one of the raised beds we're building so the renter can have his or her own plots. We're thinking about bees and chickens are an almost certainty.
Looking forward to a three-day weekend of movies and reading and sprucing. My managing editor, sensing that I'm a stress monkey right now, suggested I not show up on Friday either, but I think I have too much to do. I'm taking a week off at the end of October and plans are in the works for a night or two in San Francisco. I plan to spend a day in a beach chair on Moss Landing Beach (outside Phil's Fish Market) reading and staring at the ocean.
Mostly, though, I need Blackbird to come to California and help me revamp my wardrobe.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Slow and steady...it may not win the race, but it's the only way we're getting anything done around here right now. Slow, as in we're still unpacking boxes and steady, as in hey! we're still unpacking boxes.
Above is a shot of the kitchen. We don't have actual counters (painted plywood for now), no backsplash and no drawer pulls yet. But we have top-notch appliances we bought for pennies on the dollar on eBay and Craigslist, enough space for everyone to be in there and we can pull off some pretty fabulous meals. The cool chicks at Urban Farmhouse have counters in the shop that are made of sheet metal, distressed to make them look like aging zinc and then sealed--they gave me the name of their sheet metal contractor today, and I think we'll probably end up doing the same for our counters. (If you ever get to Salinas and are looking truly unique items at an affordable price, this is the place.)
To the right of where I was standing when I shot the above, there's this:
Rest of the kitchen, the double ovens, the baking area, and then down the little hallway is the laundry room and a storage area. If I ever get it together, our earthquake or zombie apocalypse supplies will go into the storage area. I keep thinking, "Ack, if shit goes down (earthquake or zombies) we are so unprepared."
More pictures tomorrow. Shooting the corners of the house, posting them all ... happy Sunday. Laundry, baseball and maybe some roasted tomato soup and homemade focaccia for dinner.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Saturday: AM yard work. Tomato and eggplant planting. Weeding. Farmers market. Arranging the front porch. (It's an excellent front porch.) Hang the giant wall of Ms. Rearrange closet, figure out what I don't need and donate. Listen to music. Clean the bathroom.
Sunday: Dinner party. Grilled deviled chicken under bricks; cucumber/yogurt sauce; homemade pita; roasted veg; whatever else people bring. Nate's ElMachino margaritas. Dessert by Carmela.
Monday .... Sleep late, laundry, books and movies. Maybe beach is it's warm enough.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Blogger, for some reason, won't embed the link. I'll copy and paste the whole thing at the bottom of the post.
This story prompted one city planning department employee to ask— out loud, mind you, and not as part of any internal or existential dialogue— "I don't know if I should be mad about this story or not." My theory is, if you have to ask the question about whether or not something should piss you off, then the answer is no. With a sharp blow to the head. Believe me, when I piss you off intentionally, you'll know it.
Housewise, there's more movement than before. We hosted a friend's birthday party last Sunday, which required us to get our acts together, clean a bunch, put a bunch away and socialize. But then the floor guy came on Saturday and started sanding the first floor, which means everything is all torn up and dusty again. He put the first coat on the living room and hallway, and it's lovely. Tomorrow he finishes the kitchen and I think, although I'm not sure, he may do the dining room as well. Next weekend, we start the great push to turn the front yard into a micro-farm. That should piss the city off too.
How renovating a house was as much about building tension as building a home.
By Mary Duan Thursday, April 7, 2011
How long into a renovation project is it reasonable to begin fantasizing about taking a hit out on your contractor? And by fantasy, I mean talking to a friend who happens to be a criminal defense attorney about the mechanics of actually taking out a hit on my contractor.
“No no, I really want to know. What are the chances of getting caught?” I prod my friend over coffee at the Cherry Bean in Old Town. “I mean, where in Salinas does one even go to hire a hit man?”
“We are not having this conversation,” he says flicking an imperceptible piece of lint from the collar of a very nice dark blue suit. “But if you get caught, remember to keep your mouth shut and invoke your right to counsel immediately. And then call me.”
He knows, and I know (and any law enforcement types who happen to be reading this should know) that I have no intention of actually killing anyone, or hiring anyone to do it for me.
But on Jan. 5, the desire was certainly there.
That’s the day that I realized I was fully caught up in the home rehab vortex.
It’s a place where actual time has no meaning, a bizarro land in which our contractor and the fire sprinkler subcontractor had so antagonized each other that the sprinkler company slapped a lien on the house – conditional lien release notwithstanding – and the contractor, in turn, threatened to sue them. It’s the day the architect hired by the contractor had metaphorically raised his middle finger to my husband and me from the safety of his office 157 miles away in Santa Rosa, saying, “I don’t work for you, I work for your contractor.”
It’s also the very same day a building inspector from the city of Salinas, a man known around town as “Red Tag Dave,” came full bore into my life.
If you’ve driven through Old Town any time in the past 121 years, you’ve probably seen the house. It’s the stupidly large Queen Anne next door to the mortuary, the three-story monster with 13 separate kinds of architectural gingerbread work, a turret and (strange in landlocked Salinas) a widow’s walk on the roof. Depending on which decade of rumor you’re listening to, the house has been a whorehouse, a halfway house, a flophouse, a meth house or a crash house where bored teenagers used to break in, break windows and banisters, get drunk and have sex.
One of those rumors is true. Based on the number of broken windows and banisters that had to be replaced, and the number of beer bottles we had to recycle when my husband and I bought it in February 2010, there has been nothing much else for the 13 – to 19-year-old set to do in South Salinas for the past three years other than break stuff, drink and fool around in the sad wreck of a vacant Victorian on Pajaro Street.
It wasn’t always sad, and it wasn’t always vacant. For 109 of the last 121 years, it had been a home owned only by two families: The Iversons, who built it in 1890, and the Rudolphs, who bought it from the Iversons in 1896.
In 1999, Diana Rudolph, the widow of Rudolph grandson Bertram Rudolph, looked around. She and her husband had raised their children in that house. But they were grown and gone, and so was he. She didn’t need that much space anymore, and Bertram had left her a wealthy woman; she sold the place for $240,000 to local real estate developer Eddie DeCarli.
Remembering the Salinas Valley real estate market of the late ’90s and early aughts is to recall the start of the insanity. Salinas rapidly became a bedroom community for Silicon Valley. Housing prices soared, business was good all over and DeCarli, by all accounts a smart businessman, bought the house as a side project with plans to turn it into office suites for attorneys or accountants.
He gave it a new roof, installed new rough plumbing, jacked it up and poured a new foundation. Workers gutted the inside to the studs, installed cabling for high-speed, Cat 5 ethernet – and tore out everything that made the place a Victorian. A 7-foot, hand-made copper bathtub was tossed to the curb. Hand-carved fireplace mantles were torn out. The pocket doors that separated some of the downstairs rooms also were tossed. (I’m told a guy named Mike has those. Mike, if you’re reading this, call me.)
Then in 2007, with the interior still gutted and the project incomplete, the dominoes began to fall. The bubble burst, and work on the house and several other projects DeCarli had going came to a complete halt; DeCarli, I’m told, used to spend long hours standing outside the house, smoking and staring.
“It was an ocean of pain,” says someone who watched it happen. “I’ve never seen anything so sad.”
The keys went back to the bank in 2008.
It’s discomfiting, knowing the way you’re trying to live your life has been born directly from someone else’s despair. But before we could wrap our arms around buying a house out of foreclosure, we had to wrap our minds around getting out of Berkeley.
We moved our family of four from Salinas to the East Bay in the summer of 2008, lured by a great tech job for my geek husband and the potential of a more lively atmosphere for the family. We bought a tiny, overpriced house in North Berkeley (home to the “North Berkeley Entitled Elite,” as my Stanford Ph.D. neighbor wryly quipped in his British-Indian accent) and tried to settle in.
A year later: Chuck and I pay an Oakland business called “The Rat Patrol” $500 to deal with an overwhelming rodent infestation. Tales of drug dealing, theft, fights and weapons at Berkeley High became routine dinner conversation. I nearly get run over every time I step out of my house (hey Berkeley drivers – you suck!). Don’t get me started on the needle exchange truck parked outside the entrance to my youngest’s summer camp. I look at Chuck one August night as we sit in our rat-tastic house three blocks from Chez Panisse, and say, “Not one more minute. I won’t stay here, not one more minute. Take me back to Salinas.”
Berkeley had rubbed off on us a little bit, though. Going into house hunting, we wanted two things – a walkable neighborhood close to things (coffee, movies, groceries), and enough space to raise a few chickens and grow our own vegetables. In Berkeley, urban chickens are nearly a requirement of home ownership.
But finding a house even while millions of people frantically mailed their keys back to various banks proved a challenge. We lost out on two places in rapid succession, our VA-guaranteed loan trumped by all – or mostly cash offers. Chuck was driving down Pajaro Street when he got the news about the last one, a mid-century marvel on a cul de sac near Hartnell College with a brick-hearth fireplace in the kitchen, a wood-paneled bar and rec room a la Mad Men in the basement and a neighbor with, gasp, chickens. Chuck saw the enormous “available” sign from Pacific Valley Bank in front of the Victorian, figured “Why not?” and headed to the bank.
Ben Tinkey, then PVB’s president, looked at Chuck for a long minute when he asked about the house. He reached into his desk, pulled out a key, handed it over and said, “Go take a look and see what you’re getting yourself into.”
As Chuck says now, a fine covering of drywall dust powdering everything we own, “When we decided to do this, I asked the wrong question. I asked ‘Can we do this?’ I should have asked, ‘How hard will it be?’”
“Why is the architect in Santa Rosa?” someone asked me. “They have perfectly good architects here.”
It’s true, they do. But the architect is in Santa Rosa because our contractor is in Santa Rosa. And the contractor is in Santa Rosa for a few reasons: We were working on such a severely restricted budget that I couldn’t get anyone local to take me seriously, and…
We were working on such a severely restricted budget that I couldn’t get anyone local to take me seriously.
What we were getting into was a wholesale rehab of the gutted interior DeCarli left behind, with our only means of financing it an FHA Section 203(k) loan. The (k) is vehicle of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that allows a borrower to take a percentage of the loan amount to fund fixing up the house. With the loan comes the need for a contractor who can deal with the small mountain of paperwork the FHA requires – and a contractor with enough liquidity to wait patiently to get paid. Because after the city signs off on a section of work, the FHA has to sign off as well. No signatures, no cash, and the money is doled out in stingy increments.
That’s where Contractor Al and his sidekick, Architect Josh, come in.
We closed on the house in February 2010 and submitted our plans on March 13. On April 16, I started calling the Salinas Planning Department just about every day. On May 4, we got our permit to work on the 700-square-foot basement apartment. And on June 15, we moved in to that basement – me, my husband, two hormonal teenage boys who tower over me and love to wrestle with each other and a smelly, aging Jack Russell mix with an ever-worsening gastric disorder.
In the basement we stayed, until about three weeks ago. We moved into the big house during the worst cold snap in decades, and did it without having a working furnace.
The cataclysm of events that brought Architect Josh, Contractor Al, Red Tag Dave and us together built slowly over the last six months of 2010. Yeah, Josh technically was subcontracted by Al, but Al was relying on us (hamstrung budget, remember) to deal with a lot of local paperwork. The architect would do little things, like completely fail to address something the city required after a first round of comments – for example the location of the sewer hookups. When we pointed out to him that his error would cost us three weeks, and that he should expedite the plans at no cost to us, he said simply, “My contract isn’t with you, it’s with [Al] and will be billed accordingly.”
By January we’ve hired a separate crew to replace the Swiss-cheese roof on the garage, which looks like a set straight out of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, only with fewer cannibals. The work has been included on the plans; we know this, because we told Josh, “Hey, put the garage on the plans.”
Red Tag Dave arrives to do a screw inspection. (Consider the irony.) He sees the crew working on the garage and says, in essence, “Hey, what are they doing? You don’t have a permit for that.” But of course we do, we counter. Josh put it on the plans, because we told him to.
Sure enough, it’s not on the plans.
The inspector comes back the next morning and gives us 24 hours to pull a garage permit or the entire project – fixing the house we are desperately trying to move into – will be shut down. I can’t fault Red Tag Dave, because he’s doing the job the city has hired him to do – keeping people from getting away with substandard shit. But panic sets in.
Al rounds up his drywall crew with the rallying cry, “We’re out of here!” – because surely there is no way we can rectify this in a day. Chuck reminds him that Josh was supposed to take care of this. He uses the word idiot, he uses the word schedule. Al shrugs his little shrug, and the team goes back to work.
And then Chuck picks up the phone, calls the planning department, starts working on the garage permit and negotiates a truce.
I’m an architecture junkie. The best Christmas gift I received last year was a LEGO architecture kit. It came with an 800-piece set of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famed Pennsylvania masterpiece Fallingwater.
It will take hours to put together. Once I’m done, I’m going to put it on a shelf in the library and attach a little red tag to its facade.
And then Chuck and I will go outside and start work on our urban chicken coop. Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue once told me it will be easier to open a medical marijuana shop in the city than it will be to convince the council to pass an ordinance allowing chickens in Old Town.
Our relationship with our contractor appears short-lived at this point – the rehab money is almost gone and what’s left on the interior is all cosmetic. Contractor Al even reached detente with the fire sprinkler folks, and the lien went away.
But Red Tag Dave and me?
Given the fact that we don’t yet have a final permit for the house, he and I have a long and egg-filled future ahead of us.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Through the World's Biggest Pain in the Ass Contractor
Through an Architect I Have Fantasized About Killing.
Through the Abject Stupidity of Buying a 122-year-old House Out of Foreclosure.
Through the "Who's on First" Antics of the City of Salinas Planning Department.
Through Living in a Basement With Two Teenage Boys.
Through...What Mean Thing Can I Say About the Permitting Department, Honey? I Kind of Like Them, They're Just Slow...
Tonight, for the first time since we bought this wreck in February 2010, we are sleeping upstairs.
And no, it's not done done. It's done just enough. Pictures this weekend.
Sunday, February 6, 2011
Of the architects I've interviewed, my favorite was probably the late John Thodos, of Thodos AIA in Carmel-by-the-Sea. I wrote about the second home he designed and built in Carmel--the first was on the ocean and after he and his wife lived there for a time, they sold for it for an egregious amount of money and designed and built something smaller and a few blocks up from the water.
In any case, one of the best features about the Thodos' second home was the "wet room" that served as the master bath. Everything was tiled, there was no shower curtain, just a drain. "Cleaning up," John told me, "should be a pleasure. Bathing should be a pleasure." And when Chuck finishes tiling this room, and I never, ever have to see or speak to our contractor again (not that he ever responds to my emails) and the hot water heater is functional, I fully believe that cleaning up in this room will be a pleasure. (As an aside, Chuck says our contractor has really been quite fine in his dealings with us. I think Chuck is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, with a side of Tile Fatigue.)
During a break in the tiling action, when Chuck was slumped on the couch, he said to me, "You know, when we decided to do this, I asked the wrong question. I asked 'Can we do this?' I should have asked, 'How hard will it be to do this?'" As for me? I've come to the conclusion that the FHA 203K program is a program that can be gamed, only the home owners aren't the ones doing the gaming. And anyone who tries to do a major project in the city of Salinas more than once is an idiot. Call me "Exhibit A."
In the rest of the house, everything is painted. We went with Behr's "Frost" for the walls, and Behr's "Rocky Mountain Sky" for the master bath, the boy's bath, the half-bath downstairs, the studio apartment bath and the laundry room. (I'd link to the actual colors, but the Behr website is a pain in the ass.) We need to get the gas turned on in the main house, all of the outlets have to be wired and the floors are kind of a disaster, but we're planning on moving in to the top floor in the next two weeks or so. Our contractor will show up again when we are ready for the finish work to happen--and when I say finish, I mean, when he's ready to finish.
I've had a few people ask me, without really asking me, how we're affording this. I refer them to the economic collapse of 2008 that resulted in this house being completely gutted and never being finished, it reverting back to the bank in a foreclosure and the bank being desperate to get the loan off of their books. Chuck's also a geek and he paid attention in math class; between his full-time job and the house, he's also working his ass off, harder than any person I've seen.
More pictures here. And greetings to my readers from Raleigh, NC. That's kind of near Cary, isn't it?
Two words: proxy server.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Thanks for reading. And through the power of Google Analytics, I know you have been. Maybe your time would be better spent figuring out how to divest from the fund. Or figuring out how to use a proxy server (my 13-year-old could teach you) so I don't know your web surfing habits.
For those of you who don't know what I'm taking about:
Friday, January 28, 2011
2. I was standing outside the Argonaut Hotel in San Francisco, where I am attending the AAN (Association of Alternative Newsweeklies) web conference, having a cellphone conversation with Chuck and expressing my displeasure about our contractor. A woman walking a little white fluffy dog passed me; the dog snarled at me, lunged and quickly clamped down on my leg. The woman didn't notice and kept walking.
3. It was at this point that I completely lost my shit. "Hey! HEY LADY! YOUR DOG JUST BIT ME." She turned, she sputtered apologies. I stormed off.
4. Didn't break the skin. It just left weird little fang marks on my pants.
5. I took a walk around Union Square and down Market Street this evening. On Market, a large man unzipped and peed on the sidewalk as I walked past.
6. And that just sums up 2011 so far.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
In short, the Oliver's kind of become an asshole.
Speaking of nervous breakdowns, tonight we were fighting over the shower. Well, two of us were—me and eldest. He was tormenting me and tormenting me, and acknowledging he was tormenting me by saying, "For the half hour each day you're awake and here, I need to drive you to the point of a nervous breakdown." Meanwhile, Chuck and Oliver were in bed, Oliver gnawing on his stuffed flea and Chuck trying to prevent him from gnawing on his stuffed flea by wrestling it away from him. Much growling ensued. It's exactly how you want to interact with a dog who appears to be losing his mind right before bedtime.
There is water in my upstairs bathtub, which the Oaxacans installed last week before they left. Unfortunately there's no heat upstairs yet, otherwhise I would be in the tub, with a rubber duckie, a margarita and a trashy novel, avoiding the creepy little dog and the agitator teenage boys.
Al and the Oaxacans are due in tomorrow, at which point they will begin texturing the walls. Three coats, sanded in between ... because the coat down here in the basement where we're living now, is cheap hotel with a touch of sleaze.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
Here is a not terribly comprehensive list of things currently making me unhappy: our idiot architect; our contractor; architects in general; the city of Salinas building department; contractors in general; famous architects of the 20th Century; building inspectors; anyone threatening to red tag our project; and, oh yeah, our idiot architect.
If he didn't live three hours away, I would drive to his house and kick him in the shins. You might remember him from previous posts. He's the one who told Chuck he didn't work for us, he works for our contractor and only takes direction from him.
This week, we find ourselves at the point of screw inspection. (Consider the irony.) The drywall is up, the screws are in place, the inspector was scheduled to come out and inspect the screws so Al and the all-Oaxacan construction team could commence taping and texturing.
Here is a picture of the drywall, pre-screw inspection.
Simultaneous to preparing for the screw inspection, our friend Grady was gathering his own team so they could come and shore up the garage. Built around 1900, the garage features a chimney, a canning room, a swiss cheese roof and feral cats. It looks like something from "The Road," albeit with fewer cannibals. The garage was to have been included in the plans. The plans the architect drew. Because Chuck told him, the garage needs to be included in the plans.
The inspector shows up yesterday to inspect the screws, sees Grady and the gang working on the garage and says something along the lines of, "What the fuck are they doing? You don't have a permit for the garage." Au contraire, says Chuck; it is on the plans, because I told the architect to put it there.
You can likely figure out the rest. It's not on the plans. Inspector comes back this morning and says, "It's not on the plans. You have until 4 p.m. to start the process of getting a separate permit for the garage or I am red-tagging the entire project." Upon hearing this, our contractor rounds up his crew and says, "Ok boys, we are OUT OF HERE for the rest of the week." Because Chuck surely isn't capable of getting the permit issue dealt with in four or five hours.
Oh yes he is. Yes. He. Is. Ten minutes later, he has a response from another guy in the Building Department (I guess I can't hate all of them) telling him what he has to do. The building guy tells him the email exchange officially launches the garage permit process and there will be no red tagging. The inspector comes back and signs off on the drywall screws, and that will be the last inspection on the house until the final. Contractor starts kvetching about starting work on the garage prematurely until Chuck, undoubtedly using the voice I like to think of as ex-Navy officer, tells him: "The screw inspection was supposed to happen three days ago, and the garage was supposed to be included on the plans by your idiot architect. Had you been on time, and had the architect done his job, none of this would have happened."
Chuck needs a drink. I need this project to be done.
My other Christmas present was the Lego architecture kit, which includes an 800-plus piece set of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater. (I'm an architecture junkie.)
Once I finish building it, I am going to put it on a shelf in the library, and attach a little red tag to it.