Bay Area House-Hunting, Round ??

No matter where I live, I'll always love the homes in Alameda - check out my Instagram account, @themenacingkitten, for more pics of Alameda homes

So, First things first – there have been many rounds of Bay Area house-hunting I didn’t report on, because I was beginning to believe we were cursed.  One of the first things you recognize when looking for a house in the Bay Area is the region is in a little bubble where national economic standards and ways of living do not apply.  It’s kind of like those acropolises in Sim City that would sprout up before you got completely bored and unleashed every disaster upon your unsuspecting residents who already went for 5 years without water because playing God is hard. And kind of boring after a few days.

Anyway, there are two trends going on in the area right now: 1) There is nothing on the market and 2) The few houses that are on the market either go for tens of thousands of dollars over asking or stay on the market forever because they are really just one giant 80 year-old termite tube that will collapse into a heap of masticated wood dust when the next quake hits.

When we first started looking for a house, we really wanted to live on Alameda; it’s an old-fashioned mom-and-pop kind of place with independent book stores, great eateries, and the best shoreline in the East Bay. We love Alameda. Chris has been living in an apartment on the island since he started his new job, and has enjoyed 20-minute ferry rides for his commute.  He’s replaced the clogged, dusty streets of Phoenix metro with a relaxing boat ride offering views of pink and purple sunsets falling behind the hills of San Francisco. It’s not a bad life.

Before we could get pre-approval for a home loan up in Alameda, it seemed as if there were many houses we could choose from that met our needs.  Once we got approval and actually could put down an offer? Everything disappeared and got expensive. If you removed all filters on your house search, you’d find there were less than 25 homes for sale on the entire island at any given time.  Clearly, people love living there and have no intention of ever leaving. We literally could not find a house in fair condition for even 1200 square feet that was under $600,000.  In fact, one house we looked at was only about 1100 square feet and they asked for over $600k (it sold within a week or two). Most recently, we looked at a house that was 1900 square feet and asking $425,000.  Based on the area the house was in, it was clear this would be a fixer. If it was mostly cosmetic, why not? A similar sized house in better condition would go for 700-800 in that area. Sounds like a good investment, right? Upon viewing the house in person, we discovered:

  • The retaining wall sheared
  • Almost every step leading to the front door was wobbly and suffered from dry rot
  • The house still had the original electrical, complete with old-style fuses
  • There were huge holes/rips in the walls
  • Parts of the roof were bowed from water damage
  • Parts of the roof were missing from water damage, with a cute little kiddie pool to catch all the rain.
  • A minor point compared to all that, but they actually partially painted over the hardwood floors.

It seriously felt like the thing would collapse if you had 20 people in there at any given time.  We didn’t even bother to view the entire house. The house sold in about a week.

Needless to say, as much as we love Alameda and as much as we were willing to give up to live there, it quickly became obvious that it wasn’t a realistic option for us. We looked in a few other areas. The Oakland Hills were beautiful, but the hills would be a nightmare to drive everyday, and it is certainly not a walker-friendly area.  Orinda and Lafayette were far our of our price range. Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill briefly had homes in our price range, but the bidding went insane and it felt too far away from San Francisco. Castro Valley was a decent option, but we couldn’t compete with the bidding.

Enter San Leandro.  It’s an interesting city – parts of it are pretty rough, but parts are very charming in an Alameda kind of way.  The Estudillo Estates neighborhood really caught our eye – unique, historic homes in a very walker-friendly area.  For those in the Phoenix area, I’d liken the neighborhood to the Willo District, except it’s much larger. We were severely outbid on our first attempt at getting a house in the area, but I’m happy to say that we had an offer accepted on a different house.  We went a bit higher than we originally planned, however it’s a beautiful late 1930s-era home with lots of space and a nice backyard complete with two redwoods and balconies galore.  The walls and ceiling have plaster rather than drywall, making for gorgeous textured detailing throughout the house. There’s a little work that remains to be done in the way of earthquake retrofitting and the electrical, but we love it.  We’re less than a mile from the hiking trails for Lake Chabot, and only a third of a mile from a butcher, an organic grocery store (that sells raw milk!), and a few cute mom-and-pop restaurants. In addition to the old standby of Starbucks, there are two independent coffee shops within a mile – both have free wi-fi, one sells their coffee for a dollar after 10 a.m. How can you beat that? We’re a mile from the BART station, which is a 20 minute ride into the city. While we’d much rather go over the Bay via ferry versus going under the Bay via BART (yikes), it still beats driving.

We won’t close until late February (and I won’t make it out there until end of March due to my job), however all indications are pretty good so far. With all of the stress and drama I’ve experienced over the past year, I can’t tell you how much I look forward to closing this chapter and starting fresh in my new home.

An Apology and a Travelogue

With most writings on this blog, I have the luxury of hindsight and distance to reflect on the events in my life.  This week I experienced a roller coaster ride of emotions that I’m not far enough away from yet to appreciate.  I believe I will appreciate this one day, just not right now.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may have felt like I haven’t been on top of my game as of late.  I know I’ve felt rather distracted and less creative in recent months.  This evening, I started writing a blog explaining what is going on in my life but I realized that it would not be in my best interests professionally to write about it at this time.  I know this comes off as cryptic and makes for a really shitty story, but it is going to have to be a story to tell at a later date.  I know I’ll be fine, and I’m hoping this is going to be one of those turning points in life that leads to something wonderful.  Sometimes you don’t see your path until you fall face first onto it.

In the meantime, I do apologize – I didn’t write last week for two weeks, and I’m really struggling to turn on the “writer switch” in my head.  It’s funny – I write music when I’m sad, but I write articles and stories when I’m happy.  I’d be really prolific if only I could time this all out properly.  I hate phoning it in, but at the same time I feel a need to keep this blog going.  I don’t want this to be an abandoned project, yet I’m afraid I’m going to suck so badly at writing it would have the same effect.  I’m going to push through this and keep trying.  I ask you to bear with me.  Let’s consider this an experiment to fight against my anxiety, depression and all those pessimistic, doomsday feelings that resurface when things turn to shit.

So that is the cryptic and lousy storytelling portion discussing the lows of the roller coaster;  let me tell you a little about the highs this week so we can end this thing on a positive note.

Chris flew up to Alameda on Thursday to move into his apartment and get ready for the new job.  I flew out Friday evening to spend the weekend with him and help him get settled.  I’ve joked about this being a “bachelor pad” of sorts for him.  After seeing the apartment, it really has more of a Halfway House vibe to it.  Maybe it just needs a lava lamp and a Fathead.

We walked all over the island on Saturday, enjoying the sunny weather and cute neighborhoods.  We drooled over some huge homes that were well out of our price range; it’s good to dream a little.

Some friends of our recently moved to the SoMa area of San Francisco, so we decided to check out the ferry and meet them for dinner.  We sat up top, hair be damned, enjoying views of the Bay as we crossed over to the Embarcadero.  Chris was pleased that this method of commuting would not suck for him.  I took the above picture of the Bay Bridge along the way.

We then met with our friends to eat at Luce, and I had an excellent meal that featured creative and delicious combinations of flavors.  I started with an artichoke velouté with hazelnuts, cocoa and pears.  It was amazing – creamy but light and very flavorful.  For my main dish, I had Lobster with lemon verbena foam, green strawberries and corn velouté.  It was one of those dishes where everything not only highlighted the main ingredient but enhanced its flavor.  We’re going to love eating out in San Fran.

We headed back on the ferry, watching the reflection of city lights dance against the water:

I smiled at Chris.  “Just imagine, eventually you’re going to do this so much you’ll take this view for granted.”

He smiled “I hope I don’t. But you’re probably right.”

As I sit here in Arizona and he sits in Alameda, knowing I will only see him for a couple of days every two weeks for the next several months, I realize how easy it is to take a beautiful view for granted.

P.S. So much for me ending on a high note…

P.P.S Holy crap, I guess it’s been two weeks since I posted.  Blogger fail.

Keep vs. Toss, Round One

I like my drinks shaken, not stirred...with a splash of grenadine and a cherry thx ;P

I am moving in a few months, and it is with 97% certainty we will have to move to a smaller house.  For this reason, I have to get rid of a TON of shit.  I’ve decided I need to sort my stuff out in 5 piles:

1) Toss
2) Keep
3) Keep for a yard sale
4) Keep for a bigger sale
5) Donate

I thought this would be easy, but within minutes of tackling a small stack of papers, I was reminded of my problem with getting rid of stuff.  Here was my thought process from night one:


- There is a stack of papers and magazines here and I’m going to throw them away.

- Here are some recipe cards from 1974. They’re for like, fondue and weird-looking lasagna. How did I get these? Toss.  There! Thrown away! On to the next.

...You mean another Colonel looked like that?

- OMG I completely forgot I had these old-timey booze recipes.  Let me stop and read them.  They are so amazing and cool! Look at the weird pictures and the outdated recipes! Keep.  Keep.  Keep.

- “The Sportsman’s Way: How to Prepare Wild Game and Waterfowl”.  Do they have squirrel? They do!! And not only that, they have raccoon and bear! How can I get rid of that? Let me show it to Chris…he doesn’t understand this.  What if we’re in a situation where we have to live off the land and eat wild stuff? Yeah, no, I’m not going to skin an animal, ew.  But still… Keep.

- “Sunset’s Favorite Company Dinners”: This is great Stepford Wife stuff – making perfect meals for your Bridge club and whatnot. This is for ladies who wore dresses and pearls just to go to the grocery store; this is historic.  Keep.

- Whole Foods’ “Bulk Basics: A simple guide to cooking and buying bulk foods.”  Oh, this is easy – toss.  But.  It tells you how to cook weird beans and rice and stuff. I really want to keep this if I need it…but INTERNET!…but what if I can’t find it on the internet? But…ughhhhh….Toss.

- Aerogarden guide.  F-ing waste of money. Toss….oh wait, we can sell the Aerogarden at a tag sale.  Maybe I should keep this to give to the new owners of the Shitty Aerogarden Where Only Basil Grows and Oregano is a Wasteland of Brown Death and Fail.  Keep.  With the Hot Chocolate Maker Instruction Manual.

If this weren't you know, BEAR, it would be kind of nom.

- Omaha Steaks cooking guide for all things meaty.  Servicey. Keep.

- Ola’s Norwegian Cookbook. Eh, someone might want this for a tag sale.  Keep.

- A magazine of cookie recipes. I don’t want to throw this away but…ahhhhh…Toss.

- A Cooking Light from 1997? But it’s a Holiday one…but it’s 1997. The way they use trendy ingredients, this shit probably calls for Fen-Fen and Fiona Apple. Toss.

- Bon Appetit Thanksgiving edition. 2003? Ehhh…KEEP.

- A recommendation letter for UNT’s College of Music.  Keep. Really? Yes.  And my signature was so nice back then…

- Music paper?  But…I…might…use…Toss.  Sniff.

- Food & Wine Holidays. 2005. Keep.

- Bon Appetit Holidays 2004. Keep.

- Cooking Light Holidays 2011.  Oh, that looks yummy.  Keep.  I love holiday recipes.

- This is a picture of what I am keeping, and what I am throwing away:

We are in trouble.

Bay Area House-Hunting, Round One

Alameda has more pre-1906 homes than anywhere else in the Bay area

Friday began with me folding clothes to put in our carry-on before I left for work.  As I bent over to place a pair of underwear on a pile, my back muscles suddenly felt like a thick rubber band that couldn’t be stretched.

“Ow…” I yelped, crouched over my pile of underwear.

“Are you okay?” Chris called from elsewhere in the house.

My muscles completely cramped up.  I couldn’t move from my crouched position.  “I need you to help me!”

Chris came in and we tried to figure out the best way to move me to the floor.  After performing what looked like 6 positions for “Karma Sutra for Senior Citizens,” he managed to get me on the floor, and I put my legs up against the wall.  My muscles burned with even the slightest move.  Suzy, my 13 year-old Border Collie, looked at me with concern, knowing something was awry.  “It’s okay,” I scratched her chest, reassuringly.  She thanked me by stepping on my hair and sticking her tongue up my nose.

In the process of her licking, she triggered a nerve in my nose that made me have a fit of sneezes.  “A-CHUun!” As the “choo” came out, I felt it through my entire back, and tried to hold it in.  It was suppressed pain.  The sound that came out made Chris begin to chuckle.  I pointed my finger at him while lying on the floor, my dogs paws on my hair, “it’s not funny! It really – A-CHUun! A-CHUun!” And sure enough, I started laughing with him, sending additional shots of pain down my back.

After working from home in the most awkward position ever, we were off to start house-hunting in Alameda by flying from Mesa Gateway Airport to Oakland International via Allegiant Air.  Allegiant is a super-discount carrier whose itemization of extra charges rivals the Thenardiers in Les Miserables. Nevertheless, they still are incredibly inexpensive, and their flight attendants seem nice.  They fly in and out of much smaller airports, providing us with our first experience in the ghost-town Overlook Hotel less-used Mesa Gateway.  Despite having seats that were not designed to recline and paying $4 for water and a Seagram’s ginger ale (that’s right – Seagram’s – not Canada Dry, which everyone knows won the Kanye Award for the Best Ginger Ale of All Time), it wasn’t a bad flight.  Chris and I used the free time to catch up on the new season of Doctor Who (the first three episodes are kind of a mess, no?).

We landed at 9:30pm, and were relieved that Alameda is but 5-10 minutes from the airport.  Unfortunately for us, the rental car area is located in east Nevada.  The airport has one shuttle bus taking everyone to the Land of Rental Cars, and we had to wait about 20 minutes for this mighty Supershuttle to arrive.  We packed in like sardines, and the driver had to turn away people when the bus literally got so full the doors wouldn’t close.  We soon discovered that because we reserved a car with an “off-brand” rental car agency, we had to take another shuttle from the Land of Rental Cars to the Island of Misfit Rentals, located in South Dakota.  The shuttle waited for us in a dark corner of the parking lot, with no lights on inside.  I thought it was abandoned as I crept up to the door.  The doors opened, and a man nodded to us to get aboard.  His stereo was off, and it was a dark, quiet space.  The driver reminded me of Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption when he got let out of prison but didn’t yet receive the postcard from Tim Robbins.  You know, that part where he couldn’t decide whether to get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’, and you were worried he’d off himself like the sweet old man with the pet bird.  Once our bus driver put his foot on the gas, I realized he was in “get busy dyin’” mode, and I looked forward to putting my feet on solid earth again.  He pulled into a weird industrial lot, and lo and behold, our rental agency was based out of a single-wide.  To their credit, the folks inside were really nice and helpful.  We finally were on our way, and arrived at our hotel at 11pm. So even though our hotel was no more than 10 minutes from the airport, it took us an hour and a half to get there.

After sleeping on a bed a skiier could do moguls on, we were off to check out Alameda.  This is a cool little island town with a lot of history – as we walked the streets, we came across a number of retro ads, old towns, and a huge farmer’s market with beautiful produce.  The entire island seems to be very walker-friendly, loaded with mom-and-pop stores and little shops and cafes.  It reminded me of the little towns along the north shore in Massachusetts, except the architecture was more eclectic – in addition to your Victorians, colonials and craftsman houses, you also have Mediterranean-style homes and bungalows similar to what you would find in the Willo district in Phoenix.  Every house had its own story to tell.

We headed over to our first home, which wasn’t in the best neighborhood, but was in close proximity to shops and restaurants.  The previous owners did an amazing job restoring the 1907 home, adding in a beautiful kitchen with granite countertops, gorgeous dark hardwood floors, upgraded electrical, and innovative windows in the partitions to make the home feel more spacious.  The biggest problem with this house was one of the corners of the foundation was still brick – a big no-no for construction in an earthquake zone.  Retrofitting foundation to meet current earthquake construction standards is quite expensive and we value our safety, so unfortunately, this home was out for us.

House #2 was a rental.  We happened upon a number of abandoned industrial buildings, and this rental home was in the middle of it all – there were no homes surrounding it.   There were no life forms present for at least 1/4 of a mile surrounding the home.  We arrived 1/2 an hour prior to our appointment.  Upon pulling into the driveway, Chris called the realtor and basically said, “yeah, never mind.”

House #3 was a rental open house.  The house was super-cute and in a great neighborhood, but the garage was roughly 3 feet too short for our car, there was no place for a dog door, our bed wouldn’t fit in the bedroom, and the kitchen was really, really tiny.  We’d compromise on one, possibly even two of these things, but all four? Not so much.

House #4 was our final rental option to view for the day, and was located on Bay Farm Island, which is the other “island” that makes up Alameda (it’s actually connected to Oakland, and not really an island).  While Bay Farm doesn’t have that historic charm that the main island has, the house was beautiful. Open design, huge kitchen, beautiful living room area, ginormous yard…we loved it.  While we would really love to live on the main island, the housing stock on Alameda is low and rental options are even lower.  We submitted an application and will find out in a few days if we can rent this lovely home for a year.

Walking felt better on my back than sitting, so we decided to finish out the afternoon walking the neighborhoods on the main island, loving the cute houses and pretty gardens everyone had.  We closed out the night having a nice dinner with friends in San Francisco.

Day two was spent checking out two houses that were for sale.  House #5 was a cute little house with a huge back yard in a great neighborhood.  Its only two drawbacks were its size (1,000 square feet, which we can get used to), and the fact that the only bathroom needs to be completely redone due to dry rot.  House #6 was, to quote our realtor “…not charming.”  It looked rather run down, needs to be tented for termites, and would need an electrical overhaul (the fuse box is from the 50s and only powers 100 amps).

We spent the remainder of our time in Alameda walking along the shore, admiring the cool breeze and views of the bay.  Weather in the 60s, little shops and pretty houses? We could get used to this.

As Romeo Void Once Said…

No, I don’t think I’d like you better if we slept together, but that’s actually more of a compliment because I really like you in a completely platonic way. If you don’t know the song, this post will take an immediate turn for the awkward and I’ll feel incredibly old. No, Romeo Void once said…

Never Say Never.

After living in Arizona for nearly half my life, it is time to hitch the ponies to the wagon and start a new journey.

You’ll never guess where I’m going.

Oh, wait, there is a ginormous, obvious picture accompanying this post hinting at it.

That’s right, we are moving to sunny San Francisco! Okay, we’re  actually looking at the suburban bedroom community of Alameda Island, where the speed limit never exceeds 25mph, but that doesn’t photograph as well and no one knows where Alameda is.

My husband will be a director for an up-and-coming software company located in the SOMA district of San Francisco, and I am incredibly proud of him and excited for this new opportunity and OMG WE’RE MOVING!

Here’s the funny thing – I lived in southern California for two years of my life, and while I enjoyed my time there, I never thought I would return to California.  Compared to Arizona it was super-expensive, and the area I lived in was all chain stores and few mom-and-pops.  I really loved Arizona, and despite the fact that my politics is opposite than a good chunk of the state, I still love Arizona.  As you can tell from Le Nom and many other posts, we love our friends here.  Arizona residents are mostly friendly, there are a lot of fun things to do, it’s affordable, and from November to April, you can’t beat the weather.  I didn’t think I’d ever leave or ever want to leave.

I certainly never thought I’d move to the Bay area.  When I vacationed there, I would always think, “San Francisco is one of the great American cities; too bad it’s so expensive.”  Of course, we won’t be living in San Fran because of the 1) lack of dog-friendly places 2) cost 3) recent purchase of a nice car that shouldn’t be parked on streets known for car theft and vandalism. Alameda is an inexpensive option in comparison, and it is very pedestrian and biker-friendly.  It is a 20 minute ferry commute to San Francisco, dropping my husband off just two blocks from his work.  They actually serve alcohol on the afternoon ferries – how many places can you say your daily commute involves watching the sun set over the water while drinking a beer or a glass of wine?

These “nevers” we create – I guess they really do create barriers to seeing opportunity.  Once that’s lifted, amazing things can happen.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself – my husband will be commuting up there starting some time in October, and I’m staying put in Arizona for the next several months for a host of reasons. But the wheels are in motion – this is happening.  Never say never.