Monday, April 27, 2009

Wall zero, Baba one

Baba Falls

My dear grandmother, Baba, fell the other weekend. She probably tripped and smacked her forehead into a concrete wall in her sewing room in the basement. My grandfather, Champ, rushed her to the hospital for a once over. A few scans later they determined that she was spunky, resilient, and mostly uninjured. The next morning she woke up with two black eyes and a nasty bruise on her head. Apparently, that's just where the blood goes.

That concrete wall got me once. I was a little kid and a slipped (probably rushing) down the basement stairs. I don't recall it well, but I don't think I was stoic. I'm guessing I balled my eyes out.

The worst thing, in Baba's opinion, about this fall was that it happened right before Russian (Orthodox) Easter. She wasn't able to go to all the ceremonies and sermons, which is very disappointing. Easter is her favorite holiday.

Champ's birthday just came and went again, as well. I called to wish him well, and in classic Baba, ended up talking with her about her run in with the wall for most of the call.

My coworker remarked that there's just something special about that generation. They seem to take everything in stride. I'm willing to bet generation X (or whatever I am) will not end up being known for its stoic demeanor in the face of adversity.

Rock on, Baba.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

House Hunting

It has been nearly six years since I hunted for a new home. Last time, the market was crazy fast. Houses were going for 20% over their value on the same day that they went on the market. Bidding wars knocked me out of six houses before I was lucky enough to land here. I love this house. It has spoiled me for future houses. The doneness of it has no connection to the constant upgrading and remodeling of my childhood home. I spend my weekends in the garden, not in the crawl space.

It all started with this little 1911 house down the street. It's very pretty, it's on the perfect lot, and none of the infrastructure has been up dated in my life time. Wiring, plumbing, sewer, foundation, bones, roof... they're all needing work to support the 21st century.

In order to see the house, we engaged Wendy, Quincy's amazing realtor. She's fantastic. Wendy brings a kind of honest energy to the search that I wouldn't expect from someone working on commission. Yesterday, she drove from Brier to Normandy Beach to show us a few houses.

Before heading to the deep south, we headed back east to a little bump off I90 named Preston. It's 20 miles outside of downtown (8 from Issaquah). The house blew our mind-- beautifully updated in every way. The lot was odd, with a creek running through it and gently sloped in every angle, but the owners have 10 acres and might be interested in changing the boundaries. But, it was far. And, it up a wash-out prone never-plowed road that would be impossible to traverse in the deep winter. Sigh. Back to the city we drove.

Here's what we saw with Wendy:

This updated house held a lot of promise. The back yard was in bad condition, but with a few grand in retaining wall/drainage we could get a big practice field. The neighbors had a huge garden. But, there were invasive weeds everywhere (think blackberries on steroids), it needed a new roof, it was priced for a view (but it didn't have one), and there was an unfinished bathroom off the bedroom.

This house had substantial yardage. There were flowering trees everywhere, and a few 200' cedars (that maybe should be cut down). No view, and the lot was heavily shaded by all those beautiful trees. The basement was recently remodeled, but they split up the space oddly and left us imagining opening it all back up again. For every interesting plus (outside fireplace) there seemed to be a strange minus (tiny entryway/sitting room).

We drove up some really steep hills into Seola Beach, nearly killing my car (so much for never having seen the overheating predicted by the mechanic). This house was pretty, but no usable yard. We started thinking that a view might not be possible with a yard. Then we remembered that views weren't on either of our lists.

Or maybe it was at this house that we remembered the view thing. Who knows, they all blended together. The concrete block house listing at 559k was incredible -- big lot, hideous unmaintained unupdated house, HUGE view. I mean, HUGE view.

Either way, by the end of the day, we drove out of Burien in my overheated Subaru tired and hungry. We made gluten-free pierogi and steamed broccoli. We watched the fantastic movie "Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist" and ate popcorn. Next week, less hunting, more house.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

House Hunting

Quincy and I have been looking at new houses. This is not news to those of you who see us often. We spend probably an hour a day each combing through the recent and not-so-recent listings on Redfin hoping to find our dream home. We’ve been regularly meeting to discuss our core requirements and nice-to-haves. Our dream homes look very similar – sadly, we have expensive tastes. (I remember my dad telling me that I always would voice enjoyment over his Asian-influenced dishes when he used better cuts of beef.) In a nutshell:

Core: Yard big enough to practice agility with two dogs (60’ x 40’); separate yard for gardening with good southern exposure; enough space in the house to store our stuff comfortably; two bedrooms + office; good light; safe neighborhood; access to gluten-free food; no more than 45 minutes to Seattle downtown via mass transit; affordable enough so that one of us can quit our job.

Flexible: Master bathroom off bedroom; gourmet kitchen (or budget to remodel kitchen); neighborhood with sidewalks (if in-city); close to businesses; views (sunrise/sunset); yard big enough to run a real agility course (100’ x 50’); out-building storage for agility/gardening equipment; mudroom; room that can support a pool table; front porch; feels-like-home architecture (hard to describe, we know it when we see it); space for ornamental plants and veggie garden; posh neighborhood; near a PCC grocery store; house sits above street or shielded from street; affordable such that both of us can get out of this crazy industry forever; not surrounded by industry or developments.

Yeah, I know we're crazy. All dreamers are.

This week we swung by our first house with Quincy’s amazing realtor, Wendy. The house is only a few blocks from our current home, in Greenwood. Here’s the listing. We were immediately drawn to the yards and the tallness of the house.

We were both a little disappointed in what we ended up seeing. The second floor was a converted attic that did have 540 square feet of floor, but most of the volume was taken up by the roofline. The three bedrooms were tiny. The views were beautiful. The basement was also a disappointment: what was listed as a spate apartment was nice, but also very small. The rest of the basement was unfinished and mostly just knee-wall storage and crawlspaces. It’s listing of 760 square feet is at best generous. The main floor was exactly as called out: 760 square feet of usable, beautiful space. The den was very small, but would actually be a great computer room for one of us. Converting the basement apartment into a “man cave” or TV room would be very doable.

In seeing this house, though, we both added a new requirement. This house was built in 1911 and was nearly 100% knob and tube wiring. Rewiring would require ripping out the walls, as there is no way to access anything with so many finished ceilings and floors. Quincy realized that with her entire life savings in the house, she wasn’t comfortable not having earthquake insurance. Since we’re overdue for The Big One, a retrofit and insuring would be required for her piece of mind. Again, with the walls finished and the extra story, this would be both expensive and invasive.

So, in the end we walked away from the house. I am still thinking about it daily. I wish it were just a little different. I wish the earthquake retro fit wasn’t necessary, and that the knob and tube wiring would magically update itself. At the price they are offering, we can’t afford to pay someone to do both, and do the other work the house would require (like a kitchen remodel, etc).

Back to the hunt, I guess. I am worried we won’t find a house that matches our expectations. I am more worried that the search itself is driving a considerable wedge between us, and I push for a shorter commute and Quincy dreams of acreage.

Wish us luck.

Giving away the farm

Reach for the sky, tomatoes!

Today I handed off nine of our Yellow Pear Tomatoes to coworkers. We’ve had great success with the starts so far. We’re keeping seven plants and giving away sixteen! I just up-potted them into environmentally friendly 6” coconut fiber pots.

Last night we walked down to Fred Myer to get some larger plastic pots for up-potting the brussel sprouts and shallots (and maybe the dill and some basil). I’m wishing I had saved all those unrecyclable plant pots from all my initial plantings in the front yard! I would have had so many pots of all kinds of sizes. Currently, we’re using 2” square pots saved from last year and washed in the dishwasher. I’ve got a few 3” pots and a couple 6” pots for up-potting. With 36 more 3.5” pots from Fred Myer, we’re ready for the summer!

Of course, everything will go into the garden soon. The last frost date is upon us! Tonight I’ll up-pot whatever is ready, and plant the sunflower seeds in coconut fiber 3” pots. These guys will start inside, but then move to the porch, then outside quickly. I have had very good luck with sunflowers, so I don’t worry about them.

Also to arrive last night were two new sea holly tubers (or plants, I can’t tell). We’ll try to stick those in the ground tonight or at the latest this weekend. I’m sure Quincy is psyched.

Here’s to the sun!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Beautiful Weather, Beautiful Weekend

Jason and Grete

This weekend was a blur! Quincy was out of town with her girlfriends in the mountains. I spent the weekend with Grete and the gardens.

I pulled up all the weeds in the back yard beds, redid all the edging, put up a new fence to keep Grete out of the beds, planted three new plants, put down a yard of mulch, mowed, and repotted/staked all of my indoor succulents. In all, I spent about 16 hours in the garden.

New Yellow Summer BroomIllumination PeriwinkleTrillium and star flower

Almost the whole time Grete was by my side, dropping the ball and chasing after it. She got pretty good at bringing it close enough so that I didn't have to move from my weeding spot. As a reward, we went to the Green Lake dog park for some long-throw fetching. The weather was perfect all weekend.

Grete in the back yardWalking legs

On Monday Quincy and I woke up with headaches from all the pollen in the air. We decided to stay home and take it easy. This lead to a trip to Marymoor dog park, which led to me going to Fremont for lunch at Silence Heart Nest, which led to us washing the cars.

In other news, we found a house we like. And... it's right down the street! More on that later, we're going to stop by tonight to check it out with our realtor. We're not getting our hopes up, but after seeing the back yard, Grete is already packing.

Ta-ta for now!