Friday, April 19, 2013

it continues

We have DSL now, making the place quite a bit more homelike. The DSL installer ran a nice fresh cable through an existing hole in the stucco, helpfully drilled by some previous occupant who split their DirecTV feed through every room in the house, via coax cable running mostly along the outside. One of the coax splitters outside--an uncovered splitter which is not meant to be outside--is "grounded" to the metal box housing the circuit breakers and the eletric meter. Just sort of clamped on. There's a phone wire going up and over to the garage, to service the former illegal apartment there.

One side benefit of the DSL install is that I now know which wires I can safely remove: all but one. I'm going to need a bigger ladder.

It looks like two of the trees in the back are probably cherry trees. A third looks pretty dead, and a fourth may be another Mystery Fruit. The house came with far too many lethally spiky things: ten rosebushes, two lemon trees, and in pots, a healthy prickly pear cactus and some big aloe plants. I tend to think we can trim the thorns off the lemon trees and ditch the roses and succulents; Anna and J seem to take the presence of the spiky things as a personal affront, and vote for removing the lemon trees as well. We'll probably keep the healthier lemon tree.

We're down to two urgent projects: flooring in the back entryway so we can install the washer and dryer, and window coverings for the street-side windows. After that, we've got a fully functional house and we can take our time a bit with more projects. For myself, I'd like to clean the outside and make it look more cared for: strip the redundant cables, scrub off all the cobwebs, paint over the graffiti, get some surplus materials and make a first pass at a fence, to discourage people from taking our roses and wandering around the yard.

Feeling like we can take our time is a whole other practice.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

house house housey house

We are all moved in! We spent Sunday doing the final packing and deep cleaning, wiping off millimeters of sawdust and decades of grime. The walls are whiter, the cobwebs are gone, and on the inside it's less obvious how much the place has been disdained and neglected. It's still pretty obvious on the outside, since there are cobwebs on everything, but we had to clean the inside before filling it with us and our stuff.

Carlos the handyman wasn't able to come over this week, being at the hospital for some reason, so we wished him well and had an actual plumber come over to look at more plumber-suitable things: re-connecting the stove's gas, installing the dishwasher, looking at the garbage disposal that had worked but now just hummed angrily, fixing the shower which we suddenly discovered this morning wasn't working. While he was here, he discovered that
  1. Carlos installed the sink plumbing backwards and upside down, and if we had used it much more, it would have started leaking all over the area where we just had everything replaced because of the decades of the sink leaking.
  2. The garbage disposal was humming angrily because it was full of solidified grout, from when Carlos and his guy grouted around the sink.
So if we continue to use Carlos, it will be for things like removing trees, rather than anything super complicated, delicate, or nice-looking.

The plumber apparently didn't charge the full time he was here, perhaps correctly reasoning that a couple who can afford a plumber, who know nothing about plumbing, who live in a house full of substantial projects, will be in need of a plumber for many years to come, and this is a good business relationship to cultivate.

Continuing my strange experience of seeing potential changes that would make the house better, I'm starting to see how we could gut and re-arrange one end of the house at a time. Not sure what to do about the bathrooms, still.

This place is enormous. I grew up in a 2,000 square foot 4-bedroom house (not unusual for suburban Massachusetts), but I've spent the past decade in California-sized houses and apartments. Our palatial 3-bedroom condo apartment that we just left was 1,130 square feet; this house alone is 1,390 square feet, with lots of walls and doorways, plus a garage. If you're looking for someone, they could be anywhere on 5,000 square feet, with lots of places to hide. Finding the kid will be a challenge, if he doesn't want to be found.

It's home, though.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

stay on target!

Monday is Moving Day! It turns out we could have timed things better, but it all looked reasonable three weeks ago when we made all the various commitments and plans. I can't stay home from work this Monday, for example.

I was thinking the apartment looked really crowded, and in trying to figure out why I realized that while we've got about the same boxes of stuff that we did 20 months ago, we did acquire lots and lots of furniture: 6 storage shelves, 4 bookcases, a wine rack/cocktail stand, a small desk, and an enormous (9 feet long) couch. We've quite a bit less room for stacking boxes.

There's an arc to packing, where everything seems impossible and overwhelming, and then suddenly most of the shelves are empty, and it's hard to move around because of the (filled and taped) boxes. You have pulled your possessions out of all their corners. As you mentally run through the remaining packing work, you foresee the lingering hours when you will throw random things--things you didn't want to be without for even a few days--into the last boxes, continuing while the movers start their work.

Most of our shelves are empty.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

coherent writing is for the weak

I am still not sleeping well consistently--two good nights in a row would be progress. Right now I tend to get one good night in a week, have one productive day at work, and then it declines from there. I'm also a bit frustrated with pool, since the more tired I am, the worse is my hand-eye coordination and fine motor control. I'm enjoying my membership at the pool hall, though, so at least I'm playing in a better environment and I get to watch and occasionally play against better players.

I do not enjoy staying up numerous hours past the time when I would like to go to bed.

The house is moving a little slowly now, because most of the week has been devoted to the floor guys, which means no one else can get in to do anything. The varnish isn't drying as fast as the guy thinks it should, but there's not much to do except wait for it. There's still work for the painter, too. And we're supposed to move in a week from tomorrow. I realize we have to let go of control and outcomes; we also have to get all our stuff out of the apartment. It's all very exciting. We'll be happy to be moved in.

When I peek through the windows, though, the floor is beautiful.

Anna met with some garage-door installers on Friday, and an analysis of the garage reveals that rather than put any real money or effort into it, we should tear down the entire building and put up a new one. If I remember, I will do a short photo essay illustrating the comprehensive list of problems; suffice to say that it was never terribly well sited on the lot, and then it was enlarged by about 50%, and not by professionals. They did a solid bodge of it: it's been standing for probably about 30 years, and will last another 10-15. And replacing a garage is Money[tm], even just for materials, even using beautiful salvaged materials like we were drooling on yesterday. So there's no rush, but on the other hand, we don't need to baby it, either. We get the freedom of knowing you're almost certainly not going to make things worse.

I have some vision for the front yard, which itself is striking, because I don't usually have visions for things. I'm not the Vision Guy. The vision involves tearing up the entire yard, since there's this nasty plastic sod mesh that's close to the surface in most parts, and takes out the grass when you pull it up. Once we do soil tests to see if it's safe to grow edible things, we'll make a plan, destroy the lawn, put up a fence, and plant things. It often occurs to me that there are things I can reasonably do with a house that I couldn't with a rental, like plant a grape arbor that will take 3 years till the first harvest.

Oh! And the big gnarled tree in the yard is a fig tree! With figs starting to grow on it! I like the string of surprises, whether it's the fig tree or the terrible garage. It's like the world's most expensive grab bag of random crap.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

the map is not the territory

The other night, hanging out at one of my standard bars, I won against a drunk guy (who could beat me easily when sober), and when I left, I spontaneously decided to check out the remaining pool hall in the area, The Great Entertainer in San Mateo. I'd written it off since the guy on the phone said it was $14 an hour, and it looks sketchy as all heck from the outside. I figured I'd at least stick my head in, and it occurred to me that maybe they had memberships or something. I don't like being in bars, I don't like being around the kind of people who like being in bars, and I don't like playing on bar pool tables.

Now, I'm not going to say Great Entertainer is nice, exactly. Most of the tables are a few decades old (which doesn't really matter), with thin felt (which can matter, but mostly looks bad). The "restaurant" claim on the remarkably content-free website seems questionable: I didn't examine the menu closely, but did see "HOT POCKET" and "CORN DOG" on the sign. On the other hand, the manager and regulars seem nice, all the furnishings and trim are quite new, and the balls and house cues are good quality. And they do, in fact, have monthly memberships! Unlimited pool, Sunday through Thursday, either daytime, nighttime, or both. So I joined, and now on non-weekend nights from 7 PM - 1 AM I can go play as much as I want, on quality equipment, without spending a ton of quarters, free to practice however I need to, and being around other people who want to play pool. And even a few others who actually want to improve their game.

At least for the time being, this is much better than having my own table. I avoid my ambivalence about putting a nice piece of furniture in the garage, especially over the repellent partial linoleum flooring. It gives me one less thing to think about and plan for, when I need my energies for the house and the family and getting back to productivity at work. I still want a table, because there's nothing like being able to lazily wander ten yards away to shoot pool in the comfort of your own home, with or without friends. This is a great stopgap, though, giving me the constant stimulation I need to stay awake past 10 PM or so, and giving me the chance to study and practice the game more pleasantly.

The house! It is nearly habitable! The new and old wood floors are sanded and beautiful, even with the old floor's bizarro green stains that are forcing us to use a darker stain than we want. (It turns out we want a darker floor more than we want a green-tinted floor. You have to make the weirdest choices, sometimes.) Our passel of Craigslist-bargain appliances lurks in the garage, awaiting the signal to colonize the kitchen. The kitchen itself looks much happier with a wood floor and rebuilt under-sink cabinet. The kitchen sink plumbing no longer leaks out between the wall and foundation, the errant icemaker hose no longer leaks into the dirt of the crawlspace. All sources of musty smell--carpet, moldy drywall, decades-old under-sink leaking--have been removed and replaced. The kitchen will be unrecognizable once the painter has stripped and refinished the cabinets.

You get the idea. It's been a long list. In the "aw, fuck it" department, we chose some easy-to-remove vinyl tile for the laundry room/rear entrance. If we go to the effort of making things really nice, that room is probably going to go away entirely.

Once we move in, I need to set up soil tests for the yard and water tests for the irrigation well, and then we can decide what to do with the yard. I think the half-dead lemon tree may have to go, since I had never really noticed they grow terrifying 2-inch thorns and I nearly impaled my hand this afternoon when I went to casually grab a branch and lean against it. Screw you, lemon tree! You're a jerk.

The concern with the yard and well is that there used to be a lot of nasty industrial sites in the Bay Area, to the extent where some Google employees, like Netscape employees before them, have been exposed to the vapors of the Superfund site under their office building. I want to grow grapes and veggies in the yard and use the well to water it all, so if the property is full of lead or something, that's important.

Given how much time we spend going back and forth to the house, supervising workmen who are both competent and honest, I can really appreciate why everyone complains so much when the house is farther away or the workmen are bad.