Home sweet home: house hunting in Southern California

Home Sweet Home

There are some things in life that make you unequivocably grown up — joining Costco, bringing wine to dinner parties, yawning at 11 pm, buying a car with automatic windows, asking for household appliances for birthdays, waking up with a creaky back, seeing high-school kids in the mall and thinking “They’re so young/immature/stupid/fill-in-the-blank with a cranky adjective here”. The pinnacle of grown-up-ness, for me, perhaps beyond joking to my parents that we need to consider which raisin ranch we’ll put them in when they’re too old to wipe, is buying a house… or at least trying to.

First there’s the nerve-wracking stage of pre-approval, where your financial documents are meticulously scoured, every transaction, deposit and discrepancy painstakingly analyzed and explained. “Oh yes,” I said, “I do remember buying that belt at Fashion Bug,” as you rationalize the outstanding balance of $7.96 on your credit report, and then try to explain that you never received the bill and THAT’S why there’s a blip on your credit score. No, no… you would never forget to pay a bill. Of course you wouldn’t! Cough. This process is full of little holes to fill, reassurances to be made that you’re a secure, sound, responsible adult and you would NEVER dream of using your full-time income to do something like buy Coachella tickets or eat leftover movie theater popcorn for dinner. None of those things which I’ve ever done, of course. Cough. I’m still getting over that cold.

Once you’re pre-approved and still gasping at the amount a low-budget house turns out to cost you in monthly mortgage, you begin the hunting process. At first, your head is filled with dreams of things that your house will be — granite counters, shiny wood floors, charming Spanish archways that fill the house with quaintness and character. You don’t imagine carpeted bathrooms, popcorn ceilings, the swarms of termites lying in wait. The neighborhood of your dream has wide, slick asphalt, perfect sidewalks and pathways, mature trees and beautifully manicured lawns. These things are not reality, of course — they’re hopes, dreams, thoughts for the future. You realize with some glimpse of reality that you’re dreaming, but in life you know it’s wise to be optimistic, right?

Home for sale in Pasadena. Currently priced at $975,000.

The first house you really fall in love with is like your first highschool boyfriend. Sure, he’s got braces, bacne and loves Phish, but he’s got CHARACTER. He might be a fixer, but with a little bit of work, he could be perfect. You agree to date (write an offer) and after one date (the offer is reviewed), he makes some weird, offhand comment about how your sister has nicer boobs (they want a counter to get closer to the other buyer’s all-cash offer). You’re aghast, but surely, you’re new to this whole dating thing, so that’s how it goes (you write a higher offer). After a few more dates (a few more days waiting), your highschool sweetheart breaks your heart. “I have a thing for your sister,” he says (the other buyer got it). You’re mad, hurt, but oh well, you didn’t reaaaaally like him, anyway, right? He had bacne, braces and liked Phish! (Carpeted bathrooms, popcorn ceilings, wood paneling in the living room. You keep looking).

A few days go by and some potential suitors interest you (one with a beautiful bay window that looks out to the hills, but hasn’t been updated since 1949). Then there’s the one you fall hard for. The floors gleam like honey in the sunshine. Even though great Auntie Edith died in the guest room at age 103, you feel warmth, not a hovering ghost of sellers past. So what if there’s no central air in 103 degree Southern California? There are beautiful oak trees towering over the house in the backyard, and the 1950s kitchen has adorable little latches on all the counters. You imagine raising your kids there, crossing the threshold with a bundled newborn baby in your arms, hosting Thanksgiving dinners for your inlaws. You envision birthday parties and Christmas, smiles, memories, family warmth. Then you go outside and see the homeboys ride their bikes past your lawn, hear the sirens in the distance, ask the realtor about the neighborhood. “Well” she says with a sigh, “I’ll be honest.” You know right then that the dream is shattered. After all, what’s a home if you can’t sleep soundly at night? So what if the windows are dual-paned when they’ve been broken into twice before?

Sometimes you fall in love, but the person you’re buying the house with doesn’t. Then you have this weird halfway conflict of interest, where you want the other person to be happy, but you’re not really SURE if you want mayonnaise on the sandwich you’re about to share, you know? Then, your marriage becomes even more solid and secure as you spend hours analyzing the cost of ripping out a countertop stove, or explaining why you really couldn’t deal with the carving of the horse etched into the ceiling. These thoughts creep into the free-space in your head, and suddenly, at red lights, you’re dreaming of trips to Home Depot, replacing the yellowing formica with sparkling granite countertops, the kind with rainbow flecks that shimmer in the light. Eventually, you reach a mutual decision and move on with a sigh of relief, back to Trulia, RedFin and Zillow you go.

Sometimes, decisions are easy. The house you’ve absolutely maxxed your budget on has come back with the seller asking for another $20,000, and prior to that, buying this home would mean eating Top Ramen and selling your body by the pound on the black market. You have to regretfully decline. Sometimes, the decisions are not easy. Sometimes, a house has a beautifully manicured lawn, complete with blooming roses, neatly clipped grass, orange trees bursting with juicy, ripe fruit. However, the house also has a frequent visitor in the backyard — a commuter train, a mere 100 feet from your patio set. You could be drinking iced lemonades on a hot summer day, watching the kids play in the sprinklers, at peace with the world until you heard that fateful honnnnk honnnnnk. Then you’d be fearing that the train would one day veer off track and end up in your living room. Despite your agent’s hopeful urging that maybe you future son would grow up to love trains, you know it just won’t work. No, no, that one just wouldn’t work. You will have to choo-choose another.

More often than not you place offers on homes that you don’t love. Your heart doesn’t pitter-patter at the thought of re-painting, re-carpeting, re-upholstering, and renovation, but for your budget, it must be done. You must be confident in your offer that while you may not love the house, you will like it, and when you make it your own, you will love it. You take these risks. You jump in. Just when your hopes are up and you are imagining the dog run you can build in the 9,000 square foot backyard, you get the call that an investor has snatched up your sweet little fixer and will be flipping it into the modern California dream home. You are sad, but back to Trulia, to Redfin, to Zillow you go.

Your weekends become consumed with checking for new listings on Realtor.com, hoping to find that magical unicorn of a listing that isn’t pending, that isn’t a short sale, that has words like “upgraded,” “central air,” “hardwood,” and “over 1,000 square feet”. Friends and family that mean well but aren’t so well-informed of your budget send you beautiful listings for $500,000 in Culver City and Pasadena. You sigh and think, “One day. One day.” You visit open house after open house, learning the lingo. Comp, COE, addendum are new words in your vocabulary. You learn what a Jack and Jill bathroom is. You learn how to scour CityData.com, to compare crime maps with the local newspaper. You are thankful for your journalism education, because you know you can search the block number of any potential address to find recent homicides or break-ins. You compare these iffy neighborhoods to the one you live in now, the one some call the barrio, but it’s been home for four years, and you’ve been fiiiiiiine. Just fine.

At night in your rental home, you think about these things before you go to bed. Do you keep trying and hope that in six months you’re handed the keys to your perfect new home? Do you listen to people’s advice and buy a condo? Do you give up and stay in your rental? Do you wait a few more years until you’ve sold the first book, until the blog is booming, and you have more money to spend? Do you decide to give up all of the conventions of a normal, grown-up life and join a hippie commune in Topanga Canyon where you can walk around in the nude and not care that you’re 80 pounds overweight? These are the things that make you a grown up, that make you confident in your ability to think critically. Granite counter tops. Hardwood floors. Double bathrooms, copper plumbing, porcelain sink. One by one, the features come to you, drifting by like tumbleweeds on a warm fall day. Your thoughts are consumed and your efforts are valiant. One by one, these things enter your mind, and you drift off to sleep, knowing that one day…oh one day, you will find your home sweet home.

 

 

 

A relaxing weekend in SLO

Good morning, Chinners! I hope you had an awesome weekend. I sure did! This weekend, Matt and I drove up the coast of California about three hours to get to San Luis Obispo. We had been to San Luis Obispo once before for a weekend away, and had an amazing time. Since then we kept saying we needed to go back, but hadn’t made any commitments. I surprised Matt with a quick one-night get away to our favorite tacky hotel, the Madonna Inn. The Madonna Inn was created by a construction foreman, Alex Madonna, who got sick of having to stay in lackluster hotels off the side of the highway when he traveled. He began to build his own hotel to make up for it – putting imagination and quirky, whimsical touches into each room. Last night, we stayed in the Currier and Ives room, named after the first people who made famous art and photographs into low-cost prints for the mass public.  Here are some photos of our room! Note the details, like the elaborate gold printed wallpaper or the angel light fixtures. The toilet seat was even heated! Now THAT is classy!

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After we checked in, we relaxed by the pool for a bit, soaking up sunshine. Then we headed to Trader Joes to fill up our cooler with snacks for the drive in movie! The Sunset Drive in Theater is a cheap $7 for two movies, and you listen to the movie on your radio, no clunky metal speakers required. I splurged and had a delicious peach Lambic to drink and some movie popcorn. We also had bread with salami, olive tapenade and cheese. I really didn’t overdo it, but apparently, eating squeaky clean for two weeks and then having a little night of indulgence can rip apart one’s stomach. I learned that the hard way this morning, but I had a grand old time in the process…

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I couldn’t resist taking this shot of the vintage coke cup, but it’s a little lost on me since I’m no longer drinking soda. I had my lambic and water and that’s it… but I was just fine! The two movies playing were After Earth and the Fast and the Furious 6. I made it through After Earth with only minimal disruptions (aka me blurting out “That doesn’t make sense! This is stupid!”), but within the first ten minutes of Fast and Furious, I had flipped to my side with my car pillow and started snoozing. Matt made it through both movies and then we were back to our hotel for a night of slumber.

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We woke up this morning and had a yummy breakfast at the Copper Cafe, where I ordered a veggie omelette with egg beaters and fruit on the side. I also drank looooots of water to make up for my little boozy indiscretion the night before. The Madonna Inn is known for their famous pink cakes with white chocolate ribbons on top, called the Barbie Cake. See ’em? Looks sooo pretty. Then, we were headed down the coast to get back to home.

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It was an awesome, low-key weekend, and it was nice to get away from the ever-growing pile of laundry and stack of invoices I need to send out on my desk. I’m a big fan of quick little getaways – it’s great to refresh the mind and body with a change of scenery. What’s the last little road trip you’ve done? Do you like one-night get aways or would you rather save up for one longer vacation? In our case, it’s more budget friendly and we don’t need to take time off work, so little weekend trips are great for us. I hope you have an amazing day today!

 

Homework.

Today’s lack of a blog is brought to you by HOMEWORK!

Today I chose to walk for an hour with a friend (earning 7 activity points AND catching up with my gal Kelly), buy my cake decorating supplies, stop by whole foods to buy olives, re-pot 7 outdoor pots with new flowers, clip coupons, start my seeds in a greenhouse tray, grocery shop, buy a new patio set off of Craigslist and watch the Oscars instead of doing homework.

So now? It’s homework time. If y’all wanna see what my homework looks like, head over over to http://www.heardio.wordpress.com. Regularly scheduled programming will be back up tomorrow :o)

(But – isn’t it better to see SOMETHING rather than nothing?)

Needles in my face

Most of you know I’m a severe environmental allergy sufferer. In 2009, I finally made the decision to start immunotherapy, or allergy shots, after I spent a whole night lying in bed crying because my skin itched so bad. I’ve been doing shots for just over three years now, and while I no longer break out in hives, I still rely on a daily allergy pill and can quickly feel the effects of allergies if I’m not medicated. It sucks, but I also love California, and am not willing to give up on this gorgeous state because of a few pesky pollens.

A friend of mine swears by acupuncture for her allergies, claiming that the soothing effect of needles in her face causes little histamine fairies to wave their magic wand and make her allergies vanish into the sky. Okay, that last part I might have made up, but I decided it was something I should try. One advantage to being a poor, stressed-out grad student is I have access to low cost health care. In this case, an hour of acupuncture costs a mere $20 – a price I’m definitely willing to accept for a chance at relief.

What I imagined acupuncture would be like.

In true Alyssa fashion, I had pre-conceived notions about the procedure that MUST BE TRUE, like, the whole hour session would consist of me being jabbed several times with long, hot, spiky needles, and it would be anything but relaxing. The acupuncturist, a lithe, wispy woman, first asked me several questions about my overall health and then looked at my tongue. “You’re getting a cold,” she said. Bingo! I was getting a cold. Apparently acupuncturists can tell a lot about your health by the color and coating of your tongue. Mine was blue – a sure sign that rhinovirus was moving in.

After my brief oral health history, we went into a small room where I took off my shoes and laid on a cot. She quickly began inserting the needles, and it was really just a faint “tap tap” and then they were in. The only needles that I felt were the two on each side of my sinus – there was a little bit of pressure as they were inserted, but then, the pressure in my nose magically cleared up, and I felt like I could breathe. I had three needles in my hand, one on each foot, one on my right ankle, two in my sinuses, and one on my forehead. They really didn’t hurt and once they were in, I forgot they were even there.

She placed one more needle in the center of my forehead, turned off the light, turned on a heat lamp over my feet, and left the room. Soothing music trickled out of the speakers and I just lay there for 45 minutes… relaxing, thinking, wondering if this could help out more than one of my many ailments. Acupuncture is said to be a good form of relief for things like stress, anxiety, allergy, fatigue and sluggish weight… all things I could benefit from.

She came back in 40 minutes later and said that most of my health concerns were from low energy overall, which wasn’t helping my immune system fight off allergens. She recommended coming back once a week for a while, and seeing how I do from there. I’m definitely going to give it a shot, because why not? If I can inject things I’m allergic to in my skin, or pop a pill, why not give something holistic and risk-free a chance?

Have you ever done acupuncture? Would you, or is the thought of needles that keeps you away?

 

 

 

 

Tortilla Time

Tortilla making has a certain amount of allure behind it, and if you are like I am, you like to imagine apple-cheeked Abuelitas standing over hot coals patting out paper thin tortillas with their soft, wrinkled hands, instead of scary metal machinery cranking out tortillas en masse. The closet I can get to making a tortilla is ripping open the package and throwing them in the microwave, so I was delighted when my friend Monique offered to make me authentic Mexican tortillas. Here’s what you need:

  •  2 Cups of Self Rising Flour
  •   3/4 Capful of Corn Oil
  •  3-4 Shakes of Salt
  •  1 Cup of Hot Water – not boiling, but as hot as your delicate hands can stand
  • A rolling pin or if you’re very fancy, a pelote
  •  A cast iron pan
  •  A clean dish towel and large zip lock bag

1) Set the cast iron pan on medium.

2) Put two cups of the self rising flour into a large mixing bowl.

3) Slowly add a cup of hot water, mixing the water into the dough as you go. SLOWWWWWWLY. If you get excited and dump it all in, you’re going to have a mucky, floury mess that doesn’t mix well.

Slowly add hot water

4) Keep mixing with your hands until the dough feels like bread dough – soft and pokey and mostly together, like this.

Just the right consistency

5) Once you’ve made a well-formed ball, press your thumb into the center of the dough ball to make an indentation. Pour the 3/4 capful of oil into this hole, and leave the dough to rise for five minutes.

6) Waited your five minutes? Good. Now, knead the dough again with your hands, making sure the oil is well mixed into the dough. Separate the dough into 5 separate lumps on a lightly floured cutting board.

Roll!

7) Using your rolling pin or pelote, roll the ball upward once, then downward once. Roll from side to side until the tortilla is quite thin.

8) Throw it on the hot pan. It will bubble up immediately. Don’t be alarmed if you smell smoke, that’s normal. Using your fingers (‘cmon – be daring), flip the tortilla over on to the other side. The tortilla is done when it looks like a tortilla. Don’t over cook or it will be hard and yucky. This may take some time to get right, so don’t cry if your tortilla crisps up like a critter on the fourth of July.

Brown and bubbly and delicious!

9) Wrap the tortilla in the dish towel and place it inside the ziplock bag while you cook your other tortillas. You want them to stay steamy and warm inside.

10) Serve with other yummy things. We did shredded rotisserie chicken, el pato salsa with tomato, onion and cilantro, cheese and fresh cabbage. SUPER YUM!!!

11) Enjoy fat food coma and unbutton jeans. You did it!

Yummy

A Bee-utiful Tattoo

Reid at Yoni Tattoo perfects the design

I’ve wanted a tattoo for a long time. When I was in high school, my best friend and I would draw all over our legs with sharpies to imagine what tattoos would look like. At the time, I was fixated on a frilly little ivy that I saw in the CD booklet of one of my favorite bands. My brother later told me it was an icon from Photoshop. I didn’t want that as a tattoo any more… After the ivy, I wanted a sea horse. The seahorse was a short-lived fantasy as I eventually realized that seahorses were sort of just a passing fad, much like my 6-year-old obsession with porcelain dolls and then Winnie the Pooh.

Bee earrings for good luck

However, as I grew older, I started thinking about a tattoo I would like, and decided I’d like a bee. Bees have long been a symbol of good luck and royalty in the world. Bees pollinate plants and trees and flowers, and help us get our food. Bees help me in my garden, and bees make honey, one of the most delicious substances on earth. I love the book  The Secret Life of Bees  and I love the artist Mark Ryden, who features many bees in his work. In addition, it was long thought that bees are scientific wonders, because their tiny wing span should theoretically not be able to support their heavy, large bodies. In this regard, they have long represented achieving the impossible. (Science has it figured out now – The bee flies more like a helicopter than an airplane in that its wings vibrate up and down rather than side to side). We had bees on our favor bags at our wedding, and as we said our vows among rows of Victorian roses, bumble bees flitted over the masses of flowers like tiny fairies. I also think bumble bees are cute looking, with their fuzzy, bulbous abdomens and gorgeous yellow and black stripes. Matt also thinks bees are cool, and in fact, now has a bee adornment on himself as well (doesn’t look at all like mine – but it’s a bee just the same!). So there you have it – I had decided, a bee tattoo it would be.

The tattoo process begins!

We chose Reid at Yoni Tattoo because of his laid-back demeanor, awesome yelp reviews and enthusiasm for the art we wanted. He’s also an ex-nurse from Minnesota, so he has Midwestern pride on his side. I was a little bit jittery, mostly about the fact that I wasn’t 100% set on my design yet. The bee itself was amazing and perfect, but I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted one hydrangea or two. In the end, I found some cool swirl flourishes from the internet, and Reid reworked the design to be one hydrangea flower (the flower of my wedding bouquet) with an awesome spiral vine embellishment coming out of it. I loved it – It’s unique, colorful and beautiful. We were ready to begin!

This is a staged shot! The pain is totally not worthy of dramatic facial expressions!

I had asked many people about the pain of getting a tattoo, and I got answers ranging from “it’s like a cat scratch” to “it’s horrible horrible pain and I will never do it again.” I was expecting the worst, but as someone who suffers an average of 12 allergy shots a month, I’m not too fearful of needles. I also went through braces and had the inside of my nose burned out with a laser (yay for constant congestion), so it’s safe to say I’ve dealt with some gnarly pain. Here’s how the first 30 seconds went – “Oh. It’s not that bad. That’s it?!” After a minute, you realize it’s not an enjoyable feeling by any means – it’s not like you’re getting a massage, but it’s really not horrible. It’s just like a bee sting, actually. Some slight burning and a little prickling, but it’s really not awful. The most painful part was the bottom of my hydrangea flower near the ankle. For anybody who’s been avoiding a tattoo because of fear of the pain – DO IT! Especially if you’re a woman – I promise you’ve had worse monthly cramps. The pain is manageable, for sure – and a good tattoo artist will let you take breaks if you need them. Check out this super cool time lapse from stencil to tattoo that my pal Julie put together!

Adrenaline and endorphins have kicked in, and I'm feelin' good!

I had originally thought I wanted to go a bit smaller on the design, but the detail in the bee was important to me, and if I went smaller, I’d lose a lot of the beautiful details like the fuzz and wing patterns. I chose above the ankle because it’s a good spot to hide if I need to for work or other professional events. The tattoo took about an hour to complete, and today I’ve been a good girl and have been doing the whole Aquaphor moisturizing thing and keeping it clean. I am thrilled to finally have a beautiful and symbolic bumble bee on my leg, and it looks wicked cool when I’m wearing capris and flip-flops!

Bumble Bee Tattoo with Hydrangea

One of the questions a few people have asked me is, “Isn’t it scary to think you’ll have that forever?” My answer is no, not at all. I thought about what I wanted for a long time, and the best way to sum it up is an Ani DiFranco lyric that says, “a tattoo is no more permanent than I am.” This is one of the first times I actually have no “buyer’s remorse” at all – I spazzed out about buying my new car, and I’m even having buyer’s remorse on a $20 pair of rain boots I bought last week. I love my new tattoo, and I’m proud that I went and did it. If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo for the first time, make sure you’ve researched the parlor and artist, and it’s clean and sterile. Our parlor guarantees their work, and in a couple weeks I get to go back for free for a touch up on some of the color. Make sure you get along well with your artist, and that the design is 100% what you love. It is permanent, so there’s no going back when it’s etched into your skin.

So – let’s hear it – do you have a tattoo? If not, would you ever get one? Why or why not?

***Special thanks to Julie Bien for her amazing photos and moral support of the tattoo process! All photos credited to Julie Bien except for the crappy iPhone pic on the bottom of the post that I took. 🙂

Update: Here’s the tattoo 2 months after I got it. Healed, and beeeeautiful!