Thursday, December 27, 2007

post-Xmas relief

Of all the Christmas gifts we gave and received, the one that made the biggest impact was the case of food poisoning somebody gave us. Thankfully only D and I were lucky enough to get it; imagine the horror if we had all been sick with it together.

But we are on the mend. The worst of it is that I wasn't able to hit any stores on the day after Xmas, so as to buy more ornaments for next year's C family gift exchange. I have decided that ornaments are all I am giving from now on. I refuse to believe I am the only one who feels that Christmas is way overboard, but D's family has never agreed to pull names out of a hat – we're expected to give gifts to each household. However, D has six siblings and we have many adult nieces & nephews with families of their own. So I give one ornament to each household. That way everybody is treated equally and I don't go crazy trying to figure out what on earth to get for each family. Plus it's a lot less expensive and wasteful. Oh well, maybe there will still be some pretty ones left today.

The gifts were all great this year. D and P both liked their fishing poles very much, although D will certainly get a lighter reel than the one that came with the rod. I lucked out and found him a beautiful vintage Fenwick backpacking rod that weighs 4.75 ounces - weight is important to we backpacking geeks. P is over the moon about his guitar and has already made me tune it several times (new strings). P gave me a stapler and "the Mr. Darcy Movie," which you may know better as the BBC's version of Pride & Prejudice. And we are now positively swimming in miniature toy trains. Plus, D got us a wheat grinder, which sounds very Little House on the Prairie but is nice to have just in case. After all, we do have wheat in our food storage...

I want to share a recipe I made up last night and was over-the-moon in love with. This can be scaled up for more servings if desired. I wish I had made more; I was scraping the pot at the end.

Butter (1 or 2 tablespoons)
2 cans diced tomatoes, well drained
4 cloves garlic, chopped
dried oregano to taste, I used maybe ¼ teaspoon
olive oil (1 or 2 tablespoons)
salt (to taste, I used just a few shakes)

in a heavy pot (cast iron is good), brown the butter over medium heat. When the butter is brown, add tomatoes, garlic, oregano, olive oil and salt. The tomatoes should hiss a bit when you first add them. Stir; get everything hot and hissing. Then add ¼ cup or so of water – just enough to cover the bottom of the pan and keep the pot from drying out and starting to burn. Cover, reduce heat to just above low and let simmer for 45 minutes or so. Eat it over noodles, toasted bread, crackers, whatever you please. You can add parmesan, but i didn't find it necessary (the boys requested it). If you have leftovers (unlikely), it can be recycled into a vegetable soup or pureed and used in a tomato vinaigrette.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

O kitchen, my kitchen



Lianna, the greatest roommate the world has ever known, requested that I share some before and after pictures of our townhouse kitchen. Lianna only ever knew it as a sad beige place with lots of crap left out on the counters and many dirty dishes in the sink (courtesy of my poor housekeeping skills). As it is likely going to be featured on the LA Times' remodeling blog soon (they like guest features), i'll share a sneak preview with my loyal readers (that would be all five or so of you).

Here you will find the sad before pictures and the glossy, well-staged after pictures. The main reason that the counters are not covered in junk and dirty dishes is because we had already moved out at this point and i staged it for pictures to put in the rental ad. Alas, my beautiful kitchen, which i miss very much, is now being loved by somebody else. Enjoy it, Ryan and Rossy!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

ye olde tannenbaum

Tree is up! we have almost no ornaments on it because E The Destroyer, who hears all and understands all, apparently has a short circuit in his brain that erases any admonishments of "Leave that alone!" or "Don't touch those!" So absolutely no presents will be set out until Xmas Eve. We have a few presents tucked into the branches of the tree, which i actually like the look of. We got guitar strings for P's teacher, Sr. Wright (don't worry, he doesn't read my blog) and i made a pair of earrings for Sra. Hernandez, the teacher's aide.

Speaking of school, I'm royally pissed off. Today was the Holiday Program (heaven forbid it be a Christmas program) and i didn't see one bit of it. The multi-purpose room at the school is ridiculously small, they apparently had multiple grades performing at the same time, and they sat the kids down on the floor instead of on the stage. So there was absolutely no room anywhere - parents were standing in full body contact and i couldn't even get through the door. I spent a few minutes craning my neck but E was awful and i finally lost my temper and left. I admit i muttered a few unpleasant words. Now I have to beg around and see if any other parents got in and if i can get a picture of Paul on stage.

I just mailed out the Christmas cards, which means that they probably won't get to anybody in time, but doggone it i am going to do SOMETHING nice and normal and try to keep some level of contact with long-lost friends. that's kind of what this blog is about, too.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

cheep cheep cheep

Christmas is coming, and i am a jerk. We haven't been to see any mall Santas, because i refuse to set foot in a mall until well into January. Actually, I can't recall the last time i set foot in a mall anyway. Although, heaven help me, i like to walk around at the Irvine Spectrum, which is just an outdoor mall. I have no Christmas lights up, but i'm not sure that's my fault, because i can't find any outdoor plugs near the front of the house. We have no Christmas tree, because we have been too stinking busy to go out as a family and get one. D tells me to just go out myself and get one, as he is booked solid right now, but honestly the thought of taking P & E to the tree farm alone is horrifying.

Although i am appallingly cheap, i think i have managed to scrape together a Christmas that will make our little family joyful. The boys are getting some Thomas trains and i lucked out and got inexpensive mud boots for them (since the backyard is mainly dirt). I found a big outside bowling set at a thrift store; it will be lots of fun to "go bowling" on the concrete slab in the side yard. I have been getting up early every Saturday morning to hit garage sales and thrift stores and I have found some really cool gifts. As always in the secondhand market, perseverance pays off. I have managed to get almost all of my "wish list" items for the boys & D. i even found a child-sized REAL guitar for P - made in Paracho, Michoacan, Mexico - which i have since found out is like the guitar capital of Mexico. P has been asking to go to Mexico forever, and he will be so thrilled to get a guitar from there. i wanted to get him one because i cannot practice guitar without him begging to hold it and play it.

"But Colleen," you may say, "you aren't poor. Why on earth are you so cheap?" I'm not sure. Part of me likes the thrill of the hunt - that moment when i spot something wonderful for five measly bucks. Part of it is compensation for the fact that it's outrageously expensive to live in southern California. Part of it is because we're saving money for P & E's missions & college, and so i like to keep our more frivolous expenses down. But I have to be careful, because of my genetic tendency to hoard and my addiction to pretty, colorful pottery.

Anyway, i think most of the gifts are done. i need to finish sewing gift bags (re-useable, no more wasted wrapping paper) and put together the C family gifts.

Oh, a quick E story. Yesterday at church, I was cleaning up my stuff after church was over, and D comes to the Primary room and says to me, "Do you have E?" Ahh, no, I did not. He got a worried look on his face and went back to Nursery to double-check if E was there. He was not. Nobody in Nursery knew where he was. We began running up and down the halls, asking everybody if they had seen him. Word spread quickly and people were searching in the parking lot. I was getting mildly panicked. Finally, somebody said, "I thought I saw him go through the overflow door to the chapel." So I immediately opened it. The 5th Ward, a Spanish-speaking ward, was meeting in the chapel. A man glanced over, saw my worried face, and pointed toward the front. I looked up to the stand and there was E, standing next to the pianist and watching him play a hymn. So I had to run up there in front of the whole Mission Viejo 5th ward and carry him out, which E was not very happy about. I was not embarrassed, just relieved, and cried just a little bit. later i was told that he had just wandered in, walked right up to the stand, walked around and checked out the organ before deciding to go watch the pianist play. Seeing as how he is incredibly blonde and Caucasoid and invaded a Spanish-speaking ward full of central American immigrants, i'm not sure why somebody didn't pick him up and try to find out where he came from, but oh well.

Of course the nursery ladies apologized, and I wasn't really angry with them - I'm sure they felt horrible and will be much more careful from now on. E is just his own person and does what he pleases and needs to be watched a little more vigilantly.

Monday, November 26, 2007

survived Thanksgiving. how did you do? our tenants have signed the rental agreement and paid rent. yippee! they will not move in until next weekend, so i still need to do the final cleaning on the place. but it's 99% ready and any tasks i may have left are tiny.

now i must turn my focus to "our" house. the heater may be a carbon monoxide hazard. the windows need screens. the water heater pipes leak (not so much a problem for us, but the tank is beginning to rust out on top). I have been able to focus on smaller issues, such as the need for curtains. i have been making do with tablecloths hung on poles, but makeshift gets annoying after a while. i sewed some incredibly nice Japanese-style curtains for the boys' room, which were desperately needed, but i can't share any pictures because our camera died.

in April, D and i will have been married thirteen years. good gosh we are so old. i've decided that we are going to have a massive anniversary party. lucky thirteen, right? so you're invited. and pretty much everybody we know or have ever known will be invited. it's going to be insane. i'll be warning the neighbors on the other side of the creek. hopefully we will have the junk cleaned out of the yards and they will be prettied up decently. i'm confident i can do it cheaply. because i'm just naturally cheap.

in my fantasy life, i have found my new sofa. our current sofa is older than our marriage. it's served us nobly and faithfully, and i can't stand it's style. i want this one. i normally hate blue, but this is such a cheery, perky blue that my defenses weakened. we made our annual pilgrimage to IKEA last saturday and i sat on it and it is glorious. D did not approve, however. he thinks it is flimsy. his maddening practicality!

Friday, November 16, 2007

ugh, lists. have to make 'em, they're the only way i get anything done. what's your list? here's mine:

1. Get townhouse finished up (renters move in next week).
a. nail trim in bathroom door
b. hang all curtains (fix rods & sew kitchen curtain)
c. figure out how on earth i'm going to get the washer & dryer moved back
d. febreze the stairs - they stink for some reason
e. caulk shower stall & fixtures
f. re-seal the kitchen counter
g. paint wall patch (left a hole when we ripped out the banister)
h. clean the holy heck out of the place
i. pray nothing else needs to be done

2. Clean up the "new" house
a. hack out more overgrown and semi-dead vegetation
b. rent a dumpster for dead vegetation & former tenants' junk (anybody need some marijuana pipes?)
c. wash the walls (yeah, ick)
d. assemble a hazardous waste drop-off (or does anybody need a beaker of mercury? we've got one!)

3. Unpack and get settled in
a. i could use the entire alphabet

4. Pay more attention to the kidlets

5. Catch up on all my d*mned sewing projects
a. an adult solo backpacking quilt
b. family backpacking tent (will be similar to this)
c. play tipi for backyard
d. more baby slings (women just keep getting pregnant)
e. stuffed animals for X-mas gifts (stripey giraffes & elephants, hooray!)
f. frigging enormous canvas shade awning that i hope my machine can handle

6. Survive X-mas
a. C family gifts were bought last year - hell yeah!
b. find a used bike for me (D is on his own)
c. sew them stuffed animals (see 5a)
d. K family gift exchange has been reduced to kids only & books only (thank you G*d, only 2 gifts to buy)

ohh the overwhelming hideous mundanity of it all.

Monday, November 12, 2007

we have tenants. they are a young, fresh-faced, nice-smelling couple who have only been married for a little over a year. the wife is 5.5 months pregnant, which is eerily similar to us when we moved into the place. They are so nice I wish we could lower the rent, but as it is we are barely breaking even. they move in Thanksgiving weekend.

there are a few more landlordy-type things i need to finish up at the old place, but at least now the feeling of frantic panic has subsided. it only flares up when i think too hard about the local and national economies. everybody, get your food storage in order. i know i'm prone to panic, but ugly economic times appear to be coming.

see how i have to balance all good news with a little gloom & doom? i'm so much fun to live with.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Ohh, the landlord saga. I have made so many stupid blunders that it makes me sick to even think about it. We have no tenant yet. I am launching a new ad campaign and we have notched the rent down a bit. I borrowed a carpet cleaning machine from my dear friend Vickie but i simply cannot get the carpet as clean as it needs to be. We'll be bringing in hired guns for that. And the painting, ohhh the endless painting....

In the meantime, the Santiago fire happened. and the Witch fire, and the Slide Fire, and the 13+ other fires. Dan kept getting evacuated from work, we were rained on by ash for a few days, school was closed, and Limestone-Whiting Ranch Park burned to a crisp. Not to mention our poor former neighbors in the canyons, who were evacuated for two weeks and some of whom lost their houses. This fire sucked. They all sucked! We have a view of the Santa Ana Mountains from our new backyard and when the wind was right and the sky was clear, we would watch the helicopters dropping fluorescent orange fire retardant on the hills.

But i can't focus on much except the landlord saga. Basically, i'm exhausted and fear we've made the biggest financial mistake of our adult lives. Keep your fingers crossed for us that this all turns out right in the end.

Friday, October 19, 2007

i am not going to talk about moving, except to say that we may have a tenant, thanks to my sis-in-law Luanna. i am on pins & needles waiting for them to call me.

no, what i am going to talk about is that today i did not drive the car. anywhere. i walked Paul to school. then Eli and i walked to the farmer's market at the Laguna Hills Mall. then we walked home, walked to get Paul at school, i attended a Spanish for Parents class at school (remember, Paul goes to Kinder in Spanish), then we walked home. that is the sum total of our away-from-home adventures for today. i feel so crunchy and green. now if i could just find a secondhand bathroom cabinet on craigslist, i would be an enviro-saint. ha.

Dan is gone tonight, an unfortunate result of his being our ward's Scoutmaster. on these nights i hate the BSA and fantasize about desecrating the grave of Lord Baden-Powell. they are ocean fishing tonight and tomorrow morning. i'm half whining because *I* want to go!!

since i'm talking about church callings, i think i mentioned that i am Primary Chorister. all of my LDS friends can please stop laughing now. for my non-LDS friends, this means that i lead the children's singing time at church. the annual Primary Program is coming up on October 28th and i have blissfully decided to totally stop worrying about it. i have taught the kids the songs; either they sing them or they don't. i'm not going to waste another minute worrying about it. i have had this calling for a year now and although i was stricken with horror when they first asked me i have actually come to like it. there's only one colossal snot; the other snots are nothing but show and pretense - they secretly like me. i don't talk down to them, i try to make them laugh, and i think they respond to honesty very well.

we had our first program rehearsal last Sunday, when the younger and older kids sang together for the first time, and i was pleasantly surprised at how well they did. i have told them that i expect them to act like a choir should and many of them are responding to that. it'll all be fine.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

moving is hell and i don't recommend it to anyone. no matter how bad your house is, no matter how many inconveniences you must endure to live in it, it is better than moving. maybe, maybe, MAYBE lead paint or poison drinking water might make moving a good idea. but at least with poison water you could just get Sparkletts delivered.

i alternate between believing i am an idiot or a genius. the "new" house, as we have lapsed into calling it, is a work in progress. we could have rented a perfectly maintained house for $2500 a month and not have had to deal with all this crap (dirty house, wild yard, a dumpster's worth of abandoned junk). But i figure that in another month most of this will be cleaned up and then we will still be paying only $2k a month. that's $6k a year we save by enduring a little bit of aggravation.

the "old" house is getting patched up and painted. we have not listed it for rent yet but that should happen within the next few days. we still have crap shoved into the closets, which is endlessly depressing to me. we own WAAAAY too much junk and i am almost powerless to chuck it. i am the child of two pack rats and i am genetically and emotionally programmed to hoard. seriously, getting rid of things is painful and overwhelming to me, but i do feel liberated and slightly exhilarated when i do say "this thing is leaving me now." i feel weighed down by my possessions. i hope this move will help me purge.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Friday, October 5th, my baby sister Christine gave birth to her second child, Samuel Thompson. I realize now that I never asked what his middle name is. She went out to Kaiser in Fontana for her weekly checkup and was dilated to 6 already, so they admitted her even though she couldn't even feel her contractions. She stuck at 6 for a few hours and they finally put her on a Pitocin drip, mainly because it was Friday night and she didn't want to drive all the way back to Chino to wait it out and then end up having the baby in the car in Friday night traffic. Funny thing is, once real labor struck she moved along so quickly there was no time for an epidural and she unintentionally gave birth without one. She said it hurt like crazy.

as for us, we're moving. packing, folding, sorting, chucking, sweating, occasionally cursing. fun!

complicating matters, Paul woke up this morning vomiting. now i have to keep him and Eli segregated, keep packing, and get a few carloads over to the new house. This will unfortunately involve lots of television. The boys like to watch Thomas the Tank Engine videos, which thankfully I find very sweet and gentle and entirely appropriate for their ages. Eli in particular is obsessed with trains and insists on carrying them everywhere he goes. Eli is extremely talkative for his age, 27 months, and argues with me and attempts to put me in time out when I do something he considers naughty. My naughtiness usually involves telling him no, or punishing him for bad behaviour. "Don't you dare, Mama Clemens!" He will say, and wiggle his finger at me. "That's not funny, you naughty Mama!"

Dad is coming down to help me today. I've found a nice stove on Craigslist that I'm going to buy to replace the grotty old stove in the Baja House, which is what I'm calling it. I know he's going to think the house is horrible, but he doesn't have to live in it. I think he may bring his chainsaw to help me hack out the Rosebush That Would Eat The World. That's in The backyard of the Baja House. It will probably fill 20+ lawn bags.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

holyfreakingcow. last night we were arguing gently about the rental house (well, i admit i was kind of steamed), and to bolster my argument that most houses are quite expensive to rent, i picked up the Pennysaver and began reading out rental ads. I admit that I am not always convinced that God is an interventionist, but there was an ad in there for a 3/2/2 for $2k a month. So of course I called. I got Jeff The Landlord on the phone and it turned out he was at the house last night and the location is close to where we want to be, so we popped in the car and went over to check it out.

Wow, what a house. The outgoing tenants had at least three large dogs, possibly four, so the house had that sort of unkept doggy aura that makes everything seem just a bit dingy. However, we could overlook that for the highly unusual layout of the main portion of the house. It was one big room, with the open kitchen smack dab in the middle of everything. The floor is saltillo tile. The whole feel of the place is "American expatriate in Baja." The kitchen window is a french door flipped on its side and hinged at the top so it can open up (there's a hook to hold it open). There's a tiled shelf/bar outside the window. The cabinets are louvered pine - again sort of that rustic Mexican look.

One "bedroom" is really only suitable for use as an office, which is fine because that's what it's going to be. It's small and has double french doors that open out into the main living space. The total effect is LOTS of open interior space. Arranging the furniture is going to be challenging.

The master bedroom has one extremely strange wall. It's Flintstones-esque in that it sort of looks like it was made from large flat rocks that were then painted over. But there's a great bay window with a very slight view of the Saddleback (which is what Modjeska peak & Santiago peak are referred to as), and the closets take up one entire wall from floor to ceiling. They're frigging huge. There is an en-suite bathroom which is small, but since we have no master bath in our current home it's an improvement.

The smaller bedroom is un-noteworthy, with a good-sized closet and a parquet floor. There is another small bathroom outside of it, and it looks as though the previous tenants mostly took showers - I swear there was a cobweb in it. The bathrooms also have that rustic mexican look - kind of like a bathroom at an El Torito, but not quite as flashy.

The lot is triangular and the house is set so that it kind of bisects the back yard into a side yard and a true back yard. The side yard is mostly a big concrete slab, which will be excellent for parties. The yard backs onto the Aliso Creek channel, but the side yard is not fenced yet. Jeff swears it will be fenced within one month, and has agreed to put up a temporary barricade to keep the boys from getting over there.

So today I went back and looked at it in daylight and we're going to go for it. I gave him the security deposit and we are tentatively scheduled to start moving in on Saturday. I am in barely contained panic mode right now, since we've given him money. I have an irrational fear that he's a scam artist and doesn't really own the house and we just gave him $2000 that we'll never see again, but I know that's just my innate tendency towards paranoia. There's nothing that would indicate that's the case. And yet I feel like I'm going to throw up.

I should stop blogging and start packing. It seems we're going to move!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Last week was crazy-busy. HOA meeting Monday , Boy Scouts Tuesday , baby shower Wednesday, guitar class Thursday, then Dan & I had one of our semiannual mini-vacations. Mom took the boys for Friday & Saturday night.

My guitar classes are fun. The teacher is a nice, vaguely hippie grandmother who was born in England but has somewhat lost the dialect, causing her current way of speaking to be non-American, but not terribly British either. She's very relaxing and makes me feel at ease and not at all stupid, which is very good. The pink electric guitar finally hit a price point I was comfortable with, so I bought it as a Christmas present to myself. Paul revealed it to Dan last night, but I don't feel very guilty about it because Dan just bought himself a laptop that cost WAAAY more than my piddling little Target guitar.

Friday night we went to Knotts Halloween Haunt, which we hadn't been to since before we had kidlets. I used to work Haunt years ago, and all going to it did was make me want to go back and work it again. Gads, it's so much more fun to be a monster. It's still early in the Haunt and either the mazes are understaffed this year or the monsters just haven't figured out the best scaring strategies. The creepiest maze was probably the one based on The Grudge (a movie i'll never see), but the Doll Factory was a pretty close second. The Grudge maze had hairy faceless creatures and for some reason that really creeped me out. Plus i'm a total Japanophile. The Doll Factory had this one girl dressed as a rag doll - she had in black contact lenses and she moved like a clockwork toy and was most wonderfully creepy. I give her the gold medal for Best Haunt Performance of the night.

We got the hotel package for Haunt and so we stayed at the Knotts Resort Hotel. NOT RECOMMENDED. First, they put us in the kid/family wing without bothering to tell us. Our room's walls were covered with Snoopy & Woodstock. If Charlie Brown had been on the walls I would have asked for our money back. The room was OK, but the bathtub drain wouldn't close and the showerhead was, um, multi-directional. In not all the right directions. The hotel restaurant is called Amber Waves (as in "amber waves of grain), but their oatmeal was the most awful stuff I've ever had. It was like oatmeal soup. I complained very politely and sent it back, and got my cocoa for free also.

Once Dan finally woke up we checked out and got breakfast at Po'Folks. Fan-fugu-tastic. Their biscuits are freakin' huge and crumbly, and my veggie omelet was delicious. We ate like gluttons and then decided not to go to Catalina Island but instead to go to the climbing gym for a few hours, rent some movies and just stay home. Which we did. Man, my forearms still hurt. We rented an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Stranger Than Fiction, and My Super Ex-Girlfriend. We really, really enjoyed Stranger Than Fiction and didn't get around to Super Ex.

This morning we looked at the rental house. It's sub-optimal, but then i've already blogged about what you get when you rent cheap. However, the rent seems to be flexible and we are tempted to say if they'll drop it by $100 a month then we'll move in ASAP. Again, it's the kind of landlord who won't bother to come and fix a busted drawer, but we are welcome to plant trees, have a vegetable garden, and probably paint the fugly kitchen cabinets. I think I want it just because I am so danged sick of talking about renting a house but then never doing it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Stephen and i had our little date last night and it was great to see him again. who's next, my far-flung friends?

Since i have no available husband on Tuesday nights i took the boys up to my parents' house and then took the Metrolink into the city. $7.50 for a one-way but i didn't have to drive or pay to park the car so it's worth every bleeding penny. And Union Station is soooo lovely. Stephen picked me up as I wandered along Alameda and we had dinner at Phillippe's. S had never eaten there before and it had been years for me so we were bumbling idiots at the counter. Stephen was very upset that the beef dip comes pre-dipped and said insincerely horrible things about the person who suggested Phillippe's. "I am a priss about food," was his explanation. I agree though - I'd forgotten how the bread turns into a soggy mess. This was my allotment of beef for the week, though, so I mostly enjoyed it. S really liked the row of old-school phone booths in the place, and I like the very simple, unadorned design of the place. it's very straightforward, with no artifice.

From simple and unadorned, we then drove to the Orpheum to see Ms. O'Connor sing. Wow, the Orpheum is quite a gem. It is all 1920's luxe - marble walls, fantastically ornate Deco-ish chandeliers, real velvet curtains, buttresses, carved support beams, gold-painted plaster ornamentation, box seats perched right at the edges of the elaborate paneled golden proscenium.... it was a feast for the eyes.

I have already forgotten the opener's name, but he seemed like a painfully sincere young Irish fellow. He had a song actually titled "I'm Never Going to Let Your Negative Thoughts and Vibes Penetrate to My Psyche." It was sung as if he was Bob Marley. Some of his other songs were quite nice (no more reggae vibes) and again I must emphasize how SINCERE he was. there was no irony, no pith, just sad hopeful songs.

I confess I did not understand how big a fan Stephen is of Ms. Sinead. She is quite a fine singer and did some of her hits, which S says she rarely does. Her musicians were very good and there was kind of a rocking "wall of sound" effect. No, I will not digress onto Phil Spector. Ye Gods! Now I have to dig out the two albums of hers that I own and re-listen. I recall that i liked "Am I Not Your Girl" quite a bit.

Stephen drove me home like a bat out of hell (I'm that horrible obnoxious old woman who determinedly maintains the speed limit) and I had an awesome time. We play well off of each other and I am somehow wittier when we are together. Stephen! when are we going out again?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Still no news on vacancy dates for the possible rental. That's OK, i can be patient for the right house. I'm already writing up fantasy lists for what we'll do when we have a garage and a yard. Now i just need to find a pre-1991 Suburban 4x4 diesel. One step closer to conquering the world.

I start guitar class this week. It's offered through the school district's adult education program. I was torn between taking beginning sewing or guitar. The idea of me taking beginning sewing is kind of funny, since I've sewed tents, down backpacking quilts and even two down jackets, but the truth is I have no idea how to sew normal everyday clothing. A shirt? With buttons? Huh? I was looking at Cynthia's blog and she has the danged cutest apron on there, and I'm incapable of sewing that. But at least I can show you pictures of the mega-projects I sewed this year, here on my Flickr page. Hmm, no pictures of the down jackets.

Back to my guitar class. It's an acoustic class, but the secret dark and horrible truth is that I want to play an electric guitar. I want to crunch it and make it squeal. Target is putting their guitar stuff on clearance and I am watching for the right price point. I already grabbed a chorus pedal for $19 (half off!). I want this guitar. Yup, I want a pink glitter electric guitar. And then I want pink glitter hair. And to live in Tokyo and be in an all-girl J-punk band.

I have a date with Stephen tomorrow night. I haven't seen him in over a year! We're going to see Sinead O'Connor, if you can believe that. I feel a terrible impulse to go get my hair done. Going to L.A. makes me feel mousy.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

OK, we may have found our rental.

my friend Natalie and her family are relocating to Utah. they have been renting their house from her father-in-law for the last few years. The house is in the perfect location - one block from Paul's school, one block from a park (and the Aliso Creek Trail runs through said park), and church is within walking distance. it does add just over 2 miles to Dan's commute, raising it to 5.9 miles one way. yes, that's ridiculously short by soCal standards, but for 5 years he commuted only 2 miles - so it is an increase of more than 100%!! i think i need to get him an electric bicycle.

the house is small, 1200 sf, and on top of that it has FOUR bedrooms crammed in somehow. but since that will give us an office/workroom we hopefully won't miss the spare space in our bedroom. the kitchen is very small and is designed to be an eat-in, but there's no way that's happening. we'll move the dining area to the living room and move the living room to the enclosed rear porch. i'm just waiting to hear when the house might be empty. meanwhile, we gotta get our place fixed up and ready to rent! i need to call our handyman again.

what i'm excited about is the yard and the neighborhood. it's a predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhood, so what that means to me is we can grow vegetables in the yard and keep two chickens in the back and probably nobody will care. there are so many things i want to do once we have a little bit of land to play with and a garage to work in. vegetable garden, chickens, composting, refinishing furniture, experimenting with running a diesel car on vegetable oil... yes, we are a couple of danged hippies. and we'll just rent until we figure out what the heck is going on with real estate here. if there's a crash (and Dan doesn't lose his job), we'll buy a house.

oh, and Paul loves kindergarten, and it turns out i'm doing OK with it, too. he's happy to go and happy when he gets out, and so far so good. the bad news is that his upper incisors developed an infection and had to be removed today. i feel like the world's best mother. so now i have to torture Eli with toothbrushing in order to keep his teeth from rotting, too. oh, and Paul is having ALL of his adult teeth sealed! i want to save him from becoming a metalmouth like me.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

i cannot stop obsessing about real estate.

somebody is spamming Craigslist with offers to take over their mortgage payments on a house in the "Melrose" area of Mission Viejo. they've posted the same ad at least three times in the last two days. i hate to be so coldhearted, but give me a break. they don't even mention an amount, which makes me assume that they bought it for way too much and with an ARM, and are now desperate to get out of the loan because the payments are too high.

then there is the fug-ugly fixer that needs pretty much everything fixed. carpet, floors, bathrooms, kitchen, yard... it even has a nasty-looking empty pool. and they are asking 575k! what kind of drugs are these people on, and where can i get some? when the market finally and utterly tanks, this is the kind of house that we would make a vicious lowball offer on. it looks disgusting.

and neither of these ads give an address. i DESPISE ads or listings that keep the address secret. hello, location is everything, right? and another thing i'm noticing is that most listings that are under 500k but above 400k are keeping very quiet about whether or not they are detached or attached. most of them are still attached, but i think anybody in this market who is asking above 400k for an attached home is C-R-A-Z-Y.

sigh... looked at a 3/2 rental last night in the Wilderness Glen area of Mission Viejo. it was all dolled up like it was for sale; i wonder if they just got tired of waiting & decided to rent it out. Dan liked it, i was intimidated by it (too perfect, too clean), and there are no shade trees at all in the yard. decent views from the yard, though. arrrgh, i don't know what to do!

Friday, August 31, 2007

OK, the OC isn't so awful. This heatwave is messing with my brain.

interesting stuff going on in the OC foreclosure/repo market. i'm starting to see detached repos in Santa Ana and Fullerton asking around the $450K mark. granted, these houses S-U-C-K (one ad on craigslist refers to the house as "a dog" and another says "rumored to have plumbing"), and are probably in the crappiest neighborhoods of two of OC's oldest cities (and therefore the most architecturally interesting), but these are the kinds of harbingers i've been keeping an eye out for. nobody is going to be desperate enough to buy these tear-downs, and the lots are too small to put up jumbo houses, so my prediction is these houses are just going to sit there and rot until the squatters move in.

i talked to an agent of some kind on the phone today about an REO in Mission Viejo that was "taking offers" from 484 to 520. i'm looking for prices to drop at least another $100K below that, which may be a fantasy but also may actually happen in a year or so. we can be patient. i told the fellow that we definitely want to wait until we can get something that won't require a "jumbo loan" (over $417K) and he didn't laugh out loud at me, so i'm encouraged.

maybe we should look into squatting. i'm 75% joking. find an abandoned house, move in, produce bogus lease papers, and get 6 months of rent-free living in a house of our choice. i actually know a house that we might be able to pull it off in. eh, but i don't have quite enough chutzpah. Dan would be horrified that I had even considered the idea, although lately he's been surprising me with his willingness to slightly spurn unspoken social rules.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

what $1975 a month can get you in Mission Viejo!

Dan & i are getting ready (sort of) to rent out our townhouse and rent a house-house. so I pretend I'm getting the house ready (what? i got a quote for new carpet!) and obsessively check Craigslist four times a day for cheap houses. it's been a while since i've been a tenant, so i'm re-learning the facts of cheap rent.

1. the houses will always be sub-optimal. there are no cheap diamonds. we looked at one yesterday that was only $1975, but the outgoing tenant said the landlord was "horrible" and the house itself had some shortcomings. the story on the LL was that he never returned calls, never made repairs. so the tenant would fix things and then deduct them from the rent, which apparently was fine because he never, ever heard anything at all from the LL. the house itself is small, 1066 square feet, but the garage is big and the backyard has potential. the bathtub is hideous, and the kitchen is pretty ugly (with faux brick on the lower half of the walls) but nothing a little paint wouldn't help with.

2. the yards may be hideous. looked at a 4-bedroom for $2200. the house was awful, but it was big so i could deal with it. but the backyard was the tragedy. good trees, good all-day shade, but almost every square foot of the ground was covered in concrete of one kind or another. it looked like somebody had put in a concrete pond at some point (about 2 feet deep), roughly 20 years ago. there had been a pool at some point, but there were workers in the backyard filling it up with dirt. the place was a D-U-M-P and Zillow estimates it at $671K. in a pig's eye. i'd have to rent a jackhammer if we moved in there.

3. lots of other people will be after it, too. this is the kicker. we need to be ready to jump when the right place comes along. if necessary, we may have to have our place vacant for two or so weeks in order to get our own good tenants in. this is the part that paralyzes me. at least our credit is excellent (or should be, guess i need to get my annual free reports & make sure there's no hanky panky). we'll be in line ahead of the people who've been foreclosed on and now need to find new homes.

in fantasy land, we'll hang onto the townhouse (even though half of me wants to sell it) and when the real estate market really hits the skids we'll be able to buy a house-house too. maybe even become real esate moguls. bwahahahahaha!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Orange County is a lemon.

yeah, we live 11 miles from the beach. so what? i really don't enjoy dragging the kids down there by myself. it's not relaxing, it's just hot and sandy and sunburn-y.

yeah, we're close to mountains. wait a minute. the Santa Anas aren't mountains! they top out at 5600 feet! Dan calls them the Santa Ana Hills. they are pretty, but are only enjoyable to hike when the weather is cooler and cloudier. right now, in the dog days of summer, i don't want to spend any time hiking there. and forget backpacking - there's no water most of the year. and i like water.

cultural events? sadly lacking, at least as far as i can tell. there are very few "older" neighborhoods in the county, and very few "ethnic" neighborhoods. we have Santa Ana - which tries very hard, but seems to me to be mostly a depressing mash-up of desperately poor spanish-speaking families living in tiny pre-war shacks, with a few "restored" neighborhoods that are so gentrified that normal middle-class folk can't realistically afford to live in them. We do have Little Saigon, but Westminster is far out of my usual orbit and i have never worked up the courage to drag the kids over there.

Speaking of dragging, we took the kids to Los Angeles on the train last Saturday. it was Dan's idea and we went into it with tremendous optimism. we got off at Union Station and had breakfast/lunch at Luz Del Dia in Olvera Street. Then we walked over to Little Tokyo, where they were celebrating Nisei week, which is their annual "hooray for Japan" event. We strolled through the Japanese Village (shopping center) and over to the cultural center, where we looked at a beautiful bonsai exhibit and watched five ladies demonstrate five different ways of writing in Japanese. They laid out long papers on the floor and wrote the same 5 characters 5 different ways, using large brushes. I wasn't even sure which alphabet they were using - there are two. Japanese fascinates me and makes me hopeless. I'll never learn it.

Paul was really fascinated by both the bonsai and the calligraphy, which made me happy on several levels (one of which was the air conditioning). We also looked at some shoji manga (comics for little girls) and then headed back out into the muggy heat.

Paul didn't last long. he began to whine, whine, whine, and with the heat and the humidity (barest tail end of Hurricane Dean) we soon decided to head home on the earlier train. but we got in almost 5 hours of sightseeing and big-city experiences. There was an immigration rights protest going on in the area, so we got to watch the po-lice load up their guns and head off to get verbally abused by the protestors. don't get that often in Lake Forest!

at Olvera Street again, we had linner at Cielito Lindo. i need to remember not to eat there again. the beef in my Chile Colordao burrito was cheap and chewy. the one time a week i let myself eat beef, and it sucked! i'll have to eat some fake beef today (we are experimenting with semi-vegetarianism). when we got home Dan & i were the tired ones (he carried Eli in a baby backpack) and the kids of course ran around like lunatics.

i think i have the summer hates. it's hot, i don't want to waste electricity & money on air-conditioning, i'm stuck in a yardless townhouse all day, lots of stuff is looming on the horizon (see the previous post), and i'm cranky about it all. and tonight i have to go to our Homeowner's Association meeting. bleccchhh!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Paul starts school in less than two weeks.

He is actually looking forward to it, although I suspect he still believes he will ride a big yellow bus (like his cousin does). I am terrified and the gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach just grows every day. Or is that the dread of the upcoming Primary Sacrament Presentation? (alas, I am primary Chorister.) Or maybe it's the dread of selling or renting out our townhouse. There are many competing dreads; sometimes it's hard to determine which one is making me sick.

Kindergarten. It means the end of my freedom. I can no longer just pack up the kids and go anywhere I please, any day I please. No, because Paul has to be at school. Not only that, but he has to be at school at EIGHT O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING. We are a late-to-bed household. we are rarely awake at 8 in the morning (and that includes Daddy). I have been trying to practice going to bed earlier and getting everybody up by 7, but we haven't been very successful. Daniel and I are both guilty in this regard. it's hard to re-set the clocks we've been running on for most of our lives.

Kindergarten. It means I, control freak Mama, must let go of him and send him off to have complete strangers teach him. He has to mix with kids whose families I know nothing about. Yes, I am a TOTAL elitist snob. Do these kids care about education? Do their parents? Are they small-minded TV addicts? Worse, are they violent? All of my elementary school ghosts are coming back to haunt me. My experiences were mainly not good. I should really have gone to therapy about it all, but I'm incapable of asking for help, which ironically therapy probably would have helped me with. sigh.

I have a few small rays of hope. Paul was accepted to the 2-way Spanish Immersion program at a local charter school. Ninety percent of kindergarten is taught in Spanish. I am hoping that kids who get enrolled in this program have educationally enlightened parents - parents who care. I am hoping that parents who care have raised their kids in homes where TV is minimal and violence is discouraged, and maybe have even invested time in teaching their children. Dear heavens, I hope.

Less than two weeks. Less than two weeks.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

ah, the woman who donated the size 8 Linea Paolo black leather ankle-strap pumps to the Goodwill in Keller Texas - did she have any idea how much fun i'd have in them? this week i went out dancing with Angela. for my far-flung friends who don't know who Angela is, she is my youngest brothers ex-girlfriend. they've been broken up for i can't remember how long, but the rest of the family liked her enough to keep her. she's nine years younger than me, but we get along smashingly (she's mature, i'm immature) and about every six months i get to escape from at-home-Mama prison and we go out for some fun. last time we went to Goth Karaoke - Ground Control, somewhere in LA. it was awesome! i sang the White Stripes "My Doorbell" and "Love Cats" by the Cure.

this time we went to Blue Mondays, an 80's club on Cherokee in Hollywood. Ah, freakshow. The fun level fluctuated, but all in all it was great. our attention was grabbed by a guy who was obviously into Morrissey; he had the semi-crew-cut and wore a polo shirt tucked into belted grey pants. the songs he danced to gave him away. Angela's take was that he was either extremely clean-cut or that he did an awful lot of drugs. we watched him for a while, mainly out of amusement & curiosity. he liked to get up on the platforms & dance, and seemed quite irritated when the DJ played Guns 'n Roses "Welcome to the Jungle" which of course Angela and i rocked out to. we're trashy like that. as we left i blew him a kiss, just to see what his reaction would be. he seemed quite surprised. i hope he took it as flattery.

there were other intriguing characters there - the guy in suit pants, dress shirt, tie & tie clip who stood on the dance floor but really didn't dance. the gal who looked like a 12-year-old boy in a white polo, plaid shorts, and white tennies - my first thought was "how did a kid get in here?" i actually didn't realize she was a woman until i saw her go into the ladies' room with her date. The place was also odiously overrun with hipsters - everybody with that same sally-hershberger-meets-joan-jett haircut, oodles of tattoos, and black skinny jeans. the place was such a sauna i would have died in tight jeans. i was in a skirt and t-shirt and i had to go the ladies room every 20 minutes to wet down my hair so i wouldn't come down with heatstroke.

and so goes my first fascinating blog entry. this blog is intended primarily to keep my far-flung friends moderately updated on our lives, and not really to entertain random strangers. next post will be about our most recent family backpacking trip!