Bowls to tide you over

I promise, I’m working on the post about our ghastly plumbing nightmare lovely first weekend at the mountain house.

Until I work up the courage to fully confront my memories of Friday night, I’ll leave you with this, a photo of my finished cereal bowls for the house. If you look too closely, you’ll see that they’re not all the same size. So take only a quick glance only, por favor:

It took me about six weeks to crank out my first full set of dishes, but I'm still awfully proud of myself.

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Blogging from the past (plus photos!)

I wrote the below post on Monday night, then–for some reason–never uploaded it. I have much more to catch you all up on, but that’ll have to wait for more photo uploading and recovery of my sanity after the past 48 hours of travel. Please use the below as a preview and come back soon for more. I promise that the story of our first full family trip to Dunsmuir will entertain, especially if you enjoy wild adventures in plumbing.


Tim is up at the Mountain House right now. I am at home with the kids. Staying home is killing me, especially since he called to say that there’s the perfect amount of clean, fluffy snow on the ground–not too much, not too little.

He went to prepare for a trip we’re taking later in the week and is “camping” with no heat and no water. By the time he leaves, the house should have both–or at least appointments for de-winterizing and kerosene delivery. My hero.

Who wants to go disking down that back yard and off the retaining wall? Come on. No one needs an intact tailbone.

And here’s an entire slideshow:

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A chair full of bowlies

For the past couple of months, I’ve been taking a ceramics class at the Berkeley Potters’ Studio. Now, if you’re thinking, “Wow, what a perfectly hippie, Berkeley, middle-aged lady thing to do,” I have something to tell you: You’re totally right.

I mean, look at this place:

bowls in the studio

I made these!

I think that in the above photo, there’s exactly one person with not-grey hair. The big guy standing in the distance is my teacher, Bob. He’s a bluegrass musician and professional potter who used to also be a firefighter in New Mexico. He’s awesome, and also maybe a little something of a stereotype.

Hippies or no, I adore this class. For three hours every Friday morning, I get to concentrate on a single project and get messier than I thought possible. It’s the highlight of my week, second only to going out to lunch after class wearing my clay-encrusted shoes, pants, sweatshirt, and hair with pride. (Plus, all the wheel-throwing of recycled stoneware clay really exfoliates my hands. )

glazed bowls

Don't look too closely. The pot on the right has no future in fluid retention.

For the first few weeks of the class, I was a professional pot-killer. First, I knocked my work over on the wheel. Next, I threw my bowls so thin that their bottoms cracked in the kiln. I overglazed them, creating razor-sharp waterfalls colored glass. I’ve ruined so many pots by now that I think I’m out of mistakes. Finally, I’m ready to make real stuff. First up: a set of cereal bowls for the mountain house.

all eight bowls, stacked

A full set, just waiting for glaze.

Aren’t they… real-looking? All stacked up like this, the bowls make me happy. I plan to glaze them this weekend, which is a dicey proposition. Ceramic glaze, it turns out, looks nothing like the finished thing when applied, so you have to wait a week or two for pottery to be fired before seeing the finished results. The plan, though, it to recreate the white/teal combo in the pots above.

So, fingers crossed for my bowls, please. And 10 extra credit points for anyone who properly identifies the dorky ’80s reference in the title of this post.

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I may have mentioned that the closing process for this house has been nutty. It’s been 45 days now, more or less… I think. Regardless, we closed today. Really. For reals. We now officially own our small house in Dunsmuir.

house with sold sign

Can you believe it?

Elated as we are, we many now have some version of Stockholm Syndrome in which we both gaze fondly at our inboxes, longing for the captive embrace of some new bank-originated form that WE MUST BOTH SIGN AN HOUR AGO.

I’ve got to hand it to Fremont Bank and Chicago Title: they kept things interesting with our car-loan-sized home loan. Funding got so crazy on Friday the we found ourselves frantically texting back and forth while I stood at a local Wells Fargo counter waiting for the final amount for our downpayment. With the notary public due at our house in fifteen minutes, Tim finally got the dollar amount from the title company.

And now…

Actually, I’m not sure. With Thanksgiving around the corner and an all-weekend soccer tournament for Miles this weekend, we won’t be able to make the drive north for another couple of weeks. The delay hurts–I’ve got measuring to do! Curtains to sew! Those paint chips aren’t going to analyze themselves!–but at least we have some time to research basic amenities.

For instance, it turns out that there’s no cable TV in Dunsmuir. God help us if we can’t get DSL.

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How to find an affordable vacation house in California

… or A Zillow Obsession Pays Off

A few friends have asked us how we picked Dunsmuir, a town remote enough from the Bay Area that pretty much no one here has heard of it. A few others have asked how we pinpointed a destination where it’s possible to haggle down a three-bedroom house to less than $100,000.

The short answer: Marry a dude with a tendency toward obsession, especially when it comes to real estate and iPhone apps.

Tim obsessed

A man obsessed with Zillow

The longer answer:

Keep a real estate app on your phone
Download the Zillow app, or another real estate app of your choice, for your smart phone. We like Zillow because although its price estimates usually miss the mark by 20 percent in either direction, it shows active properties based on your current location–perfect for driving around the countryside, dreaming about buying that beautiful winery just over the ridge. If you’re anything like Tim (above, with the sly grin), you’ll spend 25 percent of all road trips daydreaming about building a cabin in the woods right… there! Or there! Or maybe down that road!

Keep your eyes peeled
Even if you’re just passing through on your way home from Aunt Bertha’s pig roast, take note of towns or counties that give you a good vibe. While you drive around the state, have your passenger pull up Zillow and surf around using the location-based search. You can tag favorite properties–maybe based on price alone–and check them out in depth when you have time to snuggle up to a bigger screen.

Accept tradeoffs
Someone somewhere probably knows a punchy aphorism about tradeoffs in real estate, but I can’t think of it, so I’ll make up my own: All that matters in real estate is location, location, and letting go of that location you thought you had to have.

We knew we wouldn’t find a bargain-basement price in the Tahoe area, for instance, but we also knew we wanted a place that gets snow and has some basic winter-sport opportunities nearby. The drive to Dunsmuir takes about an hour longer than the drive to Tahoe, but probably saves us $250,000 in mortgage costs.

Don’t give up
We weren’t on a mission to buy vacation property when we found this house. On the other hand, we weren’t not looking for vacation property. We kept the possibility in the backs of our minds and although we didn’t expect to find an affordable second home, we kept our options open.

Get a local agent…
Once we decided that Dunsmuir hits our sweet spot, we picked a Realtor from Up North. She’s not perfect, but she knew exactly what we needed to bid to get the mountain house. She understands the local market and made it clear to us that we could probably buy for much less than asking. She also knew about our house before it hit the market, an advantage that simple Web searches couldn’t give us.

…who uses DocuSign
We’ve signed almost all our mortgage and contract documents so far over the Internet, electronically. With a 257-mile drive between us and the buying and selling agents, the Internet signing saves us from hours of scanning and faxing.

Don’t be creeped out by a history of gigantic chemical spills
Ha! Ha ha. You think I’m joking. I’m not, but it’s a story for another day. (Seriously, there was a giant chemical spill 20 years ago. Also seriously, we’re not worried about it.)

More on that soon.

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I should have known better than to attempt a post every day for a month. No month goes by in life–my life or anyone else’s–without some day of sickness or travel or calamity major enough to make me forget my best-laid plans. Some saintly people appear to have the wherewithal to blog daily (or exercise or pray or diligently walk their dogs) but after 34 years, I still haven’t mastered persistence. If you know the secret persistence recipe, please share.

So I missed a couple of days, including yesterday, when I got up after three hours of sleep to travel home from New York and stayed awake for the following 21 hours, then collapsed in bed at 8:30 p.m. and slept for the next 12 hours. The trip–pleasure, not business–was worth it. But this blog suffered.

* * *

Not that I have much to write about. Our Realtor had high hopes that we’d close this Friday, but this loan process refuses to die. This is the worst time we’ve had closing a loan–worse than our first home purchase, when we knew nothing, and worse than the time we refinanced and rolled in a huge home equity account to pay for a remodel.

Turns out, the bank found some tiny line on an old tax statement about a loss Tim filed two years ago, the cost of paying to set up the LLC that is now his job. That missing tax schedule–documenting all of $150–somehow went missing from the return we sent to the mortgage broker’s assistant (our broker is out of town). Our tax accountant needs to supply the form, but he’s on vacation and unreachable until three days after we’re due to close. Good grief, it’s all so boring and silly. I should laugh, except that we get charged $150 a day for every day we extend the contract past closing–pricey humor indeed.

Are you bored yet? I am. So I think I’ll go to bed now and hope that by tomorrow morning, Fremont Bank no longer cares about $150 of two-year-old financial expenses. Meanwhile, here’s a photo of a bathroom, also boring. Seemed appropriate somehow:

bathroom 1

Look! The master bath! It's beige!

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Finally, (grainy, crappy) photos

We took exactly zero photos of the mountain house when we looked it it oh-so-many months ago. So imagine our joy upon unearthing some small, grainy images at the end of our appraisal report. Embedded in a PDF, the shots are difficult to copy to this blog, but I’m going to rev up the old screen-shot app and do it anyway, y’all.

I’m paranoid about posting a photo of the front of the house onto the Internetworks, which is too bad. The house sports some curb appeal by way of a stone retaining wall (most Dunsmuir houses share this feature) and a front door that’s itching to be painted red. Actually, the whole house is itching to be painted something other than beige. Witness the house from the back:

 back of the house

This house needs bigger windows, but we'll keep the setting.

You can’t see Mount Shasta from this angle, but you can from other parts of the property. The view, when you can find it, knocks your socks off: 14,000 feet of mountain, jutting ferociously above every surrounding ridge. The appraiser must have snapped the above photo from a leveled platform that sits in the back corner of the yard, just waiting for our outdoor dining setup, or maybe an above-ground pool.

our stove

The beigest living room in America

The living room opens up onto this spectacular sea of beige objects. Or maybe there are only two: the floor and the walls. It’s hard to tell, honestly, because all the beige blends into itself until you start to imagine objects. (Is that a chair? Or the kerosene heater?)

The one truly stand-out object here is the wood-burning stove. This is a classic, 1980s-era Earth Stove, right down to the scroll work on the front, which used to house a hideous, burnt-orange tile. I grew up with one of these puppies–remind me someday to tell you about the time I sat on one after the bath. Ouch. These stoves have pretty much always been ugly, and I’m guessing it’ll be some time until we replace it. So, then, what to do with this room? Paint the brick hearth? Certainly tear up the carpets to expose and refinish the hardwood floor we think lies beneath.

Next up, the kitchen.


Here's the kitchen with the photographer's back to the dining nook, looking into the Beige Palace (aka living room).

Yep, it’s a kitchen, complete with kitcheny linoleum and kitcheny formica. It comes with most appliances, save a dishwasher. (Curious: Why would you leave the fridge but take the dishwasher with you in a foreclosure situation? Or maybe the bank sold the dishwasher?) Nothing fancy here, but it’s cheerful enough. I picture some ruffly, patterned curtains over the sink and colored glass knobs on the cabinets. Maybe yellow paint? Or a cheerful blue?

dining nook

From the kitchen, here's the dining nook--my favorite room in the house, maybe because it has more than one window. And less beige.

Behold the nook. This is where the wallpaper will go. I can’t wait to measure this room and start on a hunt for dining furniture.

The house has two bathrooms, also, and a laundry room/entrance hallway, but neither compelling enough to merit photos quite yet. The three bedrooms don’t scream individuality either, save their fantastic, cedar-lined built in closets:

bedroom closet

If I remember correctly, each bedroom sports a full-wall closet with drawers and everything. Rad.

With closets like that, who needs dressers?

Six days left until closing. We haven’t determined quite yet when we’ll be able to drive up to turn on the power, but that’s another story for another day. Yawn. Goodnight.

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